Monday, March 19, 2018

Flights of Cactus Fancy at the Desert Botanical Garden

Yes, one of the reasons why I love going to the Desert Botanical Garden here in the Phoenix metropolitan area is flowers. I love when all the flowers are blooming. But there's another reason: I also love the garden's vast variety of cacti, and I've discovered that looking at them is one way to exercise my imagination.

For example, no two saguaros are the same, and I've walked (or jolted along in the Jeep) through stands of these mighty cacti and found myself inventing one story after another. I remember a cactus that looked as though it was wearing a Viking helmet. Two that looked like they were having a "High Noon" shootout on Main Street. Two more that looked as though one were being held at gunpoint by the other. And on and on and on. A cactus can provoke a good story.

I'll be going to the Desert Botanical Garden at the end of the week, hoping to see hundreds of cactus blossoms, but I thought I'd share some non-blooming photos for you. Many are best viewed in their original sizes. Click on any one of them, and a new window will open automatically in order for you to see them all in more detail.

Enjoy-- and stay away from those spines!

Chainfruit Cholla

This Medusa-like cactus above is a huge chainfruit cholla. Those little segments at the ends of the arms fall off one by one and get carried away by birds and other critters or washed away in thunderstorms. That's how they propagate. And those segments are covered with tiny-- almost invisible-- thorns that are superstars at getting under a person's skin. Of course, I don't know how I know that... (I can still be like a little kid. I pick strange things up. I just don't put them in my mouth.)

Teddy Bear Cholla

Someone with a twisted sense of humor named the Teddy Bear Cholla. Those thorns are not to be messed with. I know someone who, years ago, was bucked off his horse and fell crotch first in a teddy bear cholla, and all I'm going to say is that-- eventually-- he was back to normal, although he has an abiding hatred of any type of cactus.

I don't remember the official name, but I call this the Polka Dot Prickly Pear. I wonder why...

I always think of plants like this as Bedrock plants because they remind me of the trees and flowers on one of my favorite childhood shows, "The Flintstones."

The various structures of cacti and succulents are fascinating. Doesn't this look as though it belongs on a coral reef in the sea?

This prickly pear grows up in columns. I don't know why it's called a Tulip Prickly Pear.

The colors of this cactus & the patterns of its thorns remind me of the embroidery stitches my great-grandmother used on the crazy quilt she made.

This may be a Crested Whortleberry, but I think it looks like Hollywood is inventing a new line of aliens. I can see faces. Can you?

Awww-- a baby alien, er... Crested Whortleberry!

Ruffles (to the left), fans & ridges

Harry & Vicky: two Old Man cacti in the center with white-edged Queen Victoria agaves at their bases.

The most anti-social cactus I have ever seen. I wish it had a nameplate so I knew what it was. Definitely NOT for Christmas lights!

Did any of these tickle your imagination? Or am I the only weirdo in here? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Sending the Black Dog Packing Weekly Link Round-Up

I am no stranger to depression, and I think it's safe to say that many of you are acquainted with it, too. Hopefully not to my degree, since I spent years being on the brink of suicide because I refused to get help. (I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer.)

I never will forget reading a British mystery and seeing the phrase "black dog" being used for depression. It's quite fitting. When that black dog has fangs, all you want to do is end the pain, but a lot of the time this canine is just an annoying persistent shadow that never leaves you alone.

That's what I've had lately: an occasional cold nose on the back of my leg that pops up at the strangest times. The best thing for me to do has always been keeping my little grey cells busy. Do I have all the ingredients for this recipe? Have I cleaned everything on my to-do list? Did I make a note of that place on Daisy's List?

One of the best ways for me to send my black dog packing has always been BOOKS. No surprise there, eh? And that's what's brightened my doorstep now. I've curled myself up with two books. One, Jenn McKinlay's Death in the Stacks. Familiar characters have had me laughing and cheering them on while another character has had me grinding my teeth. The second of my cures is brand-new, and there's nothing quite like something new and shiny to distract you, is there? I've been laughing my way through Wendall Thomas's Lost Luggage featuring Cyd Redondo, a Brooklyn-based travel agent who puts me in mind of Stephanie Plum's (much) smarter sister. (Hey, Cyd knows how to kickbox in four-inch stilettos!)

Yep. Once again books have sent Fido packing, so it's time for me to head on out to the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Rex, a two-year-old German Shepherd is a hero after protecting a sixteen-year-old during a home invasion.
  • This prehistoric puppy may be the earliest evidence of pet-human bonding. 
  • This rare yellow cardinal was spotted at an Alabama bird feeder.
  • When it comes to counting wildlife, drones are more accurate than people.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • For forty-seven years, Stanley Cushing curated a 200-year-old library.
  • Dolly Parton donates her 100 millionth children's book to the Library of Congress. You may not like country music, but she is one fantastic human being who loves it when children call her "The Book Lady." 
  • Terese Marie Mailhot and Tommy Orange are helping to launch a new wave of Native American literature.
  • How early female travel writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu became an immunization pioneer.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • How churches are improving Wi-Fi access in rural England.
  • Penguin is opening a pop-up shop in east London that will be stocked solely by women writers.
  • Here's a selection of gorgeous WPA National Park posters to get us in the mood for traveling.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄
  • Fifteen major award-winning novels you've probably never heard of. 
  • Quiz: Which part of Scotland should you be living in? My answer? Highlands and Islands, and if I hadn't gotten that answer, I would've laughed hysterically.
  • The last meals of famous literary characters.
  • Which book perfectly matches your personality? (You should've heard my bark of laughter when my answer popped up: Gone Girl. I read less than fifty pages of that thing! But then the description mollified me a bit: "With that sharp wit and quick-thinking mind, it’s no wonder you’ve been matched with Gone Girl. Your keen eye for detail makes it easy to gather clues, swap theories, and solve the mystery before everyone else does. That can also mean you’re a bit nosy sometimes, but hey, it’s all in good faith.")

