My review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

When I heard that Delia Owen’s first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for sixty-seven weeks with thirty weeks in the number-one position, I experienced a brief flash of jealousy. After all, I am a hard-working red-blooded author who’d never made that prestigious list once. Book reviewers used terms such as lyrical, lush, painfully beautiful, an unforgettable debut. But more than one year on the list? The summary described Where the Crawdads Sing as a coming-of-age story set in the marshlands of North Carolina with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure, so I knew the book would be my cup-of-tea. With my birthday coming up, I sent hubby out for a hardback copy to see for myself. On the big day, my devoted husband handed over a prettily wrapped package with the greeting, “Here you go, honey, enjoy. But I’m sure you can write just as well as Delia.”

Armed with a cup of Lady Grey, I curled up in my favorite easy chair and found out very quickly: I certainly could not. Lyrical, mesmerizing, painfully beautiful—the book was everything the critics described and more. Delia Owens pulled me into the story of a mistreated backwoods young woman and made me not only root for Kya, but feel every bit of her pain by the end. Eager for my next trip to the beach, I googled every bug I saw and searched for mushrooms in the woods. What a world Kya lived in with those things most people pay little attention to, even those living on the Carolina coast. Well done, Delia Owens! Where the Crawdads Sing is a masterpiece.

Here’s a summary: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens. Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Buy Where the Crawdads Sing here:

Meet cozy author Stephanie Cole with her new book


Today Suspense Sisters are proud to welcome cozy mystery author, Stephanie Cole, who has a new series, Tuscan Cooking School Mysteries. Book one, Al Dente’s Inferno, was released in the spring from Berkley/Penguin Random House.

First the interview:

If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say? I’m a friendly introvert, who loves the arts, enjoys smart and funny books, values kindness above all, and is grateful for the love of friends and family.

What do you do when you’re not writing? Any interesting hobbies? I audit Art History courses, take fiddle lessons, enjoy cooking classes, and practice meditation and yoga daily.

What was your favorite book as a teen or child? As a child, Nancy Drew and Winnie the Pooh, as a teen. . .REBECCA!

Tell us three things about yourself that might surprise your readers. I am a closet egghead and weep in academic libraries; from a theater background, I took a term off from college and went to acting school in Manhattan; I am a hobbit and prefer to stay at home in the shire rather than go adventuring (my greatest adventures of my heart happen in art museums).

What genre did you start out writing? Have you changed course? Why or why not? Literary short stories. Still do them, although less frequently. It takes me quite a long time to “get it right” when a storyline matters enough to me to write it. Suspense imbues my short stories, so there’s that crossover with mystery novels. And as a reader, I love mystery novels that have literary qualities.

Any other genres you’d like to try? If yes, what and why? Not really. Although I might want to try writing about art. (Yes, really.)

If you could go back in time and do something differently at the start of your career, what would it be? I would have cut my losses much sooner and tried a different subgenre. I spent twenty plus years writing and trying to sell two female PI novels, and never getting anywhere. What I thought was admirable persistence seems now a bit like dimwitted stubbornness.

What is the most important piece of advice you’d like to give to unpublished authors? Have a downright honest conversation with yourself. There is a staggering number of people writing, publishing, striving, writing, not publishing, still striving. The competition is formidable. Ask yourself how badly you want to pursue it, given difficult odds.

Here’s a little bit about Al Dente’s Inferno:
 When American chef Nell Valenti is hired to design a cooking school at the villa of renowned Chef Claudio Orlandini, she eagerly moves to Tuscany. But Nell gets more than she bargained for when she arrives. The villa is in shambles, Chef spends all his time on the bocce court, and local dignitaries have been invited to dinner the very next day. Bad enough the filmmaker who shows up to document the affair turns out to to be Nell’s ex-boyfriend, but worse yet when he’s discovered murdered later that evening. To top it off, Chef has disappeared. Can Nell save the Orlandini family, the villa, and her own job before the accusations of murder shut the school down for good — before it’s even opened?

Here’s a little bit about Shelley Costa, writing as Stephanie Cole:

SHELLEY COSTA’s work has been nominated for both the Edgar and Agatha Awards. Writing as Stephanie Cole, she is the author of the new Tuscan Cooking School Mystery Series (Berkley/Penguin Random House), which debuted in February with Al Dente’s Inferno. Shelley wrote her dissertation on suspense, taught creative writing for many years at the Cleveland Institute of Art, enjoys violin lessons, yoga, plotting murder (pure fiction), and time with friends and family. Her books are available on Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.

