Thursday, September 03, 2015

Yarn to Go by Betty Hechtman


First Line: I was in the middle of laying out the ingredients for my carrot muffins when the call came.

When dessert chef Casey Feldstein discovers that her recently deceased aunt still has a scheduled yarn retreat, she reluctantly agrees to host the event-- even though she doesn't know a knitting needle from a crochet hook. 

The idyllic setting on California's beautiful Monterey Peninsula turns deadly when one of the retreat regulars is found murdered in her room. Feeling somewhat responsible for the woman's death, Casey begins making observations, asking questions... and before long she sees a pattern beginning to form that may even shed death on her own aunt's death. She can't stop now.

Casey Feldstein is a likable young woman with a talent for making mouth-watering desserts. The unfortunate thing is, she doesn't seem to have a talent for sticking with anything for very long. Of course that may have something to do with her overbearing, oh-so-superior, meddler of a mother, bless her heart. (You Southerners know what I mean.)

Casey also happens to be surrounded by an interesting group of secondary characters. Her best friend Lucinda runs a popular local restaurant along with her OCD husband, Tag (whom I see as a potential rich vein of plot twists). Hotel manager Kevin St. John is a perfect thorn in Casey's side, and those attending the retreat are certainly a good blend of differing personalities.

The hook-- knitting retreats-- is more than a hook and plays an important role in the book. In fact-- with my own rekindled interest in knitting-- it sometimes overshadowed a very good mystery. With Casey being a complete novice, author Betty Hechtman was able to "show us some of the ropes," as well as really showcase what a yarn retreat is all about. I found myself paying just as much attention to what handmade items the retreat members were wearing, how each of their local groups operated, and how Casey's aunt was a genius in choosing individualized projects as I did to clues so I could identify the killer.

With the beautiful setting, a fine cast of characters, and a good blend of knit, purl, and murder, I definitely look forward to reading more books in this series!
 

Yarn to Go by Betty Hechtman
ISBN: 9780425252215
Berkley Prime Crime © 2013
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Yarn Retreat mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap 


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Some Welcome Home by Sharon Wildwind


First Line: Through the slit in the closed drapes, a thin bar of afternoon sunlight fell across the soldier's chest, highlighting the dark, small bullet hole.

Captain Elizabeth "Pepper" Pepperhawk has returned from her tour in Vietnam to serve as head nurse at an army hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since she's shown up early, she takes a room in a building for visiting military personnel. Given the key, she goes to the room, unlocks the door, walks in... and discovers the dead body of a soldier on the bed. Not an auspicious beginning to her new life stateside.

Through the ensuing investigation Pepper meets military police Captain Avivah Rosen, who-- more than anything-- wants to serve in Vietnam. With the help of Green Beret Benny Kirkpatrick, the two women discover that Womack Army Hospital has more than its share of secrets-- secrets that someone is willing to kill to keep buried.

Author Sharon Wildwind is a former Army nurse who served in Vietnam as well as Fort Bragg. She's writing what she knows, and that knowledge glows on the page. Some Welcome Home does an excellent job of showing military personnel adjusting to life stateside, and it also takes a good look inside the military police, nursing, and the prevailing attitude in 1971 toward women in the military. 

Besides that insider knowledge, another strength of this book is its three main characters. Pepper is a good nurse, but doubts herself too much and has a tendency to sink into a bottle if things go wrong. Benny has fallen in love with a woman whose husband is missing in action. Avivah is one sharp investigator and a good soldier; however, her repeated requests to serve in Vietnam are always turned down.

Wildwind's mystery is excellent and extremely difficult to solve. If I found any weakness at all in this book it was in the action scenes. They weren't quite up to the standard of the rest of the book; however, that's a small complaint. The setting, the characters, and the story all make me want to read the next book in the series as quickly as possible.
 

Some Welcome Home by Sharon Wildwind
ISBN: 9781410402622
Five Star © 2006
Paperback, 376 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Pepperhawk and Rosen mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap


 

Wilting from the Heat


I've mentioned more than once in my weekly link round-ups this summer that I know when it's over 110° here in Phoenix by paying attention to the birds. Just like humans, birds suffer from the heat the most when they're very young or very old, and I make sure that I have shade, food, and plenty of "watering holes" for them. In the blazing desert summer sun, I have to fill those bird baths twice a day, but it's the least I can do for the feathered friends that give me so much pleasure every day.

Here's an incomplete photographic record of some of the wilted visitors that came to Casa Kittling for a little shade and water. You can click on any of the photos to have it open automatically in a new window so you can see it full size.


Mockingbird

Some people don't like mockingbirds because when mating season arrives, they sing all night long. Being a night owl myself, I love listening to them. One year we even had one that could sing "La Cucaracha" due to an ice cream truck that played the song endlessly. You can tell the mockingbird in the photo is heat stressed because it's holding its wings away from its body and its beak is gaping open-- both signs that it's trying its best to cool off.


European Collared Dove


Taken the same day as the mockingbird photo, this photo is of a European Collared Dove. It, too, is stressed from the heat, but it is a non-native species and isn't adapted to our weather. Notice how it doesn't have its beak open? Notice how it's right out in the blazing sun instead of in the shade somewhere? This summer has been extremely hard for these collared doves. I've found eight of their corpses in our garden-- and none from any other species of bird. I don't know how they got to the Sonoran Desert, but they really needed to stay home, poor things.


Juvenile Hooded Oriole


This young Hooded Oriole thought some tasty oranges might make it feel cooler, but after a few seconds, it decided hanging out in the shade on one of the hummingbird feeders was much smarter!


White-winged Doves and Abert's Towhee

White-winged Doves and Abert's Towhees are native to the desert, and they know the importance of shade and water. The doves are two of the gang of juveniles that would keep trying to sit in the pool like I do. I bought them their own "kiddie pool," and they made a lot of use of it, as did other birds like the towhees. The towhee is a little stressed, but after kicking that scrub brush into the pool and chasing off the doves, it took an extended bath in the kiddie pool and felt much better!


Bell's Vireo

We also get summer migrants stopping here, like the Bell's Vireo above. I heard this shy little bird one day, but it wasn't until the next day that I saw it-- the waterfall a few feet away was just too tempting for it to ignore! I wondered what was wrong with the photo until I saw it full size and realized that the bird has a water droplet on its head. It spent a lot of time playing in the water before it moved on to parts unknown.


Juvenile Anna's Hummingbird

Now doesn't this poor youngster look hot and scruffy? The first time I ever realized that a hummingbird's beak actually opened like any other bird's was on a visit here to Arizona. The little critters do make a lot of noise, but usually when you see them sitting in the shade with their beaks wide open, it means one thing: they are overheated. During the hottest parts of this summer, I had up to six hummingbirds fighting over the waterfall at the same time.


Cooling off its tail feathers!

I was never certain just what kind of bird this was, but it loved the waterfall with a passion. In fact, it just plopped down and sat in the water for over a minute. Native birds know what to do: (1) get out of the sun, and (2) find water. But even though they know what to do, they don't always make it. I try to make a difference.


Drying off its tail feathers (evap cooling)





Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Vengeance Is Mine by Reavis Z. Wortham


First Line: Tony Agrioli was grateful to leave the blistering sun and dive into the cold air of Malachi Best's noisy The Desert Gold casino.

Mob enforcer Tony Agrioli is used to killing those who get in his boss's way, but he does have a line or two that he's not willing to cross. When faced with one of those lines, he takes his girlfriend and hightails it out of Las Vegas, heading for someplace he thinks the Mob will never look for him: the tiny backwater of Center Springs, Texas.

What Tony doesn't take into consideration is the fact that he and his girlfriend aren't exactly the types to blend in this sleepy little town. In no time at all they're getting to know young Top and his cousin Pepper, and all the other local denizens.

Top and Pepper are still dealing with what happened to them at the Rock Hole. Top has an opportunity to take vengeance into his own hands here, and Pepper is convinced that Center Springs is an evil place. She's fallen for the just-passed Summer of Love and wants to go to California where the young people there know that the most important things in the world are peace and love. What she doesn't realize is that what's happening in her hometown is due to a very bad person who lives there. This person is going to have to be dealt with if Center Springs has a chance of being safe and happy again.

Wortham has completely won me over with his blend of humor and seriousness. With one word, he can have me reliving my youth in my own central Illinois version of Center Springs. Last time in The Right Side of Wrong, that one word was "bobwire" (barbed wire). In Vengeance Is Mine, it's "worsh" (wash).  Even if you didn't grow up in a small town in the 1960s, you're certainly going to know what it was like by reading Wortham.

There's a seriousness to Wortham: big city problems moving into small towns, the effects a new dam is going to have on the area, the fact that white adults always have to think of the consequences if they or their children are seen mixing with black people. Drugs, technology, violence, racism. Pretty important-- and serious-- stuff, but Wortham is an expert at leavening the grim with laugh-out-loud humor. In this book the author taught me about some of the lyrics to a Little Richard song, city slicker Tony walking into a country store and quizzically eyeing a tin of Bag Balm, and Top being told a few facts of life by Pepper and two other young girls.

There's usually a scene towards the end when all Hades breaks loose, and Vengeance Is Mine is no exception. What makes it one of my favorites in this series is its "Witness"- like quality. (Remember the movie where Harrison Ford lives among the Amish for a while?) Yes, bad things happen in small towns, but folks there still know that they're all in this together. And it's the working together that makes things better.

These Red River mysteries have turned into one of my favorite series-- for the spot-on setting, for one of the best casts of characters going, for the humor, and for some high-octane action scenes that make my socks roll up and down. Each book does well as a standalone, but don't deny yourself one second of enjoyment. Begin at the beginning with The Rock Hole. You'll be glad you did!
 

Vengeance Is Mine by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 9781464202605
Poisoned Pen Press © 2014
Paperback, 327 pages

Historical Mystery, #4 Red River mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Monday, August 31, 2015

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner


First Line: Tordesillas, 1550. Midnight has become my favorite hour.

C.W. Gortner does an excellent job of throwing light on a woman who has been shrouded in myth for centuries. Juana of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, was married to Phillip, the archduke of Flanders and sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana's parents needed to strengthen their country, hence Juana's marriage and the marriage of her younger sister Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, heir to the throne of England.

At first Juana's marriage is very happy, and she is content to be a wife and mother. When Queen Isabella dies and Juana becomes the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country's throne, her life is thrown into chaos. 

The wealthy grandees who were supplanted by Juana's parents want their old rights and privileges back. Ferdinand is too busy trying to keep the various bits of the country together to help his daughter, and Juana's husband-- within the blink of an eye-- has turned power mad. He wants to be King of Spain, he wants it now, and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Nothing.

I read quite a bit of European history when I was in high school and college, and all I knew of Juana of Castile was her nickname: Juana La Loca-- Joanna the Mad. The nickname intrigued me because even then I knew that everyone who was referred to as mad wasn't necessarily so. If someone has something that you want, one of the best ways to get it from them is to make people believe they're crazy. 

Gortner portrays Juana as a brave, intelligent, and passionate woman whose strengths were used against her. The story is told from Juana's point of view, and as I read I became her staunch defender. I kept wondering why Isabella would send her daughter off with-- basically-- no weapons in her arsenal, no champions of substance to fight in her corner. It's as though Isabella thought she had super blood that would transmit everything to her offspring that her daughter could possibly need. As my own levels of anger and frustration mounted, I kept reminding myself of my reading all those years ago, those random mentions of Juana La Loca, and I knew what would happen, but that didn't keep me from becoming emotionally involved in a centuries-old story.

It is true that winners are the ones who write the histories, but thanks to historians, teachers, and the talents of authors like C.W. Gortner, we can still learn about the losers, many of whom deserved much better than they received.
 

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner
eISBN: 9780345507419
Ballantine Books © 2008
eBook, 438 pages

Historical Fiction
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 


Scene of the Crime with Dawn Eastman!




Ever since I read Dawn Eastman's first Family Fortune mystery, Pall in the Family, I knew I would be contacting her for an interview. I just enjoy the cast of characters she's created so much-- and who wouldn't love a main character named Clytemnestra? (Oops. Don't tell "Clyde" I let that cat out of the bag!) When I enjoy characters like this, it means that I'll be sending an email to their creator, and I'm so happy that Dawn said yes!

Dawn Eastman
Very few authors have no internet presence. It's all part and parcel of letting us know they're here and getting their books noticed and sold. I'm all for helping them out. After all, it means they'll be able to keep writing the books we love to read, doesn't it?

I've gathered together a few links so you can learn even more about this talented writer and connect with her:




I know you're all looking forward to learning more about Dawn, so let's get to the interview!




What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Charlotte's Web, first edition
I discovered Charlotte’s Web when I was six or seven and can’t remember how many times I re-read it. It was the first book that transported me to a different world and I began to realize the power of fiction.


Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

My family keeps me pretty busy. And I am the primary support staff for the Bichon-Shih Tzu despot who lives with me. When I can, I love to knit, read, and watch British crime shows.





If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.) 

Des Moines' East Village
I feel like I don’t have a true hometown because I moved a lot growing up. Michigan feels most like home to me. However, I have lived in Des Moines, Iowa for the past fifteen years and have watched the downtown area become a vibrant and fun place to be. The East Village has lots of quirky shops and restaurants. I’d recommend a stroll through the streets there.
 

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver from the Ghostbuster years. We had the same hair.


Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

There are so many! I love Stephanie Plum and Agatha Raisin for the humor. I’ve just started reading the Agatha Raisin books and love her jaded, yet hopeful view of the world. Mary Russell and Lady Georgiana Rannoch are my favorites for historical mysteries.


If you could have in your possession one signed first edition of any book in the world, which book would that be? Why that particular book?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I have an eighteen-year-old son and much of his childhood was enriched by the Harry Potter books. It was an amazing literary phenomenon to live through – the waiting between books to find out what would happen next. The discussions of how it would end and whether Snape was really as bad as he seemed were fun and engaging. My thirteen-year old missed out on that aspect as the whole series was completed by the time she was old enough to read them. Book 6 was my favorite. 


How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? 

After I calmed down enough to think straight, I’m pretty sure champagne was involved. I did go to visit the book in the wild at a local bookstore the week it was released. I took pictures of it sitting on the shelf with all of its friends. It was a pretty surreal moment to see my book among a bunch of my own favorites.


Name one thing on your Bucket List.

Live in London for a year. I love the history, the museums, the parks, the accents. And you can visit the rest of Europe from there.
 

 

 

 
You've just received a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. Which bookstore are you making a bee-line for?

Beaverdale Books. It’s a small, independent bookstore near me. I did my first author signing there and the owner is very supportive of local writers.





 

 

 

 
An extremely reliable source tells you that a thinly disguised you is a character in a book that's currently high up on the New York Times Bestseller List. What kind of character do you think you are?

The quiet one that you sort of suspect is up to no good… 



Available Now!



 

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Dawn! It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you a little better.

May your book sales do nothing but increase!

 

 

 

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Hair-Raising Weekly Link Round-Up




Perhaps it's because I spent the first twenty years of my life further north, but the change from summer to autumn seems very sudden to me down here in Phoenix. One of the things I had the most difficulty adjusting to was the lack of any real dusk or twilight-- and the lack of lightning bugs (fireflies). The best time to hunt lightning bugs is at dusk. But there are no such varmints here. The sun either seems to be shining, or it's dark. One day it's not dark until 8 PM, and the next it's dark before 7:30 PM. Sometime last week, I'm pretty sure I heard the click when the earth settled on its axis and began downshifting for autumn. Before last week, when shadows covered the pool deck, it meant that it was past 6:30. Now it's 5:45. Part of me is already in mourning.

Yes, I know. There was nothing hair-raising in what I just said. That bit is coming now. Denis drives a rental car bus around the terminals at Sky Harbor Airport. Recently a monsoon storm struck-- literally. Denis was 100 feet away from a palm tree when it was struck by lightning. Big chunks of the tree were blown everywhere, and I would imagine Denis's heart went pitty-pat for a minute or two. I know mine would have! I thought you might like to see the event. The photo was taken by one of the airport surveillance cameras on the control tower. Yikes! (You can click on the photo and it will open in a new window automatically if you'd like to see more detail.)


 


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • Can you identify these classic novels from their closing lines
  • Here are the trailers for two films that I'm adding to my Must Watch List: Victor Frankenstein and The Martian
  • Australian parents are angry over books being put in Happy Meals
  • That time Yvonne Craig ran over Vincent Price with the Batgirlcycle
  • Why you need an app to understand Iain Pears' latest novel
  • Let authors take the quiet road. 
  • Google's Project Sunroof tells you how much solar energy is hitting your rooftop.
  • Should we care if yet another F. Scott Fitzgerald story is "discovered"? I'm a Fitzgerald lover, and my answer may surprise you. 
  • If you like thrillers, you may want to take a look at The Big Thrill, the online publication of the International Thriller Writers.
  • Beloit College has an annual mindset list for professors and counselors to show them which references no longer mean anything to incoming freshmen. If you take a look at the list, a few gray hairs may pop out on your head. 
  • Kathleen and I are keeping an eye on the situation with Harper Lee. Seems that Lee's lawyer is creating quite the stir in Monroeville, Alabama.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Photos have shown the first wild California wolf pack in nearly a century. 
  • Although long misunderstood, we are learning that a hummingbird tongue works like a micropump.
  • I don't drink coffee (told you I was strange), but I'd patronize this Japanese coffee shop because of its mascots
  • After three long years, this Army dog gets the homecoming he well deserves.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • The best New York City novels by neighborhood. 
  • Tourism gone vintage. (I love old travel posters.) 
  • Earth in July was the hottest month on record. (August hasn't exactly been a picnic either. Phoenix had a four-day stretch this month where the average temperature was 103.7°.) 
  • The 50 most visited national parks. (I shouldn't have been surprised at #1.) 
  • Do you want to take a vacation and sell books? I'd be tempted simply because I'd be going to Wigtown-- the booktown of Scotland. 
  • There's a city in Romania that gives free bus rides if you read a book.

►I ♥ Lists◄

►Book Candy◄
  • A Parisian flat designed for a couple with two children (and books)! 
  • Inspiring workspaces. (If this opens and just looks like a narrow ribbon, click on the ribbon and it should open to full size for you.)
  • Book cover twins. (You may have to scroll down a bit. This site has a Donald Trump ego-sized header.)
  • Inside the Folger Library's beautiful reading room.


That's all for now. 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 27, 2015

Death in August by Marco Vichi


First Line: Inspector Bordelli entered his office at eight o'clock in the morning after an almost sleepless night, spent tossing and turning between sweat-soaked sheets.

It's the summer of 1963 in Florence, Italy, and Inspector Bordelli is one of the few detectives left in the city. If it weren't for the relentless heat, he'd really enjoy the nearly deserted streets. As it is, he is looking forward to a holiday at the beach once everyone else has returned to town.

The only thing to keep him from routine paperwork is the death of a wealthy elderly woman. Her companion says the woman was murdered. The postmortem is in favor of natural causes. However, once Bordelli begins looking around inside the dead woman's villa and taking a look at the woman's family, he very quickly sees that things just don't add up. With all this heat, Bordelli can't sleep anyway, so he may as well solve a murder.

When I saw that Death in August was translated by Stephen Sartarelli, I could have done a happy dance. Sartarelli is a superb translator, and I love the work he's done with Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries. Then I began to read. I was hooked by page three and the description of Bordelli's meeting with his boss. There is wit and humor in this book, and I loved every bit of it.

Inspector Bordelli is fifty-three, and although he's still looking for Miss Right, he's beginning to wonder if he's too old for her. His investigation is not told in a linear fashion either, but interspersed with his dreams, his childhood memories, and memories of fighting in World War II.

Although the heat could be considered a character in this book, I was rather disappointed that its setting of Florence didn't have a more commanding presence. However, the most charming scene in Death in August is the dinner party Bordelli has for his friends. Not only is it a celebration of wonderful food and drink, but quite an eclectic-- and happy-- gathering of people as well.

The investigation quickly proves that Bordelli doesn't have to figure out WHOdunnit, but HOW they done it, and the way he does so is rather ingenious and certainly entertaining. Piras, the young policeman who helps him solve the crime, brightens things up for Bordelli, especially when the inspector finds out he is the son of his old war buddy. 

Although there are some similarities to Camilleri's Montalbano mysteries, I did not find this book to be a pale imitation. In its own way Death in August is every bit as good as its Sicilian counterpart, and I certainly look forward to reading more.


Death in August by Marco Vichi
Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli
ISBN: 9781444712216
Hodder and Stoughton © 2011
Paperback, 240 pages

Historical Mystery/Police Procedural
#1 Inspector Bordelli mystery
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap