Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Picks with Matthew FitzSimmons



Yay! We're in the middle of the holiday season and after all the hullaballoo, you might have a moment to dig into some good books. Every Wednesday until the end of the year we will feature three favorite book recommendations. Today our book recommendations come from Matthew FitzSimmons, author of The Short Drop and Poisonfeather. Matthew was born in Illinois, raised in London and now lives in Washington, DC. Let's see what books he loves. 




Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
It wasn’t always the case, but American literary novels rarely indulge in high concept. Quite the contrary, there seems to be a preference for familiar, basic storylines. The elegant simplicity of Colson Whitehead’s central conceit – that the underground railroad, the network of southern abolitionists who shepherded runaway slaves out of the South was not metaphoric but a literal subterranean rail service – is why I love novels. With one audacious choice, Whitehead takes a piece of our familiar history, turns it on its head, and makes it new. Yet somehow it remains true. A brilliant book.


Dark Matter –  Blake Crouch
Science fiction and fantasy were my first loves as a kid, but they have long been niche genres that rarely made much impact on mainstream audiences. That’s been changing in recent years as the success of authors such as George R.R. Martin and Andy Weir can attest. Blake Crouch’s latest novel, Dark Matter is another great addition to that list. It’s exciting for me to see a novel steeped in quantum mechanics and the dangers of meddling in the multiverse find such crossover success. And it’s well deserved, because Crouch does a masterful job of making his subject accessible and comprehensible to a lay audience. And more than that it’s a great ride – some of the late story twists and consequences are so wonderfully unexpected yet undeniably right. It reminds me why science fiction remains a vital genre.


Before the Fall – Noah Hawley

Noah Hawley came onto my radar through his work adapting the Cohen Brothers’ Fargo for television. It seemed like a thankless, doomed project but he’s done the impossible – channel the Cohen’s sardonic tone without aping it. His recent thriller, Before the Fall – a character study set around a private plane that crashes into the Atlantic shortly after takeoff – shows exactly why Fargo has been so brilliant. Hawley has a terrific eye for detail about his characters; he turns one hell of a phrase; and his nonlinear plotting and structure add so much complexity to the story. This is what a thriller should be.

Come on back next Wednesday for more book recommendations and don't forget to check out Matthew's Drinks with Reads post. The drink is super interesting. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Harry Potter Alliance





Here we are on Giving Tuesday - the day after Cyber Monday where so many non-profits compete for your charity dollar just like the stores do all holiday weekend. So I thought, why not tell you about a great charity that gets it's power from literature - The Harry Potter Alliance. The organization's mission is to to turn Harry Potter fans into "heroes" in the areas of equality, human right and literacy.  

Through their Accio Books Campaign they've donated more than 250,000 books to libraries around the world and much, much more. 


The Harry Potter Alliance values:


  • We believe in magic.
  • We believe that un-ironic enthusiasm is a renewable resource.
  • We know fantasy is not only an escape from our world, but an invitation to go deeper into it.
  • We celebrate the power of community—both online and off.
  • We believe that the weapon we have is love.

Here's Andrew Slack talking about the Harry Potter Alliance and how they are encouraging fans to "Be the Hero they read about". 




You can find a chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance near you. Or you can make a year end donation and get that tax deduction. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Close to the Enemy


Post-World War II, spies, drama, intrigue it's all there in Close to the Enemy, a new seven-part series from Acorn TV and BBC One. More a spy show than a mystery, Close to the Enemy features a secret operation by Britain's TForce team to convince a kidnapped German engineer to build a jet for jolly old England, and betray his homeland. To complicate the plot, the English also kidnapped the man's young daughter.

The man in charge of the operation, Callum Ferguson (played by Jim Sturgess), has only a few days to sweet talk the German engineer (played by August Diehl) into doing what they want, or the next team won't be playing nice. Angela Bassett plays Eva, a singer in the hotel where Callum is keeping his prisoner and his daughter. And Alfred Molina is hanging around the hotel as well and Callum is starting to get curious about why. 

The pace is good for this drama and the characters are interesting. There is a plot hole or two, but still worth watching if you like period dramas with a little suspense. 

Here's a clip from the pilot...



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Amish Christmas Traditions and Sour Cream Cookie Recipe




The amazingly prolific and USA Today author, Amanda Flower has written 10 Amish mystery novels (in two series, under two different names) and a novella, among her twenty books. Awhile back she shared a few things about how the Amish celebrate Christmas and took the time to share them with us here. We also have a great recipe for Amish Sour Cream Cookies at the end.


The Christmas Season is in full swing and the Amish are celebrating too. Christmas isn’t just for us English folks, and you may be wondering how the Amish celebrate Christmas.
Here are some quick facts about an Amish Christmas:

• The Amish don’t have Christmas trees, but they do decorate their homes with pine and greens from the garden.

• The Amish do exchange small gifts at Christmas. Many of these are handmade, but store bought gifts are becoming popular too

• A favorite Amish Christmas treat is flavored popcorn

• The day after Christmas, December 26th, is a holiday for Amish and for some Amish groups is called “Second Christmas.”

• The one-room school house will traditionally have a Christmas program for the children’s parents

• There is no Santa Claus in the Amish world. The focus of Christmas is on the birth of Christ


May you have a wonderful Christmas with family and friends!


Amish Sour Cream Cookies



Check out our review of Amanda's latest book, Prose and Cons on December 6th. It's about a magical bookshop. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sherlock Cluedo


Isn't this cool? 

It's the Sherlock edition of the game of Clue (they call it Cluedo in Britain). You can order it in the states and shipping looks to be only $5.13. Of course Miss Scarlett is Irene Adler...  How incredibly fun! 


Friday, November 25, 2016

A Vodka Martini with Love You Dead


Peter James joins us today from the UK to match his new book, Love You Dead, with a very special vodka martini. And there's actually a triple Vodka Martini connection to the book. 


Firstly, it is the favourite tipple of my central character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.  Secondly, when the protagonist of the story, Jodie Bentley, meets her next target, wealthy Walt Klein, in a bar in the Bellagio in Las Vegas, he is happily knocking back martinis – rather too many for his own good, as he lets his guard down a little too much.  And thirdly and most importantly, it is my own favourite tipple!

The plot of Love You Dead is this:  An ugly duckling as a child, Jodie Bentley had two dreams in life – to be beautiful and rich.  She’s achieved the first, with a little help from a plastic surgeon, and now she’s working hard on the second.  Her philosophy on money is simple:  You can either earn it or marry it.  Marrying is easy, it’s getting rid of the husband afterwards that’s harder, that takes real skill.  But hey, practice makes perfect…

The novel opens in the smart French ski resort of Courchevel.  Jodie is with her latest catch, financier Walt Klein, who she met while he was drowning his sorrows on Vodka Martinis.  Walt, new to the resort, is looking forward to a day’s skiing with Jodie, who has been there before, to guide him.  But Jodie has other plans – rather dark ones, plans which if all goes well, don't include Walt living for many more hours.

It was one of my favourite authors, Ernest Hemingway, who allegedly said, ‘Write drunk, edit sober… and another of my favourites, Raymond Chandler, famously took that to extremes, pretty much binge drinking himself to death.  I know many current writers who never touch a drop of alcohol until their day’s work is done, but equally I know several global best-selling authors who have a rocket-fuel boost to their work – either massive doses of caffeine, or booze, weed or cocaine.

My own writing day is back-to-front – I made a “me-time” for writing in the days when I worked full-time in film and television, and that was 6-10pm at night, and that today is still when I do my best writing.  My sessions start with a ritual, and that is making my Martini.  The whole process kicks some Pavlovian creative response off in my brain.  And of course that first, delicious, ice-cold bite – and kick.  The key is not to have too much – these are truly powerful cocktails!  One sip, music blasting from my speakers – Van Morrison or maybe the Kinks, and I’m hammering away on the keyboard as happy as Larry.



TO MAKE THE PETER JAMES VODKA MARTINI WRITING SPECIAL:

This serves 1 author.

Ingredients

A proper, clear crystal martini glass of decent quality.  No other drinking vessel can be substituted.

Grey Goose vodka (or brand as preferred, this is mine)
Martini Extra Dry
Four plain olives, pitted.
1 lemon
1 cocktail stick
1 cocktail shaker
Cubed Ice


Method


Fill martini glass ¾ with vodka.

Using the cap of the Martini Extra Dry bottle as a measure, tip two capfuls of Martini into the glass.

Now pour the mixture into empty cocktail shaker.

Fill the glass to the brim with ice cubes and leave for 5 mins.

Pour these cubes plus fresh cubes into cocktail shaker.

Secure the top carefully then shake hard for thirty seconds and pour into glass.

Now you have a choice.  A twist or with olives – or both.  My taste alternates!

For with a twist:

Cut a lemon in half.
Peel a thin strip of rind three inches long, and drop into the glass. 
Cut a lemon wedge, make an opening in the centre, and run this all the way around the rim of the glass on both sides.

For olives:

Spear four olives with cocktail stick and place in glass.

For the combo:  The four olives as above, but wipe the rim of the glass with a wedge of lemon.

Enjoy!  But remember Dorothy Parker’s caveat:  I like to have a martini, two at the very most… after three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”







Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Themed Mystery Shows





Are you ready for some turkey-themed binge watching? We've found some great Thanksgiving-themed episodes of our favorite old mystery and crime shows for you to indulge in this weekend. There's a little something here for everyone. 

Let's start with...

NCIS 
In "Child's Play" from 2009 Ducky invites everyone in the department to his house for turkey dinner, but alas, everyone has plans. Gibbs goes off to find the killer of a marine, while Ducky gets in a little predicament back home. 

CBS has also put together a cute piece on what NCIS fans are thankful for this season





Brooklyn Nine-Nine
More a cop comedy than a mystery, this show makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. In "Thanksgiving" from the first season, everyone sits down to play Boyle Bingo and then winds up a Rosa's for turkey. Since this is a half-hour comedy with commercials it only runs about 20 minutes without. 





Castle's Thanksgiving foray is called The Good, The Bad and The Baby. This is the tenth episode from season six and Beckett is going to spend her first Thanksgiving with Castle, Martha, and Alexis. The case begins when a dying man hands a priest a baby. This episode falls on the Castle timeline where I think the show was at it's most charming. 




Blue Bloods

Someone has a heart attack during "Thanksgiving," and the case at hand is rife with family drama. 
This episode first aired in 2011. 



Major Crimes

Last season the Major Crimes team celebrated Thanksgiving with "Taking the Fall." In this episode, a stockbroker is found dead, Flynn's recovery isn't going as expected and Rusty lands an interview for his vlog. 

You can find all of our Major Crimes coverage here




House

"Ignorance is Bliss" begins on the night before Thanksgiving when House and a genius physicist becomes the medical puzzle of the episode. House later tries to break up Lucas and Cuddy. 




Spenser for Hire

Spenser is visiting a Puritan village in Plymonth, Massachusetts, when he learns that an old army buddy of his is arrested. He leaves to go help, but everything isn't what it seems. 

What's your favorite Thanksgiving-themed episode?

And if you'd rather read than watch TV, check out Brad Parks'
A Prayer of Thanksgiving to Readers of Crime Fiction.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mystery Writers of America Cookbook


It's a big day for cooking here in the United States so I thought I'd link to three recipes from the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.


Laura Lippman's Aunt Effie's Salmon Ball

Doesn't it look beautiful?


Charlaine Harris' Supper Dip

This would be great for a crowd of out of town guests. 


James Patterson's Chocolate Cake

I can almost taste the chocolate through the computer. 

Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books. Photo credit: Steve Logato.

And if you want to read about Damn Fine Cherry Pie: The Unauthorized Cookbook Inspired by the TV Show Twin Peaks, we have that too

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Boston Speakeasy: The Precinct





We found a fun speakeasy type bar in Boston's BackBay called The Precinct. It's located in the Lowe's Hotel just a half a block from Copley Square, the building used to house a real police station. The decor and theme of the bar make the best of it's former life. 




The Precinct
 serves both lunch and dinner, and in the warmer months has an outside seating area. The historical photos of police men and women past are fun to see. 

You can find The Precinct at 154 Berkeley Street in Boston. 



Monday, November 21, 2016

Queen of the South


Queen of the South is a TV show that ran this summer on USA Network. Since I just spent an entire weekend binge watching season one, I thought I'd tell you about it.

Based on the book by the same name by Arturo Perez-Riverte, it is not for the feint of heart. He says he got the idea for the main character from women he met who were surviving behind enemy lines throughout his 21-year career as a reporter in hot zones around the world.

It's about a woman who gets so trapped by the world of Mexican drug cartels she finds her choices in life narrow and narrow. It's filled with violence, drugs and sex. Some of the violence is graphic, but I could not stop watching episode after episode after episode. Rival cartels. Husbands and wives on opposite ends. Deceit. Survival. The story sets up situations where each character is forced to identify their exact line of morality and watch it move with circumstances. It makes The Sopranos look like a children's birthday party. 

The story begins with a woman in white, dressed impeccably walking into a fancy house. She's telling us how her life could end one day. And then she is shot. The entire series is a flashback to how she got to that day. 

Teresa Mendoza started out as a small time money changer in the poor community of Sinaloa, Mexico. She meets and falls in love with a handsome and rich man who treats her well. He's high up in a cartel and it turns out he and his best friend were skimming from his bosses. Bad idea. He dies. His best friend dies. Teresa goes on the run and winds up in the middle of an epic battle between a husband and wife cartel team who wage war as foreplay. The husband is running for governor and the wife, she wants to run the entire drug business while he plays at politics. 

Teresa fights every day to stay alive, things get trickier and trickier and she looks for leverage, instead of merely being leverage.  A strong woman, she is loyal and tough in the most dangerous of situations. But we know she will rise to be that woman in white dress. A woman who runs things. The woman who gets shot. 

We meet multiple characters that we alternately root for and shrink from, along the way. This show is as addictive as the drugs the characters sell and it will take you to another world. I cannot wait until it returns next summer. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Martha Stewart's Vegetables


Martha Stewart's Vegetables is a beautiful cookbook filled with loads of new ways to cook your veggies. It not only tells you how to select and store the produce for freshness and taste, it also covers everything from root veggies to greens with 150 creative recipes. 

The recipes are easy to understand and some are easier to make than others. But there are plenty of recipes for everyone to try. So far I've made the roasted broccoli with lemon and a dish with butternut squash, carrots, eggs and kale that was super tasty. Both were easy to make. It should be noted that not all of the recipes are vegetarian.

The photos are beautiful. Each page is like eye candy. 

This book will join my other favorite cookbooks including Martha's original appetizer cookbook (from the early 1990s) Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres: The Creation and Presentation of Fabulous Finger Foods and her One Pot Meals from last year. 

I can't wait to make more food from this wonderful book. 

This book was supplied to Mystery Playground from Blogging for Books. While we did agree to review the book, we didn't agree to make it a positive review. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: Patricia Cornwell's Chaos



Patricia Cornwell, the acclaimed American crime writer whose books have sold over 100 million copies, has a new Dr. Kay Scarpetta novel and Sharon Long is here to tell us more.

Chaos is book 24 in Cornwell’s long-running series featuring Cambridge medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta. It released in hardcover on November 15th by William Morrow. 

As the book opens, Dr. Scarpetta is walking through Harvard Yard on an unseasonably hot, humid September evening to meet her husband, Benton, for dinner. She receives a strange call from detective, Pete Marino, who tells her that a 911 call was just received and it related to her. When she sees Benton outside the restaurant, they both notice a young blonde woman on a bicycle. This woman recognizes Scarpetta from earlier in the day and they exchange pleasantries. Inside the restaurant, she finds out that Benton already knows about the 911 call and he plays the recording for her. They order and are settling down for a nice quiet dinner when Scarpetta gets called to the scene of a suspicious death of a young woman near the Charles River. 
At the crime scene, Dr. Scarpetta takes one look at the victim and has the sinking feeling she is the young woman she spoke with less than an hour ago. After a preliminary investigation, it appears the victim was electrocuted, but there was no lighting or storm that could have caused it.
During the investigation into the girl’s death, they are some unverifiable calls from people claiming to be with Interpol. We also find out that Scarpetta has been receiving calls from a stalker, Tailend Charlie, whose voice sounds like her dead father. The caller mentions nicknames from Scarpetta’s past that no one could know. Dr. Scarpetta not only has to solve the young woman’s murder but try and figure out the identify of Tailend Charlie.

I have read most the books in this series and watched Dr. Scarpetta grow and mature over the last 25 years. I have seen her go through an affair, get married, and survive perilous situations. Patricia Cornwell has created characters with real emotions and life experiences, and she provides them with more than enough danger to make things interesting. Dr. Scarpetta has become a good friend, one you might not see often but when you do, it is comfortable and familiar. Throughout the series, the reader learns more about her family; Benton, her FBI profiler husband; Marino, the partner who always stirs things up; and Lucy, her niece/de facto daughter. Over the years, not only have the characters changed but so has forensic science. New technologies have changed the way law enforcement solves murders and it has been extremely interesting to follow the series as Cornwell incorporates these changing times. 


This book was provided by the publisher. This is a fair and independent review.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Matthew B.J. Delaney, Bourbon and Hard Cider



Matthew B.J. Delaney joins us today on Drinks with Reads to pair his book, Black Rain, with the perfect drink. Matthew B.J. Delaney published his first novel, Jinn, in 2003. Winner of the International Horror Guild Award, the novel was optioned for film by Touchstone Pictures, was featured as People magazine’s Page-Turner of the Week, and received a Publishers Weekly Starred Review. 

Now onto Black Rain and the perfect drink...

In the near future, lucrative disease cures are brokered on Wall Street’s Genetic Stock Exchange. And the hottest consumer products are artificially synthesized humans that serve as everything from domestic slaves to combatants in savage gladiatorial games. For Jack Saxton, the young heir to genetic design powerhouse Genico Inc., these Synthates are just a fact of life…until the murder of a high-profile genetic scientist leads a pair of seasoned NYPD detectives to Genico’s door.

As a small band of Synthate rebels steps up its attack on the status quo, Jack encounters a pleasure-parlor girl who opens his eyes to their cause. When he dares to sympathize with the rebels, Jack is hunted down and arrested for the murder. Sentenced to die in the brutal games on Bloomberg Island, Jack will be forced to fight—for his life, for the future of all Synthates, and for a chance to uncover the mind-bending secret buried in his past.

Bourbon has always had a place in the liquor cabinet of my heart since I first watched the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life.  Finding themselves in Potterville, a town fueled by greed and desperation, George Bailey and his guardian angel Clarence wander their way into Nick’s Bar, a place that “serves hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast”.  George orders a double bourbon.  For me, bourbon instantly became the drink of the down and almost out.  A drink for a desperate man who wants to get drunk fast but still has a good heart and some fight left in him. 

Black Rain is filled with desperate characters living in a world as bleak as Pottersville.  Take a little of George Bailey’s Bourbon, mix with a punch of New England Hard Cider, and you’ve got the perfect drink for my book.


Bourbon and Hard Cider

2 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon
3/4 cup Woodchuck Vermont hard cider
1 dash Ground Cinnamon 


Combine in a shaker and shake gently.  Pour.  Enjoy!