Friday, May 25, 2018

The Almost Overbooked Weekly Link Round-Up

I've gotten too used to having appointments strung out over several weeks, but there's always an exception, isn't there? This week has been busy, busy, busy-- and not with the usual laundry, etc.

Tuesday, we had (1) a grocery delivery, (2) a lawn spruce-up, (3) pest control (sounds a bit better than what I usually say-- "the bug guy"), and (4) a new windshield to be put on the Jeep. I have to admit that I was a bit worried about it because I thought the chances were good that no one would pay attention to their scheduled show-up times, and they'd all be out in the cul-de-sac fighting over the same parking space.

Huzzah! Although half didn't show up when they were supposed to, there was no fighting for prime parking, and everything went like clockwork. Denis's two doctor's appointments on Wednesday slotted in with everything else that needed to be done, and that day went smoothly, too-- with the added bonus that Denis received nothing but good news from his doctors.

This was all just lovely, but you know what I'm worried about now? That if we try to do all that schedule-everything-on-the-same-day jazz again, it will turn into one big mess. Why? Because that's how my luck usually runs!

Speaking of running, I'd better scurry out to the corral before those links stampede. Head 'em up! Moooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A deaf and partially blind dog named Max stayed with a lost three-year-old girl for more than fifteen hours and led rescuers to her. 
  • A blind dog named OJ and his guide dog get adopted together.
  • A giant, intact egg of the extinct elephant bird has been found in the Buffalo Museum of Science. 
  • The dognapping of Kid Boots Ace
  • What the longest known whale shark migration ever tells us about conservation.
  • Well-meaning rescuers were bitten after mistaking bobcats for domestic kittens.

►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, May 24, 2018

Hunting the Five Point Killer by C.M. Wendelboe

First Line: The middle-aged victim slumped dead in his Barcalounger, one trouser cuff riding up over his snow-white ankle and his zipper splayed open like he expected a happy ending.

It's been ten years since a series of unsolved mysteries rocked Cheyenne, Wyoming, and an ambitious television reporter thinks uncovering the identity of the killer will be her ticket to the big time. She enlists the help of retired detective Arn Anderson, who spent more than thirty years in the Denver Police Department.

When he gets there, Arn doesn't have money to burn, so he moves into the now-derelict family home and starts fixing it up when he's got the time. He's getting nothing but grief from the Cheyenne Police Department, but that's going to change. Because the Five Point Killer doesn't want to be found, and he'll do whatever it takes to remain in the shadows.

I first became aware of C.M. Wendelboe's writing through his Spirit Road trilogy of mysteries set on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I enjoyed all three books and was sad to see the series end. When I learned of this new Bitter Wind series, I couldn't wait to start reading.

Arn Anderson is yet another example of Wendelboe's gift of creating strong characters. He's been a widower for years and has yet to look at another woman. He's just not ready, and-- who knows?-- he may never be ready. He's persistent and has an eye for the telling detail, which finally has him breathing down the neck of the Five Point Killer. It's a pleasure watching this man put clues together. But it's in Arn's personal relationships where he really shines (and where Wendelboe shows his marvelous sense of humor). Arn tries to act tough and hard-hearted, but he's not. All you have to do is watch him with Danny, the homeless man who had moved into Arn's rundown house for the winter.

As I read, it occurred to me that there was only one person who could be the Five Point Killer, and Wendelboe did everything in his power to shake me loose... but it didn't work. And it didn't matter. I enjoy Wendelboe's writing, his sense of humor, the way he has his story unfold-- and the man certainly knows how to ratchet up the suspense. His writing is reminiscent of Craig Johnson's, which is one reason why I like it so much.

Yes, I do like his writing, but this book could've been better. It did need to be tightened up a bit because there were places where the story dragged, but I'm going to go off the reservation here and talk about a couple of things that Wendelboe had no control over. One: the print in the paperback edition is tiny. I finally gave up and bought a digital copy (which shows you how much I was enjoying the story). Two: the proofreaders really let the man down. "Loped" instead of "lopped." "Bitty" instead of "biddy." "Lose" instead of "loose." And-- most surprising-- "neckless" instead of "necklace." (And, no, that wasn't a complete list.) I'm used to reading advance reader's copies of books that do contain errors but to have a finished edition be this poorly done was a shock.

Is this going to dissuade me from reading the next Bitter Wind mystery? Absolutely not. But one can always hope the editing has vastly improved.

Hunting the Five Point Killer by C.M. Wendelboe
eISBN: 9780738753645
Midnight Ink © 2017
eBook, 434 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Bitter Wind mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

First Line: Detective Chief Inspector Maigret of the Flying Squad raised his eyes.

Warned by Interpol that a notorious conman known only as Pietr the Latvian is on a train bound for Paris, Inspector Jules Maigret of the Brigade Criminelle arms himself with what little he has (a description and a few clues) and heads for the Gare du Nord. When he gets there he discovers that several suspects fit the description very well indeed, and it's up to him to deduce which is the real criminal and bring him to justice.

No one can claim to be a true fan of crime fiction without at least having heard of Georges Simenon and his iconic Inspector Maigret. With my rather poor track record in reading classic crime, it's taken me awhile to sample this series. Pietr the Latvian is listed as the very first Maigret mystery, originally published in 1930, and it has all the earmarks of an author trying out new ideas.

From the very beginning, I felt as though I'd been dropped on my head in the midst of the story. Although the feeling of disorientation gradually wore off, it did return from time to time. From the first, there is something grand about Maigret, and it's not just that he's "a mountain of a man." There are some wonderful descriptive passages throughout the book, but there are also places where Simenon drops the plot and wanders a bit-- and I never did quite understand why Pietr the Latvian was such a major criminal.

This new translation reads exceptionally well-- no dated feel to it at all-- but the original was written almost ninety years ago. Simenon was a writer of his time, so if his occasional unflattering references to Jews and Eastern European men are offensive, consider it as a period piece. Even though I could see Simenon experimenting throughout this book, I could also see many instances of brilliant writing and strong storytelling-- proof of what this series would become. I'm not going to be in a huge hurry to continue with Maigret, but this is certainly a series to which I will return.

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon
Translated from the French by David Bellos.
eISBN: 9780698151031
Penguin Books © 2014
Originally published in 1930.
eBook, 176 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Inspector Maigret mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Daisy at Camp Verde

Knowing that a big weather front was due to move through the northern part of Arizona meant that we had to get up to Camp Verde ahead of any possible snow or rain. Daisy had been most enthusiastic about trying out the ziplines at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park, and since Montezuma's Castle was right on the other side of Interstate 17, we were going there, too. Camp Verde is in a history-filled area, and it's also right in the neighborhood of Sedona and Jerome. I've often thought that it would be a nice place to live-- especially since it has a river flowing through it that actually has water in it (the Verde River). Only riverbeds with water in them surprise me now, desert dweller that I am.

Anyway, I've chosen a dozen photos of that day to share with you. We also came away with some good videos, but I've had mixed results (mostly bad) posting videos here on the blog, so I'm leaving them out. Hope you enjoy the day's journey!

Daisy at Montezuma's Castle

Daisy checking out the lower ruins

Out of Africa Wildlife Park entrance

You can explore the grounds in comfort.

Although you could get up close and personal with a giraffe!

Tiger Splash is a very popular attraction.

I'd rather be in the pool with the tiger than go zip lining!

Lions catching some rays.

With the zip line tower in the background, this lioness looks as though she's waiting for lunch.

More of the zip line towers. The stairs alone would do me in!

Daisy the Zip Line Queen

She didn't enjoy herself at all. Nope. Not one little bit!

As for you, which will it be? On the zip lines with Daisy, or in the pool with the tigers and me?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni

First Line: Tracy Crosswhite watched the minivan pull into the parking lot, noting a car seat strapped into the backseat and a yellow "Child on Board" placard dangling in the window.

Tracy Crosswhite is back working the Homicide Division of the Seattle Police Department after the sensational retrial of her sister's killer. With her luck (or lack thereof), she's immediately plunged into the hunt for a serial killer who's been named The Cowboy.

The Cowboy is killing young women in cheap motels in North Seattle, and Tracy is determined to bring him to justice. With more victims dying and clues being difficult to find, she realizes that the solution may lie in a ten-year-old homicide investigation that others-- including her boss, Captain Johnny Nolasco-- would prefer to remain buried. There's only one thing wrong: while Tracy is searching for the evidence to put The Cowboy away, she's moving to the top of The Cowboy's list of victims.

My review could be wrapped up in short order: Her Final Breath is, quite simply, a pleasure to read. However, most people do expect more in a review. Dugoni has crafted a truly puzzling, well-paced mystery with a main character whom I'm learning to like more and more with each book in the series that I read.

Tracy is saddled with an obnoxious boss, and Nolasco really has it in for her. The problem is-- like a cat-- he seems to have nine lives and to always land on his feet. I am really looking forward to continuing with this series because this character certainly deserves to have Karma slap him right upside the head.

Dan, the attorney Tracy met in My Sister's Grave, shows up once again and does some very valuable research for her regarding The Cowboy. The rest of the supporting cast performs ably, especially the detectives who work closely with Tracy because they think the world of her but don't always like the way she behaves.

Tracy Crosswhite herself is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Give her a goal and she gets tunnel vision, not wanting to stop until the bad guy is behind bars. This may lead to some impulsive behavior from time to time, but she does use common sense and her heart is always with the victims and their families. (She's been in their shoes.) One of the many things I like about this character is that although her focus on the job is tremendous, she nevertheless takes the time to share her knowledge and expertise with other women trying to make their way in the police department.

Characters and story. Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite series has both in abundance, and I'm really looking forward to reading my way through this series.

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni
eISBN: 9781503945029
Thomas & Mercer © 2015
eBook, 424 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Tracy Crosswhite mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Monday, May 21, 2018

CozyCon 2018, Part One

As our niece Daisy's time with us was drawing to a close, one of the last things we did together was to attend The Poisoned Pen's annual CozyCon which showcases authors who write cozy mysteries.

We arrived early-- as we always do-- and Daisy took the time to go shopping on Scottsdale's famous Main Street. When she got back, she said she wished she'd had more time, so I'm envisioning her next visit to include a longer shopping expedition there.

This year nine authors were attending CozyCon, and they were split into three panels. I'm going to do one panel per post due to time limitations. The authors in the first panel were Jane K. Cleland, Vicki Delany, and Teresa Dovalpage.

L to R: Jane K. Cleland & Barbara Peters
While telling us how things were scheduled, host Barbara Peters told us that her husband Rob had made curd and marmalade from the lemons on their tree. We would be able to have the lemon curd with cake during the breaks, and the lemon marmalade would be one of the prizes handed out during the event. I'll tell you now before I forget: that lemon curd was to die for-- absolutely the best I've ever eaten. (Now that I've reminded myself of it, I'd dearly love to drive over to their house, knock on the door, and say, "Please sir, may I have some more?" But my momma raised me with some manners. One does not go begging at 1 AM!)

In the photo to the right behind Jane Cleland, you can get a glimpse of a Japanese print which figures in Cleland's latest mystery, Antique Blues. We got to see an original print, which was lovely and showed us what Jane was talking about in the different shades of blue.

Jane K. Cleland
"One of the reasons why I like Jane's books so much is that I get to learn stuff," Barbara Peters said. "I have always trusted Jane's research because she's very diligent in that regard.

"One of the things I found interesting in this book is that you're forever striving to expand the lives of your characters and of Prescott Antiques, which started out when she was involved in an auction house scandal in New York and moved to New Hampshire to reboot her life.

"Josie's creating her own little empire. I don't want to spoil anything in the book for you, so I'll just say that Josie makes an interesting decision or two that is going to open up the theater for Prescott Antiques in future books."

Teresa Dovalpage
Barbara turned to the next author. "So, Teresa, here you are from Santa Fe, and your book (Death Comes in Through the Kitchen) is set in Cuba but not recently, just a little further back, right?"

"Yes, because I left in '96, so I did a bit of research to make sure that some of the things I mentioned in the book are still standing and had not been demolished because the book is set in 2003."

"So some of the things involving the transfer of power with the Castros had not occurred."

"That's for the next book," Teresa said.

"Oh, you don't want to move that far ahead!" Barbara replied. "Tell us a bit about the CIA. I loved that!"

"A character is entering Cuba, and one of the ID cards he has says 'CIA'--Culinary Institute of America-- but he is detained for hours because the customs agents at the airport believe he's from the Central Intelligence Agency," Teresa explained. "I've had people tell me that that couldn't have happened, but it really did!"

"This well-intentioned, naive American comes to Cuba to meet a young woman who writes a food blog," Barbara said. "I wouldn't describe this book as a cozy in the traditional sense, but it does have really great food. Did you yourself vet all the recipes?"

L to R: Vicki Delany & Teresa Dovalpage
"Yes. Actually, the book started because of the recipes," Teresa replied. "I didn't want to lose all the recipes my grandmother used to make, but I didn't want to write a cookbook. I don't cook that well anyway. But I could incorporate the recipes into a story. It was a challenge, but a challenge I enjoyed. I tell people that I know I have an accent when I speak, but I assure them that I do not have an accent when I write!"

Then it was Vicki Delany's turn. "Vicki is here from Canada," Barbara told us. "In the past, we've talked about your Constable Molly Smith mysteries and your three standalone books, which are terrific, but you've now embarked on a new path in writing cozies. Tell us about your Lighthouse Library mystery coming in June."

"The Lighthouse Library series was published by Penguin Books under the pen name Eva Gates, and they're set in an actual place-- the Bodie Island Lighthouse outside Nags Head, North Carolina," Vicki said. "As I say in my introduction to the books, there's no way the real building could house a library, offices, a children's library, an apartment, and even a room for a cat, so it's my interpretation of the Tardis or Hermione Granger's handbag-- far far bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

"I liked writing that series, and it was my first attempt at writing cozies, but it fell victim to the Great Penguin Massacre..."

"In which they dropped six hundred series," Barbara said. "Six hundred of nine hundred series."

"Well, that was the end of that I thought," Vicki continued, "but the new publisher, Crooked Lane Books picked it up, and I'm absolutely delighted that the newest book in the series, The Spook in the Stacks, will be out in June. My year-round Christmas series survived at Penguin. The third one, Hark the Herald Angels Slay, came out in November, and they have contracted for the fourth."

Vicki Delany
"So you're just basically sitting around making stuff up," said Barbara with a twinkle in her eye.

"Well, that's what we do here, Barbara!" Vicki said.

"Tell us about your Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series," Barbara prompted.

"Actually, it's my favorite of all the things I've written simply because I'm having so much fun with it," Vicki said. [I can attest to this because Vicki showed me the pair of Sherlock Holmes socks she'd just purchased, and she told me they would be making an appearance in the next book she writes.]  "It's set in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. I knew I wanted to write a series set in a bookstore, but I knew I needed a hook. It didn't take long for me to realize that it would be totally feasible to have a store dedicated solely to Sherlock Holmes and all the pastiche as well as all the merchandise.

"I've loved creating this series, and the main character is Sherlockian. She has that Sherlock Holmes mindset. I feel that it's a typical cozy with a bit of an edge. It's set in a nice town on Cape Cod, in a nice bookshop, and Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room is next door. Gemma Doyle has a bit of an edge because she's not that sweet as cozy characters generally are. She can be rude and she can be abrupt."

"And she's probably not a cocaine user which would be really Sherlockian," Barbara added. "Although with medical marijuana...."

"There's a thought!" Vicki exclaimed. "The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop, Emporium, and Marijuana Dispensary. Jenn McKinlay, I have the next big thing in cozy mystery series-- the Marijuana Dispensary Mysteries!"

"It's a cash and carry business," Barbara quipped.

"Don't forget about the marijuana brownies for Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room," someone in the audience said, who shall remain nameless (but she must have been channeling a certain episode of Barney Miller).

"I'm making a mental note of that as we speak," Vicki said. "I could even have the recipe in the back of the book."

"And Teresa can write it out for you in Spanish," Barbara added. "You can see how addictive series like these can be when you start making stuff up."

And you can see how addictive attending CozyCon can be, can't you? Stop by next Monday when you'll be able to attend part two of The Poisoned Pen's CozyCon 2018!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Gift that Keeps on Giving Weekly Link Round-Up

I'm still eyebrow deep in photos--which wasn't helped by the visit Denis and I made to the Desert Botanical Garden Wednesday where I took 283 more photos. So I'm going to chat about this and that.

Denis and I are members of the Desert Botanical Garden, and our membership is a gift that just keeps on giving. I always see something new each and every time I go there, and I'll be sharing photos of the new plants I saw in the days to come.

If we lived in Tucson, I know we'd be members of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is the best of both worlds as far as I'm concerned-- both zoo and garden. The photo to the left is one that I took when Daisy, Denis and I were there. Why did I take it? Because I'd never before seen flower buds on a teddy bear cholla. May not mean much to you, but it was pretty special to me. I just wish we'd been there when they were in full bloom!

And while I'm on the subject of gifts, I received a book from someone this week, the latest in a series that I once enjoyed but no longer read. I greatly appreciate the gift, and although I won't be reading the book, I have passed it along to someone who was absolutely thrilled to receive it. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Getting the right books in the right hands at the right time?

Ack! Before I begin stumbling into philosophy, I'd better head on out to the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • According to author Sophie Hannah, it's no mystery that crime is the biggest-selling genre in books.
  • There may be hope for eliminating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch-- scientists have accidentally produced an enzyme that devours plastic
  • How small local presses have turned Los Angeles into a publishing town.
  • Rare nineteenth-century books were found unexpectedly during a police investigation.
  • The jaw-dropping city of books at Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City.

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Skeletons from a Napoleonic battlefield shed light on the soldiers' health.
  • The wreck of a rare German U-boat has been found after 73 years.
  • A thirteen-year-old boy and an amateur archaeologist have unearthed a legendary Danish king's treasure trove in Germany. Here's another article about King Harald Bluetooth's trove. 
  • This remarkable charm bracelet chronicles life inside a concentration camp. 
  • 1,200 artworks were stuffed into a three-story Quincy, Massachusetts home. Now a collection is being unveiled.
  • Mysterious 600-year-old dodgy dice have been discovered in a medieval gambling den.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Nearly 1,400 basking sharks were spotted in a mysterious gathering off the East Coast.
  • Python trackers find a record breeding group in Florida.
  • A very angry badger wreaked havoc in a 500-year-old Scottish castle.
  • Skull surgery was performed on this Stone Age cow.

►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, May 17, 2018

The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

First Line: I am lying so still.

Just as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson return from their famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs. Hudson falls ill and finds herself in bed in a private hospital ward. As the days pass, she learns that all of the other women in the room seem to have more than their fair share of secrets... and it may be her imagination, but a higher number of deaths seem to occur in this ward, too. In fact, on her very first night, Mrs. Hudson could swear that she witnessed a murder. Or was it the effects of the pain medication?

Meanwhile, Mary Watson has heard about young boys disappearing all across London, and she's determined to find them, save them, and reunite them all with their families. What the two women don't expect is that their separate investigations are going to collide in some very surprising ways.

My love affair with this series continues, and now I'm impatiently waiting for book number three. The House at Baker Street and now The Women of Baker Street are for all of us who just knew that there was more to Mrs. Hudson than met Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's eye. Michelle Birkby's imagination is a delight. Holmes and Watson are supportive but stay out of the women's way. Mrs. Hudson is extremely observant and filled with common sense while Mary Watson is intuitive and impulsive. We get to know more about the Baker Street Irregulars, and who knew that it would be so hard to find good help, what with all the crooks trying to plant spies in Sherlock Holmes' residence?

Birkby is very adept at pacing, as well as ratcheting up the tension and suspense (and the occasional creep factor, too). Her misdirection is excellent; she had me fooled even though I'd deduced the importance of a specific location within a certain room. Yes, the mystery-- and how it is told-- is excellent, but it's what Birkby does with Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson that really wins me over. Holmes trusts his landlady so much that she's the only one in whom he confides his secrets about Jack the Ripper, and Dr. Watson tells her, "Make sure you solve it... It's good for him to have rivals." There are even flashes of humor that make me laugh out loud-- especially the bit about Mrs. Hudson contemplating the demise of a pair of knitting needles.

Even though I can't begin to conceive of crime fiction without Sherlock Holmes, I've never particularly liked him. However, there are so many wonderful series now that add to the Holmes canon by taking a closer look at characters Conan-Doyle kept in the shadows, and Michelle Birkby's is one of the best. I look forward to many more investigations conducted by these two indomitable women. Hats off to Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson!

The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
ISBN:  9781509809738
Pan Books © 2017
Paperback, 347 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Mrs. Hudson & Mary Watson mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Book Depository