Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Raven Thief by Gigi Pandian

 Jenn McKinlay: When I signed up for Left Coast Crime, I wasn't sure if I'd attend the banquet or not. I was bringing the Hub and thought it might be a nice date night since he plays a lot of gigs and nights out for just the two of us are a rarity. But then my friend Gigi Pandian reached out and asked me to host a table with her. Well, now I had a purpose so of course I said yes. 

Because I've been on deadline for what feels like forever, I didn't realize she had a book coming out the following Tuesday until we caught up to each other the day of the banquet. Naturally, I had to share my excitement!

THE RAVEN THIEF is the second in a new series, the Secret Staircase Mysteries, by Gigi and they are fabulous. In fact, if you saw my post on Tuesday you know the first in the series UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY was nominated for the Lefty in the Best Mystery category. Gigi visited us last year to tell us all about it, which you can read here: What's a Gothic Cozy Mystery.

What I love about this series so much is the locked room aspect of the mysteries. So many of my favorite mysteries like Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Lucy Foley's THE HUNTING PARTY, and Rachel Howzell Hall's THEY ALL FALL DOWN fall into the locked room mystery scenario which is different from the closed circle. A locked room mystery means that the murder has taken place in a locked room or an area sealed off from the rest of the world and the murder seems impossible. A closed circle mystery is a limited number of suspects in a fixed location and not so impossible.

How about you, Reds and Readers, are you a fan of locked room mysteries? What are some of your favorites?


One murder. Four impossibilities. A fake séance hides a very real crime.
Secret Staircase Construction just finished their first project with Tempest Raj officially a part of the team—a classic mystery novel-themed home interior. Their client is now ready to celebrate her new life without her cheating ex-husband, famous mystery author Corbin Colt. First up, a party, and Tempest and Grandpa Ash are invited to the exclusive mock séance to remove any trace of Corbin from the property—for good. It's all lighthearted fun until Corbin's dead body crashes the party.
The only possible suspects are the eight people around the séance table—a circle of clasped hands that wasn't broken. Suspicion quickly falls on Grandpa Ash, the only one with actual blood on him. To prove her beloved grandfather’s innocence, Tempest must figure out what really happened—and how—or Ash will be cooking his delectable Indian and Scottish creations nevermore.

Gigi has some upcoming events you don't want to miss:

VIRTUAL event for THE RAVEN THIEF at Poisoned Pen bookstore, Monday, March 27:

IN-PERSON book launch party for THE RAVEN THIEF in Oakland, California, Saturday, March 25:

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

She’s Gone to the Dogs - a guest blog by Margaret Mizushima

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You all know I love dogs. And I love mysteries. I also love small towns and danger in the wild outdoors. So I was astounded I'd never run across Margaret Mizushima's Timber Creek K-9 series until recently. It presses all of my buttons (plus, there's a simmering will-they-won't-they romance that develops in the background.) 

Those of you who were a little faster on the ball than I will be delighted to hear Margaret's latest, STANDING DEAD, is out now, and those of you who are saying, "Ooo, sounds good..." are in luck - STANDING DEAD is the eight book covering the adventures of Officer Maggie Cobb, handsome veterinarian  Cole Walker, and K-9 Robo, so there's a lot of great reading you can catch up on!

You might guess a writer who has been praised for her realistic, heart-felt portrayal of a working K-9 German Shepard and her relationship with her handler must have a lot of experience with canine friends. And you'd be right! Margaret is here to tell us about some of the memorable dogs in her life, and how those good boys and girls helped shape her award-winning fiction.



 When I married a veterinarian, I knew he loved animals, but I didn’t foresee that he would become a dog collector over the years. If I’d been paying attention, though, I would have read the signs. During vet school and before we married, Charlie adopted two unwanted dogs and then found them loving homes. After we married, he brought one black Labrador retriever into our home while I contributed two black half-Siamese cats. Black fur everywhere!



After forty-one years of marriage, we’ve lived with and loved countless pets, and we’ve also collected countless memories and stories. The first that comes to mind features a tri-colored Australian shepherd named Bear. Like so many of our dogs, Bear came to us through our vet clinic. Shy and sensitive, he preferred to lie at our feet or be petted rather than to work cattle or sheep like other herding dogs. When we realized how afraid he was of livestock, we gave up on training him and let him stay in the yard instead of going up to the barn. He soon became very attached to our five-year-old daughter.


One day, Charlie set up electric fencing in the open space next to our house so that we could graze sheep on the grass and weeds there. After releasing a ram and four ewes, he decided to leave the stock trailer in the middle of the enclosure to provide shade. As he worked to set up the trailer for shelter, he didn’t notice that our daughter had ducked under the fence and was running out to join him. But she caught the ram’s eye, and soon that big fellow squared off to charge.


Charlie lifted his gaze in time to see the ram charge, but he was too far away to intervene. As Charlie began to run and yell, Bear streaked under the fence and faced off that ram. Although frightened and trembling, that courageous dog saved his girl. You can bet he got extra treats that day.


Another story comes to mind about our Rottweiler named Ilsa. This dog came to us through our clinic at a time when our oldest was a latchkey, elementary-schooler and our youngest a toddler. Originally, we thought Ilsa would be a great dog for protection. But then a youngster in our community became lost during a family outing in the mountains and wasn’t found until much too late. So my husband and I decided to train Ilsa in Search and Rescue just in case one of our girls strayed from our campsite when we took a trip to the mountains.



Ilsa took to SAR training like she was born to it. Rottweilers are herding dogs by nature and when socialized and trained correctly, they want to assist their humans. Ilsa used a combination of air scenting and ground tracking as she became more and more skilled in finding people. Thank goodness we never had to ask Ilsa to search for a lost child. But during her training she was great at finding our kids in the yard when we asked them to hide before we shouted, “Ready or not, here she comes!”

 Little did I know that over twenty years later, I would turn to fiction writing and create a German shepherd character named Robo who was proficient in tracking, narcotics detection, and patrol. The Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries feature Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and a veterinarian named Cole Walker. Together they solve crimes that impact their fictional mountain community of Timber Creek, Colorado. There are eight books in the series, including this month’s new release, Standing Dead. I invite you to join Mattie, Robo, and Cole on their latest adventure.


Dogs can be our companions, our support animals, our helpers, and our protectors. And for this, all they want in return is love, food, and shelter. Roger Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” I think dog-lovers would agree with Caras. Do you have a story about a special dog or pet in your life?

Deputy Mattie Cobb and her sister, Julia, travel to Mexico to visit their mother, but when they arrive, they discover that she and her husband have vanished without a trace. Back in Timber Creek, Mattie finds a chilling note on her front door telling her to look for “him” among the standing dead up in the high country.      The sheriff’s department springs into action and sends a team to the mountains, where Mattie’s K-9 partner, Robo, makes a grisly discovery—a body tied to a dead pine tree. Mattie is shocked when she realizes she knows the dead man. And then another note arrives, warning that Mattie’s mother is in desperate straits. In a last-ditch gambit, Mattie must go deep undercover into a killer’s lair to save her mother—or die trying.




Margaret Mizushima writes the award winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She and her husband recently moved from Colorado, where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals, to a home in the Pacific Northwest. Find her on Facebook, on Twitter as @margmizu, on Instagram and on her website

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Left Coast Crime: A Wrap Up by Jenn McKinlay

 Jenn McKinlay: Not gonna lie, in a post Covid world, I've had a hard time getting back into the flow. Conferences seem like breeding grounds for the plague (watching The Last of Us did not help) and the travel expenses and time away didn't seem worth it. But then Left Coast Crime decided to hold their conference in my home state of Arizona. Well, how could I not go to a conference I'd enjoyed for years when it was just two hours away? Obviously, I had to go.

On deadline, I arrived late (still didn't meet that pesky deadline but whatever). Hub came with me - his first conference as we're empty nesters now - and within hours I was back in conference mode. As we walked through the fabulous El Conquistador hotel and I saw readers and writers I hadn't seen in a couple of years, I would swerve into  people's conversations, invade their lunches, and jump over short walls to catch them as they walked by for fear I would miss them if I didn't. As Hub observed, "Conference you is rather terrifying." My defense, "I have very little time and a lot of people to hug."

One of those people is Dru Ann Love of Dru's Book Musing, a fabulous book blog, who happened to be the Fan Guest of Honor this year. I've known Dru since I don't even know when but she does more for writers than most publishers do and she is a treasure. Seriously, we must protect her at all cost! 

Well, when Dru gave her acceptance speech, she took me out at the knees. She talked about her very first Left Coast Crime in Phoenix in 2016 where she found herself sitting in the lobby, alone, wondering about her place in things. She then said (and I'm paraphrasing because I have the memory of a turnip), "And then who came shooting across the lobby and plopped down next to me? Jenn McKinlay. We talked for sixty minutes." She spotted me across the room in the banquet crowd and asked, "Do you remember what we talked about?" I didn't so I shook my head. And she said, "The Hooligans." 

