Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Death Among the Doilies by Mollie Cox Bryan

First Line: Did Jane just say "police station?"

After too many years being a counselor at a women's shelter, blogger Cora Chevalier has come to Indigo Gap, North Carolina to reinvent herself. Pouring her talents and most of her savings into a craft retreat business has been a dream of hers, and she's looking forward to sharing that dream with her best friend (and resident potter) Jane Starr.

It's been a whirlwind of turning her old Victorian mansion into a crafter's paradise, booking people into her first retreat, and babysitting Jane's young daughter, so Cora doesn't have time to listen to the rumors that are spreading about the murder of the local school librarian. She doesn't... until Jane's fingerprints are found at the crime scene. With the behavior of townspeople turning ugly, Cora knows she's not only going to have to save Jane but her own reputation and her brand-new business as well.

I always pick up a book expecting it to be good, but I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by just how good Death Among the Doilies is. Mollie Cox Bryan has created a strong small town setting, given the hero of her tale a wonderful old Victorian mansion to live and work in, and then peopled it with a cast of very interesting characters. Having a good mystery to solve is icing on the cake.

The main character, Cora Chevalier, is a woman that I quickly grew to like. She's a bit of an old soul, sounding as though she's in her late forties when she's actually only thirty-two. Cora has seen much too much of the ugly side of life in that women's shelter, but this is her first experience at being a business owner, and she does make some rookie mistakes.

It's those rookie mistakes that added a great deal of interest to the story for me. I learned more about craft retreats, especially the security aspect, vetting instructors, and how to deal with caterers. It's amazing how details like this can add so much texture to a book. However, if I'm waxing so poetic over the craft retreat angle that you're beginning to think that there's not enough mystery, think again. There's plenty of that. In fact, Bryan's combination of mystery, setting, and character make Death Among the Doilies one of the strongest cozy debuts I've read this year. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Death Among the Doilies by Mollie Cox Bryan
eISBN: 9781496704658
Kensington Books © 2016
eBook, 320 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Cora Crafts mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley 


Monday, August 29, 2016

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

First Line: I didn't know much about the little town of Cranbourne on The Swale in northeastern Kent, only that its abbey had been destroyed by a very angry Henry VIII when the abbot of the day refused to take the King's side in certain matters.

While in Kent visiting a soldier she'd nursed in France, Bess Crawford learns about the suspicion and rumors surrounding the explosion at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill, which killed over one hundred local men. Philip Ashton is arrested and jailed, but Bess doesn't see any lessening of hostilities toward the family. In fact, it's getting worse. Someone has a personal stake in ruining the entire Ashton family, and Bess is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery-- even  when it involves tracking down the only known witness to the explosion. The witness is now at the front in France, and in trying to get him back to England alive to testify, Bess is going to have to put her own life on the line.

Bess Crawford is a very good nurse who always seems to have the devil's own luck in getting assigned to transport wounded men back to England so she can then go haring around the countryside to solve mysteries. Since A Pattern of Lies is one of the best books in this series, I don't mind a bit. 

There is a great deal of suspense and lots of suspects in this mystery, but if you follow the tiny, carefully planted clues the writing team known as Charles Todd gives us, you will come to the solution before you're formally told. That didn't bother me much either. Why? Because the authors do a splendid job of showing us how easily people are deceived by lies, and to what lengths they'll go when they're determined to believe those lies. Not that that would have any connotations to the present day.... This entire scenario that Bess innocently wanders into fascinated me, and I was as equally interested in finding out what would be done to the Ashtons next as I was in identifying the person responsible for it all.

If you're in the mood for something similar to Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries, something with a solid historical background and a strong central character, I suggest that you become acquainted with Bess Crawford. I've enjoyed my journey with Bess, and I think you will, too. In this book, World War I is almost at an end, and I'm very interested in seeing what Sister Crawford does next.

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
eISBN: 9780062386267
HarperCollins © 2015
eBook, 325 pages

Historical Mystery, #7 Bess Crawford mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Daisy's Fountain, Redux

When I first showed off Daisy's Fountain, I admitted that the presentation was a bit stark but other solar goodies were on the way. Many of you said that you wanted to see the completed project, so here I am with photos. I'm not going to say much other than a warning not to miss Rusty the Roadrunner in the daylight photo at the beginning.  Also, just click on any photo and a new window will automatically open so you can view them all full size. (You'll probably have to if you want to see Rusty!)

Here you go! 

Where I sit to watch the evening light show.

Can't see the faded chair cushion at night!

Nice place to sit and listen to the water and watch the lights change color. I really enjoy it!


Friday, August 26, 2016

The Pretty in Pink Weekly Link Round-Up

It's almost as if the weather has been apologizing for mudding me out of the pool for a week. We've had storms almost nightly for the past seven days, but if it rains, it does so at about 3 AM and doesn't make much fuss. A few gusts of wind, a couple of bolts of lightning, a little rumbling, and some rain. More like how monsoon season used to be before we turned the area into a sweltering heat island.

I think I'll leave you with a pretty before heading out to the corral to round up all the links. They're getting restless!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • New spider species have been named for Canadian authors Michael Ondaatje and Shyam Selvadurai. 
  • This mama bear knew just what to do when her cubs tumbled over a waterfall. 
  • A koala bear broke into a woman's home to try out... pole dancing? 
  • When it comes to West Nile Virus, Atlanta's cardinals may be our feathered saviors. 
  • Fourteen fun facts about dragonflies.

►Fascinating Folk◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Let's visit Farley's Bookshop in New Hope, Pennsylvania. 
  • Writer Amanda Brooks takes us inside her English country home. (Don't miss the library!) 
  • Why the Grand Canyon's new distinction is life-changing for stargazers. 
  • The world's oldest hotel has been run by the same family for more than 1,300 years. 

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to join me 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, August 25, 2016

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

First Line: "You frighten me," the Gypsy said.

No, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce didn't have a good experience having her fortune told in the gypsy's tent, but you could say that the woman didn't either since Flavia finds her bludgeoned body later in the victim's own caravan.

There are those who say the woman's death was retribution because they are convinced she was responsible for a child abduction years before. Now Flavia understands all about retribution due to the endless cycle of it on which she and her two older sisters exist. What she doesn't understand is how the two crimes-- one old and one new-- can actually tie together. And when Flavia de Luce doesn't understand something, she won't rest until she conducts a thorough investigation.

In this third book in the series, her family's poverty finally hits home to Flavia. In fact there's more family background altogether, especially for her mother and father, which cleared up some questions I'd had. Amidst all the gypsies, curses, stolen babies, stately home creepers, and the smell of fish is a well-paced, well-plotted mystery certain to delight all fans of this series. 

Another item that I was glad to make note of is that Flavia was mostly absent from that laboratory of hers. You see, no matter how well-paced, well-plotted, and well-written this book and the series are (and they are), this only child just can't warm up to it. The relationship between Flavia and those two torturous older sisters of hers just turns me off. Concocting potions to make her sisters ill, all three of them on a senseless hamster wheel of payback... if I was a child living in that house, I think I'd run away and join the circus.

So... although I can see the good and the charm of it all, I'm going to leave this series to its many fans. Long may it delight each and every one!

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
ISBN: 9780385343466
Bantam Books © 2011
Paperback, 432 pages

Historical Mystery, #3 Flavia de Luce mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dressed to Kilt by Hannah Reed

First Line: "It's like living inside a snow globe," I said to Vicki MacBride over afternoon tea at the kitchen table in my toasty warm cottage.

Well into December, it's less than a month until Eden Elliott's visa expires forcing her return to the United States. She has mixed emotions about it, but she is making plans for her homecoming. Nevertheless, while she's still in the Highlands of Scotland, she's going for the gusto-- which includes a formal whiskey tasting with the local hunk-in-a-kilt, Leith Cameron. The event turns into a disaster when a woman is found drowned in one of the vats in the distillery.

As Special Constable, Eden immediately steps in to help solve the case, but things get sticky when she realizes that the killer could be amongst the branches of her own Scottish family tree.

This tightly plotted mystery introduces readers to something that they should not miss while they are in the Highlands: the whisky distillery. Whisky is big business, and there are tours that will take you from one distillery to another, although there's no need to do that here with one right in the book.

Besides whisky, we also have samples of a truly cringeworthy Ugly American, and the fine art of writing romance novels-- which is why Eden went there in the first place. In order to solve the murder, Eden is forced to delve into her own family history whether she wants to or not, and Inspector Jamieson appears to be relying on her more and more as the series progresses. Which brings me to my sticking point. 

I still can't buy into the idea that a newly-arrived American who's completely unfamiliar with Scottish law would be made a constable in the police force. Yes, it's a tiny village. Yes, she is just a Special Constable... but I just can't buy into it. However, that does not mean I can't recognize well-developed characters and finely crafted mysteries when I see them, and Hannah Reed's Scottish Highlands series is both enjoyable and well-written.

Dressed to Kilt by Hannah Reed
eISBN: 9781101614006
Berkley Prime Crime © 2016
eBook, 300 pages

Cozy Mystery, #3 Scottish Highlands mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Kittling's Literary Tours: Montalbano's Sicily

I will be the first to admit that I'm an inveterate armchair traveler. I've never been able to afford to travel every place that I want to go, so it should be no surprise that I love books in which setting plays an important role. There are several mystery series where their settings could almost be called characters because they are so evocative. I can't help but picture the books' locations in my mind's eye as I read.

Sicily, right at the "toe" of Italy

Recently I finished reading The Age of Doubt, one of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries set in southern Sicily. Camilleri does such a wonderful job of bringing his setting to life. I can envision Montalbano's home on the beach. I can smell the food he loves to eat. As he travels from one crime scene to the next, I can picture the countryside. Shortly after reading The Age of Doubt, I wondered about traveling to Sicily to follow in Montalbano's footsteps. I'd forgotten all about the television series based on the books that is filmed there, so I was momentarily surprised by the number of hits that came up in my search. 

Montalbano's "TV house"
What really made me smile was seeing the house they use as Montalbano's when filming the series. It looks exactly as I'd pictured it in all the books I've read! (For some odd reason, that really makes me want to watch this television series.) Of course the beach has to be right there so Montalbano can go for a swim whenever he likes, and there's plenty of places to sit outside to eat and to watch the sea.

Some of the tours Montalbano fans can sign up for are through Sicilian tour companies (Sicily Life Tours, Sicily Travel Net, Sicily Travel Tours, Sicily Day Tours), and some are through travel agencies in the UK (Expressions, Long Travel, The Thinking Traveller). Montalbano isn't a hit show in the United States, so the only American website I found tours mentioned on was Expedia.

It is a lot of fun to browse through the websites to see what each tour consists of. Some tours are only a few hours. Some take an entire day, and you can also sign up for tours that last from three to four days.  

Most concentrate on the shooting locations for the television series, and since the production company did such a fantastic job in choosing Montalbano's home, it wouldn't bother me one little bit to see the rest of them. However, one company did specify a Montalbano literary tour for those of us who have only read the books. And did I mention that these tours aren't going to let us skip sampling the food? That would be a must for me; I've just read too many scenes of Montalbano enjoying his meals!

Regardless of what you may think of these tours, the money they can funnel into the local economy can be put to great use. For example, the popularity of both Downton Abbey and Outlander have given Highclere Castle and Doune Castle badly needed funds for essential restorations (like a new roof or two). 

Chances are that I will never take one of these tours, but I certainly did enjoy reading about them and looking through all the photos. I hope all you fellow armchair travelers (and Camilleri fans) will, too!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen

First Line: November in London is utterly bloody.

It stinks being thirty-fourth in line to the throne of England. Not just because you're penniless and don't know where your next meal is coming from. Not because you have one of the worst sisters-in-law known to mankind. No, it stinks because when the Queen wants you to jump, pretty much all you can do is smile, curtsey, and ask, "How high?"

This time the Queen wants our hapless Lady Georgiana to represent the royals at a wedding in Transylvania. (Can you hear the wolves howling in the dead of night? So can I.) Once Georgie arrives, it's one weird happening after another. The bride-to-be found with blood running down her chin. One of the wedding guests poisoned. One thing is for certain: it's up to Georgie to save this royal wedding before anyone else dies.

This fourth book in the Royal Spyness series is just as much of a delight as the first three. I can rely on Rhys Bowen to present me with a perfectly rendered setting and make me laugh while I'm learning about the lives of royals in the 1930s. In many ways this is my favorite historical mystery series simply because both author and reader have so darned much fun at their appointed tasks.

In Royal Blood, we have Georgiana in a Dracula-inspired set of a castle in remote Transylvania that's filled with secret stairs, secret cubbyholes, secret rooms-- some which are known and others which seem to have been completely forgotten. Beastly weather. Some absolutely beastly guests. Add to this mix a reluctant Georgie, her new (and untrained) maid Queenie, Mum the Bolter, Belinda the gate crasher, and otherworldly people who seem to be able to climb up and down the sheer walls of the castle, and you have the recipe for a lot of fun.

I've already told you that the setting, humor, and characters all sparkle, but what about the mystery itself? Bowen really had me scratching my head until the identity of the intended victim is made clear, and then the light bulb went off above my head. Did the knowledge of whodunit spoil anything for me? Absolutely not!

Once I'd read the first book in the series (Her Royal Spyness) I was hooked, and I busily gathered up all the rest. It would be very easy for me to gorge on one book after another, but I don't let myself. Of course that rule could be subject to change! If you enjoy light-hearted historical mysteries as much as I do, indulge yourself with the antics of Lady Georgie-- and please start at the very beginning so changing relationships and growing characters will make sense right from the get go.

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen
ISBN: 9780425243749
Berkley Prime Crime © 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, #4 Her Royal Spyness mystery
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap