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Posts Tagged ‘Susan M. Boyer’

Beatriz Williams Cocoa Beach (William Morrow, digital galley) has sun, sand, mangroves and mosquitoes, as well as mystery and romance. And it’s appropriately steamy — no AC in 1922, which is when Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in Cocoa with her toddler daughter to inherit her estranged husband’s estate and shipping business. She met British Army surgeon Simon while an ambulance driver in World War I France, and the narrative toggles between the two timelines: Even as Virginia motors to Miami Beach with her sister-in-law, her backstory is played out in New York, France and Cornwall. (Readers of Williams’ A Certain Age will recognize Virginia as the sister of that book’s heroine, Sophie Fortescue). Not one to play the little widow, Virginia is soon asking about Simon’s death in a fire at his seaside villa and poking into his business affairs, much to the dismay of his enigmatic brother Samuel. Everybody, even Virginia, has secrets in this exotic Prohibition Era setting, where fortunes are made by rum-runners, and rogues are more than ready to sell swampland to unwary dreamers.

If you can’t buy happiness, perhaps you can rent it? Artist Heather Wyatt is hoping she can at least find some peace at Primrose, a quaint cottage on South Carolina’s Isle of Palms, while she carries out a commission to paint shorebirds for a series of postage stamps. Perhaps the solitude will cure her crippling social anxiety. But when cottage owner Cara Rutledge suffers a terrible loss, she wants to return to Primrose, and shy Heather winds up sharing space with an unwanted roommate.  And then there’s the handsome guy building a new deck on the cottage. In Beach House for Rent (Gallery Books, digital galley), Mary Alice Monroe returns to a favorite setting and familiar theme: Primrose as a safe haven where the wonders of nature help heal troubled souls. Although it’s one in an occasional series, the book is a pleasing stand-alone that begs to be read beach-side, where you can hear the gulls and watch the pelicans and sandpipers.

The Whitaker family mansion in seaside Connecticut was a once-famous artists’ colony, and Issy loved growing up there with her grandparents. But her family is a hot mess, and in Shelley Noble’s The Beach at Painter’s Cove (William Morrow, digital galley), she’s left to pick up the pieces when her selfish sister Viv drops off her three kids  with ailing grandmother Leo and disappears. Eccentric Aunt Fae can’t be counted on, and Issy’s mother, film actress Jillian, is off in Europe with her latest lover. Noble heaps cascading troubles on the Whitakers like sand in a bucket. Issy discovers Leo’s bank account has been emptied, bills are outstanding, and the house and its contents are in danger of being sold. A penniless Jillian arrives on the scene to contribute to the chaos. Leo is apparently losing her mind, living largely in the past, which also haunts Fae. The plot follows a predictable path, but the Whitakers, especially insecure and imaginative 12-year-old Steph, win you over, and you really hope they’ll win the day.

With its picturesque Cornwall setting, gentle good humor and a cast of engaging characters, many of them in the autumn of their years, Marcia Willett’s new novel Indian Summer (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley) reminds me of a Rosamunde Pilcher favorite, Winter Solstice. Famous actor and director Sir Mungo Springer loves his country retreat, part of the family farm run by his brother Archie and his wife Camilla. When his old friend Kit visits, she brings with her memories of good times shared and of other old pals, including a troubled actress. One of the book’s running jokes is the presence of an aspiring novelist, who spies on the locals and concludes they’re a dull bunch. Little does he realize that a young Army wife is on the brink of a dangerous affair, that two old men once buried a body in the orchard, that Kit is contemplating a second chance with her long-ago lover Jake, and that Mungo will do most anything to keep safe his family and friends. I’m getting this one for my mom.

My mom and cousins also will be happy to hear about Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bonfire (Henery Press, digital galley), the sixth in the lighthearted series featuring P.I. Liz Talbot, who tied the knot with her partner Nate Andrews in Lowcountry Bordello. Their client Tammy Sue Lyerly, after receiving proof that her mechanic husband Zeke was cheating on her, sets fire to his favorite possessions in his favorite car. She claims she had no idea Zeke’s body was in the trunk. Liz and Nate are about the only ones on the little South Carolina island of Stella Maris who believe her. Determined to prove Tammy’s innocence, they start digging into Zeke’s colorful and mysterious past, which supposedly included stints as a DEA agent and a NASCAR driver. Seems trouble may have started at a bonfire on the beach back in the spring, although the mystery is almost overshadowed by all the lowcountry talk, atmosphere and food. Fine with me. I want to move in with Liz, Nate and their golden retriever Rhett.

