June 26, 2018

Series Spotlight: Spider Latham Mysteries, by Liz Adair

Hello friends! I ran across this series again while unpacking our books, (yes! we're finally back in our house after the fire!)  It had been quite awhile since I had read it, so I gave it a re-read, and was once again happy I did.

If you like intense thrillers, keep looking! You will probably be bored stiff with these. On the other hand, if you enjoy a good cozy mystery with some memorable characters, you will probably like this series just fine.

If you give them a try, let me know!

The Lodger (Spider Latham Mystery #1), by Liz Adair

4 stars: Down-home, small-town detecting.

Spider Latham is deputy sheriff in sparsely populated Lincoln County, Nevada. That is, until the sheriff dies in a car crash. Spider takes the new job. Unfortunately for him, there is no training other than a big handbook of rules (budget cuts), and even worse, with just a couple of days of sheriffing under his belt, a dead body is found. Of course, it is now up to Spider to figure out the mystery--who was she, who killed her, and why. In the meantime, the local mortuary refuses to take the remains, so Spider and his wife have to secure them in their barn under less than ideal circumstances (hence the title.)

* * * * *

I really liked meeting Spider and the other characters in this book. He's a man that gets things done--even difficult, dirty, or disgusting things. Without fanfare or fuss, he gets it done.

There were many commenters on Goodreads who felt the plot was too slow for a mystery, but I didn't mind it. It was a more character-driven novel than mystery-driven. Not a thriller. It was as much about enjoying the workings of this small town and its sheriff as it was about catching the killer.

I liked the portrayal of Mormonism in it. The characters were Mormon, most of them, and they definitely all had their flaws. Spider was struggling a bit--I wouldn't go so far as to call it a crisis of faith, but just struggling with what he perceived as an injustice. He was released as a bishop soon after losing his job, and as he looked around, it seemed related. Again, other commenters have said he seemed very critical and judgmental of others. I don't know. To me, it was a flaw, but it made him seem more real. He was trying to do better and be better.

I also liked that he and his wife had discussions about faith and grace and other gospel related topics. I didn't feel like it overwhelmed the story or became too heavy. Since Spider's spiritual journey was also part of the story, as mentioned, I didn't feel that it took away from the plot. Rather, it was showing what he did or learned to resolve his concerns.

Anyway, really liked it. This was actually the 2nd or 3rd time I've read it. It had been long enough that I didn't remember most of it, so that was good.

After Goliath (Spider Latham Mystery #2), by Liz Adair

4 stars: Spider comes through again!

What happens when a murder has been committed, and the murderer has confessed, but you don't believe the confession? Well, you do what you can to get to the bottom of it and find the truth. At least, you do if you're Spider Latham, sheriff of Lincoln County. It being a small county and all, he knows all of the characters involved in this little drama--some better than others, of course--but all of them either by long acquaintance or by reputation. That may stand in the way of finding the truth, though.

While he's trying to sort out the mystery, Spider also has some personal things to work through. His mother, who has dementia, has come to live with them. Some days she is very sharp and other days; other times, not so much. She is not his only house guest at the moment either. The widow of the murder victim and her children no longer have a place to live, so they have come to stay temporarily as well, until they figure out other plans.

So, to say that things have suddenly gotten more complex is putting it mildly. Not only that, as Spider continues to investigate, someone seems out to get him. He and a friend are run off a precipitous mountain canyon road by someone taking shots at them from behind (while driving very fast). Other incidents have come up as well.

It's going to take all of Spider's ingenuity, home-town connections, and no-nonsense reasoning to figure this thing out.

* * * * *
This one was a bit different in tone than the first. I would say leaning more to the exciting side. I still really enjoyed the way Adair develops Spider's character and personal life, along with the mystery itself. He's got all this stuff going on at home to deal with--just like most people do. We may not all have the same stuff, but we've all got difficulties we're dealing with on multiple fronts. I could relate to that part of it.

The jailbreak was a hoot.

I also enjoyed seeing more of his relationship with his wife. The longer I'm married, the more interesting it is to me to see how other couples make things work.

Content: This one was bit more graphic than the first. More blood and guts. Still appropriate for teens, though I'm not sure they would find it as interesting as adults.

The Snakewater Affair (Spider Latham Mystery #3), by Liz Adair

3 stars: Still good, just liked the first 2 better.

Though he's a county sheriff, not a PI, Spider is called in by the CEO of a big company to find his missing son-in-law. The missing man had gone up to inspect one of the company's mines at Snakewater and never returned. The CEO expects foul play was involved.

Somewhat reluctantly, Spider takes the case as a side job, without making any promises. He heads up to the mine and begins to poke around a bit. As he does, he uncovers some more things that just don't add up--including the company books for toxic waste removal.

While he's investigating, he's also worrying about and trying to re-establish a connection with his son Bobby, who has left the (Mormon) church. Back at home, his mother's dementia is getting worse and his wife is having to deal with it on her own, since he's gone.

Spider never wanted to get involved with this mess in the first place, but now that he is, he's determined to see it through to the bitter end--whatever that may be.

* * * * *
I guess only so many dead bodies can show up in one small county over a period of a year. :) So Spider had to go off to another place to find his mystery this time. This one was good, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two. In some ways it seemed more formulaic--I pretty much had the murderer pegged right off.

I think I also missed the small-town stuff from the first two books. All of that background was much more of a sidenote in this one, since he was only there off and on. I did enjoy the parts with his son.

* * * * *
I own the first 3 books, but didn't realize there were 2 more until I looked them up on Goodreads just now! I'm excited!

Here's what Goodreads has to say about them:

Trouble at the Red Pueblo

When Deputy Sheriff turned private investigator Spider Latham is sent to help the Red Pueblo Museum, he doesn’t suspect it will cause a rift between his wife, Laurie, and himself. Museum Director Martin Taylor is desperate, and his son Matt is angry. Some unknown person is bent on destroying the museum financially and is about to succeed. Things turn violent. It ends with someone’s skull bashed in with an Anasazi ax, and everyone has motive for the murder.Can Spider untangle the web of secrecy and lies surrounding the museum before the Taylors lose it all? And in the process, can he save his own marriage?

Death on the Red Rocks

Spider Latham finds himself at loose ends. No longer a deputy, he's not sure where he fits in. Then an eminent scientist falls to his death from the cliffs above town. The circumstances are suspicious--and all those with a motive for murder are houseguests of the Latham's.

It's Deputy Sheriff Toby Flint's case, but as everyone knows, Deputy Flint couldn't detect his way out of a paper bag. Helping him, Spider finds himself up to his neck in conjectures and clues until someone knocks him out and dumps him into Peek-a-boo Canyon dudring a rainstorm. Then he's up to his neck in water.

Feverishly working with Toby, Spider's intent on unsnarling the mystery before someone--one of his houseguests?--makes another try on his life.

* * * * *
Now I've got to track down these two! Hey, maybe now that I live in Utah the library will have them! There's a thought.

June 12, 2018

A Little Magic, and a Bit of Mystery

I have fallen far, far behind on my book reviewing. These two are from last year (!), so it is high time I got them posted and sent out into the world. :)  Not that I've stopped reading--on the contrary. So here's to getting caught up, little by little.

Flecks of Gold, by Alicia Buck

3 stars: Modern teenage girl has adventures and falls in love, in a faraway magical land.

Mary Margaret has always been more responsible than her mother, so when yet another relationship goes bad for her, Mary is the one who gets them moved to a new town for a fresh start. Things are going okay, until Mary meets a mysterious boy named Kelson at school. He seems to make her mind go numb. Though she's never been one to flirt or hang out with the boys much (her mother's relationship choices having a lot to do with that), it's a mighty struggle to say no to Kelson's advances. Then things really get weird.

Kelson kidnaps Mary's mom and takes her...somewhere. They vanish in a big flash of light. So, something else you should know about Mary is that she's always seen flashes of gold in her peripheral vision. Sometimes patterns flash into her mind.. When Kelson and her mom disappear, Mary notices a new, complicated gold pattern flash into her mind. She does her best to reconstruct in her mind, giving it a mental twist at the end as she saw him do.

This bit of magic transports her to the world of Iberloah, and straight into a chicken coop. In a few short hours, she has learned all kinds of new things about herself and this different world she is now on (in?). It won't be enough to rescue her mother, but it's enough to start on her journey in that direction.

Along the way she meets a man who becomes her travelling companion: Breeohan. One or both of them is being targeted by assassins, so that keeps things interesting. Her journey will take her to the heart of the kingdom and surprisingly, solve some of the mysteries of her own past.

* * * * *
There were a lot of things I liked about this one. The pattern magic, with different colors signifying different things, was interesting and consistent. Mary's growing relationship with Breeohan was well done, with lots of teasing and lighter moments to balance some of the action.

The plot lost much of its momentum once she reached the castle. There were meetings and political maneuvering, and even a ball or two. Some development of the love triangle. She eventually got back on the road to find her mother, but here again, the action seemed stuck on slow. She and her little band of supporters would make a small amount of progress, argue about what to do next, do what she wanted in the end, get into trouble, get back out, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I have a hard time with these feisty independent heroines, who make impulsive, stupid decisions--which put themselves and everyone who cares about them in danger. It just bothers me. Why can't we have the independence with some rational planning, rather than "Who cares what you say (even though you know more than me about every aspect of this plan?) I'm going to do what I think is best. See ya!" Arg. It's frustrating. This one was a teenager, so that made me tolerate it a little more.

I liked the ending.

Despite the issues I mentioned, I enjoyed it for the most part. I would read a sequel, if one came out.

Content: clean. Ages 12+.


Maids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke

2.5 stars: Okay, but I don't plan to read the rest.

It's 1879, and Annie Fuller is a widow during a time when women don't get much say about anything in their lives. She runs a boardinghouse to make ends meet and also runs a profitable side business as clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. She wears a disguise for her appointments as Madam Sibyl. After all a respectable woman would never be seen associating with someone like that. Her social standing is already precarious enough as it is. She doesn't need to add scandal or rumor to that.

When she receives a threatening letter from one of her late husband's creditors, an odious man who has his eye on the boardinghouse property, she is not sure how she's going to pay him off. Then one of her favorite clients dies--Mr. Matthew Voss. The police are calling it a suicide, but as he was a regular customer and Madam Sibyl was privy to many of his business and private plans, she doesn't believe it. She is fairly certain he was murdered. Why, though, and who would do such a thing?

She aims to look into it. Then Nate Dawson comes along, the Voss family attorney, and he has a few things on his agenda as well. Neither Annie Fuller nor Madam Sibyl were who he expected them to be and yet he finds himself drawn to Mrs. Fuller even as they face-off.

* * * * *
This one was just okay for me, which was a disappointment, because based on the setting I was hoping to really like it. The sparring between Annie and Nate never really captured me. The mystery was fine, but didn't stand out.


* * * * *
Onward and upward! Feels good to get those 2 crossed off the list!

June 3, 2018

Experiencing Some Accelerated Learning

I learned something in this business class I've been taking one night a week.
You ready? 
Here you go:

"Successful business owners recognize mistakes as opportunities
 for accelerated learning."

If this is true, then my learning is at warp speed right now!
I'm accelerating it left and right!
Just about every day, as a matter of fact.

I've already posted some of them, in relation to seed starting.
I tell you, it has been a struggle! 
Our vegetables are popping right up, easy as you please, and meanwhile the flowers are coming here a little and there a little. Mostly--a little.
Just got the dahlias planted this past week, all 49 of them, and yesterday I put in a whole row of sunflowers. (Seeds; we'll see how many come up!)
 At least my dahlias are growing, bless their tuberous little hearts!
Still only have about 3 cosmos that have come up. 3! Cosmos are usually unstoppable!

Remember this?
The cosmos jungle from my Washington garden.

If I don't get more coming up in the next few days I'm going to have to reseed.
I have already reseeded the bachelor's buttons that were no-shows = most of the row. Sigh.

In the meantime, the owner of the store where I have my booth has very graciously allowed me to cut her peonies (from her front yard--she is wonderful), and I have purchased some perennials for my flower beds that I will be able to cut from right away. 
I have continued to forage for filler in my back yard/weed patch. 
I do have to say--that has been pretty awesome.
I found a bunch of pennycress (which you can buy seeds for, and plant on purpose and everything!) growing amongst the thigh-high weeds in my unfinished greenhouse.
I've been cutting that for filler.

Peonies with pennycress, ready to go to the booth

Then just today I happened to identify the weed with the pretty little purple flower at the tip as alfalfa. I have no idea how it will do as a cut, but I'm going to try it tomorrow and see how long it lasts! Slightly worried about customers with allergies to alfalfa, but it wouldn't be to the fresh stuff, would it? More like the hay? Anyway...more accelerated learning coming my way!

My youngest brother, who served a mission for our church in the Czech Republic, said that someone told him that it would take a million mistakes to learn to speak Czech fluently.
So he decided that he would make them as fast as he could.
He spoke Czech to anyone and everyone, making many mistakes along the way.
By the end of his 2 years there, he was fluent.

Maybe that's the same with this flower farming stuff.
(Although, I hope the threshold for mistakes vs. competency is much lower than a million!)
I guess as long as I'm LEARNING from my mistakes, then it's all good, right?
Especially since my family doesn't have to depend on this business as our main income at this point.

One thing I have learned as I have struggled with getting my annuals going from seed, is that I need to plant a whole bunch more shrubs and perennials to get me through, just in case. I feel confident growing them--that's what gardening is all about. I can do that! 

However, I have not given up on seed starting and annuals.
I am determined to become really good at it.
It will save me so much money in the end, if I can just get the darn things to grow!
Even growing perennials from seed myself instead of paying expensive nursery prices would be awesome!! I also need to figure out how to harden them off without going crazy or inadvertently killing the hardy few that have survived my ineptitude so far. 
Hardening off is such a pain in the neck!

In 5 years, when all this has become easy and no problem, I will probably look back on this post with a rueful smile and just shake my head. Or maybe not. 
By then I'm sure I will be busy accelerating my learning in other areas.