Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene

The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
220 pages
Published February 1940 by Grosset Dunlap
Source: I have no idea--this one just appeared on my daughter's bookshelf. It has my sister's name in it so clearly it was hers at some point but I don't know how it got to my house. Or how an edition actually published in 1940 ended up in the hands of a child of the 1960's.

Teen sleuth Nancy Drew is preparing for a trip to South America. She and her friends Bess & George (a girl--this was the 1940's after all) are planning on traveling with a group from a private girls' school.  But just before she leaves a number of things happen that begin the mystery wheels turning. A cat gets left on Nancy's doorstep. A mother of one of the girls from the school stops by and demands that Nancy not go on the ship (again--it's the 1940's; no airplane for these girls), and a young man runs into Nancy's car. Unrelated? You might well think so unless you've read a Nancy Drew book before. Then you'll know that all of these things will sooner or later tie together.

The girls decide that even though they won't go with the group from the school, they will not be deprived of their trip Suddenly Nancy figures out where the cat from and it just so happens that the woman who sent the cat has gone off to South America; she then agrees to act as a chaperon once the girls arrive and the girls are off and running. A mishap with a trunk that Mr. Drew has bought Nancy for the trip causes the girls to have to leave earlier than planned leaving them plenty of time for more odd things to happen. The stepfather of the girl who was to have nothing to do with Nancy comes into the picture, a girl Nancy is supposed to befriend at the behest of her father seems to want nothing to do with her, and that pesky trunk continues to cause problems. Things really heat up once the girls arrive in Buenos Aires with more and more mysterious characters and danger.

Of course, this being Nancy Drew and a book written for girls ages 8-12, you know that there is no real danger and that in the end, Nancy will solve the mystery. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, that even though a lot of the clues were available to me, I really wasn't able to put all of the pieces together and figure out how all of the mysteries tied together. The language was a bit stilted by today's standards, the kids were a bit too clean cut, and a lot of things clearly date the book. But the story itself holds up, with plenty to think about and a lot of action.

I quite enjoyed the juxtaposition between Nancy and Stephanie Plum which I finished just before this one. You could hardly find two more diverse characters or two more beloved characters!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Four To Score : A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich

Four To Score: A Stephanie Plum Novel by Janet Evanovich
368 pages
June 2010 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my parents

The back of this book's blurb starts out: "Stephanie Plum, Trenton, New Jersey's favorite pistol-packing, condom-carrying bounty hunter, is back..." Well, not exactly. Stephanie's definitely back but even though she owns a gun, she rarely carries it and even then it almost never has bullets in it. Which is actually the least of her problems when it comes to her abilities as a bounty hunter.

Stephanie works as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman. She's 'helped" in her work by her friend and co-worker, Lula (an ex-hooker and "two hundred pound black woman with blond baloney curls), her Grandma Mazur (who packs a really big gun, a really big attitude and a eye for a good looking man) and, in this book, Sally (a transvestite musician who stands 7-feet tall in his heels and wig).

In this book, Stephanie's on the trail of Maxine Nowicki, who's skipped bail after stealing her boyfriend's car. Should be a piece of cake. But as so often happens with Stephanie, it quickly become obvious that there's more than meets the eye to this case. Maxine is one angry ex-girlfriend, her ex- seems to be hiding something and someone is maiming or killing everyone involved with Maxine. Throw in a lack of clues and an arch-enemy who's also hunting Maxine and Stephanie's life soon becomes more than a little complicated.

When someone douses her car in gasoline and it "accidentally" catches fire, followed by someone fire bombing her apartment, Stephanie needs to find a safe place to stay. A place where she won't have to worry that someone else will be put in danger. Enter Joe Morelli, cop and on-again, off-again love interest. Soon Joe's family is convinced that Stephanie is pregnant and that the two will soon be married. But these two can't even stay "on-again" for more than a few days. Luckily Stephanie also has Ranger, super bounty hunter and super hunk who's more than willing to help any way she might need.

Stephanie is all-Jersey and Trenton and the surrounding area always play a huge part in these books. It's part of what makes it so fun to read the books. But the regular cast of characters is what really makes the books. Grandma Mazur is my favorite--she's just so sassy! I've read the first three books in this series and have dropped in here and there further into the series and Evanovich always delivers exactly what the reader comes to expect. I suspect if you read too many too close together, they'd really start to get old; the unpredictable soon becomes predictable, the relationships never seem to develop and no one really seems to "grow." But when I pick one of these books up, I enjoy knowing that I'm going to be chuckling throughout the book and that things will never get too heavy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John Nordell - Guest Review

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John Nordell
84 pages
Published 2007 by Tribute Books
Source: the publisher

A few weeks back, I was approached by Tribute books to review a book about Mickey Mantle (famed player with the New York Yankees). Not being a big fan of baseball, but knowing one, I asked if I might get a copy for my father to read and review. By the time I got back to them, however, that book was gone. Would my father be interested in reviewing a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers instead? Read on to find out why he said "yes" to this one and what he thought of it.

"I became a Dodgers baseball fan when I was 10 years old, though what led a boy in Nebraska to connect with a team from the East I can't now remember. I think the name attracted me. Then I learned what Brooklyn was and how the team appealed to the working class people there. And then, two years later, the Dodgers endeared themselves to me for a lifetime when the owner, Branch Rickey, was bold enough to sign and put on the field the first black player ever in the major leagues. I read everything I could find about the Dodger players, managers, games, and Mr. Rickey. They were heroes to me and the teams who beat them the most were the first sports figures I ever regarded as villains (Take that, you Yankees!).

No surprise then, that books about the Dodgers have always appealed to me. So when I was asked to read and review Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957, no persuasion was needed.

I'm disappointed. Author Nordell covers only three weeks of the second half of the 1957 National League season. And what he provides is little more than pages and pages of the kind of synopses of games that a newspaper far removed from major league territory (which was a much smaller area in those days) might put together after consulting the wire services. Those games which had more bearing on the Dodgers are fleshed out more, but most of them read like the way one's mind processes what's to be found in the daily box scores.

This is how much of the book reads:
"A four-run rally in the ninth inning enabled the Pittsburgh Pirates to get past  the Chicago Cubs 6-5. Trailing 5-2 in the final frame, the Pirates picked up their first run in pinch-hit singles by Roman Mejias and Gene Freese, and a sacrifice by Dee Fondy. Bob Skinner walked and Dick Groat tripled to tie the score. With only one out, the Cubs issued two intentional passes, to pinch-hitter Jim Pendleton and Frank Thomas, filling the bases for a possible double play. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski upset this plan with a single that sent Groat across the plate with the deciding run. Winning pitcher Luis Arroyo was 3-8. Loser Turk Lown was 4-4."

I'm old enough to remember the names of those players, so there was a little nostalgia in it for me. But that wasn't enough to make for an interesting book.

Some of those demi-gods Dodgers of my boyhood get fleshed out a bit in this book, but not to such an extent as to make it possible to really get to know them better. The photos of them are mostly dark and blurry.

As for the sub-title, when the book picks up the season the Dodgers are in 5th place, 5 games out of first on July 10. The last games the book reports on were on July 23, at which point my team had climbed into second place, only one game behind the Milwaukee Braves. At the end of the season, however, they were in third place, eleven games out. So much for a "great pennant drive."

The final chapter deals with owner Walter O'Malley ending the great love affair between the borough and its beloved "Bums" by moving the team to Los Angeles.

Brooklyn Dodgers is a short and easy read. But Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (2006) and Peter Golenbock's Bums (1984) are much better accounts of those players, those times, and that team."

Thanks for the review, Dad!  Perhaps this book might actually work better for someone who wasn't as familiar with the team and the season and wasn't looking for something new to learn?  

Update from my dad:   To the contrary, what interest the book had for me was primarily seeing again the names and deeds (no matter how skimpily fleshed out) of all those players of all those teams that I knew and was interested in in my youth.  I think they’re less likely to resonate with a reader who doesn’t have my background.

Monday, March 28, 2011

And The Winner Is...

Sandy Jay is the winner of a copy of Anna Quindlen's "Every Last One!' I'll be contacting you, Sandy for mailing information and the publisher will be sending the book your way.  Hope you enjoy it!

School Days by Robert B. Parker

School Days by Robert B. Parker
304 pages
Published October 2006 by Penguin Group
Source: my parents

Lily Ellsworth, wealthy matriarch and devoted grandmother, has hired Spenser, private detective, to prove her grandson, Jared Clark, innocent in a recent school shooting.  No one else, however, seems to think the boy is innocent, not even his own parents.  In fact, no one else, including Jared himself, seems to want to fight the charge at all despite the fact that there is no physical proof that Jared was involved, only the word of the one boy that was caught still in the school.

For Spenser, the question soon becomes not "if" Jared was involved in the shooting that killed seven people but "why." Why would a boy that had never caused any trouble suddenly decide to start shooting classmates? Where would the two boys have gotten the guns and the experience to shoot so accurately? And why is Jared so willing to go to prison without a fight?

This is the 33rd Spenser novel Parker wrote and it didn't take long to figure out how Spenser came to be so popular with readers.  He's walking testosterone with an eye for the ladies but faithful to his beloved.  He's a well-read tough guy. Spenser has a charm that's irresistible for men and women alike.  The case of Jared Clark is interesting with some surprising twists and turns, but this book is really all about Spenser. It's fast-paced, dialogue heavy with plenty of action and I couldn't put it down.

