Books & Reading, Writing & Life
This post originally appeared on the blog Mystery Fanfare, a website of Mystery Readers.org, thanks to the support of Janet Rudolph
The Winery of His Dreams
Pinch me: Just like that, the Bennett Sisters Mystery series has been going strong for thirteen years already, starting in 2009 with Blackbird Fly. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. It’s humbling that readers still want to explore the world with the five sisters and their partners— and for me to come up with new and delicious adventures for them. It’s not always easy, which may explain why I’ve written two stories now featuring Pascal d’Onscon. He is middle sister Merle’s partner. As a member of law enforcement in France, he has access to the best things.
By which I mean criminals, of course.
I am writing fiction, I tell myself. Anything goes, as long as you can sell it properly to the reader. I can involve my five lawyers in any and all sorts of legal issues, secrets and lies and sketchy characters. But I do try to keep things on a somewhat realistic level. So far I have dealt with squatters, wine scams, drug deals, art theft, runaway dogs, and of course a bit of bloody murder. Stumbling over dead bodies in every book stretches credulity at times, especially if your characters are civilians. The five sisters are in various stages of midlife and are professional women, attorneys, not detectives.
Are my books cozies? Yes and no. They aren’t the typical cozy and yet they aren’t gritty either. I have been known to call them ‘women’s suspense’ which doesn’t actually exist as a sub-genre. International crime? Sure… but… You decide, reader. And, please, tell me your verdict.
The problem I faced with the latest novel, Château des Corbeaux (Castle of Ravens— #17 in the series), is that I have given my wine fraud detective, Pascal, an office job in Bordeaux. (What was I thinking? That this would create tension for him, what he needs to do versus what he wants to do? So that worked.) He works for the Republic’s agency that keeps wineries honest, assures that the grapes are from the proper AOC, honoring all rules and regulations the French have for their sacred nectar. Plenty of money in French wine, thus plenty of wine crime to go around.
In the 2020 book, the first starring Pascal, he is summoned to the Champagne region to investigate a bottle of still white wine with a Champagne producer’s label, a vigneron travesty. (There is no point in still wine if you have grapes growing in the proper Champagne AOC. Make bubbly and make money is the implied motto.) That book, Dead Flat, also chronicled Pascal’s dilemma about whether to accept a promotion in the agency. By Château he is out of field work and into the office, renting a smelly apartment, and hating every minute of that illustrious French invention called bureaucracy.
His dissatisfaction with office work bubbles up in his mind as the idea emerges of owning a vineyard of his own. The desire grabs Pascal— being back on the soil, feeling the terroir, the grape on his tongue, the sun on his face. Although he has never been a farmer and in the past disparaged them as being prey to the whims of weather, markets, and a hundred other things, the idea blossoms into an obsession when he spies an abandoned vineyard seemingly waiting for his loving attention.
Thus begins his struggle to become a vintner. Not an easy one for Pascal— one day discouragement and resignation that it will never come to pass because he is too poor to buy a Bordeaux vineyard. (They are often priced in the multi-millions and he is, as he often says, a simple public servant.) The next day a glimmer of hope with strapped owners needing a cash infusion. And then, a death in the vineyard to upset all dreams.
The beautiful countryside of France is again a character in the story, providing spectacular imagery, delicious recipes, and rich history. The rolling hillsides planted with undulating rows of vines, dotted with the turrets of châteaux. Wide rivers flowing to the sea. Quaint villages hiding their secrets behind the intoxicating smell of baking bread and the piety of charming churches. I love the long, bloody history of France and have managed to wind the prehistoric age into this book. There are archeological sites all over France but we tend to hear about Viking ships unearthed in England. France too had its ancient tribes and lost settlements. Iron Age and early Roman finds figure in the tale.
Will Pascal get his vineyard? Will Merle buy her cottages? What is ailing Francie? How did the man come to die in the vineyard?
After those questions, the main events of the mystery, are resolved a few loose ends remained. So I wrote a free bonus epilogue that you can link to at the end of the e-book. (Use the QR code in the paperback.)
Some secret treasures to be revealed… Enjoy!
A surprise almost as welcome as an April shower!
