Friday, May 9, 2014

Last Licks by Claire Donally: Guest Author, Review, & Giveaway

Last Licks

Making Lemonade

When I was asked to pitch some ideas for a cat mystery, there were certain elements I wanted in the mix. I knew parts of the book should be from the cat's point of view. Initially, I had the idea of Sherlock Holmes in a fur coat, but when it came to the writing, my cat's thoughts were less about logic and more about cat interests. Smells, comfort, what fools these two-leggity people be, getting one's own way . . . falling in love with someone for no apparent reason. Well, maybe because they smell good.

I wanted the human lead character to be an out-of-work reporter. Too many friends have found themselves in that situation or dangerously close to it, struggling to find a related field where they might use their skills and knowledge and still make a living. These notions made it into the Sunny & Shadow stories. Others, like my human working for a low-rent private eye and setting the stories in a fictionalized version of my own neighborhood, didn't make the cut. Apparently, where I live is neither picturesque nor small-town enough, so off the series went to Maine. And in a blue-collar town like Kittery – excuse me, fictional Kittery Harbor – well, a private eye just didn't seem to work.

Fine. But now another question arose. If Sunny Coolidge, my protagonist/reporter worked in a big city and lost her job, why would she come back to a small town? Real life provided that answer – taking care of a sick father. I wrote my second novel while also taking care of my dad during his final illness. Definitely one of life's lemons, but the conversations we had during those months told me more about him than living with him for the thirty years before.

As the only free-lancer in my family, I've found myself alternating between writing numerous books and working as a part-time home health attendant, first for my father, then my grandmother, and now my mom. In both fields, the work is demanding, makes those demands at odd times. . .and the pay doesn't leave you pricing yachts.

However, this difficult work has also provided grist for the writing mill. If, as Wordsworth said, poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, comedy is stress reconsidered with a bit of distance. When Mike Coolidge, Sunny's father, complains about the pill police and the food police, that comes out of real (and sometimes loud) conversations. The three a.m. angina attacks were also reality based, but Mike no longer sufferers from them – nor, thank heaven, does my patient.

But there's always something: in this case a fall, a broken bone, and seven weeks in physical therapy rehab. For a writer with a twisted sensibility like mine, the thought hit me on my first visit. “What a wonderful place for a murder!”

Thus, the fourth Sunny & Shadow mystery, LAST LICKS, was born. Research was simple – basically keeping my eyes open, watching how therapy was administered, how patients responded. Mom was in a good facility, with a thoughtful, caring staff. But we're talking about human beings here, and I had a chance to stand in the background and watch them interact. The therapist who was interested in one of his colleagues and always getting shot down; the very kind music therapist; learning when the aides were overworked and when you could ask them for special help.

And, of course, there were the therapy animals. They usually didn't make their way to the PT floor, but Mom encountered them when I wheeled her down to the garden or the other common areas. There were plenty of dogs, always eagerly nosing around for someone to pet them. I also saw a single cat, whose residence was a cage on the route to the garden and who usually gave us a supercilious once-over from her hammock inside. On occasion, she'd vacate that location to startle people by sitting statue-like on pieces of furniture, favoring her victims with a “what's-the-matter-with you?” look when they jumped.

And if she made it to the facility's front parlor, she somehow had the ability to beat anyone to the most comfortable seat – pretty remarkable for such a languorous creature – and spend her time looking at the tank full of giant fish, doubtless thinking exciting thoughts.

Over the weeks I met additional cats who visited other floors, including one poor little guy who was undergoing cancer treatment, sick and apparently starved for attention but not lacking self-confidence. He gave me a little nip to tell me to stop wasting time signing out one evening and devote more time to petting.

Add in a news story tucked away years before about a nursing-home cat who could apparently predict which patients weren't long for the world, and I had a pretty good locale and setup for a murder mystery. Then came the motive, opportunity, and means mechanics, not just to determine whodunit, but who wanted to do it, when, and how.

Maybe I'm developing a soft spot for a crusty character, but after giving him a heart attack, I didn't want to put poor old Mike though the stress of rehab. So I got the notion of injuring Sunny's demanding, loud boss. Plus, what a lousy, impatient patient he'd be!

I've written novels set in different eras and locales that required plenty of research. Only occasionally have I been able to turn something I've lived through into a story. It's interesting to take an experience that caused a lot of strain and difficulty reconsider it through a creative lens (and some comedy).

