Friday, January 29, 2016

I actually read two graphic novels - Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and Displacement...what I thought...

I am not much of a graphic novel reader.  I've read a few - mostly YA type.  I did spend a big portion of my growing up years reading comics (what they were called then).  They all belonged to my little brother and were Archie and Spiderman and Flintstones and Fantastic 4, for example.  I have been encouraged to read today's graphic novels many times by others.  Recently, I decided to try two that told the stories of 'dealing with older people'.  Both had been recommended by many bloggers and I have certainly spent my years 'dealing with older people'.  There was a special display at my library and there they were - the two books - Displacement and Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? - side by side.  I checked them out.  (And forgive me, because this may be a little long.)

First, let's talk about Displacement - a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley.  Only 168 pages, it can be read in a very short period of time.  It's the story of Lucy, who volunteers to accompany her 90+-year-old grandparents on a cruise to the Caribbean.  Lucy herself was in her 20's.  OK, to start our little discussion, let me talk about Kay and motion sickness.  I have it.  It's horrible.  When I travel, I am drugged.  It's particularly bad on boats.  (I got sick one time on a tour of a boat permanently docked in Astoria, Oregon.  There were no windows.  I quickly exited before things got too awful.).  So, honestly, a cruise with grandparents????

Anyway, Lucy and her grandparents fly to Florida and board a cruise ship.  The grandparents have a pretty decent room.  Hers has no windows.  She learns on this trip how much care her grandparents actually need.  She thinks about aging and dying and mortality.  The grandparents seem to have a fairly good time.  Lucy is a nervous wreck most of the time (welcome to caregiving).  In the end, she's glad she went.  And in the end, I was glad I read this book.  Thumbs up.

On to graphic novel #2, Roz Chast's memoir of a late-in-life only child and her aging parents - both parents living into their mid-to-late 90's.  It's called Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and is Chast's no-holds-barred book about parents who didn't want to talk about aging, death, dying, getting sick, going to the hospital, going to the doctor, preparing for any of this, etc.  And a daughter who had to deal with all of these things by herself.

I have two dear friends who both read this book and wrote about it on their blogs.  One is Les at Prairie Horizons.  Les was not a fan of this book at all and said so in her review.  The other friend is Nan at Letters From A Hill Farm.  Nan was a fan and also said so in her review.  I thought about reading this book, decided against it, and now have read it.  What do I think?  Well, let me tell you...

I actually liked it very much - very much.  It was honest and brutal and shocking - Roz's thoughts about her parents and the bother and worry and tiresomeness of everything.  It was hard to read without cringing.  It also had some very sweet and poignant moments.  There were actual pictures of the author and her folks.  There were pictures of the apartment the folks lived in and the stuff...oh, the stuff.  There were stories about dementia and illness and ickiness.  About kindness and caring and grief.  Descriptions of assisted-living and sad tales of parents who saved and scrimped and did not indulge themselves at all and a daughter who worried constantly that the money would run out.  Because end-of-life care is so, so very expensive.

I think that one of the most important books I've ever read is Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.  I read this last year and it talks about medicine and doctors and end-of-life decisions and how long is too long and hospice and care  centers.  And planning.  I think that a companion book to the non-fiction Being Mortal could be this one - Chast's memoir - brutal as it might be - shocking and sad.

So, lastly what I want to say is that I liked this book and I hated it a little too.  Why?  I've lived this book.  I've thought virtually every thought that Roz Chast shared.  My relationship with my parents was much better than hers - with my mother especially.  However, caring for aging parents with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia as well as other tragic health problems is hard, hard work.  Whether they live with you or not.  Even if there is what seems like enough money to help them and keep them comfortable.  It is soul-sucking and it will almost bring you to your knees.  I see Chast's memoir as her therapy.  I did my therapy in another manner, with a counselor and a flood of tears and grief and anger-acknowledgment.  My care for my parents was a privilege and an honor and it was horrible and took over my life for several years.  I loved them dearly and I sometimes wanted to run away and never look back.  I think this book could say to the reader 'you're not a horrible person if you have some or all of these feelings'.  You can still love them and feel a very heavy burden.  I loved my parents and I miss them every day, but I don't miss that stress and worry.

Well, I'll stop now.  I've read two graphic novels.  I've been so touched by both of them.  Graphic novels are certainly not the comic books of my youth.  I'm glad I read them.  Who could imagine that a book of cartoons could be so gripping?  Last thing - do you have other suggestions for 'must read' graphic novels for me?  Maybe not ones about aging parents, but other topics?  Please leave me some recommendations.  I'm willing to try them.  And thanks.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Gothic Fiction Reading Challenge 2016

Diana at Book of Secrets shared a couple of weeks ago that she had searched for a Gothic Fiction Reading Challenge all over and was not successful in finding one.  There is a seasonal R.I.P. challenge that she and many of us enjoy, but she wanted one that would last all year.   So she began her own.  She's using it mainly to keep track of the books she reads this year that fit her idea of 'gothic'.  If you'd like to take a look at her post, go here.  She has some great links provided for definitions of 'gothic' and also links to lists of 'gothic' books - modern, haunted houses, southern, Gothic romances, ghosts - everything you might need to find a book considered to be 'gothic'.

I told her that I wasn't doing any challenges this year, but I got to thinking - I read a lot of books that by their very nature and by my personal definition are 'gothic' fiction.  And as I've been considering my 'favorites from my keeper shelf', I've been tempted to reread many older books in that vein.  So, I've decided to use this post as a place to keep track of just how many books I do read in 2016 that would fit the category.  I'll have the badge on my sidebar and you can just click it at any time and see my list, with any reviews I write linked.

What do I consider 'gothic' fiction?  Well, I'd include anything that includes spooky, foggy, haunted, ghostly, horror-like, castle or house on a cliff or in a swamp or perched above the sea, an asylum, a graveyard, secrets, diaries - get the picture?  I know it when I read it.  Personally, I think 'gothic' is what the reader says it is.

Feel free to join in.  And may the 'gothic' reading begin....

1.  The Gates Of Evangeline by Hester Young
2.  The Mediator #1 - Shadowland by Meg Cabot (audio)
3.  The Mediator #2 - Ninth Key by Meg Cabot (audio)
4.  The Whispering Hollows (3 novellas - The Whispers, The Burning Girl, The Three Sisters) by Lisa Unger (audio)
5.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (audio)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - Among The Wicked

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 am always delighted to anticipate a new book by Linda Castillo in her Kate Burkholder series.  Just simply delighted.  I love this series!  This week's pick, the 8th book in the series:

Publication Date:  July 12th

Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called upon by the sheriff's department in rural, upstate New York to assist on a developing situation that involves a reclusive Amish settlement and the death of a young girl.  Unable to penetrate the wall of silence between the Amish and "English" communities, the sheriff asks Kate to travel to New York, pose as an Amish woman, and infiltrate the community.

Kate's long time love interest, State Agent John Tomasetti, is dead set against her taking on such an unorthodox assignment, knowing she'll have limited communication - and even less in the way of backup.  But Kate can't turn her back, especially when the rumor mill boils with disturbing accounts of children in danger.  She travels to New York where she's briefed and assumes her new identity as a lone widow seeking a new life.

Kate infiltrates the community and goes deep under cover.  In the coming days, she unearths a world built on secrets, a series of shocking crimes, and herself, alone... trapped in a fight for her life.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - A Place Of Execution

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 A Place Of Execution by a favorite author of mine, Val McDermid.  This book was published in 2000 and it won an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, a Macavity Award, and a Dilys Award, plus was nominated for a Dagger Award and an Edgar.  Here you have pretty much the epitome of mystery honors.  A film adaptation was created by Masterpiece Contemporary in 2008.  See what you think:

     Like Alison Carter, I was born in Derbyshire in 1950.  Like her, I grew up familiar with the limestone dales of the White Peak, no stranger to the winter blizzards that regularly cut us off from the rest of the country.  It was in Buxton, after all, that snow once stopped play in a county cricket match in June.
     So when Alison Carter went missing in December 1963, it meant more to me and my classmates than it can have done to most other people.  We knew villages like the one she'd grown up in.  We knew the sort of things she'd have done every day.  We suffered through similar classes and cloakroom arguments about which of the Fab Four was our favourite Beatle.  We imagined we shared the same hopes, dreams and fears.  Because of that, right from the word go, we all knew something terrible had happened to Alison Carter, because something we also knew was that girls like her--like us--didn't run away.  Not in Derbyshire in the middle of December, anyway.


Winter 1963: two children have disappeared off the streets of Manchester; the murderous careers of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady have begun.  On a freezing day in December, another child goes missing: thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her town, an insular community that distrusts the outside world.  For the young George Bennett, a newly promoted inspector, it is the beginning of his most difficult and harrowing case: a murder with no body, an investigation with more dead ends and closed faces than he'd have found in the anonymity of the inner city, and an outcome which reverberates through the years.

Decades later he finally tells his story to journalist Catherine Heathcote, but just when the book is poised for publication, Bennett unaccountably tries to pull the plug.  He has new information which he refuses to divulge, new information that threatens the very foundations of his existence.  Catherine is forced to re-investigate the past, with results that turn the world upside down.


I decided to finally read this book because of a blog post I read by Cathy at Kittling: Books.  She recently got to see Val McDermid at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.  How fun!  And if you don't know about Cathy's blog, you definitely should.  I've seen the TV adaptation of this book, but I haven't read it yet.  Here I go!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley begins with this statement:

The first thing you should know is that everyone lies.
The second thing is that it matters.

