Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

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Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

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Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Cheryl Bolen: Ex-Spinster By Christmas

Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday gift for fans of Cheryl Bolen’s House of Haverstock Regency romance series, bringing siblings, in-laws, grandmothers, and babies from the Upton and Ponsby families together for Christmas at the country estate of the Duke of Aldridge.

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ex-spinster-by-christmasBut all is not holiday cheer for everyone. Lady Caroline Ponsby, the Duke’s sister, has had her fill of being a spinster. It’s not that she hasn’t had suitors—eleven men have offered for her since she came out into society—but the only man she cares for is Christopher Perry. Unfortunately, for all his affection, he seems averse to marriage and has never proposed. Caro is convinced that he never will. She wants a home of her own, and a baby. In short, she needs a husband, and she sets her sights on Lord Brockton, a handsome rake with an impressive home and a bad reputation.

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Christopher Perry has been madly in love with Caro since the day he met her, but he doesn’t believe himself worthy of a duke’s daughter. He’s immensely wealthy, but his money came from trade, and, even worse, his great-grandfather was a Jewish jeweler. How can he ask a lady like Caroline to marry so far beneath herself?

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When Christopher learns that Brockton is courting Caroline, and that the notorious rake has been invited to the family’s country home for Christmas, he is devastated. When his mother and sisters abandon him to attend another sister’s delivery, Christopher decides to take up his own invitation to the country, determined to prevent Caroline from making a terrible mistake.

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When the country Christmas holiday turns out to be far more eventful than anyone expected, true colors are revealed. Will there be a happy ending for Caro and Christopher? Well, this is a Christmas romance, after all.

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Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday treat for Regency readers, and especially for lovers of the House of Haverstock stories, who will be happy to reconnect with so many members of the extended family.

Donna Frelick’s Fools Rush In

Fools Rush In is the third installment in Donna Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series (after Unchained Memory and Trouble in Mind), but it is easily read as a stand-alone novel. In fact it is really a prequel to the other books, introducing Rayna Carver, agent of the Interstellar Rescue Service and Sam Murphy, a space pirate with a passion for liberating slaver ships (supporting characters in the earlier books). Gabriel Cruz, Sam’s friend and the hero of Trouble In Mind also appears in Fools Rush In.

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fools-rush-inFrelick’s universe is based on the presumption that the Gray aliens (Minertsans) are indeed abducting humans (as well as members of many other species) to work as slaves in their mines and factories. Fools Rush In opens as Murphy’s pirate vessel, the ShadowHawk, captures a Minertsan slave ship, the Fleeflek, on which Rayna is undercover, hoping to make her way into the munitions factory on the planet LinHo, one of the acknowledged pest holes of the galaxy. Her plans disrupted but not put aside, Rayna sets out to convince this inconvenient pirate to help her continue her mission. Sparks fly, both professional and personal.

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Unlike Trouble In Mind, which is set largely on Earth, Fools Rush In takes place on starships and occasional dingy and dangerous ports. Frelick’s books are science fiction romance for the science fiction lover. The romance, while satisfying, never overshadows the action plot, which involves sabotage, space battles, and general skulduggery. Frelick does not go out of her way to over explain her universe, either. We meet Thranes, Patarons, Minertsans, and other aliens, with just enough description to make them interesting, but never bogging down in back story. We learn just enough about Rayna and Sam’s earlier live to understand their reasons for fighting the slavers.

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Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series is set in a grim reality, and there is considerable graphic violence (and some graphic sex), suitable for the tone of the novel. If you enjoy science fiction with a layer of space opera and a believable love story, start the series with Fools Rush In.

Two Historical Novels

Recent reading: two historical novels loosely based on the lives of real American women.

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I stumbled across Thelma Adams’ The Last Woman Standing by chance and thoroughly enjoyed it. Adams has taken what little is known of the life of Josephine Marcus Earp (and much of that is hazy and/or disputed) and the-last-woman-standingwoven a fascinating tale of her meeting and falling in love with the legendary Wyatt Earp. It’s no spoiler to say that Josie (or Sadie, as she was also known) and Wyatt remained together for nearly fifty years, until his death, for Josie tells that story herself in the first chapter.

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When Josie leaves her humble Jewish home in San Francisco to marry a man she met in Tombstone (when she spent a brief time with a traveling theater troupe), she finds her fiance unreliable, and Wyatt Earp irresistible. A great deal happens in the next year or so (1881-1882), both in Josie’s personal life and in better known history (remember the OK Corral?), and Josie relates it well.

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The book has not been marketed as a romance—it doesn’t really fit the genre pattern—but romance lovers will enjoy it. So will readers who enjoy historical detail, including some insight into Jewish family and community life in nineteenth century San Francisco and Tombstone.

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The Last Woman Standing isn’t biography (and doesn’t claim to be), but it is wonderful story telling, and lays out Josephine Marcus Earp’s life the way we all might hope it was.

