Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Sharon Long is here to review Kristi Belcamino's latest novel, Blessed are Those Who Mourn...

Blessed are Those Who Mourn is the fourth book in the Gabriella Giovanni Mystery series by Kristi Belcamino. This book published by Witness Impulse for William Morrow was released today. I was intrigued by the title and curious to read this book. I am happy to report, this mystery thriller did not disappoint. 

Gabriella, a crime reporter, her detective boyfriend, Donovan, and their daughter Grace are enjoying an evening at the beach waiting for the sunset. Gabriella has gone to the car for a jacket as it is getting cold. As she is walking back, she sees a man close to Grace and finds herself frozen in place due to panic. Donovan is on his phone and does not see as the man starts to grab his daughter's arm. The man looks at Gabriella and their eyes meet. Donovan questions the man about what he is doing and his response is Grace is so cute and he is sorry. The man leaves after more questions and Gabriella is still shaken as something about him did not seem right.   

No sunset tonight as Donovan tells her there has been a murder of a girl on the banks of Roe Island. They quickly leave and drop Grace off at her grandmother's house. Once at the crime scene, Donovan becomes the detective and Gabriella the reporter. She is standing with the other reporters but gets bored and begins walking. Gabriella sees a piece of paper and picks it up realizing it is a bible verse. Now she is really starting to shake thinking that he is back. The man who kidnaped and later murdered her seven-year-old sister 25 years ago. That killer used this same verse for his first victim. The story quickly moves to more murders and more danger, even life and death, for Gabriella and her family. 

I was drawn into the story immediately wanting to also know if the killer had returned. The idea of bible verses at murder scenes, I found to be brilliant. I really enjoyed Gabriella because she is a strong woman who does not back down in a fight. San Francisco and the surrounding beaches are a perfect backdrop for the story. I also enjoyed Gabriella's big Italian family and their love for each other. This story evokes strong emotions in the characters and the reader as I could clearly relate to the anguish both past and present. The plot is fast paced and extremely realistic. Again this is the fourth book in this series which is one where it is not necessary to read the previous books. This is the first I have read and did not feel like I was missing any information. Now I am going back to read the other three in the series for my own pleasure and enjoyment.

This book was provided by the publisher to Mystery Playground. The review is fair and independent. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub

Kerry Hammond is here today reviewing Wendy Corsi Staub's new book, Blood Red. Don't you just love the title? 

Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub is Book One in the exciting new Mundy’s Landing Trilogy. It came out today, September 29 in Mass Market Paperback by William Morrow publishers. Wendy is a New York Times Bestselling author who has written more than 80 novels. With her celebrated and lengthy career, I’m not sure how I missed reading her for so long, but I’m glad I finally made the discovery. The synopsis I saw describing Blood Red sounded so dark and disturbing that I was immediately drawn in, and I knew I had to read it.

Mundy’s Landing is a picturesque town in New York State’s Hudson Valley. We learn, however, that the town hasn’t always been idyllic. As the residents set out to celebrate the 350 year anniversary, we learn that there was a disturbing incident of cannibalism when the town was first settled. More recently, albeit 100 years ago, a string of murders horrified the town. To this day, the crimes have gone unsolved, but the locals have never forgotten. Mundy’s Landing even hosts a convention each year where attendees try to solve the cold case known as the Sleeping Beauty Murders. My kind of town, I have to say.
Rowan Mundy is a teacher at the local elementary school. She moved back to her childhood home town with her family to live a peaceful life. Her last name is no coincidence, her husband is related to the founding family of the town. One day Rowan receives a package. What she finds inside takes her back to an event in her past she thought was behind her. The event is a secret she has kept all this time, one that only one other person should know. If that person sent it, it’s a sick joke. If it was sent by someone else, the thought is even more disturbing. Rowen sets out to find out who knows her secret, and the impact to her family if it comes to light. All the while, a psychotic killer known to us only as Casey, is slowly headed toward town, killing young female redheads on the way.

At the end of each chapter the author inserts a newspaper article from the Mundy’s Landing Tribune Archives. These date from 1916 to present day and the reader is able to learn more about the history and charm of the town, as well as additional clues to the events that are unfolding present day.  We also get glimpses into Casey’s story during the occasional chapters from the murderer’s point of view.

The book was intriguingly well-written. The way the author unwound the story piece by piece kept me glued to the book. Don’t be put off by the fact that you know the killer’s name from the beginning. The who and why are the important pieces to the puzzle, and those aren’t easily figured out. The characters actions, and the consequences they faced because of them, really made me think. I turned the last page and the events haunted me for days afterward. It’s the sign of a good book when it takes you days to get it out of your system. 

The next in the trilogy is called Blue Moon, and is due out in the Summer of 2016.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rediscovering Marilyn Todd

One of the things I love about the monthly short-story magazines Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is discovering new authors. If I love a short story, I’ll go out and get the book. But this time Ellery Queen helped me return to an author that I had lost, Marilyn Todd.

About ten years ago, I found Marilyn Todd’s first Roman mystery in the wonderful used book section of a fabulous bookstore in Corte Madera, California. The book was called, “I, Claudia,” and it was about a woman who sounded a bit like the Erica Kane of Ancient Rome.

I picked up the book and loved it. The protagonist, Claudia Severis was as irreverent as she was interesting. She navigated the male dominated society of Rome as she liked. I read through several of the Claudia books but then they stopped and I lost track of Marilyn Todd.

Fast forward to 2013. I picked up my issue Ellery Queen, and there was a short story by Marilyn Todd. I did a double take on the name, and it was the same author. I began to look forward to stories by Marilyn and often read those first in Ellery before other authors. Since then she’s had short stories in Ellery Queen in 2014 and three so far in 2015.

I recently went to her website and she’s reissued all of the Claudia Severus books, including two that I have never read. So I ordered those. 

I has also written another series, this one set in Ancient Greece. I started reading the Ancient Greece series, and loved it. They are a little darker, but I love the history and the strong woman protagonist. 

If you love ancient Rome, strong females characters and a lot of irreverence, you might love Claudia Severis as much as I do. And if you don't, you may want to pick up an issue of Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock to use short stories as a doorway to find an author you do love...

- Deborah Lacy, Mystery Playground

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Gottfrieds to Be Awarded David S. Thompson Award

One of the great things about the Mystery community is that so many people volunteer their time to further the field by working on mystery conventions and promoting books and reading. Each year the national board for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, awards the David S. Thompson Award to recognize extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the mystery and crime fiction community. Nominees include writers, publishers, readers, editors, and fans.

This years recipients are Bill & Toby Gottfried. Bill & toby have promoted mysteries and crime fiction through their involvement in mystery conventions, books groups, book buying, discussions and so much more. 

Toby and Bill have attended almost every Bouchercon since 1985. They have actively participated on multiple Bouchercon committees and have chaired two Left Coast Crime Conventions. At each convention, they make authors and readers feel welcome.

Their involvement in the mystery community is driven by a love of people intellect, mystery, history, and fun. The David S. Thompson Award will be presented at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, NC, on Saturday, October 10, 2015.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Build Your Own Fortune Teller Machine

Ever since I first walked down Main Street USA at Disneyland and saw Esmeralda I have been fascinated by Fortune Teller machines. And now I've found a company that will make you any kind you want - your ideal fortune teller machine - custom made. They'll even sell you the little fortune cards that come out of the machine. 

You can get a fortune telling Sherlock, like the one above.

Or why not get Big Al, the Fortune Telling 1920s Gangster:

Here's the Zoltar Machine - a similar machine was featured in the Tom Hanks movie, BIG:

Here's a demonstration of how the character machines work:

Now I just have to decide which one to get and where to put it...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Drinks with Reads: The Replacements and The Snowball

David Putnam joins us today for a truly unique pairing of a drink and read, matching his book The Replacements with a concoction called The Snowball. I am dying to find out what's in this one...

First a little about the book from Publishers Weekly:

"The Disposables finds Bruno Johnson, a former L.A. sheriff’s cop, settled in Costa Rica with his wife, Marie, and the eight abused children they rescued and took (illegally) from the U.S. Early in his career, Johnson intervened in a violent domestic case and managed to save the life of five-year-old Jonas Mabry. Now an adult, Jonas has kidnapped two young girls and will deal only with Johnson. … Jonas proves to be a diabolically clever opponent as he runs circles around Johnson, leading him down one blind alley after another and forcing him to make desperate moves. Putnam steadily ratchets up the tension, while memorable supporting characters, like the courageous Marie, help engage reader interest."

The pink pig and the .44 Magnum, next to this chocolate and marshmallow snowball drink, appear on the cover of the most recently released Bruno Johnson book, The Replacements

The Disposables came out in 2014. The Squandered will be released Feb. 2, 2016.

A snowball beverage is the perfect pairing for this series since Bruno Johnson, when away from his sweetheart Marie, likes to drink chocolate milk and Hostess "Sno Balls." Below find David's wife Mary's easy-to-make recipe. 

The Bruno Johnson series has been described as:  "...raw, powerful, and eloquent… a gritty street poem..." by Michael Connelly.

Mary Putnam's Snowball Recipe 


Hot Chocolate or similar, like instant Swiss mocha
(optional) alcohol, like whipped-cream flavored vodka or Kahlua Marshmallow Creme (optional) unsweetened coconut, colored pink w/a little red food coloring


Hostess Sno Balls come in a variety of colors. Since David's book had Bruno eating pink ones, I colored the unsweetened shredded coconut pink by tossing some in a plastic bag with a little red food coloring. 

Make hot chocolate or mocha and spike as need, depending on how your day's going. Put the shredded coconut in a small bowl. Roll a big dollop of the marshmallow creme in the coconut and drop it on the hot beverage. 

Mary's tip: Keep the extra marshmallow creme to use instead of whipped cream or creamer with your coffee. Yum!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Homemade Halloween Chocolates

It's almost time for Halloween so today we're starting our Halloween treat series to get you all ready. A few months ago we did chocolate disguise lollypops. And today we're taking our chocolate mold melting skills to the next level. We're making three kinds of treats:
  • Spider, cat and pumpkin chocolates with oreos in the middle
  • Vampire fangs pops
  • Gravestone and bones chocolates

Here's what you'll need to make all three:

  • Molds - we used four molds - vampire teeth pop mold, spider cookies, cat & pumpkin cookies and gravestone mold. They have them at Michaels, Amazon and Jo Ann Fabrics.
  • Wilton Chocolate melts - This is tempered chocolate, ready to melt smoothly. I used dark chocolate and three flavors of colored chocolate: Orange - Pumpkin Spice, White Chocolate and Green Chocolate - Green Apple (available at Michaels, Amazon, Joann Fabrics)
  • Melt dishes - you can use any microwave safe dish
  • Lollypop sticks
  • Oreo cookies (I used the Halloween cookies with the orange filling)
  • A flat empty place in you refrigerator
  • Squeeze bottle

Let's start with the Gravestones and bones chocolates, since they are the easiest. You use two colors of chocolate but in different areas of the mold. 


Step One:

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. 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. The white chocolate takes longer to melt than the dark chocolate. 

Step Two:
Fill your molds. Push the chocolate down into the shape, especially the white chocolate. Look underneath to make sure you don't have bubbles showing. Wipe away any excess if you can. Once your molds are full, put them in a flat place in your fridge. 

Step Three:
In five to ten minutes they will be done and ready to pop out of the molds. Trim any undesirable excess carefully with a knife. I put them in a little bag together. It looks so cute.


Step One:
You'll need two colors of chocolate for this one: White and Dark. Melt the white first and just put in about ten wafers. Use the same melting directions as above. 

Step Two:
Put some white chocolate in the squeeze bottle. Fill in your vampire teeth in the mold. Wipe away any excess that you can. 

Step Three:
Put this in the refrigerator for a few minutes. 

Step Four:
Melt the dark chocolate. Fill in the rest of the mold. Wipe away any excess.

Step Five:
Put it back in the fridge. Take it out in about five - ten minutes. Use a knife to get rid of any excess. 

And you're done! 


Step One:
Melt your chocolate as you did above. If you want to make a different color chocolate design as we did in the photo below, melt one color and fill a squeeze bottle with the first chocolate. 

Step Two:
Fill the squeeze bottle with the first color of chocolate. Fill in your design like the spider below. Ours were never as neat at the photo on the package :(.

Step Three:
After that dries melt a second color of chocolate. Put some in the cookie mold but only fill it half way. Then put your cookie in and cover it with chocolate. Put it in the fridge to harden, and you're done! 

Come back next week for another Halloween Treat Tutorial. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Goldy's Kitchen with Diane Mott Davidson

Diane Mott Davidson has a wonderful cookbook coming out this week, called Goldy's Kitchen. It's a compilation of all of the recipes from her mystery novels (plus a never published before chapter with health-conscious fare), stories and reminiscences. It's a wonderful cookbook full of the personality that make Diane's novels so much fun to read.

Here's her recipe for Caprese Salad from the book included in the book. This gives you a feel from the stories she includes with the recipes.

(reprinted with permission from Harper Collins and Diane Mott Davidson, copyright Diane Mott Davidson, all rights reserved)

Here she is as she "pretends" to make Chocolate Snowflake Cookies because she couldn't bring and oven and a blender to the ALA conference. 


If you love stories and food, you'll love Goldy's Kitchen.