Gizzy’s pick: Neighing with Fire by Kathryn O’Sullivan

10982781_681149715347165_297454266350883030_nIt isn’t summertime without a new installment from the Colleen McCabe mystery series! Set in a tranquil coastal town where wild horses run free and dead bodies pop up from underneath the sand, how could I ask for a better beach read?

23014755In this much-anticipated third installment, the mystery begins when a hurricane swoops into town, unearthing a carefully buried dead man from underneath a boardwalk. Turns out, it’s just some random dude with no personal connections to anyone in town. When an arsonist starts running amok, Colleen—the local fire chief—must piece together the clues before the whole town goes up in smoke.

Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on how awesome it is that our leading lady is the head honcho of a firehouse? She’s not the queen of a quilting bee, or an owner of a scrapbook shop. Nope, this red-headed sleuth is out there saving lives and delegating orders to an all-male team of firefighters. You go girl!

With some help from her trusty sidekicks, she pieces together the clues that all seem to lead to the town’s wealthy developer, Pinky Salvatore.  In true Murder She Wrote fashion, Pinky becomes the prime suspect after he has a heated confrontation with a soon-to-be dead man. But why would Pinky—the town’s beloved benefactor—burn a man to death in one of his own properties? What motive would he have for killing a virtual stranger?

Nope, I don’t buy it. Neither does Colleen, who may or may not be crushing on Pinky. You see, despite her budding romance with the town sheriff, Bill Dorman, there seems to be a spark –pun intended—between those two. As her romance fires up with Bill, she’s also feeling a pull toward the flirtatious Italian stallion. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bill is sweet and all, but I’m really rooting for the dark horse waiting in the wings. I’m hoping that in the near future, wild horses won’t keep those two from giving into their desires. Oh how I love a good pun!

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

As I write this with my little gray cat in my lap, I should note that this book is a surefire (oops, another pun!) hit for animal rescue enthusiasts. There’s a slew of loveable characters who are putting their lives at risk to save endangered birds and horses.  And, of course, Colleen has a couple four-legged partners in crime: a border collie named Sparky, and a feisty kitty named Smoky. Notice a theme here with the names?

Pea_Island-Corolla_10-2-08_0240 If you love a good light-hearted mystery with romantic tension, beautiful scenery and eccentric, animal-loving characters, this mystery series is for you! With so many suspects to choose from, I enjoyed playing the guessing game until the very last chapter. I always get fooled by those darn red herrings!

Murder on the Hoof: A Mystery by Kathryn O’Sullivan

18404182It’s summertime and you know what that means. Lots and lots of easy breezy beach reads filled with murder, mayhem, furry four-legged sidekicks and sizzling romance! This is the time of year when people travel the world and experience idyllic touristy towns for themselves. But to be honest with you, I’d much rather spend my summer doing absolutely nothing but reading on my back porch with my fur babies and a pitcher of sangria. No need to suffer the indignities of air travel, or shell out hundreds of dollars on overpriced hotels. For the mere price of a paperback, I can choose my own destination without ever having to wrestle with my luggage. Oh how I love reading!

For my first summer getaway, I traveled to North Carolina’s Corolla Island, where wild horses roam free and eccentric townsfolk run amok. There are also plenty of hunky firefighters who put their lives on the line to save their beloved beach town from going up in smoke. Seeing as how this is a sleepy little tourist town, you’d think that firefighters would have a pretty cushy job. Well think again! Dead bodies have a way of popping up in the most unexpected places. As for the suspects, it’s pretty much fair game. Even the old bitties seem to be stashing some skeletons in their closets. Oh yes, Corolla has a seedy underbelly filled with murder, blackmail, lies and deceit. It’s like Cabot Cove, only there’s a lot more eye candy for the ladies!

