Guest Post with Giveaway ~ Last Licks by Claire Donally


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.  

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lastSeries: A Sunny & Shadow Mystery (Book 3)

Publisher: Berkley (May 6, 2014)

Genre: Cozy Mystery

ISBN-10: 0425252558

ISBN-13: 978-0425252550
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository


Sniffing out a murderer…

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.

post-divider leftThanks to the publisher, I have one (1) copy of Last Licks to give away.

Giveaway open to residents of the US only.
Giveaway ends on June 1st.



Winner will have 48 hours, from the time of notification to confirm their win or another winner will be chosen.

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Claire Donally is a pseudonym for the author of many other critically acclaimed cozy mysteries.


Sunny & Shadow Mysteries

post-divider leftTour Schedule

05/05/14            Thoughts In Progress-Guest Post, Giveaway
05/08/14            Mochas, Mysteries, and Meows- Guest Post, Giveaway
05/09/14            Debbie’s Book Bag- Review, Guest Post, Giveaway
05/10/14            MyShelf-Review
05/13/14            Open Book Society- Review
05/18/14            Lori’s Reading Corner-Guest Post, Giveaway


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  1. Know there are a lot of dog people out there, but I'm definitely a cat person !!  My cat–now departed–used to guard our vegetable garden from predators.  Even huge deer didn't deter her from keeping the veggies bite free.  She also would sit on my sore knee for hours.  Better than a heating pad ever could be.  Know she could solve mysteries too!!!  

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