Book Review Saturday: Hannah Swensen Holiday Mysteries

“… a Santa-sized sackful of trouble ensues.”

Christmas time usually involves a handful of fun, easy reads and several binge sessions of Hallmark holiday movies. No worries though, I still manage to fit in quite a bit of reading between The Christmas Kiss and The Santa Clause. I have never read Joanne Fluke but the thought of a few mindless hours behind a Christmas themed book was too tempting to pass up. I finished Christmas Caramel Murder in a few hours and returned to the library the next day for another one. It was hard to limit myself, but I need to save a few for next year, right? The books are very short and include several recipes for those that are baking inclined. I must admit that a sugar cookie craving followed. I doubt mine tasted quite like the book proposed but I was up for the challenge.

I read the books out of order and it didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t know all the back story or characters but that wasn’t why I was reading. I just wanted to solve the murder while humming Christmas tunes and imagining the town all decked out in holiday cheer. The Christmas Caramel Murder finds Mrs. Clause dead in the snow. Mrs. Clause, better known as Phyllis Bates, has angered several people including Lisa, Hannah’s best friend. Phyllis was chosen to play Mrs. Clause alongside Lisa’s husband, her ex-boyfriend whom she kisses during rehearsal of the Christmas Carol play. Hannah must work quickly to solve the murder because her friends are high on the suspect list. This was my favorite of the two. Sugar Cookie Murder was a bit drawn out. Murder strikes at the annual Christmas buffet and Hannah decides to put her investigation skills to work since Detective Mike is shorthanded. The new wife of Martin Dubinski is found dead in the snow with the whole town stranded in the Community Center as suspects. The obvious suspects such as the ex-wife, ex-boyfriend and husband who was already regretting the marriage are ruled out, but the real evidence comes in the form of photographs of the event. Hannah always seems to find the killer before Mike and it seems a bit far fetched that the detective is always a few steps behind.

I do not read these cozy mysteries looking for five star reads. If that is what you are looking for, you will be very disappointed. I read these to escape for a few hours and not have to think or be challenged. That isn’t a negative against the author, these just aren’t those type of books. I know people who rate them with one star because they say the writing is awful, or it’s too predictable but what did they expect? I think book reviewers fail to consider context and audience which can be a detriment to many authors. Be considerate before you review. It will make for a better reading and writing experience for all.

Do you have any holiday reads that you enjoy? I would love to add some new ones to my reading roster. Please send me some of your favorites!


Write About it Wednesday: Front- Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign

“Every day on the campaign trail Trump’s actions test the definition of normal.”

This is quite possibly my favorite read of 2017. Unbelievable is just as the title states: Unbelievable. I watch the news. I follow campaign trails. I don’t get caught up in the day to day as often as I used to, but I like to know what is going on in the world around me. Katy Tur’s first-hand account of the recent presidential election had me questioning everything I know and remember. The book starts out with her receiving the Trump assignment (and some sex with a man she met on Tinder) and follows the campaign from the very beginning of Trump’s announcement of his candidacy to the final victory party. She pieces together her time on the road through memory, tweets, TV scripts and a compilation of notes that were outlined and then published for us to enjoy. Although Tur asks difficult questions of Trump, she claims no political affiliation to remain unbiased. I did feel she leaned toward Democratic views, but her book focuses on Trump and the evolution of campaign coverage. It truly was the CRAZIEST campaign in American history and she was there through it all.

What makes this book so great? I keep asking myself this question. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason that I loved it except to say that I took my reading further than words on the page. When an interview was mentioned, I found myself searching YouTube for the video. When a person is mentioned that I hadn’t heard of, I found them on Twitter. Tur’s story is down to Earth, easy to read and opens your eyes to the things that journalists deal with in our current media climate. Trump called her out on multiple occasions and violent threats were a real possibility from his supporters. Her interviews weren’t flawless, she didn’t claim to be perfect, she was real.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who enjoys politics, history or a laugh when it comes to presidential candidates. I will look at political coverage in a new light and have become an active Twitter follower of many news sites and organizations. I have been looking for a journalist from the Clinton campaign to come forward with a similar title, but no luck so far. As many of you know, I try to always read both sides of any story so if you have recommendations, please feel free to share!

Book Review Saturday: Lincoln in the Bardo

“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”

I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.

With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.

Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.


Write About it Wednesday: Start Writing Your Book Today

“Most successful authors began their writing career in the margins of their normal life.”

I thought I would cover a few books about writing in honor of #nanowrimo. Although I am not participating this year because of graduate school, I still have been writing here and there and planning out my ideas. This book helped me get over the fear of sharing that I want to write a novel one day. Why is it so hard to say that out loud to people? Are we afraid of their judgement, afraid that we will never accomplish it or just lacking confidence in ourselves? I’m over it. I know this is something that I want to do and I don’t want to wait until I “have more time,” “all my research is complete,” or “when I become a better writer.” This book is 103 pages of pure motivation with excellent advice and easy to follow steps.’

The most important first step is writing your WHY. Why is this book important to you and why are you writing? This should be written down somewhere for you to return to when you lack motivation or feel like giving up. It is an excellent reminder. Setting weekly writing goals and tracking word count progress is vital to completing the project. If the book truly matters then you will make time in between your daily life to meet the goals. The author suggests using Pomodoro sessions working in small chunks of time with short breaks in between. Intention for the writing should be set along with a timer so the writing is meaningful and not wasted. She outlines a seven-week process for completing your first draft. At first, I thought this seemed way out of reach but I believe if her system is followed it would be possible. She even allows time for free writing which will eventually become the basis for the rough draft. After the rough draft, she describes ways to deal with criticism, revisions and helps you develop good writing habits.

I like the direct approach of this book. She is straight to the point and provides easy to follow steps to becoming the writer you want to be. She includes several resources in the back that assist with tracking your progress to stay accountable, advice on the creation of a reverse outline, and guides to developing the habits that will get you closer to your dream. This book was worth the money and just what I needed to get in gear. There are so many books out there for writers and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which ones will help you. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was quickly developing my why and creating outlines for future work.

Good luck to everyone who is typing away at their word counts. I’m proud of you! I hope to join you soon. If you have any books that have helped your writing career, please share! I would love to hear from you.


Book Birthday: Skavenger’s Hunt

“And the one thing that each of those three hunts had in common? Every riddle, every clue…was put together by one mysterious, very secretive man who put his very own name on it.”

Happy Book Birthday to Mike Rich!

I found this one on Net Galley while searching for a book to read with my class. I flew through it but didn’t LOVE it. It is a cute story. I am very hesitant of books that bring in historical characters to this age group. They see the history as fact even if labeled fiction. I wish that wasn’t the case but it affects my review of books in this genre.

Henry is cooped in the house and lacks any sense of adventure since his father’s death. His mother tries to keep him safe at all costs, even going so far as to suggest he wear a coat in the house to prevent a cold. What Henry doesn’t know is that his grandfather is about to bring him an adventure beyond his wildest imagination. His grandfather shares an ancient scroll with him and eager to find out the meaning, he sneaks into his grandfather’s study and is transported to the past. The Skavenger hunt is on! He must solve the clues to find his way back to his mother while keeping an eye on the scroll. If the scroll runs out, he will be locked into the past forever.

It sounds kind of cheesy. I will admit. I did like the story but some of the journey is a bit farfetched. I know times were different back then but I can’t see several children traveling by boat to Paris without a bit more difficulty than they encountered. It plays out like most treasure hunting stories by traveling on a journey to find the prize and ending up finding yourself along the way.  There is some added intrigue with Hiram Doubt and his Four Men of Darkness chasing the kids while they hunt for the clues but not enough to give the element of mystery and suspense. I knew what was going to happen early on but I finished to see what characters from history would appear next.

The entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking Hunter S. Skavenger is based on Hunter S. Thompson. I need to email the author and ask. I wound up reading Thompson when it clearly stated Skavenger throughout the entire book. I’m always curious where inspiration strikes. On to the next review!


Book Review Saturday: Memoirs of a Public Servant

“They never had an opportunity to fight back, to look their enemy in the eyes while engaging them in combat. Their wives are without husbands, and their children are without fathers. The community lost protectors, servants and heroes.”

This book was brought to my attention by a family member who shares my love for reading. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, she was looking for a way to contribute or give back. Purchasing this book and sharing it with others was her small way of contributing. Memoirs of a Public Servant was written by Charleston Hartfield, the off-duty police officer killed on the strip slightly over a month ago. This book was published in July 2017 only a few months before his tragic death. I was hesitant at first to pick it up because in full disclosure, my boyfriend is a police officer. I hear the stories, I know what he sees and how people treat and view him. We live in different time now. Public servants are viewed with hostility and the level of respect for the profession is low. Hartfield touched on this topic and even presented his ideas for changing the narrative.

His memoirs were his outlet from his day to day life. If you have met anyone in the public service field then you know the stuff they see stays with them. An outlet is necessary for coping and stress relief. The stories bounce from various years but tell a story all their own. He focused on details of specific calls, his family life and even his off-duty gigs. He wrote about the tragic loss of two officers, shot while they were eating dinner on shift. He mentioned several times how important it is to live life to the fullest because you never know how short your time is. It seems like he knew something was going to happen, like the possibility was higher somehow. He discussed his military career and hoped that he might publish his memories to bring perspective and peace of mind to others. We learn about some of his partners, the comradery of the blue family and how important being a husband and father were to him.

This book boasts several grammar errors but they add to the authenticity of his writing. I can picture him walking in after shift, dwelling on the day and needing to type away the worry. I think people forget that officers are regular people. He worked hard, went home, and tried to do the best he could for his family like everyone else in America. He and his fellow officers are taken for granted for the small things they do, the things that make the biggest difference. He took the time to talk to people, to listen before he judged and tried to help all those he met. He called it “concrete preaching” and talked to people about their future and their decisions and tried to guide them in the right direction. He didn’t lose patience, or consider them a lost cause. He believed in his ability to make a difference and this memoir will be his stamp on the world.

I didn’t have a hard time getting through the book. Once I finished reading and began my research on the author is when it became all too real. There are so many news articles and videos about Hartfield that are just heartbreaking. I had to close my laptop and walk away before writing this review. I know that my purchase of this book does not make a huge difference. My only hope is that someone else will read this and then tell their friend about it. We need to bring awareness and perspective to those that are reliant on the media instead of their own research. There are always going to be bad people in the world, but do not throw everyone into that box. Give them a chance to prove themselves to you. Do not pass judgement. And as the book ended, so shall I: “To the WORLD you may be but ONE person, but to ONE person you may be the WORLD.”


Write About it Wednesday: National Author’s Day

“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Today is National Author’s Day! I want to take the time to share with you some of my favorite authors and wish all the future authors good luck on the first day of NaNoWriMo 2017.

A few of my favorite authors include Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson and Patricia Cornwell.

Hemingway wrote what he knew and drank a fair amount of whiskey while he did it. What is not to love? I keep a picture of him at his typewriter by my desk for inspiration. I read A Farwell to Arms in high school and was the only one in my class reading from the required list. I had never read anything like it. It was like a light bulb went off in my head that all books weren’t the same and opened a whole new genre for me.

Jane Austen is a classic. Persuasion is my favorite of her novels. I remember the first time I read Captain Wentworth’s letter and then reading it approximately 100 more times because I was completely obsessed. Unfortunately, I’m serious as several of my friends and family can attest that even they were forced to listen to the letter. Although her novels have led to an unrealistic expectation for romance, I still find myself reading them again and falling more in love each time.

John Steinbeck makes my list for one specific novel, East of Eden. My grandmother recommended it right before passing away and I felt a connection to it. I don’t know if that led to my absolute love for this novel, but it always makes my top 5. I am fascinated at the portrayal of good vs evil and I’ve even considered getting a Hebrew tattoo of the word “timshel” which shows that God provided us with choice. No one can understand the depth of East of Eden until they have read it multiple times. Each time I find something I missed before and fall even further in. Don’t give up on this one in the first few chapters, try to see it through. It’s worth your time.

Hunter S. Thompson is the man we all long to be. Carefree, tell it like it is, master storyteller who changed journalism forever. I started with The Rum Diary and moved on to his collections such as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 and Kingdom of Fear. They are pieced together with articles and essays that were published in various magazines and newspapers. If you ever want to write, go pick up a Thomspon book. It will make you a better writer just by reading his words. Journalists have tried to imitate his style, but there will never be anything that can compare.

Last but not least, Patricia Cornwell makes the list for her Scarpetta series. I have a short attention span. If a series lasts longer than three books, I’m usually throwing in the towel. The Scarpetta series is the exception. I am ready for the next book as soon as I turn the final page. I call them my “escape” books because I read them strictly for pleasure. As a book blogger, reading can begin to take on a new meaning and feel like work. I keep these books to myself and just enjoy them. My bookshelf now features almost the entire series with bones as the bookends. My recent picture of this was liked by Cornwell on Twitter. I thought I was going to faint. I love when authors interact with their readers!

This is just a short list but hopefully it will encourage you to share your own favorites! I’d love to hear from you and feel free to share your writing goals for the month. Happy NaNoWriMo!