Saturday, November 01, 2014

Dia de los Muertos: Las Ofrendas

I've said it before, but it seldom hurts to repeat myself: I've never been much for Halloween. When (and where) I was growing up, it seemed a time for vandalism and greed, and I just never warmed to it. It wasn't until I moved to Arizona that I found a holiday I could embrace-- Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

This is a two-day holiday celebrated in all Latin American countries (and in any city with a large Latino population) on November 1 and 2, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Here's a description from National Geographic:

Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community.

Dia de los Muertos has its own kind of art, an art many would consider to be macabre or ugly, but I find it whimsical and touching. When I learned that the Desert Botanical Garden here in Phoenix celebrated Dia de los Muertos each year, I began to go in large part to see las ofrendas, the offerings made to dead loved ones. In the last few years, I started taking my camera so I could share this art with all of you. As I said, the art isn't for everyone. In fact, Denis didn't like it much when he first started accompanying me. But guess what? He likes it now, and enjoys going almost as much as I do.

Without further ado, here are photos from this year's Las Ofrendas at the Desert Botanical Garden. I'll begin with three views of what you see when you first walk in from out of the bright Arizona sunshine. Click on any photo to see it full size in a new window.

From the entrance

Las Ofrendas-- straight ahead

Las Ofrendas-- to the right

Las Ofrendas-- to the left

Las Ofrendas

When the art has a description, I'll share it with you directly beneath the photo.

"A Desire to Transform" by Marco Albarran

"Meeting of the Muertos" by Martín Moreno

My ofrenda was created in effort to recycle materials such as Styrofoam, paper, and steel. Recycled "muertos" gather to symbolize the importance of protecting our mother earth. Collectively our past, present and future actions need to consider her in every way.

"La Boda Perfecta" (the perfect wedding) by John Hermosillo and Felix Vasquez

After many months of planning her Boda Perfecta, Maria Conchita De Delores was ready. In the background, the mariachi band is playing the wedding march and the bride is walking towards the altar to join her future husband, but right at that moment the bride's mother just found out that the lady sitting outside the church who's selling flowers is the present wife of her daughter's future husband. What does she do? She grabs the train of her daughter's wedding dress and tries to pull her away from the altar where Don Juan Jose Vaquero is waiting. La Novia (the bride) didn't know what was happening so her mother shouts, "His wife is selling flowers to feed their nine children!" The groom tries to stop her, but it's too late. The bride runs out of the church, stops at the flower stand and shouts, "La Boda Perfecta!"

"La Llorona" by Zarco Guerrero

La Llorona is one of Mexico's most popular icons and a story told by parents to frighten their children to behave or to go to bed. According to legend, La Llorona drowned her children so that they would not witness the Spanish invasion. The ghost of La Llorona roams lakes, rivers and beaches in search of her beloved children. Most Mexicans believe that her chilling calls of "Mis hijos, mis hijos!" ("My children, my children!") can still be heard today.

La Llorona is a perfect metaphor for the theme El Amor, El Humor y La Muerte. The story reflects how we deal with the fear of death with a pinch of humor, love for our family, as well as appreciating our ancient indigenous culture.

"Historia de Amor" by Emily Costello

In Mexican culture, small decorated boxes called "Nichos" are commonly found in homes and public places, displayed on walls or pedestals. Made from wood or tin and often painted with bright colors, they provide a stage-like setting for an object that has great significance. Most commonly functioning as an altar for a religious icon, a Nicho can also serve as a memorial to a loved one or as a reminder of an important event.

Beginning with passionate love and ending with eternal love, this four-part Nicho extends this tradition with an exploration of the "historia de amor"-- the "history of love." In the last Nicho, a widow is celebrating Dia de los Muertos in remembrance of her beloved, to make contact with his spirit, to let him know he is not forgotten. Life is eternal, love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

Historia de Amor-- detail

Historia de Amor-- detail

Historia de Amor-- detail

Historia de Amor-- detail

"Seven Roses" by Angel Diaz

This altar was created in honor of my father. I never had the chance to meet him, as he passed away seven months before I was born. The seven roses represent the seven months he had been gone before I arrived. This is the first altar I've created in his memory, and it has been tremendously moving to honor him this way.

"A Humble Way to Honor the Spirits and Souls of Immigrants Crossing the Sonoran Desert" by Cristina Cardenas

My ofrenda is a humble way to honor the spirits and souls of those who have died in our desert with the commitment to find peace and dignity on our border. I am deeply concerned about the continued deaths that have occurred to people from South America and Mexico when they attempt to cross our desert, which are often due to exposure and/or heat related. Since border policies were implemented in the 1990s, it is estimated that the remains of more than 5,000 men, women and children have been recovered on the US-Mexico border. These are tragedies, and such a human right crisis needs a viable solution. According with Coalicion de Derechos Humanos in Tucson, the number of human remains recovered from the Sonoran Desert between 2000 to 2013 are 2,649.

