Death in Tinseltown

Over Her Dead Body by Susan Walter

If you like twisty tales with jaw-dropping twists told from multiple points of view, you’ll want to keep reading.

I read Over Her Dead Body in a matter of hours because I couldn’t help myself. The mystery has a fascinating cast of characters, and I had a love-hate relationship with almost every one of them. The story starts out from the point of view of Ashley, a struggling actress in LA. She’s had a few bit parts, but she’s still waiting for her big break (what she doesn’t know is that it may be her heart that experiences the big break).

There’s Louisa, a former casting director who lives near Ashley in a cartoonish house down a creepy, overgrown drive. There’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew and the only person in Louisa’s family who will have much of anything to do with her.

Louisa’s kids, Winnie and Charlie, have loads of personal issues. Their relationship has gone south in recent years, as a result of Winnie’s descent into alcoholism and Charlie’s marriage to a woman Winnie can’t stand.

There’s Jordan, Ashley’s roommate and probably my favorite character.

When you mix all these personalities together, there’s bound to be an explosion. And what the author gives the reader is an unforgettable explosion preceded by a gradual unfurling of mystery, drama, and high tension.

I love stories that are told from different points of view because the reader gets a glimpse into the psyches of the characters and is able to see different sides to every scene.

Here’s the basic outline: When Ashley’s dog, Brando, runs off for a midnight romp on Louisa’s property, the scene ends with warning gunshots and Ashley is, predictably, terrified. She runs home sans Brando. She and her roommate are leaving to search for him when she gets a phone call. It’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew, letting her know that Brando is safe at Louisa’s house. Good thing Brando was wearing his collar with Ashley’s contact information.

When Ashley arrives to collect her dog, the sparks fly between her and Nathan. And it gets better—she is delighted to learn that Louisa might be able to help her land a plum movie role. Louisa has Ashley visit her over the next day or two to work on scripts … but everything comes crashing down when Nathan gets a phone call notifying him of Louisa’s sudden death. And—surprise!—Louisa has left her considerable fortune to someone whose identity shocks everyone.

What follows is a zigzag tale of greed, dreams deferred (or abandoned altogether), jealousy, and revenge. By the end, I was feeling (in a good way) like I had whiplash. Can anyone in this story be trusted?

The Hollywood angle is a brilliant stroke of storytelling. This novel wouldn’t be as scintillating if it were set in any other city because the manipulation on display mirrors that which we all associate with Hollywood. There’s glamour, certainly, but it’s mostly in Louisa’s past and that glamour hides a lot of pain. There’s betrayal in spades. If Hollywood wished to mock itself, this would make a great movie.

I highly recommend Over Her Dead Body to anyone who loves wry humor, satirical mystery, and an easy, fun read. Note: there’s some strong language at play in this book, so if you don’t like a lot of swearing, it’s probably not the book for you.

Death in Iceland

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson 

I have been hearing for some time that I need to give Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction a try, so I finally took the plunge and read Snow Blind, Book 1 in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

Let me paraphrase what’s coming for the #TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) folks here: I will be reading more Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction, beginning with book 2 in the Dark Iceland series, Night Blind.

Snow Blind is the story of Ari Thór, a theology-student-turned-police-officer who moves from Reykjavik (starting here, I’m not putting the accents over the words because WordPress isn’t allowing it and I. Just. Can’t.) to Siglufjordur, a small town in the remote north of Iceland where the winters are long and dark and the residents seem to know everything about everyone.

Note my use of the word “seem.” Because when a well-known elderly writer in town dies under suspicious circumstances and his death is closely followed by another bizarre and violent occurrence, the residents are suddenly afraid and it quickly becomes clear they don’t know everything about everyone.

As the newcomer to a town where families go back generations and new faces are greeted with guarded suspicion, Ari Thor has his work cut out for him. He’s the rookie cop on the town’s very small police force and he needs to prove to his boss and the residents of Siglufjordur that he is smart and capable. It isn’t easy—he suffers from claustrophobia and now he’s stuck in a town where winter consists of constant darkness and tons and tons (and tons, and tons…) of snow with only one very treacherous road in or out. He’s left behind a serious girlfriend in Reykjavik and she’s unhappy with his decision to take the job. His new boss shifts on a dime from being fatherlike and kind to gruff and angry when Ari Thor suggests the old writer’s death wasn’t an accident.

This book says “Thriller” right on the cover, but I wouldn’t call it a thriller. I would call it a suspense novel. Here’s why: the reader knows certain things that Ari Thor doesn’t know; the story starts with a crime and circles back to it toward the end of the book; and the killer isn’t known until the final reveal near the conclusion of the story.

But with that being said, it’s a thrilling book. Ari Thor puts himself in harm’s way more than once to prove that he’s the right man for the job, and there are times when he’s in danger and the reader wonders how he’s going to fare. There are red herrings aplenty (pun intended—herring? Iceland? Get it?), and I was kept just off-balance enough to keep reading until way past my bedtime because I needed to know whodunit.

The characters in the book are complex and three-dimensional and the plot moves at a nice clip. I am already looking forward to book 2 in the series and I’ll be checking out other Icelandic and Scandinavian authors, too.

I would highly recommend Snow Blind to anyone who loves dark fiction and a clever mystery set in a desolate but beautiful place with plenty of atmosphere and tension.

A Magical Christmas

A Novel Noel by Veronica Cline Barton

This book, the second in the Hygge & Bisous Holiday Mystery series by Veronica Cline Barton, is out today! I read the first book in the series (Christmas Bizarre, 2021) and enjoyed it immensely, so I have very much looked forward to the release of A Novel Noel

Here’s the premise of the series: In the days leading up to Christmas, main character Rikkhe St. Claire gathers her family and closest friends for an evening of magical storytelling. Every person at the gathering in the posh Malibu setting gets a turn to tell a story, and at the end of the evening Rikkhe’s guests vote on their favorite. The stories are accompanied by libations specially chosen to complement each story. 

The stories are fun and cozy, spooky and paranormal. They embody the concept of hygge, which is a Scandanavian “invention” that emphasizes serene contentment and cozy warmth, to grossly simplify it. 

Rikkhe and her guests share five stories, each one an immersive experience wherein the reader is invited to sink deliciously into the magic of the telling. I found myself wishing for more after each story concluded. The mystery and enchantment of the Christmas season is explored in each story, whether it was a possible Krampus encounter, a spellbinding snow globe, a mirror desperate to share its secrets, a visit from Mister Kringle, or a little girl in Paris who helps three friends deepen their connections to each other through acts of kindness and love. 

If I were sitting by that Malibu fire pit just before Christmas, would I be able to choose a favorite? I really don’t know. I do know this, though: I’m already looking forward to Book 3 in the Rikkhe St. Claire Hygge & Bisous Mystery series. 

If you’d like to order your own ecopy (for 99¢!), click the cover above and you’ll be redirected to Amazon.

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What I’m reading:

The Consequences of Murder by Michael Sinclair

Over Her Dead Body by Susan Walter

Small Town Suspense

We are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

This book is told from the perspectives of three people: Wyatt Branson, whose sister, Trumanelle, disappeared ten years before the beginning of the story; Odette Tucker, a police officer in the tiny Texas town where Trumanelle went missing; and Angel, a character we meet on page one.

Wyatt, Odette, and Angel have suffered tragedy. Their lives are thin threads (thin, but made of titanium) that hover between life and death, that hold untold secrets from everyone—and in one case, I think, even themselves—and that become inextricably linked by the events that led to the disappearance of Trumanelle.

With the exception of a few really low-down characters in this book, I felt sorry for almost everyone. The town has kept people, and not just the main characters, in the grip of an almost manic level of mystery surrounding Trumanelle’s disappearance, and no one seems able to escape or let go. Feelings of anger, rage, frustration, and violence run rampant even ten years after the disappearance, and distrust of Wyatt, especially, is a constant undercurrent in the book.

I would describe this novel as a slow-burn psychological suspense, with enough revelations and dirty laundry to make readers keep turning the pages. Though I knew who the villain was (or at least, who the WORST villain was) before the end, I didn’t know why that person did it and I enjoyed the little-by-little unfolding of the tale.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological suspense, small town mysteries, and dark themes.

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What I’m reading:

2 ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) that I am LOVING and can’t wait to share with you

Audiobook: Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie

A Storm Hits Valparaíso by David Gaughran

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Until next time,

Amy

A Cryptic Mystery

Murder in the Crypt by Irina Shapiro

Jason Redmond, a physician and Captain in the Union Army during the American Civil War, has seen his fair share of horrors and atrocities—and experienced some of his own as a prisoner of war. When the war ends and Captain Redmond is freed, he discovers that during his absence, his love, Cecilia, has married his best friend. Crushed in spirit and not knowing what to do next, Jason receives word that his English grandfather has passed away, leaving Jason as the heir to his estate and the title that goes along with it.

Accompanied by a young boy (Micah) he met while in prison, Jason goes to England to settle the affairs of his grandfather. His arrival at the manor is the subject of great interest in the village of Birch Hill and its environs, and Jason and Micah haven’t been in residence for twenty-four hours before becoming the subjects of an investigation into a murder that occurred in the church crypt concurrent with their arrival.

The victim, a young man from a disreputable part of London, was discovered by the church pastor inside the tomb of a great ancestor of Birch Hill. A trail of blood led to the tomb, suggesting someone dragged the victim to that spot.

Who was the young man and why was he murdered?

The village constable, Daniel Haze, needs answers to these questions, and he needs them before the inquest, which is scheduled to take place not long after the discovery of the body. After a rather inauspicious beginning to their friendship, Daniel and Jason join forces to figure out who committed the murder and why.

The cover of this book is what attracted me first. It’s spooky and delightfully atmospheric. And the story is every bit as good as the cover. Both Jason and Daniel (and Micah, too) have experienced tragedy; as the story unfurls, the author reveals bits of backstory that continue to haunt the three characters.

The red herrings in this book are intriguing and subtle, and there were enough surprises to keep me turning pages well into the night to reach The End, where everything was explained and where there are tantalizing hints of the next mystery to embroil the team of Captain Redmond and Daniel Haze. I look forward to reading Book Two.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical mysteries (particularly those set in England during the Victorian Era), anyone who loves mysteries with complex yet relatable characters, and anyone who loves a good, old-fashioned mystery set in an English village.

Fowl Play is Out!

It’s my book birthday! I’m pleased to introduce Fowl Play, Book 6 in the Juniper Junction Cozy Holiday Mystery Series.

Here’s a look at the first review, from Veronica Cline Barton—

“It’s Thanksgiving week in Juniper Junction and jewelry store owner, Lilly Carlsen is getting ready for the holiday shopping season to begin. This year, she’s also hosting Thanksgiving dinner for her family and friends. As the countdown to turkey day grows shorter, her list of guests gets longer with the addition of new neighbors, an herbalist shop owner, and a real estate maven who’s taken on the listing for Lilly’s mother’s home. As the group gathers on the big day, not everything goes to plan, bringing a few, at times tense, laugh-out-loud moments to be enjoyed.

The shocking death of one of the guests brings Lilly and her Thanksgiving company under scrutiny from the law. Lilly is determined to clear her name, but will her sleuthing put her in the path of a killer? Family drama is taking its toll too, as Lilly deals with her mother’s decline from dementia and her daughter’s pregnant, angst-filled friend who is living with them. Her romance with Hassan is heating up, will their future take a serious turn?

Author Reade once again weaves an intriguing whodunnit that will keep you guessing. I thoroughly enjoy this holiday mystery series and this tale does not disappoint. This is a great read for thee holiday season–sit back and enjoy the cozy perils and warm, delights of Fowl Play! A highly recommended read!”

… and the second review, from Evie Gaskins—

“First I must say I am a huge fan of this whole series and that being said this was my favorite book so far! I highly recommend not just this book but also the whole series. Reading these books is like being part of the delightful town of Juniper Junction and just another one of Lillys friends. This book really has you twisting and turning right to the very end. Once again I had no idea who did it and could not put the book down. There are so many wonderful threads of storylines also happening in this book that really develop the characters even further than before and then weave them all into the main story plot. Truly wonderful writing. With a cup of coffee or tea and some snacks curled up on a sofa this book can just take you away to a wonderful adventure. I do not want to spoil any of the fun but for fans of this series there is the most delightful new character named Finley. I do not want to tell to much about him only that you will love him as soon as you meet him. This book is worth every moment spent reading and I highly recommend Fowl Play.”

A huge THANK YOU to both readers for reading and reviewing Fowl Play!

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If you haven’t picked up your copy, get it by clicking HERE!

And thanks to all my readers for your support!

Delightful Cape May Cozy

Scones and Scofflaws by Jane Gorman

Following the death of her great-aunt Louise, Anna McGregor—the main character in this first-in-series cozy mystery—has inherited Climbing Rose Cottage, a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey (don’t you love the name “Climbing Rose Cottage”??). Anna, a medical anthropologist, has arrived in Cape May with some emotional baggage, a must for all great main characters. She has recently broken up with someone who not only hurt her romantically, but also destroyed her career.

Anna is in the process of fixing the B&B up a bit and is eager to welcome her first guests, though with that eagerness comes some trepidation about this new venture. The trepidation turns to dismay and horror when her first guest drops dead at the breakfast table, having eaten one of Anna’s blueberry scones.

Talk about killer scones.

Now Anna has to convince the people in the charming south Jersey town, as well as any future guests of her fledgling new business, that she’s not a killer. Luckily, she’s not alone—she has the help of her hunky handyman, a certain police officer (a big plus, since the police are mostly not on her side), her best friend (a Wildwood bakery owner), a young Irish visitor, and a keen kitty.

Anna is an intriguing main character and I enjoyed the way she puzzled through the clues and red herrings in this book. She has a hot temper and manages to alienate people in the closely-knit town because of the way she approaches them with questions, but she’s strong and determined to exonerate herself without becoming a damsel in distress. I like her spunk.

The pacing of the book is great and the potential for relationships between and among the various characters is ripe. I look forward to reading the next two books currently in the series and seeing where the author takes these possible storylines. I also love Cape May, so it was fun to read a story set in the area and recognize some of the places the author mentions. And bonus: if you like a good cocktail, the Scofflaw recipe in the back of the book is terrific!

Special note: for anyone living in or visiting the Cape May area, author Jane Gorman will be at the Cape May Fall Festival on October 15, 2022, at Cape May Convention Hall.

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I’ve got a great deal to share with you this week. Sixty authors have gotten together to offer sixty free stories to readers! I picked up a few of them myself. Follow the link below to take a look at the books!

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What I’m reading:

Murder in the Crypt by Irina Shapiro

We are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

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Until next time,

Amy

And Now for Something a Little Different

I can’t read fast enough!

I have been busy lately with writing and research (including an overseas trip! More about that in an upcoming newsletter) and that’s left less time than usual for reading anything but nonfiction—and listening to audiobooks by Agatha Christie, but I figured I’d let up on the Agatha Christie reviews for a while.

So rather than skipping a week, I decided to share with you someone else’s review of a book I’d like to read. This one is on my TBR (To-Be-Read) list and I’m very eager to get to it.

My hope is that you’ll share the title of a book on your own TBR (and maybe even a review of it) in the comments below, because if there’s one thing we all need, it’s more books to read. *waves frantically from underneath a pile of books*

I don’t even remember where I heard about the Detective Hiroshi series by Michael Pronko, but they sounded interesting and a switch from the mysteries I usually read, which are set in the US and UK. This series is set in Japan. Pronko, who was born in Kansas, has lived in Japan for two decades and is a professor of American Literature. I’m guessing his experiences lend a unique perspective to his books.

I had a look on Amazon and the fifth book in the Detective Hiroshi series was released earlier this month.

So here’s one of the reviews I found of The Last Train, Book 1 in the Detective Hiroshi series. It appeared in Blue Ink Review in May, 2017.

The Last Train wastes no time grabbing the reader’s attention: It opens with a mysterious Japanese woman who leads her hapless American victim to a Tokyo subway station, then pushes him into the oncoming last train of the night.

After this breathtaking start, we meet police detective Hiroshi Shimizu, still recovering from a breakup with his American girlfriend. He’s assigned to financial crimes because he speaks fluent English, but a friend and mentor keeps pulling him into homicides. He’s placed on this murder because the victim was American and his English skills might be helpful.

From there, author Michael Pronko deftly weaves together a plot that flashes back and forth between the killer, who we learn is named Michiko Suzuki; her dark, tragic past, and Shimizu’s determination to track her down. Along the way, Pronko introduces a cast of fascinating characters, including Shimizu’s gruff mentor Takamatsu; sumo-wrestler-turned-cop Sakaguchi; an accountant and photographer who have been helping Suzuki with her killing spree, and the Tokyo yakuza (organized crime syndicate).As the plot unfoldsPronko takes readers through Tokyo’s sexually explicit “hostess bar” underground scene in the city’s lively Roppongi nightclub district, authentically rendered by the author.

For anyone who loves crime and cop novels, or Japanophiles in general, this is a terrific thriller. And fans of author Barry Eisler’s early novels featuring John Rain, a Tokyo-based half-Japanese assassin, will find the same satisfactions here. Pronko lives in Japan, and his knowledge of the culture and settings are obvious and impressive. The characters are believable and never condescending. Japan isn’t a mere exotic locale for the narrative; the story closely follows Japanese cultural values such as loyalty, honor and reciprocation.

In all, this is one you won’t want to miss. The Last Train will leave you scrambling for Pronko’s two other books featuring detective Shimizu: Thai Girl in Tokyo and Japan Hand.

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What do you think? I’m not a fan of sexually explicit scenes, so I wonder how the author handles the hostess club angle, but I’m interested enough in the plot of this book to keep an open mind.

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A Riveting Read…Plane and Simple

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

I was intrigued by this book from the moment I read the blurb on the back cover: two women, each running from dire circumstances, switch tickets at the airport. Claire, the wife of a politician, gets on a plane headed to California and Eva is going to Puerto Rico.

When the plane bound for Puerto Rico crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, Claire knows the media is going to erupt with news of her supposed death. She has no choice but to adopt Eva’s identity … and along with it, the secrets Eva left behind.

I read this book at every opportunity I had: in line at the post office, waiting at the doctor’s office, and sitting in parking lots. It moves at a quick clip and had me turning the pages as fast as I could devour the words.

The characterization in this book is what makes it so good. The author does a great job of developing these two women and the reader feels sympathy for both of them (though Eva has made her fair share of bad choices, even when alternatives were available to her, and tends to blame others for her misfortunes). I was rooting for both of them. There are a few spots in the book where the reader has to suspend belief a little bit, but because the story is so good, that is easy to do.

I think, in the end, the book is really about strong women, the consequences of telling one’s story in the face of abuse, and having the courage to take the actions that can bring about personal empowerment. Claire and Eva are not without fear and doubt, but they do what they have to do to save themselves.

And the epilogue…you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

I would recommend this thriller to anyone who loves a story featuring strong and well-written female characters, a unique and twisty plot, and stories that explore serious social issues.

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If you are one of my newsletter subscribers, you’ll know that I have tweaked the format of my newsletters. One of the changes I’ve made is to share deals and releases by other authors here on my blog instead of in the newsletters.

So with that in mind, I have two books to share with you this week. Both are by Laina C. Turner, each one is the first book in a series, and they’re both just 99 cents (and free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited). I have not had a chance to read either of these books yet, but I have both on my Kindle. I’m looking forward to reading them soon.

Friends and Foes: A Read Wine Bookstore Mystery

Stilettos and Scoudndrels: A Presley Thurman Cozy Mystery

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Until next time,

Amy