Sunday, May 05, 2019

The Other Surprise Derby Winner

My S-I-L made a lovely hat for the Derby Party!
Yesterday's Derby was a major surprise. For the first time in Derby history, a winner was disqualified due to infractions during the race. Country House became the official winner after Maximum Security had already done a victory lap.

We no longer live in Kentucky, but we did go to the Derby Party thrown in our mobile home park. My sister-in-law is visiting, and she threw together a lovely hat at short notice.

While the television announcers talked about past Derbies, gave the changing odds on favorites in the current race, and interviewed trainers and jockeys, our group staged races with stick horses. There was betting going on with these races, too, but no one was going to win or lose big at a quarter per ticket.

We placed a wager at my table on the Big Race. Since I didn't know anything about the horses running this year, I chose Tacitus. I spent several years as a classics student, so it was a natural for me. Furthermore, it sounded like a real Derby winner name. The first time I was asked to identify Aristides on a test, I replied that he was the winner of the original Kentucky Derby. Oh, and that he was an Athenian statesman.

None of our horses won. However, Tacitus took third place after the judges declared the official winner of the race. Since I was the only one with a horse on the board, I won the pot. It was a pleasant evening with a suprisingly rewarding ending.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review: A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

A Talent for MurderA Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first novel in a series starring the author Agatha Christie as the main character. Biographer Andrew Wilson spins several well-researched events of 1926 into a gripping tale of why Agatha Christie disappeared for several days, and what happened during that time. He's not the first person to do so - the movie Agatha springs to mind - but Wilson's version grabbed me from early in the book and wouldn't let go.
The book opens with Agatha's despair. Her husband, Archie (played in the film by the swoonworthy Timothy Dalton) has fallen in love with a younger woman and doesn't understand why his wife isn't being reasonable about giving him a divorce. Wilson must have suffered a broken heart at least once; he describes Agatha's pain in convincing detail. Her misery is interrupted when she is pushed into the path of a train, and then 'saved' by a man who is no hero. Dr. Patrick Kurs has been following her exploits for some time, and he believes she should perform a service for him. In exchange for not releasing love letters between her husband and his mistress, he wants Agatha to kill his wife. He will arrange to be elsewhere, and she can put her knowledge of murder to good use. When she balks at his demands, he threatens to harm her family, specifically her daughter. Convince of his ability to hurt them, she agrees.
Kurs only allows her to decide how to commit the murder; the rest of her actions follow a plan he has already devised. First, Agatha disappears into the countryside, abandoning her car and her fur coat for the police to find. She is allowed to keep her purse, which contains a pouch of poisons. He forces her to check into the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the last name Neele (the name of Archie's mistress) and, later that evening, to dance the Charleston at his command. These have little to do with the crime he wants her to commit; they are designed to humiliate her and reveal how much she is under his control.
We are occasionally given a glimpse into the police investigation of Agatha's disappearance and a separate investigation by a young woman who is also determined to find her, but never for long. The focus always returns to the mental battle between the fiendish Kurs and Agatha Christie, one of the world's cleverest plotters. He humbles her again and again, but she finds an interesting way to give him what he wants.
This book is very well written and researched. Wilson shows us true details of Agatha Christie's life, and uses what is known about her disappearance as the framework for a powerful conflict between two very clever and determined people. I recommend it.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Unemployment and Depression

I'm afraid that the job I accepted in February fell through. I received about three weeks of pay for it, so I did receive some benefit. Around the same time, I came to the end of my severance pay. Since I'd been keeping track of my job applications, the next step was applying for unemployment.

You may have been told that the unemployed are lazy people sitting around collecting money for nothing. I need to tell you two things: 1) I'd rather be working than going to interviews and having my hopes dashed again and again, and 2) I get $275 a week, which might be a lot in some states, but not in the Tampa Bay area. An article in the February 7th edition of the Tampa Bay Times states that the 'survival income' for a family of four is $60K/year. That's $5000 a month, in case you don't want to do the math. The 'survival income' for a single person is a little under $21K.

Gwen and I are a family of two. I am bleeping grateful that she still has a job, because I am alloted a little over $3000 for this year. That's how unemployment works. To qualify for it, I'm supposed to list five places I applied for work during each week. I usually list ten or more. I want out of this arrangement. Next week, I'm doing a workshop on successful interview techniques because I haven't done many, and I'm enough of an introvert to need help with social interactions that involve charm as well as answering questions.

Being rejected again and again is painful. It's especially so when I've taken skill assessments for temp agencies and been told how good my scores are. Sometimes I've been rejected because I lacked 'front office' experience. Other times, I've been advised to leave some of my experience off my resume because of either a) age discrimination or b) I would look too skilled for the jobs I was applying for. Folks, my ambitions are in writing, not in becoming a corporate raider.