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, March 15, 2018

Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay

First Line: September in New England was about as perfect a season as there was on earth.

It's time for the Briar Creek Library's annual Dinner in the Stacks fundraiser, the biggest moneymaker of the year, and library director Lindsey Norris and her staff have no time to put up with the new library board president. Olive Boyle is behaving like Attila the Hun. Every time she makes an appearance, she's threatening to expose secrets and take away people's jobs. But no matter how much the woman gets up her nose, Lindsey is determined to stand up for herself and her staff and to make the fundraiser a success.

She almost gets away with it... until she finds one of her staff members crouched over Olive's dead body in the fiction section of the library. Paula's proximity to the body may make her the prime suspect in Olive's murder, but everyone who knows her knows she's innocent. Everyone looks to Lindsey to catch the real killer.

There are some series I have a tendency to hold back and read when I need a pick-me-up because they're special. Jenn McKinlay's Library Lovers is one such series. I know the author and her publisher would rather I gobbled them up as soon as each new book came off the press, but sometimes a girl just has to have a go-to book when she needs a little extra sunshine in her life.

Death in the Stacks provided me with just what I needed. I was back in the midst of a cast that has become old and dear friends-- especially with cameo appearances from McKinlay's Cupcake Bakery and Hat Shop series characters. Another thing that makes me smile is the continuing evolution of the lemon, Ms. Cole. Ms. Cole proves that there's hope for us all.

Not only did the entire cast keep me smiling (well, not Olive Boyle-- she is a very worthy body in the library), the mystery kept me guessing. There's lots of good misdirection, and I loved how the cupcake and hat shop folks kept appearing and disappearing from Lindsey's suspect list.

All in all, it was another marvelous visit with the gang in Briar Creek, and if there's one quote that I'll take away with me from this book, it's this: "There was nothing she loved better than laughter in the library." Libraries are, indeed, repositories of knowledge, adventure, dreams, and laughter. They are one of the cornerstones of civilization. Thanks, Jenn, for reminding us of this in such an enjoyable way.

Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay
ISBN: 9780399583759
Berkley Prime Crime © 2017
Hardcover, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #8 Library Lovers mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

First Line: Evan's twelve-year-old body is stiff in the cushy passenger seat of the black sedan as he is driven in silence.

If you are truly desperate and deserving, someone may give you the phone number of the Nowhere Man. He's a legendary figure who can and will do anything to protect and save you. But the legend has a name: Evan Smoak, a man with an extraordinary skill set and a stockpile of resources that he uses on his personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. But his dangerous past is catching up with him.

As a child, he was raised and trained as an Orphan-- a member of a government off-the-books program designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence asset: assassins. Evan was Orphan X until he broke with the program and used his skills to disappear. But now there is someone with similar skills and training who is out to get him... and this shadow always seems to be two steps ahead.

I was in the mood for a good thriller and liked the synopsis of Hurwitz's Orphan X. This fast-paced story did deliver, but not quite as much as I'd expected. Hurwitz doles out Evan's backstory sparingly, which only makes readers want more. However, it is enough to wow you with the character's abilities and to make you want to hug the little boy he once was. As a result of his training, Evan really doesn't know how to play well with others. Actually, he doesn't know how to play with others at all, and we see this during his interactions with the other residents of the building in which he lives. There's the grumpy old lady who seems to lay in wait for him at the elevator so she can complain non-stop, but we normal folk would have problems with her, too. No, it's when Evan becomes acquainted with divorced lawyer Mia and her inquisitive eight-year-old son Peter that we see how much he has to fight against that long-ago training of his.

Where the soufflé fell for me was in the too-numerous-to-count fight scenes. Hurwitz wants us to know exactly how extensive Evan's hand-to-hand combat skills are, and each fight scene is laced with mixed martial art terms like "wing chan oblique kick." Over and over and over again. This is all well and good if you are a fan and want to be able to picture the fight in your mind, but I definitely do not fit that category. One movie scene comes to mind. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones is cornered in a bazaar by a sword-wielding showoff. Jones doesn't have time to wait for the nitwit to stop strutting his stuff, so he pulls out his gun and shoots him. Problem solved. Since this is the fight scene category I belong in, you can see where these minutely-described scenes in Orphan X made my eyes cross in boredom.

Since I have a feeling that these fight scenes will continue as the series progresses, I will leave Evan Smoak here in book one. But I am certainly glad that I made his acquaintance, and I wish him well.

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
eISBN: 9781466876514 
Minotaur Books © 2016
eBook, 367 pages

Thriller, #1 Evan Smoak mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

On My Radar: Judith Flanders' A Howl of Wolves

Yes, once again I've come across news of the upcoming publication of a book that makes me do a Happy Dance. Be thankful that you cannot see the aforementioned dance since my middle initial "G" does not stand for "graceful"!

