Friday, September 20, 2019

Crypt Suzette and Spiked Spiced Cider

Maya (Mary Ann) Corrigan joins us today on Drinks with Reads. Maya writes the Five-Ingredient Mysteries: By Cook or by Crook, Scam Chowder, Final Fondue, The Tell-Tale Tarte, S’more Murders, and Crypt Suzette. The series, set in a historic town along the Chesapeake Bay, features a café manager and dinner-party caterer solving murders with her live-wire grandfather, the Codger Cook. Each book has five suspects, five clues, and Granddad’s five-ingredient recipes. Let's see what she has in store for us today...

When Val caters a party at Bayport’s new bookshop on Spooktacular Saturday, a costume contest is part of the festivities. Everyone dresses as characters from books. Among the contestants are the Fictionistas, a creative writing group started by Suzette, the secretive young woman who rents a spare bedroom in the house Val shares with her grandfather. As Val tells her best friend, “People choose costumes that mirror their personalities.” If that’s true, Suzette’s fellow Fictionistas reveal a violent streak. They dress as the ambitious Lady Macbeth, the obsessive Phantom of the Opera, a zombie from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the vengeful Morgan le Fay, evil sorceress from Camelot. 
After Suzette is found dead of an apparent accident, Val and Granddad suspect foul play. When the Fictionistas gather at the bookshop on Halloween eve, Val offers them a drink perfect for a chilly day—warm spiced apple cider. Though non-alcoholic, the cider she serves seems to be spiked with truth serum. The Fictionistas lose their inhibitions and accuse each other of murder. Did one of them kill Suzette or was her death rooted in the past she’d kept secret and tried to escape? Having dressed as Nancy Drew for the bookshop party, Val tries to answer that question and almost becomes the next “accident” victim.

The drink related to my book is an alcoholic version of the warm spiced cider Val makes. Spiked Spiced Cider works well for a Halloween party or any cool-weather party. It’s also a tongue-twister, so you can challenge your guests to say it five times fast. 
This drink is also known as mulled apple cider. Like mulled wine, it’s simmered in a crock pot or on the stove with spices and citrus for flavor. The spices should include cinnamon and cloves at a minimum, but you can also add a star anise or grated fresh ginger if you like that flavor. Put the smaller spices in a tea ball or wrapped and tied cheesecloth. If you don’t do that, you’ll need to strain the cider before serving it. Simmer the spices and cider, keeping them below the boiling point, and only add the alcohol after you remove the cider from the heat. 

½ gallon(1.9 L) unfiltered apple cider
2  cinnamon sticks 
10 whole cloves
1/2 oz. (15 ml) orange juice or lemon juice if you prefer a less sweet drink
1 oz. (30 ml) dark rum or brandy [Skip for a non-alcoholic cider]
Sliced oranges and cinnamon sticks for garnish
Put the apple cider, spices, and juice in a large pot or Dutch oven. Heat up to the point of boiling and then simmer for 1-3 hours. If you use a slow cooker or crock pot, turn it to low and cook for 3 hours. Turn off the heat and remove the spices from the pot, straining if necessary. Add the rum or brandy for an alcoholic version of the cider. Serve it warm, garnished with sliced oranges and a fresh cinnamon stick in each cup. 

To find out more about the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, including Crypt Suzette, visit Maya’s: 
Amazon Author Page:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Interview with Author Linwood Barclay

Sharon Long recently caught up with author Linwood Barclay to discuss his latest thriller, Elevator Pitch. Let's see what he had to say.

Your book jacket mentions that your thriller does for elevators what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach. What are your thoughts on this description, should we be afraid to ride in an elevator?  

No more, I suppose, than when we step into the shower or go to the beach. But what Psycho and Jaws did was take familiar places — ones we did not previously have reason to fear — and make them terrifying. I’m hoping that’s what I have accomplished with Elevator Pitch. I’m going to make you rethink something you might use every day, see its potential to scare the wits out of you. 

“Elevator Pitch” has such a unique premise. I have to know, where did your inspiration come from?

I would love to say the idea came to me when I was trapped in an elevator, but the truth is, I had heard a report on the evening news that Toronto did not have enough elevator inspectors. And the idea was just there: a serial killer who sabotages elevators throughout Manhattan.

