Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Kerry Hammond is here to tell us about the latest book by Dutch author Herman Koch.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch was published on September 16, 2016, by Hogarth publishers. I read and loved The Dinner, Koch’s 2013 novel, which was translated into 21 languages. Koch’s books are standalones and are always full of interesting characters and strange events. The writer is a master at the unusual and his books are always full of surprises.

In Dear Mr. M, we learn about events initially through letters written to Mr. M, who is a famous author. Mr. M’s most celebrated book follows the true story of the disappearance of a high school teacher and the two students who are suspected of foul play.

The letters begin a couple of years after the novel’s success, when Mr. M’s career is fast approaching non-existence. The letter writer is a neighbor of the author, and the subject matter is bizarre and creepy. The neighbor is watching Mr. M. Watching his movements and that of his wife and child. He even approaches him at a book signing.

The story is told from many different perspectives and jumps back to the events that led up to the fateful night the teacher disappeared. The tale is both an average story of high schoolers and a twisted tale of love, greed, possession, ego and a disturbed mind…….or two. I had a hard time putting it down because I had no idea where it was going. The characters were so interesting that I was mesmerized.

I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but Koch’s writing is very unique and he is an author that I will continue to follow.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by Blogging for Books. The review is fair and independent.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Agatha Award Nominees Announced

Award nomination season continues with the nominations for the Agatha Award. The Agatha teapot is given each year at the Malice Domestic Convention in Bethesda, MD to traditional mysteries in a variety of categories. 
These nomination lists are a great way to add to your TBR pile. And if you just want to read fabulous short stories for free, check out Art Taylor's blog where he has links to all of them (including his own). 

Congratulations to all of the nominees, but especially our guest bloggers  - Art Taylor, Ellen Byron, Catriona McPherson, Edith Maxwell, and Nadine Nettman

Best Contemporary Novel

Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Fogged Inn by Barbara Ross (Kensington)
Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)
Best Historical Novel
Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao (Berkley)
Get Me to the Grave on Time by D.E. Ireland (Grainger Press)
Delivering the Truth by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Murder in Morningside Heights by Victoria Thompson (Berkley)

Best First Novel

Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Forge Books)
Best Nonfiction
Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories that Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats by Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest Books)
A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods by Roger Guay with Kate Clark Flora (Skyhorse Publishing)
Sara Paretsky: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by Margaret Kinsman (McFarland Books)

Best Short Story

“Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story” by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
“The Best-Laid Plans” by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
“The Mayor and the Midwife” by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
“The Last Blue Glass” by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
“Parallel Play” by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

Best Children/Young Adult

Trapped: A Mei-hua Adventure by P.A. DeVoe (Drum Tower Press)
Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster)
Tag, You’re Dead by J C Lane (Poisoned Pen Press)
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos (Balzer & Bray)
The Secret of the Puzzle Box: The Code Busters Club by Penny Warner (Darby Creek)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tea Time Excerpt: Ocean of Storms

In wintertime snuggling up with a good book and a cup of tea is one of the great joys in life, so on Sunday's this winter we've been featuring excerpts to help you fin your next great read. Today we have an excerpt from Ocean of Storms by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown. 

Here's the description of the book:

In the near future, political tensions between the US and China are at an all-time high. Then a catastrophic explosion on the moon leaves a vast gash on the lunar surface, and the massive electromagnetic pulse it unleashes obliterates Earth's electrical infrastructure. To plumb the depths of the newly created lunar fissure and excavate the source of the power surge, the feuding nations are forced to cooperate on a high-risk mission to return mankind to the moon. Now a diverse, highly skilled ensemble of astronauts - and a pair of maverick archaeologists plucked from the Peruvian jungle - will brave conspiracy on Earth and disaster in space to make a shocking discovery. 

Since this book will get your blood pumping, I chose Cinnamon Toast Black Tea to drink with the book. It has extra caffeine, but I don't think you'll need it. There is something about cinnamon toast that's comforting in an end of the world situation. 

And now here is our excerpt from Ocean of Storms.


December 22 
Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics 
La Jolla, California 
12:14 a.m.  

Max Shepherd knew few people who loved working the graveyard shift. But for him, working nights at the institute was about as plum a job as he could have wished for. Just a year into his doctoral program, he had landed a position as a research assistant to Dr. Elliot Seaborne, the noted seismologist currently heading up the Lunar Seismology Initiative. A NASA-sponsored project, the LSI was yet another component of the agency’s increasing desire to mount a return to the Moon.  
A new series of lunar missions had been in the planning stages since Shepherd had been in grammar school. But since NASA had scrapped its shuttle program back in 2011, the Moon had become the agency’s central focus. Yet despite all the talk about new missions, NASA still found itself in yearly battles with Congress over the costs of space exploration. Desperate for a way to convince Congress that manned spaceflight had not gone the way of the dinosaur, NASA was willing to listen to any theories that might generate some additional funding. That’s when Seaborne had approached the agency with the plans for the LSI. The hope was that by demonstrating the Moon’s geologic activity, they might be able to convince the politicians to set a firm date to mount another round of manned missions to Earth’s nearest neighbour. Surprisingly, some initial funding had been approved. On July 7, 2010, an unmanned probe, Stellaluna, had been launched to the moon. Once in orbit, it had sent several seismometers to the Moon’s surface, devices considerably more sophisticated than the ones placed there by the Apollo astronauts more than forty years earlier. Now all that was left was for them to do their thing. Which is where Max Shepherd came in.  
Pretty slow night up there, Shepherd thought as he glanced at Stellaluna’s telemetry. He began surfing through the channels on the lab’s thirty-six-inch flat-screen television. There wasn’t much on any of the twenty-four-hour news channels, just some footage from the recent congressional hearings on human cloning. Some major biotech company was apparently on the verge of a breakthrough, and the age-old debate had flared up again. After ten minutes of flipping, Max muted the sound and turned his attention to the lab’s radio antennas. He cranked the speakers, filling the room with the sounds of what was commonly called “cosmic debris,” the collected noise of millions of radio, TV, and cell phone signals trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. The sound was eerie, like someone turning a wet finger around the rim of a crystal glass, but Max loved it.  
Just as he was starting to relax, the seismic equipment monitoring Stellaluna’s probes sprang to life. Needles and gauges flicked with such intensity that he was certain he was looking at a massive impact. The Moon was continually being bombarded by meteorites, but whatever had stuck it tonight was a real whopper. Max scanned the readouts, searching for telltale signs. If this is a meteor impact, he thought, it’s a helluva big one. He reached for the desk phone and punched in Dr. Seaborne’s cell number.  
“Unless the Moon just exploded, I don’t care,” came the sleepy voice on the other end.  
“Sorry to bother you, Doctor,” said Max, “but I thought you’d want to see this.” 
Seaborne sat up in bed, struggling to wake himself. “What’ve you got?” 
“Something highly unusual. Massive seismic activity on an unheard-of-scale.” He tapped out a few keystrokes and emailed the data to Seaborne. “I’m sending you the numbers now.” 
There was a pause as Seaborne checked over what Max has just sent to his smartphone. “Impact,” he deduced. “It’s going to be.” 
“I thought so too,” Max said. “But it’s so damn big. It’s like—wait. I’ve got an e-mail coming in from Big Sky.” 
Max often kept in touch with the astronomers at Big Sky Observatory in Montana. Whatever he heard, he reasoned, they might be able to back up visually. 
“Um, Dr. Seaborne?” he said, hesitantly. “They’re saying that they’re picking up debris on the Moon.” 
“Debris? There it is—it has to be an impact.” 
“I agree, but they’re saying the ejecta pattern doesn’t match an impact.” Max paused, making sure he had read it right. “It’s almost as if—“ 
Before he could finish, a high-pitched tone tore through the phone lines, nearly striking them both stone deaf. Max yanked the phone away from his ears and dropped it, expecting the intensity of sound to diminish. He howled in shock and pain, but the sound was drowning out his own voice. It was everywhere—in the speakers, the TV, the stereo. It was even coming from the equipment that normally didn’t emit sound. The noise had a deep bass undercurrent that made Max think of a hive of angry bees. He could feel his bones vibrate from the sound. The experience was invasive, disorienting, and altogether awful. He crawled under a desk, praying that it would stop, or that he would die. The sound reached a fever pitch that seemed to resonate deep in Max’s brain before spiralling madly down to silence. Almost instantly, the discord was followed by a second wave. This one cascaded through Max with locomotive force and bringing forth a powerful sense of vertigo. The coffeepot exploded, spraying hot liquid everywhere. Every lightbulb overhead popped and burst. Even his MacBook cracked open. All at once, the windows of the lab blew inward. Max blinked, stunned. He meekly picked up the phone, listening to see if Dr. Seaborne was still there.  
For a terrible moment, Max felt as if he were the only person left alive on the planet. He peered out the shattered window at the Moon, wondering just what secrets she had to tell tonight.  

©2016 Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown, reposted with permission from 47North 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The 2017 Lefty Award Nominees

Award season continues and that gives us a great opportunity to fish for excellent books for our TBR piles. Today we have the nominees for the Lefty Awards awarded at the Left Coast Crime conference. This is an annual conference located on the west coast of the US to celebrate crime fiction and non-fiction. This year's Left Coast is in Hawaii and the awards will be presented on Saturday, March 18. 

It's also a fabulous fun conference, so if you're looking for an excuse to go to Hawaii, and want to see John and Faye Kellerman, Laurie R. King and Dana Stabenow, this is your chance. 

And here are the nominees. Congratulations to all who are nominated but especially Mystery Playground friends Ellen Byron, Donna AndrewsDiane Vallere, Catriona McPherson, Nadine Nettman and Gigi Pandian.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel
  • Donna Andrews, Die Like an Eagle (Minotaur Books)
  • Ellen Byron, Body on the Bayou (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Timothy Hallinan, Fields Where They Lay (Soho Crime)
  • Heather Haven, The CEO Came DOA (Wives of Bath Press)
  • Johnny Shaw, Floodgate (Thomas & Mercer)
  • Diane Vallere, A Disguise To Die For (Berkley Prime Crime)
Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial) for books covering events before 1960. 
  • Rhys Bowen, Crowned and Dangerous (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • Susanna Calkins, A Death Along the River Fleet (Minotaur Books)
  • Laurie R. King, The Murder of Mary Russell (Bantam Books)
  • Catriona McPherson, The Reek of Red Herrings (Minotaur Books)
  • Ann Parker, What Gold Buys (Poisoned Pen Press)
Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  • Sarah M. Chen, Cleaning Up Finn (All Due Respect Books)
  • Marla Cooper, Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur Books)
  • Alexia Gordon, Murder in G Major (Henery Press)
  • Nadine Nettmann, Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)
  • Renee Patrick, Design for Dying (Forge)
Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories). 
  • Matt Coyle, Dark Fissures (Oceanview Publishing)
  • Gigi Pandian, Michelangelo’s Ghost (Henery Press)
  • Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning (Minotaur Books)
  • Terry Shames, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake (Seventh Street Books)
  • James W. Ziskin, Heart of Stone (Seventh Street Books)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Chocolate Martinis & Behind Chocolate Bars

Between writing the Chocolate Covered Mystery series and making chocolate caramel martinis, Kathy Aarons' life is full of sweetness. Today she is here on Drinks with Reads to tell us how it all goes together... 

In the fictional town of West Riverdale, Maryland, the Chocolates and Chapters store serves as an unofficial community center. What more could anyone want? Delicious chocolate truffles, bestselling books, and town gossip! 

In Behind Chocolate Bars, chocolatier Michelle Serrano and bookstore manager Erica Russell are gearing up for the West Riverdale Halloween Festival when they learn that their high school intern is the chief suspect in the murder of a local woman. 

The teen swears he didn’t do it, but he’s obviously hiding something—leaving Michelle and Erica with a witch’s cauldron of questions. Soon they discover that the dead woman was tricking a whole bunch of people out of more than just treats. Now these two friends must go door-to-door if they hope to unmask a killer…

Writing the Chocolate Covered Mystery series means lots of research, especially taste testing chocolates at my local chocolatier – Dallmann’s Confections in San Diego, California. I can never resist the combination of sweet chocolate and salty caramel in their Fleur de Sel Caramels, and tried to recreate the essence of it in the following martini recipe. 

I enlisted my husband in creating a recipe for a delicious chocolate caramel martini. After a little taste-testing, this is the best result: 

Lee and Kathy’s Chocolate Carmel Vodka Martini 

-       1 ounces Godiva chocolate liqueur
-       1 ounces Crème De Cacao
-       1 ounces premium vodka (distilled five times)
-       1 ounces ½ and ½
-       Caramel sauce
-       Chocolate syrup

Carefully pour caramel along rim of martini glass – it will drip inside, which is fine. Spiral chocolate syrup along the inside of the glass. In a shaker, shake all ingredients (except ½ & ½) significantly with ice until frosted. Add ½ & ½ and shake gently. Pour into glass. 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thrilling Valentine's Day Card

We're gearing you up for Valentine's Day with another homemade valentine with a mystery theme. Lorraine Masonheimer walks us through her latest paper craft that she links to one of her favorite authors, Jo Nesbo.

INKPAD:   ColorBox Chalk Charcoal

STAMPS:   Stampabilities Be My Valentine CR1117

DIE-CUT:   Memory Box Hearts 30006, 3.4x3.6”, 1.4x1.3” and .8x.7” & Exquisite Heart 99364

OTHER:  8 1/2” x 11” cream cardstock, 8 ½” x 11” patterned red, and black cardstock, cream velum, page or copy from a book, black and white self-adhesive pearls, Gelly Roll Sparkle Pen, black ribbon/trim, glue dots, scissors, x-acto blade, Big Shot die cutting machine, computer, printer and Microsoft Word.

Step One:  Card Base
Score an 8 ½ x 11” cream cardstock at 5 ½” and fold in half and set aside.

Step Two:  Die Cut & Tear
Make a color copy of the cover of a favorite Jo Nesbo book.  Place the large heart die over the title and color most pleasing for the cover selected.  Run the paper through the big shot and remove the heart shape.  If desired, draw a 3 ½” heart and use scissors instead of the die.  Cut a 1.4x1.3” heart from the Nesbo cover copy, and one each .8 x .7” from the black and red paper.  Set aside.

Place the Exquisite Heart scroll die onto cream velum and run the paper through the die cutting machine and set aside.

Step Three:  Angled Cuts & Tear
Measure the black paper placing a small mark at 5” on the top right side, a small mark at 5 ½” ” on the bottom left corner and 6 1/2" on the bottom right side and cut as shown. 

Take the red paper, and cut to 1 ½” x 5 ½” using the same angle and the black paper.  Tear approximately a 1 ½” x 5” section from a book page or photocopy a page from Nesbo’s book. 

Step Four:  Text Block & Trim
Using the computer, open a word document and select the insert tab at the top of the toolbar.  Select text box and draw a 2 1/2” x 2½ “ box.  Select the home tab, place the cursor in the text box and type the words “have a” on one line, double space and type “thrilling,” double space and type “Valentine’s,” double space and type “Day.” 

Highlight the box, right click to format shape, select solid fill, go to color, select Black, Text 1 and hit OK.

Highlight the type and select the font of your choice.  The example used Tempus Sans ITC at 22 points.  Print and cut into 4 rectangular boxes, approximately 2 ½” x ½” each. 

Step Five:  Assemble & Glue
Assemble the card as shown starting with the black paper and glue the left corners to the base.  Slip the torn paper behind the black and glue to the black paper.  Slip the red paper behind the torn paper and glue to the card base.  Glue the torn paper to the red paper. To add richness to the card, embellish with white and black pearls and black trim or ribbon. 

Step Six:  Stamp, Cut & Glue (Inside)
Stamp the words “Be My Valentine” or the sentiment of your choice using charcoal ink onto the cream card.  If desired, use paper scrap hearts and shapes for added interest and assemble as shown.  Use scraps to add interest to the envelope flap.