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Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun, relating the further adventures of Constance Kopp and her eccentric sisters, loosely based on real people and events. In this second novel, Constance is working as the jail matron while awaiting her official deputy sheriff’s badge, Norma continues lady-cop-makes-troubleher passion for messenger pigeons, and Fleurette has turned eighteen and become a blossoming performer in local theater.

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At the jail in New Jersey, Constance deals with women who may be criminals or victims (in 1915 it could be hard to tell the difference), especially one who seems remarkably happy to stay in jail, even when it appears she could not have committed the murder she’s accused of.

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When a prisoner escapes on Constance’s watch, she throws herself into the pursuit, defying Sheriff Heath’s orders and charging into New York City in search of the criminal. Along the way she stays at a hotel for women, where she meets a lawyer, a reporter, and a filing clerk, and she roams the streets of the city, where she meets much less respectable characters and makes an arrest.

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Lady Cop Makes Trouble is just as entertaining as Girl Waits With Gun. Stewart adds an author’s note at the end separating fiction from fact. I hope we’ll be seeing more of Constance Kopp, Lady Cop.

It all started with the dryer . . .

On August 20, my clothes dryer died, in the middle of the day’s last load of laundry. I wasn’t surprised. The dryer came from Montgomery Ward, years before they closed in 2001; it was at least twenty years old, probably older. I’d already gotten a couple of extra years out of it by replacing the main belt. The washing machine sitting next to it still worked, but it was just as old. Aha, I thought. My birthday is coming up shortly. I will treat myself to a new washer and dryer.

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I shopped around, but there really isn’t much of a price range on appliances. I picked out a pair of machines from LG (I already had an LG refrigerator and an LG smart phone, why not go for something in the middle?) and ordered them on August 26.

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Delivery was scheduled for the morning of Friday, September 2. After numerous calls and a long day of waiting, the truck showed up about 6 p.m. The dryer was installed without problems. The washer had a slight dent, but by then I didn’t care. Sending it back seemed much more trouble than a dent.

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Unfortunately, the washer wouldn’t drain, producing a puddle on my adjoining kitchen floor. The installers, whose competency rating was sliding rapidly downhill, blamed the problem on the drain hose. They chopped the end of it off and told me all would be well. It wasn’t. More water on the floor. The installers went out to their truck, made a phone call, and assured me someone would come fix it Monday morning.

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I didn’t believe them. The drain hose explanation made little or no sense. The next day I went back to the store and spoke to the saleswoman. She checked with the delivery company and the service department—no record of any call or any help scheduled for Monday. And no one thought the hose explanation made sense.

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So I went home and called the best appliance man I know, who said, “Nonsense. Your drain is blocked. You need a plumber.”

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I couldn’t argue with that. The house is sixty years old, and I knew the plumbing wasn’t in good shape. In fact, plumbing-5I’d wondered if I might come home one day and find the ceiling on the floor after a pipe broke in the attic. So I called the plumbing/electric/air & heat contractor that I’ve used in the past, and they sent a plumber out on September 6. The drain was blocked, all right, and he couldn’t do anything with it.

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On September 9, another Friday, three weeks after the demise of the dryer, a senior plumber came out with a pipe camera, and the project began to spiral.

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No hope for the pipes draining my kitchen and utility room. They would need to tunnel under the house and replace the broken sewer line, running a new one across the back yard to join the old one. The city inspector would expect all the plumbing to be in working order, so he’d better check to see that the water heater in the attic was up to code. Good news: the relatively new water heater was fine. Bad news: the ancient pipes were not, and looked ready to burst any time. Worse news: since the inspector would look at everything, that included the guest bathroom, where nothing had worked for years.

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Verdict: total re-pipe of the house, two tunnels under the foundation, two new sewer lines. The job would take a week or so. Not exactly the birthday present I was hoping for.

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The diggers started on Monday, September 12th. The contractor’s pest control guy came by and gave me a plumbing-4price for rodent-proofing the house (I didn’t want poison in the attic, and they don’t use it) and spraying for termites. Both needed, still on the to-do list.

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That night it rained, almost three inches. When I looked out the back door of the garage, the partially dug tunnel was full of water. Literally. Up to ground level. To my amazement, the diggers had the water pumped out and were back at work by mid-morning, but there was mud everywhere.

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Meanwhile the inside plumbers got started, Nutmeg the cat began her exile to the only room in the house that had no plumbing and a door that stayed closed, and the electrician came out to look at my sixty-year-old circuit box. A total disaster, everything in it fused solid. Along with several other problems, including new GFI outlets throughout the house, that job is also now on the to-do list, above the pest control.

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On September 19, the re-pipe was finished and the washing machine was hooked up and draining, through the sewer line that was laid but neither covered nor attached to the main sewer line. The diggers had moved on toplumbing-1 the tunnel on the other side of the house, and everyone waited for the city inspector.

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Still waiting for official word from the first inspector on Friday the 23rd, and now a second inspector, from the water district, wanted his turn, but not until next week because it was raining. And he only worked part time. Meanwhile the contractor’s office was asking the job supervisor about the rest of the money (we both said, “When it’s finished!”) and the sheet rock repair man came to cover all the holes the plumbers had made (and a few they hadn’t).

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Sheet rock guy was back the next day. So was the rain.

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On Monday the 26th, the painter came to tidy up all the sheet rock repairs, and the tile man came to repair the damaged tile where a new faucet and shower control was being installed in the hall bathroom (along with a new toilet—by now I was saying, “Oh, sure, why not?” to just about anything).

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More waiting until both inspectors gave their final approval—and posted it to the computer system where the plumbing-3contractor could see it. The diggers made quick work of refilling the tunnels and trenches (leaving my back yard awash in dirt, but some things can’t be helped. I’ve bought a pair of rubber boots), and on September 30 the plumber finished work on the hall bathtub and shower.

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On Sunday, October 2, a friend from out of town stopped in, and I was able to say, for the first time in years, “Bathroom? Down the hall and to your right.” It wasn’t decorated yet, but everything worked. I hung the new shower plumbing-2curtain and arranged the new towels, and I had a bathroom that functioned.

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On Monday, October 3, the job supervisor came out. We walked around the yard, looked at the indoor work, and I wrote another check.

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I figure when I’m finished (if one is ever finished fixing up an old house) I will have spent just about as much as the house cost us in 1976 (it was twenty years old then). I still have to have the electrical and pest control work done, and there’s still a lot of mostly cosmetic work I’d like to do. But my plumbing problems are over.

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And it all started when the clothes dryer died.

Colleen Thompson: The Off Season

Colleen Thompson’s latest romantic suspense novel, The Off Season, is set in a small Jersey shore community, Seaside Creek, in the winter. The tourists are gone, leaving their summer mansions to sit empty, risking vandalism and worse. Dr. Christina Paxton, recently widowed, has returned to her hometown to work in the emergency room of the local hospital. Thanks to her real estate agent mother, she’s also house sitting, living with her two-year-old daughter, Lilly, and a retired racing greyhound called Max.

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the-off-seasonThen one night Christina hears words no one could expect to hear from a two-year-old child. “Murder me,” Lilly says. “Bad people.” Lilly’s strange words continue with names and references that take Christina back thirty years, to terrifying memories that no one else could possibly share. Strange dreams, voices through Lilly’s baby monitor, and vandalism drive Christina back into contact with Harris Bowers, once her high school classmate and summer fling, now chief of the small Seaside Creek police department, the last person from her cloudy past Christina would choose to depend on.

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Harris has his own set of problems: the physical after effects of an explosion, a recent not-very-amicable divorce (from Christina’s old friend and recent baby sitter), and a spate of crime in Seaside Creek. He would like to mend fences with Christina, but the barriers erected in the past may be insurmountable.

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As the dangers around her multiply, Christina has no idea who she can trust, least of all herself, as she struggles to keep the secrets of her past, even when those secrets may be at the root of all that threatens her, and her child, in the present.

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The Off Season may be Colleen Thompson’s best work to date (and she has written quite a few excellent romantic suspense novels). Not only are there multiple suspects who might be behind the threats to Christina and Lilly, but those possible suspects have motives ranging from the not-quite-buried past to the present. Add to that the growing tension and rebirth of attraction between Christina and Harris, and you have a true up-all-night read.

Donna Frelick: Trouble In Mind

What if aliens really were abducting humans, for slave labor and sometimes for their psychic powers? That’s the premise behind Donna S. Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series.

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trouble-in-mindTrouble In Mind (the second book in the series, but definitely readable as a stand alone—I haven’t read the first one yet) begins as a suspense novel, with FBI Agent Alana Matheson called in on what seems like a routine kidnapping case. A woman and her son have been snatched from a remote location, leaving her husband beaten but alive—and now a suspect.

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But Lana’s investigation soon takes an unexpected turn as private investigator Gabriel Cruz shows up, brought into the case by the angry husband and his friends. Lana is having enough trouble with her FBI partner—she doesn’t need more from interfering civilians.

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Gabriel is not just another private eye, and the kidnap victims have a background he can’t explain to Lana, not without telling her about psychic powers, galactic conspiracy, and his own extremely dysfunctional and not entirely human family.

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Trouble In Mind moves smoothly from Earth-bound suspense to interstellar intrigue, from Lana and Gabriel to the kidnapped woman to the aliens pursuing her and the masterminds behind it all, as Lana and Gabriel race to rescue the victims and Lana gradually learns that there is far more involved than she ever imagined, even in her own background.

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This is an exciting, well-written example of the science fiction romance genre, but be advised that it contains some very graphic language, sex, and violence, all intrinsic to the story and characters. All the same, I’m hooked. I’ve downloaded the first book in the series, Unchained Memory, and pre-ordered the third, Fools Rush In.

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