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Monday, June 5, 2023


Centuries Old Home of Orr Family in Ireland
Elaine L. Orr began exploring her family’s history in the mid-1990s, when she tried to prove a long-held family belief that Daniel Boone was a direct ancestor. Oops. Not so, and siblings and cousins were not happy with her. But the hobby that grew from that mistake has brought joy, new friends, and – finally – fiction. The Family History Mystery series, set in the Mountains of Western Maryland Learn more about Elaine and her books at her website and blog 

Following Clues to Family History

One of the jokes shared among family historians is that some of us know our dead ancestors better than living relatives. I’ve spent time sorting through Civil War records in the National Archives, ship rosters, and barely decipherable census records.


My Orr family also has an active reunion group that annually celebrates the arrival of the family in Missouri in 1837. As historian, I’ve explored traditions with dozens of relatives, many of whom shared stories through the decades. Irish traditions – Protestant and Catholic – are in my bones.


As I searched for a fresh mystery series, I realized I’d never set a novel in my native Maryland or woven my favorite hobby into my writing. The Family History Mystery Series quickly took shape. I stayed away from my stomping grounds near Washington, DC and opted for the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. 


It can be a challenge to link mysteries from the past with modern crimes. Then the Pandemic prevented me from visiting the towns and libraries that had been part of planning for the series. Fortunately, I could buy history books and people, were happy to talk on the phone. My imagination wasn’t thwarted by the isolation. In fact, had it not been for the Pandemic, there might only be two books now instead of four. 


My thirty-something antagonist is Digger, whose nickname came from helping her great uncle keep up family cemetery plots. The first book entailed solving his murder, and I came to a sinking feeling as the end approached. I didn’t want to let go of Uncle Benjamin. His dry humor and extensive familiarity with the region would be buried with him.


Thus, a surprise ending to Least Trodden Ground. Just after the last shovel of dirt covered his grave in the family plot, Uncle Benjamin’s ghost popped up on the kitchen table. Only Digger can see and talk to him, which creates awkwardness and fun plots. He has knowledge of the town and a dry humor that has led him to be a fan favorite.


Without him, Digger would spend more time looking through dusty plot maps or listening to lectures at the historical society. Uncle Benjamin’s renditions are more to the point and certainly more appealing to readers.


I didn’t expect to learn as much about Maryland’s Civil War History, including the Underground Railroad, or feel so at home on Meadow Mountain, home of the fictional Maple Grove. 


As I prepare for a weeklong visit to Garrett County, Maryland and talks at local libraries, I look forward to blending more Maryland history with future mysteries. I’ll return to the Midwest with enough ideas to write for years.


Least Trodden Ground

A Family History Mystery, Book 1


Digger Browning looked forward to spending time with Uncle Benjamin after damaged pipes put her kitchen ceiling on the floor. She didn't expect to find his body at his Western Maryland home, the Ancestral Sanctuary. Who would kill the parsimonious octogenarian? Sure, some people were mad about him pushing the historical society to find a new abode, but they got over it, right? And then she finds out he had a new 'foxy lady,' and she's not his usual type. Antsy before the funeral, Digger delves into family history, but makes an unexpected find. Between trying to figure out who keeps breaking into the Ancestral Sanctuary, avoiding an ex-boyfriend, putting up with cranky relatives, figuring out who busted her pipes, and losing her job, it's a rough week. If she doesn't watch out, Digger could end up next to Uncle Benjamin in the family plot. Spooky times in the Western Maryland mountains.


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Friday, June 2, 2023


Today we welcome back award-winning and USA Today bestselling romance and cozy mystery author Jacqueline Diamond, author of more than 100 novels. Jackie is also a former Associated Press reporter and TV columnist. Learn more about her and her books at her website.  

The Beagle Who (Almost) Wasn’t

In the early stages of writing a book (and I’ve written more than 100), my brain goes through several processes, more or less simultaneously. If that sounds confusing, it is. I have to do a lot of organizing and backtracking as ideas come into focus.


