Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife by Agatha Christie

First Line: Four grunts, an indignant voice asking why nobody could leave a hat alone, a slammed door, and Mr. Packington had departed to catch the eight forty-five to the city.

In this short story by Agatha Christie, Maria Packington thinks her husband is having an affair, and in an attempt to put some pizzazz back into her marriage, she responds to a newspaper ad from Mr. Parker Pyne, who promises to provide solutions to unhappiness. It's not long at all before Maria's life undergoes a profound transformation.

I don't often review individual short stories on my blog, but I enjoyed this Parker Pyne story so much that I just had to say something about it.

Parker Pyne spent thirty-five years in a government office compiling statistics, and he's turned all that knowledge into a rather delightful business aimed at making people happy. He is a keen observer and has a vast understanding of human psychology, and with the help of a few assistants, it seems that he can work miracles. The delight for me is that the way Pyne conducts his business makes him almost appear to be a magician and the way he plans, organizes, and conducts his solutions reminds me of one of my favorite movies, George Roy Hill's The Sting. An added bonus in the story is the appearance of Miss Lemon as Pyne's secretary. Any Christie fan will be able to tell you that Miss Lemon is better known as Hercule Poirot's personal assistant.

It seems to me that Parker Pyne and Miss Marple have quite a lot in common. They are both keen observers and have a vast knowledge of human nature. The only real difference between them is that Pyne gets paid for his skills. I enjoyed this story so much that I bought an entire collection of Parker Pyne short stories, and I'll be letting you know what I think of them in the near future.

"The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife" by Agatha Christie
eISBN: 9780062212580
HarperCollins © 2012
Originally published in 1932.
eBook, 27 pages

Short Story, Parker Pyne
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


March 2018 New Mystery Releases!

It's a good thing I took another look at my post title. It originally said "March 2918 New Mystery Releases." Some of you might have seen that and thought someone spiked my punch bowl-- or wondered about my wonderful contacts who could tell me about books being written nine hundred years from now!

I'm always on the hunt for new mysteries to read, and these are my picks of new crime fiction being released throughout the month of March. I've grouped them by release dates and hopefully given you enough information so that you will succumb to temptation and add them to your wishlists. Book synopses are courtesy of Amazon.

It's time to stop talking so you can take a look at the list.  Here we go!

=== March 1 ===

Title: The Suffering of Strangers
Author: Caro Ramsay
Series: #9 in the Anderson & Costello police procedural series set in Glasgow, Scotland.
256 pages

Synopsis: "When a six-week-old baby is stolen from outside a village shop, Detective Inspector Costello quickly surmises there?s more to this case than meets the eye. As she questions those involved, she uncovers evidence that this was no impulsive act as the police initially assumed, but something cold, logical, meticulously planned. Who has taken Baby Sholto ? and why?

Colin Anderson meanwhile is on the Cold Case Unit, reviewing the unsolved rape of a young mother back in 1996. Convinced this wasn't the first- or last - time the attacker struck, Anderson looks for a pattern. But when he does find a connection, it reaches back into his own past . . .

=== March 6 ===

Title: A Brush with Shadows
Series: #6 in the Lady Darby historical series set in the UK.
383 pages

Synopsis: "July 1831. It's been fifteen years since Sebastian Gage has set foot in Langstone Manor. Though he has shared little with his wife, Lady Kiera Darby, about his past, she knows that he planned never to return to the place of so many unhappy childhood memories. But when an urgent letter from his grandfather reaches them in Dublin, Ireland, and begs Gage to visit, Kiera convinces him to go.

All is not well at Langstone Manor. Gage's grandfather, the Viscount Tavistock, is gravely ill, and Gage's cousin Alfred has suddenly vanished. He wandered out into the moors and never returned. The Viscount is convinced someone or something other than the natural hazards of the moors is to blame for Alfred's disappearance. And when Alfred's brother Rory goes missing, Kiera and Gage must concede he may be right. Now, they must face the ghosts of Gage's past, discover the truth behind the local superstitions, and see beyond the tricks being played by their very own eyes to expose what has happened to Gage's family before the moors claim yet another victim...

