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Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, encounter an uncharitable killer at a charity luncheon sponsored by a posh school for girls . . .
Good deeds build good character, and good character is what the Haverleigh School for Young Ladies is all about. Lady Phoebe—with the tireless assistance of Eva—has organized a luncheon to benefit wounded veterans of the Great War, encouraging the students to participate in the cooking and the baking. But too many cooks add up to a recipe for disaster when the school’s headmistress, Miss Finch, is fatally poisoned.
The girls at Haverleigh all come from highly respected English families, none of whom will countenance their darling daughters being harassed like common criminals by the local police. So Lady Phoebe steps in to handle the wealthy young debutantes with tact and discretion, while Eva cozies up to the staff. No one is above suspicion, not even members of the school’s governing body, some of whom objected to Miss Finch’s “modern” methods. But Lady Phoebe and Eva will have to sleuth with great stealth—or an elusive killer may try to teach someone else a lethal lesson . . .
“Colorful information on the postwar period is combined with plenty of suspects, all neatly wrapped up in the style of a classic mystery.”
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A Pinch of Poison
By Alyssa Maxwell
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Lisa Manuel
All rights reserved.
"Ladies, although the war is over, it is not yet time for England to rest. Quite the contrary." Phoebe Renshaw, granddaughter of the Earl of Wroxly, looked up from her notes and braved a glance at her audience, ranged at tables in what had once been the ballroom of Haverleigh House, on the outskirts of the village of Little Barlow. When an intelligent brown-eyed gaze connected with hers, her spine straightened and her chin lifted as they typically did beneath her grandmother's scrutiny. Grams, a tall, slender figure in severe head-to-toe black, sat at the front and center table and nodded encouragement up at her. She smiled slightly for good measure, sending a bracing surge of pride through Phoebe. Funny that she still sought Grams's approval even at the ripe old age of twenty.
Sitting beside Grams, Phoebe's eldest sister, Julia, sighed and used her fork to push leftover bits of Cornish hen and mushroom-stuffed tomatoes around her plate. She was looking particularly splendid today in a sporty, flowing jersey ensemble in creamy beige with black trim, something from the latest collection of a newish designer named Chanel.
Only Julia could look so lovely while behaving so thoughtlessly. Before Phoebe could look away, Julia flicked a glance up at her, little more than a flutter of her eyelashes, but in that moment, her eyebrow quirked in a familiar way, as if to say, Really, Phoebe, how much longer do you intend to bore us?
Her confidence slipped. Was she boring her audience? And if so, why did Julia need to point it out to her? More to the point, why wasn't Julia up here with her? How lovely that would have been — the two elder Renshaw sisters, working together to better the lot of others. But no, since Papa's death in the war three years ago, Julia pretended to care about nothing, except the pleasure she apparently took in calling attention to Phoebe's faults. If Grams went into mourning three years ago and never quite emerged — rather like Queen Victoria had at the death of Prince Albert — Julia had turned off the better part of her emotions. Although why she turned her most acerbic sentiments on Phoebe remained something of a mystery, for Julia remained cordial toward their younger sister and simply chose to ignore their brother.
Phoebe knew better than to let Julia undermine her resolve.
Don't be a goose. You have a vital message to deliver. Remember the words you rehearsed, do not let your voice waver, and for goodness' sake, don't stutter!
"M-many of those we consider lucky to have arrived home from the war are in fact struggling daily to support their families, indeed, struggling to survive." Much to her surprise, she enunciated clearly after that initial stumble. "Our veterans, especially those wounded in the service of our country, deserve better. Those whom we hail as heroes need our assistance now more than ever, and so I thank the Haverleigh School for Young Ladies for hosting us today, and for the students' efforts in collecting clothing, personal necessities, and household items to be dispersed among veterans and their families residing in the Cotswolds."
She moistened her lips and aimed an acknowledging nod and accompanying smile at headmistress Henrietta Finch, who sat at Grams's other side. She did not know the woman well, for while Phoebe had attended Haverleigh during most of the war years, Miss Finch had only stepped into the position a year ago. "Miss Finch, we owe you a debt of gratitude for embracing this cause and allowing the school to participate."
The woman, stout, square-jawed, and always flushed as if she had just run a brisk mile, tipped her head modestly in return. The assistant headmistress, younger and trimmer than her superior, pressed a hand to her bosom and also nodded, but far less modestly, in Phoebe's opinion. True, Miss Verity Sedgewick had insisted on overseeing each step of the preparations for today's luncheon, but she had been in the way more often than not.
Phoebe continued. "I thank all of you, our gracious guests here today — mothers, benefactors, members of the school's governing body — for your generous donations to the Relief and Comfort of Veterans and their Families, or the RCVF, if you will. Your pledges of continued support will ensure our success as we endeavor to assist our valiant young men — and women — to pick up the pieces of their lives and regain their dignity and self-sufficiency."
She stepped back from the podium. Polite applause spread through the room. It was enough to satisfy Phoebe, who wanted only to return to her seat and enjoy the array of desserts and glazed fruit that were to be served next. Speaking to large numbers of people was not her forte, but since the RCVF and this charity luncheon had been her idea, she'd had little choice.
Less than a month after the war ended last November she had realized she could not return to the idle life she had known before the war. No longer could she anticipate days filled with parties, picnics, hunts, and parlor games. The war years had taught her what it was to be useful, to give of one's time rather than endlessly taking, to solve problems and even, if one were clever enough, prevent them from arising. She hoped today's efforts, and future ones, would prevent families from going hungry and put clothes on their backs — minimal thanks for the great sacrifices suffered during the war.
Now all she had to do was step down off the speaker's platform without tripping. She was in the process of doing just that when a crash and a shout tore up the steps from the kitchen and along the service corridor, only partially muffled by the baize door behind her.
Several cries erupted and chairs scraped back as attendees leapt to their feet. Phoebe held up her hands. "Please, everyone, there's no need to panic. Just a small mishap, I'm sure. If you'll excuse me, I'll just go check on things. ..."
With a startled expression, Miss Finch started to rise, but sank back into her seat when Grams placed a firm hand on her forearm. "My granddaughter can handle it."
With that endorsement, Phoebe hurried into the corridor. It registered in her mind that Miss Sedgewick had made no move to leave her chair. Apparently, her desire to help didn't extend to when help might actually be needed.
Belowstairs in the main kitchen, Phoebe quickly scanned for blood, burns, broken appendages. To her vast relief, the students and kitchen staff appeared sound enough, except for their sour expressions. A small crowd of young ladies in matching blue skirts and white shirtwaists hovered around the abundantly round figure of the school cook, Mrs. Honeychurch. The sounds of weeping drew Phoebe's attention to one girl in particular. Unruly spirals the color of newly polished copper spilled from a hasty updo, identifying a sixth form girl known for her shy, often nervous nature.
Oh, dear. What small disaster had occurred now?
It certainly wouldn't be the first. This morning's casualties had included not only a spilled quart of milk but a shattered pitcher as well, nearly a dozen broken eggs, a burned soda bread, and an oversight when it came to adding sugar to the lemonade. Unfortunately, several of the luncheon guests had been served before the mistake was discovered. That was, in fact, how it had been discovered.
It had also been Phoebe's idea to have the older students manage the luncheon preparations, and Miss Finch had given her wholehearted approval. "Most of these girls have little notion of what their servants endure each day simply in keeping their employers fed and happy," the woman had declared. "It's high time they learned."
Phoebe agreed. It had seemed like such good idea ... in theory. The design for the invitations had been stylish, the menu plans inspired, the seating arrangements diplomatic, and the floral decorations cheerful yet refined. In these matters the girls exhibited high levels of proficiency, but of course that was to be expected of fashionable young ladies. When it came to the preparation and serving of food, however ... suffice it to say, Phoebe felt obligated to personally see to the cleaning of Lady Stanhope's green China silk suit from the Redfern spring collection — as she had heard her ladyship specifically mention upon being splattered with orange-sherry glaze as the Cornish hens were served.
Phoebe was making her way over to the scene of this latest mishap when, from behind the center worktable, up popped Eva Huntford, lady's maid to Phoebe and her two sisters. She held a wire whisk brush in one hand and, in the other, a dustpan piled high with sticky, glazed berries and cut fruit that sadly sported a dingy coating of whatever other morsels had fallen to the floor during the course of the luncheon preparations. One of the kitchen maids appeared with a bucket and mop. The crowd of girls moved aside to let her through.
