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Monday, July 27, 2015

Review - Hooked on Ewe

I reviewed the debut novel in this new series, Off Kilter (click here) and the author graciously provided a guest post (click here).  It is time for the second installment in this series set in rural Scotland.  FYI, there is a quote from my review of the debut book in the first pages! Yay,


Author: Hannah Reed

Copyright: July 2015 (Berkley) 295 pgs

Series: 2nd in Scottish Highlands Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Scottish Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Eden Elliott, recently divorced and contracted to author romance novel

Setting: Modern day, Glenkillen Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Early September and Eden is three months into her planned six month working sabbatical.  She has finished writing her first romance and working on plotting her second and she has volunteered to help with a sheep dog trial to benefit the local hospice center.  She finds she is more interested in avoiding the difficult event coordinator, Isla Lindsey.  Then Detective Inspector Kevin Jamieson wants to talk with her about temporarily being a Special Constable, it’s in name only, since "not much happens in Glenkillen."

Her friend Vicki is enjoy the sheep dog trials since many of her yarn club skein-of-the-month members are picking up the first club kit and everybody but spiteful sister Kirstine thinks they are fabulous kits.  Until, that is, Isla is found dead with the yarn wrapped around her neck. Forget wizardry of forensic labs in rural Scotland, the inspector and Eden start tracking down all the yarn kits to determine whose kit was used as a murder weapon.  This proves to be mired by gossip and misdirection, but Eden doggedly follows the clues.

Eden gets a feel for the frustrations of Jamieson's job, but getting to carry pepper spray (banned in Scotland) makes her happy.  Vicki MacBride is the kind-hearted friend that gives this a warm touch.  Leith Cameron, the epitome of a romance novel highlander, isn't in a rush to kindle any heat.  Detective Inspector Kevin Jamieson has moments of breaking out of his serious demeanor and might even like Eden...hmmmm.  Special Constable Sean Stevens is even more bumbling that before.

Glenkillen is an idyllic setting for the sour note of murder. 
The plot stays with a basic mystery whodunit scenario and supplies plenty of suspects and red herrings.  The pace remained steady.  The dramatic killer reveal gave some tense and edge-of-the-seat moments - kudos.  The wrap it gives a new enticement for Eden to extend her allotted time in Scotland.  I won't say anymore.

This second book stays close to its cozy roots and delivers a
delightful adventure with just enough whodunit versus danger.  The sprinkling of potential romance adds a touch of innocent spice.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.






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Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Post - Juliet Blackwell

I have been fortunate to have interviewed the author twice before: interview #2 (click here), and interview #1 (click here).  Today, we are once again welcoming author Juliet Blackwell to our little slice of the internet.

10 ways to get ideas for your next witchcraft novel

When setting out to write my Witchcraft Mystery series, I was determined not to create a Bewitched-style witch as my protagonist. As much as I loved that show as a girl (Endora was the best, and remember Dr. Bombay? And Aunt Clara?), I knew that witchcraft was a serious subject with an important history. So I set out to portray witches and witchcraft with respect for their diversity, both past and present. Want to know more? Read the Witchcraft Mystery series! Or…check out these suggestions:

1. Visit your friendly local coven. I kid you not; many covens are open to the public (at least on certain days) and would love the opportunity to explain some aspects of their belief system. And if you think there aren’t any covens near you…you may be surprised. They’re everywhere!

2. Wander the aisles of a botanica. This is a kind of traditional latino herbal/spiritual supply store; there are botanicas in most large cities in the U.S. The owners are usually women with a wealth of information about folk medicine, everyday “magic”, and basic human psychology.

3. Talk to your mother-in-law. This might work better if you have my mother-in-law (ex-mother-in-law, actually, but that’s another story). But still, the elders in your life might well offer vast well of knowledge about traditional remedies and “folk” beliefs. Remember, “witches” were usually considered community healers and Wise Women, so there’s a lot of overlap.

4. Go to Pantheacon, a conference dedicated to all things pagan/Wiccan/etc. Seriously. Amazing.

5. Read anti-magic websites and tracts. I learned this trick one October when a very sweet woman approached me at a gas station and handed me a pamphlet on the evils of Halloween. These tracts go into great detail about fascinating demons and unruly desires and all sorts of flights of fancy that are perfect fodder for a novel. I’m not coming down on anyone’s belief system; but I’m just saying…I couldn’t make this up!

6. Read folklore. There are traditions of witchcraft, magical thinking, and “folk” healing in every culture around the world. Again, I couldn’t make all this up – it’s fascinating stuff. And you just might learn a cure for warts, while you’re at it.

7. Spend a night in the woods (far from city lights) during a full moon. Gaze at the sky, peruse the shadowy woods, and imagine there is energy and life in the rocks and trees and stars that surround you. This is what witches have done throughout the millennia…you might just feel a connection! If not, it’s still a nice night out in the woods ;-)

8. Wander the aisles of the Halloween supply store. I know, I know, these are stereotypical renditions of witches and the like, but sometimes they get things right. And most witches I know have a great sense of humor and a true appreciation for Halloween, even the kitschy bits.

9. Invite a few good friends to hold a ceremony in a beautiful place outside, at night. Look up a simple ceremony for promoting harmony, lay out a few items that are meaningful to you, and speak a few words of friendship and communion. You might feel silly. On the other hand, you might feel stronger for having focused your intent in a circle of friends. It’s powerful stuff, witch or no.

10. Adopt a black cat. Because…shouldn’t everyone have a black cat?

BIO:
Juliet Blackwell was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the youngest child of a jet pilot from New York and an editor from Texas. She graduated with a degree in Latin American Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz, and went on to earn Masters degrees in Anthropology and Social Work from the State University of New York, Albany. Upon her return to California she owned and operated her own decorative painting, historical renovation, and domestic design studio for more than a decade. Juliet pens the New York Times Bestselling Witchcraft Mysteries and the Haunted Home Renovation series, and will release her first mainstream novel, The Paris Key, in September. As Hailey Lind she wrote the Agatha-Award nominated Art Lover’s Mystery series. She is past president of Northern California Sisters in Crime and former board member of Mystery Writers of America. Juliet lives in a hundred-year-old house with extensive botanical gardens in Northern California, but spends as much time as possible in Europe and Latin America. Juliet believes in the magic of language, travel, and cultural exchange to open hearts, minds, and souls.

Please join her on line:  WebsiteFacebook, Twitter


  THANK YOU for that great guest post.  It's always a pleasure!


 
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Friday, July 17, 2015

Review - Spellcasting in Silk

This is another series I have been a fan of since its debut.  Read my reviews of the prior books:  #1 Secondhand Spirits (click here), #2 Cast Off Coven (click here),  #3 Hexes and Hemlines (click here), #4 In a Witch's Wardrobe (click here), #5 Tarnished and Torn (click here), and #6 A Vision in Velvet (click here).  I also interviewed the author twice: interview #2 (click here), and interview #1 (click here).  This blog is even quoted in the front pages from a previous review of the series!  

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Copyright: July 2015 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 7th in Witchcraft Mystery series

Sensuality: Kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Lily Ivory, powerful natural witch and owner of vintage clothing store

Setting: Current day San Francisco

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Lily is busy with her shop, friends, and relationship with Sailor.  So she isn't thrilled when Inspector Carlos Romero comes into Cora's Closet requesting her assistance.  There is a metaphysical shop, called a botanica, that is implicated in a customer's suicide via jumping from Golden Gate Bridge. The mayor has begun a campaign against psychics and the seeming suicide only added fuel. Inspector Romero has the shop owner in custody but her shop has a problem...all the merchandise is active.  Lily doesn't sense a
ghost, but she senses something very wrong with the whole situation.  


Lily connects the incident at the botanica to an elderly ladie's death as she is shopping the estate sale for vintage clothes.  Plus, The botanica's owner's granddaughter, a gifted young witch, is missing and maybe the key to everything. Aidan and Lily finally talk after the tense events in the previous book and Lily isn't sure about his intentions (nothing new there!)  Aidan suggests they may be dealing with a magical person who has serious emotional problems.  Could there be an insane witch stirring up trouble?

Lily is growing and setting down roots, but she now has to face insecurity in a relationship and warnings about such a powerful witch like herself committed to a person as a bad thing.  Why can't she have both?  Sailor is enigmatic, although he seems happy with Lily - just not an open book which doesn't help Lily's insecurity.  Aiden offers his help and seems to want to have a working relationship with Lily, but as usual - what's his angle? Detective Carlos
Romero shows a little more of his personal side with Lily and continues to grow on me. Patience, Sailor's beautiful gypsy cousin and mentor aiding him in controlling his powers, likes
pushing Lily's buttons.  She is the breakout star in this book and I hope she is a new regular to the series.

The Sutro Baths near the Cliff House was a great location for Lily to be threatened by the killer.  San Francisco is always featured to great effect by Ms. Blackwell and this is a great example.  


The plot seems overly simple, but don't let that fool you.  There is plenty of evil lurking under the surface and Lily knows it's there and won't let up.  The pacing was on target and kept me turning the pages. The killer confrontation
delivered an exciting showdown.  The ending leaves Lily with a lot to consider in her future.

Another great adventure with Lily as she uses her magic to bring criminals to justice. Lily continues to be a strong character and the stories weave their own spells on readers.

Ratings:  Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Guest Post - Anna Lee Huber II

Anna Lee Huber is the RITA and Daphne awards-nominated author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, including A Grave Matter, Mortal Arts, and The Anatomist’s Wife. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on the next Lady Darby novel. Book 4, A Study in Death (my review here), will released on July 7th, 2015.

Visit her online at www.annaleehuber.com.This is the second interview we have been honored to have with Ms. Huber.  The first interview is here (click here.)



Anna Lee Huber
For this blog post, I decided to toss it over to my readers and find out what they would like to know about me and the Lady Darby series, and here are a few of the questions they asked.

What is your favorite part about writing the Lady Darby series?

I would have to say it’s the characters. Whenever I think I know them completely, they will surprise me and reveal another facet to themselves. It’s fun to explore them, to put them in new and often difficult situations, and to watch them continue to blossom as fictional beings.

Do you have a favorite character?

Oh, my goodness. You want me to choose?! Well, Lady Darby and Gage will always be favorites, that’s a given, but there are a few secondary characters I am particularly fond of. Bonnie Brock is so much fun to write. His role was initially supposed to be minor, but he stole the scene and my imagination from the moment he walked on the page. I adore Alana, because everybody needs a big sister like her. Lord Marsdale from The Anatomist’s Wife is a delightful rascal, and will be coming back at some later date. Another amusing addition to my cast in A Study in Death is Lady Bearsden. The words that emerged from her mouth made me laugh out loud more than once. And, of course, William Dalmay from Mortal Arts will always hold a special place in my heart, probably for obvious reasons.

What is the hardest part of writing this series?

Getting the psychology of my characters correct is particularly important to me, so I spend a lot of time and effort on it, and it sometimes forces me to go to dark places inside myself I don’t really want to go. I would say that’s probably the most difficult part of writing this series. The willingness to dig so deep to find the truth of a person.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere. Truly. Anything and everything is fodder for ideas. History, books, TV, movies, people-watching, travel, you name it. Setting also heavily influences my stories, which is why I prefer to set my novels in various locations and not confine myself to one city. I have lists and lists of interesting places I want to take my characters.

Any fictional characters from other books you feel particularly attuned to? Any fictional crushes?

I’ve always identified with most of Mary Stewart’s heroines. They’re smart, logical, slightly out of the ordinary women. I would also say I identify with Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. As far as fictional crushes, well, who isn’t a little in love with Mr. Darcy?

I'm interested in servants' roles and responsibilities. What is the difference between a majordomo, a butler, a valet? What about an abigail? I get confused as to which are different terms from different time periods and which are actually different positions.

There are a number of different sources online who can explain this better than I can, truly. Briefly, I can clarify that a majordomo is more of a man-of-all-business, carrying out a variety of duties that extend beyond the purview of one household. It’s a sort-of catch-all term and position. A butler is the head servant of usually one particular household. Carson on Downton Abbey is the perfect example. A valet handles a gentleman’s attire and appearance—draws his bath, helps him shave, mends his clothes, etc. An abigail is a lady’s personal maid, but it goes beyond that. She is oftentimes more of a servant-companion, desired as much for her company as the tasks she performs.
 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank You Ms. Huber for that wonderful interview!  We appreciate your visiting us today.  Keep writing those great books.




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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review - A Study in Death

If you have followed me for long, you know I have been a fan of this series since I reviewed the first book, The Anatomist's Wife (click here).  I have also reviewed #2 Mortal Arts (click here), #3 A Grave Matter (click here), and was honored to interview the author (click here.)  Now for the next book in this fascinating historical mystery.

Author: Anna Lee Huber

Copyright: July 2015 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 4th in Lady Darby Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing and situations

Mystery Sub-genre: historical-Amateur Sleuth, Private Investigator

Main Characters: Lady Kiera Darby, an accomplished artist,widow, and social outcast

Setting: 1831, Edinburgh Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Kiera has been commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, who is obviously in an abusive marriage.  When she dies suddenly, Kiera suspects poison when the husband's physician insists it was her heart in spite of her excellent health.  Kiera is determined to find the killer of the kind Lady Drummond, even when the rumors of her involvement in her husband's dissection of bodies is renewed and her fiance's father presents ongoing resistance to her personally and in the investigation. A few near miss accidents convince Kiera that somebody won't stop with rumors to halt her investigation, so she gets creative in some of her dealings.  Subplots are sister Alana having a very difficult pregnancy and the family is emotionally struggling with it. Also, the conventions of a women's place in society is increasingly a point of frustration for Kiera.

Lady Kiera Darby is facing her past and coming into her own with a stubborn streak showing strong.  Sebastian Gage must face his own baggage for the sake of their deepening relationship as well as handle his alpha-male father.  Alana and husband Phillip are emotionally challenged in their relationship through her high-risk pregnancy.  Bonnie Brook is a necessary evil that looks to be a recurring small character who is dangerous and unpredictable.  Bree, Kiera's personal maid, is shaping up to be a great supporting role and I want more of her.

Edinburgh is a rich backdrop as the setting.  The plot starts deceptively simple and quickly develops to more complicated and murky - which I like. The pacing stays consistent with the frustrating investigation and subplots.  The climax is a mixed bag as several elements transpire at the same time so Kiera can't be involved in everything.  I like a tense and suspenseful killer confrontation, but that didn't happen in this case.  The resolution of the plot is natural and logical and the suspense is found in another element of the storyline, so it is satisfactory. The wrap-up is upbeat and a shining moment.

I love this series, it is the whole package with an entertaining story, interesting plot, developed characters, and atmospheric setting for a great escapist read.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list


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