Still Life: A New Favorite Mystery Author

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Every genre is it’s own specific art form. Fantasy and science fiction require a great deal of world creation that may include changing or modifying the very laws of nature. Horror stays mostly realistic while bringing us in as close as possible before the reality takes a horrifying twist. Meanwhile mystery lays a labyrinth for us to explore, keeping us just lost enough to give us hope to continue until the end when the truth is revealed. Nonfiction, historical fiction, and poetry are equally remarkable and every genre brings something different to the literary pallets of readers everywhere. So when an author brings something truly special to the table, it deserves to be tasted and savored. This might involve reading the book slowly, reading it a second time, or continuing to read the rest of the series in a binge reading frenzy. I like the latter, but, as is so often the case, I find myself in a predicament. I finished the book on Friday, Saturday I worked the whole day and couldn’t make it to the library, and it’s now Sunday. By the time I can make it to the library to hopefully find the sequel it will have been two days. Two days since I had a book I wanted to read.

But without further agonizing, I’ll get on with the summary.

Little of note happens within the boundaries of the quaint village of Three Pines. That is, until an elderly resident of the town is found dead in the woods, having been shot through the chest with an arrow. At first everyone assumes it was a hunting accident, but when Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec arrives to investigate he has the distinct feeling that something is wrong. As he pushes further into the investigation he begins to discover that this quiet village holds a great many secrets, some of which will do anything to stay out of the light.

I first noticed Louise Penny when I stumbled upon her eleventh novel, The Nature of the Beast, in Barnes and Noble shortly after it came out. I read the inside cover and was intrigued. I was reading thrillers at the time and from the inside cover it sounded like it would be a good one. But as time passed I grew less interested and eventually I moved on. I had completely forgotten about it until I saw her newest book, The Great Reckoning, on display. I saw her name and it jogged my memory, but still I didn’t pick up any of her books. Then, a short while ago, I discovered an absolutely beautiful bookstore on the western edge of Salt Lake City and went to investigate (if you haven’t yet, you should read my blog post about this book store here), and while perusing the stacks I found the complete collection of Louise Penny’s books. When I asked one of the clerks about them she told me they were some of her favorites and a lot of people had been hooked by them, and if I wanted to try them I should, rather obviously, start from the beginning. And so I did. I took the first book from the shelf and began to read. A half an hour later, and only two chapters in, I left with the book in my hand. Two days later the finished book sat on my nightstand while I longed to buy the next one. I, like so many other before me, was ensnared by the alluring trap of Louise Penny’s creation.

There is something exquisitely beautiful about Penny’s writing. It’s slow, methodical, and intimate. The characters have layers of depth and the relationships they have with each other is honest and sincere. As I turned the last page and laid the book aside, I felt as if I had known the people of Three Pines for a long time. I became invested in the mystery and the surrounding trials the characters endured and desired to spend more time with them. Strangely, I wanted to become a part of their lives so they could get to know me as I had gotten to know them.

If you’re a mystery reader and haven’t read any of the adventures of Chief Inspector Gamache, then you are doing yourself an injustice. I agree with the woman at the bookstore: start from the beginning and keep going. You will not want to miss the opportunity to become a part of life in the small village of Three Pines.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Emergency Preparedness: The Real Necessities

Everyone should have an emergency preparedness plan in case of long-term power outages or natural disasters. When crap hits the fan we need to be prepared to shovel it off our doorsteps. So what do we do? Well, the most important things are food and water (obviously). Make sure you have food storage and water storage to get you and your family through at least three days of rough living. You may think cannibalism is an option, especially if it means getting rid of that one member of the family that no one can stand, but when it comes down to it human flesh isn’t the best option. Next is heat, and if you’re in the freezing climates this is especially important. But what comes after that? Well I found this fantastic poster that explains step three rather well:

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Always keep 3 days worth of books on hand for each member of your family. We can help.

(Sorry about the picture. I took it and not my wife, so the quality is below standard.)

When the end of the world is coming, or at least a long power outage, what are you going to do? There’s no TV and you need your phones in case of emergency. I mean, there’s talking, but let’s be honest: there’s only so much you can talk about before you start to get bored, which leaves books as the prime option. (Well, board games and outdoor activities as well, but there wasn’t a sign for those).

So when you sit down to plan your month’s efforts towards being prepared, don’t forget the third most important part: entertainment, specifically books. If you don’t have a bookshelf with enough books to satisfy everyone for at least three days then head on over to your nearest bookstore or library to stock up. Yes, you may end up reading them before you have to seek protection in your bomb shelter, but there will always be more to read. Treat them like you do your food storage: rotate older stuff with newer stuff so that you’re always prepared.

Thank you for reading today’s public service announcement (See? You’re already preparing yourself. Go you). Have a great rest of your day and don’t forget to put up your yeti deterrent devices when the time comes.

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The Killing Kind: The Darker Side of Mystery

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I’m not sure if it’s the depression or if I’ve just been in a mood for this specific genre, but I’ve been reading a lot of horror/thriller/mystery novels lately. I took a break near the end of last year to delve into the fantasy genre again, but it seems like I’m back with Stephen King and the gang, and now I’ve found a new author whose writing dances with the darker nature of the world: John Connolly.

When Grace Peltier is found dead with a bullet to the brain and a gun in her hand everyone automatically thinks suicide, but her father and a former U.S. Senator think differently. When Charlie Parker is hired to investigate, he’s reluctant and hopes for an easy open-and-shut case to put everyone’s minds at ease, but what he discovers goes much deeper than anyone could have imagined. As Charlie follows the evidence he finds himself becoming a person of interest for a shadowy religious group known as the Fellowship, and as the pieces begin to slide into place it becomes evident that Grace Peltier’s death was no suicide. As more information continues to surface a connection begins to emerge between Grace and the disappearance of a religious community known as the Aroostook Baptists who disappeared thirty years before.

I have only read one other of Connolly’s books, The Book of Lost Things, and it was one of the darkest YA books I’ve ever read. And now I know why. Connolly’s books are grizzly; he doesn’t shy away from death or what death would look like to those who stumble upon it. His descriptions were never so bad that I felt disgusted or shocked, but when there was a dead body to be found there were no questions about whether or not they were still alive.

To be entirely honest this book made me nervous when I first started reading. For one it was the third book in the series, but the library didn’t have the first one so I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a go. Most mysteries don’t have to be read in a particular order anyway. Second, when I looked up some reviews on Amazon someone said that Connolly goes into a great deal of detail on the scenes when dead bodies are discovered, but I thought again I just thought to heck with it, I’ll give it a go. I decided the worst thing that could happen is I didn’t like it and ended up returning it to the library. As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary. There were a lot of references to the previous books, but Connolly gave enough background information that I could glean the most important details of what happened before and the issues with the descriptions of dead people were detailed but, as I said above, they weren’t so graphic that they took away from the book.

As far as mysteries go it wasn’t a hugely complex one. About halfway through I was able to figure out what was going on for the most part. It wasn’t an Agatha Christie type of mystery, but that didn’t seem to be what Connolly was going for. He seemed to be putting off a bit more a Stephen King vibe: applying regular escalating high points throughout the plot that kept the reader wary of what was to come.

If you’re worried about this book being too violent or too graphic, not to worry; it’s not very violent at all. Being a mystery and all, most of the killing happens off screen, so sto speak, and we are only shown the aftermath, some of which is shown in detail, but Connolly leaves enough unsaid for us to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Which I realize might be worse for some, but ultimately I believe it to be less graphic than several other popular books adorning the shelves of Barnes & Noble and Amazon at the moment. If you feel as though I’m contradicting myself, I apologize. The Killing Kind is proving much more difficult to describe than I had originally thought.

If you’re worried about reading this book then my suggestion for you would be to simply read the prologue before you make your final decision about whether to pass or press forward. The most intense scene is right in the beginning, so if you can get through that you’ll be okay. For those of you who give this book a try and are able to get through the prologue, I assure you you won’t be disappointed.

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My Bookstore Experience: The King’s English in Salt Lake City, UT

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There are bookstores and there are bookstores.

When I walk into one of the latter I can feel it instantly; it begins as a soft vibration in the air that leads me by an invisible thread through the rooms and aisles, but soon grows into a tremor of excitement. I’ll pull books from shelves, examining the cover and flipping to random pages, never reading anything. As the vibrations pass I revisit rooms and select books that catch my eye, either because I know them or they have an intriguing title or cover, and begin reading. Some I put back after a paragraph or a page while others remain glued to my palms for a chapter or more. Eventually, I’ll find a book or two and a little nook where I can sit, nestled into the very folds of the bookstore, and let the smell of old and new pages waft through my senses, gently holding me in place until it’s time to go.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe instead of bookstores it’s a clothing or music store. Regardless of what the store holds, it becomes a magical place. My most recent experience of this happened shortly after I dropped my wife off at the airport for her birthday. After going back to sleep because I had only managed to capture a couple hours of z’s, I woke up, got dressed, had breakfast, and had to make a decision. I didn’t have to go to work until 4:00 PM, which left me several hours before I had to make the long drive back. I could write, but the idea of sitting in my hotel room on my laptop sounded a little too isolated and so I looked for bookstores. I eventually found one that had good reviews and decided, seeing as I had nothing better to do, to check it out for a few hours. So off I went.

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After struggling to find the door (which was right out front some 20 feet from my car) and finally entering through the back door, I was brought to a sudden stop on the entrance mat. Rooms branched off in three different directions. To my right was the children/young adult section, to my left was a whole room dedicated completely to mysteries,

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and in front of me was fiction and the rest of the store. It was like a maze as I wound from room to room and down short hallways to discover more rooms. My only complaint was that the fantasy and science fiction section was only one shelf. Rather lacking in my opinion, but the rest of the store made up for it. When I was finally able to sit down with a good book (or two, as the case was) the time slipped away until I found I had been enjoying the comfortable book-filled atmosphere for two hours.

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Let me just interrupt to say that bookstores all need to have that many chairs scattered throughout. I go into a bookstore, find a nice book that I want to investigate, and there’s nowhere to sit. I find myself sitting on the hard floor with my back to a bookshelf. Which is not the most comfortable position in which to read, in case you were wondering. But this magical, captivating bookstore had a chair in every room. And it was wonderful.

So if you ever find yourself in Salt Lake City and you’ve already seen all the sights and gone to all the touristy places and find yourself looking for those hard to find treasures, check out The King’s English bookstore. I promise, for all you book lovers out there, you won’t be able to walk away without taking a part of it with you.

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Ready Player One: Get Ready to Enter The OASIS

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You know those stalker books? The creepy ones that seem to follow you everywhere: whenever you find yourself in a bookstore or library you turn around and there it is staring at you with this shameless stare, daring you to read it. Well, Ready Player One was not shy in its attempts to ensnare my attention. So a while back, after the stalking had become all too obvious, I looked it up on Amazon and checked the reviews; 11,618 reviews and a 4.6 star rating, with 91% of the reviews being four or five stars. So I did what everyone does in these situations – I put it on my wish list and forgot all about it. Then, a week ago when I was at the library with the intention of getting a completely different book (which, as you can imagine, did not make it home with me), there was Ready Player One in the “to be shelved” cart. This was my moment; if I didn’t get it now I was probably going to damn it to the depths of book limbo forever, never to be read, so I snatched it up and continued to read and finish it over the course of two days. All that being said, I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner.

It’s 2044, and the world is falling apart.

The world is in the grip of an energy crisis that has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs, food scarcity, and poverty as the world has never seen before. People have flooded into the cities in search of work, housing, and easier access to the OASIS.

Along with most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes the real world by entering the virtual world known as the OASIS – a utopian world where you can be anyone and do anything in a universe with tens of thousands of planets. Hidden in this world is the ultimate prize, which Wade, along with the rest of the world, dreams of finding.

Five years have passed since the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday, died and announced the beginning of the egg hunt: the first person to find all three keys and unlock all three gates would receive the entirety of Halliday’s fortune, including his share in OASIS. So began a hunt that would change the course of the world including fashion, interests, and lifestyles as everyone dove into Halliday’s life in search of further clues. But after five years with no success of any kind, the world seems to be losing interest. That is, until a kid from the slums finds the first clue. In an instant Wade becomes the most famous person on the planet. But as the world scrambles with renewed interest to find the first key, Wade must try to stay a step ahead of the competition that begins to close in quickly both in the OASIS and in the world he has tried so hard to avoid.

This is the book that every super nerd has always hoped would some day be written. At times it felt like an homage to the 80’s (James Halliday was obsessed with 80’s culture), but in the best way possible. Plenty of authors have written books or movies about virtual worlds, but nothing like this. This book took the seriousness of science fiction and filled it with so many real world references that it was on the verge of being ridiculous. But you know what they say about genius: it walks the line between innovation and insanity, and Ernest Cline walked that line with style.

As a super nerd myself this was a terrifically fun read, but there’s more than 80’s culture and cool concepts that gave this book almost five stars. For those who have read my blog in the past, you’ll know what I consider to be the most important aspects of any book: characters and character development. Ernest Cline didn’t disappoint in this regard; his development was realistic and well planned. In the beginning, there was a point when the main character became absolutely insufferable. So much so, in fact, that I was wishing to follow a different character, however as the plot moved forward this period of growth became an integral part of who Wade Watts would become. For an author, those types of scenes can be quite difficult to write (or at least they are for me). In a way, my characters become my children; I want them to make good decisions, to make the right moves, and to always come out victorious. As any reader or author will know, this simply isn’t possible if you want them to experience any sort of growth. Sometimes you have to sit back and let them make an idiot of themselves before they can reach their true potential.

Another thing that Cline did that impressed me was his use of dialogue. The most important thing I learned in my college creative writing class was that dialogue can undoubtedly make or break a story. It should be used only when it serves a purpose. Pointless dialogue distracts the audience, slows down the story, and ultimately cripples the entire book. Yet Cline’s use of dialogue is an excellent model of how it can enhance the characters, move the plot forward, and set the proper tone; an accomplishment worthy of note since this is still something that many authors, including myself, struggle to do.

My one and only complaint about Ready Player One is that it was over too quickly. As is always the case with stalker books (though never the case with real stalkers), I’m glad it kept following me around. If you’ve even seen this book in the library or your local bookstore and thought about reading it, snatch it up as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.

p.s. I’ve hired a couple models to help pose for pictures. In this picture we have Oliver (aka. Handsome Boy). I think he has a very promising career ahead of him.

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2016 Book List*

  1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  2. Vicious, by E. Schwab
  3. The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
  4. The Innocent Mage, by Karen Miller
  5. The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud
  6. The Gunslinger, by Stephen King
  7. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  8. Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan
  9. Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde
  10. Alana, by Tamora Pierce
  11. Outcasts, by John Flanagan
  12. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
  13. The Island of Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
  14. In the Hand of the Goddess, by Tamora Pierce
  15. The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud
  16. The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchet
  17. Slaves of Socorro, by John Flanagan
  18. Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories, by P. Lovecraft
  19. The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  20. Slade House, by David Mitchell
  21. Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede
  22. School of the Dead, by Avi
  23. Who Could That Be at This Hour?, by Lemony Snicket
  24. The Willoughby’s, by Lois Lowry
  25. Redwall, by Brian Jacques
  26. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford
  27. The Bellmaker, by Brian Jacques
  28. Midnight for Charlie Bone, by Jenny Nimmo
  29. Young Scrooge, by L. Stine
  30. Aster Bunnymond, by Willian Joyce
  31. Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, by Jenny Nimmo
  32. Be Frank with Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson
  33. The Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchet
  34. Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchet
  35. The Twelve, by Justin Cronin
  36. Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
  37. Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine
  38. The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le’Guin
  39. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, by Agatha Christie
  40. The Rule of Three, by Eric Walters
  41. Zorro, by Isabel Allende
  42. Postern of Fate, by Agatha Christie
  43. The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  44. Amulet: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi
  45. Amulet: The Stonekeeper’s Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi
  46. Amulet: The Cloud Searchers, by Kazu Kibuishi
  47. Amulet: The Last Council, by Kazu Kibuishi
  48. Amulet: Prince of the Elves, by Kazu Kibuishi
  49. Amulet: Escape from Lucien, by Kazu Kibuishi
  50. The Death of Wolverine, by Charles Soule
  51. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Graphic Novel, by Ransom Riggs

*This is only a list of the books that I didn’t blog about last year.

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Recap of 2016

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Let me begin by expressing my sincerest apology; I’ve let my blogging slip over the past several months. Life became busy, as it always seems to have a way of doing, and I began full-time student teaching as well as continued to work at my other part-time job (gotta pay the bills some how), on top of that my depression built a home on my back and moved in which meant that inevitably some things fell by the wayside. But now I’ve finished student teaching and my depression (more commonly referred to as “the parasite”) has had to downsize his home, so now it takes regular vacations, and I’m a free(ish) man (Yippee!). So let me summarize the last half of 2016:

For many it was a bad year, and, as I mentioned above, it wasn’t particularly great for me either, but I found a daily medication that lessened the affects of the parasite and as a result I was able to get a great deal more done. What’s my daily inoculation, you may ask? It’s actually a very inexpensive procedure that did require me to take some time out of the day, but afterwards I felt more confident, more relaxed, and more willing to do something other than lie face up on the floor slowly spoon-feeding myself ice cream while re-watching all the episodes of CBS’s Elementary. To make a long story short (too late), my antidote was reading.

Last year my book challenge was to read 75 books and by early August I had only read 33. My situation was beginning to look grim. I started to despair and as a result I began to hate blogging because all it did was serve as a reminder that I wasn’t going to complete the year’s book challenge. AGAIN. So what does anyone with a “parasite” do when faced with what seems like an overwhelming challenge? I quit. I stopped blogging. Then when I didn’t feel like I had any expectations to meet I began reading again for the sake of reading rather than fulfilling what began to feel like a mandatory assignment. I began exploring new authors and genres that I don’t typically dabble in.

Ultimately, however, my final count by December 31, 2016 was 83 books! I discovered 4 new books that have joined the Hall of Favorites and I have discovered and/or been introduced to a variety of authors that I want to look into further. The only sad part about my reading adventures this past year is that I didn’t take the time to share it, but this year I have begun a new book challenge with the goal of keeping everyone apprised as to my progress. The link will be listed below.

http://www.hannahbraime.com/2017-reading-challenge/

As I progress through the year I will inevitably be reading books that don’t fit into the book challenge because as a prospective teacher I’ve learned anything fun can be made a chore when you feel like choice is no longer a part of the equation. So I wish everyone a great belated New Year and may you all have experiences that build lasting memories as well as books that redefine you.

Happy Reading!

P.S. – I will post my full list of books that I read this past year next. If you are interested in any of them and would like to learn more, please leave the title in the comments and I will be sure to post a short review.

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