Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows Mysteries

MacDeath is the first installment in Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series, and it’s a delightful backstage mystery, as Ivy plays one of the Witches in a wild circus-themed production of MacBeth. (MacBeth is the lion MacDeathtamer, the king is the ringmaster, and the witches tumble in and out of a flying cauldron.) When a cast member dies under suspicious (at least to Ivy) circumstances, she undertakes her own investigation, dragging in her private investigator uncle, never sure which cast members she can trust.

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Quirky characters include a fellow witch who calls herself Candy MoonPie (Ivy’s own real name is Olive Ziegwart), a local news personality who wants to be a Shakespearean actor, a very attractive MacBeth, and a decidedly odd Lady MacBeth. The setting and background, local theater in Phoenix, Arizona, are well described and entertaining.

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When I finished reading MacDeath, I downloaded Ivy’s next two adventures. In The Sound of Murder, Ivy’s theatrical career becomes even wackier, as she plays sixteen-year-old Teazel in “The Sound of Cabaret,” a mash-up of, you guessed it, “The Sound of Music” and “Cabaret.” Well, they’re both set in Germany in the 1930s, aren’t they? Ivy’s just glad to have a dinner theater gig, while she works days at her Uncle Bob’s PI office, Duda Detectives (try saying that while introducing yourself). And a house sitting gig, since she set fire to her apartment, and it will be under repair for a couple of months. Even if that gig includes taking care of a The Sound of Murderswimming pool, not an easy job for someone with a water phobia.

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And then there’s the suicide next door (who turns out to be connected to the theater), the lead actress who can’t remember her lines, Ivy’s own problems with singing in front of an audience, that guy with the mirror sunglasses, and the hot fireman she met when her apartment combusted. Just another day in Phoenix—whoops, is that Ivy’s car catching fire again?

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Ivy and Uncle Bob go undercover in Oliver Twisted, aboard a Dickens-themed cruise ship (the S.S. David Copperfield—and honestly, I want to go on that cruise). They’re looking for a gang of pick pockets and thieves that has been plaguing the entire Get Lit! literary-themed cruise line (they’re redoing the S.S. Anna Karenina because Tolstoy was too depressing). Ivy takes on the part of Nancy in the on board production Oliver Twistedof Oliver! At Sea! (with some amusing lyric changes) and finds herself filling in for an aerial dancer in the magic show, something for which she has no training at all, while Bob poses as a wealthy rancher, and attracts a lady who arouses Ivy’s suspicions.

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Poor cell phone service hinders Ivy’s communications with Bob, and with with Matt back at the group home in Phoenix from which her brother Cody has vanished. Bodies pile up on the ship, along with both real and fake thieves (the boys playing Fagin’s miscreants run loose on the ship, as do all the “ambient characters” from Dickens’ tales).

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There’s a big bonus in the job for Ivy and Bob, as well as a few days cruising Hawaii, if they can figure out what’s going on, who they can trust, and what family ties really mean.

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I hope Cindy Brown is planning more adventures for Ivy and Bob. This is a funny, entertaining series, one of several I am enjoying from Henery Press, a small house specializing in cozy mysteries with a light tone (and great cover art). Their catalog is definitely worth checking out.

Recent Reading: Friends

Today I am blatantly promoting books by friends, women I have met through RWA’s Golden Heart contest, but I wouldn’t steer you wrong. These are books, and writers, that I enjoy.

Nan Dixon is a Starcatcher (2011) and Lucky 13 (2013) GH finalist. Her debut novel, Southern Comforts, offers the reader a lovely trip to Savannah (with a side trip to Boston) and food and wine descriptions that will leave her mouth watering. (Psst: the recipe for those brandy pecan bars is on Nan’s website!).

Southern ComfortsAbby Fitzgerald is determined to make a success of her family’s bed and Breakfast, Fitzgerald House, but her long term plan is to add her own restaurant, Southern Comforts, and prove her standing as a top-drawer chef. And despite the business assistance of her two sisters, Bess and Dolley, she’s set on doing it herself. Her irresponsible father and the chef who dumped her in New York, blocking her culinary career, have led her to distrust men—and their money.

And money is what Grayson Smythe has a lot of. The Boston businessman has booked a six-month stay at Fitzgerald House while he oversees the conversion of a warehouse to condos, and Abby’s sister has forgotten to tell her that the deal includes dinner. Gray quickly falls in love with Abby’s cooking, but admitting that he’s falling in love with her is another matter. And persuading her to trust his good intentions is even harder.

I thoroughly enjoyed Southern Comforts and I’m looking forward to reading Bess and Dolley’s stories one of these days.

Heather Ashby is a Firebird (2012) GH finalist, and a Navy veteran (and long-time Navy wife) herself. UnforgetttableWith co-author (and retired Marine) Christopher Bergeron, she wraps up her four-book Love in the Fleet series with Unforgettable, a follow up to the previous book, Never Forget, continuing the story of Royal Navy Lieutenant Gwyn Pritchard and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Adam Connor and adding a romance for Navy pilot Mike Nickolopoulos and Marine pilot Cate Hawkins. Unforgettable also ties up the stories of the 9/11 spirits trapped aboard the U.S.S. New York. Ashby and Bergeron blend romance and healing among the officers with exciting military action and suspense, producing a very satisfying finale to the series.

Susan Boyer is also a Firebird. Her 2012 GH finalist mystery novel, Lowcountry Boil, won an Agatha Award for Best First Book. Lowcountry Boneyard is the third installment in Susan’s Liz Talbot mystery series. Liz is a private investigator based on Stella Maris, an island off the coast of South Carolina, a ferry ride from Charleston. She works cases with her partner Nate Andrews and occasional well-placed help from the ghost of Colleen, her long-dead high school best friend, whose mission in the afterlife is to protect Stella Maris.

Lowcountry BoneyardIn Lowcountry Boneyard, Liz and Nate take on the case of missing heiress Kent Heyward, cutting their way through long-buried family secrets and rivalries. They have some problems of their own to solve, too—their business may do well with Liz based on Stella Maris and Nate a few hours away in Greenville, but their romantic relationship is suffering.

I’m looking forward to Liz’ next case (Lowcountry Bordello, due out in November) and hope there will be many more. By the way, if you enjoy cozy regional mysteries, check out Susan and Liz’ publisher, Henery Press.

Reading, Writing and Watching

Reading:  If you stop by here from time to time, you’ve probably heard me complain about my lack of reading time.  Nothing’s changed.  I still buy books faster than I can read them.  But I keep at it, and recently I finished reading Lowcountry Boil, a delightful mystery by my friend and Firebird sister Susan M. Boyer.  The heroine, Liz Talbot, is a very modern P.I. who returns to her family home on South Carolina island Stella Maris to invesitgate her grandmother’s untimely death.  Her pursuit of the truth is complicated by a parade of family members and friends, an ex-flame and an ex-husband, a devious cousin and the ghost of Liz’s high school BFF.  It’s no surprise that this Golden Heart finalist made it to publication so quickly.  I recommend it enthusiastically.

Lowcountry Boil introduced me to Henery Press, a new publisher in Dallas, specializing in mystery and suspense fiction, much of it in the cozy/humorous vein I enjoy.  On Susan’s recommendation, I ordered another book, Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart, which was a finalist in my own West Houston RWA chapter’s Emily contest last year.  That one’s waiting at the top of my priority To Be Read stack.  And isn’t the cover art on these books wonderful?  Stop by the Henery Press site to see more; the books are available as e-books or trade paperbacks.

Writing:  My One Hundred Words a Day loop is jumping again, with quite a few of us back on track, and even trying for 250 words a day.  I’m hard at work on my new Jinn story, and I’ve fired up my enthusiasm with a new piece of software for witers, Scrivener.  I had pangs of envy when Scrivener was a Mac only program, but a few months ago the Windows version was released, so I decided to try it out with a manuscript that was barely started, and therefore easily switched into a new file.  I had files relating to Bathtub Jinn in Word, Action Outline, Excel, and OneNote; Scrivener stores everything, including research, pictures, note cards, an outline, and no doubt things I haven’t discovered yet in one file.  It’s a large, complex program, so I did what I normally do:  I bought books.  Two of them, in fact (although Scrivener does come with a very good tutorial and a pdf manual), Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson and Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez.  I’m just getting started with Scrivener, but so far I’m very impressed.  You can try it before you buy it, and it only costs $40.  (What would I have given for a program like this when I was in grad school?   I couldn’t have imagined it.  When I was in grad school computers were programmed with punch cards, and I wrote all my papers with index cards and carbon paper on a portable electric Smith-Corona typewriter.)

Watching:  I’ve tried to get excited about Revolution, I really have.  I love the premise.  I’m a sucker for abandoned amusement parks and disintegrating freeways.  Rebuilding civilization–or sliding back into the dark ages–has always been a favorite theme.  But I find myself watching the show on DVR or On Demand, when I get around to it.  When it’s actually on, I’m watching Castle.  I think, once again, that it boils down to characters.  As much as I like the premise of the show, the characters haven’t grabbed me and refused to let go.  But this week’s episode is on again Saturday evening, and I’ll give it at least one more shot then.

This evening I’ve been watching/listening to a show I recently discovered on the Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum.  Very enjoyable for a history/artifact buff like me.  I’ve started watching the schedule and recording episodes.  One of these days I’m going to find the beginning of a good story on that show.