Friday, March 30, 2018

A Stunned Weekly Link Round-Up

Normally I'm what you would call an observant person. One reason for that comes from some of the things life has lobbed at me. Being stalked on a daily basis or coming home to find your front door wide open and your dog disconsolately wandering the neighborhood (I'd been burgled) means realizing you can't take things for granted...and that getting the lay of the land before you blunder into anything can be important. Another reason is my love of wildlife; I always enjoy spotting critters, and since some of the signs that they're around are easily overlooked, I've trained myself to notice furtive movements in the undergrowth. ("Furtive movements in the undergrowth." That makes me laugh!)

But sometimes my powers desert me, which is what happened to me this week. I do the occasional review for one of my favorite UK publishers, Allison & Busby. I received a duplicate copy of Judith Cutler's Head Count and decided to see if anyone wanted a copy at Paperback Swap. I logged onto the site and turned the book over for the ISBN in order to key the numbers into the search engine.

Then my eyes happened to roam up a bit, and I wound up sitting here with my mouth hanging open. (Click on the photo to see it full size if you're having trouble.) Evidently, I missed that last blurb completely when I received and read the first copy. The only thing I have to say in my defense is that I really do not pay attention to blurbs, and many of you will nod your heads because of my US and UK book cover comparison posts. But still...!

I think I'd better make an appointment with my eye doctor before I head on out to the corral to take care of these links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Fascinating Folk◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Sixteen underrated U.S. National Parks to add to your bucket list. (If I had a bucket list, I'd add #11.)
  • Arizona's windiest road has over 460 curves, and it's not for the faint of heart. (Denis and I have traveled it. It goes through some of the most beautiful country, and at one point, you're at least one hundred miles from civilization in any direction. It's also one of the least traveled highways in the U.S.)

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

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

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

First Line: Dear Madam, I hope you won't think me forward, but I wanted to write to express my admiration for your book, From an Eagle's Aerie.

In March of 1912, twenty-four-year-old poet Elspeth Dunn receives a fan letter from college student David Graham, a student at the University of Illinois who's a world away from the home Elspeth has never left, Scotland's Isle of Skye. A correspondence is started which gradually moves from friendship to love. Then World War I intervenes, and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western Front. All Elspeth can do is wait for him on Skye and hope that he'll survive.

In June of 1940, Elspeth's daughter Margaret has been busy relocating children away from cities like Edinburgh that are being bombed by the Germans. When Elspeth learns Margaret has fallen in love with an RAF pilot, she tries to warn her daughter against wartime romance, but she knows her words have fallen on deaf ears. After a bomb rocks Elspeth's house, she disappears, leaving behind a single letter as a clue to her whereabouts. When Margaret sets out to find her mother, she's also starting out on a journey to uncover what happened to her family in the past.

I've always been a fan of books that have more than one timeline if they're well-written, and Letters from Skye certainly is. These timelines involving the world wars compliment each other perfectly, and Brockmole's research adds period detail that brings the stories to life. The stories unfold in a series of letters. Watching the love between Elspeth and David blossom is a wonderful thing, and what makes this book even stronger is that readers may think they know what's going to happen, but the author doesn't always oblige. Those little surprises woven into the plot make the book even stronger and more involving.

I have to be honest and admit that I have a personal reason for enjoying this book so much. When I was even younger than Elspeth, I began corresponding with a young man in England. We became friends, and that friendship turned to love. I was so in tune with Allen and the mail services that I always sensed when a letter would arrive, and heaven help anyone who got between me and the mailbox on those days. My story didn't have a happy ending, but Letters from Skye brought back the best of my memories and touched my heart profoundly. As Elspeth said to Margaret: I should've "taught you that a letter isn't always just a letter. Words on the page can drench the soul. If only you knew."

I do know, and I loved this story.

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
eISBN: 9780345542618
Random House © 2013
eBook, 306 pages

Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah

First Line: For the longest time, I thought my sister, Emory, was the lucky one.

The best thing she can do for herself, Cara Burrows thinks, is to leave her family a note, hop a plane, leave England, and spend two weeks in a five-star resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Exhausted beyond words when she arrives, all she wants to do is go to bed, but when she walks into the bathroom of her suite, she finds it's already occupied by a man and his daughter. The mistake is remedied at the front desk, but Cara soon realizes that the young girl she saw in that room was someone she couldn't possibly have seen: Melody Chapa, the most famous murder victim in America.

