Friday, February 05, 2016

An Off the Grid Weekly Link Round-Up

Several of you know that Denis and I usually spend a week down in the Bisbee area at the end of January to relax and to celebrate my birthday/our anniversary. This year, it was a bit different. The place where we normally stay has been leased for a year, so our friends who own it asked their neighbors across the canyon to put us up in the house they have for sale. I called this house The Aerie because of one room.

The main living space has a panoramic view of the canyon, the mountains, and the busy Highway 80 that runs through. I could sit in that room during the day, read, and watch a pair of red-tailed hawks as they searched for a meal. I also watched other raptors swoop up to land on the roof-- the perfect place to survey the territory. In the evening, we could watch gorgeous sunsets, and when it became dark, Denis and I would watch DVDs. I would knit, watch headlights travel up and down the highway and make up little stories about their destinations. Later on, I would watch a full moon rise over the mountains.

Why "off the grid"? The place had no phone (landline or cell service), no internet, no television. None. While we were in the house, we subsisted on old movies, books, and conversation. It was nice. Very nice. Almost idyllic.

But now those links are threatening to break out of the corral. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Book Candy◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Nellie Bly's record-breaking trip around the world was, to her surprise, a race. 
  • Herman Wouk says he's a "happy gent" at age 100.

►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!


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Are You Sharing Your Love?

The Marsh Madness by Victoria Abbott

First Line: Be careful what you wish for, as they say.

When the heir to the Kauffman fortune offers his fine collection of first edition Ngaio Marsh mysteries at a very good price, Jordan Bingham and her employer, the inimitable Vera Van Alst, can't believe their luck. Jordan dresses in her best vintage fashions in order to join Vera and Chadwick Kauffman at Kauffman's fabled estate, Summerlea, to hand over the money and finalize the sale of the books.

The next day Jordan and Vera are flabbergasted when they learn that Kauffman is dead-- found at the foot of the grand staircase at Summerlea. When Jordan sees that the photo in the paper is of a different man, it becomes crystal clear that they are the victims of a scam-- and being framed for murder. (Even Jordan's Uncle Kevin!) Jordan is going to have to use all her street smarts-- and every tip Marsh's fictional Roderick Alleyn can give her-- to keep them out of prison.

I've been a fan of Victoria Abbott's Book Collector series since the first, The Christie Curse, but in this fourth installment the series has come into its own in glorious style. All the elements mesh together perfectly. The humor is often laugh-out-loud funny, and the plot is a knockout. At first I couldn't believe that Jordan and Vera could be so naive about their Marsh windfall, but when I was proved right, the story immediately kicked into another gear that took me straight to the realm of "What in the world is going on?!?" 

The characters are a delight. Jordan, with her love of vintage fashion, Signora Pantone's cooking, her job, and her family's background in the shadier side of commerce. Jordan's Uncle Kevin, who's a one-man disaster area waiting to touch down. Vera's got the curmudgeon-with-tunnel-vision down to a fine art. Friends like Cherie and Lance know just how and when to lend a helping hand. And you can always count on Signora Panetone to make sure you won't faint from hunger. Even the animals in the book-- Walter the pug, Good Cat, and Bad Cat-- have their own wonderful DeMille-like closeups. Detectives Castellano and Stoddard are the only blights on The Marsh Madness's landscape, but even they did their jobs well, since they really made me fear for Jordan.

I could rave about this book for quite some time, but I won't. Instead I'll end with an added bonus this series has given me: the incentive to read books written by the Golden Age authors it has covered. Since I've been avoiding the aforementioned authors for years, that's quite some added bonus. I can't wait to see where this series takes me next.

The Marsh Madness by Victoria Abbott
ISBN: 9780425280348
Berkley Prime Crime © 2015
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #4 Book Collector mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Rolling Thunder by Chris Grabenstein

First Line: The day starts like so many others with John Ceepak: We bust an eight-year-old girl for wearing high heels.

It's time for the grand opening run of Rolling Thunder, a huge wooden roller coaster on the boardwalk in Sea Haven, New Jersey. Police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle are checking out the people standing in line, weeding out those who are trying to cheat the height requirement when Rolling Thunder begins its maiden run, loaded with VIPs. The roller coaster comes to a screeching halt when the owner's wife has a heart attack.

Mrs. O'Malley's death is labeled a tragic accident until suspicions of foul play begin to rise, and when a local beauty's corpse is found, Ceepak and Boyle find themselves searching for a murderer.

