New England

Author Profile: Liz Mugavero

 

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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.

 

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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.

 


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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.

 

 

 

 

 


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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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“Cat About Town” by Cate Conte

 

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“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. Maddie James is a savvy new heroine, capable of out-thinking the bad guys, but with a special softness for friends, family, and rescue animals. I can't wait to read the next book. Can we pre-order yet?  :-)
 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

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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

 

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“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

 

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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