Saturday, December 12, 2020

Book Review: Cold Wind by Paige Shelton


Cold Wind is the sequel to Paige Shelton's first Alaska mystery, Thin Ice.
In spite of the fact that the first volume in the series ends with the cliff hanger of finding a body unrelated to the mystery in that book, this one opens five months later....and the identity of that body has not yet been found.   This is... a bit of a stretch.  I can only guess that Shelton really wanted to use wintery weather in this book to make the plot work and thus had to leave that body in the morgue for months.  Other than that, there is really only one other bit which bothered me: in the climax of the story, as the sequence of killings --- and there are MANY killings and bodies in this tale -- is being revealed, the reader is never told why on earth the first murder happens, only that it tips off the chain of events which follows.  This is irksome.
However, this is still an excellent book.
Shelton continues the drama of protagonist Beth Rivers' unsolved attacker from the first book and weaves it nicely into the background of the intricate plot (multiple murders and surly loners who just don't want to talk) of this one.  To the cast of tough gal Viola of the halfway house, Gril the sheriff and his assistant Donner, Orin the pot-smoking librarian who looks like Willie Nelson, and Benny from the diner, Shelton now fleshes out the characters of Randy who runs the mercantile, Lane the loner who's not telling his past, and Tex the surly guy from the next village who's clearly keeping secrets.  These characters have lots of layers, so no one seems fake.
The basic plot line is that a recent mudslide opens up an old logging road about which most of the locals had forgotten, and this road allows for the finding of a body in a shed, a body which seems to have been frozen for a while.  Then a couple of mysterious and silent children wander into town, strange screams are heard, and someone is doing a very good Big Foot impersonation in the woods.
Who is Lane, really?  Why won't he talk about his past?  What is he hiding?  Why can't the little girls talk?  Who is their mother, and if they're really sisters, why are they of different races?  Why does Randy have an apartment in NYC that hasn't been lived in in years?  Where is his wife?  And how does the body found in the water connect to all this?
This is not a simple plot.

Shelton is best known for her cozy mystery series, but the Alaska series is a bit harsher, a bit closer to crime.  It's still not bloody or horrific, but this series isn't as light as her cozies; there are no punny titles and no recipes at the end.
Thus, if you like crime novels but feel like something not quite so harsh, this is a good series.  Or, if you like cozies but want to edge a little closer to more realistic crime, this is a good series.

Give Cold Wind a try; you'll like it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Research This Week

 1) Make and drink herbal tea from raspberry leaves.

2) Watch videos of coyotes howling.

3) Compare maps of abandoned mines in Utah.

4) Study differences between piƱon pine and Douglas firs.

5) Hunt for purslane in the garden. (Why is it always there but not now when I need it?)

6) Sketch out building layouts.

7) Email friend for cabin photos.

8) Message former police officer with questions.

9)  Watch kitten videos.     Oh wait.....

Sunday, August 16, 2020

My Favorite Mystery Genre Series

I read mysteries (historical, true crime, cozies) for fun. I like smart heroines, good research, plots that surprise me, realistic characters, and detailed settings. Here are some of my favorite authors and/or mystery series. I recommend ALL of these. :) 

Historical or set in the past because they're older books: 

 1. Pretty much anything Sherlock Holmes. OK, well, you can skip A Study in Scarlet because the plot structure stinks and Conan Doyle really screwed up geography and history. But The Sign of Four is fabulous, and nothing matches Hound of the Baskervilles. And, of course, the short stories are wonderful. If you only know Sherlock Holmes from movies or TV, it's time you picked up the originals.

 2. Anything by Agatha Christie. I particularly like Sleeping Murder, The Seven Dials Mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, and Mrs. McGuinty's Dead. 

 3. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. These are set beginning in post-WWI England, and they are fabulous. Maisie is my favorite kind of female protagonist: smart and able to rescue herself. The research behind these books is meticulous as well. My favorite of the series is An Incomplete Revenge -- but don't start there; you need to read them in order.

 4. Not quite as good as the Maisie Dobbs series but still very good is Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series. These have fine plots in various European locations and are well-researched, but Alexander is often forgetful about minor details from past books and has real trouble creating believable children or teen characters. Also, Lady Emily's husband is rather a male Mary Sue; he's just too perfect to be credible, and he almost comes off as a joke. 

5. An excellent self-published series of historical mysteries comes from M. Louisa Locke, who is a historican and sets her books in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Each one focuses on a real scandal/social problem/political issue of the time and shows careful research. I know that many self-published books are sub-par, but these are not. In fact, they are far better than many books published by the big names of publishing. 

 6. Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce series. This is set beginning in 1950 in a fictional village in England. They are funny and tightly-plotted. Plus, they appeal to many ages, as Flavia is a pre-teen genius who has no trouble concocting a poison or looking at a corpse, yet who still believes in Father Christmas. 

7. The Veronica Speedwell mysteries by DeAnna Raybourn. These are very much action-aventure stories as well and aren't quite meant to be realistic, but the plots are great and the characterization is superb -- no Mary Sues or cardboard characters here! 

8. The Art Oveson series by Andrew Hunt. There are, sadly, only three of these. Oveson is a cop in Salt Lake City during the depression, and these feel very real. Occasionally, Hunt makes a historical blunder (he has Oveson's pregnant wife teaching school in one book, and I know that female teachers were fired if they were married -- so that a man could have their job -- in SLC at the time, and he also can't remember what subject the wife teaches from book to book), but overall, they're gritty and gripping. I do wish there were more of them.

 9. The Three Investigators series. These are MG novels, but they are far superior to Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Set in the early 1960s in a fictional suburb of Los Angeles, these tales are great for young readers and still good for adults who don't mind MG. Jupiter Jones is a realistic character: fat, very smart, from a non-traditional family (raised by his aunt and uncle), and determined. The main problem with these is that they are out-of-print and can be hard to find. It took me several months to track down copies of all the volumees when I decided to buy the whole series. 

 10. The Charles Lennox series by Charles Finch. The plots of these are good, but Finch is a bit sexist and into benevolent patriarchy, sooooo.... they're not my favorites. They are set in the mid-Victorian era, mostly in London. 

11. Also good but not fabulous for the same patriarchal reasons are the Tony Hillerman books about various cops on the Navajo Reservation in Utah/Arizona. Set in the 1990s, these are a wonderful introduction to Navajo culture and life. 


 1. Paige Shelton's cozies. They're light, they're fluffy, but they're good. Some cozies --- and I read a LOT of cozies -- are just so very....nothing. But Shelton's feature excellent characterization and good plotting. I like her Dangerous Type series the best, but her Farmers' Market and Southern Cooking Class mysteries are good, too. And she's just started a new series, set in Alaska, that is less cozy and more true crime. 

 2. Also straddling the border of cozy and crime is The Bishop's Wife series by Mette Ivie Harrison. Harrison tackles BIG issues of Mormonism from an insider's POV: polygamy, homosexuality, women's equality, transpeople, etc. while penning tight mysteries. These are good. Really good. 


1. Ian Rankin is hands-down my favorite crime writer. Technically, his genre is Tartan Noir, but the reader need not have been to Scotland to understand the books. I own an entire shelf of his books: all but the last two of the Rebus series and several of the others as well. There's a reason why Rankin is so well-liked in the City of Literature; he's just that good. 

There you go. These are my favorites. If you're in the market for a good mystery, you might give one of these series or authors a try.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Beginning Again

I am writing again. It's been a long time, I know. I changed from teaching junior high to teaching high school, we've had a very disruptive change in government, my family situation has changed dramatically, COVID 19 hit, and Utah had a sizeable earthquake. All this made me give up writing fiction. But now I'm on a gap year. The risks of teaching school right now outweigh for me the benefits. Besides trying to improve my health (read: exercise), taking care of family members, and cleaning house (ugh), I have time to .....write. Thus, I have begun again. Right now I have three WsIP: a memoir, a re-write/reworking of The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook, and a mystery genre novel. Just to remind you all how much work goes into writing something: I worked for two weeks outlining, sketching out places, and researching (foraging for foods, virus timelines, plant life in various elevations of the desert) before I actually began typing the first words of the tale. It's a lot. I'd almost forgotten. So, what are my plans? Well, once I get drafts finished, I think I'll try again with getting an agent. It's been years since I tried, and I know a lot of it isn't how well one writes but how lucky one is in contacting the correct agant at the correct time and catching her/him and her/his assistants in the right mood for the particular work. It's a bit of a crap shoot, really, but I think it's time I tried again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What I Read And What I Rejected in 2019

