Let’s Celebrate National Pie Day

I found out two days late, that January 23rd was National Pie Day. Who knew? But that bit of information segues right into a subject I want to visit. Well, two subjects—pies and mothers. Make that four subjects. Add books and movies.

Last Sunday Parade Magazine included with our newspaper had an article about an upcoming movie called Labor Day. Both the picture (see below) and the subject and title of the article (Life of Pie) caught my attention. Of course, it’s about pie. Many years ago Joyce Maynard, author of the book of the same name, had spent the summer with her mother who was dying of cancer baking a pie nearly every day, while her mother’s friends visited. She’d rolled out the crust on wax paper, just as she’d learned from her mother. That summer inspired her to teach many others how to make pie. And baking pies inspired her to include a pie-making scene in her latest novel, Labor Day.

Pie and a pie-baking mother struck a cord with me. My mother loved to bake. We always had dessert of some sort, always homemade, usually cake or pie more often than cookies. We lived on a farm, so we had our own fruit and berries. I especially remember apple pies. After we children left home, my mother continued to bake pies. Since she had become diabetic, she’d bake a small sugar-free one for herself and another for my dad. Often she’d bake two and give one away. After my father died, Mom still baked. She couldn’t eat all the pies, so she gave them away. A neighbor stopped by? Have a pie. Any family activity? Bring two pies. A doctor appointment? Take a pie for the entire staff to share.

Although I don’t make many pies myself, I learned from my mother. She used a board instead of wax paper to roll out the dough. I use a cloth for my rolling surface. The author uses wax paper. But we all did one thing the same—use the absolute minimum of cold water when mixing the dough. Those memories inspire me to see the movie, and definitely to read the book, Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard. (In fact, due to the marvels of the internet and Kindle, I have it already, when a week ago I didn’t even know the book existed.)

Life of Pie-from Parade Magazine

Life of Pie-from Parade Magazine

The illustration with the article shows the author demonstrating her pie expertise to the movie’s stars, Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Josh plays an escaped convict who hides out in Kate’s house. He makes the pie in the movie. (Kate came to the demonstration as she wanted to learn how to bake pies too.) While they baked and ate three pies, author Joyce Maynard found a pie connection with actor Josh. His mother, who had died young, had also been a baker. I too found a connection with both of them—a mother who baked pies.

On Amazon’s page for Labor Day, I learned more about the book. It is told from the thirteen-year-old son’s point of view. More information about Joyce Maynard’s book can be found here. You can read the entire Parade article here, see a clearer picture, and even watch a video of Joyce Maynard making an apple pie. Incidently, the movie will open January 31. And, for a local humor column on the subject, click on National Pie Day.

Old News That’s Still New

I’ve been busy which is really not a good excuse. Everyone is busy this time of year—the holidays, visits, cooking, cleaning, bad colds—and I’ve had them all. Plus, I’ve been pouring over the proof of my new book and discovering lots of things that need to be changed. But I must take time out to write in my blog. And—I’ve found a good subject—the continuing realization that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Every Monday our local newspaper has a column of old news taken from papers 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago. Yes, our newspaper has been in business that long! (Well, the paper’s name has undergone a few name changes. It’s now a combination of the two previous ones put out by the same company.) Would you believe the local news 25 years ago was similar to one a fellow mystery writer based her first mystery on, and incidently, started my habit of clipping these columns? The author is Stacy Juba, and her book is Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. Her book centered around an unsolved murder. My local article tells of an unsolved disappearance of a 15-year old girl who left with a man “well known to her.” Foul play and her death were feared and she is still missing. Stacy, are you up for another plot? Or, since Stacy has several other books completely plotted and published, am I?

Not only was the 50-year-ago news of a huge snow storm with ultra-low temperatures one that I remember well, those ultra-low temperatures were repeated this year. Fortunately, the twelve-foot drifts weren’t. Of course, that affected the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show—both times. In fact, that happens so often, the frequent bad, cold weather for the same week is referred to as Farm Show Weather.

Now, 75 years ago the weather wasn’t really mentioned. That news was from 1939, a year still in the depression that started ten years earlier and wasn’t completely erased until the arms build-up to win World War II began after Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, 1941. Locally, 21 “relief chislers” had defrauded the government for a total of $1,408. One woman thought the government knew she had a job. Her husband was in jail and she had to walk ten miles to and from her job. Personally, I think I’d have let her keep the $100.10 she was overpaid. (There are certain facts in this story that remind me of today as well. Can you say “hard times for many?”)

Fortunately, the 100-years ago today story doesn’t remind me of current events. A man who owned the local store and ran the enclosed post office came down with “the dreaded” disease of small pox. Not only was his business establishment quarantined and closed, but his entire family was quarantined and two nearby schools were closed for two weeks.

Have you heard any old news lately that could have been said about yesterday as well? If my comments section is working, I’d love to hear it.

Cover Reveal

Something new is coming. My first young adult book, Cherish, is about to come on the scene.

From the back cover:

Cherish can’t be my name. It doesn’t sound right. But who am I? I should have listened better to that mini-psych course in middle school. I’ve heard of bi-polar and multiple personalities. I think. Is this the way people go crazy?

Kayla shouldn’t have taken that strange girl’s hand, because that’s when everything changed.

And, wasn’t it the twenty-first century? What’s with the date, October, 1946? That can’t be right. It’s the same school, sort of. The same town, but different.

But, if she is Cherish, how about the date on that tombstone? If she doesn’t find a way back to her own body, in her own time…,

Kayla will die in a few days.

Seasonal Thoughts

Seasonal? Not as in salt and pepper or onion flakes. Oh, no. As in, it must be fall because kids went back to school, despite the fact that fall does not officially arrive until later in September. So, since it IS fall, Halloween must be close behind. How do I know? My local grocery store has a full display of Halloween Tastykakes. Yum!

Definitely time for spooky thoughts. Ghosts, magic, and spooky paranormal mystery books. Yes!

One series of choice for the season is L. L. Bartlett’s Jeff Resnick series. Bartlett (under two other names) writes two of my favorite cozy mystery series, but this is more of a psychological thriller. Jeff has dreams, or visions, of murder. How spooky is that? The first in the series is Murder on the Mind. The newest one, Dark Waters, comes out on October 1, 2013.

Another favorite series is Sofie Kelly’s Magical Cats mystery series. Are those cats real, ghosts, or what? One that I read is Curiosity Thrilled The Cat. The newest one, Final Catcall, also comes out October 1, 2013.

Soon I hope to announce my newest mystery, a spooky young adult titled Cherish. There are ghosts, time travel, and Halloween involved in this one.

I keep trying to get comments active on this post. Maybe this time? Don’t know yet. However, comments will be open on my Goodreads blog tomorrow.

New Reads – Cozy Mystery and More

I love new books. Scanning the cover, turning the pages, following line after line of… Okay, I also love new e-books. Let me say, I love the plot, the mystery, the characters, the whole experience of letting myself live another life for a few minutes, or a few hours. So, when I hear about a new book written by one of my favorite authors, I’m ready to eavesdrop on a life that I’ve lived before. And, when I open a book by an author new to me, I’m ready to escape into a new reality. All this is prelude to introducing a short list of books newly published, or about to be published next month. Perhaps some of these will introduce you to a delightful new read.

The first book on my list is an anthology of short stories – The Least He Could Do and eleven other stories. When I asked for titles of new books from my Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter, I heard about this from the author of the title story, “The Least He Could Do,” Lynn Mann. Lynn’s story is suspense (and a good one). The others are a mix of genre’s, all a bit edgy. Available as e-book.  Amazon site here.  Smashword’s site here.

The next three books are all cozy mysteries from authors with series I know and love. The first is Lowcountry Bombshell by Susan Boyer. Her first book, Lowcountry Boil, won the Agatha this year for best new mystery, so you know this one will be good. Short intro — Liz Talbot thinks she’s seen another ghost when she meets Calista McQueen. She’s the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe. Born precisely fifty years after the ill-fated star, Calista’s life has eerily mirrored the late starlet’s–and she fears the looming anniversary of Marilyn’s death will also be hers. With the heat index approaching triple digits, Liz races to uncover a diabolical murder plot in time to save not only Calista’s life, but also her own.  Amazon site here. Publisher page here.

Little Black Book of Murder by Nancy Martin is the newest from The Blackbird Sisters series, one of my favorites. It stars Nora Blackbird who may have been to the manor borne, but these days money is so tight, she can’t afford to lose her job as a society columnist. Short Intro — If anything can bring the blue-blooded Blackbird sisters together, it’s a murder investigation involving high-society events, glamorous people, and the disappearance of a genetically perfect pig that may or may not be basking in the sun at Blackbird Farm. They’ll all have to pull together this time, because if Nora can’t bring home the bacon, she might have to exchange her bucolic estate for a cramped walk-up. Available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook.  Amazon page here. Author page here.

Rhys Bowen, the author of Heirs and Graces, writes three series that I adore. This title is the latest in the Royal Spyness mysteries that take place in 1930s England. Georgie’s posh education didn’t land her a job, or a husband, but it does convince Her Majesty the Queen and the Dowager Duchess to enlist her help. Short intro for this historic mystery — As thirty-fifth in line for the throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch may not be the most sophisticated young woman, but she knows her table manners. It’s forks on the left, knives on the right–not in His Majesty’s back… Available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook. Amazon page here. Author page here.

I also have two mysteries from authors who are new to me. I’m looking forward to enjoying their new series. Auld Lang Syne is by Judith Ivie. Short intro — This is number six in The Kate Lawrence Mysteries. It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and Kate finds herself at her 35th high school reunion, where she is confronted by The Mean Girls, circa 1978. Worse yet, she’s put on a little weight, and her high school steady is expected to show. Should auld acquaintance be forgot? If only that were possible. Available in paperback and e-book. Amazon site here. Publisher page here.

The second of the new-to-me mysteries is Armed  by Elaine Macko From the cover photo of a young woman’s arm, I suspect this Alex Harris series is ‘armed’ with more humor than gun play. Short intro — When Alex Harris, owner of the Always Prepared staffing agency, stumbles over the body of Mrs. Scott, nothing will ever be the same. Along with her sister and partner, Samantha Daniels, and their assistant, Millie Chapman, the Winston Churchill-quoting, M&M popping Alex probes and plods through clue after clue trying to unravel secrets before the murderer strikes again and really ruins Christmas. Available in paperback and e-book. Amazon site here. Author page here.

What are your favorite cozy mystery series? Leave a comment and tell me. I’d love to hear about new ones.

Look for my new YA mystery soon – publication date tentatively scheduled for October 2013. In the meantime, the links to my two mysteries and one true adventure non-fiction are on my Books page here.

Remembering Mom

Yesterday I read about a woman who just turned 100. It was a lovely article in my newspaper with a headline of, “This healthy 100-year-old runs on coffee.” She sounds like a humdinger. She likes to sing at home and with the group Sweet Adelines. She helps her niece with crossword puzzles. She likes to keep busy. “I don’t sit and rock half the day, oh no,” she said.

The lady reminds me of my mom, who lived until May 31st of this year. She was 103. She, too, liked to keep busy. At eighteen, Mom was a city girl who married a railroad man who turned into a farmer. She followed her man from Washington to Missouri and back to Washington. Dad wanted home-made bread, so she baked bread. She cooked dinner for haying crews. And pies. Oh, the pies she baked. In later years a trip to the doctor or dentist was an occasion to bake as she always took a pie along.

I remember Mom as the farm wife. One time some animal was killing our free-range chickens. Mom sat in the field with a rifle, waiting. A feral dog arrived and she dropped him with a chicken in its mouth that ran away. But Mom had an independent streak. One year she decided that, just because Dad was a very active Grange member, she didn’t have to be. However, she missed it and returned. She actually later ended up as Master (that’s club president). But that independent streak went one step farther. When Dad retired, she did too. No more home-baked bread!

Mom loved to read. I remember when she had a copy of Forever Amber hidden in her room. (It was the scandalous novel of the time.) And she wrote. She was my inspiration. But while I write mysteries, she wrote poetry. I remember a long saga she could recite and sometimes amended. More often she wrote poems as gifts to friends on special occasions. She played the piano. Once she accompanied the soloist at a wedding. She often played piano at Grange meetings and whenever anyone wanted to sing at home.

Mom's 100th Birthday

Mom’s 100th Birthday

There was a party for Mom’s 100th birthday where she lived. Since I lived across the continent from her, I wasn’t there that day, but my sister-in-law was. Mom received cards and ate cake (hers was sugar-free). Mom believed in walking for health. At the farm she measured with a tape measure, then walked that route until her goal was reached. At her assisted living home she walked the length of the hall twice a day. I remember Mom drinking coffee like the woman in the article, but her daily regimen included walking and drinking milk. It served her well.

Good bye Mom. We loved you.

I like to include book recommendations in each post. Two from my library are Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates and there was an old woman by Hallie Ephron. Neither one is a cozy mystery. The article referenced above can be seen here.


Wow! Chefs to World Leaders Eat Here?

Can you believe that chefs to world leaders dined in a barn, sitting on benches at long wooden tables decorated with flowers in canning jars? They ate, and even raved over simple dishes like salad with red beet eggs, chicken croquettes, pot roast, mashed potatoes with brown butter, succotash, and fresh raspberries. They will take ideas back to their own countries to serve in palaces in England, Thailand, Sweden, and Monaco. The back-to-nature foods prepared in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, and served by Amish women and children may appear on tables in the White House, and in the homes of world leaders from Germany, Gabon, China, France, and many other nations.

It was a meeting of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, an exclusive group of chefs to world leaders. Each year they meet in a different host country. This year they came to America and first dined in Washington, Maryland, and New York before visiting the barn in East Lampeter, Pennsylvania.

My words can’t tell you all there is to this story. I’ve attached a link of a video and a slide show of the meal in progress, plus the newspaper write-up. (It’s here.)

Does this story that includes the chef to our president make you think of mystery books? It does me—but then practically everything makes me think of a good mystery read. In fact, this article makes me think of two series, and I just happen to have a few of those books in my library.

You have to know that one series is the White House Chef Mysteries by Julie Hyzy. When Buffalo West Wing  was published in 2011, Olivia Paras is billed was the first female head White House chef. Of course the plot involved a supply of the presidential children’s favorite—spicy Buffalo wings. And Olivia gets in Dutch because she won’t let the kids touch the wings.

Speaking of Dutch, the Amish people mentioned in the article reminds me of more mysteries. They are the books included in the Pennsylvania Dutch series by Tamar Myers. One of her titles is The Crepes of Wrath. Magdalena Yoder discovers that a bad batch of crepes can lead to murder. There are several crepes recipes included, not one of them is fatal. Magdalena is not Amish, but of another plain sect. (“Plain” is the term some use, and to the “English” as the Amish call others, “plain” can refer to Amish, Mennonite, and others.)

I page through recipes in mystery books and get ideas (I’m often an innovative cook). Both series include recipes. My own mysteries include people who love food, love to talk about it, love to prepare and eat it, but I haven’t added recipes in the pages of my books. I’ve tried another approach. I place recipes and pictures on my website along with an excerpt from the scene that presented the dish. (Those recipes are here.)

Do you like mysteries that include recipes? I’d love to see your comments about food in mysteries, or your favorite series. (I love to find series new to me!)

The Irish Cop Connection

I like to make connections. Sometimes the connection is between a newspaper article and a story I’ve read. Sometimes it’s between a whispered confidence and a past event. Sometimes, such as this time, the connection is between two mystery series by two different authors.

Besides the Irish cop connection, these series are cozy, historic, and by authors I’ve actually met! Both series are set in New York at the turn of the century—that’s the early 1900s, Both have a young woman who helps an Irish cop solve murders. Both include a good bit of accurate historic detail.

I met Victoria Thompson a few years ago at a conference where I bought one of her Gaslight Mystery books. I’ve been buying, and reading them ever since. However, I began reading the Molly Murphy Mysteries before I met Rhys Bowen. Okay, I must admit, it was a brief encounter. We rode the same elevator at the Malice Domestic Conference this May. I did tell her how much I enjoyed her mysteries.

Now that I’ve mentioned the similarities between the two series, let me tell you the differences.

Sarah Brandt, star of the Gaslight Mysteries, was born to wealth then turned against that lifestyle by becoming a midwife. She married and was a young widow when the series begins. Among the real historic issues involved in the mysteries are medical problems, including those of the Irish cop’s deaf son as well as social issues and the poverty of so many of New York’s citizens of the time. One among the continuing characters is Sarah’s neighbor, an extremely superstitions woman who sees signs of danger if a crow flies by, or almost anything else. Sarah has the advantage of knowing the wealthy people, old friends from her former life, and especially her mother to help in learning things that might be clues. The Irish cop, Frank Malloy, welcomes any help Sarah can provide. The two are attracted to each other, but so far, have too many other things going on to do much about it.

Molly Murphy, the heroine of the Molly Murphy Mysteries, arrived in New York from Ireland, one step ahead of the law that would arrest her for protecting herself. She takes a job at a detective agency. When the detective is killed, she takes over the role of detective. Throughout the series, Molly meets historic people such as Harry Houdini and Nellie Bly. Her neighbors are two flamboyant women who introduce Molly to their well-known friends, so many historic events contribute to the mysteries. Daniel Sullivan, the Irish cop, does not welcome help from Molly on his cases, nor does he want to hear about her detective work that may be connected to his. However, their personal relationship advances from romance, to distance, to rejection, then back, and to marriage.

Do you like to make connections such as this? Do you know of any other mysteries that could be connected in some tenuous fashion? Let me know below in the comments. And, before I leave you, I’d like to give you a couple of links for these two authors and their sites.

Victoria Thompson’s Amazon author page is here. A recent Facebook entry is here. 

Rhys Bowen’s Amazon author page is here. Her Twitter account is here.