Friday, December 29, 2017

Drinks with Reads 2017 Recap

What a wonderful year it's been of great books and drinks to match. I want to thank all of our fabulous contributors. Here is a recap of all of the posts to take you into the New Year...

January 2017

6 - Gigi Pandian, THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR
13 - Amy Korman, KILLER PUNCH
20 - Debra Goldstein, SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER

3 - Michael Mayo, JIMMY AND FAY
10 - Don Bruns, CASTING BONES
17 - Max Gladstone, BOOKBURNERS

3 - Kameron Hurley, THE STARS ARE LEGION
10  Laura Childs, PEKOE MOST POISON
17 - Kate White, EYES ON YOU
24 - Agatha Christie, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
31 - Chuck Wendig, THUNDERBIRD

14 - Mark Stevens, LAKE OF FIRE
21- Shawn Reilly Simmons, MURDER IS THE MAIN CORSE

12 - Paul Levine, BUM LUCK
19 - Greg Benford, THE BERLIN PROJECT
26 - Edith Maxwell, MULCH ADO ABOUT MURDER 

2 - Barbara Wilson, The Trouble in Transylvania and the Bloody Brasov
9 - Peter James, NEED YOU DEAD
23 - Carol Perry, MURDER GO ROUND
30 -  Ellie Alexander, CRIME OF PASSION FRUIT

14 - Kendra Elliott, A MERCIFUL TRUTH
21Multiple Authors, Level Best Books, NOIR@THESALADBAR
28 - Daniel H. Wilson, THE CLOCKWORK DYNASTY 

4 - Alfred Hitchcock, DIAL "M" FOR MURDER
11- Carlene O'Neil, RIPE FOR MURDER
18 - Lisa Alber, PATH INTO DARKNESS 
25 - Christopher Brown TROPIC OF KANSAS 

 Psycho Movie Marathon 
8 - Agatha Christie, DEATH IN THE AIR
15 - Melinda Mullet, DEATH DISTILLED
22 - Ellen Kirschman, THE FIFTH REFLECTION
29 - Carol Perry, GRAVE ERRORS

6 - Andrew Mayne, THE NATURALIST
13 - Rich Zahradnik, LIGHTS SUMMER OUT
20 - Liv Constantine, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH
27 - TR Ragan, HER LAST DAY

24 - Amy Stewart, GIRL WITH A GUN

8 - Amanda Reynolds, CLOSE TO ME

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thank You: What A Wonderful Year

We had a wonderful year at Mystery Playground in 2017. And I couldn't do this all by myself, so I wanted to thank all of the wonderful people who help with this blog. 

First is the fabulous Kerry Hammond, who not only posts weekly (sometimes several times a week), but also helps with the creative development of posts, guest recruitment and editorial direction. 

Sharon Long not only reviewed books, but also developed several author Q&As and helped us get the mammoth Murder on the Orient Express undertaking underway. 

Our Head Librarian, Pat Hernas, is always on hand for research and development - you should see the list of odd books that she digs up for me. She also suggests posts, and helps with crafts and recipes

Next is power crafter and chef, Lorraine Masonheimer. She made everything from the NCIS basball hat cake above to Natchez Mississippi Hand Pie. Check out her full Dinner and A Movie for the Hitchcock classic, The Birds.

Author Ellen Byron is also a frequent contributor of wonderful posts from New Orleans and Mardi Gras

And our newest contributor, Cari Dubiel, with her library data analysis and reviews

Thank you everyone! It's been a wonderful year. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We're off making merry, so I thought I'd leave you with Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hope where ever you are, you have a most joyous day. 

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
    And wild and sweet 
    The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
    Had rolled along 
    The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till ringing, singing on its way, 
The world revolved from night to day, 
    A voice, a chime, 
    A chant sublime 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
    And with the sound 
    The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
    And made forlorn 
    The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth," I said; 
    “For hate is strong, 
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
    The Wrong shall fail, 
    The Right prevail, 

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Monday, December 25, 2017

12 Slays of Christmas & Holiday Chai

Cari Dubiel is making merry with Jacqueline Frost's 12 Slays of Christmas and some lovely Chai tea. Where every you are, we at Mystery Playground hope you have a wonderful holiday. 

When Holly White returns to her hometown of Mistletoe, Maine, at Christmastime, she’s wounded but relieved. Her ex-fiance has left her for a yoga instructor just weeks before the wedding. Luckily, her parents run a cozy, homey Christmas tree farm called Reindeer Games, and she’s happy to be surrounded by warmth and comfort while dealing with her pain… until murder gets in the way.
Holly finds Margaret Fenwick dead in a sleigh on her parents’ property. Mrs. Fenwick, a longtime Mistletoe denizen, made a lot of enemies in her position at the Historical Society, where she spent her time bullying the town’s shopkeepers into getting their businesses up to code. Holly’s parents are among those, and if she wants a merry Christmas for everyone, she’s got to puzzle out the murder.
I loved this light cozy. Jacqueline Frost paints a picturesque town, everyone’s favorite holiday retreat, inhabited by a lively set of characters – and suspects. Holly is a masterful amateur sleuth, sharp and witty, even as she deals with her own baggage. I can’t wait to see what mysteries she’ll solve next.
At the Reindeer Games Tree Farm, there’s a station called the Hearth, where the employees serve warm drinks for the guests. I salivated over the coffees, cocoas, and teas described in the book. Maybe in the sequel, my own Holiday Chai could appear. Check it out for yourself!

Easy Holiday Chai
You’ll need to have on hand:
-Whatever holiday spices you like the best. Some ideas: nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, clove. I like to swirl in just a bit of turmeric as well. It gives the drink an earthy flavor.
-Chai tea bags – I like the Twinings brand
In a saucepan or kettle, boil one cup of water, plus a teaspoon of each of your favorite spices. When the water has heated through, steep one bag of tea for five minutes, covered.
Fill a mug about halfway with milk. Add honey, vanilla, and turmeric if using to taste. Microwave on high for 1 minute. 
Combine milk with tea concentrate. If you don’t use it all, the tea concentrate can be refrigerated. 

I adapted this recipe from Budget Bytes – Golden Chai.

Cari Dubiel is a libraian and writer in Northeast, Ohio. She is the author of How to Remember, which is now available for pre-orderOr sign up for her mailing list.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Gift of the Magi

It's tradition here at Mystery Playground to read O Henry's Gift of the Magi every Christmas Eve. Where ever you are may happiness find you. Happy Holidays! And now, The Gift of the Magi. 

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
     There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
     While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.
     In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
     The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of "Dillingham" looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
     Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling - something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.

     There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 Bat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
     Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
     Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
     So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
     On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.
     Where she stopped the sign read: 'Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.' One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the 'Sofronie.'
     "Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

     "I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
     Down rippled the brown cascade.
     "Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
     "Give it to me quick" said Della.
     Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
     She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation - as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value - the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 78 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
     When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends - a mammoth task.
     Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
     "If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do - oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"

     At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
     Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please, God, make him think I am still pretty."
     The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two - and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was with out gloves.
     Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
     Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
     "Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again - you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
     "You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labour.
     "Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

     Jim looked about the room curiously.
     "You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
     "You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you - sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
     Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year - what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
     Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
     "Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
     White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
     For there lay The Combs - the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims - just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

     But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
     And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
     Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to {lash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
     "Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
     Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
     "Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

     The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Blustery Christmas Mystery and the Christmas Cosmo

Lorraine Masonheimer has created a wonderful Christmas Cosmo to go with J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story. 

Grab your mittens and escape into the wintry, snow-laden tale—Mystery in White:  A Christmas Crime Story.  Penned by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a golden age English crime novelist, this classic whodunit is the perfect read for mystery fans that love a few twists and turns with their candy cane.
On Christmas Eve, an English country mansion is found vacant with an unlocked door, fires burning and the kettle whistling with tea ready to go.  Six strangers take shelter in the house fleeing a train stranded by the blizzard.  The eccentric characters find themselves trapped with a murderer in their midst that may be tied to the secrets of the empty house.  With no phones, impassable roads and blinding snow, they realize no help will arrive.
At the start, there is a sense that something is very wrong and the suspense ratchets tighter and tighter with each page.  As the plot thickens like the falling snow, the story is foreboding and atmospheric with a bit of a supernatural slant.  As more secrets are revealed and the body count rises, who knows if they’ll survive the night.
The story is full of lurking, footprints in the snow that weren’t there five minutes ago, a sense of being watched, a dark forest, blizzard force winds, unexplained open windows, the sound of shuffling feet, a creepy portrait above the fire and concealed identities all make this story a Christmas mystery delight.  The ghosts of Christmas past leave one with shivers and quivers and a satisfying conclusion.  
Mystery in White was written three years after Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.  In both books, the train is stuck in a snowdrift and a murder takes place. The stories diverge widely from there.  Ten years after Mystery in White was published, Agatha Christie wrote Three Blind Mice (adapted into the play Mousetrap) which has several themes present in this book.  Farjeon’s main character, Mr. Maltby, is Sherlock-like with his sharp mind, crisp questioning and uncanny ability to solve a puzzler.  While not as well-known as Christie, Conan Doyle and du Maurier, Mr. Farjeon was highly acclaimed in his day with more than 60 mystery novels to his credit.  He is best known for his play Number Seventeen that was adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Mystery in White is a great example of the books from the golden era of mysteries and this story continues to enchant.  
The story ends amiably with a toast to drink to the health of everybody under the sun including the police inspector who exclaimed “I’ve earned my bit of turkey.”  Nothing goes better with turkey than cranberries.  Here’s a perfect deep red classic Christmas drink to offer up a toast for a new addition to your Christmas mystery library and to family and friends.  

3 ¼ c + 2T Just Cranberry juice
1 ½ c Simple syrup
½ c         Cinnamon syrup (recipe follows)
1 3/4 c   Plymouth Gin
6T         Lemon juice, fresh
Fill a large pitcher with cranberry juice, simple syrup, cinnamon syrup, gin and lemon juice.  Serve chilled over crushed ice.  Garnish with 3-4 cranberries threaded onto a rosemary sprig.  Yield:  10 drinks.

½ c         Water
½ c         Sugar
2 oz. Cassia Cinnamon Chunk (Penzeys Spice)

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Off the heat and drop in 1 cheesecloth tied with string filled with cinnamon chunks and let steep about 1-2 hours.  Strain syrup into a container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  Yield:  ½ cup.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Burn A Few Grey Cells New Year’s Card

2018 will be here sooner than you think and Lorraine Masonheimer has created a card that is sure to be a hit. We're posting this craft a little early so you have time to get your supplies together. 

CONCEPT: The last card of the year pays homage to Agatha Christie’s internationally renowned Detective Hercule Poirot. The design features a festive party-like background, effervescent bubbles and all. The martini glass sports Poirot’s famous moustache and his walking cane—topped with his hat—skewers an olive. Remaining true to Poirot’s eccentricities the glass might hold tisane, a drink he attributes to the acuity of his “little grey cells” bringing us to the light-hearted play on words to burn a few this New Year.

8½” x 11” cream cardstock
Color coordinated papers (one festive pattern, the solid colors—one metallic, one light and one dark solid)
6” x 6” envelope
Martini glass and olive stamp
Charcoal ink pad
Glue dots
Pop-up dots
Gelly Roll sparkle pen (optional)
X-acto blade

Step One: Card Base
Cut an 8½” x 11” cardstock to 5½” x 11” and fold in half for a 5½” x 5½” card base. Cut the metallic paper to 5½” x 5½” and the festive paper to 5¼” x 5¼”. Glue the metallic paper to the card base and the festive paper to the metallic paper.

Step Two: Stamp, Draw & Cut
Stamp a martini glass and olive onto a piece of light solid paper using a charcoal ink pad, draw freehand or use the template in step three. Cut out and set aside. Draw and cut out Poirot’s moustache from the dark solid paper. Depending upon the patterned paper chosen, use scraps to draw and cut out the hat, cane skewer and olive. Otherwise, use solid colored paper and draw in details.

Step Three:  Template, Size & Cut
To use the template, place your cursor over the photo, right click, scroll to ‘Save Image As’ and place it onto your computer desktop. Open a word document, create a textbox, insert the images to size, print and cut. The glass is approximately 2¾” wide and 3¾” tall, the olive is ½” long and a little over ¼” wide, the moustache 2¼” long and about ¾” wide and the hat is ½” wide and ½” tall.  Trace the images onto the papers outlines in step two and cut out. Draw in the hat’s band and olive pit.

Step Four: Text, Assemble & Embellish
To create the sentiment, open a word document and type “Go ahead…” on one line, “Burn a few” on a second line and “Little Grey Cells” on the third line. This example uses Comic Sans at 16 points. Cut the words into three separate lines as shown. If desired, use the Gelly Roll pen to add sparkle to the hat band and the olive. Cut a piece of metallic paper to adhere to the tip of the cane. Place pop-up dots onto the back of the hat, the olive and the moustache and assemble as shown. If desired, sign ‘Poirot’ in your handwriting as if he autographed it himself.

Step Five: Interior and Envelope
Using the computer, create a text box about 4” x 4” and type a toast “May the holiday spirits lead to an adventurous New Year!” The example shown uses the type face Comic Sans at 16 pts centered. Print and cut the sentiment into a 4” square. Adhere the sentiment to the card as shown. Use scraps and elements of a cocktail (citrus segment or olive) to enhance the interior and envelope. That’s the last card of the year so go out and burn a few! Moustache optional!

Note: Postage is extra.