Friday, April 18, 2014

The Wish Me Luck Weekly Link Round-Up



From the title of this post you probably think I'm off on a long journey, or I've entered some sort of contest, but that's not the case. Have you ever heard of spine poetry-- poems formed from the titles on the spines of books? Well, it's been intriguing me for years, and since this is National Poetry Month, I thought I might give it a try. As usual, I tend to put more parameters on myself like:
(1) crime fiction titles only and (2) poems in the form of haiku, which is the only sort of poetry I've ever been able to write. Now you see what I mean about wishing me luck!

But first I'm going to do something much easier-- round up some links!


Books, Movies & Other Tidbits

    My Indiana Jones Segment
    You know... a little natural history, a little architecture, a little archaeology...
    • A tiny Minnesota museum's canoe just happens to be a 1,000-year-old historic find.
    • A near-complete T. Rex skeleton has arrived at the Smithsonian.
    • A fascinating look backstage at Versailles: a handyman's tour of the palace.
    • Archaeologists have found things that suggest Rome is a century older than everyone thought.
    • Another story that proves everything on this planet is interconnected: the power of poop. (No, that's not a typo.)
    • Drone images have revealed a buried ancient village in New Mexico.
    • Experts in Serbia are using heavy machinery to move a mammoth.
    • The dinosaur-killing asteroid impact has been dwarfed by an earlier space rock crash.

    I  ♥  Lists

    That's all, folks! Don't forget to stop by next week when I'll have a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!



    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree by Shamini Flint


    First Line: My feet sink into the mud as if it is quicksand.

    Inspector Singh's superiors have sent him to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as an observer to the international war crimes tribunal. As far as he's concerned, he'd much rather be home in Singapore. Then a key witness at the tribunal is murdered, and Colonel Menhay of the Cambodian Police asks Singh to be assigned to the investigation. It doesn't take long for the portly inspector to realize that the roots of this homicide reach all the way back to the horrors of the Cambodian killing fields.

    I have enjoyed each book in this series for the character of Inspector Singh and for the depiction of areas in Southeast Asia that I probably will never see. A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree contains what I've learned to love about Shamini Flint's writing and then proceeds to take it to an even higher level.

    It was Singh's life mission to tramp after the murderers in his snowy white sneakers, following the evidence and his instincts, ignoring the advice and warnings of his superiors, stopping only for regular meals, cold beer and the  odd afternoon nap, until he had ensured some justice for the dead.

    Inspector Singh is his usual irascible self-- a man who loves his work, a man who appreciates time away from his ill-tempered wife, a man who manages to put up with his superior officers. In the eyes of those "superiors," policing is all about appearances, and the turbaned, overweight, chain-smoking, white sneaker-wearing inspector just does not fit their idea of what the police force in Singapore should look like. The only reason they don't get rid of him is because his success rate is so high. So they let him solve murders and hope as many of them as possible occur somewhere far away.

    He remained a policeman under sufferance, his bosses always looking for an excuse to get rid of him. He suspected that deep down they feared someone whom they could not control, who valued a victim's right to justice more than the rules and regulations of the Force.

    Part of the delight of reading these books is in seeing how Singh can circumvent the rules and regulations his superiors are trying to impose. He doesn't take shortcuts in interviewing witnesses or suspects, or in collecting evidence. He's just learned the best ways to avoid all those silly "for appearance's sake" rules.

    What brings this book to an even higher level is its setting. Shamini Flint brings Cambodia's tragic history into sharp focus without being graphic about it. In imposing a radical form of agrarian socialism on his people, Pol Pot, his policies, and his henchmen were responsible for the murder of 25% (at least two million) of his country's people. Cambodians could be killed for wearing glasses or for being seen reading a book or for speaking a foreign language. By having Singh bear witness to the testimonies of those who survived at this international war tribunal, readers experience a tiny bit of the horror of the killing fields.

    Once he's an official part of the murder investigation and helping Colonel Menhay, Inspector Singh learns that vengeance runs deep in Cambodian society. There are several suspects for this murder, but the truly mind-boggling part is in putting facts and supposition together in order to discover the true identity of each suspect, each person's motivation, and-- since the body count does rise-- exactly which suspect is responsible for the death of each victim. And always in the background is the serial killer who roams the countryside murdering former members of the Khmer Rouge.

    If the phone had rung or if someone had knocked on the door while I was reading A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree, I would have ignored them. I was totally engrossed in this story, and I had to see how Singh and Menhay solved the case. In the end, I learned that my involvement led to my ignoring Flint's subtly planted clues. The identity of one of the murderers shocked me-- and that was the icing on the cake. One of my favorite characters, an emotionally charged setting which both taught and entertained, and a truly puzzling case.  I highly recommend this book-- and the entire series.

    A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree by Shamini Flint
    ISBN:  9780749953478
    Piatkus Books © 2011
    Paperback, 320 pages

    Police Procedural, #4 Inspector Singh mystery
    Rating: A
    Source: the author 


    Buried in Bargains by Josie Belle


    First Line: "Mom, you need to get a grip," Laura Gerber said to her mother as they trudged up the sidewalk through the center of St. Stanley, Virginia.

    It's My Sister's Closet's first holiday season, and the Good Buy Girls are hunting for cheap (yet stylish) wrapping paper so thrift store owner and head GBG member Maggie Gerber can offer free gift wrap. It should be a time of good cheer, but pregnant Good Buy Girl Joanne Claramotta is acting more like Ebenezer. There's more than hormone surges at work here. Her husband has hired a pretty young thing to work at their deli, and Joanne just can't fight the feeling that Michael's eye has strayed from her whale-like figure to the svelte Diane Jenkins.

    Calming her down is going to prove all but impossible when Maggie finds Michael unconscious on the deli floor... with the strangled body of Diane not far away. Soon Maggie needs to be calmed down as well because Diane was a woman with no paper trail and no past. She's afraid that when Michael's secrets come to light, the holidays may be ruined for them all.

    I've come to the conclusion that one of the reasons why I enjoy Josie Belle's Good Buy Girls mysteries so much is that, by reading them, I experience something I've never had: the close friendship and emotional support of a group of women. These books almost make me want to start wearing nail polish and looking for bargains on shoes. Almost. (Sorry, Jenn, but I never was and never will be a girly girl.) This time around, Maggie and her friends are still dealing with the dangerous diva, Summer Phillips, but the emphasis is less on bargains and cat fights, and more on family, relationships, and a first-rate mystery.

    Another thing that I love about this series is that no character is really left behind. When a long-married couple splits in one book, they don't disappear; we get to see how they deal with living apart. When these amateur sleuths help a dead woman's daughter, the next book shows us how she is coping-- and how she is able to move on with her life. This is definitely a series about family and about friends, and while a killer is being hunted, Buried in Bargains really delivers. A word of warning: when reading about the fancy dress Christmas ball, please have tissues on hand. You will need them. It's one of the very best cry-for-happy scenes I've read in a long, long time. I also have to admit that finally getting a chance to see Maggie's daughter was a bonus-- as well as watching further progress in the relationship between Maggie and Sheriff Sam Collins.

    If you love feeling invested in the crime fiction you read, get hold of the Good Buy Girls series. The whodunit aspects are good, and the cast of characters is so strong that you'll wish you could move to St. Stanley, Virginia, to become a part of such a loving, supportive group. Buried in Bargains is the best of the bunch so far. It can be read as a standalone since the author does provide enough backstory for you to get a feel for the characters, but I'd advise that you read 'em all. Why deny yourself the pleasure?

    Bring on the next one-- I have my coupons ready!


    Buried in Bargains by Josie Belle (AKA Jenn McKinlay)
    ISBN: 9780425252307
    Berkley Prime Crime © 2013
    Mass Market Paperback, 272 pages

    Cozy Mystery, #3 Good Buy Girls mystery
    Rating: A-
    Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 


    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles


    First Line: The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass.

    Deadwood, South Dakota, always seems to be a place of mixed blessings for single mother Violet Parker, especially when she has all the planning and organizational skills of Stephanie Plum. At the end of her financial rope, she's moved her young twins to the small town so they all can live with her aunt while she tries being a realtor. She's not had much luck with that either, and if she hasn't sold a house in the next three weeks, she can kiss this job good-bye. Just when an owner chooses her to sell his grand old Victorian house, Violet learns of something that she just can't ignore: three little girls have gone missing in Deadwood in the past year, and she's afraid her daughter may be next. Is there any possible way she can sell a house and keep her daughter safe at the same time?

    I have an affinity for old mining towns, and the word "Deadwood" was the first thing to catch my eye about this book. Old mining towns have history; they have character; and they're often good places to set a story. I found that to be true here. Deadwood also has casinos, so there will be an ever-changing mix of familiar faces and strangers just drifting through to play the slots and to avoid a hand of aces and eights at the poker table. Charles did a first-rate job of highlighting Deadwood's quirky ambiance.

    Ann Charles' voice and her sense of humor are the two things about this book that I absolutely loved. I lost count of the number of times she had me laughing as I turned the pages-- even when Violet's twins were up to some hare-brained scheme. (She's really going to be in trouble when these two become teenagers.)

    As far as characters go, Violet is 95% of the show, and although she had me won over from the first line, I would've liked to see other characters-- like her aunt-- featured a bit more. One of the characters at Calamity Jane Realty, however, highlight one of the unrealistic parts of the story. One of the realtors is a smarmy buzzard who wants Violet to fail so he can practice a bit of nepotism. His constant stream of sexual innuendo makes me wonder what cave he was hiding in when all the emphasis against sexual harassment in the workplace was being explained. Not only that, but Violet puts up with it, so there's something wrong with her, too.

    It also seems as though Violet's the target of every man's salacious thoughts there in Deadwood, and if you enjoy romance in your mysteries, you're going to find plenty of it here, with handsome men both wanting to sell and buy houses from her-- and to keep Violet entertained in other ways. A word of warning: the amount of detail in a romantic encounter goes well above what is usually found in the typical cozy. It's not graphic, but be aware just in case you need to turn on a fan as you read that chapter.

    I did find this book to have a slow-moving start, and I really don't think a small town would be quite so blasé about three missing girls as Deadwood residents appeared to be. There's also a tiny bit of the paranormal added at the end that really wasn't necessary; Violet's confrontation with the killer was chilling and well-written to begin with.

    I'm finding several things to be picky about, aren't I? Yes, there are some problems with Nearly Departed in Deadwood, but the writing style and the humor were so enjoyable that I was willing to overlook a few details. I'm also more than willing to go to Deadwood and visit with Violet again. Let's face it: I love old mining towns, and I love to laugh.


    Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles
    ISBN: 9780983256809
    Corvallis Press © 2011
    eBook, 352 pages

    Humorous Mystery, #1 Deadwood mystery
    Rating: B-
    Source: Purchased as an eBook from Amazon.


    Monday, April 14, 2014

    The Knitting Test




    You Are Curious

     


    You are a reserved, more introverted type, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You are truly interested in other people. You like to observe others and see how they tick.

    You enjoy being out and about a bit, but you truly shine when you are able to have your solitary time. You are a natural creator, and you give every project your all. You love to get lost in your work. 


     



    @ The Poisoned Pen with Cara Black, Libby Fischer Hellmann & Sophie Littlefield


    On St. Patrick's Day, I found myself donning some green and heading to The Poisoned Pen while my husband slaved away at Sky Harbor Airport. It's always more fun when the two of us go together, but I wasn't about to miss this evening's lineup: Cara Black, author of the Aimée Leduc series set in Paris; Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of two series featuring Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis (as well as three excellent standalones); and Sophie Littlefield, author of the Stella Hardesty series as well as urban fantasy and young adult series. Wow, what a trio!

    For some reason, I couldn't keep my mind on my book, so I watched people browse and buy and then talked books when others began to take their seats.



    "A thriller unfolding..."


    L to R: Cara Black, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Sophie Littlefield

    Bookstore owner Barbara Peters came out to introduce her guests before leaving them in charge, but she couldn't resist talking about the headlines that had been filling the news: the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane. Peters had been following this with some interest and said, "It almost feels like a thriller unfolding, doesn't it?" She then proceeded to wonder why there was an on/off switch on transponders... could the co-pilot have stolen the plane... and the one thing that astounded her the most: the fact that only three countries in the world check passengers' passports against the Interpol watch list. At that point, Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellmann broke in to say, "You know, Barbara, we are flying home tomorrow!" which made everyone in the bookstore break into sympathetic laughter.

    Introduction complete, the three authors (unofficially led by Hellmann) decided to begin by taking turns talking a bit about their books.

    Cara Black
    Cara Black started first. Her private investigator, Aimée Leduc, works in Paris, France, and each book is centered on a different area of the city. Her first book is set in November 1993, and #14 (her latest), Murder in Pigalle, takes place in June 1998.

    She enjoys writing her series. Doing research in Paris is wonderful, and she has the added bonus of having a character who doesn't have to deal with Facebook, Google, or Twitter. When she explained that to a reader who was unfamiliar with her books, the woman exclaimed, "Oh, you write historicals!"

    Cara then went on to talk about Pigalle, the area of Paris in which her latest book is set. It's an area known for its artists-- François Truffaut lived in Pigalle while making the film The 400 Blows, and composer Georges Bizet wrote Carmen while living there. Just two of many examples!

    Libby Fischer Hellmann
    Libby told us that her first two published series are both set in Chicago, where she lives. Ellie Foreman, a divorced mother who makes video documentaries, is an open and sharing character, while ex-cop private investigator Georgia Davis is much more reserved.

    "I was a history major in college," Libby told us. "I like writing about extreme conflicts peopled with ordinary characters." Her latest three books are standalones that she refers to as the Revolution Trilogy. The first, Set the Night on Fire, is set in Chicago in the late 1960s. The second, A Bitter Veil, is set in Iran when the Shah is deposed. The third, Havana Lost, is set during the Cuban Revolution and has the first female Mafia don in Chicago as a character.

    Sophie Littlefield
    Sophie Littlefield, whose latest book is House of Glass, told us a bit of the history behind her writing. "I've had four different publishers and seven different editors," she said. "I write so broadly-- fifteen books in five different genres-- because I didn't find success right away.

    "My first book was about a fifty-year-old cranky widow that I wrote when I was forty-four. Now I'm a fifty-year-old cranky divorcée. I didn't kill my husband, but I did get rid of him!

    "I like to focus on families trying to figure out what they're going to do in extraordinary circumstances. While Barbara was talking about the Malaysia Airlines plane, I was sitting here thinking about the passengers."

    House of Glass is based on a real-life Connecticut home invasion that disturbed Littlefield deeply. Her editor told her to deal with her emotions by writing about it and giving the family the chance for a different outcome. "I now feel really comfortable writing standalone family-based thrillers," Sophie said.


    Questions, Questions, Questions...


    After those brief introductions, the three women began asking each other questions.

    Libby: While we're jumping all over the place, I want to know how you keep Aimée fresh?

    Available Now!
    Cara: I read Deborah Crombie's books to see how she does it. I love Deborah Crombie's books! (laughing)

    Seriously though, I keep Aimée fresh through things I've written into the backgrounds of her mother, her father, and her godfather. Now Aimée is pregnant. As a character, she's also something of an outsider, since she's half French and half American.

    Libby: We also want to find out if the dog is going to be jealous of the baby! But back to the books-- do you have the arrondissements of Paris in a certain order in your mind? How do you choose the area you're going to write about?

    Cara: I have to consider what sort of crime would be organic in a particular area... what character or flavor does that area have?

    One of the fans in the audience then mentioned her favorite character, Aimée's partner, René, who is a dwarf. 

    Cara: I was a pre-school teacher in another life, and one day I sat in on the interviews for a position we were trying to fill. One of the applicants happened to be a dwarf. She did not get the position, but later on, I happened to walk into a children's art class. I was so impressed by the children-- and that same woman was the teacher. I was ashamed of myself. I'd been looking at her disability instead of her ability. I'm assuaging my guilt through the character of René.

