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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Murder on a Silver Platter

A lost dog leads Penelope Sutherland and her friend Arlena Madison out into the freezing night. Zazoo escaped when the power went out during the snowstorm and fled. Not wanting to leave him outside all night, Penelope trudges out and stumbles across the body of a young woman.

The next morning Penelope heads to her Red Carpet Catering job - providing food for the cast and crew of a movie being filmed in New Jersey starring Arlena.When accidents start to happen to Arlena on the set, the police think their might be a connection between her and the murdered young woman, and that Arlena is probably the real target.

Investigating the crimes is Detective Joseph Baglioni and Penelope recognizes him from her old neighborhood and there's a spark between them.

As the police continue to investigate the death of the young woman, they find she was an aspiring
actress and hoped to meet with Arlena to ask for assistance with her career. Complicating the matter is a possibility the young woman might be related to Arlena.

Is someone trying to sabotage the film or is someone trying to kill Arlena? Penelope knows a disrupted film crew also disrupts her catering for the production so she throws herself into finding the culprit.

Murder on a Silver Platter gives an intriguing behind the scenes look at production of a movie and the many parts that make up the entire project. It's also an exciting mystery.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Diamonds Aren't Forever

In the first book of Connie Shelton's newest series Diamonds Aren't Forever, we meet the Heist Ladies. I want to join their group. First because they are attempting to return stolen jewelry and second because they go to some cool places.

Penelope Fizpatrick anxiously awaits the appearance of a private investigator she hired to find her stolen heirloom necklace. The necklace contained more than 50 carats of diamonds and 28 sparkling emeralds. But the real value was the family legacy. Penelope's grandfather brought it from Russia after the Revolution and it had been in the family ever since.

Originally loaned to a local museum, it was stolen when the museum was robbed. After fruitless attempts by the police to investigate the crime, Penelope hired Dick Stone to find it. When he did she paid him a handsome fee and was thrilled to have it back. But that wasn't the end of the story, as Penelope learns "her necklace" is a fake.

Enraged Penelope calls her bank to stop payment on the check but she is too late. To make matters
worse, the museum claims she gave them a fake necklace before the robbery. When the bank manager Sandy Werner jokingly tells Penelope they should find the person who stole the necklace and steal it back, the caper begins.

Adding a computer geek, Amber and a super organizer, Gracie Nelson to their Heist group, they set out to chase down the fake private investigator and find the original thief. What follows is a chase to the Cayman Islands, Zurich and then the French Riviera.

This was such a fun book and promises fantastic adventures in the subsequent books in the series (I know there will be more.) Please ladies, take me along next time.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Betting Off Dead

When you are 28 years old and haven't figured out your life's journey, it is not a good thing, but when you are a witch and your Witchy Hour doesn't define a clear life's journey path, it is a disaster. In Tonya Kappes' Betting Off Dead, Maggie Park believes her life's journey is to work for SKUL, Secret Keepers of the Universal Law although her mother isn't so sure.

One of the key reasons Maggie believes her life's journey is SKUL is the very handsome agent Mike Jasper. She worked with him in the past and her witchy antennae is picking up another encounter. Sure enough he appears to convince her to play his wife in an investigation concerning horse doping and Churchill Downs.  Maggie stopped listening after he said "play his wife." She'd take the job whatever else it entailed.

It's their mission to get close to a group of wealthy couples involved in horse auctions. Sounds easy, right? But Maggie is surrounded by her witchy family, the Spell Circle of five and her familiar, a 1965 red AC Cobra. Nothing is easy with that array of characters around her.

Plunging into her assignment with Mike Jasper, Maggie even has a huge diamond ring to help her play the part. SKUL has concerns that someone is planning to dope horses that are competing in the Kentucky Derby. No loyal Kentuckian would want anything to happen during the sacred race at Churchill Downs, so Maggie works hard to discover who is behind the doping.

Another fun read by Tonya Kappes. My guess is there is something about Mike Jasper that might surprise us!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Interview with Julie Moffet

How many books have you published?
The release of No Regrets in January 8, 2018 will mark my 20th published book! Wohoooo!!!

How did you become interested in writing? 
I’ve wanted to write stories as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book in the second grade when I penned a love story between Prince Valen and Princess Tina who met, fell in love and got married on Valentine’s Day. I still have it. It was a big hit with all the girls in my class. The boys held their noses. After that I won a 3rd grade poem contest about a haunted house. In the fourth grade, I wrote in my school memory book that I wanted to be an author when I grew up
(see picture at left). I wrote for my college newspaper, and later moved into international journalism. Eventually I got brave enough to pen a novel for publication purposes. My first book was published in 1993 and was a Scottish historical romance called Fleeting Splendor.

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.?  
Well, I have a full-time job, so I write in the evening hours, on the weekend, or whenever I can fit it in. Someday, I hope that writing books will be my full-time job!

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go? 
I write a series, so I needed to plot not only each book, but the series as well. Before I started writing my Lexi Carmichael series, I had to create a series arc and character arcs for all the main characters. Then I loosely plotted the books within the arc. It’s a bit of different process when you are writing a stand-alone novel. But if your question is whether I’m a “plotter” or a “pantser” (better known as writing by the seat of your pants) – I’m a definite plotter. 

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
No. But there is a lot of me in the different characters and I often use characteristics of family members, friends, and even people I dislike, to create my characters.

Who is your favorite author? 
Too many to name! I love so many authors and genres. But if I must choose, my all-time favorite author is my sister, Sandy Parks ( She writes romantic thrillers and sci-fi adventure. She is a wonderful author, but an even better sister!

How do you promote your books? 
I rely a lot of word of mouth, but I do Book Bub ads, blog tours, Facebook ads, flash giveaways, Goodreads and Amazon giveaways, and I coordinate with my publisher who has an excellent marketing department.