New England

“Cat About Town” by Cate Conte

 

Book Cover - Cat About Town - Cate Conte

“Cat About Town,” by Cate Conte, is the first book in an engaging new series, Cat Café Mysteries.
 

Maddie James attends her grandmother Mancini’s funeral on the Massachusetts island community of Daybreak Harbor, and learns that her grandfather needs her help to save his house. A devious local developer will do anything to obtain ownership of the Mancini homestead that just happens to sit on prime waterfront property. Until he winds up dead. Under a table at the annual Food Stroll. Discovered by a green eyed, orange cat that Maddie has been attempting to befriend since she first saw him peeking from behind a headstone at the cemetery.
 

Did Maddie's grandfather kill the developer? He certainly had motive. He and Maddie both did. Can she keep the police from arresting the two of them? The only way to prove their innocence may be for Maddie to find the real killer among the many suspects in “Cat About Town.” Can the elusive cat help?
 

The townsfolk are an assortment of wonderfully colorful characters. In a clever piece of plotting, Conte has a Shakespeare quoting Leopard Man, a Tai Chi instructor, the donut lady, the roof guy with a mysterious money source, and more, all contributing clues to the riddle of who killed the developer.
 

Maddie’s almost love life lights up when she chats with old/new friends about the case: the high school boyfriend who has aged quite nicely and the new fish shack owner who makes her heart flutter. Should she be having these feelings if she is going to leave town?
 

An interesting, real-world subplot is woven into the story of “Cat About Town.” The locals fall on both sides of selling grandpa's property. The proposed project will bring jobs and more tourists to the town; so-called progress will destroy the town’s charm. Maddie James wants to help her grandfather, but while investigating the murder, the tightly layered story reveals both sides of the issue. Vacationers love the charm of old neighborhoods and big houses, but want the same amenities available as they had in the big city. It’s all about choices and zoning laws and lots of money to be made – if you know the right people.
 

“Cat About Town,” while a neatly drawn mystery on its own, also reveals that Cate Conte really knows her cats. JJ has the scars of a street cat and the moves of a cat suspicious of people until they prove themselves worthy. The tentative paw forward, scomping down shrimp even though fed a few minutes before, and lots of other spot-on details, make JJ an endearing star in the ensemble cast that will appear in the series. It will be fun to see how Conte uses JJ’s feline sleuthing talents to uncover future clues (and bodies). And, a cat that squeaks? Adorable!
 

A cat on a leash? Corruption in the Chamber of Commerce? Romantic entanglements? Me, oh, my, the plot does thicken in “Cat About Town,” and keeps us purring from first page to last.
 

Cate Conte is known to most of you as Liz Mugavero, the author of the Agatha nominated Pawsatively Organic Mysteries.   :-)
 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for more information about this talented writer and her two series.

 

Author Profile: Edith Maxwell

 

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Edith Maxwell writes award-winning short stories, has several series of full-length mysteries out and has been nominated for Agatha Awards in both the Short Story and Historical Fiction categories for this year’s Malice Domestic mystery conference. At this writing, she has eleven published novels since 2012 under the names Tace Baker, Maddie Day, and Edith Maxwell, with #12 due out next month. She is working on three more to be published in the near future. She is the one of the most prolific traditionally published authors I know and she is loving all of it!

 

I first met Edith at a Writers Police Academy conference in the Fall of 2012. At the time, she had just published her first Lauren Rousseau title, “Speaking of Murder,” as Tace Baker. I was hooked by the intelligent, worldly, complex female lead character. She attended WPA in order to research police procedure, and also gathered tons of information about firefighters and EMS personnel that she might use in future novels.

 

While following her career the last few years, it’s become apparent that solid research underpins all her books. Happily, combined with her own personal experiences, the result is richly developed backgrounds and storylines.

 

For the Country Store series, Maxwell took a trip to Indiana in order to investigate the setting, special southern Indiana phrasing (“I can’t eat another bite ’cause I’m as full as a tick”), and foods specific to the region. As it happens, she was also returning to the area of her grad school days and the site of a university packed with her own Maxwell family history. Friends of hers in the grad program had restored an old country store and turned it into a restaurant and bed & breakfast, the basis for Robbie Jordan’s ‘Pans ‘N Pancakes’ establishment in the series. In addition, Maxwell loves to cook and there are virtual cooking lessons woven throughout the stories as well as yummy recipes to be found.

