Monday, February 18, 2019

Death in Provence by Serena Kent

First Line: Penelope Kite stood at the door of her dream home and wiped her brow with the back of her hand.

Penelope Kite's life has been one of taking care of others. When she gets the chance for early retirement from her job in forensics in the Home Office, she takes it. When she sees the stone farmhouse tucked up in the hills high above the Luberon Valley in the south of France, she knows that this is the beginning of the new life she wants for herself. Saying good-bye to her ungrateful stepchildren and spoiled grandchildren, she buys Le Chant d'Eau--the Song of Water-- and moves into her perfect stone farmhouse... or it will be perfect once some renovations are done!

But the morning of her first full day in her new home finds her thrown right in the middle of a Provençal stew of old resentments and new intrigue for she finds a body floating facedown in her swimming pool. Penelope is no stranger to murder investigations, having worked in the forensics office, but she does have to learn to navigate the crowded waters of the handsome village mayor, the chic estate agent who's constantly turning up at the farmhouse, and the chief of police who thinks this particular foreigner is beneath contempt. And her willpower is taking a beating from all the food and wine for which the region is world-renowned! Fortunately for Penelope, her friend Frankie is only a short flight away... and even more, she's not as naïve as her new neighbors think she is.

After reading Martin Walker's delightful Bruno Chief of Police mysteries and now this charming series opener, I might be forgiven for believing that all crime in the south of France seems to tie into World War II. A lot happened then, and old resentments seem never to be forgotten, only handed down from one generation to the next. Yes, the mystery in Death in Provence does hark back to that period of time, and it is a good, strong puzzle to solve, but I found myself liking other things even more-- especially the main character, Penelope Kite.

Penelope is a fiftysomething woman with a good head on her shoulders. Her background working with forensic scientists means she has a good idea of how investigations should be conducted and how evidence should be handled. I had to give her a lot of credit because she always kept the local police apprised of her findings regardless of how shabbily they treated her. Which brings up another point.

A year or so ago, I read the first book in another mystery series set in the south of France, and the major reason why I did not care for it is that the main character spent most of her time whining about how her new neighbors didn't think she was wonderful and accept her into their midst in five seconds or less. For the most part, newcomers in key tourist areas like this are not going to be accepted quickly (if at all). Their habit of investing in properties at inflated prices means that young local families can't afford to buy their own homes. Resentment grows if the newcomer only lives there for a week or two each year, and it festers if other things are (or are not) done. I loved watching how Penelope conducted herself. This is one woman who is really looking forward to her new life, and she's going about it in just the right way.

Death in Provence contains an excellent recipe for a continuing series: a puzzling mystery to solve, a dash of humor, the wonderful cuisine of Provence, a beautiful farmhouse to restore, and the perfect woman to handle it all. I look forward to the next book. Allons-y!

Death in Provence by Serena Kent
ISBN: 9780062869852
Harper © 2019
Hardcover, 368 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Penelope Kite mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Amazon Vine


Sunday, February 17, 2019

While Miz Kittling Knits: Jonathan Creek

Have you ever had a nemesis? I've had several over the span of my lifetime and expect to have a few more, but the most recent one happens to be a knitting pattern. Yes, you heard me correctly. A. Knitting. Pattern.

I liked the look of the forest glade cowl in the photo, and the pattern itself wasn't complicated even if it did have a profusion of yarnovers and knit-togethers. I also liked the fact that it was knit on circular needles "in the round" so I wouldn't have to sew the ends of the finished cowl together.

My simple lacy pattern gave me a bad headache. It gave me a bad headache three times. I don't know what my problem was, but I began to get the impression that I was not meant to make this cowl. And that made me mad. I started to improvise. Something about the size of the needles and the thickness of the yarn didn't feel right, so for my fourth go-round I chose bigger needles. 

It worked! And just to make sure that the pattern knew I had beaten it, I made it a second time using the same size needles and a thinner yarn to bring out the open weave of the pattern. So there, forest glade! You have no more power over me. HA!

The cowl on the left is made with Caron Simply Soft Paints acrylic yarn in "Passion." The variations of green make me think of dappled sunlight on grape leaves and the purple of juicy grapes hanging on the vine. I love Caron Simply Soft yarn because it is so soft, so easy to care for, and comes in some delicious solid and variegated colors. The "Paints" line is nice because the colors are not self-striping. (I've never liked stripes!) In looking this up, it appears that this particular color has been discontinued, which must be a recent decision because I bought the yarn less than a year ago.

The cowl on the right is done with a discontinued in-house brand of Michael's yarn, and since I used larger needles and a thinner weight yarn, the lace is more open and easier to see. You can click on the photo to see more detail.

Now... what have I been watching while fighting my way through all these forest glades? I'm glad you asked! I've been re-watching one of my favorite British crime series, "Jonathan Creek." I first saw it years ago on BBC America, and the entire series is now on Britbox.

The crime-solving duo consists of investigative journalist Madeline ("Maddy") Magellan and magician's assistant Jonathan Creek (Caroline Quentin and Alan Davies). They are complete opposites: Maddy very much in-your-face and Jonathan very much an introvert who enjoys living alone in his windmill and concocting brilliant stunts for his magician boss to perform. Quentin and Davies play well off each other, and I love these howdunits. (You see, the question isn't whodunit but how they did it.) There's also a good sense of humor throughout the first three seasons.

I do want to give you a word of warning, however. I'd only seen the first three seasons with Caroline Quentin. Quentin's star was on the ascendant, and she went on to other projects. "Jonathan Creek" went on for another couple of seasons with two different female leads. One lead was Julia Sawalha (of "Absolutely Fabulous" fame) and the other, Sarah Alexander. Although a good actress, the chemistry between Davies and Sawalha just didn't click. Sarah Alexander was a disaster in my opinion-- Jonathan's wife Polly, and a more mean-spirited person you'd never want to meet. Was having Jonathan saddled with such a creature supposed to be funny? If so, it certainly fell flat, and both actors seemed to be suffering mightily.

So watch the first three seasons, but beware the fourth and fifth!

I have other knitting projects done. I just need to rinse them out and block them. Sigh. (This blocking is the bit I wish would do itself!) If I can get myself in gear, you'll be seeing more episodes of While Miz Kittling Knits!

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Love Is in the Air Weekly Link Round-Up

One thing that I noticed when Denis and I went to the Water Ranch at the end of January is that love was in the air. Or sometimes on the rocks beneath our feet.

Some afternoon delight for two Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies.

Amidst all the dozing mallards, fishing egrets, paddling pelicans, and swooping ospreys, there were dragonflies darting everywhere. Usually in pairs. Like the two in the photo above who enjoyed quite a bit of afternoon delight regardless of how many were around to watch. I know. Shame on Denis and me for photographing them. Let's give them some privacy. I'll head out to the link corral and leave them alone.  Shhhh...

Head 'em up! Mooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • One of Oxford's greatest treasures likely belonged to the legendary King Alfred the Great
  • Canadian archives have acquired the book that would have guided the North American Holocaust.
  • Road workers in Florida sent out to repair a sinkhole got a surprise when they discovered it was caused by a tunnel leading to a nearby bank.
  • Fragments of an early Arthurian legend have been found in a 16th-century book. 
  • Egypt has unveiled an ancient burial site at Tuna el-Gebel that's home to fifty mummies.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A new study showcases the three-toed sloth's unsung adaptability.
  • Nearly 35,000 sandhill cranes migrate to the Sulphur Springs Valley each winter.
  • A gemologist has found an insect entombed in opal instead of amber.
  • The newly discovered leaf-tailed gecko from Madagascar is already threatened by the pet trade.
  • Joshua Tree National Park may feel the effects of the government shutdown for up to 300 years. (Why was this behavior necessary?)
  • The CDC cautions against kissing pet hedgehogs.
  • Chickens might lay your future prescriptions.
  • These are the best practices for underwater photographers hoping to protect marine life.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄

►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, February 14, 2019

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

First Line: You're supposing that you hold in your hands a manuscript.

