Saturday, September 24, 2016

Run, Zombie! Board Game

I will admit to you that one of my favorite exercise apps is the Zombie, Run! app for the iPhone. Basically it's an app that tells a story about Zombies running after you as you "pick up" medical supplies and food and try to save people. It's entertaining. It makes you run faster and it makes the work out go much more quickly. 

Well now the makers of the app are trying their hand at a board game and it's on Kickstarter for funding. I know what you're thinking - the app sounds like a different way to work out, but their are lots of board games. 

This is true, but the Zombies Run app is so fun and there is phone interaction with the board game, so I have hope. I think others do as well because they've only been on Kickstarter for two days and they've already met their goal

It's definitely worth checking out to see if it might be fun for you. Like almost everything on Kickstarter, you order and then they make it so it can take quite awhile to get you're product and there's always a chance it will never come at all. But it is fun to see the creative ideas turn to products.

Killer Punch by Amy Korman

The Killer Wasps Mystery series by Amy Korman has a new installment that you can add to your beach bag along with this book. Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what’s new with the amateur detectives of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Killer Punch, the third in the Killer Wasps Mystery series by Amy Korman, releases on September 20 in Paperback by Witness Impulse. This series follows antique store owner Kristin Clark and her friends Holly, Sophie and Bootsie, four women—WASPS—who always manage to get themselves mixed up in some kind of trouble.

The annual Tomato Show at the country club is the latest exciting event to hit Bryn Mawr and Kristin’s friend Holly, who volunteered to handle the event planning, has had to put up with the irritating Eula. Eula is dead set on winning the tomato contest, but might be skirting around the rules by growing her tomato plants in a New Jersey location. Before they can blow the whistle, a donated painting titled Heifer in Tomato Patch goes missing. They suspect everyone, including Eula, and set out to try and solve the case before the Tomato Show is ruined.

Meanwhile, the residents of Bryn Mawr are dealing with the rumors that a Mega Wine Mart is going to be built in their town. As excited as they are to soon have really cheap booze, it may not be worth ruining the beautiful fields of the town to have it. The girls have to dig a little deeper to find out why the whole thing is so hush hush.

These books are more about the crime and intrigue that occurs wherever Kristin and her friends happen to be. The reader won’t find grisly or graphic murders, just a puzzle to solve. Full of quirky characters and zany antics, it’s a fun and light read. Get your sandals, some sunscreen and head to the beach with this book.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hurricanes & Body on the Bayou

We still haven't recovered from Bouchercon in New Orleans last week, but it's OK, we don't have to let go of NOLA just yet. Ellen Byron is here today matching her new book, set in the bayous of New Orleans with the perfect drink - Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes. Ellen was here last week making Creole jambalaya and she has been a frequent Crafty Thursdays guest. Her first book, Plantation Shudders,made the USA Today Bestsellers list and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. 

Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. 

When you attend Tulane University, a rite of passage is to round up a group of merrymakers, head down to Pat O’Brien’s, and order a GIGANTIC three-gallon Hurricane – ignoring the sanitary ramifications of half-a-dozen or more revelers drinking from the same glass with a bunch of straws that inevitably get mixed up with each other.

There are a variety of entertaining stories about how the Hurricane came to be, but all the tales have one thing in common: Pat O’Brien. In 1933, he converted his speakeasy at 600 St. Peter Street into a legitimate bar. It became so popular that he moved it to a larger location on the same street, where it’s lodged ever since.

In the mid-1940's, there was a short supply of quality liquors like whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. There was, however, a ton of rum available. Bar owners were forced to buy large quantities of the rum, fifty cases or more, in order to purchase the other liquors. An effort to unload the unwanted booze led to the invention of new, rum-based drinks. Pat O'Brien poured one into a glass shaped like a Hurricane lamp and voila – a legendary cocktail was born.

The Hurricane is a fruity concoction that goes down easy, but trust me, it packs a Category 5 punch. Here are two recipes from one of my favorite websites,

Traditional Hurricane Recipe:

2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
1 oz orange juice
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon simple syrup
1 Tablespoon grenadine
Garnish: orange slice and cherry

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a Hurricane glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice. 

Pat O' Brien's Hurricane Recipe:

Mix 4 oz. of Pat O'Brien's Rum, or any good dark rum with 4 oz. Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Mix 
Fill 26 oz. glass with crushed ice 
Garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry 

Mix can be purchased at Pat O'Brien's (800) 597-4823 or by visiting:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Halloween Treats

We're getting our Halloween on in the kitchen with fun Halloween treats, like these easy-to-make Halloween chocolates (photo above) and other party perfect Halloween delicacies. 

