Friday, July 31, 2015

The Pool Time Weekly Link Round-Up

Yet another quiet week at Casa Kittling. A trip to The Poisoned Pen to see Brad Parks (so much fun!) and a box of yarn being delivered were the highlights. And of course I've been in the pool reading some marvelous books and spending time with my wild buddies.

On Facebook I had mentioned that a group of juvenile white-winged doves were jealous of my ability to sit in the pool, and they kept trying to do it, too. All they got for their efforts were wet butts. One of my friends suggested a "kiddie pool" for them, so I got one and put it by the steps where they keep trying to sit. 

In the photo to the left, you can see four of the six gathered around their pool. The sun is still shining on a corner of it, and they waited until the "pool" was completely in the shade before they got in. Three can sit in there comfortably, four is too much of a squeeze-- and there's been a bit of flapping and quarreling over how long each bird gets to sit in there and cool off. I think they must like it. The attempts to sit in the pool have greatly decreased, and so have the number of times they've flown over to my umbrella to look down on me accusingly. Do I spoil the birds in my back garden? Naaaaaaaaaah!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • Are there literary uses for boredom
  • Just what year is the greatest year for books ever? 
  • Celebrating the sci-fi cinema of one of my favorites-- Jeff Goldblum
  • IBM's Watson can analyze your writing for emotion.
  • How a long-lost Dr. Seuss book was discovered. 
  • Since the BBC is filming a new TV series based on Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence, here's a quiz about detective duos for you.
  • Goodreads conducted a poll, and here's the infographic with the results. It's all about our summer reading habits. (Strangely enough it seems that no one else likes to read while in the pool!)
  • I really enjoyed this video interview of Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears for their latest Detective Kubu mystery.
  • What college students are reading.
  • Is this the greatest book award acceptance speech ever?
  • Rest in Peace, Ann Rule. Ann was the first author I ever got in contact with. She was generous. She was funny. You've left us a marvelous legacy in your books, Ann, and you will be missed.
  • eBook piracy is virtually nonexistent in the UK.
  • Rediscovered Pablo Neruda poems are to be published. (One of my favorite poets!)

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • The elusive snow leopard has been captured in come amazing photographs.
  • The 10 best movie dogs of all time. (I still remember Mom and me at the drive-in with tears pouring down our faces when Old Yeller died.)
  • You're sure to get some smiles from 30 cats and dogs losing the battle against human furniture.
  • Just by looking at him, you'd never believe this tiny guy could stare down the police.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

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, July 30, 2015

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

First Line: Echoes of my footfalls faded into the damp air of the Hall of the Unnamed Dead as I paused to stare at the framed photograph of a man.

All crime reporter Hannah Vogel is after is something interesting that she can write up for the newspaper, but as she walks through the Hall of the Unnamed Dead, what she finds cannot be printed: a photograph of her beloved brother's body. Hannah can't even claim the body for she doesn't have the necessary identification papers. All she can do is try to find his killer until her papers are in her hands once more.

The task is far from easy. It's 1931 in Berlin. It's tough to even survive, and the Nazis certainly aren't making it any easier. Ernst's lifestyle complicates matters as well. He was a cross-dressing singer in a seedy nightclub; a beautiful young man with many secrets, many lovers, and many opportunities to get into trouble. When five-year-old Anton appears on Hannah's doorstep claiming that she is his mother and Ernst is his father, all Hannah can think is, "What next?" The hunt for Ernst's killer and Anton's real parents takes Hannah right to the top ranks of the Nazi Party. If she takes one wrong step she won't be the only one to die-- little Anton will, too.

I've heard nothing but good things about Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel series, and I finally decided that it was time to put all that praise to the test. A Trace of Smoke passed with flying colors. What a sense of place and time! Reminiscent of "Cabaret," yet so much more. Cantrell makes crystal clear the grinding poverty, the sense of desperation and hopelessness that the vast majority of Germans had to face each and every day. Looming over all is an almost overwhelming feeling of tension and dread-- mostly brought on by my own knowledge of what is to come. That, to me, is one of the strengths of this book: Cantrell doesn't spell out this foreboding; she knows enough to state the facts and let the readers supply it for themselves.

Hannah is hampered in what she can do to investigate her brother's death because of her lack of identification. The reason why she doesn't have it proves which side of the Nazi question she's on. Furthermore, yes, her brother Ernst's life was "exotic," but that isn't the real issue here. His presence is clearly felt throughout the book because of Hannah's love and grief. I felt I knew this young man even though he's never seen alive. Another strong character is little Anton. He's an extremely brave, intelligent little boy who's experienced too much during his five years on earth.

Hannah is both the strength and the weakness in this book. The picture she paints of her world is vivid. I experienced what she lived through as I read each chapter. But Hannah's inner thoughts are a bit clunky from time to time. Too many scenes end with her in tears or almost in tears. It's far from being a deal breaker for me. If I had to live through what Hannah did, I'd be exhausted and probably on the verge of tears even before my brother was murdered.

What matters is that I was completely lost in Rebecca Cantrell's setting, characters, and story. She shows the best and the worst of the German character. In A Trace of Smoke, decent Germans-- Jew and Gentile alike-- are set against the Nazis, and I have to know what happens next.

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
ISBN: 9780765326904
Forge Books © 2010
Paperback, 320 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Hannah Vogel mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Early Wake by Sheila Connolly

First Line: Maura Donovan looked at the piles of paper spread out on her well-worn kitchen table and despaired.

Tourist season is at an end, and expat Maura Donovan is wondering how to keep the badly needed money rolling into Sullivan's Pub. When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who'd come to play in the backroom, Maura wonders if that way lies salvation.

The word gets out, and scores of music lovers come to hear the legendary musicians' jam session. When Maura comes in the next morning she discovers one of the musicians dead in that backroom. There's a long list of suspects, and one of them is a killer who needs to face the music.

I've enjoyed reading this series and watching Maura become accustomed to her new home in the tiny village of Leap in County Cork. I like Maura even though her personality and mine are miles apart. She's an American who's come to Ireland to live, and she hasn't wasted any time in bemoaning the fact that the Irish don't do things the way they do in the good old U.S. of A. Instead she's worked hard to become accepted; getting to know her neighbors, her employees, and the people who come into her pub. 

She's got a good head on her shoulders, and something tells me she's going to make a success of Sullivan's, even though she seems to be taking a long time to learn the ins and outs of running it-- like taxes, licenses, and the like. Maura's not the only character in town; the supporting cast is an interesting bunch, but the individuals do need to be fleshed out more.

The music sessions in An Early Wake are brilliant, and I could easily see and hear them in my mind as I read. Those scenes alone are worth the price of admission-- which is a good thing because there's really not much of a mystery in the book.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last book in the series. There's no first chapter of the next book in the back to tempt us, and the last pages seemed to be tying up loose ends. If this is the case and I've read my last County Cork mystery, I will bid Maura a fond farewell. This is an enjoyable three-book series.

An Early Wake by Sheila Connolly
ISBN: 9780425252536
Berkley Prime Crime © 2015
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #3 County Cork mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 

August 2015 New Mystery Releases!

Once again summer seems to be flying by. I actually appear to be making several empty spaces on my to-be-read shelves which means I've been lax on my book buying duties. Shame on me! 

I've been keeping track of how much I spend on books each month, and so far I've only spent $2.16 in July, and there's not much month left. It would appear that the combination of summer and pool is a good thing for my wallet. (Something tells me August will change all that.)

Never fear-- I'm still keeping my eyes peeled for new crime fiction, and the following books are my picks for new mysteries being released during the month of August. They are grouped by release date, and I've included all the information you'll need to find them at your favorite "book procurement sites." Book synopses are courtesy of Amazon.  Happy Wish Listing, Pre-Ordering, and Reading!

=== August 1 ===

Title: Tahoe Blue Fire
Author: Todd Borg
Series: #13 in the Owen McKenna P.I. series set in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada
ISBN: 9781931296236
Publisher: Thriller Press
Paperback, 351 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "When Tahoe Detective Owen McKenna gets a call from a woman who's afraid for her life, it sounds like she is excessively paranoid.

McKenna investigates and discovers that two other people have already died. He believes the killer is after something worth millions, a precious artifact that dates back to Renaissance Italy.

When McKenna finds a connection between the victims and a famous retired pro football tackle named Adam Simms, he worries that Simms will be the next victim.

Simms seems gentle as a teddy bear. But decades of football gave Simms Traumatic Brain Injury, causing loss of memory and worse. When Simms can't remember details of his relationship to the other victims, McKenna begins to wonder if it's because Simms is suffering dementia or if he's a diabolical fake.

As McKenna pursues the case, he will need every bit of strength and skill, for the murderer is determined to kill McKenna in the most vicious way imaginable...

=== August 4 ===

Title: A Chorus of Innocents
Author: P.F. Chisholm
Series: #6 in the Sir Robert Carey historical series set in the 16th century Border Lands of England and Scotland
ISBN: 9781464204623
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Paperback, 302 pages

Synopsis: "Thursday, 12th October, 1592. Eighteen days after the action closes in An Air of Treason, courtier Sir Robert Carey and Carey’s surly, larcenous, and loyal henchman Henry Dodd, Land Sergeant of Gilsland, are back in Carlisle and the Debateable Lands, the Border country, the Wild North, the land of the hot trod where the thieving, feuding reiver clans are 'English when it suited, and Scots at their pleasure.' A Chorus of Innocents ushers forward Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, the married woman whom Carey adores but respects. It opens when a very pregnant young woman rides to Lady Widdrington’s tower crying that her minister husband has been murdered and she herself has been raped. You will meet canny King James VI, his amoral favorite Lord Spynie, the fey Lady Hume, Mr. Anricks, a surprisingly skilled tooth drawer, Young Henry Widdrington with his unfortunate spots, and all the boys in murdered Minister Burn’s choir. The action proceeds full tilt for ten days and 'finishes with a marvelous set piece of derring-do involving enough arms and ammunition for the siege of Stalingrad, plus the last line will leave you with your heart in your mouth,' says author Dana Stabenow, who adds, 'As always the scene Chisholm sets is a veritable time travel portal you step through the instant you turn to the first page.'" 

Title: Unleashed
Author: Eileen Brady
Series: #2 in the Kate Turner DVM series set in upstate New York
ISBN: 9781464203961
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Paperback, 266 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "Dr. Kate Turner is happy with her new life in Oak Falls, upstate New York. Working as a relief veterinarian at a small house-call practice, she truly enjoys helping her patients. All that changes when client Claire Birnham is found dead, an apparent suicide. A talented artist, Claire had everything to live for: new job, Manhattan apartment, her Cairn terrier Toto. As feisty as the Wizard of Oz Toto, he and Claire were devoted. Kate can’t imagine Claire simply abandoning her pet. Was her death murder? Questions end in the police arresting young kennel helper Eugene. The fragile friendship between Kate and police officer Luke Gianetti frays as she ignores his advice and keeps asking questions. House calls provide gossip and clues, some helpful, some not so much, as she treats her animal patients. Did Claire’s recent insurance windfall prove too tempting for her hard working and hard drinking mother? What does trouble in the art gallery where Claire worked signal? How huge a grudge did heavy metal rocker A.J. hold against high-school sweetheart Claire after she dumped him? Was Claire a threat to AJ’s rich new girl? Dr. Kate mixes real medicine with murder as she risks her life over Claire’s death, aided by insights from a former fire investigator, aka her Gramps." 

Title: Isolation
Series: #9 in the archaeologist Faye Longchamp series set in Florida
ISBN: 9781464204029
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover, 300 pages

Synopsis: "Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can't make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse. In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by family―Faye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn't gotten around to telling him how long he's been out of prison or how he got there―yet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone. Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very ground―some of it poisoned―beneath their feet." 

Title: Crushed Velvet
Author: Diane Vallere
Series: #2 in the Material Witness cozy series set in California
ISBN: 9780425270585
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Synopsis: "With opening day of Material Girl approaching, Poly is stocking up on lush fabrics, colorful notions, and best of all, a proprietary weave of velvet. But upon delivery, it’s not quite the blend she expected, being ninety-percent silk and ten-percent corpse. Crushed under a dozen bolts of fabric is Phil Girard. His wife, Genevieve, local tea shop owner and close friend of Poly, is the prime suspect.

Granted, Phil may not have been the perfect husband, but surely Genevieve had no reason to kill him! There’s just the small matter of Genevieve’s own incriminating confession: I’m afraid I killed my husband. Now, as Material Girl’s grand opening looms, Poly is torn between a friendship pulling apart at the seams—and finding a smooth killer with a velvet touch…

Title: If Onions Could Spring Leeks
Author: Paige Shelton
Series: #5 in the Country Cooking School cozy series set in southern Missouri
ISBN: 9780425269299
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Synopsis: "With summer tourists flocking to Broken Rope, locals volunteer to keep chaos to a minimum. Old West skits are running smoothly, actors are behaving, and stagecoach rides are more popular than ever, but when a spectral visitor appears by ghost train, it’s a job only Betts and Gram can handle.

Gram soon starts having nightmares about their ghostly visitor’s demise.  And if a ghost and the hot summer weather weren’t making things sticky enough, one of the town’s volunteers—a man notorious for having more than his fair share of ex-wives—is murdered. When Jerome, Bett’s otherworldly friend, makes an unsettling appearance, this simmering double mystery becomes a recipe for disaster

Title: Malice at the Palace
Author: Rhys Bowen
Series: #9 in the Royal Spyness historical cozy series set in 1930s England
ISBN: 9780425260388
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Hardcover, 304 pages

Synopsis: "While my beau Darcy is off on a mysterious mission, I am once again caught between my high birth and empty purse. I am therefore relieved to receive a new assignment from the Queen—especially one that includes lodging. The King’s youngest son, George, is to wed Princess Marina of Greece, and I shall be her companion at the supposedly haunted Kensington Palace.

My duties are simple: help Marina acclimate to English life, show her the best of London and, above all, dispel any rumors about George’s libertine history. Perhaps that last bit isn’t so simple.

George is known for his many affairs with women as well as men—including the great songwriter Noel Coward. But things truly get complicated when I search the Palace for a supposed ghost only to encounter an actual dead person: a society beauty said to have been one of Prince George’s mistresses.

Nothing spoils a royal wedding more than murder, and the Queen wants the whole matter hushed. But as the investigation unfolds—and Darcy, as always, turns up in the most unlikely of places—the investigation brings us precariously close to the prince himself.

Title: Murder on the Horizon
Author: M.L. Rowland
Series: #3 in the Search and Rescue cozy series set in California
ISBN: 9780425263686
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "Gracie and her Search and Rescue teammates are searching along the highway in the middle of the blisteringly hot Mojave Desert when they make a grisly discovery—a trash bag containing human body parts. Not long after, Gracie's growing friendship with a ten-year-old runaway draws her unwittingly into the secretive, hate-filled world of the boy's family—a group of gun-toting extremists. As a wildfire roars into Timber Creek, Gracie finds herself caught up in an explosive plot that, unless she stops it, will destroy countless innocent lives."

=== August 11 ===

Title: The Patriarch
Author: Martin Walker
Series: #8 in the Bruno Chief of Police series set in southwestern France
ISBN: 9780385354172
Publisher: Knopf
Hardcover, 336 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "When Bruno is invited to the lavish birthday celebration of World War II flying ace and national icon Marco 'the Patriarch' Desaix, it’s the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. But when the party ends in the death of Gilbert, Marco’s longtime friend, it’s another day on the job for the chef de police. All signs point to a tragic accident, but Bruno isn’t so sure. There is more to the Desaix family’s lives and loyalties than meets the eye. There is Victor, the Patriarch’s son, Gilbert’s old comrade-in-arms and sometime rival; Victor’s seductive wife, Madeleine, whose roving eye intrigues Bruno even more than her fierce political ambitions; Yevgeny, another son, an artist whose paintings seem to hold keys to the past; and the Patriarch himself, whose postwar Soviet ties may have intersected all too closely with Gilbert’s career in Cold War intelligence.

Bruno is diverted by a dangerous conflict between a local animal rights activist and outraged hunters—as well as meals to cook, wine to share, and an ever more complicated romantic situation. But as his entanglement with the Desaix family grows and his suspicions heighten, Bruno’s inquiries into Gilbert’s life become a deadly threat to his own

=== August 18 ===

Title: A Pattern of Lies
Author: Charles Todd
Series: #7 in the Bess Crawford historical series set in England and France during World War I
ISBN: 9780062386243
Publisher: William Morrow
Hardcover, 336 pages

Synopsis: "An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.

The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.

To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England."

Title: Smaller and Smaller Circles
Author: F.H. Batacan
Series: #1 in the Saenz and Lucero police procedural series set in the 1990s in the Philippines
ISBN: 9781616953980
Publisher: Soho Crime
Hardcover, 368 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "Payatas, a 50-acre dump northeast of Manila’s Quezon City, is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf.

In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz is a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.

Smaller and Smaller Circles, widely regarded as the first Filipino crime novel, is a poetic masterpiece of literary noir, a sensitive depiction of a time and place, and a fascinating story about the Catholic Church and its place in its devotees’ lives.

=== August 25 ===

Title: X
Author: Sue Grafton
Series: #24 in the Kinsey Milhone private investigator series set in California
ISBN: 9780399163845
Publisher: Putnam
Hardcover, 416 pages

Synopsis: "X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

 The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

Title: The Drowned Boy
Author: Karin Fossum
Series: #11 in the Inspector Sejer police procedural series set in Norway
ISBN: 9780544483965
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, 240 pages

Synopsis: "Carmen and Nicolai failed to resuscitate their son, Tommy, after finding him floating in their backyard pond. When Inspector Skarre arrives on the scene, Carmen reports that Tommy, a healthy toddler with Down syndrome, wandered into the garden while Nicolai was working in the basement and she was cleaning the house. Skarre senses something is off with Carmen’s story and consults his trusted colleague, the famed Inspector Sejer. An autopsy reveals Tommy’s lungs to be full of soap.

When Sejer and Skarre revisit the couple, Carmen, an epileptic, changes her story, confessing that she’d been knocked unconscious by a seizure while bathing Tommy. When she came to, she found him drowned in the tub and, horrified and frightened, threw him into the pond.

But Skarre and Sejer’s doubt is not appeased and the case is reopened. What more could Carmen be hiding? And what lengths will she take to cover her guilt? As Carmen’s own family starts to doubt her, Skarre and Sejer work to find the truth.

Title: The Nature of the Beast
Author: Louise Penny
Series: #11 in the Armande Gamache police procedural series set in Canada
ISBN: 9781250022080
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 384 pages

Synopsis: "Hardly a day goes by when nine year old Laurent Lepage doesn't cry wolf. From alien invasions, to walking trees, to winged beasts in the woods, to dinosaurs spotted in the village of Three Pines, his tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him. Including Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, who now live in the little Quebec village.

But when the boy disappears, the villagers are faced with the possibility that one of his tall tales might have been true. And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth. What they uncover deep in the forest sets off a sequence of events that leads to murder, leads to an old crime, leads to an old betrayal. Leads right to the door of an old poet.

And now it is now, writes Ruth Zardo. And the dark thing is here.

A monster once visited Three Pines. And put down deep roots. And now, Ruth knows, it is back.

Armand Gamache, the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, must face the possibility that, in not believing the boy, he himself played a terrible part in what happens next.

Title: Threads of Evidence
Author: Lea Wait
Series: #2 in the Mainely Needlepoint cozy series set in coastal Maine
ISBN: 9781617730061
Publisher: Kensington Books
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "It's hard to imagine anything bad ever happening in picturesque Haven Harbor, Maine--until a famous face rolls into town and unthreads some very dark secrets. . .

Angie Curtis and the Mainely Needlepointers are all too familiar with the Gardener estate. The crumbling Victorian mansion, known as "Aurora," has been sitting vacant for nearly twenty-five years--and some say it's haunted by the ghost of Jasmine Gardener, the teenage girl who died there in 1970 under mysterious circumstances...

Harbor Haven is abuzz with excitement when Hollywood actress Skye West decides to buy Aurora and sell off its furnishings. And Angie is intrigued when Skye asks her to appraise the estate's sizable collection of needlepoint pictures. But the more she examines the pieces, the more they seem to point toward Jasmine's murder--and the murderer--and it's up to her to stitch the clues together. . .


Wow-- there's not much else to say about the month of August than it's the proverbial embarrassment of riches! Hmm... perhaps I could add something about August also being a book budget buster.....

Okay, time to 'fess up. Which titles did you narrow it down to? The Grafton? The Penny? The Walker? Inquiring minds just have to know!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna Loan-Wilsey

First Line: And then it was my turn to view the body.

Hearing the news of the death of her good friend's father, traveling secretary Hattie Davish returns to St. Joseph, Missouri. She may be back in her hometown due to sad circumstances, but she is looking forward to seeing people again. However she's in for a rude awakening. Her friend Virginia behaves as though Hattie is the last person she wants to see. Virginia's father's death is more than a bit mysterious, and there are problems at Hattie's alma mater, Mrs. Chaplin's School for Women.

When Hattie begins to investigate the incidents at the school, her search for the truth leads her from the town cemetery to an outlaw's home-- and into the tunnels beneath the State Lunatic Asylum. 

In this fourth book in the Hattie Davish historical mystery series, Hattie has some ghosts that she must lay to rest, and she does even though her investigation has her traveling from one spot in St. Joseph to another-- and trying to avoid an old boyfriend at the same time. There are several plot threads in A Deceptive Homecoming, and author Anna Loan-Wilsey deals with them with ease. One of the reasons why I enjoy the character of Hattie Davish is that she is an inveterate list maker (like me). Whenever she has a moment or is trying to think something through, she'll sit down and update her list of questions. Not only does this practice keep her thoughts organized, it helps readers think the mystery through themselves. 

There are some serious topics in this book. An old friend who behaves like an enemy. Hattie's beloved alma mater is under some sort of attack. Something's not quite right at the State Lunatic Asylum.... Fortunately the author doesn't keep everything deadly serious all the time. One of the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most involved Hattie being forced to deal with her fame: she's being idolized by many of the students in Mrs. Chaplin's School. Many, but not all, the girls are starstruck, and Hattie is fun to watch when she's in situations with the girls.

There is one scene in A Deceptive Homecoming that had me thinking that Hattie was too stupid to live-- normally a deal breaker for me. When she got past the reception area in the State Lunatic Asylum and began following someone deep down into the bowels of that creepy place, my eyes rolled so far back into my head that they almost stuck. Since I did indeed finish reading the book and have written this review, you can tell that Hattie redeemed herself in some way. (But I'll be keeping an eye on her!)

Anna Loan-Wilsey's series is light and fun to read, and it also manages to highlight historical personages and incidents that are downright fascinating. I look forward to traveling with Hattie and her typewriter again in the future.

A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna Loan-Wilsey
eISBN: 9781617737275
Kensington Books © 2015
eBook, 304 pages

Historical Mystery, #4 Hattie Davish mystery
Rating: B
Source: Net Galley 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks

First Line: With all the vacant lots in Newark, New Jersey-- and there were thousands of them-- the Director could afford to be picky.

Investigative reporter Carter Ross knows Newark, New Jersey, so when he hears that the police are saying four bodies shot execution-style and left in a vacant lot are revenge for a bar stickup, he knows the story doesn't make sense. It takes a bit of digging, but Carter learns that the four victims do share something in common, and once he knows that, the deeper he searches, the closer he gets to one very serious killer.

I came to Brad Parks' Carter Ross series by reading the third book first. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately got my hands on the first two books and have also purchased books four and five. It just took me way too long to get back to reading this series, which is a perfect blend of humor and deadly seriousness.

That perfect blend begins with Carter Ross himself. He's a man with good instincts for the telling detail. It also doesn't hurt that he's compassionate and a five-star smart aleck. (Insert a different-- four-letter-- "a" word for the aleck.) He's also surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast: Szanto, the boss that only speaks in consonants (much to the befuddlement of us all); Tommy the gay Cuban intern; city editor Tina Thompson, whose biological clock is ticking so loudly it will deafen you. And these three are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the supporting cast.

I knew I was firmly in Carter's corner when he automatically did something that the media and so many others weren't doing: he humanized the deceased. This guy isn't just doing a job; he truly cares. Not only can Brad Parks fascinate you with the inner workings of a newsroom, he can make you laugh out loud with what Carter does to get information from a dangerous gang, and then he goes and tugs on your heartstrings. No wonder Faces of the Gone won multiple awards.

It better not be another three years before I read the second book in this series. I enjoy Parks' writing too much!

Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks
ISBN: 9780312672805
Minotaur Books © 2011
Paperback, 336 pages

Investigative Journalist, #1 Carter Ross mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet 

At The Poisoned Pen with Brad Parks!

It felt like a millennium since I'd been to my favorite bookstore, so I whipped out my calendar to check. Yup. May 21. Over two months-- no wonder I'd been suffering withdrawal! I arrived at The Poisoned Pen with plenty of time to talk books with the staff and do a little browse-buy. I even had time to sit and read a few pages of my book before a fellow Brad Parks fan sat down with me and asked me about my next trip to Scotland. I have a feeling that most of the other regulars think two things when they see me: Scotland and blog. (It could be a lot worse!) In no time at all, the fans had gathered, including two notables-- Chantelle Aimée Osman, creator of The Sirens of Suspense, and author Graham Brown.

When the author walked in, Patrick had some mail order books that needed signing so Brad sat down to do the deed. All the other fans then swarmed the table with their books, and it sounded like Old Home Week listening to them chatting and laughing. This should be good, I thought to myself. It's obvious Brad is an outgoing guy. I'd already thought that based upon reading his books, but it's always good to have confirmation.

Is this Peggy?!?

Poisoned Pen staffer Karen with author Brad Parks

Before sitting down, Brad showed off his pink polo shirt. "My six-year-old daughter has started choosing my wardrobe," he told us. "Her favorite colors are pink and purple."

When I'd first arrived, Karen and I had talked about authors whom we thought should be hugely popular and famous. We both think Brad Parks is on that list. Karen brought this up right at the beginning of the interview. After thanking her, Brad mentioned authors who didn't become famous until after their deaths. "I have a plan for faking my own death," Parks said. "It's going to be a beautifully done demise. Shortly afterwards my wife is going to 'find' a manuscript. Then my mistress is going to 'find' the 'real' manuscript, and there's going to be a war between the two women. I have it all planned out."

Deftly maneuvering through the laughter, Karen voiced the hope that these plans would proceed quickly-- she wanted it all to happen during her lifetime. This brought on even more laughter, and Brad assured her that his plans were indeed fast-moving ones.

"There are many people who believe that the character of Carter Ross is based on me," Parks said. "I don't know how they got that idea!" (Cue more laughter.) "There is one major difference between the two of us: Carter Ross is single, and I am not! I am very aware of the fact that my wife is going to be reading every word that I write. Take for example my description of Tina. I wanted to make sure that my wife wouldn't read that description and start asking, 'Is this Peggy? Is this our neighbor?!?'

"I'm one of those crazy mystery writers who talks to his characters. I ask them questions. I argue with them. One of the things I liked about the relationship between Carter and Tina was that Carter is a guy who wants a committed relationship, but Tina just wants the sex. I love turning that whole dynamic on its head. I began to wonder why Tina behaved the way she did, so I had a conversation with her. That led to having some questions about her answered in The Girl Next Door.

Evanovich and Coben? I don't see it!

Brad Parks with a fan.
Karen mentioned that Parks is the only writer to have received the Nero and Shamus Awards for the same book (Faces of the Gone)-- among other awards-- and she couldn't understand why he wasn't famous yet. Brad smiled and said, "This is my sixth book. Everyone knows who Lee Child is. You can read the first paragraph of Killing Floor and just be blown away by how good it is. Well, it took Lee Child seven books before he made the New York Times Bestseller List."

He went on to mention other writers who didn't make the list until their eighth or even tenth book before adding, "It only took five books for Michael Connelly, which makes him the idiot savant of mystery writers."

Karen mentioned authors needing more publicity. Parks countered with, "Publishers just don't have that much money to spend on promoting books. They have to use it where they'll get the most bang for their buck. They want an author to have a proven track record before they will invest that money." (Hear that, everybody? Help your favorite authors hit the big time so they can write more of what you want to read!)

One of Brad's fans mentioned Newark, New Jersey, which is the setting for the Carter Ross books. Newark could be considered a character in its own right. "I'm proud of the fact that I've never heard from someone from Newark saying that I got it wrong," Brad said. "Some white people treat going to the inner city like it's a trip to the zoo-- and it's not!" Karen asked how the inner city was created. "In the 1950s and 1960s, agriculture was going through tremendous changes in the South, and thousands of blacks came to Newark looking for work. During that same time frame, Newark lost 20,000 jobs because plants were being closed and the work sent overseas. People were moving there at the wrong time," Parks told us.

Another person brought up the blurb on some of Brad's books that says he's a cross between Janet Evanovich and Harlan Coben. "I don't see it," Brad laughed. "I was complaining about it to my editor, who asked me if I knew how much Evanovich's latest contract was. When I said no, he said, 'Fifty million dollars. That's a lot of books. If that blurb gets some of Evanovich's readers to read you, don't complain!' I don't complain!"

There's not a lot of call for...

Brad Parks enjoys his fans.
"I feel I'm getting better as I go along," Brad said. "When I take a look at my first book, Faces of the Gone, I think 'Wow, I made a lot of mistakes!'"

Fellow author Graham Brown spoke up: "No, no, no! Don't ever make the mistake at looking at your earlier books!"

After the laughter died down, Brad continued. "I like to strive to be better. Besides, I have no job to go back to and two young children to feed. This really helps me to keep wanting to write a better book!"

When Karen asked, Brad confirmed that the reason why he has no job to go back to is due to the impending death rattle of the newspaper industry. (He was a newspaper reporter-- one of the many reasons why people feel his character Carter Ross is autobiographical.) "One day out of curiosity, I logged onto," Parks said. "You know, there's not a lot of call for people who've spent the past six years thinking of creative ways to kill people!"

Another question that came up was how he handles the deadlines for his books. "The word 'deadline' comes from the British prison system. It was a line on the ground that, if you crossed it, you were shot dead. Journalism sticks to that definition. Every minute that the paper is late coming off the presses costs the newspaper $15,000. The person who explained that to lowly little intern me looked at me and said, 'And how much do we pay you in a year, young man?' That made it crystal clear that the paper always comes out on time!"

In contrast, Parks told us that the book industry seems more than a bit lackadaisical when it comes to deadlines. With his background in journalism, he finds that very difficult to get used to. Even more bizarre is when he hears other authors laugh about blowing their deadlines. Knowing all about real ones, Brad just doesn't understand this attitude in others.

Parks still has some newspaper ink running through his veins. "When things like the terrible shootings in Charleston happen, I'm used to dealing with those situations by writing about them. I miss that world. I also miss the immediacy of the feedback. I would write something, people would read it and comment on it the very next day."

Waiting for that next book...
Karen then mentioned his writing style-- how there was humor, action, compassion, newspaper reporting, and more-- and it all worked together so well. 

"I was a nerd growing up. Books were always my friends, and they could be smart and silly and funny, and we could talk about the universe, discuss baseball, or tell fart jokes. I think my writing shows all this, and publishers don't always know what to do with that. I have a feeling that they underestimate you readers."

Brad's next book is a standalone featuring a federal judge whose children are kidnapped in order to control the outcome of a high-profile case. Then it will be back to Carter: "As long as I can still hear these characters talking in my head, I'll still write about them!"


When Karen said she'd heard that Brad had had some community theatre experience, he admitted it and then treated us to an a cappella rendition of "Keep Away from Alphabet Sue!" which was a blast. He serenaded Sue Grafton with it at Left Coast Crime one year, and when he'd finished and sat down next to Sue, she leaned toward him and said, "Well, that's never happened before!"

Brad was then asked about Hardee's. "Yes, I still do all my writing at my local Hardee's. I sit back in my corner, and people just leave me alone. I never realized that anyone was paying any attention to me until I'd been gone for a while and a woman came up to me saying, 'Where have you been? Are you all right? I prayed for you! I didn't know your name, but I asked the Lord to watch over the man from Hardee's!'"

Available Now!
Now we all thought that was funny (and touching), but we hadn't heard nuthin' yet....

"You know how I told you that I hear my characters talking in my head and that I talk back to them? Well, that happened to me one day while I was at Hardee's. In fact, I had two characters arguing with me, so I took it out to the parking lot.

"There I was, in the far corner of the lot, walking back and forth, waving my arms around-- probably a bit wildly-- and arguing out loud with those characters in my head. Well, a Virginia State Trooper stopped to get some lunch, watched me out in the lot for a minute, then went inside where he asked one of the employees, 'Do you know you have a deranged man in your parking lot? Do you want me to pick him up for you?' Luckily they vouched for me!"

Someone in the audience commented that Parks should use some of the Hardee's employees in his books. "Oh, I do!" Brad said. "Lots of Hardee's workers are getting killed in my books, and they love it!"

A Writer's Trip to the Grocery Store

Brad also does some ghost writing, and-- when asked-- he would not divulge one tiny bit of information about it. He's had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and one of them stated that the consequences of breaking this agreement would go "far beyond mere money." Brad's always wondered what exactly that meant!

He also gave us a bit of insight into the mind of a mystery writer:

One day he drove his father's huge Cadillac to the grocery store. When he came out of the market, he popped the trunk lid, and as he was raising it, he looked inside and thought, "Now wouldn't it be funny if I found a body in there?"  

Karen asked him what he read. "I definitely read in the mystery genre." He then recommended Lisa Gardner, Linwood Barclay, and Megan Abbott. What's Brad's idea of a vacation? "A bathing suit and seven books in my bag and a beach for a week."

Brad is a self-confessed extrovert-- something that he doesn't really have to confess to. It's obvious that he enjoys being among people. Writing isn't exactly the profession for folks like him because writers spend so much time alone. Brad shook his head and laughed. "When my wife gets home from work, I pity the poor woman. I haven't talked to anyone all day, and there she is!"

His wife is a school psychologist, and when she was in grad school, Brad was (literally) her test dummy. "She had me take a test in which you got a certain score if you finished in a minute, and another score if you finished in two minutes. You didn't receive any score at all if you took longer than two minutes, but you were not told to stop.

"Twenty-six minutes later, I nailed that sucker!"

Not only that-- you nailed this event, Brad! 

I was the only person left who hadn't had her book signed, so I walked right up to the table. While he was signing it, I told him that a group of book bloggers had recently been discussing the worst-ever book pitch that they'd received. "I don't remember the bad ones," I told him. "I only remember the best one, and it was yours for your third book. It was obvious from your email that you'd taken the time to look through my blog-- and you made me laugh. It's a winning combination!"

Another winning combination? Brad Parks and Carter Ross. If you haven't read a book by Brad Parks, please do so!

My latest Poisoned Pen book haul