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Monday, March 19, 2018

Author Guest Post - Helen Starbuck

Today we have a guest post from Helen Starbuck, a fellow Coloradan and author.  She recently published her first medical mystery novel, The Mad Hatter's Son, An Annie Collins Mystery.  Please welcome her to M&MM.

The Origins of The Mad Hatter’s Son 

Copyright © 2018 Helen Starbuck, All rights reserved

The Idea for The Mad Hatter’s Son came to me years ago when I worked in the OR. We sporadically cared for a teenage girl for things like inserting a gastrostomy tube to feed her with and a central line for IV fluids (back in the days when they did that in the OR).  Her neurological symptoms were very puzzling and had increased over time until she was comatose. The ICU docs and the anesthesiologists talked about it a lot and were puzzled as to what had caused them. She had no tumor, nothing physical that they could identify for quite some time.

If I tell you what they discovered, you’ll know the plot to the book, so no spoilers here.  Needless to say the diagnosis, when it came, shocked us all. I thought at the time that it was a great plot for a novel and actually wrote several chapters, then life got in the way and I shelved it. I found it again in 2015 and still liked it so I began writing the story.

I started with the central cause for the plot, Libby’s illness and its baffling presentation, the difficulty knowing whether her illness was real or an attempt to get attention from those around her. The idea for Annie’s friendship with Libby, their estrangement, and then Libby pulling Annie back into her life to help solve what was wrong seemed ideal for the story. They are no longer close, there are hard feelings on both sides, and Annie is a very reluctant participant in Libby’s drama. It seemed key to have Annie be an OR nurse, because she is off kilter with Libby both because of the friendship issue and because doing private duty nursing and investigating what Libby’s problem is isn’t something Annie is comfortable with or has any experience with. He’s an OR nurse, that’s what she knows.

What’s funny to me is how characters and plot lines change. Originally I had Angel as a peripheral character, a neighbor, a friend, someone to bounce things off of but not a major character. Ian is the love interest. Angel, however, morphed almost immediately into someone who was in love with Annie, but she had kept him at arms length because of his history with women. He has chosen to remain friends so he doesn’t lose her by pushing the issue of his feelings toward her. The tension between his concerns for Annie and Ian’s jealously about him helped fuel the plot. The villain turned out to be someone unexpected and Libby morphed into a less sympathetic character until her death.

In the next book, I explore Annie’s journey back to normality. One of my frustrations with literature, especially mysteries, is that the hero or heroine can get seriously injured and pop back up almost immediately to save the day. I wanted Annie to be human and experience the PTSD that would accompany an experience like she had. As the series progresses, her relationship with Angel changes and their attempts to adjust to these changes and deal with each other’s failings are part of the plot.

Bonus: Interview with Helen Starbuck the Mad Hatter’s Son

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?
I love writing and have been writing since I was in junior high school. What happens around me is a motivator and the urge to tell a story. This particular story idea came as the result of helping to care for a teenage girl with very puzzling neurological symptoms that increased in severity and which took docs a long time to figure out. I thought it would make a great mystery story. It just took me a while to get it written, and I love having done that and gotten it published.

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
I have a general plot idea and I admit to just writing and seeing where it goes, which means I often have to go back and re-write stuff and sometimes if I’m stuck create a murder board to figure out where the story is going. It’s weird, as I’m writing the current story, scenes come to me, not sure from where, and I write them and file them and it’s surprising how they just fit with the book I’m writing at a later point in the story or in the next book or even the following one. I realized that The Mad Hatter’s Son wasn’t finished when the book ended, which I thought it would be. The characters of Annie and Angel had become very real for me and had more to say, so I have just continued to write their story.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?
No I’m not an outliner, which my editor would probably say is my one failing as I sometimes get off in the weeds and she has to pull me back. The story sort of spins itself and then I have to go back and reconsider things. I am getting better at planning ahead.

What do you and your character have in common? How are you different? 
Many people who know me have said Annie is me and she is in many ways, like her being an OR nurse, her humor, cynicism, and bad luck with men. She’s just braver and more persistent and bullheaded.

