Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back soon...

I'm going to take a bit of a break for a couple of weeks.  Stepping away from the blog and also blog reading (probably).  I will be concentrating on just reading my own books.  Can't wait!

I'll be back on July 13th with my July Bookish Nostalgia.  Don't have too much fun without me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - A Curious Beginning

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I have enjoyed the books by Deanna Raybourn for a number of years, especially her Lady Julia Grey series.  The first book introducing us to Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane, a private enquiry agent, was Silent In The Grave.  Set in the Victorian Age, these books have been fun for me to read - a little mystery, a little romance, some interesting characters - perfect.  Deanna Raybourn has not just written about Lady Julia.  She has branched out into other time periods and other settings.  And now, she is beginning a new series, which sounds great to me.  My book for this week:

Publication Date:  September 1st

London, 1887.  As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own.  After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance.  As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past.  Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered.  But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered.   Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - Spider Woman's Daughter

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman.  This book is my mystery book group selection for July.  I was a little worried when I learned that Anne Hillerman was going to loosely continue her father's mystery series featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Tony Hillerman had been a great favorite of mine for years and years.  However, I have heard such good things about Spider Woman's Daughter and recently, the second book in her series was published.  It is called Rock With Wings.  So, let's see what you think:

 "I get this call, out of the blue.  A woman.  First, she reminds me that I saved her life.  Then says she wants me to do her a favor..."
     Navajo Police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, paused for effect, pushing away the plate of toast crumbs and empty packets of grape jelly so he could rest his forearms on the table.  "Wouldn't you think she'd be offering to do me a favor?"
     A couple of the cops sharing the table chuckled.  "Musta been one of those rich white ladies you've been doing insurance work for," Officer Harold Bigman said.  "You better not tell your Louisa."
     Officer Bernadette Manuelito said, "What was the favor?"
     Leaphorn smiled, "I don't know, Bernie.  She set up a lunch date so she could ask me, and stood me up."
     More chuckles.  "Maybe she wanted to find out how good a PI you really are," someone tossed in.
     "It turned out all right," Leaphorn said.  "While I was waiting I ate an excellent BLT, enjoyed the quiet.  And she gave me a reason not to drive in to Santa Fe that day on another case.  I'm getting too old for all this stuff."


Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn't mean she's going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.

Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth...and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.


I'm going to love renewing my acquaintance with Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Just love it.  Makes me want to go back and reread all Tony Hillerman's books, set in that great area of the US, the Four Corners region.  If you don't know, the Four Corners are where four US states come together - New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.  I love that area.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reading British crime novels....here's my TBR stack!

You know, I think I've been very clear that I love all things dark and mysterious.  I love crime novels of all types, but my true favorites are likely those set somewhere in the British Isles.  I love rainy, cool, damp settings.  I love the Victorian Age and the Jack the Ripper era.  However, I also love stories with a current day England, Scotland, or Ireland setting.  Those books really speak to me and I suspect that if you checked my genetic background, I'd be from that part of the world.  My freckles and fair skin would certainly suggest that.  This year has been a particularly good year for me in my British crime novel reading.

I'm indebted to other bloggers for bringing all these books to my attention.  If you see one in the following pictures that you've reviewed, well, I probably got the idea from you.  Sorry, I didn't keep track.  Over the last few months, I've gradually acquired all these lovely books in various ways, and I can't wait to read them.  And share my reactions.

Black Chalk - Christopher J. Yates
Flight - Isabel Ashdown
Remember Me This Way - Sabine Durrant
The Crooked House - Christobel Kent
The Good Girl - Fiona Neill
All The Little Pieces - Jilliane Hoffman

Touched - Joanna Briscoe
Hidden - Emma Kavanagh
You Belong To Me - Samantha Hayes
I Let You Go - Clare Mackintosh
What She Left - T.R. Richmond

Black Wood - Sji Holliday
Falling - Emma Kavanagh
When We Were Friends - Tina Seskis
Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent
Can Anybody Help Me? - Sinead Crowley
The Lie - C.L. Taylor
How I Lost You - Jenny Blackhurst

Have you read any of these?  Do you have an opinion about where I should begin?  Please feel free to make suggestions.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Make It Sweet - A class in cookies....

A few weeks back, I shared a few cupcake pictures here, while talking about a delightful cupcake bakery mystery series.  This week, I'm not going to talk about mysteries.  I'm going to talk about attending a cookie class with my daughter.  I told everyone that she is a really talented baker - my daughter, I mean.  She is quite creative and skilled and cupcakes are her preferred baked item to create.  However, she does bake and decorate cakes and cookies.  A while back, she and I took a class in cookie decorating at a shop in the Austin area, Make It Sweet.  It was quite a fun event, and I thought I would share a few pictures.

Make It Sweet is a great little shop.  I suspect that they are the largest baking supply outlet in our area.  They have a wide selection of goods for baking all kinds of things and their supply of cookie cutters is amazing - every shape imaginable.  And they have classes of all kinds.  For cake decorating, cookie decorating, working with fondant, and baking breads - classes for adults and for kids.  They aren't cheap, but they are fun.  The night we went, the class was full, as they often are far in advance, and everyone was with a friend, relative, or group.  Lots of laughter and giggling.

We all arrived and got our instructions, our aprons, and we were told to go wash our hands.  Other than the fact that my girl held up the hand washing line (think I told that she's a nurse and she has a 'process' for this task), we settled in quickly.  The cookies were already baked for us and the instructor told us we'd be working with flow icing (which is runny, so it flows easily) and also with piping.  And here are the cookies that I created:

Here are the ones that my daughter made:

This class is held year-round and is themed to the season.  The cupcake decorating classes are the same.  My girl has taken a few of the more advanced cake and cupcake classes and here's a picture of the results of one she took, around Valentine's I suspect.  She said that these were her favorites from the cupcake class.

And the biggest bonus was that all of us got to take our cookies home.  They were very tasty and almost too pretty to eat.  So, have I made cookies like this since the class?  No, I haven't.  We did receive recipes and tips.  But, for me, though fun in a class - a lot of work in real life.  One day, I'd like to go back for another class.  It was a fun mother/daughter time.

I'm linking this post to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

I'm a little torn as to what to say about The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain.  On the one hand, it's an absorbing story, filled with secrets and drama.  On the other hand, it's had characters that frustrated me and made me roll my eyes.  I needed to find out how it ended, but I'm not sure if I agree with the conclusions the author came to in the end.  Sigh.  What to say to not reveal too much.

Riley McPherson is a 25-year-old school counselor who has come home to New Bern, North Carolina to settle her father's affairs after his unexpected death.  She is the executor of his estate and she finds herself faced with more than she had bargained for.  She has an older brother, Danny, who is a damaged soul.  He was injured in Iraq and has never quite fit in again with regular society.  She once had an older sister, Lisa, but the family has been dealing with the aftermath of Lisa's suicide for over 20 years.  Riley feels very alone and the amount of decisions to be made and possessions to be sorted and dealt with totally overwhelms her.  And then she discovers that the life that she and her brother have had is filled with falsehoods.  Their sister, Lisa, may still be alive.  And all the pillars in Riley's life come tumbling down.

Told from the viewpoints of both Riley and Lisa and going backwards and forwards in time, this author makes that device work pretty well.  My problem was with Riley.  I found her incredibly tiresome.  She's only 25 and has a load of responsibilities on her shoulders, which I kept trying to remember.  Sorting out an estate is indeed a lot of work.  Hearing that her father was not the man she thought he was and then discovering evidence of that would be tough.  However, Riley makes one bad decision after another, listens to the wrong people at the wrong times and her mood swings had me whipping my head back and forth.  Sometimes the 'poor little me' angle just got to be too much.  Again, tried to remember that she is young and inexperienced about many things.  And easily wounded and hurt.  Sorry.  As I said, so very tiresome.

As the story wound down to a conclusion, I decided that I did not like how it ended.  I've tried to think how I would have done it differently and come up with an answer, but I won't share that here.  This didn't put me off this author completely, but I suspect it will be a while before I read another of her books.  Sometimes, it's just not the right book for a reader or maybe not the right time.  For me, this was a 'wanted to throw it across the room but it's on my Kindle' kind of experience.

If you've read this book, did you have a different experience?  I'd love to hear.  I don't often finish a book that is bugging me this much, so there must have been some redeeming factors.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong

The Darkest Powers Trilogy was written by Kelley Armstrong.  It includes The Summoning, The Awakening, and The Reckoning.  I listened to it on audio with Cassandra Morris as the narrator.  First of all, the narration was pretty good once I got used to Cassandra Morris' voice.  It's a little bit 'young-ish' sounding, but this is a young adult series and the main characters are in their mid-teens, so it  was appropriate.

I've meant to read books by Kelley Armstrong for a long time.  Her adult books are what you would consider urban fantasy and include tales of all kinds of supernaturals - werewolves, sorcerers, witches, necromancers and the like.  There has been a TV adaptation created recently called Bitten, which I have not watched.

In the first book, The Summoning, Chloe Saunders is a pretty normal 15-year-old girl, who is really interested in becoming a filmmaker.  She goes to a school for the arts and lives with her father and a series of housekeepers.  Her mother died when she was young and her mother's sister, a doctor, has also helped with her upbringing.  She did have some odd experiences with the basement and the dark when she was a little girl, but she had forgotten them until all of a sudden she starts dreaming about them - dreaming about seeing ghosts.  And then she actually sees one - a ghost - at school.  He scares her so badly that she has an episode with the principal and some teachers that lands her in Lyle House, a group home for teens with psychological problems.  Or that's what she is told.

The other kids at Lyle House also have issues.  Some are nice to her and some are quite hostile.  Her roommate, Liz, seems nice, but is transferred out soon after Chloe arrives.  And then Chloe sees Liz again, but she's a ghost.  It turns out that all the kids at Lyle House have special abilities that the adults try to convince them are due to mental illness.  A whole Scooby gang gradually gets together.  It includes a necromancer, a witch, a sorcerer, a half-demon who can control fire, a ghost with tele-kinetic abilities, and also a very, very smart werewolf.  When they finally realize that each of them has a special talent, they go on the run from the Edison Group, the people that run Lyle House.

The second and third books tell the further adventures of our 'special' kids as they try to find out how they got their abilities and how to control them.  They are all progressing faster than normal and their powers are more than a little scary.  And then they realize that they are being hunted by other people,  as well as the Edison Group.  Family members that were thought trustworthy and dependable betray them.  They are captured more than once and then escape over and over.  The Darkest Powers kids eventually find that they can count on each other and they form a cohesive group of friends.  A real Scooby gang.

I had a good time with these books.  And they kept me interested.  I've always liked Buffy-type adventures, and I'm a sucker for superheroes.  The tales of Chloe, Simon, Derek, Liz, Rae, and Tori were lots of fun.  The story continues with another group of teens, The Darkness Rising trilogy.  In the last book of that trio, The Rising, both groups of teens join forces to fight.  And I'll be looking for that trilogy to start before long, as well as some of the adult books.  I love finding a new-to-me author with a large backlist.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - Devil's Bridge

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Linda Fairstein is the author of a very successful mystery series that features Alexandra Cooper, an Assistant District Attorney in the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of Manhattan.  This author held that very position for over 25 years.  And this is a series that I have meant to read for, well, forever.  I did read the first book, Final Jeopardy, a really long time ago.  I liked it, but somehow have not gotten back to the series.  One of the other special things about Linda Fairstein's books is the way she has highlighted all sorts of places in New York and made them part of her books.  Lots of New York history and lore here, in addition to some wonderful characters.  The 17th book in this series will be published soon and it is the one I'm highlighting this week:

Publication Date: August 11th

The Manhattan waterfront is one of New York City’s most magnificent vistas, boasting both the majestic Statue of Liberty and the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span for motor vehicles.  But in Devil’s Bridge, Detective Mike Chapman will discover the peril that lurks along this seemingly benign expanse as he takes on his most personal case yet:  the disappearance of Alex Cooper.

Coop’s sudden disappearance is fraught with terrifying complications:  scores of enemies she has made after a decade of putting criminals behind bars; a recent security breach with dangerous repercussions; and a new intimacy in her relationship with Mike, causing the Police Commissioner himself to be wary of the methods Mike will use to get Coop back... if he can.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - The Silent Sister

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain.  I think I've read one other book by Diane Chamberlain, The Good Father.  Enjoyed it very much and a little different take on things as it is told from the viewpoint of a young father.  Anyway, I always love the covers on her books.  And I want to read more of them.  The premise of this book intrigued me.  See what you think:

January 1990

Alexandria, Virginia

     All day long, people stopped along the path that ran through the woods by the Potomac River.  Bundled in their parkas and wool scarves, they stood close to one another for warmth and clutched the mittened hands of their children or the leashes of their dogs as they started at the one splash of color in the winter-gray landscape.  The yellow kayak sat in the middle of the river, surrounded by ice.  The water had been rough the night before, buffeted by snowy winds, rising into swirling whitecaps as the temperature plummeted and the waves froze in jagged crests, trapping the kayak many yards from shore.
     The walkers had seen the kayak on the morning news, but they still needed to see it in person.  It marked the end of a saga that had gripped them for months.  They'd looked forward to the trial that would never happen now, because the seventeen-year-old girl--the seventeen-year-old murderer, most were sure--now rested somewhere beneath that rocky expanse of ice.
     'She took the easy way out', some of them whispered to one another.
     'But what a terrible way to die', others said.


Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality.


I'm curious - have you read this book or others by Diane Chamberlain?  What was your experience?  Would you keep reading?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Status Of All Things by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

You know how sometimes it's good to try something a little different than what you've been reading - step a bit outside of recent selections?  Well, have a I got a book for you!  First of all, let me tell you that I love romantic comedies.  I have a list of them that I've watched over and over.  Movies like You've Got Mail, While You Were Sleeping, Clueless, 13 Going On 30, Legally Blonde - you know the type.  There are times when a favorite romantic comedy is just the ticket.  And as 'light' as they may seem to be, most of the time, there are some great life lessons included in them - between the bubbly humor and the good music - they always have a good soundtrack.

The Status Of All Things is just such a book.  Written by longtime best friends Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, it asks the eternal question - if you had the power to rewrite your life, would you?  Kate is a typical woman of today.  She's an executive with an ad agency.  Her life revolves around her job, her fiance', Max, her best friends from college, Jules and Liam, her wedding planner, and her Facebook status.  As our story begins, Kate, Max, their friends and their families are in Hawaii.  It's the night before Kate and Max's wedding, the rehearsal dinner in fact.  All is well and then it definitely isn't.  Max asks to speak to Kate alone and he tells her that he's so very sorry but he can't marry her.  He has, in fact, fallen in love with her co-worker, Courtney.  Seriously??  Kate can't believe her ears.  He tells her this at the rehearsal dinner?  Now?

As I said, Kate is pretty much addicted to her Facebook status.  She shares a lot, always carefully edited and cropped and filtered pictures and words.  She has spent months planning the wedding so that everything would be perfect.  She worries a lot about perfect.  And whether things could be better if she just tried a little harder or figured things out a little better.  She has a mostly normal life.  Until she doesn't.  After her humiliation of having to listen to Max telling everyone that the wedding is not going to happen, Kate can't imagine what kind of status update she will type, 'Feeling sad. Got jilted.'  She wishes that her life was as perfect as what everyone posts on Facebook.  And she gets her wish granted.  Whenever Kate updates her status, life reflects that reality.  She decides to go back in time and fix her relationship with Max before it goes wrong.  While she does that, she'll help a few of her friends with their problems as well, with the best intentions.

So, how do you suppose all of this works out?  Well, I did say it could be a romantic comedy, so there are hijinks and laughs and tears and misunderstandings.  And finally, there is growth and realization and a happy ending.  All ingredients of the best romantic comedy.  I was pleased and I did enjoy The Status Of All Things.  There were those nuggets of wisdom and a pretty good assessment of what people put on their social media.  I liked the style of this duo of authors and want to read their first book, Your Perfect Life.  I suspect that it too will have a few good things to say about life and also a few laughs.  I'll leave you with a quote that says it all:

Sometimes you just have to let your arm look fat in the picture.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne

The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne has filled my last few days with the sights and sounds of an island off the coast of Scotland.  With the cold and the wind and smell of the sea, the barking of seals, tidal pools, and the pulsing beam of a lighthouse, every 9 seconds.  This book was not exactly what I was expecting it to be and, yet, it was quite compelling.  The way the author told the story reminded me somewhat of the tales of another author that I like so much, Jennifer McMahon.  Let me share my experience.

Angus and Sarah Moorcraft had two beautiful identical twin girls, Kirstie and Lydia.  They lived a good life in London and loved their little Ice Twins.  A year ago, Lydia was killed in a terrible accident and her death has left the rest of the family bereft.  Angus has lost his job and he and Sarah prepare to move to a small cottage on an island off the coast of Scotland that Angus inherited from his grandmother.  Sarah has been unable to deal with the grief and guilt that she feels after Lydia's accident.  Little Kirstie has lost the other half of herself and become a silent, brooding child.  It's hoped that all of them can start afresh in the lighthouse keeper's cottage on Eilean Torran or, Thunder Island, in Gaelic.

However, life becomes even more complicated when Kirstie tells her parents that she is not Kirstie, she is Lydia.  She says that Kirstie is the one who died.  Sarah and Angus are unsure how to handle their daughter.  Is she so disturbed that she is taking on her sister's identity or are there other forces at work?  Knowing that their daughters were identical in every way, could they have been mistaken as to which child was lost?  With winter approaching, Angus and Sarah's marriage is strained to the breaking point and their worries for their child become increasingly urgent.  Is their lost daughter  haunting them?  A local fisherman tells Sarah that Eilean Torran has been known for years as a 'thin place':

     'The locals, they used to call Torran a thin place.  That means a place where there are spirits'--he chuckles into his glass--'real spirits, where the spirit world comes close.'
     'Ach, load of nonsense,' says Gordon, eyeing me, and then Lydia.  Carefully.  He looks as if he wants to clout his young friend.
     'No,' Alistair says, 'it's true, Gordon.  Sometimes I think they've a point, y'know, Thunder Island and all that, it's like there is something, an atmosphere...Aye, a thin place.  Where you can see the other world.'

As I said, this book reminded me of some other authors' works, namely Jennifer McMahon or even Stephen King a bit.  A mixture of what could be troubled minds and psychological terror or maybe a little of the supernatural thrown in for good measure.  The setting certainly supports the Gothic feel of things and local legends abound in Scotland, of course.  It was hard to decide which way the story would go.  A sad tale of a family so broken by grief and sorrow.  The main characters are flawed and pretty hard to like.  However, I found myself needing to know how things would sort out in the end.

I was mostly pleased with this book.  It held my interest and I did find the setting so fascinating.  What is about books set in the Hebrides?  I've not ever visited, but I have seen pictures.  A wild sort of beauty.  Stark and gorgeous.  I'd give this book mostly 2 thumbs up.  I'll be watching for the next book by this author.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

A Dark and Twisted Tide is the 4th book in the Lacey Flint mystery series.  It was written by Sharon Bolton, formerly known as S. J. Bolton (what is it about women writers feeling the need or pressure to use initials in their writing - a discussion for another day).  It's been a while since I read the previous book, Lost, and I wondered how much I would remember about where we left things.  I needn't have worried as I was quickly caught up in the story.

After the trauma and difficulties of the three previous books, Lacey Flint decides that she cannot be a detective any longer.  She asks for a transfer back into uniform and joins the River Police.  She has moved her residence to a houseboat on the Thames and she totally embraces that whole life, even to the point of swimming in the Thames on a regular basis.  Lacey seems to feel somewhat content.  Her relationship with DI Mark Joesbury is temporarily on hold while he is deep undercover and out of contact with everyone.  The riverboat community is definitely different and she makes friends, has a small canoe to paddle around in, adjusts to new colleagues.  And then a body appears.

While swimming early one morning, Lacey comes across a woman's body, wrapped up in a sort of linen cloth and secured to a piling.  Dead bodies are not unusual in the Thames and this doesn't seem all that strange until it's discovered that the body was placed in that position so that Lacey could find it.  And then other odd things happen - little gifts are left on her boat - more bodies appear and she feels like someone is watching her.  Lacey ends up working again with her old colleagues, led by Dana Tulloch.  Women are being smuggled in from other countries and many are ending up dead in the river.  Everything comes back to the river and the people who live along and on it.

