Thursday, September 16, 2021

A This 'n' That Weekly Link Round-Up


Things are going well here at Casa Kittling. No one has doctor's appointments. Nothing's broken and needs to be serviced or repaired. (Knock wood.) Denis and I are making plans to check out the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale. Evidently, it's one of the top-rated museums in the country and we've never been there, so we have to remedy that. Naturally, we'll share our visit whenever we do go. 

I'm also digging through a bunch of older photos on my computer in order to put together a blog post, all because of a book I read recently. Preston and Child's second Nora Kelly mystery The Scorpion's Tail really got me thinking (and reliving) some of the trails Denis and I have been on. Trails that took us well off the beaten path to show us so many things that make Arizona special. Trails that were even a bit scary. So that will be coming up soon.

While I'm talking about upcoming events, I might as well give you a heads up about Monday. Monday will be the first day of a Four Book Giveaway that will give you an opportunity to win an autographed book written by a favorite author... or to sample a book from one you've never read before. That's one of the things I like so much about giveaways-- you have the chance to sample new authors at absolutely no cost to you. 

Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►The Wanderer◄
►Craftsmanship & Artistry◄
  • Using nothing but everyday newspaper, expert paper artist Chie Hitotsuyama crafts realistic, exquisitely detailed sculptures of the animal kingdom.
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • How the U.S. government deployed Grandma Moses overseas during the Cold War. 
  • Keith Roysdon: All I really need to know I learned covering homicides.
  • McIlvanney and Me: Ian Rankin remembers the man who created Tartan Noir.
  • Calvin Graham, the tragic teen hero of World War II.
  • Richard Osman: "No one's born a crime writer. I write crime because I read it."
  • Seventeen-year-old Ku Stevens recently honored his great-grandfather by retracing his boarding school escape.
►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. 

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

First Line: In early February 2006, I was forty-seven and at the lowest point of my life.
Pino Lella is a typical seventeen-year-old boy, obsessed with girls, music, girls, movies, girls, food, girls... He wants nothing to do with the Nazis or the Fascists there in his beloved Milan. The night he meets and falls in love with Anna, the bombing of Milan begins. For safety, Pino's parents send him to a monastery high in the Italian Alps where he begins helping the priests take Jewish refugees through treacherous mountain passes to Switzerland.
But then the Nazis begin conscripting Italian men and sending them to fight on the Russian front, an almost certain death sentence. Pino's parents force him back to Milan to enlist with the Germans, hoping it will keep him away from Russia. It works, and an accident proves even more providential to the young boy. Pino becomes the personal driver of Adolph Hitler's right hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich's most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Thus begins the next chapter in Pino's life as he spies for the Allies, keeping what he's doing from everyone, even his little brother who's fighting with the Partisans. Pino becomes witness to the horrors the Nazis inflict upon his country. The only thing that bolsters his resolve is his love for Anna and the life they will share after the war is over.
Mark Sullivan does an amazing job of bringing readers right into the life of Pino Lella, a real man and the incredible things he accomplished during World War II. Pino's voice and behavior at the very beginning when his mind is filled with daydreams of falling in love with the perfect girl made me smile. What a typical teenager! And then, the things this young boy is able to do with scarcely batting an eye. 

For me, the best parts of Beneath a Scarlet Sky involved the action scenes: leading refugees through high, treacherous mountain passes to safety in Switzerland, attacks by thugs thinly disguised as partisans, driving a staff car while being strafed by an Allied plane, running through the streets of Milan in fear for his life after the war is over... Sullivan had me experiencing it all right alongside Pino.

Sullivan also had me meeting so many fascinating people like the Cardinal of Milan, General Leyers, and the priests in that monastery high in the Alps. I really appreciated the fact that the end of the book told us about Pino's life after the war and what happened to many of the other people in the book.

In listening to the audiobook, the narrator's attempts at various female voices did make me smile from time to time, but he never failed to keep me focused on the story. I love learning about unsung heroes, and I think it's wonderful that we can finally get to know Pino Lella, a very atypical teenager in a very atypical time.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Narrated by Will Damron
Brilliance Audio © 2017
Audiobook. 17 hours 43 minutes.
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Audible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Immersing Myself in Van Gogh

When I first heard of the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit that would be taking place in Scottsdale, I thought to myself, "Oh, that's nice," and moved on to other things even though Van Gogh's Starry Night is my all-time favorite painting because of the strong emotions it always evokes in me. Then my leg really began to make improvements, and I began thinking about getting out to see and do things. That's when I really began looking into the exhibit.

