Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Title: The Map of Time
Author: Felix J. Palma
Translator: Nick Caistor
ISBN: 9781439167397
Publisher: Atria Books, 2011
Hardcover, 624 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: C
Source: the publisher

First Line: Andrew Harrington would have gladly died several times over if that meant not having to choose just one pistol from among his father's vast collection in the living room cabinet.

The Map of Time is a rollicking homage to the Victorian world and to H.G. Wells and the concept of time travel. When it succeeds, it has the power to transport readers to a fascinating world. When it doesn't, reader interest can rapidly wander.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with traveling back to the past. The second, with traveling into the future, and the third and final section with the future coming back to the past.

The first section was by far the best of the three. Andrew Harrington, the poor little rich boy who's been terrorized by the prototypical power-mad father, has decided to commit suicide. He lost the love of his life six years ago. (If I were to say "Mary Kelly" and "1880s London", aficionados of that particular time period will know where this is headed.) Andrew's best friend is not going to let him go quietly into that good night, and comes up with the only solution he can think of: Go to the man who owns Murray's Time Travel to see if they can't pay to go back in time to prevent the death of Andrew's beloved Mary Kelly. This section is full of the bustle, the smells, the sound of Victorian London. Palma also shows a deft hand at humor when describing the origins of the senior Harrington's wealth.

The second section was much less successful. I love time travel, and I'm the most willing subject to suspend my disbelief to enter a story. However, once details crop up that don't sync with that story, I can get thrown out very easily. This is what happened in the second section. Some of the jarring details were to clue the reader in on the fact that things weren't what they seemed. However, when you tell me in one sentence that the hero is flat broke, then two paragraphs later (without benefit of payday or windfall) I'm told the same hero is treating a lady to tea and sandwiches AND paying for a room in a boarding house, I get thrown out of the story and am more likely to search for other discrepancies.

I was completely hooked in part one, suspicious in part two, and by the time the time traveler from the future showed up, my interest began to wander. Badly. Partly because it was rather obvious what the time traveler was up to, and partly because the story had the feeling of a helium balloon with a slow leak.

Historical figures play a large part in this book-- in particular H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine. The use of historical personages as characters doesn't bother me as long as it's done well, which it is in The Map of Time. I loved the premise, I loved the historical detail, I loved the characters. However, the plot just wasn't meaty enough to hold up through six hundred pages.

Reef Runner by Pepper Smith

Title: Reef Runner
Author: Pepper Smith
ISBN: 9781594263750
Publisher: Mundania Press, 2011
Paperback, 204 pages
Genre: Thriller, #3 Patty O'Donnell
Rating: B-
Source: the author

First Line: It wasn't my cousin Collin's face that caught my attention first.

Patty O'Donnell has the life that most people dream of. She's married to a man whom she loves deeply, she has work that fulfills her, and she has an infant daughter whom she adores. Unfortunately, some people in a person's past refuse to stay gone, and while Patty is visiting her family in Arizona, she is kidnapped and taken to Australia where she's told in no uncertain terms that she will do as she's told, or her daughter and husband will be killed. Patty has no alternative but to obey and either hope that the years pass quickly, or -- somehow, some way-- she'll be rescued.

One of the main reasons why I enjoy this series so much is because Patty is such a strong, resourceful character. She refuses to be defeated. Although this book is an interesting study showing what happens to such a strong-willed person when all the options are removed, tying Patty's hands also hogtied the story. The one thing that could've really rescued it was a lengthier description of the scam in which Patty was being forced to participate, but although that storyline had great possibilities, it was dealt with very quickly.

When the villain got away clean in Rio Star, I hoped that he would stay gone. I actively didn't like the guy and, if faced with him myself, would have been tempted to do an Indiana Jones versus the sword fighter in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, I had a strong reaction to the character, which is an indication of how good Smith's writing is. In fact, I disliked the bad guy so much that, during the section in which his background and motivations are brought to light, I couldn't work up much sympathy for him.

The brightest part of Reef Runner for me is that this particular bad guy has been taken care of, and I look forward to a new book in which Patty is back to her feisty, resourceful self.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scene of the Blog Featuring Yvette of in so many words...

I think an errant comment led me to this week's featured blogger. Who knows? What I do know is that, once I saw the page load, I knew I was in the presence of a kindred spirit.

It's rather easy to see by taking a look at my blog that I'm a visual person. Book covers, graphics, my own photos-- there are clues everywhere.  But for one reason or another, I keep my blog toned down a bit.

The first time I visited Yvette's blog, in so many words, I could see that this woman loved color, form, light...ART... even more than I. Yvette loves books and movies and art, and she talks about them all on her blog. Her blog, her work, her life is a feast, and I hope you take the opportunity to visit in so many words to soak up the abundance. Right now, sit back and enjoy the visual feast Yvette's given us right here on Kittling: Books. (Don't forget that you can click on each photo to view it in a larger size!)

When I was asked by Cathy to contribute to her wonderful weekly Scene of the Blog, I was both flattered and honored to be included. I’m still smiling ear to ear. I feel like I’ve finally ‘arrived.’

I’ve always gotten such a kick out of viewing other blogger’s personal spaces and now it’s my turn.

Rocky making sure the reading area is comfy.
 I live and work in the same basic space alongside my chihuahua Rocky who can be seen napping on the sofa -  a favorite place. (No big surprise there.)

When I first moved here a few years ago I turned the living room into a studio by dividing it into three workable areas: computer work station, drawing table/painting corner and sofa/book space.

Computer work station
As you can see, I’m not one for blank spaces or empty walls. I like to think I am like Mother Nature, I abhor an empty space. I also like to think that my work area reflects me and only me. I doubt there’s anyone else who could live here surrounded by all this stuff and be comfy as I am. It is, I think, a very personal space. In my view, all our living places should be uniquely personal.

Drawing table
Whether I am sitting at my computer, painting at my drawing table or reading on the sofa or chair, I am always surrounded by stuff. Each and every item in my ‘collection’ has meaning for me - almost all have a story to tell. They’re talismanic, in a way, reminders of some happy memory or other.

 My lifestyle is fairly casual, but I like to do each task in a self-appointed space. I only ever draw or paint at my work table simply because I like things on a slant AND my old fashioned CD player is right behind me on a shelf so I can listen to music or books as I please. Yes, I’m still old fashioned enough that I don’t get all my audio books or music from my computer. I’ve just never gotten into the habit and I’m probably too old now to change. I always write at my desk-top computer – don’t have a lap top -  OR, occasionally in long-hand. Since I don’t enjoy reading large tracts of type from a screen, I read real books either in the kitchen or in bed or on the sofa or living room chair which is large enough to accommodate both me, my dog and several books, pillows and, in the winter, a warm throw. 

A book is never far from reach.
I’m lucky enough to have a large kitchen with a big wooden table where I can also read or work on bills or whatever. I have bookcases there too as well as in my bedroom. A book is never far from reach around here. This is my own cozy corner of the world and welcome to it. 

Thanks Cathy for allowing me to share my space on SCENE OF THE BLOG.

You are so very welcome, Yvette! I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly enjoyed this glimpse into your creative spaces. There's something about such an intense, personal space that I respond to whole-heartedly. I feel as though I could take my shoes off, get comfy, scratch Rocky's ears, take a look at all your collections-- and still have time for a cup of tea and a good long chat with you. It is a very welcoming space as well as being very creative. Thank you for allowing us this visit!

Stop by next Wednesday when I'll be featuring another book blogger from our worldwide community!

A Companionable Wordless Wednesday

Click to view full size. More Wordless Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Samaritan by Stephen Besecker

Title: The Samaritan
Author: Stephen Besecker
ISBN: 9781610880091
Publisher: Bancroft Press, 2011
Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Thriller
Rating: C
Source: the publisher

First Line: Like any experienced big-game hunter, the man shouldering the high-powered sniper's rifle ignored the elements and focused on opportunity.

Kevin "Hatch" Easter is well acquainted with the feeling of being an outsider. As a child, he grew up as a half Seneca Indian in a mostly white society. When his parents were killed, he moved to the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation to be raised by his shaman grandfather. That feeling of being an outsider disappeared when he met and married Karen, and when he found a job he could believe in-- being a tracker for the Central Intelligence Agency.

All that shatters when a mob collection goes wrong and three people are killed-- Karen Easter among them. Evidence is found, and the case is all tied up in a pretty bow. Justice has been done. Except that someone doesn't buy it. Someone thinks the guilty are still out there and is systematically stalking and killing anyone who may have had a part in the murders.

Everyone thinks Hatch has gone rogue, and CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence Jack Slattery puts top field agent Gray Taylor on the job. He has no other choice.

This book is fast-paced and well-plotted. I know thrillers are not the type of book you turn to when you tend to focus on characterization, but I do enjoy reading them from time to time, and they normally have just enough about the characters to keep me happy. However, this book had a bit of awkwardness to it, and I just couldn't fall into it completely.

Hatch is a fascinating character, and so is his brother. I wanted to know more about them, but the author was trying to keep everyone guessing as to whom the stalker was, so those two were kept back in the shadows for the most part. As far as I was concerned, the identity of the stalker was fairly cut and dried. There were a small number of characters, and the process of elimination quickly led me to the killer.

This is a book in which there is a lot to like. Besecker has hit the jackpot with his cast of characters, and I'm hoping the next book will use them to their full potential. In this book, however, he worked so hard to keep the killer's identity a mystery that I could never feel invested in the story.

Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey

Title: Lake Charles
Author: Ed Lynskey
ISBN: 9781434430465
Publisher: Wildside Press, 2011
Paperback, 188 pages
Genre: Thriller
Rating: B-
Source: the author

First Line: My twin sister Edna seated between Cobb Kuzawa and me snapped her gum.

1979 is not being kind to nineteen-year-old Brendan Fishback. Idly hoping that his song-writing efforts will make his name in Nashville, instead his dope-smoking partying has landed him in deep trouble. Accused of murdering the beautiful daughter of a local big shot, Brendan is out on bail, and has stopped smoking marijuana completely. Now he's headed on a fishing trip to Lake Charles, Tennessee, with his best buddy, Cobb, and his twin sister, Edna. Brendan knows he's going to have to do something to clear his name, but right now, he just wants to relax. Unfortunately, it's going to be a long time before he's allowed to do that.

Lake Charles is a dark tale of Smoky Mountain politics, corruption and drugs.  It is violent and moves as swiftly as a mountain stream. The writing is well-paced and very evocative of its rural setting. There are so many things to like about this book, but I kept finding my mind wandering as I read. I am a very character-driven reader. For me the most interesting characters in the book were Cobb and Edna, and they're dealt with very quickly. I tried to refocus on Brendan, but it just didn't work.  I was left with a book that I liked a great deal, but one that I didn't particularly enjoy.

What Does Your Facebook Profile Say About You?

You Are Shy in Real Life

You are modern and up on the latest trends. You resist getting stuck in a rut.

You are confident and sure of yourself. You may not be perfect, but you're happy with what you've got.

You are more of a lurker and a listener. You enjoy knowing what others are thinking, but you don't have much to add to the mix.

You consider yourself to be a responsible person. You will do whatever needs to be done.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell writes two different paranormal mystery series. One features Lily Ivory, a witch who runs Aunt Cora's Closet, a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in the Witchcraft Mysteries. The second features Melanie Turner, a woman running her father's construction company which specializes in historic home renovation in the Haunted Home Renovation series.

As Hailey Lind, Juliet co-wrote a series with her sister which features Annie Kincaid, a reformed art forger now in the faux finishing business-- the Art Lover's mysteries.

Having read the first in the Haunted Home Renovation series, I've fallen in love with the wealth of historic home renovation detail-- and with the voice and character of Mel. It won't be long before I'm sampling the rest of Blackwell's titles!

Juliet Blackwell
In the  meantime, here are some other ways to get to know this talented author:

Let's get to the interview. It's a good'un!

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

Sitting on my shelf, with pride of place, is the Bumper Book.  The publication date is 1947, at it was in its 22nd printing, so I imagine it was written around the turn of the twentieth century.  It is full of poems and rhymes and short stories with exotic stories referring to “nurses” and “nannies” and “eating with Cook”.  The illustrations are amazing: full-color old fashioned drawings of children in pinafores and lederhosen.

I adored the rhythm of the poems, repeating the rhymes endlessly.  The pictures of children cavorting with overall-clad rabbits in the woods just fascinated me!  I also remember it being SOOOO big – though now I see that while it is oversized, I was clearly much smaller back then ;-)  My fondest childhood memories are of sitting on my mother’s lap while she read the Bumper Book to me – I’m sure it fostered my love of playing with words.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

I used to read constantly, and I still try to, but I usually don’t manage more than a chapter or two before bed, and I find that I have so many books on my To-Be-Read pile that it’s threatening to topple over!  Now that I spend so much of my day sitting at my desk writing, I try to balance things out by doing something more active and/or social, like painting, hiking, gardening, and spending time with friends and family.  I have a huge old (undoubtedly haunted) house in Oakland, so I often have friends and relatives staying with me.  It makes life something of a party ;-) Right now I have four people staying with me, and another just arrived last night for a week!

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 guide books.)

Chapel of the Chimes
Great question!  Oakland might have a rather negative reputation amongst outsiders, but it’s really a wonderful, historic city, with plenty of sunshine, nice folks, a gorgeous lake right downtown, and some incredible sights.   One of my favorite places is called the Chapel of the Chimes, which is a columbarium designed and built by Julia Morgan, the same architect who designed Hearst’s Castle.  It might sound strange to suggest touring a mausoleum, but it’s an amazing building, full of mosaic and concrete tracery and stained glass and gothic Romanesque arches…I can’t possibly do it justice here, it has to be seen to be believed.  And it’s free and open to the public! Afterward, take a stroll through the historic Mountain View cemetery that adjoins the Chapel – you’ll find incredible crypts full of art, and the best views, hands down, of  Oakland, the bay, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate bridge. This is a hidden gem!

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Ooooh, that’s a tough one! A lot of us think about casting a movie made of one of our books, but my OWN life…?  Zoey Deschanel –her goofy side, not the glamorous one—would probably be a great me in my younger years.  More recently, though, I think Kathy Bates might be a better fit ;-)  I think Bates is an incredible actress and really lovely, and I’d love to meet her! I’ve also been told I look like a really plump Elizabeth McGovern…who recently wore some incredible vintage clothing in Downton Abbey, a great mini-series.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

My favorite changes with what I’m reading!  I grew up adoring Vicky Bliss, from Elizabeth Peters’s adventure mysteries.  One of my current favorites appears in my friend Sophie Littlefield’s “Bad Day…” series: Stella Hardesty is a fifty-something small town woman with a trashy mouth and a chip on her shoulder – she goes up against some bad men and never loses her sense of humor. And I really enjoyed Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum for the first several books…though I lost interest after a while.  Lee Child’s Reacher is a wonderful, classic, mysterious hero.  Can you tell I’m a Libra?  I have a hard time making choices!

I enjoyed reading If Walls Could Talk because old houses speak to me, too. Please tell us a bit about your favorite old house that you've been in.

It’s usually whatever house I’m working on – maybe I have architectural attention deficit disorder!  But one of my favorites is the house I live in now, which is celebrating its hundred year anniversary this year – I’m planning on giving it a birthday party this August. The house was built by John Hudson Thomas, an architect who worked with bigger names like Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck.  The windows are almost all distinct and custom-made; it features broad Moroccan arches and has a vaulted ceiling in the living room.  The lighting fixtures are hand-blown glass from a company that competed with Tiffany Studios at the time. The dining room is hexagonal…there’s a butler’s pantry and a speaking tube and a “maid’s room”…it’s truly a marvel of a house.

I’m only the third owner: the wealthy family who built it lived here for forty-something years and raised a son and daughter – the daughter went on to make movies in very early Hollywood.  The son married and had a daughter who lived here until she was five – that now-grown daughter sent me a letter two weeks after I moved in, asking whether she could come and visit. She told me so many stories about the place!  After her family sold the house, a Polish couple in their forties moved in –they didn’t have the money to keep the place up, so it was neglected for years but they left most of the original woodwork and design intact.

When I moved in the house had been abandoned for two years; there was no heat or hot water, but it was well worth fixing in order to live in such a lovely, graceful home…complete with ghosts!

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

I had taken an occasional stab at short stories, but never got serious about them – they’re tough!  I had also begun half a dozen women’s fiction-type books, and even a couple of  romances.  But I rarely got past about fifty pages…it wasn’t until I got serious with the mysteries that I ever finished an actual manuscript.  My first mystery was written under a different pen name – Hailey Lind.  Feint of Art, the first in that series, was about an art forger trying to go straight in San Francisco.  I wrote it with my sister, and it started out as a fun exercise, then morphed into an actual manuscript!

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

It was SUCH a rush to see my first book in a bookstore!  As an avid reader all my life, it was truly a dream to see my own work sitting on the shelf next to other novels I loved.  One of the sad things about being a professional writer is that we tend to get blasé about our latest novel coming out, as though it’s no big deal.  But it should always be a big deal!

When I got that call from my agent saying my first book had sold, I went out with friends and celebrated by drinking scotch in a bar – it felt very writerly ;-)  And then I joined Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, because I knew nothing about being a writer, or about the publishing industry.  Both groups have served me VERY well over the years.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

Parnell Hall is a hoot, and that video, while hilarious, is also painful!  I have had signings where no one showed up but the store employees – very embarrassing.  But then I learned that the shop owners often feel just as embarrassed, as though they should have been able to pull in an audience.  Now I just chalk up a low turn out to the weather or something similar, and as I usually bring a bottle of wine I enjoy a glass with the staff.  Another thing that helps is to travel with another author or two – that usually brings out a bigger crowd, and it’s a lot more fun! I haven’t had anything particularly unusual happen at a signing yet, though it’s most fun when a reading morphs into a sort of free-for-all, with people sharing their thoughts and opinions loudly and happily.  

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

I think anything that keeps people reading is a good thing.  I’m not big on technology (friends reading this would laugh at this understatement!) but I know a lot of people love their various electronic devices – and that they allow the reader to adjust the print size and the contrast, and enable readers to travel with multiple books.  Those are all good things!  And as an author, I get paid a percentage whether readers buy paper or electronically.

Publishing directly as an e-book rather than through traditional publishers, however, is a whole other debate…it’s too complicated to go into it thoroughly here, but I think eventually there will be a lot of books available only by e-book, while others will be available in both paper and electronic formats.  And as I said above…as long as there are readers, I’m fine with it ;-)

Thanks so much for spending this time with us, Julie. It was fun to get to know you a bit better!

Find out more!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Farmers, Ranchers and Rangers

Great Outdoors Month winds up with a bang here at Kittling: Books by talking about some of my favorite sorts of sleuths: ranchers, farmers, rangers, and safari guides.

In many ways, these mysteries have the strongest sense of place. Not only do family farms and ranches hold great sentimental value to their owners, but these people have been trained throughout their lives to be on the lookout for small nuances of earth, weather and animal behavior. If you're a ranger or guide out in an area of surpassing natural beauty? You may be reawakening thousands of reader memories, or convincing them that they've just chosen their next vacation destination.

It's plain and simple: there's simply something about the land.

Before I go on to talk about the four authors I'm spotlighting this weekend, I'd like to tip my hat to two writers who have done so much for the mystery genre. What would many crime fiction readers do without the ongoing investigations of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon or C.J. Box's Joe Pickett? Not only have both authors given us two enduring and maturing characters, they have given us a much clearer sense of the open spaces of the United States.

Sandi Ault
Sandi Ault tells us on the first page of her website that she hopes we've landed there because "you're a fan of the West, a fan of the Wild, a mystery fan, or a lover of wolves." If you've read any of her award-winning books, you'll understand why she says that.

Her series focuses on Jamaica Wild, a Resource Protection Agent for the Bureau of Land Management in northern New Mexico. Jamaica's companion is a wolf named Mountain, and she is learning the culture of the Pueblo people among whom she lives.

The series currently has four books: Wild Indigo (2007), Wild Inferno (2008), Wild Sorrow (2009), and Wild Penance (2010).

Booklist and I agree about the first book in the series, Wild Indigo:

Jamaica Wild, a resource-protection agent for the Bureau of Land Management, fails to save Jerome Santana from being trampled by a herd of buffalo. In fact, the leadership of the Tanoah Pueblo in New Mexico blames her for starting the stampede, not to mention the fact that she was on Pueblo land during Quiet Time, when visitors aren't allowed. Jamaica's investigation to prove Santana's death was murder--freeing her from culpability--leads to an exciting mountain rescue. As she investigates, Jamaica continues to maintain close ties with Momma Anna, Santana's mother, from whom she is learning about Pueblo life. In addition to her Native American studies, Jamaica, a strong-willed yet vulnerable heroine, is raising a rambunctious wolf pup and is romantically involved with forest ranger Kerry Reed. Ault blends the traditions and ceremonies from several Pueblo cultures, immersing the reader in Pueblo life and the beauty of northern New Mexico.

Sinclair Browning
Sinclair Browning has lived in southern Arizona most of her life. She's written one of my favorite mystery series featuring cattle rancher and part-time private investigator, Trade Ellis. I enjoy these mysteries for their sense of place and for their stories, but her people got under my skin, too. (I remember describing a secondary character as being unable to communicate if she were forced to wear a bra. If you've read the series, you know the character!)

With her books coming out in electronic format for $2.99 or below, I'm hoping that Browning will be tempted to write another Trade Ellis book.

The series has five entries: The Last Song Dogs (1999), The Sporting Club (2000), Rode Hard, Put Away Dead (2001), Crack Shot (2002), and Traggedy Ann (2003).

Here's what Publishers Weekly thought of The Last Song Dogs:

News of the gruesome murders of former Javelina High School Song Dog cheerleaders hits home with private investigator Trade Ellis in this debut mystery. One of the few remaining members of the squad, Ellis has been content working her immense Arizona ranch, Vaca Grande, and taking on the occasional insurance fraud or cheating-spouse case. But two aging classmates, worried for their lives, convince her to take on her first murder case while there are still some Song Dogs left. The upcoming 25-year reunion provides Ellis with the perfect opportunity, but little time, to interview her lengthy, diverse list of suspects, many of whom don't take kindly to her prying. Employing the help of some valuable connections, the sleuth finds more plausible motives than she knows what to do with, and uncovering lies and secrets soon proves dangerous. The action moves briskly and is boosted by the motley cast of characters and Browning's inspired descriptions of the Southwest landscape up to the very end, when the killer's true identity is revealed. 

Judy Clemens
Judy Clemens writes one of the most realistic series about a dairy farmer that you'll ever have the pleasure of reading. When I began reading the Stella Crown series, I greatly appreciated that here was an amateur sleuth who just couldn't go haring off whenever she felt like looking for clues. You see... when cows need to be milked, they need to be milked.

Stella also has several very noticeable tattoos and likes to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Many people take one look at her and assume they know all about her. Stella has learned the advantage of taking a long, slow second look. Face value doesn't mean much.

The series currently has five books: Till the Cows Come Home (2004), Three Can Keep a Secret (2005), To Thine Own Self Be True (2006), The Day Will Come (2007), and Different Paths (2008).

Once again, Booklist and I agree, this time about Stella in Till the Cows Come Home:

She's smart. She's tough. She's sexy. She's a dairy farmer? However incongruous Stella Crown's occupation may seem in conjunction with her attributes, Clemens makes her not only believable but admirable. Left alone when her parents died, Stella runs the family's Pennsylvania dairy farm with help from her hired hand and second father, Howie. It's a hard life, and Clemens' vivid portrayal of the lot of the small farmer is eye-opening and disturbing. But Stella's troubles go beyond the everyday when it becomes clear that someone is sabotaging her. And, even more seriously, children are falling ill with a strange virus--one young boy is already dead. Stella deals with dead cows, arson, a missing dog, and a sick young farmhand while also attempting to sort out her love life. Alternately a Harley-riding, tough farm girl and a kindhearted, vulnerable woman, Stella makes an endearing heroine in a promising first novel.

Karin McQuillan
Psychotherapist Karin McQuillan has written a short series that I just have to try. Set in Kenya, the main character is Jazz Jasper, an American safari guide. That sounds like the perfect blend of strong female lead, wildlife, wide open spaces, and adventure to me!

There are three books in the series: Deadly Safari (1990), Elephant's Graveyard (1993), and Cheetah Chase (1994).

Publishers Weekly had this to say about Deadly Safari:

Jazz Jasper comes to Kenya to escape a failed marriage and start her own safari company; one of her first contracts is a location-scouting expedition for Wild and Free Shampoo commercials. Out on the Serengeti Plain, one of the owners of the shampoo company, unpleasant bully Boyce Darnell, dies of an apparent heart attack. His demise is followed by the bloody murder with a spear of Jazz's friend Lynn. Police Inspector Omondi eliminates Jazz and her staff as suspects, identifying as the most likely perpetrators Darnell's widow, his partner Al, Al's wife Madge, an advertising executive who was Lynn's boss, and Candy, a model who'd been pursued, then fired by the dead man. Tensions grow in the camp as Jazz launches an investigation to save her fledgling business and avenge her murdered friend, discovering a number of motives based on old secrets and financial skulduggery. McQuillan's evident love for the African countryside, animals and people sets this mystery apart, as does a sensitively handled love affair. Her fine eye for detail and a deft touch with characterization promise much for the future.

What do you think of this week's choices? Agree? Disagree? Have some of your own? Please share so we can all update our wishlists!

Don't forget to stop by next weekend when Celebrating Mysteries begins its fifth month!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scene of the Blog Featuring Drey of Drey's Library!

I've been enjoying this week's featured book blogger for quite some time. Drey works full-time, she's married, she's raising a family. She also is a voracious reader and manages to keep two excellent blogs going.

When you want to see what books she's talking about, check out Drey's Library. If you'd like to read her rants and muses about life in general, head on over to Drey's House. I'm sure you're going to enjoy both her blogs!

Before we take a look at her creative spaces, don't forget that you can click on each photo to view it in a larger size. Now... let's go see where Drey does her magic!

I’ll admit it, I was thrilled when asked to be featured on Scene of the Blog... Then I panicked. Oh. Emm. Gee. I have to show photos of where I blog at/from? Yikes!

One reason for that panic is, I don’t have a set space--either for work, or for blogging. Sure I have a desktop computer, and a laptop that I use in lieu of the desktop. I also have a bookcase full of my TBR pile patiently waiting to be conquered. And a reading chair. Guess I’ll start there...

Desktop computer, TBR shelves, reading chair...

And try not to blush at everyone looking at my messy messy space. 

I do a lot of my reading and blogging from the living room couch. Sure, my reading chair’s comfy and all, but it’s in the family room/den and that’s not where the boys hang out. So while they’re watching tv or playing video games, I’m perched on the end of the couch with my books and laptop readily accessible. 

The comfy couch
And then there’s the dining room table. Yes, I know. But it (sometimes) beats Starbucks. 

The dining room table
This is on a good day, too. Usually I’m spread out all over, with books and notebooks and papers everywhere. 

Because I don’t have a dedicated space, I do all my organizing online. I use Google Calendar fanatically, and loved when I found I could sync it to my phone along with my work calendar. I have a notebook I scribble thoughts in, but I rarely crack it open, so it hasn’t been as handy as I’d like. Then again, I’m not the most organized person out there. If I can remember to put my thoughts in Evernote (there’s an app for that!) I’m usually good to go.

All I can say is that I'm glad no one can see my desk right now. In comparison, your spaces look as though Martha Stewart just left after a quick tidy and a couple of Good Things!

I love the art on your walls, your comfy couch, those dining room chairs.... and I like your blogs! Thanks so much for taking the time to show us your creative spaces. We certainly appreciate it!

Don't forget to stop by next Wednesday when another book blogger from our worldwide community will be showing us some very creative spaces!

It's Wordless Wednesday, but I know you're in there!

Click to view full size. More Wordless Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Devil's Plaything by Matt Richtel

Title: Devil's Plaything
Author: Matt Richtel
ISBN: 9780061999697
Publisher: Harper, 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Genre: Thriller, #2 Nat Idle
Rating: C+
Source: Amazon Vine

First Line: My big toe is exposed and my companion lost in the world beyond.

Nat Idle is a freelance writer spending most of his time writing blog posts with medical angles. He's got more on his mind than his next post, however. His beloved grandmother, Lane, now in a nursing home, has been having problems with her memory, but those problems have been snowballing. Nat doesn't want to accept the inevitable, and he vows to spend more time with her. He's in Golden Gate Park when he makes that promise, and minutes later he's almost gunned down.

It was no random attack, and as he pursues the truth through a warren of technology and paranoia, he learns that this may all be linked to something called the Human Memory Crusade-- something his grandmother has been participating in at the nursing home. Realizing that-- whether she knows it or not-- Lane holds the key to the mystery, Nat smuggles her out of the nursing home, and they go on the run to find the answers.

Although this is the second book in which the character of Nat Idle appears, it stands completely on its own. There were no annoying references to past events that made me wonder what had happened before.

My favorite character in the book was Nat's grandmother, Lane, but once she is taken away from him, the book almost completely loses its momentum. With the real threat gone, there are glimpses of the evil behind the Human Memory Crusade, but there is no real solution or an attempt at one in sight. The first half of the book was excellent; the last half limped home.

Which of the Four Divine States Are You?

You Are Compassion

You are not a petty person. You truly want the best for people, and you feel empathy for them in their struggles.

You believe that we are all interconnected. When someone is happy, it makes you more joyful.

You believe that you have gained a great deal of freedom from not judging others.

You don't believe that anyone should have to suffer. It pains you to see others living a hard life.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Scene of the Crime With Author Jessica Speart

I was familiar with Jessica Speart's series featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Rachel Porter (which begins with Gator Aide), but it was her latest book, Winged Obsession, that held me down and wouldn't let me come up for air.

Jessica was born and raised a Jersey girl, and her passion for animals began during a trip to Africa. Her writing career began when she started writing articles about wildlife law enforcement, endangered species issues, and the environment and sold them to magazines. The books came when she realized the characters in her articles were stranger than fiction.

Jessica Speart
If you'd like to know more about this author, let's start with a list of her Rachel Porter mysteries and follow it with these other sites:

Now, let's get started with that interview!

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

I read so many good books while growing up.  However, one that made a memorable impression was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.  What’s not to love about ponies running around on “the isle of wild things?”  It was adventure and nature all rolled into a marvelous story.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Writing takes up most of my time, but spare moments are spent reading, traveling and seeing friends.  I also try to take advantage of living near NYC and all that it has to offer.

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 guide books.)

I’m afraid my hometown is a pretty quiet place with just a post office, general store and a small restaurant serving breakfast and lunch.  But it’s also a magical town with land preserves, streams and plenty of wildlife.  There’s even a secret spot where I can go and pick blueberries to my heart’s content. [Sounds like a wonderful place to me!]

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

You’ve stumped me on this one.  I hope to be pleasantly surprised one day.

You and I are both wildlife lovers. I grew up in farm country in central Illinois. I idolized my grandfather, and I'd always go out hunting with him and our dogs. I never liked it when he shot anything, and I wouldn't eat meals with my grandparents when they ate what he shot. One fall morning, I remember tromping through a spent cornfield, and as Grampa took a shot at a quail, I thought, Grampa's not the only person around here who goes hunting. Are there enough quail or pheasants or rabbits to go around? That's when I started reading about conservation and endangered species.  Was there any particular "A-ha Moment" for you? 

My "A-ha Moment?"  It was when my mother became furious with a cat for killing a bird.  Then she realized we basically do the same thing by eating meat.  We both became vegetarian as a result.  At least for many years.  I still rarely eat red meat.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Okay, I admit to having a soft spot for Jack Reacher in the Lee Child series.  But then, don’t most women who read one of his books?

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

I worked as a freelance writer for magazines before my Rachel Porter mystery series was published.  I specialized in wildlife law enforcement and endangered species issues.  That continues to be the focus of my books.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

What did I do the first time I saw one of my books on a bookstore shelf?  That’s easy.  I turned it face out.  My celebration was to buy a nice bottle of wine.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event? 

Everyone has horror stories about bookstores signings.  Parnell Hall was clever enough to sum it up in a song.  I think the worst signing I ever had was in Michigan where my audience consisted of just two senior citizens.  Both were hard of hearing.  I not only had to shout the entire time, but they didn’t even buy a book.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author? 

I don’t see eBooks as a ghastly threat to the future of print books.  They’re here and are not going away.  I like to think of it as an alternative.  I just hope people continue to read. [That is the important thing!]

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Jessica, and for giving us such a wonderful book as Winged Obsession!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Out in the Garden

First off, an apology. Some sort of nasty virus crept up on me while I was asleep Tuesday night, and for the next two days I felt as though I had to get better to die. I'm just now beginning to feel human. Needless to say, the computer didn't get turned on, and everything fell by the wayside. Hopefully I can get myself worked back into the swing of things. Enough of me!

This third week of celebrating mysteries out in the great outdoors will bring us into contact with people who make our lives brighter by helping the earth to bloom. Are you ready for some gardening mysteries? I hope so!

First of all, I'd like to tip my hat to two of the master gardeners of mystery: Susan Wittig Albert with the wonderful China Bayles series, and Ellis Peters with her masterful Brother Cadfael. They are so well known that there's really no need to say more!

Julie Wray Herman
Lapsed Texas Master Gardener Julie Wray Herman lives outside of Houston with her husband, two teenagers, and (at last count) two dogs, three cats, three horses, and the creature who lurks in the pond.

She has created the Three Dirty Women Landscaping, Inc. mystery series. How could you not want to sample a book in this series that has a business name like that?

There are three books in the series: Three Dirty Women and the Garden of Death (2000), Three Dirty Women and the Bitter Brew (2001), and Three Dirty Women and the Shady Acres (2003).

Professional landscaping company, Three Dirty Women, unearths more than than they bargain for when Amilou Whittier finds her philandering husband buried under a client's azaleas. Her friend and partner, Korine McFaile, follows a twisting path to discover who really killed Greg Whittier. Was it Susannah Graham, whose past relationship with Greg Whittier may have been heating up again? Or was it Sally Tucker, who ran away with Greg and broke up Amilou's marriage, only to come back to town without him? Things get really complicated when a second victim turns up. When the evidence points squarely at Amilou, Korine finds that supporting a friend can be easier in thought than in deed. 

Kathy Lynn Emerson
Maine writer Kathy Lynn Emerson has written an excellent historical mystery series featuring Lady Susanna Appleton, an herbalist and sleuth in Elizabethan England. I've enjoyed this series for the character of Susanna, the period detail, and the information about plants and herbs.

At this time, there are eleven books in the series. The first three are: Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie (1997), Face Down Upon an Herbal (1998), and Face Down Among the Winchester Geese (1999).

Booklist says this about Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie:

Emerson introduces an unconventional Elizabethan sleuth in this entertaining first installment of a new mystery series. Ignoring the express wishes of her husband, Lady Susanna Appleton, expert herbalist and astute judge of human nature, travels to Lancashire to investigate the sudden death of John Bexwith, senior steward of Appleton Manor. Although Susanna immediately suspects Bexwith was poisoned, she must unearth several skeletons in the Appleton family closet before uncovering a plausible motive for murder. With verve and elan, Susanna is able to utilize her extensive knowledge of plants and toxins to solve the case and to exact an extraordinary measure of independence from her wary husband.

Vicki Lane
North Carolina writer Vicki Lane and her husband moved to the Appalachian Mountains in 1975 and immersed themselves in farm life. I've been a longtime subscriber to her blog, which is filled with wonderful photos, among other goodies.

Her series features 50-something widow Elizabeth Goodweather, who is the proprietor of an herb and flower farm near Ashville, North Carolina. Her books are filled with marvelous characters.

The series contains five books, the first three of which are: Signs in the Blood (2005), Art's Blood (2006), and Old Wounds (2007).

Publishers Weekly liked the first book, Signs in the Blood, as much as I did:

Fundamentalist Christian snake handlers and liberal back-to-the-landers; a secretive white supremacist militia and undercover police agents; simple rural mountain dwellers and sophisticated urban artists—throw in a counterculture commune of allegedly extraterrestrial origin and that still wouldn't cover all the disparate types who populate the Appalachian community of Ridley Branch, N.C., the setting for this well-crafted, dramatic tale of murder, miracles and midlife romance. Widow Elizabeth Goodweather, the 52-year-old proprietor of an herb and flower farm, becomes dangerously involved in a homegrown investigation when a housebound elderly neighbor refuses to accept the official verdict that her retarded yet woods-savvy son's death was accidental. Evocative detail brings the supporting characters vividly to life, as the plot moves between the mountain man's killing and an unsolved historical mystery that appears to eerily mirror the murderous modern scenario. Also admirable is the sensitivity with which Lane utilizes exotic religions to intensify the book's dark-toned suspense, while resisting oversimplification and insult.

Naomi Hirahara
Naomi Hirahara's father-- like Naomi-- was born in California, but when he was an infant, he was taken to Hiroshima, Japan. He was only miles away from the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast in 1945, but he survived. Naomi's mother was born in Hiroshima and lost her father in the blast. Shortly after the end of the war, Naomi's father returned to California and established himself in the gardening and landscaping trade in Los Angeles.

Naomi's series features Mas Arai,a Japanese-American Hiroshima survivor who's a gardener and sleuth in Los Angeles. I love the character of Mas Arai!

The series to date contains four books: Summer of the Big Bachi (2004), Gasa-Gasa Girl (2005), Snakeskin Shamisen (2006), and Blood Hina (2010).

Once again, Publishers Weekly and I agree about the first book in the series, Summer of the Big Bachi:

In chapter one of Hirahara's seamless and shyly powerful first novel, a Japanese PI unsettles prickly, stubborn Mas Arai, Hiroshima survivor, widower and estranged father, and the other elderly Japanese-American gardeners who hang out at Wishbone Tanaka's Lawnmower Shack in the seedy L.A. suburb of Altadena. The PI's disturbing questions concern a nurseryman called Joji Haneda, reported dead in the atomic blast that leveled Hiroshima in August 1945, but who was actually still alive in California in June 1999. A month later, Haneda is brutally murdered. Mas must revisit his past and open old, still festering wounds in order to solve the crime, while the specter of bachi, akin to instant bad karma, hovers over him like the black clouds of his recurring nightmares. In his cherished 1956 Ford truck, unlikely sleuth Mas pursues a trail that leads him to an all-night noodle shop, an illegal gambling loft and a chow-mien bowling-alley/cafe. After his truck and dignity are stolen, Mas enlists the help of two lovingly rendered, all-too-human friends: Haruo Mukai, whose long white hair hides a false eye and shocking keloid scar, and Tug Yamada, a gentle, honorable giant willing to put his own life on the line for others. Peppered with pungent cultural details, crisp prose and credible, fresh descriptions of the effects of the A-bomb, this perfectly balanced gem deserves a wide readership. 

I don't know about you, but I've got the sudden urge to track down my trowel and pruning shears. At least, I won't be finding any dead bodies amidst my lantana!

What are some of your favorite gardening mysteries?

Join me next weekend when Celebrating Mysteries in the Great Outdoors will conclude with more excellent books to add to your wish list!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scene of the Blog Featuring Joli of Actin' Up With Books!

This week I'm happy to feature Joli of Actin' Up With Books. When you visit her blog, you'll discover book reviews, author interviews, and a fun series called "Love My Indie" in which bloggers, readers, and writers tell us about their favorite independent bookstores. She even has a page called "I Love Lists", which certainly appeals to the listmaker (me) here at Casa Kittling.

After you've taken a look at Joli's creative spaces, please take the opportunity to check out Actin' Up With Books. You'll be glad you did!

Before Joli gives us a tour, don't forget that you can click on each photo to view it in a larger size-- which always helps when you're trying to read the spines of books!  Take it away, Joli!

The scene of my blog is always changing. I have finally reclaimed my laptop from my husband (I made him get his own) and can go anywhere in the house (and out as the case may be) and not be stuck in my office at my desktop. Sometimes I blog in my bedroom, home office and at my kitchen table. Life has been kind of busy lately and these spaces are complete messes so I am sparing myself a bit of embarrassment and have omitted pictures of those spaces.

Blogging on the deck

My newest place to blog is out on my deck. Now that the weather has turned nice, I love to sit in the sun and read and blog.  I just have to make sure that I put on a  lot of sunscreen and have a cool drink because it is getting hot! I like to blog outside because I don't get distracted by other things that I could be doing inside the house.

Joli's favorite blogging spot
My favorite place to blog is in my huge chair in my living room. It is so comfortable and great for reading, blogging and napping. My dog Chewy Shortcake is often by my side and sometimes climbs right on my laptop when she thinks I should be paying attention to her instead of the many blogs I visit. Thank goodness she only weighs 4 pounds so she doesn't do any damage to my keyboard. Although my screen usually has a few of her nose prints.
Joli's smallest bookcase

This is my smallest bookcase and includes many of the books that I have acquired since starting my blog in August. I love to buy books just as much as I love to read books. I love having them on hand to share with my friends. What's so funny, or maybe not, is that I keep loaning out the same books - The Hunger Games Trilogy.

I can certainly understand about life getting in the way of housekeeping. In features like this, judicious editing and a good zoom lens come in quite handy. (Just ask me how I know!)

Joli's deck looks like a perfect spot to blog and read, especially at this time of year. Yes... from her deck to her comfy chair to her bookcase to her apple green laptop complete with nose prints, I really enjoyed Joli's tour of her creative spaces. Thank you so much, Joli!

Don't forget to stop by next week when another member of our worldwide book blogging community will be featured on Scene of the Blog!