Friday, May 22, 2015

The Drying Out Weekly Link Round-Up

Another storm came rumbling through Phoenix, and once again we're drying out. I appreciate every drop of rain we've received, and I'm certainly glad that our big cactus got straightened out beforehand!

Papa Verdin keeping busy.
It's been a quiet week, except for Monday when I hot-footed it over to The Poisoned Pen to see Craig Johnson. As many appearances as that man makes I wonder how he finds time to write! 

Other than that, I've been doing a bit of garden taming-- pruning back hedges that are going wild over all the water, pulling weeds. You know... all that fun stuff. The first round of baby birds have grown up, and I would imagine that new batches of eggs will be hatching in the weeks to come. We're going through oranges like there's no tomorrow.

In the evenings I'm knitting up a storm. I've just finished watching all 25 episodes of "Foyle's War" that are available on Netflix, and I see that a new season of "Murdoch Mysteries" is waiting for me via the Acorn channel. Somehow Agatha Christie knew that knitting and mysteries go hand in hand!

Now let's round up these links!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • How does history influence George R.R. Martin?
  • The World War II diaries of Astrid Lindgren (think Pippi Longstocking) have just been published in Sweden.
  • One man's hunt for Shakespeare's first editions.
  • After the success of Wolf Hall, the BBC will be adapting another Hillary Mantel novel.
  • I love Kathleen Taylor's Tory Bauer mysteries. Just thinking about certain scenes in them can make me laugh. (When I first read them, I laughed so hard that I cried.) I don't recommend them often because they can be difficult to find. Now they're available on Kindle, $2.99 each! Yippee!
  • Lionsgate has landed the U.S. rights to Genius, a film about famed literary editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth).
  • Have you ever wondered what is considered to be a suitable gift for a queen
  • Having loved Season One of True Detective, I couldn't resist taking a look at the trailer for Season Two.
  • I'll bet you didn't know that there were influential female philosophers in the 17th century. Some people are trying to make it much better known. 
  • One of my favorite crime fiction writers, Ann Cleeves, talks about the inspiration she finds from Shetland.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►The Happy Wanderer
  • If you're in Montana, that old caboose you're thinking of climbing aboard may not be abandoned. 
  • The world's most amazing remote islands where you can escape civilization. 
  • A brand new island forming off the coast of Japan is giving scientists the rare opportunity to study how life begins to colonize barren land.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►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, May 21, 2015

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

First Line: It is the hottest summer for years.

All construction on a new housing development comes to a screeching halt when a World War II airplane (complete with pilot inside) is unearthed. Dr. Ruth Galloway knows immediately that something is wrong with the discovery, and DNA testing proves her right. The pilot inside the plane is identified as Fred Blackstock, a local member of the gentry who had been reported dead at sea. The current members of the Blackstock clan have interesting reactions to the news.

In a situation where no more complications are needed or even wanted, a television company shows up, wanting to make a film about Norfolk's "ghost fields"-- deserted World War II air fields. There happens to be one in the area that's currently being run as a pig farm by one of the young Blackstocks, and when human bones are found there, Ruth and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson find themselves in a race against a flood to find a killer.

Elly Griffiths' Dr. Ruth Galloway series is one of my must-buys, and it just keeps getting better with each new book. In The Ghost Fields, the weather plays an integral part in the action, first with unrelenting heat and then with endless rain and flooding. Griffiths makes Norfolk come to life, and her choice of title is particularly evocative. This book talks not only of the abandoned air fields of World War II, but other "ghost fields" from centuries past. Ruth is dealing with a Bronze Age burial when the book begins, and there have also been battles fought in the exact same area during the English Civil War. 

No, Norfolk is not short of ghost fields, and further questions arise once we're introduced to the Blackstock family. They live in a drafty, ramshackle manor house barely holding its own against the water around it, and the family is just as strange as the ancestral home. A batty grandfather. A pleasant but distant father. A welcoming mother who's filled with unrealistic schemes to turn the house into a moneymaker. A handsome, charming pig farmer of a son who values his privacy. An incredibly beautiful daughter who's determined to make her name as an actress. Each Blackstock is odd in his or her own way, and trying to gather them together is like trying to herd cats. When DCI Harry Nelson throws up his hands and growls that there are too many Blackstocks, you just have to smile ruefully and agree.

But family is an important theme in The Ghost Fields, and it's not just the Blackstocks. Ruth's daughter Kate is five and now in school. Being a good mother is even more important to Ruth than the work she is so passionate about. Nelson has issues with both his family at home and his co-workers. He even realizes that he considers Clough and Judy to be family. Griffiths knows how to keep her readers completely involved with her characters. The mystery and the characters rely on each other.

There's history. There's danger. There's plenty of family feeling, and contrary to a visiting American's belief that "there's never bad weather in England," there's plenty of that as well. By book's end, we may even have sorted out all those Blackstocks.

The only bad thing about finishing The Ghost Fields is knowing that I have to wait for the next book. This series is superb, and this book is the best so far. If you've never met Ruth Galloway, treat yourself. Start at the beginning with The Crossing Places and read each one. You'll be as hooked as I am.

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9780544330146
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt © 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages

Police Procedural, #7 Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Gift from The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death Ex Machina by Gary Corby

First Line: In my time as an investigator I had received many difficult assignments, problems that were usually dangerous, often deadly, and sometimes downright impossible.

Nicolaos has been called to investigate some strange cases, but he never thought he'd be asked to find a ghost. It's time for the Great Dionysia-- the largest art festival of the ancient world-- and a time when many plays are performed in Athens' grandest theater. Nicolaos and his partner Diotima have the ghost publicly exorcised, even though they suspect that the real culprit is all too human. 

When one of the actors is found dead on the stage, the matter becomes critical. Without enough rehearsal time, the plays could be flops instead of hits, and that could be a diplomatic fiasco for Athens. Nicolaos and Diotima have to find the killer fast, and it's not going to be easy: the suspect list is much longer than they'd anticipated.

I can always count on Gary Corby to make me feel right at home in ancient Athens. This time Greek drama played an integral part in the story, and it was fascinating to learn the important role it played in the ancient world. 

With the start of the Great Dionysia looming on the horizon, all those concerned come up with an ingenious way to buy time for the investigation. (Would that we could do the same today!) Corby's mystery is an absorbing one because the first thing Nicolaos has to do is find out which Romanos was killed. The further he and Diotima investigate, the more it seems that Romanos the actor was a different person for each group of people with which he came into contact. Was the murderer killing Romanos the actor, or the character he was portraying in the play? Was he killed for personal reasons, or did a complete stranger choose him at random? As the two investigate the dead man's life, the mystery twists and turns with each new piece of information. It certainly kept me guessing.

Corby knows how to create a page-turning mystery, and he certainly knows how to infuse his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Greece seamlessly into his story, but that's not all he does. Not only the setting comes to life, so do the characters. Nicolaos and Diotima are such an engaging couple that you can't help but want them to succeed. Nicolaos' little brother just so happens to be Socrates. (Yes, that Socrates!) In each book the young Socrates gets into some sort of mischief, and in Death Ex Machina, he's being homeschooled. The reason why will make you smile if not laugh out loud.

Another thing that I love about Corby's Athenian mysteries is the humor I find throughout each book. Nicolaos learns not to call one certain play by its title but to refer to it as "the Corinthian play" because it's unlucky to say its name aloud. (MacBeth, anyone?) And when one character asks the rhetorical question "Who in his right mind would ever vote for an actor?" I just had to smile. This humor, referring as it does to our own world, makes us feel more at home in ancient Athens. We humans haven't changed all that much after all, have we?

If you're new to these books, you should be able to read Death Ex Machina with little to no confusion. It reads well as a standalone, but one thing I do advise is to read the author's notes in the back of the book once you've finished the story. You'll find out how much of the plot is based on fact, and which parts Corby tweaked a bit. You'll also be entertained by more of his humor. I am very glad that I discovered Nicolaos and Diotima, and I look forward to more of their adventures.

Death Ex Machina by Gary Corby
ISBN: 9781616955199
Soho Crime © 2015
Hardcover, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, #5 Classical Athens mystery
Rating: A
Source: the publisher 

The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian

First Line: Mother and Father were sharing a bed.

Things have changed greatly for Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith since the events that took place in The Devil's Workshop. Both men are still healing from their injuries, but while Day is confined to desk duty, Hammersmith is no longer employed by Scotland Yard.

While Day contends with paperwork, being a new father, and his obnoxious in-laws, Hammersmith is obsessed with finding Jack the Ripper, who's still roaming free in London.

Murdered prostitutes are turning up once more, and there's a new killer in town named the Harvest Man who has a particularly gruesome modus operandi with the husbands and wives he kills. No matter how hard Day, Hammersmith, and their colleague Dr. Kingsley work, the people of London may never feel safe again.

