Friday, May 06, 2016

The Looking for Volunteers Weekly Link Round-Up




I can't believe that it's just about time for me to start getting Casa Kittling ready for a British Invasion. (Our niece-- great-niece?-- is coming over from England for two weeks.) Where does the time go?!? Denis and I will be taking her out and about to places like the Sky Walk at Grand Canyon West, down the Diamond Creek trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to Oatman to (hopefully) feed the wild burros, and I'd love to get her over to Monument Valley and up to the White Mountains where it will be cooler. I'll need some luck with booking rooms, though!

One of the things I must do is some work out in the garden. I've been pushing my luck with the temperatures as it is. That rain we got not too long ago has made things go ballistic, so I have to sharpen up my pruning sheers. Could I get a volunteer from the studio audience?

Speaking of growing things, I'll leave you with another cactus flower from the Desert Botanical Garden while I mosey out to the corral to round up all those links I've been saving....


 

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • The lost Neruda works can now be found in Then Come Back
  • Nevada Barr talks about the beauty of our national parks.
  • George R.R. Martin has an idea for a spin-off of Game of Thrones
  • You know how I've dipped my toe into the world of critiquing book cover design? Well, one of my readers found the Caustic Cover Critic blog. Thanks, Reta! 
  • If Jane Eyre were published today, would it be marketed as genre fiction? 
  • The Martian author's next novel is a crime story set on the moon.
  • Yikes! I know he's tasty, but... A scarf worn by Outlander's Sam Heughan sold at a charity auction for £10,000!
  • Here's what a Pulitzer Prize does for a book's Amazon sales rank. 

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Shakespeare & Other Fascinating Folk◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►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, May 05, 2016

The Feng Shui Detective Goes West by Nury Vittachi


First Line: In the days of the Yellow Emperor, there was a Minister of Laws who believed there was nothing perfect in this world, until the day he had a daughter.

Creditors are breathing down feng shui master C.F. Wong's neck. He needs money fast, so when he's given a job that entails travel to England to bring the art of feng shui to Buckingham Palace, he can't refuse. No matter how much he doesn't like Westerners. To say that the job isn't exactly as advertised would be a prime example of understatement.

Several years ago I read the first Feng Shui Detective mystery, and I was enchanted by the humor. I found Wong and his assistant hilarious, and when I saw that there were more books to come, I kept reminding myself that I had to get back to this series.

Evidently a lot of water went under the bridge during the intervening years because my reaction to this second book is much different than my reaction to the first. Yes, there is still plenty of good humor, especially when Wong is butchering the English language. However, I no longer find his work-resistant assistant as funny as I had originally, and the plot just kept losing my interest.

Now I'm left wondering what happened to change my opinion of this series so drastically from one book to the next! 

 

The Feng Shui Detective Goes West by Nury Vittachi
ISBN: 9781934609798 
Felony and Mayhem © 2011
Paperback, 226 pages

Humorous Mystery, #2 Feng Shui Detective mystery
Rating: C-
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 


   

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

I Have Donna Leon Covered!



This week I chose the author and book covers as a reminder to myself. You see, I read Donna Leon's very first Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery a long time ago. Even though it didn't exactly light my imagination on fire, it was still a series that I wanted to try once more... just in case. I haven't done that second sample yet, hence the reminder.

Now that I do have this pictorial reminder, I think I'll just cut to the chase and show this week's book covers... 









This is Leon's twenty-fifth Brunetti mystery, and look at the covers her US and UK publishers designed! Just by looking at them, you know that The Waters of Eternal Youth is set in Venice, Italy. What's more, I'm thrilled that neither cover has one single solitary blurb on it. Wow!

Both covers state the author's name, the title of the book, and the fact that it's a Brunetti mystery. Why the US publishers thought they had to tell everyone that Leon is a New York Times bestselling author, I do not know, but the font size of that line is small enough that it doesn't detract from the rest of the cover.

Nope. The only real things to differentiate these two covers focus on the art-- the basic color scheme, the fonts used, and the graphics. Which do I prefer?

I really like both covers, but when I do my side-by-side comparison, I have to say that the UK cover wins. The Triumphal Quadriga of St. Mark's (the horses) are more striking against that dark green background, and Leon's name and the title of the book stand out well, too. Simple. Striking. Memorable. In many ways, I think this UK cover of The Waters of Eternal Youth is my favorite so far since I began this "cover-off" series of posts. 

But no two people see something in exactly the same way, which is what makes this so interesting. What say all of you? Which cover do you prefer? US? UK? Neither one? Like both equally? 

Inquiring minds would love to know!


   

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison


First Line: "You are absolutely not selling William Dobson, Rupert!"

Growing up, Kat Stanford always believed her mother was a fragile flower, since Iris often retired to her bedroom with bad headaches. Now Kat knows better. All those headaches masked Iris's secretly writing her bestselling romance novels. And Iris's past? It just seems to get Kat involved in one situation after another.

This time it's one of Iris's old flames who's come back to Honeychurch Hall to wreak havoc. Well, that and the small problem of the partially mummified body of a young woman Kat finds in one of the abandoned wings of Honeychurch Hall. Hidden treasure, secret rooms, old loves... all these combine to put Kat and her mother in deadly danger.

I have a feeling that Hannah Dennison has as much fun writing these Honeychurch Hall mysteries as I have in reading them. They are just plain fun to read, and I always look forward to the next book in the series. 

Even with the mystery, the humor, and the wonderful characters, Dennison still finds time to show us the plight of many of England's stately homes. If the family isn't titled,  or rich, or have their home open to hordes of trampling tourists, it can be tough-- which was why Kat was stumbling around in an abandoned wing of Honeychurch Hall. Its owners are desperately strapped for cash, and she was using her expert knowledge of antiques to find something they could sell so badly needed repairs could be made to the house. 

The owners of Honeychurch Hall are a mixed bunch. In fact there's only one of them I truly like: young Harry who hates boarding school and, as "Captain Bigglesworth," likes getting into adventures with Kat as his trusty aide. Why am I not all that fond of Harry's family? For generations, they've been able to get involved in all sorts of nefarious doings and come out smelling like roses because the police (and everyone else) covers their tracks. Must be my peasant blood rearing its ugly head.

I also have a problem with Kat's mother. Iris is just a bit too self-absorbed and spoiled for me. Kat's father let Iris do as she pleased-- and she did. She has also been plowing all the money from her books into offshore accounts. Why couldn't her family benefit in some way from all that?

As a main character, Kat is pretty much perfect. Smart, funny, and getting used to dealing with situations that can often resemble slapstick comedy. Hopefully she's going to get her antiques business up and running soon. I've been looking forward to that for three books now.

All right. Enough about the characters already! Can you tell that I'm hooked on Dennison's cast? The mystery in A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall is a good one that kept me guessing. As a matter of fact, I didn't know the identity of the killer until Kat did, and I love it when that happens.  

If you haven't tried this series yet, I hope you will. You can dive in anywhere and not be hopelessly confused, but I'm hoping you'll begin at the beginning (Murder at Honeychurch Hall) because-- like I've said before--  these books are so much fun.     
 

A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
eISBN: 9781466872455
Minotaur Books © 2016
eBook, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #3 Kat Stanford mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley  


 

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths


First Line: Cathbad and the cat look at each other.

Dr. Ruth Galloway's friend Cathbad is housesitting in Walsingham, a medieval town known as England's Nazareth and famous for religious apparitions. When Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and blue cloak in the cemetery one night, he believes he's had a vision of the Virgin Mary. But the vision turns into a dead body lying beside the road the very next day.

Ruth's old friend Hillary is in town. Now an Anglican priest, Hillary has been receiving threatening letters, and knowing Ruth's association with the police, she asks for Ruth's advice but then is reluctant to follow it. When one of Hillary's fellow female priests is murdered before Walsingham's annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson find themselves teaming up to catch a killer.

If you're new to this series and wondering if you should give it a try because you've heard people like me raving about it, let me give you one piece of advice: if you're a mystery reader who prefers the crime and its investigation over the characters, you might just want to give this series a miss. Now... it hurt me to say that because I'd love to have everyone read and love these books, but it's true. The characters in Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series have personal lives that are every bit as rich as the mysteries they solve-- sometimes more so-- and their personal lives can often impinge on the investigation

In The Woman in Blue, we learn about another location in the county of Norfolk-- Walsingham-- and the place of women in the Church of England. It also gives us a chance to see Ruth side by side with a woman with whom she went to university. Ruth-- an archaeologist and single mother to five-year-old Kate, who is the result of one night of passion with the very married DCI Harry Nelson. What a contrast with Hillary, the Anglican priest! 

One of the strengths of this series is the relationship between Ruth and Nelson. This is no simple case of infidelity. Griffiths does an excellent job of showing the characters' good and bad points. It isn't a matter of readers blythely choosing which character they believe is hardest done by and cheering him or her on. As time passes, Nelson's wife is becoming a more important character, and no one can tell what the future will bring for any of them. I think Griffiths is superb at showing life in all its complexity.

But how about the mystery, I hear you ask. It's a good one. There may not be much archaeology this time around, but there are several things going on, and one of the tasks readers have is to decide if everything connects to one source... or if there's more than one villain. It's certainly not an easy decision to make!

If you love mysteries with an excellent sense of place, complex and intriguing crimes to solve, and absolutely splendid characters, you'd be hard-pressed to find a series better than Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway.
       

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9781784292379
Quercus Books © 2016 (UK edition)
Hardcover, 358 pages

Police Procedural, #8 Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 


  

While Miz Kittling Knits: Lewis


I've been knitting up a storm, but there's no way I can knit as fast as I can dream up new projects-- especially when I do something like order a box of yarn in types of fibers I haven't worked with before. (Silk, linen, mohair, alpaca....) 

I usually have two projects going at once; something complicated and something simpler. This way I can keep my fingers working, help solve the mystery I'm watching on television, and still not fry my little grey cells. But this latest yarn purchase is almost all lace-weight yarn, and some of the patterns I'm dying to try are a bit convoluted. I may find myself with three projects going at once, but I'm going to try to avoid it. Too many projects means less chance of getting any of them finished!

Once I graduated to patterns where I have to keep track of which row I'm on, I needed some help. After a few unsuccessful trials, I settled on what you see to the right. It's a laptop stand that I have clamped to the end table by my chair. When I'm not using it, the arm swings back against the wall so it's out of my way. I can use magnets to hold the pattern to the surface, and that lucite bar you see on the pattern itself is magnetized at both ends and it magnifies the print so I can see it clearly from a distance. What I didn't realize for a while was that this laptop stand had an added bonus: those holes are handy for keeping track of my cable needle! (See it there to the left of the pattern, just below the lucite bar?)


Next I thought I would show you two completed projects. I call this my Where's Waldo Scarf even though I know the colors are all wrong. The pattern is called Chevron Lace. 

The scarf is soft and warm and more than long enough to cover your head and ears, too.

I was knitting this when my friend was visiting from the Seattle area. He asked me all sorts of questions about knitting. Why circular needles? What's a cowl? Why are you putting fringe on that scarf? How many skeins of yarn will it take to make an afghan? What's blocking, and do you have to do it to everything you knit? Too bad he doesn't want to take this up-- I've got him halfway trained!





I thought you might like to see a closeup of the Chevron Lace pattern. I was kidding around with someone and told them that the scarf is so warm that it needs its own ventilation system, hence those rows of holes.

I really like this scarf, but I have no clue who the recipient is going to be!

   

This is another cowl, or infinity scarf, that I've completed in a simple basketweave stitch. Can you believe it? The name of the yarn color is a simple, unimaginative "Yellow." Wow!

Anyway, you can see that the cowl is plenty big enough to cover your head if you like, or just leave it around your neck and shoulders to keep them toasty warm.

Some colors have a tendency to remind me of something. This shade of yellow always makes me think of a smile. It's just a happy color, don't you think?







Now... what have I been watching in the evenings while I'm knitting away? Actually I'm rewatching one of my all-time favorites: Lewis, or as it's also known, Inspector Lewis. How much do I like this series? It's available free for Amazon Prime members and probably a few other places as well, but I have the complete series (all nine seasons) on DVD. 

I also have the complete series of Inspector Morse on DVD, but when I first learned about Lewis, I was absolutely thrilled. Why? Because I always preferred Kevin Whately's Robbie Lewis to John Thaw's Morse (although Thaw was perfect in that role). 

How can anyone watch Lewis and not want to visit Oxford? Those buildings are gorgeous!  So chalk one up for cinematography. Come to think of it, while you've got the chalk out, make another mark for theme music. It's running through my head right now. The composer, Barrington Pheloung, also did the theme for Inspector Morse, which is quite clever since he used Morse code to spell out Morse's name... or the killer's... or an innocent character's.

Now to get back to Lewis, I prefer the partnership of Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately) and James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), and it's a pleasure to learn little tidbits about the "dishy" Hathaway throughout the series. I've seen Fox in several other things, and I like his range. He's not just a good guy; he can play a marvelous bad guy, too.)

The mysteries are first-rate because it took me watching a few times through the series to finally remember whodunit in most of the episodes, but-- as usual-- it's not just the plots that are important to me, the characters have to be just right.

Lewis has a strong supporting cast, like Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). She's the perfect blend of knowledge, dedication, tenacity, and humor-- and she plays well against Lewis and Hathaway. She even gets a share of the spotlight from time to time. 


I also like Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front). Like Hobson, Innocent can more than hold her own against the two male leads. Innocent (wonderful name for a copper!) can be quite helpful when need be, and her sometimes caustic wit makes me laugh.

One of the things I often wonder when watching Hobson and Innocent is... how would Morse have reacted to having two women in such positions of authority?

Stories, music, cinematography, actors... as far as I'm concerned, Lewis has it all. Perhaps that's why it's one of the very few television series that I'm happy to watch again and again.

How many of you have watched this series? How many of you have watched Inspector Morse? Which do you prefer?  Questions, questions-- I must be watching a mystery!