Thursday, December 29, 2016

Iced Under (A Maine Clambake Mystery #5)

Author:  Barbara Ross
Genre:  Mystery, Cozy

Mass Market Paperback; Ebook; (Paperback LP)
9781496700391; (9781410495778)
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
December 27, 2016; (March 15, 2017)
$7.99; $5.99; ($26.99) Amazon

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The snow is deep in Maine's Busman's Harbor and the mighty rivers are covered in ice.  Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother, Jacqueline, are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives - heating up February with an unexpected case of murder...

Inside the mystery package is an enormous black diamond necklace that once belonged to Julia's great-grandmother and disappeared in the 1920s.  Who could have sent it - and why?  Julia's search for clues takes her on a perilous journey through her mother's troubled family history, from a squabble over the family fortune in "frozen water" to the recent unexplained death of Jacqueline's long-lost cousin Hugh - who'd been missing and presumed drowned for more than forty years.  To protect her mother's inheritance, Julia must fend off a small army of feuding relatives, solve the mystery surrounding Hugh's demise, and get back home before the next blizzard buries them all...

********

Julia Snowden lives in Busman's Harbor, Maine, and experiencing a harsh winter.  With her boyfriend Chris in Florida, and the restaurant they run part-time closed for the winter, she's planning on spending some time with her mother.  While heading out to visit Jacqueline (Julia's mother), asks her daughter to pick up the mail on her way over.  Along with the regular mail, Julia is given a package for her mother, simply wrapped, with no return address.  After arriving at Jacqueline's, they open it and discover a beautiful necklace, of which the center is a huge black diamond.  Jacqueline identifies it as being The Black Widow, which belonged at one time to an ancestor.  Along with the necklace is a simple note:  "For Windsholme".

Windsholme is the mansion on Julia's family-owned Morrow Island, where they hold their summer clambakes.  It was once beautiful but has recently burned to a shell.  It is obvious the necklace is meant to rebuild the once majestic home; but questions abound:  Someone knew about the fire, but who sent it?  Is it real?  Where has it been all these years?  There are other questions as well, and Jacqueline has asked Julia's help in finding out who sent the necklace.

She does her due diligence:  contacts their attorney, has the necklace appraised, and put away for safekeeping.  But then comes her real investigation, so she heads to the local historical society to discover more about her family, hoping to find the clues she needs.  What she discovers there sends her to Boston, where she finds something that changes her world as she knows it...

When Julia arrives in Boston, she learns that not only does she have family there, but they know all about her.  Stunned by this revelation, she also finds that they think she's there for a very different purpose:  Jacqueline's long-lost cousin Hugh has recently died, and they believe she's there for the funeral.  Since Jacqueline has believed him dead over forty years, it is another revelation for Julia to digest, along with the fact that his death may have very well been murder.  But who would want to murder a man who only had weeks to live anyway?

While she is thrust into this mystery, she doesn't tell anyone about the necklace, trying to find out if any of her 'new' relatives sent it.  What she does find out is more about her family, how they know about her and her mother; and why they've kept this secret for years without contacting them.  Although it's a bittersweet reunion of sorts, she still needs to find out if her mother owns the necklace outright, or if any of these people have a claim.  What is true, however, is that not all of her newfound family wants her there, but at least one might be a killer...

Iced Under is the fifth book in the Main Clambake Mysteries, and a delightful book to read.  We learn more about the Morrow family history, Windsholme, and Morrow Island.  Ms. Ross weaves fact into fiction and it is indeed quite interesting.  I loved learning about the history of cut ice, and how it became a "hot commodity".  Merging fact with fiction has always been a favorite of mine to read, and this author does it well.

