Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni

First Line: Tracy Crosswhite watched the minivan pull into the parking lot, noting a car seat strapped into the backseat and a yellow "Child on Board" placard dangling in the window.

Tracy Crosswhite is back working the Homicide Division of the Seattle Police Department after the sensational retrial of her sister's killer. With her luck (or lack thereof), she's immediately plunged into the hunt for a serial killer who's been named The Cowboy.

The Cowboy is killing young women in cheap motels in North Seattle, and Tracy is determined to bring him to justice. With more victims dying and clues being difficult to find, she realizes that the solution may lie in a ten-year-old homicide investigation that others-- including her boss, Captain Johnny Nolasco-- would prefer to remain buried. There's only one thing wrong: while Tracy is searching for the evidence to put The Cowboy away, she's moving to the top of The Cowboy's list of victims.

My review could be wrapped up in short order: Her Final Breath is, quite simply, a pleasure to read. However, most people do expect more in a review. Dugoni has crafted a truly puzzling, well-paced mystery with a main character whom I'm learning to like more and more with each book in the series that I read.

Tracy is saddled with an obnoxious boss, and Nolasco really has it in for her. The problem is-- like a cat-- he seems to have nine lives and to always land on his feet. I am really looking forward to continuing with this series because this character certainly deserves to have Karma slap him right upside the head.

Dan, the attorney Tracy met in My Sister's Grave, shows up once again and does some very valuable research for her regarding The Cowboy. The rest of the supporting cast performs ably, especially the detectives who work closely with Tracy because they think the world of her but don't always like the way she behaves.

Tracy Crosswhite herself is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Give her a goal and she gets tunnel vision, not wanting to stop until the bad guy is behind bars. This may lead to some impulsive behavior from time to time, but she does use common sense and her heart is always with the victims and their families. (She's been in their shoes.) One of the many things I like about this character is that although her focus on the job is tremendous, she nevertheless takes the time to share her knowledge and expertise with other women trying to make their way in the police department.

Characters and story. Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite series has both in abundance, and I'm really looking forward to reading my way through this series.

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni
eISBN: 9781503945029
Thomas & Mercer © 2015
eBook, 424 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Tracy Crosswhite mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Monday, May 21, 2018

CozyCon 2018, Part One

As our niece Daisy's time with us was drawing to a close, one of the last things we did together was to attend The Poisoned Pen's annual CozyCon which showcases authors who write cozy mysteries.

We arrived early-- as we always do-- and Daisy took the time to go shopping on Scottsdale's famous Main Street. When she got back, she said she wished she'd had more time, so I'm envisioning her next visit to include a longer shopping expedition there.

This year nine authors were attending CozyCon, and they were split into three panels. I'm going to do one panel per post due to time limitations. The authors in the first panel were Jane K. Cleland, Vicki Delany, and Teresa Dovalpage.

L to R: Jane K. Cleland & Barbara Peters
While telling us how things were scheduled, host Barbara Peters told us that her husband Rob had made curd and marmalade from the lemons on their tree. We would be able to have the lemon curd with cake during the breaks, and the lemon marmalade would be one of the prizes handed out during the event. I'll tell you now before I forget: that lemon curd was to die for-- absolutely the best I've ever eaten. (Now that I've reminded myself of it, I'd dearly love to drive over to their house, knock on the door, and say, "Please sir, may I have some more?" But my momma raised me with some manners. One does not go begging at 1 AM!)

In the photo to the right behind Jane Cleland, you can get a glimpse of a Japanese print which figures in Cleland's latest mystery, Antique Blues. We got to see an original print, which was lovely and showed us what Jane was talking about in the different shades of blue.

Jane K. Cleland
"One of the reasons why I like Jane's books so much is that I get to learn stuff," Barbara Peters said. "I have always trusted Jane's research because she's very diligent in that regard.

"One of the things I found interesting in this book is that you're forever striving to expand the lives of your characters and of Prescott Antiques, which started out when she was involved in an auction house scandal in New York and moved to New Hampshire to reboot her life.

"Josie's creating her own little empire. I don't want to spoil anything in the book for you, so I'll just say that Josie makes an interesting decision or two that is going to open up the theater for Prescott Antiques in future books."

Teresa Dovalpage
Barbara turned to the next author. "So, Teresa, here you are from Santa Fe, and your book (Death Comes in Through the Kitchen) is set in Cuba but not recently, just a little further back, right?"

"Yes, because I left in '96, so I did a bit of research to make sure that some of the things I mentioned in the book are still standing and had not been demolished because the book is set in 2003."

"So some of the things involving the transfer of power with the Castros had not occurred."

"That's for the next book," Teresa said.

"Oh, you don't want to move that far ahead!" Barbara replied. "Tell us a bit about the CIA. I loved that!"

"A character is entering Cuba, and one of the ID cards he has says 'CIA'--Culinary Institute of America-- but he is detained for hours because the customs agents at the airport believe he's from the Central Intelligence Agency," Teresa explained. "I've had people tell me that that couldn't have happened, but it really did!"

"This well-intentioned, naive American comes to Cuba to meet a young woman who writes a food blog," Barbara said. "I wouldn't describe this book as a cozy in the traditional sense, but it does have really great food. Did you yourself vet all the recipes?"

L to R: Vicki Delany & Teresa Dovalpage
"Yes. Actually, the book started because of the recipes," Teresa replied. "I didn't want to lose all the recipes my grandmother used to make, but I didn't want to write a cookbook. I don't cook that well anyway. But I could incorporate the recipes into a story. It was a challenge, but a challenge I enjoyed. I tell people that I know I have an accent when I speak, but I assure them that I do not have an accent when I write!"

Then it was Vicki Delany's turn. "Vicki is here from Canada," Barbara told us. "In the past, we've talked about your Constable Molly Smith mysteries and your three standalone books, which are terrific, but you've now embarked on a new path in writing cozies. Tell us about your Lighthouse Library mystery coming in June."

"The Lighthouse Library series was published by Penguin Books under the pen name Eva Gates, and they're set in an actual place-- the Bodie Island Lighthouse outside Nags Head, North Carolina," Vicki said. "As I say in my introduction to the books, there's no way the real building could house a library, offices, a children's library, an apartment, and even a room for a cat, so it's my interpretation of the Tardis or Hermione Granger's handbag-- far far bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

"I liked writing that series, and it was my first attempt at writing cozies, but it fell victim to the Great Penguin Massacre..."

"In which they dropped six hundred series," Barbara said. "Six hundred of nine hundred series."

"Well, that was the end of that I thought," Vicki continued, "but the new publisher, Crooked Lane Books picked it up, and I'm absolutely delighted that the newest book in the series, The Spook in the Stacks, will be out in June. My year-round Christmas series survived at Penguin. The third one, Hark the Herald Angels Slay, came out in November, and they have contracted for the fourth."

Vicki Delany
"So you're just basically sitting around making stuff up," said Barbara with a twinkle in her eye.

"Well, that's what we do here, Barbara!" Vicki said.

"Tell us about your Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series," Barbara prompted.

"Actually, it's my favorite of all the things I've written simply because I'm having so much fun with it," Vicki said. [I can attest to this because Vicki showed me the pair of Sherlock Holmes socks she'd just purchased, and she told me they would be making an appearance in the next book she writes.]  "It's set in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. I knew I wanted to write a series set in a bookstore, but I knew I needed a hook. It didn't take long for me to realize that it would be totally feasible to have a store dedicated solely to Sherlock Holmes and all the pastiche as well as all the merchandise.

"I've loved creating this series, and the main character is Sherlockian. She has that Sherlock Holmes mindset. I feel that it's a typical cozy with a bit of an edge. It's set in a nice town on Cape Cod, in a nice bookshop, and Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room is next door. Gemma Doyle has a bit of an edge because she's not that sweet as cozy characters generally are. She can be rude and she can be abrupt."

"And she's probably not a cocaine user which would be really Sherlockian," Barbara added. "Although with medical marijuana...."

"There's a thought!" Vicki exclaimed. "The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop, Emporium, and Marijuana Dispensary. Jenn McKinlay, I have the next big thing in cozy mystery series-- the Marijuana Dispensary Mysteries!"

"It's a cash and carry business," Barbara quipped.

"Don't forget about the marijuana brownies for Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room," someone in the audience said, who shall remain nameless (but she must have been channeling a certain episode of Barney Miller).

"I'm making a mental note of that as we speak," Vicki said. "I could even have the recipe in the back of the book."

"And Teresa can write it out for you in Spanish," Barbara added. "You can see how addictive series like these can be when you start making stuff up."

And you can see how addictive attending CozyCon can be, can't you? Stop by next Monday when you'll be able to attend part two of The Poisoned Pen's CozyCon 2018!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Gift that Keeps on Giving Weekly Link Round-Up

I'm still eyebrow deep in photos--which wasn't helped by the visit Denis and I made to the Desert Botanical Garden Wednesday where I took 283 more photos. So I'm going to chat about this and that.

Denis and I are members of the Desert Botanical Garden, and our membership is a gift that just keeps on giving. I always see something new each and every time I go there, and I'll be sharing photos of the new plants I saw in the days to come.

If we lived in Tucson, I know we'd be members of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is the best of both worlds as far as I'm concerned-- both zoo and garden. The photo to the left is one that I took when Daisy, Denis and I were there. Why did I take it? Because I'd never before seen flower buds on a teddy bear cholla. May not mean much to you, but it was pretty special to me. I just wish we'd been there when they were in full bloom!

And while I'm on the subject of gifts, I received a book from someone this week, the latest in a series that I once enjoyed but no longer read. I greatly appreciate the gift, and although I won't be reading the book, I have passed it along to someone who was absolutely thrilled to receive it. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Getting the right books in the right hands at the right time?

Ack! Before I begin stumbling into philosophy, I'd better head on out to the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • According to author Sophie Hannah, it's no mystery that crime is the biggest-selling genre in books.
  • There may be hope for eliminating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch-- scientists have accidentally produced an enzyme that devours plastic
  • How small local presses have turned Los Angeles into a publishing town.
  • Rare nineteenth-century books were found unexpectedly during a police investigation.
  • The jaw-dropping city of books at Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Skeletons from a Napoleonic battlefield shed light on the soldiers' health.
  • The wreck of a rare German U-boat has been found after 73 years.
  • A thirteen-year-old boy and an amateur archaeologist have unearthed a legendary Danish king's treasure trove in Germany. Here's another article about King Harald Bluetooth's trove. 
  • This remarkable charm bracelet chronicles life inside a concentration camp. 
  • 1,200 artworks were stuffed into a three-story Quincy, Massachusetts home. Now a collection is being unveiled.
  • Mysterious 600-year-old dodgy dice have been discovered in a medieval gambling den.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Nearly 1,400 basking sharks were spotted in a mysterious gathering off the East Coast.
  • Python trackers find a record breeding group in Florida.
  • A very angry badger wreaked havoc in a 500-year-old Scottish castle.
  • Skull surgery was performed on this Stone Age cow.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

First Line: I am lying so still.

Just as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson return from their famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs. Hudson falls ill and finds herself in bed in a private hospital ward. As the days pass, she learns that all of the other women in the room seem to have more than their fair share of secrets... and it may be her imagination, but a higher number of deaths seem to occur in this ward, too. In fact, on her very first night, Mrs. Hudson could swear that she witnessed a murder. Or was it the effects of the pain medication?

Meanwhile, Mary Watson has heard about young boys disappearing all across London, and she's determined to find them, save them, and reunite them all with their families. What the two women don't expect is that their separate investigations are going to collide in some very surprising ways.

My love affair with this series continues, and now I'm impatiently waiting for book number three. The House at Baker Street and now The Women of Baker Street are for all of us who just knew that there was more to Mrs. Hudson than met Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's eye. Michelle Birkby's imagination is a delight. Holmes and Watson are supportive but stay out of the women's way. Mrs. Hudson is extremely observant and filled with common sense while Mary Watson is intuitive and impulsive. We get to know more about the Baker Street Irregulars, and who knew that it would be so hard to find good help, what with all the crooks trying to plant spies in Sherlock Holmes' residence?

Birkby is very adept at pacing, as well as ratcheting up the tension and suspense (and the occasional creep factor, too). Her misdirection is excellent; she had me fooled even though I'd deduced the importance of a specific location within a certain room. Yes, the mystery-- and how it is told-- is excellent, but it's what Birkby does with Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson that really wins me over. Holmes trusts his landlady so much that she's the only one in whom he confides his secrets about Jack the Ripper, and Dr. Watson tells her, "Make sure you solve it... It's good for him to have rivals." There are even flashes of humor that make me laugh out loud-- especially the bit about Mrs. Hudson contemplating the demise of a pair of knitting needles.

Even though I can't begin to conceive of crime fiction without Sherlock Holmes, I've never particularly liked him. However, there are so many wonderful series now that add to the Holmes canon by taking a closer look at characters Conan-Doyle kept in the shadows, and Michelle Birkby's is one of the best. I look forward to many more investigations conducted by these two indomitable women. Hats off to Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson!

The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
ISBN:  9781509809738
Pan Books © 2017
Paperback, 347 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Mrs. Hudson & Mary Watson mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Book Depository 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows

First Line: At its widest point, the march stretched almost a quarter of a mile across the north Norfolk coastline.

Domenic Jejeune is a poster boy for the police. The newly appointed detective inspector has been reassigned to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, right in the heart of England's premier birding territory. This suits Jejeune right down to the ground because, no matter how good a detective he is, he'd much rather watch birds.

The chief superintendent's high hopes are deflating fast when Jejeune insists that the death of a prominent ecological activist involves a feud over birdwatching lists. When a second murder occurs, Jejeune finds himself battling the mistrust of his colleagues and his own insecurities... but he just knows that he's right about those birdwatching lists!

Highly recommended by a trusted source, I began reading A Siege of Bitterns with a great deal of anticipation. I love British police procedurals as well as watching birds, so this book had all the earmarks of a winner. Alas, it was not meant to be. For a first book, the main things are good: the story, the setting, and the characters. Burrows puts us right in the marshes of Norfolk, and the mystery is genuinely puzzling. Jejeune, on the whole, is an interesting character, but.

You were waiting for that, weren't you? The execution did not live up to the promise. The book needed more editing to tighten it up and make the story flow smoother and faster. One of my pet reading peeves is when we are constantly told about a character instead of letting us find out for ourselves. This is what happens with Domenic Jejeune. At almost every turn, we are told what an exceptional person he is instead of simply being shown by his words and actions. I hate to say this, but midway through the book, I found myself fighting to stay awake, and that continued throughout the rest of the story.

As I've said before, this is a first book, and the issues I had with it can all be fixed. I'm just not sure that I want to venture into book number two. Your mileage may certainly vary-- and I hope that it does!

A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows
eISBN: 9781780748443
Point Blank Books © 2014
eBook, 352 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Birder Murder mystery
Rating: D
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Daisy at the Phoenix Zoo & Desert Botanical Garden

One of the first outings we made while Daisy was visiting was to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. After all, they're on the same road and in close proximity to each other. There were other trips that we had planned, but after looking at the weather forecast for the coming days, I knew we'd have to cancel a plan or two and switch some others around. (Snow in the mountains.)

We all enjoyed ourselves-- so much so that we all wound up going to bed much earlier than planned that night. Having fun out in the desert sun can do that to you! (We wore hats and sunscreen and carried bottles of water with us, in case any of you are worry warts.)

A selection of the photos taken that day follows. If you'd like to see any of them full size, just left click on one and a new window will automatically open for you to do so. Enjoy!

Daisy loved Stingray Bay at the Phoenix Zoo.

But she discovered that camels aren't the most comfortable critters to ride.

I could swear I was being watched.

I think the giraffe was keeping an eye on me, too.

An egret and its chick.

Lots of flowers-- like this hibiscus-- in bloom at the Zoo.

In the Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden, a Painted Lady mistook Daisy's tattoo for the real thing.

Daisy standing by one of the Jun Kaneko sculptures.

Cholla in bloom

Prickly pear

More prickly pear

Daisy enjoying the Patio Cafe.


Feed me! Feed me!

Hope you enjoyed our visit. I know we did!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

First Line: "Hello? Detective Inspector Redfyre, Cambridge CID here."

It's 1923, and World War I veteran John Redfyre is happy to be back in his old stomping grounds of Cambridge as a detective inspector. He's not so happy to have his Aunt Hetty strongarm him into attending St. Barnabas College's Christmas concert, but things begin to look up when he learns that the trumpet soloist is a woman-- Juno Proudfoot-- and not only is she beautiful, she's incredibly talented as well.

After the curtain falls on her performance, Juno tumbles headlong down a staircase and narrowly escapes being killed. When Redfyre begins to investigate, he finds evidence that someone had carefully planned her death. When more Cambridge women die, Redfyre realizes that some of his own friends and family may become targets, and that makes him all the more determined to find the killer.

Fall of Angels, the first Inspector Redfyre mystery, has all the trademarks fans of Barbara Cleverly's writing have come to expect: seamless period detail that puts readers right into the time and place of the book, witty dialogue, strong intriguing characters, and a mystery that keeps armchair sleuths guessing. These are all here in abundance, and fans should be thrilled.

Unfortunately, I wasn't. The book fell flat for me, and-- after reading books from Cleverly's Joe Sandilands and Laetitia Talbot series as well as this book, I have come to the conclusion that Cleverly just isn't a writer for me. Or more precisely, I'm not the reader for her. It's an extremely short list, but Cleverly is not the only author who doesn't light up my reading life. The time periods, plots, locations, and characters are all right up my alley, but there's something about the writing that just does not work for me. (And it always takes more than one book for me to arrive at this conclusion.)

So there you have it. If you're already a fan of Barbara Cleverly, chances are excellent that you're going to enjoy this book. If you're new to her work, you're probably going to enjoy it, too. This is just one of those times when I'm being a bit contrary, so take my opinion under advisement. 

Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly
ISBN: 9781616958763
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 368 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 D.I. John Redfyre mystery
Rating: C
Source: the publisher 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sneak Preview of a Giveaway!

I'm probably more surprised than anyone else that next month will mark the tenth anniversary of Kittling: Books. Back in June 2008, I had three blogs: Kittling: Travel Tales, Kittling: Observations, and Kittling: Books. (Some of you may have wondered about the word "kittling." It's a Scots Gaelic word that basically means "anything that strikes [my] fancy.") Since I worked an average of fifty hours per week at the time, I rapidly realized that three blogs were absolute madness. I deleted two, kept my favorite... and here I am.

Naturally, I have to do something to celebrate this landmark-- not only to mark how special this blog is to me but also to show how very special all you readers have been to me over the years.

I've collected ten mysteries which have all been signed by their authors/editors. They might all be first editions, but I haven't verified that. Three are UK editions. All are hardcovers, and ten lucky readers will win them over the course of June. I plan to give them away, two (sometimes three) each week, until June turns into July.

You want to know which books I'll be giving away, don't you? Never fear, I have a leaning tower of good reading to show you, and... here it is!

Just in case there are titles you cannot decipher in the photo, here's the lineup:

The Delhi Detective's Handbook by Vish Puri (Tarquin Hall)
Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay
Lost Books and Old Bones by Paige Shelton
The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany
In the Shadow of Agatha Christie edited by Leslie S. Klinger
In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear
The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
The Scribe of Sienna by Melodie Winawer

Well, that's the lineup. Hopefully, it's an assortment that's got a little something for everyone; I know that it ranges from brand-new to tried-and-true authors. Be on the lookout for my giveaway posts. June will be here faster than you think!