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Month: February 2017

The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Fiction Picks: books for, by and about expats and other global creatives in 2016

The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Fiction Picks: books for, by and about expats and other global creatives in 2016

I’m honored beyond belief to see my second novel, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, included in The Displaced Nation’s yearly roundup of recommended books for, by, and about expats and other global creatives!

Read their list of 36 top fiction picks for 2016 and find a new title or two to read:

Top 60 books for, by & about expats and other global creatives in 2016 (1/2)

Posted by on February 25, 2017

“Are bookworms like earth worms: do they come to the surface during the spring rains? In which case, the Displaced Nation’s timing—we publish our yearly roundup of recommended books for, by, and about expats and other global creatives in late February and early March—may not be as eccentric as all that. And at least we’re not competing with lots of other “best of 2016” lists that came out in December!

Without further ado, we’re calling on all of you displaced bookworms to come out and start feasting! This year there are 60 books on our list, a first. Hopefully it means you’ll find a title or two that you missed. Or perhaps you’ll see books whose titles sound familiar—especially if you subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch—but of which you forgot to make a note.

Part One, published today, presents 36 works of fiction, both novels and story collections, indie as well as traditionally published works. Part Two will add 24 works of nonfiction, bringing the total to 60. As in years past, the books appear in reverse chronological order.”

Top 60 books for, by & about expats and other global creatives in 2016 (1/2)

MTW: Review of Fast Track to Glory and TalkingLocationWith Tomasz Chrusciel

MTW: Review of Fast Track to Glory and TalkingLocationWith Tomasz Chrusciel

I choose to review this book for Mystery Thriller Week because I love travel fiction, art mysteries and thrillers. This is quite possibly the perfect combination of all three! Read my review of this brilliant novel and an article by the author, Tomasz Chrusciel, about the use of setting in fiction.

 

Fast Track to Glory by Tomasz Chrusciel

Fast Track to Glory by Tomasz Chrusciel is an exceptional around the world quest for knowledge. Technically, this brilliant novel is a thriller, though not quite like any other I’ve read.

The story begins in Germany, before taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of Italy, Austria and India. Nina Monte, an Italian professor teaching at the History of Religions and the Ancient Worlds department in Padua, believes she’s been asked by the Italian Ministry of Culture to verify the authenticity of a relic recovered from a fifteenth-century shipwreck in Lake Garda. She’s consulted on antiquities cases before and has no reason to be suspicious of the request. She arrives at the Heidelburg Castle in Germany to examine this mysterious object, only to discover it has not yet been excavated from the maritime shipwreck. She’s sent to Italy to meet up with a member of the team responsible for recovering the artefact. When her contact person tries to kidnap then kill her, she realizes she’s been lured into a trap. But why?

The readers – alongside Nina – have to figure out why someone is prepared to murder and steal in order to obtain this relic, as well as discover the truth behind its alleged hidden powers. I’m going to have to stop describing the specific details of the story now for fear of spoiling any of the many plots twists in this book, which are what make it such an excellent and captivating read.

In the beginning of the novel, the villain seems to want the relic in order to achieve a higher spiritual power. During train, plane and automobile rides, the two main characters – Nina and Allessandro, a young hotelier from Malcesine and Nina’s unintentional partner on this journey – often discuss the implications of deciphering this relic’s supposed powers, within the context of spirituality, philosophy and religion.

I’m not a ‘new age’ type and the first few chapters, in which characters discuss the various interpretations of the relics true powers, had me concerned that this was going to get too spiritual for my tastes. I’m glad to say the author doesn’t overdo it. Rather, he uses the relic as a way of sharing various points of view and leaves it up to the reader to decide what to think, instead of shoving his perspective down your throat. Funny enough, the most popular highlighted passage in this book, according to my Kindle copy, is: “Every person wants to live in peace and abundance. What is different is the meaning of those things to each of us.”

Besides, the villain’s real reason for starting this quest is so smart and surprising down-to-earth, when it was finally revealed, I gained even more respect for the author.

Tomasz Chrusciel is a quite adept at misleading the reader. From the first page onwards, nothing is as it seems. In some books, this constant misdirection can be irritating. Yet in Fast Track to Glory, this technique works well, adding tension to the story and helping to keep the reader continually engaged with the plotline.

In contrast to most art history conspiracy novels, there are no long codes to decipher, a complex puzzle to solve or a lost language to learn; it’s more of a race to obtain the relic and then decipher it. Both the good and bad guys know who can read it; they just have to find that person.

It’s also unlike most thrillers and art conspiracy novels I’ve read, in that the spiritual quest and physical journey are almost more important to the story than the race to decode the artefact.

And what a quest it is. The author’s descriptions of architecture, people, manner of dress, landscapes, and even train stations, transport the reader to a series of beautiful and interesting locations. Once you get through with this book, you’ll be longing to pack your bags and visit the destinations the author so loving describes.

The many cities the characters visit are described in much more detail than your typical thriller or action-oriented novel, without slowing down the story or turning into a travelogue. These are tight and well-written, using all five senses to make each place come to life. You get the strong sense the author has spent time in all of the places he describes; his eye for detail is incredible.

Now onto our around the world journey. The story starts out at Heidelberg Castle before moving to Milan, Italy. There he paints a clear picture of the main square and the Duomo di Milano (the cathedral in Milan) in particular; the white and pink marble exterior, snap-happy tourists, religious iconography and stained glass windows.

Next stop is the gorgeous Northern Italian town of Malcesine on Lake Garda. In addition to describing the lovely villages that dot the wide lake, the author also provides an interesting account of a character’s dives among ship wrecks.

Then we are off to Innsbruck, Austria via train, where the white peaks of the Alps dominate the skyline. Old Town and its gothic and baroque facades, Court Church, the tombs of Emperor Maximilian I, cuckoo clocks, homemade liquors, and even the smells of the strudels are recounted.

Last stop, India, where the characters are immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle of Jaipur. The suburban metropolis is awash with overfull buses, slow-going lorries, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorists, mobile snack bars, scooters, and pedestrians, all fighting for space on the narrow roadways the main characters travel on to reach their destination, the location of the person who can decipher the object.

As I already mentioned, the author uses the context of a religious relic to take the reader on a search for enlightenment, and the story aptly ends in Varanasi, India on the Ganges River during a festival of light. You can feel the water lapping at your feet, hear thousands of chanting worshippers and smell the burning incense mixed with body odor wafting through the air.

This is my favorite kind of novel, one that takes me on a mental journey and travel adventure simultaneously. It’s also a real page turner, for as much to see how the story develops as the desire to know where the author will take us next.

This smart, well-written and highly enjoyable story will entertain lovers of thrillers, art conspiracy novels, and travel fiction alike. I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Over to Tomasz for TripFiction’s #TalkingLocationWith.… feature

How wonderful the world in which we live is, and the best part about it is travelling. When I’m away, I’m always on the lookout for fascinating historical settings and events that can later be weaved into a new thrilling story. This was exactly what happened in Malcesine, Italy, when I was visiting the local castle. An exhibition about the history of Lake Garda and the region around it showed the backbreaking venture of transporting one-hundred-ton galleys over the Alps and then the battle on the lake in 1439. This is how my latest novel, “Fast Track to Glory”, was born.

