New From Cheryl Bolen: Last Duke Standing

Alex Haversham, much to his own surprise, is the Last Duke Standing in the third tale in Cheryl Bolen’s Lords of Eton trilogy. Recently returned from service in the Peninsular War, he is stunned when his brother Freddie, the eighth Duke of Fordham, dies in his sleep, leaving Alex as the ninth Duke. As the third son, Alex never expected—nor wanted—to inherit the title.

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Now he is faced with all the responsibilities of his new position, including breaking the sad news to Freddie’s fiancée, whom Alex has never met.

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Lady Georgiana Fenton can hold her own in any situation, even the sudden death of the fiancé she was fond of, if not in love with. But she’s not sure what to think of this new Duke who looks so much like Freddie—but behaves so differently. And who seems to be the only person who would benefit from Freddie’s untimely, and perhaps suspicious, death.

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Despite their prickly relationship—Georgiana is a Tory and Alex is a Whig—the two team up to discover the truth behind Freddie’s death, and the even more important matter of their future.

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Cheryl Bolen spins a delightful tale of mystery, politics, and (of course) romance, in a most satisfying conclusion to the story of three men who bonded as boys in school and rushed to one another’s aid as adults.

Happy New Year 2019!

Every year I try to write a New Year’s post, although sometime during the first week of January seems to be about the best I can do. This year I spent New Year’s Day with friends, eating various traditional foods, including pork chops, black-eyed peas, and cabbage (in the form of coleslaw this year). My own tradition involves herring in wine sauce, but I didn’t take that to the party, since no one else likes it. I ate herring on New Year’s Eve, because I have every year since I was a little girl, and I’d be afraid to break the streak. Besides, I do like herring in wine sauce. (Good thing, because there’s a two-pound jar—the only size available at HEB—in my refrigerator.)

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I wrote very little fiction this year. I did some editing, for myself and a friend, wrote my Grammar Gremlin columns for the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter newsletter, blog posts, and book reviews. I closed out (I think) my contest career by unexpectedly winning the RWA Golden Heart in Paranormal Romance for Jinn on the Rocks, the third manuscript in my Pandemonia series. I’m still thinking about independent publishing for the three Jinn bocks, but I’ve been thinking about that for years, and it has not magically happened. Go figure. I’m also thinking I might try my hand at writing a cozy mystery, since I’ve been reading so many of them. Clearly I’m not into “write what you know,” so maybe I should try “write what you like to read.”

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I read 62 books in 2018, just clearing my Goodreads goal of sixty. (There was a time when I was a book-a-day reader, but those years are far behind me.) Each year I’ve noticed I read more on Kindle than on paper, but I was really surprised to see that in 2018 I read only a dozen printed books, and fifty ebooks. (As I write this, my Voyage and my Fire 8 are on their chargers on the kitchen counter; my Fire 10, which I bought mostly for watching video, is on the coffee table. Now and then I even read on my phone.) On New Year’s Day there were 627 titles in my Amazon cloud, but I think I’ve bought three or four more since then.

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Last year I read 27 mysteries by 15 authors, including multiple books by Cindy Brown, Annabel Chase, Waverly Curtis, Robert Goldsborough, Pamela Kopfler, Cynthia Kuhn, Julie Mulhern, and Kate Parker. Almost all of these books were cozies. I’ve been a mystery fan all my reading life, so this isn’t a surprise.

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Science Fiction used to be my go to reading, and I still have more science fiction (and occasional fantasy) on my keeper shelves than any other genre. This year I read eleven SF novels, but 7 were in Kirsten Beyer’s Star Trek: Voyager series. I’m hoping to up my SF reading this year. I have 55 to chose from in my Amazon cloud, not to mention the printed books in the bedroom. And all those keepers to reread some day.

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I read nine “mainstream” novels last year, but three of those were Laura Andersen’s Boleyn trilogy, set in an alternate Tudor England and just as easily added to the SF list. I love alternate history, and I have Andersen’s second trilogy to look forward to this year. My romance reading was down this year, only five, but I have plenty of those on hand for 2019.

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In nonfiction, I read ten books (and nonfiction accounted for four of the twelve printed books), ranging from the craft of writing to Hollywood history to the tale of a T Rex skeleton. I have plenty of nonfiction ebooks waiting, too.

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This month my faithful HP desk top computer reached the more-than-venerable age of nine. Yes, really. There was a time, long ago, when I actually looked forward to a new computer (or a new version of a favorite program), but now I’ve been putting off making the change for at least three months. The computer is slow, and I frequently have to wait for programs that stop responding, but I muddle along because I dread trying to get a new machine set up and working. We got new computers at work last summer (Dell all-in-ones), but we had IT guys do the switch (I wasn’t even there). And the switch has not been without problems. I haven’t decided between an all-in-one or a small tower with a big monitor, and I’ll probably have to buy a new (wireless) printer). Meanwhile I back up my documents frequently and cross my fingers.

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Wishing you all a happy and healthy year full of reading, writing, friendship, and all the other good things in life.

books 2019

 

An Academic Mystery Series

Cynthia Kuhn’s The Semester of Our Discontent is the first in yet another Henery Press cozy mystery series, and just as good as the others I’ve read from that source. Lila The Semester of Our DiscontentMaclean is a brand new English professor at Stonedale University, trying to get her footing in the other side of Academia, a big change from being a student. But surely walking into a faculty meeting and finding the body of the colleague who has been disparaging her research project and curriculum suggestions is not normal. The violence doesn’t stop there, and somehow Lila always seems to be there, as the detective handling the cases never fails to point out. Throw in mysterious symbols that keep popping up, which no one can—or more likely will—identify, and Lila has her hands full.

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I’ve always loved school-based stories, and I enjoyed this one, with its departmental infighting and an interesting layer of feminist scholarship. So I downloaded the next installment, The Art of Vanishing, which takes an entertainingly different approach to academic mystery.

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The Art of Vanishing throws Lila into an uncomfortable situation: trying to get an interview with the notoriously uncooperative but highly regarded writer Damon Von The Art of VanishingTussel, who is scheduled to appear during Stonedale’s Art Week festivities. But Damon vanishes, and Lila is cornered into recruiting her mother, artist Violet O, into helping her corral Damon, an embarrassing situation, since Violet and Damon are ex-lovers. Oh, what a girl will do to stay on the tenure track.

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At one point Lila mentions that she never had panic attacks until she took up an academic career, reminding me that turning my own education toward commercial ends was a wise decision.

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Although there are threats and apparent attacks on various characters, no one is killed. Instead, the mystery turns on academic infighting and fraud (reminding me a bit of Dorothy Sayers). Lila has another run-in with her nemesis, the manipulative Selene, and a much more pleasant meeting with Detective Lex Archer, who suspected her of murder in The Semester of Our Discontent. The descriptions of academic life and the characters populating Stonedale ring true, with sharp wit and humor.

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In the latest installment, The Spirit in Question, Lila has reached her third year on the Stonedale staff, and has taken on (or perhaps been dragooned into) helping with the production of another professor’s play, Puzzled: The Musical, a barely comprehensible mixture of detectives and dancers. The student actors and crew are having a ball—until murder mars the production.

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The Spirit in QuestionAt the request of Lex Archer, Lila stays (mostly) out of the hunt for the murderer, but there are enough other puzzles to keep her busy. The play is being staged in a deteriorating opera house owned, but not much cared for, by the university and protected by the remarkably officious head of the Stonedale Historical Society. The building not only presents mechanical dangers—what with characters dropping from the rafters and popping up through the trap door, what could go wrong?—but it may be haunted by the ghost of a previous owner, who hanged himself on the stage.

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By the time the production opens, no one, least of all Lila, is quite sure who might be a target, or why. Between accidents, a seance, and a missing journal, the opera house is up for grabs—literally. At least Lila has a chance to rekindle her friendship with Detective Lex Archer—if the ghost doesn’t get her first.

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I’ve enjoyed this series. Alas, looks like I’ll have to wait until next year for another installment.

 

Mysteries With Humor

Mystery and humor make up just about my favorite combination in reading for pleasure (which, come to think about is, is just about all of my reading). Here are the latest installments in three series I really enjoy (and usually preorder).

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Killalot is the sixth entry in Cindy Brown’s wonderful Ivy Meadows mystery series. Ivy is a hard-working but underemployed actress in Phoenix, where she also works for her Uncle Bob as an apprentice private investigator. This time around she’s investigating a death at the local Renaissance Faire (jousting accident or murder?) and auditioning for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a potential Kennedy era version of Camelot, called Kennelot by its playwright, John Robert Turner, formerly of the very successful Broadway team of Turner and Toe (think about that one).

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The RenFaire setting is great fun, as Ivy goes undercover as a belly-dancing mime (or is that a mute belly dancer?), meets a very smart but somewhat addled wizard, and learns about the jousting circuit. Meanwhile, the three-person cast of the potential Broadway play (staying with which would bring Ivy another set of problems involving her loyal boyfriend Matt and her special needs brother Cody) is also full of surprises. There’s something odd about Jackie, and just how is JFK connected to the falcon handler at the RenFaire? And how did the missing jousting horse end up in the playwright’s pool in the middle of the Arizona desert?

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I love this series, which scatters some serious issues among the delightfully wacky settings and stream of hilarious song, movie and play titles. Cindy Brown is one of several cozy authors I follow who write for Henery Press (others include Julie Mulhern and Susan Boyer).

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The Long Paw of the Law (don’t you love those titles?) is Diane Kelly’s seventh novel featuring Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner, Brigit. This time the action begins when a man drops a newborn baby off at the fire station where Megan’s boyfriend Seth and Brigit’s boyfriend Blast work. This is perfectly legal under Texas’ Baby Moses law, but when Megan unfolds the beautifully hand-made quilt the baby is wrapped in, she finds an embroidered plea for help. There just may be something going on outside the law after all, and Megan intends to find out.

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But Megan’s not a detective—not yet, anyway— and she has the usual patrol cases to follow, including a pair of thieves who specialize in stealing garage door remotes from parked cars. Along the way she meets a cosmetics and clothing consultant and an elderly dressmaker, both of whom would love to give Megan a makeover, goes to a car show with Seth and his cranky grandpa, and helps her mom study for an American History exam. Meanwhile with the help of Detective Audrey Jackson (her mentor), Frankie (her roller derby star/fire fighter housemate) and explosives expert Seth, Megan and Brigit pursue the case of the abandoned baby.

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As always, Kelly alternates police work with humor, and tells the story from three viewpoints: Megan, Brigit (who is mostly interested in food and chasing perps), and the villain. Paw Enforcement continues to be a most entertaining and enjoyable series.

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Stephanie Plum returns in Janet Evanovich’s Look Alive Twenty-Five, tracking FTAs and generally getting into trouble, with Lula at her side. This time around she’s dealing with a deli that can’t seem to hang on to a manager—they keep disappearing out by the dumpster, leaving one shoe behind. Stephanie and Lula find themselves working at the deli (Lula’s approach to sandwich production is especially memorable), hunting for a local rock musician (whose charges include peeing on a dog), and driving a burrito truck. Stephanie’s family are minor players in this installment, but Morelli and Ranger are front and center. There are feral chickens. And a catnapping. A number of seemingly unrelated cases manage to come together by the end of the book.

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Look Alive Twenty-Five made me laugh out loud several times. That’s exactly what I expect from Stephanie, and exactly why I continue to follow her adventures.

An Afternoon at the Post Office

The other day I made a trip to the post office, on behalf of the Scorekeeper. We needed the usual three or four rolls of forever stamps, and Jo Anne wanted Christmas stamps, maybe sixty of those. I seldom buy stamps for my own use, having discovered the ease of paying most of my bills through my bank, but I’m a regular at the post office nearest the Scorekeeper.

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It’s the first week in December, so I wasn’t surprised the post office was busy. As usual, there were only two clerks working; the other three stations were piled high with packages and such. At one of the open stations a woman with a large plastic bin filled with small packages (maybe a hundred of them!) was handing them to a clerk in groups of five or six, each handful requiring discussion. Ahead of me in line were a woman and a young girl. The woman had a shopping bag full of presents, which she apparently intended to package with post office supplies before she mailed them out of the country. That requires paperwork, so she and her daughter moved aside to fill out customs declarations, and I got my turn at the counter.

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Scorekeeper check in hand, I asked for three rolls of forever flags, not always available at this particular post office, which has been known to run completely out of stamps. Then I asked for three sheets of Christmas stamps, and the clerk showed me a card with birds and one with last year’s Madonna. “Don’t you have Santa or Christmas Carols?” I asked, having checked on this year’s stamps on line. I was prepared to take birds if that was all they had.

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“Yes,” the clerk said, “but if you want those you have to pay with a credit card.”

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What the hell? Which wasn’t exactly what I said, but close. “Why?” I demanded. I’ve been buying stamps with Scorekeeper checks there for years, frequently from this particular clerk.

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He shrugged. No idea. Orders from the management.

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By then there were even more people in line, so I wrote out the check for flag stamps, while the clerk scurried off and came back with a bag of Christmas stamps and a hand held credit card reader. I pulled out my own credit card and paid for three cards of stamps (one set of Santas and two of Christmas Carols). But I still wanted an explanation of this particular inconvenience, and the clerk said I could talk to a manager at the lobby window.

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So I stuffed the stamps and receipts into my purse and headed for the lobby—and my cell phone rang. It was the veterinarian who has been treating my ailing cat, and I spent five minutes in the post office lobby discussing cat poop on my cell phone. Amazingly, that was the high point of my visit.

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Once we’d settled on the cat’s further treatment (a week’s worth of pills—that should be fun), I went to the lobby door and cornered a manager, who listened to my story and announced that the clerk was completely wrong, and the manager would speak to him. As I left, the manager was indeed speaking to the clerk. End of story, or so I thought.

