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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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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review - No Mallets Intended

I have reviewed this author's work from the Muffin Mysteries with #1 Bran New Death (click here) and  #2 Muffin But Murder (click here), and we were delighted to have Ms. Hamilton write a guest post (click here).  Now let's take a peak at her newest release in the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries.

Author: Victoria Hamilton

Copyright: Nov 2014 (Berkley) 432 pgs

Series: 4th in Vintage Kitchen Mystery series

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth Mystery

Main Characters: Jaymie Leighton, Vintage cookware and cookbook collector

Setting: Modern Day, Queensville on the Michigan-Canadian border

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Jaymie Leighton is helping to restore the kitchen at the recently acquired Dumpe Manor to its prior glory.  The Queensville Heritage Society is hoping to open the Manor for the holidays.  While Jaymie is working late one night, she is struck by somebody using a vintage wooden mallet she had collected. Nothing was taken, so the reason for for attacking Jaymie is unclear, so the theory is a homeless person who was accustomed to using the Manor when it was empty.  Before long, a controversial person in town is murdered at the Manor and Jaymie finds the body.  This character is not overly nosy, just what you see in any group of people who talk about what is happening and ask questions.

Jaymie, is a curious person by nature and deals with relationship troubles on top of the murder.  She has an authentic quality that I find kept me reading.  Detective Zack Christian, who relocated, reaches out to her, but is it as a friend or is he wishing for more?  Wealthy Daniel Collins, kinda sorta boyfriend, gave her a deadline to decide if she wants to be with him on top of.  Hopalong, or Hoppy, Jaymie's three-legged Yorkie Poo is the quiet star of the story.  Her friends Bernie (a local cop), Valletta, and Heidi are the sort of great friends we all want to have.

The Queensville Heritage Society Manor house is the setting for a good portion of the story and lends a nostalgic and eerie air.  The plot revolves around the house with a controversial history supposedly being written by the murder victim and an heir deciding to fight the historical society from keeping it now that they have sunk money into it.  Those are feasible, but the plot gets more involved than even that. 

The pacing went along at a good clip for a cozy, with clues dropped throughout.  The climax took some unexpected turns and delivered a great ride.  The wrap-up delivers closure on several fronts and a tantalizing promise for Jaymie's future. 

This was my first adventure with Vintage Kitchen Mysteries and I was delighted to find it everything you look for in Cozy with some well placed surprises too.  Kudos Victoria Hamilton.

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

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post - Victoria Hamilton

Our guest post is with popular author Victoria Hamilton.  She is the author of three nationally bestselling series, the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries and Merry Muffin Mysteries as Victoria, and the Teapot Collector Mysteries as Amanda Cooper. She is also the bestselling author of Regency and historical romance as Donna Lea Simpson.  Busy lady!

I have reviewed #1 Bran New Death (click here), and #2 Muffin But Murder (click here) of the Merry Muffin series, and I will be reviewing the newest in the Vintage Kitchen series, No Mallets Intended later this week.

Victoria loves to cook and collects vintage kitchen paraphernalia, teacups and teapots, and almost anything that catches her fancy! She loves to read, especially mystery novels, and enjoys good tea and cheap wine, the company of friends, and has a newfound appreciation for opera. She enjoys crocheting and beading, but a good book can tempt her away from almost anything… except writing!

Working It: The Right Tool for the Job

Cooks need a lot of tools, and so do writers. What profession doesn’t?

But… where mystery writer tools become, after a time, electronic junk, (Like the Intel 286 computer I started writing on!) a cook’s tools get more beautiful and useful with age. Just like people, right?

This is even true of the older tools that we now label vintage. I can’t get enough of the lovely spoons, egg beaters, knives, lifters, whisks and assorted other items we used once upon a time and – gasp – still use! Where a writer’s first tools – pens and pencils – have been replaced by electronics, cooks still need those same spoons, knives, lifters and whisks.

But I have a sordid confessions: I am addicted to modern kitchen gadgets, something shiny and new that promises to change my life. I have bought just in the past couple of years a combination peeler/scrubber/potato de-eyer, (still never used) three different kinds of garlic choppers/squishers (I still chop it by hand) cubers (I also still do this by hand) and various other choppers, cutters, squishers, mashers and peelers, most of which end up in the Goodwill donation box.

But every once in a while you end up with a winner, like the adjustable mandolin that will slice anything from see-through thin to nice and chunky. I love that handy-dandy little gadget! So I suppose, since you don’t know how effective something is until you buy it, I will still fall victim to every hawker on TV who tells me about the next best dicer/shredder/do-everything doohickey, hoping it will be like that mandolin.

I still have a sizable collection of old kitchen tools, however, many that I use all the time, and I love how they look on display in the kitchen. My favorites are the ones with the red and white handles. In No Mallets Intended my protagonist, Jaymie Leighton, is redecorating the kitchen of the historic house her local heritage society has bought. Since so many of the tools have that color scheme, and since Christmas is approaching, she is urged by more than one person to make the color scheme of the kitchen red and white. Nothing wrong with that, but as you can see by the book cover, that is not what Jaymie decides on; she goes for a kind of butter yellow and soft green, another common color combination for not just kitchen tools, but appliances as well.

The beauty of writing my Vintage Kitchen Mystery series is that, though I have a small kitchen in real life, I get to collect, through Jaymie, all manner of kitchen gadgets of yesteryear. But…

I’ll write those vintage mysteries on a state of the art computer with a cordless mouse and keyboard, and high speed internet access. Just call me a high tech/low tech modern vintage woman!


About No Mallets Intended

Jaymie Leighton is excited and a little nervous about her current big venture, completely redoing the kitchen at Dumpe House—now the Queensville Historic Manor—in time for the December opening. But the house is mired in controversy, a challenge to the heritage society’s right to own it, and questions about the author hired to write a pamphlet detailing the Dumpe family history and that of the house.

None of Jaymie’s business, so she keeps her head down and her focus on the exact color right for the kitchen, and assembling all the accouterments, including a Hoosier cabinet! She’s also got lots to think about in her personal life with Daniel acting a little odd, and her friend Heidi dragging her in to the trouble between her and her fiancĂ©, Jaymie’s former boyfriend Joel.

But a late night whack on the head with one of the antique mallets Jaymie has been cataloging for the society and a dreadful murder right on the house’s doorstep draws her once again into murder and mayhem. Jaymie faces her most cunning and dangerous opponent yet, but with Valetta by her side and the police chief’s approval, she must figure out whodunit before they do it again!

Follow Victoria!
Vintage Kitchen Mysteries on Facebook:
Vintage Kitchen Mysteries on Pinterest:
Twitter: @MysteryVictoria

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THANK You Victoria!  That was a fun post, we appreciate your joining us.  Please show some love in the comments.

Since we are fast approaching Thanksgiving here in the

U.S., here are some DIY crafts to give you some ideas for making this holiday extra special. (click here)  I know it seems as though this holiday doesn't get as much attention and it is just crammed in between Halloween and the December Holidays (for my multicultural believers).  These can be as easy as you desire, and can aid in making this holiday memorable.  

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Guest Post - Kate Carlisle

I reviewed her debut novel in the new Fixer-Upper mystery series, A High-End Finish (click here).  I have also been following Ms. Carlisle's Bibliophile series for a while.  I have reviewed #7 A Cookbook Conspiracy (click here), #6 Peril in Paperback (click here), #4 One Book in the Grave (click here), and #3 The Lies That Bind (click here).   

But today we get the author herself joining us with a guest post.  Are you cheering...I am!

Writing What She Doesn’t Know

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve loved books. More than just the content—the stories, the language, the knowledge—I loved the book itself as an object. I always volunteered to hang Dad’s dry cleaning so I could lay claim to the thin, white cardboard sheets tucked inside his dress shirts. I used them to make my own little books, beautifully decorated but blank inside.

I moved on to take book arts classes at the local library and then at book arts centers. Writing the Bibliophile Mysteries with bookbinder protagonist Brooklyn Wainwright was a natural extension of a hobby I’ve enjoyed all my life.

The Fixer-Upper Mysteries? Not so much.

Shannon Hammer, heroine of A High-End Finish (November 4) and This Old Homicide (January 27), lovingly restores Victorian homes in the quaint town of Lighthouse Cove, California. While my father was a contractor and my brother painted Victorian buildings in San Francisco, I personally have no hands-on experience in that field. No, I have never restored a Victorian home. Or any home, for that matter. I had my kitchen remodeled a couple years ago, but I didn’t do the work; I just complained about how long it took.

With the Fixer-Upper Mysteries, I’m writing about something I don’t know—for the sheer pleasure of doing the research. And I’m having so much fun, I almost feel guilty!

Through Shannon, we get to explore every nook and cranny of the fascinating Victorian homes of Lighthouse Cove, from the grande dames to the crackerboxes. When most people think Victorian, they think of Queen Anne style, but there are many styles of Victorian architecture. In the books, readers will have the pleasure of traipsing through strangers’ homes and through the history in each, all wrapped up in a quirky whodunit. 

It’s unfortunate for Shannon that in A High-End Finish, she literally stumbles upon a dead body in the basement of one of her projects. And even more unfortunate that the victim turns out to be a creep she went on a blind date with the night before, a date that ended badly… and publicly.

"I grabbed my purse and jacket and started to dash off—until I felt cold air hit my skin. I looked down to see my teal blouse rippling in the breeze. Jerry had torn it off my shoulder!

I turned back and yelled, “You big jerk!” I was so angry. He’d ripped my clothing! What a Neanderthal! I knew it was wrong, knew I had to shake off this negative energy, but I wanted to give him a swift smack across his big stupid head. Just walk away, I thought.

I started to move, but stopped when I heard another sound.


Looking up at the pier, I saw two men rushing down the stairs toward me. The rest of the people standing at the railing were clapping and laughing and whistling. I even recognized a few of them when they waved at me. What did they think was going on here?

Jerry raised his head and glared at me. “You’ll be sorry for that.”

“Oh yeah?” I felt safer now that we were about to have company, so instead of slapping at him like I wanted to, I reached inside my purse and pulled out the only weapon I had on me. My pink needle-nose pliers. I leaned over and snipped them in front of his face a few times.

He recoiled. “Get that thing away from me!”

“Just a warning,” I said with deadly calm, furious with myself for ever believing that he might’ve been a nice guy."

So who do you think is the prime suspect when Jerry is found murdered the very next day? Especially when he’s murdered on one of Shannon’s job sites… and the likely murder weapon is one of the pink tools for which she’s known.

A High-End Finish is available now, so you have the chance to get in on the Fixer-Upper Mystery series right from the very beginning. I hope you’ll enjoy the stories and that you’ll love learning fascinating little tidbits about restoring beautiful Victorian homes.

Read more about the Fixer-Upper Mysteries at! 

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THANK You Ms. Carlisle for your visit today.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review - A High-End Finish

This is the first in a new series by the author of Bibliophile mysteries.  Let's see if Ms. Carlisle tackles home renovation like she does book restoration!

Author: Kate Carlisle

Copyright: November 2014 (NAL) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Fixer-Upper Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Characters: Shannon Hammer, owner of restoration/renovation construction business

Setting: Modern day, Lighthouse Cove California (near San Francisco)

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Shannon goes on a blind date with Realtor Jerry Saxton, which in itself results in a betting pool of how the date will end.  Jerry gets aggressive and Shannon resorts to kicking him where it really hurts.  Town's people had gathered and cheered her on and several people won the bet, including her father!  A few days later, Shannon stumbles over Jerry's dead body in a home she is renovating.  She is immediately the top suspect in the eyes of the new Chief of Police, Eric Jensen. Of course, Jerry being killed with one of Shannon's pink pipe wrenches doesn't help.  It is hard to understand what is going on as another body is Shannon.  The two victims don't seem to have anything in common at all. 

Shannon grew up in this small town, so there is plenty of small town grudges and long-term dislike.  Whitney Reid has been Shannon's arch nemesis most of her life, and provides a sub-plot to the story.  

Shannon is strong and spunky without being sarcastic or whinny.  She is has a great working relationship with her crews and seems very balanced in general. I love her dog, West Highland Terrier Robbie (after Rob Roy), and her cat, Tiger.  Chief Eric Jensen fulfills the potential cop romantic interest and the "Don't talk to anybody about the murder" roles all in one character.  Crime Writer MacKintyre Sullivan offsets Chief Jensen's character with his quirky author persona while giving the chief a little competition for Shannon.  Lizzie, Marigold, Emily, and Jane are her closest friends and compliment Shannon nicely.  Nemesis Whitney Reid and cohort Jennifer Bailey are actually like some people I have known: Snotty, petty, manipulative, and spiteful. 

Lighthouse Cove California is a standard ocean-side town, but the Victorians homes and the lighthouse really give it character.  The plot was good and a little surprising for a cozy.  The pacing was even without much slow down.  The climax was suspenseful and taut, providing a nail biting ride.  The wrap-up leaves you wanting to stay with the characters a while longer. 

Kate Carlisle has successfully created another cozy series with engaging characters and interesting plotting in a picturesque setting.  If possible, I think I may even love this more than the Bibliophile series!

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

Halloween is over, now onto Thanksgiving.  

Here are some ideas for your table, from classy to simple or elegant to casual you will get simple ideas to brighten your celebration.  Click here.

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