Hemlock for the Holidays


 Available Soon!

  Hemlock for the Holidays, the third book in Paula Darnell's new cozy series, A Fine Art Mystery, will be available for pre-order soon!

What's it all about?

As Lonesome Valley kicks off the holiday season with its annual parade, artist Amanda Trent embraces the Christmas spirit, happy that her family will be coming to town to celebrate the season with her and her loyal pets, Laddie, a friendly golden retriever, and Mona Lisa, an independent calico cat.

Amanda has just one nagging concern: her art sales have stalled, so her checking account is starting to look a bit puny. Her financial woes pale, though, in comparison to her concern when several people eat carrot bars laced with hemlock at the high school's arts and crafts fair, resulting in one unlucky man's death. Was the poisoning an accident, or did someone with evil intent deliberately spike the sweet baked goods?

Leads the police follow don't pan out until Amanda puts the puzzle together. But, sometimes, knowledge can be a dangerous thing. . .

 Read an Excerpt from Chapter One

Santa! Over here!” Belle called, as she waved to jolly Mr. Claus, who stood atop the passing float, surrounded by elves busily depositing toys in his sleigh.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he exclaimed, as he blew her a kiss.

The jolly red-suited gent, none other than my bestie's husband Dennis, had been drafted to play Santa in Lonesome Valley's annual Christmas parade when the original actor had come down with a case of food poisoning just a few hours before the parade was scheduled to begin.

“He's really into his role,” I said, as the giant float slowly progressed down Main Street. “How did you plump him up? He actually looks kind of roly-poly.”

“I wrapped him with fluffy batting before he put on the costume. I think it's working pretty well.”

“For sure. He's a big hit.”

Santa's float was followed by another featuring a giant, twinkling Christmas tree surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents. Children of members of Lonesome Valley's Downtown Merchants' Association sat among the gifts, waving shyly to the crowds that lined both sides of Main Street.

“Oh, look! Here come the carolers.” Belle pointed to the next float, which was large enough to accommodate the Lonesome Valley Pioneers, who performed at many community events. We spotted Rebecca and Greg Winter, a couple Belle and I had met in the spring, when we were walking our dogs in the little park a few blocks from our houses.

The choir began its rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with Rebecca and Greg singing the first verse in duet. The only decoration on the choir's float was a small tree graced by a few pears and a lone partridge. Each time the choir sang the refrain “and a partridge in a pear tree,” the singers all gestured toward the tree, and the partridge squawked, much to the delight of the spectators along the parade route.

“What a perfect day for the parade,” I said. The Arizona sun shone in a cloudless, blue sky, and there wasn't so much as a breeze.

“Yes, it's great,” Belle agreed. “Not like last year, when the wind gusted so much Santa lost his hat and Frosty blew over and fell right off the float. Of course, that happened before you moved here. I can't believe you've lived next door for—what is it?—just ten months now. It seems like we've been friends forever.”

“Yes, it does,” I said, putting my arm around her, “and I couldn't have better friends. If it weren't for you and Dennis, I might still be trying to adjust to my new life.”

Instead, I felt perfectly at home in my tiny house with my amiable golden retriever Laddie and my mercurial calico cat Mona Lisa for company. I'd chosen the little house because it featured an attached art studio that was the same size as the house's living area. A year ago, I'd been trying to come to terms with my recent, unexpected divorce. My husband Ned had decided to drop that bomb on the same night as my one-and-only solo art show at the Crystal Star Gallery in Kansas City. He'd announced that he planned to marry Candy, his office assistant, who's only a couple of years older than our daughter Emma. What he'd neglected to say was that Candy had a baby on the way. I'd been so excited preparing for my show that I hadn't had a clue!

Luckily, I'd snapped out of my panic mode after a few months to plan my new life. It wasn't long before I made the move from Kansas City to Lonesome Valley to pursue a career as a full-time artist, and I didn't regret it for a second.

