Tag Archives: sleuth mystery

Devil’s Chew Toy (Hayden & Friends Book One) by Rob Osler Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A gay relationship blogger teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a feisty bull terrier to find a missing go-go dancer and take down an international crime ring in author Rob Osler’s “Devil’s Chew Toy”, the first book in the Hayden & Friends LGBTQ+ Mystery Series! 

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The Synopsis

Perfect for fans of T.J. Klune, Becky Albertalli, and David Levithan, this hilarious, big-hearted LGBTQ+ mystery follows an unlucky in love—and life—gay relationship blogger who teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a fiesty bull terrier to find a missing go-go boy and bring down an international crime ring.

When Hayden McCall’s new crush suddenly disappears, the twenty-something gay ginger relationship blogger and middle-school teacher teams up with a take charge butch lesbian, a gentle giant, and a feisty bull terrier to find the missing guy. 

Driven by a belief that the police won’t take the crime seriously, the improbable crime fighters prove that friendship — fueled by a lot of caffeine — has the power to bring down a diabolic international crime ring.

The Review

I absolutely loved this book. The humorous and captivating story balanced out so well with the rich and diverse characters. The pacing and atmosphere that the author crafted within this narrative were so engaging for a reader to dive into, and each scene and character felt alive on the page as if you could just step right into it. The themes the author explores in this book, from police brutality to the struggle of being “illegal” while living in the United States and so much more made the heart of this narrative feel so important as well.

The thing that really stuck out to me as a reader was the LGBTQ-driven themes and how prominent the ammeter sleuth meets crime thriller and humorous cozy mystery genres were within the story itself. The dynamics between Hayden, Hollister, and Burley were great to see, and getting to see the evolution of their friendship was so fun to connect with. Yet the actual mystery aspect of the narrative kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly guessing the truth behind this young dancer’s disappearance. 

The Verdict

Captivating, thoughtful, and entertaining, author Rob Osler’s “Devil’s Chew Toy” is a must-read ammeter sleuth meets LGBTQ+ humor and crime thriller! The way these cozy mystery reads have gained more and more popularity, especially in the face of the hit Hulu original series Only Murders in the Building, has given bright and original stories like this the spotlight they deserve, and the author’s unique blend of humor, wit, and charm with important themes and heartfelt character growth will have readers eager for more of this engaging series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Prior to Devil’s Chew Toy, Rob Osler’s short story, Analogue, which was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, won the Mystery Writers of America Robert L Fish Award as part of the 2022 Annual Edgar Awards. Rob lives in California with his long-time partner and a tall gray cat. 

Website: http://robosler.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/roboslerwriter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/robosler

Instagram: http://instagram.com/roboslerwriter

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3pb3YYz

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57997935-devil-s-chew-toy

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Author Q&A

On writing:

How did you do research for your book?

As DEVIL’S CHEW TOY is a contemporary novel set in a city I’m extremely familiar with, there was not a heavy research task. Also, because the two main characters are VERY amateur sleuths, I could avoid needing to get a lot of police procedure right—though there is some police interaction. That said, it’s amazing how many little questions arise in every chapter that require a pause and some desk research. 

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

The hardest character to write was Hollister—not that she was too challenging. I strove to be respectful of Hollister’s identity as a Black lesbian in America without going so deeply into her character that hers became a story that wasn’t mine to tell. 

The easiest character to write was Hayden McCall. Why? Because there’s a whole lot of me in him. We are both naturally shy and smaller of stature (though he’s shorter and slighter). I took Hayden on the type of adventure—with a bolder, stronger, and more courageous friend—that I would love to go on.

There are many cozy mysteries out there….What makes yours different?

My story features two extremely amateur sleuths, one mild-mannered gay ginger and one butch lesbian. I’ve heard from some reviewers and readers that while pairing a gay and a lesbian as the main protagonists is not unprecedented it is uncommon. Also, I intentionally wrote a story in which the queer characters are neither the villains nor the tragic victims. 

What advice would you give budding writers?

Understand that whatever amount of patience you have will be depleted and then some. Publishing moves in increments of months. It takes a long time—and a lot of collaborators—to bring a book to market.

Your book is set in Seattle. Have you ever been there?

I set the book in Seattle because it’s my “Spirit City.” I lived there for nearly twenty years and loved it. Given as much time as it takes to write a book, I wanted to return to Seattle and its neighborhoods and hills and waterways during the long writing process.

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I have been a marketing and branding strategist for many decades, both at agency/consultancies and at technology corporations. I think the general mind set of prioritizing activities that matter most has helped me with all aspects of writing and the navigating the publishing process.

How long have you been writing?

I actually started my professional career as advertising copywriter writing television commercials for Kellogg’s and Tropicana and Procter & Gamble. Fiction writing also uses words to communicate but that’s about the only commonality I’ve found! It’s the difference between landing one memorable message versus telling a compelling, captivating story over three hundred-plus pages. Trust me, a novel is way harder.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

You know, I really never do. But then I’m not much of a procrastinator either—not that they’re the same thing. My biggest challenge is going off on a tangent with a character or a scene that needlessly complicates the story and “writes me into a corner.” I do a lot revisions.

What is your next project?

I have recently sold my second short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It features a fifty-something cross-dressing whacky amateur sleuth named Perry Winkle who solves a murder at his Palm Springs condo community.

What genre do you write and why?

I write traditional mysteries because that has been the genre I have always most loved to read. And I feature LGBTQ+ main characters because I am gay and we need more books—of all genres—that represent the great and glorious rainbow of humanity. 

What is the last great book you’ve read?

Two spring to mind. The first: THE SAVAGE KIND by John Copenhaver, who also happens to be a very nice human being. This novel—no surprise—won the Lambda Literary Award for best mystery this year. The second: DEAD LETTERS FROM PARADISE by Ann McMan is sheer delight. Both books are truly terrific.

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?

“I can’t wait to read the next one!”

How are you similar to or different from your lead character?

Both Hayden and I are gay, mild-mannered, quiet, but good for an occasionally humorous one-liner. We both play tennis and enjoy big personalities. As Hayden says, “we balance each other out.”

If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?

The characters are so distinct in my head, I can’t picture a known movie star playing either Hayden, Hollister or Burley. However, I can see Della Rupert, the oddball proprietress of Barkingham Palace, played superbly by Melissa McCarthy.

If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

Stanley Kellogg’s “Falling Hard,” of course! This song, which was made up along with the new country star himself, reoccurs throughout the story. Fun fact! After the book was published, a good friend, Ben Davis, and I completed the lyrics and Ben wrote the music and produced the track. It’s on my website. Check it out!

What were the biggest rewards with writing your book?

Hearing from readers that they enjoyed it. 

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?

Long.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Every time you are certain you’re done working on a book, know that you aren’t.

Which authors inspired you to write?

Agatha Christie and Armistead Maupin.

What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?

There’s a line that 91-year-old Jerry delivers in reply to Hayden’s question: “How did you get to be so wise old man?” Over the whistle of the kettle, Jerry replies, “I managed to live a long damn time.”  That “damn” was an Eff-bomb until the final edit. It was the only strong swear word in the book. By removing it the book avoided an R rating, if you will. But I still love the idea of Jerry saying the line with more gusto!

On rituals:

Do you snack while writing? Favorite snack?

No snacking. But I do try to drink plenty of water.

Where do you write?

I have a home office. I’ve never been able to do the coffee shop thing. I am too easily distracted.

Do you write every day?

Not every day. But I do write most days. 

What is your writing schedule?

I usually write in two- to three-hour spurts. In a mystery, context and pacing is so important I am not skilled enough to dipping in and out.

Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?

Nope. I just plop my butt down and starting tap, tap, tapping. I will say I find it very difficult to stop writing before I finish a chapter, even in the roughest draft form.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. But I do use notebook paper to scribble plot ideas before I write.

Fun stuff:

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

The seventies. The music was awesome. Though I’m still wary of bell bottom pants.

Favorite travel spot?

Switzerland.

Favorite dessert?

Raspberry rhubarb pie

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you? 

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Tales of the City

All the Light We Cannot See

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

I set off for Alaska to work on fish processing barge after my sophomore year at college. If fish were running, the shift was 16 hours, every day until all the fish were processed. I still don’t know why I did it, but I returned two more summers. 

Any hobbies? or Name a quirky thing you like to do.

I have been life-long tennis player and watcher. I can usually name the top twenty men players—and often in order!

If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

Rob Osler writes traditional mysteries featuring LGBTQ+ main characters. 

What is something you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic?

We are social creatures who need human interaction.

What TV series are you currently binge watching?

Inventing Anna by Shonda Rhimes on Netflix.

What is your theme song?

“Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. 

What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?

“The Seaside” by The Lazy Eyes

What is something that made you laugh recently?

Jinx Monsoon’s roast performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hi-lar-ious.

What is your go-to breakfast item?

Toast and yogurt with berries.

What is the oldest item of clothing you own?

I have a green argyle sweater I bought in Seattle thrift store about forty years ago.

Tell us about your longest friendship.

Twin girls, Kelly and Shelly. I grew up with them. We went to elementary, middle school, high school and then to the same out-of-state college! Just a few months back, I did a book event at the wonderful Boise bookshop Rediscovered Books. Guess who was in the front row?

Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

Willy Ames who played the role of Tommy on Eight is Enough.

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Guest Post: Adding More Color To Cozies

Adding More Color to Cozies

Within the mystery genre are several sub-genres, including suspense, hard-boiled, noir, historical, amateur sleuth, police procedural, detective, and cozy. Perhaps the one in the list that is least familiar to most readers is the cozy. If the term is new to you, just think of Jessica Fletcher and Murder She Wrote or most of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. The hallmarks of a cozy are the avoidance of gratuitous violence, graphic sex, and profanity. But being on the tamer end of the mystery spectrum doesn’t mean a cozy can’t deliver a terrifically entertaining read packed with engaging characters, adventure, intrigue, and loads of humor. 

Given the nature of cozies, they have tended to appeal to a more conservative audience, predominately featuring white and straight main characters in smaller towns populated with other white and straight residents. That said, there have been many truly great exceptions. To name drop just a few: Dean James Simon-Kirby Jones series that features a gay vampire (now that’s different!), Stephen E. Stanley’s Luke Littlefield series, Michael Craft’s Claire Gray series, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless series, among others, and Kellye Garrett’s HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE. 

While diverse cozies are nothing new, it seems there are more coming than ever before. And that’s a very good thing.

Michael Craft is back with DESERT GETAWAY, a delightful new Dante (gay guy) and Jazz series (Black woman P.I.). Raquel Reyes’s MANGO, MAMBO, AND MURDER (A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery), Mia P. Manansala’s ARSENIC AND ABODO, Jennifer J. Chow’s DEATH BY BUBBLE TEA, Frank Anthony Polito’s RENOVATED TO DEATH (yes, gay 😊), and Zac Bissonnette’s A KILLING IN COSTUMES (also gay). And yes, my own debut novel, DEVIL’S CHEW TOY, features a gay, ginger middle-school teacher and gay dating blogger and his amateur sleuth partner, a Black butch lesbian.

Representation is important. While I hope the murders and other crimes that anchor even cozy mysteries don’t befall readers, it’s important to have book options that put diverse characters at the center. True inclusion isn’t relegated to the periphery. I, for one, enjoy reading stories I can relate to because of a shared experience with a character and characters that introduce me to new cultures and experiences. That’s an adventure. That’s transportive and escapist. Isn’t that why we read fiction? 

And here’s the best part: a good book is a good book. So even straight readers can enjoy a great mystery with diverse main characters. 

So hooray for the new wave of diverse cozies. They promise any mystery lover a delightfully colorful read.

Dead Without Remorse by Diane Bator Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

An explosion forces an investigator to discover a killer’s identity before the suspects of the case somehow disappear in author Diane Bator’s “Dead Without Remorse”, the fifth book in the Gilda Wright Mystery series!

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The Synopsis

An explosion leaves a gaping hole in the streetscape where the Nine Lives Consignment Shop and the former martial arts school once stood.

When police find remains of a bomb inside, Gilda Wright needs to track a killer before her suspects scatter like debris.

The Review

This is a nice little whodunnit with an explosive twist. The author does a great job of layering the tension and humor of this mystery early on, starting the story with the protagonist and her friend enjoying an at-home vacation and quickly turning the happy friend’s day into a nightmare when a local building explodes. The fast pace of both the plot and the investigation will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and the twists and turns the mystery takes will have readers guessing about the killer’s identity.

The balance of suspense and rich character development was great to read here. The clues uncovered as each chapter plays out and the haunting reality of the character’s backstories were what kept readers hooked, and the beautiful way in which these characters came to life on the page was great to read. The tension between the protagonist, her current romantic interest, and the lone man who keeps becoming a constant in her life, was what kept me invested as the story progressed, adding a very real human element to the story. 

The Verdict

A harrowing, entertaining, and brilliant novel, author Diane Bater’s “Dead Without Remorse” is a must-read mystery novel and a great addition to the Gilda Wright Mystery series. While a knowledge of the series will help readers, the author did a great job of crafting a story and mystery that will allow readers to jump head first into the narrative, and readers will be eager to know what’s next for Gilda and the people in her life. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Diane Bator is a prolific writer published by BWL Publishing. She is a A member of WCYR, Sisters in Crime and a board member for the Crime Writers of Canada. She is the author of several mystery series and a budding playwright.

https://dianebator.ca/

Finn-agled: A Finn’s Finds Mystery by Kristine Raymond Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A mysterious box with an even more mysterious secret code sends a young woman and a novelist on a dangerous quest to unravel its secrets in author Kristine Raymond’s “Finn-agled: A Finn’s Finds Mystery”. 

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The Synopsis

A secret message hidden inside of an antique wooden box, an unidentified dead body, and a mother determined to marry her off to the high school crush whom she hasn’t seen since…well…high school. There’s no doubt about it; Finn Bartusiak’s life in the seaside town of Port New is about to get interesting.

Coming into possession of a 19th-century, bronze and mahogany writing box under somewhat suspicious circumstances, Finn’s accidental discovery of a coded note leads her and Spencer Dane, bestselling novelist and love of her life (though he doesn’t know it yet), on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the jumble of letters. But they’re not the only ones interested in the cryptic message. There’s a con man on their trail, and he’ll stop at nothing, including murder, to claim the ‘treasure’ for himself.

The Review

This was a perfect blend of quirky characters and suspense. The author does a fantastic job of creating a grand mystery set within a very self-contained community within this narrative. The pacing is incredible and the tone maintains that lightness yet suspense one expects from a cozy mystery. 

The star of the novel of course was the protagonist, Finn. Her journey sees her struggling with everything from her dog, her nosy mother, a high school crush returned to throw some unexpected romance into her life, and a dangerous individual and con man who will stop at nothing to get his prize. Yet her quirky demeanor is evenly matched by strength and determination that makes her interactions with family and everyone else fiery and entertaining. 

The Verdict

Memorable, engaging, and short yet enthralling all at once, author Kristine Raymond’s “Finn-agled: A Finn’s Finds Mystery” is the perfect winter cozy mystery. A heartwarming cast of characters that are both humorous and close-knit combine with a strong and resilient protagonist and an entertaining mystery that will keep readers invested until the book’s end, and leaves this reviewer hoping for more stories within this series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this amazing story today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Kristine Raymond didn’t figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up until later in life. You guessed it! It’s being an author. Since writing and publishing her first book in 2013, she’s gone on to complete two romance series – one historical western and one contemporary; a humorous non-fiction story; a collection of seasonally-themed short stories; and a contemporary erotic drama. She also hosts a podcast called Word Play with Kristine Raymond.

When not writing, she’s navigating the publishing and promotional side of the business. When not doing that, she enjoys spending time with her husband and furry family, reading, gardening, and binge-watching shows on Netflix.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Book + Main, and BookBub. You can also visit her website at www.kristineraymond.com to keep up with her latest news.