Catching Up with Cozies

Telephone Line is the ninth installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Mystery series, set in Kansas City in the mid 1970s. A year after the murder of her unlamented husband (in The Deep End), Ellison Russell finds his sins (which were many) coming back to haunt her, as people mentioned in his secret blackmail files are being murdered. To protect her daughter, Grace, Ellison won’t reveal the existence of those files, even to her boyfriend, homicide detective Anarchy Jones, so she and her housekeeper, Aggie, set out to establish connections between the murder victims that don’t involve Henry’s files.

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As usual, Ellison discovers corpses (much to the horror of her domineering mother) and finds it impossible to “stay out of this one,” as Anarchy frequently suggests. It’s not like she finds bodies on purpose.

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I really enjoy this series. Ellison’s voice is a treat, sharp, intelligent, and often exasperated. The supporting characters are every bit as interesting. There’s a lot of humor, but Mulhern also tackles some tough topics. I hope we won’t have to wait too long for number 10.

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Lowcountry Boomerang is the eighth installment in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot mystery series, set in Charleston and the nearby coastal islands. When Darius Baker, a local man who left the area after high school, made a fortune in reality TV, and now wants to retire, returns home to the island of Stella Maris, residents, including the PI team of Liz Talbot and her husband Nate Andrews, are curious. When Darius’ high school sweetheart, Trina Lynn Causby, an investigative reporter for a Charleston TV station, is murdered, curiosity turns to suspicion.

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The death of Trina Lynn brings up secrets old and new. Darius has three ex-wives, and Trina Lynn had at least one stalker, two lovers, and a hot lead on an unsolved case. When Darius hires the defense lawyer who keeps Liz and Nate on retainer for investigations, they jump in to search for the truth.

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One of the attractions of this series is the setting. Stella Maris, the other islands, and the city of Charleston play a big part in the story, and Boyer does a great job of bringing them to life. This is a series I thoroughly enjoy and heartily recommend.

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After a long gap, AE Jones has returned to her delightful Paranormal Wedding Planners series with For Better or For Wolf, the story of Olivia Jennings, human psychiatrist, and Connor Dawson, werewolf. Olivia doesn’t know that one of her patients is a fairie—or that supernatural beings exist at all. When she finds out it’s in a big way, and she’s drawn into the affairs of the west coast werewolf pack. It seems they need an unbiased expert to assess the mental state of the new Alpha. What could possibly go wrong?

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Connor is a member of a sort of supernatural special ops team, working for the Supernatural Council, along with his twin brother Jack, Devin the elf, Charlie the nymph, and Giz the wizard. All the characters from the first three Wedding Planner books are back to see what they can do to solve the pack’s problems—and Connor’s.

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The Paranormal Wedding Planner series has one foot in the romance world and one on the mystery shelf, with either foot slipping on the occasional banana peel. The books are bright and funny and thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve preordered number 5, For Witch or For Poorer.

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And for an extra treat: Caveat Emptor and other stories brings together a handful of short stories by the late Joan Hess, one of my long-time favorite mystery authors. Her novels in the Claire Malloy series and the Arly Hanks/Maggody series are light and funny. Her short stories, in this book and the previous Bigfoot Stole My Wife and other stories, tend to have darker humor and often a twist in which someone gets their just deserts, not usually in any legal way. Two stories in Caveat Emptor, “Death of a Romance Writer” and “A Little More Research,” are tales of writers with problems. Two stories, “Death in Bloom” and “Time Will Tell,” are set in Maggody. “Too Much to Bare,” “Caveat Emptor,” and “All’s Well That Ends” are unrelated but delightfully twisty.

Romantic Suspense Times Two

Here are two great reads mixing mystery, suspense, and romance.

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When Texas Ranger Samantha Goode, the heroine of Leslie Marshman’s Goode Over Evil, returns to her home town of Crystal Creek, she’s only expecting to stay a day or two for her grandmother’s funeral. She’s shed no tears for the old woman who made her childhood miserable, but her grandfather and her Uncle Joe deserve her support.

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She knows there’s a risk of running into her old love, rancher Clayton Barnett—it’s a small town, after all. But she can deal with that. Clay doesn’t know why Sam left town without a word to him years ago, and she doesn’t intend to tell him now. Events around them make it hard to avoid one another, but will what they once had together ever return?

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Sam’s plans to head back to El Paso as quickly as possibly change when there’s a death at her uncle’s marina. The local police chief calls it suicide, but Sam and the county sheriff know better. Whatever happened, Clay’s autistic brother, Jordan, may have witnessed it. When Sam realizes that dangers from the drug cartel she’s been fighting have followed her from El Paso to the Gulf Coast, her fears for the people she loves mount.

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Goode Over Evil is a fast-paced roller coaster ride through small town secrets, drug smuggling, and murder, and well worth reading for fans of mystery and suspense.

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Shadows in the Deep is a reissue (new title and cover) of Lark Brennan’s Dangerously Yours, and well worth picking up if you missed it the first time around. The first volume in the Durand Chronicles, Shadows in the Deep is a very entertaining read, but a bit difficult to categorize: romantic suspense, certainly; paranormal elements, definitely; even a touch of science fiction, all in a fascinating Caribbean island setting.

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To outside eyes, Lex Durand is a marine biologist studying whales and dolphins. Only her close relatives in the large and powerful Durand clan know that she is an animal telepath, and that some of her study subjects have gone mysteriously missing.

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Her brother sends Lex to ask for assistance from Bodie Flynn, a near-recluse scientist studying newly discovered forms of energy which may just hold the clue to the disappearances. But Bodie used to be someone else entirely, and he blames Lex’s family for his current situation.

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The scientific puzzles are too much for either to resist (and pretty soon they’re having trouble resisting one another, as well). Off they go, via sailboat and seaplane, to one small island after another in pursuit of missing whales, reappearing (and possibly insane) dolphins, mysterious energy, psychic powers, and the occasional explosion.

A Regency Christmas Novella

Lady Sarah Milton, the heroine of Cheryl Bolen’s His Lady Deceived, has had numerous offers of marriage since her presentation at court five years earlier, but none of those men made her heart sing. She’s reserved that feeling for a man she’s never even spoken to, Alfred Wickham, the son of Viscount Landis. When Lady Landis invites Sarah and her family to spend Christmas at Hedley Hall, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Radcliff, Sarah agrees, but she’s cautious. Lady Landis is convinced that Sarah would be the perfect wife for her only son, Alfred. Sarah longs to meet Alfred at last—but won’t be a party to any marital trap set by his mother.

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Alfred Wickham (known to his friends as Wick) has made it to the age of thirty without a wife, and he’s happy that way. When he gets wind of his mother’s Christmas plans, he agrees to go to Hedley Hall, but enlists his best friend, Lord Hugh Pottinger (known as Potts) to accompany him. Wick claims he doesn’t want to leave Potts to spend Christmas alone in London, but Potts knows better. Wick wants something.

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Wick does indeed want something. He wants Potts to convince Lady Sarah that Wick is a poor marital candidate. He makes Potts (who is hopelessly shy around women) promise to tell the lady that Wick wagers on everything—and always loses, that he fences without a mask, and, worst of all, that he has an “understanding” with an actress. The third, at least, is not true.

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What Wick has failed to realize is just how attractive Lady Sarah is. Alas, Potts finds her attractive, too, and Potts believes that Wick is not interested. Meanwhile Sarah isn’t sure what to think about either one of them. Surely Wickham is out of the question (that actress!), but maybe there’s more to Hugh Pottinger than meets the eye.

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Mix in a house party and a blizzard, a variety of eccentric guests, and a child with a secret identity, and you have a Christmas Regency romp. And if you want to know how the Duke and Duchess of Radcliff (the Duchess is Wick’s cousin) met and fell in love, pick up Bolen’s A Duke Deceived.

Dogged Detectives

I have waited (and I’m sure I’m far from the only one) four years for Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn’s ninth Chet and Bernie mystery. The previous installment, Scents and Sensibility, came out in July 2015, and (minor spoiler here) left Bernie, the human half of the team, deep in a coma from which no one expected him to recover. No one, that is, except his canine partner Chet, the narrator of the series.

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Quinn took his time getting back to Chet and Bernie. He also writes for middle graders as Spencer Quinn and adult novels as Peter Abrahams, and the Chet and Bernie stories have moved to a different publisher.

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In Heart of Barkness Chet and Bernie become involved with Lottie Pilgrim, a nearly forgotten country singer accused of murder. Bernie is sure there’s more to the story, and Chet, as always, is sure that Bernie is the smartest person in the world. Together they track down the secrets of Lottie’s past, despite her insistence that she’s guilty as charged.

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Somehow Quinn manages to capture the thought processes of Chet (a hundred-plus pound dog of indeterminate breed who flunked out of K9 training—there may have been a cat involved—but landed happily with Bernie Little) without making him sound like a furry human, while still communicating the story. Chet’s memory may be patchy and his attention span short, but he’ll do anything for Bernie. And happily for those of us who love him, a note at the end of Heart of Barkness promises a new adventure next summer.

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The Silence of the Chihuahuas is, alas, the last (to date, anyway) of Waverly Curtis’ Barking Detective series, featuring Pepe, the intrepid Chihuahua private investigator who talks to his human partner, Geri Sullivan. In this installment, however, Pepe has stopped speaking to Geri because other people think she’s nuts when she tries to tell them about it. But never fear: Pepe has taken up blogging instead (although he admits that “some dog named Chet” writes an even more popular blog). In Silence, Pepe and Geri’s search for Geri’s long missing sister and her recently missing friend Brad takes them undercover at a mental hospital. Along the way they attend the disastrous wedding of Geri’s ex-husband, deal with Geri’s somewhat loony mentor Jimmy G., and engineer a better fate for Bruiser, a sad dog they met on an earlier case. There’s a murder, a kidnapping, and, of course, a happy ending. (There’s also a bonus Christmas story, A Chihuahua in Every Stocking.) This series is so much fun—I hope the authors decide to continue it.

A Visit to the DPS, or Really, I’m a Citizen!

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Texas Department of Public Safety reminding me that my driver’s license will expire on my birthday next month. And that I would have to renew in person, since I renewed on line in 2013. And that I would have to provide my birth certificate.

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Really? I’ve been a licensed driver and registered voter in Texas for more than forty years (and in Louisiana and Florida before that). Surely the state of Texas knows I’m a citizen. But apparently the TSA doesn’t, and Texas is bringing its driver’s license policy in line with TSA to give us the ID we’ll need to get on an airplane in the future.

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When I mentioned this on Facebook, I heard from lots of friends who’d renewed recently. Some had showed up without a birth certificate and been sent away to find one. Someone was asked for her car title (complete nonsense—you don’t need to own a car to get a driver’s license). The letter also asked for proof of social security number, or of “lawful presence” if not a citizen.

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So I went on line to see the list of acceptable documents. I don’t have a passport (I had one, never used it, and it expired long ago), but I do have my birth certificate, a social security card showing my maiden and married names, and of course my current driver’s license.

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But just in case, I stuffed an envelope with everything I could think of: proof of insurance, car title, voter registration, etc., to take with me. I filled out the application on line and printed it—not only saves time, but it’s a whole lot easier to read. I looked up the nearest DPS office, which has moved since the last time I needed to go there. I read some of the hundreds of on line reviews of the facility.

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The reviews that were good emphasized two things: make an “get in line on line” appointment, and allow time to find a parking space. So this morning about 8:15 I went to the appointment web page, gave it my cell phone number, and it gave me a “approximate service time” of 10:41 AM.

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The office (the Southeast Houston MegaCenter) is about half an hour from my house, so I left about 9:40, got there about 10:10, and spent almost ten minutes cruising the parking lot. When I spotted two women who appeared to be headed for a car, I followed them and snagged their parking space. Apparently when the DPS built the MegaCenter (which truly is mega in its dimensions) they forgot that most of the people wanting to apply for or renew a driver’s license would be arriving in cars.

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I checked in at 10:18. There was a vast area filled with people sitting in chairs, waiting, but I was given a numbered slip of paper and directed to a short row of seats along one wall. A few minutes later one of the nearby clerks (there are a huge number of stations) called my number and I was on my way.

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I handed my application and my current license to the clerk, who was friendly and professional, and she asked for my birth certificate, which she carefully put in a plastic sleeve before running it through her scanner. She didn’t ask for any other papers, just my signature (on one of those electronic gizmos that produce a signature I hope my bank would never accept), my thumb prints, a quick eye test (with glasses on, read row 4), and a photo (with glasses off, no one would ever recognize me, but glasses throw off the facial recognition software we’ve been hearing so much about lately).

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I paid with my debit card, collected my temporary license, receipt, and birth certificate, and got my current license back with one corner snipped off (like a feral cat neutered and returned to the street!), and I was out of there at 10:34, before my actual appointment time.

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Moral of this story, in Texas or, I suspect, anywhere else: bring everything you need, fill out the paperwork on line if you can, and if the location offers it, “get in line on line” before you go.

Nonfiction New and Old

I’ve recently read two very different books by and about women dealing with the pressures of family life.

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Kate Mulgrew’s second book, How To Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir, is quite a different tale from her earlier Born With Teeth. The former covered her acting career, up to the early years of Star Trek: Voyager. I am a fan of both her acting and her writing.

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How To Forget has very little to do with Mulgrew’s life in the theater and everything to do with the deaths of her parents and her relationships with her five surviving siblings.The whole family was heavily influenced by the childhood deaths of two sisters, one as an infant, and one from inoperable cancer as a young teen.

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Mulgrew gives us the lives and eventual deaths of her parents, separated by only a couple of years. While her father died fairly quickly after a terminal cancer diagnosis, preferring not to endure treatment, her mother spent several years fading away with Alzheimer’s Disease, eventually requiring 24/7 care, totally unresponsive.

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Having lost both my parents to cancer and my husband to the lingering effects of Alzheimer’s, I found Mulgrew’s story very relatable. On the other hand, her description of her parents, rather distant by nature from one another and from their large brood of children, made me grateful for the astoundingly normal family I grew up in.

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Definitely a book worth reading, especially for anyone who has or will be trying to help parents deal with the end of life—and that’s really all of us, isn’t it?

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I read Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies decades ago (it was originally published in 1957) and remembered it fondly, so when I saw an ebook version wander by (from Open Road Media) I grabbed it. And the book is just as funny as I remembered. The title comes from one of her essays about raising children (the inspiration for a movie), but much of the short book is about writing (Kerr was a respected playwright, her husband a drama critic) and life in general. Don’t skip the introduction, which may be the funniest piece in the book, in which she explains how she became a writer in order to fulfill her greatest goal in life: sleeping late in the morning.

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I hope Open Road rescues Kerr’s other books (The Snake Has All the Lines, Penny Candy), which also appear to be long out of print.

Romance!

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Trouble brings together Scarlett Hall from Texas Lightning and Ethan Calhoun from Bartlett’s earlier Texas Heat trilogy–and a whole lot of trouble. Scarlett is doing her best to recover from a traumatic encounter with a knife-wielding criminal when she learns that Knife Guy has escaped from prison, and just might be looking for her. Meanwhile Ethan’s mother has escaped from a mental hospital, demanding help from him.

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Texas Trouble has lots of action, sizzling romance, some very scary villains, a talented tattoo artist, Scarlett’s brother (named, surprise, Rhett), a motorcycle riding PI, a sometimes exasperated Texas Ranger, and one very small but very brave dog. What more could we ask for in romantic suspense? (Rumor has it that Rhett Hall will be getting his own happy ending come December–I’m looking forward to that one.)

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I’m not an avid reader of historical romance, but I picked up (or rather downloaded) Zana Bell’s Fool’s Gold on the strength of its setting, New Zealand in 1866, definitely something different. Gwen (Lady Guinevere) Stanhope is an English woman left on her own in New Zealand after her father dies on the long sea voyage to the colony. Gwen has very little money, but she does have the photographic equipment with which her father had hoped to capture a picture of the (alas, extinct) moa and make enough money to buy back the mortgage on the family estate. Gwen is very nearly swept away by a sudden flood, only to be rescued by Quinn O’Donnell, an Irishman who arrived in New Zealand after serving as a surgeon in the American Civil War.

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Gwen wants only to return to Maidenhurst, the family home in England, even if she has to marry the man who holds the mortgage (her father’s back up plan). Quinn hates the English and wants to build a new life in New Zealand. But this is a romance novel, so we know something’s gotta give.

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Along the way, Gwen tackles a number of jobs, even working briefly as a housemaid, learning quite a bit about herself and about the people she never noticed when she was a pampered lady in England, while Quinn learns what he is really meant to do with his life. Their romance grows slowly (heat level sweet) and believably.

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The New Zealand setting is fascinating (and I assume authentic, as the author lives in New Zealand), the characters are likeable, and the story held my attention.

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Shelly Chalmers’ Must Love Plague is the first book in her Sisters of the Apocalypse series. Piper Bane, descendant of the Pestilence clan, returns to the small paranormal town of Beckwell, Alberta, for the wedding of her best friend, Ginny (heiress of Famine, who loves to bake) and a reunion with their friends Anna (heiress of War, currently the town librarian) and Nia (heiress of Death, who speaks to ghosts). Piper has spent ten years trying to avoid her heritage—and her propensity for making others ill. Now she’s faced with the rumor that she and her friends are about to rise as the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse, bringing on the End of the World.

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As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the first person she runs into when her car lands in a ditch going through the supernatural barrier that protects the town is her one-time fiance, Daniel Quillan, town doctor and sometime Fomorian (yes, I had to look that one up—definitely bad-ass guys). She’s also being stalked by a large brown toad. And the barrier that has protected the town and its not quite human inhabitants for a century has suddenly turned into a prison dome.

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What’s a girl to do? Piper and her friends are determined to avoid the Apocalypse, but the citizens of Beckwell aren’t making that easy.

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Chalmers’ imaginative approach to a wide range of mythology makes for an entertaining read, to be continued as the rest of the Four Horsewomen take their turns.

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