by Kathleen Costa
The week we have a review of the Leafy Hollow mystery series by Ricki Blair along with an interview with Ricki. Details at the end of this post on how to win either a print or ebook copy of Ricki’s latest book in this series, A Branch Too Far, or one of the other books in this series-winners choice-and a link to purchase the latest book from Amazon.
The Leafy Hollow Mystery series earns 5/5 Lush Gardens of Mystery!
For the past two years, Verity Hawkes hadn’t ventured out of her apartment much, kept neighbors at arm’s length, and read stacks of self-help books from Ten Paths to Clarity Through Tidying Up to Achieving Peace Through Nature. But the apartment still had “dust bunnies big enough to form their own union” and her latest dracaena plant was well passed reviving. When an early morning call woke her, she was tempted to just let it ring. “I am sorry for your loss,” her Aunt Adeline’s lawyer had said. Empty car pulled from the river? No body found? Someone needs to come? Closest relative? Two thousand miles? This can’t be happening, not Aunt Adeline; she couldn’t believe it. But, seeing no other option, Verity heads to Leafy Hollow, but suspicions are heightened with a flood of childhood memories of Aunt Adeline’s lack of explanation for her odd behavior. She finds on her arrival that her aunt’s Rose Cottage is rundown and her Coming Up Roses landscaping business needs to be managed. Well, how can she leave in the lurch even a missing crazy aunt? However, it’s not the quiet life she envisioned, and Verity discovers she has a ‘green thumb’ for investigating murder.
I am new to Rickie Blair’s Leafy Hollow Mystery series, but I decided to start with the newest release A Branch Too Far. The books are much like a standalone with the immediate mystery finding an exciting conclusion, but the references to a missing aunt, an issue weaving throughout the series, made me curious I’d missed something vital. But upon further reading of this third book, I was comfortably up to speed. Some may find it easier to start at the beginning with “From Garden to Grave,” but this book was really an excellent place to start. Rickie’s characters, found either just in one book or the main focus, were well developed, and Verity Hawkes, dubbed the “snooping gardener,” was a delight to follow. Playing out in the background we are treated to the intriguing small town nuances of Leafy Hollow, issues with running a landscaping & gardening business, possible love interests, flashbacks of Verity’s Aunt Adeline and her secret associations, and all the surrounding flora and fauna…You got the book, so find a garden and enjoy the adventure!
The current ‘bloom’ is exciting…
A Branch Too Far earns 5/5 Sprigs of Lavender!
A Branch Too Far has made me a big fan…a truly absorbing tale! First, protestors are voicing their anger toward a paroled murderer returning home to Leafy Hollow. Marjorie Rupert is determined to advocate her innocence of her husband’s death and write a memoir revealing secrets the jury never heard. Next, while picking up some items in the store for BFF Emy Dionne, Verity Hawkes has an unpleasant run in with the also unpleasant Lucy Carmichael. Last, Lucy Carmichael is found at the bottom of a cliff…suicide? Not if you believe she is afraid of heights! Verity tried to ignore the “M” word, but it seems a bit obvious that this is a case of murder! Everything, including her BFF’s mother is the ‘person of interest,’ contributed to an engaging and entertaining story with an exhilarating ending. Verity tries to uncover more suspects, but her covert detections put her in “fiery” danger. And her Aunt Adeline…still missing, but someone finally acknowledges they have some information for Verity.
It all ‘sprouted’ here…
From Garden to Grave earns 5/5 Antique Dresden Figurines!
Now, I get it…this first book answered several ‘How?’ questions that lingered because of starting with the third book. How Verity came to live in Leafy Hollow and run the landscaping business? How strangers became BFFs? How the mystery of the missing aunt becomes even more mysterious? How the police get to know Verity’s name by heart? The story was very clever incorporating various family dramas, turncoat neighbors, landscaping competitor, headaches left and right along with the nothing but secrets about Verity’s aunt. Verity is the closest relative to her missing, presumed dead Aunt Adeline, and because she always had questions about her aunt’s strange behavior, she can’t see that the evidence indicates her aunt is dead. When she arrives in Leafy Hollow as directed by her aunt’s lawyer, she gets thrown, well threatened, into a landscaping job which doesn’t end well…finicky mower, bald patches on the lawn, cut up wisteria, verbal threats, broken ladder, coyote trap, broken ankles, police interrogation. Whew, what a welcome! Then a death, accident not likely, means Verity will need to do a lot of talking to get out of this one.
Digging Up Trouble earns 5/5 Historical Legends!