And, once again, here are my lists!  (I've been doing this on various blogs since 2007.)
In 2019, I read 136 books. Cozy mystery: 27  Other mystery/crime: 44 Historical A/A: 4 Alternate History: 1 Realistic: 6  Shakespeare plays: 8 Other drama: 1  Fantasy: 7  NF travel: 4  NF History: 3  NF cookbooks: 11  NF Food/Cooking: 7  NF Crafts: 3  Other Non-Fiction: 7
Totally unsurprising: I read more mysteries than anything else. Again.
Totally surprising: I read no biographies, no sci-fi, and no steampunk.  Wow.  I hadn't realized that.

My list of books I began and then rejected follows the list of what I read.

X Marks The Scot by Kaitlyn Dunnett *** cozy mystery 1/1/19
Mary Poppins by PL Travers **** MG fantasy 1/3/19
Mary Poppins Comes Back by PL Travers **** MG fantasy 1/5/19
Mary Poppins Opens The Door by PL Travers **** MG fantasy 1/6/19
Latino Cuisine & Its Influence On American Foods by Jean Ford non-fiction *** 1/10/19
Scrapbook of Secrets by Mollie Cox Bryan cozy mystery **** 1/13/19
Hungry Planet: What The World Eats by Menzel & D’Aluisio ***** non-fiction 1/19/19
Button Holed by Kylie Logan **** cozy 1/20/19
In A House of Lies by Ian Rankin ***** crime 1/22/19
 Images of America: Salt Lake City Cemetery by Mark E. Smith non-fiction **** 1/26/19
 Hot Button by Kylie Logan *** cozy 1/26/19
 The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley ***** historical mystery 2/1/19
 The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe *** historical mystery 2/7/19
 The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by  **** cookbook, non-fiction 2/8/19
 Easy Chinese Cooking by Betty Crocker **** cookbook, non-fiction 2/9/19
 Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay *** cozy 2/14/19
  52 Weeks of Trivia by Sharon Lindsay *** non-fiction 2/15/19
 12 Months of Trivia by Sharon Lindsay *** non-fiction 2/16/19
 Smash & Stash by Cindy Shepherd ** non-fiction, crafts 2/18/19
 I Can Make It With Chex **** cookbook 2/20/19
 Saints 1815-1846: The Standard of Truth. by various authors of the LDS Church *** non-fiction, history 3/3/2019
 Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman YA fantasy ***** 3/5/19
 Food That Harm; Foods That Heal by Readers’ Digest *** non-fiction 3/10/19
 Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson YA mystery ***** 3/12/19
 The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson YA mystery ***** 3/13/19
 The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hanna mystery **** 3/18/10
 Underground by Will Hunt *** non-fiction, urban exploring/spelunking 3/22/19
 Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs *** cozy mystery 3/24/19
 A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn YA/NA historical mystery ***** 3/27/19
 Cultured by Katherine Harmon Courage non-fiction, food **** 3/20/19
 The Wizard’s Cookbook by Aurelia Beaupommier non-fiction, cookbook *** 3/31/19
 Iced Under by Barbara Ross cozy *** 4/4/19
 Hunting Prince Dracula by Karri Maniscalco *** YA historical A/A 4/14/19
 Escaping Houdini by Karri Maniscalco *** YA historical A/A 4/19/19
 100 Things to Do in SLC Before You Die by Jeremy Pugh ** non-fiction, travel 4/20/19
 The American Agent by Jaqueline Winspear ***** historical mystery 4/23/19
 Language Visible by David Sacks **** non-fiction, linguistics 4/23/19
 MacBeth by Shakespeare (4A) ***** tragedy 4/25/19
 12th Night by Shakespeare (4B) ***** comedy 4/26/19
 MacBeth by Shakespeare (2A) ***** tragedy 4/29/19
 MacBeth by Shakespeare (4A) ***** tragedy 4/29/19
 12th Night by Shakespeare (1B) ***** comedy 4/30/19
 12th Night by Shakespeare (3A) ***** comedy 5/1/19
 Becoming Brigid by Lisa Shafer ***** YA paranormal 5/3/19
 Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (again) YA historical fantasy 5/8/19
 Assault and Beret by Jenn McKinley *** cozy 5/19/19
 The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Ransom Riggs *** non-fiction about fiction 5/27/19
 The Melted Coins by Franklin W. Dixon (original) **** MG mystery A/A 6/1/19
 Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez ***** non-fiction, women’s issues 6/3/19
 The Short Wave Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon (Original) MG mystery A/A **** 6/4/19
 The Twisted Claw by Franklin W. Dixon (original) MG mystery A/A *** 6/6/19
 The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie MG fantasy *** 6/7/19
 The House on the Cliff by Franklin W. Dixon (original) MG mystery A/A***** 6/7/19
 Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor A/A time travel *** 6/9/19
 The Short Wave Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon MG A/A **** 6/11/10
 The Squad: Perfect Cover by Jennifer Lynn Barnes  *** YA spy/thriller 6/12/19
 The Yard by Alex Grecian historical crime **** 6/13/19
 Greenhaven Press Literary Companion to British Literature: Readings on Twelfth Night  **** essays 6/14/19
 The Black Country by Alex Grecian historical crime **** 6/14/19
 A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas ***** historical mystery 6/19/19
 The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates *** cozy 6/20/19
 Murder Once Removed by SC Perkins **** cozy 6/24/19
 Thin Ice by Paige Shelton mystery **** 6/27/19
 By Book Or By Crook by Eva Gates **** cozy 6/28/19
 Reading Up A Storm by Eva Gates **** cozy 6/30/19
