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.

Cozy Catch Up

Murder, Curlers & Kilts, the fifth installment in Arlene McFarlane’s charming Valentine Beaumont series, finds Valentine attending Rueland’s annual Multi-Cultural Festival. One of this year’s big attractions is a caber toss—or is it the participating men in kilts? When a kilt-clad body pops out of the pond in the middle of the park, Valentine is on the trail.

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Helped or hindered by the usual gang of beauty specialists (Valentine’s salon employees Max, Jock, and Phyllis, not to mention her arch-rival Candace), Valentine works her way through a long list of possible suspects while trying to stay under the radar of Detective Romero. In true Valentine fashion, she finds herself hanging on for dear life as she pursues the killer onto a Ferris Wheel.

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And—biggest question of all—is it true what they say about men wearing kilts? Well, Valentine may just have a chance to find out.

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Lowcountry Boondoggle is Susan M. Boyer’s ninth Liz Talbot mystery, and once again the city of Charleston and the South Carolina barrier islands are a fascinating part of the story. This time around, Liz and her husband/partner are drawn into a case by a former client, Darius Baker (Lowcountry Boomerang), whose recently-discovered son, Brantley, has become involved in a hemp farming operation. Nothing wrong with that, until the uncle of one of Brantley’s two partners is murdered and his house destroyed in a gas explosion.

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Was the hemp operation involved? The uncle, a university professor, had declined to invest. What about all those women who showed up at the professor’s funeral? Or the cloud over Brantley’s head—could he have set the fire that killed his adoptive family? And then there were two of the professor’s students, possibly involved in something shady. Not only are there plenty of suspects, the suspects are suspicious of one another.

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Lowcountry Boondoggle is another wild ride for Liz and Nate, not to mention the continuing adventures of Liz’s family, what with her father’s over-the-top Halloween yard decor and a couple of surprises from her brother Blake. I’ve enjoyed this series from the beginning, and this installment did not let me down.

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Killer Queen is the latest (and eleventh) installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Mystery series, and it’s just as good as its predecessors. Ellison finds another body—in her own house. Worse, the dead woman had introduced herself to housekeeper Aggie as Mrs. Anarchy Jones. Since Anarchy has no Mrs, not even an ex, it takes a while to figure out who the dead woman is, as well as her connection to Kansas City country club society. But of course there is one. In fact there are so many connections that Ellison can’t find one suspect who had motive, means, and opportunity at the same time.

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Ellison’s supporting cast is here—her daughter Grace, her friends Libba and Jinx and the rest of the bridge-playing gals, and her parents. And—terrifying—Anarchy’s mother. Kansas City in the early 70s, when computers and cell phones dominated no one’s life, also plays its part.

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I love this series. Next one arrives in February—I’ll be waiting.

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The Luck Runs Out is the second installment in Charlotte MacLeod’s Peter Shandy mystery series. Things are definitely going wrong at Balaclava Agricultural College after someone turns the horseshoes hanging in the barn to the unlucky position. A robbery, a murder, and the pignapping of Belinda of Balaclava, a very large, very pregnant porker. Are any of these connected? It falls to Peter, with help from his new wife Helen and the towering president of the college, Thjorkeld Svenson, to untangle the mysteries.

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I read this series back in the 70s and I’m enjoying its resurrection in ebook form. Kudos to Open Road and Mysterious Press for rescuing so many older mysteries. But this one, I have to say, is riddled with typos, superfluous commas, and missing periods. I suspect that someone had the original book (probably an old paperback) scanned and formatted, without taking the essential middle step of proofreading the scanner output. If you can tolerate that, you’ll enjoy the story.

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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