Guest Blog Post – How to Write Your Memories by Julia Buckley


, ,

When I began to plot out my first Hungarian Tea House mystery (Death in a Budapest Butterfly), I made a list of all my memories of my Hungarian grandparents, of my Hungarian-American father, and of the family gatherings we had at my grandmother’s house, eating her cooking and watching her soap operas and hearing her “Hunglish” a combination of Hungarian and English, as she conversed with my father. In this way I had a whole list of cultural details that I could use and adapt in my fictional Riverwood, and in the family of Hana Keller.

For example, I started with food. My grandmother was a very good cook who tended to make the staples of her homeland, so I was treated to a childhood full of Hungarian chicken soup with my grandmother’s homemade noodles (there’s a whole scene in book one about the making of Hungarian noodles), chicken paprikas, szekely goulash and beef goulash, delicious fluffy dumplings, and many other delicious foods that Hana Keller, too, grew up eating and now makes herself.

After the food I borrowed from the language—certain words and phrases that my Hungarian relatives always used to say.

I tapped into Hungarian superstition. I remember my grandmother in particular had various little superstitions about what it meant if you dropped a knife on the floor (A separate fate from what happened if you dropped a fork or a spoon). Hana’s grandmother has a particular superstition about wolves, but for my grandmother it was snakes.

Like my own grandparents, Hana’s grandparents are religious and devoted to family.

The one exception to the rule of family influences the undercurrent of psychic ability in the novel. No one in my family has any sort of second sight, but I wanted to link this special ability to the idea of Hungarian folklore. As the series has progressed, this insight has become quite essential to the overall story.

I really don’t know why I made Hana’s boyfriend Norwegian, but I’ve enjoyed learning bits and pieces of Norwegian culture, too, as I get to know the Wolf family better. I did not realize that Erik had twin sisters until I wrote book two (Death of a Wandering Wolf), and I still look forward to “meeting” his brother Felix, someone I’ve mentioned but have not yet experienced in a writing session.

“Death on the Night of Lost Lizards” taps into Hungarian Christmas traditions, and despite some very specific cultural details, it should serve to remind the reader of their own very special Christmas traditions.

Guest Blog Post – The Story of Benny the Cat by Elizabeth Logan


, ,

There are so many people to thank when a new book comes out—family and friends who are supportive throughout the process; critiquers and beta readers who find flaws, big and small, hopefully before the book goes to press; all the editors and staff at the publishers,’ at various stages in the pipeline.

I’m usually pretty good at acknowledging everyone. Except for this series, the Alaska Diner Mysteries. This time I’m guilty of a serious omission. How could I have left out an acknowledgment to a chief character in the story? Finally, as Book #3, “Murphy’s Slaw,” hits the shelves, I’m giving him his due.

That would be Eggs Benedict, aka Benny, my protagonist’s cat and faithful companion through all three books in the series.

Does Benny exist in our real world or is he “made up,” the way Charlie, the human protagonist is, or Charlie’s friends Annie and Chris, and the rest of the population of (made up) Elkview, Alaska are?

The truth, I now reveal, is that Benny is a composite of many cats who do exist! Early in the process of writing the series, I sent out a request to all my cat-loving friends asking for anecdotes. I also assigned my writing students the task of sharing their favorite cat story. (Cheating a bit? I made up for it by grading all stories “A.”)

If you’ve ever asked a cat lover about her cat, you know the response I got. It was the most productive piece of “research” I’ve ever done. I was showered with stories, long and short. I received photos and videos of cats awake and sleeping, with both mechanical and electrical toys, wrapped around humans’ ankles, perched on high shelves. And low computer desks, as you see in the image.

It was not all straightforward, however. For example, Friend A told me a tale—that her cat ate corn from the cob, running his teeth along the rows of kernels as a human might, while Friend B said, No Way. I did what any former scientist would do: I took a poll. The No’s won and, absent a verifiable video, I deleted the story.

Although Benny is an orange tabby, one of his biggest fans is a domestic long-haired gray cat, i.e., a stray with unknown genetics, “Miss Mia.”

