by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Midnight Spells by Mary Angela, along with an interesting interview with Mary. 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.
Midnight Spells Murder: A Happy Camper Mystery by Mary Angela
Review by Cynthia Chow
After inheriting the Spirit Canyon Lodge from her late Aunt Lily, former journalist Zo Jones has been enjoying the transition into managing the Happy Camper gift shop in Spirit Canyon, South Dakota. To celebrate Halloween, Zo has organized an in-store book talk and signing by inspirational author Marianne Morgan. Although “Embracing Your Inner Witch” is meant to motivate women into reclaiming their female power, Marianne readily admits to being an actual practicing witch. While suitable for the town’s annual Spirit Spooktacular weekend celebration, it does stir up a mild protest from the town’s busy-body helicopter mom. The potential for more disruption arrives with Marianne’s current boyfriend Roberto, who not only is the ex of Zo’s best friend Jules Parker, but has a surly teenaged son who is dismissive and hostile towards his potential new step-mom. Unfortunately, when Zo happens to see what looks like a propped up life-like display seated on a hay bale, it turns out to be the now life-less body of Marianne Morgan.
Chief of Police Brady Merrigan once again warns Zo about minding her own business, but there are too many signs encouraging her to do the opposite. The corner of a check grasped in Marianne’s hand has Zo tracking down who actually still writes and accepts checks, while a séance led by Jules at her Spirits & Spirits shop provides more hints than actual evidence. So, Zo is going to have to speed up her investigation if she wants to prevent camera-thirsty news reporter Justin Castle from accusing her of murder on live TV. Planted evidence, college admission shenanigans, and clues to her own past have Zo juggling holiday sales, festivities, and a promising dating life.
New readers can easily jump into the second of this series that memorializes the seasons with a sprinkling of the paranormal. Who can resist a town that celebrates with free hot chocolate on Marshmallow Mondays, a Sips and Swings wine and music concert, or forced Christmas wreath fundraisers. Zo’s investigation into Marianne’s death is both practical and reasonably subtle, making her a surprisingly effective and believable amateur detective. Just as compelling is the mystery of Zo’s parentage, having been dropped off as a baby at a police station with only her name left as a clue to her origin. A necklace brings her ever closer to the woman who may have abandoned her, and an intriguing discovery may nudge her closer to the truth. Characters who initially seemed irritating are shown to evolve in surprising ways, and while not fully redeemed are made far more vulnerable and multi-dimensional. Zo continues to be a witty heroine whose life experience and genuine appreciation of Spirit Canyon make her a winning investigator, one whose blogs for the local newspaper deserve to be shared. Readers will be looking forward to the next in this fun series that highlights a charming town, aggressively slothful cat, and a woman finding her Happy Place.
Interview with Mary Angela:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Mary: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. At a young age, I wrote poems and short stories. I wrote my first book-length work at eighteen.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Mary: My first novel, An Act of Murder, was published in 2016. It’s book one in the Professor Prather series, which is an academic mystery series about Emmeline Prather, a professor who teaches English on the small college campus of Copper Bluff. I taught college English for many years, but the series itself was inspired by my time in graduate school as an English major. I loved school then and still do!
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Mary: I also write short stories. My very first novel (not published) was a historical romance.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Mary: I live in South Dakota and have vacationed in the Black Hills many times, so Black Hills National Forest was a natural choice when I started the Happy Camper series. I love the idea of nature adding an element of danger to the setting, and I also love the touristy aspect of Spirit Canyon, the fictional town in my series. It reminds me of the real towns I’ve visited in the Black Hills.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Mary: Primarily, I write to entertain, but I also want readers to take away a sense of place from my books. Being a 5th generation South Dakotan, I want readers to know more about my state than just the cliches.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Mary: I write in the morning before my family wakes up. My summer schedule varies because my daughters are home. They’re twelve and fifteen, and we spend lots of time together. Trips and vacations also alter my schedule. Most days, though, I’m up very early.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Mary: My ideal time to write is morning, but sometimes I write short stories late in the evening.
I like a quiet house, so mornings and evenings are the most convenient times.
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?
Mary: Yes, I outline. It saves me a lot of rewriting!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Mary: Although I was always writing, my focus was never publishing. I’m not sure what it was about An Act of Murder that made me want to seriously pursue publication. I didn’t know anything about the business and probably should have taken some time to learn.
I sent the book to a few small publishers that didn’t require an agent, and it was accepted about four months later. I submitted the first book in my new Happy Camper series, Open for Murder, to my now-agent Amanda Jain at BookEnds Literary Agency. She enjoyed it and took me on as a client.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Mary: My very first short mystery was accepted by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and that was the best yes I’ve ever heard! It motivated me to keep writing short stories.
KRL: How fun! Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Mary: My most interesting book signing was at a really neat Hallmark store in Clinton, Iowa. It was such a cute shop, full of holiday ornaments. I had a lot of fun there.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Mary: I would like to keep publishing cozy mysteries while expanding into the historical mystery genre. I would also like to devote more time to writing short stories. I love the diversity they allow for voice, tone, and setting. I also see myself writing romance someday.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Mary: I have so many writing heroes, but one who comes to mind is Tillie Olsen. She didn’t write a lot in her lifetime, but she wrote while working difficult jobs, raising children, and navigating adversity. That’s a testament to her strength as a writer.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Mary: I do hands-on research as well as book research. For the third novel in the Happy Camper series, Mining for Murder, I traveled to the Black Hills to find out more about the real Thoen Stone, which plays a role in the book. I also read online and in person at libraries. I interlibrary loan whenever possible. College libraries are wonderful sources of information.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Mary: I read mysteries, biographies, and romances—probably in that order! I read and listen to short stories all the time. I love podcasts and usually tune in while walking my dog.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Mary: My favorite movie is Moonstruck. I don’t have a favorite TV show.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Mary: Take time to enjoy your craft. Creativity is an amazing aspect of who you are.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Mary: I like whiskey. Waiters and waitresses always seem surprised if I order it.
KRL: Do you have any pets?
Mary: I have two adorable pets, my cat’ Bosco, and dog, Brownie. They are a huge part of our family.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Mary: I would just say thank you to all the readers who’ve read my books. They have so many wonderful choices, and I’m thrilled when they take time to read and review my work. It’s much appreciated!
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Midnight Spells Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “spells,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 24, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email and you want a print copy please include your mailing address. BE AWARE THAT IT STILL MAY TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR THE BOOK TO ARRIVE. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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