Two New Books

Well, I didn’t catch up by the end of the year, but I’m working on it. Here are two 2020 releases (if nothing else, the year did produce some good books!) I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of months.

In Lowcountry Boughs of Holly, number ten in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot series, Liz and her partner (and husband) find themselves investigating the death of a Santa Claus murdered during the annual Christmas celebration on their island home of Stella Maris. Since the tiny Stella Maris police force has no detective bureau, Liz and Nate are on call to fill in, in the unlikely case that their services are needed.

There’s no doubt as to the identity of Santa Claus, despite the fact that his wallet, watch, cell phone and red Santa gift bag are missing when the body is discovered in a rowboat washed up on the shore. Liz and Nate know C.C. Bounetheau—they’ve worked for him before, and the experience left them no desire to work with his wealthy and prominent (but decidedly unpleasant) Charleston family. What on earth was C.C. doing on Stella Maris in the first place? It might have been a robbery gone wrong, but a whole list of possible motives—and suspects—quickly turn up.

Meanwhile, Nate is planning a blow-out Christmas trip for the whole family—Liz’s parents, her sister and brother, and their spouses—but he won’t tell anyone where they’re going. Or, Liz worries, how he’s going to pay for a trip for eight over Christmas.

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly involves old family secrets, a few more recent puzzles, and a wandering reindeer named Claude. It’s another excellent entry in a series I have enjoyed very much.

Natalie Meg Evans’ The Paris Girl is the sequel to The Secret Vow. The books follow the lives and loves of Katya and Tatiana Vytenis, born Russian princesses, refugees from the Russian revolution, now deeply involved in the fashion industry in Paris. When The Paris Girl opens, it’s 1923, Tatiana is engaged to a marquis and working as a mannequin for Maison Javier, in which Katya is a partner. But some terrible truths about her fiance’s family send Tatiana’s life spinning in an unexpected and frightening direction. Spoiled and self-obsessed as the novel begins, Tatiana grows up at last, but it’s not easy.

I’ve enjoyed several of Evans’ novels, but my favorites are set in Paris and in the fashion industry. The Dress Thief is set in the late 1930s, as the characters wait for the beginning of war, and The Milliner’s Secret in the early years of World War II. A few supporting characters tie the books together, although only The Secret Vow and The Paris Girl are closely related.

If you enjoy deeply emotional historical fiction and an amazing sense of time and place, pick up anything by Natalie Meg Evans. You won’t be disappointed.

Offbeat Romance

Melinda Metz’s Talk to the Paw is a purrfectly charming romance featuring an (actual feline) cat burglar named MacGyver and a not-overly-bright dog named Diogee. Mac’s human, Jamie, is taking a year off from teaching high school history (thanks to an inheritance from her mother) and hoping to discover what she really wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s moved across the country and landed in a small LA neighborhood called Storybook Court, where all the houses look like settings for some Disney movie. Mac knows she is lonely—he can smell it. She needs a human pack mate.

Diogee’s human, David, is a baker, happy enough with his job, but tired of his best friend pushing him to get on with his life. A widower of three years, he’s not so sure he’s ready for that. He’s pretty much forgotten how to talk to a woman about anything but cupcakes.

When Mac decides that David is lonely, too (despite that big, stupid dog), he begins to steal things from David to leave on Jamie’s doorstep, and vice versa. Pretty soon he’s playing matchmaker, and causing chaos, all over Storybook Court.

I very much enjoyed Jamie and David, Mac and Diogee, and the variety of amusing supporting characters, all the TV and movie references, and the LA landmarks. Even more, I enjoyed a romance that follows two people getting to know one another and gradually building a relationship.

Till Demon Do Us Part is the final installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series, following the tale of the last two series characters in need of a mate (whether they’ll admit that or not): Darcinda the fairly healer, and McHenry, the cranky demon metal worker.

When McHenry and his nephew, Andrew, are the victims of a magical attack in McHenry’s workshop, the team of paranormal investigators jumps into action, with Darcinda there to tend to McHenry’s very serious (and magic-infused) injuries. Darcinda and McHenry have never gotten along well (Darcinda shies away from relationships; McHenry shies away from nearly everyone, fairies most of all), but suddenly they’re having trouble keeping one another at arms’ length.

When Roderick, the Demon King, appears to be the main suspect in the attack on McHenry, the leaders of the paranormal species gather to pass judgment. But the real mystery goes back three generations, to a conflict the two demons “remember” quite differently.

I’m sorry to see the series end, but this is a fine wrap up, with all the familiar series characters receiving the rewards they have earned.

Canine Cops

Of Mutts and Men is the tenth book in Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series. Bernie Little is the proprietor of the Little Detective Agency, and Chet, who weighs something over a hundred pounds and flunked out of K9 training on the last day (he thinks a cat may have been involved), is his loyal partner and narrator of the books. Needless to say, Chet is easily distracted (squirrel! bacon crumb!), but he’s always there when Bernie needs him, ready to grab a perp by the pant leg.

Chet and Bernie live in the Valley, in desert country somewhere between California and New Mexico, and Bernie has been worried for years about the depletion of the aquifer that provides water for the area. So when hydrographer Wendell Nero invites him to see something interesting in Dollhouse Canyon, Bernie is intrigued. Unfortunately, all he finds in Nero’s RV office is the scientist’s body, and not many clues.

Bernie does come up with a suspect quickly (more than the local sheriff’s deputy can manage on his own), but soon begins to wonder if he’s rounded up the wrong man. What did Nero want to show him? What’s going on at the vineyard in the next canyon? Who ended up with Nero’s laptop and cell phone?

Of Mutts and Men pits Chet and Bernie against a string of villains and sends them all around the Valley and even into Mexico in search of answers, in another excellent entry in the series. Chet and Bernie’s devotion to each other remains at the heart of these stories.

Bending the Paw is the ninth installment in Diane Kelly’s Paw Enforcement series, featuring Officer Megan Luz of the Fort Worth Police and her K-9 partner, Sergeant Brigit. In this one, Megan and Brigit team up with Detective Audrey Jackson to investigate what appears to be a particularly gruesome murder—lots of blood, but no body. Meanwhile, on her regular patrol duties, Megan searches for a conman who is cleaning up selling nonexistent roofing services to unfortunate homeowners hit by a recent hailstorm. And in between her duties, Megan is planning her wedding to Seth, her firefighter fiancé. (I’m looking forward to seeing how Brigit and Blast, Seth’s bomb-sniffing dog, fit into the wedding party.)

As always, Brigit (who doesn’t speak human and wishes Megan spoke dog) has a brief chapter between Megan’s first person narratives. Always eager to chase someone, Brigit doesn’t worry too much about anything beyond liver treats and chew toys.

Diane Kelly’s books have been on my auto-buy list for years. They always make me laugh out loud at least once. If you’re looking for a light hearted, well constructed mystery full of entertaining characters, you’ll enjoy any of her books.

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