An interview with author Barbara Venkataraman

Barbara Venkataraman is the author of the Jamie Quinn series of cozy mysteries and her newest book, Malice in Miami is now available for free for a limited time, and you can get the first 3 books in the series for just 99 cents! and all are available on Kindle Unlimited. This is a great cozy series, I definitely recommend!

Malice in Miami Get for 99 cents on Amazon for a limited time!

Reluctant family law attorney Jamie Quinn is loving life–and why wouldn’t she? Her boyfriend Kip is back from Australia, her long-lost dad finally has his visa and she’s about to start her dream job at an art foundation. But it all falls apart when Jamie is accused of stealing priceless art from a rare book collection. If she can’t find out who framed her, she can kiss her dream job good-bye–and her law license too. Meanwhile, Kip has problems of his own. Now an environmental activist, he uncovers a deadly secret–one that just might get him killed. Jamie’s in trouble, Kip’s in danger, and Duke Broussard has gone AWOL. How could Jamie’s favorite P.I. abandon her at a time like this?

I invited Barbara to do a quick interview about her writing, her methods and her visions of how she crafts her books:

Q.There are now 6 books in the Jamie Quinn series, how did Jamie come about? Which is your favorite?

Barbara: My favorite Jamie Quinn book is always the most recent one, but I have a special place in my heart for the first one, Death by Didgeridoo. Although it’s the shortest and the characters have developed so much since then, the first book got me started on this journey. I’ve always been writing since I was in second grade but hadn’t managed to get past short stories and essays until I came up with Jamie Quinn. I was trying to teach myself to play a didgeridoo to help with my sleep apnea and I dropped the didge and broke a glass tabletop. It occurred to me this could be a lethal weapon and I immediately thought of the title Death by Didgeridoo. From there I just started asking questions–Who would get killed with a musical instrument? A music teacher Who would want him dead? Several people. Whose didgeridoo was it? One of his students. And I kept going until I had a story.

Q. What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?

Barbara: Plot first. I have the same main characters in all the books but the other characters just show up when I need them to make the plot move along. Sometimes I get surprised. In Jeopardy in July, I came up with Herb Lowenthal as a very minor character but as I wrote I realized he had an important part to play.

Q. How do you come up with the plots for your books?

Barbara: That’s a mystery even to me. Stephen King says put interesting characters in an interesting situation and see what happens.

Q.How do you come up with the character’s names in your books?

Barbara: I try to come up with a name that fits the person without repeating any names or making them too odd. My cousin’s daughter died tragically and her father asked me to make her a character, so I did. Jesse Sandler was my cousin’s name and the character has her personality. After I did that, several friends and relatives asked me to make them a character so that makes it easy to name them, lol.

Q.How do you cope with writer’s block? Any favorite tricks to get your plot moving again?

Barbara: Writer’s block is a pain, but it can be managed. If I’m totally blocked, I have to ask why. Did I write myself into a corner? Do I have no idea what happens next? Two things help. First, write something else, an essay, a short story,a letter to the editor–just to get the juices flowing. Then go back to the problem and ask questions like, what are all the things that could happen nest? What are the obstacles to each option? Sometimes I’m blocked because I’m going in the wrong direction and I have to shift gears.

Q. What sort of books do you like to read? Do you have any cozy mystery authors you recommend?

Barbara: I actually avoid cozy mysteries because I don’t want to accidentally borrow any ideas. The most recent book I read that I absolutely loved was the Pulitzer Prize winning “Less”. The writing is fantastic and I loved the main character. I also loved “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.”

Q. Tell us about where you write. Do you have a studio? A favorite cafe? Curled up on the couch? What do you like to eat or drink while writing?

Barbara:I sit at my computer to type at my desk in our guest room/office. When I get stuck I go for walk outside to think.

Q. If your book were made into a movie, which actors would you pick to play your characters?

Barbara: That’s tough. Jamie Quinn would be Jennifer Connelly and Kip Simons would be Jared Padalecki. Grace is Cobie Smulders.

Q. If you could be a character in one of your favorite books, who would you be?

Barbara: I would be the wife in the Time Traveler’s Wife.

Q. Last, do you have any new quirky insights for us?

Barbara: If you want to write, do it! It’s the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice.

Screech!

Screech! by Charis Cotter

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First came The Thing at the Foot of the Bed. In 4th grade, I was obsessed with it, took it out of the library so many times, I’m surprised they didn’t just let me have it.

Then came Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark. Back then I used to take care of a couple of cute kids in the summer and we used to read them out loud and they loved them as much as I did.

So, scary stories have long held a place in my heart, so when I saw this on Netgalley, I jumped on it. A collection of eerie tales from Newfoundland, Canada, the 10 or so short stories are guaranteed to get a screech! out of the little ones (and maybe even the older ones!) accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. I’d love one or two of them for my wall! My favorite story was the ghostly ballerinas (so cute!) and the Old Hag (eeek!) and the blueberry picker was both heartbreaking and eerie. It takes me back to the days when I was a kid, huddled around the campfire listening to Gramps tell The Hookman story (and when they got home, they saw, hanging from the door handle, was a HOOK! *scream*)

Screech! concludes with several tips on how to come up with your own scary story, something I might just do to scare the little ones in my family while sitting around the fire this winter. Scary good fun, and it would be a great gift for younger kids, I’d say ages 7 and up, especially for kids who like a little bit of scary and might help them to enjoy reading.

Release Date: August 31, 2020

The Gargoyle’s Secret (Stonehaven Mysteries, Book 1)

The Gargoyle’s Secret (Stonehaven Mysteries, Book 1)

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I found this book on BookSirens and thought it sounded cute and I’m a sucker for paranormal mysteries. This proved to be a cute, easy read and I loved the spooky atmosphere, made for a great read late in the evening.

Laurel is a photojournalist with an assignment for a piece on Stonehaven Mansion and the family that owns it. There seems to be several mysteries at Stonehaven; a man who went missing decades ago, someone searching the grounds for something, and even the master of the house, Marc, seems to be hiding something. Although the plot moved along quickly due to not being a very long book, it unrolled leisurely, with lots of detail to bring the story alive without dragging it down. The picture created of the beautiful Maine setting and the gothic mansion and of the many characters really brought it to life. There was a bit more romance than a typical cozy mystery, so I’d call this more a romance mystery than a cozy mystery but it wasn’t graphic or in your face. If you like a bit more romance in your cozy, this is for you.

Overall, a great start for a newer author and if there’s a second book, I’ll definitely pick it up.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Cottage at Gooseberry Bay (Books 1-3)

I’ve been looking forward to this series ever since Ainsley was introduced in one of the Inn at Holiday Bay books, so I spent the weekend with Ainsley and her friends in Gooseberry Bay. Absolutely loving this series so far!

Halloween Moon (Cottage on Gooseberry Bay #1)

Halloween Moon

I’m a huge fan of (some may say obsessed with) the Inn at Holiday Bay series, so when there was a crossover introducing Ainsley, I was excited to dig into this series and I absolutely love it! Ainsley and her new group of friends are a plucky bunch, resourceful and determined in their investigation into a young woman’s death, and heroic in their rescue. The main plot of Cammy’s death was a little different than most cozies in that there was really only one suspect, so they were just looking for proof, and the cracking good ending made for an exciting read.

As with Abi’s search for answers in the Inn at Holiday Bay series, Ainsley’s search for the truth of her adoption will span several books. I’m looking forward to seeing that mystery unfold as well.

I really enjoyed this debut book of the Gooseberry Bay series and definitely recommend it (and the Inn at Holiday Bay series!) to cozy fans looking for well crafted characters and excellent plots.

Thanksgiving Past (Cottage on Gooseberry Bay #2)

Thanksgiving Past

It’s Thanksgiving in Gooseberry Bay and with it, another mystery for Ainsley and her friends. Her friend Parker, a journalist for the local paper, is reopening an investigation into a family who disappeared on Thanksgiving 5 years ago. The Thanksgiving dinner was on the counter ready to be served, the table was set and there were no signs of a struggle. Parker was just beginning her career back then and is hoping that with her refined investigative skills and new resources, she’ll finally be able to solve this mysterious case.

What I love about the books this author writes is that they’re never the same ol’ tried and true plots and this one was no exception, I thoroughly enjoyed how the plot around the missing family played out and the awesome ending. Meanwhile, Ainsley finally meets Adam, the elder Winchester brother and begins to look into the mystery of her adoption. I like the dynamic between Ainsley and Adam, it’s cute and romantic without being too cute and romantic.

Also, I just realized that the blurb about this book is different than what happened in the book I read, so I think there was some editing or retooling involved before it evolved into this book.

Overall, a super enjoyable holiday read and I’m totally sucked into this series!

Gooseberry Christmas (Cottage on Gooseberry Bay #3)

Gooseberry Christmas

This was a great holiday read and I’m loving how this series is coming along. Ainsley and her friends team up again, this time to clear a friend after he’s seen running from the scene of a murder. The victim had no shortage of people who’d want him dead, both due to his professional life as a successful realtor and his personal life of chasing women. Ainsley bowed out of helping much with this one, saying she “wasn’t a local, so it was better that the locals do the sleuthing…” which didn’t make sense to me. I mean, how are you going to know the locals if you don’t go out and learn about the locals? It was a flimsy excuse so she could spend more time with Adam, which she did; ballroom dance lessons, cozy lunches in Adam’s palatial apartment (within the mansion, no less) and volunteering at the Christmas tree farm. But we did get to learn more about Adam and his work, and I appreciated the glimpse into his life.

As with the last book, the main plot of the murdered man at the Christmas tree lot was not your usual cozy plot, and that’s what I love about this author’s books. How they tracked down the true culprit from just a few clues shows how resourceful and adept they are at putting the pieces together. Enjoyable!

Furbidden Fatality (A Catskills Pet Rescue Mystery #1)

Furbidden Fatality (A Catskills Pet Rescue Mystery #1)
by Deborah Blake

54355045After winning $5 million dollars in the lottery, Kari is still working her dead-end waitressing job and living in a crummy apartment while deciding the best way to use her winnings. When an opportunity to buy a struggling local animal sanctuary comes up, Kari knows this is what she’s meant to do. But Serenity Sanctuary comes with a fistful of problems; dilapidated buildings that need updating, an over-zealous dog warden who is inexplicably obsessed with shutting the sanctuary down and a dog who has been accused of attacking a man and his dog. As she begins to tackle everything on her to-do list, a bigger problem arises; the dog warden is found dead in the dog yard! Under suspicion, Kari and her group of sanctuary volunteers begin investigating, uncovering more than just a murderer.

As an animal lover, I can’t resist a good pet lover cozy, so when I saw this on Netgalley, I snapped it up quick. The first third of the book didn’t wow me, although I liked Kari, the “you found the body, you’re the main suspect” and the “leave the investigating to the police…” tropes really get under my skin. But I held on and, as the story unfolded, it turned into a smashing good read. Once the pace picked up and more and more leads were uncovered, it was impossible to put down. And I loved how Kari and her friends uncovered pieces of the puzzle and went to the sheriff with what they found, leading to several people headed off to jail. This little plot-within-a-plot elevated this to not-just-your-average cozy. Add in the heartwarming rejuvenation of the pet sanctuary, finishing this left a smile on my face and that warm, fuzzy feeling when all is put right.

One last note…seriously, NO ONE called out mouthy Bryn when she blames everything on Kari several times? No one, absolutely no one, told her to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled toddler? Not a fan of Bryn. She can go wash dogs somewhere else.

Heartwarming, satisfying and oh so cozy, Furbidden Fatality was a wonderful debut to a new series.

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Mystery Movies

With the weather turning cold I’ve been binging on all the Hallmark Mysteries and Movies that I saved but never got around to watching. They’ve done a great job of bringing books to life (well, most of them) and some of them are new to me but super enjoyable.

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I tried reading the first Aurora Teagarden mysteriy at one point but I wasn’t able to get into it. I loved several of Charlaine Harris’s other series (Harper Connelly and Lily Bard are ones that I’ve read several times) but I wasn’t a fan of Aurora – until this series started on HM&M. But Candace Cameron brings the series alive. Who’d have thought DJ Tanner was a sleuth?

My favorite so far is A Bone To Pick. Aurora’s friend Jane dies and leaves everything to Aurora – including a skeleton and a mystery. Had me on the edge of my seat!

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Mystery101 is another movie series I gobbled up. I don’t know if they’re based on a series (if so, I’ve never heard of it) but I loved this from the first moment of the first movie.

Amy is an English professor and teaches a class on crime fiction, and her knowledge comes in handy when solving murders with the hunky police detective Travis. I love the cast; there’s great chemistry between Jill and Detective Travis, and this series has some great plots and don’t get me started on the scenery. Absolutely beautiful! There’s 5 movies in this series so far and I hope there’s many more.

I also love the Fixer Upper Mysteries starring Jewel and Colin Ferguson (who I absolutely love) I don’t know if they’re going to continue this series, only 4 were made and it’s been a few years since the last one came out – which is so disappointing!

In the first movie, Shannon Hughes, an expert in historic home renovation, is hired by Mac, an investigative crime reporter, to restore the old mansion he just purchased. But when Shannon’s friend Jesse, a deep sea treasure hunter, is found dead and the police chalk it up to an unfortunate accident, Shannon thinks it was murder. Teaming up with Mac, they uncover the clues to uncover a murderer.

I really enjoyed this series, Jewel is fantastic as Shannon Hughes and even gets to sing a bit. Colin Ferguson (who has been in tons of things, but most notably in SyFy’s series Eureka) is always a big draw for me. Add in the beautiful scenery, the old houses (I love old houses!) and the great plots and this is one series you just can’t miss.

So if you’re looking for something to watch, give these a try!

On Deadly Tides: Penny Brannigan #11

On Deadly Tides:  Penny Brannigan Mystery #11
by Elizabeth J Duncan

53631377. sy475 Penny and fellow painter friend Alwynne take a weekend course on painting in the nearby town of Beaumaris on the beautiful North Wales island of Anglesey. Sitting in a crowded bar on her first night, Penny first meets Colin, an attractive man, and a young news reporter named Jessica who just arrived from New Zealand to investigate a man who went missing several years before. The next morning, while out to paint a lighthouse, Penny finds Jessica dead on the beach, the victim of an apparent fall. Penny knows this was no accident and when the police have no evidence it was anything but an accident, she picks up the threads to unravel the circumstances that led to the young woman’s death.

Found this on Netgalley and snapped it up. I’ve read this series since the beginning and a few books back, I mentioned that I thought the character of Penny had stagnated, so I was really happy to see her character moving forward! I think this will breathe some new life into the series.

As for the plot, I had a pretty good idea whodunit but eagerly raced through the book to see it all unfold. Lots of twists and turns led to a satisfying conclusion that neatly wrapped up the two cases. It was also a pleasure to watch the romance blossom and to catch up with the usual cast of characters I’ve grown to love. The sweet ending left a smile on my face and I do hope this isn’t the end to the series (felt a little ambiguous to say for certain?) and if not, I look forward to more of Penny’s exploits.

Release Date: 10 November 2020

Mining for Justice (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #8)

Mining for Justice (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #8)by Kathleen Ernst

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This series blows me away with every book. There are always 3 narratives: Chloe’s, cop boyfriend Roelke’s and a haunting historical story featuring a woman facing horrible hardships. It’s managed so well, too; it seamlessly switches in between the narratives and brings a multi-dimensional facet to the story that’s unmatched in any other series I’ve read.

There was a lot going on this one; Chloe is struggling to find out who was buried in the root cellar of her friend’s stone cottage and also trying to help save the historical interpretation site Pendarvis from closing. Roelke is working on a big drugs bust while trying to protect his cousin from her ex-husband. Meanwhile, centuries ago, a Cornish woman and her brothers immigrated to Wisconsin to mine lead and her struggles and triumphs. There’s a lot packed into this book, but the story is woven so well that it’s easy to switch between characters. I loved the story of Mary Pascoe, from her time as a balmaiden in Cornwall to her immigration to the US and the struggles she faced throughout her life but also her triumphs. Meanwhile, with Chloe away, Roelke was forced to make a drastic decision that haunts him, one he can’t share with anyone, even his beloved Chloe.

I heartily recommend this series, particularly for those who enjoy historical fiction.

Released October 8, 2017