Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Coin for the Hangman by Ralph Spurrier


First Lines: It was the photograph that did it for them. All three of them.

Estate sales can turn up some fascinating treasures. When a bookseller takes his latest purchases back to his shop, he discovers the tools of one of England's last hangmen along with the diary of a condemned man he executed. As he reads the diary, he realizes that he has a mystery to solve because the wrong man may have died at the noose.

If I had to tell you what there was about A Coin for the Hangman that made me buy it, I couldn't. I just don't remember. What I do know is that I'm extremely happy that I took advantage of the sale. What a marvelous read!

Ralph Spurrier tells his story from multiple points of view, and this device works perfectly. One is the voice of the bookseller in 2006 who wonders just what he's got his hands on. Another is the voice of George Tanner, a British soldier who stayed after war's end to guard Nazi prisoners while they were put on trial. The third voice we pick up in 1953-- Reginald Manley, one of the last hangmen in England. His is a voice of such supreme self-confidence that it borders on hubris. Finally, the fourth voice is that of the condemned man, Henry Eastman, and we learn about him from his youth at the beginning of World War II to his death in 1953. Each voice has an important part of the story to tell, but it was lonely, misunderstood Henry that I came to care for most.

I was enjoying the story so much that I wished it would slow down... or that my reading speed would. Each voice is so distinct, and each one drew me right into not only the story, but into the time period itself. Manley and Tanner both helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp-- a section that was almost visceral in its impact, but I think some of the best scenes in the book involved the effects of the war on families. How those blackout curtains meant that family life shrank into just one room (the kitchen), and-- even more importantly-- how difficult it could be for both men and women to pick up their disrupted relationships after the war.

I didn't do very well when it came to solving the mystery in A Coin for the Hangman. If only I'd given one critical scene more thought instead of merely finding it puzzling as I raced on to the conclusion! This is a story where the vagaries of fate, coincidence, and even a misplaced word can all have consequences. At book's end, I was left with a profound sense of loss-- and the knowledge that I'd just read a remarkable book. I'm definitely going to keep an eye peeled for more books by Ralph Spurrier.
 

A Coin for the Hangman by Ralph Spurrier
eISBN: 9780993287473
Hookline Books © 2016
eBook, 268 pages

Historical Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb


First Line: The place was as quiet as it ever got in the hours around midnight, with only occasional screams or sobs from the cells down the corridor to disturb his contemplation.

Following a suicide attempt, attorney James P.D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer in a segregated insane asylum in Lakin, West Virginia. It's 1930, and Boozer is eager to try the new talk therapy. It takes quite a bit of work for his elderly patient to open up, but when he does, Gardner tells of his most memorable case-- one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride, a case the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.

In 1897, spoiled and pretty Zona Heaster went against her mother's advice and married Erasmus "Trout" Shue, a handsome blacksmith new to the county. Two months later, Zona is dead. A month after her funeral, her mother is determined to get justice for her daughter, so she goes to the county prosecutor and tells him that Zona's ghost appeared to her, saying that she'd been murdered.

Sharyn McCrumb is a master at finding strange-but-true bits of history that have taken place somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains and then weaving a mesmerizing tale around them. You can't get much stranger than a murder trial based on the testimony of a ghost, and that's a fact.

McCrumb tells her tale in a two-pronged approach. One storyline follows Gardner in the insane asylum in 1930. Gardner, the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia, is such a calm, measured, educated voice of reason that you'd never dream he could have been associated with such a trial-- or be a patient in an insane asylum.

The second storyline follows Mary Jane Heaster, first as she worries about her headstrong daughter's extremely poor life choices, and then as she fights to make "Trout" Shue pay for her daughter's death. There's very little doubt that Shue did indeed murder Zona, but there's no proof that would be admissible in a court of law. Make that a court of law in the twenty-first century. So-- here you have the sane man in the asylum and the possibly insane woman free to bend an entire courtroom to her will. Mary Jane Heaster is a force of nature.

The story is a good one, and the voices of Mary Jane and Gardner come shining through. Through them, you really get a feel for how people lived and thought back then. I've long been an ardent fan of McCrumb's Ballad novels; in particular, the ones featuring Nora Bonesteel and Spencer Arrowood are lyrical and... marvelous. Although The Unquiet Grave is listed in some places as a Ballad novel, that's simply a matter of geography-- Ballad novels take place in the Appalachians. Regardless of designation, this is not one of McCrumb's better books. The pace drags, but even worse, there is no spark, no heart to the story she tells. If you want vintage Ballad, look for The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, She Walks These Hills or The Rosewood Casket. That's where you'll find gorgeous writing and heart and soul.


