by Kathleen Costa
This week we have reviews of two books by H.Y. Hanna, and an interesting interview with her. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a print or EBOOK version of Dark, Witch, and Creamy, winner’s choice, and a link to purchase both of the books from Amazon.
Our bewitching story begins with Caitlyn Le Fey sitting with her cousin, Pamona, savoring her tea and scones and pondering the somewhat shocking revelations of her birth. Her mother recently died in a tragic accident, and surrounded by her mother’s lawyers she was handed a letter—a letter that announced she was adopted, well, it turns out she was really found abandoned on the side of the road near a little Cotswold village called Tillyhenge with an unusual runestone around her neck. This information answered the question, “Why don’t I fit in?” but, it created more compelling questions…“Who is my mother?” “Where is my family?” and most importantly, “Who am I?” Caitlyn sets off for the Cotswolds to try to get the answers she desperately needs. She sets off for Tillyhenge hoping to find a connection, a purpose…a family.
Dark, Witch, and Creamy earns 5/5 Chocolate Truffles Dusted with Cocoa!
Pamona is very worried about Caitlyn’s trip to the Cotswolds to find the answers she needs since the news has just reported a man was found dead under mysterious circumstances in an ancient stone circle just outside Tillyhenge. Pomie leaps beyond what Caitlyn would believe to be reality saying magic may have played a part in this mystery. Magic? Pomona professes to have such knowledge about the mysterious world, but Caitlyn just sighs and gets into her car. BUMP! Caitlyn has her first odd experience before she even leaves Oxford.
Unabated by Pomie’s fears Caitlyn discovers a perfect picture postcard of a small Cotswold town. Deciding to spend the night, the only room available is in a somewhat odd chocolate shop run by a somewhat odd lady. She is mesmerized by the intoxicating aromas and flavors at Bewitched by Chocolate, and despite some reservations, Widow Mags allows her to stay. This companionship sends Caitlyn off on a magical experience with only hints about her family and the runestone around her neck. A possible romance entices her, but the murder? Complicated, but she is determined to figure it out. She has to…her new friendships and possibly a new family depend on it.
Witch Chocolate Fudge earns 5/5 Magical Chocolate Butterflies!
Caitlyn Le Fey has become more comfortable living in Tillyhenge, but she is still leery with the fact that she is a witch. Her recent murder investigation put her Pomona in danger, yet she is recuperating well at Lord Fitzroy’s grand manor. Heading over to visit, she gets caught in a downpour—soaked through is not the best look when greeting the very handsome James Fitzroy. While getting a dry change of clothes, Caitlyn overhears an argument between Mrs. Brixton, the curmudgeon housekeeper, and one of the maids who she has caught stealing a Fitzroy family heirloom. But when Mrs. Brixton is discovered murdered, the possible blackmail motive doesn’t seem paramount. A witness put Caitlyn near the crime scene, and when her alibi flakes, Inspector Walsh turns quickly to Caitlyn’s obvious opportunity and means.
Caitlyn will not stand still being a ‘person of interest’ and center of the village gossip, so she decides to check things out on her own. While everyone is prepping for the annual garden party at the manor, she discovers a few interesting suspects, plausible motives, secrets, mythology behind the family heirloom, and more than murder at the Huntingdon Estate. Her relationship with Widow Mags improves as Caitlyn begins to show some aptitude for casting spells and making delicious chocolate delights. Her snooping to find more about her elusive family leads her to a picture album and an old photo.
I am ‘Bewitched’ by this series, Bewitched by Chocolate Mystery by H.Y. Hanna.
I am such a fan of Hsin-Yi’s (Sin-Yee) Oxford Tearoom Mystery, and once again she has written a clever and magical mystery engaging at ever turn. Readers will easily identify with Caitlyn as she sees herself a bit flawed with curly red hair and curvy hips, but will delight in her strength, determination, and the discovery of her voice as she speaks up more readily in defense of her and her friends. Her search for truths leads her to some quirky characters from an ancient guardian to antagonistic village gossips, from a little ball of mischief to a bounding slobbering mastiff. The writing is clear and realistic—you discover your mouth watering with every ‘chocolately’ description.
Both ‘cozy’ murder mysteries are clever and provide a few possibilities to ponder and work out, but threading through this is the engaging mystery of Caitlyn’s parentage and the culture of witchcraft. The paranormal theme is realistic, not a lot of hocus pocus, just some incantations to enhance the delicious confections and to get out of a few predicaments. But there seems to be some hidden secrets that could lead to more magic, more ritual, more witchcraft. I am so eager to get answers to questions that have brought her to Tillyhenge, but the answers could put her in danger. Who is her mother? Why will no one give her a straight answer? What is the connection to the Fitzroy family heirloom? Who is Thane Blackmort? There are some interesting clues that may lead to some interesting revelations. I can’t wait…
Our Guest…Hsin-Yi Hanna (H.Y. Hanna):
It is great to have with us one of my favorite authors, H.Y. Hanna, author of several series including my favorite the Oxford Tearoom Mystery and the new ‘bewitching’ Bewitched by Chocolate series which currently includes Dark, Witch, and Creamy and Witch Chocolate Fudge.
KRL: What motivated you to become a writer? Was this a life-long dream or did you just fall into it? Is there someone or some moment that encouraged you to pursue writing as a career?
Hsin-Yi Hanna: Oh, I’m definitely the cliché of the person who always wanted to be a writer from the time she was a little girl. Actually, to be honest, I really wanted to be Nancy Drew, especially the red hair! But as I got older, I decided it would be a lot cooler to WRITE Nancy Drew!
So yes, I would say it’s a lifelong dream, although I spent many years after graduating from the university doing “proper” jobs because I didn’t dare believe I could make a living as an author. But I was never happy in the corporate world. I was always yearning to write books. Then, when my big 4-0 started approaching, I guess I had one of those mid-life crisis moments and thought: “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?” Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger… so I decided to give it my best shot. I feel so grateful and blessed that it paid off, and I’m now a full-time author.
KRL: You have two series that are in the ‘cozy’ genre. What is it about ‘cozies’ that interested you?
Hsin-Yi: I’ve loved reading mysteries all my life, so it’s probably natural that I should want to write them! And I enjoy cozy mysteries for the quirky characters and the quaint settings full of atmosphere, as well as the humour and the clever deductions of an amateur sleuth who can’t rely on police authority, forensic data, and other professional advantages. I also like the fact that they tend to focus less on the gore and graphic details of the murder, and more on the “puzzle” element of the mystery: sorting through the red herrings, the various alibis and motives of the suspects, the use of logic and deduction to arrive at the answer.
At least, that is what I strive for in my mysteries! It is an enjoyable challenge as an author to tackle a mystery plot and weave everything together in a way that’s both clever and entertaining.
KRL: I am thrilled with the new series and the magical element…oh, and chocolate! Can you give us some background into the Bewitched by Chocolate series? What made you decide to write a ‘witchy’ themed book?
Hsin-Yi: Thank you! I’m so happy that you’re enjoying my new series. I think it was a number of things that inspired me to write this series: I really like the film Chocolat, starring Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche, and I always found the idea of enchanted, magical chocolates quite intriguing—as well as the myth in the movie of the heroine being descended from an ancient Mayan witch with magic abilities over chocolate.
I also really love mythology and am fascinated by many of the Celtic/Olde English myths and legends… And of course, I’m known for my traditional English country settings, especially in the beautiful Cotswolds with its quaint villages and medieval market towns
I thought it would be fun to combine all of those things into a paranormal cozy mystery series which could incorporate “dark chocolate magic” but also feature traditional English myths and legends, such as the powers linked to ancient stone circles like Stonehenge. And have lots of humor and fun characters too! (eg. Caitlyn’s toothless old vampire uncle is hilarious & a fan favourite)
And I liked the idea of this girl who comes to England searching for her real family and her heritage—and discovers a magical world she never knew. And, of course, stumbling into a murder mystery (this time with hints of witchcraft!), and having to use her amateur sleuth skills, as well as her newfound magical powers, to solve it.
KRL: I think Caitlyn Le Fey is fantastic, strong and clever. Well, discounting the magical abilities, all of the characters could be our neighbors, shop owners, family. Widow Mags reminds me of a curmudgeon aunt I had. Did you write your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Hsin-Yi: My characters tend to be more of a “patchwork” of different people I’ve met in real life or characters I’ve seen in movies or read in books. It’s rare that they are completely based on one person, since you often don’t get all the traits you want. I’m a very visual person, and I usually see the books playing like a movie in my head. I just write down what I see or the dialogue I hear, so I often can’t start writing until I can “see” all the characters properly, know exactly what they look like, how they dress, how they would speak, move, behave…
So I spend a lot of time, particularly at the beginning of a new series, making up a “character collage” which is made of images I’ve found that encapsulate the characters I see in my mind. They can be celebrities, models, real-life people. It doesn’t matter, as long as they instantly conjure up that character for me. I even do it for the animals. I found a really cute picture of a little black kitten to help me write the scenes with “Nibs” in my Bewitched by Chocolate series, and of course, I’m lucky that Muesli, the star of my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, is based on my own little tabby, the real-life Muesli, so lots of every day inspiration there!
KRL: My first introduction to your work was reading, really listening to, A Scone to Die For from your Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, which I must say includes a delicious traditional scone recipe. I love Gemma, and am so excited that there are five novels and a prequel to enjoy. Can you give us a bit of insight into this series?
Hsin-Yi: I think a great way to sum up my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries is a quote from a reader: “Scones, a teashop in England, a kitty, and a murder—Yes, please!”
It’s a culinary cozy mystery for cat lovers and British mystery fans. The heroine, Gemma, is an Oxford graduate who ditches a corporate career to return to Oxford and open a traditional English tearoom in a little Cotswolds village on the outskirts of the university city. So there’s lots of delicious British baking (I love writing about food!), and yes, every book includes a recipe at the end of the story. Gemma becomes unwittingly involved in various murders (eg. the first book features an American tourist who is murdered with a scone in her tearoom!), and uses her wit & resourcefulness as well as her knowledge of & connections to Oxford University, to solve the cases.
There’s a lot of humor—from the gang of nosy Old Biddies from the village who are always meddling in the murder investigations, to Gemma’s bossy, match-making mother who drives her a bit nuts. And of course, there’s the mischievous little feline, Muesli, always trying to lend a helping paw. There’s romance as well as Gemma discovers that her old college flame is now a handsome CID detective, and all the books also feature a clever mystery with a good twist. My readers often comment that they were surprised by the murderer’s identity—that I had them fooled until the end, so the books are a favorite with Agatha Christie (and Agatha Raisin!) fans.
KRL: I enjoy following you through your newsletter and on Facebook. Your two cozy series are set in and around Oxford. You have a connection to Oxford I’d love to know more about.
Hsin-Yi: Yes, I attended Oxford University myself as a student and remained living there for several years even after I graduated, so I know it very well—both the “town” and “gown” sides. It is a really unique city with breathtakingly beautiful architecture and a real sense of history and of stepping back in time, but at the same time, having a very vibrant energy because it is a university city with a lot of different people, culture, and other events. Oxford, itself, is also a thriving commercial center and has an identity separate from the university.
I think part of the reason Oxford feels so different (together with Cambridge) is that the whole city IS the university. There is no separate campus. The various colleges and university departments are scattered throughout the other buildings of the city, and you are immersed in the world of the university as soon as you arrive.
And of course, there are also all the unique, and sometimes strange, traditions of Oxford University, such as having to wear a black scholar’s gown to dinner each evening, having “tutorials” instead of classes, and various events through the year, such as the famous May Morning celebrations, which is featured in Muffins and Mourning Tea, Book 5 of my Oxford Tearoom series.
KRL: You definitely have provided a great deal of entertainment for fans, but is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Hsin-Yi: Well, I think any author would like to be able to let their readers escape to another world, to create characters that come alive and that you really care about, and become “old friends” when you return to the next book in the series. I don’t consciously try to put themes in my books as I write. I just want to tell an entertaining story and provide a gripping mystery, but I think sometimes things come out subconsciously without realizing it. I do have a lot of readers commenting that my books touch on deeper topics but in a very light and sensitive way.
KRL: We know you write, but what do you read? Is there an author who inspires you?
Hsin-Yi: Well, like a lot of authors, I’m a total bookworm! I will read pretty much anything and everything, although my first love will always be crime fiction and specifically mysteries. I do also love YA Dystopian stories as I love the interesting ideas & “what if” scenarios they raise, and they tend to have positive, happy endings, as opposed to adult dystopian books which can be really pessimistic and depressing!
One of my all-time favourite authors is Mary Stewart. I just LOVE her books and read them again and again. A lot of the locations in her stories are on my bucket list of places to visit before I die. I also really love Reginald Hill, a British author who wrote the Daziel & Pascoe mysteries. Really interesting characters and intelligent plots and witty humour. Very sadly, he passed away recently.
KRL: So many authors say writing is all encompassing, but do you have any special hobbies? Favorite movies or TV bingeing? Music?
Hsin-Yi: Yes, trying to write fast enough to keep up with keen readers wanting more is an all-encompassing job—haha! But it’s a good problem to have. But yes, I do try to make time for other hobbies when I can. I enjoy drawing and painting and all forms of art, and I also love dancing. I’ve done ballet, folk, tap dance, ballroom, hip hop, and burlesque in the past, and if you put on ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” I’ll instantly be up and bopping away! I also love photography and take way too many photos. I hardly watch TV. I prefer to read to relax, but I do like going to the movies once in a while. Anything with Colin Firth in it will have me buying a ticket!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Hsin-Yi: Ooh, this is a hard one. I don’t know! I guess I would need people to tell me, as I’m not sure how I come across. I can give you some “fun facts” about me: I love spicy food, and I’ll add chilies to everything I eat. I’m terrified of cockroaches and turn into a mass of screaming jelly if I ever see one. Oh, and maybe this would be something unexpected. Like my heroine, Gemma, in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, I was always more of a “dog person” and never thought I’d like cats, but am now a total convert!
Thank you, Hsin-Yi, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
If you would like to try two of H.Y. Hanna’s books for free, you can simply sign up for her newsletter. You can get both the Prequel, All-Butter ShortDead, to the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries (I recommend it.), and also the first book in the TENDER series as free downloads to read. H.Y. Hanna Newsletter Sign Up.
Be sure to check out three series penned by H.Y. Hanna that are still up on Amazon Summer Beach Vets (Romance), The Tender Mysteries (Romantic Suspense), and Big Honey Dog Mysteries Children’s series).
To enter to win a print or EBOOK copy of Dark, Witch, and Creamy, winner’s choice, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “dark,” or comment on this article and be sure to state whether you want print or ebook. A winner will be chosen March 25, 2017. U.S. residents only for the print copy. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
You can use these links to purchase these books from Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.