Sort of taking lemons and making lemonade – finding the right balance between tart and sweet. 

Under many different names, Claire Donally has written mystery, science fiction, and fantasy stories – some of them also including cats. She lives in a quiet, non-picturesque neighborhood in Queens, New York and is presently between feline companions. The only animals presently in the house are dust bunnies.


Look everybody! This is the very first time Mommy has had one of her reviews quoted in a book!!!

Blurb: When Sunny Coolidge’s curmudgeonly boss, Oliver Barnstable, lands in rehab after breaking his leg, Sunny is stuck shuttling between their offices in Kittery Harbor, Maine, and the facility where Ollie is recuperating. And if putting up with temper tantrums from her boss wasn’t enough, his rehab roommate, Gardner Scatterwell, is a shameless flirt.

But when Scatterwell dies unexpectedly in the night, Ollie is convinced it wasn’t from natural causes. He gives Sunny a new assignment—find out who killed the old tomcat.

And speaking of cats, Shadow, Sunny’s feline partner in crime, takes a peculiar interest in the rehab’s resident angel of death—a calico cat called Portia, with an uncanny talent for cozying up to patients right before they pass away. Together, Sunny and Shadow will have to nose out clues to discover if Portia’s jinx had anything to do with Gardner’s passing—or if all his catting around finally got him fixed.

Mochas, Mysteries and Meows Review: Amidst a plethora of cat cozies on bookshelves today, Claire Donally's Sunny and Shadow Mystery series is extra special to me, and one I don't believe gets the attention it deserves. Sunny's relationship with her father Mike and how she has returned to their Maine home to care for him following a heart attack is something I can totally relate to as an only child caring for aging parents. The addition of the precious Shadow has turned their house into a home.

This third book in the series features Sunny's cranky boss Ollie prominently which made me very happy. He breaks his leg and ends up in a rehab facility following a strange incident with a deer. Sunny and Shadow are once again called upon to solve a suspicious death when Ollie's rehab roomie is the latest in a large number of patients who have checked out permanently.

With shades of Oscar the cat this book introduces us to Portia the calico therapy cat who Shadow falls head over paws in love with. His antics and his views of the world around him had me grinning from ear, wondering if the same thoughts go through Truffles' head.

I found the setting of to be deliciously creepy, and the mystery a real puzzler with many suspicious characters that had motive to do the old man in. Cat lovers everywhere need to do themselves a favor and pick up a Sunny and Shadow mystery. The entire series will make you purr with delight.

Giveaway: Leave a comment by noon eastern on Wednesday, May 14th for the chance to win a copy of Last Licks. (US entries only, please.)


Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

Haha...I love how you found the setting for the murder. Well no that sounds awful ..sorry you hurt yourself but love you sense of humor.

servedogmom said...

Love mysteries with animals!

Unknown said...

looks great; thank you for the chance :)

holdenj said...

I recently chatted with a gentleman in a waiting room who had a therapy dog. Turns out he trains them as well, and it was fascinating to listen to his stories of going to both schools and hospitals. Thanks for the chance to win.

NoraA said...

This one is drawing me to it.. So if I'm not the lucky winner, I'll beg my public library to buy copies for circulation.


Sue said...

I really like the idea of having a therapy animal--but I'm not very good at training so I guess I'll have to settle for my cats and dogs just doling out therapy to me.
I'm anxious to read this book --- it was interesting seeing how you came up with the setting.

Debbie S said...

It's interesting to see where a book gets its start and how it develops. Thanks for the chance to win.

Rascal and Rocco said...

You're words in print! That's pretty awesome! Would love to win a copy so I can see it for myself. ~Rascal and Rocco


We love mysteries with animals too - especially cats!

Unknown said...

This sounds like another winner by the author. I'd love to read it.

Kimberlee said...

I love this series. Thanks so much for the giveaway.


Cathy Keisha said...

How cool! I love that cover! Haven’t read any of the books.

meowmeowmans said...

How cool to learn about the genesis of this great-sounding book. Thank you for sharing, and for the chance to win!

Kaye Killgore said...

I love mysteries with animals, in particular cats, dogs, and horses.

Rita Wray said...

Sounds like a great mystery, I can't wait to read it.


cyn209 said...

a definite 'add' to my Wish List!!
thank you for the giveaway!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

Anita Yancey said...

A cat mystery sounds like a fun and interesting read. It has a pretty cover. Thanks for having the giveaway.


Malka E said...

love this series!