This past week, I learned of a new complication: at least one of my previous employers doesn't give references. Instead, they use a service to confirm employment. This service costs money for prospective new employers to use, and I've learned it's not a new practice. I will contact the service to get what free verifications I am entitled to, but now I'm wondering how many jobs I lost because the employer could hire someone whose records they could verify without a charge. Stupid me.

This whole experience has eroded my ideas of who I am and that I have something to offer to the world. I've always been a steady worker; I spent over seven years in my first 'real job' and about fifteen in my second full-time position. I was approaching five years with my last employer when I was laid off. They treated me well in the process and gave me good severance, but I haven't found a place in this Brave New World of Work.

I'm not ready to quit looking for work. But I understand why some people have.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: Smoke and Ashes, by Abir Mukherjee

Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3)Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The first drag of the first pipe was a deliverance, like the breaking of a fever. With the second pipe, the shaking stopped, and with the third, the nerves steadied."

Sam Wyndham's error was calling for a fourth. Smoke and Ashes spotlights Wyndham's opium addiction in the first scene--and nearly ends his career with the CID at Lal Bazar, when the vice division raids the Calcutta den he's visiting. During his escape from the authorities, Sam discovers a dying man, curiously mutilated. He continues his flight, but begins a low-key investigation into the murder, which mysteriously appears to remain undiscovered as far as the authorities are concerned.

A more pressing matter is on his superiors' minds - the Indian National Congress and its leader, Mahatma Gandhi. The cause of self-rule have swept the country, with protest rallies, labor strikes, and the burning of British textiles. The Prince of Wales is touring India to restore goodwill and the status quo, and he is coming to Calcutta for Christmas. Alas, there will be no carols about it. One of Gandhi's primary supporters, C.R. Das, is leading the non-cooperation movement in the city, and Lord Taggart is sending Sam and his sergeant, "Surrender-not" Banerjee, to persuade him not to stage protests or stunts during the visit.

Sam Wyndham isn't looking forward to the job:

"I hated this new breed of pacifistic Indian revolutionary. So often they acted like we were all just good friends who happened to disagree about something, and that once the issue was resolved - obviously in their favour - we'd go back to taking tea and being the best of chums. It made punching them in the face morally difficult."

Shortly after their first visit to see Das (fruitless, of course), the second body turns up - mutilated like the man from the opium den.

The Das intervention and murder investigation turn the wheels of the plot after that, taking us into an unsavory part of British history in India, until all the elements come together at the climax of the book, shifting what was a mystery into a thriller.

My greatest pleasure in reading Abir Mukherjee, comes from his use of the language, his ability to slide between cultures, and his philosophical view of his subject matter. His commentary through Sam reminds me a bit of John D. MacDonald's writing.

"Calcutta was a city divided in more ways than one. To the north, there was Black Town, home to the native population; to the south, White Town for the British; and in the middle, a grey, amorphous area full of Chinese, Armenians, Jews, Parsees, Anglo-Indians and anyone else who didn't fit in. There was no law demarking the city, no barriers or walls; the segregation was just one of those things that seemed to have evolved when no one was paying attention."

His observations and seamless writing make the entire series a worthwhile read.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Review: That Old Scoundrel Death

That Old Scoundrel Death: A Dan Rhodes Mystery (Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries)That Old Scoundrel Death: A Dan Rhodes Mystery by Bill Crider
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession: I haven't read a lot of Bill Crider, unlike most of the literate world. So, I'm reviewing his final Dan Rhodes novel as an outsider looking in.

The book opens with Sheriff Rhodes making what he thinks will be a motorist assist, only to discover that he's stepped into a road rage incident. Kenny is not appreciative of 'Cal Stinson's' driving, and is threatening him with a gun. Rhodes, who appears to always be clear-minded under pressure, subdues Kenny and arrests him.
The next time Rhodes sees 'Cal', the young man has been found dead in an abandoned schoolhouse in Thurston. His true name is Lawrence Gates, and he's not local.

The old schoolhouse is the center of community debate at the moment; some people want it torn down, others want it restored. Rhodes must tangle with the families at the center of the conflict, along with all the other problems Blacklin County can muster. The mayor is angry because a local blog has called him a nincompoop, the local buttinsky Seepy Benton has decided to become a private eye, someone is trying to kill Kenny and Noble (for good reason), and Rhodes' cohorts, Hack and Lawton, constantly complain about being left out of "the loop".
His wife Ivy keeps feeding him kale, which he hates, and he must sneak in his donuts and hamburgers while handling his duties. Meanwhile, reporter Jennifer Loam has reminded him that an election is coming up, and Rhodes isn't sure he wants to run again.

Despite these speed bumps, Rhodes continues his investigation into Gates' death. The closer he gets to the truth, the more he realizes that the schoolhouse issue is just the window dressing for the real issue.

What I enjoyed most in this novel were the gentle humor in the author's voice and how very realistic the characters were. I worked at the reports desk for a police department back in the Stone Ages, and Crider's depiction of Kenny Lambert (a miscreant with a snake tattoo on his neck) and Noble Truelove (badly named) reminds me very much of some of the jokers our officers encountered. The witnesses he interviews are also typical Southerners: they take forever to get to the point, and you're going to learn some history along the way.
Rhodes gets into dangerous situations, but they aren't due to macho behavior or idiocy; they're just things he has to do as sheriff. He also resolves them without loud bravado or action hero moves, something else I respect.

"I want to think that my end will be handled the way I'd like it to be handled. It would be a comfort to me to know that."

The above was from a thought-provoking conversation between Clyde the undertaker and Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Bill Crider was open with his cancer diagnosis, and writing what was likely to be his last Rhodes novel.

I couldn't help but notice the enormous cast of characters in this book, and I discovered that many appeared in previous adventures. He also showed us the new people who took over Hod Barrett's grocery store in Thurston. I couldn't help but think that this was a gift to long-term fans - giving everyone a last glimpse at their favorites, and perhaps concluding a few arcs. He, too, was handling the end the way he wanted it to be handled.

In an afterword, Crider thanks many of the people who helped him along the way in his writing career. He also gives his own opinion on whether Rhodes should run for sheriff again, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Guest Post: Daniel Dark

As a historical mystery writer, I was intrigued by the notion of a hosting Daniel Dark, a Victorian chef, on my blog. I've read a lot of fiction from the era, and it's fairly clear that their daily dishes were quite different from our own. I asked Mr. Dark if he could educate us, and he obliged:

Well, let us take a look at a few of those items, starting with one that I wrote a whole cookbook about.

1) Catsup: I am not offering the thick over sweetened flavored corn syrup that most know about now. In Victorian times, Catsup was made from many things before it became tomato starting with spiced and seasoned fermented fish brine. Later on, the word became associated to any spiced acidified sauce. There were many variations to this according to where the sauce was being made and the available base products. In England you had mushroom, walnut, and fish or oyster catsup in most shops, but you would have been pressed to find banana. In the northeastern coastal areas of America, there would be no lost for supply of lobster catsup or cranberry catsup. (For more info, see Victorian Catsup by Daniel Dark.)

2) Today if I offered you roasted pigeon or blackbird pie with little clawed feet sticking out of it you may think I would be crazy. Now, if I offered you the French delicacy of roasted Squab, you might be more interested. Now, that pie has graduated to a more common dish of a pot pie.
3) In Victorian times no part of an animal came to waste. With all of the government scares, you may be able to find hog jowl or cheek in some groceries, but what about the rest of those delectable parts found in the head such as eye balls or brains that mix so well with eggs?
4) Other parts of animals that were of high regard were feet, bone marrow, and testicles (also known as mountain oysters).
5) Desserts were more common to be savories than sweet. This was normal considering the high cost of sugar, which was at the time a commodity that was kept under lock and key in most houses that could afford it.
6) Now. on the other hand, in the Victorian times lobster was fed to the convicts in prison considered the cockroach of the sea and thought of as inhumane to feed it to them more than three times a week.
7) In Victorian times until the late part refrigeration was almost unheard of, so eating was done seasonal with canning or curing done during certain parts of the year according to when the crops came in.

This is effectively a short list of how things have changed in a short two hundred years. And it could be expanded many times over.


Daniel Dark Knife's Tell & Vctorian Catsup Blog Tour!

February 20-27, 2019

Explore the shadows of Victorian Era London and encounter a new Jack the Ripper tale like you’ve never read before in Daniel Dark’s Knife’s Tell & Victorian Catsup Blog Tour, taking place February 20-27!

Knife’s Tell contains a tantalizing blend of thriller, horror, erotic, and alt. history elements. As an added bonus, author Daniel Dark (a former Victorian chef) also has included the authentic Victorian Era recipes of the dishes that are featured in the story!

In addition to Knife’s Tell, this tour also highlights Victorian Catsup: Receipts of the Past, which features history and recipes for a wide variety of authentic, Victorian Era catsups. The book itself also has a great story behind its development, and it is attached to a wonderful cause!

About the author: Daniel Dark, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, grew up with homicide every day. Having a homicide detective as a father, he was able to learn about those that were brought to justice, and the ones that were not.

Spending many hours in Central police headquarters and in his grandfather’s hematology lab gave Daniel an unusual childhood and a love for science. Along with this, his great uncle owned the oldest book store in Nashville. His parents took him there regularly, where developed a love of reading and found out about history.

Daniel went on to become an Electrical Engineer and Industrial Maintenance Manager till NAFTA took away his job. A year later he went to culinary school and studied Victorian cooking, after which he opened a Victorian-style restaurant.

He became a heart attack and stroke survivor at fifty years old, where he used writing to rehabilitate his brain. The first book written by Daniel was on Victorian Catsup, which had over two hundred catsup recipes in it from the late 1700’s to 1910, with over sixty different flavors. Daniel used the book to start his 1876 Catsup company as Mr. Catsup.

Knife’s Tell represents his debut novel as an author.

Book Synopsis for Knife’s Tell:  
In 1888, one of the most notorious serial killers in history plagued London’s East Side.

Knife’s Tell is not about those murders, but the life behind them. What would cause a normal person to slay in such a horrific way?

Daniel Dark has explored an alternative tale of a doctor lost in reality trying to correct his past. With the help of his personal servant, he searches the Chapel for answers about his connection to the man with the knife.

Where did he come from? And how is the doctor part of his plans for escaping the police at every turn?
Read Knife’s Tell to learn the story behind the blade that killed London.

Book Synopsis for Victorian Catsup- Receipts from the Past: 
The book you now hold in your hands is nothing new, only forgotten by most.

It is, however, how Chef Daniel, the Victorian Chef, recovered many missing segments of his knowledge after having a stroke in 2012. At that time, he had a forty-seat restaurant where he was recreating dishes from the Victorian Era. He was also developing his signature catsups to serve with each receipt that he placed on the menu.

After the stroke, he was forced to give up on his dream for the time being and start the long journey of rehabilitation of both body and mind. When Chef Daniel was able to stand in front of a stove again, he went back to what he knew best, making small batch catsup that he took to local fairs and sold so that he could make more.

This book is a big part of what kept Chef Daniel going each day. Now he wants to share that with others by contributing ninety percent of his proceeds to the Blood Banks that kept him alive by furnishing over twenty units to him when he was in need.

Author Links:

Twitter: @1876Catsup


Tour Schedule and Activities

2/20     The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn    Top Ten's List

2/21     Breakeven Books   Guest Post

2/21     I Smell Sheep            VLOG

2/22     Horror Tree     Guest Post

2/23     Sheila's Guests and Reviews        Guest Post

2/24     The Book Lover's Boudoir         Review

2/24     Books, Reviews, and More   Interview

2/25     Jazzy Book Reviews           VLOG

2/26     MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape       Interview

2/27     Honestly Austen        Review

2/27     Willow's Thoughts and Book Obsessions            Review

Amazon Links for Knife’s Tell:

Print Version:

Kindle Version:

Barnes and Noble Link for Knife’s Tell:

Amazon Links for Victorian Catsup:

Print Version:

Kindle Version:

Barnes and Noble Link for Victorian Catsup:

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Review: Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks

Her One MistakeHer One Mistake by Heidi Perks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The novel opens with Charlotte Reynolds preparing to give a statement to the police. It's a device for starting a narrative, but also flags that we can expect to read Something Horrible in the near future.
Thirteen days earlier, Charlotte took her three children to a school fair. She also took little Alice, the daughter of Harriet, her best friend. Harriet was taking Charlotte updates her online status at a critical moment, and Alice disappears. The police are summoned, and the child is nowhere to be found. Harriet and her husband are notified, and Charlotte must endure not only condemnation from the public (her posting on social media becomes public knowledge), but her own guilt for letting her best friend down.
This book kept surprising me. The author and setting are both British, so I expected to plow through a lot of setting the scene and character introduction. The first few pages provide this information, including a bit of tension between Charlotte and ex-husband Tom, but the action--and seeds of doubt--begin early.
Harriet was taking a course in bookkeeping. This is why Charlotte had Alice with her in the first place. This seems very normal, but Brian, Harriet's husband, is surprised. He hadn't been told. Why?
Heidi Perks is an artist at giving out one piece of information at a time, shifting the reader's idea of the truth again and again. Secret after secret is revealed, pulling the reader deeper into the well of mental games, broken relationships, and murder. I kept picking up echoes of Gaslight and Bunny Lake is Missing, and was delighted.
I received a free NetGalley ARC in exchange for an honest review. My honest review is that Her One Mistake is a great read, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy psychological suspense.

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