Readers like to know how their favorite authors write.  Do you finish one book before starting another or do you have several projects going at the same time?

When I am in the thick of writing a book, that’s the only book I’m in the thick of writing. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have to switch gears to proofread another, or work on a television project that has an urgent deadline, or write a short story I’ve promised to someone. 

What is the nicest fan email/letter you have received?

I had a wonderful email a few weeks ago from a woman who said her grown son, a very successful guy, had never been a reader. I think it may have been dyslexia-related. But he read No Time for Goodbye, loved it, and now was reading all my books. That was pretty gratifying. 

I know authors are also readers, what is in your To Be Read pile?

The new Robert Crais, the new Laura Lippman, the new Richard Russo. 

Do you have a favorite mystery author?

No writer made a greater impression on me than Ross Macdonald (real name, Kenneth Millar), author of the Lew Archer novels. 

Who is the one author, past or present, you would love to have dinner with?

When I was 21, I got to have dinner with my favourite writer on the planet, the aforementioned Ross Macdonald. So, dream achieved. But I’d love to go out for wings with Stephen King.

For our readers, what are you working on next?

I thought I knew. I’ve finished a thriller that’s a bit more Michael Crichton-ish, about a test community of self-driving cars where a virus gets introduced into the system, and the vehicles become homicidal. But I just got another idea I think is so good I should do it now while it’s fresh in my head. So, I’m not sure which book will be next. I’m also working on a possible TV adaptation of my Promise Falls trilogy. Fingers crossed that happens. 

Many thanks to Linwood Barclay for taking the time to chat with us. To read a review of Elevator Pitch on Mystery Playground CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay has a new novel and Sharon Long is here today with her review. 

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay releases on September 17, in hardcover, by William Morrow. Linwood is the best-selling author of 18 novels and 2 children’s books. His latest is a suspense thriller revolving around elevator incidents in metro NYC. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Linwood’s books and was anxious to read this one. 

The story opens on a Monday morning, where four people are waiting for an elevator at Lansing Tower in NY City. An elevator comes and the four get on, pressing floors 33, 34 and 37. The elevator shoots past all three of the floors chosen, going to the 40th floor instead, but the doors don't open. The riders start to panic when the elevator starts again. The elevator again skips floors 37, 34 and 33, this time stopping at 29. Suddenly, there’s a loud noise above, and then the elevator plunges in a free fall straight to the ground.

Across the city, Detective Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado are called to the scene of a dead male whose body was discovered by an early morning jogger. The body’s face is badly beaten and the fingertips on both hands are missing. Upon further examination of the body, they note that the man was wearing novelty socks.  

On Tuesday, there is another devastating elevator incident, this time in a 30-story apartment tower called the Sycamore Residences. On Wednesday, another tragic elevator incident. As the detectives make some headway on the identification of the unknown body, they start to wonder if the murder is somehow linked to the elevator accidents plaguing the city.  

This is a fast-paced read, and it honestly made me glad I don't ride in an elevator on a regular basis. Elevator Pitch involves greed, murder, secrets, politics, and the consequences of prior actions long forgotten. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am curious to see if this is the beginning of a possible series with Detectives Bourque and Delgado.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

First in a Series: The Corpse with the Silver Tongue by Cathy Ace

The Fabulous Cathy Ace joins us today for a special Drinks with Reads: the inaugural entry in our First in a Series profiles. This is where we introduce the first book in a series so you can keep reading and reading through the great adventures of one set of characters. Cathy was one of our first guests on Mystery Playground when we started way back in 2012, so we thought we'd start her off here too with the first book in her Cait Morgan series, The Corpse with a Silver Tongue. And the series is on flash sale this week electronically...

It’s such a thrill to be invited to participate in Mystery Playground’s Friday Drinks with Reads. I’ve been able to celebrate the launch of most of my books here – but I’ll admit I didn’t know of the site’s existence when my debut novel was launched, which is why you won’t find an entry for the very first Cait Morgan Mystery, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, in the archives. 

It’s almost impossible to remember a time when Cait Morgan wasn’t part of my life…some who know me might say this is because she’s very much like me (I couldn’t possibly comment!) but it’s also true that she was “born” in a short story back in 2007, and has been with me constantly since then; there are now eight novels in the series.

I always wanted Cait to travel the world solving traditional – as opposed to specifically cozy – mysteries, of the type Agatha Christie used to give us. I always loved the Poirot and Marple books set in “exotic” locations, and I wanted Cait’s adventures to take her to places where the history, art, architecture, food and drink are fascinating. I’ve been a bit of a nomad throughout my life, so she gets to visit a different country in each book – each being somewhere I have either lived, worked, or have spent at least several months, if not years, in total. 

So, why did I choose Nice, in the south of France, for her first novel? Honestly, I love it, and I miss it. I used to spend three or four months a year there and was delighted that friends of mine allowed me to “use” their home as the setting for the sudden death (OK…you guessed it…it’s a murder!) at a birthday party which sits at the core of the book. Writing it allowed me to “be there” again, though, sadly, without the unique light of the Cote d’Azur illuminating my laptop. (If you want to know why there’s a cast iron snail in the photo, you’ll have to read the book!)

What makes this appearance here today even more special is that it gives me the chance to share some exciting news: I have just reacquired all the publishing rights for my Cait Morgan books (except the English print rights), which means I can now control their digital availability and pricing. So – drum roll please – I can tell you that the prices for ALL the digital Cait Morgan Mysteries have been dropped to $4.99 USD (or equivalent). 

While you’re reading THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, you can enjoy Cait Morgan’s favourite tipple. It’s not fancy, but it is quite specific. She adores Bombay Sapphire gin…yes, specifically Bombay Sapphire. Now I know there are a good many gins out there these days, and – of course – you might have your own gin-of-choice, but with a good tonic (something “plain and normal” like Schweppes, as opposed to one of the myriad available with added flavours) and a good quality lemon – one that feels heavy, so is likely to be really juicy (roll the lemon before cutting into it to get those juices moving!) there’s nothing quite like a straightforward Bombay Sapphire and tonic! This is how Cait enjoys hers:

Fill a large glass with ice
Squeeze a thick slice of lemon that you’ve cut into two over the ice and drop it in
Pour over ONE part Bombay Sapphire gin, then THREE parts tonic water
Stir slowly for a moment or two, allowing the ice to chill the drink
Enjoy! Cheers, folks!

(NB: yes, some gin was drunk during the shooting of this photograph!)

Here are links to more of Cathy's wonderful Drinks with Reads posts:

To find out more about The Cait Morgan Mysteries, and Cathy Ace:

Twitter: @AceCathy
Sign up for Cathy’s newsletter at her website.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Hunting Party and a Rusty Nail

It's been a hot summer, so I thought I'd try and cool off with a snowy thriller by Lucy Foley.

In The Hunting Party, group of friends spends New Years in a remote hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. They've been getting together for years and many of their relationships go back to their days at Oxford, where they met as students.

Emotions run high, old resentments resurface, and one of the friends does not live through to the New Year. It's clear that someone at the lodge is the murderer, but which one?

The Hunting Party is a great closed universe thriller where the characters are stranded in a remote place (much like And Then There Were None) and it's clear that one of them is the killer. 

If you're an audio book fan, you can't go wrong with the audio version of this book. It's read by 5 different people, each playing a character whose point of view we experience in the book. The accents are wonderful and the actors really portray the essence of each character. 

I chose a Rusty Nail to go with The Hunting Party for two reasons. First, I needed something to sip on to keep me warm while I read about the snowy countryside, and second, with a book set in the remotest area of the Scottish Highlands, it just had to contain Scotch.

The Rusty Nail
2 ounces of Scotch
3/4 ounce Drambuie

Add Scotch and Drambuie to a cocktail mixer filled with ice. Stir to chill and then pour into a rocks glass and enjoy.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Review: Too Close by Natalie Daniels

Natalie Daniels just published a new novel and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

Too Close by Natalie Daniels was published on July 30, in Trade Paperback, by Harper Paperbacks. The book is described as a haunting psychological thriller about a woman who is accused of a crime and a psychiatrist who is trying to unravel the truth. I was intrigued.

Emma is a psychiatrist who has been tasked with trying to get through to Connie, who is being held in a psychiatric hospital after attempting to end her own life. Emma gains Connie's trust and begins to unravel the events that led up to the fateful day, but the story is way more complicated than she initially expects. Connie may not remember what happened, but she is more astute that Emma expects; she sees that Emma hides her own feelings of inadequacy behind the facade of her profession.

I often start a book, thinking it's a mystery, only to find out later that it's not. There are no dead bodies, no murder investigation, and no criminals are unmasked. It can be quite disappointing when you are expecting all of those elements and you get none of them. I started this book thinking it might be a mystery, but by the time I realized it wasn't, I didn't even care. I was drawn in by the characters, mesmerized by the writing, and captivated by the story.

I liked Daniels' writing style and her keen observations about human nature are all too real. Her portrayal of her characters' inner thoughts, fears, and inadequacies are raw and disturbingly accurate. I look forward to what the author will come up with next.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review: Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey

Kerry Hammond is here to review a new-to-her author and his 18th book in a popular series.

Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey is the 18th book in the Detective Peter Diamond mystery series. It was published on July 9, in Hardcover, by Soho Crime. I was a bit skeptical about starting a series on book 18, but I have heard great things about both the author and the series, so I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and just dive right in. 

In Killing With Confetti, Joe Diamond is recruited by the Deputy Chief Constable to handle security duty of sorts. You see, the DCC's son is getting married, and his wife-to-be is the daughter of notorious crime boss, Joe Irving. There is no shortage of criminals who would love to see Joe dead, and the DCC fears that one will take advantage of the fact that he is scheduled to be at the wedding. 

Diamond is not pleased to have to babysit a crime boss, but feels he has no choice. His bodyguard duty soon turns into a murder investigation and he finally feels like he can do what he does best, catch a killer.

I absolutely loved Peter Diamond. He's a no nonsense policeman and Lovesey is a no nonsense writer. I felt like I was watching an episode of a British crime series and enjoyed every minute of it. I completely forgot that I had jumped in at book 18. The book stood on its own and could have been a standalone novel. I didn't feel like I was missing backstory and none was even offered. It was just an entertaining installment that was all about the crime and the crime solving.

There's a quote on the cover of my copy of the book by Sara Paretsky and it reads, "I'm jealous of everyone discovering Lovesey and Diamond for the first time." So true, I feel lucky that I have 17 more books to immediately enjoy.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Robert McCaw's Off the Grid and the Lava Flow

Robert McCaw joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate his novel, Off The Grid. 

Hilo Hawaii Chief Detective Koa Kāne, the protagonist in Off the Grid, is a cop with a secret. As a teenager, he killed the man responsible for his father’s death and camouflaged the killing as a suicide. And he got away with it! That history creates tension in his character and fuels his life’s ambition—bringing killers to justice. It has also made him suspicious of everyone and paranoid about getting fooled like he himself once deceived the cops. Bottom line—he’s a really good cop.
Koa cools off with a Bikini Blonde Lager or a Paniolo Pale Ale, both local craft beers, as he chows down on his Hawaiian plate lunch—that’s a hamburger patty or a hunk of spam with white rice, brown-gray, macaroni salad, and a fried egg.
Still, local craft beers are a bit light for the heavy lifting Koa confronts in Off the Grid. Called to the scene of a bizarre hit and run accident between a county dump truck and a Honda, he arrives just in time to get knocked down when the burning vehicles explode, incinerating the woman trapped inside. That might call for an Explosion—vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and sweet pear cider.
The real mystery develops when rangers at the nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park discover a tortured body abandoned in an active lava field. After clearing this scene, the chief detective could sure use one of Hawaii’s infamous Lava Flows—a drink with flaming red splashes, the color of Madame Pele’s volcanic fire fountains. (See recipe below.)
The two homicide victims turn out to be loners living together deep in a rain forest far off the grid on property owned by off-shore entities. Koa suspects the pair are fugitives, but no one seems to know their real identities. Enter the CIA and other government agencies and the trail leads to one of the weirdest real-life international events in contemporary history. No spoilers here, but there is a hint for those who know the Bar Blaznavac. No fair resorting to the Internet!
Given the volcanic nature of Hawaii and the many eruptive twist and turns in the story, I’ll have to go with a Lava Flow.
You can find Robert on Facebook.

Lava Flow Recipe
  • 1 oz. light rum
  • 1 oz. coconut rum 
  • 2 oz. strawberries (fresh or frozen) 
  • 1 small banana
  • 2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice 
  • 2 oz. coconut cream
  • Pineapple wedge
  • Paper umbrella
Blend both rums with the strawberries to form a paste. Pour into a tall hurricane glass. Separately,  blend the banana, the coconut cream, and the pineapple juice with crushed ice. Slowly, pour the banana-cream-ice mix into the hurricane glass with the strawberry-rum mix and watch the strawberry-rum mix rise to the top along the sides of the glass for a lava effect. Don’t forget to garnish with the pineapple wedge and the paper umbrella.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Dead Silence by Wendy Corsi Staub

Kerry Hammond is here to tell us about book two in a trilogy by Wendy Corsi Staub.

Dead Silence is Book Two in the Foundlings Trilogy by Wendy Corsi Staub and was published on July 23, in Mass Market Paperback, by William Morrow. Corsi Staub has written numerous standalone novels as well as a handful of trilogies. I read and enjoyed her Mundy’s Landing Trilogy, which included Blood Red, Blue Moon, and Bone White.

The Foundlings Trilogy started with Little Girl Lost, which toggled back and forth between 1968 and 1987. We meet Amelia Crenshaw and NYPD Detective Stockton Barnes, whose lives don’t seem to intercept…until they do. Amelia is searching for the true story of her birth and her biological mother after finding out she’s a foundling, and Barnes is searching for a missing millionaire.

In Dead Silence, Amelia is working as a genealogy expert, helping other foundlings try and discovery where they came from. Her work leads her to visit her friend Jesse, who has taken in a boy who was found abandoned and left for dead in a farmer’s field. The case hits very close to home and Amelia struggles with her own feelings of abandonment as she tries to help the boy.

Meanwhile, Barnes is on a trip to Cuba with a friend, where he thinks he spots a familiar face. No one can, or will, confirm the sighting and Barnes thinks there’s more going on than even he understands. As the story unfolds, both Amelia and Barnes are getting closer to learning the truths they each seek.

In a long running series you can often read the books out of order and each one stands on its own. In a trilogy, however, information is released over the course of the three books and it’s best to read them in order. They are intertwined and each book reveals another layer to the story.

In Dead Silence we learn a little bit more about our characters, but there is still more to learn in book three, The Butcher’s Daughter, due out in 2020.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Spell of Murder and The Feline Spirit

Clea Simon is matching her book A Spell of Murder today on Drinks with reads and we even have an excerpt of the book. 
In addition to writing the Witch Cats of Cambridge series, she has four other mystery series, a suspense novel and several works of non-fiction. She has a special pairing for us today...

A Spell of Murder is a cozy with a twist – while my protagonist Becca believes she just might be a witch, it is her cats who truly have magical powers. So when Becca – newly single and newly unemployed – sets herself up as a “witch detective,” her cats Clara, Harriet, and Laurel realize they will have to help her out if they want to keep themselves in kibble … and want to keep Becca out of trouble! Since Becca is a bit of an innocent, I’ve given her a drink that can be made with or without alcohol – a fresh, sweet, and fruity concoction I’m calling the Feline Spirit, perfect for midsummer imbibing. Of course, if you want to feel its power, I recommend adding a shot of a good white rum. I like Rhum Barbancourt, from Haiti. And for the cats? Catnip, of course!
- Clea Simon

The Feline Spirit
  • 2 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled
  • 1/4 lime
  • 1 T crushed fresh mint leaves
  • Sprig of mint for garnish (optional)
  • 1 ½ oz white rum (optional)

In a blender, combine cubed watermelon, 1 T of mint, and the juice of the lime wedge until frothy. If adding rum, add and give a final spin. Serve immediately.

Clea Simon can be found: @Clea_Simon (Twitter)
cleasimon_author (Instagram)

From A Spell of Murder (Polis Books)

It was Harriet’s fault. It’s always her fault, not that she’ll ever admit it.That was Clara’s first thought as she tried to settle on the sofa, flicking her long, grey tail with annoyance. As a cat, Clara wouldn’t usually have any trouble getting comfortable. That’s one special skill that all felines share. But even as she tried to calm her restive tail, curling it neatly around her snowy front paws, Clara, a petite, if plump, calico, couldn’t stop fretting.Harriet was her oldest sister, a creamsicle-colored longhair with more fur than common sense. Still, despite the fluffy feline’s typical self-absorption, she and Clara and their middle sister, Laurel, had cohabited with a nice enough human for almost two years without any problems, until now. Until Harriet.Yes, Becca, their human, had begun to believe she had psychic powers. Becca, who at twenty-six usually had more sense, was training to be a witch, as if that were something one could learn from books. But to the calico cat who now fumed quietly on the sofa, the petite brunette had always seemed a harmless soul—good with a can opener. Warm. Generous with her lap. And then, last week, Harriet—who cared only for her own comfort—conjured up a pillow.“I was tired,” Harriet said, in that petulant mew that Clara knew so well, when asked why in the name of Bast she’d be so stupid. “Becca wasn’t even looking.”“You could have moved!” her younger sibling hissed back, the grey whorls on her sides heaving with annoyance. “And she was!”Harriet was taking up the sunny spot on the windowsill, as she always did that time of the morning, and Clara narrowed her mysterious green eyes to glare at her sister. Harriet was more than fluffy, she was immense, a pale orange marshmallow of a feline, whose furry bulk and predictable habits prevented her youngest sister from enjoying any of the solar bounty. Still, she probably shouldn’t have hissed. Harriet was Clara’s elder, if merely by a few minutes. As it was, the orange and white cat just shuffled a bit and turned her rounded back on her sister rather than responding.Clara didn’t know why she even bothered asking. She already knew the answer: Harriet didn’t move unless she had to, and on a warm spring day it was easier to conjure a cushion than make the leap from the sun-warmed sill to the sofa, where Clara now fumed. The sofa where, it turned out, Becca had been trying out a summoning spell. And so now, of course, their hapless human believed she had pulled that pillow out of the ether.Which was a problem because Becca belonged to a coven. Had for about three months, ever since she saw a flier in the laundromat advertising an opening for “Witches: New and In Training.” That was the kind of thing that happened here, in Cambridge, where the hippies never really went away. Since then, they’d met every week to drink a foul-smelling herbal concoction and try out various spells. None of which ever produced any magic, of course. None of the humans had the basic powers of a day-old kitten, and certainly nothing like Clara and her sisters shared as the descendants of an old and royal feline line. But now, Clara feared, Becca had become obsessed, spending every waking moment trying to reproduce that one spell, while Harriet, Laurel, and Clara looked on.“Don’t you dare…” Clara muttered in a soft mew as Laurel sashayed into the room, taking in her two sisters with one sweeping gaze. Laurel was the middle one, a troublemaker and as vain as can be. Not simply of her own glossy coat—the cream touched with brown, or, as she called it, café au lait—but of her powers. That she was plotting something, Clara was certain. As Laurel glanced from Harriet back to Clara again, her tail started lashing and her ears stuck out sideways like an owl’s.“Why not?” Laurel had a streak of Siamese in her. It made her chatty, as well as giving her neat dark chocolate booties. “It’ll be fun.”“It’ll bring more people!” Clara felt her fur begin to rise. The idea of her middle sister meddling—and possibly adding more magic to the mix—made her frantic. “Don’t you get it? They’ll never let up.”The black, grey, and orange cat—the smallest of the three sisters—didn’t have to explain who “they” were. That night, Becca’s coven would be meeting again at their place, which, to the three felines, was bad enough. Strangers, six of them, would soon be sitting in all the good seats, with their odd smells and loud voices. What was worse was that Becca would think she had to feed them, as well as brew that horrible tea. And as the cats well knew, Becca had no money, not since she lost her job as a researcher for the local historical society. “Redundant,” her boss had told her. “What with the budget cutbacks and the advances in technology.”“That means they can get an intern to do a Google search.” Becca had sniffled into Clara’s parti-colored fur the day she’d gotten the news. Harriet might be the fluffiest and Laurel the sleekest, but Clara was the one Becca talked to. The one she had confided in months earlier when she found the book that had started her on this whole witchcraft obsession, a spark of excitement lighting up her face. She’d been researching land deeds, the scutwork of history, when she had stumbled on it, her eye caught by a familiar name—some old relative of hers who had been caught up in a witch trial back in the bad old days in Salem. Then, when she’d seen the flier by the coin machine at the Wash ‘N Dry, she’d been so exhilarated, she’d raced back to tell Clara, leaving her sheets in the drier. And now, without the distraction of her job, Becca had thrown herself into the study of magic and sorcery, spending her days in the library or on her computer, trying to track down the full story of that great-great whatever, and sharing her fears and, increasingly, her hopes with Clara.Maybe it was because Clara was a calico that Becca whispered into the black-tipped ears of her littlest cat. Calicos had a reputation for being more intelligent and curious than other felines. Plus, that uneven look—a gray patch over one eye and an orange one over the other—made her appear approachable. Inquisitive. Becca couldn’t know that her youngest cat was often teased for her markings. “Goofy,” her sister Laurel said in her distinctive yowl. “Clara the calico? Clara the clown!” Recently, Harriet had taken up calling her that too.Clara didn’t mind, as long as Becca kept confiding in her. The young woman didn’t really think her cats understood about her being laid off, but, in truth, they were all quite aware of the straitened circumstances. Not that Laurel and Harriet always sympathized. There was that one time three weeks ago that Becca tried cutting back on the cats’ food, getting the generic cans from the market instead of the tiny ones with the pretty labels. After wolfing down hers, Harriet had barfed all over the sofa. She didn’t have to. She was just making a point about what she considered an affront to her dignity.Tonight, when Becca took credit for conjuring that cushion, Clara didn’t know what her haughty sister would do. Interrupt, most likely. Jump onto the table and begin bathing, if she had to, to be the center of attention. If she tried anything further—like pulling more pillows out of the ether—or if Laurel got up to her own tricks, Clara would have to get involved, she vowed with a final flick of the tail. And that, she knew, just wouldn’t end well.

Thisbe the cat, a frequent muse for Clea Simon 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale

Kerry Hammond is here with her review of the latest novel by Kerry Lonsdale.

Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale was published on July 9, in Trade Paperback, by Lake Union Publishing. Lonsdale is known for her Everything series, which includes Everything We Keep, Everything We Left Behind, and Everything We Give. Last Summer is her second standalone.

I started this book thinking it was a mystery. While there is no murder, the book is a mystery of sorts. The mystery revolves around Ella Skye’s memory loss. When a car crash lands her in the hospital, she finds out she’s lost her unborn baby. The problem is, Ella doesn’t even remember being pregnant. The last thing she does remember is having an argument with her husband, Damian, right before she got in the car.

Elle questions Damian as she tries to get her memory back, but he refuses to talk to her. At first, she thinks he’s grieving for the loss of their unborn child, but a few comments he makes make her wonder if there’s more to it than that. When she lands a new writing assignment for the magazine she works for, she takes it, hoping it might lead to some answers. The answers she finds, though, might not be the ones she wants to hear.

I honestly couldn’t put this book down. I enjoyed following along as Ella searched for her lost memories and tried to unravel the events that led up to her accident. Lonsdale doles out the clues to Ella’s lost time in the perfect amount of bits and pieces to keep the suspense going and keep this reader on the edge of her seat. Although I previously stated that the book isn’t a mystery, there were a couple of excellent twists that were both surprising and satisfying. The story was well written, fast paced, and full of suspense. This was a great summer read.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Watermelon Margaritas and the Trouble with Talent

Our guest today on Drinks with Reads is 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 on the board of Partners in Crime – the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime, on 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. 

Colbie Summers, star of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series, loves Pico’s Restaurant, set in the fictional town of Sunnyside, California. She often meets her friends there to enjoy spicy burritos and tangy margaritas while solving her latest mystery. 

In THE TROUBLE WITH TALENT, Colbie is forced to find a new restaurant when Pico’s is closed due to an unusual situation – an infestation of crickets. She has no idea that someone deliberately set the insects loose to get her out of her comfort zone. 

She’s too busy to go far. Her Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food business is growing and her business partner is the prime suspect in a murder. Sunnyside’s most gifted students have been at the mercy of a shadowy network of college fixers—including an abusive oboe teacher whose recommendation is necessary to get into a college conservatory and a school secretary who alters grades for cash. When they turn up dead, Colbie has to untangle a cat’s cradle of suspects and motivations—from livid parents and students whose dreams have been crushed to an entire secret Facebook group of spurned lovers.
With the big re-order now on hold and the real killer still at large, Colbie discovers that someone has been grading on a very dangerous curve—and it will take all her newfound sleuthing talent to land safely on her feet.

With the summer heat upon us, I know Colbie and her friends would love the cool taste of Watermelon Margaritas:

1 cup of ice
2/3 cup of diced fresh watermelon
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.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed the latest book by Michael Connelly in the Renee Ballard series and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what they thought.

Michael Connelly is one of our go-to authors. We enjoy his writing and have read books in each of his series: Mickey Haller, Harry Bosch, and Renee Ballard. Dark Sacred Night is the second in the Renee Ballard series, but also features Harry Bosch. It’s the 21st book for Harry Bosch, but is also being listed as a Ballard & Bosch novel. Try and keep up.

Renee Ballard is an LAPD detective who has been put on the night shift, also known as “the late show.” She finds a man rifling through her files and learns that it’s retired detective Harry Bosch. Harry is working on a cold case and Renee wants in. They decide to team up to try and solve the murder of 15-year-old runaway Daisy Clayton.

The book got decent ratings and we had a great, in-depth discussion about all of the details of the story. We usually get a good discussion going because Connelly’s books have a lot of side investigations and aspects of each case the detectives are investigating. His books tend to be fast, enjoyable reads.

We were torn on whether or not we loved the Bosch-Ballard match up. Half of us liked it and the other half weren’t quite as taken with the idea. We felt that it wasn’t entirely fair that Ballard only got one book on her own before Bosch came on the scene. We didn’t get enough time to flesh out her character as an individual; Harry can kind of take over any scene he’s in. We would love more character development in addition to the plot driven stories Connelly is known for. We'll have to see what's in story for Ballard and Bosch next time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review: A Lady's Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

Kerry Hammond is here with a review of an historical mystery by a new-to-her author.

The Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman was published on June 25, in Hardcover by Kensington. It is the second book in the historical Countess of Harleigh mystery series and a follow up to The Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. This is the second book in the series, but the first I have read. I am a fan of historical mysteries and am always keen to try out new authors who write in that genre. I figured, if I can jump in at book two and not feel left out, that would be a testament to the author’s ability to write series installments that could function as standalone novels. I decided to put Freeman to the test, and spoiler alert, she passed.

Frances Wynn is an American born young widow and the Countess of Harleigh. She married Reggie, a man who turned out to be a cad and a philanderer, after a short courtship. Reggie is out of her life now, having died in the past year, and Frances is really coming into her own as a widow. She has gained independence and moved to London with her daughter. When her friend Mary Archer is murdered, she becomes embroiled in the case because she had attempted to set Mary up with her cousin Charles, who is now a suspect in the murder. She works with her friend and handsome neighbor, George Hazelton, to clear Charles’ name and get to the bottom of the murder.

There are books you devour because you can’t help yourself. You must read to find out what happens to the characters, who the murderer is. Then there are books that you are enjoying so much that you savor each page. You carry the book around with you but read in small bursts because you’re not ready for it to end—like taking small bites of your favorite chocolate bar to make it last. Much like a chocolate bar, when it’s gone it’s gone. So I savored this book, not wanting it to end too quickly.

If I had to choose, I would say that it was the characters that first drew me into the story. I loved the mystery too, but the characters really grabbed my attention; I immediately liked them and became invested in their exploits. Freeman does a great job of fleshing out their different personalities and pulling the reader in. I’m glad I jumped in at book two, since I now have book one to immediately look forward to. Let’s hope the author is working on the third installment.

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

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage.