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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review - Ripe For Murder

The latest in the Cypress Cove Mysteries is out.  I reviewed the 1st book, One Foot in the Grape (click here) and have been waiting to see what happens next. We also got a delightful character guest post by Penny Lively (click here).  Let's go back to sunny California and see how wine country is handling another murder.

Author: Carlene O’Neil

Copyright: March 2016 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Cypress Cove Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters:  Penny Lively, former photojournalist newly inherited Joyeux Vineyard

Setting: Modern day, Napa wine country - California

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Penny Lively loves running her family’s winery, but to keep business growing, she needs to find a way to attract more guests. She is considering investing in a new train line through wine country.  Penny and her winery manager, Connor, travel to a lavish resort to hear the details of the investment opportunity. Unfortunately, her neighbor’s flirtatious daughter, Chantal, is also there, swirling up trouble by flirting with the married investors—and with Connor too.

When one of the investors’ wives is murdered, Chantal, who was seen fighting with the woman, is the prime suspect. Chantal may be a man-crazy, but she’s no killer. So Penny starts asking some questions and discovers that her fellow potential investors have more than their share of deadly secrets.

Penny Lively is on the scene again when murder strikes.  The tension leaps off the page in this addition, as Chantal pushes her flirtation with Connor...and other men at the investment wine and dine experience.  The wine train makes a unique and effective setting for part of the book.  I enjoyed the weaving of Penny's jealously over Connor with her working to clear Chantal's name anyway.  Antonia even reconnects with an old flame who owns a Napa vineyard and their competitive banter has romantic undertones.  The story moves right along at a nice clip and Penny finds herself in the killer's sights.  It ends with some surprises and twists that provide a nail-biting killer reveal.  

I enjoyed this thoroughly and was swept away in the story, surprised to find myself in snowy Colorado rather than sunny California whenever I was forced to put the book down.

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, March 28, 2016

Guest Post by Laura Childs

Please welcome the bestselling author Laura Childs!  Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 Tea Shop Mysteries, 13 Scrapbooking Mysteries, and 6 Cackleberry Club Mysteries. On July 5 she will release Little Girl Gone, the first book in her Afton Tangler Thriller Series written by Gerry Schmitt. 

In her previous life she was CEO of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese art history, enjoys travel, and has two Shar-Pei dogs.  I am very tickled to have her share with us.

Finding your Creative Mojo
As the former CEO of a major marketing firm, and now an author of three different mystery series, I’m often asked about that mysterious and elusive intangible known as creativity. How do you catch the creative spark? Where do you find it? How do you put that puppy to work?

Well, here’s the amazing thing. Everybody has the ability to dig deep within themselves and ignite that creative spark. It’s there, simmering away, in each one of us. Creativity, believe it for not, is simply a by-product of the imagination. And the imagination is a brain-powered muscle that you flex and stretch (and polish up a little) to get it in good working order.

What stands in your way, of course, is plain old garden variety fear. You want to write, but you’re afraid the words won’t come. Or you want to start a business, but you’re afraid you won’t have the skills, or won’t be taken seriously. But the truth of the matter is, you can do it.

Let me reiterate this: You Can Do It.

Never, ever, let anyone (and I do mean anyone) step on your skis. Never let a naysayer tell you that you can’t accomplish your goal, no matter how small – or your dream, no matter how big! Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re too young, too old, not smart enough, not experienced enough, not pretty enough, or the wrong gender. Got that? You have to completely tune out the negative talk. Please don’t listen to that well-meaning relative, friend, co-worker, or random person who is subtly trying to sabotage your dream.

And, for goodness sake, stop listening to the little voice inside your head that whispers I don’t think I can do it. I’m afraid. I’m not good enough. I’m just not smart enough. Because that little voice is soooo wrong.

You can do anything you put your mind to.

You don’t think you’ve got the ability to write a novel? Then write a short story. Write an article for your church bulletin. Write a poem for your child. Start small and take baby steps. But don’t be afraid to think big and tap into your passion.

I met a woman at a tea shop who told me she was secretly jealous that I could make up stories. She told me that her five year-old granddaughter was constantly begging her to tell her a story. And this poor woman was in anguish because she couldn’t come up with a single story idea. She said, “I feel so dumb. I want to make up a story, but it’s just not there.”

I asked her, “What’s your passion? What do you love to do?”

She thought about it for a few moments, then her face brightened and she said, “Well, I’m a pretty good gardener.”

“You have a big garden?” I asked.

“My entire back yard,” she said proudly. “All flowers.”

“Then tell your granddaughter about your garden angel,” I suggested. “Or about the little toad that lives under a rock in your garden. Or make up a story about Lily and Buttercup. Give your flowers names and your story will start to take wing.”

She was literally stunned. “I never thought of that,” she said. Then a sly smile crept across her face and her voice took on a positive, upbeat tone. “I can do that. I know I can make up a story about all the beautiful flowers in my garden.”

And you know what? I know she can do it, too.

You know what? I bet you can figure out your heart’s desire, tap into your creative self, and make it happen for you.


Laura Childs

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THANK You Ms. Childs for sharing with us today.  We so appreciate it.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Guest Post - Character Penny Lively

The second book in the Cypress Cove Mystery series, Ripe for Murder, is out and my review will be posted shortly.  I reviewed the first book in the series, One Foot in the Grape (click here), and we were tickled to have the main character guest post for us (click here.)  Today we have some thoughts on the wondrous magic of making wine from the main character, Penny Lively.

The Angels Share

Hi, I’m Penny Lively, owner of Joyeux Winery, along the central California coast. As a winery owner, I’m often asked why we still use wooden barrels to age and store wine. Visitors to Joyeux winery see that we use both oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Steel tanks seem easier to use, and they are. A lot of fresh, fruity white wines do better in stainless steel. The important difference is the white wines aren’t for aging. Usually the sooner you drink them, the better they are. The steel keeps the fruity flavors fresh and crisp. Red wines, though, are a different matter. Most red wines improve with age, especially in oak barrels, but it took a while to figure this out.

Letting crushed grapes sit around in wooden pails until it turned into something, well, a little tastier, has been going on for more than 5,000 years. The first wine drinkers weren’t overly picky, and it didn’t take a lot of flavor to keep the average wine drinker happy. Let’s be honest; flavor wasn’t the primary concern.

This went on for quite some time. Until the Iron Age, to be exact, when the pails were enclosed and barrels came into use. When this happened everything changed for winemakers. At first it was simply convenient to store the wine in barrels. It certainly made shipping easier. They didn’t break like the clay containers used before, and the barrels could be easily rolled. Barrels also allowed wine makers to make more wine at once, leaving it sitting in the barrels until it was needed.

The consumer of this wine soon discovered a greater benefit. It didn’t take long to realize something wonderful was happening. This wine was different. This wine tasted good. Softer. Flavors like vanilla and tea. Caramelized sugar. The wine was vastly improved, and all by happy accident. These added flavors and depth to the wine are why wooden barrels are still used, even in a time when synthetic materials and stainless steel are available and would be easier. Barrel making itself has become an art form. The barrel size or the ways they are made can influence the flavor of the wine. The type of oak, and if it’s sawn or hand-split. Is it heated over a fire or is boiling water used to bend the staves? New Oak for intensity or old oak for elegance?

Another reason wooden barrels work so well is that they allow for oxidation. They are porous. The very gradual oxidation increases the complex flavor and fragrances in the wine. The barrels breathe. In some cases ten to fifteen percent of the wine evaporates while it is in the barrels and before it’s bottled. That’s where the term “Angels Share” comes in. It takes a bit of luck, magic, and yes, a little help from the heavens to make a wonderful wine. If the angels want to have a taste, it’s fine with me. We can use all the help we can get.


Penny Lively

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THANK You Miss Lively for stopping by and sharing with us.  I love the idea of an "Angel's Share".

And if anybody would like to find out a little more about wine, check out this book - the Little Wine Guide (click here).  This is a quick start guide for the "wine timid".

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Guest Post - Denise Swanson

Please welcome Denise Swanson, the bestselling author of the Scumble River and Devereaux’s Dime Store mysteries to our little mystery have.  She is joining us with a special guest post.

The Top Five Reasons I Love Libraries

As a writer, I know the importance of libraries. But before I ever dreamed of becoming a published author, I was a little girl living in a small town. An only child, living on a farm with no neighbors within walking distance, I suffered panic attacks if I didn’t have a pile of books waiting for me to read.

Which was why, when I heard about all the libraries being closed due to lack of funding, I decided to focus the plot of my next Devereaux’s Dime Store mystery on the offer of a philanthropist to reopen the Shadow Bend Library.

Like me, my sleuth Dev, grew up on a farm outside of town, so she too would have depended on the library for entertainment, knowledge, and companionship. Knowing that it was important to the story that she feels conflicted about the library re-opening, I decided that the philanthropist would turn out to be her stepfather. A man she’d never met, married to the woman who had abandoned Dev and run off seeking greener pastures.

Next, I took a good hard look at what libraries meant to their towns in the twenty-first century versus what they had been when I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies. I found out that in this ever increasing digital world, the role of libraries are undervalued. Many public officials have no idea that libraries are community and cultural centers and when there’s a shortfall in the budgets, libraries are among the first institutions to suffer.

With this in mind, I came up with the Top Five Reasons I Love Libraries

1. Libraries can strengthen a community’s bond. Libraries, especially in small towns, are one of the few remaining places where folks from diverse backgrounds can gather to interact.

2. Libraries are centers for the arts. In rural communities there are few places where creative souls can freely express themselves.

3. Libraries are safe places for children and adolescents to socialize and learn how to interact. Unlike Dev’s dime store, most businesses don’t like kids or teens hanging out. The library does.

4. Libraries are quiet. In today’s busy world with people shouting into cell phones or screaming at each other, a library provides a refuge from all the noise pollution.

5. Libraries are where the librarians hang out and librarians are special people sweet, who are knowledgeable, and great at coming up with suggestions for new books and authors to check out.

With that in mind, I wrote Between a Book and a Hard Place. It saddened me that because of the way the plot developed, I was going to have to deprive Dev’s hometown of the library they were counting on regaining. But rest assured, sometime in the near future, like the next book, Shadow Bend will get its library and it will be bigger and better than ever. Because as we all know every town needs a good library.

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THANK You Ms Swanson for joining us and sharing your thoughts on libraries.  I agree that libraries and important to communities!

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Review - Out of the Dying Pan

This is the second entry in the Deep Fried Mystery series.  I reviewed the debut novel, Fillet of Murder (click here), and also was fortunate to have Ms Reilly provide a guest post (click here).  I gave pretty high praise for the first book, let's see how the second one did.

Author: Linda Reilly

Copyright: Mar 2016 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Deep Fried Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Talia Marby, new owner of a Fish n chips shop

Setting: Modern day, Berkshires Maryland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Ria, the owner of a neighboring boutique is making a stink, baiting Talia in a very public fight at a community center fundraiser and harboring a grudge. But then she is found strangled with Talia’s scarf knotted around her neck, and it doesn't look good for Talia. Needing to clear her name, and fast, Talia’s investigation soon yields some shocking surprises as well as a sizzling suspicion: someone had good reason to silence her.

Talia is kind-hearted and mending from a break-up which is affecting her relationship with Ryan. She is also dealing with being the boss with employees. Now she has to deal with Ria, a girl from her past. 

Ryan Collins, an old high school classmate now a software designer, is her boyfriend and he continues to be a great addition. Sadly, there wasn't much for him in this outing but a couple scenes.  The tension between Ryan and Talia because of her past relationship baggage is a subplot. 

Martha is a grumpy new employee of Talia's who has a murky past and Lucas is a clumsy nineteen year old employee. They both are interesting characters and have shining moments.  I missed her sidekick best friend Rachel from the first book, what little cameo she made wasn't the same.  The new police detective, Patti Prescott was a great addition and I look forward to more of her.

I had a hard time putting it down. The plot kept me wanting to understand Ria even as angry as she was.  The killer reveal came up quickly and the clues planted were very subtle.  You have to be sharp.  The wrap-up was heart warming.

I enjoyed this second book in the series and it is joining my "go to" list for sheer pleasure reading.  It has a wonderful balance of warm main character and solid cozy murders for an enjoyable escape.  

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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Guest post - Kristi Abbott

Welcome the author of the new Popcorn Shop Mystery Series, author Eileen Rendahl, writing as Kristi Abbott, and also Eileen Carr.  She shares with us about the debut book and developing the recipes.  

Recipes Included!

When my editor at Berkley first talked to me about writing the Popcorn Shop Mystery series, I was thrilled. I developed a thing for Garrett’s Caramel Cashew Popcorn when I lived in Chicago about a bazillion years ago. That stuff was like crack. One taste and I could not stop. Writing about a gourmet popcorn shop felt like a totally natural fit. Besides, who doesn’t like popcorn?

Some books are just easier to write than others. They flow easier. The words bring you more joy. The plot naturally evolves in a way that’s both inevitable and surprising. It’s kind of like having an easy baby. You’re never sure what special alchemy occurred to have a book that is a joy to sit down to every day any more than you really know what made that kid sleep through the night at six months. Kernel of Truth was one of those good-sleeping babies.

So far so great. Delicious popcorn. A book that’s flowing from my fingers into my laptop via my keyboard (an external one since I sort of accidentally poured ice water on my computer, but that’s another story). My editor sent the back cover copy. It was, in a word, adorable. Things were bursting. Problems were being resolved in a jiffy. Suspects were popping up. And recipes were included!

I wrote to my editor telling her how much I loved the copy and asking who worked up the recipes. She wrote back that she was pretty sure we’d talked about that way back when we were discussing the contract and I was supposed to be coming up with recipes. Once she said that, it did ring a bell. Thanks tons, middle-aged brain.

Cue panic mode. In the book, Rebecca had developed all kinds of special popcorn products like popcorn breakfast bars and popcorn fudge. Everyone loves them. Now I had to make them a reality. Really?

To say my first attempts were less than stellar is a bit of an understatement. My breakfast bars were more oozy breakfast lumps. The popcorn fudge wasn’t bad. I mean, how far wrong can you go with sweet and salty together? Not far in my book or in my life. Still, the chocolate was a little too stiff and the popcorn got a tiny bit soggy.

Enter my good friend and amazing author, the lovely Spring Warren who is not only a good cook, but understands the science of how food works. There was a bad moment when she asked me what I was using to hold the breakfast bars together and nearly choked when I told her marshmallow crème. Apparently, marshmallow crème is not considered to be a healthy part of a balanced breakfast. Who knew?

Spring, being the fabulous friend that she is, spent about four hours in my kitchen one afternoon and by the end of it, I had the recipes for Kernel of Truth. They were edible and replicable. I even shipped some off to my kids in care packages. Of course, twenty-year-old boys will eat pretty much anything, but they were still well-received.

I have at least two more popcorn books to write. That means I need somewhere between six and ten new recipes. Anybody have any favorite popcorn recipes they want to share? You’ll totally get a shout out in the acknowledgments of the next book if I use them!

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THANK You Ms. Abbott for sharing about the recipes in your book.  I wish I had the recipe for my grandmother's black-strap molasses popcorn balls.  They were amazing.  Sadly, she never wrote it down.  

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