Thursday, March 31, 2016

Crafty Thursday: Best of Spring

It's officially spring, and although some parts of the country are still a bit cold, we thought we'd recap some of our most popular spring crafts throughout the history of Mystery Playground

The most popular spring craft to date was our easy to make Spring Herb Gardens. Since we bought the containers at a local thrift store, there are also quite economical. They are a great way to bring spring inside the house as early as possible. 

Next up is the Book Page Wreath that Kerry Hammond made. She made me one too and I keep it on my office door. 

Last but not least, we have the vintage slide lampshade. This craft does take some time but isn't as hard as it looks.

Come back next week when author Amanda Flower will show us how to make a birch bark pencil holder to celebrate the release of her new book, Crime & Poetry

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Alex Marwood

Kerry Hammond reports to Mystery Playground today from the most recent meeting of the Denver-based Crime & Beyond Book Club.

Our book club met this month to explore The Killer Next Door, a book by new-to-us author, Alex Marwood. Marwood is a British novelist and journalist who received wide acclaim for her previous book, psychological thriller The Wicked Girls. She continues to receive praise for The Killer Next Door and has since written another standalone novel of suspense, The Darkest Secret.

First, a little bit about the book. The Killer Next Door follows the lives of a group of people thrown together by unfortunate circumstances, in a London bedsit located at 23 Beulah Grove. Each is down on their luck in some way, and several are hiding from someone or something that could destroy them. One of them is a killer.

Marwood is a master of creating vivid characters that come to life on the pages of her book and stay with the reader long after the end of the novel. Her writing is so vivid that we felt we could smell the smells of the characters’ deplorable living conditions. The disgusting landlord was so real to us that we cringed at the very mention of his name.

The story was engaging, and at times wonderfully gruesome. We were drawn into the events in the lives of these unlikely neighbors and experienced quite a few surprises along the way. The author kept you in just enough suspense to make it hard to put the book down and delivered an ending that left us all extremely satisfied. A great read.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Princess Rap Battle

Princess Rap Battle, the brain child of Whitney Avalon features strong female characters battling it out with rap songs. There is a whole series of these short videos, but I just picked my three favorites to share with you. Some of the lyrics are explicit, so you may want to watch first to see if it's something you want to share with children. 

First up, we have Cinderella vs. Belle, and Sarah Michelle Geller plays Cinderella. 

Here are the lyrics in case you want to sing along. They are brilliant. 

CINDERELLA Another princess in my shadow come to covet my crown You clowns wanna throw down with the best in a gown? I'm the legendary story of rags to riches Rhymes sharper than a needle and I'm giving out stitches (ha!) Like a wilting rose you can't step to my flows These girls are trippin', did they cut off their toes? I deserve all the praise for the foot-fetish craze I've got itty-bitty kicks, but legs for days Let's look at your mentality, Freud loves your abnormality The Stockholm Syndrome Story: Beauty and the Bestiality Of course you're bitter, I'm the number one star Pumpkin carriage, perfect marriage, no one cares who you are 

BELLE What's my name? (Belle!) What's it mean? (Beauty!) I'm the perfect combination of brains and booty While I'm gaining knowledge you're losing your pumps Like Mrs. Potts I'm serving shots and dishing out lumps Cindy's dreaming she's important, well, somebody should wake her This gold-digging trophy wife's the royal babymaker Fear the nerdy, wordy princess 'cause I'm throwing more shade Than the willow tree growing on your dead mother's grave Your tale as old as time sets us back fifty years Do your chores, clean the floors 'til a man just appears You're shallow and obsessed with looks and how you're dressed You wanna live like Gaston? (Hmmm?) Please, be our guest

CINDERELLA Oh, I'm the one who's shallow 'cause your prince was really hairy? The Beast was in the friend zone 'til he gave you his library Your points have no merit, you're jealous, declare it Like I've always said: if the shoe fits, wear it I'm the American dream with a fairy-tale wedding You've got teapots for friends and I think your man's shedding Some things are meant to be like love at first sight Bibbidi-bobbidi-booyah he was mine before midnight

