WickedAuthors

“Murder in an English Village” by Jessica Ellicott

 

“Murder in an English Village” is the first title in the wonderful new Beryl and Edwina Mystery series by Jessica Ellicott (aka Jessie Crockett/Jessica Estevao). Old school mates, Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport, have lived wildly different lives since leaving Finishing School. American Beryl has been a world traveler and well known adventuress, while English Edwina has lived quietly in Walmsley Parva in picturesque southern England. But Beryl is tired of the demands of public life and Edwina needs a boarder now that her post WW1 income has shriveled. A perfect setup for the old chums to meet again after all these years.

 

Beryl discovers the seriousness of Edwina’s plight, but when she takes it upon herself to pay the shopkeepers for some of Edwina’s bills, she also attempts to divert the gossip about Edwina’s situation with an outlandish lie she reveals to the biggest gossip in town.

 

Beryl persuades Edwina that the BIG LIE will not remain one if they work together to solve a few crimes. What crimes? Warmsley Parva is a fairly quiet place…or is it? The seemingly peaceful village has a great many secrets, some tragically kept to preserve reputations. Villains parade as upstanding citizens with devastating consequences.

 

Ellicott’s marvelously descriptive writing transports us to rustic English cottages, dressed country fields, one phone in a sparsely populated countryside, and small shops showing their wear, while revealing societal views about women of 100 years ago. It was a hard life for everyone worldwide that lived during WW1, but England took years longer to adjust to the new economic reality with money, food, and manpower shortages. In a masterful touch of subtlety, Ellicott shows how Edwina’s financial circumstances change because of Beryl’s presence, and dinners become more varied. Even the occasional outing for tea can be enjoyed.

 

One of the interesting historical references in “Murder in an English Village” is The Women’s Land Army, a government program initiated because able-bodied men that might otherwise have been farming the land, were off fighting for home and country. Women committed to a year to work the land, but despite doing a great service, the women were not always looked upon with favor, considered by some to be a lesser class of citizen. This attitude was exploited by some and used to great effect in the book through Ellicott’s deft character development.

 

“Murder in an English Village” is both historically enlightening and entertaining, launching the new series with two engaging, intelligent women who will capture your hearts and minds.

 

Please visit https://www.jessicaellicott.com for more information about the talented Ms. Ellicott and the next book in the series, “Murder Flies the Coop,” out in September, 2019.

 

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“Pruning the Dead” by Julia Henry

 

“Pruning the Dead” is the first book in the marvelous new Garden Squad Mystery series from Julia Henry (aka JA Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes). Lilly Jayne is a charming 65 y.o. expert gardener, quietly accepting of her beloved husband’s illness and passing. In the real world, it takes a while to heal emotionally from that kind of life trauma and Henry hits all the right notes of grief and recovery, including the friends that nudge Lilly ever so gently to return to former activities.

 

Pat French, the Queen of Bureaucrats at City Hall, fines people that have slightly oversized mailboxes and leave trash receptacles too close to the street. Except for foreclosure notices, there are no warnings, merely multiplying fines. This is not a gated community with strict compliance expected by the residents, this is a diverse small town. French's  regulations are so ridiculous as to keep repairs from getting completed – because the repairs might not live up to code? As we say in the South, “Good grief, she needs a whoopin’ – her mama didn’t raise her right!”

 

A park cleanup is underway when the body of a conniving moneygrubber is discovered on top of the mulch, and the Garden Squad gets organized. They must dig into the many secrets of the dead woman that almost everyone hated, while solving the mystery of the zealous city hall clerk. The picture of stealthy Goosebush Garden Squad do-gooders of a certain age weeding and plotting at midnight, is a hoot to imagine as they skulk and whisper through the neighborhoods.

 

“Pruning the Dead” has a lively cast of business owners and friends with roots in Goosebush that go way back, plus a newbie garden lover that may be the perfect more-than-friend companion for Lilly in the future. And he just happens to live next door… Henry's descriptive phrasing delivers fully-fleshed out characters we'd love to serve on committees with and take out to lunch. They feel like friends for life, delightful for a continuing series. The villains are equally well drawn, creating off-center realities and excuses for themselves while wreaking havoc on everyone else.

 

Henry gives a nod to aching knees and creaky backs of senior citizens, while also showing that brains don’t shrivel just by virtue of reaching the ripe young age of 60. Each of the members provides different skill sets: organization/planning, computer knowledge, horticultural expertise, close connection to the police department, and deep pockets. Combining skills with savvy life experiences, “Pruning the Dead” is a terrific homage to the active, productive boomer crowd that runs the real world. Never underestimate the power of senior citizens. You’ll never, ever outsmart them.