When I wrote Blackbird Fly I had no idea where Pascal went when he simply left town for a few days. Was it a week, a day, two weeks? I wasn’t sure. Merle thought it was too long and was pretty pissed about it. So I decided to explore his whereabouts… which led to this … a new story about Pascal for you! It’s a companion piece to BLACKBIRD FLY… a full mystery short story that fits in at the beginning of Part Three- Winging It- when Merle cuts her hair, dyes it orange, and gets a job in France.
Find out what the French boyfriend was up to in this new, complete story! Click on the cover for details.
I’ve had a summer of audiobooks, and not just the ones I’ve been listening to while driving and walking. (I love those so much!)
No, these are some of my own, produced by my favorite narrators. They have really breathed new life into each and every one of my books. When I listen to my audiobooks, books I wrote last year or years ago, it’s like listening to someone else’s story. It’s brand new to me. So thank you, Denice, Adam, and Naomi for these marvelous treasures. (Click on the covers to read more about the audiobooks on Amazon. Most are available at all your favorite audiobook sites including iTunes, Audible, Chirp, KOBO, Libro.fm, NOOK, Scribd, and Google Play.
LET’S GET LOST
The year started with the audiobook version of LOST IN LAVENDER, the latest full-length novel in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. Denice Stradling does it again, transporting us to Provence this time, where the lavender is blooming and people aren’t very nice to Elise but she works out a win for herself anyway. She’s come for a farm stay at a lavender farm but discovers so much more about her own courage.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Next up, Denice narrated the compilation of the three parts of BIRDS OF A FEATHER that released at the end of July. Off to Wales for the holidays, Elise and Conor navigate the family drama that ensues, along with food, drink, and, well, murder. A traditional English manor house mystery, BIRDS will keep you guessing about who the culprit is… and drooling over the feast for Twelfth Night. Excellent work, Denice, as usual!
Along the way the first audiobook that Denice narrated for me, Blackbird Fly, number one in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries, got lost in a change at the original publisher. But they were kind enough to give us the rights and files back so we have re-released it. How it all began!
Back up to 2020
I’ve been saying that I don’t remember much of 2020 (on purpose) but that’s not really true. I released the three parts of DEAD FLAT over the winter months, then compiled them in the spring, like I did with Birds of a Feather this year. I never got around to releasing the audiobook though until this summer. Denice and I agreed that, since it’s Pascal’s story, it required a male narrator. I threw it out there and got an audition by an out-of-work Broadway actor named Adam Wesley Brown. (You might have seen him as Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet.) Adam does a great French accent for Pascal — and lots of other accents in this story set all over France but mainly in the Champagne region. Much intrigue, much French travel, much bubbly. Dead Flat is available everywhere audiobooks are sold.
NEWS FLASH: Dead Flat is 99 cents on ChirpBooks for a limited time!
Last but not Least
My last audiobook for 2021 is BLUE WOLF, a book celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It came out in June, not long before September 11, 2001. Not an auspicious time for publishing but the book did well as the 4th installment in the Alix Thorssen Mystery series set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (The first three books in the series were produced in audio by Books in Motion but they never bought the fourth book.)
I am fascinated by gray wolves, living near Yellowstone National Park as I do. Their reintroduction in 1995 set off my imagination as a way to include them a mystery. BLUE WOLF is the culmination of that search, a personal story for Alix, and for a woman still grieving the loss of her son after 25 years. Naomi Rose-Mock did a masterful job bringing the story to life.
The production of Blue Wolf is now available at Audible and iTunes. Check the Amazon site for the book here: https://amzn.to/3yRpILB
Happy listening! Please leave a review where you bought one if you enjoyed the audiobook. Thank you!
Birds of a Feather
Part 1: Swan & Peacock
Your midwinter reading feast is about to begin! Part One of the winter trilogy launches December 30.
The Bennett Sisters meet in Wales for the holidays, gathering at Elise’s new boyfriend’s country home.
The Albion ‘flock’ comes together at their country house in Wales this year for their traditional solstice to Twelfth Night family gathering. Elise joins her summer fling, new boyfriend, Conor Albion, but finds some of the relatives are hostile to both of them. When Elise receives an unwanted attention from one of them, two of her sisters decide to come to the nearby village for emotional support. Elise won’t run away from her problems this time– but how will she deal with this indecent proposal?
