Tag Archives: Mystery

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I’ve never taught at a university, but I know what schools are like. After I won my MA, I accepted a position as a non-credit teacher at a local community college. Wow! I was stoked—I planned to put all that theory into practice and knew my school would celebrate my work and dedication.

Let’s just say I was delusional. It didn’t take long to discover I was regarded lower in status than that broke second cousin on the doorstep. Like credit staff, non-credit teachers are expected to attend meetings, plan, assess and report but for half the hourly pay. As Alma, a character in Oink, says, “It’s all work, low pay, and no respect.”

It’s always a delight to meet a protagonist that embodies my own values. Emily Addams is a professor of women’s studies at Arbor State University. Founded as an agricultural college in Northern California, it is rapidly shedding its reputation as an easygoing and humane community as the university adopts the worldviews of the corporations funding research into new technologies and cuts funds to the small programs.

A new Vice Provost has come aboard and Emily and her colleagues from the interdisciplinary programs face a difficult and perplexing choice for funding purposes. If they don’t choose, they may lose their programs, but even if they come in under the umbrella of Humanities or Social Sciences, they will have to prove their programs worthy of receiving funds. One way or the other, the warm community built over the years looks doomed. Building community and fighting injustice are important to Emily and she’s spent her career doing both, especially through cooking and eating.

PigBaby1Emily learns that Peter Elliott, a Professor of Plant Biology has been found face down in one of the school’s pigpens, presumably poisoned. The rumor says a group opposing genetically engineered crops is behind the poisoning as Elliott is researching GMO corn and a staunch supporter of Syndicon, the major GMO seed controller. Emily had learned about the GMO issues at a panel on GMOs and wondered, “was it GMOs themselves or the policies of the corporations that produced them— the relentless focus on profit, the resistance to regulation, the absence of concern for harming, or even helping, others… “ that gave GMOs a bad name?

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But Emily has other worries. Forty something with a young daughter and recently divorced, she’s getting into the dating game. As we meet her, she’s worried that her hair-do has flattened (I empathize with that) because she’s meeting mathematics professor Wilmer Crane after work for their first date. Crane tells Emily about finding Elliot in the pigpen clutching a piece of cornbread, which turns out to contain goat cheese and caramelized onions—Emily’s signature recipe.     2077366

Emily is named a suspect and rallies her community with food and camaraderie to investigate what really happened. She learns Elliot was receiving secret corporate funding for his new strain of genetically modified corn, he’d betrayed two of his women students and his highly accomplished wife through his philandering, as well as the Save the Fields organization gunning for him.

Named one of the funniest books coming this spring by BookBub.Com, author J.L. Newton describes the first of the Emily Addams series, “Culminating in a twist as curvy as a pig’s tail, Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery is at once a sly send-up of the corporatized university and a reminder of why community belongs at that heart of human life.” She makes a good case for community and organic food, punctuating her points with delectable recipes at the end of each chapter. Her language is both accessible and intelligent, Emily and her colleagues sound like professors, parents and friends in realistic dialog and witty narration. I appreciated the thoughtful and often humorous look at two important themes, the corporatization of campuses and GMOs.

Newton does not support corporate influenced universities, but she does make a case for the potential for GMO foods to feed the world. Respected scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and thebc2f1ddf99da4c777b98768be883078e_400x400 World Health Organization, have concluded that the GMO crops on the market are safe to eat. Even pundit Michael Pollan said recently the technology itself may not fundamentally pose a greater health threat than other forms of plant breeding. “ I think most of the problems arise from the way we’re choosing to apply it, what we’re using it for, and how we’re framing the problems that it is being used to solve.”

Cozy mystery fans, fans of food novels, and readers concerned with the health of our world and its people will enjoy the twisting plot and the delicious dishes shared throughout the novel. I’m working my way through the recipes and reliving the scenes as I cook. Part of that enjoyment comes through the vivid sense of place Newton has created. At times her description becomes lush and lyrical as she details the flora and fauna, the climate and the bucolic campus.

Emily Addams comes alive on the page. She is intelligent, caring, witty, concerned and a great cook. She connects with people through sincerity and food and doesn’t try to be more than her capabilities. She fears, questions herself, doesn’t give up easily and does what is right. I’m really pleased to find a new voice in Emily Addams who I can both identify with and share a corn and cherry scone!

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Congratulations to J.L. Newton for her debut of what I’m hoping is a long-lived series of Food for Thought Mysteries. Smart, timely, readable but not dumbed-down—“Oink is a celebration of community connected to the joy of food and fellowship.”—Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, authors of The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Oink is out today.  Pick up your copy at Amazon or your local bookstore. And if you’re local, join J.L. Newton for her launch of Oink In Berkeley.-1

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Modern Misterios Set in Silicon Valley

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Read it today!

I believe in serendipity. Throughout the late summer I consumed novels set in Spain in anticipation of my trip. Guidebooks are great for seeing the sights, but novels capture the national character and identify the flavor of a place. Among the books I read were two police procedurals by Antonio Hill and three of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruis Zafón. I noticed something labyrinthine and dark about all the books I read. I imagined Spain as the backdrop for a Gothic novel. Then, just before leaving for Barcelona, I had the opportunity to read the manuscript of Blood Allegiance. As I read this bone chilling crime novel set in Silicon Valley, I felt pulled into a dark world of exotic secrets, overwrought emotions, and tingling suspense. This modern-day police procedural—for me—a metonymy for gloom and horror, that is until the end. Could these crimes happen here? I was again reminded of Gothic tales, and I was sucked right in.

As it turned out, there’s a good reason why Elin Barnes’s novel reminded me of the Spanish writers. She’s from Madrid. Blood Allegiance contains elements of modern Gothic fiction: rationality vs. irrationality, guilt, strangeness within the familiar, monsters (human ones in this book), and abjection. What a master of suspense, twisting her plot in surprising directions as it weaves around the central story creating a maze of relationships, motivations, violence, and secrets: the lead Santa Clara criminalist is found dismembered at a local restaurant and the crime scene is tagged with gang graffiti. Detective Darcy Lynch (who we know from the first two books in this series) is wading into unknown territory when he’s sent on loan to CATCH, the Cross-Agency Tactical California Homicide Unit. But the case carries more weight for Darcy than apprehending the man who slaughtered a colleague. If he fails, he won’t be reassigned to the task force and his career could be over.
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Another member of the unit is gunned down and a drone crashes into a San Jose Police Department helicopter turning the case into a bloody disaster. Lynch must stop one, or two, of the most vicious California gangs before they execute his entire team.

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The characterization is multilayered. Protagonist, Darcy Lynch, and antagonist, Oscar Amaro are complex and individualized. Both are damaged and both have the capacity for “getting the job done” at whatever cost, yet are imbued with deep humanity. The surprise ending showcases these two characters as clouded mirrors of each other. The secondary characters are also rounded: Sorenson, Lynch’s overweight and gritty partner, Quinn, the sergeant with a deep secret that leads him to a crisis of heart, and Chavo Buenavente, of the rival gang and Oscar’s nemesis all have distinct personalities and distinguishable speech patterns. The characters are many, and their relationships are webbed. I found the hierarchy of gang members most interesting and well-researched, as are the portrayals of law enforcement agencies and employees. Barnes does her homework.

Barnes uses language and plot to instill uneasiness and fear in the reader. Her diction is less elaborate and ornate than the Gothic literature of the past. Instead, it reflects the language of everyday life in Silicon Valley in 2017. One reviewer from the Silicon Valley said, “The characters sound and behave like South Bay folks do.” I found the book to be easy to read and authentic in narrative and dialog.

Thematically Blood Allegiance raises serious questions about integrity, honor and the bonds of family and fraternity. It also sheds light on one of elite Northern California’s dirty problems swept under the rug: gangs. There’s a lot to think about after putting the book down—but don’t expect too much pondering during this action packed page-turner!

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I’m not a Spanish Literature scholar, but I’m betting Ms. Barnes was introduced to and influenced by the Spanish misterio (mystery) genre in school: serial novels inspired by Eugène Sue’s bestseller Les Mystères de Paris (1841-1843). The genre is in fact a spin-off of 19th century French Gothic fiction and represents an attempt to explore society in an urban context. The misterios actively participated in the discourses of their day, as does the Darcy Lynch Series. Serial novels like the misterios and the Darcy Lynch Series act as foundational narratives that record the new order of society. The misterios presented by the novels were in part the mysteries of the new society in the 1800s, one that its readers were learning to navigate—just like the new cyber world of our century. It’s been said that [Spanish misterios] are stories of patriarchal systems in crisis and the consequences of social transgression and relevant today.

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The Gothic form is able to articulate the anxieties of society. Blood Allegiance employs the Gothic tropes of family romance, incarceration and contamination to represent the conflicting ideologies of the 21st century. I congratulate Elin Barnes on taking her place in the venerated tradition of the Spanish misterio—21st Century style!

Elin Barnes grew up in Spain. Her father is a film director and her mother a Swedish author (with a past life as an actress).
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After graduating HS, Elin pursued her dream of becoming an airline pilot. When her eyesight impeded her to fly passenger aircrafts, she switched gears and obtained a BA in Philosophy. After a short stint working for a criminal appeals lawyer, Elin returned to Spain to get her MA in International Commerce.

For the last decade she’s worked in technology for companies like, AT&T, T-Mobile, Google, Microsoft, TiVo, and Samsung. She is on the Board of Sisters in Crime Northern California.

Her passions for law, technology, and thrillers inspired Elin to write the Darcy Lynch Series of thrillers set in Silicon Valley, where innovation is always brewing.

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I Am Providence

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My reading tastes might be described as eclectic but I must confess that I’m pitiably deficient in horror. I do read mysteries and grabbed Nick Mamatas’s I Am Providence when he offered me the ARC to read and review. It turns out the actual mystery plays second to the social predisposition of the group that makes the murder possible. The story is about pulp fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft and his oddball group of contemporary fans: obsessive, insecure, small-minded, and generally weird. It’s told with a droll wit, biting at times, and often laugh-out-loud funny. I remember some of these characters from the last fan conference I attended!

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Alternating chapters, Mamatas tells the story in two points of view. Panossian, the victim, muses on his life, his writing, and H.P. Lovecraft, delivering insight into the Lovecraftian world and his own nature. Panossian’s observations on writers, fans and conferences had me either hooting or feeling a little sick when they hit too close.

 

A narrator chronicles the action from the point of view of Colleen Danzig, the recently acclaimed horror writer, who isn’t “exactly nervous” to attend her first Summer Tentactular, the annual Lovecraft convention held in Lovecraft’s hometown, Providence, Rhode Island. Colleen isn’t sure what to expect, but finds the other writers in the bar, recognizable by the way they “clutched at their drinks with a special sort of desperation. . .” and meets the eccentric group including Panossian, who she’s rooming with during the con. He’s the author of a literary mash-up, which has insinuated him into the fringes of the Lovecraftian community.

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Colleen attends the opening ceremonies, the private themed parties and the midnight visit to Lovecraft’s grave, “A veritable ‘who’s that?’ of horror fiction.” Back at the room Panossian shows her a book, Arkham, bound with the author’s skin. That’s the last Colleen sees of him until she identifies his body at the morgue, his face flayed of skin.

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It’s gruesome but worse, none of the other convention goers care. Other than a bunch of police poking about, the Summer Tentacular continues unabated—even when the next victim is found in the forest where the gang has gone to see if they can discover the burial site of Lovecraft’s cat.

 

No one is allowed to leave the hotel and most of the con-goers are questioned. Colleen is compelled to solve the murder despite that two of the inner circle have been taken into custody. Her investigation may end badly.

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From his drawer at the morgue, Panossian narrates, except he’s in the dark regarding who killed him. He’s alarmed: He hears what’s going on yet can’t speak or move. He’s ready for oblivion. He thought reading Lovecraft would have prepared him for it. “If fiction is a way of inducing an organism to remember experiences it never had, then reading Lovecraft is crucial for understanding the futility of life and the screaming horror of death. . .” He spends a lot of time with unraveling thoughts about Colleen, his relationship to the Lovecraftians and Lovecraft’s work.

 

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H.P. Lovecraft

By the end of the book, Mamatas has spun a new Lovecraft story. I Am Providence is dark and disturbing enough to make Lovecraft proud, but it is also a tongue in cheek romp into a zany subculture. Mamatas’s erudition in the world of Lovecraft shines with his cultivated vocabulary and edgy syntax. I plain enjoyed how his thoughts flowed across the tentacled pages, and have come away with knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft and his work. Did you know in 2005 he was awarded the status of classic American writer with the publication of Tales, a collection of his weird fiction stories?

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If you’re like me and can’t pronounce Cthulhu, don’t worry! I Am Providence is accessible to anyone who loves a thought provoking read, a good laugh, and a look into another world. Oh, and the mystery is great—you won’t see the killer coming. (Hint: it isn’t one of the Elder Gods.)

 Congratulations to Nick Mamatas—I Am Providence has published today!

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Nick Mamatas just might be the new Providence.

Nick Mamatas is the author of six and a half novels, including The Last Weekend (PS Publishing), Love is the Law (Dark Horse), The Damned Highway with Brian Keene (Dark Horse), Bullettime (CZP), Sensation (PM Press), Under My Roof (Counterpoint/Soft Skull), and Move Under Ground (Night Shade/Prime). His latest collection is The Nickronomicon, from Innsmouth Free Press. His novels have been translated into German, Italian, and Greek. Nick is also an anthologist and editor of short fiction: with Masumi Washington he co-edited the Locus Award-nominated The Future Is Japanese (Haikasoru), and with Ellen Datlow he co-edited the Bram Stoker Award-winning Haunted Legends (Tor Books). Nick’s own short fiction has appeared in genre publications such as Asimov’s Science Fiction and Tor.com, lit journals including New Haven Review and subTERRAIN, and anthologies such as Hint Fiction and Best American Mystery Stories 2013. His fiction and editorial work has been nominated for the Bram Stoker award five times, the Hugo Award twice, the World Fantasy Award twice, and the Shirley Jackson, International Horror Guild, and Locus Awards. His writing guide Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life (Apex Publications) has been excerpted in The Writer, and he has also published two joke/reference books: Insults Every Man Should Know and Quotes Every Man Should Know (Quirk Books).
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Terror in Taffeta

27107d_9b6f70f5dd2f407e9192ba64917f528cAlthough I planned my own Wine Country destination wedding: our front yard, I do hold a smidgen of destination wedding experience. I’ve attended two weddings in Mexico. The first was held in a crumbling monastery tricked out to resemble a wedding fairyland with an inch deep path of white roses leading to the altar arranged and tented atop a ruin with forested green mountains as a backdrop.

At the second, held at Mexico’s largest rancho, which historically extended from central Mexico east and west to both coasts, guests arrived by helicopter (a president, perhaps?) to dine, drink and dance all night in the courtyard after Mariachi 2000, played a private concert following the ceremony. What I remember best at both was the free-flowing tequila—until the tequila donkey ran dry, that is. The rumor in town the next day claimed Valle de Bravo to have run dry after father of the bride grabbed the donkey and made a midnight tequila ride.

I don’t remember what other disasters occurred, but I’m certain no one died, (even if a few guests did snore under tables) everyone had a grand time and Chris’s and Alejandra’s wedding planners went home with excellent recommendations and cell phone numbers of prospective clients.

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Templo de San Francisco, San Miguel de Allende

That’s how it should have been for San Francisco based wedding planner, Kelsey McKenna who has created a perfect wedding for Nicole Abernathy and Vince Moreno in the two hundred year old chapel in the Mexican colonial town of San Miguel Allende. But as Father Villareal pronounces the couple “husband and wife” bridesmaid Dana, collapses into a floral arrangement at the altar, stealing the couple’s thunder—truly a wedding faux pas.

Kelsey handles the disaster with grace and professionalism as she ushers the crowd toward the tequila donkey, but soon discovers that Dana hasn’t passed-out from too much fun at the bachelorette party. She’s dead. Kelsey has a responsibility to her client to deal with the problem, but the difficult mother of the bride, Mrs. Abernathy, insists she cover it up so Nicole and Vince’s big day isn’t ruined: she paid for a wedding after all, not a funeral. That is, until Mexican police arrest Nicole’s sister, Zoe, and “mom-zilla” declares the situation falls under the “dreadful, unforeseen situations,” clause of Kelsey’s contract. With help from her friend, wedding photographer Brody Marx, she reluctantly takes on the police’s job of finding the killer, sifting through a line-up of potential suspects—Dana has treated everyone in the wedding party poorly, including trying to trick her ex-boyfriend, attending with his new date, into marrying her

Dana’s room has been tossed, and police claim Dana was poisoned and Zoe is guilty. Brody hacks Dana’s records found wrapped as a wedding gift and finds financial information pointing to new suspects. She’s threatened, convincing her of Zoe’s innocence, and with the help of her old boyfriend, now a resident of San Miguel, she goes on a fact-finding mission back to the states. All she wants is to get back to San Francisco and her work, but problem–solving is Kelsey’s forte and she can’t leave Zoe in a Mexican jail with the killer running free. Or face the career-destroying wrath of Mrs. Abernathy if she fails.

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Funny, smart and on trend, Marla Cooper’s debut novel, Terror in Taffeta, is a winner. Cooper’s quirky characters, twisting plot and delightful, competent wedding planner-turned-sleuth would be enough fun for any cozy mystery reader. But this novel is a precisely crafted example of the genre, oozing humor, realistic finger-snapping dialog, an intricate and believable plot, and a sharp heroine we instantly like and trust. It may be the wedding from hell, but Kelsey McKenna demonstrates true professionalism and determination. If your attendant keeled over at the altar would your planner have stuck around to solve the murder? Kelsey proves herself to be empathetic and brimming with integrity. She’s a quick thinker and no quitter. Besides, she knows how to throw a great party.

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thanks spearmintwedding.com

I love Cooper’s fresh, modern prose, her well-balanced action and that she surprised me at the end with motives and a murderer I never saw coming. Jerrilyn Farmer, author of the Madeline Bean series says it all, “Like a perfect margarita, Marla Cooper has blended up a tart and delicious Mexican-set bridal mystery for her wacky and charming cozy debut, Terror in Taffeta.”

Terror in Taffeta may not be the first writing from Cooper. She says she “was astonished when she realized people could actually get paid to write things. So she switched her major from business to advertising—much to the relief of her accounting professor—and began her career as an advertising copywriter. After moving to San Francisco, she became a freelancer so she could take advantage of perks like working in her pajamas.” She’s written everything from advertising copy to travel guides; in fact, she found her inspiration for Terror in Taffeta while ghostwriting another book on destination weddings. And this first novel proves Cooper is one to watch—and I bet we haven’t seen the last of Kelsey McKenna. I don’t know what the next destination will be, but I’m sure Cooper will treat us to another roller-coaster ride through clues and suspects served up with elegantly catered red-herrings and tequila shots. (I’m still thinking about that tequila donkey.)

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Thanks  nydailynews.com

But don’t take my word for it; Janet Cantrell, bestselling author of the Fat Cat Mystery series has the best advice: “Drop your plans and read this new series starring Kelsey McKenna, witty and resourceful wedding planner extraordinaire. This wedding planner will win you over!”

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Marla Cooper

Congratulations—it’s publishing day!

March 22, 2016

 

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Art and Crime—A Perfect Pairing

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Art evokes emotion within the beholder and that emotion isn’t always pretty. A work of art can soothe us, make us laugh, cry, or long for something lost—and art can send us spiraling out of control to possess it. Art is also big business, both legitimate and nefarious. It isn’t surprising so many stories emanate from the art world. Art can mask a multitude of secrets and make a person rich and dangerously powerful, something Danielle O’Rourke, chief fundraiser for San Francisco’s Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, is reminded of the hard way in Mixed Up with Murder. 

On the recommendation of Geoff Johnson, the Devor’s board chairman and board member of Lynthorpe College in Bridgetown, Massachusetts, Dani O’Rourke is hired to facilitate the acceptance of a valuable art collection and the twenty million dollar endowment to support it from wealthy class of 1970 alumnus, Vincent Margoletti. It’s an important gift that will enhance the college’s reputation and everyone wants a speedy and legal settlement of terms. That’s the problem—Margoletti made his billions brokering Silicon Valley tech deals and is known to play an angle if it will get him ahead. Dani is there to watch the school’s back.

 imagesDani begins information gathering with Gabby, a researcher in the Development office who provides her with files and a tour of the art gallery, but appointments are postponed and Dani is stood up by her key contact, Larry Saylor. Saylor turns up drowned in a pond on the golf course. Dani is pressured to sign off on the gift, as the college atmosphere turns dark. To confuse matters, Dani’s wealthy ex-husband is in the area for a class reunion and hounds her to attend functions, she and her boyfriend aren’t connecting, her Devor work is piling up and she’s losing her intern to a permanent job offer.

IMG_1605Dani and Gabby uncover irregularities with the deal, and when a terrible event strikes too close for comfort, Dani makes finding answers personal. She is followed, threatened, accused and held against her will as the plot twists to its surprising climax.

 Mixed Up with Murder is an engaging, smart read in part because author Susan C. Shea gives readers an insider’s look at the business of fine art. It’s a money-driven world where the wealthy and the highbrow play for high stakes. The other part of the equation is Dani O’Rourke, a polished, witty, and sharply intelligent professional who knows her job and how to read people—skills needed to part donors from their money to support the San Francisco museum. She really has only one foible: Dani attracts trouble. She’s written with depth and humor, making her a thoroughly delightful protagonist. I’m dying to know what will happen with her love interest in the next book.

As well crafted as the protagonist, the plot moves in surprising ways. It never lags and I couldn’t predict the turns. Shea’s writing style is smooth, clear, informative and never redundant. It’s obvious that Shea respects her readers and trusts us to understand the text without dumbing-down the language or overwriting to impress us. The story flows through concepts, images and dialog in a natural and logical progression.

Mixed Up with Murder is the third in the Danielle O’Rourke series. I don’t know how I missed the first two books, but I’ll be going back to catch up with this strong, smart character and her compelling world of art, money and murder.

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Author Susan C. Shea

P. S.

I want to than Susan C. Shea for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy and congratulate her  on today’s (2/2/16) launch of Mixed Up with Murder. Reading this book has been a pleasurable experience on every level. Did I mention I couldn’t put it down? I’m ranking Dani O’Rourke right up there with my favorite sleuths: Phryne Fisher, Laurel McKay, China Bayles, and Aimée Leduc. They’re all different, but they’ll all smart women, driven to use their wit and wits in heroic ways.

 

 

 

 

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Sisters in Crime Fall Showcase

I just can’t wait for this event. Not only are these authors my “Sisters” and friends, but I’m reviewing some of their books. How wonderful to be able to hear the authors read from them. I hope some of you will join me at the Showcase.

SISTERS IN CRIME

Annual Fall Showcase

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Books Inc. in The Marina

 Here’s the information:

The Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime proudly presents their Annual Fall Showcase! Featuring Juliet Blackwell, author of Spellcasting in Silk: A Witchcraft MysteryHeather Haven, author of Murder Is a Family Business; Ellen Kirschman, author of The Right Wrong Thing; Bette J.J. Lamb, authors of The Killing Vote and Bone Dust; Vinnie Hansen, contributor to the anthology Destination: Mystery; Eileen Magill, author of House of Homicide; Camille Minichino (writing as Jean Flowers), author of Death Takes Priority; and William Wallace, author of Dead Heat with a Reaper.

Event date:  Saturday, November 7, 2015 – 12:00pm

Event address:  Books Inc.     2251 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA

And come back soon to read my review of Ellen Kirschman’s wonderful police drama, The Right Wrong Thing. Don’t miss the previously posted review of The Killing Vote.

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On the Edge—The Aqus Literary Speakeasy —189 H Street Petaluma—January 29th 7-9 PM

@ Aqus Cafe, Petaluma CA

@ Aqus Cafe, Petaluma CA

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