Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Guest Blogger - Annette Dashofy

My Slave Master, Kensi Kitty
By Annette Dashofy

USA Today bestselling author Annette Dashofy has spent her entire life in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by cattle and horses. When she wasn’t roaming the family’s farm or playing in the barn, she could be found reading or writing. She spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service, dealing with everything from drunks passed out on the sidewalk to mangled bodies in car accidents. These days, she, her husband, and their spoiled cat, Kensi, live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy. Her Zoe Chambers mysteries have received three nominations for the Agatha Award: Best First Novel of 2014 and Best Contemporary Novel of 2015 and 2017. Cry Wolf (Henery Press, September 2018) is the seventh in the series.

I intended to turn over the blog-writing duties today to my cat, Kensi. However, being a typical cat, she blew me off, preferring to sit in the window and watch the birds.

Actually, I think she’s miffed at me. For starters, the suitcase is out. As I write this, I’m preparing to leave for Bouchercon in Florida. Kensi forbids me from traveling. Ever the task-master, she insists I stay tied to my desk writing, since putting out books is what pays for her cat food. In fact, the only time she gives me permission to leave my desk is when she’s hungry and wants fed.

If she had done as I asked and written this blog herself, she would tell you I am a terribly stupid human and very hard to train. She’ll order me to follow her to the kitchen, but I detour into the bathroom or in some other direction.

Kensi gets annoyed with me. Even more so when she suspects I know what she wants but am intentionally ignoring her.

The other reason she’s miffed at me is because I have two cats in my books and neither of them is her.

My protagonist, Zoe Chambers, owns (or is owned by) two orange tabbies, Jade and Merlin. They don’t solve crimes. They do cat stuff—providing soothing feline therapy, demanding food, shedding, causing some characters to have allergy attacks, demanding food…

Jade and Merlin are based on real cats I’ve owned (been owned by) but who have passed on to the Rainbow Bridge. Jade is my sweet Sammie Angel, who was my furry office assistant for years. Merlin is BooBoo Angel Kitty who was the biggest lovebug on the planet. Both of them left this earth shortly before I started writing the series. Putting them in the books has been my way of immortalizing them.

 Boo Boo Angel

Sammie Angel

None of which appeases Kensi.

One other thing has been bugging her lately. The title of my new book. Cry Wolf.

Wolf? WOLF?

In spite of my constant assurance that there are no wolves—four-legged, at least—in this book, Kensi still feels slighted. Yes, she gakked in my bed to punish me. She said I needed to wash my blankets anyway.

Friday, September 14, 2018

ROCCO welcomes Author Kathleen Ernst!

Kathleen Ernst is a social historian, educator, and author. Her Chloe Ellefson mysteries reflect the decade she spent as a curator at a large outdoor museum, and feature historic sites in the Upper Midwest.  Library Journal says, “Ernst keeps getting better with each entry in this fascinating series.” Kathleen has also written many mysteries for young readers.  Honors for her work include a LOVEY Award and Agatha and Edgar nominations.  Kathleen lives and writes in Wisconsin.

Hi! Would you tell us a little bit about yourself? J 
I’m a full-time writer who’s passionate about historic places and artifacts and the stories they can tell.  I worked at an outdoor museum for twelve years, and have channeled my memories into the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries.  Chloe works as a curator at the same historic site, and travels to different sites and museums as the series progresses.  I’ve written many other books, but this series comes straight from the heart.

Otherwise…I was born on the east coast but have lived in Wisconsin for over 30 years, and love it.  What little spare time I can find is devoted to gardening, knitting, rosemaling, and getting outdoors.  My husband and I enjoy traveling to the kind of places I love writing about.

Do you have anything you would like to say to your readers?
I am enormously grateful to readers!  I dreamed of being a novelist from a young age, and I wrote novels for 20 years (yes, really) before getting my first book contract.  My newest book is my 37th, a number I find astonishing.  Readers make it possible for me to do what I love.  Thank you!

Please tell us about your newest release   
My new release is The Lacemaker’s Secret, the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery.  Here’s the official scoop:

Museum Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she's just learned. It doesn't help that her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won't say why.
Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay's Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.
Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the most devastating forest fire in American history, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.

I’m really excited about this one!

 What was the inspiration behind this story?
I’m fascinated by immigrant history (the museum where I once worked focused on the 19th-century immigrant experience) and most of the Chloe mysteries feature a particular ethnic group.  Doing a book about Belgian settlers had long been on my mental list.  Heritage Hill, a State Historical Park in Green Bay, includes a fabulous restored Belgian Farm.  Belgians are not one of the largest ethnic groups in Wisconsin, so their stories aren’t as well known as some.  They are compelling, though.

I often feature folk arts in the Chloe books.  Before I had a chance to do much research, I by chance met someone connected to the lace collection at the Smithsonian Institution.  She arranged a tour for me, and I was introduced to Belgian bobbin lace.  Not only was it an important industry for the country, it kept many impoverished girls and women fed.  I knew I wanted to include that art in the book. 

Tell us about your main character.
When the series began, Chloe Ellefson was starting a new job as curator at Old World Wisconsin and trying to recover from a bad breakup.  It’s been satisfying to have her create a new life for herself and gain her equilibrium again over the course of nine books.

Chloe is passionate about history too, especially digging out the stories of unknown women who might otherwise be forgotten.  She is a reluctant sleuth who would prefer not to engage in detective work, but in each mystery her knowledge of the past is essential to solving a crime.  She makes a good companion for Police Officer Roelke McKenna, who is a dedicated cop but has no background in history or museum work. 

Chloe is not afraid to speak up for what she believes is right—even if it means antagonizing her boss, Ralph Petty.  She can be a little impetuous but she has a good heart.

What is your favorite personality trait of your main character?
Chloe follows her passions and is willing to speak truth to power.  She’s also a bit braver than I would be in dicey situations!

What is your favorite personality trait of your villain?

A recurring villain is site director Ralph Petty.  Petty is the quintessential bad boss!  He’s described as a misogynistic micro-managing megalomaniac, and he is a perpetual problem for Chloe, who can’t quite bring herself to be as subservient as he wishes.

One of your characters is going on a shopping spree. Where does he/she go and what does he/she buy?
Chloe’s idea of a good shopping spree would be going to a farmers’ market and stocking up on fresh, local fruits and veggies.  She’s a vegetarian, and accomplished in historical and multi-ethnic cooking and baking.

Were you surprised by the behavior of any of your characters or the direction of your plot at any point while writing?
I don’t outline, so to a certain extent I always encounter surprises when writing the books.  I start by thinking about where my main characters were emotionally at the end of the previous book, and where I want them to be at the end of the book I’m about to write.  I think about what settings and story ideas will reflect the struggle the characters will face.  Then I wade in and see where the characters and story take me.

How long did it take you to write this book?
I’m on a book-a-year schedule for the Chloe Ellefson series, although I sometimes work on other projects for other publishers simultaneously. I’m always planning ahead so I can plant appropriate seeds for future books.

Of all the books out there, why should readers choose this one? (What makes your book stand out from the rest?)

Since there are indeed many wonderful books in the mystery world, I’ve tried to create something unique.  I write about topics and themes and places I care about.  My first job is to tell a good story, but readers tell me that they love learning something new in each installment.  The stories are character-driven, with a strong sense of place.  Chloe and cop Roelke McKenna grow and change in each mystery.  I hope they are strong enough characters to admire, but at times vulnerable enough to make readers care about their well being.

Most of the books include a strand of historical fiction, so readers actually learn more about the past than Chloe can do through her research.  And the books provide a glimpse of life behind the scenes in the museum world.

Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.

In The Lacemaker’s Secret, the question of spiritual faith is considered by several characters.  Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants were generally quite devout, but the trials they faced provided fictional strain for my main character in the historical timeline.

When the book opens Roelke is wrestling with a decision he made in the previous book, Mining For Justice—one that changes the way he feels about himself as a cop.  He doesn’t feel comfortable attending church…and yet, it just may be that a friendly priest can help him come to terms with his moral dilemma.

Roelke and Chloe are also dancing around the idea of getting engaged; the fact that Roelke was raised Catholic, and Chloe is more of a spiritual free soul, presents a challenge as well.

 Fiction can often provide powerful life lessons. What message do you hope readers get from your book?
I write about the past because I find the lives of so many of the people who have gone before us to be inspiring.  I’d love to think that some of my characters might inspire readers as well.

I also hope that the stories show that history matters; that historic places are important and that old objects can sometimes tell powerful stories. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from people who read a Chloe mystery and then felt compelled to visit the featured historic site or explore a topic further.

 Is there an author or book that influenced you or your writing in any way growing up or as an adult?
I often cite Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series as a major influence.  When I was a child in suburban Baltimore, her books delivered me to other times and places. (I had fun writing Death on the Prairie, the 6th book in the series, which has Chloe visiting each of the homesites dedicated to Wilder.)

 Do you think you may ever go into another genre?  If so, which one?
I’ve written quite a few historical novels for young readers, two nonfiction books, and some poetry—so obviously I enjoy different formats and different audiences.  I wish there were more hours in a day…

What is the hardest part of writing in your opinion?
I love writing stories.  The business end of things can be challenging.

 What is your favorite part of writing?

Disappearing into my imagination; visiting fascinating places while doing research; meeting wonderful readers.

Which do you consider more important, plot or character?

What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Take the time to learn your craft.  Then learn about the publishing industry.  Believe in yourself and follow your dreams.

 Where can we learn more about you and your books?
Please visit me at kathleenernst.com; or join me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathleenernst.author/

Random Quickies!

Favorite kind of chocolate?
Dark, fair trade, preferably combined with peanut butter.

Cats or dogs?
Cats. (My name is ROCCO, and I approve this answer, meow!)

Do you read more than you write?
No, although I wish I could!  Deadlines are always looming.

Favorite movie?
I like historical dramas such as Glory, The Last of the Mohicans, Rob Roy, Foyle’s War, and Poldark (TV).

Favorite book to movie?
                  I’m a fan of Shetland, Inspector George Gently, and Longmire.

Thank you so much, Kathleen!

Giveaway time!

Kathleen will give away a copy of The Lacemaker’s Secret to one lucky commenter!
To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link: https://twitter.com/RoccoBlogger)
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link: https://www.facebook.com/ToniLotempio)#!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using random.org.  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! US entries only please! Contest ends midnight, September 17!

Friday, September 7, 2018

ROCCO's September Cozy Reviews!

Ma-Row!  Let's start off September with

Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women
A Victorian Mystery
Emily Brightwell
Four Stars
Berkley Trade Paperback
September 4, 2018

This is the 36th instalment of this popular series!  All I can say is Wow!  Fans of this servants turned detective mystery will eat this up!  There's a holiday theme - a very unpopular man manages to insult every guest at a holiday party, so no one's all that shocked when he's shot to death later that night.  the police deem him a victim of a botched robbery, and everyone goes on their merry way.  But when the robbery remains unsolved and Inspector Witherspoon has to find the killer, he and his entire household go into full Sherlock mode.

Confession: I'm not a fan of Victorian anything, but I did enjoy this book!  and I am sure you will too. Four stars.

The Cats Came Back
Sofie Kelly
Magical Cats Mystery Series
Hardcover; Berkley
Sept 4, 2018
Five Stars

LIbrarian Kathleen Paulson and her cats Hercules and Owen are back for another adventure!  This time out Mayville Heights plays host to a music festival which Kathleen is eager to attend; until she and her cats stumble across another dead body. the victim is a friend, who also happens to resemble a popular cabaret singer performing at the festival? So who was the intended victim?  Kathleen and her cats have thier hands full with this one!  It's always a treat to watch Kathleen piece together clues and also her interaction with her very talented furry friends.  Five Stars.

Premeditated Peppermint
Amish CandyShop Mystery
Amanda Flower
Sept 25, 2018
Four Stars!

Christmas is Bailey King’s favorite time of year. For her first Yuletide in Harvest, Ohio, the former big-city chocolatier is recreating a cherished holiday treat: peppermint combined with molten white chocolate. But her sugar high plummets when her former boyfriend walks into the candy shop she now runs with her Amish grandmother. New York celebrity chef Eric Sharp and his TV crew have arrived to film an authentic Amish Christmas. Bailey’s not about to let her beloved town—and Swissmen Sweets—be turned into a sound bite. Unfortunately, she gets more publicity than she bargained for when Eric’s executive producer is found strangled to death—and Eric’s the prime suspect. 

With Bailey’s sheriff deputy boyfriend out to prove Eric’s guilt, her bad-boy ex tries to sweet-talk her into helping him clear his name . . . and rekindle their romance to boost ratings for his show. Now, between a surplus of suspects and a victim who wasn’t who she seemed, Bailey’s edging dangerously close to a killer who isn’t looking to bring joy to the world—or to Bailey—this deadly Noel . . .  

Another good entry in this charming series by Amanda Flower. Four stars!

Assault and Beadery

Mollie Cox Bryan
September 25, 2018
Four Stars

All of Cora Chevalier’s dreams are coming true. Since moving to Indigo Gap, North Carolina, the busy crafting maven has been blessed with a great boyfriend, a lovely home, and a booming craft retreat business. But on the eve of her first Crafty Mom’s Escape Weekend, tragedy strikes again in Indigo Gap. This time, it’s curtains for Stan Herald, the disagreeable director of the local theater group, who’s murdered on the opening night of their new production. Worse, Cora’s friend Zee is accused of the crime.

Cora is determined to prove her friend’s innocence, but Zee’s mysterious past is making that difficult. And with a list of suspects longer than a double spool of satin cording, getting a bead on the real culprit won’t be easy. With her friends Jane and Ruby at her side, Cora must string together the clues and solve Stan’s murder before the killer gives an encore performance.

You dont have to be a crafting fan to enjoy this series!  Mollie has interesting characters and a complex plot sure to delight all armchair detectives.  Four stars.

The Christmas Cake Murders
Christmas Cake Murder (A Hannah Swensen Mystery) by [Fluke, Joanne]

A Hannah Swensen Mystery
Joanne Fluke
September 25 2018
Five Stars

With her dream of opening The Cookie Jar taking shape, Hannah’s life matches the hectic December hustle and bustle in Lake Eden—especially when she agrees to help recreate a spectacular Christmas Ball from the past in honor of Essie Granger, an elderly local in hospice care. But instead of poring over decadent dessert recipes for the merry festivities, she instantly becomes enthralled by Essie’s old notebooks and the tale of a woman escaping danger on the streets of New York. Hannah’s surprised by Essie’s secret talent for penning crime fiction. She’s even more surprised when the story turns real. As Hannah prepares to run a bakery and move out of her mother’s house, it’ll be a true miracle if she can prevent another Yuletide disaster by solving a mystery as dense as a Christmas fruitcake . . .

What can i say about this popular series that hasn't been said already! Hannah and her friends never seem to run out of steam...or recipes!  Joanne Fluke keeps this series going strong, and we can only hope that there might be a few more Hallmark movies in its future as well....... Five stars

Hitting the Books

Jenn McKinlay
Library Lovers Mystery
Sept 11, 2018
four Stars

When a stack of library materials is found at the scene of a hit and run, library director Lindsey Norris finds herself dragged into the investigation as the police try to link the driver of the stolen car to the person who borrowed the books. Before Lindsey can delve into the library's records, the victim of the hit and run, Theresa Houston, suffers another "accident" and the investigation shifts from driver negligence to attempted homicide.

A clue surfaces in the confiscated library materials that could crack open the case and it is up to Lindsey to piece it all together. But things are not as they seem in the sleepy town of Briar Creek and when the driver of the stolen car turns up dead, Lindsey, her staff and her library friends have to hit the books before the murderer gets the last word...

Another first rate entryin this popular series.  If you haven't tried one of these yet, I encourage you to do so. They are well plotted and the characters are interesting - and who doens't love a librarian as the main character???????  Four stars

An Enchanted Garden Mystery
Bailey Cattrell
Berkley Prime Crime
Sept 4, 2018
Four Stars

In the third captivating Enchanted Garden Mystery from Bailey Cattrell, Elliana Allbright will need to dig up clues from the past to weed out a killer...

Elliana Allbright is happy running her perfume shop, Scents & Nonsense, in the charming town of Poppyville, California. And she's even happier when she can use her inherited abilities to infuse her perfumes with an extra special something that eases woes or solves problems for her customers. But she'll need those abilities and more when murder comes to town.

Ellie and her women's business group, the Greenstockings, are helping to open a new museum about local history, and while sorting through the collection of artifacts they discover a time capsule from the days of the Gold Rush. Among the contents is a strange botanical manuscript, recognized by local history professor Eureka Sanford as extremely rare and valuable. When the professor is found dead in the museum, Ellie has no choice but to sniff out the murderer... but this one may have roots that are as old as Poppyville.

Another good entry in this series.  People who like a bit of whimsy with thier cozies will be especially enchanted. Four stars. 


To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link: https://twitter.com/RoccoBlogger)
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link: https://www.facebook.com/ToniLotempio)#!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using random.org.  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends  midnight, Sept. 13!