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!

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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: Misery

“Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.”

October is a good month to test your reading limits when it comes to horror and mystery. I try to pick a few books that I normally wouldn’t read and see what the hype is all about. I have read Stephen King before, but I rarely seem to finish what I start with him. Misery is the exception. I read this book in five days, and I would have been faster if I didn’t have that pesky thing called a job. My copy of Misery is banged and beaten, and even featured torn pages with that lovely “old book smell,” and a few thunderstorms even managed to come by to add to the ambiance. Do you believe in books finding the right timing in your life? I do, and this one was perfect.

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling author of the Misery Chastain novels, a historical romance series. He wakes up in a strange place, in unimaginable pain to a woman who claims to be “his number one fan.” Having wrecked his car (dislocating his pelvis, shattering his legs and crushing one of his knees), Annie finds him on the side of the road and brings him to her house to care for him. That sounds all well and good until you find out that her caring is torture. Torture that makes the reader keep asking themselves, WAIT? WHAT? When will it stop? This can’t be happening? Or maybe that was just me… Annie is unhappy with the ending of the latest Misery novel. She brings home a typewriter and requests that Paul begin a new novel. Her requests must be answered in the manner she desires or she inflicts physical and mental pain. Spoiler alert: It even goes so far as amputations. I can’t imagine this occurring in real life because it was so extreme.

My question is: How does King come up with this stuff? I do not usually discuss what I am reading with my friends and family. They know that my head is constantly in a book but rarely ask for details. I can’t count the number of people that I have asked/discussed/shared this book with over the past week. His writing is pure genius. Not only do we follow the story of Paul and Annie, but the novel that Paul is writing. I have never read anything like it. The insight into the life of a writer is without measure. I felt like I was digging around in King’s brain through Paul, and through the eyes of a serial killer. Annie is a character that haunts you. I know there are people out in the world that would be capable of this, but I live in a happy bubble of sunshine and rainbows. King pours gasoline on the rainbow and slices through the sun. I would recommend this book to everyone who dreams of becoming a writer, or dares to dive into the mind of King. Misery stands out from his other novels. The book is worth your time, but know that the content is not suitable for everyone.

Stay tuned for a special Halloween review! Happy (spooky) reading my friends!

Book Review Saturday: Ghost

“The other kids were looking at me like most kids did. Like I was something else. Like I wasn’t one of them.”

Many of my close friends have recommended this book. I kept putting it off because I usually do not like books with a lot of hype. I try to read a few from my student’s reading lists, but my time is limited and I tend to pick my favorite genre instead of challenging myself. (Bad reader right?) I finished the entire book in one sitting and immediately wanted to share with my class. I brought the book on Monday and began reading a single chapter, or eight pages here and eight pages there. They love it! They look forward to this reading time and what is going to happen next. It is a fantastic book to hook reluctant readers.

Jason Reynolds writes in a way that kids can relate. The story unfolds as if he is right next to you telling what happened. Ghost had a rough childhood; he does not feel like he belongs anywhere and carries a heavy burden from his past. He sees some kids practicing track one day and decides to race a boy from the other side of the fence. He is fast and the coach convinces his mother to allow him to join. His only requirement is to do well in school, which he manages to mess up the very first day. I enjoyed his journey but the ending! I will definitely be reading the next book in the series and hopefully more titles by Reynolds.

As an adult, you may be able to look back on your middle school years and experiences but this book appeals to a younger audience. If you do your research on Reynolds, you will find that his main goal is to write books for boys who do not like to read. He did not like boring books and neither do kids today, especially with technology to keep them occupied. The mindset is shifting to book choice and allowing diversity. This is a definite must in classrooms across the country.

Write About it Wednesday: Carry A. Nation

“You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion, and I will make all hell howl.”

I love podcasts. I subscribe to anything from history to crime and books in between. Two different podcasts covered Carry Nation and peaked my interest. Most would say that listening to two episodes about a woman would be thorough enough, but leave it to me to have more questions. I had never heard of Nation before listening: first to Stuff You Missed in History Class, and second Criminal with Phoebe Judge and I wanted to know more. I’m a sucker for strong female leaders.

Carry was a trouble maker in her youth until she fell ill and found God. She devoted her life to religion and saw fit to improve the lives of others with HER opinions. She was very reserved until a doctor who was boarding at her home stole a kiss in the dark. She soon found herself in love. Carry married Dr. Charles Gloyd, a well-known to everyone (except Carry) alcoholic, in her early 20’s that set her path in life. He was drunk at the ceremony and she never saw him sober again. Her father came to check on her a few months into the marriage and decided she had to return home immediately and leave her husband. Dr. Gloyd died 6 months after she left from complications due to alcohol abuse. No shock there. Carry was now responsible for her daughter and mother-in-law and needed a career. She became a teacher until she was fired for refusing to change the pronunciation of the short and long a. As a teacher myself, this excuse is so ridiculous that it’s comical. They just wanted her gone.

Her only plan was to marry. When she ran into David Nation she believed it was divine intervention. They were married a few weeks later and moved to Texas. This would be one of many moves as Nation faced disaster everywhere they attempted to settle. Their eventual move to Kansas started the famous saloon smashing and prohibition speeches. Carry noticed that several saloons were still fully operating under laws that forbade the sale of alcohol. She started with warnings but then began to throw bricks into saloons, carry a hatchet which she is well known for, and call out bar owners to close shop. It was her divine calling. She had visions that directed her behavior and many saloons were forced to close after Nation swept into town. Not everyone agreed with her behavior. In 1901, she was beaten by a group of women. She was jailed numerous times and during one of the stays, she began publishing a newsletter that eventually turned into a newspaper called “The Hatchet,” which supported prohibition and women’s rights.

I could talk about Carry Nation all night, but I’m going to save you time. Why in the world is this woman famous? If I decided to walk into a bar, tear it apart and break everything in sight and then tell everyone how they should be living…I’d be in jail for a very long time. Should you be honored for breaking the law because it doesn’t hold true to your own way of thinking? Her visions from God sound almost like Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her children in the bathtub because she had a vision. Believer or non-believer, do we get to use a vision as an out for committing crimes? My research left me with only one thought: Carry Nation was a stubborn, semi-crazy woman in a network of prohibitionists who blamed alcohol for all the problems in the world. I don’t see her as a leader, but as a woman who is just as bad as the people she is trying to stop.

Book Review Saturday: The Body in the Marsh

“Life is out there and has to be lived.”

Body in the Marsh has an excellent cover. I know the old saying, but that is truly why I picked this book. I was expecting a detective novel, but didn’t realize it would be based in Surrey and Kent. It starts out with Detective Craig Gillard rescuing an unknown woman who gets trapped on a mountain during a winter storm. I was thrown off by this part of the story and was hoping to dive right in to the mystery and intrigue. It was no shock when they developed a somewhat dysfunctional relationship that continues throughout the story. For me, the story began when Craig becomes intrigued by a missing person report. It turns out to be an old girlfriend that broke his heart. He still carries around the baggage and can’t see past the love he still feels for her. Most of the time a relationship would mean that he was taken off the case but he hides it from his boss. The author does a good job of leaving trails of clues along the way, but I called the ending early on. I kept reading because I enjoyed the investigation. The side story of Girl F who reported abuse but was dismissed and later killed herself tied in nicely with the missing person case. Overall, I liked that it had a broader focus but I could take it or leave it.

I am always hesitant to review crime novels because I have read so many. When I discover an ending within a few chapters it makes me wonder if my fellow book lovers do as well. I couldn’t get past Craig’s love for Liz, the missing person. He held on for so long and was STILL in love with her after 30 years. I may be doing love wrong, but this seems a bit excessive for a high school love story. I know Nicholas Sparks would disagree but I like my romance to be a bit more realistic. The cases seemed plausible, but I flagged a quote in Chapter 13 for further review. I have a question for all my fellow crime novelists, detectives, lovers of the law:

“First, we’re monitoring every number on his contact list from the original phone. If any of those numbers is called by a number that’s new to them, we’ll get a copy of the metadata.”

Is this legal? Can the investigators really track calls to all the contacts in a person’s phone? Let’s say I had 5 contacts on my phone, then they would tap into those 5 contacts list to see if any new numbers called? This seems a bit farfetched even with our recent Patriot Act, but maybe this happens? I would hope it would at least require a warrant. I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions! Let me know what you think.

Book Review Saturday: Sarah’s Key

“Because they think we are different. So they are frightened of us.”

This book was hard to read. It’s so easy to put the Holocaust and its atrocities behind you and go about your day. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Not dwell on the past or give it another thought? This book slaps you in the face with it and then kicks you while you are down. Honestly, I knew very little about the French involvement in the deportation of Jews and that saddens me. We know what happened, we see the memorials and hear the sad tales but the digging stops there. We don’t want to face those kinds of truths. At one point, my boyfriend asked me why I was still reading if it makes me so upset? My answer was how can I not? The author does not spare you on details, and the pain is brought to life through her intertwining tale of Sarah, a Jewish child who was picked up by the French police, and Julia, a journalist investigating the round up.

Sarah is awoken by the French police banging on the apartment door. They ask for her father but he is already in hiding. The police are not aware of her little brother in the next room so she hides him away in the secret cupboard and locks the door. She knows he will be safe because she believes they will be coming right back. As they walk out onto the street her mother calls her father’s name and he appears. They board a train and are escorted to an arena where they are grouped with the other Jews. They remain there for days. Her brother has no one to save him. The children are eventually left alone and sent to Auschwitz. I waited for any sign of good news in Sarah’s story but little comes.

Julia is an American journalist married to a “typical” French man. She is asked to cover the anniversary of the roundup and becomes completely immersed in the story. Her research unfolds hidden secrets that her husband’s family wishes to stay buried. I don’t know if it’s the fact that she is a journalist or that the story so completely changes her but I just felt drawn to her character. I have buried myself into research and felt the changes in my own life. She wants to make a difference, she wants people to feel something. It’s a quality that appeals to me in a main character. I wasn’t a huge fan of her relationship with her husband that parallels her work, but overall this story will stay with me for a long time.

I highly recommend this book even if you normally shy away from historical fiction. It’s important to remember and study the past, and those emotions and feelings it sparks are what makes us human. It’s easy to leave things in the past, it takes courage to face it head on and learn from it. It only takes one person to change a life, one person to stand up for something, one person to help us remember.