Julia Snowden is back in “Musseled Out,” the third installment of Barbara Ross’ great Maine Clambake Mystery series.
The Maine summer tourist season is winding down and it’s time for Julia to make a decision. Should she stay around until the next season to help the family with the Snowden Clambake business or go back to her venture capital job in New York City? Her boss will only hold her spot open for so long – just until the end of the week. She’s got five days to choose between two jobs and lifestyles that could not be more different.
Now that the family livelihood has been saved, about the only thing that really holds Julia to Busman’s Harbor is her boyfriend, Chris. But, is that relationship really just a summer fling? Can she count on him to hang around? Is his constant disappearing act over? In a half-hearted attempt to force herself into making a decision, she looks at places to live in town. She doesn’t like the apartments she’s seen, and her boyfriend’s cabin is a little rough (translation – gutted while being rehabbed) for her taste. Plus, she has to find work in the off-season. Is that a sign?
The thing is, as in any good series, there has to be motivation for the out-of-town main character to hang around. We don’t want Julia to go anywhere, so Ross has to give this smart, savvy gal in “Musseled Out” an authentic reason. How about the body of a potential competitor, David Thwing, tangled up in the lines of a lobster boat she sees drifting off her beach? Julia has helped the local police successfully before, so they trust her not to be involved in Thwing’s death, but there are plenty of people (including her brother-in-law) in her circle that could have done the deed.
What follows is a beautifully crafted plot, with surprising twists and turns, and impeccably placed events that foil the bad guys’ plans. There is even a page-turning rescue scene that left me stunned, with the life and death struggles reading like an actual Coast Guard response.
Ross has developed the core characters of the series even further in “Musseled Out,” giving Gus and Mrs. Gus a storyline of their own that affects Julia and Chris in a profound way. The book not only explores what happens when key personnel in a family business are sidelined, and the serious decisions that must be made, but also how bad decisions can wreck havoc on the lives of everyone involved.
The motivations for everything that happens are as current as the latest news cycle, but if that’s not enough, there are some serious cooks in this series. Techniques are shared as part of the storyline, and I plan to try the one for fried eggs. Recipes for main dishes and desserts are included at the end of the book. I made lobster mac & cheese from “Clammed Up,” (delicious) and I can’t wait to try the pumpkin whoopee pies from “Musseled Out.”
Read the review of “Clammed Up,” the first in the series, here.
For more information about Barbara Ross and her next book, “Fogged Inn,” please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com
Laura Bradford’s “Suspendered Sentence” continues the story of Claire and Jakob in the fourth book of her bestselling Amish Mystery series. Claire Weatherly, big city escapee and now shopkeeper in the Amish community of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, lives in her aunt’s bed & breakfast, helps with the Inn’s upkeep and enjoys her simpler country life.
Claire’s heart is mending after a bad marriage, and she has come to value her time with Jakob Fisher, a shunned former member of the Amish, a Detective on the police force that oversees law enforcement for the entire town, including the Amish.
In “Suspendered Sentence,” an Amish barn burns to the ground and when the barn raising begins, a skeleton is found on the property. If that isn’t enough, the skeleton is found with a bracelet that had been given to a missing girl some 15 years before. Jakob must investigate, but being shunned, is not allowed to speak with the Amish directly about what has occurred. Claire continues her intermediary role in order to get to the truth. Their relationship has developed quietly through the series, as their attraction to each other warms, moving beyond their investigative bond.
Bradford skillfully weaves in details of Amish culture, with more about the Rumspringa tradition in “Suspendered Sentence.” During Rumspringa season, the sixteen year olds experience the world beyond the isolated community and afterwards are able make an informed choice about becoming baptized and living out their lives as Amish. Occasionally, teens do leave permanently after Rumspringa, but the ones that stay supposedly have no regrets or worries about what they might be missing by staying. So, when the murdered girl had originally disappeared during Rumspringa, nobody went looking for her. It was unexpected to have no goodbyes, but not unheard of.
In the course of the investigation, terrible and unexpected secrets are revealed, jealousy is uncovered, and bitterness erupts in destructive ways. The characters’ relationships are touching and difficult and quite real in this outwardly gentle community. We feel the pain, the anguish and finally horror as long hidden truths are laid bare and discussed.
Bradford’s effective use of Amish cultural values as a plot device, some of which might make little sense to an outsider, keeps us turning the pages in this well written mystery. The barn raising after the fire in “Suspendered Sentence,” is a fascinating look at how the community bands together when disaster strikes. We learn why Jakob is not allowed to speak with his own family members and along the way, Aunt Diane provides comforting advice and insight to Claire about the Amish.
Layers of complex stories involve both communities, with elections, family squabbles, new employees, the lives of the English and the Amish both clashing and blending, all leading to a surprising outcome.
“Suspendered Sentence” is a wonderful addition to the series.
Please visit www.laurabradford.com for more information about Bradford and the Amish Mystery series, as well as other books she writes under a pseudonym.
“The Skeleton Takes a Bow” is the second entry in Leigh Perry’s series featuring Georgia Thackery and her very own skeleton, Sid. Sid has been Georgia’s best friend since she was a little girl and as long as she’s known him, he’s been a skeleton. Adult, clackety, walking, talking, intelligent, able to separate head from body, and with a somewhat mysterious past. Yup, just the qualities you’d want a best friend to have.
Georgia’s daughter, Madison, is in the bare bones high school production of “Hamlet” and needs help with props. Sid, being the ham that he is, is more than happy to comply and step in as Yorick. Nobody outside the family knows that the ‘alive’ Sid exists, except for the occasional Halloween or Manga/anime outing, so Sid’s skull will be transported back and forth in a bowling bag. The plot thickens when Madison accidentally leaves him at school and while Sid is waiting in the auditorium to be picked up, he hears a murder being committed.
Problem is, there is no body and no evidence left at the scene – the very public school auditorium. Georgia believes Sid’s story, but what can she do? Sid can’t call the police and report the crime; Georgia can’t call it in from her home phone. How would she explain knowing about the murder?
So, you guessed it – they have to figure out who disposed of the body so that the police will have something to go on. What happens as “The Skeleton Takes a Bow” unfolds, places everyone in Georgia’s circle in jeopardy at one time or another while multiple suspects are revealed and ruled out. Sneaky professors, gossipy colleagues, slimy parents – nobody is left out of the “Whodunit?” possibilities. Another murder is discovered and the mixups and misunderstandings multiply.
Cool new characteristics of this original character, Sid-the-computer-skilled-skeleton, are introduced. With Madison’s help, he learns how to manipulate his bones more effectively with hilarious results for the plot. Sid still hides when outsiders show up at the house and is probably the biggest eavesdropper on the planet, but we love his protective interference.
As in “A Skeleton in the Family,” Perry explores the serious side of the life of an adjunct professor. In a cost-cutting move over the years, colleges have employed more adjuncts and it has become harder to move into tenured positions that provide benefits and living-wage salaries. Not knowing whether or not there will be a job the next semester, or whether the family has to move again, is a constant worry in the back of Georgia’s mind.
Not to give too much away, but another subplot addresses a very real problem facing colleges today and a scam that has been around for decades. Georgia stumbles upon the wrongdoing and doesn’t want an old friend to be implicated, but as the subplots overlap, life gets complicated for everyone.
Relationships within the family are developed in “The Skeleton Takes a Bow,” and as we get to know this very likable group of people, we can’t wait to see what they will do together next. Thoroughly entertaining read!
Read the review of “A Skeleton in the Family” here.
Please visit www.leighperryauthor.com for information about Ms. Perry, Sid and her future projects.
Goldy Schulz’s catering business is short of cash in “The Main Corpse,” so when a lucrative gig comes along, she is more than happy to serve up her tastiest dishes, despite the fact that the event will be held at a mining site. Yup, you read that correctly. Well, not inside the mine – in a tent outside the entrance, but still. When was the last time you attended a catered event at a mine? With that unusual setting for the party that will pull Goldy out of near catering oblivion, we wonder…what will go wrong first? 😉
The company backing the re-opening of the Eurydice Gold Mine has lots of wealthy investors. Goldy is eager to showcase the food, and maybe get a few new clients, but when the party goes south – yelling, insults, hail, rain, and mud – she doubts that anybody will remember how good the menu was. Her best friend, Marla, is a primary investor and makes accusations about the veracity of the mine, and becomes a prime suspect when missing persons, multiple murders, and more mayhem enter the story.
There are complications galore, an assistant that accidentally does the right thing every once in a while, characters slithery enough to join ranks of the reptile kingdom, as well as a great relationship between Goldy and her cop husband, Tom, in the “The Main Corpse.” We learn about the ins and outs of the catering business, the last minute catastrophes that can and do spell disaster for an event, and what a talented cook does to avert those disasters. Mix in the yummy looking recipes scattered throughout the book, and you can see why this series is 17 books strong.
The catering business can be murder. At least that is what many of the foodie cozies lead us to believe. But if you are a foodie as well as a mystery lover, they can deliver a smorgasbord of wicked fun. “The Main Corpse” is indeed a delicious addition to the genre.
“The Main Corpse” is the sixth book in Diane Mott Davidson's Culinary Mystery series starring Goldy Schulz. Please visit http://dianemottdavidsonbooklist.com/ to see the rest of the list as well as the other books Davidson has written.
I buy over 100 books a year from brick and mortar stores, and am given loads of free books at the conferences I attend, so I have piles of novels and a few weighty works of non-fiction sitting around the house. (This is the reason for the free drawings we hold for subscribers at NBR)
Soooo…what draws me to pick up a particular title at the bookstore if I’m not already familiar with the author? On any given day, I preselect the genre by wandering into category areas of the brick and mortar store, whether indie or big box store. Then, I am drawn to:
1) The color of the spine and cover
2) The artwork and text on the cover
3) The blurb on the back cover
Notice that #1 is not about the author or the concept of the book. The initial interaction is not about the cover text. If you don’t pick the book up, you’ll never read that part anyway. Marketing people discovered years ago that the eye is drawn to bright splashes of color when choosing a product – any product – and that reds and yellows are seen first, then blues and greens. The rest of the artwork on the covers is set off by that color. Think of it as the backdrop for showcasing the information being delivered by the artwork and the text.
The art on the covers
Authors and publishers alike stay up nights, hoping and praying that the colors, the design, the font, the size of every tiny piece of graphic on the cover – all go together in a way that will entice you to pick up the book. Is there a person in the artwork? How about guns? Or beaches? Or cats? Is the setting implied somehow? Is the artwork dynamic, garish, or calming? Is the artwork representative of the actual content inside the book?
The publisher’s blurb on the back cover of today’s novels reveals something about the lead character and contains just enough about the plot to make us want to know more. If the book seems a little different, inspirational or more exciting than the norm, we feel compelled to plunk down money and take that book home. If the book is even better than the blurb promised? We tell our friends.
The following books exceeded the promise of the back cover. My thoughts are in bold type.
“John Rain kills people. For a living. His specialty: making it seem like death by natural causes. But he won’t take out just anyone. The job must be an exclusive. The target must be a principal player. And he’ll never murder a woman.” – Rain Fall by Barry Eisler.
This was the debut novel for the bestselling author. Excellent hit-man thriller that was made into a movie in 2011. Eisler drew from his own time as a lawyer in Tokyo for the exotic backdrop. The Rain series continues to be successful.
“Former army homicide investigator Paul Brenner has just gotten used to the early retirement forced on him after the disastrous end of his last case when his old commanding officer asks him to return for one final mission: investigate a murder that took place in wartime Vietnam thirty years before. Brenner reluctantly accepts out of curiosity and loyalty…and maybe a touch of boredom. He won’t be bored for long.” –
Up Country by Nelson DeMille. The book delivers far more than a chilling murder investigation. It is based on DeMille’s own experiences in Vietnam and takes a look at war and its aftermath. Haunting. Reviewed here on NBR.
“First a dead stranger. Now a missing police chief. Did Cade run off to elope…or has he met with foul play?” – Southern Storm by Terri Blackstock Nobody in her right mind would think that Cade had eloped. The blurb seems purposely misleading. Thank goodness for Blackstock fans that the book was better than the blurb.
“Times are a-changin’ in Pickax, giving Jim Qwilleran some newsworthy notes for the Qwill Pen. A new senior center is in the works as well as a frisky production of ‘Cats.’ And a local mansion…” The Cat Who Had Sixty Whiskers” by Lilian Jackson Braun.
This was the 29th book in the gentle ‘Cat Who…’ series. Fans buy the books no matter what’s on the cover. Mom bought every one. The series is reviewed here on NBR.
Now for the two covers for Rain Fall. The original cover is the red one. It popped into my view at a conference, piled next to stacks of books by other authors. The more recent cover is the blue one on the right (same book, different title) designed after Eisler regained the rights to his books and changed titles and covers. If you don’t already know who Barry Eisler is, which one would cause you to buy the book?
Do you choose a book based on the blurb? Is it the art on the cover itself that helps you decide? Let us know in the comments below. J
*note: I buy lots of ebooks as well, but that’s for another post.