LOL, well, of course we did! Dru Ann then went on to say that that interaction was what conferences and Left Coast Crime were all about -- finding your people, being accepted, and forging lifelong friendships. She was 100 percent correct...and she made me cry. 

Dru Ann accepting her award.

The Hub and me and our table mates, applauding Dru.
(Photos by Christina Estes) 

There were so many wonderful moments like this throughout the conference. Hub, who is a bigger reader than I am -- frankly, he is the most well read person I've ever known -- had read most of the authors in attendance and was delighted to meet Naomi Hirahara (he was stunned when I told him, "She's my friend") and Ed Lin who I was lucky enough to be on a panel with alongside Leslie Karst, Leslie Budewitz, and Emmeline Duncan. 

And of course, I got to see our Rhys, which was wonderful, as always.

Rhys and Jenn

I also attended Rhys's panel - How to Keep a Series Fresh - and her response to how to end it when the series was definitively over was, "Well, when Clare and I are tired of Molly, we're only a few years away from the Titanic." Which, of course, sent the packed crowd into peals of laughter. 

There were so many more memories made and special moments shared but I don't want to hold you hostage, so I'll close with the list of nominees and winners of this year's Lefty. 

My takeaway was this: livestreams and zooms and all of that are lovely but nothing beats being with your people in person to share the tears and the laughter and the hugs. 

Now how about you, Reds and Readers, what in person events have you been attending and how are you feeling about it? 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Road Trip Food! by Jenn McKinlay

JENN MCKINLAY: Hub and I just did a short road trip to Tucson where I attended Left Coast Crime (more to come on that tomorrow). Now Tucson is only two hours away but we had to fill up the gas tank before we departed which means of course…snacks!!! Yes, even for a short road trip, I require snacks. I mean, what if you break down? You might have to live off that Cherry Dr. Pepper and Bugles for hours if you’re in a remote location. One has to be prepared.

Now Hub is an Arizona Sweet Tea, chili cheese Fritos, and beef jerky kind of guy, while I am a Hostess Sno-ball, Charleston Chew minis, and Dunkin’ coffee sort of gal. Yes, it’s shocking we managed to set aside these differences and marry, but here we are many years later. But on this road trip, I was in a pickle because I declared this March the month of no candy or processed carbs because I suspect I might have a sugar problem as in I love it but it’s unrequited. 

So, as I stood looking over my options at the convenient store (more accurately our local Circle K), I was stymied. Yes, I could have just bought water and called it a day but…road trip! I ventured into aisles I’d never seen before and ended up with a banana (they have fruit, who knew?) and a yogurt. Neither of these was as satisfying as my Sno-balls but I did not get colored coconut all over the interior of the car so I consider that a win.

All right, Reds, what’s your go to road trip snack? 

HALLIE EPHRON: Mini Mounds! You can buy them in bulk and eat them while driving. And tangerines. If one (or part of one) gets lost in the car while you’re driving, it won’t stink. And roasted almonds.

I made the mistake of not putting together snacks flying out of Key West a few weeks ago. I paid more than $6 in the airport for a pathetic 2 oz bag of stale trail mix. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Almonds. Definitely. I always keep almonds in my bag in case I might be starving (which happens all the  time on book tour, I’m not quite sure why, airport fast food is so unreliable unless it’s Dunkins or Starbucks, and I always seem to be out of food.) I also tuck away a plain bagel.

Almonds and plain bagels are good for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and go with wine and diet coke and coffee and  tea, so they are perfect no matter when.  And they are not too messy in the car–that’s why plain bagels, not sesame! 

RHYS BOWEN: We also completed that two hour road trip to Tucson–in the rain! Imagine, Arizona and it’s gloomy and raining. But I had brought snacks along so all was well: gluten free crackers and mini cheeses for Clare who is gluten free, Trader Joes cheese straws, cashews and pistachios and of course gummi bears. 

When I’m on book tour I always have a Kind bar, those tiny gouda cheeses, sometimes dried mango or preserved ginger… now I’m getting hungry thinking about it.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank taught me the trick with almonds, and now I keep a bag stashed in my glove compartment for hunger emergencies. But road trips demand FUN snacks, to my mind, as a reward for the chore of driving, driving, driving. I’ve always had a a soft spot for peanut M&Ms (the fact several of my kids don’t like them may play a role in this.)  And I’m crazy for Target’s Handful of Everything Trail Mix, which has, “a delectable blend of sweetened banana chips, mangos, pineapple, yogurt-flavored coated peanuts, chocolate chips, almonds, raisins, apricots, cranberries and coconut.” 

