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Monday, February 8, 2016

Guest Post - Monica Ferris

Let's welcome bestselling author of the Needlecraft Mystery series, Monica Ferris.  This month her eighteenth book in the series is released, Darned If You Do.  We are overjoyed to have her virtually visit this little corner of the internet.

Thoughts on her writing

One of the pleasures of writing a series is watching the recurring characters change and develop. Yes, “watch.” Any serious author will tell you that at least half the time the characters in a story will tell the author what they’re doing or thinking or wanting. My sleuth, Betsy Devonshire, has gone through several boyfriends (I really liked Morrie, but apparently she didn’t like him enough); her best friend Jill has quit the police force to get married and have children (we’re up to three); her formerly flirtatious store manager has settled into a healthy relationship with a Spaniard who collects medieval silver English coins (so do I, so that’s a happy way to use something I already know about). Betsy’s current beau wants to marry her, but so far she’s resisting. So while every novel features a new murder for her to solve, there is a stable undercurrent of familiar faces. Sometimes I think my fans are at least as interested in what my characters are getting up to as they are in the crime—which is fine by me, as I’m interested, too.

The title of the newest mystery in my current needlework series is Darned If You Do—a cute title, but not one I came up with myself. I was going to call the novel A Needle Case, because a needle case is an important clue in the story. (It’s a container needle workers use to hold needles.) But my editor asked me to suggest something else. Since my brain was stuck on A Needle Case, I got on my Facebook page, gave a limited outline of the novel, and asked for title suggestions. One faithful reader sent in a list of titles, which I forwarded to my editor. And she jumped on Darned If you Do. She loved it, and said they had never before published a book with that title.

But nothing gets darned in the novel. So create something, I told myself. Thank God for Google. I did a search and came up with a method of knitting a patch over a hole in a knitted sock. It even had a video lesson. I watched it until I was sure I understood how to do it, and then had one of the employees in the needlework shop Crewel World show a customer how to do it.

Joyfully, electronic information abounds in this twenty-first century. In Darned If You Do, for example, the plot revolves around a house full of junk and treasure. There are a lot of reality shows on television that give endless examples of the kind of stuff one can find in attics and basements and even living and bedrooms. Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Hoarders Buried Alive – all feature heaps of extraordinary things found in houses, barns, and sheds. Or, in some cases, the shows discover someone who has allowed his or her habit of never throwing anything away to fill a dwelling to bursting. And there are endless resources on the Internet on valuable antiques and art. So I had all the material I needed to invent an eccentric recluse whose ability to differentiate between what was valuable and what was merely interesting was seriously flawed, and whose house is overflowing with broken bicycles, chipped glass jars, moldy books, radios and record players missing their insides, rusty cans of vegetables – and a cookie jar full of very valuable Morgan silver dollars.

The next book in the series, Knit Your Own Murder, features poison, knitting your own animals, secret hatreds, and an Episcopal celebration of Easter. In this case, much of my research was more direct. For example, I was blessed to be in London this past Easter and attended the Easter Vigil service at Westminster Abbey. I transferred my experience of the service to the Episcopal cathedral in Minneapolis, and sent my heroine and her boyfriend to it – all is grist for my mill!

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THank You Ms. Ferris for this fun post.  I enjoy the series and it keeps going strong.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

Review - The Cracked Spine

Paige Shelton is the author of the Farmer's Market, Country Cooking School, and A Dangerous Type Mystery series.  This is the debut novel for her new Scottish Bookshop mystery series. 

Author: Paige Shelton

Copyright: March 2016 (Minotaur Books) 304 pgs

Series: 1st in Scottish Bookshop Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Delaney Nichols, new employee at The Cracked Spine

Setting: Modern day, Edinburgh, Scotland 

Obtained Through: NetGalley/Publisher for honest review

Delaney Nichols just packed her bags and moved halfway across the world to Edinburgh, Scotland to start a job at The Cracked Spine. Her new boss, Edwin MacAlister, has given her the opportunity of a lifetime and Delaney can’t wait to take her spot behind the desk.  The Cracked Spine is filled with everything a book lover could want. 

But before she can settle into her new life, a precious artifact goes missing, and Edwin’s sister is murdered. Delaney is now part of the family and she jumps in to help figure out what happened to the rare manuscript, and stumbles into more than she bargained for.  Warning, the book has much of the dialog in a scotish brogue.  That is hard for some to follow.

Delaney was raised in Kansas and mustered a lot of courage to move her life for a nebulous job in Scotland.  She brings her outgoing personality to the store and grows on the reader.  Rosie is the mother hen of the bookstore and always has tiny dog Hector in tow. Hamlet is the other employee, a nineteen-year-old actor with a colored past and bright future. Edwin, who is  her wealthy, enigmatic, and mysterious boss. Tom is the bartender from across the street and the potential romantic interest who looks good in a kilt.  Elias is a cab-driver who, along with his wife, take her under their wing and even rent a place to her.  Then there is a cast of eccentric friends of Edwin's who comprize an auction club where they acquire rare items.

Edinburgh is detailed nicely from it's castles to its seedier side.  The plot was fine but the murder was so removed from Delaney that there seemed no real tension for her to get involved to the extent she does.  The story moved along well. although I would have liked a bit more personal investment from Delaney in order for the story to grab a hold of me.

I do have to say that the killer was a total surprise, and I didn't feel there were any clues dropped to suspect this person.  The killer reveal had some good tension.  The wrap-up resolved all the open threads of the story and left the path open for the next book.

This is a fun cozy mystery set in Scotland with a fresh heroine and great setup for many interesting adventures to come.

Rating: Good - A fun read for curling up by the fire or a beach read. 



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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Guest Post - Delia James

We have a new author in the mystery world and I reviewed her debut novel (click here).  Find out more about who writes cozy mysteries with a touch of whimsy in the Witch's Cat Mysteries right here.  

Introducing Delia James, and the Witch's Cat Mysteries

Hello. My name is Delia James, and I write mysteries. Specifically, I write mysteries with magic and cats with plenty of attitude. This is no surprise to anybody who knows me.

I grew up on mysteries. Summers at my grandmother’s in the country, I discovered her Agatha Christie books and was immediately fascinated by Hercule Poirot. TV was filled with mysteries and we never missed them, Colombo, MacMillan & Wife, McCloud, The Rockford Files, Quincy…and of course I was in love with the Hardy Boys as played by Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson (for the record, I was a Parker Girl, all the way). Of course I could quote Sherlock Holmes, chapter and verse. In college, I got introduced to, and fell in love all over again with, Lord Peter Whimsey.

Despite this, when I started writing, mysteries were not my first choice. I was (confession time) also a major science fiction nerd and it was science fiction I gravitated to first. I don’t regret it at all. Science fiction is fun, and it teaches you a lot about how to build a fictional world along with the characters that fit into it, or don’t. This can be valuable training for a mystery writer who has to construct solid, interesting puzzles the size of small towns, or big bad cities. And of course, along with science fiction, I was also a fan of its sister genre, fantasy, with its elves and hobbits, and witches, and plenty of magic. I learned to read from The Wizard of Oz and had Alice in Wonderland practically memorized.

With all this swirling around in the background, when I got the chance to write a story featuring a witch and a magical cat in New England, you know I jumped at it. And I am having an absolute blast.

First of all, it’s given me an excuse to spend more time in New England, which is one of my very favorite places. I love the landscape, the coast and the rivers. I even love the weather, especially the autumn. I love the old cities and towns and all the history tucked up in their streets and odd (some of them very odd) corners. Of course there are mysteries here. Lots of them, some of them old, some of them brand new.

Cats were another natural for me. I’ve been owned by one cat or another since I was born. From our grumpy old indoor-outdoor tortoiseshell Buttercup, to Isis the Siamese, to our current long-haired gray Buffy the Vermin Slayer, they all at one time or another shared my home, sat on my lap, or curled up on my shoulders, or gotten in between me and…whatever I was doing at the moment. I swear, some of them have in fact been able to vanish and reappear at will, just like Alistair in A Familiar Tail. Of course they couldn’t be kept out of anyplace they really wanted to get into, including the bedroom, the closet, and once, much to everybody’s surprise and embarrassment, the fridge. Again, just like Alistair.

So, like I said at the beginning, I’m Delia James. Welcome to my world!

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Thank you Ms. James.  For the record, I was a Parker Stevenson fan as well.  Yay.  And I love cats and fantasy as well. I want a vacation during fall in New England and be one of those "leaf peepers" people talk about in discouraging tones.  We should do lunch sometime girlfriend!  Are you going to Bouchercon?


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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review - A Familiar Tale

This is the debut novel in a new series.  It is a lighthearted magical cozy.  Come along and see if it's for you.

Author: Delia James

Copyright: Feb 2016 (NAL) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in A Witch's Cat Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy

Main Character: Annabelle (Annie) Amelia Blessingsound Britton

Setting: Modern day, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Annabelle breaks up with her boyfriend and decides to visit visit her best friend - Chef Martine, who is opening a restaurant in the seaside town of  Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  When she stumbles upon a smoky gray cat named Alastair (nicknamed the ghost cat), and follows him into a charming cottage of his former owner (Dorothy) who recently died.  She gains access, seemingly from Alistair the cat's magic touch, into a locked attic room with a witch's altar complete with her photo in the center.  Before she knows it, she encounters an intruder and pockets the wand from the altar.  Her hidden talent - a "vibe" she gets - tells her that Dorothy was pushed rather than accidentally fell down the basement stairs.  She is soon surrounded by Dorothy's coven, surviving nephew, and Alistair, all wanting to find out the truth yet trying to protect her at the same time.

Annie, she is a fun character that is easy to care about.  Her interactions with Alistair are priceless.  She has a self-deprecating sense of humor that keeps the narrative light.  Martine is a busy Chef, but makes time for Annie when she is needed.  Frank, the head of the local paper and only surviving relation to Dorothy may be interested in Annie.  I look forward to seeing how his character develops.  The coven is comprised of Julia, Valerie, Kenisha, Didi, Shannon, and Trisha are a friendly group of women who use their spells, charms, and potions to keep the people of Portsmouth safe.  Sean, the charismatic bartender at Martine's restaurant, is another potential romantic interest.  At least, he is interested.  Alistair the cat is not surprising, the breakout star.  Enigmatic, he is a cat of mystery who disappears into thin air and appears just as suddenly.

The plot arrears simple on first blush, but there is enough going on that motive or the killer aren't clear.  Particularly motive.  The pages kept turning as I followed Annie, so the pacing maintained a steady rhythm.  The killer reveal was plenty tense which made me happy.  The wrap up leaves the reader wanting to know what is in store for Annie now.

I liked this light and engaging mystery with warm and fun characters.  The only draw back were quite a few typos.

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


Cherry Cheesecake Cookies


These festive cookies offer bright red saucy cherries atop a stage of sweet cheesecake dusted in graham cracker crumbs. The best part is, they're a cinch to make!
While the original recipe calls for the use of cherries on top, feel free to adapt it by using a tablespoon of blueberry pie filling, strawberry pie filling, strawberry-rhubarb pie filling, even lemon pie filling, etc. The possibilities are endless and these delicious cookies will be the hit of any party. In case you're wondering, this recipe can easily be doubled as well.

You'll Need:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (place in a small shallow dish)
1 cans (20-ounce) cherry pie filling (or blueberry or strawberry, etc if desired)

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, mixing well, then set aside.

In a mixing bowl combine cream cheese, butter and sugar and beat them together until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating until incorporated and smooth.

Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture and mix until just combined, do not over beat the dough.

Refrigerate dough until firm, about 30-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Scoop the dough out and shape into 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll the balls in graham cracker crumbs. Place balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, then, using the back of a spoon press gently to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

Place 3 cherries in each cookie dimple.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool for five minutes on the sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Prep Time: 45 min (including refrigeration time)
Cook Time: 14 min Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Recipe from Budget101.com


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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Guest Post - Diana Orgain

Let's welcome the author of the new Love or Money Mystery Series to our little slice of the blog-o-sphere!
I reviewed her second book in the series, Second Chance at Murder (click here).  Let's find out a little more about her in this interview.


QandA with USA Today Bestselling Author, Diana Orgain

1. How long have you been writing? I have a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Playwriting and it was many moons ago I was in college…so I think it’s safe to say, I’ve been writing for about 20 years.

2. When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it? My first novel was Bundle of Trouble: A Maternal Instincts Mystery The story is about is about a new mom who’s fears something may have happened to her near-do-well brother-in-law. As Private Investigators probe around, it gives Kate the idea to start her own investigation service and therefore, by able to work from home and care for her new baby.

3. Have you always written mysteries? If not what else have you written? Yes, always comedic mysteries in novel format. My plays were sometimes mysteries, sometimes comedies and sometimes both.

4. What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? I love watching reality TV, but with three children and a busy writing career, I hardly ever get to watch TV at all, so I decided to create my own reality TV show series where I could control the ending!

5. Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work? I write to entertain and I love it!

6. Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can? Both! I make up a schedule and when I blow it, I write whenever I can ; )

7. Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it? I definitely plot. I know all the plot point in a novel as if they were written on the inside of my eyelids. I also keep a notebook with me at all times for when inspiration hits.

8. If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write? Morning!

9. Writing heroes? Mary Higgins Clark has always been an inspiration.

10. What kind of research do you do? Interview law personnel, lots of internet research, lots of talking to people!

11. What do you read? Everything! I’m currently hooked on a Japanese Anime Series that my daughter and I are reading together Attack on Titan (we can’t get enough!) It’s not something I would have ordinarily picked up, but the fact that my daughter and I are reading together, just tickles me.

12. Favorite TV or movies? Goodness to many to mention I think…all time favorite movies are anything written by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley)

13. What is something people would be surprised to know about you? English is not my first language! 14. Where can readers find out more about you? www.dianaorgain.com And the can always sign up for my newsletter to get the latest updates.

Bio:
Diana Orgain is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Maternal Instincts Mystery Series: Bundle of Trouble, Motherhood is Murder and Formula for Murder, and Nursing a Grudge. She is also the Author of the Love or Money Mystery series and Yappy Hour. Diana is the New York Times Bestselling co-author of the Scrapbooking Mystery Series with Laura Childs. To keep up to date with the latest releases visit Diana at www.dianaorgain.com or sign up for the newsletter.

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THANK You Ms. Orgain for those answers so we can get to know you a little better.


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