Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Suspects and Profits

In Let There Be Suspects, book 2 in the Ministry Is Murder series by Emilie Richards, Aggie Sloan-Wilcox has to deal with yet another murder. This time in her very own house. At Christmas. With a house ful of guests right there. Aggie's free spirited mother had invited herself and Aggie's two sisters to Aggie's house for the holidays. Trouble is, she forgot to mention that to Aggie, so not only does Aggie have to prepare for the Christmas open house for her husband's congregation, she also has to deal with keeping the peace in her newly extended family. To make matters worse, Junie springs a surprise guest on Aggie and her two sisters: Ginger, their former foster sister. This is not a happy family reunion. Old, unresolved resentments rear their ugly head and Aggie's sister Sid and Ginger get into a fight at the Christmas party. When Ginger later turns up dead in the parsonage dining room Sid is the prime suspect. Aggie, of course, feels compelled to prove her sister's innocence and find the real killer.

There's a lot of humor, warmth and wisdom in this book. I was a little surprised, however, that there weren't more family flare-ups with a house full of in-laws, but the characters' personalities were basically realistic, allowing room for a little fun and spoofing, of course. I love the way Richards deals with Teddy's six-year-old theological misgivings. In any other family, that child would be in for some serious therapy down the line, but Aggie, Ed, and Junie work together to help Teddy reach conclusions appropriate for her age.

Beware False Profits has Aggie's Mom taking up permanent residence in Emerald Springs. At the end of the last book, Junie had decided to buy the Victorian that Aggie and her friend Lucy are remodeling. So now they have to try to speed the process upu and remodel the house so Aggie's mom can move in and open a quilt shop. I'm glad Junie is in Emerald Springs. She's such a free spirit that you just know there's plenty of room for tension to develop between Aggie and the Tri-C Women's Society. However, Junie has such an outgoing personality, that she wins everybody over.

I had just a little trouble getting to the real story in this book. I loved the beginning! It was hysterical, but confusing insofar as I could not easily determine early on how the disappearance of a parishioner who had a secret life performing as a female impersonator related to the central murder. But Richards wove that story in beautifully and it was worth hanging in until things became clearer.

The book started out with Aggie and Ed taking a much-needed vacation from family in New York. But they are not going to be allowed to really relax, now are they? Ed gets a frantic call from a church member whose husband had supposedly been at a business meeting in New York and was several days overdue back home. Joe Wagner, faithful church member and director of Helping Hands food bank, is such a stalwart, responsible man, that Ed and Aggie agree to give up a little of their vacation time to try to find out what happened to him. The trail leads to the Pussycat Club and the revelation that Joe had not been attending a conference every month for the past several years as his wife and everybody else in Emerald Springs thought, but had actually been performing as a female impersonator! How in the world are Aggie and Ed going to break the news to Joe's wife?

Back in Emerald Springs, Hazel Kefauver, the wife of Emerald Springs' mayor and Helping Hands board member from hell, falls dead during the annual fundraiser. The missing Joe becomes an absentee suspect since he had such an adversarial relationship with Hazel. Hazel's husband, a notorious womanizer, is also a suspect and he begs Aggie to help prove him innocent. So now Aggie has two mysteries to solve. Eventually the two stories merge beautifully and we find out how Joe wound up belting out Cher's old standards at the Pussycat Club as well as learning who murdered Hazel. Very enjoyable. I may have to read this one again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

In honor of Mardi Gras, here's a quick little review about Keepsake Crimes, the first of Laura Childs delightful scrapbook mysteries set in New Orleans. This cozy was a fun read for me. We've been in Slidell, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, for a few years now and I've fallen in love with the area, especially New Orleans, warts and all. I've been searching out books, especially mysteries, set in and around my new home.

In this book, the protagonist Carmela Bertrand, owner of Memory Mine, a French Quarter scrapbooking shop, comes face to face with murder. As she and her friends are watching the Pluvius parade, a float stops right in front of them and a body is handed down. An autopsy subsequently shows that the well-known and powerful Jimmy Early Clayton was poisoned and Carmela's ex, who dumped her just a few months before, is now looking to her to help prove he did not do this dastardly deed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially its descriptions of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people, restaurants, food, sights and sounds of a great American city. Carmela is someone I think I'd enjoy knowing and if she really had a shop in the French Quarter, I'd be one of her customers. She's suffering from the loss of the great love of her life and being so cruelly dumped, but manages to find the inner strength to create a good life for herself. I like women who are strong enough to let their vulnerabilities show, so I'll be reading the rest of the books in this series. I am especially looking forward to the later books in the series which deal with New Orleans post-K (that's post-Katrina for those who don't know the local shorthand).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ministry Is Murder

Ain't that the truth! At least it is in this delightful cozy series by Emilie Richards. The main character is Aggie Sloan-Wilcox whose husband Ed was recently called as the new minister for the Consolidated Community Church (Tri-C for short) in Emerald Springs, Ohio. Ed, a scholar at heart, accepted the position because Emerald Springs has a small liberal arts college where he hopes to be able to spend time doing his research.

In the first book, Blessed Is the Busybody, Aggie is spending her time getting the family settled into their new surroundings, taking care of her two daughters, the serious kindergartner Teddy and popular teenager Deena, and trying to get along with the new congregation. Tri-C's Women's Society board, however, is makingher life a little more difficult than necessary. Especially since board members feel free to pop in and make decisions about everything to do with the parsonage, including what flowers and shrubs she should grow. Women's Society President Gelsey Falowel in particular bears a grudge against Ed and seems determined to find a way to get rid of Ed. The situation does not improve when the naked body of a woman Ed had been counseling is discovered on the parsonage front porch just as the Women's Society is inspecting the lawn.

As you would expect, Aggie is strictly instructed not to go poking her nose into this mess. But, as you would also expect, with her husband's job and her family's stability on the line, how can she stay out of it? She enlists the aid of her new best friend Lucy to solve the murder, clear her husband's good name, and secure her family's future in Emerald Springs.

I really like Aggie and her whole family, kids included. Emilie Richards draws the family and tells the story with a quirky sense of humor.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Emilie Richards

One of my new favorite authors is Emilie Richards, who writes romance. mainstream and mystery novels. I lucked up on Endless Chain, one of her Shenandoah Album novels, on a sale table at Books a Million. As a former high school Spanish teacher, former junior high Sunday School teacher, wife of a former Baptist minister of music, and a current quilt enthusiast, anything having to do with any of those areas will catch my attention. This book hit more areas of interest in one fell swoop than just about anything else I've ever read.

The gorgeous quilt on the front cover caught my eye right away since my little mental radar goes haywire when quilts are anywhere near. Then after reading the blurb's promise of a story line about a church's struggle to establish an outreach program to the newly arriving Hispanics in the community, I knew this was a story that this liberal Democrat who was barely surviving the horror years of Bush II's imperial presidency could really relate to. There was no way I could leave the store without that book in my possession! And I was not disappointed on any level. I loved it, loved the characters, loved the quilting, loved the locale, even loved the church. I stayed up until the wee hours finishing it and did not regret the loss of sleep.

After reading Endless Chain, I scurried to my computer to find out more about Emilie Richards and her books. I was hoping she had at least written a series featuring these characters. Not only did I discover more books in the Shenandoah series, but I was thrilled to find out about her Ministry is Murder mystery series featuring a minister's wife as amateur sleuth.

While I love quilting, quilts and stories about quilters and quilts, I also have a soft place in my heart for stories featuring churches and clergy, providing they are realistic and respectful. And I adore mysteries! So I ordered Blessed Is the Busybody, the first book in that series, from PaperBack Swap just to see if I'd like it. I did. Since then I've ordered and read Let There Be Suspects and Beware False Profits. I'm planning to head to Books a Million or B&N or Borders really soon to pick up the February's addition to the series, A Lie for a Lie. I'm actually going to pay full price for that one instead of waiting til it becomes available at PaperBack Swap or ordering it through interlibrary loan! That says a lot, because I'm notoriously cheap!

So now, I'm hooked on both series series with no regrets. And sooner or later, I'm going to read her stand-alone novels as well. Emilie's written a whole bunch of romance novels, as well. I don't normally read romance, but I may make an exception for Emilie Richards.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Blog

I just read a guest blog on The Quilting Gallery by Hattie James, a quilter/reader/writer who has three blogs, one each for each of her interests. I had started my original blog, Quilts 'N Mysteries, to write about both my quilting and the books I've read. But I have not been happy with that double duty blog. I've been thinking about developing a second blog just for book discussions, rants, raves, thoughts, etc., but just never got the courage up to go for it. After reading Hattie's guest blog today, though, I decided I'd take the plunge and start a second blog dedicated to bookss. I chose the blog title "Betty's Book Nook" because I have no imagination to speak of. This explains a lot about my creative writing ability, don't you think? If I think of something better later, I'll change it. Maybe.

Unlike Hattie, I am not nearly brave enough to post ANY of my fiction writing on the big bad web for all the world to see, so, at least for now, there'll be no third blog from Betty Kay.

Hats off to Hattie for blogging about her interests. I've visited each of her blogs and am very impressed with her abilities. Thanks for the inspiration, Hattie, even though you don't know me and we'll probably never meet.

Tonight is Pizza Hut night and the doorbell just rang, so supper is ready. Tonight is also PBR bull riding on Versus, so after pizza I'll be cheering on the cowboys and maybe even a favorite bull or two. But tomorrow, I've got a stack of books beside the computer desk just begging for some attention.