Review of Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery) by Vikki Walton

CKPreLaunch

Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery)

Description: Anne is excited for the opening of the Brandywine Inn. Kandi and Hope are her partners in the bed-and-breakfast in Carolan Springs, Colorado, where they also provide homesteading and herbal workshops for guests.
As soon as the guests arrive, it’s plain that the five old college chums have bad blood between them. When Anne finds a threatening note, it’s clear that someone is out for revenge. Then they find a guest dead. At first, the death appears to be natural, but suspicions begin to grow.
When a blizzard threatens the Inn, will it trap them all with a killer and no way out?
Cordial Killing is a classic who-dun-it with a twist. Set in the fictional small town of Carolan Springs, you will enjoy an armchair getaway into beautiful Colorado.

NewReleaseREVIEW: Cordial Killings is the second book in The Backyard Farming series by Vikki Walton. As a cozy mystery set in a bed and breakfast, I was looking forward to reading this book during the colder weather with a warm drink and a fire going. The setting is perfect for a cozy, and Walton doesn’t disappoint with descriptions of the food and drinks that the characters often partake. However, I wanted more description of the setting. A picturesque backdrop of Colorado Rockies in the winter, the blanket of glistening snow, the way freshly fallen snow coats tree branches…these are the beauties of winter that could have been played up. In addition, I would have loved more details on the decor of the rooms in the bed and breakfast. The layout of the house is described, but I feel that more details would have given it even more of that cozy feeling I’m looking for when I dive into this type of book.

The characters who run the bed and breakfast, Anne, Kandi, and Hope, are sweet–the type of ladies you would want for friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the guests, a group of middle-aged women who were college friends and are reuniting for a weekend of learning how to make tonics, tinctures, and tisanes. The old friends (or frenemies?) are aptly and cutely called the Elizabeth Taylors, named Taylor, Liz, Lil, and Beth. The weekend is supposed to be for ladies only, but when Beth arrives with husband Edward, a womanizing cardiologist with more than one type of heart trouble, tensions build in the group, and old wounds open and fester.

I kept waiting for the first death, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book. I would have liked less banter between the women and for this important action step to occur much sooner, perhaps about twenty percent of the way into the story.  While the bad blood between the group is important backstory and plays into the plot, I think the story needs to move quicker in the beginning to get to the point of a cozy mystery: solving a murder or suspected murder.

Another death follows shortly, and from there, the pace really picks up. I was pleased with how the rest of the story flowed and played out. I admit I suspected the killer and turned out to be right, but as the sheriff and Anne interview the different guests, motives for each are presented and well thought-out. The ending was satisfying.

This was an easy, enjoyable read–a good book if you’re looking for something fun and not too serious.

4 of out 5 stars

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About the author:
Vikki’s first words were “I get it!” This attitude became her life-long mantra to always go after what she wants. It also helped her realize her desire to help others get what they really want out of life.
After spending years as a registered interior designer, Vikki began to write. While writing for periodicals, Vikki found herself on assignment interviewing publishers in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t long before the natural beauty of Colorado captured her heart.
After moving to Colorado, Vikki worked with nonprofits. However, she soon realized she needed more autonomy in her work.

Vikki started her own business as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She has helped nonprofits across the U.S. to receive millions of dollars for  their work. Yet, she realized doing one thing wouldn’t satisfy her for long.

Vikki became a Work Quilter™ combining her many passions to create multiple income streams. She started speaking and teaching adults on myriad and diverse topics around her knowledge, skills and passions.   She’s taught and spoken on Creative Writing, Design for Heart and Home, Fundraising Fundamentals , Suburban Homesteading, Permaculture, How to Get What You Really Want, and of course, Work Quilting. Two words that continually appear on instructor and speaker feedback forms are “engaging” and “knowledgeable.”
Born in Chicago, Vikki lived outside of Paris for a few years as a small child. That may account for her love of travel. She moved to Wichita with her parents before going on to live most of her life around the San Antonio, Texas area. She is the founder of #girlswantago and you can connect through Facebook or www.girlswantago.com 
Vikki is also an experienced, professional  global house and pet sitter.  
Vikki’s favorite genre is mystery so it wasn’t long before she had begun her first cozy mystery series.  Incorporating her love of suburban homesteading, or as some call it, backyard farming, Vikki’s first book is Chicken Culprit. 

You’ll most often find Vikki out hiking with her dog, outside gardening, traveling abroad, house or pet sitting, or writing her next book.

