Friday, September 22, 2017

Center Stage

Magnolia Steele believes she is at the top of game when she is cast in the starring role in Fireflies at Dawn on Broadway. But before her second curtain call, she is involved in a full blown brawl on stage during the show.

Forced to flee, she returns home to Franklin, Tennessee, after a 10-year absence. In Center Stage by Denise Grover Swank nothing prepares Magnolia for her return home. Haunted by terrifying events she cannot remember 10 years ago when she ran away from home right after her high school graduation, Magnolia never thought she would return home.

When she shows up at home, her mother's reaction is cold and angry, but she takes her in. Right from the start, her mother pushes her to work for the family catering company in the background. Although her mother doesn't want Maggie as a waitress at a country singer Luke Powell's party, she is thrust into it.

Unfortunately Magnolia encounter a sleazy agent Max Goodwin from her past and immediately
engages in a very public argument with him. When Magnolia discovers him dead in a compromising position hours later, she knows she will be in the spotlight, but not on a Broadway stage.

In addition she is beginning to remember bits of what happened the night she ran away and the growing horror of the event torments her. When she receives a text message reading, "Welcome home, Magnolia. I've been waiting" she is terrified.

Along with her newly discovered sister-in-law Belinda, Magnolia tries to solve the crime and keep herself out of jail. Belinda a hyper-enthusiastic wedding planner jumps into solving the case with both feet.

This is a tense mystery with another mystery yet to follow as Center Stage does not solve Magnolia's recurring nightmare. I am looking forward to the next book to see where it leads.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Cajun Christmas Killing

Another fun caper starring Maggie Crozat and her lively family by Ellen Byron. In A Cajun Christmas Killing the Crozats are in the thick of building the traditional structure for the bonfires along the river. Over the years the bonfires had evolved into a tradition of lighting the way for the Cajun Santa Claus, Papa Noel, on Christmas Eve.

There's trouble at the family plantation. A hostile takeover by outside investors to purchase Uncle Tig's Preferred Property Collection unfortunately includes Crozat. The investment company is owned by Steve Harmon and coincidentally as the offer [s being crafted, bad reviews of the various properties begin to appear on the internet.

On the homefront, a strange unaccompanied man is a guest at the B&B and he is constantly taking notes. Maggie worries he might be a blogger and is planning to write negative reviews of the B&B.  Maggie tries to devise a plan to help her Uncle Tig, but runs across the very Steve Harmon
and he turns out to be her random guest, Don Baker. After a confrontation with just about everyone in the B&B and Maggie's boyfriend Detective Bo Durand, Steve Harmon is found dead in the men's parlor of Doucet Plantation.

Complicating matters is Maggie's ex-boyfriend from New York, in Pelican to try to reconcile. The Crozat family has a lot on their plate including Ty's trip to the hospital.

In charge of the investigation is Maggie's arch nemesis Rufus Durand and there are no end of suspects including the entire Crozat family and Bo.
A Cajun Christmas Killing is chock full of Louisiana flavor and plenty of bayou characters and traditions to make you feel as if you are there with them. Love these books. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Interview with Ellie Alexander

How many books have you published?
I write multiple mystery series. Death On Tap will be my eleventh published book. (It will be released on October 3.) I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about how many books I have floating around in the world.

How did you become interested in writing?
I was an avid reader as a child. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. My mom would take me and my brother to the library once a week and I would return home with a stack of books that I would devour in a matter of days. Reading really ignited my desire to write. I loved being able to travel to distance places through the pages of a book. Throughout my early and middle childhood, I wrote tons of stories, including my first mystery which I wrote in second grade. It was titled The House on the Haunted Hill and had plenty of spooky cobwebs and creepy sounds—like footsteps in a creaky attic—but absolutely no plot!

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
I’m an early riser and a creature of habit. After a leisurely cup of coffee (or two or three cups of coffee) I start writing first thing. I write 2,000 words every day. Sometimes that might take me a few hours and sometimes it takes me the entire day. As soon as I hit my word count I get outside and take a long walk. I find the best ideas and breakthroughs tend to happen when I’m not in front of the computer screen. Walking helps clear my head and make space for new ideas. When I’m working on a manuscript I don’t edit it at all as I go. I keep a notebook next to my laptop and will jot down things that I know I want to change later, but I don’t do any actual editing. Once I have a complete first draft I print it out, let it sit for a few weeks, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to start editing and incorporating any changes I noted during the initial drafting process.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
Historically I’ve always plotted the entire book. One of the best things about mysteries, in my opinion, is that the reader has the same opportunity as the sleuth to piece together the clues and figure out whodunit. Outlining helps give me a direction and flesh out each suspect and what they are lying about and hiding. That in turn embeds red herrings into the plot. If every character is lying about something, then the odds are good that the reader will suspect each of them at some point. However, since Death On Tap is my eleventh book I decided to toss out my outline and try writing without a road map. I think sometimes you have to shake things up. It was a very different experience to write without a solid plan, but I think was a good challenge for me and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
Yes. The settings in all of my books are real places. I want the reader to feel completely immersed into my character’s world, and I love getting to write about places that are near and dear to my heart. My Bakeshop Mysteries are set in Ashland, Oregon which is home to the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It is not uncommon to see someone wandering around Ashland’s quaint streets
wearing a court jester costume. That might not be true if I set the book somewhere else. Death On Tap is set in the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Washington, where every building is designed to resemble a German alpine village. Walking through Leavenworth’s downtown feels as if you’re in Europe with window boxes overflowing with bright red geraniums, the smell of pretzels and bratwurst, and the sounds of polka music. When I’m working on a book I visit the actual location and spend a big chunk of time listening, observing, and taking notes and pictures. I use that real-world material when I’m writing, to infuse life into the setting.

Who is your favorite author?
Can I only name one? There are so many authors I love! If I have to pick one I would say Maud Hart Lovelace. She wrote my most favorite childhood series, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

How do you promote your books?
I’m very active on social media. I try to engage with readers online and do a ton of fun giveaways related to my books. I also do launch parties and book talks where I bring in local businesses and create an experience around the book. It’s been a great way to connect with the community and highlight interesting venues and products. It’s also wonderful to bring book lovers together (either in a real or virtual space) because we share a common interest—reading. In a deep way, I feel like the world needs more of this right now. Politics and disagreements fade away when readers come together to discuss their mutual love of books.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Christmas Market and Bead Store

Two short novellas popped up on my I-Pad this week and I was in the mood for a quick read. One is Menace at the Christmas Market by Sara Rosett. This is part of the Murder on Location series.

Kate Sharp finds herself living in England scouting locations for a Jane Austen documentary series. Leaving sunny California for rainy England is never fun, but when her boyfriend flies to the Canary Islands to spend the holidays with his parents, she wistfully thinks of home.

Struggling to find a gift for the boyfriend, her friend Louise encourages Kate to visit the Christmas Market in Upper Benning. Louise is anxious to see author Harriet Hayden's Christmas booth at the market for an autographed copy of her latest book. But Harriet is not at the market and Louise is very concerned. She believes Harriet would never miss the market. A neighbor tells them Harriet decided to stay in in the Canary Islands for a month., but something about that doesn't ring true to Kate and Louise. They set out to learn what has happened to Harriet.

The second book is Bead of Doubt by Tonya Kappes. When newly-divorced Holly Harper decides to open The Beaded Dragonfly her cadre of divorced divas rally round to help her open the store. With their help the store shapes up beautifully and Holly has plans to schedule some classes. With her ex-husband still hanging around, she hopes business will pick up so he will lose interest in pestering her.

When an outrageously dressed woman appears at the shop one morning and introduces herself as Marlene Dietrich, no one is convinced. She shows Holly an enormous yellow stone and asks her to make something to disguise the gem in a beaded bracelet. Holly is intrigued but a little concerned about the gem and its strange and secretive owner.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Death at the Seaside

When Kate Shackleton arrives in Whitby for a holiday and a visit with an old school friend Alma Turner, she doesn't think she will be a suspect in a murder. In Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody, Kate takes a leisurely stroll through town and notices the jeweler where she and her late husband bought their engagement and wedding rings.

Startled and sentimental by the memories she conjures up, she is drawn to the display in the window and notices a bracelet set in jet beads and pearls - perfect for Felicity. She waits patiently at the jewelry counter, but no one appears to assist her.

Puzzled why the jewelry store would be open with no one actually attending it, she taps on the connecting door to the back room. Much to her surprise, she finds a body with jet beads strewn around him. Unwilling to leave the body in an unattended store, she finally realizes she must call the police.

When she reports the crime to Sgt. Garvin, he doesn't want to let her out of his sights so he follows
her back to the shop. With his accusatory questions, Kate is sure she will be arrested. He releases her with a caution not to leave town.

Kate seeks out her friend and discovers her in deep anxiety. It seems Felicity has disappears and before she left she pawned a watch at J. Phillips High Class Jewellers, the same place Kate found the body. Also missing is Mr. Phillips' boat, the Doram, and young Brendan Webb.

When Sgt. Garvin finds Kate on the hillside in the middle of the night whistling and using her flashlight, her arrests her for signaling to smugglers. She tries to explain she is searching for Alma, but winds up spending the night in jail.

The plot takes many twists and turns involving smuggling, a missing father, injured actor and unrequited love - all rolled into a carefully crafted mystery.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Study in Scarlet Women

To my knowledge Sherlock Holmes does not have a sister named Charlotte who consults with him on cases. Apparently the good people of London aren't aware of that and Charlotte is able to find clients and solve cases with this ruse.

In A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, Charlotte Holmes takes drastic measures when her father reneges on his promise to pay for her education. Taking matters into her own hands, Charlotte decides to dally with Roger Shrewsbury only to be discovered flagrante delicto by his wife and several of her women friends.

As a "fallen" women Charlotte's parents are determined to keep her cloistered in the country, but Charlotte is not to be denied. She flees to London and tries to find a legitimate way to support herself.

When Charlotte meets Mrs. Jebediah, a woman with means and maybe a few secrets, they decide to
form their own inquiry agency using an ailing Sherlock Holmes as their partner. They become involved in several cases including the death of Lady Shrewsbury, Roger's mother, and several others that Charlotte deduces may be connected.

Through an old family contact, Charlotte has the ear of a Scotland Yard detective who is enamored with his peripheral association with the great Sherlock Holmes in solving these crimes. 

A Study in Scarlet Women is a terrific parody of the Sherlock Holmes books. Charlotte has all his deductive skills without his annoying quirks.

I do hope there is a second book in this series. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sleep Like a Baby

Having a new baby take most of your energy, but add the flu and an absent husband and you have an exhausted new mother. In Sleep Like a Baby by Charlaine Harris, Roe Teagarden wonders how to care for the baby when she herself is too ill to get out of bed.

Roe's mother hires a part-time nurse, Virginia Mitchell, to help while Robin is at Bouchercon. One night Roe wakes up to hear a crying Sophie and no response from Virginia. She struggles out of bed and searches the house, but doesn't find Virginia. With her half-brother Phillip, Roe begins to search outside only to find a body, but it is not Virginia, but a woman who stalked Robin and nearly killed Roe in the past.

This book was crammed with little incidents that complicated the plot. Roe's stepfather has a heart attack, Robin is identified as the figure in the yard on the night the woman was killed, neighbors don't like all the activity at Roe's house, a former felony helps install the security system at her house and Virginia is found in an unlikely place.

Although I have enjoyed the Roe Teagarden book in the past, this one was not one of my favorites. An unsatisfying conclusion and way too much time spent on breastfeeding colored my enjoyment of this book.

If you are interested in other Roe Teagarden books, try the earlier ones in the series. I enjoyed those much more than this one.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Essence of Malice

Amory and Milo Ames are enjoying their visit to Lake Como, Italy, when they receive a troubling letter from Milo's former nanny. This sends them rushing to Paris in The Essence of Malice by Ashley Weaver.

Madame Nanette has been caring for the child of her employer Helios Belander, one of France's premier parfumiers. His perfumes are "Worthy of Queens," as the slogan goes. Helios was a man who met with success throughout his illustrious career, and introduced his children to the business.

Cecile, the eldest daughter, has the "nose" as they say in the perfume business. Her father has allowed her to serve as his right hand man, but it is son Anton he wants to run the company.

Anton, on the other hand, has no nose for the business and only wants to become richer. The third child Michel is a dilettante.

When Helios dies unexpectedly after a small plane crash and before the launch of his highly-anticipated new perfume, the medical report lists the cause as heart
failure, but Nanette is not convinced. She coaxes Milo and Amory into looking into the death. To get closer to the family Amory tells Cecile she wants a perfume especially blended for her and she agrees, giving Amory a chance to investigate.

With millions at stake and the reputation of one of the best parfumiers in France in limbo, Amory and Milo dig deeper and find the heirs vying against each other for control of the company. Could one of them have killed their father? What about the lovely, young wife? Where does she fit in?

What Amory and Milo uncovers leads to a dangerous revelation that might endanger their own lives.

As someone who would love to have a specially-blended perfume made for her, I very much enjoyed this book. The behind the scenes of scent creation was enlightening. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Murder Games

When I read the synopsis of Murder Games by Elisabeth Crabtree, I thought the book would be right up my alley. But as I plodded through the convoluted and confusing plot, I wasn't so sure.

Grace Holliday and her boyfriend Kyle Drake are lucky enough to secure two tickets to the Murder Manor, a mansion associated with the Crystal Palace Hotel. They find themselves in the middle of the "murder mystery" and are happy to play their parts.

That is until someone turns up dead. The other characters include a married couple, Jerry and Caroline Knight; Laura and her sister Sabrina; Mis Ivy, the mistress of the house and her butler Rupert and several other characters. Some of them take their roles very seriously and refuse to be called by their real names.

The plot takes a very long time to unravel and there are several incidents that seem not to be relevant to the story. One of my main complaints is that most of the characters switch back and forth from the cast names to their real names throughout the book. Most of the time I wasn't even sure who was who. Even the lead character switches between a dim bulb and a brilliant detective.

