cozy

“A Biscuit, A Casket,” by Liz Mugavero

 

A Biscuit A Casket.jpg

 

Liz Mugavero, the author of “A Biscuit, A Casket,” has delivered more murder and mayhem into Stan (short for Kristan) Connor’s life. Connor, a former PR executive, settled in small town Frog Ledge, Connecticut, in order to change her life for the better. Her life certainly changed, what with finding a body after moving in, surviving murder accusations, starting a new business, and making great new friends in the opening book of the Pawsitively Organic series, “Kneading to Die.” (Read review here.)

 

“A Biscuit, A Casket,” takes place in the weeks before Halloween. Stan’s organic pet food business has been embraced by the townspeople and dogs and pet parents alike seek out her treats. The Hoffmans, owners of the Happy Cow Dairy Farm, have even provided space for her to host a doggie birthday party near their Halloween frights-and-sights corn maze. But, Hal Hoffman is found dead in said corn maze – face down in the mud with a sickle in his back – and nobody is singing Happy Birthday.

 

It has been said that the majority of murders are committed by someone close to the victim, and Emmalee Hoffman (Hal’s wife) may have had a motive, given their less than perfect marriage. But then, so did Hal’s business partners, his questionable buddies, as well as some of his employees. Did somebody try to collect what was owed, but killed Hal instead? As the well-developed plot unfolds, we discover how co-op farming (and especially dairy farming) works, and motives fly faster than an angry cow kicks.

 

With several solid and sometimes nasty suspects to investigate, Stan puzzles through the list and even chats with her cat, Nutty. If you’re a cat owner, you will recognize these chats as perfectly reasonable and spot-on. Nutty responds with eye-glints and tail-flicking that keep the delightful conversations going.

 

Relationships shift in “A Biscuit, A Casket,” as misunderstandings and Hal’s business dealings come to light, but solid friendships remain and flourish. Local bar owner, Jake, has more to offer than was shown in the first book, and the possible romantic connection between him and Stan is explored as they get to know each other.

 

Mugavero artfully has family members play a larger role, as Stan finds her place in the community. Stan’s naïveté about the dangers of country life provides fodder for her getting into more trouble as the series continues, a happy prospect for the readers. 

 

There are yummy organic pet treat recipes at end of “A Biscuit, A Casket.” The pumpkin one looks great – just add some people sugar and I’m good to go. In case you are unaware of the organic pet food market, and wonder if it’s fact or fiction, I assure you that it is quite real. I passed a store recently that carried only hand made treats for dogs and cats. The pet bakery, located at a major mall, was quite busy. Moms and Dads relaxed at tables with beverages in hand, while pets chomped on their own nutritious snacks.

 

Mugavero has cleverly wicked causes of death in her novels. The previous book served up kibble on the body in a vet’s office. “A Biscuit, A Casket,” features the sickle in the farmer’s back. I can’t wait to see how the corpse gets done in, in the third, "The Icing on the Corpse," just released. “Murder Most Finicky,” book four of the series, is due out at the end of 2015.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for information about Ms. Mugavero’s books, as well as her marvelous work in the animal rescue community.

 

 

 

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“Tagged for Death” by Sherry Harris

 

Book Cover - Tagged for Death

“Tagged for Death,” Sherry Harris’ debut novel, tells the story of Air Force wife, Sarah Winston, recovering from her husband’s betrayal. She can’t forgive him getting drunk at a party and winding up in bed with a young female airman under his authority. Especially when the gal gets pregnant during the supposedly one-night stand. That indiscretion causes the hubby to lose his command, as well as Sarah, in a matter of a few short months.

 

After CJ (the ex) becomes Chief of Police in the neighboring town, Sarah gets crank phone calls with gunshots in the background, and is harassed by his cop cronies – pulled over for bogus tickets. Sarah can't go to CJ to complain, not sure if the pranksters aren’t following his orders. 

 

Sarah, ever resilient, uses her knack for bargain shopping at garage sales for distraction, but finds bloodied evidence in one of her collection bags that probably belonged to CJ. To make matters worse, CJs ‘one night stand’ goes missing. When blood (and lots of it) is found in the woman’s room, CJ comes under suspicion. Inexplicably, Sarah wants to help. I did say they were exes. The cops and even her old friends on base are wary of her motives. Harris does a nice job of teasing us along, while we wonder ‘why in the world is she doing that?’ and has the characters ask questions at just the right moments in order to move the story forward.

 

Sarah is a bit nosier than she should be, but how else would our amateur sleuth solve the likely crime(s) and uncover the truth? She doesn’t see that her actions could get her dead, as the pranks turn lethal and enemies pop up in unexpected places. She doesn’t know whom to trust, but there are secrets to be found and as she works her suspicious, naïve way through the twists and turns of the plot, she uncovers all.