Before I forget and make the same mistake, let me thank Miss Mia profusely for posing for me and bringing considerable charm to this blog post.


Book Review – For Batter or Worse by Jenn McKinlay


, , ,

Title: For Batter or Worse

Author: Jenn McKinlay

Series: 13th Cupcake Bakery Mystery

Publisher: Berkley

Format: Paperback, but read e-book given to me by NetGalley for an honest review.

Published on: May 4, 2021

Set in: Arizona

Includes: recipes

In Jenn McKinlay’s 13th Cupcake Bakery Mystery, Melanie Cooper and Joe DeLaura are busy with their jobs and whipping up the final arrangements for their small wedding reception at the Sun Dial Resort. They are confident that Mel’s former employee, Oz, will do a marvelous job creating cupcakes for their wedding.

Things were going well until a young woman, a sauce maker at the resort, drops a pan of sauce in the main kitchen and gets yelled at by Chef Miles Gallway. Mel and Joe just happen to be there to go over plans for their wedding. When Oz steps up to bring back order, Miles considers him stepping into his territory. Gallaway not only has a flaming temper, but feels that every mistake will ruin his reputation. The scene is witnessed by everyone in the kitchen.

Shortly after, Miles is found dead and Oz is put on a leave of absence. Because the argument was witnessed by a number of people, that makes Oz the lead suspect. In an effort to keep Oz occupied, Mel asks him to work at her bakery. Knowing that you are considered the leading suspect has to grind away at your nerves, so Mel believes this can help. Unfortunately, the wife of the resort owner further involves him as a suspect which makes things a little more difficult. One plus is that the detective assigned to the case is Mel’s uncle, Stan. A suggestion is made in order to get to the truth. Mel assists as a witness so Oz isn’t alone.

There are several possible reasons Miles was killed. High on the checklist is the way he treats people. Having watched TV chef shows, and you know which one I’m talking about, the setting is extremely stressful to gain the order necessary to get a meal as perfect as possible on the table. There’s also a competitive opportunity and a number of people could be willing to kill for it. There’s also the possibility of a lover’s triangle. Any number of people associated with the resort can be suspects. You just have to read the book to figure out which one killed him and why.

Besides the great cover, it was the compassion of family that not only kept my attention, but made me care about Mel and Joe’s family and poor Oz. Oz had a lot of people that loved him and were willing to put their lives in danger to protect him. There were a lot of twists in this one and a lot of things happening in the end. Jenn tied everything together so that situations were resolved. So glad that Berkley had given me five other books in this series before COVID. Hope to read more.

four out of five bags of cake flour

Denise Fleischer

June 12, 2021

Guest Blog Post – CHAPTER THIRTEEN – by Maria A. Palace


, ,









Did you ever have that déjà vu moment where you enter a room and find yourself surrounded by familiar faces? Or you’re in the middle of an activity where you experience for a fleeting moment an overwhelming sensation of “I’ve been here before–in this situation, among these people.” That used to happen to me quite often when I was younger, but as I grew older, it became less and less frequent.

Dr. Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) was a renowned psychiatrist and founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies, which investigates the paranormal. He became internationally known for his research into reincarnation and the idea that emotions, memories and even physical injuries can be transferred from one life to another. Dr. Stevenson believed that young children are much more susceptible to remembering past lives than adults. He traveled the world extensively over a period of forty years, investigating three thousand cases of children who claimed to remember past lives and authored roughly three hundred papers and fourteen books on reincarnation.

Did you ever meet someone who you had an instant rapport with? The conversation flowed so easily between the two of you that you felt as though you’d known each other for years. Maybe you married that person, believing you had truly met your “soul mate.”

What if you’d known this person in a past life?

Frederick W.H. Myers (1843-1901) was a Cambridge Classic scholar and writer at the turn of the twentieth century who became heavily involved in the investigation of the afterlife.  He was one of the pioneers who founded the British Society for Psychical Research. Departing from the mainstream that considered strange or out-of-the-ordinary mental phenomena to be normal aspects of human consciousness, he believed they were not pathological symptoms requiring treatment, but instead possible indicators of the continuation of consciousness after death. He found evidence through events including telepathy, hypnosis, automatic writing, etc., which encouraged his growing belief that personality and consciousness survive the death of the body. His book, Human Personality and the Survival of Bodily Death, analyzes phenomena associated with what he called the ‘Subliminal Self,’ and is regarded as a major theoretical contribution to understanding these anomalous mental experiences.

