Under-the-Tree Good

Vin­nie Hansen, the very first guest I’ve had on this blog, is a retired high school Eng­lish teacher who lives in San­ta Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia. From the sto­ry she tells me, it sounds like she and her hus­band, artist Daniel S. Fried­man love to travel—and read.


In my fam­i­ly we have the expres­sion “under-the-tree good.” It refers to a

Vinnie-under treehot South Dako­ta after­noon when my broth­er Frank mixed up some orange Kool-Aid for us, his three younger sib­lings. He put ice cubes in it. We sat in a shady spot in the tree line behind the house and drank the bev­er­age from bright­ly col­ored alu­minum cups. The four of us agreed this was the best Kool-Aid ever. Thus orig­i­nat­ed the stan­dard of under-the-tree good.

How much dif­fer­ence real­ly could there be in one batch of Kool-Aid vs. anoth­er? In truth, a con­flu­ence of elements—heat, shade, kind­ness, ice-cubes—conspired to cre­ate the sen­sa­tion of under-the-tree good.

Exter­nals can also shape our expe­ri­ence with a book. I recent­ly read Cara Black’s Mur­der in the Latin Quar­ter while stay­ing in the Latin Quar­ter. The book became a blue print for a scav­enger hunt. My hus­band and I tracked down 61 rue Buf­fon, the scene of the crime.Vinnie-61 rue Buffon Across the street was the love­ly Jardin des Plantes. With­out the mys­tery, I may not have vis­it­ed, although this gar­den is every bit as beau­ti­ful and wor­thy as Jardin du Lux­em­bourg. But I had to go to the gar­den! Pro­tag­o­nist Aimée Leduc escaped through the grounds on her Ves­pa.Vinnie-Jardin des Plantes2

My hus­band and I walked up into the area where Hem­ing­way lived and Ver­laine wrote his poet­ry. At the Pan­theon where Vic­tor Hugo is interred, I looked about and thought, “This is where the sec­ond mur­der in the book takes place.”Vinnie-Aimée’s Vespa escape

Impor­tant scenes in the mys­tery involve inhab­i­tants of the cat­a­combs that run under Paris. My hus­band and I didn’t descend into these tun­nels. How­ev­er, on Pont de la Con­corde, two men, clear­ly not city work­ers, popped up out of a man­hole and crossed the bridge. I felt as though the book were com­ing alive in front of me! Even though Mur­der in the Latin Quar­ter is set in 1997, it is clear that peo­ple still haunt this under­ground world of Paris.

Even now as I fin­ish the book at home, I fol­low Aimée along the streets of Paris. When she turns onto Rue Cujas, I think, “We were there!”

All this makes read­ing the book an under-the-tree good expe­ri­ence.

My own Car­ol Sabala mys­tery series is set in what author Lau­ra Crum called a “faith­ful­ly ren­dered” San­ta Cruz. San­ta Cruz is a tourist-des­ti­na­tion beach town full of won­der­ful sights. Like Cara Black’s books, mine are set back in time, but many San­ta Cruz land­marks have not changed. I love the idea of a San­ta Cruz tourist pick­ing up one of my mys­ter­ies, new­ly re-released from mis­te­rio press.

While read­ing Mur­der, Hon­ey, maybe he or she will be inspired to eat a burger—meat or veggie—at Carpo’s. If the per­son is in town for our annu­al Open Stu­dios in Octo­ber, what fun to com­bine the trip with Art, Wine & Bul­lets set dur­ing the art event!

I would love to pro­vide an under-the-tree-good expe­ri­ence.


Vin­nie is in the process of updat­ing her Car­ol Sabala mys­tery series for re-release by mis­te­rio press, while also work­ing on the next install­ment in the series.

Art, Wine and Bul­lets by VINNIE HANSENVinnie cover-ArtWineBulletsEbook

A Car­ol Sabala Mur­der Mys­tery
The stran­gled body of a gallery own­er offers Car­ol an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cement her rep­u­ta­tion as a pri­vate eye. Instead, the inves­ti­ga­tion turns into a night­mare dur­ing which Car­ol unrav­els much more than a mur­der case.

Avail­able through Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble and her pub­lish­er mis­te­rio press.
Vinnie’s web site

 

A Coffee Chat

I’m vis­it­ing Ally Shields for cof­fee and a chat. She asks me ques­tions while we sip. She wants to know all about my next mystery—a YA ghost sto­ry. And, of course, she wants a new fact added to my bio.

Vis­it Ally Shields blog to read about more than just me. She likes to inter­view writ­ers on the para­nor­mal side. Most inter­est­ing.

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.

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.