by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a fun mix of magic and mystery in our review of A Potion To Die For by Heather Blake. We also have an interview with Heather, and at the end of this post are details on how to enter to win a copy of the book.
A Potion to Die For: A Magic Potion Mystery By Heather Blake
Near the Appalachian foothills lies Hitching Post, wedding capital of the South, where Southerners embrace crazy and cellphones are useless. It is also where Carly Bell Hartwell happens to be a practicing hoodoo healing witch and is the owner of the Little Shop of Potions. When her neighbor Mr. Dunwoody, makes one of his never-wrong predictions of divorce the townspeople hunt down Carly, not to burn the witch at the stake, but to request preventative love potions to save their marriages.
Unfortunately, Carly has to barricade herself within her store with her nemesis and cousin Delia Hartwell Bell Barrows, a practitioner of voodoo and who feels that the family grimoire was wrongfully stolen by Carly’s premature birth. While the women share the ability to sense and feel other people’s emotions, only Carly is often precognitive with the secret of the special Leonara Tears that make her potions extra powerful. A better ally could definitely be on hand, as Delia’s prophecy of danger comes a little too late when the cousins discover the body of Nelson Winston, the attorney last seen trespassing on Carly’s aunt’s home and ducking her gunfire, and now unfortunately clutching one of Carly’s potion bottles in death.
When it rains it pours, as Carly’s bad luck continues when the investigating officer called to the scene happens to be Sergeant Dylan Jackson, the man whom Carly twice attempted– and failed–to marry. Fault can be spread around. Dylan’s mother believes that Carly is a devil witch–not helped by Carly then actually donning a devil costume–and Carly sensed Dylan’s doubts about the marriage just as they were walking down the aisle. Being able to feel another person’s emotions is not always a wonderful superpower.
Knowing that her family are suspects, Carly begins to look into who may have had a grudge against both herself and Nelson, and unfortunately his being an attorney and Carly having a bit of a temper mean that there are an ample supply of possible culprits.
Eccentric and contrary characters populate this novel, including Carly’s mother who owns a wedding chapel but who doesn’t believe in marriage herself, and three triplet spinster aunts known as the Odd Ducks, each who own their own inns, one of whom refuses to actually take in guests. And how could a witch be without her cats, here the adorably fluffy Roly and pudgy Poly? Somehow, though, the cuteness never overshadows a strong plot and the mystery remains strong enough to keep readers riveted until the very end.
What Heather Blake always achieves so skillfully, both in this debut series and in her Wishcraft Mystery series, is the creation of a complete mythology for her paranormal world. Rules have to be followed for magic to work, and here consumers must want the potions to work and have the will to back them up. No one can be forced to take a potion; miracles cannot be made, but the magic can help. The relationships between characters are developed realistically and the romantic elements are never forced, making this an intriguing novel with a satisfying mix of mystery and the paranormal.
Interview With Heather Blake:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Heather: I started writing in, gosh, 1997. I didn’t find the courage to attend my first writer’s meeting until years later, though, in 1999.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Heather:My very first novel was Surrender, My Love (written as Heather Webber), the first in a trilogy featuring three penniless sisters who inherit a steamboat and don’t have any clue what to do with it. It’s a historical romance with threads of mystery and was published by a very small press in 2002 that sold mostly to libraries. That press was bought out by Amazon last year, and all the books are still available (I own the ebook rights, Amazon owns the print rights).
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Heather:I often joke that I started writing romances with hints of mystery, and then switched to mysteries with hints of romance (my Nina Quinn series–written as Heather Webber). So I finally gave up on trying to keep them separate and started writing romantic mysteries and threw in paranormal elements to shake things up (my Lucy Valentine series–written as Heather Webber). I found my niche with that and continued it when I started writing as Heather Blake (my Wishcraft series and now the Potion series).
KRL: 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.
Heather:My latest book, A Potion To Die For, the first in the Magic Potion mystery series, is set in a fictional Alabama town. The South is a region that has always resonated within me, and I knew I had to set a series there–this one fit. Carly Hartwell is a white magic witch uses her abilities as an empath and some very special magic drops to make potions of all kinds.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Heather:A little of both. My main goal in writing is for my reader to escape for a while. Life is tough enough, so if I can provide a little time-out for a while, that makes me incredibly happy. You’ll also find I write with a lot of heart—I want my characters to be real to the readers and for their issues and resolutions to be relatable.
KRL: Why did you decide to combine magic with your mysteries?
Heather:I love the creative freedom it gives me, and it’s just plain fun.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Heather:I can never stick to a set schedule. So usually it’s a lot of procrastinating then a lot of panicking.
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?
Heather:I have a general idea of the over-arcing storyline when I start but don’t actually outline until I get to the middle of the book. The beginning of the book is all about figuring out characters and motives and setting the scenes—and a lot of that comes to me as I write—it’s very fluid.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Heather:It took me five years to get published and lots and lots of rejection letters. It wasn’t an easy process by any means (and still isn’t), but I can’t imagine doing anything else.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Heather:I always laugh at the rejection letter I received from an agent once for a book that’s still unpublished… It basically said that the agency didn’t like my story and never wanted to see anything by me ever again. At that point I’d developed a thick skin and was able to laugh at it, but if I had received that when I first started writing I’m not sure I would have continued on.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Heather:When my first Lucy Valentine book, Absolutely, Positively, came out, I had a big book launched planned at a local Barnes and Noble. It had been a while since I’d had a release, and I’d gone all out sending postcards and talking it up… Well, the big day came along with several inches of snow (which is a big deal in this part of the country). I was so nervous that I’d have to cancel the signing, but we managed to get to the store and was completely surprised how many of my readers braved the weather to support me (of course we were the only ones in the store, but still). It still makes me smile.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Heather:I’d really like to write more books a year. There are so many stories I want to tell and not nearly enough time in my days.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Heather:I love research and can—and will—spend all day doing it. Most of it is online—the internet has a far reach.
KRL: What do you read?
Heather:I love mysteries, romances, and memoirs of all things.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Heather:I’m a Gilmore Girls nut. Absolutely adore it. And I’m a sucker for Disney movies. I also love competition shows like The Amazing Race and Top Chef.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Heather:Do not give up and keep writing. It seems simple, but if you’re a writer, you know how difficult it can be to follow that advice.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Heather:I love having the option of an ebook, but I also love print books. I think as long as people are reading the medium shouldn’t matter all that much.
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Heather:I don’t compete. I just write what I write and hope it resonates with people.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Heather:This is so silly, but when I’m in hotels, I always sleep with a light on. For more things, check out my website—I have 28 things you might not know about me listed there.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Heather: Just thank you for the interview, and a big thank you to all my readers who continue to support me and my books. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
To enter to win a signed copy of A Potion To Die For, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Potion,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 7, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.