If you like wonderful characters, action sequences that can curl your hair, and a delicious sense of humor, you can't go wrong with Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak and Boyle mystery series. Ceepak is the straight arrow, "an ex-military man who looks like he could still jump out of a helicopter with a Humvee strapped to his back." Young Danny Boyle looks up to him as a father figure, and he's the older man's Watson-like sidekick who takes us through their investigations. Danny has been learning and taking on more responsibility with each book, and it's a pleasure to watch him grow. Even Ceepak the Magnificent is slowly being revealed-- mostly through the presence of his no-good father, Joe. Once you learn about Joe, you know why straight-and-narrow Ceepak doesn't contradict people when they denigrate their parents.

Grabenstein is an expert with his fast-paced stories, and Rolling Thunder is no exception. The problem in this installment is the O'Malley clan. Most of the O'Malleys are unpleasant (starting with the father), most of them have a motive for committing the crimes, but it takes time for Ceepak and Boyle to work their way through them-- and that clock is ticking away precious minutes.

New Jersey seems to have its own special breed of mystery writers with a wonderful sense of humor. Chris Grabenstein, Brad Parks, and Jeffrey Cohen immediately spring to mind. Whenever I need a break from the psychologically dark crime fiction that I read, I know I can journey to Sea Haven to experience a fun and exciting investigation with two of my favorite policemen: John Ceepak and Danny Boyle.

Rolling Thunder by Chris Grabenstein
eISBN: 9781453249215
Pegasus Books © 2012
eBook, 294 pages

Police Procedural/Humorous Mystery, #6 Ceepak and Boyle mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Dark Places by Reavis Z. Wortham

First Line: The oil road stretching into the darkness made me feel queasy, giving me a sense that I'd been there before.

No matter how much the Parker family would love to have the world leave their home of Center Springs, Texas alone, it refuses. 1967 is winding down. Fourteen-year-old Top and his cousin Pepper are still finding it difficult to forget violent events of the past. Young Pepper has bought completely into all the peace and love of the Flower Children, and she decides to join them in California-- little knowing what's in store for her. Then a local farmer is killed in a hit-and-run on the same night as two businessmen are kidnapped and murdered.  

Constable Ned Parker thinks these two crimes may be connected, but he leaves the investigation in the hands of Sheriff Cody Parker. Instead Ned heads off in search of Pepper. Cody has hired a new deputy, Anna Sloan, who proves invaluable in their two investigations. And in the mean time, Pepper is out on Route 66, making her way to California in the midst of lies, deception, and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

In the fifth excellent installment of Wortham's historical mystery series, it's the characters, sizzling action sequences, and tiny details that immerse you in the story from first page to last. With Ned out on the road looking for Pepper, other characters back home in Center Springs have to step up to the plate, and they do so in fine style. I was particularly impressed with Deputy Anna Sloan, a dedicated woman in a man's world who has a good eye for the telling detail. I look forward to seeing more of her. 

With a runaway child and two cases involving suspicious deaths, there's a lot going on in Dark Places, but it never once gets confusing. Tiny little details catch the reader's eye as the story progresses... a patch of grass, a cat's behavior, insignia on jackets... but the characters bind everything together. There's a very well-disguised cold-blooded killer to be found, as well as a helpful young man who isn't exactly what he appears to be. When your nerves get frazzled over the danger Pepper's put herself into, you get to see Top back in Center Springs, disgusted that he's the only one who has to stay at home while everyone else is taking trips. Top does get to play a part in solving a crime or two from something that he reads, and that just serves to reinforce something I read recently in another mystery: No reading is ever wasted.

From rebellious teenagers to born killers to determined grandmothers to an old woman named Betty singing "O Holy Night," Reavis Wortham has taken us all on another period perfect excursion into the past that proves the strength of family and the need to do what's right, whatever the cost. This is one of my favorite series, and I'd no more miss an installment of it than I'd stop reading. I hope you join me in enjoying these books. It's best to start at the beginning-- The Rock Hole-- because Wortham's wonderful cast of characters grow and change. You won't want to miss a bit of that, I guarantee.

Dark Places by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 9781464204241
Poisoned Pen Press © 2015
Paperback, 370 pages

Historical Mystery, #5 Red River mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

While Miz Kittling Knits: The Brokenwood Mysteries

With the sound of rain outside my window, I thought now would be a good time to tell you about more of my knitting and watching crime programs on television. It's a much better thing to do than wish we had an electronic gate on our driveway so Denis won't drown when he comes home. (Or get blown away. It's windy out there, too!)

