Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Long Gone

Sharon Long is here today reviewing Alafair Burke's novel, Long Gone...

You finally get your dream job, managing a new art gallery in New York.  You go to work one day, unlock the door and not only is all of the art off the walls but the entire space is empty.  Except for your dead boss!  That is what happens to Alice Humphrey, the main character in Long Gone.  Needless to say she becomes the primary suspect in his death especially after the police find a photograph of her kissing Drew, her dead boss.  Alice denies everything but they have a picture of HER kissing Drew.  
At the same time, a teenage girl is missing and the last place she was seen is also the art gallery.  Alice tries to clear her name but the evidence is quickly piling up against her.  Hank Beckman, an FBI agent, works with Alice as he has his own personal interest in the case.  Alice's parents are famous, her father is an award winning controversial film maker and her mother is a one hit wonder actress.  But Alice has worked hard to stand on her own and not rely on their help.  Long Gone  has other great characters as well including Alice's brother who is a drug addict, her best friend Lilly, a preacher and his flock who protest the art gallery for questionable photographs, the strange artist who can never be reached and the family lawyer.  
Alice ends up leaving town after an arrest warrant is issued for her.  Hank and Alice working together search for various clues, read reports and conduct interviews.  There are several parallel story lines within this book which I personally enjoyed.  The last 50 pages is filled with so many turns and twists, but I loved it.  Just when I knew for sure I had it all figured out, Alafair Burke surprised me and went in another direction.  The writing is fast paced, gripping and like Alice you cannot believe how it ends.  The theme of this book is secrets not only those we keep from the world but those we keep from our family, our friends and even ourselves.  

Alafair Burke is an attorney turned author.  This is her first standalone book.  She is best known for her series featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher which I have also read.  Alafair Burke creates strong, likeable female characters and Alice in Long Gone lives up to that.   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Interview with Hallie Ephron

Kerry Hammond and I were able to catch up with Hallie Ephron, the author of Night, Night, Sleep Tight, and the short story, Photoplay. Hallie answered all of our questions about fiction, real murders and movie stars...

You grew around the corner from the house where Lana Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato was murdered. What made you decide to write a story loosely based on those events?

I was ten years old when Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter confessed to the killing. I remember being riveted by the stories and pictures that ran in the news. I’d ride my bike over to that house and stare at the upstairs window where I thought it happened. Tried to imagine what it would be like to be that girl… or what if I’d been her friend? The idea percolated, and then a few years ago it attached itself to another story idea about growing up in Beverly Hills and the price of fame. 

You tell the story through Deidre Unger's eyes, how did you choose her as your narrator?

Good question. I didn’t exactly choose her. She just is the narrator for the story I wanted to tell. If I analyze it, it’s because she’s the one with the most at stake, the one who is most in the dark about (and scarred by) a tragedy that changed her life. 

What were some of the positive and negative aspects of setting the main part of the book in 1985?

No cell phones! No Internet! Are those positives or negatives? I’m not sure. I had to practically rewire my brain to remember what it was like living without. 

I also had a lot of fun with the fashions and hairstyles of the time. Remember Jennifer Beals Flashdance torn-neck T-shirts, slouchy leg warmers, and big curly hair? Pantsuits worn with blouses with a big bow? Pantyhose? Appalling but fun to take a trip back. 

"Photoplay" takes place at Bunny Nichol's party and is sort of a prequel to Night Night, Sleep Tight. Which did you write first?

I wrote NIGHT NIGHT first. Then "Photoplay" which tells what happened before NIGHT NIGHT

The Lifetime Movie Network made a movie out of Never Tell a Lie. Given your background as a child of Hollywood, was it exciting to see something you had written portrayed on screen?

Very exciting, especially the first few minutes of the movie which contained dialogue lifted right from the book. And because the actors do a terrific job. But the their story goes off the rails and the plot becomes pretty unrecognizable. (They kill the dog, for goodness sake). I was completely prepared for that. It’s Hollywood. It’s what they do, and it’s why writers feel so powerless -- which is one of themes in NIGHT NIGHT. 

When you finish a book and send it off to your publisher, how long to the characters and the story stay with you?

With this book, because it’s so personal, I think the characters will stay with me forever… or until I forget my name and where I parked the car. 

You write about a lot of strong female characters and you need to get into their heads and create their world and their reactions to it. Which was harder to write, a reclusive ex-hacker or a 91 year-old woman from the Bronx.

Harder? That’s a tough one. Because both of those characters are near and dear to my heart. 

I guess the ex-hacker was more challenging because I’ve never experienced grinding panic attacks and agorophobia. So I needed to talk to people who knew firsthand. It was a lot easier to imagine being a 91-year-old woman, since as you get older, I think you’re still essentially the same person you always were. What changes is the way people treat you. You slow down and have more aches and pains. And you’re more likely to come out and say what you really think. Particularly the last part is easy for me to imagine. 

What motivated you to write Photoplay?

I realized that I’d left big part of the back story of NIGHT NIGHT untold. Even I didn’t know exactly what happened the night of the big party 20 years ago when movie star Bunny Nichol’s Argentine boyfriend was murdered. “Photoplay” takes the reader there. The narrator is celebrity photographer Duane Foley, a consummate Hollywood inside-outsider. His camera sees what happened, though he doesn’t exactly understand what it sees. What I love about “Photoplay” is you can read it before or after you read NIGHT NIGHT. It doesn’t give any of the novel’s plot twists, but it adds a revelation or two. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bookish Shower Curtains

I found these fun bookish shower curtains over at Society 6, where can design shower curtains and a ton of other items using their own photos and artwork and sell them. They are a little more expensive than the average shower curtain, but they are fun. You can find the design above (by Cassie Beck) here

There are pages and pages of Sherlock inspired shower curtain designs, like this one from Aizercul.

This curtain, by Geeksweetie, covers great women of literature including Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf. 

Here's another take on books, this one by Whitney Retter

So many options. Way too hard to choose.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Game Review: Simply Suspects

Kerry Hammond reviews mystery board game, Simply Suspects...

Since I love all things mystery, I own quite a few mystery board games. I decided to write about them on Mystery Playground to share the fun with other mystery lovers. Today’s game is Simply Suspects, put out by a company called Spy Alley. 

Simply Suspects can be played by up to 6 players, and the ages are 8 to adult; fun for the whole family! And what family doesn’t want to play a game where suspicion, betrayal, and evidence tampering are the main goals? 

Each player is assigned a character, known only to himself/herself, course, and the player assumes the identity on their suspect card. Players receive three getaway cards and the pegs on the board are placed at the top in neutral position. Players move around board with the roll of a die or by use of a getaway card. The spaces on the board determine what the character must do, and when the pegs can be moved on the board. The pegs, when placed in the row under your hidden suspect, can lead to your downfall and the discovery of your identity. Players move the pegs around, sometimes putting one in their own row to throw the others off the trail. If there are two pegs in your row when another player lands on the Grand Jury space, your number is up and you are eliminated from the game. The last player standing is the winner.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Drinks with Reads: Aunty Lee's Delights and the Singapore Sling

Robin Berry is here today matching Ovidia Yu's most recent Aunty book with the Singapore Sling...

In Aunty Lee's Delights, Ovidia Yu draws us into the subcultures of Singapore.  While the location and food is exotic, the characters will be familiar to mystery readers.   

Rosie Lee is the widowed proprietor of Aunty Lee's Delights.  She is people savvy and uses food to understand those that cross her path. Her faithful and long suffering companion Nina is her eyes and ears to the outside world.  It is Rosie's astuteness that solves the mystery, but her acceptance of people of all walks of life that makes her a delight.  

