Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast Bringing Stories to Life

Lorie Lewis Ham has been publishing her writing since the age of 13 and singing since the age of 5. She worked for her local newspaper off and on for years, has published several poems, articles, and short stories, and in 2010 became the editor-in-chief and publisher of Kings River Life Magazine. She has also published 6 mystery novels, 5 of which featured gospel singing amateur detective Alexandra Walters.

https://www.mysteryrat.com/
https://www.krlnews.com/
http://kingsriverlife.com/

Podcasts have become the big thing over the last few years. You can find one on just about any topic that interests you from politics, to books, to your favorite TV shows. There are even a couple of really popular true crime podcasts. One thing I think that has made them so popular is that we miss what we used to get from radio-something interesting to listen too when we aren’t able to watch something. Yes, radio still exists, but it doesn’t offer as much as it used to, and with a podcast you can pick exactly what you want to listen to, when, and where. I do most of my podcast listening on my iPhone in the car while driving. But you can also listen on your computer, or tablet.

I publish an online magazine called Kings River Life (kingsriverlife.com) and we have a big mystery section every week. I also write mystery novels, and I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a teenager. So I LOVE mystery. I started wondering if there were podcasts out there that were mystery related, and honestly didn’t find very many, so the idea hit me why not create our own podcast! This idea began brewing in 2017.

Once we decided to start our own mystery podcast it came down to what would it be like. After some thought, I decided it would be fun to have local actors (we also cover local theatre in KRL) read mystery short stories, and from there I thought why not have them read mystery first chapters as well-and that’s how Mysteryrat’s Maze mystery podcast came to be! The title came from KRL’s mystery section which is called Mysteryrat’s Maze.

So now we had the basic idea, and from there things went pretty quickly. I put out a call for short stories, and later first chapters, and a lot of them came in. We then started auditioning for the podcasts-which I will tell is a lot harder than I realized! In the meantime, we had to have a place to host the podcast and ended up choosing PodBean-some of my favorite podcasts are there and they seemed easy to use. We also had to choose a theme song and we found an announcer. I am lucky that my husband produces radio programs so the technical side was easy.

Our first podcast went up in May of 2018 and it was a mystery short story by Nancy Cole Silverman called “The Pub Crawl.” Since then we have recorded “The Dead Lady’s Coat” by Joan Leotta, the first chapter of Jeri Westerson’s new Crispin Guest Novel “The Deepest Grave,” the mystery short story “Players” by Dennis Palumbo, “Doggy DNA” by Neil Plakcy, and most recently the first chapter of Kathleen Kaska’s mystery “Murder at the Driskill.” Next month we will have the first chapter of the first Haunted Bookshop mystery by Cleo Coyle, and a slightly creepy mystery short story called “Mercy Killer” by Merrilee Robson. You can find all of the episodes at mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com, and on iTunes and Google Play by searching for Mysteryrat’s Maze.

This has been an exciting new journey and I’m thrilled about how they have turned out! Coming up over the next year we will have stories and chapters by Elaine Viets, Julia Buckley, Marilyn Meredith, Daryl Wood Gerber and many more! If you love podcasts and mystery these are a perfect fit for you–but if you have never tried podcasts and love mystery I highly encourage you to give them a try-it’s really easy and each podcast is no more than 10 minutes. You can hear these stories come to life!

To keep up with the podcasts and get extra content I recommend you sign up for our podcast email newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/kingsriverlife) or follow us on PodBean (https://mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com/). In the meantime, as our announcer says at the end of each podcast, we wish you a life full of mystery!

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Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Aria Piper runs a New Age Spiritual Center near Santa Cruz, California. Karl Gatlin is a private investigator but has training as a counselor. The two are connected because they were both interns at the same center, though Karl decided he was much more cut out for a career as a PI than counseling people through their personal troubles. However, when Aria begins receiving threats and a beheaded body turns up at Aria’s center, she turns to Karl to investigate. That is the basic set up for the book, however, if readers are expecting a straight forward PI book, they are in for a surprise or two as this is a book that never quite settles on what sort of a book it wants to be. It has a little bit of something for just about everyone, but I was left wondering if there was enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone.

The number one strength of the book is the character development. What an interesting cast of characters Darrow has given readers! First we have a main character who is a PI with psychotherapy training, a second main character who is running a spiritual center which might or might not be a cult, some sort of flaky “enlightened” folks, some seriously bad dudes and lastly my favorite, Larry the dog who has so many human traits it is sometimes hard to remember he is a dog.

The second strength is the off beat humor in the book. This is really not my favorite type of book (think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey), but I do appreciate their craft and Darrow has the skills to carry this type of humor off.

I would like the author to firm up what genre he is writing though. Suspense, thriller, PI novel, or something completely different. Also, as fascinating as the odd set of characters were, sometimes their idiosyncrasies became a distraction from the plot.

Blood and Wisdom is the debut book for author Verlin Darrow. While I did have some issues with the book, there is definite potential for him as an author. It will be interesting to see what the next book brings.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

Giving Reboots the Boot

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about the sad state of some “new” TV programming.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Reboots. They’re coming to your TV soon. Some arrived early, like “Fuller House”. Some are waiting in the wings, like “The Connors” (sans Roseanne). Some we cringe at the thought of: “Magnum P.I.” without a mustache. And some, like “Murphy Brown”, couldn’t be more topical.

Webster’s is constantly adding new words as they become part of the common language. “Selfie” recently got added. As did” twitter.” The Urban Dictionary goes further, adding buzzwords as they happen, like “fleek,” “bae” and “adulting.” Oh, and “buzzword” is also part of the lexicon.

“Reboot” is a product of the computer phenomenon. We rebooted computers when they got stubborn. Now it’s used to mean “revive.” “Resuscitate.” Like Frankenstein’s monster, TV shows come back from the dead. And like zombies, they can’t seem to die, even when cancelled.

I’m not exactly sure what this retro move is all about. It’s hard to believe there are no new ideas for shows floating around in TV Land. Netflix, HBO and the rest don’t seem to have trouble finding new and unique properties. BBC has given us the short series, not shows that strive to last over 100 episodes to make it to syndication.

It’s said that writers are 20 deep at the gates of studios, begging for a chance with fresh scripts and unique ideas. But, we’re talking profit here. TV execs want a sure hit. Advertisers are reluctant to invest in the untried. They are banking on nostalgia from older viewers and pulling in a younger audience who have no clue what the original show was like.

I’m also peeved at trend-followers. A zombie show is a hit? Let’s saturate the boob tube with more of the same. Is one vampire show enough? How many superheroes can we pack in a network? Cops, SWAT, firemen, FBI, NCIS, law enforcement is covered. I have to say I like the new hospital shows where the administration is evil and the doctors are sly enough to save people despite the rules.

    

I recently found out why we’re inundated with reality shows. When the writers strike took place a decade ago, studios found it was cost effective to put real people in front of the camera and see what happened. Unscripted shows showed us the worst in humanity. Real housewives were phony, the Kardashians took off from Kim’s sex tape and big booty, the bachelor excited women with a rose and watched catfights erupt competing for a marriage proposal. I will admit I love “Amazing Race”, “Survivor”, “Project Runway” and “Top Chef”. I LEARN something from these shows. The rest are just communal voyeurism.

With the exception of “Murphy Brown”, I will not be watching reboots. I’ll turn the channel to PBS and fill my mind with knowledge.

 

Book Review: The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

The Silent Girl
A Rizzoli and Isles Novel #9
Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-553-84115-2
Mass Market Paperback

An interesting departure from the usual circumstances in this powerful series. The novel begins in San Francisco when an unknown woman stalks a teenaged girl. We learn quickly that the stalker has benign designs on the girl. She is challenged to become a warrior child.

The novel switches to Boston, home of the main protagonists of this series. Maura Isles faces an unusual situation. As the Medical Examiner for the city of Boston, she must testify against the actions of one of Boston PDs most revered officers, a circumstance which causes her considerable anxiety and difficulty with the thin blue line, as well as distance with her friend, detective Jane Rizzoli.

A local boy, Billy Foo, who chooses to conduct paid walking tours of the central city of Boston, often takes groups to the site of a nineteen-year-old multiple murder, the Red Phoenix restaurant. And then, as night falls, one of the tour members discovers a freshly severed hand, lying in the alley beside the building housing the closed Red Phoenix. Murder, mystery, perplexing clues pile up and the atmosphere woven by this master storyteller grab readers forcefully.

This story examines in a thoughtful way some of the interesting and complicated and ancient mythology of the Asian world. But it is important to note that the author has not fashioned a fantasy. This novel is carefully rooted in the real and dangerous world.

The principal characters, as always, are exceedingly well and carefully drawn, the action persists in a steady drumbeat of action and reaction, interspersed with quiet intellectual or social scenes. The result is a fine strong novel that should satisfy any Gerritsen fan and bring her new devotees.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Waiting On Wednesday (98)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Elevation
Stephen King
Scribner, October 2018
Mystery, Supernatural

From the publisher—

Set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine

The latest from legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together—a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

From Stephen King, our “most precious renewable resource, like Shakespeare in the malleability of his work” (The Guardian), Elevation is an antidote to our divisive culture, as gloriously joyful (with a twinge of deep sadness) as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Why am I waiting so eagerly? It’s Stephen King, for one thing, and that’s unbeatable in my book, pun intended 😉 Also, the storyline sounds pretty darned awesome AND apparently this is quite a bit lighter, in tone and actual size, than most of King’s work. For once, the master may have given us a quick read! And did I mention, this is Stephen King?

Book Review: Star of the North by D.B. John

Star of the North
D.B. John
Crown Publishing, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-525-57329-6
Hardcover

Three plot lines run through this contemporary thriller, sometimes in parallel and sometimes converging. The overarching framework of the story is Jenna’s search for her Korean American twin sister, kidnapped from the Korean peninsula. Her sister was believed dead for a long time until Jenna receives evidence that she is alive in North Korea. She manages to join the CIA, the only mechanism she knows of that will allow her to execute her plan to rescue her sister and exact revenge. The tangled path to her sister ends in her dining alone with Kim Jong Il.

Accompanying subplots involve Mrs. Moon, an enterprising peasant who begins a profitable black market business with contraband, and Colonel Cho Sang-ho, a highly regarded North Korean official who learns he is descended from traitors to the regime. Their subsequent captures, arrests, and brutal imprisonment in the coal mines of North Hamgyong Province make for painful reading.

This chilling and timely novel about North Korea has received accolades from every major reviewing outlet, including starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers’ Weekly, and Library Journal.

D.B. John was born in Wales and now lives in London. He has lived in South Korea and Berlin and is one of the few Westerners to have visited North Korea. He co-authored The Girl With Seven Names, Hyeonseo Lee’s New York Times bestselling 2015 memoir about her escape from North Korea. His first thriller was Flight from Berlin (2012).

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, September 2018.

An Alternate Look at Banned Books Week

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Banned Books Week but
couldn’t really find the right words to say just what I think is wrong
about it. My blogging colleague and fellow reviewer, Mark Baker,
has
done a great job of expressing his—and my—misgivings.

Carstairs Considers….

Confessions of a Book Banner
 
The Bottom Line:

Freedom to read?  Good
So is freedom to object
Let’s balance the two

NOTE: This is an essay/editorial I originally wrote for Banned Books Week back in 2011.  I have gone through and made some minor tweaks and added a couple of paragraphs.  The stats may be outdated now as well, but I didn’t have the time to try to update that section.  I certainly still stand by the spirit of this essay.

*******

Every year when Banned Books Week rolls around, my hackles go up.  It’s because, according to some definitions, I am a book banner.

When I was a junior in high school, my high school had posters that were up in display cases for a month at a time on various topics.  One month, the topic was banned books.  I very carefully read those posters to see what was being said.

At this point, 25 years later, the details are fuzzy.  I do remember that the poster that gave examples of situations where books were banned infuriated me, and I went home and ranted about it to my parents.  As I recall, there were five stories on this poster.  Four of them were of parents who had objected to various books in classrooms or school libraries – you know, the standard stuff you hear about.  In all four of these cases, the parents lost and the book stayed in the school library or their child was given an alternative assignment while the rest of the class read the book.

So what about the fifth case?  If I made you guess, I bet you’d come up with the title within five guesses – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  There are two reasons this book was different from the other four.  First, the challenge was brought by a teacher.  Second, the book actually was removed from the classrooms of the school.

So right there, I learned that parents are ignored and teachers are listened to.  That double standard bothered me.  At least it was included with the parents in this list.

I’m also bothered by the terms used.  All five of these were presented on the poster as banned books.  Yet only one was really banned, the one brought by the teacher.  I realize that, if you read the fine print, you’ll see that the list every year includes challenged and banned books.  But that’s not what is headlined.  Instead, we only talk about banned books, whether the book was actually banned or not.

But here’s the thing that bothered me even more.  In at least one of the instances where a parent objected to a book, they only objected to their kid being made to read the book.  They asked for and received an alternative assignment for their child.  And yet they were labeled a book banner.  No, I don’t remember the book in question.  I wish I did.

Believe me, there were several books I wish I hadn’t read in high school.  The one that immediately springs to mind is Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  Even now, I am repulsed by some of the things in that book.  It’s shocking for shock sake and filled with unlikable characters.  Honestly, if I had an inkling what was in it before I started reading it, I would have asked for an alternative assignment.  By the time I realized just how foul it was, it would have been a pain for me and the teacher, so I just kept going.

Does this make me a book banner?

I did opt out of a book later that year – the infamous Catcher in the Rye.  Yes, I did check the book out of the library and read the first few pages on my own before we were due to start it, so I had some clue what I was talking about when I objected to the language in it.  Instead, I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which remains one of my favorite books read in high school.  I did sit in on class, so I got some of the themes of the book (although like several other books we read that year, I don’t remember much anymore).

Does this make me a book banner?  According to some definitions, it does, as noted above.

Before we go any further, I want to be clear on something.  I have absolutely no problems with parents objecting to something their child is being exposed to in the classroom, and this goes for movies as well as books.  (Yes, I was shown R rated films in high school by teachers when I was not yet old enough to see them.)  A child has to be in the classroom, but ultimately, it is the parent’s right and responsibility to raise the child however they see fit.  It is not the right of the teacher or school to raise the child.  That’s why this issue always resonates so strongly with me.  When parents are being called banners or censors because they object to something for their own child and their child alone, that is wrong.

I am more conflicted about contents of school libraries.  A parent should be monitoring what a child reads at home, but a book could be checked out of a school library and left at school.  If that happens, then the parent would have no idea their child was reading it.  Since the book is still chosen by the student, I am less certain of how I stand on this one.

When it comes to public libraries, I feel most challenges should be just that, challenges.  Parents should be monitoring what their child reads and checks out from a public library.  Removing a book from a public library because it offends you does bother me, even in the case of books that I don’t think should have been published in the first place.

And let’s be clear on this point, too.  What you find objectionable, I might not.  I fully realize that if we let every parent pick every book used in a classroom, there might be nothing left (although that is a slippery slope argument, something I learned is a fallacy in my college logic class).  Still, just because a book is challenged doesn’t make it a book worthy of being read.  It might be true that the book actually has no redeeming value.  Shocking thought.  Then again, it might be wonderful and something that could change the world for the better.

I think what I object to most about Banned Books Week is the tone the American Library Association takes when they promote it.  Firstly, they promote it as a fight for the First Amendment.  Hold on a second.  The First Amendment is about the government, not about individuals.  When the government stops books from being published, then I will absolutely be outraged.  That’s when a book is truly banned.  Arguing that a book is questionable in a classroom or library is hardly the same thing.

After all, let’s say that a book is pulled from a public library.  If I want to read it, I can still go to a local bookstore or on line to a bunch of sites and buy a copy for myself possibly for as little as 3 or 4 dollars.  Yes, there are some people who won’t go to that trouble.  Yes, there are some people who can’t afford to do that.  They can still borrow the book from a friend.  There are still copies out there.

And yes, libraries make choices all the time.  I’ve never been in a library that bought every book published in a year.  They don’t have the space or the budget for that.  Recently, the libraries in my town have gone completely independent from all other libraries.  While there are still lots of choices, there are some books that I’ve wanted to read that they didn’t have in their system.  I’ve had to go out of my way to go to the county library system to get those books.  So to argue that a library system is supporting all freedom is disingenuous just because size and budget already limit what they have.

Not that I am criticizing librarians for the choices they make at all.  I’m sure they put lots of thought into what is chosen for their branches and the system in general.  No matter what they chose, there will be people who object because book A wasn’t bought or book B was.  I absolutely respect that.

But back to my original point.  According to stats on the ALA’s own site in 2011, 977 challenges out of 4,660 in the last 10 years were due to “unsuited for age group.”  That’s 21%.  So I am deemed a censor if I object to my 1st grader being exposed to Twilight or Harry Potter.  Okay, okay, so I haven’t heard of any cases where that happened, and it is an extreme example.  But according to their definitions, it would be on the list.

Think I’m exaggerating?  On another page back then, they had a definition of terms.  Several of their terms make sense.  Oral complaint or written complaint make sense (someone challenging something verbally or in writing).  But then there are things like “Expression of Concern” which is defined as “An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.”  And “Censorship – A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives.  Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade lever changes.”  So if a parents objects to their child reading a book in 5th grade but is willing to let them read it in 7th grade, that is censorship?  If a parent successfully gets Twilight moved from the Children’s section of the library to the Young Adult section, that’s censorship?

Frankly, I find their definition of “expression of concern” highly ironic, too.  Everything I ever read from the ALA on Banned Books Week in any year I’ve looked is filled with judgmental overtones.  Honestly, I feel like they just want parents to shut up and go away, and are trying to bully them into doing that.  Yes, I said bully.  That is what this feels like to me.  If you don’t shut up and let the ALA buy and display books however they see fit, they are going to call you names.

One more stat from the ALA site from 2011.  No numbers are given, but they tell us that “almost exactly 48%” of challenges come from parents.  They call this the majority of challenges, and I’m willing to give them that since the only other stat they give is 10% each for administrators and patrons, leaving the remaining 32% unaccounted for.  Again, however, I would argue that parents have the right to monitor what their child reads or is exposed to, especially if it is in the classroom.  Instead, the ALA is setting them up as evil people, “censors,” for doing their job.  I think it could even be argued that the ALA is trying to censor parents with this annual week by embarrassing them into silence.

Honestly, the one thing I couldn’t find in a quick internet search on banned or challenged books was the stories behind some of these challenges.  Yes, they list the top 10 and the reasons given, but who objected?  Was the book in a library or a classroom?  Did the book stay on the shelf/assignment or was it removed?  Those kind of details might actually help me understand the concerns about this.  And, since I have been called names because I objected to myself reading a book and never said anything about the rest of the class, I get interested in those details.  Maybe we’ll find that the “censors” are really more reasonable than those promoting Banned Books Week are willing to admit.

Ironically enough, the only case of a book truly being banned happened a couple of years ago.  Someone wrote a picture book about George Washington’s slaves making his birthday cake.  Seriously.  It has bad idea written all over it, right?  Yet it somehow almost got published.  A few days before it was do to come out, someone started an internet campaign against the book, and the publisher pulled it.  I’d be curious to read it, but there are only a very few copies there were sold pre-release floating around out there and I never have tried too hard to get my hands on a copy.  At the time, this was touted as a wonderful thing that the book was pulled.  And I’m sure I would be agreeing with them if I had read the book.  But I was never given the chance.  Yet this book isn’t one of the ones brought up during banned book week.

While she didn’t talk about this week in particular, my reaction to everything surrounding the week is perfectly summarized in Kristen Power’s book The Silencing.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (here is my review).  Her premise is that certain parts of American culture are more interesting in shouting down those they disagree with than trying to find common ground for compromise.  That to me is exactly what Banned Books Week as currently observed feels like.

Now here is where I might shock and surprise you.  I could see myself supporting Banned Books Week with a change of emphasis and tone.  What if we treated the week not as it is now but as a week to open a dialog on banned and challenged books.

How about a forum of some kind where people can open a dialog about the banned and challenged books?  This could be local or over the internet.  Those who object to the book can say why without fear of being attacked or name called, something that is lacking from every Banned Books Week to date.  Those who support the book can say why they like it, again without being attacked by the other side.  Maybe no minds will be changed.  But by actually discussing the book in question from both sides, maybe we can reach an understanding and a mutually agreed upon solution.  I would ask that both sides actually read the book first.  It is only fair to object to or defend something you are familiar with.  After all, I love Huckleberry Finn and think that those who object to the dated racial language don’t get what Twain was trying to do with the book. (I get into that more in my review of the book.)

After all, do we have anything to fear from an open and honest debate?  I would argue no, but the way Banned Books Week is celebrated now, we don’t have that or the chance to have that.

And why do we have to be adversarial?  Why must this week be one side attacking the other?  Again, that does little to truly examine what is going on with this issue in our country.  Maybe the other side of the issue isn’t as evil as we are making them out to be but has genuine concerns that can be addressed without keeping others from enjoying the book.

More than anything, I would argue that as it stands now, Banned Books Week does little to nothing to actually help with the true problem, people’s different standards for their kids (and to a lesser extent themselves).  So how can we go about addressing those in a mature, responsible way?  I welcome your comments.  In fact, I would love to see what you have to say.  Just keep in mind that all name calling will be ignored.

Carstairs Considers….