Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Late January Art Break

Winter's Late Light by Deborah DeWit

Today's art break is another work from one of my favorite artists, Deborah DeWit. This one is titled "Winter's Late Light," and I think I chose it because it reminds me of what I've been doing a lot of lately-- taking advantage of a sunny patch to put my leg up and read.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne

First Line: There's no point in pretending.

Juno Lambert can't resist buying the 1931 Underwood typewriter that once belonged to famed journalist Cordelia Capel. Once she gets home, she opens the case and discovers an unfinished novel that compels her to go to Germany to fill in the gaps of the story of Cordelia and her sister and the secrets that lie between them.

Jane Thynne's The Words I Never Wrote employs a dual timeline that often can work beautifully, but in the case of Juno and the Capel sisters, it doesn't work quite as well.

For me, Juno is the weakest link. Her up-and-coming film star boyfriend's desertion to Hollywood has made her indecisive, and more than compulsion, her decision to go to Germany to uncover the Capel sisters' story seems to be simple avoidance. And speaking of that boyfriend of hers, every move he makes, every word he speaks is utterly predictable. It would have been better if he wasn't in the book at all, leaving Juno to follow her passion more naturally. (Or this timeline could have been left out entirely, leaving more time for the intriguing Capel sisters.)

The story of Cordelia and her sister Irene is very strong. Cordelia's career in journalism begins in 1936 Paris with fashion columns in the newspaper. But she's very politically motivated, so she doesn't describe fabrics and hemlines for long. Cordelia's older sister Irene takes a much more glamorous route. Irene marries a German industrialist and finds herself in a lakeside mansion in Berlin. The sisters are close and exchange letters, but when Cordelia learns that Irene's husband is a Nazi sympathizer, she insists that Irene takes a stand against Nazism and leave Berlin. Irene chooses to stay, and Cordelia breaks off communication.

Thynne paints a vivid portrait of Nazi Berlin before, during, and after the war that I found fascinating. How the two sisters spent the war years also kept me turning the pages, as I wondered how long it would take the younger, idealistic Cordelia to learn that there is more than one way to take a stand for what you believe in. The only other thing in The Words I Never Wrote that bothered me-- besides Juno the present-day narrator-- was the feeling that, no matter how much I learned about Cordelia and Irene, I still wasn't being let in. These two characters were still standing back and not sharing their lives fully-- and I wanted them to. I wanted to tell them that the Gestapo wasn't sitting in the room with me. I wanted to feel as though I were sharing their lives, and I wasn't being allowed to. It's this aloofness and Juno that make me like Thynne's story... but with serious reservations. Your mileage could certainly vary.

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne
eISBN: 9781524796600
Random House © 2020
eBook, 384 pages

Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: C+
Source: Net Galley


Sunday, January 19, 2020

While Miz Kittling Knits: Unbelievable

When I first learned how to knit, I quickly learned that I needed discipline. I still need it in order to fight the urge to start multiple projects. Why is that so bad? Because the more I begin, the more I won't finish. Anyone else out there have the same problem?

Right now, I'm happily knitting away on cowls as you can see in the photo. Denis and I have a wager as to how many cowls I can stack before they topple to the floor. These are all made using the same ribbed pattern I talked about in a previous post, and all except one are made with Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick Yarn, which is super bulky, super warm, and 80% acrylic 20% wool (so it's not scratchy).

From the top to the bottom of my cowl pile, the colors are Butterscotch, Palazzo (using a double strand of a 100% acrylic discontinued Isaac Mizrahi craft yarn), Bluegrass, Raspberry, Campfire, and Kale.

I'm working with a color called Lollipop right now, a color that almost seems to be a touch radioactive.

But I'm having urges, which come from buying lots of yarn in new colors and types. I'm working on a table runner that doesn't have to be done until next Christmas, and I've started something else that I think I'm going to try to unravel and start over with a different pattern.

In the yarn bowl, you can see what I want to unravel. It's a shawl using two strands of a fingering-weight yarn from Purl Soho. Called Tussock, it's 60% superfine kid mohair and 40% silk.

The colors I'm using in the pattern are Anjou Pear and Ripe Boysenberry, and although I love the feel of the yarn in the portion I've completed, there are problems. Working with the yarn is a lot like trying to work with strands of a spider web. I kid you not! Extremely fine and sticky. I could overlook this if it weren't for the fact that I chose the wrong shawl pattern. 99.9% of the pattern is the stockinette stitch, which is a yawn, and if working on something is deadly boring, chances are it will never get done, right? There's only one thing keeping me from unraveling and beginning again: something tells me that unraveling spiderweb-like yarn is NOT going to be fun!

What have I been watching on television while I'm cowling and fighting shawl avoidance?

A limited series from Netflix called Unbelievable. (Here's its official site on Netflix.)

"After a young woman is accused of lying about a rape, two female detectives investigate a spate of eerily similar attacks. Inspired by true events."

As I watched the eight episodes, I vaguely remembered reading about the case that Unbelievable is based on, and it also reminded me of an Emmy-winning documentary called I Am Evidence, which made my blood boil so many times I lost track.

The three female leads in Unbelievable are fantastic. Kaitlyn Dever is the teenager Marie Adler, and although her behavior is sometimes impossible to fathom due to her upbringing, her plight still can break your heart.

Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) are a study in contrasts when it comes to their personalities, but their work ethic and sense of responsibility to the victims are superb.

I don't know how I stumbled across Unbelievable-- it might have been one of Netflix's recommendations-- but I'm certainly glad I did. It's far from being light-hearted entertainment. It's serious. It's gritty. And it can be downright mesmerizing. Perfect for keeping a leg elevated and the knitting needles clicking.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Bore & a Brag of a Weekly Link Round-Up

Be glad you're not my friend on Facebook. On Wednesday, I shared a photo of what my leg looked like when the nurse removed the heavy-duty four-layer compression bandage from my leg. I think I boggled a few minds when I said that my leg looks 500 times better than it did at the end of October since it's certainly not a pretty sight now.

As promised, here's the update on my leg. I went to John C. Lincoln Hospital's Wound Clinic last Friday where Dr. K said that now I'm having to deal with edema (excess fluid) in my lower right leg. That monster compression bandage seems to be doing the trick of squeezing the fluid out of my leg (as long as I keep it elevated as much as possible). I had the bandage changed Tuesday and will be going in today to see the doctor again. The following collage shows you what I've been up to lately.

Reading in the afternoon with my leg elevated. Knitting and watching TV with my leg elevated. As you can see in the third photo, I'm getting quite a bit of knitting done. But I'm also developing a severe case of cabin fever. I'm really looking forward to getting this edema under control, and I don't mind a bit if it means I have to wear a compression stocking on that leg for the rest of my life. I want to be out and about and not sitting around with my leg up in the air. Oh well. If I'm good and follow instructions, I'm pretty sure I'll get my wish!

That was the bore. Now it's time for the brag.

Those of you who read my blog regularly are familiar with my niece, Daisy, who likes to come over to visit Denis and me. A fair English rose who loves adventures and doesn't wilt in 120° desert heat, Daisy wanted a new challenge that would take her out of the hospital emergency room, and she's got it.

Just look at her in her uniform. You're looking at the UK's newest EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), and it goes without saying that the NHS (National Health Service) has gotten a star. Daisy knows how to work hard. She's dedicated. She's smart. And she's one of the most caring people I know. Congratulations, Daisy. You're going to be absolutely fantastic!

Now, let's get to those links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Rachel May: Piecing together the lives of enslaved Americans.
  • Barbara Hillary, a pioneering African-American adventurer, has died at the age of 88. 
  • Shelf Life: Lee Child.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's it 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, January 16, 2020

The Vanished Child by M.J. Lee

First Line: The backs of his hands were raw and red, arms exhausted and all his strength gone.

Jayne Sinclair's genealogy business is experiencing a slow period, which she needs in order to recharge her batteries, but when her new stepmother learns that she has a brother she never knew about, Jayne agrees to use her skills in an attempt to find out what happened.

As she lay dying, Freda Duckworth confessed to her daughter that she'd given birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placed him in a children's home. When she returned later to bring him home, he'd vanished and no one would help her find him.

What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? These are questions that Jayne Sinclair is going to try her best to answer.

M.J. Lee's Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series gets better with each book. Each is written so that you can read it as a standalone, but I've enjoyed working my way through the series in order. Jayne is a former police officer in Manchester, England, and her experience in law enforcement helps her repeatedly in the series, although I was certainly glad to see that she got to take a break from any derring-do in The Vanished Child (which is realistic, eh?).

I know that the covers of books should have nothing to do with a review, but I just have to say that the photograph of the little boy on the cover of this book is perfect. He looks bright and funny and mischievous-- and I just want to wrap him up in a big hug. The further into The Vanished Child I got, I found myself looking at that photo and asking, "How could they do this to you?"

There are those who read only non-fiction books in the belief that fiction has no knowledge to offer. I've lost track of the knowledge I've gained by reading fiction. In Lee's book, I learned about the child migrants, the 130,000 children who, between 1869 and the end of the 1960s, were sent by the UK to its former colonies. Some of the children were as young as four, and that 130,000 is an educated guess; no one really knows how many children were labeled as coming from problem families or single-parent families, or as illegitimate or abandoned and then loaded on ships and taken to far-flung places like Canada and Australia.

As all of the Jayne Sinclair books do, readers are treated to a dual timeline story. One timeline is the present day as we see what Jayne has to do to find information on a little boy named Harry. The second timeline begins in the 1950s, and it's all about Harry. Together, these timelines form a story that engages the mind and the heart. Don't be surprised if you are amazed at what you learn, and it might be a good idea to have a handkerchief on hand as well.

The Vanished Child is a wonderful piece of storytelling, and if you haven't read any of the books, I hope that you'll at least pick up this one and give it a try. You might just find yourself looking up all the others.

The Vanished Child by M.J. Lee
ASIN: B079214MXB
Amazon Services © 2018
eBook, 321 pages

Genealogical Mystery, #4 Jayne Sinclair mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Art Break

I'm still trying to be good and keep my leg elevated as much as possible, so I thought this called for an art break. Deborah DeWit is probably my favorite artist for book-themed work. This one is called "Stories," and I love it because it reminds me of me. If I'm outside or anywhere close to a window while I'm reading, I am paying attention to the story on the page, but I'm also aware of other stories that may be taking place around me.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Hollows by Jess Montgomery

First Line: For near on ten miles, the old woman walks without ceasing.

The Moonvale Tunnel is the sort of place that lends itself to mysterious goings-on. When an elderly woman is killed along the railroad tracks by the tunnel and the brakeman tells everyone he saw a ghostly female figure dressed all in white, Sheriff Lily Ross is called in to set things straight. With the help of her friends Marvena Whitcombe and Hildy Cooper, Lily follows the dead woman's trail all the way back to a notorious asylum known as The Hollows. As Lily works to learn the truth of what happened, secrets long buried by time and the mountains begin to come to light.

The Widows, the first book in Jess Montgomery's Kinship historical mystery series, was one of my stand-out books in 2019, and it gives me so much pleasure to say that this second book, The Hollows, is now a stand-out book of 2020. I find the combination of Montgomery's evocative setting, her descriptive language, her story, and her marvelous characters to be well-nigh perfect.

Perhaps the setting speaks to me so strongly because I was raised in a small farm town that had a coal mine until the mine blew up on December 24, 1932, killing over fifty men. In reading the mine's history, I see many parallels to the mines around Montgomery's fictional Kinship, Ohio. The language used, the bred-in-the-bone lifestyle of "make do and mend" all add to the verisimilitude of The Hollows as well. As I read this slow-moving, rich story, I savored its Appalachian flavor and learned more about the attempts to unionize mine workers as well as something I'd never heard of before. Just what that is, I'll leave for you to discover.

The word "hollows" has many meanings in Montgomery's book. It's used in various terms locals use in relating to the landscape, but it also has a physical and emotional meaning-- especially to Hildy Cooper who feels like a failure when compared to her best friend, Sheriff Lily Ross. Hildy has found it impossible to break away from her domineering mother.

Lily Ross-- as well as her friends Marvena and Hildy-- show readers what was expected of women in the rather isolated mining communities of the 1920s, and these women also illustrate what can happen when women insist on breaking the molds others have forced them into. All three women can be mule stubborn, but when it comes to upholding the rule of the law for everyone, Lily joins the camp of Harry Bosch. Everybody counts, or nobody counts, and it's useless to threaten her.

And, oh, the secrets these three women uncover! Never, ever think that small towns and isolated areas are dull. Wherever humans are to be found, there are secrets, and secrets abound in Kinship and the surrounding area.

I loved this book. If you read and loved The Widows, rejoice, because The Hollows is, in many ways, even better. If you've read neither book, rejoice, because you have some excellent stories and characters ahead of you. Don't wait to get your hands on either of these books!

The Hollows by Jess Montgomery
eISBN: 9781250184559
Minotaur Books © 2020
eBook, 330 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Kinship mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley


The Missing American by Kwei Quartey

First Line: Lying flat with the stock of the long-range rifle pressed against his shoulder, the assassin positioned himself on the gable roof of the UT Bank building off Shippers Council Road.

Working in an Apple store is not what Emma Djan had in mind, but when her dreams of becoming a homicide detective on the Accra police force in Ghana come crashing down around her, she knows her bills won't pay themselves. Fortunately, Emma soon finds herself working for a well-respected private detective agency that takes on cases of missing persons.

Emma begins work on the case of Gordon Tilson, a middle-aged widower from Washington, DC, who disappeared after coming to Ghana to meet the woman he'd fallen in love with online. When the police seem unconcerned about his father's disappearance, Derek Tilson contacts the agency, and Emma soon finds herself in the middle of a case filled with online scams, fetish priests, corruption, and people willing to kill to keep their secrets.

I have been a fan of Kwei Quartey's Darko Dawson series since the first book, Wife of the Gods. I was thrilled to discover that The Missing American has the same superb sense of place as Quartey's previous series. Readers can feel as though they're actually in Ghana while they read; the landscape, weather, people, food, and culture give the story a richness that I find irresistible.

Although I loved reading this book, I did find it a bit bloated with a lot of "irons in the fire." Internet scams, sexual harassment, an assassin on the loose, corrupt police and government officials, a center for autistic children, murder, and missing persons just to mention a few. It's a lot to keep track of, and some of that action undoubtedly could have waited for upcoming books in the series.

The characters in The Missing American are an interesting mix. I couldn't really drum up a lot of sympathy for the missing American, which probably sounds a bit harsh, but I certainly do like Emma Djan, whose character is a good blend of intelligence, frailty, and strength. I also want to know more about her boss in the agency, Yemo Sowah. He's a fascinating man surrounded by a bit of mystery-- just the sort of character to pique my curiosity.

Now that Kwei Quartey's new Emma Djan series has well and truly begun, I find myself looking forward with a great deal of anticipation to my next visit to Ghana.

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey
ISBN: 9781641290708
Soho Crime © 2020
Hardcover, 432 pages

Private Investigator, #1 Emma Djan mystery
Rating: A-
Source: the publisher