Buy the book Al Dente’s Inferno here

Delicious 4-bean salad for a cool summertime dinner

Here’s one of my favorite summertime recipes. I pair this with hot dogs or burgers on the grill, fried chicken, or cold cuts for an easy supper on the porch or patio. Enjoy….and keep on reading!!
Four Bean Salad
Combine in large bowl:
1 can green beans
(note: all beans can be either home-canned or store-bought)
1 can yellow beans (wax beans)
1 can kidney beans (light red or dark)
1 can garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped peppers-sweet (green, red or yellow or combination)
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped black olives (optional)
Add only enough dressing (recipe below) to lightly coat salad, then chill in refrigerator several hours or overnight. Before serving, if desired, drain off any runny dressing and add fresh. (1 or 2 tablespoons, or to taste)
2 cups oil (I prefer olive)
1 1/3 cups cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. parsley (fresh or dried)
Heat oil and vinegar together, stirring in sugar and seasonings. Heat only until sugar is completely dissolved and seasonings are blended. Do not boil. Let cool and stored in a sealed jar in the refrigerator to use as needed. Shake well before using. This can be used on coleslaw and lettuce or spinach salad too.

The pandemic has changed American lives

The Covid-19 epidemic has affected everyone during 2020. Many have seen family members fall ill and in some cases, die from this insidious virus. Others have lost jobs and are suffering financial hardship through no fault of their own. Even if your family wasn’t as direly impacted, no one has gotten away unscathed. Graduations, baptisms, showers and weddings cancelled, dreams put on hold. We’re no longer allowed to play proper respect at funerals. Schools have been closed with the responsibility for education thrust upon parents. Parks, playgrounds, pools, amusements, theaters, and sports facilities shuttered. We haven’t been allowed to meet a friend for lunch, get a haircut, or attend our place of worship. I am not implying the shutdown wasn’t necessary, especially since my husband and I are “of a certain age” with serious medical conditions. But now that restrictions are lifting, I’ve come to three observations about American personalities.
We are impatient by nature. We can follow the rules for only a certain length of time. After that we want everything to go back to normal, myself included. We might be able to survive three months without a haircut, but not six. My British friends are still under lock-down and thriving better than my neighbors here. A summer without block parties? A fall without football? No hayrides, no Christmas caroling, no taking grandkids to see Santa at the mall? Enough is enough.
We don’t mind suggestions, but please don’t tell us what to do. We are far more independent than the rest of the world. If you observed the streets of Paris or Rome after lockdown was imposed, not a “creature was stirring.” Not the case in many parts of the US.
We don’t like living with uncertainty. We want definite answers and solutions to our problems. We don’t like all these ideas being tossed around regarding treatments or possible vaccines. Are masks good or bad or somewhere in-between? Everyone has an opinion but no one seems to have an answer.
God has the answer. God knows how this will play out and asks only that we trust Him and be patient. Not just for the month or June or the rest of summer, but until we feel safe again. And I know just how hard that can be.
These were my opinions. Please leave me a comment with yours.
My News? The Amish Sweet Shop, recently nominated for a National Readers’ Choice Award. You can find it in print, large print or e-book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or just about any other format. Happy Reading, Mary Ellis
Mary’s latest book is Island of Last ResortsCut off from the outside world on a private island, can a crack team of investigators solve a cold-case murder before a rich madman picks them off one-by-one?

#1 in Christian Mysteries and Suspense at Amazon

From a Carol Award finalist and US Today bestselling author, Mary Ellis, What Happened on Beale Street: Cousins and private investigators Nate and Nicki head to Memphis at the request of their childhood friend Danny — but when they arrive, Danny is missing. Can Nate and Nicki unravel family secrets and solve a baffling mystery? A suspenseful Christian read! NOW $1.99 at Amazon, Kobo, and Google



Christmas Contest on Suspense Sisters

We’re giving away some truly great prizes! You can cuddle up under this beautiful quilt while you snack on Brownie Brittle, gaze at your new Christmas ornaments, and read books by the Suspense Sisters! You’ll also get some great bookmarks to keep your place.

Driving? Listen to our audio books! Out in the cold? A gorgeous scarf from Israel will help you stay warm.
And you can keep all of your gifts in an awesome tote bag!
If we don’t give you every book you want? Use a $25.00 Amazon card to buy more!
Just follow the easy steps below to enter. Winner will be announced on December 23rd!
Thanks for following the Suspense Sisters, and please remember the Reason for the Season: Jesus Christ is born!

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Sunset in Old Savannah, first time at this price in e-book!

Sunset in Old Savannah

Sunset in Old Savannah
By Mary Ellis

In this Southern mystery, a murder draws private investigators Mike Preston and Beth Kirby into a web of danger… From a Carol Award finalist who “has proven she can write an outstanding suspenseful book while keeping true to her faith and values” (RT Book Reviews).
$1.99 $14.99
Amazon   Barnes & NobleGoogle   Kobo

Christian Fiction

It’s a Different World When It Comes to Plants….

As most of my readers know, I love traveling around the country for my fictional books. Whether my research takes me to big cities like Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans or Memphis, small towns like Natchez, Mississippi or Jesup, Georgia, or forgotten mountain hideaways like Balsam, North Carolina, I’m enchanted by the South. I love the slower pace, the slower speech patterns and the wonderful food. This past year I learned to love cheesy shrimp and grits, steamed oysters, and she-crab soup.

But since I’m a country girl who loves getting her hands dirty in my garden, I’m always intrigued by the plants which grow where the winters don’t get as cold and snowy as (northern) Ohio’s. Here are eight of my favorite plants that don’t grow where I live, plus the magnificent magnolia tree, which does grow here, but is far less common up north. (My photo is from one of my neighbor’s two magnolias in her front yard. Some people have all the luck!) All photos except the magnolia were taken on the coast of Georgia.

l) camellias – they were blooming everywhere in February! What a treat!!

2) saw palmetto – used often in landscape borders. According to one landscaper, it’s the berries that are being used in prostate research. Fan-shaped plant must have the “saw” teeth in order to have those berries.
3) palmetto palms – close to the ground, grows abundantly in all coastal natural areas
4) loblolly pine – aka, southern yellow pine. I saw huge forests of them in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South and North Carolina. For timber industry, it’s the most commercially important tree in Southeastern US.


5) yaupon holly – waxy leaves, red berries, grows wild in maritime forest, but the bush is a nice addition to yards too.
6) palm trees – I just learned some get coconuts, some don’t. Majestic trees, but don’t stand up well to hurricane force winds.
7) live oaks – the tree which most of us Yankees associate      with the deep South. Cute little acorns. Keeps its leaves year-round, which means it’s always losing some year-round, so you’re never down raking or blowing leaves. And you almost never see one without the ubiquitous Spanish moss.

8) bamboo – found tall, thick stands of this used as privacy fences everywhere. Much cheaper than chain-link!! Some places it has become downright invasive!

9) magnolia – quintessential “Southern” flower (but it does grow up north too.)  (on very bottom of post)
I know there are plenty of other southern plants that I didn’t include, but I saw these everywhere I went on St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Tell me what plant or flower you love to see on vacation that doesn’t grow where you live for a chance to win a copy of The Amish Sweet Shop. Please leave an email address. US and Canada only.

Happy Spring, Mary Ellis

One Southern dish I learned to love…..

Whenever I travel to a new area of the country, I take my same old culinary tastes with me. The first time someone asked: Would you like potatoes or grits with those eggs? I asked: What exactly is a grit? Up north, grit is what you’re left with after the dentist cleans your teeth.  Now twenty years later, I have come to love those little offshoots of white corn (also called hominy) especially if they’re buried under a thick layer of cheese and topped with grilled shrimp! I spent the month of February on Jekyll Island which holds an annual Shrimp and Grits Festival every September. Thousands turn up to sample and judge for themselves who has the best recipe. After spending three months on the barrier islands of Georgia to research book 3 of Marked for Retribution Mysteries, I ate cheesy shrimp and grits many times. (Note: photo on left taken at Horton Cemetery on Jekyll Island. Horton was one of Jekyll’s early settlers.) Here’s one recipe that’s both delicious and easy to make. Enjoy!

#1 In a medium sized skillet cook bacon or medium high heat to desired crispness then chop. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain bacon grease but reserve approximately one tablespoon in the pan for cooking the shrimp.

#2 Add the shrimp to the grease and cook until shrimp are no longer pink, around 5 minutes.  (Optional: add chopped garlic or Cajun seasonings if you prefer spicy while cooking shrimp)  I like to add a bit of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

#3 Follow the recipe on the box for Quick Grits. Bring water, butter and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat and add grits slowly, stirring constantly until the grits start to thicken. Then stir in 1 cup of sharp cheddar cheddar. Continue stirring cheese is melted. Can add milk or cream if necessary.

#4 Add the cooked chopped bacon to shrimp and reheat. Serve immediately over cheesy grits. Garnish with fresh parsley or chopped scallions if desired.

Here’s a little bit about my latest book, Sweet Taste of Revenge:

When a wealthy socialite, owner of the largest yacht manufacturer on the Gulf Coast, is found dead, PI Kate Weller is sent on assignment to investigate. Plenty of people would benefit from this socialite’s demise, including her daughter, Lainey. But Agnes Westin created plenty of enemies on her climb to the top, both socially and in business, many with a taste for revenge. When Kate arrives in the only town she could ever call home, Pensacola, she must face why she’s been on the run for years. As a child she witnessed the crime which sent her brother, Liam, to jail. Now someone wants to make sure her suppressed memories stay buried. Can she find Agnes Westin’s killer and clear her brother’s name before their hometown enemy silences them forever?
Find Sweet Taste of Revenge at Barnes & Noble or Amazon: