Book Review: Murder at St. Margaret by Lynn Morrison @NomadMomDiary @mktgchair @AnAudiobookworm

 

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Author: Lynn Morrison
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Series: Oxford Key Mysteries, Book 1
Released: Sep. 27, 2021
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery

 

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“Grief can change us… rewire our brains and shift the way we look at the world…”

A dead chef. A ruined gala. And the ghosts didn’t see a thing.

As Oxford’s new Head of Ceremonies, Natalie Payne’s first task is to organize St Margaret’s autumn gala. However, her plans are dashed when she finds their famed chef dead in the kitchen.

And then a centuries-old cat informs Nat she has her own magical legacy…and responsibilities. A murder in the halls is a sure sign that something has gone wrong with Oxford’s magical protections.

Now Nat has to solve the murder, find a new chef for the gala, and figure out why Oxford’s magical defenses are down. With the help of Oxford’s magical Eternals and some new friends, Nat has a chance.

But can she do it before St Margaret loses its connection to the magic of Oxford?

If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, creatures play, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.

Buy on Audible

Lynn Morrison lives in Oxford, England along with her husband, two daughters and two cats. Born and raised in Mississippi, her wanderlust attitude has led her to live in California, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to the UK. It’s no surprise then that she loves to travel, with a never-ending wish list of destinations to visit.

She is as passionate about reading as she is writing, and can almost always be found with a book in hand. You can find out more about her on her website LynnMorrisonWriter.com.

If you want to chat with her directly, join her Facebook group – Lynn Morrison’s Not a Book Club – where she happily talks about books, life and anything else that crosses her mind.

Website

Narrator Bio

Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her twelve-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka moment, and she’s never looked back. Pearl immersed herself in training and pursued a career in general voice acting but in 2012 she decided to focus her attention to narrating audiobooks in a wide range of genres. It was then that her professional career blossomed. She regularly works directly with indie authors but also narrates for a number of major publishers and has gained lots of recognition in the process including IAAIS awards, a Voice Arts Award nomination and Audiofile Magazine reviews. Pearl’s is comfortable narrating both fiction and non-fiction titles and has been very successful reading British Regency romance, cozy murder mysteries, fantasy/science fiction, children’s literature, the classics, history, biographies and more.

