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


Monday, August 22, 2016

Watching the Ghosts by Kate Ellis

First Lines: Tick tock. The thing had eyes. And it was watching her.

Havenby Hall is now a converted apartment building called Boothgate House. Why the change in name? Havenby Hall was once an insane asylum-- which might just put off prospective residents. Speaking of residents, one of the asylum's last was a notorious serial killer who died under mysterious circumstances shortly after the place closed

Now a lawyer investigating Havenby Hall is frantic when her young daughter is kidnapped. What else could go wrong? A paranormal researcher is fascinated by the building's basement and won't stay away. Or... how about a burglar who has an inventive way of insuring he has plenty of time to escape if homeowners return too soon. A Boothgate Hall resident becomes one of his victims. 

Detective Inspector Joe Plantagenet thinks both the kidnapping and the burglaries may have a connection to the building's past, and the more he investigates, the more he puts those closest to him in danger.  

I enjoy this series for its lovely, atmospheric portrayal of Eborby (York). Ellis describes it so well that I get the shivers and believe that all sorts of spooky things could happen there. I love rich, textured settings like this, although you would never ever catch me moving into a former insane asylum.

The mystery is convoluted but not confusing. There are plenty of viable suspects on hand besides the actual responsible parties, but once those responsible parties begin to be uncovered, the denouement is practically incestuous. (I mean that figuratively, by the way.) There's plenty to like about Watching the Ghosts, but it isn't quite up to Kate Ellis's usual high standards. That's not about to keep me away from the next Joe Plantagenet mystery though-- she's one of my favorite writers.

Watching the Ghosts by Kate Ellis
ISBN: 9781780295299 
Crème de la Crime © 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

Police Procedural, #4 Joe Plantagenet mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Book Depository. 

Reviving Your Favorite Series?

I've been pondering this ever since I read and reviewed David Lagercrantz's continuation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, and I finally decided the only way I'd get a good answer is to ask all of you.

How do you feel about mystery series being continued by other writers once the series creator has died?

My curiosity doesn't just stem from my reading of Lagercrantz's The Girl in the Spider's Web.  I have also attended events at The Poisoned Pen in which featured authors have talked about continuing a series and how the process of writing something like that differs from writing one of their own books.

It seems to be happening more and more. The list of series continuations grows. Robert B. Parker. Dick Francis. Stieg Larsson. Agatha Christie. Tony Hillerman. Dorothy L. Sayers.  I know I'm missing several, but these are the authors' names that came flying out when I opened my mental barn doors.

I can understand how many readers would be bereft if the author of their favorite series died. I felt that way when I learned of the death of Leighton Gage, a very talented man who taught me so much about Brazil in his Chief Inspector Mario Silva mysteries. I still miss him... but I don't want someone else taking over the characters he created. The new person's vision would not be the same, nor would his writing style. Even if reams of the most detailed notes were left behind.

Perhaps my opinion is unduly harsh due to the whole Harper Lee/Go Set a Watchman fiasco. To me it was crystal clear that Go Set a Watchman was a rough first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and was never meant to be published. It's only after Harper Lee's sister-- and fierce guardian of Harper's legacy-- died that unscrupulous people in control of the author's affairs decided to make as much money as they could at the expense of an elderly woman in poor health. They cared nothing about legacies even if Harper Lee's was one of the most fabled in all of American literature. All they could see was dollar signs. I think it's this more than anything else that makes me see all these series continuations with a very jaundiced eye. 

So... for my part, when an author dies, I think that should be the end of the series. It doesn't matter if they had five or six manuscripts in various stages of completion; that should be The End. Yes, I'll miss the characters. Yes, I'll miss the way that particular author wrote. But at the end of the day, I have thousands of other books available for me to read, and among those thousands, I know I will find new authors and new stories to fall in love with.

But what do you think? I've only read one example of a series now being written by someone else. Have you read any? What did you think-- close enough to the original for you to enjoy?  Or do you have reservations about doing it, too? I've said it before, and I'll say it again (because it's TRUE)-- Inquiring minds would love to know! Please don't keep me in suspense!


Friday, August 19, 2016

An All's Right with My World Weekly Link Round-Up

If you think that by my saying "All's right with the world" it means I'm back in the pool, you would be correct. Denis worked like a mad man and got the pool cleaned in record time. Now you'd never know that it had been filled with mud and all sorts of debris. Denis also slaved away at raking up and bagging a large debris pile left over from the flood. Poor man! He and his clothing were so drenched with sweat (this is NOT the time of year for heavy yardwork in Phoenix!) that he looked as though he'd fallen in the pool. (He did get in afterwards to cool off.)

Am I grateful? Naaaaaaaaaaaaaah....

Since there's nothing to see here (ahem), I invite you all to take a look at the links I've rounded up for you this week!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Six real-world Harry Potter locations you can visit. 
  • How to visit nearly every national park in one epic road trip.
  • Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England. I'm a bit partial to the place. Not only was it used as a location for Harry Potter, not only have I been there, one of my ancestors was the steward there a few centuries back.
  • Planning for the future of a park where the trees have one name. 
  • Let's visit The Wild Detectives bookstore in Dallas.
  • Now that I've finished up in Dallas, I'm heading for Tubby & Coo's book shop in New Orleans.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Find out why teenager Lavinia Ream spent thirty minutes with President Abraham Lincoln every day for five months.
  • Since I was the age of ten, I've believed that Jim Thorpe-- one of the world's greatest athletes-- was robbed of the recognition due him. 

►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, August 18, 2016

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens

First Line: That night, there were a few things that the man knew to a religious certainty.

How the mighty have fallen. Alexander Rupert, a decorated Minnesota police detective, is under suspicion of corruption and has been transferred to the Fraud Unit where everyone shuns him. To top it all off, he suspects that his wife is having an affair. 

When a lawyer brings him evidence of identity theft, Alex latches onto it as an opportunity to redeem his battered reputation. What he doesn't realize is that he's just put himself into the path of a trained assassin, and even his big brother Max may not be able to save him.

The only thing that ties The Guise of Another to Allen Eskens' first book The Life We Bury is the presence of Max Rupert, but this book is younger brother Alex's show-- and it's a scary one. A dead man happens to have used a stolen identity. When Alex starts looking for the man's true identity, up pops an assassin, a veteran of the Balkan wars, who will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals. 

The pace is swift, and readers' minds will fill with questions: Who's doing what? Why are they doing it? Who can be believed? Eskens ties all these questions to another masterful characterization. The more readers learn about Alex Rupert, the more they will wonder what, precisely, is going on. Because Alex is a master of revealing very little. Once everyone treats you with suspicion, you learn to keep things to yourself. But being one man against the world isn't a good thing when an assassin is headed your way.

I enjoy the way Eskens writes. The pacing, the setting, and the action are all vivid, and he has a way of getting into his characters' heads that draws the readers right in, too. I'm looking forward to his next book.

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens
ISBN: 9781633880764
Seventh Street Books © 2015
Paperback, 269 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Max Rupert mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet