Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd

Bess Crawford is Charles Todd’s brave and capable WWI nurse who always finds herself in the middle of a mystery. Kerry Hammond is here to review the most recent book in this great series.

A Casualty of War by Charles Todd is the 9th book in the Bess Crawford series, featuring a British WWI nurse who often works right near the front line, caring for the wounded soldiers. The book releases September 26, 2017, in Hardcover from Harper Collins. I read each and every book in the Bess Crawford series and always look forward to the next like a visit with old friends. I love when these books come out in the fall because I can cozy up on the couch with some hot tea and a blanket and dive right in.

In A Casualty of War, we find ourselves at the end of The Great War, with talk of an armistice and German defeat. While performing her nursing duties Bess meets Captain Alan Travis and spends a few minutes talking to him over a cup of tea in the canteen before they both leave the base, he to return to his regiment and Bess to assist Dr. Weatherby at a forward aid station. Not long after she arrives at the aid station, a wounded soldier is brought in and to her surprise it’s Captain Travis. He has a head injury and is claiming that he was shot by another officer and that it was deliberate. To make matters worse, he begins to believe that the man who shot him was a distant cousin of his, John Travis.

Bess tries to make inquiries into the Captain’s claim, but hits a dead end and has to give up her search. Soon after, she is given a two-week leave and plans to spend the time with her family in England. She is reunited with the Captain once again and unfortunately his condition has gotten much worse. His ramblings have made doctors and nurses believe he has shell shock and his inability to calm himself has required that they restrain him. Bess finds him strapped to a bed in a hospital and she believes him to be completely sane, making it imperative that she investigate his claims and help him get released. With the help of her old friend Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, she travels to Captain Travis’s cousin’s hometown and begins her search for the truth.

When I reviewed last year’s The Shattered Tree, I proclaimed it “one of my favorite books in this series.” I think this book is a close contender and possibly even knocks the previous one from its perch at the top. One of the major reasons (no pun intended) is that one of my favorite recurring characters, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, appears in the entire story. I just love Simon and I secretly want Bess to fall in love with him, so it was nice to see them work side by side in solving the latest mystery.

The mystery itself was also very intriguing. I found the discussion of family blood lines and inheritance to be fascinating. The way the villagers closed ranks and supported their own against outsider interference was frustrating for Bess and Simon, but true to how I expect things were, and perhaps still are, in a village. Bess showed us more of her caring and honest nature by continuing to investigate on behalf of Captain Travis, to the detriment of herself since she had to forego spending that time with her family.

New readers will find that this book can be read as a standalone, as can most of those in this series. It’s no spoiler that the war eventually ends, or who wins. Anyone can jump right in and follow along; the only thing missing might be an appreciation for getting to know the characters slowly through each book. The authors are adept at writing each installment in a way that introduces characters to new readers without duplicating knowledge to bore those of us who have been following along. But let’s face it, when you read a series as it’s written—at the rate of one book a year—it can’t hurt to get a few reminders as you go.

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads In a Dark, Dark, Wood by Ruth Ware

The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond has read another psychological thriller by author Ruth Ware. I'm scared just looking at the cover. Let’s see what they have to say.

Last month, Crime & Beyond book club read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, a psychological whodunit of sorts. This month we met to discuss another of Ware’s books, In a Dark, Dark Wood. Critics hail Ware as a modern day Agatha Christie with a Girl on a Train feel. When we discussed The Woman in Cabin 10, we felt that the latter was a fair comparison but did not see the Christie influence. Same goes for In a Dark, Dark Wood. I think the Agatha Christie influence is really in the locations where the books are set rather than the plots or the writing. Ware manages to come up with remote locations and closed universe settings where there are a finite number of suspects to choose from, something Christie really excelled at.

In this month’s book, our main character, Nora, is attending a hen party for a woman she was friends with as a teenager. Several others are staying the weekend with her at a remote cabin, deep in the woods of the English countryside, during the cold winter season. Nora was hesitant to even accept the invitation to the party given the fact that she hasn’t spoken to the bride in years and only knows one other person attending. She lets herself be talked into it and very soon wishes she hadn’t. Strange things begin happening at the cabin and things from Nora’s past start to resurface.

We had mixed reviews on the book, which led to a great discussion. Something many of us agreed on was that the setting was a large part of what we liked about the story. We could picture the house in the woods with the huge picture window. The hen party concept was also something that we enjoyed, it was such a unique way to round up a bunch of people and plan a murder. We were split down the middle when we went around the room to see which book club members preferred: The Woman in Cabin 10 or In a Dark, Dark Wood. I think Ware’s books work well for book clubs because there are a lot of aspects to discuss.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Harveys Disney Villains Handbags

Harvey's seatbelt bags have release the latest in their Disney collection at a special event yesterday - multiple bags devoted to Disney Villains. For those of you who aren't familiar with Harveys - these are handbags made out of seat belt material. They are super durable and clean up nicely. 

The Villains collection goes online at 8:00 am PST tomorrow at Harveys, and if something catches your eye, you may want to move fast. The last few Disney releases from Harveys have sold out in minutes. 

Check out the Ursula park hopper bag above. It takes a special kind of mermaid to carry that bag. 

If you find it tough to commit to only one Disney villain, there's a bag that has Ursula, the Evil Queen, Malificent and Cruella DeVille all on the same bag. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Girl in the Snow

September is read a book from an author you've never read before month, so reviewer Sharon Long picked up Danya Kukafka's debut thriller novel from Simon & Schuster, Girl in the Snow. 

You can find a new author you love, if you never read books by authors you haven't read before. That's why I decided to find a book by an author that I had never read before and review it. I selected Girl in the Snow by Danya Kukafka.
I was intrigued by the cover and the setting which is in Northern Colorado. Since I am a native and live in Colorado, I enjoy reading books set in my home state. 
Lucinda’s dead body is found on the playground of the elementary school by the janitor. There is blood and a light layer on snow on her body. It is announced during assembly and her fellow high school classmates are speculating on the cause of her death. The boys say rape and the girls suicide. The story enfolds through three characters with the chapters alternating between them. 
Cameron stalked Lucinda and was infatuated with her. He is broken and devastated by her death. His mother finds him sitting on the floor of his room with many sketches of Lucinda all around him. Cameron tells her he did not really capture her and now she is gone. Cameron is awkward and fascinated by watching people and what they do when they think no one is watching. He hates himself for this but cannot stop.  
Jade was dragged to Lucinda’s house so their younger sisters could play. However, Jade and Lucinda were not close and did not talk with each other. Jade’s sister is crying and upset over the death but Jade is sadistic and uncaring. She was jealous of Lucinda because she stole her boyfriend. Jade knows some of Cameron’s secrets.
Ross is a local cop, who is called in to help investigate the death. He is still plagued by Cameron’s father leaving the force and town after being accused of assaulting a young woman. The investigation has two suspects the janitor, who is his wife’s brother and Cameron. 

What I enjoyed about this book was the way it is written which is how we think, disjointed, and jumping from thing to thing. Cameron, Jade, and Ross all become intertwined in the story. While the reader does find out what happened to Lucinda, that is not the point of the story. This book is about relationships, thoughts, feelings and how we think about ourselves. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Kenneth Branagh to Voice Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express Audio Book

This just in from Harper Collins...

Kenneth Branagh, the director and star of the forthcoming motion picture adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, has recorded a new audiobook version of the Queen of Mystery’s bestseller for HarperCollins. The recording deal with Branagh was agreed by UK Senior Audio Editor Fionnuala Barrett. The new digital audio is on-sale October 31st, prior to the nationwide release of Murder on the Orient Express in the United States on November 10th.

Kenneth Branagh, who plays Poirot in the Twentieth Century Fox adaptation, recorded the new audiobook for HarperCollins UK, which was produced by multi award-winning radio producer and director Cherry Cookson. He is the latest actor to take on the legendary detective, following portrayals from actors including Charles Laughton, Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet.

HarperCollins Publisher of Estates, David Brawn, said: “Agatha Christie has been a jewel in HarperCollins crown for nearly half of our 200 years of publishing, so how wonderful that in our anniversary year comes one of the most exciting Christie adaptations in many years. Murder on the Orient Express is one of her most important and celebrated works, and of course it features probably her greatest creation, Hercule Poirot. Kenneth Branagh is inspired casting and it is wonderful that, as well as directing and starring in the film adaptation, he is narrating a new audiobook of the original text, which will mesmerise fans new and old.

Senior Vice President, Publisher of William Morrow Liate Stehlik, publisher of Agatha Christie in the US, said: “It has been our privilege and pleasure at William Morrow to publish the work of the most popular novelist of all time, and to see her stories win new readers across formats – print, digital, and audiobook. This new audio adaptation, performed by one of the world’s most acclaimed actors, is sure to thrill Agatha Christie’s vast and expanding readership around the globe.”

Agatha Christie Limited: 

Agatha Christie Limited (ACL) has been managing the literary and media rights to Agatha Christie's works around the world since 1955, working with the best talents in film, television, publishing, stage and on digital platforms to ensure that Christie’s work continues to reach new audiences in innovative ways and to the highest standard. The company is managed by Christie’s great grandson James Prichard.

November 2017 will see the release of 20th Century Fox’s feature film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s acclaimed mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. The film will be directed by five-time Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh, who will also star as Poirot. Branagh helms an all-star cast that includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr, Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton.

ACL’s recent television projects include the critically-acclaimed BBC One adaptations of And Then There Were None (Aidan Turner, Charles Dance, Sam Neill) and The Witness for the Prosecution (Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborough, Kim Cattrall)both produced by Agatha Christie Ltd alongside Mammoth Screen, with screenplays from Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations, The Casual Vacancy).  The latest adaptation, Ordeal By Innocence, is currently in production.

Globally, ACL works closely with leading screen production companies to deliver territory-specific adaptations. Notable productions include the popular French series Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie produced by Escazal, and Japanese adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express from Fuji TV (winner of the Tokyo Grand Prix drama award) and the forthcoming And Then There Were None from TV Asahi. Further projects are in development in Europe, the US, Asia and Latin America.

In 2016 literary projects included the global publication of the new Hercule Poirot novel Closed Casket, the second continuation novel from bestselling crime writer Sophie Hannah, published in more than 30 languages and distributed in over 100 territories. Sophie will shortly begin work on two more Poirot novels for publication in 2018 and 2020. 

The Top of the Line Manhattan and the Fifth Reflection

Police psychologist, PhD and mystery author, Ellen Kirschman is here today to match her book, The Fifth Reflection, with the perfect drink. 

The Fifth Reflection is my third Dot Meyerhoff mystery, following Burying Ben and The Right Wrong Thing.  Like myself, only younger and thinner with decidedly poorer taste in alcoholic beverages, Dot is a police psychologist. Her favorite cuisine is microwave popcorn with a glass of Pinot Noir. See what I mean? If she had any flair, she’d be drinking my favorite cocktail. More about that later.

Dot has a few problems, mostly of her own making. To begin with, she’s too dedicated for her own good. Secondly, she should be counseling cops, not solving crimes. Thirdly, she suffers from post-divorce-dumped-for-a-younger-woman syndrome and is on the verge of running from Frank, a man most women would be running toward. 

Dot is in her 50’s and works as a psychologist for the Kenilworth Police Department. She has a love hate relationship with cops, starting with her boss, Chief Pence, who, I must admit, is rather hard to like. People become psychologists for many reasons. This is how Dot explains her career path in The Fifth Reflection.

I didn’t become a psychologist like some of my colleagues who went from BA to PhD on Mommy and Daddy’s credit cards. My parents didn’t have credit cards. Didn’t believe in them. My father thought bankers were Shylocks who cheated the poor with exorbitant interest rates and balloon payments buried in the small print. My mother was for simplicity and against needless consumerism. 

I worked my way through college and grad school waiting tables, serving cocktails, and pleading for scholarships. Turns out I am better at reading people than serving them food. I acquired this skill trying to anticipate when the sins of the rich and powerful would send my father on a rant, barging around the house for twenty-four hours, spewing letters to the editor. While my mother, for whom all life’s challenges contain lessons to be learned, regarded my father’s tantrums as an opportunity to practice patience and understanding. With righteous indignation for the underdog combined with the ability to normalize bizarre behavior as my parental legacy, how could I have not become a psychologist?

I wonder. Did Dot’s early experiences serving drinks turn her off cocktails? 

The Fifth Reflection finds Dot pulled into the vortex of a terrible crime involving a missing child and an eccentric photographer whose images of nude children make her a prime suspect in the kidnapping of her own daughter. The principal investigator in the case is a young officer whose dedication to work and obsession with finding the missing girl is tearing his own family apart. Dot’s psychological expertise and determination contribute to solving the mystery at the same time her involvement with the missing child’s extended, dysfunctional family brings her face-to-face with painful psychological issues of her own. 

Whew! Now I need a drink. My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan. No surprise. I was born New York hospital, right in the heart of the city. I’ve borrowed the following recipe from my husband Steve, whose entire life I have plagiarized for the character of Frank.

Steve’s Top-of-the-line Manhattan: 
½ oz. sweet vermouth
1 ½ oz. Templeton Rye 
2 dashes of Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters
Luxardo cherries (Pricey, but not your mother’s radiation red carcinogenic wonders).

First chill two cocktail glasses by filling them with ice and cold water. Set aside.
Add ice to a cocktail shaker (nearly to the top).
Add all the ingredients (except the cherries) into the shaker.
Stir don’t shake until the ice melts.*
Empty the chilled cocktail glasses.
Strain** the Manhattan into the glass and add one or two cherries 

•Stirring and shaking both chill the drink and tone down the alcohol. Shaking will make a Manhattan cloudy.

••Straining prevents ice from falling in the drink.

Ellen Kirschman, PhD. is an award winning public safety psychologist and author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know and three Dot Meyerhoff mysteries. She is a member of Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She blogs with Psychology Today and The Lady Killers. Sign up for her newsletter and blog at www.ellenkirschman.com.