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.

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

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

P.S. It was Murder

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

The Postscript Murders, Book 2 in the Harbinder Kaur mystery series, is not only a great whodunit, but the author’s love letter to books.

Harbinder Kaur is an officer with the West Sussex police department, and she’s got a doozy of a murder investigation on her hands. Peggy Smith, an elderly woman with a penchant for thinking up ways to kill people, has been instrumental in helping a number of authors craft unique ways to murder characters in their books. Those authors, grateful for her assistance, have dedicated books to her and thanked her countless times in back-of-the-book acknowledgements.

But now Peggy is dead, and the question is this: was hers a natural death, or was it murder? When her demise is followed rather quickly by the deaths of authors who have used her “murder consultant” services, signs begin to point toward murder.

Harbinder is drawn into the mystery when a trio of Peggy’s friends reach out to her with their suspicions about Peggy’s demise. Natalka, Peggy’s nurse, found Peggy’s body. Her friends Benedict, a former monk who owns a seaside coffee shop, and Edwin, a retired BBC radio presenter who lives in the same sheltered living facility as Peggy, are convinced that Peggy did not die by natural means and they are determined to figure out who killed her and why.

Harbinder Kaur is a fabulous main character. She’s thirty-something, gay (but single), Sikh, and still lives with her parents. She has the complexity to carry a series, and though she was not as major a character in the first book in the series (The Stranger Diaries, see my review here), I hope readers will see more of her as the series progresses.

The story is told from the point of view of Harbinder and her three new friends, all of whom fancy themselves amateur sleuths and have backstories of their own which unfold gradually throughout the book. The relationships among all the characters are compelling and intricate, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I delighted at the literary festival in Aberdeen, the friends’ stay at a safe house, Harbinder’s partner (and the hilarious ways he is described), and the easy pace of the plot. There are plenty of juicy turns, and I loved the conclusion, which came as a series of shocking twists at the very end of the book. Each and every thread in the story is tied up neatly, and left me eager for the next book in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a great crime mystery, a book about books, and a companionable group of friends who team up to solve a puzzle.

Collect them All!

A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes

A Fatal Collection is the first book in the Keepsake Cove Mystery series by Mary Ellen Hughes. Don’t you love the cover? It just radiates cozy mystery vibes.

Keepsake Cove is a charming community in the town of Mapleton, located on Maryland’s eastern shore. Filled with adorable shops selling everything from toys to candles to glass, the area holds a special place in the hearts of the people who call it home and the hearts of the people who love to visit. Callie Reed has gone to Keepsake Cove to reconnect with her aunt, the vibrant, smart, and fascinating owner of a music box shop. The two haven’t seen each other in ten years, though they’ve corresponded and their ties are strong.

When Melanie dies shortly after Callie’s arrival, Callie is numb with shock. And when Callie learns that Melanie has left everything to her—her shop, her cottage behind the shop, her inventory, and even her cat—Callie is left reeling.

But once in Keepsake Cove, Callie has some time to think over some of the choices she’s made. She discovers that maybe the inheritance and the new responsibilities as owner of the music box shop are just what she needs to take her life in a new direction. And then there’s that one incredible music box that … well, you’ll just have to read the book to know what I’m talking about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were plenty of juicy red herrings, hidden secrets, and conflicts among friends and foes in this vibrant and engaging story. There was a complex and rich set of characters, many of whom I hope to see in future books in the series. The author did a great job setting out the clues, most of which went unnoticed by me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best kind of mystery.

I highly recommend this to cozy and traditional mystery readers, as well as people who enjoy a good story set along the Atlantic seaboard.

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What I’m reading:

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

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Until next time,

Amy

Follow Me…for Murder

#FollowMe for Murder by Sarah E. Burr

#FollowMe for Murder is the first book in Sarah E. Burr’s Trending Topic Mystery series. It’s actually the only book in the series right now, but I’m hoping there are more on the way.

Coco (Cordelia) Cline is a young entrepreneur and the savvy owner of a social media consulting business in her hometown of Central Shores, Delaware. She got her start as part of a small team of people who sold their lifestyle-centric tech startup to Facebook, netting millions of dollars apiece. She kept the rights to her lifestyle blog, though, and continues to post to hundreds of thousands of social media followers who hang on her every word.

Sean and Olivia Chen are the owners of a high-end consignment shop in town and they’ve hired Coco to handle the social media campaign associated with the shop’s grand opening. Coco has lots of great ideas, if only Olivia would quit posting impulsively (and to no effect) on social media. Coco and the Chens agree to meet at the shop to discuss the online ramp-up before the big day, but the Chens are late. Coco has her own key to the shop, and when she lets herself in she finds the dead body of the Chens’ assistant, a young woman named Stacy.

Suspicion, naturally, focuses on Coco almost immediately. After all, she found the body. And the police are looking at the Chens, too, since Stacy’s body was found in their shop. Coco needs to clear her name for obvious reasons, but she has to clear the Chens’ name, too, or else their shop is going to fail before it even gets up and running. With the help of her boyfriend and two of her best friends, Coco sets out to find the killer. Along the way she finds that Stacy was hiding some secrets and behavior that could be potentially explosive in the little town of Central Shores.

I loved that this cozy mystery has a lot going on. Besides the mystery of who killed Stacy, there are also hints of political intrigue going on in the little town and Coco’s insecurity about the state of her relationship with her boyfriend of four years, Hudson, whose star is rising quickly as a local television news personality. There’s the high school enemy-turned-voracious follower of Coco’s blog, and a new relationship between one of Coco’s best friends, Charlotte, and a guy working for the county crime lab.

The pacing of the book was spot-on. It moves just as quickly as a cozy should. The characters were fun, too—Coco’s friend Jasper was one of my favorites. And the idea of an amateur sleuth using social media to dig for clues in the case is great. Why? Because it’s a double-edged sword, just like social media in real life: Coco is trying to keep people in town and her minions of followers from finding out she’s the person who discovered the body, so she has to watch everything she says and does. She has to be careful about appearing in photographs that will find their way onto social media. On the other hand, she is a social media expert, so being able to find clues buried in suspects’ profiles and elsewhere online is a great asset for someone with her skill set.

This was a fun read and I’m eager for the second book in the series to come out. I would highly recommend #FollowMe for Murder to anyone who likes a good cozy, mysteries set in beach towns, anyone with a love-hate relationship with social media *raises hand*, and anyone who likes a great cast of characters.

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What I’m reading:

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Crate by Deborah Vadas Levison

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Until next time,

Amy