Friday, June 29, 2012

For Love of Infographics

It's such a nerdy thing to love info graphics, but I do. You get so much information in nice pretty pictures. This info graphic on crime scene science is brilliant, explaining so many complicated concepts, like How to Do an Autopsy.  Fabulous for crime fiction writers who people who like to know things.  (hat tip to @crimehq for this one)

The info graphic below shows how much progress is being made in the fight against malaria and how it's being achieved. More than one million children's lives have been saved. See how much you've already learned?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Living Reading List for July

  • GAME OF THRONES, George R. Martin - This is one of those series that I feel like I should have read, but I am behind the rest of the world.  I love the HBO show and don't want to spoil it, but I think I'm getting to the point where I could read the first book and not spoil anything. And I could stop myself from reading further. I have enough willpower.  Don't I? (For a little more on this, click here.)
  • OPEN RANGE, THE LIFE OF AGNES MORELY CLEVELAND - How can you not want to read a book that starts out, "Agnew Morely was born in Cimarron, New Mexico, on the night that Clay Allison shot up the town."
  • THIS BODY OF DEATH, Elizabeth George - This is a re-read. I just love her novels (I buy them all in hardback) and I wanted to read it one more time because I've missed Havers and Lynley. The TV show is good, but it's just not the same. 
  • THE SWAN THIEVESElizabeth Kostova - yes it was on last months list, see confession below. I'm trying again this month. It's really only the size that's stopping me, I really want to read the book. 

So how did last month's list go? See notes below.

  • THE SWAN THIEVES, Elizabeth Kostova -  Written by Elizabeth Kostova who who brought us the HISTORIAN, this story is about intrigue in the art world. I freely admit this book has been in my pile since 2010. It's big and long which means traveling with it is impractical, and it's a little heavy for before bedtime reading as well. I refused to be cowed by it's size and weight any longer. 
    • OK, the whole refused to be cowed by it's size any longer claim didn't actually turn out to be true. Since I do a lot of my reading on airplanes or before bedtime, the actual size and weight of the book continues to daunt me. 
  • GODS OF GOTHAM, Lindsay Faye - This is a historical mystery set in New York City in 1845 and has only been out since mid-May.  
    • I loved this one. I've added Linsay Faye's first book to the reading pile. Stay Tuned. 
  • THE BROKEN TEAGLASS, Emily Arsenault - I chose this book because it has a dictionary page on the front cover because what could be better on the cover of a mystery novel? 
    • I didn't get to this one either - gasp.  
  • CALIFORNIA, INTIMATE GUIDE, Aubrey Drury - Published in 1935, I'm looking forward to reading about my home state from the point of view of another time. I picked this beautiful book up at a library sale, and am looking forward to reading individual chapters as pockets in-between other books. 
    • I read the sections I was most interested in. It gives great flavor to old California.  
  • MISTAKEN IDENTITY, Lisa Scottoline - Somehow I missed this one as I read through Scottoline's other books. It's like someone brings you a present you weren't expecting. 
    • I actually had read this before. I kept re-reading thought because I didn't remember what happened. Lisa Scottline books make great reads on airplanes! 

Have you read any of these books? Have more books to recommend? Would love to hear your comments below.

Special thanks to the helpful librarians at Mission College who help me find all of my impossible to find books.

Great airplane read - you'll forget you're flying until you land.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Milwaukee Speakeasy: Safe House

The drinks I order always seem to be the same color.

Some friends and I recently invaded Milwaukee for the famed Bead & Button Show, where crafty people who make jewelry buy and sell their wares to other crafty people who mostly make jewlery.  We had a great time at the show, but that's another story.

Because women can't live by beads alone, we ventured to a speakeasy bar and restaurant called The Safe House. This joint is more spy safe house than traditional speakeasy, and the decor - signs with bullet holes, gun table clothes, secret exits - match the spy theme. 

First of all, you need a password to get in. I can't tell you what it is here, but I will tell say that you must get the words exactly right, or it won't count and you will have to rely on your wits to get past the gatekeepers. There are hints on the Safe House website, which may or may not help.

The drinks are fabulous and so is the decor. On Friday and Saturday nights the dancing starts at ten, and while diners will want to clear out by then, the dance floor was very crowded the night we went and the line to get in was very, very long.

You are wise to make reservations in advance, especially for large parties.

The inconspicuous doorway. The hallmark of any good speakeasy.

