by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of 18 1/2 Disguises: A Romantic Comedy Mystery by Larissa Reinhart, along with an interesting interview with Larissa. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.
18 1/2 Disguises: A Romantic Comedy Mystery by Larissa Reinhart
Review by Cynthia Chow
Maizie Albright is no longer the teen actress who became renowned for drunken escapades, was arrested because of a drug-dealing boyfriend, and then eventually sentenced by a judge to living a life outside of Hollywood. She now needs to prove to the world that she’s not just Julie Pinkerton, TV’s Teen Detective, but a real-life competent private investigator-in-training. Unfortunately, that mission has become complicated since her Momager momster followed her to Black Pine, Georgia, and purchased Nash Security Services to become her de facto boss. When the opportunity comes for Maizie to support one of the few who mentored her during her mercurial bout as a teen actress, she doesn’t hesitate to attend the charity masquerade gala being organized by celebrity costume designer Lorena Cortez. Maizie’s besties Rhonda and Tiffany are thrilled to attend in Lorena’s nymph costume creations, with hair stylist Rhonda particularly bedazzled by Lorena’s fame. So when Maizie discovers Lorena’s bloody body at the bottom of a staircase, Rhonda is especially traumatized and begs Maizie to solve the murder.
If working for her own mother wasn’t enough, Maizie’s former boss and current boyfriend Wyatt Nash is off working for her father, Boomer Spayberry. In between his security assignments at DeerNose outdoor supplies, Nash repeatedly warns Maizie away from the official investigation – and especially away from flirtatious Detective Ian Mowry. Bullied by her BFFs and desperate to show that she can catch the killer before the police, Maizie begins interrogating Lorena’s business partners, stalkers, and exes as she attempts to use the skills she learned as both a celebrity and as a TV teen detective. And as much as Maizie’s grown to love her dirt bike, part of her mission to act like a real PI is to get a real stakeout vehicle, even if her restricted budget means that is a topless and doorless Bronco. When rumors of shady charity shenanigans threaten Lorena’s reputation and Rhonda is at near hysterical levels of terror due to a written threat, nothing can stop Maizie and her plans to show herself as the best private investigator ever.
This seventh Maizie Albright full novel introduces a Maizie reeling from the upheaval by her mother Vicki, who once again has swooped in to take control over her daughter’s career. Feeling disconnected to Nash and frantic to show that she’s capable on her own, Maizie blusters and blunders through the investigation. Being prodded and nagged by her besties certainly doesn’t help, especially when each new suspect seems to be alibied or cleared by the police.
Maizie loathes being seen only as a ditzy has-been-actress-celebrity-scandal, and she wants to be seen more as a Velma than as a Daphne. While her life in Hollywood may be in her rearview mirror, Black Pine has more than its share of quirky, hilarious, and entertaining characters. Maizie’s interior observations and the clever banter continue throughout the series, especially at her lowest moments. Hashtagged chapter headings and Maizie’s admittedly shaky investigative skills keep the humor at all-time high levels, especially as she realizes just how in over her head she may be. A murder board gone wrong is nearly the capper that pushes Maizie over the edge, but it is her late-in-adulthood maturity and dedication to her new profession that has her ultimately uncovering the truth. While their next adventure looks to be as filled with even more Maizie Family Drama, Maizie and Nash have much to look forward to experiencing together on their way to a professionally exciting and rewarding adventure.
Interview with Larissa Reinhart:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Larissa: I can’t believe it’s already been almost ten years. I started writing seriously in 2010, but as a kid, I’d won some awards and wrote for my town’s newspaper. It wasn’t until 2009-10 I had enough free time to pursue novel writing. At the time, my family lived in Japan. I wasn’t working, and my daughters were in preschool and kindergarten.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Larissa: Portrait of a Dead Guy, A Cherry Tucker Mystery book 1, was written in 2010-11, sold in January 2012, and was published in August of 2012. I call it “hick-lit,” but it’s a small-town cozy with an artist amateur sleuth. Cherry Tucker is a trained portrait artist and also a redneck. She refuses to leave her small, rural town in Georgia, so she’s always scrambling to get portrait commissions. This is how she ended up doing a “portrait of a dead guy,” the murdered son of the town’s patriarch. And got involved in solving his murder, of course. When I wrote Portrait, I was living in Japan and missing Georgia. I have rural, small-town roots, so I could easily channel her voice when I wrote it. That’s why I like to write in first person.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not what else have you written?
Larissa: I’ve only published mysteries. I’m working on a small town, women’s fiction series off and on between my series. I hope to have that published in the next year or two. My first manuscript – the one I wrote to see if I could write a full-length book when we were living in Japan – was a young adult paranormal romance. It was the height of the Twilight era, and I just wanted to see if I could write in that genre. I finished it, then wrote Portrait of a Dead Guy. I’ve never done anything with that YA. It was more for practicing craft and editing than anything else.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Larissa: 18 1/2 Disguises, my new release in the Maizie Albright series, is set in a mountain and lake resort town in the North Georgia Mountains. All my books are set in Georgia. Although I live south of Atlanta (the setting of Cherry Tucker’s fictional Halo), I love the mountains.
The Maizie series revolves around the movie and TV industry in Georgia. In reality, it would make more sense to base the series in Atlanta or where I live (I’m 10 minutes from Pinewood Studios and 10 minutes from where they film The Walking Dead), but I wanted to set the series in the mountains. It’s loosely based on Hiawassee, Georgia (but not really).
