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If we’re truthful, we all have our guilty reading pleasures. StartOfMeAndYouThose of you who follow this blog know that I like YA chick lit, like those books written by Sarah Dessen. But I’ve also mentioned two newcomers to my chick lit reading list: Morgan Matson and Emery Lord. The Start of Me and You is Emery Lord’s latest book.

I like the beginning of The Start of Me and You. “…Our town (Oakhurst, Indiana) was too big for people to know everything about you, but just small enough for them to clench down on one defining moment like teeth clamped on a prey. Won the spelling bee in fourth grade? You are Dictionary Girl forever….” Paige Hancock was the Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned. It might have been a year ago, but she still gets That Look. She’s still afraid to go swimming. She still gets nightmares that she’s drowning.

The beginning of her junior year, she decided she needed to change and make a five point plan.

  1. Parties/Social Events
  2. New Group
  3. Date (Ryan Chase)
  4. Travel
  5. Swim.

To that end, she joins the Quizbowl team, in part because nerdy Max Watson, its captain, is cousins with Ryan Chase, a guys she’s crushing on. What better way to meet Ryan.

OpenRoadSummerOf course, I’m not giving anything away by saying that The Start of Me and You is about Paige realizing it’s the nerdy guy she likes. But as is said in the book, it’s the journey, not the end that’s the fun part. Lord has given Paige a great group of girlfriends, Morgan, Kaleigh and Tessa, who are always there for each other. She’s provided a wise grandmother and an annoying little sister. And of course, she’s provided some family drama and some boyfriend drama. All the right ingredients. I like her easy going writing style and the story line, which is quite different from her previous book Open Road Summer, which is also chick lit.

If you’re looking for some fun reading, give Emery Lord a try.

P.S. She does the old Sarah Dessenesque mention of characters from her previous book in the current one, but only once that I could see.

MysteryWritersCookbookI’m a mystery fan and cooking fan, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For, right? So, I thought I’d have a passing knowledge of the writers in this book. Well…let me tell you, there are more well known mystery writers than I had a passing knowledge of. Sure, some of my favorites are included in this book, such as Thomas H. Cook, Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, Louise Penny and Karin Slaughter. But there are a heck of a lot more that I haven’t heard of, such as Beth Amos, Alison Gaylin, Rita Lakin and L. J. Sellers…which of course, now adds to my mystery reading list.

Some people have called me obsessive. When I get ahold of something, I don’t let go until I’ve exhausted the topic (for those of you who read this, you might have gotten a sense of that from all the pulp mysteries I’ve written about). And, I could have sworn I’ve previously read a cookbook with recipes by mystery writers. But looking through my looseleaf binder of recipes, I couldn’t find it. So, I used my resources to try to find it and lo and behold, mystery author/character cookbooks are a hot topic (no pun intended). There’s a Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook, a Murder She Wrote Cookbook, a Cop Cookbook. There’s The Cat Who Cookbook by Julie Murphy, a Food to Die For cookbook by Patricia Cornwell, and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes, which I’m putting on my reading list. Of course, none of these are the cookbook I was thinking of. So, I’ve requested A Taste of Murder: Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers, A Second Helping of Murder: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers and Writers’ Favorite Recipes because I’m hoping one of these is the cookbook I was thinking of. I vaguely remember an Ed McBain recipe in the book.

Finally, my thoughts on The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. It’s definitely worth looking at. If you’re not a sophisticated chef (which I’m not), the cookbook is great because all the recipes are easy, such as Bill Pronzini’s Nameless’s Italian Garlic Bread and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone’s Famous Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich. The recipes run the daily eating range from breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert with a section on drinks. There are also recipes that sound intriguing such as Karen Harper’s Zucchini Bread, Brad Meltzer’s Italian Chicken, Greg Herren’s Greg’s New Orleans Slow-Cooker Meatballs and Bill Fitzhugh’s Spicy Beans.

To spice up the book (yes, pun intended), each section begins with a photo of an old fashioned typewriter with a page from a manuscript.  Interspersed with the recipes are pages about various authors’ writing such as PD James using poison as a means of murder, Nero Wolfe on Food, Poe Waxes Poetic on Food, and Lee Child’s Recipe for a Delicious Best Seller.

Since the recipes are based on mystery characters who like cooking or recipes mentioned in books, there’s a short intro preceding each recipe telling the reader what book or character it comes from. There’s a short author bio at the end of each recipe.

This book has everything a mystery lover, cooking aficionado would want. Information, recipes, pictures and more. Be sure to get a copy for your bookshelf.

P.S. I also found a new blog to subscribe to…Mystery Fanfare by Janet Rudolph, which is where I found the names of all these cookbooks.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Although she doesn’t know this, Agnes Magnusdottir will be the last BurialRites convict executed in Iceland. This occurred in 1830. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is her story. Convicted in 1828 of killing two men, Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson, burning down Natan’s house and stealing his property, Agnes, along with a young girl, Sigridur Gudmundsdottir and a seventeen year old man, Fridrik Sigurdsson, were imprisoned. Sigga won an appeal and spent her remaining lifetime in a Danish textile prison. Fridrik and Agnes, at some point prior to their execution, were moved to different households to serve out their pre-execution days in servitude. Agnes was housed with District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina. Each was allowed to choose a priest to provide spiritual guidance, get them to admit and repent their crimes and seek the Lord, prior to their execution. Agnes chose Thorvardur Jonsson (Toti), an Assistant Reverend who had provided a kindness to her years before.

Burial Rites is really two stories in one novel. There is the historical aspect of the book. In the 1800s, Iceland was under Danish rule. There was abject poverty in the country, as evidenced by the primitive living conditions that Agnes suffered in her assigned home. The weather was harsh and people’s basic needs of food and shelter was barely met. The conditions at prison were inhumane. Prisoners were beaten at whim, had little food, lacked clothing for warmth and rarely bathed, if at all. The description of Agnes as initially seen by Margret, is beyond belief. The Danish monarchy took an active interest in the case and handed down verdict and decrees, which Iceland was bound to carry out.

The second story in Burial Rites is Agnes’. Her history as an abandoned illegitimate child, intelligent but poor, forced to find work wherever she could pulls at the heartstrings. Naïve, a person who has had no close friends or relatives, who has been shown no love or tenderness, Agnes misunderstood people’s motives, not recognizing true affection rather than manipulation. Her changing relationship with Margret, especially, after the initial shock that they must harbor a murderess, is gripping and touching. The bond that arises between Agnes and Toti, his caring, compassion and steadfastness, are remarkable.

Burial Rites is not my genre of book, therefore, you can guess Susan recommended it to me. Once I got into it, I didn’t want to put it down. Kent’s writing is descriptive…the bleak landscape of Iceland, especially in winter. The characters are intriguing, District Officer Jonsson and his family, Natan, Fridrik, Sigga, Toti all evolve skillfully through Ken’s lens. Kent juxtaposes man’s inhumanity to man against man’s compassion to his fellow man.

Burial Rites is a great book discussion book as well as a good book for your own enlightenment. It can be a fast read or you can slow down and savor the language and think about humanity. That choice is yours.

I became a Bruce deSilva fan from his first book, Rogue Island, and his ScourgeOfVipersfour book Liam Mulligan series hasn’t let me down. Fans of Mulligan will know that he is long-time friends with Fiona McNerney, a former nun who now is the governor of Rhode Island. Despite her former vows, she and Mulligan share a repartee filled with sexual innuendo, primarily about his underwear.

In his latest foray, Scourge of the Vipers, Mulligan is working for a new boss, Charles Twisdale, since The Dispatch has been sold. The new corporate owner cares less about the news and more about the bottom line, thus the staff has been dramatically cut. His respect or lack thereof for Twisdale, who he calls Chuckie, and the new owners, is evident.

Rhode Island is facing a budget deficit and in order to shore up the state’s finances McNerney (aka Attila the Nun) is proposing to legalize sports betting and have it run by the state’s Lottery Commission. The mob’s not keen on the idea since it will eat into its bookmaking business. The sports oversight groups such as the NCAA oppose the plan saying it will open up games to dishonesty. Private gambling businesses seeing a potential windfall, would rather betting be privatized so they, rather than the state, reap the benefits.

When Atlantic City mobsters start appearing in Providence with bag loads of cash, presumably to buy off legislators, the veteran newspaper reporter starts to investigate. When dead bodies start appearing, Mulligan soon becomes a prime suspect in several murders.

Two subplots include a local pro basketball team auditioning walkons to fill some slots. Mulligan, a fairly decent player, is asked to try out by Twisdale and report on it for the paper. Also, Whoosh Morelli, an old friend and bookmaker, is planning on retiring and suggests Mulligan consider taking over the business.

As usual, Mulligan bemoans the fate of newspaper journalism specifically and the democratic process in general. As an illustration, Mulligan’s innuendo driven conversation with Fiona, whose office has been bugged, is illegally recorded and, snippets taken out of context issued to the media by a misguided Super PAC officer. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and whoever has the money rules.

BruceDesilvaUnfortunately, some of the characters we’ve come to know and love only make brief appearances in Scourge of the Vipers. Mason, the son of the newspaper’s former owner, has started his own internet newspaper. Mulligan’s photographer colleague has gone elsewhere. However, that doesn’t detract from the total enjoyment of the book.

I like books that have a good balance of romance, action, snappy repartee and social commentary, and the Liam Mulligan series fits that bill.

(And tell me that DeSilva doesn’t look just like a mystery writer!)

Emmy and Oliver were best friends since birth. They were born on the same day in the same hospital (their basinets were next to each other) and they lived next door to each other. Their bedrooms faced each other and at night, they would each blink their light when it was bedtime. Emmy, Oliver, Caro (Caroline, but no one ever called her that) and Drew were an inseparable quartet.

When they were seven years old, Oliver disappeared. His father, Keith, kidnapped him. His mother, Maureen, was frantic and tried everything she could to find him, with no luck. After the initial news media frenzy, the public lost interest and things got back to normal, as normal as they could be under the EmmyAndOlivercircumstances. Emmy continued being friends with Caro and Drew. However, Emmy’s parents became over protective of their only child, prohibiting her from doing many things young kids did, forcing on her an early bedtime. As a result, she ended up hiding a lot from her parents.

When she was 17, Oliver returned. The problem with that was several fold: (a) Maureen had remarried and had twin girls, (b) she remembered Oliver as a seven year old boy and that’s who she expected to return and (c) Emmy and Caro and Drew had 10 years of memories, inside jokes and dreams of which Oliver was not a part.

Robin Benway covers a lot in Emmy and Oliver. Most people think of the anguish of parents losing a child to kidnapping. And when we think of kidnapping, as in the news media, it is always children hidden away and brutalized. In Emmy and Oliver, Keith treated Oliver well and after Oliver got over the initial shock of a missing mother, he had a relatively normal life. Yet, thrust back into his mother’s life and home was traumatic for both parent and child.

Benway does a great job of verbalizing the impact of Oliver’s return on everyone, Maureen and her young twins, Emmy, Caro and Drew and especially Oliver. I’m not giving anything away by saying the Emmy & Oliver is a love story. There are some loves that do stand the test of time and separation. But it’s more than that. It’s the story of awakening from a 10 year slumber to find out that things aren’t the same as when you drifted off to sleep…for everyone, not just Oliver. I liked every character in Emmy & Oliver, even Keith. I can understand everyone’s actions and motives. Other than Keith’s actions at the end, I thought everything rang true (not that I was ever involved in the situation described in the book).

I know describing a book as a ‘beach read’ may be the kiss of death, but I don’t mean it to be. Had I received the book when it is issued in June 2015, I can see me sitting under a big shade tree on Cape Cod, listening to the sound of the bay and the seals, reading Emmy & Oliver. So maybe I’ll amend my statement to say it’s a good summer time, feel good, read. I do highly recommend Emmy & Oliver.

The Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is indeed big, but not mammoth when compared to Otto Penzler’s Big Lizard books on pulp mysteries. Also it’s a fast reading book.

Let’s first talk MammothBookabout what this book isn’t, though, because there’s a little misrepresentation here. The back cover states “Here are original stories of crime and detection that were the inspiration behind some of the best-loved screen successes.” By this I thought these stories were actually the bases for TV and movie mysteries. In reality, these stories were written by authors who created TV and movie detectives, but the stories themselves were not necessarily the basis for the movie or series.

Having gotten that out of the way, The Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is an worthwhile book, now that your expectations are set. Peter Haining, who has written much about pulp fiction of all genres knows what he’s doing.

RearWindowThe best story in the book was It Had to be Murder by Cornell Woolrich which was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s Read Window. However, this story has no romantic plot to it; no Grace Kelly blond tending to the wheelchair bound James Stewart. The film basically followed the story and I kept picturing Raymond Burr as the would-be murderer.

The second best story which immediately follows Rear Window is RaymondBurrForbidden Fruit by Edgar Lustgarten and is a James M. Cain-esque story of a man and woman plotting her husband’s murder—think The Postman Always Rings Twice. It has the same darkness to it and a similar ending. Lustgarten introduced the British series, Scotland Yard, but this story was not a part of the series.

Authors included in the anthology count as a partial who’s who of mystery writers: Edgar Wallce, Eric Ambler, George Harmon Coxe, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), Erle Stanley Gardner, Georges Simenon and Ruth Rendell. MaigretHunter’s story was the basis for the movie the Blackboard Jungle which certainly is not a detective/mystery story and Rendell’s excellent story has no corresponding TV or movie.

The authors are credited with creating some of the great detective series or movies including Columbo, Little Caesar, Naked City, Perry Mason (although this was not one of the better stories), and Maigret. A lot of the series are British and the dates range from the 1920s to the 1990s. At the beginning of each story is a short bio of the author and an explanation of the series for which he/she is credited.

CornellWoolrichThe Mammoth Book of Movie Detectives and Screen Crimes is not your run of the mill mystery anthology. It contains stories and authors you may not have heard of and mentions series that you may be unfamiliar with. It’s a nice way to broaden your mystery horizons. I think the next mystery author I’m going to tackle is Cornell Woolrich. I’ve read some of his stories but not enough. So move over Hammett and Chandler, I’m going to dig up some Woorich.

I highly recommend this book.

LongAndFarawayIt is Oklahoma City 1986 and fifteen year old Wyatt Rivers is the sole survivor of a robbery/shooting at the movie theater he works in. Also in 1986, twelve year old Julianna Rosales’ older sister, Genevieve, leaves Julianna alone at the county fair, supposedly for fifteen minutes, but never returns. Her body was never found and Julianna has no idea of her fate.

Jump ahead to 2012. Wyatt has moved from place to place and currently resides in Las Vegas working as a private investigator. A business associate who throws him a lot of business asks him to fly to Oklahoma City. His sister-in-law, Candace who recently inherited a music club from an acquaintance, insists someone is harassing her. Wyatt can’t refuse. Also in 2012, Julianna has spent the last 26 years trying to find out what happened to her sister. A carny at the county fair has just been released from prison and moved to Oklahoma City. Julianna can’t let this opportunity pass by.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney concerns itself with one present day mystery (Candace’s claim of harassment) and two 26 year old ones. Although the killers have been caught, Wyatt always wondered “why me?”. Why was his life spared? As he ponders this and as he drives around the city of his youth, more questions arise than are answers provided. Julianna, on the other hand, has not escaped geographically from her past and has constantly looked into her sisters’ disappearance.

Both of these are interesting premises and Berney does OK with them…mostly. I’ll admit that I did have an inkling, midway through, about the answer to one of the mysteries. On the other hand, Berney seems to have pulled the answers to the two others out of nowhere. As the two main protagonists only intersect briefly in the book, I probably would have concentrated on one mystery, cut about 100-150 pages out of the 450 pages in the book and made it a tighter read. (Maybe, however, that’s why I’m not an author and he is.)

My last comment is that Wyatt makes a pretty poor private investigator. While I realize he was sidetracked by returning to ‘the scene of his crime’, something just didn’t ring true about it. I’m not upset that I stuck it out with this book, but there are better mysteries out there. (In the interests of full disclosure, both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus gave it starred reviews. But if you know me, you know that the journals and I often disagree. Although I will agree with this comment from Publishers Weekly, “The leads’ struggles are portrayed with painful complexity, and Berney, fittingly, avoids easy answers.”) The choice is yours on this one.

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