When her Aunt Peg lands a gig as judge at a Kentucky dog show, Melanie Travis welcomes the opportunity for a road trip. Once there, Aunt Peg reconnects with an old friend, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, a former Standard Poodle exhibitor and a member of a well-heeled Kentucky family. Miss Ellie has been out of the dog show world for more than a decade, but when Melanie invites her to spectate at the Louisville Kennel Club dog show, she’s eager to accompany her.
Miss Ellie’s presence at the expo center, however, provokes mixed reactions from exhibitors she hasn’t seen in years, including some outright animosity. The following day Melanie learns that Miss Ellie has suffered a fatal accident while exercising her dogs. Aunt Peg, however, suspects foul play. Wishing to avoid any scandal, Miss Ellie’s pedigreed family prefers to let sleeping dogs lie, but as Melanie begins to sniff around, she discovers Miss Ellie had many secrets, both in the dog show world and amongst her Kentucky kin . . .
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Live and Let Growl
By Laurien Berenson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Laurien Berenson
All rights reserved.
I was moving fast.
The ground below me was little more than a blur. Scenery flew by with astonishing speed. I was running....
No, not running ... riding. I was on the back of a horse. I could feel the smooth motion of the muscular body beneath me. I could hear the creak of the leather saddle, and the steady, rhythmic sound of hoofbeats striking the turf.
Their pounding cadence pulsed through me. It drew me in and made me one with the motion. It propelled me onward, as if this heady race was the only thing in the world that mattered.
Where was I? I wondered. What was happening? Was I racing toward something — or was I running away?
I had no answers. All I knew was that I could feel the sharp bite of the wind on my face and a sensation of freedom humming deep inside my bones.
The feeling was heavenly.
It was addictive.
One thing I was sure of — I wanted more.
All at once a pale mist rose on the path ahead of us. Its silvery tendrils lifted and swirled, obscuring all view of what was to come. I found myself leaning forward in the saddle. I gazed in vain between the tips of two dark, pointed ears.
I could see nothing. The vista before me was still blank ... and suddenly forbidding. In the space of a second, the breakneck speed at which we were traveling lost its appeal.
Frantically I reached for reins, but couldn't find them. My fingers felt thick and stiff. Useless. I screamed into the wind. I told the horse to stop but my words had no effect.
Then the mists shifted and drew apart and I saw that behind them lay only darkness. A void of nothingness. It looked as though my steed and I were racing toward the edge of the world.
Abruptly my stomach plummeted as the ground disappeared from beneath us. My hands flew upward, groping in the air, grasping desperately for purchase that wasn't there. My heart pounded with the sudden knowledge that I couldn't save myself. And then I was falling, helpless as I plunged downward and tumbled into the unknown below ...
I awoke with a gasp and bolted upright in bed.
My heart was beating wildly in my chest. Mouth open, I was desperate for air. Fire clawed at my lungs. My insides still churned with the sensation of falling. Though my eyes were open wide I couldn't see a thing. Everything around me was black: inky and impenetrable.
I still had no idea where I was.
Clutching the bedcovers in frantic fingers, I swiveled my head from side to side. A moment later, my gaze alighted on the amber numbers of the bedside clock. Three-oh-two, it read.
Slowly my mind processed the number. With effort I made the connection to what it meant. Compared to my recent speed, I felt dull and sluggish as I worked to reorient myself. I gulped in a breath of cool air and shifted my shoulders, trying to ease their tension.
There was no horse. There was no wind. There was no yawning crater waiting to suck me down into its gruesome depths.
I'd been having a nightmare. That was all.
I gazed around again. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness now. I could see the familiar bedroom surrounding me. I could feel the slight dip in the mattress caused by the weight of my husband, Sam, who was sound asleep beside me.
Relief washed though me and I blew out a long breath. I was safe. I was home in my own house, with my husband, my two sons, and my six dogs.
I heard a soft creak and turned to see the bedroom door nudged slightly ajar by a long black muzzle. My Standard Poodle, Faith, the dog who understood everything about me and who knew my thoughts almost before I did, was standing silently in the doorway.
Faith always sleeps on my older son, Davey's, bed. But now in the middle of the night, something had called her to me. The big Poodle was so attuned to my emotions that she had sensed something was amiss. As I glanced in her direction, Faith tipped her head to one side inquiringly. Even in the murky darkness, I could see the gentle gleam in her eye.
As our gazes met, Faith padded silently across the room. She stepped beside the bed and pressed her nose into my hand, offering her own special brand of comfort. As the Poodle's warm breath filled my palm, I finally felt my heart rate begin to slow. I cupped Faith's muzzle between my fingers and rubbed my thumb over her lips and cheek.
"It's all right, sweetie," I said softly. "You can go back to sleep."
Faith acknowledged the comment with a low swish of her tail but she didn't look convinced.
"Really," I told her. "Everything is fine. It was just a dream."
Faith lifted one front paw delicately and placed it on the bed in silent inquiry. I glanced over my shoulder at Sam. Covers pulled up to his chin, head burrowed deep in his pillow, he was too deeply asleep to realize that his sleeping arrangement was about to become even cozier.
I scootched over toward Sam and patted the space beside me. "Come on up," I whispered. "There's plenty of room."
Faith leapt up lightly. She aligned her body next to mine, lay down on the quilt, and pressed in close. As I settled down beside her, the Poodle's warmth enveloped me.
I closed my eyes and finally slept.
* * *
"I had the strangest dream last night," I said the next evening.
The comment was delivered to a full house. It was our son, Kevin's third birthday. In honor of the occasion, I had invited some of our relatives to dinner.
In most families a gathering like that would lead to convivial celebration. Not mine, however. My relatives are equally as likely to set the house ablaze as they are to coexist in peace. There's nothing boring about the extended Travis/Turnbull clan, especially when my provocative and ever-entertaining Aunt Peg is part of the assembly.
So far we'd managed to make our way through most of the meal without incident. Minutes earlier, Kevin's birthday cake, alight with festive candles, had been presented to the room with great fanfare. Kev had shrieked and clapped his hands, bouncing up and down in his seat with glee when it appeared.
My younger son was a little hazy about what the concept of three years meant, but he knew all about chocolate cake. When I set the dessert down in front of him, Kev's first impulse was to reach for it with both hands. Luckily his older brother, Davey — a gangly twelve-year-old, teetering on the cusp between childhood and adolescence — was there to quickly intercede. Cupping Kevin's small hands in his own much larger ones, Davey also help his little brother blow out the candles.
The layer cake was cut and served and everyone dug in happily. If I were to be honest I would admit that most of the evening's success was undoubtedly due to Sam's calming influence. When it comes to my relatives, my husband is smart enough and affable enough not to sweat the small stuff. Things that cause me to roll my eyes and rail about the general state of insanity just make him shrug his shoulders and chuckle under his breath.
Lucky man. I wish I knew how he did it.
Sam was seated at the head of the table. On his right was my Aunt Peg. Now in the middle of her seventh decade, Margaret Turnbull is living proof that age is merely a state of mind. The woman possesses more than enough energy, ambition, and wit to run circles around me effortlessly. Unfortunately it's a circumstance she's not above exploiting to further her own ends. On the other hand, if it weren't for Aunt Peg I would never have discovered the intriguing appeal of the dog show world. Nor would I have Faith, or the other five Standard Poodles that currently grace and enrich our lives.
Completing the group seated around the table was my younger brother, Frank, and his family. For years Frank had been the feckless, thoughtless, bane of my existence. But now in his thirties, my little brother was finally grown up and married to one of my best friends, Bertie Kennedy. Their young daughter, Maggie, was seated between them. The child was keeping a beady eye on Kevin, seemingly determined to ensure that the birthday boy didn't get so much as a smidge more cake than she did.
Any minute now the sugar high was going to kick in, I thought as I gazed around the room. And then we'd really be off to the races.
And just like that I remembered my dream.
"I had the strangest dream last night," I said.
"Oh?" Aunt Peg looked up from her cake. "I read a book about that."
"About dreams?" Bertie asked. Her dark green eyes twinkled with amusement. "Or strange things?"
"Dreams, of course. Did you know that they're the way your subconscious works through problems while you're asleep?" Peg peered at me across the table. "Do you have any problems that need working out?"
She would ask that. There's nothing Aunt Peg enjoys more than involving herself in other peoples' troubles.
"Not that I'm aware of," I replied. "And certainly none that involve a horse."
"A horse?" Sam sounded surprised. I couldn't blame him. I felt the same way.
From across the table, Aunt Peg glanced at me sharply. I wondered what that look meant.
"That was what was so odd about it," I said. "In the dream, I was riding a horse. I've never done that in my life. The horse was galloping, we were racing like the wind. It's amazing how real it all felt."
"Real indeed," Aunt Peg muttered under her breath. I waited for her to continue but instead she resumed eating. Nothing could distract Aunt Peg from cake for long.
"Where were you going?" Bertie asked curiously.
"I have no idea. Everything ahead was foggy. I couldn't see a thing. We were just running."
"Maybe you were being chased by a zombie," said Frank.
