Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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    Peril by Ponytail

    A Bad Hair Day Mystery

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 2, 2016

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Celebrity Equinox Shore Excursion

On our way out of the port town, we noted tin-roofed residences painted coral, aqua, and sand colors. Barbed wire and guard bars on windows were widely evident. So were electric wires in overhead tangles. The city had a third world look, although our guide said education is mandatory, and they have a high literacy level. Nicaraguans take the more menial jobs. It’s a mountainous country but not near the coast, where our air-conditioned bus took us to the Tortuguero Canals to see the wildlife. The mountains rise 12,000 feet in the highest place. Our tour guide was excellent, keeping up a running commentary along the way. He’s a Catholic who goes to church only on three occasions: “when we hatch, match, and dispatch.” He went to school to become a professional tour guide, and his training shows.

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The open-air boat ride took about two hours. A roof provided shade as we cruised slowly along, stopping up close to see animals such as a small red dart frog, a sloth, howler monkeys in the trees, various birds, a blue butterfly, iguanas, and Cayman gators that are smaller than alligators. The water was murky brown, possibly stained from mangrove roots.

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Back at the boathouse, we used the restrooms and ate a snack of juicy sweet pineapple and fresh bananas. We gulped down the cold water offered. There’s a small souvenir shop with tee shirts and carved wood items, plus Costa Rican coffee for sale.

Traffic in Limon was congested. Driving in the city was a free-for-all with cars going every which way at intersections and no traffic lights. If there’s wealth in this country, we didn’t see it by this coastline. A tour to the rainforests would be another good choice, but since the mountains are distant, it probably takes a while to get there from this port town.

We noted a gift shop near the entry gates, but it didn’t look too inviting. Since we don’t need any more wood carvings or native handicrafts, we passed on this opportunity and went back to the ship.

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Next Port: Colon, Panama

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Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2016

Day Three found us at Murano, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship. We had exquisite service in elegant surroundings. Our meal began with a complimentary fried scallop. Next I had a crab and smoked salmon parfait with salmon caviar. We chose Chateaubriand for two which the waiter carved tableside. It came with fingerling potatoes and asparagus. For dessert, I had the chocolate soufflé.

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On another day, we attended the complimentary wine tasting for Elite members that came with four glasses and breadsticks. The complimentary tea party had waiters circulating with a selection of open sandwiches with smoked salmon, shrimp, egg salad, and ham. Then desserts followed. After the rum cake, I couldn’t even eat a scone.

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And so ended our journey, with us boarding as passengers and rolling off as cargo. With the holidays upon us, it’ll be a while before I lose these extra pounds. And then we’re likely to be on board our next cruise and starting all over again.

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Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 29, 2016

The Oceanview Café’s breakfast buffet had stations for omelets or eggs made to order, toast including bagels and English muffins, rolls, Danish, croissants, muffins, yogurt, berry medley, cereal, whole or cut fruits, scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese. English breakfast. Asian breakfast. American breakfast. Bacon, ham, sausages. Smoked salmon. Herring. Roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables. Grilled zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, Eggs Benedict. Hungry yet? Our only complaint is that the buffet opens at 7. If you’re an early riser, you can only get fruit and yogurt before then. It would have been nice to have pastries available earlier.

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Lunch could be taken at the outdoor grill with burgers or hot dogs and French fries, at the very small spa café by the solarium pool on Deck 12, where some items cost extra; in the formal dining room, or at the Oceanview Café. Here you had a choice of freshly carved meats, deli meats, sandwiches made to order, various salads, salad bar, hot dishes, Asian foods (we particularly liked the vegetable fried rice), Indian foods, British foods, soups and breads, pizza and garlic toast, pasta, and an array of tempting desserts including an ice cream bar. Free drinks included lemonade, iced tea, a fruity drink, water, and hot beverages at a coffee station. The Lavazza coffee served throughout the cruise was very good. Real half-and-half was available in urns along with milk. Inside the ship, you can get free desserts at the coffee lounge but no free sandwiches or appetizers like on other cruise lines. I missed having this extra choice. For a ship of this size, free dining choices are limited.

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Dinner on Day one for me was Shrimp Louie with Avocado, a Chicken Egg Roll, Caesar Salad. Prime ribs came with buttered French green beans and mashed potatoes. The portions of all the meals were generous. For dessert, I had apple pie a la mode. Dinner Two was a shrimp cocktail, braised lamb shank with broccoli, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Other meals included braised beef short ribs, vegetable Wellington, lobster with butter sauce. The salads at dinner were varied each night, like kale with roasted walnuts, dried cherries, and diced butternut squash. The French onion soup, available each night as an appetizer along with shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad, looked delicious but would have been a whole meal for me. My mouth waters at the thought, and now I want a crock of hot onion soup with melted cheese on top. I miss these scrumptious meals.

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Celebrity Equinox

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 23, 2016

Celebrity Equinox Cruise Part 1: The Ship 

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Celebrity Equinox is a beautiful ship. She seems relatively new with a clean look and modern furnishings. As usual on Celebrity, we were greeted on board with a welcome glass of champagne. After dining at the buffet lunch in the Oceanview Café on Deck 14, we made our way to our cabin on Deck 8. Located in the center near the stairs and elevator, it was closer to the aft side than forward. We unpacked, finding all the cubbyholes and shelves to put away our things. The bathroom was the best ever on any ship we’ve encountered. It had adequate counter space, enough storage, extra toilet paper and tissues. And the shower was the best. Plenty of room to move with a soap dish, bar soap, and even a thick steel rod to rest my foot on when I shaved my legs. Lotion, shampoo, more bar soap, and conditioner were other amenities along with robes for each of us. The shower head was forceful enough and the hot water was nearly instantly available. Amenities also included small glasses for our toothbrushes.

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Our room had a desk, a flat-screen TV above a console with drawers, and an enormously long couch where another person could easily have slept. Our balcony let out from sliding glass doors, and even this was a generous space with two chairs and a small table. The drapes folded over each other so no light shone through at night, and no peephole in the door also ensured a dark interior. The bedding was soft and the pillows comfortable. The safe was large enough to hold my iPad, and the room also came with a stocked fridge. Cabin service was excellent, and we still got chocolates on our pillows each night although no towel art on this cruise.

We explored the 15 decks before the lifeboat drill that was held without life jackets in a lounge or dining room, depending on your muster station. Then it was time for dinner. We skipped the first night’s show since it was a juggler, and that’s my least favorite entertainment. All the other shows were great and varied between the ship’s singers, dancers, and acrobats to a ventriloquist and a variety of solo singers.

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Deck 15 has a grassy lawn area where you can sit and watch the view, or observe a Hot Glass Show during the voyage. Deck 14 has the Oceanview Café and the outdoor grill. Overlooking the pool below are many lounge chairs, some undercover to provide shade. This ship had more shaded seating spots than I remember from other cruise lines. Even the pool areas on Deck 12 had wide overhangs to protect the lounge chairs. If you got too humid, you could sit in the solarium with its covered glass roof and air-conditioning. On Deck 5 by the life boats are a few scattered chairs on an outside deck but not many, and you can’t walk all the way around the ship there.

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The shops inside the ship did not have merchandise that appealed to us. It was one of the poorest selections that we’ve noted, at least for our tastes. Not even the costume jewelry attracted me except for their occasional sales. These were held in a crowded corridor instead of a lounge like other ships. They had the usual souvenir logo items, resort wear, hats, liquor, fine jewelry. All seemed pricey.

In the evening, musicians played in the central atrium on deck three. This was generic-sounding except for a cello player. A small dance floor here sufficed since there wasn’t anywhere else to hear dance music except after 10pm in the Sky Lounge. This is a shortcoming of this ship that has limited lounges with dance floors. There’s a Gastropub that serves small plates and beer; another lounge with occasional piano music; a Martini bar. But nowhere else with a dance floor. The Sky Lounge forward on Deck 14 was a favorite place of mine for quiet daytime sea views and for the evening cocktails for Elite members. But it would have been nice if they’d had dance music here earlier instead of the atrium where you’re in view of people several decks high. That’s not very private. Regarding the music, these same bands played by the pool. We like Caribbean music when cruising and sitting outside, and this group played the same generic tunes you get on the radio. But overall, we loved the ship, the relaxed environment (few kids running around) and the excellent service.

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Coming Next: The Food and the Ports of Call

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Hair Raiser Audiobook

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 21, 2016

Hair Raiser Audiobook, book #2 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, is now available on Audible and iTunes. Narrated by the talented Mary Ann Jacobs from Voice Over Visions.

Hair Raiser Audiobook

When South Florida hairstylist Marla Shore takes charge of a fundraiser for a coastal preservation society, she has to comb through a knot of suspects to determine who’s sabotaging their gala event. Participating chefs are dropping off the roster like hot rollers. It’s only through a series of hair-raising exploits that Marla can tease the truth from a tangle of suspects. Too late to stop a murder, she must salvage the grand affair before she’s moussed into oblivion.

If you haven’t tried audiobooks, here are some good reasons to check them out:
• A story can come to life in a new way when read by a professional narrator.
• You can listen while working out, driving, or doing chores around the house.
• If you have trouble reading due to vision problems, you can listen to a story instead.
• If you buy the ebook along with the audiobook, you can switch devices using Whispersync and never lose your place.

How to listen to audiobooks on your phone, Kindle, tablet and computer: https://www.audible.com/mt/Apps

Listen to this sample from Hair Raiser: https://soundcloud.com/mysterygal/hair-raiser

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End of Chapter Hooks

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 2, 2016

Creating a hook at the end of a chapter encourages readers to turn the page to find out what happens next in your story. What works well are unexpected revelations, wherein an important plot point is offered or a secret exposed; cliffhanger situations in which your character is in physical danger; or a decision your character makes that affects story momentum. Also useful are promises of a sexual tryst, emotional aftermath of a love scene, arrival of an important secondary character, or a puzzling observation that leaves your reader wondering what it means.

hook

It’s important to stay in viewpoint. Otherwise, you’ll lose immediacy and this will throw your reader out of the story. For example, your heroine is shown in first person viewpoint placing a perfume atomizer into her purse while thinking to herself: “Before the day was done, I’d wish it had been a can of pepper spray instead.” What happens later on? This character is looking back from future events rather than experiencing the present. As a reader, you’ve lost the sense of timing that holds you to her viewpoint. You’re supposed to see what she sees and hear what she hears, so how can you observe what hasn’t yet come to pass? Thus you are tossed out of viewpoint while being forewarned things are going to get nasty.

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Foreshadowing is desirable because it heightens tension, but it can be done using more subtle techniques. Here’s another out-of-body experience: “If I knew what was going to happen, I’d never have walked through that door.” Who is telling us this? The Author, that’s who. Certainly not your character, or she’d heed her own advice. Who else but the author is hovering up in the air observing your heroine and pulling her strings? Same goes for these examples:

“I never dreamed that just around the corner, death waited in the wings.” Who can see around this corner if not your viewpoint character? YOU, the author!

“Watching our favorite TV program instead of the news, we missed the story about a vandalized restaurant.” If the characters missed the story, who saw it?

“I felt badly about the unknown victim, but it had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought.” He’s speaking again from the future looking back.

“I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.” Ditto to above.

“I was so intent on watching the doorway, I didn’t see the tall figure slink around the corner.” Then who did spot the tall figure? You got it–the author.

Although these examples are given in first person, the same principles apply to third person limited viewpoint. Your reader is inside that character’s skin. She shouldn’t be able to see/hear/feel beyond your heroine’s sensory perceptions. By dropping hints about future events, you’re losing the reader’s rapt attention. Avoid author intrusion by sticking to the present. End your chapter with a hook that stays in viewpoint.

Here are some examples from Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries:

“This was her chance to finally bury the mistake she’d made years ago. Gritting her teeth, she pulled onto the main road and headed east.” (Important Decision)

“There’s something you should know. He had every reason to want my mother dead.” (Revelation)

“Her heart pounding against her ribs, she grabbed her purse and dashed out of her townhouse. Time was of the essence. If she was right, Bertha was destined to have company in her grave.” (Character in Jeopardy)

“Her heart heavy, she crawled into her car. Until this case was solved, she couldn’t call anyone her friend.” (Aftermath of emotional scene)

[Heroine has been poisoned] “She allowed oblivion to sweep her into its comforting depths.” (Physical Danger)

“Todd Kravitz, the old lady’s son. Don’t you remember? He was the male model who posed with you for those sexy shots.” (Secret Exposed)

The same techniques apply to romance novels as well as mysteries. Ending a chapter with a confrontation between the hero and heroine will make the reader turn the page, especially if you’ve presented only one character’s reaction. Anticipation rises for the other person’s response. How will this event change their relationship? In addition to emotional turning points, escalating sexual tension will keep your reader eagerly flipping pages.

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Decisions that have risky consequences can also be effective. For example, your heroine decides to visit her boyfriend’s aunt against his wishes. She risks losing his affection but believes what she’s doing is right. Suspense heightens as the reader waits to see if the hero misinterprets her action. Or have the hero in a thriller make a dangerous choice that puts someone he cares about in jeopardy no matter what he does. What are the consequences? End of chapter. Readers must keep going to find out what happens next.

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To summarize, here’s a list of chapter endings that will spur your reader to keep the night light burning:

1. Decision
2. Danger
3. Revelation
4. Secondary character’s unexpected arrival
5. Emotional turning point
6. Sexual tension
7. Puzzle

Sprinkle the lucky seven judiciously into your story and hopefully one day you’ll be the happy recipient of a fan letter that says: “I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down.” That’s music to a writer’s ears.

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Facials Can Be Fatal Book Trailer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 27, 2016

I’m excited to share with you the book trailer for Facials Can Be Fatal. I had fun selecting the photos to match the characters in this story, coming on Feb. 22 from Five Star. What’s up for Marla in this story, #13 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries? Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial. With the holidays approaching, Marla has her hands full keeping her busy schedule on track and solving another murder.

 

 

“Take a twisty mystery, and add a cast of amiable characters, a dash of family drama, and a pinch of South Florida during the holiday season—they all add up to the recipe for a delightful cozy!” —Lucy Burdette, bestselling author of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries

Pre-Order at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

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Oct. 24 – 31 Halloween Reads Giveaway

Win Up To 20+ Halloweeny Novels!
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(20+) Winners of Individual eBooks (randomly selected titles)

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Blood, Bones and Books Halloween Party

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 24, 2016

Blood, Bones and Books: A Gathering of 13 Goblins and Ghouls Day-Before-Halloween Party

Sunday, October 30, 6 – 8 pm at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Phone: 561-279-7790 http://murderonthebeach.com/

Halloween

Join us for bloody brews, creepy cuisine, and goblin and ghoul authors as they discuss their work, writing habits, and publishing. Featured authors include:

Prudy Taylor Board
Ali Brandon
Nancy J. Cohen
Susan Cox
Eliot Kleinberg
Fred Lichtenberg
Sharon Menear
DJ Niko
Jeffrey Hammerhead Philips
Randy Rawls
Michal Sherring
Mark Spivak
Tom Swick

· Spooky but delicious refreshments will be served.
· Free treat bag with every purchase.
· Mingle with your favorite authors.
· Fortune teller on hand to predict your future.
· Costumes encouraged, but optional.
· Booksigning will follow.

Admission is free and the public is invited! For more information, contact murdermb@gate.net

NOTE: If you can’t come but want signed copies of Nancy’s books, contact the bookstore and they can oblige.

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Oct. 10-24 Fabulous Fall Halloween Giveaway  

LAST DAY! Enter to win a $200, $100, or one of four (4) $25 Amazon gift cards. https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/fabulous-fall-giveaway/

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Food Fun at Epcot and West Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 18, 2016

Besides attending the Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Disney World this past weekend in Orlando, we tried a couple of new restaurants. Friday night, we ate at Longhorn in Winter Garden. This wasn’t new to us, but I ordered the grilled shrimp and enjoyed this dish with rice, a baked sweet potato, salad, and bread.

On Saturday, we ate brunch at Slate. This trendy establishment is located by Trader Joes on West Sand Lake Road. Weekend brunch menu items are reasonably priced and varied in selection. Our family shared the deviled eggs appetizer, and I had the toast points with smoked salmon for my meal. This wasn’t lox like I’d expected but real pieces of cooked salmon in a tasty mixture. While pricey for dinner, the restaurant is open during weekdays for lunch.

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Since we weren’t too hungry for dinner, we took a walk around Disney’s Riverside Resort that is close to our condo. Then we settled into the lounge for drinks and appetizers that would serve as our meal. I enjoyed the cheese fritters that were fried cheese balls in a sweet red pepper sauce. My Mai Tai had lots of fruit juice but seemed to be light on the rum. The guys had the hearty gumbo soup.

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Sunday we went to Epcot for a stroll around World Showcase. Here we turned right and stopped first at the Caribbean marketplace. I passed on their seared grouper with pigeon peas and rice in coconut sauce, deciding to wait for further fare. One member of our party tried their Quesito puff pastry stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and guava sauce. At Patagonia, our son had the grilled beef skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree.

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My first taste was the mushroom beef filet mignon at Canada ($7.25). At Scotland, I had one of my favorite dishes, the crispy potato pancake with Scottish smoked salmon and herbed sour cream ($5.00).

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After getting my protein, I was prepared to saunter along in the ninety-degree heat toward France. They always have dishes I like but the portions are generous, and I decided to save my appetite. The guys each had the Beef Bourguignon, braised short ribs with mashed potatoes ($6.25). I’ve had it before, and it’s very good but filling. And it was too hot for their onion soup with gruyere and cognac. Nor was I ready for dessert, or I’d have had the caramel chocolate crème brulee. Don’t these descriptions make your mouth water?

Belgium had a dish I might have tried if I hadn’t already eaten meat. The beer-braised beef with smoked gouda mashed potatoes sounded good. Next time. Of course, you can get Belgian waffles here, too.

At Japan, our daughter had the spicy sushi roll ($5.75). I couldn’t resist the garlic shrimp and rice ($6.95). It’s as good as it sounds, although if you eat all the rice, you might get too stuffed for anything else. As it was, I’d wanted to try the smoked beef brisket and pimento cheese at the American Adventure, but was already getting too full. Their lobster roll and carrot cake sounded tempting, too.

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We dipped into the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar at Italy to share a bottle of wine and to cool off in the darkened interior. It’s a quiet place where you can relax and recoup your energy along with your appetite.

Unfortunately, I didn’t recoup my hunger enough to try the Korean BBQ beef, the Chinese roasted duck with hoisin sauce or the chicken pot stickers, the Mexican chocolate flan, or the lamb chop at Australia. Next time, we’ll have to start to the left at World Showcase and go around in the opposite direction.

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Toward the end, I stopped at Farm Fresh for their savory mac and cheese dish ($4.50) that came with bacon bits and chopped green onions. It was my favorite taste of this visit. Their stewed chicken with mushrooms and spinach sounded good, but I couldn’t eat anymore. Or drink anymore. I might have liked to try the Mai Tai or pineapple wine at the Hawaii marketplace.

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Meandering past the Caribbean site again, we visited the new additions on our way back to Future World. We couldn’t resist the Chocolate Studio where we sampled the red wine chocolate truffle ($2.25) and the chocolate raspberry torte ($4.00).

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Note that vegetarian, gluten-free, and kid-friendly items are marked in the Festival Passport booklet. The Food and Wine Festival is open until mid-November. It’s especially pleasant once the season’s first cold front moves in and cools the air. Meanwhile, be prepared with umbrellas for the passing showers. And now that I’ve reviewed all these treats available there, I’m ready to go again.

That night, we didn’t feel like eating a heavy dinner, so we ventured to 33 & Melt, a grilled cheese emporium only open past 4:00 pm in the Summerport area of Windermere. It’s located amid townhouses in a residential district at a recreated town square. A few other shops are sprinkled in here with a lake toward the rear. I had the grilled brie with raspberry preserves sandwich. Entries come with salad greens tossed in champagne vinaigrette; a dipper of very tasty tomato soup, and a couple of pickle slices. It’s a small neighborhood place with a bar serving beer and wine, but it’s family-friendly and the food is good.

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Look at what waited by our doorstep on our return home. Was he out looking for a meal, too?

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Haunted Hair Nights

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 13, 2016

Haunted Hair Nights: A Bad Hair Day Cozy Mystery Novella is now available in ebook and print. This title originally appeared in Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Crime. My new standalone edition includes a bonus chapter from Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13).

HAUNTED HAIR NIGHTS book cover

When history teacher Bill Ripari offers his property for a school haunted house project, hairstylist Marla Vail volunteers to put the scare factor into the props’ hair. She joins her stepdaughter along with other students, parents, and teachers to transform the wooded estate into a creepy attraction.

Marla is busy creating decorations when she spies a splash of red on the estate grounds. Curiosity compels her to go outside for a closer look, but the dark stain isn’t fake blood meant to be part of fright night. Instead, the trail leads straight to the history teacher’s dead body.

Worried about the kids, Marla puts on her sleuthing hat to investigate. She discovers every one of the volunteers present that night had a possible motive. Between slacker students, helicopter parents, unexpected heirs, and a stonewalling school administration, Marla has her hands full in solving the murder and keeping her stepdaughter safe.

JOIN MY LAUNCH PARTY TONIGHT from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty

Reviews are needed, so I urge you to post a customer review at any of these sites. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the story in Happy Homicides or the standalone version. Go here to add your review or to order your copy of the book. Also consider adding it as a gift for the people on your holiday shopping list.

Amazon   Apple   Kobo  Createspace  AmazonIntl  BN 

Signed Print Copies are available at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore.

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Oct 13, 6:30-8:00pm EDT, Haunted Hair Nights Book Launch Party. Fun & prizes! Click to Join and Save the Date!

Oct. 1-15 Goodreads Giveaway: Enter to Win a signed print copy of Haunted Hair Nights, a Bad Hair Day cozy mystery novella

Oct. 1-18 Booklovers Bench: Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench, where readers are winners.

Oct 10-24 Fabulous Fall Halloween Giveaway: Here’s a chance for you to win a $200, $100, or one of four (4) $25 Amazon gift cards–that’s $400 in Amazon cash. If you love reading, enter now!

 

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