Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Connie Berry, Guest Author, English Country House Mysteries

Today, Connie Berry is my guest author. She's the author of one of my favorite debut mysteries of 2019, A Dream of Death, as well as the follow-up, A Legacy of Murder. She's written to us about a wonderful distraction in this time of unease, "The English Country House Mystery". I hope you enjoy this fun piece as much as I did. Thank you, Connie.

by Connie Berry
One of the best things about these troubling days of social separation is more time to read, and what could provide a better escape from reality than an old-fashioned English country house murder mystery? An isolated setting; a limited number of guests (each with his or her own demons); a colorful cast of suspicious characters below stairs; a gentleman detective (often with a bumbling sidekick); a complex plot, usually involving the placement of bedrooms; and a body—what more could we ask for? Well, how about locked doors, hidden rooms, secret passages, and the ghosts of the past?

Generations of escape-fiction fans have turned to mysteries set in the great country houses of England. The first modern detective novel, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868), was set in a country house in Yorkshire.
Called the finest detective story ever written by Dorothy Sayers and G. K. Chesterton, The Moonstone introduced a number of elements that have become classics of the genre—the private detective, a plethora of red herrings and false suspects, a reconstruction of the crime, and a final twist. 
Agatha Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, was set in an English country house, and she went on to write at least ten more with similar settings.
Other classic mystery writers joined the party—Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, P. D. James, Georgette Heyer, Patricia Wentworth, Josephine Tey, Martha Grimes, and Elizabeth Peters, to name a few. Interest in the English country house setting was magnified by post-WW2 nostalgia. By 1955, one county house was demolished every five days in Britain, victims of death duties and the financial demands of a way of life no longer sustainable.
Here is a short list of my favorite country house mysteries—all readily available as e-books and audible recordings as well as traditional print versions:
The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christine
The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne
The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie
Clouds Of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
Tied Up In Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Crime At Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird
Curious Affair Of The Third Dog by Patricia Moyes
An English Murder by Cyril Hare
A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet
The Intrigue At Highbury by Carrie Bebris
Murder at Madingly Grange by Caroline Graham
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Twelve Clues Of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
Murder On A Mystery Tour by Marian Babson
But how about writing a mystery set in an English country house? April could be the new NaNoRiMo. After all, Shakespeare is reputed to have written both King Lear and Macbeth in 1602, during a self-imposed exile from the London plague. 
 Here are a few possible scenarios from history to spark your imagination:
1. The cash-strapped aristocrat who can't say no to a ridiculously extravagant guest
Setting: Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, country seat of Sir Henry Lee, 
  Master of the Armory during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Background: Every summer the queen would leave her London palaces and embark on a "progression" through the countryside with a mile-long train of carriages, carts, and courtiers—three hundred souls to house, feed, and entertain.
In 1602 when Sir Henry Lee learned of the queen's intention to grace him with her presence, he wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, complaining the visit would bankrupt him. Would regicide save the day?
2. An attempt to impress that goes horribly wrong
Setting: Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, the county home of Robert Dudley, 1st East of Leicester and Elizabeth's reputed favorite. 

Background: In 1575 Dudley welcomed the queen with an extravagant pageant that included music, masques, dancing, elaborate banquets, a fireworks display, and a volley of cannonballs that went awry, setting fire to several houses in a nearby village. Imagine one of Kenilworth's footmen, intent on revenge.
3. The country house host who turns out to be halfway 'round the twist
Setting: Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, inherited in the eighteenth century by Captain Frances Blake Delaval, who threw house parties famous for gambling, scandalous behavior, and practical jokes.

