Book Review: A Fatal First Night (An Ella Shane Mystery #2) by Kathleen Marple Kalb

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: HIstorical mystery
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: April 27th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Set in Gilded Age New York, Kathleen Marple Kalb’s adventurous new historical mystery series returns for its second installment starring the swashbuckling opera singer Ella Shane, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan who finds fame and fortune singing male trouser roles. But while her opera company’s latest premier manages to attract adoring crowds and rave reviews, it also attracts a killer who’s a real showstopper…

New York City, Fall 1899. Ahead-of-her-time coloratura mezzo Ella Shane has always known opening night to be a mess of missed cues and jittery nerves, especially when unveiling a new opera. Her production of The Princes in the Tower, based on the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s two sons during the Wars of the Roses in England, concludes its first performance to thunderous applause. It’s not until players take their bows that the worst kind of disaster strikes…

Flawless basso Albert Reuter is found lurched over a bloody body in his dressing room, seemingly taking inspiration from his role as the murderous Richard III. With a disturbing homicide case stealing the spotlight, Ella can’t be so certain Albert is the one who belongs behind bars…

Now, Ella must think on her feet while sorting out a wild series of puzzling mishaps and interlocking mysteries. Yet even when sided with her aristocratic beau, does this scrappy diva have the chops to upstage the true criminal, or will this be the last time she headlines a Broadway marquee?

Opera diva-detective Ella Shane is back in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s A Fatal First Night. When one of her cast is murdered, and another is imprisoned, Ella must “determine to prove a villain” and save her company, all while staging an opera based on the princes in the tower. Her prospective beau, Gil, has come over from Britain on a quest he can’t tell Ella about, but which involves a beautiful widow.

Ella’s voice is much clearer in this second book. She also doesn’t mention every other chapter how hard the world is and how she does what she can to make it better. It’s nice to see a progressive cast of characters in a Gilded Age cozy mystery, and Ella handles racism against one of her cast as she handled homophobia against her cousin, straightforward and not tolerating the perpetrators for a moment. She shelters her loved ones and casts her net wide to help those in need.

It’s understandable that she does not want to give up the freedom that her career offers to enter into a formal relationship with Gil, and even nicer that Gil, and Ella’s friends, do not push her to do so. She does waffle a great deal, though, and she and Gil talk about their future children and marriage as though things were settled, when they have only an “understanding,” and not a formal engagement.

One small fact check – there are no polar bears in Antarctica, as mentioned by Ella’s housekeeper after she attended an “improving lecture.”

Recommended, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when Ella and her company cross the pond in the next book.

Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction Biography
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: April 18th, 2021
Pages: 608, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, “New York Times” best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life―the theologian and the spy―to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents―including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts―to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology never before seen.

Around fifteen years ago, I watched a wonderful documentary about Bonhoeffer on PBS. I was intrigued by this Lutheran theologian who defied the Nazis. His integrity, his struggle with the nationalism and racism he witnessed both in his home country of Germany and in the United States, and his sincere desire to share his message of faith and salvation came shining through. While I may not agree with some of his theological points, I admire his actions during WWII.

This is not that Bonhoeffer, at least not entirely. The Bonhoeffer we meet in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is a creation of Eric Metaxas, taking specific writings of Bonhoeffer and filtering them through his personal lens of evangelicalism. Metaxas has a passion for Bonhoeffer bordering on idolatry, and that’s a problem in a biographer. Metaxas has little understanding of the social and economic influences during Bonhoeffer’s life, and dismisses the prevalence of anti-Semitism.

He also does not curate the work well. Much of the book is a data dump of Bonhoeffer’s works, with entire letters filling multiple chapters.

It’s a disappointment. It’s not the first biography I’ve read written by someone with an axe to grind, but it’s a shame it happened to the story of this wonderful theologian.

Book Review: Cat Tales: True Stories of Fantastic Felines by Penelope Rich, Isabel Muñoz (Illustrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Arcturus Publishing
Publication Date: April 1st, 2021
Pages: 96, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Cats may love snoozing in sunny spots, but our furry friends are capable of so much more! In this beautifully illustrated full-colour collection, you’ll discover the incredible true stories of talented, brave, and clever kitties whose exploits have made them world-famous.

This heart-warming book includes over 40 cat stories, from ancient Egyptian kitties to internet sensations Grumpy Cat and Bob the Streetcat. These tales are bought to life by remarkable illustrations by Isabel Muñoz.

Find out all about:
• Gracie from Reedsburg, Wisconsin, who saved her owners from a carbon monoxide leak
• Tama, the station master cat of Kinokawa, Japan
• Masha, the stray cat who rescued an abandoned baby on a freezing night in Caluga, Russia
• Stubbs, the feline mayor for Talkeetna, Alaska …
• and so many more!

You may already know Bob the Street Cat and Grumpy Cat, now it’s time to meet Masha, Tama, Mayor Stubbs, and over thirty other completely clever cats. In Cat Tales, by Penelope Rich, there are forty profiles of famous, and not-so-famous felines from ancient history to modern day internet sensations. 

Some of the stories are inspiring, and all are interesting. Cats were domesticated more recently than dogs, but there are more cats in households in the U.S. than dogs, and it’s easy to see why from these vignettes. The illustrations by Isabel Muñoz perfectly complement the tales. (The drawing of Masha is my favorite.)

From soldier cats to sailor cats to nanny cats, and all cats in between, this is a great book for not only its target audience of middle graders, but adults.

Highly recommended.