Monday, April 30, 2018

What We're Watching

Just as I'm always looking for great book recommendations, I'm equally eager to get movie and TV recommendations.  I'll go first, with the hope that like a chain letter, I'll get many suggestions in return!
Acorn TV has provided the three most recent shows I've been watching.  They're also available on DVD if you don't have Acorn.  The first, SUSPECTS, is a show about a team of detectives in Manchester, England.  The amazing thing about this show is that the dialogue is largely improvised.  This, and the style of the camera work, gives it a documentary-like style.  It's fast paced—I need the subtitles even though it's in English—and the investigative work they do is very compelling.  I'm not sure how they would solve crimes in the U.K. without the help of CCTV!  I hope this show is picked up for another season.

THE DISAPPEARANCE is a french miniseries about the disappearance of a teenage girl in Marseilles, France.  I binged this one and even sent the DVD to my mom since I thought she'd enjoy it, too.  There are many cliffhangers, and the acting is great.  There are a couple of plot twists that are rather implausible (and don't even get me started on the cleavage baring wardrobe of the female cop), but I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries, particularly those set outside of the U.S.

My third pick is very different in tone:  It's lighter and doesn't focus on serious crime.  STRIKING OUT is set in Dublin and follows a young lawyer who has "struck out" on her own after leaving a large corporate firm.  The main characters are charming, and it's interesting to get a bit of insight into the Irish legal system.  I leave the subtitles on for this show, too.  The accents are lovely, but interfere as I try to follow the plot!

How about you, Reds?  What are you watching these days?

JENN McKINLAY: The last TV show I was really hooked on was THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW. Loved, loved, loved it, but they changed the format and the cast so that's over. Sadly, I don't watch much TV. If I find something I like, I will binge watch it, but most of my evenings are spent reading, playing ping pong with the Hooligans, or floating in the pool with the Hub while listening to the Grateful Dead. I am really looking forward to the recommendations here - clearly I need to up my TV game.

HALLIE EPHRON: The two shows I love are VERA (with Brenda Blethyn based on the series by Ann Cleeves) and THE DETECTORISTS.

Up to now, all seven seasons of VERA have been on Acorn, but suddenly, the new season is going to Britbox. BOOO. I really don't want another subscription.

THE DETECTORISTS is not a crime show—it's a quirky British ensemble comedy about a bunch of sweet sad sacks who love to go out with their metal detectors in search of buried treasure. Can't wait for the new season. Also loved, but waiting for new seasons of: GLOW and THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL.

I'm trying to get hooked on CASE STUDIES and BOSCH, but so far not succeeding. And though I loved the first episodes of SHERLOCK, the final ones that are streaming are too bizarre. And wondering about THE AMERICANS. Advice??

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh, I'm no further along on TV than I was the last time we discussed it. We have one more episode of THE CROWN to watch, then will be waiting for the third season. I will have to try VERA, since I'm so hooked on Ann Cleeves's Shetland mysteries. Actually Jenn, I think you are doing exactly the right thing playing pool with the hooligans and floating in the pool with hub. Great priorities!

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Ingrid, I'm checking out all three of the shows you mentioned. Although how I'll ever manage to watch all of them, I don't know. I'm behind on VERA and just about everything else.

What we have been watching and loving is a sci-fi series on Netflix called TRAVELERS. People from the future send their consciousnesses back to the 21st century to try to affect the future timeline. There are, of course, the usual time travel paradoxes, but it's so well done, and we love all the characters so much that we are totally hooked. Two more episodes to watch in season two, but I just read that season three is in production. Although it's supposed to be set in Seattle, it's actually filmed in Canada, and all the actors are Canadian.
I'm also loving a series running on my local PBS station, but I think it is also on Acorn, called PIE IN THE SKY. It ran for about five years in the mid-nineties in the UK. Richard Griffith's stars as an irascible police officer who is trying to retire and open a restaurant. Absolutely charming, and I adore it.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So here's what happened. We love THE AMERICANS and really look forward to it. If you haven't watched it, the pilot episode is one of the bet ever, and the show kept going beautifully—now it the midst of the last season. All good. About Russian spies embedded as Americans, and it's great.