 

There are helpful gardening tips throughout “Pruning the Dead,” and a special list at the end. I can’t wait to see what happens to Lilly Jayne and her Goosebush Garden Squad in book #2, “Tilling the Truth.” Is it August yet? (update: It's out now!)

 

Please visit www.jhauthors.com for more about this multi-talented author and her other work, as well as the books written under her other names.   

 

 

 

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“Murder on Cape Cod” by Maddie Day

 

 

“Murder on Cape Cod” is the first title in a new series by Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell), Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery. Mac (MacKenzie) Almeida belongs to a cozy book club in fictional Westham on Cape Cod, that gathers at different houses to discuss the book of the week. After a meeting one night, she trips over a body on her way home – not quite the same as reading about the fictional bodies on the page.

 

To make matters worse, Mac knew the dead man, an often unpleasant, frequently unreliable handyman, with surprising connections to several members of the community. Why was he killed and by whom? The evidence left at the scene implicates only one person, but how could that be? The prime suspect goes missing, confusing matters for everyone. Guilty people don’t flee, do they?

 

Mac is a bike shop owner and is in a unique position to see lots of people pass by the window every day. She can recognize anyone out of place and since there is absolutely nothing impersonal about a small town, plausible suspects keep popping up.

 

One of the several interesting plotlines cleverly intertwines employee difficulties at the bike shop with the murder. Day uses the real-world challenges of small business ownership to complicate matters for Mac – getting workers to show up on time, dealing with impatient customers, honoring ‘the customer is always right’ credo. I felt as if I was right there in the store.

 

“Murder on Cape Cod” contains plenty of local food discussions at mealtimes. It’s especially fun to read that Mac loves good food, but does a lot of take-out. In Real Life, Day is a talented amateur chef, a personal detail that shines through her descriptions of various dishes in her other series Country Store Mysteries as well as those in this new series. Yummy sounding recipes are included in the back of the book. Cozy readers will also be delighted at the way Day inserts titles of actual cozy mysteries and their characters into the conversations.

 

Day’s writing is crisp in “Murder on Cape Cod” and her multi-layered plot features a cast of characters both diverse and perfectly suited for life in the ebb and flow of a tourist town. Mac’s caring and reliable boyfriend has his own business and Day shows us a rock-solid couple, enjoying each other and their time together, without being joined at the hip. Mac’s father is a pastor, and his wife’s interest in astrology plays a role in the story. Mac’s errant brother and her main employee? There are surprising reveals. And it has to be said: a huge round of applause to Maddie Day for writing a refreshing octogenarian grandmother who is feisty and quite capable of managing her own life.

 

“Murder on the Cape” is a solid page-turner, with a strong new female character, who can’t help herself when wanting to discover the truth. I look forward to the rest of the series.  🙂

 

Please visit www.edithmaxwell.com for more information about the Cozy Capers Book Group.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Steamed Open” by Barbara Ross

 

Julia Snowden is back in “Steamed Open,” the seventh book in Barbara Ross’ Agatha nominated Maine Clambake mystery series. Julia has worked hard to bring the family Clambake business back from the brink of financial disaster, but a new threat challenges her problem-solving ability – the clams she needs for the Clambakes may no longer be readily available. This isn’t a matter of refinancing or getting a backer to underwrite a cash-strapped, seasonal business. The very character of the business itself is vulnerable to the baffling decision of one man.

 

The problem? Public entry to a prime clamming beach and the parking lot near it have been fenced off after local philanthropist, Lou (Heloise) Herrickson, passes away. Her heir, Bartholomew Frick, a very unpleasant distant relative of Lou’s, is not at all interested in the impact that decision has on the community – both tourists and business owners alike. He is only interested in selling the beachfront house and all its contents as quickly as possible. The professional clammers can’t dig up the clams and the dwindling supply is threatening to remove clam dishes from all the area seafood restaurants.

 

Frick winds up dead, killed with a clam rake, and Julia was the last person to see him alive – except for the killer. Who did it? Was it a frustrated local resident, a disgruntled neighbor, or an annoyed vacationer? Who will inherit the estate now since Frick died before a will could be written? Ross provides us with plenty of motives as well as a few feisty suspects and a complex side-plot that moves front and center as the story evolves.

 

Julia bends the rules a bit while looking for someone who would inherit the estate and return the beach access to what had gone before. She has a personal stake in the outcome, since every day without access to the beach creates difficulties for the business and her entire family. “Steamed Open” revisits the point that summer tourist businesses have a limited four- month window in which to earn the money to live on for the year. Not an easy place to exist, let alone thrive.

 

I spent many summers at beach towns on the USA East Coast and as Ross discusses in her book, public beach access is flatly denied in some oceanside communities and in some places, day passes can only be purchased at the police station. Regulations vary from town to town where the debate rages with loud, angry exchanges at the public and private meetings. It’s a choice between a source of revenue for the town and owners that don’t want their expensive beach fronts crowded with strangers that litter the sand and destroy the dunes. Compromises between the groups are hard to achieve in real life.

 

Julia’s relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, gets complicated in “Steamed Open.” He has his own secrets and while they have given each other plenty of space before, she now feels that if the two are going to continue to complement each other in business and as a couple, there has to be more openness. What Chris reveals will break your heart.

 

“Steamed Open” is a study in the necessity to get answers quickly before time runs out and everybody loses. A murder and a search for an heir that affects the entire community? High stakes investigations indeed and a great read, with Ross delivering a clever multi-layered plot, well-crafted continuing (and a few new) characters, and as always, wonderful recipes and that fabulous coastal Maine setting.

 

Click here to read Ross’ Author Profile.

 

Please visit http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com/ for more information about Ross, her appearances, and her other work.


 

 

 

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Author Profile: Sherry Harris

 

 

Sherry Harris, the author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, was a proud Air Force wife, picking up everything and relocating every three or four years – each time orders for an assignment to a new base came down. While we can joke about the horror of having to find new hairdressers and decent grocery stores with every change, the toughest part of being part of a military family was moving her daughter from school to school, and giving up her own face-to-face friendships at each re-posting.

 

From our perspective as Sherry Harris readers, there is a definite upside to all that moving. It’s difficult to start or maintain a career with frequent transfers, so Harris turned her love of tag sales (called garage or yard sales in some parts of the country) into a writing career. She answered an ad in a local newspaper for a short story contest, kept writing until it turned into a novel length piece, and later, was encouraged to look for an agent.

 

The quality of her writing ability was proven when “Tagged for Death,” the first in the series, was nominated for an Agatha Award in the Best First Novel category.

 

Sherry Harris’ favorite writing spot is in her office. Her desk faces the window and when she looks out at the trees, she can pretend she lives in the middle of nowhere. When asked whether her writing process is closer to plotter or pantser, she admitted to being more of a pantser, working toward becoming a plotter. Either way, the results are great!

 

Harris has revealed in her book bios that she is a “born bargain hunter,” and has created a fully fleshed out character in the series based on her own expertise and love for the activity. Sarah Winston makes her living organizing tag sales for her customers and Harris includes tips for successful tag sales in the books. I personally have used them in my own garage sales.

 

Harris has followed the writing advice of a favorite thriller writer/instructor (James W. Hall) who feels that people want to learn something and if they do, the books just might keep selling. She attributes the success of cozies in general, to the fact that whether about knitting or cooking or tag sales, cozies contain a mystery along with a lot of information about a specific topic. Fans of that topic will come back for more in book after book.

 

Sherry Harris’ Sarah Winston character is successful in part because Winston is completely relatable. Her emotional struggles to make her own way as a newly single woman are realistic, and her scenes detailing military life ring true. Harris’ storylines peel back the layers of Winston’s battle with feelings about her ex in each book, while delivering great mysteries. The ensemble supporting characters develop as Winston’s association with them grows naturally. I particularly like the nuanced relationships between Sarah and the men in her life, which ebb and flow as Sarah sorts through the consequences of living as an independent woman.

 

When not working on the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, Sherry Harris blogs with the Wicked Authors, a New England focused writing group, all talented, published authors. Read their posts at www.wickedcozyauthors.com. Harris is also the current past President of the international writing organization, Sisters in Crime, a group that fosters the development of women writers.

 

Sherry Harris Fun fact: Her favorite foods are pizza and popcorn.  🙂

 

 

Read the review of “Tagged for Death” here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the review of “The Longest Yard Sale” here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the review of “A Good Day to Buy” here.

 

 

 

 

 

After reading “A Good Day to Buy,” I counted the months until “I Know What You Bid Last Summer” (book #5) was published and was not disappointed. It’s a terrific entry in the series and is not to be missed. Look for the lasagna subplot, a fun counterbalance to the serious action.

 

Please visit https://sherryharrisauthor.com for information about Harris, her upcoming appearances, and more in the series.

 

 

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“Cat About Town” by Cate Conte

Cat About Town book cover

 

“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.

 

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