mystery

Writer Mark Stevens, and His Books

Mark Stevens at BoucherCon

Mark Stevens is an award-winning Colorado writer, former journalist, now PR and Communications Specialist, whose work caught my eye on Twitter a few years ago. He tweeted about the country’s environmental challenges, a subject near and dear to my heart, and I readily ‘followed’ him. He mentioned that his second book in the Allison Coil Mysteries, “Buried by the Roan,” had recently been published, so I picked it up. I was hooked by the topical storyline and the multi-faceted characters caught up in events tearing their beloved landscape apart.

 

The lead protagonist, Allison Coil, is a big game hunting guide in the Flat Top wilderness of Colorado. And lest you think that a woman might not really choose this as a career, Coil is based on a real-life guide that Stevens met while pondering the setting and the focus character for the series.

 

Each of his books could have been ripped from the headlines and in always absorbing writing, deal with hot-button topics, such as human trafficking, marijuana laws, undocumented workers, fracking, big game hunting, drought, and wilderness protection. But, in addition to these and other ‘big concept’ themes (and the murders) Stevens’ stories are grounded in real life, with his core characters facing the challenges of rebuilding a life in a new location, managing a small business, finding/trusting love after heartbreak.

 

Colorado’s majestic wilderness plays a major role and Stevens’ imageries put us right in the saddle as Allison rides through the Flat Tops. The big game hunts and plots unfold against a backdrop of rich country that everybody wants a piece of, but few acknowledge that through the very development they seek, the land as they know it will disappear.

 


“Antler Dust,” the book that started it all.

 

 

 

 

“Buried by the Roan”    Review here.

 

 

 

 

“Trapline”      Review here.

 

 

 

Book Cover "Lake of Fire"

 

“Lake of Fire”  Review here.

 

 

 

“The Melancholy Howl,” the fifth in the series, reveals more in the background of each of the central characters, some of it a bit edgier than before. There are glitches in the love lives of the two continuing couples and one major character has a whopper of a secret that tears at the core of his public persona. These are flesh and blood people, some with serious flaws and baggage, but all have each other’s backs in a crunch.

 

The ‘big concept’ in “The Melancholy Howl” deals with medical marijuana (legal in Colorado) and how its use and the industry has changed since the first stores opened. There is loads of money to be made, but as it turns out, there is a gap between the perceived need and the actual market, and not everyone is following the law. A plane crash, an ‘illegal’ grow, con- artists, tragedy, drought, and greed, all play a part in this gripping page-turner.

 

Mark Stevens also writes short stories, the most recent of which, “A Bitter Thing,” appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

 

Please visit https://www.writermarkstevens.com/  for the latest news about his books and the fascinating podcasts he produces.

 

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“Pictures of You” by Caroline Leavitt

Book-Cover-Pictures-of-You-LG

 

We all have certain expectations of our spouses. In the best scenarios, we picture loving each other robustly, tenderly and forever. In those pictures we raise marvelous children, and journey through life’s adventures with our best friends. ‘When we are not so busy’ or ‘when the children are grown’ we’ll have time to sort out all the nagging relationship issues. Unless the sand in the hourglass runs out before we get that chance.

 

In “Pictures of You,” two women’s lives intersect in a tragic auto accident. April dies when Isabelle swerves into her on an unfamiliar road in the fog. Isabelle, a photographer, is haunted by what she has done, even though she is cleared of any wrongdoing. She can’t forgive herself, so she doesn’t really blame anyone else in the community for ostracizing her; even welcomes being left alone. The fact of her husband’s infidelity has taken a back seat to her guilt.

 

The little boy, Sam, who survived the accident, has lost his mother and a grieving husband, Charlie, doesn’t understand why his wife, April, would have been on that road with their son at that time of day. Secrets are revealed about April that astound her husband. He no longer knows the woman with whom he shared his life. Charlie is helpless to comfort his son, ineffective in dealing with so many ‘after death’ issues. How many of us would be any better at it?

 

What follows is the tragic tale of three people aching for love; raw emotions and devastating truths revealed as they find a way to heal. No plot spoiler here, but photography plays an important role in the storyline.

 

Sam is so well written, with always age appropriate vocabulary, that the reader completely understands when he feels responsible for his mother’s death. Sam mistakes Isabelle for an angel and with his nine-year-old logic, mixes reality with his desperate wish to see his mother again. Leavitt creates a world in which the reader wants to hold this little boy, take away his heartache.

 

In an effective subplot, Isabelle suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which Leavitt depicts with insightful clarity. Isabelle shakes uncontrollably, sweats and feels nauseous when she sets foot in a car after the accident and for months afterward, must walk or ride a bike to go anywhere. Having been in a terrible car accident myself many years ago, I sympathized with the realistically intense stress the woman was going through, cringed at the nightmares she experienced. Leavitt herself, has an acute fear of being in cars, so brings considerable, painful  authenticity to the reading experience.

 

We tend to dismiss the importance of the small choices we make in life – not kissing a loved one goodbye or taking the time to listen when we’re running behind schedule – until it’s too late to get a do-over. We look back after a disaster and think: if only I had been a better dad, a better son, a better wife. If only I had stayed, or been there, or did what she/he asked. Everything would have been different. If only.

 

Beautifully written, exquisitely shared.

 

Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, “With or Without You,” was published in August, 2020.

For more information about Ms. Leavitt and her books, visit www.carolineleavitt.com

 

 

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Book List: Author Liz Mugavero/Cate Conte

 

Liz Mugavero, a delightful New England writer that lives in Connecticut, has written three series, all three with animals as pals (and clue finders) for the lead characters. The first book in her first series, “Kneading to Die,” garnered her an Agatha nomination for Best First Mystery. It was clever, funny, and the beginning of one of the best cozy series out there, the Pawsatively Organic Mysteries. Who can forget the kibble on the body?  Lolol  Cate Conte, Mugavero’s alter ego, pens the second series, the Cat Café Mysteries, also a big hit with the fans. Click on the titles (and a few reviews) to find out more about the enjoyable, wonderfully written books. The third series, featuring a witch as the lead character, Full Moon Mysteries, has recently been launched and is getting happy, great reviews.

 

As Liz Mugavero: 

Pawsatively Organic Mysteries:

Features Stan (Kristan) Connor, an Ex-Corporate PR Exec, & Nutty, her Maine Coon Cat. Among the fully fleshed out characters is a hunky bar owner boyfriend and his dog, making Stan’s life interesting as she navigates her new life in a small town and keeps finding bodies. Why the name for the series? Stan wants to open an organic animal treats business. Recipes included!

 

Kneading to Die” –   review here

 

A Biscuit, A Casket”   review  here

 

The Icing on the Corpse

 

Murder Most Finicky

 

Custom Baked Murder”    review here

 

Purring Around the Christmas Tree

 

Murder, She Meowed

 

As Cate Conte:   https://www.cateconte.com

The Cat Café Mysteries

Maddie James has a successful juice bar business on the west coast, but returns to her hometown of Daybreak Island off the coast of Massachusetts to take care of family matters. Maddie and a stray cat (based on one of Liz’ own cats) get caught up in murder! Maddie is a thoroughly enjoyable new character, with equally appealing love interests. The reason for the title of the series? Maddie is opening up a Cat Café, complete with cats for locals to adopt.

 

 

Cat About Town”  – review here

 

Purrder She Wrote

 

Tell Tail Heart

 

A Whisker of a Doubt,” is out now.

 

You can read Liz Mugavero’s Author Profile here.

 

Cate Conte’s first title in The Full Moon Mystery series is the entertaining “Witch Hunt,” out now.

Happy Reading!  🙂 

 

*Many thanks to Liz/Cate for the photos and book art!  🙂

 

 

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Author Profile: Jessica Ellicott/Jessica Estavao

Jessica Estavao has always known that she wanted to be a writer. Lucky for us, she is now a talented, award-winning, bestselling author from New England with more than one alter-ego working at her computer.

As Jessie Crockett, she wrote the Sugar Grove Mysteries and “Live Free or Die,” a Daphne du Maurier winner.


As Jessica Estavao, she penned the Agatha nominated Change of Fortune Mysteries.


As Jessica Ellicott, she works on her current series, the Beryl and Edwina Mysteries which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

Meet the writer that composed all those wonderful pages, sometimes while listening to sounds of the ocean. She outlines all her books, always works in a comfortable space with a flask of coffee at the ready, and likes to begin new projects with special notebooks, colorfully filled fountain pens, wet erase markers, and a glass ‘scrawl wall’ to plan the story.

NBR: You’ve written several series, each with different time periods, and now the Beryl & Edwina books set in England. How do you choose the time period and the setting? How much time do you spend on the research before starting to write the book? Where do you get all those terrific details in the Beryl & Edwina books and are you continuing the research as the series evolves?

JE: I love historical novels in general and mysteries in particular, so it is a real pleasure to write about different time periods. I choose those that interest me for whatever reason feels intriguing at the time.

 

Some stories grow out of a particular time period like the Change of Fortune series set at the end of the Gilded Age. Since it involved Spiritualists and also the burgeoning tourist industry in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that was the right time to set it as those things were at the fore then and there. For the Beryl and Edwina books I wanted to look at a lasting friendship between women during extraordinary times. The period between the world wars in the United Kingdom provided a good way to look at that very notion.

 

I love the research phase of any book and I enjoy doing quite a bit of it for each novel I write. The Beryl and Edwina books have been especially fun for this. It is such fun to look into the particular aspects of each mystery like the world of pigeon racing, the role of the Women’s Land Army, or the way the census was taken in 1921.

 

I look to resources like the Imperial War Museum, the National Archive, watch documentaries, and read newspapers and magazines of the day to provide details of life during that time and in that place. 

 

NBR: Some of the initial scenes in Edwina’s kitchen in “Murder in an English Village” revolve around the meager food supplies. That changes as the book develops and Beryl’s contributions improve the situation. Was this approach a result of the post-war research?

JE: I did make decisions about the available food for my sleuths based on research into the economic climate of the time. The U.K. hit a severe economic slump before the States did and for women like Edwina, things were especially difficult. It was a pleasure to give her some respite with Beryl’s arrival.

 

NBR: Do you like to cook? What are your favorite foods?

JE: I have lots of foods that I like but my two favorites are Thai Spring Rolls and Cheese Fondue. I often like to cook but don’t do it as often now that most of my children are grown as I did in the past. I may end up more like Beryl than Edwina for most of the time once the last one heads to college!

 

NBR: Are Beryl and Edwina based on historical figures?

JE: Beryl and Edwina are not based on historical figures. I adore books that feature actual people from history, but wanted to feel free to do just as I pleased with the pair of them. I decided to create them from imagination and a bit of wishful thinking!

 

NBR: People can truly identify with the women in the books. You’ve given Edwina a lovable small black and white dog, named Crumpet. Do you have pets?

JE: I do have a pet. I have a small white poodle named Sam. He’s almost two years old and he is wonderful company for me. He has a bed in my office and he does a great job of getting me to go out for some exercise a few times each day. His schedule helps me to plan my own and I am really grateful for what he brings into my life. 

 

NBR: Beryl’s car is a character in itself. Are you a fan of fast cars?

JE: I am not necessarily a fan of fast cars but I do love ones with distinctive style! And I am partial to those that are cherry red! Someday, I would love to own a car just like Beryl’s!

NBR: What do you like to do when you’re not hard at work, writing in wintry New Hampshire or on the coast of Maine in the summer?

JE: I have a lot of interests. I love to travel. I love long walks, especially on the beach. I am an avid knitter. I adore throwing parties. I recently began running with some regularity and have also started to learn to paint. 

 

NBR: What fun! You can stay physically fit, develop plot points, and do research, all while participating in activities you enjoy. Many thanks for taking time out to visit with the Nightstand Book Reviews community!

JE: Thanks for inviting me for the interview!

 

She loves to keep in touch with readers through her newsletter and hopes you will sign up at https://www.jessicaellicott.com/newsletteri-wanted-to-check/

 

Please check out Jessie’s Book List found here. Links to more information about all her books is included, as well as links to my reviews of several of the titles. The banner below shows the book cover for the new book in the Beryl & Edwina series.

 

The photos are from Jessie Ellicott’s Facebook page as well as her website.  🙂

 

 

 

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CrimeFest 2020

Covid19 has struck down yet another crime fiction convention, this time CrimeFest, held in Bristol, UK, each year. In most cases, eligible titles were submitted by publishers, and a team of British crime fiction reviewers voted to establish the shortlists and the winning titles. The winners were announced on July 6th. The authors and their books are innocent bystanders in this pandemic, and deserve to have your attention and support. Click on the links to take a look at the nominated titles. The winners are indicated in red.

 

CRIMEFEST has a new sponsor and they have instituted a new award for a crime novel by a debut author first published in the British Isles in 2019. The winning author receives a £1,000 prize as well as a Bristol Blue Glass commemorative award.

Specsavers Crime Fiction Debut Award nominees:
– Fiona Erskine for The Chemical Detective
– Katja Ivar for Evil Things
– Carolyn Kirby for The Conviction of Cora Burns
– Alex Michaelides for The Silent Patient
Laura Shepherd-Robinson for Blood & Sugar
– Holly Watt for To The Lions


AUDIBLE SOUNDS OF CRIME AWARD
The Audible Sounds of Crime Award is for the best unabridged crime audiobook first published in the United Kingdom in 2019 in both printed and audio formats.

Audible Sounds of Crime Award nominees:
– Kate Atkinson for Big Sky, read by Jason Isaacs
– Oyinkan Braithwaite for My Sister, the Serial Killer, read by Weruche Opia
– Alex Callister for Winter Dark, read by Ell Potter
Lee Child for Blue Moon, read by Jeff Harding
– Lisa Jewell for The Family Upstairs, read by Tamaryn Payne, Bea Holland & Dominic Thorburn
– T.M. Logan for The Holiday, read by Laura Kirman
– Peter May for The Man with No Face, read by Peter Forbes
– Alex Michaelides for The Silent Patient, read by Louise Brealey & Jack Hawkins


eDUNNIT AWARD
The eDunnit Award is for the best crime fiction ebook first published in both hardcopy and in electronic format in the United Kingdom in 2019.

eDunnit Award nominees:
– Helen FitzGerald for Worst Case Scenario

– Sarah Hilary for Never Be Broken
– Andrew Taylor for The King’s Evil
– L.C. Tyler for The Maltese Herring
– Holly Watt for To The Lions
– Don Winslow for The Border


LAST LAUGH AWARD
The Last Laugh Award is for the best humorous crime novel first published in the United Kingdom in 2019.

Last Laugh Award nominees:
– William Boyle for A Friend is a Gift you Give Yourself
– Hannah Dennison for Tidings of Death at Honeychurch Hall
– Helen FitzGerald for Worst Case Scenario
– Christopher Fowler for Bryant & May – The Lonely Hour
– Antti Tuomainen for Little Siberia
– L.C. Tyler for The Maltese Herring


H.R.F. KEATING AWARD

The H.R.F. Keating Award is for the best biographical or critical book related to crime fiction first published in the United Kingdom in 2019.

H.R.F. Keating Award nominees:
– Ursula Buchan for Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps

– John Curran for The Hooded Gunman
– Barry Forshaw for Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide


BEST CRIME NOVEL FOR CHILDREN
This award is for the best crime novel for children (aged 8-12) first published in the United Kingdom in 2019.

Nominees for the CrimeFest Award for Best Crime Novel for Children (ages 8-12):
– P.G. Bell for The Great Brain Robbery
– Vivian French for The Steam Whistle Theatre Company
– Sophie Green for Potkin and Stubbs
– A.M. Howell for The Garden of Lost Secrets
– Simon Lelic for The Haven
– Thomas Taylor for Malamander


BEST CRIME NOVEL FOR YOUNG ADULTS
This award is for the best crime novel for young adults (aged 12-16) first published in the United Kingdom in 2019.

Nominees for the CrimeFest Award for Best Crime Novel for Young Adults (ages 12-16):
– Kathryn Evans for Beauty Sleep
– John Grisham for Theodore Boone: The Accomplice
– Samuel J. Halpin for The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods
– Simon Mason for Hey Sherlock!
– Tom Pollock for Heartstream
– Nikesh Shukla for The Boxer

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

 

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Jump into June with Four Books, Four Genres

 

 

The books couldn’t be more different, but each is a great read in its own genre. Each has the potential to be fodder for a TV or big screen movie, with thoroughly interesting characters and visually descriptive writing.

 

Cozy Mystery

“Kernel of Truth” by Kristi Abbott, is the first in her Popcorn Shop Mystery series set in Grand Lake, Ohio. It’s an engaging murder mystery, complete with a personable poodle and a gourmet popcorn shop.

Rebecca Anderson hesitates when she hears screams coming from outside, having to choose between taking her sauce off the stove and investigating the screaming. Her conscience and her dog’s interest prevail and she discovers that the screams are from her friend’s chocolate shop next door. Her beloved friend, Coco, is dead and Rebecca’s life is about to change in unexpected ways.

 

While coping with the shock, Rebecca’s ex works to get her back, and Coco’s niece publicly denounces Rebecca with having ulterior motives. Accused of theft, her popcorn business in peril, and her reputation besmirched, Rebecca must solve the murder of her friend in order to regain the trust of the customers and the town. The characters are well-drawn in this nicely plotted beginning to the series. Recipes included.

 

Thriller

Nick Heller is back in “House on Fire,” the fourth entry featuring the former Special Ops soldier, now Boston P.I. An Army pal dies from a drug overdose and Heller is drawn into an investigation about the death. Who’s responsible? The easy answer is to blame the buddy himself, but Heller agrees to dig deeper.

 

In typical Finder fashion, “House on Fire” combines current events with a page-turning thriller. Undercover work reveals a surprising ally and loads of twists to surprise the reader. Family politics, personal tragedy, greed, government contracts, and billions at stake drive the story. Who can be trusted? Will Heller get out of this alive? Not everyone does. Prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

 

Legal Suspense

Functioning within the limitations of sporadic donations, the overworked guardians find the evidence to exonerate the wrongly incarcerated. The ‘Guardians’ in the title refers to Centurion Ministries, an organization that Grisham learned about some years ago while conducting research for another project. The work the Centurions did and still do, stuck with Grisham and this story is based on an actual case written about in the New York Times in 2018.

 

Grisham’s writing is compelling as fictional Cullen Post, a pastor and lawyer, doggedly pursues every lead to help those with one last hope. Post is not in it for the money, only justice for those less fortunate. The process followed to uncover new evidence in the various cold cases, with some witnesses long dead, and evidence lost or buried, is grueling and sometimes dangerous. A well-written, fascinating read, one of Grisham’s best.

 

Non-Fiction

“The Lost City of the Monkey God” by Douglas Preston, is non-fiction, but the events described are so wildly dangerous that it reads like page-turning fiction. The search for the ancient White City begins deep in a Honduran rainforest, probably untouched for hundreds of years.

 

Preston presents a fascinating look at the tremendously complicated planning that a legitimate investigation of a major archeological site requires. Helicopters, sophisticated technology, local government with access to permits and soldiers to guard the expedition, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent even before the explorers put boots on the ground, the right people to pull it all together, all come into play.

 

The field of archeology appears to be highly competitive and the expedition itself was surprisingly controversial, but the group of which Preston was a part, was the first to document their expedition and findings and go through official channels. The book includes photos of the search, finding the astonishing cache of artifacts, and an insane snake story, but also discusses Preston’s serious brush with death. Preston and half of his (and subsequent) expedition people contracted a potentially lethal parasitic tropical disease, one that is hundreds of years old. The interviews and research in “The Lost City of the Monkey God” are thoroughly footnoted and documented, and also reference modern epidemics and pandemics. Excavation of this extraordinary site continues today.

 

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2020 Left Coast Crime Lefty Awards

 

Sadly, because of the Covid19 pandemic, the Left Coast Crime Conference was shut down before the first day of the conference had finished. Voting was conducted online. Please check out all the nominees for the 2020 Left Coast Crime Lefty Awards and note the winners in red.

Congratulations to all!

Best Humorous Mystery Novel

  • Ellen Byron, Fatal Cajun Festival
  • Leslie Karst, Murder from Scratch
  • Cynthia Kuhn, The Subject of Malice
  • Catriona McPherson, Scot & Soda
  • Wendall Thomas, Drowned Under  

Best Historical Mystery Novel

  • Susanna Calkins, Murder Knocks Twice
  • L.A. Chandlar, The Pearl Dagger
  • Dianne Freeman, A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder
  • Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park
  • Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone  

Best Debut Mystery Novel

  • Tori Eldridge, The Ninja Daughter
  • Angie Kim, Miracle Creek
  • Tara Laskowski, One Night Gone
  • John Vercher, Three-Fifths
  • Carl Vonderau, Murderabilia

Best Mystery Novel

  • Steph Cha, Your House Will Pay
  • Tracy Clark, Borrowed Time
  • Matt Coyle, Lost Tomorrows
  • Rachel Howzell Hall, They All Fall Down
  • Attica Locke, Heaven, My Home 

     

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