Thursday, August 29, 2019

A birding update...

I hoped that I would spot my 200th bird this summer, but I fell a little short. I did spot my 198th and 199th bird at the beginning of summer, but then didn't run across any new species of birds in my summer jaunts. Oh, well. Maybe next spring when the migrating birds come back to Utah. My 198th bird was a common yellowthroat...which isn't actually all that common:

And then, for my 199th bird, I spotted an elusive and shy Virginia Rail...with a little help from some birding friends.

While I didn't take these fabulous pictures (though I wish I had!), I did see these amazing birds. Fingers crossed that next year I can add #200 to my bird list. The bird I would most like to spot? The common loon! Although a barn owl would be cool, too. And if I make it to the Oregon coast next June, I'd really love to see some tufted puffins. Wish me luck!

In other, bird-related news, I recently learned to play Wingspan, a fun board game where you collect different bird cards and build your own bird habitats, earning points for both the number of birds you have, and any eggs you've collected. It wasn't too difficult to learn. And it plays fairly fast once you get going. I loved the beautifully illustrated bird cards, and the little round eggs, too. If you love unique board games, this is a fun one to try....even if you're not a birder.

Happy Birding!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A riveting historical mystery...

"She took an involuntary step back ....Wind-whipped hair, dark as coal, tangled around his face. At first, all Charlotte could make out was a prominent nose, long and with an arrogant flare to its tip. But as he took another stride closer, the rest of his features snapped into sharper focus. A sensuous mouth, high cheekbones, green eyes, darkened with an undertone of gunmetal grey. Ye god, surely it couldn't be...."

THE EARL OF WREXFORD. He may have a brilliant scientific mind, but he's also a bit arrogant and reckless, too, especially when it comes to his own reputation. He's also the main suspect in the recent murder of the Reverend Josiah Holworthy.

CHARLOTTE SLOANE. A young widow and artist, she earns her money drawing satirical cartoons and caricatures of the rich and famous under the nom de plume A.J. Quill. She knows more secrets than she should and the Earl of Wrexford is one of her favorite targets.

In order to clear his own name, Wrexford seeks out the notorious Quill, discovers Charlotte's true identity, and convinces her to share some of her secret sources and informants with him....for a price, of course. Together they form a reluctant partnership, determined to ferret out all the secrets surrounding the Reverend's death before the Bow Street runners come for him.

Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose is the first book in a series revolving around these two engaging and unique characters. It's set in Regency London, and it's fabulous. I loved everything about it, from Raven and Hawk, the two young street urchins who assist Charlotte in her work, to Wrexford's well-educated and acerbic valet, Tyler. Charlotte's and Wrexford's investigation even leads them down the strange path of alchemy and to a secret society. It's great. I can't wait to read Murder at Half Moon Gate, the next book in this entertaining mystery series.

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

She'd left for camp as a normal kid, someone who belonged in a sitcom or family drama. Now she was the unwilling star of her own special crimes unit episode.... more than a thousand days had been stolen from her. And no matter what the calendar in her head said, the flow of time and cruel experience were written all over her.

The last thing Angie Chapman remembers is being with her friends at summer camp. To her it was just a few days ago. To everyone else, she's been gone for three years. She's sixteen on the outside; but inside she feels thirteen. What happened to her? How did she survive? Her psychologist thinks she had help: multiple personalities who stepped in to keep her safe. But now, Angie is ready to reclaim her life.

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley is such a compelling read. I loved the whole psychological aspect of Angie's dissociative states, and I thought Coley did a masterful job of weaving all those fragments and pieces together into one suspenseful puzzle. I also appreciated how raw and real it felt at times between Angie and her parents, and her friends, and the trauma of those three missing years. It's an emotional and engrossing page-turner that I really got sucked into. 

Happy Reading!

Similar reads:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Five Favorite Tropes...

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's theme is Favorite Tropes. I came up with five of my favorite story premises. And if you read my blog a lot, you can probably guess what most of them are. But here it goes anyway:

  • The main character inherits an old estate or house that holds some secret. (I like it even more when said house is haunted.)
  • An EMP or other major natural disaster occurs, forcing the main characters to fight for their survival.
  • An archaeological mystery with ancient maps, lost artifacts, secret societies, and a touch of the arcane.
  • Kids getting sent away to boarding school. (Especially if said school happens to be a magical one.)
  • Mail Order Brides  (preferably in an Old American West setting). But that whole arranged marriage trope that crops up a lot in Regency Romances is always good, too.

That's it for me this week.
Happy Reading!

I just thought of a sixth one:  K-9 mystery where the dog plays a key role in solving the crime!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A little bookish fun...

Maureen "Marzi" Wilson has written and illustrated a clever and amusing book of doodles about her experiences growing up and living as an introvert in an extrovert world. Some of her doodles I could totally relate to, others not so much. But they all made me smile.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I loved this one most of all:

Here's to Introverts every where! 

Happy Reading!

P.S.  And if you've never read it, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is amazing! I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

  • an annual New Year's Eve getaway
  • an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands
  • a group of old college friends
  • a historic blizzard
  • an unexpected death
  • a murderer among them

Last line of the novel:
"Perhaps it's time to make some new friends."

I was instantly drawn to the premise and the setting of this book. It's like one of those locked-room mysteries I always love, except this group of friends is snowed-in at a remote estate instead. And then, when Melody said she wanted to read it, too, I was even more excited. But sadly, it didn't end up being quite as suspenseful or compelling as I hoped. And that's mostly because of the way it's told.

Foley uses five different narrators to tell the story:  Heather, the manager of the lodge, Doug, the taciturn gamekeeper, and Emma, Katie and Miranda, three of the Oxford friends meeting up for their traditional New Year's weekend together. She also writes in first person present tense (except, oddly, for Doug's chapters), which means the first half of the story ends up being more inner monologue and angst than action. For me, the multiple POVs really slowed the pacing and made it hard to connect to any of the characters. I ended up not liking most of them. (Except for Doug.) After the first 140 pages, though, the story does pick up. And the ending is actually pretty intense.

As the book begins, you know upfront that one of the guests has been killed, you just don't know who. Which means you spend the bulk of the novel trying to figure out who among the nine is going to die and why. I guessed early on which character was going to be murdered. I also wasn't completely surprised by the murderer's identity (mostly because some of the other characters were pretty easy to eliminate). There were a few additional revelations at the end of the book that were pretty surprising though, with one last twist that was especially compelling. So, this novel definitely ended better than it began. But for me, it was still only a 3-star read. 

Even though this one wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped going in, doing a buddy read with Melody is always a lot of fun. Be sure to check out her awesome review and see what she thought of this snowed-in mystery.

Happy Reading!

P.S. Here are Melody's questions regarding this book...and my answers:

Q. All the friends in the group have gathered together for the New Year's celebrations before, what makes you think that this time is different and what really triggered the bond among them?
A. The more I got to know these nine friends, the more I wondered why they were still getting together at all, because they didn't seem to like each other very much. It was clear that they'd grown apart over the years. And I felt like they were all trying to hold onto something that just didn't exist any more. Why it all fell apart this particular weekend I don't really know, but I think it had been coming on for awhile.

Q. Like Doug or Heather, would you consider taking a job which allowed you minimal contact with the outside world? Why or why not?
A. Yes! There are a lot of remote locations (like the setting of this book) where I could see myself happily spending a year, especially if I was getting paid to do it. (And if I had a lot of good books to read!) But if it was for longer than a year, I think I'd start to go stir crazy, missing my family and friends and normal life. But for a year? I'd totally do it. Just for the experience of it. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

British Library Crime Classic

Title & Author:  Murder in the Museum by John Rowland
First published: 1938

How it begins: Beneath the high, gloomy dome, Henry Fairhurst looked around him. There was an air of deathly stillness in the place, and a silence broken only by the occasional rustle of pages and the subdued murmur of a borrower discussing books with an official. The British Museum Reading room is a strange place ...

A brief summary of the plot: Henry Fairhurst, who's short, wears pince-nez glasses, and lives with his older sister, Sarah, likes to play his own "Sherlock Holmes" game:  guessing the occupations of strangers. But his game takes a serious turn when he discovers the body of Julius Arnell, a professor of Elizabethan Literature, in the British Museum Reading Room, dead from cyanide poisoning. Inspector Shelley and Sergeant Cunningham are the detectives investigating the murder, but Henry is determined to help them solve the case, whether they want his help, or not. And it's he who discovers that another expert in Elizabethan Literature, Professor Wilkinson, also died in the British Museum Reading Room five months earlier. Coincidence? Henry thinks not. And neither do Inspector Shelley and Sergeant Cunningham.

My thoughts: Is it wrong to use the word delightful when describing a murder mystery? Because that's how I'd describe this book. I liked how each of the main characters had their own little quirks. Inspector Shelley and his colleague are pretty witty. And it was nice that Arnell's daughter, Violet, wasn't one of those shrinking/fainting women that are so often depicted in books from this time period. There's lots of dialogue, and I thought the mystery moved along from one suspect to the next at a pretty good clip. All in all, this old-fashioned mystery is a rollicking fun ride.

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Haiku Reviews...

Twisted (Tracers#5) by Laura Griffin

A new detective
and an FBI profiler track down
a serial killer.

Romantic suspense .... 370 pages .... 4.5/5 stars.
(I liked this one even more than Stone Cold Heart.)

Storm of Locusts (Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

A cult, a lightning sword,
a missing friend--Maggie must
fight the odds again.

Apocalyptic urban fantasy .... 311 pages .... 4/5 stars.
(An awesome sequel to Trail of Lightning.)

Undead by Kirsty McKay

Her class ski trip turns
horror show when Bobby's classmates
become the undead.

YA Zombie Apocalypse .... 263 pages .... 3.5/5 stars.
(Bonus:  It's set in Scotland during a snowstorm!)

Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

She's widowed; he's nine
years younger. Together
they're a perfect match.

Regency Romance .... 369 pages ....  3.5/5 stars.
(In some ways, this story reminded me of Jane Austen's Persuasion.)

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan

The plot in brief:
Jazz Ramsey works at St. Catherine's Preparatory Academy, a prestigious all-girls school, as an administrative assistant; she's also a cadaver dog handler. When her dog finds a real dead body on what was supposed to be a simple training exercise, Jazz quickly becomes involved in the murder investigation. Because she knows the victim; Florie Allen was a former student at St. Catherine's. Jazz also knows the lead detective on the case; Nick Kolesov  happens to be her former lover. It definitely complicates matters. But Jazz can't let it go; she has to find out the truth about Florie and what happened to her.

My thoughts:
I checked this one out because of the dog on the cover. Only, that's not Jazz's dog. Luther belongs to a friend; Jazz is just helping out with his training. Her own dog, Manny, died from cancer not that long ago. So, the cadaver dog in this book actually has a very limited role. Which I found a little bit disappointing. But the mystery itself is really good. And I liked Jazz and her uneasy interactions with Nick, and her stubborn doggedness asking questions and trying to figure out the truth.  And the ending totally made me smile. All in all, this is one series I definitely want to keep reading.

For a more detailed synopsis and better review of this book, check out Barb's blog. It's awesome.

Happy Reading!