What if these pivotal moments really are connected to past memories? What if the ones we love truly do remain with us forever?

In my paranormal suspense novel, Chapter Thirteen, the protagonist, Katy Barton, suffers through such unexplained visions, nightmares and déjà vu moments, compelling her to seek out answers through hypnotherapy. At the end of the book, you, the reader, may ultimately be forced to ask yourself the same question:  “What if?”

You can check out Chapter Thirteen at:

Book Review – The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax


, ,

Title: The Break-Up Book Club

Author: Wendy Wax

Publisher: Berkley

Format:  trade paperback $17.00 US, I read the e-book which was provided by NetGalley.

Published On: May 18, 2021

Genre: Women’s Fiction/Contemporary Romance

There’s something special about books written by Wendy Wax. Simply said, her books focus on the tight bonds women weave through friendship.

In her latest novel, “The Break-Up Book Club,” we’re introduced to the members of a book club in a historic home outside of Atlanta. The club was created by Annell Barrett who “just wanted more readers to come to her store.” With the promise of wine and food, the book club began with five women discussing “The Secret Lives of Bees.”

We meet Judith, who invested her inheritance in her and her husband’s Chicken Lickin’ franchise. She was the one to motivate him, entertain potential franchise purchasers and he gets all the credit. He also never invites her along on business trips. They have two grown children, who have their own lives, so Judith is bored. But then something happens that changes her life forever.

Jazmine is the first and only female sports agent with StarSports Advisors. Her heart was set on being a professional tennis player, but an accident put an end to that. She’s got her hands full with a unhappy football player. Her career is cutting into her time she needs to spend with her daughter. Then there’s the pressure by her family for her to start dating. The lesson she has to learn is trust.

Poor Sara has no life. Her husband is working out of town and he’s arranged for his mother, Dorothy, to live at their home. So it’s Sara that’s watching over her and doesn’t have a moment of peace. She can’t even escape to the bathroom to read without her mother-in-law knocking on the door. Sara is frustrated and hates living like this. And then they learn the truth.

Erin is filling in for Louise at the agency Jazmine works for. She and her boyfriend, Josh, are getting married. But on the day after Christmas, Josh breaks Erin’s heart. He’s not ready to get married. He feels it’s more important to focus on his baseball career. Erin’s life lesson is gaining confidence and skill and planning a new future.

While there are more members of the book club, these are the characters Wendy mainly writes about. You would think with so many of them to follow you’d be confused, but you aren’t. In fact, you can’t wait to learn what each woman will do to improve the quality of her life. Even better is how close they become through their life experiences and one decision a number of them make. You’ve gotta read it. Would be great as a Lifetime movie.

Four out of five book clubs

Denise Fleischer

May 31, 2021


Book Review – Mimi Lee Gets A Clue by Jennifer J. Chow


, ,

Title: Mimi Lee Gets A Clue

Author: Jennifer J. Chow

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime, $16.00/US

Series: A Sassy Cat Mystery

Format: Trade paperback

Published on: March 10, 2020

Mimi Lee might only be in the learning stage of her dog grooming business, but she knows she’s not imagining things when her first two furry customers have similar physical issues. Sterling was lethargic and Ash limping. The only information Mimi has to go by was from her client Lauren who stated her assistant recently purchased her dog from a local breeder. Not only does Mimi have the responsibility of starting up a new business and being alert to her furry clients’ well being, she now has a pet of her own, thanks to her sister, Alice. Turns out that her cat, Marshmallow, can communicate with her through telepathy.

After Mimi does an Internet search for Russ Nolan, the breeder, she heads over to his house with her cat. While she confronts Nolan, Marshmallow does a little snooping around and learns that there are dogs trapped there. She leaves after confronting him.

