Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book Review: Rum Luck by Ryan Aldred

Title: Rum Luck (A Bar on a Beach Mystery #1)
Author: Ryan Aldred
Genres: Mystery| Cozy
Print length: 258 pages
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Publication date: June 22, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author website:

Sand. Monkeys. Murder. 
Ben Cooper was supposed to be on his Pacific honeymoon. Not waking up in a Costa Rican prison cell with no memory of the night before. 
Then again, Ben never thought he would catch his fiancĂ©e with some clown — literally. Or that his friend Miguel would drag him to the surf paradise of Tamarindo before Aunt Mildred could ask why they cancelled the open bar reception. 
But surely his friend and lawyer Victoria didn’t need to fly down from Toronto overnight. After all, the police would let him go once he sobered up and paid his fine. Right?
Except for the little matter of a murder. And Ben’s buying a beachside bar from the victim, hours before the man’s death.
With foreclosure looming and death threats piling up on the rum-soaked bar, they must turn to the wild idea that got them into this mess—building a business around those who’ve always wanted to run their own bar on a beach somewhere, even for just a week. 
But to survive, they’ll need every skill at their disposal—including those they’d rather forget they have. Goodreads
The plot: After catching his fiancee cheating on him with a clown (literally. This scene is both hilarious and sad), Ben Cooper calls off the wedding and crashes on his best buddy Miguel's couch. After wallowing for a bit, they decide to use the non-refundable tickets to go to Costa Rica, Ben's planned honeymoon destination, to help take Ben's mind off his problems and get as far away from his ex-fiancee as possible.

However, he runs away from one problem and straight into another. One drunken night is enough to land Ben in jail, with a possible murder charge hanging over his head, and his joint account with his ex-fiancee wiped clean. From what Victoria, his friend and lawyer extraordinaire, managed to piece together, Ben bought a ramshackle beachside bar mere hours before the owner, Antonio, was brutally beaten to death.

With Ben as a murder suspect and serious debt accrued with this bar purchase, it's going to take everything that Ben, Miguel, and Victoria have to keep Ben out of jail and this bar afloat. Oh, and there's also the serious matter of the death threats they keep getting...

The character(s): Ben is your typical everyman, just a regular Canadian dude with a predilection for rum and a magnet that seems to pull trouble his way.

Miguel is originally from Colombia, where he served some time in the army and learned a certain set of skills that he prefers to keep hidden from Ben.

Victoria rounds out the trio. All three of them were friends in university, but Victoria went her separate way after graduation, getting swept up in the busy life of lawyering (that's a word, right?) at her father's prestigious firm. She starts off as the stereotypical ice queen, but we see her begin to thaw as she works hard to keep Ben out of trouble.

The mystery: The ending didn't come as a huge surprise, but there were still plenty of twists and turns along the way, and there was enough happening to keep the story interesting all the way through.

Final bite: This book is the perfect beach read. It's light and fun and very funny, but there is some depth and great writing there as well. Definitely recommended.

Best enjoyed while lying out in the sun, with a pitcher of sangria or an ice-cold rum punch nearby. Consume tequila at your own risk.

Rating: 4.25/5 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Recipe for Fun Friday #3 - Soft Chewy Milk Chocolate Cookies by Joanne Fluke

I know I should probably be posting some sort of fancy cocktail after reading Rum Luck, but I've been too busy preparing for this conference to do much mixing. I decided instead to share a recipe that my students and co-workers love, from Joanne Fluke's Wedding Cake Murder.

I have a weird relationship with the Hannah Swensen series. I started off reading it with my mom so we'd have something to chat about, and I actually liked them in the beginning. But over time, I stopped enjoying them, but kept reading them. The weirdest thing about it is that I always buy the books when I spot one at Half Price Books (I refuse to pay full price for them), but really, what I want are the recipes. 

The recipes provided usually aren't great on their own; they need some tinkering to get it up to its full potential, otherwise, it's Bland City. But they are great templates and I love that they make huge batches. Since I bake every week for my students and co-workers, a dozen cookies doesn't cut it. I tend to bake a MINIMUM of 3 dozen cookies at a time, or a large sheet cake/bar cookie if I'm feeling lazy and don't want to deal with scooping out so many cookies.

I'll provide the recipe as it's written in the book, with my improvisations noted at the end.

Hannah Swensen's Soft Chewy Milk Chocolate Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, rack in the middle position

1 and 1/4 cups white (granulated) sugar
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1/2 cup golden raisins
4 cups quick cooking oats
3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Place the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. (You can also mix these by hand, but it's easier and quicker with a mixer)

Pour the softened butter on top of the sugar.

Mix the sugar and the butter until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Mix in the eggs and beat until it is well incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.

Sprinkle in he baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix them in until they're incorporated.

Add the cinnamon cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and coffee. Mix well.

Add the golden raisins. mix them in thoroughly. 

Mix in the molasses and the light Karo syrup. Beat until everything is combined.

Add the oats. Mix thoroughly.

Add the flour in half-cup increments, mixing after each addition.

Take the bowl out of the mixer, give it a final stir by hand, scrape down the sides to make sure that none of the yummy cookie batter sticks to the sides, and stir in the milk chocolate chips by hand.

Set the bowl aside on the counter while you prepare your cookie sheets.

Spray your cookie sheets with Pam or another nonstick cooking spray, or line them with parchment paper.

Drop your cookies by heaping large spoonful onto your prepared cookie sheets, no more than 9 large cookies to a standard-size sheet.

Bake your cookies at 350 degrees F, for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are springy on top when touched lightly and quickly with a fingertip.

Let your cookies sit on the cookie sheets for at least 2 minutes.

Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets with a metal spatula (if you used parchment paper, just pull the whole sheet off) to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen large soft cookies that everyone will enjoy. 
(Mia's note: I actually have a beef with just about all of the yield sizes in the Hannah Swensen recipes. The recipe will say something outrageous like yields 7 dozen and it'll barely yield 4 or 5 dozen. How small are they making their cookies?)

Mia's changes: If I don't have molasses, I replace the white sugar with brown sugar, well-packed in the measuring cup. If you have a sweet tooth (despite all these ingredients, these cookies are only lightly sweetened), add an extra quarter cup of sugar. 

I usually don't have cardamom, so I just up the quantities of cinnamon. I also rarely carry golden raisins, but regular raisins work just fine. If you or whoever your baking for doesn't care for raisins, just replace it with another cup of chocolate chips. Extra chocolate is always better, in my book. 

Speaking of chocolate, I always use semi-sweet chips instead of milk chocolate, but that's just a personal preference. And finally, if you want to make these cookies extra special, use golden syrup instead of the Karo syrup. It's much harder to find, but places like Mariano's and World Market (or Amazon!) tend to carry it. It has so much more flavor than plain corn syrup.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts #4 - Rum Luck by Ryan Aldred

                                                   Hosted @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Food and books are the two greatest loves of my life, so it's only natural that I participate in Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts every week. This is where I will post food and/or drink quotes from the book(s) I am currently reading.

This week's selection is from Rum Luck, the first book in the Bar on the Beach Mystery series by Ryan Aldred (review coming soon). In this scene, Ben's best friend, Miguel, just got back from a devastating hit-and-run, after poking his nose into the murder of the previous bar owner, Antonio.

With Miguel out of commission, he'd have to get behind the bar himself tonight. First things first, though. He grabbed one of the new bottles and a couple of glasses from the bar, took them over to Miguel, and poured a healthy measure into each glass. 
Miguel roused himself and picked up his tumbler of Patron. "Have I gone to heaven?" he said with an attempt at a smile. "Or have you? You always said we'd share a glass of tequila over your dead body." 
"I'm starting to regret my choice of words," Ben said.
And this scene technically doesn't have much in the way of food or drink in it, but it's such a good passage and it introduces us to Ben and the beginning of his troubles.

Ben Cooper had had his share of hangovers over the years, but this one deserved to be immortalized in poetry. Where lesser ones faded with time, this one was still returning on a winged tequila worm to take him to Hangover Valhalla. Unfortunately, his other senses were now coming into focus, including his sense of smell. His cell reeked of hot sweat, stale beer, and bitter disappointment.

So what is your liquor of choice? And what was the worst hangover you've ever had? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls Vol.1 by Brian K. Vaughn

Title: Paper Girls Vol.1
Creator(s): Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang (illustrator), Matthew Wilson (illustrator)
Genres: Graphic novel| Supernatural| Science Fiction| Mystery (sort of)
Print length: 144 pages
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication date: April 5, 2016
Source: Purchased
Format: Trade paperback

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.
Collects Paper Girls #1-5. Goodreads
The plot: Hoo boy, the plot. Let me take a stab at it.

It's the late 1980s. 12-year-old Erin is the newest newspaper delivery girl in town. On the morning of her first delivery, which happens to be the day after Halloween, she gets hassled by a group of teenage boys and is saved by the appearance of the other Paper Girls, MacKenzie, Tiffany, and KJ. They explain to newbie Erin that it's best to stick together on their routes since all kinds of craziness can happen at 4 AM (seriously, who let kids have a job that required them to be out and about at 4 AM?)

They split into groups of two, and Erin is paired with Mac, the rough-and-tumble leader. They soon get a call on their walkie-talkie from the other girls, saying they were attacked and robbed by some freaks in crappy ghost costumes. They reconvene and go on the hunt for their friend's stolen property, but they are NOT prepared for all that awaits them on their journey.

I would dearly love to explain more, but that would entail massive spoilers. Let's just say that things jump up a notch and get really crazy, really fast.

The character(s): MacKenzie (Mac), the leader, was the original paper girl and is brash, foul-mouthed, and tough. She's also a total homophobe, and she is first introduced to us hurling a homophobic slur at the teenage boy accosting Erin. So uncomfortable. 

Brian K. Vaughn has talked about this moment in interviews, stating, 
"One of the girls in the first issue uses a particularly hateful, homophobic slur. A lot of readers found that horrifying, rightfully so. It is something that I look back on, with my own childhood, with horror. The ubiquity of how casually kids used that word and unthinkingly. And how sort of rapidly it feels like it's changed for the better. Even though these kids are protagonists, they're who we're following. I didn't want to sugarcoat them and make them all contemporary, 21st century kids, because they're definitely not." Interview
I had to remind myself that this is a period piece, and unfortunately, that kind of casual hate speech was very much a part of the times. Another character calls her out for it, which is commendable, but does nothing to ease that tension.

Erin is the newbie, and has had some very unsettling dreams as of late. She also tries to be the voice of reason, but it's tough when the world is basically ending. 

Tiffany and KJ round out the group, but there hasn't been enough characterization for me to say much. It's still pretty early in the series, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of time to flesh them out. 

Erin and Tiffany (who seem to be Asian and Hispanic, respectively) talk about being in Catholic school, and KJ (who Tiffany jokingly refers to as a heathen, since she's Jewish), goes to a private academy. Mac seems to be the typical white-trash kid, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks with her dad and alcoholic stepmom.

The art: I first learned of Cliff Chiang during his run on the New 52 Wonder Woman series and I love his art style. The art and the coloring in Paper Girls is gorgeous. Even when everything on the page was chaos and confusion, my eyes were still drawn to the lovely art.

Final bite: I had such high expectations for this series but, to be honest, I have no idea how to feel about it. It started off great, then went from 0 to Coo-Coo Bananas in 60 seconds. I really, really wanted to love it, but the best I can say is that it has lots of potential and gorgeous art. I plan on picking up the second volume in the hopes that things will become clearer (and also because it ends on quite an interesting cliffhanger), but it is not high on my TBR list.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros #4 - Rum Luck and Paper Girls

Hosted by Diane @ Bibliophile by the Sea

Every Tuesday, I share the first paragraph(s) of what I am currently reading or will read soon.

First up is a book from my NetGalley shelf:

Rum Luck (A Bar on the Beach Mystery #1); Ryan Aldred
Five Star Publishing - 2016

The hot, humid air wrapped around Victoria Holmes the moment the driver opened her door. She stretched her legs, rose from the chauffeured car, and absently plucked one of her long auburn hairs from her skirt. She wished, not for the first time, that she'd had time to unearth a summer-weight suit before catching the flight late last night. Her driver returned to his seat and cut the engine, spilling silence onto the sleepy side street.

She glanced down the road toward the center of Tamarindo, where the rolling verdant hillside gave way to beach houses and brightly colored hotels, their yards punctuated by massive trees. Across the street, rusted corrugated roofs gave way to towering resorts and half-finished condominiums, framed by the glittering Pacific. Dense foliage hummed, chirped, and chittered. Life atop of life, atop of life.

I've always wanted to visit Costa Rica, and the location descriptions in this book make it seem even more beautiful and magical (despite the brutal murder).

Random thought: Why do the women in these books always have natural red/auburn hair, as if it's super common? This has to be the 3rd or 4th cozy I've read where the heroine is a quirky and/or strong redhead.

My second read is a graphic novel:

 Paper Girls Vol.1; Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang (illustrator), Matthew Wilson (illustrator)
Image Comics - 2016

Here is the first page, so you can get an idea of the beautiful art and coloring (and really trippy story):


Either of these titles catch your interest? What are you reading?

Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #3

This weekend was full of the three F's: Friends, Family, and Food. SO MUCH FOOD. Saturday, I had a Korean cookout with my best friends, who I rarely get to see since our schedules are crazy and I now live in the suburbs. I spent over three years teaching English in South Korea and really, really miss the food, so my friends and I decided to chip in and cook up a Korean feast. It was so delicious and nostalgic, despite the scary weather ^^

Samgyeopsal (Korean pork belly) and thin-sliced pork

Lettuce, thin-sliced garlic, ssamjang (spicy bean paste dip), seasoned veggies, kimchi, rice, sesame oil, and pork (not pictured: bulgogi)

Getting ready to make my wrap!
Last week was my dad's 58th birthday and next week is my parents' 31st wedding anniversary, so the family decided to get together and celebrate on Sunday. Our go-to celebration spot is Royal Buffet, an Asian buffet and hibachi grill located in Hoffman Estates, a suburb of Chicago. This place has the BEST bang for your buck, and I always end up eating til I hate myself. So worth it.

Mom, Dad, Me, Middle brother, Baby brother, Cousin

This coming week is another crazy one; I've got a short week at work because I'll be attending the Northwestern University Summer Writers' Conference from Thursday - Saturday and I'm sooo excited for it. It came highly recommended as one of the best writing conferences/workshops around, but it's really expensive. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship early this year, when I entered a writing contest with the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). I guess my writing has promise, after all ^^

Hosted @ The Book Date

It's Monday! What Are YOU Reading? is a weekly meme where I get to chat about the books that I was/am/will be reading.

What I Read Last Week:

Reviewed here
Reviewed here
I didn't read as much this week, but I managed to write three reviews, so that's good enough for me. Loved A Dark and Stormy Murder; Throw Away Girls, I could take it or leave it

What I Am Currently Reading:

Solstice Review Summer 2016 is a collection of short stories from local writers set in "the unrelenting heat of summer". Amazon

Rum Luck is one of my NetGalley picks, and the first in the Bar on a Beach Mystery series.

Described as "Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds," Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story slash paranormal mystery series. 

What's Up Next:

Nemesis is the July/August pick for the Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group on Goodreads.

I just picked up Brighton at the book's launch party last week, and it's already gotten some amazing reviews, including an expletive-filled (in a good way) cover blurb by Stephen King.

Death at the Day Lily Cafe is one of my NetGalley picks.

Which reads are you most looking forward to? ^^

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley

Title: A Dark and Stormy Murder (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery #1)
Author: Julia Buckley
Genres: Mystery| Cozy| Female sleuth
Print length: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkeley
Publication date: July 5th, 2016
Source: Purchased
Format: Paperback
Author's website:

An aspiring suspense novelist lands in the middle of a real crime, in the first in a captivating new series by the author of the Undercover Dish Mysteries. Lena London's literary dreams are coming true—as long as she can avoid any real-life villains... Camilla Graham’s bestselling suspense novels inspired Lena London to become a writer, so when she lands a job as Camilla’s new assistant, she can’t believe her luck. Not only will she help her idol craft an enchanting new mystery, she’ll get to live rent-free in Camilla’s gorgeous Victorian home in the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana. But Lena’s fortune soon changes for the worse. First, she lands in the center of small town gossip for befriending the local recluse. Then, she stumbles across one thing that a Camilla Graham novel is never without—a dead body, found on her new boss’s lakefront property. Now Lena must take a page out of one of Camilla’s books to hunt down clues in a real crime that seems to be connected to the novelist’s mysterious estate—before the killer writes them both out of the story for good... Goodreads
The plot: Lena London lands the job of a lifetime when her literary idol, Camilla Graham (a fictional romantic suspense writer styled after Mary Stewart), agrees to take her on as an assistant and invites her to live in her "Gothic monstrosity" of a home in the quaint, little town of Blue Lake, Indiana.

As Lena adjusts to small town life and the characters that reside there, Camilla and Lena quickly slip into their roles of mentor and apprentice as they collaborate on Camilla's latest mystery novel. They soon become embroiled in a real-life murder mystery, when Lena finds the body of Martin Jonas on Camilla's beachfront property.

With zero suspects in custody, and the knowledge that this quiet little town isn't all that it seems, Lena sets out to find out who murdered Martin. She has a sneaking suspicion that the crime is tied to Camilla Graham's house and the secrets hidden within...

The character(s): Lena London is a bookish beauty who absolutely idolizes Camilla Graham. The bits where she fangirls over Camilla feel so real and familiar to anyone who truly loves book. Pretty sure if Neil Gaiman took me on as his apprentice, I'd have to lock myself in a closet and scream uncontrollably for an hour before I calmed down enough to take him up on his offer.

Overall, I really enjoyed her character, though there is one part in the book where I felt she overreacted in a way that was extremely out of character and completely took me out of the book for that moment. Other than that, I greatly enjoyed the characters.

Lena's growing relationship with Camilla is pretty heartwarming, and I envy Lena that chance. I'd love to have a successful author take me under their wing and declare themselves my mentor. Camilla herself is great, and you get the sense of real depth within her character.

There's a minor love triangle (of course) between the handsome and helpful Detective Doug Heller and the brooding, mysterious Sam West, who Lena is fast becoming attached to, despite everyone's insistence that he's trouble.

The mystery: For me, the mystery about Martin Jonas's death was very well done. There were the appropriate amount of twists and turns, suspects, and red herrings. The reveal was fantastic and I can honestly say that I figured out the case at the exact moment that Lena did.

The mystery of Sam West, however...

When they mention his troubles in the beginning, I found it interesting and hoped to find out more about his wife's disappearance and what his role in it was. However, the rate that it accelerated near the end, and the giant leap in logic that Camilla takes, along with the fact that this mystery is clearly going to continue into the next book, makes me less enthusiastic about this aspect of the book. 

Final bite: I loved it! While it's no means perfect, the premise is wonderfully original, it has a great cast of characters, a likeable heroine, and an interesting locale. This is a great start to (what I hope will be) an excellent new series for me to follow. Along with her Undercover Dish series (the first book reviewed here), Julia Buckley is fast becoming the cozy author to watch. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.25/5 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review: Throw Away Girls by Jennifer Vaughn

Title: Throw Away Girls (The Jaycee Wilder Series #1)
Author: Jennifer Vaughn
Genres: Mystery| Thriller| Amateur sleuth| Adult Fiction
Print length: 343 pages
Publisher: Waldorf Publishing
Publication date: July 15, 2016
Source: NetGalley (provided by publisher for honest review)
Format: E-book
Author website