Title: A Funeral in Mantova
Series: #5 in the Rick Montoya amateur sleuth series set in Italy.
220 pages

Synopsis: "Lombardy was once hotly disputed by the cities of Venice and Milan. Today it is famed for its food rather than war. But the murder of the elderly fisherman, for so it proves to be, reveals battles still rage within the region's controlled agribiz, the manufacture of cheese and cured meats by generations of local families, as well as over the best use for a parcel of land owned by the victim, Roberto Rondini, and now passing to his heirs.

Rick Montoya, an American from New Mexico self-employed as a translator in Italy, soon receives a call from the States. The US Embassy in Rome has recommended his services to wealthy Angelo Rondini, cousin to Roberto. Angelo, age seventy-eight and born in nearby Voglia, has been invited to the funeral by Roberto's daughter, Livia Guarino. Out of respect, Angelo has agreed to connect with the Italian family he hasn't seen since he was a very young boy.

Rick hires on as interpreter. And soon receives another assignment - a local cop, Inspector Crespi, linked to Rick's uncle, Commissario Piero Fontana of the Roman Questura, leads the murder investigation and asks Rick to observe and report. Rick agrees, if Angelo accepts his working undercover. And so Rick once again puts his linguistic skills to use for the local law in solving a crime.

Despite the joys and distractions of the city and its watery setting, its glorious art and architecture, and the temptations of the local cuisine and cheese culture, the investigation must probe the life of Roberto and the history of the Rondinis as well as the rivalries of the locals. Yet with all this on display, the story is stolen by two women: Angelo's American executive assistant, and Livia, the Rondini clan's new matriarch.

David Wagner's Rick Montoya Mysteries will appeal to readers of Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon, and Martin Walker.

Title: Barbed Wire Heart
Author: Tess Sharpe
Standalone noir thriller.
416 pages

Synopsis: "Harley McKenna is the only child of North County's biggest criminal. Duke McKenna's run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley's been working for him since she was sixteen--collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he'd deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he's built.

Her time's run out. The Springfields, her family's biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother's death, and now they're coming for Duke's only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father's violent world will destroy her. Duke's raised her to be deadly--he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she's got to take out Duke's operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father's daughter. And McKennas always win.

A remarkable novel with a deep emotional core, BARBED WIRE HEART seamlessly blends page-turning suspense with a multilayered and unflinching portrayal of a poor, rural community where family is everything.

Title: The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell
Standalone Gothic suspense set in England.
315 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.

=== March 8 ===

Title: Phoenix Burning
Series: #2 in the Veranda Cruz police procedural series set in Phoenix, Arizona.
338 pages

Synopsis: "Homicide Detective Veranda Cruz will stop at nothing to take down the Villalobos cartel. But when a wave of violence in the city escalates, she fears that the secrets of her past will take her down instead.

Adolfo Villalobos is a crime boss who's determined to stake his claim. To prove that he's ready to run his family's sprawling criminal empire, he devises a plan to silence his siblings and destroy Veranda, leaving a trail of destruction through downtown Phoenix that makes national headlines. Veranda believes the task force she's been assigned to lead will end the cartel's reign of terror, until Adolfo's revenge takes a cruel—and highly personal—twist."

=== March 13 ===

Title: Lethal in Old Lace
Author: Duffy Brown
Series: #5 in the Consignment Shop cozy series set in Savannah, Georgia.
298 pages

Synopsis: "There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon. But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters’ pink Caddy. The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle. Witty, fabulous, and full of charm, Lethal in Old Lace is perfect for fans of Ellery Adams and Jenn McKinlay.

Title: Searcher of the Dead
Series: #1 in the Bess Ellyott historical series set in Elizabethan England.
334 pages

Synopsis: "Living amid the cultural flowering, religious strife, and political storms of Tudor England, Bess Ellyott is an herbalist, a widow, and a hunted woman. She fled London after her husband was brutally murdered, but the bucolic town in the countryside where she lands will offer her no solace. She still doesn’t know who killed her husband, but she knows one thing: The murderer is still out there. This becomes all too clear when Bess’s brother-in-law, a prosperous merchant, is himself found dead—dangling from a tree, an apparent suicide.

But Bess doesn’t believe that for a moment, and nor do her neighbors. Competition is cutthroat in the 17th century, and word around the town holds that the dead man is a victim of rival merchants scheming to corner the wool market. Bess, though, is convinced the killer is out to destroy her family.

Town constable Christopher Harwoode will cross members of his own family to help Bess find the killer—whose next target may very well be Queen Elizabeth I—in this unshakably gripping, devilishly unpredictable series debut that will delight fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory.

Title: This Is How It Ends
Author: Eva Dolan
Standalone thriller set in the UK.
336 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "The building was once home to families, friends, children, couples, love, life. Now, almost every apartment is empty, the inhabitants forced out by the developers tearing down the old social housing to build luxury homes.

Only a few of the inhabitants have fought back against the attempts to evict them from their homes and their histories. And they have been joined by passionate student protester and would-be journalist, Ella, who is leading a high-profile media campaign to protect those who refuse to leave.

One night, Ella returns home to find a horrible scene awaiting her-the dead body of a mysterious man. Panicked, she calls her neighbor Molly, who convinces her that the police won't believe she's innocent. Together the two women concoct a gruesome plan to hide the body.

But the secret won't stay buried for long. As truth hangs in the balance, a neighbor tells Molly he had heard Ella arguing with a man in the hallway and mistrust grows between Ella and Molly, as repercussions of that night threaten to change both women's lives forever.

=== March 20 ===

Title: Death Comes in Through the Kitchen
Standalone amateur sleuth set in Cuba.
368 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Matt, a San Diego journalist, arrives in Havana to marry his girlfriend, Yarmila, a 24-year-old Cuban woman whom he first met through her food blog. But Yarmi isn’t there to meet him at the airport, and when he hitches a ride to her apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub.

With Yarmi’s murder, lovelorn Matt is immediately embroiled in a Cuban adventure he didn’t bargain for. The police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, and in an effort to clear his name, he must embark on his own investigation into what really happened. The more Matt learns about his erstwhile fiancée, though, the more he realizes he had no idea who she was at all—but did anyone?

Title: The Temptation of Forgiveness
Author: Donna Leon
Series: #27 in the Guido Brunetti police procedural series set in Venice, Italy.
272 pages

Synopsis: "The memorable characters and Venetian drama that have long captivated Donna Leon’s many readers are on full display in The Temptation of Forgiveness. Surprised, if not dismayed, to discover from his superior, Vice-Questore Patta, that leaks are emanating from the Questura, Commissario Guido Brunetti is surprised more consequentially by the appearance of a friend of his wife’s, fearful that her son is using drugs and hopeful Brunetti can somehow intervene. When Tullio Gasparini, the woman’s husband, is found unconscious and with a serious brain injury at the foot of a bridge in Venice after midnight, Brunetti is drawn to pursue a possible connection to the boy’s behavior. But the truth, as Brunetti has experienced so often, is not straightforward.

As the twenty-seventh novel unfolds in Donna Leon’s exquisite chronicle of Venetian life in all its blissful and sordid aspects, Brunetti pursues several false and contradictory leads while growing ever more impressed by the intuition of his fellow Commissario, Claudia Griffoni, and by the endless resourcefulness and craftiness of Signorina Elettra, Patta’s secretary and gate-keeper. Exasperated by the petty bureaucracy that constantly bedevils him and threatens to expose Signorina Elettra, Brunetti is steadied by the embrace of his own family and by his passion for the classics. This predilection leads him to read Sophocles’ Antigone, and, in its light, consider the terrible consequences to which the actions of a tender heart can lead.

=== March 27 ===

Title: To Die but Once
Series: #14 in the Maisie Dobbs historical series set during the beginning months of World War II in England and France.
336 pages

Synopsis: "During the months following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Maisie Dobbs investigates the disappearance of a young apprentice working on a hush-hush government contract. As news of the plight of thousands of soldiers stranded on the beaches of France is gradually revealed to the general public, and the threat of invasion rises, another young man beloved by Maisie makes a terrible decision that will change his life forever. 

Maisie’s investigation leads her from the countryside of rural Hampshire to the web of wartime opportunism exploited by one of the London underworld’s most powerful men, in a case that serves as a reminder of the inextricable link between money and war. Yet when a final confrontation approaches, she must acknowledge the potential cost to her future—and the risk of destroying a dream she wants very much to become reality.

Title: Murder, She Knit
Author: Peggy Ehrhart
Series: #1 in the Knit & Nibble cozy series set in New Jersey.
288 pages

Synopsis: "Since her only daughter left for college, widow Pamela Paterson has kept busy as associate editor of a craft magazine and founder of the Knit and Nibble knitting club in quaint Arborville, New Jersey. Now, she’s trying out a new hobby—solving murders!

Pamela is hosting the next Knit and Nibble meeting and can’t wait to liven up her otherwise empty home with colorful yarn, baking, and a little harmless gossip. She even recruits Amy Morgan, an old friend who recently moved to town, as the group’s newest member. But on the night of the gathering, Amy doesn’t show. Not until Pamela finds the woman dead outside—a knitting needle stabbed through the front of her handmade sweater . . .

Someone committed murder before taking off with Amy’s knitting bag, and Pamela realizes that only she can spot the deadly details hidden in mysterious skeins. But when another murder occurs, naming the culprit—and living to spin the tale—will be more difficult than Pamela ever imagined . . .

Well, this list has a little something for everyone, doesn't it? My vote for the creepiest book cover this month is Caro Ramsay's The Suffering of Strangers. My favorite? It's a tie between Winspear's To Die but Once and Ehrhart's Murder, She Knit--although that cat looks like a twin of the cat in Betty Hechtman's knitting series! (Or... at least I think it's a cat. It's got a mighty long nose.)

Did I tempt you with any of these titles this month? Which ones? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Pajama Frame by Diane Vallere

First Line: "Alice Sweet left me a pajama factory?" I asked in disbelief.

People just seem to love leaving interior decorator Madison Night strange inheritances. This time octogenarian Alice Sweet has died and left Madison a pajama factory. Sweet Dreams was once a thriving business that employed many Dallas area women, but it closed decades ago when a tragic accident took the life of a young model.

Madison is in no mood to deal with drama, but when the old lady's family members and even special interest groups don't want to wait to get inside the old factory, Madison finds herself investigating a tangled mess of secrets and lies-- whether she wants to or not.

In The Pajama Frame, Madison is at a crossroads in her life, and with Hudson in Hollywood, she's thrown together with Tex Allen in trying to solve this mystery. Her reasons for feeling out-of-kilter are very real, and when her emotions begin to waver between the present Tex and the absent Hudson, it's much more a case of mind and heart than just mere hormones. As a reader who really doesn't care for romance in her mysteries, I appreciate this series' emotional depth.

Vallere keeps readers guessing at what's really going on in that old pajama factory, and since I was much more interested in looking at all the sleepwear, fabrics, and machinery, I was thrown for a loop when the nefarious goings-on were uncovered. The author threw in some top-notch misdirection, that's for sure! (And before I forget it, I'd like to say how much I liked the fact that the owner of Sweet Dreams was a businessman with true integrity.)

But as good as the mystery is in The Pajama Frame, it's the character of Madison Night that I love. When someone tries to intimidate her into taking over the arrangements for something, Madison does not cave in. The would-be intimidator is met with silence... and he suddenly changes his mind. There are also touches of humor throughout the book, one of my favorites being when Donna Nast claims that Madison is a goody-goody.

I'll be honest and admit that one of the reasons why I like Madison so much is that I identify with her a bit. She's staring fifty in the face and took a long, long time to commit to a romantic relationship. She's got a bum knee. She likes to swim. Those who try to intimidate her only make her angry. And when she's in real danger, she makes sure her dog is safe first.

There is depth and there is soul in Diane Vallere's Madison Night series. Not to mention humor and a whole lot of other good stuff. If you have yet to sample this series, by all means, start with Pillow Stalk. I'm willing to bet you'll find out that having Doris Day as a role model is a very good thing indeed. This is now my favorite cozy series, and I'm hoping it will be yours, too.

The Pajama Frame  by Diane Vallere
eISBN: 9781635113020
Henery Press © 2018
eBook, 254 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Madison Night/Mad for Mod mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


Monday, February 26, 2018

Being Appreciated at The Poisoned Pen

A week ago, Denis and I headed to The Poisoned Pen for their Customer Appreciation Party. Since this was a Saturday, Denis had to request the day off, so you know he was looking forward to it. This was a party, not an author event; there'd be plenty of food, drink, swag bags, and Craig Johnson, Margaret Coel, and William Kent Krueger were going to be there to party with us (and sign a few books, too). As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw that a small section of it had been roped off, and tables, chairs, tablecloths, and flowers were rapidly being brought out. (We showed up unfashionably early to make sure we got a parking spot for our vehicle and a couple for our behinds. We know how these authors can fill up the bookstore with fans!)

We were right; the bookstore filled up quickly, and author Rhys Bowen made an appearance, too, which made the party even more special. It was fun to hear the buzz when the authors walked into the bookstore. This is going to be more of a pictorial blog post since it wasn't a formal author event, and that means that I don't have much more to say.

I do feel slightly guilty about not saying more than hello to Bowen, Coel, and Krueger, but I feel that I had an excellent reason for not doing so. The second Craig walked into the store, people started crowding around him with their stories and their books. Guess where he asked to sit in order to chat and sign? The small table where Denis and I were seated! Boy howdy, I wasn't about to turn loose of my ringside seat-- would you?

Let the festivities commence!

L to R: William Kent Krueger, Barbara Peters, Margaret Coel, Craig Johnson

Plenty of nibbles

Susan (L) tending the bar

Partying outside. Can you spot Kent Krueger?

Can you spot Margaret Coel? The tall man on the left is her husband.

Early birds waiting for the stars.

Kent Krueger signing books.

The buzz grew when these three appeared. Rhys Bowen is on the right with Krueger's hand on her arm. Coel is in front of Barbara Peters, who has her back to us.

Even Barbara Peters (L) is getting into social media.

Oh oh... I've been spotted by the man in the hat!

Craig Johnson getting writer's cramp.

Craig Johnson

Craig was looking even slimmer than he did the last time I saw him, and I found out why. He's always wanted to go on a mule ride down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and he learned that everyone has to weigh in the night before. Fully clothed, including hat, boots, and sunglasses, 200 pounds is the weight limit. "I haven't weighed 200 pounds since I was in high school!" Craig told us. This past Tuesday night Craig weighed in at 195 pounds, and I couldn't help but remember that he'd said, "When I get back up to the top, there's a pizza and a beer waiting with my name on 'em!" I'm looking forward to finding out if he enjoyed the ride, the pizza, and the beer.

Those red bags are the swag bags every customer received. An ARC & all sorts of goodies were within!

The yellow bag contained these books. Don't mind the vertigo-inducing angle of the photo!

Denis and I had so much fun. In fact, I'm still smiling about it!

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Matter of Perspective Weekly Link Round-Up

There are so many horrible things going on in the world right now that it's almost mind-numbing. Many of them demand some sort of action from us lest our silence makes us complicit. In addition, it's altogether too easy to become overwhelmed, depressed, by what's going on in the world. I'm no stranger to depression; in fact, depression was a close "friend" for many, many years. While I carry out my game plan for how I'm going to make the world a better place, there are things I do to keep myself in a positive frame of mind.

Mostly I just remind myself of how good I have it. Sure, I have two knees and a hip that don't work according to specifications, and now one hand is causing me grief, but if that's all I have to whine about, I'm having a really good day.

I have a Mason jar on my desk, and each week I put in a slip of paper on which I've written something good that's happened to me. Those slips of paper have certainly had an assortment of things written on them: lunches with favorite authors, adventures with Denis, a marvelous book, spending five minutes watching two butterflies courting.... There are things (and people) to be thankful for all around us. Like the young woman who saw a complete stranger (me) having difficulties disembarking from a train at the Edinburgh station and rushed over to help. Or another young woman who helped chase down my errant lens cap at the Desert Botanical Garden the other day. Or the fantastic people I've met through this blog (like my Secret Santa who even sent me a magazine recently).

When the world has gone crazy, all we can do is to keep on sharing the good, no matter how small. You never ever know how some small thing you've done has made a huge difference in a stranger's life.

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Twenty colorful animals that will make your jaw drop.
  • Meet the dogs of Chernobyl-- the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community.
  • Praying mantises don tiny goggles to help us understand 3-D vision. 
  • A bichon frise named Flynn became America's top dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

First Line: Samantha Boyd ducked under the wobbly police barrier and glanced up at the statue of Lady Justice perched atop London's infamous Old Bailey courtrooms.

There's no more controversial detective than William Fawkes. Known as The Wolf, he's just been reinstated after being suspended for assaulting a vindicated suspect. Still under psychiatric observation, he's eager for a big case. And he gets one. When he's called to a crime scene by his former partner, Detective Emily Baxter, he knows this is the case he was hoping for: the body is made of the dismembered parts of six victims sewn together like a puppet. The corpse quickly becomes known as "The Ragdoll."

Fawkes has six victims to identify, but his job becomes infinitely harder when his reporter ex-wife receives photographs from the crime scene along with a list of six names and the dates on which the Ragdoll Killer plans to murder them. The last name on the list is Fawkes'. While Baxter and her trainee partner Alex Edmunds work on figuring out what links the victims together, Fawkes can't help but believe that the catalyst for these killings has more to do with him and his past than anyone realizes.

With a gruesome stitched-together corpse, many readers will probably expect Daniel Cole's Ragdoll to be filled to overflowing with gore. Surprisingly, it isn't. What it does have is a breakneck pace, a wonderfully convoluted plot, and an intense cast of characters. For a character-driven reader like myself, Cole's cast is what made the book. No, I couldn't solve the mystery ahead of time-- which is always a plus-- but the characters are what wouldn't let me go.

The trainee Edmunds is brilliant at wading through mountains of information and digging up the facts that they need to solve the crime. In addition, he may be new in position, but he has the intestinal fortitude to stand up to his superiors when he feels that he is in the right. The entire team may be saddled with a pencil-pushing, media-hungry, wardrobe nightmare of a boss, but the detectives' immediate supervisor, Simmons, is a good man who gets right in the thick of the investigation with them and buckles down to do some of the grunt work. How often does that happen?

Emily Baxter has a terrible temper, is an even worse driver, and secretly pines for Fawkes, who knows her flaws and has been known to cover for her when necessary. Fawkes himself goes spectacularly off the rails, and this makes him very unpredictable. With these two main characters, readers are never quite sure what's going to happen.

Although the ending of Ragdoll unraveled a bit, I really enjoyed the story and the characters, and I'm looking forward to reading the next book, Hangman, which will be out at the end of July.

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole
eISBN: 9780062653970
Ecco © 2017
eBook, 385 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Fawkes & Baxter mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel by David Casarett

First Line: The frail woman sitting alone below in the courtyard was sad.

Nurse ethicist Ladarat Patalung and Detective Wiriya Mookjai are still basking in the afterglow of their successful investigation in Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness. Although Ladarat is in the middle of scouring records to ensure that all the patients who died in her hospital had the dignity of a "good death,"  the detective believes he's found another case and wants her help. Wealthy foreign travelers are disappearing all over Thailand, and he's worried that a killer is at large. When the two discover that the missing tourists have nothing in common except for short stays at a resort known as the Magic Grove Hotel, Ladarat agrees to investigate.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness, and looked forward to this one with a great deal of anticipation. Unfortunately, The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel was a bit of a disappointment. The characters and the setting are still strong, and the mysteries are intriguing, but this second book in the series really needed more editing and tightening up.

The mysteries took forever to get moving-- mainly due to the fact that too much emphasis was placed on food in the first half. Casarett has definitely tickled my taste buds with his descriptions of Thai food, but having Ladarat attempt to learn to cook was overkill. Once all the food descriptions stopped, the pace picked up and my flagging interest was re-engaged.

There were also too many mysteries to solve: drugged bus passengers, a smuggling ring, tourists disappearing from a strange hotel, a doctor who's acting strangely... and why are so few people dying in the palliative care unit of the hospital? When there are so many investigations screaming for attention, they oftentimes do not get all the attention they deserve, and that's what happened here.

Yes, The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel does have a problem or two, but I'm still looking forward to the next book. There is a wit and humor and gentleness in these two books that just plain makes me feel good. Learning about all the many variations of Thai smiles and feeling good are two excellent reasons to keep reading, don't you agree?

The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel by David Casarett
ISBN: 9780316270694
Redhook Books © 2017
Paperback, 384 pages

Cozy Mystery, #2 Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency mystery
Rating: C
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

I Have Jane Harper Covered!

This is going to be a rather difficult post to write because as I sit here trying to compose it in my head, I'm still buzzing from my latest trip to The Poisoned Pen-- and that was almost three days ago. If you want to know what happened, you'll have to wait until next Monday when I'll be telling you all about it. Right now, I'm still trying to put the right words in an order that will make sense.

Last time, I think I mentioned something about having a contest to see which of you could guess the cover I would prefer. See? I haven't forgotten about it! In many ways, this week's cover-off would be perfect for the proposed contest. There are no obvious Cathy Triggers for you to spot immediately. (Did you think I was going to make it easy for you?)

Let's take a look at this week's cover comparison, shall we?

This week, it's Jane Harper's second mystery featuring Australian Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk. (I bought my copy at The Poisoned Pen Saturday.) Although the covers are very different, they both take heed of the book's title and feature Mother Nature.

The UK Cover...

I'm not quite sure what's up with the UK cover. According to the synopsis, Falk winds up in a mountainous, isolated forest, and the UK cover makes me think I'm in a wheat field with a thunderstorm headed my way. The publisher uses a little badge to tell us that Force of Nature is another book by the author of The Dry, which is good. Even if I didn't know that this book (at least partly) takes place in a forest, the cover art doesn't grab me. The only thing I like about it is the tagline at the bottom: "Five Went Out. Four Came Back..." Now that gets my imagination going!

The US Cover...

On the other hand, the US cover does grab me. From the angle of the graphic, I feel as though I'm about to be dropped into an impenetrable forest or jungle, and I'm going to have a heck of a time fighting my way back out. This may be due to the fact that one of my all-time favorite books deals with just that subject, but I like the colors and the way the title and author's name stands out against them, too. And at least this particular blurb is useful, since it mentions The Dry-- although I think they should have dispensed with the blurb and done something similar to the UK's badge.

The Verdict...

It should come as no surprise. I like the US cover, hands down. The graphic, the colors, the font... they all combine in a cover that makes me want to pick the book up and start reading. (And I hope I can do that very soon!)

What say all of you? Which cover do you prefer? UK? US? Neither one? Too close to call? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

First Line: He was going to die. that was quite obvious.

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley was shot down over German-occupied Tuscany and found refuge in a ruined monastery and aid from lovely young Sofia Bartoli. Thirty years later, Hugo's daughter, Joanna, has returned to the English countryside to arrange her father's funeral. In going through his personal effects, she finds an unopened letter addressed to Sofia, and in it is a revelation that sends her to Tuscany.

Her journey has a twofold purpose. Not only does she want to learn about her father's experiences during the war, she also needs time to heal from her own personal trauma. However, she soon learns that some would prefer that the past remains in the past.

The two timelines of 1944 and 1973 work well in The Tuscan Child, and as I read, I was very pleasantly reminded of other suspense novelists such as Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Kate Morton. Joanna Langley is the type of main character with whom you can easily sympathize: wounded, wary, intelligent, and brave-- and she's willing to learn how to cook. A definite word of warning: if you love Italian food and you're hungry, you will drool when you read segments of this book!

Joanna has a lovely little Tuscan hill village to explore that's filled with interesting characters. Many welcome her, but some do not. And that ancient monastery that was ruined by the Germans is holding plenty of secrets all on its own, although with the clues Joanna has, they aren't going to be easy to uncover.

Bowen's characterization, pacing, and setting are all first rate (par for the course for this talented woman). She's created a two-pronged mystery, and while one part of the puzzle was rather easy to solve, the second one certainly wasn't and took me by surprise. It shouldn't have because the clues are there, but I was too caught up in the story to pay close attention.

If you like fast-paced stories with dual timelines, intriguing mysteries, and mouth-watering food, let yourself be tempted by The Tuscan Child.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen
Lake Union Publishing © 2018
eBook, 329 pages

Historical Mystery, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley


Monday, February 19, 2018

Phoenix in February

I think I could go to the Desert Botanical Garden every day and see something different each time. It's that kind of place. As it is, I'm continuing my pre-New Year's resolution by visiting once a month.

Until I moved to Phoenix in 1976, February was my least favorite month. I think it would be truthful to admit that I loathed February because the skies always seemed to be overcast; it was cold; and if there was any snow, it was gray, gritty, grainy, ugly slush. It also didn't help that a local radio announcer in central Illinois made a huge production of pronouncing the word correctly. I will go to my grave saying, "Feb-YOU-airy." I can't remember that man's name, but his constant "Feb-ROO-airy" got on my last nerve.

Then I moved to Phoenix, and February here is a revelation. Temperatures are usually balmy short-sleeve weather, and spring is busting out all over. That's what Denis and I witnessed Friday during our most recent visit. What follows is a hint of things to come for those of you in colder climes. No commentary, just color. If you'd like to see any of the photos in their original sizes, click on any one of them and a new window will automatically open so that you may do so. Enjoy!

I can't wait till all the cacti start blooming!

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Messy Desk Weekly Link Round-Up

This past week has had Denis and me doing major desk clearing, and it's pointed out one of our rare differences. I lay no claim to being a fastidious housekeeper. In fact, you might say that I consider dust to be a protective coating in many cases. My aim has always been to keep things picked up: I figure if all the surfaces are uncluttered, visitors probably won't be led to whipping out their white gloves.

So...when it comes to our office, my desk is usually pretty tidy on top. The top of Denis's desk normally looks like a dumpster. As I said, we both spent a few hours cleaning up our desks, and now his looks really nice and mine looks like I haven't done anything. That's because my cleaning involved all my file cabinet drawers. In the photo to the left, you can see one of the best purchases I've made in quite some time: a collapsible canvas wagon. In the bottom left corner, you can also see a paper shredder that holds a 13-gallon kitchen trash bag. (I mean business when I shred!)

As you can see, that wagon is loaded. Those file cabinet drawers held receipts and manuals for things I hadn't owned or even used in almost a decade, old medical insurance policy descriptions... the list is endless. Three hanging file drawers were condensed into one-- I can't believe the space I have now. (And it would be nice if I didn't rush into filling it all back up again....)

Now that I've got all that tidied up, I'd better get to work on our income taxes. Oops! Some of those links heard me. I'd best mosey on out to the corral first.

Head 'em up! Mooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • How a rare Roman mosaic was lifted from the ground.
  • Ancient Roman graves were uncovered by a Palestinian in his backyard after a heavy rainfall.
  • The Tudor manor house that was home to the Archbishop who helped Henry VIII become head of the Church of England has gone on the market for £1.3 million ($1.8 million). (Yes, it has a library.)
  • The gold treasure lost at sea in an 1857 shipwreck is now on display.
  • The discovery of a 10,000-year-old crayon points to a colorful Mesolithic life.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►I ♥ Lists◄
  • Nine places where you can still see wheel tracks from the Oregon Trail. (I walked along the Oregon Trail in Nebraska with my grandfather when I was ten. There are probably cookie-cutter houses on the spot now.)
  • I love this art! Vintage seaside posters capturing the golden age of travel in Britain and Australia sold for $510,000 at auction in New York City.
  • Nineteen of the best Western books of all time.
  • If you do 19/29 of these things, then you should own a library.
  • Twelve literary pick-up lines you should never use at a bookstore.
  • The ten nicest things to do for book lovers.

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!