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Friday, August 26, 2016

1920s Daily Life In Kansas

by Anne Louise Bannon

Details on how to win a copy of Bring Into Bondage at the end of the post.

One of the most fun things about writing stories set in an era other than my own is the way you end up drilling down into the minutiae of everyday living. Okay, maybe not so far down that you bore your audience (Who me? Over research?). But without a good grip on people’s daily lives, it becomes awfully hard to set a believable scene.

In the case of my latest novel, Bring Into Bondage, most of the action takes place on a farm on the outskirts of a small town in the state of Kansas. The Briscow family and their farm are fictional, as are all of the people I describe as living in the small town. But the town of Hays, itself, is quite real. Well, maybe not a town. It’s a small city, to be sure, and even in 1925, its population was about 5,000 people. Not huge, mind you, but bigger than a lot of other places in Kansas.

So how do we find out what life on a farm in Kansas was like in the 1920s? Truth be told, there’s a certain amount of extrapolation going on. Why? Because people don’t tend to write about that which is ordinary. You read novels from a given period and while certain aspects of a character’s personal life do come up, the references usually assume that the reader already knows what the author is writing about.


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Take, for example, the novel Little Men by Louise May Alcott, published in 1871. She makes a reference to a refrigerator in the novel. At first, you go right past it because we all know what a refrigerator is, right? Uh, wait. This is 1871. There’s no electricity. No Freon readily available. So what the heck did Alcott write about?

I do know that there were iceboxes—units that were in kitchens that were chilled by blocks of ice and that they were around in abundance in the 1920s. I also know that while electricity was common, not everyone had it. By 1925, most places were wired, but many, especially in rural areas, were not. I suspect since there was the cost of the wiring, then paying for the utility every month, the issue may have been frugality as much as poverty. So as a sign of Pa Briscow’s frugality, I decided that the farm would not be electrified. Indoor plumbing is also a recent development in the house, even though almost everyone else had it by then.

The other interesting thing is how much of daily life in Kansas in the 1920s we might recognize. One of the most common businesses in Hays at the time was auto repair shops. There were, like, five or six of them in town—more than there were banks. Ready-made clothing was becoming more and more available, although most women made their own clothes. There were schools and a library, hotels, churches.



Image source: Anne Louise Bannon

Agriculture was the main occupation in Hays, as it is now, although even then, more and more people were abandoning farming for more lucrative work in cities. Farming was and still is an extremely tough way to make a living. Even with the new machines that were becoming available, the work was grueling. Kids were expected to pitch in and help. There was time to play, but not much. You were expected to help with the housework, the milking, feeding the livestock, repairing fences and machinery, basic upkeep on the buildings, planting, weeding, and especially harvest.

Most farmers were pretty poor. They may have had decent homes and certainly, they had an easier time eating than most because they could and did grow their own food. But there was not much money for extras and sometimes not even for essentials. Particularly in the 1920s, farmers were having an even worse time than normal. Yes, we think of the great dust storms of the drought and Dust Bowl events of the 1930s, but farmers were already in a bad place when all of that happened.

They were basically in a nasty downward spiral, economically. The new machinery enabled farmers to produce way more corn, wheat, and other crops than they had been able to produce before. The only problem was that the increased supply of corn, wheat, and other crops drove the prices down so that farmers had to try to produce even more to make a profit, which in turn, drove prices down even more. What made the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl so devastating was that many of the farmers had mortgaged their land to buy the new machines.

Which leads to another one of my favorite parts of writing historical mysteries. I know what’s coming and I can (and did) make Pa Briscow out to be even smarter than might be. Not that he knows what’s coming. But it’s a behavior that, at the time, would have been regarded as overly cautious. Now, we recognize it as freaking genius.

Ultimately, that’s why it is so much fun to drill down and look at our collective past. We can see what did and did not make sense, and hopefully, avoid making the same mistakes, either fictionally or in real life.

To enter to win a copy of Bring Into Bondage, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “bondage,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 3, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address.

Anne Louise Bannon is an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age 15. Her journalistic work has appeared in Ladies' Home Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Wines and Vines, and in newspapers across the country. She was a TV critic for over 10 years, founded the YourFamilyViewer blog, and created the OddBallGrape.com wine education blog with her husband, Michael Holland. She also writes the romantic fiction serial WhiteHouseRhapsody.com. She is the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons, with Serita Stevens, as well as mysteries Fascinating Rhythm, Bring Into Bondage and Tyger, Tyger. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters.




Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nine Lifelines: A Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery By Joyce Ann Brown

by Sandra Murphy

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Beth and Arnie used to own a lot of rental property. Now they’re down to one condo rental. When a tenth floor apartment in the same building becomes available, they buy it and move in, ready to downsize from a house.

Coming home is always an adventure, guessing where the elevator will stop. They press 10 and the doors might open on 5 or 8. Press 10 again, and it goes right to their floor. Another puzzle is theft in the building. The thief takes one or two items, nothing of value—a box of Band-Aids or a chipped plate destined for the trash. They have one neighbor but never see anyone come or go, although Beth caught a glimpse of the man watering balcony plants one day when she returned from her walk.


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Other than that, Beth likes the new place. Their grandkids are coming to visit, so she’ll get to cook a lot. The pool is handy to burn off the kid’s excess energy, and shops are within walking distance, too. She walks her cat every day and has a stroller for him when he gets tired and refuses to take another step. His name is Sylvester, but he’s also known as the Psycho Cat due to his antics as a kitten.

When the man from the other tenth floor unit falls from his balcony, it seems a tragic accident, but the police think otherwise. The man’s wife says she heard her husband talking to a man with a Russian accent. Unfortunately, there’s one such man living in the building, and he lives in Beth’s rental condo. He’s soon taken to jail as a prime suspect.

Beth is friends with his wife, Helene, and toddler daughter Fabienne. She offers to babysit and help any way she can. She also visits the dead man’s widow with some food and discovers twin grandchildren living there with her but rarely seen around the building.



Image source: Joyce Ann Brown

When leaving for their walks, Sylvester insists on investigating the doors of the robbed apartments. Sometimes that leaves Beth in an awkward situation when the door opens suddenly. On the other hand, she’s getting to meet the neighbors and can blame it on the cat.

Beth is a woman you’d want for a friend, always willing to help, a good cook, and fun to be around. Arnie, he likes his golf. That’s what retirement is for. They make a good couple, obviously fond of each other. Beth doesn’t put herself in dangerous situations while asking about the murdered man. Sylvester, of course, steals every scene he’s in, as it should be.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is Beth’s clumsiness. She trips, stumbles and falls way too often. It distracts from the story.

This is the third book in the Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series which can be read out of order, but more fun is to be had to own all three.

To enter to win a copy of Nine Lifelines, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “nine,” or comment on this article and please be sure to note whether you want e-book or print. A winner will be chosen August 27, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address.



Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her newest, "Arthur", included in the anthology titled, Flash and Bang, available now.




Friday, August 12, 2016

The Blood Spangled Banner: First Ladies Mystery By Barbara Schlichting

by Sandra Murphy

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Liv Anderson owns a unique business. She makes doll houses, complete with furnishings and dolls dressed in period costumes, all based on Presidents and First Ladies. Her favorite is Dolley Madison as she’s distantly related.

When she arrives at the store, the front looks as usual, but in the workroom, it’s chaos and the creator of the mess is still there! Liv’s able to stab him with a box cutter and make her escape. Luckily, her boyfriend is a cop so they’re on the scene quickly but not in time to catch the man.

Of all days for that to happen—she’s got a celebrity coming to the shop. Jackie Newell. She’s the owner behind the Jackie of New York department stores. An order from her could mean huge success for the shop.


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Jackie arrives with Wanda, her assistant, and a bodyguard. She seems fascinated by the Dolley Madison house, especially the dolls. In fact, she puts the First Lady and the President in her purse, she says to look at more closely later. Liv is smart enough to get a credit card number, but why take the dolls? Jackie claims to be a distant relative, too, and alludes to a family secret Liv’s never heard about.

Things get even worse when Liv discovers Jackie’s body in the shop. It appears she’d gotten in after hours and was examining the Madison White House when someone bashed her head in. Did she have an accomplice or did two people break in?



Image source: Darkhouse Books

There’s also the mystery of the embroidered sampler. Grandma has it hanging on the wall, and Liv is sure the symbols mean something special. When another sampler, almost identical, is discovered, she’s sure. And it can’t be a coincidence that jewels that had belonged to Dolley were stolen from a museum, and Jackie was nearby at the time.

Liv delivers information about the different White Houses, how the d├ęcor changed, the building was enlarged, and history preserved over the years to the current administration without interrupting the tale of the murder. Aaron is a good boyfriend, now going to be husband as they plan their wedding over the Christmas holidays. Grandma and Grandpa are an understanding pair although worried about what’s happening at the shop. There’s Dorrie and Max too, both work for Liv. Pay close attention when reading—you don’t want to miss a clue.

Look for the next book in the series titled. Words Can Kill—A First Lady Mystery, Mary Lincoln, coming soon.

To enter to win either an e-book or print copy of The Blood Spangled Banner, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “banner,” or comment on this article and please be sure to note whether you want e-book or print. A winner will be chosen August 20, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address.



Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra’s short stories on UnTreed Reads including her newest, "Arthur", included in the anthology titled, Flash and Bang, available now.




Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad: Movie Review

by Lorie Lewis Ham

Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.

I grew up on DC characters and I love them. I however am not all that familiar with the Suicide Squad. What I do know I learned from CW's Arrow so I don't know how that compares to the comic books, and I also know some of the characters on their own. However, the latest run of DC movies have mostly been a disappointment and sadly you can add Suicide Squad to that list--however, that doesn't mean it isn't worth seeing.


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This movie shows the beginnings of the Suicide Squad--a group of expendable incarcerated super villains brought together by the government to fight villains that normal humans can't. This team is the baby of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and led reluctantly by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). They are brought together to fight the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a magical being that is bent on destroying the world. The situation is made more complicated for Flag because the Enchantress inhabits the body of the woman he loves. The team, dubbed Team X, is made up of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and one or two others. Also on the team is hero Katana (Karen Fukuhara). As a side plot, the Joker (Jared Leto) is attempting to free Harley Quinn.



Image source: DC

Suicide Squad suffers from the same problems as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice--great cast, but a bad script and directing (especially the script). The actors did a good job with what they were given--I especially liked Harley Quinn and Katana (who were both totally bad ass), and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc does a lot with just few lines. I also enjoyed Jared Leto's performance as the Joker--it was different. The movie has some good moments and a lot of fun action, but the plot is filled with holes and a feeling that they were rushing to turn this group into a team. Some of characters behaved in conflicting ways from one point of the movie to another, and you really weren't given the chance to get to know and care about them like we had with the Marvel movies.

So as I said, Suicide Squad is worth seeing if you ignore the plot problems, though I might wait for video if you can't afford to see many movies in the theater. I just wish DC could get their act together and make a truly good movie--the potential is all there, just stop trying to rush things and do something about the writing! We will see what happens with Wonder Woman.

Suicide Squad is currently playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6. Showtimes can be found on their website. Platinum Theaters Dinuba 6 now proudly presents digital quality films in 2-D and 3-D with 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound to maximize your movie experience.

Print this coupon and enjoy a special discount for Kings River Life readers only!



Lorie Lewis Ham is KRL's editor-in-chief/publisher. She has published in many venues through the years and has 5 published mystery novels. You can learn more about Lorie's writing on her blog Mysteryrat's Closet.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Prepped for the Kill: A Marjorie Gardens Mystery By A.E.H. Veenman

by Kathleen Costa

Details on how to win an e-book copy of this book at the end of the review.

Date: July 23, 2016 Case File: Prepped for the Kill

Ladies and Gents,

KC here, I just finished the exciting second adventure of Isis Ferrelli, aka Marjorie Gardens. Still reeling from the investigation she led into the murder of her client (Dial QR for Murder), she continues to worry that friends and co-workers might find out about her online crime blogger alter-ego and crime-syndicate family. Some ‘loose ends’ continue to haunt her.

Isis works as a defense attorney for McCarter and French, LLP, in Port Shirley, Massachusetts, and her online personae blogs at MyThug Shot about cases ‘changing names to protect the innocent.’ Before she can be whisked away on vacation with her dreamy boyfriend, Assistant DA Jason Shahaman, she first needs to determine whether or not a client, who wishes to act as a whistle-blower on her employer, is worth the law firm’s time. Examining the file, the case seemed legit and the client trustworthy, so why does she decide to take the severance pay and drop the case? This puts the firm on the search for a new client.


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Moving on, Isis is surprised to learn that her neighbors, Raymond Lockhart and Jedemiah Briggs, who played an active role in her previous investigation, are seriously considering purchasing a luxury survival condo at the Reebok Refuge Silo, a decommissioned missile base. They’re hoping to solicit her expertise in reviewing the purchasing agreement which includes a $1M price tag for a full unit.

Ray assures Isis that a discount can be negotiated for accepting the role as Chief of Defense for the underground community and Jed, his roommate, would act as his engineer. To Isis it seems a very expense way to survive doomsday, and although the law firm was not happy with her taking on a ‘pro bono,’ the three head off to the facility’s Open House for an on site investigation.



Image source: A.E.H. Veenman

The facility seemed the perfect place to spend the ‘apocalypse’ with a pool and spa, cafeteria, school and library, infirmary, aquaponics, livestock ark, recreation areas, well-appointed living quarters…all managed by friendly and capable staff/residents. Living quarters were a question since a few were more luxurious than others and some incomplete.

Supplies seem to be addressed, but what is the connection to the One-Stop down the road? Then…a prank, a poisoning, power outages, lock-downs, two missing key members (one with a necessary code), a murder, and no way out! So, who thought the ‘apocalypse’ would happen inside the facility?

Well, concluding my report, this adventure had me on the edge of my seat. I enjoyed the “cat and mouse” hunt up and down the various underground tiers trying to keep all locations clear and uncover the motive behind the sabotage and murder and excited to see if they would escape their confinement before it turned into one very big coffin. AEH Veenman painted Isis as a clever character who kept her wits about her to protect her friends and finally resolve the issues. This delightful mystery has earned 4.5/5 Doomsday clocks!

Until next time,
Arrivederci!
KC

Learn more on the author's website and Facebook page.

To enter to win an e-book copy of Prepped for the Kill, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “prepped,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 13, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address.



Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years.