By Karen McInerney
Midnight Ink, 2013
323 pages, $14.99
ISBN 978-0-7387-3459-0
The Gray Whale Inn on Maine’s Cranberry Island is a warm, comfortable bed and breakfast inn — the kind of place tourists would love to stay. That is, until they discovered they are sharing the inn with liars, charlatans, con artists and murder suspects. Sort of takes the fun out of vacation.
“Brush with Death” is Maine author Karen MacInerney’s fifth novel in her popular Gray Whale Inn mystery series (following “Berried to the Hilt”). This is one of her best “cozy” mysteries with a solid, clever plot and carefully crafted suspense. Among the gaggle of Maine cozy mystery writers, MacInerney is among the best. Her stories never fail to entertain.
Cranberry Island attracts artists, including innkeeper Natalie Barnes’s niece, Gwen, a budding watercolor artist studying with the famous Fernand LaChaise. Fernand is well known and well respected in the art community, but a curious artists’ party at his home one December night upsets the island’s art dynamic — especially when Fernand is found dead the next day.
Natalie may be just an innkeeper, but she is nosy, inquisitive and can smell a murder scene from the mainland. Natalie, her hunky boyfriend (also the local deputy sheriff), and her niece all know Fernand’s death is not a suicide as first thought, but is really murder most foul. Getting the investigating police detectives to believe that, however, is a problem.
Fernand’s death brings many visitors to the island, most staying at Natalie’s inn: a lover nobody has ever met, a sister nobody has ever heard of, two female New York City artists who behave oddly, an artist’s manager with a peculiar past and a gallery owner who is determined to ruin Gwen’s first art show. One is a phony, one is a killer and all are liars with powerful motives.
By Tamra Wight
Islandport Press, 2013
152 pages, $16.95
ISBN 978-1-934031-86-5
It’s summertime at the Wilder Family Campground on the shores of Maine’s Pine Lake.  This is supposed to be a time of family fun, but now there is a mystery to be solved and some wildlife to be saved.
“Cooper & Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake” is a clever, light-hearted whodunnit for middle-grade readers by Poland author Tamra Wight. Wight and illustrator Carl DiRocco have produced a smart story of friendship, family responsibility and wildlife stewardship — all wrapped up in an entertaining tale of intrigue and suspense.
Cooper and Packrat are 12-year-old boys, good friends horsing around and exploring (refreshingly without an iPod, a cell phone or videogame in sight) and having fun at the lake. However, their simple summer fun becomes serious when they discover that someone has deliberately blocked the lake’s dam spillway — dangerously raising the water level — and someone is trying to destroy a loon family’s nest and eggs.
Young Cooper is a nature lover and Packrat is his loyal and quirky pal. The boys decide to investigate these strange events, but they must save the loon family first. Cooper’s parents own the campground and are too busy to help the boys (much to Cooper’s disappointment), so he and Packrat come up with an ingenious plan to protect the loons and their eggs.
Unfortunately, someone does not want them to succeed, wrecking their initial efforts while leaving a tell-tale clue behind. The boys must also deal with a threatening bully, a menacing adult, a whining 4-year-old sister and a too-curious television reporter.
There is no violence here, but plenty of well-crafted excitement. Wight also includes fascinating nature facts about loons in addition to valuable lessons about family unity, friendship and human behavior.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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