I enjoyed this book and loved catching up with Lacey, Joesbury, Dana and other characters.  Their lives are changing and progressing and several of them have some big decisions to make.  The main focus of life on the river, the houseboats, and small craft was intriguing.  You could almost smell and feel it.  There were lots of startling scenes with odd creatures that jumped out and grabbed people.  There were crabs scuttling around and there were rats - ick!!  I kept feeling like I needed to look over my shoulder and if many of these scenes had been adapted for TV or movie, there would certainly have been spooky music.  And Lacey kept finding these dead bodies that were wrapped up like mummies.  Quite a vivid setting and one I won't soon forget.

I give this book two thumbs up and I'm hoping that we will soon see Lacey and her cohorts again.  However, the next book by Sharon Bolton has recently been published, Little Black Lies, and it is a standalone.  Looking forward to reading it soon.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - The Mask

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Taylor Stevens, author of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, is an interesting person.  She was raised in an apocalyptic cult and spent many years trying to get free from that lifestyle.  Her protagonist was also raised in that manner.  Vanessa Michael Munroe's story begins in The Informationist, a book that won a Barry Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for several other Best First awards.  This author lives in my part of the world, and I have meant to read this series for quite some time.  My book for this week, the 5th in the series:

Publication Date:  June 30th

     Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and information hunter, has a reputation for getting things done: dangerous and not quite legal things that have taken her undercover into some of the world’s deadliest places. Still healing from a Somali hijacking gone wrong and a brutal attack that left her near death, Munroe joins her lover, Miles Bradford, in Japan where he’s working as a security consultant protecting high-value technology from industrial espionage. In the domesticity of their routine she finds long sought-after peace—until Bradford is arrested for murder, and the same interests who targeted him come after her, too.
     Searching for answers and fighting to stay alive, Munroe will soon discover how far she’ll go to save Bradford from spending the next twenty years in locked-up isolation; how many laws she’ll break when the truth seems worse than his lies; and who to trust and who she must kill. Because she’s a strategist and hunter with a predator’s instincts, and the man she loves has just stabbed her in the back.   

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - The Summoning

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong.  This is the first book in the Darkest Powers trilogy and involves teens discovering that they are supernaturals and how they got that way.  It's also a trilogy that my nieces have enjoyed.  They often give me suggestions and beg me to read certain books so we can discuss them.  I promised that I would try this one.  See what you think:

Twelve years earlier...

   Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement.
   Chloe teetered on the top step, chubby hands reaching up to clutch both railings, her arms shaking so much she could barely hang on.  Her legs shook, too, the Scooby Doo heads on her slippers bobbing.  Even her breath shook, puffing like she'd been running.
   "Chloe?" Emily's muffled voice drifted up from the dark basement.  "Your mom said the Coke's in the cold cellar, but I can't find it.  Can you come down and help me?"
   Mommy said she'd told Emily about the basement.  Chloe was sure of it.  She closed her eyes and thought hard.  Before Mommy and Daddy left for the party, she'd been playing the TV room.  Mommy had called, and Chloe had run into the front hall where Mommy had scooped her up in a hug, laughing when Chloe's doll poked her eye.
   "I see you're playing with Princess--I mean, Pirate Jasmine.  Has she rescued poor Aladdin from the evil genie yet?"
   Chloe shook her head, then whispered, "Did you tell Emily about the basement?"


My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again.

All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don't even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost—and the ghost saw me.

Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won't leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a "special home" for troubled teens. Yet the home isn't what it seems. Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? It's up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House . . . before its skeletons come back to haunt me.

You may not be into Young Adult books, but I do like them on occasion.  What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill

The Soul of Discretion is Susan Hill's 8th and most recent book in her DCS Simon Serrailler mystery series.  And it is quite the book.  At the end of my review of A Question of Identity, which was just a couple of days ago, I shared that I hoped this latest book would return us to a more mystery centered storyline.  It did and it didn't.  I am certainly not sorry that I selected it as my next read.  Well, actually, I listened to Steven Pacey narrate it.

One of the interesting things I've enjoyed about this series is trying to figure out a link between the title and the book itself.  I've tried to mention a bit about that in each review, even if I haven't really taken a lot of time to discuss that aspect or my opinion of it anyway.  The title, The Soul of Discretion, is a curious one.  Let's think about what discretion actually means and then I'll try to share a bit about where discretion or lack of it might have played a part in the story.
Discretion, according to MerriamWebster:
1. the quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment :  the quality of being discreet: circumspection; especially: cautious reserve in speech
2. ability to make responsible decisions
3, individual choice or judgment; power of free decision or latitude of choice within certain legal bounds 
The Soul of Discretion begins, as did the previous book, with crimes committed in the past.  Two different incidents of children abused, horrific crimes.  In the present, DCS Simon Serrailler has had a lot of changes in his life.  Rachel, his current significant other, has recently moved in with him.  This is a very big deal for Simon and he is not quite sure how well he will like the situation.  His boss has recently retired and a new, younger man has taken her place as Chief Constable, Kieran Bright.

