Monday, May 17, 2021

On My Radar: Susan Elia MacNeal's The Hollywood Spy!

Susan Elia MacNeal writes a historical mystery series that I've loved from the very first book, Mr. Churchill's Secretary. There's just something about Maggie Hope that captures both my imagination and my heart. Maggie does some pretty amazing things during World War II, and I enjoy absorbing the historical nuggets that MacNeal has woven into her stories; however, I think one of the things I like best about Maggie is that she isn't ten feet tall and bullet proof. What she's had to do during the course of the war has had an effect on her, has changed her, and she has to face the consequences of those changes. Maggie's ongoing story has me wanting to read the next chapter in her story soooo much-- let me tell you a bit about The Hollywood Spy!

Available July 6, 2021!
Synopsis: "Los Angeles, 1943. As the Allies beat back the Nazis in the Mediterranean and the United States military slowly closes in on Tokyo, Walt Disney cranks out wartime propaganda and the Cocoanut Grove is alive with jazz and swing every night. But behind this sunny façade lies a darker reality. Somewhere in the lush foothills of Hollywood, a woman floats lifeless in the pool of one of California’s trendiest hotels.

When American-born secret agent and British spy Maggie Hope learns that this woman was engaged to her former fiancée, John Sterling, and that he suspects her death was no accident, intuition tells her he’s right. Leaving London under siege is a lot to ask. But John was once the love of Maggie’s life . . . and she won’t say no.
Maggie struggles with seeing her lost love again, but what’s more shocking is that her own country is as divided and convulsed with hatred as Europe. The Zoot Suit Riots loom large in Los Angeles, and the Ku Klux Klan casts a long shadow everywhere. But there is little time to dwell on memories once she starts digging into the case. As she traces a web of deception from the infamous Garden of Allah to the iconic Carthay Circle Theater, she discovers things aren’t always the way things appear in the movies—and the political situation in America is more complicated, and dangerous, than the newsreels would have them all believe.

Looks like another winner, doesn't it? I can't wait to see how Maggie deals with Hollywood, and I'll bet other fans like me can't either. How about you? Are you a Maggie Hope fan? If you are, what's the thing you like about her the most? If you're new to Maggie, are you tempted to read about her now? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Friday, May 14, 2021

An Out of Whack Weekly Link Round-Up


I am really really glad that this doesn't happen to me very often. Really glad. I'm going through a period where I have a short fuse, everything seems to be fighting me, and I want to cry at the oddest moments. I hate this! I'm not even sure what brought it all on.

The best thing for me to do is keep to myself, keep my head down, and carry on, so that's exactly what I'm going to do. Sorry I don't have an uplifting intro this week, but the links are going to have to do. I'm climbing back into my hole where everyone is safe from me. I hope you enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
►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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

First Line: She had to do it.
Grayson Sykes's very first assignment as a fully fledged private investigator is the missing persons case of Isabel Lincoln, but it doesn't take Grayson long to wonder if Isabel is missing or just doesn't want to be found. Isabel's case has all the hallmarks of an abused woman, so Grayson's primary focus becomes insuring that Isabel is all right.

But the case becomes ever more complicated and dangerous with each of Isabel's secrets and truths that Grayson uncovers. This new private eye is caught in a cat-and-mouse game, so it's a very good thing that she's just as complicated as the woman she's tracking.


And Now She's Gone has a plot that's more convoluted than San Francisco's Lombard Street, and I enjoyed every twist and turn. Grayson Sykes' voice drew me right into the story, and we're told from the beginning that she's a strong woman who keeps a lot bottled inside. When looking at a photo of the missing Isabel Lincoln, Grayson sees the type of woman that most men want to marry: a Mary Ann.  Her boss tells her, "You're not a Mary Ann. You're the Skipper. No nonsense. Reliable. Resourceful." Not words to warm the cockles of most women's hearts, but true enough, especially when describing a woman who "kept her jaw clamped like a crocodile on a wildebeest's leg."

The further the reader gets, the wondering sets in. Why does Grayson seem to be identifying so much with the woman she's trying to find? Then the gradual unfolding of Grayson's backstory begins, and as it's woven in with Isabel's story, the cat-and-mouse game comes into its own. And Now She's Gone is a spellbinding look into how violence and fear can lead a person to abandon everything in order to survive.

Note: If you'd like to read more books by Rachel Howzell Hall, I recommend her four-book series featuring Elouise "Lou" Norton, a Black homicide detective in Los Angeles. The first book is Land of Shadows.

And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall
ISBN: 9781250753175
Forge Books © 2020
Hardcover, 384 pages
Thriller, Standalone
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Only Clue by Pamela Beason


First Line: Neema cowered in the corner of the pen, her back turned to the mass of people gathering behind her.
Finding and securing funding for her project is a never-ending job, so Dr. Grace McKenna reluctantly agrees to host her first open house at her research center. Gorillas who communicate with sign language aren't something people see everyday, so it seems that the entire town of Evansburg, Washington shows up to gawk. On the morning after the open house, Grace finds that her worst nightmare has come true: the lock was cut off the barn door and all three of her gorillas-- Gumu, Neema, and infant Kanoni-- have disappeared. There's only one clue left behind: a huge pool of blood. 

Grace is practically out of her mind with worry. Is one of her gorillas dead? She hopes that they've just escaped into the forest, but if the press gets hold of the story, she knows that the county will revoke her permit to work with the apes in a heartbeat.

Detective Matthew Finn, who's worked with Grace before, agrees to keep the gorillas' disappearance secret while he works to find them. Has the maniac who killed Grace's first gorilla returned? Her staff members belong to an animal rights union. Could one of them have liberated the apes? Or have the valuable gorillas been stolen to sell on the illegal wildlife market? It's going to take a lot of hard work to find all the answers, and even more important, to find the apes before they come to harm.

The character of Neema the signing gorilla is based on the real life Koko, and Neema certainly has a tough time of it in The Only Clue. She's the loving new mother of baby Kanoni and is happy in her life with her mate Gumu. All that is shattered when thieves break into Dr. Grace McKenna's barn. The pool of blood that's the only clue left behind isn't a very good one. Is it gorilla blood? Which gorilla? Could it even be human blood? It takes time to find out, and time is one thing that Dr. Grace McKenna does not have. There are too many people in charge who really don't have a clue about the work she's doing or about the animals she is in charge of. They are constantly on the lookout for the tiniest thing that will allow them to boot her and her animals out of their county. This really spotlights how tough it is for many scientists who have to wrestle for permits and funding.

Another thing that The Only Clue does an excellent job of bringing attention to is that of the illegal wildlife trade. Why does someone with the right amount of money on hand need to raise a tiger in their big-city apartment? Why do certain countries' traditional medicines seem to insist on the extinction of many animal species? I mean... I adore meerkats, but I don't want a family of them in my backyard. The lengths to which these illegal traders will go to get their hands on money are both chilling and disgusting, and Beason brings it right out in the open without being overly graphic.

As much as I enjoyed the first Neema mystery, The Only Witness, this second book fell flat for me. First, there were Grace's overbearing parents. You know the type, the parents who don't like the career their child has chosen and never miss an opportunity to undermine them? If there's a contest for "I'm So Over Them" Characters, overbearing, judgy parents would rank in my top three. Then there was a bit of deus ex machina at the end to save the day for one of the plotlines, a plotline that I wondered how the author was going to resolve.

But the thing that bothered me the most was poor Neema. She went through emotional hell in this book, and even though there is just one more book in the Neema series, I'm going to leave it here at book two where all is right in her world once again. It's just not right to keep torturing the poor ape.

The Only Clue by Pamela Beason
Wildwing Press © 2013
eBook, 277 pages
Police Procedural, #2 Neema mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

On My Radar: Ann Cleeves' The Heron's Cry


I've been a fan girl of Ann Cleeves for years. The way she writes about the landscape and people and their frailties touches something deep within me, so it's no surprise that I break into one of my Happy Dances each time I hear she has a new book coming out. So, on this gloriously sunny day in the Sonoran Desert, let me share information about her second Two Rivers mystery featuring Detective Matthew Venn, The Heron's Cry, which is set in the very different landscape of North Devon in England.

Available September 7, 2021!

"North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder--Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter's broken vases.

Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He's a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found--killed in a similar way. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home.

Sounds like another winner from Ann Cleeves, doesn't it? How many of you are fellow Cleeves fans... or have some of you never sampled her writing? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

City of Dark Corners by Jon Talton


First Lines: January 1933, Phoenix, Arizona. Night folded in early during the winter.
A veteran of World War I, Gene Hammons was a rising star in the Phoenix Police Department until he tried to prove that a woman was wrongly convicted of murder in order to protect a well-connected man. Now he's a private investigator whose bread and butter work is finding missing persons, and there are plenty of those during the Depression. However, his normal routine is disrupted when his brother, who is still on the police force, asks for his help looking into the death of a young woman whose dismembered body was found beside the railroad tracks.
The sheriff has ruled it an accident, but the carnage is too neat, and the body parts have been staged. Another big question for Hammons is why one of his business cards was in the dead woman's pocket. As he works to discover the victim's identity, he's going to find that the case is connected to some of Phoenix's most powerful citizens-- on both sides of the law. 
City of Dark Corners is an absolute gold mine of Phoenix history, but that's not the only reason to read it. (Although I will say that anyone who thinks that it's too hot for anything to happen here needs to think again.) Readers will also get a good feeling for life during the Depression. For one thing, it never occurred to me that there would be a lot of missing persons during this time, and I felt about as smart as a box of rocks when Talton explained this to me. 

The mystery is a good one, too, which is something that I always expect from Jon Talton, and it has a noir feel that some readers are going to love. If you're not a noir fan, don't roll your eyes and move along. I said a noir "feel"-- a bit like using margarine instead of butter.

As with any mystery worth its salt, there have to be characters that keep my interest, and City of Dark Corners has them. Besides the City of Phoenix, which is a character in and of itself, there is Gene Hammons, the World War I veteran, a former police detective who was Amelia Earhart's bodyguard when she was in town, and now private eye who sings in a church choir to help keep him sane. His love interest, Victoria Vasquez, is a strong, interesting character, too. She's a photographer who often takes crime scene photos for the police department, but she's working toward a career in photojournalism like Margaret Bourke-White's.
If you're in the mood for a historical mystery that's a bit gritty, a puzzler to solve, and has two strong characters, City of Dark Corners may be just the thing for you. I'm hoping that it's the start of a brand-new series. If you don't go in for historicals, try Talton's David Mapstone mysteries. They are first-rate.

City of Dark Corners by Jon Talton
eISBN: 9781464213274
Poisoned Pen Press © 2021
eBook, 256 pages

Historical Mystery/ P.I./ Noir
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley

Monday, May 10, 2021

While Miz Kittling Knits: Finding Your Roots

Now that Denis has been retired for a while, I seem to have gotten my knitting mojo back. I'm happily working away on #4 of the Afghans of 2021, and I've already ordered the yarn for three more. It's always interesting for me to see how my Facebook friends react to the photos I post of my knitting. Most of the time, I think they react most strongly to the color, not the pattern. 

Most of the patterns I choose aren't very flamboyant because the most important criteria for me with regard to afghans is that they be soft and warm with few places for fingers and toes to stick through. I'll be graduating to a new stage of afghan making in the future (patterns with finger and toe holes), but that certainly can't be said for the afghan I'm going to show you today. Nope, today's afghan was made to be completely functional, to blend in, and let other textiles do all the talking. Let me show you.

This one is very plain, isn't it? It's done in a simple knit five, purl five pattern, and the special thing about it is the yarn I used. This is the first time I used Lion Brand Yarn's Feel Like Butta, a 100% polyester yarn in a shade of soft sage which happens to be only slightly darker than the color of our bedroom walls. It is incredibly soft-- like chenille without the fuzz and other challenges of chenille. 

The afghan is laying on the foot of our bed, and now you can undoubtedly see why I wanted a toned-down afghan-- that quilt is definitely doing all the talking!

What was I watching while I was knitting? One of my favorite programs which I admit to discovering only within the past couple of years. On Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and a staff of incredibly talented genealogists research the family trees of various celebrities. Several times, their discoveries have been astounding, and I love the work they've done to uncover as much information as they possibly can on the family trees of Black celebrities.

In fact, one of the episodes affected me so deeply that I just sat there with tears streaming down my face. When a white person hits a brick wall in researching their family tree, many times the culprit is a courthouse burning down with all the records inside, or a family who did a complete name change when they came to America, which is what seems to have happened with one of the families on my own tree. But for almost all Black Americans, it's entirely different. They're listed on property rolls along with the cattle, sheep, and pigs, and-- like cattle, sheep, and pigs-- they are not listed by name. When that Black actress looked at a document and Gates asked her, "What do you see?" Her eyes filled with tears, and she replied, "They have names!" I've never felt so ashamed of being white in my life.

One white actor found out that he had slave owners in his family tree and wanted Gates to leave that out during the filming of the episode. Gates refused. Good for him! The earliest of my ancestors came to Virginia (in 1626) and North Carolina. Several of them were slave owners. That's absolutely nothing to be proud of, quite the opposite in fact. My grandmother was so happy when she found the will in which one of our ancestors freed his slaves. I wasn't so impressed. Evidently, I was a skeptic at a young age because the thoughts that ran through my mind were, "How nice that he made sure that he didn't have to do without their labor while he was alive," and "I wonder if his heirs found a way to avoid freeing them?" I don't know. What I do know is that, I'm not going to excuse what those slave-owning ancestors of mine did. It was wrong, no if's, and's, or but's.

As far as I'm concerned, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is doing some amazing and very important work that should help remove the scales from many people's eyes. White privilege is an ugly thing, and those of us who have benefited from it all our lives need to put ourselves in others' shoes. We need to understand the roads our families have traveled through the centuries to get to where we are today. It will only help us to improve our futures. Thank you, Mr. Gates. I hope your series runs for a good long time.
Do any of you watch this series?

Friday, May 07, 2021

The Flight Feathers for My Nest Weekly Link Round-Up

More doctor's appointments, including a new one. For some reason, any time I am referred to another doctor, that doctor has to practice somewhere in the valley that's the farthest from our house. Murphy's Law, eh? (To prove to you how living with an Englishman can change your vocabulary, I don't say "Murphy's Law" anymore. No, here at Casa Kittling, we say "Sod's Law.") Don't tell anyone, but we did manage to sneak in a visit to Butterfly Wonderland, so if you're in the mood for butterflies and flowers, that post will show up in a couple of weeks.

In the mean time, I'll show you a couple more photos of my refurbished "nest" here in the living room. I read and blog here now while keeping an eye on all the birds I can see out the window. I'm particularly fond of the new piece of art hanging above the fireplace. It's by one of my favorite artists, Mikki Senkarik, and it's called "He Stole Our Seat." I love the cardinals glaring at the cat napping on the chair, and those birds and all the flowers and colors remind me so much of my grandmother. In fact, there's a butterfly-- a symbol of the souls of departed loved ones-- in the painting, so you know whom I think it represents. 
I really should have kept a photographic record of how the interior of this house has changed over the years. I'm rather pleased with the fact that I'm tending toward bright colors and more light now. I hope it has something positive to say about my outlook on life. 
The stand doubles as a book holder and laptop stand. I'm so posh, I don't even have to hold my books when I read anymore!

Mikki Senkarik's "He Stole Our Seat"

I was going to smooth out the wrinkles on the daybed cover, but they are proof that I'm enjoying my new space.

Enjoy the links!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Jessie Sutanto talks about how her wacky Indonesian family inspired her to write a murder mystery.
  • How historical mystery novelist Victoria Thompson was inspired by the darker side of the fight for women's suffrage.
  • Tiberius, Imperial detective.
  • The curious saga of the outlaw Burt Alvord.
  • Chloé Zhao becomes only the second woman to win the Oscar for Best Director in 93 years.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt's son, Elliott, wrote twenty mysteries in which his mother solves murders.
►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Using crime fiction to reveal the dark history of Minneapolis.
  • On the Death in Paradise location trail in Guadeloupe.
►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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!