Excerpt/US Giveaway: Naughty on Ice by Maia Chance

Naughty On Ice by Maia Chance

Minotaur Books; on sale November 13, 2018; $26.99

Description:

When an anonymous Christmas card from Maple Hill, Vermont beckons the Discreet Retrieval Agency to recover an antique ring at a family gathering, of course Lola and Berta jump at the chance – after all, holiday business hasn’t been such exhilarating work, and their sweethearts Ralph and Jimmy have been on the back burner.

But no sooner do they find the ring on Great-Aunt Daphne Goddard’s arthritic finger than Mrs. Goddard drops dead from a poisoned glass of Negroni on ice – and the police show up to find the two red-handed with the ring. It’s clear that Lola and Berta were set up to be framed for the murder, and now the duo must uncover the secrets of Maple Hill in order to clear their name… or be thrown in the slammer. (publisher)


About the author:

MAIA CHANCE was a finalist for the 2004 Romance Writers of America
Golden Heart Award and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
Washington. She is writing her dissertation on nineteenth-century American literature. She is also the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal mystery series.

Photo credit: Fedora of Spectrum House Seattle


 

Excerpt:

Maple Hill, Vermont December 19, 1923

 

The circumstances, I do realize, were ghastly. A chunk was missing from the molasses layer cake on the kitchen table. A corpse lay, probably still warmish, out on the living room carpet. And I was aware that, having been caught in the act of removing a ruby ring from an elderly lady’s finger, my detecting partner, Berta Lundgren, and I looked as guilty as masked bandits in Tiffany’s.

The policeman, who had announced himself as Sergeant Peletier, stood over the kitchen table, wearing an Oho, what have we here? expression. “You’re the uninvited guests, I reckon,” he said. “Mrs. Lundgren and Mrs. Woodby?”

“We were invited,” Berta said coldly.

“That’s not what I was told,” Peletier said. He surveyed drunken Aunt Daphne, the ring, and the cake. “Having a bit of dessert with a side of jewel thieving, I see. Mighty funny thing to do right after your hostess has expired.”

“Aghamee do eshplain,” I said.

“I beg your pardon?” Peletier said.

I swallowed cake. “Allow me to explain,” I repeated.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan had been to retrieve the ring, pop it in the breadbox, slink out of the house, and skip town on the next train out.

“Yes,” Peletier said. “Please explain. Mrs. Goddard lies dead in the other room, and you’re here in the kitchen shimmying a ring off Mrs. Lyle’s finger?”

At the mention of her name, Aunt Daphne raised her champagne glass. “Cheers,” she crowed.

“I will explain,” Berta butted in. She was a rosy, gray-bunned lady of sixty-odd years who spoke with a faint Swedish accent and resembled a garden gnome. “What you see before you is a tried-and-true method for removing stuck rings from fingers—fingers, you understand, that have . . . expanded.”

We all regarded Aunt Daphne’s fingers, which, short and plump and swollen, resembled a litter of Dachshund puppies. The too-small ring had been maneuvered to just below the knuckle with Berta’s trick of looping embroidery thread under the ring, winding the thread tightly around the finger, and then unwinding the thread from the bottom. With each loop that was unwound, the ring edged up another millimeter. The downside was that it looked rather painful. However, Aunt Daphne, drinking champagne and shoveling cake with her free hand, had yet to complain. There really are no better painkillers than cake and booze.

“My mother always used butter to remove stuck rings,” Peletier said.

“A pound of butter wouldn’t get this thing off me,” Aunt Daphne said. “Believe me, I’ve tried it! This darned thing’s been stuck on my finger since the summer of 1919.”

“When you stole it,” I prompted.

“Stole it?” Aunt Daphne snickered, and with her free hand she lifted the glass of champagne to her lips and polished it off. “I never said that!”

“Yes, you did.” Panic zinged through me. I turned to look up at Peletier. “She stole it. She told us she did. In the summer of 1919. We have merely been, um, asked to remove it.”

“By Mrs. Lyle, here?” “Well, no. . . .”

“Sounds like thievery to me. And now, coincidentally, Mrs. Goddard is dead.”

My cheeks were growing hot. “As I said, Aunt Daphne stole the ring, and we are merely attempting to restore it to its rightful— Hold it. What are you suggesting? ‘Coincidentally’? Mrs. Goddard died of a heart attack, didn’t she? That’s what it appeared to—”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Peletier said. “It was poison.”

