Tag Archives: mysteries

Book Review: Crime Mystery The Appeal by Janice Hallett @atriabooks @atriamysterybus

I’ve read several books this month (see my note at end of post) so I’m off to a good start meeting new goals. I decided to begin book reviews this year with The Appeal by Janice Hallett, a crime mystery drama, because it was released in hardcover yesterday in the US from Atria books! 


The Appeal
by Janice Hallett

UK pub 01/14/21 and 07/01/21 Viper
US pub 01/25/22 Atria (hardcover)

Summary, Per UK Publisher –
(because I like this one better!)


Dear Reader,

Enclosed are documents relating to the events surrounding the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons, and the tragic death of one of its members. Another member is currently in prison for the crime. We have reason to suspect that they are innocent, and that there were far darker secrets that have yet to be revealed.

We believe that the killer has given themselves away. It’s there in writing, hidden in the emails, texts, and letters. In the events surrounding the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick, and the question of whether that money was truly being used to fund her life-saving cancer treatment. Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth? Do you dare?

The standout debut thriller of 2021 that delivers multiple brilliant twists and will change the way you think about the modern crime novel. 


I didn’t know how I’d feel about reading this book when I first started it, given it’s an epistolary novel. I wondered if it would be hard to follow or get lost in as much as I like with regular mysteries and thrillers, but soon enough I was immersed in the story being told through e-mail and other correspondence. It was as if I was a voyeur looking in, or perhaps, an additional solicitor sorting through the evidence along with those on this case (which the novel is framed around). In that regard, it became a fun game, hinging on my already investigative nature, and I was certainly caught up early in what I knew must be a mystery unraveling among a very interesting cast of characters.

We get to know those who feature with the most email correspondence the best – Issy, Sarah, Martin, James. The rest we are only given a view of based off other characters’ feelings (which is biased, of course, when you think about it) – but I did have my own feelings on quite a few of them! I don’t think it would be a read for you if you really love the feeling of being connected to characters. You have to be alright with unreliable characters, which I am, so it worked fine for me.

I mostly became invested instead in wanting to know what was going on with the charity appeal, who was going to be murdered, etc. – I enjoyed “watching” the characters interact within their various social circle hierarchy and trying to understand who might be possibly shady and why. I like suspenseful drama and this book certainly brought that – it’s fitting these characters were part of a community theater. It was hard to tell who was putting on the performances of their lives off the stage and into their emails, too – and as it unraveled, I found myself shaking my head at some of these characters! It also had me as a reader putting clues together and seeing which theory I aligned with, which made it a fun sort of mystery puzzle, which I adore. Hey, I became a lawyer, or detective, for a few days!

As far as any critical notes, about seventy percent into the book the author started a lot of info dumping, under the guise of the solicitors writing their various theories into a report. I wanted to skip much of it since I felt I had already gathered or understood a lot of it myself from the correspondence. I suppose I can understand why it was included, to wrap it up for us, but yet for me I could move past it. I think, in another format, it would have been better set-up as courtroom or dialogue scenario with the characters. Instead, it read like a long report, a legal report, which is how information was passed to the reader due to the epistolary format. That’s why this book would be a great tv show or film. As that it would light up. As the last half of the book went on, it also read as if it was written as a screenplay or stage play and could easily be converted. I’d watch any of the above!

I enjoyed the humor that came in text messages and such from the solicitors and their boss at times. The post-it notes as art on some of the pages was a good touch. The way we really could gather some personalities very well over emails showed excellent character development. There were some red herrings, strategically placed clues, and a twist or reveal that was shocking to an extent (though I had my suspicions!).

If you’re looking for a novel that is a simple mystery crime thriller you want to relax your brain with, this might not be it. Your brain needs to keep track of information in this one, which made it fantastic as far as I’m concerned. If you’re tired, rushed, or stressed, you might not be ready for this, so know yourself and be prepared in that regard.

Overall, a unique, enjoyable read that kept me guessing and thinking, had wit and humor in all the right places, was a study in the social hierarchy construct and its pitfalls, and would make an amazing tv show! It was certainly good enough to garner four stars because it kept me turning pages and wanting to get back to my reading time so I could continue in the drama and unraveling of the mystery. I was guessing some parts right up until the end!

I’ll definitely want to read more from Hallett in the future and look forward to it. I know her next book is available now for UK readers (so those who are my UK subscribers here, go get both!). I look forward to it also arriving in the US.

I thank Atria Books for the advanced copy for book news or review consideration.

Purchase, Read, Borrow –


Barnes & Noble

Amazon US

Amazon UK Paperback

I could not find this book on bookshop.org, though I recommend using it for books to support independent shops, as well as looking at your local indie bookstore (or asking them to order). Ask your local library, too!

Janice Hallett, Biography

Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office, and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and cowrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal is her first novel. 

Noteworthy Stuff –

For those who love covers like me. UK alternate covers – I LOVE!

Paperback UK
Hardcover UK


Note to my readers: For 2022, I am trying to be more disciplined and cut social media use and other time wasters and instead increase my reading and my own writing again. I’m wholly behind on reviews of the past, especially these last few years, but as a mom who is very hands-on with my kids, a hardworking editor and public relations professional, being an author/writer myself, a cat mom, and maintaining my physical and mental health, I’m pulled in many directions. All I can offer now are my goals that include better reading organization and to not over-think reviews (which ones I do, when, and how). I’ll read what speaks to my mind and I’ll review and write and highlight what I can. I’ve made good progress on this so far, and positive attitudes around me will help that continue.


Filed under Book Reviews

Review: Mystery at the Old Mill by Clare Chase

Review: Mystery at the Old Mill by Clare Chase
Eve Mallow Mystery Series
Bookouture (December 4, 2020)

Mystery at the Old Mill by Clare Chase is a cozy mystery pleasure read! I bought it for myself for over the holidays when I decided to take a few days break from publishing work and responsibilities and just immerse myself in something fun! This is book four, and I hadn’t read any of her other books, but when I saw the cover come through my twitter feed with the picture of the old mill on it, it piqued my interest! I love old mills, especially in overseas landscapes. And I love british mysteries. On a personal note as well, I found after buying, that though I live in America now, this takes place in “a sleepy Suffolk village” in England, and this is the area in which I was born and lived as a child. I rarely see books set here and it was so nice to be taken to this landscape of the healths and rivers and coasts.

The book starts at a holiday party, which I also found perfect for a holiday read, but yet not overly “christmas” or “holiday seasonal.” I was ready for a mystery and I thought it’d be the perfect palate cleanser from some of the other things I’d been reading. I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Though I didn’t have much time to read in the end to finish it as quickly as I’d have liked (this would have otherwise been a two day read), I enjoyed looking forward to it when I could and finally finished it in mid-January.

I’ve been talking about series fiction some lately in my work. So it dawns on me to address that this book is a series and I started mid-series. I didn’t really notice it was book four at all – the mystery is stand alone – though I realized while reading mid-way through that some of the characters’ back stories would be enhanced if I went back and read former books – which I definitely will now! It made me curious about the life of the protagonist prior, but it didn’t hinder the story plot any for me. Honestly, I’d probably move on to book five first though, which I think also comes out this year, to continue on from this one to see the progression.

I didn’t even guess who the murderer was at all, and often I do; I didn’t know until the reveal in the final pages! She had so many good twists and turns in thought. It was well-written, and it flowed like the smoothest pot of tea. It didn’t lull or get bogged down in details or character ramblings or rabbit holes. It used the art of deflection without really taking us out of the story. It kept a quick pace and moved along well.

And yet, with the swiftness of the plot, the characters were so fully developed I felt as if I knew all of them! I look forward to getting to know some of them more, too. I really like the protagonist Eve, and the author’s method into making her an accidental “investigator” is priceless! An obituary writer who interviews friends and family is quite unlike something I’ve read, but a great segway into a classic “sleuth.” Definitely for fans who like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple but want a more modern mystery read with a slightly younger (middle-aged) protagonist.

As well, her descriptions are lush and vivid, but not overdrawn. We can visualize easily, simply, but with depth. That takes the skill of a very talented and seasoned writer. I enjoyed the imagery immensely.

The verdict is: loved it! 

Editorial notes: As a working editor, I usually have a lot of developmental notes, mental or otherwise, on books I read. I really have nothing faulty to say about this book from an editing perspective, whether developmental or otherwise. It’s about as good as they come.

Where received: I purchased this book for myself as a pleasure read. I kinda want the whole set in paperback.

I am falling in love with Bookoutre books!

Mystery at the Old Mill, About –

When the calm of Saxford St Peter is disrupted by a deadly fire at the Old Mill, amateur sleuth Eve Mallow finds herself investigating a most surprising mystery!

Everyone in Saxford St Peter is desperate to know more about Harry Tennant, the newcomer who owns the Old Mill. He usually keeps himself to himself, but he’s finally invited the villagers round for drinks, and Eve Mallow isn’t the only one looking forward to having some questions answered.

But two days before the party, a terrible fire sweeps through the mill, and Harry is found dead. When Eve passes the burned remains of his beautiful house, she can’t resist the call to investigate. Especially when it turns out quiet, charming Harry was living a double life as the famous advice writer Pippa Longford. Eve has to wonder what revelations were contained in the letters he received… and whether one of them was worth killing for.

Accompanied by her reliable dachshund sidekick Gus, Eve starts digging. She soon realises Harry was at the centre of a web of lives – and lies. There’s an uncle desperate to inherit, two women who thought they were his one and only, not to mention everyone who shared their darkest secrets with him. Was one of those strangers much closer to home than Harry knew? And can Eve untangle the truth before she finds herself face to face with a killer?

A completely charming page-turner, perfect for fans of Faith Martin, Agatha Christie and Betty Rowlands.

Clare Chase, Biography –

Clare Chase writes classic mysteries. Her aim is to take readers away from it all via some armchair sleuthing in atmospheric locations.

Her debut novel was shortlisted for Novelicious’s Undiscovered Award, as well as an EPIC award post-publication, and was chosen as a Debut of the Month by LoveReading. Murder on the Marshes (Tara Thorpe 1) was shortlisted for an International Thriller Writers award.

Like her heroines, Clare is fascinated by people and what makes them tick. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked in settings as diverse as Littlehey Prison and the University of Cambridge, in her home city. She’s lived everywhere from the house of a lord to a slug-infested flat and finds the mid-terrace she currently occupies a good happy medium.

As well as writing, Clare loves family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books.

You can find Clare’s website and blog at http://www.clarechase.com

Purchase –

Eve Mallow Series on Amazon

Or request at your favorite local indie store in the UK or US. At the time of this post, I could find any of this series on bookshop.org, a great place to order books with proceeds going to indie bookstores.

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Women in History: S.K. Rizzolo Writes on Caroline Norton, 19th Century Social Reformer and Writer

Today I have another guest article in the Women in History or Women Making History series to honor Women’s History Month. I’ll be bringing these to you for the rest of March and into April (along with a poetry series). However, Women in History and Women in Horror will basically last all year if I keep getting posts! I hope you enjoying learning about these fabulous women as much as I have been. Your encouragement and shares can really help us show how important women are in our society!

The post is by S.K. Rizzolo, a California author who pens wonderful mysteries from the 19th Century. She has some great thoughts and an informative article about a crucial social reformer of the time in Britain, Caroline Norton, but how interesting to learn she was also a poet (and writer of other fabulous things as well). Enjoy!

Caroline Norton (1808-1877):
Britain’s 19th Century Social Reformer and Author

Campaigner, social reformer, poet, novelist, and playwright

by S.K. Rizzolo, Author of Historical Mysteries

We go on living with things as they are for a very long time. Centuries pass while we remain trapped in the same old, tired, frozen mindsets that cause so much pain, so much injustice. We cannot seem to overturn things as they are. Perhaps this is because many people (hint: often the ones who most benefit) embrace these systems as natural, inevitable, and moral. Such modes of thought are difficult to question, incredibly tough to shatter.

Just think of the pernicious attitudes toward women that continue to debase our own society. Women have long struggled to achieve full personhood under a belief system that views them as less worthy, less autonomous, less human. But as the recent #MeToo movement has shown, change is possible, and it often starts with a few voices daring to articulate a new truth and inspiring others to participate. I’m sure that speaking out has demanded immense courage from the women challenging the pervasive reach of the patriarchy. There are always risks involved for those who imagine a new and better way. One thing is clear, however. This new way requires a fresh mindset that breaks the chains of the past.

Yes, we look forward. But it seems to me that in the process of reframing the world, using our newly purified perception to form healthier and more just social relations, we must also look to the past and to the women who helped get us here. So today I want to tell you about a foremother who lived in 19th century England, surely an era in which a frozen mindset held many in thrall. It was a time in which respectable women were relegated to domesticity. They were to be selflessly devoted “angels in the house,” while men were free to strive actively for achievements in the public sphere. But neither custom nor law provided for the woman who married a brute or whose marriage crumbled, leaving her without support.

IMAGE _2 Watercolour_sketch_of_Caroline_Norton_by_Emma_Fergusson_1860,_National_Portrait_Gallery_of_Scotland

Watercolor sketch of Caroline Norton, 1860. Attributed to Mrs. Emma Fergusson. Wikimedia Commons. I like this softer, more intimate portrayal of an older Caroline. Wikimedia Commons.

Caroline Norton (1808-1877) was a campaigner and social reformer as well as a poet, novelist, and playwright. Pressured by her mother into marrying a violent drunkard at the age of 19, she became a wife whose husband had the power to abuse her, take her earnings, and ruin her reputation. And she became a mother who was legally deprived of her young children after she separated from this man. To give just two examples of what she faced, her husband—the Honorable George Norton, barrister and M.P—beat her when she was pregnant with their fourth child, causing her to lose the baby. In 1836 George Norton also sued Caroline’s friend, the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, for a vast amount of money, accusing him of “criminal conversation” or adultery with his estranged wife. Melbourne was acquitted, but the scandal ruined Caroline. And after the trial she discovered that the law did not allow her to obtain a divorce.

Although she never regained custody of her three sons because of George Norton’s implacable revenge, this personal tragedy led her to social activism. Her efforts were a huge factor in the passage of the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, which was a first step in establishing the rights to our children that mothers rely upon today. Because of this law, for the first time divorced women (“of unblemished characters”) could petition the court for custody of their children under seven and had rights of access to their older children. Later, Caroline was instrumental in securing the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which made divorce more accessible. And she helped lay the groundwork for the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, which allowed married women to retain their earnings and inherit property.

All this was possible only because Caroline was willing to challenge the orthodoxies of her time. She petitioned Parliament and Queen Victoria and wrote pamphlets and letters to the newspapers to protest a state of affairs in which “a married woman in England has no legal existence: her being is absorbed in that of her husband.” No legal existence. These words erase the self and sound to me like the slamming of the prison cell door—a door that Caroline found a way to crack open. You can’t exactly call her a “feminist,” though I don’t think the label matters. She was of her time, stating that “the natural position of woman is inferiority to man…I never pretended to the wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality.” In my view, this just shows the power of any era’s prevailing mentality and makes Caroline’s accomplishments the more remarkable.

Watercolor sketch of Caroline Norton, 1860. Attributed to Mrs. Emma Fergusson. Wikimedia Commons. I like this softer, more intimate portrayal of an older Caroline.

IMAGE _1 Caroline Norton Writing

George Hayter’s 1832 portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Caroline Norton. Appropriately, Norton is shown with an open book and pen in hand. She and her two sisters, the granddaughters of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, were famous society beauties in their day and were known as “The Three Graces.” Wikimedia Commons.

Today Caroline Norton is mostly remembered for her work as a reformer, but I want to end by celebrating her as a writer and poet. Somehow in the midst of her marital struggles and her grief over the loss of her children, she managed to produce over a dozen poetry collections, five novels, and two plays. Not content to stop there, she was even the leader of a literary salon and the editor of a fashionable women’s magazine! How hard it must have been for her to persevere in her ambitions. Indeed, Caroline acknowledged as much when she wrote to her friend the author Mary Shelley: “Does it not provoke you sometimes to think how ‘in vain’ the gift of genius is for a woman? How so far from binding her more closely to the admiration and love of her fellow creatures, it does in effect create that gulf across which no one passes.”

Well, I hope we can step across the gulf to honor Caroline and assert that her gift was not in vain, no matter what she thought in any moment of despondency, no matter what cultural, physical, and mental chains her society had forged to bind women.

My heart is like a withered nut,

Rattling within its hollow shell;

You cannot ope my breast, and put

Any thing fresh with it to dwell.

The hopes and dreams that filled it when

Life’s spring of glory met my view,

Are gone! and ne’er with joy or pain

That shrunken heart shall swell anew.

From “My Heart is Like a Withered Nut” by Caroline Norton

S.K. Rizzolo, Biography –

02_SK Rizzolo AuthorAn incurable Anglophile, S.K. Rizzolo writes mysteries exploring the darker side of Regency England. Her series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister.

Currently she is at work on a new novel introducing a female detective in Victorian London. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles with Oliver Twist and Lucy, her cats, and Michael, her husband. She also has an actress daughter named after Miranda in The Tempest.

Here is the book cover and synopsis to S.K.’s latest book in her series, On a Desert Shore, of which I reviewed a few years ago HERE.

On a Desert Shore cover - by Rolf Busch.jpg

London, 1813: A wealthy West India merchant’s daughter is in danger with a vast fortune at stake. Hired to protect the heiress, Bow Street Runner John Chase copes with a bitter inheritance dispute and vicious murder. Meanwhile, his sleuthing partner, abandoned wife Penelope Wolfe, must decide whether Society’s censure is too great a bar to a relationship with barrister Edward Buckler.

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

Visit her on her website where you can also view her books.

THANK YOU for a marvelous post, S.K.!!

Keep following us for more guest articles about Women in History or Women Making History throughout March and April.

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Filed under Guest Posts, women in history

Talking with Susan Spann: Mystery Writing and Visiting Japan Over Sake

Today I have a marvelous interview with one of my favorite people and historical mystery writers, Susan Spann! I reviewed her fourth Shinobi mystery of feudal Japan last week, The Ninja’s Daughter. You can check that out here. Then, join us for jelly and sake as we talk about her work, her travels to Japan, and what’s upcoming in this marvelous series.


02_The Ninja%27s Daughter


Hi Susan!! Welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I always love when you have a new book and drop by to see me (or when you don’t have a book out and drop by to see me – haha!). You are always interesting in so many ways. I was very excited for your fourth book, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER and you didn’t disappoint. Of course, this summer you aren’t just returning from Japan like last summer, but you’re just as busy. What has your book release and summertime had you up to?

Susan: Hi Erin! Thank you so much for inviting me back – I love your blog and appreciate the chance to chat with you! This summer, I’m putting the finishing touches on next year’s Hiro Hattori novel, Betrayal at Iga, preparing the outlines for the next few in the series, and planning a research trip to Japan this autumn—when I’ll also be teaching two workshops at the 9th annual Japan Writers’ Conference.

Erin: You have a busy summer! It’s all gone so quickly and now I love seeing all four Spann titles on my bookshelf. I eagerly await more to come…and I love road trips. Come in and have seat. I’ve tried to prepare your favorite sake, I’m still a novice, so I hope you like it. And Hakuto peach jelly…I thought it was worth a try because I love peaches in the summer! I’ll serve it up and we’ll chat!



Caption: Hakuto Peach Jelly (Wiki)

Susan:  Japanese jellies are fantastic, and sake is always welcome! Such wonderful treats!

Erin: Though all your mysteries can be read as stand alone novels, how does it feel to see the progression of Father Mateo and Hiro as well as the fourth of the mysteries publishes?

Susan: I love spending time with Hiro and Father Mateo, and I enjoy it even more with each new novel. I try to write each mystery as a stand-alone book, so readers can enter the series at any point without feeling lost, but I definitely consider the ongoing story of Hiro and Father Mateo’s friendship an important part of the series, and I try to deepen that relationship with every new installment. I believe that some of the richest relationships we form are those we develop with people who are different from ourselves, and Hiro and Father Mateo give me the chance to explore that concept in my fiction.

Erin: What do you think each has learned over this time that has changed them for the better?

Susan: Medieval Japanese culture was surprisingly tolerant when it comes to religion and personal views—as long as people showed equal respect for the views of others. However, Hiro has had to learn a deeper level of tolerance when it comes to Father Mateo, and the priest has been good for smoothing some of Hiro’s rougher edges. In return, Father Mateo has learned to appreciate the Japanese sense of honor (which often conflicts with his Western sensibilities) and to balance his usually blunt approach with a greater sense of cultural politeness.

Erin: I know you do a lot of research into feudal Japan for your books, through reading, studying, and travel. In this newest book you had much surrounding the political atmosphere of the time. What did you learn or study for The Ninja’s Daughter? Why is it important?

