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Monday, April 16, 2018

Author Guest Post - Christina Hoag

Please welcome fellow author Christina Hoag.  She is a former journalist who has had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas, phone tapped in Venezuela, was suspected of drug trafficking in Guyana, hid under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, and posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail. She has interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Now she writes about such characters in her fiction.

Christina’s noir crime novel Skin of Tattoos was a finalist for

the 2017 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for suspense, while her YA thriller Girl on the Brink was named one of Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 for young adults. She also co-authored Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, which is being used in several universities.

She's a former staff writer for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, and wrote from Latin America for Time, Business Week, New York Times, Financial Times, Times of London, Houston Chronicle and other news outlets.



Why I Write Dark 
Yes, I write dark stuff and always have. It’s simply what
comes out when I sit down at the computer. Gangs and dating violence are the topics of my two novels. I’ve written short stories about homelessness, prostitutes and assorted other gritty topics.

People have occasionally asked me why I’m drawn to the seamy side of life. I think it’s mainly attributable to my career in journalism, which has exposed me to many things that middle-class people never get to witness or experience within the normal realms of their lives. My fiction is an attempt to process those things, to take them a step further than the facts to explore the whys behind them or to simply expose different realities than the one I am used to because I find them intensely interesting.

So while I’m not afraid of venturing beyond the confines of my comfort zone, I admit it can be at times dangerous territory. I have to push myself. Violence and inhumanity are ever easy to write, but they are an inherent part of human nature. And what are writers if not chroniclers and interpreters of the human condition? I think it helps having written about acts of violence for many years as a newspaper reporter. I’m just used to writing about such stuff. Still, at times it gets to me.


My YA novel “Girl on the Brink” is about a girl who gets involved with the wrong guy, and it’s loosely based on my own experience. I had to amp up the conflict by including overt, dramatic acts of abuse. I wrote that book fairly quickly, especially those sections. I just wanted to get through it. My novel “Skin of Tattoos,” about a gang member who attempts to go straight but gets wrapped up in a rival conflict with a fellow homie, I probably downplayed the amount of violence that is normally in that type of lifestyle because I wanted my protagonist to be somewhat sympathetic.

I may have limits though. Having lived in Latin America for ten years, I am interested in narcoviolence in Mexico and other countries. It’s a topic I’d like to tackle and I think it’s an important one, but I know I’m going to have to steel myself to write about it with the level of detail required in a novel. The nature of that world is exceptionally grisly. Do I really want to go there? I haven’t decided yet. It may be too dark, even for me.

 For more about Christina, check out www.christinahoag.com 

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Thank you Ms. Hoag for joining me today and sharing about your two novels.

 
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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review-Of Books and Bagpipes


I'm making my way through my TBR pile.  From the author of multiple mystery series, Country Cooking School, Farmer's Market, Dangerous Type series comes the second in a new series comes The Scottish Bookshop Mystery Series.  I reviewed the debut book in the series, The Cracked Spine (click here).   Now let's look at the critical second book.


Author: Paige Shelton

Copyright: April 2017 (Minotaur) 317 pgs

Series: 2nd in Scottish Bookshop Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Delaney Nichols, Expat and new employee at The Cracked Spine

Setting: Modern, Edinburgh Scotland

Obtained Through: Personal Purchase

Cover blurb:  "Delaney Nichols has settled so comfortably into her new life in Edinburgh that she truly feels it’s become more home than her once beloved Kansas. Her job at the Cracked Spine, a bookshop that specializes in rare manuscripts as well as other sundry valuable historical objects, is everything she had dreamed, with her new boss, Edwin MacAlister, entrusting her more and more with bigger jobs. Her latest task includes a trip to Castle Doune, a castle not far out of Edinburgh, to retrieve a hard-to-find edition of an old Scottish comic, an “Oor Wullie,” in a cloak and dagger transaction that Edwin has orchestrated.

While taking in the sights of the distant Highlands from the castle’s ramparts, Delaney is startled when she spots a sandal-clad foot at the other end of the roof. Unfortunately, the foot’s owner is very much dead and, based on the William Wallace costume he’s wearing, perfectly matches the description of the man who was supposed to bring the Oor Wullie. As Delaney rushes to call off some approaching tourists and find the police, she comes across the Oor Wullie, its pages torn and fluttering around a side wall of the castle. Instinct tells her to take the pages and hide them under her jacket. It’s not until she returns to the Cracked Spine that she realizes just how complicated this story is and endeavors to untangle the tricky plot of why someone wanted this man dead, all before getting herself booked for murder."

Delaney Nichols is a few months into her transatlantic relocation.  She has made new friends and settled into her job - feeling her co-workers are members of her new family including:  her boss, Edwin MacAlister, who is still just as secretive as before, Rosie and 19-year old Hamlet.  Tom is the bartender from across the street and the romantic interest.  Elias is a cab-driver who is also Delaney's landlord.

Castle Doune is a great atmospheric location to find a body.  All of the locations in and around Edinburgh are used to great effect.  The plot is murky throughout with no clear motive and thus suspects are pure guesswork which allows for twists as the reader is along for the ride.  The only semi-clear aspect is that it all has to do with Delaney's boss and his college days with two close friends.  The pacing was maintained with ongoing clues dribbled out.  The killer reveal was tense, my favorite.  The wrapup goes through the many twists and explains the nuances. 
 

I enjoy this series and its basic premise.  Delaney is a fun main character and this book had many twists.  The motive was a surprise for me.  This is probably not a mystery you can figure out ahead since the final pieces about the motive only surface at the killer reveal.  Elias and his over-protectiveness is getting a little too much since he and his wife are just friends and landlords.  The subplot of the romance with bartender Tom is so lukewarm and without chemistry that I barely remember their interactions.  Some may appreciate the romance taking such a backseat.  I appreciate how I feel so immersed in Scotland throughout the story.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 





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Monday, April 9, 2018

Author Guest Post - Marni Graff

Please welcome Marni Graff, the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. I always enjoy learning more about the settings and how they are used in the story and this one has a well known location.

Setting Inspiration

Although I’ve lived in rural North Carolina for the past 21 years, I’m a native New Yorker. The allure and glitz of Manhattan is never far from my memories of my favorite nursing position years ago as a medical consultant for a movie studio, which inspired my second series, The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries.

Trudy now has that job and the first book in the series, Death Unscripted, took place on the set of soap opera filmed for the internet in the studio where I worked with the cast and crew of One Life to Live. When I decided the next mystery would revolve around Trudy’s work on a television movie, I needed a gothic building for the setting that would evoke that sense of mystery just by its very presence.

What better building to choose for Death of an Heiress than

the famed Dakota, the late 19th-century Victorian-Gothic apartment building, rumored to have its own ghost, that was the brainchild of Singer Sewing Machine magnate Edward Clark. On West 72nd and Central Park West, most people think of the Upper West Side luxury apartment building as the place where John Lennon lived and died, and in fact, Yoko Ono still lives there. With its 15-foot ceilings, elaborately carved mahogany woodwork and mantels, parquet flooring, and iron and marble staircases, there is always a waiting list for tenants. A special storage room exists for storing the original doors and fireplaces if a modern tenant wants to renovate to a contemporary design.

The Dakota’s luxurious apartments have never been empty. Lauren Bacall lived there for 53 years until her death, and it has been the home to many of the rich and famous, who include Rudolf Nureyev, the Steinway family, Rosemary Clooney, Boris Karloff, Gilda Radner, Judy Garland and Carson McCullers. Its cooperative board is even more famous for those it would not allow to live at The Dakota, such as Billy Joel, Madonna, Carly Simon, Alex Rodriquez and Cher. No reasons are given, just a rejection on those applications.

Small wonder then, that when the floor plan of what used to be the home of Leonard Bernstein came into my possession, I decided this would be the perfect setting for where Trudy’s movie would be filmed. Trudy’s assignment is ostensibly first aid for the cast and crew, but the producers want her to watch over their star, in the early stages of a difficult pregnancy. When the actress disappears near the end of shooting and the male lead is found dead in the gorgeous paneled dining room, Trudy finds herself involved in the investigations.

The Dakota was used in the filming of Rosemary’s Baby, but only the exteriors were shot there in the large courtyard and coach entrance. A sound stage had to be built that mocked up the interior of the apartment where Rosemary lived, because in reality, The Dakota won’t allow any inside filming. Of course, in Trudy’s world, they will.

Ms. Graff also writes a crime review blog at www.auntiemwrites.com. Her books can be found at www.bridlepathpress.com and on Amazon, in trade paperback, Kindle and Audible.


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 THANK You Ms. Graff for that writeup about the famous Dakota featured in your novel.

 
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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review - Flowers and Foul Play

Amanda Flower's is the bestselling author of the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries, Living History Museum Mysteries, India Hayes Mysteries, Magical Bookshop Mysteries (Crime and Poetry-click here, second book Prose and Cons-click here), and the new Magic Garden Mysteries.  It is the debut book of the new Magic Garden Series I'm reviewing here.

Author: Amanda Flowers

Copyright: May 2018 (Crooked Lane Books) 320 pgs

Series: 1st in Magic Garden Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery with magical touches

Main Character: Fiona Knox, recently single and jobless American in Scotland.

Setting: Modern, Duncreigan Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest opinion - Netgalley

From the cover: "Florist Fiona Knox’s life isn’t smelling so sweet these days. Her fiancĂ© left her for their cake decorator. Then, her flower shop wilted after a chain florist opened next door. So when her godfather, Ian MacCallister, leaves her a cottage in Scotland, Fiona jumps on the next plane to Edinburgh. Ian, after all, is the one who taught her to love flowers. But when Ian’s elderly caretaker Hamish MacGregor shows her to the cottage upon her arrival, she finds the once resplendent grounds of Duncreigan in a dreadful shambles―with a dead body in the garden.

Minutes into her arrival, Fiona is already being questioned by the handsome Chief Inspector Neil Craig and getting her passport seized. But it’s Craig’s fixation on Uncle Ian’s loyal caretaker, Hamish, as a prime suspect, that really makes her worried. As Fiona strolls the town, she quickly realizes there are a whole bouquet of suspects much more likely to have killed Alastair Croft, the dead lawyer who seems to have had more enemies than friends.

Now it’s up to Fiona to clear Hamish’s name before it’s too late."

Fiona Knox, still hurting from her unfaithful fiance and the closing of her florist shop, is confused and trying to do right by the memory of her Uncle Ian's legacy.  To her credit, she doesn't run from the situation before her when so many things challenge and test her.  Hamish, the rustic and down-to-earth caretaker of the property is a great character I enjoyed getting to know.  Chief Inspector Neil Craig, is the standard police love interest - but neither he nor Fiona are quick trust one another.  I like Inspector Craig's character.  There are several townspeople to  fill out the cast.  There are a few charming animal characters including a mischievous blue-eyed fox, a cat who adopts Fiona named Ivanhoe, and Hamish's companion red squirrel, Duncan, who add delightful magical touches.

Duncreigan, the property Fiona inherited is a great setting and key to the story.  The magical garden reminded me of The Secret Garden in the classic novel. The closest town and its people plus with the imposing cliffs complete the half magical and half secretive atmosphere.

The plot is wonderfully layered and kept my interest.  The killer reveal is my favorite - nice and tense.  The wrapup was complete and leaves it open for the next adventure.  The story telling is smooth and light. I enjoyed Fiona, who comes across as genuine and vulnerable yet strong.  I love the magical touches.  I appreciate that the potential romance may be a slow burn from early indications. 
 
Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

 
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Monday, April 2, 2018

Author Guest Post - Sandra Cody

Please welcome Sandra Cody, the author of Jennie Connors series.  The Peace Morrow books are set in a picture-perfect small town just north of Philadelphia. The town, Doylestown, is real, but the the stories are totally fictitious. Much of the action takes place in a museum of antique tools and folk art. The stories center around family and examine the ways in which destiny is shaped by secrets. Peace is a young woman searching for her identity - and a history she may be better off not knowing. 

The Birth Of A New Series?
It’s funny how books come to be written. An Uncertain Path took me by surprise. In a previous book, Love and Not Destroy, I introduced Peace Morrow, a young woman who had been abandoned as an infant. Her quest to learn her history was a subplot to the main mystery in that book. By the end of the book, she knows who her biological parents are. So ... that question was answered, that goal achieved. End of story. Not quite.

Deep into my next book (part of my Jennie Connors series and totally unrelated to Peace Morrow’s story), I found myself wondering how Peace was dealing with this information. Was she happy with her discovery? Disappointed? If I didn’t write a sequel, Peace would never get to know her newly-discovered family. I felt like I was abandoning her again. I couldn’t do that. Long story short, what I thought was the end was actually a beginning. Problem was, I had no idea what was coming next. So I began what was An Uncertain Path - for both me and my protagonist.

The book is set in a real town, the town where I’ve lived for more than half my life. Part of the fun of releasing the first book was the reaction of friends and neighbors who live here. They loved reading about a fictional character walking along their streets, stopping in their favorite bookstore, or having dinner in a restaurant they know well. More to the point, I discovered they were also curious about what happened next in Peace’s life. She was real to them! There aren’t many things that make a writer as happy as that.

I also discovered that people who’d never seen my town

loved it too. They wanted to know more about it. I kept that in mind as I wrote An Uncertain Path. In fact, the name was inspired by one of our landmarks. A few yards from our library, there’s a labyrinth with a story deserving of its own novel.  Its construction was inspired by a woman grieving the loss of her beloved adopted daughter. It’s not really like the story of Peace Morrow, but certain elements of the two resonate. Yes, the labyrinth and an abbreviated version of its origin are included in the book. 

And, again, the people who live here love seeing part of their real-life history portrayed in fiction and people who live elsewhere are curious about it. My setting had become a character - in this case, a setting/character that was ready-made for me. All I had to do was pay attention to the streets I walk every day, the stores where I shop, the restaurants where I eat. These things, while not part of the plot, give texture to a story and help a reader suspend disbelief so they believe in your plot.

In case you’re curious, I’m now deep into another Jennie Connors book and wonder what’s next in Peace Morrow’s life.  Has another series been born?  AN UNCERTAIN PATH - amzn.to/2vhDkz4  


Thank You Ms. Cody for that peek into Peace Morrow's creation and evolution.  It is a compliment that a character grabs the reader's interest so much.  

Sandra's links:

Website: http://www.sandracareycody.com   
Blog: http://www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com   
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/18bIfTI
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/xfU969  
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sandracody

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