Book Review: Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson @CamCatBooks @partnersincr1me

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Beneath the Marigolds

by Emily C. Whitson

October 1-31, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

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Indiebound // CamCat Books

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Beneath the Marigolds
Emily C. Whitson
CamCat Books, September 2021
ISBN ‎ 978-0-7443-0420-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Playing on our universal fascination with reality TV, Emily C. Whitson’s Beneath the Marigolds is The Bachelor(ette) gone terribly wrong.

When her best friend, Reese Marigold, goes missing after attending Last Chance, an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii, no-nonsense lawyer Ann Stone infiltrates the retreat.

Ann quickly realizes there’s more to Last Chance than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?

Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off the island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive.

Time to confess—I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore reality show junkie. Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise, Real Housewives, Vanderpump, Southern Charm, etc., etc. You’ll note it’s all the sleazy stuff that indulges in as much outrageous behavior as one could possibly want. Do I think any of it’s real? Of course not, but it’s one of my indulgences. Hey, I’m retired with plenty of time for the semi-smut so why not?

Then along comes Emily C. Whitson offering another of my obsessions, a murder (?) mystery! Now, I ask you, how could I possibly turn down this chance?I

At its core, this is a look at the deep friendship that can develop between two women who have at least one important something in common. In this case, the link is substance addiction, a powerful thing to share. When Reese appears to be missing after several weeks at a singles’ retreat that may or may not be actually a reality show, Ann drops everything in her orderly life to go in search of her friend. What she finds will turn her own life upside down and threaten her very survival. One tension-filled lead after another turns this into a hunt for truth that may not be so easy to accept.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2021.

“Cleverly plotted…Whitson’s debut novel is an intriguing new entry in the women’s suspense genre, driven by dual first-person narrators and tension-filled parallel timelines.” — Carmen Amato, Silver Falchion Award Finalist and author of The Detective Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

An Excerpt from Beneath the Marigolds

Prologue

I knew too much. On that island, on that godforsaken singles’ retreat. I knew too much. I ruminated on that thought, chewing it carefully, repeatedly, while Magda, the makeup artist, transformed me into a life-size nightmarish porcelain doll. Ghastly white face, penciled-in eyebrows, blood-red lips. I’d look beautiful from a distance, she had told me, leaving the other part of the sentence unspoken: up close, it’s frightening. She tsked as she dabbed my damp forehead for the fourth time, her Russian accent thickening with frustration. “Vhy you sveating so much?” I worried my voice would come out haggard, so I shrugged, a little too forcefully. Magda shook her head, her pink bob sashaying in the grand all-white bathroom as she muttered something foreign under her breath. My gaze danced across the various makeup brushes on the vanity until it landed on one in particular. I shifted my weight in the silk- cushioned chair, toyed with my watch. “Magda, what do you want out of this retreat?” No response. Did she not hear me, or did she choose not to respond? In the silence, I was able to hear Christina’s high-heeled feet outside the bathroom. Click, clack. Click, click. When I first met the host of the singles’ retreat, I was in awe of her presence, her unflappable poise. Shoulders back, she walked with a purpose, one foot in front of another, and though she was a couple inches shorter than I was, she seemed larger than life. Her icy eyes, colored only the faintest shade of blue, seemed to hold the secrets of the world—secrets she intended to keep. But I had stumbled upon them just a few short hours before, and I was now afraid her gait represented something more sinister: the march of an executioner. Click, clack. Click, clack. Her stride matched the even tick of my watch, and a drop of sweat trickled down my back. Was I being ridiculous? Surely Christina wouldn’t hurt me. She had been reasonable with me earlier, hadn’t she? “One meenute,” Magda shouted at the retreat’s host. She doused my fire-red curls in hairspray one last time before asking me if I was ready to go. “I just need to use the bathroom.” I wheezed through shallow breaths. “I’ll be right out.” Magda exaggerated her sigh before shuffling out of the white-marble immurement, closing the doors behind her with a huff. My last remnants of safety and rational thinking left with her. I shoved the vanity chair underneath the door handle. I grabbed the makeup brush with the flattest head and hurried to the bathroom. I gingerly closed the lid of the toilet and slipped off my heels before tip- toeing on top so I could face the window. After removing the beading, I inserted the head of the makeup brush between the frame and glass. The brush’s handle cracked under the pressure, but it was enough to lever the glass out of its mounting. I placed the glass on the floor as gently as I’ve ever handled any object, trying not to make even the slightest sound, before hoisting myself up and through the window. I jumped into the black night, only partially illuminated by the full moon and the artificial lights of the mansion. I allowed my eyes to adjust. And then I ran. The loose branches of the island forest whipped at my cheeks, my limbs, my mouth. The soles of my feet split open from fallen twigs and other debris, but the adrenaline kept the pain at bay. I tripped over something unseen, and my hands broke my fall. Just a few cuts, and a little blood. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. I jumped up, forcing myself to keep moving. The near darkness was blinding, so I held my bloody hands up, trying to block my face. The farther I ran, the more similar the trunks of the trees became. How long had I been running? I gauged about a mile. I slowed down to gather my bearings. Behind me, the lights of the mansion brightened the sky, but they were only the size of my palm from that distance. I heard the hum of a moving car come and go. I must have been near the road. I was about to start moving again when I heard the snap of twigs. Footsteps. I stopped breathing. I swiveled to my left and right, but nothing. I exhaled. It was just my imagination. I continued away from the lights. Away from the retreat. And then someone stepped toward me: Christina. Her face was partially obscured by darkness, but her pale eyes stood out like fireflies. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. Her expression remained a mystery in the darkness. I turned around, but one of her handlers was blocking that path. Christina took another step forward, and I jerked away, tripping over the gnarled roots of the forest in the process. My head broke the fall this time, and my ears rang from the pain. Her handler reached for my left hand, and for a moment, I thought he was going to help me stand. Instead, he twisted my ring finger into an unnatural position. As my bone cracked, my screams reverberated through the woods. It was showtime. *** Excerpt from Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson. Copyright 2021 by Emily C. Whitson. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

“A fun, propulsive read…this book cleverly combines the archetypes of “reality TV” and the “trapped-on-a-remote-island” mystery that will perpetually keep you guessing.” — Marcy McCreary, author of The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon

About the Author

 

Emily Whitson received a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as a marketing copywriter for six years before pursuing a career in fiction and education. She is currently getting her M.Ed. at Vanderbilt University, where she writes between classes. She is particularly passionate about women’s education and female stories. This interest stems from her time at Harpeth Hall, an all-girls college preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee. When she isn’t volunteering, writing, or in the classroom, Emily can usually be found with her dog, Hoss, in one of Nashville’s various parks. Beneath the Marigolds is her debut novel.

Catch Up With Emily C. Whitson: EmilyCWhitson.com Goodreads BookBub – @emilycwhitson_author Instagram – @emilycwhitson Facebook – @emilycwhitson

“Exhilarating twists and turns…a fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with Gone Girl.” — Helen Power, author of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place

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Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Emily C. Whitson & CamCat Books. There will be 1 winner of one (1) print edition of Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson (US, Canada, and UK Only). The giveaway runs October 1 through November 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Review: The Pronghorn Conspiracy by Boyd Taylor @GreenleafBookGr

The Pronghorn Conspiracy
The Donnie Ray Cuinn Series #5
Boyd Taylor
River Grove Books, January 2021
ISBN 978-1-63299-329-8
Trade Paperback

This is the fifth and last in Boyd Taylor’s series featuring protagonist Donnie Ray Cuinn (pronounced like Quinn).  I did not read the previous four books, but I didn’t feel like that made it difficult to understand the character.  Donnie is a lawyer with a tragic past and a troubled present.  Contemplating what life still holds for him and finding there isn’t much, he is unexpectedly summoned to a meeting with some high-level government officials, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents who inform him of a plot by a terrorist group which has kidnapped the President and is about to steal a weapon from a weapons manufacturing plant.  They also inform Donnie that the terrorists will only negotiate with Donnie who finds this to be an extraordinary demand since he has no knowledge of the terrorist group and doesn’t know its leader.

Nonetheless, Donnie agrees to meet with the leader and see how he can help safeguard the President and prevent the loss of the weapon.  But when he finally does meet with him, he still has no idea who the leader is or why he wanted to meet with Donnie.  When the leader finally does reveal what the purpose of their theft of the weapon is, the plan is chilling and the leader’s connection to Donnie is surprising to say the least.

As you might expect, there is an attempt to escape with the President and stop the group from taking the weapon.  I found that parts of this story stretched credulity so far that it nearly pulled me out of the story.  I also found the President’s behavior in the rescue helicopter beyond absurd but since the similarities between this President and our latest former President cannot be missed, perhaps the behavior is not so unbelievable after all.  The only other thing I found hard to understand is the relationship between Donnie and his wife, Rita.  Maybe earlier novels in this series would make it clearer.

In any case, The Pronghorn Conspiracy is a fast read – just the thing for a lazy weekend.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2021.

Book Review: Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @WmMorrowBooks

Mother May I
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-06-285534-3
Hardcover

Bree Cabbat is happily married with a handsome and loving husband, Trey, who is a lawyer.  She also has two teenage daughters, and a brand new baby boy, Robert.  While helping out at the Private School her daughters attend where her eldest Anna-Claire is rehearsing for the upcoming adapted school version of  the musical “Grease”,  Bree sets baby Robert, asleep in his car seat, on the floor, at the rear of the Balcony.

It seems like only minutes later Bree’s nightmare begins.  She glances behind her to check on her son, only to find the car seat empty. Robert has vanished. He’s been kidnapped. Left behind on the Balcony floor is a note telling Bree not to speak to anyone, but to go home immediately where she’ll be contacted.

At home she finds a small bag with a cell phone and a small package of pills, hanging on her front door.  The cell phone rings and Bree answers. The woman on the other end of the phone tells Bree if she follows her instructions to the letter, and completes the task she sets, her son will be returned to her.  The caller adds that someone will be watching her and reminds her that if she contacts the Police or her husband or anyone she’ll never see her baby again.

Bree has no option but to agree. The task, while a little unusual, seems harmless.  What choice does she have?  To her horror the result is heartbreaking and devastating, thrusting her into a minefield of guilt and pain.

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve been introduced to this author.  I’ve read two other titles,  Almost Sisters and Never Have I Ever.  In each of her novels the characters are well drawn, strong, emotional and likeable people.

The reader is quickly pulled into Bree’s story.  The welfare and safe return of her son is the driving force behind her actions, nothing else matters.   But as the chilling reason behind the kidnapping is revealed her world is turned upside down.

This will be on my Top Ten books of 2021.  Check it out… I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2021.

Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey @sujatamassey @soho_press

The Satapur Moonstone
A mystery of 1920s India
A Perveen Mistry Novel, Book 2
Sujata Massey
Soho Crime, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-909-8
Hardcover

Lawyer Perveen Mistry, Esquire, an employee of the British Raj, has been sent from Bombay to the princely state of Satapur to settle a dispute over the education of the ruling family’s children. The male succession line has been interrupted by the deaths of both the maharaja and his eldest heir and now the dowager maharani, (grandmother) and the younger maharani (the mother) can’t agree. But just how intense is their disagreement? This is what Perveen, India’s only female lawyer, must discover. She is the only one who can negotiate as the two maharanis live in purdah.

When Perveen arrives, she finds turmoil and even fear as the dowager maharani has assumed all power. But is she also a murderess? From the oddities surrounding the young maharaja’s death, supposedly killed by a tiger, Perveen’s suspicion grows. As she guards the young crown prince’s life, she’s on the edge of death herself as someone makes repeated attempts on her life and on the young prince’s.

The rather slow pacing in the beginning will fool you into thinking there’s no action, but as the pomp and ceremony of the state unfolds, you’ll find something different. Jealousies large and small, the wielding of power, the strictness of the caste system become intense. The character of the countryside is fascinating, as is the political aspect of the British Raj. Then there is the matter of women’s place in this closed world, and Perveen’s growing response to the white British agent Colin Sandringham. As events wind down to an exciting conclusion, you’re sure to be riveted.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs @BerkleyMystery

Eggs on Ice
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #8
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-425-28172-7
Hardcover

Eggs on Ice is the eighth in Laura Childs’ Cackleberry Club Mysteries so for those of you who are fans of this series the characters will be familiar.  For those of you who are new to the series I think you’ll catch up quickly.  The main character is Suzanne Dietz, one of the co-owners of the Cackleberry Club and an amateur investigator.  As the story begins, Suzanne and one of her co-owners, Toni, are helping with costumes, sets, and lighting for their neighbors who are rehearsing for a production of “A Christmas Carol”.  The rehearsal comes to an abrupt halt when lawyer Allan Sharp who is playing Scrooge is murdered by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Suzanne chases the Ghost but stops when he, she, or it turns on her and threatens her with a knife.

The investigation is complicated by the fact that no one liked Allan except his law partner, but the investigation quickly focuses in on Amber, a woman who worked for Allan for a short while but quit when he sexually harassed her.  Amber and Suzanne have a mutual friend and that friend suggested Amber ask Suzanne for help.  However, it soon becomes clear that Amber has a motive for killing Allan but so do several others and narrowing the suspect field is more difficult than Suzanne anticipated.  Enlisting Toni’s help, Suzanne begins her own investigation much to the annoyance of the Sheriff and the fears of her fiancé, a doctor at the local hospital.

Eggs on Ice is a cozy mystery with well-drawn characters and a couple of nice twists.  It’s set during the holiday season and the cold and snow might be just what you need when our sweltering August/early September heat and humidity return.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: A Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford

A Thousand Cuts
A Spike Sanguinetti Novel #5

Thomas Mogford
Bloomsbury Books, July 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6328-6845-9
Hardcover

Thomas Mogford has written a stunning, wrenching thriller. It is true that the passage of time can heal many wounds, but not all. Here is an emotionally fraught tale stretching from the turgid dark time of international intrigue and sabotage during World War II to the modern century of courts, lawyers, social interactions in a stratified and somewhat isolated society. The setting of the story, the rocky peninsula limited by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, called Gibraltar, is an unusual and interesting place.

The protagonist is lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, dealing on the home front with an aging unsettled father, an adoptive son and a pregnant fiancée, Jessica, who is a member of the Gibraltar constabulary. The cast of characters is long and varied and the story actually begins in the dockyard of the Royal Navy, during the early years of World War II. An explosion kills two Navy ship workers and severely injures a third man, Esteban Reyes. Reyes is arrested as a saboteur and eventually executed.

Time passes, and the modern story develops when Spike is called on to defend a violent man, known throughout the small Gibraltar community for attacking the dying husband of a prominent doctor. Why does this happen? What is the connection between these three individuals? That mystery, that puzzle is the heart of this moving tale. As more and more is revealed, obscure and unknown connections are bared to the cold light of day. Moral issues of war and law are raised and bent in many directions.

Questions of motive, love and professional development are raised and twisted about with the relationships of the characters. The novel is packed with emotion and second-guessing and issues and Spike Sanguinetti is confronted with several decisions that affect his personal as well as his professional life.

It is a lot to deal with and the author is careful to construct a structure that retains necessary logic and fully explains itself to the reader, yet leaves one with personal questions. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the WardrobeThe Body in the Wardrobe
A Faith Fairchild Mystery #23
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243950-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Minster’s wife, caterer, and part-time sleuth Faith Fairchild pairs up with Sophie Maxwell, last seen in Body in the Birches and now a newlywed living in historic Savannah, Georgia, where Sophie crosses paths with murder.

Attorney Sophie Maxwell has come to Savannah to be with her new husband, Will. But nothing throws cold water on a hot relationship faster than a dead body. Worse for Sophie, no one believes the body she knows she saw is real, Will is spending an awful lot of time in Atlanta on a case he claims is urgent, and she’s been tasked with house hunting for them with his former sweetheart, who Sophie can’t help but suspect wishes Sophie would return to her Yankee roots!

Fortunately, Sophie has a good friend in Faith Fairchild. With teenage Amy being bullied by mean girls and husband Tom contemplating a major life change that will affect all the Fairchilds, Faith is eager for distraction in the form of some sleuthing. In between discussions of newlywed agita, surprising Savannah customs and, of course, fabulous low country food, Faith and Sophie will pair up to unmask a killer!

In a departure from other books in the series, Faith Fairchild was not the primary protagonist in the most recent book, The Body in the Birches nor is she in The Body in the Wardrobe; rather, the storyline follows Faith’s friend, Sophie Maxwell, as she marries and moves to her new husband’s home in Savannah. It’s Sophie who’s confronted with disappearing bodies, family secrets, a hostile stepsister-in-law and a new husband who seems to be a bit too close to an old girlfriend, all while learning to live in and love a city radically different from her native Long Island. While all that’s going on, Faith is dealing with family issues including her husband, Tom’s, interest in possibly leaving Aleford for a new parish and her teen daughter, Amy’s, unhappiness in a new school. Her connection to all that’s going on in Savannah is limited to phone calls with Sophie until the last pages.

Savannah, a city I’ve visited several times, is itself a character with all its history, architecture, ghosts and unique culture. Ms. Page brings this quintessential Southern town to vivid life and makes me want to go back as soon as I can.

Truthfully, there are multiple threads in the story, some of which turn out to be mysteries while others are focused on family and town issues in both Savannah and Aleford. Sophie’s husband, Will, is a private investigator working on a case in Atlanta so he’s in and out as Sophie navigates her adopted town and family but he still manages to make enormous mistakes with his new wife and is remarkably uncommunicative. It’s a good thing he’s usually quite likeable but I still had moments of thinking Sophie should make a run for it. She sticks it out, though, even when no one believes she saw a dead man tumble out of her wardrobe and she excuses a lot of Will’s shortcomings. . .until he vanishes and that’s when Faith comes to the rescue.

In a few short hours, the women solve the immediate problem which leads to a denouement that’s little short of implausible and pretty much totally unexpected. In short, this is not the greatest crime story but Ms. Page’s series is so charming overall that a lot can be forgiven and I’ll think of this as a pleasant entry featuring a young woman I’ve come to like very much. I’m looking forward to seeing whether future books will concentrate on Faith again or periodically focus on Sophie.

Note: one thing plucked my last nerve more than once. The word “y’all” is the subject of an ongoing argument as to whether it’s always intended to be second person plural or can sometimes be addressed to a single person, the latter usage being almost entirely in areas not part of the South. I’ve been a Southerner all my life and cannot imagine a native of Savannah addressing one person with this word as happens several times in this story.

Second Note: the foods described are so mouthwatering they can make you feel weak with hunger.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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About the Author

Katherine Hall PageKatherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine, with her husband.

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5/19 Review and Interview @ Rockin Book Reviews
5/21 Review @ Booked on a Feeling
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