Taking up knitting again after a few decades has complicated something for me. Now I have to plan which books and which knitting project(s) come along with me when Denis and I go on vacation.

Since our recent road trip down to Bisbee meant that we weren't traveling by air, I could take my entire knitting basket along, and it looked right at home by my chair. (We won't discuss the thirty new skeins of yarn that came home with us....)

I've surprised myself. I'm the type of person who's never liked too much folderol. No yards of ruffles and lace for me! Then why have I become fascinated with knitting lace? It doesn't make sense, but I'm doing it and it's all because I found some yarn that I fell in love with. It's Michaels' Loops and Threads Payette yarn in a color called "Mirror." It's a fine weight black yarn with multi-colored metallic threads and sequins. To me, it looks as though a fisherman cast his net across the night sky and brought in a gorgeous catch of stars. It's also difficult to photograph in such a way that you can see what I mean!

It's probably best if you click on the photo so you can see it full size. Even though it doesn't do the yarn justice you'll still be able to see more detail.

The pattern that I'm using is free, and it's called "Little Leaves Lace Wrap." I've learned a lesson or two about these free patterns you can find online: it's not unusual for them to contain mistakes. When you're not yet adept at knitting, you can't always figure out how to correct the mistakes you find. In this instance, I had to rip the thing down four or five times before I finally found the proper needle size to use. Since I'm not known for my patience, this says a lot about how much I love this yarn!

This wrap is quite stretchy and can be used either as a shawl or as a scarf. The only way I could even try to show you the pattern is by putting part of it on my blocking boards to stretch it out to its proper size. By doing this, I learned another lesson: I'm going to have to be very careful when I'm actually blocking the whole thing. It's going to be tricky, but I'm certainly enjoying working on it-- even though I don't have a clue as to whom I will be giving it to!

And what have I been watching while knitting my lace?  It's another program on Acorn TV which advertises itself as showing "the best in British television." You can sign up for a free month if you're interested in this gold mine. (I'm just a very happy customer and not affiliated with the company in any way.) 

I happened across The Brokenwood Mysteries, and when I found out that the series is filmed in New Zealand, I had to take a look. 

In the photo to the right, the man in the suit and tie standing by the white board is Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd, who's been assigned to small-town Brokenwood. He's divorced and takes a lot of good-natured ribbing from his second-in-command Kristin Sims (the blonde in the photo above) about his love for his ancient (er...make that "classic") car and his passion for country music. Constable Breen (the young man sitting at the desk) and a young Maori named Jared round out the cast of regular characters.

What grabbed me from the start (besides the character of Shepherd) are the stories. There's some very good writing here. Normally I can easily figure out whodunit within a matter of minutes, but not with this series, and you know I have to love that. Watching the way Shepherd solves crimes is a treat, too.

There's some humor, some sadness, and I'm gradually becoming used to hearing Kiwi accents, which were a bit jarring after all the English, Scottish, and Irish ones I've listened to for years.  I will admit to being a bit disappointed with the lack of actually being able to see New Zealand in the first series, but the second rectified that in short order. 

So far, there are two seasons of The Brokenwood Mysteries available on Acorn TV, and I hope there are more. If you get a chance to watch this series, I hope you will. I think you'll like it.

Are there any of you out there who've seen this series? What did you think of it? Inquiring minds would love to know! 


Friday, January 29, 2016

The One-Armed Paperhanger Weekly Link Round-Up

You know...sometimes there's just not much going on that's interesting enough to talk about, and that's the case here at Casa Kittling. I don't think you want a blow-by-blow of my cleaning, sorting, and reorganizing, and the fact that I've been seeing birds gathering nesting material isn't enough to gab about at length, so...

I hear those links getting restless out in the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • What will libraries be like in 2100?
  • Two novelists receive Oscar nominations. 
  • Germans still prefer a good book to Netflix and Spotify. 
  • When Val McDermid was here in Scottsdale, I didn't realize that she'd just been burgled! 
  • Researchers are developing a revolutionary Braille tablet for the blind. 
  • Alan Rickman in one of the best films about grief. 
  • This library is purging user records to protect your privacy. 
  • Egypt is launching a massive digital library. 
  • The gap between Star Trek Beyond and the other films, according to Karl Urban. 
  • Penguin has ditched the degree requirement for their job applicants. 
  • A new CBS television series will have an actress of color play a grown-up version of the teenage sleuth Nancy Drew.
  • Amazon is shutting down Shelfari

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Outstanding Roman relics have been discovered along the side of the A1 roadway in Yorkshire, England. (All those times Denis and I have been on that road and didn't know what we were driving past!)  
  • A team of archaeologists in Honduras has unearthed ceramics at the "White City" site. 
  • There are several small islands around New York City, and some of them were once for undesirables-- like Roosevelt Island. 
  • A fascinating look at the forgotten Art Deco artifacts of the New Yorker Hotel
  • The earliest evidence of violent human conflict has been discovered.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • 18 squirrels become supermodels in a man's backyard. 

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • The German teens who rebelled against Hitler.  
  • You just can't make this stuff up: A woman accidentally joins a search party looking for herself.
  • Raoul Wallenberg's biographer has uncovered important clues to what happened in his final days. 

►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, January 28, 2016

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham

First Line: Rain.

Fiona Griffiths has been tasked with two things: passing her sergeant's exam with flying colors and logging evidence to help fill in for someone on medical leave. She couldn't be less concerned about her exam, and the monotony of evidence tracking is driving her around the bend. In desperation, she goes to her boss and is given a big stack of cold cases-- anything to keep her quiet.

But as Fiona goes through those cold case files, she begins to piece the tiniest of clues together. A marine engineer found hanged in a locked apartment. A security guard found dead at the base of a cliff in Wales. Artwork that's stolen and then mysteriously returned. What connects the three? Only Fiona believes they are connected, and in her usual inimitable style goes about piecing the facts together to prove that she's right. Her investigating is going to bring her right into the heart of darkness, and her journey is going to be the ultimate test of her mental toughness.

Whenever I see those "all-time favorite" book lists, I avoid them like the plague. I just don't feel like putting all the books that have touched me deeply into an organized and rated row. (Yes, it is a lot like asking a mother to name her favorite child.) However, if someone asked me to name the best mystery series being written today, without hesitation I would say Harry Bingham's Fiona Griffiths. To date, there are four books, and I have given all four the highest possible rating. I can't say that about any other author I've read.

Yes, the setting of Wales adds texture and richness to the books. Yes, the mysteries are some of the most intriguing you'll ever come across. Yes, the pacing draws you inevitably forward, faster and faster. You have to know what happens, and you have to know now. But the best and brightest thing about Harry Bingham's superb series is the main character, Fiona Griffths.

At one time Fiona suffered from Cotard's syndrome, a rare mental illness in which an afflicted person holds the delusion that they are dead, either figuratively or literally. Fiona is one of the brightest people you'll ever run across, but Cotard's syndrome has colored every aspect of her life, and most especially in the way she interacts with other people. As can be seen in This Thing of Darkness, Fiona now has two superior officers who--though they may not really understand her-- can see her almost limitless potential as an investigator. To the best of their ability, they are now trying to groom her for bigger and better things. Will Fiona cooperate? Your guess is as good as mine.

I will warn you that this book does contain scenes of torture, and they do involve Fiona. They are tough to deal with but not impossible because we see these scenes through Fiona's eyes... those eyes that do not see the world as we do. There are also scenes of humor that bring needed warmth and laughter to the book, as when Fiona and Inspector Watkins conduct an interview together.

As different as Fiona is, she can also be very familiar. When she says, "Just when I see a barrier saying Do Not Cross, I have an almost overwhelming impulse to cross it," I understand because I've felt the same way many times.

Harry Bingham is the first writer who's been able to write scenes that take place on board ship that made me seasick, so be forewarned. He also made me nervous about a purchase Fiona made-- an uneasy foreshadowing of what's to come in book five, The Dead House? Unfortunately I'll just have to wait and see.

If you haven't read any of the books in this series, I urge you to do so, and you need to start with the very first book, Talking to the Dead.  If you do that, Fiona will make sense-- and then you will be as hopelessly hooked as I am. Fiona Griffiths is as wild and wonderful in her own way as Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander is in hers. I can't recommend Fiona-- or this entire series-- highly enough.

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham
eISBN: 2940152156331
Sheep Street Books © 2015
eBook, 576 pages

Police Procedural, #4 Fiona Griffiths mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.