Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!
I am thrilled to feature Staging Wars by Grace Topping today!
Staging Wars (A Laura Bishop Mystery)
by Grace Topping
About Staging Wars
Staging Wars (A Laura Bishop Mystery)
2nd in Series
Setting – Pennsylvania
Publisher: Henery Press (April 28, 2020)
Hardcover: 254 pages
Paperback: 254 pages
Digital ASIN: B084BT29GG
Laura Bishop’s new home staging business is growing in popularity, though not with her nemesis. Laura has long suspected established interior designer Monica Heller of sabotaging her fledgling company—and having an affair with her late husband.
When the ultra-chic Monica is caught at the scene of a murder, Laura is plenty happy to imagine her languishing in a prison cell with bedsheets far from her normal 600-thread Egyptian cotton. But her delight is short-lived.
When Laura’s friends land on the police’s radar, Laura must overcome her dislike of Monica to help solve the crime. Not an easy task since Laura and Monica have been at war since the second grade.
Laura Bishop’s new business, staging homes is really taking off, but it seems interior designer Monica Heller would like to stop that, going so far as doing a little sabotage. Then Monica has other concerns on her hands when Laura and 3 other witnesses walk in on her killing her new client. She claims she didn’t do it, it’s all a mistake but the woman is spending some quality time behind bars while a mutual friend begs Laura to clear Monica of the crime.
Grace Topping continues to bring strong characters to her mysteries. Laura, Nita, and all their friends continue to evolve. One has a great amount of power over this certain group of people and knows how to use it to their advantage. I love the real teamwork feel of these amateur sleuths. Even Aunt Kit helps out and takes a new look at her niece’s choices.
The mystery gets off fast with first one body and then another, both killed in the same manner but no other apparent connection. I was surprised by how much time and effort Laura puts into not only helping Monica regarding the murders but in keeping her business afloat too. Laura is a much better person than me. I would have held a grudge. These women have been foes FOREVER!
The romantic aspect of this book is kinda cute. Laura is completely oblivious that Detective Spangler has feelings for her. I am happy that the author is taking the time to lay a firm foundation for this relationship. I think it will make it so much stronger in the long run.
I really enjoy the home staging theme of this series. It is creative and feels very fulfilling to help homeowners sell their homes faster and usually for a better price. It is like playing with full-size dollhouses. I love that Laura is building her wares enough to have more choices and the need for a large warehouse storage space. Each chapter starts with a staging tip. They could be useful for more than just staging a home. The tips are great to give your own home a little freshening.
Staging Wars is filled with great characters and a substantial mystery that kept me engaged and entertained from beginning to end. I am excited to see what Laura stages next.
Your Escape Into A Good Book Travel Agent
Hi Grace, welcome to Escape With Dollycas!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Now that I’ve retired, I am creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind me of some of the people I dealt with during my career. Fictional revenge is sweet. I’m using some of the experience I gained helping friends stage their homes for sale as the inspiration for my Laura Bishop mystery series. I’m a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, SINC Guppies, and Mystery Writers of America. I live with my husband in Northern Virginia.
What are three things most people don’t know about you?
- I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania
- I served in the Navy as a WAVE for seven years
- While stationed in England, I married an Englishman who calls himself a GI War Bride
What is the first book you remember reading?
My mother had a book of Bible stories that she had brought to Pennsylvania from the farm she grew up on in George. The book was falling apart, but I loved to leaf through the pages looking at the black and white illustrations. I’m embarrassed to say that I colored some of the illustrations with crayons. As I got a little older, I was able to read the stories that went with the illustrations—which had been nicely enhanced by me.
What are you reading now?
I usually have several books going at one time, depending on what mood I’m in. Right now I’m reading One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski, Game of Scones by Mary Lee Ashford, and Fields Guide to Abduction by Julie Mulhern. Different types of stories to fit different moods.
I’m also a huge audiobook fan, so I listen to audiobooks while driving, cooking, or when I can’t sleep. I’m currently listening to An Artless Demise by Anna Lee Huber.
What books have most inspired you?
I especially enjoy books that have characters who are wise and make wise observations—the kind of book that makes you want to underline passages. I find characters like that in books by Jacqueline Winspear and Anne Perry. They often inspire me to be a better person or have a better outlook on life.
I also enjoy books that teach me something new. Cozy mysteries where the main character has a business or interest frequently teach me new things. For example, I learned a lot about clocks reading Julienne Holmes’ Clock Shop Mystery Series.
What made you decide you wanted to write mysteries?
Like most mystery writers, I chose to write mysteries because that is what I read. I enjoy the puzzle a traditional mystery presents. How I decided to write one is one of those strange quirks of fate. A friend asked me to go with her to Malice Domestic, a mystery conference for fans of traditional or cozy mysteries. I had never heard of Malice Domestic, but when I discovered it involved mysteries and that some of my favorite authors would be there, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. I went as a fan but found it so inspiring I left as a wannabe mystery writer. Lots of years later, I am attending Malice in May as a nominee for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery. Anything can happen when you are inspired.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
Most of the time I write in my office, which is a bedroom I inherited from one of my daughters when she left home. But when the weather is good, I love to work on our screened porch that looks out over woods. There is something about being out in nature, feeling a fresh breeze, hearing the birds chirping and the squirrels scurrying up trees, that helps me relax and lets my imagination take over.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I had a friend who used to say that she got her ideas from the Idea Store. I haven’t been lucky enough to find that place, so I have to look around me for ideas. In my first book, Staging is Murder I had watched so many episodes of home staging shows on HGTV, I felt I had learned enough about home staging to have my main character start her own home staging business. I got the idea for the 19th century home she stages and the setting for the murder from a historic home in my hometown. In Staging Wars, I set the story in a small town arts group, based on the stories my sister told me about heading her arts group—dealing with everything except murder.
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
I enjoy writing. I even enjoy rewriting. What I find challenging is proofreading my own work. After reading it numerous times, I begin to see what I expect to see, and I miss mistakes. That’s where beta readers are helpful. The story is fresh to them, so mistakes jump out at them more easily. One beta reader for Staging Wars noted that I had used the wrong name for a character in one place. I had totally missed catching that after reading my manuscript multiple times. It’s also a challenge keeping things straight from one book to another. In my second book, I referred to Laura selling her Lexus in the first book to help fund her business when she had actually sold her Volvo.
What do you think makes a good story?
One thing I look for in a good story is character growth. I want to see the characters evolve and come out of the story better people than they were in the opening chapters. Romance writer Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a master of this. In each of her books she has her main characters facing their demons or recognizing their flaws and dealing with them. One of the first things I learned about writing was to give characters a flaw that they would have to deal with during the story. Nobody likes a main character who is perfect. One of Laura’s flaws is that she has an aversion to good-looking men. Anytime someone hurt or embarrassed her, took credit for her work, or generally made her life a misery, a handsome man was usually involved. It was enough to have her avoiding them.
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
When I first started writing, I felt a bit awkward and self-conscious creating my main character because I felt people would think I was writing about myself. To compensate, I made my main character tall, I’m not; thin, I’m not; and a lot younger. But saying all that, I guess my main character, Laura Bishop, is the most like me. On the other hand, I made Laura’s mother sound so awful that I felt I should add a disclosure at the beginning of the book, saying that Laura’s mother was not based on my mother, who is wonderful.
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
The one thing that might be different from other cozy mysteries is that Laura Bishop is not only an amateur sleuth, she is also an extremely reluctant one. In Staging is Murder when her young assistant is accused of murder and his grandmother beseeches Laura to help find the killer, Laura acknowledges that she doesn’t have any skill in identifying killers and that she would do the grandmother a disservice if she agreed to help and then couldn’t do anything. She does not want to be looking for a killer. Another flaw is that she can’t say no to people who come to her for help, and she is drawn into the case—but reluctantly.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
After I spend a fair amount of time this spring promoting Staging Wars, I will begin working on the third book in the series, continuing the adventures of Laura Bishop and her best friend, Nita Martino. In May, I will be attending the Malice Domestic mystery conference, where I’ll find out if Staging is Murder won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Exciting times.
Thank you, Grace, so much for visiting today!
More About Grace Topping
Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet. She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes for sale as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The series is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. The first book in the series, Staging is Murder, is a 2019 Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. Grace is the former vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”