My parents are big fans of Parker's books, both his Spenser books and his westerns, so I've got no shortage of his books to choose from next and I'm looking forward to it!

Update: My dad wrote to remind me that Parker's books were not limited to the Spenser series or the westerns. The man was prolific!

Not only Spenser and the westerns;  there’s also the Sheriff Jesse Stone books (which CBS has turned into such excellent TV movies with Tom Selleck as Jesse) and those featuring female detective Sonny Randle (who sometimes collaborates with Spenser).  The westerns are my favorites, but I enjoy them all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Salon - March 27

My mind is completely distracted from books today. It's been quite a past couple of days. 

Friday I was driving in to work and saw one of the worst car accidents I've ever witnessed; seeing a vehicle go airborne made me just want to turn around and go home. Last night I found out from my sister that the person in that vehicle was my niece's softball coach.  I was so relieved to find out that she walked away with only bruises. Once again a reminder of how important it is to wear your seat belt.

I'm really liking my job right now but it has been a stressful week with a new person to be trained and computer problems. So it was nice to get out Friday night to the comedy club and laugh. The headliner was Tom Wilson, who played "Biff" in the "Back To The Future" movies.  He got that subject out of the way right off the bat with this song:

My favorite part of his routine was the part about shopping at Costco. I was laughing so hard I began to worry that my asthma was going to kick in.

Last night Miss H and I joined my sister and her family at my niece's Senior Prom for the coronation since she was a member of the court. She looked so beautiful and happy and I was thrilled to be able to see her. You may have heard about the shooting that happened at her school in January when a student who had been expelled came back to the building a killed an assistant principal and wounded the principal. It was good to see all of the kids having such a great time. Their prom was held in a convention center that is attached to our big entertainment venue. Uncle Kracker was opening for Kenny Chesney there last night and one of the girls from the high school talked to him about what had happened at their school. He and some of his band mates made a surprise appearance at the prom and played a few songs. What a neat thing for these kids who have been through so much!

On the agenda today: spring cleaning and taxes. I'd like to spend the afternoon reading but the bug to clean and lighten things up has really bitten me this weekend. I've got a couple of mysteries I'm reading right now that I'll finish and post about this week to wrap up Mystery March. Then I'm on to reading Omaha authors for April. Really looking forward to those books!

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Villette Readalong (This Week A Letter To Charlotte Bronte)

Dear Miss Bronte,

My apologies for not spending any time with you this week in Villette.  I've been utterly captivated the past few nights by a young Nigerian girl named Little Bee.  Since she and I had a book club meeting last night, it was imperative that we really get to know each other in a hurry.  But rest assured I have not forgotten my commitment to you.  Shall we plan to spend the weekend together? 

Thanks so much for your understanding (at least I hope you'll be understanding; the truth is that you don't much look like the kind of person who is very forgiving).  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jane Eyre Giveaway

You may have heard me mention (once or twice, at least) that Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books.  So you can imagine how excited I am about the new adaptation of the book that's now in theaters, starring Mia Wasikowska (she of Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (he of Inglorious Basterds) as Jane and  Edward Rochester.  Focus Features is sponsoring a giveaway to promote the film and I'm delighted to be able to offer one of my readers the opportunity to win the following:

* Soundtrack sampler
* Bookmark
* Journal
* Pencil
* Copy of the book (the movie tie-in edition)

How about twittering with Charlotte Bronte?  Check out this Twitter Lib to make your own version of some of Charlotte's famous quotes:

There was a video in this post when I put it together; no idea what happened to it.  To see a preview of the movie, click on this link.
I'm joining my sister this weekend to support my niece who's prom royalty.  I think the price for driving her across town and back will be that she's going to have to go the this movie with me!

UPDATE: My sister is off the hook--my entire book club is excited to go see this movie so I'm going to line up a girls night out. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen - Review and Giveaway

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
320 pages
Published April 2010 by Random House Publishing
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Mary Beth Latham is a wife, mother and small-business owner. She is a woman who has built her life around raising her three children, 8th-grade twins Alex and Max and high school senior Ruby.  Hers is the house where the kids hang out. She is the mom who started having a Halloween party every year because one of her boys was afraid to trick-or-treat.  She and her husband are the parents who send each of their children to different summer camps to encourage their individual interests.

Mary Beth has become so good at being a mom and wife that things have started to become a predictable, maybe even a bit dull. Mary Beth is dreading the day the Ruby will leave for college and can't believe that Ruby is breaking up with long-time boyfriend, Kiernan, who is devastated. When Max slips into depression, though, Mary Beth has to turn her full focus on to him.  But it's an unbelievably "shocking act of violence" that blindsides Mary Beth and changes her life.

