Mini-Review: Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2) by Agatha Christi

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Things I love about Agatha Christie mysteries:

– Everything

Things I don’t like about Agatha Christie mysteries:

– I don’t own all the books.

Murder on the Links is another great example of why Christie’s books work.  The writing was tight and efficient.  She built the character development through the story and didn’t mind that her main character, Poirot, came across as an arrogant douche-canoe at times.  In fact, I think she relished giving him one-liners that make us cringe.

Plus, she tricked her readers like noone else and still managed to keep them coming back for more.

Wonderful.  5/5 stars.

 

Review – A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George RR Martin

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A Storm of Swords is excellent.  There really is no other way to describe it.

When I picture George RR Martin at work, I see a writing cave (literally) with a map of the Seven Kingdoms on the rocky wall in front of him.  He uses pins to mark each character’s location and after each chapter he has to reset the map because they are almost all constantly on the move.  When he kills a character, their pin is moved to the deceased wall which is growing more crowded with each page he writes.  On the wall behind him, he has maps of the major family trees.  He uses a red marker to line through each character he kills and then circles the new “king” from that family in gold.  It is sufficient to say that he used his red and gold markers several times in ASOS.  The red marker is, in fact, probably out of ink.

The race to the Iron Throne is at high speed and Martin treats us to many revelations, heartbreaks and surprises in this installment.

So, why did I only give A Storm of Swords 4-stars?

There were several sections with pacing issues.  From 40%-60%, it is very slow with random bursts of major occurrences.  The final 40% of the story is extremely fast paced and even rushed in a few spots.  It seemed that Martin had mapped out the story and knew that he needed to get these plot points into play so they were introduced in a way that didn’t flow with his normal writing patterns.

Lastly, and this isn’t Martin’s fault but just a fact of life, I was spoiled by the TV show.  I’ve never watched GOT on HBO but I’m online a decent amount which means that I see things.  I can’t get angry about the spoilers because I’ve always argued that once a book, movie or TV show is released, it’s up to ME to avoid spoilers and not up to those who’ve already seen or read it to keep their mouth shut.  (A little common courtesy is nice with ‘spoiler alerts’ but after a while even those aren’t really fair to ask for.)

There are two major events – one more heartbreaking than the other – that I already knew about before I reached those pages.  Because one was so heartbreaking, I didn’t want to read it.  In my head until I saw the words with my own eyes it wouldn’t be true.  Because of this, ASOS sat on my nightstand for close to 10 months.  I would pick it up and read a page or two and then put it aside.  Last week I finally decided that it was time to bite the bullet, rip the band-aid and take my medicine.  I knew that if I got through THAT scene then I would finish the rest of the book in record time.

And, I did.  Broken heart and all.

Chapter 8 – BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder (Myrtle Mysteries)

What else to do on a rainy Friday night but write?  Here you go…

 

Chapter 8:

While Myrtle was working on the filing project the following morning, she let her mind wander.  She kept coming back to the ex-wives as the most likely to have reason to kill Pop.  They had to be the first priority for her and Vera.  Even through her sadness, the morning hours seemed to move quickly.  She was surprised when she looked at her watch and saw that it was already noon and time to go meet Vera for lunch.  They had plans for a quick hamburger at Hardees.

“I know I sound like a broken record but did you hear the news?” Vera asked as soon as Myrtle walked in the door.

“No, what is it now?”

“They’ve made an arrest and say that a local meth head killed Pop.”

Myrtle was so surprised she almost dropped her purse – which would have been tragic as it was a favorite and if it touched the floor of a public place she’d have to trash it.

“Let’s get our food and sit down.  I need to think about this.”  Myrtle said to her friend.

With their trays of hamburgers, french fries and soda, they found a booth and sat down to eat.  After a few bites, Myrtle was ready to talk.

“Tell me what you know, Vera.”

“I saw Officer Murray as I was walking out of my office and he told me about the arrest.  I know his name is Barry and he is known to the police as a local meth user and small time dealer.  He went to the hardware store and tried to use a few hundred dollar bills to pay.  Jerry has run that business for over 30 years and he knew to watch out for counterfeit or fishy bills.  As soon as he saw the 100s, he knew that something wasn’t right.  He called the police and, sure enough, it was some of the money that had been taken from Big Pop.”

“OK. But, why would he kill Pop?  He could have just stolen the money.  Most of these meth heads aren’t killers.”

“Their theory is that Pop must have said something to set him off or refused to hand over the money.”

“Sorry, Vera, I’m not buying it.”

“Well, Officer Murray did say that Barry was denying everything.  He says that he found the money.  You know, Myrt, that he wouldn’t admit that he killed Pop so of course he is going to say whatever he thinks will get him out of jail.”

“That may well be but still.  I think we need to continue on with our investigation.”

“How did I know you were going to say that?”

The friends agreed that the first person they should interview was Shelby.  The most obvious suspects were the ex-wives and she was the most likely to give them something they could work with.  They decided to show up at her house the following Saturday morning.

As they were driving to her house on Airport Road, Vera started having second thoughts.

“Are you sure we are doing the right thing?  I mean the police still have Barry in custody and Shelby has no reason to tell us anything.”

“Exactly.  Shelby has no reason NOT to tell us anything.  With Barry in jail she will feel safe and we are just there to offer condolences, right?”  Myrtle looked at Vera and laughed.  Vera could only shake her head and pray for the best.

Luckily, Shelby was home but it took two rings of the doorbell to get her there.

“Hi, Shelby.  Do you remember me? I’m Myrtle and this is my friend, Vera.  We just thought we would check in with you and offer our condolences.”

“Condolences for what?”

“We saw you at Pop’s funeral yesterday and I know how hard it is to lose a husband.  Even if you had been divorced for a while.”

“Loosh a husband.  That’s funny.”

Myrtle looked over at Vera to see if she had caught that Shelby was slurring her words.  Vera’s eyebrows were creeping up her forehead but she was holding her tongue so far.

“Shelby, can we come in for a few minutes?” Myrtle asked.

As Shelby moved aside to let them in, Myrtle started to wonder if they made a mistake by coming there that morning.  Something clearly wasn’t right in Shelby’s world but Myrtle couldn’t imagine her going out in the middle of the night and shooting someone in cold blood.

“Really, why are you guysh here?  You’ve never even shpoken to me before.  Why today?”

Vera decided it was time to join the conversation after she saw Myrtle’s face.  “Myrt and I wanted to check in with you.  Like she said, we don’t know each other very well but it has to be hard losing someone you once loved and we just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine.  Why wouldn’t I be?  I mean the only man I loved ish dead and everyone knowsh he didn’t love me back.”

“What makes you say that, hon?” Vera asked softly.

“Don’t patronishe me.  He was infatuated with me for a while and I think the whole town was just taking betsh on how long it would take for him to get me in bed.  That’s all I as good for.”

Myrtle and Vera looked at each other nervously.  “That’s not true, Shelby.  Can I get you some coffee?  Is it okay if I go into the kitchen?”  Myrtle asked

“Whatever.”

As Myrtle eased through the kitchen door she took a deep breath.  This morning was not going as she had planned and she was unsure how to continue.  She started to search through the cabinets for coffee and filters as she had a sneaking suspicion that Shelby had been drinking.  Opening the cabinet beside the fridge, she found a half empty bottle of Vodka and another full one behind it.  While she knew it was none of her business she was sorely tempted to pour both bottles into the sink.  Instead she kept looking for coffee until she found it.  Once she got the pot brewed, she poured a large mug and took it into Shelby.

“Here you go, Shelby.”

“Thanks.  Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Look, Shelby, I don’t know you very well but I hate to see anyone throw their life away.  You’ve got to make a decision to take care of yourself.”  With a sigh, Myrtle continued, “I’m not here to lecture you.  Live your life.  But, don’t let bitterness eat away until there is nothing left.”

Shelby took a few swallows of the coffee and stared at the mug in her hands.  “I know.  I’m trying.”

“We are going to leave you alone in a few minutes but I did want to ask if you knew anything about what happened between Laura and Rhonda at the graveside service.  Things seemed to get tense for a while.”  Myrtle decided to get to the heart of the matter and not waste any more time.

“I couldn’t hear everything but I think Laura was talking about Pop’s will.  She said that she was sure to get a big chunk of his estate because she was his first wife.  I think she said something about the ‘extra’ wives getting nothing.  Rhonda got tired of her talking about it and finally had enough so she decided to knock some sense into Laura.  Not that she would ever understand. “

“What do you mean, she wouldn’t understand?”  Vera asked.

