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TastreOfMurder1A few weeks ago I reviewed the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For edited by Kate White. As I ,mentioned, I was surprised about the number of mystery related cookbooks that have been published. Two that whet my appetite were A Taste of Murder: Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers and A second Helping of Murder edited by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezhal. Although not as good as the Mystery Writers Cookbook, they are still interesting. Once again, it reinforced the fact that I’ve just touched the surface of mystery authors. The majority of contributors were authors I’ve never read nor heard of.

Both A Taste of Murder and Second Helpings have snappy section headings such as Choose Your Poison, Pasta Mortem, Just Desserts (an obvious one), Murder Most Fowl and Tough Cookies. Both books have their share of authors I’ve read: Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Joanne Fluke (cute cooking mysteries), Dick Francis, Peter Robinson and April Henry to name a few. But the majority of contributors I’d never heard of. There was scant information about the authors, especially when compared to the Mystery Writers Cookbook. More information would have been nice in order to determine which authors might be of interest. There were also several extended narratives, such as Breakfast With David Dodge or Tea With Dame Agatha or Anthony Bourdain’s How to Cook Pasta Without Getting Whacked.

As far as the recipes go, some were great and some not so great, but that’s the truth in any cookbook and everyone’s palate is different. My favorites in A Taste of Murder were: Connie Shelton’s Green Chile Stew (I really like her Vacation books), Death By Chocolate and Annette Meyer’s Apricot Dessert for those who really can’t cook.

T. Jefferson Parker’s Triggerman’s Rattlesnake was probably the oddest recipe.TasteOfMurder2

Robert Parker was, at the time A Taste of Murder was published, writing his own cookbook, so his contribution consisted of Susan Silverman’s Boiled Water (whimsical? Not so much! Better he should have declined, in my opinion. One day I should outline my opinion of Parker, from what little I’ve read about him.)

Kinsey Millhone’s Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich were in both the Mystery Writers Cookbook and A Taste of Murder. (I’m sure a little research could have come up with a different recipe. She does have other food in her repertoire!)

Without a doubt, my favorite recipe in Second Helpings was my namesake’s, Ed Goldberg’s Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms. Now I know, if I ever write the mystery that’s hidden within me, I’m going to have to use a pen name. Archer Mayer’s The Gunther really turned my stomach and if that’s what Joe Gunther eats, I’m surprised he’s survived 25+ books. I’m glad that man’s best friend has not been forgotten. Patricia Guiver (who I’ve never read) contributed Watson’s Favorite Peanut Butter Oatmeal Dog Biscuits. I’m seriously thinking of trying that recipe.

MysteryWritersCookbookSo, my thoughts on A Taste of Murder and Second Helpings? These books are part conversation pieces, part cookbook. If I get two or three recipes I like out of any cookbook, I feel it was worthwhile. You’ll surely find some recipes you’d like to try. I wish these books, however, had more information on the authors and their mystery books, so I can decide whether I want to read them. In this aspect, as well as the whimsical nature and artwork, the Mystery Writers Cookbook surpassed A Taste of Murder and Second Helpings.

Happy Mother’s Day

MothersDay

James Garner

James_Garner_Bret_MaverickI was saddened to learn today of James Garner’s passing. He seemed like a truly nice guy.

I grew up watching him on TV and in the movies. Although I was only five when Maverick began airing, I have vivid memories of being entranced by Bret and Bart’s (Jack Kelly) escapades every week. And the photo at the left is one of the ways I’ll remember him.

It took another twelve years (1974) for Garner to come back James_Garner_Jim_Rockfordwith a new series, The Rockford Files. Who can forget Jim Rockford and the great ensemble cast of Noah Beery and Stuart Margolin…and don’t forget that Camaro he drove. The show was created by Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins. Huggins created Maverick and he wanted to recapture that magic in a “modern day” detective setting.

[Huggins is an interesting character, by the way. He also created The Fugitive and 77 Sunset Strip, two outstanding TV shows that were also a part of my weekly viewing. A member of the Communist Party USA until the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, Huggins appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, where he named 19 former comrades who had already been named before the Committee. But we digress.]RockfordsCamaro

It’s hard to picture what my life was like from 1974-1980, but I do remember the weekly routine.

Surprisingly enough, one of my favorite James Garner movies is Murphy’s Romance with Sally Field (yes, I do have the VHS tape…don’t judge me!) Quite an unlikely pair they are, but there’s something about them together. It’s just a fun movie. MurphysRomance

Sure, Garner starred in other great movies, such as The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, Victor Victoria, and yes, even Space Cowboys. But when I think of James Garner, I think of his smile, hat tilted back, easy going manner.

James_Garner_Great_EscapeOf all the actor biographies that have been written recently, his is one of the few that I’ve wanted to read (but shame on me, I haven’t yet.) The Kirkus review of his book, The Garner Files, stated “….Garner comes across as likable on the page as he does on screen” and the Publishers Weekly review concluded “…it still resembles a conversation with an old friend who loves to tell colorful stories.” That’s kinda how I see James Garner. You’ll be missed.

P.S. Just started The Garner Files. It’s quite engaging. I recommend it.

Twelve-year-old Missy McKenzie does not want things to change butTheSecretsOfBlueberries in the year after her parents’ divorce that is what is occurring. Her fourteen-year-old brother Patrick, once her main support, is changing. He is conscious of his physique and is trying to bulk up to lose that ‘stick boy’ nickname. He is interested in clothes and a girl, Shauna, he met at the McKenzie’s summer jobs picking blueberries on a local farm. Missy’s friends have outgrown the ‘3-D glasses without lenses’ that they made and decorated. Her father has decided to remarry. Regardless of how much she wishes, things are changing. The place she feels the most comfortable is on the blueberry farm, owned by Moose and Bev, communing with nature. However, there, too things are changing and secrets are being let out. The unexplained blood feud between Moose and his brother Lyle is consuming the imaginations of the young blueberry pickers.

The Secrets of Blueberries by Sara Nickerson is a new twist on growing up. It is difficult for a younger sibling to watch an older one venture out on his/her own. It is even harder when friends mature a little faster. It is rare that a suburban tween can experience farm life and feel bound by nature. Nickerson does a fine job of reminding readers that our food does not grow in cans and plastic wrap; there are dedicated farmers who grow these crops. Missy’s growing pains will strike chords with young female tweens and provide an enjoyable read.

The Secrets of Blueberries is a cute read.

TheDevilYouKnowWhen Evie was eleven, her best friend, Lianne, was abducted by an unknown. Her body was found twelve days later. Evie is now a 22 year old reporter and the case is still unsolved, although police think they know who the perpetrator was. Unfortunately (a) they can’t prove it and (b) they can’t locate him.

Ever since the abduction, Evie has been fixated on the case, initially reading the gory details in the newspapers. Eleven years later, she still can’t get it out of her mind. Her current assignment is compiling a list of all the abducted girls over the past 20-30 years, in order to prove that things are getting worse, instead of better. Of course, this brings back all the memories of Lianne’s disappearance.

Although Evie denies it, her new immersion into missing girls is taking over her well being. She ‘remembers’ things she’d forgotten at the time Lianne went missing. She’s finding links between people that may or may not be important–or real. She fears that someone is following her, looking into her apartment. Her parents are concerned for her. Her best friend, David, two years younger, who she used to babysit for, is concerned. Is what she purports to see reality or a vivid imagination or hallucination?

De Mariaffi, whose only other published works is a collection of short stories, has penned quite the intriguing book. There is suspense on every page, right up to the end (think music constantly forewarning danger playing in the background–this would make a great movie adaptation). She has readers convinced ‘who done it’. She constantly skips around time-wise. Evie can be talking to David one minute and without notice she’s thinking of things that happened eleven years ago or yesterday. While it is sometimes disconcerting, it just adds to the imbalance of Evie’s jumbled mind.

There are no quotation marks when characters speak, making it difficult to determine whether it’s a thought, spoken word, or description. In many ways, this book is written as a ‘train of thought’ book, skipping around as would one’s mind as it races through various thoughts, possibilities, scenarios.

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the ending. It’s not what I expected. Let me know your thoughts after you read The Devil You Know. It is absolutely worth the read.

Moving from the big city of San Antonio, Texas to small town TwintuitionAura is tough, but especially on 11 year old twins Cassie and Caitlin Waters. And while everyone thinks twins are the same, that’s not the case with Cassie and Caitlin. Caitlin always sees the positive side of things while Cassie is somewhat negative. Cassie gravitates towards the ‘cool’ kids while Caitlin is more nerdy.

Things are even harder when you start out on the wrong foot, as it did with Caitlin. Chasing after her sister, she meets three kids selling pie as a fund raising project for their school. Liam is kind of dorky but OK. Megan and Lavender are part of the cool clique. But when Caitlin touches Megan, her world gets distorted. She sees a vision in which the real Megan is blurry and in the background while a new Megan is crystal clear and yelling. Once they part, all is normal but in those togetherness seconds, Caitlin appeared totally out of it. She’s immediately branded a nerd and, by association, her sister as well. So, the first day of school is particularly tough, especially for Cassie.

The problem is both sisters have been getting these visions for a while and hasn’t told the other. The more visions Caitlin gets, the clearer they are. However, neither girl knows what they mean. And this is the story of Twintuition: Double Vision, put forth by TV personalities Tia and Tamera Mowry. Twintuition is a fun read geared for the higher end of the 8-12 year girl old range. It’s got clothes and boys and make-up and school issues and cliques.  It touches on mother-daughter relationships, sister-sister relationships. Chapters alternate between Cassie and Caitlin as narrators as they try to muddle through the visions while trying to overcome their ‘nerd’ label.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted romp through sixth grade, my intuition says Twintuition.

TheBigSleepThe Big Sleep–The Book: We all know the movie The Big Sleep based on Raymond Chandler’s book. The main story in the movie basically follows the book so I won’t repeat it. Here are my thoughts on the book. (I’m going to watch the movie tonight and compare.)

I love the way Raymond Chandler writes. His descriptions are unique. Such as the way he describes approaching General Sternwood’s house.

“The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and I thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

Or the way he describes Carmen Sternwood’s teeth, “…she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain.”

While his dialogue can be captured on film, his descriptive language cannot, even if sets were created that mirrored his thoughts.

However, his use of similes throughout the 231 pages of The  Big Sleep became somewhat monotonous towards the end. (I never thought I’d say that about Chandler’s writing.) I will also admit that the story was confusing at times. This took nothing away from my reading enjoyment, however.

The characters in The Big Sleep run the gamut of pulp mystery stereotypes; the rich Sternwoods, the sophisticated racketeer and the grungy low lifes. The Sternwood sisters are described to perfection, the more adult, manipulative Vivian as compared to the childish, naïve Carmen, the old dying General Sternwood confined to his hot house and wheelchair and, of course, Philip Marlowe, wisecracking as always. BigsleepTheMovieThe casting of the film was perfect and since we’ve all seen the movie, readers will picture Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers as the sisters. Charles Waldron is a perfect General Sternwood. Philip Marlowe is Humphrey Bogart (or vice versa), the wisecracking, honest, ethical private detective.

One thing I did notice, in this age of enlightenment, the manner in which Chandler refers to homosexuals would cause a major backlash among the gay community. (All references to homosexuality were absent from the movie.)

All in all, reading The Big Sleep one realizes why it is pulp mystery classic as well as a classic mystery, in general. An all around enjoyable time was had by this reader!

The Big Sleep–The Movie: The Big Sleep is still another case of the book being better than the movie, regardless of how great the movie is. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t capture Chandler’s descriptive language on film…despite the fact that the movie script was written by William Faulkner. There were also a few puzzling points. (Have to have seen the movie or read the book to understand most of my comments.)

1. In the book, Vivian is married to Sean Regan who disappears, supposedly with the wife of Eddie Mars. However, in the movie, Vivian is married to a Mr. Rutledge, who never appears in the movie, nor is he mentioned. Sean Regan, who still disappears, supposedly with Eddie Mars’ wife, is hired help at the Sternwood mansion. I can’t imagine why this change, since it affects nothing.

2. In  the book, Mr. Geiger, who held gambling notes signed by Carmen, was in a seamy business, running a pornography lending library. Thus when Marlowe notices that after Geiger’s death someone was moving all the books to take over the business, it made sense. This was quite confusing in the movie, as Geiger’s occupation was just hinted at.

3. Regan’s ultimate demise in the book was explained quite nicely while in the movie it was obscure.

4. And finally, with stars like Bogart and Bacall, one realizes they had to be a love interest in the movie. However, in the book, they were quite cool to each other and there was no hint of them running off into the sunset. I like the book better on this score. Even an ending like that in the Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade might be in love with Brigid O’Shaunessey but she’s got to pay for her crime would have been a better ending than Vivian and Marlowe declaring their undying love. It would have been a more fitting pulp mystery ending.

So, if I had to rate the book and the movie, The Big Sleep, the book, rates a 5+ and the movie a 5-. Both first rate, but in different ways.

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