Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Breeze and Whiplash River by Lou Berney

Every Friday this summer Mystery Playground will be featuring a  a summer read recommendation with a matching drink. To start the summer off right, today's recommendation is Whiplash River by Lou Berney. Our drink today is the Sunset Breeze. 

The Sunset Breeze

3 parts champagne

1 part blood orange liquor
One slice of blood orange as garnish

And what should you read with The Sunset Breeze? I recommend 

Lou Berney's Whiplash River. It's a fun Carl Hiaasen-esque beach read. 

The book is about a criminal, nick-named Shake, who decides to make good after doing three years in the pen. He goes to Belize and buys a bar and restaurant called the Sunset Breeze. (I could have made my drink a shake, but they melt so quickly in the sun.)

His first mistake was borrowing the money to buy the establishment from a loan shark named Baby Jesus (great name by the way).  This is complicated because the restaurant doesn't bring in much money, and as you might expect, Baby Jesus doesn't care.

I won't tell you what Shake's second mistake is, but I will tell you that it results in this bar getting blown up and more than one person out to kill him. Not such a great retirement from crime, but it does make for a fun book with great humor, characterization and chase scenes.  

This book was nominated for the Edgar Awards in best paperback original and it's easy to see why.  You can read an excerpt to get more of an idea about it here.  

Next weeks guest drink and summer read blogger is the fabulous Catriona McPherson, and on the 14th we have the wonderful Gerald So from the 5-2 and My Life Called So.  So come on back, ya hear? 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Could You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

CDC Poster - Be Prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse
Even the CDC knows it’s coming...

Could you survive the Zombie Apocalypse?  It’s a tough question, but one all of us should be prepared to answer, and there is no time like the present.  

There are several tools available—ranging from Internet quizzes to survival guides—that can help you assess your zombie knowledge and preparedness level. The important thing to remember is that if your dear friend or family member has already become a zombie, they are lost and you must take steps to defend yourself.
Let’s get started with this not so helpful instructional video that suggests zombies can be our friends. This type of thinking can be dangerous.

The fatal fallacy in the “zombies can be your friends” theory can be seen in this quote from the video: “The typical zombie only thinks about brain eating fifty-two percent of the time.” This statistic is supposed to reassure us, but I value my brain. Fifty-two percent is fifty-two percent too much, in my opinion.
Knowing your enemy can be the difference between life and death. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (yes, the CDC) has developed a document called, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” which follows a family—Todd, Julie and their dog, Max—as a disease begins turning people into zombies. (Of course, the guide also gives practical information that could be used in the event of non-zombie pandemic.) The CDC even has a blog outlining pre-zombie apocalypse preparation and offers downloadable Zombie preparedness posters. Although, if a zombie attacks you, I don’t think a poster will help much, even if you roll it up.
The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks promises “Complete Protection from the Living Dead.” It helps you understand the nature of the zombie virus, along with weapons and combat techniques that will help you defend your life and your home. Deploying these techniques can ensure a much higher human to zombie ratio after the battle begins.
Once you’ve finished digesting all of this information, then and only then will you be ready to test your overall knowledge. You can take the quiz from the Science Channel to see how much life saving information you’ve retained. (Make sure you know the main ingredient for Haitian voodoo powder. It may also help to watch the Wes Craven movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow,before you begin.)
This video suggests one way to pre-empt a zombie attack, although I wouldn’t try it at home.

Not convinced that a zombie apocalypse is even possible? goes through the logic in 5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen. This article goes in-depth not only on how certain poisons can turn people into zombies but also outlines brain experiments going on around the world. You may find their discoveries surprising.
And that, my friends, is my compilation of zombie apocalypse preparation resources. But one can never be too ready; please share your favorite zombie survival tips below.
Now is not the time to be shy. We can all use the help we can get...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hot Toddys, Baps and Famous Scottish Soup

In honor of this week's guest post from Scottish author, Catriona McPherson, I thought I'd share some of these great Scottish recipes I found in a book at an estate sale. The book was well used, so someone must have liked the recipes.  I like that each recipes tells a story, like who knew there were famous Scottish soups, or that some Scottish biscuits are called 'baps' or that Hot Toddys were named after the water used in them from Tod's Well found outside of Edinburgh (and at one point you only needed two wells to supply all of Edinburgh with water.) 

Take a look at the recipes and don't forget to check out the post about Catriona's new book

Here's a recipe for one of the famous Scottish soups.

Here's a recipe for Smoored (smothered) Pullets.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Secret Beds, Dark Deeds and a Book Giveaway from Catriona McPherson

Today's guest blogger is Catriona McPherson, author of The Dandy Gilver Mystery Series and a new contemporary stand alone novel, AS SHE LEFT IT. 

I was thrilled to be asked to visit Mystery Playground and blog about my research. The only trouble is calling it research. "Stuff that happens and ends up in my book one day" would be more like it. And my latest book, the contemporary stand-alone AS SHE LEFT IT, which comes out June the 8th, has more stuff that happened and ended up in there than anything else I've ever written. 

I don't mean that the plot is autobiographical. And I'm very glad it's not too, as the cover blurb will explain...

Opal Jones ran away when she was twelve to escape her mother’s drinking. Now, coming home again after her mum’s death is like going back in time: Nosey Mrs. Pickess is still polishing her windows to a sparkle; the Joshis up the end still run their taxi firm; Fishbo, Opal’s ancient music teacher, still plays his trumpet and leads his band.  And to Opal’s delight, her favourite neighbor, Margaret Reid, is going strong.
But a tragedy has struck Mote Street. Margaret’s grandson, Craig, disappeared ten years ago and, every day he’s not found, shame and sorrow settle deeper into the neighbourhood’s forgotten corners. Everyone has something to hide and when Opal decides to tackle the mystery of little Craig, she sirs up more secrets than she can bear about these people she thought she knew.  Worst of all, the door she closed on her own dark past begins to open again.

No, the plot is completely fictional but most of the rest of it is real. (Margret Reid, the Joshis, Fishbo and Mrs. Pickess are all based on people I once knew.)

Also, it's set in a real house: my friend Diane Nelson's house in Leeds. Diane is a good egg, quite happy to have her home used as the setting for dark deeds and deep secrets, but I think I should show that things aren't half as grim as the talented art department at Midnight Ink made it seem. Here is the real "Mote Street" on a (rare) sunny day:

Another strand of the book that’s based on life is Norah Fossett, who Opal runs into by chance and who plays a major role in the story:

She was standing on a corner, wondering which way to go, when a voice behind her spoke so softly she had to turn to be sure it wasn’t just the wind in the trees.
         “Excuse me?” the little voice said. “Are you going to the       party?”
It was a tiny woman, wearing slippers and an apron.   She peered up at Opal from eyes that were pale blue and pink, almost no lashes, just a thickened rim, sore-looking, making her blink every second or two.
“Eh?” said Opal.
“I was at a party,” said the little woman.  “But . . .”  she looked past Opal and shook her head.  Her hair was short and straight, pure white, showing her scalp at the parting. “They’re supposed to come today, you see, but I was at a party and I must have missed them.”
 “Shouldn’t you be at home?” Opal said, looking down at the slippers.
“Yes, but I missed them,” said the little woman, her voice climbing higher and beginning to sound wavery. 
“They always come today.” 
“Maybe you should wait for them at home.”
“Thank you,” said the woman, slipping her hand through Opal’s arm, making Opal think of the way the smallest birds, blue-tits and finches, slipped into the holes in nest boxes.
“Which way?” Opal said, but the little woman hesitated, humming a bit under her breath and blinking. 
“My house,” she said. 
Fantastic, thought Opal, and set off along the nearest side street. 
“Is it this way?” she asked.  “Does this look familiar?  Are these your neighbours?  Who lives here?”  And she kept it up, coaxing and pecking, while the little woman trotted along at her side, thanking her, asking if they were too late for the party, if they’d have missed them, that little hand resting so soft and light in the crook of Opal’s arm.

Diane, our other friend Louise, and I met this old lady, in Leeds, in her slippers, looking for the party, and did indeed help her find her way home.  It’s hard to say why one tiny encounter makes such an impression but she stayed with me for years and she joined the story of Opal Jones, quietly but insistently, without me asking her.

Totally different from that chance encounter, something else from life which got into the book is the “Bed With A Secret”.

I bought this bed for my husband for his birthday about ten years ago.  It was in an antique shop with a price tag of 100UKP ($150) and I couldn’t work out why it was so cheap or why the antique dealer was practically begging me to take it away.  Well, I gave Opal Jones the same bargain for the same reason and then gave the bed some extra secrets too.

But even those are nothing to the secrets I planted in this place – the old outhouse in Diane’s back yard. 

I love the idea of a door that’s been locked for years, a missing key, and everyone walking past every day pretending there’s nothing to see.

Okay, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for AS SHE LEFT IT.  It’s certainly different from my Dandy Gilver series – quite a lot darker – but I would say two things.  One, I meant it to be properly dark and failed completely because I was cracking jokes by page three (I can’t help it).  And two, I’m a sucker for a happy ending so, although it goes all the way down, if you decide to go with it be assured you’re coming up again.

I’m giving away two signed copies.  Please just leave a comment (“Gimme a book” is fine) to have your name entered into the draw.

Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver series of 1920s detective stories set in Scotland, where she was born and where she lived until moving to northern California in 2010. DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS launched the series in the US and won the 2012 Macavity award at the Cleveland Bouchercon. DANDY GILVER AND AN UNSUITABLE DAY FOR A MURDER won the Bruce Alexander award at Left Coast Crime in 2013 as well as the Historical Agatha at Malice Domestic 25.

Catriona has worked in a bank, a history library and as a unversity professor - she has a PhD in linguistics - but is now a full-time writer with both the Dandy books and a new strand of contemporary stand-alones to her name. The first of modern novels, AS SHE LEFT IT, 8th of June 2013 earned a Kirkus starred review.

When not writing Catriona is reading mysteries, growing fruit, vegetables and roses, cooking, baking, dumpster-diving, thrifting and hanging out with her two black cats and her scientist husband.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Vintage Agatha Christie Covers

1961 version from Great Pan

Continuing on with my latest obsession with old paperback covers, here we have a selection of Agatha Christie covers, starting with N OR M? above.  With a cover like that I would definitely have pulled that book off the rack. Which one of them was a Nazi agent? I can't even remember. I might have to go back and re-read it. 

Here's a lovely cover from A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED from the 50s. 

Pocket Book edition, 1951

There's more about Christie's The Labors of Hercules here. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Art-O-Mat: Art Vending Machine

We came across this Art-O-Mat vending machine at the Armory showing of the incredible play Black Watch last weekend. It's a remade vintage cigarette machine that dispenses a tiny piece of "art" for the princely sum of $5. Based of what got, it's more arts and crafts than art, but still a lot of fun. The re-made vending machine is beautiful and colorful.  The had goodies ranging from "Vamp Earrings" to Waterbards (we still don't know what these are.) 

It turns out Art-O-Mat is a company based in North Carolina and these machines are found in different places all over the country. Out only complaint was so many of the artists in this machine were sold out. Ok, and we want to know what Waterbards are. Google can't even tell us. 

Now that we have Art-O-Mats, maybe we need Story-O-Mats. Put in $5 and you get a short story. It could work. 

Our $5 lavender monster.

Here you can see some of the other art options. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Brenda Novak's Auction for Diabetes Research

For the past nine years every May, best selling romance author, Brenda Novak, hosts a massive online auction to raise money for diabetes research.  She gets all her pals to great prizes, many that you can't get anywhere else. This years prizes include: 

There are really too many prizes to name. You have to check this one out yourself. Bidding ends May 31st.