Sunday, May 31, 2015

Melissa McCarthy in SPY

The movie "Spy", starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law and Rose Byrne hits the theaters next Friday night. I'm hoping it's as funny as The Heat, and not at all like Tammy. It definitely has potential. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book Review: Constant Fear by Daniel Palmer

Kim Hammond is back today to review Daniel Palmer's latest, Constant Fear. 

"Death doesn’t schedule an appointment."
This is the gripping first line in Palmer’s 5th standalone.  We meet single father Jake Dent who has been raising his son Andy since he was a toddler diagnosed with diabetes.  Once Jake had it all, a beautiful wife and child, and a professional career in baseball, until one bad decision took it all away and threw him into a downward spiral.

After a long bought of depression that cost him more than he’s willing to talk about, Jake’s the head custodian and grounds manager at prestigious Pepperell Academy run by his brother. It’s not pitching in the major leagues, but it puts food on the table and Andy gets to attend school at “The Pep” as the kids called it. Jake couldn’t have afforded the education otherwise and for that he’s grateful.

He’s even dating again.  Jake met Ellie Barnes, a local police sergeant in Winston, at the range, but they realized they had a connection when she told Jake she trained service dogs for people with diabetes and he confessed Andy’s battle with the disease. But Ellie knows Jake’s hiding something from her. He won’t commit any further in their relationship and he doesn’t get into a lot of personal things with her.

Jake can’t tell Ellie about how he got out of his deep depression. He doesn’t want her to judge him or worse, walk out on him.  He was at a low point in his life when he came across a survivalist blog by a man named Thomas Wiggins. The blog helped him feel empowered and inspired and made him feel secure again and in control of his life for the first time in a very long time.  It made him get out of bed again and care for Andy, instead of his parents doing it for him. But he has become a little extreme with his GOOD Pack (get out of dodge), and his hidden BOL (bug-out location) fully stocked with food, supplies and weapons. Jake‘s ready for the end of the world and he plans on he and Andy surviving.

The last thing 16-year-old Andy wants to do is humor his father by participating in night drills where they run through the woods like the devil is on their heels to get to their hideaway under The Pep through its series of secret tunnels. Andy wants to be with his close group of friends working on their Robinhood scheme. They call themselves The Shire and this group of six kids are robbing from the rich to give to the poor. The adolescent hackers take small sums from rich Pep parents and donate the money to worthwhile charities. 

All was going well until they stole from the wrong man, and their “small sum” turned into $200 million dollars. Suddenly they had the attention of a vicious Mexican cartel who didn’t care how they got their money back or who they had to kill to do it.  A staged chemical spill and fear of contamination enables them to kidnap The Shire. Jake’s suddenly a father that is willing to sacrifice his life to save Andy and his friends, and this doomsday prepper may be the only hope these kids have. 

I enjoyed this book and liked the characters even though Jake initially came across as a bit weird. He ended the book as a hero. He really was just a father just trying to protect his child and as a mother I know I would do anything for my daughter. The story line was interesting and believable, although the bitcoins subject was a little above my head. I think Palmer's writing is growing with each book and I look forward to his next one.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Milk Shake & Truffled to Death

Author Kathy Aarons is here today to match her new cozy mystery, Truffled to Death, with the perfect drink - the chocolate peanut butter milkshake. Truffled to Death is the second in the Chocolate Covered Mystery series by Berkley Prime Crime. The first in the series, Death is Like Chocolate, was a national best-seller.

AND she's giving away a copy of her new book - if the winner is a US resident, the book can be in e-book or physical form - winners choice. If the winner is outside of the US, it would be ebook. Take it away Kathy...

As you might be able to deduce from the titles, these books are set in a chocolate shop, but not just any chocolate shop. Chocolates and Chapters is the best combination of shops ever – featuring Michelle Serrano’s artisan chocolate and Erica Russell’s books. Together they provide the citizens of West Riverdale, Maryland with delicious truffles and the latest best-sellers – with a little mystery solving on the side. 

Hoping to sweeten sales for their shop, Chocolates and Chapters, Michelle and Erica host a reception highlighting a new museum display of ancient Mayan pottery curated by Erica’s former mentor, Professor Addison Moody. The evening has a few hiccups, but the ladies soon smooth things over with ample servings of wine and chocolate.

Yet with the sweet comes the bitter. The very next day, the antiquities from the reception are discovered missing. The professor accuses Erica of having sticky fingers, claiming she wants revenge on him. And she’s only in more trouble after he’s found stabbed to death with one of the artifacts. Now Michelle must help Erica track down the real killer before someone else finds themselves in less than mint condition…

Of course, Michelle’s favorite drink (besides Maryland beers) is a chocolate milkshake. The following recipe is simple, yet delicious, satisfying the urge for chocolate combined with the salty taste of peanut butter. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake

1 ½ cup Chocolate Ice Cream
2/3 cup Whole Milk
1/4 cup Smooth Peanut Butter

Add ice cream, milk and peanut butter to blender. Adjust thickness by adding or decreasing milk. Blend for 30 seconds or until mixed.

Pour into glass and top with whip cream. You can also add chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, and/or cherries as you like. 


You can find Truffled to Death at your local independent bookstore, Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and you can follow Kathy on Facebook, Twitter or 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Make Your Own Miniature Chairs

Camille Minichino (AKA Margaret Grace) joins us today for Crafty Thursdays to tell us how to make these wonderful miniatures and to tell us about her latest book, Manhattan in Miniature. AND Camille is giving away a handy craft tool, so don't forget to comment below to enter.

Geraldine Porter and her 11-year-old granddaughter are not just co-sleuths; they're partners in all things miniature. They work together building dollhouses, making room boxes, and creating small pieces like these café chairs.  

In their newest adventure, Manhattan in Miniature, released in April by Margaret Grace, the two travel to New York City to help with a miniatures fair at a hotel near Grand Central Station. One of Maddie's favorite demonstrations is this DIY miniature chair made from the cages of champagne bottles, perfect for a patio or an ice cream shop. Here's her instruction sheet.

• 2 "cages" from champagne bottles 
• pliers
• wire cutters (optional)

• cork (optional)


Step 1. Disassembly. 

Remove the bottom wire from each cage: Either use pliers to untwist the ends (usually very difficult) or use wire cutters to snip out the twisted sections. Slide the wires through the loops at the ends of the "legs." Put the loose wires aside.

* You now already have two stools! But let's get a little fancier. We'll call this the seat and legs of the chair and move on to construct the back.

Step 2. The chair back. 

Take the second cage, also minus its bottom wire, and bend two of the legs straight down, the other two across each other. (If you dislodge the cap from the legs, don't worry, it can be snapped back later, or glued in place.)

Step 3. Attaching chair back to seat. 

Twist legs of the second cage around bottom legs of the first cage.

Here's your chair! (Note, I didn't have enough supplies from the same winery, so the finished chair shown has a different logo!)  

Step 4. Finishing touches.

Straighten any crooked sections. Turn bottom loops out to form "feet" and adjust legs so that all feet touch the floor. 
You're done. Have a seat!


(1) Take the bottom wire extracted from Step 1. Twist the wire into any shape you like (Make it smoother than I've done here!).

 (2) Attach the ends of the wire to the legs of the stool in the same way as Step 3 above. Shown here: sample soda fountain chairs with fancy backs. Some of the wires have been painted black.

(3) Make a cushion from scrap fabric and add to the seat of the chair, or (as shown) simply cut a circle of any design to size and glue to cap.

(4) Make a table using a cork as a base. The top can be a piece of glass or any other rigid material that can be supported by the cork. Or simply use the cork as is. Most corks are too tall for the scale of their cages, and will probably need to be trimmed down.

I hope you have a good time furnishing a soda fountain or café.

Each of the eight miniature mysteries by Margaret Grace has tips at the end for other fun projects.

Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace) is the author of more than 20 mysteries, as well as short stories and nonfiction. She's at and blogs at

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Trinity College, The Book of Kells and The Long Room

Kerry Hammond is back today continuing our series on mysterious and bookish places in Ireland. Comment below to be entered to win the coaster set below, just say something about your favorite library. 

On my recent trip to Dublin, I wandered around the city in the footsteps of James Joyce, which included a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy for lunch at Davey Byrne’s pub. But no trip to the Republic of Ireland’s capital city is complete without a visit to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells and The Long Room, the college’s famous library.

Our guided tour was led by a knowledgeable college student and ended at the library. We stood in awe of the high ceilings and two story shelves that gave the impression that the quantity of books was never-ending. The main room of the library, shown here, is over 200 feet long and there are more than 200,000 of the library’s oldest books on the shelves. The room was originally built in 1712 and 1732, and was only one story. In 1860 the ceiling was raised and the upper floor was added. Marble busts representing philosophers and writers line the rows of books. 

