Friday, May 17, 2019

A Deadly Feast and the Perfect Drink

A Deadly Feast is Lucy Burdette's new book and she's brought us a great pairing today for Drinks with Reads. Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) has published 17 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West food critic series, A Deadly Feast (Crooked Lane Books, May 2019.) Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She blogs at and shares her love for food with the culinary writers at She lives in Madison CT and Key West FL. Read more at You can also find Lucy on Facebook and Instagram.

As you might have heard, A DEADLY FEAST, the ninth Key West mystery, was published by Crooked Lane Books on May 7. We need to celebrate with a special drink! 
However, there is so much going on in this story— murder on a food tour, Thanksgiving, family drama, and hopefully a wedding, that my characters don't have much time to relax with a drink. I reread the scene in which Hayley Snow‘s parents are serving Thanksgiving dinner to a motley collection of guests including Hayley's father and his new wife, Lorenzo the Tarot card reader, Hayley‘s boss, her roommate Miss Gloria, and hopefully--soon--her fiancé. They serve champagne, of course, and wine with dinner, and there is a mention of a cranberry cocktail,  but no helpful details provided…
So to celebrate this book, I chose the drink that I’ve been dying to make. It’s called a Campari spritz. It's light and perfect for an evening at the beach or by the fire!. I think you’ll like it. My tasters found it delicious!

Campari Spritz
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 3 ounces Prosecco
  • Club soda or sparkling water
  • Sliced  Orange
  • Maraschino cherries

Fill up a pretty glass with ice. Add the Campari followed by the Prosecco, and finally add club soda or sparkling water to taste. Garnish with sliced oranges and maraschino cherries. Retire to the beach or the pool to sip and read…


Before Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow's family descends on the island for Thanksgiving and her wedding to heartthrob Detective Nathan Bransford, she has one last assignment--a review of a seafood tasting tour conducted by her friend Analise Smith. But when one of the tourists collapses on the last stop, Analise begs her to investigate before the police destroy her business and shut down the local Key West eateries on her tour. Pressure mounts when Analise calls a second time to request that Hayley meet with Chef Martha Hubbard, who prepared key lime pies for the tasting tour and is terrified that someone poisoned her pies to ruin her reputation. Chefs all around town are preparing their versions of a Thanksgiving feast, but with a murderer on the loose, will Hayley and her friends have anything left to be thankful for?

Praise for Lucy Burdette's Key West mysteries:

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likeable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”
—Suspense Magazine

Fascinating details about the Truman Little White House, Cuban American history and relations, Cuban food, and Hemingway’s years in Key West are woven through this atmospheric cozy. --Booklist

Complete with a clever plot, a cast of familiar and amiable characters, a buffet of food and all the wackiness of Key West, "Fatal Reservations" displays Burdette at peak form and whets the appetite for Hayley's next case.--Jay Stafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Friday, May 10, 2019

Drinks with Reads: "Better Days" and a Sun Stealer

Art Taylor won the Edgar Award last month for his story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” from the July/August 2018 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (he also was a guest here for that story). Today he’s talking about his latest story for EQMM: “Better Days,” from the May/June 2019 issue. Welcome, Art! 

“Better Days” is a follow-up to one of my earlier stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “A Drowning at Snow’s Cut” from back in 2013. Both stories take place along the North Carolina coast, and both center on a young reporter, his retired father, and the sometimes-tense relationship between them—though coming together to solve an unexpected crime in each case helps to unite father and son in more ways than one. 

Adding fresh troubles in the new story is an attractive bartender who’s caught not only the reporter’s eye but also the eye of a wealthy and charismatic newcomer. “Better Days” is the title of that stranger’s sprawling yacht, but the reporter sees only worse days ahead for himself as long as the other man remains docked along the boardwalk. 

As for a drink to accompany “Better Days,” the bartender—Charlene, Charley to her friends—offers up a cocktail herself, as you’ll see in the excerpt below. In this scene, the stranger with the yacht—Randy—has bought a round of drinks for everyone in the bar, but the reporter, our narrator, is quick to decline that bit of generosity when Charley brings around the tray:

I waved off the drink. “I’ll order something in a minute.”
Charley narrowed her blue eyes, confusion in place of mischief, started to say something. Randy spoke first. 
“I wouldn’t turn down a Midnight Tryst.”
I glanced his way. “What did you say?”
“It’s the name of the cocktail,” Charley said, passing my glass and another to a couple who’d taken up residence at the end of the bar.  
Randy raised his drink in my direction. “Gin, creme de cocoa—”
“Cacao,” Charley called over her shoulder. 
“Excusez me.” Randy purposefully mangled a French accent. “And what else?”
“Fernet Branca,” Charley said, “plus a couple of secret ingredients.” 
“Right there when I need you.” Randy winked. I’m not sure Charley saw it. “And a little bit of mystery? She knows how to play the game.” He pointed at me, fingers shaped like a gun, his thumb wagging a couple of times—trigger pulled. “You don’t know what you’re missing, friend.”
We’d never been introduced. He didn’t ask my name now, just turned to watch Charley again, the curves of her, delivering the last of the drinks. 
I watched too. I did know what I might be missing. 
I made up the Midnight Tryst for the story, but Googling a cocktail that actually uses these ingredients brought a bit of serendipity. The Sun Stealer (created by Henry Prendergast of Analogue in Chicago) is a riff on a classic cocktail called a Hanky Panky, and somewhere in the combination of those cocktail names—Hanky Panky, Sun Stealer, Midnight Tryst—you’ll find many of the key elements of my own tale.

I hope you’ll enjoy both “Better Days” and the cocktail that seemed destined to accompany it. 

Sun Stealer
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth, preferably Punt e Mes 
1/4 oz. crème de cacao, white 
1/4 oz. Fernet Branca 
dash orange bitters 
Garnish: lemon twist
  • Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice. 
  • Strain into a coupe.
  • Serve up, garnished with a lemon twist.
Art has been a frequent guest at Mystery Playground. He did a wonderful Q&A with his wife, Tara Laskowski, here.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review: Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Kerry Hammond is here today to review a new-to-her author.

Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen was released on May 7, in Trade Paperback, by Lake Union Publishing. This is the author’s seventh novel and the first one I’ve read. I was drawn to it by the book jacket’s promise of secrets and, always keen to try a new author, I thought I would give it a shot. I was not disappointed.

The story centers around Annie and her upcoming wedding. As preparations for the big day begin, though, Annie is struggling with an issue that has nothing to do with her impending nuptials. The man who has spent 23 years in prison for murdering her mother—Annie was just three years old at the time—is being released from prison after a court has ruled that he was wrongly convicted.

As the wedding day gets closer, we learn that the people around Annie are also struggling; we find that each and every one of them has secrets they wish to keep hidden. But when Annie goes missing, it becomes harder and harder to keep those secrets from getting out. The question is, does one of them have to do with Annie’s disappearance, and could someone close to her be responsible?

I honestly couldn’t put this book down. I loved Whalen’s writing style and she immediately drew me in to the story. The characters were well written and complex, and I found a way to suspect each and every one of them of wrongdoing.The chapters switched back and forth to tell the story from the viewpoint of 4 or 5 of the characters. I was able to watch the story progress as it seamlessly toggled from character to character, slowly revealing clues to the mysteries that each possessed.

I will definitely read some of the author’s previous novels, I think she has a unique writing style and a very engaging sense of storytelling.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Review: Prologue to Murder by Lauren Elliott

Kerry Hammond is here to discuss the latest book by Lauren Elliott, which contains one dead librarian and possible pirate treasure in a New England town.

Prologue to Murder by Lauren Elliott was released on April 30, in Mass Market Paperback, by Kensington publishers. It’s the second book in the Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery series featuring bookstore owner Addie Greyborne. Addie, a former researcher at the Boston Public Library, has left the big city and moved into the house she inherited from her aunt. It’s located in a small New England town that was founded by the Greyborne family.

Having family ties to the town doesn’t seem to get you anywhere with the locals, and in Prologue to Murder Addie finds herself the subject of some pretty malicious gossip by local newspaper columnist “Miss Newsy.” No one knows the identity of the columnist, but everyone seems to think she has the right to play fast and loose with the truth since the column is only gossip. Miss Newsy even ties a local librarian’s disappearance to Addie.

To make matters worse, her relationship with Marc, the police chief, starts to cool down when a tall blond named Lacey arrives in town. Lacey has a past with Marc and clearly intends that it be rekindled. Lacey has made it her mission to turn everyone against Addie so she can have Marc all to herself. When the missing librarian is found dead, Addie is questioned as a suspect. She quickly realizes that if she doesn’t find out who the murderer is, she could wind up taking the fall.

Addie’s hormones were working overtime at the start of the book and she seemed quite preoccupied with her feelings for the police chief. I continued reading and was happy to learn that they did calm down a bit. I’m glad I stayed with it because I really enjoyed the mystery. I liked how the author worked the pirate legends from the area into the plot and the story kept me guessing until the end.

I felt slightly left out of the backstory from book one. Usually I don’t have a problem jumping into a series midway through, but here I wished I had read the first book so that I was privy to everything that had happened to the characters. I might recommend starting with Murder by the Book, the first in the series, and then diving into this one.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Tara Laskowski, “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” and The Lady Detective

Tara Laskowski joins us today on Drinks with Reads to pair her Agatha nominated story, "The Case of the Vanishing Professor" with the perfect drink. Her published works include the short story collection, Bystanders, which won the Balcones Fiction Prize and was hailed by Jennifer Egan in The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017 and Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her debut novel, One Night Gone, will be published by Graydon House Books in October 2019.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who go through the world with names they share with uber-famous people. Case in point: just recently, I was working on my computer when a Facebook notification popped up that said, “Stephen King just commented on a post you were tagged in.” I nearly had a heart attack—until I realized it was my cousin’s boyfriend’s relative who was talking about my book cover, not the Horror King himself.

The character in my story “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” shares a name with perhaps the most famous girl detective of all time: Nancy Drew. But after a lifetime of wisecracks (“Boy, do I have a mystery for you to solve!” or “Where’s Ned?”), she has really, really come to hate that her name is Nancy Drew. 

As the story opens, Nancy is on her fourth date with a new guy. He’s surprised her with tickets to a murder mystery dinner at a local college, and Nancy is less-than-thrilled about his choice. Of course, as the dinner theater progresses, real-life mysteries start thickening—and Nancy finds herself pulled into the plot. Will her new boyfriend’s theater date choice make or break their relationship? Is something sinister going on off-stage at this local college? Will Nancy continue to snub the legacy of her namesake—or will she discover that she, too, can be a detective—and maybe even enjoy it?

It took me 12 years from the time I first had the idea for this story until I was finally able to write it the way I wanted to and see it published in the May/June 2018 Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Therefore, I knew I needed a very special drink to go with it, one that would stand the test of time.

Because when the famous girl detective grows up, she needs an adult drink, right?

Therefore, I’m pairing my story with a drink called “The Lady Detective” (with an emphasis on “lady” and not “girl”), a delightfully complex cocktail I found on the web site Post Prohibition. While the coconut foam spread on top of the drink is dessert-like, the cocktail takes a turn from sweet to sassy with the addition of mint, lime, ginger, and creole bitters—delicate but at the same time solid and sure of itself. Just like our Nancy Drew.

Here’s a slightly altered recipe that my husband and I tried at home. (If you don’t have creole bitters, I’m betting you could substitute other bitters and experiment with how it changes the taste.)

The Lady Detective
  • 2 oz El Dorado 12 year rum
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz ginger syrup (1:1)
  • 6 to 8 mint leaves
  • Egg white
  • Few spoonfuls of coconut cream (to taste)
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • dash creole bitters
Add the rum to your shaker tin and lightly muddle 6–8 mint leaves. Add the lime juice, ginger syrup, a little egg white, and shake with ice. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Combine whipping cream and coconut cream in a mixer and whip until peaks form. Top the cocktail with a thin layer of the coconut foam. Add four dashes of creole bitters in a circular pattern and then drag a toothpick through the drops to create a nice design.

You can find Tara on Twitter @TaraLWrites and on 
Instagram: @beanglish.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins

Today’s book takes us back to the age of Prohibition and speakeasies; Kerry Hammond loves this era and is here to tell us about the story.

Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Calkins was released on April 30, in Trade Paperback, by Minotaur Books. This is the first book in a new Speakeasy Mystery series that takes place in Prohibition-era Chicago. Calkins is an award-winning author who also writes the historical series featuring chambermaid Lucy Campion. At Mystery Playground we’re huge fans of Speakeasies and you can see some of our favorites HERE. I jumped at the chance to check out a new mystery set during that time period.

In Murder Knocks Twice, we meet Gina Ricci, a young girl living in Chicago in the 1920s. Her Dad has just been forced to retire from his job due to medical reasons and she finds herself trying to find work so that she can support them both. A friend helps her get a job as a cigarette girl at The Third Door, one of Chicago’s most notorious speakeasies. It's the go to place for celebrities and it's rumored that the owners have the police on the payroll.

As much as Gina is excited about her new job, she can’t help but wonder about the girl she replaced. The previous cigarette girl was murdered and no one seems to want to talk about her. Marty, the creepy photographer at the club, tells Gina to stop asking questions, but when Gina tries to find out why, Marty is murdered and Gina is the only witness. Caught up in two mysterious deaths, Gina risks everything to find out the truth.

The author chose a great time period to set her new series, and if you’re going to write about speakeasies, Chicago is a great choice for a setting. In addition to Prohibition, you have the mob and crooked cops. At times I thought the writing got a bit bogged down and the facts included about the era, location, and real life players seemed thrown in deliberately rather than coming out in an organic way. But I really liked the characters and I enjoyed the unraveling of the story. I will definitely read the next installment, I think the series has a lot of potential.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Kaira Rouda, The Paper Airplane and The Favorite Daughter

In her new domestic thriller THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER (Graydon House; May 21, 2019) USA Today bestselling author Kaira Rouda takes readers on a journey of psychological suspense set in an upscale Southern California community.  

In THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, Rouda introduces to Delilah Jane—or just “Jane” as she’s known in her exclusive and lavish Orange County community—a mother stricken with grief in the aftermath of a tragic accident. 

Jane is a big fan of this paper airplane drink. She has fond memories of tossing things like paper airplanes as a child. Sometimes she still throws a few things when she’s angry, but who can help that?! 

Paper Airplane
Serves two

  • 4 oz. Rye 
  • 2 oz. Amaro 
  • 1 oz. Aperol 
  • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
Combine in an ice filled shaker and shake till frosty. Strain into coupes. Garnish with lemon peel.


I’d worked hard since I’d moved to LA after high school. I’d lost my accent but I hadn’t lost my Southern charm. I could tell David was looking for someone like me, someone different, someone with big dreams, a charmed future: a diamond in the land of cubic zirconia. I slipped him my phone number, in the most old-fashioned way, written on a napkin placed under his beer, our fingers brushing as electricity surged between us.
Now, as David stands at the door to our bedroom, he laughs and shakes his head. “You shouldn’t yell, Jane. It’s not becoming.”
I walk to his side, my hands clenched. It’s part of our dance these days, this feigned politeness, this lingering something. Is it nostalgia or just an endurance test to the finish line on Thursday? I put my hand on his chest, imagine I’m touching his heart. “Sorry. Please stay.”
Instead of embracing me, he takes my hand from his chest and squeezes, an awkward gesture that presses my two-carat engagement ring into the knuckle of my middle finger. “I’m going to work out and grab dinner after at the club. Don’t wait up.”
Once he’s gone I sigh, trying to push my frustration aside. In the bathroom I pick up his bottle of cologne. When I unscrew the lid, I take a deep inhalation of his favorite scent, the smell of my husband. In our closet I see his silk ties hanging up in a neat little row. He’s so tidy. Likes his things under control, orderly. For David, and I suppose most husbands and fathers who are the “sole providers” for their families, their personal spaces at home provide the comfort they don’t find at the office. The sense of order, the semblance of routine. Home is so much more than a place; it’s your anchor, your retreat. I know it is especially important to him now that Mary is gone, his favorite daughter, his reflection. He finds peace in his color-coded closet. David is a cyclone of activity out in the world ever since the accident. He’s kept up a frenetic schedule this past year, but he always comes home to me, eventually.
I shake my head, knowing I don’t have the energy to straighten up the chaos on my side of the closet. I’ve learned to embrace my mess. And besides, I have other things to focus on. My husband deserves my thoughtfulness, my presence at the ceremony tomorrow, and I can’t wait to surprise him with everything else I have planned.
Each time he walks out our front door, he becomes someone different. At home, with me, he’s the grieving father of a dead daughter. Out in the world, he’s an über-successful businessman with his sculptured chin held high, invincible. Out in the world, he doesn’t worry about his sad wife. I’m sure of that. Most of the time, it’s easier for him if he doesn’t think of me at all. But I’m always thinking about him.
For example, who wears cologne and Gucci loafers to the gym? No one. I swallow and try to control my shaking hands by shoving them into the pockets of my jeans. I hurry from the bathroom and climb into bed as my tears roll down my cheeks and I stare at the dark black glass of our huge flat-screen TV. David insisted on having a television in the bedroom, something I opposed. I know myself. I can get sucked into a show, a story, and always ended up staying up too late when the girls were little. I like to lose myself while I watch television, one of the things my mom and I had in common. She had the television on all day and night, making me watch her favorite shows with her when she was in a good mood. She taught me how to critique actresses, and to learn from them.
And I’ve learned a lot over the years. That’s why it’s time to pull myself out of my seemingly unshakable depression. After this week, I’m going to begin my career again. I’ve already lined up a photographer to shoot some head shots. David will be so pleased. He fell in love with me when I was acting in LA. He’ll be so surprised when the old me makes a comeback. I’m focusing on the future now.
Tomorrow’s ceremony will be the beginning of my second act. Us women, especially moms, we’re resilient. At times life just throws us knockout punches. But I’ve always been a fighter. Sometimes we have to take a stand for those we love protect them from bad choices, love them even when they don’t think they need it.
I know some women who are stuck in their relationships, in their lives, who don’t have choices. I know how lucky I am and I know how to fight to get what I deserve.
So, life, let’s get ready to rumble.