Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

First Line: She had small feet.

The elite Special Tracking Unit of the FBI has only three members. Diane, who works in the office, is brilliant at uncovering information. She's also the glue that holds the unit together. Special Agent Jimmy Donovan and Magnus "Steps" Craig find themselves spending a lot of time at crime scenes. Steps is known as "the Human Bloodhound," and there's a secret to his success that only three people know. He has a kind of synesthesia that allows him to see the essence of a person (what he calls "shine") on everything they've touched. Every person's shine is unique in color and texture.

When the remains of a woman are found, Steps recognizes the shine left by the murderer from another crime scene he worked. By piecing things together, he and Donovan find themselves on the trail of a serial killer-- one who's not afraid to come after the Special Tracking Unit in order to keep his secrets hidden.

From almost the first page, I was blown away by Collecting the Dead. Steps Craig has the world-weary voice of a man who's in his late forties or fifties, so I was shocked when I put two and two together and discovered this character is only twenty-seven. I suppose that's what happens when you refer to yourself as "just the undertaker's front man."  

This is a tale marvelously told, from its well-paced, engrossing plot, to its lyrical descriptions and multi-faceted cast. Spencer Kope has written a barn
burner of a book that can have readers laughing one second and trying not to cry the next. And... like Diane is the glue that holds the Special Tracking Unit together, the entire cast holds Collecting the Dead together. 

For the most part (but not always), the various police jurisdictions work together well with the FBI. These are professionals whose main aim is to save innocent lives, and this dedication adds a sense of urgency and tension to the book. Some of the more interesting scenes come when Steps and Jimmy Donovan try to find acceptable ways to divulge their "shine" findings to the police. But this "shine" often takes a backseat to the grunt work of checking and rechecking facts, reports, photos, interviews-- the very things that often break cases wide open. Kope walks a fine line between Steps' synesthesia and the more "mundane" police work extremely well.

Throughout Collecting the Dead, we watch Steps collecting information about a serial killer he calls Leonardo. It's his aim to catch Leonardo, and I sincerely hope readers get to watch him do so in a second book. I was buried so deeply in this story that my husband had to clap and shout at me to get my attention. I want to have that happen again. I want more Steps Craig-- and I'm certain you will, too!

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope
ISBN: 9781250072870
Minotaur Books © 2016
Hardcover, 320 pages

Law Enforcement, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Amazon Vine

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cracked to Death by Cheryl Hollon

First Line: "Come on. Do the right thing-- again."

Savannah Webb has the perfect idea to help St. Petersburg, Florida residents beat the summer heat and boost sales in Webb's Glass Shop: a workshop that uses recyclable bottles. The class is taught by store manager Amanda Blake, and it's a bigger hit than anyone had anticipated due in part to a pair of very old bottles brought in by Martin Lane.

The bottles may be relics of a storied local pirate shipwreck, and it looks as though someone is taking their existence very seriously. Too seriously. Martin's body washes ashore the next morning with another of the bottles tucked in his dive bag. When cell phone records tie Amanda to Martin's death, Savannah has to find the real killer and keep her friend from going to prison.

With glass-making, antique glass, and pirate treasure, Cracked to Death looked to be right up my alley. There was enough information about glass-- and upcycling-- to keep my interest, and Savannah's recently expanded shop meant that I kept an eye peeled on her business acumen. It was also refreshing to see that Savannah has a good rapport with local police. One thing that's been done to death in cozy mysteries is the dumb, obstructive police officer in charge of an investigation. 

The author has also created some interesting characters, and I don't just mean Savannah Webb. There's the British heartthrob Edward Morris, Rooney the Weimaraner, and-- most importantly to me-- Jacob Underwood, a young man with Asperger's who's become a stained glass restoration expert. 

However, I chose the wrong series to start off with book number three. In her role as Suspect #1, store manager Amanda Blake's behavior just turned me completely off. To the tune that I didn't care if her innocence was proven or not. Pretty harsh, I know. But if I'd gotten to know Amanda pre- lies, evasions, suspicious actions, and emotional crackups, I undoubtedly would have had some badly needed empathy for her. 

If you're not new to the series, then you should be very happy-- especially since you already know Amanda. If you're new to the series, like I was, I would suggest that you may want to start with the first book in the series so you can avoid any possible adverse reactions to Savannah's store manager. There is a lot to like about Cracked to Death.

Cracked to Death by Cheryl Hollon
eISBN: 9781617737657
Kensington Books © 2016
eBook. 320 pages

Cozy Mystery, #3 Webb's Glass Shop mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Net Galley


With a Little Help from My Niece

For about eleven years now I've had a large bed of trailing rosemary in the back garden by my pool. Its centerpiece has always been a small solar fountain. 

Denis and I loved the look and smell of the rosemary, and we enjoyed the solar fountain. There were only two problems. One was the grass that started growing in the rosemary and could not be eradicated. In fact, the blasted stuff began taking over the entire bed. Then there was the other problem.

Feral cats. When the economy tanked, lots of people in this area did a midnight flit, leaving their cats behind. After all, cats can take care of themselves, right? Our back garden is a sanctuary for birds. It also has several "watering holes." Guess where all the feral cats began congregating? That's right. In our back garden. I'd come home from work to find drifts of feathers blowing across the yard because the cats were killing as many birds as they possibly could. When they weren't being killing machines, they were breaking our solar fountains.

During the last two or three years, I got sick to death of pulling grass out of the rosemary, and I stopped having solar fountains that would just get broken. It simply wasn't worth it. Then... the feral cat problem finally began to get under control. So I began making plans. I was going to get another solar fountain. But first...

...the rosemary had to go, and that blasted grass had to go. In stages, I cleared that bed of the rosemary and most of the grass. I splashed out some extra money for a bigger solar fountain with an extra bell and whistle. I wanted to have everything done before our niece Daisy arrived from England, but I didn't.

Then it occurred to me to enlist Daisy's help, and being the type of person she is, she didn't hesitate,  helping me cut and root out the last of the grass, and to put down underlayment so the grass could no longer rear its ugly head. Denis came out to help us for a few minutes when it came to installing the fountain-- leveling it and getting it to run properly-- and then there was some rock for Daisy and I to put down.

After all her help it was a no-brainer for me when it came to naming the new solar fountain. Henceforth, it shall be known as Daisy's Fountain, and the hummingbirds absolutely love drinking from it (and sitting on the very top and cooling off their tiny feathered fannies)!

Friday, June 24, 2016

We're Having a Heatwave Weekly Link Round-Up

Where was I when it reached 118° (48°C) here in Phoenix? Sitting in the shady end of my pool with plenty of ice cold green tea and some excellent reading, that's where. I was perfectly comfortable, which is a very good thing because daytime temperatures are not supposed to dip below 110° for quite some time. Just to insure that you firmly believe that I'm strange... we're still running our evaporative cooler. Yup. You heard me. 118° and we haven't turned on the air conditioner. Methinks my English husband has finally acclimated!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, anyone?
One of the things Daisy and I did while she was visiting was spend a few hours at the Desert Botanical Garden. There's more going on there during a blast furnace June than you'd think. I'll be sharing more photos from there in the coming weeks

Many of the cacti that bloomed so profusely this spring have ripe fruit, and the birds and other critters are gorging themselves silly. When I saw this particular fruit to the left, I couldn't help but run a few Sci Fi movie titles through my head. How about you?

But I cannot dally. I have a corral filled with restless links. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • The secret messages hiding inside 17th century engagement rings.  
  • A Wisconsin police officer hits the jackpot with a Ty Cobb poster that hung in a barn for 90 years. 
  • The 2,000-year-old Antikythera shipwreck which is famous for an "ancient computer" is still yielding new treasures. 
  • Mystery surrounds a rare Mary, Queen of Scots portrait. 
  • Scientists have discovered an ancient city that may be a terrible omen for modern civilization.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Rico, a Marine Corps war dog, will be getting a final send-off with military honors.  
  • An elephant which was shot in the head walked up to a truck to ask for help. 
  • A rare pine martin discovery could stall some housing plans in Scotland. 
  • We have the technology to kill all mosquitoes. Should we do it? 

►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, June 23, 2016

The Woman Who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas-Home

First Line: A vase of blue African lilies, Diana's favourites, filled the church alcove.

Does Cal McGill really want to be the "Sea Detective"? Soul-weary from unceasing requests from bereaved parents begging him to locate the bodies of their children lost at sea, Cal has come to a remote area on the northwest coast of Scotland to reevaluate his life. There he sees a young woman standing on the beach, staring out to sea. 

Soon he is compelled to investigate the twenty-six-year-old mystery of another young woman who stood on that very same beach, then walked into the sea and was never seen again. Cal's going to be brought face-to-face with a tight-knit coastal community that's hellbent on keeping its secrets.

I'm glad to report that The Woman Who Walked into the Sea did not meet my expectations-- it exceeded them. Expecting to read the second book in a mystery series featuring the same cast and location as in the book before it, I found something new. Yes, Cal McGill is still with us, thank goodness, but he's set down in the midst of a brand-new locale and a secondary cast filled with memorable characters. 

The author brings his setting to life, so much so that I could almost smell the sea air and hear the crash of the waves and the cry of the birds. With the village being promised new life due to a proposed offshore wind farm, there's an ecological element to this second mystery, too, reminding those of us who have read The Sea Detective of Cal's strong beliefs on the subject. 

Douglas-Home is so very adept at weaving together a complex story without bogging down the pace or the readability. He explores many questions relating to a complicit village whose residents always seem willing to believe the worst. He shows how secrets can twist in upon themselves and fester, and with surgical precision, he shows how love can be unbelievably cruel. 

This complicated tale is carried on the strong shoulders of a vivid cast of characters: the heartsick Cal, Violet who wants an end to secrets, Mr. Anwar who only wants to do what's right, the malevolent Mrs. Anderson, the vibrant little Anna, and Ross Turnbull-- perhaps the most surprising character of them all. The setting, the story, the characters, are all woven together so tightly and so beautifully... definitely one of my best reading experiences so far this year. 

Since the author seems to be avoiding any real kind of formula for writing his books, I can't wait to see what he's done with book number three: The Malice of Waves. How lucky I am to have found these books!

The Woman Who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas-Home
ISBN: 9781405923583
International Edition
Penguin Books © 2016
Paperback, 384 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #2 Cal McGill mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from the Book Depository.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman

First Line: There is near complete darkness, yes, but it's the least of my problems.

Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn has left the psychos behind her. She enjoys her life in Tucson, Arizona, with her new husband, her friends, and her volunteer work teaching self-defense at a women's shelter. All she wants to do is to concentrate on this sweet new life, but she just can't seem to catch a break. When her sister-in-law dies, Brigid takes in her seventeen-year-old niece, Gemma Kate. 

When Gemma Kate moves in, Brigid's life begins to unravel. There's something unsettling about the young girl, and when Brigid promises a couple to help investigate the death of their son, that isn't as simple as she thought it would be. All of a sudden her house is no longer a haven, and danger-- including murder-- seems to lurk around every corner. 

Once again, Becky Masterman begins a book by putting her main character in a very scary situation. This time, the situation is sometime in the near future. Then she takes readers back to the present so we can wonder how Brigid got herself into that mess. As the story progresses, we see how it happened... and now it's time for us to wonder how she's going to get herself out of danger. It's a formula that works, due almost entirely to the strength of the tough, smart, older woman, Brigid Quinn.

In Fear the Darkness, we're seeing Brigid when she isn't at her best. What's wrong with her? Is she imagining things? Is Gemma Kate a psychopath? Is the death of the couple's young son really suicide, or is it murder? Masterman poses a lot of questions throughout the story, and discovering the answers turns out to be a most enjoyable undertaking. It's always fascinating to me to wonder if a strong, intelligent character has suddenly turned into an unreliable narrator, and if so, to deduce the reason why. 

The only thing that slightly marred the book for me was the fact that I deduced the villain of the piece much too early. I have a nose for certain elements in a mystery. (For example, if someone's dead, I want to "see" the body.) But even though I knew whodunit, Fear the Darkness is still an excellent study of personalities and a thrilling, fast-paced tale to read. Brigid is a marvelous character who is incapable of giving up. Bring on book three!

Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman
ISBN: 9780143182689
Penguin Canada © 2015
Paperback, 336 pages

Thriller, #2 Brigid Quinn mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet.   


Daisy, Daisy....

As all of you loyal blog readers know, our eighteen-year-old niece Daisy came over from England to spend two weeks with us here in Arizona. The two weeks went past far too quickly. Did Daisy enjoy herself? Well... I have a sneaking suspicion that she's already planning her next trip! Until then, I thought I'd share some of the memories we made during those two weeks.

Staying cool in the pool!

While Daisy was here, we had a tiny little heat wave. I say tiny because Phoenix has had even higher temperatures since she left. One day, it reached 115°F/46°C, and guess where Daisy and I were? You got it-- staying cool in the pool!

For three days, we stayed fairly close to home. Daisy went shopping in an American grocery store, and she helped me install a new solar fountain. (More about that on another day.) Then it was time to pack the Jeep and head to northwestern Arizona. We had some adventures planned for our niece.