Maybe jumping into the fourth book in the series was a mistake, so if you are going to read the Grace Holliday books, I suggest you start at the beginning of the series.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Death on Tap

When Sloan Krause walks in on her husband Mac and a saucy barmaid in the midst of a tryst, she knows she should have seen it coming. In Death on Tap by Ellie Alexander, Sloan has been happily cooking and helping her in-laws in their brewery in Leavenworth, Washington. Mac's infidelity complicates her relationship with her in-laws.

Weeks later Sloan decides she needs to move on from the family business and she applies to a new nano brewery called Nitro. Owner Garrett Strong is a newcomer to Leavenworth and he is looking for someone to manager the brewery. Sloan believes she can help with the food prep as well.

Throwing herself into the new brewery and even dabbling in blending her own beer, Sloan feels she might be able to get her life back on track.

On the morning of the soft opening Sloan hears angry words between Garrett and her husband Mac - with what sounds like a threat from Mac. Later on that evening at Nitro, Mac bursts in trailed by the barmaid, who it turns out is the ex-girlfriend of another brewer, Eddie Deluga. More words pass among the brewers and Sloan tries to soothe everyone before their tempers ruin the opening.

The next morning Sloan finds Eddie floating in one of the beer tanks and she spots Mac's lighter on the ground nearby. In Eddie's hand is a copy of Garrett's new brew, Pucker-up IPA. Suddenly Sloan wonders how much she actually knows about her new boss and why he is in Leavenworth. Although she knows Mac is a cheater, she believes he is not a murderer and she plunges into the investigation.

As she talks to other people in town, Sloan realizes there are secrets brewing around the town that involve many of her friends. Piecing together the solution takes her deeper into the lives of the townspeople.

I enjoyed Death on Tap and the background of breweries. Not being a beer drinker myself, I didn't know much about craft brewing, but I was interested in learning about the way microbrews are developed - almost like baking a cake - a little of this, a dash of that and time to ferment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

And the winners are. . . Kara Vaughan Marks and Mate Polijak. I will be in touch with you via email. Thanks to all who entered and to Mollie Cox Bryan, author and Kensington Books for the copies of Macrame Murder for the winners.
We hope you will continue to read blog and follow MapYourMystery on Facebook.

Watch for another giveaway in October.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Sticky Inheritance

Leaving northern Virginia and driving to lower Michigan in October is a chilly experience even if the drive doesn't culminate in a funeral. It's Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes responsibility to arrange a funeral for her Uncle Stan in A Sticky Inheritance by Emily James. When she learns the autopsy showed a high alcohol level in his blood stream and an overdose of his heart medication, the coroner rules it as an accidental overdose or suicide.

But Nicole knows this cannot be true. Her uncle Stan had been a well-known cardiologist and his own heart condition was alcoholic cardiomyopathy - caused by heavy years of drinking. She knew he had quit drinking years before and refused to believe he would take his own life.

The farm he purchased years before had become his life. He enjoyed the small town living and the less stressful lifestyle as he told Nicole in a recent email. She convinces the medical examiner and the police chief to let her examine Stan's home to prove he was murdered. What they find seems to contradict her belief, but Nicole still argues the case.

One thing sticks in her mind - the chapter in a book about caffeine's negative interactions with the heart. What was Uncle Stan working on and why were there so many empty beer bottles in his trash?

With the help of the handsome (but possibly married) medical examiner, Nicole discovers the offending beer bottles held no fingerprints. She uncovers a complicated plot to kill someone else and finds her uncle got in the way as collateral damage.

We'll hear more from Nicole in other books to come as she has inherited the land and the sugar bush in Michigan. Looking forward to discovering what is going on with the handsome Mark Cavanaugh.

Don't forget to enter for a chance to win in the first MapYourMystery giveaway.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Interview with Sally Goldenbaum

How many books have you published?

How did you become interested in writing?
I've written all my life, Words have always brought me comfort somehow. And pleasure. As a philosophy major I did plenty of writing, then working in marketing and PR (WQED in Pittsburgh and an educational channel in Bloomington IN) gave me additional opportunities. I also worked as an editor of journals for a while and taught creative writing. I suppose I always, somewhere in the back of my head, had the desire to write a book.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
I don't have a set schedule, though I often wish I were one of those writers who got up at 6, had coffee, and hit the office. I start my day more slowly, then usually read out to Starbucks or a library (I have an office at home but find it difficult to work there, with the refrigerator so handy and laundry that needs to be done. My wish would be to write like crazy for 4 hours and then have a life afterwards. But it rarely works out so nearly.

When my deadline begins to loom, I DO work on word count, knowing approximately how many I need to get in each week. I also frame my day around chapters sometimes.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
No. I begin with a sketchy synopsis that I share with my publisher, but I almost never know who the murderer is or why the act was committed. Usually I know who the victim is. But my stories unravel as I write them.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
Real people influence and inspire the characters in my book, as do places. My town is fictitious but loosely modeled on three towns on Cape Ann MA: Gloucester (actually a city), Rockport, and Manchester by the Sea.

Who is your favorite author?
I honestly don't have a favorite author. I read a whole variety of books--mysteries, women's fiction, general novels. Right now I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow and a debut novel, Girl in the Snow. I just finished a novel for my 9-yr-old granddaughter's mother/daughter bookclub, Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. It was excellent!

How do you promote your books?
Mostly social media (fb, website, twitter), and book signings. My publisher adds into this memes they post on social media, blog tours they arrange, giveaways, etc.

Murder Wears Mittens by Sally Goldenbaum is on sale now.

Don't forget to enter for a chance to win in the first MapYourMystery giveaway.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sticks and Bones

A New Year's celebration goes bad when Frangelica "Sister" McFee makes her grand entrance in Sticks and Bone by Carolyn Haines. Sarah Booth knew Sister in college and her arrogant, cruel ways have changed not at all even as she became a successful author.

Her latest best seller documents the deaths of her mother, Cleo and brother many years ago. Sister seems determined to have her brother Son (of all names) take the blame for drunk driving and killing himself and their mother. Worst of all, she is back in Zinnia to film a movie based on the book.

The movie producers think there might be more to the story and hire Sarah Booth and Tinkie to investigate. Also in the frame is Colin McFee, husband of Cleo, now married to Susan. Colin, an ultra wealthy developer, is running for Senator in Mississippi. His platform includes rants about how Vladimir Putin is destroying the economy of Mississippi. I would have thought this premise was too bizarre even for southern politics, but now that this country has experienced the most recent presidential election, nothing surprises me or seems outrageous any more. He is truly crazy.

A convoluted trust agreement, billions of dollars in assets, an unfulfilled desire for parental acceptance and the mysterious deaths haunting the family lead Sarah Booth and Tinkie into a complicated investigation. Why were Cleo and Son out on the road on a horrible, rainy night with flooding everywhere? What caused the car to crash into the river? How did the car disappear after it had been salvaged?

Another gem of a mystery by Carolyn Haines. For a review of another Carolyn Haines book -  The Book of Beloved,  click here.

Don't forget to enter for a chance to win in the first MapYourMystery giveaway.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Enter the Giveaway

Check out this giveaway thanks to Mollie Cox Bryan and Kensington Books! We will be giving away two advance reader copies of Mollie's newest book, Macrame Murder. Be sure to read my review about the book.

Can't wait for the giveaway to end on Sunday 9/10 to get a copy? You can find Mollie's books on Kensington Books' website.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 4, 2017


Shakespeare's MacBeth has been produced in many shapes and forms, but I'm willing to bet not in a circus setting. In Cindy Brown's MacDeath, Ivy Meadows tumbles into her audition and finds herself as one of the three witches in acrobatic gear.

Everyone knows about the curse - no one is supposed to utter the name of the play in the theatre. Unfortunately one of the wannabe actors says MacBeth several time. The entire cast and crew know they are in for a some mischief.

When Ivy encounters her old friend Simon Black, once a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company only to be sliding own the food chain, in the cast, she is thrilled. But Simon places a burden on her she is not sure she can manage. He has decided to give up alcohol and wants Ivy to keep an eye on him so he doesn't backslide.

Throughout the rehearsals, all seems well even with the threat of the "curse" hanging over them. The
cast as you would expect is comprised of a motley crew of characters. Genevieve Fife, known for her Method acting, is cast as Lady MacBeth. Simon is Duncan and two young men - handsome Jason as MacBeth and cute doofus Riley as MacDuff. The Face of Channel 10 news Bill Boxer and utterer of the cursed title of the play round out the cast. All are dressed in various costumes from the circus.

Before the production opens, Ivy finds Simon dead in his dressing room. All signs pointing to a relapse in drinking, but Ivy is convinced he was not drinking again and believes he was murdered. Of course no one believes her.

She tries to convince her uncle Bob, a private investigator, to investigate. As first he is reluctant, but as he finds evidence, he continues his investigation. As predicted various other mishaps occur on the stage during the performance. Secrets, lies and unintended consequences nearly bring the play to its knees until Ivy finds the murderer.

Exciting news - check out Tuesday's blog post for a chance to win in the first MapYourMystery giveaway.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Van Gogh and Me

After reading so many books for the last year to keep up with reviews on, I reached a point where I needed something else to do on occasion. Earlier this month, I watched a Facebook event from several famous galleries hosting five Van Gogh Sunflower paintings.

Van Gogh has always held a fascination for me and when I listened to the curators talk about the five paintings, I was hooked. Just being slightly artistic (I know that's like being slightly pregnant), I decided to try my hand at paint-by- numbers. Sounds pretty easy, right.

Well let me tell you there is some skill in learning how to mix two colors so you can get the third color you need to paint and to make sure you have enough to complete the section in the painting. So today there is no book review, but my painting so far.

I'd love to hear your comments.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Swiss Vendetta

Reeling from the sudden death of her husband, Inspector Agnes Luthi has been transferred from the Financial Crimes Division to the Violent Crimes Division of Laussane. In Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn, Agnes is about to leave for home at the beginning of severe ice storm when a call comes in about a death at the aristocratic Chateau Vallotton in Ville-sur-Lac.

Once she arrives through the hazardous conditions, she discovers  the murder victim is a young woman hired to evaluate and catalog the antiques in the Chateau. At the residence is the marquise - the grande dame of the household, her two nephews, the wife of one of them, her godson and a random American intern. No one seems to know what drove Felicity Cowell outside in the sleeting, freezing weather clad only in a vintage evening dress in a man's overcoat and heavy boots too large for her.

Also arriving on the scene is Luthi's former boss in financial
crimes division Carnet, Doctor Blanchard and mountaineer Frederic Estanguet who has guided the men through the blinding whiteout to the mansion. Stymied by the ice storm and the reticence of the family, Luthi persists in her investigation.

She realizes the body was found in a grove of trees equidistant from Chateau and the neighboring mansion. Once the ice storm stops, Luthi heads to the other mansion to interview Monseiur Arsov, a wealthy Russian, World War II survivoe.

Although the initial mystery of who killed the young woman is interesting, the plot diverges into several subplots that clutter the story. Luthi learns the shocking truth behind her husband's suicide, someone is stealing small antiques to sell and there is revenge in the air.

I think this was too complex a plot for a first-time author. I am hoping the second book is less cluttered. I was exhausted after I finished Swiss Vendetta.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Interview with Cynthia Kuhn

How many books have you published? 

Five—two of which are mysteries.

Under what names do you publish? 
Cynthia Kuhn.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?  
Since I teach full-time and parent, it’s difficult. I just grab small blocks of time whenever possible—for example, early in the morning or late at night. It’s different every week. But those add up.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go? 
I do a bullet-point outline of each chapter to see the “big picture” upfront, then I begin drafting. By the end, I will have certainly veered away from the outline! Then I go back and rewrite until it holds together. So I guess the answer is: plot, write, re-plot, rewrite.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books? 
No. Though it would be fun to try.

Who is your favorite author? 
Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, L.M. Montgomery, Amanda Cross, Alice Walker, William Goldman

Do you write with pen and paper or a computer? 
I write on a computer, but I pause to freewrite or draw things in a spiral notebook when I need to sort out thoughts. It taps into a different mode of thinking, somehow.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Macrame Murder

A craft retreat on Sea Glass Island, South Carolina, sounds like just to place for me, but when murder rears its ugly head, I'm glad Cora Chevalier is dealing with the crime. In Macrame Murder by Mollie Cox Bryan, Cora and friends (along with new boyfriend Adrian Brisbane) head to the island to teach crafting and to attend craft demonstrations.

While Cora and Adrian are walking along the beach, they witness an intimate beach wedding. The bride is wearing a gorgeous tiara crafted of sea glass, rhinestones and shells and a stunning mermaid-style gown. They quickly feel as if they are intruding and walk hastily away.

The next day the bride is found dead and Adrian is arrested. It seems she was Adrian's former girlfriend and they were heard arguing the night before the murder. Cora is stunned by the news, but believes Adrian is innocent and works to prove it.

Meanwhile a presenter winds up dead, stuffed in her own extra large macrame bag and there are
plenty of suspects, unfortunately including Adrian. Trying to keep the craft retreat from shattering into pieces, Cora and friends continue to teach their classes while they try to figure out who killed Marcy Grimm and now Zooey, the macrame artist.

Sifting through old family secrets and discovering some new ones, Cora with the help of a psychic solves the murders to the relief of Adrian. As I read this book I wished there were a real island covered with sea glass. It is a rarity to find sea glass along the coast and I would love to get my hands on some. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Murder Wears Mittens

If only I had friends like Nell, Birdie, Cass and Izzy, I might finally learn how to knit something other than a simple scarf. The Seaside Knitters are in full swing with their projects in Murder Wears Mittens by Sally Goldenbaum.

When Cass, who is hardly maternal, falls across a young boy in the laundromat late one night, she is worried as she watches him ride away on his bike. After he leaves, she finds a young girl's school uniform mixed in with her laundry. For some reason this continues to bother Cass.

She seeks assistance from her aunt Sister Fiona and discovers where the family lives. When she arrives to return the clothing, she finds the children alone pretending their mother will be back shortly. When Sister Fiona shows up and takes over, she rushes Cass and friends out the door without allowing for any questions.

The next day a reclusive neighbor of the children is found dead in her home. The dead woman was Dolores Francesca Maria Cardozo and she owned prime real estate lusted after by developers and a series of builders and investors. No one seems to know Ms. Cardozo, but then they discover she was a silent benefactor for many activities in the community.

When Kayla Stewart, the mother of the children, is named as a primary beneficiary in Ms. Cardozo's will and the chief suspect in her murder, the Seaside Knitters work to clear her.

The Seaside Knitters books are like a warm, friendly home on a cold night. The characters are well written and believable. I'd love to be part of their friend circle.

For a review of Trimmed With Murder, click here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Watch

Newly-minted lawyer A.J. Garrison returns home to practice law in The Watch by Jerry Peterson. Even though she is a hometown girl, clients are rare at first. Then the widow of a friend of hers asks A.J. to be the executor of his estate. It seems pretty straightforward until A.J. discovers Teddy Wilson had one hundred thousand dollars in cash in his safety deposit box.

Unsure where the money came from, A.J. worries Teddy may have been embezzling from his father's bank. A bank audit reveals this was not the case. In addition to this problem, A.J. has found a note on her car window asking "Who murdered Dr. Taylor?" Three years prior Dr. Taylor, much loved in town, was murdered and no suspects were every found.

A.J. shares office space with attorney Hammond McTeer, a long established lawyer in town. When she explains about her two dilemmas, he encourages her to pursue both of them.

As A.J. digs deeper, she finds she needs help in the form of State Police officer Scotty Moore. Working together with her pilot father Will Click, they discover a pattern of flights made by Teddy. As they continue to dig, they discover a conspiracy that could shake their community to its core.

I enjoyed this book and the unraveling of the solution of one of the problems. The writing is excellent and the descriptions are realistic. A.J. and Scotty balance each others strengths and work well together. As for the second problem, I felt it was a little to easy to solve. I also could do with less air traffic controller dialogue. In some chapters it was two pages long. I appreciate the knowledge of flying small planes, but I did not feel it was integral to the plot.

I do look forward to the next book in the A.J. Garrison series.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Murder and a Wedding

Sometimes planning a wedding makes a person want to commit murder, but in Christa Nardi's Murder and a Wedding, Professor Sheridan Hendley has to solve one first. When Sheridan's boyfriend Brett and his daughter Maddie propose to her, Sheridan is thrilled and unsure what comes next.

No problem. Teenager Maddie knows all about wedding planning and volunteers to organize the event. But before they can even begin to plan, they stumble on a body in the woods. Coincidentally the body is identified as Franklin Meissner, the man who runs Hidden Oaks, a wedding venue Sheridan has planned to visit.

Although the victim appeared to be beaten, he showed no signs of defensive wounds and a new injection site. This bewildering combination has Brett and Sheridan scratching their heads. 

The wedding is taking front and center in her life, but her decision to resign from Cold Creek College, Virginia, has her colleagues throwing fits of despair. Her best friend Kim is sure they will lose contact, and self-centered Max, who is always threatening to leave himself, is annoyed. When the department chair orders Sheridan to write the job announcement and head the search committee, she is shocked and dismayed at the extra load, especially as the wedding planning has intensified.

Despite the manager being murdered, Sheridan and Brett (and Maggie) decide on Hidden Oaks for their wedding. Each time Sheridan visits Hidden Oaks, she comes away with a disconcerting feeling that she is missing something. As the police dig deeper they discover many secrets.

As Sheridan is leaving her job at Cold Creek College and moving away, I hope this isn't the last we hear from her. Author Christa Nardi has not decided how she will handle the series in the future. Let's hope Sheridan Hendley is with us in another book.

For a review of another Christa Nardi's books, click here

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Interview with Michelle Cox

Michelle Cox, author of A Girl Like You and A Ring of Truth 

When will your next book be published?
My next book, A Promise Given, will be out April 24, 2018 with She Writes Press. It is the third book in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series.

How did you become interested in writing? 
I think I was always interested in writing. I used to try to write rip-offs of Louisa May Alcott’s books, but I always failed miserably. So then I started trying to illustrate her books instead; I guess I could endure bad art more than I could bad writing!

When I got to college, I decided to pursue literature (note: not creative writing) after a brief two-year stint as a pre-med. But even then, I still wasn’t ready to write. I tried to get a job as an editor at one point, but instead ended up in customer service in a graphic arts company and then as a social worker in a nursing home—you know, the natural progression of anyone who has graduated with an English degree. From there I got married and had kids and then got distracted for another twenty-ish years. It’s only recently that I decided maybe it was time to finally try writing a novel. I think it took me all this time to work up my courage.

What is a day in the life of an author like? 
Horrible. No, just kidding. I love the time I actually get to spend writing whatever manuscript I happen to be on. The promotion is the tough part.

Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
I always write the first thing in the morning, while my brain is still relatively clear. During the school year, my kids get on the bus at 6:50 am, so as soon as they’re gone, I’m upstairs at my desk, coffee in tow. I allow myself a brief glance at social media, but I don’t let myself respond to anything—unless it would be some emergency notification, like I hit the New York Times bestseller list, say. So far that hasn’t happened yet, but you never know. If it does, hopefully I’ll be ready. But barring anything like that, I ignore my inbox and instead open up my document in Word and just start. Summertime, on the other hand, when the kids are roaming free around here, is a bit of a different story. Then I really have to get creative with my time.

I don’t have a certain word count. I try to limit myself to writing on the manuscript for only one hour a day, but it usually spills over into an hour and a half or even two. I have to restrict myself, though, because after that long, my brain gets a little mushy, and, to be honest, the whole rest of the day (until I have to switch back to my mom job when the kids come home) has to be spent writing articles, blogs, newsletters, interviews or doing any number of other PR/marketing tasks. There is a ton more I could be doing, but I only have so many hours!

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go? 
I write a pretty detailed outline before I begin. I need to know the whole arc of the main story, which is usually the mystery portion of the book, as well as how all the subplots and story arcs are going to progress and weave in and out. Also, since this is a series, I’ve found that knowing the basic premise of the next book helps me to plot the current one. I can’t really end one book without knowing how the next begins. This requires a lot of extra thinking, but it’s worth it when I sit down to write the next book, as I already have something to go on.

That’s not to say, of course, that things don’t change as I go. That happens all the time. Certain ideas or developments that I had originally planned sometimes just don’t fit right, or maybe an entirely new idea occurs to me that seems better. So it’s definitely a flexible process.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
For book one of the series, A Girl Like You, I did actually base the main character, Henrietta, on a woman that I met while I was working as a social worker in a nursing home. I borrowed a lot of elements from her life, such as her “man-stopping body” (which is how she used to describe herself to me!); her family history; her long string of strange, risqué jobs during the Depression; a neighborhood boy that followed her everywhere; and a lesbian gang that she worked with in a burlesque house in Chicago in the 1930’s who served as her protectors. I mean, right there, you’ve got the makings of a great novel! Then all I had to do was invent a murder and the aloof Inspector Howard to make it a mystery, and it just progressed from there.

As for the places, many of them, such as the Aragon and the Green Mill, are real, but some are made up, too, like Clive’s family estate, Highbury, in Winnetka or even Poor Pete’s, the bar Henrietta originally works at as a 26-girl.

As the series goes along, so many new characters come into the mix. None of them are any real person, but are sometimes close copies or amalgamations of people I’ve met in my life. Oddly, no one recognizes themselves, which is probably a good thing!

Who is your favorite author?
That’s a hard one. Really, my all time favorite author is Charles Dickens, followed closely by Anthony Trollope. But that’s not what most people want to hear, I’ve found. They’re more interested in what contemporary authors I enjoy reading. And if that’s the question, then I’d have to say that I really love Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams, Helen Simonson, and Kate Morton. None of these, you’ll notice, are straight-up mystery writers. This should also give you a hint as to the direction I’m trying to take the series.

How do you promote your books? 
Ah. The million dollar question. Promotion is so hard and, as I mentioned above, it takes up most of my “writing” time. I do employ a publicist, Booksparks, to help me get some of the bigger hits I’ve been lucky enough to get. They’ve been great so far in getting me reviewed in Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal, for example, as well as getting me on the “top-reads” lists of a lot of online media sources, such as Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Culturalist, Redbook, Elle, etc.

Still, there’s a lot to be done on one’s own as well—an endless list, actually. I maintain a blog, “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” which features stories of Chicago’s forgotten residents, and I put out a monthly newsletter, as well. I do tons of book signings, both locally and around the country, and I speak to various groups, either as a solo act or part of a panel. I also do book clubs, radio interviews and podcasts, and I try to write and publish as many articles as I can get out there.

It’s all about making yourself visible, which is easy to do in this modern social media culture, but hard, too, because you’re competing with millions of other people for a few seconds of bandwidth. There is no more “fifteen minutes of fame”—it’s more like fifteen seconds!

It can become really overwhelming, so I do what I can each day and then try to turn it off. It helps to just focus on the actual writing; after all, that’s where my joy lies and it’s what all the rest of this is for!
For a review of A Girl Like You, click here.