Book Talk Tuesday: NAKED IN DEATH

I finished J.D. Robb’s NAKED IN DEATH a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first of her In Death series and one I hadn’t read yet.

An AutoChef by Any Other Name 

download (4)It’s a good introduction to the series. I loved seeing Lieutenant Eve Dallas and Roarke’s first meeting and their attraction. Some of the beloved elements in the series were also introduced. We met Mavis, Charles, Nadine, the Auto-Chef (although not called that quite yet), Feeney, and Commander Whitney. Eve hasn’t yet started hiding candy around the office, but she definitely has a predilection for the sweet stuff. And real coffee. And a cat who figures in one of her cases.

The story is about a professional prostitute (in the 2050s, prostitution is legal and regulated and they’re called licensed companions), who is murdered. She’s the granddaughter of a prominent senator. The murder weapon is a gun, something outlawed and no longer manufactured, so the weapon is an “antique,” although it was manufactured in the early twenty-first century, i.e. now. There’s a taunting note left with the body. A week later, another prostitute is killed.

Some of the clues lead Eve to Roarke, already rich and successful and gorgeous. They explore their attraction, with Eve fighting it the whole way. Of course, Eve comes into grave danger. Of course, Roarke rushes to save her. Of course, she saves herself just before he arrives. Some things never change.

Our Protagonist: Before and After

I was interested to see how Eve has changed in some ways during the series, while in other ways she didn’t. She began irritable and broken, and still shows those characteristics. There were a few details that, in my opinion, no longer apply to Eve. She noticed flowers and trees and could name them. The Eve in the later books doesn’t care enough about flowers to name them, much less notice them. The early Eve has a taste for leather and bold colors. Later, she does love a great armored leather coat, but the Eve of 2064 prefers browns and grays and only consents to color when Roarke insists. Those are extremely minor quibbles though.

Overall, I enjoyed NAKED IN DEATH. And when more of the early books join my TBR stack, I’ll gladly read them.

Do you have to start a series at the beginning or do you dive in and just start anywhere?

 

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Book Talk Tuesday: Revisiting Favorites

I used to reread books all the time. I’ve read all the Agatha Christie books multiple times. Same with Dick Francis. Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. Donna Parker. I grew up returning to my favorites like they were meatloaf and mashed potatoes. They were my comfort reads.

download (5)As I got older and found other authors I enjoyed, I reread fewer and less often. Now, I rarely reread books. I don’t have the time any more. I read books for reviews. I read books to judge for contests. Sometimes I go months without reading for purely my own enjoyment.

But before and after our Ireland and UK trip last year, I did revisit some books set in the places we’d be seeing, or had seen,  in person.

I reread a few Dick Francis books, and even read one or two of his newer titles, written with his son. They were great and reminded me why I’d been a fan for nearly forty years.

I revisited Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club series, that is set in Edinburgh and with slices of other Scottish towns.

I’ve now pulled out Liz Curtis Higgs’ MY HEART IS IN THE LOWLANDS. I read this several download (6)years ago and didn’t reread it before our trip, because I knew we were headed more to the Highlands. But I opened it up this morning because I was longing for a glimpse of the Scottish countryside.

I’m now actively trying to figure out when we can return to Scotland and visit the Lowlands this time, following in Liz’s steps.

Do you ever reread favorites? Which ones? Recent favorites or older ones? Am I the only one who thinks of them as comfort reads?

Book Talk Tuesday: Catching Up

I’ve decided 2018 is going to be about catching up with my favorite series. The last few months have been filled with some great books, but also some lackluster entries. I realized that I have many favorite authors and their characters that I’ve set aside for other reading.

I’m going to fix that. I’ve made a list of what’s next.

downloadAlexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books are always wonderful, but I hadn’t read one in three years. So I found THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY in my TBR stack and read it! It was lovely, of course, although I had a few quibbles with dangling plot points at the end. Next will be LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTIVES.

From Susan Wiggs’ Willow Lake series, I just requested from the library, RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE. A few months ago, I did read MARRYING DAISY BELLAMY, so that’s one mystery solved.