Elise is in an awkward position but is determined not to run away from her problems. The presence of two of her sisters helps give her courage her troubles, but will it ruin her relationship with Conor and his family? Meanwhile Conor’s parents tell him they won’t support his golf ‘hobby,’ leaving him unsure of his financial and professional future. Then an uninvited guest descends, giving a promise of chaos to the gathering.
Will Annie and Merle be able to help Elise with her problem? Will the sisters stay for the announced but doubtful twelve-course French New Year’s Eve dinner? Will the unwanted guest ruin the entire holiday?
You may never want to go home
A dollop of mystery, a soupçon of romance, mixed well with intrigue and lavender:
a recipe for a Provençal adventure
Now on the dark side of 40, Elise Bennett is ripe for a midlife crisis. She went into the law because her four older sisters are all attorneys but she hates her job. The sisters have all found love. Elise broke up with a boyfriend she couldn’t marry. Nothing seems to work out for her.
How can she be happy? The constant pressure from her family to be a successful lawyer is crushing. Her ex is driving her nuts. She decides to escape to France where she books herself an exotic vacation. A farm stay in Provence at a lavender farm sounds ideal for thrashing out her future.
Unfortunately all the other guests at the picturesque family farm are twenty-year-old college students. And the work is menial and dull. There is Conor who drives the family tractor but even he rejects Elise. She feels like the world has turned on her. So when she meets a suave Frenchman at a village festival she falls for his charms.
Only after Elise runs off to the man’s house near Aix-en-Provence does she begin to wonder who Ari is– and where he is. Thus begins a tangle of suspicion and mystery that Elise, along with her sister Merle and her policeman/partner, Pascal, must unravel.
Intrigue, adventure, murder, and romance: all is not all sunshine and flowers in the south of France. But for Elise’s sake, will there at least be time for a summer fling?
This is one of the most delightful series I have ever read. I couldn’t wait each day to get back to reading. The Bennett Sisters are filled with adventure and excitement. Romance, joy of living and dead bodies accompany their adventures! You will be amused and mesmerized by this delightful series!
— Jo Gibbs, Amazon reviewer
Hurry… DEAD Flat 1: Bottle of Lies is FREE this week only!
On all platforms, find your favorite!
Pascal is ready for a long break with his live-in love, Merle Bennett, at their cottage in the Dordogne. But a favor is called in from his boss and off he goes to Champagne, to investigate a fraudulent labeling of wine at a swanky domaine. Thus starts Pascal’s first adventure in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series, as a wine fraud cop working with the Police Nationale.
This first installment, a novella, explores the inner life and family ties of the attractive French boyfriend and wine fraud detective in the series. Dead Flat is a trilogy. Read on for Parts 2 & 3: “Outside the Bubble” and “Uncorked.”
Two new box sets, each with two books!
The first one, on the left, is the box set of the two Bennett Sisters mysteries that feature Francie Bennett and her adventures in Paris and the countryside of France. In Blame it on Paris she runs off to Paris to get away from troubles at her law firm, only to run into an old boyfriend. She and Merle work to get an American student out of a notorious French prison, while keeping said boyfriend in sight. In A Bolt from the Blue, Francie comes back to Paris with Dylan and helps out by escorting a sour old woman who is the heir, with a cousin, to her aunt’s estate. The woman has lived in the US for years and vowed never to return to France. Her secrets, and her aunt’s, make for an exciting mystery.
I wrote two thrillers as ‘Rory Tate,’ — one of many pseudonyms — and they are collected here for readers who like a fast-paced thrill-ride with spies and villains. In Jump Cut, television news reporter Mimi Raynard is struggling in her career. At the same time Seattle narcotics detective, Shad Mulgrew, is accused of stealing drugs from evidence. Meanwhile Mimi’s father, a shady operator now in Moldova, summons her to help him. A wild ride through the former Soviet bloc and back to Seattle. PLAN X starts in Montana with a bang, an explosion in a university lab that kills a professor of Shakespeare. Policewoman Cody Byrne is tasked with finding his next of kin, a job that turns out to be much more difficult and dangerous than anyone imagined, taking her to Washington DC and England.
Also included in the Two International Thrillers is a bonus short story featuring reporter Mimi Raynard, running down a story during a freak winter storm in slippery Seattle.
Available to Kindle Unlimited readers
Have you read these books already? Please leave a review on the box set page! Thank you
The paperback of the full trilogy is ready to go, and the ebook is releasing April 1!
If you’ve been waiting for the full version after seeing the first three parts come out over the last few months– here you go! All three parts in one ebook and paperback.
Pascal d’Onscon, Merle Bennett’s love, is a wine fraud detective affiliated with the French Police Nationale. He gets a call to go to the Champagne region from his boss. It’s not his usual region but a favor for his boss for an old friend who owns a winery there. When things go bad, Pascal is the only one to mop up the mess. He also has to untangle his sisters’ personal lives and his own professional life. Should he take the promotion that would mean leaving the Dordogne and his life with Merle? So many questions. Find out the answers in DEAD FLAT.
If you’ve already read parts 1 and 2, Bottle of Lies and Outside the Bubble, you might just want to buy part 3, Uncorked. Read the final installment with the twists and turns of the murder investigation and bottle scam discovered by Pascal d’Onscon. Will he take the promotion and move to Paris? Why did the vintner die? What the heck is going on??
Things really pick up pace in this book! Even Merle gets involved in solving the case! She has a keen deductive mind and was seriously impressing Pascal. I didn’t see the solution at all! It was a whole lot of fun experiencing a mystery from Pascals’s point of view!
I absolutely love these books! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Amazon reviewer
Pascal’s adventures continue!
The second part of the trilogy of DEAD FLAT takes Pascal out of Champagne and back to the Dordogne and Merle. He’s had to rescue his older sister, Suzette, from a dicey domestic situation but the drama continues as they hit the road to see another sister in Bretagne.
There is a lot of driving in this book, like all over France! I did a lot of driving on my last trip to France. That was the famous trip where I didn’t know how to shift into reverse and got stuck crosswise in traffic. Ack. Pascal is a much better (and faster) driver in his vintage BMW but his sister Suzette isn’t the best passenger and gets on his nerves. Luckily he has Merle along to lighten the mood.
We find out more about Pascal’s family in this installment which ends in a twist! Someone gets arrested for the murder of the vintner! Zut alors! Stay tuned for the final part, DEAD FLAT 3: Uncorked, coming at the end of February. Preorder now to get it ASAP.
Did you miss the first book in the trilogy? Here it is!
It’s about time! Pascal d’Onscon, that hunky French wine detective who was introduced in the first Bennett Sisters Mystery, Blackbird Fly, now has his own mini series! It’s a trilogy of novellas called DEAD FLAT and the first one, ‘Bottle of Lies,’ is now live!
In this story Pascal goes to northeast France, to the Champagne region, to investigate a phony label on a bottle of white wine. Along the way he tussles with bad guys, sips some bubbly, and rescues his sister from a dicey domestic situation.
It was fun writing from Pascal’s point of view for a change. He’s had a few short scenes in other books but most of the series is from one of the sisters’ points of view, that is, in their heads, feeling their emotions. Pascal is a Frenchman so he has plenty of emotions!
The follow-up, Part 2, comes out January 15. The finale releases February 27. Yes, I’m stringing you along! But giving you something to look forward to, I hope. It’s an experiment and I hope you enjoy it.
After you read Part 1 (or even now!) PREORDER THE NEXT PARTS! Très façile!
My latest audiobook is now live (‘A Bolt from the Blue’)
… so I thought it was time to do a little sit-down with my favorite narrator! Denice Stradling has narrated all the Bennett Sisters mysteries. She began years ago with ‘Blackbird Fly,’ and it’s been just the best collaboration. I ❤️ Denice!
Lise: First of all, thank you so much for narrating all the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. That continuity means a lot to me, and, I hope, to listeners of the audiobooks.
Denice: Trust me, Lise, the pleasure is all mine!!! I love following Merle and Pascal, Francie and all the sisters. (I’m smiling, just thinking about them!!)
- How did you get started in audiobook narration, i.e., what is your background?
I come from a theatre background, with a little TV and film work thrown in. I’ve always been an avid reader since I was seven. When my mother-in-law gave me an audio book to listen to – a bell went off in my head. “Wouldn’t this be THE BEST to be able to do this!!” I did some research, took some classes, did some volunteering with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and that was my start.
- You narrated ‘Blackbird Fly’ almost ten years ago, before Amazon/Audible got into the business. What was it like in the early days of ‘indie audiobooks’?