That last is the problem, as I will end up at my destination with a gentle layer of coconut flakes drifting across the drivers seat and the floor, as if I drove through show flurries. On the plus side, it makes my car smell slightly like a tropical resort, which is nice when I’m headed to Syracuse, NY in January.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love Corn Nuts. What's not to like about risking breaking a tooth or two and swelling up like the Michelin Man from the salt? But they are so good.

Next would be Cheddar popcorn, or Fritos. You can tell I have a weakness for the salty stuff. But on my most recent road trip, my daughter and I stopped at Buccee's (heaven in a truck stop) and discovered to our dismay that they don't carry Corn Nuts! We had to settle for Buccee's famous roasted pecans.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Rhys, I love Trader Joe’s cheese straws–bought them for our last trip south.

But I usually make sandwiches–egg salad or tuna salad or turkey and cheese with pickles and potato chips. And then some kind of gorp and maybe fruit and cheese and crackers. We eat all the way up and down the coast!

And now, Readers, what about you? What's your go-to road trip food?

Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Vegan Feast by Celia Wakefield

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Our own Celia Wakefield has always been interested in expanding her culinary horizons - in the times I've had the pleasure of pulling up a chair to her table I've been treated to every variety of cooking style and dishes from every continent except, perhaps, Antarctica. This past week, while my college roommate was visiting, we were both guests to an amazing vegan dinner - inspired, as you will see, by another stalwart Reds reader. The evening began with homemade hoummus with herbs, followed by Tikal Gomen (Ethiopian cabbage and potato stew) and naan, and polished off with lighter-than-air vegan meringues. We also polished off two bottles of very nice Prosecco - thank goodness sparking wine is also vegan!

I liked the meal so much that when Guest Son and Youngest came to visit on Thursday, I cooked the Tikal Gomen for them as well, so I can assure you it's a simple dish that comes together quickly and was well received by both the vegan and meat eaters at my house!



Good morning JRW’s and reading community, - thank you so much Julia for your trust in my cooking to the extent that you feed your family from my recipes and writing too. It is such fun thinking up new food ideas for the blog.


What’s cooking for March? Well we are not only snowed up this morning but also without internet service. Yes, only my phone line to the outside world as nothing else will respond; no emails, no browser, no TV, no Facebook and more. At least I have plenty of books to read uploaded on my Kindle app. But even without the internet I can write. Let’s talk about vegan cooking. 


Back in February I was emailing with Amanda Le Rougetel who told me that she was looking into and doing some vegan cooking. She also mentioned she wanted to expand her spices beyond her experience with chili. I agreed, chili and I do not mix well. However there are so many other spices available. Even the most remote person can have spices mailed to them and one site Diaspora Co. is both growing, harvesting and importing spices. Sana, the owner writes so enthusiastically painting delightful tiny pictures of Asian life in Oakland, Ca.

You might ask why vegan? Well it seems that vegan is being talked about world wide. I learned about Nicola Kagoro, the founder of Dinners with Chef Cola, from NPR. She “is breaking ground in Harare, Zimbabwe, as one of the first black female vegan chefs. Her monthly dinners bring guests together for an intimate, culinary adventure, with entertainment and a chance to connect over food, culture and more.” 


More and more people are realizing that the meat and potatoes they were raised on is not such a good choice for their health, the environment, climate change etc. I have been moving toward a more vegetarian life stye for several years now so vegan is just my attempt to broaden my knowledge. But while I try to keep meat, and particularly processed cuts (so delicious), to a minimum in the fridge, we are not really vegetarians. I had to learn the how of vegetarian cooking.


Of course the Great British Baking Open was probably where I first saw vegan baking. Here were the top amateur bakers in the UK turning out delicious bakes without blinking. I’m still not sure whether Paul Hollywood really enjoyed the vegan bakes but he is a trouper. It seems everyone is trying to put a little vegan into their meal plan. While I try to keep meat, and particularly processed cuts (so delicious), to a minimum in the fridge, we are not really vegetarians. I had to learn the how of vegetarian cooking and remember my first real experience: 




When my parents retired they settled in Cornwall in a tiny cottage but the kitchen was a decent size. After a life of tropical living with servants my Mum's cooking skills were quite basic so she joined the local Women’s Institute, a backbone of rural life skills in England and worked on her cooking. However when I came home I was still the designated chef. Once a crisis phone call from my father brought tiny Olivia and me back home as my brother had been in a bad car accident and was now in Cornwall too, recuperating. My mum greeted me with, “Thank goodness you’re here, Andrew is currently a vegetarian and I don’t know what to feed him!” I think quiche Lorraine saved the day. 


However with vegan there are no eggs, no cream, no cheese and I won’t even mention the "b word." So what I decided to look at was not a vegan lifestyle balancing proteins, carbs and other nutrients but how easy it might be to put together a vegan menu, and most important, would this be something I wanted to fit into our menu at home.  

My go to market for this exercise was Trader Joes and the key was aquafaba. I first heard of aquafaba watching Vegan Week on GBBS. Bakers were creating fantastic desserts using this liquid found in a can of garbanzos. There on TJ’s was the recipe for coffee or matcha meringues so with only four ingredients and my big mixer I was off and running. 


Stand mixer with whisk

2 cookie sheets lined with parchment

Piping tube, or ziplock bag with cut corner, or metal tea spoon


  • 1/4 Cup Aquafaba from 1 can of garbanzo beans

  • 1/4 Cup Cane sugar

  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bourbon extract

  • 1/4 tsp TJ’s 100% Colombian Instant Coffee, plus more for dusting

Preheat oven to 200°F. 

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.


  • Strain 1/4 cup liquid from garbanzo beans into a measuring cup

  • Add all measured ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. On medium power, whisk for one minute until aquafaba becomes foamy. Scrape round the bowl with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are fully incorporated. 

  • Increase the speed to high and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off briefly to scrape down the side of the bowl.

  • Once the meringue is stiff and glossy  fill a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip with meringue (or a one-gallon plastic zip-top bag with a corner cut off), and pipe onto the prepared baking sheet. Alternatively, drop mounds of meringue batter using a spoon.

  • Very lightly dust meringues with extra instant coffee, using a fine mesh strainer. Do not over-dust, or meringues may collapse.

  • Bake in oven for two hours without opening the oven door. Remove from oven and let meringues cool completely before serving. Do not place meringues in refrigerator at any point; store meringues in an air-tight container if not serving immediately upon cooling.


I had a can of garbanzos left, to make make hummus. While there are many types of delicious hummus available, nothing costs less than using the beans for a starter and the bean liquid for dessert.


Put the garbanzos together with what liquid is left in the can Into the food processor.


Add about 1/2C Tahini and several cloves of garlic. 


Usually I have roasted garlic on hand but not today so here is a new hack. I put 5 cloves in a small Pryex bowl, added 1-2 Tbsp olive oil and covered the bowl. Microwave for a minute and test doneness. Add another 30 seconds if necessary, peel skins off and add to FP with olive oil. Process and taste. Maybe some salt, more Tahini, a little water to thin? Get the consistency to your preference. 


I like to add herbs so my version added has mint and parsley. Process again and scrape into a bowl. I served this with a TJ’s black bean / quinoa chip which was great.

For the main course, I chose Tikil Gomen (Cabbage) which I found in an article in the NYT about where professionals go on Sundays. They mentioned an Abyssinian Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem where the person loved their veggie stew. As I had a large half cabbage in the fridge Tikil Gomen turned out to be the answer to using it up. Tikil Gomen was quick and simple to make and as the guests arrival time was unknown it could be made earlier and kept warm.  

As there is quite a lot of chopping, I used my Cuisinart knife blade in the food processor with most successful results. I also increased the quantity of seasonings to taste but please note, no chili! 

I served Tikil Gomen (Cabbage) with Naan and with Patak Major Grey mango and brinjal chutneys which gave it a little flavor boost. This amount of veggies would serve 4-6 depending on what else is offered.




  • 4 medium carrots cut into thin sticks

  • 1 large onion thinly sliced

  • 1/3 cup olive oil extra virgin

  • 2 cloves garlic minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger minced

  • 1 head cabbage shredded

  • 4 large potatoes Yukon gold, diced

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper




  • In a dutch oven/casserole, sauté carrots and onion in olive oil over medium heat for 3 minutes. 

  • Add garlic and ginger and simmer for 2 more minutes or until the vegetables are just softened.

  • Stir in cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds. Then, mix in the cabbage.

  • Continue cooking for another 15 minutes, stirring regularly. NOTE: If the cabbage starts to stick, add a little water and reduce heat.

  • Add the potatoes and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until potatoes are soft, which may take another 30 minutes or so. Stir periodically to prevent sticking.

  • Once the potatoes are soft, this dish is ready to eat.

I can see adding other veggies such as jams or squash to the mix. We are surprised as to how filling this was.