“Laura lived in her own world.  She was convinced that she always deserved more and more.  I’m far from perfect and I know I’ve made some mistakes but I’m happy with what I have.  I don’t want any of Pop’s money.  His kids should get it.”

Shelby seemed to have more to say so Myrtle and Vera just waited her out.  It finally came.  “When I walked into the funeral, I was so angry.  At Pop.  At everyone there to watch the service.  And, honestly, at God.  How could he take such a man so violently?”

Myrtle recognized the grief and it explained the look on Shelby’s face during the funeral.  Anger caused a lot of problems in the world and solved few.

“If you ever want to talk, Shelby, please call me.”  After giving Shelby her number, Myrtle stood up.  “I mean it.  A long time ago I loved Pop too.  We can talk about that sometime other than today.  I have to tell you that I’m so glad that we stopped in.  I’ve never gotten to know you and that was a mistake.  I hope we can spend some more time together.  Thanks for seeing us today.”

As Myrtle’s words sunk in, Shelby’s face was transformed.  She smiled at Myrtle and grabbed her for a hug.  “Thank you for coming.  You are welcome anytime.  You too Vera.”  She spun around and hugged Vera too.  Vera was surprised but returned the hug.

“Well, that was a bust.”  Vera said after they started down the road towards Myrtle’s house.

“What do you mean?”

“We learned next to nothing other than Shelby likes to take a nip and Laura is selfish – but, hey, we already knew that.”

“It’s true we didn’t learn much about Pop’s murder.  But I wouldn’t change it.  That woman needed us today and I think we may have helped her.”  Myrtle looked at her oldest and truest friend.  “Plus, you are never too old to make a new friend and we may have done that with Shelby.”

“You could be right but don’t go thinking that we are putting together some T Swift squad.  My social calendar is full enough, thank you, and I don’t need a posse of friends.”

Vera always had to have the last word.

Review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Ready Player One is an 80’s geek dream.

By the year 2044 things are not going well here on planet Earth.  There are two groups of people – the ultra rich and the downtrodden poor.  Most live in stacked trailers in ghettos.  It’s not pretty.  The Oasis is their escape – a computer program where they shop, work and entertain themselves.  When the creator of the Oasis dies, he leaves an egg in the Oasis that can be found by deciphering clues based on his life and love of the 80s.  Whoever finds it first wins his fortune and control of the Oasis.  RPO is the story of Wade Watts, a young man who has devoted most of his teen years to the search.  This means a lot of 80s television, movies, music, arcade games and anything else he can get his hands on.

The story is entertaining, the characters are engaging and if you are willing to look deep enough it is a cautionary tale of where we are headed.  Cline doesn’t preach about the evils of corporate giants or the danger of becoming immersed outside of reality in a computer simulation.  But, it’s all there under the action-packed plot.

The company that runs Oasis, GSS, appears to be based on Apple with Jobs and Wozniak characters.  They seem to have good intentions but their competitors, IOI, are willing to cheat and kill to get their hands on the Oasis.

Ready Player One was a lot of fun and I loved it.  The only reason my rating is 4.5 instead of 5 is that the geek references are definitely more male friendly than female.  While I fondly remember Schoolhouse Rock, Galaga, Pac Man, Wargames, etc., I wasn’t into Dungeons and Dragons, Monty Python and some of the other things that made up a large portion of this story.

Mini-Review – The First Four Years (Little House #9) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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The final book in the Little House series is my least favorite.  The focus is on the first four years of married life for Almanzo and Laura.  But, it isn’t written to the same standards as the prior installments and seemed to be an outline of a book versus one that was intended for publication.

It also paints a somewhat different picture of both characters.  Laura isn’t quite the spitfire hard worker that we had come to love.  And Almanzo never saw a loan he wasn’t willing to take.  They both made some monumentally bad decisions and paid for them.

Just didn’t feel the love for this one.  3/5 stars.

Review – These Happy Golden Years (Little House #8) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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These Happy Golden Years is probably my favorite of the Little House books.  It covers about 3-years of Laura’s life – from 15 to 18 years old.  Many things happen: Laura gets a teaching certificate and teaches 3 terms, she realizes that she can earn money and likes it so she sews, housesits, etc.

But, what this book is really about is Almanzo and Laura’s story.  In the previous book it became clear that Almanzo was interested.  Here, though, he expresses that interest more clearly and, frankly, works his butt off to earn his place in her heart.  If he was truly as wonderful as she portrays him, then he was a keeper.  When she gets her first teaching assignment and is miserable boarding with a family several miles away, he picks her up every Friday after school, takes her home and then back to school on Sunday.  He buys her a surprise Christmas gift for the tree at church, allows her to drive the horses as she wants (and trusts her with them), agrees that she shouldn’t say that she will obey him in her vows and then builds her a nice house with many special details just for her.  He’s a dreamy book boyfriend.

My favorite scenes, though, were when Laura either got jealous (which was kind of funny because she wasn’t even sure she thought of him that way) and when she made her feelings clear:

  • Nellie Oleson finally makes her move on Almanzo and manipulates her way into Sunday rides with him and Laura.  The 2nd week of this, Laura has had enough and she intentionally allows a blanket to snap in the wind so that it will scare the horses and make them run wildly.  She’s used to this as she helped Almanzo break the horses but Nellie becomes scared.  Of course, Almanzo likes a girl who loves horses so Laura was pretty smart and not a little devious to do this.  She tells Almanzo later that she doesn’t want any more rides if Nellie is joining them.  The next Sunday he comes for her alone.  Ha!!
  • At one point, Almanzo tries to put his arm around Laura.  It was pretty innocent but Laura was having none of that.  She tried to signal that he should move his arm by moving around a little but he didn’t take the hint.  So, once again, she used the horses.  She wiggled the reins so they would start to run and he would need both hands to handle them.  He calls her a little devil when she does that.
  • After several years of courtship, he asks Laura if she would accept an engagement ring.  She said “it depends on who it came from”.  “What if it were from me,” he says.  “Then I guess it depends on the ring.”  She made me laugh out loud with this one.  When she accepts his ring the following week, she finally allows him to kiss her.

This was a wonderful book.  5/5 stars.

 

Review – Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7) by Kevin Hearne

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Shattered is a fun, well-written installment in the Iron Druid Chronicles.  And, thankfully, Granuaile is starting to grow on me.  It helped that she wasn’t over-objectified for her physical attributes; instead her intelligence and resourcefulness were showcased.

My only complaint with Shattered is that the story is a little fragmented.  The chapters are written in alternating points of view – Atticus, Granuaile and Owen (Atticus’ archdruid’s modernized name).  Each of them were focused on different things.  Atticus is investigating to find out why nine gods are helping him and trying to determine their ultimate goal.  Granuaile is contacted by an old friend who has discovered that G’s father  has been possessed and they need to free him.  Owen is trying to figure out a new life for himself and is also asked, by Atticus, to help find out who has been trying to kill them.  (Owen has a few secrets of his own that were VERY interesting.)

For most of the novel, it felt like I was reading three different novellas – all good and important to the overall series story-arc but not a cohesive plot for this full novel.  Hearne tied them together here and there but Atticus and G were hardly on the pages together at all until the very end.

What keeps Shattered at the 4-star level are the characters, the writing and the ending.  The final 20% or so of the book is exceptional.  Which leads me to my next thought…

Shattered was the first book in this series to get the hardback treatment.  That’s a big deal for an author.  Instead of going straight to $7.99 paperbacks, the publisher is willing to bet that enough readers will pay hardback prices.  I am an avid reader and spend a lot of my discretionary budget on books.  However, because I read so many books I buy most at used bookstores or wait for paperbacks.  I can count on one hand the authors that get hardback pre-orders from me (Stephen King, Ilona Andrews, Diana Gabaldon and a rare one-off).  I did find my copy of Shattered in hardback at the used bookstore (score) so now I am left with a  quandary.   Staked (book 8) is being released January 26 in hardback.  Now what am I supposed to do?  The ending of Shattered has left me with many  questions.  It isn’t a cliffhanger but there are things that need to be dealt with – and we are reminded that Jesus told Atticus that he has a lot of pain still to come his way.  Physical pain?  Emotional pain?  AGGGHHHHH…do I add Hearne to my pre-order list, wait for the paperback or stalk all the used bookstores until I can get a hardback of Staked for a reasonable price?

The struggle is real my friends.