Friday, May 31, 2019

Drinks with Reads: Kristin Kisska

May is short story month and to celebrate our guest on Drinks with Reads is short story writer Kristin KisskaKristin used to be a finance geek, complete with MBA and Wall Street pedigree, but now Kristin is a self-proclaimed fictionista. Kristin contributed short stories of mystery and suspense to seven anthologies, including Malice Domestic’s MYSTERY MOST EDIBLE (2019). She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Vice President of Sisters in Crime-Central Virginia, and James River Writers. 

Deadly Southern Charm, published this spring from Wildside Press, is a mystery anthology with each story set somewhere in the southeast region of the United States. Known for its friendliness and charm, the South can be deadly. Southerners pride themselves on their iconic hospitality, but what if dark deeds were hidden inside an ice-cold glass of sweet tea or behind a seemingly innocent, “Bless her heart?” Eighteen short mystery stories explore such camouflaged crimes in Deadly Southern Charm.

My short story, “Unbridled” probes the lengths a desperate person will go to keep a deadly secret. When an equestrian rider goes missing, her bestie searches for her, only to discover that old secrets may fade away, but never die. "Unbridled" is set in an equestrian center in South Carolina’s Low Country. As a life-long horse enthusiast, I’ve always wanted to set a mystery within the richly textured environment of riding stables.

The following is an excerpt from the opening scene of “Unbridled:

Wet gravel crunched under my tires as I approached the Lowcountry Equestrian Center from the old oak-tree-lined entrance. Though still early, horses already trotted around the training rings and I even glimpsed a flash of a horse’s tail as someone rode into the woods. Ah, I lived for Saturday mornings at the stables! It was the home of my pride and joy gelding—Baymont Blues, or as I affectionately called him, Bay.
Though the rain had finally tapered off, it didn’t soften the edge of South Carolina’s notorious spring humidity. I’d already swatted a couple mosquitos this morning. Outfitted in leather boots and breeches, I hauled my grooming bucket into the stable. Parker, the head trainer, had agreed to meet for a private session this morning to polish my dressage techniques.
The stable’s residents greeted me with their chorus of neighs, meows, and a stray bird tweeting from the rafters. I inhaled the cocktail of leather, brass, and hay—the most intoxicating scent on the planet—then walked the length of the wide hallway.
“G’mornin, Mia. You’re here early.” I winked at Parker’s daughter.  The teen slid Bay’s stall gate open and stroked his muzzle, keeping his nose out of the bag of carrots I’d brought. “Did you ride your bike?”
“Hey, Courtney. Nope. Dad dropped me off before running errands. I wanted to clean up this messy boy. Dad would kill me if he knew I’d ridden him through the mud.” As Parker’s daughter Mia brushed D’Artagnan, each swift stroke revealed more of his dappled coat. Though tethered only by a halter and rope, the eighteen-hand Irish draught horse behaved like a gentle giant in her expert care.
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell,” I said.
The empty stall and a quick glance at my friend Gina’s tack box showed her horse Spade’s saddle, bridle and girth were gone. Hardly the usual weekend routine for Gina who’d relocated from Virginia last autumn. “Gina got here early. Did you see her?”
Mia shook her head. “Maybe she’s nervous about Tryon and already practicing.” Next weekend, many of our stable’s horses and riders would caravan to Tryon International Equestrian Center for the opening of their Spring Series. Bay and Spade were entered in the dressage and jumper events—this was my first time ever competing against Gina.
“Maybe.”  I noticed the teen’s smile didn’t quite reach her soulful dark eyes. Poor thing looked haggard.  “Did homework keep you up late?”
“Final exams are in a couple weeks. Calculus is the worst.” Mia nodded, perking up a bit. “Only one more year till college.”
Studying into the wee hours was not how I spent my Friday nights when I was in high school.  “Where do you want to go?”
“South Carolina. Mama studied there.”
Almost two years ago, her mother had departed for a weekend with her college girlfriends in Charleston, but had never returned. She’d died in a hit and run car accident.
Forcing a smile, I said, “I didn’t know that. Go, Gamecocks!” I leaned my weight against Bay’s shoulder to move him to the far side of the stall so I could muck it. “Gina graduated from USC, too.”
“She mentioned that two days ago.”
“Gina recognized Mama from the photo I keep in my wallet. Turns out they were good friends in college. Gina hadn’t realized Mamma and I were related.”
Brave girl, on so many levels.  “Does Gina know …” Yikes, I didn’t mean to remind her of her mother’s death. It must be hard enough living with a new, moody stepmother who was a couple of weeks shy of giving birth to her half-brother. But I’d already ventured down this path, so I softened my voice and continued, “Hard to believe it’s been almost two years since your mom died.”
“Seventeen months. Three weeks. Two days.” Mia paused combing D’Artagnan’s mane and glanced away, exhaling before continuing. “Gina was there. In Charleston.  When Mama died.”
We both turned at the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Hey, have y’all seen Gina?” Scott, Gina’s husband, asked.  “Spade’s stall is still empty. I’d call but she left her cell phone in the car when I dropped her off an hour ago. Didn’t notice ‘til I got home. Figured she’d need it.”
“I can give it to her,” I said.
“Thanks,” Scott said.
I slipped it into the back pocket of my riding breeches as Scott strolled away.
Activity in the stable picked up as more horse owners arrived. Finally, I had Bay brushed, bridled, padded, and saddled. While I summoned every ounce of strength I could muster to tighten the buckle straps on Bay’s girth, a large, dark shadow entered the far side of the stable and trotted toward us.
Spade’s saddle was empty, his stirrups bounced drunkenly, and his broken rein scraped the brick floor. He slowed to a walk as he entered his stall, and then nipped at his hayrack, content to be home.
But no Gina.

