Friday, October 21, 2016

The Some Things Never Change Weekly Link Round-Up

It's a given. Some things just never change. You may not always know why, but they don't. Sunshine always makes me happy. I don't know why; it just does. I can't stand the taste of coffee. My mother said it was because my very first taste was of my grandmother's notorious brew. She may be right.

I always want to know the names of birds and flowers and trees wherever I go. Why? Search me!

I would imagine that I share the next item with several of you: I don't feel comfortable leaving the house unless I have something to read with me. Sound familiar? I've been that way since I started carrying some sort of purse.

I may also share the next tidbit with a few of you as well. I imagine you've been peeking at the photo to the right. Yes, that's me. Someone woke me up one morning, and I was not amused. I am not a morning person. I never have been. I love to watch the sun rise, but I'd much rather it be on my way to bed, not because my alarm's gone off at the crack of dawn.  

It takes a while for the morning fog to clear my brain, and heaven help you if you wake me in the middle of a deep sleep and make me talk! I may be perfectly coherent to my ears, but whatever I'm saying will be complete gibberish to you. Can this night owl get up early? Of course-- when I've got a good reason to. I got up at 4 AM every day for years. (Money was involved.)

I have to admit that I do like being able to indulge my nocturnal ways. There's something about writing in the wee hours of the morning that is so peaceful and satisfying. But it's time to stop blathering. Let me grab a flashlight and head on out to the corral. These links I've been saving are going to be rudely awakened by a bonafide night owl. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Meet Irena Sendler, the female Schindler who saved 2,500 children during World War II. 
  • How black women did the math that put men on the moon. 
  • How my grandfather (MacKinlay Kantor) went from the Pulitzer Prize to complete obscurity.
  • Ann Cleeves, master of the village noir.
  • The pep talk that helped Monet create his most beloved work. 
  • John Chrenka, a World War II D-Day veteran who was awarded the Legion of Honor, has died at the age of 94. 
  • William Playfair, the Scottish scoundrel who changed how we see data. 

►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, October 20, 2016

World's Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith

First Line: My heart wasn't just pounding in my ears as we ran.

When the Amlingmeyer brothers receive an urgent summons from Otto's ("Big Red") publisher, the next thing they know they're on a train bound east to Chicago and the World's Columbian Exposition. Big Red and "Old Red" (Gustav) are set to compete with some of the most famous detectives in the world in the World's Greatest Sleuth contest which coincides with the last days of the first World's Fair and the publication of a story which will reveal the death of Sherlock Holmes. 

The competition has barely begun when the organizer of the contest is found murdered-- face down in the Mammoth Cheese from Canada. From there on out, it's hard to keep Old Red in the contest when there's real detective work to do.

I've been holding on to the World's Greatest Sleuth like it's gold. This is a volume from one of my "Reliables"-- a mystery series so good that I keep myself from reading through it as fast as I can go. I didn't want to read it and be forced to admit that the series was at an end. But I recently learned from the author that there will be new Holmes on the Range mysteries coming in the future, and this allowed me to enjoy watching the Amlingmeyer brothers in action once more. 

Hockensmith gives us a good look at the World's Columbian Exposition through the eyes of Big Red and his curmudgeon of a brother. Through them, we see the "White City" in all its majesty and absurdity-- and usually at a gallop (or at least a fast run). There are lots of laughs at the Amlingmeyers' expense, but they're used to it, and when readers pause to inhale so they can laugh again, they just might notice that Hockensmith has written a first-rate mystery, too. 

That World's Greatest Sleuth competition is an interesting one with the death of its biggest detractor (a bred-to-the-bone Sherlockian purist) at its heart. Something tells me that the author has probably had more than one encounter with those pesky Sherlockian purists since he began writing this series.

If you're not too much of a purist and can accept the presence of an illiterate cowboy as an Old West Sherlock Holmes, you are going to love this book (and the series). Hockensmith has a smooth writing style that knows how to tell a strong tale, make readers laugh, and give them a true feel for the wild, wild West-- all at the same time. I can't wait for the next installment!  

World's Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith
ISBN: 9780312379438
Minotaur Books © 2010
Paperback, 336 pages

Historical Mystery, #5 Holmes on the Range mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet 


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trespasser by Paul Doiron

First Line: I found the wreck easily enough.

