Wednesday, August 31, 2016

End of the Month Ramblings

How is it already the end of August? I swear the summer had just started and it's already ending. I'm outside on a cafe patio during my lunch break, wearing pants. PANTS. In August. I even have a scarf wrapped around me because the breeze is too much for my tank top. Where's the beautiful warm weather? Will I have to go back to wearing shoes again soon? Why are pants the worst? These deepest of thoughts I contemplate, as I sip an iced latte and watch the comings and goings of downtown Chicago.

August has probably been the least writerly, but most social month I've had in a long time. There's been birthdays, goodbye celebrations, author events, work events, a mini high school reunion, a wedding...

A networking/alumni event for my boyfriend's alma mater

All dressed up for Jasmine's wedding

Gorgeous location in the heart of downtown Chicago

Close friends since 2nd grade - Me and the beautiful bride

Panel of mystery/crime writers with recent releases; All members of MWA Midwest

Best friends from high school

This month, I've barely managed a smattering of blog posts, which is pretty sad, considering the point of this blog is to force myself to write a little every day. Or at least, every day I'm not working on my manuscript. 

My manuscript is moving along at a snail's pace. It took me this entire month to write ONE chapter, and it's a really shitty chapter too. One of the things I struggle with most, regarding my writing, is the idea of the shitty first draft. You're supposed to bang out your first draft quickly; don't spend too much time worrying about it, just get some words on the page and you can fix any problems with your later edits. The main point is that you can't edit a blank page. It's so much easier to work from something than nothing.

Logically, I know that. I've done it before and it works really, really well. But it's sooo hard for me to not re-read and fuss and edit as I go along. For some reason, the idea of a shitty draft sitting around on my computer terrifies me, which is dumb. Like, what do I think is going to happen? I'm going to die suddenly and all I leave behind are these crappy drafts? As if my loved ones are gonna stand around reading them and judging me, as my ghostly form hovers in the background moaning "Nooo...I didn't have time to edit..."

In happier news, I decided to splurge and register for BoucherCon, the world's largest mystery convention. It takes place in a different city each year, and this year it's gonna be in New Orleans. I've always wanted to go to New Orleans, so this seemed like the perfect time to go. I'm still not sure what excites me more: all the food I'm going to be eating (my friend is going to have to roll me home after I eat my weight in seafood and beignets) or all the workshops and panels that are available to me. I've already signed up for a special workshop headed up by Sisters in Crime (an organization that I belong to); the keynote speaker is Walter Moseley, and there are several other guest speakers, and they'll be dealing with the topic of "Writing Our Differences - Doing Diversity Right." Diversity in media is a really important topic to me, so I have high hopes for this workshop.

This will also be a great networking opportunity, and I’m hoping I’ll do a much better job of it than I did at the Northwestern Summer Writer’s Conference. One thing working in my favor is that I’m a member of both Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America, so I actually know a few people who’ll be there. There’s also supposed to be mixer-type events for both organizations, so that should make it a bit easier for me.

So how about the rest of you? How was your August? Do you have any weird writer hang-ups? Have any of you been to New Orleans? Any and all recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros #7 - Story to Kill, A Catered Tea Party, and Salem's Cipher

Hosted by Diane @ Bibliophile by the Sea

First up is one of my NetGalley choices, a cozy that I just finished today. Review will be up sometime this week.

A Story to Kill; Lynn Cahoon
Kensington - 2016

When Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, Cat Latimer wondered if he knew he was full of crap. She stood at the turret window looking out on her backyard in Aspen Hills, Colorado. During her marriage, she'd made this circular room into her office. The wall to ceiling built-in bookshelves were now bare, waiting to be filled with the rare and not-so-rare books she'd collected during her two years as an English professor over at Covington College. She brushed her fingers over the cool window glass, not quite believing she was back. 

Next up is another NetGalley cozy. I've gotten a couple chapters in, but I'm not quite feeling it yet. Hopefully it'll pick up soon.

 A Catered Tea Party; Isis Crawford
Kensington - 2016

One hour before the play 
Ludvoc Zalinsky looked at his creation and saw that it was good. It had taken him seven months to create The Blue House instead of seven days, but then God hadn't had to contend with the Longeley Planning Commission or the unions. Zalinsky smiled as he rearranged his top hat on his head. The thing was heavier than he thought it would be, but the costumer he'd bought it from had assured him that this hat was the one that had been used in the 2008 off-off-Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland. 
Such a creep.

And in an effort to not only read and review cozies, my next pick is a suspenseful thriller.

Salem's Cipher; Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink - 2016

PROLOGUELinden Hills, Minneapolis 
Grace Odegaard inserted her key into the top dead bolt and rotated it. The lock slid free with a satisfying slick. She repeated the action with the three locks below, humming to herself, a satisfied smile anchoring her face. The date had gone well. Not great -- she could have done without the corny jokes -- but good enough. He was a high school soccer coach. The conversation had flowed easily. At the end of the night, he'd kissed her. Not too sloppy, exactly the right length of time. He'd even held her face when his lips brushed hers, just like in the movies.  
Her smile widened. 
"Out late, aren't you?"

So which of these seem the most interesting? Any that you think I should drop from my list? 

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's Monday! What Are YOU Reading? #6

Hey everyone! I feel like I'm finally back on track, with quite a few reviews under my belt and some decent work on my sloooowly growing manuscript.

Hosted @ The Book Date

A decent amount of reading and reviews this week, with plans for lots more ahead.

What I Read Last Week:

Review here
Review here
Review here

What I'm Currently Reading:

All NetGalley picks (still trying to whittle down my list)


What's Up Next:

These next two books are for the September '16 Serial Reader Challenge in the Cozy Mystery Corner Goodreads Group



Which reads and reviews are you most looking forward to?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: The Devil's Prayer by Luke Gracias

Title: The Devil's Prayer
Author: Luke Gracias
Genre(s): Thriller| Horror| Occult
Page length: 294 pages
Publisher: Australian E-Book Publisher
Publication date: February 18th, 2016 (for the e-book. The paperback should be released by the end of August)
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author's website: Goodreads Author Page

A nun commits suicide in front of thousands in Spain. In Australia, Siobhan Russo recognises that nun as her mother, Denise Russo, who disappeared six years ago.  
In search of answers, Siobhan travels to the isolated convent where her mother once lived. Here she discovers Denise’s final confession, a book that details a heinous betrayal that left her crippled and mute, and Denise’s subsequent deal with the Devil to take revenge. In the desperate bargain Denise made with the Prince of Darkness, she wagered Siobhan’s soul. 
As Siobhan discovers the fate of her soul, she learns that hidden within the pages of her mother’s confession is part of The Devil’s Prayer, an ancient text with the power to unleash apocalyptic horrors.  
And now her mother’s enemies know Siobhan has it.  
Can Siobhan escape an order of extremist monks determined to get the Prayer back? Can she save the world from its own destruction?  
Explicit Content Warning: "The Devil’s Prayer" is a historical horror thriller that contains brutality, rape, sex, drug abuse and murder. Readers may find its content offensive and confronting. Goodreads

My Review: I have such mixed emotions on this novel. It started off very strong and completely sucked me in. It was tense, it was suspenseful, it was really felt for Denise and her dilemma. In her position, you could feel her desperation and also her burning need for vengeance. And I totally supported it.

However, near the end, the story really tapered off for me. It got way too expositional, with pages and pages of religious history; after a certain point, my eyes glazed over and I found myself skimming huge sections to get back to the actual plot. 

It also suffered from "author on a soapbox" syndrome. There was one section (not a real spoiler), where Denise is reading about the havoc mankind has wreaked upon the world and how everything is terrible and the Earth will be fine but we're all screwed, and all I could think was, "We get it, Author. It's our fault that our environment is so messed up. You don't need multiple pages to hammer home that message." When I read the author's note at the end and found out that Luke Gracias was an environmental specialist, it was like, "Surprise surprise..."

Another reason I lost interest near the end was that there was no indication that this was a series. So although it ends at a perfect cut-off point to continue the series in the next book, you get all this build-up and backstory with no real climax. Siobhan, who is ostensibly our protagonist and heroine, has almost zero personality and we get none of her story, since at least 75% of the book is told through Denise's diary. 

Final bite: The Devil's Prayer has a brilliant beginning, but it doesn't quite deliver at the end. Here's hoping that the next book in the series will meet it's extremely high potential.

Rating: 3.8/5

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: The Book of Beloved by Carolyn Haines

Title: The Book of Beloved (Pluto's Snitch #1)
Author: Carolyn Haines
Genres: Mystery| Historical fiction| Fantasy| Paranormal
Print length: 332 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication date: August 9, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author's website:

As a young woman widowed by World War I, Raissa James is no stranger to ghosts. But when an invitation arrives from Caoin House, her uncle’s estate in Mobile, Alabama, she’s finally ready to cast off the shadows of her past. And what better way to do so than with a grand party in her honor? An aspiring authoress, Raissa’s eager to soak up more of life—and immerse herself in the dark history that haunts the estate. 
But the revelries come to an abrupt end when one of her uncle’s guests takes a deadly plunge. And when a ghost from the property’s past, a Confederate soldier, reveals himself to Raissa, she’s more determined than ever to get to the heart of the mysterious deaths that plague Caoin House. Enlisting the help of Reginald Proctor, a self-proclaimed medium, she holds a séance to shed light on old secrets. But she discovers that some secrets, even those long dead, still have a startling hold on the living…Goodreads
My Review: Historical fiction and (obviously) mysteries are two of my favorite genres, so when you combine the two and do it well, I am on board. There's just something about the genteel South and Victorian-era England that really draws me in. Probably something to do with the various social strata and all the machinations needed to survive during that time, especially as a woman. 

I enjoyed the fact that Raissa, our protagonist, wasn't particularly  beholden to the ideals of a woman's place, although there were times I wondered if she wasn't a little too forward-thinking for her time. As much as I agreed with her values, it occasionally felt like a modern writer imposing their ideals on a very different time. 

What makes this story particularly interesting is the ghost aspect. It added just the right amount of spookiness and suspense to keep me turning the pages. While I figured out who the killer was fairly early on, the various mysteries contained within this story took so many twists and turns that I was very happy with the ending.

Highly recommended.

Rating:  4.75/5

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mini Book Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Title: The Crepes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1)
Author: Sarah Fox
Genres: Mystery| Cozy
Print length: 240 pages
Publisher: Alibi
Publication date: August 16, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author website:

In the debut of a delightful cozy mystery series, Sarah Fox introduces a charming new heroine who finds herself in a sticky situation: stacking pancakes, pouring coffee, and investigating murder. 
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff. 
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble. Goodreads

My Review: A very fun and easy read. I love the setting, particularly the Flip Side Pancake House, and there's a decent cast of characters. I'm not particularly enamored of either of Marley's potential love interests, but I'm very happy to see a protagonist that doesn't make the usual "Too Stupid To Live" mistakes that you see way too often (I'm looking at you, Hannah Swensen). I also enjoyed that she had some difficult, real-life decisions to make.

The story is definitely flawed, with a few things that don't quite add up, but it's a strong enough first book that I'd like to read more.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thirsty Thursdays and Hungry Hearts #6 - The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Hosted by Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts is a weekly meme where I share super tasty quotes from my weekly reads.

This week's selection is from The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox. 

Marley McKinney is having a hell of a week. Soon after her cousin Jimmy, owner of The Flip Side Pancake House, is murdered, she arrives at the pancake house to get some work done and is interrupted by a late-night intruder. She escapes to a nearby friend's home and returns with the police. Her intruder was obviously looking for something, as the office is completely trashed when they check the premises.

She now has the tiresome and emotionally exhausting task of sorting through the office debris. But to get through this, she needs a good meal...

I perked up a bit after sipping strong tea while getting ready to open The Flip Side for its Sunday morning customers, but the tangled mystery occupying my mind didn’t release its grip on my thoughts. When the brunch crowd thinned out, I escaped to the office and resumed the task of cleaning up the mess of papers the intruder had left behind. 
Although I made good progress with sorting through the jumble and returning piles of documents to the filing cabinet, I still didn’t find any clues pointing to the reason for the search of the office. After more than an hour of working away in the back room, Leigh appeared at the open door, bearing a plate of asparagus mushroom crêpes. 
“Ivan sent these along with orders to eat up,” she said as she set the plate on the desk. “He thinks you look like you need some good fuel today.” 
“He said that?” I sank into the desk chair and the delicious aroma of the savory crêpes wafted up to meet my nose. 
“Actually, all he said was ‘make sure she eats them,’ but I’ve learned to read between his sparse lines over the years.” 
“Eating them won’t be a problem.” I’d already picked up the knife and fork Leigh had brought with the plate. “How are things out there? Do you need my help?” 
“Business is steady but not too busy at the moment. I can take care of it.” 
“Thanks, Leigh,” I said as she left the office. 
As she disappeared around the corner, I took my first bite of the asparagus mushroom crêpes and savored it before chewing and swallowing. Ivan really did have a gift. His dishes were never anything but scrumptious, and somehow he’d known exactly what I needed. By the time I’d cleaned the plate, I’d gained some much-needed energy. After delivering my plate and cutlery to the kitchen and thanking Ivan for the delicious meal, I donned my apron and joined Leigh out front.
I love crepes. I love mushrooms. And asparagus is my favorite vegetable. I think I know what I'm making for lunch on Sunday...

Do you guys prefer sweet or savory crepes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mini Book Review: All-Butter ShortDead (Oxford Tearoom Mysteries 0.5) by H.Y. Hanna

Title: All-Butter ShortDead (Oxford Tearoom Mystery 0.5)
Author: H.Y. Hanna
Genres: Mystery| Cozy
Print length: 200 pages
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Publication date: August 1, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author website:

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream... Only problem is--murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village - not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she's to have her cake--and serve it too. 
This PREQUEL to the OXFORD TEAROOM MYSTERIES includes BONUS CHAPTERS FROM "A SCONE TO DIE FOR" (BOOK 1). It is slightly shorter than the rest of the series - which are all full length novels - and can be read as a standalone, before or after any other book in the series. Goodreads
To force myself to write more (without adding additional time and effort to my schedule), I've decided to post the occasional mini review. I won't be going in-depth into the plot and characters, but I will give my general opinion and a rating. 

My Review: This book was a perfectly short and sweet introduction to the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries. I haven't read any of the other books in the series, something I'm hoping to remedy immediately. Although the mystery involves Gemma making some incredible leaps in logic, I was still satisfied with the ending. The setting is charming, the characters and premise are very fun, and I love the Old Biddies Brigade. Can't wait to read more of their adventures.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Monday! What are YOU Reading? #5

Hey everyone, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry for disappearing for like, two weeks, but I still haven't found the right balance between work/writing/social life just yet. 

Hosted @ The Book Date

I may not have been doing a lot of writing, but I've been doing a WHOLE lotta reading. This Monday meme is where I talk about what I have/am/will be reading this week.

What I Read Last Week:

Review later this week
Loved it! Review later this week

What I Am Currently Reading:
Trying to complete my group reads and whittle down my NetGalley list.
August 2016 Group Read for Women of Mystery
Review later this week
Review next week
What's Up Next:
All upcoming NetGalley picks


What are you reading? Which of these reads appeals to you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros #6 - Behind Closed Doors, Terror in Taffeta, Book of Beloved

How's everyone's summer going? Mine has been pretty crazy so far. Unlike most teachers, since I work in the education/tourism industry, summer is peak season, so I haven't been able to slow down and relax at all. Throw in weddings and wedding-related activities, birthdays, festivals, author events, etc., and you can imagine how exhausted I've been lately.

Unfortunately, that's definitely affected my writing. I started this blog after I got sick of staring at my manuscript and needed a break, but wanted a way to write every day, even if just a short blog post. Somehow even that has become a bit of a chore, as all I want to do when I get home is lie on the couch with a cup of tea, a book, and an episode of The Great British Baking Show in the background.

I'm trying to get out of my funk, since I really want to finish the first draft of my novel by November, but it's proving to be a bit of a challenge. What do you guys do when you get in a writing funk?

In better news, I got two packages yesterday: one was a book I won in a Goodreads giveaway and the other was the cutest tea infuser ever. Nessie will definitely brighten up my reading time ^^

Seriously, how cute is that?

Cup of tea, zucchini bread, and a suspenseful read

Hosted by Diane @ Bibliophile by the Sea

Every Tuesday, I share the opening paragraph(s) of my reads for the week.

First up is the book I won on Goodreads, and also the August read for the Women of Mystery group.

Behind Closed Doors; B.A. Paris
MIRA - 2016

The champagne bottle knocks against the marble counter, making me jump. I glance at Jack, hoping he won't have noticed how nervous I am. He catches me looking at him and smiles. 
"Perfect," he says softly.
Ooh, so simple and yet it already hints at so much.

Next up is my NetGalley pick for the week:

 The Book of Beloved; Carolyn Haines
Thomas & Mercer; 2016

In Savannah, George, two things could be counted on without question - the heat of summer and Alfred the mail carrier's regular arrival six days a week. I had come to anticipate his knock at four each afternoon, as regular as the milkman and the daily newspaper delivery. I looked forward to Alfred's arrival, not because I carried on a great correspondence with anyone, but because I needed regularity, routine. Death had taught me the power and stabilizing influence of routine. Alfred's arrival meant the world continued in an ordered fashion.
Hmm, a bit of a slower start, but there's potential.

Lastly, a book that I won during the Save Our Cozies Readathon:

 Terror in Taffeta; Marla Cooper
Minotaur Books - 2016

The sea-foam green bridesmaids' dresses had been a mistake. Not for the obvious reason - that seafoam-green bridesmaids' dresses are almost always a mistake - but because they added a sickly tinge to Nicole Abernathy's three very hungover bridesmaids.  
I'd warned them not to overindulge the night before the wedding, begged them to have their bachelorette party back home instead of waiting util they got to San Miguel de Allende, but no one listens to the wedding planner when it's time to start drinking.
Always gotta throw a cozy in the mix, and for once, not a culinary cozy. I won this one in the Save Our Cozies Readathon, so here's hoping I can give it a positive review. 

What books are you most looking forward to? And don't forget, give me your tips on how to break out of the writing blahs!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel

Title: Death at the Day Lily Cafe (Rosalie Hart #2)
Author: Wendy Sand Eckel
Genres: Mystery | Cozy | Female sleuth
Print length: 288 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: July 26, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Format: e-galley
Author's website:

Rosalie Hart has finally opened the café of her dreams. Decked out with ochre-tinted walls and stuffed with delicious organic fare, the Day Lily Café is everything Rosalie could have hoped for. But not five minutes into the grand opening, Doris Bird, a dear and trusted friend, cashes in on a favor--to help clear her little sister Lori of a first degree murder charge.
With the help of her best friend and head waiter Glenn, Rosalie is on the case. But it's not going to be easy. Unlikable and provocative, murder victim Carl James Fiddler seems to have insulted nearly everyone in town, and the suspect list grows daily. And when Rosalie's daughter Annie gets caught in the crossfire, the search for the killer becomes personal in this charming cozy perfect for fans of Diane Mott Davidson and Joanne Fluke.  Goodreads
The plot: Book two in the Rosalie Hart series starts with Rosalie opening up her dream cafe in the small town of Cardigan. She prides herself on serving delicious meals prepared with organic produce, the majority of which is sourced from the family farm she inherited.

The Day Lily Cafe has barely opened its doors when Doris Bird bustles in, exclaiming that her sister Lori has been accused of murdering her husband. With a grand total of one murder investigation under her belt, it seems that Rosalie is the go-to choice in proving Lori's innocence.

Throw in an asshole sheriff who is determined to pin the murder on Lori, a bad boy cook that Rosalie's daughter is smitten with, and a mess of missing money, and you've got a small taste of the obstacles in Rosalie's way.

The characters: I didn't read the first book in the series, so these are all new characters to me.

Rosalie Hart is a divorcee, with a daughter she loves more than anything and dreams of running her own cafe. She's a great cook and can make a heck of a cup of coffee. 

Her head waiter and right-hand man is Glenn, a 70+ year old man, who accompanies her on various wacky adventures. It was hard not to draw comparisons between Rosalie and Glenn's relationship with Theodosia and Drayton's relationship in Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries.

Tyler Wells helps her run the farm and is obviously her love interest (she draws comparisons between Tyler and her father. Hmm).

Custer is Tyler's nephew, Rosalie's daughter Annie's love interest, The Day Lily Cafe's chef, and overall man of mystery.

The mystery: The mystery started off pretty intriguing, but about 2/3 of the way through, they make it very obvious who the killer is and drag it on for a bit.
The reveal scene (while a practical set-up in real life), was so low stakes and low tension that when Rosalie finally gets the killer to confess and is then taken away, all I could think was, "Well...that was easy. Wrapped up all nice and neat, I guess."

Final bite: It's a decently written story, with some interesting characters and delicious food descriptions, but ultimately forgettable. It took me a while to write this review because it was hard to muster up enough enthusiasm (whether positive or negative) to even attempt to dissect the story. It was a decent read, but it didn't draw me in enough to await the next addition in the series. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thirsty Thursdays and Hungry Hearts #5 - Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel

Hosted by Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts is a weekly meme where I share food and/or drink quotes that are too delicious or, well, "interesting" not to share.

This week's post is from Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel. The protagonist, Rosalie Hart, prides herself on serving delicious, organic, locally sourced food, and this book is full of delicious options.

Sunday's lunch special was based on a meal I'd prepared for one of our suspects last year while searching for Megan Johnston's killer: grilled cheese and a creamy tomato bisque soup with a small chopped salad on the side. But this was no ordinary grilled cheese. The bread was sliced over an inch thick and was based on Aunt Charlotte's recipe, full of whole grains and seeds. The melted aged cheddar was topped with lettuce, red onion, and fresh tomato, the bread slathered with pesto mayonnaise. 

Can you guess what I'm having for lunch tomorrow? Good thing the Farmer's Market comes downtown on Thursdays! Expect a review and recipe from Death at the Day Lily Cafe sometime tomorrow ^^