Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Devil's Feast by M.J. Carter

First Line: The fire in the grate had burned down to a series of glimmering embers in among the drifts of ash, and the room was now dark, save for the candle.

In the London of 1842, the Reform is the newest and grandest gentlemen's club which caters to those whose politics are of the liberal sort. When one of the Reform's members dies horribly on the premises, Captain William Avery is persuaded to investigate. The club is only days away from an extremely important dinner, so it's vital that the entire episode be hushed up as quickly as possible.

Avery, working without his mentor and partner Jeremiah Blake, finds himself up to his eyes in rivalries and hatreds, and not all of them are political. The chef in the renowned kitchen of the Reform is none other than Alexis Soyer, "the Napoleon of food"-- a man whose culinary brilliance is matched only by his talent for self-publicity. Avery could certainly use Blake's help.

In this third Blake and Avery historical mystery, Blake is in a pickle, and this means that young Captain William Avery must be in charge of the investigation at the Reform Club-- something that goes quite against Avery's grain since he is politically conservative. Once again M.J. Carter has created a rich, layered mystery that's even more savory than the dishes that Chef Soyer (an actual person) was known for. The Devil's Feast kept me guessing from first page to last because it takes Avery a very long time to ascertain the true focus of the deaths. Are men being poisoned because of their politics? Is it because of that important dinner? Or does it have something to do with London's first celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer? Avery finds that puzzle very difficult to solve-- especially since he's in danger of being poisoned himself.

And while Avery is trying to solve this mystery, he's trying to help Blake, and he's also being forced to deal with an increasingly difficult wife. Fortunately Avery does have the help of young Matty, the girl readers first met in The Infidel Stain. She not only provides Avery with a great deal of help (risking her own future to do so), she is a mirror in which readers can see the true Victorian London, a city with debtor's prisons and a great divide between the haves and the have-nots. Matty and Blake (who has more of his childhood exposed) are teaching Avery valuable lessons in the true ways of the world.

But The Devil's Feast is no mere fascinating Victorian exposé. Foodies will love the insights into cooking for a prestigious gentlemen's club, and the fast-paced mystery will delight all those who enjoy solving a cracker jack of a puzzle. Carter's Blake and Avery series started out strong and it's getting stronger with each entry. I can't wait to see what's in store next!

The Devil's Feast by M.J. Carter
eISBN: 9780698168756
G.P. Putnam's Sons © 2017
eBook, 423 pages

Historical Mystery, #3 Blake & Avery mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


Monday, March 27, 2017

Tightening the Threads by Lea Wait

First Line: Haven Harbor's streets and yards were littered with green leaves that had fallen too soon.

If there's one thing Sarah Byrne, the antiques dealer from Australia, has been keeping close to her chest, it's her past. Even friend and fellow Mainely Needlepointer Angie Curtis doesn't have a clue. But now Sarah has the one thing she's always wanted: family, in the form of wealthy elderly artist Ted Lawrence who owns an art gallery in Haven Harbor.

Ted and Sarah are ready to announce their secret to the rest of Ted's family, and Ted has called all his children home for the occasion. Unfortunately, those adult children of his aren't thrilled with Sarah-- especially when Ted announces that he's going to change his will. When Ted is poisoned at the family lobster bake, fingers begin to point at Sarah. Angie has to work fast to prove her friend's innocence.

It's now fall, and Angie Curtis has seen a lot of death in Haven Harbor in the four months she's been in town. As much as I like this series, I think she should take a trip back to Phoenix for a while where a dead body or two won't have as much impact. In Tightening the Threads, Angie comes across a mystery of her own while clearing a huge tree that fell during a storm, but her best friend's dilemma takes priority. 

For those of you who, like me, enjoy Lea Wait's ensemble cast in this series, you won't find much of them here, except for Dave whose poison garden comes in handy for answers to some of Angie's questions. The action has Sarah front and center over a long weekend. Although the truth behind her relationship to Ted Lawrence is really interesting, as the family dynamics unfold Ted is seen as a rather despicable man. His children have all gone their separate ways, haven't kept in touch with each other, and don't really seem to care about each other-- which points to something in the solution to the murder that rang false with me, although I can't talk about it without giving things away.

Tightening the Threads isn't the strongest book in this series, but it's still a good read. I love Wait's blend of setting, art, history, and Maine traditions; they all create the perfect backdrop for a cast of characters I've grown to care about a great deal.

Tightening the Threads by Lea Wait
eISBN: 9781496706294
Kensington Publishing © 2017
eBook, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Mainely Needlepoint mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley  


A Criminally Creative Quintet at The Poisoned Pen!

Once again, Denis had his nose slightly out of joint because he had to work while I amused myself at my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. I didn't blame him for having a sore schnoz because not only was I going to see Paige Shelton, Laura Bradford, Lynn Cahoon, and Chevy Stevens being hosted by Writer in Residence Linda Castillo, I was going to a nearby restaurant afterward with at least three of them. Poor Denis! 

I showed up plenty early to reserve my seat then found a quiet corner to read and people watch until the event started. The time flew by-- mostly because there were many interesting winter visitors coming in to browse the shelves. (Later on I discovered that one woman who had come from Chicago to watch her beloved Cubs in spring training heard about the event and hurried right on over to see some of her favorite authors. Gotta love it!)

L to R: Cahoon, Bradford, Shelton, Stevens

Linda Castillo
Linda Castillo began by introducing each of the authors and listing the series that they wrote. 

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island. She later became a realtor, and when she got the idea for Still Missing, she quit her job to write. She writes standalones of domestic suspense.

Lynn Cahoon is from the St. Louis area. She's had several different jobs but currently deals with car licenses and titles. She writes series in the cozy mystery and romance genres, the two cozy series being her Cat Latimer and Tourist Trap books.

Paige Shelton lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and writes the Dangerous Type and the Scottish Bookshop series. 

Laura Bradford lives in New York State and writes the Amish and the Emergency Dessert Squad mysteries, and the Southern Sewing Circle mysteries under the name Elizabeth Lynn Casey. She is also an advocate for those living with multiple sclerosis.    

Castillo then wanted to know about the authors' latest books.

Available Now!
Chevy Stevens' Never Let You Go started out as a different book, which was thrown out after she'd worked on it for nine months. (Everyone agreed that it wasn't working.)  Stevens had a father with a drinking problem and an ex-boyfriend who didn't take breaking up well-- once crawling through the dog door "to return some books." These experiences led to her current book, a standalone mystery about domestic abuse. 

It's written from the point of view of the mother and daughter, ten years after the abuse took place. Lindsey made a new life for them both, but her ex-husband walks back into their lives, saying that he's changed. Readers know that he's no good before Lindsey does, and Chevy let us know that the first part of the book alternates between the present and the past.

Available Now!
Paige Shelton's Bookman Dead Style is the second book in her Dangerous Type series set in Star City, Utah-- a fictional town loosely based on Park City.  It's set during the Star City Film Festival. (Think Sundance Film Festival.)

Castillo loved the book's setting as well as the shop that Clare Henry runs which specializes in typewriter and book repair.

Paige Shelton spent over twenty years in Utah, and-- pre-husband and son-- she'd always meant to get gussied up and go to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City to see as many movie stars as she could. Unfortunately she never did.

Available Now!
Lynn Cahoon's Fatality by Firelight is the second book in her Cat Latimer series set in a fictional town south of Denver, Colorado. Latimer has inherited a house and turned it into a writer's retreat, a setting that Castillo really liked.

Cahoon got the idea for the series while attending a lot of writers conferences, and finds writing the Cat Latimer series "good therapy" because she can include a lot of people she's met, and "kill off a few of the people" she's met during these conferences. (Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?)  

Available Now!
 The Silence of the Flans is the second book in Laura Bradford's Emergency Dessert Squad series. She originally pitched the first book as "Dessert 911," but that title was thought to sound too much like a cookbook. Her editor then came back with Éclair and Present Danger, a spoof of a Tom Clancy title (A Clear and Present Danger). As you can see, this second book follows the same theme.

Castillo commented that she loved the desserts and their names and hoped the Winnie and Lovey, the cat she inherited, can have their happy ending. (Lovey hates Winnie, which makes Winnie's life difficult at times.)

Linda then asked the authors about their writing processes-- something she always wants to know when meeting other writers.

Chevy Stevens signing a book for a fan.
Chevy replied that "sometimes it's like trying to rein in wild ponies to get me to settle down to write." Now that she has a young daughter, she usually gets in a good four hours of writing a day, but "sometimes it takes me eight hours to get it." She used to write in a travel trailer on the property until her daughter started walking. Now she writes in a coffee shop every day. She knew she'd "arrived" when she got a head nod from the old guys who are regulars there.

Paige told us that "I write at my desk on a desktop computer. I write on my laptop. I'm very mobile. I've now started outlining my books, which probably thrills my publisher. Yes, I'm pulling up my pants and becoming a plotter!

Lynn Cahoon said, "I write from 5 AM until 6 AM when I get ready to go to work. I write during my lunch breaks and at home after work. In all reality, I'm on Facebook in the morning and playing catch-up on my writing during work breaks and when I get home. After having a double hip replacement, I got my words in by noon and then 15,000 in a week! Then I had to go back to work...."

Linda asked her if she worked full-time, which Lynn does. "Do you need more hips?" Linda quipped and then said, "My hat is off to you!"

Laura Bradford
Laura Bradford said, "I try to write early in the morning. By the end of a book, I'm so into it that I will write all night."

Then Castillo wanted to know about the research these women did.

Chevy Stevens writes from personal experiences and has a friend who's a therapist and really understands how a story is written. She also has good police sources, telling us something that I've heard from other writers: retired police officers are the best because they really like to talk. 

Chevy now feels that she's "destroyed Canada" in her books, so her next book is set in Seattle, which means that she will need new contacts.

Paige researched several things for her Dangerous Type mysteries: the Gutenberg printing press, typewriters, geology-- "a little of everything"-- except calico cats. She's had numerous fans contact her to tell her that extremely few calico cats are male (like the cat in Bookman Dead Style).

Lynn Cahoon
Lynn Cahoon said, "I'm always worried that I won't get enough research done. Whenever I need more information about something, I mark an X in the manuscript where I need it so I won't fall down the Google rabbit hole. Then I go back and fill in the X's during the second go-round of the manuscript. All the towns I write about are fictional so I can do whatever I want to with them!"

Laura told us, "I'm a baker and an eater. Yes, I have made all the recipes in my books! The biggest area of research for me in The Silence of the Flans was the method of death. I also have to do a lot of research for my Amish mysteries." (Linda was nodding her head in complete agreement.) Laura, who lives in Westchester County, New York, also said, "I stay away from guns because I don't know much about them, and I also stay away from details about cars." All the authors agreed that guns and cars were two areas guaranteed to get the most complaints if something was written incorrectly.

L to R: Bradford, Cahoon, Castillo, Shelton, Stevens

Linda then wanted to know what's next.

Chevy said, "I had to let go of the idea of writing a book a year. Now I don't know when the next book will be finished because my daughter is slowing me down. Family comes first. I'm not pressuring myself and just letting an idea formulate in my mind. My editor is well aware of this. All I can say about my next book is that it's set in Seattle, and the female character's husband has a stalker, someone who's telling the woman, 'You don't deserve what you have, and I'm going to take it away from you.'"

Paige said, "The next Dangerous Type book, Comic Sans Murder, will be released in December. The second Scottish Bookshop mystery, Of Books and Bagpipes, will be released next month. I have a title for my third Scottish Bookshop mystery-- Scalpels, Tomes, and Old Scottish Bones-- but I don't know if they'll let me keep it. And I know that my fourth Scottish Bookshop mystery will be set in the Loch Ness area!"

Lynn said, "The next Tourist Trap mystery, Hospitality and Homicide, will be released in May. Of Murder and Men is the next Cat Latimer which will be available in November, and I'm working on a new series called Farm to Fork which is set in Idaho."

Laura Bradford's third Emergency Dessert Squad mystery will be out in January 2018, and it's called Dial M for Mousse. "There will also be new books in my Southern Sewing Circles series and my new Tobi Tobias series, but what I'm most excited about-- and can finally talk about-- is that I have a contract with Kensington Books for two Amish women's fiction novels. The first one will be released in the summer of 2018!"

No mystery bookstore is complete without this!
Then it was time for fan questions, and the first person wanted to know why these talented writers wrote multiple series. 

Laura Bradford: "I have multiple college tuitions."

Lynn Cahoon: "It's all about my characters and getting to know who they are."

Paige Shelton: "I work on multiple series in one day. For me, it's a matter of sanity!"

Chevy Stevens: "I write standalones, but I do keep track of the different concepts as they occur to me."

If you didn't write, what would you do?

Lynn Cahoon: "I'm always thinking of different jobs I'd like to try. I want to do everything!"

Laura Bradford: "I'd teach children about writing. I'd also love to have my own Dessert Squad."

Paige Shelton: "I was in journalism and advertising, and I'd hide out in the bathroom, writing and trying to get published. If I weren't a writer, that's what I'd do now."

Chevy Stevens: "I'd foster 600 puppies or bottlefeed tigers. Something like that!"

Someone then asked Linda Castillo what her next book is.

"Down a Dark Road will be released in July. It was a very difficult book to write. I was so afraid that I'd be late on my deadline, and when I turned it in, I wanted to hide because I thought it wasn't any good, but my editor said it was the best book in the series."

Another fan made us all laugh by saying, "You all look like a bunch of church ladies. You don't look like people who hold so much murder inside!"

Chevy quickly said, "I'm writing about what scares me, not about what I want to do!" which made Linda tell us that her husband has been asked if he sleeps with one eye open!

The event then adjourned to the signing line and to the food table. A very talented baker named Jen Sam created an Emergency Dessert Squad ambulance cake in honor of Laura Bradford's The Silence of the Flans. It was delicious!

Jen Sam's Emergency Dessert Squad cake complete with chocolate-filled IV bags!

And here's the talented dessert maker with Laura Bradford--

Laura Bradford and Jen Sam
When all the books were signed and all the fans had their fill of cake, I had the privilege of going to a nearby restaurant with all five authors. I couldn't believe my luck!

As we sat and ate our meals, talk and laughter flowed like a river. We joked and talked books and shared life experiences and funny anecdotes. I can't remember everything we talked about because I wasn't about to take notes. All I know is that it's a memory I shall always treasure. Paige, Laura, Linda, Lynn, and Chevy are wonderful, ultra-talented women, and I'm so happy to have been able to spend this time with them.


Friday, March 24, 2017

The Fly on the Wall Weekly Link Round-Up

I'm finishing this link round-up a bit earlier than usual. I have a lot of things going on, and I'm trying to be organized. (Will wonders never cease?) Spring cleaning, pruning back shrubs that have gone wild in all the rain we've gotten, blocking completed knitting projects, trips to events at The Poisoned Pen. Then there are the lovely doctor's appointments Denis and I have to keep. At least Denis doesn't have to have a mammogram. Speaking of mammograms, I never understood some of my friends who didn't like to have them done because they were painful. I'm ashamed to say that I thought I had a bunch of wusses for friends. Now I know better, due to a technician who really liked to tighten those plates down. I came this close to telling her that I wasn't going to make a quick getaway so she could let up the pressure!

L to R: Linda Castillo and Brunonia Barry
But that has nothing to do with the "fly on the wall" part of my title. I'm excited because I'm going to a four-author event at The Poisoned Pen tomorrow, and afterward most of the authors and I are going to a nearby restaurant for drinks, nibbles, and chat. I don't care how many authors I talk with, I still get nervous. I'm such a fan girl!

I'd like to thank Jeff, web content manager of The Poisoned Pen, for the photo I'm using this week. It shows two favorite authors of mine, Linda Castillo and Brunonia Barry, chatting in the shipping room of the bookstore. Am I the only one who wants to be a fly on the wall when I see two authors chatting? It's terrible!

To take my mind off my unseemly curiosity, I'm going out to the link corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A whale takes kayakers for an unforgettable ride. 
  • One of these days while Denis and I are in Cochise County, I hope to see this gorgeous jaguar. I don't think this beautiful fellow is too worried about border walls. 
  • There have been never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales.
  • I think I'll give this 134-foot-deep sinkhole in Florida a miss. It's the favorite hangout of dozens of alligators.  

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!