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. 


Friday, July 5, 2019

Heart of Barkness and the La Paloma



Dog lovers rejoice! Today our guest on Drinks with Reads is Spencer Quinn, author of the Chet and Bernie mysteries featuring...you guessed it. He's paired his most recent book with the La Paloma. Curious about both, well read on...

Heart of Barkness is a Chet and Bernie mystery. Bernie is the detective and Chet, his pal, narrates the story – think Holmes and Watson. But don’t overdo the comparison. Chet is a dog. Not a talking dog! Not a human in a dog suit! He’s a narrating dog and as purely canine as I can make him.

The case concerns a country singer named Lotty Pilgrim, who was somewhat famous long ago. Something dreadful went wrong in those early years, a violent, crushing event Lotty has misunderstood all her life. Chet and Bernie start looking into her past, an investigation that takes them down to the Arizona/Mexico border. This is a beautiful, harsh country, full of sunshine but somehow not sunny, and very hot for much of the year. So how about a tequila drink of the non-sweet kind to cool one down? The La Paloma is nice, especially if you like grapefruit, which I do. Paloma is the dove, symbol of peace, in this case, the peace Chet and Bernie try to bring to Lotty’s life – and indeed into the lives of all their clients. The tequila drink is for Bernie, of course. Chet’s drink, as he points out from time to time, is water, preferably cold and fresh, so I’ve added some ice cubes to his bowl.

Here’s a simple recipe for La Paloma:
Ingredients
  •  2 oz. tequila
  • one half ounce lime juice
  • pinch of salt
  • grapefruit soda

Pour the mixture in a tall glass, add ice, stir, drink. Repeat.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Review: The Perfect Fraud by Ellen LaCorte


Kerry Hammond is here with her review of a debut novel of suspense.

The Perfect Fraud by Ellen LaCorte was published on June 18, in Hardcover, by Harper publishers. After a long career in Human Resources, LaCorte has tried her hand at writing and The Perfect Fraud is her debut novel. It’s a well-done first book and I have no doubt there will be more.

The book toggles between two protagonists: Rena, a young mother who is dealing with a small child who has a chronic illness that doctors have been unable to diagnose, and Claire, a tarot card reader whose only abilities lie in being good at guessing what her customers want to hear from their psychic. Both women are struggling with their own demons. Rena spends every waking hour with her daughter but gets no answers. Claire is caught in a rut, avoiding phone calls from her mother and future plans with her boyfriend Cal.

A chance encounter on an airplane put the two women’s lives on the same path. Their encounter eventually leads to an awakening for both Rena and Claire, but these awakenings both come with consequences.

LaCorte’s debut is an enjoyable pager-turner. I would categorize it as a novel of suspense with a few twists and turns to leave the reader guessing. I found her characters engaging and I enjoyed the way she unraveled their stories, piece by piece, so that I didn’t see what was coming until it was right in front of me. I’m not sure if this will be the start of a new series, but I can definitely see Claire continue her tarot readings in a future installment. 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.