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Monday, December 29, 2014

Best of 2014

I hope your holiday was warm and filled with joy, and a few new books!  Another year is drawing to a close and there are roundups popping up everywhere, giving the best books of 2014.  I would like to share a few, and ask you to share your favorites of the year as well.

Goodreads gave a reader's choice roundup of the Mystery and Thriller books of the year.  The top contenders in order of highest votes decending are: 

1)  Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1) by Stephen King

2)  The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2) by Robert Galbraith

3)  The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars, #1) by Rob Thomas... on my TBR pile

4)  Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum #21) by Janet Evanovich

5)  The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #10) by Louise Penny

6)  The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5) by Tana French

7)  The Son by Jo Nesbø

8)  I Am Pilgrim (Pilgrim, #1) by Terry Hayes

9)  The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6) by Alan Bradley

10)  Missing You by Harlan Coben (read review here)

11)  The Gods of Guilt (Mickey Haller, #5) by Michael Connelly

12)  Natchez Burning (Penn Cage #4) by Greg Iles

13)  The Good Girl by Mary KubicaIn 

14)  The Blood by Lisa Unger

15)  Personal (Jack Reacher, #19) by Lee Child

16)  The Target (Will Robie, #3) by David Baldacci  (read review here)

17)  Mean Streak by Sandra Brown

18)  The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

19)  Runner (Sam Dryden, #1) by Patrick Lee

See the complete list here

For me personally, the ones I have read this year that stand out in my mind are:

The Target (Will Robie, #3) by David Baldacci
(read review here)

 Missing You by Harlan Coben (read review here)
The English Girl by Daniel Silva (read review here)

Murder at Westminster Abbey by Amanda Carmack
(read review here)

A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber
(read review here)

Why Kings Confess by CS Harris (read review here)

And how about you?  What were the mystery or suspense/thriller books you read in 2014 that you would recommend above the others?  Please share in the comments.

As the new year approaches, people set goals that fizzle quickly, but consider this idea to help you with a resolution to get healthy.


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Review - Blue Labyrinth

I hope everyone's holidays were warm and joyous.  This is the first I have read of FBI Agent Pendergast, but I read he is hailed as the modern Sherlock with "a dose of Dickensian/Sherlock Holmes-era atmosphere."  Well, how could I resist when offered to read and review the newest in such a series?!  

In preparing this review, I discovered that the series has a considerable following and has built up significant fictional history as the series has developed.  If you haven't dipped your toe into the Aloysius Pendergast world, let me introduce you to him and his world.

 Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Copyright: November 2014 (Grand Central Publishing) 416 pgs

Series: 14th in Agent Pendergast Thriller series

Sensuality: Although not graphic, some descriptive violence 

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense Thriller

Main Characters: Aloysius Pendergast, wealthy FBI agent

Setting: Modern day, New York

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

It begins with someone on Pendergast's doorstep, someone close to him who was deadly in his own right...dead and tied up like a package delivered to his door.  The murder has only one small clue, a piece of very rare turquoise in the victim's stomach...which leads Pendergast to a long abandoned mine on California's Salton Sea.  But, it was all an elaborate trap. After his trip to California, his days are literally numbered and he must uncover who today is enacting revenge for an ancestor's greed, with the hope that he can somehow save his own life in the process.  NYPD Lt. Vincent D'Agosta is back in this book investigating the murder of a scientist at New York Museum of Natural History.  It seems completely unrelated, but not for long!

Aloysius Pendergast, the wealthy FBI agent who has as many black marks on his record as he has commendations, is tested not just physically, but emotionally and very personally.  Constance, Pendergast's ward, gets a good bit of page time and is key in the dramatic show down.  I was cheering for her and suspect you will too, although she can be scary when she gets pissed.  NYPD Lt. Vincent D'Agosta represents the good and steady investigation of local police, he maybe slow - but he trudges through and uncovers a good deal.  Dr. Margo Green, who was apparently in the first Pendergast book, is back and gets a significant part in this book along with Constance.

The abandoned resort and mine on the shores of the Salton Sea,  New York Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden as the location for the finale are each deftly used for maximum atmospheric impact.  Kudos. I don't think I can forget the Botanic Garden scenes! 

The plot shows how the entire world doesn't have to hang in the balance to have a stellar thriller, how a plot driven storyline can still have well developed characters, and how there are other quick-killing weapons besides a gun. The key to this thriller was the carefully plotted story line. The pacing kept me interested throughout.   The climatic show-down was fought at two locations and increased the tension significantly.  This technique worked because it was executed by master story-tellers.  The wrap-up was satisfying and left another personal glimpse of Pendergast and how he grew personally in the course of the story.

This book was a pleasant surprise, with a truly unusual main character thrown into a fantastic and deadly situation - the brightest star was the finely crafted storytelling.  This story, in lesser hands, would have never reached the brilliance it achieved due to Preston and Child's skill.  I found it to live up to the praise I had read.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Guest Post by Juliet Blackwell

Today we have Juliet Blackwell joining our blog.  She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Witchcraft Mystery series, featuring a powerful witch with a vintage clothes store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. She also writes the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series, about a failed anthropologist who reluctantly takes over her father’s high-end construction company…and finds ghosts behind the walls. As Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Agatha-nominated Art Lover’s Mystery series, in which an ex-art forger attempts to go straight as a faux finisher. 

She is currently working on a novel about a woman who takes over her uncle’s locksmith shop in Paris, entitled The Paris Key. A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France.

I am very excited to have her join us once again.  Please welcome Ms. Blackwell to our blog!

Top 10 Things I Learned While Writing Keeper of the Castle

For me, writing a book requires not only writing, but also a lot of research, plenty of days spent scoping out locales, and interviewing knowledgeable folks (in my case, everyone from ghostbusters to police officers to building inspectors). Luckily, I really, really, really love my job! I get to learn new things with each book.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 things I learned while writing Keeper of the Castle:

1. William Randolph Hearst imported entire buildings – monasteries, churches, castles—from Europe to the United States. Stone by stone!

2. If you have two different ghosts from two different times and sources inhabiting your building, they might not be able to see or talk to each other.

3. Marin County’s building department is housed in a Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

4. The building is so futuristic-looking it was used as a set for the movie Gattica.

5. If you commit vandalism in Golden Gate Park, you are taken to a special little police satellite. And the people there are very nice to authors J

6. Making sure stone buildings are constructed safely in an earthquake zone is no picnic—it involves a lot of drilling, installation of rebar, and surrounding cage work.

7. It also requires a lot of special permit from the building department!

8. It looks pretty odd when someone makes the interior of a Victorian mansion into a Spanish-revival extravaganza complete with stucco walls, murals, and low arches (this was based on an actual house I visited)

9. Motivational speakers can be very odd…and also very motivating.

10. Hands down, the Pelican Inn serves the best fish and chips in the Bay Area! (and Dog agrees J)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you Ms. Blackwell for that Top Ten list.  I found the information about Hearst in the book fascinating.

Visit her at, join her on Facebook (JulietBlackwellAuthor) and on Twitter @JulietBlackwell

In case you need something to do with the kiddos, or you enjoy holiday crafts for decorations, take a look at this idea.

Homemade Christmas Wreath out of Recycled Materials

You'll need:

- Green acrylic paints
- Red acrylic paint
- cardboard tubes (like from paper towels or TP)
- sharp scissors
- glue (hot glue works well)

Paint the tubes green and let them dry. Cut them into 3/4" wide strips, flatten them to give them a seam like a flower petal and glue them together in groups of 5.
Once you get that done, form them into a wreath and glue them together to form a large circle.

Form a smaller circle, gluing the flowers together and then stack them onto the larger circle, making layers.

Glue small red beads in clusters of 3 throughout the wreath to look like holly berries.

That's it! Very easy, yet elegant.

Originally found this idea at (click here.)

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Mid-Winter Giveaway

This is my THANK YOU for following the blog and letting me be a part of your life. This isn't part of a larger blog hop, it's just us! I have three sets of books to giveaway, all of them are holiday related in some fashion.

#1 Snow Way Out (A Snow Globe Shop Mystery) by Christine Husom PLUS Murder Served Simply (An Amish Quilt Shop Mystery) by Isabella Alan

#2 Mulled Murder (A Special Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery) by Kate Kingsbury PLUS Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen (A Victorian Mystery) by Emily Brightwell

#3 Death With All The Trimmings (Key West Food Critic Mystery) by Lucy Burdette PLUS On Borrowed Time (A Library Lover's Mystery) by Jenn McKinlay.

Entry for giveaway lasts until December 22 6:00 p.m. (MST). U.S. entries only please.

I will be shipping the books to the winners.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  

I will accept entries for this giveaway until 6:00 p.m (MST) on Dec 22, 2014. I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you. If I don't hear from you in 3 days, I will select another winner and notify them.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

Here is another gift, a little music video from Michael Buble.  Enjoy!

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review - Keeper of the Castle

Today I review the next in the Haunted Home Renovations Mystery series.  I have reviewed each in this series from the debut issue.  The Fourth, Home for the Haunting (click here), the third, Murder on the House (click here),  the second book, Deadbolt (click here), and the debut book, If Walls Could Talk (click here).
  I have had the great honor of two interviews with the author, the recent interview (click here), and the older author interview (click here). 

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Copyright: December 2014 (Signet) 336 pgs

Series: 5th in Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Mel Turner, woman construction renovation Owner/Operator

Setting: Modern day, San Francisco

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Mel needs some big paying jobs to keep Turner Construction going and continue employing her construction team.  Her boyfriend Graham wants her to  be the general over a large project.  The project is reconstructing an ancient monastery brought over from Scotland stone-by-stone.  The project is for a motivational speaker, Ellis Elrich, who will use the reconstructed monastery as his new retreat center.  When Mel is touring the project, she finds the county building inspector dead and two ghosts that followed the building.  In spite of the murder, she joins the team and finds protestors outside motivational speaker's home, a man from Scotland wanting to repatriate the monastery back to Scotland, Florian Libole, a dodgy but famous historic building consultant, potentially the wrong man taken into custody for the murder, and too many things that don't add up on the project. 

There is a mini-mystery involving the ghosts.  Why would there be a Spanish female ghost, the Red Lady, in a Scottish monastery, and why does she envelope anyone who comes close with overwhelming sadness and hunger?  Then there is the Scottish highlander who is very confused about what he is supposed to be guarding, but takes his sword and charges any man that comes near.  Why is this ghost so confused and how can Mel get him settled?  Now add the rumor of a curse attached to the ancient building and another that there is a treasure with the building!  These were interesting and added to the overall dilemmas of the construction site and may figure into the murder.

Mel Turner is a unique heroine who can hold her own on a construction site with a gang of men, and faces ghosts with courage but is afraid of a commitment with her boyfriend.  Graham is the romantic interest who at least accepts Mel's talent with ghosts, which is a huge plus.  Alicia Withers, Ellis Elrich's personal assistant is a breakout star.  She is very reserved, even uptight initially but her true self is eventually brought forward.  I can see a future for her teamed with Mel, so I hope she will be in more books.  Caleb, Mel's step-son from her failed marriage, is always a delight along with her dad and his business partner Stan. 

The Wakefield property with the mis-matched Victorian house and Spanish Revival interior next to the Scottish highland monastery being built on the land gave us a new setting without leaving the state even.  It has a quirky mix that provides delicious gothic touches all around.  The plot plays off of the Hearst castle and how structures would be brought over from Europe and reconstructed by the wealthy in the States. A touchy subject between countries and what if there were something of high value that was brought over with the building?  The pacing was steady although not fast.  I would say on par for a cozy particularly when many new characters are involved.

The climax occurred suddenly, rather surprised that *bam* you are confronting the killer. That felt a little rushed and was resolved equally as quickly.  I would have liked more time to get to the climax, some build up so it was more suspenseful, and a little more tension before it is all over.  The wrap-up was fine in general, but I would really have liked to know more on how the ghosts did with the solutions Mel arranged to give them peace.

Overall I found this yet another highly enjoyable adventure with Mel that gave us a Scottish fling without leaving California.

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Need some holiday crafts to do with the kidos, or want to make some ornaments for your tree or a simple gift?  Try these ideas out.

Mini Chalkboard Christmas Ornaments

3-inch wooden disc
Flat or satin finish acrylic crafts paint
Foam brush or flat-bristle paintbrush
Dove or other Christmas motif (see
next page)
White paper
White, wax-free transfer paper
Ballpoint pen
White gel ink pen
Paper towel
Spray sealer
Fast-drying clear crafts glue
Pearl cotton thread or ribbon
for hanger
Scrap of felt or cardstock

1. Paint the wooden disc; let dry.
2. Print the motif onto the white paper. Cut around the motif to create a circle or square the same width as the painted disc. Cut a circle or square from the transfer paper the same width as the painted disc. Place the transfer paper, carbon side down, on the painted disc. Place the motif, right side up, on the transfer paper. Using the ballpoint pen, trace the outline of the motif, then “color” in the inside.
3. Remove the papers from the painted disc. Use the gel ink pen to darken the transferred image. Work in small areas, filling them in and then blotting the wet ink with a paper towel for a chalky look; let dry.
4. Spray the disc with sealer; let dry. Glue the thread or ribbon to the back of the ornament, forming a hanging loop. Trace around the disc onto the felt or cardstock; cut out. Glue the felt or cardstock circle to the back of the ornament for a finished look.