We also love HOMELAND. More spies. All good.  But now, one  of the actors who plays a spy on THE AMERICANS is now in the cast of HOMELAND, as a spy!  I am hopelessly confused.

Same thing happened with two other shows. We started watching MADAME SECRETARY long ago—you DO watch that, right? SO good, about a female Secretary of State.  Then we started watching DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, about the one cabinet member left alive after bad guys blow up the US Capitol.  So then the next week on MADAME SECRETARY, they walked into the Capitol building, of course, and I said to Jonathan—hey! How did they  rebuild that so fast? Then I realized—it was another show.

Maybe I am simply not cut out for this, and should stick with PROJECT RUNWAY!

I am also ashamed to say we finally started watching BREAKING BAD.  We had started once, and decided it was a no. Then, for some reason, we tried it again.  Readers, it is fabulous. Fabulous! Surprising in every way. Highly highly recommended, but then you probably are all watching it already.
Brenda Blethyn a.k.a Vera Stanhope
RHYS BOWEN:  Another VERA fan here and having just met Brenda Blethyn, I'm even more of a fan because she was so lovely and friendly and just hung out with us at Malice. I was hooked on THE CROWN and VICTORIA, and I gather there will be a season three of both.  I love THE AMAZING RACE because they go to such different parts of the world. Otherwise a lot of PBS documentaries.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The Smithie and I have gotten into a wonderful crime fiction/thriller/horror series on Amazon Prime - FORTITUDE. It's a combination of Arnaldur Indriðason, Michael Crichton, and your favorite arctic nature documentary - a genuinely twisty, puzzling mystery set in a fictionalized version of Svalbard, where climate change is threatening the livelihood of scientists, fishermen and the tourism economy. 

It has an amazing cast, comprising Scandanavian and Irish actors I've never seen before with star power like Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon and Dennis Quaid. The breakout is Richard Dormer as the lonely, conflicted sheriff at the center of the story. I can almost always spot the clues and figure our whodunnit well before the end of movie or TV mysteries, but I was well and truly stumped throughout the first series. Two seasons are up already, and the Irish/UK producer, SKY Atlantic, has signed for a third and final series. If you have Prime, check it out, and let me know what you think.

What TV gems can you share with us today, Readers?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Dinner with the Reds: Middle Eastern Beef and Green Bean Stew

Congratulations to Red Rhys Bowen, winner of the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel:
 In Farleigh Field

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's Sunday, the best time for an easy dinner. Maybe you're on the way home from Malice Domestic, maybe you've been working in the garden, perhaps you're just having a much-needed lazy day. Whichever; you want a tasty meal you don't have to spend much time on. Since I am the Queen of Lazy Cooking, I'm here to help you out, dear readers.

Today's recipe is a loose adaptation of fasolia, a traditional Middle Eastern beef stew with green beans. You can make it the slow way, with cubed stew beef in a dutch over, or you can make it the fast way with ground chuck; in either version, the prep time is minimal. Unlike a lot of stews, this is pantry-staple heavy - no need to chop and chop and chop a variety of veggies.

1 lb beef stew meat, cubed or a little over 1 lb ground chuck

If using stew beef, seasoned flour: flour, salt and pepper in a bag in which you can toss the beef. (I use saved bread bags for this, btw.)

Olive oil for sauteeing stew beef or of you're using low-fat-content ground chuck

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, diced or heaping teaspoon of pre-chopped garlic

1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes with liquid

1/2 can tomato paste

1 t each ground allspice and paprika

1/2 t each cinnamon and ground coriander (you can substitute a generous serving of fresh cilantro if you have it)

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup tapenade. This is one of my pantry staples, since I don't make appetizers or cocktail nibbles; you can substitute diced olives, but it's better if they're the kind that's been put up in oil.

