Monday, July 30, 2012

Living Reading List - August

  • THE OTHER WOMAN, Hank Phillippi Ryan - I'm reviewing this book for Criminal Element. It comes out on September 4th, and my Fresh Meat review will come out the week before. 
  • THE WINTER PALACE, Eva Stachniak - This is a novel about Catherine the Great. She was many things, but boring was not one of them. 
  • THE ART OF INTELLIGENCE: LESSONS FROM A LIFE IN THE CIA'S CLANDESTINE SERVICE, Henry A. Crumpton - Who doesn't love a good spy story, especially if it's true.... 
  • THE ACCOMPLICE, Elizabeth Ironside - The Evening Telegraph in the UK called it, "A spellbinding story of love, murder, and deception." That was enough for me to try it.  

So, how did last month's books go? Here's July's list with comments. 

  • 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.)

  • Ok, I read the first book and it really helped me understand a lot of what I was confused about in the first season of GAME OF THRONES. It is amazing how Martin structured the book from so many points of view. The series was very true to that structure. It's also amazing that all of those  different characters can have separate story lines that are memorable. I've now put CLASH OF KINGS on the list for August. 

  • 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 just not the same. 

  • I loved how Havers goes to nine-year Haddiyah for fashion advice. Lynley continues to struggle with Helen's death and I think that's really what the title is about. If you haven't read this book, pick it up right now. 

  • 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 is a short book, easy to read and enjoyable. Agnes Morely was one of the first cowgirls and lead a life far, far away from anyone I have known.  She grew up to be a writer, and this book made me want to read her memoirs, "No Life for A Lady." The first half was better than the second half, but I think that as Agnes got older, she got wiser and didn't let life happen to her so much. A much easier life, but it makes for boring reading. I got this one out of a local library, so it might be difficult to find. 

  • THE SWAN THIEVESElizabeth Kostova - yes it was on last month's 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. 

  • This books wasn't for me, which is too bad because I loved THE HISTORIAN which was written by the same author. I read the first 80 pages and then I put it down. Every book isn't for every person. 

  • Monday, July 23, 2012

    The Closer - James Duff, EP & Co-Creator: The Tension Between Idealism and Pragmatism

    I received this eloquent form letter from James Duff, Creator, Executive Producer and Writer of The Closer and Major Crimes today talking about the ending of The Closer and the beginning of Major Crimes.  I apologize in advance for the poor scan quality, but I think it's still readable.  It's a really nice touch for the final season of a great show. 

    This is my favorite part of the letter, "The Closer, for me, has always been about the tension between idealism and pragmatism, which are perfectly expressed in the ideals of our justice system and daily, dramatized to us as individuals by the pressures to balance our professional and personal lives. In this way, Brenda's journey has been that of nearly every adult on the planet, even if her stakes were always slightly elevated by murder."

    Brenda has leaned towards being the pragmatist and Captain Sharon Raydor of the new Major Crimes show has been more of an idealist. Raydor has inched towards Brenda as she has seen her effectiveness so it will be interesting to see what happens when she takes over. 

    I've loved watching The Closer and I'm sad to see it go. They've done a brilliant job of showing the social cost of closing or not closing a case. I'm recapping the last few episodes of The Closer and the first of Major Crimes at Criminal Element. You can read the recaps here: (Hostile Witness Fool's Gold, Drug Fiend).

    Page One

    Page Two
    James Duff also has written two blogs about this season of The Closer for the Huffington Post. You can read those here. You can read other blogs I've written about both The Closer and Major Crimes here

    Thank you, James. I do plan to watch Major Crimes. 

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Speakeasy San Jose: Single Barrel

    Usually we all pick drinks that come out pink, but not this time. 

    Downtown San Jose has it's own speakeasy...

    The most charming thing about the Single Barrel is that their mission is to find the perfect handmade drink for just for you. Once you get to the bar, your bartender will pepper you with you like citrus? Gin? Bourbon? Whiskey? Champagne? Do you prefer sweet or salty? After the interview is done, the drink master begins to mix, and juice and slice and twirl. Every thing is super fresh down to the individually curling lemon rind. 

    Once your beverage has attained perfection it is handed to you with all it's glory.

    Basil Gimlet and the French 77

    My perfect drink turned out to be the French 77.  Siobhan's was the basil vodka gimlet. I hadn't even contemplated putting basil in an alcoholic beverage. Scratch that. I hadn't conceived of putting it in any beverage. So tasty.

    Buddy Janet scored a really yummy drink called the Hoopla - which was fabulous.  Dianne tasted the Final Ward, which uses a beverage called, Green Chartreuse - made of the extracts of 132 plants. Can you imagine the people who concocted this for the first time... "Hey guys, I know we already put 131 plants in this thing, but it's still missing a little something." Our group thought Dianne's beverage was a might "complex." Everyone but Dianne thought their beverage was perfect for them. She might need a re-do.

    The bartenders at the Single Barrel train with the owner of the bar for 3-7 months before they can mix the drinks solo. A test is required for certification and until then, bartenders in training man the door or perform the task of "ssshher."

    Speakeasies were places where people could consume illegal alcoholic beverages during prohibition -- 1920 -33 in the United States. Noise levels had to be kept down, lest the feds discover what was going on, so in the original speakeasy in Pittsburgh the owner would tell her customers, "speak easy boys, speak easy." And that is how speakeasies got their name. Single Barrel maintains this tradition, it also helps if they shhhh the crowd so you can hear your bartender as he reveals your perfect drink.

    Speakeasies often changed locations during prohibition.

    Here is the recipe for my perfect drink, which I now serve in my garden on hot summer days.

    St. Germain French 77 

    1oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
    1/4 oz Lemon Juice
    1/4 oz Gin

    *note: this is not a French 75. A French 75 has no Elderflower Liquer according to our bartender at Single Barrel. Drink servers in other places may try to pass off a French 75 as a French 77, because they don't know what the difference is. Don't let them. We have our standards.

    Epicurious has a fabulous Basil Vodka Gimlet recipe here.

    While no password is required to get into Single Barrel, you may face a line on weekends if you don't get here before nine pm.

    If you are looking for other fabulous drink recipes, check out Food Fixe drinks here.

    Other speakeasy posts from Mystery Playground can be found here (check out the post on Las Vegas' Lady Sylvia for a fabulously yummy recipe for a drink called the 18b).

    How to get to Single Barrel:
    The address is 43 West San Salvador Street, San Jose. There isn't any sign but you can find it if you look for the barrel. Street parking is plentiful around the corner. If you don't want to walk a block, there is a parking lot across the street. 

    Look for the Single Barrel and tell them Walt sent you. 

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Favorite Crime Novels in the World of Books

    Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of Shadow of the Wind, recently put a list together of his favorite novels about books and posted it on Goodreads (You can find it here).  This inspired me to put together my own list of my favorite crime novels that involve books.

    Here are the top three:

    1) The Tuesday Next series by Jasper Fforde - This series involves characters that can hop in and out of books as they solve crime and try to protect the book world. A combination of fantasy and mystery, this series are great fun and anyone who doesn't have a sense of humor should not pick them up. The first three books of this series are the best, so I recommend starting with The Eyre Affair where Tuesday tries to protect massive plot deviations for Jane and Mr. Rochester that could have lasting ramifications.

    2) The Cliff Janeway books by John Dunning - Janeway, a former cop who can't quite leave this old job behind, becomes a seller of rare books in Denver.  His quest for books always leads him into trouble. Simon and Schuster has recently announced that the first two Janeway books - Booked to Die and Bookman's Wake will be available in e-books in late August of 2012.

    3) The Cotton Malone books by Steve Barry - More thriller than mystery, ex-Justice Department operative Cotton Malone, like Janeway tries to hang out stress free as an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen, but he can't quite manage it. These fast paced books take Cotton on the search for valuable historical information and works, like the Library of Alexandria or the clues in Charlemagne's tomb that can alter the course of mankind.

    What are your favorites?

    Sunday, July 8, 2012

    The Quest for The Perfect Book Inspired Handbag

    Handbag Nirvana

    Woman cannot live by books alone. She also needs handbags, so by the transitive property of well-read fashion, we must conclude that the two should be combined.  If you can't follow the math, send the Cliff Notes to your iPad, Kindle or Nook and divide by the square root. Or just trust me. It's faster and yields the same result.  

    I admit I may biased on this subject. Quirky handbags are fun and I love the humor of the book/handbag hybrid.

    Let's start at the high-end with Olympia Le Tan and the embroidered book cover clutch. 

    These bags are made with painstaking detail, embroidered and made in small quantities, so the chances of you landing on a red carpet with the same bag as Charlize Theron are small at best. Luckily, I do not often find myself on any red carpet unless it leads into a mid-priced hotel, so there is really no chance of duplication with Charlize, unless she is having a really bad day.


    Next we have the utterly fabulous Lulu Guinness book store handbag (see shot of the whole bag at the top). It has a crime section (and travel, romance and poetry but really the crime section is the most important) and it's own, very chic, black cat.  The pictures don't do it justice.

    The detail in this bag is fabulous...

    This season Lulu also has the stack of books bag, but the bigger handbag is where my heart is. 
    Kate Spade's publishing theme continues to evolve. Her series of book clutches of re-imagained classics (GREAT GATSBY, the first clutch and my favorite, can be seen below). Titles include Jane Austen's EMMA & PRIDE AND PREJUDICED and Dickens' TALE OF TWO CITIES. The covers are re-imagined by Spade's team of designers.

    Have you found any fabulous book inspired handbags?  Don't be selfish and share below. 

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    Win Deputy Brenda Leigh Johnson's Handbag

    I recently won a replica of Kyra Sedgewick's character on The Closer, Brenda Leigh Johnson. She has carried this fabulous handbag throughout the show. We will be giving away two of these handbags -- one on Criminal Element's Facebook page, and one on the web site, starting Sunday (July 8th, 2012).

    I will also be recaping of the last six episodes of The Closer for Criminal Element and the first episode of The Closer spin-off, Major Crimes (you can read about Major Crimes here) starring Mary McDonnell. The link will be added after the contest posts.

    It's really a fabulous bag, with great pockets in the inside and lots of room for crime scene tape and ding dongs. I do love a great handbag.

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    Estate Sale Discoveries

    Tromping through estate sales can lead to some great and unusual finds. This weekend's discoveries included patio chairs made from horseshoes, a spectacular inlaid table with HP's logo and trains galore. 

    They had two of these patio art chairs made of horseshoes. As cool as they are, they weren't so comfortable to sit in, but I love the way they look. 

    This table has the HP logo on it and was on sale for $2250.00. I didn't buy it, but I did suggest they contact HP. There was a couple interested in buying, so who knows where it is now.  

    This sale was a train lovers paradise. 

    I bought this book full of soups, sauces and smoothies receipts from the 1950s and the box standing next to it.  The cookbook says the recipes are magic, so it must be so.

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Please Follow Instructions Carefully

    This was taken inside the top secret Safe House in Milwaukee. You can read more about the Safe House here, but we're not going to tell you the password to get in.