Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola


First Line: Shrieking split the leaden sky and Audrey looked up to see a host of birds, their wings ink-black against the grey.

It is 1857, and the Highland Clearances have left the Isle of Skye devastated, its remaining people mired in poverty. It is here that young Audrey Hart has come to help collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities.

When Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach, the crofters tell her that it's only a few weeks since another girl disappeared. The locals believe that the girls are victims of restless dead spirits that take the form of birds.

But Audrey becomes convinced that the girls' disappearances have nothing to do with the supernatural, and as she sets out to prove her theory, she finds her own life in danger.

The Isle of Skye, reeling from the Clearances, is the perfect atmospheric setting for Anna Mazzola's Gothic suspense novel, The Story Keeper. Newly arrived from London, young Audrey Hart is eager to begin collecting folk and fairy tales. But the locals are distrustful. To them, Audrey represents the people who burned so many of them out of their homes, the people who stole friends and family and sold them as slaves in America, the people who have forbidden them to speak their own language and share their own stories. It doesn't even really help if Audrey tells them that her mother was a Scot who often visited Skye to collect stories. Too much pain, so many losses, have colored the way these people feel-- and who can blame them?

The Story Keeper comes close to being the typical Gothic suspense novel (creepy house, strange behavior from the locals, bad weather, etc.), but Mazzola weaves so much of the life of the people into her story that it rises above the genre. And Audrey isn't the typical naïve heroine. She has an a-ha moment that should make all readers stop and think when she's "...wondering how many crimes had been concealed by claims of the mystical." Once she has that thought, The Story Keeper transforms from a typical Gothic novel to a murder mystery.

I really enjoyed The Story Keeper for the descriptions of the Isle of Skye, for the weaving of social history into the narrative, for the folk and fairy tales, and for its murder mystery (even though it wasn't very difficult to deduce the villains). I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of Mazzola's writing.


The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola
ISBN: 9781472234780
Tinder Press © 2018
Hardcover, 352 pages

Gothic Suspense, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon UK.


 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan


First Line: The sea was black as ink and the small fishing boat, travelling under a loose sail, moved slowly across its glass-flat calm.

It's the winter of 1917, and so many people who have lost loved ones in the brutal fighting of World War I are finding it difficult to let go. Spiritualism and séances abound. Armaments industrialist Lord Highmount has invited a group of people to Blackwater Abbey, his country house on an island off the coast of Devon. The purpose of the gathering is an attempt to contact his two sons, both of whom died at the front.

Two of the guests have been sent by the British intelligence service. One, Kate Cartwright, is a friend of the family who lost her brother at the Somme and who has her own special gift in terms of the spiritual. The other is Captain Donovan, who recently returned from Europe. Top secret plans for weapons developed by Highmount's company have turned up in Berlin, and British intelligence believes that enemy spies will be in attendance at Blackwater Abbey. 

As the guests arrive, it is clear that they all have things they'd rather keep hidden. When a storm descends, they are all trapped on the island, and then someone dies...

As a teenager, I loved reading Gothic suspense novels. I couldn't get enough of the creepy old houses, atmospheric settings, and (often) searches for treasure. W.C. Ryan's A House of Ghosts fits into the Gothic suspense genre beautifully. Blackwater Abbey is hundreds of years old, the site of an ancient monastery, and it is absolutely filled with secret doors, rooms, and passageways. I wish the place were real so I could wander around it myself. The atmosphere was tense, and when the storm descended, it added to the frayed nerves of the people in the house: "It seemed as though the house and the wind were having a conversation" (and it wasn't a good one).

The two main characters, Kate Cartwright and Captain Donovan, were strong, intelligent people who were quick thinkers in dangerous situations-- even when sparks flew between them. Kate, like many of the women in her family, could see ghosts. Just see them, not talk with them, and she also had the FitzAubrey glass, an ancient mirror that women in her family could use to glimpse the future.

One of the elements of A House of Ghosts that really ratcheted up the suspense was the presence of ghosts. Around the pier on the island, the spirits of the drowned collected. In Blackwater Abbey, home of a man who made his fortune in munitions, dead soldiers kept gathering-- and the house already contained the spirits of many of its former residents. Yes, the ghosts were a strong force in the book, and they led me to believe that the ending was going to be explosive... but it wasn't. They were used and then discarded, almost as though the author didn't want his novel dismissed as a mere lightweight ghost story.

However, even though I found the ending to be a slight letdown, I still really enjoyed A House of Ghosts. Ryan left a suggestion at the end that may mean there will be at least one more book featuring Cartwright and Donovan, and I hope there is.

A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan
eISBN: 9781948924726
Arcade Crimewise © 2019
eBook, 384 pages

Gothic Suspense, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


 

While Miz Kittling Knits: Father Brown





I've completed several knitting projects recently, and I must admit that I had a rather tough time deciding which one to show you first. Then it all became clear to me. (In other words, the light bulb went off over my head.) It's gift-giving time, so I really should show you a pattern I found for a quick and easy cowl that you can finish in an evening while watching television.

This cowl is knitted on size 13, twenty-four-inch long circular needles using a super bulky weight yarn in an easy knit two, purl two ribbing. You can find the free pattern for the One Ball Ribbed Cowl on the Lion Brand website. It is knit in the round, which means that you don't have to seam it together when you're done-- and that saves time, too. I also think it's more comfortable because there's no seam rubbing against your neck.

Here are the cowls I finished in plenty of time to give to friends who live in colder climes. Just click on the photo if you want to see more detail.




Number One is knit with an Isaac Mizrahi craft yarn in a colorway called Park Avenue. Dark green with a black and red bouclé thread running through it. 100% acrylic. Stylish and understated for the holidays or any time you need to keep those winter drafts off your neck.

Number Two is knit with Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick yarn in a colorway called Blackstone. The yarn is 77% acrylic and 20% wool. You can certainly wear these cowls with no jewelry attached, but a simple pin can really dress them up, can't it?

Numbers Three and Four are knit with a double strand of James C. Brett's Marble Chunky yarn, which is made in Yorkshire, England. It's 100% acrylic yet has a homespun look.

After making these, I have to admit that I want to make more. And I'm even thinking a trip up into the mountains would be nice just so I could wear one myself. Since I do NOT like the cold, this tells you how much I like these cowls. I may even knit more of them even though I have no clue whom I will give them to!

Now...what have I been watching while working on these cowls? Father Brown!




This series was inspired by the stories of G.K. Chesterton. Father Brown is a Catholic priest who has a knack for solving mysteries in a 1950s village in Gloucestershire, England. Mark Williams as Father Brown and Sorcha Cusack as Mrs. McCarthy, his parish secretary, are excellent, although I do believe the character of Father Brown himself needs to take umbrella-wielding lessons from Miss Seeton.

The cast has had a few changes over its run. Nancy Carroll as the local rich aristocrat knows how to give the perfect blood-curdling scream every time she trips over a dead body-- although you'd think the thrill would be gone after tripping over your first two dozen or so.  Perhaps she hurt a vocal chord because her character went off to Rhodesia. (Yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek.)

If there's any character that gets right up my nose, it's Inspector Mallory. In a way, he's the Snidely Whiplash of police inspectors because Jack Deam portrays him with almost evil intent. He still hates Father Brown even though the cleric has helped him solve countless cases, and there's never a time when he doesn't lock up the most obvious suspect and think his work is done. Besides all that, the way he says "padre" puts my knickers in a twist. (Notice how I'm using British slang for a British television program? I came close to saying something else with regard to Mallory, but it's a bit rude.)

I found the first three seasons to be formulaic. Often I could deduce the murderer the first time the actor was introduced. Since then, the writing has improved, and I don't figure them out as quickly.

Whether easy to deduce or not, I've found the episodes of Father Brown to be like Lays potato chips: No one can eat just one. They've certainly been the perfect knitting companion for me in the evenings!

I'll end this post with birthday wishes for my mother. She would have been eighty-four today. She's the person who taught me that knitting while watching television was the perfect evening past time. Love you, Mom! 


Monday, December 09, 2019

Wrecked by Joe Ide


First Line: "Do you know what Abraham Lincoln said after a six-day drunk?" Jimenez said.

Isaiah Quintabe-- IQ for short-- is learning that success is no cure for loneliness. A series of successful solutions to high profile cases means that he can't even go to his neighborhood store without being recognized. His sidekick, Dodson, is now his partner and has decided that he's going to straighten out the company finances. No more chickens, sweaters, or lawn mowing in exchange for IQ's services.

But this is a concept that IQ just can't get his head around. When a young artist asks for his help in finding her mother, it's not the fee he's looking to earn, he wants the human connection. Unfortunately, that human connection leads him right into the middle of a deadly paramilitary organization, and everyone's life is now in danger.

Before I go any farther, I'll issue a warning. If you cannot tolerate or have a low tolerance for torture, you might want to give Wrecked a miss. None of the scenes are graphic-- Ide knows how to let your imagination supply most of the details-- but neither does he pull any punches in telling readers what happened. I have a high tolerance for such things, but even I was uncomfortable at times. Also, the torture is not gratuitous; it illustrates just how bad the bad guys are... and that IQ isn't Superman. But enough of that.

One of the reasons why I enjoy this series so much is that Joe Ide takes me right into the heart of the 'hood. It's a place I'd never think of going on my own, but I'm in good hands with him. I see how people live, how they think, how they talk, and how they behave. My entire visit is an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes I'm disgusted. Sometimes I get tears in my eyes. And sometimes I laugh myself silly... but that happens when I read books set elsewhere. You see, there are a lot of similarities between the 'hood and the "normal" parts of town. Some folks just don't want to admit it.

Wrecked isn't just about torture. It's also about love. How does IQ fare with the woman he loves? You'll have to read the book. How does Dodson fare with his ladylove when he keeps doing things she disapproves of? You'll have to read the book. Joe Ide's one-line descriptions may be the soul of wit and observation, but it's his characters that I love the most, and boy, there's a character in this book that made me laugh so much I was almost howling. Junior is a bad guy. A very bad guy. But he's also Mrs. Malaprop on steroids and methamphetamines. How Junior made me laugh! He's almost worth the price of admission all by himself.

But there's an engrossing story here, too. The bad guys were loathsome, and I couldn't wait to see how IQ and his posse made them pay for their crimes. What a ride! Fortunately, I don't have long to wait for the next book in the series. Long live IQ!


Wrecked by Joe Ide
eISBN: 9780316509497
Mulholland Books © 2018
eBook, 352 pages

Private Investigator, #3 IQ mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


 

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Win an Autographed Book in My Holiday Giveaway!




Cold, snowy weather is one of the absolute best times to curl up with a good book, so I couldn't resist this opportunity to give all of my blog readers the chance to win one.

Let's see what book that's going to be, shall we?




No, you're not going to win my old license plate (pretty cool, huh?) or the little trees, or any of the needlepoint at the back of the shelf. If you enter my giveaway and your name is drawn, you will win an autographed copy of Paige Shelton's first Alaska Wild mystery, Thin Ice! And as a bonus-- since I couldn't resist buying one-- you will also receive the wooden saguaro cactus ink pen you can see leaning against the book. Just a little souvenir from Arizona for you.

How can you win? Let's get down to the rules.


~~~Rules~~~

  • Send an email to me at kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com.
  • The subject header of the email must read "Thin Ice Giveaway".
  • The body of the email must contain your name and mailing address.
  • One entry per person, US residents only.

Couldn't be simpler, could it? But beware! If your email does not contain the correct subject header or your name and mailing address, you will not be entered in the giveaway.


~~~Deadline~~~

  • All entries must be received by Sunday, December 15, at noon Arizona time.


~~~Making Myself Perfectly Clear~~~

  • The winner will be notified by email (and blog post) on Monday, December 16.
  • Your names and mailing addresses are destroyed immediately after the drawing. I hate spam and I'm not about to add to it!
  • The drawing is for one autographed copy of Paige Shelton's Thin Ice and one wooden saguaro cactus ink pen.


You should have the book by the new year, so enter now!


Friday, December 06, 2019

A Want to Not Have to Weekly Link Round-Up




I've been sprung! My ankle monitor has been removed! I'm no longer on house arrest! Oops. Perhaps I should take a moment to curb my enthusiasm...

Okay. All better now.

Wednesday night marked the first time since forever that I went somewhere for a non-medical reason. Denis and I made our way to The Poisoned Pen Bookstore to see Paige Shelton and Mark de Castrique, two of my favorite authors. When Barbara Peters, the bookstore owner, saw me, she exclaimed, "You're back!"

The event was fun and informative (as usual), and afterward, I broke a years-long tradition. You've never seen me in a photo with any of the authors I've met. Being an only child and an only grandchild, I've hated having my picture taken since I could form a coherent thought. But this was a special occasion, and-- besides-- another favorite author, Wendall Thomas, wanted Paige to give me a hug for her since she couldn't be here for the event. There had to be photographic proof, right? So here it is.


And for any of you who may wonder... I'm not vertically challenged; I was sitting down. After this photo was taken, Paige had a lot more books to sign, so Denis and I found ourselves talking with Jenn McKinlay, another of our favorite people. I got a hug from her, too (and was told to go home and put my leg up when she learned we were leaving). I also spoke a few words with and shook hands with Mark de Castrique who was on his way to the signing table, and I got a few more welcome backs from others.

Oh boy, is it ever nice to go somewhere because you WANT to, not because you HAVE to!

On to the links!


►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • On designing floating buildings with an eye to the marine species living underneath, or an upside-down artificial reef.
  • A farewell to Ming, the Siberian-Bengal tiger who spent three years in a Harlem apartment.
  • The best places around the world to see bats (by the millions).
  • A new study reveals how the last woolly mammoths died out 4,000 years ago. That's after the Egyptians built the pyramids.
  • On an active volcano, a northern fur seal population is booming.
  • Connecting with coyotes on the prowl. 
  • Compassionate divers gently coax a reticent octopus to trade a flexible plastic cup for a protective shell. (I'm becoming more and more fascinated by these creatures!)
  • A rescued dog comforts a tiny foster kitten during a bath.


  • ►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • A sleeping chateau, untouched since the Revolution, is for sale in France.
  • Germany's Waldsassen Abbey is the fairy tale library you need to visit.
  • The crime fiction of Rangoon
  • How Taiwan has achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the world.


  • ►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Why Henry VIII blamed his impotence on his wife's looks. (Uh... because he was spoiled rotten, king, and could get away with it?)
  • Iowan John Sandford read 126 books from the Cedar Rapids library one summer. Now he's a bestselling author of more than fifty thrillers.
  • How Mary Roberts Rinehart, queen of the mystery novel, was very nearly murdered.
  • M is for missing Sue Grafton.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers: A crime reader's guide to the classics. 
  • Billy Connolly: "Going to the library changed my life. It may even have saved it."


  • ►I ♥ Lists◄
  • A personal history of gothic fiction in ten books.
  • Five mystery series that will take you on a tour of the South Pacific
  • Crime novels for angry women in an angry world. 
  • Eleven books like Where the Crawdads Sing.
  • Top ten books about Europe.
  • Top ten books about black radicalism.
  • Eleven thrilling John Lawton books that will make your pulse race.
  • Eleven new cozy mysteries to crack open this fall (and winter).



  • 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, eat plenty of good food-- and read something fabulous!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Black Out by John Lawton


First Line: In the London borough of Stepney very little remained of Cardigan Street.

It's 1944, and the Luftwaffe is making its final assault on an already battered London. When children playing in an East End bomb site discover a severed arm and call the police, Scotland Yard's Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy knows the arm isn't the work of a bomb.

Troy manages to link the arm to the disappearance of a refugee scientist from Nazi Germany, and that's when America's newest intelligence agency, the OSS, decides to get involved. Troy soon finds himself up to his eyebrows in secrets, corruption, and mysterious women as he tries to solve this case.

If I'd paid a little more attention to the clues planted in the synopsis of this book, I would not have purchased it-- but more on that a little later.

Black Out covers 1944-1948 in London, and as I have been enjoying a few mysteries set in that same time period, I decided to see what this book was all about. For me, there was very little real historical flavor to the setting outside of blackout curtains, potholes in the roads, and having the occasional bomb land somewhere nearby. The major reason why I should have paid more attention to the synopsis is that I do not care for spy thrillers, and that is precisely what Black Out turned out to be. Paraphrasing the words of one of the characters: Just give me an old-fashioned murder any day, thank you very much.

However, it wasn't just the spy game element of the book that left me cold; the characters did, too. The two token women, Tosca and Brack, played their jolly nymphomaniac and tall, cool femme fatale roles to perfection, but nothing they did really surprised me. Constable Wildeve was my favorite of the lot, and he deserved a drawerful of commendations for putting up with Sergeant Troy, who seemed to believe that the young man was psychic.

Troy is the son of a titled Russian émigré, and it's a combination of this background coupled with how his schoolmates and others have reacted to it that has made him distrustful. He holds himself apart and does quite a good job of behaving like a cold fish. Troy also is the sort of police officer that I don't particularly care for. He's all about the chase, regardless of whom he puts at risk. It's not so bad when the only person in danger is himself, but he willfully throws other people under the bus, too. I like my coppers with a bit more compassion because it isn't just about the chase.

So... my opinion of Black Out isn't all that great. I can see that it is fast-paced and well-written, and it does have a story that held my interest, but Troy just isn't my sort of policeman. Keep in mind that your mileage may certainly vary. Now I just have to remind myself to pay closer attention to those synopses!


Black Out by John Lawton
eISBN: 9780802195845
Grove Press © 1995
eBook, 343 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Inspector Troy mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

On My Radar: Paige Shelton's The Stolen Letter




After yesterday's review of Thin Ice, this post makes it an unofficial Paige Shelton Week, and I can't think of a nicer person to spend a week with. When I learned that Paige had another Scottish Bookshop mystery coming out, you know what I did. Yes, one of my little happy dances. Scotland. Bookshop. Paige. How can you go wrong?

Let's learn a bit more about the book that will be released in April 2020.


Available April 7, 2020!
Synopsis:

"Delaney Nichols is confident she’s doing what she loves—case in point, just one day after returning from her fabulous European honeymoon, she’s eager to get back to the Cracked Spine, the bookstore where she works. But as she disembarks her bus and hurries toward the shop she and another woman collide, sending a stack of books the woman is carrying to the ground. 

Delaney’s hapless victim’s name is Mary and the two women can’t help but notice that they bear an uncanny resemblance to one another. According to Mary, they both also look like the long-beheaded Mary Queen of Scots. Even stranger, Mary believes she is the reincarnation of the Scottish queen. But peculiar as Delaney’s doppelganger is, she doesn’t have time to dwell on it: on her arrival to the bookshop, she learns the Edinburgh city council wants to close the Cracked Spine, citing code violations, and she’s determined to stop them.

But when Mary’s husband dies in a car explosion—and Delaney learns he was the very member of the city council who proposed that the city take a closer look at the bookshop’s construction—she starts to wonder if her meeting with Mary wasn’t an accident. Edinburgh has become as filled with intrigue and deception as any European court, and Delaney is determined to get to the bottom of this royal mystery."


Scotland. Bookshop. Paige. AND Mary Queen of Scots? Sign me up for a copy of The Stolen Letter! (Isn't the cover great?)