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A friend gave me a copy of Alan Bradley’s AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST, but that’s three or four stories ahead of where I left off in his Flavia de Luce series. Fortunately, I have a cousin who’s also a fan and she’s loaning me SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES this weekend.

I’ve already read three of Jan Karon’s Mitford books so far this year, and that’s what spurred my impetus to catch up on all my favorite series.  I just finished IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS, which is set in Ireland. Father Tim and Cynthia visit the ‘auld country and of course find a parish away from home to minister to. Next download (3)will be COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. I read these slightly out of order. Earlier this year I read SOMEWHERE SAFE WITH SOMEBODY GOOD, which is directly after IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS. I’m trusting that picking up COME RAIN OR COME SHINE next won’t be a problem.

Since Sue Grafton’s death in late December, I’ve also been reviewing her books to make sure I didn’t miss any along the way. I don’t think I did, but I’m definitely behind. So S IS FOR SILENCE is next on my list.

download (2)I have one last Deborah Knott title by Margaret Maron that I’ve been saving, but it seems appropriate to add it to my list. Maron announced LONG UPON THE LAND would be the last Deborah Knott novel. Maron is still writing, but I don’t love her Sigrid Harald books as much as I do Deborah and Dwight and the family.

Finally, my last series to catch up on isn’t a series. I do love Earlene Fowler’s Benni Harper books and I’ve read them all. I haven’t kept up with her stand alones. I added two of those to my list. LOVE MERCY will be up first.

And then Nora Roberts. I haven’t read all of the IN DEATH series and Roberts is far too download (4)prolific for me to attempt to keep up. I’ve decided to go back and read the first in the series, NAKED IN DEATH, and then read whatever is in my TBR stack and whatever crosses my path. The books don’t require being read in order. The characters change slowly enough that it’s easy to pick up anytime. These books are all about the case, although Lt. Eve Dallas and Roark are fascinating and compelling protagonists.

Of course, as my favorite authors release new stories, I’ll add those in. They’re not included on this list because I’m already caught up with everything they’ve written. This includes Susan Mallery, Kristan Higgins, Susan May Warren, Kathryn Cushman, Tamara Alexander. I could keep going, but I’ll stop for now.

Last year I read 100 books. This year, I’m at 37 so far. Looks like I may hit the century mark again.

Expect reviews in the next weeks. And please, ask me how the list is coming along. I estimate I have 27 books to read to consider myself “caught up.” And I’ve pre-ordered several books from my favorites that will be released in the next few months and will have to be factored in.

Gotta go. I’ve got a book waiting!

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Coming Home

Saturday, September 23, 2017

We woke early and packed. I had been leaving books and some clothing items behind in our travels and left a few more in our Edinburgh hotel room, to make room for the souvenirs and keepsakes we were bringing home. Nothing was very heavy or bulky, but we’d been close to the limit coming over and knew we’d be over if we didn’t make some adjustments.

2017-09-22_03-15-17_981We bought wool scarves in Edinburgh, a few pieces of jewelry, tea towels, pencils. Nothing extravagant, but still special to us.

Since the lift was still out of order, we included time to call for help with our bags, then waited outside for our driver to take us to the airport.

Sure enough, we had to shift contents from one bag to another, from a checked bag, to a carry on. Although after weighing and pronouncing us in compliance, the ticketing clerk let us put some of the things back in the checked bag.

We still had plenty of time to kill so we got coffee, read, walked the airport. Our flight to London was uneventful. We had a layover in London, which included a bus ride from one part of the airport to another, two more security checks, and a long wait in a sequestered waiting room. If you had to leave the room to get food or find a restroom, you had to surrender your passport as you left. Londoners take security very seriously.

The flight to LAX was long and uneventful, just the way we like it.

The good thing about flying home from Europe is that you get here not much after you left, in spite of the ten hour flight. We landed in LA, went through customs, shuttled back to the hotel where we’d left our car, and were on the road by four o’clock or so.

The cherry on this wonderful trip was that I was a finalist in a big writing contest for unpublished writers and the winners were being announced that same evening in Dallas. I was able to find the live stream of the ceremony, so we were in traffic on the 110IMG_0289 freeway in downtown Los Angeles when I heard my name called in Dallas as the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest, Contemporary Category!

We yelled, laughed, high-fived and continued to Pasadena where we were staying overnight with friends before continuing home the next day. We celebrated appropriately that evening with two couples, returned my borrowed travel purse and backpack, and shared stories, good food, and laughter before collapsing into bed.

We both loved the trip and want to go again. If we’re able to go back, I want to try it in reverse order. Scotland, London, Ireland. We both fell so completely in love with Scotland, that I almost don’t trust it, if that makes sense. As I said last week, we know we’re Anglo-Saxon, and I felt the Highlands speak to the DNA in my bones. We didn’t feel the same about Ireland, and we expected to. So I want to see if I imagined the call from Scotland. Or if it was simply a matter of being a bit stressed (our first time traveling overseas) while learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. So if we begin next time in Scotland, hopefully we’ll be more relaxed and adjusted when we get to Ireland, and more able to compare apples to apples. Or Highlands to inis and loughs.

Book Talk Tuesday: A Cold and Lonely Place

I’ve had this one on my TBR stack for quite a while, but I was in the mood for something chilly to offset the hot days to come, so I pulled this one out.

It’s wonderful.

Very atmospheric. The Adirondacks, Lake Placid and Lake Saranac are described in not overly detailed terms, but well enough that if I ever go there, it will feel familiar. I’ve said the same thing about Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books set in upstate New York. When we visited there in 2011, it really did seem like I’d been there before. But only in the pages of a book.

1473581_origA Cold and Lonely Place is described as a “literary mystery,” and I don’t disagree with that description. While it may not be your typical “fair play,” mystery, there is a mystery at the heart of the story. Actually two mysteries.

What happened to Tobin Winslow? And what happened to his brother six years ago? Both drowned, although in vastly different circumstances.

Our “detective,” is Troy Chance, a freelance writer in the Lake Placid and Lake Saranac area. She’s taking pictures of the construction of the annual Ice Palace when a body is found. She recognizes the frozen face, as the boyfriend of one of her roommates, and begins piecing together the last days, months, then years of the victim’s life.

When I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The chapters were short and engaging and begged me to turn the page and keep going. As the story progressed, it wasn’t quite as compelling, especially as I suspected we weren’t going to receive a villain neatly captured and handed over to the authorities.

But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment. A Cold and Lonely Place is an excellent, engaging, and enthralling story. I’ll read more by this author.

Wednesday Wanderings: Crieff to Edinburgh

I’m sorry I missed last week, and believe it or not, I’ve been working on today’s post all day! I had lots of other things to do as well, and interruptions, but whew! I was determined to not let another week go by.

Friday September 22, 2017

We woke up in Crieff and after Michael’s delicious breakfast, we decided to head back to Edinburgh. We had originally planned to take our time returning to the city and to explore the countryside a bit. But we had really loved our few hours in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon and wanted to see more of the city. Not to mention tea! We hadn’t had tea anywhere yet. I know, I know. I still can’t fathom it either. So tea was a priority since this was our last full day in the UK.

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The drive back to Edinburgh went smoothly. I finally felt comfortable on the roads, which were a smidge wider than in Ireland. It took some time to turn in the rental car, but we finally Ubered back to the hotel. We were too early for check-in, so left our luggage at the desk and headed out. It briefly occurred to me that I should change into better walking shoes, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of digging through my suitcase in the hotel lobby. Bad decision.

My friends, Sue and Alysa, had recommended Clarinda’s Tea Room in Edinburgh, so we set out. It was a bit early for tea. It was actually still a bit early for lunch, about 11:00, but2017-09-22_04-56-53_680 we decided to have lunch and tea. We found Clarinda’s easily, although it was at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from where we started. I had the toasted brie and cranberry sandwich which was to die for. Creamy brie with tangy cranberries–amazing! Stud Muffin had the Ploughman’s Lunch: cheese, crackers, bread and salad. The woman at the table next to us had a baked potato with haggis on top, which Dave said he’d order “next time.” Then we had tea and a scone each. I’m in love with clotted cream and the scone was delicious, light and beautiful. The dishes were charming and mismatched and everything was lovely.

As we wandered the Royal Mile, I found the Canongate Tolbooth, which played a part in the Liz Curtis Higgs books I love, Here Burns My Candle and Mine is the Night. So I made Dave snap a shot of me in front of the building. We also found street performers, pipers, illusionists, and musicians.

When we’d been along the Royal Mile earlier in the week, I had seen signs to a Writer’s Museum, so that was our next quest. Along the way, we bought some Christmas ornaments, and cigars (don’t ask me why he didn’t have enough already). We took our time walking and looking. We managed to miss the close (alleyway) where the museum was located at least twice. Finally, a clerk from a nearby shop walked out to show us exactly where it was. Bless her, because I don’t know if we would have found it on our own. The museum is in a small and ancient house just off the main road, down a small close.

The museum houses permanent collections showcasing Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, and, of course, Robert Burns. It’s small, as museums go, but intensely interesting with exhibits about the history of writers and printing in Scotland. There was also a temporary exhibit about Ian Rankin. I took my time in the museum while Dave enjoyed a cigar outside.

We then headed to Edinburgh Castle. We’d walked several miles by this point, and my feet were wishing I’d changed shoes from my boots to sneakers when I had the chance. But I soldiered on. The Castle is a fabulous attraction. Part ruins, part museums with exhibits, part scenic views. We saw the battlements with the huge cannons, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the rooms where Scottish royalty breathed their first and last, and the Royal Scots Dragoons Guards museum.

It was now nearly 5 pm and my feet were done. We walked back to our hotel, The Old Waverly, with only a few more quick stops. We saw some tea towels in a shop window that were meant for some friends, so we had to buy them.

We arrived at the hotel to discover the staff had put our bags in our new room. On the sixth floor. And the lift (elevator) was out of order.

Can you picture me and my worn out feet hearing that news?

We immediately went to the bar/restaurant for a restorative. Then we started up the stairs. Because once I climbed six flights, there was no way I was coming down again unless there was a fire or it was time to leave for the airport.

The upside of being on the sixth floor was the great view of the city and the Sir Walter Scott monument across the street.

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Edinburgh was a highlight of the trip. We both loved it and would go back in a heartbeat. We only scratched the surface of this ancient and fascinating city. We know we both have plenty of Anglo-Saxon genes, but I think the Highlands and the city spoke to our DNA. We felt at home in a way we hadn’t in England or Ireland. My father told me long ago we’re from the Campbell clan and I believe it.

Wednesday Wanderings: Oban and Crieff

Thursday, September 21, 2017

We woke up, dug ourselves out of the lumpy hostel bed, and made our way to the train station. The Jacobite train pulled in as we found parking. We had a quick bite in the station cafe, then discussed what we wanted to do. Try to ride the train to Mallaig, or just look at the train, take some pictures and head out again to see more of Scotland.

We decided to hit the road and try to hit some more distilleries and scenery. We picked Crieff as our stop that night, and I found an Airbnb quite easily. James’ Cottage.

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After breakfast, Stud Muffin had to take a picture of the array of sauces the cafe offered. This isn’t even all of them.

Then we went out to the platform. The train was beautiful! Old, obviously, yet, lovingly maintained and cared for. There were lots of people like us, just looking and snapping pictures. There were also others boarding, ordering their lunch and tea and snack plates.

If we get back to Scotland, I really do want to do this train ride. It looked like a fabulous time, and I’m sure you’d get to see different scenery from the train tracks.

We wandered back to the car and headed out. First stop: Oban. I knew Dave had tasted Oban, maybe even received a bottle as a gift once, and I remembered he’d liked it. Since the village of Oban was on “our way” to Crieff, that was our first stop.