 

Harris, no stranger to military living herself, gives us an insider’s look at life on an Air Force base: the many fundraising events, short-term friendships that are the norm, how personal mistakes become career nightmares, and friendships are sometimes based on spousal rank rather than on how the gals hit it off. It is great to discover that more experienced military couples do mentor the younger people on base.

 

Harris’ personal knowledge of garage sales (something she discovered back in the second grade) weaves a convincing thread to tie the action and sub-plots together. Through Sarah’s character, we learn how to organize a successful sale, even how to create a part-time job out of it. She includes great tips at the end of “Tagged for Death.”

 

Harris also explores the idea of second chances in a marriage.  Sometimes people have poor judgment, but leaping to conclusions before all the facts are in? can cause irreparable harm.

 

Harris’ “Tagged for Death” has just been nominated for an Agatha Award-2015 in the best first novel category. Well-deserved recognition for this enjoyable read. It is the first in the ‘Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery’ series.

 

Please visit www.sherryharrisauthor.com for more information about Ms. Harris and her other projects.

 

 

 

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Reader Favorites – New Reviews 2014

 

Book Cover - Upstairs at the White House

It’s always fun to discover which new reviews get the most attention during the year. The most popular reviews were ReTweeted dozens of times, shared on Facebook, and Google+, and got some attention on Pinterest. There were old titles, new titles, fiction and non-fiction, seasoned authors and debut authors in the mix. Several were best sellers.

 

In case you missed the reviews, here are the 2014 favorites on NightstandBookReviews in alphabetical order by author. Click on the titles and take a look:

 

Lucy Burdette, “Appetite for Murder

 

Robert Dugoni, “My Sister’s Grave

 

Robert Dugoni, “The Conviction

 

Sarah Graves, “Triple Witch

 

Edith Maxwell, “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die

 

Leigh Perry, “A Skeleton in the Family

 

MJ Rose, “The Book of Lost Fragrances

 

Barbara Ross, “Clammed Up

 

Daniel Silva, “The English Girl

 

JB West & ML Katz, “Upstairs at the White House

 

Lynn Chandler Willis, “The Rising


Happy reading!

 

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“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die” by Edith Maxwell

 

Book Cover - A Tine to Live A Tine to Die

Finding a body in the barn, complete with a pitchfork sticking out of its neck, would not be my favorite ‘before dinner’ activity. Organic farmer, Cam Flaherty, in Edith Maxwell’s “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” doesn’t like it either. My grandfather had several barns and not one of them came decorated with a pitchfork sticking out of a body. He had the pitchfork, just not the body. Untidy, to say the least.

 

Flaherty has taken over the farm from her great-uncle and dreams of getting certified in order to sell organic produce to the locavores (people who eat locally produced food). She is not allowed to use chemicals to fertilize plants or kill bugs and has to follow those practices for several years before being awarded the coveted certificate. Her one employee, Mike Montgomery, doesn’t see the point, is tired of handpicking beetles off the potatoes, and stores decidedly toxic pesticide in the barn. Flaherty fires him for endangering her business – on the opening day of the harvest share. She’s only in year one of the certification process and can’t afford his sloppy work habits or his negative attitude.

 

Despite Montgomery’s absence, Flaherty has a successful first day with the customers and is hopeful about a good first season – as long as she can get volunteers to assist a few hours a week. But, six hours after she fires him, Montgomery is deader than dead inside the hoop house. Flaherty just might be the chief suspect in his murder, what with opportunity, suspected motive, and the blood on her clothes.

 

Unhappily, Flaherty discovers that not everyone is overjoyed about her dream. Some of the local farmers don’t want the extra effort of organic, see her as tough competition and may even think that the wrong person wound up with the pitchfork problem.

 

“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” provides a peek into the life of a farmer: the dawn to dusk hours, the weeding, the seeding, the pests, the planting, the tilling, the harvesting and more. We get to see the business side of a modern farm, with websites and marketing to contend with in addition to the age-old problem of equipment breaking down just when you need it the most. Maxwell herself ran an organic produce farm for about six years, putting in eight-hour days in order to get the work done. She says she had no animals on the farm to deal with at the time, which allowed her to focus on the crops. I take care of flowers in my 1/3-acre backyard for an hour or so a day and I can’t imagine doing the weeding and pest control no matter what the weather with several acres of produce. It is backbreaking work. Big thank-yous to the farmers of this world!

 

Maxwell delivers an assortment of quirky characters, supportive friends, and suspects aplenty for the murder as well as later sabotage against the farm. Cam Flaherty’s childhood friend, Ruth Dodge (now a police officer) especially well drawn with marriage and job challenges, stands up satisfactorily for Flaherty when she can, but remains professional when she has to.

 

The subplots of illegal immigration, a past that still haunts Flaherty, as well as a budding love interest, are interwoven nicely with the stories of tasty meals prepared with produce fresh from the garden. “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” ends as it began, in fine dramatic fashion with Flaherty proving to be a truly appealing lead character. She has foibles like the rest of us, and is able to deal with challenging issues when the situation calls for it.

 

Edith Maxwell’s comments at ‘Jungle Red Writers’ about being a farmer can be read here:

http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2014/06/the-unsettling-of-mystery-writer.html

 

For more information about Maxwell, as well as her most recently published book featuring Cam Flaherty, “ ’Til Dirt Do Us Part,” please visit www.edithmaxwell.com

 

 

 

 

 

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“Clammed Up” by Barbara Ross

 

Book Cover - Clammed Up

 

Last time I checked, murder is not on a wedding caterer’s official to-do list. They would have a tough time getting paid if bodies started popping up during the reception. But, that’s exactly what happens to Julia Snowden in Barbara Ross’ “Clammed Up.” An already cash strapped family business faces disaster when the groom’s missing best man is found hanged on the island where the clambake reception will be held – before wedding vows can even be exchanged.

 

Why is Ray Wilson dead? How did the body get there? How many people had a motive? Will the murder kill the business or bring the tourists in droves? Will the bank listen to reason? So many questions raised by Ray’s untimely demise, and Ross supplies us with multiple answers for each in this charming cozy.

 

Julia Snowden is back in Maine to save the family clambake business. Her father is dead, her brother-in-law has over-borrowed to keep the operation afloat, and Julia (with her venture capitalist background) seems like the perfect person to save the day. Except that the bank doesn’t want to hear her tale of woe; they will call in the loan of $1.5 million dollars if the business is closed for more than five days during the short Maine tourist season. The pesky murder takes up one of those days. And counting.

 

The murder, the engaged couple with lots to hide, the childhood crush who has grown into a hunky young man, an AWOL son, family accusations and betrayal, the police who seem to be dragging their heels, millions of dollars at stake, the friends who act as sounding boards when Julia can’t figure out why all this is happening – all combine to make “Clammed Up” a very satisfying mystery. The important characters are agreeably drawn – Gus, the restaurant owner, is a gem and his ‘house rules’ are hilarious. He carries the Maine anti-outsider bias to extreme by barring anyone he doesn’t know – and gets away with it.

 

Beyond the inventive storyline, “Clammed Up” introduces us to the behind-the-scenes world of a real Maine Clambake and tells us how the seafood is stored to keep it fresh and cold. We are walked through a dinner prep and service, with the entire staff working to get the food on the tables so that each guest can have the full experience of cracking the lobsters, opening the clams, and wearing the bibs, all at the same time.  Although not really a foodie book, Ross does weave food deliciously throughout the plot with a conversational tone – Julia sharing her story over a bottle of cold Sea Dog ale, chatting about the meals she has eaten along the way to solving the crime.

 

The prominent subplot of the precarious seasonal businesses at the Maine coast is handled effectively. Ross discloses the constantly present issues of bad weather and limited time available to make the yearly income, and it is clear that both play a huge role in the livelihood of both employers and employees alike. Rain keeps the tourists away and everybody suffers. B&B owners give up their own bedrooms for paying customers for the season, just so the bills can be paid for the rest of the year. A few rainy days scattered throughout the summer is bad enough, but if a hurricane hits and homes or businesses are damaged, or the economy slumps and people stay home, then disaster strikes. Not everyone has the cash reserves to come back from that, as has been demonstrated after real-life disasters up and down the East coast of this country.

 

Happily, there are mouthwatering recipes at the end of “Clammed Up.” I can’t wait to try the lobster mac & cheese and the blueberry grunt. I’m already salivating and getting my grocery list ready.

 

Barbara Ross’ thoroughly enjoyable “Clammed Up,” is an Agatha Award nominated book for Best Contemporary Novel. I’ll post the results after the votes are in this weekend.

 

Please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com for more information about Barbara Ross and her next book in the series, “Boiled Over.”

 

 

 

 

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“A Skeleton in the Family” by Leigh Perry

 

Book Cover - A Skeleton in the Family

The cover of Leigh Perry’s “A Skeleton in the Family” intrigued me, so I had to take a peek inside the sample that Barnes and Noble happily provides for would-be buyers. I was hooked as soon as Sid came clattering down the hall.

 

Dr. Georgia Thackery is an intelligent adjunct English professor at a Massachusetts college, who moves into her parents’ house with her daughter, Madison. A skeleton named Sid lives in the attic, as he has since he saved Georgia when she was six.

 

Sid is not just any ordinary skeleton. He walks, talks, reads, can use the phone and a computer, spells better than Dr. Thackery, and can be easily collapsed into a suitcase for traveling purposes. There’s just one problem. He doesn’t know who he really is – or was, in his live past.

 

While on an outing to a manga/anime conference (with Sid in full cosplay – basically looking like himself) Sid sees someone whose face jogs his long lost memory. Sid soon agrees to an examination that reveals his own murder thirty years before. He seems like a nice enough skeleton, so who did it and why?

 

That exam leads to break-ins, suspicious behavior, assaults and more murder, with multiple oddball suspects. The supporting characters are as interesting as they are varied, including a hunky reporter boyfriend, a locksmith sister, a normal teenager, a nasty colleague, a talented grad student and other academic types. In “A Skeleton in the Family,” that mix blends perfectly with the clever interaction between Georgia Thackery and Sid. With occasional nods to bones falling off and dogs taking nips at tasty ulnas, the conversation between these two best friends is as normal as any sleuthing duo could have.

 

One of the nicely drawn subplots addresses the issue of adjunct faculty realities. We tend to think of adjunct college professors as part-timers who are basically working a second job, but not really interested in doing anything more. That may have been true in the past, but Perry makes the point that times have changed. In a cost-cutting move, universities across the country now hire part-timers so that they don’t have to pay the benefits and regular salaries given to full-time staffers (who might only teach one more course than their counterparts). Many adjuncts struggle to make ends meet as they move from school to school in search of that ever-elusive tenure track.

 

Sid the Skeleton, as crime solver? The clattering on the wooden floors might take some getting used to, but I could use an office assistant/puzzle solver that types faster than I do, has a logical mind, and can get from one side of a door to the other without ever opening it.   😉

 

“A Skeleton in the Family” is a very clever, engaging book with several LOL moments. I’m eagerly waiting publication of “The Skeleton Takes a Bow.”

 

Please visit www.leighperryauthor.com to read about Sid, Dr. Thackery and Perry’s upcoming work.

 

 

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“An Appetite for Murder” by Lucy Burdette

 

Book Cover - An Appetite for Murder

Foodies rejoice! Lucy Burdette brings us a new cozy series set in Key West that has a wannabe food critic as the protagonist. The first in the series is “An Appetite for Murder.”

 

Our heroine, Hayley Snow, follows her new-found boyfriend (a divorce attorney) to Key West and moves in with him. She wants to escape living at home in NJ and to prove that she’s a bona fide grownup who can handle life on her own. But, mere weeks after arriving in foodie heaven, Hayley finds the boyfriend in bed with his ex, Kristen Faulkner. Rather than apologize for slipping up, he throws Hayley out – her belongings (except for her favorite cookery and treasured recipes) left on the sidewalk. He tells her that he threw the rest into the dumpster. What a cad!

 

Our gal may not be great at choosing boyfriends, but she has a nose for cooking and wants to be the food critic at the new local magazine, “Key Zest.” Hayley works on her restaurant appraisals and along the way, we experience mouth-watering descriptions of lunches, dinners and yummy snacks. Makes me hungry just thinking about the olive fougasse bread with garlicky cheese spread she ate while finishing an audition review.

 

But, wait! The girl seen in bed with the ex-boyfriend? Just happens to be the co-owner of the new magazine. Hmmm… and (of course) Kristen winds up dead, poisoned by pie, after wiping our gal’s name off the list of final contenders for the job.

 

Who did the deed? The police (as well as the ex-boyfriend) like Hayley for the murder because of the “bedroom incident” and the “lost application.” It doesn’t help her case that she is found snooping in the ex-boyfriend’s apartment after the murder. Suspicious break-ins occur, neighbors are mugged, her friendships are stretched to the max and Hayley needs to find out who the culprit is before she misses out on a gourmand's dream gig and gets thrown in jail for something she would never do – poison someone with food.

 

Real estate deals and restaurant openings worth millions, add interesting depth to this cozy as we discover how they are affected by Faulkner’s death. The gritty underbelly of the competitive restaurant scene, with its rivalry between chefs at the top of their game is spot-on in “An Appetite for Murder.” A couple real-life sous-chefs came to mind after reading one of the kitchen scenes.

 

When Hayley gets stuck in her investigations, she chats with homeless guys, a psychologist friend, her ex’s secretary, and a tarot card reader. She tries to feed info to the police, but she is still the one with the best motive – revenge against the girlfriend. The facts don’t necessarily support that reasoning, but the cops need a little nudge in the right direction – away from Hayley.

 

“An Appetite for Murder,” is a fun read with enough quirky, colorful characters and down-home, mouth-watering eats to make the Key West setting authentic. Burdette even includes three tasty looking recipes at the end of the book.

 

I suddenly have a craving for a slice of Key Lime pie. But, hold the poison.

 

Please visit www.lucyburdette.com to see the latest news about her Key West series. You can also find Burdette with the wickedly talented group of authors at www.jungleredwriters.com

 

 

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