Monday, October 15, 2018

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson

First Line: "How did you find me?" the woman asked.

Over her long career, Hulda Hermannsdóttir has hit the glass ceiling so many times that she should be severely concussed, but she keeps on going. Bringing justice to victims and solving cases are what this detective inspector lives for. But a few months before her sixty-fifth birthday, she is told in the cruelest way possible that she's surplus to requirements and being retired early. Her young male replacement is already here, and her desk needs to be cleaned out so he can start work.

One of the reasons why Hulda has been so successful is that she is supremely obstinate, and-- somehow-- she manages to avoid being tossed out by insisting on solving a cold case before she goes.

Over a year ago, a young Russian woman was found dead on the beach. After a very desultory investigation, her death was deemed a suicide and the case was closed. After all, she was just an asylum seeker. This has never set well with Hulda, so she quietly begins to investigate. It doesn't take her long to discover that no one she interviews is telling her the complete truth-- and that another young Russian woman vanished at the same time. But her superior is anxious to get rid of her, the clock is ticking... is Hulda going to be able to solve this one last case?

Ragnar Jónasson has rapidly turned into my favorite Nordic crime fiction writer. Iceland comes to life under his pen. Give this man snow and the endless dark days of winter, and he's fully capable of giving readers a severe case of claustrophobia to go along with his well-paced and -plotted mysteries. This newest trilogy opens with a bang. The Darkness is a superb character study of Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir.

The Darkness takes place at the end of May, when Iceland is getting warmer and brighter in advance of July when the sun never sets. These lengthening days are bringing things to light that have been buried in darkness for a long time. Yes, the book title is very symbolic and becomes even moreso the farther one reads.

One of the ways the darkness is dispelled in this novel is by alternating chapters told in different voices. One of the voices is easily identified as that of a young Russian woman, but it takes a few chapters before the reader realizes that Hulda's backstory is slowly unfolding. Be forewarned: this is not a happy book. Hulda has had many harsh things happen to her throughout her life, and as a result she's not Little Miss Mary Sunshine. Having had some of the same things happen to me, I identified with this woman very closely-- even while I was mentally trying to tell her not to do some of the things she did during her investigation.

By the time you come to the end of The Darkness, you will realize that this series does not start out in a conventional manner. Not only that, but the story itself does not advance in a linear fashion. However, I did not find it at all confusing. No, I found it brilliant. The Darkness is marvelous reading for those who find it easier to empathize with characters. Hulda Hermannsdóttir has gotten under my skin, and I can't wait to read the next book in this trilogy.

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson
eISBN: 9781250171047
Minotaur Books © 2018
eBook, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Hidden Iceland mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Under the Covers with Margery Allingham

Today's Under the Cover post is a reminder to myself to read the book whose covers I'll be examining. I can't remember which author event it was, but Barbara Peters told us that one of her all-time favorite mysteries was Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke, partly because the setting in itself is such a strong and memorable character. I've seen a couple of British television mysteries that deal a bit with those notorious London "pea soupers" of the post-World War II time period. (What's a pea souper? One definition is: "Pea soup, or a pea souper, also known as a black fog, killer fog or smog is a very thick and often yellowish, greenish, or blackish fog caused by air pollution that contains soot particulates and the poisonous gas sulphur dioxide.") This fog could quite literally kill you, and when a talented writer like Margery Allingham adds a murderer to the landscape, it should make for a chilling mystery. 

Let's take a look at some covers that have been given to this book over the years. I'm starting with the cover of the edition I have sitting on my to-be-read shelves. Not because I like it, but because it's so... bland.

1.  Felony & Mayhem, US. Blah!

2.  1975 Penguin edition. Why did they use a photo of an old rug?

3.  Agora Books, UK. Not enough pea soup to suit me.

4.  Australia. Meh.

5.  Avalon Publishing, US. Too generic.

6.  Carroll & Graf, US. Better. At least someone's creeping around in the fog.

7.  Dell, US. I like this one. It looks like all the maniacs have escaped Arkham Asylum. (Check out the price!)

8.  Macmillan Collector's Library, UK. Not bad. You can see the fog thickening, and that woman just standing there makes me nervous.

9.  Penguin, probably from the 1970s. My #2 favorite-- a knife flashing in a stylized thick fog. Yikes!

10.  Pretty, but I don't think it represents the tone of the book, Westerner that I am.

11.  US paperback. (Check out the price!) Probably from the 1960s because it reminds me of book covers I saw after movies like "Psycho" and "The Boston Strangler" were released.

12.  Penguin back when this cost 2 shillings sixpence. My #1 favorite. Thick fog. A dark figure creeping through the streets of London... and look at the shadow he projects!

Book covers can be very representative of their times, can't they-- Like #11 which screamed 1960s to me. You can tell by my captions that I thought #1 the worst and #9 and 12 were the best. What about you? Which cover(s) strike your fancy? Or... do none of them float your boat? Inquiring minds would love to know!

And a quick note before I leave: someone believes that this book was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling choosing the name Voldemort for her evil wizard. Interesting, eh?

Friday, October 12, 2018

An Arizona Sunset Weekly Link Round-Up

Another quiet week at Casa Kittling with only one humdinger of a thunderstorm that woke me from a sound sleep at 4 AM to liven things up. I've been reading and knitting up a storm, and adjusting my schedule now that I'm not spending afternoons in the pool. I think I'm quietly charging up my battery for the next three eye procedures because I know there's upcoming downtime when I won't be able to do so many things that I enjoy. But don't worry-- my priority is still having two properly functioning eyes, so I'm not complaining about the route I have to take.

Arizona Sunset, October 7, 2018  ©Denis Barlow

The one thing that I wanted to share with you this week (besides the links) is the photo Denis sent me Sunday evening. My timing was definitely off that day. While I was at home taking a shower, my husband was at work at Sky Harbor International Airport and able to take a photo of this breathtaking sunset. It is my not-so-humble opinion that Arizona has to be one of the best places in the world for jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets. I wish you all could see the photo full size because your mind would really be blown. (Am I the only one who talks about minds being blown anymore?)

Time for me to mosey on out to the corral and see what the sunset looks like tonight. Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • In the 1950s, Walt Kelly’s comic strip about a cute opossum named Pogo was syndicated by over 450 newspapers. It was also frequently censored. (And I had no idea when I read this strip every day as a child.)
  • It's no mystery why fans and authors gathered for Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. 
  • The Wonky Donkey: a viral video of a grandmother makes this picture book a bestseller.
  • The voters who disappeared from the rolls.
  • Stories bad and good: Understanding Appalachia through reading.
  • The novelist who wrote about How to Murder Your Husband has been charged with murdering her husband. 
  • Why does the US change so many book titles?
  • A bookseller's lament: the books we're drowning in. 

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • 87 elephants were found dead near a sanctuary in Botswana. 
  • Toxic chemicals banned twenty years ago are finally disappearing from Arctic wildlife.
  • 92 military dogs are coming home from Afghanistan after a job well done.
  • Biologist Johnnie H. French works at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, the world's only full-service forensics lab for wildlife crimes.
  • In the last decade, four birds went extinct and four more are likely gone.
  • A new species of translucent, gelatinous fish has been discovered in the deep sea. 
  • How this popular garden plant may spread parasites that harm Monarch butterflies.
  • India's giant, technicolor squirrels.

►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.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

An Art Buffer

Thankfully these mistakes are much fewer and farther between than in the past, but I think you've noticed that there's been an overabundance of book reviews this week. (I didn't pay attention and overscheduled myself.)

As a break from all the reviews, I thought it was time for an art buffer-- something both pretty and representative of what it was like for me trying to get all the books read and reviewed on time (only prettier).

Enjoy! And never fear-- there will be a non-review related post tomorrow.

A Place of Her Own, James Christensen

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Inherit the Wool by Betty Hechtman

First Line: I looked out the window at the sunless morning with a knot in my stomach, hoping this call would help.

After connecting with some old college friends on social media, Casey Feldstein finds herself strong-armed into hosting a knitting retreat for the group. She's a nervous wreck, mostly because she thinks the others are going to judge her harshly for her unconventional lifestyle and her choice of a rustic, electronics-free venue for the gathering.

The women have barely stepped foot on the Vista del Mar property when the complaints begin, followed shortly thereafter by old grudges that have simmered over the years. But those are the least of Casey's problems when one of the women is found dead.

Everyone's a suspect, and as long-held secrets begin to rise to the surface, Casey's got to work fast before the retreat ends and everyone goes home.

I always want to take up my knitting needles after reading one of Betty Hechtman's Yarn Retreat mysteries and Inherit the Wool is no exception. The author has created a strong plot with plenty of misdirection, and although I deduced part of the solution, part of it did elude me.

I do have to admit that I found this book a bit harder to get into than previous installments because of the reunion setting. This has nothing to do with the author's writing and everything to do with my personal experiences with old classmates and reunions. If I were the main character, there would be no Inherit the Wool because I wouldn't have agreed to host the retreat for those women in the first place. (Yes, in this instance I am a killjoy.)

Personal feelings aside, the reunion plot line is well written and shows readers a part of Casey's past that they hadn't seen before, and the resolution is satisfying. Whether or not you like to knit, Inherit the Wool is a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. If you haven't given this series a try, I do recommend it. Now... where's that knitting project of mine?

Inherit the Wool by Betty Hectman
eISBN: 9781946069849
Beyond the Page Publishing © 2018
eBook, 191 pages

Cozy Mystery, #6 Yarn Retreat mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley


Monday, October 08, 2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

First Line: We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists plans to spend a month being inspired by the countryside around Birchwood Manor, a country home owned by the group's leader, Edward Radcliffe. Things begin well, but before their stay is over, one woman is dead, another is missing, an heirloom has disappeared, and Radcliffe's life is in tatters.

More than one hundred fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young London archivist, finds a leather satchel containing a Victorian photograph of a beautiful woman and an artist's sketchbook containing the drawings of a house she believed belonged only in a fairy tale. Finding herself completely under the spell of both woman and house, Elodie knows she must try solving this mystery of who and where.

During the long span of its life, Birchwood Manor has been many things, including a school for young ladies, but when Birdie Bell begins the tale of her residency in the Tudor manor house and tells us, "It was long ago; it was yesterday," that one Dickensian line put me firmly in Kate Morton's spell-weaving hands.

By the time I'd finished The Clockmaker's Daughter, I'd added Birchwood Manor to my list of favorite literary houses. Yes, over the centuries it has been many things to many people, but above all, it has been a place of refuge, a place of safety. In the dead of night, a light has been known to shine from an attic dormer, signaling sanctuary to those who need it. I fell in love with Birchwood Manor, every stone, every timber, every flower in its gardens, all the way down to its jetty on the River Thames.

Morton's novel is a slow-moving story told in multiple voices. I'm not complaining about the pace because this is the type of story that must build gradually. Once or twice while reading I did wonder if quite so many voices were needed to advance the plot, but for the most part, I found each character enjoyable-- especially young schoolgirl Ada Lovegrove and Birdie Bell herself.

In many ways, reading The Clockmaker's Daughter is like putting together a large, complicated jigsaw puzzle. The final image is so compelling that you just can't stop reading. As each clue to the mystery is uncovered, it's as though you've found a lost puzzle piece under the box lid or spied one under the sofa cushion and you can't wait to fit it into its proper place.

I have to admit that I didn't really find any great surprises in the plot of this novel, but I didn't care. Being a master storyteller isn't always about coming up with something brand-new. Sometimes it's just about being able to tell a story that fires the reader's imagination so that the person turning the pages can see themselves in each scene of the book and feel the emotions each character feels. If this is the type of book you're in the mood for, there's only one thing to do: pick up a copy of Kate Morton's The Clockmaker's Daughter and meet the people of Birchwood Manor.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
eISBN: 9781451649437
Atria Books © 2018
eBook, 512 pages

Gothic Suspense, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley

Penned by Eileen Brady

First Line: The killer envisioned the old woman lying in bed sleeping, a slight smile on her face.

Seven months into her one-year contract to cover for a Hudson Valley veterinarian who's cruising around the world, Kate Turner is celebrating Halloween in Oak Falls, New York when she bumps into Gloria LaGuardia. The octogenarian shows some signs of mental confusion, but she's still sharp. Kate is mildly alarmed when Gloria tells her, "Someone evil is here. I saw him."

Busy Kate puts the encounter at the back of her mind until she learns that Gloria has been murdered. She attends the elderly lady's funeral and crosses the path of aspiring true-crime novelist Tucker Weinstein. Weinstein believes that Gloria saw Carl Wolf that Halloween evening, a killer who's spent the past twenty-one years on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

Kate may be up to her eyeballs in feathered and furry patients, but she finds herself drawn to this mystery. Could a notorious killer really be living in sleepy little Oak Falls? And if he is... who is he?

I have to admit that I've been enjoying Eileen Brady's Kate Turner DVM series more for the anecdotal information about animals than for the mysteries, but that's all changed now with this fourth book, Penned. Something clicked into place and turned this book into a lean, mean Doberman of a mystery. (Don't worry, this particular Doberman still likes belly rubs and going for walkies.) There's only one thing about Penned that barked offkey, and that's the romantic triangle. Should Kate go for rich archaeologist Jeremy or for local lawman Luke? It's probably just me, but if there's one thing in a book that can have me rolling my eyes, it's the romantic triangle, and for that I can thank Janet Evanovich. (Stephanie Plum fans will know what I'm talking about even if they don't agree.)

Other than that, I really enjoyed this book. There's plenty for animal lovers to like. Brady's background in veterinary medicine means she's got plenty of tales to share-- both good, solid informational ones as well as ones that can make readers laugh. This is the part of Brady's novels that I've come to look forward to. What surprised and delighted me was that the author has successfully woven together elements of the cozy mystery with a serial killer thriller and turned it into a compelling detective story. It's not scary; there's no graphic violence, but readers are hooked into finding out Carl Wolf's identity. A canine clue shortly before the reveal made me realize the man's Oak Falls persona, but-- whew-- it was hard work.

Animal-loving mystery fans are going to find plenty to enjoy in Penned, and I know that I'm certainly looking forward to another visit with Kate Turner.

Penned by Eileen Brady
eISBN: 9781464210822
Poisoned Pen Press © 2018
eBook, 243 pages

Cozy Mystery, #4 Kate Turner DVM mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


Sunday, October 07, 2018

The Question of the Dead Mistress by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen

First Line: I received an email message.

When a woman comes into Questions Answered, proprietor Samuel Hoenig wants nothing to do with finding the answer to her question. "Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?" To the literal-minded Samuel, there's no question that the man isn't because ghosts do not exist. But his associate, Janet Washburn, feels differently about the situation, so Samuel decides to give her her first solo assignment: to answer this question.

However, as soon as Ms. Washburn begins to investigate, the husband turns up dead. Now she and Samuel have a lot of work to do because even Samuel can see that things just do not add up.

This fifth Asperger's mystery is another enjoyable read because not only are we served up a lovely plot with plenty of twists, fans of the series get to witness the further emotional growth of Samuel Hoenig, a man with Asperger's Syndrome. Samuel is logical, literal, and precise. Readers see the world through his eyes, and how he words things shows us how literal his vision is. For example, he never refers to Ms. Washburn's mode of transportation simply as a car or the Kia, it's always the Kia Spectra. He also works through conversational terms that are nonsensical to him. I really appreciate this chance to experience Samuel's world, all the while knowing that, from time to time, being with someone like him 24/7 could be exhausting to a person who's not used to it.

This is a series best read in order because, throughout it, Samuel's emotional relationships become deeper and more meaningful. The books aren't merely matters of answering the question du jour and solving the mystery, but also of Samuel becoming more sensitive to the emotions of the people he cares for. Jeff Cohen's Asperger's mysteries are something very special. Readers get to flex their deductive muscles in an attempt to solve some first-rate mysteries, and they are also treated to the gradual development of an extremely interesting character. The Question of the Dead Mistress is the best book in the series so far, and I'm looking forward to reading many more.

The Question of the Dead Mistress by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
eISBN: 9780738755267
Midnight Ink © 2018
eBook, 288 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #5 Asperger's mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley