“Scandal Above Stairs” by Jennifer Ashley

36439828A little while ago, I got a message on Goodreads from a lovely person named Jessica at Berkley Publishing Group asking if I would be interested in an ARC of the second book in Jennifer Ashley’s ‘Below Stairs’ series.

Would I?

I would! I was! And it was like Christmas come again when I got the book in the mail!

And for all that I loved the first book, Death Below Stairs (it’s amazing, go read it now!), I love this second book, Scandal Above Stairs, even more! Is that possible? Yes!

Am I using too many exclamation points? Probably, but don’t hold your breath for me to stop because this book is worth every maybe annoying punctuation mark!

Back in the first book, we meet Kat Holloway, a cook in one of the fancier homes in London while Queen Victoria reigns in England. Kat is in her late twenties, early thirties, I’d say – old enough to have a ten year old daughter but young enough to be considered a young upstart by the older cooks in aristocratic London and the more experienced members of the staff at her own house. Kat is sassy and smart and steady to the core. Cooking is her job, and she takes it very seriously, but she’s as good at everything as any man.

And this is exactly what Daniel McAdam, a mysterious jack-of-all-trades tells her and anyone who will listen when he lays out all the reasons he admires and respects her.

Kat and Daniel don’t get the happily ever after I very much wanted them to have at the end of Death Below Stairs but… that’s absolutely fine with me.

Why?

Because that meant there would be a second book, of course!

It’s only been about six months since I read Death Below Stairs and getting back into Kat’s world, about six months later in the story, was like catching up with old friends. Kat, Daniel, Mr. Thanos, Lady Cynthia, Davis, James… I missed them! And I got to meet Tess in this story so that’s even better!

But anyway…

In Scandal Above Stairs, somebody is stealing all sorts of antiquities from the fancy homes of London and, as before, the gossip flows freely through the grapevine of the downstairs staffs. Kat, however, is pulled in more when Lady Cynthia specifically requests that she help figure out the mystery as one of Lady Cynthia’s dearest friends has been repeatedly victimized by the thieves.

Things take an absolutely delightful turn when Kat not so subtly plays matchmaker with the mens’ suit wearing Lady Cynthia and the fish-out-of-water Elgin Thanos. Cynthia and Elgin may be the pairing I ship hardest in this book!

Tess Parsons, the new girl in this story, is brilliant in her role as a sort of surrogate daughter, cook’s assistant to Kat and I very much love the story more for her being there.

But then… then Daniel starts opening up to Kat about his history! Tiny bits at a time but enough that it makes absolute sense when Kat stuns him with the declaration that she would adopt his son James if anything ever happened to Daniel.

The mystery gets solved of course, because Kat and Daniel think in tandem even when they aren’t in speaking range of each other. And the twist is fantastic and perfect for the history lover in me (think mummies!) but to explain more would be to spoil the book and, let’s be honest, I really want you to read the book! We’ll talk details after you do!

I will say that even though it is a mystery and has a whodunit theme, that is not the overriding theme of Jennifer Ashley’s book. I couldn’t have predicted who was behind it and all and, to be honest, I didn’t really try. I was having way too much fun just reading!

A final thing to mention about these books about Kat Holloway? They’ll make you hungry! The way Jennifer Ashley describes the food Kat cooks, the way she writes Kat talking about food… it’s heavenly. It’s a whole new reason to want to time travel back to Victorian England, only this time I want to go below stairs and sample food like Tess does throughout this story!

As far as happily ever after goes… it’s getting there. For Kat and Daniel, for Cynthia and Elgin. It’s getting there. Possibly I’m unwilling to commit because I’m daring to hope and dream that there will be more to the story of Kat Holloway. It’s not a bad thing to dream of, really. Unless it doesn’t come. Then I will be incredibly sad.

So…

Many, many thanks to the kind people at Berkley and Penguin Random House for the chance to read this incredibly lovely book.

And, to Jennifer Ashley… please, you are going to write more about Kat Holloway, aren’t you? I adore every bit of it! And thank you for writing it!

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Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS does everything right…

34927953Is it possible to give a book seven stars out of five? I would give Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS seven stars out of five, if I could. So let’s say that I have. Good? Good. Now let me tell you why…

I think I’d read six percent (I’d happily received an eBook ARC) when I liked it enough to peek at it on Goodreads. Let me tell you, I was thrilled (thrilled!) to see there will be a sequel this summer. That’s a lot of investment from me that early on in a book, but you do what a book tells you to do. And this book made me want more of this world, of these characters, of Jennifer Ashley’s writing, and of the things that happened here.

DEATH BELOW STAIRS drops immediately into 1881 London (a definite hook for the historical fiction addict that I am) and I found myself meeting Mrs. Holloway as she starts a new job as a cook in one of the fancy Victorian houses that so much historical fiction likes to focus on. Mrs. Holloway, who is only about thirty years old and uses the idea of missus with some liberty, finds herself employed by Lord and Lady Rankin. They are minor characters in the story, hardly ever part of the action, but they are compelling. As are Mrs. Bowen and Mr. Davis, the housekeeper and butler of the Rankin house. The cast is rounded out by Sinead – a kitchen maid, James – a boy at home in the streets, Lady Cynthia – the unmarried sister of Lady Rankin, and Daniel McAdam – the mysterious man and father to James, who shares some history with Mrs. Holloway.

I adore them all. Absolutely adore them. They are, all of them, interesting and complex and fun.

It’s obvious that Daniel, who exists as easily as a wealthy man-about-town as he does a day laborer who hires himself out for menial chores and sleeps above stables, has something like love for Kat. (Kat is Mrs. Holloway, though only Daniel calls her that… and never in front of anyone else.) He might not be willing to admit it, but it’s there. And his hesitancy makes it all the more perfect.

I never watched Downton Abbey and my other experience with Upstairs-Downstairs dynamics in fiction is limited. But this? This murder mystery spin on that is something that works incredibly well.

I never guessed who might have killed the victim, why anyone might have killed the victim, or even how the murder would be solved. Even a murder in the Rankin house took on a whole different look under the wider scope of the Fenians, Queen Victoria, and openness and equality in Victorian England.

It’s Lady Cynthia who fascinates me, as much as I do the not-yet-couple that is Kat and Daniel, because it is Lady Cynthia who really bridges both worlds best. She can do it, she has to do it, because she doesn’t fit in either world. Not as she like to be accepted. (I may have cheered aloud when Mr. Thanos declared her beautiful and fascinating… and they may be one of the best reasons to read the sequel.)

I didn’t expect such breathless and yet balanced suspense and drama and action from this book. Maybe because I expect the Victorians to be stuffy and dull or maybe because I expected it to have more romance. I am very happy to have been proven wrong and I am sorry (and also not sorry, because how else would I be so surprised?) for it.

The story ends with sadness, which is essentially how it began, but it seems as though the message is that sadness gives way to a chance at hope and happiness. It’s awfully poetic and nice. And though there is a sequel to be released this summer, the main plot lines of this story are fully wrapped up. There is no cliffhanger and this book could stand alone easily (and I’m tempted to skip the sequel and let it, because I’m afraid nothing can be this good!).

I read it too fast and it was over too soon but I love this book. It comes out January 2, 2018 and I’m going to buy it. I hope you will too!

I received a copy of DEATH BELOW STAIRS through NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own & my review is cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.