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“Death of a Toy Soldier” Review, Interview and Giveaway!

Death of a Toy Soldier by Barbara Early

Review:
death4Excuse me while I run around like a kid in a toyshop writing this review for “Death of a Toy Soldier”. Oh wait; it takes place in an actual toyshop. Goodie, goodie for me. Finally, someone writes a book that I can relate to when it comes to my obsession with old toys, seeking them out and buying them. In this case, Liz McCall and her dad, Hank sell the toys at their amazing New York shop, Well Played. Fabulous name Barbara, fabulous!

Hank McCall is a retired police chief who has taken his hobby to the next level and opened a vintage toy shop and runs it with the help of his daughter Liz. All is well and good until a man who had visited the shop previously to check on the price of some super rare tin toys turns up dead in a pool of blood amongst the playful relics on the toy shop floor.

Hank is suffering amnesia from the night of the incident for an unknown reason and the McCalls are forced to try and put the pieces together to a puzzle that just gets weirder and weirder.   Hoping to get her father off the hook and back into the store he has put his heart and soul in to, Liz turns to friends and family in order to try and figure out who the mystery man was who ended up dead in their store. 

As if a game of Clue is in play, another man ends up dead who might be associated with the dead mystery man. The more they investigate, the more secrets are revealed about neighbors, friends and people they thought they knew. So, who did kill the man in the toy store with the dart. Yes, for sure a game of Clue is afoot.

The story did not stop the entire time. I was expecting a lull where I would lose interest and then have to force myself back into it because honestly, kids interrupt me while I am reading.   There was never a problem picking up where I left off because the characters weren’t flat. I felt like I knew Liz, Hank, Cathy, Jack, Peggy and those adorable sisters, Irene and Lenora.

I was able to jump right back in and the story just kept developing in new dimensions. Right when I thought I was going one way, Barbara took me somewhere else. I loved it! The killer threw me for a loop however. I had two people that I just knew did it. I kept thinking, “Oh Barbara, you made this too easy. You tried to throw me off, but I caught you.” Nope, I was so wrong. I didn’t see that one coming at all.

If there was one complaint I had, it was that I didn’t get to see inside the doll room. She kept describing Cathy, the other worker, peaking out and such but the reader doesn’t get to go in. Do you know what that does to a doll person Barbara? I wanna go in!

This series is exciting for me and I hope the second book comes out quickly after the release of this one. What a great set of characters, setting and descriptive writing. I was hooked. If you love toys, collecting old vintage memorabilia and love a good mystery go ahead and order this book. You need it in your life like I need another doll. And I DO need another doll by the way….

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Interview:

BTB-Do you or have you ever collected vintage toys?

BE-At one time, I had quite a collection: a huge assortment of Fisher Price with all the original wooden Little People, an early Mr. Potato Head, a virtual fortune in real wood Lincoln Logs, and a pretty good selection of Pez dispensers. Colorforms. Slinkies. View Master with a bunch of disks. You may have already figured out where I’m going with this. This was forty some years ago. Most of them were passed down to younger cousins or siblings or sold by my mother at garage sales.

But no, I wasn’t a collector before I started writing the series. And except for a few fun pieces and some small things I’m using to decorate my Christmas tree, I’m trying to keep my collection on Pinterest. But, like Liz McCall, I am an avid board gamer, and I do own some vintage board games. Some I’ve bought used and others I’ve just had for long enough that they’re actually worth something–which is kind of sad, because it makes me hesitant to play them. And that’s their value for me.

trainBut the fun part of the series is that you don’t have to be a collector or even an enthusiast to enjoy reading about the toys. They spark a lot of nostalgia. When we see pictures of, say, a Mrs. Beasley doll on Facebook, or a vintage Scooby Doo lunchbox we may have taken to school, those images inspire all kinds of feelings and memories. We all relate to toys. They were part of our childhood and are key parts of our formative memories.

BTB-How did you do research for “Death of a Toy Soldier”

BE-The idea for the series came from the town first. I’ve visited East Aurora (Yes, it’s a real place!) any number of times–it’s only a little over half an hour from my house. It’s such a quaint town, the kind you read about in cozy mysteries. It has brick-paved Main Street with every kind of store you might imagine in a cozy mystery: a quirky five-and-dime, a cupcake shop, a yarn shop, a vintage theater selling gourmet popcorn, a chocolate shop, and a variety of eateries, many with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. There’s even an Amish furniture store. And yes, a toyshop. It carries a lot of classic toys, but it’s not a vintage toyshop.

But the whole town is truly darling. I supposed the normal reaction is to want to shop and sightsee. My first reaction was, what a great place for a murder!

So I really wanted to set a mystery there. When I searched the town’s history, I learned death5-copythat it has long been called Toy Town, because of the manufacture of toys in the area. Fisher Price (now part of Mattel) still remains, but there were once a number of different toy manufacturers clustered around the town. Sad are the things I just missed: there used to be a toy parade and a toy museum. Neither of those exist any longer. But since I write fiction, I reserve the right to resurrect them.

When I started digging around a little more, I discovered that, while vintage toyshops are a little rare, dealers and collectors do a bit of trade at vintage toy shows, and I found a few in my area. They’re starting to recognize me, even though I do more talking and picture taking (with their permission) than actual buying. But going to the shows always feels more like play than research.

BTB-What inspired the name of the book?

BE-I never get to keep my titles. I thought I was going to be able to this time. The working title was MURDER WELL PLAYED. In my mind, it was perfect. Vintage toys. Well Played. And every title could have “play” in it, in some form. And that’s the title it was subbed as. But the publisher who bought it wanted to change it. They wanted something more visual–which I understood, at least as soon as I got over my initial disappointment. It was my agent who actually came up with the title, which resonated with the publisher right away–and led to some changes in the story to accommodate it. I wasn’t initially sold–but I’ve learned to trust the instincts of those with experience in the industry. They were so right! And then they came up with that cover, which is absolutely fantastic. I love those eyes! So each book will likely feature an iconic type of toy.

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BTB-In the book, there is a lot about vintage games as they gather for a regular vintage game night in the toyshop.  What is your favorite board game?  Do you have a favorite piece you play, color, etc.?

BE-I have a lot of favorite board games, depending on my mood. Right now it’s a strategy game called Power Grid. I’m also fond of Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan. Those three have apps that allow me to play against the computer, which is nice because I like to play far more often than I can find people to play with. I also picked up another fun one called Liebrary, where you’re given the title and brief synopsis of a real book, and then all the players have to come up with a first line. Those lines get shuffled together with the real first line, and then everybody has to guess which one is genuine. As a writer, it can be a lot of fun. Sometimes, though, it starts feeling like work.

As far as playing pieces, I tend to pick green, for some reason. And in Monopoly, yeah, I like the racecar. Boring, I know.

BTB- There is a lot about family and trust in this book.  Can you speak as to why this was such a heavy theme?  It’s unusual to have a father and daughter sleuth team.

BE-When we start thinking about the toys of our childhood, we tend to think of the circumstances of our childhood. And I wanted Liz’s childhood to be interesting. (The opposite is boring, and nobody wants that.) Giving her an alcoholic parent was an easy choice for me. I can write that with authenticity, sadly. The strong bond between Liz and her father was born from this shared adversity. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, but they’re very much there for each other now. They have each other’s backs and are more alike than either would probably care to admit.

Perhaps it’s because I never had a close relationship to a father, I tend to explore this idea in fiction. The close relationship between Hank and Liz is more similar to the one my husband and our daughter share. It’s very sweet and fun to watch.

BTB-I have to ask about the monkey in the book because every time I read about it, it vintage-monkeyseemed to represent something inside of Liz that she was dealing with psychologically.  Was the monkey used as a metaphor or am I over analyzing?  Was the monkey just a monkey?

BE-Sometime a monkey is just a monkey. I’ve always found them a little freaky. But like Liz, sometimes I can get a little nervous around toys with eyes. It comes from that one Twilight episode with a talking doll, and then a made-for-TV horror movie about a killer doll–that I was too young to watch at the time. I still have a low tolerance for horror, unless it’s something campy, like Sharknado.

But those early experiences gave me a bit of a doll phobia myself–nothing too severe–which I’ve given to Liz, because it’s a fun problem to have if you work with them every day.

BTB-So, I know we are just now getting a taste for this book, but anything you want to reveal about the next one?  Can we expect to go into the doll room….yes?  no?  Hahaha! I really wanna go in.

BE-Crooked Lane contracted three books, so I’m writing the second one now, which takes place at a model train and toy show. And model trains are such iconic toys. (Although there’s a lot of adults who would cringe at me calling them toys.) The working title which, given my track record (pun unintended) will probably change, is Strangers on a Toy Train. We’ll see. I’m thinking dolls for book three, although they’ve always been in the series. It’s not blatantly obvious, at risk of being too cutesy, but Liz McCall shares the same full name as an iconic paper doll, Betsy McCall. Her sister-in-law, Cathy, can be a bit chatty. There’s a potential love interest named Ken. And the author–just don’t call me Barbie. I HATE being called Barbie.

BTB- Thanks Barb for stopping by, chatting and letting us into your brain. You are quite fascinating and so is this little toyshop of yours.

About The Author:
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Barbara Early authored the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen) and now writes the Vintage Toyshop Mysteries. She lives in Western New York.

Facebook Author Page : https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraEarly/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/BarbEarly
Alter Ego Beverly Allen:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBeverlyAllen
Blog:  http://www.inkwellinspirations.com/

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Giveaway:

We didn’t get a chance to go into the doll room, but you have a chance to win somethingwaldapubdom from the doll room. May I introduce, Jillian! She is what us doll collectors call a Walda doll. She was sold back in the 70s and 80s as an antiqued (not antique) doll to look like the older porcelain dolls of yesteryear. They have glued on wig caps, painted facial features of rosebud lips and different colored eyes, painted black boots and usually come dressed in a prairie looking dresses with a hat and bloomers.

Her head, arms and legs are made of porcelain and her body is stuffed with cotton rags. No Walda looks like another so collectors look for these for their distinct personalities. We have one (of course) in our collection. She was given the name Courtney and she joined our family in the early spring while my daughter and I were out antiquing. My daughter fell in love with her so we brought her home immediately, no questions asked. For information on Walda dolls, click HERE.

I was so excited when Barbara sent a photo to me of her find. I then flooded her with my doll knowledge. Lucky you! Just click below to be entered to win you very own “Walda” doll named by Barbara. Jillian is excited to come live with you.  She is complete and in collector condition which is hard to find.  Most are missing their hats.  Good luck!

Win “Jillian” The Vintage Walda Doll!

(named after the assistant museum curator, Jillian Hatley, in “Death of a Toy Soldier”)

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Buy “Death Of A Toy Soldier”

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Fat Cat Takes The Cake; Interview and Review

Interview with Janet Cantrell

51Hzt44RE6L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Booth Talks Books: Why “Fat Cat”?  Where did this idea come from for a series?

Janet Cantrell: The idea for the series came from my publisher, Berkley Prime Crime, as well as a few of the main characters’ names. The very beginnings of a plot were given to me, and I filled everything in, including the killer, the method, and all of the rest. This worked well for me since I’ve lived in the Minneapolis area (Minnetonka), and have also been owned by a cat as clever and almost as fat as Quincy.

BTB: I love the way you have Quincy laced throughout the book to help the
reader know something your main character doesn’t. Tell us a little about the development of Quincy as a character.

JC: I knew, when I started this series, that Quincy had to be based on a rescued feral cat we had a few years ago. He did develop diabetes, but died of a brain tumor. Before that happened, though, he kept us in stitches. Remember the old computer game, Elf Bowling? He loved it! He would sit in my lap as I bowled for him. Sometimes he let me take his
paw and push the space bar to bowl the ball. He lived for the end, when Santa popped up in the corner and he swiped at him when he said, “Ho ho ho.”

BTB: The friendships between the characters seem to be the main glue of the stories of the Fat Cat series.  Can you speak to the friendships and which ones you like the most or the ones that are the most meaningful to you.

JC: I was given the characters of Chase, her friend Julie, and Julie’s grandmother Anna. I was also given the situation of Chase and Anna being in business together. I am lucky that I had two terrific grandmothers (who are long gone and fondly remembered). I wanted the relationships to have some bumps, as all of them do, but for my readers to feel the love underlying them. I do find that, no matter what I’m writing, that I often put family relationships into my work, so I guess family is the most meaningful.

BTB: High School reunions…groan!  We all have the people we like and don’t like to see at those.  What was your inspiration for that scene in book three without giving too much away!  It seemed to be a very important part of the book.

JC: The idea of the reunion was mine. Given that my plot involved people from the pasts of Chase and Julie, I thought of high school, right away. Where better to bring up high school memories and traumas than a reunion? To get everything started off kilter, I made if a fourteen year reunion. Once I decided to put that in, everything clicked into
place to pivot around that night.

BTB: Let’s talk about the battle between the bakeries and now the added one of the Heath Bar.  Do you love writing these scenes between the feuding stores?  What has been your favorite so far? What was your inspiration for these characters and their issues with each other? They are a riot!

JC: I had a ball writing about Eddie Heath and his health food place. I wanted to throw up an obstacle for Chase and her developing relationship with the vet. It was fun to go to the exact opposite of a dessert bar shop, Chase’s Bar None, and to put in a character who
serves green liquid things with ingredients no one had ever heard of until a few years ago. I will say that I think I eat a pretty healthy diet (although maybe too much of it), but can’t bring myself to go overboard on the extremes of health food that I’ve encountered. Since
Chase is my main character, dessert bars have to rule here!

BTB: Janet, you are always fun to talk to. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions and talking about your amazing books and characters. So, to end this interview I have to ask….what’s next?

JC: I’ll say my own thanks and a “You’re welcome!” The continuation of this series hinges on sales of this book. I’ll also add that I have plans for three more if I get the contract. Thanks also to all my wonderful readers and Quincy’s fans. You’re a terrific bunch of
people.

 

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Review of Fat Cat Takes The Cake

What do you get when you mix a baking contest between two competing bakeries, a high school reunion and a realty scam? A dead body of course!

What a ride Janet Cantrell took me on along with Chase Oliver, Quincy the cat and crew as 12994571_269878210011308_2678747949942786874_nthey try to figure out who killed a classmate the night of the high school reunion and clear the name of one of their close friends in the process of not only murder but being involved in a realty scam to buy out the neighborhood. Honestly though, they are the perfect suspect. Janet sets several traps throughout the book, leading the reader in directions of several possible killers but in the end, I did not see THIS person being the murderer! I really thought I had this one figured out.

I liked that the high school reunion was the center point of the whole dramatic conflict. When is there not drama at a reunion of some sort? We have all of our players in one place and so many reasons why each person would want this person dead. Chase is a great amateur detective the way she goes about decoding the evidence. I enjoyed trying to decode it along with her. Again, Janet uses this as a way to confuse the reader and send them off looking for a different suspect than who is finally named in the end. Sneaky.

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I really liked the writing element of understanding what Quincy knows, giving us a bit more insight into the case than the characters. I would have liked to have seen this used more however. It’s clever. Quincy is just a regular cat and I love seeing the world from a perspective I am not used to. He just kind of stumbles upon some of the most important elements the characters could use to solve the case. More Quincy-Wincey please!

Great book, characters and recipe. I can’t wait to see the next installment!

 

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Visit Janet Cantrell’s Links!

Buy “Fat Cat Takes the Cake”: http://amzn.to/1T7R5HX

Amazon: Fat Cat Takes The Cake

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7855179.Janet_Cantrell

Website: http://janetcantrell01.wix.com/fat-cat-mysteries