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Betsy Brannon Green and Kathi Oram Peterson have come up with two mysteries that are opposites in many ways. Both are intriguing and hard to put down. Both have small town settings, but there the similarities end. Green’s Puzzle Pieces is set in the deep South and the characters are ordinary Southern people to the core. Peterson’s Star-Struck revolves around a group of famous Hollywood actors vacationing in Idaho’s Snake River country and a rural doctor.

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PUZZLE PIECES by Betsy Brannon Green

It’s back to Haggerty in Betsy Brannon Green’s newest mystery, Puzzle Pieces. Even Miss Eugenia is challenged when it comes to solving a hundred year old murder mystery. A nearly hundred-year-old mystery isn’t the only mystery facing the intrepid sleuth. Her friend, Miss Violet has a niece, Presley DeGraff, who suddenly arrives in Haggerty, presumably to join her aunt’s law practice, but the young woman is clearly harboring secrets. Complicating Miss Eugenia’s sleuthing activities is finding herself the unexpected guardian of George Ann Simmons, an obnoxious neighbor who has undergone some extreme personality changes.

Aided by two unlikely conspirators, Presley DeGraff, escapes from a tightly secured mental facility. Making her way to a storage unit she has ignored for years, she finds her deceased father’s Aston Martin to begin her trip from Ohio to Georgia. Following a few complications she’s on her way, only to have the car die a few miles short of her aunt’s house. A tow truck is called and Presley meets Mac. As their friendship grows she learns he was once the town’s sports hero until he messed up in a pro game, his ex-wife has a claim on everything he makes, and he’s a descendant of the town’s most fabled couple. Everything is set to go well for Presley until Miss Eugenia’s dog, Lady, digs up a skeleton in Aunt Violet’s back yard.

Suddenly in addition to handsome Mac and his two brothers, Presley finds herself surrounded by elderly ladies including ninety-nine-year-old Loralee, the only person around who might remember the murder victim. Small town gossip and speculation spills the story of the find onto television and Presley finds she is no longer safely hidden in Haggerty.

Green is a master at creating small town Southern characters with their distinctive vocabulary, involvement in each other’s lives, and commitment to community values. Fans of Miss Eugenia are already familiar with her mixture of nosiness and real concern for others. She has just the right combination of adherence to society’s traditional mores and a savvy acceptance of today’s realities. Presley and Mac are also realistic characters with whom the reader will easily identify. Each secondary character is distinct, realistic, and adds to the story in a meaningful way.

Not only the characters, but also the setting for this novel enhances the story, lending legitimacy to this double mystery and reveals the author’s firsthand knowledge of a southern small town. The plot builds nicely from an intriguing beginning that keeps the reader searching for an explanation until the denouement begins to unfold. There are several sub plots with their resolutions that are set in place like puzzle pieces that add to the overall puzzle. Though the story involves a serious mystery, Green cleverly introduces bits of humor at strategic places.

Betsy Brannon Green has lived most of her life in the South. She and her husband make their home in Bessemer, Alabama, where they have raised their eight children. Puzzle Pieces is her twentieth LDS novel.

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PUZZLE PIECES by Betsy Brannon Green, published by Covenant Communications, 309 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available on CD, MP3, and for e-readers.

9781680479942

STAR-STRUCK by Kathi Oram Peterson

Everyone seems to experience that strange phenomena sometime in their life where something goes wrong and suddenly they’re dealing with multiple disasters. Mercedes Grant finds herself in that kind of situation when she finishes a film that seems to tax her strength almost to the breaking point. Then she receives a death threat phone call. With two months until her next movie starts filming, she flees to her luxury cabin in Idaho. Thinking no one but her bodyguard and her cabin’s caretakers know her whereabouts, she is shocked when odd things begin to happen. Her cold gets worse and she feels incredibly weak and tired. She knows she needs to see a doctor, but doesn’t want anyone to recognize her. Wearing dark glasses and using a fake name she visits the closest clinic where she meets Doctor Luke Parker and his ninety-year-old nurse.

Luke Parker is a widower with a teenage daughter. His wife died of an adult form of leukemia and he is immediately concerned when he recognizes the same symptoms for that dreadful form of cancer in his new patient, a famous movie star , attempting to conceal her identity. Soon it becomes difficult to separate his professional and private concern for Mercedes. Complications arise when her parents, who are divorced, both show up at her cabin followed by her most recent co-star and a sleazy paparazzi reporter. Her bodyguard returns from visiting his grandmother and gets in a fight with the reporter. In spite of the leukemia and the obvious attention of a dangerous stalker, Mercedes is determined to keep her commitment to fly to Paris to film her next movie. Luke fears doing so could jeopardize her chances for survival. The stalker has his own plans for her.

Readers will enjoy the characters in this story. It doesn’t quite fit to say they’re realistic because being unrealistic is part of Mercedes’ character. She has escaped her feuding parents and sense of being unloved by them by losing herself in the roles she plays for the big screen and by retreating to her solitary mountain cabin between movies. Luke is a fun loving, likable man who feels a strong sense of responsibility toward his patients and his daughter, but he too is a little bit of an escapist from reality who shies away from caring for another woman as much as he cared for his wife and is leery of treating a cancer patient, though he once had planned to become an oncologist. All of the characters are complicated to some extend which adds to the tension of solving who is threatening to kill Mercedes. Even the minor characters are great, especially Luke’s elderly office nurse.

Peterson incorporates faith in a higher being into the story without being preachy. There are a few scenes that go on a little long and the wrap up scenes happen too quickly, but overall this is one of those books the reader will find difficult to put down. Between interesting characters and a suspenseful mystery, it won’t disappoint.

Kathi Oram Peterson has an English degree from the University of Utah. After raising three children she returned to school for her degree. She worked for several years writing and editing children’s books for a curriculum publisher, but since retiring she has turned her attention to writing novels. Star-Struck is her tenth novel. She grew up in Idaho and has retained a love for that state’s beautiful wild areas though she and her husband now live in Utah.

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STAR-STRUCK by Kathi Oram Peterson, published by Covenant Communications, 269 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.