Her characters are well-developed, so much so that I took a deep dislike to one of them (one guess as to whom) and nearly cried 'foul!' at what I thought this person did not deserve in the least, having had so much already.  It is a testament to Ms. Ross' writing that I was drawn to the characters, who have enough personality to give them a realistic feel, and this is a very good thing indeed.  I love the fact that Julia is a strong, intelligent woman who sticks to a purpose and can subtly ask questions without being intrusive; and that the police consider her an ally of sorts - listening to her - instead of an enemy.

There were plenty of twists and turns, each leading to a new discovery regarding Jacqueline's family; and enough of a mystery to keep me reading to the end.  When we finally do come to the ending, there is sadness tinged with happiness; loss of family with gain; and the anticipation that the next book in the series will not only bring new adventures for Julia and her family, but perhaps brings one or more of the new members along for the ride.  Highly recommended.



More on Barbara Ross's Books:   https://www.fantasticfiction.com/r/barbara-ross/

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Red Queen Rules (Red Solaris Mysteries)

Author:  Bourne Morris
Genre:  Mystery, Suspense

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #" 9781635111248; 9781635111217
Henery Press
$31.95; $15.95; $4.99 Amazon
December 6, 2016

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Free speech or hate?  When a white supremacist schedules an event on campus, Red Solaris must confront her own feelings about an issue that challenges the very core of American education: campus safety versus freedom of speech.  Amidst escalating tension, Red meets with the editor of the student newspaper -- who also confides in Red that her young cousin is missing, probably a victim of local sex traffickers.

Agreeing to rescue the girl, Red solicits help from her beloved Detective Joe Morgan.  But when Joe goes undercover into the dangerous world of human trafficking, he disappears without a trace.  Red must balance her fears for Joe with her worries that a campus riot may soon break out.

********

Meredith 'Red' Solaris is Dean of Journalism at Mountain West University in northern Nevada.  One morning she overhears an argument and, following the sound, arrives at the campus home of a group of white supremacists known as The Purists.  When she arrives she sees the editor of the university's newspaper Rosie Jenkins on the ground with several of the group surrounding her.  After diffusing the situation she is greeted by a woman who identifies herself as Danica Boerum, a renowned racist.  It seems she is giving a speech on campus, and although Red would like to keep it from ever happening she is the Dean of Journalism and as such, believes in free speech even when it differs from her own views and opinions.

Rosie, who escaped the sex trade when she was younger is now trying to free her young cousin Cathy from the same fate she suffered.  With this end in mind she asks for Red's help along with that of Detective Joe Morgan, who is also the love of Red's life.  When Joe decides to go deep undercover in the search for Cathy, Red still needs to deal with the problem of Danica's speech and the resulting fallout from Mountain West's staff and students.  The stakes are driven higher when Rosie has a run-in with Danica and later is attacked in her apartment and nearly killed; Joe disappears; and Red discovers something that sends her into an emotional tailspin as she tries to run her school, find Joe, and keep Rosie safe...

In this third novel in the Red Solaris mysteries, Bourne Morris writes a book that touches upon several controversial subjects, and she does a nice job of dealing with the sex trade/trafficking, hate groups, and if students really need safe spaces (even though this last was only touched upon) and I thought it was quite intriguing.

When Rosie is sure that Danica is someone from her past it causes the attack that sends her to the hospital.  While she is recovering from her wounds with a police guard at her door Red is worried for her but more than worried for Joe, whom no one has heard from for awhile and it sends her on a mission to find him accompanied by their friend and retired cop Wynan, who isn't happy about Red's actions but agrees to go.  Little does she know that a chance encounter with an old enemy will help her in her quest.  

She must also meet with students who are not happy about Danica's appearance being nothing but hate speech and want it cancelled, but as she explains to them her thoughts she also manages to encourage them to find a way to rebel against it without causing any violence.  I thought this was dealt with nicely, and enjoyed the fact that there are some new developments for a couple of characters from previous and current books, as well as changes that are coming for Red in her own life.  We also learn more about Red's father and his past in this latest installment of the series, which helps Red with her own past.

Although I did feel that this is less a mystery than a discourse on free speech and the consequences were we to censor people from their right to it; and those that may be if we don't, it was still very good; it grabbed my interest and held it throughout.  (There is a fine line there and I have no intention of walking it).  A satisfying read and highly recommended.



More on Bourne Morris' Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/bourne-morris/

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Body on the Bayou (A Cajun Country Mystery Book 2)

Author:  Ellen Byron
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Audio CD; Ebook; Audible
ISBN #:  9781629537689; 9781504774642
Crooked Lane Books
$20.04; $29.95; $8.99 Amazon
September 13, 2006

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The Crozats feared that past murders at Crozat Plantation B&B might spell the death of their beloved estate, but they've managed to survive the scandal.  Now theres a trés bigger story in Pelican, Louisiana: the upcoming nuptials between Maggie Crozat's nemsis, Police Chief Rufus Durand, and her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer.

When everyone else refuses the job of being Vanessa's Maid of Honor, Maggie reluctantly takes up the title and finds herself tasked with a long list of duties - the most important of which is entertaining Vanessa's cousin, Ginger Fleer-Starke.  But just days before the wedding, Ginger's lifeless body is found on the bayou and the Pelican PD, as well as the Crozats, have another murder mystery on their hands.                                                  

********

Poor Maggie.  She's been saddled as Maid of Honor to the bridezillas of bridezillas - her co-worker Vanessa Fleer, and only because Vanessa couldn't find anyone else who wanted the job.  She's planning a nightmare wedding, changing plans, and expecting Maggie to do the near impossible to make her wedding the dream she wants.  The only hitch is the fact that Vanessa is eight months pregnant and a hormonal nightmare.  It's bad enough to be around a bridezilla, but a pregnant bridezilla?  The thought gives me shudders...

Maggie just wants to get back to her life of a tour guide at Doucet Plantation (complete with hoop skirt and wig), helping out at her family's B&B, and painting in her spare time.  She thought she'd put finding dead bodies behind her...but unfortunately, there's another one in front of her.  Vanessa's nightmare of a cousin Ginger is found dead near the Crozat B&B, and she drags Maggie into the investigation as part of her Maid of Honor duties.  It soon becomes apparent that Ginger had more enemies than friends, and in multiple cities no less.  But with so many enemies, how is Maggie to figure out which one had the strongest motive to do the woman in?

It's not helping that Rufus, Vanessa' beloved, has been temporarily removed from his position as police chief (due to a ruckus with the mayor) and replaced with an acting chief who dismisses her observations out of hand and has put Pelican's Police Detective Bo Durand on desk duty.  Bo is navigating a tricky relationship with Maggie - due to the fact Rufus hates the Crozats - so they haven't made anything public yet...which could become trickier because his ex-wife Whitney temporarily moves to Pelican while her new husband is working overseas so Bo can be closer to his autistic son Xander, but it soon becomes apparent to Maggie that Whitney may still have feelings for her ex...

There are more subplots going on in and around Pelican, Louisiana which makes this quite a lively book (if you can call a book lively).  The plot moves fast, it's taut and well-written, and the characters are given more depth than they had in the first.  We learn more about Maggie and Bo's past, and a couple of new characters are introduced which I hope to see in future books.

When things begin to really heat up (and they do) Maggie's busy juggling more plates than a caterer just trying to keep her sanity while trying to keep Vanessa from falling apart.  When things finally come together and we discover the identity of the killer, it is a complete surprise; but not quite as much of a surprise as the one following.  For those of you tempted to peek at the ending, I urge you not to do so; as enjoyable as this book was to read, it will be even more so when you finish.

I believe that Ms. Byron has found a comfortable niche in the cozy genre with this latest in the Cajun Country mysteries, and I look forward to reading the next in the series.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Bayou-Cajun-Country-Mystery/dp/1629537683/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1827165244

More on Ellen Byron's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/ellen-byron/