“Poison!”

“I smelled it on her breath. Cyanide. Likely in the cocktail she’d been drinking at the time of her death.”

“Are you certain?” I said. “I happened to notice she was drinking a Negroni. Those are made with Campari, you know, which itself is as bitter as poison—”

“‘Happened to notice,’ eh? Any chance you fixed it for her?” “No!”

Phooey. It had been Berta’s idea to carry on with the ring-retrieval job even after Judith Goddard had kicked the bucket about an hour earlier. Having nothing else to do while waiting for the authorities to turn up, we had conferred in the butler’s pantry amid the family silver. I had whispered that it was unseemly to filch a ring under the circumstances. Berta had whispered, “Oh no, we did not come all the way up here to the snowy wilds of Vermont for nothing, we are finishing the job.” I had conceded. Our train tickets had been costly.

Now I gave Berta a bug-eyed I told you so look.

She ignored it and busied herself with completing the ring removal.

“Oh, all right,” I said to Peletier with a sigh. “The jig is up. We’re private detectives—”

“Go along!” Peletier said. “Truly.”

“Ha-ha-ha!” Peletier slapped his thigh.

“Did you bring a card, Mrs. Woodby?” Berta asked. “No. You?”

Berta flicked Peletier a frosty look. “I did not expect to be asked to provide my credentials this evening. Ah! There. The ring is—” She wiggled it from Aunt Daphne’s fingertip. “—off.”

“You’re an angel of mercy,” Aunt Daphne said to Berta. “Thank you. My! Just look at the divot it left behind.” She massaged her finger, and then helped herself to more champagne.

“Buying that’s against the law, you know,” Peletier said, pointing to the champagne bottle.

“Oh, to Hell with your Eighteenth Amendment,” Aunt Daphne said. “It’s for the dogs. And politicians and church ladies.”

“Would you mind if I placed the ring in the breadbox?” Berta asked Aunt Daphne.

“Not at all. I never want to see that thing again.”

Berta went to put the ring in the metal breadbox on the counter—plink—and then sat back down.

Peletier pulled out one of the ladder-back chairs, sat, and extracted a notebook and pencil from inside his coat. He was small and wiry, with a flushed face, beady eyes, and tufting gray hair and eyebrows. He called to mind a disgruntled North Pole elf. His embroidered badge read Maple Hill, VT Police and featured a deer and a pine tree.

Cute.

“Start at the beginning,” he said.

In a tumbling back-and-forth, Berta and I explained to Peletier that we were private detectives with our own small agency in New York City.  How, last week, we’d received an invitation from an anonymous sender asking us to dinner at Goddard Farm, requesting that we retrieve a stolen ring, place it in the breadbox, and to subsequently expect payment in the mail. That we’d only arrived in Maple Hill earlier that afternoon, having taken the night train, and that we had rooms at the Old Mill Inn only for that evening. How Anonymous had not revealed him- or herself to us upon our arrival at Goddard Farm (really a mansion on a ridge above the village).

How we’d been gobsmacked when Judith Goddard went toes-up only fifteen minutes after our arrival.

“I understand that this was a family gathering to celebrate Mrs. Goddard’s recent engagement,” Peletier said. “How did you explain your appearance at a family affair?”

“Well, at first it was a bit awkward,” I said. Only Judith Goddard, her brother Roy, her aunt Daphne, Judith’s three adult children, her brand-new fiancé, and two servant women had been present in the house. “You know how it i—”

“We had no choice but to fabricate an explanation,” Berta interrupted. She was serenely sawing the molasses cake.

“They said that I invited them,” Aunt Daphne said. “That we’d met at a ladies’ poetry luncheon at the country club in Cleveland. I can’t remember much any more, of course, and poetry knocks me out cold, so I didn’t realize that they were lying—”

“Mrs. Woodby and I are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Berta said. “We were merely doing our job. Surely, Sergeant Peletier, you are able to understand that.”

Peletier snorted and stood. “Come down to the station tomorrow morning, and if you can show me this anonymous invitation of yours, maybe I’ll let you off the hook. Until then, don’t even think about leaving town. Good evening.” He left the kitchen, Aunt Daphne drifting after him with the champagne bottle.

Berta and I looked at each other across the collapsing cake. “Would it be absolutely unconscionable to leave right now?” I whispered.

“There has been a death in the family, Mrs. Woodby, and we are strangers. We should leave them to their grief.”