It's the end of game warden Mike Bowditch's shift when he gets a call concerning a woman who's hit a deer with her car on a lonely road. She needs assistance. However, when Bowditch gets there, there's no deer... and no woman. The only thing left is some blood on the road. Even the state trooper who also responds to the call seems to think nothing is really wrong. 

However Mike can't get over the feeling that something is wrong, and when the missing woman is found, she's been brutalized in such a manner that it reminds him of Erland Jefferts, a man who's spent the last seven years in prison for a similar crime. Was Jefferts framed? Is there a copycat? When Bowditch begins looking into the case, state prosecutors tell him to back off.  But he can't, and his off-the-books investigation is going to put not only his life but the life of the woman he loves at risk.

It's a scant few months since the action in Doiron's first mystery, The Poacher's Son, and Mike Bowditch is fighting the backlash of local opinion. It's mud season in Maine and the author skillfully turns this fact into an extremely evocative setting. (I'm still fighting the urge to run out to the porch and clean my boots.)

Doiron has written a very strong mystery, and at its heart is the complicated twenty-five-year-old Mike Bowditch. Mike is quite observant, at one point telling someone who's trying to pull the wool over his eyes, "You can't have it both ways." But he's also emotionally stunted, due in part to his childhood. This causes him to behave like a teenager occasionally, so it's an interesting-- and sometimes frustrating-- mix of intelligence, determination, and adolescent angst. He certainly keeps this reader on her toes.

And he will continue to do so. I've become hooked on Doiron's storytelling ability and his love of wild spaces, so I'm happy to report that it's on to the next book in this series.   

Trespasser by Paul Doiron
ISBN: 9780312558475
Minotaur Books © 2011
Hardcover, 320 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Mike Bowditch mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet

I Have J.D. Robb Covered!

This week, I've decided to take a look at the US and UK covers of one of J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas mysteries. Eve is a homicide lieutenant in a futuristic New York City, and this is quite the long-running series. First published in 1995, it's still going strong-- over forty novels and ten novellas in print so far.

I have to admit that I did try one of Robb's Eve Dallas books several years ago, and it just didn't grab me. One of these days I may see if that opinion still holds true, but I'm in no hurry. I have several friends and acquaintances who love the books, and that's good enough for me. 

It's also not going to keep me from taking a look at the cover of Devoted in Death. I may miss some symbolism, but it wouldn't be the first time. Let's get started!


The US Cover...

Non-reader of this series as I am, I still recognize the cover style of the US edition. Robb is like Sue Grafton in that they both have distinctive cover art. In this case, it's bright bands of color, the author's name in huge capital letters, and a little swatch of art at the bottom.  Clean, simple, and easy for her fans to grab the latest one off the shelf. Does this cover do much for me? No, but it probably would snag my attention as I walked by in the bookshop.

The UK Cover...

On the other hand, the UK cover tells a little story and leaves me hanging. A cold winter scene, a bright red pair of stilettos abandoned in the snow, and the author's name in huge red capital letters. I don't think anything good came of the person who'd been wearing those shoes....

My Verdict...

Both covers are clean and simple in their own ways. J.D. Robb is such an established name that neither cover is buried under blurbs, which is a decided plus.

I've already admitted that I know of J.D. Robb (AKA Nora Roberts), but I'm not a fan. Seeing her name in huge letters would mean that I would not stop to pick up the book, so I'm going to "trick" myself. By pretending that the author's name is not on the cover, which do I prefer? Which one would make me pick it up and see what it was about?

The UK cover. That lonely pair of bright red shoes in the snow raises a lot of questions in my mind, and I'd have to at least read the synopsis on the back.

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


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths

First Line: Stan entered stage left.

Two children have been found strangled to death in the woods in a scene horribly reminiscent of "Hansel and Gretel." It's the job of Brighton's Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens to find the killer, so don't expect him to be in the Christmas spirit-- even if his friend Max Mephisto is starring in a local production of Aladdin this holiday season.

Stephens has plenty of leads to pursue, many of them originating with Annie, the young murdered girl, who used to write gruesome little plays based on Grimms' Fairy Tales. It's difficult to deduce if the key to breaking the case lies in Annie's unfinished final script... or in the theater and the actors performing in Aladdin. Stephens enlists the help of his friend Max to put the killer behind bars.

As she did in The Zig-Zag Girl, Elly Griffiths takes us to 1950's Brighton, England and the slightly seedy world of the theater and magic and pantomime. It's a world I know very little about, so I enjoy learning about it through Griffiths' eyes.

Griffiths has created an excellent mystery, one that many times had me wishing I remembered more of Grimms' Fairy Tales, but (as usual) the real strength in this book lies in her characters. I found little Annie to be fascinating. She was such an interesting character that I thought she was wasted as a victim; I wanted to see more of her. We also learn more about the personal lives of Stephens and Mephisto, which will answer some questions readers may have

I found the focus of Smoke and Mirrors to be much more in the present day and on Edgar and his investigation. I missed the spice that "more Max" gives to the action as well as talk of what the two men did during World War II, although I know the series can't get stuck back in that time frame. It will be very interesting indeed to see where the author's focus shifts to next as the series progresses.

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9780544527959
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt © 2016
Hardcover, 352 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Magic Men mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Amazon Vine 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fun House by Chris Grabenstein

First Line: He wasn't happy about it, but last night my partner John Ceepak became a TV star.

The mayor of Sea Haven always wishes everyone a "sunny, funderful day," and when the cast of reality TV show called Fun House decides to take him up on it, everyone seems thrilled. Except police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle, that is. The two have been assigned babysitting duty for the cast while trying to prevent the wild kids from breaking laws up and down the beach. At first, their duty is nothing but a monumental pain in the hiney, but no one could have anticipated that one of the cast members was going to be murdered. With other members being threatened with the same fate, Ceepak and Boyle have their hands full.

I make it a point not to watch reality TV, but with the number of mystery series that I read using that as a plot device, I now know I was justified in my decision. Of course, it helps when a master like Chris Grabenstein is writing the book; I know he'll make me laugh about it-- and he certainly did (although I think I was cringing while I was laughing).

Layla, a character from the previous book, makes an appearance here as a production assistant on the set, and we have one worried Danny Boyle. You see... Ceepak is seriously thinking about a career change.

This is another swift-moving entry in this excellent series. Grabenstein planted plenty of red herrings for us readers; however, I still found the identity of the killer to be easy to deduce. But let's face it-- I don't read Ceepak and Boyle for ground-breaking mysteries. Grabenstein has created two splendid characters who have grabbed hold of my heart, and he knows how to make me laugh. That's more than good enough for me, and I think it will be for you, too. 

Fun House by Chris Grabenstein
Pegasus Books © 2012
eBook, 336 pages

Police Procedural/Humorous Mystery, #7 Ceepak & Boyle mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

On This Week in 2005: From the Historical to the Hilarious

It's me-- back again with more of my reading from eleven years ago! As I've gone through this book journal of mine, it's really given me food for thought. Why did I stop reading this series? Do I still read that type of book? When's the last time I read____? It seems as though I always have an endless loop of questions running through my mind!

On this week in 2005, I read three very different books. Each was a very enjoyable read, and each was a mystery. There's something for everyone in crime fiction, which is probably why I have yet to tire of the genre.

What was I reading back then? Let's take a look!

It's hard to describe a book by one of my favorites, Jasper Fforde, so I'm just going to give you the synopsis of this first in his Nursery Crime series, The Big Over Easy:

"It’s Easter in Reading—a bad time for eggs—and no one can remember the last sunny day. Ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III, minor baronet, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist, is found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the evidence points to his ex-wife, who has conveniently shot herself.

But Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary remain unconvinced, a sentiment not shared with their superiors at the Reading Police Department, who are still smarting over their failure to convict the Three Pigs of murdering Mr. Wolff. Before long Jack and Mary find themselves grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, bullion smuggling, problems with beanstalks, titans seeking asylum, and the cut and thrust world of international chiropody.

And on top of all that, the JellyMan is coming to town . . .

Hopefully what you got from that synopsis is that Fforde likes to take something very well known-- like a nursery rhyme-- and turn it on its head using brilliant word play, a wickedly silly plot, and some well-drawn characters. The word play and situations keep you laughing, and-- wonder of wonders-- there's actually a good mystery to be found. I love Fforde's imagination and rated this one an A+.

Troy Soos is a talented writer who has a series of historical baseball mysteries that my husband enjoyed and another historical series of only four books that I really enjoyed. The Gilded Cage is the second in the Rebecca Davies and Marshall Webb series set at the turn of the twentieth century. Here's the synopsis: 

"In the riveting Island of Tears, Troy Soos introduced dime-novelist Marshall Webb and reformer Rebecca Davies. Now, the critically acclaimed author plunges readers once again into the gritty underside of turn-of-the-century New York, as Marshall and Rebecca reunite to take on Tammany Hall and the city's ruthless elite. A cholera epidemic has forced New York's immigrants into quarantine, and fear and panic ripple through the city. Amid a shaky economy, Rebecca Davies' father cuts off funding for her woman's shelter. Rather than turn these destitute women out onto the cold, dangerous streets, Rebecca seeks investment help from Lyman Sinclair, a remarkably successful young banker. But when Sinclair is found dead--an apparent suicide--and Rebecca's money is nowhere to be found, the police refuse to investigate further. Determined to recoup her money, Rebecca approaches her friend, writer marshall Webb. Together, Rebecca and Marshall unravel a web of corruption that runs from the top levels of Wall Street, through the lavish theaters of Broadway, to the mean streets of the Bowery. At its heart is a massive cover-up, marked by unquenchable ambition and greed that could shake the very foundations of New York City."

I really appreciated Soos's grasp of the historical context of the books. The period came to life as I read each one. Of course, the mysteries were also good, but the author's characters really put the sparkle on these stories. Rebecca Davies comes from a privileged background which gives her entrée into areas of society where freelance reporter and dime novelist Marshall Webb cannot go. Both are strong, intelligent individuals with plenty of common sense, although Rebecca can be a bit more adventurous than Marshall. There's also a growing attraction between the two that is never fully realized in this short series. I rated The Gilded Cage an A.

Pardon me for sharing this hideous cover for Judith Cutler's Staying Power, but I could not find the cover of the edition that I read. Yikes. That thing is scary!

Cutler is one of my favorite crime fiction writers. She has a knack for creating female characters that are complex and fascinating-- and her sense of humor (check out her two Josie Welford mysteries) keeps me laughing. Although there are flashes of humor in all her books, most of her series are not played for laughs. Her Kate Powers series is an example. Here's the synopsis:

"Detective Sergeant Kate Power is on her way home from a trip to Florence when the textile importer sitting on the plane next to her strikes up a conversation. Days later he is founding hanging from a bridge in Birmingham - with Kate's card in his pocket the only means of identification. What follows includes a scam to forge ecstasy tablets, bondage, long firm fraud and domestic violence - and Kate's in the middle of it all.

Besides the fast pace and intriguing mysteries, the thing that impressed me most about Cutler's Kate Power series (written from 1998 to 2003, six books total) was her depiction of what it was like to be a female police officer in Birmingham, England at that time. If you're a fan of British police procedurals and strong female characters, Judith Cutler's Kate Power series is definitely one you should check out. I rated Staying Power an A.

There you have it-- three more books that I read way back in 2005. Whatever will be next? Your guess is as good as mine!


Friday, October 14, 2016

A Travel Fever Weekly Link Round-Up

There's nothing like having an earthquake advisory appear during the weeks leading up to a vacation near the affected area. For the sake of the millions of people living there, I sincerely hope the San Andreas fault goes back to sleep peacefully. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could learn how to relieve the stress along fault lines and eradicate earthquakes forever?

London Bridge
This week I thought I'd share a photo of something that is very well-traveled-- in more than one meaning of the phrase. The structure you see to the left is the London Bridge which was dismantled, shipped here to the U.S., and reassembled at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I think it rather enjoys the weather on this side of the pond.

While I wonder what to pack, I'll mosey on out to the corral. I've been saving some mighty fine links for you this week. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Book, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Whatever you do, don't send your robot lawnmower after a moose
  • Meet Pudding, the photogenic fox that's too friendly to be released into the wild. 
  • In a matter of seconds this bobcat lost her family. Now she's getting a new one, thanks to rescuers. 
  • Five wild lionesses have grown manes and started acting like males.
  • An amazing breakthrough has solved the mystery of Monarch butterfly migration.
  • Experts offer advice on living near coyotes. (I live in the center of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and there have been coyotes spotted a couple of blocks away.) 
  • A bear in a Polish zoo found a World War II mortar grenade. 

►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!