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.

More Series Mystery

In Enforcing the Paw, Fort Worth PD Officer Megan Luz and her canine partner Brigit run into a puzzling situation: two ex-lovers who each claim the other is harassing them. Enforcing the PawVandalism, stalking, Internet hook-up sites: one darn thing just leads to another. Megan’s problem is that she just doesn’t know who to believe. Each of her complainants seems sincere and suspicious by turns, and neither Megan nor her mentor, Detective Bustamente, can decide who’s telling the truth. (Brigit knows what’s going on before the humans do.)

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Meanwhile, Megan and Brigit follow the exploits of a small time thief dressed in surgical scrubs and mask, who only steals grape Tootsie Pops, and hang out with Seth, Megan’s firefighter boyfriend, and his bomb-sniffing dog Blast, Brigit’s Best Furry Friend.

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This series is so much fun, and so funny. The characters are wonderful. I love the short chapters from Brigit’s point of view, in which liver treats outweigh most anything else. Megan and Brigit are definitely among my favorite crime fighters.

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Another very entertaining series is Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas Cold As IceCity in 1974—before computers and cell phones changed our lives. The latest installment, Cold As Ice, finds artist, mom, and unwilling sleuth Ellison Russell embroiled in a case that may seriously affect her daughter Grace’s inheritance. It’s almost Thanksgiving, the weather is terrible, and the guest list for dinner is worse. Grace is dating a boy her mother warned her about. And there’s a corpse in the Country Club freezer.

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I have enjoyed this series immensely (as well as several others from Henery Press), and this one does not disappoint.

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Stephanie Plum, the world’s most disorganized bond enforcement agent, and her circle of friends and relatives are back in Janet Evanovich’s Hardcore Twenty-Four. Stephanie and Hardcore Twenty-FourLula are investigating what appears to be a zombie infestation in Trenton, while Grandma Mazur is corresponding with a man in Florida who looks suspiciously like George Hamilton. Joe Morelli is investigating headless corpses, Diesel is looking for someone, and Stephanie is baby-sitting a fifty-pound boa constrictor named Ethel. And, oh, yes, she finds inventive new ways to total a couple more cars. If you enjoy Evanovich’s zany characters and humor, you’ll like this installment in the Saga of Stephanie Plum.

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AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planners series continues with To Have and to Howl, the story of Julia Cole and Jack Dawson. Julia is human, a lawyer, and a widow who lost her elf husband to a band of supernatural supremacists who object to mixed marriages. Her To Have and To Howlcrusade for justice appears to be complete when the supremacist leader is convicted by the supernatural Tribunal, but when the criminal breaks out of his magically reinforced handcuffs, she knows there’s more danger to come, and it may come from inside the supernatural justice system.

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Jack is a werewolf with a secret that’s interfering with his current assignment as Julia’s bodyguard, something he can’t bring himself to talk about with anyone, not even his twin brother Connor. If his secret gets out, more than Julia’s safety will be at stake.

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This is book three in the series (after In Sickness and In Elf and From This Fae Forward), and it runs a bit more to suspense and mystery and a bit less to humor than the earlier installments. In fact, there’s no wedding in To Have and To Howl, and the wedding planners take a back seat to the team of paranormal security men, as Jones’ paranormal world continues to expand.

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Paranormal Wedding Planners is a most enjoyable series from a talented author, probably best read in order. There’s more to come: I’ll be watching for For Better or For Wolf.

 

Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

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Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

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Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Books: Mystery With Humor

Corrie Locke, the heroine of Lida Sideris’ Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters, is a newly minted lawyer who has just landed her dream job as a contract attorney for a motion picture production company. Murder and Other Unnatural DisastersUnfortunately for Corrie (but not for the reader), Keith-Ameripictures appears to be staffed entirely by lunatics. And while all Corrie wants is to live a fairly normal life and hang on to her new job, her reputation, or rather her father’s, haunts her.

Corrie spent her teen years helping her private investigator dad solve cases, even cracking a few herself. And word has gotten around. One of the security people at her new job quickly pulls her into the mystery of a recent suicide that might have a more sinister explanation, a pro basketball player insists she hunt for his missing lucky (and extremely bad-tempered) cat, and a barely coherent rap star brings her a case of alien abduction.

Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters is a wild roller coaster ride, full of loony characters, snappy dialog, and at least one ruthless murderer. Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will certainly enjoy the ride, and will spot a few common notes: Corrie’s self-appointed sidekick, Veera, reminds me of a better educated, better behaved, and definitely better dressed Lula, and Corrie finds her attention split between two attractive men: her long-time best friend Michael Parris and snarky, quick-thinking ADA James Zachary.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and abrupt transitions sometimes had me wondering where the characters were and how they got there. But the dialog is snappy and funny, and Corrie is an entertaining and sympathetic heroine as she navigates the perils of her new job, the temptations of investigating crime and craziness, and the dangers of raiding her mother’s padlocked and nanny-cammed closet for wardrobe emergencies. I hope this is the beginning of a new series and that Corrie, Veera, Michael, and James will be back. Put up your shingle, Corrie, and make your own dream job.

Speaking of Janet Evanovich, Tricky Twenty-Two is the latest in the long-running adventures of Stephanie Plum, the world’s most accident-prone bond enforcement agent. I can’t say worst, because Tricky Twenty-TwoStephanie usually gets her man (or occasional woman) in the long run, but along the way she destroys cars, gets beat up, goes to pre-funeral viewings with her gun-toting grandma, and wavers between two men, cop Joe Morelli and security ace Ranger Manoso.

I see a lot of snarky reviews from people who swear they’ll never read another book in this series, they’re terrible, they’re repetitious, etc. So, okay, don’t. (Like the people who want the TV shows they hate canceled, instead of just turning to another channel. Better yet, turn off the TV, folks.) Meanwhile, this installment hit Number One on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Yes, in Tricky Twenty-Two a few cars are destroyed (one of them by geese–now that’s different). Yes, Grandma takes her gun to a viewing or two, Lula eats her way through the book, Stephanie and Joe get crosswise, Stephanie moonlights for Ranger. Yes, if I were Stephanie I would have married Joe a long time ago.

These are comfort books. I know what’s coming–that’s why I buy them year after year. That’s why I enjoy them. I love the characters. I love the crazy messes Stephanie gets into. I’ll keep reading them as long as Evanovich keeps writing them. I’ve gotten bored with other mystery series and characters, but I still love Stephanie.

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

Shopping on Black Friday

For years I’ve said, rather smugly, I’m sure, that I wouldn’t shop on Black Friday.  Of course for the last ten years or so I’ve been at work on Black Friday, making the point moot.  But our work schedule has changed, and I was home today, and yes, I went shopping.  But not at the mall or the big box stores.

Two of the friends that I had Thanksgiving dinner with yesterday were going shopping last evening, which I never even considered.  (Their two top destinations were Victoria’s Secret and Toys R Us, which I thought was an interesting combination.)  But this morning, after several days of very cold and very wet weather, was cool and sunny, perfect weather for getting out and doing something.

I don’t do much in the way of Christmas shopping, but I had some things I needed.  I was running low on cat food, I have a friend with a birthday next week, and I always need something at the grocery store.  So I set out with my shopping list and coupons, only to discover that the vet clinic (where I get the diet food that doesn’t seem to causing any noticeable reduction in Nutmeg’s weight) was closed for the weekend.  But by then I was out and about, so I went on to Office Depot.

Office Depot was not crowded.  I bought a supply of pens, one of those folding cardboard science fair display boards (Jo Anne and I use them to hide our jigsaw puzzles from the cats, and the current one is falling apart), and a stuffed panda wearing a red and white muffler.  Okay, so I’m a sucker for stuffed animals, even at the office supply store.  And then the lady at the check out offered me an 800-sheet package of paper for $4.  Couldn’t turn that down.  No writer ever has too much paper.

Office Depot is next door to Half Price Books, as if I needed an excuse.  And I had a coupon.  So I came out with  Charlaine Harris’ Dead Ever After, the last Sookie Stackhouse novel (I haven’t read the previous one yet, but I’ll catch up), Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty (I’m up to date on Stephanie Plum’s adventures, and this one will go on the To Be Read Soon pile), and two collections by David Sedaris, whom I always enjoy when I catch him on NPR.  And a stuffed Frost Dragon.  Told you I couldn’t resist stuffed animals.  Half Price Books was fairly busy, but no more so than usual.

Next stop, Bed Bath & Beyond, which was probably the most crowded store I hit today.  I found a birthday present and some kitchen stuff–I don’t cook much, but I like gadgets.  No stuffed animals.  And then on to Barnes & Noble, which Fixing to Diewas not as busy as I expected.  I bought another birthday present there, and one book for myself, Fixing to Die, the latest installment in Elaine Viets’ series about mystery shopper Josie Marcus.  I’m a couple of books behind on that series (and a lot of others!), but I’d never pass up one of Viets’ books.

Finished up at the grocery store, which was crowded (I thought everyone was eating leftovers today), for a few things, which somehow cost me another eighty bucks.  But I remembered the birthday cards I needed and a few cans of non-diet cat food to tide Nutmeg over, and succumbed to temptation when I spotted the half-price sale on Dreyer’s ice cream (I bought mint chocolate chip, my lifetime favorite).

Tomorrow is small business Saturday, and I’ve been trying to think of some independent shops in my area.  Once upon a time there were lots of small books stores, selling both new and used books, but sadly they’re all gone now.  Maybe I’ll have lunch at a non-chain restaurant.  Or maybe I’ll stay home and read.

Recent Reading

A couple of weeks ago, when the Romance Writers of America RITA® nominations were announced, I was about halfway through reading The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, by Jane Myers Perrine, and I was delighted to see it listed as a nominee in the category Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.  I looked for it first in the Inspirational category, because it was published by Faith Words, the Inspirational Divison of the Hachette Group.  But I think the book is right where it belongs.

I had picked Welcome Committee up one night when I wanted something warm and comfortable to read, and it just filled the Welcome Committee of Butternut Creekbill.  It tells the story of a very young, newly-minted minister who arrives in a small town in Texas to take over a church, not knowing what to expect from the congregation or his new life.  Oh, he’s taken classes in church management at the seminary, but that’s not the same as real experience.  And he’s in for some new experiences, particularly at the hands of the Widows, a couple of ladies of the congregation who believe, among other things, that a minister should be married.

The Widows don’t give up on their new minister, but they set meddling in his life aside to concentrate on a damaged war vet and his physical therapist, two characters who have the reader pulling for them from their first appearance.

Jane Perrine, who is an ordained minister herself, never preaches.  She writes about life in a small town church, and about people who try to do the right thing and care about one another.  The next book in the series, The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek, is at the top of my Books To Buy list, and The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek will be out in the fall.

Earlier this year I read another of Jane Perrine’s books, Miss Prim, a Regency romance written several years ago and published by Avalon, recently resissued on paper and for the Kindle by Amazon.  Miss Prim is the story of Lady Louisa Walker, whose staid and well-regulated spinsterhood is turned completely upside down by an old flame who pulls her into wild adventures involving French spies, a race across the countryside, and a mysterious baby.

I haven’t managed a lot of reading time since the first of the year.  Busy at work and with RWA activities, and far less writing than I’d like to claim.  I’ve read three good mysteries, Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen (who really cares about the mystery when the characters are so much fun?), Marcia Muller’s Looking for Yesterday (I’ve been following Sharon McCone’s cases–and life–since she first appeared in Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977), and Margaret Maron’s The Buzzard Table (Judge Deborah Knott is another series character I have followed from the beginning).

Currently I’m enjoying Colleen Thompson’s Passion to Protect, an edge-of-the-seat romantic suspense novel.  The Steampunk book is on my coffee table, with a book mark very near the beginning.  The book on The Searchers is there, too, without one.  On my Kindle I’m following a serial, Falling for Frederick by Cheryl Bolen.

Yesterday I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble to look for a copy of my Starcatcher sister Amy Raby’s first release, Assassin’s Gambit.  I found it on the New In Paperback kiosk in the middle of the store and stopped to take a picture of the book “in the wild” to send to Amy.  There I was, on one knee with my camera, when I realized a man was watching me.  “My friend’s first book,” I explained.  “Wouldn’t it be more help to buy it and read it?” he asked.  “I will,” I promised, “but I also want to send her a picture.”  Apparently satisfied, he nodded and walked away.  Without reporting me to store security.

 

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