“Maybe there is something we could do to help—”

“There is nothing worse than having to speak with strangers when one’s heart is breaking.”

Honestly, I hadn’t gotten the impression that Judith Goddard’s demise was cracking anyone’s heart in two. Not even the heart of her fiancé-to-be. “They aren’t an especially happy family,” I said, “but I suppose none are. Happy families are a myth.”

“Nonsense. You must simply know one when you see it. They sometimes come in unusual forms. Now, come along. After we show the invitation to Sergeant Peletier in the morning, our hands will be washed clean of this terrible affair.”

I felt like an absolute gink as we sneaked to the entry hall to fetch our coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We didn’t encounter any of the family or the servants, although voices rose and fell in distant rooms. We stepped out the front door into the night. Our breath billowed in the icy air. Berta bent her head into the wind and toddled toward our rented pickup truck, an REO Speedwagon with a boxy cab and wooden rails around the bed. She winched herself up into the passenger seat.

I followed, mincing like Comet or Cupid through the crunchy snow in my high heels. I took the hand crank from the cab floor, resuscitated the engine, climbed behind the wheel, flicked on the headlamps, and we were off.

“Oh, it is so very cold,” Berta said with a shiver. “As cold as I remember Sweden being when I was a girl, but I am no longer young.” I inched the truck down a steep, snow-packed road. Bristling black forest encroached from beyond the headlamp beams. I was accustomed to the glitter and hum of Manhattan. Nighttime in the countryside was giving me the jumps.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said.

“If you slip, steer into the slide. That is the only way to avoid a tailspin.”

“Not that. The murder.

“We will be on our way home tomorrow.” How I wished I could believe it.


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The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

Published October 2018 – St. Martin’s Press

Book courtesy of the publisher

Description:

An antique shop haunted by a ghost.
A silver treasure with an injustice in its story.
An adventure to the past she’ll never forget.

Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. When she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.

It is while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century where it has its origins. She discovers there is an injustice in its history. The spirit that inhabits her new home confronts her and charges her with saving her daughter’s life, threatening to take Flora’s if she fails.

While Xanthe fights to save the girl amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave. (publisher)

My take:  Xanthe and her mother are moving to Marlborough and opening an antiques shop – hoping for a major reboot of their life. When Xanthe buys a beautiful chatelaine she finds that not only is it a lovely piece but it will transport her to another time (1600s Marlborough) and the reality of a young girl who needs her help. Xanthe will make good use of her highly developed intuitive sense – at least that is the hope of one contentious specter who inhabits the antiques shop. Will Xanthe be able to accomplish her task and save her own mother from the wrath of the spirit? You’ll have to read to find out.

The Little Shop of Found Things is the first in a new series and recommended to fans of time travel and novels about fresh starts.


 

Sunday Post

Book arrivals:  (linked to Mailbox Monday)

    

Last week on Bookfan:

   

Reading plan for this week:


 

Holiday Releases

It seems that books with a winter or Christmas theme are published earlier each year. I want to spotlight several that have arrived at my house the past couple of months. Blurbs are from the publishers.


A small-town Texas Christmas story, where hearts are lost, love is found, and family always brings you back home.

Griffin Holloway is desperate: the Maverick Ranch has been in his family for generations, but lately, it’s a money pit. He’d sooner marry one of his horses than sell the ranch. Marriage, though, could be a solution. If he can woo a wealthy bride, he might save the ranch—just in time for Christmas.

Jaxon O’Grady likes his solitude just fine, thank you very much. But when a car accident brings the unexpected to his door, he realizes just how much one person can need another.

Crossroads is the perfect place for Jamie Johnson: avoiding nosy questions about why she’s single, she’s happy to keep to her lakeside home. So she’s baffled when she gets the strangest Christmas present of all, in the form of a Mr. Johnson, asleep on her sofa. Who is he, and why does everyone think he’s her husband?


It’s a long way from New York to Idaho…but could they have found a home at last?

Dani Capelli has never truly belonged anywhere. And from her earliest days as a foster child in Queens, she would have been lost if it weren’t for her love of animals. Until high school, when she fell hard for the wrong boy, and found herself pregnant—and married—by graduation. Two daughters later, Dani realized her mistake and filed for divorce, and with the help of scholarships and loans—and a lot of macaroni and cheese dinners—she enrolled in vet school. Things were finally looking up…until her ex-husband became her late husband, in the most notorious way possible.

Now Dani and her daughters need an out-of-town pass more than ever. So when the retiring Haven Point veterinarian offers her a chance to settle in the small Idaho town and take over his practice, she jumps at it. But adjusting to the charming mountain community isn’t easy; thirteen-year-old Silver begins acting out while six-year-old Mia is growing too attached to Haven Point and everything in it, especially their next-door-neighbor, Deputy Sheriff Ruben Morales. And Dani can’t blame her. Ruben is everything she’s secretly wanted—and everything she can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

As the holidays draw near, their shared concern for Dani’s daughters brings them closer together, giving Ruben the chance to show this big-city woman just how magical Christmas in Haven Point can be…and that the promise of a home at last is very real in the most wondrous season of the year…


In this heartwarming holiday tale by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Nan Rossiter, old friends discover the best gifts are the ones worth waiting for . . .

With Christmas just around the corner, Asa Coleman has his hands full keeping up with his young son Noah’s rambunctious spirit. Whether he’s playing Santa or keeping a furry surprise under wraps, the joy Asa feels in Noah’s delight is all he could ask for as a single father. His best friend Maddie Carlson has been more than helpful throughout the season’s sometimes overwhelming rush of activities, and she can’t help but see how well she fits into their lives. But as always, something holds Asa back from accepting the happiness he deserves. Except this year, when it’s time to open gifts, something special might surprise them all . . .


In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “[Debbie] Macomber brings her signature charm to this appealing tale of an aspiring chef. . . . This charmer will please Macomber fans and newcomers alike.”—Publishers Weekly

Debbie Macomber brings us to the Alaskan wilderness for a magical Christmas tale about finding love where it’s least expected.

Before beginning her dream job as sous chef in one of Seattle’s hottest new restaurants, Josie Avery takes a summer position cooking at a lakeside lodge in the remote Alaskan town of Ponder. Josie falls for the rustic charms of the local community—including Jack Corcoran, the crotchety keeper of Ponder’s famed sourdough starter, and, in particular, the quiet and intense Palmer Saxon, a famed master swordsmith.

Josie and Palmer become close during the long Alaskan summer days, but Josie knows that, come fall, she’ll be returning to reality and the career she’s worked so hard for. Palmer, on the other hand, would like nothing better than to make Josie his wife and to keep her in Ponder. But Josie can’t imagine abandoning her mother back in the Emerald City and sacrificing her career to stay in this isolated town—not even for a man she’s quickly coming to love.

Fate has other plans. Josie misses the last boat out of town before winter sets in, stranding her in Ponder and putting her dream job at risk. As the holidays approach, Josie and Palmer must grapple with the complications that arise when dreams confront reality, and the Christmas magic that can happen when they put their faith in love.

Debbie Macomber is at her best in this beautiful holiday story about the far journeys we travel to find a place to call home.


Lose yourself in the magic, charm and romance of Christmas in the Pacific Northwest as imagined in JoAnn Ross’s heartwarming Honeymoon Harbor series.

Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Jolene Wells is forever indebted to the mother who encouraged her to fly—all the way to sunny LA and a world away from Honeymoon Harbor. Although Jolene vowed never to look back, returning home isn’t even a question when her mom faces a cancer scare. Which means running into Aiden Mannion all over town, the first boy she ever loved—and lost—and whom she can barely look in the eye.

Aiden’s black-sheep reputation may have diminished when he joined the marines, but everything he’s endured since has left him haunted. Back in Honeymoon Harbor to heal, he’s talked into the interim role of police chief, and the irony isn’t lost on the locals, least of all Aiden. But seeing Jolene after all these years is the unexpected breath of fresh air he’s been missing. He’s never forgotten her through all his tours, but he’s not sure anymore that he’s the man she deserves.

Despite the secret they left between them all those years ago, snow is starting to fall on their picturesque little town, making anything seem possible…maybe even a second chance at first love.


Christmas at the Chalet is a delicious love story about a bridal designer showing her new collection in the Alps during the magical week of Christmas where hijinx of the heart ensue.

It’s the day after Christmas, and Felicity Grant is at a gorgeous ski chalet in St. Moritz for the biggest fashion show of her career. Felicity is a rising star on the bridal design scene, and this is her best collection yet. But when her boyfriend gives her a spa day instead of a diamond ring for Christmas, she has to face the possibility that she may never walk down the aisle in one of her own stunning designs.

And then there’s Nell, the top model headlining Felicity’s show. Nell is planning her dream wedding to her wonderful fiancé with one catch: her divorced parents can’t stand each other and threaten to no-show if the other is there.

Add to that Felicity’s race against the clock to create a special gown for a prestigious bridal salon, and what both girls need is a Christmas miracle. What better place to find one than in the Swiss Alps with its dark forests and sparkling vistas?

But for Felicity it’s hard to recognize a miracle even when it’s right in front of her, and for Nell one miracle might not be enough to fix the past. Can dreams really come true or is that the stuff of Swiss fairytales?

Anita Hughes’s Christmas at the Chalet is full of romance, gorgeous gowns, and the stunning scenery of the Swiss Alps. It’s about love and forgiveness, and creating one’s own miracles during the most festive time of year.


The wonderfully festive sequel to Melissa Daley’s uplifting tale, Molly and the Cat Cafe.

“An engaging, pleasant read full of colorful characters with enough mentions of the cat cafe’s cat’s whiskers cookies and feline fancies to satisfy any appetite for a gentle, heartwarming story.”
BiblioManiac on Molly and the Cat Cafe

“Hopeful and joyous.” Screen Wipe on Molly and the Cat Cafe

The town of Stourton-on-the-Hill has its very own cat café. Resident cat Molly, and her kittens, live here in feline paradise, while owner Debbie serves the locals home-made goodies. But even in the most idyllic surroundings, things don’t always go according to plan . . .

When Debbie’s heartbroken sister Linda arrives at the café, Debbie insists she move in. But Linda is not alone, and the cats are devastated with the arrival of Linda’s dog, Beau. Sadly, Beau’s arrival is not the only bombshell – now Molly’s home is also under threat when a rival cat moves in on her turf.

With Christmas approaching, Molly is unsettled, barely roused by the promise of tinsel to play with. Fearing for her feline family she hopelessly stares out of the café window searching for an answer. Only a Christmas miracle could bring everyone together . . .


Sometimes life’s most magical journeys bring you back to where it all began…From New York Times bestselling author Emily March comes The Christmas Wishing Tree, an enchanting account of the magic and miracle of Christmas.

A man who loves adventure and the open sea, Devin Murphy returns for a short Christmas trip to his small hometown of Eternity Springs. Immersed in the joy and magic of the holiday season all around him, he doesn’t hesitate to play along when a young boy phones Santa to ask for a very special wish. Devin never guesses that a wrong number has the potential to make everything in his life so right.

Jenna Stockton adopted Reilly when he needed a mother and she intends to keep him safe. A small town across the country called Eternity Springs seems like a good place to hide from their past without any complications —until sexy Santa himself discovers her secrets. When Devin proposes a daring plan to face down the danger together and defeat it once and for all, she is tempted. Maybe Devin really is capable of making wishes come true? Perhaps in a Christmas wish they’ll both find the miracle they’ve been looking for all along…

A delightful Christmas novel in the New York Times bestselling Eternity Springs series.


 

Spotlight/US Giveaway: The Lioness Awakens by Lauren Eden

The Lioness Awakens: Poems by Lauren Eden

Published: November 2018 – Castle Point Books

Book provided by the publisher

Description:

The Lioness Awakens is an illustrated work of short poems with a bite. Lauren Eden writes provocative poetry about love, sexuality, heartbreak, and feminism, combined in a creative expression of female empowerment and confidence.


About the author:

Lauren Eden is a writer from Melbourne, Australia, who began her writing career posting her daily musings on life and love on her popular Instagram account @ofyesteryear


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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Pub. date: November 13, 2018 – Random House

Review galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Description:

Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.

When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most. (publisher)

My take:  I liked this follow-up as much or maybe even more than The Story of Arthur Truluv. We met Arthur, Maddy and Lucille in that book and the story continues in Night of Miracles. I found the characters in the small Missouri town of Mason charming and recognizable. I grew up in a small midwestern town and know “these people” and wanted to know them all – from octogenarian Lucille to Tiny, the town cabbie to Iris, a new arrival to town (and several more people). They’re all at various stages in life and learning to let go of long-held fears. I loved their courage to move forward despite their current and past challenges. The novel is told in short chapters that felt like vignettes but soon became connected. It was a comforting read that I quite enjoyed and recommend to fans of Elizabeth Berg and novels with a small town setting.