Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Foul Play on Words by Becky Clark


Kerry Hammond is here today to review the second book in a cozy series by author Becky Clark.

Foul Play on Words by Becky Clark was released on April 8, in Trade Paperback, by Midnight Ink. It is the second book in the Mystery Writer's Mystery series. Her character, Charlemagne "Charlee" Russo writes mystery novels, and dabbles in solving real life murders. What a great concept, a character who writes mystery novels; I had to read and find out just what kind of trouble she could get herself into.

In Foul Play on Words, Charlee is attending a Portland writer's conference. She is delivering one of the keynote talks and helping out her friend Viv, who is running the conference. When Charlee arrives in Portland, Viv is all in a tizzy. She tells Charlee that her daughter, Hanna, has been kidnapped and they cannot involve the police. Charlee agrees to help Viv run the conference and find Hanna, but as she delves into both, she soon realizes that she may be out of her depth.

I love a good cozy mystery and you can't go wrong with a protagonist who is....a mystery writer. Jessica Fletcher didn't wow us on TV for years without proving that it's a great theme for fiction. The author takes her character's profession and creates a series around what might happen to someone in the business of writing crime fiction. She throws in some humor, sprinkles it with quirkiness, and viola, you have a fun, page-turning read that will keep you guessing until the end.

If you've ever attended a mystery writer's conference, or ever wanted to, this is such a fun read. Behind the scenes at an event like this is a perfect backdrop for a mystery and Clark has a great time making the volunteers as quirky as possible and the venue as authentic as can be. I enjoyed meeting Charlee and this series is one that I will make sure to follow. First step is to go back and read book one. There were some hints to the plot in that book but no outright spoilers, so I think I'm ok.

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. 


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Under My Skin by Lisa Unger



The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed the latest book by author Lisa Unger and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what they thought.

This month, Crime & Beyond met to discuss Under My Skin by Lisa Unger, the award winning author of sixteen books. We have read four of the author’s previous novels in Crime & Beyond over the years and were excited to read this latest standalone.

Let me start by saying that we all agreed that Unger is a great writer. We reminisced about the fabulous twist at the end of In the Blood and the strange characters created in Crazy Love You. But not all books are created equal and not all will speak to each and every reader. Under My Skin did not speak to all of us.

Different genres of books are in style at any given time. At one point, vampires were all the craze. At another, you couldn’t browse the bookshelves without coming across a risquĂ© novel like Fifty Shades of Grey. For the last few years, however, it’s been extremely hard to avoid the “domestic thriller.” Some of the books that fall under this genre have been well received and have even landed movie deals. Girl on a Train is still talked about and Gone Girl continues to have a love-hate relationship with fans.

I’ve read several articles that have claimed that the domestic thriller has come and gone, but from a reader’s standpoint, there is still no end in sight. It’s not the unreliable narrator that we disagree with, nor is it the trauma that has caused a memory loss—where the protagonist doubts herself and her judgment. Rather, it’s the pill popping, binge drinking, whiney females that seem to fill the pages of so many books still being published. These characters are never, in our experience, men. They are always females in a drug or alcohol induced haze that makes them doubt their own recollection to such an extent that their friends and family can’t possibly trust them.

Under My Skin is a similarly written domestic thriller, with the added twist of the narrator experiencing hypnagogia, a dreamlike state that happens between sleep and wakefulness. We didn’t hate the book, but we didn’t, on the whole, love it. In short, we are looking forward to the next trend, not because we’re a fan of trends, but because it will mean an end to the genre that has us all wanting to put down our glass of wine and pick up a police procedural.






Friday, April 19, 2019

Scot & Soda and the Stag's Breath



The fabulous and very entertaining Catriona McPherson is here today on Drinks with Reads. Catriona holds the distinction of being the very first Drinks with Reads guest poster. As such, we don't correct her odd, but incredibly charming, Scottish spellings. Not only because she's a good friend, but because, well, we like getting the free review copies. Don't want to stop that, right????


Scot & Soda (last Ditch Mysteries No. 2)

I actually do feature a favourite drink in this book. In chapter fourteen, Lexy and Todd get burritos and watermelon juice from the good taco wagon on E Street, in Cuento. El Mariachi, on G Street in Davis, used to do this. It was the finest, most refreshing, most delicious cold drink imaginable on a hot day, when the temperature climbs into the triple digits.

But then the owner wanted to retire, and his kids didn’t want to run a taqueria, so El Mariachi is now a Korean barbecue, with no watermelon juice to be had for love nor money.

I tried to make my own, but I haven’t got a juicer and, using a blender, it came out foamy and a lot less refreshing. It would have been a waste of a watermelon, but they’re 20c a pound in the height of summer.

Aaaaaanyway, that’s my excuse for offering this instead:

Stag’s Breath.
One measure of single malt Scotch whisky
One measure of Drambuie
One ice cube.

It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like whisky (who does, if we’re honest?), the Drambuie smooths it right out. And if you do like whisky (weirdo), whisky liqueur isn’t too much of a sacrilege. (By the way, if you use a blend instead of the single malt, it’s called a Rusty Nail. No judgement.)

And if you’re a whisky purist, think how much worse it could be. I know people who add Irn Bru.  (Irn Bru is our other national drink, but it makes Dr Pepper’s taste like mythical ambrosia. Blerk. That said, the adverts are very entertaining. Google “Irn Bru ad” and prepare to lose half an hour.)
Cheers!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke



Family ties are stretched to their limit in the latest Alafair Burke novel; let’s see what Kerry Hammond thought of the book.

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke was released on April 16, in Hardcover, by Harper publishers. Burke is the NY Times bestselling author of 18 novels, including a series written with author Mary Higgins Clark. I’m a big fan of Burke’s writing and have enjoyed both her standalone novels and her Ellie Hatcher series. I was excited to hear she had a new standalone mystery and eager to check it out.

In The Better Sister, we first meet Chloe, who is a successful publishing executive at a magazine in New York City. Her husband Adam, an attorney, is found murdered in their home in the Hamptons and she finds herself making contact with Adam’s ex-wife….who just happens to be her sister, Nicky. Nicky and Adam were divorced years ago, when their son Ethan was just a child. Chloe has raised Ethan, been a mother to him when Nicky couldn’t, and they have a bond that he and Nicky don’t share.

When the police begin to look at Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, Chloe and Nicky are forced to reconnect, their common goal to protect Ethan. The investigation uncovers quite a few discrepancies in the story that Ethan told the police, and both women experience a strong desire to defend the teenage boy. But the question is: did he kill his father and, if so, why?

Burke is a wonderful storyteller. She is skilled at painting a picture that upon first examination seems quite straightforward. As the story unfolds, however, you realize that things are anything but straightforward. I enjoyed following along for the ride, not knowing where the book was ultimately going to land, but intrigued by the journey. Burke remains on my list of authors whose work I will pick up and read without even consulting the book jacket. I am always guaranteed a suspenseful story with a twist or two, and a satisfying ending.

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, April 12, 2019

A Spot of Sherry?



Edith Maxwell joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate her new book, Charity's Burden. Edith writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell, with seventeen novels in print and four more completed, has been nominated for an Agatha Award six times. She lives north of Boston with her beau and two elderly cats, and gardens and cooks when she isn’t killing people on the page or wasting time on Facebook. You can find her on Instagramand at the Wicked Authors blog.

Edith is also giving away an autographed copy of the book. Simply comment below to enter. US Residents only. 


Quaker midwife Rose Carroll does not imbibe intoxicating beverages. But her quirky friend Bertie Winslow quite enjoys a spot of sherry after she arrives home from her job as postmistress of Amesbury, their bustling Massachusetts mill and factory town in the late 1880s. Sherry, a wine fortified with brandy, became a popular drink in nineteenth-century America.

I ran across this recipe for a fancier drink than simply sherry in a glass, and I imagine Bertie will be seen fixing it in my next Quaker Midwife mystery, too. The cobbler was apparently consumed widely. It was even mentioned in novels by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and by Charles Dickens after he toured the United States (https://www.saveur.com/sherry-cobbler-drink-of-an-era). Many of us think of baked fruit cobblers, but this use meaning a summer drink made with wine or liqueur, ice, and fruit slices is older. 

Enjoy!

Sherry Cobbler

4 oz. dry amontillado or oloroso sherry
14 oz. (or ½ tbsp.) simple syrup
2 slices orange, halved
Shake the sherry, syrup, and one half slice orange in a shaker. Strain it into a pretty glass filled with crushed ice or cubes and garnish with orange slices. Enjoy!

I’m delighted Charity’s Burden, Quaker Midwife Mystery #4, is out, and I am happy to announce the series is moving over to Beyond the Page Publishing. Look for Judge Thee Not to release this fall, and there will be at least two more books in the series after that. 

Charity’s Burden:
When Charity Skells dies in winter of 1889 from an apparent early miscarriage, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll wonders about the copious amount of blood. She learns Charity’s husband appears to be up to no good with a young woman, a mysterious Madame Restante appears to offer illegal abortions and herbal birth control, and a disgraced physician in town does the same. Rose once again works with police detective Kevin Donovan to solve the case before another life is taken. 



Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni


Robert Dugoni has a new spy thriller out and Kerry Hammond, a fan of cold war stories, is excited to give us her review.

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni was released on April 9, in Trade Paperback, by Thomas & Mercer. It is the first in a new series featuring ex-CIA operative Charles Jenkins. Dugoni is the author of over a dozen novels, which include standalones as well as series books. I am a fan of the Tracy Crosswhite series and last year reviewed A Steep Price, which you can read HERE. I love the old spy novels that were written during the cold war, so I was intrigued to see how the author would create a modern day spy thriller in our current political climate.

In The Eighth Sister, Charles Jenkins is a family man running a security consulting business. He’s in his 60s, so the family thing came a bit late considering his son is 9 and he has another child on the way. Owning your own business is stressful and Jenkins is struggling to make ends meet because his clients are late on their payments. When he is approached by his former CIA bureau chief and offered a job that will put him back in the game and send him to Moscow, he doesn’t feel that he can pass it up.

Jenkins keeps the mission from his wife, covers his tracks, and sets out to make contact with a Russian agent who is targeting US spies in Moscow known as the seven sisters. A straightforward mission turns into anything but, and Jenkins soon finds himself double-crossed and attempting to escape the country before he’s caught. He very quickly learns that escaping Russia is the least of his worries.

Jenkins is a great character. He’s likeable, believable, and has a lot to lose. Getting back into the spy game clearly comes at a cost—the welfare of his family—but he feels he has no choice. His age makes him flawed in a way, at least for a high stakes game of espionage; his appearance and the fact that he stands out in a crowd is another detriment to his chances of success. All of these things added up to a great story with an exciting plot. I hope to see more of Jenkins and wonder just how the author will rope him back into the spy game next time.

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.  

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads The Dry by Jane Harper




The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed the debut novel by author Jane Harper and Kerry Hammond is here to give us the report.


This month, Crime & Beyond Book Club met to discuss The Dry by Jane Harper. The UK born author moved to Australia at the age of eight and has written three international bestselling books that take place in the rugged terrain of Queensland, Australia. Her most recent two books, The Dry and Force of Nature, follow the investigations of Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk. In The Dry, our book choice for this month, the investigation gets personal.



Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a high school friend, Luke. Luke and his family have been brutally murdered and the police have yet to solve the crime. It is a somewhat unwelcome return when we realize that many residents of the town blame Falk for a 20 year old unsolved death of a young girl; Falk's high school girlfriend. In that case, Luke was Falk's alibi and to this day, the police have been unable to determine the circumstances that led to the girl's death. 



What an exciting debut novel! Our club members rated this book with some of the highest scores we've ever seen. The mystery was exciting, the setting well described and desolate, and the writing style is the kind that immediately draws you into a story and doesn't let you go until you turn the last page. This is a great book club read and a great mystery. Lots of discussion points for any group to sink their teeth into.



On another note, they are looking to make The Dry into a movie starring Eric Bana. Looking forward to that.







Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: Scot & Soda by Catriona McPherson



The Last Ditch Mystery series crew is on another wacky adventure and Kerry Hammond is here to report.

Scot & Soda by Catriona McPherson was published on April 8, in Trade Paperback, by Midnight Ink. It is the second book in the Last Ditch Mystery series featuring Lexy Campbell. McPherson is the award winning author of 13 books in the historic Dandy Gilver Mystery series and nine standalone novels. I’ve read books in both of her series as well as many of her standalones and have loved each and every one of them. Her series books always make me laugh and her standalones leave me mystified; the reader is always in for a treat.

In Scot & Soda, Lexy Campbell, recent California resident by way of Scotland, has settled in and set up her business as a counselor. She’s living on a houseboat in the slough behind the Last Ditch Motel and has surrounded herself with a motley crew of good friends in her adopted new home. She is throwing a Halloween party for said friends, who have arrived in costume for the festivities. To keep the beer cold, she’s submerged it in the slough, tied to a rope for easy retrieval. When they pull on the rope, they don’t just retrieve the beer, they pull up a dead body that has gotten itself entangled on the line.

The body is wearing a Tam O’Shanter, a hat worn by Scotsmen, and because of that, Lexy worries that it might be a message to her. Therefore, much to the displeasure of local police detective Molly “Mike” Rankinson, Lexy and her friends do what they do best: investigate the murder. The friends become entangled with a group of people celebrating their 50th high school reunion, but not all the memories were of fun times and friends—something must have led to murder.

McPherson’s humor comes through in Lexy’s character. Sarcasm and wit abound in each installment of this series and some of the things the group get up to are quite funny. The book is cleverly plotted so that it keeps the reader guessing until the very end. I didn’t guess the twists and had to wait until the characters’ big reveal before I knew what was going on. These are fun books and I recommend throwing one into your bag on your next vacation; I enjoyed this one on the last flight I took and it was a great way to pass the time with a glass of wine.

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, April 5, 2019

The Fourth Courier Rides A Moscow Mule



Timothy Jay Smith is making Moscow Mules to celebrate his new book, The Fourth Courier. The Fourth Courier is Tim's third published novel. He’s traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his books and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, Stolen Memories. His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. Tim is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater. He lives in France.

A series of grisly murders in Poland suddenly becomes an international case when radiation is detected on the third victim’s hands, raising fears that all the victims may have smuggled nuclear material out of the recently-defunct Soviet Union. The FBI sends Special Agent Jay Porter to assist in the investigation. He teams up with a CIA agent, and when they learn that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb is missing, the race is on to find him—and the bomb—before it ends up in the wrong hands.

The novel is set at the time of the seismic collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. This year marks the 30thanniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Solidarity coming to power in Poland. The Fourth Courier captures that era. Jay becomes intimately involved with a Polish family, giving the reader a chance to see how people coped with their collective hangover from the communist era. Here’s how he sees one moment:

“A church’s onion dome loomed over the bent women and broken men who plied those streets. Here, a man sold oranges displayed on his car hood; there, a woman used a stick to rummage in a refuse bin; and everywhere, the poor scuffed their shoes in the gritty snow bargaining for toss-offs.”

And now for the Moscow Mule

What better drink to conjure up both Russia and Poland than one with vodka, the national brew in both countries? Even better, my story is about nuclear smuggling from Moscow, and mule is slang for a smuggler!

So Moscow Mule it had to be, and it’s so easy to make, you don’t need a recipe. Fill a copper mug with ice, squeeze a quarter of a lime over it, add as much vodka as you want, and fill it to the top with ginger beer. To spruce it up, stick in a sprig of mint.

For those who insist on a recipe, combine the following in a copper mug:

2 ounces vodka
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lime juice
4 ounces ginger beer (preferably a little spicy)
A sprig of mint (optional)

If you’re short a copper mug, a highball glass will do. Why a copper mug? Tradition.




Stay in touch with Tim on Facebook



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson



Peter Swanson is back and his new book has a clever premise; Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson was published on March 5, in Hardcover, by William Morrow. Swanson is an award winning author of five standalone novels. You can find a Mystery Playground review of his psychological thriller The Kind Worth Killing HERE.

Before She Knew Him is a story about your average neighbors. Well, it would be if you thought that your average neighbor was a murderer. Hen and Lloyd have moved in next door to Mira and Matthew; both couples are about the same age, childless, and willing to make new friends. During a tour of the house before dinner, Hen spots something on the mantel in Matthew’s office that makes her think he was involved in a currently unsolved murder of a college student. Since Hen suffers from depression, and has a past incident where her paranoia got the better of her, Lloyd thinks she is imagining things. Unfortunately, so do the police.

When Hen witnesses another event, she is convinced she’s right about Mathew. The problem is, he knows she’s a witness. Both Hen and Matthew now need to figure out who they can trust, and whether or not it might be each other. What follows is a sort of cat and mouse game where the stakes are high and the end game is unknown.

I enjoyed this book. Swanson has created interesting characters and thrown them into an impossible situation. Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, he switched it up and took it in a new direction. It was fun to play “what if” and ponder what I would have done if I were Hen at each stage of the action. Swanson delivers an engaging story with an interesting plot and an end twist you won’t see coming.

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.