Check out these Bloody, Bloody Marys (recipe at the link).

Or the Poison Apple Martini.

If faux blood splatter is your Halloween thing, check out these Blood Splatter Cookies, and the Blood Splatter Glass Candy below. 

We'll be back next week with more Halloween baking and crafting fun. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Q&A with Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski

Husband and wife writers' Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski join us today to tell us what it's like to have to authors in the family. Tara and  Art, write the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books

You may also remember Art from his recent Drinks with Reads post where he matched his 2015 Agatha and Anthony Award-winning short story, “The Odds Are Against Us” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 2014 - you can read the full story is available online here.) Art’s debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, won this year’s Agatha for Best First Novel and is currently a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity in the same category.

Tara is the author of the short story collections Bystanders 
and Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Mid-American Review. She was awarded the Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly in 2009, and won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. She is currently the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly

Q: Which one of you started writing first? How did the other partner become interested? 

Art: Tara and I were each writers independent of one another; in fact, we met as writers, both of us pursuing MFA degrees in creative writing at George Mason University and critiquing one another’s work when we had fiction workshops together. To a great degree, the writing was both our introduction to one another and the foundation of the relationship: mutual admiration for one another’s work, which led to a deepening of our friendship, and then ultimately to romantic relationship.

Tara: And now we’re married! And with a four-year-old son!

Art: And each of us has books too. Those other kind of children.

Tara:  Those other kind of children are pretty important, though. I think we've tried really hard to strike a balance between family life and writing life, although it's a constant battle. And one filled with much guilt, when we're trying to divide our attention between several different areas.

Q: What do each of you prefer to write? 

Tara: This is a good question because I've been asking myself this very thing for a while now. If you're talking about length, it's easy. I hands down prefer to write very short fiction. Stories 1000 words or less. It's my favorite form to read and write and I think it's the best form out there. However, sadly, I'm in the minority because you rarely see flash fiction collections on the NY Times bestseller list.

If you're talking themes, my short stories tend to be on the darker side. They are a mix of domestic suspense, urban legend, crime, and family/women literary fiction. But now I'm beginning to work on longer, novel-length projects and trying to figure out where I might fit in the marketplace. Which is harder than you might think, and the verdict is still out as to what's going to play out for me in long form fiction. Stay tuned!

Art: What’s interesting is that Tara’s work and my own might sometimes seem to overlap in theme and tone—I’d also say that some of my stories edge toward darker subjects, and I’d also point toward domestic suspense to define many of my stories, and crime certainly is at the core of most all my work. But while I’m generally categorized as a crime writer, Tara is more likely to be tagged as literary. Various ways to explain that: the vagaries of marketing classifications, the blurring of genre borders, the slight differences between us in the balancing of plot and prose. (Tara has sometimes said she can’t plot, while I always think her prose is richer than mine.) 

Like Tara, I generally prefer short stories—though longer short stories. The novella, to my mind, may be the perfect length for a story. But like her, I’m also increasingly writing longer works, both in terms of the length of individual stories and then in terms of book projects, as with the architecture of my first book, On the Road With Del & Louise, which is built out of short stories that cohere as a novel. 

Q: Do you ever want to write the same stories? 

Art: I’ve said several times that we should actually write the same story—the exact same story, collaborating on a project. But we haven’t done it yet. I haven’t given up hope on that.

What’s funny is that one story I’ve drafted and been tinkering with involves a man who went missing on a fishing excursion and his body was never found, and now his girlfriend begins to wonder if he’s still alive. But when I showed it to Tara—

Tara: I pointed out to him that one of my own stories—which he'd already read—was about a woman whose dead husband starts writing her letters eight years after—wait for it—he went missing on a fishing expedition and his body was never found.

Q: How is your approach to writing similar and how is it different? 

Tara: I've never been one who could get up every day and write at the same time for a certain period or word count. I'm a random writer. I would blame having a child for that, but I was a random writer even before we had our son. It's just the way I work, in fits and bursts. What's difficult is when I get on a writing streak but don't have the time to carve out to work through that streak. So I have to take what I can get and make my time as productive as possible. Lately I've been getting most of my writing done on the train during my commute to and from work.

Art: Like Tara, I’m not a writer who tried to write toward a time quota or word count each day—make sure I put in my two hours or get down my 500 words or whatever. But I do believe that there’s value in what I call “checking in” each day. My goal is to make some forward motion, whether that’s a scene or a paragraph or a sentence or even just some notes toward any of that. And I believe that by keeping some connection with a work-in-progress, then even when you’re away from the notebook or the computer, your mind is still brainstorming and processing and imagining—keeping that momentum. The worst is when you don’t work on something for even a small stretch, and you come back to a project having to reorient yourself, gear up the machinery from a stalled position, get a firm foothold…. That mixes a lot of metaphors, I know, but I hope I hope one of them makes sense.  

Q. Do you write together or separately? 

Tara: We used to write together—sometimes sitting on the couch together, or even heading to a coffee shop for an hour or so. Now it's often a trade-off, fitting it in when we can, where we can.   

Art: Much of that is because of our son, of course—and then time demands generally. And then some of that is driven by who’s really making progress or who needs the time most; with both of us being writers, we try to respect the other’s needs there—give where it’s needed.

One thing to add, however, is that we’re also planning ahead for a writing retreat next year, both of us at the same place for a week, which would be great for a number of reasons.   

Q: What projects are you both working on now?

Tara: My first story collection, Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, is being re-released by Santa Fe Writers Project in February, and I'm really excited to see that book out into the world again (the first print run by Matter Press sold out). It is a collection of dark etiquette stories—etiquette guides about things like homicide, obesity, adultery, and other topics you wouldn't find in an Emily Post book. The new version will include two new etiquette stories that weren't in the original: “The Etiquette of Voyeurism” and “The Etiquette of Gossip.” Exciting!

Other than that, as I mentioned earlier, I'm turning my attention to a novel right now. I'd rather not say too much about it at this point because it's all still churning around in my head, but I'm trying to take all the themes and interests that crop up in my short fiction—women's issues, some crime and mystery, and a little hint of the supernatural—and stretch them out book-length-style. If I can pull it off, I'll be the happiest lady on the block.

Art: Like Tara, I’m hesitant to talk too much about works-in-progress. One book idea may have turned into a short story—or series of short stories—and I have a few other short stories in various stages of being finished (or unfinished, depending on how you look at it: glass half-empty, half-full).  I’m also working on another book project, though at my own slow pace. In the meantime, I’ve had one story published this year—“Parallel Play” in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning—and a second, “The Great Detective Reflects,” is scheduled for an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. A third, “A Necessary Ingredient,” is also forthcoming in the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum

The legal thriller continues to be a favorite among readers and Grisham and Turow are two of our favorites on Mystery Playground. Kerry Hammond is here today to tell us about a new legal thriller by author Robert K.Tanenbaum.

Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum is the 28th book in the Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller series. It releases in Hardcover on September 20th by Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster. I have to admit that this was my first book by Tanenbaum and it was a little intimidating to jump into a series at book 28. Since I love a good courtroom battle—and I’m always up for a challenge—I decided to jump right in. I have to say, I’m really glad I did.

Roger “Butch” Karp is the New York District Attorney. He’s used to trying difficult and highly sensitive cases and the latest is no different. He has to prosecute an army veteran who shot a Colonel in cold blood in front of several witnesses. The shooter is claiming temporary insanity, but Karp knows there is more to the story than meets the eye. It involves a top-secret government operation, a rich businessman, and corruption on every level up the chain. With the help of his highly trained and competent legal team, his investigators, and investigative reporter Ariadne Stupennagel, Karp needs to break down the defense in order to expose the truth. When more bodies turn up and his own family is threatened, he realizes just how high the stakes are and how important it is that he win the case.

I really enjoyed not only the characters and the storyline but Tanenbaum’s writing. It’s fast-paced and hard to put down. The action moves along at just the right speed to keep the reader following along, but not so fast that it loses you in the details. Karp and his team are great characters. I could tell that they had quite a history together, but at no time did I feel left out or confused. The author is able to tell this story as an individual installment without too many spoilers from previous books or vague references that leave the reader realizing that “you had to be there.’”

There was a bit of political intrigue and references to the issues in the Middle East, but they were included in such a way that it didn’t turn into a tedious political novel where knowledge of current events is mandatory. Rather, the author used actual events to craft a fictional side story that could have happened in the current political climate.

Since each book takes on a different plot, it tends to be the characters that keep readers coming back to such a long running series. I can see why these characters would have readers returning for more. Karp has a strong sense of justice and a burning need to put the bad guys away. Marlene has a small part in this story, but you could tell what a strong character she is and how her fearlessness would complement Karp. I plan to search out earlier books in the series and start from the beginning.

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