My first book was a Young Adult book for Iambik. I auditioned for it, and got it. I don’t think I gave much thought to whether it was ‘indie’ or not. I was so happy to have an audiobook to narrate – that’s all I thought about!! Then, ACX/Audible came on the scene and I think that’s when I realized how thriving the whole indie book world was. It was so exciting to see!
- What ever became of Iambik, the first audiobook production company we dealt with?
- What attracted you to ‘Blackbird Fly’ and the Bennett Sisters mysteries?
Do you know, Lise, I wish I could remember what my audition was like for BLACKBIRD FLY, but I don’t!! But I do remember, after you chose me to narrate the book, and I pre-read it and prepped it for narration, oh my God, I just fell in love with it. It was so visual!! I could see the house, I could see Pascal on the roof, I could see Merle and her frustration with all that went with what she had to go through with her house, in the middle of her grief of losing her husband, and then finding out – well, I won’t give it away!! And Tristan!! I loved Tristan!! When’s he coming back?!!
- Ooh… good idea! Tristan will return! Is there one quality to the books that you especially like? Or two, or three?
You have a way of communicating the inner feelings/conflicts of your characters, that I especially love. A line of dialogue may appear, but then the next sentence/paragraph is internal. I really love that. And also, your characters are SO well defined!! All the sisters are so distinct, so fleshed out. That makes it so much easier to give voice to them!!
- Do you have a favorite book from the series?
I would have to say BLACKBIRD FLY, because it was the first one, and set the through-line up; and then, BLAME IT ON PARIS, because I loved the relationship between Francie and Dylan being explored; and then A BOLT FROM THE BLUE – I absolutely LOVE Axelle, and all she’s been through. And I loved learning about Yves Klein and IKB.
- Do you have a favorite sister?
Gotta be Merle – the ‘tent pole sister’. I really identify with her conflicts. But actually, the whole concept of having many sisters with many personalities, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, or LITTLE WOMEN – there is a tendency to see parts of ourselves in all the character, and I love that!!
- What about a favorite secondary character?
Hint: Pascal gets to star in the one I’m working on now!
Ready for preorder, the first of a trilogy.
- How long does it take to produce an audiobook? What is your studio set-up like?
It differs for everyone. I left my ‘day job’ three years ago, with the idea that I would become a full-time audiobook narrator, but it didn’t work out that way. I found other passions that I wanted to explore – writing, volunteer work, to name a couple – so now I devote about half my work time to audiobooks. I will usually invest my time to the deadline of the book. If a publisher/rights holder gives me three months to finish a project, I’ll take it all. If I’ve got 4 to six weeks – I’ll make that happen, too! When I go into a studio to do a book – and there are a few here in Los Angeles – their schedule becomes my schedule. My recording set-up is a converted half-bathroom, in which I have built a sound studio – a room within a room with sound blankets and other acoustical material. And, of course, my microphone and workstation/computer.
- What are other audiobooks you’ve narrated? Are they similar to the Bennett Sisters?
Actually, my list is quite varied, I’m happy to say. About one-third of it is non-fiction, which I like to do, just for the learning process of it. As for the fiction part, I lean toward women’s fiction, suspense, cozy mysteries and cozy romance. You can check me out on my Audible page.
- How did the latest, ‘A Bolt from the Blue’ differ from the previous audiobooks?
I loved learning about Yves Klein and International Klein Blue. And, I loved Axelle. I loved that she was older, questioning, nostalgic, but also, knowing who she was. I hope we see her in another book!
- Have you heard feedback from listeners about the series? Anything worth sharing? 🙂
I haven’t heard personally, but just found this on Audible:
“I absolutely loved this new Bennett Sisters Mystery! These novels just get better and better with each installment. And Ms. Stradling’s narration and French dialects get better all the time, as well. This mystery is very clever, the settings are richly portrayed, and the characters sing with authenticity. Thank you, Ms. McClendon, for another wonderfully enjoyable listen!”
(Can you see the smile on my face?!)
I can! Mine too!! Thank you, Denice. This was fun.
Or take a look at the Audiobooks tab for all of them
Check out Denice’s Facebook page for her voice work
Interested in reviewing audiobooks? I have Audible codes to (almost) all of them, if you can commit to listening and reviewing! Drop me a line through the Contact Tab