Speaking of food — always a good idea, IMHO — fans of Mary Kay Andrews’ best-selling beach books (Savannah Blues, Deep Dish, Beach Town) and the Callahan Garrity mysteries she originally penned as Kathy Hogan Trocheck (Heart Trouble, Homemade Sin) know her characters eat well and that she sometimes tosses in recipes for food mentioned in the stories. For example, you can find the recipe for Beyond the Grave Chicken Salad in Little Bitty Lies and now in The Beach House Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), which is what she wrote for  this summer instead of a new novel. It’s a treat, full of themed meal plans and recipes, plus anecdotes and pictures from Ebb Tide, her Tybee Island beach house. I need to note that Kathy is a longtime friend and a fabulous cook, and I can personally vouch for the chicken salad, the lemon cream cheese poundcake, the pimento cheese made with Duke’s and other goodies. Shrimp and grits. Crab cakes. Peach and berry cobbler. Trust me, the woman can start with a bag of Fritos and whip up a casserole, an appetizer or a gooey dessert.  Beach-alicious!

 

 

 

 

 

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bordelloIt’s just a few days until Christmas — and P.I. Liz Talbot’s planned wedding to her partner Nate Andrews — when Liz gets a frantic call from bestie and bridesmaid Olivia that she’s stumbled over a body in the parlor of her great aunt’s historic home in downtown Charleston. Oh, and Olivia thinks the dead man is her attorney husband Robert, but y’know it was dark and she didn’t turn on the lights she was so upset. . .  So Liz rushes from nearby island Stella Maris — just a ferry and a couple bridges away — only to find that if there was a body, it’s gone now, and Robert’s very much alive.

But that’s just the beginning of Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bordello (Henery Press, digital galley), the fourth caper in this Southern charmer of a series. The next day, a body does turn up in a nearby park — that of Thurston Middleton, local developer and aspiring politician, as well as a longtime client of Aunt Dean’s high-class house of prostitution. What started as a proper boarding house has evolved into a home where local men keep their “nieces.” Olivia is part-owner of the house and begs Liz and Nate to help investigate, but quickly and quietly. Ha!

Boyer again crafts an entertaining cozy that comes with a supernatural flourish courtesy of Liz’s guardian ghost Colleen. Readers of the previous books will feel right at home, although newcomers might be tripped up by the rush of events — Murder! Wedding! Christmas! Still, a very merry time.

bronteKatherine Reay’s The Bronte Plot (Thomas Nelson, digital galley) is something of a hybrid: literary tribute, romance, travelogue, coming-of-age story, morality tale. Lucy Alling, a Chicago rare book dealer, loves a good story, so much so that she can’t resist telling little white lies. Then her boyfriend James breaks up with her over a big lie, and Lucy realizes that if she wants to emulate the strong literary heroines she so admires, she needs to change her life. The first step is accompanying James’ wealthy and frail grandmother Helen on a two-week antique-buying trip to England, despite James’ disapproval. Helen and Lucy have a lot in common, it turns out, and their mutual reckoning with their pasts proves revelatory as they visit London and then Haworth, the home of the Brontes.  A side trip to the Lake District also proves necessary.

Reay knows England and English lit, so her story is replete with scenic details and appropriate  literary allusions. The main characters — Lucy, James and Helen — are flawed and engaging as they struggle with doubt and moral ambiguity. Will they get the happy ending of a Victorian novel? Reader, I’m not going to tell you.

rufflesThe title character of Nancy Martin’s Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover) is not a pampered princess pooch despite her fancy moniker. She’s an energetic Texas cattle cur who likes to chase prairie dogs and dig in the garden, as well as snap at the gentleman callers visiting her owner, wealthy widow Honeybelle Hensley. When Honeybelle drops dead of a heart attack, her family, friends and, indeed, all the townspeople of Mule Stop, Texas, are stunned to learn she’s left Miss Ruffles the bulk of her fortune. Honeybelle’s personal assistant and dogsitter Sunny,  cook Mae Mae and butler Mr. Carver will each receive $1 million dollars if they take good care of Miss Ruffles for the next year and then find her a good home.