Oban is a small town, on the coast of the Oban Bay. We lucked out, we thought, and got the last parking spot right in front of the distillery. There was a city lot at the bottom of the block, but it looked full, so we tried the narrow, dead-end street and were successful.

Our tour was led by Jim, who had a much thicker brogue than Angela at Dalwhinnie. It was a good thing this wasn’t our first tour because we would have been lost, trying to understand Jim while seeing everything. Oban has a very nice tasting room, and Dave and I each bought a shirt. We thought. Turns out they were both women’s shirts. So I got two. 🙂

We returned to the car to find we’d been ticketed. Sigh. We searched for signs and hours and restrictions, but couldn’t see anything that we’d violated. There were cones blocking off the neighboring spot, but we were well within our spots lines. So we (cough-Dave-cough) took pictures to prove that we were legal. The ticket said we had 21 days to pay and could pay online. I planned to print out all the pictures and send them with our check once we got home. On day 21, I pulled out the ticket and finally read it carefully. We were supposed to go down to that city lot at the bottom of the block and buy a parking pass. Although there are no signs anywhere in that alley that we saw saying that. So I paid the fine online and decided to let it go.

Back on the road, we turned toward Crieff, our destination for the night. Dave did some

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research on the area and found one more distillery: The Famous Grouse. We got there early for the last tour of the day so we had a bite in their cafe before the tour. Our guide was Michael. The Famous Grouse was the only distillery we visited that does blends. The others were all single malt.

Of course, Michael thought blends were superior to the single malts. He likened a blend to a full orchestra while the single2017-09-21_09-39-08_038 malts are one note instruments. The Famous Grouse has the Guiness Book of World Record’s largest bottle of Scotch. They filled it as an anniversary celebration and to raise money for charity. Patrons purchased a regular sized bottle and poured it into the giant bottle. When the record is broken and it’s not longer the largest in the world, they plan to auction it off, also for charity.

The tour was excellent and interesting, but I was getting tired of distilleries. I think you tell by my face in the picture on the right, I was pretty much done. I didn’t drink my samples, since I was still driving.

It was about 5:00 by then, so we decided to go find our Airbnb. It was a short drive and the listing said there was private off-street parking. We found both the house and the parking, but it was down a narrow, winding road with no clear way to enter the house, so we circled the block and parked out front. Michael was our host (not the same Michael who gave us the Famous Grouse tour). He eyed our luggage and immediately suggested we think about leaving one of the suitcases in the car. He was concerned about his walls being bumped and thumped on our way up the stairs. We readily agreed. I needed mine though, so Stud Muffin lugged his back to the car, took out his toiletries and a change of clothes.  I asked him to bring in my whiskey samples that I’d left in the car from the Famous Grouse tour. Michael then informed us that a “dram,” is “an unmeasured measure,” of liquid. So … a wee dram of whiskey is an unmeasured little bit in a glass.

Michael asked about our breakfast preference. Apparently Airbnb holds him to a different standard than Julia in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Dave requested the full Scottish with black sausage instead of haggis. I asked for two eggs and a sausage. Dave gave him careful instructions about how to prepare my eggs. I’m not an egg fan, and I the only way I can eat them is if they are really done done. Dave told Michael he could start frying my eggs, then go into town and pick up supplies, come back, and they’d be ready. He’s not exaggerating much. I do like them over hard and well done. Crispy with salt and pepper. Michael promised to do his best.

2017-09-22_01-01-32_775The next morning we got to chat with Michael a bit more. He was in his 70s. His wife had passed away about 8 years ago. He was Irish, living in Scotland. He’d played professional golf on the European Seniors tour. The breakfast room was full of pictures and trophies. I’ve googled him and found some stories about him on the tour. He enjoyed running the B&B. It was called James Cottage and was the oldest building in Crieff.

Once we were settled in our room, I enjoyed my dram. We were too tired to go out again and try to find a place to park and eat. We had some leftovers from our gas station lunch the day before, so we finished those, and read, and journaled, and relaxed for the evening.