Monday, July 15, 2019



Out of Options is a prequel novella to the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, and introduces Lois Stone and her companions, Raggs and Ribbons, a pair of perceptive calico cats.

A dry district, a shocking secret, a missing person. When Lois Stone’s friend, Beth Darrow, arranges to meet her to reveal an astonishing discovery, Lois’s curiosity is piqued. Then Beth doesn’t keep their lunch date and Lois becomes worried. What has happened to her friend?

Middle-aged widow Lois is settling into life on her own in her neighbourhood and in the library where she works, and she is just about coping with her fear of strangers after her husband was mugged and died in the park at the end of their street. But her quiet existence is rocked when her friend and fellow local historical society researcher, Beth, arranges to meet her to reveal an exciting and shocking discovery she has made about the history of prohibition in West Toronto Junction, the last dry area in Toronto, and then goes missing before she can share her secret with Lois. There isn’t any proof that Beth is missing so the police won’t actively search for her. Only Lois and Beth’s niece Amy are convinced that Beth’s disappearance is very out of character, and they are worried about her. Where has Beth gone? Is she in danger? And, if she is, who might want to harm her and why? Lois knows she must find the answers to these questions fast if she wants to help and protect her friend.

And so begins a weekend of skulking in the park, apple and cinnamon pancakes, familiar faces staring out of old newspapers, calico cats, shadows on the windowpane, and more than one person who might want Beth to disappear from the quiet, leafy streets of the historic and staunchly dry West Toronto Junction neighbourhood.

Book Details:

Title: Out of Options 

Author: Dianne Ascroft

Genre: cozy mystery

Series: A Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, prequel novella

Published: Independently Published (April 28, 2019)

Print length: 126 pages

On tour with: Great Escapes Book Tours


What’s Prohibition Got To Do With Lois Stone?

Middle-aged librarian Lois Stone works in a library in the last ‘dry’ area in Toronto. For a neighbourhood in a large city, West Toronto Junction is an unusual place: restaurants don’t sell wine or beer with meals, you won’t find a single bar on any street and you won’t find a store that sells beer, wine or stronger spirits. The 1920s were the prohibition era in North America but in 1983 in West Toronto Junction, a municipality in the west end of Toronto, prohibition is still in full swing.

When you hear ‘Prohibition’ what do you think of? Maybe flappers wearing straight cut, shingled gowns and feathers in their hair, dancing and partying until the early hours of the morning? Or speakeasies – illegal bars hidden in cellars or behind well barricaded doors - where merrymakers carouse and the liquor flows? Or rum runners smuggling alcohol illegally across the border from Canada to the United States in the false bottom of a car trunk or ferrying it across one of the Great Lakes in a small boat or hauling it across a frozen lake on a sled?

These were all scenes from the Roaring Twenties, the Prohibition era in the United States. From 1920 to 1933 the nation prohibited the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. Campaigners who fought to ban the sale of alcohol were trying to combat evils in society, particularly poverty and violence fuelled by alcohol.

But imposing prohibition spawned a huge industry that produced illegal alcohol and also smuggled alcohol into the country. It also enabled criminal gangs, who quickly gained control of the illegal alcohol industry, to flourish. The government’s efforts to curb the problems associated with alcohol had created more problems.

Around the time when the United States enacted its prohibition legislation, its northern neighbour, Canada, did the same. In 1918 the Canadian federal government passed a national ban on the production, importation and transport between provinces of alcohol. This ban was short lived. Within less than two years the federal law was scrapped. But this didn’t mean the end of prohibition throughout the country. Although the federal government had repealed the national law, most provinces still upheld their own prohibition legislation.

Out of Options is set in Ontario, a province that repealed prohibition in 1927. So why is West Toronto Junction still dry in 1983? That’s because Canadian law allows each municipality in the country the right to ban the sale of alcohol if the majority of the residents of the area vote to do so. West Toronto Junction voted to go dry in 1904. And in 1983 when Lois Stone, the main character in the novella is working there, the area is still dry.

Let’s imagine what life is like in a dry area near the end of the twentieth century. West Toronto Junction never had the swinging underground nightlife that characterised the Roaring Twenties in the United States and certainly doesn’t in 1983. So there is no gazing into your loved one’s eyes over the rim of a glass of wine during an intimate restaurant dinner, men aren’t standing in front of the television screen in their neighbourhood bar cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Toronto Blue Jays or the Toronto Argonauts, and you don’t stop at the shop on your way home from work to pick up a few beers for your backyard barbecue. Meanwhile a few bus or subway stops away from this neighbourhood licenced restaurants and bars are an accepted part of community life and there are easily accessible stores where you can buy alcohol. West Toronto Junction is a tiny time warp in the midst of a modern metropolis.

The ban on the sale of alcohol doesn’t really concern Lois Stone though. She’s busy at her job in the local library each day and goes home each night to her bungalow and her two calico cats in a municipality that isn’t dry. But there’s lots of other people in the neighbourhood where she works who have very strong views on the subject. Restaurant owners want to be able to sell alcohol on their premises to increase business. And other business owners believe that trade will improve for everyone if the ban is lifted. They are sure that customers will also visit local shops and cinemas when they come to the local restaurants and bars. On the opposing side, the temperance movement, which continually fights to uphold the ban, fears that without prohibition the community might sink back into the type of society that existed before the ban on alcohol was enacted in 1904: streets rife with violent crime, poverty, domestic abuse, general drunkenness and disorder.

While Lois is aware of the struggle between the two opposing camps in the area and their fierce antagonism toward each other, the issue doesn’t really impact on her until one weekend everything changes. The issue becomes a matter of life and death, and Lois fears she might never get home to her calico cats again.


Dianne Ascroft is a Torontonian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals.

She is currently writing the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Out of Options is a prequel to the series.

Her previous fiction works include The Yankee Years series of novels and short reads, set in Northern Ireland during the Second World War; An Unbidden Visitor (a tale inspired by Fermanagh’s famous Coonian ghost); Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves: A Collection of Short Stories (contemporary tales), and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, which explores Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross humanitarian endeavour.

Dianne writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her articles and short stories have been printed in Canadian and Irish magazines and newspapers. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music.

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