FirstinSeries
Marie’s Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Items Needed

  • Quart canning jar with lid
  • Funnel (large mouth)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Label or masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Strainer (optional)
  • Decorative Bottle (optional)
Ingredients Amounts needed Comments
Elderberries 1.25 cup dried or 2 cups fresh For fresh, remove from stems.
Brandy 3 cups Can also use other alcohol but brandy is most commonly used.
Honey ¼ to ½ cup (or to taste) Vegans or those who don’t have access to good local raw honey can substitute maple syrup. Acquiring local honey will provide your cordial with its own unique flavor.
Optional
Cinnamon stick One Flavor along with Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory properties
Rosehips ¼ cup Extra Vitamin C
Ginger 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger Flavor along with Antioxidants

Instructions

  • Place elderberries (and any optional ingredients, if using) into quart jar.
  • Cover with brandy.
  • Add honey.
  • Stir with wooden spoon or put lid on and shake.
  • Place in dark, cool space (usually a cabinet will do) for three to four weeks.
  • If desired, strain with cheesecloth and using a strainer, put into a decorative bottle.
  • Or you can leave ingredients in jar.
  • In winter take 1-2 tbsp daily for immune-boosting. If ill, take 3-4 tbsp (basically a shot glass) a few times a day until symptoms improve. This cordial can also be used as a base for poor-tasting tinctures such as osha.
  • Can last for a year with fresh berries and longer if made with dried berries—if you have it that long!

Notes

Elderberry is a wonderful plant to have in your yard or on your property. It has many medicinal benefits and uses. The elderberry plant most commonly associated with immune-boosting and flu-fighting properties is the dark berry plant (Elderberry Sambucus Nigra). Elder flower is also used in elixirs, teas and food.  Elder was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year in 2013. It’s usually harvested in September.

This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Character interview:

Hope, can you share with our readers about yourself?AvailableFavBookstore

Certainly. I live above the shop of an herbal apothecary I own in Carolan Springs, Colorado. I’m also a medical doctor.. My mother, Faith, lives with me and I care for her. I’m an only child and I moved back to care for my mother when she started having health issues. I love living in a small town and I love Colorado. I’m in the perfect place for the life I want to live and the work I want to do. I have a new intern, Autumn, so that’s helping me to expand into other areas of interest.

You’ve recently opened a bed-and-breakfast with your friends. Can you tell us about that?

My father, Ralph Rogers, passed away, and I inherited his house. I didn’t know for years that Ralph was my father,  so it surprised me when he left me the home in his will. The house is a huge, old Victorian that probably stood by itself for many years before the other homes went up around it.  Anne, who has become a good friend, and Kandi, another friend, talked about the possibility of opening a bed-and-breakfast in the house. As they live on either side of the house, it works well for them. Anne has written and taught about suburban homesteading while Kandi is a great cook. Plus, I get to do teaching on herbs through workshops we hold there. It’s called the Brandywine Inn as Ralph was a big fan of Brandywine tomatoes. In the summer we open it up primarily for tourists and those who come for the homesteading fair. Then we can hold workshops in the spring and fall.

Tell us about where you live.

I live in the small mountain town of Carolan Springs in Colorado. (Don’t try to find it on a map as it’s only in the author’s imagination). I have to say the weather here in Colorado takes some getting used to. There can be a snowstorm in the morning and by the afternoon, lots of bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The key is to wear layers at any time of the year! I finally learned that after living here for a few years. I’m excited about spring because it’s that shoulder season when it’s normally crisp morning and sunny days. It’s a great time for hiking and seeing all the early wildflowers popping up and sometimes even mushrooms. We’re incorporating hike opportunities for our guests.

Can you tell us a bit more about Carolan Springs and its inhabitants?

It’s a fairly small town—around 3500 people—and just like everywhere else, you have many characters. My shop is along the main street filled with little shops and everyone is usually nice though we have some cranky folks just like any other town. I think Sheriff Carson and Anne should just get on with it and become a couple because they’re both so stubborn that they’d be a perfect match. But don’t tell them I said anything. Problem is they’ll probably end up with others. Oh well, what can you do? I’m sure you’ll find out more about the town’s residents in future stories.

You mentioned the author, what can you tell us about her?

Well, she was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Texas—around the San Antonio area. But just like me, she loves Colorado’s mountains. She grows and uses herbs and making her own tinctures, tonics, and salves. She loves the basic edible herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and others. A few of her favorite medicinal herbs are astragalus and osha for tinctures along with comfrey she uses in salves. In addition to writing mysteries, she’s also written nonfiction books. She loves everything about being a suburban homesteader or what some call backyard farming. She’s a certified permaculture designer, has chickens and beehives and gardens of various types.

Hope, can you tell us what’s next for the series?

We’ve all been talking about getting beehives for the property, so we can offer honey to our guests. Having bees on the property will also help with all the gardens we want to install. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those being a part of the next book in the series.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t think of anything. Though my mother (Faith) says she has a bad feeling about our opening weekend at the bed-and-breakfast. She has second-sight so that’s a bit disconcerting that she says she has a bad feeling. But I’m sure it’s nothing. I hope.

Review of Second Week in November by Kathleen Joyce

secondweek

Summary: Tucked in a cozy corner of the Pacific Northwest, the charming town of Amelia Bay becomes the focus of the media who have descended on the community seeking a sensational tabloid story. A beautiful young waitress, from Harrigan’s Irish Pub, disappears. Did she simply walk away, was she kidnapped, or worse? Clare Harrigan’s brother, Finn, a successful movie producer, finds himself up to his neck in hot water. The new Chief of Police believes he has his man. Can Clare clear Finn? She and her friends have to solve another murder amid the hubbub of getting ready for Thanksgiving and her son’s wedding. Someone is determined to stop Clare from finding the truth.

Join the Harrigan Clan and their friends, as they serve up more delicious meals of comfort food served around cozy fireplaces, in the second book of the Amelia Bay Mystery series.

Note: I am part of a writers group that has read and critiqued this novel during its creation. I am also a good friend of the author and served as an editor for her. My opinion is honest and unbiased.

Kathleen Joyce is back with her engaging cozy mystery series involving Clare and her group of gals in lovely Amelia Bay. Just coming off the horrific events of the first novel, Clare is looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and her son’s wedding, but murder is happening again in this sweet fictional Pacific Northwest small town. When a young waitress named Bets who works at the local pub disappears and a mysterious group of people belonging to the cult Evening Star walk into the bar one evening inquiring after her whereabouts, things turn bad for Clare’s ladies’ man, Hollywood producer brother, Finn, who was dating Bets. Just as one murder seems bad enough, another woman’s body turns up…on Clare’s property. Clare and her friends are determined to clear Finn’s good name and get to the bottom of these murders, but someone has it out for Clare and her family. The stakes grow higher as the story progresses, and amidst delectable desserts, warm fires, glasses of wine, and tasty meals and the elaborately-brought-to-life background of Amelia Bay, you can’t help but be written right into the action yourself. Joyce tells a carefully crafted tale that delivers a satisfying ending.

Her writing style reads smoothly. Even lengthy descriptive passages that are part of the cozy-telling formula are well-rendered and don’t get in the way of the plot. The dialogue between various characters is engaging and often delightfully humorous, as sweet as the desserts in the book and just a little sassy. Such dialogue plays an integral part in bringing Clare and her friends to life.

You will want to be sure to read the author’s final and third book in the Amelia Bay series when it’s released later this year.

My review of the first book in this series is here.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of Off Script: A Monkey & Me Novel by Liv Bartlet

offscriptSummary: “I kissed Edward Wolverton once. It was everything it was supposed to be—and then some… maybe I’ll kiss him again.” TV Producer Bea Douglas’s last confession to her former business partner and ex-best friend wasn’t meant to tempt the fates. She’s eager to escape the hypocrisy of the television industry and years of hiding her faith for the convenience of other people. Edward Wolverton may be hot, smart, and funny—but he’s also two steps out of rehab with a self-proclaimed allergy to Christianity. But after a club night turns violent, Bea loses her sense of self while Eddie teeters on the edge of relapse. Their connection to each other is the only certainty. To be together, each will have to let go of past pain and have faith in a love that never fades. Off Script is an uncommon story of the power of love and resilience to bring people together in a society that does its best to tear them apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Off Script is the second in the Monkey & Me series by Liv Bartlet. I had the pleasure of reading the first novel, Production Values, last year. You can read my review here. I highly suggest you read the first book to receive the full benefit of the second book’s story, although Off Script can certainly be read independently and thoroughly enjoyed.

Off Script is a literary breath of fresh air in the indie author world. I read plenty of books by self-published authors, and like its forerunner, this second book in the series is smart, sassy, funny, has heart, and makes you actually think, all the while entertaining you. It’s rare to find a book that has all those qualities.

I am a writer, an author, and an avid reader. The more I read and write, the more persnickety I get. Liv Bartlet knows her stuff. Not only does she have excellent insight into the workings of the making of television shows and movies, but she understands human interactions with a depth that few writers can convey so believably in their dialogue.

Bea Douglas has spent years in the world of Hollywood and the like. She thrives on her work. She’s the sort of woman who needs to be doing something to feel useful. When she’s not producing a show or running PR, she’s a volunteer nurse. She’s sassy, witty, and quick. She shows a tough exterior to a world where she has to be tough for the sake of keeping her head above the water.

But behind all that glamor is a broken soul who longs for more. She wants to be a mother. She is in love with heart-throb actor Eddie Wolverton, who is the male lead in her TV show Void. She is also a woman a faith, a Mormon, who believes, against the conventions of society, in waiting until marriage to have sex.

Before you turn away at this point because of the mention of religion, let me just say that this book does not preach or try to throw religious dogma in the reader’s face. I admire Bea for sticking to her convictions in a world where many would snub her. Bea’s faith is a real part of her character, just as Eddie’s aversion to religion is a necessary and believable part of his character. As Bea loves Eddie, so he loves her. Their religious differences are one of the obstacles they must overcome to be together. People face these kinds of obstacles every day in relationships. Bea is open-minded and non-judgmental of those who are different, and Eddie loves Bea more for her conviction of knowing what she wants. This is admirable. They complement each other the way bacon and chocolate together works. They may seem strange at first glance, but look deeper, and you find that the complexities and layers are rich and meld together beautifully.

Eddie is a recovering alcoholic. Bea doesn’t drink, even though she spends time around crowds who do. This is yet another road block for their relationship, but no one just falls in love, and boom, it’s happily ever after. Even though Eddie has his vice of alcohol and his ex, Siena, he is a likeable guy. Having written a couple of male characters in my books who suffer from alcoholism and seeing it in my own extended family, I know the stumbling block it is. Alcoholics are not bad people. They are often quite charming and outgoing, but their outward smiles and living it up during the good times are a cover for the desperation of turning to the bottle.

Bea is trying to figure out her life after the partnership of Monkey & Me was destroyed when her best friend, Kat, decided to pursue her own dreams in the industry. She figures it’s finally time to walk away from the Hollywood life and settle down into her dream of a family life. When things turn disastrous for her at a club one night, she is left hollow and broken. She reaches out to Eddie. Although Eddie is very much in love with Bea, he has his own problems and is perhaps not the best support for Bea to lean on.

What ensues is a balancing act of Bea and Eddie each working independently and together to overcome their obstacles. Love is the starting point, but is it enough to break through their weakness and make them stronger as one? Bea is clear: she wants marriage if Eddie wants sex. She also wants a baby and is pregnant with another man’s child (it’s not what you think).

I appreciate Liv’s honesty with these characters. She doesn’t dance around the hard topics: like faith, family life, marriage, rape, drugs, alcohol, and more. In the messiness, a masterpiece painting is created.

I recently heard someone say that when God is creating a lovely tapestry, if you turn it around and look at the back, you will see all the messy threads, the pieces that had to go together to create this work of art. We often don’t understand why life plays out as it does, but trusting in God, as Bea tries to do, is better than trusting in ourselves alone.

Full disclosure: I am a Christian, so Liv’s story resonated with me. I understand Bea’s struggle with her faith. I also believe that anyone can read this story and enjoy its message of love being stronger than our weakness.

This is a beautifully rendered women’s fiction story.

5 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Friendzone isn’t a terrible place to be. No drama, plenty of food, and someone who cares.”

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Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt

riverrisingSummary: Weeks after his parents disappear on a hike, engineer Adam Carson, 27, searches for answers. Then he discovers a secret web site and learns his mom and dad are time travelers stuck in the past. Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the 1880s.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Being a fan of time travel and historical fiction, this novel piqued my interest when the author approached me to ask if I would read and review it.  Adam Carson, the oldest of the Carson siblings, acts as the leader in his parents’ absence.  His younger siblings include Greg (a history teacher), Natalie (a journalist), and twins Cody and Caitlin (still in high school).  Upon receiving news that his parents’ mysterious disappearance a few months earlier was because they went through a time vortex in Sedona, Arizona, Adam decides he and his siblings need to go back in time to find them.

Early on in the book, most of the chapters are devoted to Adam.  Although the narrative is third person, the chapters switch focus on which sibling is in the center of the action.  Adam seems to be making all of the decisions, and his siblings don’t seem to have much in way of voices of their own at first.  The exception to this is his sister, Natalie, who gets her own chapter early on.  She finds her boyfriend cheating on her, and it makes the decision to leave life in 2017 to go to 1888 that much easier.

I would argue that all of the siblings pretty much collectively make this decision too easily.  It’s not that I wouldn’t expect them to want to find their parents, but I would have liked to have seen more character development early on for each of the characters.  It would be a lot to ask anyone to leave everything they know and travel to another time.  The fear of something happening during the unknown process of time traveling or the risks of trying to live in the past are very real fears, not to mention the possibility that the mission might fail.  Adam and his siblings are pretty clueless on how these time vortices work, except that they are active on the equinoxes and the solstices.  I am glad they took the chance to find their parents and do the noble thing, but I would have liked to have seen more struggle with the decision.

The author does a good job of researching the time period.  He gives nice references to Mark Twain, to the technology of the time, and the social conventions.  It is obvious that he researched the 1880s well when writing this novel.

The true excitement for this story begins upon their arrival in 1888.  When they step out of the vortex, they aren’t in Sedona anymore (or Kansas for that matter–ha, ha), but rather in rural Pennsylvania.  They make their way to the nearest town of Johnstown, and after talking with the hotel clerk, find out that their parents just passed through the town.

The Carsons arrive on December 21, 1888 and decide to stay until at least March 20, 1889, when the equinox will be. Greg is sent out west to explore Arizona and California, because a jeweler in Johnstown tells them that the older Carsons told him they would be traveling in that direction. The rest of the siblings remain in Johnstown.

Natalie meets young and handsome reporter Sam Prentiss, who works for the local paper.  She gets a job as a columnist there, also in hopes of getting connections to finding out information on her parents. She knows they met with Mark Twain, so she procures an interview with the man himself.  In the midst of all this, she develops feelings for the wealthy Sam, finding her heart torn between falling in love and knowing she will have to leave in a few short weeks.

The twins attend high school.  Cody quickly falls for pretty Emma, and Caitlin is wrapped up in learning as much as she can about the times.

Adam has his own love interest, the clerk at the hotel where they are staying: Bridget O’Malley. He keeps tabs on the rest of his siblings and on gaining information on his parents.

Greg’s story seems to be the most exciting.  Once in Arizona, he meets up with Clayton Kane, a man who is on the run, although Greg doesn’t know it.  A shootout ensues when traveling with him in the desert!  He has the luck of getting information on his parents’ whereabouts by talking with a local merchant.  Greg manages to make it to San Francisco, where he explores the theatres, as his parents are lovers of the arts and would have likely visited the theatres while in town.  He develops his own love interest with Julia Jamison, an older widow who is an actress.  Little does he know he just crossed paths with his parents, Tim and Caroline Carson, while eating in a restaurant one night!

There are many facts thrown in about the times, such as Groundhog’s Day and Benjamin Harrison becoming President.  Details on what buildings were in San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake, what sorts of guns were used in the Wild West, and the fare that was eaten during the time period are nice touches.  The author does a great job with setting.

Despite my earlier concern about character development, I believe Mr. Heldt more than makes up for that as the novel progresses.  This is a long book at over 600 pages, so patience is a virtue when reading.  The divided nature of every character caught with connecting to the 1880s and returning to their own time is believable and understandable for anyone caught in such a plight.  Even if time travel isn’t possible, we can all relate to having to make a tough decision of staying or leaving when we are invested in both places.  I like the subtle romance of a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon, when people were much more formal, despite the tugging of their heartstrings.  

The biggest worry the characters have is whether or not they will actually get to their parents in time, before Tim and Caroline Carson step through another portal to another time (as they have done in the past–this trip wasn’t their first).  The Carson siblings may very well lose their parents forever is that happens.

So, the question hangs: will they succeed or not?  The story only escalates from what I’ve shared so far, but sharing too much would ruin the beauty of this time-travel tale of love, heartache, shootouts, and survival.

4 and of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “From Gurley to Goodwin Street and beyond, he saw saloons, restaurants, and breweries and more false fronts than on the set of a Spaghetti Western. Most were as tightly packed as book on a library shelf, as unique as fingerprints, and as appealing as cancan dancers on a Saturday night.”

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.