New England

“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

 

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.

 

 

 

“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

 

 

 

 

 

“Kneading to Die” by Liz Mugavero

 

Book Cover - Kneading To Die copy

‘Stan’ (short for Kristan) Connor leaves Hartford, Connecticut after being unfairly downsized from her high paying, high pressure PR job. It’s time to take a breather from the fast lane and move her life in a different direction. When she arrives at her newly purchased Victorian in Frog Ledge, a town so small that everybody knows your business before you say hello for the first time, she knows she is home.

 

Her boyfriend doesn’t agree, and pressures her to get another job ASAP before she regrets her decision. Plus, he’s not happy about the commute to see her. He keeps trying to arrange job interviews for her, despite her protests. Not needed, not wanted. She has two years severance pay, after all. This pair is definitely not on the same page.

 

Stan soon finds herself in a fix when she visits the obnoxious town vet with her Maine coon, Nutty. The vet is dead; kibble sprinkled over her body, and hardly anybody misses her. Stan is a suspect in the murder, just because she found the body. Well, small town people do have to blame the outsiders, don’t they?  😉

 

As Kristan seeks to clear herself in “Kneading to Die,” she finds it hard to know whom to trust. Even her childhood friend, an animal rescuer and now the owner of Pet’s Last Chance, Nikki Manning, comes under suspicion as the case unfolds. But, then Nikki delivers some inside info about the deceased and a possible motive for the vet’s death.

 

Colorful characters (and suspects) abound, including alpaca farmers/bed & breakfast owners, a sweetshop owner, dairy farmers, gossipy townspeople, long-lost relatives, a homeopathic vet, and more.

 

Kristan bakes healthy treats for pets, made from scratch like people cookies, but without the additives usually found in commercial cat and dog food. One of my mother’s cats suffered with clumps of hair falling out, traced back to his completely canned diet. As soon as mom put him on a diet of home cooked fish and other fresh goodies, the condition cleared up. Mugavero is definitely onto something with this aspect of “Kneading to Die,” and has generously included recipes for dog and kitty treats at end of the book.

 

The hunky potential love interest, Jake McGee, owns a seemingly untrainable, sloppy, big dog that loves Stan’s treats and shows up on her doorstep at odd hours, waiting to get fed. The dog keeps throwing Kristan and Jake together, at times embarrassing them both.

 

The underlying theme of this dog-and-cat-filled cozy is advocacy for animals. Mugavero weaves the nasty side of pet sales, abandoned animals, questionable veterinarian policies, badly prepared pet food, etc. into the murder plotline and raises awareness of the real-life issues involved. Fortunately, the unpleasant side of the pet industry is balanced with the warm, caring behavior of the assorted animal lovers in “Kneading to Die.”

 

P.S. If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you’ll find the descriptions of the animals in “Kneading to Die” hilarious and spot-on. I was checking a detail at the beginning of the book and reread about Nutty’s tail delivering opinions – still sooo funny. Mugavero clearly knows her animals.

 

“Kneading to Die” is the first book in Pawsitively Organic series, and happily, Kristan Connor will be back in the next.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for information about this debut author.