BELLE A relationship rookie wants to rap about romance? You can't fall in love after just one dance My prince saved my life and don't be misled I want a man in the street but a beast in the bed Your film stars mice and cats with an old, fat fairy Your silly story's shoehorned into freakin' "Tom and Jerry" You say you want to party, next you run off down the halls It's like you always choke once you make it to the balls

CINDERELLA You think that's funny? Here's a history lesson, honey My movie saved the studio when Walt was out of money You followed in my footsteps, without me there's no you Disney built an empire on these tiny glass shoes

BELLE If you're so adored where's your Academy Award? I'm the smart female heroine that can't be ignored The moral of our quarrel and why I've got you beat It's what's inside that matters not the size of your feet

Next up is Katniss Everdeen vs. Herminone Granger. 

And last we have those dragon lovers, Maleficent vs. Daenerys. 

Who would you like to see rap battle? 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Authors Raising Money to Stop Violence Against Women

Check out this fabulous fundraiser to help stop violence against women...

"The Pixel Project is a global, virtual volunteer-led nonprofit working to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women worldwide through global online campaigns that combine the power of the internet, social media, new technologies, and pop culture/the arts.

The “Read For Pixels” 2016 (International Women’s Day Edition) campaign features live readings+Q&A Google Hangout sessions with 11 award-winning bestselling female authors in support of the cause to end violence against women. Participating authors include Alexandra Sokoloff, Claudia Gray, Colleen Houck, Darynda Jones, Kelley Armstrong, Keri Arthur, Laurie R. King, Martina Boone, Nalini Singh, Rachel Vincent, and Tamora Pierce.

These awesome authors have donated exclusive goodies to this special “Read For Pixels” International Women’s Day Indiegogo fundraiser to encourage fans and book lovers to give generously to the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign

Additional goodies come courtesy Kensington Books, Penguin Random House’s Berkeley/NAL press, legendary Science Fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold, acclaimed Science Fiction and Fantasy author Kate Elliott, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout, and New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning."

So many wonderful female authors with strong female characters and I love the giveaways, especially the Laurie R. King Mary Russell bag.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sick Soaps

Cheynne De Boer likes to make soap shaped as odd things -- bloody severed hands, Daleks and skulls. I discovered Cheynne and her sick sudsy creations at Silicon Valley Comic Con where she had a booth filled with apple scented severed hand soaps, TARDIS bathroom soaps and Leatherface. The soaps run from $4 on up and she has multiple themed gift sets. You can get your own from her Etsy shop where she has pages of wonderful soaps to choose from.

TARDIS and Dalek soaps

You should definitely beware of these three. They just might follow you home...

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: Alison Gaylin's What Remains of Me

Sharon Long is with us today to review Alison Gaylin new novel of psychological suspense, What Remains of Me. It's published by William Morrow. 

Kelly Lund, 17, shot and killed a director at a party in his home in the Hollywood hills. Kelly is convicted and spends 25 years in prison. Five years after her release, her father-in-law, a film legend, is killed in a similar fashion - shot in the forehead. Is this a coincidence or did Kelly commit another murder?  

The story moves from 1980 to 2010 with the two murders playing out in alternating chapters. The reader learns about Kelly as a teenager partying with young actors and doing drugs. We find out about her twin sister’s death and if it was suicide along with more about Kelly’s parents, a stunt man and a makeup artist. Throughout the book details surface, bringing the past and present closer together. 

I enjoyed Alison’s writing style specifically how Kelly put her thoughts in drawers and shut them away so she did not have to think about them. 

This story is character driven and depicts the Hollywood lifestyle of actors, producers, money and buying secrets. The ending is surprising and not expected. Kelly mentions in the book, many things are better left unsaid, which is a theme running throughout. What Remains of Me is a story of guilt and innocence or is everything a lie. 
This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent. 

Mystery Playground is on twitter @mysteryplaygrnd or find us on Facebook. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Art in the Blood with a Bloody Mary

Today on Drinks with Reads we're matching Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird with the perfect drink: the Bloody Mary salad.

Art in the Blood is written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and features Holmes and Watson as characters. If you are longing for more Sherlock, this is your pastiche. 

Here's a little bit about the book:

"Mlle La Victoire, a beautiful French cabaret star writes that her illegitimate son by an English lord has disappeared, and she has been attacked in the streets of Montmartre. 
Racing to Paris with Watson at his side, Holmes discovers the missing child is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem. The most valuable statue since the Winged Victory has been violently stolen in Marseilles, and several children from a silk mill in Lancashire have been found murdered. The clues in all three cases point to a single, untouchable man. 
Will Holmes recover in time to find the missing boy and stop a rising tide of murders? To do so he must stay one step ahead of a dangerous French rival and the threatening interference of his own brother, Mycroft. 
This latest adventure, in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sends the iconic duo from London to Paris and the icy wilds of Lancashire in a case which tests Watson's friendship and the fragility and gifts of Sherlock Holmes' own artistic nature to the limits."

The Drink
We matched Art in the Blood to the Bloody Mary because of the beautiful color complexity of the drink. We added lots of vegetables and bacon for garnish to act as red herrings.

Here's the recipe:

36 ounces tomato juice 
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco to taste
1 1/2 cups vodka
Celery heart, olives, bacon, cucumber, onions, etc for garnish


In a large pitcher, combine the ingredients except the vodka, mix well. Add the vodka and chill. Serve in tall glasses over ice. Pick whatever fabulous vegetables you want to add in.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Agatha Christie Poirot Steampunk Bookmarks

We're speed crafting again this week with a super easy Hercule Poirot Bookmark project. I selected this antique bronze bookmark blanks with a ruler because I thought Poirot would like the precision of it. I also thought it was quite handy. Of course, you can put any photo in these bookmark blanks, which make them quite fun. 

  • Bookmark blanks, glass circles to fit, double sided tape dots (I purchased mine as a set on Etsy)
  • Scissors
  • Printed images
  • Black tea (only if you want to stain your print out)

Step One:
Select your image and size it so it fits in your circle, but don't cut it out yet. It will be easier to handle if you leave it in the shape of a two by two square for now. 

Here's the image I used. With any photo you print, you'll have to change the size to fit the circle.

Step Two:
If you're using an image printed out on photo paper or if you don't want the antiqued look to your image, skip this step and head for Step Three. Put your tea in a heatproof cup and put in enough water to cover the tea, but not as much as your would if you were drinking it. You want the concentration of tea to be strong so you get the color. Let it steep. Put your image in the cup and let the tea stain it. The longer you leave it in, the darker it will get. I left mine in for five minutes. Once the image dries, it will get a little lighter, so keep that in mind. Let your image dry completely before moving on.

Step Three:
Now we get to play with stickers. Take one of the double sided tape stickers and remove both sides of the backing so you have a clear circle, sticky on both sides. Place it over the image exactly as you want it. You don't get another shot at this. Now take your clear glass circle (also called a cabochon) and place it directly over the circle attached to your image. Take another ruler bookmark or just a dull knife and run it over the back of the image. This will remove any bubbles between the tape and the image. 

Step Four:
Use the scissors to cut the paper around the glass circle. 

Step Five:
Take a second double sided tape circle and remove one side of the backing. Apply the tape circle to the back of your glass circle, behind the image. Press firmly. Now remove the other backing from the tape circle and press the sticky side into the blank circle on the bookmark blank.

And you are done! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interview with Author Libby Fisher Hellman

Author Libby Fischer Hellman is stopping by today to answer questions about her new book from Poisoned Pen Press, Jump Cut. 

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

I used to say I was “writing my way around the genre.” I’ve written 13 novels, and they include an amateur sleuth series, a PI series, thrillers, hard-boiled, historical thrillers, romantic suspense, even a cozy. I like the challenge of trying new things. But when I first started reading crime fiction, I read espionage thrillers. Particularly what I call the four “L’s: Le CarrĂ©, Ludlum, Len Deighton, and Ken FoLLett… (Okay, Follett is a stretch) Btw, most of the authors writing espionage then were men, but that’s another story.

Add to that years of watching “24,” “MI5,” and “Homeland,” and it’s not surprising that I eventually wanted to write espionage thrillers. At the heart of an espionage thriller are two issues:  trust and power. Who can a spy trust and how does an agent make that decision? How do you know your asset isn’t a double or even triple agent? What do you do when you realize you can’t trust anyone? As for power, usually it’s the power of information. What decisions come from a spymaster who has more information than their target?

Actually, I believe spies start out with the best intentions, to protect their homeland or stop an enemy.  But it’s easy for a spy to become untethered. And when you layer on the effect of technology, espionage is now possible on a mass level.

The challenge was creating a story that manages to explore these issues but doesn’t beat readers over the head with them. I visited The Spy Museum in DC. And Bletchley Park in the UK. I read voraciously, both fiction and nonfiction. Then, as is my pattern, I tested the waters with a short novella. The Incidental Spy came out last fall and focused on espionage during the early years of the Manhattan Project in Chicago. It turned out pretty well, so I took a deep breath and moved on to modern espionage, taking into account everything I discussed above. Jump Cut is the result.

How do you keep your series fresh? 

I sent my protagonist on a 10-year hiatus while I wrote other thrillers. That seemed to do the trick. I also try to keep Ellie’s sense of humor fresh and “au courant” with references to what’s going on in the world. Her daughter, Rachel, has become an adult, so that has opened up a host of new possibilities. In fact, Rachel may become a fraud investigator in the not too distant future, which could mean she’ll continue the series when Ellie eventually retires.

What did you do to research the book?

I was a history major in college and love doing research, which I do for every book, whether it’s making sure the clothing worn by characters is appropriate for the time and place… or trying to understand how drones work. Jump Cut was a bit of an exception in that so much of the content was in the news on a daily basis. Whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor, he did make us aware of just how pervasive the government’s electronic reach is and how deeply it encroaches on our privacy.

That said, I did have to talk to intelligence agents, including those in the military, and no one, civilian or military, wanted their names made public. I also contacted the FBI to fact check and dug up as much information as I could about the Uhghurs. Btw, I have a radio show/podcast called Second Sunday Crime, and there’s an interview with the Bureau’s head of corporate espionage right here.


Libby Fischer Hellmann's latest novel is Jump Cut. She left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Thirteen novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery writing community and has even won a few. More at

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Short, Plot Driven Books

I was recently asked by a friend why there was so much "filler" in today’s mystery and thriller novels. He was turning 74 the next day and he said that mystery novels and thrillers used to be 225 – 275 pages and now they were 350 pages or more. As far as he was concerned the extra 75 pages were simply “filler.” Like Patterson, his theory is that there would be many more casual readers if the books were shorter and more linear. He used several authors who have more than twenty books out as examples.

As an exercise, I took a look at the page counts of a few mysteries and thrillers of great mystery writers whose careers have spanned decades to see if the length hypothesis was true. 

Agatha Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920 has 167 pages, but Curtain, the last book published while she was still alive in 1975, has 224 pages. 

Lawrence Block's first published Matthew Scudder novel came out in 1976 and had 192 pages. HIs most recent novel, All the Flowers are Dying came out in 2005 and had 384 pages. 

Sue Grafton's first Kinsey Milhone mysteryA is for Alibi published in 1982 clocks in at 320 pages while her most recent, X clocks in at 416. 

Michael Connolly's first Harry Bosch novel, Black Echo, came out in 1992 with a whopping 496 pages. The Crossing, which came out last November has only 400 pages, which seems to buck the trend. 

I had to ask myself why the books are longer these days. It seems with 24-hour everything it’s not as though we have more leisure time.

And it seems like more and more authors are producing novellas these days - from Karin Slaughter and JA Jance.

What do you think? Do you think mysteries and thrillers are too long? Will you check out James Patterson's new line of shorter length novels?