Indeed they do and indeed it does.  Everyone lies or omits in this book and it does matter.  Our tale is one of two families.  The fathers are brothers and each includes a teenage daughter.  These girls, Arden and Rory, are very close.  Born only 4 months apart, they are quite different in personality.  Rory is outgoing, popular, driven - Harvard bound.  Arden is the artistic cousin.  She's smart and shy and seems mostly in Rory's shadow.  She wants to go to California to art school.  However, the college plans of both girls will go awry due to financial issues.  They begin their freshman year at a small state college.

As the book opens, the parents each receive a phone call.  Their daughters have been injured in a fire at their dorm and are being taken to a local hospital.  Another student has died and the police are investigating for arson.  The Good Goodbye is told from 3 points of view - Arden, Rory, and Natalie, Arden's mother.  Most of the present action is set in the hospital as Arden and Rory remain unconscious in intensive care, critically injured.  We gradually find out more and more secrets as the narrative switches from character to character.

Natalie would have said that she knew her daughter and her niece so very, very well.  She knows some things.  She doesn't know many, many more.  Each character has something to hide and the story winds back and back and back.  These two families have been very intertwined, but sometimes weeds and thorns grow into the garden and are not removed.  There they remain choking out the seeds that were planted with such love.  Everyone lies.

I liked this book a lot.  And I enjoyed the format, though some might not be as fond of the method the author used to tell the story.  I like puzzling through the clues and deciding which secret might be most important or might even exist at all.  It reminded me a little of Rosamund Lupton's Afterwards, another book set mostly in a hospital after a fire, with a mother finding out all kinds of things about her teenage daughter.  The Good Goodbye related a situation that is one of a parent's worst fears - their child in a hospital ICU.  It was poignant and scary.  We feel for Natalie as she sits beside the bed trying to find one little spot where she can touch her daughter.  The revelations of the hidden parts of each family's life were suspenseful.  I wanted to know the answer to the questions posed - arson?  Who?  Why?

Interestingly enough, Carla Buckley wrote part of this book sitting at the bedside of her college-age son, after he was in an accident.  She related in an interview that she was on a book tour when she got a call from her husband about their son's accident and dropped everything to go to him.  She had already begun writing The Good Goodbye, but here she was experiencing the story firsthand.  No wonder the emotions in the book rang true to me.

So, was I pleased with The Good Goodbye?  Yes, I was.  I've read another book by this author, The Things That Keep Us Here, and also liked it very much.  Now I want to read the two books she's written in between.  And I look forward to possibly seeing Carla Buckley on a panel at a mystery conference soon - even meeting her!  Can't wait!


I think I'll add here that I wrote Carla Buckley and told her how much I enjoyed The Good Goodbye.  I also told her that I hoped her son had recovered well.  She very kindly wrote back and thanked me for my note.  She also said that her son has recovered and is 100%.  He is taking a semester abroad in his studies and enjoying it very much.  I'm so pleased to hear that and wish him well!

Friday, January 22, 2016

kay's favorites from the keeper shelf...Phyllis A. Whitney

Welcome to the 1st 'kay's favorites'!  I'm so glad to be talking about an author that I first discovered when I was about 10 years old.  Her name is Phyllis Ayame Whitney, otherwise known as Phyllis A. Whitney - multiple Edgar award winner, lifetime achievement Grand Master Award in 1988 by the Mystery Writers of America and also a lifetime acheivement award by Malice Domestic, who present the Agathas.  These are very big deals in the mystery community.

Photograph © Malice Domestic

Phyllis Whitney, who was born in Yokahoma, Japan, in 1903, spent the first 15 years of her life in Japan, China, and the Philippines.  Her first visit to the US was when she and her mother traveled home to America by ship after her father's death.  She lived with her mother in California and Texas until her mother died and then lived with her aunt in Chicago.  Interestingly enough, all the places mentioned served as a setting for at least one of her books.  Her jobs included journalist, college writing teacher, and book editor.  She also worked in libraries and bookstores.  And she wrote and wrote.

Ms. Whitney had many short stories published and finally, in 1941, her first book for young people.  An adult suspense novel, Red Is For Murder (later renamed The Red Carnelian) was published in 1943.  Over time, this prolific author wrote over 75 books, which included adult mysteries, juvenile mysteries, books on writing, and juvenile novels.  She served as the President of The Mystery Writers of America in 1975.  Her last book was published in 1997 (when she was 94!) and she died in 2008 at the age of 104!!  She was survived by a daughter, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  Amazing!

I currently own 17 of her adult mysteries and 11 of her juvenile mysteries.  They are mostly hardback copies, but a few of the juvenile books are paperbacks.  I'm going to talk a little about 4 of them - 2 adult and 2 juvenile.  For a complete list of her books go here.  I'll start with kid books.

At the age of 10, bored at my grandmother's house, I ran across a copy of the Mystery Of The Haunted Pool - owned by an older cousin.  I begged to read it and was completely caught up in the story of Susan, visiting her aunt in upstate New York.  While wandering near her aunt's house, she comes across a woodland pool and then she sees a face staring up at her from the bottom!  It disappears, but where did it go?  There's an old sea captain, a treasure, and naturally a mystery.  It scared and delighted me (I was that kind of kid) and from then on I was on a mission to find more books by this author.

