Friday, March 24, 2017

The Fly on the Wall Weekly Link Round-Up

I'm finishing this link round-up a bit earlier than usual. I have a lot of things going on, and I'm trying to be organized. (Will wonders never cease?) Spring cleaning, pruning back shrubs that have gone wild in all the rain we've gotten, blocking completed knitting projects, trips to events at The Poisoned Pen. Then there are the lovely doctor's appointments Denis and I have to keep. At least Denis doesn't have to have a mammogram. Speaking of mammograms, I never understood some of my friends who didn't like to have them done because they were painful. I'm ashamed to say that I thought I had a bunch of wusses for friends. Now I know better, due to a technician who really liked to tighten those plates down. I came this close to telling her that I wasn't going to make a quick getaway so she could let up the pressure!

L to R: Linda Castillo and Brunonia Barry
But that has nothing to do with the "fly on the wall" part of my title. I'm excited because I'm going to a four-author event at The Poisoned Pen tomorrow, and afterward most of the authors and I are going to a nearby restaurant for drinks, nibbles, and chat. I don't care how many authors I talk with, I still get nervous. I'm such a fan girl!

I'd like to thank Jeff, web content manager of The Poisoned Pen, for the photo I'm using this week. It shows two favorite authors of mine, Linda Castillo and Brunonia Barry, chatting in the shipping room of the bookstore. Am I the only one who wants to be a fly on the wall when I see two authors chatting? It's terrible!

To take my mind off my unseemly curiosity, I'm going out to the link corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A whale takes kayakers for an unforgettable ride. 
  • One of these days while Denis and I are in Cochise County, I hope to see this gorgeous jaguar. I don't think this beautiful fellow is too worried about border walls. 
  • There have been never-before-seen gatherings of hundreds of humpback whales.
  • I think I'll give this 134-foot-deep sinkhole in Florida a miss. It's the favorite hangout of dozens of alligators.  

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►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, March 23, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

First Line: I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve.

Three people have been brutally murdered in a remote farming community in the Highlands of Scotland in 1869. Seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae has been arrested, and there is no question that he did commit the murders. But why would such a shy, intelligent boy do something so terrible? And... will he hang?

His Bloody Project is presented as a collection of documents discovered by the author, Graeme Macrae Burnet. Readers begin with statements from the police and the villagers of Culdie in Ross-shire. Impressions of the boy vary wildly, but chief among the papers is Roderick Macrae's own memoirs where he tells readers the series of events that led him to murder. Medical reports, psychological evaluations, and courtroom transcripts from the trial follow.

It's oh-so-easy to forget that you're reading fiction instead of true crime. Beautifully delineated are the lives of the crofters (farmers) who must contend daily with the whims of the landowners, factors, and constables. And young Roddy's life is heartbreaking. His life definitely held a great deal of promise, but it was ruined by poverty and the maliciousness of others.

His Bloody Project unfolds to its inexorable conclusion, allowing readers to absorb the hopelessness of Roderick's life. Nothing is spelled out; readers are allowed to think for themselves every step of the way... and to wonder if the trial's outcome may have been different if events involving Roderick's sister had been allowed to come to light. This certainly isn't cheery reading, but it's a masterful bit of storytelling.

His Bloody Project: Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet
eISBN: 9781510719224
Skyhorse Publishing © 2016
eBook, 300 pages

Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Who Are You?

I find that questions like this can be a lot of fun, providing people actually participate. I'm risking having resounding silence on this post, but what's the old saying... nothing ventured, nothing gained?

Although I could have a lot of fun with one of the books I'm currently reading, I am interpreting this question to mean the last book I actually finished. This one is fun, too. (As long as I don't eat anything.)

Who am I? I am Captain William Avery. It's London in 1842, and those in charge of the Reform Club have insisted that I investigate a rash of poisonings that have befallen their membership.

I have a wife who's working my last nerve. I have an infant son whom I adore, and the person who really should be investigating this mess is Jeremiah Blake, but he's experiencing some difficulties of his own at the moment. 

I'm getting to know London's first celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer, and being schooled in how the kitchen in such an establishment is run. I'm eating fine food, watching my suspect list grow longer and longer... and hoping no one else falls victim to the poisoner before I can identify the person. All in M.J. Carter's third Blake and Avery mystery, The Devil's Feast!

Now it's your turn! Who are YOU? (Don't worry, I'm not looking for anything other than book title, author, and character!)


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman

First Line: The first execution I attended wasn't by lethal injection but by Old Sparky

When her former partner, Laura Coleman, asks for her help, ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn leaves her home and husband in Tucson, Arizona, and heads for her childhood home of Florida. 

Laura is on leave from the Bureau and has been volunteering for a legal group trying to prove the innocence of a man who is on death row for killing his family. Laura is convinced the man is innocent. Brigid isn't so sure. The date for his execution is coming up fast so they have to work quickly. There's only one thing slowing Brigid down: her father is ill and in a local hospital. 

I have read and enjoyed Becky Masterman's previous two Brigid Quinn books Rage Against the Dying and Fear the Darkness, and I really looked forward to A Twist of the Knife. While still a strong book, I didn't find it quite as enjoyable as the other two.

I think one of my problems was the fact that I missed two things quite a bit: the Tucson setting of the other books, and the absence of Brigid's husband Carlo. Carlo is such a wise, strong, comforting presence that Skyping and phone calls just didn't cut the mustard for me. Perhaps it's because I identify too strongly with Brigid, another woman who found the love of her life after the age of fifty. Watching Brigid become accustomed to sharing her life with another person has been a pleasure for me.

Due to the scheduled execution date of the condemned man, the action of A Twist of the Knife takes place within a very short period of time, and Brigid has to go nonstop in order to take care of both her parents and of her share of the investigation. Masterman made me feel as exhausted as Brigid had to be. 

Family dynamics play a crucial role in this book. After all, the man is on death row for killing his family, and we have the added drama of Brigid's own family web of secrets. Her relationship with her parents has always been troubled, and we learn the reasons why. Her father is gravely ill. Her mother is acting very strangely. She's unhappy with her brother Todd who's ignoring his father's illness and concentrating on the same investigation on which his sister is working. Many times it felt as though Brigid's own family situation was working against the subplot of proving (or disproving) the condemned man's innocence, and this weakened both storylines for me a bit.

A Twist of the Knife is still a good, strong book with a main character I'm addicted to. How can I resist a woman who's seen so much evil, who's experienced so much, and who now believes that "we're all mysteries that can't be solved"? 

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman
ISBN: 9781250074515
Minotaur Books © 2017
Hardcover, 320 pages

Thriller, #3 Brigid Quinn
Rating: B+
Source: publicist  


Monday, March 20, 2017

Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet

First Line: "Are you going to tell me why you're sitting there looking like something the cat dragged in on an off night, or should I order another bottle of wine and start guessing?"

When photojournalist Abigail Logan inherits her uncle's highly regarded single malt whisky distillery, she leaves her London home base for the Highlands of Scotland in order to settle his affairs and get back to her work. When she gets there, she is immediately immersed in a highly competitive, emotionally charged business-- and someone definitely wants her out of the picture. Acts of sabotage and personal threats begin to escalate until one of Abi's new employees is found dead in a vat of whisky. When that happens, Abi is determined to put her skills as an investigative journalist to use in order to find a killer.

When I requested this book from NetGalley, for some reason I thought I was getting a traditional cozy mystery. I thought wrong. Single Malt Murder has a few more layers to it than the usual cozy, and it was a very enjoyable read. 

First, let me get one thing straight: I am not a drinker. I'm lucky if I drink one margarita per decade. Be that as it may, I found all the information about the whisky (it's not "whiskey" if you're in Scotland) business fascinating-- and it made me wish I'd gone along with my husband on his tours of some of the distilleries in the Highlands.

Abi Logan, the main character, is supposedly good at reading people, but there was really little evidence of it, especially when her heart was involved. She's a bit self-involved but extremely likable, and I loved Liam, her wheaten terrier. There's a bit of romance between her and her dour head distiller-- just enough for those who like that sort of thing and not too much for those who don't.

Good setting, good characters, good information about whisky, and that's not all there is to like about Single Malt Murder. Mullet has created an excellent mystery that really kept me guessing. There's some exciting skullduggery at the end; there's some lovely wit and humor throughout the book, and-- like the romance-- this isn't overdone either. I really enjoyed this first in the Whisky Business series, and I'm certainly looking forward to the second installment.

Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet
eISBN: 9780399179051
Alibi © 2017
eBook, 300 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Whisky Business mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley 


Brunonia Barry at The Poisoned Pen!

This was the second Wednesday in a row that Denis came with me to The Poisoned Pen, and I couldn't've been more pleased. I do love spending time with this man of mine. Having looked up information on Brunonia Barry's books, Denis wasn't so sure that he'd be interested in the proceedings, but I had a feeling that his attitude would change. 

When Brunonia ("Just call me Bru") and her husband, Gary, walked into the bookstore, the staff had to turn all the chairs around because while Bru talked, her husband was going to show photos of the things she was talking about, and we had to be able to see the television screen. This year's Writer in Residence, Linda Castillo, introduced Bru. There was a quote Castillo really liked in Barry's book, The Fifth Petal, part of which is "Tell me what you fear the most, and I will show you who you really are." I could see why Castillo liked it-- it grabbed my attention, too.

L to R: Bru's husband Gary, Brunonia Barry, Linda Castillo. Photo © Jeff K.

Bru's ancestor, William Sprague, first came to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1628, and Salem is where she lives now. She and her husband have been in charge of the Salem Literary Festival, and they are both founts of information about the locale and those infamous witch trials. This area is where Barry sets her books. "If you shake a tree in Salem, six historians fall out," she said, "so I have to get it right." The Phillips Library has all the records of the witch trials, so it's a place Bru knows well. 

There is a bit of generational guilt that runs through Salem, especially since the town garners much of its revenue by showcasing the very people it killed in 1692-93. The city of 42,000 swells to 300,000 for Halloween. "First we kill the witches, then we celebrate them, and-- I would add-- then you buy the t-shirt," Barry said.

"There's a group of characters that I really found interesting," Castillo said. "The Goddesses who were involved with the murder in 1989."

"Yes," Barry said. "Today I think we would call them 'girls behaving badly' there in town."

"Trees play a role in the book. Is it symbolic?"

"Yes, it is. One of the characters believes she is a banshee. In legend, the banshee is the spirit of a woman that's trapped in an oak tree. An oak was also the hanging tree in Salem," Bru said.

Linda then said, "I loved the character of Rose. I could hear her voice. I could see her. She was so vivid, so fascinating."

Bru smiled. "Rose is my favorite character that I've ever written." She then told us the significance of the book's title. "The character of Callie Cahill has a rosary with a five-petaled rose instead of a cross. If the reader can identify the fifth petal, they will be able to solve the mystery."

L to R: Linda Castillo, Brunonia Barry. Photo © Jeff K.
Other writers' writing processes always interest Castillo, who asked Barry about hers. "It took me five years to write The Fifth Petal because I got bogged down in my research. I always know whodunit when I start. When I do begin, I 'clear my throat' by writing about one hundred pages and by creating detailed biographies of my characters.

"Salem is now a safe haven for thousands of witches, not despite its history but because of it. Every Halloween I wonder if the Salem Witch Trials could happen again. This can be such a polarizing subject that the local newspaper will not publish anonymous comments.

"Historians and archaeologists found the spot where the hangings actually took place. The location has been verified, and it's in back of a Walgreen's parking lot. The city is planning to put up a small memorial which will include an oak tree for each one of the victims."

The more Barry spoke of Salem, the more fascinated I became. I also wanted to start planning a visit there... as long as it wasn't during Halloween!

Available Now!
The character of Rose is loosely based on Sarah Good, one of the accused witches in 1692. While in jail, Good gave birth to a baby who died, and her entire family was reduced to being beggars.

The photos Barry and her husband used to illustrate what she was talking about were perfect. The logos on the Salem police cars have witches on them. There is a Bewitched statue in town featuring the star of the television series, Elizabeth Montgomery, that caused such a furor that it divided the town. The so-called Witch House was the home of one of the hanging judges.

Bru laughed and said, "Yes, we can get 'em to Salem with witches and then show 'em what else we have. There is one spot in town where you can see five different periods of Colonial architecture." Have you ever heard of the House of the Seven Gables? That's in Salem, which was once the richest port in the New World.

One person who has helped Barry with her research is Terry, who runs Artemisia Botanicals. The author made us all laugh when she told us of one of Terry's cures she insisted Gary drink when he was sick. It tasted absolutely vile, but it worked. When asked what the concoction was, Terry said, "It's fermented garlic that I've had in the fridge for two years." What made the episode even funnier was the fact that Bru and Gary were helping a film crew at the time. Gary got in the car with Bru and the crew, and finally one of them said, "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to get out of the car!" Seems the brew not only tasted vile, it was extremely pungent as well!

All of Barry's books are set in Salem and the original area of the Salem Colony. After her first book, The Lace Reader, Bru was asked not to describe the buildings because readers were coming to town and going up to knock on doors. 

One of the jobs the author had as a teenager was tour guide at the House of the Seven Gables. She was fired for making up stories! That's when her mother knew Brunonia would be a fiction writer. 

Bone Lace will be Barry's next book. Although there are repeating characters in all her novels, the main character is always someone new. For anyone who wanted to read the books in some sort of chronological order, she advised them to begin with The Fifth Petal, then The Lace Reader, followed by The Map of True Places.  

Halloween plays a big role in The Fifth Petal, and the holiday always has a large police presence. If you're wondering how many candy bars Bru and Gary handed out last Halloween, the number is 3500. Yikes!

On the way home, I asked Denis if he'd been bored. "Not at all!" he replied. I wouldn't be surprised if he was thinking about a trip to Salem, too!


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Boisterous Blossoms Weekly Link Round-Up

I'm finishing up this post on Monday evening-- the evening when the northeastern part of the United States is supposed to be hammered with snow. I hope you all are safe and warm and have plenty of provisions (especially books).

Meanwhile, in this part of the continental United States, this is exactly what I saw today as I went in and out of my laundry room (which is accessed from the outside).

There's a wind spinner that does an excellent job of persuading the Gila Woodpeckers that they really don't want to drill a new home in the side of my house. (Yes, they did try once.) There's one of my Tombstone rose bushes growing up and over the fence with hundreds of blooms yet to open. (Thank you, rain!) And on the other side of the shed, you can see that my sweet acacia is still full of colorful pompoms. I love the Sonoran Desert!

Something tells me I'd better stop boasting about my Arizona weather and head on out to the link corral. They're sounding restless out there!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • How many volunteers does it take to transcribe Phyllis Diller's 53,000 jokes? (I miss Phyllis and her husband, Fang....) 
  • Behind the story of The Silence of the Flans with Laura Bradford. (Looking forward to seeing Laura tomorrow and getting my autographed copies!) 
  • How the stars of The Crown compare to their real-life counterparts. (Something's going on with Denis. Time was, the man wouldn't be caught dead watching historical costume dramas. Now I've got him watching-- and enjoying-- The Crown and Victoria....)
  • The greatest French crime writer you've never heard of.
  • Here's one way to fight the gender gap in literature. 

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Ten rare animal babies you've probably never seen before.
  • Have you ever heard baby sloths making conversation? 
  • An octopus slipped out of an aquarium tank, crawled across the floor, and escaped down a pipe to the ocean. (Well done!)
  • Surgeons removed 915 coins that had been swallowed by a Thai sea turtle. (Why do I suddenly have indigestion?)

►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, March 16, 2017

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

First Line: The ghost ship came gliding out of the darkness across the black waters of the Sound, giving way to nothing and no one.

It is summer on the beautiful Swedish island of Öland, and visitors are arriving in their thousands to enjoy the sun and the water. Among the visitors is young Jonas Kloss, who's looking forward to staying with his aunt and cousins. But one moonlit night when he takes a small boat out on the water, a ship looms out of the darkness and the horror the young boy finds on board has him fleeing for his life.

Jonas finds himself on the doorstep of elderly Gerlof Davidsson, a man of the sea and native to Öland. Once Gerlof is able to convince Jonas to talk to him, the old man knows that this summer will be like no other. The Homecomer has returned, and he's waited a lifetime to exact his revenge. 

I loved the previous three books in Theorin's Öland Quartet. The man is a master at creating complex characters and building suspense. Unfortunately The Voices Beyond fell flat for me. Gerlof was still his charming curmudgeonly self with his loneliness and painfully aching legs, and young Jonas was wonderfully complex as well. And that setting! Theorin is also a master at building a setting so vivid and detailed that it counts as one of the characters in his books.

Where the book fell flat was in its pacing. The point of view was constantly shifting from Gerlof to Jonas to a young musician named Lisa to the Homecomer himself who spoke both from the present day and from the time of Stalin's reign of terror. The constant shifting didn't confuse me at all, but the very short chapters moving from one character to the next actually slowed the pace down to a crawl and made the book a chore to read.

As a whole, would I still recommend the Öland Quartet? Yes, I would. The first three  (Echoes from the Dead, The Darkest Room, and The Quarry) are superb, and who knows? The slow pace of The Voices Beyond may not bother you at all. For anyone with a fondness for Scandinavian crime fiction, evocative settings, and complex characters, Johan Theorin's Öland Quartet should not be missed.

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
ISBN: 9780857520067
Doubleday © 2015
Paperback, 475 pages

Suspense, #4 Öland Quartet
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Waterstones, Cambridge, UK