Thursday, January 26, 2023

It's Gonna Be Busy! Weekly Link Round-Up


It's going to be a busy week here at Casa Kittling, so I'm going to write my intro to the links here on a sunny Sunday afternoon before I stretch out with my book (Jane Harper's Exiles).

Between a grocery delivery, laundry, pool maintenance, housecleaning, and other chores, there will be plenty of activity here on the old homestead, but Denis and I will also be keeping Phoenix Paratransit busy.
How Denis and I get around town.

Denis has a medical procedure scheduled, and it's one of those types of appointments where the doctors insist that he has a keeper, so I'll be going with him. I plan to have a book and my needlepoint with me to help the time pass quickly... or as quickly as it ever does in a medical setting.

But the best part of keeping that paratransit van busy is going to the Desert Botanical Garden on my birthday/our 21st anniversary. I definitely have to make sure my camera batteries are charged for that! Later in the evening, we'll have dinner courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory.

Boy howdy, are we ever looking forward to this! I love my house, but it's good to get out to Want To Places (as opposed to Have To Places).

Thank you, as always, for the cards and letters. I certainly hope all is well with you and yours. Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Book Banning & Censorship◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly May 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.

And don't forget to include some quality Me Time with a good book!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Girl Called Justice: The Smugglers' Secret by Elly Griffiths

First Lines: January 1937. The dark shape of Highbury House was getting closer and closer.
It's spring term at the Highbury House boarding school for young girls, and second-year students like Justice Jones are expected to perform good deeds in the village each week. Justice is assigned to blind World War I veteran Mr. Arthur. She finds herself enjoying spending time in Smuggler's Lodge talking with Mr. Arthur and reading the newspapers to him. The food the housekeeper gives her is much superior to the dreck served at Highbury House, too, and Justice couldn't be happier when he asks her to help him solve a mystery.

But when Mr. Arthur dies unexpectedly, Justice finds herself with questions she needs to answer. Why wasn't Mr. Arthur given a proper military funeral? Why doesn't the new Matron at Highbury House know much about first aid? And what secrets does Smuggler's Lodge really hold?


When I discovered that one of my favorite authors, Elly Griffiths, was writing a series of mysteries for nine to twelve-year-olds featuring a young sleuth named Justice Jones, a girl who's attending a boarding school on the Romney Marshes of England's south coast, I decided those nine to twelve-year-olds were not going to have all the fun. I quickly discovered that this children's series is every bit as good as the series Griffiths writes for adults. 

The setting of the Romney Marshes reminds me of a favorite childhood Disney program starring Patrick McGoohan, Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow, and the landscape and its history of smuggling are perfect for this series. Justice Jones' father is a criminal lawyer, and her recently deceased mother wrote crime novels. With that sort of parentage, it's no wonder that this young girl has a mind like a steel trap. The boarding school with its Tudor Era cellars beneath a Victorian mansion is perfect for all sorts of late-night wanderings as Justice has midnight feasts with her classmates or tiptoes up to her friend Dorothy the maid's room in the attics.

Having the second-year girls perform good deeds each week in the local village is a perfect way to lead Justice straight into a mystery-- although there's already one in Highbury House itself. When our intrepid young sleuth learns that Mr. Arthur lives in Smuggler's Lodge, a former lighthouse that's supposedly haunted, she dismisses the idea immediately. After all, "in her experience, saying that a place is haunted is often a ruse to stop people going there."
Adults as well as children will be kept entertained by Justice's investigations as she treks between Smuggler's Lodge and Highbury House to answer all the questions she writes down in her journal every night. Who killed Mr. Arthur, and why? Why didn't he have a military funeral? Why doesn't the new Matron at school know much about first aid? And will she ever get a real speaking role in one of the school plays?
Although it makes me supremely happy that I was never sent to a 1930s English boarding school, Elly Griffiths' Justice Jones series is just plain fun, no matter your age. I highly recommend it.
A Girl Called Justice: The Smugglers' Secret by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9781786540577
Quercus © 2020
Paperback, 220 pages
KidLit, #2 Justice Jones mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon UK.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

February 2023 New Mystery Releases!

It's been a rainy January here in the Sonoran Desert, which is a wonderful thing-- although Californians might disagree with me. I hope Mother Nature continues to give this desert I love gentle, soaking rains. Who knows? We may even have a super bloom of wildflowers this year, which is so gorgeous it has to be seen to be believed.

Of course, I'm well-known for multi-tasking. I'm able to stretch out on the daybed to read and watch it rain as well as keep my eyes peeled for the best new crime fiction being released throughout the month of February.

The following list contains my picks for the new mysteries you need to read. I've grouped them by their release dates, and I obtained their covers and synopses from my favorite showroom, Amazon.

Let's see if any of my choices are on your own lists...

=== February 1 ===

Title: Invitation to a Killer
Author: G.M. Malliet
Series: #2 in the crime writer Augusta Hawke series set in the Washington, D.C. area.
240 pages

Synopsis: "Callie Moore is no ordinary aspiring writer. Notorious wife of a Washington lobbyist, Callie believes no publicity is bad publicity and that publishing her scandalous memoirs will help her achieve her heart's desire: a diplomatic posting. She just needs crime novelist Augusta Hawke to be her ghostwriter.

It's hard to say no to Callie, but Augusta does agree to attend her dinner party. The guest list is impressive, and it's Augusta's chance to meet celebrity doctor Doc Burke. But before Augusta really gets a chance to chat with the famous humanitarian, the evening ends in his untimely death.

Signs point to a heart attack, but Augusta isn't convinced. Especially when his niece tells Augusta about the mystery woman who claimed the doctor's remains.

Augusta decides to host a writers' retreat and invite all the suspects, most of whom are connected in some way with writing. Isn't that what Agatha Christie would do? But the remote lodge soon becomes snowed in and the group starts to crack when it becomes clear the killer may not be finished killing. Can Augusta flush out the culprit before anyone else gets hurt?

=== February 7 ===

Title: Wined and Died in New Orleans
Author: Ellen Byron
Series: #2 in the Vintage Cookbook cozy series set in New Orleans, Louisiana.
288 pages
*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.
Synopsis: "It’s hurricane season in New Orleans and vintage cookbook fan Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her weather-related fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum.
Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about the discovery of this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale.
When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, the NOPD zeroes in on Eugenia Charbonnet Felice as the prime suspect, figuring that as head of the Charbonnet family, she has the most to gain. Ricki is determined to uncover the real culprit, but she can’t help noticing that Eugenia is acting strangely. Ricki wonders what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.
In the second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee.
Title: Last Seen in Lapaz
Author: Kwei Quartey
Series: #3 in the Emma Djan private investigator series set in Ghana.
360 pages
*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.
Synopsis: "Just as things at work are slowing down for PI Emma Djan, an old friend of her boss’s asks for help locating his missing daughter. According to her father, Ngozi had a bright future ahead of her when she became secretive and withdrawn. Suddenly, all she wanted to do was be with her handsome new beau, Femi, instead of attending law school in the fall. So when she disappears from her parents’ house in Nigeria the middle of a summer night, they immediately suspect Femi was behind it and have reason to believe the pair has fled to Accra.

During Emma’s first week on the case, Femi is found murdered at his opulent residence in Accra. There are no signs of Ngozi at the scene, and fearing the worst, Emma digs further, discovering that Femi was part of a network of sex traffickers across West Africa.

Emma must figure out which of Femi’s many enemies killed him, but more urgently, she must find Ngozi before she, too, is murdered in cold blood.
Title: Sentenced to Death
Series: #3 in the Writer for Hire cozy series set in Illinois.
224 pages
Synopsis: "When writer for hire Veronica Blackstone is asked to write the copy for The Friends of Hyde Park's annual house and garden tour, she never expects to get involved in a violent death. But that's exactly what happens when famous author Landon Donte is found dead in his study during a dinner to highlight the tour.

With his career on the wane, and apparently having deleted his last manuscript, it looks as though Landon committed suicide. But Veronica isn't so sure. She discovers that left-handed Landon was killed by someone right-handed and becomes convinced someone murdered him.

It's true that Landon had many enemies: his rival and neighbor, bestselling romance author RL Lincoln; his put-upon assistant, Brad; even his own daughter! But are any of them capable of murder? Veronica is determined to uncover the truth."
Title: A Killing of Innocents
Series: #19 in the Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James police procedurals set in England.
368 pages
Synopsis: "On a rainy November evening, trainee doctor Sasha Johnson hurries through the evening crowd in London's historic Russell Square. Out of the darkness, someone jostles her as they brush past. A moment later, Sasha stumbles, then collapses. When Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Doug Cullen, are called to the scene, they discover that she's been stabbed. 

Kincaid immediately calls in his detective wife, Gemma James, who has recently been assigned to a task force on knife crimes which are on the rise. Along with her partner, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma aids the investigation. But Sasha Johnson doesn’t fit the profile of the task force’s typical knife crime victim. Single, successful, career-driven, she has no history of abusive relationships or any connection to gangs. Sasha had her secrets, though, and some of them lead the detectives uncomfortably close to home.

As the team unravels the victim's tangled connections, another murder raises the stakes. Kincaid, Gemma, and their colleagues must put even friendships on the line to find the killer stalking the dark streets of Bloomsbury."
Title: Playing Dead
Series: #2 in the former PI Molly Madison cozy series set in California.
304 pages
Synopsis: "Molly Madison has barely had a moment to catch her breath after moving to the sleepy beach town she now calls home. But as a former PI, she can’t help but notice the odd chemistry between members of Playtime Academy on the first day she and her loyal Saint Bernadoodle, Noodle, and golden retriever, Harlow, visit. When a trainer’s body is found on-site, Molly knows it’s her duty to put her ex-police skills to use. She can’t say no to temporarily taking in the deceased woman’s dog, either—not with those puppy dog eyes.

Relationships at the training facility are not as clean as the prize-winning agility runs, making it difficult for Molly to get a leash on potential suspects. And her personal life is just as messy—her boyfriend is hiding something, her agoraphobic neighbor needs help, and her number of four-legged friends keep growing as she agrees to dogsit a wriggly local French bulldog.
When Molly’s friend is arrested for the murder, she’s not sure who to believe anymore. Is the case as simple as the local cops make it seem, or is something more devious afoot?

=== February 14 ===
Title: The Cliff's Edge
Author: Charles Todd
Series: #13 in the Bess Crawford historical mystery series set in post-World War I England.
320 pages
Synopsis: "Restless and uncertain of her future in the wake of World War I, former battlefield nurse Bess Crawford agrees to travel to Yorkshire to help a friend of her cousin Melinda through surgery. But circumstances change suddenly when news of a terrible accident reaches them. Bess agrees to go to isolated Scarfdale and the Neville family, where one man has been killed and another gravely injured. The police are asking questions, and Bess is quickly drawn into the fray as two once close families take sides, even as they are forced to remain in the same house until the inquest is completed.
When another tragedy strikes, the police are ready to make an arrest. Bess struggles to keep order as tensions rise and shots are fired. What dark truth is behind these deaths? And what about the tale of an older murder—one that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Nevilles? Bess is unaware that when she passes the story on to Cousin Melinda, she will set in motion a revelation with the potential to change the lives of those she loves most—her parents, and her dearest friend, Simon Brandon…

=== February 21 ===

Title: Irish Knit Murder
Series: #8 in the Knit & Nibble cozy series set in New Jersey.
304 pages
Synopsis: "The Listers have been part of Arborville society for generations—though seventy-something Isobel Lister doesn’t fit the role of upper-crust heiress. She’s always been a colorful character, and her fun-loving spirit is on display at the senior center celebration as she performs some beloved Irish songs. But just minutes later, her body is found backstage.

It’s hard to imagine who’d target such a harmless eccentric, but Pamela finds herself suspecting everyone. There’s the Wiccan who thought St. Patrick wasn’t so saintly; the woman upset about cultural appropriation who feels the commercialization of shamrocks is a sham; the two men Isobel was seeing, who could have been green with jealousy—and old friends and family who may have feared Isobel would spill their secrets. But Pamela’s on the case, and that means for the killer, the jig will soon be up . . .
Title: Sea Castle
Author: Andrew Mayne
Series: #4 in the Underwater Investigation Unit series set in Florida.
315 pages
*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.
Synopsis: "When a young woman washes ashore on a Fort Lauderdale beach, Sloan McPherson of the Underwater Investigation Unit is called in to consult. Sloan’s instinct says murder, but even then, there are too many questions.

For answers she reaches out to Gwen Wylder. The Miami homicide detective is notorious for being manipulative, bitter, a tyrant to her peers, and wicked smart. And she demands something in return from Sloan: fresh insight into seemingly unrelated cold-case murders and disappearances―and a possible serial killer trolling the Florida coast.

As loose ends of the old files begin to come together, another woman disappears. Sloan and Gwen are certain she’s the newest link in a deadly chain. They are determined to track her down before she dies, but they soon find themselves in uncharted waters. And the deeper Sloan and Gwen go, the stranger the case gets.
February is another one of the months that I love where there's something for everyone. If there's one book on my list that I'm the most excited about, it's Deborah Crombie's A Killing of Innocents. It's been much too long since there's been a new Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James mystery!
What about you? Are any of these books on your own lists? Which ones? You know that inquiring minds would love to know!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2022


What self-respecting book blogger could ignore That Artsy Reader Girl's Top Ten Tuesday topic of New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2022? Certainly not me!

After going through the list of the books I read last year, the following ten authors jumped right out at me. I've listed them in alphabetical order with links to their websites. Now it's time for me to check out everyone else's lists!

Ellen Byron

Jack Gatland

Kate Moore

Harini Nagendra

Chris Offutt

Nita Prose

Marcie R. Rendon

Shelby Van Pelt

Pip Williams

Matt Witten

Did any of my choices make your own lists? Do tell!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

First Lines: 19 November 2021. Dear Professor Mansfield, I am investigating a mysterious case and suspect you may be able to help. Let me explain.
Out of prison after serving a long sentence, Steven "Smithy" Smith decides to devote his time to trying to solve a mystery that has bothered him for decades. Forty years ago, he found a copy of a famous children's book on a bus. The book, by disgraced author Edith Twyford, had margins filled with strange marks and annotations. When he gave the book to his remedial English teacher, Miss Iles, she thought it was part of a secret code that ran through Twyford's novels. When Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, Smithy was convinced that she was right. Now it's time to crack the code and find out what happened to his teacher all those years ago.
Smithy uses an old iPhone given to him by his estranged son to leave voice recordings of each step of his investigation. While he tracks down childhood friends, he also muses about the events in his life that led to his incarceration. It soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn't just the author of a forgotten series of children's books-- the Twyford Code holds a great secret, and Smithy could very well be the key.
Puzzle lovers will have a field day with The Twyford Code, although I can see some readers being put off by the format. Steven "Smithy" Smith records each step of his investigation into the long-ago disappearance of his teacher in a series of recordings on an old iPhone, and at the beginning, readers are told that the software used to transcribe the recordings can sometimes make mistakes. As a result, "Miss Iles" becomes "missiles". "Gonna" becomes "gun a" and so on. It can take a bit of getting used to, but this format actually made Smithy's voice more distinctive in my mind as I read.

Aided by Lucy the librarian, Smithy finds himself on a trek down Memory Lane as he tries to find out just what the Twyford Code leads to and what happened to his teacher, Miss Iles. But the further into his investigation we get, red flags begin to go up. Why are old classmates being so evasive? What kind of treasure could the Twyford Code possibly lead to? And just how forthcoming is Smithy being in telling us about his investigation? Could something else be going on?

I really enjoyed the unfolding of all the puzzles and Smithy's character in particular. My deductive skills really got a workout, but by book's end, the resolutions were coming so thick and fast, it was almost overload-- like eating a favorite flavor of ice cream much too fast and then getting brain freeze.

If you love pitting your detective skills against a skilled puzzle master then you must read Janice Hallett's The Twyford Code. No doubt about it, I'll be looking for the other books she's written.
The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
eISBN: 9781668003244
Atria Books © 2023
eBook, 333 pages
Thriller, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley

Thursday, January 19, 2023

And the Pack Grows Weekly Link Round-Up


Last Friday, I was outside, basking in the sun, working on my needlepoint project, and listening to a book when the pest control guy showed up. (We don't want scorpions or roof rats to take up residence, thank you very much.) We chatted for a few minutes, and then he went to work.

A few minutes later, he came back from the far side of the house and told me that he'd just seen two coyotes on the other side of the fence back by the old irrigation ditch. They weren't bothered at all by the neighbors' yappy dog, but weren't too crazy about his presence, so they left. 
So Wile E has a companion, eh? I found this interesting, and wished I could get a photo of them at some point.

Coyotes in San Francisco.

A couple of days later, I was checking my NextDoor app and found a video taken a few blocks away of two coyotes trotting down the street, totally uninterested in a little white dog that ran past them. And let me tell you, they were in much better condition than the two animals in the photo above! The two here in this neighborhood look so well-fed, and their coats are so thick and shiny, it's almost as if they're someone's pets. For them to be unconcerned with that little dog tells me that they're getting plenty of food from other sources. Who knows? Maybe they're the reason why we don't have roof rats.

The sun is out after another storm moved through, so don't mind me while I go out to do some more basking in January. 
Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Book Banning & Censorship◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly May Clampett◄
  • Scarborough, England, canceled its New Year's Eve fireworks to let Thor the walrus sleep. I doubt many other places would have put an animal's welfare above a fireworks display.
  • Can scientists save the world's tiniest rabbit
  • The world's first vaccine for honeybees is here. 
  • Why do beavers build dams? 
  • To save birds from invading Americans, one man in Poland built floating forts.
►The Wanderer◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • My first thriller: Diana Gabaldon.
  • Jean Rhys's voyage in the dark. (Her Wide Sargasso Sea is one of my all-time favorite books.) 
  • Galla Placidia, the misunderstood Roman empress who willed her way to the top. 
  • Who was Yasuke, Japan's first Black samurai? 
►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.

Don't forget to spend quality Me Time curled up with a good book!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Who Are You? Who, Who? Who, Who?

This week, I'm sharing a couple of the best (in my opinion) bird photos I've ever taken, even though I'm not sure just what kind of bird it is.

The only thing I know about this little guy is that it liked to tease me as I sat in the pool with my book by either darting in and out of the oleanders to fly through the spray of the aerator or making dashes over to the waterfall to test just how fast I was with my camera.

Take a look at the handsome little fellow.

I may not have been able to photograph the little bird when it was in the oleanders, but it was a hot day, and it enjoyed the waterfall so much that I did have a bit of success. 

I've only seen this bird in the summer, and it does enjoy being around the water. The closest I have been able to come to an identification is a Nashville warbler, but there's no way I'd bet good money on that. Regardless who he is, I enjoy his company and hope to see him again next summer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A Cow Hunter's Lament & Other Stories by Larry D. Sweazy


Larry Sweazy's done it again with this collection of eleven stories that run the gamut of Western life. Normally in any short story anthology, there are one or two stories that are weaker than the rest, but there are none of those to be found in this collection.
These stories teach as well as entertain. I learned that cattle ranching was a big part of life in Florida just as it has been in more well-known places like Texas. I'd also never heard of the Indiana Territorial Rangers, an organization that accepted women, so "The Buffalo Trace" was of particular interest to me. 
Other stories show Texas Rangers in relentless pursuit of outlaws, an ex-con wanting a quiet life, what happened to some of the children packed aboard the Orphan Trains, a shoot-out with Bonnie and Clyde, and more. 
There are stories about Native Americans, about Southerners whose lives were ruined during the Civil War, even one with a rather vampirical edge. They are narrated by both men and women. These stories are tough and tender and so Western that you can hear spurs jingling, cattle bawling, and the click of a hammer being pulled back on a pistol.
This is a collection that should be read by everyone with an interest, not only in the Western United States, but in well-drawn characters and fine storytelling. If you find yourself wanting to read more by this author-- and I think you will-- I highly recommend his Marjorie Trumaine mysteries set in 1960s North Dakota as well as his Sonny Burton mysteries set in Depression Era Texas. 
A Cow Hunter's Lament & Other Stories: A Western Collection 
ISBN: 9781432897857
Gale © 2023
Paperback, 258 pages
Short Story Anthology
Rating: A
Source: The author in exchange for an honest review.