Now she's got to decide what she's going to do. Did she really see Melody? And what's she prepared to do about it-- especially if it means risking her own life?

Author Sophie Hannah enjoys the resorts in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and she's wanted to set a book in Arizona for a long time, but it wasn't until she was given the key to an already-occupied hotel room in the UK that she had the perfect idea for a story. Keep Her Safe does have an intriguing premise that satisfies on many levels, but not all.

The cast of characters isn't the most likable in the world, but I didn't mind because they were all interesting in their own ways. Cara Burrows tends to be a spineless whiner who'd rather dip into the family savings and run thousands of miles away than stay put and have a heart-to-heart with her husband and children. This was Cara's first time in the United States as well as her first time in a five-star resort, and it was often amusing to watch her experience culture shock.

Cara is "befriended" by Tarin Fry, a woman who's as blunt as a lead pipe. Tarin can be funny, but I'd no more want to live with that woman than I'd take up residence in a rattlesnake den. There's also Bonnie Juno, the woman who has her own hit television show, "Justice with Bonnie," and a police officer named Priddey who still cares even though he tries to convince himself that he doesn't.

Keep Her Safe's storyline was compulsive reading, and the characters certainly were entertaining, but in the end, it just felt a bit too contrived, and I think the police officer would agree: "Priddey felt as if he were watching a drama in which everyone loved their own lines a bit too much."  The book would have been better if more of the characters had not been waiting impatiently for their close-ups.

Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah
eISBN: 9780062388346
HarperCollins © 2017
eBook, 352 pages

Thriller/Suspense, Standalone
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

April 2018 New Mystery Releases!

April is turning out to be a much busier month than I'd planned, mostly because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Not only will our niece Daisy be here from England for two weeks beginning the 23rd, not only do I have to clean house like a crazy person, I also have to see if I can nudge my eyeballs into high speed because I over-committed on advance reading copies. For some reason, this seems to be a lesson I need to re-learn every two to three years.

Nevertheless, I am always on the lookout for new crime fiction, and these are my picks for the month of April. They are grouped according to release dates, and I'd like to thank Amazon for the covers and synopses. Hopefully, I've chosen a title or two that strikes your fancy. Let's see how much I can tempt you...

=== April 3 ===

Title: Lost Books and Old Bones
Author: Paige Shelton
Series: #3 in the Scottish Bookshop cozy series set in Edinburgh, Scotland.
320 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Delaney Nichols, originally of Kansas but settling happily into her new life as a bookseller in Edinburgh, works at the Cracked Spine in the heart of town. The shop is a place filled with curiosities and surprises tucked into every shelf, and it’s Delaney’s job to research the rare tomes and obscure artifacts that people come to buy and sell. When her new friends, also students at the medical school, come to the shop to sell a collection of antique medical books, Delaney knows she’s stumbled across a rare and important find indeed. Her boss, Edwin MacAlister, agrees to buy the multivolume set, perhaps even to keep for his own collection.

But not long after the sale, one of Delaney’s new friends is found murdered in the alley behind the Cracked Spine, and she wonders if there is some nefarious connection between the origin of these books and the people whose hands they fell into. Delaney takes it upon herself to help bring the murderer to justice. During her investigation, Delaney she finds some old scalpels in the bookshop’s warehouse—she and discovers that they belonged to a long-dead doctor whose story and ties to the past crimes of Burke and Hare might be connected to the present-day murder. It’s all Delaney can do to race to solve this crime before time runs out and she ends up in a victim on the slab herself.

Title: Wedding Cake Crumble
Author: Jenn McKinlay
Series: #10 in the Cupcake Bakery cozy series set in Scottsdale, Arizona.
288 pages

Synopsis: "With Angie and Tate's wedding just around the corner, it's a happy time for Melanie Cooper and the bakery crew. Not only are they finessing the last minute details of the big day, but their bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, has just been hired to bake cupcakes for the blockbuster book signing of a controversial author who wrote a steamy bestseller filled with juicy local gossip.

But one by one, the people Angie has hired to work at the wedding begin turning up dead. As the body count rises, the bestselling author is the next to bite the dust. Mel quickly realizes she needs to figure out how the murders are connected and why--before the killer brings the entire cupcake crew crumbling down. After all, Angie and Tate deserve their sweet happily ever after.

Title: A Necessary Evil
Series: #2 in the Wyndham and Banerjee historical series set in 1919 Calcutta, India.
381 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah's son, in the sequel to A Rising Man.

The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines, and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant 'Surrender-Not' Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a modernizer whose attitudes—and romantic relationships—may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother—now in line to the throne—appears to be a feckless playboy.

As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules—and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer before the murderer finds them . . .

Title: The Awkward Squad
Author: Sophie Hénaff
Series: #1 in the Awkward Squad police procedural series set in 2012 Paris, France.
271 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Suspended from her job as a promising police officer for firing "one bullet too many", Anne Capestan is expecting the worst when she is summoned to H.Q. to learn her fate. Instead, she is surprised to be told that she is to head up a new police squad, working on solving old cold cases.

Though relieved to still have a job, Capestan is not overjoyed by the prospect of her new role. Even less so when she meets her new team: a crowd of misfits, troublemakers and problem cases, none of whom are fit for purpose and yet none of whom can be fired.

But from this inauspicious start, investigating the cold cases throws up a number a number of strange mysteries for Capestan and her team: was the old lady murdered seven years ago really just the victim of a botched robbery? Who was behind the dead sailor discovered in the Seine with three gunshot wounds? And why does there seem to be a curious link with a ferry that was shipwrecked off the Florida coast many years previously?

Title: A Dying Note
Author: Ann Parker
Series: #6 in the Silver Rush historical series set in San Francisco.
319 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "It's autumn of 1881, and Inez Stannert, still the co-owner of Leadville, Colorado's Silver Queen Saloon, is settled in San Francisco with her young ward, Antonia Gizzi. Inez has turned her business talents to managing a music store, hoping to eventually become an equal partner in the enterprise with the store's owner, a celebrated local violinist.

Inez's carefully constructed life for herself and Antonia threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up on the filthy banks of San Francisco's Mission Creek canal. Inez and Antonia become entangled in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to expose Inez's notorious past. And they aren't the only ones searching for answers. Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, "finder of the lost," has also been tasked with ferreting out the perpetrators and dispensing justice in its most final form. Leadville's leading madam Frisco Flo, an unwilling visitor to the city with a Leadville millionaire, is on the hook as well, having injudiciously financed the young musician's journey to San Francisco in the first place.

Time grows short as Inez and the others uncover long-hidden secrets and unsettled scores. With lives and reputations on the line, the tempo rises until the investigation's final, dying note."

Title: Resurrection Bay
Author: Emma Viskic
Series: #1 in the Caleb Zelic private investigator series set in present-day Australia.
288 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Caleb Zelic's childhood friend has been brutally murdered - fingers broken, throat slit - at his home in Melbourne. Caleb vows to track down the killer, but he's profoundly deaf; missed words and misread lips can lead to confusion and trouble. Fortunately, Caleb knows how to read people; a sideways glance, an unconvincing smile, speak volumes. When his friend Frankie, a former cop, offers to help, they soon discover the killer is on their tail. Sensing that his ex-wife may also be in danger, Caleb insists they return to their hometown of Resurrection Bay. But here he learns that everyone - including his murdered friend - is hiding something. And the deeper he digs, the darker the secrets..."

Title: American by Day
Author: Derek B. Miller
Standalone mystery set in the present-day US.
352 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "A gripping and timely novel that follows Sigrid—the dry-witted detective from Derek B. Miller's best-selling debut Norwegian by Night—from Oslo to the United States on a quest to find her missing brother.

SHE KNEW IT WAS A WEIRD PLACE. She’d heard the stories, seen the movies, read the books. But now police Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård has to leave her native Norway and actually go there; to that land across the Atlantic where her missing brother is implicated in the mysterious death of a prominent African-American academic. AMERICA.

Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life. Working with—or, if necessary, against—the police, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the backwoods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further.

Refreshingly funny, slyly perceptive, American by Day secures Derek B. Miller's place as one of our most imaginative and entertaining novelists.

=== April 8 ===

Title: Scot Free
Series: #1 in the Last Ditch series set in California.
288 pages.

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Lexy Campbell fell in love and left her native Scotland for a golden life in California—hitched to a hunk, building her marriage counseling practice, living the dream. Six months later she's divorced, broke, and headed home. There's just one last thing. Lexy's only client—sweet little old Mrs. Bombarro—is in jail for murdering her husband with a fireworks rocket. Lexy knows the cops have got it wrong; all she needs is a few days to prove it and somewhere cheap to sleep at night. But checking into the Last Ditch Motel leads Lexy to a whole new cast of characters with troubles of their own."

=== April 10 ===

Title: The Trauma Cleaner
Standalone Non-Fiction
293 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris, and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

Title: A Breath After Drowning
Author: Alice Blanchard
Standalone psychological thriller
448 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe's world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate's past, things she shouldn't know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister's murder sixteen years before, bringing Kate face to face with her deepest fear."

=== April 17 ===

Title: Murder at the Mushroom Festival
Series: #4 Kelly Jackson cozy mystery set in California.
176 pages 

Synopsis: "Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast manager Kelly Jackson is hosting a cooking class during the Week of the Mushroom festival to attract guests, not drama. But soon after she finishes foraging for an edible mushroom species on sacred Native American land, a local newspaper reporter gets shot dead at the same site. With suspicions spreading like fungi in the quaint Northern Californian community over the culprit's identity, Kelly and a savvy gang of sleuthing seniors known as the "Silver Sentinels" must uncover the truth about the secluded property before a tricky killer prepares another lethal surprise . . . "

Title: The Dark Side of Town
Author: Sasscer Hill
Series: #2 in the Fia McKee undercover agent series set at the Saratoga Racetrack in New York state.
320 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "Fia McKee, now officially employed by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TPRB), is sent undercover to Saratoga Racetrack to investigate Mars Pizutti, a racehorse trainer whose horses’ wins are suspiciously lucky—and lucrative. Fia’s bosses believe Pizutti’s success is based on illegal drugs and deceitful methods, and they want Fia to work inside his barn to ferret out the truth.

But after witnessing the tragic and inexplicable suicide of a jockey, Fia discovers the rider’s death is only the tip on an iceberg involving the mob, a crooked racing hedge fund, and threats to the lives of another jockey and his young sister. Fia must find out who’s connected to who, and what shadowy forces are at play before someone else dies."

Title: Whispers of the Dead
Author: Spencer Kope
Series: #2 in the Special Tracking Unit series set in El Paso, Texas.
324 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books.

Synopsis: "There has been a murder, but not only is the identity of the victim unknown, most of the body itself is missing. All that’s been found is a pair of feet, stored in a portable cooler, and left in the house of a Federal judge in El Paso, Texas. The killer apparently broke into the judge’s house, left his grizzly message, and disappeared without a trace. With no clues as to the killer, the person killed, or the intent behind the cooler, all the authorities really know is that this likely isn’t the killer’s first—or his last—victim.

Magnus “Steps” Craig is an FBI agent and an elite tracker, easily the best in the world. Steps is renowned for his incredible ability to find and follow trails over any surface. As part of the three-man special team, FBI’s Special Tracking Unit (STU), he is called in on cases where his skills are indispensable. But there’s a secret to his skill. Steps has a kind of synesthesia, an ability that allows him to see whatever each particular person has touched in a unique color—what Steps calls ‘shine.’ His ability is known to only a few people—his father, the director of the FBI, and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan.

While the Special Tracking Unit tries to grapple with the gruesome scene in El Paso, they soon discover another, earlier victim. Once again, only the feet—in a disposable icebox—were left behind. With almost no clues besides the body parts, Steps and his team find themselves enmeshed in the most difficult case of their careers. And The Icebox Killer has only just begun."

If you've been paying attention to me at all, you know I've been looking forward to Spencer Kope's Whispers of the Dead, but April has quite a few intriguing titles. Which ones have tempted you to put them on your wishlists? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

First Line: "This grave has lain undisturbed for over two thousand years."

The call could not have come at a better time. Dr. Ruth Galloway needs a break from her personal life, so when archaeologist Angelo Morelli asks her to come to the Italian countryside to consult on the identification of some bones he uncovered, she accepts. She and her best friend Shona pack up their two young children and head off to what will be, for Ruth, a working holiday.

Ruth doesn't even have time to get her bearings at the site of the dig when she senses that World War II rests uneasily, barely beneath the surface of the town and that the townspeople are custodians of a long-buried secret. She's thrown completely off-balance when Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson shows up. Then everything is thrown upside down when Ruth's findings tie into a present-day death. From that point on, Ruth and Nelson find themselves trying to solve a murder Italian style.

The Dark Angel, Elly Griffiths' tenth Ruth Galloway mystery, is a little light on the mystery and a little heavier on the personal lives of the characters-- but since I find this particular cast among the very best (and most interesting) in crime fiction, I don't particularly mind.

It was really good to see Ruth in a completely different setting, to see that she did get out and about, see new places, know other people, before settling down in King's Lynn with her work and eventual motherhood. But-- wouldn't you know it-- she overpacks for this holiday and manages to bring her troubles with her.

The mystery, weighted as it is in the Italian Resistance movement during World War II, is an interesting one, but there's so much going on in the characters' lives that it did take a bit of a backseat. There are developments in Ruth's life, and I like how we are now getting another point of view on proceedings, that of Nelson's daughter Laura.

I love Elly Griffiths' atmospheric settings and her mysteries that always have a foundation in archaeology, but if you're a character-driven reader like I am, you're going to love the cast in this series. A Ruth Galloway mystery always feels like a "slice of life" to me. I enjoy this series so much that I can't wait for the US edition to be released; I buy the UK edition so I can get my hands on it quicker. For those of you who have much more patience than I, you'll be able to get your hands on The Dark Angel in mid-May. For those of you who aren't acquainted with Ruth and Nelson and the rest of the gang, please start with the first book, The Crossing Places-- and don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for the rest of the books in the series once you've finished it.

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9781784296636
Quercus © 2018
UK Edition
Hardcover, 368 pages

Police Procedural, #10 Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Critters, Cacti & Color at the Desert Botanical Garden

Next week here on the blog is shaping up to be a review extravaganza because I wasn't careful in my choice of advance reading copies. SIX are due starting a week from today. That'll teach me to be more careful-- yikes! I've been trying to put my eyeballs on high speed with mixed results. We shall see what happens. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos from our latest visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, one of my favorite places here in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

If you'd like to see any of the following photos in their original size, just left click on one of them, and a new window will automatically open in order for you to do so. It was another gorgeous day at the Garden, so let's take a look!

These claret cup hedgehog cactus blossoms greeted us at the entrance.

The Texas Mountain Laurel is in bloom.

The prickly pear are LOADED with buds. Can't wait for those to bloom!

You may see a tree, but I see two waving arms and a wild head of hair! A possible relative of the whomping willow?

There's something so cheerful about the color yellow!

And yellow and purple together? Bliss!

Pink is obviously this Painted Lady butterfly's favorite color.

Purple and white are nothing to sneeze at either!

The pattern of the spines on this cactus makes me think of fancy embroidery stitches.

Mr. DeMille? I think this Desert Spiny Lizard is ready for his closeup.

Cactus Wren: "You're at the Patio Cafe. Where's your food?"

Gambel's Quail: "You're at the Patio Cafe. Where's your food?"

Ground Squirrel: "Patience is a virtue, hee hee hee!"

An agave bloom stalk starting to blossom. They're pretty impressive.

I'd never seen this variety of Desert Rose before. All the others have solid red blooms.

The crown on a Bishop's Cap cactus.

Strawberry hedgehog cactus blooms.

Little flowers that look as though they're sitting in beds of cotton.

More claret cups. They're hard to beat!

Between us, Denis and I took almost four hundred photos so keeping my selection here to under twenty was quite the undertaking. I hope you enjoyed this trip to the Garden. I know I always do!


Friday, March 23, 2018

An Online Organizing Weekly Link Round-Up

There must be something genetic about spring cleaning. Cleaning is one of my least favorite things to do, but whenever spring starts throwing off winter's shackles, there must be something about that warmth and sunlight because I start looking for things to organize.

I've mentioned in the past few weeks that I've been organizing the shelves in my craft room, and I'm just about to reshelve some books, which is something I've always loved to do-- I find it soothing. Many of the people I've worked with over the years when asked to describe me have almost unanimously said, "organized," and I think they have a point. If everything is organized, you save time because you don't have to hunt for things, and if things are kept picked up most folks won't notice a little dust. (Told you I didn't like cleaning!)

What I often forget about during my organizational rampages, however, are online things, and that's what I've been working on recently. A lot of people don't see the point of Pinterest, but I don't care. I learned a long time ago that no two people see things exactly the same way. I'm a visual person, so Pinterest suits me right down to the ground. I'm in charge of The Poisoned Pen's Pinterest page, and when I saw that there was a new upgrade to the app, I was all for it.

I don't know about any of the rest of you Pinterest users, but I find it daunting to come across another user who has hundreds of different boards. Who has time to scroll through all of them? When Pinterest added "sections," my first thought was "'bout time!" That one thing has saved me a lot of work on The Poisoned Pen's boards, but I forgot all about my own until the past few days. Now instead of having one board per year of books I've read or my favorite reads each year, I can have one board "Books Read by Year" or "Best Reads by Year," and each one can have sections for each year. Two boards instead of fourteen. So I've been tidying them up and being much too pleased with it. Just goes to show that I'm an organizational junkie! And doing this has taken me down Memory Lane over and over again. "It's been five YEARS since I read that book? Impossible!" "Oooooh, I love that book!" "I wonder if that author has written a new book?" See what I mean?

Now that I've finished blathering about an uninteresting topic, it's time to head on out to the corral. (Some of you probably already skipped down to this part!) Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Henrica Kiernan defended America during World War II and found love along the way.
  • Tilly Edinger, the woman who shaped the study of fossil brains. 
  • During World War I, many women served and some got equal pay.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Rubens' sprawling castle in the Belgian countryside is on the market.
  • These were America's most-visited national parks in 2017. (I've been to all of the top five.)
  • A 227-year-old tree planted by George Washington was pulled down during high winds on his Mount Vernon estate.

►I ♥ Lists◄
  • Nine necessary works of non-fiction written by black women.
  • Fifteen accessories from Target that every book lover will want to add to their shopping cart. 
  • Buzzfeed thinks only a true book lover will get 10 out of 13 correct on this quiz
  • The literary roles of Molly Ringwald.
  • Thirty-three of the weirdest Philip K. Dick covers Literary Hub could find.
  • The top ten spaceships in fiction.

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

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lost Luggage by Wendall Thomas

First Paragraph: Travel is my business. Or at least it was. After the last two weeks, no one may trust me with a drink order, much less their seat assignments, cabin preferences, or credit card numbers.

Third-generation Brooklyn native Cyd Redondo may be a travel agent who specializes in senior citizens, but she's never ventured farther than New Jersey. (The elders in her family suffer acute separation anxiety.) Shortly after the pet store owner next door to Redondo Travel is poisoned, Cyd wins a free safari. Going against her Uncle Ray's wishes, Cyd doesn't cash in the tickets for computers, she packs her bags and heads for Africa. Going along as her "plus one" is her convention fling, Roger Claymore.

The two arrive at their destination to find that their luggage has been lost and two of Cyd's elderly clients are in jail. Cyd barters them out only to discover that smugglers have hidden a half million dollars' worth of endangered parrots, snakes, frogs, and a Madagascan chameleon in their outbound luggage. Thus Cyd Redondo is rudely and abruptly welcomed into the world of international animal smuggling, and only her smarts, her stilettos, and her Balenciaga bag are going to get her out in one piece.

Thank heavens! I've been waiting for years to find a successor to Janet Evanovich, and I've finally found one. For the first eight books, I was a passionate Stephanie Plum fan. I would read during my breaks, and I would laugh so much and so hard that everyone in the breakroom made me start reading aloud. I can only hope that Wendall Thomas's hilarious Cyd Redondo series will take flight (and not fall victim to stagnant characters and plot lines like the older series did).

Before I go any further, I do want to warn animal lovers that this is not just a laugh-out-loud funny book; it's about the very serious topic of animal smuggling, and there are two short scenes which describe how the animals are readied for transport. These scenes made me yearn for instant karma: may every smuggler be readied for transport in the exact same way and be loaded on around-the-world flights only to end up as unclaimed baggage.

I love Cyd Redondo. Growing up with a herd of "brousins" (a cross between brothers and cousins), she still gets called "Cyd the Squid," but those brousins keep their distance. Cyd is into kickboxing-- in her stilettos-- and when she explained why she trains in that footwear, it made perfect sense. She's got a Balenciaga bag containing so many goodies that she could outfit a platoon, and that bagful of stuff isn't mere feminine vanity. This woman is a worthy successor to MacGyver. Lord, have mercy! And believe it or not, she is one amazing travel agent. Too bad she's fictional: depending on the age requirements, I'd love to have her handle all my travel plans.

Lost Luggage has so many things that made me laugh out loud, and it's the sort of book that I'd love to share all those things with you, but I will exercise restraint and let you discover them for yourselves. (I will admit that Barry the chameleon was my second favorite character, though.) Besides the amazing female lead and the marvelous humor, there's actually a good mystery to solve, too. If you've been pining for a mystery that makes you laugh, Lost Luggage is the one for you. As for me, it's going to be a long wait for the next book in the series!

Lost Luggage by Wendall Thomas
eISBN: 9781464208935
Poisoned Pen Press © 2017
eBook, 259 pages

Humorous Mystery, #1 Cyd Redondo mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Crime on the Fens by Joy Ellis

First Line: A night wind blew along the narrow alleyway, bringing with it the smell of ozone and red diesel.

Detective Inspector Nikki Galena is tough on criminals. Too tough. Now no one in the station wants to work with her, and she's been given a final warning: make it work with her new sergeant, or she's out for good.

Her new partner, Detective Sergeant Joseph Easter, has a history of his own and has come to Nikki's patch for a fresh start. Nikki is less than enthusiastic about working with a man whose nickname is "Holy Joe," but she knows an ultimatum when she hears one.

Galena and Easter have more than enough to keep them busy. The town is being terrorized by gangs of thugs wearing identical frightening masks. As their incursions into the generally peaceful town increase, a talented female student goes missing in the marsh, and every hour they don't find her means the chance lessens of finding her alive. These two detectives have to put their pasts behind them to save her life and to bring peace back to their town.

Crime on the Fens came highly recommended by a fellow friend and book blogger, so I thoroughly expected to enjoy it. What surprised me a bit was just how much I did. When the book opens, Nikki Galena is a world class witch (you know what I really mean), and even though she has good reason to whirl through town like the Tasmanian Devil of Warner Brothers fame, I wasn't going to be able to put up with her if she remained like that for the entire book. (I don't like to root for the bad guys to kill the hero after all.) However, there's good news: Galena knows she's got to straighten up and fly right, and she's intelligent enough to know she's got to change. I do like off-the-rails characters who are capable of showing some control.

Although initially suspicious of each other (their reputations have preceded them), Galena and Easter work well together, and I enjoyed getting to know other members of the team, like Vonnie and Niall in their patrol car and Dave, whom most consider to be past his sell-by date. What's rather heartwarming to see is how the mood of the entire station brightens when Galena begins to reclaim her humanity. There's also a bonus for animal lovers reading the book: keep your eye on a spaniel named Swampy. He doesn't appear often, but his scenes are choice.

This is a fast-paced read and has an excellent multi-layered mystery. Add this to the setting and the cast of characters, and I've just savored the first book in a series that I'm definitely going to keep reading. If you're a fan of British police procedurals, give Crime on the Fens a try.

Crime on the Fens by Joy Ellis
Joffe Books © 2016
eBook, 285 pages

Police Procedural, #1 DI Nikki Galena mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


On My Radar: Andrea Camilleri's Death at Sea

This book may not be available until the beginning of September, but as soon as I saw it, I did a little happy dance and made a note of it. Then when I absorbed the particulars, I did another few dance moves.

Let me show you the book and its synopsis first--

Available September 4, 2018!
 Synopsis: "Set on the Sicilian coast, a collection of eight short stories featuring the young Inspector Montalbano.

In 1980s Vigàta, a restless Inspector Montalbano brings his brash yet clear-sighted investigative style to eight enthralling cases.
Death at Sea finds the detective seeking to bring justice to crimesfrom those involving jilted lovers and deadly family affairs to an encounter featuring the assassination attempt against the Pope to murders in unexpected placesalways with the mafia not far behind. 

This collection is an essential addition to any Inspector Montalbano fan's bookshelf and an excellent way to introduce new readers to Andrea Camilleri's unforgettable slice of Sicily."

Having attended so many author events at The Poisoned Pen, I know that there are many times when writers have ideas for stories that are just too short for full-length books, so I welcome short stories and short story collections. I can't wait for this one!

Now, why was I extra happy when I read the particulars of Death at Sea? I've read a previous Camilleri short story ("The Fourth Secret") and a novella, Montalbano's First Case, and while the stories were good, they were translated by other people, not the marvelous Stephen Sartarelli. Long-time readers of the Inspector Montalbano mysteries would notice the difference. However, this time, Death at Sea is translated by Sartarelli, and that's what made me dance those extra steps.

I know fellow Montalbano fans will rejoice with me at the news of a new book, and for those of you who have yet to fall under the inspector's spell, this short story collection would be the perfect time to make his acquaintance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Death Comes in through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage

First Line: The Cuban customs officer lifted an eyebrow at the bridal gown-- a white satin bodice with tulle appliqués, sheer sleeves, and a two-foot train-- and took a long suspicious look at the couple.

