Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Children Return by Martin Walker

First Line: Benoît Courrèges, chief of police of the small French town of St. Denis and known to everyone as Bruno, had witnessed too much violent death.

Bruno is at a crossroads in his personal life, and it would seem that the small French village of St. Denis is at a crossroads of its own. Bruno is ready to settle down and raise a family, but none of the women in his life want the same thing. Those in charge of St. Denis have treated it like a treasure, but when an undercover agent on the trail of domestic jihadists is murdered right outside the village, it would seem that hatred and terrorism are trying to change the wonderful little town forever. This seems even more true when Sami returns. Sami is a local autistic youth who had been believed lost to Islamic extremism. St. Denis is suddenly right on the front line of the war on terror, and Sami is a pawn in a very deadly game.

One of the most charming things about the Bruno Chief of Police series has been that the small village of St. Denis seems lost in some sort of time warp, with more ties to the past than the present. In the tightly plotted seventh book in the series, the past and present collide to put a wary face on the future. 

Published in the UK as The Children of War, this book is all about the effects of war upon our most vulnerable. Walker once again highlights southwestern France's part in World War II by weaving in a storyline about two Jewish children who were hidden away outside St. Denis during the Second World War. The surviving sibling wants to reward the villagers for their kindness and bravery, but first she must see what they would do with their "inheritance." As Bruno gets his group of planners together, it's a wonderful way to show how the past can have a beneficial effect upon the future.

We need that happier remembrance because Sami represents the horrors of the war with Algeria-- how that war still affects France, and the fate of so many Muslim immigrants that have flooded into the country. Walker shows us the differences between how France and the U.S. fight the war on terror by bringing in Nancy Sutton, an American intelligence officer. Of course where Bruno is concerned, Nancy won't be able to remain solely as an example of truth, justice, and the American Way. Will Nancy be the right woman for Bruno at this stage in his life? It's something that we're just going to have to watch play out.

And while we're keeping an eye on Bruno and Nancy and wondering if everyone is going to be able to keep Sami (the gold mine of al-Qaeda intel) safe, we still have time to sample life in St. Denis. This time it's the vendage-- the grape harvest-- with its special celebratory food and wine. By continuing to show us various aspects of the culture and cuisine of St. Denis, the author reminds us why places like this need to survive-- and why it takes people like Bruno to keep them safe. In talking about murder and mayhem, Martin Walker has created one of the best crime fiction series going-- one that reminds us of kindness, decency, and rich full lives.

The Children Return by Martin Walker
(APA The Children of War
ISBN: 9780385354158
Alfred A. Knopf © 2015
Hardcover, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #7 Bruno Chief of Police mystery
Rating: A
Source: Amazon Vine 

Monday, April 27, 2015

I've Got Martin Walker Covered!

Tomorrow, one of my favorite authors has a book release in the US, and this novice book cover critic thought she'd trot out the US and UK covers for you to take a look at before you (hopefully) read my review of the book on Tuesday.

Martin Walker is a British author, so his books are released there first. There seems to have been some sort of hold-up with this book because the next Bruno Chief of Police novel, The Patriarch, will be released in August. Do I mind two Brunos in one year? Au contraire, mes amis!

This week's cover comparison is truly interesting because not only are the covers completely different, so are the titles, and that is a particular problem for someone like me who reads a lot of British fiction. I can be innocently browsing the shelves at The Poisoned Pen, come across a favorite author with a title I haven't heard of, and think I've got a brand-new book to read when the same book has been released under two different titles. Not my favorite thing as I'm sure you all understand!

Let's take a look...


Wow, day and night, eh?  It's obvious that the US and UK publishers are trying to appeal to two completely different audiences. I'm about to use a word that you've probably never seen me use before, so brace yourselves. I adore Walker's Bruno Chief of Police series. I love opening these books and immersing myself in French food, French wine, and French culture. But that's not all Walker has to offer. He writes of an area steeped in history, an area that has been shaped by various wars, and he often brings this history into his books. That's exactly what he's done in this latest novel.

The US edition is an obvious appeal to those readers who prefer the total French experience-- the kinder, gentler side of the Bruno series. We're treated to a glimpse of a French village, and the Bruno Chief of Police badge is prominently displayed. The Children Return is a rather ambiguous title. If you look at that cover, you might get the idea that the children are returning from a picnic.

But that's not what's going on at all.

The UK edition is appealing to the historical elements of Walker's story. The children who return in this book have actually been brutalized by war, be it World War II, France's war with Algeria, or the ongoing struggle with Islamic terrorists. This book truly deals with the Children of War, and the cover is stark and bleak. The sun coming up over the mountains reveals the raw truth as well as providing a ray of hope. The UK publisher chose a blurb for the top that emphasizes the fact that they think it's a thriller.

How different could the covers for the same book be?

Now's the really hard part. Which one do I prefer?

Neither cover lies. Each cover reveals a portion of the truth. Neither "truth"-- idyllic French village life or how people must deal with the aftermath of war-- overwhelms the other in the book.

I'd have to say that my vote could go either way depending on my mood. If all is right with my world, I can see myself choosing the US cover. If I'm not feeling so warm and fuzzy, I can see myself choosing the UK cover. Oh I see, you're going to make me choose one, are you? Okay, I will. I choose the UK cover. I may not agree that it's a thriller, but I think it's the more honest representation of what's inside the book.

Now it's your turn. Which cover do you prefer? US? UK? Neither one? Or does it depend on your mood? What's your take on the publishers choosing such different titles and covers? Inquiring minds would love to know!


Friday, April 24, 2015

A Quiet Weekly Link Round-Up

A crime fiction author recently moved here to the Phoenix metro area, and I've been enjoying her getting used to the desert via her Facebook page.

Today she came across her first lizard, which surprised her a little bit. She admitted that the critters would take a little getting used to.

As you can see in the photo, I've already gotten used to them. That's a baby tree lizard on my little finger. Every once in a while I have to fish one out of the pool, but the one in the photo spent a good part of the afternoon one summer sitting on my shoulder while I read a book. I must admit that it did tickle when he decided to run up into my hair.

This week is touched with sadness. I mourn the loss of a friend-- Barbara of Views from the Countryside. She died peacefully in her sleep with her husband by her bedside. Barbara, I'm proud to have known you. You will be missed.

And now for the links...
►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough on the importance of librarians.
  • What authors really think of publishers.
  • Just the sort of post I love to read: what books authors tend to read for fun while they're writing-- and don't forget to read the comments! 
  • An article about A Bone to Pick, the first Aurora Teagarden mystery movie recently televised on Hallmark Mystery & Movies. My opinion? Good production, but it certainly reminded me why I only read one book in that series!
  • Have you seen this Taylor Swift parody video for National Library Week
  • Thanks to Kathleen for making sure I saw this link about a Colorado haven for readers. There's more about the place on the Rocky Mountain Land Library blog.
  • Here's an infographic of the most common mistakes in the English language. 
  • The white woman who stood up for a Muslim couple was not showing a "white savior complex." (Whatever happened to just being a decent human being?)
  • Personally, I think Random House owes the Goebbels' estate some royalty fees. How about you? (I see when I mentioned this on Facebook, no one replied. I must not have a popular opinion!)
  • In the future, your veins could replace your passwords.
  • Dino lover that I am, I'm looking forward to seeing Jurassic World and thought I'd share the latest trailer for the film.
  • It can be a problem finding age-appropriate eBooks for readers with obstacles.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a chapel used by a pharaoh.
  • A record dive has rescued $50 million worth of wartime silver from the ocean floor.
  • All he wanted was to have a functioning toilet in his little restaurant. Instead he wound up uncovering centuries of Italian history.
  • One of the things I love most about history is finding out the nuts and bolts of how people actually lived way back when. Let's just say... personal hygiene standards have changed a bit over the centuries! 
  • A significant Pictish fort has been found off the coast of Aberdeenshire in Scotland. 
  • Archaeologists have found evidence of pre-Columbus trade in a house in Alaska. Photos of the dig.  
  • Another Brit with a metal detector. This time a Roman grave was found. Photos of the discoveries.
  • Here's a jaw-dropping link: what the pins on this map represent makes you wonder how London is still around today.

Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • I wouldn't mind traveling aboard the Hermione. (No, it has nothing to do with Hermione Granger!)
  • 16 incredible library bars in London.
  • Out of eight of the world's most stunning bridges, I've been across two.
  • Hmmm... This job living in a haunted ghost town interests me!
  • I might buy this famous haunted Victorian mansion in Massachusetts if (1) I had the money, and (2) it didn't look like the house on the hill above the Bates Motel!

►I  ♥  Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for now. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure!

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Right Side of Wrong by Reavis Z. Wortham

First Line: Constable Cody Parker's phone jangles him from a sound sleep at one in the morning.

Constable Cody Parker has to fight his way through an unusually heavy snowfall to answer a domestic violence call, but he never makes it. Instead, he's ambushed on a lonely country road and almost dead before he's found.

As Cody recovers, his uncle Constable Ned Parker begins piecing together disjointed bits of conversation and adding them to seemingly unrelated murders. As 1965 ends and 1966 works its way toward summer, Ned tries to keep his grandchildren Top and Pepper from getting underfoot. This is serious business. Somehow his peaceful little town of Center Springs, Texas is no longer a safe place to live, and Ned Parker intends to do something about that.

Reavis Wortham's Red River mystery series continues to solidify its position as one of my favorites. I'm torn between wanting to get caught up (I'm within one book of that goal) and wanting to save Vengeance Is Mine as one of my "go to books" in case I have a string of bad reading luck. Decisions, decisions!

In the mean time, I read The Right Side of Wrong much too quickly. I couldn't help myself. It has all the characters I've grown to love: Ned Parker, his wife Miss Becky, his grandson Top, his nephew Cody Parker, Deputy John Washington, and Judge O.C. Rains. An added bonus in this book is a new character, the mysterious Tom Bell, whom I immediately liked. For any of you already acquainted with this marvelous series, you will have noted that I didn't include Pepper in the group of characters I love. That little girl just plain annoys the stuffing out of me, and I wish Top would grow a spine and say no to her hare-brained schemes! 

Wortham's Texas in the mid-1960s is pitch perfect as always. Growing up in a rural farm community as I did, he can put me right in the middle of a scene with just one well-chosen word. (The word this time was "bobwire." That's what folks where I grew up always called barbed wire.) Center Springs is a microcosm of our country during the '60s, and The Right Side of Wrong shows us the beginnings of a problem that haunts us to this day and its effects on a small community. 

It also shows us how strong prejudice was then and that bigots still had the upper hand; however, we're also shown that the wall is beginning to crumble due to the behavior of people like the Parkers, Judge Rains, and John Washington.

Wortham knows how to write action scenes that will make your hands shake as you try to find a faster way to turn the pages. This time, our heroes travel across the Rio Grande into Mexico in an adventure so dangerous it curled my hair. Wow.

Now this time the Bad-Guy-in-Charge was rather easy for me to deduce, but as in all well-told tales, it's not always the who that makes the story, sometimes it's the how. Watching the judge and the Parkers figure out how to bring him down put a smile on my face.

Reavis Wortham can make you laugh. He can make you cry. He can make you remember your own childhood. He can also make you hunker down so deep inside a story that you don't want to come up for air. You can read these Red River mysteries as standalones and enjoy them, but I don't recommend taking that path. These characters are so wonderful that I strongly urge you to start at the beginning (The Rock Hole) because once you have, you won't want to miss a single chapter in their lives. Do you like Craig Johnson? Peter Bowen? C.J. Box? Donis Casey? William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace? If you do, chances are excellent that you'll like Reavis Wortham, too.

Now if I could only make myself stop staring at that lone Red River mystery sitting over there on that shelf....

The Right Side of Wrong by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 9781464201486
Poisoned Pen Press © 2013
Paperback, 307 pages

Historical Mystery/Thriller, #3 Red River mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rope Enough by Oliver Tidy

First Line: The metronomic wipers beat away at the winter drizzle.

Detective Inspector Romney has the reputation for being difficult on his patch in Dover, England, but newly promoted Detective Sergeant Joy Marsh isn't going to let that bother her. She is determined to do the best possible job she can. 

It's good that she's willing to work hard because on her first day as Romney's sergeant a brutal crime occurs that will test everyone's resolve. It's long hours for all those assigned to this investigation, but only those in control of the budget-- and a few folks waiting at home-- seem to mind.

Rope Enough is a very well-paced, engrossing story that I enjoyed reading. There were just enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me guessing, and I have to admit that one of the things I was wondering about was the title of the book. It reminded me of a certain phrase. Did it mean what I thought it did? Yes, it did, and watching this investigation play out was time well spent.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the excellent job Oliver Tidy did in showing the nuts and bolts of an investigation. In so many police procedurals, we hear of the numbers of policemen assigned to an investigation, but we very seldom ever find out what they're all doing. Tidy lets us know in such a  light-handed way that it doesn't bog down the flow of the narrative.

I also liked the character of Joy Marsh-- what little there was of her. She proves herself to be excellent at picking out stray, disjointed clues and putting them together to get the investigation back on track and moving in the right direction. I can see her going far. What disappointed me was the fact that we got to know very little about what really makes her tick. I want to know more, and I hope this is addressed in future books in the series.

On the other hand, I got to know more about Detective Inspector Romney than I wanted. I didn't find him as difficult as his reputation at first made him appear to be, and I enjoyed watching him be in charge of the investigation. What I thought detracted from the story was the amount of detail given to the new woman in his life and their sex life. It may have spoken to his character, but it really didn't add much to the plot. When I compared what I learned about Romney and the amount of information given about his sergeant, I have to admit that I wondered why the series is called the "Romney and Marsh Files." 

Rope Enough also has a few problems with proofreading and editing. There are sections that need to be tightened, extra words that need to be removed, and annoying little errors like "there're" instead of "they're" and "it's" instead of "its."

While I have pointed out what I think to be weaknesses in the book, it still remains that Oliver Tidy can write a story that keeps me guessing and turning those pages. Characters can be balanced out. Nagging little glitches in grammar and editing can be fixed. But if you can't tell a story that people want to read.... Tidy can tell a story, and he has me wanting to read more.

Rope Enough by Oliver Tidy
Oliver Tidy © 2012
eBook, 236 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Romney and Marsh mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


I've Got Susan Elia MacNeal Covered!

Here I am, book cover junkie-in-training, back with another two crime fiction covers to take a look at. 

I have to admit that the primary reason why I began to develop an interest in crime fiction book covers from US and UK publishers was to cut down on the number of duplicate titles I bought. That's really not a problem now, but I'm still interested in those book covers, and during the past few weeks it's easy for me to see that you are, too.

This week I'm being a tiny bit sneaky. Yes, I've read the book. In fact I've enjoyed the entire series, so I certainly don't mind bringing Susan Elia MacNeal's historical mysteries to your attention. Why am I being sneaky? You'll understand the second you see the book covers....

These are the US and UK covers for MacNeal's very first Maggie Hope mystery, Mr. Churchill's Secretary. At first glance, I wouldn't blame you for thinking that I'd put two copies of the same cover there for you to look at. But if you look closely, you'll see that there are subtle differences, and it's those differences that make me prefer one cover over another.

If you get right down to brass tacks, it doesn't make a bit of difference which cover you choose because they're so similar, but....

I give the edge to the US cover, and here's why. The UK cover has a sepia tone which yellows the image and gives it an historical look. I don't like that yellowed look. 

I also prefer the font on the US cover. It's crisper, and the font is what gives the cover its historical flavor. The font size and the placement of the author's name and the title also allows us to see the London skyline, which makes those planes droning overhead much more ominous.

What about you? Do you prefer one of these covers, or are they so similar that you just don't care? Inquiring minds would love to know-- either here in the comments, by email (kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com) or on Facebook!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

First Line: Wales could be cold in February.

Nine months after the death of his wife, antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly relocates from North Carolina to the English countryside. He's trying to outrun his grief, but he's also trying to regain the pleasure he once found in collecting and restoring rare books.

While browsing in a shop, Byerly opens a book on Shakespearean forgeries and finds a Victorian watercolor of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his dead wife. He is now obsessed with learning the picture's origins, and little does he know but the trail of clues is going to lead him all the way back to Shakespeare's day and a priceless artifact that could change what we know about the Bard's identity.

The Bookman's Tale is for book lovers, book collectors, book restorers, book historians, and Shakespeareans with all the knowledge it contains about these subjects as well as the almost fairy tale-like story of Peter Byerly. Peter has been burdened with crippling shyness his entire life. The only person who could make him forget that and start enjoying the world around him was his wife Amanda. His honesty and diffidence make him just the sort of main character for which a reader can grow to care. It wasn't long at all until I was cheering Peter on and wanting him to find joy in living again.

As Peter's obsession with the watercolor and its artist grows, he finds himself becoming acquainted with two eccentric families, the Aldersons and the Gardners-- a British version of the Hatfields and McCoys. In America, the Hatfields and McCoys tended to shoot each other, but the Aldersons and Gardners are much more civilized. Instead of firearms, these two families seem to rely on deception and double-dealing over the centuries to get the upper hand. This puts Byerly at a distinct disadvantage, and he has to take special care as he does his research.

This book was so enjoyable from first page to last that I almost didn't want to see it end. I do have a word of warning, however. The story has frequent changes in time period, setting, and point of view. I didn't find it at all confusing, but that was because I learned very early on to pay attention to the chapter headings that always told me when and where I was.

Charlie Lovett followed The Bookman's Tale with First Impressions which takes readers into the world of Jane Austen. He's shown that he has real talent for combining fascinating facts with spellbinding stories, and I eagerly await his third book.

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett
ISBN: 9780670026470
Viking © 2013
Hardcover, 353 pages

Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Different Wiring

While ambling through Facebook the other day I learned that April is Autism Awareness Month. For some reason it made me think of a comment made by author Susanna Kearsley when she appeared at The Poisoned Pen: "Autism-- particularly Asperger's-- seems to be flavor of the month at the moment." Nothing like a graphic and a comment to make my mind wander, and I thought I'd share some of the waypoints with you.

The first time I recall becoming aware of autism was when I watched one of my favorite films: 1988's Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. I remember sitting in the theater and being completely absorbed in the story and with observing how Raymond Babbitt's mind worked. I did a little reading on the subject, but not that much. At least autism was on my radar, and it blipped again when I watched a 2010 TV biopic of autistic scientist Temple Grandin.

But Kearsley's comment really made me think about fiction, and since you know me pretty well by this point, you know my focus zeroed in on crime fiction. Some of autism's characteristics include a lack of social interests, remarkable concentration and eye for detail, and singlemindedness. How many fictional detectives with autism could I think of in the crime fiction I've read? Two sprang immediately to mind.

Christopher Boone is the main character of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This young man knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He has no understanding of human emotion, and he can't stand to be touched. However, he does relate well to animals, and this is why he sets out to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog.

This book may not be your typical crime fiction investigation, but I loved it. It's a wondrous look into an incredible mind.

The second character to jump fully formed into my mind is Sherlock Holmes. For many years spent watching Jeremy Brett portraying the detective and reading Conan Doyle's books, I just thought that Sherlock was weird. Brilliant people are supposed to be a little weird, aren't they? It's only when my reading pursuits turned to a steady diet of crime fiction that I came across more than one article stating that the world's greatest detective was a high-functioning autistic. With the list of characteristics I've already given, I can certainly see that the diagnosis fits.

And it's with Sherlock Holmes that I think I begin to understand Kearsley's comment. Sherlock is very popular right now, and his mode of thinking ties in perfectly with our current passion for forensics, DNA testing, and CSI-type crime programs. Holmes' thinking is all about the facts, objects that can be seen, touched and tested. There's not even a whiff of intuition in the way he solves crimes. And that's just the way we like our crime solvers right now.

There are other detectives, other characters in crime fiction, who have some form of autism, but it's not my intention to name them all. What I'd like to do now is tell you about two new characters with Asperger's in books that I want to read very soon. That's me-- talk a bit about what's already happened and then look forward to the future.

Jeff Cohen, the father of a son with Asperger's has written several books that I've enjoyed, and I'm looking forward to reading his The Question of the Missing Head

The main character, Samuel Hoenig, answers questions for a living. As a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, his unique personality helps him ferret out almost any answer there is. But his latest question is a rather odd one—who stole a preserved head from the Garden State Cryonics Institute? 

I have a feeling that Cohen's personal experience will really make Samuel an interesting character, don't you? When I met him at The Poisoned Pen last year and heard him talk about this book, I could tell that Cohen's perspective was going to put a whole different spin on the story.

The other book that I'm really looking forward to reading is Susanna Kearsley's own A Desperate Fortune. In it, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has Asperger's, and her attempt at cracking a 300-year-old code in a diary is going to take her completely out of her comfort zone. 

Kearsley, too, has personal experience. Several people very close to her are "Aspys," so her characterization of Sara Thomas should also be very interesting.

I did a bit more reading about the subject before I began writing this post, and one of the things that struck me was that authors of the articles I read were very quick to say that many terms used to describe people with autism can be seen as pejorative-- and it's a sly sort of negativity, a kind that I particularly loathe.

I've always thought of people with autism as having their brains wired differently. Nothing more and nothing less. I've also never thought being different was a bad thing, only something that could cause pain for the person who's been labeled as such. We all have something to learn from each other. Wouldn't it be lovely if we had the patience and the understanding to do so?

You've had to know it was coming. I only mentioned two books I'd read that featured characters with some form of autism. Didn't you feel as though I might be setting you up? Well... I was!

One thing that I am puzzling over is this. Have any of you read Carol O'Connell's Kathleen Mallory mysteries? If so, would you consider Mallory to be autistic?

Have you read books that have characters with autism? They don't have to be crime fiction. Please share some titles with us. Pretty please? You know all of us bookaholics are always on the lookout for recommendations!