COLD HARD NEWS

By Maureen Milliken

S & H Publishing, 2015

302 pages, $14.99

Maine reportedly has the lowest crime rate in the nation, but Maine mystery writers love to stack up dead bodies at an alarming pace in seemingly idyllic small towns. And the Franklin County town of Redimere has a murder rate to rival Baltimore.

“Cold Hard News” is the first book in a new mystery series by Maureen Milliken, a local newspaper editor with a keen nose for news, clues and solid storytelling. Her accidental sleuth is Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea, the editor of Redimere’s paper, the “Peaks Weekly Watcher.” Bernie is a former hotshot big-city reporter, now treading lightly through the minefield of small-town politics, snarky gossip and petty rivalries. The biggest story she’s covered so far is the unsolved crime of garbage throwing in town.

Then a dead body is found frozen in a snowplow-created roadside snow berm. This is big news, especially when it is determined that this is not an accidental death. Bernie is single, attractive and never lets the facts get in the way of a good story, so when she pokes around in the victim’s trailer and post office box (illegal searches), she discovers evidence but fails to tell the police.

The police chief, Pete Novotny, is a former Philadelphia homicide cop with his own baggage, and he is furious with Bernie for lots of reasons. But there is a romantic spark there. How Pete got his job begins to smell, as the investigation tenuously links an old cop’s tragic death months before, a trigger-happy landowner, an odd snowmobile accident, a couple of slack-jawed losers driving an ice cream truck, a tricky code in a notebook and two Heckle and Jeckle cops who act suspiciously.

Dead bodies quickly pile up and soon it’s just Bernie and Pete against a vicious, cold-blooded killer.

THE RIGHT-SIZE FLOWER GARDEN

By Kerry Ann Mendez

St. Lynn’s Press, 2015

178 pages, $18.95

About gardening, American essayist Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900) once wrote: “What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.” That wise comment applies to men and women, especially as we get older and knees creak as much as backs.

For gardeners who are overwhelmed by the size, complexity, costs, chores and maintenance of their gardens, garden consultant Kerry Ann Mendez has a simple program for garden downsizing. Her latest book, “The Right-Size Flower Garden,” is an attractively illustrated, common-sense approach to creating a manageable garden full of beauty and plant diversity.

Mendez is an award-winning horticulturist and popular author, “a passionate perennialist,” who lives in Kennebunk. She recognizes that as we get older those large, chore-intensive gardens we enjoyed 10 or 20 years ago can become a financial and physical burden.

Her solution — downsize the garden and focus on plants, shrubs, vines and ornamental trees that are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, erosion-controlling, weed-suppressing and insect and disease resistant. Sound easy? Actually, it is.

Mendez discusses how to dig up or plow under plants without feeling guilty, as well as how to properly select foliage based on color, texture, height, spread, water, sunlight, growing habits and imagination. And she offers many plant recommendations with photos and plant data. She also smartly tells why we should get rid of ponds, waterfalls, swimming pools and lawns.

Her suggestions and tips are elegantly simple and well-supported with beautiful photographs of flowers and shrubs, as well as before-and-after garden scenes. Her goal is to create the “almost autopilot garden,” and add years of gardening enjoyment for everyone.

For more excellent related reading, see “Gardening For A Lifetime: How To Garden Wiser As You Grow Older” by Sydney Eddison (Timber Press, 2010).

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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