Friday, August 23, 2019

A Let the Light In Weekly Link Round-Up

The week after the successful window installation was spent with lots of new curtains. Four windows had old wooden blinds that have since been taken out to the curb where someone snapped them up, put them in the back of their truck, and headed to parts unknown. Now light, crisp white sheer curtains are at the new windows (along with others to prevent nosey parkers from making me feel like I'm living in a goldfish bowl), and Denis is in a state of euphoria. (By the way-- that goldfish bowl comment? Living next-door to a peeping Tom for a decade changes the way you feel toward being able to see in your windows from the outside!)

Not our house or curtains, but you get the idea!
It really didn't occur to me that Denis would have such a strong reaction to the new windows, but it should have. When it comes to our eyes, Denis and I have opposite "problems." I don't deal well with very bright light and consider dark sunglasses to be one of my besties. Denis does not function well at all in low light (which means that I've been momentarily blinded many, many times during the years we've been married).

Especially if you have old windows here in Phoenix, you tend to leave the curtains closed during the summer. I've had thermal-lined and/or blackout curtains for years. They help keep the heat out and prevent furniture, rugs, etc. from fading. With these new windows, Denis has been blissfully opening the curtains and leaving them open all day-- and the house is still cool. His joy has made me realize that the poor man has probably felt as though he were living in a cave for years. Nothing like being slow on the uptake!

Never fear, I will share some photos of the window installation, probably just the transformation of one window so you won't be bored to tears. Just give me a week or two.

Now it's time to mosey out to the corral. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Hungry brown bears that took over Slovenia's forests face being shot before they reach the villages. 
  • A diver snapped incredible photos with a jellyfish "as big as him" off the British coast. 
  • 140 million years ago, a bird-like dinosaur swallowed a lizard whole. Here's why its final meal is exciting researchers.
  • Why this whale ancestor is an evolutionary surprise.
  • One of the largest subspecies of giraffes is declared endangered.
  • Chicago finally caught the alligator living in Humboldt Park after nearly a week of searching.
  • The Audubon Photography Award winners show the breathtaking beauty of wild birds
  • A study has found that insects can experience chronic pain.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • He took down dams, freed wolves, and preserved wildlands. Bruce Babbitt is still at work. 
  • Edna Buchanan. She was Edna Rydzik in Jersey. In Miami, she was the hardboiled crime writer who defined an era and left a complex legacy.
  • Etta Place, the Queen of the Wild Bunch.
  • Alan Turing will be the new face of Britain's £50 note.
  • We're so lucky that we have Inspector Montalbano to remember him by. Andrea Camilleri has died at the age of 93. Articles from the BBC, The Guardian, and a second from The Guardian.

►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.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien

First Line: You know in the movies when someone says "You can't fire me, I quit!" ... maybe don't do that in real life.

After a break-up and a workplace walk-out, the only place left for Lana Lee to go was back home to Cleveland, Ohio and the family business, the Ho-Lee Noodle House. Waiting tables while putting her life back together has its ups and downs-- especially since her mother is determined to find Lana a husband.

But Lana's love life takes a back seat when the restaurant's property manager turns up dead after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. Everyone on staff is dumbfounded because they all knew Mr. Feng was allergic to shellfish. With the good name of the restaurant as well as her own in jeopardy, it looks as though Lana will be waiting tables and investigating a murder... although that police detective sure is good-looking...

After seeing this series recommended by several readers whose opinions I trust, I thought I'd introduce myself to Lana Lee. Going in, I knew it was going to be a dicey proposition because I am definitely not a fan of characters whose main purpose in life is browbeating their offspring into marriage. Fortunately, the matchmaking moved from center stage once the investigation into Mr. Feng's death went into full gear. As someone who prefers little-to-no romance in my mysteries, I also liked the fact that the budding attraction between Lana and the police detective was very lightly done.

Death by Dumpling is a nice, solid, even excellent, beginning to Vivien Chien's Noodle Shop series. The mystery did keep me guessing, which is always a plus. However, the characters just didn't grab me, but keep in mind that I certainly seem to be in the minority here!

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien
eISBN: 9781250129161
St. Martin's Press © 2018
eBook, 331 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Noodle Shop mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I Have John Marrs Covered!

It's been a few months since I've had a Cover-Off, and after reading John Marrs' The Passengers, I thought I'd revive my cover comparison series with this thriller, about driverless cars running amok in England. (You'll be able to read my review of the book next week.)

Let's take a look!

The UK Cover

The simple design and color palette of the UK cover makes the skull-and-crossbones dashboard light pop. "Eight intended victims. Who lives, who dies? You decide." is catchy and does make me want to pick up the book and take a look. Since John Marrs is a UK author, the blurbs about him on this cover don't really mean a thing; however, now that I've read the book, they will help me look up his other books. All in all, this is one very understated cover, and I have to admit that it really doesn't speak to me all that much.

The US Cover

On the other hand, the US cover does speak to me. The catchy "Who lives? Who dies? You decide." is right at the top, and there is the de rigueur blurb, this time from the Los Angeles Times, but it's the graphic that catches my eye. A car traveling at speed... with that one hand showing in the window, desperate to get out. The graphic definitely makes me want to pick up the book.

My Choice

As you can tell by what I said about each one, it's the US cover that wins this Cover-Off. How about you? Which do you prefer-- UK? US? Too close to call? Neither one? Inquiring minds would love to know!


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Second Biggest Nothing by Colin Cotterill

First Line: Dr. Siri was standing in front of Daeng's noodle shop when she pulled up on the bicycle.

Life in 1980 Vientiane is good. Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 76-year-old former national coroner of Laos is doing very well... until he finds a note tied to his dog's tail. Once interpreted, Siri learns that the note is a death threat addressed to him and everyone he holds dear that promises the "job" will be carried out in two weeks.

At first, Siri doesn't take the threat all that seriously, but once his wife and friends talk sense to him, he now has to figure out who wants him dead-- and when you've lived a long and adventurous life like Siri-- that's not easy.

Three incidents come to mind. One, a meeting with his lifelong friend Civilai in Paris in the 1930s. The second, a disruptive visit to a Saigon art museum in 1958, and last, a prisoner of war negotiation in Hanoi in the 1970s. Will Siri arrive at the truth in time to save the people he loves?

The Second Biggest Nothing is another strong entry in a series that satisfies on so many levels. First and foremost, Cotterill has created one of the best casts of characters in crime fiction. He also gives readers a true sense of what life was like in Communist Laos in the 1970s and 80s-- including just a touch of the mysticism that is a part of the culture. He's also a dab hand at creating intriguing mysteries, and he certainly knows how to make us think, make us empathize, and make us laugh.

There are some very nice twists and turns in the plot of The Second Biggest Nothing. I'd narrowed down the incident at the heart of the death threat against Siri and his loved ones, but my deductive powers failed me at the very end. That's always fun for someone who reads as many mysteries as I do.

But no matter how good the mysteries and the evocation of a time and place are in this series--and this book-- the beating heart of it all is found in that marvelous cast of characters. Cotterill shows us that Communists are pretty much just like us, which is probably something not everyone wants to read (but should). This latest book in the series gives longtime fans a special treat by letting us visit with Siri and Civilai when they are young men in Paris. It's always good to be able to learn some of the backstories in an older character's life.

However-- no matter how good the stories are (and they are)-- it's what Cotterill has to say through his characters that means the most to me. Through the years, Siri and his wife Daeng have created their own tribe, their own family. This family contains doctors, police officers, nurses, politicians, and restauranteurs, but it also has members with psychiatric problems, others with Down syndrome, etc. The philosophy of Siri and Daeng's tribe is that everyone has value and should be treated accordingly. Seeing all these characters live, work, investigate, and laugh together is wonderful.

By all means, read this series. Read it for the mysteries. Read it for the characters. But read it to absorb what it has to say about the human race.

See what I mean about Cotterill's books satisfying on so many levels?

The Second Biggest Nothing by Colin Cotterill
eISBN: 9781641290623
Soho Crime © 2019
eBook, 265 pages

Historical Mystery, #14 Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery
Rating: A
Source: the publisher

Monday, August 19, 2019

Old Bones by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

First Line: Night had come early to the City of Lights, and by 1:00 AM, with the moon obscured by thick clouds, Paris no longer lived up to its name.

When historian Clive Benton discovers a journal giving the location of the "Lost Camp" of the Donner Party, there's only one archaeologist he wants to work with. He's done his homework and Nora Kelly is talented, dedicated, and knows the high Sierra Nevadas well.

Nora agrees to lead an expedition to locate and excavate the site-- the third camp belonging to the infamous Donner Party that in 1847, trapped by twenty-five feet of snow, had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.

The team soon learns that finding the Lost Camp is only the first step in an expedition leading them deeper and deeper into shock and fear. As the old bones are uncovered, Nora and her team expose what really happened, and this knowledge leads to present-day violence on a grand scale. It's Rookie FBI agent Corrie Swanson's first case-- and it may be her last.

I've always been an easy mark for a mystery steeped in history, and Old Bones is an excellent example. I grew up close to where the Donner Party started out in 1847, and that tale of being trapped by brutal winter weather in an unforgiving land and being forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive has always held a strange fascination for me. Preston and Child flesh out (pun guiltily intended) their story with the history of the Donner Party, a bit of genetics, a marvelous wilderness setting, some archaeology, and-- why not?-- a bit of treasure.

The story is fast-paced, and I really enjoyed getting to know both archaeologist Nora Kelly and rookie FBI agent Corrie Swanson. Prendergast fans will be happy to know that he does make an appearance in this book, but it's really all Nora and Corrie-- and I am definitely looking forward to more.

eISBN: 9781538747216
Grand Central Publishing © 2019
eBook, 385 pages

Thriller, #1 Nora Kelly mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley

Sunday, August 18, 2019

On My Radar: Donis Casey's The Wrong Girl!

If you've been with me for very long, you know that Donis Casey's Alafair Tucker historical mystery series is one of my favorites. Having had the pleasure of meeting and talking with her several times, I knew that she did not want to continue the series into the Depression. I also knew that Casey had a built-in way to have her series "branch out" into fresh, green pastures-- Alafair's huge brood of independent-minded children.

As the children grow up and move out on their own, readers are treated to new adventures that Alafair can still have a part in because fans know she will always be a part of her children's lives.

You should have heard my little crow of delight when I saw proof of Casey's plan. Let me share it with you so you'll be ready to grab it when it's released!

Available November 11, 2019!

"Blanche Tucker longs to escape her drop-dead dull life in tiny Boynton, Oklahoma. Then dashing Graham Peyton roars into town. Posing as a film producer, Graham convinces the ambitious but naive teenager to run away with him to a glamorous new life. Instead, Graham uses her as cruelly as a silent picture villain. Yet by luck and by pluck, taking charge of her life, she makes it to Hollywood.

Six years later, Blanche has transformed into the celebrated Bianca LaBelle, the reclusive star of a series of adventure films, and Peyton's remains are discovered on a Santa Monica beach. Is there a connection? With all of the twists and turns of a 1920s melodrama, The Wrong Girl follows the daring exploits of a girl who chases her dream from the farm to old Hollywood, while showing just how risky—and rewarding—it can be to go off script."

I don't know about you, but ever since I read The Great Gatsby, I've loved reading about the 1920s, and the early days of Hollywood are the icing on my cake. A young girl champing at the bit to get out of a tiny little "nowhere town" is the perfect way for Donis Casey to keep on writing about the characters readers have come to know and love. I can't wait to read The Wrong Girl, and I hope you'll add it to your own pre-orders and wishlists!

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Joys of Home Renovation Weekly Link Round-Up

Casa Kittling was built in 1952. I've lived in it since 1981. (Denis since 2001.) Most-- but not all-- of its windows are original to the house. Denis and I both knew that replacing the rest of the windows was l-o-n-g overdue, so this was #1 on our to-do list. But, as is the case with so many home renovation projects, there's been a problem or two along the road of execution.

This household runs in accordance with Denis's work schedule, 2 PM to midnight. We get to bed around 3 AM and get up around 10 AM. The window installers wanted to show up at 6:30 AM. With the climate here in Phoenix, they want to start early and finish before the "insane" heat has taken hold. This made perfect sense to us, so during the first (and supposedly only) week of the installation on Denis's days off, we adjusted our schedule. In bed around 11 PM and rousting out at 5 AM (me) or 5:45 AM (Denis). Let me show you one of the windows that is being replaced.

This is the hole where the big picture window was at the front of the house. I chose this one so you could also get a glimpse of my TBR shelves. (I know you so well.) There's something unsettling about walking past huge holes in the walls of your house that insects and birds can fly through at will...

There was a problem installing the new picture window and a lot of chiseling had to be done before they could get it to fit. It took them all day just working on this one window, and the trim still has to be done. I won't even mention the other five windows that still need to be installed. The very next day, one of the installers was sick, so they told us two hours after they were supposed to be here that they weren't coming at all. We have their trailer, a bunch of windows leaning against the side of the house, and their tools, and all this stuff will be sitting around until next Monday (which is really last Monday by the time you'll be able to read this).

I am not pleased with the course of events, but I'm concentrating on new curtains and books. Denis is practically in a state of euphoria. He's gone around with one of his trusty gadgets checking the temperature on the inside and outside of the new glass. On the inside, the temperature is 80°. On the outside, the temperature is well over 100°-- and the window is currently in the shade. We have curtains up on that big picture window, but they're open-- and the room is COOL. That's never happened before in living memory! Can you imagine what the house is going to be like once all the windows have been replaced?

So... installation woes, but it's going to be fantastic once everything is done. Now it's time for those links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Thousands of endangered animals were seized in a customs operation. 
  • The discovery of a raptor-like dinosaur adds a new wrinkle to the origin of birds.
  • Goats may be able to tell when their buddies are feeling good or baaad.
  • Funny! --A video shows a determined cockatoo methodically removing strips of anti-bird spikes that line a perfect place to perch. 
  • Thanks to light pollution, we're losing Nemo.
  • Fossil of 99 million-year-old bird with a giant toe has been found in Burma. 
  • Mussels' sticky threads could inspire ways to clean up oil spills, purify water, and more.
  • Tanzania says their elephant and rhino populations are rebounding after an anti-poaching crackdown.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Denise Mina, a modern crime queen weighs in on podcast investigators, celebrity culture, and one more road-trip novel before Brexit.
  • S.I. Huang: Five ways my background as a stuntwoman and armorer helped me become a crime writer (and one way it didn't).
  • English pastry chef Annabel de Vetten creates made-to-order cakes that look like beautiful nightmares. (I love her nickname.)

►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, August 15, 2019

Carrion Comfort by Aline Templeton

First Line: In high summer on the bleak northern coast of Scotland where the land at last gives way to the hungry seas, it is never completely dark.

When the body of a man is found in a derelict cottage, Detective Chief Inspector Kelso Strang is sent from Edinburgh to head the investigation. When he arrives in the village that's not far from Thurso, he finds that he'll be working with the over-eager constable Livvy Murray again, but even worse, he's been saddled with a lazy, offensive sergeant. Once he begins checking out the scene and talking with the locals, he finds even more.

Gabrielle thinks she's losing her mind. Still recovering from a nervous breakdown triggered by her beloved father's death and the loss of her unborn child, she's now suffering from bewildering and frightening losses of memory. The other major shareholder of her father's business is looking for any excuse to take over, so Gabrielle must act normally and not trust anyone.

With his boss wanting the case wrapped up as fast as possible, Strang keeps digging into the fractured minefield of local relationships and resentments. He's learned that one dead businessman has cast a very long shadow-- and he wants everything brought into the light.

When Aline Templeton began her Kelso Strang police procedural series with Human Face, I thought the concept was brilliant. Strang is the head of the Serious Rural Crimes Squad, which means this series will take readers into small towns and villages all over Scotland. Most of my favorite locations in Scotland are remote, so having a series like this created by one of my favorite writers makes my heart sing.

The area (not far from Thurso, which is way up on the north coast) and the locals come to life, and I was thrilled to hear that the creation of the North Coast 500 scenic route (touted as Scotland's Route 66) is bringing in needed tourism dollars. The setting and the mystery are tightly woven, atmospheric, and lend themselves to keeping the characters and readers off-balance.

Templeton's always good with setting and mystery, but it's her characters that are the shining stars in any of her books. Carrion Comfort is no exception. The quiet, almost secretive, Strang has his own domestic drama concerning his sister, and I'm looking forward to how that pans out in the next book. Readers also get to experience the on-going training of bright and pushy Livvy Murray, a young woman who must learn not to start forming theories before she's gathered the facts.

One fact that's brought home throughout the book is how thoroughly one man can affect the lives of so many others, even after his death. I was reminded time and again of an old Ingrid Bergman film as I read, but that's all I'm going to say about that in case there are other old movie buffs reading this. It may not be everyone else's cup of tea, but I absolutely love Templeton's characterizations because readers are allowed inside each person's mind. We see what they see, we hear their voices, we learn how they think. The way I see it, this is a gift for all armchair sleuths when it's in the hands of someone as talented as Templeton.

Carrion Comfort is another extremely enjoyable mystery from Templeton. I highly recommend both this Kelso Strang series and her previous Marjory Fleming police procedural series set in the southwest of Scotland. Both are wonderful.

Carrion Comfort by Aline Templeton
eISBN: 9780749024208
Allison & Busby © 2018
eBook, 448 pages

Police Procedural, #2 DI Kelso Strang mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.