Saturday, February 6, 2016

Scooby Doo at Hallmark

Scooby Doo fans will find fun things at Hallmark right now.

First is the super fun Valentine's Day card value pack (seen above.)

And then there are the "itty bittys," mini character stuffed animals.

The Shaggy version is hysterical:

Here's the whole gang together:

For more about Valentine's Day, check out our homemade bookish Valentine's or the Valentine's Day Snail Mail revival

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Squandered & Champagne

Author David Putnam, and his wife, Mary, are here on Drinks with Reads to explain why you should drink champagne with David's latest book, The Squandered. 

Keeping it simple for the latest Bruno Johnson thriller, The Squandered, which goes well with some bubbly... sparkling wine... champagne... chilled. 

If you're not a purist, and like a little sweet w/your alcohol (or books), add a squirt of your favorite water or coffee flavoring. For water flavors, I like citrus or tropical flavors -- mimosa with fewer calories! For coffee flavors, I like vanilla, almond, or caramel.

Here's why, without spoiling anything: you'll notice at the end of the first paragraph in the acknowledgments: big thanks to Dave's sister Sheri for: "...ideas for the progression of Bruno and Marie's love story." 

Mary especially likes the love story part -- which involves champagne -- and that it was Sheri's idea, since the book is a lot about family bonds. 

Speaking of bonds… note that the handcuffs pictured here in the foreground are NOT the same as those pictured on the cover. These antique cuffs date from the late 1800 and were a gift to Dave from his dear friend and brother-from-another-mother, Bill. 

Speaking of the cover… you might notice a different look-and-feel this time. The first two Bruno Johnson thrillers involved cover photos shot at our house (that's why we had the gun and the pink pig from The Replacements, and how Mary's graffiti-handwriting ended up on the cover of The Disposables -- now available in softcover & audio, BTW). 

It took a couple of tries to get The Squandered right. In fact, Dave's first draft of that third book was all but rejected by his publisher -- they wanted major changes that he felt would unravel his whole plot, so he sat down and wrote a second version in just three months. They told him how much they "loved the re-write" (all he kept from the first attempt: the title, and the characters, of course). So when they accepted the new Squandered, we had extra, extra champagne!

Meanwhile, for the cover, our original attempt at a photo involved a house fire (from one of the key scenes in The Squandered, based on true events that Dave experienced as a young cop). 

The firefighter's jacket we borrowed came from a female firefighter with narrow shoulders, so Mary ended up as the "model" in that photo shoot. Yes, that's love, she'd walk into a burning building or let us light her on fire for the sake of a cover.

Although these didn't make the cut for the book cover, Dave sent them to some friends with the caption: "check out my hot wife!"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Crafty Thursday: DIY Gris Gris bags

Author Ellen Byron joins us again for Crafty Thursday to show us how to make grid gris bags just for fun. Ellen wrote Plantation Shudders, a mystery set in Louisiana, and seeing how Mardi Gras is this Tuesday it's a fitting time to make them. Gris gris bags are a sort of good luck talisman according to voodoo legend, but I'll let Ellen tell you more. 

During my first visit to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, I wandered into the Heritage section and happened upon Voodoo Priestess Ava Kaye Jones, who was making and selling gris gris bags. Since this particular priestess took credit cards, I bought myself one blessed for romance, my priority at the time.

from The Island of Salvation Botanica and Magical Pharmacy, New Orleans    

A gris gris bag is defined as "an amulet consisting of a bag containing one or more magical items. It is a 'prayer in a bag', or a spell that can be carried with or on the host's body." 

from The Island of Salvation Botanica and Magical Pharmacy, New Orleans    

Ever since purchasing that initial bag at JazzFest, I can’t return to Louisiana without buying myself a new one. In recent years, with college expenses looming for our high school sophomore, I’ve switched my focus from romance to prosperity. Here’s a bag I purchased on a recent NOLA visit.

But if you’re interested in possessing your own gris gris bag, you don’t have to book a ticket to the Big Easy. They’re actually quite simple to make. I’m going to demonstrate by making another one for prosperity. (You can’t have too many of those!)

Here are some of the materials you'll need:


1. Cut about an 8” square of fabric. (It doesn’t have to be exact.) Usually prosperity bags are made with green fabric, but since I already have one in green, I’m going for the gold this time.

2. Place a small collection of prosperity-associated talismans, semi-precious stones, herbs, and other items in the center of the fabric square. I used a gold dollar, sprinkles of nutmeg and basil, some jade and green-glass beads, black-eyed peas, and lentils. All of these are associated with good fortune in various cultures. 

3. As you’re making the bag, follow the advice offered by Jude Bradley & Chere Dastugue Coen, the authors of a great resource book, Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets: “Be clear on what prosperity means to you as you create your bag. Imagine, in your world, how your success will manifest and be recognized, and embrace the feelings that will come with it."

4. Tie up the bag – since my fabric is gold, I’m using green as the tie color – and trim any excess fabric.

5. Either pin the bag to a discreet location inside your clothing, or keep it somewhere close to you. I keep mine in my purse.

Magic’s in the Bag details other steps to take into consideration when making a gris gris bag, like chants, candle colors, and days of the week that align best with a particular focus. But I like to keep things simple. Occasionally I’ll hold my bag, close my eyes, and visualize a positive result. Sometimes I’ll even say a silent mantra, sort of like when you wish on a star. 

Do these bags work? Who knows? But if you believe that what we think has the power to affect change, then maybe they do. And sometimes, no matter how old we are, it’s just fun to believe in magic.

Here's Ellen's bio:

Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and often writes about Louisiana, where she attended Tulane University. The Library Journal chose her first novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, as Debut Mystery of the Month. Book two in the series, Body on the Bayou, will be available in September. TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; published plays include the award-winning Graceland. Ellen is the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. Visit Ellen and sign up for Cajun Country Newsletter at

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Agatha Award Nominees

The Agatha Award nominations are out from Malice Domestic. Malice, as it afectionately known, is a conference for traditional and cozy mysteries held every year in Bethesda, MD. This year it will be held April 29th - May 1st. Congratulations to all who were nominated. It's especially great to see Catriona McPherson, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Susanna Calkins, Laurie R,. King, Art Taylor, Ellen Byron, Terrie Farley Moran and Amanda Flower on this list. Good luck everyone. 

Best Contemporary Novel

Annette Dashofy, Burned Bridges    (Henery Press)
Margaret Maron,    Long Upon the Land (Grand Central Publishing)
Catriona McPherson, The Child Garden (Midnight Ink)
Louise Penny, Nature of the Beast (Minotaur Books)
Hank Phillipi Ryan, What You See (Forge Books)

Best Historical Novel

Rhys Bowen, Malice at the Palace (Berkley)
Susanna Calkins, The Masque of a Murderer (Minotaur Books)
Laurie R. King,    Dreaming Spies (Bantam)
Susan Elia Macneal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante (Banntam)
Victoria Thompson, Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (Berkley)

Best First Novel

Tessa Arlen, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman (Minotaur Books)
Cindy Brown, Macdeath (Henery Press)
Ellen Byron, Plantation Shudders (Crooked Lane Books)
Julianne Holmes, Just Killing Time (Berkley)
Art Taylor, On the Road with Del and Louise (Henery Press)

Best Non-Fiction

Zack Dundas, The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes    (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story    (HarperCollins)
Kathryn Harkup,    A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie    (Bloomsbury USA)
Jane Ann Turzillo, Unsolved Murders and Disappearances in Northeast Ohio (Arcadia Publishing)
Kate White (Editor), Harlan Coben (Contributor) and Gillian Flynn (Contributor), The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For (Quirk Books)

Best Short Story

Barb Goffman, “A Year Without Santa Claus?” (AHMM)
Edith Maxwell, “A Questionable Death” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
Terri Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” (EQMM)
Harriette Sackler, “Suffer the Poor” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
B.K. Stevens, “A Joy Forever” (AHMM)

Best Children’s/Young Adult

Blue Balliett, Pieces and Players (Scholastic Press)
Joelle Charbonneau, Need (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Amanda Flower, Andi Unstoppable    (Zonderkidz)
Spencer Quinn, Woof (Scholastic Press)

B.K. Stevens, Fighting Chance: A Martial Arts Mystery (Poisoned Pen Press)

Book Review: Death in A Major

Kerry Hammond is here today to review the second book in the Music Lover’s Mystery series by Sarah Fox.

Death in A Major by Sarah Fox was released in Kindle Edition on January 5, 2016, and comes out in Paperback on February 23. It is published by Witness Impulse, a division of Harper Collins, and is the second in the Music Lover’s Mystery series. I read the first in the series, Dead Ringer, and reviewed it here on Mystery Playground. I really enjoyed the book and when I found out there was a second in the series, I asked for a chance to read and review it.

Midori Bishop is a violinist with the Point Grey Philharmonic Orchestra and when she’s not playing or teaching, she’s getting involved in solving murders. In her defense, she has nothing to do with the mysterious deaths; she just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The latest suspicious death occurs at a post-concert event. Archibald Major is a wealthy local with a nasty temper who treats his family horribly. When he drops dead at the reception, everyone thinks it’s a heart attack. When it officially becomes murder, Midori is determined to stay out of it. Those plans change when Jordan, one of her students, who happens to be the dead man’s grandson, asks for her help.

What follows is a well-written whodunit with characters to whom the reader can relate. I enjoyed the unraveling of the clues and the family secrets at the heart of the mystery. Midori is a great protagonist, equal parts curious and clever. She even wins over Detective Salnikova, who is constantly trying to get her to keep her nose out of the investigative work. There is a little bit of romance as Midori tries to figure out where her heart lies. I won’t give any more information on that angle, though. No spoilers here.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent.

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