Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Book She'll Never Part With!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   A Theme! You know how much I love it when Jungle Red has spontaneous unplanned themes—the other day Julia was talking about how to get rid of stuff, and the difficulties of deciding what to keep.

Well our dear pal—the newlyAgatha winning (YAY) and fabulous Shari Randall has solved that mystery-with one book, at least.  And yeah, it’s a step.

Question for you-do you know what “moulage” is? Or maybe: what moulage are?  And then Shari—just returned from Spain!-- has a question for you.

No? Well, read on.

Shari celebrating!
The Book I’ll Never Give Away

Many thanks, Hank, for inviting me to visit with you and the Reds – what a treat! It takes my mind off of my ongoing task of dealing with boxes of, well, stuff, that have moved with my family for so many years that I have no idea what’s in them.

Like most booklovers, I’ve found that the hardest part of downsizing is dealing with all of my books. I’ve tried Swedish Death Cleaning, read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and truly believe Less is More. After my last move, I managed the painful process of winnowing my book collection. But there is one book I simply cannot part with, a book I’ve had since I was ten years old.

What is this relic of my mystery reading youth? The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook: Authentic Detective Methods for Solving Mysteries – the 1972 printing of the 1959 original. Why didn’t I have a Nancy Drew Detective Handbook? Did one exist back then? Apologies to fans of Frank and Joe, but I only read the Hardy Boys when I couldn’t get my hands on a Nancy Drew.

Why can’t I bring myself to let go of this book?

Because whenever I crack it open, I go back in time and fall under its spell. Once more I am a ten year old in pigtails who believes it’s entirely possible for two nosy teenagers and their accident prone chum Chet to bring down an international crime syndicate.

What makes this book so irresistible? First, there’s the style. The Handbook crackles with adolescent male energy, tough guy lingo, and a noir sensibility. The Joe Friday approach delivers facts to wannabe detectives like a .45 delivers lead.

Second, what a trove of information! Among the tips it offers are (TSA take notice) directions for pat-downs, schematics for one-, two- and three-man surveillance, a dictionary of legal terminology and criminal slang (“Dive: a place of poor reputation”) and directions for making moulage. If you don’t know moulage, I highly recommend this book.

Though many of the forensic procedures have been rendered obsolete by modern technology, and one must no longer carry change for the phone booth in the corner of the drugstore soda shop, spending just five minutes with The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook makes you feel that you can trail a perp, pat him down, and make the collar with the confidence of a teenage detective.

More than anything, The Handbook connects me with the sheer joy of reading mysteries, a feeling I try to channel while writing my own mystery series.

Happily – or sadly – you can find a copy of The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook on Amazon for $.01 plus $3 for shipping. But the trip down memory lane is priceless.

Readers, is there a book that you simply cannot, and will not, ever give away?

HANK: AH, toughie! All my signed Sue Graftons, that’s for sure. And my childhood Winnie The Pooh. The pre-arc of TRUST ME. Oh, dear, this is a difficult one. How about you, Reds and readers?

And yeah, I had to look up moulage.  And so did you, right?

Okay—your turn.  What’s a must-keep book? Family photo albums don’t count.

Former librarian Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series. The native New Englander lives in a midcentury modern money pit not far from a lighthouse and plenty of great lobster shacks. Her debut, Curses, Boiled Again, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. You can check out her mermaid obsession on Instagram or Facebook at @sharirandallauthor.

 Drawn and Buttered is the third book in a wonderfully satisfying cozy mystery series set at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack in coastal New England.

The Lazy Mermaid’s business has slowed to a snail’s pace―until a monster lobster claws his way onto the scene…
With high season behind them, ballerina on-the-mend Allie Larkin and Aunt Gully are finally lying low. But then an unexpected guest arrives at the lobster shack: a crustacean so huge he’s dubbed Lobzilla around Mystic Bay and on social media. Soon, with everyone showing up for a peek in their tank, Allie and Aunt Gully have more on their plate than they can handle.
Meanwhile, another local establishment finds itself in hot water. In exclusive Rabb’s Point, a strange burglary breaches the elegant home of Royal Parrish. Allie takes it upon herself to help with the investigation but, before she can get to the bottom of the case, another alarm sounds: the Lazy Mermaid’s Lobzilla has gone missing and is on the loose! And bodies are beginning to pile up. . .

“Delightful…Full of New England coastal charm…and clever sleuthing [that] will keep you turning the pages.”―Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author of the Domestic Diva mysteries 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thrillerfest, Italian Desserts and the Great Manhattan Blackout of '19: My Trip to New York

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I had the great good fortune to spend a long weekend in New York City for the Thrillerfest writers' convention, and I wanted to share the experience with you. Don't expect any pictures of famous and well-loved authors - I haven't gotten to the point where I feel comfortable whipping out my phone and taking pictures wile talking to people. (I'm sure that will come later, as my publisher wants me to get on Instagram and I'll be desperate for content.

I traveled and roomed with the fabulous Jessica Ellicot. When we checked into the Grand Hyatt on Thursday, the clerk gave us a "room with a view." Here it is:

Yes, that's the reflection of the Chrysler building. Jess and I were very stylish; we had our own theme colors. Red...

..and blue.

 The opening night reception was sponsored in part my my publishing company, so I got to see loads of people I knew (and cadge free drinks.)

Here's Jess. Note the red.

The bar, where everyone ended up at the shank end of the night, looked like a cross between Logan's Run and The Blade Runner. Cocktails cost $18. New York, New York, it's a hell of a town.

My literary agency, which is also Rhys's and now Jessica's, has an afternoon BBQ every Friday afternoon during Thrillerfest.

Am I going to show you pictures of the BBQ? No, I am not. I'm going to show you book porn.

I really wanted five minutes alone inside the building with one of those rolling shopping carts.

On the way back, we ran into a large demonstration outside the hotel. The President of Taiwan was staying at the Grand Hyatt and there were Chinese protestors clashing with Taiwanese counter-protestors. 

Coincidentally, Jess and I went out for Chinese later that night! Luckily, no one protested when we ordered Kung Pao chicken and braised pork belly.

Saturday was writer stuff in the morning and then Julia's Big Fun Afternoon Out. My very dear friend Jeff Cohen aka (EJ Copperman) and his wife (also somewhat confusingly named Jessica) came in from NJ. We met up in the concourse of Grand Central Station...

...and then enjoyed drinks in the Campbell Bar, which has been converted from the private apartments of John W. Campbell, one of the builder/owners of Grand Central Station. 

Don't let my poor photography put you off; it's an amazing space and you should check it out if you're in the area. Yes, the cocktails are $18 here as well. I'm surprised everyone in NY isn't a teetotaler. 

We walked up to the NY Public Library's Main Branch to see their exhibit Walt Whitman, America's Poet (ending August 30th.)

 Leaves of Grass, first edition(s)

They had a treasure trove of letters, including this one from Whitman, one from his long-time partner, and one firing him from his position at the Bureau of Indian Affairs!

 Having satisfied our literary and historical appetites, we departed for North of Little Italy, no fashionably called Nolita.Picture me rolling my eyes.

Noted attorney Jessica Oppenheim and writer husband Jeff Cohen. The matching T-shirts made it much easier to spot them in crowds.

 The dinner was lovely, spiced with a dramatic note when, as we were leaving, the manager told us about the massive blackout occurring on the West Side. Happily, the lights were still on at our dessert destination, the 127-year-old Ferrara Bakery.This place is amazing. I started to get a contact high off the sugar fumes just from walking in.


We got seated right before the evening rush started. 

In Midtown and the Upper West Side, ice cream was melting in powerless freezers everywhere, but down on Mulberry Street, it was all buttercream and chocolate,

Italian iced tea - tea with a generous scoop of lemon granita. I can highly recommend it. That's a chocolate and hazelnut torte. I ate it all. I could have eaten three. It's a good thing the lines were so long by then, or I would have gotten a bag full of pastries to take home with me.

Despite the collapse of several parts of the subway system, I had no problems getting a cab back to the hotel, where the lights were on and the drinks were cold at the bar. Poor Jeff and Jessica, however, didn't get home until 2:30am! Both Penn Station and Port Authority were closed; they wound up catching the PATH to Newark and, I'm not sure, hitching home?

There was a lot of schmoozing, conversations about social media, and listening to folks gripe about the industry that I'm leaving out, mostly because the fun parts of the weekend are what I remember. How about you, dear readers? What are your NYC stories? Have you ever snuck away from a conference to frolic with friends?    

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bequested, Bothered and Bewildered

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As some of you may recall, my mother passed away a little over a year ago. I recently made a trip to my Dad's to help carry away stuff he's clearing out (he's fine in his own home, thankfully, but he wants to prepare as best he can for the possibility he'll have to move into some form of assisted living.) While I was happy to take several objets d'arte, some lovely glassware, and FIFTEEN photo albums, it's got me to thinking - my house is starting to fill up with dead people's stuff. Which leads to the question, what do you do with it all?

It started with my grandmother, who left me some fine pieces of furniture. She had four children and eighteen grandchildren when she died, so no one heir got overloaded. Then, Ross's dad downsized by handing over all the family goodies from his parents - silver, china, art, knick-knacks. Tasteful knock-knacks, but you still need to find a place to display them, When my father-in-law departed this life in 2002, the real deluge hit. Despite "mindfully living into simplicity" (Victor was reared in Connecticut but became the ultimate Southern Californian in the second half of his life) we had six enormous suitcases of stuff and shipped the same number of UPS's largest boxes home. There are STILL unopened boxes stored in my barn. 

 I've come to divide these mementos of a loved one's life into a few categories. First is the easiest - inexpensive and useful. Books can go to Goodwill. Toys (for grandchildren long since grown) are welcome at family or women's shelters, as are clothing donations. Kitchen ware, fans, cleaning supplies - there are dozens of charitable endeavors happy to take them off your hands. Second easiest? Expensive and useful. Ross's dad left dozens of exquisite ties by Hermes and Brooks Brothers, from Jermyn Street and Hong Kong. The Sailor has a lifetime supply ready at hand. Silver and good china falls in this category, if you 
 use it, and I do.

Third, and getting trickier: inexpensive and useless. Most sentimental stuff falls in this category, which is why it's so difficult to figure out what to do. Do you save old Playbills from Broadway shows from the seventies? How about the newspaper clippings. the matchbooks and the photographs. Oh, my lord, so many photographs. Costume jewelry you'll never wear, but can picture your grandmother in. Grandma's hand-crocheted afghans. One is useful, but you have ten, and several of them were made up in those uniquely 1970s colorways.

It would be lovely to save it all, but it keeps piling up - our stuff and our parents' stuff and our grandparents' stuff. This may be why in the olden days, people moved into a house and kept it in the family for a century. They were just avoiding making hard decisions.

Equally tricky, in a different way, are those things that are expensive and useless. I now have a set of twelve beautiful Danish modern crystal double shot glasses from the sixties, when adults evidently partied as hard as kids at a twenty-first birthday party do today. Wine glasses, I can use. Highball glasses, even. My friends appreciate a nice drink or two. But there's no way I'm going to be lining up double shots at my next dinner party. Besides, I already have a complete set of hand-painted 1950s shot glasses from the Philippines (another bequest.) 

Then there are the fancy smoking accoutrements, the heavy crystal ashtrays (so useful in old murder mysteries!) the silver cigarette holders, the embossed leather and silver match holders and the pepper mill-sized lighters you kept on the coffee table and used, I guess, if Bette Davis and Joan Crawford came for cocktails. I have all of these, dating back to the thirties and forties and fifties, and the only way they'll ever recoup their value is if a production company decides to make another version of MAD MEN, but starring stockbrokers during the Truman Administration.

 Some things simply go out of style. My dad, in his downsizing, would like to sell mom's china cabinet. It's a high-quality piece, cherry wood, felt-lined drawers, weighs about 500 pounds, and it has a distinctively mid-eighties look that isn't modern, or vintage, or midcentury, or anything, really, other than Not What People Want these days. (Ironically, Mom got rid of the Danish Modern teak cabinet, which would fetch a small fortune now, because it was so completely out of style in the eighties. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.) All us kids have out own china cabinets by now - I'm hoping my Rustic Pine 1990 hutch will be back in fashion before I shuffle off this mortal coil - so passing it on is a nonstarter. Unless, God forbid, Dad still has it on that day, hopefully many years in the future, when he goes to join Mom. 

I'm close to the end of the period of my life when I'll be inheriting stuff. When Dad goes, it'll be my generation, my brother and sister and I on the leading edge (and thankfully they both have kids so I'll never have to clean out their houses.) I need to start passing heirlooms along to my children and work on winnowing down those difficult, sentimental-but-what-do-you-do-with-them items.

Unless...I do have a large cellar. And a full attic. And a barn. If I can just revive that idea that the house stays in the family for a hundred years, I may never have to sort through those fifteen photo albums.

Dear readers, have you dealt with hand-me-downs, heirlooms and hodge-podge? What's been your approach to taming the generational tide of stuff?

Monday, July 15, 2019

Innocents Abroad

Youngest making good food choices in Prishtina
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We've been enjoying pictures and stories from several Reds' trips abroad these past few weeks, and it's gotten me thinking about that FIRST trip to a foreign land. Youngest left for Kosovo (with stops in London, Istanbul, Serbia and Croatia) for a month-long college program, and has been sending back pictures, texts and emails describing her experience. She's traveled quite a bit around the US in her childhood and teens - usually accompanying me and Ross on book business - but the was the big one, her first time away from the US ( we won't count a baby appearance in Canada) and the first major trip without parental aid and supervision.

I spent years overseas as a child when we were in the military, which left me with a love of travel and fond memories of many European countries. But even though you're living with and learning about cultural and linguistic differences, living overseas with your parents managing every aspect of your time and travel is nothing like heading out under your own steam.

I left for Italy in the summer of my junior year. I was participating in a stone-age campsite excavation in the Tuscan region before the
start of my school year in London. Unlike my daughter, who managed all her flight reservations by herself, mine were done for me by my mom's travel agent. I remember clutching my precious paper tickets nervously, because of course back in the day, if you lost one you were in trouble.

That's not the only difference between my experience and Youngest's. I had several slim wallets of American Express Traveller's Cheques and a new Kodak camera. I took exactly thirteen pictures in an entire summer spent in Italy because I was so
afraid of running out of film and not being able to capture some vital scene! I had a tablet of onionskin letter paper and air mail envelopes, though I was extremely negligent in writing during the summer. My poor parents - I don't think they heard a word from me in the first four or five weeks. No phone, of course - in fact, from the time I left until I came back to the US for Christmas, the only time I actually called home (with a public phone and a stack of one pound coins) was on my little brother's birthday. I was FINE with this as a impecunious student, but as a mother, I'm very grateful for Face Time.

One thing I had that's still being used by travelers? A Eurailpass. The official Ithaca College/University of Pisa component ended something like ten days before fall classes started, so I hit the rails and began roaming. Scheduling the day meant showing up at the station and reading the times and destinations on a big board. Upon arrival in a new town, I'd check Frommer's Europe on Ten Dollars A Day for suggestions on a pensione, then walk to the place and see if a room was available. I saw Rome, Florence, Nice (where I spent an afternoon topless on a beach!) Monte Carlo and Paris before taking the ferry across the channel to England (no Chunnel yet.)

Except for the fact I flew across the Atlantic and didn't require a chaperone, my first solo trip abroad feels more like the experience an American traveler of the late 19th century than that of my daughter 37 years later. All the time I spent studying maps,haunting information kiosks, waiting in line to talk to a railroad agent, and visiting American Express offices has been  replaced by a smart phone and a debit card. It's easier now, in many ways, but I'm pretty sure one thing hasn't changed: Just as I did, I expect my daughter to come home more mature, more confident, and with a broader view of the horizon.

How about you, Red? What was your first time as an Innocent Abroad?

HALLIE EPHRON: One of my proudest accomplishments has been raising two daughters who are enthusiastic travelers. Jerry and I traveled a lot in the six years after we were married and before we had our first child. We started again with a trip to Puerto Rico when our oldest was 9 months old. When the girls were 8 and 13 we spent 2 weeks in Europe, traveling by train, and whatever you packed to take with you, you had to carry. It was a great trip, including venturing into Prague, before the Velvet Revolution.

My first international trip was to Europe for our honeymoon. We were crazy. Three months with the guy you just married? It's amazing the marriage survived. We rented a Citroen Dayan 6 (that's me with it in the picture -- I'm holding a Michelin Red Guide in the days before GPS), a car so basic it could not be imported into the US. We flew into London, took the train to Paris, rented a car and made our way up to Amsterdam where my husband's college roommate lived, down to Rome via Belgium and Luxembourg and Switzerland, and back through France to Paris. Yes, on $5 (maybe $6) a day per person.

RHYS BOWEN : I wonder if one is born with a travel gene? I had an overwhelming desire to travel from a very early age. I remember my first trips to Wales and Cornwall, what a huge impression they made on me, and begged to go abroad. Finally my parents arranged for me to go to friends in Austria when I was 14. They put me on a train in London. I had to find the right boat, and then the right train on the other side of the Channel. One and a half days in the train (3rd class, hard seats) and I was met at the other end. In those days one did not telephone so I sent my folks a postcard to say I had arrived. If that had been me, I'd have been frantic! Since then going across Europe on my own was a regular event.

Luckily I married a man in the airline business so travel was a big part of our lives. We've been to India several times, Indonesia, Vietnam, all over Australia, and to almost every corner of Europe. I'm writing this from a house in France where we have been entertaining our daughter Clare and her family. We had taken them to England but it's a first trip for the twins to mainland Europe and they are making the most of every minute, including eating snails and sipping red wine (they just turned 16). 

A grown-up Rhys enjoying Nice
Our own children grew up traveling frequently. We always went to England at least once a year, and to other fun places on vacation. They each followed this up with a junior year abroad and then both Clare and Jane went to work in other countries. It was a real growing-up experience for all of them.  And my own travel gene? I have decided I don't need to visit strange and exotic locations. I want to return to places I love. Lots of France and Italy, Switzerland and Austria, and maybe a little taste of Hawaii occasionally.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  When I was a teenager, my father was in the foreign service--a cultural affairs officer for USIA. When I was a junior in high school, I went visit him and his family for a few weeks in Hamburg, Germany--and ended up spending six months! That summer, and about half of my senior year in high school. So it was total immersion European living--and a life-changing experience.

I remember one chilling experience: we went into East Berlin, just my fellow 16-year-old foreign service kid pal Allison and I, because my diplomat dad was not allowed to accompany us. Talk about life-changing--it was if the war had just ended, bleak and bombed out, and patrolled by Vopos with snarling German Shepherds. Two cute Jewish girls from America were most definitely not welcomed. 
Checkpoint Charlie, c. 1965

Hank in the 60's
We also went to Amsterdam  and London and Stockholm and it was all amazing and seemed very natural and not touristy--since I lived there, I had to go to the grocery and buy flowers and go to clubs and ride the Ubahn and hang out in parks and not have to DO anything. I learned to speak German pretty well..much of that, sadly is gone, it seems. I attended the International School, so you can imagine the life-broadening experience for a girl from Indiana.  After that, travel never seemed unusual.

Now? It seems like it takes a lot more planning. I'm not sure there is one photo of me there. But here's what I looked like at the time.

LUCY BURDETTE: My first trip abroad was with my family when I was in high school. It was one of those "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" deals. All we kids remember my father freaking out because he was driving around Rome in heavy traffic at night and we couldn't find a room. I also remember feather beds and wiener schnitzel in Switzerland, and desperately wishing for ice in our Coke. I think I've improved as a traveler since those long-ago days! 

JENN McKINLAY: Italy with my mom! A real gal pal trip that included lots of gelato, wine, and art museums. We cherish that trip and the memories made, which includes my mom flagging down the police when she had a beef with the one of the transportation monitors on the city bus! Hiiiilarious! And, yes, I did come back with a fabulous new appreciation of the world, which is why I took the Hooligans to London a few years ago. There is nothing like travel to broaden the horizons.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My parents took me to Europe the September after I graduated from college (probably because they were so thrilled not to be paying tuition!) Like Lucy's, it was a "if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium" trip. We started in London, then rented a car in Oxford and did Oxford, Stratford, Bath, Stonehenge, and the Cotswolds. Then across the channel and the train to Paris, Provence, Rome, Florence, Venice. On to Switzerland and Germany, then Amsterdam and finally the ferry back to England for our return flights. 

Eurail pass, American Express Traveler's checks, and Frommer's how many ever dollars a day. I absolutely loved every bit of it, but especially England. Obviously. I lived at home the next nine months, worked and saved money to go back to England on my own, which I did the following June. I had a bus pass and traveled all over England and Scotland, staying in cheap B&Bs, pretty much until my money ran out. I know I have photos somewhere from the first trip, buy I have no idea where! Regardless, it was life altering, in so many ways.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What was your first trip abroad? Or your first great solo travel adventure in your own country?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Art Up Close and Personal--Monet: The Late Years

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We all grew up with prints of great paintings, right? My parents had huge framed Gaugin and Cezanne prints. I had Renoirs--the Two Girls at the Piano went with me from high school to college. And the prints were pretty, nice to look at, something to hang on the walls.

Then, on my first trip to Paris, I saw the real Renoirs in the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and I sat on the bench in the gallery and CRIED. They were so staggeringly alive!!! So REAL! I saw many other great paintings, too, and I learned that there was no comparison between the print and the original work.

Fast forward to this week, museum outing #2, with my painter sister-in-law who is visiting.  An exhibition called MONET: THE LATE YEARS is on at the fabulous Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, and we made a day of it. 

 It was amazing. It was curated by the Kimbell, and only traveled to one other city, San Francisco. There are over fifty paintings from the last decade of Monet's life. He had suffered great personal loss in 1914, the deaths of his wife and his eldest son. He was also losing his eyesight to cataracts.

After a fallow period spent grieving, he painted feverishly until the end of his life in 1926, confining his subjects to his house and garden at Giverny. His style changed dramatically. Here is early Monet from the Impressionist period, all soft and dreamy, the palette muted.

Here are some of the later paintings from the exhibition.

Look at the energy and passion, the bold brushstrokes and heavy paint in some of these last paintings.

And here are my sister-in-law Dorothy and me with our friend Claude in his garden at Giverny.

Of course I bought the exhibition book--it was a once in a lifetime memento, and fascinating reading. I'm going to be thinking about these paintings for a long time.

Reds and readers, what was the first fine art you ever saw in person, and how did it affect you?