Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd

There's a new Bess Crawford mystery by Charles Todd and Kerry Hammond is here today to let us know what she thought of it.

A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd is the 10th book in the Bess Crawford mystery series. The book was published September 18, by William Morrow publishers.

Even though the armistice has been signed and the fighting is over, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is finding herself as busy as ever. There are plenty of injured soldiers whose suffering is only beginning. Many have become amputees and the prospect of returning to their families less than whole can feel like a fate worse than death. Bess finds herself dealing with psychological wounds in addition to the physical.

Captain Williams, an amputee himself, tries to help Bess improve the morale of his men, but many who are released from the hospital’s care are unable to face the life they left, choosing instead to end their lives. When Bess receives a letter from the Captain after he and his men have returned to Wales, she feels compelled to travel to a remote area in the dead of winter to check on her patients. What she finds is a small town full of secrets, one that does not welcome outsiders.

Beth is stranded when her driver leaves in the middle of the night without a word. With no way to contact her family or the military hospital, she takes it upon herself to investigate the strange happenings. Ships are crashing at the shore, townspeople are being attacked, and Bess feels that her own life may be in danger.

The atmosphere that the Todds create in A Forgotten Place is the reason I think it is one of the best book in this series. The Todds have captured the eerie setting of the Welsh coast and I felt transported to the cold, harsh locale. The storyline kept me guessing and I enjoyed watching the mystery unfold. As an added bonus (for those who are familiar with the series and the recurring characters) it’s fun to note that Simon makes an appearance.

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Banana Bon Temps Cocktail and Mardi Gras Murder


Ellen Byron, author of the Cajun Countries is here with a fabulous banana flavored cocktail and a delicious new book, Mardi Gras Murder. Read the first page of Ellen's book at the end of the post.

Bananas have a storied history in Louisiana. Imports began in the 1870s. By the 1950s, New Orleans was nation’s largest port of entry for the tropical fruit. This is why, when I decided to invent a cocktail for Mardi Gras Murder, my latest Cajun Country Mystery, I began with the banana.

In the fictional town of Pelican, Louisiana, Mardi Gras may be the most celebrated holiday of the year. Traditions include a big parade, a pageant, a gumbo cook-off, and several Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Runs). At Crozat Plantation B&B, family and guests enjoy a King Cake baked by Ninette Crozat, mother to my protagonist, Maggie Crozat. Everyone washes down Ninette’s delicious pastry with a Banana Bon Temps cocktail. But this year, Mardi Gras in Pelican has been up-ended by the devastating flood that preceded it. The Crozats are determined to triumph over disaster. Still, they can’t help be haunted by a grim discovery in their own backyard.

They’ll need more than a few Banana Bon Temps cocktails to get through the holiday.


2 oz dark rum
2 oz banana liquor
1 ½ tsp. brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup ice
1 ripe banana

Blend everything but ½ tsp. brown sugar together. Pour in (highball) glasses and sprinkle each serving with the remaining brown sugar.

Serves 2

Here's the first page of Mardi Gras Murder...


The rain came. Came in a way no one in St. Pierre Parish had ever seen before. Bayous and rivers exploded their banks, turning small towns into lakes. Some residents escaping the deluge had to dodge alligators that the rushing water swept onto their flooded front porches. “It was like the good Lord took all his showers on one day,” Claude Fauchon muttered to the Cajun Navy as the hardy volunteers rescued him and his ancient mutt from the submerged Creole cottage Claude had owned for sixty of his eighty years.
 The rain sent a torrent of water raging down the usually placid Bayou Beurre. And with it came a community’s rubbish: worn-out tires, a ringer washer, an out-of-date infant’s car seat, even a suitcase full of 1960s- era women’s wigs. The junk backed up against the single lane bridge that ran behind Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast, blocking the bayou’s path to the Gulf of Mexico. The bayou overflowed, threatening the B and B’s outbuildings. But an intrepid crew of Crozat family members and volunteers let the relentless rain soak them as they hauled away the detritus of small town life. It wasn’t until they’d almost reached the bottom of the pile that they found the body.
The body of a stranger to Pelican, Louisiana.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Q&A With Charles Todd

Charles Todd is a writing duo comprised of Caroline Todd and her son Charles Todd. They continue to entertain readers with not one, but two captivating series set around the time of WWI. Kerry Hammond is a huge fan of both and today she caught up with the two writers to find out about the latest in the Bess Crawford series, A Forgotten Place.

What inspired you to place Bess in such a remote locale in the latest book?

Caroline: It was such a marvelous place, and yet it had a real history that was dark and intriguing. We knew we had to write about it. As we worked with the story about what happens to amputees returning home at war’s end, we could see how the two could be combined, bringing out how Hugh Williams learns to cope and how Bess would fare in a place where she had no one she could really trust.You never know, starting a book, how it will end, but the challenge of getting there is half the fun.

Charles: I like the cover, because Bess is standing where we stood, looking down on that stunning bay. She fits that place so well too. When we’re searching for a setting and a story, it’s important for the two to work together. And we could see Bess out here, we could see Hugh Williams struggling with his crutches, wondering if he was still a man despite his injuries. In the Great War men feared amputation more than they feared death. And Bess is on her own, as Caroline said. We liked that idea, and wanted to explore it.

What kind of documents do you read up on to maintain the historical accuracy of the various scenarios in your books?

Caroline and Charles: When we first began writing about the Great War, we realized that we had two choices. We could use it as accurately as possible, keeping our mysteries well grounded in the period—what might have really happened then. Or we could make the war just a backdrop. We chose to make it real, not just a framework. And so we started looking for everything we could find on the period, mostly what was written and believed and felt at the time, not later material which looked back, using what had been learned about the war in later years. This wasn’t limited to reading. We’ve walked in trenches, been to museums, flown in a WW1 open cockpit biplane, clambered over tanks and handled weapons. These give you first-hand knowledge that can’t come from books.

How much does historical accuracy determine the plotlines you draw for Bess?

Caroline: It’s everything. Every Bess mystery hinges on something that could very well have happened at the time. We’ve been lucky too, in both the Rutledge and the Bess mysteries—we often discover something in the actual setting as we explore it ourselves, that becomes part of the story.  Sometimes we turn it on its head and explore it that way, sometimes we use it to start us off.

Charles: We’ve used the influenza epidemic, we’ve taken a horrific explosion and explored the aftermath, we’ve taken a hero to meet the King and receive a medal—all of these are real events that happened to real people, and could also happen to characters in a book. There was a real story here in Wales, too, and we could see how what happened in the past might have an impact on the present—Bess’s day.  And it worked remarkably well. It’s also very exciting to see how this plays out as we write. When you know you’re on the right track, the story just unrolls, and some of this excitement and enthusiasm reaches the reader too.

How do you manage to come up with plotlines and scenarios to fill two mystery series a year?

Caroline and Charles: That’s why we have to go to England and walk the ground. You can Google places or read about them, yes, that’s true. But when you walk into a little shop and see a photo from 1918, and the shop owner tells you a story about that photograph, your imagination is off and running. Or there’s something in the churchyard or in the stand of trees close by that seems dark and mysterious, or you hear a story of heroism by four young girls, and you know you have a story. What’s more, we can begin to see the characters, the people who might have lived there. That’s precious in putting people into your story line. They are real, not puppets, and they give the story a depth that really works.

Do you take Bess's adventures book by book, or do you have a longer term game plan for where you will take the character and what she might get involved with?

Caroline: We try not to look ahead. One way to keep a series fresh is to view each book as a stand alone.  Of course there are the series characters, there has to be some sort of continuity in the storyline, but if we look at the story as whole in itself, we can see nuances and characterizations that really are exciting and challenging. We aren’t stuck in an overall plan. This is also why you can pick up the series at any book—or start from the beginning if that’s your preference. It’s true of the Rutledge books as well.

