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A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

After 8 years of writing mystery and thriller reviews I felt a need for a rest.  My mother died in late February and work to do to setter her affairs.  There were taxes to complete and also a new business to start so my reading time was curtailed for a couple months.  When I finally emerged with enough time to read books again I found a challenge that was not exactly in the mystery genre, although there are murders, mysteries and swashbuckling thriller plots throughout.  I took up the challenge of reading all 8 of the books in Diane Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series– not a small task as most of her books in this series are over 1000 pages in length.

I have just completed number six in the series, “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” and I think other than the first book, “Outlander,” this is my favorite.  “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” finds the entire Fraser family together on Fraser’s Ridge in the wilds of colonial North Carolina where Jamie has been granted a large range of land to parcel out to other Highlander settlers and eventually a variety of other pioneers.  The Highlanders all share something in common:  in order to be allowed to emigrate they had to swear allegiance to the British king.  The tenor of the times, 1767-1776, makes it increasingly difficult to keep up loyalty to the crown.  Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna, and the man she meets in 20th century Scotland, Roger, like Claire, time travel through a Celtic stone circle in order to find Brianna’s father and her mother who traveled back in time earlier.  They need to warn them of a news clipping from 1776 that suggests Claire and Jamie will be killed in a fire in their home at Fraser’s Ridge in January of 1776 and they want to stop the disaster from happening.  Do they survive? You must read to the end of the sixth book to find out!

Meanwhile, there are a variety of heart-pounding narrow escapes, murder plots and mayhem to keep the incredibly detailed plot threads moving along so that it is very hard to put the book down, and especially this sixth novel in the series. Claire gets kidnapped by some militiamen who do not care for Fraser and his family.  She is accused of killing a young woman who serves as Claire’s apprentice healer, Malva Christie, and Claire is taken to New Bern to be tried.  Brianna, earlier in the book, is kidnapped by a smuggler and there is some question initially as to whether Brianna’s son, born 9 months later, is actually the smuggler’s or Roger’s.  There’s a mystery surrounding the appearance of a skull with a distinctly modern set of teeth and eventually that mystery is revealed by other time-travelers who demand Claire’s help in getting back to the 20th century.

As much as I enjoy reading about the amazing Fraser family, I am going to get back into reviewing newer mysteries and thrillers now.  A large number are still stacked up waiting for my attention.  But for those who are as hooked on the “Outlander” series as I am, and eagerly await the third season of the Starz drama (should coincide with the third book “Voyager“) I do particularly  recommend the sixth book “A Breath of Snow and Ashe” which is set in colonial North Carolina.


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Cat Sitter among the Pigeons by Blaize Clement

Cat Sitter among the Pigeons” is Sarasota, FL native, Blaize Clement’s 6th Dixie Hemingway Mystery. It’s a particularly well written Minotaur Books edition and it will cause me to go back and review the earlier titles in the series. I think I’ve read one or two before, but I haven’t reviewed any of them.

The protagonist, Dixie Hemingway, is a former police deputy who now makes her living taking care of other people’s pets.  She notes that she stops short of pet sitting for snakes because it is unpleasant to feed poor innocent mice into the gaping jaws of a snake.  On the other hand, she spends lots of quality time pampering lonely cats and dogs for owners in the Sarasota area who are out of town or incapacitated.

Dixie meets a young woman and her 4 month old baby at the home of one of her elderly clients one day and ends up being kidnapped after she leaves that house.  She is mistaken for the young mother, Ruby, the granddaughter of Dixie’s client.  She is bound and taken several miles out of town to the estate of a wealthy area businessman and then let go at a nearby coffee shop when the businessman tells his incompetent henchmen that Dixie is the wrong woman.  Later, the bedroom Ruby and her baby, Opal, are staying in at the old man’s house is set on fire and the baby is kidnapped.  Dixie and the young woman’s estranged husband, a race car driver, and several of his friends, go after the people that Dixie suspects are behind the kidnapping.

There are several qualities that I particularly like about this book.  First, her writing style in humorous, and that makes it particularly easy to read the novel.  Secondly, the characters are appealing and well-crafted so that the reader really gets in to how these characters think and why they act as they do.  It leaves the reader really caring about Ruby and Zack getting back together and seeing Dixie happy again following her grief in the loss of her husband and daughter.  The descriptions of the Sarasota area are lushly descriptive.  It is easy to see why Dixie does not want to leave even if it means breaking up with her detective boyfriend, Guidry when he receives an invitation to return to his native city, New Orleans, for a job. Dixie, as she self-describes, is who she is because of her roots in Sarasota and Siesta Key off Sarasota’s coast.

Clement’s writing would make anyone long for the white, sandy beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Liz Nichols




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