The second book Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials, is a delightful return to Singapore and it's sometimes not so nice subcultures. Here food takes center stage.  Aunty Lee is compelled to use her wits and understanding of the ingredients in people and food to solve the murders while saving her reputation.

Throughout the books are woven bits of color about the vastly intricate world of Singapore. Not mentioned in the books, but a Singapore original is the Singapore Sling; my drink of choice.  Per Wikipedia -- The Singapore Sling was developed sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
Here is the recipe:

Singapore Sling
1 ½ ounces gin
½ ounce cherry Heering liqueur
¼ ounce Cointreau liqueur
¼ ounce Benedictine
4 ounces pineapple juice
½ ounce lime juice
1/3 ounce grenadine 
1 dash 

I will look forward to the next installment -- Aunty Lee's Chilled Vengeance.  What could be better than a fun witty mystery and a tall chilled Singapore Sling?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Crafty Thursdays: Author Autographed & Photo Keychains

I have to admit that this is one the easy end of crafting but it is fun. We took Creatology photo keychains to mystery convention (Bouchercon) and got author autographs. It solves the problem of so many ebooks and nowhere to sign. 

Comment below about which author you'd like to sign a keychain for you to be entered to win the double-sided keychain above, signed by Laurie R. King. US Residents only. 

  • Creatology blank photo keychains (we got ours at Michaels)
  • Fun or pretty paper
  • A pen
  • An author

Step One: 
Cut out circles that fit inside the Creatology key chain. Extra points for pretty paper. You can use the inside circle as a pattern.

Step Two:
Find your favorite author and get them to sign the paper. Then slide the paper inside your keychain, clip it closed and you're done! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wolf Hall Coming April 5th

I have a penchant for the Tudor line of English - especially Henry VIII -- and I am so excited to see the BBC production Wolf Hall, starring Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Henry VIII and Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell. Look at the trailer below and these beautiful photos and then run go set your DVR. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Night, Night Sleep Tight

Kerry Hammond has been up late nights reading Hallie Ephron's latest...

Night Night, Sleep Tight is the latest novel of suspense by Hallie Ephron. It is a fictional story loosely based around a real life murder that happened not far from where the author grew up in Beverly Hills. In real life 1958, movie star Lana Turner’s daughter murdered her mother’s boyfriend in their home, just down the street from the Ephron home. In Night Night, Sleep Tight, the main character has a similar experience, but the author weaves in her own version of events and creates a wonderfully entertaining story of what could have been.

Deirdre Unger grew up in Beverly Hills, wit parents who worked in the movie business. Her father, Arthur, and mother, Gloria, were a writing team back in the day. They wrote screenplays and mixed with the best Hollywood had to offer. It’s now 1985 and her parents are divorced. Her Mom is finding her true self at a Zen Buddhist Temple and her Dad is still living in the home where she grew up, even as it becomes outdated and run down around him. Henry, her brother, is back living with their Dad, or off of him as the case may be. Deirdre returns home at her father’s request, to help him with selling the house. She takes a short break from her job at an art gallery in San Diego in order to help out. When she arrives, she finds Arthur floating in the swimming pool. His death was no accident and the police begin to suspect each member of the family, including Deirdre. 

Deirdre soon realizes that her father’s death is linked in some way to a tragedy that happened in 1963, when her best friend Joelen killed her mother Bunny Nichol’s boyfriend, Tito Acevedo. On that same night, Deirdre was in a car accident that left her partially crippled and she has walked with a crutch ever since. Being back at her childhood home brings everything back, and the players in her father’s death appear to be the same as they were all that time ago. As she starts to go through all of her father’s papers, she finds her Dad’s memoir and learns he was intending to get it published and make it into a movie. She realizes that there are several people who don’t want the memoir to be seen. And the reasons seem to surround the murder of Tito. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved being in the company of these characters and was able to live vicariously through their involvement in the movie industry, which I personally find intriguing. The characters were great and both the current storyline, as well as the murder from the 1960s, kept me guessing.  It’s easy to get invested in Deirdre’s search for the truth. Both the truth in what happened to her father, as well as the truth from her childhood, and the answers to questions she didn’t even know to ask. Once again, Hallie Ephron creates a suspenseful and entertaining story that will keep you guessing.

And here’s one additional tidbit that I found exciting. After writing this book, Hallie Ephron decided that there was something missing, something more to tell. So she’s written Photoplay: A Short Tale of Suspense. In it, the narrator is a photographer hired to cover a big party at Bunny Nichol’s house. It’s a story of what happened before Night Night, Sleep Tight. It’s the playing out of the events that happened in 1963. So once you put this book down, you may hear a voice saying “wait, there’s more.” Because there is!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell

I picked up Inspector of the Dead on the trade table as I was leaving the world's largest mystery convention, Bouchercon, last November, and stuffed it in my already overstuffed bag because I thought the cover was so beautiful. That was even before I noticed that David Morell wrote it and that it had two autographed postcards from Morrell inside. I am so glad I did. I loved reading this book.

My first favorite thing about this book is the characters. The series revolves around the fictionalization of the real writer Thomas De Quincey, most well known for writing, Confessions of an Opium Eater.  (If you are curious about Confessions, you can find it electronically along with many works out of copyright, on gutenberg.org.) 

You also get point of view from his daughter, Emily, who favors the newfangled and somewhat scandalous bloomer skirts over pants invented by Amelia Bloomer, the rich and powerful Home Secretary of England, Lord Palmerston, and various members of the newly formed Metropolitan Police Department and Scottland Yard. These characters are all different and fun to watch.  

My second favorite thing it's set in Victorian England in 1855. Morrell does a brilliant job providing a sense of the City of London at that time, the political concerns, economic disparities, and Victorian attitudes in a fresh way. The books are like their covers - you get lost in the London fog as you are drawn into the time and the lines blur between fact and fiction. 

My third favorite thing is that this book was the second in a series, so as soon as I finished, I got the first book, Murder as a Fine Art. It was as excellent as the second, and I didn't feel like I lost anything having read the second in the series first. It had all of the same main characters and the murder laid out in the first echos an actual murder De Quincey wrote an essay about and one of the most infamous murders of that time, The Ratcliff Highway multiple murders.  

I will definitely be on the lookout for book number three. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Novel Teas & Tea Pot

Yesterday's post featured Kerry Hammond's review of the cookbook, The Afternoon Tea Collection. And now she's back with her favorite tea and some great tea pots.

Here are two great products that allow you to combine a love of reading with a love of tea. I found these tea bags at a store called Uncommon Goods around Christmas time. They’re called Novel Teas and each tea bag tag has a different quote from a famous author. And the tea is my absolute favorite, English Breakfast. Great to buy for yourself or a gift for a book lover.

And to drink the tea, you can’t beat this teapot and mug set. It has a books design and the lid of the pot is a little stack of books. The teapot is small, more of an individual, and holds enough for two small cups. You can buy the teapot and mugs on Amazon.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tea Time & Cookbook Review

Since we love tea at Mystery Playground (you can check out our review of Downton Abbey tea here), Kerry Hammond decided to review a tea cookbook, The Afternoon Tea Collection and try out some of the recipes. Here are her results...

We have quite a few places in Denver where you can sit down to a traditional Afternoon Tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches and scones. I decided to try and make my own version and picked up a tiered rack at a tea shop, which conveniently fit plates I already owned. I saw the perfect cookbook in a catalog at Christmas called The Afternoon Tea Collection.

I decided on four recipes for my four tiers, two sandwiches, one scone, and one dessert. Here is what I made:

Marinated Cucumber Sandwiches
Salmon and Herbed Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Date Scones with Whipped Caramel Butter
Lime and Ginger Kisses

Everything tasted great, and I would highly recommend the cookbook. There are tons of different recipes for each aspect of afternoon tea, and they are broken down into categories. You can really mix it up any way you want and come up with enough variations to last a lifetime. Cheers!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Drinks with Reads: Pomegranate Campari Cocktail & The Company She Keeps

Author Diana Chambers is here teaching us the easy way to extract pomegranate seeds and how to make a Pomegranate Campari Cocktail -- the perfect accompaniment to her new book, The Company She Keeps. 

Iran. About as far as you can get from Alert, North Carolina, but life takes you places.

First stop Georgetown, DC, where Evelyn Walker learns from CIA officer Nick Daley that her smart techie boyfriend is a Soviet mole. The daughter of a military man, “E” follows the path of duty, which leads her deep into the realm of espionage with its deceit, glamour, and sexual intrigue. Too deep, she later realizes—too late. Now back from Afghanistan (my novel Stinger), Nick grows to care for his agent. Yet he is forced to send her into a world of danger, from Europe’s grand boulevards to Iran’s Grand Bazaar. 

After one betrayal too many, E resigns from “The Company” and moves to Paris where she meets Iranian importer Kari Mansour. When Nick later informs her that Karim is in fact an arms dealer, she defends him hotly and her lover confirms he was set-up. The couple marries and, pursued by US and French intelligence, flee to Tehran, where E must adapt to new ways in the land of the Ayatollahs. Beginning with learning to wear a veil. 

Karim’s boyhood nanny, Fatma, teaches E how to make Persian rice (see my recipe in The MWA Cookbook, published by Quirk Books). A devoted gardener and rose-lover, Karim also grows pomegranates, a native Persian fruit that spread along the Silk Road. Having lived twenty years in France, he is not a teetotaler, but the beauty of this drink is that it is delicious with or without Campari.

Fatma’s traditional way to extract seeds: Score pomegranate around middle. Gently twist open over a bowl and ease skin from seeds. 

Hold half seed-side down over bowl and tap skin with wooden spoon, rotating in palm. 

To make juice, push seeds through fine-mesh sieve into container. (For me, this method produced 6 ounces from 1 pomegranate.)

Pomegranate Campari Cocktail

2 parts chilled pomegranate juice (via sieve, juicer, or store)
3 parts chilled soda 
1 part Campari

Add juices and soda to glass. Top with Campari and pomegranate seeds as garnish. (You can also serve it as a tall drink with ice, especially gorgeous if you substitute 1 part fresh orange juice for 1 part soda).

Diana Chambers was born with a book in one hand and a passport in the other. Before long, she was wandering Paris cobblestones. Later, an Asian importing business led to Hollywood costume design, then scriptwriting—until her characters demanded their own novels. And so CIA officer Nick Daley shows up in Stinger, somewhere near the Khyber Pass. When he recruits Eve Walker in The Company She Keeps, their cases take them from Paris to Iran. Following disastrous complications, the two reunite in Diana’s current project, Into the Fire, set in Southeast Asia. Diana lives in a small Northern California town with her Fellow Traveler husband, arty daughter, and steadfast mutt. She is a member of Writers Guild of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime-NorCal board. Her bag is always packed. dianarchambers.com, facebook.com/DianaChambersAuthor, twitter.com/DianaRChambers.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Crafty Thursdays: Bookish Pillows

Kerry Hammond is back with another wonderful craft. Now she's making pocket pillows with all sorts of wonderful bookish fabric. It's of medium difficulty so we're going to give it three Sherlocks in our difficulty scale...

Today’s craft is somewhere in the middle of the difficulty range. If you know how to operate a sewing machine, it’s one of the simplest things you can make. I made this pocket pillow cover in less than 20 minutes, including measuring and cutting the fabric. You can use any material, but I suggest a pattern front and solid back.

Materials & Tools:
Sewing Machine
Pillow Form

Step One: Cutting your Fabric
The size of the fabric you need depends on the size of your pillow form. The pillow shown is 16 x 16 inches. So I cut my top fabric (the book print) 17 x 17 inches to allow for a seam. The back fabric (solid) is cut into two pieces, to make the envelope overlap. I cut mine each 17 x 12 inches.

Step Two: Iron back Panels 
For each back panel, fold over ¼ inch one of the long edges (the 17 inch wide one) and iron in place. Then fold over another ¼ inch and iron again. Pin this in place. Repeat with other back panel.

Step Three: Sew Each Back Panel
Sew each of the areas you folded over and ironed. Stitch right down the center of your pinned area.

Step Four: Sew Back to Front
Place your front panel face up on your table. Place one back panel face down (right side to right side) lining up the unfinished edges on top, with your sewn side in the middle. Place second back panel over the first, also right side down, lining up the unfinished edges on the bottom, with the sewn side in the middle. The sewn edges of the back panels should overlap. Pin in place. Sew around the entire outer square using ½ inch seam.

Step Five: Turn and Stuff
Turn pillowcase right side out and stuff your pillow form inside. 

You can make any size pillow, you just have to adjust your measurements to fit the pillow you’re using. Here it is in Poe fabric...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Interview with Gigi Pandian

Gigi Pandian returns to Mystery Playground today to answer our nosy questions about her new book, Quicksand. You can see which drink she paired with her last book here. Don't forget to sign up for the rafflecopter giveaway below. Gigi is giving away some great prizes. 

Where did you get the idea for this book? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?

On May 3, 1998, an art heist took place at the Louvre in Paris. The theft took place in broad daylight, on a crowded Sunday afternoon, and the thieves made off with a valuable Corot painting. 

On that day, I was a recent college graduate backpacking through Europe. The Louvre offered free admission one Sunday per month. That Sunday was May 5, 1998. I was there at the Louvre during the art heist. 

The museum was locked down for hours, but the painting was never recovered. We were all corralled into the large main lobby beneath the pyramid, presumably to be searched, but it was chaos. It was fascinating to watch! 

I didn’t yet know I’d become a mystery novelist, but once I did, I knew I’d write about that experience one day. In QUICKSAND, history professor Jaya Jones visits Paris for the first time and finds herself part of an art heist at the Louvre that’s much more than it seems.   

How long did it take you to get your first draft done of this book?

I write quickly and intensely, but in many stages that build out the book from a messy idea into a polished manuscript. So it’s fair to say that this book took me one month to write, but also that it took well over a year.   

Until I discovered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I’d toyed with the idea of writing a novel but never finished anything. The publicly declared goal of writing a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days gave me the push I needed to finish a book. I wrote a draft of my debut novel, ARTIFACT, in 30 days. 

The energy of writing a draft in a month continues to work for me, so that’s how I begin all of my books. 

If your protagonist were actually a real person, would you be friends with them? Why or why not?

I’m a mystery fan who most enjoys books with likeable characters, so that’s what I like to write, too. 

Jaya has some challenging people in her life (such as her academic rival) but I’ve also given her a set of quirky friends (such as a stage magician and a librarian punk) who took on lives of their own and who I wouldn’t mind having in my own life. 

What did you do to research the book?

Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. Not as an avoidance technique, but I love the subjects and destinations featured in my books – which is why I write about them in the first place!

QUICKSAND is set in San Francisco and in three spots in France: Paris, Nantes, and Mont Saint-Michel. As with the other books in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series, this one involves India’s colonial history. I read up on the history of Mont Saint-Michel and delved deeper into India’s colonial history – and then I dragged my husband to France 

In QUICKSAND: Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.


USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern Tip of India. After spending her childhood being dragged around the world, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist). Gigi’s debut novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards.  

Sign up for Gigi’s newsletter at http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/, connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and Twitter (@GigiPandian), and check out her gargoyle photography on the Gargoyle Girl Blog (http://www.gargoylegirl.com/). 

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