Sunny, a Yankee newcomer from Ohio, is stunned when she becomes the object of vicious rumors, although she, too, has her suspicions about Honeybelle’s death. But she’s more worried about protecting Miss Ruffles from Honeybelle’s kin, especially her snobby daughter-in-law who was planning on dumping the dog at the pound while she produced her younger sister’s wedding in Honeybelle’s prized rose garden. Then there’s the university president who was hoping for Honeybelle to foot the bill for a new football stadium, and the goodlooking cowboy/attorney who is slated to be the groom in the upcoming rose garden nuptials. When Miss Ruffles is dognapped and held for ransom, Sunny sets out to rescue the rascally canine. Mayhem ensues on several fronts.

Despite some busy plotting and cliched characters, Martin’s tale is an agreeable bit of fluff, wirh lots of bark and a little bite. Miss Ruffles steals every scene she’s in, but it’s lookalike pup Fred who stole my heart.

 

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speculationFortune-tellers and floods, mermaids and mysteries, a traveling carnival and a tumble-down house threatening to fall into the sea. Erika Swyler packs all these and more into her first novel The Book of Speculation (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), which both fascinates and frustrates with its alternating narratives. In the present, reference librarian Simon Watson lives in the family house slowly sliding into the Long Island Sound where his mother — a circus mermaid — curiously drowned when he and his sister Enola were children. Simon looked after Enola while their grief-stricken father withered away, but six years ago, she ran off with their mother’s tarot cards and no plans to ever return. But then Simon receives a mysterious, water-damaged old book in the mail, and Enola calls to say she’ll be home in July. Simon is alarmed because the book — the logbook of a traveling carnival — shows generations of the women in his family all drowning on July 24th.   In the past storyline, a mute boy known as Amos is adopted by carnival owner, apprenticed to a Russian fortune-teller and is captivated by Evangeline, who may be a mermaid and is possibly a murderess. That the two storylines will eventually converge is a foregone conclusion, but the “how” makes for the suspense. Still, the novel’s rickety underpinnings sag under the weight of so many coincidences, romances and misfortunes that its magic begins to wane. The Book of Speculation ends up being both too much and too little. But I did like the horseshoe crabs.

dayshiftReaders of Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossing know that strangers to the dusty Texas town of Midnight are not nearly as strange as its residents. Phone psychic Manfredo Bernardo learned that when he moved to Midnight and discovered his neighbors included a witch, a shape-shifter, a couple of angels and a vampire. Still, things have taken a turn for the really strange in Harris’ follow-up, the entertaining Day Shift (Penguin Berkley, review copy). For starters, Manfredo is suspected of murder after one of his clients drops dead, and then the Reverend, who tends the little church and adjacent pet cemetery, takes in a young boy who grows taller — really taller — every day. Beautiful Olivia Channing is keeping all kinds of secrets while her vampire gentleman friend Lemuel is away. But what’s really weird is that a mysterious corporation is supposedly turning the abandoned Midnight Hotel into a luxury resort but also has relocated some indigent Las Vegas seniors to the premises. And just to keep things interesting, Harris brings in a couple of characters from her Sookie Stackhouse series as strange events come to a head under a full moon. Some mysteries are resolved, but others only deepen. A third book, please?

boneyardIslands have a certain magic, some more than others.  In author Susan M. Boyer’s mind, the fictional South Carolina island of Stella Maris is located a hop, skip, a couple of bridges and a ferry ride from Charleston. The picturesque beach community is also home base for PI Liz Talbot, although her hunky partner Nate wants her to move upstate in Lowcountry Boneyard (Henery Press, digital galley). As readers of the previous two books in this perky series know, Liz has a secret tie to the island in the shape of a ghostly guardian angel, her late best friend, Colleen, who conveniently pops up to warn of danger or gather clues in the spirit world. This time, Liz is searching for missing Charleston heiress Kent Heyward whom the police consider a rich-girl runaway. After meeting Kent’s family — including her stern father, matriarch Abigail and creepy twin uncles — Liz thinks Kent may have had good reason to leave town, but Kent’s chef boyfriend Matt and her BFF Ansley assure her otherwise. Dangerous surprises await when Liz goes poking around in a local cemetery and digging up family secrets in the lowcountry and upstate, but Colleen can’t come to the rescue if Liz is too far away from Stella Maris. Not to give anything away, but the fourth book in the series is due in the fall.

