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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Author Guest Post - Laura Bradford

As a child, Laura Bradford fell in love with writing over a stack of blank paper, a box of crayons, and a freshly sharpened number two pencil. From that moment forward, she never wanted to do or be anything else. Today, Laura is the national bestselling author of several mystery series, including the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, the Amish Mysteries, the Jenkins & Burns Mysteries, the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey, and the upcoming Tobi Tobias Mystery Series. She is a former Agatha Award nominee, and the recipient of an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award in romance. A graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, Laura enjoys making memories with her family, baking, and being an advocate for those living with Multiple Sclerosis.

The All-Important Supporting Cast 

At a writer event I went to recently, I heard someone inquire as to the key ingredient in a successful series. My initial impulse, of course, was good writing. Because, let’s face it, that is paramount.

But a book or TV show can have a phenomenal writer and still not connect with readers or viewers. Which leads to yet another question…

Why?

Sure, a story has to have a strong lead. I mean, can you imagine the show Castle with anyone other than Nathan Fillian? I know I can’t.

But part of what makes Fillian so great in that role is his supporting cast—Espo, Kevin, Kate, and his mom. Each one of those characters enables us to learn more about Fillian’s Castle. Espo and Kevin allow us to see a funny side. Kate gives him an opportunity to be fun but also protective. And his mother, she shows us his past.

The same holds true for a book. A great protagonist is, well, great. But a great supporting cast can make that protagonist even better.

In Éclair and Present Danger, the first book in my new Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, Winnie Johnson is a strong lead. Her creativity, her loyalty, and her determination make her the kind of character you instantly care about. But it is through her supporting cast—downstairs neighbor, Mr. Nelson, next door neighbor, Bridget, and best friend/co-worker, Renee—that we get to see Winnie’s inner most layers.

It is because of Winnie’s relationship with Mr. Nelson that we get to see an occasional crack in her otherwise cool exterior. Their talks on the front porch illustrate a side of Winnie we don’t necessarily see when she’s brainstorming dessert names, making deliveries, and going about her day to day life.

It’s because of Winnie’s relationship with Bridget that we’re able to see just how deep her patience and her sensitivity run. Her ability to talk the eighty something off the proverbial cliff is nearing legendary status.

And, finally, it’s because of Renee that Winnie is forced to stop and take a long hard look at herself every once in a while. Renee doesn’t let Winnie ignore stuff away. She knows when Winnie is dodging and ducking and she thinks nothing of holding Winnie’s feet to the fire when it comes to living.

So yeah, good writing is key to any book—series or otherwise. But a supporting cast that can help deliver a truly unforgettable protagonist? That’s priceless, if you ask me.

***
Éclair and Present Danger

The first book in the delicious new Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery series from national bestselling author Laura Bradford. With her rent rising faster than her pie crust, bakery owner Winnie Johnson had hoped to be rescued by an inheritance from her wealthy friend and neighbor Gertrude Redenbacher. Instead all she inherits is the widow’s hostile hissing tabby, Lovey, and a vintage ambulance, restored by Gertrude’s late husband. As her dream crumbles, Winnie makes her final delivery—a peach pie to an elderly widower. But she finds Bart Wagner lying on his kitchen floor, smothered by a pillow. To comfort her frightened and grieving neighbors, Winnie comes to the rescue with her baked goods—and an idea is born: dessert delivery via her ambulance and a new business called the Emergency Dessert Squad. When she’s not speeding to the scenes of dessert emergencies, Winnie is also racing to track down Bart’s killer—before she needs to call a real ambulance for the next victim...

***
 For more information, visit: www.laurabradford.com or, for day to day stuff, you can find Laura on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurabradfordauthor/ and occasionally on Twitter @bradfordauthor

THANK you Ms. Bradford.  I agree, the supporting cast is crucial to making the whole package memorable.


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Review - Murder at Fontainebleu

This is one of my favorite historical mystery series that I have followed since the first book.  A little surprise as this is the first book in the series to leave England and send young Kate Haywood to a foreign country on the Queen's business.  See how this change in location impacts what we have come to expect from this author and series. 

Read the full reviews here: #1 Murder at Hatfield House (click here) , #2 Murder at Westminster Abbey (click here) , #3 Murder in the Queen's Garden (click here), and #4 Murder at Whitehall (click here), plus two posts by the author - guest post one (click here) and guest post two (click here).


Author: Amanda Carmack

Copyright: June 2016 (NAL) 304 pgs

Series: 5th in Elizabethan Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Kate Haywood, 18 year old musician in the court of newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I

Setting: 1561 at Imperial Château Fontainbleu in France

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the cover: "1561. Queen Elizabeth’s throne is threatened as Mary Queen of Scots—pushed in every direction by opposing and powerful forces—declares herself the rightful Queen of England. To discover her rival’s next unpredictable move, Elizabeth dispatches a party of trustworthy intimates to Mary’s court at Fontainebleau. Chief among them is Kate Haywood, who finds that the glittering balls and genial banquets conceal a web of poisonous ambition that soon turns deadly.

When a beautiful and disruptively flirtatious member of the visiting party is murdered, Kate suspects that the man who stands accused has been set up to discredit Elizabeth. She vows to find the real killer, but the French court is a labyrinth unlike any she has ever navigated before—and at every turn there are more traps set to spring."

Kate has her hands and thoughts full of delivering secret letters from Elizabeth's spymaster to an agent in France, tricky political intrigue that may have sacrificed a young traveling companion's life, and the two young men in her life each making clear their intentions.  Rob Cartman, the young actor managing his own troupe, is sent to keep an eye on Kate and he is most grateful for every moment to keep her safe and show his devotion.  Anthony Elias is about to start his own law practice and asks before she leave for France that Kate share his life. Are you team Rob or team Anthony?  There are several traveling companions in the set of characters that each come under Kate's scrutiny.  Amelia Wrightsman is the murder victim, who is far more than she ever appeared.

Château Fontainbleu is another brilliant setting for a murder, with the growing turmoil that eventually (after this story) turns into a civil war between the French Protestants called Huguenots and the influential but brutal Duke of Guise's Catholic family.  Kate and the reader are venturing into a country that is a powder-keg ready to explode behind all the gold gilt luxury and extravagance.  Pile on the court intrigue and speculation as to what Mary's, first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth, intentions are towards England's throne for a heady mix.  The murder only intensifies Queen Mary's suspicions towards cousin Elizabeth and puts any treaty at risk.  

The plot plays off the truly volatile time with political pressure building to a bursting point to have a pretty and popular, yet unwisely flirtatious English noblewoman who is equally popular with the French court murdered during special festivities.  Is the murder politically motivated to force Queen Mary into a stand off with England's still newly crowned Queen Elizabeth, or was their an even more sinister motive?  A well setup conundrum indeed.  The pacing isn't break-neck, but kept me spell bound all the same. The story has a good number of characters with various motives both personal and political or religious, but the pacing never suffers from the details of the many motivations.  

The killer confrontation occurs when Kate and Rob help set a trap for the killer and things don't go as planned.  Some good thrills during those scenes.  The wrap-up leaves Kate with important life decisions yet to be made.

I enjoy historical mysteries immensely, and this is one of my favorite series in the genre.  Kate is a phenomenal character that not only gives us entrance into the court life, but gifts a few helpings of political intrigue through the eyes of a kind young woman with more freedom than most are allowed in the time period because she is serving the Queen.  With each new book in the series I swear it is the best yet, and this addition is the same.  

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down I was so captivated. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.

