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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Hiatus

 Dear friends and followers,

Because of some family health issues, I am taking the next two weeks off. I just finished reading The Thursday Murder Club for my Thursday Book Club and absolutely loved it! I will write my feelings about it when I return. 



Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Magpie Murders

 By Anthony Horowitz


Harper  2017

496 pages     Mystery

I finally got around to reading Magpie Murders, which has been on my Kindle for the last five years, and I am so glad that I did, even though it took me nearly two weeks to get through the book. When you read a book on a Kindle, you have no idea how long the book is—the major disadvantage of a Kindle. However, I kept reading and loving every moment. I wanted to get it read before it becomes a series on PBS Masterpiece in October.

Agatha Christie was the queen of mystery novels, and Horowitz follows in her path with his first murder mystery novel, after having written many mysteries for television. The NY Times says, “Mr. Horowitz makes gleeful use of the Christie format by creating a 1950s mystery within a mystery set in contemporary London.” You may want to read the rest of the newspaper’s interview with Horowitz.

Here is a brief summary from Time magazine.  “Why is it that we have such a need for murder mystery,” asks Susan Ryeland, the narrator of British author Anthony Horowitz’s new novel, Magpie Murders, “and what is it that attracts us — the crime or the solution? Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?”

If anyone should be able to answer these questions, it’s Susan. As an editor at a publishing house, she works with the massively successful Alan Conway, a writer of Agatha Christie-style whodunits. Magpie Murders is one mystery novel wrapped in another: we peruse Alan’s latest manuscript alongside his editor, while another crime plays out in Susan’s life. Evidence mounts that finding the guilty party in the book will shed light on the case in real life.”

All of the characters are very firmly drawn—in the novel and in Susan’s life. I had a bit of trouble remembering characters from the back and forth between the two settings, especially when Susan began investigating the characters in Alan Conway’s life and how they compared to the characters in his novel. I did a lot of “Oh, Yeah! That’s the vicar! Or, “Oh Yeah! That’s the doctor’s secretary!” Did I figure out who was the killer in each of the cases? Nope! It was all just so much fun!

I particularly loved how Susan wades through the information on her way to solving each of the crimes. I can’t wait to see how her character is played by Leslie Manville when the PBS series comes out.  I had read the second book in the series, Moonflower Murders early in 2021. Not sure why I didn’t go right back and read Magpie Murders. I love Susan. She wades into this mystery with little hesitation. She is a bit surprised at herself, but she knows she has to solve this crime!

So, if you get a longing for traditional murder mysteries with a modern twist, check out these two masterpieces.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Still on Fire

 By Renee Linnell


Pink Skeleton     2022

227 pages     Memoir

I read and reviewed Renee Linnell’s first memoir The Burn Zone in 2018 and was impressed by how she grew, following her realization that she had become embroiled in a spiritual cult. I remembered how much of an adventurer Renee Linnell was/is, and her new memoir, Still on Fire, continues her story with as much fervor as The Burn Zone held.

Linnell dedicates the book “to everyone who is tired—tired of fitting in, tired of playing small, tired of being afraid, overworked, overstressed…and tired of living a life without true joy. May you stop making excuses for why mediocrity is okay for you and take the leap into a life that you love.” She has divided the book into five parts: decisions, wild ride, spirit, love, and whole. The book ends with an epilogue that puts her philosophy of life into a nutshell. She says, “When we are handed this one life to live (this time around) why are we holding back? Why are we not creating something magnificent and truly unique to us?”


Linnell has definitely created a “truly unique” life, and Still on Fire bears witness to her uniqueness. She has had several careers, been very entrepreneurial, and started several businesses. Her newest venture appears to be a publishing company, called Pink Skeleton.

My favorite chapter concerns her visiting Buenos Aires as a tango dancer. Apparently tango is something that Linnell is an expert at, along with surfing, and meeting up with a variety of “hot” men. Of course, while in Buenos Aires, she meets a professional tango dancer at a local milonga. She had seen him before and apparently was looking for him to arrive—or hoping for him to arrive. The entire chapter is very sensual, but I loved the imagery of the dancing.

Linnell travels all over the world in Still on Fire. You will travel with her place by place,  incident after incident, all of the time learning the life lessons she, herself, has learned throughout her remarkable life. It is all very candid, and the reader is left with the impression that this wonderful woman has been open to whatever life may offer her. Would I like to have some of these adventures? For sure!

Norm Goldman has a terrific review of the book and an interview with the author on his website. Here, also, is Linnell’s website. Her newest book comes out tomorrow, August 16.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Book Lovers

 By Emily Henry


Berkley     2022

377 pages     Romantic Comedy

I don’t usually choose romance novels to read. However Book Lovers was our book club choice for August. And surprisingly, I enjoyed it for the most part because it was so skillfully written. Great characters, delightful setting, and interesting plot devices. Also because it has been a best seller since it came out in May, and I was curious about it. The NPR reviewer had this to say, “Book Lovers by Emily Henry is both a tribute to and takedown of this cultural form by a star of the summer beach read. Her playful and clever contemporary romance — her third — pokes holes in many of the assumptions that surround small towns in popular culture.

Nora Stephens, the narrator of the book, is a New Yorker through and through. She has had various love affairs, all of which have ended up disasters with Nora being dumped. Her younger sister, Libby, however, is married and expecting her third child. After their mother’s death, Nora finished raising Libby and they have an extremely close bond. Libby comes up with a suggestion that she and Nora take a vacation alone together to the small town of Sunshine Falls, just outside Asheville, North Carolina.  Nora is a book agent and knows that she will have to work while on vacation. She very soon begins to suspect that Libby’s marriage may be having trouble and that is why she wanted to leave for a while. Oh, and by the way, Sunshine Falls is the setting of the last book Nora was the agent for.

Surprisingly, when they get to a rental house high on a mountain in Sunshine Falls, Nora finds Charlie, a book editor that she has had a rather unfortunate meeting with over a book edit. What is Charlie doing in this small North Carolina town? They are very attracted to each other, and thus the plot begins.

There is a familiar trope in romance fiction that hard-edged city people go to small town America to rest and renew. Love and romance can come in quaint, lovely small towns. The Kirkus reviewer says that “Henry never falls into the easy trap of vilifying either small towns or big cities, allowing her characters the room to follow their dreams, wherever they lead.”

Book Lovers is character driven, and the reader identifies quickly with the beauty of the setting and the beauty of the love between sisters as well as the love between Nora and Charlie. The theme of the love of reading, books, and book stores runs through the entire book, including a list at the end of Nora and Libby’s best books. I was very impressed by how Henry wove everything together. I will be leaving North Carolina behind for a while—this was my second North Carolina book in a row, following the mystery The Last to Vanish.

Here's a cute article about how Emily Henry vacations and her favorite Midwestern cities, including Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Last to Vanish

 By Megan Miranda


Scribner 2022

336 pages     Mystery

 Megan Miranda hiked on the Appalachian Trail when she was a child and now lives in North Carolina. The compelling atmosphere of those mountains became the setting for her newest novel The Last to Vanish.   

Abby Lovett came to Cutter’s Pass and the Passage Hotel following the death of her mother when she was looking for a purpose for her life. The inn had been built by some relatives, but Abby knew nothing about the notoriety for Cutter’s Pass as the “most dangerous town in North Carolina.”  It was so named because over 25 years, several trail hikers have disappeared, including a group of four college friends, nicknamed the Fraternity Four, a woman in 2012, a photographer in 2019, and an investigative journalist just four months ago  Abby had met both the photographer and the journalist in her job as manager of the hotel, but she does not become particularly concerned until the brother of the journalist arrives at the hotel looking for information.

It is then that Abby really becomes interested in the mystery and concerned about the role the hotel (or people connected with the hotel) might have had to the disappearances. She finds  an important piece of evidence in an unlikely place, and now she is firmly in the mystery. She discovers how little she really knows about the coworkers, people of the community, and even those closest to her. The tension increases until it culminates in a scene worthy of a scary film.

Miranda does a wonderful job creating the setting for the book. The village of Cutter’s Pass, the Appalachian trail that leads from the hotel, and the nearby waterfall are so well described that the reader settles right in, until the sense of foreboding strangles the beauty of the scenery. Here is a lovely description of an Appalachian morning. “In the distance, the fog was lifting off the mountain, like smoke. Wisps of heavy gray still clung to the trees in sections, muting everything. It was my favorite kind of morning, haunting and beautiful.”

 Miranda also develops strong characters, although I had occasional trouble remembering who some of them were—particularly people from the village who play smaller roles in the plot.

The plot, itself, is a slow burn. A couple of times I thought I wanted to quit because the story moved so slowly, but I kept getting drawn in until I just couldn’t stop reading. The Kirkus reviewer suggests that “the plot finally loses itself somewhat in a tangle of strained connections.” However that reviewer calls The Last to Vanish a “richly atmospheric thriller.” Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and mentions that Miranda is “writing at the top of her game.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to give The Last to Vanish five stars, nor would I say that this was my favorite book of the summer. However, it made me want to go on a hiking trip—just not alone!

Here is Megan Miranda’s website and a list of all her books. The Last to Vanish was the first that I had read although, as it turns out, I have two other of her novels on my Kindle, sent from the publisher. I’ve got a lot more reading to do!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Latecomer


 By Jean Hanff Korelitz


Celadon Books     2022

448 pages     Literary

What a fascinating book! I read The Plot about a year ago and watched the HBO series The Undoing, which is based on Korelitz’s novel, You Should Have Known. This is an author with great skill and talent. Among her many gifts is character development, which is on full display in her newest novel, The Latecomer.

I really like the summary provided in the Kirkus review, which begins “A fatal car crash sets the stage for a fraught marriage and family life.” In its essence, The Latecomer is the story of the relationship between triplets, who began their life as IVF embryos. It follows their lives as well as the lives of their mother Johanna and their father, Sal Oppenheimer, until the triplets are young adults. The third section of the book tells the story of their sister, Phoebe (the fourth IVF embryo) and how the conflict between the triplets becomes resolved. It’s a complicated story, and Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally play huge roles, both with each other and through the eyes of their much younger sister, Phoebe.

There is a lot of family drama, but there is also some illuminating knowledge. For instance I knew nothing about Outsider Art, of which Salo Oppenheimer became an expert collector. Outsider Art is art made by self-taught or na├»ve artists who had little or no connections with the conventional art world. The work of several outsider artists are mentioned as being part of Salo’s collection. I had to look it all up. Fascinating information.

The triplets are completely alienated from each other. It isn’t until Phoebe enters their lives when they are young adults that they begin to try to understand and relate to each other. I felt that Korelitz did an outstanding job of creating these characters and the dilemmas of their birth and upbringing. She described so well why they had so little relationship with each other, and why their family was so disheveled. However, she also tied it all together well, without any “goodie two-shoes” ending. As the Kirkus reviewer says, “The resolution, complete with a wedding, persuasively and touchingly affirms that even the most damaged people can grow and change.”

I thought the portrayal of each of the Oppenheimer triplets and the chapters dedicated to each of them was spot on and enlightening. The New York Times reviewer speaks of the old-fashioned plot points such as a tragic accident and an extramarital affair, but also contemporary like the test-tube creation of the triplets, and the birth of their frozen-embryo sister. The reviewer says, that “it’s testament to Korelitz’s achievement that her novel leaves us wanting more…The Latecomer is consistently surprising…It is a Gilded Age novel for the 21st century.”

All in all, I loved The Latecomer. I think you will too. I just read that it will be a television series, just as You Should Have Known became The Undoing. The Plot is also being developed as a Hulu series. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Murder at Minnesota Point

 By Jeffrey Sauve


North Star Editions     2022

208 pages     True Crime

Minnesota Point is one of the showcase spots in Duluth Minnesota, my home town. Sticking out in the harbor between Duluth and Superior Wisconsin, it is the best picnic and swimming spot on the few days that the weather is warm enough for such adventures. The Park Point neighborhood is connected to the main part of the city of Duluth by the famous Aerial Life Bridge (the only still-working bridge like it in the world.) When the murder on Minnesota Point occurred, however, people got to Park Point (its common name) by several different ferry systems.

Archivist Jeffrey Sauve became intrigued with the story of the murder of Lena Olson on the Minnesota Point beach, which happened in the summer of 1894, and decided to explore the story further. The murder was called the “crime of the century,” and it’s long, involved solution forms the basis of the book. Sauve’s research lasted ten years.

After she was found dead on the beach, the victim remained anonymous for a considerable time, and the coroner left her body for the community to see for several days before she was identified. When she finally was identified as Lena Olson, she was buried in a pauper’s grave. Slowly, the potential killer was identified, and two years later the crime was solved by skilled (for the day) detective work.

Sauve very carefully takes the case to its fitting, although unsatisfying, conclusion when the villain commits suicide in jail. He says in the introduction that “the following narrative is faithful to its unfolding, and quotations are verbatim as printed in various period newspapers. Discrepancies between sources are explained in chapter endnotes. She is remembered.”

I was very intrigued by the crime, of course, because I know the area so well from my childhood, when I was on that beach many times and had been on the beach just last summer with three grandchildren. However, I had never heard about the murder. I kept my phone close to my side as I was reading, so I could Google relevant information. For instance, I had never heard the term “O-at-ka” Beach, which was the name of the beach where the body was found. We just always called it Park Point.

The most exciting part of the narrative for me was the detailed exploration of detective work in the last years of the 19th century. One would think that information would be extremely limited by distance and the ways in which information was shared. This particular case had detectives traveling from Duluth to Minneapolis to Chicago to Tacoma Washington. The detectives would hop on the train to travel to points all over the country, because the suspect was a very well-traveled scoundrel. Information was shared via telegraph, but of course, Sauve had modern day access to newspapers from all over the country and used these 21st century technologies to follow the story. Those details were fascinating.

I will definitely explore the sites of the book when I return to Duluth this fall. True-crime aficionados and lovers of Minnesota history will celebrate Murder at Minnesota Point, which was published this week. Kudos to Jeffrey Sauve for his skilled detective work and page-turning writing.

Here is an excellent summary of the book.