Hard-charging and ambitious, LA TV reporter Jaycee Wilder is hungry for the big story. When dead girls begin to pile up at seedy nightclubs that cater to fetish-seeking strangers, Jaycee suspects a serial killer is at work. She aligns herself with a former east coast cop trying to resurrect himself--and his once stellar career--from a drunken skid. The killer hunts the Throw Away Girls at night, punishing them for their dark urges. He leaves messages behind in his victims' blood, his explanation for enacting such brutal, twisted justice upon the unworthy. As Jaycee follows her gut, and the evidence, she forces him to act. But when a killer is clever and cunning, he can infiltrate anywhere. Jaycee must use all her skills to expose him before he gets to her first. Goodreads
The plot:  L.A.'s underground sex clubs have become the playground for a sadistic serial killer who targets those he dubs "Throw Away Girls," painting this condemnation on the wall with his victim's blood.

Rising star investigative reporter, Jaycee Wilder, gets involved when she's tapped to report on the third victim, Zoe Statler; beloved teacher/girlfriend/daughter/sister by day, raging sex kitten at night. What starts as a desire to do her job and bring justice to these girls who have been dubbed "throw aways," not just by the killer but by society due to their sexual proclivities, soon spirals into an obsession to catch the killer before he strikes again.

The character(s): Jaycee Wilder started out as a strong, ambitious, self-made woman that I quite admired. However, she treats her loving boyfriend like crap and her family backstory is just kind of dropped in there. Also, her downward spiral as she gets sucked into her investigation makes her very irrational and a bit whiny. Besides that, for someone who's working so hard to get justice for these women because "they're people," she barely attempts to hide her disgust at their lifestyle. She hovers between justice and judgment throughout the story.

Detective Barton, the cop she partners with for this investigation, starts off as the stereotypical sloppy, alcoholic screw-up. And while I found the idea of the tortured, former supercop a bit much, the event that caused his downward spiral was fascinating, as was watching him clean up his life (although this seemed to happen almost instantaneously. No slow recovery for him!)

Ben is her best bud and cameraman, the other half of ABC12's dynamic duo. Their relationship and dependence on each other is fairly well-done and interesting.

The mystery: Jennifer Vaughn has written quite a page-turner, although she starts getting really heavy-handed towards the middle and makes it fairly obvious who the killer is. Honestly, when I got to that point, I still wasn't sure whether or not I liked the story, but I felt invested enough to continue.

Final bite: This book had lots of potential and there are areas where I feel like it's interesting and well-done. However, as a whole, I just wasn't feeling it. Perhaps because this is supposed to be the beginning of a series, the author felt the need to shoehorn in some things and leave out others that I felt needed more explanation. In the end, I found it a bit lacking. I don't regret reading it, and it was a surprisingly fast read, so I'll say this: check it out from the library or get a cheaper e-book version. I don't think this is a full-price read.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts #3 - A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley

Food and books are the two greatest loves of my life, so it's natural that I would participate in Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts. This is where I will post food and/or drink quotes from the books I'm currently reading.

This week's entry is from A Dark and Stormy Murder, the first book in Julia Buckley's A Writer's Apprentice Mystery series. This is not a culinary cozy, unlike her Undercover Dish Mysteries (first book reviewed here), but in the little bit I've read, there are some tasty food references.

This scene takes place over dinner, shortly after Lena discovers a dead body on her mentor's property:

At a grand oak table in Camilla Graham's dining room, we dined on fresh spinach salad with chunks of feta cheese, chopped walnuts, and an herb vinaigrette. After that came a delicious casserole that Camilla'a chef had left for us to bake and serve, filled with chicken, fresh vegetables, and a hint of sherry. Camilla looked tired, but she proved to be a gracious conversationalist. While I polished off the last of my salad (I found that I was famished after the day's events), she asked me about Allison - how we had met, how long we had been friends.
A light, simple entry, after the smorgasbord that often took place in last week's Bruno, Chief of Police. Thursday is the Daley Plaza Farmer's Market near my job; might have to hit it up for some spinach salad for dinner!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: Murder at Fontainebleau by Amanda Carmack

I started reading this for the Save Our Cozies Readathon, but didn't finish it in time to post the review. Ordinarily, I would've just skipped the review since I have so many other things to do, but I loved this book so much, I just had to review it.