Since “Unbridled” is an equestrian-themed short mystery, I found the perfect cocktail to pair it with—Horse’s Neck (With a Kick).  Not only does it fit with my stable setting, when Courtney, my point of view character, races along a trail through the woods to search for her missing friend, she has to grab her horse’s neck in order to save her own from a low hanging branch.

Horse’s Neck (With a Kick)

2oz Blended Whiskey (I used Dewar’s Scotch)
Ginger Ale
Whole Lemon

Peel rind of whole lemon in spiral fashion and put in Collins glass with one end hanging over the rim. Fill glass with ice cubes. Add blended whiskey. Then fill with ginger ale and stir well.

You can find Kristin on Twitter @KKMHOO & Facebook – KristinKisskaAuthor

Friday, May 24, 2019

Below the Fold - with a Daiquiri

Author RG Belsky is our guest today on Drinks with Reads and he's matched his novel, Below the Fold, with the perfect drink. Below the Fold is the second in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines, and TV/digital news. He has also been a top editor at the New York Post, Star magazine and NBC News. Belsky won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville in 2016. He has finished as a Finalist for both the Silver Falchion and David Awards. And his first Clare Carlson book, YESTERDAY’S NEWS, was named Outstanding Crime/News Based Novel by Just Reviews in 2018 and was a Finalist for Best Mystery of 2018 in the Foreword INDIES Awards. Let's see what RG has planned for us now...

The daiquiri is my choice for a drink to pair up with BELOW THE FOLD, the new book in my Clare Carlson mystery series.
Clare Carlson is a TV news director in New York City, and she’s very good at what she does in her job. So good that when Clare began investigating the seemingly unimportant murder of a homeless woman on the street, she uncovers long-buried secrets linking the death to rich and powerful figures. It’s the latest in a series of journalistic scoops for Clare, who even won a Pulitzer prize as a newspaper reporter. 
What Clare is not so good at is her personal life. She’s had three failed marriages. Too many other unsuccessful romantic relationships to even count. And - even though she’s in her mid-40s now - Clare is still haunted by a decision she made about a child a long time ago while she was in college. Despite all her success in the newsroom, her life outside it is pretty much of a train wreck. 
Which is where the daiquiri comes in.
Clare’s best friend is Janet Wood, a successful attorney who is also a successful wife and mother. She has somehow managed to balance her life and her career. Clare wishes she could be more like Janet. And Janet only drinks one kind of drink: a daiquiri. 
“Janet was drinking a daiquiri,” Clare says at one point. “Like she always did when we went out. Janet drank two daiquiris - never more, never less. She was a very precise person. I couldn’t imagine her ever being drunk or out of control in any way. Her life seemed so perfect in every way. I sometimes wondered what her sex life was like. Some people are just too wholesome to think about stuff like that. On the other hand, once the bedroom door was closed, Janet and her husband might break out the whips and chains and kinky videos. You never know....”
So, if Clare wants to emulate Janet, she has to start somewhere: hence the daiquiri.
There are many different variations of the daiquiri (banana daiquiri, strawberry daiquiri, frozen daiquiri, etc) - but let’s go here with a strawberry daiquiri recipe for Clare. 

2 ounces light rum
1 ounce of fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce of sugar syrup
3 ounces frozen strawberries
Cup of crushed ice
Strawberry, for garnish


Add all the ingredients into a blender
Blend well
Garnish with the strawberry 
The daiquiri has an interesting history. The name comes from a beach called Daiquiri in Cuba. The drink is supposed to have been invented by an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox who was in Cuba there at the time of the Spanish American War. And daiquiris became extremely popular during World War II when rationing made whiskey and vodka hard to come by - but there was plenty of rum available from the Caribbean. 
Many famous people have been fans of the daiquiri over the years - including Ernest Hemingway and President John F. Kennedy.
So I guess that puts Clare in pretty good company as a daiquiri drinker.

R.G. Belsky can be reached on Twitter @DickBel and on Facebook at RGBelsky. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Sara Collins' debut novel is a wonderfully gothic mystery and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins was published on May 21, in Hardcover, by Harper. I set out to read an historical murder mystery, but what I found was so much more. This book is the author’s debut novel and I have no doubt that there will be more to come from this new writer.

Frannie Langton is on trial for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Benham. She worked at their home in London as a housemaid, but to say they were her employers would leave out such an important and tragic part of her story. For Frannie was given to them by her former slave owner, a man who made her do unspeakable things on the plantation where she grew up in Jamaica.

Frannie cannot remember the murders of which she is accused. She cannot remember if she did, in fact, commit them. But she is a black woman, a Jamaican slave in London, and in 1826, society is not on her side. Awaiting her judgment, she decides to tell us her story, the whole story. Her childhood on the plantation, the cruelty she suffered at the hands of her master, and the events that brought her to London, to the home of the Benhams, where her entire life changed.

Frannie’s story is as tragic as it is compelling and I couldn’t put this book down. Her story drew me into its dark depths and I devoured each page in order to know the whole truth. Frannie is a character like no other and the author's descriptive prose gives life to her suffering. Collins is a master storyteller. She worked as a lawyer for 17 years before deciding to put pen to paper, and as a reader I am glad she found her true calling.

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, May 17, 2019

A Deadly Feast and the Perfect Drink

A Deadly Feast is Lucy Burdette's new book and she's brought us a great pairing today for Drinks with Reads. Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) has published 17 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West food critic series, A Deadly Feast (Crooked Lane Books, May 2019.) Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She blogs at and shares her love for food with the culinary writers at She lives in Madison CT and Key West FL. Read more at You can also find Lucy on Facebook and Instagram.

As you might have heard, A DEADLY FEAST, the ninth Key West mystery, was published by Crooked Lane Books on May 7. We need to celebrate with a special drink! 
However, there is so much going on in this story— murder on a food tour, Thanksgiving, family drama, and hopefully a wedding, that my characters don't have much time to relax with a drink. I reread the scene in which Hayley Snow‘s parents are serving Thanksgiving dinner to a motley collection of guests including Hayley's father and his new wife, Lorenzo the Tarot card reader, Hayley‘s boss, her roommate Miss Gloria, and hopefully--soon--her fiancé. They serve champagne, of course, and wine with dinner, and there is a mention of a cranberry cocktail,  but no helpful details provided…
So to celebrate this book, I chose the drink that I’ve been dying to make. It’s called a Campari spritz. It's light and perfect for an evening at the beach or by the fire!. I think you’ll like it. My tasters found it delicious!

Campari Spritz
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 3 ounces Prosecco
  • Club soda or sparkling water
  • Sliced  Orange
  • Maraschino cherries

Fill up a pretty glass with ice. Add the Campari followed by the Prosecco, and finally add club soda or sparkling water to taste. Garnish with sliced oranges and maraschino cherries. Retire to the beach or the pool to sip and read…


Before Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow's family descends on the island for Thanksgiving and her wedding to heartthrob Detective Nathan Bransford, she has one last assignment--a review of a seafood tasting tour conducted by her friend Analise Smith. But when one of the tourists collapses on the last stop, Analise begs her to investigate before the police destroy her business and shut down the local Key West eateries on her tour. Pressure mounts when Analise calls a second time to request that Hayley meet with Chef Martha Hubbard, who prepared key lime pies for the tasting tour and is terrified that someone poisoned her pies to ruin her reputation. Chefs all around town are preparing their versions of a Thanksgiving feast, but with a murderer on the loose, will Hayley and her friends have anything left to be thankful for?

Praise for Lucy Burdette's Key West mysteries:

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likeable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”
—Suspense Magazine

Fascinating details about the Truman Little White House, Cuban American history and relations, Cuban food, and Hemingway’s years in Key West are woven through this atmospheric cozy. --Booklist

Complete with a clever plot, a cast of familiar and amiable characters, a buffet of food and all the wackiness of Key West, "Fatal Reservations" displays Burdette at peak form and whets the appetite for Hayley's next case.--Jay Stafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Friday, May 10, 2019

Drinks with Reads: "Better Days" and a Sun Stealer

Art Taylor won the Edgar Award last month for his story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” from the July/August 2018 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (he also was a guest here for that story). Today he’s talking about his latest story for EQMM: “Better Days,” from the May/June 2019 issue. Welcome, Art! 

“Better Days” is a follow-up to one of my earlier stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “A Drowning at Snow’s Cut” from back in 2013. Both stories take place along the North Carolina coast, and both center on a young reporter, his retired father, and the sometimes-tense relationship between them—though coming together to solve an unexpected crime in each case helps to unite father and son in more ways than one. 

Adding fresh troubles in the new story is an attractive bartender who’s caught not only the reporter’s eye but also the eye of a wealthy and charismatic newcomer. “Better Days” is the title of that stranger’s sprawling yacht, but the reporter sees only worse days ahead for himself as long as the other man remains docked along the boardwalk. 

As for a drink to accompany “Better Days,” the bartender—Charlene, Charley to her friends—offers up a cocktail herself, as you’ll see in the excerpt below. In this scene, the stranger with the yacht—Randy—has bought a round of drinks for everyone in the bar, but the reporter, our narrator, is quick to decline that bit of generosity when Charley brings around the tray:

I waved off the drink. “I’ll order something in a minute.”
Charley narrowed her blue eyes, confusion in place of mischief, started to say something. Randy spoke first. 
“I wouldn’t turn down a Midnight Tryst.”
I glanced his way. “What did you say?”
“It’s the name of the cocktail,” Charley said, passing my glass and another to a couple who’d taken up residence at the end of the bar.  
Randy raised his drink in my direction. “Gin, creme de cocoa—”
“Cacao,” Charley called over her shoulder. 
“Excusez me.” Randy purposefully mangled a French accent. “And what else?”
“Fernet Branca,” Charley said, “plus a couple of secret ingredients.” 
“Right there when I need you.” Randy winked. I’m not sure Charley saw it. “And a little bit of mystery? She knows how to play the game.” He pointed at me, fingers shaped like a gun, his thumb wagging a couple of times—trigger pulled. “You don’t know what you’re missing, friend.”
We’d never been introduced. He didn’t ask my name now, just turned to watch Charley again, the curves of her, delivering the last of the drinks. 
I watched too. I did know what I might be missing. 
I made up the Midnight Tryst for the story, but Googling a cocktail that actually uses these ingredients brought a bit of serendipity. The Sun Stealer (created by Henry Prendergast of Analogue in Chicago) is a riff on a classic cocktail called a Hanky Panky, and somewhere in the combination of those cocktail names—Hanky Panky, Sun Stealer, Midnight Tryst—you’ll find many of the key elements of my own tale.

I hope you’ll enjoy both “Better Days” and the cocktail that seemed destined to accompany it. 

Sun Stealer
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth, preferably Punt e Mes 
1/4 oz. crème de cacao, white 
1/4 oz. Fernet Branca 
dash orange bitters 
Garnish: lemon twist
  • Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice. 
  • Strain into a coupe.
  • Serve up, garnished with a lemon twist.
Art has been a frequent guest at Mystery Playground. He did a wonderful Q&A with his wife, Tara Laskowski, here.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review: Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Kerry Hammond is here today to review a new-to-her author.

Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen was released on May 7, in Trade Paperback, by Lake Union Publishing. This is the author’s seventh novel and the first one I’ve read. I was drawn to it by the book jacket’s promise of secrets and, always keen to try a new author, I thought I would give it a shot. I was not disappointed.

The story centers around Annie and her upcoming wedding. As preparations for the big day begin, though, Annie is struggling with an issue that has nothing to do with her impending nuptials. The man who has spent 23 years in prison for murdering her mother—Annie was just three years old at the time—is being released from prison after a court has ruled that he was wrongly convicted.

As the wedding day gets closer, we learn that the people around Annie are also struggling; we find that each and every one of them has secrets they wish to keep hidden. But when Annie goes missing, it becomes harder and harder to keep those secrets from getting out. The question is, does one of them have to do with Annie’s disappearance, and could someone close to her be responsible?

I honestly couldn’t put this book down. I loved Whalen’s writing style and she immediately drew me in to the story. The characters were well written and complex, and I found a way to suspect each and every one of them of wrongdoing.The chapters switched back and forth to tell the story from the viewpoint of 4 or 5 of the characters. I was able to watch the story progress as it seamlessly toggled from character to character, slowly revealing clues to the mysteries that each possessed.

I will definitely read some of the author’s previous novels, I think she has a unique writing style and a very engaging sense of storytelling.

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, May 7, 2019

Review: Prologue to Murder by Lauren Elliott

Kerry Hammond is here to discuss the latest book by Lauren Elliott, which contains one dead librarian and possible pirate treasure in a New England town.

Prologue to Murder by Lauren Elliott was released on April 30, in Mass Market Paperback, by Kensington publishers. It’s the second book in the Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery series featuring bookstore owner Addie Greyborne. Addie, a former researcher at the Boston Public Library, has left the big city and moved into the house she inherited from her aunt. It’s located in a small New England town that was founded by the Greyborne family.

Having family ties to the town doesn’t seem to get you anywhere with the locals, and in Prologue to Murder Addie finds herself the subject of some pretty malicious gossip by local newspaper columnist “Miss Newsy.” No one knows the identity of the columnist, but everyone seems to think she has the right to play fast and loose with the truth since the column is only gossip. Miss Newsy even ties a local librarian’s disappearance to Addie.

To make matters worse, her relationship with Marc, the police chief, starts to cool down when a tall blond named Lacey arrives in town. Lacey has a past with Marc and clearly intends that it be rekindled. Lacey has made it her mission to turn everyone against Addie so she can have Marc all to herself. When the missing librarian is found dead, Addie is questioned as a suspect. She quickly realizes that if she doesn’t find out who the murderer is, she could wind up taking the fall.

Addie’s hormones were working overtime at the start of the book and she seemed quite preoccupied with her feelings for the police chief. I continued reading and was happy to learn that they did calm down a bit. I’m glad I stayed with it because I really enjoyed the mystery. I liked how the author worked the pirate legends from the area into the plot and the story kept me guessing until the end.

I felt slightly left out of the backstory from book one. Usually I don’t have a problem jumping into a series midway through, but here I wished I had read the first book so that I was privy to everything that had happened to the characters. I might recommend starting with Murder by the Book, the first in the series, and then diving into this one.

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.