Monday, July 24, 2017

It's Summer – Time for Book Club! A Guest Post from Julia Thomas

We welcome Julia Thomas, author of THE ENGLISH BOYS and her latest release PENHALE WOOD, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Julia shares the beauty of book clubs, especially during these sweltering summer months.

Like a lot of authors, I not only write, I love to read, too. Several years ago, long before I finished my first book, I started a book club with several friends at work. I didn't know any of them particularly well, but over time, we've bonded in special ways, discovering books that have made us laugh, cry, and grow along the way. It's morphed into something very different from our first formal book club, where we sat rigidly in a circle of chairs and discussed Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, taking turns as we went around the circle to contribute one polite thought about the book club guide questions asked. That group of women is unrecognizable from the group of friends who gather in each other's kitchens today, pouring wine and having deep discussions about our current book choices.

There are many benefits to having a book club.
  1. First, you'll discipline yourself to read more books. There were all levels of readers when we first started our book club. Some of us were hardcore booklovers who enjoyed classics and award-winning books, who had been serious readers for years. Others were casual readers who picked up a book occasionally but might not even finish it. You might think that such a wide range wouldn't be conducive to a good book club, but all of us became better readers for the journey and we learned to value each other's opinions.
  2. You will begin to read "outside the box" of your normal book choices. I'll admit, as an avid reader, it was difficult to accept some of the choices that were offered. But I quickly found that there's something to be learned from nearly every book we've discussed. We haven't stuck with a single genre, either. We've read fiction and nonfiction, mysteries, romances, literary novels, and classics; everything from Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (my favorite so far) to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a surprising and thought-provoking book.
  3. You'll discuss things in books that can address your own emotional needs. Each of us has found books that we are passionate about, books that take us on common journeys and speak to the issues we face today. For every life twist and turn, there is comfort in knowing that others have gone before us and light torches for our path.
  4. You'll make—and strengthen—friendships. Readers (and writers) are so often introverts who are shy about making friends. We struggled through our first few book club meetings dealing with that very problem, and have come through it as more confident and happy women.
This summer, it's my turn to host, and we’ll be discussing Elin Hilderbrand's The Castaways. It's the perfect blend of beach read and a juicy mystery. We'll gather at my house for lunch, and one of the perks of hosting is the chance to set a pretty table.
However, we've been flexible in our book club, meaning that we don't always serve a meal. Sometimes we meet in a restaurant, or even poolside to chat about books. The important thing is that we're reading, growing, and challenging ourselves in the best possible way: through the joy of reading.


***

Penhale Wood by Julia Thomas If it's the last thing she ever does, Iris will find Sophie's killer and make her pay. On a cold December night in Cornwall, nanny Karen Peterson disappeared with three-year-old Sophie Flynn. The next day, the child’s body was found on a riverbank in Penhale Wood. A year later, Sophie’s mother, Iris Flynn, appears on the doorstep of investigating officer Rob McIntyre, determined to make him reopen her daughter’s case. McIntyre has his own personal demons, but Iris hijacks his life in order to find the woman she thinks is responsible for Sophie’s death. Following the slimmest of leads, they are soon confronting ghosts from the past and a chameleon-like killer who will do anything to stay hidden.

Praise:
"An entertaining contemporary crime novel about love and revenge."—Library Journal (starred review) and Debut of the Month

"A real gem . . . This is an excellent mystery and readers are in for quite a surprise at the end." —Suspense Magazine

"[An] eminently readable debut."—Kirkus Review

"A tightly sequenced tale with the many flashbacks expertly woven in."
Reviewing the Evidence


Julia ThomasJulia Thomas (Oklahoma) is a graduate of Northeastern State University and an educator. She is married to Will Thomas, author of the Barker and Llewelyn mystery series (Minotaur Books). The English Boys is her debut novel.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The July Issue of the Midnight Ink Newsletter Is Here!


Our July 2017 issue of the Midnight Ink, our email newsletter for consumers, was mailed this morning. This issue includes:
Didn't receive a copy in your email inbox? You can also view it here: Midnight Ink Newsletter, July 2017 Issue.

You can also visit our website to subscribe!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not Every Bucket List Needs Checkmarks: A Guest Post from Tony Perona


We welcome Tony Perona, one half of the father-daughter writing team Elizabeth Perona, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Tony explores bucket lists...and why writing them down and checking them off may not be so important, after all. 

(Although, checking off bucket list items can be entertaining...when you're the characters of the Bucket List mystery series! The third in the series, Murder at the Male Revue, is available now!)


My father-in-law died in March of this year, just a week shy of his 95th birthday. I realize now that I never asked him if he'd had a bucket list, or if he did, if he'd accomplished all of the things on it. This is strange, considering that Liz and I write the Bucket List mystery series about older people knocking items off their bucket lists. We ask a lot of people questions about what's on their bucket lists. But for whatever reason, not him.

But as I look back on it, I don't think we needed to. The way Jim lived his life made it clear that if he didn't have a formal list, he embraced the spirit of a bucket list. He and my mother-in-law Marge (who died in 2010) were adventurous souls who were engaged with life right up until the end. The two were "bucket list buddies," even if they didn't define it that way.

Here's what I mean by "bucket list buddies:" In late 2012, two researchers writing for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cited evidence indicating that spending discretionary money with the intention of acquiring life experiences makes people happier than spending money with the intention of acquiring material possessions. They then demonstrated that the inclusion of others is a key dimension of how people derive happiness from discretionary spending.

In other words, if your goal is to have experiences (which frequently show up as bucket list items), then accomplishing them with others makes you happier. Thus, the "bucket list buddy."

Jim and Marge led extraordinary lives. In his life span, Jim lived through the Great Depression, put himself through college, became an engineer, fought against Japan as a pilot in WWII, worked for General Motors for 40 years on aircraft engines, and raised a family that included a software developer, an engineer, and a pharmacist, two of whom were women. He retired to Florida for over 20 happy years before health issues brought he and Marge back to be with family in Indiana. Though he started with a slide rule for calculations, he adapted to electronic calculators, computers, the Internet and even a cell phone. He used a personal computer to keep track of his finances even to the end. In his last couple of months, he was asking my daughter Katy to explain the "cloud" to him.

He and Marge traveled extensively. They dragged their kids through national parks during summer vacations. When Jim was given the chance to go to Europe to work on a GM program with a British-based aircraft engine manufacturer, he packed up the family and they lived in England for three years. They extensively explored Europe while they were there. After retirement, they traveled around the US in a travel trailer, returned to Europe on occasion, and took cruises to Alaska and Asia.

Some of this took money, of course, and he was blessed to have that. But even stripping away experiences that required money, what I see in his life is an appreciation for the adventure of daily life—and sharing it with others.

He enjoyed golf, perhaps the prime reason he retired to Florida. He golfed frequently with Marge, his son Russ, with longtime golfing buddies, with strangers he met on golf courses. After Marge died, he played with the "Round Bellies," a group of retirees who were ten and twenty years younger than he was. When he had to give up golf at age 92, the Round Bellies loved him so much they kept in touch. He was an active church member, and he and Marge were valued members of congregations wherever they lived. They also enjoyed doing things for the good of their community. In his seventies, I remember Jim helped build a playground in a needy area of Punta Gorda. He was generous with his time, and he had a true heart for making the world a better place.

A bucket list does its best work when it engages its author in life. It's not necessarily about what's on the list or about how many items you can check off. Its value, I would argue—and I think the authors of the study in the Journal would back me up on this—is that it always has us looking forward to the next day. As our Bucket List characters Francine, Charlotte, Mary Ruth, Joy, and Alice can attest—along with Jim and Marge—it brings the promise of great happiness.
***

The Skinny-Dipping Grandmas enjoy a male stripper show . . . until it gets too hot to handle and nearly goes up in flames

When Mary Ruth's company is hired to cater a fundraiser featuring the Royal Buckingham Male Dance Revue, the ladies see the chance to cross another item off their bucket list: helping divorcée Joy McQueen get over her decades-old fear of men in the buff. But when fundraiser sponsor Camille Ledfelter is stabbed to death, the women must uncover the naked truth about who wanted her dead.

Proving who did it, however, will require dodging a persistent stripper-for-hire, surviving the American Legion Bingo, drinking high-end cognac, searching for a certain 3D printer, and laying bare the motives of a dangerous killer.

Elizabeth Perona (Plainfield, Indiana) is the father/daughter writing team of Tony Perona and Elizabeth Dombrosky.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Retro Rec - June 2017


With a little history, a little mystery and a little romance Kathleen Ernst has successfully penned eight Chloe Ellefson mysteries. She’ll be releasing the highly anticipated eighth book, Mining for Justice, in October. With the next book arriving in a few months, it might be fun to learn a little more about Kathleen and look back at the third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Light Keeper’s Legacy.

Relax and unwind as we enter Wisconsin’s picturesque Door County, at the historic lighthouse on Rock Island.


Working with historic sites for twelve years, and loving it, inspired Kathleen to write the series, “after moving on, I missed the work, the places, the people involved. Enter Chloe Ellefson, fictional curator.  Every book comes from my heart, and I love having the opportunity to feature different historic places and themes within the series. And goodness, are they ever popular!

It all begins with Chloe. “She is a curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin, where I once worked. When the series begins she is recovering from a series of personal crises, and starting fresh at the historic site. She meets Roelke McKenna, police officer, while investigating a missing artifact.  They have a complicated relationship, but he’s good for her!” 

Chloe is passionate about preserving historic places and telling the stories of people forgotten. Her knowledge of history is needed to help solve the murders presented in each book. For example, in The Light Keeper’s Legacy, she does research on the lighthouse’s past residents as a dead body washes ashore. Kathleen says, “While she and I have some things in common, she is smarter and braver than I am, and much better at speaking her mind.” Which makes her a protagonist you’ll want to stand behind.

It’s September 1982 and museum curator Chloe Ellefson jumps at the chance to spend time on Wisconsin’s Rock Island, a state park with no electricity or roads. She’s there on temporary assignment from Old World Wisconsin to consult on restoring the island’s historic 1858 lighthouse.

Chloe’s research into the island’s history turns up fascinating, tough-as-nails women from the past. But her tranquility is spoiled when a dead woman washes ashore. She begins research as Chloe does not believe this is an accidental drowning. Local tensions over Lake Michigan commercial fishing regulations have sparked conflict, and Chloe believes this may be the epicenter of what’s going wrong on this little island.  When Chloe discovers a second body, she finds herself trapped alone with a killer on remote Rock Island.

Kirkus Reviews declares The Light Keeper’s Legacy as, “a good mystery,” along with Library Journal stating, “A haunted island makes for fun escape reading. Ernst’s third amateur sleuth cozy is just the ticket for lighthouse fans and genealogy buffs. Deftly flipping back and forth in time in alternating chapters, the author builds up two mystery cases and cleverly weaves them back together.” And Jane Kirkpatrick, New York Times bestselling author, praises the book with, “Once again in The Light Keeper’s Legacy Kathleen Ernst wraps history with mystery in a fresh and compelling read.” Jane, “[Marvels] at Kathleen’s ability to deepen her series characters while deftly introducing us to a new setting and unique people.”

Kathleen started writing short stories when she was about 10, “I wrote my first novel at 15 (the manuscript was awful, but the experience was empowering). Ten or twelve practice manuscripts later, I got my first book contract. That was twenty-five years and thirty-six books ago!”

She’s often inspired by authors, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Marguerite Henry, and Anya Seton. They showed her, “history is all about stories. I still read a lot of historical fiction, and of course many mysteries. I love mysteries that are character-driven and have a strong sense of place.”

Pick up your copy of The Light Keeper’s Legacy now, or start at the very beginning with Old World Murder!

All are available at Midnight Ink, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and your local bookstore.

***

Kathleen Ernst is an award-winning and bestselling author, educator, and social historian. She has published over thirty novels and two nonfiction books.  Her books for young readers include the Caroline Abbott series for American Girl.  Honors for her children's mysteries include Edgar and Agatha Award nominations.  Kathleen worked as an Interpreter and Curator of Interpretation and Collections at Old World Wisconsin, and her time at the historic site served as inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  The Heirloom Murders won the Anne Powers Fiction Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and The Light Keeper's Legacy  won the Lovey Award for Best Traditional Mystery from Love Is Murder.  Ernst served as project director/scriptwriter for several instructional television series, one of which earned her an Emmy Award.  She lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.  For more information, visit her online at KathleenErnst.com.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Guest Post: Ray Daniel - Hacked

I'm not going to lie, this is one of the most useful guest posts we've ever had. Stolen passwords haunt our lives on the daily. Thankfully, Ray Daniel gives us some tips on how to protect ourselves from those pesky hackers, in correlation with his latest release, Hacked. The fourth book in the Tucker Mysteries, which is available now!


Hackers love passwords. They love to use them, sell them, and trade them with their friends. Once they have passwords they can steal identities, publish secrets, and create a wide variety of mischief and mayhem.  So, how do they get them?  Most importantly, how could they get yours.

It's perhaps comforting to know that they don't get your password because they know your birthday, your dog's name, or the names of your loved ones.  While not using any of that personal information to create a password is good advice, we don't live in a creepy world where hackers are omniscient.

Hackers have two primary ways of getting your password: they can guess it, or they can trick you into giving it to them.  Let's look at both of those approaches and then see what we can do to protect ourselves.


When it comes to guessing passwords, one imagines the hacker going to Amazon.com and trying passwords until one hits.  This, of course, does not work.  Amazon.com and other sites place limits on the number of guesses.

Instead hackers need to steal databases full of email addresses and their associated encrypted password.  Encryption takes your password and turns it into an unintelligible string of letters.  For example, the password 'password' becomes the following:

5E884898DA28047151D0E56F8DC6292773603D0D6AABBDD62A11EF721D1542D8

There's no way to figure out the word 'password' from that.  The very similar password 'Password' looks like this:

E7CF3EF4F17C3999A94F2C6F612E8A888E5B1026878E4E19398B23BD38EC221A

As you can see there's no discernable pattern between them even though they are similar passwords.  However, if I told you that my password was password but I didn't tell you whether the P was capitalized, you could figure out which password was mine by guessing.  You'd encrypt password and then encrypt Password and check to see which one matched the encrypted string.  That's exactly how hackers guess your password except on a huge scale.

Hackers regularly break into insecure servers and steal databases of email addresses and encrypted passwords.  When you heard that hackers broke into Yahoo and stole information for one billion (billion with a B!) accounts these username-password pairs were some of the information stolen.

Once they have the encrypted passwords, hackers use bastardized graphics engines to create hacking machines that can guess a billion passwords in a second.  They take your password and compare it to lists of previously guessed passwords, then they compare it to words in a dictionary, then they replace the 'e' with '3' and add numbers and letters to the end, they use advanced prediction mechanisms to create guesses from a first letter such as 's'.

Using techniques such as these hackers can guess between 60 and 80% of passwords in a typical stolen database.  If you'd like to know whether your password information is in the hands of hackers, follow this link to this New York Times article:

Or to be more precise type your email address into http://haveibeenpwned.com.

Both sites will tell you whether your information may be out there. (But, come on, we almost all have a Yahoo account.)

The other way hackers get your password is by asking for it with a phishing attack.  In this approach hackers send you an email that looks to be from a coworker or, even better, a boss or the IRS.  The message says something like, "You had better read this right now or you're screwed!" The goal is to get you to panic, click on a link, and log in to see the information.  Once you do that, the hackers have your password.  This is how John Podesta of the Hillary Clinton campaign lost his password to Russian hackers.  To be fair to Podesta, he shared the email with his IT department who told him it was legitimate when the person had meant to type illegitimate. (One cannot make this up.)

If you think you're immune to being phished I suggest listening to the Reply All podcast from Gimlet Media named What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?. https://gimletmedia.com/episode/97-what-kind-of-idiot-gets-phished/

There are three things you can do to minimize password-related damage:
1. Use a different password on every site.  I'd worry if I had used my Yahoo password to protect my bank account.
2. Use a password manager to generate unguessable random strings to all sites and save them.  That way you only need to remember one password. (Here is a comparison of password managers: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp)
3. Set up two-factor authentication on all sites that allow it.  John Podesta would have survived losing his password if he had turned this on.  Two-factor authentication requires the hackers to have both your password and your cell phone to get into your account. They probably don't have your cell phone. (Two-factor authentication saves Tucker in Hacked.)

The modern world of hacking and password can seem like a scary place, but it's not difficult to stay safe.  If you use a password manager to generate different random passwords for all your sites and turn on two-factor authentication you won't wind up like John Podesta. 
***

Aloysius Tucker vows vengeance when a hacker terrorizes his ten-year-old cousin online. But the situation goes sideways fast, threatening to take Tucker off-line for good. #TuckerGate

Promising his cousin that he’ll get an apology from an Internet bully, Tucker finds himself in a flame war that goes nuclear after a hacker is murdered. Now more hackers, the whole Twitterverse, and a relentless bounty hunter agree on one thing—Tucker is the killer and he must be stopped.
With death threats filling his inbox, Tucker battles Anonymous, Chinese spies, and his own self-destructive rage while chasing a murderer the online community has named the HackMaster. Can Tucker clear his name and build a case against the killer before the death threats come true?


Ray Daniel (Framingham, MA) writes first-person, wisecracking, Boston-based crime fiction. His story Driving Miss Rachel (published in Blood Moon by Level Best Books) was chosen as a 2013 distinguished short story by Otto Penzler, editor of The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. Daniel's work has been published in the Level Best Books anthologies Thin IceBlood Moon, and Stone ColdTerminated is Ray Daniel's first novel. For more information, visit him online at raydanielmystery.com/.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Guest Post: R. Jean Reid - Perdition

We welcome R. Jean Reid (Jean Redmann) to Midnight Ink's blog today! Jean delves into setting and why she wrote a series set in Mississippi. The second in her gripping Nell McGraw Investigation series, Perdition, was just released yesterday. 


I grew up in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf coast, Ocean Springs. It’s been decades since I lived there, but the past, our memories, the slant of the light, seeing a world new through a growing child’s eyes; keep it tightly in memory. This town and my growing up there had stories to tell. These stories became the Nell McGraw series.

There is no real Pelican Bay and I’ve stretched the Mississippi coast from 3 counties to 4 to add my fictional one. The city is loosely—very loosely—based on Ocean Springs, but mainly because it’s easier to pull something from memory (and a map) than to create it out of whole cloth. There is no town square, so please don’t ask where it is. (Ocean Springs is a lovely, sleepy town, miles of natural beaches and worth a trip if you’re in the area. But missing an expanse of green at its heart.)

The first story I wanted to tell, in Roots of Murder, was to dig back into the hidden—or forgotten—struggles of the civil rights era. When I was a child, those lovely beaches were segregated. As difficult as it is, I wanted to take a hard look at that past, at least as much as a mystery, a fictional world, could do. How do those long ago sins still resonate? The mystery genre, at its heart, is a search for justice. Too often in real life we can’t find it; truth hidden and smudged under everyone’s version of it. But the mystery novel can give it to us.

For this kind of story, the only possible setting seemed to be one based on my childhood home, a small town with secrets.

In my research for the book, I stumbled over a memoir titled Blood, Ballots and Beaches, by Dr. Gilbert Mason, Sr., an African-American doctor. It was the story of the desegregation of the beaches in Biloxi, Mississippi, a struggle overshadowed by the more bloody violence going on in other parts of the state.

My parents are long gone. I can’t ask them what it was like, even if I dared (would I find answers I didn’t want to find?) I only had small clues, some only later revealing themselves. In 8th grade, I was given an assignment to ask my parents to name someone they admired, a historical figure. My mother chose Eleanor Roosevelt. Only later, did I realize what a major statement that was for Mississippi in the late sixties. (The state was still fighting Brown v. Education, finally losing at the Supreme Court in 1969.) Eleanor Roosevelt, who resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution, when it refused to let the African-American singer Marianne Anderson perform in its hall. Who climbed into a bi-plane with one of the Tuskegee Airmen to show her utter confidence that they could fly as well as any white pilot.

In Dr. Mason’s book, he only named those who helped support him in his struggle. I saw the name of my pediatrician, my mother’s cancer doctor, others that were part of my parent’s social circle.

A small kindness, to find that perhaps in that flawed time with its all too flawed men, my parents, had at least been part of those who were willing to hope for a better world. They weren’t fighters for civil rights, not on the front lines. Even in my sealed childhood world, I would have remembered that. I can’t claim any great heroism from my family—only that perhaps they weren’t as flawed—shading into evil—as many in that time and place.

And I had to write a story that helps, in a very, very small way, to atone for the sunny days at the beach that were denied to others. To remind us that, as Faulkner says, ‘The past is never gone; it’s isn’t even past.”

That was the genesis of Nell McGraw and Pelican Bay. (Please note, it’s a large small town and part of the well populated Gulf Coast area, keeping the murder rate well below that of Cabot Cove.)

In Perdition, the second Nell McGraw, I also wanted to draw on secrets, the assumptions we make about others, especially when we think we know them.

Mississippi, and my memories, still have stories to tell. 
***

What happens when a killer who can’t be caught threatens to kill your children next?

A town and a mother are forced to confront their worst fears in this hair-raising suspense novel from the author of Roots of Murder.

Newly widowed mother Nell McGraw struggles with her outsider status as she runs the newspaper founded by her husband’s grandfather. But a paper can’t turn away from the stories that others ignore, like the body of a child found in the Gulf. At first it seems tragic, a child lost because of carelessness.


Then another child goes missing.

Disgusted by the turf war between the sheriff and the police chief, Nell barely manages to keep her journalistic distance . . . until the killer contacts her, telling her that her children could be next. Now Nell must match wits with a psychopath who taunts her, daring her and the police to catch him before he can kill again.

R. Jean Reid lives and works in New Orleans. She grew up on the Mississippi Gulf coast. As J.M. Redmann, she is the author of multi-Lambda Award-winning Micky Knight Mystery series, including The Intersection of Law and Desire, Death of a Dying Man and Ill Will. Her day job is in public health as the director of prevention at NO/AIDS Task Force. You can visit her at www.RJeanReid.com.