Daisy on the brink before going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Our first stop was Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk, owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. The Skywalk is a cantilevered glass "shelf" that hangs out over the Grand Canyon. You can see it behind Daisy in the photo above. The Skywalk is not affiliated with Grand Canyon National Park in any way, and to be honest-- although it was an experience Denis and Daisy were glad to have shared-- neither of them were all that happy when all was said and done. The Skywalk is pricey. It's a bit off the beaten path. To walk out on that glass shelf will cost you almost $72 each, and you cannot take any personal possessions out there with you. Not only that, but you are not allowed to take photos. They are more than happy to take four photos of you out on the Skywalk and email them to you... for a fee of almost $100. It made me even happier that I don't do "standing at an abyss" stuff and stayed in the Jeep with a cold drink and my book.

Grand Canyon West

The next morning saw us heading west on the Mother Road-- Route 66-- to the old mining town of Oatman. When the ore ran out and the prospectors left, they abandoned their burros. The burros are wild and roam freely up and down the streets of the town, and the human residents take good care of them. Tourists are watched to insure that they aren't feeding the burros anything unhealthy. The last time Denis and I were there, carrots were a preferred food. Now they are a no-no because it's been discovered that too many carrots can make the burros diabetic. Who knew?

Denis, Daisy & some Oatman residents

My favorite Oatman gift shop

If you look closely (or left click on the photo so you can see it full size in a new window), you'll see a burro standing on the porch of the gift shop. Any true Arizona resident can tell you the value of shade! And take a look at that bloom stalk on the agave out front. It's huge! I always think it's too bad that, once it's flowered, the agave will die.

Youngest Oatman resident

This is the youngest resident of Oatman. A mere five days old, this young one sports a sign on his forehead telling people Do Not Feed the Baby! 

Daisy standing by the side of the Mother Road.

Daisy at Sitgreaves Pass.

You can see three states up at Sitgreaves Pass: Arizona, Nevada, and California, and it's right on Route 66.

Daisy wading in the cold Colorado River.

We continued on Route 66 to Peach Springs, where we bought permits to drive the 20+ miles down the unpaved Diamond Creek Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It's fortunate that the Colorado is so cold because the Canyon plays tricks with the heat. It's almost as if there's a huge magnifying glass up at the top that focuses and intensifies the sunlight so that the bottom of the Canyon is much hotter than it is up at the top. When we were there, it was a rather toasty 120°F/49°C.  And may I just say right now how well our fair English rose was adapting to all this heat and sun? I was so relieved!

Miss Daisy driving....

Daisy had voiced a desire to drive on the wrong side of the road (and the wrong side of the vehicle), so we decided that there was no better place to do this than on the rather straight stretch of Route 66 from Peach Springs to Kingman. Miss Daisy done good!

Daisy standing on a certain corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Luckily the Eagles' "Take It Easy" played on the radio during this trip; otherwise, standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, might have meant nothing to this young'un. 

Daisy & the girl in a flat-bed Ford.

Daisy at the edge of a very big hole-- Meteor Crater.

If you're going from Winslow to Holbrook, you just have to stop at Meteor Crater. The size and near perfection of that huge hole in the ground is a bit awe inspiring.

Daisy exploring the Petrified Forest.

Next stop was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. We saw some amazing sights and stopped at a gift shop to buy some petrified wood. I have a large polished slice of it amidst the rubble on my desk right now. It's gorgeous.

My slice of petrified wood.

After those adventures, it was time to come back to Phoenix. Daisy and I went to see "Alice Through the Looking Glass" so she could compare UK and US movie theaters. We also went to the Desert Botanical Garden.  We went early in the morning, but we spent almost three hours there, and by the end of that time, I think we were trying not to dash from one patch of shade to the next!

An English Daisy with a Desert Rose

And of course, you're not an official Arizona tourist until you've had your photo taken standing by a saguaro! After this, it was off to the Olive Garden for lunch (and buckets of iced tea and lemonade)!

Daisy and the saguaro

Knowing me like you do, you know that I had to take Daisy to The Poisoned Pen. It was a very special afternoon. Daisy got her book autographed, and she chatted with three authors.

L to R: Kate Carlisle, Laura Bradford, Paige Shelton & Daisy
It's not really a vacation if all you're doing is go, go, go, is it?

Just chillin'
Before we knew it, the two weeks were up, and Daisy had to go home. I had to smile when I saw her "going home" outfit....

Have I made a convert?

Daisy's been gone less than a week. I have the house back to myself. I'm not wearing company clothes. I'm reading up a storm and back online.

I miss her.