Looking through my past posts, I realized it has been over a year since I’ve published a Book Notes review! Since I just finished reading a heartwarming novel that I really enjoyed, there’s no time like the present to offer up a new one!
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay is a women’s fiction novel that I was fortunate enough to get from Net Galley last spring… and somehow I hadn’t read it until now! Here’s a description:
If you’ve been hanging out here at The Biblio Blonde for a while, you may recall that I’m a big cozy mystery fan. There’s just something about the way a charming setting, quirky characters, and a puzzle to be solved all come together for a very entertaining story!
I’ve recently read the first several books in a new series, the Magical Bookshop Mysteries by Amanda Flower. Today I want to share a bit about the series as a whole, but focus on the third and latest installment, Murders and Metaphors! After the review, keep reading for a special treat to learn more about this great author!
(I’ll have to give a few things away about Violet and the other characters that we learn in the first two books… but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum!)
The Magical Bookshop Mystery series features Violet Waverly, a graduate student who, in the first book, is called back to her hometown of Cascade Springs, New York by her grandmother. While Violet had been avoiding this quaint little town after a terrible incident in her past, she’s drawn back in by a colorful cast of characters: Grandma Daisy; members of a writing group (including a handsome police chief!); the mayor of their little town, who also happens to be her high school sweetheart; and a crow, a cat, and a bookstore.
Did I include the crow, cat, and bookstore in a list of characters? Why yes, I did. Because they *really* are characters in every sense of the word! Faulkner the crow showed up at the bookshop one day and never left… which doesn’t seem that unusual, until the bird starts hurling literary quotes. Emerson, a tuxedo cat, is an escape artist who sometimes seems to know Violet better than she knows herself.
And the bookshop? Well, it turns out Charming Books, where “the book chooses you” as the slogan goes, has a mind of its own. Not only does the perfect book often pop out of the shelves and into an unsuspecting customer’s hands, but the shop leaves copies of books around for Violet, and even opens to certain pages she needs to read. You see, Violet has become the shop’s caretaker, a role passed down over the years through a long line of Waverly women. But you’ll want to pick up the books (start with Crime and Poetry) to discover how all this came to be!
Now that we’ve established some background, let’s move on to Murders and Metaphors!
In this story, it’s January, and the festivities of ice wine season are in full swing in Cascade Springs. A big festival is taking place at Morton Vineyards (owned by the family of Nathan Morton, that mayor/ex boyfriend), but based on Violet’s history with the whole Morton clan, she wants nothing to do with it. Grandma Daisy, of course, has other plans, and lets Violet know that she’s committed BOTH of them to host a book signing at the festival for celebrity wine expert Belinda Perkins. (Thanks, Grandma!)
Belinda isn’t the most pleasant guest, and it turns out she has some history with Cascade Springs: she grew up there, and Lacey, a friend of Violet’s, is one of her sisters. After a big falling out many years in the past, Lacey turns up at the festival to try to make amends. It doesn’t go well, and Belinda storms off… only for Violet to later find her dead among the grape vines on the property.
Because of their very public scene, Lacey becomes a suspect. To help her friend, Violet is once again on the case, and this time, Charming Books points her to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. Violet has to figure out who killed Belinda, and how the March sisters can help her find the answers.
This series has quickly become a favorite of mine. The concept of a book store infused with magic and its own quirky “essence” is just delightful, and I really enjoy the charm and coziness of the town. Violet is a great character with a well developed backstory… the way her history is woven in with the present day village is really interesting.
And Grandma Daisy? She’s a hoot. After reading this series, the Stephanie Plum books, and the Braxton Campus mysteries, I’ve decided that all books are greatly enhanced by a quirky grandmother!
I didn’t see the reveal of the killer coming in this one, though it provided a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. With each book in this series, I appreciate that the case is wrapped up and there are no huge cliffhangers, but that there also remain unanswered questions about situations in Violet’s life, allowing threads to be carried from book to book. Some series can easily be read as standalone mysteries… enough plot points are woven through this series that I would recommend starting with the first book and reading in order. But trust me, you’ll want to do that so you don’t miss anything!
Murders and Metaphors earns five fabulous stars from me… I can’t wait to read more in this series!
Here are all three books in the series so far… add these to your list:
In addition to posting this review, I reached out to the author of this series, Amanda Flower, to see if she had time to answer a few questions for her readers… fortunately, she did! Amanda is a USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning mystery author! Let’s see what she has to say about the Magical Bookshop series and her other writing.
It sounds like you started writing at an early age! When did you decide to write a novel?
I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was eleven-years-old and read a story I’d written in my class and they laughed. I knew then I wanted to write stories to make people smile and laugh. From the beginning, I wanted to write mystery novels. They were my favorite works to read from a young age too.
What is something you’d like us to know about Violet, the main character in this series?
Violet is complicated. She actually had a very sad past. She lost two people that she loved when she was a teenager, but despite tragedy in her own life, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor or her drive to make something of herself. I think it’s easier for her to step into the role of sleuth because she know what it’s like to lose someone and she wants to help others because of that.
Each of your Magical Bookshop mysteries has a well-known published work the bookstore uses to give Violet clues. How did you choose these for each story, and what are some other titles that you think would be fun to use in a future installment?
The first writer I chose for the clues in CRIME AND POETRY was Emily Dickinson because I love her work, and after that it made sense to choose contemporaries to Dickinson, so I ended up doing 19th century American authors. So far I have used the work of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott, and Walt Whitman.
In the first Magical Bookshop mystery, Violet inherits a small tuxedo cat named Emerson. I’ve seen pictures of your kitties on social media… tell us about your babies!
Aww! Thank you! I am definitely a cat lover. I have two tuxedos myself, so it was a natural fit to make Emerson one too. Emerson is based on my traditional black and white tuxie, Mr. Tumnus, AKA Tummy. My second tuxie is a gray and white and his name is Reepicheep, AKA Cheeps. They are my feline editors. You can follow them on Instagram.
Several of your other series are set in or around Amish communities. How did you become interested in Amish culture and how did you learn about it?
Now, I write fulltime, but I worked for as a librarian for fifteen years. My first librarian job was in Ohio’s Amish country, so I was around and interacted with the Amish every day. It gave me a unique experience that is perfect for writing.
Can you give us any hints about what’s next for Violet, Grandma Daisy, and Charming Books? Or tell us about any other series you’re currently writing?
The next book featuring these characters is called SPOKE AND WORD. Grandma Daisy plans a bike race in the village of Cascade Springs, but one of the riders dies during the race! Violet is on the case again to help her grandmother, and the shop uses the poetry of Walt Whitman to solve the crime. The book will release late 2019.
In additional to this series, I’m writing many more in the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries. They next book in that series is CRIMINALLY COCOA, a novella, and TOXIC TOFFEE will be the next novel released in July.
Many thanks to Amanda for sharing more insight into her books… I’ve read at least three of her series, and have really enjoyed each one. If you’re a cozy mystery fan, you need to put some (or all!) of them on your list!
Author James J. Cudney (Jay, as his friends know him) is a well traveled, well read guy from New York City. In addition to being a genealogist and an avid reader and book reviewer, he has been writing a series called the Braxton Campus Mysteries.
In this series, we meet Kellan, a single dad who comes home for his father’s retirement party as he prepares to leave a long career at Braxton College. But, as usually happens in a cozy series, things don’t go according to plan, and Kellan gets swept into a precarious situation!
This cover reveal was actually fun timing for me, as I’m just starting to read book one of this series! I always recommend starting at the beginning, so first pick up Academic Curveball, then move on to Broken Heart Attack. (Both are available in either Kindle e-book or paperback.)
And finally… we come to the latest installment, set to be released in late March. May I present: Flower Power Trip!
See, I told you… a hint of spring along with a fabulous new title!! Here’s a little more info about the new book:
At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume.
Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College?
As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards: a new family who recently moved in.
Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.
You can pre-order this title today… grab the first two while you’re at it, and you’ll be all set when Flower Power Trip releases on March 30th! (That’s the e-book version… a paperback of the title will be available at a later date!)
Thanks for stopping by to check out the cover reveal. I hope you have some great books picked out and you’re ready to relax this weekend! Happy Friday… and happy reading!
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Hello, friends! Do you know one of my favorite things about December? ‘Tis the season not only to be listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies, but also to be reading all kinds of lovely Christmas books! I’ve already read and reviewed some holiday themed cozy mysteries, and now… it’s time for something a little different.
Recently, I told you about a couple of Hallmark Publishing Christmas titles that I was looking forward to reading. Not only did I get to read my first one, but I was also able to talk with the author of this lovely book!
I can’t wait to share this story and conversation with you, so read on to find out more…
(This post contains affiliate links, which allow me the opportunity to earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Please see my policies for further information.)
The Christmas Company by Alys Murray is a delightful story about a small town in Texas with a really BIG Christmas spirit… so big, in fact, that a branch of a local company is solely dedicated to the holiday and to the huge Christmas festival hosted each year by the community. There’s decorating, caroling, festivities… and yes, even a reenactment of A Christmas Carol each year! That is, until… (cue ominous villain music)… a real-life Scrooge comes to town and unceremoniously rips it all apart. You see, the Christmas Festival just isn’t… profitable. Well, then.
Kate, a hometown girl and employee of The Christmas Company, isn’t going down without a fight. She launches a campaign to win over Scrooge (who is actually named Clark) and to get to the bottom of why he hates this holiday so much, and why he doesn’t appear to care about another living soul. Along the way, this standoff slides into a pair of people truly trying to understand one another. But will the whole situation be too much to overcome?
I found this story truly heartwarming. The author, Alys Murray, paints a vivid picture of Christmas in Miller’s Point. The holiday turns this tiny town into a Victorian Christmas village straight out of a Dickens novel. The references to A Christmas Carol and the parallels of this book to that classic story were enchanting… it made me want to revisit that title as well. And I loved optimistic, forge-ahead Kate… she’s exactly the person you’d want in charge of saving Christmas!
And talk about a town you’d want to visit over the holidays! Miller’s Point sounds like the perfect place to spend Christmas, and the festive and descriptive scenes made me wish the little village were a real place to go have a sleigh ride and a hot chocolate!
I happen to have “met” Alys, the author, on social media (again, that Twitter writing and blogging community is awesome!)…. so I asked her if she’d be willing to chat and answer a few questions for me and for everyone that loves The Christmas Company! She was happy to oblige, so here are some of her thoughts on writing, Christmas, and more!
When did you start writing, and what brought you to it?
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl! I was an avid reader and I think it’s very natural for avid readers to want to write their own stories, so all throughout my childhood and teenage years, I filled countless notebooks with books and stories. It’s been with me all of my life!
But my professional writing career began my sophomore year of college, when I took a play writing class. I wrote a play I was very proud of and that got some buzz, and it was the first time in my life that I thought I could actually make a go of writing professionally! Up until then, I didn’t know that I could ever write something good enough that people would want to read it, but after so many people enjoyed my play, I thought that maybe I should give writing a try!
The Christmas Company is set in a little town that cherishes its holiday traditions. Are you, like your character Kate, “all in” on Christmas, and did you grow up with a lot of traditions of your own?
I’m definitely a Christmas gal like Kate! I’ve always been a huge fan of the holidays and we had so many traditions that have followed me throughout my entire life. Some of them are even in the book! Clark’s Christmas Candle from his mother is a Christmas tradition of mine, and Kate telling the stories behind the ornaments as they decorate the tree is based on another family tradition of mine.
Also, my father used to always put out a small Dickens Christmas village on our front table. As soon as I saw Bob Cratchit’s house and the cute little London street lamps on a bed of fake snow, I knew it was Christmas!
How did you come to publish your novel with Hallmark? Were you a Hallmark fan before?
I was absolutely a Hallmark fan before! Two days into writing The Christmas Company, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw that Hallmark was looking for novels for their new publishing house. In my heart, I just knew that once The Christmas Company was ready, I had to send it to them! A few months later, I was signing my publication contract!
What is something that you’d love to tell us about your main characters, Kate and Clark? (Spoiler alert!)
I would love to tell you (and this is only for those who have read the book because I don’t want anything to be spoiled!) that Clark might just be planning a very special Christmas engagement for Kate at next year’s Christmas Company festival…
What are you most looking forward to over the Christmas holidays?
I now live full-time in London, and this will be the first Christmas I ever spend in London! My fiancé and I have planned to go out on Christmas night and ride around London on our bikes, seeing the sites and Christmas lights while everyone else is inside having their Christmas dinners. It will be so beautiful to see London this way! I can’t wait!
In The Christmas Company, you reference Dickens and A Christmas Carol throughout the story. Are you a big fan of Dickens? Would you say your writing is influenced by the classics? What are some of your favorites?
Yes! I’m a huge fan of Charles Dickens! When I was a kid, instead of going into ‘Time Out’ when I was in trouble, my dad would sit me down in a chair with a very big book (usually Great Expectations), and make me read a full chapter before I could get back up and play. The problem was that I started to love these old books that my dad made me read! My favorite Dickens is probably Oliver Twist, but that’s probably also because I’m a big musical theatre nerd and love the musical! I think my writing is influenced by the classics, especially female writers like Fanny Burney and Elizabeth Gaskell. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote my favorite classic novel in North and South, and while Clark is, of course, inspired by Scrooge, I also found a lot of inspiration for Clark in the hero of North and South, Thornton.
I love all of this information… it puts me in a Christmas mood even more! Many thanks to Alys for the interview… and for writing such a fun story!
You know what would be really fun? Give this book as an early gift to a couple of friends… then meet for brunch and talk about the story, along with all your favorite holiday memories and traditions.
Better yet, plan ahead for next year’s book club… read both The Christmas Company *and* A Christmas Carol as your December titles (no worries, they’re both quick, easy reads!) and use them together to spark wonderful Christmas-themed discussion with your group. (Try this beautifully illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol!)
If you’re looking for a sweet, uplifting Christmas story (for yourself, or to give as a gift)… well, it would be hard to find a better option than The Christmas Company. I give this book five festive stars! Highly recommended for anyone who believes in love, community, and the spirit of Christmas!
In the next couple of weeks, don’t forget to revisit my Holiday Gift Guides as you shop, and peek at my previous reviews of Christmas themed titles for great cozy books to curl up with once all that shopping is done. Happy reading, friends!
December on my blog will bring lots of fun content… I’m participating in #Blogmas which is a big deal in the blogging world, as well as Bookending Winter through Bookend Events. Look for gift guides, Christmas book recommendations, holiday favorites, and more!