The mystery begins when Fire Chief Colleen McCabe stumbles upon a dead body after a rather elaborate training exercise on the beach. As part of the mock fire emergency, the community’s acting troupe posed as bloodied victims. Even the town mortician pitched in by painting their bodies with fake gore. It all seemed to be running smoothly until one of the “victims” stopped moving…and breathing altogether.SpanishMustangsOfCorolla

As Colleen investigates the crime, she discovers that the 60-something murder victim had some dark secrets of her own, and quite a few of the townies had some pretty valid reasons for wanting her dead. Considering that practically the entire town was at the murder scene, Colleen has her work cut out for her.  With some help from the town sheriff (and potential boyfriend!) Bill Dorman and her trusty four-legged sidekicks, she pieces together clues and narrows down the slew of suspects.

The plot thickens when a hotshot movie starlet starts following Colleen all around town to research her next movie role. Not only is she interfering with the investigation, she’s also Bill’s ex fiancé! If that’s not bad enough, another member of the acting troupe turns up dead—and it’s only a matter of time until the killer strikes again.

I’ll stop right here before I reveal any spoilers, but I will say that the killer was way far down on my suspect list. This is a fun jigsaw-puzzle of a mystery that will keep you guessing until the climactic town theater production. What really makes this mystery series special is the protagonist. I love that she’s defying gender roles by heading up a fire department. She’s strong, fearless, and respected by all her employees. Yet she’s also dealing with insecurities and boy troubles that resonate with women readers. I should also mention that her sleuthing sidekick, Myrtle Crepe, is a real kick in the pants. Her antics are amusing, yet she doesn’t go over the top with the trash talking and zany shenanigans…that can get old really fast.  I’m excited to see what lies in store for their next adventure. And I’m really looking forward to seeing how Bill and Colleen’s romance develops. It looks as though a dark horse named Pinky might be waiting in the wings—and I can’t wait to see how this fledgling love triangle collides!

If you’re new to this mystery series, you’re in for a real treat. Check out my review of the first installment, Foal Play.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Foal Play by Kathryn O’Sullivan

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too wordy.

16049609From the publisher: Colleen McCabe is enjoying an uneventful summer in North Carolina’s Outer Banks supervising her firefighters, making rounds with her Border collie, Sparky, and keeping an eye on the wild horses escaped from the local sanctuary. But when a dead body washes up on shore, she knows trouble has arrived in Corolla.

Colleen is ready to start work on the investigation, but much to her irritation, her best friend, Sheriff Bill Dorman, makes it clear he doesn’t want her butting her nose in or poking around. The stubborn Colleen, however, is not so easily deterred. When a man with a gun is spotted lurking around the lighthouse and her former school teacher’s house explodes, she adds arson and a second suspicious death to her informal investigation.  Colleen soon finds herself juggling her job, amorous advances from the town’s developer, and intrusions from the local press, all while keeping information from Bill. Her secret sleuthing quickly comes to an end, however, when a bigger threat enters the picture.

The biggest selling point: It’s a tossup between an eclectic cast of loveable characters and the gorgeous coastal setting. If I had to choose, I’d say the characters really stole the show.  Colleen embodies everything I love in a female protagonist. She’s fearless, strong-willed, witty – and an animal lover to boot. Plus she’s a firehouse chief, which is quite impressive all in itself! Her colorful sidekicks were all very amusing, especially the flirtatious real estate developer, Pinky Salvatore, who habitually summoned her to his bachelor pad with smoke signals.  But most of all – I enjoyed Colleen’s horse-herding border collie, Sparky.

What irked me: I can’t go into details because I’d give the whole thing away, so I’ll just say that a major component of the story requires a suspension of disbelief. To be honest, it didn’t really bother me because I was too busy zipping through the pages to find out whodunit!

This book is best paired with: A tequila sunrise and the Endless Summer soundtrack.

Overall assessment:  If you love animals, charming small-town settings and entertaining characters, this book’s for you. The mystery unfolds at a steady pace, and even the most seasoned mystery buffs are likely to be surprised by the ending.  All in all, this is one heck of a debut, and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment. Want to know more about this talented new author? Check out her Q&A on Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and More.