As for the characters, the movie industry was exploding here when I began the series. I wanted an ex-actress turned PI as my main character and like Cherry Tucker, Maizie just spoke to me. I’m just channeling her voice! I had been talking to an agent about a new amateur sleuth series and bounced some ideas off him. We thought “Veronica Mars meets Sweet Home Alabama” or something like that would be fun. Maizie left Hollywood in disgrace and tried to rebuild her life in her hometown with a new career as a PI, the role for which she became famous.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Larissa: I write to entertain. I read to be entertained. I have a general theme for the book, but readers sometimes see things (thematically) I didn’t intentionally write in my books, and that’s just fine with me. That’s part of the fun of discovery.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Larissa: I’m generally a morning writer. Ten years ago, I wrote in the evenings, but my children were little and went to bed. They don’t do that anymore. I’m starting a new job, though, and I’ll have to be flexible for a bit to figure out where I’m going to fit the writing in. I’m hoping early mornings and then get to my other work. I’m blessed to be able to work from home.
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?
Larissa: I’ve always been a “pantser” – writing from the seat of my pants. I begin with the characters, their backstories, and the inciting incident that provokes the plot. I don’t always know which of my suspects did the crime, but I always have motives, means, and opportunity for my main suspects. I’ll go back and correct the details. That’s how I wrote all my Cherry Tucker books.
With the Maizie books, I write from a loose synopsis, although sometimes I’ll switch villains within my suspect line. With this last book, 18 1/2, I had my lengthiest synopsis because I thought I’d write it as a novella and wanted to keep things tight. My first draft was 98,000 words. My synopsis had a lot more going on than I thought.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Larissa: I wish I weren’t sleepy in the afternoon. That’s my worst time to be creative. That and late at night. I’m too tired. I write best very early in the morning, but I don’t like getting up early. I just need to change a lot of things about myself!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Larissa: I am one of the very lucky few that sold immediately and I took the first offer. I probably should have spent more time shopping around and waited, but I was impatient. Also, I had no idea what I was doing. I just sent the manuscript out to a few agents and a few publishers. The timing was really hot for humorous/cozy mysteries, so I was lucky.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Larissa: Not really! Sorry!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Larissa: Once I signed a book for a very nice lady who told me to date my signature so the book would be worth more in the future. I think she had higher expectations for my future than I do.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Larissa: My next book is 19 Criminals, Maizie Albright book eight. I’m hammering out the story now. I have two more Finley Goodhart Crime Capers, The Pony Predicament and The Heir Affair, that I need to write. I have the women’s fiction series I started but can’t get the time to work on them. I need more time. Right now, things are crazy busy for me, but this period of my life won’t last forever. I have a freshman who plays travel club and school volleyball. I have a senior who’s getting ready for college, I have a new job, and my husband is always doing stuff. He likes to stay busy which makes me busy, but he also cooks, so I’ll keep him!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Larissa: Elmore Leonard and Jennifer Crusie. I love their books, I’ve read them all and I re-read them all the time. It might be a strange mashup, but I’m a major fangirl for both.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Larissa: I research all the time. Crime and investigation, of course, but almost everything gets researched. To me, details add another layer to the story, and I like to get them right. I’m always looking up information about cars, houses, setting, clothes, art, animals, you name it, anything and everything.
I did a lot of research on Broncos, ducks, and professional steam irons for the last book. I interviewed a costume designer who works for the CW channel. I’ll become an expert for an afternoon on something, and after I use it in the story, I’ll forget it. I have a mind like a steel sieve.
KRL: What do you read?
Larissa: I read in all different genres – mysteries, romance, chick lit, women’s fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. I’m a fast reader and a binger. I read non-fiction mainly for research. I don’t read math.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Larissa: Oh, boy. If you can believe it, I’m terrible at remembering what I like. I have to ask my husband. Moonstruck and Lost in Translation are two of my favorites. I know there are some more…
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Larissa: The best advice I was given as a beginning writer was to join a writers’ group and go to conferences. I would recommend a local writing group as well as a national one in your genre (like Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America). The best thing about going to meetings and conferences was finding like-minded people who understood book-think. I learned so much about the craft at these events.
Recently, I believe there’s been a focus on learning marketing before your first book is even out. I believe that’s very distracting when you’re trying to write. Focus on the craft and getting the best polished manuscript written first. Get it critiqued and edit it a lot – a lot. Get it critiqued again. Edit again. Then turn your attention on getting it published while you work on your next book. Once you’re published, everything intensifies. You’re never given another chance to have as much time as needed to write your book. In fact, the more books you’ve written before you publish the first one, the better. Hone your skills before you have to use them under deadline pressure.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Larissa: If your readers are interested in the Maizie Albright series, the first book, 15 Minutes, has been offered free (as an ebook) at most retailers since the pandemic started. We haven’t returned it to full price since the pandemic is unfortunately still happening. In a fit of optimism, I urge them to grab it before we’re COVID-free. Here’s a link on my website to learn more about the series: larissareinhart.com/maizie-albright-star-detective-seri
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Larissa: Some people know this, but others do not — My family and I were on House Hunters International the last time we lived in Japan (“Living for the Weekend in Nagoya.”) I agreed to do it for background research for the Maizie series, but I enjoyed the experience more than I thought. I think that episode might be on Hulu, but I haven’t looked. I haven’t seen it on regular TV, just on the DVD they gave us.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Larissa:My website is www.larissareinhart.com and for those who sign up for my VIP Reader email group, they’ll get my Finley Goodhart prequel, The Pig’n a Poke, with the signup as well as other exclusive goodies I give to those readers.
I don’t do much on Twitter, but you can follow me with @LarissaReinhart. On Facebook, feel free to follow my official page:
facebook.com/AuthorLarissaReinhart – and/or friend me – facebook.com/larissareinhartwriter.
Thank so much for having me here!
One of Larissa’s books from her other series was featured in a past episode of Mysteryrat’s Maze podcast. You can check it out here, or by listening to the player below.
To enter to win a copy of 18 1/2 Disguises simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “18 1/2,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 27, 2021. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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