Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Have James Rollins Covered!

One thing I've noticed the further this blog series progresses is that I've started to sound as though I know what I'm doing when it comes to putting together a book cover. I'm going to channel a president who, until recently, was my least favorite.... Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not know how to put together a saleable book cover. I only know what I like to see. (Perhaps I should do a post showing covers that make me do a happy dance? There's some food for thought.)

This week I've chosen the U.S. and U.K. covers of one of James Rollins' thrillers. After all, I've enjoyed every book of his that I've read, and he's a nice, entertaining guy who comes to The Poisoned Pen a lot. Oh, the arcane ways I choose these covers!

Speaking of covers, let's take a look, shall we?


The US Cover...

The US cover is rather generic and pale, don't you think? In this case I'm not going to rail against the blurbs, because-- between the blurbs and the black type of the title-- they're the only things livening this cover up. I know this is unkind, but...this cover is a big yawn. Hopefully I'd see Rollins' name as I walked past so I would know to pick this up.

The UK Cover...

Now, the UK cover is a bit drab colorwise, too, but it stands out to me. The red used for Rollins' name has very little to do with it. Why? Because what grabs my attention is that hole in the ground. Couple that hole with the crossed pick axes and smiling skull at the top, and my imagination wants to run amok. 

There's also no blurbs to mess up this cover, just a little teaser that makes my foot bear down on the accelerator of my imagination. What's in that hole? If I get any closer is something going to jump out and grab me? I'd definitely want to pick this up to read the synopsis, and all because the artist who designed the cover appealed to my imagination, which is the best thing that person could do.

The Verdict...

I haven't hidden my opinion at all. You know I really like the UK cover this week!

What Say All of You?

What about you? Which cover catches your eye? US? UK? Neither one? Too close to call? Inquiring minds would love to know!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Scheduled to Death by Mary Feliz

First Line: I couldn't be sure where the line was between a mansion and a really big house, but I knew I was straddling it, standing on the front porch of the gracious Victorian home of Stanford professor Lincoln "Linc" Sinclair.

Professor Lincoln Sinclair is up for a Nobel Prize, and he's just the sort of high-profile client that Maggie McDonald needs to get her new organizing business off to a good start. 

For an academic, Sinclair has more than his fair share of enemies, so when his fiancee is found dead on the floor of his home laboratory, the first thought in everyone's mind is that Sinclair was the actual target. Unfortunately, the detective in charge of the investigation is so bad that Maggie dubs him "Detective Awful," and she knows that if the real murderer is going to be found, she's going to have to put all her organizing skills to the test.

Mary Feliz's second Maggie McDonald mystery is one that will keep you guessing, even though it's saddled with the ubiquitous vile-tempered, dumb cop. (Luckily, he's shuffled off to the shadows rather quickly.) I'm still very impressed with Maggie. She's calm under fire, she's caring, smart, and level-headed. In other words, she's a "Mom," and the best kind of mother there is. 

The author has created a first-rate cast of characters, so much so that-- although I enjoyed getting to know more about Maggie's husband Max-- I missed the interactions with her sons and her best friend. I know everyone in the cast can't be in the spotlight all the time, but these characters are so good that I just get greedy.

Scheduled to Death may have a good mystery, a very good car chase scene, and a fine cast of characters, but Feliz also takes the time to deal sensitively with other issues like homeless children and the world of academia. These topics are woven into the story to give it even more depth and texture.

If you're on the lookout for a good cozy mystery series to read, you know what I'm going to say. Give Mary Feliz's Maggie McDonald series a try with the first book, Address to Die For before you move on to this one. I think you'll enjoy the characters as much as I do.      

Scheduled to Death by Mary Feliz
eISBN: 9781601836656
Lyrical Underground © 2017
eBook, 238 pages

Cozy Mystery, #2 Maggie McDonald mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley  


Monday, January 16, 2017

Off the Beaten Path: Singing Wind Bookshop

I once wrote a couple of posts about the unusual bookshops I've encountered on my travels, and they were features on another book blog. Recently, I learned that the book blog no longer existed, and I mourned the loss of those articles... for a short time. It didn't take long for me to realize that they weren't gone forever. All I had to do was rewrite them. After all, I still had the photos and the memories.

So that's what I'm doing today: sharing a memorable visit to what has been called a bookshop at the end of the world: the Singing Wind Bookshop outside Benson, Arizona.

When I first visited in 2010, Winn Bundy's bookshop did not have an internet presence. Now it has a Facebook page that is irregularly updated. What breathed lasting life into Winn's dream of owning a bookshop was good old word of mouth. Now this rancher who has to be staring her ninetieth birthday right in the eye has an award-winning bookshop that is regularly visited by people from all over the world.

It all started with a windfall of $250 that she spent on books. Then her husband cut four-inch thick planks of mesquite wood which Winn stained, and they put up shelves in their ranch house. In 1974, Singing Wind Bookshop was open for business on their cattle ranch outside Benson.

You'd never guess you were on the way to a bookstore, would you?

Keep your eyes peeled for a mailbox on the right...

Turn onto the dirt road where the yuccas are in bloom.

You're headed in the right direction if you see this sign!

You have reached your destination!

This is a working ranch. On the day Denis and I were here, no one was inside, so we had to ring the bell. In no time at all, the face of Chester Einstein-- Winn's Dalmatian/Lab mix-- appeared in the window, and then Winn herself was ushering us through the mesquite wood door.

The door is made from wood on the ranch and shows off the Singing Wind brand.

Even that very first look inside lets you know that Denis and I walked into Aladdin's cave, doesn't it? Each newcomer gets a guided tour from Winn. She has a very eccentric, no-label way of shelving all those books, many of which are one-of-a-kind. I have to admit that, although I was enjoying the tour, very little of it soaked in. You see, it's not just the wind that sings there on Winn Bundy's ranch. Those books do, too!

Chester Einstein himself.

When we first arrived, Chester Einstein greeted us. He's a friendly dog but not overly effusive. He pretty much stayed close to Winn, only checking up on us occasionally. After her tour, Winn told us that if we needed help, all we had to do was ask, and then she left us alone to browse. Browse I did!

You can see an eyeglass case and the beginnings of a book pile on the white chair. Actually... if you want to see any of these photos in a larger size so you can see more detail, just left click on any of them, and they'll open in a brand-new window.

This is where Chester Einstein found me most often. It's the section having to do with women in the Southwest and West. 
Denis would keep circling back to see if I'd moved, but it took me a while! Winn's bookstore is an absolute gold mine for people who are interested in this part of the world. I could have spent days wandering each and every one of those mesquite wood shelves and checking all the books inch by inch, spine by spine.


Tucked away almost as an afterthought was this award. Singing Wind Bookshop has earned several more awards since then in its forty-three years of operation. It is host to events for elementary and high schools, and authors often stop to visit and read to the children. There are three events throughout the year, like the Cowboy/Cowgirl Round-Up in January and the Thanksgiving Fiesta in November. Of course, there was a big fortieth anniversary party there in 2014.

The "cash register"

When it came time to pay, Winn led me to the cash register. Good thing I had my checkbook in my purse because Winn doesn't take plastic. She has a calculator and uses carbon paper to hand write all the receipts. If you pay cash, your change comes from a shiny old baby food jar and vitamin bottle.

The Singing Wind Bookshop is a treasure, as is its owner. There's a bonus to writing this post again seven years after it first appeared elsewhere. I found a short video in which you can see and hear Winn Bundy for yourself. I hope you'll watch it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Big Haul Weekly Link Round-Up

For the addicted, knitting is a lot like reading. The more I knit, the more yarn I need-- just as when I read, I need more books. I don't know whether it's good to have two such addictions or not, but when I received a gift card for one of my favorite yarn sources, I knew exactly what to do. 

What was difficult was the wait because I made my purchase online. When I checked the package tracker app, I kept wondering why in the world FedEx seemed to be hoarding my yarn in its facility here in the Valley. Then I did a little happy dance when they finally turned the box over to the post office to deliver.

When I got home from having my hair cut, I looked for my yarn. No joy. Denis went out to run some errands. Now... have you ever felt like there was a spy cam trained on (or in) your house that let other people know when the worst time to call/ring the doorbell was? It seemed like I was hopping up from my chair every fifteen minutes to answer the doorbell, and every time I did it was for Denis. It was easy to see that he'd been spending his gift cards!

Then Denis returned from his errands, and he brought in what I'd been scurrying to the door for-- a big box of yarn earmarked for several future projects. The delivery person had crept up the driveway, left the box at the carport door and neglected to ring the doorbell. Shame on him!

Now that all the deliveries are out of the way, I've got some links to round up for y'all. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Nine stunning images of Scotland from space. 
  • I'd love to stay at Gladstone's in Wales, the UK's only "residential library." 
  • France is doing something this country should be doing, too: paving more than 600 miles of road with solar panels. 

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Seventeenth-century Italian painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, long seen as a victim has now emerged as a feminist icon.
  • Writer Shirley Hazzard was a teenage spy. 
  • Vice president of Tiffany & Co., George Frederick Kunz, was the man responsible for popularizing birthstones in America, but he came to loathe his creation. 
  • Marion Pritchard, a Dutch rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust, has died at the age of 96.
  • Henry, the last bookbinder on the Lower East Side. 
  • Margaret Ann Bulkley, the first female doctor ni Britain, spent fifty-six years disguised as a man.
  • Jessie Tendayi shocked everyone at the Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois.  

►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!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis

First Line: She loved this time when the town was still half-asleep.

The annual Palkin Festival, which honors a fourteenth-century mayor, is in full swing in the city of Tradmouth. The discovery of the body of a strangled woman in a dinghy floating out to sea coincides with the anniversary of the disappearance of young Jenny Bercival, and Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson knows he's got to solve the murder as quickly as possible so that the festival isn't ruined for all the visitors making their way into town.

It's not long before Peterson begins to wonder if there is a connection between the missing girl and the dead woman. And is there another connection to a fantasy website called Shipworld which features that long-ago Palkin as a supernatural hero facing a sinister nemesis called the Shroud Maker? These connections look more and more likely when archaeologist Neil Watson makes a grim discovery on the site of Palkin's warehouse. Wesley Peterson may have to find his answers by looking into the past.

I don't know how Kate Ellis does it. The Shroud Maker is the eighteenth-- and one of the best-- in her consistently high-quality series. I'd no more miss one of these books than I'd forget to put my glasses on when I get up in the morning. Ellis knows the perfect way to combine a present-day murder investigation with a fascinating bit of history.

The chapters in the book begin with either an excerpt from a biography of John Palkin or a letter written by the biographer's wife. It is a very effective way of allowing readers to form their own ideas as to what's happening because-- as it usually does in a Wesley Peterson mystery-- history is having a decided effect on the present day. However, Peterson's investigation is hampered by the Palkin Festival because it's bringing in all sorts of criminals, making it difficult to match the right crime with the right bad guy. 

Ellis always has a fascinating combination of crime and archaeology, but her characters are what make this entire series shine. Through eighteen books, these characters have grown and changed, and I've been witness to many of their life-changing events. The Shroud Maker is no exception. Wesley's wife Pam seems to have grown into the role of policeman's wife. One of Wesley's detectives, Rachel, is suffering from pre-wedding jitters, and Wesley's boss, Gerry Heffernan, is worried about his headstrong daughter, Rosie.

If you have the slightest interest in British police procedurals that combine strong mysteries with archaeology, history, and a fine cast of characters, I urge you to sample one of Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson novels. You can read them as standalones with little or no confusion, but what's the fun in that? Do what I did and begin with the very first book, The Merchant's House!

The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis
eISBN: 9781405515092
Piatkus Books © 2014
eBook, 374 pages

Police Procedural, #18 Wesley Peterson mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

First Line: Sunset is often a glamorous business in the Cretan holiday harbour of Chania.

A disused Victorian building is being demolished in the center of historic Edinburgh when workers find skeletal remains hidden on the roof. Call in cold case Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie to find answers for all the questions. When it turns out that the bones may be from as far away as the former Yugoslavia, she is going to have to dig deep into the tragic history of that area and into unspeakable war crimes and their consequences.

McDermid has once again crafted an engrossing mystery filled with memorable characters and questions. I still can't quite understand how all the horrific things that occurred in Bosnia and Serbia have faded so quickly and determinedly into the dim past. Without going into masses of gory details, McDermid brings those times to life through the characters she has created.

If anything, there may be a few too many characters, a few too many points of view, that occasionally slow the pace of the book. We have DCI Karen Pirie and her life partner (and fellow police officer) Phil. Pirie's on-the-job partner, Detective Constable Jason "the Mint" Murray. Prickly Oxford professor Maggie Blake, and Macanespie and Proctor, two men trying to find war criminals for the International Criminal Court. And I haven't named them all.

Macanespie and Proctor are sometimes referred to as "the dead-end kids," and they provide some much-needed comic relief while they plod through miles of paperwork in search of the bad guys. Pirie often feels as though DC Murray is the albatross hanging around her neck. The young man tends to be as thick as a plank and has absolutely no initiative, but it is heartwarming to see that he is actually learning things by working with her. Pirie does treat him well, regardless what she may think in private. There are also some highly emotional scenes when one of the characters is rushed to the hospital, and I wish I'd had a box of tissues at hand while reading that part.

Yes, McDermid has written a complex, thought-provoking story filled with complex characters. The Skeleton Road is only slightly marred by too many shifts in points of view. It reminds me of why I like Val McDermid's writing so much-- and why I shouldn't take so long to read another of her books.

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid
eISBN: 9780802192141
Atlantic Monthly Press © 2014
eBook, 406 pages

Police Procedural, #2 DCI Karen Pirie mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.