Arsenic with Austen

Katherine Bolger Hyde’s Arsenic with Austen takes place really close to where I live. Emily Cavanaugh teaches at Reed College, less than 1 mile from me, and travels to the Oregon Coast town, which her aunt owned most of the property. After her aunt’s death, Emily inherits her aunts mansion as well as most of the town. There are many who resent what she represents and how her aunt managed her property development. When another elderly woman ends up dead under very suspicious circumstances, its up to Emily and her lover from 30 years prior to solve the crime.

This was a super sweet love story told through a murder investigation. It was a quick, enjoyable read. The twists and turns weren’t that surprising, but her interspersing of famous authors was quaint.

Read December 2016.

The Woman in Blue

Elly Griffiths The Woman in Blue has Ruth Galloway helping investigate the murder of a young woman who died dressed eerily like the Virgin Mary and found in one of the holiest places in England. Ruth helps Detective Nelson determine the motive behind the murder. With so many religious types running around Walshingham during the Lent and Easter season, there are so many church conspiracies to consider. Is it the writer of the letters bashing women’s new role as priests? Or the secret group obsessed with the Virgin Mother as the ultimate mother figure? Or are these 2 groups linked together in ideology and guilt?

An interesting read. There was a lot of colorful characters and plots that should have help my interest, but I was too absent minded to read quickly.

Read December 2016.

10% Happier

10% Happier- How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works- A True Story, by Dan Harris, tells his own story of how he came to mediation but it also serves as a reference for many other religious or self-help books. He includes brief synopsis of what the main teachings are for many of the teachers out there.

I found this book after spending a weekend at a meditation retreat. It was recommended for beginning meditators by several different participants. I was able to read it faster than any other book in the last couple of months. It helped clarify some aspects of meditation that I was working on, like clearing my mind, how to get comfortable, how difficult mediation can be, etc. He includes many helpful types of mediation and I really enjoyed the compassionate meditation, where you focus your compassion on others as part of your practice.

I really enjoyed how honest Dan Harris was about his approach to meditation and how others in his life viewed this new passion of his. He’s helping mainstream meditation and showing how meditation can help with real life challenges.

Great read and exactly what I need in my life right now. Highly recommend for anyone having a hard time turning off their inner voice.

Read November 2016.

Bitter River

Small West Virginian Prosecutor Bell Elkins is called out to the investigation into the murder of Lucinda Trimble, a pregnant teenage girl, in Julia Keller’s Bitter River. The poor teenager is found strangled in her car that was found mostly underwater in the Bitter River. Bell needs to look into her wealthy boyfriend’s family, her eclectic mother, and any one else in the small town of Acker’s Gap that might have a motive to kill.

This novel also provided a glimpse into rural West Virginian politics and life. A world has moved past them when jobs and hope left. Kids growing up in this area either are resigned to their fate or make plans or dreams to get out. Learning what motivated the teens in the town, shows how hope can spring up in even the least hopeful places.

As the investigation trudges along, a random shooting almost hits Bell’s secretary and the local diner explodes in a possible gas leak. With all this happening, its hard for Bell and the Sheriff Nick Fogelsong to not miss the important clues that will lead to the killer.

The murder mystery was well written and kept the clues so hidden as to have a real surprise at the ending. The other crimes, the shooting at the secretary and the explosion, I felt were too obvious. I read this book over a couple of weeks and I still pieced it together before Elkins and Fogelsong. But I still really enjoyed the characterization of many of the characters as well as the feeling of place in the novel.

Read November 2016

The Cold Song

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song tells the story of a family unravelling. Siri, a well known chef; John, a novelist with writer’s block; Jenny, Siri’s mother; young kids in the house and neighborhood; and the nanny. The stories of the characters intertwine and change from blaming themselves to blaming each other. What happens to an already disruptive family when the nanny, a beautiful young woman, ends up missing after a birthday party for Jenny. A party Siri plans but no one else wants.

Is it the philandering husband? The jealous wife? The alcoholic grandmother? One of the children? Or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time? The narrative weaves the guilt of each person and their relationships until we finally learn what happened.

This was a slow read for me, but I think the pacing of the book is meant to mimic the coldness in the family. When no one can trust or talk to one another, a frigidness and slowness seeps in.

Read November 2016.

The Dead of Summer

Its been a hectic time here in my life. This and the next couple of books were read slowly, in between lots of homework and crazy schedules. I couldn’t find the time or head space to read very often, so each of the next 3 books were read over weeks, which is unlike me. I blame me, not the novelist.

The Dead of Summer, by Mari Jungstedt is about murders that are well planned and executed for an unknown reason. At first, assistant Karin Jacobsson is given the job to begin the investigation, but her boss, Anders Knutas returns from vacation to take over. There is some resentment, but that doesn’t deter Jacobsson from her investigation. Intermingled with the present day investigation, is the story of a German family who vacationed on the Baltic Sea many years ago.

It isn’t until the motive for the murders is revealed can we understand the reason for the backstory. This was a good mystery with all the clues planted in plain sight, but it isn’t until the final connection is made can we, and Jacobsson, understand what happened.

Read November 2016.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a sweet tale of a Swedish bookworm, Sara, and her penpal Amy from Broken Wheel, Iowa. When Amy invites Sara to spend a holiday at her home in her small-town, she described a once thriving town on decline. When Sara arrives, not only is the small town at deaths door, but Amy has passed through. Unaware of Amy’s death, Sara now finds herself the guest of the whole town, not that there’s much to see.

Trying to repay all the kindness, Sara starts a store with all Amy’s books. She cannot officially work and does it all for free. This seems to start a rivalry with the next, more lively town over, and Broken Wheel starts to come back to life. Sara’s visa will be ending soon, so the town comes up with a plan to keep Sara there.

A cute, fun read.

Read October 2016.