What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?
I can see my characters in my imagination, sometimes photos help and sometimes not. It’s odd that I
cannot find a photo of Annie that looks like I see her. Names just come to me and they seem to fit. The basic personalities of the characters are right there from the start, but they grow and develop as time passes, and they do tell me about themselves often in the middle of the night for some reason.
Characters who I imagined to be minor have asserted themselves and become long-term ones, like Frost, for example. I thought he’d just be a homicide detective get the case solved then disappear, but he didn’t like that idea, so he will continue through the series.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I write in my office or at the kitchen table. I spend probably far too much time thinking about these characters and their story and when the urge hits I sit down and often write for hours. Some days I don’t write at all.  

I have found music inspires a lot for me. Whenever I hear Santana’s Samba Pa’ Ti, I think of Angel, it just fits him, smooth, seductive, and Latino. P!nk’s Try sort of describes Annie’s relationship with men.  And Enrique Iglesias’ I Wish I Was Your Lover hits Angel’s feelings for Annie on the head, she just refuses to acknowledge it. You and I Collide by the Time Keepers makes me think of Annie’s relationship with Ian.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
Boy I can’t name just one. I love Tana French’s Rob Ryan in the book In The Woods, and the character of Rebus in Ian Rankin’s series and Jimmy Perez in Anne Cleves’ series, and I like Eve Dallas in JD Robb’s In Death Series.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Tana French and Daphne DuMaurier.  French’s series about the Dublin murder squad is brilliant. I’d give my right arm to write like she does.  DuMaurier’s Rebecca and Don’t Look Now are haunting and after all these years still amazing books.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling? 
She said she was touched on so many levels by the book and that parts of it made her cry. I was blown away. She also recently told me she’s reading it again.

If your mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
Jay or Ivan Hernandez from the show Scandal. Both come close to how I see Angel. And Annie? Boy that’s a tough one because I haven’t found any photos of her yet. Maybe Stana Katic (Kate Becket on Castle) but she’d have to be less overtly sexy. Annie is sexy, but it’s pretty low key.  Katic has the right eye and hair color.


Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project? What is your biggest challenge with it?
It picks up Annie’s (and Angel’s) story post Ian. She’s struggling with what happened and trying to get back to some semblance of normal. He’s struggling with not knowing how to help her. The story line is her friend comes to her wanting to talk about a rash of patient deaths, not unexpected in the population of people he’s describing, but more than you’d expect. Then Frost asks her to review charts for him because the hospital has asked the police to see if there is reason to be concerned about the deaths. The investigation helps Annie in her recovery. The biggest challenge was trying not to bore the reader with the medical stuff and come up with a villain that wasn’t too obvious.

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Thank you Ms. Starbuck for the great post and bonus interview.  

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Friday, March 16, 2018

You Are Invited

On Facebook.  Go to the event page for information - show up on the event page for the launch party.

Share with a mystery-loving friend or two!

Friday MAR 30
Book Launch Party for Nailed

4:40 Pm - 6:30 PM Pacific
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM Mountain
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM Eastern

Book Launch for Nailed: Resort to Murder Mystery II. Join us for games, party favors, Q&A with the author, and general fun.  Held on the Facebook Event page

I am looking forward to seeing you all there!

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review - Rumor of Bones

Today I review the first in an older series.  I have reviewed books by the Beverly Connor for her Diane Fallon Forensics series before:  One Grave Less #9 (click here) and The Night Killer #8 (click here).  But this was my introduction to the Lindsay Chamberlain series that Ms. Connor also pens.  Let's join an archaeology dig in Georgia that turns deadly.

Author: Beverly Connor

Copyright: March 2001 (Cumberland House) 320 pgs

Series: 1st in Lindsay Chamberlain Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild - clinical descriptions of death, serial killer of children

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Lindsay Chamberlain, Forensic anthropologist 

Setting: Modern day, Georgia

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

From book cover: "Lindsay Chamberlain has a problem. People keep finding bodies in shallow graves and bringing the bones to her. It's not that she doesn't know what to do with the remains. An anthropologist who specializes in archaeology, she is an expert in the forensic analysis of bones.

It's the bones of missing children, however, that disturb her, and lately she's had more than her share of them. Someone has been abducting young girls in the area for several years, and their remains have recently been found in shallow graves in a nearby wooded area. And Lindsay is asked to identify them.

A lot of strange things have happened since Lindsay and her colleagues from the Anthropology Department at the University of Georgia first began excavating the Indian settlement at Jasper Creek. First came the grave robbers and pot hunters, then the mysterious opposition that jeopardizes their work. After the shady lawyer who has orchestrated some of the trouble is murdered and someone attempts to abduct a nine-year-old girl, Lindsay finds herself in the middle of a crime that took place sixty years earlier. Because so much time has passed, it looks as if the murderer will get away with the crime. Can Lindsay provide the proof needed to bring the killer to justice?"

Lindsay Chamberlain, a forensic anthropology expert, flawed and extremely independent who has trouble asking for help.  I enjoyed her character and look forward to reading more of her.  Derrick is an old friend from college and colleege on the dig. He and Lindsay also partner for dance competitions.  I loved the dance aspect.  Frank is the director of the dig and he seems conflicted in his desire for Lindsay or Marsha from the nearby town.  Sheriff Duggan relies on Lindsay to identify the bones of children, victims of an apparent serial killer.  He is a great character, layered, tough as nails, but reasonable.

The dig site, among trees and near a river, is used to create an atmospheric setting.  I felt like I was camped out and part of the dig crew.  The plot begins simply and gets progressively more complicated.  The unfolding picture of a small town hiding a terrible secret is punctuated with the drama on the dig itself and sub plots of the character interactions.  

There are several scenes that are tense or gripping, the climax was more a police search and confrontation with the killer.  Although I tend to like exciting killer reveals, this fit the tone of the story and worked well.  The wrap up answers the final pieces to the puzzle and offers more closure. 

I like how Lindsay "time trips" and sees what the areas must have been like in the past in her mind's eye. This ability is useful in the investigation too.  The correlation of archaeology and criminal forensics is explained and demonstrated.  Characters are finely fleshed out with emotional depth.  The overall story remains as a memory you lived for a few hours.  I appreciate Ms. Connor's writing style and skill.  

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

Newsletter / Website  / Facebook / Twitter BookBub / Goodreads

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Author Guest Post - Pamela Beason

Please welcome the author of the exciting Sam Westin Mystery series that I have reviewed each and every book thus far (click here.)  Pamela Beason is sharing her YA thriller trilogy, Run For Your Life with us today.  So grab a drink (coffee, wine, or water), sit back, and enjoy this brief introduction to this young adult series.  I think you'll want to buy the first book right away like I do.

Finding Inspiration in Gutsy Young Women

Did you like The Hunger Games trilogy? I absolutely fell in love with Katniss Everdeen, the amazing young heroine, and I think Jennifer Lawrence played her character perfectly in the movies. Katniss is athletic and skillful, selfless, smart and brave, everything we all want to be. But she’s not fearless, and that’s what makes her so courageous, because the definition of courage is not to fear nothing, but to do the right thing when you’re absolutely terrified. I am also inspired by all the bold young female athletes that compete in every sport nowadays. Did you see Chloe Kim in the Olympics? OMG! Talk about giving it your all! So when I set out to write my young adult Run for Your Life series, I wanted to create a character as wonderful as Katniss, and as inspirational as all those real female athletes.

I created Tanzania Grey, a champion runner who competes in ultramarathons around the world. These incredible contests do exist, and many of them are multi-day events where competitors must cross deserts, climb mountains, slog through jungles, swim rivers, pick off leeches, you name it. A few are team events, so all teammates have to cross the finish line. What better way to add a lot of adventure to a novel than to have your characters race through exotic locales? So I made Tanzania an amazing cross- country running athlete.

But, like Katniss, Tanzania (Tana for short) needed to be independent and she needed a dramatic backstory. She was born Amelia Robinson, but while she was out breaking her curfew one evening at the age of 14, her parents were murdered. She arrived back at her house just in time to see the masked killers drag her 9-year- old brother out of his bedroom. The murderers saw Amelia and gave chase, but she managed to elude them. When she returned the next day, she found that her home had been emptied, and everyone was told the Robinsons moved to Zimbabwe, the birthplace of Amelia’s brilliant biochemist mother. Amelia’s whole past had been erased. She was on her own at 14, with killers searching for her. She had to reinvent herself and find a way to live under the radar. So, with the assistance of a kind Hispanic family, she became Tanzania Grey, got her GED, gained some sponsors, and made a name for herself in the world of extreme sports.

I’ve had a lot of fun living vicariously in this world of extreme sports. Anything can happen when you’re running through the jungle and sliding down volcanoes (Race with Danger), doing multiple sports in one race (Race to Truth, which contains an extreme version of a race dear to my heart, the Ski to Sea Relay in Bellingham, WA, where I live, and running across Zimbabwe, where the wildlife includes a lot of dangerous humans (Race for Justice). In each book, Tana is plagued by spy drones and scary strangers trying to figure out just who she really is, and in each book she gets a few more clues about who murdered her parents. And they get a few more clues about her. It was a fun, scary trilogy to write. And it’s my salute to all those gutsy young women out there. May they ever be strong and outspoken and brave!

Each book of the The Run for Your Life trilogy is available in both print and ebook form, and the Run for Your Life trilogy is available in ebook form in a box set at a reduced price (click here.)

My website is (you can always find out what I’m up to there) plus Goodreads page and Facebook.

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THANK You Pamela.
I am getting my copy pronto.  It sounds like a great trilogy and an exciting run!

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Review - A Treacherous Curse

I read and reviewed the first in the series, A Curious Beginning (click here).  You may be familiar with this author.  Ms. Raybourn is the author of the amazing Julia Grey historical mysteries.  This series is strikingly different in the main characters.  See what you think as I review the third in the series.

Author: Deanna Raybourn

Copyright: Jan 2018 (Berkley) 313 pgs

Series: 3rd in Veronica Speedwell Mystery series

Sensuality: Innuendo and frank mature discussion within period language.  Nothing crude.

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Veronica Speedwell, an amatuer entomologist raised by "aunts" - now in an uneasy partnership with a black sheep explorer

Setting: 1888 London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, Netgalley

From the book blurb:
"London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner [who left him for dead- he bears scars on his face from that disastrous expedition in the Amazon] has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything..."
Veronica is larger-than-life, incredibly ahead of her time, stubborn, and highly intelligent with a sharp tongue and wit.  Stoker (Mr. Ravelstoke Templeton-Vane) is cranky and reclusive, a little bitter and struggling with the growing relationship between he and Veronica.  Stoker's ex-wife, who told harsh lies that damaged his reputation to get a divorce, is back and Stoker must face her in this book.  Stoker's brother, a Viscount, makes a few short appearances, too.  Their benefactor who employs and houses them makes a slight appearance.  Both their benefactor and the Viscount are enjoyable supporting cast.

The setting is London during an Egyptian craze.  The backdrop of a museum display of Egyptian artifacts and an ominous life-size specter of Anubis appearing around town set the eerie tone for this outing.  The countryside is used effectively during the climatic events.

The plot begins as a simple robbery of priceless artifacts from an Egyptian dig and a missing persons case.  But, complications ensue with a murder and the personal aspects of the missing person in question.  The pace of the story keeps the interest with the myriad personal conflicts in addition to the investigation and personal peril to Veronica and Stoker.
The climax includes an unconventional chase scene and a nail biting showdown.  The series is making big cinematic-style killer confrontations a regular feature and I love it.  The wrap up throws in some interaction with her estranged and distant father. 
I like how we learn a little more about Stoker and what has happened to make him who we see on the pages.  Veronica shows her teeth toward those who treated him so badly, exhibiting her loyalty to Stoker.  Veronica's showdown with the ex-wife is worth the read alone.  Veronica isn't your period woman, she fights the conventions and is her own woman.  This may bother some, but I love it.  The dialog is great.
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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