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.

Love and Humor

I will read just about anything Diane Kelly writes (her grocery lists are probably funny), and Busted, a romance about a small town motorcycle cop named Marnie Muckleroy and a visiting Silicon Valley computer nerd called Trey, is no exception.

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Marnie has her hands full with questions ranging from serious (who ordered those mysterious packages delivered to an empty house?) to funny (does she really have twin cops in her small department, or are Andre and Dante actually one guy pranking her?) to personal (who is the mystery man riding the yellow Ninja motorcycle?). And why does she feel the way she does about a man who’s only visiting for a few weeks?

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Beneath Kelly’s trademark humor lie some serious threads. Marnie has PTSD from an incident when she was a big city cop in Dallas. Trey has some secrets in his past that he’d rather not share with Marnie.

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Nevertheless, Busted is a rollicking romance filled with motorcycles, computer jokes, and great characters. Marnie insists she’s a street cop, not a detective, but she gives it her all, and if the reader guesses a few answers before Marnie does, that’s part of the fun. And this book is seriously fun.

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Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K9 partner, Sergeant Brigit, are back in Diane Kelly’s Paw of the Jungle. As usual, Kelly mixes humor into Megan’s investigative endeavors, and there’s plenty to investigate this time. Dastardly doings at the zoo multiply as rare and valuable animals vanish. Megan and Brigit team up with Detective Bustamente on the zoo caper, a real puzzler. How could anyone steal a rhinoceros?

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Meanwhile back at the mall there’s a rash of stolen rings, and at the firehouse there’s a new female EMT who seems awfully interested in Megan’s boyfriend, Seth. Megan has her hands full, and Brigit has a lot of fun, and a steady supply of liver treats. I love this series.

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For Witch or For Poorer is the fifth installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series, featuring the last member of the team, Giz (short for Gizmo, as he’s a witch who prefers using technology to magic) and Maeve, the East Coast werewolf who joined the West Coast pack in the previous book (For Better or For Wolf). Tensions between the werewolf packs have eased, but there’s a new threat, from an ancient and secretive coven called the Lunadorium. Giz may not like using magic, and he does have his reasons, but Maeve needs a witch to help her learn to control her emerging powers, and the pack needs his help, too.

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All the characters from the previous books are back, including Giz’ eccentric cat, Monster, who has his own part to play in the proceedings. Throw in a baby shower, a visit to a street of magic brokers, and a sweet love story, along with Jones’ trademark humor and lovable characters, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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.

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