"A Humble Way..." -- detail

"A Humble Way..." -- detail

"Nikki" by El Vaquero Muerto

Nikki was my Love and she took her life because she was filled with sadness and pain. But these things that overcame her are not what I remember or loved in her, and they will not be what define her for me right now. Rather, I will forever see her sparkling eyes and hear her dorky laugh. I will think of her when I hold the toys that made her happy and I will smile through my tears when I recall our moments of joy and play. She is more than her end, for her life breathed into me new paths and futures and so many wondrous memories that who I was before and who I am now are as strangers to each other.

This is my memorial to her. This is my love song. This is our laughter intertwined and made solid, lasting, and beautiful. This is the Nikki I will hold in my heart until it beats no more. This is our love and our joy, and all the wonder of the life we had together.

"Xoloitzcuintli" by Monica Gisel Crespo

This altar honors the importance of dogs in Aztec tradition and the relationship between them and their beloved owners. Aztecs believed that dogs were needed to get their masters' souls to Mictlan, the underworld. The journey through Mictlan took four years, and the dead had to pass nine challenging levels, such as crossing mountain ranges that were crashing into each other, a field with flesh-scraping knives blowing in the wind, and a river of blood with fearsome jaguars. The dead were aided by their lifelong canine companions: the Xoloitzcuintli. The god Xolotl gave Xoloitzcuintli to man with the instruction to guard it with his life, and in exchange the dog would guide man through the dangers of Mictlan and toward the Evening Star in the heavens.

"Bus Stop" by Patrick Murillo

This altar is a whimsical take on Phoenix street life. It represents the colorful characters that can be found at a local bus stop. This Ofrenda is handcrafted with original photographs, painting, foam cuts, and mixed media collage.

Each year I go to the Desert Botanical Garden for Dia de los Muertos and las Ofrendas, I always learn something new, and I always appreciate this colorful whimsical art that has such deep meaning. In fact, this year I've been moved to the point of deciding to make my own ofrenda at home next year. We shall see how that turns out!

Some of you may wonder which ofrenda was our favorite. Denis and I both liked the same two: "Bus Stop" and "Xoloitzcuintli."  (Man, I managed to type Xoloitzcuintli twice now without doublechecking the spelling until I was finished. Wow!)

I said at the beginning that this art isn't for everyone. How about you? Do you like it? Or do you think it's just too macabre? Be honest! Inquiring minds want to know!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Flutter of a Weekly Link Round-Up

It's that time of year when folks up north begin winding their way down here to southern Arizona to escape the snow and cold. It's gorgeous here, and I've been doing a bit of gardening with only occasional slaps at the few persistent mosquitoes that are left after all the rain we had in September.

The inspiration for my Butterfly Tree
Since it has cooled off, Denis and I took the opportunity Wednesday to spend the afternoon at the Desert Botanical Garden, where we wandered through the Monarch Butterfly Exhibit and the Offrendas portion of the Dia de los Muertos celebration. In between, we sat outside at the Patio Cafe and watched the wildlife go by. Denis and I are both convinced that the Patio Cafe alone is worth the price of membership. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I start taking a book or my laptop to sit out there. Better take my camera and extra batteries, too!

I often get asked where I come up with my inspiration for the various theme trees I decorate for Christmas. Well, the inspiration for my Butterfly Tree came from the butterfly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden. When I look up at a tree covered in living ornaments, I can't help but want to try to bring that image to life at home.

If any of you are wondering, I will be posting more Desert Botanical Garden photos on my Facebook page within the next few days, and I'll also share the Dia de los Muertos photos here on my blog this weekend. In the meantime, I have some links to round up!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones

The Happy Wanderer

I  ♥  Lists

That's all for now. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll share a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Murder in a Mill Town by P.B. Ryan

First Line: "We quarreled last March," said Nell Sweeney in a manfully deep, working class English accent-- or her best attempt at one-- embellished with just the slightest quaver of lunacy.

A poor and desperate couple come to Viola Hewitt to ask for help. Their daughter Bridget, employed by the Hewitt Mills and Dye Works, hasn't been seen for days. Mrs. Fallon in particular simply cannot believe that her daughter would take off without a word and feels that Bridget's ex-con lover may have had something to do with her disappearance. 

As she has done in the past, wheelchair-bound Mrs. Hewitt calls on Nell Sweeney, a woman hired to be her companion and the governess to her granddaughter. Nell may look and behave like a lady now, but she's no stranger to the less law-abiding elements of Boston. With the help of the black sheep of the Hewitt clan, William, Nell begins to look for Bridget-- and finds herself in danger.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Still Life with Murder, but this second-- while good-- just isn't as dynamic as its predecessor. The mystery itself is tissue paper thin, and even with some misdirection added, the killer is rather obvious. As I kept reading, it became clear to me that Murder in a Mill Town isn't really about the mystery, it's about the growing relationship between Nell and Will and about Nell's past. A few of her secrets were revealed in Still Life with Murder, but there are plenty more to share in this one.

Will continues to be a fascinating character and is every bit as flawed as Nell-- but in a completely different way. Both are brave and smart and possess a dry wit. They certainly showcase Ryan's skill in rich, nuanced characterization. These two definitely will not have a smooth trip to any sort of relationship, and not just because they come from such different backgrounds. Two people in particular are going to cause them problems every step of the way, and it will be very interesting to see what develops in future books. I only hope that those future books have stronger mysteries to solve.

Murder in a Mill Town by P.B. Ryan
ASIN: B003UV98O0 
Hawkley Books © 2010
eBook, 276 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Nell Sweeney mystery
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Simon's Fel by P.R. Page

First Line: Lissy woke and turned her head to look at the clock; it was ten to five in the morning.

Two years have gone by since the death of Lissy's abusive husband, and she finally realizes that her life is her own again. She decides to sell her London townhouse and buy her dream home in Devon. She finds her house. It's for sale, and she buys it, little knowing that heartache hasn't entirely disappeared from her life, but ready to make her new home livable and to look to the future.

If I'd done a bit of research on the publishing house before requesting this book, chances are that I would not have read this little self-published volume. It's only when I began to read that I wondered what I'd gotten myself into and began to investigate.

First and foremost I want to say that this is a lovely story, and it's what convinced me to read Simon's Fel in the first place. Being free of an abusive relationship, leaving the city, finding a derelict thatched cottage to renovate in a lovely village, doing the things one loves, and having a chance for a fresh start-- this all has the makings of an excellent, if perhaps predictable, story. 

What lets the story down is its execution. There's almost no dialogue. Most of the story is told to us. The characters are static and never really come to life. There are acres of opportunities for character development as well as for beautiful description-- of the village, of the cottage Lissy renovates, and of the business she starts-- but these are never realized in the bare bones style that moves from Point A (Lissy's miserable) to Point B (Happily Ever After). 

It does not please me to say this because I know this book is someone's baby and it is loved. But not everything I have to say is negative. I've already mentioned that the story is what convinced me to read this book. I'm not known for finishing books that I don't like, so that means something made me keep reading till the very last page. What was it? That very same story that enticed me at the beginning. Despite the logical part of my brain adding up writing faults, I did come to care about Lissy, and I wanted to see what happened to her. 

There are many people who can write beautifully, but they have nothing to say. The mechanics of writing can be learned. What this author already has is the ability to create a story that people will want to read. I look forward to the day when the writing style is an equal partner. 

Simon's Fel by P.R. Page
Matador © 2014
eBook, 92 pages

Contemporary Fiction, Standalone
Rating: D+
Source: Net Galley 

November 2014 New Mystery Releases!

How in the Sam Hill could we be looking right at the end of 2014 already? I should still be sitting in the shady end of the pool reading!

Now that I'm spending more time in the house, I keep getting sidetracked by chores and my reading has slacked off like it always does. But that doesn't mean that I've stopped keeping my eyes peeled for new mysteries. No indeed! If my wish list goes below 200 books, I start feeling jittery.

I'm sharing a baker's dozen of my picks from November's new crop of crime fiction. I've sorted them by release date, and I've included all the information you'll need to find them at all your favorite "book procurement" locations. Synopses are courtesy of my favorite showroom, Amazon. Also-- stay tuned for my upcoming picks for new Christmas themed mysteries. (Hey! At least I'm waiting until November!)  

Happy Reading, fellow bibliophiles!

=== November 3 ===

Title: The Burning Room
Author: Michael Connelly
Series: #19 in the Harry Bosch police procedural series set in Los Angeles
ISBN: 9780316225939
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover, 400 pages

Synopsis: "In the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet ten years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other clues are virtually nonexistent. Even a veteran cop would find this one tough going, but Bosch's new partner, Detective Lucia Soto, has no homicide experience. A young star in the department, Soto has been assigned to Bosch so that he can pass on to her his hard-won expertise.

Now Bosch and Soto are tasked with solving a murder that turns out to be highly charged and politically sensitive. Beginning with the bullet that has been lodged for years in the victim's spine, they must pull new leads from years-old evidence, and these soon reveal that the shooting was anything but random.

As their investigation picks up speed, it leads to another unsolved case with even greater stakes: the deaths of several children in a fire that occurred twenty years ago. But when their work starts to threaten careers and lives, Bosch and Soto must decide whether it is worth risking everything to find the truth, or if it's safer to let some secrets stay buried."

=== November 4 ===

Title: Lethal Letters
Author: Ellery Adams
Series: #6 in the Books by the Bay cozy series set in North Carolina
ISBN: 9780425270837  
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages 

Synopsis: "Everyone’s got their hands full in Oyster Bay, North Carolina. Aside from two upcoming weddings, there’s also the historical society’s annual fund-raiser: the Secret Garden Party and Candlelit Ball. Adding to the excitement, Olivia witnesses the discovery of a time capsule in the foundation of a local church. The historical society president hopes to display its contents at their party, but when the items are finally revealed to the public, Olivia notices one of them has vanished.

After a frightening find beneath the pier—the body of Ruthie Holcomb—Olivia is certain there’s a connection between the young woman’s death and the missing piece from the time capsule. With the help of her fellow Bayside Book Writers, Olivia sets out to uncover some clues and ensure a killer has no reason to celebrate…

Title: Risky Undertaking
Series: #6 in the Buryin' Barry series set in North Carolina
ISBN: 9781464203060  
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover, 300 pages
Synopsis: "When Cherokee burial remains are unearthed on the site expanding a local cemetery, the dual occupations of Barry Clayton, part-time deputy and full-time undertaker, collide. Then, during the interment of the wife of one of Gainesboro, North Carolina’s most prominent citizens, Cherokee activist Jimmy Panther leads a protest. Words and ¬ fists fly. When Panther turns up executed on the grave of the deceased woman, Barry is forced to confront her family as the chief suspects. But the case lurches in a new direction with the arrival of Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkin’s Army pal, Boston cop Kevin Malone. He’s on the trail of a Boston hit man who arrived at the Cherokee reservation only days before the murder. Malone is convinced his quarry is the triggerman. But who paid him? And why? The accelerating investigation draws Barry onto the reservation where Panther’s efforts to preserve Cherokee traditions threatened the development of a new casino, a casino bringing millions of dollars of construction plus huge yearly payouts to every member of the tribe. Leading an unlikely team —his childhood nemesis Archie Donovan and his elderly fellow undertaker Uncle Wayne—Barry goes undercover. But the stakes are higher than he realized in this risky undertaking. And the life of a Cherokee boy becomes the wager. Barry must play his cards very carefully…"

Title: For the Dead
Series: #6 in the Poke Rafferty series set in Thailand
ISBN: 9781616951146
Publisher: Soho Crime
Hardcover, 352 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books
Synopsis: "After seven years in Bangkok, American travel writer Poke Rafferty finally feels settled: his family is about to grow larger, and his adopted Thai daughter, Miaow, seems to have found her place at junior high school at last. All that is endangered when Miaow helps her boyfriend buy a stolen iPhone that contains photographs of two murdered police officers. As Miaow’s carefully constructed personal life falls apart, Rafferty discovers that the murders are part of a conspiracy that reaches the top rungs of Bangkok law enforcement and beyond. Miaow’s discovery threatens the entire family, and in order to survive, they may ultimately have to depend on someone who has betrayed them in the past." 

Title: On Borrowed Time
Author: Jenn McKinlay
Series: #5 in the Library Lover's cozy series set in Connecticut
ISBN: 9780425260739
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Synopsis: "Between preparing the library for the holidays and juggling the affections of ex-boyfriend, Captain Mike Sullivan, and her new crush, actor Robbie Vine, Lindsey has her hands full. But the mysterious disappearance of her world-traveling playboy brother takes precedence over all.

Afraid that involving the police could brew trouble for Jack, Lindsey takes matters into her own hands. But as her quest for her brother embroils her in a strange case involving South American business dealings and an enigmatic and exotic woman, it’ll take the help of both her library book club—the crafternooners—and her eager-to-please suitors to keep Jack from ending up in hot water…

Title: Plagued by Quilt
Author: Molly MacRae
Series: #4 in the Haunted yarn Shop cozy series set in Tennessee
ISBN: 9780451471307
Publisher: Signet
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Synopsis: "Kath and her needlework group TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Fiber) are preparing to teach a workshop at the Holston Homeplace Living History Farm, but their lesson in crazy quilts is no match for the crazy antics of the assistant director, Phillip Bell. Hamming it up with equal parts history and histrionics, Phillip leads an archaeological dig of the farm’s original dump site—until one student stops the show by uncovering some human bones.

When a full skeleton is later excavated, Kath can’t help but wonder if it’s somehow connected to Geneva, the ghost who haunts her shop, and whom she met at this very site. After Phillip is found dead, it’s up to Kath to thread the clues together before someone else becomes history.

Title: Suede to Rest
Author: Diane Vallere
Series: #1 in the Material Witness cozy series set in California
ISBN: 9780425270578
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Synopsis: "When Poly Monroe was little, she loved playing in her family’s textile store. But after a fatal family tragedy, Land of A Thousand Fabrics was boarded up and Poly never expected to see the inside again. Now, as inheritor of the long-shuttered shop, she’s ready to restore the family business. However her two new kittens, Pins and Needles, aren’t the ones causing a snag in her plans…

Not everyone wants Poly back in San Ladrón, especially a powerful local developer pressuring her to sell—and leave town fast. But even when the threats turn deadly, she’s not ready to bolt. Because Poly is beginning to suspect that the murder behind the shop is tied to a mystery in her family’s unsettled past that she’s determined to solve…before her own life is left hanging by a thread

Title: The Fourth Secret
Series: a digital short story that's part of the Inspector Salvo Montalbano police procedural series set in Sicily
eISBN: 9781497686465
Publisher: Mondadori
Digital Short Story, 77 pages
*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books
Synopsis: "There have been six events euphemistically called “tragedies in the workplace” in the past month. Six deaths caused by an inexplicable disregard for safety regulations. When the local magistrate opens an investigation, Inspector Montalbano is on the case. But Montalbano soon discovers that these seemingly unrelated incidents are only part of a larger network of crimes."

Title: Bad Country
Author: C.B. McKenzie
Debut mystery, winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize
ISBN: 9781250053541
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 304 pages
Synopsis: "Rodeo Grace Garnet lives with his old dog in a remote corner of Arizona known to locals as El Hoyo. He doesn't get many visitors in The Hole, but a body found near his home has drawn police attention to his front door. The victim is not one of the many undocumented immigrants who risk their lives to cross the border in Rodeo's harsh and deadly "backyard," but a member of a major Southwestern Indian tribe, whose death is part of a mysterious rompecabeza—a classic crime puzzler—that includes multiple murders, cold-blooded betrayals, and low-down scheming, with Rodeo caught in the middle.

Retired from the rodeo circuit and scraping by on piecework as a bounty hunter, warrant server, and divorce snoop, Rodeo doesn't have much choice but to say yes when offered an unusual case. An elderly Indian woman from his own Reservation has hired him to help discover who murdered her grandson, but she seems strangely uninterested in the results. Her attitude seems heartless, but as Rodeo pursues interrelated cases, he learns that the old woman's indifference is nothing compared to true hatred, and aligned against a variety of creative and cruel foes, the hard-pressed PI is about to discover just how far hate can go." 

=== November 8 ===

Title: Tradition of Deceit
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Series: #5 in the Chloe Ellefson series set in 1980s Wisconsin 
ISBN: 9780738740782
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Paperback, 360 pages

Synopsis: "Curator and occasional sleuth Chloe Ellefson is off to Minneapolis to help her friend Ariel with a monumental task. Ariel must write a proposal for a controversial and expensive restoration project: convert an abandoned flour mill, currently used as shelter by homeless people, into a museum. When a dead body is found stuffed into a grain chute, Chloe's attention turns from milling to murder.

Back in Milwaukee, Chloe's love interest Roelke has been slammed with the news that a fellow officer was shot and killed while on duty. Sifting through clues from both past and present, Chloe and Roelke discover dangerous secrets that put their lives—and their trust in each other—at risk."

=== November 18 ===

Title: The Paris Winter
Standalone, Historical Suspense
ISBN:  9781250051837
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, 368 pages
Synopsis: "Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.
Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art. 
But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light." 

Title: The Murder of Harriet Krohn
Author: Karin Fossum
Series: #7 in the Inspector Konrad Sejer police procedural series set in Norway
ISBN: 9780544273399
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, 256 pages
*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books
Synopsis: "On a wet, gray night in early November, Charlo Torp, a former gambler who’s only recently kicked the habit, makes his way through the slush to Harriet Krohn’s apartment, flowers in hand. Certain that paying off his debt is the only path to starting a new life and winning his daughter’s forgiveness, Charlo plans to rob the wealthy old woman’s antique silver collection. What he doesn’t expect is for her to put up a fight.
The following morning Harriet is found dead, her antique silver missing, and the only clue Inspector Sejer and his team find in the apartment is an abandoned bouquet. Charlo should feel relieved, but he’s heard of Sejer’s amazing record — the detective has solved every case he’s ever been assigned to.

Told through the eyes of a killer, The Murder of Harriet Krohn poses the question: how far would you go to turn your life around, and could you live with yourself afterward?"

=== November 25 ===

Title: Soul of the Fire
Series: #8 in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun  series set in Tibet
ISBN: 9780312656034
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 304 pages

Synopsis: "When Shan Tao Yun and his old friend Lokesh are abruptly dragged away by Public Security, he is convinced that their secret, often illegal, support of struggling Tibetans has brought their final ruin. But his fear turns to confusion as he discovers he has been chosen to fill a vacancy on a special international commission investigating Tibetan suicides. Soon he finds that his predecessor was murdered, and when a monk sets himself on fire in front of the commissioners he realizes that the Commission is being used as a tool to whitewash Tibet’s self-immolation protests as acts of crime and terrorism. Shan faces an impossible dilemma when the Public Security officer who runs the Commission, Major Ren, orders the imprisoned Lokesh beaten to coerce Shan into following Beijing’s script for the Commission. He has no choice but to become part of the hated machine that is devouring Tibet, but when he discovers that the most recent immolation was actually another murder, he realizes the Commission itself is riddled with crime and intrigue. 

Everywhere he turns, Shan finds new secrets that seem to lead to the last agonizing chapter of his life. Shan must make a final desperate effort to uncover the Commission's terrible secrets whose painful truth could change Shan’s life - and possibly that of many Tibetans - forever."


Well-- those are my picks for November. Several old favorites like Hallinan, Fossum, and Camilleri, but I have to admit that from the newcomers, I'm really looking forward to C.B. McKenzie's Bad Country

How about you? Are you looking forward to any of these books? Which ones? Inquiring minds would love to know!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

First Line: "Jane," said my mother over the lolling head of the parson slumbering beside her, "be so good as to shift your bandbox and secure my reticule."

Having traveled in horrible weather and on abominable roads to Steventon in order to spend the Christmas holidays with her brother and his family, Jane Austen finds that everyone has been invited to The Vyne to celebrate. Since scarcely anyone was looking forward to being shut in the house with James' self-centered, complaining wife, the invitation is accepted with pleasure, and everyone bundles up for the trip to the old manor house.

The festivities are expected to be even more joyous this year since Napoleon has been exiled to Elba, and Jane's novel Mansfield Park is selling well. Unfortunately the high spirits are not long lived. One of the guests dies in an accident which Jane and another person quickly view as suspicious. The problem is, if the accident was murder, then the killer must be one of Jane's fellow snowbound guests, and Jane needs help in solving the crime before tragedy strikes again.

Author Stephanie Barron's setting places the reader firmly in Jane Austen's day. The language is evocative of the writer, including some of the common spellings of the day-- like "chuse" instead of "choose." This is used sparingly and in no way is it confusing. In reading this twelfth book in the series, readers will understand why people thought traveling seven miles was sometimes too much to ask, and the Christmas festivities are brought to life. Another thing that's made clear is how difficult it could be to perform any sort of investigation.

But perhaps the historical additions that touched me the most were the ones involving Jane's relationship with her family-- in particular her sister Cassandra who feared that Jane's increasing popularity as an author might mean future marriage and parting from her beloved sister. Another poignant addition was how the news concerning Bonaparte had consequences for the Austen brothers who were in the military. Barron makes the reader feel Jane's anxiety.

Unfortunately the mystery in this book doesn't quite live up to its setting. With a limited cast available, deducing a killer's identity isn't difficult, but that's not what bothered me the most because there is much more to a mystery than whodunnit. No, the one thing that bothered me was the book's pace, which felt glacially slow. In fact, those twelve days of Christmas felt about seven days too long.

If you're an Austen fan, you should enjoy this book-- as long as you're not expecting a fast-paced narrative.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
ISBN: 9781616954239
Soho Crime © 2014
Hardcover, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, #12 Jane Austen mystery
Rating: B
Source: publisher 

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Do You Value Most?

You Value Self-Direction


You seek freedom of every type - freedom of movement, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression. You are a very independent person, and you don't fit easily into any mold. You have to be able to do things your own way.

You likely have a creative or artistic bent, even if you don't exercise it. You just see the world differently. You like to indulge in your whims and intuitions. You never know where your passion will take you, and that's what you love about it! 


Jeffrey Siger and Timothy Hallinan at The Poisoned Pen!

This was probably the best day I've ever had at my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, because authors Jeffrey Siger (creator of the excellent Andreas Kaldis series set in Greece) and Timothy Hallinan (creator of two more absolute favorites Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty-- set in Los Angeles and Thailand respectively) went out of their way to treat me a bit like royalty. I've talked about the evening already, so I'm not going to rehash it; however, I just thought it was amazing that-- during a week when the blogging world has blown up over their relationships with authors-- I had an experience that was the polar opposite from the example being used. In fact, almost every single experience I've had with authors has been overwhelmingly positive. This leads me to believe that what I put into something is generally what I get out of it. I could say even more, but this recap is for two very special, very talented writers, and has nothing to do with me, so I'm going to make two more comments then get on with the show. One-- the icing on the cake of this evening was when I also got to chat with yet another favorite writer, Donis Casey (creator of the Alafair Tucker historical series set in Oklahoma) who sat down by me. The second and last comment is a word of apology. Due to a last second chair shuffle, I was not sitting in the optimal location for photos, but I gave it the old college try!

"I keep writing 'em..."

L to R: Barbara Peters, Jeffrey Siger, Timothy Hallinan, Robert Anglen

For this event, host Barbara Peters and the authors were joined by Arizona Republic journalist Robert Anglen. When Barbara asked Robert if he wanted to start first, he deferred to her. Jeff immediately said, "Wait! There are two of you asking questions?!?" to which Tim replied, "This is like being in parentheses!" There's nothing like starting off the evening with a laugh, is there?

Barbara began by saying that Siger and Hallinan are friends and blogmates, and I can honestly attest that the blog they contribute to-- Murder Is Everywhere-- is one of the best ones going. She also mentioned the fact that Siger's latest book Sons of Sparta is dedicated to the founder of Murder Is Everywhere, Leighton Gage, the writer of the marvelous Inspector Mario Silva series set in Brazil. As Tim said, "We'd all like to think that really good writers eventually get their due, but I don't think Leighton got his. He was one of the best writers of the last fifteen or twenty years, but he never got his breakthrough book. He was a terrific writer and a wonderful guy. If his books are here, get them. They're excellent."

With her fingers on the pulse of publishing, Barbara was able to tell us that Tim's publisher, Soho Press, now has their books distributed through Random House and that Gage died before his books could benefit from the greater exposure.

Peters then began to talk about Siger, a writer who's published through her own Poisoned Pen Press. He's a bestselling author in Greece, which is a bit surprising since his books are critical of the country's government. "Jeffrey is a lawyer who made his bundle, sold up, and moved to an island in Greece," Peters said. "I've threatened to kill him if he leaves us for another publisher, and he's told me, 'And what would I do? Sell up and move to an island in Greece?'"

Siger said, "I wrote the first book and people liked it, so I decided to stay with these characters. Readers like it when the characters say critical things about Greece, but they'd probably hang me if I said them. The first one was about Greeks and their economy. The second was about Greeks and their government. Then there was Greeks and the Church and Greeks and immigration. This newest one is about Greeks and family. I keep writing 'em, and no one's shot at me yet. And they're translated into Greek by the way!"

Jeffrey Siger and Timothy Hallinan
Barbara pointed out to Siger early on that, although he was writing contemporary crime novels, he was also echoing ancient Greek culture. 

"I've been told that before," Siger said. "I was telling Tim at lunch that someone I like a lot compared me to Euripides. I really don't see it, but people point it out to me."

"I'm talking about themes-- like hubris-- that have come down through the centuries," said Peters.

Siger then proceeded to give us a bit of background into the Mani-- the area of Greece in which his book is set. It is rumored that the ancient Spartans didn't die out and disappear, rather they found sanctuary at the bottom of the Peloponnesian peninsula-- the Mani. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving. The people are proud of their pirate ancestry, their warrior ancestry. It is a brutal land in which there is a long history of blood feuds. "I wanted to write a book about this part of Greece," Jeff said, "but I couldn't come up with the right theme. One day at a convention I had a fan come up to me and say, 'I have a story about my family that should be a book!' Now... how many of us have heard stories like that? But I'm polite and ask her to tell me the story.

Available Now!
"A young man studying medicine in Athens gets a call from his father to come back to the Mani. He goes back and is in a room with his sister, her boyfriend and his father. His father says, 'My daughter is pregnant by this man. I want you to kill your sister, and I want you to kill this man who's responsible for your sister's disgrace.' The young man does as his father wishes. At the trial just before the judge is about to pronounce the verdict, the judge's mother stands up and says, 'Before you pronounce judgement, remember that you did the very same thing to your sister for the very same reason!'" 

As we all oohed and ahhed, Siger said, "And that's the very first scene. The book goes on from there!" Barbara then told us that-- although she's seldom surprised by the ending of a book-- she was very surprised at the ending of Sons of Sparta. "I won't tell you about the one I just finished," Jeff teased. "Can you at least tell us what part of Greece it takes place in?" Peters asked. "Delphi," Siger replied, which then led to the information that the volcanic fumes the Oracles of Delphi were inhaling all day every day led to their fantastic prophecies. (And there are people who denigrate the reading of crime fiction. Piffle!)

"...because she's waiting for me to..."

Robert Anglen then began to interview Tim Hallinan. "You've been writing for twenty-five years. You've written several series, but nothing quite like this Bangkok series. What I cued on in this book [For the Dead] and the entire series is this sense of family. You write about this despicable place that you perhaps love, but you imbue it with this sense of loyalty and honor, and I'm interested in that."

"It's been a process," Hallinan replied. "I went to Bangkok by accident in 1981. I fell in love with the place. It's the most cheerful big city in the world despite all the awful stuff that goes on. Bangkok is like New York City with smiles.

Tim Hallinan and Robert Anglen
"Initially I wanted to write about Thailand. Because it's a very deep and complicated culture. The hierarchies are as stratified as the Grand Canyon. I was so smart. I decided that the first scene in the first book I was going to write would show my main character holding the hand of his adopted daughter as he followed his wife down the street as they go grocery shopping.

"But what happened as I kept writing was that dynamic between this woman who started as an unworldly country girl who was forced through no choices of her own to work in a bar in Bangkok, and this little girl they adopted off the street who was a discarded child, and this American travel writer who's been everywhere looking for a place that feels like home and has finally found it... they're in a relationship which each of them knows is probably their last chance to have a whole life, a happy life, but they are miles apart culturally. So as the books have gone on, I continue to write about Thailand, but the focus has come to bear on the very complicated relationship between these three people

"I have to admit that I've fallen head over heels in love with the little adopted girl, Miaow. From the second book, Miaow was the easiest character for me to write. (In the next book-- which is called The Hot Countries-- Poke finally learns exactly how Miaow was abandoned.) This young girl always has an agenda. This is a child who was completely powerless for the first five years of her life. Now she's thirteen, but she still has control issues. It's very easy for me to write her because I know what she wants. She's developed all sorts of physical tics, and it's because she's waiting for me to think of what the other character is supposed to say next.

Available November 4!
"This book is Miaow's book. It's about what happens to a very vulnerable adolescent girl, riddled with self-loathing, who has her invented persona literally ripped away from her-- and who then learns that her adoptive parents are going to have a child of their own. Where does she go? What does she do? 

"I love this child. I never had a daughter. I don't have sisters. I have a thirteen-year-old Thai girl living inside me," Tim said. 

I find that extremely easy to believe simply because Hallinan is so animated, so passionate, when he talks about this wonderful character he's created (and because Miaow is so alive when I read about her).

In a previous book, Rose and Miaow were in danger, and Poke sent them someplace safe. They will still face danger from time to time, but Hallinan is avoiding hiding them offstage when the going gets rough. 

When Anglen asked Tim about the fact that Poke is part Filipino, Hallinan admitted that the reason why that came about is that he wanted Poke to be able to blend in a Thai crowd if he was in danger and on the run. "I thought it was going to be important in the series, but it isn't," he admitted. Anglen could see Poke's being half Filipino as a tough sell with American publishers who like "cookie cutter heroes."  "This is an exotic," Hallinan said. "Exotics [books set outside the U.S.] aren't supposed to sell, and in fact they've lived up to that. They haven't sold well. People like them, and they like them a lot; they just haven't sold well."

"But you've had fabulous critical success," Barbara pointed out. 

"Yes, I think I got one of the last huge advances HarperCollins ever gave out," Hallinan said. "They let me go after the third book came out, and the day after they let me go, that book was nominated for an Edgar Award! They called me up, and I said, 'It's too late, I've already gone with Soho!' In fact I think you [looking at Barbara Peters] were the person who suggested that I go with Soho." 

"They were perfect for you," Peters said. "Soho likes exotics-- foreign settings-- it's almost their policy, although they're changing a bit and becoming more general."

"My Junior Bender books are the first ones Soho has published that are set in the United States," Tim commented.

"Yes, you're channeling Donald Westlake when you're not channeling a thirteen-year-old Thai girl," Barbara commented. "What an interesting place inside your head!"

"Eddie Izzard has bought the Junior Bender books for NBC, and we're crafting the pilot now," Hallinan said. "We'll know in a few months if there's going to be a series or not."

"Let me just say this," Barbara said, leaning toward Tim, "if you let yourself get caught up with him and abandon Poke and Miaow, I'm coming after you!

This 'n' That

Jeffrey Siger and Timothy Hallinan
After talking a bit about the current government in Thailand-- and saying a thing or two that would get Hallinan thrown in prison if he were there-- conversation turned back to Jeff Siger and Sons of Sparta, which focuses on a member of Inspector Kaldis' team.

"I love women," Siger said, "I respect them, so I try to bring them in as characters because they always express a side that you can't get in a man. My favorite line in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is 'If man is the head, woman is the neck.'"

In writing the book Siger decided to try his hand at writing a form of unique 16-beat poetry that's known only in the Mani. As a result, he was invited to the Tinos International Literary Festival. "Oh great-- they want me to read my poem!" was Jeff's first thought. "When I get there, it's nineteen poets and moi. They hadn't even bothered to include my poem in their book. I was expected to read something about mystery writing, which leads me to this story I have to tell. I'm proud of it. I defended all us mystery writers!

"You have people from all over the world-- basically eastern Europe. I was the only American there. These were good people. I liked most of them, especially the young ones. Some of the older ones were the pretentious 'We are in charge of poetry in Greece' types-- which always appeals to me, that personality type. We go through three days of poetry in Greek and Croatian which is then translated into English. Barbara is bored out of her mind.

"The question posed is 'What do you think of writing? What should it be?' The young writers are getting up and saying that they want to express to the world what is troubling their nation and what their lives are like. A pretentious so-and-so interrupts to say, 'We as poets should soar above all that.' I say, 'Excuse me, but if you want more people than just you and your wife to read it, you'd better write what people want to read!' 

"I get applause from the younger writers there. The pretentious one stands up and proceeds to spout off in Greek. When it's translated, he's basically told me, 'Who cares what you think? Who cares who kills who? You write something that isn't even literature!' I reply, 'You sir, don't have any idea of what you're talking about. Not one clue. I have one word for you: Dostoyevsky! I'll bet you haven't even read a mystery!' 'Of course not!' 'I rest my case! You don't know what you're talking about! Now go sit down!' To my surprise, that's what he did. He sat down. Afterwards, people thanked me for saying that because the man was so important that everyone was afraid of speaking against him."

"I have a kind of variation on that," Hallinan said. "I wrote about a robbery in one of the Junior Bender books in which he has to pick the lock on a door that's in full view of the street. What he does is get a huge Sub Zero refrigerator box and deliver it to the front door. He's cut a hole in the box so that he can stand inside it and take his time picking the lock. I thought it was pretty cute. About six weeks after the book came out, I get a call from the North San Fernando Valley Police Department. 'Who told you about the refrigerator robberies? We've been keeping that detail quiet.'"

A fan in the audience spoke up, saying that crime writing has become one of the central ways people learn about the histories of various countries, and it's an interesting way to look at an unfamiliar culture.

Shortly after that, it was time to get books signed, chat a bit more, and nibble on some delicious cookies. If any of you want to watch the entire event, you can view it on The Poisoned Pen's Livestream channel.  

Background L to R: Peters, Siger, Hallinan, Anglen. Foreground R: Donis Casey