cozy

“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.


 

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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“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.
 

 

Top Eleven Reviews – 2017

 

Book Cover - What She Knew

Tons of great books, soooo many talented authors, and oodles of dedicated booklovers, all combined to make 2017 a great year of reading entertainment. Whether discovering a new author, or returning to a tried and true favorite, the NBR community interest was over 30% greater than the previous most popular year.

 

Although not included in the 'Top Eleven Reviews – 2017' book list, the 2017 author profiles (Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Barbara Ross, Lynn C. Willis) were extremely popular and we’ll have more during 2018. Click on their names – links to books included.

 

Why Top Eleven? There is a debut magazine in the list, very well received by the NBR audience.  🙂

 

Listed in alphabetical order by author (except for the magazine and the ‘Killer Thrillers’), click on the links to read the reviews for the first time, or to enjoy them again.

 

“Black Cat Mystery Magazine” debut issue short mystery fiction   https://bit.ly/2yrYX5F

 

“Killer Thrillers for the Beach”  (seven thriller authors, ten titles)     https://bit.ly/2hNTJJX

 

“Cat About Town” by Cate Conte    https://bit.ly/2ilMj0K

 

“Grilled for Murder” by Maddie Day   https://bit.ly/2oKW36H

 

“The 7th Canon” by Robert Dugoni    https://bit.ly/2hCYpT0

 

“I like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around” by Ann Garvin   https://bit.ly/2uhL8V5

 

“A Good Day to Buy” by Sherry Harris   https://bit.ly/2gNFTYb

 

“Dry Bones” by Craig Johnson    https://bit.ly/2kVtKgu

 

“What She Knew” by Gilly Macmillan    https://bit.ly/2jcgbvS

 

“Custom Baked Murder” by Liz Mugavero    https://bit.ly/2lqSf8C

 

“Relic” by Fiona Quinn   https://bit.ly/2q7m1yH

 

Many thanks everyone! May 2018 bring you lots of love and laughter, along with some thumpin’ great new reads.  🙂

 

“A Good Day to Buy” by Sherry Harris

 

Book Cover - A Good Day to Buy

 Sarah Winston is back in “A Good Day to Buy,” and she is working with a couple that wants to downsize their belongings before moving to Florida. The wife is difficult to deal with and wants to hold onto everything, even the plastic storage tubs. The husband wants to get rid of it all and move on. The day of the sale arrives, Sarah turns on the music to create a happy buying mood for the customers, and disaster strikes.
 

 

A scream is heard from behind the sheet that Sarah has hung to separate the sale items from those staying in the garage. The husband is dead and the wife is barely clinging to life. Did Sarah see anything? Not really. Maybe. It might have been someone she knows.

 

As if the garage sale death of this pleasant senior citizen veteran isn’t baffling enough, Sarah’s long lost brother, Luke, pops up out of nowhere. Why here? Why now? What’s he been doing all these years and is he really an investigative reporter? He’s hiding a LOT, but why? Can she trust him?

 

“A Good Day to Buy” is the fourth book in the entertaining Sarah Winston Garage Sale Series. There is a solid group of core characters, most notably her hunky ex-husband, CJ; her landlady/pal Stella Wild; two police officers, Pellner and Awesome; the DiNapolis, owners of a local restaurant; and Seth, the sometime boyfriend. They always add layers of intrigue to the basic storyline, with CJ still confused as to why Sarah divorced him, and Stella more knowledgeable about what happens in her house than she lets on.

 

CJ wants more than Sarah may be willing to give. Will her doubts keep them apart? The relationship between Sarah and CJ continues to have its ups and downs, progressing naturally with real-life authenticity, as Sarah tries to regain her equilibrium. Seth, a good catch, hovers, ready to re-enter Sarah’s life if she changes her mind. (A reminder never to get involved with someone that maintains a connection with his/her –ex.)

 

Harris has kept the series absorbing and topical, with nods to the serious issues of life in and after military service, divorce and reconciliation, and of course, the murders. The tag/garage sales are guaranteed to tie the plots and subplots together in clever ways. I’ve conducted garage sales as I moved around the country and trust me, Sherry Harris’ are way more fun! Aside from the bodies, that is. 😉

 

The mystery of the murder in “A Good Day to Buy,” the serious story behind Luke’s reappearance, the funny scenes that lighten the drama, the wonderful cast of characters, and Sarah’s always superb internal dialogue, will keep you turning the pages and have you coming back for book #5.  “I Know What You Bid Last Summer” comes out in February, 2018.   🙂

 

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

Read the review of "Tagged for Death" here.

 

Please visit sherryharrisauthor.com/ for more information about Agatha nominated Ms. Harris, her appearances, book signings, and new projects on the horizon.

 

 

 

Author Profile: Liz Mugavero

 

LizMugavero

Liz Mugavero is the author of the Agatha-nominated Pawsitively Organic Gourmet Pet Food Mysteries, a delightful series set in fictional Frog Ledge, Connecticut. She serves on the Sisters in Crime New England board and is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. Her brand new series, The Cat Café Mysteries, set in New England, features Maddie James and a frisky rescue cat, JJ. Liz writes the new series under the name Cate Conte.

 

I met Liz for the first time in 2012 at Writers’ Police Academy, an annual event where mystery writers experience hands-on, how-to scenarios as demonstrated by members of law enforcement.

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At that time, her first book, soon to be Agatha nominated, “Kneading to Die,” had not yet been published, but as soon as it was, I was a fan for life. Who can resist an author that comes up with a plot line involving kibble on the body?

 

Liz Mugavero has a Master’s degree in Writing (she wrote a novel for her Thesis) and works by day in Marketing and Corporate Communications. But, early mornings, before heading to the office, she can be found devising and solving the next murder (on the page, folks) at home. Mugavero is always accompanied by at least one of her pets while she creates the sleuthing women. Depending on her mood, she works either at a desk or settles onto the bed with a laptop and a cat. Rumor has it that she attends a yearly retreat with other authors, where they collectively dream up murder and mayhem for their books. Ah…to listen in on those sessions. 😉

 

Mugavero’s heart is firmly in New England. Born in Massachusetts, now living in Connecticut, and having a deep love of Maine, the affection for the area, no matter the weather or the season, comes through the pages in descriptions of the scenery and quirky, small town characters.

 

Mugavero is a member of the Wicked Cozys, a New England based writing group whose wonderful work I have reviewed at Nightstand Book Reviews on many occasions. Each of the six women has a successful cozy series and they share writing duties on their website, posting articles about the writing life (and their own series) every week. Catch them at www.wickedcozyauthors.com. In a recent post, Mugavero spoke about the differences between the two women protagonists in her two series.

 

Stan (short for Kristan) Connor, from the Pawsitively Organic series, and Maddie James, from the Cat Café Mysteries, are dissimilar in several ways. Stan’s relationship with her family is always a challenge, her slow growing pet food business is a work-in-progress, and her love life is embodied in a hunk with a big, sloppy (lovable) dog. Maddie, on the other hand, has a warm, supportive, close knit family, owns a successful juice bar in California, and has two great guys who happen to catch her eye. Often. But, Mugavero/Conte writes both lead characters as gals we would like to have as friends in real-life.

 

It’s obvious from reading Liz Mugavero’s work that she truly, deeply, loves animals. Long before penning the books, that love translated into an involvement in animal rescue.

 

Liz revealed: “I had two cats when my mother found a litter of kittens on the side of the road one day. We rescued them and I called a bunch of shelters thinking they would be delighted to take them, but none of them could because it was kitten season and there were so many – what I know now is all too common a story. So, I placed two and kept the other two (Pumpkin and Gypsy) and after that I decided to go volunteer so I could see what it was really like to be an animal rescuer and understand their challenges.”

 

Meet two of Mugavero’s happy rescues:

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Junkyard Johnny (JJ) the inspiration for the JJ in “Cat About Town.” In the book, he seems to lead Maddie James in all the right directions to help solve the crimes.

 

LizMTuffy

Tuffy, the inspiration for Stan Connor’s cat, Nutty, in the Pawsitively Organic Mystery series. Nutty always has a comment to make, sometimes with an imperious look, sometimes with a flicking tail.

 

Each book in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries includes recipes for pet food, and some of them look good enough for people to eat. There are pet food gurus behind the tasty treats, and in keeping with Mugavero’s goal to have pets eat healthier and live healthier, the recipes call for simple ingredients.

Here’s one from Mugavero’s site:

(Recipe adapted from “My Baking Heart,” originally from “The Dog Ate It”)

Apple and Cheddar Pupcakes
Ingredients

1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Traditional Rolled Oats
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 cup Applesauce
1/2 cup Water
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
2 tbsp Honey
2 Eggs
1 Apple – peeled, cored and minced
1 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the applesauce, water, oil, honey and eggs, then stir in the apple and cheese. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just barely blended.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling almost full (you may have a couple spoonsful of batter left over). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the tins for a few minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

 

Really. Don’t you want to bake them for yourself?  😉

 

The http://lizmugavero.com/wp/for-the-animals/ section of Liz’s website includes links for pet shelters and organizations in several states around the country, along with more of the healthy pet food recipes.


Mugavero’s animals snack on their healthy kitty/puppy treats, but she has her own faves. In addition to potato chips, she noshes on sushi as often as she can. Favorite flavor? Spicy tuna rolls!

 

I discovered that Liz also writes short stories (published internationally) and magazine articles. She mentioned that she is now finishing the second ‘Maddie James’ book and then will work on book #7 in the ‘Kristan Connor’ series. More fun to come for the readers!  🙂  With the engaging leads, colorful supporting characters, and clever plotting throughout the two series, we look forward to everything Liz and ‘Cate’ write.

 


Book Cover - Kneading To Die copy

To learn more about Kristan Connor and the book that started it all (with kibble on the body) read the review of “Kneading to Die” here.

 

 

 

 

 


Book Cover - Custom Baked Murder

 

 

 

Read the review of “Custom Baked Murder,” the fifth book in the series, here.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Cover - Cat About Town - Cate Conte

 

 

Read the review of “Cat About Town,” the first book in the new series, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Title #6 in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, “Purring Around the Christmas Tree,” will be published late September, 2017. I am so looking forward to it!

 

First Photo of Liz Mugavero by Meg Manion Photography

Photo of Edith Maxwell and Liz Mugavero by Patti Phillips.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for more information about the talented author, Liz Mugavero/Cate Conte.

 

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