Friday, July 22, 2016

Strange Fruit for a Weekly Link Round-Up

My quiet summer continues. The monsoon season doesn't know if it wants to show up or not, although a microburst came through Monday night that made getting to work interesting for Denis. The street he usually takes into the airport was closed due to a large uprooted tree, and the alternate he took was under two feet of water, but that seemed to be the most interesting part of his shift. 

Strange cactus fruit
Me? I'm getting chores done so I can go out to the pool and read like a house afire. For the most part, I've chosen some choice books that you'll be hearing all about in the days to come. I'm not getting much knitting done because it's too hot to work on a large project (not the time of year to work on an afghan!), and I keep losing concentration on small projects if they're the least bit complicated. Planning menus is about as complicated as I'm getting lately.

I just had to share this photo I took at the Desert Botanical Garden. Some species of cactus look like they're from outer space, and-- as you can see-- so do their fruit. If these hadn't been so high up on the cactus (and out in an area where we're not supposed to walk), I'd go up and feel one of them. It looks as though they'd feel all soft and furry, don't they? I'd just love to put that to the test!

In the mean time, I hear complaints coming from the link corral, so I'll get down to business. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

 ►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • How the key to the Bastille ended up in George Washington's possession.
  • Siberian archaeologists found a 5,000-year-old skeleton couple holding hands
  • Twenty-three more wrecks have been found at a Greek hotspot for sunken ships
  • "Britain's Pompeii" was a Bronze Age "new build" site. 
  • A tomb in the Great Pyramid of Giza is protected by a primitive machine built by ancient Egyptians. 
  • How China is rewriting the book on human origins. 
  • In the first-ever Philistine cemetery to be discovered, archaeologists are wondering if they've found Goliath's burial site
  • A rare Noah's Ark mosaic has been uncovered in an ancient synagogue in Israel. 
  • A discovery that dates from the Stone Age could rewrite ancient history.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Ducklings are as clever as they are cute.
  • The island of Luzon has the world's highest concentration of unique mammals. 
  • An entire boar family came to watch one of its youngsters being freed from a fence.
  • New programs being set up in the American West will pay landowners to preserve animal habitat, but will they work?
  • Need a pick-me-up? Take a look at this baby beaver that can't even control its own tail. 
  • The secret life of urban hedgehogs
  • At the turn of the twentieth century, why did American cats get blamed for so many divorces? 
  • Dinosaurs may have been cooers and mumblers, not roarers.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • One of my favorite artists, American Master William Merritt Chase, is coming back into fashion. 
  • Seductress Betty Pack stole secrets that helped defeat the Nazis.
  • First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln gets a modern-day medical diagnosis. 
  • Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in the United States.
  • Van Gogh cut off a lot more than his earlobe. 
  • The secret midnight paintings of Dr. Seuss

►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, July 21, 2016

Tundra Kill by Stan Jones

First Line: "You see, Chief?"

After some restructuring, Nathan Active finds himself the newly appointed chief of public safety for the newly created Chukchi Regional Borough-- an area larger than 15 of the United States. He hasn't even had time to move into his office when he's got a suspicious death on his hands. However, that has to go on the back burner when Alaska's second female governor comes to town. She wants Nathan as her body guard, and what she wants is what she gets. (No matter how much Nathan complains.)

It really comes as no surprise to him when Nathan learns that the governor is the most dangerous woman he's ever met. When he doesn't do what the governor wants, he not only finds his career on the line, he finds the lives of his beloved Grace and her daughter Nita to be threatened as well. In the past Nathan has been a bit gullible when it comes to women. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily governor?

After a very long seven-year gap, I was thrilled to see another installment of one of my favorite series. Stan Jones makes the remote regions of Alaska and the customs, food, language, and familial relationships of the Inupiat people come to life. He's the only author I've read who can actually make the Arctic ice speak. In Tundra Kill, Jones brings readers right into the heart of the wilderness in an iced-up Cesna-- an excellent section of the book.

Relationships play an important role here, and the relationship between Nathan and Grace is first and foremost. Tundra Kill is a bit more sexually explicit than I'm used to when reading mysteries, but it's in keeping with the story (and never goes overboard). Grace is a survivor of sexual abuse, and the intimate relationship Nathan has with the woman he loves is fundamental to their future together.  

Jones has written a wonderfully twisty plot with touches of humor that can make readers laugh out loud. Nathan is up against some very devious people, and it is fun to watch how he deals with them. Long-time fans of the series-- like me-- are familiar with his naivete and will probably react strongly to some of the twists and turns in the plot. I know I did.

To be honest, I could've done without the Sarah Palin-esque character in Tundra Kill, but Jones kept me from terminal eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head with his fast pace, devilish plot, and Nathan Active. I sincerely hope there isn't another seven years until the next book. This entire series is choice.

Tundra Kill by Stan Jones
ISBN: 9780979980381
Bowhead Press © 2016
Hardcover, 320 pages

Police Procedural, #5 Nathan Active mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

War Hawk by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

First Line: Few in the Abwehr's military intelligence knew his true name or even his intent here on British soil.

When a former army colleague asks Tucker Wayne for help, he cannot refuse, even if it means dredging up things from his past that he'd rather leave buried. His friend and her son are on the run from assassins, and the only way Wayne can keep them safe is to discover who killed a brilliant computer programmer... and why.

The crime leads back to powerful figures in the U.S. government and will have Wayne and his war dog Kane on the move from the Deep South to Trinidad and places further afield. The two are trying to track a mystery that dates back to World War II, and to do this they will have to put everything they've got on the line.

The remarkable bond between Tucker Wayne and Kane completely won me over in The Kill Switch, and I couldn't possibly miss the second installment of their adventures.The action wasn't as predictable as it was in the first, which made the book even more enjoyable.

The focus in this book is information warfare, and it is terrifying. Those who control information are those who will be in control of the world. As always, Rollins includes  an "Author's Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction" at the back of the book, and it's a good idea to read it. He doesn't make up most of what he writes about. Part of the mystery of War Hawk revolves around some work Alan Turing did at Bletchley Park during World War II. Were his papers really lost in a fire, or were they stolen? They just may contain the key to winning this information war.

Tucker's PTSD and the way he relates to others figures highly in this book, and these things are a key to his character. So is his relationship with the war dog, Kane. When Rollins first wrote about Kane, he asked people in the military who actually worked with war dogs if what he'd written was realistic. All of them told him that the dogs were actually capable of doing much more than he'd written. Keep that in mind when you read about Kane. His relationship with Tucker will fill you with a bit of awe, a lot of admiration... and you might even get a bit emotional, too. 

James Rollins and Grant Blackwood have written the kind of thriller I enjoy the most: an intriguing plot, plenty of fast-paced action, and complex characters. Just the combination that will keep me coming back for more.

ISBN: 9780062135278 
William Morrow © 2016
Hardcover, 384 pages

Thriller, #2 Tucker Wayne & Kane
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 


On My Radar: Molly MacRae's Plaid and Plagiarism

Once I started comparing US and UK book covers, I've found myself taking more of an interest in them, although titles still mean more to me than covers.

One of the ways I search for new crime fiction involves scrolling through lists of titles and authors, no covers. But before that, I grew up in a library and eventually got to choose books for many of our patrons to read. Since all the books were "spine out" I trained myself to focus on titles. But as I said, now that I'm taking a closer look at covers, I find more of them showing up on my radar. Like this week's book, Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae.

I first became acquainted with Molly by reading her Haunted Yarn Shop cozy series, although I didn't keep up with it (and dozens of other series... shame on me). I liked Molly's characters and her writing, so when I stumbled across the first book in her Highland Bookshop series, I perked right up. Books? Bookshop? The Highlands of Scotland? Count me in!

Let's take a look.

Available December 6, 2016!

Synopsis from Amazon:  

Set in the weeks just before the annual Inversgail Literature Festival in Scotland, Plaid and Plagiarism begins on a morning shortly after the four new owners have taken possession of their new bookshop in the Highlands.

Unfortunately, Janet Marsh’s move into her house has been delayed due to vandalism; she’s convinced the vandal is Una Graham, an advice columnist for the local paper who’s trying to make a name for herself as an investigative reporter. Then, when the women go to look for clues that might tell them to who is guilty, they find Una Graham's corpse (murder!) in Janet’s garden shed.

Constable Hobbs answers their emergency call. He’s calm and quietly pleased, as he’s never had a murder case. Then the contents of a dozen or so garbage bags are discovered behind the bookshop. The letters inside are nasty. They explain in minute detail how and when each of the recipients has hurt Una. The more the women find out about Una, the more people they discover who detested her and aren’t sad she’s gone. If Janet and her bookshop crew are reading the clues right, they’re about to expose the most sensational story the town of Inversgail has ever heard.

A delightful and deadly novel about recognizing strengths, accepting weaknesses, and finding a way to be true to oneself, Plaid and Plagiarism is the start of an enthralling new Scottish mystery series. 

Blue is my favorite color, so this cover would have a very good chance of catching my eye-- especially with the tartan border at the bottom. I also like the title with its play on Pride and Prejudice.

Sounds good, doesn't it? You know I'm going to read it and try to figure out just where in the Highlands that bookstore is located, don't you? Because... it's on my radar, and on my wish list! The question is-- have I tempted any of you?


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

First Line: "Wake up, genius."

In prison for murder, the only thing that keeps Morris Bellamy going is thinking of the stash of his favorite author's notebooks he has squirreled away. You see, Bellamy committed one more murder than the authorities know about. He killed his favorite author, John Rothstein, because Bellamy believes the main character in Rothstein's famed trilogy sold out. The money in Rothstein's safe meant little to Bellamy; those piles of notebooks were the true mother lode because-- although he stopped being published-- Rothstein kept writing, and Bellamy knows that there's at least one more book featuring his favorite character in those handwritten pages.

Thirty-five years later, Bellamy is back on the streets and can't wait to get his hands on those notebooks. What he doesn't know is that young Pete Saubers has already found Bellamy's treasure. The only thing standing between Pete and Bellamy's rage is Bill Hodges' detective agency, Finders Keepers. 

Mr. Mercedes made it to my Best Reads list, so I was eager to reacquaint myself with Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson in Finders Keepers. At first I kept waiting for those three to make their appearance, but I quickly fell into the story and stopped missing them. By the time they were ready for some real action (roughly halfway through), I welcomed them with open arms because Morris Bellamy was giving me the creeps.

For some reason, certain characters kept reminding me of other things in this book. John Rothstein reminded me of J.D. Salinger, and not only did Morris Bellamy remind me of another of King's literary fans named Annie Wilkes, his physical appearance made me think of Pennywise... the character from It that put a face on my loathing of clowns. 

It was good to see that Bill Hodges is doing better than he was at the end of Mr. Mercedes, and I really liked the dynamic between him and his two younger cohorts, Holly and Jerome. They're good for each other. King has always had a knack for creating marvelous young characters, and Pete and Tina Saubers continue this tradition. Everything Pete does in order to salvage his parents' marriage is heart-breaking, especially when you know that it is bound to come crashing down around his ears. Pete is a sharp kid, but there's no way he has the experience to deal with someone like Morris Bellamy. And... lurking in the background... is the psychopath from Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield. He's come out of his coma but is still in a vegetative state... or so everyone in the hospital thinks. (Any Stephen King fan worth his salt knows better.)

Once again-- good storytelling, some marvelous characters, and a feeling of growing dread that sets us up nicely for the last book in the trilogy: End of Watch. It will be interesting to read that third book. Mr. Mercedes was a murder mystery. Finders Keepers is more of a literary thriller. Where will we be taken next?

Stephen King may show us the crazy side of life, but it's not all that far-fetched when compared to what's really going on in the world today. He's more than capable of scaring the living daylights out of us, but he also reminds us of something important: how good humans can be. 

Finders Keepers by Stephen King
ISBN: 9781501100123
Pocket Books © 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages

Thriller, #2 Bill Hodges trilogy
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Off the Books by Lucy Arlington

First Line: I loved wintertime in the quaint hamlet of Inspiration Valley, especially when it snowed, which wasn't often.

Seldom can your job actually help you with your wedding plans, but that's what's happening with Lila Wilkins. The Novel Idea Literary Agency has created a week-long celebration of all things wedding for Inspiration Valley. However, when a man with ties to several of the agency's authors is found dead, facedown in a wedding cake, those authors find themselves at the top of the suspect list. Lila is going to have to work fast!

I've enjoyed Lucy Arlington's Novel Idea cozy series from the start. Off the Books-- like the other books in the series-- provides a good, solid mystery as well as a pleasant visit with a cast of characters who have become friends. 

There's a bit more delving into the personalities of Lila and her boss Bentley here in book four. Lila is getting a severe case of pre-wedding jitters, and she really has to figure out why. Her boss Bentley has always been the high-handed genius who expects everyone to tug their forelocks when she snaps her fingers. With the addition of one little dog named Olive, we are given some insight into this demanding woman's character, and it's a welcome one. 

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this series is its idyllic "bookworm heaven" setting of Inspiration Valley. Reading about this special place (that should exist but doesn't) is a welcome bit of fantasy for me. An added bonus is that each book uncovers more of the inner workings of a literary agency and how it deals with new authors, query letters, publicity, and manuscripts. Like me, many readers enjoy learning about what goes on behind the scenes to create the books we all love.

As I was reading Off the Books, I got the feeling that the series may be coming to an end because many loose ends that had been left dangling for a book or two (or three) were neatly tied up. However, that probably isn't the case. The first three books in the series were written by Ellery Adams and Sylvia May. This fourth book was written by Susan Furlong, and Furlong may have wanted to tie off some old plot threads in order to introduce some of her own in future books. I hope that is the case because this is one of my favorite series.

Off the Books by Lucy Arlington
ISBN: 9780425276679
Berkley Prime Crime © 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Novel Idea mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Clear to Lift Giveaway!

While I was enjoying myself at the launch party for Anne A. Wilson's Clear to Lift, I'll have you know that I was thinking of all of you. Anne's latest book is one of my Best Reads of 2016, and I just had to share!

In the photo above you see everything that one lucky winner will be receiving: an autographed copy of Clear to Lift, a postcard-sized publicity insert, a neat "ticket" for a helicopter ride made by The Poisoned Pen especially for people who bought the book on the night of the launch party, and a bookmark Anne had made that has a cute helicopter charm on the tassel. Awesome little package, huh?  (You can click on the photo to see more detail.) 

What One Person Will Win:

  1. an autographed copy of Anne A. Wilson's Clear to Lift
  2. a postcard-sized publicity insert
  3. The Poisoned Pen's helicopter ride "ticket" (not a real ticket)
  4. a bookmark with a helicopter charm from Anne

The Rules:

  1. All you have to do is send me an email that must contain the following three things: (A) the subject header must read "Clear to Lift Giveaway" (B) the body of the email must contain your email address and (C) your mailing address.
  2. If your email is missing any of those three things, you will not be eligible to win.
  3. Where do you send your email? kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com

The Deadline:

  1. Send your emails to me by noon-- 12 PM-- Sunday, July 24.
  2. The winner will be announced here on my blog on noon Monday, July 25.

Don't waste any time-- start filling up my inbox with your entries right now! 


Anne A. Wilson at The Poisoned Pen!

Things were back to normal: Denis was at work, and I was driving solo to The Poisoned Pen to see Anne A. Wilson, author of Clear to Lift, one of my Best Reads of 2016. The one thing that wasn't normal? The traffic. Instead of the usual rush hour congestion, I hit stretches of Indian School Road that barely had any vehicles on them. It made me wonder if a lot of folks had escaped the Phoenix heat and were now clogging the streets of San Diego.

Once I'd made my purchase and gone to the table in the back to sit and read, I got to watch the event pros at work, seeing how many chairs they could safely fit into the space. (They were expecting a large turnout, and they got one!) All this meant that I had to move, but I didn't mind. I had a ringside seat for an impromptu signing. Authors John Sandford and (wife) Michele Cook had stopped by to sign copies of Rampage, the third in their YA thriller series, and had graciously said that they'd stay for a bit to sign books and chat with fans who wanted to stop by.

L to R: fan, John Sandford, Michele Cook
Several fans took them up on their offer while Poisoned Pen staffers were busily getting ready for the main event. Anne and her family showed up early, too. Anne's sisters had brought tons of goodies for the launch party.

Launch Party goodies!    Photo Credit: Jeff K.
Once that table was loaded, it didn't take but a second or two for a line to form to sample everything!

When host Barbara Peters introduced Anne, she told us that some big names (like Dennis Lehane) had books being released the same week as Wilson's first book, Hover, but that Wilson's book had outsold them all. Then Peters told us that her husband Rob found a cruise that he wanted to go on. It starts in Alaska and travels way up north and east along the coast of the Canadian Arctic. We're talking seriously remote here, and the people in charge make everyone going on the cruise jump through extra hoops so that they will know just how remote the area is and that, if anything were to go wrong, the chances of getting everyone to safety might be more than a bit dicey. "With all your experience in search and rescue and survival," Peters told Wilson, "I'm going to be asking you for tips after the program!"

L to R: Anne Wilson, Barbara Peters

Barbara Peters and I are in agreement: one of the things that makes Anne's books so very moving is the fact that she's done what she writes about. She was a Navy helicopter pilot. She did fly search and rescue. She has had to land a helicopter on a ship in rough seas. She has had to hover just a few feet away from the sheer rock face of a mountain. (And her writing makes you feel like you're right there with her.) When Barbara asked her about the background for Clear to Lift, Anne told us that during her second tour in the Navy, she was stationed at Fallon, Nevada, where the book is set. 80% of the search and rescue work she did was for civilian groups, and she did it for three years.

Anne A. Wilson
"Have you ever had to be rescued?" Barbara asked.

"No, I've only played the victim for some of the scenarios we were running in practice," Anne replied.

Peters then mentioned the Stupid Hiker Law that has been proposed in the state legislature once again. We've long had a Stupid Motorist Law, which means if you're driving here, ignore all the signs warning you not to cross flooded areas (happens a lot during monsoon season), and get stranded out in the middle of raging flood waters, you will be rescued, but you'll be presented with a bill for how much it cost to save your sorry behind.

The local government spends just as much on stupid hikers who have to be rescued from the sides of mountains, and if I remember correctly, at least three hikers died when they decided to go hiking (with little or no water) when it was 118° a few weeks ago!

Anne understood the need to try to curb these rescues, but she was in the military at the time, and the military saw these searches and rescues as gestures of good will towards the communities.

Anne A. Wilson
"What's next?" Barbara asked.

"I'm currently writing a thriller set in the Pacific Northwest, and yes, it does involve helicopters," Anne told us.

"Are you still a certified pilot?"

"I haven't flown since I was in the Navy-- eighteen years ago. It was so much fun, and I loved all the precision work."

Although Anne kept journals while she was on deployment at sea, she only became interested in writing seven years ago. "I suddenly had the idea for the kind of book that I would want to read, so I sat down and wrote the first chapter," Anne said. She also wrote "three works of epic fantasy and one medical thriller." To hone her craft, she took classes and joined online writing groups.

"What are some of the books you like to read?" Peters asked.

"I really enjoy thrillers... Lee Child, Brad Taylor, Brad Thor... but I also like Nora Roberts. My reading is all over the map," Anne said.

Barbara then told us about a trip to Annapolis when she and her husband were at one of the swimming pools in the Naval Academy. One of the tests the cadets must pass is jumping into the pool from (roughly) the height of a ship. That is a very long jump, and one young female cadet had a meltdown. She just couldn't make the jump. "So... was that it?" Peters asked. "Yes," Anne replied. "If she couldn't do it, her career with the Navy was finished, and that is so sad!"

"I kept hearing about a Sub Squad. What is that?" Barbara asked.

"The Sub Squad is composed of all those who couldn't pass the individual tests. One last chance for them," Anne replied.

Available Now!
Anne is now a swim coach who works with those who have had near-drowning experiences and adults who cannot swim. "I was surprised when I found out how many adults can't swim," she said. 

Anne then read part of one of the rescue scenes from Clear to Lift. "My first 'dramatic' reading," she laughed. After that, it was time for some questions from all the fans who had come to her launch party.

One fan wanted to know about the scene she'd just read-- did that really happen?

"That particular scene is a composite of several real life scenarios that I experienced," she said. "The last scene in the book is real. A one-hundred-year flood occurred in 1997 in the Yosemite and Reno areas, and I took part in the rescue." 

When Anne was in flight school, they were taught on single-engine helicopters. During one flight, they lost that one engine and landed in a field where a woman came out of the house and offered them all pie and coffee.

Where did she get her main character's name? Alison Malone was her roommate for three years.

Her first "dramatic" reading-- being recorded & also listened to by a fellow author!

"One of the things I've learned in this publishing business is that you've got to nail your genre," Anne told us. "People have had a hard time with my books. Do they shelve them in the romance section? Are they thrillers? That's one reason why I'm writing a straight up thriller for my third book. There won't be any confusion!"

There then came information that wouldn't occur to most of us: helicopters do not come equipped with parachutes. (Jump out, pop the chute, the chute gets sucked up into the blades. Duh.)

Another fan wanted to know which was scarier: landing on a pitching ship or flying two feet away from a mountain side in unpredictable winds? "They're equally scary!" Anne said.

"Have you saved lives?" Another fan wanted to know.

"I saved thirty-one lives while I served at Fallon, and I saved a crew while I was deployed at sea," Anne replied. "The people you save do keep in touch with you by the way."

A voice from the back then declared loudly and clearly: "One thing my sister will not tell you is that the U.S. Navy awarded her a medal for Rescue of the Year for her work in 1997!" Loud applause followed.

Author Shona Patel wanted to know if Anne had any Hollywood deals in the works. "No, I don't!" Anne replied.

"Do you miss your work?"

"Yes, I do miss it-- especially the people I worked with," Anne said.

Anne A. Wilson may miss the work she did and the people with whom she worked, but I for one am very glad she turned to writing. I love the stories she tells.

Anne's 5th grade teacher came!  Photo Credit: Jeff K.