Thursday, June 30, 2022

Barbara Ross's MUDDLED THROUGH: Miss Rumphius and Lupines


HALLIE EPHRON: It's a very happy day indeed when we get to welcome the lovely and talented (and funny an super-nice...) Barbara Ross to Jungle Red with a new book - the tenth in her delicious Maine Clambake Mystery Series, MUDDLED THROUGH. The series is great fun and you can't find a more authentic Maine experience, short of being there.

Welcome Barbara!

BARBARA ROSS: Hi Reds and Reds-readers! I am so happy to be here. Many of you will already know that several Reds have been friends and mentors to me over the years, especially the New England crew. Lucy and I share a birthday (same year, one week apart) so we celebrate together in Key West. This year we celebrated our January birthdays in March due to babies who arrived later than expected, covid, and the general messiness.

My latest book, released Tuesday, is Muddled Through, the tenth Maine Clambake Mystery series. One topic while researching for this book, I particularly enjoyed was discovering more about Barbara Cooney and her classic children’s story, Miss Rumphius. In the book, published in 1982, Alice Rumphius tells her grandfather that when she grows up, she will go to faraway places, and when she gets old, she will live in a house by the sea. Her grandfather tells her she must do one additional thing: She must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Alice does go to faraway places. An intrepid, self-directed single woman, she travels around the world. Then she goes back to Maine to live in a house by the sea. Once there, she makes the world more beautiful by dropping lupine seeds wherever she goes.

I based my contemporary character, Alice Rumsford, on Miss Rumphius. My character also travels the world, returns to her family’s cottage on the Maine coast, and endeavors to make her community more beautiful.

Barbara Cooney was born in 1917 in Brooklyn. She went to Smith College, married, had two children, discovered her husband was a “cad” and a “womanizer” and divorced. Her father and brother had disowned her when she married, so she supported her family as a children’s book illustrator. She later remarried, happily, had two more children, and traveled widely to gain inspiration for her art. She won two Caldecott Medals and a National Book Award (for Miss Rumphius). She eventually lived in Damariscotta, Maine, which is, happily, the next town north of my fictional town of Busman’s Harbor.

Cooney almost certainly based the character of Miss Rumphius on Hilda Edwards Hamlin, born in 1889. Hamlin arrived in Christmas Cove, Maine, very near Damariscotta, to visit an uncle in 1904. Like Barbara Cooney, she graduated from Smith College, thought a generation earlier, married, had children, and divorced.

(In perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps an illustration that the world of educated New England WASPs was very small, Barbara Cooney’s second husband was Charles Talbot Porter. Hilda’s ex-husband was Talbot Faulkner Hamlin. In another coincidence, in typing this, I just realized Hamlin must have been at Smith with my grandmother. I will look for her in the yearbook)

Like Miss Rumphius, Hamlin traveled widely and then settled in the little cottage in Christmas Cove. In Maine, she made the world more beautiful by scattering lupine seeds wherever she went. She didn’t drive and neighbors who gave her rides would discover her surreptitiously tossing seeds out their car windows. Yankee magazine ran an article on her in 1971 that included the quote, “If friends of Hilda Hamlin would tote a few sticks of wood to her cottage they would be doubly welcome.” In a later issue, they had to print a plea for people to stop visiting her.

The lupines that Hilda Hamlin seeded are not native to Maine. They come from the west coast. Even though their beauty on roadsides and meadows between Father’s Day and the Fourth of July has come to symbolize Maine, they didn’t start appearing until the 1950s, when Hilda Hamlin was in her sixties. These new lupines have crowded out the more modest local variety and in so doing extirpated the Kargan Blue Butterfly.

The lupines are an excellent metaphor for incomers to Maine. The investment, enterprinse and support for local businesses they bring is welcome, but the non-natives are difficult to cultivate and impossible to contain. The natives worry about being crowded out, swallowed up by the wolves for which the lupines are named.

Dear Reds and Readers: What do you think? Native plants only, or can you beautify the world with non-natives? Feel free to treat the question literally, as a metaphor, or both.

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries and the Jane Darrowfield Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara’s Maine Clambake novellas are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in holiday anthologies from Kensington Publishing. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is it something I clicked on?

 THE WINNER of Debra H. Goldstein's FIVE BELLES TOO MANY is Margie Bunting! Margie, email (hephron "at" gmail dot com) me so I can connect you with Debra.

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently my daughter was here helping me manage some laundry. She tut-tutted me as she carried a pile of my clothes down to the basement. “You know you’re in trouble, Mommo,” she said, “when you can’t tell your jammies from your clothes.”

True, virtually every item she had in her arms was grey or black and soft and comfy. Aka winter pajamas, or call it Covid-chic, or wardrobe for aging in place. At any rate my daughter shook me up and got me hunting online for more colorful (at the least) and chic-er (at best) items to add to my closet, and making piles of redundant gray comfy items to consider giving away.

That’s when my computer started serving up this ad.

Over and over.

It’s Halston. $695. (Marked down to $479 at Bloomies.) The model wearing it is 5’ 10” tall and wearing a Size 4. Helpful information for determining it's suitability.

It is not washable. And I’d have to silly putty it to my chest.

What did I do to merit lime green sequins? What does the Internet know about me that I don’t know about myself?

Because the truth is I LOVE this dress. That is definitely me… in my dreams. Sparkly and slinky me, definitely not “mother of the bride” me or Grandma Me. Perhaps me accepting my award for best suspense novel ever written. I can dream…

What’s your dream outfit, something you've always imagined yourself wearing and stopping traffic? Maybe you were lucky enough to actually have it and wear it?

And do you find the Internet has started serving up your dreams? "They" are watching, you know.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Celebrating a new book and more... with Debra H. Goldstein #bookgiveaway


HALLIE EPHRON: Today we are happily welcoming back that writer who's dangerous in the kitchen, Debra H. Goldstein, celebrating the launch of FIVE BELLES TOO MANY, her fifth Sarah Blair mystery. Today she's in a contemplative mood, looking at the milestones that life and a writing career can offer up to us.

DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN: I lurk, but I read the Jungle Red Writers blog religiously. Consequently, like most of you, I’ve come to know tidbits of the various authors lives – including their families. I’ve rejoiced with them when a grandchild has a Bar Mitzvah, a daughter becomes a co-writer, a child reaches a new milestone, and been saddened when there has been a loss of a loved one.

Two things I’ve come to look forward to are the announcements of new books and new grandchildren. The fun from both of these is the anticipation of how this new being will grow, be accepted, and mature in today’s world. From the tidbits from this blog, we know some will turn out successful, some duds (okay, none of the JRW’s family members but maybe a book here or there), some empathetic, some hilarious. During the past few years, I’ve found myself in the same duo state of anticipation.

As you read this, know that it is but one of several blogs that will appear this week announcing Kensington’s “birth” of my new Sarah Blair mystery, Five Belles Too Many. It is the fifth book, but one of my favorites in the series. I loved the idea of writing a behind the scenes account of a television show filming five finalists, including Sarah’s sixty-plus-year-old mother, trying to win the perfect Southern wedding.

The time researching and prepping the book was fun, as was putting Sarah in the middle of everything by making Sarah her mother’s chaperone. As you can imagine, Sarah, the woman who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, isn’t any better suited to being a chaperone.

My trepidation is whether the world of readers will see the humor in this situation the same way I do? Will they like the book? I can only hope (pray) the nuances of the different couples will engage readers and that they will feel I stuck the whodunit.

Similarly, I hope readers notice and are satisfied with the arc growths of characters with whom they already are familiar. Most importantly, will readers buy Five Belles Too Many? I don’t know. I can only contemplate how the book’s life will flow.

At the same time that I am agonizing over the birth and development of Five Belles Too Many, the stork delivered a baby to my daughter and son-in-law (because I write cozy mysteries, I can’t go into the details). From his fingers to his toes, this eight-pound thirteen-ounce, full head of dark-haired boy has won my heart.

Already, I’m anticipating how he will get along with his sister, whether he will tend to smile or frown, whether he will be geeky or an athlete, whether he will be tall or short, and what kind of man he will become. Each wish and dream I have for him is accompanied by a fear or question.

There isn’t much difference in how I feel about the birth of Baby Bear (his sister’s name for him) or Five Belles Too Many. Both share the miracle of coming to life, my anguish, anticipation, and the sense of joy they are giving me. OK, maybe I am a little prejudiced in Baby Bear’s favor for the long term, but in the short run, Five Belles Too Many is important, too.

For a chance to win a copy of Five Belles Too Many, tell me how you feel about new books in a series and your take on reality game shows.