And for your listening pleasure, one of my favorite French songs (since the book takes place in France) sung by Victoria Vox.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAKHxL6pSCA







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Monday, June 20, 2016

Author Guest Post - Shelley Freydont

Please welcome Shelley Freydont, author of several mystery series, including the Newport Gilded Age Mysteries (beginning with A Gilded Grave) and the Celebration Bay Mysteries, as well as those featuring Lindy Haggerty and Katie McDonald. She is also the author of several novels under the name Shelley Noble, and her books have been translated into seven languages.

In addition, she has toured internationally as a professional dancer with Louis Falco, Twyla Tharp Dance, and American Ballroom Theater, and has choreographed and taught for companies throughout the world.

Recipe for a Gilded Age Murder.

When I was asked to give the perfect set of circumstances for a historical mystery, I didn’t have to think long. It’s just like putting together a perfect recipe.

Take one opulent era of history. Mark Twain called it The Gilded Age and it ran from around 1870 to 1900. It was an era of serious social problems masked by a thin veneer of gold. A time of industrialization, huge growth, incredible wealth and wide spread corruption. A time of power struggles in commerce, justice and morality. A time of conspicuous consumption by the haves and poverty and hard work by the have nots.

Add in one seaside Resort town. Newport Rhode Island in 1895. Where the nation's wealthiest families summered in sumptuous mansions they called "cottages".

Add a dollop of family. The wife and daughter of a prominent well respected judge threw him a huge birthday fete and invited all the richest families (among them, the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Oelrich’s and the Fishes), mayhem ensued.

Mix with a professional theatrical troupe. Hired away from their theater for the evening to present a play called The Sphinx.

Stir in one ingénue who ran away from a rich and
respectable family to seek her fortune behind the footlights.

Add spice with a handsome young actor who takes the town by storm.

Whisk all ingredients with a young debutante named Deanna Randolph, her maid Elspeth and her former fiancé Joe until the culprit is brought to justice.

Arrange on a bed of secrets and scandals, bicycles and tennis matches, zealot moralists and Women’s suffragettes.

Garnish with quirky local residents and extravagant fashions and serve in A Golden Cage.

All that is left is to enjoy!

A Golden Cage, A Newport Gilded Age Mystery

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thank you Ms. Freydont for that great recipe that gives a great taste of what your most recent book the Newport Gilded Age mystery series is about.  Tantalizing glimpse.




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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review - A Prisoner in Malta

I have had this book on my TBR list and I finally got to it.  A mystery series based on the enigmatic historical figure of Christopher Marlowe, who, conjecture has it, either influenced Shakespeare or was the actual writer of the plays and The Bard only a convenient cover.  

He has long been rumored to have worked for the great Elizabethan Spy Master Sir Francis Walsingham.  In this book we are given a fictional account of how he might have been recruited to work for the Spy Master.


Author: Phillip DePoy

Copyright: Jan 2016 (Minotaur) 320 pgs

Series: 1st in Christopher Marlowe Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild, some fighting with swords and fight violence etc.

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Intrigue

Main Characters: Christopher Marlowe, real historical figure who was Elizabethan playwright, poet, and spy.

Setting: Modern day, England and Malta

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

"In 1583, the nineteen-year-old Christopher Marlowe---with a reputation as a brawler, a womanizer, a genius, and a social upstart at Cambridge University---is visited by a man representing Marlowe's benefactors. There are rumors of a growing plot against her majesty Queen Elizabeth I, and the Queen's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, has charged young Marlowe with tracking down the truth. The path to that truth seems to run through an enigmatic prisoner held in complete seclusion in a heavily guarded dungeon in Malta. Marlowe must use every bit of his wits, his skills, and his daring to unravel one of the greatest mysteries in history and help uncover and unravel scheme of assassination and invasion, one involving the government of Spain, high ranking English nobles, and even the Pope himself."

Christopher Marlowe is smart and witty but also flawed with a party boy tendency and inflated ego.  He is depicted brilliantly, not too full of himself and yet comical in his sarcastic dialog.  Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth's private physician, has been Christopher's friend and even mentor, and ultimately brings him to Walsingham to recruit him.  Lopez is a mystery through most of the book as to which cause he is really devoted to.  Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s secretary and “spymaster” is ruthless and shows us what spying was like in ancient times.  Miss Frances Walsingham, the spymaster’s daughter, is a deadly spy in her own right that Chris naturally falls for.  Tin, a stable servant girl who is devoted to Miss Walsingham is a surprise.  The characters of Christopher and Miss Walsingham are over-the-top in a few scenes with their fighting prowess, but if taken in the spirit of a grand swash-buckling story it works.

The Malta scenes are early in the book, but quiet effectively used to set the intrigue.  It was a "seal-team-six meets the Three Musketeers" style for the rescue of the prisoner on Malta. The rest of the book is figuring out a twisty murder mystery that has set up Christopher as the killer and he must clear his name and uncover more of the people involved in the plot against the Queen.  The setting for this part is in and around London, from churches to back alleys.  In this there are many, many suspects and everything was murky.

The plot is complex and unpredictable up to the ending, which depends on what you like as to whether this will appeal to you.  In that light, it was an enjoyable escape.  At times the investigation seemed to be going nowhere and began to drag, but soon picked up.  The climax had an exciting confrontation and twist, with the promise of Christopher continuing in the service of the Queen.  

If you enjoy swashbuckling adventure with a murder mystery, some intrigue, and some humor - then this is probably your kind of book!  I found this book pure escapism and enjoyed it tremendously.

Rating:  Good - A fun read, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a short piece on questions surrounding Christopher's death and if he could be the real author of Shakespeare's works.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKukzJ-W0Wg




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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review - Decanting a Murder

I was intrigued with this mystery book featuring a Sommelier as the main character, so I had to read this debut book in a new series.  See if it sparks your interest.

Author: Nadine Nettmann

Copyright: May 2016 (Midnight Ink) 264 pgs

Series: 1st in Sommelier Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Katie Stillwell

Setting: Modern day, California Wine Country

Obtained Through: Publisher/NetGalley for honest review

"Katie Stillwell focuses on two things in her life: work and practicing for Sommelier Certification with her blind tasting group. The exam was supposed to be the hardest part of her week, but that was before a body was found at an exclusive Napa Valley winery party.

When all the evidence points to Katie's best friend, the outspoken and independent Tessa, Katie drops everything to clear Tessa's name. Using her deductive wine skills, she tries to track down the real killer. But when repeated attempts are made on her life, Katie discovers that everyone's secrets must be uncovered―including her own."

Katie Stillwell is challenged in many ways in this book, the least of which is the Sommelier certification exam.  She is a steadfast friend who is doing everything in her power to help her friend Tessa.  She has some baggage to deal with along the way.  Tessa is a bit of a party girl with a bad reputation, dysfunctional and exhibits poor judgement sometimes, but she is devoted to Katie.  Dean is the investigating detective that somewhat likes Katie but keeps his distance throughout.  
Wine country is the backdrop and the many details of vineyard work.  This is well presented and gives a melancholy aspect I thought.  One setting of the wine barrel storage that is dark, isolated, and cut into a hillside was really used effectively.  The plot is straight forward, but the complicated characters and relationship between Katie and Tessa stand out.  The pacing gets going once we reach the murder and the subplot of how Tessa is involved.   Then Katie is setup and it gets interesting.

The killer reveal has some good tense moments, and a pretty tense scene three/fourths the way in which gave me some chills.  The wrap up was the one part that I would have liked to see different. I believe this is meant to be a series, but the ending didn't setup anticipation for the next book.  

Overall I liked the story, loved the Sommelier angle and hope that is maintained as the series continues.  Although this classifies as a cozy with no real violence, mild or no swearing, no intimate scenes etc. I was left with a feeling of Amateur sleuth because of the more serious tone and Tessa's character.  

Rating:  Good - A fun read with good qualities.

Find out more about wine (click here).


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