You should go to the Safe House when in Milwaukee if you:
  • Are in a good mood
  • Like spy movies, TV shows, books or people who do
  • Think a quarter mile plastic tube that run through the restaurant to mixes shake martinis rather than stir them is fun

You should not go the Safe House if you:
  • Are cranky
  • Want a gourmet meal
  • Don't like sitting in dimly lit rooms with beaded doors and red furniture 

A little safe house within the Safe House. They sell the plastic gun tablecloths for $35. We declined this purchase opportunity.

The door to nowhere

How to get to the Safe House:
The address is 779 Front Street and it's located in downtown Milwaukee around the corner from a recently installed bronze statue of the Fonz. (We were told that Henry Winkler actually had been to the Safe House the night the statue was installed, but we don't have proof of this -- photographic or otherwise. If Henry wants to volunteer this information, he should go ahead and do so in the comments below -- this same person told me he was an avid reader of this blog.) Safe House is just a few blocks away from a fabulous book store and you can read about that here.

Thanks to the fabulous Kim, Paula and Jennifer for taking me there.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Black Cat Fabulous

photo © Janet Kuchler for Mystery Playground
Today's photo of pulp in the wild features Francis Sill Wickware's DANGEROUS GROUND. I looked for more information on Francis Sill Wickware, but information is scarce. She has many bylines in national magazines and did a couple of articles for Harpers.

It must be noted that the model in this photo session was rewarded generously with treats after the shoot was completed.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl

It seems like everyone is talking about Gillian Flynn's book GONE GIRL.

The tagline is fitting - "Marriage can be a real killer."

The book has a brilliant premise, a wife disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and the husband looks guilty of murder. But life in book land is never that simple. Neither the husband nor the wife are what they appear to be.  I don't want to give away too much here because the psychological suspense is one of the things that makes this book great.

GONE GIRL is incredibly well written and impossible to put down. Neither the husband nor the wife are stellar citizens, and I wouldn't want to be friends with them, but their characters are drawn so well you can see them going about their deceptive little lives. In fact, we can their true characters better than they ever saw one another.

If you want a toughly plotted psychological thriller, this is a great book for you. If you want a feel good book that is more along the lines of traditional mystery or thriller, I'd pick up another book.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Party Shark

I come from a long line of over-the-top party throwers. Seriously - I've thrown fondue melt offs, Moroccan parties complete with a tent and a sultan throne and, then there are the Mad Hatter Tea Parties with roses to paint red and drink me bottles. I don't mess around and neither does my sister who excels at making large quantities of intricately designed baked goods.

I found this watermelon shark on Pinterest  and it is simply fabulous. Look at the little melon fishes in his mouth. The intricate detail of the teeth. The beady little eyes. I smell a project coming on.

This fishy dish would be perfect for the 25th anniversary of Shark Week, which starts July 27th on Discover Channel. You now have plenty of time to prepare. The top 100 shark facts are here. Start memorizing now to impress your favorite eight year old.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Giving Away Books to Inspire

Concord Press has a unique non-business model. It gives away it's books on the condition that the person receiving the books makes a charitable donation to the organization of their choice. They charge for e-books to keep the place afloat, but the real paperback novels, they just give away. Readers of free Concord Free Press books had given away more than $250,000 to charitable causes, which is admirable. The writers provide the novels to the press for free and the designers who create the covers do as well.

It's an interesting concept to get books into more people's hands and hopefully generate larger readership while doing good a the same time.

Here's how it works. You go to their website here to request your book. Then after you make your donation, you're encouraged go back to the website and tell them what organization received your donation. I asked for a novel called, A HANDBOOK OF AMERICAN PRAYER, by Lucius Shepard and it was mailed to me with in a week.

You can see the covers of previous books that were offered below.

Once you're done with the book, they encourage you to sign the back page and pass it along to someone else who will also make a donation. It's an innovative way to get books out to new readers, while helping others at the same time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sapphires, Rubies and Pulp, Oh My!

Majorie Fischer's Embarrassment of Riches on sapphires and rubies at the Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Painting the Roses Red

"I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded."

Sometimes you just need a little Alice in Wonderland to start the day and these illustrations by Sir John Tenniel are perfect. 

"Off with her head."
"You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
"Silence in the court!"
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said. "I've had nothing yet, so I can't take more."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Gift of Bradbury from the New Yorker

Yippee! The New Yorker is offering the only two Ray Bradbury stories he wrote for them for free this week. Neither is sci-fi fiction, but both are engaging.  The first is a short story called, "I See You Never" from the issue dated November 8th, 1947. The New Yorker graciously unlocked the entire issue and it's fun seeing all of the cartoons, articles and ads from that week.

The second is from the current Science Fiction issue and is an essay called, "Take Me Home."

I'm still morning the loss of one of my favorite authors and inspirations. You can see what I wrote the day he passed away here.

You can get these little treats for yourself at the New Yorker's website.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fontaine House & Ellery Queen

Artwork by Allen Davis

My friend, Terrie Farley Moran, who has been reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine forever, has a short story published in this month's issue - her first ever in her favorite magazine. It's called Fontaine House and I had the privilege of reading this fabulous story prior to publication.

Set along Florida's Caloosahatchee River (see map below), Fontaine House follows the misadventures of a wealthy cajun family. I can't tell you anything more. You simply must run to the book store now and get a copy, or download it from your favorite digital purveyor. You can read how she feels about it here.

Once you get your fill of Fontaine House, check out Terrie's book of short stories, called THE AWARENESS and Other Deadly Tales. Terrie blogs over at Women of Mystery and Criminal Element.

I took the photo below the same day I read her story. Being from California, I don't see this type of sign often and it amused me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crime Fiction Comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Imagine an entire conference filled with mystery fans and authors for four days of crime fiction awesomeness. Well, that's Bouchercon and it's happening October 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I haven't been to Cleveland since I was a kid, but I am headed to Ohio for this event. The opening ceremonies will take place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - in fact, we'll have the whole place to ourselves. What a great place for a party.

The Guests of Honor include one of my all time favorite authors, Elizabeth George, and one of my mother's, Mary Higgins Clark. I'm also looking forward to meeting Toastmaster, John Connolly.  There will be author filled panels on subjects ranging from everything from short stories to writing about exotic locations in thrillers to where authors get their ideas. Other authors attending include Karin Slaughter, Robin Cook, Val McDermid, Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Lisa Black, Catriona McPherson, Kate Brady and Linda Fairstein.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Playground Alert - Milwaukee Airport

One of my fabulous finds

One of my pet peeves are airport book stores that only carry best sellers. The selection is too limited, although I recognize they have to maximize the space.  I recently happened upon a fabulous new and used book store in Milwaukee's own Mitchell International Airport – the Renaissance Book Shop. They've been selling books in this airport for more than 30 years and specialize in new, used and out of print books – including magazines and comic books.

It's a wonderful used book playground with wonderful old mystery and sci-fi paperbacks from the 1930s and 40s (love that), rows of fiction (lots of mystery), non-fiction and children's books.

This book store could entertain me for hours and is now officially my favorite airport bookstore in the world. You can find the Renaissance Book Shop just outside of the security area. If you love books, it's definitely worth a look - it's open 7:30 am – 10:00 pm daily.

They also have a great downtown location:

Renaissance Book Shop
834 N Plankinton
Milwaukee, WI 53203
Open 12-7 Monday – Friday, 12-5 Sat
(414) 271-6850

Fabulous old crime fiction paperbacks

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Free Rice and Enhanced Vocab

The United Nations World Food Programme owns and supports a fabulous site that can help you improve your vocabulary, increase your math skills and increase your knowledge of chemistry, the humanities, etc. It's called Free Rice and it works like this: you go to this site and pick your category. You will see a questions and multiple choice answers. For every question you get right the site advertisers donate ten grains of rice. The grains add up fast and help people get food who need it.

So what are you waiting for? Head over to and lets get some people fed.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Collecting Crime and Other Things

There's a great post over at Criminal Element by Eric Beetner (here) about his love of collecting vintage film noir posters. They are absolutely fabulous and you can tell how he feels about the collection with passion dripping from every word in the post.  The beautiful photos of the pictures that hang from his walls that make me want to be invited over for a viewing (Hello? Eric?).

The thrill of the Ebay hunt is something I understand well.  Among other things, I collect old mystery paperbacks from the 1930s - 1960s. The crazier the title and the more dramatic the cover the better.  My favorite titles are now: The Lady is Afraid, The Evil Men Do and Handle with Fear.

There's a bit of rush when I find an untapped used book store full of old paperbacks. The books that retailed for 25 cents are always my favorites. We'll be featuring some of those covers in unexpected places on Sundays in our Pulp in the Wild feature for the rest of the year.

photo  by Janet Kuchler for Mystery Playground

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lifting a Glass Of Dandelion Wine

The first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak was in Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago. The theme of his talk was Searching for the Meaning of Life. I was so impressed by what he said that I saved the newspaper article that summarized the talk (written by Daniel Inouye for US Santa Barbara's Daily Nexus. Thank you Daniel, wherever you are.)

It was these quotes from Bradbury that made me save the article:

"When I was nine, I collected Buck Rogers comics. In 1929, the space age was nowhere in sight. So I listened to all of my friends in the fourth grade and I tore up my Buck Rogers comic strips. And two or three weeks alter, I burst into tears. I asked myself, 'what's wrong? Who died?' And the answer was I had died.
"I had allowed myself to be killed by the criticism of other people who didn't understand that Buck Rogers was the future. And I went back and collected Rogers and my life was healed. I had the future and I began to write about it in order to hold onto it.

This is just incredible, just banging out Fahrenheit 451 without re-writes in nine days. Even if the story is slightly exaggerated, it is amazing.
"I wrote the novel Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the Library at UCLA back in 1950. I had no money for an office...They had these typewriters you shoved a dime in and typed like hell for half a hour...and over a period of nine days I wrote the novel. It cost me $9.80 in dimes."

About Libraries...
"They're carnivals. They're circuses. They're parades. They're fun parks. They're sandboxes. They're anything but serious."

He ended his lecture with a bit about the end of the world.
"My brother and I looked into the newspaper one day in May 1932. There was a big headline -- Seventh Day Adventists Predict End of the World May 24 - we could hardly wait.
"We got up early that morning. We packed a picnic lunch, brought a lot of Coc-Colas, Pepsi Colas and Orange Crushes and we went out and sat on a hill outside of Waukegan, waiting for the world to end...And we ate the sandwiches and we drank the Cokes, and then at four o'clock in the afternoon, we threw up.
Ever since then, I've never believed those reports about he end of the world. There's only going to be one ending. The day I die, you'll all disappear."

I guess this means today is the end of the world. Goodbye Ray. Thank you for the novels and the inspiration.

*There's a recipe for Dandelion Wine at this website here. I've always said some summer I was going to try to make it. Maybe this summer is that time.

How to Become A More Popular Hostess

"Pull Up a Chair...And Let's Talk About Being A Popular Hostess," reads the first page of How To Become a More Popular Hostess by Joe Bonomo. Published in 1954, this handy little guide sold for 25 cents (approximately $2.14 today according to this inflation calculator).

Salient chapters include: Points for Popularity, Chucking the Children and Don't Experiment on Guest Night, but my absolute favorite is Tricks with Cheese - melt American cheese on crackers, mix cottage cheese with clam mix (anyone know what clam mix is?), drown your vegetables in white sauce choked with cheese. I'm not so sure about the first two suggestions, the last one probably tastes good, but reduces the vegetable to an over-cooked cheese delivery vehicle.

Bonomo has advice for every dinner party situation:

  • Not enough for food for a last minute guest? Open a can of fruit cocktail and a can of soup to begin the meal. If that isn't enough, keep pouring the drinks to keep the edge off the appetites. 
  • Habitually late guests? Tell them to come an hour early. 
  • Anxious for your guests to go home? Bonomo says subtlety is the answer, but suggests you say something like this, "How long does it take you to get to work in the morning?" Because that's subtle. 
Well almost, it doesn't talk about what to do when you start a tiny little fire while hosting a fondue party, but that hardly ever happens, right? 

So who was Joe Bonomo and how does he know so much about throwing dinner parties? Joe Bonomo was a Hollywood stuntman, strongman and action hero in silent movies in the 1920s and 1930s.  In his autobiography that came out in 1968 he called himself the "Hercules of the Screen." I still don't know how he knows so much about throwing dinner parties. 

Other fun Bonomo guides include:

  • How to Wear Your Hair - Where did he learn to do women's hair? We don't know. 
  • Make Up and Live! - Because clearly if you don't wear make up, you can't live. 
  • How To Develop a More Successful Personality - The cover features a beautiful blonde surrounded by men in tuxedos and I'm going to save further details on this one for a future post...or maybe I'm just keeping the advice to myself. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book to Screen: Game of Thrones and Catch 22

Doesn't Jeoffrey look like the devil here?

I haven't read George R. Martin's Game of Thrones, but I'm beginning to think I need to if I want to keep watching the HBO series. And I do want to keep watching. This season had episode after episode of great moments:

  • Ayrn verbally sparring with Tywin, and making friends with Jacqin (hands down the best)
  • Tyrion's rise and then fall, just after he became courageous and did "the right thing" and now his determination to stick it out in Kings Landing, despite the murder attempt and downgrade, because he needs the challenge to rise again - talk about your family issues. The Lannister's define dysfunction.
  • Daenerys' trek with her baby dragons (although her storyline was more present and interesting in season one)
  • Sansa's growth into womanhood and negotiating the perils of Kings Landing, and especially the Queen
  • Anyone getting the best of Joffrey at anything at any time

But there was so much in the season finale that I didn't "get". Like what really happened at Winterfell and what was going on North of the Wall. I wasn't even really sure at first that Daenerys was in the Iron Throne room. I didn't know the significance of Baelish being given Harrenhal. I could have let it go, but I like to know things. I'm funny that way.

I know what a tremendous challenge it must be to adapt books so the show can appease the books fans while making sure those new to the story, like me, are entertained.

Martin is involved in the writing, which is great, and I know that TV budgets can only go so far and sometimes you have to save your money for one battle and not show another -- so I'm not complaining really.  Game of Thrones has a huge budget for TV but trade offs must be made. I went online and devoured the recaps in my need to learn more. By making me want more, the writers have succeeded.  I'm motivated to start reading the books, but then face the challenge of stopping after the first two so that I don't spoil season three. But then if I don't read the third book, I may find myself a little lost in season three.

It's quite a little Catch 22...

She's a lot tougher than she looks.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Las Vegas Speakeasy: The Lady Silvia

Drinks at the Lady Silvia  photo © Janet Kuchler for Mystery Playground

When prohibition outlawed alcohol in the U.S. in 1919 an entire industry formed to deliver drinks behind closed doors. One of the most popular delivery methods was the speakeasy -- essentially a secret bar. Most speakeasies required a password to get in, had no signage outside and may have even moved from place to place to stay ahead of the law.

There are many modern speakeasies that are open today. Usually they feature beautifully individually crafted drinks made with fresh ingredients, locations that are discreet and may lack signage, have a cultivated interior.

During a recent trip to Las Vegas, we visited a beautiful speakeasy called The Lady Silvia that had all of these features.  Inspired by the beautiful Strahov Monastery Library in Prague, but with a clearly modern take, The Lady Silvia continues the fresh ingredient trend for drink making and has great atmosphere.  Bookcases line the walls and there are plenty of velvet couches and comfortable chairs.  They were kind enough to give us the recipe for the delicious drink I ordered called the 18b:

The Lady Silvia 18b:

2 ozs Hanger One, Blueberry Vodka
Fresh muddled raspberries
Lime juice
Agave nectar
½ oz Domaine Canton, ginger liquor

The Lady Silvia is smoke free inside which is a pleasant change from the rest of Las Vegas.  Food is not served currently, but they hope to change that in the coming months.  It's definitely worth a visit if you are in Las Vegas. It seems to get hoppin' between 9:30 - 10:00. 

How to get there:

It's a little tricky to find, but an easy cab ride from The Strip. The address for The Lady Sylvia is 900 Las Vegas Boulevard #140, but the door to get in is on Hoover between Las Vegas and 4th.  It’s just a few yards down from Resnick’s grocery store. A few blocks away is the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where the History Channel’s Pawn Stars ply their trade and sell large quantities of t-shirts.  

Five of the Seven Dwarves line a shelf at The Lady Silvia. Doc has some serious new blue glasses.  photo © Deborah Lacy for Mystery Playground

The Lady Silvia in Las Vegas photo © Janet Kuchler for Mystery Playground

Friday, June 1, 2012

When Fiction Guides Science

The Star Trek PADD app for the iPad

Mind control is something that has been visited and re-visited in fiction from Luke Skywalker using his Jedi mind tricks to The Matrix. This week The Wall Street Journal ran an article called, "Mind-Controlled Videogames Become a Reality".  By simply using a headset from a company called NeuroSky according to the Journal (I have not tried this myself), "The gadgets translate brains waves into digital information and beam it wirelessly to computers and other devices."

The company is using medical technology and translating into gaming technology to make sci-fi mind control real.

This is pretty cool, but it brings us to a larger point -- about how fiction can lead science and technology. Would the iPad exist without Star Trek? Would the cell phone have come about so quickly with out Star Trek's personal communicators? (There's a great post here on The Top Ten Star Trek Technologies That Actually Came True.)

A few months ago scientists at Cornell announced the had invented a temporal time cloak of sorts that could hide an event in time. It's like Hermione Granger's time turner or perhaps the beginning of some form of future time travel.

Is it collective consciousness that leads us all to dream of these same advances, or does successful fiction lead the way? I think it's a little of both. What do you think?