I thought it would be fun this month to do a round-up of some of the favorite things I’ve discovered in recent months, that I recommend to others. It started out with just books, but life these days seems to encompass a lot more than the written word. So, here are a few of my very favorite things right now. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments!
Since this is Maine Crime Writers, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention some of the favorite tomes on my shelf right now. Here are a few recent reads that I highly recommend:
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS, by Maureen Milliken
No, I’m not just saying this because Maureen writes on this blog. I just finished this book, the second in Maureen’s Bernie O’Dea mystery series. I love it – love the characters, love the pacing, love the grit and the mood and the snark. If for some reason you are reading this blog post but have not yet read Maureen’s work, you should run right out and get yourself a copy. It isn’t for the faint of heart (in fact, the final climactic scene was so hardcore that it took me two tries to get through it), but if you don’t mind a little bit of intensity, you’ll be very glad you took the time to get to know these characters.
LONE WOLF, by Sara Driscoll
A stellar action thriller featuring FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her partner Hawk – a black Labrador search-and-rescue dog with some serious skills. Driscoll is the pen name of author Jen J. Danna, who writes the Abbott and Lowell forensic mystery series with her writing partner, Ann Vanderlaan (which I also recommend). One of Danna/Driscoll’s strengths is her commitment to research and attention to detail, something that really comes to the forefront in the new series. If you’re a fan of well-paced thrillers and/or search and rescue, this is a great read. The second in the series came out recently, and I’m hoping to get to that one very soon.
A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE, by Edith Maxwell
Up until 2017 struck, I was never much of a cozy mystery fan. Then all hell broke loose on the political stage here in the U.S., and the last thing I wanted to read about was graphic murder – there’s enough violence and bloodshed on the nightly news to last a lifetime. So, I decided to give Edith Maxwell’s Local Foods Mystery series a try. There’s organic farming, wry humor, great food, a little bit of murder, not an ounce of gore, a dash of romance, plenty of intrigue, and some truly memorable characters. Lots of truly memorable characters, actually – I did have a tiny bit of trouble keeping track of them, but by the middle of the book they all began to feel like friends. Some of them sort of creepy friends, but friends all the same. If you’re looking for an escape from the cold hard world we live in now, this is a great place to start.
Ben and I haven’t actually gotten up to speed with all the series the rest of the world is watching. We’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones; I watched part of the first episode of The Crown, but then Ben came home and he gets freaked out by dramas, so we turned the channel. It’s not that I couldn’t watch TV without him – it’s just that there are only so many hours in the day, and TV hours tend to be shared hours. So, here are three of the shows we’ve found oddly addictive recently.
KANTARO – THE SWEET-TOOTH SALARYMAN
Available on Netflix
We LOVE Kantaro. It’s Japanese dessert porn in which Kantaro, a salesman for a Japanese publisher, secretly sneaks decadent desserts while out on sales calls. This, of course, does not impact his job – it just makes him better at it, since he’s super-motivated to wrap up so he can dive into another ooey-gooey Japanese sweet-bean dessert thing. There’s some great, seriously over-the-top humor, and the actor who plays Kantaro – Matsuya Unoe – has an unforgettably orgasmic reaction to every sweet that passes his lips. The show is based on a popular Japanese manga character and thus is definitely a little unorthodox, but strangely addictive.
TRAVEL MAN, WITH RICHARD AYOADE
Full episodes available on YouTube
We also love Richard Ayoade. As I’ve mentioned before, the bizarre, fraught political landscape has left me a little fried this year. As a result, Ben and I have gravitated to the seemingly endless supply of British game shows that seem to feature the same handful of actors and comedians. Richard Ayoade, who also starred in the sitcom The IT Crowd, is one of my favorites. He’s everything a British comedian/actor should be – dry, insecure, self-deprecating, neurotic. He’s also very pretty in a nerdy way, so the eye candy is a nice plus. In Travel Man, Ayoade and a guest celebrity spend forty-eight hours living the high life in a different city each week. It’s a quick watch that’s entertaining and informative, and is usually good for at least a good chuckle, if not an outright belly laugh.
Don’t judge me, man. I can’t explain what happened that made me love Project Runway quite so much, but it has definitely become one of my favorite parts of every evening. There’s drama, pretty clothes, and lots of backbiting and infighting that isn’t as interesting to me as what talented designers can make out of things like jelly beans and gummy sharks (really – that photo to the left is a jelly bean/gummy shark dress). Again, if you’re looking for a distraction and you don’t mind a little bit of bitchiness, you might give this a try.
Podcasts have replaced music and audiobooks as my favorite thing to listen to when I’m on the road. Here are three weekly pods I don’t miss.
POD SAVE AMERICA
It’s unapologetically liberal, so if you’re not left-leaning, you’ll probably want to steer away from this one. Started by three former Obama speech writers, Pod Save America premiered shortly after Trump was elected. There’s some great humor, but also some fabulous political guests who provide insight on what’s happening in the American landscape right now. The show airs twice a week, and there are a bunch of spinoffs that I don’t listen to at this point because there’s only so much one can take in the world today, but Pod Save America is a mainstay for me.
THE CREATIVE PENN
Joanna Penn, a friend and editing client of mine, started The Creative Penn website a few years ago to help writers – both independent and traditionally published – navigate the complicated world of publishing today. Though she’s best known for her work with self-published authors, at this point the Creative Penn podcast seems to be as focused on craft as it is marketing and business. Joanna has a lovely, engaging way about her, and her insight into the publishing industry in addition to her thoughtful approach to the writing craft are well worth checking out.
THE ATLANTA MONSTER
This is a new podcast hosted by Payne Lindsey, examining the disappearance and subsequent murder of at least twenty-eight children and young adults in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. Wayne Williams was arrested and convicted of the murders. In the Atlanta Monster, however, Lindsey makes a compelling argument for why things may not be so cut and dry. If you’re interested in true crime, this is a fascinating and timely podcast that’s got me completely hooked.
So, that’s it for this month for me. What about you? What are you reading, listening to, watching to alternately keep you informed and keep you sane in the world today?
Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. Learn more at http://www.jenblood.com.