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“Murder in an English Village” by Jessica Ellicott

 

“Murder in an English Village” is the first title in the wonderful new Beryl and Edwina Mystery series by Jessica Ellicott (aka Jessie Crockett/Jessica Estevao). Old school mates, Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport, have lived wildly different lives since leaving Finishing School. American Beryl has been a world traveler and well known adventuress, while English Edwina has lived quietly in Walmsley Parva in picturesque southern England. But Beryl is tired of the demands of public life and Edwina needs a boarder now that her post WW1 income has shriveled. A perfect setup for the old chums to meet again after all these years.

 

Beryl discovers the seriousness of Edwina’s plight, but when she takes it upon herself to pay the shopkeepers for some of Edwina’s bills, she also attempts to divert the gossip about Edwina’s situation with an outlandish lie she reveals to the biggest gossip in town.

 

Beryl persuades Edwina that the BIG LIE will not remain one if they work together to solve a few crimes. What crimes? Warmsley Parva is a fairly quiet place…or is it? The seemingly peaceful village has a great many secrets, some tragically kept to preserve reputations. Villains parade as upstanding citizens with devastating consequences.

 

Ellicott’s marvelously descriptive writing transports us to rustic English cottages, dressed country fields, one phone in a sparsely populated countryside, and small shops showing their wear, while revealing societal views about women of 100 years ago. It was a hard life for everyone worldwide that lived during WW1, but England took years longer to adjust to the new economic reality with money, food, and manpower shortages. In a masterful touch of subtlety, Ellicott shows how Edwina’s financial circumstances change because of Beryl’s presence, and dinners become more varied. Even the occasional outing for tea can be enjoyed.

 

One of the interesting historical references in “Murder in an English Village” is The Women’s Land Army, a government program initiated because able-bodied men that might otherwise have been farming the land, were off fighting for home and country. Women committed to a year to work the land, but despite doing a great service, the women were not always looked upon with favor, considered by some to be a lesser class of citizen. This attitude was exploited by some and used to great effect in the book through Ellicott’s deft character development.

 

“Murder in an English Village” is both historically enlightening and entertaining, launching the new series with two engaging, intelligent women who will capture your hearts and minds.

 

Please visit https://www.jessicaellicott.com for more information about the talented Ms. Ellicott and the next book in the series, “Murder Flies the Coop,” out in September, 2019.

 

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“Pruning the Dead” by Julia Henry

 

“Pruning the Dead” is the first book in the marvelous new Garden Squad Mystery series from Julia Henry (aka JA Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes). Lilly Jayne is a charming 65 y.o. expert gardener, quietly accepting of her beloved husband’s illness and passing. In the real world, it takes a while to heal emotionally from that kind of life trauma and Henry hits all the right notes of grief and recovery, including the friends that nudge Lilly ever so gently to return to former activities.

 

Pat French, the Queen of Bureaucrats at City Hall, fines people that have slightly oversized mailboxes and leave trash receptacles too close to the street. Except for foreclosure notices, there are no warnings, merely multiplying fines. This is not a gated community with strict compliance expected by the residents, this is a diverse small town. French's  regulations are so ridiculous as to keep repairs from getting completed – because the repairs might not live up to code? As we say in the South, “Good grief, she needs a whoopin’ – her mama didn’t raise her right!”

 

A park cleanup is underway when the body of a conniving moneygrubber is discovered on top of the mulch, and the Garden Squad gets organized. They must dig into the many secrets of the dead woman that almost everyone hated, while solving the mystery of the zealous city hall clerk. The picture of stealthy Goosebush Garden Squad do-gooders of a certain age weeding and plotting at midnight, is a hoot to imagine as they skulk and whisper through the neighborhoods.

 

“Pruning the Dead” has a lively cast of business owners and friends with roots in Goosebush that go way back, plus a newbie garden lover that may be the perfect more-than-friend companion for Lilly in the future. And he just happens to live next door… Henry's descriptive phrasing delivers fully-fleshed out characters we'd love to serve on committees with and take out to lunch. They feel like friends for life, delightful for a continuing series. The villains are equally well drawn, creating off-center realities and excuses for themselves while wreaking havoc on everyone else.

 

Henry gives a nod to aching knees and creaky backs of senior citizens, while also showing that brains don’t shrivel just by virtue of reaching the ripe young age of 60. Each of the members provides different skill sets: organization/planning, computer knowledge, horticultural expertise, close connection to the police department, and deep pockets. Combining skills with savvy life experiences, “Pruning the Dead” is a terrific homage to the active, productive boomer crowd that runs the real world. Never underestimate the power of senior citizens. You’ll never, ever outsmart them.

 

There are helpful gardening tips throughout “Pruning the Dead,” and a special list at the end. I can’t wait to see what happens to Lilly Jayne and her Goosebush Garden Squad in book #2, “Tilling the Truth.” Is it August yet? (update: It's out now!)

 

Please visit www.jhauthors.com for more about this multi-talented author and her other work, as well as the books written under her other names.   

 

 

 

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“Murder on Cape Cod” by Maddie Day

 

 

“Murder on Cape Cod” is the first title in a new series by Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell), Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery. Mac (MacKenzie) Almeida belongs to a cozy book club in fictional Westham on Cape Cod, that gathers at different houses to discuss the book of the week. After a meeting one night, she trips over a body on her way home – not quite the same as reading about the fictional bodies on the page.

 

To make matters worse, Mac knew the dead man, an often unpleasant, frequently unreliable handyman, with surprising connections to several members of the community. Why was he killed and by whom? The evidence left at the scene implicates only one person, but how could that be? The prime suspect goes missing, confusing matters for everyone. Guilty people don’t flee, do they?

 

Mac is a bike shop owner and is in a unique position to see lots of people pass by the window every day. She can recognize anyone out of place and since there is absolutely nothing impersonal about a small town, plausible suspects keep popping up.

 

One of the several interesting plotlines cleverly intertwines employee difficulties at the bike shop with the murder. Day uses the real-world challenges of small business ownership to complicate matters for Mac – getting workers to show up on time, dealing with impatient customers, honoring ‘the customer is always right’ credo. I felt as if I was right there in the store.

 

“Murder on Cape Cod” contains plenty of local food discussions at mealtimes. It’s especially fun to read that Mac loves good food, but does a lot of take-out. In Real Life, Day is a talented amateur chef, a personal detail that shines through her descriptions of various dishes in her other series Country Store Mysteries as well as those in this new series. Yummy sounding recipes are included in the back of the book. Cozy readers will also be delighted at the way Day inserts titles of actual cozy mysteries and their characters into the conversations.

 

Day’s writing is crisp in “Murder on Cape Cod” and her multi-layered plot features a cast of characters both diverse and perfectly suited for life in the ebb and flow of a tourist town. Mac’s caring and reliable boyfriend has his own business and Day shows us a rock-solid couple, enjoying each other and their time together, without being joined at the hip. Mac’s father is a pastor, and his wife’s interest in astrology plays a role in the story. Mac’s errant brother and her main employee? There are surprising reveals. And it has to be said: a huge round of applause to Maddie Day for writing a refreshing octogenarian grandmother who is feisty and quite capable of managing her own life.

 

“Murder on the Cape” is a solid page-turner, with a strong new female character, who can’t help herself when wanting to discover the truth. I look forward to the rest of the series.  🙂

 

Please visit www.edithmaxwell.com for more information about the Cozy Capers Book Group.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Steamed Open” by Barbara Ross

 

Julia Snowden is back in “Steamed Open,” the seventh book in Barbara Ross’ Agatha nominated Maine Clambake mystery series. Julia has worked hard to bring the family Clambake business back from the brink of financial disaster, but a new threat challenges her problem-solving ability – the clams she needs for the Clambakes may no longer be readily available. This isn’t a matter of refinancing or getting a backer to underwrite a cash-strapped, seasonal business. The very character of the business itself is vulnerable to the baffling decision of one man.

 

The problem? Public entry to a prime clamming beach and the parking lot near it have been fenced off after local philanthropist, Lou (Heloise) Herrickson, passes away. Her heir, Bartholomew Frick, a very unpleasant distant relative of Lou’s, is not at all interested in the impact that decision has on the community – both tourists and business owners alike. He is only interested in selling the beachfront house and all its contents as quickly as possible. The professional clammers can’t dig up the clams and the dwindling supply is threatening to remove clam dishes from all the area seafood restaurants.

 

Frick winds up dead, killed with a clam rake, and Julia was the last person to see him alive – except for the killer. Who did it? Was it a frustrated local resident, a disgruntled neighbor, or an annoyed vacationer? Who will inherit the estate now since Frick died before a will could be written? Ross provides us with plenty of motives as well as a few feisty suspects and a complex side-plot that moves front and center as the story evolves.

 

Julia bends the rules a bit while looking for someone who would inherit the estate and return the beach access to what had gone before. She has a personal stake in the outcome, since every day without access to the beach creates difficulties for the business and her entire family. “Steamed Open” revisits the point that summer tourist businesses have a limited four- month window in which to earn the money to live on for the year. Not an easy place to exist, let alone thrive.

 

I spent many summers at beach towns on the USA East Coast and as Ross discusses in her book, public beach access is flatly denied in some oceanside communities and in some places, day passes can only be purchased at the police station. Regulations vary from town to town where the debate rages with loud, angry exchanges at the public and private meetings. It’s a choice between a source of revenue for the town and owners that don’t want their expensive beach fronts crowded with strangers that litter the sand and destroy the dunes. Compromises between the groups are hard to achieve in real life.

 

Julia’s relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, gets complicated in “Steamed Open.” He has his own secrets and while they have given each other plenty of space before, she now feels that if the two are going to continue to complement each other in business and as a couple, there has to be more openness. What Chris reveals will break your heart.

 

“Steamed Open” is a study in the necessity to get answers quickly before time runs out and everybody loses. A murder and a search for an heir that affects the entire community? High stakes investigations indeed and a great read, with Ross delivering a clever multi-layered plot, well-crafted continuing (and a few new) characters, and as always, wonderful recipes and that fabulous coastal Maine setting.

 

Click here to read Ross’ Author Profile.

 

Please visit http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com/ for more information about Ross, her appearances, and her other work.


 

 

 

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“A Christmas Peril” by J.A. Hennrikus

 

“A Christmas Peril” introduces us to Sully (Edwina) Sullivan, Theater Cop, a former active duty detective in Massachusetts. Sully is now the managing director of the cash-strapped Cliffside Theater Company whose troupe is about to stage the iconic Christmas play, A Christmas Carol. But first, she has to keep Scrooge from quitting, while holding her ex-husband and an old boyfriend at bay. There’s also the matter of the murders.


In the five years since leaving law enforcement, Sully has not lost her sleuthing skills, so when an old friend becomes a person of interest in his father’s murder and needs Sully’s help, she agrees to look into the circumstances. It turns out that every single member of the family is hiding something. With big money, romantic intrigue, and a large company at stake, there is plenty of motive to go around and no shortage of suspects.


Her ex-husband, Gus, complicates matters just by being around, but he’s a lawyer for the dead man’s family, so he’s hard to avoid. Sully still has a soft spot for him, though, and any guy that can make her toes curl can’t be all bad.


“A Christmas Peril” is an absorbing peek behind the curtain at the world of theater production. Costumes have to last for years, tech rehearsals take longer than I would have thought, and the battle for Arts money is a continuing challenge. One of the characters says while half-kidding, (paraphrased so as not to give anything away) “We can’t kill the star. His name is above the title and we would have to refund the tickets.”


Can Sully’s savvy skills save her former boyfriend and the play from disaster? Will she be able to keep from adding her ex-husband to the rising body count? And, what about the murders?


Hennrikus has penned a complex, multi-layered plot that delivers jaw dropping surprises. I could have sworn one of the ‘obvious’ suspects did at least one of the deeds, but instead turned out to be guilty of something else.

 

I’m looking forward to a repeat performance from the personable core group of characters – some quirky, some serious, but always entertaining. You can pre-order book #2 in the series, “With a Kiss I Die,” now. 

 

Please visit www.Jhauthors.com for more information about this Agatha nominated author and her other series.

 

 

 

 

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Author Profile: Sherry Harris

 

 

Sherry Harris, the author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, was a proud Air Force wife, picking up everything and relocating every three or four years – each time orders for an assignment to a new base came down. While we can joke about the horror of having to find new hairdressers and decent grocery stores with every change, the toughest part of being part of a military family was moving her daughter from school to school, and giving up her own face-to-face friendships at each re-posting.

 

From our perspective as Sherry Harris readers, there is a definite upside to all that moving. It’s difficult to start or maintain a career with frequent transfers, so Harris turned her love of tag sales (called garage or yard sales in some parts of the country) into a writing career. She answered an ad in a local newspaper for a short story contest, kept writing until it turned into a novel length piece, and later, was encouraged to look for an agent.

 

The quality of her writing ability was proven when “Tagged for Death,” the first in the series, was nominated for an Agatha Award in the Best First Novel category.

 

Sherry Harris’ favorite writing spot is in her office. Her desk faces the window and when she looks out at the trees, she can pretend she lives in the middle of nowhere. When asked whether her writing process is closer to plotter or pantser, she admitted to being more of a pantser, working toward becoming a plotter. Either way, the results are great!

 

Harris has revealed in her book bios that she is a “born bargain hunter,” and has created a fully fleshed out character in the series based on her own expertise and love for the activity. Sarah Winston makes her living organizing tag sales for her customers and Harris includes tips for successful tag sales in the books. I personally have used them in my own garage sales.

 

Harris has followed the writing advice of a favorite thriller writer/instructor (James W. Hall) who feels that people want to learn something and if they do, the books just might keep selling. She attributes the success of cozies in general, to the fact that whether about knitting or cooking or tag sales, cozies contain a mystery along with a lot of information about a specific topic. Fans of that topic will come back for more in book after book.

 

Sherry Harris’ Sarah Winston character is successful in part because Winston is completely relatable. Her emotional struggles to make her own way as a newly single woman are realistic, and her scenes detailing military life ring true. Harris’ storylines peel back the layers of Winston’s battle with feelings about her ex in each book, while delivering great mysteries. The ensemble supporting characters develop as Winston’s association with them grows naturally. I particularly like the nuanced relationships between Sarah and the men in her life, which ebb and flow as Sarah sorts through the consequences of living as an independent woman.

 

When not working on the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, Sherry Harris blogs with the Wicked Cozies, a New England focused writing group, all talented, published authors. Read their posts at www.wickedcozyauthors.com. Harris is also the current Vice President of the international writing organization, Sisters in Crime, a group that fosters the development of women writers.

 

Sherry Harris Fun fact: Her favorite foods are pizza and popcorn.  🙂

 

 

Read the review of "Tagged for Death" here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the review of "The Longest Yard Sale" here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the review of "A Good Day to Buy" here.

 

 

 

 

 

After reading “A Good Day to Buy,” I counted the months until “I Know What You Bid Last Summer” (book #5) was published and was not disappointed. It’s a terrific entry in the series and is not to be missed. Look for the lasagna subplot, a fun counterbalance to the serious action.

 

Please visit https://sherryharrisauthor.com for information about Harris, her upcoming appearances, and more in the series.

 

 

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“Circle of Influence” and “No Way Home” by Annette Dashofy

 

Book Cover - Circle of Influence2

 

“Circle of Influence” and "No Way Home" by Annette Dashofy, star Zoe Chambers as an EMT, who occasionally doubles as a coroner's assistant when she can stand the smells in the autopsy room.

 

In "Circle of Influence," a routine call to check on a car on the side of the road turns into a murder investigation. The only trouble is the dead guy is her best friend's husband, well-liked and respected in town, and he is sitting in the front seat of a city council guy’s car – a guy hated by almost everyone. Why is her friend dead and why is he sitting in that particular car? 
 

The dead guy's mother works for the police department and is arrested for borrowing a computer from the storeroom. Arrested? Why would the city council bully would do such a thing? What is on that computer? Life gets dangerous, the body count rises, and so does the list of suspects. In the “Circle of Influence” effectively layered storyline, there are secrets galore and we don't know whom to believe. Trust is tough to come by.
 

Dashofy gives us a picture of small-town country living in Pennsylvania. Vance Township is so small that everyone knows where you were and the neighbors ask you about it before you unlock your front door. Vance doesn't even have a coffee shop. The philosophy is that coffee can be brewed at home or at the office- no need to waste money when cash is tight.
 

The core characters in “Circle of Influence” are nicely developed and we really care about what happens to each. Any one of them could be your next-door neighbor, the guy at the grocery store, the cop you see on the street, the maybe boyfriend that gives you pause – in a good way. Zoe Chambers herself, is a flesh and blood gal with a love of country life and horses. Even though not making a big salary as an EMT, Zoe is able to keep a horse of her own by boarding horses for other people. She has a support system, steps on a few toes while investigating, has an eye for detail, aims to improve at her job, and is loyal to her friends.
 

Dashofy’s Zoe Chambers is a great character for a series, so I picked up Agatha nominated “No Way Home,” book #5.

Book Cover - No Way Home

 

Zoe Chambers is out for a ride on her own horse, when a horse from her boarding stable gallops toward her without its owner. You guessed it – the owner is dead. Was it an accident or something else, because the crime scene details don’t add up and the autopsy reveals an unexpected twist.

 

A tricky plot takes Zoe and her sometime best friend to New Mexico in search of more than one truth. Tensions are high as we discover that drug use is on the rise in this southwestern fictional Pennsylvania community set 30 miles from Pittsburgh. Drug paraphernalia at the crime scenes gives the story a grim authenticity.
 

Zoe’s love interest in the series returns, but love is not the central focus of “No Way Home.” Murder, drugs, and mayhem definitely are.
 

Dashofy’s central characters are engaging in "Circle of Influence" and "No Way Home," the plot lines topical, and happily, more books are in the works. “Uneasy Prey,” book #6, is out now.
 

Please visit www.annettedashofy.com to find out more about this award winning and Agatha nominated author.
 

 

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