"Hilarious one-liners, quirky characters and a lively mystery will have readers begging for more."
Reviewed by Suan Wilson
Posted February 13, 2010
Mystery Woman Sleuth | Mystery Cozy
After a fire burns her coffee shop to the ground, Maggy
Thorsen begins rebuilding her business. Her current partner
wants out, leaving Maggy desperate for a partner with a
full pocket of money. Good luck arrives in the guise of her
mercurial mood realtor, Sarah. Sarah offers her space in
property she owns in an old train depot if Maggy will
accept her as a partner. They hire an eccentric contractor
with family ties to Sarah to restore the train depot. As
their plans come together, they are plagued by accidents at
the site. When murder follows, friendly Detective Pavlik
investigates, but Maggy needs answers fast to who is
sabotaging her. She needs income and in her haste, Maggy
places herself in danger.
Ms. Balzo has some of the funniest one-liners, which will
have readers giggling throughout and then busting out into
sidesplitting laughter. New readers will fall in love with
the endearing/quirky characters while old readers will
enjoy watching Maggy and friends start a new chapter in
Uncommon Grounds II.
¬†Maggy Thorsen refuses to give in as trouble brews again -
When Maggy Thorsen‚Äôs coffee house, Uncommon Grounds, is
virtually obliterated by a snowstorm, she and her friend
Sarah resolve to reopen ‚Äď and Maggy‚Äôs found the perfect
spot near the train station, just in time for the opening
of the new commuter route. But when Sarah‚Äôs uncle dies
suddenly, in the first of a series of ‚Äėaccidents‚Äô, it‚Äôs
clear that someone doesn‚Äôt want Uncommon Grounds to
reopen. Maggy, however, has no intention of yielding . . .
Excerpt‚ÄėWhen one door closes, another's probably getting ready to
smack you in the ass.‚Äô
Nice. My Brookhills coffeehouse, Uncommon Grounds, had
been reduced to rubble by a freak but devastating blizzard.
The very livelihood of Maggy Thorsen was in serious
jeopardy. If another door closed on me, I needed at least a
window to jump out of.
‚ÄėThat's a glass half-empty kind of thing to say, don't
you think?‚Äô I asked, following my friend Sarah Kingston
through the doors of another unsuitable storefront located
in yet another unprofitable strip mall.
Halfway out I stopped short, the stress of the last two
weeks ‚Äď and a full day spent with Sarah ‚Äď overtaking
me. ‚ÄėI'd think that you, at least, would want to put a
positive spin on this. After all, as my real estate agent
you stand to make money if you find us a new location.‚Äô
‚ÄėIf‚Äô being the operative word. If Sarah found a new place
we could afford. And if gourmet coffee survived the
economic downturn. Hell, with even Starbucks having‚ÄĒ
‚ÄėYou are an idiot, Maggy, you know that?‚Äô Sarah, who had
already been heading to the car, turned back to me. ‚ÄėI
Slap. The screen door she had just exited slammed shut,
trapping me in the ‚Äėairlock‚Äô between that door and the more
solid one swinging closed behind me.
Which, of course, smacked me in the butt.
Sarah opened the screen door to let me out. ‚ÄėSorry, but I
I rubbed my rump, which was going numb. ‚ÄėSorry my ass.‚Äô
‚ÄėSo,‚Äô she raised her eyebrows at me, ‚ÄėI suppose you hate
this one, too?‚Äô
I stepped off the sidewalk and into the parking lot to
survey the long, squat brick building, fronted with dark
square windows. ‚ÄėIt's characterless. Not to mention,‚Äô some
feeling was returning to my butt, ‚Äėdangerous.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt's perfect.‚Äô Sarah snatched the listing sheet from me
and stuffed it back into her briefcase. ‚ÄėMy cousin Ronny is
a contractor and he can fix that door in ten minutes. The
space is already outfitted as a coffeehouse. Hell, what do
you want? You and Caron would just have to move in. No
build-out, no new equipment, no nothing.‚Äô
‚ÄėThat's because it was a coffeehouse,‚Äô I said. ‚ÄėThis is
the middle of an industrial park, which is why Perk 'n Stew
couldn't survive. Once the people working in the area
realized they couldn‚Äôt really get ‚Äústewed‚ÄĚ here, the place
went belly-up. What makes you think a resurrected Uncommon
Grounds wouldn‚Äôt do the same?‚Äô
‚ÄėThis is a perfectly good location,‚Äô Sarah said, a
defensive tone seeping into her voice. ‚ÄėBesides, you and
Caron know how to market yourselves.‚Äô
I looked around. ‚ÄėFOR LEASE‚Äô signs filled the windows of
not just the building we‚Äôd been in, but half the factories
and wholesale businesses on the two blocks I could see. The
strip mall itself was set well back, barely noticeable from
The only positive was plenty of parking. Which we
wouldn't need, because nobody was likely to find us. ‚ÄėIt's
Sarah seemed almost ‚Äď almost ‚Äď hurt. ‚ÄėAnd you're
complaining about my attitude? You're not exactly Little
Mary Sunshine yourself this morning.‚Äô
I sighed and sat down gingerly on the curb, thinking
about last night's telephone conversation with my partner,
Caron Egan. Caron had been ‚Äėtoo busy‚Äô to hunt for new
locations with me. After two weeks of ducking my calls,
she'd finally fessed up.
Patting my palms on the thighs of my jeans, I
said, ‚ÄėCaron wants out.‚Äô
Sarah started to join me at the curb, but glanced down at
her usual uniform of baggy trousers and flapping jacket and
thought better of it. ‚ÄėWants out of what? Her marriage
again? Tell her to find another boy-toy and purge the urge
from her system.‚Äô
Ah, if only it were that simple. A dalliance with an
acned mini-mart clerk and Caron would come running back to
me and our coffeehouse.
‚ÄėThis time it's Uncommon Grounds she wants to dump,‚Äô I
said. ‚ÄėShe claims our first year was tough enough, without
having to start all over again.‚Äô
Three or four murders, a couple of betrayals. The
occasional natural disaster. What had Caron expected? We
were small-business owners in America‚Äôs Heartland.
‚ÄėMaybe they're having money troubles.‚Äô
I looked up sharply at Sarah, who was digging in her
pockets, likely for a phantom cigarette. She'd given them
up months ago, but the reflex was still there.
‚ÄėBernie and Caron?‚Äô I asked. ‚ÄėWhy? What do you know?‚Äô
Sarah shrugged, but didn't answer the question.
Caron's husband, Bernie the attorney (yes, yes ‚Äď I know),
seemed to be doing quite well, even on our country‚Äôs
economic roller coaster. The couple had a lovely home on an
‚ÄėThey're selling?‚Äô I asked my real estate friend. ‚ÄėDid
Caron ask you to list their house?‚Äô
Sarah wouldn't meet my eyes. ‚ÄėI can't say.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou just did.‚Äô Sort of. ‚ÄėBesides, all I have to do is
check the advertisements.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt's not on the market yet,‚Äô Sarah said. ‚ÄėThat's all I
can tell you.‚Äô
‚ÄėFOR SALE‚Äô signs dotted lawns all across south-eastern
Wisconsin. Milwaukee and its nearest suburbs had been hit
hardest, but even Brookhills, farther west, was feeling the
cash-flow pinch. The little exurb, as its residents like to
think of it, was relatively affluent, but it wasn't
recession-proof. Nor was anyone in it.
‚ÄėTimes are tough,‚Äô Sarah was saying. ‚ÄėGood thing you
bought that little shit-box of yours when you did and
She was right, though I thought ‚Äėshit-box‚Äô was a bit
cruel, despite my blue, stucco walls and puke-green
toilet. ‚ÄėAmen to that. I was just lucky I could pay cash
thanks to my divorce settlement with Ted.‚Äô
Because I damn well couldn't qualify for a mortgage.
There was always that pesky question about last year's
income. Negative numbers need not apply.
Which brought me full circle to my current problem.
Opening a business had been costly and I didn't have much
cash left to draw upon. Happily, I also didn't have many
expenses. Taxes, sure. Wine, but of course. And some food.
Frank is my son's sheepdog. A furry stomach on four feet.
And he drooled, even when nothing edible was in sight.
When Eric took English Lit, he suggested renaming the
sheepdog: ‚ÄėWe should have called him ‚ÄúDickens‚ÄĚ. He's the
best of times, the worst of slimes.‚Äô
True on both counts. I'd given up mopping sheepdog saliva
off my glass-topped coffee table and taken to using a bath
towel as a table runner. On the other hand, the hairy lug
had made the 663 days since Eric left home for the
University of Minnesota (and Ted, for his slut in the big
house) bearable. Truth is, I missed the kid far more than
But if something good had come out of Ted's affair and
our subsequent divorce, it was that my life had already
been forcibly downsized by the time the recession hit.
A cloud with a tin-can lining. Can't lose what you don't
The ‚Äėhaves‚Äô, though, had lost a lot. If Caron's
hesitation at re-opening UG was because Bernie's specialty ‚Äď
trademark and copyright law ‚Äď was on the skids, I couldn't
try to talk her into doing something that might prove
devastating for them.
Still‚Ä¶‚ÄėCaron can't be broke,‚Äô I wailed. ‚ÄėI can't afford
her to be. Nobody could do this on her own.‚Äô
Sarah started to say something. Then, apparently thinking
better of it, she clamped her mouth closed and looked away.
‚ÄėWhat?‚Äô I got up from the curb and dusted off my tender
butt. ‚ÄėI'm going to have a bruise the size of a
But my friend had already started back toward her car, a
yellow 1975 Firebird.
With a last glance at the loser of a mall, I scurried
‚ÄėWait up,‚Äô I called.
Sarah stopped short of the car and turned. ‚ÄėListen, I was
thinking‚Ä¶‚Äô She paused again.
‚ÄėWill you spit it out?‚Äô I demanded. ‚ÄėSince when are you
afraid to say what you think?‚Äô
I felt a twinge of unease. Was she sick? Or were Caron
and Bernie worse than broke? Maybe one of them was sick. I
eyed Sarah. She didn‚Äôt usually mince words or shrink from
bad news. Especially somebody else's bad news.
So I waited.
‚ÄėUmm‚Ä¶‚Äô Sarah pressed the toe of her shoe into the asphalt
and twisted it, like she was grinding out a lit cigarette.
She gave me the impression of a shy kid at recess, staring
down at the ground while desperately hoping someone would
ask her to play.
She started over. ‚ÄėI was just thinking. Maybe‚Ä¶‚Äô Another
twist of the shoe.
I waited some more.
Sarah Kingston finally took a deep breath and looked up.
‚ÄėMaybe I could be your partner, Maggy.‚Äô
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