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Friday, March 27, 2015

Review - Mystery Writers of America Cookbook

I don't often review cookbooks, but I couldn't resist this one from the Mystery Writers of America.  

Author: Kate White - Editor

Copyright: March 2015 (Quirk) 176 pgs

Series: Stand alone

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Cook Book

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Hard-boiled breakfasts, thrilling entrees, cozy desserts, and more--this illustrated cookbook features more than 100 recipes from legendary mystery authors. Whether you're planning a sinister dinner party or whipping up some comfort food perfect for a day of writing, you'll find plenty to savor in this cunning collection. Full-color photography is featured throughout, along with mischievous sidebars revealing the links between food and foul play. Contributors include Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, Nelson DeMille, Gillian Flynn, Sue Grafton, Charlaine Harris, James Patterson, Louise Penny, Scott Turow, and many more.

This is a beautiful hard bound cook book with lucious photos of the dishes and introductions to each recipe by each author submitter.  It is divided into sections: breakfast, appetizers, soups and salads, entrees, side dishes desserts, and cocktails.  

I enjoyed the recipe from Richard Castle for the pancakes he made Kate.  Alafair Burke's Rum Soaked Nutella French Toast was amazing, even though I used regular bread.  Laura Lippman's Salmon Balls was another winner and the pasta-less pasta was a hit too.  There are many more great recipes and I am enjoying going through them and trying them out.

If you love mysteries/thrillers and food, this is for you.  Everyone will find something in this to enjoy from both the recipes and the interesting introductions from a wide range of accomplished authors.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and start trying the recipes.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review - Game of Mirrors

This is probably my first translated foreign mystery I have reviewed, or even read.  I know, hard to believe but it's true.  This series is originally from Italy and is attracting international attention.

Author: Andrea Camilleri

Copyright: March 2015 (Penguin) 288 pgs

Series: 18th in Inspector Montalbano Mystery series

Sensuality: adult situations talked about, clinical mention of torture

Mystery Sub-genre: Italian Police Procedural

Main Characters: Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Sicilian policeman

Setting: Modern day, Sicily Italy

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Inspector Montalbano and his colleagues are stumped when a bomb explodes outside two empty warehouses—one of which is connected to a big-time drug dealer. Meanwhile, his seductive neighbor, Liliana Lombardo, is trying to seduce the Inspector over red wine and fine food and appears to want everybody else in town to believe they are already lovers. Between unethical reporters, the manipulative neighbor, and cocaine kingpins, Montalbano feels as if he’s being manipulated on all fronts, something he calls a game of mirrors. The inspector becomes the prime suspect in an unspeakably brutal crime and he must break through the illusion to reveal what is really going on. 

This was my first Montalbano mystery.  I am usually very cautious about reading translated works, for some reason I suspect translations will be difficult reading.  I must say that this book had a dry sense of humor and I found Montalbano to be wily in his own right. The writing style took me only a chapter or two to get used to, but I was soon swept away with the story.

Salvo Montalbano loves his food and is a good law officer. In this case he must see the motives behind many intentional misleading events to understand the ultimate scheme behind the bombs, a bullet in his car, his neighbor's attempts to seduce him, and anonymous tips to newspapers to implicate him in illegal activities.  He is patient in weeding through the noise to what is important.  He heads a team of other police including Augello (a married Don Juan), Fazio who is another smart cop, and the good-natured but mentally challenged Catarella.  All of which unfold on the pages simply and yet well realized.

The Sicilian countryside and town made a great setting, I would love to see Montalbano's seaside house.  You feel like you live there as you read, you feel so transported.  The plot was deceptively simple, you think you know what is happening, but it has layers to reach the truth.  The pace is steady with the multiple aspects in play.  There is an eventful climax and the wrap-up is where Montalbano ensures all parties face consequences.

I was surprised and enjoyed this unique series.  I wish I had started the series from the beginning, but I am looking forward to discovering the previous books.  Montalbano is human, faulty, smart, and crafty making him a character you cheer for.  He uses everything at his disposal, even a little misdirection of his own. 

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Guest Post - Laura Morrigan

I reviewed the first book in this series, Woof at the Door (click here), the second book A Tiger's Tale (click here), the third A Horse of a Different Killer (click here) an author interview (click here), and a guest post (click here.)  Today Ms. Morrigan joins us once again and gives us a look at some adorable animals.

Spending the first years of her life on a Costa Rican coffee farm blessed Laura Morrigan with a fertile imagination and a love for all things wild.
Later she became a volunteer at a local zoo, helping out with everything from “waste management” to teaching an elephant how to paint. Drawing from her years of experience with both wild and domestic animals and her passion for detective novels, Laura created the Call of the Wilde series. Her experience with animals explains her post today of adorable animals you probably never heard of.

Five Adorable Animals You Never Knew Existed

Thank you Ms. Morrigan, I loved these adorable animals!

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review - Horse of a Different Killer

I reviewed the first book in this series, Woof at the Door (click here), the second book A Tiger's Tale (click here), an author interview (click here), and a guest post (click here.)  Today I am reviewing the third in the series.  Let's dive back into the Call of the Wilde mystery series.

Author: Laura Morrigan

Copyright: March 2015 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 3rd in Call of the Wilde Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing and situations

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Grace Wilde, Animal behaviorist who speaks with animals


Setting: Modern day, Jacksonville Florida

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Grace’s abusive ex-brother-in-law, Anthony Ortega, dies under suspicious circumstances and her sister is taken in for questioning. Grace been getting calls for Ortega for what purpose she never found out, but to clear Emma, she is going to find out.  She finds out from Ortega's supermodel girlfriend, Jasmine, that he was likely concerned about a thoroughbred Friesian he was buying her but that went missing.  Grace believes if she finds the horse, she will somehow clear Emma from a murder charge.  Two subplots figure into the story, Detective Boyle is convinced Emma killed her abusive ex-husband, and also believes Grace and maybe Kai are involved with the mob from the last adventure.  Secondly, the mob hit-man, Logan, from the last book is contacting Grace and warning her she is in danger as she searches for the missing horse, complicating her relationship with Kai.

Grace has spunk and determination but seems less clear thinking than in prior books.  I felt she was a touch ditzy in this outing.  Sergeant Kai Duncan is dealing with finding out Grace communicates with animals in a more special way than he first thought, and trying to not be overbearing in keeping her safe.  Emma, her kind and capable sister who had been abused by Ortega, is now accomplished in martial arts which raises the question, could she have killed him?  Will, childhood friend and their lawyer, is a sheer delight.  Logan is the dark, dangerous mob killer that calls Grace "Sweetness".  Make no mistake, he is more than a "bad boy" persona, though he does have his own sense of justice... as long as it doesn't conflict with his job.

A few beach scenes interspersed with rural settings provides a good feeling of remote and isolated landscapes as the story unfolds.  The plot was a little disjointed until the last bit where the significance of the horse to the murder was revealed.  Otherwise, it seemed a stretch that the missing horse was such a lynchpin in the case and the time and effort to find it seemed misplaced when Emma sat in jail.  The pacing was fairly consistent, keeping my interest, particularly with Logan's mysterious appearances.

The climax involves a barn in the middle of nowhere, two experienced killers, the missing  Fresian, a storm, and a goat.  It was well done and had a touch of cat-and-mouse maneuvering that delivered great tension.

I enjoyed this book in the series, although I felt it was not quite as riveting as the previous two.  Still, it delivered an entertaining mystery with a surprise or two that kept the pages turning.

Rating: An enjoyable read, good but not stellar.  Fans of the series won't want to miss it, but best to not start the series with this book if you are new to it.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest post - Fran Stewart

Ms Fran Stewart was already in the mystery genre with her Biscuit McKee Mystery series.  I reviewed the first in her new ScotShop Mystery series, A Wee Murder in my Shop.  To read my review, click here.  We are tickled to have a guest post from her on where she gets her ideas for her lively novels.  Please welcome her!

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas is one of the most frequent questions a writer hears. There’s often a pregnant pause before we answer. Our minds discard most of the answers we consider, because where we get our ideas depends on what we’re currently writing or what we’re planning to write next.

The truth—for me—is that ideas simply pop up no matter where I am. At meals, parties, with friends, alone, dancing, standing still, in snowstorms or rainstorms. Anywhere. Any time.

Unfortunately, most of those ideas are useable. Luckily, I have one technique that almost always works.

Let’s say I’m stuck with trying to make a character more believable. I need an idea NOW. To help me solve a sticky character problem or a sticky plot, I generally walk.

One frigid January, while on an artists and writers retreat on Sapelo Island, I simply couldn’t get a feel for the murderer in A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP. Every scene with that particular character felt lifeless. I bundled up and walked the mile to Nanny Goat Beach. The rain hit. I simply pulled on my hood and kept going. As the surf thundered at my left side, I heard the murderer’s voice: “Listen to me,” the waters roared. “Listen to me.”

“What makes you tick?” I walked faster. “Why are you so angry?”

The waves pounded out his answer. I heard it as clearly as if he were propelled along beside me by the ferocious wind at our backs, and I saw that the root of his anger lay a hundred years ago. I was dumbfounded. One of the problems was that I hadn’t seen him as a real person, a man with family history, a man with a back-story, a man with angst—he’d simply been the bad guy in my mind. The murderer. I hadn’t even thought of him as my murderer. I hadn’t owned him.

I hadn’t owned up to him, either.

You see, we all have murderous thoughts at one time or another—and mystery writers need to explore those thoughts. Every murder has roots somewhere. Sometimes those roots seem almost to make sense. Almost.

My job as a writer is to open a door so you can see how murder might have logically developed into what the murderer sees as his or her last possible choice. 

Don’t get me wrong. I, Fran, the human being, see no logic in murder. Murdering someone as a result of the common “reasons for murder”—jealousy, anger, greed—is insane. I see murder not only as a harmful act toward the victim, but as one that immediately harms the murderer as well. Most reasonable folks manage to deal with childhood abuse, poverty, wealth, domestic violence, and even with anger, jealousy, and greed; they get the help they need, and they move on.

Sometimes, the “logic” behind a murder seems valid to us, but all too often it makes sense only to the murderer alone. A good mystery allows us all to explore not only that reasonable and/or twisted logic, but the consequences — what would happen if I acted out my homicidal impulses?
What would happen if … is the source of just about every writer’s ideas. What would happen if X killed Y … leads writers to want to find out the reason.

Let’s say I walk past you on the street as you say to a friend, “I could’ve killed him!” I don’t need to know your backstory or whether you really mean it. All I need to do is take that phrase and ask the new character sprouting in my mind: “Why?”

That’s where the good story ideas come from.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you Ms. Stewart for that wonderful post and how you brought your murderer to life in your book by connecting with his roots.  

Readers, what do you think makes a "bad guy" more compelling?

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