Back home, Mimi meets Josh Akana at her apartment complex laundry room. She learns that he’s an attorney and they seem to hit it off until Mimi’s mom calls. The cute thing here, but annoying for Mimi, is that her mom is always trying to hook her up with single men. Her mom doesn’t care how old they are.

Shortly after, Mimi is visited by Detective Brown, Homicide Division, who informs her that he is investigating the death of Nolan. He knows that she was at his house last night, as he was informed by Nolan’s neighbor. The other red flag began with their argument and ended when she filed a complaint with the local police. Detective Brown feels she took justice in her own hands and wants to know if she has an alibi. At that moment, she becomes a murder suspect.

As for real suspects, there’s probably a long list of people who would have put Nolan in the eternal dog house, beginning with his clients and competitors. As a breeder he was irresponsible, did things illegally, and their living area was terrible.

With all this going on, Mimi now has to worry about her sister, Alice, being in trouble at the school she works at for answering her phone when she called.

MIMI LEE GETS A CLUE had me loving the book when Marshmallow was introduced. Having a rescue pet who is telepathic is a great way to gain access and information. As for Marshmallow’s new mom, she might be young, but she went right to the heart of the situation knowing where her personal investigation had to begin. She put her life in danger thinking only of the animals and their pain. In reality, it isn’t a wise move to make, but in fiction it shows intelligence and bravery.  I loved the closeness of Mimi’s family and how her mother played matchmaker. You’re going to laugh at who she chooses for her daughter to date. All unnecessary, since Mimi is already crazy about one of her neighbors. There was one thing that happened, but wasn’t written about. I would have liked to know how that was accomplished and not witnessed or reported. I don’t think it’s possible that no one would have seen that happening. I already signed up to read the next book in the series, “Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines.” Following that will be “Mimi Lee Cracks the Code.”

three and a half out of five intelligent cats

Denise Fleischer

May 31, 2021


Guest Blog Post – FOR BATTER OR WORSE by Jenn McKinlay


, ,

The plot of For Batter or Worse came to me on a treadmill. Can you believe it? Me? On a treadmill? I know, it boggles. One of my Hooligans is studying health and fitness – no, I have no idea where he came from – and has me and his brother going to the gym regularly. Mercy.

I was never a gym person, preferring to walk outside in nature instead, but when you live in a place that is over one hundred degrees four months out of the year, you have to compromise. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, because I did get a plot out of it but I just don’t understand why eating chocolate cake can’t be considered exercise. Whenever I say this, my Hooligan just stares at the ceiling as if asking for patience. I get it. I felt the same way when potty training him.

It was summer when the plot arrived. I was cruising on my treadmill at a solid incline, listening to a book on tape. I didn’t do the deep dive into audio books until I started going to the gym a few times per week, so that’s another check in the fitness column – please don’t tell the Hooligan as it will undermine my complaining.

My book of choice? Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. As a person who waitressed in restaurants in college, I recognized much of what Mr. Bourdain had to share but he revealed so much more — the personalities, the tempers, the feuds, the ever changing employment situations of the chefs. I became fascinated by the Escoffier inspired brigade style kitchens and I knew that my character Oscar Ruiz, a budding pastry chef who was about to go off on his own, needed to be in a professional kitchen environment rife with competing chefs and all of the drama that an ego driven executive chef could cook up. Truly, with so much material, the book practically wrote itself.

After learning all I could about professional kitchens and touring the one at the Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch, a Scottsdale spa and resort, I gained a new appreciation for how these chefs and their staffs manage to get it all done. There is some serious culinary wizardry involved, I’m just sayin’. Also, the more I learned the more I knew that the high intensity environment was just perfect for…murder!

It was a no brainer to see that our poor Oz was going to have to take on a narcissistic chef de cuisine and when that chef turned up dead with Oz found kneeling over him, well, a plot was born. It also cut my treadmill time in half that day because I had to leave the machine to go write the idea down immediately so I didn’t forget. This elicited no sympathy from the Hooligan, who made me do double time the next day. Ugh. When I say I sweated to bring you this story, I am not exaggerating. Not even a little.

Happy Reading!

Jenn McKinlay

Blogger note – A review of this book will soon follow.




New Title – Excerpt: The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait by Cleo Coyle


, ,

Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure and her gumshoe ghost team up to solve the stunning mystery at the heart of a madwoman’s self-portrait in this all new installment from New York Times bestselling author Cleo Coyle.

While gathering a collection of vintage book cover paintings for a special event in her quaint Rhode Island bookshop, Penelope discovers a spooky portrait of a beautiful woman, one who supposedly went mad, according to town gossip. Seymour, the local mailman, falls in love with the haunting image and buys the picture, refusing to part with it, even as fatal accidents befall those around it. Is the canvas cursed? Or is something more sinister at work?

For answers, Pen turns to an otherworldly source: Jack Shepard, PI. Back in the 1940s, Jack cracked a case of a killer cover artist, and (to Pen’s relief) his spirit is willing to help her solve this mystery, even if he and his license did expire decades ago.


CLEO COYLE is a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Both are New York Times bestselling authors of the long-running Coffeehouse Mysteries—now celebrating eighteen years in print. They are also authors of the nationally bestselling Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, previously written under the pseudonym Alice Kimberly. Alice has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and New York, and has written popular fiction for adults and children. A former magazine editor, Marc has authored espionage thrillers and nonfiction for adults and children. Alice and Marc are also both bestselling media tie-in writers who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. They live and work in New York City, where they write independently and together.


Berkley Prime Crime | Now on bookstore shelves


Chapter 1

Cover Story

A dead man is the best fall guy in the world. He never talks back.

-Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Quindicott, Rhode Island

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but my customers did it all the time.

Most of them say they’re looking for books that are well written and insightful, books filled with characters to connect with, and stories that thrill, amuse, enlighten, and entertain. Unfortunately, these intangible properties aren’t things you can see from across a room, let alone place in a shop window. A striking cover, on the other hand, you can’t help noticing.

During my short career in New York publishing, my more recent years as a bookseller, and my lifetime as an avid reader, I’ve watched book covers change with the times and the fashion.

Decades ago, painted pictures were enough to grab a reader’s attention. Genre-specific cover art (you know what I mean: the clinch for romances, rockets for science fiction, cowboys and horses for Westerns, tough guys and femme fatales for detective stories) represented the work of America’s finest illustrators.

As time marched on, big publishers devoured little ones, and art direction changed. Graphics and photoshopped stock images became speedy, economical alternatives to traditional painted scenes. Brand-name authors were packaged with covers displaying little more than spot art and a title beneath their prominent author moniker.

Then came the evolution of digital and print-on-demand technologies, which allowed self-published authors and pop-up micropublishers to flood the literary landscape. The big New York publishers tried to keep up, launching digital-only imprints and expanding their lists to compete, until the book business began to feel (honestly?) a little bit frantic.

In any competitive business, whenever a new idea proved successful, it was usually mimicked. Publishing was no different, but the digital age had spawned a gaming-the-system mentality not seen since the bad old days of pulp magazine. And some players were clearly less concerned about achieving a creative ideal than with the factory-like grinding out of product-and profit.

Sure, healthy competition was good. Unhealthy competition, not so much. A business could withstand only so many predatory participants, people who treated it less like a legitimate trade and more like, well, what a spirited friend of mine might call-

A racket. Is that the word you’re looking for?

“Yes, Jack. If racket means caring more about money than meaning.”

Money ain’t a curse word, honey.

“I’m not claiming it is. We all have to make a living-”

Not all of us. Not anymore.

With a shiver, I conceded Jack was right, in more ways than one.

There was no living to be made when you weren’t living. And Jack would know, since he was a ghost.

I didn’t mean that he was stealthy or sneaky, or that he “ghosted” me by refusing to return my texts. I meant Jack Shepard was an actual dead man-a specter, a spirit, the departed soul of a murdered detective, gunned down on these premises in 1949 while pursuing a lead in a case.

Raymond Chandler once wrote that a dead man was the best fall guy in the world because he never talked back.

I begged to differ.

On the other hand, there was a possibility that Jack wasn’t real at all. That he was no more than a figment of my fervent reader’s imagination.

Any therapist would say as much. “Jack is a syndrome,” they’d proclaim. The gruff, masculine voice in my head was an alter ego, my way of coping with the stresses of modern living. This hard-boiled “ghost” was merely a distillation of all the colorful characters I’d grown up reading about in my father’s library, the kind of spirited soul who was brave enough to speak the blunt or off-color thoughts that I was too polite to think, let alone permit myself to say.

As far as the “stresses” of modern living, I couldn’t deny I had a few. Being a widow, I’d endured my share of grief. Now a single mom, I was raising a headstrong boy, who lately enjoyed giving me some. And as a bookseller, well . . . let’s just say I was still alive, though the twenty-first century sometimes seemed determined to ghost me.

“We’re not dead yet!” my aunt Sadie Thornton liked to declare, usually in a Monty Python accent with a cheeky twinkle in her Yankee eye.

She and I were co-owners of a landmark bookshop in the small town of Quindicott, Rhode Island. And as I rolled out of bed one crisp autumn morning, I had the history of modern book covers on my mind for a specific reason.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one.

Yawning my way across the living room, I heard my eleven-year-old son’s voice blasting out of the kitchen. He was chatting loudly on the phone, unusual for seven a.m. on a Monday. And my typically morning-grumpy child was actually giggling.

“I’m not kidding!” he squealed. “It’s a book cover! Here’s another one: The picture shows a gorilla . . . No, a real gorilla, like King Kong, throwing a guy into a crowd of people way down on the ground. And he’s wearing a tuxedo!”

Spencer paused to hear a reply. “No, it’s the monkey wearing the tuxedo. His name is funny, too. He’s called the Whispering Gorilla.”

I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the living room, wondering why the coffee-table book, which I’d left (where else?) on the coffee table, was no longer there. My mobile phone was present and accounted for, as were my empty teacup and black-framed glasses, but the valuable book that had been specially delivered to our shop last night-the one with my handwritten Post-it note that read Do Not Touch-was gone.

“This next cover is titled ‘Batman,'” Spencer continued, “but it doesn’t look like any Batman I’ve ever seen. There’s a dead guy hanging from a rope, with his tongue sticking out. And there’s a girl on the floor underneath him.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “She’s in her underwear. It says Spicy Mystery on top of the picture.”

I grabbed my glasses, shoved them on, and headed to the kitchen, where I found Spencer still on the phone, standing at the table with his back to me. Before he knew it, I was pulling the oversize volume out of his hand.

“This is not a book for you, young man. And you know that. Who’s on the phone?”

“Amy,” he replied.

“Tell Amy I’m looking forward to her visit this weekend and say good-bye.”

Tapping my foot, I retied my robe twice while I waited for my son to finish his call.

“Now go to school.”

“It doesn’t start for an hour!”

“Then have breakfast.”

“I had breakfast.”

“All right, then you can sit down and watch me eat mine.”

Guest Blog Post – Using The People In My Life As Inspiration by Mia P. Manansala


, ,

“Is your main character you?”

I’ve gotten some form of this question in most of the interviews I’ve done for my debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO. I think it’s a fairly common question for any writer of fiction, but particularly for me, a Filipino American woman from the Midwest writing a protagonist that is also a Filipino American woman from the Midwest, people are curious about how much of myself I put into the character of Lila Macapagal.

And the honest answer is…yes and no. I will admit that her character started as a thought exercise, basically me imagining who I would’ve become if I had been raised in a very different setting than the one I grew up in. I was born and raised in a working-class, majority Latinx neighborhood of Chicago. While my protagonist and I both lived in multigenerational households, she has a large extended family and connection to the Filipino community that I never had. I’ve always been fascinated by the “Nature vs. Nurture” question, so wondering who I would’ve become if I’d been raised in a very different environment was fun, and Lila quickly took on a life of her own and became her own person.

Lila is a small town girl and has major “big fish in a small pond” syndrome–she imagines a more glamorous life for herself and moves to Chicago for college, but finds out that maybe she doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the big city. Her parents passed away when she was young, so she was raised by her aunt and paternal grandmother, two strong, resilient women in their own ways. Tita Rosie (Tita means “aunt” in Tagalog and is not part of her name) is immensely kind and understanding, but not outwardly affectionate. She shows her love through food and service, which is something my father did. Lola Flor (Lola means “grandmother” and is not part of her name) can be critical and exacting, but behind her harsh words and judgment is the love she has for her family. Like my maternal grandmother, whose household I grew up in, she wants the best for her family. That means high standards and constantly pushing you to do better and achieve more. “Good enough” is not a phrase that exists in her vocabulary.

But are these characters exactly like my dad and grandmother? Of course not. For me, I drilled down to the essence of who these characters were and used the stronger/more extreme parts of my family’s personalities to help inform these characters and make them feel real to me. I don’t want anyone in my life to be able to point to a character and say, “Oh that’s just so-and-so.” I want my characters to stand on their own and feel real to readers because I took care to make them feel real to me.

As for the Calendar Crew, my favorite characters to write, no, they are not based on any one person. They are an amalgam of all the aunties I’ve known in my life, as well as stories I’ve heard from friends. Aunties are a large part of Asian culture, but I’ve also heard from readers from Jamaican/Nigerian/Puerto Rican/etc. backgrounds that are like, “They sound just like my aunties!” For anyone not familiar with the term, “aunties” are not just your blood/family, but women of a particular generation in relation to you. So while the Calendar Crew are Lila’s godmothers, they are also aunties because they’re of her mother’s generation. Oddly enough, Tita Rosie, who is her literal aunt, doesn’t really fit in what most people would consider the auntie category. However you define them, I’m glad that so many people connect with these characters and that aunties seem to be universal.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoy ARSENIC AND ADOBO, as well as Shady Palms and all the people who populate it!

Book Review – A Deadly Chapter by Essie Lang


, , ,

Title: A Deadly Chapter

Author: Essie Lang

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Series: third Castle Bookshop Mystery

Format: Hardcover, read the ARC

Published on: March 3, 2021

Set in: Alexandria Bay, New York

Waking up to the sounds of a body striking her houseboat wasn’t what Shelby Cox had planned for the day, but that’s exactly what happened. Shelby immediately informs the police. Alexandria Bay Police Chief Tekla Stone is the first to arrive at the scene and shortly after Doc Rivers. Shelby is told to go to her aunt’s house while the body is recovered and the investigation begins. After informing her aunt of the tragic event, she keeps to her normal schedule and goes to work at the family bookstore.

Through the fog of what she experienced, Shelby has to focus, the best she can, on the upcoming murder mystery event Bayside Books and the public library were co-hosting. She and her aunt’s boyfriend, Matthew, learn from the Police Chief that they found the man’s car and there’s no evidence of foul play. Shortly after, the Chief returns to the bookstore to inform Shelby that the man was identified as Nathan Miller of Fulsom Falls. It turns out that this is the same man who came into the bookstore recently asking about a woman who moved into the area about seven years ago.

Unable to push aside this mystery, Shelby begins questioning women who moved into area around that time. She knows there’s danger, but is compelled to get to the truth. Some of the clues about Miller often are shared with her at the bookstore. One visitor tells her that he and Miller were both on a museum board for several years and that Miller had a problem with one of the boards he sat on. The clues begin to build from there.

In terms of her own life, Shelby’s boyfriend, Zack, wants to advance their relationship. The problem is he doesn’t live in the area anymore. She would have to leave her aunt and the community she’s grown to love. So, she has to make a difficult decision.

This is the first book I’ve read by Linda Wiken who writes this series under the name Essie Lang. I found it works well as a stand alone. I easily slid beside Shelby as she tried to solve the case. I think she’d be a little more freaked out if she woke up to find a body floating near her home. I did love the setting. It’s not your common cozy small town. I think that the reader is not only drawn into the mystery, but Shelby’s life, as well. I did hope that the eagle feather would lead to something more involved in the welfare of this special bird. Clearly, it was included to lead us down another path. The storyline kept my interest and could very well happen in real life. Let’s hope it doesn’t. Love the book cover art!

three and a half bookstores out of five

Denise Fleischer

May 20, 2021