The Heights by Louise Candlish

              Ellen Saint knows she isn’t wrong but then how could she be right? After all the man she just spotted, Kieran Watts, can’t possibly be alive. That’s because two years ago she killed him.

              And so begins The Heights, the latest page turner by bestselling author Louise Candlish whose previous book Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards,

              Saint, a grieving mother, blames Watts for the death of her teenage son. The two teens were best friends and Watts, with all of his charm and deviousness, had corrupted her son and then been with him in the car when he perished. Though it’s been several years since Lucas died, Ellen isn’t ready to forgive. Indeed, whatever happened the first time she set out to destroy Kieran, she doesn’t intend to let that happen again.

              The following is a question and answer between Candlish and Northwest Indiana Times correspondent Jane Ammeson.

JA: The Heights is a revenge novel–and ultimately a very fulfilling one. What inspired it?

Louise Candlish: I had wanted to explore revenge for a while and had the idea of constructing that dynamic around a feud. I love feuds! Reaching for a fresh angle, I became intrigued by the dynamic between an overprotective tiger mother and her teenage son’s ‘bad influence’ best friend. It feels quite primal– having your golden boy stolen from you right under your nose.

JA: How do you plot your novels and how do you keep track of all the twists and turns?

LC: I always plot the main thriller story, the mechanics of the crime, before I start, and I loosely think through the structure and the order of the revelations. Because The Heights is a book within a book, I had a natural framework, which helped me keep my thoughts straight.

JA: Ultimately Ellen became a very likeable character and her pain was so palpable–did you base her character on someone you knew?

LC: That is good to hear as I was a little wary of readers reacting negatively to her because she is clearly neurotic and – how can I put it? – an over-reactor. But she is grieving the loss of a child and I think we all understand that could take us to the brink of human endurance. Even so, I’m surprised by how many people have said to me, ‘I’d do exactly the same if that were my child.’ I hope not!  She’s not based on anyone in particular, though some of the details of her overly involved behaviour are taken from my observations of fellow parents. She’s actually kind of how I would be if I allowed every catastrophic thought to grow, if I acted on every kneejerk emotion.

JA: What made you decide to write a book within a book like the way Ellen is telling the story in her writing class?

LC: I love this device, which appears in some of my favorite books, like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I think the conditions of the Covid lockdown, during which The Heights was written, had an impact on the structure. By writing a book within a book I was almost doubling my sense of control over the project, imposing order in the only way I could during a chaotic, uncertain time.

For more information, visit LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.

Spooky and Scary: Beneath the Stairs

An abandoned octangular home hidden away from the main road, a mysterious door leading to a dark and haunted basement. What is beneath the stairs?

              A mysterious and abandoned octangular house, hidden in the woods, a mysterious disappearance, and tales of hauntings. A scary and spooky place indeed and one that attracts—no make that lures—Clare and Abby, two young friends, into taking a peek inside.

              Or rewind even further, into the memories of author Jennifer Fawcett, a playwright who worked with a theater company in Canada before moving to upstate New York to teach at Skidmore College. Fawcett, the author of the just released Beneath the Stairs, accepted a dare from a friend to participate in NaNoWriMo about a decade ago. Short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s a way for writers to jumpstart the process by setting a goal of completing a 50,000=page book within a month.

              Make that a decade for Fawcett. That’s how long it took her to complete Beneath the Stairs as there were plays to write, a baby that came along, a move to upstate New York,  and classes to teach. But what emerged was a story based upon her own experience when she was 13 of riding bikes with three friends to explore an old decrepit octangular home.

              “We didn’t stay inside for long,” says Fawcett, who has an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. “I remember it being very cold.”

              Decades later, that short visit and the feelings of cold and creepiness flowed into Fawcett’s story about the aftermath of Clare and Abby’s visits. Long estranged from her childhood friend,  Clare is living in Chicago when she receives a call that Abby is hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide in the basement of the octangular house. Clare, who has had a miscarriage and is seeing her relationship dissolve, reluctantly returns home. There are all sorts of  reasons why she wants to avoid the place where she grew up and one of them is Abby’s older handsome brother.

              Trying to understand what happened to Abby leads Clare back to the octangular house. As she remembers from all those years ago, there is an icy chill to the house and a feeling of unseen beings. Almost irresistibly, she’s drawn to the basement where the distilled evil of the house seems centered. The door to the basement is an animate object, opening on its own, and more frightening, occasionally locking in someone who has walked down the stairs into the basement.

              In the book, Fawcett added a widow’s walk to the top though there wasn’t one when she and her friends visited when they were 13. She recently found out that home originally had one. She also came to discover, after the book was published, that the names she used for characters were the actual names of people associated with the home. It was almost as if the house was channeling its history through Fawcett when she was writing. Spooky stuff indeed.

              Fawcett isn’t necessarily a believer in the supernatural but we both get a slight shiver when I ask her if she would  go into the house, which is located in Canada, now if she had the chance.

              “I can’t,” she says. “It burned down a few years ago. On Halloween.”

This book story previous ran in the Northwest Indiana Times.

This Might Hurt

         

          While her sister Nat is successfully climbing the corporate ladder in Boston, Kit has embraced life on a remote Maine island where she enjoys the structure imposed by the leaders of Wisewood. For most, Wisewood is a temporary respite from the world—a place for self-improvement and a total immersion into life totally off the grid as they work at maximizing themselves. One of the requirements for anyone staying  there is having no contact with friends and family for the length of their stay and not using their computers and cell phones. Not that they easily could. As Nat quickly discovers, cell service on the island is practically non-existent.

           None of this daunts Kit who is fully committed to Wisewood. Still reeling from the death of her mother, she’s excited when she is asked to join the staff even though it means undergoing a ritualistic—and painful—hazing. And she’s less than happy when Nat shows up to check on her.

           For her part, Natalie senses the hostility of the staff from the beginning when she shows up to take the boat to the island. It only gets worse when she arrives. The rooms have no curtains and she constantly feels as though she’s being watched, her cell phone disappears, and she sees her sister seemingly controlled by Wisewood’s leader, a woman known as the Teacher.

          In her first novel, the USA Today bestseller Darling Rose Gold author Stephanie Wrobel explored the relationship between a mother and the daughter that she had systematically made ill for the attention and praise it got her.

          “For this book I wanted to take a deeper look at cults and what makes them so appealing,” says Wrobel about her second novel, the aptly named This Might Hurt. “If you dive deep enough, you find the shades, it’s not all black and white. I think the major commonality when it comes to cults is that people are searching.”

          Told from three different points of view—Kit, Nat, and an unidentified woman who was psychologically and physically abused by a demanding sadistic father—Wrobel, who is from Chicago but is now living in England, shows us how each character developed and what led them to the island. And, what, ultimately happens to all three when the time comes to make choices.

These Toxic Things

          Michaela Lambert has a career I’ve never heard of and indeed doesn’t quite exist yet (but someone should start doing it) as a digital archaeologist for a new start-up run by her boyfriend. No make that ex-boyfriend. Well, like everything in Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things, a wonderfully intricate mystery about the secrets that we keep and those that others keep from us, the relationship is complicated.

          But Mickie, as she’s nicknamed, loves her job. She’s a thoroughly modern woman but she loves the curios of the past. For Memory Bank she catalogues items that her clients deem most valuable in highlighting important aspects of their life. Unfortunately, Nadia Denham, her new client and owner of Beautiful Things Curiosities Shoppe, a fascinating store in a somewhat seedy strip mall, is found dead. Denham has a plastic bag over her head and left a suicide note but the death looks suspicious none the less. And there is of course, the shark-like developer who wants to buy the land and bulldoze it for his own upscale development.

          Since the dead woman already purchased the Mega-Memory Package, Mickie decides to go ahead and create the memory book and suddenly finds herself in a sinister, shadowy world. In ways, Mickie is sheltered, she lives in a tree-lined Los Angeles neighborhood behind the pretty home owned by her loving parents. Her uncle, a LAPD cop is equally protective and dedicated to her well-being. She graduated from USC, over-borrows her mother’s expensive and beautiful clothes and the two giggle over her stories of boyfriends while chowing down tacos. And yet even in this cocooned bubble, there are secrets as well.

          Once entering the world of Denham’s beautiful things, she makes good friends at the nearby diner but she’s also suddenly receiving threatening notes and feels as those someone who knows where she lives.

          Hall, a self-described control freak and thoroughly plots out her numerous novels (she has one already written coming out next summer and another next year), draws upon her own life and experiences, the stories she hears from friends and co-workers, and what she reads including newspapers, blogs, and social media.

.         She and her college bound daughter share clothes, munch on popcorn while gossipping, and she has some secrets she will in the future share with her—though none, I’m sure, are as stunning as the one Mickie will discover about her family.

          “Writers are like magpies—we grab shiny things and take them with us,” Hall says and of course that’s true, everything is material for writers. Hall is able to keep track of her complex novels because she is all about organization and has a daily to-do list.

          “If I do something that’s not on the list, I add it later so I can cross it off,” she says. “We all have our rituals.”

          These Toxic Things is one of an emerging mystery subgenre—that of feisty, independent, and intelligent Black woman who while bravely finding her way in the world also has her vulnerabilities.

          “It’s a great awakening of Black female mystery writers, who burst out about three years ago,” says Hall.

          It’s a very welcome one as well.

Tipsy Scoop: New Book Takes Ice Cream to the Next Level

It’s been beautiful these last few days and I’m already thinking of warm weather and ice cream.  But Melissa Tavss of Tipsy Scoop has taken it one step farther. Instead of just ice cream, she’s adding artisanal spirits and creating boozy sweet treats.

Her ice creams such as Dark Chocolate Whiskey Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Vanilla Bean Bourbon Ice Cream, and Raspberry Limoncello Sorbet have been available at many retail stores for several years now. And last summer, she formed a partnership with Williams Sonoma enabling Tipsy Scoop to be shipped to customers nationwide through the Williams Sonoma website. Tavss has also released her first cookbook, “Tipsy Scoop: Latest and Greatest Recipes.”

You can use the cookbook to make your own Tipsy Scoops. Also available are a variety of Tipsy Scoop kits such as their Spring Fever Cocktail Kit featuring 1 pint Strawberry White Sangria Sorbet. 1 pint Vanilla Bean Bourbon ice cream, 1 bottle cherry hard cider, 1 can spiked strawberry lemonade,  1 mini cherry preserves,  1 bag cherry gummies, 1 bag fruit gummies,  1 fresh lemon, and recipe cards, paper straws, and hashtag flags (for posting your creations on social media sites).

The kits are also available without alcohol as well and include Tequila Lover’s Cocktail Kit and Mother’s Day Cocktail Kit among others.

The following recipes are courtesy of Melissa Tavss and are from “Tipsy Scoop: Latest and Greatest Recipes.”

Note: Though some of these recipes call for specific brands of alcohol, you can substitute your own.

Ice Cream Mix

This recipe freezes well.

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 8 egg yolks

Makes 1.5-2 quarts of ice cream mix

In a medium-size heavy duty saucepan, add milk, heavy cream, and vanilla. Over medium-high heat, scaled the mixture, removing from heat once bubbles begin to form.

I a large bowl, add sugar and egg yoks and whisky until the turn a lighter yellow, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Slowly pour half the scaled milk and cream mixture into the gg yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Add the egg and mix mixture back into the saucepan.

Saucepan. Warm over low-to-medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula or spoon. The custard is thick enough once it can easily coat a spatula or spoon which takes a few minutes. (Note: Overcooking will scramble the eggs so proceed with caution.)

Transfer custard to a heat proof container, cover, and let cool for 1 hour before adding in alcohol and additional ingredients.

Maple Bourbon

6 cups Ice Cream Mix (see recipe above)
1 cup Four Roses Bourbon
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup bacon, cooked and chopped (about 8 to 10 strips of bacon)

In a large mixing bowl, combine ice cream mix, bourbon, and maple syrup and stir.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

While mix chills, cook bacon until it is crispy and set aside on a paper towel to drain and cool for around 30 minutes. Chop into quarter-inch pieces using a sharp knife. Refrigerate in airtight container until ready to add to ice cream.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions until it has a gelato-like consistency.

Transfer the ice cream to a large mixing bowl and stir n bacon crumbles. Transfer the ice cream into a freezer-safe containers and freeze for a least eight hours before serving.

Hot Buttered Rum

“What could be better than that last bite in your bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?” writes Tavss in her description of what she describes as a cinnamon-y sweet cereal milk bite turned into a spiked ice cream.  “Not only will it give you that taste of nostalgia, but will bring you that festive, comforting, holiday party in your mouth feeling all year long.”

6 cups Ice Cream Mix
1/4 cup Cinnamon
1 tablespoon Melted Butter
1 cup Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum

In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and stir.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions,until it has a gelato-like consistency.

Transfer the ice cream into freezer-safe containers and freeze for at least 8 hours before serving.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Serving suggestions:

Caramelize sliced bananas and make a bananas foster split. Add extra toppings like hot fudge, caramel sauce, toffee, walnuts and anything else that sounds good.

Non Dairy Ice Cream And Sorbet

“You’ll notice in the chapters following that not only do we have milk-based ice creams, but also have a few options for non-dairy boozy ice creams and boozy sorbets,” writes Tavss in the introduction to her chapter on non-dairy ice creams and sorbets. “Our non-dairy ice creams are made with a coconut milk base and our sorbets are made with different fruits, so they have a water/fruit base.

Puree recipes vary fruit by fruit, but our sorbets all start with fruit purées- raspberry, mango, watermelon, peach etc. Since there is so much variation fruit by fruit, you’ll see instructions for each fruit purée included within the recipes in the following chapters.”

What all sorbet recipes do have in common is the need for simple syrup. Here is a very simple, simple syrup recipe:

How to make simple syrup:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water

In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar.

Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Allow it to cool.

Watermelon Mint Margarita Sorbet

“Watermelon. Mint. Margarita. Is there a more mouthwatering combination of words in the whole English language?” writes Tavss, describing this sorbet to be like sitting on the back porch with a juicy slice of watermelon dripping down your forearm or cutting out of work early for a happy hour margarita on that first really hot day of summer.”

Watermelon Purée:

2 cups simple syrup

3 cups fresh watermelon chunks

Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon purée

1 cup tequila

1/3 cup mint syrup

(we recommend Monin)

1/4 cup lemon juice

Make Purée:

Remove seeds from watermelon and purée in blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine watermelon with simple syrup and stir.

Make Sorbet:

Combine watermelon purée with tequila, mint syrup, and lemon juice.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer the sorbet into freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 8 hours before serving.

Makes about 2 quarts

Serving Suggestion:

Recreate our Watermelon Mint Margarita Sundae by using an ice cream disher to scoop the sorbet into a pink cone bowl and garnish with fresh mint, Watermelon Jelly Belly seeds and sour watermelon Gummies.

Grown Up Sundae Station

“Now that you know how to make some of our most popular boozy ice cream treats, it’s time to

Oversized Martini Glass

Oversized Margarita Glass

3 Rocks Glasses or Mason Jars

Small Serving Spoons

Maraschino Cherries

Rainbow Sprinkles

Gummy Bears

Cookie Crumble

Sour Fruit Slices

Place beverage tub in the middle of a 4-ft table and fill with ice.

Fill oversized martini glass with sprinkles, oversized margarita glass with cherries, and three rocks glasses with other toppings.

Insert servings spoons in toppings and arrange on the table around the tub.

Fill a quart-sized container with water and two ice cream scoops and place to the left of the beverage tub.

On one end of the table put out small bowls, spoons and napkins.

CrimeReads: Three L.A. True Crime Stories That Went From Reality to Books to Films

CrimeReads: Three L.A. True Crime Stories That Went From Reality to Books to Films. https://crimereads.com/three-l-a-true-crime-stories-that-went-from-reality-to-books-to-films/

Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us

              Does the current state of the world seem overwhelming? Do our leaders often seem to be all about themselves and not about us? Is it easier to turn on a sitcom rerun than to sit through the news because we feel so helpless to change what’s going on?

            You’re not alone. Brian Klaas, a columnist for the Washington Post Assistant Professor of Global Politics at University College London, and author of the new book “Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us” (Scribner 2021; $28), has taken on the task of interviewing more than 500 world leaders from the best to the worst– to answer questions like the following. Does power corrupt or is it that corrupt people are drawn to power? What personality types are drawn to power? Why are so many dictators sociopaths and narcissists? And why do even good people, once in a position of power, become authoritarian?

            Here is a brutal fact that will make you reach for remote and flip to an episode of “Green Acres” where the biggest problem of the day is whether Arnold the Talking Pig can take that trip to Hawaii he won.

            Democracies are dying with more and more countries sliding towards authoritarian rule says Klaas who writes that there are no countervailing forces.

            Indeed, Klaas who created and hosts the award-winning Power Corrupts podcast, says “There’s nothing that rewards being a sober moderate who believes in democracy and tries to govern by consensus.”

            Describing democracy as being like a sandcastle, one that can be easily wiped out by a big wave or successive small hits, Klaas gives Turkey as an example.

            “Initial coverage of Erdogan’s 2002 election was positive, showing him to be someone was a populist who would shake things up, go up against the elite and status quo, and bring democracy to Turkey,” says Klaas who looked back through New York Times archives to highlight how that country has changed for the worse. “For 19 years now, he’s chipped away at democracy instead.”

            Though the book’s subject matter might seem dull, it’s not. Klaas is a strong writer with a sense of humor and he is very capable of delivering telling anecdotes that reflect the changes a democracy can encounter and how quickly that can happen in a compelling way.

            “If you lose the battle for democracy, you don’t get to battle for taxes, infrastructure, healthcare, or any of the policies that change lives,” says Klaas, who earned a MPhil in Politics from the University of Oxford (New College) and an MPhil in Comparative Government from the University of Oxford (St. Anthony’s). “In the places that I’ve studied where democracy has died, it’s still dead pretty much everywhere.”

            How to fix it?

            Klaas suggests becoming active. Call your congressperson or senator, run for local office, become politically active, and in general, participate in making changes to bring about change.

            “That’s the type of activity that ultimately can transform the political system at the national level,” he says.

            But there’s no time to delay.     

            “If we don’t fix it in the next two to four years,” he says, “it probably won’t get fixed.”

Follow Brian Klaas’s podcast Power Corrupts.

Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Lighthouse: Death, true crime, suicides, and murder.

         Combining an intense interest in both true crime and maritime history, Dianna Higgs Stampfler’s latest book, Death & Lighthouses of the Great Lakes: A History of Misfortune & Murder (History Press 2022), recounts the darker stories of  the fascinating lighthouses lining the shores of the Great Lake states.

         Stampfler, whose previous book was Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, first started researching lighthouses 25 years ago while working for the West Michigan Tourist Association and continued after starting her own business, Promote Michigan. But even she made new discoveries

         “Many of the locales, lights, and keepers were new to me, as were their stories,” says Stampfler, who is a member of many maritime and lighthouse organizations. “Some of the stories were so tragic that newspaper coverage was significant. Many stories even appeared in papers throughout the country, which emphasizes their scope.”

         Take the story of head keeper, George Genry, and his assistant, Edward Morrison who both disappeared from their posts on Grand Island in June of 1908.

         “They just vanished,” says Stampfler. “Everything was left at this remote lighthouse including provisions on the dock, coats on the hook, and food on the stove. A month later, what was determined to be Morrison’s battered and decomposed body was found floating in a boat near the shore. A month later, the remains of what they determined to be Genry were found on a nearby beach. There are several theories about how the two men died, some more nefarious or controversial than others, but the exact truth will never be known.”

         The earliest story in her book dates back to the beginning of the 19th century at Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in Toronto – the earliest and longest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes. In 1809, John Paul “J.P.” Radelmüller, a German immigrant, was appointed as lighthouse keeper for Gibraltar Point. Radelmüller had an interesting history, having worked as a servant for the Duke of Gloucester before moving to Upper Canada.

         “Much of his early history is documented by J.P. himself,” says Stampfler noting that a seven-page handwritten letter he wrote is cataloged at the Library and Archives Canada. “Some believe J.P. was a homebrewer or bootlegger, and that it was through these activities that his murder occurred. Two men from a local military outpost were charged with his 1815 death, but they were acquitted of all charges.”

         Stampfler discovered this story through a chat board where another historic lighthouse enthusiast, Eamonn O’Keeffe has been extensively researching Radelmüller, Indeed, her own research encompassed Googling, old newspaper archives, local libraries, maritime based historical societies, and genealogical sites.

She also visited island lighthouses such as Grand, South Bass, and the many in Door County, Wisconsin.

         “I went not only to do research but also to walk the grounds and see the lights,” she says. “That really helped me connect to them.”

         Autographed copies of Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes for $21.99 (plus shipping/handling and tax)are available at PromoteMichigan.com. The book is also available through online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as in local bookstores.

         For Stampfler’s upcoming book events, visit promotemichigan.com/speakers-bureau

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