Belle and I watched and cheered from the sidelines as several more floats passed by. A ninteenth-century stagecoach followed, pulled by four handsome horses, their manes and tails braided with red and green streamers. The sleigh bells hung around their necks jingled merrily as they pulled the coach along. The stage's driver sported traditional Western garb, with one exception. He'd substituted a plush red Santa hat for the Stetson he normally wore. His wife, decked out in a gorgeous, red velvet cape trimmed with white faux fur, rode beside him. Their three children peeped out the windows of the stagecoach and waved to the crowd. A high-profile couple, Melinda Gibbs was Lonesome Valley's mayor, and her husband Bob operated a large equestrian training center and horse stables at their ranch a few miles north of town.

Since the Gibbses never missed an opportunity to promote Lonesome Valley's galleries, all the artists at the Roadrunner, a cooperative art gallery where I displayed my oil paintings, appreciated their support.

Last up, the Lonesome Valley High School band marched past us, stepping smartly while they played “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” The crowd clapped enthusiastically, then began to disperse after the band passed by.

“I'm going to pick up a few gifts,” Belle said. “Should I meet you at the Roadrunner in about an hour?”

“Perfect. Then we can see how Dennis is coming along with his Santa act.” Dennis had agreed to play Santa for a group of preschoolers who'd have their pictures taken with him after the parade.

Belle crossed to the opposite side of Main Street, while I walked a block to the Roadrunner, curious to find out whether the parade-goers had stayed to shop. I hoped to improve my sales in December, especially since I'd had a bad month in November, and my finances were looking a bit tight, although I was in better shape than I'd been when I'd first moved to Lonesome Valley. The Roadrunner isn't the only place I sell my paintings, but it's my main venue. I also try to keep things going with studio tours, commissioned pet portraits, and even wholesale accounts with a few local boutiques, where I sell my abstract, dyed silk scarves.

With fingers figuratively crossed, I approached the Roadrunner and was pleased to see several people entering the gallery ahead of me.

Inside, a crush of people crowded around the jewelry counter and cash register, where Carrie and Ralph, two of our members, waited on customers. I was pleased that eighty-five-year-old Ralph kept pace as he handled the transactions. A few months earlier, his arthritis had plagued him so much that it had been difficult for him to move, but since his doctor had prescribed a different pain medication, he no longer relied on a cane.

Pamela, our gallery director, and my friend Susan, an awesome watercolorist who also sculpts huge animals in papier-mâché, were helping other customers as they browsed the paintings. I headed down the hallway and deposited my coat in our meeting room, then returned to the front of the gallery and stowed my purse in a drawer under the counter.

“Excuse me,” a gray-haired woman carrying a large shopping bag said. “Do you work here?”

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“I saw a little painting of a cactus flower in the back.”

“Let's take a closer look,” I said, accompanying her around the divider to the back room.

She pointed to a group of cactus flowers. “I really like these,” she said, “but I can't decide which one to buy.”

“Do you have a place in mind to hang it?” I asked.

“Yes, I was thinking above a little table in my entryway. The walls are light beige, so I suppose any color would do—maybe the white flower?”

“How about the pink one? It could add a nice touch of color.”

“I do like that one,” she said, stepping in for a closer look. “Yes, I think you're right. I'll take it.”

I carefully removed it from the wall and carried it to the front for her. There was a line at the register, so I jumped in to help Ralph, and we had soon checked out all the waiting customers.

“Enjoy it!” I said, waving at the woman I'd assisted as she left the gallery, carrying her painting.

Although Pamela was talking to a group of people near the door, the crowd had thinned, and I joined Susan.

“Amanda, I'm glad you came in when you did. It was getting crazy. I didn't think we'd be so busy after the festivities, but it looks as though things have calmed down now.”

“Were you able to watch the parade?”

“We had a bird's-eye view from the balcony upstairs. It was great. I thought the squawking partridge was so cute. Oh, look who's here!” A man wearing a jeans jacket entered the gallery.

I didn't recognize the newcomer, but Susan seemed pleased to see him when he approached and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Eric, I haven't seen you for ages!” Susan exclaimed after she'd introduced us.

“Yeah, I've been busy, too. Business is way down. I'm barely hanging on there, but things are about to take a turn for the better in a big way.”

“That's good news.”

“Yeah, I'm psyched. Timing couldn't be better. Anyway, I thought I'd pop in for a minute to say 'hi.' Figured you'd be here. Looks like you've been busy.” He nodded at the large papier-mâché zebra that stood in the window. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it had to be yours. Say, do you have time to come by the house tomorrow evening? There's something I'd like to show you.”

“I suppose I could stop by for a few minutes. Amanda and I were planning on going out to dinner tomorrow. Would you like to join us?”

“Well, all right, if it's OK with Amanda.”

“Of course. The more, the merrier, and this is certainly the season to be merry,” I agreed.

“All right. We're on. Text me the time and place, and I'll see you ladies tomorrow.”

We watched him as he made his way to the door and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the gallery.

“I hope he's right about things improving for him.” Susan sighed. “About two years ago, his wife was killed in a terrible helicopter crash. She was my best friend.”

“Susan, I'm so sorry. I didn't know.”

“I don't talk about it much. It still hurts, and whenever I see Eric, it hurts even more. I haven't been avoiding him exactly, but I haven't gone out of my way to see him, either. I know he has financial problems now, too.”

The gallery had almost cleared out by this time, and we joined Ralph and Carrie at the jewelry counter.

“Say, wasn't the guy you were just talking to the owner of Thrifty Buys?” Carrie asked.

“Yes. Eric Thompson,” Susan confirmed.

“I heard the place is going under.”

“I don't know about that,” Susan said.

“It's true,” Ralph interjected. “I saw the bankruptcy notice in the newspaper yesterday. He's filed for Chapter 7.”


Artistic License to Kill

Available Now!

  Artistic License to Kill, the first book in Paula Darnell's new cozy series, A Fine Art Mystery, is now available! 
Order from Your Favorite Retailer
Special Introductory Price - Just 99 cents!  

 What's it all about?
Artist Amanda Trent, accompanied by her beloved golden retriever Laddie and her persnickety calico cat Mona Lisa, is determined to start a new life after her husband divorces her to marry a younger woman, but it isn't easy.

After a disastrous interview at the prestigious Roadrunner Gallery in Lonesome Valley, Arizona, far away from her previous home in Kansas City, Amanda's afraid that she'll fail at her new career. But her prospects begin to improve when she's accepted as the newest member of the cooperative gallery.

Then, on her very first day, she discovers Janice, the stern director, has been murdered right in the art gallery, and the Roadrunner's members, including Amanda herself, become suspects. Which gallery member murdered the unpopular director? Or was the killer an outsider with an ax to grind? 

Read an Excerpt from Chapter One
I squirmed in the hard metal chair as the three committee members examined the paintings I'd brought for their review.
    The cordial, collegial chat I'd imagined when I'd applied to join the Roadrunner, a cooperative art gallery, had never happened. Instead, the director, a tall woman with cropped salt-and-pepper hair, had greeted me with a frown as I'd set up my canvases on the easels she'd provided.
    The other two committee members—Travis Baxter, a wiry young man with long blond hair, and Pamela Smith, a tiny bird-like woman with sharp features—hadn't been any friendlier than the director. After glancing at my artist's statement and resumé, they'd peppered me with pointed questions that seemed framed to put me on the defensive. If that was their strategy, they'd succeeded.
    As the three of them examined my paintings in silence, I clasped my hands firmly together so they wouldn't notice that I was trembling. Finally, the long-haired man cleared his throat and looked at the two women. They all returned to their seats behind a long table and looked at me solemnly.
    Janice Warren, the gallery director, informed me that they'd take my application for membership under advisement and that I'd be notified by mail as to whether or not I'd been approved to join the cooperative artists' group that ran the Roadrunner Gallery.
    I managed to stammer a thank-you before I began gathering my canvases. I felt like running out of the gallery, but I restrained myself, knowing that I had to make two trips to my SUV to stow my paintings in the back.
    The three committee members watched as I toted my canvases from the gallery's meeting room. Nobody offered to help me carry them. Nobody smiled at me.
    As soon as I'd secured the last two paintings in my Toyota, I started the engine and peeled away from the curb. I couldn't wait to escape.
    As I sped down Main Street, not bothering to glance in my rear view mirror, I heard the wail of a siren behind me. My tires screeched as I braked a little too hard.
    A police car came alongside me, and the officer signaled me to pull over. Groaning, I slowly moved to the nearest parking space and stopped my SUV. It was still early in the morning, and the shops weren't open yet, so the street was nearly deserted.
    While the police car parked in back of me, I reached into my purse and took out my Missouri driver's license; then I dug around inside the console next to me until I found my auto registration card. I put my window down and braced for a stern lecture.
    “License and registration, please, ma'am.”
    I handed them to him. At least he'd said “please.” Although I didn't much like being called “ma'am,” since I would be reaching the big mid-century mark on my next birthday, I guessed it wouldn't be the last time it would happen.
    “You must be in a big hurry to get back to Kansas City,” he commented, staring at my license.
    “Well, no. I'm sorry. I was upset, and I just wanted to put some distance between myself and the gallery.”
    “I, uh, I applied to become a member, and I just had my interview there. It didn't go very well.”
    “You must live here now if you're joining the co-op.”
    I could have kicked myself for saying too much. Now, he'd probably cite me for not having an Arizona driver's license and not registering my SUV in my new state.
    “Yes, I do. I moved here a few months ago.” Again, too much information. I couldn't seem to stop babbling.
    “If that's a permanent move, you should get your Arizona license and registration right away.”
    Great, I thought. Could this day get any worse? 
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DIY Diva Cozy Mystery Series

Books in the DIY Diva Mystery Series

Crafty DIY Diva Laurel McMillan turns DIY detective when a murder happens in her "safe" guard-gated community. 

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Paperback (Note that the paperback has a different cover, but it is the same book.)

DIY Diva Laurel McMillan learns just how deadly a design can be when her student's husband is smothered with a prize-winning pillow.

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Paperback (Note that the paperback has a different cover, but it is the same book.)

With her wedding to handsome Center City Police detective Wes Wesson only days away, will Laurel be too distracted by wedding plans to unmask a killer?

 Amazon     Apple Books    Barnes & Noble  
                 Google Play      Kobo  
(Note that the paperback has a different cover, but it is the same book.)

The DIY Diva Mystery Series is published by Cozy Cat Press.

Free Books: How to Request Your Library Obtain a Book You Want to Read

We often hear about a book we'd like to read, but, on checking our local library catalog, we find that it's not available in the collection. Most people assume that's the end of the story, but it doesn't have to be.

Did you know that most public libraries in the United States welcome requests from their patrons, and many of them buy a book a patron has requested and place it in the library collection? Although there's no guarantee that your local library will obtain a book you'd like to read, many will. Some libraries wait until they have several requests for a book before adding it to the collection.

It's a simple process to request a book that usually only takes a few minutes. Gather some basic information about the book: author, title, and ISBN (International Standard Book Number). You can usually find what you need quickly by searching for the book's title on Google, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. With this information, librarians can easily locate the book in their suppliers' catalog. 

To request your library get an ebook, go to Overdrive, search for the book, and make a request right there (you'll need your library card number). If you encounter problems, ask for assistance from your local librarian so that your request can be processed.

To request a print book, check your library's website for a request form. Frequently, it will appear under Contact Us. It may say something like "how to suggest a title you think would be good for the library to have." If your library provides an online form, fill it out completely and submit it. If not, ask any librarian how to request a book. Sometimes, a verbal request is all that is needed.

Remember that this process takes some patience, but it can be especially rewarding when the book you're requesting is a pricey hardback or a special type of book, such as large print.

Speaking of large print books, two of my books are available in large print: The Six-Week Solution, a historical mystery, and Artistic License to Kill, the first in my new cozy mystery series, A Fine Art Mystery. If either of these novels appeals to you, I hope you'll request it at your local library! Of course, they're available for sale also, but at $36.95 each (by the way, your library gets a big discount on the print books it buys), you might prefer to read them free.

One last tip: if your library doesn't have the book you're looking for but another library does own it, you might be able to put in a request for it through the Interlibrary Loan system. Check your local library for details.

Artistic License to Kill

Author: Paula Darnell

ISBN for large print hardcover: