Friday, September 25, 2020

A Life at 110° Weekly Link Round-Up

 

 

It's been a summer for the record books here in Phoenix. July and August were the hottest two months ever recorded, and we experienced at least FIFTY-TWO consecutive days of temperatures over 110° (43°C for my Celsius friends)-- another record.

What's it like? Like living in a blast furnace.

Don't worry about me. I had a pool, air conditioning, and plenty of iced drinks to keep me cool. Denis was at the airport working in that killing heat. I think the highlight of each of his shifts for him was coming home and getting in the pool, and even though he was doing this at 1 AM, the temperature was still over 100°. There's a saying we like to use here: Phoenix has two seasons, Heaven and Hell. This summer was a lower rung of Hell than previously experienced.

One thing I noticed was that there were a lot fewer birds at our birdbaths and feeders. Animals are not stupid, no matter what some people say. Those birds flew to where it was cooler. To where their food sources weren't fried to a crisp. Where it was easier to find water and shade. One of the signs that told me that we were finished with the blast furnace was the gradual return of the birds, and I am happy to see them.

What I'm not happy about is the pending death of our huge Aleppo pine tree out front. With my staying at home, my attention has been mainly focused on the backyard where the pool and all the feeders and birdbaths are. I should have realized that-- especially with the lack of a monsoon season this summer-- that poor tree needed to be watered. Denis and I are watering it now in hopes that it can be saved, but it might be too late. A lot of birds called that tree home. This place will feel very strange indeed if it has to be cut down.

The high temperatures aren't done with us; they're still over 100°, and you know you're a native when you can say that 100° feels cooler. But enough weather talk! Time to mosey out to the corral to turn all these links loose. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!


 

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

 
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
 
►Fascinating Folk◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►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, September 24, 2020

The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

First Line: That Friday afternoon in late July was the last time Edie Kiglatuk saw Martha Salliaq alive.

Teaching summer school in the Canadian Arctic, Edie Kiglatuk is shocked when her favorite student, Martha Salliaq, is found dead in nearby Lake Turngaluk. Edie promises the Inuit girl's family that she will uncover the truth and enlists the aid of Sergeant Derek Palliser of the Ellesmere Island Native Police. While they begin their investigation, lawyer Sonia Gutierrez is working hard to overcome obstacles concerning the cleanup of Lake Turngaluk, but she's beginning to think that there is a larger conspiracy involved. What the three of them don't realize is that, while they're unearthing long-buried secrets, they're also putting their lives at risk.

 

M.J. McGrath's Edie Kiglatuk series ended at three books, but as far as I'm concerned it could have continued for much, much longer. The three books (White Heat and The Boy in the Snow are the first two) not only have absorbing mysteries to solve, they also give readers a vivid, fascinating picture of life in the Arctic Circle and of the Inuit culture. (Please do not call them "Eskimos" because that word means lice in another language.)

It's summer in the Arctic, and one of the things McGrath has her characters show us is how people deal (or don't) with twenty-four-hour-a-day sunlight. Camp Nanook is a summer military encampment not far from the village where Edie is teaching, and I was shocked to learn that "...thirty per cent of Arctic postings returned to the south with some kind of mental disorder." Scary stuff, right? The mystery is a good brain teaser for armchair sleuths since it involves the history of the Distant Early Warning line formed by Canada and the U.S. during the Cold War. Not only are there Inuits involved in Martha Salliaq's murder, but readers also have to navigate suspicious governmental goings-on.

The investigation is hampered, as always, by the government consistently giving the Inuit the short end of the stick. Edie and Sergeant Palliser have to wait days to receive extra help such as the most basic forensics equipment, and all the while, officers in nearby Camp Nanook are working in the shadows to find out what Edie and Palliser know-- and how to prevent them from learning anything more. 

The Bone Seeker benefits from an exceptionally strong cast of characters. Derek Palliser, derisively called "Lemming Police" by the locals, finds himself upping his game in light of Edie's passion for the truth even though he's hampered by insomnia. Edie's hunting skills translate well into a homicide investigation, and well, she's just a force of nature. "Only set of rules I know is mine...And I don't have any." A welcome addition to the cast is the lawyer Sonia Gutierrez from Guatemala. She has her own shadowy past, and after working for years on a lawsuit to force the government to clean up this area of Ellesmere Island, scarcely anything gets past her razor-sharp intellect and unflinching gaze. Whatever you do, don't mess with Edie and Sonia!

There's more than meets the eye to the title of this book, and when you come to that part (as I hope you will), you may find a chill running down your spine and a tear in your eye. The Bone Seeker works well as a standalone, but if you love mysteries with strong unconventional characters and learning about other cultures, I highly recommend that you read all three books in order. Then you will join me in wishing Edie Kiglatuk would appear to solve another mystery up at the Arctic Circle.


The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

ISBN: 9780143127475

Penguin Books © 2014

Paperback, 368 pages

 

Amateur Sleuth, #3 Edie Kiglatuk mystery

Rating: A

Source: Purchased from Book Outlet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Murder in the Piazza by Jen Collins Moore

First Line: Maggie White started fantasizing about Lord Philip's death on her third day.

When Maggie White's husband was offered a job in Rome, she welcomed the change of scene with open arms. A recently downsized marketing executive, she is still feeling humiliated, and for the first weeks of their life in Rome, she takes courses to familiarize herself with the Eternal City. But when she wants an actual job, she discovers that it's almost impossible to find one-- until she meets Lord Philip Walpole who hires her for his Masterpiece Tours Company. 

It doesn't take her long to find out that Lord Philip is a nasty piece of work, and when he's found shot to death in his penthouse, Maggie's thrown into the deep end of the investigation. She's got a palazzo full of guests, most of whose behavior would put them on anyone's suspect list, a valuable painting her boss might have stolen, and a policeman who has decided that she's the prime suspect. All that, and she has a tour to keep up and running while she's trying to clear her name.

One of these days, I'm going to travel to Italy, but until that happens, I have to be satisfied with being an armchair traveler. On that score, Murder on the Piazza, the first Maggie White mystery, delivers a feast. The Rome setting is superb, and I really felt as though I got to know the city. I also appreciate art, so being in the midst of a tour that includes sightseeing in art museums and classes on painting was right up my alley. If only my reaction to the characters and the mystery itself had been as positive.

I found the whodunit aspect of the book to be easily solved. I could say why but don't want to run the risk of spoiling the book for anyone who decides to read it. As for the characters, I wish there had been more actual interaction between Maggie and Lord Philip. Being told how nasty he was in brief snippets here and there doesn't pack as much punch as actually "experiencing" it myself. Let me stand in the room with those two and see the man in action. Moreover, I feel that readers' enjoyment of Murder in the Piazza is probably going to hinge on how they react to the main character, Maggie White, and that's where I had a problem.

I found Maggie to be extremely judgemental, and it really put me off. She reminded me of so many executives I've not had the pleasure of dealing with who would swan into my store with their entourages, take a few seconds to glance here and there, and then proceed to rip everything apart. To them, perception is everything even though we all know how deceiving appearances can be. One thing that I found puzzling about Maggie is that she also seemed to judge people's breath. What's up with that? Does having cigarette smoke on your breath mean you're automatically a villain? This woman is so used to being large and in charge that she thinks she knows how to run everything, and the major reason why she becomes the prime suspect in Lord Philip's murder is that she keeps getting in the police detective's face and telling him useful information that usually implicates herself. If she didn't think she knows better than everyone else, she wouldn't be in such a pickle. This is probably supposed to be funny, but my funny bone was unmoved.

Even though Maggie and I would not get along in real life, I am happy to say that Murder in the Piazza is wrapped up in such a way that I'm almost tempted to read the next book in the series. Will I? I haven't quite made up my mind.

 

Murder in the Piazza by Jen Collins Moore

eISBN: 9781947915718

Level Best Books © 2020

eBook, 276 pages

 

Cozy Mystery, #1 Maggie White mystery

Rating: C+

Source: Net Galley

Any Bookmark Collectors Here?

I've mentioned my bookmark collection a time or two (or three or four) here on the blog, and I finally had the bright idea that you might like to see some of them. So I went searching through my files where I just happen to have captured scans of a major part of my collection. My collection includes some of my mother's, gifts people have given to me, and ones that I've made. 

Years ago, one of the people I worked with was going back home to Palau (think Micronesia) for a couple of weeks, and she asked me what I wanted her to bring back as a gift. My mind went absolutely blank. I didn't want her spending any money on me really, and I certainly didn't want anything that would take up a lot of room in her luggage. Then the light bulb went off over my head: I wanted a geographically specific bookmark. Unless you go crazy, they don't cost much, and they take up scarcely any room. Ernestine gave me a set of three gorgeous bookmarks from Palau, and ever since then, if someone wants to bring me back something from their travels, that's what I request. It's a win-win for both parties.

Let's take a look at some of the ones I've collected over the years.


Handmade on paper from Mexico

Handmade tatted bookmark gifted to me

An online group I belonged to had a meet in Seattle. I decided to make laminated bookmarks as gifts for everyone who attended.

I also made bookmarks for each attendee that included their photo and a favorite quote. Everyone seemed to love them and made sure they had one of each. Here's mine.

This is one of the bookmarks Ernestine gave me.

When my niece Karen visited Monaco, she bought me this bookmark.

Here's one I bought for myself when Denis and I visited Waddeston Manor in England.

 

That's enough for one sitting, but don't be surprised if I trot out some more of them. Why? Well... you might just like seeing them, and I like the memories they bring back.

Do any of you collect bookmarks? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett

First Line: On those rare occasions when Magda thought of the past, she didn't recall the flames and the screams and the rows of bodies; she came here-- to these mementoes gathered in an old shoebox, souvenirs not of tragedy but of happiness.

When his debut novel becomes a bestseller, Robert Parrish's life and his cherished relationship with his girlfriend Rebecca begins to fall apart. Parrish knows that he must confront his secret demons in order to save the relationship, and doing that means diving headfirst into the books that changed his life-- a childhood set of serial novels featuring the Tremendous Trio. 

Guided by twelve tattered books and a tantalizing story fragment, Robert's journey takes him to 1906 Manhattan, but every discovery he makes only leads to more questions.

His quest intertwines with the stories of three young people trying to define their places in the world at the start of a new century. Magda, Gene, and Tom not only write the children's books that Robert will one day love, together they explore the city on their doorstep. One quest becomes four, and readers will want to know what happens to them all.

Charlie Lovett knows how to find literary topics that I can't resist. From book collecting in The Bookman's Tale to Jane Austen in First Impressions to the Holy Grail in The Lost Book of the Grail (my favorite), this man has put a stranglehold on my imagination and my attention. In Escaping Dreamland, he's done it again.

Probably the best thing Lovett has done is to bring back many wonderful memories of the books I loved as a child. A favorite scene in the book is the one in which Parrish visits an elderly collector who tells him about saving his ten-cent allowance for five weeks so that his father would take him to Brentano's Bookstore on Fifth Avenue so he could buy the latest book in his favorite series. I learned so much fascinating history about children's serial fiction in Escaping Dreamland that I'm tempted to make time to read some again. Lovett weaves one memorable scene after another into his story: the San Francisco earthquake, John Singer Sargent painting a portrait, the General Slocum disaster, visiting Dreamland on Coney Island... He brings Gilded Age America (and in particular, New York City) to life, and if you're the type of reader who is concerned about the appearance of historical characters in a work of fiction, read Lovett's notes at the end of the book. 

All the characters in the book except Parrish's girlfriend Rebecca have demons to fight. Only Robert's demon is left unspoken until the end, but it's rather easy to deduce. If there's one thing I don't particularly like about Escaping Dreamland, it is the "magic box" at the end, but at least the entirety of the lives of the three characters from the earlier timeline is not served up to Parrish on a silver platter. Readers know more than he does, and I like that. 

I'm looking forward to Lovett's next book. It's not often that you find an author who knows how to get a grip on both your heart and your mind, and Charlie Lovett is one of those writers for me. If you're a fan, you've got a treat in store. If you've never heard of him before, I highly recommend this man's books. He knows how to tell a tale.

 

Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett

ASIN: B086FG19M1

Blackstone Publishing © 2020

eBook, 323 pages

 

Literary Mystery, Standalone

Rating: B+

Source: Net Galley

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Treasure from My Shelves: Town Tours in Britain

We readers know that books are treasures, but most of us will admit that some volumes are more precious than others, and that's the sort of book I want to share with you today. But first, the background.

For all of our trips to the UK but one, Denis and I have flown into the Manchester Airport. Denis was born and raised in the Manchester area. Family lives there. And... if your trip includes driving up to Scotland, the Manchester Airport makes a lot more sense than one of the ones in London. 

On one of our visits, we spent the entire day with our niece Karen, who'd come to stay with us in Arizona more than once. (One of these days, I hope she can come again.) She geared the entire day to us, and in particular to me. I well remember our stroll through Hebden Bridge's High Street, and I think she'd be surprised to know that I remember many of the shops we visited throughout the day. Now... on the first couple of visits to the UK, I was in a fever to Buy Stuff. It couldn't be just any stuff, and I didn't go wild to the point where I was mailing box after box back to Phoenix (or any boxes for that matter), but I just wanted to find special items that meant a lot to me that wouldn't break the bank. You understand, right?

Well, when we spent that lovely, lovely day with Karen, I'd already reached my limit for extras going into the suitcases. I might have been able to shoehorn an earring or two in the luggage, but that was about it. That's when I found a book that I fell instantly in love with. But it was a big three-ring binder of a book, and there's no way I could have fit it into either suitcase without leaving our underwear or some other essential behind. It was with great regret that I didn't buy it.

I'd successfully managed to put the book out of my mind when-- lo and behold-- I received a gift package from Karen, and there it was! She'd gone back and bought it for me, bless her. 

I have spent so much time immersed in the pages of this book, and several of the pages even went with me on subsequent trips to the UK where they came in so handy. Town Tours in Britain is one of the greatest treasures on my bookshelves, and I will never willingly part with it. Precious memories of people and places are what need to be added to a book to turn it into a treasure. Would you agree?  

Now let me show you the book.

 

Here's the front of the book. One of the things that drew me to it was the cover. You may not know this about me, but I love maps. Real maps. Denis can have his GPS.


Here it is opened to the title page. Now you can see that it is, indeed, a three-ring binder.


Here are two leaflets from the book. They are easy to take out of the binder so you can use them when you're out and about in those locations. In case you're wondering, yes, I did leave the file sizes large so you can take a closer look!


Here's the leaflet for Cambridge, where Denis and I spent the day exploring. The front of the leaflet is a walking map... did I tell you that I love maps?


The reverse side of the leaflet tells you about the area, some of the places you can visit and some of the things you can see.


 

I hope you enjoyed this look at one of the treasures on my bookshelves. I may just have to do this again! Would you like that?

Friday, September 18, 2020

A Putting in the Miles Weekly Link Round-Up

 


Before you think "putting in the miles" means that I've left the premises and gone somewhere, think again. I've been putting in time every day on the new exercise machine and almost immediately began experiencing benefits. When it looked as though Denis thought bringing the thing inside and putting it together was the sum total of his involvement, I gave him a gentle nudge (honest!), and now he's fallen under its spell, too. The machine is closely related to the one I was using at the lymphedema clinic only better, and I'm not just talking about the price. 

It's amazing how quickly a pool can cool off here in the desert. We actually had a couple of days with temperatures below 100° combined with three to four days of overcast skies due to the smoke from poor California. When you combine those two things with the fact that this is the exact time of year that the sun's position in the sky changes, all of a sudden, yikes! The pool water turned cold. Denis was in the habit of going for a swim when he got home from work. Last week, he was back in the house in slightly less than a minute. "My knees wouldn't let me go in any further!" he told me. Thus endeth another season, and I'll end this with another t-shirt, which would be completely true if only someone had added "Books"...

 

Enjoy the links!


►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

 
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
 
►Fascinating Folk◄
 
►The Happy Wanderer◄
 
►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

 
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, September 17, 2020

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

 

First Line: 1989. The woods were wrong.

Dr. Theo Cray is a computational scientist. He sees patterns in chaos. When mutilated bodies are found deep in the forests of Montana, local law enforcement chalk it up to a rogue grizzly bear. But Cray sees something they missed. 

Seeking the truth behind the death of one of his former students, Cray tries to guide the police in the right direction, but all he does is convince them that the killer is either a bear or Cray himself. Cray has to work fast before he's either thrown in prison or becomes a serial killer's next victim.

 

The voice of Dr. Theo Cray drew me right into The Naturalist. Cray is a wimp. He's a nerd. He has trouble relating to people because his head is so thoroughly buried in science and he spends so much time alone on field trips. Some readers' eyes may cross at all the talk of science, but I enjoyed 98% of Cray's shop talk. (Hmm... does that make me a wimpy science nerd who doesn't relate to people, too?) The science really got me into Cray's character, and it does add background to the story. The reason Cray decided to go out on a limb and hunt for his former student's killer is guilt, and that says something about his character, too. He's not all about science after all. He feels that, as a professor, he spent too much time doing things like showing and critiquing the film Avatar to get his students to like him and not enough time teaching them how to be safe on field trips in the wilderness. He's a smart guy whose heart is in the right place even though he's out of step with the rest of us. But-- as the characters in all good stories should-- Cray changes as his hunt for the killer progresses, especially when he walks into a certain diner for a meal. But I digress.

I did have a problem or two with The Naturalist, and it wasn't over the portrayal of law enforcement. When the police have a weird guy who keeps digging up bodies and telling them about what he's found, what else are they going to think? You got it: they're going to think he killed them all and wants his fifteen minutes of fame. No, the problems I had have to do with the serial killer himself and some of the action scenes at the end. I found both to be a bit over the top, although in the killer's case, I found his portrayal a bit unbelievable, not the facts behind his creation.

But for me, discovering the character of Dr. Theo Cray was like hitting the jackpot. I had to know how he was going to win the day, and I had to know what sort of shape he was going to be in once it was all over. Now I want to know what he does next. I'll be reading more.


The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

eISBN: 9781477824245

Thomas & Mercer © 2017

eBook, 372 pages


Amateur Sleuth, #1 Dr. Theo Cray mystery

Rating: B+

Source: Purchased from Amazon.