Charles: Of course that doesn’t mean that we never have glimpses of the future. We know Bess has to go back to India at some point. Just when or why or how we leave to the Page 1 of that particular book. And yet Bess and Melinda discuss this in one of the books because the issue came up then. There’s Ireland too. We’ve got a great story possibility there that we stumbled over a few years ago, and it fits with something in Bess’s past. But we aren’t obliged to do these on a specific schedule. 

Bess's story is fictional, but the war is very real. Do you ever feel limited in your writing because you have to stay accurate in your depictions of battles and events?

Caroline: Actually the war fits very well into the story line. And because it’s real, it gives substance to the characters and the stories. So far we’ve never been tempted to change anything. There’s also something else. We wanted to make the war the centerpiece. And so it has to be accurate. Sometimes that has funny repercussions. I was in the middle of a scene one day when I had to stop and put a check out for the mail. Without even thinking, I dated the check 1917, rather than 2017, because I was still in the period.

Charles: Caroline is right. That’s one of the reasons why we have acquainted ourselves with the period and the war. We have a sense of where it has been and where it will be going. And that makes it easier to find the right story for the right time. The influenza story had to fit into the historical time line, as did the black powder explosion that Bess is drawn into. And this story A Forgotten Place worked best after the war, just when we were ready for it.  That’s not pre-planning so much as knowing where you are and what’s happening around your character. I love that challenge—it appeals to me.

Come back next week for a review of The Forgotten Place by Charles Todd.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A GIMLET with GLITTER BOMB by Laura Childs and Terrie Farley Moran

Laura Childs and Terrie Farley Moran have a new book out in the scrapbooking mystery series, and it takes place at Mardi Gras. This is the fifteenth book in the series, and it's so much fun. If you need a break from all the craziness, this is a great book to pick up. Let's see what drink they picked to match their drink. 

It's Mardi Gras in New Orleans and scrapbook shop owner Carmela Bertrand is excited to be attending the Pluvius Parade along with her best friend Ava. Carmela's ex-husband Shamus rides by the duo on his float at the head of the parade, when suddenly the revelry turns to disaster. Shamus' float crashes and explodes, and although Shamus escapes unhurt, a member of his krewe is killed.

Carmela and Ava plunge into an investigation of the krewe-member's death, but as they dig deeper it starts to look less like an accident and more like a murder....and Shamus seems less like a victim, and more like a suspect. Before they know it, the girls are visiting haunted cemeteries, participating in a fashion show and Carmela winds up driving in a sports car rally, all the while searching for clues. The good news is, no matter how far the adventure takes them, there is always time for a sumptuous lunch at one of New Orleans traditional restaurants such as Brennan’s or Antoine’s.  
And if Carmela and Ava are enjoying a brief respite, then a Gimlet would not be out of the question. 

2 oz. gin 
2/3 oz. Rose's lime juice
1 lime, sliced

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled stem glass with a wide bowl.
Garnish with a slice of lime.

So, sit back, relax with a cool, refreshing Gimlet in one hand and a copy of GLITTER BOMB in the other.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Mollie Cox Bryan, a Bloody Mary and ASSAULT AND BEADERY

Mollie Cox Bryan joins us today with a new beading book in her Cora Craft Mystery series and a Bloody Mary. Mollie is also the author of the Cumberland and Creek Mysteries and two cookbooks.

All of Cora Chevalier’s dreams are coming true. Since moving to Indigo Gap, North Carolina, the busy crafting maven has been blessed with a great boyfriend, a lovely home, and a booming craft retreat business. But on the eve of her first Crafty Mom’s Escape Weekend, tragedy strikes again in Indigo Gap. This time, it’s curtains for Stan Herald, the disagreeable director of the local theater group, who’s murdered on the opening night of their new production. Worse, Cora’s friend Zee is accused of the crime.

Cora is determined to prove her friend’s innocence, but Zee’s mysterious past is making that difficult. And with a list of suspects longer than a double spool of satin cording, getting a bead on the real culprit won’t be easy. With her friends Jane and Ruby at her side, Cora must string together the clues and solve Stan’s murder before the killer gives an encore performance.

Cora’s Bloody Mary

When I was thinking of a drink for a particular scene in this book, I knew it had to be on that came with a recipe—because there would be a funny mistake with it. I chose a Bloody Mary for a few reasons. First and foremost, yum. Second, it’s exactly the kind of drink people feel comfortable drinking early in the day. Also, the name: Bloody Mary. What could be more perfect for a mystery novel? 


  • 1/2 cup finely grated peeled fresh horseradish
  • 2 ounces Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces sriracha chile sauce
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 32 ounces tomato juice
  • Ice
  • 16 ounces vodka
  • Lime wedges
  • Pickled or fresh vegetables (optional)
In a pitcher, combine the horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, sriracha, lemon zest, celery salt, kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons ground pepper. Add the tomato juice and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
Pour the tomato juice mixture into 8 ice-filled glasses. Add 2 ounces vodka to each glass and stir. Garnish each drink with a pinch of ground pepper, a lime wedge, and pickled vegetables. 

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

The Denver-based book club, Crime & Beyond, just read the latest Michael Connelly book; let's see if it's a good book club read.

Crime & Beyond is a big fan of everything Michael Connelly writes, and he is one of the few authors we will read over and over again. This past month we read book 20 in the Harry Bosch series, Two Kinds of Truth. In the book, Bosch’s work on cold cases is interrupted when there is a double homicide at a local pharmacy. The case leads investigators into the world of prescription drug trafficking and Bosch ends up going undercover to try and catch the bad guys. Meanwhile, one of the men Bosch helped put in jail years before is accusing him of planting the evidence that convicted him, and claims he has new DNA results that prove he’s innocent. Bosch hires his half-brother Mickey Haller to defend him.

The book got great reviews from the club. We had a long discussion about both of Harry’s cases and we absolutely loved that Mickey Haller had a cameo (more than half of us are team Haller). The book is very relevant as it deals with the opioid crisis. Connelly put a lot of research into the book and really delves into a big issue that we are all seeing in the news.

Harry also closes an old cold case he had worked on that had been haunting him. One of our only criticisms was that it seemed like there were one too many plotlines going on at once.

The end of the book contains a hint as to Harry’s next case and we look forward to book 21 when he teams up with Connelly's new female character, Renee Ballard.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Mango Margaritas and The Trouble with the Truth

Kathy Krevat joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate her book, In Trouble with the Truth with a mango margarita. Kathy knows how to pick fun topics for her books. Her first series, the Chocolate Covered Mysteries (written under the name Kathy Aarons) were a delight. And her new series is such a fun concept for cat lovers. Let's dig in...

In the Gourmet Cat Mystery series, Colbie Summers, owner of the Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food Company, loves the margaritas at Pico’s Restaurant, set in the fictional town of Sunnyside, California.

In THE TROUBLE WITH TRUTH, Colbie is tryingto balance her hectic family life with her growing business. But when a Sunnyside resident is found dead in his garage, she takes on a new role: harboring a suspected killer.
The eighteen-year-old murder suspect, a former foster kid and Colbie’s part-time chef, had a powerful motive to snuff out the high-profile businessman. The real question is, who didn’t? Sifting through the victim’s sordid history unearths a cat’s cradle of crimes, including money laundering and abuse. Now, to clear an innocent girl’s name, Colbie must sniff out the truth before a killer who smells trouble goes on the attack again.

Colbie and her best friends Lani Nakano and Detective Norma Chiron celebrate Margarita Wednesdays at Pico’s where they discuss family, friends and the latest murder mystery in Sunnyside. 

Here’s a recipe of one of their favorites: Mango Margaritas.

1 cup of ice
2/3 cup of diced frozen mango
1-1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
2 TB agave or simple syrup
Lime juice squeezed from half a lime 

Blend it all in together until smooth and serve immediately.

Kathy Krevat is the author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series by Kensington/Lyrical and the Chocolate Covered Mystery series by Berkley Prime Crime. She’s also president of the board of Partners in Crime – the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime; president of the board of Playwrights Project, a nonprofit that teaches literacy through playwriting; and an advisor to the CCA Writers’ Conference, the only free writing conference for high school students in the US. Find her at www.kathykrevat.comor on Facebook or Twitter. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Review: Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman

Kerry Hammond is here today to review the latest novel in a well-established series by Faye Kellerman.

Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman is the 25th novel in the popular Decker/Lazarus series. It released on August 28 in Hardcover by William Morrow. The Kellermans are a prolific family of mystery writers. I’m a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series and have even read and enjoyed the new series written by Jonathan and his son Jesse, which features Deputy Coroner, Clay Edison. Even though Faye Kellerman’s series had been around since 1986, I have to admit that I am new to her novels. What better place than to jump in at book 25?

In Walking Shadows, Detective Decker is called out to investigate an act of vandalism and ends up with a murder case. The victim is a young local man named Brady Neil and as Decker looks into his past he finds out that Neil’s father was sent to prison for robbery and murder. Decker needs to find out what, if any, connection there is to link Brady to his father’s crime. The stakes are raised when Decker links Brady’s murder to the disappearance of a co-worker and friend of the victim, and Decker relies on Rina Lazarus to help him sort through the past and find out just what the crimes have in common.

Sometimes you jump into a series midway through and can’t seem to get acquainted with the characters, or the author tries to throw so much of the back story at you that you are overwhelmed with knowledge that you don’t understand. I didn’t feel this way at all with Decker and Lazarus.  I felt like I was reading book one in a series, getting to know new characters in my own time and in my own way. The book had a standalone feel and I enjoyed it for the mystery that it was. The bonus is that I can now go back and check out the earlier books in the series. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by the author.

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

Friday, August 31, 2018

California Sangria and A Case of Syrah, Syrah

Nancy J Parra AKA Nancy Coco AKA Nell Hampton joins us today on Drinks with Reads. Nancy is the author of over 25 published novels which include five mystery series: The Candy Coated Mysteries (Kensington), The Kensington Palace Mystery Series (Crooked Lane), The Wine Country Tours Mystery Series (Crooked Lane) The Gluten-free Baker’s Treat Mysteries (Berkley Prime Crime), and The Perfect Proposal Mysteries (Berkley Prime Crime).  Her writing has been called witty and her protagonists plucky by reviewers around the world.  Nancy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and writes for the Killer Character Blog on the 8th of every month. 

I lived in Northern California for nearly two years right next to an orange grove. The air always held the scent of citrus. I loved going out and visiting obscure wineries in the area, learning about the tradition and tasting all the varieties. I love the concerts in the vineyards, open air yoga and wine tastings and that scent of ocean in the fog that rolled in overnight. That’s why I wrote the wine country tours mystery series to celebrate the quirkiness, joy and beauty that is northern California. In A Case of Syrah, Syrah, someone takes a yoga obsession one stretch too far. Enjoy this fast, fun read with a glass of Sangria on your back patio or at the beach.

Fruit- I chose oranges and limes
A mix of orange and lime juice
Extra fine sugar
A beautiful Syrah
Brandy (I tasted some wonderful warm brandies in California.)

Cut 1 orange into small pieces and remove the seeds. Cut 2 small limes into quarters, removing seeds. Place oranges and limes in a glass pitcher with ¾ cup of extra fine sugar (more or less to taste). Muddle for 45 seconds with a wooden spoon. Add ½ cup of orange juice and 1/4 cup of lime juice, 1/3 cup of brandy (or more to taste). Add the wine and stir to incorporate. Add one cup of ice to chill and enjoy! Don’t want to add ice? Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: What Remains of Her by Eric Rickstad

Kerry Hammond found another new-to-her author and is here to tell us what she thought.

What Remains of Her by Eric Rickstad was published on July 24, in Trade Paperback, by William Morrow. Rickstad is a New York Times bestselling author of four other novels of suspense; three of which make up the Canaan Crime Novels series.

The book revolves around the disappearance of Rebecca Baum and her young daughter Sally, a case that went cold 25 years ago and left Jonah Baum—husband and father—to try and pick up the pieces of his life. There was speculation that Rebecca took her daughter and disappeared, but there was also small town gossip that Jonah had something to do with their disappearance. Now, 25 years to the day after they disappeared, a broken and reclusive Jonah finds a young girl in the woods. He is struck by her resemblance to his lost daughter and in his mind, muddled by years of grief, he tries to protect and save the girl; something he wasn’t able to do for his own daughter and wife. As the police continue to search for the missing child, Lucinda, a deputy sheriff who is tied to the original case, begins to piece together what happened all of those years ago.

The story drew me in right away and I was mesmerized by the world Rickstad created. The setting was perfect for the story that was being told: a remote part of Vermont, in the wintertime. There was a feeling of isolation that permeated the town and everyone in it. The cold and snow both hindered and helped. It hindered those who wanted to search for clues and helped those who were trying to hide.

There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing and a satisfying ending to wrap things up. I will definitely be checking out the author’s other books.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Little Girl Lost by Wendy Corsi Staub

Kerry Hammond is here with her review of the first book in a new series by Wendy Corsi Staub.

Little Girl Lost by Wendy Corsi Staub was published on July 24, in Mass Market Paperback by William Morrow. It’s the first in the Foundlings Trilogy, a new series by the author, who has written more than ninety novels—something not many authors ever achieve. I was a big fan of the Mundy’s Landing series and reviewed all three here on Mystery Playground: BloodRed, Blue Moon, and Bone White. I was excited to try the first book in a new series.

The story toggles between 1968, when a string of brutal attacks by a serial killer rocked New York City, and 1987 where we meet Amelia Crenshaw and NYPD Detective Stockton Barnes. Both Barnes and Crenshaw are searching for answers; Crenshaw wants to find the truth about her birth parents and Barnes wants to solve the missing person’s case of a Park Avenue millionaire. As information is revealed, we find that their two stories don’t just intersect, they are completely entwined, and the answers are not what they expected.

The story toggles from 1968 to 1987 as well as from character to character. This is a trademark of sorts for the author and I don’t usually mind the switches. With this book, though, I found the back and forth between characters to be sometimes hard to follow. There were quite a few characters at play, so this might explain my trouble. I did find the premise of the book extremely interesting and enjoyed the intersecting character paths. On the whole, I enjoy Corsi Staub’s writing, and her ability to tell unusual and intriguing stories.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah has a new Hercule Poirot mystery out and Kerry Hammond is eager to give us her review.

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah is the third in the series featuring Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It was published on August 28, in hardcover by William Morrow. The first in the series, The Monogram Murders, brought back one of the most famous sleuths in literary history. Fans of Agatha Christie and the traditional British mystery were able to revisit with an old friend and read a new story. Closed Casket was the second in the series and continued to follow Poirot’s investigations, this time the detective is present when the murder takes place but is unable to stop it.

In The Mystery of Three Quarters, the reader immediately feels like they have entered an Agatha Christie story. Four people have received a letter accusing them of the murder of a man named Barnabas Pandy, all signed by Hercule Poirot. There are two problems with this: 1) Barnabas Pandy did indeed die, but the police believed there was no foul play, and 2) Poirot didn’t write the letters. Each of the four people confront Poirot, with differing levels of outrage. He continues to explain his innocence, but his interest is piqued and he begins to wonder if Mr. Pandy’s death is more than what the police originally thought.

Poirot, with the help of Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool, looks into Pandy’s death as well as the background of each of the people who received a letter containing his forged signature. He finds the puzzle to be especially difficult to understand and the more he investigates, the more he wonders just what each of the suspects has in common and why they were targeted. Catchpool is our Hastings-like narrator, following along as Poirot uses his little grey cells to solve the case. The Scotland Yard detective takes on more of an investigative role than Hastings ever did, but his skills still pale in comparison to the great Hercule Poirot—as they should!

I’ve read each of Hannah’s Poirot mysteries and can honestly say they get better and better as the series continues. I love the plots and characters, which remind me so much of Christie’s work. There is enough of Hannah’s own voice that still make the books hers, and that’s somehow comforting. She’s not trying to impersonate the Queen of Mystery, she is merely carrying on in her absence with enough skill to please Christie’s fans and honor her legacy. I hope to see many more books in this series.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review: Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day

A new book with an exciting setting is the subject of Kerry Hammond's review today.

Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day was published on August 7, in Hardcover, by William Morrow. Rader-Day is the award winning author of three previous standalone mysteries, and you can read a Mystery Playground review of The Day I Died here. One of the things that always draws me to Rader-Day’s books are the unique premises and characters.

In Under a Dark Sky, the story is set in a part of northern Michigan near a Dark Sky Park. A Dark Sky Park is an area noted for its exceptional star and constellation viewing. It’s where the public can go to view starry nights without light pollution. It’s also where Eden Wallace finds herself mixed up in murder.

After a traffic accident took the life of her husband of nearly 10 years, Eden finds among his paperwork a reservation for a week’s vacation at a Dark Sky Park. When she arrives she finds that she doesn’t have the place all to herself, but is sharing the house with six college friends who are having a reunion of sorts. Still grieving over the loss of her husband, and experiencing an acute fear of the dark, Eden decides to leave but can’t do so until daybreak—at least that was the plan. Instead she wakes to find one of the other guests has been murdered and she, along with the other five, are suspects.

Part of what sucked me right into this book was the unique premise. I love a good closed universe mystery where all the characters are snowed in or on a remote island. During the murder this was the case, and the darkness added an extra eerie aspect to the story. I found myself picturing myself there with the characters, experiencing the intense darkness, wondering how I would feel in a similar situation. 

We watch Eden struggle to make sense of the murder as well as her life and her grief. It’s a story of personal awakening as much as it’s a murder mystery. Eden was very much alone, a 7th wheel in a situation where emotions ran high between the six friends. As can be expected, the friends toggled between acceptance of her and blame—since it’s easier to blame an outsider. The flip flopping of their feelings toward her got a little bit much, but on the whole I enjoyed the story and it kept me guessing. It inspired me too, I’m now off to find a Dark Sky Park to visit!

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Reckless ARC Giveaway and Drink Recipe

We have advanced reader copy giveaway today on Drinks with Reads. David Putnam's new book Reckless doesn't come out until this February, but the first five readers (US residents only) to comment on this blog post will receive the book early before it's available to the public, a copy of the first "early years" Bruno Johnson novel, and The Innocents. 

David Putnam's latest novel in the "early years" of the Bruno Johnson series includes a few references to Yoo-hoo, the chocolate drink. Dave tells me there's a law-enforcement term in California: "wet reckless" which is when you essentially just miss DUI. Of course, we do not recommend drinking and driving at all, ever, but we borrowed from that term for the name of this yummy chocolate beverage, which can be made with or without the alcohol. 

Wet Reckless (Chocolate)

Yoo-hoo chocolate drink (or chocolate milk)
Chocolate vodka (optional, here I used s'mores flavored)
Whipped cream (can be alcohol-infused)
Chocolate syrup

Add chocolate syrup to your empty glass (I was a bit RECKLESS with my chocolate syrup application, works better if you chill the syrup first).

Add whipped cream, and optional chocolate/s'more flavored vodka to taste. 

Add Yoo-hoo or chocolate milk.

Add more whipped cream and chocolate syrup. And even more if you like. We can always use more chocolate! Enjoy and don't forget to comment to receive an early copy of the book, plus two of David's other books (US residents only). 

Available for pre-order now: The Reckless, by David Putnam. 

Early reviewers are raving: "...dazzles with authenticity, sharply-drawn characters, crackling dialogue, and insider details that only a real cop could bring to the page. Putnam can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly." ―Lee Goldberg, New York Times best-selling author

“David Putnam scores again with The Reckless, his new prequel thriller featuring major crimes detective Bruno Johnson... The Reckless will make crime-fiction fans eager to read more of Bruno's past adventures." ―Glen Hamilton, Anthony and Edgar Award-winning author

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

A bestselling romance novelist has written a novel of suspense and Kerry Hammond is eager to tell us how much she loved the book.

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone is a standalone novel of suspense that was published on August 1, in Hardcover by Lake Union Publishing. Victoria Helen Stone is the nom de plume of author Victoria Dahl, who has more than 25 books under her belt. Her genre has primarily been romance and she has only recently turned her skill toward the mystery and suspense genre. I, for one, am happy she did.

Jane Doe is a story about a woman who is single mindedly focused on meeting, seducing, and ruining one man. As the story progresses we learn her reasons, her plan, and just how cold and calculating she can be. And from page one, we are placing all of our hopes on her success.

They say that people read mystery novels and detective fiction because they like to see justice done. They like to see the good guys prevail and the bad guys punished. I think that’s true, at least for me as a reader, and this is part of the reason I loved Jane Doe. I enjoyed watching Jane on her cold and calculating quest for her own form of justice. When a story is written in first person, the narrator is also the protagonist and you have to feel something for that person. You have to identify with them or care about them in some way. As unlikely as Jane might seem as a person with whom a reader might bond, it happens, and once it does, the readers wants her to succeed. I honestly didn’t even care how she chose to go about exacting justice, I was behind her 100%, in her corner no matter where she took me.

Stone is a gifted storyteller and I loved her writing style. There wasn’t a single excess word, paragraph, or scene. Her writing is a concise narrative that takes hold of the reader and doesn’t let go. I hope to see many more books by this author.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: The Man Who Couldn't Miss by David Handler

Journalist turned author, David Handler, has a new book out in a series that Kerry Hammond loves. She’s here to tell us what she thinks.

The Man Who Couldn’t Miss by David Handler was published on August 14, in Hardcover by William Morrow. It’s the 10th in the Stewart Hoag Mystery series. We also reviewed the 9th book in the series, The Girl With the Kaleidascope Eyes, here on Mystery Playground. I love this series and was excited to see there was a new book out; I just had to get my hands on it.

Ghostwriter Stewart Hoag “Hoagy” and his basset hound, Lulu, are back and up to their eyeballs in a new mystery. Hoagy is spending some time in the country at a farmhouse belonging to his ex-wife, actress Merilee Nash. Merilee is putting on a high priced charity event to save a local theater and tensions are running high. When one of the actors is murdered, Hoagy is there to help solve the crime.

Hoagy and Lulu are priceless. Hoagy is there with his flashy fashion sense and dry sense of humor, and Lulu, well Lulu is scared of her own shadow. But she manages to back up Hoagy when he needs her most, and she’s always there to sniff out a clue. Hoagy is smooth without being arrogant, he is dapper with a one-of-a-kind style, and he is the exact person you want around in a crises. He is calm and analytical and he always manages to catch the killer.

This is a wonderful series, I love Handler’s style of writing and Hoagy is such a unique character. It’s refreshing to find a protagonist who is outside the mold; there is nothing cookie cutter about him. The small town theater storyline and the quaint Connecticut backdrop made for a great mystery. This is a fun and satisfying series and I thoroughly enjoy it.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen

The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed the 12th book in the Rizzoli & Isles series by Tess Gerritsen and Kerry Hammond is here to give us her notes.

Crime & Beyond met this month to discuss I Know a Secret, the 12th book in the Rizzoli and Isles series written by Tess Gerritsen. Many club members had seen the TNT series starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander but quite a few were reading the books for the first time. I was a bit worried at jumping in at book 12, but we went with it since it was the most recent--published earlier this year. There were a few storyline spoilers this far into the series, but on the whole it didn’t detract from our enjoyment.

In the book, Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are pulled into several murder cases that seemingly mimic the gruesome deaths of martyred saints. Their investigated leads them back to an incident of alleged abuse of children at a school some time before and the family who were prosecuted for the crime. Maura’s biological mother, a convicted serial killer named Amalthea, is dying of cancer but still manages to taunt Maura with information relating to their current investigation.

Our bookclub really loved this book and gave it a very high rating. We thought it was an easy and quick read, although not without some gore. We loved the twists, turns, and red herrings that led us away from the true culprit. We had a great discussion and many will be going back to book one in the series to read more. It was a great choice for a book club read.