Friday, June 23, 2017

The Good News Weekly Link Round-Up

It seems to me (and probably to you, too) that I've been dealing with mammograms and biopsies since, well, forever. This needless circus has shown me a thing or two. One, the people at my oncologist's office are the best, and two, the people who deal with customers for my insurance company are most decidedly not the best. When even the supervisors cannot handle simple questions, it makes you question how well the company is going to be dealing with anything else. However, I did title this the Good News round-up, so I'd better cut to the chase, right?

With the help of Jamie at my oncologist's office, I finally got my biopsy scheduled at HonorHealth Breast Health and Research Center here in Phoenix. Everyone I dealt with there was friendly and knowledgeable, especially the doctor and her assistant. The three of us spent most of the time during the biopsy laughing and talking.

Dr. Greer told me that she would call me back with the results the very next day by 4 PM, which-- after a couple of months of people telling me they'd call back and then never doing it-- I hoped was true. It wasn't. Dr. Greer called me at 10:30 AM the next day to give me the all-clear! What a relief!

This has been one of those conscious/subconscious experiences for me, and not the first one I've had. On the surface, I haven't been worried about the results of this biopsy, about the chances that I may have cancer again, but I think the worry was bubbling way down deep. After I got that All Clear Call, I suddenly felt worn out. I think I was worrying and not even realizing it.

Now that that's all over, I'm going to take care of things out in the link corral... and then Denis and I are going to celebrate! Yeeeeeeee Hawwwwwwwwww!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • This bear took an unexpected trip down a waterfall.
  • A woman waved at a bear from her car, and the bear's reaction is priceless.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • One of my all-time favorite character actors (who has one of the best names), Slim Pickens.
  • Lady Pinkertons, the smart and savvy female sleuths who placed themselves in harm's way to protect America.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! 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, June 22, 2017

Blood Atonement by Dan Waddell

First Line: The candle on the ledge guttered as it neared its end, shadows dancing on the wall.

Still on the mend from the events in The Blood Detective, DCI Grant Foster is supposed to be on light duty. That goes out the window when a single mother is murdered and her fourteen-year-old daughter abducted. When his investigation turns up strikingly similar circumstances in the disappearance of another young teenager three years previously, Foster believes there is a link, and he turns to genealogist Nigel Barnes to piece together the facts and find the connection.

The trail leads Barnes right back to 1890 when a young couple arrived in the UK. This husband and wife were running away from a terrible crime...a crime that is having horrible repercussions in the here and now.

Having enjoyed the first book in this series, I had to get my hands on this second, which also appears to be the last. Blood Atonement acknowledges the elephant in the room: the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and the powerhouse position they have in the world of genealogy. Members may not be happy with Waddell's depiction of their religion since it touches on fundamentalist offshoots that practice polygamy as well as the actions the church has taken to erase (or at least cover up) things that have happened in their past that may not show them in a favorable light. It's this subterfuge that makes Barnes' investigation for the police so difficult.

The solution is convoluted and laced with a heavy dose of irony, but this isn't really what grabbed most of my attention. The still-healing Foster is brought face-to-face with a young boy-- eleven-year-old Gary-- whose life is in danger, and he takes it upon himself to protect him. Gary has been nothing but trouble most of his short life, but it's heart-warming to see how Foster warms up to him-- and how Gary reacts to him. Protecting Gary brings several of Foster's own shortcomings into sharp focus, and the seasoned copper knows he needs to mend his ways.

To be honest, Blood Atonement's mystery had a bit too much religion for my taste, but the characters are what made the book. I like watching how Nigel Barnes sifts through archives to find answers, and DCI Grant Foster is just the sort of homicide detective I like.

Blood Atonement by Dan Waddell
ISBN: 9780141025667
Penguin Books © 2009
Paperback, 344 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #2 Nigel Barnes mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland

First Line: Her eyes were five centimeters apart.

Two unlikely Scotland Yard detectives find themselves hunting for an elusive killer. DCI Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, is handsome, enigmatic, and absolutely brilliant at solving London's high-profile homicides. When he takes fledgling Constable Kathleen Doyle under his wing, her fellow rookies are jealous, but Doyle is a hard worker and has investigative skills that Sinclair appreciates. Poor, Catholic, and Irish down to the roots of her red hair, she's an odd partner for Sinclair, and they have their work cut out for them in searching for a killer who began with murdering a horse trainer and has busily increased the death toll as the days pass.  

I've wanted to read this book since I met the author at Left Coast Crime in 2016. Murder in Thrall sounded like the perfect read for me, and the rave reviews I heard from other readers only increased my interest. I'm sure that you've all heard it said that no two people ever read the same book. That's because we each have our own life experiences we bring with us each and every time we open a book. Well, my life experiences were not well suited to this book. Not at all.

Murder in Thrall is told from Doyle's point of view, and she's an interesting blend of intelligence, intuition, and naïveté. This leaves DCI Michael Sinclair very much in the shadows... or at least I thought in the beginning that it did. In addition, the story isn't told in a linear fashion which may be confusing for some people. But I didn't get very far into the book at all before I realized that linear storytelling was the very least of my problems. Speaking of problems, I have one here: how to talk about what bothered me so much about this book without using spoilers. It's going to be extremely difficult.

For one thing, I am a reader who doesn't care to read romances. Murder in Thrall is 85% romance and 15% mystery. That percentage just does not work for me. The characters' libidos need to take a definite backseat to the mystery. That does not happen here.

Secondly, each chapter begins with what I thought was a glimpse into the killer's mind. It's a technique that's been used in several mysteries that I've read. However, those chapter headings were not from the mind of the killer, and when I realized the real speaker, I was profoundly shocked.

If you like a book that's more romance than mystery, Murder in Thrall will be your cup of tea. If heavy overtones of stalking don't bother you, I do think you will enjoy this book. Having been the victim of a stalker, I just cannot recommend this book. Sometime in the future, I will read the next book in this series; it's got so many passionate fans that I just have to give it one more try. I have to let this book dim in my memory first.

Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland
ISBN: 9780758287922
Kensington Books © 2014
Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages

Romance/Police Procedural, #1 New Scotland Yard mystery
Rating: D+
Source: Purchased at Left Coast Crime 2016.

New Mexico Road Trip: Taos...almost!

Back in the day when I was growing up in a small farm town in central Illinois, my family had a time-honored tradition of the "Sunday drive." My grandparents, my mother, and I would pile into the Chevy and head somewhere. Sometimes we knew where we were going, sometimes we didn't. Gas only cost 27¢ or so per gallon, so our destination didn't matter so much-- as long as we got back in plenty of time to fulfill our Monday commitments. I got to see a lot of Illinois during these drives. Mom and I continued the tradition while we lived in Utah, and this is when I fell in love with hunting down old ghost towns. Gas was more expensive, but we'd economize elsewhere in the budget since we loved getting out and about so much.

Now I'm all grown up. My working life was spent in a job where I worked most weekends, so there went my Sunday drives. Or so you'd think. Denis and I got used to having our "weekends" in the middle of the week, so the Sunday drive usually takes place on Wednesday or Thursday. It's still a lot of fun.

While we were in Santa Fe, we both wanted to see the Taos area and possibly the Taos Pueblo as well. We chose to head up there on a Sunday, and although things didn't turn out quite like we'd planned, we still managed to really enjoy ourselves.

Santa Fe stoplights

We'd been noticing, appreciating, and sometimes questioning the differences between Santa Fe and Phoenix during our stay-- like no plastic bags, only paper (and you have to ask for them), the lack of solar panels, an amazing number of metal roofs, and the horizontal stoplights as you can see in the photo above. Every place else I've been, those lights have been hung vertically, and I decided I liked them on the horizontal. Funny how little things like this catch your eye, isn't it?

The road north to Taos went through a valley lined with mountains on either side. There were many turn-offs to Native American pueblos, and almost as many to casinos. It wasn't until we got much closer to Taos that we saw snow on the mountains. Let's see some photos of our drive...and remember that all you have to do to see them in more detail is to click on any one of them. When you do, a new window will automatically open, and you can take a look at them all.

Road to Taos

Going to Taos

Most of the traffic is heading north....

There's snow on them there mountains!

And there's the Rio Grande!

I think the Rio Grande is probably one of the most recognized rivers in the United States since it forms the border between Texas and Mexico. The Mississippi, the Colorado, and the Rio Grande constitute my Top Three US Rivers list in terms of being the most well-known. What I'd forgotten is that the Rio Grande begins in Colorado and winds its way through New Mexico before arriving at El Paso to form a natural border.

The closer to Taos we got, the more congested traffic became. As we sat outside in the sun to eat lunch, we watched the traffic heading into town become gridlocked. Then it dawned on us: this was the Memorial Day weekend, and it was obvious Taos was an extremely popular place to visit on a holiday weekend. To be honest, most holidays mean nothing to Denis and me. I worked them all for years and now Denis works them, too. The longer we watched, the more traffic backed up, and we decided not to even attempt to make our way through town and onto the pueblo. It was disappointing-- moreso for Denis than for me. Denis doesn't have that Sunday drive tradition to fall back on. 

But as we headed south once more, we found something fun to do. Dozens of people were whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande, so we stopped to watch.

Kayak on the Rio Grande

Taking the trickier lower side

Paddle harder!

The second raft got hung up on those rocks.

It was a gorgeous day in the mountains with plenty of sunshine and blooming wildflowers. Taking a long break to watch those folks navigate the whitewater was icing on the cake and made our Sunday drive a winner. On the way back to Santa Fe, I remembered to take a photo of one of the decorated overpasses....

Overpass bridge

I absolutely love the fact that new interstates and freeways are being built that aren't just bare concrete. The overpass bridge you see here has local Native American art on it. The phrase you see means "place of the falling rocks."  I think the state Departments of Transportation are to be commended for this. The same thing has been done in southern Arizona: Native American art and language, and native plants have been used along these busy roads to not only "pretty them up," but to prevent erosion and cut down on noise pollution. 

Yup... when I'm on the road, I tend to look at everything-- including freeway overpasses! Next time I'll tell you about the afternoon we spent at the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Hammett Hex by Victoria Abbott

First Line: Squished into a cable car, hurtling down a steep hill, clinging to a rail with the wind rushing in your ears amid the clang and clatter of metal and the shrieks of fellow passengers might not be everybody's idea of a romantic moment, but strangely, it was working for me.

It wasn't easy but Jordan Bingham managed to score a romantic getaway to San Francisco with her main long as she picks up a primo copy of a Dashiell Hammett mystery for her curmudgeonly boss. Jordan's main man just so happens to be a Hammett fan, and besides visiting his estranged grandmother, he intends to see the Hammett highlights. But things start going downhill fast. After two attempts on their lives, it's clear someone's after them-- but who...and why?

In a mystery filled with lovely San Francisco ambiance (especially if you love climbing hills), the writing team known as Victoria Abbott has hit another one out of the ballpark. Besides that setting, there's plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, narrow escapes, and an excellent whodunit that takes time for readers to put all the pieces in the proper places. The bonus is-- like with the other books in the series-- The Hammett Hex is brushed with a bit of fairy dust reminiscent of the crime fiction great mentioned in the title. (We've already been graced with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, and Ngaio Marsh.)

One thing that I particularly enjoyed, although other readers might not, is the absence of some of the secondary characters. Don't get me wrong, Vera Van Alst, Signora Panetone, and Jordan's Kelly relatives are wonderful characters, but they can be overwhelming and have the tendency to elbow their way into the action. It was nice to see how Jordan can handle herself without her usual backup, and now that I've had a little break from curmudgeons, cooks who specialize in ambrosia, and crooks with hearts of gold, I'm raring to see them again.

Quite simply, I love Victoria Abbott's Book Collector mysteries with a passion, and if the series ever ends, I will pout so hard that I'll trip over my lower lip. Haven't met Jordan and the gang? You have to do something about that, quick!

The Hammett Hex by Victoria Abbott
Berkley Prime Crime © 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Book Collector mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen


Monday, June 19, 2017

Martin Walker at The Poisoned Pen!

Every time I see that Martin Walker is going to be in town, I know I'll be heading to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, and it makes me happy that Walker usually appears on a day when Denis can come with me.

The number of people attending his events grows larger every year, and a good percentage of those who come speak French and have visited the area in France about which the author writes so lovingly. Speaking of crowds, I was thrilled when so many people came to see Walker that The Poisoned Pen staff had to bring out a lot more chairs. 

The conversation between Martin Walker and the grande dame of The Poisoned Pen, Barbara Peters, began slowly with talk about traitors and Communism-- referring to the recent appearance of Joseph Kanon and his book Defectors. "I heard it said once that being a traitor is often a matter of bad timing," Walker said, which is true and ties in quite well with Napoleon's saying that "history is written by the winners."

L to R: Martin Walker, Barbara Peters

After saying that Communism was thought to be just the thing to bring the world out of the Great Depression, the two then talked a bit about Walker's travels. Barbara knows Walker's wife, Julia, and would love to have her come to one of Martin's appearances at the bookstore. "My wife doesn't come on tour with me unless we're in a town for at least three days," Walker said. Pointing to his seersucker shirt he added, "Being on tour isn't all that glamorous. I wash these shirts out by hand and have to have them hanging out to dry in my hotel bathroom. I think Julia is afraid she'd be expected to take over laundry duty."

Available Now!
Talk then turned to Walker's latest Bruno Chief of Police mystery, The Templars' Last Secret-- especially Amélie, a Haitian woman sent down by the Ministry of Justice to see how Bruno's doing. Bruno is absolutely appalled that this woman is going to be following him around for two to three weeks.

Amélie not only is a jazz singer, she's extraordinary when it comes to social media, which-- as Walker says-- "proves to be very useful in solving the crime." 

"Yes," Barbara said, "she whips out her phone instead of a gun..."

"...and advances the plot!" Walker added. 

The two then talked a bit about how crimes are investigated in France, with the gendarmerie, the Police Nationale, the Ministry of War, the Ministry of the Interior, etc. I'm going to leave this part out, but never fear! This event is on Livestream, so you can listen to every word!

Bruno is usually dealing with people he knows when he's solving crimes, and this gives him a tremendous advantage. In fact, the UK and New York City are talking about bringing back "beat cops"-- police who patrol a particular neighborhood day after day.

Walker went on to tell us that the Magistrate is the most powerful man in France. He directs the police, and he decides if there is enough evidence to take something before the judge. "France has been in a state of emergency for the past two years," Walker said. "I know several police officers who have not had an entire weekend off during these past two years." Once our disbelief died down, the author then made our jaws drop again when he told us that, in France, people can be held without trial for four years. Who decides this? The Magistrate. Yikes!  Governmental chat ended with discussing France's bureaucratic meritocracy and how people become a part of what Barbara called "a serious old boys' network." (Don't forget that you can listen to this entire event on Livestream!)

Martin Walker
Bruno and Amélie get off to a rocky start, but once he finds out that she's a singer, things begin to change. Then he learns that she has another point in her favor: she loves food. In St. Denis, loving food equals acceptance. "She becomes part of the community by eating," Barbara remarked.

"My books usually begin with a certain image," Walker said. "This book began with a ruined castle that stands on a high cliff. The body of a woman with no ID is found at the foot of the cliff below the castle. Amélie and her phone become very useful in identifying the dead woman.

"The land for the castle was given to the man by Charlemagne. When the castle owner went on Crusade, he entrusted the care of his castle to the Knights Templar, and it is rumored that the Templars' treasure is in the caves below the castle. How could I not use this in my book?" Walker asked us.

Quite an interesting discussion of cave art followed, with Walker telling us that the artists just happened to come across the perfect illumination so they could see to create those wonderful drawings: a stone bowl, rendered reindeer fat, and a juniper twig wick. This creates a clear, bright flame with no smoke.

I'm not a drinker, but Martin's recipe for walnut wine intrigued me so much that I wouldn't mind tasting it. Want the recipe? Go to Livestream!

Then followed something that put a huge smile on my face. Barbara told us, "Martin lives in an area of France with a long history of disliking and distrusting the English, yet now he is almost the personification of the area!" This is when I began to smile. 

Martin Walker
"I think it helps that I'm Scottish!" Walker replied to laughter throughout the bookstore. Not everyone understands that there continues to be a distinction between being British and being Scottish. Evidently Barbara is one of them-- or just thinks the whole thing is silly. Silly or no, when your country has been forcibly absorbed into another, chances are you're going to be a bit stubborn about being described by the conqueror's nationality. It's going to be a long, long time before the inhabitants of this planet see us all as One World.

Talk really began to jump from topic to topic. There's no good news about an English version of the award-winning Bruno cookbook or about being able to bring Bruno's own wine to the U.S.

Bruno's basset hounds were discussed, and Barbara let it be known that she wanted to know more about the mayor of St. Denis who's been rather quiet in the last couple of books. "I've known three mayors, and they're all convinced they're the model for the mayor of St. Denis!" Walker said.

We all applauded when Walker said that he'd finished writing the next Bruno mystery. It begins in a cookery school where Bruno is supposed to be advising everyone on how to get five meals from a duck. Walker rattled five meals off and then told us why it was so easy to do. "Julia kept a log, and we consumed forty-two ducks one summer. It's a wonder we didn't get webbed hands and feet!"

After a few questions from the audience, talk then turned to current European politics. Walker is an award-winning journalist who's traveled the world. He's a member of a think tank. There are so many things that he's done (or continues to do) that he's a fascinating speaker on countless subjects. For those of you who take advantage of The Poisoned Pen's Livestream feed for this event, the camera and microphone were turned off for the political segment that ended the evening. 

If you get a chance to meet Martin Walker, take it! (Not that I have a strong opinion on the subject or anything....)

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Storm Over Santa Fe Weekly Link Round-Up

Yes, I have a surfeit of photos taken while Denis and I were in Santa Fe. I really think I would enjoy living there if not for two important things: the altitude and the cold winters. Yes, call me a wimp because I do not tolerate cold weather very well. But while you're melting into a puddle and whining about high temperatures, I am in my element. It evens out.

Here's a photo of a storm moving over Santa Fe. If any parts of it were nasty, those parts didn't make it over to our side of town. 

There's such a feeling of history in Santa Fe. You can travel the Old Santa Fe Trail and the Old Pecos Trail. Most of the architecture embraces the area's heritage, and I love that. 

Then there are the differences. Stoplights over intersections are hung horizontally instead of vertically. There are no plastic bags to be found in Santa Fe. Only paper-- and you have to ask for those. Like Phoenix, Santa Fe has been accused of having only two seasons, but their seasons aren't Phoenix's "Heaven" and "Hell." Santa Fe's seasons are "Windy" and "Not So Windy." Hmm... that would make a third reason for me not to move to Santa Fe. Wind and I don't get along. 

And there was one thing that really puzzled me: the almost complete lack of solar panels. Wind turbines and solar panels would be naturals for that area, but I saw only two houses with solar panels. I can't believe that city has "missed the boat" on green energy, so I'm going to have to do some research. But before I do that research, I'd better head out to the corral. Those links are telling me they need some attention. Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • Something I've pondered a time or two myself: Why do readers send authors their bad reviews
  • How jazz, flappers, European émigrés, booze, and cigarettes transformed design.  
  • The 200-year evolution of the word "gross." 
  • This map of America's most misspelled words will have you shaking your head. 
  • Here's how J.K. Rowling's first agent knew Harry Potter was a smash hit.
  • Tungliƌ, the Icelandic publisher that only prints books during a full moon-- then burns them.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A coyote had a tough lesson to learn about getting between a mother bison and her newborn baby.
  • Need something to make you smile? How about an otter video-- that always works for me! 
  • A bird caught in amber 100 million years ago is the best ever found.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Forget the Beatles-- Liszt was music's first superstar.
  • Dinner in Deadwood with Calamity Jane.
  • Berthe Antonine Mayné-- the Titanic passenger who survived the sinking, but no one believed her. 
  • Why Hilary Mantel became a historical novelist.
  • Remember Boyan Slat, the teenager who invented a way to clean up ocean plastic? He's back with his solar-powered booms.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! 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, June 15, 2017

The Irish Inheritance by M.J. Lee

First Line: From a distance, it looked like a jaunt into the countryside for a picnic.

Former police detective Jayne Sinclair is now a genealogical investigator. She's been hired by an adopted American billionaire to discover the identity of his real father. She has only three clues to help her: a photocopied birth certificate, a stolen book, and an old photograph. 

Once she begins investigating, it's obvious that someone else is looking for the same information-- someone who will stop at nothing to keep Jayne from finding it first. 

The Irish Inheritance deals with two timelines. One during the time of the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence and the second in 2015 with Jayne's investigation. I'm always on the hunt for genealogical crime fiction since so many mysteries deal with long-buried secrets anyway. This first Jayne Sinclair mystery intrigued me for two reasons: one, that the genealogical investigator was a woman, and two, she is a former police detective. I thought this would make a change from the other similar series I've read where the main characters were all amateurs and male.

It did make a difference. Jayne may be saddled with a self-absorbed jerk of a husband, but her years on the police force certainly help her in knowing how to conduct investigations and interviews. Any attempts to intimidate her merely make her angry, and she also knows how to protect herself, which certainly comes in handy in this book.  

One thing that amazed me (and shouldn't have) was when someone in the present-day timeline remarked, "There was fighting in Ireland?" Not everyone lived through all the IRA bombings in England, and few people seem interested in learning about their own history, which is why we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. But to get back to The Irish Inheritance, although the identity of the person trying to hamper Jayne's investigation was rather obvious to me, I enjoyed the book a great deal. I liked Jayne, and her investigation was a fast-paced and intriguing one. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series.

The Irish Inheritance by M.J. Lee
Amazon Digital Services © 2016
eBook, 332 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #1 Jayne Sinclair Genealogical mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.