Smugglers & Scones

Smugglers and Scones

Smugglers & Scones by Morgan C. Talbot (Cozy Mystery)

This cozy mystery has the clever setting of a bed and breakfast devoted to mystery writers, giving the spunky young proprietor, Pippa, plenty of amateur help in solving the murders that plague her seaside Oregon town. The B&B, once the home the home of a famous mystery author, also provides additional clues through its collections of his books and notes and Pippa’s uncle’s knowledge of the late mystery writer’s personal history in the town. The writer himself shows up in the book through the quotes that open each chapter, giving us a sense of a gruff, cigarette-smoking, heavy drinking, no-nonsense tough guy straight out of the 1940s.

Pippa is a lively narrator who immediately grabbed my interest. I also enjoyed the author’s flair for dialogue, giving different characters different speech habits that added to their believability. Her descriptions of the Oregon seacoast made me feel as though I was there, and the major characters became people I could visualize and care about. I did find Pippa’s immediate and constant drooling over the love interest, Lake, unrealistic and hard to take at times. I also question the value of including the part about the Glaze and Gossip club, since they mostly came off as a group of nosy women with nothing better to do than worry about other people’s business and felt more like a device than a real part of the story.

Overall, I found this book to be a quick, light, and enjoyable read, and I think the Moorehaven Mysteries series is one I’ll look forward to following.

Bella gives Smugglers and Scones four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Antique House Murders

The Antique House Murders Cover

The Antique House Murders by Leslie Nagel (Cozy Mystery)

This is the second book in the Oakwood Mystery Series, the first being the entertaining The Book Club Murders which we reviewed in October, 2016. Amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter, the indomitable young owner of a vintage clothing shop, is back, this time intent on solving the murder of a friend during an apparent break-in and robbery gone wrong.

Tempers are flaring in Oakwood, Ohio. Plans to demolish an historic old mansion to make way for development are hotly contested, and folks in town are taking sides, sometimes with violent results. With her personal connection to the murder victim, Charley can’t stay out of the action, even though her snooping defies angry warnings from her police detective boyfriend and puts their relationship at risk.

Familiar friends from the first book are here, but we see less of them as Charley takes on more of a solo approach this time that gets her into plenty of trouble. There are enough twists and turns and potentially guilty people to keep the reader unsure of who the perpetrator might be right up to the end. The author does a good job of moving things along while providing an appropriate amount of description that puts us in close contact with the smells, sights, and sounds of the formerly elegant but now decrepit old house and all the secrets it holds. Charley, her long-suffering boyfriend, and her two best friends are likeable characters who keep things fun and interesting, and Book Two in the Oakwood Mystery Series does not disappoint.

Grandma gives The Antique House Murders five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in the post-release blog tour.

The Book Club Murders

The Bookclub Murders

The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel

This cozy mystery is an engrossing read with lots of action and an interesting premise. Someone is killing women in a small Ohio town, and each murder mimics a scene from a different murder mystery on the reading list of a local book club, the Agathas. The Agathas are mostly high society matrons, but also include Charley, the young owner of a vintage clothing store, and her best girlfriend, Frankie. When Charley realizes the pattern that the killer is using, she brings her observations to the police detective, Marc, for whom she has mixed feelings of interest and dislike. They have shared history and a mutual case of distrust, but force themselves to work together to solve the mystery and, of course, fall in love.

Sleuthing out the identity of the killer is the best part of the book. The characters themselves are pretty standard – the feisty redheaded protagonist who won’t take no for an answer, the hunky but moody detective who finds himself falling for the feisty redhead even though he doesn’t want to, the ever-faithful perky BFF who refuses to be left out of the action, and the other popular character in women’s fiction today – the gorgeous, sexy,  completely cool but alas, unavailable, gay guy best friend with the irreverent sense of humor.

This book is the first in a series called The Oakwood Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see how Charley finds herself involved in solving the next mystery, and I will look forward to reading the next installment.

Bella gives The Book Club Murders four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in a post-release blog tour.

Check out today’s GUEST POST from AUTHOR LESLIE NAGEL.

Your Fortress of Solitude: Five Steps to a Power Desk

Guest Post by author Leslie Nagel, The Book Club Murders

So you’ve managed to carve out some precious writing time from your busy schedule. Fantastic. You’re now ready to tackle the next major hurdle: work space. The first logical question that presents itself is: Do I need a dedicated space for my writing? The short answer is simple.

YES. YOU DO.

There are two reasons why. The first connects logically to our earlier discussions. You are busy. For that reason, you don’t have time to set up all your junk every time you get a free moment. If you have to pack up your notes, your laptop, your favorite mouse pad and so on, and then unpack it all and arrange it before you can get anything done, odds are you’ll never get to the good stuff. The goal is to reduce or eliminate all the wheel-spinning so you can focus on writing.

The second reason has more to do with head space than geography. We’ve all read studies that show students do better on tests if they sit in the same seat they learned in. Research has proved that the territorial instinct supersedes most others, even the urge to reproduce or eat. Many animals will literally wither away while defending their lair or nest. Heavy psychology aside, if you’re going to build an imaginary world of any complexity, you’ve got to be able to come back to the same physical place, your place, day after day. Doing so reduces distractions from fresh sensory input and makes it easier for you to return to that imaginary world and concentrate on what happens next.

If you don’t have the luxury of converting an extra bedroom, den or finished basement into an office with a door, all is not lost. But that doesn’t mean you can settle for balancing your workspace on top of a filing cabinet. At a minimum, you’re going to need a desk sized surface. It can be a kitchen counter, but you’ve got to insist on at least four linear feet—six is better—that you claim as your own, that you can set up and keep set up, and that NO ONE ELSE MESSES WITH. If you are truly serious about having a writing life, then this is an absolute must.

Properly organizing your work space is essential. A quick Google search of how to do so only produced about twelve hundred hits. I read every single one, condensed all that knowledge, and it is my pleasure to present Leslie’s 5 Steps To A Power Desk:

  1. Keep it to the bare essentials. For a modern writer, the list is actually pretty short. Here is what I have on my desk right this moment:
    1. Laptop
    2. Mouse pad and mouse
    3. Lined legal pad
    4. Coffee
    5. Pad of sticky notes and stack of lined note cards
    6. Three “on deck” stickies: one with a brief plot fix, two with dialog ideas
    7. Cup with pens/pencils
    8. Desk lamp
    9. Cell phone (muted and upside down so I don’t see those flashing push notifications)
    10. ONE framed family photo
    11. Stapler (I also teach school off this desk)
    12. Dish of paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Anything you don’t actually use in the writing process belongs someplace else. If you start allowing soccer schedules and grocery lists to creep in, you’ll be distracting yourself with tasks that belong outside your writing time. TIME AND SPACE. Defend them vigorously. All my school related things go into hanging files while I’m writing. I can pull out 2 files, do the school thing, then refile and rehang in about 5 minutes. School time is school time, and I don’t let it eat into to my writing time. That took practice, but as I’ve said, disciplined focus on your writing is a habit worth cultivating.
  3. Include vertical space. Can you claim a wall near your desktop? You’re going to need it for outlining, and for those start up task reminders. I have a white board that I use for laying out plot points or sticking my endless stickies. (The three on my desk? I’ll be tackling them first thing, so I moved them right next to my laptop.)At the moment I’m also sketching a map that will appear in my next book. The plot hinges on local geography, and the only way to keep myself oriented was to draw a picture. You gain so much more work space when you go vertical.
  4. Annex a shelf. Reference books, extra paper, office supplies you don’t have room for, all of it needs to be out of sight so it stays out of mind during writing time. This could actually be in a different room, so long as it doesn’t infringe on your desk space.
  5. Purchase a trash can. This often overlooked item can be invaluable, provided you actually use it. Once you’ve completed a task, such as modifying a character name and then spell checking it from start to finish, THROW THAT NOTE AWAY. I am an inveterate list maker. Nothing makes me happier than crossing things off my list. The secret is to circular file those old lists the moment you draw a line through the last item. Scary, but liberating, I promise you. If you honestly think you might need that five page story outline from three revisions ago, create a folder and shelve it (See #4).

And that’s it. Once you’ve ordered your environment, you will free your mind for bigger things. Now off you go. I’ve got three sticky notes screaming for my attention. Can’t wait to throw them away.

leslie-nagel-author-photo-2

 

Leslie Nagel is the author of The Book Club Murders, the first novel in the Oakwood Mystery series. She lives in the real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where she teaches writing at a local community college. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

 

 

The Bookclub Murders

In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.
  
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.

Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.

Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | ibook

For Bella’s review of the The Book Club Murders go here.

Death by Diploma

death by diploma

Death by Diploma by Kelley Kaye (Mystery)

This book is a murder mystery with a light-hearted approach, which I learned is called a “cozy mystery.” Although there is some description of the murder scenes (slight spoiler there), the story dwells more on the two women teachers who decide to solve the murders and bring the murderer to justice.

The teachers, Emma and Leslie, are quirky characters who are pretty intense sometimes. I’ve never known a teacher as off-the-wall as Leslie, which is probably a good thing. But I have known the coach types and others described in the book. Leslie quotes Shakespeare for everything and makes wisecracks all the time. Her over-the-top energy made her seem superficial to me, like she couldn’t just be real, and sometimes I got tired of her.

The story is told from Emma’s point of view, which makes her more appealing, plus she’s more normal. There’s a little romance, but mostly it’s about the sleuthing done by the teachers, mostly after-hours, and how they finally solve the mystery. This is the first in a series called “Chalkboard Outlines,” so we know this duo will be back. It’s an easy read, and if you like light-hearted murder mysteries (which seems like an oxymoron to me), you’ll probably enjoy this.

Bella gives Death by Diploma four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from Red Adept Publishing in return for an honest review.

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