Any day with a new Murder Squad novel from Alex Grecian is a good day, and The Harvest Man is no exception. Scotland Yard is moving to a new building, and as the old one empties, there's a real sense of one era ending and a new one beginning.  We're introduced to new characters, like Claire Day's parents, and we're able to observe how all of them are dealing with the brutal events of the previous book. Many things happened that are not easy to come to terms with.

As usual, Grecian shows his skill in telling a well-paced, engrossing story. Jack the Ripper seems to have spawned a new breed of killer, and it's interesting to watch the characters speculate about the reasons why this is so. For anyone new to the series, I have three caveats. One, Grecian immediately immerses you in the story. There is little background given at first, so it may take you a bit of time to get your bearings. Two, if you are the slightest bit squeamish, the gore level in his books may be too much for you. Three, if you're looking for a perfect rendition of Victorian London, you may be disappointed. Grecian's London of the 1890s isn't necessarily a visual one; it's an emotional, a visceral, one. There are many other writers who can depict this London in all its grimy glory. From them you'll know by sight and feel and smell the second you step in horse dung as you cross the street. When you read Alex Grecian, you won't care about the horse dung because you're too busy mentally running for your life.

There are many times when I was mentally running for my life-- or wishing that one of the characters would. Grecian knows how to tell that kind of story, and he's filled it with characters-- Day and his wife Claire, Hammersmith, Dr. Kingsley and his daughter Fiona-- that you care about. He raises the bar on suspense because, in his books, bad things can happen to good people. I'm not always in the mood for something like this, but when I am, I definitely know which author to read.

But in the midst of all the running and lives being in danger, there are flashes of humor and of grace.  These characters are people who know how precious life is. When Dr. Kingsley jokingly introduces his rudimentary crime scene kit to Inspector Tiffany, we laugh, but we also know how much these men care about stopping killers. When Hammersmith asks the names of women city fathers would cross the street to avoid, we're shown true humanity.

When The Harvest Man ended, I found myself wanting to know what's going to happen to Walter Day. I look forward to Grecian's next Murder Squad book with a great deal of anticipation.

The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian
ISBN: 9780399166440
G.P. Putnam's Sons © 2015
Hardcover, 400 pages 

Historical Mystery, #4 Murder Squad mystery
Rating: A+
Source: the publisher

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I've Got Alex Grecian Covered!

This week is packed with the newest releases of some of my favorite crime fiction writers. In fact I have an extra review scheduled. Today you'll not only get to compare the British and American covers of one of those new books, you'll also be able to read my review of it.

I think that, at one time or another, we've all run across different book covers for the same title. Sometimes it's a classic like Pride and Prejudice that gets a new look each time it's reprinted. But if your reading tastes extend to the other side of the pond, you know that the same book can be published in the US with one cover and in the UK with a completely different one. Sometimes the publishers will even have different titles which means that we really have to keep on our toes.

As a novice book cover connoisseur, I'm finding it interesting to see what each country's publisher thought was most important in catching the eye of a book buyer. Let's take a look at this week's cover comparison....

Alex Grecian's Scotland Yard's Murder Squad mysteries are set in the 1890s in and around London. They feature two detectives, Day and Hammersmith, who encounter some pretty hair-raising-- and gruesome-- cases. Grecian often sets his scariest scenes in the dark. What's creepier than a killer stalking prey through the foggy streets of London at night, or chasing a mad man into the sewers, or looking for clues in abandoned mines? Before you think it's an all-out gory fright night, let me assure you that these books aren't, and it's all due to those two detectives I mentioned. Grecian has created some marvelous characters. Anyway, let's take a look at these covers!

The US cover is pretty stark. Black. White. Red. Grecian has his name at the top. We're told that he's a national bestselling author and that this book is part of the Murder Squad series. The "Harvest Man" is the name of the latest killer these two detectives must catch, and from the looks of the cover, Day and Hammersmith are going to have to walk into someplace dark and frightening. Take a look at what's hovering almost out of sight on either side of that dark doorway. Flies. Perhaps I've watched too many crime dramas and read too much crime fiction because the very first time I saw those flies on the cover, I thought of the types of things they're attracted to: dead bodies, perhaps?

Okay. I've creeped myself out, and I haven't even opened the book to begin reading yet!