There’s the premise or basic idea and how it fits into the genre, since I write both romances and mysteries. There are the characters, and why they do what they do. In a romance, what draws the hero and heroine together and what drives them apart? In a mystery, what crime was committed, by whom, and how do I build a trail of (sometimes misleading) clues?


An image of a setting or character may help to bring the story into focus. In the case of my latest romance, The Secrets She Learns, in which a major subplot involves the cold case disappearance of a con man, that image was a dog.


While browsing through a stock photo site that I use for cover and promotional images, I came across a really cute dog with a magnifying glass held up to one eye. What a perfect partner for my detective hero!


It wouldn’t be a talking dog, since this isn’t a paranormal, but a pooch who helps propel the romance while uncovering clues. Twists and turns sprang to mind in connection with this mischievous companion.


I immediately licensed the use of the picture. After featuring it in a mock-up cover, I got back to work developing the storyline.


In my mind, the dog became a beagle named Digger. He entangled my hero and heroine, won over the hero’s estranged stepdaughter, and showered everyone with his lovable personality.


Even after more than forty years as a novelist, I’m still in awe of how plot threads interweave, emotions develop and, almost miraculously, there’s a startling turn of events that helps build to a satisfying conclusion. And that’s what happened with The Secrets She Learns. Ultimately, questions were answered in surprising ways, and the heroine and the craggy P.I. discovered they’d fallen in love.


Then a problem arose. And it was a big one.


When I sent my completed draft and mockup cover to my Beta readers, they reported back that the cute dog with the magnifying glass wasn’t a beagle. It was a terrier.


Excuse me, what?


(In case you’re wondering, a Beta reader is a friend, fan, subject matter expert or other reliable person willing to do me the huge favor of poking through my draft and identifying its weaknesses.)


 Should I make the pooch a mixed breed? Change its breed entirely? But I really loved Digger just as he was.


Back to the stock photo site I went. More browsing. More dogs with magnifying glasses. And there he was—my beagle!


Why do photographers create these funny pictures of pooches? I guess because they appeal to a lot of people who pay for the images, like me.


As for my fictional beagle... After a career of running away from various homes and being locked up in a shelter, Digger has found his forever family. I hope you enjoy his adventures!


The Secrets She Learns

A Sisters, Lovers & Second Chances Romance, Book 4 


Shocking secrets, unexpected love, a cold-case mystery—and a nosy beagle! At age 50, nurse Anni discovers she has two half-sisters, both of whom were hurt by a con man who has disappeared. Determined to unravel the past, she hires a handsome P.I., and gets more than she bargained for. That includes his newly adopted dog, who isn’t shy about fostering a romance or digging up evidence.


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Wednesday, May 31, 2023


Today we sit down for a chat with cozy mystery author Marlene Anne Bumgarner, who also writes nonfiction and memoir. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? 

When I was writing my memoir, I realized that I enjoyed the storytelling and wanted to do more.


How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? 

I was fortunate with my first book, The Book of Whole Grains, which I pitched directly to St. Martin’ Press. They published it in 1976 and revised and republished it again in 1997 as The New Book of Whole Grains. I self-published my second book, Organic Cooking for (not-so-organic) Mothers, and my third, a textbook, was commissioned by Pearson. Back to the Land in Silicon Valley was published in 2020 by a small publishing house. I am looking for an agent to represent my cozy.


Where do you write? 

I do most of my writing on my laptop, sitting at the kitchen counter. I also like to write in coffee shops.


Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind? 

I often play classical music when I write, but sometimes I prefer silence. And sometimes I prefer the clanking of a busy coffee shop.


How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? 

My characters and their names are definitely drawn from real life, but I usually combine characteristics from several different people into one character. I was born in England and raised in an ex-pat community in San Francisco. Harriet is a younger version of me.


Describe your process for naming your character? 

I wanted a main character whose name I would never forget as I wrote, so I named her after the midwife who delivered my youngest child. The real-life Harriet was a kind and gentle woman, a champion of women’s rights, and a joyous singer. She passed away in 2022. To the best of my knowledge, however, she was not an amateur sleuth.


Real settings or fictional towns? 

I enjoyed reading a series of mysteries by Lee Goldberg that he set in the community where he lives. I live in the same town and enjoyed knowing where the action was taking place, so I decided to set my mystery there also.


What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? 

My main character, Harriet Palmer, is a recent transplant from England. She keeps several tea bags in her handbag and is likely to request a cup of boiling water from whomever she is interviewing or being interviewed by.


What’s your quirkiest quirk

I have six granddaughters and enjoy purchasing art supplies or toys for them whenever I travel. Instead of buying typical souvenirs for my home, I brought a pink octopus puppet from Greece, Noddy and Big Ears books from England, a board book in Dutch from the Netherlands, and a handmade parcheesi game from India.


If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 

What an interesting question! I wish I had written Little Women. It’s such a satisfying read, and I’ve re-read it many times.


Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours

I wish I had worked harder at saving my first marriage. Of course, that means I wouldn’t have married my second husband or met our two youngest daughters or their three daughters, and that would be very sad.


What’s your biggest pet peeve? 

Writers who self-publish books that haven’t been edited.


You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 

A copy of Henry David Thoreau’s complete works, a crisp new bound journal with pen attached, and a vibrator.


What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 

Working for the Villa Hotel in San Mateo, hand addressing envelopes by the hundreds. Or, equally awful, selling magazines by telephone. I did both to earn enough money to buy a wedding dress and host a reception.


Who’s your all-time favorite literary character (any genre)? Why? 

Jo in Little Women. She felt like my best friend the first time I read the book, then years later I realized I had fashioned myself after her in some ways. I still think of her as a real person.


Ocean or mountains? 

Both. That’s why I live in California.


City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 

Definitely a country girl.


What’s on the horizon for you? 

Finish my cozy and write a second one, then return to the trilogy I started many years ago but didn’t have the skills to finish.


Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 

I enjoy writing essays about my life and sharing recipes on my blog, but I only manage about one post a month because I also love spending time with my grandchildren and working in their classrooms. I spend hours each day walking with my Border Collie and thinking about my characters and the plot, then I go home and write. Even though I’m retired from teaching, there never seems to be enough hours in a day.


Back to the Land in Silicon Valley

We all worked together. Ate together. Sang together. Learned together. We had a good life. After living close to the natural cycles of the earth year after year, good and not good, we grew stronger and more resilient and learned to manage our occasional conflicts with tolerance and love.


When Marlene Bumgarner and her husband moved to a rural plot of land in 1973, she thought of herself as simply a young mother seeking an affordable and safe place in which to raise her child.


By the time she left the land nearly a decade later, she had written two books and a weekly newspaper column, served as contributing editor to a national magazine, a college instructor, and a sought-after public speaker. Her natural food store The Morgan Hill Trading Post was the first one in her community.


Follow Marlene and her friends as they live on the land, coping with the challenges of rural life as Silicon Valley evolves into the high-tech center it is today, and the world in which they live transforms itself culturally, economically, and politically.


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Monday, May 29, 2023


E.J. Copperman is the author of thirty mystery novels. He advises you can count them if you like, but you’d have to count the first six under another name. Among them have been the Haunted Guesthouse, Agent to the Paws, Mysterious Detective and Asperger’s Mysteries, a collaboration between both those names. Learn more about E.J. and his books at his website. Today he joins us to talk about his newest series, the Fran and Ken Stein Mysteries.

Creating Characters from Scratch

Some years ago – and by “some” I mean a lot – the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series was going strong and my publisher was interested in perhaps branching out a bit. (No, there aren’t going to be any more Guesthouse books and no, that wasn’t my idea.) Could I come up with something else that sort of touched on the paranormal without being, you know, scary?


Well, I wasn’t interested in frightening people so I started to think of things other than ghosts that could play into a mystery novel series. (My editor had been clear on one point: “NO ZOMBIES!” and I was more than okay with that.) Vampire detectives? It had been done. Werewolf detectives? Done. Invisible detectives? More than done. 

But one area of the Universal Pictures monster pantheon had not yet been written as a mystery series, in particular a traditional one without the horror theme, before. The idea struck me as perfect: Frankenstein, P.I.


Before you tune up and tell me Frankenstein was the scientist and not the creature, trust me, I know. But in this case, if the creation could be a person living in present times and in a familiar setting, there could be some fun to have with it. Suppose this was a descendant of the original creature, living generations later in New Jersey (I set everything in New Jersey in those days) and trying to solve crimes because his (the creature was male until Elsa Lanchester came along) ancestor had been so badly treated by the criminal justice system of his time. Suppose he had some mystery about his creation that he needed to solve over a series of books. Suppose I had a better idea than that.


I decided against the descendant thing. It was too complicated to figure out who the mother was, for one thing, because Elsa had been adamantly against such things. And I felt that over all that time, what made the creature special would have been diluted by genetics. Thawing him out from being frozen (which is closer to Mary Shelley) was a possibility but didn’t especially interest me.


But what if this creature was a woman? What if she was created outside the Frankenstein universe? What if…


Wait a minute. Frankenstein. Fran. Ken. Stein.


Suddenly I had a pair of siblings and that’s where it took off. Fran and Ken were (when the book opens) an adult brother-and-sister pair of investigators who had questions about how they were created, who the people were who created them (and to whom they refer as “our parents”) and why those people had abandoned them at an early age, reportedly due to concerns about the children’s security?


It took a while, but UKULELE OF DEATH, the first Fran and Ken Stein Mystery, was published on May 2, and it answers some, but not all, of the questions. The Steins have opened a detective agency that specializes in helping adopted people find their birth parents because Fran and Ken have some experience with growing up knowing very little of their lineage. When they stumble (or walk, more accurately) into a murder plot that seems to have something to do with their own situation, things get complicated in a hurry.


Years have gone by, but Fran and Ken are finally seeing the light of day. Their origin story is, let’s say, unique and their attitudes (not to mention their physical abilities) might be a little unusual as well. They know they’re different and they know why. But does that mean they’re not people?


It’s up to you to decide, but I’m glad you’re finally getting the chance. 

Ukulele of Death

A Fran and Ken Stein Mystery, Book 1


After losing their parents when they were just babies, private investigators Fran and Ken Stein now specialize in helping adoptees find their birth parents. So when a client asks them for help finding her father, with her only clue a rare ukulele, the case is a little weird, sure, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.


But soon Fran and her brother are plunged into a world where nothing makes sense – and not just the fact that a very short (but very cute) NYPD detective keeps trying to take eternal singleton Fran out on dates. 


All Fran wants to do is find the ukulele and collect their fee, but it’s hard to keep your focus when you’re stumbling over corpses and receiving messages that suggest your (dead) parents are very much alive.


Ukuleles aside, it’s becoming clear that someone knows something they shouldn’t – that Fran and Ken Stein weren’t so much born, as built . . .


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Friday, May 26, 2023



Time is running out to register. On Tuesday, May 30th at 7:30-9:30pm EDT, grab your favorite beverage, settle into your comfiest chair, and hop online for a fun evening of laughs, Q&A, games, prizes, and more with 45 of your favorite mystery and suspense authors. All are welcome. And best of all? It’s FREE! All you have to do is register.


My author, Lois Winston, is taking part in this fun evening. You’ll be able to roam the various “rooms” at this Zoom event where you’ll find dozens of authors happy to chat with you. Lois will be pairing up in one of the rooms with her fellow Booklover’s Bench blogger Maggie Toussaint (appearing under her new Valona Jones pen name for this event.) You can find a list of other attending authors here. Scroll down the page for the registration form.


Don’t miss out on what will be a fabulous, fun-filled two hours!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


Today we sit down for a chat with multi-genre author Philip L. Levin, MD. Phillip has written seven children’s books. He’s edited four anthologies of short stories, biographies, coastal histories, and memoirs. His novels include cozy mystery, contemporary romance, young adult fantasy, science fiction. He’s also writtena memoir about his time as a medical missionary in Kenya and a poetry collection. Learn more about him and his books at his website and blog. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels? 