Being enveloped in Van Gogh's works appealed to me, but I didn't know if it would be Denis's cup of tea. I was a bit surprised that he immediately said yes when I asked him if he wanted to go. The poor man obviously had cabin fever as badly as I did.

I bought the tickets, knowing that we would be going on what would have been my grandmother's 104th birthday but not realizing that it would also be opening day. Fortunately, our tickets were for "off-peak"-- 11 AM-- so although there were plenty of people there, there weren't what I would call crowds. (And I don't like crowds.) The only real problem was trying to find someplace to park where Denis wouldn't have to walk miles in the blazing sun and heat. (My electric scooter does give me an advantage from time to time.) The Parking Gods were smiling upon us, and when I saw the street sign, I had to laugh. Naturally, Denis wanted to know what the laughter was all about. "The name of the street we're parked on," I replied. He looked at the sign. "Brown. So?" "Today is my grandmother's birthday, and her maiden name was Brown." Come to think of it, maybe that wasn't a Parking God smiling down upon us...

Photography is allowed in the exhibit, but no tripods and no flash photography. The photos I'm about to share with you only scratch the surface of what the exhibit is all about. Music surrounds you. Windmill blades rotate in an imaginary breeze. Flowers blossom before your eyes. Water ripples in the moonlight. Candles flicker. Paintings seem to grow, brushstroke by brushstroke.

I found parts of the exhibit powerfully moving and was glad of the dark so strangers wouldn't see me crying. Would I go again? Yes, I would. Do I think you should go if you get a chance? If you like Van Gogh's work, I think it's a must-see, but now it's time for me to shut up and share my photos. Enjoy.
Being immersed in the villages and landscapes Van Gogh knew so well.

Immersed in the villagers' daily lives.

Van Gogh's irises bloom before your eyes.

Streets and buildings appear.

You become one with the sunflowers.

The art isn't just on the walls.

I almost felt as though I could take a seat at one of those tables.

Van Gogh's visions of the night sky...

I sometimes believe that Van Gogh and I feel the same about the night.

 Hopefully, this little video will display properly!

The genius behind it all.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delaney

First Line: "My neighbor Mrs Francesco heard him at a club in the city."
Elizabeth Grady hopes that the summer of 1953 will be a break-out year for Haggerman's Catskills Resort. With the one-two punch of her mother's Hollywood celebrity and her own management and organizational skills, Elizabeth wants to make the resort the family destination for all those people seeking to escape the heat of the city.
However, when one of the guests is found murdered in his cabin and a copy of the Communist Manifesto is found among his papers, the local police immediately start shouting "Russian Spy!" and bring in the FBI. With Joseph McCarthy's Red Scare tactics preying on the fears of the nation, the last thing Haggerman's needs is to become known as a hotbed of Communism. It would literally be the kiss of death.
Since the obnoxious police chief is content with his diagnosis of the situation, Elizabeth knows that she has to follow her own instincts in order to save the resort from deadly rumors. She's convinced the victim was not a spy, and she does the only thing she can do-- set out to find the killer herself.
Author Vicki Delany has become a prolific cozy mystery writer. Under her own name and the pseudonym Eva Gates, she writes five cozy series. My favorites? I first learned about her from reading her excellent Canadian police procedural series featuring Constable Molly Smith. My favorite of her cozy series is her Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series. Now with Deadly Summer Nights, I think I'm going to be adding another favorite: this Catskill Summer Resort series.
The period detail is fantastic, and the name of the resort, Haggerman's, had me singing Kellerman's end-of-season song from Dirty Dancing. As readers follow Elizabeth Grady around, they learn a lot about the running of a summer resort. It ain't easy, especially when there are guests like Mrs. Brownville on site. 
Delany has created a well-defined, interesting cast of characters that you want to learn more about-- something that seems as easy to her as breathing, although I'm sure it's not. Elizabeth is a widow and content to remain that way for the time being. Her mother, Olivia, is a Hollywood/Broadway diva who can actually be useful from time to time. Her Aunt Tatiana is in charge of housekeeping, and her best friend Velvet McNally also works at the resort. Elizabeth's also made a friend in town. Lucinda, who works in the diner, is always in the know, so readers know she's going to be a good friend to have in future mysteries. Even Winston the bulldog has a part to play in the goings-on.
Between the setting, the mystery, and the characters, I was entertained throughout, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series. Oh, by the way-- that last line of Deadly Summer Nights? I loved it! 
Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delaney
eISBN: 9780593334386
Berkley Prime Crime © 2021
eBook, 304 pages
Cozy Mystery, #1 Catskills Summer Resort mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley

My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

First Line: There's a special place in hell for incompetent customer service agents, and it's right between monsters who stick their bare feet up on airplane seats and mansplainers.
Paloma should have known better than to sublet her apartment. If only she hadn't needed the money! Now her roommate has discovered her deepest, darkest secret and is demanding cash for his silence. Paloma thought she'd never have to think of those years in a Sri Lankan orphanage again. Now she's thirty, cut off from her parents' funds, and at the mercy of a blackmailer.
When she can't come up with the money, Paloma has no alternative but to stand up to her roommate, but when she goes back to the apartment, she finds him facedown in a pool of blood at the kitchen table. In shock, she runs from the apartment, but by the time the police arrive, there is no body... no sign that her roommate ever existed. Paloma is convinced that this is all tied into what she had to do to escape Sri Lanka all those years ago, but did those secrets die with her roommate, or is she in even more danger?
There should be a bright future ahead of author Amanda Jayatissa, and I'm basing my opinion simply on how her mind worked as she constructed the plot for My Sweet Girl. There are enough twists and turns to satisfy any reader who loves surprises-- or who loves to attempt to figure them out ahead of time. The book does fall victim to a couple of things that did lessen my enjoyment, however.
At 384 pages, the book has "too much middle," as a fellow mystery lover calls it. If the story had been tightened up, the second thing would not have annoyed me nearly as much. What is the second thing? Paloma, the main character herself. Through the first third of the book, I felt bad for Paloma. Her voice is filled with judgment, with profanity, with anger, with fear, with guilt. The judgmental attitude I could overlook to a great extent as well as the profanity. Besides, the way Paloma tells her story really made me want to know what made her so fearful, so angry, so guilty. But these strong emotions went on and on and on. If the book had had more editing to tighten everything up, I would not have had time to either deduce the main plot twist or to become increasingly annoyed with Paloma. But it didn't, and I did.
Yes, I did have some problems with My Sweet Girl, but there's a lot to like about this story that shows us the lengths to which people will go when they are absolutely desperate. On the strength of her plot and Paloma's voice, I'll be keeping an eye peeled for Jayatissa's next book. 

My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa
eISBN: 9780593335109
Berkley © 2021
eBook, 384 pages
Standalone Thriller
Rating: C+
Source: Net Galley

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Visit to the Heard Museum: Navajo Weaving

A visit to the Heard Museum here in Phoenix, Arizona can take a long time because there's so much to see. Denis and I had to go back because we'd missed one of the exhibits I'd most wanted to see, and it's scheduled to end soon. Can't have that!

The following photographs show both the room the exhibit is housed in as well as the works of art themselves. Photos marked with *db* were taken by my husband Denis.

As you enter the Jacobson Gallery.

I loved seeing these photographs of the weavers with their creations.

This sign made me chuckle. (And yes, I obeyed it!)

The following photos show some of my favorites in the exhibition. I tend to like the more traditional designs although some of the modern ones were striking. The file sizes are large in order for you to see more detail if you wish.

Artist: Lynda Teller Pete

Artist: Lena Tahe

Artist: Michele Laughing-Reeves.

This reminds me of the day Denis and I spent in Canyon de Chelly, and I stood at the base of Spider Woman, the towering rock formation you see above.

Artist: Louise Y. Nez

Artist: Elsie Bia

Artist: Christine Chischilly  *db*

Artist: Rena Yazzie  *db*

Artist: Stella Nockideneh  *db*

Artist: Marietta White  *db*

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of treasures. Besides spending a day in Canyon de Chelly, Denis and I also spent the day touring Monument Valley with another Navajo tour guide. (The only way you will get inside both Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley, by the way.) One of the stops was to visit a hogan and watch while a Navajo woman worked on her weaving. I treasure these memories.

I may post a random photo or two from the Heard Museum in the future, but I only have one more full-blown post in the works from there. I'm saving what's, to me, the best for the last: an exhibit on Plains Indian dolls. You won't believe the workmanship and the beauty. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The I've Got a Handle on It Weekly Link Round-Up

I haven't said much about my leg lately, not because it's completely healed, but because I've got a handle on how to deal with it and still be able to get out and do things. This may be something I have to do the rest of my life, but as long as I can maintain an acceptable status quo and be able to get out and do the things I want to do, I can live with it. It's true that you have to play the hand of cards you're dealt, and I'm determined to at least come to a draw if I can't out-and-out win. 

This is a photo that Denis climbed the Grand Gallery stairs in the Heard Museum to take. It's a huge Navajo rug that covers a big chunk of the floor in the room.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

As big as it is, it is dwarfed by the Hubbell Rug, the world's largest Navajo rug at 26 ft. by 36 ft. I learned about the Hubbell Rug from La Posada Hotel's Facebook page. If you're on Facebook, you can check out these posts, one showing the rug only one-quarter unfolded, the other with the rug completely unfolded. It is very seldom ever displayed because it's difficult to find a place large enough.

Speaking of La Posada, it is my aim to spend at least one night there. La Posada is an old Fred Harvey House hotel built to service all the railroad passengers traveling through the United States from the 1870s through the 1950s. (Its history is fascinating.) La Posada is situated not only right by the train tracks (you can spend the night and then board the train to Chicago), but on Route 66 as well. A lot of famous people stayed there in its heyday. Denis and I wandered through both the hotel and its grounds shortly after its new owners began restoring it, and they've done so much in the ensuing years. Perhaps Denis and I can stay in the John Wayne Room, or the Howard Hughes Room, or...

Sounds as if travel plans might be in our future, but who knows what the future will bring? While I'm daydreaming, please enjoy the links!

 ►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►The Wanderer◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
►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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The Coldest Case by Martin Walker

First Line: The three skulls transfixed him.
While attending an exhibit on the facial reconstruction of ancient skulls, Bruno Courrèges is reminded of a thirty-year-old cold case that his boss, Chief of Detectives Jalipeau ("J-J"), has sworn to solve, but Bruno soon learns that identifying the victim is just the tip of the iceberg.

The trail leads to a reclusive vintner, Henri Bazaine, whose childhood education in a vocational school in a well-known formerly Communist area of Paris raises some eyebrows. Further investigation into the school uncovers rumors of possible connections and funding to the Stasi, the old secret police of East Germany. The case heats up when it's learned that Bazaine was declared dead thirty years ago and has been living under an assumed name ever since. 

To make matters even worse, Paris bureaucrats get involved, and the investigation is hampered by the wildfires burgeoning all over the drought-stricken Dordogne. Bruno certainly has his work cut out for him.


If you ever find yourself in need of a pleasant escape into a mystery filled with good people, good food, and good wine, the only place you should head to is southwest France in Martin Walker's Bruno Chief of Police mysteries. In this series, friendship, food, wine, history, and culture are every bit as important as the mystery, which-- in the case of The Coldest Case-- is a very interesting one indeed. I enjoyed watching how facial reconstruction put new life into an old investigation and how trying to identify a killer led to the shadowy doings of the Stasi. Readers can count on Walker to put history into context in this modern world. I know he's certainly given me a better understanding of Europe in general and France in particular.

Living in Arizona as I do and having seen over a million acres of forest consumed by fire (it's not all rocks and sand here, folks), I took particular interest in how Bruno and other officials prepared for fighting wildfires. How they could evacuate residents. Safe places they could stay. Getting those places ready. Evacuation routes. And on and on. These preparations take a lot of planning and a lot of people to carry those plans out. Walker not only brings readers right into the middle of these preparations, but he also has them coughing from the smoke and hearing the crackling of the flames.

But no Bruno mystery is ever complete without the camaraderie to be found at a table filled with mouth-watering food and wine. As an added bonus, Bruno's beloved Basset hound Balzac is now a father-- there are puppies!

Although Bruno is beginning to give up hope that he will ever find the right woman so he can have a family of his own, I haven't yet-- although I do wonder if a wife and children will hamper Bruno's investigative skills... or enhance them. If you're a newcomer to these Bruno mysteries, you could read The Coldest Case as a standalone, but I really wouldn't advise it. You would be missing out on all the wonderful things this series has to offer. Vive Bruno!

The Coldest Case by Martin Walker
ISBN: 9780525656678
Alfred A. Knopf © 2021
Hardcover, 336 pages
Police Procedural, #14 Bruno Chief of Police
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore.