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Monday, May 20, 2019

Guest Author Post - Jenn McKinlay & Review: Dying for Devil’s Food

Please welcome Jenn McKinlay, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Happily Ever After romances, the Bluff Point romances, the Library Lover's mysteries, the Cupcake Bakery mysteries, and the Hat Shop mysteries.

Developing a Character Who is a Bully



Bullies. No one likes a bully. When I started writing Dying for Devil’s Food and I knew Melanie Cooper was going to be confronted with the opportunity to face down her old nemeses, I had to think for the first time about why her school tormentors were they way they were. What made them so vicious and mean? This is Character Development 101 – figure out your character’s motivations because no one is a jerk for no reason. At least, I hope not.

Cassidy Havers and Dwight Pickard were the two students most responsible for Mel’s misery in high school. Cassidy nicknamed her “Melephant” and did everything she could to torture Mel about her weight, her looks, and her shyness. But why? Why would someone go out of their way to make another person so miserable?

I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for this because I was pretty lucky in school in that I can’t remember being bullied. Oh, sure, at six feet tall, I was teased just like the kid with the sticky out ears, the girl with the super thick glasses, and the boy who was so skinny he looked like he was made of string. But while I was teased for my height I never felt bullied, not like Mel did, so what made Cassidy so mean to her?

“Hurt people hurt people.” I read this sentence in a discussion about bullying awhile ago and it’s always stuck with me. It’s true, a person who is hurting will strike out and hurt other people. Knowing this, I thought long and hard about why Cassidy had wanted to hurt Mel so much back in high school. To my surprise, this added all new twists and turns to the plot that I hadn’t expected but was delighted to explore. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give away too much.

The other element of the story that surprised me was a surprise reconciliation with one of her former bullies. When one of her former tormentors grudgingly helps Mel track down the killer, it was an opportunity for the characters to discover each other beyond the persona of bully and victim. But after so much pain, could two people actually find friendship? Again, I can’t say too much but how does a person forgive someone for making them miserable during the most vulnerable years of their life? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Here’s a longer description of Dying for Devil’s Food to whet your appetite: Melanie Cooper has zero interest in catering her fifteen-year high school reunion, but Angie insists it's only right that they bask in the success of Fairy Tale Cupcakes--and Mel's engagement to the delicious Joe DeLaura is the cherry on top! Everything is going better than expected until Cassidy Havers, resident mean girl and Mel's high school nemesis, picks a fight. No longer willing to put up with Cassidy's bullying, Mel is ready to tell the former homecoming queen to shut her piehole and call it a night. But as Mel and Joe prepare to depart, Cassidy is found dead in the girl's bathroom, next to a note written in lipstick that points right to Mel--making her the prime suspect. Now, Mel must follow the clues to find the real killer and keep her reputation from being frosted for a crime she didn't commit.

My Review




Author: Jenn McKinlay

Copyright: May 2019 (Berkley) 297 pgs

Series: 11th in Cupcake Bakery Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Melanie Cooper, owner of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery

Setting: Modern day, Scottsdale, Arizona

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, NetGalley

Melanie Cooper faces the high school bullies of her nightmares, making her character stronger and a beacon for victims everywhere.  Angie, best friend and co-owner is a cheerleader type. Joe DeLaura, fiance and brother of Angie who is also the DA.  He escorts Mel to the reunion and makes a point of letting everyone know how lucky he is to be marrying her.  I loved him for that!  Tate Harper, Mel's other best friend and business partner who is married to Angie now stands by Mel as a fierce friend.  Uncle Stan is a police detective and provides the police connection to get information rather than the usual cop boyfriend.  I liked Stan and how it worked.  Marty Zelaznik, the spunky octogenarian counter-help, and Oz, the young tattooed pastry student that is her kitchen backup are gems for additional characters.

The plot was a basic cozy who-dunnit with a cast of suspects around the cupcake business theme.  The pacing had a little bit of a rough start for me with the drama filled reunion, but it picked up quickly. The investigation moved along smoothly and before I knew it we were at the end, so the pacing sped along.

The killer reveal wasn't necessarily a surprise, since many characters had solid motives to kill the mean girl.  But, I will say the killer wasn't obvious. The reveal was suspenseful and seemed natural-to a point. The wrap-up provided some character depth to the mean-girl victim and to another bully.  

I had not read any of the previous books in the series and had no problem picking up the book and enjoying it.  Dying for Devil's Food is a light read and addresses the bullying topic from Mel's tortured memories which keeps it both at arm's length while putting a face to it.  It shows how vicious just words can be and how it devastates the spirit while keeping the story overall still breezy. I liked the boyfriend being a DA rather than a cop, nice twist on that cliche.  


Rating: Good - A fun lite read.




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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review - Death Distilled

I reviewed the first in this series, Single Malt Murder (click here).  I was in the mood to read the next and finally got around to it in my TBR pile.  If you want an escape to Scotland at a whisky distillery, read on and see my thoughts.  

Author: Melinda Mullet

Copyright: Sept 2017 (Alibi-Random House) 240 pgs

Series: 2nd in Whisky Business Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild, some sprinkled language

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Abigail Logan, photojournalist who inherited Abbey Glen distillery

Setting: Modern day, Scottland

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Cover blurb: "It’s been three months since Abi Logan last checked in on Abbey Glen, the celebrated whisky distillery she inherited. With her oversize wheaten terrier, Liam, by her side, Abi returns to the quaint Scottish village of Balfour. But her relaxing Highland homecoming takes a stressful turn when she unearths an unseemly bit of village history, welcomes a group of Japanese whisky enthusiasts, and becomes shepherdess to an unexpected flock of sheep—all within the first twenty-four hours. Still, nothing’s more stressful than murder. . . .

Local celebrity Rory Hendricks is the hotheaded, hard-rocking former frontman of the Rebels—and Abi’s girlhood crush. After meeting him in person, Abi can’t say no to anything he asks, like photographing his upcoming show . . . or figuring out who’s trying to kill him. Turns out someone’s been bumping off his old bandmates, with the drummer dead under mysterious circumstances and the keyboardist in a coma following a hit-and-run. Now a series of threatening messages leads Rory to think he’s next on the chopping block. And the band has a devil’s share of broken hearts and bitter disputes in their past, leaving Abi a huge batch of suspects to sift through—all before the killer takes another shot."

Abigail is a stubborn and gutsy character who is struggling with her photojournalist career versus the inherited distillary and her avoidance of dating versus her growing attraction to Grant MacEwan.  Abbey Glen manager Grant MacEwan is very reserved and a great romantic interest for Abi, although it won't be a smooth ride between these two.  Best friend Patrick Cooke  is one of those friends who always has a new job or project and gets everyone in his sphere involved.  Rory Hendricks, lead singer from rock group Rebels, claims his bad boy hard partying rocker reputation was primarily just publicity, but maybe not. Rory's adult daughter Summer has tremendous father issues and decides to seduce Grant.  Then there is the wheaten terrier Liam, a loyal and sweet friend for Abigail, probably the best relationship she has.

I love the Scottish setting of Balfour, the small nearest town, Grant MacEwan's castle-like home, and Rory's isolated house he is renting.  These each provide such a sense of place that I felt I had taken a little vacation to Scotland.  

The main plot of danger to Rory and/or his daughter Summer develops suspense and the subplots of Japanese whisky businessmen visiting the distillery, Abigail and Grant's wary attraction to each other, and Abi's adoption of a herd of sheep to save their lives, plus renovations to the pub in town uncovering local history and old mysteries kept me completely enthralled.  

The killer confrontation was blood pumping and unique.  I loved it, great job.  The wrap-up was also well done.  some threads tied up and others still in progress for the next book.  I can't wait to read the third in the series.

The story got me into a Scotland mood with its great sense of place.  I appreciate the complexities to Abigail and her life and how it isn't over the top or too drama filled.  The building towards a romance is spot on and deftly handled.  At first I wasn't enthusiastic to read it from cover blurb, but I was very quickly wrapped up in the story and couldn't put it down.  This was a great second book for the series and I am already eyeing the third.  

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, May 13, 2019

Review - Death and Daisies

Amanda Flower is the bestselling author of the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries, Living History Museum Mysteries, India Hayes Mysteries, Magical Bookshop Mysteries, and the new Magic Garden Mysteries.  I reviewed the first in this new series, Flowers and Foul Play (click here).  I finally got around to the second book in the series and here is my review.

Author: Amanda Flower

Copyright: Nov 2018 (Crooked Lane Books) 308 pgs

Series: 2nd in Magic Garden  Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery with magical touches

Main Characters: Fiona Knox, recently relocated to Scotland

Setting: Modern day, Duncreigan Scotland

Obtained Through: Library

From the cover:  "Fiona Knox thought she was pulling her life back together when she inherited her godfather’s cottage in Duncreigan, Scotland—complete with a magical walled garden. But the erstwhile Tennessee flower shop owner promptly found herself puddle boot-deep in danger when she found a dead body among the glimmering blossoms. One police investigation later (made a trifle less unpleasant by the presence of handsome Chief Inspector Neil Craig), and Fiona’s life is getting back on a steady, though bewitched, track. Her sister Isla has just moved in with her, and the grand opening of her new spellbound venture, the Climbing Rose Flower Shop in Aberdeenshire, is imminent. 

But dark, ensorcelled clouds are gathering to douse Fiona’s newly sunny outlook. First, imperious parish minister Quaid MacCullen makes it undeniably clear that he would be happy to send Fiona back to Tennessee. Then, a horrific lightning storm, rife with terribly omen, threatens to tear apart the elderly cottage and sends Fi and Isla cowering under their beds. The storm passes, but then, Fi is called away from the Climbing Rose’s opening soiree when Kipling, the tiny village’s weak-kneed volunteer police chief, finds a dead body on the beach. 

The body proves difficult to identify, but Kipling is certain it’s that of the parish minister. Which makes Fiona, MacCullen’s new nemesis, a suspect. And what’s worse, Isla has seemed bewitched as of late…did she do something unspeakable to protect her sister? The last thing Fiona wanted to do was play detective again. But now, the rosy future she’d envisioned is going to seed, and if she and Craig can’t clear her name, her idyllic life will wilt away."

Fiona Knox is in the midst of opening her new flower shop when a murder takes place.  Not only does she need to ferret out the real killer who is among them, she discovers more about her relationship between her family and her godfather who left her the magic garden.  Isla, Fiona's sister, has suddenly moved in after her graduation and is a spoiled and pampered character.  Things don't go smoothly between the sisters either. Hamish, the rustic, unassuming, and down-to-earth caretaker of the property is a character I simply love.  Chief Inspector Neil Craig is the cop romantic interest.  And then there are the great animal characters including a mischievous blue-eyed fox that Fiona believes (somehow, someway) is her godfather Ian, a cat who adopted Fiona named Ivanhoe, and Hamish's companion red squirrel, Duncan, that are additional magical touches.

Duncreigan and the nearby town, Aberdeenshire, are charming and picturesque, adding atmospheric and delightful Scottish touches.  The ruins of an old stone church ruins that are to be preserved also lend some creepy additions to scenes.  Nicely done overall.  

The plot is all around who would kill the sanctimonious minister, because it was a minister after all.  The pacing had plenty to keep the story moving swiftly along.  The killer reveal was wonderfully suspenseful and couldn't have been better.  The wrap up answered final questions and was satisfying on all counts.  

Although it is traditionally published, there were a number of typos and out-of-place words.  Which goes to show it isn't just self-published works. That didn't effect the story for me any.  The magical touches are just enough to make the story delightful. This was a delightful second book in the series that is fast becoming one of my favorite cozies.  I can't wait for the next book

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


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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review - Murder on Trinity Place

My introduction to this series was the 17th book, Murder on Amsterdam Ave (click here).  Since then I have been slowly going back to the beginning and reading the early books.  We have been fortunate to also have several guest posts and an interview by the author. (guest post here, interview, and another guest post here).  Read on to find out more about the newest in this long running series.

Author: Victoria Thomspon

Copyright: April 2019 (Berkley) 332 pgs

Series: 22nd in Gaslight Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Sarah Malloy, formerly Sarah Brandt a midwife

Setting: 1900 (Victorian Era), New York City

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review (Netgalley)

From the book cover:  "The year of 1899 is drawing to a close. Frank and Sarah Malloy are getting ready to celebrate the New Year at Trinity Church when they notice Mr. Pritchard, a relative of their neighbor, behaving oddly and annoying the other revelers. Frank tries to convince Pritchard to return home with them, but the man refuses and Frank loses him in the crowd. The next morning Sarah and Frank are horrified to learn Pritchard was murdered sometime in the night, his body left on Trinity Place, the side street near the church.

The police aren't too interested in the murder, and the family are concerned that the circumstances of the death will reflect badly on Pritchard's reputation. To protect the family from scandal, Nelson asks Frank to investigate. Frank and Sarah delve into Pritchard's past and realize there may have been a deadly side to the dawning of the new century."

Sarah used to be more involved in the actual investigations, but has taken a bit more backseat role except for questioning the society ladies.  Maeve is her young nanny for their children who has become a part of the family.  Frank Malloy had newly inherited fortune and retired from the police force.  Frank has started his own investigation business as a gentleman of means now.  Gino, formerly worked with Frank Malloy on the police force but now works with him as a private investigator. Black Jack Robinson was introduced in Murder in the Bowery (Book 20) and is part of a subplot as well as providing inside information into the gambling syndicates.  He is a fantastic secondary character and I loved him so much I am getting book #20 right away to read his introduction.  Suspects range from members of the extremely dysfunctional society family to a rough gambling syndicate owner. The characters all have mixed good and bad in them making them layered and complex.

New York's early years are always fascinating to me and it is seamlessly interwoven throughout the story.  Autos were just becoming more mainstream and that is included in the story as Frank has purchased one and all the issues that come with it.  

The plot is interesting as you follow Sarah and Frank piecing together what an earnest, albeit sanctimonious, milk dairy business man like Mr. Pritchard could have done to get himself killed.  Subplots involve Maeve and Gino seeming to have a growing attachment and a disgraced society girl checks into Sarah's clinic for unwed mothers and Sarah has a plan for her future - if she has her way.

The climax is a race against time to save a life, always thrilling.  I particularly liked the car chase with a car that can go as fast as ten miles an hour and how that is considered so fast! The wrap up is heartwarming and perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.  

This seemed like a lighter mystery than some of the prior books in the series.  Which only means it is perfect if you don't want a heavy murder mystery.  The subplots have some to do with that.  I wish to see Sarah getting more involved again, even though she is married now.  A solid addition to a dependably entertaining series.  Never disappoints.

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


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Monday, May 6, 2019

Author Guest Post - Victoria Thompson

Our guest today is Victoria Thompson, author of the bestselling Gaslight Mystery Series and the Counterfeit Lady novels. Her latest Gaslight Mystery, Murder on Trinity Place, releases on April 30.

Victoria Thompson is the bestselling author of the Edgar ® and Agatha Award nominated Gaslight Mystery Series and the Sue Grafton Memorial Award nominated Counterfeit Lady Series. Her latest books are Murder on Trinity Place and City of Secrets, both from Berkley. She currently teaches in the Master’s Degree program for writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She lives in Illinois with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.

Party like it’s 1899!

The first book of the Gaslight Mystery series was set in 1896, and after 22 books, we were approaching the end of 1899, so I thought it would be fun to show the turn of that century. Remember all the hoopla surrounding the most recent “turn of the century” in 1999? Y2K had many of us in a panic with predictions that computers would somehow cease working when the date rolled over to the year 2000. Planes would fall from the sky. Elevators would plunge to the basement. Life as we know it would end. Then the date rolled over and nothing happened! Except for lots of parties and celebrations for the beginning of a new century.

Y19HUN?

What, I wondered, was going on in anticipation of 1899 becoming 1900? Surely, people were excited and perhaps a bit apprehensive about something in those days, even though they didn’t have any computers back then to malfunction.

So I researched it and guess what? In 1899, people had decided that the new century didn’t really start in 1900. They felt that 1900 was actually the last year of the Nineteenth Century! They did celebrate New Year’s Eve that year, but no differently then they had all the other 99 New Year’s Eves of that century. The big celebration for the beginning of the new century was held on New Year’s Eve 1900. What a disappointment! But…

Human Beings will always be contrary.

Human nature being what it is, not everyone agreed about this, and some people still thought 1900 was the first year of the Twentieth Century. Would those people try to convince everyone else they were right? Of course they would! And would they be annoying when then did so? Yes, indeed. Perhaps even so annoying someone would want to murder them! Which is how Murder on Trinity Place begins. A man who has been trying to convince people they are wrong about the start of the new century is found dead on New Year’s morning. Was someone so annoyed with his arguments that they murdered him? Or was something else going on?

Frank and Sarah are on the case.

Frank and Sarah Malloy are asked to solve the case by their very superstitious neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, because the victim is the father of her new daughter-in-law. (Can we all take a moment here to lament the fact that the English language has no easy way to describe your relationship to your child’s in-laws? “My daughter-in-law’s parents” is so unwieldy. But I digress.) Since Mrs. Ellsworth once saved Sarah’s very life, they cannot refuse, and they begin an investigation that leads them to some very surprising places.

Did you believe all the hype about Y2K? Did you stay up to make sure your computer would still function after midnight? Or did you think it was all a big hoax?

**********
Murder on Trinity Place


The devil's in the details when a respected man is found murdered near historic Trinity Church, in the exciting new novel from the national bestselling Gaslight Mystery series...

As 1899 draws to a close, Frank and Sarah Malloy are ready to celebrate the New Year--and century--at Trinity Church when they notice Mr. Pritchard, a neighbor’s relative, behaving oddly and annoying the other revelers. When Frank tries to intervene and convince Pritchard to return home with them, he refuses and Frank loses him in the crowd. The next morning Sarah and Frank are horrified to learn Pritchard was murdered sometime in the night, his body left on Trinity Place, mere steps from the incident. Frank and Sarah must search Pritchard's past for a link between the new crimes…and old sins.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
Thank you Ms. Thompson for guest posting.  Y2K was a very real issue in my job at the time (Department of Defense) and we had many contingencies in place which actually were used.  It wasn't a hoax in our case.



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