Monday, February 20, 2017

Blood on the Bayou Giveaway

Mardi Gras is a one week from tomorrow, so I thought it would be a great time to give away another copy of Blood on the Bayou - the Bayou and New Orleans themed short story collection from the most recent Bouchercon mystery convention. And what would Mardi Gras be without a strand of Mystery Playground Mardi Gras beads. 

I have a story in the anthology about Mardi Gras - when a group of women who don't like each other, try to solve a murder on a Mardi Gras float while riding in the parade. It was great fun to write. 

To enter, just put your name and e-mail below. If you'd rather not put your e-mail address in the comments, you can send me a message to the Mystery Playground page on Facebook

Proceeds for this anthology go to the New Orleans Public Library, which is still recovering in many ways from Hurricane Katrina. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tea Time Excerpt: Body on the Bayou

We're getting in the New Orleans spirit with a tea time excerpt of Ellen Byron's novel, Body on the Bayou. Every Sunday this winter we've been suggesting tea with an excerpt from a wonderful book so you can curl up and find a new series to love. 

Today we're matching Ellen Byron's second book in the Cajun Country Mystery series to Tea Embassy's Wedding Cake Rooibos. 

Doesn't that sound delicious...and now here's chapter one of Body on the Bayou...


It was mid-afternoon and Maggie Crozat had already led five large tour groups through Louisiana’s Doucet Plantation, a historic state landmark once owned by her ancestors. A storm had passed through at dawn and remnants of rain dripped from the magnolia tree that shaded the employees’ break area. Maggie sat on a bench under the tree.  A fat raindrop fell on her nose and tumbled down the décolleté of the blue polyester ersatz 1850s ball gown that served as her tour guide uniform. She’d been starving when she went on lunch break, but her appetite disappeared and her homemade crawfish salad sandwich went untouched as she scanned the Maid of Honor to-do list that her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer, had dropped in front of her. 

“Here’s page two,” the bride-to-be said as she handed it to Maggie. 

“There’s a page two? Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack, which I could be in danger of having if all this stuff don’t get done.” Vanessa made a sad face and patted her rapidly expanding stomach.  Maggie was skeptical of women who claimed that they had no idea they were pregnant. But while undergoing a medical evaluation before starting an all-liquid diet, Maggie’s fellow tour guide at Doucet discovered that in addition to a food baby, she was carrying an actual baby.  This scuttled her plan to milk a year-long engagement to Rufus Durand, the lazy police chief of tiny Pelican, Louisiana. Instead she was fast-tracking her nuptials, and Maggie reluctantly gave her credit for making sure that the ink was dry on the wedding license before popping out little Rufus or Rufette. Just because the woman was marrying “the man of muh dreams,” didn’t mean she trusted him not to duck out on child support if he wasn’t legally bound.

“Since time’s so tight, we’re gonna have to do a lot of checking in with each other,” Vanessa told Maggie, who noted that the woman’s blandly pretty features were disappearing into a face that grew incrementally fleshier by the day. Maggie’s artist’s eyes tended to pick up visual details that others missed. “Never, ever turn off your phone or put it on vibrate cuz I am gonna need 24/7 access.”  
“What if I need to go to the bathroom?” Maggie asked in a dry tone.
“24/7, Magnolia Marie, 24/7. This is gonna be soooo fun! Oh, dang, you said bathroom, now I gotta pee again.”  
The pregnant woman skip-waddled off, leaving a glum Maggie to pick at her lunch. She regretted letting Van strong-arm her into the position of head wedding cheerleader, but she was still trying to make friends and find her place again in her hometown. She’d barely been back a year after spending more than a decade in Manhattan, and knew that many locals saw her as “that artsy-fartsy girl.” At thirty-two, Maggie felt far removed from being a “girl,” but in Pelican that appellation applied to any female still single, be she seven or seventy. Signing on as point person for Vanessa’s wedding party was also a strategic move. Van’s fiancé was the archenemy of Maggie’s family, so keeping her happy might lay the groundwork for a rapprochement between the Crozats and Durands. Reminding herself of this kept Maggie from exploding like an M80 firecracker when Vanessa peppered her with inane demands.
A couple of other co-workers, Ione Savreau and Gaynell Bourgeois, strolled over to join her. Ione, who supervised the guides, was a slim African-American retired schoolteacher who reveled in surprising people with the news that not only were three out of every ten plantation owners women, there were also owners of color. Gaynell Bourgeois was a nineteen year-old with angelic looks. Her ingenuous demeanor masked an intellect so sharp it had helped Maggie solve a murder which would have doomed her family’s home and livelihood: Crozat Plantation Bed & Breakfast.
The women sat sidesaddle at the break area picnic table, their ball gowns poofing out around them like Miss Muffet’s tuffets.   “What’s with you?” Ione asked, sensing Maggie’s unhappiness.  Maggie handed Vanessa’s list to her. Ione took one look at it and burst out laughing, a deep basso guffaw. Gaynell peered over Ione’s shoulder to view the list, and joined in with tinkling giggles. “Now we know why all of Van’s relatives ran like a levee broke when she hit them up for the Maid of Honor job,” Ione said. She pulled a tissue out of her cleavage to wipe the tears of laughter streaming down her cheeks.
“And she’s got a big family,” Gaynell added. “Real big.”
Maggie glared at them. “Yeah, well, I’m going to think of myself as the foreman of this bridal party, and assign as much as I can to the bridesmaids. So take that as a warning.” 
Ione and Gaynell, both of whom had buckled to Vanessa’s entreaties that they serve as bridesmaids, stopped laughing. “Um, it’s a bad week for me,” Ione tap-danced. “My grandkids are coming to visit, and things like that and— oh, never mind.” She gave up trying to come up with excuses. “Fine.  We’ll help.  Right, Gaynell?”
“Of course.” Gaynell smiled at Maggie, who returned the smile. She knew that tease as they might, Ione and Gaynell would be there when she needed them. Which, given Vanessa’s status as an archetypal Bridezilla, would be a lot.
“Luckily, or unluckily because we could use the money, there’s a lull at Crozat between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Maggie said. “Some guests checked out this morning, and as far as I know we don’t have any other bookings this week.”
“What about people coming in for the wedding?” Gaynell asked.
Maggie snorted. “Please, like Rufus would ever let Vanessa give us the business.” 
The other women nodded. The whole town knew that Rufus Durand held a grudge against the Crozats dating back a hundred and fifty years.  Maggie’s great-great-great-grandmother was rumored to have put a curse on all Durand family relationships after catching her fiancé, Ru’s great-great-great-grandfather, cheating on her with a New Orleans belle. “The only reason he okayed me as Maid of Honor is because he knew it would make my life hell,” Maggie said, holding up Vanessa’s list as evidence.
Ione frowned. “You’d think that since he’s getting married again” – the “again” referring to this being the third marriage for Ru – “he’d assume the curse was broke and forget about it.”
“At this point, hating my family is so ingrained in his DNA that I don’t think anything could knock it out of his system.”
“Shhh,” Gaynell cautioned. “Vanessa’s coming back.”
Vanessa made her way to them, holding up the hem of the green and red ill-fitting dress that had been cobbled together to hide her eight-month bundle. The goal had been to recreate an outfit that an antebellum belle might have worn during her confinement. But, as Vanessa griped, “I just saw myself in the mirror.  I look like a Christmas tree.” The other women were silent. “You’re not saying anything.”
“We would if we disagreed,” Ione, ever blunt, replied.
“But it’s okay,” Gaynell said. “It just looks like you’re celebrating the season.”  
Vanessa glared at them, and then turned to Maggie. “I’ve thought of more stuff I need you to do.  I’ll text it all to you later.”
“Oh, come on, Vanessa.” Maggie held up the list. “‘Confirm contract with venue and caterers, order flowers, renegotiate rental prices…’ A Maid of Honor doesn’t take care of these things, a wedding planner does. You need to give this list to yours.”
“I would if I still had one. Rufus fired ours. Said we should be spending that money on the house.”
“The house,” as Vanessa euphemistically called it, was La Plus Belle, the mega-mansion her fiancé was building with his share of the payout that the entire Durand family received for the sale of their family homestead, Grove Hall. At this point, La Plus Belle was just lumber and lawsuits brought on by the constant changes Ru and Van demanded and then refused to pay for. Maggie wasn’t surprised that Ru had axed their wedding planner, a pricey hire from New Orleans. Nor was she surprised that Vanessa would try and foist those chores on her. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t take on all these duties. I don’t have the time.”
Vanessa grimaced and put her hand on her baby bump. She reached behind her, groping for a seat, then lowered herself onto the picnic table bench between Ione and Gaynell, shoving each of them to the side. “Dang, another pain.  I can feel my blood pressure going up. I may need to call my doctor. She’s real worried about me going into pre-term labor.”
“We know,” Ione said. “You tell us every time we don’t do what you want.”
“Well, it’s true.” 
Vanessa cast a pitiful glance at Maggie, who sighed. Vanessa might be bluffing, but Maggie didn’t want to take the chance that she wasn’t.  Woe be anyone who caused the future Mrs. Rufus Durand to deliver early. “Okay, fine, I’ll help you out.  Just spare me another ‘pre-term labor’ performance.”
“Thank you.” Vanessa popped up, and then pulled out her cell phone. “Oooh, I got a text from my mama.” As she read the message, Vanessa pulled off her old-fashioned, banana-curled wig and rubbed her scalp. She’d stopped coloring her hair after reading that it wasn’t good for a gestating infant, so muddy brown roots dead-ended about two inches from her old yellow-blonde dye job.  
Vanessa finished reading, put her phone away, and slowly sat down again, her face so pale that Maggie worried she might actually follow through with the threat to deliver early. “Van, are you all right? You don’t look good.”
“It’s my cousin, Ginger,” Vanessa said. The women waited for her to continue, but she stared straight ahead, her face stricken.
“Is it… bad news?” Ione asked gently.
“Yes.” Vanessa nodded. “She’s coming to my wedding.”

And Vanessa burst into hysterical sobs.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Big Little Lies Mini-Series Premiers on HBO

Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley star in a new mini-series adapted from Big Little Lies, the best-selling book by Lianne Moriarity (love her last name). 

Here's the description from the back of the book. 

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal...A murder…a tragic accident…or just parents behaving badly?  What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: 
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). 
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. 
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all. 
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

The TV series moves the story location from Australia to Northern California and will have seven episodes with the first running tomorrow night. I haven't read the book, but after reading this, I can't wait for the mini-series. 

What about you? Have you read the book? What did you think? 

Here's the trailer...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Burners and the Dark & Stormy

Max Gladstone is making Dark & Stormys to celebrate his novel, Book Burners, on today's Drinks with Reads. The very title of his novel sends a chill down my book lovin' spine. 

Dark & Stormy

Some books have power. Some books have teeth. Bookburners is a television series in book form, a collection of episodes that, taken together, tell the story of the Vatican’s secret Team Three, a group of heroes who travel the world protecting people from the monsters and magic that lurk between the pages of ancient tomes.

Sal Brooks, the team’s newest member, is a New York City police detective whose brother has been possessed by a demon. Thrust into a world of magic and Vatican politics, Sal looks for answers. She wants friends. She wants her brother back. And she wants to protect her world from threats outside and within.

Along the way, she’ll punch a meat monster, argue with a goblin king, uncover ancient mysteries, and wrestle entirely too many things an overeager prose stylist might describe as “squamous,” “rugose,” or “eldritch.” Good thing the Vatican has excellent dry cleaning.

The Drink

The ideal Bookburners drink is the Dark and Stormy. I never had one of these until I moved to New England—which as everyone knows is tentacle monster and fish person headquarters in the ol’ US of A—but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re popular elsewhere, as it’s one of the easiest cocktails to make: just good dark rum (I prefer the Kraken, for its tentacular connotations as well as its deep, spicy sweetness) and ginger beer, the stronger the better, in a 1:2 ratio, served over ice. No muddler required!

The Dark and Stormy sounds ominous, and in a highball glass it even looks foreboding, certainly compared to the calm amber of an Old Fashioned or the cheerful blush of a whiskey and soda. But the Dark and Stormy is in fact one of the most fun and refreshing drinks you’ll mix. The ginger beer pings off the palate, vibrant and wakeful, and its bubbles enliven and relieve the depth of the rum. It drinks with dangerous ease, especially if you have ample materials to hand on a summer night, and is best enjoyed with friends.

Bookburners’ first season, like the Dark and Stormy, is all about contrast. Our episodes draw on themes of horror and suspense: possession, illusion, curses, transformations, demons, things that go bump in the night. Whenever Team Three shows up, they walk into the worst day of someone’s life.

But Team Three arrives with the premise that monsters can be beaten—that friendship, honesty, and trust give people the power to stand side by side against impossible odds, and win—or at least push the apocalypse back another week. Sal and her friends on Team Three fight against long odds, and against the tide of history, but that just makes it more important that they stand shoulder to shoulder.

Of course, sometimes it’s harder to face your internal demons than the external sharp-teeth-and-saliva kind. But that’s what friends are for.

That contrast between horror and adventure is we make our magic—not the demonic kind, don’t worry—and it’s the reason I think the Dark and Stormy is the perfect Bookburners beverage.

Besides—you can’t have just one!


1 part dark rum (Ideally, The Kraken)
2 parts strong ginger beer (the more evil the better)

Pour over ice.

Enjoy… carefully.

MAX GLADSTONE has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, drank almond milk with monks on Wudang Shan, and wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. Max is also the author of the Craft Sequence of books about undead gods and skeletal law wizards—Full Fathom Five, Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Last First Snow. Max fools everyone by actually writing novels in the coffee shops of Davis Square in Somerville, MA. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect. He tweets as @maxgladstone. Bookburners, which he wrote with Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery, is available from Saga Press in January.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Zombie Cookie Cutter Fudge

Today we're back in the kitchen for Crafty Thursday, making it more Baking Thursday for Killer Zombie Fudge. This is pretty easy to do. The secret is the Undead Fred Zombie Cookie Cutters below

Here's what you'll need besides the cookie cutters (you can use any fudge recipe you'd like):
    • 3 cups sugar
    • 3/4 cup butter or margarine
    • 1 small can (5 oz.) evaporated milk (about 2/3 cup) )
    • 1 12 oz package of chocolate chips
    • 1 jar (7 oz.)  Marshmallow Creme
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • Blue sprinkles
    • Wax paper and a plate
    • Saucepan
    • Scotch tape
    • Glass pan for excess fudge
Step One:
Put a sheet of wax paper over your plate. Place your cookie cutters on the wax paper and tape them in place (tape should be on the outside of the cookie cutter because the fudge is going inside.

Step Two:
Make the fudge. Pour evaporated milk, sugar and butter into the sauce pans and bring to a rolling boil. Stirring constantly let it boil for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, add marshmallow cream stirring constantly to mix and then quickly add the chocolate chips. Once the mixture is well blended, add the vanilla. Let cool for about a minute.

Step Three:
Slowly pour the finished fudge into the cookie cutter shapes. Because they're zombies, I think it looks better if they are a little messy. This fudge recipe will make more fudge than you have cookie cutters in this set, so grease a glass pan and pour the rest in for later.

Step Four:
Add blue sprinkles to the top to make your zombies festive.

Step Five:
Let your zombie fudge cool, then enjoy! You can do this with any cookie cutters you like, but zombies are more fun. 

If you need your fudge to set fast - put it in the fridge. Otherwise you can leave it out to set. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Major Crimes Returns Next Wednesday

Major Crimes returns one week from tonight Wednesday, February 22) for the second half of season five on a new day and new time - 9PM/8PM, moving from its traditional Monday night 10PM/9PM slot. It's a big change since the show has been in that Monday time slot for years. 

A lot happened last season. We saw Buzz Watson embark on a journey to find out who murdered his father and uncle when he was a boy, we saw a horrible shootout in the courtroom where we lost at least one cast member and ended with another cast member in serious danger. 

The last three episodes of last season were perhaps the best of the entire run of the show. If you haven't seen them - go back and watch them now.

We already know that Major Crimes will be back this summer for 13 episodes in season six. 

Here's the trailer for the second half of the winter season. 

Come back next week, when we'll have a Q&A with Kathe Mazur, who plays the fabulous DDA Hobbs. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Racing the Devil by Charles Todd

Charles Todd, the pseudonym for the mother/son writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd, has a new Ian Rutledge book out today and it’s unstoppable. Kerry Hammond is here to tell us why.

Racing the Devil by Charles Todd was released on February 14, 2017, by William Morrow Publishers in Hardcover. It is the 19th book to feature WWI soldier and Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge. (See my review of the 18th in the series, No Shred of Evidence here). Rutledge is a great character and the Charles Todd books always keep me up late at night, but I still keep coming back for more. This latest was no exception and one of the best in the series.

In true Todd form, the opening scene starts off with a bang and then the book jumps to a later time and another place, making the reader constantly wonder when that opening scene will come into play and how the pieces will fit in. Our opening scene happens in France, during WWI. Seven officers who are strangers sit around a table drinking beer. The battle at Verdun is imminent and all are feeling the pressure. They make a pact—one year after the war is over, they will meet in Paris and race motorcars to Nice. It seems a foolish promise to make to strangers, but given the war, it also seems necessary.

Jump to Nice three years later and the race is on. Five men survived and all showed up for the event. On the route we see one of the drivers run off the road and crash to his death. He pulls away but is sure that another car was involved and perhaps was trying to make him crash. He arrives in Nice to find out that another of the men has been in a crash and lays in a hospital, severely wounded. The group disbands anti-climactically and continue on their separate paths.

One year later Rutledge is called in to investigate the death of the Rector of East Dedham. Mr. Wright was found dead in a vehicle belonging to Captain Standish, who did not know or approve of the man borrowing it. No one knows where the Rector was traveling or why he took the man’s car, but to Rutledge, it’s clear that it was no accident. Rutledge must navigate the town and the residents to solve what he is sure was murder.

These books really transport the reader back to a time when the war had just ended and England was battered and bruised. The men who fought came back with visible scars as well as those that were hidden, but nonetheless traumatic. The people who were left behind suffered in a different way, but suffer they did. They were the ones left to pick up the pieces of the wrecks that came home and those that died in battle. The Todds really bring that time to life in this book.

Rutledge is a character with many deep scars, but I think it makes him a better detective. He can feel what others who fought are feeling, and understand their actions and motivations. It’s always fascinating to watch him slowly unravel a case that, in the beginning, looks like it has no comprehensible solution. I think this book is one of the top in the series.

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