Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Demolition Derby of a Weekly Link Round-Up


Not much to report this week. Denis and I, who have been going to bed at 4 AM and getting up at 11 AM for many years, have had our routines completely set on their heads since the bathroom remodelers are here at 8 AM every morning. Hopefully by the time this posts, we will have our completed bathrooms and just be waiting for the new shower in the main bathroom which is scheduled for December.

The remodelers told us they'd be done in a week. It would have been nice, but I didn't really expect it. One reason is that nothing has ever gone smoothly in this old ranch house. These guys are used to going in newer homes and tearing out dry wall in the blink of an eye. Ha! In this old ranch house, they had to deal with concrete and thick old plaster complete with a layer of chicken wire. That's going to slow anyone down. But-- as of this writing-- they've soldiered on, and the guest bath is very close to being finished. I'm really looking forward to the final product.

Now all I'm going to do is share a couple of photos and then be on my way.


A little demo, anyone?

Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • As Miss Navajo Nation, Shaandiin Parrish helped her community through the pandemic.
  • The secret codes of Lady Wroth, the first female English novelist.
  • Groundbreaking archaeologist Ann Axtell Morris finally gets the full cinematic treatment. 
►The 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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Wolfman by Stanley Trollip

First Line: It was a cold Monday morning when Crystal Nguyen finally made up her mind to resign.
When her career doesn't move as quickly as she wants it to, young investigative reporter Crystal Nguyen decides on a risky approach: to create the news and then report on it. Her reporting goes viral when she suggests that there may be someone out there-- possibly part of the Hunt-the-Hunter movement-- who is determined to go after poachers who are killing Minnesota's endangered gray wolves. Crystal gives the person a name, Wolfman, and the television station's ratings soar. 
Then a man is shot, and Crystal begins to worry that she's created a copycat, someone intent on punishing poachers-- possibly even killing them. Now she has to downplay the Wolfman and try to convince the copycat to stop. But this only angers him. He feels betrayed, and now he's after Crystal.
I first met Crystal Nguyen in Dead of Night written by the writing team known as Michael Stanley. In Wolfman, one half of that writing team, Stanley Trollip, has written a prequel, telling Crystal's story prior to Dead of Night
In Dead of Night, I had some problems with Crystal Nguyen, and after reading this book, I don't think I'll ever be her BFF; she's just too self-centered and impulsive even if her heart is in the right place. Crystal wants to be an environmental investigative reporter for National Geographic, but she goes out of her way in Wolfman to jeopardize her chances. Career in television not moving fast enough to suit you? Well then, just create your own news and report it. What could possibly go wrong? 
In the first half of this book, Crystal spends too much time jumping in without thinking, and then she doesn't like the  consequences. Like most young people, she also thinks she's ten feet tall and bulletproof. Time and again, her actions put her in danger. A friend finally has to get in her face and say, "I don't think you get it. Just because you are in the right, doesn't make you safe!"

Did my opinion of Crystal ruin the book for me? Not at all. I was thrilled to see that she actually did some growing up in the second half, and I really liked her attitude toward what she'd done. Sharing Crystal's relationship with a gray wolf she named Alfie also went a long way in helping me understand her. 

Besides trying to solve the mystery, I quickly learned to look forward to Crystal's biathlon scenes, which both illuminated her character and added depth and excitement to the story.

Will we be seeing Crystal Nguyen again? I don't know. One thing I do know is that, if she does make another appearance, I'll undoubtedly read it. I may not particularly like her, but I do like reading about the trouble she gets herself into in her quest to save the natural world.

