Friday, 23 February 2018

Cozy Mystery Series set in 1950s - Girls Weekend Murder by Lynn McPherson

 !"

Izzy Walsh Mystery Series, published by Black Opal Books. 

The story is set along the New England shoreline, not far from New York City, in 1953. It follows Isabelle Walsh and her close-knit group of friends as they gather to celebrate their annual girls’ weekend. While off to a promising start, the weekend quickly goes awry as murder interrupts the fun.

In Izzy Walsh, McPherson has created a character who’s fun, witty, and loyal to a fault, with a fierce determination to prove her friend is innocent of murder—the perfect combination for an amateur sleuth. Told with a unique and refreshing voice, this is one you will want to keep on your shelf to read again whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. A really fun read!

~Pepper O’Neal, author of the award-winning Black Ops Chronicles series.


It was the summer of 1953 and I was feeling good. In fact, I was feeling great. Getting all dolled up was a treat I rarely got to experience these days. This morning my husband and children refrained from knocking on the bathroom door for a full half hour in exchange for a pancake breakfast usually reserved for birthdays. That provided me with just enough time to get ready. I put on my favorite corset with a full blue skirt and crisp, white blouse. Then I applied matching indigo eyeshadow. Finally, I tackled my limp, straight hair. This would take a little extra effort. I carefully took the pin curlers out and tried to arrange it just like the picture I had in front of me from Enchanted magazine. I unleashed half a can of Aqua Net over it and neatly tucked a violet pansy behind my ear to match my eyes. I took a final peek in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised. I was ready to go cruising on the open road. That's how I felt, anyways. More accurately I would be driving responsibly through the suburban town of Twin Oaks. But it was en route to a weekend I looked forward to all year.
It had been a long time since I'd been out on my own. Every time I went out solo, I told myself I must do it more often. But it doesn't happen. My husband, Frank, was extra sweet today by surprising me with the keys to his fixed-up convertible. A bonus of having a mechanic for a husband, I supposed. I had this grin on my face so wide I looked like I was trying to sell toothpaste. Okay, I need to rein this in. My excitement would land me in bed sleeping by nine o'clock if I kept it up. But I couldn't help it. Our girls' weekends had been reduced to a once-a-year event and I was giddy with anticipation. I still saw the girls regularly but it was usually for a quick coffee or playtime with our children.  There simply wasn't time to unwind and pal around. This was important to me because I needed to remember who I was other than the roles I had in life, such as wife and mother. These were my greatest joys, but I still delighted in occasionally reviving the immature young woman who loved silly antics and laughing until her face hurt. I could hear her calling to come out as I turned onto Ava's street.
Ava Russell, my best friend, could make anyone laugh. Her amusing observations and sarcastic tone made her hard to ignore. But it was her big heart that solidified my affection for her. She was a loyal, caring friend, in addition to—or maybe in spite of—her biting wit. I pulled into her driveway and turned off the car. No sooner had I done this than Ava's front door swung open and she was waving madly at me, making her gorgeous brunette locks bounce up and down on her shoulders. I could see a brilliant yet fiendish smile on her face highlighted by her signature red lipstick, which she swore never to leave home without.
            "Izzy, what did you have to do to get Frank to take this beauty for the whole weekend? Or is it better I don't ask?"
She winked at me and I rolled my eyes.
"Ava, I believe proper etiquette is to start with a simple greeting, such as good afternoon, before giving me a hard time," I remarked.
            "Oh darling, you know I'm just jealous.  Frank is such a prince. Bruce barely lets me use our car to go get groceries. If I didn't promise to bring him back some of those damn potato chips every time I went, I think it would be real battle."
            I laughed. "Bruce is a sweetheart. You make him sound like a brute."
            "Izzy, please. I didn't say I'd lose the battle. He's just not as generous with his precious car. Never mind if he had a car like this!"
            "I like to think Frank is simply that sweet but, in truth, I think in the back of his mind he reassures himself that if anything happens to the car, he can easily fix it in the shop," I admitted.
            Frank had opened a mechanic shop following his return from the war. I would say he loved cars, but that wasn’t quite accurate. In fact, he loved engines. He was a hands-on problem solver and enjoyed figuring out how any engine worked and making it run smoothly. During the war, Frank joined the Air Force and became a proficient airplane mechanic. Since he joined as a skilled car mechanic to begin with, he mastered the craft and then taught it to others. Frank trained recruits on the Avro Anson airplane.  Later in the war, upon his request, he went overseas to serve. That was a dark time for me, one I didn't like to think of often.


            We put Ava's bags in the trunk and headed out. As we drove away from Ava's home, the wind made her crinoline-lined floral skirt float up revealing a scandalous look at her long lean legs. I'm not even sure if Ava was wearing stockings.
She let out a loud and joyous holler, "Izzy, I have been looking forward to this weekend for months."
            "Me too," I declared, pushing away a sea of flowers from her encroaching skirt, "I wish we could do it more often."
            "Izzy." Ava composed her outfit and gave me a stern look. "We are not the irresponsible young women we once were. We have children who would miss us and besides, I have to leave such detailed instructions on how to survive one weekend without me, I mean honestly, it takes weeks of planning—” She broke off in a giggle. "—I'll admit that I do add in a few extra chores I wouldn't normally bother with myself, just to make sure Bruce and the kids appreciate all the hard work I do."
            I shook my head, "You have a terrible yet brilliant mind."
            We drove through town and I suddenly felt nostalgic. I glanced over at Ava and felt thankful she was such a big part of my life.
            She looked back at me, "Are they too much?"
            "What?" She lifted her polka dot kitten-framed sunglasses off her face and squinted. I could barely see her warm brown eyes behind the thick mascara, "The glasses—are they over-the-top?"
            "They suit you perfectly," I answered, not trying to hide a smirk.
She had much more adventurous style than I did, as I rarely strayed from my plethora of pleated skirts and plain blouses.
            She placed her sunglasses back over her eyes then glared at me through the dark lenses. "You know, the sarcastic tone you repeatedly berate me with will probably affect my self-confidence long-term, if it hasn't already."
            I glanced at her and repressed a laugh. Ava had the kind of looks that could take a little bit of friendly teasing. I turned on the radio and was happy to hear Tony Bennett singing "Rags To Riches". It was one of my favorite songs.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Coming of Age in the 1960s. "Bronxland" by Paul Thaler

 We may be connected to the mainland, but to the rest of the world our home borough of the Bronx is to this day undiscovered territory.  On that note Bronxland hits a Yankee home run. Paul Thaler draws a brutally-accurate portrayal of Bronx life for any kid who came of age in the early sixties, replete with a Bronx tour on a red Schwinn bike: the Grand Concourse and Tremont, Jahn’s, Krum’s, and the Loew’s Paradise, Woodlawn Cemetery, Freedomland, and of course the Stadium that was home to Mickey, Roger, Yogi, and Whitey.  Along with the childhood joys of stickball, stoopball, and hoops, and the wonder of pubescent sexual discovery, Thaler’s Bronx is not always pleasant as Bronxland delves deep into the pain of coming of age in an often unforgiving place.  But most of all, you’ll be thrilled with the detail, the sights, the sounds, and even the smells of our own, one-of-a-kind home. Bronxland indeed.
Gary Axelbank, host of BronxTalk on BronxNet and publisher of thisistheBronx



The top-rated novel on Goodreads' listopia of "Best Historical Coming of Age Books"!

Paul Wolfenthal is a peculiar 13-year-old kid grappling with the absurdities of his young Bronx life circa 1960. He visits the dead, hears voices in his head, despises Richard Nixon, is infatuated with his Marilyn Monroe look-alike math teacher, and is a choice victim for the neighborhood’s sadistic bully. And then Paul really starts running into trouble.

Paul is, in fact, a kid in search of heroes, alive and otherwise, and finds them in John Kennedy and Harry Houdini, both of whom cross into his life. But these are strange and even dangerous times. Hovering in the shadows are “the demons” that haunt Paul’s young childhood dreams, only to come alive and shatter his world. One steals away a neighborhood child. And then his president.

Set against the turbulent history of the times, this uproarious and heartending coming of age historical novel tugs on a kaleidoscope of emotions. Bronxland is place of the heart known to all of us, with our own story to tell of growing up, of trying to make sense of our life, with everything that comes along.


Chapter 13

John, Rosie, and Me

Saturday afternoon. A brisk day in early November. Earlier, the guys had given me a call to shoot some hoops at the schoolyard. Instead here I was with Mom on a bus to Fordham Road and on my way to buy a suit for Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. No one had bothered to ask me before we began our trip: “Paul, would you rather play basketball with your friends today, or go shopping with your mother?”
That would have been the polite thing to do. And certainly I would have weighed each choice carefully. And who knows what decision I would have reached. I mean basketball was my favorite sport, loved the game, but what kid could pass up the chance to go shopping—on a Saturday—with his mother—to Alexander’s department store no less.
When I get angry, I get sarcastic, and that afternoon I was really pissed. Giving up my Saturday afternoon to shop at Alexander’s was extreme child abuse as far as I was concerned. I hated clothes shopping in general, and especially at Alexander’s with its store matrons, who told me how cute I was, measuring me with their eyes, and then loudly declaring to anyone within shouting distance, “So, you look like a husky!”
Okay, so I could have lost a few pounds. But did the entire world need to know about it? At Alexander’s they did. In fact, the store had invented a new clothing size for Jewish boys from the Bronx. It was called a “husky.” I guess Alexander’s was trying to be diplomatic when they found a word to tell Mrs. Wolfenthal that her somewhat chunky son waiting to get fitted for a suit was not really fat at all. He was only “husky.” How nice. They should have just gone ahead and named the oversized garment “fat boy.” Small, medium, large, and fat boy. At least that would have been honest.
I hated the store. But I didn’t count.

Fordham Road was the Mecca for shopping and Alexander’s rose from its center. Most shoppers thought of the place as sort of a house of worship at the corner of the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road, answering their prayers for bargain-priced stuff. Saturday was a particularly popular service with lots of mothers and kids in tow.
Something was obviously very different about this trip though. A swirl of street activity surrounded Rosie and me as we approached the store. Men, women, and even small kids, all looking keyed up, were beginning to pack around the Concourse.
I doubted whether these folks were part of the Saturday shopping crowd out to buy a suit for Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. Some other happening was about to go on, though it took me a minute to figure it out.
I could see that an outdoor platform had been set up next to a yellow-brick building with a bald eagle over its entrance. The stage was decorated with American flags and red-white-and-blue streamers.
Some kind of political big deal was in the works to get this crowd to show up. I wondered if the mayor himself was coming. Elections were now three days away, and politics was definitely in the air. I was starting to get revved up myself walking through the crush of people.
“Mom, can’t we hang here to see what’s going on?” I asked.
“Honey, we can’t,” Rosie said. “Sel, Ettie and the kids are coming over later and I’m making a brisket. We need to buy you your suit and get home.”
I didn’t think a visit by my aunts and cousins was enough of a reason to miss the big event. And certainly Mom’s brisket was no incentive—I loved Rosie, but, honestly, cooking was simply not her strong suit.
“C’mon, Mom,” I pleaded, but by then she was taking me by the hand into the hellhole that was Alexander’s. . . .

We left Alexander’s with my dark blue suit covered in a black plastic bag. Mission accomplished, and I guess I should have been relieved knowing that I wasn’t going naked to Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. But heading out the store exit, we suddenly found ourselves wedged into a gigantic crowd, and trapped. The streets outside Alexander’s, had become a forest of humanity. It was if the entire Bronx had shown up, filling every inch of sidewalk on both sides of the Concourse.
“Mom, what is this?” I said excitedly, caught up in the street energy.
I could see that all eyes in the crowd were focused on the speakers’ platform. That included mom’s.
Rosie seemed spellbound—someone had gripped her attention from the stage. “Let’s find out,” she replied, suddenly determined.
Rosie tugged at my arm as we pushed our way through the crowd, finally squeezing into a spot close to the platform.
“Look!” I called out to Mom, pointing up to the stage.
I had recognized the gray-haired man standing at the microphone. He was our governor, Abraham Ribicoff.
“And there’s the mayor too!” I shouted, eyeing Robert Wagner standing among the group of politicians.
Amazing. I had never been this close to anyone nearly as famous as these guys.
Rosie stood next to me without a word, strangely quiet, also staring at the men on the platform.
I could see that the governor was having a hard time being heard over the crowd noise. More than twenty-thousand people, I found out later. A number more suited for a Yankee game than a political rally outside of Alexander’s.
“This is incredible, Mom!” I called out to Rosie.
She nodded, but I had the feeling she hadn’t heard a word. Her eyes were still locked on the stage.
Then the crowd began some loud chant, something I couldn’t pick up at first. The governor seemed to understand the message though, stepping away from the microphone. He then turned to the political guys standing in back of him. To one guy in particular.
I glanced across the platform and then saw him. And I understood just who had caught Rosie’s eye. And everyone else’s.
Shouts from the packed crowd now resounded as one and boomed along the Concourse—everyone calling out to the man on stage who had just stepped forward.
John F. Kennedy was in the Bronx. And he was standing fifteen feet in front of Rosie and me.
The explosion of noise followed John, now making his way to the microphone. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I had only seen the guy in shades of gray on my small black-and-white television. In person, he was so full of color, full of life. He looked tan and relaxed, his smile radiating across the Concourse.
Everyone in the crowd was bundled up in our warm coats and hats that brisk day. All except John, who shrugged off the weather in his light overcoat. No surprise there. Every kid could tell you the story of PT 109. John saving the life of one of his crewman after his boat was rammed by a Jap destroyer. Swimming miles to safety in enemy waters, towing a wounded shipmate by a belt buckle clamped in his teeth. I mean, what was a little cold weather for this guy.
I glanced back at Rosie, still in a hypnotic state, as we pressed closer to the platform.
And then John started to speak, accented words that I had grown familiar with over the campaign. The crowd settled down to listen.
“I come to the Bronx as an old Bronx boy. I used to live in the Bronx.”
(I knew that! I knew that!)
“I agree it was the Riverdale end of the Bronx, but it was the Bronx. No other candidate for the presidency can make that statement.”
“I do not know the last time that a candidate from the Bronx ran for the presidency, but I am here to ask your help. . .
Cheers, only louder, then wild applause.             
John had barely mentioned his opponent, Richard Nixon. Instead, he spoke about “the future of America” and “the time of revolution and change.”
I hung onto his every word. It was if he was talking directly to me, and it would not have surprised me if every person there felt the same.
John finished with waves of love coming his way from the huge crowd. He finally turned from the microphone to rejoin the mayor, governor, and the other pols, all seeming very pleased. And, slowly, the crowd started to break up, holding onto the moment before getting back to their lives. I wasn’t going anywhere, planted in my spot, awestruck at the sight of the man still standing in front of me.
“Mom, he’s talking to those other guys. Can’t we go over there and say hello?”
Before Rosie could say a word, I bolted past some policemen and over to the edge of the platform. The politicians continued to chat as they climbed down a few steps to make their way to a waiting Lincoln convertible.
Mr. Kennedy,” I called out, unsteadily. “Mr. Kennedy.”
John F. Kennedy turned his head, eyes on me. Then he came over.
“How are you, son?” he said, smiling that bright toothy smile of his.
Up close he looked much younger than he did on television. I remembered his school picture, the kid he once was. That Bronx boy. And now he was here. With me.
I could barely utter a word, shaking badly. When I finally spoke, I think it was something like, “You know, I’m from the Bronx, too.”
“Is that right? And how do you like it here?” And that smile again.
“Yeah, uh, great,” I sputtered, my head nodding as if it was caught on a broken spring.
I don’t know if I was pleased or not when Mom came by, my bar mitzvah suit slung over her arm, and introduced herself. I mean, she had interrupted our man-to-man talk. But then something amazing happened. Rosie and John started to chat, easily. Shooting the breeze. They seemed relaxed, as if they had been lifelong neighbors.
The talk was about kids—I heard my name. Another name, Caroline. It was family talk. I was half expecting Rosie to invite John—I was sure they were on a first name basis by now—over to our apartment for a little chopped liver and some white fish. Maybe Jackie could play Mah Jongg with the girls on Wednesday night.
I was in some fantastic dream world here on the Concourse with Mom schmoozing with John Kennedy. Could this possibly be?
Mom and John’s talk finally broke up with John reaching out to take Rosie’s hand. They stood there like that for a few seconds before letting go. I could see Rosie’s eyes glowing, face shining. I had never seen that little girl look in her before.
Then John turned and reached out his hand to me, and I shook it. His hand was surprisingly soft, a comforting touch.
I found my voice and wished him good luck with the election. He smiled and nodded. “I’m counting on your vote, Paul,” he said, eyes twinkling. I nodded back, and decided not to remind him that I couldn’t vote. I was pretty sure he knew that already.
John gave me an “attaboy” tap on my shoulder, a sign, maybe, that we were pals. At least that’s how I took it. And then he was off, making his way back to the Lincoln.
I could not move until I saw his car disappear down the Concourse. Rosie also was not ready to let go of the moment. There we were, a mother-son statue, frozen in our tracks, gazing at a car, and a man, now out of sight.
We slowly came back to ourselves and began to stroll along the avenue, both of us lost in thought. I knew that we would never go to Alexander’s again without looking across the way and thinking of this November day.
I was in no mood to rush home, a decision made easy as we passed my favorite ice cream parlor.
“Mom, how about Jahn’s?” I asked, pointing to the store window filled with faces deep into huge bowls of the creamy stuff.
“Yes, great idea!” Rosie bubbled, her smile ear to ear. “But no Kitchen Sink.”
We both laughed. The infamous Sink, filled with a mountain of every ice cream imaginable, was uneatable. Anyone finishing the monster dish was promised another free one by Jahn’s. Legend had it though that many a teen almost died trying, but no one had ever gone the distance with the Kitchen Sink.
“Maybe we can toast our next president with the Banana Split,” I happily replied.
“Perfect,” Mom giggled, and I also laughed, the glow of the afternoon still in us.