curse (n.) Late Old English curs “a prayer that evil or harm befall one; consignment of a person to an evil fate,” of uncertain origin. No similar word exists in Germanic, Romance, or Celtic. Middle English Compendium says probably from Latin cursus “course” (see course (n.)) in the Christian sense “set of daily liturgical prayers” extended to “set of imprecations” as in the sentence of the great curse, “the formula read in churches four times a year, setting forth the various offenses which entailed automatic excommunication of the offender; also, the excommunication so imposed.” Connection with cross is unlikely. Another suggested source is Old French curuz “anger.”
Meaning “the evil which has been invoked upon one, that which causes severe trouble” is from early 14th C. Curses as a histrionic exclamation (“curses upon him/her/it”) is by 1680s. The curse in 19th C. was the sentence imposed upon Adam and Eve in Genesis iii.16-19. The slang sense “menstruation” is from 1930. Curse of Scotland, the 9 of diamonds in cards, is attested from 1791, but the signification is obscure.
curse (v.) Middle English cursen, from Old English cursian, “to wish evil to; to excommunicate,” from the source of curse (n.). Intransitive meaning “swear profanely, use blasphemous or profane language” is from early 13th C. (compare swear (v.)). The sense of “blight with malignant evils” is from 1590s. Related: Cursed; cursing. (etymonline)
jinx (n.) From 1911, American English, originally baseball slang; perhaps ultimately from jyng “a charm, a spell” (17th C.), originally “wryneck” (also jynx), a bird used in witchcraft and divination, from Latin iynx “wryneck,” from Greek iynx. Jynx was used in English as “a charm or spell” from 1690s.
“Most mysterious of all is the psychics of baseball is the “jinx”, that peculiar “hoodoo” which affects, at times, a man, at other times a whole team. Let a man begin to think that there is a “jinx” about and he is done for the time being.” Technical World Magazine, 1911
The verb is 1912 in American English, from the noun. Related: Jinxed; jinxing. (etymonline)
hex (v.) From 1830, American English, from Pennsylvania German hexe “to practice witchcraft,” from German hexen “to hex,” related to Hexe “witch,” from Middle High German hecse, hexse, from Old High German hagazussa (see hag). Noun meaning “magic spell” is first recorded 1909; earlier it meant “a witch” (1856). Compare Middle English hexte “the devil” (mid-13th C.), perhaps originally “sorcerer,” probably from Old English haehtis. (etymonline)
In this installment of A Noodle Shop Mystery finds Lana Lee trying speed dating….to bring new customers to her family’s noodle house. It also brings in a familiar face Rina Su, a fellow Asia Village shop owner. Sick of being single, Rina attends and finds a match. But of course, when potential love is involved – drama soon follows – and before the next day dawns, Rina’s date is discovered dead, and she’s the prime suspect!
Lana, not one to watch her friend twist, immediately leaps into action….the only thing is Rina makes it perfectly clear she doesn’t want Lana’s help. Undeterred, Lana presses on, and the only problem is – every piece of evidence she finds makes Rina look guiltier.
Again I need to reiterate how much I enjoy this series!
One of the things I love reading the most is how Lana navigates the relationships in her life. Her aplomb when dealing with the people around her is amazing, and while Lana doesn’t always get it right, she tries, and with the crazy cast around her – that’s all you can ask for!
Another feature of this series I think Chien cleverly uses is the Ho-Lee Noodle House. The family-owned restaurant Lana manages is a wonderful backdrop for this series. I will also reiterate that Chien does a great job of keeping Noodle House a device that keeps the story moving without completely taking over. So while this book does have a food theme, it doesn’t feel like it as Chien does a beautiful job making sure the mystery and characters shine first and foremost.
In any case, if you like lighter mysteries, I highly recommend the Noodle Shop Mysteries. And while you could start with Hot And Sour Suspects – I highly suggest you start with the first in the series Death By Dumpling so that you can get a better handle on the relationships at play in this series.
Mike Lawson is incapable of writing a bad book. They’re all smooth, inventive, and original. His new stand-alone, Redemption, is no exception. In fact, it’s brilliant.
I must admit that I was at first disheartened by the opening chapters. I thought the story was going to be a familiar one, with a plot not unlike a specific bestseller of years past. But I had forgotten one critical element ~ TRUST MIKE LAWSON.
Redemption is a tough book to characterize if you don’t want to give too much away. Jamison Maddox destroyed his glittering, Wall Street life by being part of an insider trading case. A pariah is his former world, he accepts a job in a small Illinois town doing financial research for a family-run company that works for clients who want to know the skinny on individuals and businesses. It’s boring but easy. But why the company is so strict about security is odd.
This is Big Time Suspense overlaid with an unhealthy dread of noir. A femme fatale, deadly children, treacherous parents, a love-struck dupe… you know it isn’t going to end well – but how? Every time I thought I knew where the story was headed, I was wrong. Lawson masterfully lead me toward each misdirection – gleefully, I have to assume – setting me up for his next one. Not only is his smooth story-telling always a kick to read, he’s a genius at structuring his his books to keep you off-balance and guessing to the end. He’s outdone himself with Redemption.
I can honestly say that all of my other favorite authors – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Carol O’Connell, Don Winslow, Dennis Lehane, James Ellroy, and Craig Johnson – have had books that, I thought, were duds. Not Mike Lawson. Not a clunker in the list.
This new book should win every award that exists, from the Edgar and Dagger to the Booker and Pulitzer – hell, an Oscar while we’re at it. Redemption is that good, that timely, and that brilliant.
His books are impossible to beat and over far, far too fast. That’s the only bad thing about Mike’s books ~ I have to wait a year for the next one.
GALL (n.): brazen boldness coupled with impudent assurance and insolence (Merriam-Webster)
gall (v.)”to make sore by chafing,” mid-15c., from gall (n.2). Earlier “to have sores, be sore” (early 14c.). Figurative sense of “harass, vex, irritate, chafe the spirit of,” is from 1570s. A past-participle adjective gealled is found in Old English, but OED says this is from the noun. Related: Galled; galling. (etymonline)
OK, just had to get that outta our systems – – – –
weird (adj.): c. 1400, “having power to control fate,” from wierd (n.), from Old English wyrd “fate, chance, fortune; destiny; the Fates,” literally “that which comes,” from Proto-Germanic *wurthiz (source also of Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt “fate,” Old Norse urðr “fate, one of the three Norns”), from PIE *wert– “to turn, to wind,” (source also of German werden, Old English weorðan “to become”), from root *wer– (2) “to turn, bend.” For sense development from “turning” to “becoming,” compare phrase turn into “become.”
The sense “uncanny, supernatural” developed from Middle English use of weird sisters for the three fates or Norns (in Germanic mythology), the goddesses who controlled human destiny. They were portrayed as odd or frightening in appearance, as in “Macbeth” (and especially in 18th and 19th century productions of it), which led to the adjectival meaning “odd-looking, uncanny” (1815); “odd, strange, disturbingly different” (1820). Related: Weirdly; weirdness. (etymonline)
jibber-jabber (v.) From 1728, “to talk gibberish,” reduplication of jabber (q.v.). Related: Jibber-jabbering. As a noun from 1813, also gibber-gabber. Compare gibble-gabble “idle talk, chatter” (c. 1600). Jibber (v.) is attested from 1824. (etymonline)
jibe (v.) To “agree, fit,” 1813, gibe, of unknown origin, originally U.S. colloquial, perhaps a figurative extension of earlier jib, gybe (v.) “shift a sail or boom” (see jib). OED, however, suggests a phonetic variant of chime, as if meaning “to chime in with, to be in harmony.” Related: Jibed; jibes; jibing.
gibe (n.) A “a taunt,” 1570s, from gibe (v.) “speak sneeringly” (1560s), of uncertain origin; perhaps from French giber “to handle roughly,” or an alteration of gaber “to mock.”(etymonline)
Ever since learning about the Nutshell Studies – I’ve wanted to learn more. Hence my rare delve into 18 Tiny Deaths. A book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading…after I made my way past the first chapter or two. The chapters, while necessary to set the scene – so the reader both understands who Captain Lee was, where she came from, and why her relentless pursuit was so important – are a tad dry.
But then you make it to chapter four and discover the slight slog was entirely worth it. 18 Tiny Deaths does an excellent job of presenting what forensic science was like back in Lee’s day and what inspired her to take up her’s life work. Work which extended far beyond the creation of her famous Nutshell Studies and earned her the title of the Mother of Modern Forensic Science.
Seriously, I could go on and on about the impact Lee had on investigative procedures – but then I’d be robbing you of the pleasure of this read. Though, to be warned, The Nutshell Studies themselves only play a small part in this book, as she created them as study aids for her seminars. So it doesn’t go into excruciating detail about their creation – instead, 18 Tiny Deaths focuses on the whole of Lee’s contributions to forensic science.
I would highly recommend this read to anyone who enjoys reading about interesting women who, through charm and single-minded determination, get things done and enjoy reading about investigative side crime. (It’s also a great book to read alongside or before The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Botz.)
This is just a little blurb for those of you who are still working on needlecrafts while binging television shows like Nancy Drew, You, How To Get Away With Murder, Death In Paradise, and Father Brown…(BTW – I recommend all the aforementioned series.)
In any case, back to my main topic.
Creepy Cross-Stitch contains some unique patterns, which, like the front cover, includes patterns for friendly little ghosts, a grave, fun vintage Halloween themes, and a skull bell jar pattern.
All of which are fun to stitch.
(For edification’s sake – it does not contain Ouiji, palmistry, or witchery flavored designs or embroidery. If you’re looking for those designs – try Stitch Craft by Gayla Partridge. Another book I’d recommend checking out.)
futz (v.) To “loaf, waste time,” 1932, American English, perhaps from Yiddish. Related: Futzed; futzing. (etymonline)
ultracrepidarian (adj.) Noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise. (fishofgold.net)
What We’ve Been Up To
Liz Ireland – Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide
What do you get when you take Christmas, Halloween, murder, and whiz it up in a blender?
Okay – now you need to trust me on this one.
April Claus married into one of the most famous families in the world, which initially didn’t impact her life a whole lot – as her husband was heir to the mantle of Santa Claus. Sadly, thru a series of unfortunate and murderous events, both she and her husband were thrust into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on a strictly interim basis. (The details of how this came about are detailed Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings.)
Now having a whole year of Mrs. Claus duties under her belt and being the new blood of the clan April is keen on introducing the elves of Christmastown to another holiday, her (previous) favorite Halloween, an idea which proves somewhat controversial in a town dedicated to all things Christmas.
A small but vocal contingent of elves believes Christmastown should remain a single celebration city. The most vocal critic of All Hallows Eve is Tiny Sparkletoes – who unfortunately – is found dead not long after a greenhouse full of pumpkins is vandalized…
Now I picked up this book based on the mash-up of holidays promised in the title – and it did not let me down. In fact, it utterly beat my expectations! The setting of Christmas town, the entertaining character names, and the reindeer (oh, the reindeer!) are treated so off-handedly that it successfully neutralizes the sweetness that could’ve crept into this narrative. April Claus just happens to live at the North Pole with her husband in Kringle Castle.
No big deal.
It also helps that April finds herself hip-deep in investigating a case of vandalism but a potential murder. Then there’s the problem of her best friend’s creepy boyfriend, drunk reindeer, and a mother-in-law who isn’t ready to cede her status as the numero uno – Mrs. Claus.
Seriously, Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide is a well-paced and surprisingly nuanced themed mystery that will have you turning the pages quicker and quicker to find out whodunit!
HAPPY MERRY JOLLY!
So, how was your holiday season? We spent ours being all trendy, having the newly fashionable COVID Christmas, and it was just as spectacular as you might imagine.
I hope you didn’t participate, and if you did, I hope you’re feeling much better. We are, thank you for asking. That’s very sweet of you, but we’re vaccinated and boosted, so we were just unhappy, not in danger. Mostly we were blearily waiting for Barnaby to solve the Midsomer crime of the day. He’s reliable, is Barnaby. We needed that. Thank you, Caroline Graham!
I didn’t read a lot during this time. Brain fog is a real thing, hence the need for Barnaby to solve the cases. But I did read a YA book that was tons of fun, and perfectly suited my mood – Maureen Johnson’sDevilish.
While I never attended a religious prep school on the East Coast, any high school student will be able to relate to the issues facing Jane Jarvis, who doesn’t quite fit in, is too smart for her own good, and is worried about her bestie, Allison Concord. See, Ally’s changed, and while on the surface it seems to be a good thing, Jane is concerned because the changes in Ally are so radical. I mean, who gets a scholarship that pays for you to go shopping? To change your entire personality and become the Cool Kid? Something is suspicious, and Jane is going to find out what.
What I love about Maureen Johnson’s writing is how very relatable all her people are. While I’ve never been in the circumstances Jane finds herself in – and I’m grateful for that, by the way! – I know her, and Ally, and Owen, and Elton, and even the nuns.
Devilish is a quick read, which is perfect for this time of year, and definitely worth your while. If, however, you decide to save it for a summer beach read, I totally understand. The important thing is that you read it. Which you will, right?
We’re heartbroken to learn today of the death of G.M. Ford. Jerry died on December 1st according to his partner-in-crime Kathleen Skye Moody. We know he was born on July 9, 1945 in Everett, MA. At this time, we do not know where he was living when he died, or the cause. He was 76.
Jerry was an early customer of the shop. He and his dear friend Arnie would stop in on weekends to chat, chew the fat, buy some books and complain about the quality of the books he’d been reading. He’s laughingly say that he could write a better book, and Bill would say sure, sure, Jerry, sure you could. He would threaten to do it and Bill promised to give him his first signing if he got it published.
Pretty soon, he’d say that he was writing one, then that it was finished, then that he had an agent and the agent had sold it. We were left to swallow and hope it was good. Son of a gun – it was.
That was Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?, and, of course, Bill and Tammy and I loved it. Just like Jerry, it was funny and smart and one-of-a-kind. The release date was set for May 1995. We were thrilled to set up a signing. But then an odd thing popped up. When Bill saw the publisher’s proposed dust jacket, he frowned at it said something to the effect that a brown paper bag would be better. Bill, you see, being an old bookman, had clear thoughts about book promotion… And lead us to the idea of making our own dust jacket to celebrate the book and the premiere signing.
It took off with a life of it’s own. 200 numbered, signed and dated copies, dated and signed on the date listed on the dust jacket. We weren’t sure how it was going to work but, boy did it. We found ourselves doing something similar for the next seven books – the next five Leo Watermans, and the first two Frank Corsos. It was a big production and great fun. Jerry admitted that he was in no way a collector but I think he was bemused and gratified that so many fans, from across the country, demanded to have the same number of their limited editions, year after year.
If you don’t live in the Puget Sound area, you may not get the joke of the first book’s title. One of “The Boys”, the drunks that acted like Leo’s Baker Street Irregulars, asked that question in the book, taking the waterway for a woman’s name. His second book also had ties to another geographic spot, Concrete, WA. Jerry didn’t want to get locked into a title gimmick that he would regret so he stepped it sideways. Instead of original, Set in Concrete, he used Cast in Stone.
There came a time when he grew tired of battling his publisher over titles. He wanted to call his third Leo The Pigeon Shit Shuffle. Strangely, his publisher declined to use it. We did. His fourth book, his homage to Nero Wolfe, was to be A Steak in the Action, but the publisher wanted something shorter and punchier, so it became Slow Burn (not for our dj). For the fifth, he refused to give it a title and allowed them to pick one. We used his working title, Whatever #5.
By 2006, Jerry had seemed to have retired Leo Waterman, and he left Frank Corso in Blown Away in 2006, pleading for help with a bomb wired around his neck (Jerry was gleeful at the ending, happy to have used that odd, true 2003 crime that was at that time unsolved but that he remembered!) After that, he began writing stand-alone thrillers and then began publishing through SPECTRE (Amazon) as so many local authors were doing. We explained to him that we couldn’t sell books from them and I think he felt we’d turned our backs on him. The last signing we had with him was in 2008.
He would still drop in to chat. He’d find a reason to come down to Bakeman’s for lunch and spend some time with us. And then, when we were occupied with customers, he’d wander out, often without saying goodbye. It always felt as if we’d see him again sometime. Until we didn’t.
We’re not ones to bring religion into the shop but, if there is an afterlife, a heaven, we’re heartened to think he’s there swapping stories with John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout (two of his favorites). And we hope that he’s wandered into that Big Bookshop in the sky to say hello to Bill Farley, a man Jerry dedicated Black River to as “master of all things mysterious and bookseller extraordinaire”.
obnubilate (v.): “to darken, cloud, overcloud,” 1580s, from Latin obnibulatus, past participle of obnubilare “to cover with clouds or fog,” from ob “in front of, against” (see ob-) + verb from Latin nubes “cloud,” from PIE *sneudh– “fog” (see nuance). Related: Obnubilated; obnubilating. Middle English had obnubilous “obscure, indistinct” (early 15th C.). (etymonline.com)
obloquy (n.): From the mid-15th C., obloquie, “evil speaking, slander, calumny, derogatory remarks,” from Medieval Latin obloquium “speaking against, contradiction,” from Latin obloqui “to speak against, contradict,” from ob “against” (see ob-) + loqui “to speak,” from PIE root *tolkw- “to speak.” Related: Obloquious. (etymonline.com)
[seriously, we were honest in our belief that it wasn’t worth including stories about Amazon. We’ve waged a war against the behemoth for 20 years and few have paid attention. But the stories keep piling up, sooo…..]
obscurantism (n.): “opposition to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, a desire to prevent inquiry or enlightenment,” 1801, from German obscurantism, obscurantismus (by 1798); see obscurant + -ism. (etymonline.com)
obreption (n.): “the obtaining or trying to obtain something by craft or deception,” 1610s, from Latin obreptionem (nominative obreptio) “a creeping or stealing on,” noun of action from past-participle stem of obrepere “to creep on, creep up to,” from ob “on, to” (see ob-) + repere “to creep” (see reptile). Opposed to subreption, which is to obtain something by suppression of the truth. Related: Obreptious.
subreption (n.): “act of obtaining a favor by fraudulent suppression of facts,” c. 1600, from Latin subreptionem (nominative subreptio), noun of action from past-participle stem of subripere, surripere (see surreptitious). Related: Subreptitious. (etymonline.com)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Box In The Woods – Maureen Johnson
The Box In The Woods is probably one of the finest transitional books I’ve read – period.
A bold statement, to be sure, but I think an accurate one nonetheless.
The Box in the Woods is a continuation of Johnson’s Truly Devious series.
In that, a brand new cold case reunites Stevie and company during their summer vacation. Even better, if you’ve skipped reading the Truly Devious series and aren’t sure you want to sink in the extra time reading the trilogy (though you really should, they’re great), you don’t need to. Johnson brilliantly catches you up – without ruining the first three books!
Seriously, you don’t know how rare this is.
For some insane reason, mystery writers (or I suspect their editors as the more likely culprit) love revealing the ending of a previous mystery in newer installments! A feature that is fantastically frustrating if you accidentally start in the middle of the series. Thankfully, Johnson neatly sidesteps this common transgression.
But I digress.
Another reason why I enjoyed reading this book is Johnson makes use of two very well-known tropes and cunningly freshens them up.
Trope One: The horrors of summer camp as popularized by the Friday the 13th franchise.
Set a month or two after Stevie solved the Truly Devious case, Stevie’s hired to investigate the notorious Camp Wonder Falls murders, a cold case from 1978 where four camp counselors sneak out to hang out one summer night and are found murdered the following morning. Amplifying the horror of the crime is the fact neither the Sherriff nor State Police solved the crime. Leaving Barlow Corners, where Camp Wonder Falls and all four victims called home, in a state of animated suspension.
Amplifying this trope: Stevie and friends are hired as counselors to the newly revitalized (and renamed) summer camp as cover for said detecting.
While writing this review, I began to wonder: Does this trope have any real-world roots, or is it a purely fictional construct?
The answer sent me down an hours-long rabbit hole.
More specifically, I discovered an unsettling case dubbed the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. In 1977, Michele Heather Guse (9), Lori Lee Farmer (8), and Doris Denise Milner (10) were raped and murdered during a thunderstorm while attending Camp Scott (which was later shut down).
The Sherriff honed in on an escaped felon and convicted rapist who grew up in the area as his prime suspect. Gene Leroy Hart, said offender, was found not guilty of the girl’s murder in 1979. Other suspects have surfaced over the years, but no convictions have come about. Nor has DNA testing helped, as the biological material has deteriorated enough over the years that finding usable samples has become increasingly difficult.
Hauntingly, two months prior to the three little girl’s murder, a room was ransacked during a counselor’s training session. The perpetrator left a note stating, “We are on a mission to kill three little girls in Tent One.”.
The note, deemed a prank, was unfortunately tossed out.
(Click here if you’re interested in reading Tulsa World’s coverage of the tragedy. Or here for an alternate suspect theory.)
But back to The Box In The Woods.
The second trope Johnson used is one I’ve read at least a dozen times before – yet Johnson disguised it so cleverly I didn’t see it coming. Which I think is the mark of a great author and an excellent book.
Unfortunately, I can’t explain the trope any further. Otherwise, I will ruin the book for you. This is one where you need to trust me – the trope’s there, and it’s well-executed.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA detectives (though it is only YA due to the ages of the sleuths and a few hormones) and/or those who enjoy Agatha Christie-esque mysteries.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about The Box In The Woods!
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – Essay & Photography by Corinne May Botz
Interestingly, the review of the Nutshell Studies is directly linked to The Box In The Woods. When Stevie is first approached about investigating the cold case at Wonder Falls, she knows her folks won’t be keen on the idea, as they don’t understand or entirely approve of her fascination with true crime. So Stevie devises a strategy – which involves using a book filled with photos of the Nutshell Studies – to secure her parent’s permission to become a counselor at the notorious camp.
Intrigued by Johnson’s description, I found the book Stevie was reading.
Whereupon I discovered I’d seen homages to these scaled works in Elementry, CSI: Las Vegas, and Father Brown.
Created by Frances Glessner Lee, the mother of forensic science in the United States, these dioramas are intended to help train investigators on how to approach and analyze crime scenes.
Each scene is a 1-foot to 1-inch scale replica of crime scenes Lee either read about or visited. And much like Dragnet, Lee altered the specifics of each case she used, lest the detectives already know the solution. Though small, these gruesome dollhouses are fully immersive crime scenes where only one of three outcomes were acceptable – accident, suicide, or murder.
Brining us to Botz’s book.
Botz’s photography of these tiny worlds is both haunting, eerily lovely and acquaints her readers with the specter at the feast. All the while keeping true to Lee’s goal for the Nutshell Studies.
And this is where my criticism of this book lies.
Authors and Readers don’t always have the same agenda when beginning a book. And that’s okay. However, it is the duty of the author to set a clear message for their audience – particularly when dealing with such a tantalizing and fascinating subject like the Nutshell Studies.
Because, much like Stevie in The Box In The Woods, I wanted to hone my own critical thinking skills and eye on dioramas meant to do just that.
And this is where the rub of the book lies.
Botz waited until page 220 of 223 in a footnote, no less, to inform her readers she only included the solution to five out of twenty Nutshell Studies. (And one other tiny pet peeve the few provided solutions aren’t listed in the order the cases were presented in the previous chapter.) In any case, the reason for this purposeful omission is due to the fact law enforcement still use the Nutshell Studies as training tools. So they asked Botz not to reveal three-quarters of the solutions.
Which is entirely understandable and isn’t the basis of my quibble.
My objection lies in waiting until the last four pages to finally elucidate this crucial detail – Botz could’ve just as easily placed the footnote in her prologue (which would’ve avoided a great deal of frustration and annoyance).
Admittedly, in Botz’s preface, she does allude to this contentious detail. Stating she set out to photograph the Nutshell Studies, “With the resolve of an investigator at the scene of a crime (yet with no interest in solving it)…” (pg. 12). Additionally, Botz felt a kinship with Lee – which meant Botz kept true to Lee’s intent for the Nutshells, “…they were not supposed to treat the Nutshells as ‘whodunnits’…they are, rather, designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence…” (pg. 29).
This obfuscation of information continues with the photographs, as Botz only gives the audience small slices of these miniatures to study. Now, these slices are spectacular in their incredible detail, meticulous craftsmanship, and atmospheric perspective – but they do not afford the same opportunity for the reader as they do investigators.
Happily, Botz does include the background info written by Lee for each diorama. Then provides a crime scene diagram of each overall scene where Botz highlights investigative features, the personal quirks Lee buried within the rooms or just general fun facts. They draw the reader’s eye hither, thither, and yon much like a red herring in a mystery novel.
Now, with all this being said – and I know my criticism is rather long – I would still highly recommend reading this book. Although, with the caveat, the cases may leave you a bit frustrated with not knowing the answers…In any case, the sheer precision and accuracy of Lee’s dioramas is astonishing, and Botz’s photography elevates the Nutshell Studies to a whole new level. Making Botz’s book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death deserving of your time and energy. Because I bought this book several months back, and I still find something new each and every time I reread it.
Boy, if there’s a Word of the Month that fits us itis this:
gallimaufry (n.)“a medley, hash, hodge-podge,” 1550s, from French galimafrée “hash, ragout, dish made of odds and ends,” from Old French galimafree, calimafree “sauce made of mustard, ginger, and vinegar; a stew of carp” (14th C.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Old French galer “to make merry, live well” (see gallant) + Old North French mafrer “to eat much,” from Middle Dutch maffelen [Klein]. Weekley sees in the second element the proper name Maufré. Hence, figuratively, “any inconsistent or absurd medley.” (etymonline)
absurd (n): “plainly illogical,” 1550s, from French absurde (16th C.), from Latin absurdus “out of tune, discordant;” figuratively “incongruous, foolish, silly, senseless,” from ab– “off, away from,” here perhaps an intensive prefix, + surdus “dull, deaf, mute,” which is possibly from an imitative PIE root meaning “to buzz, whisper” (see susurration). Thus the basic sense is perhaps “out of tune,” but de Vaan writes, “Since ‘deaf’ often has two semantic sides, viz. ‘who cannot hear’ and ‘who is not heard,’ ab-surdus can be explained as ‘which is unheard of’ …” The modern English sense is the Latin figurative one, perhaps “out of harmony with reason or propriety.” Related: Absurdly; absurdness. (etymonline)
paradox (n): From t he 1530s, “a statement contrary to common belief or expectation,” from French paradoxe (14th C.) and directly from Latin paradoxum “paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true,” from Greek paradoxon “incredible statement or opinion,” noun use of neuter of adjective paradoxos “contrary to expectation, incredible,” from para- “contrary to” (see para- (1)) + doxa “opinion,” from dokein “to appear, seem, think” (from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).
Originally with notions of “absurd, fantastic.” Meaning “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue” is from 1560s. Specifically in logic, “a statement or proposition from an acceptable premise and following sound reasoning that yet leads to an illogical conclusion,” by 1903. (etymonline)
preposterous (adj.): 1540s, “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense,” from Latin praeposterus “absurd, contrary to nature, inverted, perverted, in reverse order,” literally “before-behind” (compare topsy-turvy,cart before the horse), from prae “before” (see pre-) + posterus “subsequent, coming after,” from post “after” (see post-).
The sense gradually shaded into “foolish, ridiculous, stupid, absurd.” The literal meaning “reversed in order or arrangement, having that last which ought to be first” (1550s) is now obsolete in English. In 17th C. English also had a verb preposterate “to make preposterous, pervert, invert.” (etymonline)
canard (n.): An “absurd or fabricated story intended as an imposition,” 1851, perhaps 1843, from French canard “a hoax,” literally “a duck” (from Old French quanart, probably echoic of a duck’s quack); said by Littré to be from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié “to half-sell a duck,” thus, perhaps from some long-forgotten joke, “to cheat.” But also compare quack (n.1). (etymonline)
Until I cracked the spine of Mango, Mambo, and Murder – I hadn’t realized how very long it’s been since I’ve started a new series. Or, in fact, a series that didn’t feature a mystery writer, bookshop owner, or librarian as the sleuth. So why you ask, are these careers important? Reading about true or fictional crime does generally give bookish detectives a leg up in their investigations.
However, in Mango, Mambo, and Murder, our investigator is Dr. Miriam Quinones-Smith, a Food Anthropologist, mother of one, and the newest resident of Coral Shores, Miami. All outstanding life achievements – but not ones that prepared her for investigating a murder. However, this is precisely what Miriam needs to do when her best friend Alma is accused of murder.
And she makes mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Because she’s quite literally an amateur sleuth trying to solve her first case – the first one I’ve read in a very long time.
She did a good job.
However, the cream of the first book in A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series is how Reyes (our author) seamlessly works food into her mystery. The dishes Miriam cooks add layers and nuance to the book without detracting from the unfolding story because food is the cornerstone upon which Mirium’s life is built, therefore making it a cornerstone of the book.
But it’s still very much a mystery…with delicious sounding Cuban food on the side.
The one and only criticism I have for the Mango, Mambo, and Murder is that the very last chapter is just a hair overly sweet. But as it is a first novel – which gives a slightly unusual but satisfying wrap -up the murder mystery – I can forgive this very small foible.
Overall, I would recommend this mystery to anyone who enjoys reading cozy mysteries, culinary mysteries, and/or culturally diverse mysteries. Raquel V. Reyes did a great job creating a new exciting character, who I am looking forward to meeting again.
(BTW – Thanks to JB who emailed me about this great book!)
Craig Johnson’s new Longmire, Daughter of the Morning Star is a puzzler. I don’t mean that due to it’s mystery and crime and whodunnit elements. I mean it from the point of view of “where is this going”?
Walt spends the book up in Montana, helping the locals search for a missing Indian woman. The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a real and frightening problem but Walt is the sheriff of the largest county in WY, he doesn’t have a huge staff (is the Powder River annex still manned? Was it rebuilt after it was torched? Has his Basque deputy been replaced?) Who’s running the place? While the hunt for the missing girl is the plot, the story is more about Walt’s continued brush with Native American spirituality, what it means to him, how he deals with it – or not – and how the Spirits deal with Walt. There are a number of Mallo wrappers in the story and if you’ve been reading the books you understand their significance.
There’s a lot of basketball, not enough Vic, and the oddity of Dog shying away from Walt after a Spirit encounter but then everything is normal between them with no explanation.
Felt, again, like a bridge book – taking the series somewhere but not going very fast. Still, anytime with Walt and Henry is time well spent.
After becoming frustrated with the commercials during BBC’s airing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I turned off the TV and started re-reading the book. It has to be at least 20 years since I first read it. I was struck – again – by how well crafted it is as a mystery/thriller/crime novel, how assured it was as a first time work of fiction, and how serious Stieg Larsson was about addressing the violence done to women. Re-read all three. Great trilogy!
It’s been a year since I left the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been busy. Rather than review, I thought I’d give you a peek into my new world. Come on in.
We bought a tiny pistachio farm. We have 103 pistachio trees, one almond, a peach tree, and a couple pomegranate and lime trees. We’re in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico, which is a HUGE change from the PNW, but we’ve lived in New Mexico before.
Obviously bookshelves were the first priority.
Oh, and yes, it does rain here. Sometimes like a firehose has been opened.
And yes, we got puppies. Look at them. Aren’t they adorable? The one on the left is Tank, who is beating up on his sister, Mazikeen. Don’t worry, she can hold her own.
But now, you see…
Now, at about a year old, they’re much more sophisticated.
LOL, no, they’re not. They’re complete doofuses, and firmly believe that they’re still lap dogs, even though they weight well over 50 pounds each. But they’re cuddle bugs and we love them.
You may not know it, but the Tularosa area in New Mexico is great for roses.
The pistachios grew beautifully, and we had a great harvest.
See those red pods? Those are pistachios still in their protective hull, which is easy to remove when they’re ready for harvesting. It was amazing to watch.
And yes, they’re tasty!
So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m still reading and will obviously keep on reviewing, but I’ve missed chatting with all y’all, and wanted to take a moment to catch up. Have a great holiday season!
First of 5 parts, introducing Don Diego de la Vega who secretly fights for justice as the swashbuckling hero Zorro of Spanish California (1769–1821)
After Douglas Fairbanks released his 1920 movie, The Mark of Zorro, demand for more stories was great. Johnston McCulley would write over sixty more Zorro stories, beginning in 1922 with ‘The Further Adventures of Zorro’. His last Zorro story appeared posthumously in April 1959.
McCulley was a prolific writer, publishing under many names other than his own: Harrington Strong, Raley Brien, George Drayne, Monica Morton, Rowena Raley, Frederic Phelps, Walter Pierson, John Mack Stone, among others as did so many pulp writers.
In addition to Zorro, McCulley created numerous pulp characters who continue to inspire today: Black Star, The Spider, The Mongoose, Thubway Tham, The Green Ghost, The Thunderbolt, and The Crimson Clown.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: From the introduction to Craig’s new Longmire:
“The plight of missing an murdered indigenous women is so great that I had to reassure my publisher that the statistics contained in this novel are accurate. The numbers are staggering, and they speak for themselves. What if I were to tell you that that the chances of a Native woman being murdered is ten times the national average, or that murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women? What if I told you that four out of five Native women have experienced societal violence, with having experienced sexual violence as well. Half of Native women have been stalked in their lifetime, and they are two times as likely to experience violence and rape than their Anglo counterparts. Heartbreakingly, the majority of these Native women’s murders are by non-Natives on Native owned land.
“The violence is being addressed, but there is so much more to do. Jurisdictional issues and a lack of communication among agencies make the investigative process difficult. Underreporting, racial misclassification, and underwhelming media coverage [emphasis from us] minimize the incredible damage that is being done to the Native communities as a whole.
rougarou (n.): “Rougarou” represents a variant pronunciation and spelling of the original French loup-garou. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajunfolklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in America, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup-garou. The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago. In the Cajun legends, the creature is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and the sugar cane fields and woodlands of the regions. The rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend. (wikipedia)
soucouyant (n.): The soucouyant is a shapeshifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes. Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree. To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in Guyana, Suriname and some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, Haiti and Trinidad. The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic. Many Caribbean islands have plays about the Soucouyant and many other folklore characters. Some of these include Trinidad Grenada and Barbados. Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans. (wikipedia)
manananggal (n.) The manananggal is described as scary, often hideous, usually depicted as female, and always capable of severing its upper torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly into the night in search of its victims. The word manananggal comes from the Tagalog word tanggal, which means “to remove” or “to separate”, which literally translates as “remover” or “separator”. In this case, “one who separates itself”. The name also originates from an expression used for a severed torso. The manananggal is said to favor preying on sleeping, pregnant women, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck the hearts of fetuses, or the blood of someone who is sleeping. It also haunts newlyweds or couples in love. Due to being left at the altar, grooms-to-be are one of its main targets.The severed lower torso is left standing, and is the more vulnerable of the two halves. Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin itself and would perish by sunrise. The myth of the manananggal is popular in the Visayan regions of the Philippines, especially in the western provinces of Capiz, Iloilo, Bohol and Antique. There are varying accounts of the features of a manananggal. Like vampires, Visayan folklore creatures, and aswangs, manananggals are also said to abhor garlic, salt and holy water. They were also known to avoid daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which can be fashioned as a whip. Folklore of similar creatures can be found in the neighbouring nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. The province of Capiz is the subject or focus of many manananggal stories, as with the stories of other types of mythical creatures, such as ghosts, goblins, ghouls generically referred to as aswangs. Sightings are purported here, and certain local folk are said to believe in their existence despite modernization. The manananggal shares some features with the vampire of Balkan folklore, such as its dislike of garlic, salt, and vulnerability to sunlight. (wikipedia)
Chonchon (n.) The Chonchon is the magical transformation of a kalku (Mapuche sorcerer). It is said only the most powerful kalkus can aspire to master the secret of becoming this feared creature. The kalku or sorcerer would carry out the transformation into a Chonchon by an act of will and being anointed by a magical cream in the throat that eases the removal of the head from the rest of the body, with the removed head then becoming the creature. The Chonchon has the shape of a human head with feathers and talons; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights. Chonchons are supposed to be endowed with all the magic powers of, and can only be seen by, other kalkus, or by wizards that want this power. Sorcerers take the form of the chonchon to better carry out their wicked activities, and the transformation would provide them with other abilities, such as drinking the blood of ill or sleeping people. Although the fearsome appearance of a chonchon would be invisible to the uninitiated, they would still be able to hear its characteristic cry of “tue tue tue”, which is considered to be an extremely ill omen, usually predicting the death of a loved one. (wikipedia)
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is exactly what it claims to be – a guide. Elucidating all the things a tourist needs to know about a quiet English village in order to navigate it and the inevitable undercurrents successfully (i.e. not get murdered).
Its’ also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
Aimed at the lovers of classic manor house and/or English village mysteries (think the Queens of Crime, Georgette Heyer, Francis Duncan, Patricia Wentworth) it takes the stock characters, architecture, and events found within those pages and gives them an irreverent, rib-tickling, and on the nose descriptions.
There’s even a quiz at the end to test your prowess.
I died twice…on the same page.
What I love even more – is how many of the people, places, and things Johnson describes in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered that I recognize either from reading them or from watching tv shows like Father Brown, Death In Paradise, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classic mysteries and has a very good sense of humor – Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered will not let you down!
This is not a political post, but the book I’m talking about has its roots in politics, specifically the 2016 election. When the results were tallied, many people were upset, and out of that visceral reaction a new publishing house was born, Nasty Woman Press, the Creative Resistance.
Spearheaded by the glorious Kelli Stanley, Nasty Woman Press, a 501(c)(4) non-profit, decided to use literary creativity to bring awareness and aid to those who are struggling. To quote Kelli, “Our plan is to publish anthologies of captivating fiction and thought-provoking non-fiction, each built around a general theme – the theme itself tying in to the non-profit for which the book is raising money.”
That’s right. The profits from the sale of each book go to a cause. In the case of the the debut anthology, Shattering Glass, the theme is empowered women, and the profits go to Planned Parenthood.
Now, I know that a lot of you don’t like short stories, but here’s where you trust me. The fiction is amazing, and not all the authors are female. Anyone who says that men can’t write accurately about women needs to read some of these stories. Men can and do understand women, and know how to write them as believable characters.
But it’s not just the stories. One of the essays, written by Jacqueline Winspear about women firefighters, has stayed with me since I read it, and even as I type this, California is on fire, and I want to sit down with Jackie over a pot of tea and listen to her, because she knows her stuff.
The opening essay by Valerie Plame – yes, THAT Valerie Plame, outed CIA spy turned politician and novelist – is definitely thought provoking and erudite. I’ve read it a couple of times now.
But in the end, you’re going to love this anthology and come back to it. Parts of it will leave you aching, sometimes you’ll be so pissed you want to throw things, and at other times, you’re going to laugh out loud at the audacity. You will not remain unmoved. And that’s because these people can Write.
Who, you might ask? Well, I don’t want to spoil surprises, but if you like the writing of people like Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Anne Lamott, Joe Clifford, Senator Barbara Boxer, Jess Lourey, and Seanan McGuire, you’re in for a treat.
Pickup up a copy of Scott Turow’s The Last Trial. It’s one of those many books by favorite authors that I missed after the shop closed. It’s all that you’d expect from Turow – no one else plots such stunning and sinuous legal thrillers. But the wonderful part of the book, for me, was spending time with defense attorney Sandy Stern. While the lawyer is described differently, it’s impossible for me to not picture and hear Raul Julia as him, and since it is likely to be the last book with Stern and Julia’s sadly dead, it was so nice to be in their company one last time.
There are words authors use that are too fancy for the stories they’re telling. In a way, it’s showy. It’s proving you have a large vocabulary. “Verdant” is one. It is almost always out of place. And, please – PLEASE – can we retire “plethora”!
But, having blurted that out of my head, I am here to HIGHLY RECOMMENDBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. A new book is out now in hardcover. It’s getting high praise. I thought I’d go back and start with his first and – man – the guy can not only write beautifully but plot a tight, thrilling story.
“That was the things about his mother. She could be emotionally manipulative one minute then making you laugh the next. It was like getting hit in the face with a pie that had a padlock in it.”
Beau is a young guy whose stuck in a thicket of bills – mortgage on his garage, his dying mother’s healthcare is a mess, his youngest daughter needs money for starting college. He’s turned his back on his past livelihood – get-away-driver. His father was a noted driver and Beau doesn’t want to follow that path. “But when it came to handling his responsibilities we both know Anthony Montage was about a useful as a white crayon, don’t we?”
But the bills are demanding and off we roar into a series of sharp turns and dead ends that threaten everything he cherishes. Danger is his passenger and worse follows. “Reggie jumped like a demon had spoken to him.”
This is great noir, a great crime novel. I believe it is a stand-alone. I don’t think his books are connected. And I look forward to reading more. Cosby writes with a fluid, memorable style. How can you not want to read an author who comes up with a line like this: “She was wearing a tank top and shorts so tight they would become a thong is she sneezed.”
But it’ll have to wait ’til I finish the new Longmire.
The new James Ellroy, Widespread Panic, is everything you’d expect from an Ellroy book – literately lurid, speedily sleazy, and full of film faces. The narrator is real-life reprobate Fred Otash, a former cop, LA fixer, and all-around asshole. He’s into everything, everyone and everywhere. The book takes the form or a sort of memoir, a look back on a set of years in the 1950s. Naughty and nefarious nostalgia.
As with any Ellroy, when finishes, it is difficult to remember if there were any good people in the story. As with any Ellroy, the story is stocked with actual people. How does he get away with it without being sued out of his bowtie? Elizabeth Taylor in a three-way romp? James Dean, Nick Adams, Nicholas Ray and many others as reprehensible souls involved in rampant raids, reprobates riding roughshod over rights! None are alive now, but….