Wolfman by Stanley Trollip
ISBN: 9780997968965
White Sun Books © 2021
Paperback, 246 pages
Thriller, Crystal Nguyen prequel
Rating: B+
Source: the author 

Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca

First Lines: This is a true story. For nearly one hundred years, the diaries of Olive MacLeod lay hidden on a locked shelf in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye.
In 1910, Scottish aristocrat Olive MacLeod received word that her fiancé, famed naturalist Boyd Alexander, was missing in Africa. Instead of staying at home, wringing her hands and worrying, Olive set off to find him. She and her companions, the Talbots, found themselves confronting life in Africa in all its many forms. From contrary wildlife to wily tribal chiefs to shadowy colonial powers to an Arab warlord who may hold the key to what happened to her fiancé, Olive's journey is an unforgettable one deep into Africa and her own heart.
I have always had a weakness for the travel tales of Victorian and Edwardian ladies, especially in Africa, and when I learned that Olive MacLeod's diaries had been tucked away on a shelf in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye for a century, I was hooked. I spent one unforgettable week in the Laundry Cottage, and each morning when I opened the curtains, I looked across a finger of the loch to see Dunvegan Castle towering above me. I simply had to read Olive the Lionheart.
Olive kept a detailed record of her travels in Africa. Other than hoping to find Boyd Alexander alive, it was her intention to write a book about him. When it was time to return home, her focus had changed. The book was going to be about herself. And why not? Olive wasn't just on a rescue mission, she was an explorer, the first white person to find various locales like MacLeod Falls which is named for her. 

Olive had to feel like Rapunzel for her long red hair fascinated the native tribes she encountered, and she was constantly asked to let down her hair so they could see it and marvel at it. She adopted two lion cubs that went with her on her travels, and for a time, she also had a young giraffe named Josephine who would attack anyone who raised a gun to shoot something. Finding Boyd Alexander's journals was revelatory for her, sometimes painfully so, and I think reading them was one reason why she changed her focus on the book she wanted to write.

Brad Ricca gives a fully-fleshed portrait of Olive MacLeod, one that is often humorous-- as when she meets a local African queen whom she doesn't think is ugly until the woman refuses to answer her questions-- and sometimes sad. This woman was suffering from grief, depression, and suicidal thoughts, yet she refused to give in, always forging ahead. 

I'm glad I read Olive the Lionheart for Olive MacLeod stands shoulder to shoulder with the other intrepid Victorian and Edwardian ladies I've read about. However, I have a feeling that I'm one of the few people who did not care for the narrator of the book. I found her British and Scottish accents as well as some of her "voices" annoying, and it put me off listening to the book. I'm glad I didn't give up; otherwise, I would not have met this incredible woman.

Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa
Narrated by Billie Fulford-Brown
Macmillan Audio © 2020
Audiobook. 11 hours, 31 minutes.

Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Chirp Books

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

On My Radar: Bruno's Challenge


It's always a good day when I find out about a new book from one of my favorite authors. When I learned that Martin Walker has a short story collection coming out featuring Bruno, Chief of Police, you know I did a happy dance. Let's find out more about it!


"Martin Walker presents his first collection of stories featuring all the familiar characters from his Bruno novels and the glories of the Périgord, with ample helpings of food and wine.

After a prisoner breaks parole to see his son on Christmas, Bruno must track him down before he throws away his chance at eventual freedom. When a Senegalese man’s coffee sells superbly at the market, some café owners become incensed by the new competition and take matters into their own hands. As a Swiss tourist and a St. Denis native fall in love over the fruit-and-veggie stall, one of their family members takes drastic steps to break them up. A fledgling tour bus business is sabotaged, leading Bruno to take a closer look at a town love triangle. Called in to investigate a case of stolen oysters, our beloved policeman reunites with an old flame to catch the shellfish thieves.
In story after story, Bruno settles town disputes, mediates family quarrels, and tracks down lawbreakers in his adored village of St. Denis and its environs. Featured meals in the collection include a fatty Christmas goose, a savory nettle soup with crème fraîche, and a fluffy quiche Lorraine
I did notice that some of the stories in this collection have already been released in digital format, so that's something you might want to take into consideration. There are new stories in the collection, so you know I'm still going to get my hands on a copy to read them!
I'm showing the UK cover of Bruno's Challenge in this post. The UK release date is November 11, 2021. The US edition will be available on March 15, 2022.
Bon appétit!

Monday, October 18, 2021

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

First Line: A book is already written before the reader casts an eye upon the page.
Circumstances are certainly keeping Dr. Will Raven off-balance. Few things ever upset him, but even he is shocked at the contents of a package that washes up at the Port of Leith, and he still can't understand why a man he's long detested is suddenly pleading for his help to escape the hangman.
Back at the home of Dr. James Simpson, Sarah Fisher has her heart set on learning to practice medicine even though almost everyone tells her not to. When she learns that a woman has recently earned a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah travels across the Channel to speak with her.
Sarah returns in a strange mood, but Will needs her help. His efforts to prove the man's innocence are failing. Between the two of them, they travel the great social divide of Edinburgh to discover the truth.
Once upon a time, I used to be a reader who had to read any series books in order. No exceptions. In the past few years, I've moved past that, willing to jump in with the newest book and then go back to the beginning if I enjoyed what I read. I've been lucky doing that, seldom choosing a series that didn't tell enough of the backstory to start me off on the right foot. Well... A Corruption of Blood, the third book in the Raven & Fisher historical series set in 1850s Edinburgh, Scotland, was not a good choice to jump into this new-to-me series. I spent almost the first half of the book feeling like an outsider and struggling to get the cast of characters straight as well as all their relationships to each other.

The mystery in this book isn't all that mysterious, although something a bad guy says did make my jaw drop. There were also a few too many romantic entanglements to suit me, although they never did cross my imaginary line in the sand.

What I did enjoy about this book is its depiction of the practice of medicine at that time, its mix of barbarism and advancement, as well as the almost insurmountable divide between the rich and the poor. And-- fancy that-- some of the same problems faced then are the exact same ones we face today. The more things change...

Now that I have my bearings in this Raven & Fisher series, am I going to continue reading? Even though I did like the story on the whole and I did appreciate the historical setting, I think one visit with Will Raven and Sarah Fisher is enough for me. Your mileage may certainly vary.

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
eISBN: 9781786899873
Canongate Books © 2021
eBook, 416 pages
Historical Mystery, #3 Raven & Fisher mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Net Galley

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Off the Beaten Path: Seven Springs to Sheep Bridge

Sometime in the recent past, I think I mentioned that I was gathering together some photos for a "compilation" post about one of my favorite off-road drives here in Arizona. Denis and I have jumped into the Blazer or the Jeep and taken these trails more than once, and each time was an adventure.

The drive takes us past old mines, ancient Indian ruins, a favorite beat-the-heat spot for Phoenicians at the turn of the twentieth century, relics of the Civilian Conservation Corps, riparian areas tucked away into canyons, and a national monument-- just to hit some of the highlights.

There are two different directions you can take to get to Seven Springs and Sheep Bridge. Seven Springs was a popular spot for early Phoenicians to go to beat the summer heat. They'd load up their wagons for the two-day journey, and spend as long as they could in the shady green oasis at the cooler elevations. Seven Springs was such a popular spot that the Civilian Conservation Corps built a small campground among the huge sycamore trees in 1934. They did good work, because the stone buildings have survived many, many floods over the years.

Got your sunscreen, hat, and water? Good. Let's get started!

If you head north from Phoenix to get to Seven Springs, you drive through the swanky areas of Cave Creek and Carefree. The road (still paved) takes you past the old Cave Creek Mistress Mine up on the side of a mountain. It's an old gold mine, the remnants of which burned down in the 2005 Cave Creek Complex fire that burned over 250,000 acres. You see it here before the fire.

Just past the old gold mine, there's a turn-off to the Sears-Kay Ruins, the remnants of an ancient Hohokam hilltop fortress built circa 1050 AD.

There's a one-mile self-guided loop trail taking you through the ruins.

As the (now unpaved) road wound higher into the mountains and we got closer to Seven Springs, it was easy to tell that we were getting closer to water. In the desert, bright green means water.

And here we are at Seven Springs. As you can see, there was water running across the road, which is always a thrill to anyone who's lived in the desert for very long. After all, we're used to crossing bridges signed for waterless rivers.

I always feel like a child when fording any sort of stream. I want to make a big splash!

Denis and I never want to leave this gorgeous little spot. There are hiking trails, and those restrooms that the CCC built 'way back in 1934 can certainly come in handy!

Here am I, sitting in the Blazer in the middle of Tangle Creek. After Seven Springs, the dirt trail continues to wind higher into the mountains and cross through riparian areas. We picked up quite a bit of mud on this adventure.

Here I am, standing on a boulder above Roundtree Creek, a lovely riparian area in a small canyon filled with birds and other wildlife.

As always, I roamed the banks of Roundtree Creek searching for plants I'd never seen before, like this miner's lettuce. Miner's lettuce is packed with vitamins, and during the Gold Rush, miners ate it to prevent scurvy.

There were other plants to see, too. This is Golden Corydalis.

On this particular attempt to get to Sheep Bridge, we hadn't realized that this part of Arizona had gotten a lot more rain than Phoenix. The deep, slippery mud and huge, seemingly bottomless, "lakes" in the trail made us turn back.

This photo was taken shortly after Tangle Creek. When we'd given up on getting to Sheep Bridge, we turned around and headed back the way we came. Between the turn-off for the bridge and Roundtree Creek, there were some hair-raising, deep ruts in the mud that pulled the Blazer right into them no matter how Denis tried to avoid them. At one point, the Blazer was at such an angle, I wouldn't've had to stretch far to reach out and touch the ground! All we could do was keep moving, otherwise we'd been well and truly stuck and walking for miles. The fun side to this was getting back to swanky Cave Creek and Carefree. The Blazer was literally covered in mud. We looked like the hillbillies returning to Beverly Hills after a successful possum hunt. Mud would come off the Blazer in big squishy chunks and splat on the spotless SUVs that had never been used off-road. We saw some horrified looks from those drivers seeing mud touch their four-wheeled babies, and I have to admit that we laughed all the way back to Phoenix.

You can also get to Sheep Bridge by taking I-17 north from Phoenix to the Bloody Basin exit and heading east. We'd barely gotten off the interstate and onto the dirt road when a coachwhip snake crossed in front of us. I've never seen a snake move as fast as that one did. Just past the first snake encounter, we stopped so I could photograph one of an entire field of blooming desert mariposas.

Past the mariposas, we crossed the Agua Fria River. I know, it doesn't look like much, but during the 500-year flood of the late 1970s, this little nothing of a stream washed away a very large bridge in Sun City.

Another look at the Agua Fria.

Denis watching the minnows in the water.

Just past the bend in the road, you can look down at a very large ranch. Must be interesting living there during floods...

If you see what looks to be a stick lying across the trail, don't run over it. Snakes like to sun themselves there. This is a gopher snake, also known as "the farmer's friend" because it will keep barns and outbuildings mouse- and rat-free.

One reason why I like a good zoom lens on my cameras. I stayed far enough away not to bother it, and it didn't bother me.

Particularly in spring, these trails can be awash in wildflowers like this Arizona Yellow-throat Gilia. Wildflowers can be so small that, if you never get out of your vehicle, you'll never know they're there.

These golden desert-trumpets formed carpets of yellow in meadows and along the hillsides.

Large clumps of Blackfoot daisies also dotted the landscape.

Getting closer to Sheep Bridge, the trail was extremely washboarded. Our kidneys took quite a lot of jostling, and even this saguaro looked like it was trying to escape.

Our first view of Sheep Bridge.

Side view of Sheep Bridge over the Verde River. The bridge was built in 1944 to allow sheep to be moved from one grazing range to another without fording the river. The sheep drives stopped in 1978, which just happens to coincide with major flooding-- like that bridge collapse over the Agua Fria I mentioned earlier.

Sheep Bridge. We found fresh cougar tracks in the sand on the other side.

View from the bridge.

The Verde River.
I also want to mention that, when you take the Bloody Basin Trail from I-17 to Sheep Bridge, you'll be passing through the Agua Fria National Monument, an area rich in wildlife as well as human history. The name Bloody Basin comes from some contentious meetings between white settlers and the Apache. You can find yourself high in the mountains on a rocky trail so narrow that you can look out your side window and see nothing but a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. You'll cross a "saddle" of solid rock on which nothing can grow, and you know that it will still be there long after humans have vanished from the face of the earth.

This is one of my favorite drives in the entire state, and I only wish a computer crash hadn't destroyed some of my photos so I could show you more. But all good things must come to an end. I hope you enjoyed the journey. Now it's time to wash off the trail dust, grab a cold one, and put your feet up!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Poor Denis! Weekly Link Round-Up


Things have mushroomed here at Casa Kittling since my last round-up, and I'm writing this early just in case. This week, work on the other two bathrooms  will have begun, so it's difficult to gauge whether or not I'll have the time or the peace and quiet to do much blogging. Instead of talking about bathroom remodels, I thought I'd spend a little time commiserating with my husband. 

Things have livened up considerably outside the big picture window where I sit to read, blog, and knit most afternoons. There is a pair of courting mockingbirds keeping me distracted. The male is determined to show how the big cactus and all the shrubbery are rich sources of bugs, perches, and hideaways, and that there's even a dedicated source of water for drinking and bathing. The female is playing hard-to-get, but I can tell he's convinced her that this is a prime area in which to nest. There's also been a trio of curved-bill thrashers frequenting my little impromptu live theater. They're after the bugs and water, too. What I didn't expect was how I metaphorically set the cat among the pigeons by the insertion of a small piece of yard art.

We recently had the remnants of a stump removed out there, and I had the bright idea to move a small rust-colored iron roadrunner out there. It looks as though it's racing from the fairy duster bush to the cactus. I didn't realize that the live birds might take umbrage. I've seen one mockingbird peck the roadrunner's tail, and the curved-bill thrashers have certainly given it the stink-eye. I've had so much fun watching all the antics!

Naturally, I've shared the goings-on with Denis, who spends his afternoons at his computer in our office, and he's feeling very left out, poor baby. We've had security cameras set up for a few years now, and now he's gone out and installed one that has a view of the birdbath and the general area in hopes that the birds will trigger it and he'll be able to see what I've been talking about. Well...

I've just told him that his camera isn't even recording one-tenth of what's been going on. Poor Denis! 

Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►The Wanderer◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Jan Zwartendijk, the unsung Dutchman who saved as many as 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust, is finally getting his due.
  • Meet Jeanne Villepreux-Power, the 19th-century French dressmaker who invented the aquarium.
►Craftsmanship & Artistry◄
►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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

First Line: It's too dark to go out but too hot to sleep.
A police officer in sleepy Woodbury, Massachusetts, Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but it has nothing to do with her training. Ellery was the seventeenth victim of serial killer Francis Michael Coben... the only one of his victims to survive. No one else in Woodbury knows this.
When three people disappear from town in three years-- all right around her birthday-- Ellery starts to believe that someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. When her superiors dismiss her concerns and the vanishing season for a fourth victim approaches, Ellery turns to the one person she knows will believe her: FBI agent Reed Markham, the man who saved her from Coben all those years ago.
Even though I found the identity of the killer to be glaringly obvious, I still didn't want to put The Vanishing Season down. There's much more to this book than deducing whodunit. For one thing, there's Ellery Hathaway. Ellery, who was dragged into Hell and lived to tell the tale. Ellery who thinks, "They'd never sat in a killer's closet and felt the claw marks in the wood, left there by the girls who had already died." Ellery, whose best buddy is a Basset hound named Speed Bump and the only male allowed through her front door. Ellery, whose life has been turned into countless movies of the week, and who guards her privacy fiercely.

Then there's the layered, nuanced relationship she has with the man who saved her all those years ago. Reed Markham made his name and fame writing a book about Ellery Hathaway and the monster who locked her up in his closet. But his life has changed. His marriage is a train wreck. His bosses think he's washed up. He even blew the last investigation he worked on. So... he's certainly got the time to help Ellery out.

The Vanishing Season has a fast pace that keeps readers sucked in, and even though I've already said that whodunit was no mystery to me, I still enjoyed watching the investigation unfold-- mainly because of the interplay between Ellery and Reed. I am certainly looking forward to meeting these two fantastic characters again.

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen
eISBN: 9781250126054
Minotaur Books © 2017
eBook, 304 pages
Police Procedural, #1 Ellery Hathaway mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.