Another juvenile mystery that I enjoyed completely was the Secret Of The Samurai Sword.  In it, Celia and her brother, Stephen, travel to Kyoto, Japan to visit their grandmother for the summer.  There is a lovely garden that apparently holds the ghost of an ancient Samurai warrior.  Lots of Japanese culture and I think this was one of the books that got me interested in reading mysteries set in other countries and far-flung places.  I still love that.

As I moved on to Phyllis Whitney's adult mysteries, I found that she included a bit of romance, along with the thrills and chills.  One of my favorites is her first adult book, Red Is For Murder or the title on my copy, The Red Carnelian.  By the way, a carnelian is a red gemstone.  This one is set in Chicago where Linell works for a large department store as a sign copy writer.  How do you feel about a large store after closing hours - when the lights are out and employees scurry around changing things in the big show windows?  Spooky, especially when a body is found in one of the windows and Linell knows who it is.  This book had the first reference I ever saw to Cole Porter's tune, Begin The Beguine, and that song playing over and over on a record player is part of the creepy, shadowy story.  I found the info about dressing the windows fascinating.

The last book I'll mention is Hunter's Green, published in 1968.  Eve returns to the great estate of Athmore to try to mend her marriage to Justin after 3 years.  However, someone is conspiring against her - her husband's brother, his ex-fiance, a mystery man?  The gardens contain a topiary garden carved out of black yew - a chess set (who could resist that?) in the midst of play - the rook ready to capture the king.  Old Daniel tells her, 'It's the black rook's play!'.  This book has sort of a Rebecca type feel to it.  Spooky, dark, things that go bump in the night.  Can't you just see the chess pieces ready to move?  Ha!


I hope you've enjoyed this little show and tell session.  Join me again in two weeks for the next 'kay's favorites from the keeper shelf...' when I'll be talking about Rosamunde Pilcher.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Killing In The Hills by Julia Keller

A Killing In The Hills is the first in the Bell Elkins mystery series, written by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Julia Keller.  And it's a corker.  I really enjoyed my initial visit to Acker's Gap, West Virginia, a state that I've only visited a couple of times.  What I remember about West Virginia is green beauty, hills and trees.  What I had heard about West Virginia - Appalachian mountains, Harper's Ferry, coal mines, mountain people, folk music, poverty.  Here's a quote to set the scene:

...Just outside the city limits was a handful of played-out coal mines and, beyond and above them, the corrugated foothills of the Appalachians, their sides dense with sweet birch trees and scarlet oaks, the ground crowded with mountain laurel and black huckleberry.
     It was a beautiful place, especially in the late spring and throughout the long summer, when the hawks wrote slow, wordless stories across the pale blue parchment of the sky, when the tree-lined valleys exploded in a green so vivid and yet so predictable that it was like a hallelujah shout at a tent revival.  You always knew it was coming, but it could still knock you clean off your feet.

A Killing In The Hills begins with a multiple shooting - three elderly men drinking coffee together at a local fast food joint.  The shooter comes in and goes out and nobody sees much.  Also, no one knows if this was directed at one of the men or all of them or if they were just random victims.  The restaurant was full of people, including Carla Elkins, 17-year-old daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for the county.

Bell (or Belfa) and her ex-husband, Sam, were raised in Acker's Gap and left as fast as they could.  They both became attorneys and Sam is now a lobbyist in Washington.  He and Bell came to a parting of the ways when she wanted to return to West Virginia to help with the problems if she could.  Sam told her that he couldn't go back.  Bell and Carla have lived in Acker's Gap for five years and their relationship has been strained of late - teenage girl, mom with demanding job, both stubborn as all get out - you get the picture.

Along with local sheriff Nick Fogelsong, a man that Bell met when she was a young girl and her family was falling apart, Bell fights crime in a town that is struggling with deep poverty and the crimes that come along with it.  She really wants to focus on the drug trade that is taking their young people, who have few choices in life, and turning them into wrecks before they even grow up.

I was totally gripped by the story presented in this first entry to a series that now has four books.  The setting was described in such a way that I could almost see and feel it.  I did figure out the reason for the shootings and also the shadowy figure behind it, but that didn't lessen my positive experience.  I was impressed with how appealing Julia Keller made this area, while still being very candid about the issues and problems that are ongoing.  I'll be glad to continue with the next book in the series, Bitter River, very soon.  If you like a mystery with a passionate, no-nonsense main character, you'd probably like Bell Elkins.  I look forward to watching her as she loves her home, hates it, and champions the people who need her.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - Missing Pieces

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 meant to read several books by Heather Gudenkauf over the years.  And I think I probably own all she's written up to this point.  So, naturally I want to read her upcoming release.  This week my Waiting on Wednesday pick is:

Publication Date:  February 2nd

Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery.  The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home.  But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all.  But as facts about Julia's accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems.  Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack's past.  But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out.  And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - The Good Goodbye

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 Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley.  I read an earlier book by this author a few years ago and really enjoyed it.  See what you think:

The first thing you should know is that everyone lies.
The second thing is that it matters.


     I keep a list of Arden's first words.  Banky, mimi, 'ghetti, Dada.  I treasure this list, keep it folded in my wallet.  Banky, mimi, 'ghetti, Dada, Mama, 'nana, rainbow, juice.  All the important things in Arden's life--her threadbare pink blanket, her favorite foods, Theo and me.  I miss her.  I miss hearing her voice.  That first night after she left for college, I lay on top of her tousled sheets, breathing in the blended scents of her coconut shampoo and pear soap.
     "So how do you want to celebrate?" my husband asks.
     I thought Theo had forgotten.  Maybe, if I'm to be completely honest with myself, I'd hoped he had.  He squares off in front of the bathroom mirror to give himself his usual morning pep-talk look, his eyes half closed and his chin raised.  Maybe, shocker, he'd remembered on his own.
     "I don't know."  I turn off the water and drop my toothbrush in the cup.  There's nothing I feel less like doing than dressing up and spending money on our anniversary.
     Just thinking about it makes me want to crawl under the covers and yank them over my head.
     "Anything you want," he promises.  "Sky's the limit."
     Ha.  We both know the sky is very much not the limit.


How well do we know our children?  Natalie Falcone would say she knows her daughter, Arden, very well.  Despite the challenges of running a restaurant and raising six-year-old twin boys, she’s not too worried as she sends her daughter off to college—until she gets the call that Arden’s been in a terrible fire, along with her best friend and cousin, Rory.  Both girls are critically injured and another student has died.  The police suspect arson.

Arden and Rory have always been close, but they have secrets they’ve never shared, secrets that reel all the way back to their childhoods, and which led them to that tragic night.  Who set the fire, and why?  As the police dig deep into both the present and the past, Natalie realizes that in order to protect her daughter, she’ll first have to find out who Arden really is, even if it means risking everything—and everyone—she loves most.


As I said above, I read another book by this author several years ago, The Things That Keep Us Here.  I enjoyed the way she told the story and so I'm also interested in this book.  I'm hoping to get to meet Carla Buckley in February at Left Coast Crime.  She's scheduled to attend and, happily, so am I.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A new feature...kay's favorites from the keeper shelf...

In April of last year, I began my 'Bookish Nostalgia' feature, which is a monthly look back at the books I remember best from my reading journals in past years.  I've enjoyed paging through my  book lists from 20, 15, 10, and 5 years ago, remembering favorite books and authors and writing a bit about them.  I'm going to continue doing that on a monthly basis.  And I hope that all you lovely people that stop by do enjoy remembering books from the past or maybe even learning about 'new-to-you' authors or books to try in the future.

As I've been sorting and straightening my bookshelves, I've been thinking about highlighting certain books and authors from my 'keeper shelves'.  Let me say that I am not overly attached to my books.  I usually read them and then pass them along to someone else.  Except a few.

My keeper shelves contain books from my youth and younger years, books that are now out of print, treasured books that have been signed by the author, or ones that haven't made their way into e-book format.  Some are hardbacks, most without dust covers, but some are old paperbacks that I would struggle to read now, partly because of the print size and partly because I'd be afraid the book would fall apart.  I've found many of these in used bookstores and some I've ordered from online booksellers or eBay.  If they have a place on the 'keeper shelf', there's a good reason.

So, I'm going to begin a new feature and do it a couple of times a month, probably on Fridays.  I'm going to call it:

I might talk about a favorite author or series or specific book.  They will likely be older books, maybe even very old.  You might have heard of them.  You might not.  In any case, know that these are authors and books that I hate to see forgotten.  I hope you'll join me and will share your experiences as well.

The first 'kay's favorites' will be Friday and I'll be talking about an author I loved first as a teen and then later as well - Phyllis A. Whitney, who lived to be an amazing 104 years old.

Photograph © Malice Domestic

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Nature Of The Beast by Louise Penny

And now it is now,
and the dark thing is here,
and after all it is nothing new;
it is only a memory, after all:
A memory of a fear.
              ~~Ruth Zardo~~

And so I begin to share my experience with Louise Penny's 11th book featuring Armand Gamache, former Chief of Homicide for the Surete' du Quebec, a book entitled The Nature Of The Beast.  Every time I read one of this author's books, I think, well, she won't be able to top this one or this one.  And I'm wrong.  Wow.  The poem above is found early in the story and is penned by the old, cranky, very odd resident of Three Pines, the noted poet, Ruth Zardo.  It tells of an evil that is uncovered in this story.  Here's how it begins...

Laurent Lepage is a 9-year-old boy that everyone in Three Pines knows.  He's constantly running into the village and sharing his latest adventures in the forest.  They might be travels with aliens or dinosaurs, with Robin Hood or scary creatures.  And everyone has grown weary of Laurent and his 'crying wolf'.  Today, he runs into the bistro and tells a new fantastic story.  Gamache must come and see.  Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache have indeed moved to Three Pines after the Chief Inspector's retirement and they are present, along with many other familiar characters, when Laurent tells his tale.  Soon after, Laurent disappears and his parents are frantic.

The whole village searches for the missing young boy.  Is it possible that one of his many stories could be true?  As the search continues, a discovery is made, a dark and dangerous discovery.  Evil has indeed been a part of their forest.  It's been there for a long time.  As the tension increases due to multiple storylines, Gamache and his former homicide team must do battle on several fronts.  And the last quarter of the book left me frantically turning the pages.

Louise Penny has again turned her type of story on end.  I marvel at her ability to keep the reader interested in a mystery, while sharing such beautiful words - symbolic and meaningful.  And this effort included an almost spy/thriller type note and also left us with a new threat that we can only hope will be addressed in the next book.  Armand Gamache is retired in the lovely sanctuary of Three Pines, but will he remain?  I can assure you that I'll be eager to find out.

Did I have a good experience with The Nature Of The Beast?  Yes.  The story was gripping.  As I said, the language was beautiful.  The cover was great with a hint of menace in the black cave-like center, surrounded by green forest leaves.  I can't wait for book #12.

I'll close with another quote.  In each book, Penny describes Three Pines in a unique way - as a sanctuary or place of comfort and healing that is found on no map.  She says that you can only find the village when you are in need of it.  Here's this book's special description of Three Pines, an almost magical village:
'She saw the old homes circling the green.  She saw the bistro and bookstore and bakery and general store.  She saw, Gamache knew, a pretty, but dull, backwater.  While he saw a shore.  A place where the shipwrecked could finally rest.' 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In which the mystery group takes a walk on the psychological side with Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine...

Our mystery book group actually met last week on Wednesday evening, but I'm just getting this post scheduled because I was trying to finish the book that I had selected to read, Asta's Book.  I really liked it, by the way.  It was a slow-ish reading experience though - not necessarily because of the book itself, but because of me.

Anyway, this was our first meeting of the year and we had most of our regular crew in attendance.  We were missing at least 4 of our regulars - and they were missed for sure.  Our task for this month - read any book written by Ruth Rendell or her other persona, Barbara Vine.  This prolific author died in May of 2015 and since we had not ever read any of her books as a group, I thought she would be a perfect choice for an 'Author Month'.

 Stephen King said,  'No one surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, instability, and malignant coincidence...'

Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, was indeed considered something of a 'queen' of psychological mysteries, even though she hated the 'queen of crime' title. Her first book was published in 1964, From Doon With Death, the beginning of her Inspector Wexford series (24 books).  Her final book came out in 2015, after her death, Dark Corners.  That would be an amazing 51 years of writing and something over 60 books.  She took an active part in the House of Lords and supported several charities in a big way.

Barbara Vine was a pseudonym that she used beginning with A Dark Adapted Eye in 1986.  Many felt that her Vine books were darker and that she spent more time inside the heads of the criminals.  It seemed that fans of the Wexford series often did not like the Vine books and vice versa.  There were many, many bestsellers regardless of the name Rendell used, however.

I was pleased to see that a wide variety of books were sampled by the group members.  We had very few overlaps.  Here's what the group read and some of their reactions:

The Tree of Hands - Charlotte - unlikeable characters
The Girl Next Door - Carol - hated the ending
Dark Corners - Gary - questioned response to blackmailer
From Doon With Death - Gayle and Casey - both found ending a little confusing - a Wexford book
A Dark Adapted Eye - Gayle - almost quit reading
No Man's Nightingale - Karen - found story interesting - female vicar strangled - Wexford book
The St. Zita Society - Mahassen - first 70 pages very dull - then it got interesting - liked the London setting and culture
The Babes in the  Woods - Liz - teenagers missing while parents on vacation - Wexford book
Portobello - Nora - loved the setting of Portobello Road
Asta's Book - Kay - story of a family and a diary, written by Asta, published in part by Asta's daughter, Swanny, and continued by Asta's granddaughter, Ann.  There's a missing child, a murder, and decades of a life.  Not a fast paced story, but one that I really enjoyed.

The overall consensus was that most were not big fans of Ruth Rendell's writing.  Some found it too dark.  Some found it too slow.  A couple were pleased.
Two of our missing members had sent me their reactions.  One did not like the book she read at all.  The other read one Vine book - hated it - and then returned to the Wexford series, which she had enjoyed in the past.  I'm probably the only one that feels a definite urge to continue sampling Ruth Rendell's books.  And I shall.

