Posted in Cozy Mystery, Guest Post

Guest Post and Blog Tour for a Three Strikes, You’re Dead by Elena Hartwell

This post was contributed by author Elena Hartwell. Her cozy mystery, Three Strikes You’re Dead, is currently on tour with Dollycas Escape into a Good Book

What Murder Can Teach Us

By Elena Hartwell

As a mystery writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about some of the worst crimes one human being can do to another. And yet, my series is funny. That’s something I also think about from time to time. Is it okay to write about murder and make people laugh at the same time? Or the flip side, is it okay to write graphic descriptions of violence for the purpose of entertainment?

I think the answer is yes to both, because writing about murder can teach us something valuable in our own lives. We just have to know as readers what we can handle.

First off, the human mind loves a puzzle. A great deal of the pleasure we derive from reading mysteries, is to figure out the “whodunit” alongside the protagonist. We love to discover how the pieces fit together, the tidbits strung out in a series of clues we find along the way. Reading mysteries keeps our minds active and engaged.

Second, awful things do happen to people. Violence is a part of the human experience and to ignore it wouldn’t make it go away. In fact, there’s something to be said for experiencing the damage a violent crime does to people within the context of fiction, because it may create empathy for us when those events happen in the real world.

Third, laughter really is the best medicine. That cliché exists because it’s true. We know that laughing lowers stress, has been proven to boost your immune system, and might even make us live longer. Regardless of the genre a reader enjoys, humor can improve the reading experience, and perhaps even the reader’s health.

Most importantly, reading can open our minds. It allows us access to places we’ve never been. The location of a story can show a reader a part of the country or the world they have never visited. Characters from different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds can help us expand our appreciation for people who look different than us. Relating to a character and then facing danger with them, can make us more thoughtful and compassionate in our daily lives.

Murder mysteries, indeed, any genre, are about more than just the primary storyline. The best mysteries are written with complex characters involved in complicated personal lives, which are entwined with their sleuthing. Whether a character grapples with an aging parent or their own aging, a messy love life or the terror of starting a new relationship, readers can find themselves reflected in those challenges.

Mysteries are never solely about a crime. They are about the intricacies of living, something that everyone experiences. Botched relationships, troubled teenagers, drug addictions, poverty, all of these and more are explored by the mystery writer. The whys behind acts of violence might be demystified, giving us insight into bad behavior and acknowledging humanity in those who break the law.

We are also able to see justice work as it should. One of the lovely things we experience reading about crime and criminals is to know the bad guy is going to get caught, whether at the end of a book or the end of a series. A crime in the real world doesn’t always get solved. There’s something intensely satisfying about knowing that for the length of one book, everything will work out in the end. It can give us a renewed sense of balance in the world.

That isn’t to say there aren’t certain writers whose books are too graphic for me. Even some authors I admire tremendously, I have to be careful when I read their work. For example, I might not read them when I’m home alone or if I’ve had a bad day. It’s good to know how much you can handle with regards to graphic sex and violence. The good news is, the mystery genre is filled with writers across the spectrum. From the sweet, light cozy, with no graphic sex or violence, to the dark and twisted accounts of serial killers, with detailed descriptions of their acts, there’s a little something for everyone. The rise in popularity with psychological suspense is adding a new twist on the mystery genre. A number of those books may not have a murder at all, but be fraught with the psychological damage one person can do to another. Often equally chilling.

I think most of us have a sense of what we do and do not like. Personally, I don’t care who gets killed as long as the dog lives. I know a number of readers who won’t read about violence to children. The beautiful part about a book is you can always put it down and pick up another one.

And the good news is, there are plenty of us out there who want to take you through the puzzle and at the same time make you laugh. Perfect for those nights you want to be able to go to sleep without leaving the lights on.

About the Author


After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines. I’DTale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”

In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.

When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.


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April 1 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too! – REVIEW, GIVEAWAY

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April 3 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 3 – Mysteries with Character – GUEST POST

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April 5 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – INTERVIEW

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April 11 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW, INTERVIEW

April 12 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW

April 12 – StoreyBook Reviews – GUEST POST

April 13 – Maureen’s Musings – REVIEW

April 14 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW, INTERVIEW


Posted in Cozy Mystery, Guest Post

Guest Post and Blog Tour for Deadly Reception by Karen Randau

This post was contributed by author Karen Randau. Her cozy mystery, Deadly Reception, is currently on tour with Escape with Dollycas Escape into a Good Book. 

My Imaginary Movie

By Karen Randau

Someone asked who I would cast for the characters in the movie version of my new book, Deadly Reception, one of the seven novellas in the Tawnee Mountain Mystery multi-author series. Each is a standalone book in which we authors take the characters from our own series to a posh New Jersey resort. Naturally, something happens, and we solve a mystery.

My series is the Rim Country Mysteries, which now includes Deadly Deceit (2016), Deadly Inheritance (2017), and Deadly Choices (2017). Deadly Payload is due out later this year.

Here is how I could cast the movie version of Deadly Reception.

Rita: Protagonist and First Person Narrator

The narrator of my books is Rita Avery, wife of Detective Cliff Avery. She’s a middle-aged mother of two and grandmother of one, and she picked up some serious fighting skills from her late husband. Jared was a Marine who facilitated Family Fight Night every Friday. He was one of fourteen people who died in Deadly Deceit at the hands of a gunman in the movie theater of the fictional, picturesque mountain town of Rim Vista, Arizona.

In the four books with Rita as the protagonist and first-person narrator, she has morphed from a shallow person who cares more about designer clothes than her neighbors, to a budding private investigator partnering with her husband to solve nail-biting mysteries. She’s committed to her friends and family, including the dog named Hope who stayed with her through a near death experience in Deadly Choices.

In my imaginary movie, I’d choose Ashley Judd to play Rita. I enjoyed her as Tris’ mom in the Divergent trilogy, especially when she surprised Tris with her ability to fight like a warrior. Like Rita.

Cliff: The Love of Rita’s Life

In Deadly Inheritance, Rita got a second chance at love. She married the detective who investigated the shooting that took her first husband.

Detective Cliff Avery is a manly man, who, with his late wife, patrolled Arizona’s Tonto National Forest as a wilderness ranger. When she died from a bear attack, Cliff joined the Rim Vista police department and met Rita twenty years later.

In my imaginary movie, I’d choose David Boreanaz to play Cliff. Like Cliff, this actor’s character of Agent Seeley Booth on the TV series Bones and Jason Hayes in SEAL Team is tall and handsome and has a heightened sense of patriotism, enjoys a good joke, has experienced tragedy, doesn’t always follow the rules, and loves deeply and passionately.

Zoe: The Bride-to-be

Zoe is the reason Rita’s family goes to New Jersey in Deadly Reception. She is Rita’s daughter and was collateral damage in Deadly Deceit. She took a year off from Northern Arizona University to recover from the incident that left her with one less toe. When she went back, she met her fiancé Josh. They’ve been inseparable ever since. In Deadly Reception, both Zoe and Josh are fresh university graduates starting their new life together in a rather … unique way.

Josh’s frail grandfather was unable to travel to Arizona for a wedding, so both families took the wedding to him. His colorful life as a mob enforcer made him one of Rita’s first suspects in the murder she and Cliff help local law enforcement solve.

In my imaginary movie, I’d cast blond-haired, green-eyed, athletic Hayden Panettiere to play Zoe; Ansel Elgort as Josh; and the 1960s heartthrob Frankie Valli as the frail grandfather.

Willow and Zelda: The Mothers

Willow is Rita’s mother. Zelda is the eccentric aunt who raised Cliff after his father beat the three-year-old’s mother to death.

Like others in Rita’s life, her mother Willow led a secret life. A California native who raised Rita in San Diego, Willow was a vegetarian hippy the last time Rita saw her more than two decades ago. Willow claimed to retreat to a nudist artist commune after Rita’s father died. In Deadly Choices, Willow comes for a visit sounding more like a Texan than a Californian.

In my imaginary movie, I’d choose Sissy Spacek for the part of Willow. A beautiful Texan in her 60s, Spacek has portrayed strong female characters but now takes on more motherly roles.

Cliff’s Aunt Zelda has done her share of deception. She’s an aging, overweight social worker who dances to the beat of her own drum. She claims to be from Texas … until the truth was uncovered in Deadly Inheritance. That’s when Cliff discovered that Zelda manufactured a life story that she thought would protect Cliff from a man who reared the monster who murdered her sister.

Because she’s a fellow eccentric in nature, I would choose Roseanne Barr to play Zelda in my imaginary movie.

I hope my cast entices you to read all my books!

About the Author

Karen Randau recently retired from an international humanitarian aid organization where she worked in marketing communications for nearly three decades.

Her Rim Country Mysteries series currently has three novels: DEADLY DECEIT, about a woman whose husband was one of fourteen people killed in a movie theater shooting; DEADLY INHERITANCE, about the same woman who has remarried and gets locked in a Viking burial cave with a lit stick of dynamite while honeymooning in Scotland; and DEADLY CHOICES, about the same woman finding the mother she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years, only to discover a devastating secret. Her fourth book, DEADLY RECEPTION, is part of the multi-author Tawnee Mountain Mystery series of novellas and features the same character unraveling the mystery of why there was a torso in her closet when she check into a posh New Jersey resort.

Karen enjoys spending time with her grown children, playing with her dog, and hiking with her husband.





Posted in Cozy Mystery, Guest Post

Guest Post and Blog Tour for The Advice Column Murders by Leslie Nagel

This post was contributed by author Leslie Nagel. Her cozy mystery, The Advice Column Murders, is currently on tour with Dollycas Escape into a Good Book

Email Sent: April 8, 2:49 a.m.
To: Francesca Cartolano Bright <>

From: Charlotte Elizabeth Carpenter <>

Subject: Insomnia Sucks

Hey, Shortie—

You can see from the time stamp that I am awake in the middle of the night—again. There is so much rattling around in my brain right now, I’m surprised the noise hasn’t awakened Daddy and Lawrence. Writing things out helps clear my head, and since you are the world’s best listener/reader of late night confessionals, here goes.

First of all, I’m growing more and more concerned about the renovations to Old Hat. It’s nothing to do with the workmanship; Dale Penwater and his crew are the best. But it’s all these delays. I haven’t said this to another soul, but I’m beginning to suspect sabotage. Missing equipment, mysterious power outages that only affect my building, misdirected deliveries, and now a CORN SNAKE in the wall? I mean, seriously. No one’s luck is this bad.

Also, I think something’s up with Duncan, our carpenter. He’s been distracted and even quieter than usual for nearly a week now. I’ve caught him watching me several times, almost as if he wants to tell me something. The look in his eyes today—could it have been fear?

Speaking of fear, the second thing on my mind is that strange girl I told you about. Sarah Weller showed up at the house next door about a week ago, presumably to visit her mother, Judith. If possible, the tension level emanating from the Sharpes’ house shot up even higher. Paxton Sharpe has been treating the neighborhood to extra helpings of yelling since his stepdaughter arrived. What a jerk. Doesn’t he know we can all hear him?

I wish Judith would give me the time of day. She seems like she could use a friend. I feel badly for their twin boys, too. Four years old is too young to endure all this grown up drama. Hank seems well adjusted, but Pippo, the smaller twin? He hardly says a word, lets his brother do the talking for him. That is, he would if Judith allowed them out of her sight. Lawrence tried to give the kids some fresh baked cookies, and you’d have thought he came after them with a chainsaw. Judith dragged them indoors with hardly a thank you. What’s she so afraid of?

On top of all that, Paxton’s teenage son is home for spring break. Too bad Brandon’s fancy military school hasn’t taught him any manners. If anything, that kid is even moodier and more abrupt than his dad or his stepmother. A couple of days ago, I caught him staring at Sarah in the oddest way. She was helping Judith unload groceries, and he watched her like a hungry dog hoping for some table scraps. Sarah’s got to be at least ten years older than Brandon, but I guess the heart wants what the heart wants. So, tensions galore.

Anyway, a few hours ago I was out in the front yard on the off chance some fresh air might calm my thoughts enough for sleep. Out of the shadows stepped Sarah! I jumped two feet, no kidding. Frankie, it was the oddest conversation. She said she knows who I am, that I’m the girl who helps the police. Then, I swear, she seemed like she wanted to ask me something, just like Duncan. Come to think of it, he started acting oddly about the same time she arrived in Oakwood. Hmmm.

The problem is, I don’t know what Sarah wanted, because Judith bellowed for her, and she ran indoors like a scared rabbit. There’s another woman who could use a friend. I’m going to head over there tomorrow and see if I can get her to talk to me.

Okay, third and final thing. Marcus has been gone for five days, and it feels like five months. Why do these cop conventions always have to be in places like Chicago? We have perfectly nice hotels right here in Dayton, Ohio. The thing is, I’m a little rattled to discover that I can’t seem to sleep without him anymore. Hell, we’ve only been seeing one another for a few months. How could I be that hung up on a man in such a short time? It makes me feel . . . at a disadvantage, somehow.

Do NOT roll your eyes, young lady. And don’t deny that you totally rolled them when you read that. The fact is, things between Marc and I are great, but . . . what if it doesn’t last? What if he visits all his buddies and old haunts in Chicago and decides he wants to move back? The police chief has offered him a job with a promotion if he’ll return to their homicide division. Marc says he’s not going anywhere without me, but . . .

So, it’s three a.m. and I am wide awake. I guess I’d better call it a night. Or morning, to be accurate. I like to meet with Dale before eight o’clock to review progress and sign off on things. Hopefully tomorrow will be free of mysterious sabotage-ish developments.

Call me tomorrow? Maybe we can grab lunch at Ground Zero.



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Posted in holidays

My Best Easter Ever

The St. Stephens Choir signing at Easter services. Photo courtesy of St. Stephens Lutheran Church

I hope you all had a nice Easter, Passover, or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year.  I hope it was as special for you as it was for me, although I rather doubt that. This Easter was truly magical to me in many senses of the word, and I’d like to tell you why.  Before I do, just a note that this is based on my own experience and feelings and is not an endorsement or criticism of any religion, church, or other place of worship.

A year ago, I had stopped attending church. Because my parents were of mixed faiths, I and my siblings hadn’t been raised in a particular religion, although my family always celebrated the Christian holidays. My mother had grown up in a Catholic household and taught me prayers that I recited each night, and I accompanied her to church the rare times she went. I often found the experience confusing and a bit boring. I attended a Catholic high school but felt out of place among those who had grown up practicing the religion. After college, I experienced a personal challenge that turned me toward the Church and enrolled in RCIA classes, was Baptized, and confirmed as a Catholic at the church where I was married a few years later. My husband, a Methodist who wasn’t much of a churchgoer, had no desire to convert to Catholicism. When I became pregnant with our daughter, we made a decision to join a Methodist church near our home. I found the pastor’s sermons uplifting. He even came to the hospital when the baby was born prematurely and Baptized her six months later. Unfortunately, he moved to another church shortly afterwards, and we found the new pastor didn’t inspire us in the same way and gradually gave up going to services.

When my daughter started Kindergarten, we enrolled her in a Catholic school and decided to raise her as a Catholic. Since she had been Baptized as a Methodist at the church my husband and I had joined, we needed to reaffirm our Baptisms at a service at our new church. My daughter and I went through this simple ceremony. I made an effort after that to attend church with her. Like most children, she wasn’t thrilled about spending her free time at mass especially since she attended some at school. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t find my own experience during these services of much value. I questioned my feelings and what I sought in a religion. I had trouble finding answers. When my daughter decided to enroll in public Middle School, I had to admit I was relieved. It wasn’t just that we would save money on private-school tuition, but it would no longer tie us to that particular church. However, we had hoped she would continue her religious studies and make her confirmation. She chose not to, and how could we argue that she felt Catholicism wasn’t for her when neither of us were very sure of our own religious beliefs?

St. Stephens Lutheran Church

I think I may have drifted along after that like most people who attend church or synagogue or other places of worship mainly during holidays or when the mood strikes them. Yet, a series of events caused me to realize that I was missing something very important. It all started when I was invited by a patron at the library where I work to speak at her church book club about my mystery novel. She invited me into her home where I had a nice evening with several of the book club members. A few months later, I began to walk around the neighborhood and often passed the church of those friendly people who had welcomed me into their house that night. I knew it was a Lutheran Church and not a Catholic or Methodist one, but I wondered about it. That wonder grew. I spoke again to the woman who had initially invited me to the club, and I received an email from their pastor asking if there were any questions she could answer about the church and inviting me to attend a service as a visitor. I was surprised the pastor was a woman, and this further piqued my curiosity about the church. We emailed one another back and forth for some time, and I kept promising to visit “one day.” But it was difficult to make the move. I knew I was under no obligation. I knew it might turn out as it had at the other 3 churches I’d attended. I knew that staying home on Sundays, writing, or finding something else to do with my time on my day off was easier. And then . . . . my cat died. My beloved, sweet Oliver whom I’d only had 5 out of his 17 years. The day after I had to let him go, I needed somewhere to turn. A place to find some peace in my pain. I remembered St. Stephens and found my way there that sad November day. The book club members weren’t at the mass I attended, but several parishioners smiled and welcomed me. I met Pastor Emily for the first time and immediately felt comfortable in her presence. While the congregation was small, I looked around and saw people of different ages and sexes. Several introduced
themselves to me. There was a feeling there. One that made me keep coming back for more. Week after week.

As much as I enjoyed the masses at St. Stephens, I was still unsure when I was invited to attend Voyage meetings. Similar to RCIA, Voyage is a program to introduce new members into the church. The first few meetings were open to anyone who wanted to try them out. They included a hot lunch, salad, and dessert followed by a bible study conducted by Dottie, one of the ladies who I’d met from the book group, and Pastor Emily. While the questions posed during these meetings were challenging, they were an interesting introduction to themes of the Bible and how they relate to our own lives. When the time came for me to decide whether I was ready to make the commitment to continue as a Voyager, I knew in my heart that my answer would be, “yes.”

More pleasant surprises awaited me. I was teamed up with a coach, a church member named Vickie who proved to be a great support to me on my journey. More than that, she became a friend. I was also reintroduced to a childhood classmate and several library patrons who were members of St. Stephens. I learned that this small, tight-knit group was nonetheless open and welcoming to newcomers. It also offered a nice variety of social activities outside of church. I attended an advent wreath-making event with my daughter; a fun Chinese New Year; and a Karaoke night. After suggesting to Pastor Emily about organizing an Author Fair of local authors including myself, she was enthusiastic about the idea and directed me toward the Inreach/Outreach Ministry Director, who I’ve been working with to plan the May 12 event that will take place with 7 other local authors.

That leads me to this past, unforgettable Easter. Although I came down with a stomach bug on Tuesday, I was relieved when I was well enough to attend the first of the three special church services leading up to Easter. On Thursday evening, I participated in Maundy Thursday by washing the hands of another church member. On Good Friday, I conducted my first ever church reading and venerated the cross. Saturday night, however, was the ultimate experience as I and seven other Voyagers became members of St. Stephens. It started outside where we all lit candles and then entered into darkness. There was a slight wind that nearly extinguished my candle, but the flame reignited as soon as I stepped through the door. Ironically, this was like the twists and turns in my own spiritual life. There had been a point where I’d given up on the Church, but the flame had never entirely been doused. The music and prayers that night were memorable, but it was the joining of the community and the opening of their hearts to me and my fellow Voyagers that made everything so special. The spritz of water we all received after we recited our Affirmation of Baptisms was followed by applause, welcomes, and hugs. It was the best Easter ever because I’d found the best Church ever.