Monday, April 22, 2019

The Mermaid's Scream by Kate Ellis

First Lines: 12 April 1884. Today the puppets have come to town.

Most blame Wynn Staniland's wife's suicide on the literary legend becoming a recluse. He's been happily avoiding any and all media since the 1980s. But now Zac Wilkinson is working on Staniland's biography, and he's counting on the information he's found to rocket his book to the top of the bestseller lists.

When Wilkinson's body is discovered, Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson's investigation finds links to the unexplained poisonings of a couple at a caravan park-- and Wynn Staniland appears to be the connection.

When Peterson's son becomes involved, the case turns personal. As Peterson unravels decades of secrets and deception, he even suspects that a sinister puppet show might provide the solution to a real-life Victorian murder mystery that inspired Staniland's best-known novel.

When it comes to blending history, mystery, and two complimentary timelines, few can do it as well as Kate Ellis. In The Mermaid's Scream, readers solve murders in both past and present: the murder of Mary Field in the Victorian era and the murder of writer Zac Wilkinson in the present. Alternating chapters from the journals of John Lipton and Mary Field provide clues to both murders because, as we all know, the present is always tied to the past. Ellis also shows us how popular the topic of death was in Victorian England with its murderous traveling puppet shows and high attendance at public executions.

As always with any Wesley Peterson mystery, the characters' lives are important. This time around, Wesley's boss Gerry Heffernan is faced with a surprise, Pam is recuperating from a health issue, and Pam and Wesley's son Michael proves that teenagers' judgment isn't always the best. Ellis has one of the best "families" of characters to be found in a long-running mystery series, and this is the major reason why I never miss a book. She even makes characters who have small "walk on" parts (like community support officer Barbara Smith) memorable.

But Ellis's talents with history and mystery are huge draws, too. There are two houses involved in mystery: Newfield Manor where legend has it that Mary Field was murdered, and Addersacre-- what a sinister name!-- the house where recluse Wynn Staniland lives with his daughter. I found the character of Staniland to have touches of both J.D. Salinger and Ted Hughes. All that being said, however, I do have to admit that I didn't find the mystery to be quite as satisfying in The Mermaid's Scream, although it's still a cracking good read that makes you want to turn the pages faster and faster. By book's end, there are so many people who aren't who they claimed to be that I needed a scorecard as I tried to sort them all out.

Still, that's a minor quibble when I think of the rest of the book and its characters-- and the consistently high quality of this remarkable series. If you haven't sampled one of Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson mysteries, I highly recommend them. It is possible to read them as standalones, but since the characters' lives are integral to the books, I do suggest that you begin at the beginning with The Merchant's House.    

The Mermaid's Scream by Kate Ellis
eISBN: 9780349413105
Piatkus © 2017
eBook, 400 pages

Police Procedural, #21 Wesley Peterson mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Wings and Blooms at Butterfly Wonderland

Last week, after an aborted attempt to visit the Desert Botanical Garden (we'll try again this week), Denis and I drove out to the eastern fringes of Scottsdale to Butterfly Wonderland and had a fantastic time. I  thought I'd share a few of our photos with you. (Each of us took about 150, so this is a few!)

I found myself appreciating the desert landscaping outside.

The flowering climbing vines up the columns, too!

Before you enter the conservatory, you can watch new butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. (db)

Inside the conservatory. Listed as a "rainforest experience," do not enter if high humidity is your enemy! (db)

There's even a koi pond and waterfall. (db)

One of their favorite places on me to rest was my collar. (db)

There are also tiny birds and small chickens in the conservatory. (db)

As you can see, bowls of sliced fruit in the sun are wildly popular. (db)

Color coordinated! (db)

Their Very Hungry Caterpillar celebration is popular with children.


This malachite butterfly liked the camouflage of bamboo.

You never know where you'll see a butterfly.

Some succulents love high humidity and misting systems.

Those orange-spotted butterflies are so striking. They're called Catonephele.

You never know what's going to be keeping an eye on you-- like this little tree frog!

I hope you enjoyed your visit to Butterfly Wonderland!

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Pitter Patter of Little Feet Weekly Link Round-Up

Between the weather and the two of us not checking our plans and dates more carefully, it's a wonder that Denis and I ever get to go anywhere. Monday, we headed to the Desert Botanical Garden to check on all the blooms only to get there and find that that was the day Antiques Roadshow was filming. Duh. Since we were already out and about, we decided to head out to east Scottsdale to Butterfly Wonderland and OdySea Aquarium on the off chance that the heaving herds of humanity had lessened. They had. Whew!

Harry Houdini
I was quite popular with the winged beauties. They took up residence on my shirt, my arms, my legs, and-- most especially-- my hair. In fact, another visitor scurried over to me once to tell me that I had four butterflies in my hair. (Unfortunately, Denis wasn't around so no photo op.)

I didn't need to be told. I could feel the pitter patter of tiny feet on my head, arms, and neck. When Denis and I left, I had not one, not two, but three people checking me for stowaways. I was giving myself the once-over, too. A few minutes later, I was checking out the Reptiles of the Amazon exhibit when I happened to look down at my upper arm to see Harry Houdini, the escape artist. You can see him there in the photo. Somehow, he managed to avoid four sets of eyes to make it to the outside. If only he'd kept still a little while longer, he would've made it all the way to freedom. But, alas, he's back in with his buddies. Sorry, Harry, but you're not a desert butterfly, and I didn't want you to fry in the sun!

Now... on to the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A baby monkey has been born using frozen testicular tissue, giving hope for infertile childhood cancer survivors.
  • Thousands of invasive cane toads have overtaken a Florida community.
  • The cat who single-handedly rendered a species extinct.
  • How do scientists know what colors prehistoric animals were?
  • A 50,000-pound whale tucked a scuba diver under its fin to protect her from a nearby shark.
  • The Nicobar pigeon, the closest living relative to the dodo bird, dazzles with vibrant iridescent plumage. Trust me, this isn't your run-of-the-mill urban pigeon!
  • "Super Mom" has been spotted on a Minnesota lake-- with 56 ducklings in tow.
  • There's only one place in the United States where it's legal to swim with wild manatees.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Peter Benchley, the writer of Jaws, regretted his depiction of sharks and became an ocean activist.
  • The bold accomplishments of women of color need to be a bigger part of suffrage history.
  • John Sato, the 95-year-old World War II vet who took four buses to protest racism in New Zealand. 
  • Roxie Laybourne, the feather detective who changed aviation.
  • Eliza Leslie, the most influential cookbook writer of the 19th century.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Welcome to Noraville, the small Maryland town rebuilt by Nora Roberts.
  • Tourists flock to this poison garden, but a trip there could prove to be fatal. (It wasn't for me. I've been there three times!) 

►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, April 18, 2019

Scrublands by Chris Hammer

First Lines: The day is still. The heat, having eased during the night, is building again; the sky is cloudless and unforgiving, the sun punishing.

A year ago, an isolated rural community plagued by endless drought faced the unthinkable: the local priest killed five parishioners before being killed himself. Now journalist Martin Scarsden is there to write a piece for his newspaper. How have the people of Riversend coped with the tragedy during the past year?

It doesn't take long for Martin to realize that the accepted conclusion made by police, media, and townspeople may be wrong. And just as he feels that he's making progress, the bodies of two backpackers-- missing since the shootings-- are discovered in a dam in the scrublands, a deserted backwoods marked by frequent brush fires. Once more, Riversend is buried alive with a heaving mass of representatives from every branch of the media, and Martin's job just got a whole lot harder. What was the real reason behind the priest's shooting spree, and does it connect to the backpacker murders? As strange things happen all around him, Martin finds himself risking everything he has to learn the truth-- even his life.

From the very beginning, Chris Hammer's Scrublands grabbed me by the throat and drew me right into the heart of the story. For one thing, I love reading books written by people with a literal as well as a poetic understanding of heat. Must be because I've lived in the Sonoran Desert for many years. But it was also the story itself that wouldn't turn me loose. Why would a young priest-- one who's well-liked by almost everyone in the community-- take a rifle and murder five people?

There are many things to ponder in Scrublands. Martin's own PTSD from an assignment in the Mideast. How PTSD has affected the entire area around Riversend for years (a section that contains some of the best writing in the entire book). And then there's the ambiguity of the town's name. Is it River Send or River's End? Yes, there are many things to think about, just as there's an excellent story to enjoy.

The solution to the murder of the backpackers came as more of a surprise than it should have, primarily because the priest's story took center stage. This book was racing full-out to my Best Reads of 2019 list when it faltered yards before the finish line. What happened? When the story was being wrapped up at the end, there were just too many people with too many motivations. I almost felt as though I needed a scorecard. Be that as it may, Scrublands is still a cracking good read that I certainly recommend. I look forward to other books by Chris Hammer.

Scrublands by Chris Hammer
eISBN: 9781501196768
Atria Books © 2019
eBook, 385 pages

Standalone, Investigative Journalist
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

April at the Phoenix Zoo

It was a perfect day to go wander around the Phoenix Zoo. Partly cloudy skies meant that between the clouds and the trees at the zoo, we wouldn't be "fried on the hoof" in the unrelenting desert sun. We also timed it to miss most of the hordes of children because-- although I think it's great for them to learn about the other citizens of this planet-- I can do without their screeching and not looking where they're going. (Yes, I'm a silent curmudgeon.)

Without further ado, join Denis and me on our stroll through the zoo!

It only takes a little water to make desert plants happy, like these prickly pear. ©db

You know me. I check holes. This time I found a woodpecker doing some prep for this year's nest. ©db

Then off in the distance we spied desert bighorn sheep on the top of the butte.

That one just had to raise his head at that particular moment... ©db

This is the first time we'd been able to see them at the top of the butte.

I felt sorry for the spotted hyena. It was being chased around its enclosure by a herd of screeching children. ©db

Knock it off, kid, ya bother me! ©db

The tiger had quite the fan club. ©db

The Endangered Species Carousel. ©db

The zoo is a good place to check out the flowers, too.

Other folks enjoying the day.

An egret appreciating the breeze.

A baby giraffe was born recently here at the zoo. As chummy as these two were getting, I wouldn't be surprised if there's another birth in the future.

Just me appreciating the shade...and the GREEN!

A Hamadryas baboon.

Some snoozing African Painted Dogs.

Flower bracts on a crown of thorns succulent.

Did you see that?!?

Sweet acacia blossoms.

The inside of a cactus is just as interesting to me as the outside. Sometimes they look like lace.

You know me. If it blooms, I'll take a photo of it!

Another pretty!

Growing by the lagoon.

A row of benches along a row of bougainvillea that's just about to go ballistic (bloom like crazy).

Nice seating area by the lagoon, but "natives" like Denis and me will only sit in the shade.

Have Flowers

Will Photograph!

A nice place to sit and enjoy the zoo.

On our way over the bridge and out to the parking lot, I happened to spy this little green heron fishing for its lunch. Too bad I couldn't get a shot without those ESPs! (Evil Stick People)

Hope you enjoyed your visit! This week, Denis and I are going back to the Desert Botanical Garden, and then there's a zoo on the opposite side of town that we want to check out. Gotta wear out those camera batteries, ya know!