Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year

Wishing you, your families, and friends a healthy, happy, and fulfilling New Year.  I hope that the stroke of midnight brings sanity to the world, stability to the displaced, and compassion to all.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Japanese Atelier

Sujata Massey

The word “binge” comes heavily into use at this time of year. 

Alcohol and chocolate are common splurges, but relaxing activities of all sorts can become crazy bad habits  when you’ve got holiday time away from work. I've a confession to make: I'm binging on something I very rarely imbibe: television.

Murder Under the Mistletoe: one of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on Netflix

Typically, there’s so much computer usage in my day that I'm spent by evening and have no more interest in screens.  But during Christmas 2014, I forced myself to make use of our Netflix subscription. I fell in love with Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries from Australia--and to my regret was done with all episodes of the first two seasons in two weeks, including the infamous Christmas Special pictured above. Next I moved onto Bletchley Circle, a suspenseful BBC miniseries. International TV was better than I'd ever thought! As the holidays ended, I lost the time for my new hobby and returned to work.

This past Christmas Day, once the gifts were opened and papers and boxes captured for recycling, I got to work on my binge project. My requirements were lovely cinematography, an international locale and either humor or love.

Mirei Kiratani stars in a an original Netflix series called Atelier worldwide 

Netflix suggested a series called Atelier based on my past, pitifully few selections.  Description: A young “fabric geek” lands a job at an upscale Japanese lingerie company and quickly discovers she’ll need help to survive.” Performed in Japanese, the subtitle options are English, French, German and Spanish, opening the show to viewers in many countries. In Japan, the show title is bit more blunt: ‘Underwear'. 

Before tuning in, I was suspicious the lingerie aspect might mean the show was exploitative, but I was happily proven wrong. Atelier is a 13-episode series featuring an awkward, plainly spoken university graduate named Mayuko who gets an entry-level job at Emotion, a legendary atelier (designer's salon) specializing in custom-made lingerie.

Who is the oddball heroine? Mayuko explains to a co-worker that her first name is written with the kanji character meaning cocoon; this is nicely symbolic for a girl with a deep love for silk and other fibers—and a person who grew up raised only by a father who worked at a textile factory in the country. She'’s been entirely insulated from modern femininity. Mayuko wears the same gray business suit with a white button down shirt and black Mary Jane flats in at least the first three shows. Her boss calls it “tacky,” and this very typical Japanese business suit gets her expelled from a chic party on Episode 3.

Emotion's team of six experienced professionals teach Mayuko about the mysterious power of style, the construction of garments, and providing the world’s best customer service when selling bra-and-panty sets for $1000 apiece. Mayuko makes lots of mistakes, but is forgiven by her formidable boss, Nanjo-san, who has a heart of gold behind all the lace and underwire. 

In Japan, Atelier is titled 'Underwear'

I had a glorious time living near Tokyo in the early 1990s. During these days, I was a devout visitor to department stores in Tokyo’s Ginza. I could tell if I'd been shopping too long by glancing up at the iconic Seiko clock tower atop the Wako department store--a lovely sight that is shared on Atelier. 

I wrote an eleven-book mystery series set in Tokyo. In these novels, the young Japanese-American heroine Rei Shimura rhapsodized about Japanese customer service and lovely products she could not afford to buy. One of these books, Girl in a Box, is set in a fictional Ginza department store. When I was writing the first draft, I returned to Japan and tried to set up research visits at several department stores. I was always politely refused. The only way I could learn about Japanese retail was through my own shopping and secret interviews of retail employees at cocktail bars and restaurants! At the time, I was happy to get this stealth intelligence; however, what I’ve absorbed from watching Atelier is more illuminating.

I always felt safer when I was living in Japan: a fairytale lifestyle that was bound to end. Atelier has provided me a surprising return to that serenity, one hour at a time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

une maison de pain d'épice - gingerbread house with a two year old

We're staying up in the snow with friends and their three month old daughter, Juniper, and son, Levi who is two years old. All the writing I'd hoped to do seems to have frozen into icicles like these. Everything here involves snow, making a gingerbread house with a two year old (see the results), rocking Juniper until she burped and got over her upset tummy. Her tears gave way to smiles that brightened my day. Life is simple. May you be blessed being with little ones this season.
Cara - Tuesday, exhausted

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ain't That a Kick in the Head

Annamaria on Monday

I know.  It’s the holidays, and I am supposed to be writing something amusing and upbeat.   But just yesterday, I made the mistake of belatedly reading this Fall’s bulletin from The Authors Guild.  It left me mulling over a thorny issue.  Stick with me on this.  I promise not to drone on with the subject for very long.  Besides, beginning next week, I will be traveling for a couple of months, and I promise to take you with me via photos.  For now, I need your thoughts on an issue that startled me when I read it.  Maybe everyone knows about this, but I didn’t, until yesterday.

In the Short Takes column that starts off every AG Bulletin, there is a three-paragraph piece entitled “Amazon Book Review Policy.”   Here are the first few sentences:

“Amazon has begun blocking users from reviewing books written by friends and family—with those relationships determined by the bookseller, based on social media activity.  If you follow an author on Twitter, for example, Amazon will consider the author to be your friend or family and send you this message if you try to post a review of the author’s book on its website:  ‘We removed your Customer Reviews (sic) because you know the author personally.  Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.’”

WHAT???? my mind screamed when I read this much.  Every writer I know, including New York Times and otherwise bestselling ones, spends a great deal of time on social media in contact with readers.  I enjoy much my time doing that.  Many of my otherwise unknown Facebook friends and Twitter and Instagram followers are interesting and amusing e-conversationalists.   The overwhelming majority of them contacted me, presumably because they have read and enjoyed my books. The Amazon practice described above could very well preclude them from commenting on my books on the Amazon site.  Does Amazon have the right to block those people from expressing an opinion about my books on their website—based on the bookseller’s assumption that they are not “objective” (whatever that means)?

Stuff I think I ought to say before going further:  My books have very few reviews on Amazon; most of them highly complimentary.  I have never asked anyone to post a review for me.  Leighton once wrote me a splendid one.   As did one of my college classmates.  As did Stan.  The rest are written by strangers to me.

Most important to note, the policy described above seems to have first emerged last summer.  I tried to find out what’s happening with this Amazon practice right now, but nothing more current showed up in my Google search.

I am not sure how I feel about counting those Amazon stars anyway.  I have been on or attended panel discussions where one of the funnier and snarkier topics involved the writers reporting on the most laughable one-star reviews they have received, many of which seemed to have come from readers of highly questionable intelligence or sanity.  My answer, by the way, was about the person on Goodreads who gave City of Silver one star and as her reason: She read the names of the characters in the front matter and found out that she did not like their names, so she never bought the book.

Given the paucity of current information on this Amazon review practice I decided to see what would happen if I posted a review of a book by a real friend (Michael Stanley).  I wanted also to see what would happen if I then reviewed a book of a writer of whom I am just a fan.  But my ability to do that is complicated because I buy on Amazon as Patricia King, but I am friends with other writers as Annamaria Alfieri.  So I ask those of you who have only one name to help me test the policy.  Go on Amazon and write of review of a book by someone that you don’t really know in person, but whom you are friends with on Facebook or follow on Twitter.  And tell us what happens.  In this way we might get some insight into the functioning of the Amazon policy.

By the way, Zoe and Caro, just so you know.  The Author’s Guild piece noted that this Amazon policy applies to readers of authors both in the USA and the UK. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

HOLIDAY READING: from the Murder Is Everywhere crew

The Christmas and New Year holiday season is an excellent time to settle down with a good book. As this is my last Murder Is Everywhere blog of 2015, I wanted to leave you with a holiday reading list. And as my fellow bloggers here are a fairly modest bunch, I respectfully offer their latest titles as being well worth your consideration.

Annamaria Alfieri – STRANGE GODS

In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and rules for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.

The body of Vera's uncle, Dr. Josiah Pennyman, is found with a tribesman’s spear in his back. Tolliver, an idealistic Assistant District Superintendent of Police, is assigned to the case. He first focuses on Gichinga Mbura, a Kikuyu medicine man who has been known to hatefully condemn Pennyman because Pennyman’s cures are increasingly preferred over his. But the spear belonged to the Maasai tribe, not Kikuyu, and it's doubtful Mbura would have used it to kill his enemy. Tolliver's superior wants him to arrest the medicine man and be done with it, but Tolliver pleads that he have the chance to prove the man's guilt. With the help of Kwai Libazo, a tribal lieutenant, Tolliver discovers that others had reasons to hate Pennyman as well, and the list of suspects grows.

This is a romantic and engaging mystery that captures the beauty and the danger of the African wild and the complexities of imposing a culture on a foreign land.


The fifteenth title in the Aimée Leduc mystery series.

Paris, April 1999: Aimée Leduc has her work cut out for her—running her detective agency and fighting off sleep deprivation as she tries to be a good single mother to her new bébé. The last thing she has time for now is to take on a personal investigation for a poor manouche (Gypsy) boy. But he insists his dying mother has an important secret she needs to tell Aimée, something to do with Aimée’s father’s unsolved murder a decade ago. How can she say no?

The dying woman’s secret is even more dangerous than her son realized. When Aimée arrives at the hospital, the boy’s mother has disappeared. She was far too sick to leave on her own—she must have been abducted. What does she know that’s so important it’s worth killing for? And will Aimée be able to find her before it’s too late and the medication keeping her alive runs out?


Although Leighton Gage, one of the founders of this blog, passed away in 2013, his books continue to live on. The latest, published in 2014, was THE WAYS OF EVIL MEN, the seventh Chief Inspector Mario Silva investigation.

The Awana tribe, who live in the remote Amazon jungle in the Brazilian state of Pará, have dwindled to only 41 members—and now 39 of them have dropped dead of what looks like poison. The neighboring white townsfolk don’t seem to be mourning the genocide much—in fact, the only person who seems to care at all is Jade Calmon, the official tribal relations agent assigned to the area. She wants justice for the two survivors, a father and his 8-year-old son. But racism is deeply entrenched and no one is going to help her get to the truth.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time the Brazilian federal police have had a tribal genocide to investigate. Chief Inspector Mario Silva and his team are sent in from Brasilia to try to solve the increasingly complex case just as a local white man is discovered murdered. Someone has done their best to frame the surviving Awana man, and the town is about to erupt.

Jørn Lier Horst – THE CAVEMAN

A William Wisting mystery

For four months Viggo Hansen's body has been sitting, undiscovered in front of his television, close to the home of Chief Inspector William Wisting. Has Norwegian society become so coarsened that no one cares? Wisting's journalist daughter, Line, wants to know. Wisting suspects a serial killer is at work, but for how long and across how many countries? When the CIA finally gets involved the stakes rise and tensions mount, until the final deadly race against time with Line's life at stake.

Sujata Massey – INDIA GRAY

Travel to the Indian subcontinent with a new collection of Sujata Massey’s suspenseful historical fiction. This book includes four works described below:

OUTNUMBERED AT OXFORD. When Perveen Mistry leaves Bombay to study law at St. Hilda’s College in 1919 Oxford, England, she hopes to escape her troubled past and become a pioneering woman lawyer. Then an elderly don tasks her with locating an Indian servant who may have stolen an invaluable mathematics proof. Perveen is caught in a case that threatens her ladylike reputation—and her life.

THE AYAH’S TALE. Menakshi Dutt, a teenaged nanny in 1920s Bengal, is a beloved caregiver of three lonely British children, but suffers from the cruelty of their bored mother. Will Menakshi ever fulfill her own dreams without betraying the children?

INDIA GRAY. Kamala Lewes, a recently-married Bengali woman, travels to Assam during World War II to volunteer at a military hospital. There she discovers some patients with ties to the Indian independence movement. How far can she go to help them without betraying her British husband and the Allies?

BITTER TEA. Shazia is fifteen and trapped in a remote village in Pakistan overtaken by religious fundamentalists. Her school has been closed, and women have lost freedom of movement. But when Shazia learns a friend faces danger from the invaders, she decides to act.

Four unforgettable heroines in one book rich with history, culture and intrigue.


The latest in the Anderson and Costello series

Past crimes cause new murder in this tense and twisting psychological thriller A few days before the summer solstice a 92-year-old woman is found burned to death in her home. On the same day, a man's mutilated corpse is discovered in a field, his arms ripped from their sockets, a Tarot card depicting The Fool inserted in his mouth. When the victim is identified as someone for whom the police have been looking for almost a year, detectives Anderson and Costello find themselves caught up in a case where nothing is as it seems. Was the dead man really responsible for three child murders? And what is the connection with the death of the elderly woman? The investigation leads to the tranquil shores of Loch Lomond where Anderson and Costello will finally uncover the shocking truth.

Michael Stanley – A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

A Detective Kubu mystery

Faced with the violent death of his own father, even Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu, Botswana CID's keenest mind, is baffled. Who would kill such a frail old man? The picture becomes even murkier with the apparent suicide of a government official. Are Chinese mine-owners involved? And what role does the US Embassy have to play?

Set amidst the dark beauty of modern Botswana, A Death in the Family is a thrilling insight into a world of riots, corruption and greed, as a complex series of murders presents the opera-loving, wine connoisseur detective with his most challenging case yet. When grief-stricken Kubu defies orders to try to bring the killers to justice, startling and chilling links emerge, spanning the globe and setting a sequence of shocking events in motion. Will Kubu catch the killers in time … and find justice for his father?

Jeffrey Siger – DEVIL OF DELPHI

A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery

In ancient times, Delphi stood at the center of the world, a mountainous, verdant home to the gods, where kings and warriors journeyed to learn of their fates from its Oracle, and disobeyed its preaching at their peril.

In modern day Delphi, a young Athens émigré seeks to re-build his life in anonymity among its pastoral, rolling hills and endless olive groves. But the man's dark past is too celebrated, and his assassin skills are too much in demand for his fate to be left to his own hands.

When he's given no choice but to serve the ruthless aims of an international criminal mastermind, he agrees, but on his terms. His methods bring unexpected death to a member of one of Greece's most prominent and feared political families, and draws Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis into the eye of a political and media firestorm threatening to bring down the nation's government.

It is a gripping, fast-paced story played out against a backdrop of World Heritage Sites, an annual global trillion-dollar legitimate alcoholic beverage industry preyed upon by counterfeiters of the industries' most celebrated brands, and political infighting among Greek revolutionaries, movers and shakers. Kaldis and his team soon find themselves battling purveyors of life-threatening adulterated booze, struggling to bring a cold-blooded killer to justice, and laboring to outthink a political chess-master determined to destroy Kaldis' ailing boss, Greece's Minister of Public Order—all without turning themselves and their families into deadly targets.


The latest entry in the thrilling 16th century Japanese mystery series, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo

August 1565: When a rival artisan turns up dead outside Ginjiro’s brewery, and all the evidence implicates the brewer, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo must find the killer before the magistrate executes Ginjiro and seizes the brewery, leaving his wife and daughter destitute. A missing merchant, a vicious debt collector, and a female moneylender join Ginjiro and the victim’s spendthrift son on the suspect list. But with Kyoto on alert in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, a rival shinobi on the prowl, and samurai threatening Hiro and Father Mateo at every turn, Ginjiro’s life is not the only one in danger.

Will Hiro and Father Mateo unravel the clues in time to save Ginjiro’s life, or will the shadows gathering over Kyoto consume the detectives as well as the brewer?

Zoë Sharp – FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection

As for me, I’m working on new books as we speak, but for a limited time you can get the FOX FIVE anthology (or should that be e-thology?) of stories all featuring ex-Special Forces soldier turned self-defence expert and bodyguard, Charlie Fox, and all absolutely FREE.

Four of the stories have been published elsewhere in highly-praised anthologies and prestigious outlets such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The final story was written specially for this anthology.

In 'A Bridge Too Far', we meet Charlie before she’s become a professional in the world of close protection. When she agrees to hang out with the local Dangerous Sports Club, she has no idea it will soon live up to its name.

'Postcards From Another Country' has Charlie guarding the ultra-rich Dempsey family against attempted assassination − no matter where the danger lies.

A finalist for the CWA Short Story Dagger, 'Served Cold' puts another tough woman centre stage − the mysterious Layla, with betrayal in her past and murder in her heart.

'Off Duty' finds Charlie taking time away from close protection after injury. She still finds trouble, even in an out-of-season health spa in the Catskill Mountains.

'Truth And Lies' is a 11,500-word tale in which Charlie has to single-handedly extract a news team from a rapidly escalating war zone.

Also included: Excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, Meet Charlie Fox, Meet Zoë Sharp, info on the other books in the Charlie Fox series.

Bonus material includes an excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT and a taster of each of the ten books in the Charlie Fox series to date.

This week’s Word of the Week is facetiae, which means both pornographic literature, and humorous or witty sayings. It first came into use in the 16th century, from the Latin plural of facetia 'jest', from facetus 'witty'.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A New World Version of "Auld Lang Syne"


This piece really should be written by a Scot since it’s derived from a poem by perhaps the most famous Scot of all—or was it reindeer of all—Robert Burns (1759-1796), but as a Mykonian friend who’d read my last week’s fracturing of  “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (aka “A Visit from St Nicolas” for you purists out there) suggested I take a crack at this New Years Eve standard, who am I to resist her request? 

Robert Burns

Burns wrote the poem (here’s the original version) in 1787, set to the tune of a traditional folk tune (Roud #6294).  Its seminal phrase, “Auld Lang Syne,” is traditionally translated as “long, long ago” though “old long ago” is more literally correct (based upon my deep understanding of the Lowland Scots language) and is a song about love and friendship in times past. For those of us who believe in time travel, astral planes, and questionable sobriety, I should point out that the phrase “auld lang syne” has been used by other poets in their work, including one Allan Ramsay (1686-1757), which I guess gives our Caro and her Alan a claim to have beaten me to the punch (bowl).

The other Ramsay...also with another career, a wigmaker

Happy New Year, everyone—and please forgive me, Scotland.

Should odd acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should odd acquaintance be for not,
And made to toe the line?

As in odd.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

And surely you’ll pick yours to hug!
And surely I'll pick mine!
And we'll show a lot o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

We all have run about the hills
In search of flower wine;
And wandered many a weary foot,
But we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

We too have paddled up the stream,
In mourning, fun, and grind;
And seas between us broad have roar'd,
But we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

And here's a hand, my trusty friend!
And give a hand o' thine!
And we'll drink to kindness and good will,
For we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

To get your head back in the holiday mood--and me hopefully back in the good graces of the Scots--here's the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards playing Auld Lang Syne accompanied by a journey to the timeless Scotland of Robert Burns' inspiration.

A Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year to ALL!