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!




Large banner: Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours Presents "Stuck: The Penningtons Investigate" by C.T. Collier - June 20-July 3, 2017 - includes a photo of the author and the book cover

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Today, I’m happy to be bringing you a stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Stuck: The Penningtons Investigate by C.T. Collier. This was a great read and tho’ it didn’t quite hit a “5” on my scale, it’s a solid “4.5”!

Book Cover: "Stuck: The Penningtons Investigate" by C.T. Collier - green background with brown lettering - a stiletto is seen standing straight up in a wooden desk

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Meet the Penningtons: Lyssa, Ph.D. Economics, and her husband “the handsome Brit” Kyle, Ph.D. Computer Science. When their clever minds ask questions, clever killers can’t hide.

Murder never entered the picture until Fritz Van Derzee decided, at long last, to clear his name. Who stuck a jeweled stiletto into his desktop after stabbing him to death? Fritz’s daughter, Emma, recruits her former professor Lyssa Pennington to find the killer.

But where’s the ten million Fritz was falsely accused of embezzling? Tompkins College President, Justin Cushman, hires his old friend Kyle Pennington to trace the missing money.

While Lyssa uses charm and tenacity on the long list of suspects, Kyle reconstructs the college’s old homegrown finance system. As they converge on the killer, Lyssa and Kyle may be the next two casualties.

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This book was a lot of fun for me. I had planned on reading the first book in the series before tackling this one, but life happened and that didn’t. Thankfully, I didn’t feel like I was missing a ton of important back story, maybe a little bit, but not too much.

I enjoyed the characters in this book. Lyssa and Kyle seem like people who I’d want to be friends with. They’re intelligent, inquisitive and yet they seem down-to-earth and fun. There were a couple of times that I felt Lyssa was overreacting about something, but then again, I didn’t read the escapades that happened in the first book, so perhaps she had reason. The supporting characters were great too.

The plot line moved along steadily and it kept me guessing right until the end. We all knew one of the villains, but I didn’t see the other one coming until it happened at the end. I also enjoyed the side visits that the Penningtons made. I liked the blending of Kyle’s business along with Lyssa’s career at the college.  I really enjoyed their visit to Iceland and the time the book spent there.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely highly recommend this series to other cozy mystery enthusiasts!

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About the Author

C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high-tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting is entirely fictional: Tompkins College is no college and every college, and Tompkins Falls is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY (AKA Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life).

Author Links


Facebook: kate.collier.315

Twitter: @TompkinsFalls

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Thanks for joining me today on this blog tour stop! Click the banner below to visit the other places along this tour!

Medium Banner: Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours Presents "Stuck: The Penningtons Investigate" by C.T. Collier - June 20-July 3, 2017 - includes the book cover


Prose and Cons – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars

Prose and Cons is the 2nd book in the Magical Bookshop mystery series by Amanda Flower. It was fun and entertaining to read. 🙂

Book Cover: Prose and Cons: A Magical Bookshop Mystery by Agatha Award-Winning Author Amanda Flower - Front porch of a bookshop with books stacked on the floor of the porch and on a bench; Black & White cat with crow sitting next to him and swirling autumn leaves shimmering with magic

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Brief Synopsis

October in Cascade Springs means tourists are pouring in for the annual Food and Wine Festival, and Daisy hopes to draw those crowds to the store. She asks Violet and the local writing group, the Red Inkers, to give a reading of the works of Edgar Allan Poe on the shop’s front porch to entertain the revelers. Everyone eagerly agrees.

Yet their enthusiasm is soon extinguished when Violet discovers one of the writers dead in the shop moments before the event. After the shop magically tells Violet she’ll need to rely on Poe’s works to solve the murder, she enlists the help of her trusty tuxedo cat, Emerson, and the shop’s crow, Faulkner. But they must act fast before someone else’s heart beats nevermore… (Source: Goodreads)

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I definitely enjoyed this book better than the first one in the series. We get to know the characters a little better and I’m liking Violet more and more. This time around it’s the Food and Wine festival along with the murder of one of their writing group members. While the victim was not well liked in town, Violet still feels for her as no one deserves to die like that.

Through the use of Poe’s works of literary prose, the bookshop seems to be telling Violet to look for someone hiding in plain sight. I totally didn’t see the villain coming until the very end when they reveal themselves (I don’t want to give it away!). It was a complete surprise to me and I’m looking forward to seeing how this changes dynamics among the main characters in the next book.

I have my personal favorite out of the two suitors that Violet has and I’ve enjoyed the interactions in this one as they seem to be going his way. Woo hoo! But then again, something at the end of the book (again, no spoilers!) makes me think that she won’t end up choosing him. Boo. 😦

All in all it’s a fun read and I look forward to reading more in the series!

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

Amanda Flower, an Agatha-nominated mystery author, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Her debut mystery, Maid of Murder, was an Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel. Amanda is an adult services librarian for a public library near Cleveland. She also writes mysteries as USA Today bestselling author Isabella Alan. (Source: Goodreads)

Crime & Poetry – REVIEW

4 out of 5 stars.

Crime and Poetry is the first book in the Magical Bookshop mystery series by Amanda Flower. It’s a pretty good start to the series.

Crime and Poetry: A Magical Bookshop Mystery by Amanda Flower book cover - winding staircase around a tree trunk with cat sitting on the stairs, a front counter with an old-fashioned cash register and books.

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Brief Synopsis

Rushing home to sit by her ailing grandmother’s bedside, Violet Waverly is shocked to find Grandma Daisy the picture of perfect health. Violet doesn’t need to read between the lines: her grandma wants Violet back home and working in her magical store, Charming Books. It’s where the perfect book tends to fly off the shelf and pick you…

Violet has every intention to hightail it back to Chicago, but then a dead man is discovered clutching a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems from Grandma Daisy’s shop. The victim is Benedict Raisin, who recently put Grandma Daisy in his will, making her a prime suspect. Now, with the help of a tuxedo cat named Emerson, Violet will have to find a killer to keep Grandma from getting booked for good…

line of books - some stacked, some standing, some leaning - books are blue, brown, red, green, and yellow
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This was a very good book and I enjoyed it after I finally got into it.

I had a little trouble getting into it at first because of the supposed location. I’m very familiar with the section of Western New York that this book is set in and it took me a while to figure out what part of the Niagara River they were based on. At first I was confused because so much of that area has the river in a gorge and the communities are several stories above, but there is an area that is similar to what was described and once I figured out that area was where the fictional town is, it was easier for me to get into the actual story. The setting descriptions were great. They were a nice balance of description versus imagination.

I enjoyed the characters in this book. While Violet has a tendency to go looking for trouble (which can be a pet peeve for me), she’s not one of the “too stupid to live” heroines that you sometimes see in cozies. Grandma Daisy is awesome and I absolutely adore her. The characters are rich and strong, complex and easy to identify with. I look forward to seeing how the various characters grow and their relationships change throughout the series.

The story line moved along at a decent pace. There was only one time that I thought it was moving a bit slowly, but that feeling didn’t last long.

All in all, I’d say that this is an excellent start to a new series and I look forward to reading more from this author!

We Wish You a Murderous Christmas – REVIEW

4 out of 5 stars.

We Wish You a Murderous Christmas - Year Round Christmas Mystery - Room with Christmas tree in right corner, fireplace with stockings hanging, and dog lying on the floor.

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Christmas line with evergreen boughs, holly, red ornaments and a red ribbon


It’s Christmastime three hundred sixty-five days a year in Rudolph, New York, and as Christmas Day approaches, shop owner Merry Wilkinson is enjoying a rare evening off at the Yuletide Inn when she runs into owners Grace and Jack Olsen. With Jack’s health failing, Merry is relieved to hear that his son Gord will be taking over the day-to-day running of the Inn.

But then Gord reveals that his new plans have no room for Christmas at the Inn, and Merry and the other shopkeepers start to fret about the effect a bland franchise hotel could have on their livelihoods.

When Gord is found stabbed to death, there’s an entire town of potential suspects—and it’s up to Merry to find whoever brought homicide home for the holidays…

Christmas line with evergreen boughs, holly, red ornaments and a red ribbon


We Wish You a Murderous Christmas is the second book in the Year Round Christmas series by Vicki Delany. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though I have to admit that I have never been so happy that a particular character has died than I was in this one.

Our victim seemed to actually thrive on conflict and enjoyed causing it. I don’t always do well with conflict whether real or fictional and I ended up putting the book down for about 30 minutes when I first started it. The man is just that disagreeable! I don’t want to give away any spoilers thought, so I won’t say anything more.

I enjoyed learning more about the various characters in the book. They’re becoming even more well-rounded and complex as we get further into the series. I particularly like that when dealing with a series. I don’t need the character’s entire back story up front in the first volume. I like getting to know the character little by little throughout the series. I was also thrilled to see that at least for the moment the “love triangle” (for lack of a better term) has been settled. It frustrates and annoys me when those last for too many books.

The setting hasn’t changed much since the previous book, but the setting descriptions were fine. I felt that there was enough detail to firmly imagine the scene, but it wasn’t overwhelming or too tedious.

The plot line moved along at a steady pace and I had absolutely no idea of who the villain was until the heroine figured it out. I never suspected that person at all, which personally, I like. I like it when I’m stumped. If I figure out too early who the villain is, I get bored with the book.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the Year Round Christmas mystery series. I highly recommend this to Christmas lovers, to cozy mystery lovers, or anyone else who likes a good story!

*** I was given a free copy from the author. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions are my own. ***

Christmas line with evergreen boughs, holly, red ornaments and a red ribbon