I'm no scrapbooker. In fact, I'm not very crafty at all. I know how to make neat homemade candles and fill jars with delicious recipe mixes. That's as close as I get to "craft" other than, you know, writing.
So when Joanna Campbell Slan, president of the Greater St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime, announced that she had a mystery publishing this month, I was thrilled for her, excited to see it, and a little bit worried. The worried part came from the fact that this is Paper, Scissors, Death, the first in a series of "Scrap-N-Craft" mysteries starring Kiki Lowenstein.
I needn't have worried. Kiki the professional victim drove me a little crazy at first, as I'm more of a (less hairy) Dodie, myself. But I loved the way Kiki's friends Dodie and Mert quickly signed her up for "Tough Tamales University, School of Hard Knocks" and toughened her right up. "No More Mrs. Nice Guy," indeed.
What I'm saying is that I was hooked from the first word to the last. I finished the book this morning, and have spent the rest of the day still thinking about Kiki's life and imagining what will happen next. The characters were real to me, the sense of place was perfect, and the mystery was solid, deftly handled.
One of my favorite things about this book was the setting. I love a good book set in St. Louis, and this one was more so than most. It wasn't just the names of the streets and malls: I know those Ladue moms! I loved how Kiki held her flashlight like she was Albert Pujols at bat when she was going after the intruder in her house. I used to live right near Kiki, Anya, and Gracie's "transitional neighborhood!" And, yes, she did manage to work, "What high school did you go to?" into the story.
But it's not just local flavor. Slan is a great writer with a real knack for description. When she's depressed, Kiki sees a November sky like mixed concrete. The whole book is full of great little observations like that. And while most of the book is very fast-paced and funny, occasionally Slan slows things down with some fabulous descriptive prose. Witness this image of an early spring trip out to Babler State Park: The earliest spring flowers - jonquils, crocus, and snowdrops - had faded on yellowing stalks. The next wave was gathering courage to burst into bloom. Bare tree branches were tipped in a watercolor wash of celery, celadon, mint, lime, and olive. In a week or two, the skyline would shout hosannah with verdant life.
But I guessed whodunnit before Kiki Lowenstein did. Will you? Here's your chance to try for free! There are three questions below. If you answer them correctly, you'll have a very good chance of winning a free copy of the book, donated by Joanna herself.
Not a big fan of cozy mysteries? Not to worry. Are you local? This is fun for the St. Louis angle, alone. There's more heft to this novel than most cozies, weighing in at 327-trade-paperback-sized pages, though it's still a very quick read. That's because there's a bit more action and violence than you might find in most cozies. And, for the romance fans, well, there's Chad. I won't say more than that.
Here's your chance.
Just answer the following questions here, in the comments. (I recommend you also pop on over to Joanna's site to sigh up for her newsletter; she won't spam you.)
- What is the name of Kiki Lowenstein's dog?
- What is Detective Detweiler's first name?
- What is the slogan on the coffee cup that Mert gives Kiki?
The answers can be found in the excerpt booklet, which I highly recommend! If you'd prefer to answer privately, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org to enter.
But wait! There's more!
Joanna Campbell Slan will be guest-blogging here a week from today. Do you have any questions you'd like her to answer? Anything you're burning to know? Leave that in comments, too. She's an expert scrapbooker as well as a great writer, so let your imagination wander.
hint: all the answers do appear somewhere in this post, though none of them are labeled . . .