BLOG TOUR – Murder on the Toy Train Express – REVIEW, INTERVIEW


4 out of 5 stars.

Welcome! Today, I’m hosting a stop on another Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour. Today’s tour is for Murder on the Toy Town Express, the 2nd in the Vintage Toyshop Mystery series by Barbara Early. I found it to be a delightfully fun read! Stay tuned after my review for an interview with the author!


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Liz McCall has come to love running her father’s vintage toyshop back home in East Aurora, NY, so when the Train and Toy Show comes to town, she’s all aboard for a fun toy-filled weekend. The only hitch is that her childhood bully Craig McFadden, now local business rival, has set up a booth next to hers. But the fun and games are over when Craig falls from the ceiling in a publicity stunt gone wrong.

What was initially thought to be a fatal accident proves much more sinister. Pulled into the case by her feelings for both Ken, the police chief, and Jack, her high school sweetheart whose brother is one the prime suspects, Liz dives headfirst into the investigation. But as she digs deeper, she’s shocked to learn her father may have been the intended target.

The trouble train is barreling down and Liz may have just bought herself a first class ticket in Murder on the Toy Town Express, Barbara Early’s delightful second installment in her Vintage Toyshop mysteries.

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This was a delightful Christmas read! I love model trains to begin with, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I was not disappointed. 🙂 I have not read the first book in the series, but I did not have any trouble following the story line or knowing who each of the characters were.

I enjoyed our main characters. Liz is a great heroine. She does take some risks, but they’re calculated and she at least attempts to take someone with her to help with safety, even if that doesn’t always work as well as she hopes. I like both Ken and Jack. We’ll see down the line who ends up being the winner of Liz’s affections.

I enjoyed the setting and the descriptions very much. My best friend lives in Buffalo, NY, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. It was nice to visit the area in the book and know about some of the places and things they were talking about.

The plot line moved along at a steady pace and while I wondered about the villain, I wasn’t positive about them until just before it was revealed.

All in all, it was a fun book to read and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series!

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Author Interview

BARBARA EARLYFirst, I’d like to say thank you to Ms. Early for being willing to answer my questions!

Q1: 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?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I’m happy to saw I don’t have a day job, which is good because I’ve grown accustomed to working in my pajamas, and some employers frown on that. I do, however have four cats who think I’m their bondservant, so…

Q2: 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?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I tend to write in 1000 word spurts. By the end of 1000 words, my brain needs a break. Depending on how close I am to a deadline, I might repeat that process one, two, or more times. I can have music in the background, as long as it’s soft and instrumental, but I don’t need it to write. As to whether I write every day, ideally I would, but real life has a nasty habit of intervening.

Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reins” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I like to think I use a mix of the two. I definitely outline the mystery plot carefully. I can’t imagine making sure all the clues were buried and all the elements in place—and in the proper order—without one. There’s a certain cadence I want to achieve, and a balance of mystery, excitement, and humor that I feel help keep a story moving along.

I do, on the other hand, leave certain elements open for the characters to “decide” on their own. Any romantic subplots, for instance. In those cases, my outline might tell me who’s in a scene, but instead of trying to cram words into their mouths, I try to predict how they would respond and what they would say when put into that situation. They’ve surprised me more than once!


Q4: 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?

Ms. Early’s Answer: My journey may be a little different from many other writers. I didn’t initially set out to be a writer. It started out as a fun diversion for me, but the more I did it, the more interested (and maybe a little obsessed) I became in the process and in finding ways to improve my writing. I’d heard, of course, that it can be incredibly hard to be published, so instead of making that my goal, I decided just to keep working, keep improving, and see how far it would take me. I learned something through every setback, though honestly, I didn’t have a lot of rejections.

There’s not anything about the writing process that made me want to give up before I got published. The business aspects of being a professional writer, however, are a whole different set of skills and provide a new set of frustrations, and I will admit being tempted to quit since I’ve been published. Not sure those characters in my head will let me, though, and usually a box of shiny new books, a letter from a reader, or a kind review will shake me out of the idea.

Q5: 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?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I go through so many revisions, I’m not sure I can count them all. Before the book gets to editors, I have a critique group that works through some chapters, although there’s never enough time to finish the whole book. (Which is my sneaky way of ensuring at least six sales, since they all want to know how it ends!) I have a few beta readers I can call on, and my husband is kind enough to go through my books several times as well, at various stages of the process.

Ideally, I do like to let a manuscript rest after finishing the draft. Deadlines don’t always allow for that.

Q6: 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?

Ms. Early’s Answer: This might sound unsettling, but I don’t know that killers are all that much different from any other character—or from you and me.  An example I like to use is Sheriff Andy Taylor—from the old television show. One could hardly find a more friendly and innocuous fellow. When I teach a workshop on creating villains, I ask the class if they can imagine any situation in which he would become a killer. They think for a good while, then hands start going up. Yes, if anyone touched Opie or Aunt Bee, he’d be on them in a shot.

So in creating a villain, I create a character, then imagine what back story or pressing circumstance would lend a strong enough motive to this—otherwise normal—person to kill. I actually think cozy mysteries lend themselves to the most chilling villains, in that they’re not some predictable psycho stalker with pictures all over his wall, but a neighbor or colleague. They’re, as Mr. Rogers would say, the people in your neighborhood.


Q7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

Ms. Early’s Answer: It’s almost impossible to create a fictional character out of thin air. What we know about people is all derived from those we meet. That being said, I try to borrow elements of different people and mix and match them to create something new. (Kind of like those old books with the cut pages, where you could get the head of one character, the torso of another, and the legs of a third.)  I’ll also sometimes name a character after someone, especially if they ask nicely and it seems to fit the character, but that’s not to imply it is that person. Just namesakes.

Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Ms. Early’s Answer: That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I have an answer to that one. I started out writing fan fiction for Monk, and he was a lot of fun to write. Would I go back? Not sure. I think I’m having too much fun creating new people.

Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I recently finished Rhys Bowen’s On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service. Up next is Laura Levine’s newest Jaine Austen book.


Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?

Ms. Early’s Answer: In my entire life? I’d probably say the Bible and Nancy Drew.

Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I’d be playing board games with Liz McCall. Seems she and I share that common interest. (Valerie’s Note: Me too!!!)

Q12: 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 peek at reviews. I don’t always read them. I generally don’t respond, and NEVER to a bad review. I’ve made tweaks based on well-thought-out critical reviews—for example, someone said they loved the two older ladies in Death of a Toy Soldier and hoped they would be back. I hadn’t intended to return them, but I added them into a short scene in the second book, and brought them back into the third.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a truly negative review that held anything learnable. Much of what they say is subjective. What one reader hated, others loved, so you can’t please everyone.


Thank you again, Ms. Early, for agreeing to answer my questions today! Thank you to my wonderful readers for stopping by today and reading today’s review and post! If you wish to visit other stops on the tour, please click on the banner below to visit the main tour page with a list of tour participants!



Of Books and Bagpipes – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Of Books and Bagpipes is the second book in the Scottish Bookshop mystery series by Paige Shelton and it’s as delightful as the first!

Book Cover: Of Books and Bagpipes - A Scottish Bookshop Mystery by Paige Shelton: Teal plaid with white lettering, a drawing of a castle on a hill with a messenger bag, stack of books, and small brown/black dog in foreground.

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line of books - some stacked, some standing, some leaning - books are blue, brown, red, green, and yellow
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Brief Synopsis

Delaney Nichols has settled so comfortably into her new life in Edinburgh that she truly feels it’s become more home than her once beloved Kansas. Her job at the Cracked Spine, a bookshop that specializes in rare manuscripts as well as other sundry valuable historical objects, is everything she had dreamed, with her new boss, Edwin MacAlister, entrusting her more and more with bigger jobs. Her latest task includes a trip to Castle Doune, a castle not far out of Edinburgh, to retrieve a hard-to-find edition of an old Scottish comic, an “Oor Wullie,” in a cloak and dagger transaction that Edwin has orchestrated.

While taking in the sights of the distant Highlands from the castle’s ramparts, Delaney is startled when she spots a sandal-clad foot at the other end of the roof. Unfortunately, the foot’s owner is very much dead and, based on the William Wallace costume he’s wearing, perfectly matches the description of the man who was supposed to bring the Oor Wullie. As Delaney rushes to call off some approaching tourists and find the police, she comes across the Oor Wullie, its pages torn and fluttering around a side wall of the castle. Instinct tells her to take the pages and hide them under her jacket. It’s not until she returns to the Cracked Spine that she realizes just how complicated this story is and endeavors to untangle the tricky plot of why someone wanted this man dead, all before getting herself booked for murder. (Source: Goodreads)


Of Books and Bagpipes is a delightful 2nd installment in the Scottish Bookshop Mystery series by Paige Shelton. While it didn’t have that extra emotional hook to push it up to 5 stars, it’s still a really great book.

This book finds us back with all of our old friends, Delaney, Elias & Aggie, Tom, and The Cracked Spine crew. In this installment we learn more about Edwin and his college days. It’s a tangled web of mysteries, deceit, and intrigue. Delaney is still a bit too apt to run head-long into danger without thinking, but at least most of the time now, she doesn’t go off by herself, which makes me less upset with her when she does those things!

We find more of those lovely descriptions of the Scottish setting, the castle, the library, the countryside. It really just makes me want to sell everything and go there! Alas, not possible for me at this time, but Ms. Shelton really makes it sound lovely and wonderful!

The plot line moves along at a steady pace in this one. Thankfully, it is not too fast as there are so many intersecting angles in the story and so many details to remember. The pace allows you to remember all those things and yet doesn’t feel like it’s too slow. That takes serious talent and Ms. Shelton delivers!

The only downside for me right now is that I’ve even finished the novella that came between The Cracked Spine and this book and now I have to wait for the third to appear!

While the individual stories in the series can stand alone, I highly recommend reading this series in order as the interpersonal relationships are so important within the series! Check out The Cracked Spine first and then enjoy this newest installment and the novella, A Christmas Tartan!

** Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions expressed are my own. **

line of books - some stacked, some standing, some leaning - books are blue, brown, red, green, and yellow
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About the Author

Paige Shelton is the New York Times bestselling author of the Farmers’ Market Mysteries and the Country Cooking School Mysteries. She’s lived in many places but currently resides in Arizona. Visit her at Amazon)