One of the first things that Mr. Bright does is call Simon in to meet with a special group in the police - the ones who work with child pornography.  It has been ascertained that there is a large ring of individuals who lurk in the shadows and participate in vile crimes against children.  Simon is asked to go deep undercover, in a prison no less, to assist in finding out who these awful criminals actually are.  If he agrees, he will not be able to tell anyone, friend, family, colleague, what is going on.  It will require a total commitment from him for possibly months.

As regards other characters that we've come to know and love, Simon's sister, Dr. Cat Deerbon, is still unsure about her position with the hospice.  She has been taking on fill-in spots with local GP's in order to keep her funds flowing.  Her children are growing rapidly and Sam, especially, has been a bit of a trial as he navigates his teen years.  She is also very much concerned about problems between her father, Richard Serrailler, and her stepmother, Judith.  And with good reason.  Richard Serrailler has always been a brusque, chilly individual, but he has turned into a brute in more ways than one.

The Soul of Discretion is indeed filled with decisions to be made by virtually all the characters.  Some of those turn out well and some are, frankly, beyond awful.  The task that Simon is asked to do is unthinkable, but so, so gripping in the telling.  Susan Hill has always included issues and moral questions that are obviously important to her.  The case for hospice care and end of life choices, the changing nature of the medical field, and methods of policing and litigating of various crimes.  In this book, sexual abuse plays a big part.  Rape and whether the victim is believed, based on certain factors, is also included.  This is not a happy book.  There are secrets everywhere, some even with people we have come to know.  The last quarter of the book is quite compelling and, for me, unputdownable.  I had to know.  Had. To.

So, was I pleased with The Soul of Discretion?  Yes.  Mostly.  I could wish for a bit less 'preaching' on the end of life issue.  I think Susan Hill has 'been there, done that'.  There are some hints of changes in the lives of our characters, several of them welcome changes.  Will I read the next book, should she write one?  Oh, yes.  Because - I've got to know.

I do want to say that even though there are awful, terrible crimes committed against children, there are no graphic descriptions of them.  They occur 'off scene', so to speak.  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jack Allen's Kitchen in Austin - A Texas experience...

Today for Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, I'm going to talk about an Austin area restaurant that we love, Jack Allen's Kitchen.  Some of the best food that you can get in the Austin area and, believe me, that is saying something.  I've given you the link, so click over and see what you can see.

I've got a few pictures of the Jack Allen's that is 'our' location - there are 3 in our area.  I've got a bit about my favorite thing to order - The Country Club Chicken Salad.  I've got a bit about the cookbook that came out last October - Jack Allen's Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas.  And I'll share a quote from the cookbook telling a bit about Jack Gilmore himself.

Jack Allen's Kitchen is owned and operated by Jack Gilmore and Tom Kamm.  They serve fresh, locally sourced foods that are delicious and a melding of Southern, southwestern and uniquely Texas tastes.  Here's the Round Rock location that we often visit:

If you've not ever visited Central Texas and the Austin area, life is pretty laid back here.  You'll find very little formality in dress or speech.  We're all about keeping it easy.

So, you can wear your shorts and your tennis shoes or flip-flops, and you don't have to take off your hat (especially if you have 'hat hair').  You can order a big glass of iced tea and settle in for some great food.  And, yes, I will admit that I drink unsweetened tea and most of our restaurants serve it that way all the time.  Some do still ask if you want it sweet or unsweetened.  I may have grown up on sweet tea, but those days are long gone.  

My favorite thing to order is the Country Club Chicken Salad.  It's just really, really good.  Here's a little look at what you get.  This is a picture from the cookbook. 

This salad starts with fresh greens and then they add some really yummy ingredients.  There some achiote grilled chicken breast and some blue cheese.  There are some sliced pears and some dried figs.  There are some spiced walnuts (which have brown sugar, cayenne pepper and sesame oil in their recipe) and it's dressed with a lovely champagne vinaigrette.  The recipe for the vinaigrette contains shallots, champagne vinegar, kosher salt, white pepper, fresh basil, and olive oil.  It is amazingly good.  I love this salad.  I have the recipe from the cookbook, but honestly, I know I'd never be able to duplicate it.

Jack Gilmore was a local chef that had worked at a bunch of different locations in our area.  He spent 20 years at the Z Tejas restaurants, which are also local, but have now branched out to Arizona and California.  In 2009, Mr. Gilmore opened Jack Allen's Kitchen with his partner Tom Kamm.  Here's a little bit from his cookbook about his story:

On Saturday mornings, you'll find me at the farmers market.  Actually, I get to a few of them throughout town.  Most open at 9 a.m., and I'm usually standing right at the entrance by 8:45.  At opening time, I move through the tents as if it were a timed competition.  In some ways, it is.  I'm not the only chef in Austin who likes to get an early jump on the best picks of the weekend.  Plus, if you don't get there early enough, you have to compete with the general public, who are also hoping to find great ingredients.

Jack's cookbook contains lots of recipes, divided among the seasons.  He also highlights many of the farms and businesses where he acquires his food.  The cookbook is as much a story of his life and food and restaurant philosophy as about cooking.  It also has some wonderful pictures.

So, if you ever get to Austin, get yourself to a Jack Allen's Kitchen and sample some wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food.  You enjoy it - I promise!

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Question Of Identity by Susan Hill

A Question Of Identity is the 7th book in Susan Hill's mystery series that I've been making my way through this year.  It tells the story of the Serrailler family, the cathedral town of Lafferton, and of crimes to be solved and moral questions to be considered.  I listened to this book on audio with the ever wonderful Steven Pacey as the narrator.

A Question Of Identity begins with a trial that occurred 10 years prior.  A man has been charged with the murders of 3 elderly women.  The case seems quite solid and the police are feeling confident that this serial killer has been apprehended and will be found guilty.  However, things don't work out that way.  A witness is confused, a defense attorney is tricky, and the jury acquits the man.  For his own protection, the police and then Special Branch or whoever handles witness protection in Britain, take the man away and give him a new identity, a new life.  He can't go back to his old life, even though he was found not guilty, because the public is incensed and would likely attack and possibly kill him.

We shift to Lafferton and the present day, 10 years later.  DCS Simon Serrailler is on a week away with his nephew, Sam.  Simon's sister, Cat, is settling into a new routine at the hospice where she works.  Her lodger and helper, medical student Molly, is still trying to recover from the events of the previous book and not doing very well.  Cat's young daughter, Hannah, is up for a part in an actual movie and excited beyond all measure.  Cat's children have adjusted somewhat to the death of their father, but Sam is still having lots of issues.  Cat and Simon's father and stepmother are having problems - serious problems - but the others don't know of that yet.  Life has gone on and then Simon receives a call to return to work.

An elderly woman has been murdered.  Killed in a very particular way.  Though Simon and his team don't know it yet, crimes such as this have happened before.  And it's a while before they are able to ascertain this.  When someone is given a new identity, their previous self is wiped out, erased, changed - or is it?

A Question Of Identity was concerned with many issues - the plight of the elderly, more musings about end of life questions and whether hospice should be an in-patient endeavor or shifted to home care (because of money), and there are some hints of domestic issues of bullying and violence.  Several characters are struggling with identity issues - deciding who they are and what paths they want to take.  The crimes against the elderly women were troubling and we were 'treated' to the thought processes of the killer.  We could surmise that the killer was the person acquitted of similar crimes in the past, but we had no idea of his new identity.

I liked this well enough.  I did not have as many issues with Simon himself this time.  I did have some issues with Cat's children and with some other family members.  The mystery part of things was not particularly gripping and seemed to go on and on, but mostly I really didn't like hearing the killer's thoughts so frequently.  I did guess who he was.  I'll freely admit that I am now continuing this series more for the character development than for the mystery angle.  And, yes, I'll read the most current book in the series, The Soul Of Discretion, mostly to say that I'm caught up.  I've enjoyed this series, but feel it has lost a bit over the course of things.  However, I'm always hopeful and so will think good thoughts about the most recent book.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summertime...to plan or not...some necessary changes....living and reading easy

Summertime is here.  And I've been back blogging for almost half a year.  I have enjoyed doing this so much and hope that I haven't overwhelmed anyone with the number of posts that I've shared.  My idea was to write about all the books that I finished this year and I've done that.  I've had a good time with the top 10 topics, the waiting on Wednesday previews, the occasional weekend cooking posts, and the first paragraph book teasers.  I've related what happened at my monthly book club meetings and shared a bit about life and vacationing.

Summer is a hot time in my part of the country.  A really hot time usually.  Life slows down a bit, even for those of us that don't work outside the home anymore.  Some things are more outdoors based, but again, the hot.  I enjoy summer events, but I really like making my life easy and sort of unplanned.  When I was a teenager this song was a big summer hit.  It's Summer Breeze by 2 Texas guys, Seals and Crofts.  Summer Breeze just says summer to me.

So, I've been seeing some summer reading planning going on at a few blogs.  And good for you, if that's your thing.  Good luck!  There are lots of lists of beach bag books and what books you might take on vacation and such.  This is my plan for this summer and my reading.  <<<No plan>>>

Shocking, right?  I have no plan.  I'm going to go where the muse takes me.  Maybe a little mystery (of course), a few old favorites, a bit of YA, a romance or 2, maybe even a little horror.  I've seen some call this 'free range reading'.  Well, yahoo for that!  What I'm saying is that I'm still planning on sharing my thoughts about what I'm reading, but there is no telling what that might be.

OK, another thing I wanted to talk about was some health stuff.  I shared at the beginning of the year that I was planning to eat less and exercise more and I've been sorta successful with that.  However, I've still recently been informed by my doctor and my normal annual bloodwork that perhaps a titch more effort might be necessary.  Maybe more than a titch.  Maybe more like a lot.  I've known that I was pre-diabetic for a while.  Yeah, I'm about as close to actual diabetes as you can get.  My regular doctor is a peach.  She's been my doctor for over 20 years.  And she's given me 3 months to get my numbers down or I'm going to have to take additional meds, which I do not want to do.

I've gone back to Weight Watchers, a program that I have had success with before, big success.  It just hasn't made it through my head that really, the eating changes have to be forever and always.  Not deprivation and saying 'I can't ever, ever have...", but mostly.  Weight has to be lost and exercise has to be regular.  If I don't, well, I'm going to have bigger problems.  Maybe not right away, but certainly before too long.  So, I say all this to say - thank goodness for books on audio!  Thank goodness for summer fruits and vegetables!  Thank goodness for cooking on the grill and thank goodness I'm getting a chance to turn things around this summer!

It's summer and I'm going to read easy and frequently.  I'm going to eat easy and less frequently.  I'm going to walk and move my body much more frequently.  Let's all have a great summer!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - Run You Down

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I just recently discovered Julia Dahl and her debut Rebekah Roberts mystery.  I shared that it has been nominated for several awards in the mystery community.  My review of the first book, Invisible City is here.  Happily, the second book is soon to be published.  Can't wait!  My selection for this week is:

Publication Date:  June 30th

Aviva Kagan was a just a teenager when she left her Hasidic Jewish life in Brooklyn for a fling with a smiling college boy from Florida - and then disappeared. Twenty-three years later, the child she walked away from is a NYC tabloid reporter named Rebekah Roberts. And Rebekah isn't sure she wants her mother back in her life.

But when a man from the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Roseville, N.Y. contacts Rebekah about his young wife's mysterious death, she is drawn back into Aviva's world. Pessie Goldin's body was found in her bathtub, and while her parents want to believe it was an accident, her husband is certain she was murdered.

Once she starts poking around, Rebekah encounters a whole society of people who have wandered "off the path" of ultra-Orthodox Judaism - just like her mother. But some went with dark secrets, and rage at the insular community they left behind.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - The Yard

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of The Yard by Alex Grecian.  This is the first book in his Murder Squad series, set in London of the 1890's - Jack the Ripper's London.  I love this time period.  See what you think:


     Nobody noticed when Inspector Christian Little of Scotland Yard disappeared, and nobody was looking for him when he was found.
     A black steamer trunk appeared at Euston Square Station sometime during the night and remained unnoticed until early afternoon of the following day.  The porter discovered it after the one o'clock train had departed, and he opened the trunk when it proved too heavy for him to lift.
     He immediately sent a boy to find the police.


Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month.  Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt.  They have failed their citizens.  But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own . . . one of the twelve . . .

When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley.  Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad . . . but why?

What are your thoughts?  Would you keep reading?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bookish Nostalgia - June 2015

And here we are at the beginning of June and the summer of 2015.  I had a good time looking back and seeing what I was reading at the beginning of the past summers - 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010.  Here's the books that I found were the most memorable for each of those months - June...

June 1995 - Tunnel Vision by Sara Paretsky - We were living in Portland, Oregon in 1995 and I recall that June saw us coming home to Austin for the first time in several months.  I remember this because we were staying with my in-laws, and I was totally involved in reading several of Sara Paretsky's books - you know, her V.I. Warshawski series.  I recall disappearing and hiding to get a few pages in, while my husband's family wondered where I'd gotten off to.  Told you guys that I'm an anomaly in the fam - at least I was at that time.  Our daughter, who was 12, ran interference for me.  I am way behind on reading this series now.  However, June of 1995 saw me reading 5 or 6 books in it and Tunnel Vision was my favorite.  It had a storyline that took V.I. to the tunnels under the city of Chicago, to a women's shelter, and a case that involved a homeless woman and her children.

June 2000 - Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben - This is the 7th Myron Bolitar mystery written by Harlan Coben.  I loved this series and think I read all of it.  Darkest Fear was written right before Coben started writing standalones and then transitioned almost entirely to those.  Myron was a former pro basketball player and a sports agent and, because of that, I was always surprised that I liked this series as much as I did.  Not that I don't like basketball, but it's not something I'm obsessed with.  He had a good friend and quasi-enforcer by the name of Win Lockwood, preppy and pretty much an anti-hero.  I loved Win.  This story was sad in that Myron is contacted by a former girlfriend who has a 13-year-old son needing a bone transplant.  And the donor has disappeared.  Lots of secrets here.

June 2005 - 16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber - This book is Macomber's first book in her Cedar Cove, Washington series.  It has been filmed for TV in the last couple of years, with Andie MacDowell playing Olivia, one of the main characters.  I loved this book and have loved many of this author's books and series over the years.  Yes, they are a little sweet, but sometimes sweet is exactly what you need.  And I love characters that go on and on.  The Cedar Cove series is a good one.  I also have really enjoyed Macomber's Blossom Street books, set in Seattle.  June of 2005 saw me reading the first 4 books set in Cedar Cove.  They tell the story of the town and various residents and some will appear as a minor character in one book and then become more central in the next.  I have not watched the TV series.

June 2010 - So Cold The River by Michael Koryta - This was a book that my mystery group read and discussed.  It's really very different and had a mixed reaction as I recall among the group.  It starts with a woman approaching a filmmaker and asking him to do a documentary about her dying father-in-law, a very wealthy man.  This involves the filmmaker going to the resort town of West Baden, Indiana and doing some research about the father-in-law's early life.  It also involves a bottle of mineral water - Pluto Water.  Based on a real hotel, this author took the story into supernatural territory and I think that this is either a story that you'll really get into or you won't like at all.  It is unique and quite odd.  I liked it a lot and hope to one day reread it.  I think it was Michael Koryta's first venture away from 'normal' mysteries and into the 'unknown'.  He's kind of made a name for himself in that area - the quasi-horror/mystery crossover books.

Have you read any of these books or series?  I'd love to know your thoughts.  Do you know what you were reading 20 years ago?  Do tell!