Phoebe didn't need an explanation to guess what happened, but as soon as the red-haired Lilyanne Mucklow spotted her, the girl's pale eyebrows, barely visible against her freckles, drew tightly together above her reddened nose. "I c-couldn't help it, Lady Phoebe! I tripped."
"Well, and what on earth did you trip over?" the cook asked, most unhelpfully. "There was nothing in your way."
Lilyanne's bright blue eyes shifted, lighting for an instant on another sixth form girl. Lady Zara Worthington's babyish features hardened to a scowl, prompting Lilyanne to quickly drop her gaze and shrug. "I didn't spill all of it."
"You spilled enough of it. There isn't enough to go around now, Lillian." Zara's violet-blue eyes narrowed accusingly. "The desserts we've worked so diligently to create will look positively uninspired without the fruit to garnish each plate."
"My name is Lilyanne, not Lillian." The girl wiped at her tears with the back of a freckled hand.
Another girl with plain features, lanky brown hair, and a sturdy frame intervened. "I glazed the fruit, so I don't know why you should complain so bitterly, Zara."
Zara Worthington's nostrils flared. "Jane Timmons, do not speak to me." She pushed her face closer to the other girl's. "Farm girls should know their place."
"Now, ladies, that will be quite enough," Mrs. Honeychurch said, but without the conviction of someone used to disciplining students.
The situation needed to be defused, and fast. With an attempt to make light of the accident, Phoebe patted Lilyanne's angular shoulder. "It doesn't matter how it happened, there's no use in crying over spilled fruit. We'll simply serve tea and dessert without it. But, Jane, we'll be sure to let Miss Finch know of your efforts in making the glaze. Now then, Mrs. Honeychurch, are the kettles warmed?"
"They are, my lady."
"Good. Girls, let the brewing begin."
As an orderly commotion resumed, Phoebe moved off to one side and motioned for Eva to join her. With lustrous dark hair pulled back in a tidy bun, striking green eyes, and a trim figure, Eva Huntford might easily have passed for one of the aristocratic ladies sitting in the dining hall. However, her serviceable black dress and sensible, low-heeled pumps identified her as the lady's maid she was. Phoebe longed to see Eva in something more elegant, but Eva wouldn't hear of it. The one time Phoebe had made the suggestion, Eva had rolled her eyes and laughed.
"Did you see what happened?" Phoebe asked her. She watched Zara Worthington as the girl bent in front of one of the ovens to remove a cake tin. Before she grasped the hot metal, Mrs. Honeychurch cried out Zara's name and shoved a pair of towels into her hands. Otherwise, the careless girl would have handled the pan barehanded and singed her fingers. Phoebe shook her head. "Did Zara intentionally trip Lilyanne?"
"I honestly didn't see, my lady."
"Is there some ongoing dispute between Zara and Lilyanne?"
"There is always some dispute between Zara and Lilyanne." It wasn't Eva but Amelia, Phoebe's nearly sixteen-year-old sister, who replied. Attempting to brush powdered sugar from the pleats of her uniform skirt, she sidled closer and whispered, "There are disputes between Zara and absolutely everyone, at one time or another."
Eva leaned over to assist Amelia in patting her skirt clean. "My lady, this is what aprons are for."
"Yes, sorry. I always forget."
Phoebe wanted to know more about Zara. "Is she often so disagreeable toward the other girls? I noticed she also spoke sharply to Jane Timmons for no apparent reason."
"Jane can take care of herself." Amelia absently tipped her head to one side as Eva repinned golden blond strands that had fallen loose.
"What about you?" Phoebe asked. "Is Zara unpleasant with you?"
"Sometimes, but I don't pay her much attention. As if I could care what that rattlebrain has to say. But Lilyanne does, unfortunately. She hasn't much confidence and doesn't stick up for herself."
"Do the other girls stick up for her?"
Phoebe's question sent a blush creeping up Amelia's already rosy cheeks. "Well ... Lilyanne isn't the easiest girl to get to know. She spends most of her free time alone. Prefers her books to people. At least that's the impression I've gotten."
Phoebe treated her sister to a disapproving lift of an eyebrow. "Amelia, are you allowing the other girls to dictate whom you befriend and whom you do not?"
"I ... em ... I don't mean to."
"Lady Amelia," Mrs. Honeychurch called, "time to take your raspberry tart out of the icebox."
"Coming, Mrs. Honeychurch!" Looking relieved, Amelia scurried away. Eva called after her to walk and not run, lest another unfortunate incident occur. She turned back to Phoebe.
"You'd best get back to the dining hall, my lady."
"I think perhaps I'd better stay and help out here."
Eva shook her head. "If you don't go back, your grandmother is liable to come looking for you. Things are frenzied enough down here without the Countess of Wroxly poking her head in."
"Eva, you are right as always. Good luck. I'll have my fingers crossed the remainder of the luncheon is smooth sailing."
Eva let go an uncharacteristic guffaw. "Now you're hoping for the moon, my lady."
* * *
"All right, ladies. Queue up with your desserts, please." Eva clapped her hands for attention. Slowly, the din of chatter subsided and the nearly twenty-odd girls lifted platters of blancmange, bread pudding, fruit tarts, petit fours, honey cakes, and other creamy, sticky, sweet concoctions. The rest carried full teapots draped in bright-colored cozies. Unmistakable pride glowed on each girl's face, and suddenly these past hours of frustrations, tempers, and tears seemed more than worth it.
Of course, that didn't stop Zara Worthington from imparting one last rebuff to a still teary-eyed Lilyanne. "I still cannot believe you ruined the glazed fruit."
"Never mind about that, Lady Zara," Eva said calmly, earning a haughty look from the girl, one that spoke of retribution if Eva didn't watch out. Eva ignored it and climbed the steps up to the corridor.
Assistant headmistress Verity Sedgewick peered in from the dining hall doorway. Like the gasses rolling across no man's land, a cloud of violet-scented perfume filled the corridor, prompting Eva to cough. She recognized the fragrance, for Lady Phoebe had received a bottle of it for her last birthday in February. It was Brise de Violettes, a new product and one of the few perfumes that succeeded in capturing the true essence of the flower. Lady Phoebe's came in a Baccarat crystal bottle and when she used it, she did so sparingly, unlike Miss Sedgewick. It struck Eva as odd that Miss Sedgewick could afford the same luxury on her school administrator's salary.
The young woman wore blue and white silk crepe that mimicked the girls' uniforms, yet with draping that hinted at the work of Paul Poiret — again, surprising for an assistant headmistress, but then again, Miss Sedgewick never missed an opportunity to remind people she hailed from a landed family in Hereford. Perhaps her relatives supplemented her income.
"Is everyone ready?" the woman called out as if the luncheon hinged upon her leadership, as if Eva couldn't manage to direct the girls into the dining hall.
"All ready, Miss Sedgewick," they responded in the practiced unison of schoolgirls, and formed a queue in front of her.
Excerpted from A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell. Copyright © 2017 Lisa Manuel. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Pinch of Poison is the second book in a series, yet it stands on its own quite well. There are enough references to the first book to give a reader a pretty good idea what happened, and to maybe pique one’s interest enough to want to go back and read it, without making it feel necessary to this story. Lady Phoebe Renshaw, with the help of her maid, Eva Huntsford, has planned a charity event at their alma-matter, the Haverleigh School for Young Ladies. Eva attended on a scholarship, but did not graduate due to family issues. But the event is ruined when the headmistress is poisoned. Who did it and why? There are plenty of suspects for the young ladies to investigate before they figure out who did it and why, and Ms. Maxwell kept me on my toes trying to figure it out with them. My only problem with A Pinch of Poison is the combination of the title and cover art, which was a cartoon. Looking at them, I thought the book would be a humorous murder mystery, but it wasn’t. Yes, it’s a cozy mystery, but I was expecting humor as well, and I believe the cover art was a bit misleading. While illustration can be less expensive than stock photography, sometimes it’s just not appropriate—and I believe this is one of those times. So, don’t be deceived by the cover. A Pinch of Poison is a serious cozy mystery, but it is well worth reading, even if you haven’t read the first book in the series.
An interesting historical mystery with a variety of characters. Typical for its time period, the division between classes is pronounced and essential. Well done and fun to read.
A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell is the second book in the A Lady & Lady’s Maid Mystery series. It is April in 1919 in Little Barlow. Lady Phoebe Renshaw is at a charity luncheon at Haverleigh School for Young Ladies. Phoebe has helped organize this event (along with the help of her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford) to help raise items and funds to help war veterans (Relief and Comfort for Veterans and their Families). The young ladies at the school helped collect the items, and they prepared the luncheon for today’s guests. The girls bring out the desserts and Zara Worthington presents the headmistress, Miss Henrietta Finch, with a Madeira cake. Several minutes later, Miss Finch starts choking and clutching at her throat. The nurse is called but Miss Finch collapses before Nurse Delacy can arrive. Chief Inspector Isaac Perkins and Constable Miles Brannock are called to scene. It is suspected that Miss Finch has been poisoned. Lady Phoebe assists with the questioning of the scholars while Eva helps with the staff. It turns out that Miss Finch was not well liked because of her progressive ideas (she was a suffragist and wanted the girls to learn mathematics as well as other unladylike subjects). Phoebe sets out to find the guilty party with help from Eva, Major Lord Owen Seabright, and Constable Brannock. The killer, though, does not wish to be caught and will go to great lengths to stay free. Will this investigation be Phoebe’s undoing? A Pinch of Poison was an engaging book. I liked the characters as well as the setting (and time period). I liked Phoebe’s attitude, determination and inquisitive mind. I summarized the main storyline, but there are other situations happening as well (Julia, Phoebe’s sister, is being particularly secretive). I found A Pinch of Poison to be nicely written and had a good, steady pace. I give A Pinch of Poison 4.5 out of 5 stars (I enjoyed it, but I was able to solve the mystery). There is a good moral lesson contained within the storyline. The mystery was complicated, but it can be solved if the reader pays careful attention to the clues (one in particular). I think many people will be surprised by the culprit which is the sign of a well-crafted mystery. While this is the second book in the series, you can enjoy it as a stand-alone. The author provides the needed information for the reader (you will not be lost). I eagerly anticipate the next novel in the A Lady & Lady’s Maid Mystery series.
A delightful puzzle from beginning to end. The author deftly drops clues for the reader to follow. Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her maid, Eva Huntford, complement each other as they seek to discover who murdered the headmistress of Haverleigh, a school for girls. Phoebe and Eva’s relationship is one based on mutual respect and trust. Through their interactions, the author does a masterful job of demonstrating how women’s roles in society and class distinctions began to change in the wake of World War I. The author has an engaging storytelling style that keeps the reader turning pages. Fans of Downtown Abbey will be enamored with this book. I highly recommend “A Pinch of Poison” and eagerly look forward to Phoebe and Eva’s future adventures.
Captivating and charming! Alyssa Maxwell's latest historical mystery featuring 'Lady Phoebe' and her lady's maid 'Eva Huntford' will delight devotees of the series, and most assuredly garner new followers. With its appealing characters, cozy setting, and one tantalizing mystery, readers will be hard-pressed to put the book down! I am already craving a third installment!
I am a HUGE fan of Alyssa Maxwell ! ! Her stories are so easy to get lost in ! Sometimes I don't want to return to the present. I love traveling through time back to days where things were simple and proper. Even though it is set in a time where things were simple, there was still death and murder. And Lady Phoebe always seems to get in the middle of it. In a Pinch of Poison it is no different. The headmistress of the girl's school that Amelia attends dies after eating a meal prepared and served by the girl's. And when they have to close the school so that no one else gets injured and the police can investigate, Lady Phoebe and Eva decide to see what they can find out from the girls and employees. While helping with the investigation Lady Phoebe and Eva are also helping with schooling some of the girls whose parents are abroad and they have no where else to go. I love the fact that Alyssa Maxwell always has you thinking while you are reading. I like the fact that there are many possibilities and you start to like the characters and hope that they didn't commit murder...even though you know that one of them did. She also has an amazing talent in how she inter-mingles ALL of the characters and settings. I truly enjoy traveling back in time with Lady Phoebe and Eva and I'm positive that you will also !! Let Alyssa Maxwell take you there !!
A Pinch Of Poison is the second book in the A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery series. I love both of Alyssa Maxwell’s series. I am always treated to a wonderfully plotted and well-told mystery. In addition, the reader is able to learn about life in 1919, not only from the viewpoint of the wealthy but also from the servant’s eyes, too. Lady Phoebe and her ladies maid, Eva Huntford have been busy gathering clothing and household items for the veterans of World War I and their families, who are much in need of these items. The students of Haverleigh School For Young Ladies has also been collecting items. The school is having a special luncheon to honor everyone who has taken part in this endeavor and the young students are helping in the kitchen and the serving of lunch. Time has come for dessert to be served and shortly after Henrietta Finch takes the first bite of hers, she begins to start choking. By the time the school’s nurse is found and comes to attend to Miss Finch, she has died. The cause of death is not choking, but that she had been poisoned. Both, Lady Phoebe and Eva had attended Haverleigh and Grams is on the Board at school, so they feel the need to look into who might have wanted Miss Finch out of the picture and the possibility that it was simply an accident by an inexperienced student working in the kitchen. They know that they will be able to learn more than the police from the staff and students at the school. The cast of character is particularly enjoyable. Grams is in between thinking that their servants are more than someone to be at beck and call. But then, Julia Phoebe’s sister is of the “old school” and feels that Phoebe is way to easy on Eva. I feel that part of the reason is that Phoebe and Eva are good at detecting and therefore get more attention directed at them. I find it quite interesting to follow the interaction of Phoebe and Eva. Phoebe is always polite to Eva, but at the same time, like to have some to handle her personal needs. But when they are in process of detecting Phoebe treats her more as equal. Will be looking forward to reading more books this wonderful series.
This is the second book in the A Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell. I have read both books and suggest reading them in order. While there is nothing in this book which works as a spoiler for the first one, there is a growth of the characters that will be enhanced by reading the books in order starting with “Murder Most Malicious”. The story picks up where the first book ended. It is just following the end of World War I (set in 1919), and Lady Phoebe and her maid, Eva, are just getting over the events that caused them so much grief in the last book. There is to be a special luncheon at their local school for young ladies, Haverleigh. As it turns out, both Lady Phoebe and Eva attended the school for a period of time, so it is near and dear to both of their hearts. Lady Phoebe's family are still heavily involved in the school (young Lady Amelia still attends) and they have used it as a vehicle for setting up aid to families who are in need following the war. The school is hosting an event which is designed to bring the aid effort to the attention of the local ladies to further its reach. The young ladies who attend the school have been tasked with making lunch for the attending dignitaries. Something goes awry with the meal and someone dies. Can it possibly have something to do with the food or with one of the young ladies who prepared it? I enjoyed reading the second book in the series. I was able to solve the mystery somewhat before it is unveiled in the book, thanks to the clues the author provides. I'm okay with solving a mystery early. I much prefer that over an ending that is merely dropped on the reader without rhyme or reason. The pace in this novel has picked up over that of the first one. In the first book, the reader is introduced to the characters and, by necessity, the reading is a tad slow. I like the place where this book ends and it certainly has made me look forward to the next in the series. I was provided a digital advance reader copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley.
A nice sequel to her first book. It's always a surprise to find out who is the criminal.
Entertaining . Far fetched, but a page turner
This is Ms. Maxwell’s second book in a series about a lady and her maid set in England after the Great War. I’m happy to say that I like this as much as the first one. This time period fascinates me. Delightful Lady Phoebe is the middle of the 3 sisters and is 20 years old. She and her lady’s maid, Jane, jump into solving the murder that takes place right in front of them. They are at the school that they both went to (Jane on a scholarship.) The Head Mistress eats some cake at a charity function and drops dead. But who would want to kill Miss Finch? It turns out there are many dark secrets at the school. The characters are well defined and continue to grow. The plot is challenging and makes many devious twists and turns. There is even a little romance involved for Phoebe and Jane. I’m looking forward to the next book!