 

Fun fact: my mom had an amazing collection of antique cookware, so when Robbie chats about the vintage pieces in her store, I can see the tools in my mind’s eye. Maxwell/Day’s details? Wonderful!

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The Local Foods series features an organic farmer as the lead character, and guess what? Edith ran her own small certified organic farm for a few years and that expertise infuses the series with effortless realism. Readers can pick up tips about what it takes to grow produce organically, both the pitfalls and the plusses, while enjoying the cleverly crafted mysteries.

 

The Quaker Midwife series is a project close to Edith’s heart. She is a Quaker herself and some of the history and the daily practices of the Society of Friends have found their way into this series. Maxwell now lives in Amesbury, Massachusetts where the books are set, and the local history influenced her short story writing. One of the short stories became the impetus for a 19th c. midwife character. Rose Carroll, the Quaker midwife, is perfectly placed to be a sleuth, since she gets to go where men (and the police) can’t in 1888, and hears all kinds of secrets that help solve the crimes. Beautifully written, “Delivering the Truthis well-deserving of the Agatha historical mystery nomination this year.

 

Click on the link to check out Maxwell’s YouTube video of a walking tour of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Maxwell is wearing an authentic self-made 1888 dress and bonnet while she conducts the tour and chats about the sites mentioned in “Delivering the Truth.” What a fun and terrific way to launch a series!

https://youtu.be/D-1BKTI9-f8 

 

Plus, as Maddie Day, Edith has a new cozy foodie mystery series, Cozy Capers Book Group, set on Cape Cod. “Murder on Cape Cod will be the first title launched in 2018. The lead character runs a bicycle repair and rental shop and hosts a weekly cozy mystery book group. My dad’s family came from the Cape, and I’m looking forward to reading Maxwell/Day’s take on the region.

 

So, how does she keep up this writing pace and still maintain the quality in her books? First, she is doing what she loves. She has a writing schedule for each day – mornings are the best for her – but when a deadline looms, she sometimes goes away for a few days on retreat. She turns off the internet so that there are no distractions at all and she can write from dawn ‘til midnight if she needs to. When slipping away to a retreat, Maxwell likes to take along comfy clothes, walking shoes, a laptop, a favorite pen, and an actual paper notebook. Oh, and of course, wine and dark chocolate.  :-)

 

Maxwell writes traditional mysteries with absorbing puzzles to solve, and appealing characters that engage us on every page. With strong female leads, fascinating details, and multi-layered plots, this is an author we want to follow, wherever (or whenever) she leads us.

 

Book Cover - A Tine to Live A Tine to Die

 

Read the review of “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” (Local Foods series) here.

 

 

 

 

 


Book Cover - Grilled for Murder

 

Read the review of “Grilled for Murder,” (Country Store series) here (written as Maddie Day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Cover - Delivering the Truth

 

 

Read review of “Delivering the Truth” (Quaker Midwife series) here:-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Delivering the Truth" has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery. And “The Mayor and the Midwife” has been nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story. Read the short story here.


Edith Maxwell is a member of the Wicked Cozy Authors, the New England gals that share writing advice and their own experiences every week at www.wickedcozyauthors.com. She also writes with Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

For more information about Ms. Maxwell and her many projects, please visit www.edithmaxwell.com

 

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Photo "Writer" taken by Patti Phillips

Other photos provided by Edith Maxwell

 

 

“Fogged Inn” by Barbara Ross

 

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“Fogged Inn” is the fourth book in Barbara Ross’ excellent Maine Clambake Mysteries series and has been nominated for an Agatha Award in this year’s “Best Contemporary Novel” category. Not surprising, given the opening. And everything after that. :-)

 

At 5 AM, Gus yells up the stairs, “There’s a dead guy in the walk-in!” and disrupts Julia Snowden’s work-exhausted sleep. The yelling continues until she joins Gus in the restaurant, ready to disprove this absurd idea so she can go back to bed. She enters the walk-in and sees…a dead guy. Julia is now fully awake. I prefer radio alarms, but that’s just me.

 

The dead guy sat at the restaurant bar the night before, but none of the other diners seemed to notice him. So, who is he? How did he get into the walk-in? The restaurant had been closed and locked at 1 AM after cleanup. Chris (Julia’s boyfriend and partner in the restaurant) would have noticed the leftover customer, so the body dump happened after then. The man has no ID, no bullet holes, and there is no blood on the floor. Aside from the why, how and where did the guy die?

 

During “Fogged Inn,” Ross presents us with a thoroughly entertaining variation on the locked room puzzle, complete with a cast of Agatha Christie type retirees who reveal their connections to each other over the course of the clever, multi-layered tale. To add to the intrigue, they had received gift certificates for the same night the dead guy appeared, but Julia has no record of who purchased the certificates. And, more baffling, none of those guests acknowledged knowing each other during the long evening.

 

As the story evolves and decades old secrets are exposed, the past overshadows the present. Dysfunctional relationships are uncovered, with unintended consequences and tragic events as the fallout. The more Julia discovers, the more items linked to the past start disappearing, and the greater the danger that surrounds her.

 

The wonderful ensemble characters return to enthrall us with changes in Gus’ life and in the naturally developing relationship between Julia and Chris. Julia’s childhood friend, the Police Officer Jamie Dawes, is involved in the investigation, Binder & Flynn return as the irritating State cops, and Chris’ talents are revealed in delicious ways. Family members drop in, lending support, and Julia’s acceptance into small-town living seems almost certain when she’s invited to join Sit’n’Knit.

 

Because the story takes place in the winter, there is no clambake in “Fogged Inn.” Happily, there is still a lot of cooking going on and wonderful recipes to be found at the end of the book. We get a look at what winter in a tourist town is like when all the tourists are gone, where the locals scramble to earn a living and gather at the local watering hole (Gus’s place) to trade stories. Julia and Chris share restaurant space with Gus, the lovable grump that owns and runs Gus’s at breakfast and lunch. Julia and Chris take over only for the dinner crowd, just for the off-season, as Gus’s Too.

 

As with the rest of the series, Ross blends hardy New England life and the mystery together beautifully, so that readers enjoy learning about coastal Maine, wonderful food, and our favorite people while the bodies pop up.

 

Congratulations to Barbara Ross for this well-deserved Agatha nomination for “Fogged Inn.” Malice Domestic attendees will vote at our convention at the end of April, 2017.

 

Read about Barbara Ross’ writing process (and more) here:-)

 

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Please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com for more information about the series and Barb Ross’ upcoming appearances.

 

 

“Custom Baked Murder” by Liz Mugavero

 

Book Cover - Custom Baked Murder

Kristan (Stan) Connor is back in “Custom Baked Murder,” this time with more furry friends in residence and a love life that is heating up. Kristan is busy getting ready to open her long-anticipated pet café, with specially designed display cases, and new ideas to make both human and furry customers happy. She has two new backers for the business – one she’s happy about; the other she puts up with in order to realize her dream.

 

Her mother, ever detail oriented and still driving Stan crazy, is getting engaged to the Mayor and the big announcement will be made at a blowout party at the groom-to-be’s house. But the Mayor doesn’t show, and Stan’s irritating former colleagues do – along with her former fiancée. Talk about cringe worthy events. Oh, and there’s the murder at the party. Certainly, a memorable evening. And not in a good way.

 

The murder victim isn’t well-liked, so the question the police must answer is not who killed her, but instead, which one on the long list of enemies got to her first? Rumors fly and suspicions drive wedges into the small community, with several misunderstandings and family surprises thrown into the mix. Kristan must shield her mother from the press, while trying to prove her own former fiancée innocent. The overlapping story-lines are intriguing and keep the pages turning in this well-plotted mystery.

 

Including old friends and enemies in “Custom Baked Murder” adds a delicious twist. Sometimes we hope that the oldies (but baddies) will fade away from our lives forever, or that they might have changed, but wham! There they are, creating havoc yet again when least convenient. Mugavero captures this dynamic perfectly as she delivers the multiple red herrings.

 

Mugavero has expanded the relationships among the ensemble characters throughout the Pawsitively Organic series, evolving them in a natural way as time has passed. One gem of a character is Cyril, the reporter. Anyone who has ever met a small-town journalist will recognize the dogged chase after any detail that will make headlines. His shifts between investigation and bargaining for information are spot-on. And, then we have Stan’s hunky love interest, Jake, who keeps proving why he’s one of the good guys. The sisters have a larger role this time and fans will love that the series has become an engaging family affair.

 

Never fear, dogs and cats play important roles, including when Kristan throws a fund-raiser for a K-9. Mugavero continues to show us ways we can help the real-life animals in our lives. Happily, “Custom Baked Murder” includes more healthy pet recipes. The blueberry biscuits look tasty enough to be people food.

 

Don’t miss “Custom Baked Murder,” the fifth in the highly entertaining series.

 

Read my review of the Agatha nominated, “Kneading to Die,” here.

 

Read my review of “A Biscuit, A Casket” here.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for more information about Liz and her future projects, as well as her continuing work in Animal Advocacy. :-)

 

 

“Drizzled with Death” by Jessie Crockett

 

Book Cover - Drizzled with Death

“Drizzled with Death” opens as Dani Greene temporarily escapes the holiday mania afflicting her family. She catches up on work in the sugarhouse at Greener Pastures maple syrup farm, annoyed at being ignored at the age of 26. She is the youngest in the family, and at less than five feet tall, she finds it hard to be taken seriously, despite her business savvy that has transformed a family hobby into a thriving business.

 

Sounds like the start to a pleasant read about a young woman making her way through life in the small town of Sugar Grove, New Hampshire. More like a side-splitting read. During her musing, Dani is startled by a mountain lion peering at her through the sugarhouse window. Gulp. She calls for help, but the Fish and Game Warden sent out to investigate, Graham Paterson, doesn’t believe her. The mountain lion is long gone, the Fish and Game guy is smirking and she loses all credibility when he spies the wine glass. Yup, wine always makes me see mountain lions. How about you?  😉

 

If being dismissed by the Game Warden isn’t enough to make Dani spit maple syrup, the next day at the Sap Bucket Brigade annual fundraiser pancake breakfast, a contestant pitches face first halfway into the seventh syrup-dripping stack of pancakes. Death by pancake? I’d be pitched over after the second stack, but that’s just me.

 

Graham Paterson reveals that a truckload of exotic animals has been released and are running all over the area – caused by a talkative parrot. You have to read “Drizzled with Death” to find out how the parrot is involved. There are some really funny scenes that involve chasing wacky animals with nets and LOTS more.

 

There is a great deal to recommend in “Drizzled with Death,” not the least of which is a very engaging Dani, and the relationships with the ex-boyfriend and the Game Warden. Dani uncovers some skullduggery that affects the area, and particularly Greener Pastures’ livelihood. She needs to uncover the culprit/motivation before the family name is ruined and before she winds up dead herself.

 

There are zany characters with hidden agendas, decidedly wacky animals, and a clever subplot that will keep you intrigued to the end. Crockett has a witty way of turning a phrase that reminds us how funny life can be – after we have survived the crazy, of course.

 

Happily, there are also recipes at the end, including a concoction called “Who’d a Thunk It.” It’s a sandwich created with an apple, bacon, waffles and maple syrup. Me, oh , my, doesn’t that sound like a delicious combo?

 

“Drizzled with Death” is the first book in the Sugar Grove series. There are two later books, and hopefully, more to come.

 

Please visit www.jessiecrockett.com for information about Jessie Crockett’s other books as well as her work with the Wicked Cozys. 

 

“Musseled Out” by Barbara Ross

 

Book Cover - Musseled Out

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.”

 

Well done!

 

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

 

 

 

“A Biscuit, A Casket,” by Liz Mugavero

 

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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.