mysteriousElizabeth George, best known for her Inspector Thomas Lynley series, has a high old time with The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy (Mysterious Press/Open Road, digital galley), her contribution to the Press short story series Bibliomysteries. At just under 50 pages, it’s a tale easily consumed in one sitting, true escapist reading a la Jasper Fforde. Janet Shore, the sickly youngest child in a boisterous Washington state family, perfects the art of escaping into a book at an early age. Literally. “Given a heart rending scene of emotion (Mary Ingalls going blind!), a thrilling adventure in a frightening cave (Tom, Huck, and Injun Joe!), a battle with pirates (Peter Pan and Captain Hook!), and our Janet was actually able to transport herself into the scene itself. And not as a passive observer, mind you, but rather as a full participant in the story.” Janet first entertains herself and classmates with book traveling, but gives it up when she grows older and has her heart broken. Then her best childhood friend Monie conspires to get Janet — now Annapurna — a job at the local library, where the overbearing Mildred Bantry sees a way to make money by setting up a book tourism company, Epic!, with Annapurna as chief tour guide. George has a lot of fun with this conceit, as will readers who can only imagine the joys of escaping into the pages of a favorite book or Greek myth. As for Annapurna/Janet’s choice of the perfect pages in which to get lost, let me just say that I’ll happily join her some gaudy night.

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lightgetsinHistorical, contemporary, chillers, thrillers, inspired by real events, complete with recipes. So let’s start with Louise Penny’s exquisitely calibrated, triple-plotted How the Light Gets In (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the ninth in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete. Again, Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines, far from the madding crowd without cell phone or internet service. Which makes it a perfect place to retreat when Gamache and his few loyal friends come ever closer to unmasking a great conspiracy within the Surete. Even his once-trusted lieutenant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, wants Gamache gone. But then an elderly woman with ties to Three Pines is murdered, and Gamache’s investigation reveals she has been living under an alias. What secrets about her famous family was she getting ready to divulge? And what does any of this have to do with a bridge, a satellite dish and Rosa the duck? Gamache knows.
fatalI thought I knew a good bit about the free-spirited Romantics — Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover (and Mary’s stepsister) Claire, the creation of Frankenstein — until I read Lynn Shepherd’s literary thriller A Fatal Likeness (Random House, digital galley). In 1850s London, private detective Charles Maddox tries to determine the authenticity of secret documents related to Percy Shelley, and meets the poet’s widow and her estranged stepsister in the process. He also uncovers a trail of obssession, jealousy and betrayal that casts a new light on the late poet’s many liaisons, his early death and the authorship of Frankenstein. Shepherd posits a murder (or two) in the mix of suicides and scandals. Fascinating.
blindjusticeVictorian London is also the setting for Anne Perry’s latest William and Hester Monk mystery, Blind Justice(Random House/Ballantine, digital galley), which offers more courtroom drama than detecting. Monk’s friend Sir Oliver Rathbone finds himself presiding over a fraud trial instigated by Hester Monk’s suspicions of a pastor fleecing his flock. When Hester’s reputation is threatened, Sir Oliver must decide whether to use illegal means — a cache of pornographic pictures — to influence the courtroom participants. Will the judge go to jail?
honorWorld War I nurse Bess Crawford is also beset by an ethical dilemma in Charles Todd’s A Question of Honor (Morrow, review ARC). Admist the horrors of trench warfare in 1918, Bess learns that a murder suspect long-thought dead is serving on the front. Ten years ago in India, where Bess spent her childhood, Lt. Thomas Wade went missing when news reached the regiment that he was wanted for the murder of a family in England. Then his parents were murdered on the night he vanished on the Khyber Pass. Because the reputation of Bess’s father’s, the Colonel Sahib, is involved, Bess does her best to find the once highly-regarded Wade while investigating the English family’s murders while on leave. The surprising – and disturbing connection — she makes to her childhood uncovers a secret kept by author Rudyard Kipling, one that also provides motive for murder.
spidercupBritish writer Barbara Cleverly first introduced her series protagonist Joe Sandilands 11 books ago in The Last Kashmiri Rose. His adventures in India were followed by service in WWI. Now, in The Spider in the Cup (Soho Crime, digital galley), it’s 1933 and as an assistant police commissioner, Sandilands is charged with protecting an American diplomat during a global economic conference in London. At the same time, dowsers on the Thames riverbank have found the corpse of a woman in the mudflats. One of her toes has been severed; a gold coin placed in her mouth. By a stretch of the writer’s imagination, the two cases are eventually linked to each other and to Sandiland’s past, but a too-talky narrative undercuts any suspense.
kissmeLottie Moggach explores a very 21st-century crime in her twisty debut, Kiss Me First (Knopf Doubleday/digital galley). Unreliable narrator Leila, a bi-polar computer nerd, discovers a like-minded community on the website Red Pill. Its guru, Adrian, recruits her to impersonate online an unstable woman who wants to commit suicide without her friends and family knowing. So before Tess disappears, Leila gathers personal details, then sets up as bohemian Tess on Facebook and in e-mails, creating a new life for her far away from England. But Leila becomes so invested in Tess and her virtual activities, she fails to detect Adrian’s true agenda.
afterherNovelist and journalist Joyce Maynard uses the true crimes of a Bay Area serial killer as the springboard to explore family dynamics in After Her (HarperCollins/Morrow, digital galley.) “My Sharona” is the soundtrack to the fateful summer of 1979 as remembered 30 years later by mystery writer Rachel Torcelli. She was turning 13 back then and traded on her handsome detective father’s fame hunting the Sunset Strangler to get in with the popular crowd and leave behind her faithful younger sister Patty. But imaginative Rachel can’t let go of the girlhood games they played together, spying on neighbors and making up elaborate scenarios. Living with their divorced, preoccupied mother, and dazzled by their charming dad’s infrequent visits, the sisters get caught up in Rachel’s search for the killer who eludes their father. Maynard adroitly moves back and forth in time, teasing us with the knowledge that Something Terrible happened in 1979 and that history might yet repeat itself.
inthedarkInimitable supercop Kathy Mallory returns in the seductively titled It Happens in the Dark (Penguin USA, library hardcover) by Carol O’Connell. This time, the colorful cast of characters includes the actual cast and crew of a spooky Broadway play, where an audience member died on opening night and the playwright’s throat is slit the next night while he’s sitting in the front row. Clever Mallory displays her usual lack of charm and fashionista style as she navigates theater and police politics to ferret out poseurs, druggies and liars galore. The choppy narrative offers false trails and backstage atmosphere, but whereas the play ended with a scream, the book signs off with a sigh.
enchiladaAltogether lighter and brighter fare can be found in Diane Mott Davidson’s The Whole Enchilada (Morrow, review ARC) and Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bombshell (Henery Press, digital galley). In the first, Colorado caterer Goldy Shulz is on the case again when her longtime friend Holly dies at a birthday party. Was it something she ate that Goldy made? Relieved to discover that a medication was the culprit, Goldy resolves to find the killer of the doctor’s ex-wife. Holly’s past and present offers plenty of clues as Goldy crafts mouthwatering meals and confronts several life-changing events.

bombshellBoyer’s second Liz Talbot tale finds the South Carolina private eye working for a Marilyn Monroe-lookalike convinced someone is going to orchestrate her death as a suicide. Boyer knows the lowcountry landscape around Charleston — the manners, the talk, the food — and likeable Liz, with her dog Rhett and her divided love interests, would no doubt be best friends with Lindsey Fox of the Caroline Cousins mysteries. (I can say that, being I am one-third of CC and Lindsey’s alter-ego). Looking forward to Liz’s next Lowcountry outing.

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