Monday, July 10, 2017

Hannah and Tamar Mystery Series

ABOUT BOOK ONE: Hannah and Tamar are looking forward to spending Thanksgiving break with their grandparents. On the long ride to Vermont, the sisters are quick to offer assistance when a fellow passenger – a girl in her late teens – is hassled by a rough-looking young man. Grateful as she may be for their help, Gwen is in no hurry to make friends, not even as she thrusts a mysterious package into Tamar’s hand and disappears in the Rutland train station. Puzzled by her behavior, Hannah and Tamar set out to locate Gwen and unravel the secret of the mysterious package.
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ABOUT BOOK TWO: A simple request opens up a savory mystery.

Hannah never imagined her high school service project with the elderly would draw her into another mystery. Mrs. Tedesco, a lonely widow who loves to bake, has just one request -- that the teen retrieve her cookbook from her old house. Easier said than done. The house has been ransacked and the coveted cookbook is nowhere to be found. Eager to help the woman, Hannah and her sister, Tamar, are driven to locate the cookbook and uncover its secrets. But the teens aren't the only ones seeking the cookbook's hidden treasures, and the other side is playing for keeps.

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INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHORS:  As we come up on the release of the THIRD book in this YA mystery series co-authored by Christa Nardi and Cassidy Salem, I decided I'd better get caught up.Since I've read several of each author's adult cozy books (see RELATED at the bottom of this post), I asked for an interview. SCOOP ALERT: Christa and Cassidy divulged that, like the main characters in the Hannah and Tamar series, they are sisters! Let’s start by filling in a few of the blanks.

Hall Ways: Cassidy, you told me a great story about your pen name, and I am still giggling about it. Please share.

Cassidy: Choosing a pen name is more challenging than you might think. I started with names that had some connection to family, sometimes even in different languages. It seemed every time I came up with a name I liked the sound of - it turned out there was a porn star or such with a website with the same name - not exactly a good match for someone who writes "clean" fiction. (Tip: Always Google a name before adopting it.)  Eventually, I came up with Cassidy Salem, which has subtle elements of family history and personal meaning for me.

Hall Ways: Christa, from your bio I know you are a professor/psychologist from the Northeast, now living in the Lone Star State. (Yes, my Lone Star Book Blog Tours radar is going wild!) What else can you tell me about yourself?

Christa: I have always been a voracious reader, and when I was younger, I wrote poetry and short stories in my spare time. Growing up my favorite authors included Carolyn Keene and Earl Stanley Gardner, although today I have shifted to reading more contemporary mystery/crime authors. For leisure reading, I generally opt for mystery, romance, and sci-fi/fantasy.  BTW, Christa is also a pen name. We both use pen names to separate our fiction writing from professional work, which for both of us includes other types of writing.

Hall Ways: Cassidy, what would you like to share?

Cassidy: Definitely avid reader. Especially mysteries (both cozy and traditional) and police procedurals. I also enjoy reading historical fiction focused on American and world history, as well as the classics. Unlike Christa, I dislike sci-fi. No longer living in New England -- or in the U.S. for that matter. I moved to Israel after spending a few years working in D.C. after college. 

Hall Ways: WOW. I have questions about that, but first -- how is it you both came to be mystery writers?

Christa: As kids we were both nerdy bookworms - devouring mysteries - Nancy Drew in particular.  I started working on the Cold Creek Mystery series 4 years ago.

Cassidy:  Then as adults we were constantly trading paperbacks.  Christa got the writing bug much earlier than I did. I wasn’t drawn to writing when I was young.  It’s been more of a recent undertaking for me.  My first mystery in the Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth series came out just two years ago.

Hall Ways: Collaboration can be tricky even when geography isn’t a barrier. Texas and Israel aren’t even in the same time zone. How do you two manage to work together?

Cassidy: In a word – Skype.  We talk all the time.  Not just about writing, of course.

Christa: We bounce ideas off of each other and exchange drafts by email. Taking turns reworking and fleshing out our stories. When possible we meet up in person. Last year, a joint vacation in Barcelona (with husbands in tow) gave us a chance to brainstorm.

Cassidy: And earlier this year, I spent a week with Christa in Texas as we worked on finishing up Mrs. Tedesco’s Missing Cookbook and outlined a third book for the Hannah and Tamar Series.  Fun and productive visit.

Hall Ways: I have to ask – are Hannah and Tamar based on the real-life sisters?

Christa:  Not really.  Definitely not in terms of the story lines.  We didn’t solve mysteries as kids.

Cassidy:  But, in an effort to give them different voices – we try to give them each a different perspective/personality.  Of course, I give Tamar her voice. After all, we are both taller than our counterparts.

Christa: She loves to point that out, too. But I’m still the older and wiser.


HALL WAYS REVIEW: When two of my favorite cozy mystery authors told me about their collaboration to create a new YA series, the Hannah and Tamar mysteries, I was super excited and ready to review! I have read Cassidy Salem’s two books in her Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth series, and two of Christa Nardi’s Cold Creek series, and I enjoy each author’s unique style and characters. (Click the covers at the bottom of this post for my reviews.) As Cassidy explained to me about the new young adult series featuring two teen sisters, I realized (and got confirmation) that the two authors are also sisters. The C-Sisters! That made reading the books even more appealing – how cool to write a series with a sibling!

I was a faithful Nancy Drew reader growing up and as an adult, I have even read some of the new iterations of that series.  I was expecting something along those lines in Hannah and Tamar, the main characters of the C-Sisters’ series. Though that influence is there (the C-Sisters are also Nancy Drew fans), the Hannah and Tamar books have their own vibe. The girls aren’t really as much sleuths as problem-solvers, and I like that each girl not only uses her own strengths to figure out dilemmas and get answers, but each also knows when to get help. The books are a quick read at around one hundred pages and so far, they are stand alone. Apart from the girls and their parents, there aren’t even any repeat characters from book one to book two. My hope is some of these same characters show up again in the next book, The Missing Dog (coming August 2017).

The C-Sisters do a great job at sliding in some subtle life-lessons, and as an adult reader, I appreciate that adults are not only present and important to the teenagers, but they are respected by the teenagers, and adult opinions are valued, even if disregarded. Hannah and Tamar and their immediate circle of friends (and romantic interests) are teenagers who model some great behaviors without being cheesy about it. Fear-not! They also have some fairly typical teenage concerns and fascinations.

The Mysterious Package is book one of the series, and readers are put into a crisp fall setting with Hannah and Tamar (high school senior and junior, respectively) riding a train to visit their grandparents over Thanksgiving break. Right away, I loved where things were going. As a Texas girl, for me a train ride in itself is a mysterious and interesting thing, and add in the allure of traveling sans parents – score! Quickly, there is some conflict, and I like how the girls’ response is a thoughtful and natural one. There is a nice balance between the serious (homework, college, career) and the fun of being a teen girl (clothes, boys, dreaming). There were a few things bothered me about this book including giving expired food to the homeless, a few helpless female overtures, and some inaccuracies about college residency requirements -- and the big mystery, when finally unraveled, was a little anti-climactic (but also very unique). Overall, I think it has good bones and enough going on that readers will stay engaged and satisfied without being bombarded by the ubiquitous underage drinking, sex, drugs, and violence found in many YA books. 3.5 Stars.

Mrs. Tedesco’s Missing Cookbook is my favorite of the two books. The mystery is more interesting, and there’s just a hint of danger running through it that keeps a nice behind the scenes hum. Again, the teens are modeling some great behaviors and adults are not regarded as idiots. Even better, adults living in senior communities are not illustrated as incapable or mentally incapacitated. The C-Sisters address something that is common in teens: a fear and/or discomfort with being around old people or senior communities. What is excellent is how they write-in a teen character who has good reason for her discomfort and show how to handle it. Hannah, who is more the main character of this story than Tamar, is observant and sensitive, and finds a way for the teen to be important and included in her own way. In addition to the mysterious story line, there is a low-key, blossoming romance (or two!). There is a lovely message in this book about second chances for young, old, and in between, and that’s what resonates with me. The resolution on this one was a little quick, with the details being summarized to the girls instead of readers seeing action unfold; however, given the nature of the information, that’s the realistic way it would be done. I have one niggling question that remains unanswered, but otherwise, I am satisfied and looking forward to the next book. 4 stars.

Both books need more thorough copy editing to correct errors in capitalization, punctuation, and usage, but that’s the beauty (some would say curse) of eBooks – they can continually be revised. As a Grammar Policewoman, I have only the utmost respect for authors who not only have great stories but who are brave enough to write them down and share them with the world. My goal in critiquing is always to help, not harm.

Thank you to the C-Sisters for sharing their books with me in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give. 

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