"No." I laughed. "I don't think so."
"Was it a flying horse?" Kev asked. He has a book about Pegasus.
"No, just a regular horse. A very fast one."
"Maybe it was Willow!" said Davey.
Five years earlier, his father, my ex-husband, Bob, had surprised Davey with a palomino pony named Willow. Even though at the time Davey and I were living in a small house on a tiny plot of land, Bob apparently hadn't foreseen any difficulties with the care and management of Davey's new pet. As ponies went, Willow was lovely, but she hadn't lasted long.
"A pony," Kevin said with sudden interest. He had heard the story from his brother. "I want a pony!"
"Don't be silly." Aunt Peg sniffed. "Why would anyone want a pony when they can have Poodles instead?"
Poodles indeed. We not only had Standard Poodles, we were literally surrounded by them. And as Aunt Peg would have said, what was wrong with that?
Poodles come in three different sizes, but all share the same superb temperament. They're smart, they're endearing, and they have a superior sense of humor. Best of all, Poodles are people dogs. Wherever their family is, that's where they want to be.
Since the birthday celebration was taking place in the dining room, that meant that aside from the eight people sitting at the table, we also had six black Standard Poodles lying in attendance on the floor around us. Five of the six were even wearing party hats. The Poodles didn't look nearly as delighted about that development as Kevin did. In fact, judging by the expressions on their faces, they were feeling rather silly.
In my defense, the hats hadn't been my idea. Sam and Davey had snuck away and done the honors while I'd been busy greeting our arriving guests. But Aunt Peg's horrified gasp when she rounded the corner and saw the assembled crew — she being of the firm belief that Poodles are entirely too dignified to be treated frivolously — was gratifying enough to make me wish that I'd been a coconspirator.
All our Poodles are the Standard variety, the biggest of the three sizes. The top of Faith's head is nearly level with my waist, which positions her entire body within easy reach whenever she and I want to hold a conversation. That comes up more frequently than you might think.
Aunt Peg is Faith's breeder. Indeed she was connected in some way to nearly every dog in the room, her Cedar Crest line having set the standard for excellence in the Poodle breed since before I was born. A dedicated owner-handler in the show ring for decades, Peg had now scaled back her breeding and exhibiting commitments to concentrate on her burgeoning career as a dog show judge. As is true with many of Aunt Peg's decisions, that change in course has had the effect of keeping us all on our toes.
Faith's daughter, Eve, now lying beneath Kevin's chair in the hope there'd be spillage, was the second Standard Poodle I had brought to my marriage to Sam. He'd joined the union with two bitches of his own, Casey and Raven, both of whom were — like Faith and Eve — retired show champions. Sam was also the owner of GCH Cedar Crest Scimitar, also known as Tar.
Formerly an accomplished "specials dog," Tar had numerous Non-Sporting Group and Best in Show wins to his credit. Now, however, like the bitches, he was retired from the show ring and his long, plush, black coat had been clipped off. He, too, wore the attractive and easy-to-care-for sporting trim, with a short blanket of dense dark curls covering his entire body.
Tar was a love. He was the sweetest, most well-meaning dog of the entire pack. But he was also the only dumb Poodle I'd ever met. Somehow, no matter what was going on, Tar always managed to be a beat behind the rest. Punch lines, along with other of life's intricacies, simply went right over his head.
Our newest addition and the only dog currently "in hair" was Davey's Standard Poodle, Augie. Davey was responsible for Augie's care; and with Sam's help, he was also managing the young dog's show career. The collaboration was a successful one as Augie was already halfway toward the goal of accumulating the fifteen points he would need to be named a champion.
In deference to his long and oh-so-valuable topknot hair, Augie was the only Poodle not wearing a party hat. He didn't appear to be upset about the omission. In fact, I was pretty sure I'd seen Augie sniff derisively in Tar's direction when he thought no one was looking.
Having heard Aunt Peg reference their breed, several dark heads lifted as the Poodle pack turned into the conversation at the table. Ears pricked as they waited to see what would happen next.
"Don't care," Kevin replied firmly to Aunt Peg. "Have Poodles. Want a pony."
"Ponies are too big," I told him mildly. "Besides, you already have fish."
Kev's aquarium, a cherished Christmas present, was visible through the doorway in the living room. My son refused to be mollified. He thrust out his lower lip and started to shake his head. Despite the date on the calendar, we clearly hadn't yet left the Terrible Twos behind just yet.
"And you have cake," I added.
"Cake," Kevin echoed. His expression brightened as Sam reached over and slid another sliver onto his plate. "I like cake!"
"Don't we all," Frank said heartily. He reached over and helped himself to a second piece. "That's why I came tonight."
"And also because it's Kevin's birthday." Bertie leveled a glare at her husband. "Right?"
"Sure," Frank agreed easily. "That, too."
"Has it occurred to you," Sam said to me, "that maybe the reason you were thinking about horses is because of Peg's judging assignment at the Kentuckiana Cluster next week?"
"No," I replied. That thought hadn't crossed my mind at all.
Aunt Peg's upcoming trip to Kentucky had nothing to do with me. Bertie, who was a professional handler, was also making the trip to the Midwest. With four back-to-back dog shows scheduled to take place in Louisville, and several clients whose dogs were looking for majors, she had entered a sizeable string to show. But with spring break starting in just two days — two whole weeks of vacation from my job as a special needs tutor at private Howard Academy — I was looking forward to nothing more strenuous than sleeping late and reading several good books.
"Speaking of which," said Aunt Peg, "while we're on the subject, I have an announcement to make...." She paused and looked around, waiting until she had our full attention.
"Which subject is that?" asked Sam. "Kentucky?"
"Judging," Bertie guessed.
"Cake," Frank contributed, speaking with his mouth full.
"Fish!" cried Kevin.
Excerpted from Live and Let Growl by Laurien Berenson. Copyright © 2016 Laurien Berenson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not up to par with earlier books
Love Aunt Peg! Makes me want to visit and see the poodles!!! Great read!
This wonderful mystery will have you barking with delight, and leave you begging for more! Before I knew what cozy mysteries were, when I was reading suspense thrillers, I was trying you encourage my younger sister to read more by buying her the Author Laurien Berenson’s series because they were nice clean stories and they were about dogs. I could kick myself now for letting my sister pass them on after she read them. But I will own the entire series again one day. Yes, they are that good! Laurien Berenson consistently pens a brilliant mystery that captures and holds the reader’s attention and imaginations. LIVE AND LET GROWL is written proof of why this series has made it to nineteen books! Immersed in a world of dog shows, horse breeding, and a first rate mystery, I was a happy woman indeed while reading this superb story. With more twists and turns than a show dog going through its routine, I was breathless by the time I reached the prize winning conclusion! Do yourself a huge favor, pick up a copy of LIVE AND LET GROWL.
Melanie Travis finds herself on a surprise trip to Kentucky with her Aunt Peg. While Peg is in Kentucky judging a dog show she wants them to check out a retired race horse that she just inherited. But when Peg's friend, Ellie Wanamaker Gates, has an accident and ends up in the bottom of a ravine Peg and Melanie question if it truly was an accident. They begin to investigate and they find out there is more than one secret in the Gates family. This is book #19 in A Melanie Travis Canine Mystery series. This series is consistently good with believable, relatable characters. I received a complimentary copy from Net Galley in exchange for a honest review.
When Melanie Travis and her aunt Peg Turnbull set out for the Kentuckiana Cluster dog show, loyal fans know the trip will be adventure-filled. And author Laurien Berenson does not disappoint in this newest addition to the series. It’s spring break, and Peg has been invited to judge Poodles at the show, so off to Kentucky they go, meeting some of the series regulars there – Bertie, Terry and Crawford, top handlers and friends, who are showing. While in Kentucky, Peg reconnects with Ellie Gates Wanamaker, with whom she’d showed thirty years earlier and who had retired from the breed ring after a mysterious event a decade ago. Melanie, enlisted to squire Miss Ellie around the show, is surprised by the varying reactions to the legend in the Poodle world – from warm welcome to dislike. Ellie comes from a wealthy family deeply involved in the Thoroughbred industry as well, which comes in handy since Peg has just inherited a pregnant Thoroughbred broodmare. Peg and Melanie visit the mare and discover how much there is to learn about becoming a horse owner. In typical Melanie fashion, she’s drawn into solving an unexpected murder…this one with lots of twists, turns, Thoroughbreds and terriers. Don’t miss this new Melanie Travis adventure…horses are the icing on the fun, dog-filled tale this time. Five stars
I have fallen in love with Standard Poodles since I have read this series. Unfortunately, I cannot have that big a dog in our condo. Sigh. This book, “Live and Let Growl”, is another winner, even though the only poodle in this one is the inimitable Faith. She is enough. Melanie, Aunt Peg and Bertie are in Kentucky. Peg is judging a dog show there and working on knowing the horse business. A friend has left her a pregnant broodmare and she wants to find out what she can about thoroughbreds. Bertie is showing dogs and Melanie is along for the ride. Of course they run into murder. There are a number of twists and turns and I was surprised by the ending. It was a fun read and I highly recommend reading it, as well as the rest of the series.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Racehorses and dogs come together as Melanie, Bertie and Peg head to the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster and to check out Peg’s new inheritance. They aren’t just horsing around either when one of Peg’s old friends, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, is found dead. Accident or murder, Peg is like a dog with a bone to get answers. I am so late to the Melanie Travis Mystery Party and I still don’t understand how I have missed this series. But let me tell you, Laurien Berenson made me feel right at home. I jumped right into this story and enjoyed it immensely. She gave enough of a backstory that I never felt lost or that I was missing some important details. That is hard to do with a long standing series as this. I love these characters and want to go back up and read much more about them and find out how this wonderful group came together. The only hesitation I had was understanding the horse breeding, selling, training processes but that is a very complicated thing unless you live in that world. It was totally on me not on the author’s storytelling. I so enjoyed learning about the wonderful poodles and the Jack Russell Terriers. As a parent to two Border Collie/Blue Heeler mixes, I understand clearly how each breed has their own tendencies, traits and idiosyncrasies. No matter what they are we love them and the author’s love was shining from the beginning of this story until the end. Laurien Berenson writes a heck of a mystery too. Right up until the end we were guessing about what happened and why and who was responsible. It went right down to the wire just like a great horse race. I am excited to read more of these stories, catching up and going forward. Thank you Ms. Berenson for a delightful story to curl up with.
Live and Let Growl by Laurien Berenson is the nineteenth Melanie Travis Mystery. Melanie Travis is looking forward to spring break. Then it is sprung on her by her family that she is going with Aunt Peg to Kentucky. Aunt Peg has just inherited a thoroughbred named Lucky Luna and wants to check it out. Aunt Peg (Margaret Turnbull) is also a judge of Standard Poodles in a dog show nearby. Before checking out the horse, they meet up with Ellie Gates Wanamaker. She is an old friend of Peg's (she used to raise Standard Poodles until a car accident). Ellie is bright, energetic and vibrant woman. Peg gets her to agree to come for a day at the dog show. The next day they hear that Ellie died in an accident on the family farm. Peg is not sure it is an accident and wants to investigate (actually, have Melanie look into it). Melanie agrees to explore the possibilities (talk to some people, look at the accident site). Who wanted Ellie dead? Can Melanie and Peg find the culprit before there is another "accident"? Live and Let Growl was well-written and contained good characters. I felt Aunt Peg was little overbearing and Melanie easily pushed or manipulated. The story got bogged down, though, with all the details about dog shows and thoroughbred horses (it was very confusing). The pace of the book did pick up during the last ten percent of the book. The mystery was no puzzle despite the writer's attempts at misdirection and to lead the reader down a different path. I kept hoping for a good twist (I ended up inventing my own). Live and Let Growl can be read as a stand-alone book. The author does a good job of updating the reader on the characters, habits, and past adventures. I give Live and Let Growl 3.5 out of 5 stars. The books focus was just not on the mystery which was disappointing. Will I read the next book in the series? Yes. I believe I might like the book more without all the dog show judging details (the judging is extremely perplexing) combined with the horse information (it was a little too much information for one novel). I am glad that I did read this book because it introduced me to a new series and author. I received a complimentary copy of Live and Let Growl from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the novel.
This is a great book; this book is part of the A Melanie Travis Mystery series written by Laurien Berenson. This book can be read as a standalone, but once you read this one, you will want to go back and read the others. This is a great book with a wonderful story and well developed characters. This book will keep you reading long into the night. If you are looking for a great book, then you need to read this book. I am looking forward to reading the next book by this great author. A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
It's time for Spring Break and where do you think Melanie Travis will be spending hers? At the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster of course! Instead of relaxing during her break from Howard Academy, Melanie finds herself traveling with Aunt Peg,who is doing a week long judging stint and of course, Melanie's canine companion, Faith. While in Kentucky, Aunt Peg plans to reconnect with an old friend. Reunions are fun, however, when an accident takes the life of Miss Ellie, Aunt Peg and Melanie are fast to hunt for clues. It appears Miss Ellie has made some enemies in her life time and the suspect list includes her own family. You won't want to miss this fantastic book by the wonderfully talented Laurien Berenson. I have been a huge fan of this series from the beginning. The author tells a wonderful story and the attention to detail is spot on. This is the perfect cozy mystery for both dog and horse lovers. The relationship among the family members is strong and believable. Ms. Berenson has created a world in which it is very easy to lose oneself. I was honored to receive an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for my far and honest review. All thoughts are my own.