I first became acquainted with Judith Flanders' writing through her social histories of the Victorian era because there was a time when I just read social histories, biographies of non-twentieth-century folks, and historical fiction. (Haven't changed much, have I?) When I read the first Samantha Clair mystery, A Murder of Magpies, it took me a while to realize that I was already familiar with the author. I enjoyed the publishing house setting, the characters, the solid mystery, and the snarky wit. Each Sam Clair book got stronger until the third (and most recent) A Cast of Vultures made my Best Reads of 2017 List. So what did I do when I learned that book four would be available on May 15, 2018? That's right: rubbed my hands together in glee and did a Happy Dance. Here's more about the upcoming book---


"Sam Clair figures she’ll be a good sport and spend a night out at the theater in support of her upstairs neighbors, who have small parts in a play in the West End. Boyfriend (a Scotland Yard detective) and all-round good sport Jake Field agrees to tag along to what is apparently an extra-bloody play filled with dramatic, gory deaths galore. So Sam expects an evening filled with faux fatalities. Until, that is, the curtain opens to the second act, revealing a dummy hanging from the rafters, who’s been made up to look suspiciously like Campbell Davison, the director of the production.

When Sam sees the horrified faces of the actors onstage, she realizes that this is indeed not a dummy, but Davison himself—and this death is not part of the show. Now everyone wants to know: who killed Campbell Davison? As Sam learns more about the murdered man, she discovers that he wasn’t all that well-liked amongst the cast and crew, so the suspect list grows. The show must go on—but Sam knows a murderer must be apprehended, so she sets out to find out what happened, and why.

New York Times bestselling author, Judith Flanders once again brilliantly fuses mystery with humor in the fourth installment of her critically acclaimed ­Sam Clair series."

For fellow fans of Samantha Clair, this is good news indeed. For those of you who aren't acquainted with her yet, here's your chance! If you like to start in on the ground floor, the order of books in this series are:

  1. A Murder of Magpies (APA Writers' Block)
  2. A Bed of Scorpions
  3. A Cast of Vultures
  4. A Howl of Wolves

I wonder what book will make me do my next Happy Dance?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan

First Line: This had been a happy home once.

The building is nearly empty, the inhabitants being forced out of their homes in a London neighborhood by property developers. Two women are giving it their all to save the building and the residents' homes. One, Ella, is a young, idealistic, impassioned blogger. The other is Molly, a seasoned campaigner/protester and photographer.

Both women know that they have very little chance of saving the building, but they refuse to give up-- hoping that their hard work now may save this building and others in the future. Then a body is discovered hidden in an elevator shaft, and that's going to have far-reaching consequences.

I chose this book because I enjoyed the first book in Dolan's Zigic and Ferreira police procedural series, but I have to come right out and say it: This Is How It Ends was just not my cup of tea although there is much good to be found within its pages.

The story is told from the points of view of both Ella and Molly. They are ardent protesters against property developers who destroy neighborhoods and throw long-time residents out on the street in order to put up pretty new buildings for rich people who will probably never even live in the properties they buy. No, these people are buying tax breaks or money laundering schemes, not homes. When Dolan wrote about this, I was fully engaged; she had my blood boiling, and I definitely wanted to join Ella's and Molly's fight to hold off the wrecking ball. There is also a plot twist at the end that I didn't see coming, and I always like it when an author can surprise me like that. These are the bits I liked. Now for what I didn't like.

I didn't like either of the main characters, and I could not have cared less what happened to them. I don't have to like the characters in the books I read, but I do want to care about the fate of at least one of them because it gives me a good reason to keep turning the pages. However, there was something even worse than my lack of feeling for the characters: the unrelenting doom and gloom tone of the entire book.  Now, I can handle doom and gloom if I happen to care about one of the characters, but you already know what happened there.

No, This Is How It Ends just wasn't my cup of tea. But it may be yours, and I sincerely hope it is.

This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan
ISBN: 9781635570526
Bloomsbury USA © 2018
Hardcover, 336 pages

Thriller, Standalone
Rating: D+
Source: Amazon Vine 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Isabella Maldonado at The Poisoned Pen!

Denis knows how to make me laugh. We were well on the way to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, when he asked-- completely out of the blue-- "So... who is this Isabella Maldonado?" (He's learned that coming with me to see authors he's never heard of always means new books for him to read.) I filled him in on a few facts: retired police officer, local author, her books are set here in Phoenix, and her second mystery featuring a Latina police officer, Phoenix Burning, was launching that night so there might be cake. I may be mistaken, but I think he drove a little faster the rest of the way to our destination.

Denis and I reserved our seats, then sat in the back to relax, read, and chat. A cake and goodies table was set up, and a man was busily going through a couple of boxes of what I thought of as props. I could see this was going to be an interesting evening-- especially when many people showed up who were ready to celebrate.

L to R: Isabella Maldonado & Patrick Millikin

"It's great to see more Arizona and Phoenix talent and novelists start to come in and fill the void. For a long time, there weren't too many people writing about Phoenix, so it's great to see someone with an extensive police and law enforcement background really doing it right-- and not just North Scottsdale but the entire Phoenix area," host Patrick Millikin said. After discovering that almost everyone (with the exception of Denis) had read the first book in the series, Blood's Echo, Patrick asked Isabella to tell us a bit about her new book, Phoenix Burning.

"As we know at the end of book one, Veranda makes an oath to herself that she will take her secret to the grave. No one will ever know her deep dark secret," Isabella said. "Well, that doesn't play out very well. It's hard to keep secrets like that. Unfortunately, in book two everything blows up in her face and she's scrambling to deal with her department, her own loud, interfering, loving, Latino family, and of course, the Villalobos crime family."

Isabella Maldonado
"We do have to be careful of giving away spoilers because there are some big ones to give away," Millikin said. "But it's safe to talk about this one because it happens at the beginning of the book. It's when a certain person is killed on a street corner. Can you kind of set up the basic plot for us?"

"One of the things I wanted to do was use my own experience in law enforcement when I was involved in a huge, multi-jurisdictional task force where we were trying to track down some really, really bad folks. I wanted to draw from that experience and have a situation in Phoenix where things went so horribly awry that it would necessitate a multi-jurisdictional task force.

"So I asked myself and I asked my friends on the Phoenix police force what could happen, what would be so bad that it would make national headlines? So the book opens with that premise. There's a high-speed pursuit and a shootout, and it goes all the way through Phoenix. I have to warn locals," Maldonado continued, "that I did make up roads. I did that on purpose so I wouldn't cast aspersions on any particular parts of the city. At the end of the pursuit, the gunman runs into a shopping mall that I made up called the Arcadia Shopping Mall. You can tell by the name that it's a high-end, posh place. A cross between Biltmore Fashion Park and Scottsdale Fashion Square. The shootout continues right into the mall with guns blazing and people running and screaming. And yes, it does make national headlines. And then the task force comes in."

Available Now!
 "Talk a little about the Villalobos cartel. Is there a particular model for that group?" Patrick asked.

"The cartel I've created is more sophisticated than your average cartel. I describe it as the largest cartel in the world. You can think of it as any large family business dynasty, but their business is crime," Maldonado replied. "The father, Hector Villalobos, has come up with his own retirement plan, which is to divide up his cartel between his four adult children. Bartolo was given the drugs sector. Adolfo is the oldest son and was pushed out of the way by Bartolo, but Bartolo gets his in book one. Now it's Adolfo's turn to be in charge. He's the CFO. He does money laundering, gambling, racketeering, and everything else that goes on. The third son, Carlos, is in charge of human trafficking and sex trafficking. Daria is the only female. She's in charge of explosives, of gun running and that sort of thing.

"That's how Hector has set it up where everyone has a part in the division of labor. You'd think it would work, but none of them get along in this family because their father has raised them to be hyper-competitive."

"For those in the audience who aren't acquainted with you, could you talk a little bit about your law enforcement background?" Millikin asked.

Bella and her nightstick
"I got into law enforcement in the 1980s," Bella told us. "Some of you may remember the 80s. It was a time of big hair and shoulder pads and a lot of lip gloss... and those were just the men. But that's when I got into law enforcement. Back East. In the Fairfax County Police Department. It's a suburb of Washington, DC. The county is similar in size to Phoenix and has 1.2 million people, so it has a large population and a good-sized police department.

"Back then I was one of the few women in the department, so that was quite interesting," Maldonado continued. "I slowly climbed my way through the ranks and over the course of twenty-two years, I eventually became a captain. As captain, I held the title of Gang Council Coordinator; I was a precinct commander; I was the spokesperson for the department at one point; and then when I retired, I was the commander of Special Investigations and Forensics. I had the chance to do a lot of different things in the department. I was a hostage negotiator; I would also do interpreting for some of the detectives. I was exposed to a lot of different things, and I had a very interesting and fun career.

"That's one of the things I wanted to write about. I thought you know what? I want to write about these stories and have them end the way they should end, instead of the way they do end."

Bella's husband Mike who's head of the Phoenix Crime Lab
"What brought you out to Phoenix?" Patrick asked. "Is he standing over there?"

Bella laughed. "Yeah, that guy standing over there wearing the Phoenix Burning t-shirt. He's modeling for me tonight."

"You say 'retired,' so you put in your twenty..." Maldonado nodded, "and did you always have the desire to write and make that a second career?" Millikin asked.

"Yes, absolutely. Since I was a little kid I always knew that I would be a writer at some point. After I retired, I spent five years studying the art and craft of writing. I put a lot of work into it. I joined Sisters in Crime, and that really did a lot to help me hone my skills. I also published three short stories to try to home in on what my style was."

Patrick said, "I always like to ask authors with a law enforcement background if they read police procedurals and really dial in on what they got wrong."

Maldonado laughed. "Yes! I was a lot worse at it before I started writing my own stuff. Now I've learned why they have to do stuff a different way. I'll use an example from the Phoenix Police Department. They've changed their policy, and now if an officer is involved in a fatal shooting, there's nothing unusual about taking that officer off duty for thirty days while they investigate and evaluate. Well-- talk about slowing the plot down! Now I have a much better appreciation of why you have to bend things a little."

"And officers are working more than one investigation at a time," Patrick commented.

"Yes. Not only that, but it's not just two partners working a case. A whole squad will be working it," Maldonado said.

Interesting bracelet....
Bella's series takes place all over Phoenix. Police headquarters is in the middle of downtown Phoenix. The Villalobos live in a mansion in Paradise Valley. But Veranda and her family are based in South Phoenix.

The author fell in love with Phoenix when she moved here, and when she began to write, she realized that few books were set here. She also wanted to ensure that Latino food and culture and family traditions played a big part in her books. "Some people have told me that they always get hungry when they read my books," she laughed.

"I know we have some aspiring writers in the audience," Millikin said. "Do you have any advice for them?"

"You have to really believe in what you're doing," Maldonado said. "And you have to have nerve. A lot of nerve. I pitched directly to editors and publishers at conferences. I was offered a three-book deal right out of the chute, and I was really surprised at that. To get an agent, I went to Thrillerfest in New York City.