2 1/2 c water

1 lb green beans - frozen, canned or fresh. They can be French cut, sliced or whole.

If using stew beef, toss the cubes in the seasoned flour and saute in the olive oil until browned. Remove meat with a slotted spoon. Saute onion and garlic until limp, then add the spices and stir to develop flavor. 

If using ground chuck, saute the meat, adding oil if necessary. Before the beef is completely brown, add the onion and garlic. Saute until limp. Drain beef is necessary, then add spices.

For both versions: add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and tapenade or chopped olives, stirring well. Add bay leaf and water.

For stew beef: bring to a boil, then simmer low for 1 1/2 hours.

For ground chuck: bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

At the end of cooking time, add in the green beans. Simmer until heated through (or cooked, if you're ambitiously using fresh instead of frozen.)

Traditionally served on rice, we also had the leftover on spaghetti, so use whatever suits you. The stew holds up well to a bold red wine, and if you happen to have some pita bread and tzatiki or hummus from the deli, it'll look (and taste) like you made a fancy meal. No need to tell anyone it took you 15 minutes to put together.

Sihatayn! !صحتين

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thinking Happy Thoughts

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The news these days. Ugh. Right? You scarcely dare to turn on the radio for fear of what dreadful thing you're going to find out has happened. Reading the newspaper is an exercise in self-induced anxiety, and going online just proves that roughly fifty percent of humanity is bent on driving the other fifty percent crazy (and vice versa.) What's a gal to do? Me, I've decided to take deep breaths and count some things that make me happy.

1) A lovely fire in the woodstove. In the depths of winter, I keep two fires going from the time I get up until bedtime, and we all tend to sit close, one side warm and the other cold. (There are some wicked drafts in my 200-year-old house.) Now that it's spring, I start a fire when the sun goes down and the temperatures drop into the low forties or high thirties. Just a couple logs in and the whole room is cozy. It's almost as easy and rewarding as switching on a gas flame.

2) New nail polish. I've just put on a shade I got in a little gift basket from a friend, and now my fingernails are the same shade as ballerina's kid slippers. It lifts my heart whenever I see them - which, let's face it, is quite a lot. I have forty-some bottles already, so it isn't like I needed another one... but it sure is nice.

3) Manatees. In videos. Yes, I watch videos of manatees. They're ridiculously soothing, and yes, I know about the challenges they have with their environment. I need to  send a donation to the Everglades Foundation. Because we can all use some peaceful aquatic mammals in our lives. 

4) Sleeping in. Okay, I don't get to indulge in this much, since I drive Youngest to high school five days a week and try to make it to church on Sundays (if she has a late-night thing on Saturday, all bets are off.) In addition, my Shih Tzu, Louis, is getting on in years, and his bladder tends to wake him up at the crack of dawn. But on those mornings when the stars align, and I sleep till ten, it's heaven.

4a) Sunday afternoon naps. Scientifically proven to be the best sleep of the week.

5) The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's new baby boy. Named Louis! Just like my dog! Also, I die every time I see they way little George and Charlotte are dressed. Why can't we revive tiny tweed knickers and smocked dresses in this country? (Please don't tell me no one is the UK dresses their children like that either. I want to believe.)

6) RESOLVE(TM) Pet Expert Carpet Cleaner and Arm & Hammer Pet Deodorizer.  See: aging dog's bladder, above.

7) Free range eggs scrambled, over easy or made into omelettes. With the lengthening days, my friend Mary's hens wake up and get to work. Let's not tell them their efforts to populate the world with hundreds of new chickens will mostly wind up as gloriously full-flavored, brilliantly yellow breakfasts.

8) Reading good books. Here at JRW, we've talked about what we've been reading recently and what looks interesting from yesterday's crop of Edgar Award winners. After a rather fallow winter, I've finally hit a streak of great reads. The feeling you have after putting down a wonderful book is matched only by the pleasure of picking up the next equally anticipated tome from your TBR pile.

