BLOG TOUR – Vangie Vale & the Murdered Macaron – REVIEW, INTERVIEW

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4 out of 5 stars.

Today I’m pleased to be bringing you the latest stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Vangie Vale & the Murdered Macaron by R.L. Syme. This was a delightful book to read and I enjoyed it. Stay tuned for an interview with the author after the review.

** Update 8/7/17 ** Yesterday I still didn’t feel well, so updates to the post had to wait until today, but I’m happy to report that we now have more formatting, purchase links, a link to the item on Goodreads, and links to the author’s sites, plus graphics to help break up the text. Thank you for being patient as I dealt with my migraine and the aftermath.

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Synopsis

Small towns and gossip go together like flaky crust and sweet pastry cream. Between the police scanners, social media, and the senior center, it’s like a zombie apocalypse where they consume people’s secrets instead of living flesh. But Vangie Vale wants nothing more than to stay under the radar…especially the police radar.

So when her new bakery becomes linked to a murder investigation, nothing will stop the gossip mill from connecting her to the dead body. Can’t have that.

Forced back into the role of investigator, this newly-arrived-in-town part-time bakery owner has to become the very thing she hates–a nosy, small-town gossip–in order to clear her good name, and keep her face off the front page. But when a date-gone-wrong brings her face-to-face with the Sheriff, Vangie can’t ignore the fact that one of her macarons was involved in a murder. She has to find out who-dun-it.

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Review

As I said above, the book was a delightful read and I enjoyed it. I like our main character, Vangie. Sometimes she drove me a little nuts because she had a tendency to put herself into situations that held the possibility of danger without really thinking too much, but she didn’t do that often, so I didn’t get too annoyed by it.

I had mixed feelings about most of the supporting characters throughout the book. As we got more into the back story of the town and its people, I understood the characters motivations better and started to like some of them more, but there were enough red herrings in this book that I was suspicious of most of the townspeople and characters until the villain was actually revealed.

The plot line moved along at a steady and somewhat quick pace, though it wasn’t so quick that you couldn’t keep up. This was a fun read and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good whodunit.

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Interview

First, let me say a huge thank you to R.L. Syme for being willing to answer my questions.

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1) Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?  Do you enjoy your day job?

I don’t. I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time. I love it. I used to have non-writing jobs, though, and I’ve done so many different jobs, mostly in the nonprofit arena. Theater, music, church, youth, restaurants… all great experiences for me to take from in the writing.

2) Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

I write every day. Pretty much during the same hours every day, too, unless I’m on deadline, and then I’ll probably write more. I usually try to write a specific number of hours, rather than a word count. That way I know I’ll always get it done.

3) When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reigns” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

With Vangie, I definitely feel like the story was hers, and she took over. It might be because I feel like I know her so well, I can predict what she does. I love knowing a character that well.

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4) How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

I definitely went through a lot of rejections first. I never thought about quitting before…I’ve thought about quitting after. Lol. It’s definitely hard work. But I love it. To keep myself hopeful, I try to focus on the characters and the story I’m telling. I want to see them get their justice or their happy ending.

5) In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

Macaron went through three pretty major revisions. Normally, I don’t do that many, but this book has a lot of moving parts. I have two editors and several beta readers, and they are so helpful. I definitely set the book aside after every draft or every read-through. I like it to be fresh when I look at it.

6) A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

The thing I love about mystery is that the villain is usually someone who has a really good reason for doing what they did. They just got desperate. I think that’s what I like so much. I get to sort of write normal people who just get carried away because they want something so much. I think that’s what makes mystery so interesting.

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7) Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

My characters are definitely fictional. I try to make them as real as I can, so I almost always have pieces of something familiar in them, but I never write a one-to-one correlation of a person. I don’t think it’s fair to try to tell someone’s story so completely like that. But I also want them to feel real.

8) If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

That’s a great question. I’ve always wanted to do non-fiction, about TS Eliot. In fact, I worked on a fiction book about TS Eliot for a long time, but it never quite came to fruition. But there’s always a chance I will go back to that idea someday. I love TS Eliot.

9) What are some great books you’ve read recently?

I’m just finishing a re-read of Tana French’s The Likeness, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve read all of her Dublin Murder Squad books, and I think they’re my favorite series out right now.

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10) What books have influenced your life the most?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say The Bible, just because of my religious background. But in addition to that, I’ve been reading thriller and mystery for so long, I’d have a big list of those, as well. Nancy Drew would be up there, and Dean Koontz. John Grisham. But then, additionally, I was an English major, so I’ve read all the classics, and those have influenced me a lot, as well. Poetry, too. Eliot and Hopkins most notably.

11) If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

It would absolutely be Derek Hobson. And I’d be okay with just riding on his bike. Although maybe a little B&E, too…. #sigh

12) Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

I usually don’t respond to reviews. I did once, on one of my very first books, and I learned from the experience that it’s not my job to tell readers what they did and didn’t experience during my books. I’ve learned that I have to be really okay with putting the book out into the world and letting people think what they’re going to think. Not everyone will like every book, and reviews are supposed to help readers find the books they will and won’t like. As a good friend says, reviews are for readers, not for authors.

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Thanks so much for having me!

And THANK YOU for being willing to answer my questions today!! 🙂

Author’s Links

 

If you wish to follow the rest of the blog tour, click on the banner below and it will take you to the main tour page with the schedule of blogs!

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Cat Got Your Diamonds – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cat Got Your Diamonds is the first book in the Kitty Couture mystery series by Julie Chase and it’s delightful! I’ve been meaning to read it ever since it came out last spring and I finally was able to do so after finishing my latest round of blog tours. It did not disappoint!

Book Cover: Cat Got Your Diamonds: A Kitty Couture Mystery by Julie Chase - Store setting on cover with black & white cat on top of counter and beagle on the floor looking up at it.

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Brief Synopsis

Grandeur and opulence are everything in the famed New Orleans Garden District where pets are family and no bling is too big. Opening Furry Godmother, pet boutique and organic treat bakery, is Lacy Marie Crocker’s dream come true–until the glitter gun used to make her Shih Tzu tutus becomes a murder weapon. And Lacy becomes public enemy #1.

Now Detective Jack Oliver is hounding Lacy, and her Furry Godmother investor wants out before his name is tarnished by association. To make matters worse, a string of jewel heists with suspicious ties to the murder case has New Orleans residents on edge. To save her dream, Lacy must take a stand, put her keen eyes to work, and unravel what really happened at her shop that night. But can Lacy sniff out the killer cat burglar in time to get her tail-raising designs on the catwalk?

Witty and whimsical, Cat Got Your Diamonds, the first in a new cozy series by Julie Chase, will be the cat’s meow for fans of Rita Mae Brown and Miranda James. (Source: Goodreads)

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Review

I love Lacy. She’s kind of quirky, sometimes absent-minded, and just totally lovable. I love her spunky spirit, her go-get-em attitude, and her stubbornness. Her interactions with Detective Oliver are pretty great as well. I like the two of them together. 🙂 The other characters are fun as well. They’re mostly well-rounded and developed. I’m sure the author deliberately left some things out in order to expand on them in later books in the series.

The plot line moves along at a decent pace. I never felt like the pace was dragging, but nor did I feel like the story was so fast-paced that I couldn’t keep up. I enjoyed the plot twists along the way. I didn’t have an inkling of the villain until he was revealed. Even then, I was completely surprised. I can’t wait to read the second one in another week or so for a blog tour to find out how all of it is going to affect Lacy and her business!

I love the New Orleans setting. I also love that it’s set in the Garden District and not just the Quarter which is where so many TV shows and books are set when they talk about New Orleans. The descriptions of the settings are lovely.

All in all it’s a delightful read and a fun first book to the series! The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is that it didn’t have an emotional “hook” for me – that little bit of extra pizzazz that will push it up to a 5 in my book. But it’s still a wonderful and fun book!

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About the Author

Author photo: Fall wooded background, young white woman with oval-shaped face, shoulder-length brown hair, no glasses, wearing a white top with a brown/tan cardigan and a gold necklaceJulie Chase is a mystery-loving pet enthusiast who hopes to make readers smile. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC). She is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency.

Julie also writes as Julie Anne Lindsey. (Source: Goodreads)

Vanilla Beaned – REVIEW

4 out of 5 stars.

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Synopsis

Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are taking a gamble by opening their first franchise of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes Bakery, so where better to hit the jackpot than in Vegas? Business manager Tate Harper has lined up a meeting with Holly Hartzmark, a former showgirl who’s looking to bring Mel and Angie’s sweet treats to Sin City, but Mel isn’t so sure she’s ready to hand her recipes over to a complete stranger—especially one as brash as Holly.

But after the potential bakery location gets blown up, Mel begins seeing another side to Holly—one that reminds her very much of herself. Determined to help a kindred spirit, Mel sets out to discover who is trying to keep the bakery from cashing in. But with a murderous mischief maker on the loose, the odds are stacking up against a happy ending for Mel and her friends…

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Review

Vanilla Beaned by Jenn McKinlay is the eighth installment in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series.

Welcome to another fun, wonderful story about our bakers, Mel, Angie, and Tate and the troubles they always seem to find themselves in! This installment is filled with romance, intrigue, crime, cupcakes, and an adorable 5-year-old who is an expert in all things cupcake. Add in an Elvis impersonator competition, Mel’s employees, Oz & Marty, plus, the handsome police detective, Manny, and you’ve got one crazy, hectic, but thrilling and enjoyable book on your hands.

Our bakery owners find themselves in Las Vegas as they look to start their first franchise, owned by Holly, who is an entirely self-taught, but phenomenal baker. However, as they usually do, the situation goes awry when the first storefront being considered for the location blows up. While the quartet (Mel, Angie, Tate, & our new baker, Holly) try to figure out who is behind the mischief, Melanie finds herself entranced by the baker and her 5-year-old daughter. She decides that maybe franchising isn’t such a bad idea after all.

The story line in this book was wonderful. I did have an inkling of who the culprit was, but only because of something our adorable cupcake expert tells us. One of those details in the story where if you miss it, you’ll probably have no idea until the end who the culprit is, but if you catch on to it, it’s a pretty good clue.

Having a change in setting was great as well. Las Vegas is always a happening town. While the casinos and their shows, gaming floors, extravagant hotels, etc. were featured, you also saw the other parts of Las Vegas, the parts off “The Strip” that you don’t always see in books and movies.

The only criticism I have is that if you’re a long time reader of this series, you know that the seventh book ends on quite the cliff-hanger.  While it’s resolved at the beginning of Chapter 2, it was a little startling to me going from that cliff-hanger to nothing special happening at the very beginning of the book. It’s not a huge deal, but it bugged me.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book in the Cupcake Bakery series, one of my favorites in the series, actually. If you like cozy mysteries, give this one a try! Then gobble up the rest of the books in the series too!

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The Double Fudge Brownie Murder – REVIEW

2 out of 5 stars

Double Fudge Brownie Murder by Joanne Fluke book cover - orange background with brownie with nuts on it

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Synopsis

Hannah is nervous about the upcoming trial for her involvement in a tragic accident. She’s eager to clear her name once and for all, but her troubles only double when she finds the judge bludgeoned to death with his own gavel and Hannah is the number one suspect.

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Review

The Double Fudge Brownie Murder by Joanne Fluke is the 18th book in the Hannah Swensen series and frankly, it will probably be the last one that I read. I thoroughly enjoyed the first dozen or so installments in this series. However, I feel like the quality has really dropped over the years and I felt that this one was extremely sub-par work.

There are things in the author’s writing style that after the first dozen or so books has started grating on my nerves. Also, Hannah’s whining and hurt feelings over the fact that a) she’s a suspect when she finds a body and b) when Mike doesn’t share information with her like she thinks he should is annoying me. We’ve been through 17 other books, she should realize by now that yes, if you find a body you will be a suspect. Even if you’re eliminated quickly, you’re still going to be on that list. By now she should also be aware of just how much information Mike can share without losing his job and accept it. Instead, she acts like a petulant, spoiled child each time.

I’m going to stop here and put in a spoiler alert because I can’t figure out a way to discuss this issue I have without spoilers.

*******Spoiler Alert*******

The other reason I just don’t think I can read anymore in this series is because of how the author dealt with the whole love triangle between Hannah, Norman & Mike. Yes, I was tired of the love triangle. Most fans were. But to fix it by bringing in a third guy from about ten books ago and saying that he and Hannah had been keeping in touch all along?! To me, it was totally unbelievable. We’ve never seen Hannah keep in touch with this man in the books in between, so it makes very little sense to me. I seriously expected this man to be part of the whole murder plot line, if not the murderer, then an accomplice at the very least. That’s how unbelievable I found this move.

I really enjoyed the first dozen or so books in this series and I would highly recommend them to anyone who likes cozy mysteries, but after this last debacle, I’m done with it.

Dark Chocolate Demise – REVIEW

4 out of 5 stars

Dark Chocolate Demise by Jenn McKinlay book cover - Two-tiered cupcake stand sitting on granite counter - cake stand is holding cupcakes decorated as ghosts and mummies

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Synopsis

Scottsdale, Arizona, may not be the liveliest place on earth, but it’s never been as dead as this. Hundreds of fans have gathered together for the first annual Old Town Zombie Walk, and Mel, Angie, and the Fairy Tale Cupcake crew are donning their best undead attire to sell some horror-themed desserts to the hungry hordes.

But the fun turns to fright when Mel finds a real dead body in a prop casket outside of the bakery’s truck—and the corpse looks alarmingly like a zombie of their own. Knowing that Joe, Angie’s brother and Mel’s former flame, has been working on a dangerous mob case, Mel worries that the murder is a hit gone wrong and that someone near and dear was the real target. To keep any of her friends from winding up six feet under, Mel will do whatever it takes to find a killer—no matter how scary things get…

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Review

Dark Chocolate Demise by Jenn McKinlay is the seventh installment in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’ll admit that the subject matter drew me to the series. After all, who doesn’t like cupcakes?! However, it’s the characters that have kept me reading all this time. I absolutely love Mel, Angie, Tate, Joe, Marty, Oz, and the rest. The shenanigans that Angie and Mel get into are just hilarious and I’m always excited to see what they get up to next!

Normally, I’m NOT a fan of zombies and will generally avoid books that have anything to do with zombies, but I just love this series too much to stay away. The mystery was fantastic and I had no idea who was the real culprit until the end.  Throw in the cliff-hanger ending and WOW – I just can’t wait for the next installment!

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