"It's kind of like speed dating. You get three minutes-- they set a timer-- to pitch your book, and you need to convince them you're fabulous. In three minutes. And these hardened New York City publishers have heard it all! You have to push the boundaries, but I was able to get an agent."

"Wait a second. Let's back up," Millikin said. "You published your first book without an agent?"

"I got the three-book deal without an agent," Maldonado replied. "I had all sorts of people tell me that I wasn't going to get an agent now that I already had a contract, but I thought to myself, if these people can't see any potential in me they're not right for me to begin with.

"And there were a few in that room filled with agents who said, 'What do you need me for?' and I said to myself, I don't. I don't need you. You don't have any imagination if you can't see anything going forward. But there were four or five who could see, so we'll see what happens."

The author as police officer

Then we had a trivia contest in order to earn some fun swag. Unfortunately, I did not know the correct terminology for a nightstick. (PR-24) Lots of fun and laughter filled the remaining part of this event-- including locals' incomprehension of tourists who think 8 oz. of water, a pair of flip-flops, and a tank top are sufficient to go hiking up Camelback Mountain. (This can lead to almost daily mountain rescues. Many people want to pass a Stupid Hiker Law to join Arizona's already existing Stupid Motorist Law.)

When the event drew to a close, Denis and I were glad we'd come... and we left with a slice of tasty launch cake apiece!

A delicious launch cake

Friday, March 09, 2018

A We'll Be Driving Miss Daisy Weekly Link Round-Up

In a little over a month, our niece Daisy will be visiting from England, and I've been making a list on the computer in preparation. She was here two years ago, and we packed a lot into the two weeks that she was here. A lot of it was done by road trips to the northern third of the state. We stayed in hotels for three or four nights, and when I made those reservations, I learned that there's no such thing as a "slow/cheap" time for hotels and motels in Arizona-- especially if you're booking two rooms each night. Yikes.

Deborah DeWit's "The Traveler"
This time, I intend to stick to things to see and do primarily here in the Phoenix area and only do day trips elsewhere. It's not as easy as you'd think. Why? Because there's so darned much to see and do in this state! There's the Phoenix Zoo, Butterfly World, the OdySea Aquarium, the Heard Museum. We can go to Black Canyon Lake where we could get snowed on, or feed the Stellar's jays and ground squirrels lakeside. She can go ziplining over giraffes and other critters at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde and see Montezuma's Castle on the way. There's the Arizona Science Center with its Pompeii exhibit. The Phoenix Art Museum. The Penske Racing Museum. The Superstition Mountain Museum. The list seems endless. She's also going to meet the stylist who cuts our hair (exciting, huh?), be taken to dinner by a local author, and... there's the CozyCon at The Poisoned Pen just before she leaves.

No, I didn't run through everything on my list-- like hanging out at home and taking advantage of the pool. It's an embarrassment of riches, but I suppose that's much better than not being able to think of anything to do at all.

Before I take another look at this list of mine, I'd better mosey on out to the corral. These links have things they want to show you.

Head 'em up! Mooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Wouldn't you like to be the woman who found out that the statue she paid $100 for is actually worth $100,000? 
  • Is the fall equinox the secret to the pyramids' near-perfect alignment? 
  • The Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868 lives on at the American Indian Museum.
  • An ancient statue of a Nubian king has been found in a Nile River temple.
  • White settlers buried the truth about the Midwest's mysterious mound cities. (And if you ever get the chance to visit Cahokia, you should.)
  • The ruins of an ancient Roman city have washed up on the Turkish coast.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • This butterfly recently returned to Scotland, and now it's laying eggs. (Its cousins visit my garden regularly.)
  • Watching birds near your home is good for your mental health. (Good! I need all the help I can get. *wink*)
  • New dinosaurs are being discovered in record numbers, and it's changing everything we thought we knew.
  • Do trees talk to each other? (Avatar, anyone?)

►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, March 08, 2018

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

First Line: Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things.

The corporate employees split into two groups for their retreat in the wilderness. The men return on time, but when the women straggle into view late and bedraggled, one of them is missing.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are sent to find the missing woman because she ties in with one of their investigations. When the two police officers begin questioning the four women about what happened, each of them tells a slightly different story. Falk and Cooper find themselves hiking deep into the isolated forest, hoping that they will find Alice Russell alive.

The only incentive any of the participants have in this retreat is their fear that-- if they don't toe the line-- they'll lose their jobs. None of them have either the desire or the aptitude for hiking and camping in bad weather and treacherous terrain, and I enjoyed watching them go into withdrawal when they discovered that this remote area had no cell phone reception. 

Falk and Cooper make a good team, and I hope I see them together in another book. Falk is enjoying his move to white collar crime because he never forgets the people that are devastated by what the criminals think of as insignificant crime that doesn't hurt anyone.

The premise of Force of Nature isn't anything shiny and new, but I certainly enjoyed how Jane Harper put it all together. The missing woman is disliked by everyone, everyone has something to hide, and even two teenage daughters figure into the plot in interesting ways. While not quite as intense as her first book, The Dry, this second book featuring Aaron Falk kept my attention from first page to last, and I'm looking forward to book number three.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
ISBN: 9781250190109
Flatiron Books © 2018
Hardcover, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Aaron Falk mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie

Ad placed in the newspaper by Parker Pyne:


After reading two of Agatha Christie's short stories featuring the very unconventional private investigator, Parker Pyne, I knew I had to read more, so when I came across this collection, I grabbed it.

Pyne relies upon his thirty-five years in a government office compiling statistics to help him solve any case that's presented to him. Some of the short stories revolve around people who respond to his advertisement in The Times, but Pyne also travels to more exotic climes, such as Jordan, Syria, and Iran and finds himself solving puzzles in those countries as well.

When it comes to solving mysteries relying solely upon his observations of human nature, he has only one equal: Miss Marple herself, although the elderly lady never managed to get paid for all her troubles and Pyne does.

The stories see appearances by two characters seen elsewhere in Christie's fiction: the novelist Ariadne Oliver and Miss Lemon the secretary. (Now I'm curious as to whether Lemon worked for Pyne first before moving on to Hercule Poirot or vice versa.) When in London, Pyne helps those responding to his ad, and I love seeing how he puts his solutions together using a select few actors and other specialists whom he knows. When he's faced with mysteries while traveling abroad, they are more normal investigations. (Naturally, since the people he employs are not traveling with him.)

With the exception of twice when Christie's racism was clearly shown, I found this collection of stories to be delightful, and I'm certainly glad that I've persisted in sampling writing from the Golden Age of Mysteries.

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie
HarperCollins © 2010
Originally published 1932-1939.
eBook, 273 pages

Short Story Collection
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

On My Radar: Larry D. Sweazy's See Also Proof

You know me-- I'm constantly on the lookout for new mysteries to read, and not just for the month ahead but for several months in advance, too. I became a fan of Larry D. Sweazy's writing when I read his first Marjorie Trumaine historical mystery, See Also Murder. The second, See Also Deception, was every bit as good, and his standalone, A Thousand Falling Crows, was on my Best Reads of 2017 list.

The Marjorie Trumaine series is about a remarkable woman. Marjorie Trumaine is a freelance book indexer living on a farm in 1960s North Dakota who also cares for her disabled husband. As you can see by how I've sung the praises of Sweazy's other books, I did a happy dance when I learned that the third book in the Trumaine series is going to be released on May 1, 2018. Let me tell you a bit more about it.

Here's the synopsis:

"Dickinson, North Dakota, 1965. It's a harsh winter, and freelance indexer Marjorie Trumaine struggles to complete a lengthy index while mourning the recent loss of her husband, Hank. The bleakness of the weather seems to compound her grief, and then she gets more bad news: a neighbor's fourteen-year-old disabled daughter, Tina Rinkerman, has disappeared. Marjorie joins Sheriff Guy Reinhardt in the search for the missing girl, and their investigation quickly leads to the shocking discovery of a murdered man near the Rinkermans' house. What had he been doing there? Who would have wanted him dead? And, above all, is his murder connected to Tina's disappearance?

Their pursuit of answers will take Marjorie all the way to the Grafton State School, some six hours away, where Tina lived until recently. And the information she uncovers there raises still more questions. Will the murderer come after Marjorie now that she knows a long-hidden secret?

One of the things that makes this series so good is how everyone helps each other out on those remote farms. It reminds me more than a little bit of the small farming community where I grew up.

If you've read Larry Sweazy's Marjorie Trumaine books already, then I'm positive you'll be looking forward to getting your hands on See Also Proof. If you have yet to savor one of these books, well... I've listed all the titles so you can have some excellent reading in store!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

First Line: The new doctor took her by surprise.

Elsie thought she had it made when she married Rupert Bainbridge. Not only did she truly love the handsome heir, she was looking forward to something she never thought she would have: a life of luxury in a stately home. Now Rupert is dead, and Elsie is a pregnant young widow going to live at the Bainbridge country estate until her period of mourning is over.

What she finds at The Bridge is not what she expected. The country house is in dire need of cleaning and repair, the servants resent her presence, the local villagers are actively hostile, and she's stuck with the company of Rupert's rather insipid cousin, Sarah. But as she and Sarah explore the moldering old house, Elsie finds a locked door-- and when she opens it her life will never be the same, for one of the things she finds is a painted wooden figure-- a silent companion-- that looks uncannily like Elsie herself. Elsie scoffs at the servants, who are terrified of the thing... until she notices the figure's eyes following her.

I've always enjoyed a well-told ghost story. The problem is finding one that rivets my attention to the turning of each page. I'm happy to say that I found a Victorian ghost story that suits me right down to the ground: Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions.

I found the beginning of the book to be a bit slow moving until the locked room was opened and a diary was found and read. Then there were two timelines to follow, and I have to admit that I wish Anne Bainbridge's diary written in 1635 was a lot longer because that story fascinated me with its focus on a visit to The Bridge by King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria.

The second timeline is Elsie's in 1865, and both give a marvelous sense of time and place. One of the things I really enjoyed was how my perceptions of each character changed as I read further and further into the story. Even Elsie's seldom-seen brother Jolyon (a medieval version of "Julian") isn't just a foil for showing readers women's place in society and business during the Victorian era.

I know that those two-hundred-year-old wooden figures are supposed to be the scariest things in The Silent Companions, but they aren't what creeped me out. No, that honor goes to Purcell's descriptions of the house, its gardens, and the village. The village was so mired in poverty, superstition, and hostility, the house and gardens with dirt, neglect, and resentment that the menace was palpable. As I read, I felt that eyes in the back of my head were not enough; no, I needed a team of Navy SEALs surrounding me at all times.

If you're in the mood for a good ghost story, I highly recommend The Silent Companions. I still shiver when I think of revisiting that ancient country house, The Bridge. 

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
eISBN: 9781524705282
Penguin Books © 2018
eBook, 315 pages

Gothic Suspense, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley 

Monday, March 05, 2018

A Poisoned Pen Press Celebration

As I headed to The Poisoned Pen on February 24, I was wondering how well my new toy would work. I've been having trouble with my right hand and wrist, and now that writing has become problematic, I bought a (very) small recorder, hoping that (1) I could actually enjoy myself more at events because I wouldn't be scribbling notes madly, and (2) I'd be able to sit at my computer listening to the event and typing it all up for you. We'll see how it goes!

As usual, I arrived in plenty of time to get my favorite seat. I did get a bit of reading done, but I also chatted a lot with other fans who arrived early. What made me smile was that author Priscilla Royal came in early and joined our discussion. We had such a great conversation, and the Priscilla Royal fan who was chatting with us didn't realize for a long time that she was talking with the woman whose books she loves!

Time flies when you're having fun, and it wasn't long until Barbara Peters arrived with the other two Poisoned Pen Press authors who have new books out, Donis Casey and Dennis Palumbo. This was not only a launch party for the three authors, it was a celebration of Frederick Ramsay, another talented Poisoned Pen Press author who died late last year. I enjoyed his books, and I loved his sense of humor.  Barbara told us that she and Dana Stabenow had just finished Ramsay's last book, Countdown. A few words were spoken by Ramsay's widow as well. A toast to Fred was drunk by us all, and then it was time to talk new books.

L to R: Dennis Palumbo, Priscilla Royal & Donis Casey toasting the memory of Frederick Ramsay.

Dennis Palumbo flew in from Los Angeles, and while Priscilla took the train from the north Bay Area of San Francisco. The trains often take her (and leave her) in interesting places, but she told us that she'd managed to leave Flagstaff before the big snowstorm hit. Donis is a local author and didn't have much of a commute.

Available Now!
Head Wounds is the fifth Daniel Rinaldi mystery. The series is set in Pittsburgh where Dennis was born and raised, although he and his wife have now lived in Los Angeles for the past forty years. Rinaldi is a psychologist and also a trauma expert-- dating back to the time he and his wife were mugged coming out of a restaurant. His wife was killed, he was injured and found himself having to deal with his survivor guilt. This began his mission to help the victims of violent crime. He is a consultant to the Pittsburgh police. In Head Wounds, Rinaldi discovers that his wife's death was not an accident.

"I've been getting some good press about Head Wounds," Palumbo said, "but I'm just now starting to get emails from my readers in Pittsburgh. No one ever comments about the characters or the plots, they just say things like 'You can't make a left on South Street at five o'clock!' I get so many complaints that now I have to call my friends in Pittsburgh and ask things like, 'Is Heinz Chapel still there?'

Dennis Palumbo
"My favorite anecdote is the email I received from a city planner in Pittsburgh who'd read the first three books in the series. I was working on the fourth at the time. In her email she said, 'I'm a city planner; I like your books. But listen... the route that you have Daniel Rinaldi take from his office in Oakmont to his house in Mt. Washington is ridiculous. No one would ever do this, particularly in rush hour!' She drew me a diagram of how Daniel should go home. So starting in Phantom Limb, that's how Rinaldi gets home, and I gave her an acknowledgement on the acknowledgements page in the book!"

"That's really hilarious, Dennis," Barbara said. "I've only been to Pittsburgh once or twice. You may think that editors are supposed to fix absolutely everything, but the truth of it is if you don't know it, you trust your author-- 'specially if he's from Pittsburgh-- to get it right. I'm really glad that you get all this unsolicited additional editing."

"Oh, I get all sorts of help all the time!" Dennis replied.

"It's been a little while since you've published a book. You've had a little sabbatical there," Barbara commented. "I hope you're not going to have another sabbatical...."

"No, but one thing that you have to keep in mind is that I'm a full-time therapist, and I see forty patients a week. I don't have the time to write. I always want each book to be different, so I have to think about them a lot. I don't like thinking; I like writing. Actually, in my life thinking has always got me in trouble. But in this case, I always have to find something that matters to me.

"I do hope you get a chance to read my books, and just so you know, when I sign books, I always put one of my business cards inside so you know how to get in touch with me so you can tell me what I got wrong about Pittsburgh."

Available Now!
After the laughter died down, Barbara looked at the next author and said, "Priscilla, you don't obviously have this problem. No one is writing to you from the Priory to tell you that, in the fourteenth century, the fish pond was in the southwest corner!"

"Well... actually there's a story about that," Priscilla replied. "I do get letters now and then from readers who say 'I'm not sure about this' or 'I'm not sure about that' and sometimes they're right. I appreciate their writing to me.

"I'm not an historian by profession, this is a passionate avocation, so even though I care about my details, I do make mistakes.

"Since I don't fly, I've learned to love flying over the territory in my books with Google Earth. In the setting for Wild Justice, I wanted to have a stream flowing through the property. An important plot point hinged on that stream, but looking at Google Earth, something bothered me, so I wrote for information.

"I was directed to a man in the Visitors Centre there in Somerset who led me to several online maps of the area. What I thought was a stream was something that was built in the nineteenth century. A stream wasn't there in the thirteenth century. I could've made a big mistake, and boy, did I have to change things around!"

Priscilla Royal
Priscilla then told us a tiny bit of the fascinating history of the Knights Hospitaller, a religious military order that was founded at Jerusalem in the eleventh century. Yes, they were a military order, but their hospitals were remarkable, and they cared for all, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew. They also had maternity wards that provided wet nurses and cradles in addition to medical care. Most of the money the order raised went to their hospitals, not the military-- and the transportation of that money has something to do with the plot of Wild Justice.

"Prioress Eleanor lives and works in Norfolk, and one of the dilemmas Priscilla faces is to avoid Cabot Cove Syndrome-- which means everyone who lives and visits there dies-- so Eleanor gets to visit her family or do other things in other locations from time to time," Barbara explains.

"Prioress Eleanor receives a letter from her brother who is soon leaving to fight in Wales, asking her to take his gift of rents money to Mynchen Buckland Priory in Somerset," Priscilla said. "Eleanor is to give the money to Prioress Amicia only, but when she arrives, she finds Amicia locked in a cell and accused of murder-- something she has never denied doing. But when Amicia reads the letter, she breaks into tears and asks Eleanor to find the guilty person for she is innocent. So Eleanor sets out with her co-sleuth Brother Thomas and her medical person, Sister Anne to solve the crime."

"Some have called Priscilla's books the best medieval mystery series going and a worthy successor to Brother Cadfael," her editor, Barbara Peters said. "Which book is this? The... twelfth?"

"The fourteenth," Royal replied.

"Oops!" Barbara said. "Although this is good news for those of you who haven't read the series-- you can binge! We've also done something different with Wild Justice. We feel that some of our authors have readers who would prefer having the books published as paperbacks with French flaps and other good things, and Priscilla decided that that's what she wanted done for this latest book. You'll see Dennis's book and Donis's book as both hardcover and paperback, and I just wanted you to know that we didn't forget Priscilla-- this was intentional and so far has been hugely successful. The first print run sold out in a flash, so it's something we may be doing more of in the future.

"Donis, you've also been getting lots of good press for your latest book."

Donis Casey
"This has been rather amazing, the reviews I've gotten for this particular book. I'm always very happy, but then I get really really anxious wondering how I can live up to this in my next book," Donis replied.

"There's so much that's relevant to today in your book," Barbara said.

"Yes. Usually when I do research for my books, I do a lot of reading in old newspapers, but with Forty Dead Men I found myself reading the diaries of men who had fought in World War I, men who had returned home. 

"There's really a lot more information available about the Brits because-- of course-- they were there a lot longer, and they had a lot more to deal with than we did."

"There's also a wonderful series written by Charles Todd about Inspector Ian Rutledge who returned to England when the war was over," Barbara said.

"Well, I didn't want to admit that I had read several Charles Todds," Donis laughed. "Anyway, Alafair's oldest son, Gee Dub (short for George Washington) comes home from the war, and while everyone else thinks he's the same as he's always been, Alafair knows that he's different. He likes to go off by himself, and one day he sees a woman walking down the road in the rain. She's scared of him, so Gee Dub goes to get Alafair. Alafair gets in the buggy and brings her home. The young woman-- Holly-- has traveled all the way from Maine to find out what's happened to her husband. The two got married, he went off to war, and that's the last she knows. Alafair takes Holly into town to see the sheriff, and when Holly tells the sheriff her husband's name, the sheriff informs her that they found the body of a soldier who'd died from the flu by the side of the road a couple of months previously-- and his papers had the same name as Holly's husband."

Available Now!
"And we'll stop there!" Barbara said. (That woman certainly knows how to cut a story short in order to tease us!)

"I'm afraid to say anything else about the story because there are a lot of twisty things in it," Donis admitted.

"That's why we're stopping," Barbara said. "This story doesn't go anywhere near where you expect it to go.... Donis has talked with us in each book about one of the children. Sooner or later you're going to run out of children."

"I'd like to talk with you about that because Alafair's children are grown, and I think a couple of them are going to have very interesting lives that I'd like to pursue," Donis said.

"Of course," Barbara replied, "but we're not going to have an editorial discussion here."

Then Dennis had a question for Donis about PTSD which led to us learning that he'd been a screenwriter for several years before becoming a psychologist, and that one of Priscilla's mysteries deals with PTSD as well. Dennis also thought that Prioress Eleanor's co-sleuth, Brother Thomas, is the Archie Goodwin of the series.

"I knew that I had to have a man and a woman as sleuths in my books because there are some things men can do in that time period that women can't and vice versa. Eleanor is a highly intelligent, well-educated woman who wouldn't put up with a stupid man for long, but I also didn't want any hanky panky going on in the monastic hayloft," Royal said. "I needed a different angle, and finally Brother Thomas told me, 'I'm gay.' This means that I get to explore the true nature of love in the relationship between the two characters."

"By the time you've written your third, fourth or fifth book, you're basically taking dictation from your characters," Dennis told us during a short discussion about developing characters over a series of books.

Hanging on the authors' words.
"I usually end these things with what the authors are doing next," Barbara said, drawing the event to a close. "We already know that Donis and I are going to confer. Priscilla has already sent me one hundred pages of book number fifteen. What's it called, Priscilla?"

"The Hanged Man," she replied, "and it's based on a true story of a man who was hanged and lived."

"Dennis, you're still searching for an idea for your next book?" Barbara asked.

"I do know that I want it to be a situation where Rinaldi is working strictly as a consultant and there's no personal element," Palumbo replied. "I don't think I could survive another book like Head Wounds! Or maybe something in a hospital... holding an entire hospital hostage."

And on that note, the afternoon concluded. When I got home, I clicked my little recorder back on and was amazed with the wonderful sound quality. It took me a few years, but I finally came up with a way that allows me to (1) have every spoken word at my disposal and (2) enjoy myself even more at the actual event. Who says you can't teach dogs of a certain age new tricks?