This story was so very exciting and extremely entertaining I couldn’t put it down. Verity, still working to gain confidence and personal strength, continues to ingratiate herself as a member of the community sans any criminal accusations. She is helping her new BFF Emy serve up coffee and sweet treats at the Leafy Hollow Historical Society’s celebration of their most famous resident Prudence Bannon. An Oxford historian has made the story of young Prudence his life’s work seeking information about her heroism tracking miles in the brush to inform the British of an impending raid by Yankee sympathizers during the War of 1812. All are set to see the new portrait of Prudence and listen to the historian’s lecture on his research, but it doesn’t go well and is shockingly capped by a cupcake melee…and, of course, murder, at the site of the exhumation that was suppose to support or disprove the legend. This puts Verity once again butting heads with Detective Constable Jeffrey Katsuro, a great dynamic to follow. Aunt Adeline? Still missing…
Excitement! Book 4 Muddy Waters will be published in Late November!
Our Guest…Author Rickie Blair:
KRL: It is great to have with us Rickie Blair, author of the Leafy Hollow Mystery series, celebrating the new release of the third book, A Branch Too Far.
Can you give us a mini biography of Rickie Blair? Who is she and what influenced her to become a writer?
Rickie: I was born and raised in southern Ontario, farming country. Rolling hills, pastures, woodlands, and small towns—the landscape of the Leafy Hollow Mysteries actually. As a child, I was often by myself, so I spent a lot of time reading. I think it was my early passion for books, plus a beloved uncle who wrote a few books himself, that influenced my desire to become a writer.
KRL: Is there a reason you chose to write in the cozy mystery genre? What is it about cozies that interested you?
Rickie: Because they’re more fun! In cozies, the emphasis is on the mystery and the characters, rather than the grisly aspects of the crime itself. There’s so much bad news in the world, I like being able to read—and write—something lighter.
KRL: From Garden to Grave, published in December 2016, was the first book in this series. Can you give us some insights into how the series started? Tell us a little about Verity Hawkes and the residents of Leafy Hollow.
Rickie: Unlike my other series, I decided to set this one in Canada. (Although I do make one concession—the books use American spelling, because most of my readers are in the U.S.) Leafy Hollow is based—loosely—on my own community, so it’s great fun to write. Verity is a young widow with agoraphobia who nonetheless travels across the country to take up the search for her missing aunt. In Leafy Hollow she finds new friends, new purpose, and a lot of laughs. And murder—Leafy Hollow is a small town with a big-city crime rate!
KRL: I personally love cozies because they have themes that provide education, as well as entertainment. This Leafy Hollow series focuses on Verity as a landscaper providing readers with fascinating facts about all things plants and trees. Your bio mentions you “tame a garden that’s threatening to eat the house.” Has this always been a passion or did you just fall into it? Are there any anecdotes to share about the research you did for this series?
Rickie: Gardening has been part of my life since I was a preschooler helping my grandfather with his vegetable patch.(Mostly, my “help” consisted of eating the berries, and the snap beans right off the vine.) My current garden started twenty years ago with a half-acre hilly yard of grass, copious weeds, burned-off woodland, and discarded building materials. One of the smartest things I did was to commission a professional design right at the beginning. I used that as the blueprint for my plantings and flower beds. In the first year alone, I planted over 150 trees and shrubs—and I have the scars to prove it! Hardscaping followed—a wooden bridge, and stone pathways and steps built by an eccentric, but talented, craftsman. In the beginning, I was hard-pressed to keep everything growing, but now it’s all about pruning and trimming and trying to keep everything under control.
KRL: I think your characters are very realistic; they could be our neighbors, shop owners, family. Do you have a personal connection to your characters? Are you like Verity? Did you write your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Rickie: Thank you! My characters are very real to me, and I work hard to try to make them realistic for readers as well. I never base my characters on anybody I know in real life, but I’m sure that all writers incorporate aspects of people they’ve known whether they’re conscious of it or not.
KRL: Your Amazon bio mentions you were a financial journalist and you write The Ruby Danger series of financial thrillers, which has four books. Can you tell us about your journalism career and how that compliments this series? What can fans find in this series?
Rickie: I spent many years writing about personal finance and the stock market (although not under this name). As a result, fraud cases hold a special interest for me. White-collar crime destroys so many lives, and yet the public has a tendency to ignore it—maybe because these schemes are so complicated and difficult to follow. The second book in my financial thriller series, Dangerous Benefits, is based loosely on the Bernie Madoff multi-billion stock fraud. I took it a step further—what would happen if someone sought revenge? My characters—Ruby Delaney, a young actress, and her romantic interest, Hari Bhatt, a math and stock market genius—unravel the scam at great risk to themselves. My Ruby Danger series has been tough to brand. It has violence, mild language, and adult situations—too much to qualify as a cozy—but with probably too much humor for the average thriller reader.
KRL: You definitely have provided a great deal of entertainment for your fans, but is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Rickie: If there’s an overall theme, it would be the importance of seeking connections with others to overcome loss. And the ability to laugh at yourself.
KRL: I know the writing process is unique to each writer. Can you give us an idea about the “Rickie Blair Technique” for writing: writing schedule, specific writing technique or time of day, outlines…are there lots of Post-it notes on the wall?
Rickie: I used to have a blizzard of Post-it notes everywhere. Then I discovered Scrivener, a writing program with “virtual” index cards and lots of organizational tools, and I use that to keep all my research, notes, and outlines in order as well as my first drafts. When I first started my novels, I was working full-time with a two-hour daily commute, so I had to be focused—I wrote every morning, first thing, even if it was only an hour or two. It’s amazing how much you can get done that way. I’m not a “pantser,” I always start with outlines—although they evolve during the actual writing.
KRL: How did you go about getting published? Do you have any anecdotes to share about getting your work published?
Rickie: I never sought a traditional publishing contract. Over the years, I’ve heard too many horror stories from other writers about the pitfalls. Also, it’s a very long process. One author I know recently landed a contract after ten years of trying. I’m getting too old for that! We live in a digital age. Writers can reach an audience without the traditional gatekeepers. It’s a lot more work, you have to enforce your own standards (I work with several editors on each book), and it requires some marketing expertise, but it’s a fascinating experience.
KRL: Did you receive any sage advice or encouragement that you might share with an aspiring or beginning writer?
Rickie: I keep Neil Gaiman’s advice for writers pinned to my wall. Among his best tips: “Don’t wait on inspiration” and “Don’t obsess over your first draft.” And here’s my own tip: Never give up.
KRL: We know you write, but what do you read? Is there another author who inspires you or one you might consider a professional or personal hero?
Rickie: One of my favorite possessions is a copy of The Progress of Love, autographed by Nobel Prize winner and Canadian author Alice Munro. She’s definitely one of my heroes! But it’s a very long list. I’m currently halfway through Louise Penny’s wonderful mystery series about Inspector Gamache, and recently I read Caroline Graham’s Inspector Barnaby series, on which the Midsomer Murders television series is based. Graham’s books are a bit darker than the series, with more emphasis on the characterization. She’s really a wonderful writer. As a teen, my two favorite books were Lord of the Rings and Great Expectations. I still consider the latter one of the best books ever written.
KRL: What can we expect from you in the future? Will we be joining Verity on another adventure? Do you have any plans to write a different series or in another genre?
Rickie: Verity definitely has more adventures to come. Book 4 in the Leafy Hollow series, Muddy Waters, will be published November 20, and I expect to set at least one more book in Leafy Hollow after that. Maybe more, depending on sales! I’m also planning a prequel series that will follow Verity’s aunt, Adeline Hawkes, during the 1970s.
KRL: So many authors say writing is all encompassing, but do you have any hobbies you enjoy?
Rickie: Writing is all encompassing. But I like to spend time with friends, walk the dog, pet the cats and—occasionally—I travel. This year I fulfilled a lifelong goal to visit India. It was amazing.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Rickie: I have a large collection of designer purses I’ve acquired over the years. Mostly Coach. No idea why I find them so…collectible. The rest of my wardrobe consists mostly of T-shirts and baggy shorts, so it’s definitely not a style thing!
KRL: Ok, here’s something fun, Rickie…Rapid Fire!
Ready! Set! Go!
Coffee or Tea? —Both. I like to keep my caffeine options open.
Dog or Cat? —Is this a trick question?
Carnivore or Herbivore? —Guilty carnivore here.
Pie or Cake? —Both.
Picnic or 5-star Restaurant? —Picnic.
Print/eBook or Audio version? —I love audiobooks. Best. Invention. Ever.
Theater or Wait for the DVD? —Neither. Netflix. (Is that wrong?)
Favorite Actor? —Idris Elba. Looking forward to his James Bond.
Favorite Actress? —Meryl Streep. No, wait—Emily Blunt.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? —Pina Colada. It’s important to eat your fruits and veggies
Beachfront Property or Cabin in the Woods? —Depends who’s paying. If it’s not me, then beachfront.
Active or Cuddling in a Comfy Chair? —Comfy chair.
Finish these sentences:
If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be…Mahatma Gandhi.
If I had just one wish, it would be…World peace. And a lifetime supply of really good chocolate.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be…One of my cats. Sleeping, sunning, ruling the world—does life get any better than that?
Thank you, Rickie, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
To enter to win either a print or ebook copy of any one of Ricki’s books in this series-winners choice-simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “leafy,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 30, 2017. U.S. residents only for the print copy. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address. PLEASE STATE IN ENTRY WHETHER YOU WANT PRINT OR KINDLE & which book you want.
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