9) Related: Home, garden and travel magazines. Give me a two-page picture of a Maldives resort and an article about everything I should do while there, and I'm in bliss. "Gosh, at two thousand a night inclusive, it's not bad," I say to myself, ignoring the fact that the Maldives will be underwater by the time I have enough spare change to vacation there. 

I'm also fond of going over articles about adventure travel as if I, a person who complains about her knees after three blocks, might really hike up Machu Picchu or go cave diving. Of course, I'd have to buy lots of gear (there's an article about that) but I can cover it with the funds left over from my Maldives trip.

10) Being part of this blogging community. Not just my sister Reds - I look forward to visiting with all of you every day. Thanks for brightening my life, dear readers!

Now it's your turn: what are the things making you happy these days?

Friday, April 27, 2018

And the Edgar Award Goes to...

Best Novel

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown & Co./Mulholland Books)

When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules--a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders--a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman--have stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes--and save himself in the process--before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.  

Best First Novel by an American Author

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper (HarperCollins – Ecco)
Eleven-year-old Polly is smart far beyond her years. But she's a loner. Her mother tells her she has 'gunfighter eyes', like the father she's never met. In prison, about to be released, Nate runs afoul of the powerful leader of the Aryan Brotherhood. Marked for death on his release, Nate soon realizes that everyone he has ever loved is a target - including his daughter, Polly. Now, forced into hiding by the greenlight placed upon them, Nate finds himself having to teach his estranged daughter how to survive in a kill-or-be-killed world, all the while observed by Polly's teddy bear, who is soon the only outlet for the little girl's emotions. Soon the two of them find themselves on a non-stop struggle for survival, and along the way, discover the bonds that eluded them for so many years... 

Best Paperback Original

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (Sourcebooks – Sourcebooks Landmark) 
In 1837, a woman's dismembered body is found scattered across London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and fallen woman, is sentenced to hang for her alleged role in the murder; although she professes her innocence, she is hiding darkness in her past.

Edmund Fleetwood is the young, idealistic lawyer tasked with Sarah's case. The stakes for both are high: Edmund has untold gambling debts he must urgently settle, and Sarah is desperate to escape the gallows. But as the two grow closer, the barriers between confessor and penitent start to blur, and Edward can't be sure if Sarah is a victim or a murderer.

Best Short Story

 “Spring Break” by John Crowley in New Haven Noir  (Akashic Books)

Best Fact Crime

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Penguin Random House – Doubleday) 
 In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
            Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.
            As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
Best Critical/Biographical Work

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson (W.W. Norton & Company) 
In this definitive biography of Chester B. Himes (1909–1984), Lawrence P. Jackson uses exclusive interviews and unrestricted access to Himes’s full archives to portray a controversial American writer whose novels unflinchingly confront sex, racism, and black identity. Himes brutally rendered racial politics in the best-selling novel If He Hollers Let Him Go, but he became famous for his Harlem detective series, including Cotton Comes to Harlem. A serious literary tastemaker in his day, Himes had friendships―sometimes uneasy―with such luminaries as Ralph Ellison, Carl Van Vechten, and Richard Wright.
Jackson’s scholarship and astute commentary illuminates Himes’s improbable life―his middle-class origins, his eight years in prison, his painful odyssey as a black World War II–era artist, and his escape to Europe for success. More than ten years in the writing, Jackson’s biography restores the legacy of a fascinating maverick caught between his aspirations for commercial success and his disturbing, vivid portraits of the United States.

Best Young Adult

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books for Young Readers) 
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Best Juvenile!/James-Ponti/Framed!/9781481436335

Vanished! by James Ponti (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time—well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!

After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…

Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story.

However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!

Best Television Episode

"Somebody To Love" -Fargo by Noah Hawley 

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award

“The Queen of Secrets” by by Lisa D. Gray in New Haven Noir  (Akashic Books) 

Mary Higgins Clark Award

The Widow's House by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins – William Morrow Paperbacks) 
When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess's writing career.
They take a caretaker's job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It's been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare's hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.
But their new life isn't all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…

2018 Raven Award
Photo by Emily Giglierano
Kristopher Zigirski of BOLO Books!     

and The Raven Book Store of Lawrence, KS!

Ellery Queen Award
Michael Connelly presents the award to M. Pepin. Photo by Criminal Element @crimehq

Robert Pepin, translator, editor and publisher

We've all got a lot to add to our TBR piles! What winners pique your interest, dear readers?  What, if any, have you already read?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

With Malice in our Hearts

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's that time of year - the Edgar Awards tonight (fingers crossed for our own Rhys Bowen, who's been nominated for Best Paperback Original and Hallie Ephron who's been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award!), and the opening ceremonies of Malice Domestic tomorrow. All over the country, people who read mysteries, write mysteries, sell mysteries and critique mysteries are packing up and headed for the train station, the interstate or the airport. Destination: Bethesda, Maryland, for the 30th Malice Domestic conference. I'm not going this year (alas!) but I have so many memories surrounding Malice, I feel it's a part of my life, like the sleep-away camp you went to every summer, or the yearly trip to Grandma's house. 

Just as with summer camp or Grandmother's they're not all rosy recollections. There was the year I got a migraine a half hour before the Agatha Awards banquet was to begin. I was a nominee, and my publisher was expecting me at the table, so I popped one of my VERY strong anti-migraine pills. The pain and halos went away, but the medication made me strung-out and nauseous. I was happier than Louise Penny was when she won, because it meant I could take off for my room as soon as the event ended! Then there was another time I lost - yes, y'all, I am a MULTIPLE Agatha Award loser! - and my publisher, Andy Martin, decided to console me by ordering a nice bottle of wine at the after party. And then another. And then another... somehow I made it up to my floor and, with no one in sight, I literally crawled to my room. NEVER AGAIN.

Many of my best memories center around the times I was at the con with my husband. Taking place near the end of the school year, it was often harder for Ross to get a substitute, so he didn't come to Malice as frequently as he did, say, to Bouchercon. But if you met him at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, you'd remember - he was the bearded redhead handing out bound interviews with the Best First nominees and talking about his "beautiful and talented wife." Ross would get WAY overexcited at the charity auction and several times wound up with enormous baskets that were nigh-on impossible to bring home on a flight. When I pointed this out, the next year he switched up and bid on a character name... in our dear friend Jeff Cohen's next book. $300 for a name Jeff would have popped in if we'd asked him! The next year (I think in recompense) Jeff took us out for the ultimate "guy" dinner - a top-end steakhouse owned by, as I recall, a major league baseball player. I had never been in that sort of restaurant before, and we all got increasingly silly as the enormous slabs of meat emerged with sides of vegetables that appeared to have been exposed to nuclear radiation a la the 50 Foot Woman. I had a broccoli stalk bigger than most bonsai trees. When the waiter brought out a baked potato that was literally as large as Jeff's head, we all lost it.

But my favorite memory was in 2003, the moment the announcer said, "The Agatha Award for Best First Mystery goes to..." I had been concentrating so hard on my game face - I wanted to look pleased for whoever won and not show any disappointment - I didn't immediately register that she had said my name. Ross didn't miss it, though. He jumped straight into the air (in his tuxedo, mind) pumped his fist and said, "Yes!" loud enough for the rest of the ballroom to hear. It makes me smile to this day.

How about you, Reds? What's your memorable Malice moments?

 RHYS BOWEN: I've attended every Malice since 1998, except for last year when John was having major surgery and I didn't want to leave him. Oh, and the time I was in the hotel, but not actually able to attend because I had fallen and broken my pelvis and was awaiting a limo to take me home. And Carolyn Hart took such wonderful care of me and Hank and many others came to visit as I tried to smile bravely, while all the while screaming inside "I want to go home. Get me out of here!".

But my favorite Malice memory is when I won my first Agatha. The awards are usually given starting with best YA and moving toward best novel at the end. This presenter must have been nervous because she started with best novel. I thought I heard my name but didn't quite believe it. Then everyone around me was jumping up and down and beaming at me. I don't remember how I floated to the podium or what I said. I half expected, when I got there, that the presenter would say, What are you doing here? We didn't call you. But they did. And it was true. and it felt wonderful. 

I've been nominated many times since and won twice more but the thrill never gets old. The butterflies as the names are being read, the "gracious-loser" smile at the ready and the rush of pure joy when you hear your name.

From LCC, clockwise:Annette Rogers, Ingrid Willis, Jenn, Catriona McPherson, Rochelle Staab & Tammy Kaehler

JENN McKINLAY: Oh, Julia, that sounds like a bushelful of wonderful and humorous (minus the migraine) memories. As for me, I've only been to one Malice. It was lovely, and I got to meet so many wonderful people. But it's just too darn hard to get to Bethesda (why is it always Bethesda?) from Phoenix, so I haven't made the trek again. Left Coast Crime makes up for it, and I do try to go there every year, except this year it was in Reno and I already have to go to Reno in May for the RT Convention because I've been nominated for the Reviewer's Choice Award and it feels like bad form if I don't show up. So many conferences so little time! Gah!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Julia, that is so wonderful! I love that Ross moment, and I can completely picture it.  Well, Malice, it's amazing, non-stop, seeing everyone and talking talking talking!
My very first year, before I have a book,  I was SO clueless, but I figured I'd better go get the lay of the land because Prime Time would be eligible for the next year. If I remember correctly, well, I was such a newbie, that Charlaine Harris was the guest of honor, and I had absolutely no idea who she was! I was friendless and lonely, until I figured out that there were lots of people just like me, and so I tried to talk to everyone, and it was fine.

Louise Penny and Hank

The next year--long story short--PRIME TIME won for Best First! I could NOT believe it. I am having a racing heart even just thinking about it! And that year was Louise Penny's first win, too, and we bonded and hooted and hollered about it. I will also never forget how incredibly happy she was. "I have an Agatha!" she pretend-bragged to me. "I do, too!" I pretend-bragged back. It was fabulous.

I have won several times since then, and each time is a total utter complete life-changing joy.

This year I don't have a book even eligible, since TRUST ME doesn't come out til this year, and SAY NO MORE (which lost to  Margaret Maron, so that's okay :-)) was in 2016.  So it'll be fun to go without any pressure!

Hallie with Susan Van Kirk, from her blog

But readers and commenters, count off! Who'll be there??

HALLIE EPHRON: Not me. I wish. I've been to Malice and loved it each time. You know, every mystery conference has its own special flavor, and there's a sweetness to Malice that reflects the content of the cozy mysteries and the generosity of its authors. 


Barb Ross, Lucy & Krista Davis

LUCY BURDETTE: I totally remember that moment when Ross shot out of his seat, Julia. He was the king of enthusiasm and your greatest supporter! I have missed the last few Malices, as it conflicts with our driving north with elderly pets or else other more exotic travels. It's a lovely conference--and so much fun to meet readers and see old writer pals. Penguin used to take all its authors to the Ruth Chris steakhouse where everyone would eat and drink too much and share state secrets. I've got to try to get there next year!

Sara Paretsky & Ingrid at Bouchercon

INGRID THOFT:  I’ve never been to Malice, but it sounds like I’m missing out.  Maybe you experts can answer a question for me:  Is it still a conference for “traditional mysteries” as the website says?  I admit I haven’t seriously considered attending because I’m not sure that my books fit that description!  Any thoughts, Malice Mavens?


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, what great memories of Ross! Oh, gosh, thinking about Malice makes me a little sad. I haven't been in ages, and it was such a big part of my first few years as a writer. 

Kaye Barley, Debs, Marcia Talley &; Kate Charles
 I've been nominated twice, for Best First and for Best Novel, so you can put me in the multiple loser category! But I had a great time, regardless, and I met so many wonderful people there, some of whom have been my besties for years. But it just got to where two big conferences and a trip or two to England were too much to put in the schedule, and I have made it to Bouchercon every year I possibly could since 1991! Have fun, everyone!

JULIA: Ingrid, "Traditional mystery" covers a lot of ground, and I think your books would fit in fine. The attendees love cozies, but they're also BIG readers of every sort of mystery. Louise's series has a cop at the heart of the story. Hank's got a reporter, which falls squarely into the "shamus" category, Margaret Maron has a judge...I don't think a private eye is too far a stretch. 

How about you, dear readers? As Hank says, are you going? Or following along at home? And do you have any conference memories you'd like to share?

Note: The photo of me and Ross was taken by Sharon Wheeler of Reviewing the Evidence. For some reason, I can't caption it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It's Only A Game

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Last week we talked about our latest reads and swapped recommendations, but let's be honest - there's something else we all do in our spare time. Maybe in bed, maybe in the bathroom, sometimes with others but usually alone...

I'm speaking, of course, about video games. Or computer games, or mobile games - we all love 'em. Or at least some of them. I'm not talking about the MMORPG games that you need special consoles and  headsets for. I'm talking Farmville. Solitare. Angry Birds.

Me, I'm addicted to ULTIMATE JEWEL. It's soothing to watch all those shiny jewels line up and disappear, plus it has the added benefit of being impossible to lose. In fact, I've started playing to get the lowest score possible. I have the freebie version, which means in between games I get ads urging me to refi my mortgage, or to buy clothing perfectly suited to a 13-year-old girl. I guess I'm not their target demographic.

I used to play BEJEWELED 3 constantly - it's another pretty, glittery thing with exploding baubles. It's designed to suck you in by having each level get more and more difficult, with less and less time to make moves, until the program overwhelms you. Eventually, it stressed me out - I have enough going on in my life, did I really need a game calling me a loser? 

My other (current) game is MAHJONG SOLITAIRE.  Like solitaire with cards, it's the perfect thing to keep tucked away on your laptop for mental breaks between writing pages, answering emails and paying bills. 

Youngest's obsession is CANDY CRUSH, which is notorious for its ability to make ravening addicts out of its players. There have been times - I swear this is true - when my daughter is in the bathroom so long I'm afraid something biologically wrong has happened. Nope! She was just engrossed in getting to a new level.

I have a good friend whose love affair with TETRIS was so passionate, it figured into her decision to not install internet in her home. She was worried she'd never get anything done. On the plus side, she's a genius at packing boxes and loading trucks.

And finally, my very first, and well beloved computer game: OREGON TRAIL. Does anyone else remember making the trek with 100 pounds of flour and 15 boxes of bullets (that got swept away when your wagon foundered in the Green River.) How many of us had loved ones die of dysentery along the way? BTW, there's a site where you can play the game the way God intended, with a black screen and little square pixels in the shape of oxen. Good times.

How about you, dear readers? What are your game addictions?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Accepting Parent: the adventure of Accepted Students Day

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Over the years, dear readers, it's been my pleasure to be your guide to all things collegiate, from taking tours to moving-in-day, from having your university student home for the holidays to having her home for good (or until she moves in with her boyfriend, which may FINALLY be happening next month. Don't get me started.)

I'm back with another adventure in the fields of academe: the Accepted Students Day. That's right, Youngest, who first made her appearance in this blog at the age of ten (she had just started reading the Harry Potter series) is headed off to college this fall. The lucky institution? The Honors College at the University of Maine, which offers a core civilization and classics curriculum, its own dorms and classroom spaces, and - this is the part I get a little dizzy over - enough in grants and scholarships that Youngest will be able to graduate debt free. I'll give those of you who are still paying off loans a chance to sit down and breath it through.

Before making that decision, though, she wanted to get an in-depth look, so off we went to Orono, Maine (an almost three hour trip, which reassured her I wouldn't be "too close" to, I don't know, pop over and tuck her in at night. My children have always deeply overestimated my interest in what might be going on in their dorm rooms.)

Accepted Students Day is to the campus tour as a full-blown wedding vendors fair is to skimming The Knot. Every kid there has gotten that lovely fat envelope, and every parent has seen the financial aid offer, and the university is there to seal the deal, with administrators, deans, professors and some VERY peppy students all showing up to tell you and your child in detail why this is the Best of all Possible Schools. Here are a few tips to make the most of your day:

1) Embrace the schmaltz. Every campus has a group called Key Club or Student Ambassadors or such, comprised of young people who will grow up to be Realtors and run car dealerships. They are super, super excited about Accepted Students Day. (I suspect surly, disgruntled university attendees are locked in their dorms until all the guests have left.)

 At UMaine, the incoming kids and their parents walked through a crowd of cheering, blue-clad youths and a giant inflatable bear's face to get into the Performance Center where everything kicked off. The bear mascot was there as well, giving high fives and punching it out...with parents, as the high-schoolers were to a man too cool/embarrassed/jaded to give it up for the Bear. We middle-aged folks were loving it, however, and why not? We're light years beyond cool, anyway. May as well cheer and applaud and ooh and aaah. The same thing happened when the program opened with a fabulous a capella group.

 "Oh, my God," Youngest said. "Can they get more cliched?" I, meanwhile, was butt-dancing in my seat.

2) Ease up on the cheerleading.  I really wanted Youngest to like UMaine. (In addition to debt free, my "parental expected contribution" was $200. Parents, I'll wait a moment while you fan yourselves.) So, I admit, I went a tad overboard. I got her a t-shirt. And sunglasses. I praised the theatre. I proclaimed the blueberry popovers the best ever (they were good.) I pointed out the architectural excellence of the buildings - yes, even the brutalist library. Why is it always the library? Finally, we were walking through a green area signed "Arboretum." "Gosh," I said, "Look at all the beautiful..." before I could say the word 'trees,' we had run out of them. It was a three-pine arboretum.

 "Mom," Youngest said. "You need to cool it." She was right.

3) Remember, you're not the prospective student. The university broke the kids into groups for sessions with the professor(s) heading up their departments of interest. Since Youngest is considering International Affairs, we hiked over to a conference space inside a cool museum of Native People's art and technology ("Mom! Stop looking! You're going to get lost!") to meet with their head. His presentation was so compelling, wanted to sign up. Afterwards, we stayed behind to speak one-on-one (Youngest was great about asking questions and zeroing in on her interests. At her age, my primary question was, "Where the boys at?") The professor had mentioned the intersection of climate change with national security, and I piped up about a program I had just heard on NPR. We discussed it for a minute, and he turned to Youngest. "You're interested in the international repercussions of climate change?"

"No," she said. "My mother is." Oops. 

As an aside, they should make a college for old people. It would be all about the academics, which we're finally mature enough to want to focus on, with a really good dining hall and ergonomically correct study carrels. Bedtime at 9:30, strictly enforced.

And in that vein: 4) The things that excite you and the things that excite your student will be different. What I swooned over: the classics curriculum, the museum, the language requirement and the squishy leather chairs in the Honors College reading room. What Youngest swooned over: cute boys, an in-depth conversation with a sorority girl, the study-abroad programs and the Adirondack chairs in the park outside the Honors College.

What we both liked: lunch, the century-old residence hall she hopes to live in, those blueberry popovers (really, they were bakery quality.) Is that enough to be going forward? Yes, yes it is. We sent in the deposit after we got home. Go Black Bears!