Pattern for the ornaments -- right click on image and save.  Enlarge as needed.  This idea, directions and pattern came from Better Homes and Gardens website (click here)

Paper Ornaments
There's no need to get intricate when decorating your Christmas tree. For the easiest ornament idea ever, simply cut ornament shapes from patterned paper (or how about from copied book pages onto colored or decorative paper) and set eyelets in the top for hanging.  You can add touches of glitter glue, ribbons, buttons, foil, artificial poinsettias or ivy etc.  They won't take up as much space to store either!

Check here for more DIY ornament ideas (click here).

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Review - Thunder Bay

I met this author at a writing conference and was quite impressed with a workshop he gave.  I bought this book and just now got to read it.  This was a new author to me, perhaps to you as well.  See how the book stood up to my high expectations.

Author: William Kent Krueger

Copyright: 2007 (Atria Books) 304 pgs

Series: 7th in Cork O'Connor Investigation series

Sensuality: Adult situations, nothing explicit

Mystery Sub-genre:
Private Investigator, suspense

Main Character: Corcoran (Cork) O'Connor, restaurant and gift shop owner and part-time PI

Setting: modern day, Aurora, Minnesota (northern Minnesota's lake country)

Obtained Through:
Publisher for honest review

Henry Meloux asks Cork, working as a part-time PI, to find a long-lost son the ancient Ojibwe medicine man has never met... from a relationship with a white woman, Maria Lima, seventy-three years ago. Cork gets two clues to work from: a location in Canada and a gold watch with a picture of Maria.  Cork proves his PI chops by shortly locating the son, who is an eccentric retired mining entrepreneur.  Managing a meeting between the rich son and elderly Henry is a challenge and his initial efforts are answered with an attempt on Henry's life.  Henry isn't deterred and insists his son needs him, propelling Cork into a dangerous labyrinth.

Cork is Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian. He juggles helping Henry with a family crisis.  He is a family-first guy and Henry is extended family, which shows much about his inner-man.  Jo, is his capable wife and a lawyer who I respected greatly.  Henry Meloux, Ojibwe elder and Cork's spiritual adviser is a character I quickly loved and his past love affair gave him a bittersweet quality.  Wally Schanno is a widower who is struggling through his grief and asks to help Cork with any PI work.  I felt for him from the first pages.  Trinky Pollard is a retired Canadian Royal Mounted Police who helps the gang on the Canadian side.  Cork's daughter Jenny is going through a lot in the story.  She is a thoughtful and sensitive girl on the brink of college having her mettle tested...which tests Cork's ability to not barge in and fix things.  

Krueger is known for creating a strong sense of atmosphere, and I think his reputation is well earned.  The scenes of Henry in the Canadian wilderness had me smelling the cook fire and pine trees.  The plot took a basic concept of a long lost son and built a web of suspense with murder and greed.  The pace increased as the story developed.  The climax was a nail biting deadly confrontation that got the blood pumping. The wrap up tied up all the various threads to satisfactory conclusions. 

This was my first exposure to the author and the series and it delivered a rich tapestry, layered plot, and defined characters.  This won't be my last book in the series!

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

Do you need some holiday decorating ideas still?  Here is an easy one for you.  Wrap wire around a foam cone (find in floral or hobby stores) to make these pretty Christmas trees!

I found this and more great last minute decorating ideas here.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Guest Post - T.C. LoTempio

T.C. LoTempio is the author of the newest cozy mystery series, Nick and Nora mysteries, a tip of the hat to the old Thin Man fanchise.  I reviewed the debut book in the series, Meow if its Murder (click here).

Dashiell Hammett's best-selling last novel "The Thin Man" (considered a seminal work of the hard-boiled mysteries with lighthearted approach and humor) introduced the world to Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick is a boozing former Private Investigator married to wealthy heiress Nora.  The Thin Man was turned into radio, film, television, musical stage production, and even a stage play.  But I do believe this is a new twist on the Nick and Nora legacy, with a nod to the "Cat Who..." popular mysteries mixed in as well.

