by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review & giveaway of a fun pet related mystery by Liz Mugavero, along with an interesting interview with Liz. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Murder Most Finicky: A Pawsitively Organic Mystery By Liz Mugavero
Review by Cynthia Chow
Normally, gourmet pet food chef Kristan “Stan” Connor would not so willingly allow herself to be blindfolded, led into a mobile pastry truck, and be driven to a mystery location. Having recently entered a partnership with Sheldon “Mr. Pastry” Allyn though, Stan has become accustomed to his outrageous promotional behavior. It seems that Sheldon is hosting a weekend event for his investors, and the “kidnapped” chefs are tasked with providing all of their meals. For their efforts, at the conclusion the most impressive chef may win an opportunity to host his or her own series on the Food Channel. Unfortunately, one early arrival seems to have already prepared his final meal, and Stan has the unpleasant experience of discovering the body. Barely hesitating in his plans to attract financing, Sheldon merely moves his chefs to a luxurious hotel, with Stan still designated as the chef catering to the whims of one investor’s notoriously finicky Siamese.
Although Stan has had a string of bad luck regarding murders, she is more than willing this time to sit out the investigation and focus on preparing Cat-noli and other vegetarian human treats. She really would have, if not for a desperate plea from her prickly sister. Caitlyn Connor Fitzgerald had become a little too friendly with a missing chef who happens to be the police’s most likely suspect, and her very married sister begs Stan for help. Rooming amidst the other chefs and becoming more and more leery of Sheldon’s plans to invest in her own Pawsitively Organic pet food business, Stan finds herself researching the deceased baker and discovering just how cutthroat the culinary world can be.
Although Stan’s Schnoodle, Pit Bull, and new tabby cat, all remain back home in Frog Ledge, Connecticut, her chubby feline taste-tester, Nutty, is on hand in Newport. The author grounds the mystery with the very real motivations and rivalries of professional chefs, and Stan proves to be a deft and practical investigator. Stan may be a chef for pets, but she refrains from acting foolishly, and keeps the police informed of her activities. Never fear that the four-legged companions could ever be sidelined though, and in fact their presence plays a critical role in revealing the culprit. Tasty human and pet food recipes are the perfect final treat for this culinary mystery which blends with fully-developed characters, shadowy motivations, and a delightfully engaging protagonist.
Interview with Liz Mugavero:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Liz: I’ve been writing ever since I knew how to hold a pen. I loved to create stories as a kid, whether it was outside playing with friends or simply entertaining myself. I adored reading and was a huge Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden fan and used to try to find cases to solve when I was bored at home. I started penning bad poetry as I got into my pre-teen and teenage angst periods, and I loved to write short stories. I wrote a particularly bad one in eighth grade about two people who got stranded in a snowstorm in a car and lost toes to frostbite.
I always knew I’d write novels. I went to graduate school at Emerson College in Boston, where I completed my first novel length work for my thesis. It was a typical first novel that will never see the light of day, but I did it. After I graduated, I got serious about writing mysteries. I joined Sisters in Crime and practiced my craft, and finally in 2011 I was offered a contract for my Pawsitively Organic Mysteries.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Liz: The first Pawsitively Organic Mystery, Kneading to Die, came out in May 2013. This is the blurb:
Maybe the best thing that ever happened to Kristan “Stan” Connor was losing her high-stress public relations job. Now there’s plenty of time to spend in her sleepy new Connecticut town working on her dream: baking healthy, organic pet treats!
Before long the neighborhood dogs are escaping their yards to show up at Stan’s doorstep, begging for the kinds of special homemade treats her Maine coon cat Nutty loves so much. And Stan’s pet-loving neighbors are thrilled with the new organic options available to their furry family members. But not everyone loves Stan and her newfangled organic ways…
It seems Carole Morganwick, the town vet, is from the old school of pet care. But when Stan swallows her pride and brings a very unwilling Nutty in for a checkup, she not only finds Carole dead under a pile of kibble. . .but also that she’s in the dog house as the prime suspect! Finding the real killer and clearing her name will require some seriously surreptitious sniffing around…and hopefully, curiosity won’t kill this innocent cat!
KRL: Why did you decide to do a pet related series?
Liz: Pets have always been my passion. I’ve done animal rescue for over 15 years, and even when I was a journalist I’d look for opportunities to write about animals. I remember begging one of my editors to do a feature series on feral cats. When I had the opportunity to discuss a cozy proposal with my agent, we brainstormed my interests as well as what he thought would sell. Naturally, pets were high on the list, and the gourmet pet food option was a fun take on the pet angle. And it sold!
KRL: What was the inspiration for the pets?
Liz: When I started writing the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, I knew Stan would have a Maine coon cat. Her cat Nutty is based on my own Maine coon, Tuffy. (Tuffy is also an author who had a story in the anthology Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats Through Their Eyes.) But I couldn’t just use one of my muses. The others were getting jealous. My schnoodle, Shaggy’s alter ego, appears in Kneading to Die also, and as Stan goes along she runs into many more furry friends, all of whom are based on pets past and present.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Liz: My published books are all mysteries. My very first novel, which I used as my thesis, was women’s fiction. But mysteries are my first love.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Liz: My newest book, Murder Most Finicky, was released on December 29. This is the fourth in the series, and Stan gets out of Frog Ledge for the weekend to head to Newport, Rhode Island for a getaway with some gourmet chefs. I wanted her to get out of town and give the people in Frog Ledge a break from murder, and this plot fit nicely into the ongoing storyline. As Stan builds her business, she’s had some interest from famous pastry chef Sheldon Allyn, a quirky celebrity who’s always on the lookout for the next big thing. He wants to help Stan open a pastry shop in Frog Ledge, and asks her to participate in this weekend with a few other chefs. The goal is to cook a meal for a group of investors, including a picky Siamese cat, in hopes of getting a Food Channel show. Of course, one of the chefs ends up dead, and Stan is once again drawn into a murder investigation.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Liz: I love when people tell me they read my book and it made them laugh, or helped them escape. I love entertaining people. That said, I’m also passionate about leaving my readers with something, a feeling, a message, even just an idea they can simply take away and think about something a little differently. Since I work with and am passionate about animals, I like to write about issues facing animal rescuers. I’ve talked about dog fighting, bad breeders and animal transport, for example. I keep it light, but I like to educate on issues that people may not be aware of. Same with animal nutrition. If I can get people thinking differently about what they feed their pets, which in turn helps them stay healthy, then it’s an added bonus.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Liz: I try really hard to have a schedule, but it doesn’t always work that way! I have a day job, so ideally I’d like to get a bunch of writing done in the morning, then if I can get anything additional done at night it’s a bonus. Usually, when I’m on deadline, my weekends are my most valuable writing time because I have longer stretches to work with. But really, I squeeze writing in whenever I can!
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Liz: Just like with my schedule, I try hard to plot. Per my contract I have to write a synopsis, so even if it changes along the way, I still have a roadmap to help me when I get stuck. I use Scrivener to write my books, which is fabulous for plotting, and I try to plot pretty far ahead so I don’t get stuck working out problems when I’m nearing deadline. Alas, it doesn’t always work out the way I plan.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Liz: I never thought I’d say I was a morning person, but I am definitely better when I write in the morning. My mind is fresher, I get more done, and things fall into place more easily. I also find I’m less stressed when I don’t have to worry about having to do my whole word count after a long day at work.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Liz: I started writing seriously in grad school. After I graduated, I began writing mysteries in earnest. I wrote, edited, pitched, polished and got a lot of rejections. I attended conferences – my favorite is Crime Bake – and made great friends and contacts. I learned a ton, and I kept writing. But probably the most important thing I did (aside from honing my craft) was to join Sisters in Crime, and the Sisters in Crime New England chapter. Besides the benefits of belonging to a group of like-minded writers, the networking was invaluable and in my case as well as all my Wicked Cozy Author sisters, resulted in a contract.
In 2011, my now-agent John Talbot contacted then-president of SinCNE, Sheila Connolly, looking for writers interested in developing cozy proposals. Sheila put the offer out to the entire membership, and I was among the group that answered. After speaking with John in October, I wrote a proposal. By December, it had sold and I was off and running with the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. So I wouldn’t say my road was either fraught with peril or a walk in the park – I had about 8 years or writing, pitching, submitting, getting rejected, and revising – but the stars definitely aligned when they were supposed to.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Liz: My launch party for Kneading to Die was held at a doggie bakery, and both dogs and humans were invited. Shaggy, my Schnoodle, even got a celebratory doggie cake! It was a memorable day for everyone.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Liz: I’m hoping my Pawsitively Organic series keeps going, for one. I have a contract through book six for now. I also have a new cozy series through St. Martin’s Press, tentatively scheduled to launch in 2017. And I have a darker book that I wrote a few years back that I’m still tweaking and hope to put out into the world. I have a lot of books and a lot of characters in my head, and I look forward to writing for a long, long time!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Liz: Too many to list! On the darker side, I love Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Harlan Coben, RJ Ellory, John Connolly, and James Lee Burke. My fellow Wicked Cozy authors Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day, J.A. Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes, Sherry Harris, Barbara Ross and Jessie Crockett are absolutely my heroes for many reasons, including their fabulous books.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Liz: Whatever the book calls for. I love research, both hands on and online. I went and toured a dairy farm for A Biscuit, A Casket. My days as a reporter and my friendship with a historian helped me write The Icing on the Corpse. I also talked to a couple of ghost hunters for that book, which was very cool. The animal work I do daily is research, too. And when I was writing Murder Most Finicky, I went to the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, and scoped out the best places for someone to fall into the ocean. All in a day’s work!
KRL: What do you read?
Liz: My reading time has been really limited lately given my deadlines, but I try to keep up with all my favorites above. I really love Jodi Picoult and try to keep up with her. And I read a lot of Hay House books on wellness and self-help, like The Tapping Solution and anything by Dr. Wayne Dyer.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Liz: My TV time is even more limited than my reading time! I love American Horror Story, The Americans, and that’s really all I watch these days since The Following went off the air. I am super excited that the Gilmore Girls is returning to Netflix, though…
KRL: I love the Gilmore Girls! Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Liz: Keep writing! Don’t give up – and write what you want to read. There is an audience for your work, and the world needs more creative souls to shine.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Liz: I worked at a funeral home for a while doing books. My friend owns a couple of funeral homes, and for a while I’d go work there on the weekends in hopes of catching an embalming or something else interesting that I could work into a book.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Liz: My website is www.lizmugavero.com, and it’s in the process of getting a whole new look, so stay tuned!
I also blog with five other fabulous authors at wickedcozyauthors.com. We are cozy writers who all write New England-based stories.
To enter to win a copy of Murder Most Finicky, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “finicky,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 23, 2016. U.S. residents only. 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 this link to order this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & an indie bookstore:
This sounds like a fun cozy, and I love the cover art. Thank you for the giveaway.
The cover really is great, isn’t it? Kensington Books does a wonderful job 🙂
Sounds like it must have been some competition! Can’t wait to read this one. Thankyou for the opportunity! Jill; email@example.com
Thanks, Jill, hope you like it!
I love the book, and the interview makes Liz real… It’s inspiring to hear about the writing process, publishing trials, tribulations and successes. Thanks.
Thanks for reading, Kathleen!
Ohhhh Another book i want to read
I hope you enjoy!
Wanda, you are the winner. Please contact me asap with your address. krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period
Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher
Oh im excited to read this thank you will it be signed
As long as no one hurts the cats, I’m in!!!
Valerie – never! I won’t read books where the animals are hurt and I certainly won’t write them. All animals are safe 🙂
Awesome interview!! Awesome series!!!
This sounds like a wonderful read and another book that i would like to read & review at 2 or more sites plus talk about it online while i am reading! I will have to do the email to enter that is for sure as so love the writeup and the cover.
The Pawsitively Organic series is one of my favorites! I hope it keeps going for a long time.
The Pawsitively Organic series is one of my favorites! I would love to visit Frog Ledge!
Love the post. How she got started? Sisters in Crime has done so much for many.
Would love to read Murder Most Finicky
Cats are a riot. Mine are in the process of creating mayhem. Thanks for this chance.
I love Liz’s books and I’m so happy to find another Gilmore Girls fan.
Thanks for the chance to win.
Would really like to read. Love books with animals and would really love to read this one.
This author and series are on my TBR list, so thanks for the chance to win.
Adorable kitties cover – Thanks for the giveaway. kuzlin at aol.com
Great author! I’d love to win her book! Thanks for the chance!
Sounds like fun and your research is really interesting. A Funeral home is unusual. Although I know a Couple that dated out of a hearse….love the Cover.
We have a winner!