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Monday, April 22, 2019

Author Guest Post - Julia Buckley

Julia Buckley is a Chicago mystery author. She writes the Writer's Apprentice Series and the Undercover Dish mysteries, and is soon to launch a new series with Berkley Prime Crime. A DARK AND STORMY MURDER was recently named "a noteworthy traditional mystery" by WRITER'S DIGEST, and her novels THE BIG CHILI and CHEDDAR OFF DEAD have both been translated into Japanese.   She lives near Chicago with her husband,  four cats, and a mischievous Labrador named Digby. She has two grown sons. She is a lifelong reader and a writer since around age six, when she started a notebook of poems.  Please welcome her to the M&MM.

The Story of Wally
We’ve all visited those lovely little resort towns that sit on lakes or rivers and make wonderful escapes when we’ve had too much of urban life. In my Writer’s Apprentice novels, Blue Lake is just such a town, and like any real vacation escape, its streets are lined with storefronts. Every one of these doors leads to new stories, fascinating lore, interesting people.

One of the first places Lena London discovered when she came to town in Book One (A Dark and Stormy Murder) was a hardware store called Bick’s. In the slightly musty lobby of this eccentric and whimsical place stands a giant Grizzly bear who holds a sign that says “Bick’s is Best.” For a year, Lena walks in and out of Bick’s to pursue various purchases or to mail letters in the ancient post office at the back of the store, but only in Book Four (Death Waits in the Dark), does Lena learn the story of the Grizzly. His name was Wally.

Wally, in life, had been a fixture at the Riverton Zoo, a couple hours from Blue Lake. Beloved by all of Riverton and by zoo visitors from far and wide, Wally enjoyed a long life and formed a loving bond with his caretaker. When the bear died of old age, his keeper asked to have Wally preserved in the hopes of keeping some part of his majestic bear alive for posterity. The man received permission and Wally became a work of taxidermy, similar to the fellow pictured here (from Wikimedia Commons). Through a series of events that are made clear in the book, Wally makes his way to Mr. Bick, and for years he has stood guard in the lobby of Bick’s Hardware. Lena learns this information and feels neglectful—she has passed Wally so many times, but she had never learned his story.

With each door she enters in Blue Lake, Lena learns more about the people—and the animals—who populate her town.

In the latest installment, she also learns a great deal about the past. Her employer, the suspense novelist Camilla Graham, is confronted by a woman who threatens to reveal “Graham family secrets” if Camilla does not come clean. Unfortunately, Camilla has no idea what the woman means, and everyone in the Graham family is dead. She and Lena must come together to find out secrets from the past before someone sullies the family name of Camilla’s dear deceased husband, James.

As they search, they find dark secrets—and death.

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THANK You Ms. Buckley for joining us.  This is her second guest post with us, check out her prior post about Mary Stewart (click here).

Here is a short interview with Ms. Buckley:

Part 2 of the interview

Part 3 of the interview

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review - Death Waits in the Dark

I have reviewed a few of the prior books in the series including Book 1, A Dark and Stormy Murder (click here), book 2, Death in Dark Blue (click here), and a an author guest post (click here).  Here is my review of the new addition to the series.  

Writer's apprentice Lena London is back and better than ever when her friend bestselling suspense novelist Camilla Graham needs help solving a town murder that hits a little too close to home...

Author: Julia Buckley

Copyright: April 2019 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 4th in Writer's Apprentice Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Lena London, new writing assistant to a best-selling author

Setting: Modern day, Blue Lake Indiana

Obtained Through: Publisher (Netgalley) for honest review

From the book cover: "It's summertime, and Lena and Camilla are busy working away while a town vandal runs amok. Things get even more complicated when Jane Wyland pays Camilla a not-so-friendly visit and gives her an ultimatum: reveal Camilla's husband James's family secret, or she will. Lena assures Camilla that nothing will come of the woman's threats, since the family has no secrets to hide.

When Jane Wyland is later found dead, they're convinced that whatever secret she was planning to expose led to her death. With Lena's assistance, Camilla is determined to solve the case before the finger points at her..."

Our heroine Lena is back to contend with a murder that touches her and Camilla's world. Her boyfriend Sam is back and they are a cute couple, Policeman Doug Heller is still a significant character that I enjoy, BFF Allison and hubby John make a few appearances, Cliff Blake is a new addition of Sam's reunited brother, Isabelle Devon is an old high school friend of Lena's that moves to Blue Lake, and of course the animals - Lena's cat Lestrade and Camilla's German Sheperds Rochester and Heathcliff.   

What happened several decades before prompting a young girl to leave town and her sister to be murdered when she starts digging into the past is the main premise.  There is a bit of the question "How well do we really know even our closest friends... or a spouse?" that fuels the undercurrents.  The pacing was definitely page turning and gripping as danger swirls close to Lena.

The climax was harrowing and exciting, so I am delighted with it.  The wrapup is actually poignant and well done, making Lena more dimensional.

I enjoyed this outing in the series a great deal and highly recommend it to fans of the series and even to those new to it.  There was only one hiccup and that was an emotional side to Lena that is accentuated through the tensions of the story that seemed off.  Perhaps that was just me, so you will have to judge for yourself.  Overall this book is a great stand alone and fourth book in the series. 

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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Author Guest Post - Jennifer David Hesse

I have read and reviewed two of Jennifer David Hesse's Wiccan Wheel cozy mystery series, the 3rd Yuletide Homicide (click here) and the 5th Mayday Murder (click here).  I am tickled to have her guest post today about featuring an often misunderstood belief system in her cozy mysteries.

Ms. Hesse is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries, a cozy mystery series published by Kensington Books. Born and raised in Central Illinois, Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree as an English major from Eastern Illinois University and her law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After an eight-year stint in New York, she now makes her home in Chicago with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing, or working her day job as an environmental lawyer, Jennifer enjoys yoga, hiking, and movie night with her family.

“How will my books be received?”

Should authors worry about how their books will be received?

The obvious answer is: Of course! Authors all want their books to be well-received. We want to be liked, highly reviewed, and successful. Duh!

But another camp might say: Don’t worry about it. Just write your story. Tell the tale in your heart without regard for how it will be received.

There’s validity in both points of view. Writers really shouldn’t obsess over what readers will think. They have no control over it anyway.

Still, doubt and angst are very common among author types. First time authors, especially, worry about how their books will be received. For me, I had double the concern. My debut book series features a main character who practices Wicca—an often misunderstood belief system. I wondered how my books would be viewed by folks who knew very little about Wicca. Would they find it threatening or weird? Might they even find it antagonistic to their own beliefs? I’d heard of some books receiving one-star reviews simply based on the subject matter. Quelle horreur!

But that wasn’t really my biggest concern. On the flip side, and more importantly, I wondered how the books would be received by actual, real-life Wiccans.

Wicca has been an officially recognized religion in the United States since 1986. And it’s been practiced in its modern form since at least the mid-twentieth century. In a nutshell, Wicca is an earth-based religion in which practitioners recognize the divine in nature and work with the elements to connect with sacred energy. (The five lines that form a pentagram represent earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.) It’s a peaceful religion, guided by the principle: “If it harm none, do as you will.”

In fact, because it’s such a life-affirming path, where practitioners take responsibility for their own growth and actions, it can be particularly offensive to Wiccans for anyone to associate them with anything evil or negative. Yes, most Wiccans call themselves “witches.” But there’s no “devil worship” in Wicca. Satan doesn’t even exist in Wicca.

Beyond the outdated fear of “evil witches,” there’s also an unfortunate tendency for some to view Wicca as frivolous or kooky (especially in the media around Halloween time). But this form of spirituality is just as valid as anyone else’s. It’s nothing to be made fun of.

Knowing all this, I wanted to write Keli, my Wiccan heroine, as realistic as possible. And I definitely wanted to be respectful.

Luckily, I think I succeeded. I’ve released five books so far, and I continue to receive positive feedback. I’ve heard from many witches, Wiccans, and Pagans, who enjoy the books. Several have commented that it’s refreshing to see someone like themselves in the pages of a cozy mystery. And many have said that they can relate to Keli’s concerns and struggles around keeping her faith private.

As for non-Wiccans, I’m happy to say I’ve gotten positive reviews from them too. In the cozy mystery genre, authors really do need to consider their readers’ expectations. (For example, there shouldn’t be any graphic violence or overt sex in a cozy mystery. Even strong language should be kept to a minimum.) Cozy fans are in it for the puzzles and light suspense, the quirky characters and element of fun. But cozy readers are smart too. I’ve heard from many who have said they’ve enjoyed learning about a spiritual practice they were previously unfamiliar with. By the same token, some have noted they’re glad there’s not so much Wicca as to be distracting from the main story. After all, these books are first and foremost mysteries—not religious textbooks.

Of course, you can never please everyone. Some readers like more romance or humor in their mysteries; some want less. In the end, the author has to go with her gut and just tell the story that wants to be told.

Funny enough, early on I did receive one critical email from a reader. She felt it was unrealistic for a vegan to eat bar food and drink a rum and coke. Ironically, that part was probably the most realistic thing I wrote!

Of course, vegans are as diverse as Wiccans. Everyone is different. Yet we’re all human. And that’s a good thing for us all to remember.

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THANK You Jennifer for joining us today.  Thank you for your series being unique in many ways.  Variety is the spice of life, and I like variety in my mysteries.  

Jennifer can be found online at: Website || Facebook || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads || Amazon || Newsletter

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Review - An Artless Demise

Lady Darby returns to London with her new husband, Sebastian Gage, but newlywed bliss won't last for long when her past comes back to haunt her in the latest exciting installment in this national bestselling series.  I have reviewed the six prior books in this series (click here) and consider myself a fan of the this historical mystery series.  Check out what I thought of the seventh addition to the Lady Darby series.

Author: Anna Lee Huber

Copyright: April 2019 (Berkley) 380 pgs

Series: 7th in Lady Darby Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild with non-gruesome references to murders, dark subject matter

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Mystery

Main Characters: Lady Kiera Darby, an accomplished artist, widow now re-married, and social outcast

Setting: 1831, London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the cover blurb: "November 1831. After fleeing London in infamy more than two years prior, Lady Kiera Darby's return to the city is anything but mundane, though not for the reasons she expected. A gang of body snatchers is arrested on suspicion of imitating the notorious misdeeds of Edinburgh criminals, Burke and Hare--killing people from the streets and selling their bodies to medical schools. Then Kiera's past--a past she thought she'd finally made peace with--rises up to haunt her. 

All of London is horrified by the evidence that "burkers" are, indeed, at work in their city. The terrified populace hovers on a knife's edge, ready to take their enmity out on any likely suspect. And when Kiera receives a letter of blackmail, threatening to divulge details about her late anatomist husband's involvement with the body snatchers and wrongfully implicate her, she begins to apprehend just how precarious her situation is. Not only for herself, but also her new husband and investigative partner, Sebastian Gage, and their unborn child. 

Meanwhile, the young scion of a noble family has been found murdered a block from his home, and the man's family wants Kiera and Gage to investigate. Is it a failed attempt by the London burkers, having left the body behind, or the crime of someone much closer to home? Someone who stalks the privileged, using the uproar over the burkers to cover his own dark deeds?"

Lady Darby comes up against her nightmarish past and must fight emotionally and mentally to keep her new life together.  Her new husband Sebastian Gage has been understanding and sympathetic, but gets more of a taste of what she faced before.  Even Lord Gage, Sebastian's father, who has never accepted Kiera, gets a glimpse of what her life was like with her deceased husband and the public hatred she withstood.  

The setting of London has been covered by scores of books and authors and yet Ms. Huber weaves historical facts seamlessly to create a layered and atmospheric large city.  The main plot of handling two investigations, the "burkers" trial with an unidentified young "Italian Boy" victim they are trying to id, and the case of a young heir, a truly black-hearted individual, whose murder was loosely made to look like a "Burking" are enough to keep the story hopping.  But the added black mailing and Gage's right-hand-man Anderly having a personal stake in identifying the young victim make the story emotionally layered and rich.  It is an absorbing story that draws you in and is hard to put down.

The climax is to prevent another wealthy heir's death as the city is on tender hooks after the "burkers" trial and impending public execution.  It has exciting elements of a ticking clock to save a life with some harrowing elements.  Wonderful climax.  The wrap-up gives a hint of Lord Gage's tendency to "arrange" his family's lives to suit himself and paves the way for the next story.

It is hard to believe this is the seventh book and if anything the series just keeps getting better and better.  I love how history is made fascinating and alive through this series. The themes of ethnic prejudices and the poor becoming political pawns shows how "the more things change, the more they stay the same."  The story was immersive and an experience I highly recommend.

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Author Guest Post - Anna Lee Huber

Today we have Anna Lee Huber, the amazing author of the Lady Darby historical mystery series, the Verity Kent historical mystery series, and also the Gothic Myths series.  She shares some of the ways she finds inspiration for her writing.  Please welcome her.  I will be reviewing her newest Lady Darby novel shortly, so stay tuned.

Top 10 Ways I’m Inspired

One of the questions I get asked most often by readers and aspiring authors alike is where I gather my inspiration for my books. Where do the ideas for my plots and characters come from, and how do I motivate myself to keep going if I get stuck? So in the spirit of those questions, I’ve compiled my list of Top 10 ways I gather inspiration.

1. Who hasn’t been inspired by a wonderful Film? Whether it’s the big screen or small, they often spur us into forming questions, or drive us to research a certain location or moment in history. It can be a documentary or a children’s cartoon. The type of show doesn’t matter. Creativity often sparks in the most unlikely places. The plot for A Grave Matter was inspired by a documentary I watched about Lincoln’s assassination, public procession, and burial—a program I hadn’t the least inkling would trigger an idea.

2. Books are perhaps the most obvious sources of inspiration for authors. I’ve gleaned hundreds of ideas from my reading material, be it research texts or works of fiction. And once again, it’s sometimes the least obvious documents that stimulate the most interesting concepts. I may write historical mysteries, but I’ve gotten ideas from sci-fi novels, contemporary autobiographies, old maps, devotional texts, and even opera scores. Everything is fodder for a good story.

3. Music can be a source of inspiration both before and during the writing process. I’ve conceived of entire story ideas simply from listening to one song on the radio or symphony in a concert hall. The best music contains movement, and emotion, and story--all in an abbreviated format. Music can also help set the tone while I’m writing, enabling me to slide back into the correct frame of mind. In many ways, it’s almost like muscle memory. I hear it and I’m back in my story’s world. (It also helps drone out the noise of my kids.)

4. There is nothing more inspiring to the human soul than Nature, and the same goes for creativity. When I find my well has run dry, I know it’s time to get outside and breathe some fresh air. A stroll through a beautiful place away from the concrete and brick world of humans is somehow both relaxing and stimulating. It allows my mind to both empty and fill, overflowing with motivation.

5. If there was one thing I wish I could do more of, it would be Travel. At this stage of life with young children it’s tricky, but our family still makes it a priority to hit the road on adventures whenever we can. Not only does it help us bond and allow us to experience new people, places, and things; it also refills my well of creativity and sparks inspiration. Stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something different, and embracing adventure are immeasurably important for your inner muse.

6. When I’m stuck while writing or plotting, I like to Play the Game of “What If?”. There are no rules. Nothing is too zany or outlandish for this wacky private brainstorming session. The point is simply to loosen up the brain and my inhibitions, to stretch beyond the obvious and maybe even make myself laugh. And sometimes the zaniest idea is the one that fires me up the most, compelling me to find a way to make it work for my book. Such a challenge is exciting.

7. I’ve already mentioned that I have young children, and sometimes there’s nothing like a bit of Child’s Play to get the creative juices flowing. Whether its building a castle, pretending to be a winter fairy, or serving up a fancy dinner with plastic food, spending time with my children unlocks a playful side to my brain. It also forces me to turn off my inner critic and stop taking myself so seriously. When playing make-believe, the point is to disregard reality and embrace what is fun. This can also be achieved without children. The trick is to let go and dive in whole-heartedly to that game of DND, or round of laser tag, or quest to save Zelda.

8. Another activity from which I derive inspiration is simply Moving My Body. Sitting sedentary for too long is a killer for creativity, at least in my case. If I start to feel stale, I know I need to get up and move. It doesn’t truly matter how. I can go for a walk or run, dance around the house, or lace up some ice skates and hit the local rink. As long as it gets my limbs swinging and my heart pumping, and jostles the cobwebs from my mind. Much like nature, it both empties the mind of moldy nonsense and replenishes it with fresh thoughts.

9. Time and again, Water has proved the solution to what seems like the stickiest snafu. If I can’t think my way out of a problem, or every piece of dialogue sounds trite, I hop in the shower, soak in the tub, go for a swim, or even wash the dishes by hand. Something about that running, swirling, trickling water allows my subconscious to take over and flood me full of new ideas or a fresh perspective. It truly feels like magic sometimes, and proves that water isn’t just essential to physical life, but also creativity.

10. Perhaps the most basic way I spur the wheels of creativity and inspiration when I’m staring at the blank page is to focus on the Setting. It doesn’t matter whether that bit of prose will remain or all be scrapped during edits, the point is that by forcing myself to focus on my protagonists’ surroundings and their reaction to them, it helps me stage the scene and ground the characters where they are. It’s like opening a window into the world that grows ever wider with each point of description until I’m immersed three-dimensionally with all my senses and can then carry the story forward.

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THANK YOU so much Ms. Huber, I love all ten and thank you for your novels!

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Review - May Day Murder

I have only read one other in the series, the third book Yuletide Homicide (click here).  I was in the mood for a springtime book (aren't we all?) and this hit the spot.  Check out how the book fared in my opinion.

Author: Jennifer David Hesse

Copyright: March 2019 (Kensington) 352 pgs

Series: 5th in Wiccan Wheel Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Keli Milanni, family law attorney and Wiccan 

Setting: Modern day, Edindale, Illinois

Obtained Through: Netgalley

From the book cover: "Spring is in the air, but for Edindale, Illinois, attorney Keli Milanni, murder is the only thing blooming . . . 

Keli’s looking forward to Beltane, the time-honored Wiccan holiday that celebrates life with feasting, ceremonial dancing, and ancient Celtic rituals. But since recently leaving her law firm and opening her own practice, Keli has more on her plate than simple abundance. Still, she always has time for a friend. Erik, a Druid from a neighboring town, has had a run of bad luck he blames on a curse cast by his ex-girlfriend Denise, a practicing witch whose expertise in the dark arts can’t save her from her own deadly end.

When Keli finds herself a person of interest in the investigation, she begins to wonder if she herself might be cursed. With a little help from her friends, including her devoted boyfriend Wes, Keli aims to find out who poisoned Denise. What she uncovers is a witch’s brew of spells, hexes, and black magic that raises questions about her own Wiccan worldview. As the community gathers for the May Day festivities, it’s up to Keli to stop a killer from springing ahead to another murder . . ."

Keli Milanni is a smart modern gal struggling to  get her solo her law firm financially stable since she left a big law firm.  
Wes Callahan, a tattooed bartender, is Keli's boyfriend and I enjoy the move away from the CRI (Cop Romantic Interest).  Mila is the owner of New Age gift shop Moonstone Treasures and a Wiccan mentor for Keli.  Farrah is her best friend and trusty sidekick who is laid up with a bum knee in this book. The multiple suspects surrounding Erik and the victim Denise provide a colorful cast with a myriad of motives.

Edindale and a neighboring town are the prime setting with a few wilderness areas included.  The beginning of spring blossoms in the book and enveloped me as I read through a snow storm.

The plot begins fairly simple but the motive is murky as police and media complicate matters by claiming it was a witch-on-witch killing.  Subplots include Keli dealing with her Wiccan private beliefs becoming publicly known and how that will affect her new law firm and somebody sabotaging her business in addition to the murder.

The pacing kept a steady forward momentum with just enough twists.  The killer reveal was deliciously tense and dramatic!  Nicely done there, I must say. The wrap up was touching and also left one subplot to carry into the next book as a dangling mystery.  It effectively makes me want to read the next book to see the answer.

Keli is a touch too trusting in this outing.  I found myself thinking in a couple of scenes that she was trusting a stranger too much.  Otherwise, the book has a solid mystery with the subplots that all kept me flipping pages.  This was only the second book in the series I've read and I had no problem understanding references etc. I like the simple weaving of Wiccan beliefs in the story without too much detail.

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

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