The Book of Kells display at the library is a permanent exhibit and definitely worth the admission fee. It is a gospel book that is believed to have been in existence since 800 AD. The text is so perfectly written that it’s hard to believe it was done by hand so long ago. The illustrations are beautifully drawn in a variety of colors and intricate designs. There is one book open for view under a glass case and everyone crowded around to get a look. The exhibit also displays many reprinted pages that are enlarged so that you can see the detail.   

We’re having another Mystery Playground contest today. The prize is a set of 4 coasters showing Doors of Dublin. All you have to do is post a comment here and tell us about your favorite library, whether you’ve visited it or just seen it in photos. The contest ends one week from today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Hush

Sharon Long is here today reviewing the Kate White Thriller, Hush...

Hush is a mystery thriller by Kate White.  Lake Warren is a working mother, who in the process of a divorce from her husband, Jack.  She is a marketing consultant and is currently working on a new proposal for an infertility clinic in New York.  Four months after their separation, Jack is now filing for custody of their two children, who are away at summer camp.  Lake's attorney warns her to be careful of what she is doing, who she is seeing, etc.  He basically tells her to not date or be seen with any men until the custody is decided.  This will be difficult as Lake is  attracted to the new handsome Dr. Keaton who has just announced he will join the clinic's staff.  Lake has been invited to the celebratory dinner for the handsome Doctor and when he invites her to his apartment for a nightcap afterward; she throws caution to the wind and goes.  She awakens in the wee hours of the night going out to the terrace and falling back asleep.  In the morning, Lake is terrified to discover Dr. Keaton had his throat slashed while she slept outside.  As panic sets in, she flees and goes back to her apartment.

From here, Lake's problems are only just beginning.  Once the news is out about Dr. Keaton's death, the police question everyone at the clinic and she decides to be quiet about where she was on that fateful night.  Strange things start happening to Lake; she is being followed, her phone and door bell ring in the middle of the night and she is chased into the river by a man with a knife.  During all of this, Lake is beginning to suspect Dr. Keaton's murder was an inside job.  In addition, she has stumbled on a possible scandal involving embryos at the clinic.  Lake forms an alliance with a reporter, Kit Archer, who persuades her to try and uncover the mystery.  However, we find out that Dr. Keaton also had a gambling problem and Lake begins to fear for her life.  As if that is not enough, there is the unusual behavior by her best friend, Molly, who is constantly questioning Lake about the doctor's murder, her ex husband, etc.  Not to mention how some of the clinic staff is treating her.  Lake realizes she is not sure whom she can trust and/or believe.  

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the number of suspects and how the author leads the reader from one to another. I must say I was surprised once I knew who the real murderer was.  This book is very well written with a smooth, fluid, easy writing style. The characters are extremely believable and likeable. Lake, the main character, is a well developed strong female who is credible and plausible.  I would absolutely recommend Hush to readers who like a novel which is both plot and character driven.  

Kate White has written ten books to date including a series. I was interested to learn for 14 years Kate was Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine until she left in late 2013 to be a full-time author.  This was my first Kate White novel but will most definitely not be my last!    

Monday, May 25, 2015


I first experienced that perfectly named fruit - dragonfruit - when I was on a bike riding trip in Thailand. I'd never seen it in the states so when I came across is while on a trip to Santa Fe, I had to try it again. When you cut open the fruit, this is what it looks like.

To prepare it, you peel off the thick pinkish outer skin, so you can get to the white fruit with black seeds. 

The fruit is light and filled with water. The seeds remind me of sesame seeds when you bite into them.

It's a great treat for a super hot day.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mystery Writers of America Grand Masters

The Mystery Writers of America honors the best of the best of mystery writers each year by bestowing the Grand Master Award at it's banquet in May. This year they featured photos of all the recipients in the event program. I had so much fun combing through the names and photos that I thought I'd share. See how many you can identify before checking the chest sheet below...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Turn Your Book Case into a Staircase

Now you can make your own staircase of books thanks to the That Makes a Statement Etsy Store. Each of these book spines comes in a vinyl decal that is custom made so you can whip one of these up in a flash. Each decal is $25. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Drinks with Reads: JA Konrath & Whiskey Sour

Kerry Hammond has been reading J.A. Konrath's Whiskey Sour and she matches it with the perfect drink. Three guesses what she picked... 

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath is the first in the Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels mystery series. Jack is a tough Chicago cop, a woman in a man’s world, who has worked hard to gain the respect of her co-workers and made it to Police Lieutenant. She’s kind of having a bad week when the book starts. She suffers from insomnia, so hasn't been sleeping well. In addition to that, her live in boyfriend moved out and left her for another woman. Then they find dead body.

The police quickly realize that a serial killer is loose in Chicago and he is calling himself the Gingerbread Man. He is abducting young women, doing unspeakably horrible things to them before and after death, and dumping their bodies. So far, the police are unable many deduce any clues from the crimes scenes and are at a loss as to how the Gingerbread Man is choosing his victims. They are sure that if they could connect the girls in some way, they would be able to figure out who is behind the murders. The FBI has gotten involved and sent two agents to try and profile the killer, which mostly just irritates Jack. When the killer takes a personal interest in her, everything escalates. She not only has to find the killer, but protect herself as well.

I really liked the characters in the book. Jack’s partner Herb was one of my favorites. You can’t have a good detective without a great sidekick, and Herb definitely fits the bill. The bumbling FBI agents were comical, and the book had quite a bit of humor in it to offset the violent crime they were investigating. It was an entertaining read and since it’s only the first in a series of 8 books (the 9th due out this year I think), I have more to look forward to. It also appears that J.A. Konrath co-writes additional books featuring Jack, so there may be more out there to read.

You won’t be surprised to know that I just had to pair the book with a Whiskey Sour. Anything else would be wrong. Most books in the series are named after a drink, so I will have more drinks with reads for J.A. Konrath in the future. He’s even nice enough to put the recipe for the drink in the book. So this came right from the author.

Whiskey Sour
1 ½ ounce whiskey (I used Jack Daniels of course)
1 ½ ounce sour mix 

Shake well with ice and pour into an old-fashioned glass (keep the ice, don’t strain it out). Garnish with a cherry or an orange slice.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chocolate Lollypop Disguises

For Crafty Thursdays this week we're making Chocolate Lollypop Disguises. This is a super easy craft and you can use any mold you want. We went for lollipop molds that came in some form of disguise, mostly because we thought they'd make fun photos. That's a mustache pop above. 

Here's what you need:

  • Wilton Candy Melts - available at craft stores these come in all sorts of flavors and colors
  • Lollipop sticks - we used longer ones, available at craft stores 
  • A lollipop mold (like the lip mold above, they come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. They can be found at Michael's, AC Moore, Joanne's, Etsy and Ebay. Etsy and Ebay have more unusual molds. The craft stores have better prices especially if you wait for a sale or coupon.)
  • A double boiler or a microwave to melt the chocolate. The double boiler prevents the chocolate from melting unevenly and burning. You can read how to make one here. The microwave is easiest if you are using the candy melts. 
  • A container to melt your chocolate in
  • A spoon to help stir and pour

Step One:
Ready your mold, chocolate, and sticks. You're going to have to work quickly to get the lollipops done before the chocolate starts to set, so you don't want to be looking around the kitchen for your tools.

Step Two:
Put about 1.5 cups of chocolate melts into your container. Any more and you might have trouble melting it. Any less and you won't have enough for pops. Put the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir. It won't be fully melted yet. Put it back in for 15 seconds increments removing and stirring each time until melted. Don't put it in for longer, because if the chocolate burns, you can't save it. It seems like everyone has to learn this one the hard way. Here's what it looks like melted:

You can also dip fruit in at this stage if you'd rather skip the pop and add the fruit. 
Step Three:
Pour/spoon the chocolate into the mold. You'll have to gently finesse the chocolate with a fork to get it to the edges. 

Step Four:
Add your lollipop stick and twirl it around so it's fully covered in chocolate (see photo above). This is to make sure the chocolate stays attached to the stick.

Step Five:
Let the chocolate harden. This take about 5 minutes in the fridge, and about twenty out on the counter. 

These crowns need trimming. See the chocolate around the edges

Step Six:
Using a knife slowly trim any excess chocolate from the lollipop and wrap. I used cellophane bags from Michaels with a little twisty or ribbon at the bottom. 

Special thanks for Mysti Berry for helping me with these! 

And you're done. Done forget to comment below and we'll send one of you a mold for a bow tie lollipop. US Residents only. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Blarney Castle Poison Garden

Today we continue our five-part series on bookish and mysterious places in Ireland with Kerry Hammond's visit to the Poison Garden at the Blarney Castle. 

During my recent trip to Ireland, I visited the famous Blarney Castle. After kissing the Blarney Stone, I made my way down the stone steps and came across The Murder Hole. You can read my blog post describing this Medieval defense here. I then wandered the grounds of the Castle, which were expansive and beautiful.

Behind the Castle structure, you can find the entrance to the Poison Garden. The garden was planted in order to educate visitors on poisonous plants that can be found in nature, some in our own everyday gardens. Many of the plants that we deem poisonous have been used through the ages for medicinal purposes, and some continue this use today. 

“Physic Gardens” were commonly found throughout Europe in Medieval times. The castle signage described a Physic Garden as:

“A garden maintained for the study and cultivation of plants for medicinal purposes.”

Not all of the plants were flourishing during my visit, as March may not be the season for all of them, but some were visible. All were marked with a plaque explaining the plant’s description, its historic use, as well as modern. The plaque also explained what ingredient of the plant makes it poisonous and how the poison affects the human body. It also told of the mythical qualities of the plants, as well as the origin of the name. 

The garden contained many of the poisonous plants that we, as mystery readers, hear about. Many an Agatha Christie book contains death by poison. It was fascinating to read about such plants as Hemlock, Wormwood, Yew, Foxglove, and Deadly Nightshade.

You can see Kerry's other posts in this series here. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Candy Fun

Sometimes were all a bunch of big kids. The blogging team was out and about in Denver and we came across the Rocket Fizz, Soda Pop & Candy Shop. They had some candy gems, like the Scooby Doo Pez set above that comes in it's own Mystery Machine. Loved the concept of the Booger Candy below (but not enough to buy it.)

Here are Ouija Board mints. Mystery Playground blogger Kim bough these because she loved playing with Ouija boards when she was a kid.

This is a handy practical joke for any mystery lover.

And who doesn't need a Cat Woman Bobblehead...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Catriona McPherson & Cancel Tomorrow Pudding

Catriona McPherson joins us today to share a dessert recipe which she calls Pudding to help celebrate the release of her new book, Come to Harm. You can also check out her choice for the perfect recipe for her book.

I was delighted to be a guest at Mystery Playground on Friday, sharing the recipe for Craig McKendrick’s Pink Squirrel and matching it to my new book, Come to Harm, but I might have left readers with the idea that my heroine, Keiko Nishisato, is some kind of lightweight. Full story: as well as the wine and cocktails, that fateful party also included this easy but very boozy pudding. 

NB what Scots call pudding is what US speakers call dessert. I learned the difference early in the summer of 2010, when my husband turned to a dinner party hostess who had made a delectable key lime pie and said "nice pudding". If looks could kill I'd be widow now.

Cancel Tomorrow Pudding
One packet of chocolate chip cookies
One can of squirty cream
One packet of chocolate buttons or chocolate chips
One bottle of sweet sherry
(serves 4)

Set out four small plates and one big one. Fill the big plate with sherry. Soak four cookies in sherry and place one on each small plate. Cover each with a squirt of cream. Soak four more. Build towers of cookie/cream layers until the packet of cookies is finished. Finish off with last of the cream. Stud the towers with chocolate buttons. Drink any leftover sherry. Cancel tomorrow.

Here's Keiko Nishisato, waking up after the party when her BFF Fancy Clarke made the pudding and shared the leftover sherry:

'How much of that had happened?  The line between the end of the day and the start of the short hot night was blurry.  The rabbit carcasses, the snarling dog face in the kitchen were only dreams for sure.  She hadn’t rolled and rolled naked on the livingroom floor with Malcolm, mashed against the hairy flab of his chest, while Fancy and Craig watched and laughed and Mrs Poole jabbed her with her mop, but had Murray really been there and what had she said to make him slam out again?  She swung her legs to the floor and stood, trailed into the livingroom and lifted the phone. 
‘Fancy?’ she croaked.  ‘Are you feeling all right?’  
‘Jeezy-peeps,’ Fancy cackled.  ‘Maybe compared to you!'

Being a true friend, though, Fancy makes it up to Keiko with a breakfast of a hot fried sausage and egg sandwich. This cures the hangover, but answers none of the questions.