The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb
ISBN: 9781476772875
Atria Books © 2017
Hardcover, 368 pages

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


Ten Years, Ten Books, Ten Winners-- #6




One of the things I've tried to do for my tenth anniversary giveaways is to choose a little bit of everything from the various subgenres: police procedurals, cozies, historical mysteries, mysteries set in various parts of the world, and-- today's offering-- a book that harks back to the Golden Age of Crime.

The sixth book in my celebratory giveaway is Leslie S. Klinger's In the Shadow of Agatha Christie: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Writers: 1850 - 1917.


Here's a synopsis of the book:

"Before Agatha Christie became the world’s Queen of Crime, she stood on the talented shoulders of the female crime authors who came before her. This splendid new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger brings these exceptional writers out of Christie’s shadow and back into the spotlight they deserve.

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the world’s best-selling mystery author, hailed as the “Queen of Crime,” with worldwide sales in the billions. Christie burst onto the literary scene in 1920, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles; her last novel was published in 1976, a career longer than even Conan Doyle’s forty-year span.

The truth is that it was due to the success of writers like Anna Katherine Green in America; L. T. Meade, C. L. Pirkis, the Baroness Orczy, and Elizabeth Corbett in England; and Mary Fortune in Australia that the doors were finally opened for women crime-writers. Authors who followed them, such as Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, and, of course, Agatha Christie would not have thrived without the bold, fearless work of their predecessors―and the genre would be much poorer for their absence. So while Agatha Christie may still reign supreme, it is important to remember that she did not ascend that throne except on the shoulders of the women who came before her―and inspired her―and who are now removed from her shadow once and for all by this superb new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger.

Featuring: Mary Fortune, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Ellen Wood, Elizabeth Corbett, C. L. Pirkis, Geraldine Bonner, Ellen Glasgow, L. T. Meade, Baroness Orczy, Augusta Großer, M. E. Graddon, Anna Katherine Green, Carolyn Wells, Susan Glashell.
"


It's been my personal experience that, if you're wanting to learn more about the writing during a specific time, anthologies like this are one of the best places to begin. (And Klinger is an excellent anthologist.) How can you win an autographed copy of In the Shadow of Agatha Christie? Here's all the information you'll need--


GIVEAWAY RULES
  1. Send an email to me-- kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com
  2. The subject header of the email must read "10 Years, 10 Books, 10 Winners #6" 
  3. The body of the email must include your name and mailing address.



 DEADLINE

Your entry must be posted by midnight (Arizona time), Friday, June 22. The winner will be notified and the book mailed later that same day.

Beware! If you don't follow all of the rules, your entry will not be included in the drawing, but there's one thing you don't have to worry about-- as soon as the winner's name has been drawn, all your names and addresses will be destroyed. (Spambots may love me, but I refuse to join their ranks!)


TO CLARIFY...


You can enter the drawing for each and every book, but you will be able to win only one. Ten years, ten books, ten winners. I want to distribute the wealth as evenly as I can among you all.

Ready...set...go! Time to fill up my inbox!



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Daisy at the OdySea Aquarium



On the same day that we visited Butterfly Wonderland for the first time, we also went to the OdySea Aquarium, which is billed as the largest aquarium in the Southwest. The butterfly conservatory and the aquarium are part of a large complex that includes gift shops, restaurants, a place where you can swim with dolphins, mazes, dinosaurs, and who knows what else. I can't help but think that parents with several children would practically have to get a second mortgage on their house in order to spend the day here.

When we took Daisy, school was still in session, and adults wanting a more sedate experience-- especially at the aquarium-- should keep this in mind. OdySea was heaving with very noisy children racing around from exhibit to exhibit. The three of us didn't have too much of a problem (except for ringing ears), but it did help that we weren't on any sort of schedule and could be patient until all the classes had to be rounded up and returned to their respective schools.

One of the things Denis and I enjoyed at OdySea was the fact that the architects had really put thought into the building's design. The type of glass used is about as non-reflective as you can get, which really helps with photos. And speaking of photos, let's get started! (Don't forget-- if you'd like to see any of them in their original sizes, just click on them.)


A view of the interior courtyard.


Daisy "hatching" in front of Pangaea, which is all about dinosaurs.


This homely critter is a Russian Sturgeon.


Of course, Daisy had to give it some love.


So did Denis, although it looks as though he's in the spotlight.


Lots of different fish to see.


Asian small-clawed otter getting a snack.


A stingray smiling for the camera.


"Jaws" theme music, anyone?


Jellyfish. I could watch them for hours!


This is a rotten photo because the catfish wouldn't hold still, but it was completely smitten by our Daisy!


Daisy and Denis ahead of me in the "tunnel."


The three of us enjoyed our day here at the aquarium and at Butterfly Wonderland so much that--voilà!-- I suddenly knew what to get Denis for his upcoming birthday. When his birthday arrived, the first thing he wanted to do was use his brand-new annual passes to both, so be forewarned: there will be more photos in the future!

Did you enjoy your visit, or is this not really your thing? I've got a niece who can't stand butterflies and a dear friend who hates snakes (and the list could go on if I let it) so I can understand!



Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp


First Line: The woman opened her eyes and looked straight up at me.

A patient is damaged for life after a tragic incident on the operating table, leading a young surgeon to leave the profession. Now, years later, a scalpel is the instrument of choice in a series of senseless murders within the medical community.

Special prosecutor Jana Berzelius is in charge of the investigation. She and her team must find out who is preying on these victims and why. What she can't know until she is finally closing in on the killer is how her own mother's recent death is connected to the investigation.

For a long time, I was the sort of reader who had to start reading each series in strict numerical order. If I had trouble getting my hands on the first book in a series, it could be years before I began reading it, but that's what I did. Now that I have more years in my rearview mirror than I have out on the road in front of me, I've been bypassing this rule of mine from time to time. There are several writers who are adept at giving you just enough background on their characters in each book that you can jump in anywhere and don't feel lost. If you discover that you love the series, you can go back and read all those missed books. Or not. You have that choice. But there are some writers who are not skilled at doing this.

Emelie Schepp is one of the writers whose series you should read in order if you want to feel a connection with her characters. Slowly We Die is the third book in the Jana Berzelius series, and although I could admire the pacing and plotting of the novel, I could never warm to the characters. Since I am a character-driven reader, I was at a disadvantage throughout the book, so keep that in mind. If the story is more important to you as a reader, you shouldn't have a problem reading and enjoying Slowly We Die. However, if the characters are your focus, you just might. Sometimes deviating from my rule backfires. Oh well.


Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp
Translated from the Swedish by Suzanne Martin Cheadle.
ISBN:  9780778319665
MIRA © 2018
Paperback, 432 pages

Law Enforcement, #3 Jana Berzelius mystery
Rating: B-
Source: the publisher 


Monday, June 18, 2018

Ten Years, Ten Books, Ten Winners-- #5




June is moving right along, isn't it? I'm celebrating the tenth anniversary of Kittling: Books by giving away ten autographed books, one at a time. We're now at the halfway mark, and the fifth book that I'm giving away is Paige Shelton's Lost Books and Old Bones, the third entry in her delightful Scottish Bookshop cozy series.


Here's a synopsis of the book:

"Delaney Nichols, originally of Kansas but settling happily into her new life as a bookseller in Edinburgh, works at the Cracked Spine in the heart of town. The shop is a place filled with curiosities and surprises tucked into every shelf, and it’s Delaney’s job to research the rare tomes and obscure artifacts that people come to buy and sell. When her new friends, also students at the medical school, come to the shop to sell a collection of antique medical books, Delaney knows she’s stumbled across a rare and important find indeed. Her boss, Edwin MacAlister, agrees to buy the multivolume set, perhaps even to keep for his own collection.

But not long after the sale, one of Delaney’s new friends is found murdered in the alley behind the Cracked Spine, and she wonders if there is some nefarious connection between the origin of these books and the people whose hands they fell into. Delaney takes it upon herself to help bring the murderer to justice. During her investigation, Delaney she finds some old scalpels in the bookshop’s warehouse―she and discovers that they belonged to a long-dead doctor whose story and ties to the past crimes of Burke and Hare might be connected to the present-day murder. It’s all Delaney can do to race to solve this crime before time runs out and she ends up in a victim on the slab herself."


How can you win this autographed copy of Paige's book? Here's all the information you need. Pay close attention to the deadline because these giveaways don't last very long. I don't want you to miss the opportunity to win the book you want!


 GIVEAWAY RULES
  1. Send an email to me-- kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com
  2. The subject header of the email must read "10 Years, 10 Books, 10 Winners #5" 
  3. The body of the email must include your name and mailing address.
       

DEADLINE

Your entry must be posted by midnight (Arizona time), Wednesday, June 20. The winner will be notified and the book mailed later that same day.

Beware! If you don't follow all of the rules, your entry will not be included in the drawing, but there's one thing you don't have to worry about-- as soon as the winner's name has been drawn, all your names and addresses will be destroyed. (Spambots may love me, but I refuse to join their ranks!)


TO CLARIFY...


You can enter the drawing for each and every book, but you will be able to win only one. Ten years, ten books, ten winners. I want to distribute the wealth as evenly as I can among you all.

Ready...set...go! Time to fill up my inbox!



Friday, June 15, 2018

Ten Years, Ten Books, Ten Winners -- #4




My month-long celebration of Kittling: Books' tenth anniversary continues with the fourth book from my carefully hoarded stash, Jacqueline Winspear's In This Grave Hour. This is the thirteenth entry in her award-winning Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series.


Here's a brief synopsis:

"Sunday, September 3rd, 1939.  At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain’s declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgium as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War.

In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered.  And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the “last war," a new kind of refugee — an evacuee from London — appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie’s home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know who the child belongs to or who might have put her on the “Operation Pied Piper” evacuee train.  They know only that her name is Anna.

As Maisie’s search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come.  Britain is approaching its gravest hour — and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own."


How can you win this autographed copy of In This Grave Hour? Here's all the information you need:


GIVEAWAY RULES

  1. Send an email to me-- kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com
  2. The subject header of the email must read "10 Years, 10 Books, 10 Winners #4"  
  3. The body of the email must include your name and mailing address.   

DEADLINE

Your entry must be posted by midnight (Arizona time), Monday, June 18. The winner will be notified and the book mailed later that same day.

Beware! If you don't follow all of the rules, your entry will not be included in the drawing, but there's one thing you don't have to worry about-- as soon as the winner's name has been drawn, all your names and addresses will be destroyed.


TO CLARIFY...


You can enter the drawing for each and every book, but you will be able to win only one. Ten years, ten books, ten winners. I want to distribute the wealth evenly among you all.

Ready...set...go! Time to fill up my inbox!



Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Appearances Are Deceiving Weekly Link Round-Up




One of these days, I'll get through all the photos I've taken in the last two months. Naturally, Daisy's visit meant that I was wearing out camera batteries right and left, but once she returned to England, Denis and I have started visiting gardens, conservatories, and aquariums, and you know what that means-- more major draining of the aformentioned batteries. I think one of the reasons why I'm behind in going through my photos is that I don't want to miss out on pool time. I enjoy that too much to choose sitting in front of a computer over it.

For some reason, the geriatric giraffe we met at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park has stuck in my mind. You can see him over on the right. Look at all the wrinkly skin on his forehead, around his eyes, those baggy jowls, and the crepey skin on his neck. It looks as though he's been collecting his old age pension for quite some time.

On the contrary! He's quite the spring chicken and won't be eligible for his OAP for a long time. He was born with that baggy skin that makes him look as though he's related to a Shar Pei. Yes, appearances can be deceiving, and no one knows that better than I. Having had gray hair since I was sixteen, I've received a lot of "elder respect" that I didn't deserve over the years. You should have seen the look on my face when I read that it was the latest fad to dye your hair gray! Why?

But instead of getting caught up in the Eternal Why, I'm going to mosey on out to the corral. Those links are getting mighty restless. Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!



►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄


►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Divers have confirmed that they've found the wreck of the Pulaski, a steamship that was the Titanic of its day, sunk off the coast of North Carolina in 1838.
  • A sprawling 3,300-year-old Egyptian tomb hides the secrets of ancient war.
  • The first-ever horse has been found in a lost Pompeii villa.
  • Archaeologists have discovered that they've been excavating the legendary lost Assyrian city of Mardaman
  • A treasure trove has revealed the origins of an 800-year-old shipwreck.
  • Greenland's ice provides a year-by-year account of the Roman Empire's economy.
  • A Dutch art dealer says he discovered a new Rembrandt. (Daisy was just in Amsterdam and toured a few museums. I wonder if she saw it?) 


►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Can the northern white rhino be brought back from the brink of extinction?
  • Fred, a ten-year-old Labrador who's the resident dog at Mountfitchet Castle in England, has adopted nine orphaned ducklings. (Just in case you need some Cute today.)
  • The first Yellowstone grizzly hunt in forty years will take place this fall.
  • Dolphins have a myusterious network of veins that could be key to preventing the bends.

►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!