There have been many TV and movie adaptations of this author's works.  I'm not sure I've seen any, but want to seek some of them out.  Have you read any books by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine?  What did you think?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - Unreasonable Doubt

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 love Vicki Delany's Constable Molly Smith series, which is set in British Columbia.  And I'm always most excited to see a new one about to be published.  This week's 'waiting on Wednesday' book is the 8th in the series.  It is:

Publication Date:  February 2nd

What would it be like to return to your hometown after twenty-five years in prison for a crime you have maintained you did not commit?  And why would you?  Walter Desmond is back in Trafalgar, British Columbia, having been officially exonerated when new evidence showed corruption at worst, incompetence at best, by the Trafalgar City Police conducting the investigation.  His pitbull attorney is seeking five million in damages from the provincial government.  But Walt has not returned to Trafalgar to pursue money or revenge.  He just wants to know the why of it.  The family of the murdered girl, Sophia D’Angelo, is bitterly determined to see Walt returned to prison―or dead.  But for Trafalgar’s police, including Sergeant John Winters and Constable Molly Smith, the reality is: if Walter didn’t kill Sophia, someone else did.  So, case reopened.  It lands on Winters’ desk.  The records are moldering.  One investigating officer is dead, the other is retired―and not talking.  The police are instructed to treat Walt as if he’d never been arrested or convicted.  Someone else apparently killed Sophia, someone still walking free.  But too many minds remain closed.  It’s good luck for Walt that a group of women in town for the dragon boat race are staying in the B&B where he’s booked, women with no local prejudices.  But then a townswoman, then a boat woman, are attacked by a rapist, the media gets active, and tempers dangerously flare.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - A Killing In The Hills

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 A Killing In The Hills by Julia Keller.  This is the first in the Bell Elkins mystery series and it was published in 2012.  There are now four Elkins books, so I decided I better get started reading.  See what you think:

     She didn't come here often, because there was nothing left.
     When she did come, it tended to be at dusk, and she would stand and look at the bare spot, at the place where the trailer had been.  It was only a few dozen yards away from Comer Creek.
     You could smell the creek, a damp rotting smell that was somehow also sweet, even before you could see it.  The woods around it made a tight screen, as if the branches were gripping hands in a game of Red Rover.  Daring you to break through.  You could hear the creek, too, its nervous hum, especially in the early spring, when the frequent rains made the water run high and wild.
     When she was a little girl, she would play on the banks of the creek in the summertime.  Her sister Shirley kept an eye on her.  In no time at all, Bell--her real name was Belfa but everybody called her Bell, because 'Belfa,' Shirley had told her, sounded dowdy, old-fashioned, like a name you'd hear at a quilting bee or a taffy pull, whatever that was--would get astonishingly muddy.  Not that she cared.  The mud squirted between her toes and drifted under her fingernails and stuck to her hair.  Somehow it got smeared behind her ears, too, and across the back of her neck.  Bell could remember how glorious it felt on those summer afternoons, playing in the mud, glazing herself with it.  Soft and cool.  A second skin.  One that made her slippery all over.  Hard to catch and hold.


What's happening in Acker's Gap, West Virginia?  Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act.  Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter.  Was it random?  Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker's Gap?  Or were Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader targeted somehow?

One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV.  Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.

After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good—in fact, putting her own life in danger?


I've meant to start the Bell Elkins series for quite some time, having heard a lot of good feedback from other bloggers.  The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and she's a native of the area where the book is set.  Can't wait to get started.  Have you read any books by Julia Keller?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bookish Nostalgia - January 2016

Welcome to Bookish Nostalgia for 2016!  I'm excited to be moving ahead into my reading years of 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011.  And thanks for coming by and checking out what I read during January of those years.  Let's begin:

January 1996 - Cain His Brother by Anne Perry - I have read many, many books written by Anne Perry and, as you can see, have been reading them for at least 20 years.  Cain His Brother is the 6th book in her series featuring William Monk and Hester Latterly.  Set in the mid-19th century, the Monk books are just as gripping to me as this author's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries.  In this one, a woman hires Monk to try to find her missing husband.  She fears he has been killed by his twin brother.  I just remember the ending was a shocker.  There are 21 books in this series now, with #22 coming out this year.

January 2001 - Aunt Dimity Digs In by Nancy Atherton - This series is a fun one that I am way behind on reading at this point.  Aunt Dimity Digs In is the 4th book in the cozy series that features Lori Shepherd and her Aunt Dimity, who is a ghost.  Lori was quite surprised to find in the first book that Aunt Dimity was a real person.  Lori's mother had told her bedtime stories about Aunt Dimity, but she always thought they were fictional.  In this episode, Lori is adjusting to caring for her twin boys.  There is a stolen document, some archaeology and an Italian nanny.  Aunt Dimity appears in 20 books and #21 will be published this year.

January 2006 - Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton - This is the 1st book in one of my favorite cozy series - can you tell that I love series?  It is set in Colorado and introduces us to Kelly Flynn, a corporate accountant, who comes to Ft. Connor, Colorado, for her aunt's funeral.  It turns out that things are not quite as they seem.  Kelly meets her aunt's knitting friends at The House of Lambspun, and they help her figure out what happened to her beloved family member.  Plus she learns to knit.  I read this series more for the characters than the mysteries at this point.  There are now 15 books.

