by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of a chocolate shop mystery, which is perfect for Valentine’s Day-Bonbon with the Wind by Dorothy St. James. We also have a fun interview with Dorothy. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a signed copy of Bonbon with the Wind. We also have a link to order it from Amazon.
Bonbon with the Wind: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery by Dorothy St. James
Review by Cynthia Chow
The South Carolina island town of Camellia Beach is battening down the hatches as they prepare for the arrival of what is to be the hurricane of the century. One of the last to leave is Charity Penn, who has recently fallen in love with her new home and especially her Chocolate Box specialty chocolate shop. Penn doesn’t believe in magic or ghosts, which is why she dismisses Old Joe Davies’ declarations that he has been warned by the Gray Lady of the upcoming storm. Joe has been searching for Blackbeard’s treasure for nearly a decade, so Penn takes the prophecy that seeing the Gray Lady means doom about as seriously as she does his belief in buried gold treasure. Unfortunately, after Hurricane Avery passes through the town, Penn does indeed find Joe’s body washed up on the shore, and his death isn’t the only mystery in Camellia Beach. A billionaire’s brother goes missing, Joe’s identity seems to be in question, and Penn is drawn into the investigations despite her best attempts to stay uninvolved.
Having been estranged from her wealthy family and gone through the turmoil of attempting to discover the identity of her mother, Penn is slow to trust or let down her guard. She is a complicated character, one who pretends not to care precisely because she cares too much and is terrified of being hurt. It’s why the recent betrayal by her best friend Althea Bays cuts so deeply, and why Penn is so reluctant to make a commitment to the surfing lawyer Harley Dalton. When Harley’s surfing buddy Big Dog arrives in town, Penn is even more suspicious, and she can’t help but question his timing or connection with the recent deaths. It’s an attitude that keeps her at a distance with those who most want to help and care for Penn, but having been burned by her own wealthy Maybank family letting down her guard is not easy. It does make Penn vulnerable to the pleas by Joe’s daughter to help, as Penn can all too easily relate to the woman whose relationship with her own father had been so distraught.
What makes this series so enjoyable is how Penn escapes from fractured family relationships by burying herself in the Chocolate Box. Penn continually imagines and creates new chocolate confection flavors even – perhaps especially – as she becomes further enmeshed in the drama surrounding her. Even with an employee who seems enamored of a femme fatale, ghost hunters at her doorstep in search of the legendary Gray Lady, and treasure hunters obsessed with buried gold coins, Penn still succeeds in crafting luxurious Pumpkin Spice Bonbons (recipe included!). Her dreams of a new bonbon and chocolate gingerbread cookie seem to herald in a tantalizing upcoming Christmas-themed mystery, one that can’t come soon enough. Family drama, a spectral assistant, and of course, the aggressive papillon Stella all ensure that this chocolate treat of a novel will please both gothic mystery and foodie mystery fans.
Interview with Dorothy St. James:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Dorothy: I’ve been writing since I was five years old. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of writing books. Finding my books in libraries and on bookstore shelves is literally a dream come true for me! I started writing full-time, however, in 2001.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Dorothy: Writing as Dorothy McFalls, my first novel, The Marriage List, came out in 2005. It was a Regency romance published by Signet books. The book follows the misadventures of Viscount Radford Evers. He makes a list of his requirements for a wife and sets out to find that woman. Along the way, he falls in love with his feisty tenant May Sheffers, who has none of the qualities he’s looking for in a wife.
My first mystery novel, Flowerbed of State, came out in 2011. It was the first book in the White House Gardener Mystery series. Cassandra “Casey” Calhoun’s passion for gardening has carried her to President’s Park on which sits the White House. When she finds a dead body in a trash can, Casey has to root out a killer before she ends up planted herself!
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Dorothy: I have always loved to read and write mysteries. In fact, when I started writing full-time, I was working on writing cozy mysteries, but my Regency romance novels sold before I could get interest in my mysteries. I focused on writing romance novels for several years until an editor told me that she thought I should be writing cozy mysteries. She gave me the opportunity to write the White House Gardener Mystery series and when that happened, I felt as if my career had come full-circle.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Dorothy: Short answer: love.
Longish answer: When I started writing the Southern Chocolate Shop Mysteries, I was living on Folly Beach in South Carolina. It had been my home for twenty years. Folly Beach is one of my favorite places with its artsy residents, laid-back lifestyle. It’s a shabby, but quaint, beach community. I’ve always wanted to use it in a series, so I created Camellia Beach, a quirky beach town very much like Folly, for the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series. The place was simply a perfect fit. Also, when I started to write the series, I had a very special Papillon, Iona, in my life. She was my best girl in the whole world. I miss her terribly. It has been a joy including memories of her antics in the series.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Dorothy: Mainly, I write to entertain. I know how stressful everyday life can be. If I can provide a break from the troubles of the day for someone, I feel like I’ve succeeded. At the same time, I do hope the reader walks away with a feeling of hope and some new knowledge about whatever topic I included in a new series.
As a reader, I enjoy learning something new while being entertained. So, I do try to scatter fun (and sometimes important) facts within the stories.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Dorothy: With a six-year-old daughter to raise, I try to keep a strict writing schedule. If I don’t, nothing will get done. During the school year, I write when she’s at school from 7:30am until 2:30pm. During the summer, I write after she’s gone to bed. I find the most important part of my writing process is to keep a consistent schedule. The more I write, the easier it is to come back the next day to write some more.
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?
Dorothy: I do outline. If I didn’t, my plots would fall apart, hit a wall, get stuck in the mud. I outline and keep plotting notes and information about my characters in a spiral notebook. I find pre-planning my writing day by writing by hand in a notebook helps to get my mind working. I then write my book’s pages on the computer. I’ll jot notes in my notebook while writing and consult it whenever I need guidance about what needs to be happening in the story.
Also, because I’m working on books in a series, I keep a series bible that contains key information about what happened in past books, notes about my towns, and notes about the characters. This is crucial for keeping facts consistent from book to book.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Dorothy: I prefer to write in the middle of the day. I’m sleepy in the morning and sleepy at night. However, we don’t always get what we want, so I write whenever I’m able.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Dorothy: Gracious, yes. I came from a technical writing background. When I first started writing in earnest, my writing was as dry as plain toast. It took time to find my voice and I’m still wandering around looking for it most days! I quit my job to write full-time in 2001. My first book came out in 2005.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Dorothy: My best rejection letter came from an editor for a fantasy novel I’d been shopping around. She told me that she thought the book was too fantastical. Fantasy novel? Fantastical? I still like the idea and might get the trilogy finished and published one day.
Although rejections can be upsetting, I do sometimes find them uplifting whenever an editor or agent takes the time to comment on what he or she read. I’ve kept all the personal rejection letters in a file (a rather fat file). They remind me how far I’ve come in this business. I’m happy to report that the last two proposals that I sent out received multiple offers for publication. I’m keeping those letters in a different (not as fat) file folder.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Dorothy: I enjoy book signings, but I also fret over doing them. Getting out in public can be scary. Just the thought of showing my work to (gasp) readers has given me hives. Actual, embarrassingly blotchy hives.
I do have a story to tell about a book signing, though. It was at one of those signings where I was nervous. I’d given a talk and did a short reading and really thought I had bombed, because sometimes I get terribly flustered and forget how to speak – you know -words? But after the talk, two women came up and told me that they were so excited to meet me and that I was one of their favorite authors. Me? I had to stop myself from looking around to see if they were talking to someone standing behind me. It was amazing, wonderful, humbling. I carry their kind words with me to every book signing. I remember them as I speak to a crowd. And thanks to those two women, I haven’t suffered a case of pre-book signing hives since.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Dorothy: I hope to continue writing at least three more books in the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series. I’m also working on a Secret Bookroom Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime and a romantic mystery series for myself. Plus, there is a certain fantasy series that one day will get written.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Dorothy: My goodness, this is a difficult one to answer. There are so many! One of my first inspirations is Ernest Hemingway. His clean use of the language inspires me, also, Kate Collins, who writes the Flower Shop Mystery series, is another source of inspiration. Her books are funny and clever and absolutely charming.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Dorothy: For the chocolate shop series, I eat chocolate. I’ve even made chocolate from the bean. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I’ve also attended the Writer’s Police Academy to learn the ins and outs of police investigations. I also love to research history. Whenever possible, I try and find a way to include a historical twist to the mystery.
KRL: What do you read?
Dorothy: I always have a book that I read before going to sleep. I read historical romances, historical mysteries, and of course cozy mysteries. I also rely heavily on reading suggestions from friends. If someone says it’s good, I like to read the book to find out why.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Dorothy: I love mystery shows. Father Brown is one of my favorites. I also enjoy watching old episodes of Psych and Monk and I’ve recently discovered Lucifer, which I find hilarious.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Dorothy: I have two pieces of advice. First, be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to grow as a writer. Anything worth doing takes time to develop. Second, read. Read heavily in the genre that you want to write. Read especially new authors and try to figure out why that book caught an editor’s eye. You can do this!
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Dorothy: Buy only fair-trade chocolates. It might cost more, but it’s important to support farmers who are using sustainable farming practices and not using child and slave labor.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Dorothy: I don’t like to cook, bake, or make candy. I only do it because I love to eat.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a signed copy of Bonbon with the Wind, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “bonbon,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 15, 2020. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win and how you want the book signed, it will be deleted when the contest is over. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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