Tote Bags and Toe Tags by Dorothy Howell: Book Review/Interview/Giveaway

Aug 18, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Lorie Lewis Ham, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of Tote Bags and Toe Tags.

Haley Randolph always lands on her suitably shod feet. Of course, those shoes match her outfit which is the perfect showcase for her newest, hottest, most enviable designer handbag. She and her BFF Marcy are holding faux bag parties, to let the masses enjoy the look of designer without the heavy duty price tag. Haley herself wouldn’t be caught dead with an imposter bag but those parties pay for her originals so as long as she tells her customers they’re knockoffs, where’s the harm?

Haley’s new job at Dempsey Rowland requires an in-depth background check. It seems Haley is not the only one who hopes it’s not too in-depth. After all, is it her fault if people assumed her graduation from UM meant college and not University of Mixology aka bartending school?

To make matters worse, Sarah Covington, super assistant to Haley’s CEO boyfriend Ty, arranged for the interview at Dempsey. Beyond worse, Haley doesn’t even know what they do at Dempsey. Oh well, she’ll figure out something.

Haley doesn’t have a strong work ethic. Well, her ethics in general are in question too. She’s self-centered, focused on handbags, has to be the first to get the latest designs and doesn’t pay too much attention to anything else. What you can count on Haley for is to be eclectic in her choice of friends, to be totally loyal, and to keep her head during a crisis like a murder. Or several.

When Violet, who was in charge of training at Dempsey and an original with the company, is found dead with Haley standing in her office, things could get a little difficult. In typical Haley style, she gets a promotion out of it—to events coordinator. Haley has a free hand with the corporate credit card and while she still doesn’t understand what Dempsey’s exact business is, she’s keeping up the morale.

Evelyn Croft makes a repeat and welcome appearance in this book. She’s been housebound since a little problem came up at work. Haley’s still got her part-time job at Holt’s (Ty is the boss), and has been ditching the training classes—until Evelyn overcomes her fear of leaving home and becomes the new training supervisor. And of course, Juanita, housekeeper for Haley’s parents, picked this time to disappear. It could be without a word or it just could be that her mother doesn’t remember Juanita saying anything. Pair that with Ty deciding to become the perfect boyfriend (his definition, not Haley’s) and things are a little out of control.

And she still doesn’t have that new Temptress handbag.

Previous books in this series:
Handbags and Homicide
Purses and Poison
Shoulder Bags and Shootings
Clutches and Curses

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her new one Bananas Foster.

Dorothy Howell Interview:

Lorie: How long have you been writing?

Dorothy: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the 8th grade. It was my first year of high school and my English teacher introduced us to journalism and creative writing. I was hooked! (Thanks, Mr. Donovan, wherever you are!)

Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called and can you share a little about it?

Dorothy: My first novel was titled Defiant Enchantress, published by Kensington. It was an historical romance novel set in Charleston, SC, a beautiful city where I lived for about six years.

Dorothy Howell

Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Dorothy: Currently, I’m writing for two major publishers, in two genres, under two names. I’ve sold 24 historical romance novels to Kensington, Berkley, and Harlequin. Most of them are written under my pen name Judith Stacy. My Haley Randolph mystery series is published by Kensington under my real name, Dorothy Howell.

Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Dorothy: My latest book is Tote Bags and Toe Tags, the fifth release in the Haley Randolph mystery series. This is a cozy series set in Los Angeles. Haley is a twenty-something young woman having a big-time quarter-life crisis. She works as a part-time sales clerk at Holt’s Department Store. I got the idea to set the series in a department store when my daughter worked retail during her college years. She came home with the worse stories of what went on in the store. It was so awful, I thought, “This would make a great book!” I decided to make handbags the theme of the series because I am a complete handbag nut!

Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Dorothy: I realized early on in my writing career that I would have to schedule my day—to save my sanity, and for the safety of others! I write four or five hours a day, five days a week, weekends and holidays off.

Lorie: 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 always write an outline before I start a book. I think of myself as a “destination” writer—I absolutely must know where I’m going. The outline is only about eight pages long but it has all the major plot points, suspects and, of course, the ending. Because it’s brief, it leaves room for red herrings, clues, and other fun things to happen during the writing process.

Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Dorothy: I’d rather write late in the day and into the night, but because I have family and other commitments, I write in the mornings. I usually write a chapter per day which, for me, is about 10 to 12 pages. Once I’ve done that, I feel good about taking the rest of the day off and doing other things.

Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Dorothy: After nine heartbreaking rejections, my first book was accepted by Kensington. I thought I was on my way! But seven long, miserable years passed before I published my second book. During that time, I learned the craft of writing. I went to countless writers conferences and workshops, and read every book and magazine about writing that I could get my hands on. When my second book was finally published (whew!) I also got an agent. Things went pretty quickly after that, especially after I got with Harlequin. I always wrote two books per year, sometimes I wrote three, and occasionally I wrote four. It was fabulous!

Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Dorothy: When I decided I wanted to try writing mystery I got a new agent who sold the Haley Randolph series on a proposal to Kensington in four days, a three-book deal in hardcover. I was absolutely thrilled!

Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Dorothy: At the signing for Handbags and Homicide, the debut of the Haley Randolph series, I sold out of books. More customers were waiting in line. Another customer, who was also a friend of mine, had purchased seven of my books. Seeing the customers waiting, she sold her books back to the bookstore so other customers could buy them.

Lorie: What kind of research do you do?

Dorothy: Since the Haley Randolph series is set in Los Angeles and I live near there, research trips are a lot of fun! I go to L.A. for the afternoon and visit prospective settings.

Lorie: What do you read?

Dorothy: I love reading a good mystery! I also enjoy suspense and thrillers. Occasionally, I’ll read a self-help book or a biography.

Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?

Dorothy: Right now I’m totally in love with Jeff Daniels in HBOs The Newsroom. I’m hopelessly addicted to Breaking Bad on AMC.

Lorie: Oh I love Newsroom too! Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Dorothy: Keep learning and keep trying. You can do this!

Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?

Dorothy: I love it! E-books have made it easier to take books along on trips. Plus, they have opened up the market for books and authors who hadn’t been picked up by traditional publishers.

Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?

Dorothy: Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas last year. Honestly, reading off of a screen took some getting used to but I’m OK with it now.

Lorie: Anything you would like to add?

Dorothy: I have a Haley novella planned for release in the fall titled Beach Bags and Burglaries. The paperback edition of last year’s Slay Bells and Satchels will be available soon. I have a novella coming out in October, All a Cowboy Wants for Christmas from Harlequin Historicals, written under my pen name Judith Stacy. The next full length book in the Haley series is scheduled for publication in July, 2013.

Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Dorothy: Growing up, I hated to read. Honestly, I don’t think it was all my fault, given the method by which reading was taught back in the day. I fell in love with reading after I was grown. I happened to pick up The Flame and The Flower—and I was hooked!

Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Dorothy: My mystery web site is and my romance site is My Facebook fan page is Dorothy Howell Novels, and you can follow me on Twitter @DHowellNovels.

Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?

Dorothy: This is old advice but I think it’s even more true today: write a good book. When readers fall in love with it, they’ll tell their reader friends. Word of mouth is still one of the best promotion tools an author can have.

To enter to win a copy of Tote Bags & Toe Tags, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Tote”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 25, 2012. U.S. residents only.

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Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.


  1. I love the Haley Randolph series and I am so excited to hear that you are releasing another novella in the series! Tote Bags & Toe Tags was great and I can’t wait to read the next one!

  2. Nice interview and review. This sounds like a good book.

  3. We have a winner. Thanks for entering
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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