Title: Murder at Fountainebleau (Elizabethan Mysteries #5)
Author: Amanda Carmack
Genres: Historical fiction| Mystery| Female sleuth
Print length: 297 pages
Publisher: NAL
Publication date: June 7, 2016
Source: Library
Format: Paperback
Author's website:

In the latest Elizabethan mystery by the author of Murder at Whitehall, amateur sleuth Kate Haywood investigates deadly machinations unfolding behind the scenes in the magnificent French court.
1561. Queen Elizabeth’s throne is threatened as Mary Queen of Scots—pushed in every direction by opposing and powerful forces—declares herself the rightful Queen of England. To discover her rival’s next unpredictable move, Elizabeth dispatches a party of trustworthy intimates to Mary’s court at Fontainebleau. Chief among them is Kate Haywood, who finds that the glittering balls and genial banquets conceal a web of poisonous ambition that soon turns deadly.
When a beautiful and disruptively flirtatious member of the visiting party is murdered, Kate suspects that the man who stands accused has been set up to discredit Elizabeth. She vows to find the real killer, but the French court is a labyrinth unlike any she has ever navigated before—and at every turn there are more traps set to spring.

The plot: Kate Haywood is Queen Elizabeth's court musician and occasional spy. Due to Kate's position, she can go places where most women cannot. However, because she is "just a woman", she tends to be overlooked and takes advantage of this to collect gossip and sensitive information to report back to the Queen.

After King Francis, Mary's young husband, dies, Kate is sent along with a delegation to extend Queen Elizabeth's sympathies and also find out what her plans are now. Will she remarry to hold onto her power? Retire quietly in the French countryside? Return to Scotland as their queen? Attempt to overthrow Elizabeth after declaring herself the rightful Queen of England? It's Kate's job to find out.

While at court, a member of the English delegation is killed. Some wish to brush it off as a tragic accident, but Kate suspects that it's really murder. Queen Mary echoes this sentiment, accusing a member of the visiting English party of the crime, which now feels like a setup to cast aspersions on Queen Elizabeth's intentions.

The victim, a stunningly beautiful young woman, had been brushed off as a frivolous flirt, but Kate senses there was much more to her than she let on. She was previously involved in a scandal the last time she was at court, with a young man known for some questionable political ties. Could this have anything to do with the young woman's murder? Or was it the classic tale of a jealous suitor giving into a fit of passion?

As Kate delves into the background of those at court, where political intrigue is simply a game they all must play, she has to ask herself: Who can she trust? 

The character(s): Our heroine, Kate, is intelligent, talented, loyal, and discreet. Her position as court musician gives her the perfect opportunity to mingle unobtrusively while collecting information. What a wonderfully interesting character.

This is the first book in the series that I've read, so I don't know much about the love triangle being set up between Kate, Rob (the dashing head of the court acting troupe), and Anthony (the handsome, steady soon-to-be lawyer), but it's touched on very lightly. I did not feel like I was missing out at all by not reading the earlier books in the series.

The mystery: I was enjoying the world, characters, and set up so much that I didn't even realize I was over 100 pages into the book and the murder hadn't occurred yet! In fact, I almost wish I hadn't read the back cover, since it spoils who's going to be murdered. I actually would've preferred the tension and suspense of not knowing who was going to die. I was able to figure out who the murderer was, but I was still completely drawn in during the big reveal. Very satisfying.

Final bite: I loved this story so much that (literally) as soon as I finished, I went online and ordered all 5 books from my favorite independent history and mystery bookstore, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. I can't wait til they arrive so I can read the earlier installments in the series. If you like historical fiction and enjoy a good traditional mystery, definitely check this out.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros #3 - A Dark and Stormy Murder; Throw Away Girls

Hosted by Diane @ Bibliophile by the Sea
Post the first paragraph(s) of what you are currently reading or will read soon.

First up is a book that I got about a week ago and have been looking forward to.

A Dark and Stormy Murder (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery #1); Julia Buckley
Berkeley - 2016

I was immersed in The Lost Child, one of my favorite Camilla Graham novels, when an unlikely phone call changed my life.
Short, simple, and already intriguing. I can't wait to read more! Next up is a very, very different sort of story...

Throw Away Girls; Jennifer Vaughn
Waldorf Publishing - 2016

"You are heavier than you look, sweet thing," the man grunted as he hoisted the woman by the waist. Her knee caught a metal hook near the wall that held a cat o'nine tails and ripped open. She groaned. Blocking out a stab of pain and the stark shock of having this enjoyable encounter rapidly degrade into a nightmare, Zoe Statler switched to survival mode.

I haven't started A Dark and Stormy Murder yet, but I'm about nine chapters into Throw Away Girls and it is a heck of a page-turner.  

Which one seems more interesting to you? 

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #2 + Summer 2016 Comment Challenge

This was another crazy weekend. I participated in the Save Our Cozies Readathon, met with my mystery book club, and went to my childhood best friend's bridal shower. For an introvert like me, all this enforced socializing has left me exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. Not looking forward to work tomorrow.

First things first, the Save Our Cozies Readathon was so much fun! I'm new to the blogging community, so it was nice to participate in something that made me feel like I was part of the group. It's crazy how fast an hour can pass, as I struggled to keep up with the hourly challenges. I greatly enjoyed it, and would sign up again in a heartbeat. I not only found lots of awesome blogs to visit, but I read three different books that I'd had my eye on, but never got around to reading. I also won one of the challenges, so I'm eagerly awaiting a copy of Terror in Taffeta ^^

Hosted @ The Book Date

It's Monday! What Are You Reading is a chance for me to talk about what I was/am/will be reading.

What I Read Last Week:

First up, I did a LOT of reading last week. For the Save Our Cozies Readathon, I read Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna (reviewed here), Death with All the Trimmings (reviewed here), and Murder at Fountainebleau (expect a review soon).

I liked Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna, but ultimately found it disappointing. I might have had my standards too high, but I found the plot rather convoluted. I might check out more in the series, but it's not on my priority list. Death with All the Trimmings was a fun, easy read and I definitely plan on checking out more in this series. The last book I read for the Readathon was hands-down my favorite. Even though I had never read any of the other books in the Elizabethan Mystery series, I was immersed from the very first page. I literally ordered all 5 books in the series as soon as I was finished, I loved it so much. Highly recommended.
1) Pretty good, 2) Good, 3) EXCELLENT

Bruno, Chief of Police was my mystery discussion group's July selection. I really, really enjoyed this book. It started off a bit slow for me, but I was soon immersed in the intricacies of food, life, politics, and murder taking place in the fictional town of St. Denis. The food descriptions were so good, that I whipped up on omelette based on one of the passages in the book (recipe here)

The Teaberry Strangler is, I believe, the 10th volume in the Tea Shop Mystery series. Another great edition, though I suspect I enjoy the world and the characters much more than I do the mystery-solving.

What I Am Currently Reading:

I got A Dark and Stormy Murder at the author's book signing and discussion and have just been waiting for the craziness of last week to finish before reading it.Throw Away Girls was downloaded from Netgalley (why did it take me so long to find you?!), and it seems like an interesting departure from the many cozies I've been reading. Expect reviews on both in the coming weeks.

What's Up Next:

I am a huge fan of graphic novels, and spent a ton of money on Saturday picking up the latest trades. Paper Girls has been sitting on my shelf, but it's definitely going to be read soon, not only because it's gotten great reviews but because it's also a mystery. So expect me to talk about it in the coming weeks.

Lastly, I will be participating in the August/Summer 2016 Comment Challenge, hosted by 
Lonna @ FLYLeF and Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense.

Since I'm a new blogger, I figured this would be a great way to meet other people in the blogging community, make some friends, and discover new blogs. I'm new to this, so I'm only signing up for 5-10 comments. I can't wait to meet my blog partner! 

You can also follow along on Twitter by using the hashtag #commentchallenge2016