Check Out a New Mystery Debut

Pay Dirt Road
by
Samantha Jayne Allen

After graduating college, Annie McIntyre returns to her small hometown of Garnett, Texas –a place, she thinks, where nothing much ever happens. She begins working as a waitress while trying to figure out her next step when two murders happen on the same day. Sadly, one of the victims is her coworker Victoria, a newly single mother, who Annie had cancelled plans with just hours before her death. Annie is racked with guilt and the feeling that she could have prevented this tragedy. She gets a chance to redeem herself when Leroy, her grandfather and former town sheriff asks her to assist at his private investigation firm. Before she knows it, Annie dives head-first into the world of crime solving, even as her lack of experience gets her into hot water with locals who would prefer she look the other way.

Pay Dirt Road by Samantha Jayne Allen won the 2019 Tony Hillerman Prize, which is awarded to a previously unpublished author for a first mystery novel set in the Southwest. This slow-burning mystery is a solid debut with a surprise ending and refreshing and relatable characters, especially Annie, who bungles her way into dangerous situations as she learns the ropes of investigative work. Crime fiction fans in need of something new have just hit pay dirt, and this reader is hoping it will be the first in a new series.

-Carol

What we’re reading now, spring edition…

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Two soldiers on opposing sides of a war throughout time begin to fall in love via the letters they exchange. While it’s a short read, the book is dense with meaning and subtext, and readers will enjoy the romance and intrigue of this intergalactic Romeo and Juliet story. Shannon

Black Cloud Rising by David Wright Faladé

Tells the story of the African Brigade, a unit of former slaves tasked with rooting out pockets of Confederate guerilla fighters in the Tidewater region of Virginia and in North Carolina’s Outer Banks through the eyes of formerly enslaved Sergeant Richard Etheridge of the African Brigade. Dori

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

It’s 1937 when Mila Pavlichenko a young history student, mother, and sharpshooter joins the Russian army. Her rifle skills are soon apparent and she becomes a sniper. She rises through the ranks and is put in charge of a platoon. Her job is to train others and to kill Nazis. Mila is very successful at her job. Americans are very curious about this lady sniper when she comes to Washington D.C.  as a guest of the White House. Is she for real? Emma

A Night at the Sweet Gum Head by Marty Padgett

A deep look at 1970’s gay Atlanta through the lens of the Drag scene, political activists, and the bars that brought them all together. Deeply researched and well written, this non-fiction gives detailed insight into how a community of people who just wanted to live their lives had to become leaders and inspiration in order to exist. Christine

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Set in 1920’s Georgia, this vivid horror story asks the question: What if the Klu Klux Klan was led by actual demons? Stray dog eating, multi-eyed, otherworldly demons. Three Black female demon hunters, led by Maryse, who gets her guidance from ethereal Gullah Aunties, must destroy the Klu Kluxes to stop the spread of White Supremacy. A beautiful and gory blend of historic events with a horror twist. Christine

Goodnight, Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

A thriller that does not hide the inspiration it takes from King’s Misery. As a newlywed couple tries to put down roots in a small town, tragedy strikes when the husband comes up missing and his wife has to beg the authorities to care all while it becomes more and more apparent that he has been lying to her this whole time. As he fights for his life through the only way he knows how, his wife has to reconcile the man she loves with the man she has uncovered. Christine

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

A touchingly funny book about a small bookstore in Minnesota run by a group of Native American women during the pandemic, and the community of unusual, crazy, genuine people whose lives are touched by this place and by each other.  It’s one of those books where you truly fall in love with the characters and more than anything, want them to find peace and happiness in their lives.  Sara

Dive into a Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

In 1912, English immigrant Edwin St. Andrew wanders into a forest on Vancouver Island and unwittingly witnesses a fragment of time occurring at an Oklahoma City Airship Terminal in the year 2172 –a phenomenon also witnessed in the same spot and caught on film by Vincent, a teenage girl in the 1990s.

Gaspery-Jacques Roberts grew up in Night City on the moon’s Colony Two. In 2401, he is hired by the Time Institute to investigate this recurring blip in time, a scene which has also been written into a pandemic novel by Night City novelist Olive Llewellyn. Gaspery travels throughout time to investigate the anomaly and meets with Llewellyn in a chapter titled “Last Book Tour on Earth,” set just as a pandemic is about to hit. The connections Gaspery makes with the people who witnessed this time blip only seem to increase his questions about reality, life, and humanity.

I devoured Sea of Tranquility in a single sitting and while its plot is tricky to describe, it is the perfect post-quarantine novel. It subtly asks big questions about the human experience, while taking you on a magical journey through time that reminded me how good making connections with people (even through time and space) feels. While Sea of Tranquility can be read independently, fans of Mandel’s most recent novels, The Glass Hotel (2020) and the recently adapted for television Station Eleven (2014) will especially enjoy how Mandel continues to build on the multiverse of characters that span across her novels.

-Carol

Spring into a Crime Fiction Series

Hideout
by Louisa Luna

Zeb Williams, a one-time college football player went into hiding after he sabotaged his own team’s chance at a huge win. Thirty years later, California-based private investigator Alice Vega, a missing persons specialist, is hired to find him. On the outs with her partner, ex-cop Max “Cap” Caplan, Vega heads alone to the small town of Ilona, Oregon – the last place Zeb had been seen. There, she ends up uncovering a white supremacist gang who are terrorizing their neighbors. Vega won’t let that stand and interjects herself, getting badly beaten in the process. She heals, but then learns that Cap’s daughter is being harassed on the other side of the country. Readers will almost feel sorry for the revenge Vega has planned for this group, whose members include the son of a town bigwig. Is Vega over her head? And how does this connect to the disappearance of the infamous Zeb Williams?

Hideout is an adrenaline filled entry in the Alice Vega series by Louisa Luna, and fans of the first two books will appreciate the character and relationship development and surprises in this installment. Alice Vega is a tough as nails, fearless yet complex P.I., a champion for the helpless and downtrodden who is not afraid of hurting those who hurt others. Readers of Lee Child, action-packed gritty crime fiction, and strong female leads should pick up Hideout or, better yet, the series’ starter Two Girls Down.

-Carol

Classic Film Fest at Home

I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feeling I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds so dark up above
The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. Only 18 and having no dance experience, Reynolds sought the help of Fred Astaire in order to impress taskmaster and perfectionist Kelly for her role in the musical; Reynolds’ feet bleed after shooting the film’s “Good Morning” routine over the course of 15 hours, and Kelly endured 3 days of filming the “Singin’ in the Rain” number while having a high fever. Other films are also celebrating big milestones this year. Woman of the Year, Casablanca, and The Man Who Came to Dinner are all turning 80. Judy Garland would have turned 100 this summer, and the TCM Classic Film Festival is back in person this spring to celebrate dozens of movies, The Wizard of Oz included, that have made us laugh and cry. Find your comfiest sweats, pop some popcorn, and host your own classic movie fest with some of my favorite films below.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): Three World War II veterans, two of them traumatized or disabled, return home to the American Midwest to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed. Directed by William Wyler, the film stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. It is the winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. You can even watch the film on Kanopy here.

Rebecca (1940): A self-conscious woman juggles adjusting to her new role as an aristocrat’s wife and avoiding being intimidated by his first wife’s spectral presence. Based off of the novel by Daphne Du Maurier and directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Judith Anderson’s portrayal as Mrs. Danvers will give you chills. It won Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the 13th Academy Awards.

How Green Was My Valley (1941): At the turn of the century in a Welsh mining village, the Morgans raise coal-mining sons and hope their youngest will find a better life. How Green Was My Valley stars Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall, and it was based off the best-selling novel by Richard Llewellyn. The film famously beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture.

Adam’s Rib (1949): Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, domestic and professional tensions mount when a husband and wife work as opposing lawyers in a case involving a woman who shot her husband. Katharine Hepburn is my favorite actress and I highly recommend taking a day to binge watch her films, including The Philadelphia Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Desk Set (a librarian favorite!), and Little Women.

Sunset Boulevard (1950): A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return. Directed by Billy Wilder, the film stars William Holden and Gloria Swanson. It was among the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): An aging former child star torments her paraplegic sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion. The intensely bitter rivalry between the film’s stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is legendary, but it made the film a success and even revitalized their careers.

The Thin Man (1934): Starring William Powell as former detective Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as wealthy heiress Nora, The Thin Man follows the flirty and charismatic couple as they investigate a murder for fun. The chemistry between Powell and Loy was so palpable and the film was so entertaining that five sequels were created between 1936 and 1947.

The Nun’s Story (1959): After leaving a prominent and wealthy Belgian family to become a nun, Sister Luke struggles with her devotion to her vows during crisis, disappointment, and World War II. The film is based off of the novel of the same name by Kathryn Hulme about Belgian nun Marie Louise Habets. Habets and the film’s star Audrey Hepburn became incredibly close during production, both having Belgian roots and having lost family members during World War II.

It Happened One Night (1934): I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Clark Gable film. A runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews, tries to get out from under her father’s thumb and falls in love with a renegade reporter, Peter Warne. Several actresses turned down the role of Ellie before Claudette Colbert reluctantly accepted – with the condition that the film be completed in just four weeks. Clark Gable was lent to Columbia Pictures for the film from MGM. Both actors were so dissatisfied with the script that director Frank Capra had it rewritten during production; the final film bears little resemblance to the original script.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in Depression-era Alabama, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice. Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson were considered for the role of Atticus before it went to Gregory Peck.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): In 1900, a young widow finds her seaside cottage is haunted and forms a unique relationship with the ghost. The film stars Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison, and inspired a variety of adaptations, including a 1960s TV series and 2005 musical.

For Me and My Gal (1942): Two vaudeville performers fall in love, but find their relationship tested by the arrival of World War I. Having only performed on Broadway, For Me and My Gal was the first film role for Gene Kelly and it marked the first “adult” role for Judy Garland, who up until the movie had played juvenile parts and was typically paired with Mickey Rooney. Garland pushed for Kelly to get the part and the pair got along so well that they starred in two other films together, The Pirate and Summer Stock.

My Life Is Murder

I love a good mystery program. I like it even better when I can borrow and download one *for free* from one of Rocky River Public Library’s digital streaming services.

On Hoopla, I’ve been enjoying the first two seasons of My Life is Murder, starring Lucy Lawless, best known for her role in Xena: Warrior Princess. In My Life is Murder, Lawless doesn’t fight mythical beasts, but she does kick butt as Alexa Crowe, a former homicide detective turned police consultant.

In the first season, set in Australia, viewers meet Alexa, a widow who has left the world of police work behind her and has turned to baking bread for a living. She reluctantly agrees to look over one baffling murder file at the request of one-time colleague Detective Kieran Hussey and she finds that she just can’t resist helping him out. Alexa’s good instincts and her skill at crime solving quickly make her Kieran’s go-to investigator, in cases ranging from a dead culinary student who slipped in oil, to the death of a teacher that puts Alexa back on the grounds of her former high school.

In season two, Alexa has moved back in her home country of New Zealand—and hopefully, she thinks, to a quieter life away from murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, tales of her legendary investigative skills (and her tech-savvy sidekick Madison) follow her to Auckland, where Alexa finds herself back in the business of busting murderers. Her investigations are just as exciting in round two, with the added bonus of some famous guest stars, including William Shatner.

My Life is Murder is a lighthearted show that is filled with plenty of humor to balance its high, but mostly bloodless, body count and there is a fresh crime for Alexa and her friends to solve each episode. Fans of Columbo and Agatha Raisin or those looking for a fun, breezy, and well-acted mystery series, won’t want to miss this one, which has just been renewed for a third season.

-Carol

A Book That Rocks

The Unsinkable Greta James
by Jennifer E. Smith

36-year-old Greta James is a successful indie rock star whose world is turned upside-down when her mother unexpectedly dies. Grief causes Greta to meltdown on stage in a disastrous performance that goes viral and prompts Greta to impulsively to break up with her current boyfriend. All Greta wants to do is hide from the world but unfortunately, her brother has talked her into going on an Alaskan cruise with their father Conrad.

Greta gets on the ship, knowing the trip will be a disaster and worried that her career might be over. The cruise, meant to be a celebration for her parent’s 40th year anniversary, will be the first time Greta and Conrad are together without her mother there as a buffer. Greta isn’t sure she can have a meaningful conversation with her dad who has always disapproved of her career choice, but now that they are trapped together for a week on the ocean, she might just have to try.

This novel about grief, family, and growing up is moving story with sympathetic characters, a bit of romance, and atmospheric depictions of Alaska. You won’t regret getting on board with The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith. Just be sure to pack a tissue or two.

-Carol

Infinite Goodness: Pi Day

Lemon, peach, apple, 3.14159, oh my! Pi Day, which falls on Monday, March 14, is fast approaching! Pi day is an annual holiday devoted to celebrating the infinite mathematical constant π, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter that starts off as 3.14. This Pi Day, indulge with a slice (or two, or three!) of your favorite pie and some of the books below.

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng: What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? Using insights from the kitchen, professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics.

Pie Academy: Mastering the Perfect Crust and 255 Amazing Fillings by Ken Haedrich: Here’s the only pie cookbook you’ll ever need. Novice and experienced bakers will discover the secrets to baking a pie from scratch with step-by-step photos and recipes, advice about tools and ingredients, tips for gorgeous fluted and lattice pie tops, and more.

The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies by Erin Jeanne McDowell: Start with the basics, including ways to mix pie dough for extra flaky crusts, storage and freezing, and tips for decorating, before diving into dozens of recipes for all different kinds of pies: fruit, custard, cream, chiffon, cold set, savory, and mini.

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker: Exploring and explaining a litany of glitches, near misses, and mathematical mishaps involving the Internet, big data, elections, street signs, lotteries, an Olympic team, and even the Roman Empire, stand-up comedian Matt Parker uncovers the ways math trips us up and how essential math is in everyday life.

One Poison Pie by Lynn Cahoon: What’s a kitchen witch to do when her almost-financé leaves her suddenly single and unemployed? For Mia Malone, the answer’s simple: move to her grandmother’s quirky Idaho hometown, where magic is an open secret and witches and warlocks are (mostly) welcome. But when her first catering job takes a distasteful turn, Mia must find out which of the town’s eccentric residents has an appetite for murder before her fresh start comes to a sticky end.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman: When her efforts to pursue a professional culinary life away from her family’s northern Michigan orchard end in disappointment, Sam spends a summer working for the family pie shop and begins to understand the women in her life, her family’s history, and her passion for food as she prepares beloved ancestral recipes.

The Curse of the Cherry Pie by Amy Patricia Meade: When Tish Tarragon’s friend pulls out of the prestigious Virginia Commonwealth Bake-Off, an anxious Tish reluctantly takes her place. As the bake-off gets underway, Tish learns that her signature bake, a frangipane cherry pie, has played a deadly role in the previous two competitions. Is the curse of the cherry pie about to strike again?

Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate by Lauren Ko: Whether you want to impress at the holidays or just spruce up a family meal, Pieometry is your guide to transforming a traditional dessert into a modern masterpiece. The pie-making genius behind the popular Instagram account @lokokitchen reveals how to build 50 sweet and savory pies from crust to top. Look for butternut bacon macaroni and cheese pie, lavender blackberry cream pie, honey ricotta tart, grilled cinnamon pineapple pie, and more.

Pie all the Time: Elevated Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion by Taylor Harbin: Whether you’re craving comfort food, an exciting new flavor, a quick treat, or a celebratory indulgence, the answer is always pie. Taylor Harbin, the creator behind the blog “All Purpose Flour Child,” offers familiar classics, inventive flavors, and easy methods for flawless pies every time.

Sweet as Pie by Alicia Hunter Pace: The path to true love isn’t quite as easy as pie, but it sure is sweet in the end. Jake Champagne is looking forward to a new team, new town, and clean slate in Laurel Springs. After a disastrous year, the hockey hotshot is leaving his past behind – even betting his best friend that he can stay away from women. But he’s happy to reconnect with a piece of home when he visits childhood friend and now successful baker Evie. Between slices of Mississippi mud pie and chicken potpie, Jake starts to remember what a fool he was to let Evie get away.