Category Archives: Blogs

You know sometimes things don’t get done?

I have to confess that blogging is not something I intuitively think of doing, and so you’ll note that I don’t have a lot of blogs. This section is a good example. Although I love to read, I’m not good at remembering to blog about the books when I finish them.

So let me just mention a couple of books I recently read and what I’m reading now:

LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE by Clare O’Donohue — This is the second in the Kate Conway series, and it’s very entertaining. In it, freelance television producer Kate Conway (who is a lot like Clare, in my humble opinion), is offered the opportunity to create a documentary about lifers in an Illinois state prison. It’s a big change from her current other gig, which is producing a documentary about the opening of a new restaurant. Or is it all that different? Because when one of the restaurant’s investors is murdered, Kate finds herself getting advice from the killers on death row on how to solve it. Complicating matters is that one of the other investors in the restaurant is her dead husband’s mistress Vera. In fact, Vera is one of the main suspects.

The best thing about this series is Kate herself. She’s cynical, funny, and lovable. Her complicated relationship with Vera adds to the mystery here, as it did in the first book. I enjoyed watching her solve the mystery, moving between her two lifers, Brick and Tim, and the restaurant cast, one of whom is likely a killer. The lifers offer advice, but Tim may be conning her, and Brick may be coming on to her. At the restaurant, Kate finds herself siding with Vera and trying to prove her innocent, even at the point of getting herself in trouble with the law.  How she sorts it all out makes for an enjoyable read.

FONDUING FATHERS by Julie Hyzy — This is the sixth in Julie’s popular White House Chef series, and let’s face it, I’m a fan. In this outing, White House Chef Ollie Paras is looking into her father’s death. She’s always believed he was an honorable man, and so she’s devastated when she finds out from her mom that he was dishonorably discharged from the Army. But that’s not all–she also learns he was brutally murdered because someone at the company he worked for believed that he was selling company secrets. Anyone who knows Ollie knows she going to get down to the truth, and even the highest levels of the United States government are not going to stop her, which they try to do.

Ollie is as resourceful as ever in this latest mystery. She enlists the aid of her boyfriend, Gav, who has connections that she doesn’t, to prove her father innocent. Even when there are major roadblocks in her way, and let’s just say that everyone in National Security doesn’t want her to know the truth, she won’t stop until she proves her father is innocent. Although it’s a cozy mystery, Ollie has a hard edge and the type of plots she has to unwind often feel more like thrillers. I love reading cozies and thrillers, so this is a perfect combination for me. FONDUING FATHERS doesn’t disappoint, and it has the best ending of all of the books in this series. I’m looking forward to the next.

THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters — This novel won the Edgar this year for Best Paperback Original, and it’s well deserved. The premise is this: an asteroid is hurtling toward the earth and the earth won’t survive the hit. With everyone doomed, society is falling apart. Money isn’t worth anything anymore, most people aren’t working, and chaos reigns. And yet, in Concord, New Hampshire, newly minted detective Hank Palace wants to do his job. When he comes across a suicide that just doesn’t ring true to him, he sets out to find out the truth even though the few other detectives still on the force think he’s crazy. Despite spotty cell phone reception, the death of key witnesses, and episodes from his family life to distract him, he ultimately solves the case and finds the reason for the man’s death.

Hank Palace is a terrific character, but what really makes this book stand out is Winters’ vision of what life would be like if everyone knew the world was going to end in a certain number of days. He makes this chaotic world believable and manages to weave in a terrific mystery plot that keeps you reading. The book is the first in a trilogy (the world IS going to end, after all) and I’m looking forward to reading the second, COUNTDOWN CITY. It just came out July 16.

As of today, I’m reading THE JEFFERSON KEY by Steve Berry. I expect to finish it soon, and I hope I remember to post a review!

 

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was tagged by my friend Clare O’Donohue in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop, so I’m answering some questions on my blog today about that. Just for the record, I’ve tagged friends D.C. Brod and Teri Barnett, so watch for their posts on January 9.

Here are my answers:

What is the title of your next book? The next book is an anthology called HOOSIER HOOPS & HIJINKS which I’m co-editing with Brenda Stewart. The book is a collection of short mystery stories about Hoosier basketball. I’m also contributing a story, “Snowplowed,” which feature Charlotte and Francine, the two heroines from a story in an earlier anthology, RACING CAN BE MURDER. HOOSIER HOOPS & HIJINKS comes out in October, 2013. I’m also working on a full length novel about the two women, MURDER ON THE BUCKET LIST.

Where did the idea come from for the book? The inspiration for HOOSIER HOOPS came from Indiana’s obsession with basketball. If you’ve never heard of Hoosier Hysteria, it is a very real thing that occurs at the end of high school basketball season. As for Francine and Charlotte, I can’t reveal the continued source of inspriration about these two women and their friends, who have a wide variety of edgy bucket list items. Otherwise, I might not get fed more story ideas :-)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? HOOSIER HOOPS & HIJINKS is being published by Blue River Publishing. I’m hoping MURDER ON THE BUCKET LIST will also be traditionally published.

What genre does your book fall under? “Snowplowed” is definitely a cozy. Most of the other stories in HOOSIER HOOPS are also on the lighter side of the mystery spectrum. MURDER ON THE BUCKET LIST is most definitely a cozy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Since Betty White is being overused, I’m thinking Carol Burnett for Charlotte and either Jane Fonda or Lily Tomlin for Francine.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? For MURDER ON THE BUCKET LIST: After a dead body falls out of a pool shed during the night a group of older ladies are trying to have a secret, bucket list-related skinny-dipping party, the ladies find they must uncover the identity of the murderer while at the same time dealing with sudden national attention celebrating their bucket list adventure.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? I have a real interest in stories that are life-affirming. My goal with the Charlotte and Francine stories are to celebrate life. I hope that readers will enjoy these stories of women who may be getting older but whose lives are getting no less richer.

What about your Nick Bertetto series? I love Nick and hope to write more stories about him and his family. The earlier books fit into my  theme of life-affirmation, and the new ones I have planned will continue in that same way. Right now I’m outlining a new trilogy of Nick books. I hope to be able to have two series going if the Francine and Charlotte book takes off.

Why the world won’t end on Friday

Whenever someone finds out my latest book, the thriller THE FINAL MAYAN PROPHECY, is about December 21, 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar on that date, they ask if it really means the end of the world.

I don’t want to talk too much about the book and give away the end because I hope you’ll read it :)  –so let me answer it in a completely different way. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ways people are predicting the earth will be destroyed in 2012, some in conjunction with this Mayan end date:

1)      Asteroid hits earth: According to recent reports from NASA, the odds of a really big asteroid hitting the earth in the next 28 years are 1:625. That’s .0016 or .16%, or way less than a 1% chance, and that’s within 28 years.

2)      Nuclear war: The Doomsday Clock sits right now at 5 minutes to midnight. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is estimated to be to global nuclear disaster. (All of this is according to Wikipedia, not always reliable but as best as I can tell, is accurate in this case.) The latest adjustment, made on January 10, advanced the clock one minute to its present position. To me, that means nuclear war is a little more possible (1.67% more; one minute more out of 60) than it was last year, when we successfully escaped global disaster, so, rounding up, I’d go with maybe 2% as the odds for global nuclear destruction. Keep in mind, I’m no statistician.

3)      Solar flare sends us back to the Stone Age: According to a report in last month’s Christian Science Monitor, which gets this information from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, “When aimed at Earth, strong solar flares and CMEs [Coronal Mass Ejections] …  can pose a danger to astronauts and satellites in space, as well as power grids, navigation and communications systems on Earth.” Reporter Amina Khan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, quoted space weather scientist Mike Hapgood at the Rutherford  Appleton Observatory near Oxford, England about the odds of this happening,. “A recent paper (published in February in the journal Space Weather) tried to estimate the chance … and came up with a value of a 12 percent chance of it happening in the next 10 years.” It’s probably not technically correct for me to average this over ten years, but if I did, it’d be a 1.2% chance each year.

So, after looking at these scenarios, I think the odds are small that December 21, 2012 will be the end of time.

Did the Mayans think that way? My personal philosophy is always one of great hope, that even out of the worst situations, good emerges. To find out if and how I carry this through the plot of THE FINAL MAYAN PROPHECY, you’ll need to read it. I thank you if you do.\

The Final Mayan Prophecy

Premise: The ancient Mayan calendar, accurate for more than 5,000 years, comes to an end on December 21, 2012. (It’s almost here!) What did the Mayans know that we don’t?

Among the Maya, some believe the birth of the god-king Kukulcan will occur at the end of this age. When a rebel group awaiting that birth kidnaps a pregnant woman and her husband to force the prophecy, the event triggers a string of happenings that may cause it to come true.

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At Smashwords.com, you can get the ebook version for ANY e-reader you have, whether it’s an iPad, a kindle, a nook, a kobo, or whatever else.

Not sure about this e-reader stuff? Still prefer paper? It’s available in trade paperback at amazon for $9.99.

The novel was co-written with television producer Paul Skorich and is based on a screenplay we also co-authored.

Books I meant to review in 2011, part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the last of them:

  • AGATHA CHRISTIE’S SECRET NOTEBOOKS by John Curran – This is definitely for intellectual types who love Christie and want to know more about her world and how she thought. It also contains two unpublished Poirot stories. The book won the Edgar Award last year for Best Critical/Biographical, and while I’m sure it was worthy, I found it a bit dry. It was interesting in a historical way, but I didn’t find it compelling. I have to conclude I must not be:  a) be intellectual enough or b) love Christie enough.
  • DEAD EX by Harley Jane Kozak – This is book #3 in Wollie Shelley series that began with DATING DEAD MEN. Wollie (pronounced Wally), the main character, creates greeting cards and often condenses her situations into greeting card sentiments, which is endearing and quite funny. Even  better, in this book Wollie is the dating correspondent for the reality show “SoapDirt.” Of course, there’s a murder, and her friend Joey is the prime suspect, but the best thing of all is that these books are breezy, funny romps. Harley Jane is an excellent writer—be sure to check out her short story in the MWA anthology THE RICH AND THE DEAD—and I’m really sorry her publisher decided not to extend the series. Here’s hoping she gets a new series going soon.
  • NICKEL AND DIMED by Barbara Ehrenreich – I read this book for a leadership class I was taking, and it really opened my eyes to the plight of the working poor. Ehrenreich is a freelance writer who accepts an assignment to see what it’s like to try to survive on a minimum wage job in three cities in America. Even giving herself a bit of an advantage over those who are the working poor—she starts herself out with a little seed money—she proves over and over again that it can’t be done.  Even trying to manage two jobs just to make ends meet proves impossible, with managers who won’t work schedules around second jobs and unreliable public transportation. The people she works with give you a sense of how resilient the human spirit is—even those poorer than her, who don’t know she’s not one of them—start bringing her food when she can’t make ends meet and is trying to survive by eating less. It’s a heartbreaking book, and it reminds us that unions get a bad name when they’re greedy (and we’ve seen that happen), but they still have a purpose when they fight for those who don’t have the power to do so. Wal-Mart comes off as one of those employers whose executives rake in millions and millions of dollars but can’t share it with their minimum wage employees.

Books I meant to review in 2011, part 2

….As I mentioned in Part 1, I let myself get overwhelmed in 2011 and didn't post reviews of some of books I read. But before we get TOO far into 2012, I wanted to post these. The last post covered all the books on the left, this post will cover the first four on the right. Next week I'll post the remainder.
  • THE NINTH DAY by Jamie Freveletti—Book 3 in the Emma Caldridge series. This is my favorite so far in the series. Freveletti  does a great job of setting up a horror that’s easy to imagine—a wasting disease that infects a prized marijuana crop and within nine days will kill anyone who inhales it or even touches it. When the crazed drug lord who can’t find a way to stop the disease from contaminating the plants decides to deliver massive quantities of the marijuana to the United States and start an epidemic, it’s up to the intrepid Emma to find a cure for the disease and stop the shipments from reaching their drop points. When Emma discovers that she has disease herself, it’s truly a race against the clock to find the antidote. Brilliant work from a terrific thriller writer who’s only getting better.
  • DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris—I’ll admit that I’ve never watched TRUE BLOOD on HBO, nor had I been much of a fan of this type of genre since DARK SHADOWS in my teenage years (which were, regrettably, a very long time ago).  But after having had breakfast with Charlaine at Bouchercon 2011 (a perk that came with being Midwest Chapter President of Mystery Writers of America), I bought a copy of the novel that started it all and asked Charlaine to sign it. Well, I couldn’t put it down. It had a narrative drive and a mystery that kept me going until the end. Loved the premise that vampires could become an accepted part of the world and go mainstream once a synthetic blood was developed. I’m still not a big fan of the vampire genre, but there’s no question in my mind why Charlaine has and deserves a legion of fans.
  •  GRACE INTERRUPTED by Julie Hyzy—Book 2 in the Manor House mystery series by the author of the White House chef series. When a group of Civil War re-enactors comes to Marshfield Manor, it’s murder on the staff—even more so when one of the most hated of the re-enactors is murdered. Grace must wade through a myriad of people who may have wanted the man dead, including relatives of the man she’s just started dating, to figure it out. Delightful stuff from a hardworking cozy writer whose latest book (AFFAIRS OF STEAK) just hit #22 on the NYT extended bestseller list.
  • WILD AT HEART by John Eldredge—I came to Eldredge’s book after completing Henry Blackaby’s excellent workbook, EXPERIENCING GOD. I was searching for another study to bring me closer to God and closer to the man he wants me to be. While I disagree with Eldredge on a few points (from his stories, I think he was an angry young man and some of that still colors his perception of the world), I feel his call for us to return to our masculine roots, not to strive to be ‘nice guys,’ but rather warriors who seek to right the wrongs of the world. He points out that when we were kids, did we dream of being nice? No, we dreamt of being Luke Skywalkers and (more recently) Harry Potters. It dovetails with the biggest thing I took away from Blackaby—to see where God is at work and seek to be a part of what he is doing in the world. I recommend WILD AT HEART to all Christian men.

Books I meant to review in 2011 part 1

Books I meant to review in 2011, part 1

You can see from the photo that I really fell down on the job, because I like to review books that I read, and there are quite a few here that just never got reviewed because I let myself feel overwhelmed last year. Going to try not to let that happen in 2012.

In the meantime, here are quick reviews from half the books you see pictured. Next week I’ll do the other half:

KNEE HIGH BY THE FOURTH OF JULY by Jess Lourey
–Jess is hilarious! I know her from being on the MWA Board together, but this was the first of her books that I’ve read. When a giant Indian statue goes missing from Battle Lake, Minnesota, Mira James’s fascination with the big guy gets her into trouble that can only be solved by finding out who did the dirty deed. Great fun.

BURIED SECRETS by Joseph Finder — I met Joe at the February meeting of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America where
he was our guest speaker, and I won this advanced copy, which others had to wait until summer to read. Even then I didn’t get around to writing the review. Guilt aside, it was incredibly suspenseful, made all the more horrifying because of the teenager girl who was buried alive. Joe really made me feel the claustrophobia of the young girl.

OTHER EYES by Barbara D’Amato–any book by Barb D’Amato is a treat, but I loved the premise of this book: researchers discover that it’s possible an early, one-time experience with a certain hallucinogen may inoculate users from ever getting hooked on drugs. Needless to say, a lot of very powerful, mean people would love to stop this kind of research. Even starts out suspenseful with a baby crawling across an interstate in the middle of the day. Great read!

RUNNING DARK by Jamie Frevelleti–Book 2 in Jamie’s series about biochemist/ultra-marathoner Emma Caldridge proves the first, RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL, was no fluke. Though I found the first book more interesting from a setting perspective, this second was just as riveting as Caldridge and her love interest Cameron Sumner attempt to stop Somali pirates from getting hold of a dangerous chemical no one knows is on board.  Non-stop suspense.

GETTING SASSY by D. C. Brod–Every once in a while I love a good caper with a preposterous plot, and in the hands of a terrific writer like Deb Brod, this one sings. Sassy is a goat, and she just happens to be the one thing that a valuable race horse, owned by a scummy businessman who’s screwed main character Robyn Guthrie’s mother out of her money, has fallen in love with. Robyn falls into a kidnapping scheme using the goat as bait. Funny with a satisfying ending. Looking forward to the second book, GETTING LUCKY.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie–I read this book in preparing to write the next Nick Bertetto mystery (for reasons I won’t elaborate here), and I was pleased to see how well Christie’s book has held up. Though you couldn’t start a mystery as slow today as Christie did back then, it still has an elaborate puzzle and her enigmatic sleuth Hercule Poirot to keep you reading. Even though I knew the ending, it was still amazing to see how Christie sets it all up. I can’t forget the magnificent 1974 movie version of this mystery, which was one of the things that got me hooked on reading, and subsequently writing, in the genre. Christie was a master plotter.

More next week

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Viper by John Desjarlais

As he did in BLEEDER, John Desjarlais takes a contemporary mystery and expertly intertwines a supernatural one.  VIPER features Selena De La Cruz—insurance saleswoman, shoe fashionista and former Drug Enforcement agent—who is forced back into police work when a hit list is discovered and her name is on it. The nine people on the list have one thing in common—they all had a run-in with a drug dealer called the Serpent.  As Selena and her colleagues try to track down the dwindling number of people on the list to stop the killings and learn who is behind them, they must deal with a young girl whose visions of a Virgin of Guadalupe-type apparition precede each death.  Are the little girl’s messages of a veiled vengeance real?  Are the apparitions somehow connected to the deaths, or is this event being used by the killer to cover each murder?

Desjarlais keeps you guessing as the action accelerates faster than De La Cruz’s souped-up vehicles.  When Selena becomes the last woman standing, she must either figure out who is behind the killings or fall victim to La Serpiente. VIPER strikes fast and sinks its teeth in you. You won’t be able to put it down.

 

Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy

Julie’s fourth entry in her White House Chef Mystery series is her best book to date. With a new administration taking office, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in the Executive Mansion, and a box of buffalo wings intended for the incoming president’s young children is left in the kitchen. While the box is from a reputable restaurant, Executive Chef Ollie Paras knows that nothing is to be consumed unless it is known how it got to the White House. Ollie’s decision makes the children unhappy, the First Lady unhappy and even members of the staff unhappy. Ollie puts the wings away, but one of her assistant chefs retrieves the box and gives it to the laundry women and two of the butlers. They later become deathly ill and are rushed to a nearby hospital. The hospital comes under siege almost immediately and the White House patients are taken hostage.  The terrorist group wants their leader set free from a Wisconsin prison.

The poisoned wings were clearly meant for the President’s children, but the Secret Service wants it kept quiet while they investigate who the traitor is among the White House staff. This means that the First Lady, still unhappy with Ollie, has no idea that her children would have been the hostages had it not been for Ollie’s decision to follow protocol. Ollie must also wrestle with a troublesome personal chef the First Lady has brought in to prepare the family meals. The man happens to want Ollie’s job. Toss in the stress of new Secret Service agents haunting the kitchen, a strained relationship with her ex-boyfriend, a potential new love interest, and an upcoming state dinner for officials from the country that spawned the terrorists, and Ollie is once again over her head when trouble finds her on the front lines of protecting the First Family.

The thing I loved most about this book was how skillfully Hyzy weaves all these elements into the story. We know some of them will turn out to be red herrings in terms of who the insider traitor is, but all of these elements are important to Ollie and therefore important to us. It’s a fun read that never loses its momentum, has lots of good twists, and reaches a satisfying conclusion where Ollie once again feeds the First Family and saves the world. Don’t miss getting hooked on this series and especially don’t miss out on this book.

Kiss Z Cook Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops

Last night I received an early birthday present from my wife Debbie — Date Night at Kiss Z Cook, where we (and eight other couples) prepared Asian-influenced dishes under the direction of Chef Sean Bartosiak.  It was a wonderful experience. Debbie and I worked on the Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops–awesome recipe.  Here’s a photo of Debbie and me with the result.

I’m hopeful there’s no problem with me posting this recipe as long as I attribute it to them. They gave us the recipe at the end of the evening.  We served it over Vegetable Chop Suey, which we also made, but I think it stands on its own.

Ingredients (serves 12)

Hoisin Glaze
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons curry powder

Marinade
2 cups water
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups sugar
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons coarse cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 to 6 lbs pork loin
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish.

For the marinade: In a container large enough to hold the marinade and the pork loin, combine the marinade ingredients and add the pork loin. Cover and allow to marinate for 4 hours.

For the glaze: in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the hoisin sauce, honey, vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from heat.

To cook: Grill the pork loin indirectly over medium heat, turning after 5 minutes.  After ten minutes, start basting them with the hoisin glaze until the meat is done. A few minutes before they are finished, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Remove the loin from the grill and slice in the bias. Serve warm, drizzled with additional hoisin glaze.