January 2011 - Every Last One by Anna Quindlen - I loved this book, just loved it.  And it's not a series book.  Mary Beth Lathem is a busy mother of 3 teenagers, a girl and 2 boys.  She has a business and a life that seems perfectly ordinary, until a horrible tragedy occurs.  So much emotion here, but a really great story telling how a woman puts her life back together.  I have meant to read more books by this author, but as yet, I've not read more of her fiction.  I do have one more of her books here, One True Thing.  Hope to get to it this year.


That's all for this month.  See you next month as I page back through my notebooks and see what I was reading in February over 20 years.  And thank you so much for the kind words and support regarding this feature.  I've loved doing it and am glad to tell of some older books that might work for many of you.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Arlene Sachitano's Loose Threads Mystery Series

Several years ago, my husband and I took a trip to the Oregon coast - Lincoln City to be exact.  I love stopping in and visiting small local bookshops when we travel, and I found a great one in Lincoln City - Bob's Beach Books, right on the main street.  Here's a picture:

While looking for books written by local authors, I found a mystery series by an Oregonian, Arlene Sachitano.  It's the Loose Threads Mystery series and tells the tales of Harriet Truman and her quilting group.  There are 8 books in the series at this point, and I've recently read and thoroughly enjoyed the first 3.

In this series, Harriet Truman returns to her hometown of Foggy Point, Washington to take over her aunt's long-arm quilting business.  At first Harriet thinks that she's just filling in while her Aunt Beth takes a European cruise.  However, she soon finds that Beth has decided to give her the business and her house as well.  Harriet, a young widow who still hasn't recovered well from her husband's death, is shocked and not really sure she wants to stay in small town Foggy Point.  The Loose Threads help change her mind.

Quilt As Desired is the first book and soon after Harriet arrives, her house and studio are trashed during a break-in.  The thief was looking for something and apparently didn't find whatever it was.  Then Aunt Beth's best friend and fellow quilter is murdered.  Harriet begins to investigate with the help of her aunt's quilting friends, the Loose Threads.    

The second book is Quilter's Knot and the Loose Threads are off to a quilting retreat at Angel Harbor Folk Art School to learn new techniques.  One of their group, Lauren, has been attending a two-year program at the school and has a special exhibition.  However, among accusations of design copying and fraud, Harriet and the Threads have to try to salvage Lauren's reputation.  It doesn't help that the school's founder collapses during a class and is found to have been poisoned.

In the third book, Quilt As You Go, Harriet has helped organize a Civil War re-enactment and festival as part of the local merchant's group.  During the event, a man is found dead and it's discovered that he is closely connected with Loose Threads member, Mavis.  Secrets are revealed that have been hidden for over 20 years and Harriet and the Threads are right in the middle of things.

These are fun cozy type mysteries that I've had a good time reading.  The author is an experienced quilter and she shares a lot of quilting lore, explanations of patterns and techniques.  All of that is interesting to me, even though I'm not a quilter or a seamstress at all.  The mysteries are not terribly complex, but I like the characters and enjoy the quilting group, The Loose Threads.  I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Quilt By Association.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - The Woman In Blue

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.

Every year I'm so excited to see that Elly Griffiths will add another Ruth Galloway mystery to her wonderful series.  This year is episode #8 and I cannot wait.  I love Ruth and all her friends.  Forensic archaeology has never been so much fun!  My choice for this week:

Publication Date:  May 3rd

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - Asta's Book

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 two paragraphs of Asta's Book by Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell), written in 1993.  I'm reading this book for Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine month with my mystery book group.  I read it years ago, but decided to revisit.  See what you think:

     My grandmother was a novelist without knowing it.  She knew nothing about how to become a novelist and, if she had, it would never have occurred to her as feasible.  The alternative path she took is now well-known. 
     This is a collection of papers and memories:  my grandmother's diaries, an account of a crime and a transcript of a trial, letters and documents and the things I remember.  It is a double detective story, a quest for an identity and a quest for a lost child.  At the same time it is a voyage of discovery and a witness to the triumph of chance.


Lonely, ignored by her husband, a stranger in a strange land, Asta Westerby turns to her diary for comfort shortly after moving from Denmark to East London. Starting in 1905, she records the details of her new life and the development of her newborn daughter, Swanny. In the end, her journal spans five decades and becomes a literary sensation, offering an intimate view of an Edwardian life. But though the diaries are well known, few are acquainted with the dark tale hidden in their deleted passages.

Asta’s Book is at once a crime novel, a historical romance, and a psychological portrait told through the diary itself and through the voice of Ann, the granddaughter bent on unlocking the diary’s excised mystery.


Have you read any of Ruth Rendell's books?  She was the Queen of the psychological mystery for many years.  This book was written under her pseudonym, Barbara Vine.  This prolific author died last year.