Susan: I typically read 3-5 new research books for every novel, and consult a lot of historical sources and experts to ensure I have the details right. I set my novels during the 1560s precisely because of the turbulent political climate (Japan was on the brink of a war that ultimately led to its unification by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu at the start of the 17th century). War and political tension form an excellent backdrop for mystery, because of the increased dangers my protagonists have to face.

The main research for The Ninja’s Daughter actually involved Nōtheater, the traditional form of Japanese drama that features so heavily in the book. As usual, 99% of the research doesn’t make it onto the page—pacing and plot come first, as always—but I wanted the reader to feel immersed in the beautiful and often mysterious world of traditional Japanese theater.

For me, accurate details transform a novel from an interesting story into a living, breathing world for the reader to enjoy. I love novels that transport me to another time and place, and I try to do the same in my own books!

Erin: I always like how you showcase a different part of Japanese culture and history in each book as well, such as in this one you focus on the Kyoto theater guilds. I know socially, it was looked upon as shameful. Can you talk more about this? Why you chose it as backdrop for your mystery, the history of it, and how someone might find more information on it if they are interested?

Susan: Medieval Japanese society rested on a four-tiered system of social classes, with samurai (nobles) at the top, followed by farmers (this surprises many people, but samurai considered the farmers more important because they grew the rice that formed the foundation of Japan’s monetary system), artisans, and merchants. Merchants sat at the bottom, despite their wealth, because they did not produce anything on their own, but merely traded in the fruits of others’ labors.

Beneath and outside these social classes were several other groups of people—most of whom were outcastes and all of whom were considered less valuable than those who lived within the standard structure. While not entirely untouchable, actors (and other entertainers) were considered “outsiders” and often referred to by names I don’t actually use in my novels because of their negative social charge. That made this mystery fun to write, because the issues of class and society added another layer of meaning to the story.

Noh Theatre is a fascinating topic. You can find a number of performances on YouTube, and readers who want to learn even more may want to check out Zeami’s original medieval treatise, The Spirit of Noh (https://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Noh-Translation-Treatise-Fushikaden/dp/1590309944) which is one of the founding documents on which the discipline rests, even today.

Erin: Japan has rich and deep history. What are some of the favorite things you’ve come across in your visits to Japan? Favorite places and things? 

Susan: How much time do I have? I can go on, and on, and on…

One of my favorite places in Japan is Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shrine), in Fushimi, just south of Kyoto. I used it as a setting in The Ninja’s Daughter because Nō plays were often performed there during the 16th century. The stage in the photo below did not exist at that time (they used a temporary stage) but the setup of the stage itself would have been similar even in that era.



Fushimi Inari is located on Mt. Inari, and is sacred to Inari Ōkami, patron of agriculture, rice, swordsmiths, merchants, fertility, foxes and many other things (Inari gets around); the shrine is famous for its thousands of bright red torii, Shintō gates that mark the entrance to a sacred space. The gates line the mountain’s slopes all the way to the top:

15K09 Inari 3.jpg


Another of my favorite locations in Japan is Itsukushima Shrine, which sits on the island of Miyajima, across the strait from Hiroshima. The Great Torii at the entrance to Itsukushima is one of Japan’s best-known iconic symbols, and it even survived the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II:

15L28 Great Torii.jpg


Miyajima is also home to thousands of sacred deer (sika) which have no fear of humans, as this photograph of my son demonstrates:



Itsukushima Shrine is unusual, because the shrine is built below the high tide line, on stilts, and when the tide comes in the shrine’s buildings appear to float on the water:

15K09 Isonokami 1.jpg


It’s one of the most serene and beautiful places in Japan, and I can’t wait to return.

Erin: At this point, I am sure that Mateo and Hiro are very real to you as they are to those of us who have followed the series. What other characters speak to you now as the series progresses? What new characters might we look forward to in future books?

Susan: Next year’s Betrayal at Iga takes Hiro and Father Mateo back to Hiro’s ancestral home in the mountainous village of Iga, home of his ninja clan, the Igaryu. In 1565, the Igaryu was led by the infamous Hattori Hanzo (later, known as “Devil Hanzo”), one of Japan’s most famous historical ninja. I’ve been looking forward to bringing him into the series, and hopefully my portrayal does him justice.

Betrayal at Iga also gives readers the chance to meet the women who played an important role in Hiro’s life: his mother, his grandmother, and the woman who left the scars on Hiro’s shoulder and inner thigh.

Erin: Speaking of future books, and without giving too much away, what are your plans for the series? I’m excited to find out what we might be looking forward to…

Susan: At the end of The Ninja’s Daughter, Hiro and Father Mateo head into the mountains east of Kyoto to visit Hiro’s ninja clan. As expected, things don’t go entirely smoothly in Iga, and the end of book 5 will find them once again on the road, with a mission to complete. Each of the next five books in the series will take them to a new location, giving me (and readers) a chance to explore some fun new settings before the series returns to Kyoto.

Erin: You’re busy being active, practicing law, and raising your seahorses and marine life, not to mention you have a family you must assist. Plus you teach writers at various retreats and seminars around the country. You’re a woman I highly admire. How do you become so disciplined to do it all?

Susan: I’m a big believer in lists and schedules. Normally, I practice law in the mornings and write in the afternoons, except on Tuesdays, when I mentor a local high school student in the morning (and, as usual, write in the afternoon). Weekend days are writing days, too.

It helps that I have a wonderful husband who became a stay-home dad when our son was eight. Now that our son is a senior in college, my husband works mostly as “mission control,” taking care of the house and the seahorses when I’m out of town. He’s trained as an artist, and used to work in the video game industry, so he understands and supports my writing completely. I’m very blessed to have him in my life.

Erin: I think I ask you something similar every time, but will you have any settings in an aquarium or featuring marine life? I can only picture you taking them there at some point after viewing your daily home aquarium updates. Considering? (hint hint)

Susan: The closest I’ve been able to get so far is fugu (pufferfish) poisoning, which will play a role in a future book. Sadly, the fish doesn’t make it. (Is that a spoiler?) I do love my seahorses and my reef, and would love to find some way to include that passion in my writing. Don’t give up hope—I might find a way to make it happen!

Erin: Do you have plans to write additional books beyond the Shinobi mystery series? If you could, what or who would you write about?

Susan: I actually do have a new project in the works, which my agent and I are extremely excited about. I can’t say anything more than that quite yet, but I can tell you that this autumn’s research trip to Japan is not only for the next few books in the Shinobi series. I’m researching another project there as well.

Erin: What else do you have planned for this year that excites you? I know you will be heading to Japan once again, and this time, to teach!

Susan: Yes! I’m thrilled to be presenting two workshops at the 9th annual Japan Writers’ Conference (http://www.japanwritersconference.org) in Tokushima on October 28 & 29. After that, I’m staying in Japan for another two weeks’ worth of research—at the height of foliage season!

Before I head to Japan, I’m teaching at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference September 9-11, and also attending and speaking on the Historical Mystery panel at Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention) in New Orleans, September 15-18. It’s going to be an exciting autumn!

Erin: Thank you so much, Susan, for stopping by for sake, jello, and book talk! I look forward more books from your in the future and our continued friendship. I can’t wait to hear all about your fall trip!

Susan:  Thank you so, so much for inviting me, Erin! It’s always wonderful to talk with you, and I look forward to sharing photos from my trip online, both while I’m there and after I return!

The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Seventh Street Books
eBook & Paperback; 230 Pages

Series: Hiro Hattori Novels/Shinobi Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

In The Ninja’s Daughter, Susan Spann’s poetic voice brilliantly captures the societal disparities, political intrigues, and martial conflicts of sixteenth-century Japan through the persevering efforts of ninja detective Hiro Hattori to solve a murder authorities consider of no consequence.” -JEFFREY SIGER, International Bestselling Author

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | iTunes | Indiebound | Kobo

About the Author

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Susan Spann is the author of three previous novels in the Shinobi Mystery series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, and Flask of the Drunken Master.

She has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. When not writing, she works as a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law, and raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

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Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann: A Shinobi Mystery in Feudal Japan

02_The Ninja%27s Daughter


Susan Spann strikes again with another fabulous Hiro Hattori novel, the fourth one in her series. The Ninja’s Daughter can be read stand alone, but it’s been great fun to read the progression of the likable characters, as I’ve read all the books.

This time, an actor’s daughter is murdered on the river banks and Jesuit Priest Father Mateo, and his sidekick ninja Hiro, are on the case after a man who thinks he murdered her contacts them.

In the wake of the Shogun’s death, the country is in upheaval and warlords are a threat.This creates a lot of social and political issues in this book, which made it increasingly interesting to me with each chapter. The social issues come into play as authorities don’t believe in investigating the death of the woman as a daughter of an actor, which is considered a profession of shame. Spann details for the reader the acting of men in the Noh, and how that was portrayed during the time period. She has with excellence again researched and was able to present the reader some education about gender communication and social aspects of the time.

As for the political divisiveness, many factions are eyeing for the role of shogun. Spann shows the machinations and intrigue as the plot unfolds which leads to an interesting and complex plot.We learn a lot of Japanese culture in this book as Spann’s research is always immaculately detailed.

Hiro and Mateo still banter with each other in dialogue getting themselves and us to laugh in unison, yet they’ve also become so respected in the area and get quicker and brighter with each case even as tensions in each one and around them arise to new heights.

As always, Spann’s writing is descriptive, action-oriented, and compelling. Her plot moves quickly from the start and are original mysteries in a sea of the genre. I really enjoy her historical research and how she utilizes it in the book.

If you’re looking for a new mystery to get caught up in on the beach or a series to read for the winter months, I highly recommend Susan as one of the best of the genre. I am pleased to urge you to read The Ninja’s Daughter and see for yourself how amazing Spann is, she’ll keep you guessing right up until the end!

02_The Ninja%27s DaughterThe Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Seventh Street Books
eBook & Paperback; 230 Pages

Series: Hiro Hattori Novels/Shinobi Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

In The Ninja’s Daughter, Susan Spann’s poetic voice brilliantly captures the societal disparities, political intrigues, and martial conflicts of sixteenth-century Japan through the persevering efforts of ninja detective Hiro Hattori to solve a murder authorities consider of no consequence.” -JEFFREY SIGER, International Bestselling Author

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | iTunes | Indiebound | Kobo

About the Author

03_Susan Spann


Susan Spann is the author of three previous novels in the Shinobi Mystery series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, and Flask of the Drunken Master. She has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. . When not writing, she works as a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law, and raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theninjasdaughterblogtour/

Hasht ags: #TheNinjasDaughterBlogTour #Historical #Fiction #Mystery #Japan #SusanSpann #HFVBTBlogTour

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @SusanSpann @SeventhStBooks

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Murder by Misrule is an Exciting Elizabethan Mystery with a Full Cast of Characters

02_Murder by Misrule CoverElizabethan life and times certainly make for all kinds of outstanding books as there seems to be a never-ending supply of ideas, intrigues, and mysteries from which to write historical novels or imaginate (yes, I made up a word) stories.  I particularly like many of the mystery novels springing up based in this time period and Murder by Misrule, a book in Anna Castle’s Francis Bacon Mystery Series, is certainly one that can take a front row shelf.

Castle debuts her writing with this first mystery in an at least three-part series. Set in the mid-1500s, Sir Francis Bacon is keen on climbing the social ladder and regaining favor he had lost from the Queen (Queen Elizabeth I, of course). When a murder occurs, he senses this to be an opportunity to increase his value, but as someone who likes to remain home due to his backward personality (and since he needs time to read), he sends his law pupils out to solve the mystery, namely Tom Clarady, the son of a privateer.  However, everyone it seems has their own agenda, every characters that Castle introduces their own intricate web they are weaving in order to get what they want, or cover up what they don’t want found.  Everything and anything seems to have fallen asunder, especially since it is the time of misrule, when things are turned upside on purpose (you can read about “misrule” HERE).

I enjoyed Castle’s book, read it quickly during a nightly bout of non-sleeping, and was so entertained that I didn’t wish to fall asleep. Her writing is quick-witted and each character has a special quality and very precise personality that blends with the others to create a whole. Tom is at the center of it all, doing all the work for Francis. I suppose Tom’s even the protagonist in my mind. It’s like Holmes to Sherlock, I suppose, but reminds me more of if Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot had stayed in and sent out a side kick. I’ve enjoyed these types of English mysteries since I first read Agatha Christie as a teenager, then moved on to Sherlock Holmes, but Castle was able to create a novel that resembled this type of mystery while changing up the plot and structure so that it was also totally unique.

Castle wove authentic historical people and facts into a historical mystery novel, creating a mystery with even more depth. She was able to cover the paranoia and social turmoil of this era as well within her plot so that she created a well-rounded, well-researched, well-plotted, and well-detailed novel that takes your mind back in time to decipher a puzzle for which she created twists, turns, and surprises. When I thought I’d have it figured out, then I wouldn’t. She did a great job with her element of surprise.

I loved Castle’s humor and suspenseful writing. I highly recommend this book to any historical mystery reader or fans of the Elizabethan era of intrigue. If you like mysteries, you’ll love this one. I’m looking forward to the next book in her series.

Murder by Misrule, Synopsis~

02_Murder by Misrule CoverPublication Date: June 8, 2014
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

A Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection for July.

Francis Bacon is charged with investigating the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray’s Inn. He recruits his unwanted protégé Thomas Clarady to do the tiresome legwork. The son of a privateer, Clarady will do anything to climb the Elizabethan social ladder. Bacon’s powerful uncle Lord Burghley suspects Catholic conspirators of the crime, but other motives quickly emerge.

Rival barristers contend for the murdered man’s legal honors and wealthy clients. Highly-placed courtiers are implicated as the investigation reaches from Whitehall to the London streets. Bacon does the thinking; Clarady does the fencing. Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve. Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss — and in danger — until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule.

The Francis Bacon Mystery Series~

This series of historical mysteries features the philosopher-statesman Francis Bacon as a sleuth and spymaster. Since Francis prefers the comfort of his own chambers, like his spiritual descendent Nero Wolfe, he sends his pupil, the handsome young Thomas Clarady, out to gather information. Tom loves the work, not least because he meets so many interesting people, like Lord Burghley, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Christopher Marlowe. Murder by Misrule is the first book in the series.

Praise for Murder by Misrule~

“Though the plot keeps the pages turning, the characters, major and minor, and the well-wrought historical details will make readers want to linger in the 16th century. A laugh-out-loud mystery that will delight fans of the genre.” – Kirkus Starred Review

“Murder by Misrule is a delightful debut with characters that leap off the page, especially the brilliant if unwilling detective Francis Bacon and his street smart man Tom Clarady. Elizabeth Tudor rules, but Anna Castle triumphs.” – Karen Harper, author of Mistress Shakespeare

“Well-researched… Murder by Misrule is also enormously entertaining; a mystery shot through with a series of misadventures, misunderstandings,
and mendacity worthy of a Shakespearean comedy.” – M. Louisa Locke, author of Bloody Lessons

“Historical mystery readers take note: Murder by Misrule is a wonderful example of Elizabethan times brought to life.” — D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review.

Buy the Book~

Barnes & Noble

Author Anna Castle~

03_Anna CastleAnna Castle has been a waitress, software engineer, documentary linguist, college professor, and digital archivist. Historical fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning.

She physically resides in Austin, Texas, and mentally counts herself a queen of infinite space.

For more information please visit Anna Castle’s website and blog. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/murderbymisruletourandbookblast

Hashtags: #MurderbyMisruleBlogTour #MurderbyMisruleBookBlast #HistNov #HistFic

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @annacastl

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Seduction by M.J. Rose Delves into Secret Haunting Life of Victor Hugo: Must Read!

SeductionPick up your copy of M.J. Rose’s Seduction and be held captive for the weekend!! Rose will pull you in and leave you breathless, depositing you on what feels like a parallel planet of existence.  Seduction’s surreal prose gives you a much-needed escape from reality.

Rose expertly flows between the 1800s world of author Victor Hugo, and his obsession with the spiritual world, to the present day when Jac L’Etoile (her adventurous and inquisitive protagonist) returns for another novel in hopes to uncover more clues and answers about ancient mystery.

Seduction is another novel in Rose’s Reincarnationist series (#5), but in my opinion you can read Seduction stand-alone without completely missing anything even though Jac has been featured previously. I haven’t even read the other books, but I most certainly will go back now and dive into Rose’s other novels.  Her writing style isn’t stuffy or even smooth, but it is earthy, absorbing, and her story lines flow without hesitation from one thought in time to the next. She writes with impulse and feeling–the sign of a great storyteller.

Rose’s details and descriptions are vibrant, sensual, and haunting without over embellishing. Her vivid scenes and lush character development immerse the reader into a plethora of sensory activity, as well as formulating a sphere of spirituality that encourages thoughts and deals with the deepest emotions of love and loss. The mystery, suspense and science of historical and mythological research kept me flipping the pages.

I loved her choice of using Victor Hugo and his addiction to seances; the mystery of him speaking to the “Shadow” which becomes a battle for him. The horrors that are uncovered by him, and in the present by Jac, are so real and creeped around me, giving me shivers up my spine.

I can’t rave enough about Seduction by M.J. Rose! It’s definitely one you’ll not want to miss and will go on my list of favorite novels of 2013. See for yourself why it’s getting rave reviews–you’ll be totally engrossed in her artistry as a writer and her spellbinding storytelling.

 Seduction, Synopsis~

SeductionPublication Date: May 7, 2013
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621507

SYNOPSIS: From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

Author M.J. Rose, Biography~

M.J. RoseM.J. Rose is the international best-selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

See my INTERVIEW with M. J. Rose by clicking on INTERVIEW WITH M.J. ROSE!

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Link to Tour Schedule with more guest posts, interviews, and reviews: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/seductionvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SeductionVirtualTour

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A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins is a Must Read 17th Century English Mystery

Murder at..This week, Susanna Calkins introduced A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, her 17th Century Murder Mystery. If you are reading only a few historical mysteries this year, I recommend please putting this one on your list! The cover will outright lure you in, but the tale itself will hold you in its grasp until the very last pages.

By the first 100 pages or so, in which she introduced her characters, set the scene, and gave us a murderer to ferret out, Calkins was able to already have me feeling connected to her characters, in tune to their personality quirks, captivated by their emotions, and feeling a friendship with Lucy, her protagonist who is a chambermaid in the house of a magistrate.

I loved Calkins use of creative participants such as the painter, gypsy fortune tellers, and other off-beat cast of characters who portrayed the more “seedy” dealings of society the common places, the dirty streets of London, and even in the homes of high society.  Most primarily I liked her use of the murderer leaving “a note” that was found with the body and the use of a legend of the lover’s park. Calkins brought to me, as a reader, fresh characters that many people don’t always use in their historical writings. Her story is original and her characters real.

I felt like I was reading Downtown Abbey mixed with the adventures of the London streets that comes with gossips, servants, drunks, and well….murder, reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. The mystery takes us on a thought-provoking adventure as we see how lives intersect, even between classes, and discover the mystery.  During this journey, we also can sense Lucy gathering an amazing amount of self-confidence and self-worth.

Lucy is quite the female–not overly aggressive, but yet independent. Emotional, yet rational. Analytical, yet compassionate. Virtuous and endearing. I love her!! I hope that Calkins does a series with Lucy, you know the type of character who is always trying to go around living life and saying she isn’t a detective, BUT murder just seems to fall in her lap and she can’t help solving it? (hint, hint)

I don’t want to give too much away, but the murderer probably won’t be who you thought either. She does a wonderful job of leading up to a fantastic finale! I like how Calkins used a smaller cast of characters in a condensed and not overly done setting, which reminded me of some of Agatha Christie’s earlier mysteries. Her character development is superb and her mystery plot exciting and entertaining. I enjoyed guessing the clues along with Lucy.

I am very pleased with Susanna Calkins debut mystery novel and I look forward to much more writing from her. The mystery had an endearing cast of characters, a quaint setting that allowed for a more proper character led plot, a mystery that kept me guessing, a fantastic use of historical details and life struggles, and some great writing that flowed smooth as a pen on paper.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate: A Mystery, Synopsis~

Murder at..Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press (April 23, 2013)

When someone she loves faces hanging for the murder of a fellow servant, Lucy Campion—a seventeenth-century English chambermaid—must interpret the clues hidden in miniature portraits, popular ballads, and a corpse’s pointing finger–to save his life, before the true murderer turns on her…


Enter to win one (1) copy of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by commenting below or by email to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com by 11:59 p.m. EST 2 weeks from this posting.

For 1 extra entry, follow this blog, for extra 2 entries, join my new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook. U.S. only, please.

Author Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsSusanna Calkins is a historian and academic, currently working at Northwestern University. She’s had a morbid curiosity about murder in seventeenth-century England ever since she was in grad school, when she was first working on her Ph.D. in history. The ephemera from the archives—tantalizing true accounts of the fantastic and the strange—inspired her historical mysteries, including A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (St. Martins Press/Minotaur Books). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives outside Chicago now with her husband and two sons.

See the wonderful interview Susanna and I did earlier this week by clicking HERE!!


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