Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Death Season by Kate Ellis

First Line: He gasps for every breath, bobbing to the surface of the salty water like a cork then sinking again, towed under by an unseen force.

What began as a routine murder investigation turns into something extremely complicated when Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson begins uncovering secrets and deceptions from the victim's past. Meanwhile archaeologist Neil Watson-- with the aid of a very attractive woman named Lucy-- finds himself working at two different locations. One is historic Paradise Court. The other is a ruined village named Sandrock, most of which fell into the sea during the First World War.

As Neil works, he can't shake the feeling that he's going to find something that will help his friend Wesley with his murder investigation. Little does he know that his help will be invaluable because this is the most puzzling case Wesley has ever faced-- and his own family has become a target as more victims fall prey to a faceless killer.

I have long been a fan of Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson police procedural series which is set on the Devon coast. Ellis always has two timelines in each book, one historic and one present day, and they always tie together in some way. Moreover, this author is a triple threat. She can bring little-known chapters of history to life, she can create absorbing mysteries, and her characters are so well drawn that I feel as though they've been friends for years.

Everything comes together perfectly in The Death Season. Trying to deduce whodunit was complicated by the fact that so many characters in both timelines weren't whom they appeared to be. The murderer in the present day is one of Ellis's best and will probably give readers chills down the spine. And then there are the characters' lives to be considered.

Wesley's boss, Gerry Heffernan, is still recuperating from what happened in the previous book. He's been given cold cases to review and feels as though the higher-ups are trying to put him out to pasture. Wesley is still trying to be Super Cop, Super Husband, and Super Dad-- with mixed results. I've had a rocky relationship with Wesley's wife Pam since the first book in the series. She's one of these women who marry a police officer and then can't understand why he works such long hours. I keep trying to second-guess Ellis on how that marriage is going to turn out, but I haven't been right yet. What pleased me the most in The Death Season is that archaeologist Neil Watson actually gets some well-deserved love. Normally the poor man just gets clunked in the head with a blunt instrument and left in one of his trenches.

If you like British police procedurals with strong mysteries, a sense of history, and an excellent cast of characters, I highly recommend this series. You should be able to read The Death Season and not be confused by the characters or their lives, but don't be surprised if you find yourselves looking for the very first book in the series, The Merchant's House. These books are addictive.

The Death Season by Kate Ellis
eISBN: 9780349403120
Piatkus Books © 2015
eBook, 376 pages

Police Procedural, #19 Wesley Peterson mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pacific by Simon Winchester

First Line: United Airlines Flight 154 leaves Honolulu International Airport just after dawn three times a week, bound ultimately for the city of Hagåtña, the capital of the island republic of Guam.

In his inimitable way, Simon Winchester sets out to prove the vast importance of the Pacific Ocean, not only in the past and present, but in our future. For the most part, he succeeds.

The size of the Pacific Ocean is immense and almost beyond our reckoning. It is the source of the world's weather and has survived atomic bombs, transistors, and the abysmal treatment of its native peoples. Winchester takes us on a mesmerizing journey from one end of the Pacific to the other, from east to west and north to south, with lots of stops on tiny islands and archipelagos along the way.

Winchester has been one of my favorite non-fiction writers since his unforgettable The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. He's opened my eyes to many things and encouraged me to read deeper into many of the subjects he brings to light. However, I have to admit that I am concerned about an error I found while reading this particular book. In it, Winchester talks about traveling up the Mississippi River past the city of Des Moines. I did some research in an attempt to discover if my memory had blown a fuse, but it hadn't. Des Moines is certainly not on the banks of the Mississippi River between Hannibal and St. Louis, Missouri, as stated in his book, and that's what has me concerned. If a simple yet glaring mistake like that can make its way to the final edition of the published book, how many other errors made it through, too? And if there are errors in this book, what about his others?  One city in the wrong place can cause so much harm.

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers 
by Simon Winchester
eISBN: 9780062315434
HarperCollins © 2015
eBook, 444 pages

Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


December 2017 New Mystery Releases!

Nothing can make me feel more like an old fart than what seems to me to be the rapid progression of time. There's no way that Thanksgiving should be in my rearview mirror and Christmas looming ever closer in front of me. In fact, I'm finding that so difficult to accept that I'm sitting here with my choices for the best new crime fiction being released throughout the month of December instead of going out and putting up Christmas decorations. (Those two Santa lamp finials and that one Christmas chair cushion will be enough. Right?)

Well, if you're delaying the inevitable like I am, stay where you are and take a look at my list. It's organized by release date, and hopefully I've included a title or two that will tickle your fancy... or perhaps the fancy of some folks on your gift-buying list. Covers and synopses are courtesy of Amazon. Let's take a look at the list!

=== December 5 ===

Title: Chained
Author: Eileen Brady
Series: #3 in the Kate Turner DVM cozy series set in upstate New York.
275 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Everyone in the charming Hudson Valley town of Oak Falls expected Flynn Keegan, their handsome blond "Golden Boy" to make it big in Hollywood. So when veterinarian Kate Turner identifies a bone dug up by one of her dog patients as human, no one thinks back ten years to remember Flynn. Until DNA and a smashed skull prove he was murdered.

With few clues available to the forensic team, the grieving family begs Kate to investigate. His four closest friends plead ignorance. Neighbors and teachers remember the charismatic young man but offer no real help. Meanwhile, Kate is juggling her eccentric house call clients, a silly pot-bellied pig wedding and the sudden re-appearance of an old college boyfriend. Anthropologist Jeremy Engels, who returns like Indiana Jones from an African dig, is eager to rekindle their romance and offer his help. Together, they plan to crash Flynn's high school reunion, a re-creation of his senior prom, and interview his fellow students. Time isn't of the essence with a ten-year-old cold case. Right? Her Gramps is convinced the killer is long gone, just like the illegally captured brown bear she helped save, now roaming free in the woods. But Kate soon discovers that chains of love can be as strong as those made of steel - and some deadly secrets have put her next on the kill list."

Title: Beau Death
Author: Peter Lovesey
Series: #17 in the Peter Diamond police procedural series set in Bath, England.
416 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Bath, England: A wrecking crew is demolishing a row of townhouses in order to build a grocery store when they uncover a skeleton in one of the attics. The dead man is wearing authentic 1760s garb and on the floor next to it is a white tricorn hat—the ostentatious signature accessory of Beau Nash, one of Bath’s most famous historical men-about-town, a fashion icon and incurable rake who, some say, ended up in a pauper’s grave. Or did the Beau actually end up in a townhouse attic? The Beau Nash Society will be all in a tizzy when the truth is revealed to them.

Chief Inspector Peter Diamond, who has been assigned to identify the remains, begins to fantasize about turning Nash scholarship on its ear. But one of his constables is stubbornly insisting the corpse can’t be Nash’s—the non-believer threatens to spoil Diamond’s favorite theory, especially when he offers some pretty irrefutable evidence. Is Diamond on a historical goose chase? Should he actually be investigating a much more modern murder?

Title: And Death Goes to...
Author: Laura Bradford
Series: #3 in the Tobi Tobias cozy series set in St. Louis, Missouri.
210 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "The Tobias Ad Agency is in the running for the coveted Golden Storyboard, and Tobi couldn't be more thrilled-until she discovers it's literally an award to die for. 

It's an honor just to be nominated. But, let's get real, Tobi wants to win. The St. Louis Advertising Awards are like the Oscars for her field, and Tobi' is up for its most prestigious prize, Best Overall Ad Campaign. The competition is always fierce, but this year it's killer . . . 

Despite her high hopes, Tobi isn't exactly shocked when she doesn't win. But she is shocked when the winner, Deidre Ryan, takes the stage only to plummet to her death as a platform suddenly gives way. After the police discover foul play, Tobi's Grandpa Stu wastes no time in nominating suspects. But was Deidre the intended victim-or was someone else meant to take the fatal fall? Now it's a race to catch a killer in the spotlight before another nominee gets the booby prize and Tobi gets trapped in a no-win situation."

Title: Nightblind
Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Series: #3 in the Dark Iceland police procedural series set in northern Iceland.
240 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Ari Thor Arason is a local policeman who has an uneasy relationship with the villagers in an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland―where no one locks their doors.

The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by a murder. One of Ari’s colleagues is gunned down at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark Arctic waters closing in, it falls to Ari Thor to piece together a puzzle that involves a new mayor and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik. It becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all."

Title: Comic Sans Murder
Author: Paige Shelton
Series: #3 in the Dangerous Type cozy series set in Star City, Utah.
288 pages

Synopsis: "The visit of quirky world-famous horror author Nathan Grimes to Star City is especially thrilling for Clare Henry and her grandfather Chester. As the owners of The Rescued Word, a charming boutique shop in town, Clare and Chester specialize in restoring old typewriters and repairing beloved books. They’ve invited Nathan to their shop to use their equipment for his next book.

But all plans to work on the book take a step in the wrong direction when a tourist discovers an abandoned ski boot on the slopes—and the only sign of the owner is the dismembered foot he left inside! Nathan’s writer’s curiosity for all things horror is further piqued after the body of Clare’s high school friend Lloyd Gavin is discovered sans one foot. When all toes point to a class reunion gone wrong, Nathan can’t help but join Clare and her best friend, police officer Jodie Wentworth, as they hurry to track down the killer before more former classmates become Most Likely to Be Killed.

Title: Insidious Intent
Author: Val McDermid
Series: #10 in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan police procedural series set in northern England.
400 pages

Synopsis: "Widely recognized as one of our finest crime writers, with numerous accolades and legions of devoted readers worldwide, internationally bestselling author Val McDermid is back with the latest installment in her series featuring psychologist Tony Hill and former police detective Carol Jordan. In Insidious Intent, Tony and Carol are on the hunt for a serial killer who victimizes women at weddings without a date―and forces the duo to confront their most haunting moral dilemma so far.

In the north of England, single women are beginning to disappear from weddings. A pattern soon becomes clear: Someone is crashing the festivities and luring the women away―only to leave the victims’ bodies in their own burned-out cars in remote locations. Tony and Carol are called upon to investigate―but this may be the toughest case they’ve ever had to face. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Paula McIntyre and her partner Elinor must deal with a cruel cyber-blackmailer targeting their teenage ward, Torin."

Title: The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel
Author: David Casarett
Series: #2 in the Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency cozy series set in Thailand.
384 pages

Synopsis: "A fascinating mystery featuring Ladarat Patalung, the first and only nurse detective in Thailand.

As a nurse ethicist, Ladarat Patalung works to save the lives of her patients, and to make sure the ones she can't save have at least the dignity of a "good death."