    Black also told us of meeting a French undercover cop and walking with him through the streets of Pigalle. Occasionally he would say things like "See those kids dealing drugs?" or "See those two? They specialize in armed home invasion." It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. 

    Available Now!
    When asked about how she did research when she didn't live in the book's setting or time period, Libby Fischer Hellmann told us about A Bitter Veil, which is set in Iran during the time the Shah was deposed. "This is one of the most documented revolutions in the world. I watched lots of film and read lots of fiction and non-fiction. After five or six weeks I felt I had a handle on it. Iranians here in the United States helped me doublecheck everything.

    "I wanted to dedicate A Bitter Veil to my classmate who inspired me to write the book, but when I tracked her down, she told me that I had it wrong. She had lived through a very similar situation in a predominantly Muslim area in India!"

    For her book, Havana Lost, Hellmann spent two weeks in Cuba. She looked at everyone in the audience and said, "Go now before Fidel dies and America rushes in and McDonaldizes everything! It's a fascinating place and well worth the visit."

    Available Now!
    Sophie Littlefield felt like the odd woman out. "I'm not well-traveled, and I was a rotten student," she admitted. "I wrote nine books before I was published. I'm always leery of setting one of my books in an unfamiliar area. However, my book that's coming out this fall is set in an oil camp, and I did live in one in order to do research."

    There was one final question before the evening wound down to a close. Barbara Peters wanted to know, "Which book are you most proud of?"

    Sophie: My fall book set in North Dakota. I was told that I couldn't do it, and I proved 'em wrong!

    Cara: Murder in Pigalle.

    Libby: Havana Lost.

    Barbara: You've all taken a risk in your writing.

    Sophie: In terms of my life and my writing, I think being fifty is great. I don't see the downside!

    Barbara: I have to agree, Sophie. I opened a bookstore when I was fifty!


    What a privilege to be able to meet these three talented writers. I don't know what I'd do if places like The Poisoned Pen didn't exist!




    Friday, April 11, 2014

    The Go Go Go Weekly Link Round-Up



    Things are still blooming like crazy around here. Adult birds are being driven to the brink of insanity by their nests filled with hungry young. The temperature's gone up, and the evaporative cooler has even been on a time or two. Denis and I have been rounding up estimates for getting the house painted, and we're also looking into restructuring some of our finances so we can get out and travel more. (As Denis says, "You have to show me Yellowstone.") And in the midst of all this, there's been the usual laundry, cooking, cleaning-- and two back-to-back trips to The Poisoned Pen to see Nevada Barr and Anne Perry. Good week, eh? Now that I'm done with my travelogue, I'd better dust off these links and get 'em posted!


    Bookish News & Other Interesting Tidbits
    • The founder of the Waterstones bookstore chain in the UK believes the eBook revolution will soon go into decline. Oookay. I can buy that, but only because I think there will be a new "best gizmo" to use.
    • I've always been fascinated by miniatures, and I've just found some stop action animation that shows an entire kitchen being fitted inside a water bottle.
    • I'm not sure how long this is running, but Soho has a contest in which you can enter to win the entire Junior Bender series written by Timothy Hallinan-- including an advance reading copy of the newest, Herbie's Game. I love this series!
    • I was lucky. I grew up in a village library with my mother, the village librarian. She taught me how to dig around for the sorts of books I like to read, and I've found small presses to be excellent resources for some very tasty reading. Sandra Parshall, an author I've featured here on the blog, recently asked a very good question: Why don't small press books find more readers? Although I don't have a good answer, I'd sure like to change the status quo!
    • Why teaching poetry is so important (and it is).
    • I enjoyed this article about the fantasy coffins of Ghana. If I weren't going to live forever, I might look into getting one. *wink*
    • Bookish recently conducted a Lit Madness Championship, and the final was all about strong female characters.
    • The CIA tried to use Doctor Zhivago to weaken the USSR.
    • Books and compassion, from birth.
    • The absolutely true diary of real-time book censorship.
    • Margaret Thatcher began Britain's obsession with property. Rowan Moore believes it's time to end it. Fascinating look into the British property market.
    • I loved listening to this tour of accents across the British Isles performed in a single, unedited take. Wow.
    • Stephen King on how he wrote Carrie.

    My Indiana Jones Segment...
    • Learn about the woman who lives in the 1930s.
    • Walking wasn't always such a pedestrian art.
    • Many people don't realize that men got together centuries ago to pick and choose what went in the Bible. Scientists have taken a look at the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," and they don't think it's a forgery. Of course, their point of view isn't the only one.
    • A 100-year-old message in a bottle has been plucked from the Baltic Sea.
    • Take a look at the history of the London red phone box.
    • A pharaonic seal has been found in an ancient coffin in Israel.
    • Ever wondered what it was like to be the first person to try out a bullet-proof vest?
    • A weird magnetic anomaly has revealed an ancient tectonic crash.
    • Students in a US university are looking for a suspected Nazi who aided a Jewish family.
    • A baby volcanic island has eaten its older neighbor. I could be a smart aleck and say that it evidently didn't like the diet of plastic bottles and other floating trash that it had been fed....
    • Here's a wonderful time-lapse video of Yosemite that I think you'll enjoy.
    • ... or would you rather explore the secret rooms of St. Paul's Cathedral in London?

    I  ♥  Lists

    What a Pain...

    Whew! Another big week for links, eh? I hope I found one or two that piqued your interest. Don't forget to stop by next week when I'll have a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!

      Thursday, April 10, 2014

      The Dead Don't Dance by John Enright


      First Line: What Apelu liked about walking down the road through To`aga was that nothing much ever changed.

      Following a family tragedy, Detective Apelu Soifua has moved to a very sparsely populated island in Samoa, roughing it on a family plot of land, doing a lot of walking, a lot of brush clearing, and a lot of drinking. He is in self-imposed exile, and has little to do with other humans other than a recluse and a pair of marine biologists based in the National Park of American Samoa.

      Apelu's exile is turned on its ear when a rather hostile team of surveyors arrive on the island and begin ripping through a section of  his family's land. When he does a little checking, he learns that there are plans to build a resort hotel on the beach-- plans that are almost guaranteed to destroy the coral reef and the island's peaceful way of life. When a gruesome murder is committed, Apelu must come back from leave to solve the case officially.

      I can't put it any plainer than this: I love this series, and it just keeps getting better. But I also have to admit that when I began reading The Dead Don't Dance, you could've heard my groan all over town. I don't have that many pet peeves when I read crime fiction, but one of them is my intolerance for drunks. Having this book begin with a self-pitying man trying to drink himself into oblivion filled me with dismay; however, I kept reading on the strength of the two previous books in the Jungle Beat series. I'm so glad I did because The Dead Don't Dance is the best one so far.

      The mystery is a strong one, filled with native legends, strong hints of the supernatural (or is it really?), shady people up to no good, and the environmental impact one resort could have on an entire area.  The mystery alone makes the book good, but there are three more things that make it wonderful.

      Enright is a poet, and it shows when he describes the Samoan landscape and wildlife. The man paints with words.  He has also created an excellent character in Apelu Soifua. In the previous two books, he's mostly seen as a detective with only glimpses into his family life. In The Dead Don't Dance, we see him as an investigator naturally, but we also get to see him as a father spending time with his son. It is a relationship that adds depth and a wide range of emotions-- from humor to heart-stopping fear-- to the story.

      Last but certainly not least is the author's depiction of Samoan culture, family life, language, and myths. It is a culture that is still trying to survive the aftermath of World War II as well as the present-day inroads of greedy, technology-laden American and European lifestyles. I've learned so much about this place and these people from reading his books-- anything from how land ownership is dealt with to how people travel from island to island (and much more). The author's lyrical and factual evocation of Samoa enriches every part of the book it touches. Story, writing style, character, and culture all combine in John Enright's Jungle Beat mysteries to form a series that I just can't recommend highly enough.

      The Dead Don't Dance by John Enright
      ISBN: 9781612185026
      Thomas & Mercer © 2014
      eBook, 252 pages

      Police Procedural, #3 Jungle Beat mystery
      Rating: A+
      Source: Purchased as an eBook from Amazon.