Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Page Christmas Balls with a Chocolate Martini

Today both of the Hammond sisters join us for Crafty Thursday and they decided to mix it with a Chocolate read on.

It’s still Christmas in July, so grab your cut out book pages to make another holiday craft. These ornaments make great gifts for book lovers, or you can keep them for yourself and make your Christmas tree a literary affair. Warning: this ornament is messy to make, but don’t worry, it’s worth it. We recommend you don’t get your nails done right before attempting this craft, though (Kim learned that the hard way). Let’s just say, the Mod Podge is very sticky.

Supplies Needed
Scissors or Paper Cutter
Book Pages
Styrofoam Balls
Tidy Pins
Mod Podge
Paint Brush

Optional Supplies
Paper Plate

Step 1: Book Strips
Cut the book pages into strips with scissors or a paper cutter. You are going to wrap a lot of these strips around your Styrofoam ball, so don’t worry if you have different thicknesses or if you’re using scissors and the strips aren’t cut perfectly. We cut off the tops and bottoms after making the strips, to reduce the amount of white space. You really want just the writing to show as you wrap.

Step 2: Twine Hanger
Tie a knot in your twine to make a circle. Take a tidy pin and push both ends into the Styrofoam ball (straddling the twine). This will be your hanger and you will cover the pin with book strips so that it doesn’t show.

Step 3: Mod Podge
You can stick your paintbrush right into the Mod Podge jar, or you can pour a puddle of it onto a paper plate like I did. Take your paint brush and paint one side of the book strip and then stick the strip to the Styrofoam ball. Don’t worry if they don’t stick really well at first. The Styrofoam is very porous and it’s hard for the strips to stick. As you add more, though, they will end up sticking to each other as they overlap. If you cut the book pages lengthwise into long strips like we did, they wrap around the ball farther and will overlap quicker.

Paint strips on until you have the whole ball covered and you’ve got a pattern you’re happy with. Take your paint brush and paint more Mod Podge on the outside to seal your strips. This will dry clear, so don’t worry about gooping it on. I still tried to brush it over the paper evenly though, just so it would dry smoothly.

Step 4: Dry
Hang your ornament somewhere where it can hang free and not touch anything. I used a pencil and a cabinet to hang mine. Give it a good 24 hours to dry so that it’s no longer tacky.

One of the key elements in making this craft was the fact that we first made a Chocolate Martini to sip on while we worked. 

Chocolate Martini
1 part Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
1 part Vodka
1 part Kahlua
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Chill your glass with ice water. Mix the 3 ingredients in a shaker and shake well with ice. Pour out the water chilling your glass and line the inside of your martini glass with Hershey’s syrup. Pour  from the shaker into your chocolate lined glass and enjoy.

Kerry Hammond
Kim Hammond
You can find our other Christmas in July posts here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Dennis Lehane

Kerry Hammond is here today with her report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. This time they are reading Dennis Lehane's Live By Night. 

Crime & Beyond met in June to discuss Live by Night by Dennis Lehane. If you’re a fan of this author you know that he writes many standalone novels  as well as a series featuring Kenzie & Gennaro. This book was kind of in-between those two. It followed the life of Joe Coughlin, whose family, and specifically his brother Danny, is featured in The Given Day. So you could call this book a sort-of a sequel to The Given Day.

Live by Night is more of a novel than a mystery, so if you fell in love with Lehane’s writing by reading Shutter Island, switch gears before you start. It’s a story about young Boston criminal, Joe Coughlin, working his way up through organized crime. It’s written with just as much skill as any of Lehane’s books, and I found myself caught up in the story, and Joe’s life, right away.

It all centers around Prohibition and the year is 1926. Fans of Mystery Playground know that the Prohibition period is a favorite here. We bloggers like to visit speakeasies and try new cocktails in the present day, but in Boston in 1926 things were quite different. The son of a Boston Police Captain doesn’t ensure that your kids run the straight and narrow and Joe’s beginning career consists mainly of petty theft. He will be the first to tell you, though, that he’s an outlaw, not a gangster. You also find out quite early that his father isn’t the upstanding citizen he makes himself out to be.

When Joe and his two friends rob the wrong man, it sets a series of events in motion that lead him to prison and a job with one of Boston’s most notorious mobsters. It’s clear that living a life of crime can pay well, but it’s also clear that you can never trust anyone. It’s a hard way to live, and you don’t always expect live long enough to grow old.

We had a great discussion of the book, which got a wide variety of reviews and comments. We all agreed that Dennis Lehane is a great writer who can tell a good story and write interesting characters. One of the most memorable things that stuck with us after we closed the book were the lessons and advice given to, and by, Joe. Some of them are listed here:

“The smallest mistake sometimes casts the longest shadow. When a house falls down, the first termite to bite into it is just as much to blame as the last.” –Tim, Joe’s first boss

“The people we service, they visit the night, But we live in it. They rent what we own.” -Tim

“The night. It’s got its own set of rules.” - Joe

“There are no rules but the ones a man makes for himself.” - Joe

Luckily none of us intend to embark on a life of crime, but you just never know when advice may come in handy. Next month we’re reading Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. This is a new to us author, so we’re looking forward to a great discussion.

You can read more entries from the Crime & Beyond book club here

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New York Speakeasy: The Campbell Apartment

Every once in awhile the gang at Mystery Playground likes to drop into a modern speakeasy. These are bars that have some element of the "speaks" of the 1920s when Prohibition was in full swing. The Campbell Apartment, near New York City's Grand Central Station, is a beautiful place with an outdoor seating area when the weather is good and beautiful quarters inside. 

The inside of the bar used to be the apartment of 1920s mogul, John W. Campbell, and it's currently styled in the decor of that time. It's a large space and doesn't have the intimacy of many of the modern speakeasy bars that we've visited in the past, but it's beautiful and the drinks are fabulous. There is a small upstairs area that is a little more private. It was way too dark to take photos. 

The Drinks:
The drinks were handcrafted fresh and fabulous. I had the Robber Baron which is made with vodka, muddled mint, fresh lime juice and Midori. My friend had the Prohibition Punch which is made with Passion Fruit Juices, Appleton Rum Estate VX, Gran Gala and Moet & Chandon Champagne. They were expensive, even for a speakeasy. 

The Food:
The Campbell Apartment serves food. We shared a small pizza and it was quite tasty. 

The Campbell Apartment is well marked with signage and easy to get to - just around the corner from Grand Central Station. It's address is 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, NY, NY. You don't need a password. Reservations are recommended, although we got in without one. Many people are wearing business attire or dressed up a bit. 

You can read about our other New York speakeasy adventures:

- Bathtub Gin
- Death & Company (Lower East Side)
- 67 Orange Street (Harlem) 
- Raines Law Room (17th between 5&6th)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Major Crimes Facebook Chat Recap with Detective Mike Berchem & James Duff

James Duff was on Facebook again tonight holding his weekly chat and Detective Mike Berchem joined him. We got lots of great insight into how Detective Berchem's history of police work informs the writing of the show. 

But before we getting started with the recap you should know that this week TNT renewed Major Crimes for a fourth season and Special Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) is back in tonight's episode. 

As usual the recap includes James Duff's answers but not the fan questions - because of the hundreds questions asked. Duff does a good job of encapsulating the questions in his answers. I've eliminated answers that relate to what's happening in real time on the show in deference to those who haven't watched it yet.

So what did we learn this week? I have to admit, I was more interested in the insight into police work than plot news...

  • Detective Berchem was sued more than 30 times during the course of his career for arresting murderers and firing his weapon. It seems like it is harder and harder to do police work. 
  • Helmet cams are now a regular part of crime fighting. Who knew? 
  • Detective Mike Berchem would be a really, really interesting dinner party guest - if he was ready to share stories like he does with the Major Crimes writing team. 
And the answer to my question:

James Duff @Deborah L asks how Det. Mike and I started working together, and how we met. Mike was brought on to the pilot of The Closer to help make the crime scene work. And he never left. He joined us in the writer's room as much as possible our first three years and then retired from the LAPD and gave us full time work.

And here's the recap...if I missed anything, let me know in the comments. Facebook was a little hinky tonight while I was doing this. 

James Duff Welcome everybody, to the biggest episode of Major Crimes ever. Co-written by our resident homicide detective, Mike Berchem, from the Robbery/Homicide Division of the LAPD.

James Duff And Mike is here tonight to chat with us as we go through the most dangerous kind of investigation police officers ever face. One radio call that gives the LAPD a chill: "Shots fired.

James Duff @Bonnie LE etc. says Sharon needs to adopt Rusty. Sharon has made the offer. Rusty has two options in front of him. Maybe he will pick what he wants to do tonight!

James Duff We do not always do gory, explicit crime scenes. Though we do occasionally tip

James Duff Denise E asks if I knew how inspiring the foster parentage aspect of our Major Crimes story would be. No, but I hoped it would be so, because I'm adopted. And my parents loved me so much, and gave me so much of their hearts.

James Duff Jan L asks how far ahead my planning was. Did I bring in Sharon because I thought The Closer was ending? The answer to that is no! I had no idea Kyra was going to want to leave before the end of Season Six. We made the transition during our last season, and prepared it that way.

James Duff Julio isn't done tonight! Mike Bercehm has "deputized" lots and lots of witnesses and suspects in his time!

James Duff Mike and I wrote this episode together.

James Duff For those who are asking.

James Duff @Todd H says Mike Berchem must be a real life hero. Well, that's how all of us here feel. He also knows how to make our stories feel authentic.

James Duff For those asking when we will meet Sharon's son and daughter, tune in two weeks for now when her boy, Ricky, shows up.
James Duff Lois L mentions that we are technology high on this episode! We are, because policing in this era takes advantage of all advances. Glad that people are noticing the photography is slightly different.

James Duff Full disclosure, Lois is a great friend of mine from my days in Dallas theatre. And we did two commercials together when we were in our twenties, one of which included us riding a new roller coaster all day long!

James Duff @Terry H asks who directed this episode. My other partner, Mike Robin, who also directed the pilot of The Closer and the first episode of Major Crimes.

James Duff @Donna MW asks if we will see more of Fritz this season (Jon Tenney the answer is yes!)

James Duff Samantha R asks if Sharon will adopt the cat tonight. No, but adoption is still in the air for someone!

James Duff There is one call the LAPD hates more than ''shots fired." And we will hear that call tonight again, too.

James Duff Kelly T asks, looking at McGinnis, if our audience is encountering a spinoff tonight. The answer is: I have no idea, really. We will see how you guys respond. But we do have an interesting job offer going out tonight. And someone's life will be changed.

James Duff I know many of you miss Brenda! I miss her, too!

James Duff Mike Berchem has been sued over thirty times for arresting murderers and firing his weapon to protect himself. That's why City Attorneys hound the police.

James Duff Commander McGinnis of S.O.B. is played by Laurie Holden and Deputy City Attorney is Lindsay Price

James Duff Great actors helping us tell a big story.

James Duff Helicopters are like the cavalry for the LAPD, reconnaissance and reporting.

James Duff @Terry H asks who directed this episode. My other partner, Mike Robin, who also directed the pilot of The Closer and the first episode of Major Crimes.

James Duff @Donna McG W asks if we will see more of Fritz this season (Jone Tenney the answer is yes!

James Duff Samantha R asks if Sharon will adopt the cat tonight. No, but adoption is still in the air for someone!

James Duff @Jackie A asks how long the show will run! We hope for years!

James Duff There is one call the LAPD hates more than ''shots fired." And we will hear that call tonight again, too.

James Duff Princess the runaway cat is more than just a cat.

James Duff Helicopters are like the cavalry for the LAPD, reconnaissance and reporting.

James Duff Ilona asks if we will see more character development for Sharon. Yes. And more character development from all our characters, especially over the next few episodes

James Duff
The helmet cams are now part of crime fighting

James Duff Serious crimes take serious measures.

James Duff Brock Harris and Hampton Fluker play our two Swat Guys on crime suppression detail. We are showing you how the LAPD responds in force to the live "shots fired" calls

James Duff Mike compares his job here to the LAPD as two completely different worlds. Criminals shoot at you face first. In Hollywood....

James Duff Jen S, thanks us on behalf of her and her teen children for the Rusty story. We can only express our gratitude for your viewership, and tell you how much it means to us, too.

James Duff Denise E asks if I knew how inspiring the foster parentage aspect of our Major Crimes story would be. No, but I hoped it would be so, because I'm adopted. And my parents loved me so much, and gave me so much of their hearts.

Dateline London: A Literary Investigation

Today Diana Chambers joins us from London where she's been on the trail of the new literary benches. Of course, now that I know they'll be for sale to benefit charity, I want one...

Nothing like a mission to focus your jet-lagged brain. When Mystery Playground asked me to investigate the book benches of London I had not a clue what they were. To ferret out the mystery, we had to pound the hot (yes!) city streets and riverside paths. It was a grueling mission, but someone had to do it.

We also learned that Londoners are just the kindest, most patient and welcoming people. Some knew of our literary treasure hunt. Others didn't. So we were able to share the word about the National Literacy Trust's summer program to promote literacy and art. This October the benches will be auctioned to raise funds for their work. I especially loved the whimsy and accessibility of these creations, loved seeing people read on them, children play on them.

There are four routes: the City, Greenwich, Bloomsbury, and Thames Trails. We took the latter two and discovered another side of London, from brick ruins to hidden green squares, a secondhand book market under Waterloo Bridge, and the amazing British library. 

Some of the benches are secrets. One I found in the basement of Stanford's Travel Books -- appropriately, Around the World in 80 Days (The front of the bench is above, the back below). But only because I could not bypass a bookshop established in 1863.   

Our investigation led us along the Thames Riverside Trail. Here we found Paddington Bear.

Then we got lost, wandering cobbled lanes where ancient foundations are incorporated in old brick walls, now reimagined as art galleries and caf├ęs. Turning a corner we came upon Mr. Will Shakespeare himself in a nice view spot of the Thames and London Bridge with the Old Globe behind him.

See the old Globe theater in the back? It's really a new Old Globe but it's still cool. 

As I am blogging for Mystery Playground, I couldn't resist this shot of Blackfriars Bridge where a former Vatican banker was found hanging in a still unsolved crime. Mafia? Embezzlement? 

Plot-lines spinning through my mind, we continued west across the river to the Bloomsbury Trail, named for the famed literary neighborhood around London University. We began at the wondrous British Library where we spotted perhaps the first book bench.

Then we wandered about in search of one of the wonderful park squares dotting London, where Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway has pride of place near the old entrance gate.

Our investigation next led to another square -- and Sherlock Holmes.

Across the bay was Hercule Poirot and The Greenshore Folly by Agatha Christie. When I posted a photo of the bench on Twitter I got a great response and via Twitter met the Artist Mandii Pope, a talented London-based New Zealander.

Mandii also did the Narnia bench and shared with me those images as well of ones of her at work in her studio.

Mandi Pope also painted the fabulous Narnia Bench
For all we may rant about social media, she and I both marveled about its ability to connect people. She has been so busy that mine were the first images of her work she'd seen in public.

I could go on about the delights of London, the joy of seeing Billy Elliot, so moving with music by Elton John, the people's hospitality and good humor (humour), the energy.

The city is in the midst of yet another rebirth and I am so grateful to Deb Lacy for sending me on this mission.

Diana Chambers was born with a book in one hand and a passport in the other. She writes romantic intrigues that have led her from Paris to far corners of Asia. Her first Nick Daley spy thriller, Stinger, opens near the Khyber Pass as the CIA officer becomes entangled in a triangle with a San Francisco journalist and an elusive Afghan leader, her former lover. The blowback of these events returns Nick to D.C. where in The Company She Keeps, he recruits a a new agent, Evelyn "E" Walker, and sends her into a world of danger from the grand boulevards of Europe to the Grand Bazaar of Tehran.

Diana is blogging on "Europe by Train" at her website via Postcards.

Stinger is now available as an audiobook, narrated by Charles Kahlenberg, released by Audible. Also at iTunes and Amazon.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dark Origins of Nursery Rhymes

Over on Mental Floss they're going all mental on the dark origins of nursery rhymes and it's not for the feint of heart. Ring Around the Rosies could be referencing Bubonic Plague and at least two other describe the terrors of Bloody Mary Tudor. 

It's a perfect Saturday read for summer...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Literary T-Shirts

These literary t-shirts from Out of Print are super fun and cut for women. These are just a few of the designs.