Suffering from an untended gunshot wound, former New York City resident Alice "Nobody" James is taken to Portland, Oregon's Paradise Hotel by Max, one of the black Pullman porters.

Her sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers are none too happy about having a white woman on the premises. As she recuperates, she becomes acquainted with the residents and begins to understand why they dread her presence. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in great numbers-- burning crosses, inciting violence, and brutalizing blacks. It's their presence that makes searching for a missing black child extremely difficult, but Alice insists on helping to find the boy.

The longer she stays, the more Alice learns. The Paragon Hotel is chockful of secrets, and nightclub singer Blossom Fontaine seems to be at the center of all of them.

In my travels east of the Mississippi, I'd often wondered at the proliferation of places called "Dew Drop Inn" or "Step Right Inn," mostly because there wasn't a thing about them that looked like an inn, hotel, motel, or bed-and-breakfast. All these places looked like bars or saloons to me. Well, thanks to Lyndsay Faye's The Paragon Hotel, I now know about the Raines law of 1896 and why so many bars and saloons changed their names. Other than this (and learning about Bayer's heroin tablets-- oh my), I found the book to be a mixed bag of blessings.

With sentences like "Losing a safe space...carves a canyon through a person," or "Watching like a sea captain's wife searching the shores after a storm," it's obvious that Faye certainly knows how to turn a memorable phrase. She also knows how to do her research on Harlem in New York City or the slang used in 1921 or Oregon's long association with racism. Memorable characters are also a forte. You've seldom met anyone like Alice James, who prefers to be called "Nobody," and the residents of the Paragon Hotel are fascinating, especially since they've all had to learn how to live a secretive life in a city (and state) where it is illegal for blacks to reside. You'd think that, with all those people in the hotel, you'd be constantly confused, but Faye effortlessly keeps them all straight in our minds.

The way the story is told is what tripped me up. This double-pronged tale is like two cats fighting in a bag. We have to be told Alice's backstory growing up poor in Harlem, and we have to be told the present-day story in Portland. It's too much. I could've done without all the backstory and having the sole focus be on the hotel and its residents. And the 1921 slang dialogue used throughout? While it's nice to know how many people spoke then, it was too much of a good thing even though I found none of it unintelligible. Like Alice's backstory, the slang served mainly to keep me from being drawn into the story-- and I really didn't want to be an outsider. Not at the Paragon Hotel.

There's an awful lot of good to be found in the pages of this book. If only I hadn't been put off by how the tale was put together. I seem to be in the minority with my opinion, so keep in mind that your mileage may definitely vary.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
ISBN: 9780735210752
G.P. Putnam's Sons © 2019
Hardcover, 432 pages

Historical Thriller, Standalone
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite

First Line: The crowded red double-decker bus inched its way through the snarl of traffic in Aldgate.

Rick Braithwaite, World War II Royal Air Force pilot and Cambridge-educated engineer, finds himself accepting a teaching position in London's East End. His pupils are angry, unmotivated, bigoted white teenagers who've been mostly abandoned by the system. When his efforts to teach them are met with derision and suspicion, he takes a whole new approach that will lead to one very remarkable school year for teacher and pupils alike.

I must be on a sentimental journey involving some of my favorite films and the books they were based on. First, it was The Shrinking Man, and now it's To Sir, With Love

This time, the book compares very favorably to the movie. In the book, we see everything through the eyes of "Sir" instead of being an outsider-looking-in as we are in the movie. There are several things that were either glossed over or not even brought up in the movie-- in many cases I think the filmmakers wanted the audience to use common sense to realize, for instance, that the reason why Braithwaite could not get an engineering position was due to racism, not the fact that there were no jobs available. In fact, almost everything relating to racism was left out of the movie, no doubt in an effort to make it palatable to the greatest number of moviegoers.

My final verdict? I still love the movie starring Sidney Poitier; I always will. But I am very glad that I read E.R. Braithwaite's autobiography. In reading the book I feel as though I've gotten much closer to learning the entire story while the movie gives me the Reader's Digest condensed version.

To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
eISBN: 9781480457492
Open Road Integrated Media © 2014
Originally published in 1959.
eBook, 185 pages

Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Reading Art Buffer

My reading has had to take a backseat to a few other things, so now that life has calmed down once more I find myself trying to catch up on advance reading copies. (I know. Tough job, ain't it?) Instead of the post I'd originally planned, I need a little art buffer, and here it is.

Not only does Thomas Hart Benton's painting put me in mind of the reading I want to do, but it's also of a famous person. Who is the man who's reading so intently while wrapping a protective arm around that stack of books? And why do I get the impression that hand would smack anyone who reached for one of those books?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

First Line: To Miss Clarissa Hamilton, Field Hospital 17, British Forces, France.

Smothered by her overbearing parents, 21-year-old Emily Bryce has to fight for her independence in the summer of 1918. Falling in love with a completely unsuitable Australian flyer, Emily leaves home, joins the Women's Land Army, and finds herself working with a group of young women on farms in Devon, England.

When her Australian flyer dies a hero, leaving her pregnant and alone, Emily masquerades as a war widow and returns to a large Devonshire estate she'd worked on previously. She finds the journals of a woman who devoted her life to the herb gardens around the cottage in which Emily lives, and those long-forgotten words inspire Emily to learn about the healing properties of the plants. There may indeed be healing in those plants, but there is also danger-- danger that could bring disaster to Emily and her unborn child.

Rhys Bowen has written a lovely standalone piece of historical fiction set during the last months of World War I. I spent a wonderful afternoon immersed in her story and living with her characters. My favorite wasn't Emily, as might be expected, but the octogenarian Lady Charlton, who is a mass of contradictions and more than capable of surprising all those around her. However, there are enough characters in the book for readers to each have their favorite.

Over many years of reading, I have found that I don't care much for static characters and complete predictability in my series fiction, but I don't mind it at all when I read a standalone novel. There's really nothing new under the sun in The Victory Garden. I knew what was going to happen before it did, and there was only one bit of shocking news. But I didn't care. It is very enjoyable to read a story in which good things eventually happen to good people who have faced great adversity. Sometimes your heart needs to be fed more than your mind, and The Victory Garden is a satisfying main course.

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Lake Union Publishing © 2019
eBook, 347 pages

Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: NetGalley


Sunday, February 10, 2019

On My Radar: Wendall Thomas' Drowned Under

Wendall Thomas's Lost Luggage was one of my Best Reads of 2018. I absolutely love her sense of humor. So it's no surprise that I'm really looking forward to the next book in her Cyd Redondo series, Drowned Under. Let's take a look to see what Cyd will be up to in this second book.

Available March 19, 2019!
Synopsis: "Eggnog notwithstanding, travel agent Cyd Redondo is not looking forward to the holidays. The borough of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn―along with most of her family―holds her responsible for landing her Uncle Ray in a minimum security prison.

So, when Cyd's ex-husband, Barry Manzoni, announces his parents have disappeared from an Australian cruise, she rushes Down Under to enlist the help of travel liaison and friend Harriet Archer, who offers a free cabin on the Tasmanian Dream and insider assistance with the search.

Cyd's flights are delayed, so she hitches a helicopter ride to the ship―which lacks a helipad. She and her Balenciaga bag barely survive the harrowing drop, landing on a gorgeous man in a Speedo. When she finally makes it to her cabin, she finds Harriet dead, lying in a pool of blood.

The ship's doctor/coroner―now wearing a tux instead of his Speedo―declares the death an accident. While Darling Cruises hurries to cover up the "unfortunate event" and sanitize the crime scene, Cyd scrambles to preserve evidence, terrified the murder is connected to the Manzonis' disappearance, and to prevent the heist of the world's last Tasmanian tiger."

Not only is Cyd a marvelous character and the humor laugh-out-loud funny, but there is also a wildlife conservation theme that runs through the series. Being able to laugh and learn about critters? Sounds like heaven to me. Drowned Under will be released on March 19, 2019!