On the other hand, the UK cover of The Harvest Man has a lot more going on. Once again, Grecian's name is at the top, and there are two blurbs at the bottom, one from Jeffery Deaver and one from the UK newspaper the Daily Express. The way the title is presented is interesting. That big black band emphasizing "Harvest" grabs your attention and makes you wonder what's being harvested. Then there's something that looks like an ornate Victorian mirror with-- what?-- a hand? Are we catching a glimpse of the killer? Is someone trapped inside the mirror? I'm not quite sure what that's all about, and I hope a few of you will have some enlightening thoughts on the matter.

Which one do I prefer? I think you already know from what I've said. I prefer the simplicity-- and the menace-- of the US cover. I find the UK cover a bit confusing.

What about you? Which one do you prefer? US? UK? Neither one? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill

First Line: On December 25, 1978, the concrete public-address system pole in South That Luang's Area Six unexpectedly blew itself up, a Lao skirt with a severed finger sewn into the hem passed through the national postal system unchallenged and Vietnam invaded Cambodia.

Dr. Siri Paiboun, the former National Coroner of Laos, wishes he could enjoy his retirement, but with a house filled with less fortunate friends and acquaintances, it's difficult. When he receives an unmarked package in the mail that contains a handwoven pha sin (a colorful traditional skirt worn in northern Laos) with a severed human finger stitched into the hem, he jumps at the chance of taking a mystery-solving road trip. Using the wiles that make him such a formidable investigator, Siri finagles transportation north to where the skirt was made. He has no idea that he's just undertaken a deadly scavenger hunt right in the heart of a political powder keg.

From its punny title to its very last sentence, I loved immersing myself in the world of septuagenarian Dr. Siri Paiboun once again. There's no other character quite like him in all of crime fiction, and the rest of the characters Colin Cotterill has created are every bit as wonderful. Time has passed since the last book (The Woman Who Wouldn't Die), and the Communist government hasn't been kind to Dr. Siri's friends and former co-workers, but they're all managing to work with what they've been given. Moreover, it would seem that what they've been given is pretty dull because they're more than happy to help Siri in his latest investigation.

One of the things I love about this series is its glimpse into the culture of Laos and of life in a Communist regime. In Six and a Half Deadly Sins I learned what a precarious position Laos was in at that time due mainly to its location-- surrounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and China. Three of those countries would have been more than happy to gobble this poor country up, and all any of them would need was the smallest excuse.

The mystery in this book completely engaged my interest because it kept changing as more information was learned. No one is whom they appear to be-- even the good guys-- and this isn't always a bad thing. Cotterill kept me guessing, and he certainly had me worried for Siri's safety.

If you're new to this series, you should be able to read this book as a standalone and still enjoy it, but I would recommend beginning with the very first book, The Coroner's Lunch. What you'll learn about the culture and the time period is invaluable, but it's the humor and the characters who will take hold of your heart. Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series is essential reading for me, and I sincerely hope that it becomes that for you, too.

Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill
ISBN: 9781616955588
Soho Press © 2015
Hardcover, 256 pages

Historical/Humorous Mystery, #10 Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery
Rating: A
Source: the publisher 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Carolyn Hart Giveaway!

Saturday, May 9, I was fortunate enough to attend the Death on Demand Party (AKA Cozy Con 2015) at The Poisoned Pen. Naturally I picked up some goodies, and I'm going to be sharing them all with you!

This first giveaway is for one autographed copy of Carolyn Hart's latest Death on Demand mystery, Don't Go Home, and one commemorative mug from the party. That's right. One winner will receive both the book and the mug!

Here's the synopsis of this 25th Death on Demand mystery:

"Annie Darling, owner of the Death on Demand mystery bookstore, is hosting a party to celebrate successful Southern literary icon—and former Broward’s Rock resident—Alex Griffith and his bestselling new novel, Don’t Go Home. But after the local paper announces that Griffith aims to reveal the real-life inspirations behind his characters, perhaps the author should take his own advice. Not everyone in town is ready to give him a glowing review.

As Annie attempts damage control, her friend Marian Kenyon gets in a heated argument with Griffith. It’s a fight Annie won’t soon forget—especially after the author turns up dead.

Despite an array of suspects to match Griffith’s cast of characters—and a promise to her husband, Max, to steer clear of sleuthing—Annie’s not about to let the police throw the book at her friend when the real killer remains at large…"

Sounds like a good'un, doesn't it? Now let's take a look at that mug...

If you're having trouble reading that fine print, just click on the photo and it will automatically open in a new window in its original size. On one side is a graphic of a stack of three books and the words "Death on Demand Bookstore, Broward's Rock, South Carolina." On the other side: "Don't Go Home by Carolyn Hart. The 25th Death on Demand Mystery. Poisoned Pen Bookstore. 5-9-2015"

(By the way, I know you're seeing two mugs in the photo above, but that's just to show you both sides. One of the mugs is mine!)

Okay now... what do you have to do to be eligible to win the book and mug?

Here are the rules:

  1. Send an email to kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com.
  2. The subject header of the email must read "Death on Demand Giveaway."
  3. The body of the email must contain (A) Your email address, and (B) Your mailing address.

That's it! I believe in simple rules, but all three of them must be followed, or your entry will not be eligible.

This giveaway will run through Tuesday, May 26, and the winner will be announced here on the blog on Wednesday, May 27. Good luck to you all!


If you haven't already liked Kittling: Books' Facebook page, you might want to do so. If you already do, you might want to make sure that you get notifications from it. Why?  Because that's where I'll be giving away autographed copies of the rest of the books I picked up at the Death on Demand Party, that's why! I'd hate for you to miss out! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Gearing Up for Giveaways Weekly Link Round-Up

We're having some unusual weather here in Phoenix: below normal temperatures, overcast, and rain. Normally the summer is gearing up, it's getting quite warm, there's not a cloud in the sky, and it's dry as a bone. We need the rain, so I'm not complaining-- especially since our twelve foot tall leaning cactus has been straightened-- I just hope that this rain now doesn't mean we won't have a monsoon season.

The weather certainly hasn't slowed down all the birds that visit Casa Kittling, like the male house finch you can see to the right. It can't slow them down because they have too many mouths to feed. I can put out three to four oranges per day, and between parents and those young feeling confident enough to fly over and perch, every bit of the juicy fruit is eaten. I've learned quite a bit about bird behavior just from watching them around the feeders and bird baths.

Next Monday you'll be seeing instructions for a giveaway. I picked up a few goodies from the Death on Demand Party at The Poisoned Pen last Saturday, and I'm going to share them all with you. The first giveaway will be Monday, and the rest will follow, one at a time, on Kittling: Books' Facebook page.

But enough about birds and giveaways. Here are this week's links!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • Steven Spielberg and Syfy will be adapting the classic novel Brave New World
  • A woman's message in a bottle has been found forty years after she threw it into the sea.
  • Never-ending stories: would you read a one million-word book?
  • Amazon Prime video is set to stream aloft with JetBlue Airlines.
  • This Google Map of Westeros clears up any Game of Thrones geography questions.
  • After Stephen Colbert announced that he was teaming with to fund every single teacher-requested grant in South Carolina, a wonderful thing began to happen.
  • Is this river floating?
  • There's a new eReader with GPS available in Brazil that's interactive with the settings of books. I wish I lived down there so I could give it a test read! 
  • How agency pricing has affected the bestseller lists.
  • Digital sales account for 31% of publisher Simon and Schuster's revenue.
  • Those lucky enough to receive BBC Radio 4 have been able to listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. Fortunately the rest of us can listen to it via iPlayer Radio. (I'm listening to it now... which makes it rather difficult to type!)
  • Some people may be losing their trust in eBooks.
  • An Iranian bookstore in Los Angeles is giving exiles a taste of the freedoms they lost in their homeland.
  • You've heard me talk about The Poisoned Pen often enough, now here's a short little video you can watch that will take you right into the store. You'll even get to see and hear Barbara Peters. 
  • I mentioned the voting for a new face for the $20 bill, and it looks as though we may be seeing Harriet Tubman instead of Andrew Jackson.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • City living in Roman Britain meant longer lives but worse teeth.
  • A ransacked Roman temple has hidden medieval secrets.
  • There are a lot of archaeologists in Finland doing a happy dance over $150 million worth of treasure.
  • Argh! Has Captain Kidd's treasure been found off the coast of Madagascar?
  • An ancient Egyptian fortress has been unearthed in the Sinai.
  • Returning the spoils of World War II that were taken by Americans.
  • After 252 years, an English warship is to be recovered off the coast of Uruguay.
  • Very, very slowly, archaeologists are learning the answers to the mysteries of Teotihuacan.
  • A chest purchased at an estate sale nets this Texas man some hidden treasure. 
  • Also in an earlier round-up I mentioned that Picasso's Women of Algiers was set to sell at auction, and many thought it would be record breaking. It was. Wow.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • It's a very VERY good thing that I wasn't holding this camera down in Australia because I would've returned home with wet shorts!
  • Mothers come in all shapes, sizes, and species.
  • The 30 happiest animals in the world.

►I  ♥  Lists◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

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!