by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of Peonies and Poison and a fun interview with Ruby. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Peonies and Poison: A Diana Flowers Floriculture Cozy Mystery by Ruby Loren
Review by Kathleen Costa
Bloomin’ Fun…Start with The Florist and the Funeral
Diana Flowers holds a masters degree and worked as a chemist for a London-based pharmaceutical company, but on her search for happiness, she decides to transfer to another lab nearer to Merryfield, the small rural village in which she grew up. Her mother is best one you visit rather than cohabitate, so renting a flat was the better option…a bonus for residents was renting for a reduced fee an allotment in the local village garden, but her plot needed major work. Another bonus? Deirdre O’Donnell, one of “life’s chatter boxes,” brings Diana up to speed on all the gossip and explains that the village’s farmer’s market lacked a cut flower seller. Happiness may just be a bouquet of blooms.
Find out how poisoned pumpkins, a hole in the ground, and the Merryfield Murder Mystery Fans’ book club uncover and solve murder. Join Ruby Loren’s newsletter at rubyloren.com/florist-funeral-free-book which “includes your special gift [eCopy of The Florist and the Funeral], freebies, bargains, and some fantastic exclusive Ruby Loren reader opportunities.”
Peonies and Poison earns 5/5 Red Velvet Cupcakes & Conspiracies…Entertaining and Fun!
Like Sherlock’s Moriarty or Superman’s Lex Luther, a nemesis can be described as an opponent, a challenger, even an agent of retribution or punishment. Diana has been dealing with one such “opponent” in the figure of Detective Walter Miller who is quick to place blame for any local mayhem on her; his motive seems steeped in his bad feelings toward her mother. But, he’s not the “nemesis” with whom she is currently tussling; Luana Ricci is opening a competing floral service, offering unsustainable deals to acquire clients, and may just be devoid enough of ethics and friendly competition to resort to sabotage. Venturing into floral-infused honey and cupcakes, Diana tries to set herself apart from Ricci’s Floristry, until her claim to fame turns out to be that the red velvet treats topped with dianthus blooms are “deadly” delicious! Oh, Detective Miller will have a field day with this!
Then there’s Furgus Robinson, close friend and avid conspiracy theorist. He returns from his book tour with some additional insights into the on-going mystery connected to his interest in Crickey Marsh, the nearby village deserted since WWI where even the previous residents are missing. The mysterious corporation feeds some of Furgus’s most creative theories, but somethings aren’t adding up.
I am a fan of Ruby Loren’s Diana Flowers cozy. I am always treated to an intriguing mystery punctuated with twists and turns, humor, friendships, and although a clever ending, there are some issues left for another day. I thought I knew the direction she was heading, I saw Karma ridding her of one of her nemeses. However, I was pleasantly surprised how multiple suspects, stalkers, and more Ricci antics veered into an entertaining direction. I’m used to many British books and television shows portraying law enforcement as snarky and either resistant to help or quick to judgement, but I wish Detective Miller would chill out! The characters are the best. Diana has really settled in with great friendships and a budding romance with Fergus Robinson, and the members of the Merryfield Murder Mystery Fans’ book club illustrate quirky…lots of fun!
Alert! The next book, The Lord Beneath the Lupins, is set to release in mid August. Once again Diana Flowers is buried in another suspicious death when a collection of bones are found, buried where her lupins were set to be planted. Fergus has another conspiracy theory about the identity of the skeleton, and…he might just be right.
Be a Big Fan!
Ruby Loren pens several series that are on my “love it” list. Check out the ten-book Madigan Amos Zoo Mysteries with Madi as a zoologist and animal behaviorist uncovering more than animal antics. Don’t miss the four-book The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries with Hazel Salem and a bit of magic, snarky humor, and talking cats. Also worth reading there’s the five-book Emily Haversson Mysteries, four-book Hayley Argent series, and the six-book January Chevalier series (also under the name Silver Nord). All different, but with Ruby Loren’s clever storyline, wonderful characters, and enjoyable writing style.
Our Guest…Ruby Loren
Author of the Diana Flowers Floriculture Mystery series
KRL: It is great to have with us Ruby Loren, author of the Diana Flowers Floriculture Mystery, one of my favorite series, celebrating her newest release of the fourth book, Peonies and Poison. Can you give us a mini biography for Ruby Loren? Who is she and what influenced her to become a writer?
Ruby: I’m a twenty-seven year old writer and musician from South-East England. I spend half the year in Mallorca, working in a musical duo with my partner, Jake. We go all around the island performing at various hotels. If you’re ever in Mallorca, look up the Rock Glories by Rumours! I hope to make the move here full-time this year because it is a beautiful island and will form the inspiration for my next cozy mystery series.
I think I was always destined to be a writer without actually realising it. With hindsight, writing my first novel during the classes I found boring at secondary school should have been all the hint I needed! I’m a bit of an all round creative, so it was actually tough to pick between art, music, and writing. In the end, writing won because I fell in love with creating worlds and characters. Art and music are excellent, but I’ve never felt the same complete immersion I feel when I write a new book.
KRL: You are one of my favorite “cozy” authors having made the top five of my “You’re the Tops! 2018” list. Is there a reason you chose to write in the cozy mystery genre? What is it about cozies that interested you?
Ruby: First of all, I am honoured to have made your list! I am still amazed and delighted when readers tell me how much they enjoy my books. It still feels a bit like a dream! I grew up (as I’m sure many of you did!) reading Nancy Drew books, before moving on to Agatha Christie, M.C.Beaton, and then Charlaine Harris. It was these authors who inspired my love for mysteries. I especially enjoyed the cozy mysteries because even though people die, the books are always cheerful, and I just love the cozy humour! The small town murder theme also fitted well with the place I grew up and the places I now choose to live, which are all very rural and quiet – the perfect location for a murder to take place!
KRL: Let’s start with this highlighted series Diana Flowers Floriculture Mystery. Can you give us some insights into how the series started? I personally love the English countryside and small village life; it’s a “bucket list” destination. Is there a story behind setting the story there?
Ruby: The majority of my books are set in South East England – albeit at fictitious locations! There’s an old saying to ‘write what you know,’ and I definitely fall into that category. I think my most believable books are set in areas that reflect the county I grew up in. That is definitely the reason why my books are set in Sussex-style landscapes, and, fortunately for me, it perfectly suits the genre classic – a cozy mystery set in an English village! I live near to an area called Ashdown Forest, which is beautiful. The villages dotted across the forest are always the places I have in my mind when I come up with my story locations. And of course, a small village where everyone knows each other is just right for a ‘whodunnit?’.
KRL: You add some fascinating information to your books, no matter the theme. What influenced you to use the floriculture theme? Are you a gardener?
Ruby: I am a big believer that you should learn something new every time you pick up a book, even if it’s fiction. In this instance, I’m the one learning new things writing the floriculture series. My mother is the gardener in the family. She is also my proofreader, so if I get anything wrong about the flower facts, she’s the first to point it out!
Across all of my mystery series, I always like the main character to have something interesting about them. They can’t just be a person with a job. I love them to have dreams, something they’re working towards, and something unexpected about them – like quitting chemistry to become a cut flower grower, or a zookeeper who draws comics in her spare time! It makes them come alive to me and gives me a lot of exciting routes for the stories to take.
KRL: The characters you’ve created in all of your series seem so universal. Their personalities, manner, and relationships make them seem like neighbors, family, and friends. Do you have any personal connection to any of them? Can we find you in Diana or any one of your main characters? Did you write your any of your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Ruby: Once again, thank you for the compliment! I definitely put a piece of myself into every main character. I think that is the secret to me finding them interesting to write about, because there is an area of my own personality that every character is exploring. As I develop and grow, I think they do, too! However, my main characters and all characters always have a mixture of the people I meet in them and never an entire person. For example, I might take someone’s appearance for one character and a striking aspect of their personality for another. In this way, I think I am able to write believable characters but without the risk of anyone realising they are reading about a part of themselves. I do have a guilty confession. Some of the ‘badies’ in my books may be based on the people I am less fond of in life! But it’s better to kill them off in fiction than in real life… right?
KRL: This book, Peonies and Poison, is the fourth book, and I’m hooked on the delightful Diana Flowers, clever mystery with some perilous predicaments, humor, and interesting relationships. But, I also love reading the four-book The Witches of Wormwood series you released this year. Hazel Salem is fun. What caused you to add a bit of magic into a cozy series? Is there a mind set you need to have to write about witches? What research did you feel you need?