Website

Q&A with Author Lynn Morrison

  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • I wish! Murder at St Margaret was the first cozy mystery I wrote, and at the time, my only thought was about writing a story which would hold together. I could not have imagined how many copies of the book would sell, or even begin to dream of making an audiobook. It wasn’t until the fourth book in the series came out, and I started to see a steady income, that I began to think about making audio versions.
    • Now that I am farther along in my career, I do keep the idea of audio in the back of my mind as I write. I try to cut down on the dialogue tags and introduce more motion and movements instead. But, I think some of that comes along as part of your natural progression as you get better over time.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I didn’t start thinking about producing an audio version of Murder at St Margaret until a year after it was released. By then, I had good information on what other books my readers liked. I looked up those titles on Audible and checked which narrators the authors had chosen. Pearl Hewitt’s name came up again and again. She has an incredible ability to effortlessly switch character voices as she reads, and really brings the story to life in a way only audio can. It was no surprise that listeners love her. I contacted her out of the blue via her website, and lo and behold, she said yes!
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • I put together character bios for each of the main characters, and prepared a 15 minute test script pulling out different excerpts from the book. I specifically chose scenes which were dialogue-heavy so I could hear how she would differentiate between the characters. There were a few smaller characters which I didn’t include in my advance preparation. After reading the book, Pearl came up with suggestions for how their voices should sound – and I have to say that she did a brilliant job of it. She recorded the 15 minute sample and I circulated it to a few fans for feedback. Pearl took on board all their comments and then took care of everything from there. I didn’t have to do anything else until the book was ready to approve in Audible.
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • I pulled from both my own experiences of living in Oxford and being a professor’s wife, along with doing a ton of background research into the colleges themselves when writing this series. Oxford is such a unique city, and the university is full of quirks and traditions which are fascinating to outsiders. I wanted to bring my readers behind the closed doors of the colleges and let them see what life is really like. I haven’t seen any ghosts in Oxford, nor have any of the paintings come to life as I’ve walked past, but my imagination was more than happy to fill in the blanks when it came to dreaming up the magical elements.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Writers talk a lot about the importance of refilling your creative well, and I fully agree with that sentiment. I read a LOT of books each year – 150 or more on average. I need to lose myself in someone else’s story to remember why I write.
    • I also spend a long time thinking about a book idea before I sit down to start a project. I flesh it out in my mind until I am super excited to see the story come to life. I am usually thinking one or two books ahead of whatever project I’m currently doing. This helps me keep up my writing pace – each finish line marks the start of something I’m excited to tackle.
    • One of the funnest parts of being a writer (and one of the weirdest) is seeing your characters take on a life of their own as you write the story. I am a plotter. I write a synopsis and outline before I put the first word onto paper. But no matter how much I prep, there is always a moment where a character will suddenly veer in a new and interesting direction. Wherever that happens, I can only sit back in amazement and see where they lead me. It keeps me guessing, even though I’m the writer.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • I wrote this series in first person, present tense because I wanted the reader to feel like they are experiencing everything at the same time as my main character is doing so in the story. When put into an audio format, this gives the story a real sense of immediacy. I think it allows the listener to sink deeper into the tale, and feel as though they are sitting in on the conversations and making each discovery along with Natalie and her friends.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • As an author, I want readers to enjoy my story in whatever format is most comfortable for them. That might be a paperback, or an ebook, or the audio version. Arguing over “which format is better” misses the point – the main focus should be on accessibility. The only person who gets a vote on the format is the reader.
    • On a personal note, my younger daughter is dyslexic, and for a long while she hated reading. She has, however, always loved listening to stories. Audiobooks were a natural fit for her.
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • We ate cake! I started a tradition of either baking or buying a cake whenever I finish a book. It gives me something to look forward to when I am elbow deep in edits, and it also reminds my family there is a reward for putting up with my book deadline stress. As I start to get close to the end, we all discuss which cake we want to eat when it comes time to celebrate.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • Don’t stress over the quality of your first draft. I am a strong believer that anything can be fixed in edits – even if that means you have to do a major rewrite. Major rewrites aren’t that bad! The key thing is to get a first draft done so you can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from writing a book. It is an incredible accomplishment – and the warm feelings you get will support you through the editing process. I would also suggest that you start networking with other writers in your genre as soon as you can. Join author groups on Facebook or Discord, or post comments and replies to authors on other social media platforms. The writing community is filled with supportive people who are happy to cheer you on or lend a hand (or be a sympathetic ear). Writing can feel lonely at times, and knowing other writers can make a big difference on dark days.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I am hard at work on the next book! I jump from one project to another, and always have at least one book in progress. At the moment I’m working on two books – one is for the Oxford Key Mysteries and the other is for my Midlife in Raven series.

Review

I love a good mystery and then you throw in a magical cat AND a wyvern (who’s really the cat) AND a few ghosts AND a setting at Oxford…well. I ask you, how could I resist?? Needless to say, I didn’t, and I’m here to tell you this story is packed with charm and appealing characters and a good conundrum to be solved. Nat and her cohorts, Kate and Mathilde, find lots of clues leading to who killed the chef that are frequently red herrings and, of course, the bigger question is what is causing the magic to fail?

Well, actually, the biggest question might be how did Nat not know about her own connection to the magical world, not to mention where did this curmudgeonly cat called H (because he hates his name) come from? But I digress.