Both my parents wrote, one a teacher and novelist, the other a scientist who published several scientific articles, edited a magazine, and later in life became a poet.


I’ve been a writer my whole life, from elementary school where I created comic strips, through high school as the paper editor, as a publisher in my college dorm, to medical school, where I sold articles to pay my tuition. 


How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? 

My first work was published in my high school paper, followed by dozens, then scores, and now hundreds of pieces in newspapers, journals, anthologies, and online. My first novel was published in 2007 when I was 53 years old. 


Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? 

Most of my articles and stories are traditionally published, as is one of my novels. After a negative experience with the novel publisher, I decided to self-publish. 


Where do you write? 

My favorite place to write is on my back porch, overlooking the forest and river, the birds in the bath and at the feeder, and the glorious sunsets of Biloxi. I often write at work during downtimes and also write on vacations.


Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind? 

I prefer writing with light Jazz in the background. I can’t concentrate on my work when there are lyrics.


How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? 

My first novel was set in the town where I lived. A few of the subplots were drawn from the news around me, but mostly the plots and characters were fictitious, or at best amalgamations of many people.


My second novel was based heavily on my own life. Its plot tells of a father who, following a personal tragedy and divorce, brings his 16-year-old son from the north to the Mississippi Coast to remake their lives.


Describe your process for naming your characters? 

Names identify a person’s gender, age, and culture. I often search the Internet for appropriate names.


Real settings or fictional towns? 

In general, I use real towns and settings. In Underwater Gods, I created the underwater city of Atlantis, which is, of course, totally fictional. However, the human lives in Southport, North Carolina.


What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? 

The merfolk of Atlantis are alien creatures who have adopted much of the DNA they’ve created in their biosphere work into their own structures. They can choose to manifest these genes, so many of them look like foreign beasts, or have at least some of their characteristics. They have Beaver genes in their eyes to create a second eyelid to see under water. My merman pilot has hawk eyes. A cook has a bear’s nose. All the merfolk have both gills and lungs and, perhaps the quirkiest, telepathy.


What’s your quirkiest quirk? 

As a resident, I often worked thirty-six, forty-eight, or even sixty-hour shifts. I learned to take naps anywhere and anytime, even in the elevator, standing up and leaning into the corner. Ever since, I can sleep under any lighting, with any background noise, and in any position, including sleeping standing up. It takes me seconds to minutes to fall asleep, and I can wake up fully alert.


Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 

I presume this refers to my writing because I’m twice divorced. As I mentioned before, my traditionally published book was a disaster, economically and artistically. Yet I suppose it was a learning adventure. My first novel publication was awful, too, and I rewrote with a new cover and republished within a few months. So, in both cases, I did take a do-over.


What’s your biggest pet peeve? 

Dirty dishes in the sink. From a writing aspect, not identifying characters in the opening page. 


You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 

From a physician’s perspective, I’d need water, food, and clothing/shelter. From a novelist viewpoint, I’d want my laptop, access to the Internet, and electricity. From an imaginative concept, I’d like a Star Trek replicator, mermaids, and eternal youth pills. 


What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 

The time I worked as a microfilm operator was the most boring, with little intellectual, emotional, or ego-strengthening time.


Who’s your all-time favorite literary character (any genre)? Why? 

The scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz was clever, loyal, kind, and gentle. He led his companions on a rescue of Dorothy and never faltered in his determination.


Ocean or mountains? 

I love them both. I live on the beach and enjoy travels to the mountains.


City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 

Suburban. I enjoy vacations to either but wouldn’t want to live in either environment – too crowded or too isolated.


What’s on the horizon for you? 

I am seventy years old, after all. I still enjoy writing and editing and YouTube creation and anticipate continuing my creativity into the foreseeable future.


Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 

I never expected to be a bestselling author, not that I’d object. My bit of modest success, selling 1000 books a year, helping other authors, and my myriad of other writings, has been truly joyful and fulfilling.


Underwater Gods

While searching for his lost father, 18-year-old Michael finds Atlantis, the air-filled underwater world of the merfolk. An alien race that came to Earth 3 billion years ago to create a biosphere, they’re considering wiping out humanity due to our destruction of the planet with our climate change. Mermaid Kaphia and Michael fall in love and must work together to rescue Michael’s father and find a way to reverse climate change. 


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Monday, May 22, 2023


Letterboxing in the Woods
Sheryl C.D. Ickes was born and raised in south-central Pennsylvania where she currently lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. She writes what she knows and uses her past experiences in cake decorating and truck driving to create her two different cozy mystery series. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

The Woods Have Secrets

Like nature? Do you go for walks anywhere outside your house? Have any bored children? Like treasure hunts or books about them? Try letterboxing! It is relatively inexpensive, and you doesn’t need to learn a bunch of new skills. The “treasure” you find will not bring you financial wealth but can make you a happier, and perhaps more relaxed, person. There are two free websites, www.letterboxing.org and www.atlasquest.com , that you can access to guide you through this activity and answer most, if not all, questions you may have.


Letterboxes exist in every American state and in some other countries, like Scotland and England. I enjoy checking out the websites and finding out how many boxes are located in my area or the areas that I will be traveling to. I always print out or take screenshots of the clues, because cell reception may be nonexistent. New boxes may be added at any time, old ones retired, damaged or stolen. I found one box that had not been located for twelve years! 


And this is the part of the blog, where I give you a warning, maybe not about dragons, but about things that can bite or sting. I suggest carrying a walking stick for poking gently into holes before you reach your hand into a dark spot. Safety is something to keep in mind. I usually have a friend or family member along. Also, if clues trip me up, another set of eyes is always helpful. If I misread my compass, which has occurred in the past, someone can point out the error of my ways.


You can also learn from letterboxing clues, whether it’s random fun facts or something historical, like where a famous person lived or was buried. You may learn to look at objects with a different perspective and find fantastic things in nature: like three “golden” rings that naturally grew high up on a tree’s trunk, or that the top of one tree in the winter timeframe could look like a human fist thrust into the air. 


Anyone can hide a box. Some box planters choose clues from popular tv shows or movies.


If you choose to accept these fun missions, you’ll need your own personal letterboxing kit. My kit consists of a rubber stamp, a black ink stamp pad, a pen, and individual cardstock cards (instead of a tablet or journal). Once you assemble a kit and get your clues, you follow the clues to find the hidden letterbox. 


Letterboxes are hidden, not buried. Finders need to keep open minds as they follow clues to find a “box” that may not be a box, but a container of various shapes. An important part of letterboxing is to keep an eye out for others. You want to keep the location of the boxes a secret. 


Once you find your “treasure,” move slightly away and have fun. One tip I try to keep in mind when I first open the box is to study it and try to remember how it is packed, so I can repack it later. You stamp your stamp in the provided tablet or journal. I add my letterbox name, the town where I’m from, and the date. I always take a few minutes to flip through the box’s journal to see who else has found the box and where they hail from. 


I live in Pennsylvania and have seen some from as far west as California and Hawaii, others as far south as Florida, and many from my local area and in-between. Then, I stamp the box’s stamp on one of my cardstock cards and add the date and the stamp’s letterbox number (it will be listed by the box’s name at the top of the clues.) I repack the box and return it to where I had found it, again without others seeing. Being stealthy is part of the fun!


In the second book of my Slice of Life cozy mystery series, Murder in the Woods, the main character Alexandra letterboxes at a campground. She introduces some young friends to letterboxing and it plays a big part in the story. 


I hope you not only enjoy reading my book, but give letterboxing a try, and have a lot of fun!


Murder in the Woods

A Slice of Life Mystery, Book 2 

Alexandra and Caitlin go to a campground to participate in a friend's wedding and to make the cake. They are looking forward to visiting their old friend and her family. After the caterer is found dead, Alex and Cat are accused of the deed. As more friends and guests arrive, they work to clear their names and to make sure their friend's wedding goes off without a problem. But after more attacks and an attempted murder, they realize that not only their goal, but their very lives are in peril.


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