Ruby: I’m really enjoying writing my witch mystery series. Ruby Loren is not my only pen name, I also write fantasy under the name of Silver Nord. Whilst Silver is yet to write an entire series on her own, I wrote a fantasy/mystery series set in the fictitious town of Witchwood. When that series finished, a lot of people asked for a continuation. Whilst I felt that I had written all I wanted to (for now!) in that particular series, it gave me the idea to set a more mystery-based series in a town nearby to Witchwood. That was how the town of Wormwood and the witches who live in it came to be.
As well as reading mysteries growing up, my other favourite genre is fantasy, so I absolutely love being able to combine the two together. I also have a big interest in folklore. A lot of real stories about the local area crop up in The Witches of Wormwood series – including the devilish antics! The herb lore is also something I find really interesting.
KRL: My introduction to your work came when I became involved in your ARC team with the ten-book Madigan Amos Zoo Mysteries. From Penguins and Mortal Peril (July 2017), I was eager to join Madi’s adventures with land, sea, and air animals always with a clever murder mystery. Can you give us some background into this series? What kind of research did you do to add realism to the series?
Ruby: The series was inspired by the stories told by my friend about the local zoo she works at. I won’t reveal which ones are true, but some of them definitely made it in to the books! I have always been a huge fan of animals, so it was the series where I really fell in love with writing cozy mysteries. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time at this particular zoo, even being one of their Junior Board of Directors, so a lot of the layout of the zoo and the animals they look after is based on the actual zoo. They even have a barn with feral cats!
In terms of research, I definitely did some extensive reading to make sure I got the animal facts correct and was able to weave in factual information into the stories. Once again, my zoo-worker friend was a lifesaver! The stories she told about the animal antics are a big part of Madi’s adventures.
KRL: Writing can be very personal and unique to each author. What is a day of writing like for you? Do you have a special technique for your writing?
Ruby: I wish I had an organised and sensible way of writing! I set myself deadlines with great intentions and then – more often than not – life happens and I suddenly find myself needing to write 10K words a day. I’m a quick first draft writer, but I still find that a tough ask! One of these days I’ll be more organised. Possibly.
I write whenever I can using my laptop. When my laptop broke recently, I had to swap over to writing with my phone and bluetooth keyboard, which caused much amusement when others saw me writing! But I managed to write two books on my phone, which is something I’m really pleased about. Nothing stands in the way of a good story, not even a broken laptop!
At the moment, I am focusing on my solo cozy mysteries. There are so many stories I want to tell, and a wonderful, high level of demand from my readers who want more books! At the moment, I am trying to fit in the fantasy writing where I can, but the mysteries are keeping me very busy – which is fantastic.
KRL: Your bio mentions a career in music. It mentions a guitar and playing on cruise ships and in hotels. What style of music do you play? Any interesting adventures or anecdotes? Sounds like a cozy mystery series to me…
Ruby: I’ve had a lot of adventures on the boats! These days, I’m sticking to playing shows around the hotels in Mallorca. My partner and I are both very seasick, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to go on boats for a living! However, it is the best way to cut your teeth before getting into the hotel work, so we don’t regret a second of it. There will indeed be a mystery series that features a musical duo working on the beautiful island of Mallorca in the near future. And that’s all I am able to reveal for now!
KRL: You also write under the a fascinating pen name Silver Nord. I have The Crown’s Calling, a prequel to the Whisper of a Song. First, can you give some insights into the pen name? What is this series about? This pen name is also given credited with your five-book January Chevalier Supernatural Mysteries. Can you also give us background into this series?
Ruby: I do have a thing about my pen names having a theme! Ruby and Silver seemed to fit nicely together. The Whisper of a Song series is going to be a story that features a Royal Family and their fading magical abilities set in a parallel London – which is the same as real London, just with a bit of added magic! At the moment, I’ve planned a trilogy. The Crown’s Calling was my way of testing the water, and I got some excellent feedback that I can’t wait to use to make Silver’s first solo series one to remember. I am excited that Silver Nord is now a USA Today Bestseller. The Crown’s Calling was part of a set that managed to hit the list, which was really exciting.
The January Chevalier Supernatural Mysteries were first written before I’d realised that cozy mystery was the genre for me. Having them just under Ruby’s name never felt right because they are definitely fantasy with some supernatural mystery as an extra ingredient. The addition of Silver and finishing the series with both pen names featured was what made me finally feel like I’d found the right place for one of my earliest series of books, written at a time when I was exploring a lot of different ideas and genres.
KRL: We know you write, but are you able to find time to read? What are some of the authors you can’t resist? What are some of your favorite books?
Ruby: My favourite book of all time is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s just a beautiful book! It’s a tough choice because I love pretty much everything written by her.
Charlaine Harris is another favourite of mine. She writes both mystery and paranormal mysteries, which is definitely where I found the inspiration for that kind of crossover! I love all of her books but my favourite is probably Dead Until Dark and the rest of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries.
Another hilarious supernatural mystery writer is Derek Landy, who writes the Skulduggery Pleasant books. They’re intended for children, but they are so funny and really clever with the mysteries. The main character, Skulduggery Pleasant, the skeleton detective, makes me laugh out loud whenever I read about his antics.
Otherwise, you’ll find me dipping into the Agatha Raisin series, the Stephanie Plum books, and the Alphabet Mysteries.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you? Any guilty pleasures?
Ruby: People are often surprised that as a musician I’m not someone who goes out and has a party every night! I enjoy peace and quiet and rural areas. Going for a hike in the mountains is my idea of fun. In terms of guilty pleasures, I love baking a little too much! There’s always a new gluten-free recipe I’m trying to perfect. I’m also a big fan of fermented drinks and food. There are some ominous-looking jars when you walk into the apartment where Jake and I live. Nothing poisonous though, I swear…
The only other thing I can think of is my art! I wanted to start a pet portrait business back when I was still trying to find the path I wished to walk through life. I still paint when I can. It’s a great way to relax, and I really do love painting animals. I suppose you can see where Madigan Amos in the zoo mystery series gets that from! I’ve always wanted to start a comic like the one she draws. I live vicariously through my characters.
I still get to express my love for art through my book covers and promotional graphics. I design all of them myself.
KRL: Ok, here’s something fun, Ruby…Rapid Fire! Ready! Set! Go!
Coffee or Tea? For a long time, it was tea because I couldn’t get on with coffee due to a digestive disease I have. Fortunately, that’s improved a lot and now it is coffee all the way! With cream as a treat.
Dog or Cat? Cat! My cat, Jasper, lives with my parents in the UK. He spends his time ruining Mum’s plants by sitting on them.
Carnivore or Herbivore? Carnivore. I love steak that’s barely cooked!
Pie or Cake? Cake! Baking cakes is the best, and pastry is tough to make gluten free!
Picnic or 5-star Restaurant? Picnic! Nature is the best.
Print/eBook or Audio version? Print book. I’m a traditionalist at heart.
Theater or Wait for the DVD? I love going to the cinema. We have a lovely old one in my hometown of Uckfield.
Favorite Actor? Jensen Ackles. I’m a Supernatural fan!
Favorite Actress? Gillian Anderson. I based Diana Flowers off her portrayal of Dana Scully. Note the similarities in the name!
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada but without the alcohol. I’m a teatotaler .
Beachfront Property or Cabin in the Woods? In the woods. I like being in the middle of nowhere.
Active or Cuddling in a Comfy Chair? Active! I love adventures.
Finish these sentences
If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be…Diana Wynne Jones. She has always been my favourite author. Her books pull you into her world and for a while it seems like you’re really living there in this fantasy world. I dream of being able to write books like that! I’d ask her for some tips.
If I had just one wish, it would be…to have all of the time in the world to write books! I have so many stories inside that I am itching to get down on paper. However, in reality, it would be a disaster if my wish was granted. Writing is very sedentary, so it’s good that I’m dragged out for exercise and music shows every night! Otherwise I might become permanently attached to a chair.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, it would be…the Vatican’s chief librarian! My conspiracy theory obsessed characters get it from somewhere. I would love the chance to have a look for some really old, secret books!
KRL: This has been great connecting with you. We’ve covered so many topics and had some fun, too. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Ruby: Thank you so much, this was fantastic! I am excited to say that A Memory for Murder from the Madigan Amos Zoo Mystery won the BooksGoSocial Best Indie Book Award 2018. And I have exciting news! The Diana Flowers Floriculture Mysteries are currently being recorded by Tantor who will publish the audiobooks of the first five books in the series. I can’t wait to share that with you when it’s ready.
Thank you, Ruby, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
To enter to win an ebook copy of Peonies and Poison, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “peonies,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 22, 2019. U.S. residents only for the print copy. If entering via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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