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But as I drove away, the proverbial penny dropped, and I realized I had written a $160 check for three $50 rolls of stamps. I pulled the receipt out of my purse and saw that he had charged me for one card of the damn bird stamps.

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Back to the post office, where I boldly cut across the line (still long, and the woman with all the little packages in the plastic bin was still there) and had a brief argument with the clerk. After insisting once that he had given me the bird stamps, he must have seen the murderous look in my eye; he checked around the stack of stamps near his register and handed me my birds.

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It took me forty minute to buy those stamps. I think I’m going to look into the stamps-by-mail service on the USPS web site.

 

Recent Reading: Cozies

I have found so many enjoyable cozy mystery series, it’s hard to keep up. Oh, all right, it’s hard to keep up with any section of my To Be Read shelves. But I’m a real sucker for first-in-a-series sales, and then I get hooked. Here are three from series that have held my attention past the first entry.

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Chihuahua Confidential is the second entry in Waverly Curtis’ Barking Detective series. Chihuahua ConfidentialThis time Geri and Pepe, the talking chihuahua that only Geri can understand, are in Los Angeles for the taping of Dancing With Dogs, the pilot for a potential reality TV series. Dance lessons, costume fittings, dognappings, and the occasional murder keep Geri and Pepe on the go, even more so when Geri’s PI boss, the notably eccentric Jimmy G, shows up looking for a missing package. Pepe and Geri even find some answers regarding Pepe’s rather mysterious past life. The characters, both human and canine, are totally entertaining.

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In Better Dead, the first in Pamela Kopfler’s B&B Spirits Mystery series, Holly Davis helped the ghost of her late (and largely unlamented) husband move on. But with Burl’s departure, her haunted B&B and ancestral home, Holly Grove, is no longer haunted. Or is it?

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As Downright Dead opens, the reality show producer who made Holly Grove famous is Downright Deaddemanding a sequel episode, spurred on by a dedicated debunker who plans to expose the whole story as a fake. The original haunting was real, but with the ghost gone, Holly does feel like a fake, and has no idea how to honor her option contract without destroying her business.

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And that’s not Holly’s only problem. Her handyman has an accident, her ICE agent boyfriend is AWOL, and her cook has taken an inexplicable dislike to a perfectly inoffensive guest. The portrait of the Unknown Ancestor keeps jumping off the wall, a visiting psychic predicts a dire future for the debunker, and Bayou St. Agnes rises, cutting Holly Grove off from any way out.

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And then there’s a murder. Or two.

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What’s a girl to do? Holly deals with it all with charm and aplomb, and help from her band of loyal friends—and a ghost or two.

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In Back Stabbers (number 8 in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series), Ellison Back StabbersRussell discovers a body. Not a surprise. Ellison has developed quite a reputation for discovering bodies. This time it’s her stockbroker, siting behind his desk, with his pants around his ankles. And that’s not the last of the disasters plaguing the firm.

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Meanwhile, Ellison’s half-sister Karma comes to visit, staying with Ellison at her dad’s insistence. After all the only other choice would be for Karma to stay with Ellison’s parents, and if Ellison is surprised by Karma’s existence, she can hardly imagine how her mother will react.

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And then there’s Ellison’s relationship with Anarchy Jones, who is all too previously acquainted with Karma. And Ellison’s daughter Grace, who has brought home a rescue cat. Max, the dog in residence, does not approve.

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As always, Mulhern has written a good mystery, populated with quirky and amusing characters, and set in the upper social circles of Kansas City in the early 1970s, back before cell phones and computers changed life so much.

 

Texas Lightning

Anna Delaney, heroine of Gerry Bartlett’s latest romantic suspense novel, Texas Lightning, is a recent Boston to Austin transplant. She’s getting settled in her job with the software development company that bought up her previous employer—her own as yet unfinished pharmaceutical application was the major asset in the sale.

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Texas LightningBut she’s not used to Texas weather. When the temperature shoots into the eighties on a winter day, Anna, wearing a heavy wool sweater, comes close to fainting in the Capitol rotunda, only to be rescued by a handsome and well dressed, if somewhat overbearing, cowboy.

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King Sanders (fans of Bartlett’s books will remember him from Texas Fire) insists on driving his sharp-tongued damsel in distress home from her ill-fated tour of the capitol building, only to find her little dog running loose in her parking lot and her apartment ransacked, computers stolen.

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Anna and King soon realize that her computer project is even more valuable than she thought, especially to the wrong people. And those wrong people know that the unfinished program is worthless without Anna. Theft escalates to kidnapping and violence, and even the ever-changeable Texas weather seems to conspire against them as they fight to protect themselves and their friends.

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Texas Lightning rocks with both suspense and, of course, romance. It’s the first in a new three-book series from Bartlett.

 

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