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Guest Post by Aaron & Charlotte Elkins, Authors of "The Art Whisperer"

51UZi7d0MFL[1]Aaron and Charlotte Elkins, best-selling husband and wife author duo, of The Art Whisperer, gave us insights into what’s true and what’s not in four different crime scenarios. Can you guess the truth?












Question: What is wrong with these pictures?

Pic.1 Pic.2Pic.3

Answer: What is wrong is that all these actors are outrunning explosions (Antonio Banderas and Hugh Jackman are so cool that they're outwalking them.) But can you really outwalk an explosion? Nope.  Can you outrun one? Not a chance, and here's why:

The Olympic record for the hundred yard dash is about 11 yards per second.  Let's err on the generous side, though, and assume there's someone somewhere that might actually be faster. So say we're looking at 15 yards per second.

And how fast does the shockwave of an explosion travel? 1.5 miles per second. Even Tom Cruise (the guy in the Iron Man suit) can't beat that.


The most spectacular art theft of the twentieth century occurred in 1911, when a workman named Vincenzo Perugia walked out of the Louvre with the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. (A ironic note: at the time, he had been employed in building a protective box for Mona.) Two year later the painting was recovered and returned to the Louvre, where it remains today.

We think. 

But how do we know that the painting that came back is the very same one that was taken? The Mona Lisa has been copied thousands of times, often by highly competent artists. The great Andrea del Sarto, a contemporary of da Vinci's and a fellow-Florentine, was himself commissioned by Francis I of France to make six of them--of which the whereabouts of none are known today.

The Mona Lisa is unsigned.  It is undated.. (Francis bought it from da Vinci in 1517, years after it had been painted.). Why it had been painted is unknown. There is no record of a commission, nor any reliable record of who the sitter was. Many people believe she is Mona del Giacondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant, but real evidence is lacking, to say the least. She wasn’t even called the Mona Lisa until three hundred years later.  Until then it had no name, being referred to in the court records of Francis simply as “a portrait of a Florentine lady.”        

Question: So how do we know for sure that the picture now in the Louvre is the very one that Leonardo da Vinci painted five hundred years ago?

a) We don't.

b) A fingerprint in the lower right corner definitely identified as Leonardo's.

c) A strand of feather, embedded in the paint, that exactly matches a stuffed owl that he had in his studio.

d) A faded shred of red fabric, embedded in the paint, and shown to come from  the bookmarking ribbon of Rubens' personal copy of Manutius's printing of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Answer: (a). Not even today's wonderfully advanced forensic techniques can prove that this or any other picture was painted by da Vinci. Or del Sarto, for that matter. Forensics are terrific at proving that an old painting is a fake--the wrong pigments, the wrong age, the wrong kind of canvas (e.g., made by machine instead of hand-woven), etc. But how would you  prove that a painting is the real thing, as opposed to an expert copy made during the artist's lifetime, e.g., one of del Sarto's?  Thepoplar wood panel would be the right age, the pigments, fixatives, and varnishes would be the very ones used at that time in Florence, and so on.

There is, in nutshell, no way of establishing absolute certainty that we have the right Mona Lisa.  Ninety-nine percent certainty? You bet. You have faith in the integrity and competence of the Louvre in this matter, right? So do I. But would you bet your life on it?

Me neither.

Flash: This very morning, a kindly dealer in antique photographs sold us this amazing picture: the only known photograph of Peruggia in the act of stealing the painting. We're very excited!


Continue reading "Guest Post by Aaron & Charlotte Elkins, Authors of "The Art Whisperer" " »

Excerpt from "Death of a Cozy Writer" by G.M. Malliet

41TYMVMNfsL[1]Agatha Award winning author G.M. Malliet, gives us an excerpt from her award winning book Death of a Cozy Writer.

About Death of a Cozy Writer: From deep in the heart of his eighteenth century English manor, millionaire Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk writes mystery novels and torments his four spoiled children with threats of disinheritance. Tiring of this device, the portly patriarch decides to weave a malicious twist into his well-worn plot. Gathering them all together for a family dinner, he announces his latest blow – a secret elopement with the beautiful Violet... who was once suspected of murdering her husband.

Read the first 25 page of "Death of a Cozy Writer" (PDF)

Guest Blogger: Stephanie Wu, author of "The Roommates"

The RoommatesWe all know the horror stories--the passive-aggressives, the hoarders, the oversharers--but roommates can change your life for the better, too. For my new book, The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters, I wanted to find stories that embraced the great part of living with a stranger as well. Several people shocked me with their humanity and how well they dealt with extraordinary living situations--particularly these five roommates, who truly went above and beyond.

1.    The Teenage Cousin Who Came To Her Rescue:
When recent graduate Karen* moved in with her college freshman cousin, she wasn’t sure what their roommate relationship would be--was she supposed to keep him out of trouble? One day, Karen came home to her cousin and his friends, as well as their married next-door neighbor, hanging out in the living room. As she headed upstairs, she noticed the neighbor following her. “I saw his eyes darting around to the open door to my cousin’s room, and he started trying to push me in,” she recalls. Luckily, she managed to fight him off, and he ran out of the apartment. After realizing what had happened, Karen’s cousin followed the husband and beat him up, breaking his own hand in the process. When they moved in together, Karen thought she’d be a guardian of sorts--she never realized it was her teenage cousin who would come to her rescue.

2.    The Local Student Who Helped Her Navigate A Foreign Country:
Ricki studied abroad in Botswana, where she lived with local student Keletso in a dorm. The language barrier made it hard for the two to communicate, but over time, Keletso taught Ricki how to live in Botswana--showering with a bucket, the ritualistic hair braiding, and even how to survive an attack of locust-like flying ants. When Ricki’s homestay fell through later in the semester, Keletso opened up her home, and the two became family. “Living in Botswana was incredibly life-changing,” says Ricki. “I wouldn’t have been able to process what I was going through without Keletso’s quiet guidance.”

3.    The Suitemates Who Attended Therapy Together:
During college, Rose lived with five girls in an off-campus apartment, including Sandra, who they eventually found out had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. After a violent episode, when one of Sandra’s personalities smashed several mugs in the sink and cut her hands in the process, the roommates, at Sandra’s suggestion, decided to go to therapy together to try to cope with and understand the disorder. Slowly, the roommates figured out Sandra’s triggers--dark movies, surprises, and even church, where abuse had occurred. “When I look back on it, it wasn’t a traumatizing experience,” says Rose. “The roommate therapy forced us to bond and support one another. I’m undoubtedly closer to them than any other group of roommates I ever had.”
4.    The Roommate Who Lent a Hand to First-Time Parents
When looking for a change of pace, Eva, despite warnings from friends, decided to move into a new apartment with Erin and Aaron, an engaged couple she met on Craigslist. Soon after the wedding, Erin and Aaron told Eva that they were pregnant, but she was welcome to continue living with them. They assured her they would do their best to keep the baby from disrupting her life. “I got to see the new-parent experience firsthand,” says Eva. “For the first six weeks, they were like zombies.” One Saturday morning, she found Aaron asleep with the baby next to him in her high chair, so Eva dragged the chair into her room to let Aaron take a nap. “They were so embarrassed, but I knew how sleep-deprived they were,” she says. When Eva moved out, she was sad to say goodbye to her roommates. After all, in their time living together, the baby’s crying only woke her up once or twice--and pretty much any roommate in New York will do that to you.

5.    The Friend Who Cooks, Cleans, And Runs Errands
After receiving his Ph.D., Nate wasn’t sure what to do with his life. His good friend, Ben, had just bought a large house with his fiancée, Becca, and offered one of the many extra rooms to him for free. “I was expected to chip in on cleaning, cooking, and other little things around the house,” says Nate, who turned into a full-fledged household manager: planning meals, walking the dogs, helping with home renovation, and consulting on Becca’s business. Though it wasn’t what he was expecting to be doing in his thirties, it’s an arrangement that has worked out. “I get to live with my friends and hang out with them all the time,” he says. “It’s much better than moving in with your parents--the default for this generation and time.”

*All names have been changed

How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once The Birth of Korean Coolbanned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n’ roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and one of the world’s most important smart phones. Here, the author, Euny Hong, gives a guide to modern Korean etiquette.

1. It is never considered rude to ask someone’s age—technically, instead ask, "What year were you born?" Without knowing which party is older, no one knows how to act or speak. One central tenet of etiquette in Korea is that you have to pay attention to who you are in relation to those around you: Man or woman? Older or younger? Professional rank? Etc. etc. You base all of your actions on hierarchy. If someone new enters the room, you have to recalibrate your behavior.

2. Food and drink are to be consumed whilst sitting or not at all, and indoors unless you are sitting on a picnic blanket. Do not carry around food or drink; not even a bottled water. And definitely not coffee. That would be like walking the streets with a pint of Guinness. And for crying out loud, don't bring beverages into the subway. You don't want to be the jerk who spills liquids on someone's Samsung Galaxy smartphone while they're live-streaming their morning TV programs.

3. Corollary to above: Under no circumstances should you bring your refreshment into someone else's home or office. I don't care if you still have a 3/4 cup full of iced latte; you have to toss it before you cross the threshold. By bringing your own insolent beverage, you have denied your hosts the chance to offer a refreshment. They will per custom offer you a coffee even though you have one; you are obligated to say yes and you will end up with two coffees. If you refuse, your hosts can’t have any coffee either.

4. Do not pour your own alcohol. If you want your glass topped off, hint at this by pouring alcohol into someone else’s glass, whether this person wants it or not. That person must then offer to pour some into your glass. A second and very important rule is that when you are pouring alcohol for someone, pour with your right hand and use your left hand to hold your sleeve. This will assure your drinking buddies that you will not stab them with your free hand.

5. If you are out drinking with friends or colleagues, it's not considered sporting to go home until everyone does. Nausea is in no way a good reason to go home. If you must vomit, go off and do it in the bathroom or alleyway, then return and repeat the self-poisoning/purge process. It is totally within bounds to ask a friend to help you barf.

6. If you are a student at a public K-12 school, never raise your hand in class. No good can come of it. If you have to use the bathroom, wait till after class. If you have a question, let it go. If the teacher is horribly wrong about something and you are trying to correct him/her…you are mistaken. Also, jackets are to be zipped/buttoned up or not worn at all.

7. Your pockets are no place for your hands.

Maisey Yates Gives Us An Excerpt from "One Night to Risk it All"

USA TODAY bestselling author Maisey Yates offers us a sassy heroine’s perspective who finds herself whisked away to Cannes by a sexy Greek while carrying another man's baby! Masiey Yates’ One Night to Risk it All is available now.

MaisyYatesIt’s hard to argue with a Greek billionaire. Which is why I’m here in Cannes, avoiding the champagne, thank you very much, as I’m gestating a human being. Which is not exactly where I thought I’d be in my life right now. Things like this don’t happen to Jane Cooper. I’ve been called Plain Jane (very original) for most of my life for a reason.

Plain Jane finds herself dateless on prom night. She finds herself waiting tables instead of using her scholarship for a university across the country so that she can stay close to home and care for her mother while she’s sick. Plain Jane does not find herself caught in some weird cross fire between two billionaire brothers.

But you know…life surprises us.

It was shocking enough, getting into this arrangement with Nikos Christakis, but then his older brother, Theo, showed up at Nikos’s mansion and demanded I accompany him to Cannes (something about an emergency).

Well, that wasn’t strictly the case. He tricked me.

Turns out he thinks I’m a gold digger, which would be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. I mean, considering where I’m at in life, it’s a tough one to dispute.

Pregnant with his brother’s baby, holed up in a luxury house on his private island. And all for a chance to improve my circumstances. I can’t really argue with Theo’s accusations. But Nikos is aware of what I want, and more than that he was the one who proposed the arrangement, so it’s not like I’m evil.

Though it’s clear Theo thinks I might be. Every time we get close he moves away like he might get burned.

The scary thing is, when he’s close, I feel like I might get burned. He makes me feel warm, from the inside out. Like everything in me is melting. It’s disturbing to say the least. As if the early stages of pregnancy aren’t making my body weird enough, I have to negotiate whatever it is that happens to me when Theo gets close.

Last night, he almost kissed me. He was looking at me like I was the vilest thing to have ever crawled into his hallowed home, and then suddenly it all changed. The spark that was burning there, with hatred and distrust, caught fire and it burned out of control. Into something else entirely.

No man has ever looked at me like that before, and I can honestly say that, even though I shouldn’t have wanted to lean in and press my lips to his more than anything in the world.

But it didn’t happen. He came back to his senses, which was for the best because I was lost completely. He turned away from me, swearing, cursing his own name and mine. And he told me he could never touch me, because I belonged to Nikos. I belonged to his brother and was carrying his child.

I wonder if things would change if he knew the truth. If he knew that I really was doing this for the money. That Nikos has never touched me. That I’m pregnant because of a medical procedure, not because of passion. That I’m a surrogate, and not a mistress.

He would either turn away from me forever…or he would give in to everything burning between us.

And I honestly don’t know which one frightens me more.

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Above the Dreamless Dead

Chris Duffy, editor of the World War I graphic novel, Above the Dreamless Dead, answers some questions about the haunting and beautiful marriage of poetry set to art by some of today's top cartoonists including Garth Ennis, Pat Mills, and Stuart Immonen.

ATDDQ1: Above the Dreamless Dead is an anthology of WWI poetry from a specific movement, 'trench poetry.' Can you tell us a little about that movement?  What were those poets trying to do with their poetry?

Chris Duffy: I should clarify to start with that I am an amateur on his topic -- it can be kind of embarrassing when I'm talking to someone who does know it well. The book wasn't my idea -- I was asked if I wanted to take it on as a freelance job. At the time, some research had been done by the publisher and they thought it seemed like a good idea. Just a little reading of the poetry from WWI convinced me it was a VERY good idea. The poetry is vivid, compelling, and for some reason, unknown to most people. Nothing really brings home World War I (or any war) more than the poetry or prose of those who lived it.  Any book that brings these works to more people is valuable. In the end, I did not become an expert on the topic -- but I'll try to answer these questions and hope that anyone interested seeks out more work on the topic.

During the war and immediately after, "trench poets" referred to many English soldiers who wrote poetry about the war -- especially the ones who made a name for themselves with war poetry. These days, the term is used by many to refer to a larger variety of poets who wrote about the war. As far as I can tell, though, no matter who the term refers to, trench poetry was not a movement -- the poets came from different classes and religions; they didn't share one style or literary goal.

A few of the poets are considered to be part of the Georgian poetry movement. That movement is known for a straightforward lyrical style, often speaking of the English countryside and tending to extol hedonism. But it's safe to say that Georgian poetry is not trench poetry.

The war poets are literally just that -- people who wrote poetry about the war, no matter their point of view. Usually that point of view is a soldier's -- and often on the Western front -- but sometimes it is from the vantage point of a soldier on his way to war; from a civilian in England, from women working with the wounded in France or England.

Continue reading "Above the Dreamless Dead" »

Review: "The Death of Archie: A Life Celebrated"

I will start this review off by stating that I did not grow up reading Archie Comics. As a kid I read the comics that related to the TV shows or movies that were popular with me and my brother and Archie just didn’t make it into my childhood. This however has not dampened my curiosity with the iconic “every man” and his 73 year legacy. A16Y9pFCjyL

The Death of Archie: A Life Celebrated” is the final chapter of the Life With Archie series that started back in 2010 and explores the grown up lives of Archie and the Riverdale gang. In this series, Archie the “every man” isn’t just the typical teenager but is the typical adult and that focus is perhaps the main appeal of this series. While jogging down Memory Lane in the first pages, Archie reflects on fate, life’s choices, marriage, friendships, and daydreaming about “what ifs.” I’m the kind of reader that knows within the first ten pages if I’m going to keep reading or take a break and come back to it later. It happened on page 8, the bottom right panel: “It feels like only yesterday we were in high school…but back then only the now mattered. I doubt if I ever even considered being where I am today.” Maybe it just happens to be where I am in my own life but I feel like I’ll always be hearing those words in head and then I got why readers have related with Archie for so long. The title of the book gives away what ultimately happens so no danger of spoilers here. I won’t tell you how it happens except to say it’s heroic and it’s true that ordinary people can do brave and extraordinary things for friendship and love.

The book is divided into two main sections. There are flashback scenes to Archie and the gang’s younger days throughout the book but the first half is “Before Death” and the second half takes place a year “After Death.” As someone who has lost a family member recently there are some truly touching and poignant scenes between characters about how people touch each other’s lives. The idea that we are a product of the people around us just as much as we are a part of everyone around us. This was a very enjoyable read about the universal themes of friendship, family, bravery, selflessness, and love.


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Jack Gantos & Lane Smith on Middle Grade Must-Reads

JoeypigzaThe Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, the last book in Newbery Award-winner Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza series, is out September 2. The series has racked up some impressive accolades, including a National Book Award finalist and a Newbery Honor. Just in time for the series’ conclusion comes a fresh look for the first four titles, with new covers by Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Lane Smith. Jack and Lane collaborate on a list of essential novels for young readers.

Jack Gantos’ List
Half Magic
by Edward Eager; illustrated by N. M. Bodecker: This book is everlasting magic in the hands of a reader. You can’t put it down until you finish it. And once the book is finished, the story is with you for the rest of your life.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden; illustrated by Garth Williams: Chester the cricket, Tucker Mouse, Harry Cat, Mario Bellini—these characters live forever in the train tunnels under Times Square. I dare you to read this book slowly—but I doubt if you can do it. You’ll be turning the pages faster than a speeding train.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: This book revealed to me the secret to being a better writer. Basically, Harriet taught me that it was okay to be sneaky and overhear other people’s conversations and write them down. This book is a must-read for every young writer who dreams of seeing their name in print on a published book.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois: This quiet book of hot air ballooning reveals an explosive story. How does one man float away on one giant hot air balloon only to to be found again with twenty one? This tall tale takes an imagination the size of the globe to answer that question.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: You must read this classic novel and join the club of people who are never the same once they finish it. The title of this book gives a clue as to what happens to the reader--you will be trapped in a web of words that will capture your heart.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: When you think you are not appreciated and you plan to run away from home, pause for a moment and read this book. No, it will not scare you (maybe a little) or deter you. It will, however, open a wondrous world of possibilities for you to imagine. Tip: On your way out the door stick this book in your back pocket.

Lane Smith’s List
True Grit
by Charles Portis: I love the stylized dialog. I love the gumption of the book’s protagonist, 14-year-old Mattie Ross. Roald Dahl says on the back cover, “He [Portis] hasn’t put a wrong foot anywhere.” I agree.

The same could be said of Matilda by Roald Dahl. Wicked. Wicked fun and funny.

The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey: I can’t say enough about these three books collected under one cover. The Shrinking of Treehorn is a classic but I believe the other two are as well. Deadpan dialogue. Deadpan illustrations.

Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. Required reading.

The Complete Peanuts by Charles Schulz: I admire Schulz’s simple line work but also admire the lines he puts in his little characters' mouths. Sad. Angry. Poignant. Philosophical.

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos: C’mon, you didn’t think you could have a list without Gantos? All of his books are great but this one is doubly great because it’s true. An adventure tale, a cautionary tale. Inspiring and inspired. The best writer working in the field today.

An Insider’s Look at the Hugo Awards

81tlROx52UL._SL1500_Greg Bear, author of over 25 books, which have been translated into 17 languages, has won science fiction’s highest honors and is considered the natural heir to Arthur C. Clarke. The recipient of two Hugos and four Nebulas for his fiction, he has been called “the best working writer of hard science fiction” by The Science Fiction Encyclopedia.

The Hugo Awards is a milestone event each year in the world of science fiction. I encourage fans to go—it’s a meeting of like minds that can’t help but be fun. My favorite Hugo ceremony (and also my last!) was in Brighton in 1987. Astrid and I had traveled with our infant son Erik to England where we were wined and dined and thoroughly charmed by the convention, the pros, the fans, the locals. All good. One of the highlights was a marathon dinner with my editor and writers at Brighton, including Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who spoke English haltingly, and Doris Lessing with her son Peter, who spoke Russian and of course English. Followed amazing conversations about science fiction and its intent, satire, social criticism, and genre vs. literary expectations.

 During the Hugo ceremonies that year, I planned on bringing Erik up with me for my speech if I won—and Jim Burns beat me to it by bringing up his daughter to accept his award! I did pick up a rocket, to my delight—and brought Erik with me to turn the ceremony into a double baby event. Later, a party at the Aldisses’ beautiful home in Oxford introduced us to British jazz musicians who were excellent. All in all, a lively and wonderful set of memories!

Guest Post by T.R. Ragan, Author of The Lizzy Gardner Series

Untitled-4T.R. Ragan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Lizzy Gardner series, shares the backstory to her famed character Lizzy Gardner as well as a few of her favorite kick-butt female protagonists.

Lizzy Gardner’s Story

When Lizzy Gardner was only seventeen, what should have been the perfect night became the perfect nightmare. Kidnapped just blocks from home after a romantic evening with her boyfriend, Jared, she woke up to find herself at the mercy of a depraved serial killer. Imprisoned and tormented for months by the maniac she came to know as Spiderman, Lizzy narrowly escaped, the only one of his victims to survive. But Spiderman escaped too, outwitting police and cursing Lizzy to spend her life looking over her shoulder…

Fourteen years later, Lizzy is a private investigator who teaches self-defense to teenage girls in her free time. She does what she can to help others protect themselves and to forget the horror of her ordeal, yet fears she will always be known as “the one who got away.” Then she receives a phone call from Jared, now a special agent for the FBI, with grim news. The killer has resurfaced, this time with a very specific target—Lizzy. And he’s made it clear that she will not escape him again. So begins a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, a terrifying, heart-pounding hunt that only one will survive.


T.R. Ragan’s Kick-Butt Female Protagonists Recommendations

I have always loved strong women characters in movies and fiction. I grew up with my mother and four sisters. No brothers. Although we didn’t chase criminals, when Mom decided to add on a room, we learned how to frame, install windows, and wire for electrical. We weren’t afraid to get dirty and get the job done. In my stories, I strive to make my female characters strong-minded and daring enough to kick some ass if need be. In the end, my tough female protagonists are like most women I know—compassionate beings who happen to be really good at multi-tasking.

A few of my favorite thrillers with kick-butt female protagonists include.

1. The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardner. Rookie FBI agent Kimberly Quincy must stay one step ahead of a killer if she wants to save a life. Quincy is ultra clever and she breaks some rules.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Above all, Lizbeth Salander is a survivor. She is also young, smart, and sympathetic, but you better get out of her way.

3. The Hunger Games. Katniss is yet another strong female character I admire. Like all great protagonists, she has flaws, but she can kick some serious butt using her brains and a bow.

4. Allison Brennan’s Lucy Kincaid is a wonderful female protagonist who just keeps getting stronger, smarter, better. Start with Love Me to Death and work your way through to the most recent in the series, Dead Heat.