Review: Bewaji’s Ankara Adventures (The Aso-Ebi Chronicles, #1) by Sharon Abimbola Salu

I was delighted to discover yet another mystery novella with no murder. Not that I don’t enjoy the ones with murders, but there are so many varieties of crime, why not investigate something else for change? And this one is a humorous cozy without cuteness or quaintness, too. With an urban Nigerian setting, it’s truly different.

I loved the main character, Bewaji. She gets lucky in her inquiries, but the luck is plausible, she’s aware of it, and she uses it to do some sleuthing. Though the book is written in the third person, the narrative voice is clearly hers, as much inside her head as the usual first-person cozy narration. And Bewaji is funny. Any book that can make me laugh out loud is a winner.

Review: Flash Memory by Anna Castle

Photographing her boyfriend Ty’s ranch and future eco-spa, Penny Trigg climbs an old windmill and falls onto an oddly soft piece of ground. A fresh grave. The suspects for putting a pushy developer in that grave include Ty, his sister Diana—who’s gone missing—and some local officials Penny has been photographing for their campaign posters, including one who works in law enforcement. Since she ends up photographing a couple of crime scenes as well, her investigations occur so naturally I never once questioned an amateur’s involvement. She gets enthusiastic help from Ty’s cousin Perline, co-owner of a local diner. Perline and her husband Cracker are great additions to the Lost Hat cast, and their diner is so eccentric I wish it were real. Penny’s brother Nick is another lively new character, with a past that enables him to grasp a clue Penny wouldn’t have understood.

As in the other Lost Hat book, there are some elements that aren’t typically cozy—in this case, characters with a history of drug and alcohol problems and those who currently use drugs. This isn’t just backstory; it’s central to the story. And it’s a tightly crafted story, with the right balance of humor and suspense.

I again enjoyed Penny and Tillie’s friendship, and the way they work together in spite of the stresses it puts them through. Penny’s efforts to solve the crime run her into some uniquely local types of dangers, such as her encounter with a bull named Blackberry. Though there is one of those confrontation-and-confession scenes, it’s an original variation on that convention.

I hope there’ll be more books in this series so I can spend more time with the characters.

*****

Universal link: books2read/FlashMemory

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130958636

iBooks US: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1457418389

iBooks UK: https://itunes.apple.com/uk/book/id1457418389

Kobo US: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/flash-memory-1

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Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO

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Review: Black and White and Dead All Over by Anna Castle

Colorful Cozy with Texas Sass

I love Anna Castle’s way with words. The first person narration of this book has so much personality, humor and style, I could have enjoyed it for the writing alone, but the setting, characters and plot are equal to the words. The fictional town feels true to the region, a mix of Anglo and Hispanic, of Southern and Western. Athletic, witty, and independent, photographer Penny Trigg stands out among cozy mystery protagonists, and the book as whole is refreshingly free of the features that have made many cozies too much alike in recent years. If you’re allergic to cuteness, no worries. You can read this book with pleasure.

Being a little too impulsive for her own good, Penny makes some decisions that get her in trouble, and her path to getting out of it leads her into the citizens of Lost Hat’s secrets, the investigation of two murders, and of course, more trouble.

The first character to die was so real and likeable, I had no discomfort at all with Penny’s involvement in finding out why he died and who did it. Amateurs’ motives need to be plausible, and her stakes are high. She has additional good reasons to investigate murder and blackmail, as does her new friend Krystle, an equally original character, not the typical sidekick. I especially loved the scene where Krystle talks Penny into a reckless attempt at sleuthing, and Murphy’s Law kicks in with hilarious results.

There’s a third member of the sleuthing trio: intelligent, cautious, and self-effacing Tillie. She’s an asset as well as a contrast. Their investigative teamwork ranges from adventurous and funny to patient and still funny, and their encounters with their suspects take the reader on a colorful tour of Lost Hat. I didn’t figure out whodunit. The last two suspects stayed in the running right up until the end.

The romantic subplot is tightly integrated into the mystery plot, as are Penny’s work as a photographer and her boyfriend’s computer expertise. Every element serves the story and gives the reader’s reasons to care what happens.

I seldom binge read a series, but I’m already on the second book. Stay tuned for the next review.

*****

Universal link: https://books2read/black-white-dead

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1457418389

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Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Black-White-Dead-All-Over-ebook/dp/B00WFISKMA

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Author Interview: Lois Winston

Last week I reviewed the delightful new Anastasia Pollack crafting mystery, Drop Dead Ornaments.

And now I’m happy to have the author, Lois Winston, as my guest for an interview.

Bio: USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston straddles two worlds. She’s an award-winning author of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, humorous women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and as Emma Carlyle. She’s also an award-winning designer of needlework and crafts projects for magazines, craft book publishers, and craft kit manufacturers. Like Anastasia, the protagonist in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, Lois worked for several years as a crafts editor. A graduate of the prestigious Tyler School of Art, she often draws on her art and design background for much of the source material in her fiction.

Interview

AF: Lucille is so awful and so original, the character I love to hate. There are many bad mothers-in-law in the world, but she’s unique. How did you come up with her?

LW: Lucille is based on my own communist mother-in-law, with whom I had the misfortune of sharing a home for six excruciatingly long years. It was either killing her or taking my revenge out in print. I chose the latter to avoid a long prison sentence.

AF: I personally believe Zack (for new readers, that’s Anastasia’s boyfriend) is really a photojournalist, but she suspects he works for one of the “alphabet agencies.” Will we ever find out? Do you have a plan for this? Or is this top secret? I’ll understand if you can’t answer.

LW: If I told you, I’d have to kill you, and that would also probably result in a long prison sentence. So I’ll stay mum on the subject.

AF: You’ve put your protagonist through quite a few adventures involving crimes in a short stretch of her life. How did you decide to time the events in the series that way?

LW: Chalk it up to poor planning on my part. Had I made Anastasia’s sons younger, I could have stretched the series out over the course of several years. But I started out with Alex and Nick as teenagers, and the first book in the series was already written when I signed a 3-book contract. I quickly realized I needed to condense the timeframe of future books to keep Anastasia’s sons at home as long as possible. So the first seven books in the series take place over the span of just under a year. That may sound like a lot of murder and mayhem in a very short period of time, but not when you consider Jessica Fletcher dealt with a murder a week!

AF: You and your critique partner, Donnell Bell, write in different genres. She does romantic suspense, and you do humorous mysteries. In what way does this affect your critiquing relationship—if it does? Is there a particular benefit to the perspective of someone whose work is different?

LW: The second book I sold, back when I was traditional published, was a romantic suspense. So critiquing r/s is not a stretch for me. As for her, my humorous mysteries provide her with some much-needed comic relief from serial killers. She’s also quite familiar with the genre from her personal reading. Our writing skills are on an equal level, and we really like each other’s work. So writing in different genres has never been an issue. We do sometimes sound like an old married couple, though, as we argue through plot points and character development, but we respect each other’s opinions. Even though our brainstorming sessions can get pretty wild, they always result in better books.

AF: This is a multi-part question. How long does it take you to finish a book? You strike me as super-organized, planning ahead. Do you outline a book or “pants” it? And do you have a series outline?

LW: It takes me anywhere from six months to a year to write a book. Life has a way of getting in the way. I wish I were as super-organized as you think I am! I’ll refer you back to the answer to your third question. I’m a total “pantser”, both for each book and the series as a whole. The most pre-planning I do is a short paragraph similar to a back cover synopsis. Then I wing it. Often I have an idea for how I want the story to unfold, only to have Anastasia refuse to cooperate. So I let her take over.

AF: I enjoy the books for the characters and stories, but I don’t do crafts. Do you find that the majority of your readers are fellow crafters? Do they tell you they do the projects included in each book? I was impressed with directions for making the melted crayon ornaments, by the way, even if I’m not going to make any.

LW: That’s a good question and one for which I don’t have an answer! I often hear from readers, but I don’t remember any of them ever mentioning having made any of the projects.

The idea for the series came about because an editor told my agent she was looking for a crafting cozy series, and my research showed that crafting cozy series always include craft projects, just as culinary mysteries always include recipes.

My background is as a designer in the consumer crafts industry, creating mainly needlecraft and fabric crafts for craft kit manufacturers, craft book publishers, and craft and women’s magazines. My agent thought I’d be the perfect person to write such a series. At the time I was writing the aforementioned romantic suspense and humorous women’s fiction (formerly known as chick lit). I’d never thought about writing a mystery series, but I gave it a try, and here we are. After publishing the first three books in the series traditionally, I turned down two additional contracts to go indie.

AF: Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t? Please fill in whatever I overlooked. And thanks for your time.

First, thank you for inviting me today, Amber. I hope that any of your readers who enjoy a good laugh while reading about murder and mayhem will check out the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” And Publishers Weekly favorably compared her to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon character from 30 Rock in their starred review of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series.

Also, along with the seven novels currently in the series, there are also three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril. These are available either individually or bundled together in Crafty Crimes, a Trio of Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries.

Readers can find me at the following locations:

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

Buy Links for Drop Dead Ornamentshttps://www.loiswinston.com/booksap10.html

Buy Links for book one in the series, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gunhttps://www.loiswinston.com/booksap1.html

Review: Drop Dead Ornaments by Lois Winston

Fast-Paced Christmas Comedy and Mystery

I flew through this book. Winston knows how to make a reader turn the page. It’s more than a puzzle to solve—I was rooting for people I cared about. Anastasia Pollack is easy to like, a good mother, a good friend, and in a healthy romantic relationship, the kind of person you’d want on your side in a difficult situation. She’s been through some tough times and keeps her head above water with humor and creativity, never wallowing. I like how she’s comfortable in herself, knowing her own strengths and weaknesses, and acting on her convictions, including her conviction that her older son’s girlfriend’s father is innocent of a crime the police think he committed.

Anastasia’s relationship with Detective Spader is one of the many gems in the story. They’re not quite friends, not quite enemies, but teetering in between, annoying each other respectfully. The dialogue between them is brilliant.

I’m impressed with how Winston has managed to take Anastasia through so many escapades in a short period of the character’s life without making her readers step back and doubt it. One way she does it is through regional color, the nature of crime and family connections in the protagonist’s part of New Jersey. The backstory is blended so smoothly that a new reader could start the series here without feeling lost, but I recommend getting to know the series from the beginning.

The ongoing sagas of Anastasia’s colorful elder relatives—her communist mother-in-law, her spendthrift, husband-hunting mother—continue, adding more laughs. But I have to say, I hope to read a book in which Anastasia and her sons are finally liberated from Lucille.

Check this blog again Sunday for an interview with the author!

Buy Links for Drop Dead Ornaments

Buy Links for book one in the series, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun

Review: Definitely Dead by Lois Winston

I often enjoy a mystery regardless of solving it myself or not, for various reasons. In this case, the pacing and the humor kept me so amused I forgot to try to solve the murder.

Talkative, a bit flaky, and quite attached to her designer shoes and handbags, Gracie Elliot is one of those characters who would drive me crazy if I had to meet her, but she’s hilarious in print. Her inner dialogue shows enough self-awareness that her flaws become funny rather than obnoxious. Her involvement in solving a crime is refreshingly up-front and intentional. She thinks the fastest way to get the murder of a client in her senior match-making service solved is to jump in and do it herself—and make her husband help. As with any amateur sleuth mystery, there’s an element of the implausible requiring suspension of disbelief, but within the context of the plot, characters and setting, Gracie’s actions and motives work, and so does her husband Blake’s more reluctant involvement. Their marriage is a delight for the reader, full of wit and affection.

That said, there’s nothing saccharine about this cozy mystery. Some cozies are just too cozy to live, and I can’t finish them. This one is tart rather than sweet. Gracie is a sharp and critical observer of her fellow humans’ appearances, personalities, mannerisms, fashion sense and home decor—which is an asset in the both the mystery and the comedy departments. As well as being an aficionado of quality handbags and shoes, she’s a former fabric designer (laid off and desperate to make a living—hence the senior dating business), and she can assess a woman’s income and lifestyle from her living room and her clothes and accessories, which makes Gracie a suitable detective for the particular crime she’s looking into. I was so amused by the parade of suspects, especially the ones with bad taste, that I didn’t care which one of them had done it.

Gracie aspires to become a romance writer, and her observations on learning the craft of writing add an extra layer of enjoyment for a writer reading the book.

For sales links click here.

 

 

Interview with Jordaina Sydney Robinson, Paranormal Cozy Mystery Author

dfw-jr-bsn1-cover-largeJordaina

I’m delighted to have Jordaina Sydney Robinson as my guest for the first author interview on this blog.

AF: First of all, the whole concept of the book is great comedy. When you die, you don’t go the heaven or hell, you go to work. What made you think of this?

JSR: To be honest I don’t remember it being anything specific. I think that it was just an idea I had floating around in the back of my head while I was working on other projects and because I wasn’t focusing on it, it developed on its own.

AF: The afterlife Bridget encounters, with its rules and divisions and enforced camaraderie and community-building, reminds me of every bad job I’ve ever had—and of the annoying parts of the good jobs. I’ve sat through faculty meetings thinking about your book and suddenly found it all hilarious instead of tedious. Thank you. What jobs have you had that inspired this aspect of the book? What were the craziest rules or forced let’s-all-get-acquainted activities? (I guess you’d better not name the actual places of employment.)

JSR: The afterlife is really the culmination of every job I’ve ever had … and I’ve had a lot. In my entire life I’ve only ever had two jobs that I’ve held for longer than six months. One I very nearly made it to a year’s service and my current job where I’m around the nine month mark. Both times it has been more to do with the people than the job. So I’ve been through a zillion inductions and am probably more conversant with the ridiculousness of most jobs because I swap too much to become accustomed to it as the “norm”.

There aren’t any specifically crazy rules or let’s-get-acquainted activities that spring to mind. Just the general discomfort of starting a new job and having no clue what you’re doing. I have had to do role-play in interviews or training though. So, so painfully awkward.

 AF: Have you ever seen a ghost? If so, where? Do you believe in them?

JSR: I haven’t ever seen a ghost, but I was talking to a friend about it the other day and we were discussing how time works (sounds way more intellectual than it actually was). We were talking about whether it flows from past to future or if every moment of time exists simultaneously and how, if the latter were true, then maybe a ghost is simply a glimpse into the past or future.

But because that type of thinking makes my brain hurt, I prefer to believe in the linear flow of time which also means I do believe in ghosts. I believe an echo of your energy can remain and “haunt” somewhere you felt strongly about or had a strong emotional reaction to/in while the rest of your energy or soul goes to wherever it goes.

AF: Humor is important for facing our mortality. Maybe I noticed this because I’m a good bit older than you. I’m actually going to die someday?! You showed so much insight about attachment to life and to the little as well as the big things that give it structure and meaning, the roles and goals and connections. And it’s never hammered home, never breaks the humorous tone; it’s just there, in the background. Did you think of this as you wrote the book? What work did you have to do to get the balance right?

JSR: I did consider it and I was very aware that elements of the book could be incredibly sad if they were written a certain way (Bridget’s funeral in Deader Still for example). Personally, if someone’s having a bad time I always try to find some humour in the situation to make them laugh or lighten it somehow because I genuinely believe that how you approach or understand a situation defines that situation. I’ve tried to keep this a theme in the book without making it too preachy because, in my heart, I’m a positive person which is why Bridget and Sabrina are always pointing out the silver lining. I think everything in life has a funny or positive side to it, or potentially a really sad side – it all depends on finding the right perspective.dfw-jr-bsn2-cover-large

AF: You certainly achieved that in Deader Still. Bridget’s funeral is hilarious.

Next question: Bridget is so frankly, fearlessly herself, character flaws and all, she’s irresistible. Her willingness to break rules, along with Sabrina and Edith, is part of her appeal. I think we all have that urge and don’t dare act on it. In what ways are you like her and in what ways unlike her?

JSR: I absolutely loathe being told what to do so that’s all me, but then I think that’s also most people. As for rule breaking – it depends on the consequences! And if I can see the point of the rule. Wearing a seatbelt? Obviously. Having your main meal before your dessert? I’m much more flexible on those type of social rules.

Also, I’d say I was bravely myself not fearlessly like Bridget. Bridget just is who she is without any thought or care. I’m a little more cautious but I should probably mention that I’m a (ever-so-slightly) rabid feminist so it’s important to me that Bridget and Sabrina especially are strong, fearless and independent characters.

AF: Which came first—the concept of this bureaucratic afterlife world, the idea of a murder mystery among ghosts, or something else? How many versions of the afterlife world did you come up with?

JSR: Oh, the murder mystery all the way! I grew up on Murder, She Wrote and all those types of shows so the dead bodies were never in question. Even when I’m reading your Mae Martin series, which I know doesn’t have dead bodies in it, I still find myself trying to guess who’s going to bite it first! Just the murderer in me 🙂

Everything else just sort of came together and worked out. I only really had the one version of the afterlife which I’ve tweaked (somewhat heavily). I know some of my readers find it a little annoying that I don’t reveal the whole inner workings of the afterlife’s bureaucratic system but for me, that’s kind of the point of the bureaucratic nature of the afterlife. It’s also why Bridget struggles so much because she doesn’t know the parameters.

AF: What are you currently working on?

JSR: I’m just working on the third book in the Bridget series A Little More Dead which I’m super excited about and really enjoying writing but I’m also working on a couple of new projects. One is about a newspaper reporter who investigates spooky happenings and explains them away rationally while solving a couple of murders. The first book in that series is tentatively scheduled for release at the start of 2017. The second project is about the assistant to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Both are the same universe as Bridget but both have a different tone.

AF: I look forward to reading all of them.

*****

Jordaina Sydney Robinson grew up and, despite many adventures further afield, still lives in the North West of England. For fun she buys notebooks, gets walked by her husky puppy and sings really loudly and really badly whilst driving her trusty old Seat, Roger. If you want to find out just how bad her singing is then you can visit her official website at  www.JordainaSydneyRobinson.com  and ask her.

To buy her books, follow this link .

 

Review: Death by Disputation, by Anna Castle

cover-death-by-disputation

This second book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is a strong as the first. At times bawdy and rowdy, at times thought-provoking, it centers around outgoing and adventurous Thomas Clarady, student and first-time spy, but the scholarly Bacon plays a key role as Tom’s spymaster. The contrast in their characters and lifestyles gives depth and texture to the story. Castle weaves religious-political intrigue, murder mystery, and Tom’s colorful friendships and love life into a tightly-paced plot. The murder mystery and the spy story mix, and though the latter often takes the upper hand, the author keeps track of all the threads. Christopher Marlowe, who is portrayed with quite a flair, plays a role in both plot lines.

The writing is never pedantic, yet each scene is crafted with well-chosen historical details that gives the reader a full sense of the times—the smells, the sounds, the clothes and furnishings, and the beliefs and customs of Elizabethan England. Some historical novelists feel the need to dump all of their research into a book, smothering the story. Castle knows better. She has such a grasp of the times she can use settings, props and costumes as needed, to reveal and enhance characters and events, but never clutter the story. And speaking of costumes, there is a Shakespearian feel to various layers of disguises employed by some of the characters.

One particular scene I found fascinating and revealing was the Rogation Day event. It illustrates the contrast between the Anglicans and the Puritans and the tensions between them. While the issue of religious fanaticism in politics is serious, and the insights Tom gains into how it feels to be a member of such a zealous community are also serious, there are comic touches such as the conflict between two young ladies of opposing views, and Tom’s delightful response to it. I’m sure my neighbors heard me laugh. The balance between comedy and food for thought is just right—and suited to a story told primarily in Tom’s point of view.

The final chapter, amusingly, shows Tom from Bacon’s point of view, so different from how Tom experiences himself. At first the ending seemed a bit dry as the conclusion of such a vivid and juicy book, but then it struck me a sort of “after the ecstasy, the laundry” realism, as Francis Bacon gets on with getting on in the world.

Note: I recommend reading the series in order, starting with Murder by Misrule.

Sales links to buy from all e-book retailers can be found on

http://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/death-by-disputation

 

Page-turning Comedy: Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston

WinstonGlue_Gun_book_pageCrafts editor Anastasia Pollack is at her funniest and most determined when her luck is at its worst, and she’s just been run over by the bad luck bus of life. It may be hard to imagine how hilarious a book can be when the protagonist’s husband dies and leaves her broke and in debt and with a Communist mother-in-law who moves in with her—but it just gets funnier. And though I cringed at the image I found the weird creativity of the murder itself it comical.

Early on, I figured out whodunit but this was still a nonstop page-turner. I enjoyed reading to see if I was right. Anastasia is an irresistible character. While some of the comedy—her mother’s many marriages, her parrot that quotes Shakespeare at the perfect moment—is larger than life, the protagonist feels real, and so do her teenaged sons and her relationship with them. Winston strikes exactly the right balance between believable and over-the-top. The pacing of the plot kept me asking how Anastasia was going to get out of each crisis and when and how the killer would get caught. The narrative style is so engaging, I think I could read a book without a plot by Winston and still be entertained.

For those who enjoy the truly cozy aspect of a cozy mystery, there are craft projects at the back of the book—directions how to do the projects Anastasia works on in the course of the story. There’s also a tempting sneak peek at the next book in the series, which promises to be equally amusing and well crafted.

You can find Lois Winston’s books on the mystery page, the short story page, and under her pseudonym Emma Carlyle on the romantic suspense page.

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-romantic-suspense/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/short-story-singles-and-collections/