"A Sip Before Dying" A Wine & Dine Mystery By Gemma Halliday: Review/Giveaway/Interview

by Kathleen Costa

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of this book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

Raise Your Glasses to Forty!
Reaching forty can be trying for some women, but for Gemma Halliday it is a milestone to celebrate! With the May release of A Sip Before Dying, the first book in her new Wine & Dine Mystery series, she has published forty books!

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This fortieth book takes readers to the beautiful Sonoma wine country introducing Emmeline Oak and immersing readers in the ups and downs, ins and outs, and the reds and whites of her family's Oak Valley Vineyard. Running a winery may be in her blood, but her path led to culinary school and a career as a personal chef in L.A. However, at the age of twenty-nine, circumstances put into her hands the vineyard with its ten-acres of vines, oak-lined driveway, Spanish-style buildings, and "the cave," a wine cellar housing a variety of Cabernets, Chardonnay, and all things wine. Here's where Gemma begins her new series...

A Sip Before Dying (May)
Chocolate Covered Death (July)
Victim in the Vineyard (September)
Marriage, Merlot & Murder (January, 2020)

A Sip Before Dying earns 5/5 Glasses of Petite Sirah...Clever & Entertaining!
Image Source Gemma Halliday Publishing

Most business owners worry about the ratio between assets and debts, but for Emmy this angst could mean ruin. With her grand plan to revitalize the vineyard, she hopes to stave off any circling big-corp vultures. Emmy doesn't want to be the one to lose the vineyard, so she's devised a plan to turn things around and bring the vineyard into the black. Her first event is a wonderful Spanish-themed evening of wine-tasting, flamenco guitarist, and delicious paella. With help from her BFF Ava Barnett and family-ordained employees, her Silicon Valley billionaires, socialites, influential locals, bloggers, and reporter guests just might see how Oak Valley Vineyard is the perfect place for their next event. Although the evening went very well, compliments flowed, and hopes to become a destination are bright, all comes to a screeching halt when one guest is found in the wine cellar...dead! Noooo, this cannot be happening! Ok, the effect on the vineyard shouldn't really be foremost in Emmy's thoughts, someone is dead, but after seeing the less-than-encouraging headlines and at her BFF's insistence, she is spurred on to find out what happened and restore the vineyard's image.

Cheers to a great beginning! Gemma Halliday's signature well-written story filled with wonderful characters is just what I expected. Unlike some firsts where authors spend several chapters setting up the environment, introducing characters, and providing some conflicts to mull over, Gemma weaves background and connections throughout the story. Although she hints to the direction of the story, I was glad she quickly arrived to the point of every cozy mystery...the murder. The investigation uncovers multiple suspects with some traditional motives like money and family, but still it ends with a very clever solution. I was engaged with the first-person narrative from Emmy's perspective sharing her inner thoughts and fears along with vivid descriptions, dialogue illustrating emotion and personality, and enough oops for giggles and peril for nail-biting. All in all, this is the beginning of a great cozy series no one should miss!

And, of course, a book about wining and dining is not complete without some wining and dining. Gemma provides six marvelous recipes with helpful shortcuts for timid chefs, and suggestions for the perfect wine pairing! First, enjoy Emmy's Spanish Style Paella that was a big hit at her evening event. Then be prepared for the delicious Baked Brie Fettuccini, Espresso Waffles with Mocha Sauce paired with Raspberry Bellinis, Mexican Lasagna, and Truffle Risotto Bites. Ok, now my experience is complete!

Be a Big Gemma Halliday Fan!
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Gemma Halliday pens other popular and entertaining series cozy fans will enjoy. My now favorite series is this Wine & Dine Mysteries, but I greatly enjoy her other series that combine full-length books and some entertaining short stories. Check out her exciting cozy series: High Heels Mystery with #13 Suspect in High Heels due in October, Hollywood Headlines with #6 Hollywood Revenge out this year, Jamie Bond, Marty Hudson, and Tahoe Tessie Mysteries. Coming this year is her thriller Dead to Rights from her Anna Smith & Nick Dade series.

Like, Visit, Follow!
Facebook–Gemma Halliday
 Website–Gemma Halliday
Twitter @gemmahallidayca

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.

Our Guest…Gemma Halliday:

KRL: It is great to have with us Gemma Halliday, author of the brand new entertaining Wine & Dine Mystery series, celebrating the new release of the first book, A Sip Before Dying. Can you give us a mini biography for Gemma Halliday? Who is she and what influenced her to become a writer?

Thanks so much for having me, Kathleen! I started writing with publication in mind when my oldest child was very young as a way to work from home. My first book, "Spying In High Heels," was published by Dorchester Publishing in 2006. Since then I've published thirty-nine different novels and short stories, both with large publishing houses and independently. I'm very excited that "A Sip Before Dying" will be my 40th published work! Something I never even dreamed I'd achieved when I first started writing—and certainly not when rejection letters were pouring in!
Gemma Halliday

KRL: You are one of my favorite cozy authors. Is there a reason you chose to write in the cozy mystery genre? What is it about cozies that interested you?

I'm so thrilled and humbled! Am I blushing? I like writing in the cozy genre because I'm not a fan of a lot of graphic violence or gore in my mysteries. I like a good clean murder. :-)

KRL: Let’s start with your newest Wine & Dine Mystery series. Can you give us some insights into how the series started? I personally love Sonoma wine country with many marvelous memories of the cuisine and wineries. Is there a story behind setting the story there?

I love wine country as well! As a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, it's in a part of the state that is near and dear to my heart. I will also admit to enjoying an occasional glass of wine myself. You know, like occasionally every day. But the biggest reason I set the Wine & Dine mysteries there was that I knew I wanted to write a culinary series, and I always prefer setting my stories in parts of the country that I'm familiar with. So this seemed like a very natural choice.

KRL: A particular fun part of my favorite cozies are the recipes, and you’ve included several delicious entries I am “dying” to try. You’ve also added wine pairings or drink suggestions. What research or experts did you use for this? Do you have a favorite go-to wine to pair with…your books?

Gemma: Great question! I'm of the mind that an oaky Chardonnay pairs with just about anything well. However my books are also great with a cup of tea!

KRL: The characters you’ve created in all of your series seem so universal. Their personalities, manner, and relationships make them seem like neighbors, family, and friends. Do you have any personal connection to any of them? Can we find you in Emmy or any one of your main characters? Did you write your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?

There is always a little bit of me in my main characters. Even though they vary from a series to series, there are always parts of their personalities that resonate with me. In Emmy, her connection to her family is probably what stands out to me as most important to her—which is also true in my own life! I have a wonderful network of family in my area, as well as four children of my own, so family is a huge theme in my life as well as Emmy's.

KRL: This book, A Sip Before Dying, is the first book in the series, and I'm hooked on the delightful Emmy Oak, clever mystery with some perilous predicaments, humor, and interesting relationships. I am not sure I have a question. I'm just thrilled that you committed to three more books: Chocolate Covered Death (July), Victim in the Vineyard (September), and Marriage, Merlot & Murder (January, 2020). I am so curious about your creative process. How can you plan for so many projects? Have you already outlined this books?

I'm so glad you're enjoying the series so far! I'm very excited to be able to get more of the books out to the public quickly. It's been a very aggressive writing schedule, but I am enjoying the characters so much. As to plotting, when I first started writing, I wrote by the seat of my pants—never sure where a plot would go until I wrote it. But now that I have a lot of projects all going on at once, I definitely plot very meticulously before any writing starts.

KRL: My introduction to cozies came when I read Spying in High Heels (2013) from your nine-book and three shorts High Heels Mysteries with the delightful Maddie Springer. But, I'm also a fan of your Hollywood Headlines Mystery series and your three series pairing with other cozy authors. But I've just been introduced to Play Dead (2017) from your Anna Smith & Nick Dade suspense thriller. I see book two Dead to Rights is coming out this year. Can you give us some background into this series? What made you stray from your traditional cozy work?

Gemma: I wrote Play Dead quite a few years ago, and it was first published under the title Play Nice by St. Martin's Press. At that time my original publisher was closing their doors and not publishing any future books. So I found myself without a publishing home, so to speak, and it felt like a great opportunity to try writing something new. At the same time I actually was writing a young adult series for another publisher as well, so I really branched out into different directions from my original cozy mysteries. I enjoyed both experiences, so while my home will always been cozy mysteries, I do like a visiting these other sister genres and plan to publish more suspense books in Anna Smith & Nick Dade series. And I will be looking to publish more young adult books next year as well.

KRL: Writing can be very personal and unique to each author. What is a day of writing like for you? Do you have a special technique for your writing? How do you switch from a solo cozy writer to a cozy partner to a writer of suspense thrillers?

Gemma: in addition to writing my own works I also own a small independent publishing company, Gemma Halliday Publishing, so my day is really split between wearing my publisher hat and my author hat. But most days I do aim to get at least a couple of scenes written on a current project. I try to stick with one series at a time—writing the current book and plotting futures—to keep the feel and voice consistent in my writing. For example, at the moment I am working on the third Wine & Dine mystery, promoting the release of the first one, and concurrently plotting the sixth one.

KRL: Getting published can be a daunting, but you have a bit of an inside track (tee hee hee). How many professional hats do you wear? What made you decide to go into publishing? Do you have any anecdotes for that experience?

Gemma: I didn't always have an inside track! When I first started my career, I submitted and rejected for years before finally finding a voice and publishing home that fit for me. I've had my books published by several different houses, both large and small, and when the option to self-publish to large audiences became available, that was something that really appealed to me. I'm a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my works, so I love the ability to "do it all." When I started finding some success self-publishing, I had lots of author friends who came to me for advice, and while many of them were fabulous authors, they didn't all want to take on all of the technical aspects of publishing. That's where Gemma Halliday Publishing was born—out of the idea of providing authors with the benefits of more creative control and higher royalties than were available at the time from traditional publishers without them having to deal with all of the technical and business aspects of self-publishing.

KRL: Your bio mentions a family with four children and a background in various careers from an actress to preschool teacher to tattoo artist to 900-number psychic to name a few…Wow, what an interesting life led so far. Any interesting stories? What do you see in my future? Tee hee hee!

Gemma: Lol! I see reading lots of wonderful books in your future. ;-) Yes, I have had many interesting jobs in the past, and most of them did not last very long. I always think it's a perfect background for a writer. Either that or I just got bored a lot when I was younger.

Probably my favorite past job was being a background actor on film and television sets. I'm sure a lot of those are computer-generated these days, but when I was in my early 20s, Hollywood had to actually use live people to fill all those seats in stadium scenes or shopping malls or anywhere else that you saw people besides the main actors. I got to meet lots of interesting people from celebrities to other part-time background actors with interesting lives, and had so much fun playing dress-up for a living.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you? Any guilty pleasures?

Gemma: Reality TV is definitely my guilty pleasure. My absolute favorite show is anything with the Honey Boo-Boo family. I adore Mama June. I'm also a huge Survivor fan. I'm too much of a fan of food to actually go on the show myself, but it's my fondest hope that my partner, Jackson Stein, can get himself on the show and stay long enough for me to come visit on the family day episode.

KRL: Ok, here’s something fun, Gemma…Rapid Fire! Ready! Set! Go!
Coffee or Tea? Coffee all the way. And it has to be Starbucks. Even when I can't make it to the store, it's exclusively Starbucks pods that go in my machine.
Dog or Cat? Cat! He's an orange tabby named Cheeto who is absolutely huge. He's a fan of food too.
Carnivore or Herbivore? I have to go herbivore on this one. I was a vegetarian for twenty years, and while I do enjoy meat now, most of my favorite foods are plant-based.
Pie or Cake? Pie made from scratch by my mom
Picnic or 5-star Restaurant? Five star. I can't wear heels to a picnic.
Print/eBook or Audio version? Printed words are my jam, so I gotta go that way.
Theater or Wait for the DVD? DVD. With four kids I rarely get out of the house for movie.
Favorite Actor? Does Mickey Mouse count?
Favorite Actress? Lucille Ball. I would be honored to have a smidgen of her comedic talent.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty martini. The more olives the better!
Beachfront Property or Cabin in the Woods? Day at the beach, please!
Active or Cuddling in a Comfy Chair? My perfect day is one that starts out active and ends cuddling in a comfy chair.

Finish these sentences:

If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be...Agatha Christie. And I would love to meet with her in somewhere public where our discussions of the perfect murder would be overheard by lots of people who think we're planning something very devious. bwahahaha!
If I had just one wish, it would be...so tempting to go all Steve Martin here and wish for world peace after a big fancy car, but...I'd just wish to be able to continue putting out books that readers enjoy and living my dream job.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, it would be...my six-year-old son. He is autistic and nonverbal, and I wonder on a daily basis what it is he experiences and sees when he looks at our world.

KRL: This has been great connecting with you. We’ve covered so many topics and had some fun, too. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Gemma: Thank you so much for having me, Kathleen! I hope readers enjoy the start to my new series, and if you do, I would absolutely love it if you drop me a line or post a review. I read and appreciate all of them!

Thank you, Gemma, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.

To enter to win an ebook copy of A Sip Before Dying, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "sip,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 25, 2019. If entering via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors!

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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Wine tasting is definitely a hobby of mine!


  2. Gemma Halliday has a variety of books that I've found enjoyable. I would love to ready her latest and the inclusion of Gemma's latest book on your blog has perked my interest even more. robeader53(at)yahoo(dot)com

  3. Sounds like another great new series. Would enjoy reading "A Sip Before Dying".

  4. Sounds Great! 1cow0993(at)gmail(dot)com


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