Thursday, March 21, 2019

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

First Line: The knife had pierced Seth Halloran's heart, exactly at the spot that would stop it cold.

Genealogist Lucy Lancaster loves tacos; she loves Austin, Texas; and she certainly loves her business, Ancestry Investigations. She considered proving a Texas billionaire's great-great-grandfather was murdered a highlight of her career until the billionaire jumps the gun and names his grandfather's killer on air.

There's no proof that an ancestor of Senator Daniel Applewhite killed Seth Halloran; nevertheless, houses start getting broken into, artifacts are stolen, a former co-worker of Lucy's is murdered, and Lucy herself is threatened. This genealogist had no idea that shaking the branches of some family trees could prove to be so deadly.

Murder Once Removed is the first in the promising Ancestry Detective cozy series set in Texas. Author S.C. Perkins used her setting to perfect advantage: not only did I want to book a flight to Austin for a visit, but she also made me crave Mexican food. (Thank heaven Big Flaco's Tacos isn't here!)

Another strong part of her setting is the old office building in which Lucy shares space with her two best friends, Serena the personal shopper and British Josephine who's a translator. Perkins has set up a good supporting cast for Lucy which also includes Juan "Big Flaco" Medrano (the food magician, yum) and NPH-- Neil Patrick Housecat-- among others. The cast might get even larger if some of the family members who were mentioned return from their travels in future books.

The mystery is a good one in Murder Once Removed, plenty of misdirection and red herrings, and I enjoyed trying to figure it out. But there were a couple of things that I didn't enjoy quite so much. Lucy is not supposed to be a fashionista-- preferring to wear jeans and t-shirts to work-- but readers are given a blow-by-blow description of everyone's physical appearance and wardrobe. All the needless detail slows down the pace of the book. There's also a rather run-of-the-mill romantic interest for Lucy-- the gorgeous law enforcement guy who rubs her fur the wrong way-- that really wasn't necessary. Just once, I wish the main character would fall for a homely guy who wasn't licensed to carry any deadly weapons, you know?

Thankfully, the mystery, Lucy and her gang, and the Austin setting rose above the wordy descriptions and ho-hum romance. I'm looking forward to seeing what family tree Lucy shakes next.

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins
ISBN: 9781250189035
Minotaur Books © 2019
Hardcover, 336 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Ancestry Detective mystery
Rating: B
Source: the publisher & NetGalley


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

On My Radar: Nevada Barr's What Rose Forgot

Nevada Barr has been one of my favorite writers since her first Anna Pigeon mystery, Track of the Cat. She likes the outdoors, she likes animals, and boy howdy, can she write! (When she took me down in a cave system in Blind Descent, I had the willies so bad I thought I'd never get out!) But she also seems to be one of those authors that readers want to keep stuck in a rut, a Write-Anna-Or-Nothing rut, which is a shame. Ten years ago, Barr wrote 13½, which I liked a lot, but it got many negative reviews on Amazon because it wasn't an Anna Pigeon book.

When I found out about Barr's newest book coming out in September, I did a happy dance, but it's a standalone which means diehard Anna Pigeon fans will probably grump. Folks, Anna was getting a bit long in the tooth to be doing all that stuff she was doing. I think she deserves a happy, danger-free retirement, don't you? Anyway, let's see what Barr has in store for us!

Available September 17, 2019!

"Rose Dennis wakes up in a hospital gown, her brain in a fog, only to discover that she's been committed to an Alzheimer's Unit in a nursing home. With no memory of how she ended up in this position, Rose is sure that something is very wrong. When she overhears one of the administrators saying about her that she's "not making it through the week," Rose is convinced that if she's to survive, she has to get out of the nursing home. She avoids taking her medication, putting on a show for the aides, then stages her escape.

The only problem is―how does she convince anyone that she's not actually demented? Her relatives were the ones to commit her, all the legal papers were drawn up, the authorities are on the side of the nursing home, and even she isn't sure she sounds completely sane. But any lingering doubt Rose herself might have had is erased when a would-be killer shows up in her house in the middle of the night. Now Rose knows that someone is determined to get rid of her.

With the help of her computer hacker/recluse sister Marion, thirteen-year-old granddaughter Mel, and Mel's friend Royal, Rose begins to gather her strength and fight back―to find out who is after her and take back control of her own life. But someone out there is still determined to kill Rose, and they're holding all the cards."

This sounds like a good'un to me, and I can't wait to read it. What do you think? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas

First Line: December 2006. It was Tiki Night at Chadwick's.

Due to some fallout that occurred after Cyd Redondo's trip to Africa (Lost Luggage), she isn't the most popular person in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn-- and that's tough to deal with at Christmas. In order for the rest of her family to enjoy the holidays, Cyd decides to help her ex-husband whose parents have disappeared on an Australian cruise.

She wastes no time-- enlisting the help of travel liaison and friend Harriet Archer to get a room aboard the cruise ship. When she arrives on board ship, she finds Harriet dead in the cabin they were supposed to share. Now Cyd's got to find her ex's missing parents and identify a killer. It's not going to be easy: the cruise ship is busy covering up the "unfortunate event" and sanitizing the crime scene, but if anyone can get the job done, it's Cyd Redondo of Redondo Travel armed with her Balenciaga bag.

Once again, Wendall Thomas has crafted a laugh-out-loud funny mystery that will have readers learning things along the way. There always seems to be a wildlife angle for Cyd-- by the way I liked finding out what happened to Barry the chameleon from Lost Luggage-- and this time it involves her former teacher, Sister Ellery Magdalene Malcomb, in addition to an international fugitive with more wigs and costume changes than a Las Vegas showgirl, and a Tasmanian Tiger. Never heard of a Tasmanian Tiger? Neither had I. See what I mean about learning stuff?

That's one of the things I like the most about Thomas' writing. Yes, I have a blast laughing my head off, but I also like to learn. In Drowned Under, I not only learned about those tigers, I learned quite a bit about the cruise ship industry, and although I can't say I want to board one any time soon, at least I understand them and the people who frequent them much better.

If you're in the mood to laugh, pick up Drowned Under, and if you haven't had the pleasure of reading Lost Luggage, get your hands on that one, too. And you're not just reading these books to laugh. In both, Thomas has crafted intriguing mysteries to solve with a main character who has to be related to MacGyver. Now all I have wonder about is what my husband is going to say when I tell him that I want a Balenciaga bag personally packed by Cyd Redondo herself?

Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas
eISBN: 9781464210631
Poisoned Pen Press © 2019
eBook, 288 pages

Humorous Mystery, #2 Cyd Redondo mystery
Rating: A
Source: NetGalley


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Scene of the Crime with Wendall Thomas!

It's been a long, long time since you've seen a Scene of the Crime author interview here on Kittling: Books, and I thought it was high time to resurrect the series. What better author to resurrect it with than Wendall Thomas? Her first Cyd Redondo mystery, Lost Luggage, was one of my Best Reads of 2018. Tuesday, March 19, marks the release of her second book to feature Cyd, Drowned Under. You'll see my review of Drowned Under Tuesday, but let's take a while to get to know the very talented Wendall Thomas a little better!

Wendall Thomas
For those of you who like to follow authors through their websites and social media, here are some links for you:

I can't stress highly enough that Wendall's Cyd Redondo mysteries are good for what ails you. Need a laugh? Go see Cyd. You're also going to learn some fascinating information about different subjects such as wildlife and travel agencies. If Cyd were real, I'd want her to book my next trip!
Now it's time to get to those questions!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes the book so special?

In terms of being read to as a child, I couldn’t get enough of anything by Dr. Seuss but Alice’s Adventures through the Looking Glass (I prefer its snarkier tone to Wonderland) was the kicker–that moment where she steps through the looking glass still gets me. 
Even as a kid I loved that Alice did not suffer fools and I was crazy about the language and Tenniel’s illustrations. I still read it once a year. There are so many lines that have become more relevant over time, especially this exchange: “The horror of that moment,” the King went on, “I shall never forget!” “You will, though,” the Queen said, “If you don’t make a memorandum of it.”

What have you read recently that you'd recommend to us?

I’ve recently revisited Flannery O’Connor’s collection of letters: The Habit of Being. They are profound and hilarious and if you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. 

Probably my favorite recent release is Tim Hallinan’s Nighttown, which, like O’Connor’s work, is deeply funny in moments, but also has a lot to say about history and the value (and devaluing) of things.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

Honestly, I remember sitting at my desk, reading the email, and bursting into tears. I always wanted to write novels, but didn’t have the nerve to try until late in life, and then had an agent who wouldn’t send Lost Luggage out for a year and a half. I finally parted ways with her and sent it out myself and the idea that someone actually wanted to publish it just completely overcame me. Then, my husband took me out for happy hour. 

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

Seeing my book for sale was a thrill, but to be honest, I was most excited to see it on the shelf at the Los Angeles Central Library. The library—that’s the pinnacle for me.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?
A tie between Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn. He and Agatha Troy have my hands-down, all-time-favorite literary marriage.

You've just received a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. Which bookstore are you making a bee-line for? 

BookSoup on Sunset Boulevard.

Outside of your writing and all your other commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?
Travel. I love to figure out how to navigate a new city. And I’m a huge movie and music fan, so I spend a lot of time listening to and finding new (and old) music and watching new and classic films. I’m also a big walker.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guidebooks.) 

The Bradbury Building
Although I grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 33 years. It’s a fantastic city for going “off guidebook.”
In my neighborhood, I can recommend the New Beverly Cinema--which has served up double features of classic films since I moved here in 1986 and is now owned and operated by Quentin Tarantino. They only show films on 35mm, change the programs three times a week, and have great popcorn. 

El Carmen has also been around forever – it’s the site where Lindsay Buckingham said he would only join Fleetwood Mac if they took his girlfriend—Stevie Nicks—too. It’s a tiny, dark, and potent tequila and mezcal bar on Third St. and a great place to duck in for a drink. 
And, if you find yourself in Downtown LA, stop into the Fine Arts Building on 7th St. or the Bradbury Building on Broadway. Both are historic, staggeringly beautiful buildings and their lobbies are open to the public. The Bradbury Building is featured in a host of films, including Blade Runner, 500 Days of Summer, and The Artist, while the more obscure Fine Arts has one of the most gorgeous Deco lobbies I’ve ever seen.

Name one thing on your Bucket List.
I’d like to meet Ry Cooder. He’s probably the living person I most admire.

An extremely reliable source tells you that a thinly disguised you is a character in a book that's currently high up on the New York Times bestseller list. What kind of character do you think you are?

A physically clumsy, guilt-ridden smart-ass.

You are a contestant on Jeopardy, and you have an excellent chance of winning. What category do you hope shows up on Final Jeopardy?

Session Musicians of the 1970s.


Available March 19, 2019!
Session Musicians of the 1970s? *gulp* May I just say that I hope I'm not facing Final Jeopardy with you because I wouldn't have a prayer!

Wendall, thank you so much for taking this time to let us get to know you better. It's been a real pleasure.

Best of luck with Drowned Under-- it's a winner!



Friday, March 15, 2019

A Hen & Chicks Weekly Link Round-Up

On our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden at the end of February, I saw two things at the gift shop that just had to come home with me. One was a plant, a succulent that my grandmother always called "hen and chicks." It had been years since I'd seen that particular succulent, and the memories of my grandmother came back to me so strongly that I couldn't swallow for the huge lump in my throat.

Hen and chicks loved my grandmother. I think most of us have a plant that we just can't kill. (Some of us just haven't found it yet.) For example, I had a spider plant that almost took over my bedroom. It was like living in a jungle.The thing was huge and just kept popping out babies. Supposedly the conditions were not ideal for spider plants in my bedroom, but the one I had ignored the odds. My grandmother was the same way with hen and chicks. Hers would just keep sending out little chicks, and it's obvious that the plants were thrilled with their home.

Once my grandmother came home from an estate sale with six planters shaped like old boots. She cleaned them up and then didn't know how she was going to display them. My grandparents had a deck off their kitchen that had two different sets of steps... three steps up on both. I looked at the steps. Looked at the boot planters. Looked at my grandmother. "Have them climb up the steps on one side and down the steps on the other," I suggested, and that's what she did. Half the boots had impatiens and the other half hen and chicks. I wish I'd brought at least one of those boot planters with me to Arizona when she died.

Here are my hen and chicks soaking up the sun at the office window-- along with their guard iguana from the same gift shop. I think they're happy because I took that photo a couple of weeks ago, and they've grown a lot since then. Denis had never seen anything like them before and keeps a close eye on them. He swears I'm going to have to buy a bigger pot soon. Perhaps I have more of my grandmother's green thumb than I thought...

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Trump's wall threatens 93 endangered species.
  • A teenager transformed this 22-acre island into a summer home for a lovable bunch of bunnies
  • This talking crow asks people passing by on the street "Y'all right, love?" in a strong Yorkshire accent. 
  • Golf courses across the U.S. step up to save Monarch butterflies.
  • Tigers don't eat humans, so why did this one kill over four hundred people? 
  • A loophole in Australian federal law allows one million tons of sludge to be dumped on the Great Barrier Reef
  • The decades-long political fight to save the Grand Canyon. (And the threats never stop.)

►Fascinating Folk◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄
  • Fifteen of the greatest "twists" ever written.
  • Nine mysteries that will take you on a journey from Paris to the south of France.
  • Twenty unusual things that famous people did.
  • Fifteen animal names that can be used as verbs.
  • The top fifteen global brands ranked annually from 2000 through 2018 in order of determined valuation.
  • 100 words turning 100 this year.

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, March 14, 2019

The Widows by Jess Montgomery

First Line: A hawk soars over Devil's Backbone.

Kinship, Ohio, 1924. When Sheriff Daniel Ross is killed while transporting a prisoner, his wife Lily vows to get to the bottom of it all. You see, things about her husband's death just aren't adding up. Fortunately, she's been named interim sheriff which should help her investigation.

Hours after the funeral, Marvena Whitcomb appears at Lily's door. A coal miner's widow, she doesn't know Daniel is dead and wants to know if he's found out anything about her missing daughter.

Amidst all the danger involved with attempts to unionize the local coal mine, the two widows find themselves joining forces to find out what happened to Marvena's daughter and to Daniel. The only trouble is, the more they investigate, the more they realize that Daniel really wasn't the man either of them thought he was-- and his murder is far from simple. Both women are widows. Both women have young children. Both are going to have to tread very carefully to find the truth.

I have to say that I was captivated by The Widows from the minute I began reading, and it does have a lot to do with my own personal experience. My mother was a widow (wife at eighteen, mother at nineteen, widow at twenty), so I know how tough and protective women on their own can be. Secondly, I come from a small farm town that used to be a mining town. On Christmas Eve 1932, methane gas built up in the mine, the barometric pressure dropped, the man who was going to be Santa that night at the community center flipped the switch to the lights down in the mine, and... no more mine. Fifty-four men died that day. Several sets of fathers and sons, brothers, uncles... My mother grew up with those men's children. Why am I yammering on about this? Because in those first few pages of The Widows when the methane gas begins to build in the coal mine known as The Widowmaker outside Kinship, chills ran up my spine. A connection was formed right then and there that never wavered throughout Montgomery's story.

The setting is pitch perfect, and the characters of Lily and Marvena are wonderful and completely capable of surprising everyone with just what they can do and how they can figure things out. They aren't just trying to find a killer. Lily, in particular, is also dealing with an extremely volatile situation concerning the mine owner who wants unionizers kept off his property, and to top it all off, the Volstead Act means that she's got to take care of moonshiners, too.

The excellent characterization also extends to Daniel, who moves from being a caricature of the heroic sheriff to being much more sharply delineated and "human." There's even a bad guy named Vogel who's so scary that if I were to turn around and find him standing behind me, I'd probably shatter into a million pieces.

In reading The Widows, you can learn about the dangers of being a miner and the importance of unions, you're treated to some excellent characters and one fine, twisty mystery that I loved even if I did figure out the identity of the spider at the center of the web early on. I can't tell you how happy I was when I learned that this is the first book in a series. I can't wait to get back to Kinship, Ohio, to be with Lily and Marvena again!

The Widows by Jess Montgomery
eISBN: 9781250184535
Minotaur Books © 2019
eBook, 328 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Kinship mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

While Miz Kittling Knits: No Offence

I really enjoy knitting, but I don't enjoy blocking the finished product. Blocking puts the finishing touches on knitting. You soak the completed project for a few minutes, gently squeeze as much moisture out as possible, then I roll the knitting into a big beach towel to get the rest of the excess water out. I then pin the item out on foam boards and let it dry. This can take care of rolled edges, and it can also open up lace knitting so that the pattern is easier to appreciate. Here's a photo of me blocking a lace scarf I made.

Blocking a completed scarf.

I had some projects that needed blocking, but I only gathered the intestinal fortitude to get 'er done last week. It's slow, tedious work, and I only make it harder for myself by waiting until I have four or five things lined up that need to be done. I might just learn one of these days...

I thought I'd show you one of the things fresh off the blocking boards. I've always loved Irish knitting with all those cables going every which way, so I decided that I'd find projects that had me working with cables more. Sooner or later (probably sooner), I'll work on a really complicated piece because the ones I've worked on so far have really been enjoyable.

I wanted cables with bling, so I went to my yarn stash and chose a sport-weight acrylic yarn in gold, complete with a gold metallic thread and gold sequins. The yarn is a Michaels in-house brand that's been discontinued, so I'm glad I stocked up on the various colors when I did. The pattern I used is called Londinium Cable Scarf, and as I began to knit, I didn't like how tight the knitting was, so I started over with size 8 needles instead of the recommended size 6. (I must finally be getting more comfortable as a knitter, since I'm changing yarn weights and needle sizes whenever I feel like it!)

You may or may not be able to see the pattern in this photo. See the four rows of cables? There is also another cable working its way up and down through the centers of each one. I found myself knitting the cables too tightly, and I had to rip everything down to the beginning and start again. But now I know that the stitches in cables like a little elbow room so they can show off!

I tried to take another photo that showed more "bling" but with very little success. At least some of the sequins decided to flash! I've almost convinced myself to give this one to Barbara Peters as a gift. She likes wearing long scarves that usually have a bit of sparkle or are made from interesting fabric. I keep chickening out, so if I actually do it, I'll let you know!

Now... what have I been watching while I've been working on these sparkly cables? A British crime drama on Acorn TV called No Offence. Here's the synopsis of the first series from the Acorn website:

"From the creator of Shameless comes an 'exhilarating' (The Independent, UK) police comedy-drama with fierce female characters and a shrewd, irreverent take on crime. Joanna Scanlan (Notes on a Scandal) and Elaine Cassidy (Acceptable Risk) star as Manchester detectives hunting for a serial killer in this BAFTA Award nominee for Best Drama Series."

When I mentioned on Facebook that I was watching No Offence while knitting one evening, my UK friend in Durham was so pleased because she'd been enjoying the series, too. Now we've both got a mutual friend in Minneapolis watching it and agreeing that it's addictive.

I've really been enjoying No Offence. The humor is brilliant, and the plot can change direction on a dime-- from laughter, you can immediately turn to stunned shock.

I also like it because I love British casting. The primary lead, Joanna Scanlan, would never have gotten the role in Hollywood. She's too "old," she's too "fat," and she's not "pretty/sexy." All I can do is give Hollywood the good old Bronx cheer. Joanna Scanlan is perfect.

I've also been enjoying it because everyone "sounds right." Now, this only makes sense if you know that my husband, the imported Englishman, was born and raised in Rochdale, a town right outside Manchester where this series is set. After being with his family and spending most of my time in the north of England, that's why No Offence "sounds right." (It's also one of the many reasons why I love Vera.)

So... if you're looking for a good cable scarf pattern, try Londinium, and if you're looking for a good crime drama to watch on the telly, try No Offence!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Desert Redemption by Betty Webb

First Lines: 35 years earlier. Screams in the distance. Gunshots. Angry voices.

Scottsdale private investigator Lena Jones survived a tough childhood. Shot in the head at the age of four, she was left to die on a Phoenix street. She spent years in an abusive foster care system, never knowing who her parents were or why they didn't claim her.

The belief that her parents may have been members of a cult has always made Lena eye such organizations with a great deal of suspicion, so when the ex-wife of a close friend joins a "new thought" organization called Kanati, she begins to investigate. She uncovers two communes out in the Arizona desert, and they are polar opposites. The followers of EarthWay have a rigorous dietary regime that could threaten its inhabitants while the folk at Kanati are dining on four-star French cuisine.

When the emaciated bodies of women are found out on the desert in the Pima Indian Reservation, Lena has the feeling that they have something to do with EarthWay and Kanati-- and when she begins to have flashes of memory about her father and brother, she can't help but feel that she's close to getting the answers to everything... including her own past.

Betty Webb is a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde. She writes the light and humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries that are a delight to read, and she writes the much darker Lena Jones series, much of the material of which came from her years as a reporter. I love both series, but my heart has always been with Lena, partly because of how Webb depicts Arizona and the Phoenix metropolitan area. Webb's Lena Jones series has been consistently excellent, often dealing with important topics like polygamy, and because of her past, Lena is always on the side of children.

It hurt to read Desert Redemption knowing that it's the last book in the series. I haven't always agreed with what Lena has done, but she's become more than a friend through the years. Someone is always telling Lena "You can't do everything" to which she always replies, "But I can always try." You have to have a great deal of respect for someone like that. Everything she's done, everything she's suffered, everything she's fought for, has all led her to the final outcome of this book. Desert Redemption is a bone-deep, satisfying conclusion to this series-- and it contains The Best Last Sentence of a book or series ever. You can read it as a standalone, but I sincerely hope you don't cheat yourself. If you and Lena haven't met, start with Desert Noir.

Desert Redemption by Betty Webb
eISBN: 9781464210983
Poisoned Pen Press/Sourcebooks © 2019
eBook, 328 pages

Private Investigator, #10 (and last) Lena Jones mystery
Rating: A+
Source: NetGalley