After meeting her through her food blog, Yarmi Cooks Cuban, San Diego journalist Matt Sullivan flies to Havana to marry his twenty-four-year-old blogger girlfriend. But something is wrong: she doesn't meet him at the airport as planned. When Matt arrives at Yarmila's apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub.

Naturally, the Cuban police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, so Matt has to conduct his own investigation into what really happened. However, the more he learns about his fiancée the more he realizes that he didn't know her at all... and he's beginning to think that no one else did either.

Cuban-born Teresa Dovalpage takes readers right into the heart of Havana; indeed, the setting was one of my favorite parts of the book. The other part I liked was the mystery itself surrounding Yarmila the food blogger. Having Matt realize that he really didn't know her was to be expected; what does come as a surprise is just what Yarmila was up to.

Unfortunately, except for Lieutenant Marlene Martínez of the magnificent posterior, none of the rest of the characters fired me up at all. Even the lieutenant fell a bit short, but I did like watching her run her investigation into Yarmila's death. Matt Sullivan, the main character, was particularly disappointing. He was gullible and ineffectual and more than once behaved like the sort of entitled American that makes me cringe.

Death Comes in through the Kitchen's setting and mystery are the stars of the show, but the characterization and pacing definitely need some work.

Death Comes in through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage
ISBN: 9781616958848
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 368 pages

Police Procedural, Standalone
Rating: C
Source: the publisher


Monday, March 19, 2018

Flights of Cactus Fancy at the Desert Botanical Garden

Yes, one of the reasons why I love going to the Desert Botanical Garden here in the Phoenix metropolitan area is flowers. I love when all the flowers are blooming. But there's another reason: I also love the garden's vast variety of cacti, and I've discovered that looking at them is one way to exercise my imagination.

For example, no two saguaros are the same, and I've walked (or jolted along in the Jeep) through stands of these mighty cacti and found myself inventing one story after another. I remember a cactus that looked as though it was wearing a Viking helmet. Two that looked like they were having a "High Noon" shootout on Main Street. Two more that looked as though one were being held at gunpoint by the other. And on and on and on. A cactus can provoke a good story.

I'll be going to the Desert Botanical Garden at the end of the week, hoping to see hundreds of cactus blossoms, but I thought I'd share some non-blooming photos for you. Many are best viewed in their original sizes. Click on any one of them, and a new window will open automatically in order for you to see them all in more detail.

Enjoy-- and stay away from those spines!

Chainfruit Cholla

This Medusa-like cactus above is a huge chainfruit cholla. Those little segments at the ends of the arms fall off one by one and get carried away by birds and other critters or washed away in thunderstorms. That's how they propagate. And those segments are covered with tiny-- almost invisible-- thorns that are superstars at getting under a person's skin. Of course, I don't know how I know that... (I can still be like a little kid. I pick strange things up. I just don't put them in my mouth.)

Teddy Bear Cholla

Someone with a twisted sense of humor named the Teddy Bear Cholla. Those thorns are not to be messed with. I know someone who, years ago, was bucked off his horse and fell crotch first in a teddy bear cholla, and all I'm going to say is that-- eventually-- he was back to normal, although he has an abiding hatred of any type of cactus.

I don't remember the official name, but I call this the Polka Dot Prickly Pear. I wonder why...

I always think of plants like this as Bedrock plants because they remind me of the trees and flowers on one of my favorite childhood shows, "The Flintstones."

The various structures of cacti and succulents are fascinating. Doesn't this look as though it belongs on a coral reef in the sea?

This prickly pear grows up in columns. I don't know why it's called a Tulip Prickly Pear.

The colors of this cactus & the patterns of its thorns remind me of the embroidery stitches my great-grandmother used on the crazy quilt she made.

This may be a Crested Whortleberry, but I think it looks like Hollywood is inventing a new line of aliens. I can see faces. Can you?

Awww-- a baby alien, er... Crested Whortleberry!

Ruffles (to the left), fans & ridges

Harry & Vicky: two Old Man cacti in the center with white-edged Queen Victoria agaves at their bases.

The most anti-social cactus I have ever seen. I wish it had a nameplate so I knew what it was. Definitely NOT for Christmas lights!

Did any of these tickle your imagination? Or am I the only weirdo in here? Inquiring minds would love to know!