The Lonely Hobby

It’s pity party time.

When I started my blog I did it for one reason: to share my thoughts about books and bookish things, and find people who love these things as much as I do. I mean, I’d love to make money off my blog like some people do, but currently I only have like a hundred people who follow me, so I’m working on it. But really I just want to talk to people about the things I love because let’s be honest, I can’t find anyone in my area who loves to talk about books like I do.

Now I know what everyone is thinking: “That man needs to join a book club.” And to be honest, I would love to.

“So why don’t you?”

Well the central problem is that I work six days a week and still manage to have no money at the end of the month, so I work more and have significantly less time to do things like blog, continue writing my book, let alone go to book groups.

“So just make friends with people who like books.”

I won’t go into detail about the making friends topic, which has been enough of a struggle as it is. But the other challenge is finding people who like to talk about books. With a few exceptions, whenever I try talking to people about books that we’ve both read the extent of the conversation is usually as follows:

Other Person (OP): So what kind of books do you like to read?

Me: Most of them. I just finished reading What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.

OP: I’ve never heard of that one, but I loved Outsiders.

Me: Oh yeah? I read that one a while ago and also loved it. I love how he can take something completely ordinary and make it fascinating and in the end tie it all together with the overall topic.

OP: Yeah it was pretty good. He’s definitely an interesting writer.

Me: I was pretty skeptical with some of his claims, but his approach was so methodical I had a hard time disagreeing off hand. In that book specifically it seemed like he answered the question so easily that I felt there had to be more. What was your favorite part?

OP: I don’t know, I liked the whole thing. It was interesting.

The depth, or rather lack thereof, that people want to talk about books is the problem. When it comes to fiction I enjoy examining the characters and discussing what they were able to bring to the overall story (or as is sometimes the case, what they failed to bring to the table). I love taking a look at the plot and examining how the author used different tools to accomplish the things he did. When I talk about Stephen King I don’t want to have a two second conversation about how the book was good and I like his work. He is a master of plot building and character development. When I finish one of his books I feel like I know the characters. I get wrapped into the plot so that when he builds the suspense I get hooked and can’t let go.

So when I say that reading is a lonely hobby it’s because too many people seem to think that reading is a solitary pastime. It isn’t. You can read aloud, you can read by yourself and then get together with friends and acquaintances for discussion, or you can debate books that you and a friend liked or disliked. When I finish a book I want to talk to someone about it and share my thoughts, but 90% of the time I just can’t. I write a blog, publish it, and then move on to the next book. All of my thoughts, opinions, and feelings find themselves organized and placed into my mental filing system in case the day comes when I find someone who’s read the same book and wants to talk about it. Until then, I continue to build the library in my head in the hope that someone will come to check something out.

Happy Reading.

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A Fatal Grace: A Chilling Mystery

a-fatal-grace

I have finally read a mystery where I successfully guessed the culprit before the end!

YES!!!

As I say this I feel strange. I could have sworn that I had successfully beaten the author of a mystery book before, but this is the first. Sometimes I’ve guessed part of it, but never all of it. It’s a special feeling to know that I solved the mystery, and better yet that I did so using the strategies I wrote about earlier. All mystery authors have a method. Once you discover it your chances of beating the author at their game become that much greater.

A little over a year has past since the events of Still Life and the town is enjoying the Christmas Holliday when another body is discovered electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake. When Inspector Gamache arrives to investigate he finds little love lost between the victim and the Three Pines residents. With just about everyone having a motive to see CC killed the suspect list is long, and Gamache will have to work fast to find the murderer as the weather turns worse and other forces seem to be moving against Gamache for reasons of their own.

If the rest of these books take place in Three Pines, than this small quiet town is going to become a very dangerous place to live, what with there being thirteen books now. Though series is spread out over the course of many years, so it’s not as dangerous as it could be.

The problem with reviewing books in a series is that there’s not much left to say that I didn’t say for the first novel. A Fatal Grace is a fantastic, clever, charming sequel to an already great debut novel. If Louise Penny’s work continues to be this good than I look forward to reading the rest of them.

Now, I’ve heard some people call this a cozy mystery series. I’m not sure what constitutes a cozy mystery, but I don’t think this fits in that generalization. I’ve ready some cozy mysteries from Donna Andrews and others including Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon and Some Like it Hawk, and the Inspector Gamache Series has its own uniqueness. It has a depth to the characters and the plot that I have found to be uncharacteristic with the trends that run in cozy mystery genre. But I do acknowledge that my experience with cozy mysteries is limited. For all I know I’ve just found my gateway book into the sub-genre.

So I will say it again. If you like mysteries then you should try this series. Start in the beginning. There is development and background information you will need from the previous books to fully understand the relationships that exist. So get off that sofa or wherever else you’ve ensconced yourself to read this post and find yourself a copy of Still Life. If it turns out this isn’t your cup of tea, than let me know. I’d love to know why someone wouldn’t like these books.

Happy Reading!

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How to Read a Mystery Novel

There is a big difference between solving a mystery and solving a mystery novel. The mystery novel is specifically designed to lead you in the wrong direction until the very end where you kick yourself for not being able to have figured it out before. At least that’s usually how my experiences ends, anyway. I like to think that I’m good at solving puzzles; I keep telling myself that in the hope that one day it’ll be true. But the sad reality is I struggle with puzzles, riddles, mysteries, and even poems, which I consider to be the dastardliest of all puzzles ever. Regardless, I mentioned in one of my previous posts for Agatha Christie’s, Appointment with Death, that solving book mysteries is a game in itself, but I felt the process needed it’s own post. These are a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me.

  1. It is never the person you expect.

While reading the book, keep track of whom the detective and side characters accuse. This is a common strategy used to mislead you into creating assumptions and building false evidence, thus leading you away from the murderer and towards a crowded time-out corner filled with people just like you who were duped. I’ve found that the best way to keep track is to use an index card as your bookmark and write down the names of all the characters. As they are accused, check them off the list. Those who are left are the most likely suspects.

  1. Look for the person who has the most to gain.

Motives are aplenty and many of them will seem the most likely option; however, this is another way in which Christie will try to lay down false trails and obvious options. Don’t accept the gifted horse. All too often the most crucial clue is hidden in a single obscure sentence. If you miss it, don’t despair; there will be other clues you can piece together as you go. Remember, the person you are looking for is never the obvious choice, so don’t let it distract you. Keep your eye focused on all the characters, not just the ones wrapped in pretty bows.

  1. Don’t let characters slip into the background.

A crime has been committed; the criminal isn’t going to want people looking at him or her too closely, and that includes you. This goes back to the importance of keeping a list of characters: with Agatha Christie, everyone is a suspect and all too often the one we’re looking for is the one who we are most likely to forget.

  1. Who can you rule out instantly?

Those who seem to have an iron clad alibi are not always as they seem. If you think it’s impossible for them to have committed the crime, think again. This is Agatha Christie’s most powerful tool for deception. We may see an impossible option, but just wait; that impossible option may not seem as impossible when the detective explains just how the murder was committed and covered up.

Now I should add that it can be difficult to remember to do these things while you read. I have continued to read many mysteries since Appointment with Death, and I am still yet to completely solve one before the end. The reason for that being I forget to follow these rules and someone always falls into obscurity, only to be revealed in the end. So next time you decide to pick up a mystery novel, remember these tips and you just might find yourself reading the end with a look of smug satisfaction on your face after having guessed the culprit before the reveal.

Happy Reading and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

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The Secret of Chimneys: Not All Is As It Seems

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I don’t know what it is about mysteries lately, but they’ve got their hooks in me. I finished reading Still Life, by Louise Penny, and had a couple days before I could get the sequel, so I started reading The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter. It was good but not what I wanted, so I grabbed Under the Dome, by Stephen King, with the same results. I thought about trying a fantasy book but I didn’t even get as far as selecting one to read. Obviously I’m in what is commonly called Sherlock Syndrome: an unrelenting need to engage in mysteries for the intellectual challenge of outsmarting the criminal. Since I currently live in Rexburg, ID where nothing exciting happens (aka. no one is murdered on a semi-regular basis) the obsession craves the next best thing: fiction, and because I still think I can beat Agatha Christie at her own game I decided to tackle The Secret of Chimneys. What happened was that I second guessed myself so many times I ended up twisted into knots and kicking myself when the villain was finally revealed.

Agatha Christie: 5

Sam: 0

Summary:

Anthony Cade thrives on adventure. Little does he know that his decision to deliver a manuscript to a publishing house in London will thrust him into the middle of a political conspiracy surrounding the death of the king-to-be of a small eastern European nation. Soon Anthony, Scotland Yard, and the French Sûreté find themselves converging on the popular country estate of Chimneys where not everything is as it seems.

What more is there to say about Agatha Christie and her books? She is the queen of mystery. In my amateur opinion she is yet to be matched. Her stories take readers on a ride through a deceptively twisting plot leaving all but the most observant behind.

This book in particular is one of my favorites by Agatha Christie. Granted, I’ve only read five of her books, but from those I was especially impressed with this one. The Secret of Chimneys doesn’t follow any of her regular detectives, and I liked that. I especially liked Anthony Cade. He was smart, observant, and charismatic, but he also made mistakes and when he did he didn’t try to hide them. But just like most of her other books all the suspects are gathered together in the end in proper Christie fashion where the truth is revealed, and I was once again surprised by the result (but not too surprised. I did suspect them at some point in the play but had moved my suspicions elsewhere). My advice for this book, trust your first instinct.

Happy reading.

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How to Read More Books

how-to-read-more-books

When I tell people that I read 83 books last year I always get some variation of the same response: “How do you read that much?”

Some people think I read at the speed of light, which is astoundingly far from the truth. My mother can read a 300-400 page book in thee hours. She is a fast reader. I can read a 300-400 page book in about eight hours. That’s faster than some, but in a race I would be the octogenarian on a vespa. My secret is that I just read all the time. I read when I’m making dinner, in the car (when I’m not driving, of course), before bed, and even in the bathroom. I read whenever my workday is going extra slow and any other time I can manage it. So if you think you can’t read as much because you’re not fast, here are a couple of things I’ve found to make it easier.

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  1. Schedule a time to read.

We’re all busy, so finding the time to add something else to our day is not always easy. When I decided to start exercising everyday it was definitely hard. I had to schedule a time first thing in the morning, which also meant waking up earlier in order to get it done. But that means that you can do the same thing with reading. Schedule a time each day specifically for reading and commit at the same time every day.

  1. Put your electronics in time out.

We live in a technological age. We all have TVs, computers, smart phones, tablets, or any combination thereof. Being bored is not something we experience much any more. So when you want to read, turn off all your electronics and put them in time out. You have now eliminated most of the distractions in your life (though if you have kids, investing in a sound-proof room or heavy padlocks will probably help as well).

  1. Pick up a book.

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished a great book and went to move on to another one and couldn’t pick a single book I wanted to read. When this happens, which it probably will if you haven’t read frequently in the past, start by grabbing the first book that remotely catches your attention. Remember, you can always put it back and grab a new one if you don’t like it, but the key is to start.

  1. Find somewhere to sit.

This one is also remarkably hard for people today. It goes back to us being busy; we want to constantly be doing things. If you can fight this urge, take your book, sit somewhere comfortable, turn on some relaxing music if you think it may help, and open up to page one. Do not get up unless you are done reading for the allotted time or your child is threatening to break down the door. It may be hard at first, but if you keep going it will get easier and you’ll start to look forward to reading time.

  1. Begin reading!

Again, obvious, but this comes back to what we talked about in the second step about getting distracted. As soon as you sit down and begin reading, if you’re anything like most people, you begin feeling guilty about taking time to relax and start thinking about all the things you need to get done. Resist this urge as well, but even saying that I know that it’s not easy. In fact, this will probably be the most difficult part for some people. But just keep reading! Those things will get done eventually. Who actually gets all the things on their to-do-list done every day anyway? I’m lucky to get half each day. And no, it’s not because I read so much… That’s preposterous.

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So remember: reading isn’t about how fast you can plow through a book; it’s about how much time you spend reading and how much you enjoy it when you do. If you begin to love reading (and if you read books you enjoy, I promise you will), then you won’t be able to stop. It will become a habit that will only ever make your life better. So go make time to read that book you’ve been putting off. Take some time out of your busy day to relax and enrich your life. You absolutely deserve it.

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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:

emergency-preparedness

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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