All in all, Ms. Morrison’s Murder at St. Margaret was a most satisfying blend of mystery and urban fantasy, enhanced in a delightful way by Ms. Hewitt’s audiobook narration. I really savored the latters intonations and pacing and I think these two ladies together present an awfully enchanting tale. Now, on to book #2, Burglary at Barnard.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Lynn Morrison. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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Book Review: One of Us by Lorie Lewis Ham @mysteryrat

One of Us
A Tower District Mystery #1
Lorie Lewis Ham
Mystery Rat’s Books, July 2021
ISBN 979-8544783145
Trade Paperback

From the author—

At 35, children’s book author Roxi Carlucci finds herself starting over again after her publisher drops her book series. With no income, she has to pack up her life on the California Coast, along with her pet rat Merlin, and move in with her cousin, P.I. Stephen Carlucci, who lives in Fresno, CA. The one redeeming factor is that Stephen lives in the Tower District—the cultural oasis of Fresno.

Stephen talks Roxi into helping out with a community theatre production, which is also a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. Little did she know that someone would be murdered during a rehearsal, and that she and Stephen would be hired to find the killer. The killer has to be one of Roxi’s new acquaintances since the theatre was locked at the time of the murder, but no one seems to have a motive. How can they solve a murder without a motive? Could the local gossip website hold any clues? Can they stop the killer before they strike again?

More years ago than I care to think about, I first “met” Lorie Lewis Ham and her Alexandra Walters mystery series featuring a gospel singer. The last volume came out in 2010 and I’ve frequently thought about those books, wishing there were more, but that wasn’t to be.

Then, one day earlier this year, Lorie let me know that she was starting a new series and I could not have been happier with the news. One of Us is very different and Roxi Carlucci is not Alexandra Walters but Lorie‘s touch is still there, very evident in her character building and her creation of a cracking good mystery.

Roxi experiences what too many authors do in having her publisher drop her and it only adds insult to injury when other circumstances pile on and force her to give up her home. Luckily, Roxi’s cousin, private investigator Stephen Carlucci, offers her a new place to live and so Roxi’s reinvented life begins. She could not have known that getting involved with a theater production would lead to her setting out on a new career as a private detective alongside her cousin but that sort of thing tends to happen when (1) you find a murder victim and (2) you have a naturally sleuth-y mind.

I’m so glad that Ms. Ham is publishing again and to find that she still has a fine hand with crime fiction, keeping the tension high and offering all sorts of red herrings and nuggets of potential leads. I also enjoyed meeting Roxi and Stephen again since they were both characters in the prior series. One of Us is a terrific start to this new venture and I can’t wait to see what will happen next in Roxi’s life…and to see more of a charming little pet rat named Merlin😄.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

Book Review: Two Many Sleuths by M K Scott @morgankwyatt @SDSXXTours

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Title: Two Many Sleuths
Series: The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries Book 12
Author: M K Scott
Publication Date: October 1, 2021

Goodreads // Indiebound // Amazon

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Two Many Sleuths
The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries, Book 12
M K Scott
Sleeping Dragon Press, October 2021
ISBN 978-1944712747
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Can the Brits and Yanks team up to solve a murder?

What should have been an easy week for small town detective Mark Taber and his amateur sleuth and innkeeper wife, Donna Tolllhouse Taber goes awry when a local garden club member is shot. One of the inn guests, a Scotland Yard detective’s insistence on helping could actually make things worse. Can ruffled feathers be smoothed before the killer strikes again?

Plenty of red herrings and potential suspects, not to mention appealing characters including the visiting Howard and Elizabeth, plus a humorous tone, made Two Many Sleuths a fun introduction to this very cozy series. Innkeeper Donna, unlike her police detective husband, Mark, is sure her Scotland Yard detective guest is going to be a treasure trove of crime-solving tips but things don’t quite go that way when a local garden club member is murdered. Will the two real detectives solve the case or will their wives prove they have their own investigating skills?

In a review of another book by M K Scott, I mentioned that I thought the writing was a little stilted and I had the same reaction to Two Many Sleuths. Now, I’ve come to believe that’s just Scott’s style and it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying the story.

I might also have encountered some difficulty because I haven’t read any of the eleven previous books in the series but the authors presented enough backstory to make me quite comfortable with the characters and setting. Also, readers who are not very familiar with “Brit-speak” will appreciate the included glossary of British lingo.

All said, this was a fun read and I think cozy fans will enjoy it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

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About the Author

M. K. Scott is the husband and wife writing team behind The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Morgan K Wyatt is the general wordsmith, while her husband, Scott, is the grammar hammer and physics specialist. He uses his engineering skills to explain how fast a body falls when pushed over a cliff and various other felonious activities. The Internet and experts in the field provide forensic information, while the recipes and B and B details require a more hands on approach. Morgan’s daughter, who manages a hotel, provides guest horror stories to fuel the plot lines. The couple’s dog, Chance, is the inspiration behind Jasper, Donna’s dog.

Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter
Instagram // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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Book Review: Five Card Murder by Bruce Hammack

Five Card Murder   
A Smiley and McBlythe Mystery #6   
Bruce Hammack
Jubilee Publishing, March 2021
ISBN 978-1-7350302-9-6
Trade Paperback

Greed, gambling, murder, and sibling rivalry all are whisked into a savory stew of many questions and few obvious answers for detectives Steve Smiley and Heather McBlythe. They are an interesting pair who will almost instantly draw in most readers. Heather is a high-level investment player for whom the intrigue of gambling isn’t played out at the poker table. Rather, she buys and sells in the corporate jungle. Her partner in crime solving is a blind former cop who uses his blindness to enhance his detecting skills.

The plot of this Texas mystery begins when Steve agrees to act as executor for the will of an East Texas rancher, Charley Voss. A
handwritten will arrives in the mail and the game is on. Charley’s body is found in his barn with nearly no clues as to his death. His only employee, Hector DeLeon and Charley’s son, Rance, found Charley’s body. Meanwhile Steve and Heather fly out to the Texas resort town of Llano to service Charlie’s will and delve into the murder. A second suspicious death complicates the picture and of course affects provisions of Charlie’s bequests.

The rural landscape becomes an integral well-used element of the story, the pace picks up as more and more characters, on both sides of the law, become enmeshed in a tricky narrative and a couple of important side issues help flesh out our main characters.

This is a complicated story with several branches, all carefully resolved by the author without rushing. I fully enjoyed learning about Heather although at times her parental relationships seemed to dominate too much of the narrative. A keen-eyed line editor would improve the overall impression of the novel, but that detracts little from a strong narrative.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: They Stay by Claire Fraise @XpressoTours

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Title: They Stay
Series: They Stay #1
Author: Claire Fraise
Publisher: Sabertooth Press
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Genres: Dark Fantasy/Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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They Stay
They Stay #1
Claire Fraise
Sabertooth Press, October 2021
ISBN 978-1-7372253-0-0
Trade Paperback

From the author—

For fans of Stranger Things comes a suspenseful YA mystery about a missing kid, a girl who can see ghosts, and a horrifying crime only four outcasts have the power to stop.

What if the only person who could help you find your missing brother was dead?

Nothing is as important to sixteen-year-old Shiloh Oleson as her little brother Max. So when the six-year-old goes missing without a trace, a heartbroken Shiloh refuses to believe nothing can be done and sets out to find him.

When one of Shiloh’s classmates says she knows where Max is, Shiloh hesitates to believe her. Francesca is creepy. She says she can see ghosts, but everyone knows ghosts aren’t real … right?

But Francesca says that Max is going to be murdered.

And a ghost told her where he is.

As the line between the dead and living begins to blur, Shiloh starts to think Francesca might not be as crazy as she believed. One thing is becoming clear. Someone has gruesome plans for Max, and Shiloh must confront her worst nightmares to find him before it’s too late.

THEY STAY is the first book in the They Stay Series. Read on if you like ghost stories, plot twists, enemies-to-friends, creepy circuses, budding romance, and unlikely heroes.

Content Warnings: This book contains death, kidnapping, domestic abuse, references to suicide, bullying, and mild adult language.

There’s nothing really new about the premise of this story—after all, there are a limited number of plots out there—so it’s incumbent upon the author to make her specific tale interesting and appealing to readers. Ms. Fraise has done this quite nicely, particularly in her evocation of emotional attachments between the reader and various characters as well as emotional tension.

I think my favorite element of this book is that of Francesca being able to see ghosts and interpret their actions but the developing friendship, if that’s what it really is, between Francesca and Shiloh is truly intriguing and I’m interested to see where things go with this relationship.

Although I’m decidedly not a fan of first person present tense, especially in a mystery, I enjoyed They Stay and will look forward to the next installment of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2021.

About the Author

Claire Fraise earned her B.A. in English from Tufts University. She is also the author of YA dystopian novel Imperfect (winner of the San Francisco and Beverly Hills Book Festivals), which she published when she was 16. When Claire’s not writing, she likes crocheting amigurumi animals, reading, and hanging out with her dogs. Even though it goes against every introverted bone in her body, she is on social media. Connect with her on Instagram at @clairefraiseauthor, on YouTube at Write with Claire Fraise, or visit her website at clairefraise.com.

Author links:

Website // Instagram // Facebook // YouTube // Pinterest // Goodreads

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Book Review: Thunder Peak by Trae Stratton @StrattonTrae

Thunder Peak
Tamm Chronicles, Book 1
Trae Stratton
Trae Stratton, August 2021
ISBN 979-8555928115
Trade Paperback

Casey heard spooky stories, speculations, of life in the shadow of Thunder Peak. She felt the strangeness in Storm Town’s atmosphere. And, of course, Jonas had been hinting at it her entire life. Urging her to come to him if she sees something…unusual.

What she just witnessed was not “unusual”. It was beyond bizarre.

Or, perhaps a herd of phantom horses was precisely what Jonas meant.

The time has come for Casey to hear the true story of her birth. More a narrative of what she is, rather than who, it helps Casey understand those around her better. The shell warrior, Taliko, is not an old friend of her father’s…at least, not exactly.

Portals between Earther and a whole other realm are fact, not fiction. The Tyndryn Trailway is the most treasured resource of the aril and they are prepared to use all of their magic to ensure that humans are never able to activate these doorways. Thus, putting Casey into a predicament.

Starfall, the steed that saved her, now needs her help to get home. Anxious to assist the colt in time, Casey must figure out how to access the transportation system. Then, how to allow Starfall through, but keep the malicious magic out.

Thunder Peak: Tamm Chronicles is an immediately engaging Young Adult fantasy-adventure. While the worlds within encourage imagination, even the nonhuman characters display realistic flaws and opportunities for self-improvement and growth. I thought these characters clicked and their story was stellar.

Of course, I cannot wait to introduce this treasure to “my” students.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books,
with a huge “Thank You!” to the author for donating
ARCs to my favorite classroom libraries.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2021.

Book Review: No Substitute for Matrimony by Carolyn J. Rose @CarolynJRose

No Substitute for Matrimony
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies #13
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, October 2020
ISBN 978-1-7342412-3-5
Trade Paperback

The author has written a score or more of what can be characterized as cozy mysteries. However, this novel is more of a deep dive into the subtle and not-so subtle characteristics of a lengthy cast of participants and their attitudes on life. They range from husband-to-be-Dave the detective to Barbara’s wealthy and intrusive friend, Mrs. B., to other faculty and staff at the school where Barbara substitute teaches.

Most of those who people the story are friendly, inquisitive, opinionated and talented. The narrative is well-done and the book is the kind that can fill several pleasant and warm afternoons. Yes, there’s a murder and Barbara’s husband-to-be is the detective charged with solving the puzzle. But that isn’t the most interesting element of the book.

The author has a penchant for giving readers access to her opinions about almost anything in sometimes calm, more often snarky terms. Her humor at times I found misplaced, but that’s a minor criticism. The writing is clean, the story proceeds at a reasonable pace and reaches its logical and satisfactory conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.