I must admit, since that journey, Lake Garda has been one of my favourite places in Europe, perhaps even in the entire world. Especially Monte Baldo, a two-thousand-metre-high mountain overlooking the lake. It has a magnificent view of the mighty Alps. Being there was for me a peaceful and spiritual experience. Later, I just had to set one of the scenes in the book there. Without question, there could be no better place for a tranquil, concluding scene.

There’s no doubt that a captivating setting in novels is a crucial factor to the success of a story, regardless of whether it’s travel fiction, romance or horror. For me, the easiest way to create the world I put my characters into are exactly my own travels – it’s so natural to write about familiar places, and it makes my work more enjoyable. When I write, it’s like being in those beautiful towns or mountains again, and also looking at them through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it’s challenging to put aside my own experience when, for example, although I loved a city or a temple, my protagonist didn’t seem to notice all those amazing details I admired. Or the other way around; on very few occasions when I’m not particularly amazed by the place I visit, one of my characters would still love it.

The more people in a book differ from each other, the more their stories benefit. They create a kaleidoscope of entirely different points of view, like pictures of the same square taken from various angles.

I will always find it truly fascinating to move around the world in search of new story ideas. I believe there’s an infinite number of them waiting to be explored, especially for authors in the historical thriller genre.

A skillful writer can use setting to convey every possible feeling and to put readers in every possible frame of mind. It’s like music in a movie. It sets the mood instantly, and you know where you are. When reading about a gloomy, windy night and a house in a gruesome forest, you will cuddle up with your pillow and check if all the doors and windows are locked. When reading about a glorious sunrise, about someone being born amidst the cacophony of birds tweeting, you know it’s the beginning of an incredible adventure, and you will pour yourself a glass of wine, let your body relax, and forget about the whole world around you.

A reader who sees magnificent buildings through the pages of a novel, who smells exquisite dishes in a restaurant, or whose stomach grumbles when reading about phenomenal street food; who hears clatters in a street market or the sound of a raindrop falling on a car window; and who feels the heat in their gut because a great secret has just been revealed, that reader is a genuinely happy reader. Then the writer knows that the setting in their book does exactly what it should do – it pulls everyone into the world of fiction and makes it real.

Thank you so much to Tomasz for sharing his thoughts on travel and writing….

You can follow Tomasz on TwitterFacebook and connect via his website. Buy his book here.

 

This review and Talking Location article was first featured on TripFiction’s blog.

If you love to travel by book, you need to check out their fabulous selection of titles, categorized by country. Connect with the TripFiction Team via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction) and now YouTube.

 

MTW: Review of Skeletons in the Attic and interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

MTW: Review of Skeletons in the Attic and interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m pleased to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk to my blog, author of Skeletons in the Attic and The Hanged Man’s Noose. I chose to read Skeletons as a reviewer for Mystery Thriller Week after noticing one of my Goodreads groups was considering it for a group read. The description piqued my interest. I was a bit skeptical about the paranormal aspects to the plot, but requested it anyway. Man, am I glad I did! It is easily a 5 star mystery, and one I highly recommend. Read my review, then take a moment to get to know Judy better in my interview with her.

 

My review of Skeletons in the Attic

Skeletons in the Attic is an excellent mystery. The interesting and well-constructed lead character Callie Barnstable is easy to sympathize with and relate to. The story is suspenseful with enough false herrings and hidden clues to keep you guessing all the way to the end.

The first few chapters of the novel lead me to believe the story would have a strong supernatural element, something I’m not usually that keen on. Luckily for me, Callie is just as skeptical as I am and that contrast – a haunted house story with a doubtful lead character – worked well and I found it refreshing.

At the beginning of the novel, Callie’s father dies in a tragic work-related accident at a construction site. When his will is read, his only child is shocked to learn that he’d left her a house in a suburb close by, one which she didn’t know he owned and has no memory of.

In fact, she had lived there until she was six-years-old, before her father moved them to nearby Toronto after her mother disappeared without a trace. And that leads to the caveat in the will; her father requires her to live there for one year and investigate claims by previous tenants that the house is haunted by her mother’s ghost. If she declines, she loses the house to a psychic – already on retainer – who is prepared to live there until the ghost is ‘released’. Certain this psychic is a scam artist who duped her father into adding the caveat, Callie accepts the challenge and moves in.

Callie’s investigation into her mother’s past and the supposed haunting is done in a realistic way without getting to new agey. There are no séances or palm reading, though tarot cards do play a role. The author is adept at leaving clues in plain sight, which only after you finish the book, do you realize how important those tiny tidbits of information were!

The large cast of side characters – Callie’s neighbors, romantic interest, suspects and informants – are all well-developed and helps introduce different moments of tension or effectively move suspicion from one person to the next. The end was a bit of a shock and I’ll admit I didn’t see it coming.

I enjoyed reading this story and felt engaged with the characters and story line. When I wasn’t reading it, I found myself wondering what would happen next. That is always a good sign!

I highly recommend this book to amateur sleuth buffs and mystery aficionados alike.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Introducing author Judy Penz Sheluk

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

I left the corporate world in 2003 to pursue a career in freelance writing. Since then, I’ve written articles for dozens of North American publications, and I’ve also edited some magazines. I’m currently the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine. In December 2011, I decided to start a novel. The result was The Hanged Man’s Noose, which was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. The protagonist is a freelance writer/editor and her sidekick owns an antiques shop. There’s a housing element in the book, too. Write what you know!

I’ve also had some short stories published, mysteries in anthologies, a couple of self-published collections. You can find them all on my Amazon author page. I love short stories but find them incredible challenging to write.

 

Where do you do your best writing?

I can’t begin to imagine writing in a coffee shop, though I know people do. I have an office in our house. The walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s Philipsburg Blue, and I have my book covers “Plaque-it” as wall art. I write listening to talk radio, which I find I can tune out easier than music. Maybe it’s all those years of working in a noisy office environment.

I also enjoy writing at our lakeside property on Lake Superior. It’s a different process, in that I write a lot of longhand – old-fashioned pen and paper— while sitting on our dock. But it’s very liberating and the only background noise is the waves on the rocks.

 

What are you passionate about, aside from writing?

Golf, but since I live in Canada, it’s a six month season at best. I also love walking by dog, Gibbs, a Golden Retriever who will be about 15 months old when this posts. He is my fourth Golden. I also love to run, though these days, I’m more about the 3 miler than the marathon.

 

You’ve written several series. Why did you decide to create multiple protagonists, instead of sticking with one?

Actually, only two series so far, though I have an idea percolating for a third one, and I’ve written a few short stories. The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (The Hanged Man’s Noose) and the Marketville Mysteries (Skeletons in the Attic) are the series. When I was shopping for a publisher for Noose, I couldn’t bear to write a sequel to a story I hadn’t sold, so I started Skeletons. They are very different books, but I believe my voice as an author is evident in both. At least I hope so.

 

Do you recognize yourself in any of your characters?

There is a part of me in every character, some more than others, but the characters are not me, if that makes sense. For example, Emily Garland in Noose is a bacon-eating vegetarian (guilty as charged), Arabella Carpenter in Noose loves shortbread (ditto), and Callie Barnstable in Skeletons is addicted to cocoa butter lip balm (yup, me too).

 

Do you read books by other authors when working on a first draft, or do you prefer not to?

I’m a voracious reader and mysteries are my go-to genre. Reading is the best teacher, whether you enjoy the book, or not. If I put a book down, I’ll think, “What made me stop reading it?” and if I can’t put it down I’ll think, “Why can’t I put this down?” I read for enjoyment, but I also read like a writer.

 

What are you working on now?

A short story. The very stubborn sequel to Noose. The sequel to Skeletons. Notes for a novella. I’ve got a lot of stories in my head!

 

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Australia/New Zealand, because my mom always wanted to go there, and didn’t. Because it’s on the other side of the world and for that reason it seems fascinating. But I’d also like to see Alaska, the Yukon, the east coast of Canada…actually all of Canada. It’s unlikely to happen, though, unless there’s a writer’s conference I think I should attend. At the end of the day, there’s no place like home.

 

About the Author

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery (#1), was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016 by Imajin Books.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime. The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang, and Live Free or Tri.

In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer; her articles have appeared regularly in dozens of U.S. and Canadian consumer and trade publications. She is currently the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine, and the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime – Guppies, Sisters in Crime – Toronto, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, the South Simcoe Arts Council, and the Short Fiction Mystery Society.

To find out more about Judy Penz Sheluk and her books, visit http://www.judypenzsheluk.com.

Mystery Thriller Week update

Mystery Thriller Week update

Mystery Thriller Week has turned out to be the most productive, collaborative event I’ve ever participated in! Many thanks to Vicki Goodwin, Benjamin Thomas and Sherrie Marshall Spitz for organizing such an amazing event!

I’m so glad you invited me to participate this year and can’t wait for 2018. If you are an author or blogger who is interested in participating next year, you can sign up on their website now.

 

Reviews of The Lover’s Portrait and Down and Out in Kathmandu

Many thanks to Joanne Van Leerdam for posting this incredible 5 star review of The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery on her blog The Book Squirrel. I am honored, delighted and a bit teary-eyed.
“It may sound contrived or mundane to say that a book is a “page-turner” and that one “couldn’t put it down”, but it really is true of ‘The Lover’s Portrait’. Set in Amsterdam, it’s a well-designed, fabulous historical puzzle, solved decades later by someone who has no intention of becoming a detective; rather, it is through her dogged commitment to the truth that she uncovers the answers. The author has woven together a number of compelling plot lines to construct her own work of art.”

Read the full review here.

Jennifer S Alderson blog

Many thanks to Robyn of The Blithering Bibliomaniacs for reviewing both of my novels: The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery and Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking!

The Lover’s Portrait – 4 stars
I love the detail of her review and in particular the ending: “the actual story is just fantastic. It’s beautiful, and sad, and maddening and just… everything.”

Read the full review here.

Down and Out in Kathmandu – 3 stars
Robyn’s the first reviewer to remark on the (intended) humor in the story!
“While it could have been a little quicker in pace, I really enjoyed it. It shows just how easily one can succumb to temptation, and also that every dog does indeed get his day. Adventure, diamonds, travel and culture abound and while I may not have seen eye to eye with her, I look forward to meeting Zelda again on her next adventure.”

Read the full review here.

 

Fellow Mystery Thriller Week author Ritter Ames also reviewed The Lover’s Portrait! She gave it 5 stars, writing: ‘Such a treat to get immersed into not only a terrific art-themed mystery, but to be able to virtually look over the shoulders of characters charged with the responsibility of returning art to families who lost masterpieces in WWII. Great detail and engaging characters. Will be reading more by this author.”

Read the full review here.

 

Events

I’ve participated in two live Facebook events for Mystery Thriller Week so far.

The first was a fun and rather silly evening involving lots of travel stories. You can check the transcript here.

The second was an insightful and interesting Q&A on the wonderful Facebook group Books and Everything. It was a pleasure to answer all of these in-depth questions by interested readers. Read the full transcript here.

On the last day of MTW, February 22 from 3-4 p.m. EST I’ll be hosting a third live event! During this one I’ll be releasing a free ARC version of my new travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler, based on my real experiences in Nepal and Thailand, the same trip that served as the basis for Down and Out in Kathmandu.

I’ll also be revealing the winner of the Name a Character Mega Giveaway! I’ve gotten 29 wonderful entries so far and am going to have one heck of time choosing!

Bookmark the event link now so you don’t miss the fun!

 

Featured Articles and Interviews

I’m so pleased to see my article about the Restitution of Artwork Stolen by the Nazis on Mystery Thriller Week‘s website!

The restitution of looted artwork is an extraordinarily complex process, even when the rightful owner has the proper paperwork. This article is based on research I conducted when writing The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery.

Read the article here.

 

 

Suzanne Adair also shared my article about archival research I’d conducted while writing The Lover’s Portrait, as part of her Relevant History feature on her blog.
“Why shouldn’t authors of historicals settle for that first, superficial information they find during research? My blog guest this week, historical fiction author Jennifer S. Alderson, relates how digging deeper in her research about Nazi art theft revealed a unique plot gem for her novel.”

Read the article here.

As Suzanne explains, ‘Relevant History: For many, high school history was boring and extraneous. In this feature on my blog, guests show just how non-boring, non-extraneous history is to people in the 21st century.’

 

I’m also honored to see The Lover’s Portrait featured on D.E. Haggerty‘s Spotlight on her wonderful blog! Read the post here.

 

I’m so grateful to Darcia Helle for interviewed me for her feature The Writing Life on her blog Quiet Fury Books. It turned out to be a fun and interesting interview! Read it here.

 

 

Catherine Dilts also invited me to participate in her Mystery Thriller Week feature ‘The Mysteries of Indy Publishing’. I’m thrilled with how it turned out; thank you, Catherine! Read it here.

 

Jackie Boyster of fallinlovewiththesoundofwords blog also invited me to participate in an author interview. It ended up being a fun, travel-related session, thanks Jackie! Read it here.

I also see she’s 40% through The Lover’s Portrait. I can’t wait to read her review!

 

Name a Character Mega Contest

And last but not least, my Name a Character Mega Contest ends February 21!
Don’t miss your chance to win this great prize package or 1 of 20 eBooks!

Enter now via my blog, Facebook, or Goodreads!

[Tip: you can also enter the eBook competition by commenting with the name of a country you’d like to visit.]

Jennifer S. Alderson blog mega giveaway

 

Super Sale!

For the first time ever, Books 1 and 2 of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series are on sale for 99 cents!

Don’t miss your chance to pick up The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery​ and Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking​ now for a ridiculously low price!

If you love art, history and mysteries, The Lover’s Portrait is right up your alley:

American art history student Zelda Richardson discovers clues to the whereabouts of a cache of missing masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, hidden away in 1942 by a homosexual art dealer who’d rather die than turn his collection over to his Nazi blackmailer.

Pick up your copy today on AmazonKoboiBooksBarnes & NobleSmashwords and other fine retailers.

 

If you love travel fiction, thrillers and a bit of mystery, you won’t want to miss Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking!

An idealistic backpacker volunteering as an English teacher in Nepal finds herself entangled with an international gang of smugglers whose Thai leader believes she’s stolen their diamonds.

Pick up your copy today on AmazonKoboBarnes and NobleiBooksSmashwords and other fine retailers.

Sale ends March 1! 

 

Happy Reading (and Writing) everyone!

MTW: Review of When the Devil’s Idle and interview with Leta Serafim

MTW: Review of When the Devil’s Idle and interview with Leta Serafim

Today, I welcome Mystery Thriller Week author Leta Serafim to my blog. I enjoyed learning more about her past as a ‘stringer’ for the Boston Globe and her time living in Greece. I choose to review her book because of the Greek setting; her descriptions of the country, culture and peoples did not disappoint.

 

When the Devil’s Idle

When the Devil’s Idle is a dark detective novel centered around Yannis Patronas, an esteemed Greek policeman. An elderly German tourist is found dead in his rented gardens, a Swastika carved into his forehead. When the local police force asks for help, Patronas is sent to the small village of Chora on the Greek island of Patmos to lead the investigation. His investigation quickly turns into an investigation into Greece’s World War Two past and many of the atrocities the Nazis perpetrated during the occupation.

I didn’t realize until I’d started it that this is the second book in a series of three. There are occasional references to Patronas’ previous name-making case, yet it easily reads as a stand-alone.

I wanted to review this book for Mystery Thriller Week because I was interested in learning more about the history of Greece during World War Two. It did not disappoint. The story is steeped in Greek history, the political climate, resistance movements, impact on local citizens and disturbing examples of the Nazis’ sadistic abuse of power. The author had clearly spent much time and effort studying this era and her extensive research adds depth to the story and characters.

I read a lot of travel fiction because I love to learn about other countries and cultures. This book’s strength is its detailed descriptions of Greece itself: the people, places, churches, politics, culture and modern history. Her affection for Greek culture shines through.

One of the struggling points I had with this novel were the often racist remarks made by Greek characters when discussing pretty much every other European nationality. Though several of the characters openly wonder why they harbor ill feelings towards citizens of other countries, they continued to make discriminatory remarks throughout the story. I wondered why the author found it necessary to include so many of these types of comments in her dialogue when they weren’t important to the storyline. As a citizen of another European country, I truly hope this doesn’t reflect the mindset of the average Greek citizen! This also made it difficult for me to connect with the characters.

The author’s attention to detail, of both historical fact and descriptions of the local landscape, make it a pleasurable read. It’d recommend this book to mystery fans interested in learning more about Greek history or the country.

3.5 out of 5 stars

 

Introducing Leta Serafim

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

My first job was writing paid obituaries at the Washington Post. I eventually talked myself into a job as a copy aide on the national desk in the news room and then from there I went onto the Washington Bureau of the LA Times, where I did research and ran the so-called ‘morgue,’ or library. It was a job I loved and the memory of working with those reporters on Watergate is a memory I will cherish until the day I die. When my husband and I returned to the United States after six years in Greece, I worked as a stringer for the Boston Globe, writing stories intermittently while raising our two daughters. I always wrote fiction, but decided to focus on it relatively late in life. I decided to start with a mystery since I love the genre. The first installment of my Greek Island Mystery series, The Devil Takes Half was the result, published in 2004.

 

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Traveling, attending world music events in Boston, walking in the conservation land near my home, playing with my grandchildren, cooking.

 

What informs your writing (own background, interests, research, etc.)?

My time in Greece was hugely influential. I had both my children there and though I am not Greek, remain deeply committed to that country. I have visited over 27 islands in the course of my marriage and return there every summer.

 

What’s your usual writing routine?

I pour myself a big cup of coffee and start pounding the keys of the computer around 11 a.m. If I’m having a good day, I work five or six hours straight. However, that said, I also play a lot of spyder solitaire and fool around on Facebook.

 

What is the inspiration behind your Greek Mysteries series?

I love Donna Leon’s mysteries which take place in Venice. Also Andreas Carvalleri’s and Michael Didbin’s which take place in Italy and Sicily respectively. I wanted to do something similar, using Greece as a setting. The juxtaposition between human cruelty and the incredible beauty of the landscape also struck me there and I wanted to write about it.

 

Why do you write in your chosen genre?

I read mysteries and thought when I started it would be easier. The plot is ready made, etc. It is not, I’ve found to my dismay. Each book requires a solution to a complicated problem—the motivation of the killer being the one I continue to struggle with.

 

What kind of research do you do before writing your novels?

Partially because of my background, I research each book thoroughly. I spent months preparing to write my historic novel, To Look on Death No More, which depicts an actual massacre of Greek civilians by Nazi forces during World War II.

 

Do you recognize yourself in any of your characters?

Yes, most probably in my world-weary detective, Yannis Patronas, who seeks to do the right thing, but often makes a mess of it in both his personal and private life.

 

Do you read books by other authors when working on a first draft, or do you prefer not to?

I tend to stay away from authors doing the same thing I am—i.e. Donna Leon—when I am writing as I tend to get intimidated by their mastery and it shuts me down.

 

Tell me more about your work-in-progress?

I am now at work on the fourth in the series, What the Wind Gathers, which takes place on the island of Spetses.

 

Who would you like to sit next to on a long flight (up to two people, living or dead)?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was a rascal, but the greatest writer who ever lived, and maybe Sister Teresa, or some other figure motivated by faith. I’d love to listen to them discuss the Grand Inquisitor and debate the hand of God in human affairs. Or perhaps a couple of funny people, maybe the Marx Brothers. The older I get, the more I value laughter.

 

Author’s Bio

Leta Serafim was a journalist at the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau before moving to Greece, where she taught art and illustrated books. Upon her return to the United States, she wrote feature stories for the Boston Globe before trying her hand at fiction. She continues to spend her summers in Greece.

 

When the Devil’s Idle

In the Book of Revelation, written by St. John on the Greek island of Patmos, it was said a pale horse would appear whose rider was death, others would cry out for vengeance, and the stars of heaven would fall to the earth. Death does indeed come to Patmos when a German tourist is found murdered in the garden of one of the island’s fabled estates. Yiannis Patronas, Chief Officer of the Chios police, is called in to investigate. He summons his top detective, Giorgos Tembelos, and his friend and amateur sleuth, Papa Michalis, to assist him. What the policemen discover will disturb them long after the conclusion of the case. Only six people were at the house at the time of the murder—the gardener and housekeeper, the victim’s son and his wife and their two children, a boy of seven and a teenage girl of sixteen. All appear to be innocent. But access to the isolated estate is severely restricted. Surrounded by high walls, it has only one entrance: a metal gate that was bolted at the time of the crime. Patronas can only conclude that one of the six is a killer. He continues to probe, uncovering the family’s many secrets. Some are very old, others more recent. All are horrifying. But which of these secrets led to murder? Book 2 of the Greek Islands Mystery series, which began with The Devil Takes Half.

 

MTW: Review of The Praying Nun and Cracking open Davey Jones’ Locker

MTW: Review of The Praying Nun and Cracking open Davey Jones’ Locker

Today I’m thrilled to share my review of the excellent novella, The Praying Nun with you and a guest blog post by author Michael Smorenburg entitled ‘Cracking open Davey Jones’ Locker’.

 

The Praying Nun

The Praying Nun is a thrilling adventure novella about two South African men’s attempts to salvage objects off of a shipwreck off the coast of Africa.

Situated at the Southern tip of Africa, Cape Town is built on a dangerous stretch of coast known as the ‘graveyard of ships’. In nearby Clifton Bay, two local men – the author and his friend Jacques – suspect they’ve found artifacts from a sunken Dutch VOC ship rumored to contain gold bullion. Well, Jacques does anyway. The government office which issued their salvage permit thinks it is a coal barge that went down in the late 1800s. The author, Michael Smorenburg, believes the objects they’ve found to be from a slave ship that went down in 1794.

This novella is split into two distinct parts. The first, the mostly autobiographical portion, recounts their efforts to recover any objects or relics from the ship – a cannon, wooden beans, and lots of conglomerate – so they can correctly identify the ship before attempting to excavate it. Conglomerate is a hardened accumulation of dirt, mud and rock that fills in and eventually encases any object left on the ocean floor. This makes it extremely difficult for divers to know exactly what they’ve found until they take the time to carefully chip the outer layer away and hope that the object doesn’t break in the process.

Jacques is only interested in the wreck if it’s the VOC ship because the gold would make the operation worth the risk and costs. But a coal freighter or slave ship wouldn’t bring any money in. Michael agrees up to a point, but is also fascinated with the possible historical value it would have, if it is indeed the slave ship. Both agree a coal freighter is not worth the risk.

Because so many ships went down in the area, it could easily be any of the three. Much hope is pinned on the recovery of a cannon that – after an extreme amount of work to remove from the wreck and get onto land – turns out to be a bust, making Jacques lean towards the coal freighter theory and begin to lose interest.

Clifton Bay, looking South. Photo courtesy of Michael Smorenburg.

The wreck site is dangerous to reach and both men have to break off several dives attempts due to changing currents and incoming storms. This is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation – the men have little money to spend and rely on the goodwill of friends and acquaintances to scrap together enough equipment to dive safely.

The dives are brilliantly described. You feel as if you are in the water, fighting off exhaustion, low oxygen levels, murky visibility and biting cold, each time you go down. Their frustrations and the challenges, as well as their determination to go on, ring true thanks to the author’s ability to bring his readers ‘into the moment’.

At the end of part one, the Smithsonian Museum has correctly identified the shipwreck as the slave ship Sao Jose Paquete Africa.

Though it may seem as if this review is full of spoilers, I don’t see it that way. The novella’s strength lies in the author’s ability to make these dives and the suspense of discovery, tangible.

The second part of the novel is a fictitious historical account of the slave ship’s last days, based on the extensive records, news reports and journals found by the author in local archives, accounts written by the Captain, crew and locals who witnessed the disaster or its aftermath.

Though somewhat disturbing to read, it does add value to the book by providing a glimpse into the horrific conditions aboard.

The Praying Nun is an excellent, real-life adventure story that adventurers, amateur archaeologists, divers, treasure hunters and adventure fiction fans will love and probably relate to. I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

 

 

Cracking open Davey Jones’ Locker

By Michael Smorenburg

There is an irresistible romance associated with sailing the oceans, with the brave adventurers who chanced their lives on wild oceans.

Adventure is, after all, at the heart of humanity’s success as a species… we are all the children of ancestors who left the cave, beat the predators and odds, and handed their adventurous genes on to us.

Body surfing, dolphin-style. Photo courtesy of Michael Smorenburg.

This intrinsic urge to travel was spurred by storytelling. Tales have always jangled our sense of awe and wonder for discovery. This seems true for every culture – it is what inspired new generations to move over the next mountain and eventually out over the horizon.

But where we sail, we eventually wreck.

Ocean storms are indifferent to our ambitions, and the craft our ancestors designed for the docile waters of the Mediterranean and European coast were tragically ill-prepared for the open oceans.

Of course, the notions of anything vaguely pleasant or exciting about ancient shipping and the wrecks that they left is entirely illusionary. The transits were brutal, discipline barbaric, crews cutthroat… being criminals or drunks pressed aboard.

Every enterprise has a budget, and until into the 18th Century, the list of expendables extended to ‘acceptable’ loss of life. The quaint notion we hold today of all crew members returning home as a management goal was unheard of.

Captains put to sea with the full expectation sanctioned by their masters that up to 30% of a company might perish en route of malnutrition, ordinary sickness and regular accident.

And then the ships… those dreadfully ill-prepared early ships.

They were, by all modern standards, horrific in design and operation.

Driven by wind, they mostly rode ahead of the weather, whatever direction it might blow.

Modern sailing ships have designs that allow them to sail across the path of the wind and even into it – but the craft of old could barely ‘go to wind’ at all.

And there was no pre-warning of onrushing storms.

Mariners knew they were in for a tempest only when the dark dread of it appeared over the horizon.

There was nobody to call to for help, no way to call, and no more able rescue craft to come to aid and brave nature’s onslaught than the ship’s own ability to ride it out.

As if nature had a malevolent bent, all too often (and due to physics and metrology) it seems that prevailing storms conspire to blow toward land, breaching ships onto deadly reefs within sight of land, but divorced from land’s safety by mountains of waves, boiling water and treacherous currents.

It is no wonder that the seas of the world were thought to be governed by their own set of gods, Neptune at their helm.

Seafarers dashed onto rocks within hailing distance of land’s safety were as unlikely to survive the violence of shallow water as they would be if pitched into open ocean out of sight of land.

And so it is that, with this much danger and probability for survival, we must consider why anyone would invest into excursions and put to sea at all.

The obvious answer is trade and cargo.

The first of the European explorers were not after glory, they needed spices to fill the demand to improve the bland diets of burgeoning European populations.

Of course, spices lost in a wreck are of no value at all to a modern treasure hunter – but the salvage of a bronze cannon old salts used to protect their haul have real worth.

That said, I know of a case—a friend—who salvaged a Portuguese ship from the late 1500’s and found pepper corns locked into the wreckage. These needed to be dredged out before more valuable treasures might be revealed below that layer.

As it happened, the pepper corns were sieved and retained, and when dried they proved to be of an excellent and enduring quality that found a market half a millennium after their intended target customer was gone to the grave.

There is of course always the prospect of gold and other treasure. Without the benefit of Letters of Credit and Internet Transfer, traders of the day had to carry chests full of shiny things to barter and pay with.

If you are lucky enough to find a ship wrecked on that juicy gold-rich leg of their journey, you may well retire in splendor.

But the ocean is a very big haystack and troves of valuables are a lot smaller than proverbial needles in that ratio of seeking and finding.

The wrong thing to do is to start looking for wrecks.

The right place to start is in archives, where the ancient records lie waiting for new eyes and keen brains to pick apart the riddles of confusion that often dog ancient record keeping.

Without GPS and only laborious methods of navigation, the last thing on a seaman’s mind during a fight for life, is to accurately mark the site of a ship’s demise. Fear skews perception, so that the proverbial “X” eventually assigned on a chart to a vessel’s final resting place might well be leagues and more misplaced.

Hunting a specific ship and its cargo becomes detective work, and as with all modern inventions, into the fray now comes new technologies unimagined by rival and failed explorers of a generation and more ago.

Side Scan Sonar used by the US Navy. Photo courtesy of ‘Commander, US 7th Fleet US Naval Forces Central Command’

First came side-scan sonar. Sonar is the radar of the aquatic world. It allows a crew to remain warm and dry inside of a cabin while peering at the bottom features of an ocean using sound and its reflection.

Computerization has allowed modeling that can pick up on nuances that in past models of the technology would have gone unnoticed by human eyes. These scans can now be imaged to fabulous resolutions of detail and differentiate materials held by the ocean’s floor, its reefs and sand. Wood, steel and other non-natural arrangements at the bottom of an ocean can stand out like a beacon with sensitive modern equipment.

And now we enter the era of the drone, when a landlubber can remain ashore and let the flying robot skim autonomously over the sea on a laborious GPS guided grid pattern, missing nothing and complaining not at all.

Latest advances will very shortly unwrap surprising mysteries – and of course… loot!

I am in contact with a group in Australia who are very close to overturning the official history of that region and its founding. What looks like a Spanish galleon from the late 1500s lies entombed there in a bay, consigning Captain Cook’s claim to history and assigning a new founder in his place to seize his crown.

Watch this space.

 

Author’s Bio

Michael Smorenburg (b. 1964) grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. An entrepreneur with a passion for marketing, in 1995 Michael moved to California where he founded a business consultancy and online media and marketing engine. In 2003 he returned to South Africa where he launched then sold a security company. He now operates a property management company and writes full time.

Michael’s greatest love is for the ocean and the environment. His passion is science, understanding the cosmos, and communicating the urgent need for reason to prevail over superstition.

His dedicated author’s website and pictures at: www.MichaelSmorenburg.com

 

The Praying Nun – A Slave Shipwreck Saga

Based on Facts – “The Praying Nun” is a 2-part novella that details the first attempts to identify an unidentified shipwreck from cannonball, cannons & artifacts found just behind the waves of one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

In 2015 the Smithsonian Institute identified that wreck as the only slave shipwreck ever found. She went down in 1794 – half of the 400 slaves chained in her holds were drowned – and the other half who were ‘saved’ were sold 2 days later on the block.

Watch this incredible video about the story of the São José Shipwreck here.

 

The Lover’s Portrait and Down and Out in Kathmandu are 99 cents until March 1

The Lover’s Portrait and Down and Out in Kathmandu are 99 cents until March 1

Super Sale! For the first time ever, Books 1 and 2 of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series are on sale for 99 cents!

Don’t miss your chance to pick up The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery​ and Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking​ now for a ridiculously low price!

If you love art, history and mysteries, The Lover’s Portrait is right up your alley:

American art history student Zelda Richardson discovers clues to the whereabouts of a cache of missing masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, hidden away in 1942 by a homosexual art dealer who’d rather die than turn his collection over to his Nazi blackmailer.

Pick up your copy today on AmazonKoboiBooksBarnes & NobleSmashwords and other fine retailers.

 

If you love travel fiction, thrillers and a bit of mystery, you won’t want to miss Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking!

An idealistic backpacker volunteering as an English teacher in Nepal finds herself entangled with an international gang of smugglers whose Thai leader believes she’s stolen their diamonds.

Pick up your copy today on AmazonKoboBarnes and NobleiBooksSmashwords and other fine retailers.

 

Sale ends March 1! Don’t miss your chance to get two great novels for less than the price of one latte!

MTW review of Choke and interview with Kaye George

MTW review of Choke and interview with Kaye George

It’s my pleasure to have author Kaye George on my blog today. Her book Choke was the first one I picked to review for Mystery Thriller Week because the excerpt cracked me up! This enjoyable cozy mystery did not disappoint. Read my 4 star review and a fun interview with this Agatha nominated short story and novel writer.

 

My review of Choke by Kaye George

Imogene Duckworthy is a feisty, twenty-two-year-old unwed mother and amateur sleuth. When her uncle is killed by frozen sausage in the office of the family restaurant, the police quickly point the finger at her mother. Though not entirely convinced of her innocence, Imogene investigates, organizes a jail break and investigates some more, doing her best to find the true culprit before her mother is sentenced for murder.

With the help from the restaurant’s staff, her love interest, a friendly cop, and her mother, Imogene deftly solves the case and finds the real killer in the nick of time.

The author’s done an excellent job a murder mystery that grows more complex with every chapter. I especially enjoyed the often silly predicaments Imogene finds herself in. The author’s style of writing is quite accessible, making it easy to get lost in the story.

Choke is a fun read about a small town filled with eccentric characters and a naïve, yet loveable, protagonist. Those who love to read cozy mysteries with gutsy amateur sleuths in the lead role will enjoy this one. 

4 out of 5 Stars

 

Introducing author Kaye George

 Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

My last job before writer was a computer programmer. I started writing full time after I gave that up. I had written short stories for a long time, sending them in to top magazines and collecting drawers full of rejection slips. When I retired and decided to get serious about writing, I started in on novels, thinking they would be easier to get published than short stories. (I know, pretty funny, right?) I kept writing short stories in the ten years it took me to get published and, from getting to know more about writing, and the writing community, I started to get those into print. Choke was the first novel I got published, but not the first one I finished, of course. There are “drawer novels.”

 

If you were packing for a long trip, which book would you take and why?

One book? I’ve never traveled with one book. In fact, that’s about the only time I use my e-reader. I load it up before I leave. If there were a brand new Harlan Coben out, I’d probably take that.

 

Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? Why?

Absolute silence. Or ball games of some sort. Living with my husband for many years has taught me how to ignore those. Some sort of sport is being played in the den right now. I imagine it’s football? Being a musician, it’s impossible for me to listen to music without participating in it, actively listening for patterns, harmonies, form, and so forth. Just as it’s almost impossible for me to read a mystery for enjoyment any more. I have to analyze them instead.

 

Where do you do your best writing?

Usually at my desk top computer in my office (aka spare bedroom). Sometimes I take my AlphaSmart with me and can crank out some words on that away from home. I prefer that to composing on my laptop because of the nicer keyboard.

 

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Reading, of course. I enjoy music, either singing or playing, or listening. I love gardening, going to writing conferences and mingling with my own kind. I also love traveling. I’m one of the few people I know of who loves to fly. There’s a feeling I get as the huge metal thing leaves the ground and starts to rise—love it every single time!

 

What informs your writing (own background, interests, research, etc.)?

All of it, I think. Everything I’ve heard or seen or read or done. It all goes into the hopper, my brain, and sloshes around in the primordial ooze, getting consolidated and reconfigured. Then out pops a plot, some characters, and, if I’m lucky, a bunch of snappy dialogue.

 

You write in several genres, why?

I write mostly mysteries, but I do write from light to dark. Some subjects, for me, call for a heavier hand, some for a lighter touch. This isn’t true of all my work, but for much of it, I’ve noticed that the shorter pieces tend to be darker, some almost noir, and my longer work is fairly sunshiny. I was a member of a group with younger writers when I lived in Austin. We first met in the bar at the Writers’ League of Texas Conference in Austin and hit it off. They wrote more toward speculative fiction and I wrote some of that with them. We put out an anthology called All Things Dark and Dastardly. I have three more short stories I consider dark fantasy that were written then and are for sale individually on Amazon. Another was developed and published in BJ Bourg’s Flash Bang Magazine.

 

Do you recognize yourself in any of your characters?

Not really, but, on the other hand, there’s some of me in all of them. After all, where else would they come from?

 

What are you working on now?

I’m trying to finish the fourth Imogene Duckworthy book, Stroke, and am also writing a first draft of a new novel, the first in a new cozy series that will come out in 2018. I’m also collecting submissions for an anthology I’m putting together called Day of the Dark. The stories will be in honor of the coming total solar eclipse in August, and will have elements of mystery or crime and some sort of eclipse theme. Wildside Press will publish it. I’ve had some terrific submissions so far. I’m pretty excited about all these projects! I just have to figure out when to eat and sleep.

To find out more about Kaye George and her books, visit http://KayeGeorge.com.

 

About the Author

Kaye George, an Agatha nominated short story and novel writer, is the author of the Imogene Duckworthy Mystery series (Agatha nomination for best first novel), EINE KLEINE MURDER by Barking Rain Press (Silver Falchion Award finalist), DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (A Neanderthal Mystery) (Agatha nominee and Silver Falchion finalist) and the Fat Cat Mystery series by Berkley Prime Crime (as Janet Cantrell), as well as A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, a collection of her previously published stories, and several stories available at Untreed Reads. Other short stories appears in various magazines and anthologies.

She reviews for “Suspense Magazine”, and writes for several newsletters and blogs. Past president of Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime.

She and her husband live in Tennessee.

Homepage: http://kayegeorge.com/

Blog: http://travelswithkaye.blogspot.com/

 

Welcome to Mystery Thriller Week!

Welcome to Mystery Thriller Week!

After blogging about it for weeks, the event to end all events (at least for Mystery and Thriller lovers) has finally begun!

‘Name the Character’ Mega Giveaway

To celebrate Mystery Thriller Week, I’ve set up a ‘Name the Character’ Mega Giveaway, giving fans a chance to name a character in my upcoming art mystery thriller The Anthropologist and win this fabulous prize package.

Jennifer S. Alderson blog mega giveaway

Enter now via my blog, Facebook, or Goodreads!

Twenty other lucky entrants will win one of my eBooks.

[Tip: you can also enter the eBook competition by commenting with the name of a country you’d like to visit.]

 

Special One Time Only Sale

To celebrate Mystery Thriller Week, I’ve set up a special, once a year sale you won’t want to miss!

Pop by my first ever LIVE Facebook event this Sunday, February 12 from 2 – 3 p.m. EST to find out how much you can save and for how long!

Or check my Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads accounts to get all the details after February 14. My books have never been, and will probably never be again, so cheap!!!

 

Featured Articles

Two articles I’ve written for fellow Mystery Thriller Week authors are now live!

Here’s a short excerpt of my post, ‘Before They Were Authors’ on Judy Penz Sheluk’s book blog.

“I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I love learning new things. As a result, my career path has taken many twists and turns along the way. Before my novels were published, I worked as a journalist and editor for regional newspapers, then as a multimedia developer for large corporations, before finally transitioning into my latest role as collection researcher and project assistant for museums. All of the jobs and experiences I’ve had have influenced my writing by inspiring and informing storylines, plot twists, and characters…”

Read the rest here.

 

Homomonument in Amsterdam, the world’s first monument erected to honor homosexual victims of the Nazi Regime.

Author and artist Rosa Fedele featured my article, ‘Why Amsterdam is the Perfect Setting for an Art Mystery’ on her fabulous blog, newsletter and portfolio website!

“Amsterdam is the perfect setting for an art-related mystery, especially one in which the looting of artwork by the Nazis during World War Two plays a central role. My second novel, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery is about an American art history student who finds clues to the whereabouts of a collection of masterpieces hidden somewhere in Amsterdam, secreted away in 1942 by a homosexual art dealer who’d rather die than turn his collection over to his Nazi blackmailer.

I can safely say if I hadn’t moved to Amsterdam to study art history twelve years ago, I never would have written this novel. My life here as an expat and art history student, as well as the turbulent history of this amazing city and its many museums, directly inspired the storyline and several of the characters.”

Read the rest of my Guest Blog Post on Rosa Fedele’s blog here.

 

Early Reviews

I’m thrilled to see four reviews of my novels already placed by Mystery Thriller Week reviewers!

Check out this fabulous 5 star review of Down and Out in Kathmandu by author and reviewer JB Richards on her blog now.

 

I’m pleased to see author and reviewer Colin Garrow enjoyed The Lover’s Portrait and gave it four stars! Check out his review on his blog now.

 

Author and blogger Roxana Nastase also choose Down and Out in Kathmandu and I’m happy to see she gave it four stars, writing “the characters are well-developed and believable” and “The twists in the plot are good enough to keep the reader’s interest.” Read her full review and an interview with myself and my lead character Zelda Richardson on her blog now.

 

Book reviewer and blogger, Jackie of the “fallinlovewiththesoundofwords” book blog, wrote a detailed 3 star review of Down and Out in Kathmandu that is currently on Goodreads. I appreciate knowing what did and didn’t work for her. Most of all I’m pleased to see her review finish with: “However, the ending was amazing. It was fast paced and I had no idea which direction it would go. I am very happy with the outcome, and I can’t wait to read more of Zelda Richardson’s travels!”

 

I wish you all much reading pleasure during Mystery Thriller Week!

MTW Interview with Janice J. Richardson

MTW Interview with Janice J. Richardson

Today I’m pleased to welcome Janice J. Richardson, author of The Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery Series. The first book in her series, Casket Cache, is already on my Kindle! I love her unique take on the cozy mystery genre and Canadian setting. Now lets take a few minutes to get to know Janice and her books a bit better…

***Updated with my review on March 19, 2017***

 

My 5 Star Review of Casket Cache

Casket Cache is an extraordinary cozy mystery for as much the setting as the author’s style of writing. In addition to being a well-built mystery, the story offers an intimate glimpse into the life of a funeral director and the inner works of a funeral home.

The author is able to inspire a level of compassion and empathy I’ve never before encountered in fiction. After reading this book, I actually felt hopeful and reassured, despite the sometimes heavy topics discussed.

It is first and foremost a mystery. The story follows Jennifer, a young woman who has just moved to Niagara, Canada to start work as the funeral director of funeral home left to her by her recently deceased uncle. Before she can get settled in, there is a break-in. The responding police find a large sum of money in one of the caskets and the circumstances point to Jennifer’s involvement.

Jennifer, along with her new co-workers and a few old friends, has to figure out what’s really going on and who is truly involved before she’s arrested. Break-ins, physical threats, illegal drugs, the disappearance of a Casino pit boss and someone trying to run Jennifer off the road, make it clear that there’s more going on than the local police suspect.

The central mystery is resolved in a satisfactory way and the last few chapters set up the cast and story for the next installment of this (currently) three part series.

Throughout the novel, Jennifer’s work as a funeral director continues; she prearranges funerals for the terminally ill, picks up murder victims from crime scenes, prepares bodies for cremations, and meets with chaplains to help console those who have lost someone special to them. The author’s moving descriptions of the tragedies encountered daily on the job are filled with compassion, sensitivity and empathy. It is clear she has drawn deeply on her actual experiences as a funeral director, and this story is much better for it. She’s able to tap into a level of emotional depth not usually found in cozy mysteries.

Jennifer’s profession was why I initially hesitated reading this book and didn’t request to review it for Mystery Thriller Week. However during MTW, I read a few interviews with the author and was so fascinated by her, I decided to take a chance on the first book in the series. Though death is a topic most of us try to avoid, it is an inevitable part of life. Like most forty-year-olds, I’ve buried too many loved ones. It is reassuring to know there are people like Jennifer out there, who truly sympathize with someone’s loss.

I highly recommend this to fans of mysteries, amateur sleuths, and cozies. It is something different and definitely worth the read. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Introducing Janice J. Richardson

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

I am an identical twin and a special needs mom.  My youngest is now in a family home program. I have three children and nine grandchildren.  I moved to Niagara five years ago and am quite happy to be living down south again.

Writing was not on my radar when I was a mom. The Making of a Funeral Director was drafted over several years when I was a funeral service student. I was working at a transfer service to pay for college. It was such an interesting experience I kept notes, which I compiled and put into a manuscript.

Publishers were not interested. It was waylaid and eventually misplaced.

Years later my former husband sent me a box he had found, the one with the manuscript. I put it on a shelf and ignored it for three years. With the advent of self-publishing, I resurrected it, polished it and published it.  That was so addicting I kept going with The Spencer Funeral Home Niagara series.

 

Where do you do your best writing?

Sitting in a  recliner in my bedroom with a laptop.  I never deviate, it’s the only place I feel comfortable writing.

 

Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? Why?

Total silence.  Music is distracting.  So is Vegas, our cat. 🙂

 

What informs your writing (own background, interests, research, etc.)?

All three do. I worked as a medical office assistant for years before entering funeral service. That’s how I learned to observe behaviour and immerse myself in ongoing education.

 

Research is the most interesting part of writing a book.

Much of my writing is shaped by the fact that I have two children and four grandchildren with Coffin-Lowry Syndrome.  Special needs parents carry a grief that never resolves.and It has shaped me.  I am grateful for its lessons.

 

What is the inspiration behind your latest novel?

Winter’s Mourning was inspired by the bleakness and loneliness of the Niagara Parkway and the Falls in winter. It is so beautiful. Also, not all mysteries are murder, so this book does not have a murder, making it a modified cozy.  When I was doing coroner’s calls I saw enough deprivation and homicides. Winter’s Mourning is a continuation of Book 1, Casket Cache.  It was a fun book to write.

 

What makes you uniquely qualified to write your Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery series?

I was a licensed funeral director with post graduate training.

 

What kind of research do you do before writing your novels?

The Niagara Region is known for its wine.  There is more to the region though. For example, I was not aware we could grow lavender in Canada, so I read about the lavender fields in Niagara and hope to visit them sometime. It was fun to incorporate it into the story.  I have contacted funeral service professionals with questions about current practices, surprisingly most funeral directors would not speak to me.  I never refuse to answer anyone’s questions about funeral service and their reluctance to talk about their work puzzles me. The few who did help were from the same funeral home and provided important updated information. I make sure I recommend their funeral home when asked.  I contacted a few local lawyers only to be brushed off as well. Much of what I needed about court procedures is available online, so I will make do.  Do other writers face reticence when researching?

 

What are you passionate about aside from writing?

Volunteering in the area of poverty law advocacy and special needs advocacy has been a long time passion. I am a news junkie and I love to putter around thrift shops.

 

Do you recognize yourself in any of your characters?

Yes indeed. I am most like Jennifer.  I love Marcia’s sarcasm.  Jennifer struggles emotionally but tries to grow and adapt.  She can be intense and self-deprecating. Marcia is equally committed to funeral service, but she is fun and more balanced than Jennifer. I have a tiny bit of Marcia in me.

 

What are you working on now?

Just winding down Book 3, Grave Mistake.  Trying not to jump ahead to Book 4, First Call.  It will have a bit of a shock factor and I am eager to start the research.  I may switch them around.

 

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

The UK and, Europe and Scandanavia.  I am drawn by the history and the people. For some reason, I want to see Belgium. Canada is a relatively young country.  I don’t know my full background, I was adopted.  Chances are the UK is where my ancestors came from.

 

What do you want readers to get from your books?

Kindness, compassion, knowledge, hope.  If a reader is afraid of death or funeral homes, I hope the books educate them and reassure them that they are not alone. We will all die, we all grieve. If they learn something new and are entertained in the journey, then I have accomplished my goal.

 

About the Author

Hailing from the Niagara Region in Canada, Janice is a retired funeral director. Prior to her funeral service career she was employed as a university library technician, a medical office assistant, and a small business manager.  At Humber College she worked as a peer tutor in anatomy, pathology and physiology and was the recipient of the Wilfred R. Scott award.  She continued with post graduate training, receiving the designation of Certified Funeral Service Practitioner.  Janice is retired, filling her days with writing, reading and friends. To find out more about Janice and her books, visit her Goodreads author page.

 

The Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery Series

Casket Cache

Funeral homes are supposed to be quiet… Jennifer Spencer inherits her uncle’s funeral home. Her move to the Niagara Region into the apartment above the Home went well, but in the first week alone, someone breaks into the funeral home. Then, Jennifer finds cash in a casket, a lot of cash. Certain it has something to do with the break-in, she’s unable to convince the police and winds up on their list of suspects! But Jennifer has families to serve and funerals to arrange; that is her number-one priority. Someone sinister and dangerous wants the cash back; that’s their number-one priority and Jennifer Spencer, funeral director, is in the way. A cozy mystery with heart, compassion, and humour.

 

Winter’s Mourning

Not all mysteries involve murder… Funeral Director Jennifer Spencer’s walk along the Niagara Parkway on a rainy, cold day leads her to Winter, a distraught young woman who isn’t speaking. Travis, the temporary director hired when Uncle Bill passed, is still out for revenge. That won’t happen if she listens to the police officers assigned to protect her … but she doesn’t. Can Jennifer survive her own harrowing ordeal in order to help Winter get her life back? Book 2 of The Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery Series.

 

The Making of a Funeral Director

10% of being a Funeral Director is dealing with the dead, the other 90% is helping the living. Perhaps the most asked personal question of any mortician/undertaker/funeral director is why? Why would you want to be a funeral director? Janice Richardson heard that a lot. Not always an easy question to answer. Funeral directors the world over share the same goal, to help people. Grief and death are something all human beings face. But why be around death and grief most of the time? Why not medicine, or police service, or accounting? Someone has to do it and when Jan was 8 years old she knew that would be her career choice. What does a funeral director do with their day? What kind of education do they need? From the first time transferring a body to the funeral home and into the prep room, to coroner’s calls, and stillbirths, journey with Janice through a fulfilling career in an often misunderstood profession.

 

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