Friday, June 09, 2023

The Plain Jane Weekly Link Round-Up


I took a spur-of-the-moment three-day vacation away from my computer. While it was nice, it's put me so far behind that I don't have time to think up an interesting introduction, so I'll share a photo and reassure you that absolutely nothing is wrong. (And I sincerely hope that everything's okay with you, too!)

A Korean War-era troop carrier was our transportation on an all-day tour of Canyon de Chelly a few years ago.

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◄
  • Maud Allan-- Belle Epoque beauty, concert pianist, actress, dancer, and choreographer, and... spy?
  • Helen Taussig, the doctor who pioneered pediatric cardiology and saved "blue babies".
  • Tina Turner, Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, left an indelible mark on music history.
  • 101-year-old Lou Conter is the last survivor of Pearl Harbor's USS Arizona.
  • Dolly Parton has claimed three new Guinness World Record titles. 
►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.

No matter how busy you may be, don't forget that quality Me Time curled up with a good book!

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

A Ghost of Caribou by Alice Henderson

First Line: Fourteen months ago Amelia Fairweather had just entered her tent to sleep when a strange hum sounded from outside.
Alex Carter is brought in to investigate the possible sighting of a mountain caribou on a remote tract of land owned by the Land Trust for Wildlife Conservation. If the blurry image caught on a remote camera is indeed of the caribou-- thought to be extinct in the contiguous U.S. years ago-- Alex hopes to track the animal and put a collar on it.
When she arrives on scene in the Selkirk Mountains of northeastern Washington, that mountain caribou is only one of her concerns. The nearby townspeople are upset over the body of a  murdered forest ranger found strung up in the town park, loggers and activists are up in arms over a swath of old-growth forest marked for clearcutting, and a backcountry hiker has also gone missing in the same area within the past year.
As Alex hikes into the forest to maintain the cameras and look for the caribou, she finds herself fighting for her life. She's caught between the factions warring over the future of the forest... and a killer stalking the dense groves of ancient trees.
Alice Henderson's Alex Carter novels have become my Go-To Reads whenever I need a vicarious adrenaline rush with a one-two punch of wildlife and the great outdoors. A Ghost of Caribou is no exception. 

There's always the opportunity to learn with Alex Carter. In this book, it's remote locations, camping, caring for remote cameras, how to collar an animal... and how to avoid getting killed. I enjoyed learning about mountain caribou as well as the Selkirk Mountains and setting up remote cameras, and my craving for an adrenaline rush was certainly fulfilled.

Alex Carter is one of the best female characters in the thriller business. Her father may be a guest artist at a different national park each year (in A Ghost of Caribou, he's at the Grand Canyon), but her mother was a fighter pilot who played survival games with the growing Alex, and-- boy howdy-- does she ever use everything she learned at her mother's knee! (It's also nice to have a main character with two loving and supporting parents.) Alex is well able to take care of herself, and readers won't catch her doing anything stupid.

But there's more to this series than a kick-ass main character, thrilling action scenes (how about that ultra-scary "UFO"!), and wildlife. There's Sheriff Maggie Taggert, a capable, take-charge woman who works well with Alex. There are the unexpected laughs amid all that tension ("If she kept taking these gigs, she'd have to invest in a satellite phone"-- something that I'd been thinking), and the chilling hunt for a killer targeting older women. There's also the fact that Alex learns more about herself each time she takes one of these assignments, so she's not the typical "action figure" who never changes. 

If you're in the mood for fast-paced excitement in the great outdoors with a strong, capable female lead character, head straight for Alice Henderson's Alex Carter books. They're fantastic.

A Ghost of Caribou by Alice Henderson
eISBN: 9780063223028
William Morrow © 2022
eBook, 317 pages
Thriller, #3 Alex Carter mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

While Miz Kittling Knits: Around the World in 80 Days


Last week in my introduction to my weekly link round-up, I mentioned that I've been fighting mood swings and depression for the past year. Knitting has been a windfall for me in more ways than one. Not only have I made several people happy with the things I've created, knitting has also helped keep my hands limber despite the encroachment of arthritis in my finger joints. My great-grandmother had crippling rheumatoid arthritis that turned her hands into unusable claws, so this is something I've always been aware of. But wait-- there's more!
Knitting has also helped me stave off these mood swings and depression. True, my needles and yarn haven't vanquished them, but they have helped keep me from falling into a Well of Despond. (Don't mind me, just a momentary lapse into Victorian English.) But enough of this blather. Let me show you one of the things I've made recently!
A lap blanket made for donation.

I found the pattern for this lap blanket at Lion Brand. It's a freebie called "Snowdrift Blanket", and I used two strands of Lion Brand's Homespun yarn in a lovely rusty color called "Wildfire" on US size 15 circular needles. This lap blanket is wonderfully soft and warm and will be donated to the Arizona Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

What was I watching while my needles were clacking away? 

I had some misgivings, but Denis and I both like David Tennant, so when I saw Around the World in 80 Days on Amazon Prime's PBS Masterpiece channel, we decided to give it a try. We're glad we did.
My initial misgivings were due to the fact that I'd watched the 1956 movie starring David Niven and Cantiflas when I was a teenager (and again in my thirties) and hadn't liked it at all. I will also say that I have not read the Jules Verne novel both were based on, but I can't imagine that this eight-episode series follows it to the letter. No film adaptation ever follows the book exactly, right? I would imagine that it follows the spirit of Verne's book, however.

David Tennant portrays "gentleman adventurer, Phileas Fogg, who sets out on a quest to travel around the world and back home in a period of 80 days." He is accompanied by a manservant, Passepartout (actor Ibrahim Koma), and an aspiring newspaper journalist, Abigail "Fix" Fortescue (actor Leonie Benesch). 

Denis and I really enjoyed the sets and cinematography, and I know I liked how the story delved into the personalities of all three. When it was all over, I wished Fogg and his companions would start all over again. (By the way, want to hear something wild? The £20,000 bet that Fogg made would now be worth almost £2,000,000!)

Monday, June 05, 2023

A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao

First Lines: The Fiji Times, Monday, October 5, 1914. Chop Chop ...No, no, Mr. Editor. Mr. Crompton, speaking at he "Night Prowlers" meeting didn't say we want "bodies", we've got quite enough "busy" ones in Fiji, he said "bobbies", good old common or garden peelers, Rogers, Cops or John Hops
Sergeant Akal Singh has a promising career in Hong Kong until a humiliating professional mistake sends him to Fiji in disgrace. He spends his days plodding through his work, cursing "this godforsaken island" and the humidity that always makes his turban limp, and longing for a return to Hong Kong. When an indentured Indian woman goes missing, nothing is done until a local clergyman goes to the newspaper. To quiet the man (and the headlines), Inspector-General Thurstrom reluctantly assigns Akal the case.

Akal looks at this as a way to redeem himself and earn a return to Hong Kong and immediately goes to the sugarcane plantation where the woman worked. It doesn't take him long to realize that there's much more going on here than a mere missing persons case.


Nilima Rao's debut mystery A Disappearance in Fiji is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery. Twenty-five-year-old Sergeant Akal Singh is very much a young man of his time. He's intelligent and hard-working, but incredibly naive in affairs of the heart, and he tends to view everyone he meets through his blinders of caste and personhood. His relationship with Inspector-General Thurstrom is a thorny one. Thurstrom lost his favorite police officer when the man enlisted to go fight in World War I. He knows the reason why Akal was sent to Fiji, and he'd just as soon the young man vanish in a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. The only bright spot in Akal's working life is twenty-six-year-old Taviti, the local chief's nephew, who longs to do some real police work instead of being stuck at the front desk of the station.

The scales begin to be removed from Akal's eyes when he goes to the sugarcane plantation with Dr. Robert Holmes. There Akal comes face to face with the brutal realities of the indentured workers' lives and the racism of the British colonialists in Fiji as he interviews white plantation owners, the Indian indentured laborers, and native Fijians.

Even though the mystery in A Disappearance in Fiji is rather easy to solve, the book is a vivid snapshot of a landscape and a time period. With Akal, Taviti, and Holmes, Rao has created a cast that grabbed my attention and makes me want to know more about them, to follow along as they solve more mysteries. And as for those mysteries, there is an unsolved one at the end of the book, and I'm looking forward to finding out if Akal and the others can learn the identity of the Night Prowler in the next book. Bring it on!

A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao
eISBN: 9781641294300
Soho Press © 2023
eBook, 288 pages
Historical Mystery, #1 Ankal Singh mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley

Sunday, June 04, 2023

May 2023 Additions to My Digital Security Blanket


My recent restraint in buying eBooks and audiobooks slipped slightly in May, but that's only because I did find a couple of can't-resist sale prices AND I used several "coupons" that I'd been squirreling away. I'm still scrolling past many books that I would've snapped up last year, so my newfound fiscal responsibility hasn't disappeared completely!

Last month, I mentioned my monthly "reading map" in which I plug in any Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that I have and then add gems that have fallen down the rabbit hole of my Kindle. So far, it's been going well, aided in large part to the fact that I've had fewer ARCs to read the past two or three months. See? My restraint has also included ARCs-- which is a good thing because I have hundreds of books, not only on my Kindle, but on my physical bookshelves as well.
What books proved to be irresistible last month? Let me show you! I've got them grouped by genre/subgenre, and if you click on the link in the book title, you'll be taken to Amazon US where you can learn more about the book.
=== Non-Fiction ===
Synopsis: "The Roaring Twenties--the Jazz Age--has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson.

Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he’d become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows – their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman – Madge Oberholtzer – who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees.

A FEVER IN THE HEARTLAND marries a propulsive drama to a powerful and page-turning reckoning with one of the darkest threads in American history.

▲ Timothy Egan wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Worst Hard Time about the Depression and the Dust Bowl. He has a brilliant talent for turning all his hard-earned research into a riveting story that rivals the best fiction. After reading one of Jess Montgomery's Kinship mysteries that featured the Klan and after learning that the little Illinois farm town (population 1700) in which I grew up had its own chapter of the KKK in the 1920s, there was no way I wasn't going to get my hands on this book and read it.

Synopsis: "In 1954, sixty-three-year-old Maine farmer Annie Wilkins embarked on an impossible journey. She had no money and no family, she had just lost her farm, and her doctor had given her only two years to live. But Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. She ignored her doctor’s advice to move into the county charity home. Instead, she bought a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, donned men’s dungarees, and headed south in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow. Annie had little idea what to expect beyond her rural crossroads; she didn’t even have a map. But she did have her ex-racehorse, her faithful mutt, and her own unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness.

Annie, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, rode straight into a world transformed by the rapid construction of modern highways. Between 1954 and 1956, the three travelers pushed through blizzards, forded rivers, climbed mountains, and clung to the narrow shoulder as cars whipped by them at terrifying speeds. Annie rode more than four thousand miles, through America’s big cities and small towns. Along the way, she met ordinary people and celebrities—from Andrew Wyeth (who sketched Tarzan) to Art Linkletter and Groucho Marx. She received many offers—a permanent home at a riding stable in New Jersey, a job at a gas station in rural Kentucky, even a marriage proposal from a Wyoming rancher. In a decade when car ownership nearly tripled, when television’s influence was expanding fast, when homeowners began locking their doors, Annie and her four-footed companions inspired an outpouring of neighborliness in a rapidly changing world.

▲ I love horses. I've read and enjoyed other books by Elizabeth Letts. When I saw the title of this book, I had to read the synopsis, and once I'd done that, I was hooked and had to buy it.
Synopsis: "History would have us believe the sea has always been a male realm, the idea of female captains almost unthinkable. But there is one exception, so notable she defies any expectation.

This is her remarkable story.

Captain Thurídur, born in Iceland in 1777, lived a life that was both controversial and unconventional. Her first time fishing, on the open unprotected rowboats of her time, was at age 11. Soon after, she audaciously began wearing trousers. She later became an acclaimed fishing captain brilliant at weather-reading and seacraft and consistently brought in the largest catches. In the Arctic seas where drownings occurred with terrifying regularity, she never lost a single crewmember. Renowned for her acute powers of observation, she also solved a notorious crime. In this extremely unequal society, she used the courts to fight for justice for the abused, and in her sixties, embarked on perilous journeys over trackless mountains.

Weaving together fastidious research and captivating prose, Margaret Willson reveals Captain Thurídur's fascinating story, her extraordinary courage, intelligence, and personal integrity.

Through adventure, oppression, joy, betrayal, and grief, Captain Thurídur speaks a universal voice. Here is a woman so ahead of her times she remains modern and inspirational today. Her story can now finally be told.

▲ Book titles catch my eye more than covers do. I grew up in a village library and finally got paid for the work I did when I turned sixteen. One of my jobs was to choose books for housebound patrons, and my eye quickly became trained to look for those all-important titles on the spines. Once this particular title caught my eye, my love of maritime as well as women's history took over.
Synopsis: "In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched, and beautifully written narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their outcasting of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Original and revealing,
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.
▲ The title grabbed me, and the synopsis made it a done deal. I like the fact that I'm getting back to reading more non-fiction. 

=== Thriller ===

AUDIO: The Last Word by Taylor Adams. Set in Washington state.
Synopsis: "Emma Carpenter lives in isolation with her golden retriever Laika, house-sitting an old beachfront home on the rainy Washington coast. Her only human contact is her enigmatic old neighbor, Deek, and (via text) the house’s owner, Jules.

One day, she reads a poorly written—but gruesome—horror novel by the author H. G. Kane, and posts a one-star review that drags her into an online argument with none other than the author himself. Soon after, disturbing incidents start to occur at night. To Emma, this can’t just be a coincidence. It was strange enough for this author to bicker with her online about a lousy review; could he be stalking her, too?

As Emma digs into Kane’s life and work, she learns he has published sixteen other novels, all similarly sadistic tales of stalking and murder. But who is he? How did he find her? And what else is he capable of?

Displaying his trademark command of rapid-fire pacing, unnerving atmosphere, and razor-sharp characterization, Taylor Adams once again delivers a diabolically disturbing—and deadly—game of cat and mouse.

▲ I came across this book while doing some work on The Poisoned Pen Bookstore's Pinterest page. Once I read the synopsis, I decided I had to use an Audible credit to get it. I think it's something few book bloggers/reviewers could resist taking a peek at!

Loot by Aaron Elkins. Set in Europe.
Synopsis: "In April 1945, the Nazis, reeling and near defeat, frantically work to hide the huge store of art treasures that Hitler has looted from Europe. Truck convoys loaded with the cultural wealth of the Western world pour in an unending stream into the compound of the vast Altaussee salt mine high in the Austrian Alps. But with the Allies closing in, the vaunted efficiency of the Nazis has broken down. At Altaussee, all is tumult and confusion. In the commotion, a single truck, its driver, and its priceless load of masterpieces vanish into a mountain snowstorm.

Half a century later, in a seedy Boston pawnshop, ex‑curator Ben Revere makes a stunning discovery among the piles of junk: a Velazquez from the legendary Lost Truck. But with it come decades of secrets, rancor, and lies, and the few who know of the painting’s existence have their lives snuffed out one by one by an unknown assassin. Revere must travel back to the grand cities of Europe to unravel the tangled history of the lost truck and its treasures before fifty years of hatred, greed, and retribution catch up with him.

▲ I've always been interested in art history and art theft, and articles about found art that was looted by the Nazis are guaranteed to capture my attention, so... Loot was right down my alley.

What do you think of last month's purchases? Have you read any of them? Did you add any of them to your own wish lists? Do tell! Inquiring minds would love to know! 

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Congratulations to the Giveaway Winner!


A big thank you to everyone who took the time to enter my giveaway. I always wish I were independently wealthy and able to give you all copies of the books I give away. I also want to thank you for the kind words in your emails even though all I ask for is your name and mailing address. You just keep giving me reasons to keep on blogging.

Once again, Denis and his magic cowboy hat are responsible for choosing the winner. Drum roll, please...
Congratulations to Annette D. from North Dakota, the winner of Marple: Twelve New Mysteries

The book will be on its way to you by Tuesday at the latest. Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The You Can Teach an Old Dog Weekly Link Round-Up


Since we're waiting for the tech to come get the pool pump and filter in tip-top shape, I thought I'd finish this up. It's been a quiet, restful week here at Casa Kittling. Since the temperatures have gone up, the starlings have left and the white-winged doves have taken their place. One thing to be thankful for is the fact that the doves aren't as bad at splashing all the water out of the birdbaths as the starlings. The doves drink, drink, drink, but don't insist on taking baths every two hours. 

It's the time of year when I find myself in this position...

Can't say it's one of my favorites, but needs must. Especially now. I discussed with my doctor how, in the past year, I've been having problems with mood swings and depression, and she's prescribed me with a low-dose anti-depressant. I thought I'd share this just in case you were under the mistaken impression that I'm Wonder Woman and just annihilate annoyances with a flick of a bracelet. And what's with the "You Can Teach an Old Dog" title of this post?

I suffered from sometimes crippling depression for a good chunk of my life. It started in my teens and grew progressively worse all the way into my forties. How bad did it get? I got in the car one morning and envisioned myself floorboarding the gas pedal, gathering up a good head of steam, and driving straight into a huge tree. And I suffered all those years in silence. I never once asked for any sort of help from anyone. 

So it doesn't matter how old you are, you are always capable of learning. For me, it was a matter of learning the NOTs: NOT feeling so ashamed of my depression that I felt I had to keep it hidden, and NOT keeping my mouth shut. To anyone reading this who has their own problems with depression, please, don't keep your mouth shut. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Get help. You're worth it.

On a much more cheerful note, I hope you're all enjoying the summer. Here are the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Book Banning & Censorship◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly May Clampett◄
►The Wanderer◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • The park ranger who lives and works in the hottest place in North America.
  • Manjiro, the shipwrecked teenager who helped end Japan's isolationist era.
  • Artist Juan de Pareja had one of the most famous faces of the 17th century.
  • The many sins of Maurice E. Balk.
►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.

No matter how busy you may be, don't forget that quality Me Time curled up with a good book!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson

First Lines: 17 October 1945. Maisie Shipley put down her copy of The Daily News and gazed out her kitchen window, momentarily taken an ocean away, to the jungles of Sumatra, and to a beach on a small tropical island.
In 1941, country girls Minnie Hodgson and Margot McNee board a ship in Perth, Australia, and sail to Singapore, keen to experience a life of adventure and excitement as nurses doing their bit during wartime.

When the Japanese attack and Singapore falls, they board the Vyner Brooke to escape. The ship is bombed and sinks. In the mayhem, Minnie, Margot, and the friends they've made are separated. One group finds themselves in prisoner-of-war camps for the duration, while the other washes ashore on Bangka Island to meet a fate that should never be forgotten.


The War Nurses, inspired by the author's own family history, is a sensitively-written story of friendship, courage, and endurance. It is based on the true events of the Bangka Island Massacre, and not only does it have the power to inform and inspire, but it can also break your heart. I've read non-fiction accounts of the things nurses were forced to endure in Southeast Asia during World War II, and Hodgson's novel ranks right up there with them. 

The author's notes and acknowledgments at the end of the book let readers know important facts and how she pieced together the story. The mind boggles at what these women were forced to endure and at how they managed to use their wits and courage to survive in unbelievable circumstances. (One of the things that made the nurses' situation even worse was that they were not considered to be prisoners of war. They were merely "internees" and not given any of the paltry "extras" prisoners of war were allowed. This really put their creativity to the test.)

As sad and horrifying as The War Nurses could be, I also found it heartwarming to read how important and life-affirming friendship was to these women, and what they would do to endure, to live to tell others of what really happened.

The War Nurses by Anthea Hodgson
eISBN: 9780143779117
Michael Joseph © 2023
eBook, 401 pages
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.