Background: Guests at Delaval Hall might be undressing in their assigned bedroom when mechanical hoists would raise the bedroom walls, exposing them to their hosts. In one room, a four-poster bed could be lowered into a tank of water. In another, guests would wake to find the room upside down, with chairs and tables stuck to the ceiling. Is humiliation a motive for murder—or a red herring?
4. A spy for the WW2 Axis powers, intent on bumping off Winston Churchill
Setting: Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, the same country house where Queen
Elizabeth I was an unwelcome guest more than three hundred years earlier.
Background: Churchill's family home, Chartwell, was set on a hill south of 
London, an easy target for German aircraft; and his country retreat, Chequers, had 
an entrance road clearly visible by moonlight. Ditchley Park, surrounded by foliage and lacking a visible entrance road, was an ideal alternative when the moon was high. What would happen if a German spy insinuated himself into the household? Who would notice and save the world as we know it?
As you might have guessed, history is my favorite backdrop for murder, and there's never a shortage of background material. Myths, legends, history's mysteries, and real-life scandals—all can be found in the iconic English country house.
I write the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the modern-day UK and featuring American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton and Detective Inspector Tom Mallory of the Suffolk Constabulary.
 Book One, A Dream of Death, is set in a country house hotel in the Scottish Hebrides, famous for its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Book Two, A Legacy of Murder, features Finchley Hall, a crumbling stately home in Suffolk, famous for the unearthing in 1810 of an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove known as The Finchley Hoard.
Book Three, to be published in the spring of 2021, centers around Hapthorn Lodge, home to a reclusive widow who decides to sell her husband's collection of art and antiques. I'm not sure where Book Four will take Kate and Tom, but one day I know they'll visit his Uncle Nigel, owner of Fouroaks, a country house in the wilds of Devon.
Do you have a favorite country house mystery? Please share it! 
What is your preferred setting—the past or the present? The countryside or the city? The United States or a foreign country?

Monday, March 30, 2020


When I said we'd talk about how we're distracting ourselves and staying busy during these unsettling times, I did not mean to talk about unsettled weather. Saturday night, I was playing a game on my iPad when my cell phone went off and the tornado sirens started screaming. I turned on the TV to my favorite station for weather alerts, only to hear, "Vanderburgh County is under a tornado warning. Take shelter immediately." Well, there's a distraction. My mother, who lives in Ohio, even heard about it on the Weather Channel. I called her afterwards to assure her I was okay, although the town to our east was hit and had some damage.

I enjoyed a few other distractions a little more than that. I've been working on the "Treasures in My Closet" post for Wednesday, April 1. And, one night I watched BroadwayHD. I'm a subscriber, but I understand their Friday night shows are streaming for free. This past weekend, they showed "Oklahoma" with a young Hugh Jackman. This article from a couple years ago has two terrific scenes from the show. https://dcdr.me/2vTGmzE

I did finish a book. But, my blog, tornadoes and Hugh Jackman were my biggest distractions since last week.

Are you reading? Or, what else is distracting you this week?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca

While Mo Rocca's fascinating book, Mobituaries is subtitled "Great Lives Worth Reliving", it's actually
a collection of intriguing essays that celebrates unusual trivia about everything from trees that were killed to celebrities who died on the same day. The essays are filled with facts as well as Rocca's insertions with his own opinions and humor. If, like me, you're having a hard time concentrating nowadays, it's the perfect escape. And, if you're having a hard time finding a book right now with so many libraries and bookstores closed, you can still listen to Rocca's Mobituaries podcast, https://www.mobituaries.com/the-podcast.

Mo Rocca says he loves obituaries, but, "Not everyone has gotten the send-off they were due - which is where this book comes in. A Mobituary is an appreciation for someone who didn't get the love she or he deserved the first time around." He even includes tributes that aren't actually for people. Dragons were thought to be real, so they're included. There are tributes to the death of disco and station wagons. As mentioned earlier, there are tributes to trees, including one that I enjoyed because it seems personal. You'll have to check out "The Spaghetti Tree" hoax, born April 1, 1957, the same day I was born. There's even a tribute to the first great wall built to keep out people from another country.

Rocca has a fondness for little known stories of the presidents. One chapter, called "Before and After" covers Herbert Hoover and John Quincy Adams. Hoover's story is particularly engaging. It stresses his enormous success before he was president. Adams' tells of his career after the presidency. Like Jimmy Carter, he was much more successful after his one term. There is also a follow-up section that covers failed presidential candidates.

The book includes some tributes that would have been larger if two celebrities had not died on the same day. The news of Farrah Fawcett's death would have been "above the fold" in the newspapers if she hadn't died on the same day as Michael Jackson. Rocca gives her an appropriate tribute. Of course, many of us know that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died the same day, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But, what about Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson? Who received the headlines?

There are essays on a number of celebrities, Audrey Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlene Dietrich. But, the one that brought tears to my eyes was the article about Elizabeth Taylor, not as an actress, but as an AIDS activist. And, her speech when she accepted the Jean Herself Humanitarian Award at the 1993 Oscars is just as relevant and moving today as it was then. I can't do any better than to repeat the ending quote from that speech. "I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being to prove that we are a human race. To prove that our love outweighs our need to hate. That our compassion is more compelling that our need to blame. That our sensitivity to those in need is stronger than our greed. That our ability to reason overcomes our fear. And that at the end of each of our lives, we can look back and be proud that we have treated others with the kindness, dignity, and respect that every human being deserves." That speech seems so timely today.

Mo Rocca can look back and be proud of this book, funny at times, moving sometimes, but always engrossing. Check out Mobituaries, either in book form or on his podcast. And, it would make an excellent present for someone who enjoys historical trivia and anecdotes.

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg. Simon & Schuster, 2019. ISBN 9781501197628 (hardcover), 375p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale

There are two groups of people - those who liked the Three Stooges, and those who didn't. I'm definitely in the second group. I never cared for broad, slapstick comedy. Those in the first group might appreciate Joe R. Lansdale's standalone picaresque novel, Jane Goes North.

After eight years working at a laundry in East Texas, Jane loses her job when she fails to remove a ketchup packet from a jacket pocket. The jacket is ruined, as is Jane's hope to pay rent on the lot for her trailer. When she receives a wedding invitation from one of her sisters, she decides she might as well go. She knows her sisters won't expect or welcome her, but that makes her all the more determined to make the trip.

She finds a note on a bulletin board that says a woman named Henrietta is looking for someone to share a ride north. When Jane meets Henrietta, she learns she'd prefer to be called Henry. She's a big woman who lifts weights, has one eye, an attitude, and a suspended license. However, she does have a car. And, despite the war of words between the two opinionated women, Henry picks up Jane the next morning, and turns the driving over to her.

The misadventures the two have along the way begin the first night they sleep in the parking lot of a twenty-four hour store. Jane is accosted by man who steals panties from her bag, and she's followed to the car by a thief in a mobile chair. From there, their adventures go downhill. The two women are kidnapped when they stop for gas, but manage to free themselves and a bunch of other women. It's the kindness of a liquor store clerk and a country singer on her way down that set them on their path north again.

While I wasn't crazy about the crude humor or outrageous adventures on their road trip, the bold Henry was an interesting character. And, she becomes even more interesting at the surprising end of the book.

Take my review with a grain of salt. Readers who enjoy Lansdale's books, misadventures on a road trip, or the Three Stooges, may appreciate Jane Goes North more than I did.

Joe R. Lansdale's website is http://joerlansdale.com

Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale. Subterranean Press, 2020. ISBN 9781596069398 (hardcover), 232p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Have You Heard? Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

This time, Sandie Herron beat me to a book. Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams is a new release, and my copy of the book is probably in a box at the library. Or, at least I'm on the holds list at the library when we reopen. But, Sandie listened to it as an audiobook, and she has a review for us. Thanks, Sandie!

Undercover Bromance                                                  

Written by Lyssa Kay Adams
Narrated by Andrew Eiden
Series: Bromance Book Club, Book 2
Unabridged Audiobook
Penguin Audio (3/10/2020)
Listening Length: 9 hours 8 minutes

Braden Mack is a mover and shaker in Nashville where he owns several bars and clubs.  He is celebrating his three month anniversary with his current lady and takes her to an exclusive restaurant and orders an outrageously expensive dessert.  Created and served by Liv Papandreas in a ritual with the celebrity chef and owner, everything goes wrong on this night.  Later, called to her boss’s office, Liv arrives to find him harassing a young hostess. When she calls him on it, he fires her.  Vowing revenge, Liv runs into Mack after being escorted out of the restaurant, when he offers help, but she is too angry and hurt to accept.

As Liv finds work impossible to find since she is being blackballed, Braden Mack offers help again.  Liv is suspicious of his motives. The chemistry between Mack and Liv is undeniable, but she refuses to see it.  Braden turns to the Bromance Book Club members for help. Half a dozen athletic or powerful men comprise the club and have all been through troubled relationships.  Liv knows the men in the club from when they recently helped her sister Thea and her husband Gavin save their marriage. They’ve turned to romance novels as manuals.  They are currently reading romantic suspense which inspires them to help Liv set up a sting operation. They need solid evidence if they intend to take her ex-boss down.

Liv learns things about herself while trying to help the young hostess and a close friend who had also been harassed by her ex-boss.  Mack learns that life can be better than fiction. The Club is eager to help him find a way to her heart, but Liv is determined to shut Mack down before she is burned.  The women in Liv’s life encourage her to let go of her mis-trust and move beyond the hurt from her childhood that rules her life.

The give and take and back and forth between Liv and Mack was realistically, and at times comically, portrayed.  Ultimately, this is a romance story of its own, but it takes place in today’s very real world with today’s issues of sexual harassment and intimidation and blackmail.  The aftermath of childhood abuse in adult life is also dealt with. Despite the darker issues, there is love and romance and comedy and friendship. Narrator Andrew Eiden takes us through all of it with his confident male voice.  Told in the third person, he captures the dialogue between Club members perfectly.  

I think what sets the Bromance Book Club apart is that these people deal with all phases of life.  They aren’t focused only on getting men and women together, but they strive for happiness between them through all phases of love and marriage.  They’ve all had their troubles, but with the help of friends, and a few romance novels, they make it through. I understand that a third book in this series is in the works, and I’ll be first in line to read it.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday, and it's time to talk about what we're reading (or trying to read) this week, whethermwe're working from home, going into a workplace, or working at home as you always do. Even if you're retired, I know you're working everyday at home.

So, what are you reading? I gave up on my book from earlier this week, and I'm reading David Rosenfelt's The K Team. It's the first in a new series, a spin-off from his Andy Carpenter books. The narrator is Corey Douglas, a retired cop who brings his K-9 partner, Simon Garfunkel, with him to his new career. He's teamed up with Carpenter's wife who is a former cop, Laurie Collins, and her investigating partner, Marcus. The quartet will investigate cases, some for Andy Carpenter, and others that are brought to them. Their first case involves a judge who is a victim of blackmail and extortion. He hires the K Team.

My book looks like it's going to be a good one. What about the ones you're reading? What are you reading this week?

And, for now, while most of us are housebound, I'm going to talk about Distractions on Monday. That was a fun post, and a lot of us wanted to talk about what we're doing to stay sane in isolation. I hope you join us on Mondays!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Knife Slipped by Erle Stanley Gardner, writing as A.A. Fair

What do you read when you can't concentrate? How about a forgotten classic? I'll admit my definition
of a classic may be different, but I find that an unpublished Cool and Lam mystery qualifies. The background for Erle Stanley Gardner's The Knife Slipped is fascinating.

Written in 1939, and finally published in 2016, The Knife Slipped was meant to be Gardner's second Cool and Lam mystery, published under the name A.A. Fair. However, Gardner's publisher objected to Bertha Cool's foul language, heavy smoking, and her behavior in general. So, Gardner wrote a new mystery, Turn on the Heat, and this one remained unpublished for decades. When I read Russell Atwood's Afterword for the book, it confirmed many of my impressions of the story.

Donald Lam, narrator of the story, works for Bertha Cool, owner of B. Cool, Investigations. He's young, naive, and, as is typical for so many hardboiled detective novels of the 1930s and 40s, he falls for a dame. Bertha Cool is tough, abrupt, abrasive at times, but her name matches her personality. She's cool under pressure, and, in this story, takes the young disbarred lawyer turned investigator under her wing to teach him the ways of the world.

Cool accepts a case many other agencies won't handle. She sends Lam to follow the supposedly cheating spouse in what could turn into a divorce case. But, when Lam follows the man, the apartment isn't exactly the love nest they expect. Instead, while he watches, officers from the fire department and police department show up, asking for the man Lam is trailing. It's Ruth Marr, the switchboard operator, who identifies the man under a different name. It isn't long before Donald Lam is falling for the attractive blonde, believing everything she says, even when she shows up at his car with a gun.

Crooked cops, blonde dames, politicians, graft and payoffs. While the story seems to follow a formula, it's unusual to see the investigating detective agency blackmailing people. But, Bertha Cool, at least in this story, is out for whatever money she can get. She's a brash, over-the-top character. While she's the confident leader, Donald comes across as an innocent man who believes "Essentially people are honest." His boss proves that everyone is out for what they can get. But, she truly cares for Lam, and cuts him a break in the story.

It has been years since I read a Cool and Lam story. I didn't remember Lam as quite such a sucker, and Atwood's note reminds readers that he wasn't in the following twenty-eight books in the series. But, it's fascinating to go back and read the mystery that might have been a transition piece, if only the publisher had given Bertha Cool a break.

The Knife Slipped by Erle Stanley Gardner, writing as A.A. Fair. Hard Case Crime, 2016. ISBN 9781783299270 (paperback), 238p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Edith Maxwell / Maddie Day, Guest Author

As promised, Edith Maxwell, who also writes as Maddie Day, is our guest author. Her latest book,
Murder at the Taffy Shop, is soon to be released. It's a tough time for all of us, authors included. Thank you, Edith, for taking the time to write for us.

Writing (and Surviving) in the Time of Quarantine

Lesa, thank you for inviting me – and my alter-ego Maddie Day – to your blog! It’s lovely that you and others are helping authors who are forced to miss in-person launch appearances. I appreciate it very much, along with my fellow March-April release pals.

When I thought of what to write about, the title Love in the Time of Cholera popped into my head. Gabriel García Márquez was a brilliant writer, and thanks to our shuttered library’s ebook checkouts, I can give it a re-read. I remember being delighted by his magical realism my first time through Cholera andOne Hundred Years of Solitude.

But...I’m not really in quarantine, and this isn’t a time of cholera. Or am I, and  is it?

First, the disease. Cholera, COVID-19 – equivalent? Who knows? I do know there’s no vaccine and no targeted treatment for coronavirus. That there’s also little knowledge about it except by what has been observed in the last few months in China, Italy, and other hotbeds.

Quarantine? Libraries and schools are closed. Events, including concerts and major mystery conferences are being postponed. We are all encouraged to practice radical social distancing. Around here, we’re doing our best. My son and his wife, who live in Maryland, paid a fly-by visit to New England recently and WE DIDN’T EVEN HUG. We’re family, but we don’t live together, so we acted responsibly. I can go outside for solo walks, and I’ll have to go grocery shopping occasionally. That’s going to be it for activities. Kind of feels like quarantine. Two silver-haired people hanging around the house.

Still, I’m a writer. I have book releases and deadlines. And I have lots (LOTS) of online fans and friends. In a way, I and my fellow authors (at least those of us who have recklessly abandoned our day jobs) are uniquely positioned to weather this isolation. Give me electricity and a supply of dark chocolate, and I’m good to go. I often let my schedule get way too busy with author events. This spring was one of those times. I’m frankly feeling a little relieved at being able to just stay home and write.

Right now I’m putting polishing touches on Murder at the Lobstah Shack, my third Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery, which is due April 1. Then I have my ninth Country Store Mystery to write, which my editor expects to receive August 1 (yes, I write three – or more – books a year), and after that the seventh Quaker Midwife Mystery, due at the start of 2021.

Back in January – well before the current crisis in the US – I organized a long rolling book birthday party on Facebook for my newest book, Murder at the Taffy Shopthe second Cozy Capers Book Group mystery. It’s my twentieth novel (squee!), releasing March 31, so I invited twenty author pals who write traditional, cozy, and historical mysteries to each host the party for one day. It’s running for six more days, with me winding it up on the 31st, and I hope you’ll join us. We have a major, huge, best-ever grand giveaway anyone can enter, with details over at the party page. And nobody has to wash their hands. 

I’ll be writing and partying from home for the foreseeable future. I’m not one of the natural introverts to whom quarantine sounds almost like a dream come true. And I confess to a teensy bit of anxiety at not being able to see people in person, or at least not in close quarters. I’ll miss hanging out at events like History on Tap, an event at a local brewery sponsored by our town’s historical society, or going to a friend’s book talk in Boston. And I’ll really miss attending Malice Domestic at the end of April in Bethesda, where I always meet so many fabulous book fans and online friends. I love my partner, Hugh (who IS a lifelong introvert), but we’re not one of those couples who do everything together. If he’s the only human I get to talk with face to face for very long, well...wish me luck!

All things considered, we’re in good shape. While a little up in age, Hugh and I are both in relatively good health. We have a fully stocked pantry. We can afford to pay our bills. Neither of us has to report to a job taking care of others. 

I know others are feeling a lot more anxiety than I am, and I don’t mean to treat this lightly. I hope you’ll reach out to whomever you can. What’sApp video calls. Good old fashioned phone calls. Skype or online book group meetings. Zoom church services. And I always recommend reading a cozy mystery for whatever ails you. You know it won’t be too dark. You know justice will be restored to the community in the end. You know some combination of friends and neighbors will help each other, just like we should be doing in real life.

Readers:What are your social distancing coping mechanisms? Please share movies or shows you’re binging, or mystery series you’re now able to read straight through. I’d love to send one of you a signed copy of the new book as soon as I get my box of copies!

When bike shop owner Mac Almeida heads out for a walk with her friend, she finds a horrified Gin staring at an imperious summer person, dead on the sidewalk in front of Gin’s candy shop, Salty Taffy’s. When the police find the murder weapon in Gin’s garage, the Cozy Capers book group members put their heads together to clear Gin’s nameand figure out who killed the woman whom almost everyone disliked. After the killer later invades Mac’s tiny house to finish her off, Belle, Mac’s African Gray parrot, comes to the rescue. Murder at the Taffy Shop is out March 31 in a one-year paperback exclusive from Barnes & Noble.

Maddie Day
– aka Edith Maxwell – is a talented amateur chef and holds a PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University. An Agatha-nominated and bestselling author, she is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and pens the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries and the Country Store Mysteries. As Edith she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and award-winning short crime fiction. Maddie/Edith lives with her beau north of Boston, where she’s currently working on her next mystery when she isn’t cooking up something delectable in the kitchen. She hopes you'll visit her on her web sitesign up for her monthly newsletter, and visit her as @MaddieDayAuthor on social media. 

Monday, March 23, 2020


I just couldn't get into a book this weekend. How about you? Are you finding something that is a distraction? I am reading a book, and I'll have a review on Wednesday of Rebecca Serle's latest novel In Five Years. It's about a woman who has her life all planned out, at least for the next five years, but on the night she gets engaged, she wakes up five years in the future with a man she doesn't know. An hour later, she's back in her planned life. But, what about her unplanned future?

Tomorrow, author Edith Maxwell will be here with a guest post talking about writing and surviving in a time of quarantine. A timely post.

What are you doing for distraction? Music and movies. I watched an online show from Ireland with one of the singers from Celtic Thunder, Emmet Cahill. I watched my favorite western, a black-and-white movie from 1951 called "Westward the Women". My father-in-law and I used to watch it together. And, I watched part of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies". I really only like the first and the last in that series, but I'll start watching either one of those movies at any part.

And, then last night I watched something online that was really unusual. It was on YouTube, "The Rose O'Donnell Show LIVE!" with all kind of Broadway actors as a fundraiser for The Actors Fund. You all know how much I love Broadway, so this was sad as well as fun.

I spent hours on the phone, so much more than I usually do because I usually hate talking on the phone. But, I talked to my Mom several times. I also enjoyed talking with friends in Virginia, Arizona and Wisconsin. It's a time to reach out and talk to people. In fact, we need to.

So, what are you doing for distractions right now?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Carousels of Paris by Kaye Wilkinson Barley

I interviewed Kaye Wilkinson Barley when her book, Carousels of Paris, came out, but I haven't had a chance to review it. Let's talk about this unique book featuring the history and photographs of some of Paris' beautiful carousels.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley sees a carousel as an invitation to dream. Her obsession with carousels is an invitation for readers to dream, to dream about carousels and Paris itself. This collection invites readers to travel along with the two photographers, Kaye and her husband, Don Barley, as they uncover the history and magic of carousels.

While the captions and history are essential elements in the book, Barley allows the photographs to speak for themselves. The horses! The personalities of the carousel animals. Not only horses, but giraffes, elephants, pigs. There are dancing, smiling horses that appear to perform airs above the ground. There are whimsical mermaids, ferocious dragons, and, my favorite carousel rabbit. You don't have to look too hard to find the photographers caught up in the magic. Sometimes, it took a little stealth for them to discover the magic, as in the story of their experiences in the Jardin des Plantes with the Dodo Manege, a carousel that features extinct and endangered animals. Have you ever ridden a dodo or a Tasmanian devil?

In her research, Kaye Wilkinson Barley did not find a book that focused on the carousels of Paris. And, according to the introduction, this book is incomplete. There are many more carousels to be uncovered in the city of romance and lights. It's also a city of hidden places, of enchanted horses and other creatures, all waiting for readers to discover in the magical photos in Carousels of Paris. Settle back into your memories of a child's dream.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley's website is http://kayewilkinsonbarley.com.

Carousels of Paris by Kaye Wilkinson Barley. Photographs by Don Barley and Kaye Barley. Aakenbaaken & Kent, 2020. ISBN 9780578600451 (hardcover), 198p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received one copy of the book as a gift from the author, and I bought one, with no promises that I would review it.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Have You Heard? Blind Sight by Carol O'Connell

Carol O'Connell's Blind Sight is an older title, but now that we're all housebound, maybe it's time to catch up with some of those older audiobooks. Here's Sandie Herron's review of Blind Sight.  

Blind Sight
Written by Carol O’Connell
Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
Series:  Kathy Mallory, Book 12
Unabridged Audiobook
Recorded Books (9/20/2016)
Listening Length:  13 hours 29 minutes

The cloistered nun was walking on St. Mark’s Place, stopping to talk with the man at the flower stall.  A young boy, blind since birth, expertly weaved his way through the crowds. Suddenly, they were both gone.  Within hours, the mayor and the church had reported the nun missing, and detective Kathy Mallory was on the case.  She knows something is fishy when they send a priest to report the nun missing  and the mayor’s office calls as well.  They skip the police unit usually in charge of missing persons and go straight to Major Crimes, where Mallory works.  

The nun’s body is later found on the lawn of the New York City mayor’s home, Gracie Mansion, along with three others, all with their hearts cut out.  There were supposed to be five bodies, but the young boy was with the killer.  He’s been told to hold back on this one.  When the boy’s uncle comes to the police to report him missing, it doesn’t take Mallory long to make the connection between the two.  Once she finds the mug shot for the nun when she was arrested years earlier for prostitution, she immediately sees the resemblance to the boy.  

Mallory grew up on the streets of New York City until she was fostered by a New York City detective who often brought her to work to keep her off the streets.  She learned young the ins and outs of computers, interrogation, observation, procedures.  She learned how to twist suspects around until they revealed what she needed to know. We have gotten to know her through the series, yet there is enough explanation in this one entry to fill the reader in.  Her tactics are in evidence and her personality shines, even though she is an extremely private person.  

The author twists the reader about in her fingers.  As she filled in details, I began to care about Jonah, the 12-year-old boy, during his captivity.  He awakens from his drugged state, and his captor finally gives him food and water.  He is no longer confined to a bathroom, and he begins to learn his surroundings despite being threatened by an old pit bull.  His captor has begun to care about him too.  

Carol O’Connell is a master storyteller.  I was manipulated, twisted, and felt as if I had been right there with the detective as she worked.  This is a police procedural, but it is unlike any I have read.  It is because of Mallory, the detective who seems to have a sixth sense.  She can draw motives seemingly from thin air that are spot on.  Then she can supply the evidence to prove her theories.  She hears more from what is not said than what is said.  The author also has a wicked sense of humor.  Some circumstances were so outrageous they were funny, but only if you caught the humor.  The story was told in snippets from various perspectives, interwoven to keep the reader off balance and create even more suspense.  Narrator Barbara Rosenblat brought the story even further to life. Her inflections were compelling. At first I found her hard to follow, but when I just let myself sit back and listen to her story, it came to life. She wasn’t just reading; she was sitting in my living room telling me all about it.  I dared not stop her until the very end.  This novel was that good.  Highly recommended, along with the entire series.