But when wealthy foreign travelers start to go missing all across Thailand, Detective Wiriya Mookjai fears that a killer is at large, and turns to Ladarat for help.

The travelers have nothing in common, except for brief stays at a mysterious resort, known as the Magic Grove Hotel..."

=== December 8 ===

Title: Too Big to Die
Author: Sue Ann Jaffarian
Series: #12 in the Odelia Grey cozy series set in southern California.
288 pages

Synopsis: "It's the dog days of summer for Odelia and Greg after they rescue a dog from a closed car on a blistering hot day. The culprit is former reality star Marla Kingston, who's married to a client of Odelia's law firm. The dog was saved, but Odelia's job might not be when Kingston demands blood. Things get even stickier when a video of the rescue goes viral, and the man who helped them winds up dead. And who is the mysterious young woman who shows up about the same time? Is she connected or just an opportunist looking to cash in on their reluctant Internet fame?"

=== December 12 ===

Title: Signal Loss
Author: Garry Disher
Series: #7 in the Hal Challis police procedural series set outside Melbourne, Australia.
352 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "A pair of hit men working a job for a meth kingpin has a very bad day, and the resulting bushfire draws attention to a drug lab and two burned bodies in a Mercedes. Sergeant Ellen Destry—newly minted head of her department’s sex crime unit—and Inspector Hal Challis return in this newest installment of Garry Disher’s Peninsula-based crimes series. With meth-related crime on the rise, interdepartmental tensions mount, and Challis soon finds himself fighting to keep control of his case. Meanwhile, Destry is hunting for a serial rapist who is extremely adept at not leaving clues. A tense, human, and at times darkly funny entry into Disher’s celebrated Ned Kelly Award-winning series."

Title: A Murder for the Books
Series: #1 in the Blue Ridge Library cozy series set in Virginia.
336 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Fleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families... including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.

Title: Unnatural Causes
Author: Dawn Eastman
Series: #1 in the Dr. Katie LeClair suspense series set in Michigan.
288 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Katie LeClair has finally settled down as the new doctor in Baxter, MI. After years of moving, schooling, and training, she wants nothing more than to find a place she can call home, and a small town outside of Ann Arbor seemed perfect.

Katie quickly gets to work on building a life for herself in Baxter, and beyond reviving her love life, she also finds a pair of business partners in a team of father and son family practitioners. But that idyllic dream is immediately shattered when one of her patients is found dead. That wouldn't be the worst thing, except the death is ruled a suicide, and as evidence has it, the suicide was a result of the medication Katie had prescribed. But she doesn't remember writing it.

When a closer investigation reveals it was murder, Katie is catapulted into an off-the-books investigation that leads her down a dark path of past secrets. But someone is willing to kill to keep part of the town's history in the shadows, and Katie must race to find out who before it's too late in nationally bestselling author Dawn Eastman's riveting series debut Unnatural Causes.

=== December 19 ===

Title: Historically Dead
Series: #2 in the Stitch in Time cozy series set in Pennsylvania.
222 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Seamstress Daria Dembrowski must find a historically-minded killer before the fabric of her peaceful town rips wide open . . . 

When the reality show My House in History comes to Laurel Springs, Pennsylvania, savvy seamstress Daria Dembrowski sees a business opportunity. The show follows two elderly sisters' quest to restore their colonial mansion, and that means a heap of work for a seamstress who specializes in historical textiles. Although one of the old women is a bit of a grump, Daria loves the job-until she discovers one of the researchers dead, and the whole project threatens to unwind.

As a series of historical crimes pile up, from a stolen Paul Revere platter to a chilling incident of arson, Daria must find the killer quickly, for her life is hanging by a thread."

I think you'll agree, there are some very interesting new books being released in December, and I'll have you know that one of the titles in this post has made my Best Reads of 2017 list. Which books tickled your fancy? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Protected by the Shadows by Helene Tursten

First Line: The delivery car moved slowly along Ringövägen as the driver spoke agitatedly on his cell phone.

Gang warfare is about to explode in Göteborg, Sweden. A member of a notorious biker gang has been burned alive. Anticipating a counterattack, Detective Inspector Irene Huss, her Violent Crimes Unit, and the Organized Crimes Unit band together to patrol a lavish party given by a rival gang, but that doesn't stop another murder from occurring practically right under their noses.

And when it rains, it pours. A bomb is planted under Irene's husband's car, and-- fearing for her family's safety-- Irene sends her husband and daughters into hiding and moves in with a colleague for the duration. She is not going to stop until the killers are behind bars and her family is safe, and it's not going to be an easy task. Not only does Irene have the feeling that she's being stalked, the gangs are always one step ahead of the police.

It's sad to see this series come to an end, but it certainly goes out on a strong note. Protected by the Shadows is filled with bodies, bombs, informants, and danger. Tursten keeps the level of suspense high from beginning to end. I was particularly happy to see that everything was handled intelligently. When Irene's family is forced into hiding, every detail is done the right way. Irene may be very frightened, but she keeps her head and keeps on working-- refusing to stop until the bad guys are caught and everyone is safe. It is such a treat to read a high-octane story like this and not witness any of the characters doing something stupid.

This series has been a favorite of mine from the first book, both for the investigations and for the characters and the insight into their daily lives. I will miss reading the new adventures of Irene Huss, but I have to admit that I'm wondering if Helene Tursten has something new up her sleeve.

Protected by the Shadows by Helene Tursten
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
ISBN: 9781616958459
Soho Crime © 2017
Hardcover, 288 pages

Police Procedural, #10 DI Irene Huss mystery
Rating: A-
Source: the publisher 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Seven Authors & a Holiday Party at The Poisoned Pen!

If y'all have been reading these recaps as I post them, you know that my husband Denis seldom gets to go to the author events at our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. Too often the authors he wants to see appear on weekends, and Denis works every weekend.

When he saw my notation in Google calendar for an event being held Sunday, November 19, that had seven authors listed-- half of whom he likes and has already met-- he could've out-pouted any two-year-old alive. My response? "Request the day off." He did, but as the weekend was marked "Not Available," we thought he had a snowball's chance of getting the day off. We were wrong. Evidently, the powers-that-be for his company realized that this man of mine works every weekend and the only time he's off on Saturday or Sunday, it's during a week's vacation. So... a very happy Denis drove us to Scottsdale on a bright, sunny Sunday. We got our favorite parking spot and the seats we wanted, and as familiar faces began to filter in (including three women all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas), there was plenty of catching up and book chat being done.

Isn't this a gorgeous lineup of book covers? Take a good look....

The folks at The Poisoned Pen know how to throw a party. Plenty of books and delectable drinks and nibbles, and a marvelous group of authors: Daryl Wood Gerber, Kate Carlisle, Carolyn Hart, Rhys Bowen, Timothy Hallinan, Donis Casey, and Jenn McKinlay. Wow!

L to R: Bowen, Peters, Hallinan
The authors were split into three groups, and the first group contained the two who'd had the most difficulties getting to the bookstore on time. Tim Hallinan's first flight had been canceled, and Rhys Bowen was late due to church services that ran over.

Host and bookstore owner, Barbara Peters, began by talking about Soho Press's Christmas short story collection, The Usual Santas, in which Tim has a story about two homeless kids on the sidewalks of Bangkok, Thailand, on Christmas Eve. It's a very moving story about being surrounded by Christmas when you have nothing at all. Any royalties Tim receives will be donated to Father Joe, a man who has housed, clothed and fed at least 20,000 homeless children in Bangkok.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is the third Christmas book from Rhys Bowen, and it meant writing three books in one year for her. "Only a crazy person-- is Jenn [McKinlay] here?-- would write three books a year, but my editor wanted another Christmas book," Bowen told us.

While Bowen's difficulty in writing a seasonal-themed book was due to a lack of time, Hallinan's reason was much more personal. Barbara Peters asked him, "What's difficult about writing a Christmas book?" to which he responded, "I don't like Christmas. Growing up in my house, Christmas Day meant that the drinking began at 9:30 AM." (When Tim said that, the disparaging looks he'd been getting changed to ones of understanding.)

"Something happened while I was writing Fields Where They Lay," Hallinan said. [This is a Christmas-themed mystery featuring Junior Bender.] "It turned out to be a truly Christmas-y book... and it's sincere. There has been interest in filming Fields Where They Lay as a movie. The entire thing could be shot in one of Los Angeles' empty shopping malls."

When Barbara told us that she loved Tim's books, Tim said, "My brother remarked one day 'Weren't we smart to do something we get better at as we get older?'"

Barbara, Tim & The Usual Santas
On the other hand, Rhys Bowen said, "I love Christmas. One of my cherished memories is of a Christmas market cruise we took up the Danube River-- even though after the third village my husband John said, 'How many more angels do you need to look at?'"

Barbara compared Bowen's The Ghost of Christmas Past to an Agatha Christie country house party...

"...where someone dies every day. What's Christmas without a body or two?" Bowen quipped. "Molly is in a very dark place in this book, and she's looking forward to spending Christmas with her beloved family and friends, only to find that they're all being invited to a country house holiday party."

"This is a different country house party since it's set in a house on the banks of the Hudson River," Peters remarked. This reminded Bowen of a reader who once disputed the setting of one of her books. Bowen replied with one specific fact after another of where the book was set. "Don't mess with me!" she laughed.

The talk of the book's setting reminded Hallinan of something. "There's going to be an exhibition of Hudson River artists at the Metropolitan Museum in about five months," he said. (Wish I could go!)

Available Now!
Barbara Peters turned to Hallinan and said, "As humorous as Junior is, it seems to me that your heart is with Poke" to which Tim replied, "It is."

Hallinan's excellent Poke Rafferty series all began in 1986 when he was sitting in a restaurant in Bangkok writing. A little homeless girl with a very carefully arranged box of chewing gum was completely mesmerized by his laptop. By the ninth time she showed up to watch, Tim had set up a pinball game on the machine, showed Miaow how to play it, and then left for forty-five minutes after giving the waitress instructions to give the little girl anything she wanted to eat or drink. When he came back, there was an astronomical score on the laptop-- and three neatly stacked packages of chewing gum on the table.

Thereafter, Tim saw Miaow on his trips to Bangkok until the day that there was no sign of her. Tim knows that her disappearance was not a good sign. "Miaow is the character I love the most," he said. "These books may be known as the Poke Rafferty series, but this is her story, and I've always said that when Miaow turns nineteen and leaves home that that will be the end of the series."

He went on to tell us a bit about his latest Poke Rafferty book, Fools' River, and then it was Bowen's turn to talk about her standalone, In Farleigh Field. "I wanted to write about World War II because I think it was the last time England had a clear idea of where it was going, and that people knew that if they didn't do their bit something evil could happen. The book sold over 100,000 copies in less than a month."

Barbara smiled and said, "Yes, Rhys's regular publisher took a pass on it, so Rhys published with a branch of Amazon. Now her regular publisher is all over anything else Rhys wants to write because of the phenomenal sales of In Farleigh Field!" Bowen's next book which will be released in February 2018 is The Tuscan Child, another standalone set during World War II. "I've always wanted to write a book with two different time periods!" (And if you're wondering, The Tuscan Child is being published by Amazon.)

Tim Hallinan just finished a Junior Bender mystery called Night Town which takes place almost entirely in the dark. The story moves between two different time periods, and in London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a character.

The first segment of The Poisoned Pen's author party ended when Rhys told us how her first books were uniformly described as "delightful" and "charming." She told her editor, "I'm sick of being delightful and charming! My next book is going to be filled with Satanism, cannibalism, and strewn body parts!" Her editor replied, "And I'm sure it will be delightful!"

Denis charming an author or two. Or four!

It was time for a short break, and Denis did what he does best: charm people. You can barely see his glasses, nose, and right hand on the extreme left in the photo above, but I can testify that his stories had Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay (standing behind Rhys Bowen in stripes), and Carolyn Hart laughing while I was chatting with Tim Hallinan.

L to R: Donis Casey and Carolyn G. Hart

The second segment showcased two Oklahomans, Donis Casey and Carolyn Hart. As Donis said, "We're not from Bangkok, and we don't have a British accent like Rhys. We're both from Oklahoma, so you'll just have to sit and listen to our twang!" That was certainly fine with us!

Carolyn surprised many of us when she admitted that she just can't write a book until she has the title. "The original title I had for my latest mystery was rejected by my publisher because they thought it would be mistaken for a sports book, so my eighth Bailey Ruth novel is now Ghost on the Case." She went on to say, "Bailey Ruth is a fun ghost. Topper and Blithe Spirit were inspirations for her."

Donis asked Hart about her Death on Demand series, and Carolyn said that she was fairly certain that that series had come to an end. "When you come up on twenty-six books in a series, you start having trouble finding a plot you haven't used. You know...Sue Grafton has said that if she knew what she was getting herself into, she never would've started out with A Is for Alibi."

Carolyn Hart
"Yes," Donis agreed. "It's that age-old mystery writer's dilemma: How many ways are there to kill people?"

"I'm particularly fond of the blunt instrument," Hart replied with a completely straight face.

"I use guns a lot, primarily because of my rural setting in Oklahoma during the 1910s," Donis said.

"The trouble with guns is that someone will always write to you and tell you all the mistakes you made with the firearms you chose," Hart said. "That's why I like the blunt instrument!"

Barbara told us during her introduction of these two writers that Publishers Weekly had recently given Donis Casey's upcoming mystery Forty Dead Men a coveted starred review. When asked about her Alafair Tucker series, Casey said, "My original plan was to write ten books in this series. My February book [Forty Dead Men] is book number ten. I'd originally thought to end the series with a Christmas book."

This segment had all the appearance of being two friends chatting with each other, and by this point they'd moved on to future plans. "I have been thinking of the silent movie industry for one of Alafair's girls," Donis said. Carolyn replied, "If I write another book, I think it will be another Bailey Ruth because I've really been enjoying writing this series. Bailey Ruth is in Oklahoma; I'm from Oklahoma. The Death on Demand series is set on an island off the coast of South Carolina. It's been a while since I've been there, so the setting doesn't seem quite real to me anymore."

Donis has had a different reaction to the setting of her books. "I've lived in Phoenix for thirty years now, and I find it easier to write about Oklahoma. I don't know if distance brings me clarity or what."

After a few questions from fans, this short and sweet second segment was finished. After another short break, it would be time for the Wild Ones.

L to R: Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle

When Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay, and Kate Carlisle took the stage at The Poisoned Pen's holiday party, Jenn immediately noticed that Kate was holding a copy of her latest Fixer-Upper mystery, Eaves of Destruction. "I see you're all prepared!" Jenn said. Kate, looking slightly abashed, said, "It's because I can't remember the plot...." which made everyone in the bookstore laugh. (And it's probably the most common curse among writers. By the time they go on tour for the recently published book, they're already working two books ahead.) When asked about their newest books, Kate was first. "I've always wanted to write a story about twins separated at birth-- which got the expected laugh-- but instead this is about a woman who's looking for a certain house. She's finally found it, and murder and mayhem ensue."

Jenn's latest is a Library Lovers mystery, Death in the Stacks. "Many of you know that I was a librarian for the Phoenix Public Library for a long time, and one of the library events I enjoyed the most was the annual Dinner in the Stacks fundraiser. Well... I felt compelled to kill someone during the Dinner in the Stacks, and the dead person may or may not be a certain administrator I worked for. (I've been getting emails saying, 'That's so-and-so, isn't it?') When I was notified that there would be no more Hat Shop mysteries, I wrote those characters into this book, and since I didn't want to ignore the other series, I wrote the Cupcake Bakers into the story, too."

Kate Carlisle's delicious Fixer-Upper cookies.
Daryl looked at Jenn and said, "You know, if you're writing about someone real, change the person's sex and they usually don't recognize themselves."

Daryl's A Deadly Éclair starts off her new French Bistro series. She also wrote the Cheese Shop mysteries under the name Avery Aames and has a third series, the Cookbook Nook cozies, as well. "I didn't know I'd have to know how to cook in order to write books!" she joked. Her French Bistro series is set in a village in Napa Valley, California. "Poor Napa Valley and all it's going through!" Daryl exclaimed. "But this is fiction. I like to write about fictional towns because then no one can point any fingers. I have a lot of my heart and soul in this new series, and it's really upped my game as a cook."

Carlisle mentioned the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel which has been filming several cozy mystery series-- one of which is her Fixer-Upper series starring Jewel. "I've had complaints from fans about Hallmark changing Shannon's father's name and that they changed her last name. I don't really understand why they did." For those of you not familiar with the books, Shannon's last name is Hammer and her father's name is Jack.

"This reminds me of the time I saw Charlaine Harris," Jenn McKinlay said. "I didn't even think. I was a huge Sookie Stackhouse fan and went all Fan Girl, asking her 'What do you think of True Blood?' She was nice about it. She thought for a second and then said, 'I think it's making me a lot of money.'"

When asked what was next, Kate Carlisle said, "The twelfth Bibliophile mystery will be out in June. It's called Buried in Books, and Brooklyn gets married." This news was greeted with applause.

Did Jenn know what was coming?
"I'm working on my sixth Cookbook Nook mystery, Pressing the Issue, and I'm waiting to hear from a different publisher about a new series," Daryl said.

"Every Dog Has Its Day will be out January 18," Jenn told us. "It's a romantic comedy. I took the dead bodies out and added a bit of sex. Wedding Cake Crumble will be the next Cupcake Bakery book."

Barbara interjected, "Since we're talking about upcoming events, our next Cozy Con will be held on the Saturday before Mother's Day." More applause greeted this news.

The three authors were then asked a bit about their writing processes.

"I work on one book at a time, preferably," said Daryl.

"I'm pretty much the same way," said Kate. "I try to read the last book in the series before starting to write a new book so I can get back into the character's voice."

"I never re-read any of my books!" Jenn said. "I try to use the Stephen King Method: one season per book. I write from page one to the end [so do Carlisle and Gerber], and if I get stuck, I add a note saying FIX THIS and move on."

"I do like the climax," Daryl said-- which brought down the house and made her qualify her statement-- "I like writing the climactic scene! When I start a book, I know what's going on. I know the victim. I know the suspects. I know how it ends. I don't find this boring. It's my road map, and I flesh it out along the way. I see my books in my mind as a film."

A fan asked them if they listened to music as they wrote, and if they would think about sharing their playlists online. The suggestion didn't fit in with the authors' writing styles. Jenn McKinlay doesn't listen to music while she writes. Kate Carlisle wants complete silence. Daryl Wood Gerber loves listening to music as long as there are no words.

I've never seen two hours move so quickly, and I think all the other fans felt the same way. The Poisoned Pen's event was the perfect kick-off to Thanksgiving Week and the busy holiday season. Did I get out of my favorite bookstore without buying anything? What do you think?

My Poisoned Pen book haul.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Addams Family Landscaping Weekly Link Round-Up

I have to admit that I've never been crazy about growing flowers, landscaping...all that jazz. My grandmother's genius for that totally passed me by. However, I do love seeing and experiencing the results of someone else's hard work. Any time I've done stuff here at Casa Kittling, I've gone at it from the standpoint that I want native plants that take care of themselves. No fertilizer every few months. No deadheading when the plants are in bloom. No daily watering. (This is the desert, for crying out loud!)

I do wish that someone would invent trees, bushes, and shrubs that do not need trimming. Denis has made no secret of the fact that he loathes working out in the garden, and since I know I'm facing knee replacement surgery, I'm not all gung-ho about doing it myself. I let trimming slide over the summer-- to the point where things were so overgrown out front that you practically couldn't tell that we have a huge picture window and a bright blue front door.  I tend to call that type of gardening neglect "Addams Family Landscaping" from the old mansion the Addams Family supposedly lived in on the television series.

Well, the City of Phoenix's quarterly curbside trash pickup is about to start, so I donned my heavy-duty gloves, picked up the loppers, and started hacking away. When Denis's days off rolled around, he joined in, and we wrestled everything back into shape (as you can see from the pile Denis hauled out to the curb). I had to laugh when a neighbor came home that evening, saw something was different about the front of our house, liberally applied the brakes, and drove past very very slowly to soak up every last detail.

Now that I've got some deep bougainvillea scratches that need to heal, I'm going to mosey on out to the corral. Links never mistreat me like landscaping does. Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • A secret, ghostly portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots has been discovered beneath a sixteenth-century painting.
  • Experts have uncovered remains at the first permanent English colony-- but whose bones are they?
  • Other experts have discovered that a Roman glass theory has been wrong for centuries. Better late than never, eh? 
  • Rock art discovered in deep dark caves are revealing early human civilization on Puerto Rico's uninhabited Mona Island.
  • This tiny detail revealed a painting was looted by the Nazis.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Are Viking squirrels to blame for infecting England with leprosy? (I refuse to share the mental image "Viking squirrels" brought to mind!)
  • A flying creature the size of a plane that could eat baby dinosaurs has been discovered in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.
  • A stunned farmer finds a flock of sheep in her home thanks to an overzealous sheepdog puppy.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Haunting images of America's best-preserved ghost town. (I enjoyed our visit there so much that I want to go back!)
  • Inside one of the world's most colorful cemeteries.
  • The same people who have lovingly restored the former Harvey House hotel in Winslow, Arizona-- La Posada-- are going to do the same thing with La Castañeda in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
  • Archaeology at Salem says we're thinking about witches and witch hunts all wrong.
  • Istanbul's libraries: a refuge in uncertain times.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Linda Nochlin, the pioneering feminist art historian, has died.
  • These badass women-- a group calling themselves the Black Mambas-- are taking on poachers in South Africa... and winning.
  • Hermann Rorschach's artistic obsession led to his famous test.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄
  • Do you know which book came out first?
  • The homes of eighteen legendary writers. 
  • Eight novels to read now that explore immigration.
  • Ten beloved fictional dogs.
  • Eight illuminating history books to read right now.
  • Reading in the bath just got easier, thanks to these eleven genius products.

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!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meandering Through the Desert Botanical Garden

It's a holiday week-- Happy Thanksgiving, one and all, even if you don't celebrate it (because I'm thankful for all my readers). Even if I had the time I don't feel like going on any typing marathons, and something tells me that you don't have the inclination to read any. Therefore, I thought I'd take you on another meander through one of my favorite places here in the valley, the Desert Botanical Garden.There's always so much to see and do there that it's long been one of my go-to places to wear out my camera batteries.

This time I'm sharing photos that both Denis and I took. If you'd like to see any of them in their original size, just click on one and a new window will automatically open so that you may do so. Let's start meandering!

Sunlight makes the cacti look as though they're crowned with fire. (db)

The common name of this flowering shrub is "Yellow Bells." (db)

Beloved of bees and hummingbirds, they have a long, prolific blooming season.

It was only a matter of time--now Denis loves the "Creeping Devil," too. (db)

The Desert Roses are still in bloom, too.

Texas Mountain Laurel. Sometimes the seed pods are more interesting than the plant itself. (db)

It's the end of November, but many things are still in bloom.

One of my favorite paths through the garden.

I always see places I want to explore.

When the shade became deep enough, fairy lights started twinkling in the trees.

The Volunteer Wall outside the Webster Center.

I never knew there were so many types of fascinating cactus and succulents.

This plant cycles through many shades of purple depending on the strength of the sun.

What a fun place to get an education. I love it here!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Death Factory by Greg Iles

First Line: When you're told that your dying father has something important to say to you before he passes, two feelings flash through you: first, the sense that you're in an Alexandre Dumas novel, that some momentous family secret is about to be revealed-- the lost inheritance, your true paternity, something like that.

A heart attack sends Tom Cage to the emergency room and he insists that his son, Penn, be brought to his side to hear a dying declaration. But when Penn gets there, Tom denies ever having made the request. The whole thing sends Penn on a painful trip down Memory Lane when he was working in a Houston district attorney's office while caring for his dying wife. That DA's office was known as "the death factory" for sending more killers to death row than any other in America.

As Penn's wife lay dying, a tormented forensic technician comes to him for help. He brings evidence of a crime lab in chaos and begs Penn to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice. Now Penn has to fight the death factory with everything he's got-- both at home and on the job.

I don't think anyone could be a real crime fiction lover and not be aware of Greg Iles. Until now, that's all I was-- aware-- and since Iles tends to write quite weighty tomes, I decided to read this novella to see if I wanted to read more.

What I found was a well-told tale with lyrical descriptive passages and a main character I quickly grew to like. The storytelling flowed well, and the plot certainly kept my attention, especially with its emotional elements concerning Penn's father and wife. All my reactions were positive but for some strange reason, Penn didn't set my world on fire. As much as I liked him, I have no real burning desire to read more (although I may very well do so). This is a reaction I very seldom have so I'll have to ponder it a bit more. I may yet become a Penn Cage fan. Only time will tell.

The Death Factory by Greg Iles
eISBN: 9780062336682
HarperCollins © 2014
eBook, 92 pages

A Penn Cage novella
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Top Ten Favorite Bookshops

I was reminded of a certain place the other day, and it occurred to me that I hadn't done a top ten list of my favorite bookshops yet.

I quickly compiled a list, trimmed it down to ten, and put all the bookshops in chronological order of when I visited them. Well, that's the order they're in for the most part.

I grew up in Illinois, went to university in Utah, and then moved down here to Phoenix, Arizona, where I've been ever since. Of course, I've done a bit of traveling over the years which means that my favorite places to buy books are spread out a bit. But you might find it odd that none of my favorites are in my birth state of Illinois. There's a rather simple reason for that. Money. I'm an only child who was raised by a widowed mother who had a small pension (my father died while serving in the Navy) and worked a variety of part-time jobs. One of those jobs was as the village librarian. I socked away as much money as I could for college, and since I grew up in a library, I didn't spend a lot of money on books. Bookshops became my life's blood once I went to college, and this is where I'll stop with the background and begin with my list.

Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, Salt Lake City, Utah

While going to university in Utah, I quickly formed a weekend routine. In good weather, I spent a lot of time tracking down old ghost towns. In cold weather, I'd make the trip to Salt Lake City to eat lunch at the Shakespeare Sandwiche Shoppe and then lose myself in Sam Weller's. Weller's was the first bookshop I went in that had more than one floor, and that place was Wonderland for me. I had college courses opening my mind to so many new things and ideas, and it seemed that Weller's had a shelf for every one of them. Weller's has gone through several incarnations since I lived in Utah, but I'm glad to see that it's still thriving in a different location.

Upstart Crow, San Diego, California

I found Upstart Crow in Seaport Village on a trip to San Diego. After a particularly tasty seafood lunch in a restaurant on the beach, I wandered into this quirky little store with its nooks and crannies and started pulling book after book off the shelves that I wanted to read. It also had an excellent selection of one-of-a-kind cards and small gifts that I couldn't resist. Like Weller's, Upstart Crow has had to change in order to survive, and the way this bookshop has changed is to keep the books and other goodies and add a coffeehouse. Since the smell of brewing coffee makes me ill, I'm glad that I made Upstart Crow's acquaintance in earlier days.

Powell's Books, Portland, Oregon
In 2003, Denis and I went to Seattle to meet two dozen people from all over the world who'd all met online in a news group. We arrived early because there were places I wanted Denis to see, non-news group people I wanted him to meet... and I also wanted to explore new places-- like Powell's.

We headed down to Portland with a friend who'd been to Powell's on many occasions. The trouble was, Powell's is right downtown, and she couldn't remember exactly how to get there. One of my memories of visiting that bookstore is of her wanting to stop the car and ask every good-looking man for directions. (It seemed to be Handsome Man Day in downtown Portland that day.)

When we turned a corner and I saw that Powell's was not only several stories tall but had its own parking garage, I knew I was heading into book lovers' heaven. Yes, indeed. Floor after floor of books, an elevator, and shopping carts. Be still my heart. The hours we spent there were too few!

Singing Wind Bookshop, Benson, Arizona

I can't remember when I first heard about the bookshop on a working cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. I undoubtedly read a newspaper article about it. What I didn't expect to find was a ranch house crammed with a curated selection of books that accurately portrayed the mind and the interests of its incredible owner, Winn Bundy. If you click on the name of the bookshop in the caption below the photo, you'll be able to read my post and see a lot more photos.

Murder and Mayhem, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
On my first trip to the UK, we headed straight to Hay-on-Wye from the airport in Manchester. Jet lag made me sleep like a rock that night, and in the morning I experienced my first (but not last) full English breakfast. Then the broken-down rental car was loaded on a lorry, and Denis went to Leominster to get a new car. That left me alone on my first day in a new country. Alone. In the Book Capital of the UK. None of the forty-plus bookshops were open, so I wandered the streets of Hay-on-Wye, looking at houses and lack of parking, the castle, and those rolling green hills covered with white dots of grazing sheep.

Once the bookshops opened, I think I went a bit mad. I mean... over forty bookshops all within walking distance of each other? Murder and Mayhem was my favorite with its higgledy-piggledy rooms, steep twisting staircase, and imaginatively decorated rooms. I lost track of the time while I was in there, and afterward, I carried my sacks of books, my cold drink and a sandwich to a bench outside the library where I sat and ate and read and was serenaded by blackbirds and robins.

Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland, England
When you're the Duke of Northumberland and live in Alnwick Castle, you can have your own railway line and train station. When that station becomes surplus to requirements, what happens? It's turned into the largest secondhand bookshop in the UK.

Alnwick is very special to me, and so is Barter Books. If you click on the shop's name in the caption to the left, you'll be able to read my post about it and see several photos.

Leakey's Bookshop, Inverness, Scotland
Leakey's Bookshop is the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland, and it was the highlight of my day in Inverness. Sadly, the café that Denis and I enjoyed so much is no longer there, but oh, those books!

Click on the shop's name in the caption to the right and you'll be able to read my post about it and see several more photos.

Waterstones, Cambridge, England
In the 1980s, Waterstones would send me this glorious, huge catalog, and I would order books from them. I thought visiting their shop in Cambridge would cap a perfect day of exploring this ancient university town. I was right.

This is a four-story bookshop complete with a café, which was the perfect place to give myself a breather from overdosing on that new book smell.

Books, glorious books! It was difficult for me not to bounce up and down like an excited child-- and I was right. After soaking up so much history and so many unusual sights, spending two or three hours immersed in books at Waterstones was the perfect thing to do.

Harrods book department, London, England

Some of you may have visited swanky department stores in places like New York or Los Angeles, but if you haven't walked into a place like Harrods in Knightsbridge, then you don't really know how the other half lives. Or shops. Harrods is huge, oozing class and money in every lavish detail. The book department is larger than many bookshops I've been in. As I walked down each aisle looking at the titles, it was all I could do not to start taking armloads of them to the cash register and having them all shipped to Phoenix. (If I'd done that, I'd probably still be paying off the credit card bill.)

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona
Long-time readers had to know that The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale would be on my list. It's by no means the last place I visited, but I had to save it for last.

I've spent hundreds of dollars in this bookshop. I've attended dozens of author events. I've made friends here among both staff and customers. It's the perfect blend of books and people, and I am blessed to be able to go there whenever I like.

Well, that's my list. Have any of you visited any of the bookshops I've listed? Which ones? More importantly, which bookshops do you long to visit that aren't on my list? Enquiring minds would love to know! (I might be compiling a list for future travels....)