Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Secret Passion

 

For all the years I've been blogging, I don't remember ever telling you of a secret passion of mine. You see, long before I began churning out handknit afghans, I had a passion for two types of shops: bookshops (of course) and stationery/office supply shops. Although times have changed and yarn shops have supplanted my passion for notebooks and pens, I remember the Good Old Days with fondness.

I'll bet most of you don't even remember when stationery shops were rather common. My favorite growing up was a stationery/office supply shop in Decatur, Illinois, called Haines & Essick. It also had a gift section that carried the Breyer horses I collected and a book section, so Mom was lucky if she could ever pry me out of there once we walked in. I remember walking in on more than one bitterly cold winter day and impatiently waiting for my glasses to defog so I could get down to business.

I've been thinking a lot about Haines & Essick lately, and it's got everything to do with a behemoth called Amazon. For some unknown reason-- perhaps they thought my fetish for Post-It page flags made me ripe for the plucking-- they put up a photo of a pile of leatherette journals. Twenty of them. In a box. How did they know I used to keep commonplace books? I've never mentioned that to anyone, especially not to Alexa.

But there they were. Journals that would lay flat. With a ribbon bookmark. An elastic strap to hold the book closed. And an expandable gusset pocket to keep items in. Holy moley!

See?

How could I resist?

There was a killer deal on them that day, so I bought the box of twenty. There weren't as many colors available as there are today, so I got green. (If the price had been what it is today, I would not have purchased them.) Have I been using them? You betcha! There's one at my desk. There's one on my nightstand. There's one by my chair in the family room. I've been known to have one in my purse. They're filled with memory joggers, to do lists, grocery lists, ideas for blog posts, quotes, things I want to include in letters to family and friends-- anything I can think of. I do most of my writing sitting here at the computer, but I've found that it's nice to take pen in hand and write in a journal again. 

Let me show you the one here at my desk...

 


As you can see, it sits to the left of my planner, which gets filled with all sorts of scribbles. Oh! By the way, not that I'm sentimental (or practical), but can you see that gray stapler and the gray tape dispenser next to it just below the monitor to the right? They may not be much to look at, but they sat at my mother's desk while she was the librarian in Moweaqua, Illinois, and they sat on her desk when she was the Technical Services librarian at the Arizona State Talking Book Library. They have to date back to 1960 at least, and-- as homely as they are-- they hold a lot of memories for me. But I digress.

What I want to know is... how many of you have secret (or not-so-secret) passions for stationery and blank books? 'fess up!

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Hanging at Dawn by Charles Todd

 

First Line: Who is this man, Simon Brandon, and why has his past been a blank to those who think they know him best?
 
Like other readers I know, I never used to like short stories, but I've learned to appreciate them in the past few years-- especially when they can illuminate the backstory of characters in long-running favorite series of mine. Not all story ideas are worth a full-length novel, but that doesn't mean they're not worth writing. Such is the case with Charles Todd's short story, A Hanging at Dawn.

A Hanging at Dawn is all about the mysterious Simon Brandon, Colonel Crawford's right-hand man, and Bess Crawford's savior in Todd's series featuring a nurse during World War I. The story is told through the older Crawfords (Aunt Melissa, Colonel Crawford, and the colonel's wife, Clarissa) as well as Bess herself, and I certainly enjoyed learning more about these characters.
 
Most of all, I really appreciated learning more about Simon Brandon himself through incidents that occurred during his and the Crawfords' time in India. What I found absolutely amazing is that the writing team of Charles Todd made this tale so suspenseful that I was worried about the outcome-- even though I'm an avid reader of the Bess Crawford series and know he survives! I don't know about you, but I consider that to be the mark of some excellent writing.
 
If you're a fan of the Bess Crawford historical mystery series as am I, I don't think you should pass up the opportunity to learn more about Simon Brandon and the other more mature characters who've stayed in the background. It's going to add to your appreciation of the series. If you haven't read any of the Bess Crawford mysteries, you'll probably find A Hanging at Dawn to be a fine tale about the British in India; you just won't be as invested in the characters. But who knows? You may find yourself wanting to know more about them, and you'll know right where to go. (The first book in the series is A Duty to the Dead.)


A Hanging at Dawn by Charles Todd
eISBN: 9780063048560
Witness Impulse © 2020
eBook, 176 pages
 
Short Story/Historical Mystery, #11.5 Bess Crawford mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Ye Olde Antique Shoppe: The Edward V Coin by Margaret Brazear

 

First Line: It came as no surprise to Rachel that she would inherit everything from the last of her spinster aunts.
 
When Rachel's spinster aunt dies, her inheritance includes an unexpected addition: an antique shop that hasn't been opened for over sixty years. Rachel can't help it; she has pound signs dancing in her head. The sale of the London properties and all the contents should give her enough money to pursue her dream of having her own fashion house and designer label.
 
She takes her friend, Peter Attwood, to the shop with her, thinking that his expertise as an archaeologist and historian will help to give her an idea of what the shop's contents may be worth, but they find more than they expected. They find a coin minted at the time of young King Edward V-- a coin that's worth an absolute fortune-- but when they try to take it out of the shop, they find themselves in the year 1483, the year the coin was minted. Stepping back into the shop, Peter persuades Rachel to dress in historical costumes found in the back of the building so they can venture out into the world of the young princes in the Tower.
 
But their adventures don't go as smoothly as they'd hoped.
 
~
 
I'm one of those annoying people who'd love to step into a time machine and go on adventures, so how could I ignore Margaret Brazear's Ye Olde Antique Shoppe series? It has a wonderful premise. An antique store that's not been open for over sixty years. A coin that takes a person into another time when it's removed from the building. Period costumes aplenty to use as camouflage...

For the most part, the premise lived up to its promise, but there were two things that irritated me a bit. One was the proofreader who was unable to tell when to use "past" instead of "passed." This happened several times and is such an easy fix. The second irritation concerned the characters. Rachel is in it for the money. She's a Here & Now Girl who doesn't give a hoot about the past or anything else other than gathering up the money for her fashion house. Okay. She and I aren't going to be BFFs, but that's not the thing that bothered me the most. What really made me roll my eyes was the fact that she became all fire-breathing feminist when she went back into the past, and she refused to keep her mouth shut even when she learned what the consequences were for her verbal diarrhea. Peter was better-- but not much. For a supposed expert, he was absolute rubbish at planning ahead. This is good for getting characters into scrapes that they have to figure their way out of, but I'd rather have those scrapes be unforeseen circumstances instead of something brought on by a lack of basic logic.

Were Rachel and Peter irritating enough to keep me from continuing with the series? No, at least not enough to keep me from reading the second book. I liked the look into that period of English history, and when the two begin to learn what Rachel's uncle was up to with his magical antique shop and those historical costumes, I wanted to know more. Besides, it's still a marvelous premise, and I want to see how the author develops it.

Ye Olde Antique Shoppe: The Edward V Coin by Margaret Brazear
ASIN: B07C9W8NX4
Margaret Brazear © 2018
eBook, 157 pages

Science Fiction/Time Travel, #1 Ye Olde Antique Shoppe
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

On My Radar: Jess Montgomery's The Stills


 
After the first two of Jess Montgomery's Kinship historical mysteries, The Widows and The Hollows, made my Best Reads lists of 2019 and 2020, you know for a fact that I did a happy dance when I learned that there was to be a book three. Montgomery's books have proved to be a heady blend of story, character, history, and sense of place. If I were a cat, these books would be such a potent variety of catnip they'd be illegal.

Let me tell you more about the third book in the Kinship series.
 

Available March 9, 2021!
Synopsis:

"Ohio, 1927: Moonshining is a way of life in rural Bronwyn County, and even the otherwise upstanding Sheriff Lily Ross has been known to turn a blind eye when it comes to stills in the area. But when thirteen-year-old Jebediah Ranklin almost dies after drinking tainted moonshine, Lily knows that someone has gone too far, and―with the help of organizer and moonshiner Marvena Whitcomb―is determined to find out who.

But then, Lily’s nemesis, the businessman George Vogel, reappears in town with his new wife, Fiona. Along with them is also her former brother-in-law Luther Ross, now an agent for the newly formed Bureau of Prohibition. To Lily, it seems too much of a coincidence that they should arrive now.

As fall turns to winter, a blizzard closes in. Lily starts to peel back the layers of deception shrouding the town of Kinship, but soon she discovers that many around her seem to be betraying those they hold dear―and that Fiona too may have an agenda of her own.
"


The Stills certainly sounds like another winner, doesn't it? All that, and I even like the covers. If you haven't read these books, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Friday, January 15, 2021

An Unwelcome Changes & More Chucking Out Weekly Link Round-Up

 


Last year I spent a lot of time going through closets, getting rid of things we hadn't used in years, and reorganizing the survivors. In fact, I did that to two entire rooms. You'd think reorganization was so last year.

But it's not.

I'm at it again. Heck, I'm even reorganizing the reorganization I did last year. (I think I have the closet here in the office completely bewildered.) I've done some more work on my side of the closet in our bedroom, and the drawers in the linen closet will never be the same. I've even finished weeding through all the Christmas decorations. 

Would someone please stop me?!?

Perhaps the reorganization bug bit me again because my trip to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned wasn't very pleasant. The person who said growing old isn't for wimps spoke nothing but the truth. My dentist for decades has "three-quarters" retired. The woman who cleaned my teeth for decades had to retire to take care of her husband. The staff there is almost completely new. I went in with an open mind, but by the time I left, I'd formed an opinion. 
 
The replacements have invested heavily in high-tech gadgetry. Not only does the hygienist have a very heavy hand with the scraper (pardon my  lack of proper dental terminology but I think I left ten years' enamel back there), these new folks are extremely aggressive when it comes to their patients' money. After telling me that I've been brushing my teeth wrong for my entire adult life, the dentist and the hygienist began bandying about words like infection, dangerous, and "you don't want that to happen." Yet when I started asking specific questions concerning infection and danger, they began backpedaling and admitted that these things only needed to be watched, not taken care of immediately. Uh huh. 
 
Why do some folks have to to retire? *whine*

And on that note, it's time to head on out to the corral. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!


►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
 
►The Happy Wanderer◄
 
►Fascinating Folk◄
 
►Crafty Gems◄
►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!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Laying Bones by Reavis Wortham

 

First Line: I rode against the passenger door in the front seat of my cousin's midnight blue 1964 Comet, watching the headlights cut through the cold darkness.
 
It's a bitterly cold January in rural Center Springs, Texas, and Constable Ned Parker doesn't believe the death of his nephew was accidental, so he methodically begins turning over every stone he can find to shine a light on the truth.
 
Some of the stones lead Ned right to the Starlite Club, a new honky-tonk built on no-man's land on the Texas side of the Red River. There he finds suspicious characters, drugs, and gambling, but what's worse is the string of murders that seem to be eliminating anyone who might know what really happened to Ned's nephew.
 
All he can do is keep digging away, relying on his fellow police officers and help from an old Texas Ranger... and his grandchildren who have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 
~
 
It's been a very long three years since the last Red River mystery, and I was thrilled to bits to find out that Reavis Wortham had finally written another one. Laying Bones is an excellent addition to the series, and it has a great twist at the end that I didn't see coming (but should have).

Wortham always creates a strong mystery, and finding the truth behind R.B. Parker's death is no exception. In Laying Bones, he gets extra points for fooling me, although I'm going to say that I was so wrapped up in the story that I ignored the clues he planted along the way. Besides the mystery, there are two major reasons why I enjoy this Red River series so much: the pitch-perfect sense of place and a standout cast of characters.

Wortham puts you right smack dab in the middle of rural northeast Texas in the 1960s and lets you watch as the problems of the outside world slither in. He can paint a scene that comes alive in your mind's eye, and he does it, not just by visual cues of kids going to see a John Wayne movie in a midnight blue 1964 Comet but also by language, and I think it's the language more than anything else that draws me so deeply into Wortham's stories. In the small farm village where I grew up, we didn't say "barbed wire," it was "bobwire" like it is in Wortham's fictional Center Springs-- and "You ain't just a woofin'" was a common phrase used that I haven't heard since I moved away.

The second major reason, the standout cast of characters, is probably the strongest reason of all for my love of this series. Wortham lets you see the story from more than one point of view. You get to see the world through Ned Parker's teenage grandson Top's eyes as well as those of his young cousins and friends. In Laying Bones, Top mostly feels like a fifth wheel as the others have begun pairing up. These kids are good kids, but they certainly do have a knack for being where they shouldn't be-- usually at the instigation of the free-spirited Pepper. However, if they didn't have that knack, they wouldn't be able to provide Ned and the others with valuable information from time to time.

You also get to see the story through the grownups' eyes. There's a whole passel of Parkers led by Ned. Cody, his nephew, is the police chief who's finally reached the stage of his career where he knows when to tell his uncle to calm down and stay put. But of all the grownup characters, one of my two favorites is big John Washington, the Black deputy. In his quiet way readers get to see what life was like for Blacks in 1960s Texas. When it comes right down to it, I don't know who I'd want to have at my back in a fight, John Washington or retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell. Mr. Tom might have been chasing outlaws in the 1930s, but anyone who dismisses either him or Ned Parker as just an old man does so at their own peril. Both of these men don't talk much but they have a huge presence.

From the mystery to the sense of place to the characters, these Red River mysteries are most definitely more-ish, and I hope with all my heart that it's not another three years before I see these folks again.

Laying Bones by Reavis Wortham
eISBN: 9781464214387
Poisoned Pen Press © 2021
eBook, 336 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #8 Red River mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sleep Well My Lady by Kwei Quartey

First Line: In the lavish Trosacco Valley, the Beverly Hills of Accra, no one would have anticipated a murder.
 
When the creator of a fashion empire is found dead in her home in an exclusive section of Accra, Ghana, there seems to be only one suspect: popular talk show host Augustus Seeza, who had a tempestuous relationship with the murdered Lady Araba. However, a quick investigation by the police leads to her chauffeur being convicted of the crime.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of the police investigation, Lady Araba's aunt, Dele, turns to the Sowah Agency where Emma Djan works as a private investigator. Emma soon finds herself working in various undercover roles, learning that there certainly is no shortage of suspects who have strong motives for wanting Lady Araba dead. Everyone at the agency is going to have to work hard to find the proof that will catch a remorseless killer.

~

The opening chapters of Sleep Well My Lady jump back and forth between various time frames so often that this caused me some minor annoyance, but once the backstory was established, I became immersed in the story-- something that is very easy for me to do each time I pick up a book written by Kwei Quartey.

The murder of Lady Araba is an intricately layered puzzle, and even though this is the second book in the Emma Djan mystery series, it takes the hard work of the entire detective agency to solve the crime. The work of a talented ensemble cast slowly peels back layer after layer of the truth. So many people have strong motives to want this talented woman dead that the reader will probably have trouble deducing which person had not only the desire but the will, to carry out the murder.

One of the things that Quartey illustrates so ably in Sleep Well My Lady is that the problems with the Ghana police force are not just limited to bribery or "looking the other way," and it's in showing readers this that he created two striking minor characters whom I hope to see in future books. One is the forthright Dr. Jauregui from Cuba, and the other is a member of the police force who is told: "...it's tough to be an island of integrity when sneaky crocodiles are all around, circling you." With the world events of the past four years, I think we all know how rare these "islands of integrity" are.

If you enjoy well-written mysteries with standout characters and a strong sense of place, you can't go wrong with anything written by Kwei Quartey. Once you've read the Emma Djan series (the first book is The Missing American), try his Darko Dawson series beginning with Wife of the Gods. You've got some excellent reading ahead of you.
 
Sleep Well My Lady by Kwei Quartey
eISBN: 9781641292085
Soho Press © 2021
eBook, 336 pages
 
Private Investigator, #2 Emma Djan mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley

2020: My Year in Reading

 

 
My graph making has turned into an annual event when I share statistics from my reading during the past year. In the case of 2020, I now have a decade's worth of reading statistics on my Excel spreadsheets, so I thought I'd share a few of those. I've already shared my Best Reads of the Year in a previous post, so let's get started on all the rest!
 

2020 Book Travels



 

One of the things I like to do is to track the settings of the books I read. The major way I do this is on Zee Maps. Take a look at my world map to see the miles I racked up in my reading during 2020. You can zoom in and out, hover over markers to see book titles, etc. During this pandemic, I did find myself reading books that traveled around the globe simply because I couldn't. I did start out pouring over accommodations on sites like Airbnb to plan future adventures, but I just found myself getting depressed, so I stopped that and started immersing myself in books that did my traveling for me. Gerald Durrell's attempts to populate his zoo with exotic animals really helped during this time as did a book on a century of sea travel. I think I had a dream in every port.

Looking at the globe made me wonder what countries I visited most through my reading.

 

 1. England (47 times)
 2. Scotland (11 times)
 3. France (8 times)
 4. Italy (6 times)
 5. Australia (3 times)
 6. Germany (3 times)
 7. India (3 times)
 8. Thailand (3 times)
 9. Iceland (2 times)
10. Spain (2 times)

 

Needless to say, there were a lot of countries that I only visited once!
 
 
Now... how about the United States? Which were my most visited states in 2020?
 

 
1. New York (10 times)
 2. California (7 times)
 3. Massachusetts (5 times)
 4. New Jersey (5 times)
 5. Arizona (4 times)
 6. Nevada (4 times)
 7. Texas (4 times)
 8. Washington, DC (4 times)
 9. North Carolina (3 times)
10. Connecticut (2 times)


Now it's time to break out my trusty graph maker at chartgo. Hang on to your hats!
 
 
The Nitty Gritty


Online Graphing
 
 
2013 through 2017 seem to have been my halcyon days of reading, years when I devoured all in my path. Since then, knitting has taken a larger role in my free time, and I did notice that my attention span during 2020 suffered, and I'm definitely going to blame that on the pandemic.


Online Graphing


You can see in this graph that my usage of my Kindle has taken a larger and larger percentage of my reading hours. When you start having eye problems, the ability to increase the font size becomes a very wonderful thing, plus I like being able to highlight a word and immediately get its definition. Yes, I will admit it-- I do like my bells and whistles, although I certainly have not abandoned my physical books!


Online Graphing


One thing that has remained fairly constant over the years is my book ratings, although I did notice that I had more C, D, and DNF books this year. Pandemic funk? It's possible.


Online Graphing


Normally, my reading is more evenly divided between male and female authors. I'm not sure what happened this year, but I'm not going to let it bother me. The only "planning" there is to my reading revolves around the release dates of the Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that I have. Everything else is serendipity because I learned that planned reading makes me grumpy (and I don't like being grumpy).


Online Graphing


Another constant is how the sources of my reading are divided, although I'd really prefer fewer ARCs. It looks as though I'm going to have to learn how to say no to publicists again!


Online Graphing


Yet another constant: anyone can tell by looking at this graph that I prefer my reading to be (more or less) hot off the press. I don't know if I want to remedy this or not.

Online Graphing


This is a graph that showed a definite departure from past years. My prime reading time has always been the summer months, but not in 2020. I felt most distracted during the summer months, and my reading suffered. I think this is a definite example of pandemic funk.


A Decade's Worth of Reading


Online Graphing


These last graphs are ones I thought I'd use to play around with my decade's worth of statistics. After 2010, my reading of fiction (which includes science fiction, historical fiction, etc.) began to decline. When my blog turned three, my focus became crime fiction.


Online Graphing


My non-fiction reading also suffered, and this is one genre that I'd like to read more of in 2021. Will I do it? Since I don't plan my reading, who knows?

Online Graphing


It's easy to see in this graph that my short story reading showed a definite increase from the zero in 2010! I'm learning to appreciate-- and enjoy-- them more.


A Decade of Crime Fiction


Online Graphing


To round out my annual statistics post, I thought I'd take a look at the major crime fiction subgenres. I have a preference for police procedurals that has remained steady over the past ten years.

Online Graphing


The private investigator subgenre is one that I don't have a particular fondness for, especially if the P.I. is written as the old 1940s gumshoe, Humphrey Bogart type. With P.I.s like Joe Ide's Isaiah Quintabe, it wouldn't surprise me if I started reading a bit more in this subgenre.


Online Graphing


I probably should not have lumped together amateur sleuths and cozies. Not all amateur sleuths are to be found in cozy mysteries, and I know that my cozy reading has shown a decline in recent years. I think this decline can still be seen, and since I'm pressed for time, I decided not to redo the graph. What happened in 2011? I have no idea!


Online Graphing


My reading of historical mysteries seems to wax and wane a bit, and it will be interesting to see what happens in 2021.

Online Graphing



The thriller seems to be another subgenre that seemed to fall out of favor a bit after 2012. Although thrillers seem to have the farflung settings that I like, the standard plots and lack of character development are things that I don't care for. Will I feel the same in 2021? Who knows!


oOo


I would imagine that, by now, all you graph and number lovers are absolutely stuffed. Bet you couldn't choke down one more graph, could you? *wink* Don't worry-- you've come to the end. All that's left for me to say is that-- as always-- I'm looking forward to seeing where my reading takes me this year!