Why a Cat?  by T.C. LoTempio

I’ve had quite a few people ask me why I chose to write a mystery series about a cat.
Well, the answer’s simple. I didn’t actually choose to do it…

I’ve been writing for most of my life, but never with an eye for publication until 1997. There followed a flurry of writing books – mostly my favorite genre, horror, where I tried very hard to be the next Stephen King.  I ended up getting a few published, but through a small press. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.

Next I started writing paranormals – mostly paranormal mysteries.  Alas, I was informed by many of the agents I approached that the market for paranormals – especially those that featured vampires – was oversaturated.  Another dead end. 

So I turned to self publishing.

I published a few of my paranormal mysteries via Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They got pretty good reviews, but nothing really stellar.  I still hadn’t found my niche.  And then….

I was at my day job one morning, sitting in my boss’s office.  He knew my hobby was writing and I was telling him about the latest one I’d written that was ‘making the rounds’ at agent offices.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why don’t you quit writing about vampires and werewolves and write a book about your damn cat?”

Me: “But I like to write about vampires and werewolves.”

My boss: But it isn’t getting you anywhere. You love that cat and you love to write. I think you should think about it.

I went home that night and thought about it. I’d recently acquired a tuxedo cat, ROCCO, who had a feisty personality – so much so that I’d created a blog entitled cats, books and more cats, and I’d just developed what I though was a creative premise – I’d interview authors as if the cat were the one asking the questions.  I’d gotten Janet Evanovich to agree to an interview and I’d just also gotten in touch with a few other authors who all thought the idea was “cute”.

Hm….maybe my boss had something there? But what sort of book could I write that would feature a cat? It had to have something to do with food, I thought. People love books with recipes!

I lay down on my couch and flipped through the channels. Turner classic was running “The Thin Man”. And suddenly the premise came to me…Nora Charles, ex-crime reporter, returns to her hometown of Cruz, California to take over her mother’s sandwich shop and finds a stocky, tuxedo cat on her doorstep, whom she names Nick.  As it turns out, the cat’s original owner was a Nick, too, and he was a private eye….and thus were born the Nick and Nora mysteries. Although the original premise was a LOT different from the book Penguin bought…but that’s a story for another day!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you T.C. LoTempio for this fun post on your inspiration to write mysteries with a cat character.  Love it.

Here is a great idea for a naturally relaxing home spa treatment, make your own salt scrubs that are all the rage!
Home Spa Sea Salt Scrub

The primary purpose of a salt scrub is to exfoliate the skin, which removes the outermost layer of dead skin cells, softening your skin in the process and giving your skin a natural healthy glow.  Courtesy of Budget 101.

1 1/2 cups fine sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil or almond oil
3 drops of essential oil of your choice

First, be sure you are using Essential oils, rather than Fragrance oils which are loaded with fillers and chemicals and can irritate the skin! Some of our favorite essential oils are Lavender, Rose, Neroli, Orange, Birch (for anti-cellulite!), Wild Rose, and Peppermint . Your choice of Essential oil may depend on your mood or any health issues you've been experiencing, such as poor sleep (in which case, you'd use Lavender).

Combine all in a small bowl, blending well.  When done, package in a sealable mason jar with a computer generated label, a bow etc, for gift giving.

How to Use a Body Scrub:

    Sit on the edge of a tub and moisten the area you wish to scrub.
    Place a tablespoon or so of the body scrub in the palm and gently work each area for approximately 1-3 minutes. If you work too quickly you won't properly exfoliate.
    Be sure not to scour too hard or too long.
    Gently rinse the area with warm water, but don't use soap or shower gel to remove it.
    If you want baby smooth skin, exfoliate once weekly.
    Body scrubs should never be used on the face.

Treating yourself to a lovely Home Spa treatment is a fantastic way to save money while still taking some much needed time out for yourself.  
Exfoliate your soles and heels with this mixture after a bath or foot soak. Or apply it to the legs, arms or have someone apply it to your back!

More Home Spa Recipes you might enjoy for yourself or as gifts (click here).

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review - Meow if it's Murder

I was intrigued by this new series premise and book blurb.  Here is my take on the new Nick and Nora mystery series (after the old "Thin Man" movies).

Author: T.C. LoTempio

Copyright: December 2014 (Berkley) 305 pgs

Series: 1st in Nick and Nora Mystery series

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Characters: Nora Charles former crime reporter, now a small business owner

Setting: modern day, Cruz, California

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Nora investigates the curious death of socialite Lola Grainger who had been a friend of Nora's mother.  There are some aspects to the reported account of Lola's death while her and her husband were out on their yacht that don't add up for Nora. She also finds a charming tuxedo stray cat she names "Nick" that she tracks to a PI who was hired by Lola's sister to investigate.  Seems nobody has seen the PI for a few weeks and he could be gone for good.  

Nora's crime reporter tendencies won't let the story go, even after a police detective keeps warning her off the case along with her best friend, Chantal, saying her Tarot cards show its dangerous. Indications point towards Chicago mob connections, but how that really works is fuzzy as Nora keeps digging. A fun side plot is how Nick has the eerie talent of leaving clues for Nora, like using scrabble tiles to spell out "FBI."

Nora is a great heroine, she is a milder crime reporter (not hardened) than what I initially anticipated for a Chicago reporter.  But, she works well for this type of mystery.  Nick, the cat who found Nora, picks up as intuitive guide to Nora -- reminiscent of the "Cat Who..." books with Koko giving clues. He is clearly a vital half of the "Nick and Nora" team for this series.  Chantal is Nora's best friend and is an interesting addition too.  Ollie, or Oliver Sampson, is the PI who was partnered with Nick's former deceased owner.  Nora and Ollie become friends and he seems setup to be in next books too.  Detective Daniel Corleone is the standard police/FBI romantic interest.  His character is well done despite being an overused character idea. 

The setting of Cruz California isn't really utilized much other than the marina and yachts.  The plot was surprisingly more complex than I expected and was well developed.  The pacing did a great job of keeping me engaged in the story and turning pages.  The climax had Nick and Nora confronting the killer with some good tense moments.  The wrap-up was short but sweet.

This debut book has a good foundation of a former crime reporter with an intuitive cat sidekick that delivered a good plot idea with creative writing and fun characters.  I am looking forward to many installments in this new series.  If you enjoyed the Lillian Jackson Braun books in their early years, you will probably love this series.

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

Evergreen Hurricane Candles

Bring a touch of elegance to the dinner table or to your holiday display with these simple holiday hurricane candles.

You'll Need:

Glass hurricane candle holder
Evergreen pieces
Spray adhesive
Pillar candles

Before you start make sure you scrub the hurricane glasses completely with window cleaner. Pick nice flat greenery pieces & spray them liberally with the spray adhesive.

Let the greenery set a few minutes until the spray adhesive has become tacky, then carefully seat them on the hurricane glass.

Give it a few minutes time to dry, then trim the bottoms with decent scissors or shears.  I believe that the adhesive spray will keep the greenery from turning brown and brittle, but this is my first time.  If you wish to use artificial, I'm sure that would look just as lovely.

Finally, add a candle!

I found this project at Budget101 (click here).

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - December 2014

It is the first Monday of the month and time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival.  I am catching up on my schedule.  Please spread word of this blog carnival to other blogs that feature reviews of crime fiction, we would love to expand to a few more blogs.  We have room to fit about three more select blog's reviews here.

Now on to this month's blog carnival.  Click on the title or author's name to go to that link.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review / Legal

Carstairs Considers reviewed The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg and shared: Someone is committing crimes that look like the work of Nick Fox.  Will these copycat crimes reveal his partnership with FBI agent Kate O'Hare

Buried Under Books reviewed Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

Thoughts in Progress reviewed Festive in Death by J.D. Robb

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by Kathy Aarons

Carstairs Considers reviewed Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere and shares: When Poly inherits the family fabric shop, she just might learn what really happened to her great aunt 10 years ago.

Buried Under Books reviewed Pickle in the Middle Murder by Jessie Chandler

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Murder Off the Beaten Path by M.L. Rowland

Carstairs Considers reviewed Acadia by Sandy Dengler and shares: National Parks Investigator at large heads to Acadia National Park when a photo shoot turns deadly for one of the models.

Buried Under Books reviewed the Thrill of the Hunt by E.J. Copperman

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Off Kilter by Hannah Reed

Carstairs Considers reviewed Bluffing is Murder by Tace Baker and shares: Lauren suddenly finds herself involved in a second murder when she finds one of the local trustees dead above a beach in town.

Thoughts in Progress reviewed The Chocolate Clown Corpse by JoAnna Carl

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed A High End Finish by Kate Carlisle

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed No Mallets Intended by Victoria Hamilton

Carstairs Considers reviewed Hell on Wheels by Sue Ann Jaffarian and shared: When their friend is accused of murder at a quad rugby tournament, Odelia and Greg begin to dig in to figure out what really happened.

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Snow White Red-Handed by Maia Chance

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Murder in Vein by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Booking Mama reviewed The Heist by Daniel Silva

Buried Under Books reviewed No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff

Booking Mama reviewed Genesis Code: A Thriller of the Near Future by Jamie Metzl

Booking Mama reviewed One Kick by Chelsea Cain

Booking Mama reviewed Suspicion by Joseph Finder

Author Interview

Mysteries and My Musings had a guest post by M.L. Rowland

Mysteries and My Musings had a guest post by Hannah Reed

Mysteries and My Musings had a guest post by Kate Carlisle

Mysteries and My Musings had a guest post by Victoria Hamilton

Mysteries and My Musings had a guest post by Maia Chance

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A huge "THANK YOU" to all the wonderful bloggers out there who contributed to the carnival.  Keep them coming and keep this carnival going. 

Let's make next month's Carnival even better. For more information on the specifics of the Carnival and how to submit your posts go here
Spread the word far and wide!!!

Please help the newsletter for the blog carnival to get more subscribers. If a blog reviews mystery/suspense/thrillers (even occasionally) then I would like to feature those reviews. I send the newsletter out once a month announcing the deadline for submitting to this blog carnival. Multiple entries from a blog are welcome.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review - Snow White Red-Handed

I apologize that my reviewing schedule has been behind with Thanksgiving and life issues. 

We were very pleased to have a guest post last week by Maia Chance (click here.) Here are my thoughts on this new historical mystery series by Ms. Chance. So, let's take a trip to the Black Forest of Germany in the 1800s for our this book.

Author: Maia Chance

Copyright: November 2014 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery series

Sensuality: Attraction, period romance

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Mystery

Main Characters: Miss Ophelia Flax is a fired New York actress, posing as a lady's maid

Setting: 1876, Black Forest England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Ophelia finds herself out-of-work in the middle of the trip across the Atlantic to England aboard the S.S. Leviathan, so she bamboozles her way into a  lady’s maid position for herself and a scullery maid for her friend Prudence Bright with an American millionaire. The new jobs take Ophelia and Prue to an ominous castle in the middle of the Black Forest.  Two professors arrive to inspect the apparent discovery of the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White fairy-tale fame, complete with what might be a dwarf's skeleton. The American millionaire turns up dead from a poisoned apple. Prue was setup for the murder and is thrown in the tower prison, so Ophelia feels she must save Prue by proving her innocence.  No easy job with secrets surrounding her.  There are deceptive princesses, deposed and penniless Counts, gambling sharks, and treasure hunters all lurking with their own agendas.  Ophelia joins forces with one of the visiting professors, which has its own set of problems.

Ophelia, a resourceful, smart, and worldly woman who cares deeply for her young friend, takes on the responsibility to see them both safely through the world.  Prudence is naive and was raised to marry well, not work, thus she is about to grow up a bit.  Professor Gabriel Penrose us an avid fairy tale enthusiast who believes many of the tales where based on bits of truth.  He teams with Ophelia to gain information about Snow White and Dwarf legacy from the Castle in exchange for helping prove Prue didn't kill Mr. Coop, her employer.  Hansel is a gardener who helps to look after Prue and ends up being very useful and the investigation impacts him personally.  There are many suspects and clues to wade through.

Germany's Black Forest with the castle, nearby town of Schloss Grunewald and Baden-Baden a train-ride away are all the setting for this tale.  The setting is very much a part of the story and plot, making the old Grimm's Fairy Tale seem very possible.  These locals also add old world gothic touches to bump up the suspense.

The plot of unique, utilizing old Fairy Tales as based in some true events and what searching for the mine the dwarfs worked in could do to unscrupulous people, and how far they would go, is a great twist on an old theme.  The pace held steady throughout and there were many plot twists to keep the pages turning.  The climax had some nail-biting moments and was nicely done.  The wrap-up provides more opportunities for Ophelia, which will keep her adventures going with Cinderella in France next.

A fantastic new take for a historical mystery series with clever plotting and a strong lead character in Ophelia.  I am an instant fan.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Pinecone Wreath with Cardinals and Ornaments

Wreaths make a great festive touch that can be used year after year with minimal fuss.  

To make, coat a store-bought pinecone wreath with gray spray paint. Spray with spray snow, then silver glitter, allowing drying time between coats. Arrange three cardinal figurines and nine round red ornaments among the pinecones, adhering with hot glue to keep them in place.
More great wreath ideas 
(click here)

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Guest Post - Maia Chance

Maia Chance is a new author who is hitting the scene with two series.  First up is this Fairy Tale Fatal series with Penguin Prime Crime and second, The Discreet Retrieval Agency, is with St. Martin's press and won't be released until 2015.  Ms. Chance is a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington and lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.

Please welcome Maia to our M&MM!

Series Result of Procrastinating on Homework

When people ask me where I got the idea for Snow White Red-Handed, I’m not sure where to start. I can say with certainty, however, that the entire Fairy Tale Fatal series began as a self-indulgent, irresponsible project.

Yes. Call it Escape from Academic Drudgery. Charge me as guilty for writing an entire novel as a way to procrastinate on my homework.

This is what happened: I’ve always been fascinated with fairy tales, so when I had the chance to pick my texts for a freshman comp class I was teaching, I decided to use fairy tales and fairy tale criticism as a way to help my students learn to write about literature. So I had fairy tales on the brain, big time. The next thing I knew, the fairy tale stuff had cross-pollinated in the back of my mind with the nineteenth-century American literature texts I was reading in preparation for my PhD qualifying exams. Louisa May Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman . . . yeah. How the heck does that crowd mix with fairy tales? But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I’ve always loved stories with outsider protagonists, and a Yankee girl in the Black Forest sounded like a book I wanted to read. So I decided to write it. Kind of for fun. And as a way to procrastinate on grading student papers and chewing through that pesky PhD reading list.

Once I got started writing and researching Snow White Red-Handed, other things worked their way into the story. Some of them are personal. For instance, my heroine Ophelia Flax is a variety hall actress, and one of my great-grandmothers was a singer on the variety hall stage.

Other personal ingredients are the Baden-Baden and Heidelberg settings. When I was in college, I spent two summers in Heidelberg working as an orchestral violinist in Heidelberg’s Castle Festival, and I traveled a couple of times to Baden-Baden on my days off.

Baden-Baden has a simply amazing thermal spa, by the way, if you aren’t averse to getting whacked on the rear after your scrubbing has been completed by a muscly attendant. Seriously. I was enchanted by the area, and it evidently left its mark on my imagination. I even have a recurring dream of hiking to a castle inhabited by elves, hidden on a mountain above Heidelberg. There is a story to that, and no, it doesn’t involve a psychotherapist. Although maybe it should.

Another personal inspiration: I’ve always had a secret crush on the composer Johannes Brahms, and Brahms spent a lot of time in Baden-Baden. In fact, even though the hero of Snow White Red-Handed, Professor Penrose, is British, I picture him like the young Brahms, plus spectacles.

Okay, so I had this amazing setting that I’d always been in love with, a hero who looks like the young Brahms, and the fruitfully absurd concept of a practical Yankee variety hall actress who finds herself in the patently impractical land of German fairy tales. Add a castle, a murder, and a cast of shifty characters, plus a hapless friend for Ophelia by the name of Prue, and off I went.

There were times, I’ll admit, when writing Snow White Red-Handed seemed like a lot more work than just doing my homework and grading my students’ papers, by golly. The historical research was time consuming, though once I found Mark Twain’s two travelogues The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, things got smoother. Getting my characters’ speech to sound historical without confusing twenty-first century readers was also tricky (fingers crossed that I pulled it off). Oh, and then there was the little issue called the mystery plot. Tangled, indeed.

In the end, though, Snow White Red-Handed almost miraculously turned out as that book I’d wanted to read: an unexpected, frivolous, magical, adventurous, and romantic romp. I am so delighted that Berkley Prime Crime picked up my Fairy Tale Fatal series, and I hope readers will enjoy escaping into the mysterious woods of the nineteenth century as much as I did.

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THANK You Ms. Chance for that delightful blog post.  

If you are needing a little something different this year in your Thanksgiving feast, consider a different take on your cranberries.  Try this delicious Cranberry Orange Bread, which is a sure fire crowd-pleaser.

Cranberry Orange Bread


     2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon grated orange zest
    1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
    1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
    1/4 cup margarine, softened
    1 cup white sugar
    1 egg
    3/4 cup orange juice


    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in orange zest, cranberries, and pecans. Set aside.

    In a large bowl, cream together margarine, sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in orange juice. Beat in flour mixture until just moistened. Pour into prepared pan.

    Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until the bread springs back when lightly touched. Let stand 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Wrap in plastic when completely cool.

    Pour a 1/2 cup glaze of orange juice, powdered sugar, & vanilla over the loaf while it is still in the pan--just adds another layer of flavor to an already great mix of tart & sweet.  

Originally from

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