 The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas ***** historical mystery 7/1/19
 Worldwide Ward Cookbook by Diana Buxton non-fiction **** 7/3/19
 Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg YA realistic  **** 7/8/19
  Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer YA realistic **** 7/9/19
 Panic Button by Kylie Logan **** cozy 7/13/19
 Wicked Stitch by Amanda Lee **** cozy 7/14/19
 Marriage, Monsters-in-Law, and Murder by Sara Rosett **** cozy 7/14/19
 Murder Knocks Twice by Susana Calkins **** historical mystery 7/18/19
 The Stitching Hour by Amanda Lee *** cozy 7/19/19
 Better Off Thread by Amanda Lee *** 7/20/19
 Buttoned Up by Kylie Logan **** cozy 7/22/19
 Murder At Rosamund Gate by Susana Calkins  historical mystery *** 7/23/19
 From The Charred Remains by Susana Calkins historical mystery *** 7/24/19
 The Masque of Murder by Susana Calkins historical mystery **** 7/24/19
 The Rosemary Spell  by Virginia Zimmerman *** YA fantasy **** 7/26/19
 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (3rd or 4th time) mystery ***** 7/28/19
 The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (2nd time) mystery **** 7/30/19
 Death by the River Fleet by Susan Calkins historical mystery **** 7/31/19
 Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) crime ***** 8/2/19
 The Beholder by Anna Bright YA A/A alternate history *** 8/5/19
 Murder At Archly Manor by Sara Rosett historical mystery **** 8/11/19
 And Then There Were Crumbs by Eve Calder cozy **** 8/17/19
 Murder At Blackburn Hall by Sara Rosett historical mystery **** 8/18/19
 The Egyptian Antiquities Murder by Sara Rosett **** historical mystery 8/19/19
 Milk: A 10,000-year Food Fracas by Mark Kurlansky non-fiction ***** 8/21/19
 Haunted Salt Lake City by  Laurie Allen et al  urban legends * 8/21/19
  The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxcman realistic fiction ***** 8/25/19
 How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Standler *** non-fiction 8/27/19
 The Readaholics and The Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio *** cozy 9/6/19
Twelve Angry Men (again) drama ***** 9/6/19
 Sense and Sensibility (rewrite)( 2nd time) by Joanna Trollope ***** updated classic 9/7/19
 Eligible by Curtis Littenfeld (2nd time) ***** updated classic (P&P by Austen) 9/8/19
 Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (2nd time) ***** updated classic 9/12/19
 Capturing The Devil by Kerri Maniscalco YA historical A/A **** 9/20/19
 The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey YA historical mystery ***** 9/30/19
 Handmade Halloween by Country Living non-fiction, crafts * 10/2/19
  The Shadow of Death by Jane Willan cozy mystery **** 10/6/19
 The Hour of Death by Jane Willan cozy mystery **** 10/8/19
 A Different Kind of Evil by Andrew Wilson historical mystery ** 10/13/19
 A Midsummer Night’s Dream by W. Shakespeare (again) ***** drama (2A) 10/15/19
 Better Off Read by Nora Page cozy mystery **** 10/16/19
 The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger *** realistic fiction 10/17/19
 Molten Mud Murder by Sara Johnson *** mystery/crime  10/26/19
 Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by D. Michael Quinn ***** non-fiction 10/31/19
 Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith (2nd time) ***** western historical mystery 11/2/19
 On The Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith (2nd time) ***** western historical mystery 11/4/19
 The Conspiring Woman by Kate Parker *** historical mystery 11//8/19
 The Detecting Duchess by Kate Parker *** historical mystery 11/10/19
 Monument Park 4th Ward Cookbook (c. 1960) *** non-fiction 11/14/19
 Cooking Class Global Feast by DeAnna F. Cook *** MG non-fiction 11/16/10
 Oakhills Neighborhood Cookbook (c.1980) **** non-fiction 11/17/19
 Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare (again) ***** drama (2A) 11/20/19
 The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith ***** (2nd time) western mystery 11/23/19
 Dear Mr. Holmes by Steve Hockensmith ***** (2nd time) western mystery 11/24/19
 A Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith ***** (2nd time) western mystery 11/24/19
 World’s Greatest Sleuth by Steve Hockensmith *****(2nd time) western mystery 11/26/19
 Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook by Camilla Saulsbury **** 11/27/19
 The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith ***** western mystery 11/29/19
 Food Of A Younger Land by David Kurlensky ***** non-fiction 12/4/19
  Oak Hills Neighborhood Cookbook II **** non-fiction 12/7/19
 The Food Explorer by David Stone **** non-fiction, biography 12/12/19
 In The Hall With The Knife by Diana Peterfreund YA mystery ** 12/16/19
 Farm Chicks Christmas by Serena Thompson (again) **** non-fiction, crafts 12/19/19
 Merry Market Murder by Paige Shelton (again) ***** cozy 12/21/19
 Julie Stories by Megan McDonald  MG realistic **** 12/22/19
  A Killer Maize  (again) by Paige Shelton cozy **** 12/22/19
 A Bushel Full of Murder by Paige Shelton (again) **** cozy 12/23/19
 Crops and Robbers by Paige Shelton (again) **** cozy 12/25/19
 Maisie Dobbs by Jaqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 12/28/19
 Death in St. Petersburg by Tasha Alexander **** historical mystery 12/30/19
 American Girl Character Encyclopedia *** MG non-fiction 12/31/19

Books I Rejected in 2019

The Gilded Wolves by   Chokshi When reading a fantasy book, I like the author to ease the reader into the new world, not drop them in suddenly, with completely different systems left incomprehensible.  In other words, when an author introduces 3 plots in 10 pages, uses French in every paragraph, and does not explain or even hint as to the meaning of key ideas (“Forging”) used repeatedly, I cannot engage with the book.  And when I cannot engage, I toss it aside.  Life is too short to read poorly-written material.  I wonder how many people buy this merely because the cover is pretty. 2/3/19
 Ecological Imperialism by Alfred W. Crosby 17 pages ZZZZZZZ   mid-Feb, 2019
Dark, Witch, and Creamy by HY Hanna. About three chapters.  I was writing better stuff at age 11. 2/16/19
From Bad To Wurst by Maddy Hunter. 7 chapters in and still no mystery.  Not much of a cozy. 3/2/19
A Christmas Peril by JA Hennrikus 5 chapter, so much telling, so little showing.  All backstory, not mystery. bleah. 7/22/19
 Those Who Go By Night by Andrew Gaddes historical crime.  90 pages.  Poor research on food of the time period, likely poor research on everything else.  Also, the author clearly enjoys writing about men controlling, gaslighting, and punishing women.  He’s misogynistic and rather sadistic.  8/10/19
Have Yourself a Beary Little Murder by Meg Macy. Cozies aren’t supposed to be great literature, but this was soooo bad.. In 30 pages, I found numerous punctuation errors and just plain bad writing: the introduction of at least 20 characters! Ugh.  One chapter. 12/26/19