I was ten pages into this book when I said to my husband "this book is really going to affect me."  Ten pages.  I can't remember the last time I was so sure about a book so soon into it.  Right off the bat I found myself relating to Mary Beth.  Children the center of your life? Check. Extra chair at the table for the inevitable extra kid for dinner? Check. So busy dealing with the two children in your life that demand more attention that you can almost forget the "easy" child? Check.

In fact, Quindlen has created an entire cast of characters in Every Last One that is real and well-rounded, a community that is instantly recognizable.  She has done a wonderful job here of focusing on the routine of everyday life, the details a mother is concerned with, all while building up an underlying tension.  In the aftermath of tragedy, Quindlen gives the reader a thoughtful exploration of how Mary Beth deals with what has happened and how those around her are sometimes supportive, sometimes intrusive, and sometimes thoughtless. Not all of it worked for me; it sometimes felt like there were too many story arcs.

Kirkus Reviews talked about the melodrama of the book. I think that sometimes a book that begins with an ordinary life and then veers off into something much bigger can give the impression of melodrama. But for me, there was a dramatic event (which may have been a bit more foreshadowed than was necessary) but the aftermath of that did not leave me with the impression of melodrama at all.  The New York Times review, on the other hand, called the book "spellbinding."  I don't know that is a description I would use, either because so much of this book was a quiet exploration of love, friendship, family dynamics, and the healing process.

Every Last One would make an excellent book club selection; there is a lot to discuss here that women can relate to.  A huge thank you to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour.  For more reviews, check out the full list of bloggers on the tour

To learn more about Quindlen and her other novels and writing, check out her website.

Random House has generously offered a copy of this book to one of my readers (U.S. residents only--sorry!).  If you're interested, please let me know in a comment and leave me a way to get a hold of you.  I'll select a winner on Sunday, March 27th.

Monday, March 21, 2011

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
220 pages
Published February 2010 by Hyperion
Source: the publisher

Nine people remain in a passport and visa office late one afternoon when an earthquake strikes that strands the disparate people and forces them to work together to survive.  After the immediate need for medical care, a reckoning of what supplies they have, and an assessment of their situation, the group tries to settle in and wait for rescue.  But fear and personal issues soon begin to cause problems and in-fighting.  Then a young graduate student suggests that every one has one amazing thing that has happened to them and suggests that each person tell a story about what that thing is for them.  The group is soon caught up in the stories of a young Muslim-American man, an upper-class couple whose relationship is clearly falling apart, a Chinese grandmother and her rebellious Chinese-American granddaughter, an African-American ex-soldier, the graduate student and the Indian man and woman who work in the office and have been heading toward an affair.

I wondered as I read this if Divakaruni had developed these stories and then worked up a story to bring them altogether since the emphasis of this book is definitely on the stories themselves rather than the group's fight for survival.  Some of the stories were very lovely, some heartbreaking, some too obviously headed to a moral.  Divakaruni does use the stories to look a wealth of issues including class struggles, racism, disillusionment, abandonment, and love.  I enjoyed this play on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and feel that Divakaruni developed interesting characters, some with amazing depth.

I got to the end of this book and discovered that I had not taken a single note or marked a single passage to quote.  Usually this means that I didn't care for the book.  That is certainly not the case with this book; I sat down with this one with the idea that I would take notes but ended up reading through it so quickly that I lost all track of time.  And, apparently, notes.  While it may be a bit uneven, this is certainly a book I would recommend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Salon - March 20

It's been a busy week, reading wise, here at Chez Shepp.  Between reading myths, reading fairy tales, and the Villette readalong, sometimes it feels like I don't have time to do any other reading.  But this week I managed to finish a couple of books and start another.  My review of Anna Quindlen's Every Last One will be posted on Tuesday; I flew through it as I knew I would by the time I was ten pages in.  It really touched a chord with me.

Several months ago, I did a guest post which had started out to be a post which books famous people cited as their favorites.  I went looking for pictures of famous people reading and discovered that there were very few.  Surprisingly, I found the most pictures of Marilyn Monroe reading.  This week I found this one on Tumblr of James Dean.  Is it just me or does this picture look a bit like James Franco?

This week my book club will be meeting to discuss Chris Cleave's Little Bee.  I think I've mentioned before how much I enjoy getting together with these ladies.  It's sometimes hard to focus on discussing the book at all because we so much enjoy talking to each other.  We should probably meet twice a month--once to talk about a book and once just to talk!

On Wednesday look for a giveaway for a Jane Eyre prize pack in conjunction with Focus Feature's release of the new movie by the same name.  I definitely want to get to the movie soon but I'm sure I'm not going to be able to talk The Big Guy into going.  Any volunteers?

This week I'm back to focusing on mysteries.  Right now I'm reading Robert B. Parker's School Days, one of his Spenser books.  It's a quick read, lots of dialogue.  What are you reading this week?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin, or Rumpelstitzchen as he was originally known in Germany, was a little gnome of a man who "stars" in a tale of the same name that first gained popularity in a collection of fairy tales put together by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. In fact, the brothers actually collected four versions of the tale during their time in Hesse, Germany.  The story has (like so many other fairy tales) origins much further back in time.  The earliest variants of the story appear to go back as far as the early 16th century.  The story is not limited to the tales collected in Germany; there are versions of this fairy tale found in countries world-wide, including "Tom Tit Tot" in England, "Whuppity Stoorie" in Scotland and "Ruidoquedito" in South America. The name "Rumpelstiltskin" literally means little rattle stilt and a rumpelstilt was a type of goblin that made noise by rattling posts.

There once was a miller who, wanting to curry favor with the king, said that his daughter could spin straw into gold.  The king, being avaricious, immediately had the girl brought to the castle and put in a room filled with straw and a spindle.  As if the fear of making her father look like a fool weren't pressure enough, the king told the girl that he would have her killed if she couldn't complete her task.  While she is bemoaning her fate, a little man came into the room and asked her why she was crying.  When she told him why, he told her he could complete the task for her and in return she gave him a necklace.  The king was pleased the next morning, but, being greedy, he was not content and put her in an even larger room filled with straw the next night.  Once again the little man appeared to help the girl and this time she gave him her ring.  On the third night, as he put the girl in a still larger room, the king told her he would marry her if she could complete her task this night.
Coming to her rescue again, the little man appeared but this time the girl had nothing left to give.  The little man said that as payment he would accept her first born child.  The girl, seeing no other way out, agreed.  A year later the girl was Queen and had given the king and heir when the little man reappeared.  The girl had completely forgotten about her promise and begged the man not to take her child, instead pledging all of the riches in the kingdom.  But the little man said "I would rather have something living than all the treasures of the world." The queen begged and cried and finally the little man took some pity. He told the queen she could have three chances to guess his name.  If she succeeded, she could keep her child.  Twice the little man returned but, despite sending emissaries far and wide to collect names, the queen was not successful.

Just before the little man returned for the last time, however, one of the men the queen had sent out returned saying he had heard a little man dancing and singing in the forest about how the queen would never guess that his name was Rumpelstiltskin.  When the little man returned to the castle, the queen teased him for a bit but when she finally guessed "Rumplestiltskin," the little man went crazy "and in his anger he stamped with his right foot so hard that it went into the ground above his knee; then he seized his left foot with both his hands in such a fury that he split in two, and there was an end of that."

Except that for Kevin Brockmeier, it wasn't the end of that.  When he was 22 and still in college, he was so intrigued by the idea of half a person that he wrote the story "Half of Rumplestiltskin" which is now included in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. The story is entirely what life might be like for a person who is literally half a person who has been torn asunder.  Poor Half of Rumplestiltskin must hop every where, he has to use mouthwash with his head tilted so that it doesn't run out of his mouth and into his open chest.  All because he wanted a child so badly.  The story opens with Half of Rumplestiltskin having a dream about spinning himself completely into gold.
"Half of Rumplestiltskin is the whole of the picture and nowhere in it.  He is beautiful, and remunerative, and he isn't even there to see it.  Half of Rumplestiltskin has spun himself empty.  There is nothing of him left."
I really impressed with Brockmeier's writing, particularly in light of the fact that he was only 22 when he wrote this.  You have got to love a story that uses words such as "slumberous" and "scabrous." I've been looking forward to Brockmeier's The Illumination since I heard him talking about it at the Omaha Lit Fest last fall and this story has really convinced me to pick up a copy..soon!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Villette Readalong Week 6

Once again, poor suffering Lucy Snowe will have her heart broken.  She is so heartsick because of Dr. John, and so embarrassed by the idea that others may be reading her letters from him and laughing at her, that she finally seals his letters in a bottle and buries it.  Then the sad little thing is made to sit with Ginevra at a party so that Pauline can see if Dr. John prefers Pauline over Ginevra.

Lucy's relationship with Monsieur Paul becomes something of a roller coaster ride in these latest chapters.  In one moment he is berating her and the next he is asking her to call him friend.  Yet I think she actually thinks of their "friendship" as something of a game and delights in teasing M. Paul.  But she also appreciates that he sees in her something that her long-time friends do not see.  John speaks of her as "quiet Lucy" and says that she is over-grave in tastes and manners. But she writes of M. Paul "there starts up a little man, differing diametrically from all these, roundly charging you with being too airy and cheerful--too volatile and versatile--too flowery and coloury."

You may remember that last week, I was longing for Lucy to come out of her shell a bit, maybe even get angry.  And what do you know?  In these chapters, she finally does begin to show some spirit.  After the party in which John did appear to choose Pauline over Ginevra, Lucy had to ride home with the latter.  Of course, Ginevra was having a little spoiled fit and Lucy finally let her have it.  And as M. Paul's attacks continue, Lucy finally has the courage to respond.  At one point I was reminded of the movie "You've Got Mail." Meg Ryan's character at one point is bemoaning her inability to conjure up just the right response when she finds herself under attack.  Later she ends up apologizing for finally finding herself able to do just that. Lucy makes no such apology; she feels, rightly so, entirely justified.

The emphasis at this point in the book seems to be on the relationship between Lucy and M. Paul but I really can't imagine, yet, what she might ever see in this man that she frequently refers to as "despotic."  But while we are watching Lucy grow and change, maybe we'll get to see some changes in M. Paul as well that might make him more likable.  One can only hope.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Murder Takes The Cake by Gayle Trent

Murder Takes The Cake by Gayle Trent
288 pages
Published March 2011 by Simon & Schuster Adult
Source: the publisher

Daphne Martin's just moved back to her hometown after an ugly divorce and she's trying to get her cake decorating business up and running.  But finding the dead body of town busybody Yodel Watson when she delivers a cake to Yodel's house is not the best way to get your name out, particularly when someone begins spreading rumors that Yodel may have been poisoned.

When Yodel's daughter, who lives out of town, contacts Daphne and asks her to go back into Yodel's house to get a diary out for her, a diary that the murderer may have been after, Daphne agrees.  But once the book is in her hands, she can't resist the opportunity to find out just what's in the book that makes it so interesting.  What she finds in throws her for a loop--gossip about her mother that Daphne is just as eager to learn more about as she is to find out who murdered Yodel and clear her own name.

In the process, Daphne will meet up with an old beau, a wealthy woman with an entire wing of her house devoted to her prize-winning guinea pigs, and a whole assortment of the usual/unusual small town inhabitants you'd expect to find.

Trent has the makings of an interesting story here and has set up the characters nicely for future titles in the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series.  Unfortunately, even a cozy mystery needs more tension than Martin was able to build, particularly in light of the fact that she kicked the book right off with the discovery of a body.Although there seemed to be any number of people with a reason to dislike Yodel, none of them seemed to have enough reason to want her dead. 

It may now be official; while I adore cozy mysteries, it appears that foodie mysteries may just not be my thing.  Every time I came to a part of the story where the cake decorating business became the focus of the story, my interest really started to flag.  Just as it seemed to in Joanne Fluke's Cream Puff Murder, the food scenes seem to detract from the story line for me, making the book feel like two different stories.  The emphasis in this one did seem to be more about the murder than the food than did Fluke's book and I did enjoy the plot line focusing on Daphne's relationship with her mother.  For fans of foodie mysteries, I do recommend giving this one a try.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mythology Mondays - Norse Mythology

When I first began thinking about studying mythology, I assumed that what I'd be looking into was Greek/Roman mythology, the stuff I studied in school.  When I was reading fairy tales for last week, I discovered the the fairy tale "Mother Hulda" had some basis in Norse mythology.  So, of course, I immediately decided that I'd need to expand my horizons.

In Norse mythology there are nine worlds, including worlds for gods, elves, fire, those who die of age or sickness and the netherworld (Hel).  Each of the worlds has places of significance, most famously Valhalla Valhalla is said to be the home of Odin, one of the most famous of the Nordic gods, and the home of the Einherjar (the souls of the greatest warriors) who were selected by the Valkyries.  Right about now, I'd imagine a certain epic piece of classical music is beginning to play through your head.

You might also be familiar with Loki, who is said to have sometimes helped and sometimes caused problems for the gods, and was a shape shifter.  He came to an untimely death after he killed one of the gods and was punished by first being bound with the entrails of his own son. 

Those of you who have read Christina Sunley's "The Tricking of Freya," will also be familiar with the goddess Freya who was associated with love, beauty, fertility, war and death.  Even in mythology, it appears, the women were able to multitask! She receives the half of the dead warriors that Odin doesn't.

As much as I've forgotten much of what I've learned about the Greek and Roman gods, at least they are familiar to me.  The Norse mythology is utterly foreign to me and I'm eager to learn more, particularly in light of the fact that it's the mythology of my ancestors. Which is my way of saying, you've not heard the last of the Nordic gods!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - Mother Hulda

This week I was flipping through my copy of Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales and chanced to come upon a drawing that reminded me so much of something you would find in a Shel Silverstein book that I had to read the story it went with.  That story is "Mother Hulda," again a new one for me.  This one seems to have its origins in both German and Norse mythology (hmm...maybe I can tie this one in again on Monday!).  In the Norse mythology it's associated with the Norse goddess, Hel, the queen of the underworld. In the Germanic mythology, she was the goddess of marriage but in German folklore Hulda became a name to denote a single goddess, inclusive of all nature.  In some versions, she lives at the bottom of a well.  Which is where we find her in the Grimm Brothers tale.

There was once a widow who had two daughters.  One was her stepdaughter, who was beautiful and a hard worker.  The other was her own daughter who was ugly and lazy.  Just like in the tale of Cinderella, the stepdaughter was made to work hard.  Every day she was made to sit by a well and spin.  One day she pricked her finger and in trying to wash the blood off in the well, she dropped the spindle in the well.  When she told her stepmother, the woman immediately sent her back to fetch the spindle.  So the girl threw herself down the well after the spindle.  Instead of finding herself at the bottom of the well, she found herself in a beautiful meadow.  She began walking and soon heard some bread calling that it needed to be taken from the oven.  So, taking the baker's peel, she took the loaves out.  Further down the road, she came to an apple tree where the apples called out to her that they needed to shaken from the tree.  So the girl shook the tree until all of the apples had fallen. Soon she came to a small home and saw a woman with great teeth.  She was frightened of the woman and made to leave but the woman called out to her.  "Come and live with me," she called. "Do my housework and shake up my bed thoroughly so that the feathers fly and it snows on the world.'  The girl, no longer afraid, stayed and did everything the woman asked.

After a long while, the girl becomes homesick (why ever in the world, I cannot imagine), and tells the woman she should must go home.  Mother Hulda has been so pleased with her; when she leaves through a door to return home, Mother Hulda drapes the girl in gold.  When she returns to the widow, the widow sees an opportunity for her own daughter.  She sends the ugly girl to spin by the well.  Immediately the girl pricks her finger, throws the spindle down the well, and jumps in after it.  She, too, finds herself in the meadow but being the lazy girl that she is, she won't take the loaves of bread out of the oven and she won't shake the apple tree.  Mother Hulda, however, offers her the same opportunity she offered the stepsister and the girl agrees.  For one day, the girl works hard but soon her laziness begins to show itself.  Mother Hulda says she must be own her way and the girl is happy because she thinks she'll soon be covered with gold.

Mother Hulda has quite a differently plan and as the girl left through the door, she was covered in pitch.  She returned home covered in the stuff and remained that way for the rest of her life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Villette Readalong Weeks 4 and 5

Yes, that's right, I'm behind again.  I'm trying to listen to this while I'm working and some days just don't yield much listening time!

Week Four's reading was a pleasant respite after all of the goings on in Week Three's reading.  Lucy spent the time recovering from her breakdown at the home of Dr John and Mrs. Bretton.  While she delighted in spending time with friends after spending so much time alone, they delighted in introducing her to the delights of Villette.  Interestingly, Monsieur Paul Emmanuel, appears more and more in Lucy's story.  When we were first introduced to him, Lucy had nothing nice at all to say about him, But when he finds her in an art gallery, sitting in front of a painting he doesn't approve of and moves her to more "appropriate" works, she finds his concern for her less annoying than you might expect.  Gradually she seems to be finding good characteristics in M. Paul and they agree to be friends.

John's relationship with Ginevra Fanshawe, which we only just discovered, is, perhaps, irreparably damaged when, while at the theater, she snubs Mrs. Bretton and openly flirts with another man in front of him.  Now that Lucy has spent so much time with John and finding him now unattached, her heart begins to run away with her a bit.  But Lucy is nothing if not reasonable and she and her Reason spend a lot of time together and Reason generally seems to win.  But it's not able to stop Lucy from beginning to visions of a ghost nun.

Just as Lucy begins to hope that John may care for her, Polly home and her father return in the guise of the de Bassompierres.  Mr. Home has been given the title of Count and Polly is now a Countess.  Despite the fact that she is still little more than a child, John becomes smitten with her.  Now it is also revealed that Polly and Ginerva are cousins and poor Lucy has to put up with the foolishness of both of the girls. But she's more than willing to tolerate it because she's both exceedingly tolerant and unwilling to put her friendship with the families at risk.

I am so ready for Lucy to just take a chance, to cut loose a little bit and maybe even to throw a temper tantrum because she's so darn tired of being the poor little poor girl.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
336 pages
Published March 2011 by St Martin's Press
Source: the publisher and FSB Associates

Memorial Day, 1948: the railroad town of Vanport Oregon is washed away when a dike breaks and the warning to evacuate is received late. Afterward, fifteen bodies are recovered and fourteen people are never found.

Present day: Rain has been coming down for days and warm temperatures are causing massive snow melt to wash into the Willamette River.  Portland, Oregon is bracing itself for a major flood. Thousands are down on the waterfront filling sandbags but otherwise the city is quiet. As the waterways fill and wash away land, a skeleton is uncovered by a jogger.  Reporter Susan Ward believes it may be related to the Vanport flood sixty years earlier.

Detective Archie Sheridan is called in to investigate a body found in an amusement park. The police immediately recognize the body as that of a woman presumed to have drowned.  But how did she get from the river on to the carousel?  Hours later a bigger question emerges when a brown puncture wound is discovered on the woman's palm.  The cause of death has now been changed to poisoning and Sheridan is put in charge of a task force to investigate when two more deaths previously presumed to be drownings also turn out to be cases of poison.  Who is murdering the citizens of Portland and why?  The clues? A most unusual method of delivering the poison, the token left by the murder with each victim, and a young boy rescued from the raging river by Sheridan.

When I was approached about this book, I jumped at the chance to read it remembering rave reviews of Cain's previous Archie Sheridan stories, involving Beauty Killer Gretchen Lowell.  Gretchen remains a presence, albeit off-stage, in this novel as Archie, in particular, and his team continue to deal with the aftermath of what she did.  Cain does a good job of bringing the new reader up to speed without interrupting the flow of this story.  It felt less like I was picking up the fourth book in a series about Archie Sheridan and more like I was getting the background story I would expect to get in any good novel.

I powered my way through this book in what might be record time for me.  I picked it up on Sunday afternoon and when I got home from work on Monday, I knew I would not be going to bed until I was finished.  I didn't even have to miss the ten o'clock news.  The story moves along at a quick pace and alternates periodically from what Susan's investigation into the skeleton and Archie's investigation into the serial killer.  With a little over 100 pages left, the action really took off and the climax did not disappoint. Often this type of book feels like it spends entirely too much time wrapping things up but Cain was surprising me right up to the end of the book. The city, the flood and the rain play a major role in this book providing the perfect dark atmosphere and tension.

It is clear, from the details of Archie's background, that this book is not as extreme as the previous books.I must admit, I was grateful.  I'm not a fan of very explicit torture and murder and I'm not sure I'll be able to make myself go back and read the previous books. But for those of you who were fans, you'll be glad to know that Gretchen does make an appearance in this one and makes it clear that we haven't heard the last of her.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guest Post - Chelsea Cain

Please join me in welcoming Chelsea Cain, author of The Night Season (review tomorrow) as well as Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart.  If you've read any of Chelsea's books, you'll have a true appreciation for how incongruous that playful smile is on the face of someone who writes such dark and intense stories!

Origin Story

I always knew I would grow up to write gory thrillers.

That's a lie.

The truth is that I wanted to grow up to be a fire-dog. There was a vintage fire truck at the park we used to go to when I was a kid and I just really liked the idea of riding on the back of it, ears perked, black and white fur tickled by the wind. My parents were hippies, so didn't want to limit my potential by telling me that I couldn't grow up to be a Dalmatian.

I never did get a job as a fire dog, so in that sense I'll always be a failure.

My mother wanted me to grow up to be a potter. We had a clay spinning wheel for a while in the backroom of an apartment we rented, and I have to admit I was pretty good at creating lopsided earthenware pen vases, if you like that sort of thing.

But in retrospect I always had a fascination with the macabre.

It started with the pet cemetery. A kitten of mine was hit by a car and I buried her in an elaborate ceremony under the Rhododendron bush in our front yard in Bellingham, Washington. Then, walking home from school a few months later, I came across a dead bird. I picked it up, put it in my lunchbox, carried it home and buried it under the Rhododendron. I found eight more dead birds that week. They all went into the cemetery. Who knows what kind of bird epidemic was sweeping through my town. I guess I'm lucky I didn't catch bird flu.

Eventually kids in the neighborhood started hearing about the cemetery and would appear at my door cradling their dead pets. By the end of that year I had buried fifteen birds, three cats, a hamster, a rabbit, a chicken, and about a dozen gold fish. Each corpse was laid in a shoebox, cushioned with toilet paper, and presented with a piece of costume jewelry from a collection that someone had given me. I would then bury the box and say a few words to whoever was present. I had a special vintage ladies hat I would wear for the occasion. It was black, with white silk flowers piled on it, and a torn black net veil.

I was not an ordinary child.

At the time I was very interested in the Green River Killer. He was our local serial murderer. They found his first victims in 1982. I was ten years old. He went on to kill dozens of women, mostly prostitutes, many of them teenagers. It was the first time that I was aware that there was that sort of danger in the world -- That you could go out one day, and they might find you the next day, dead, naked in a river. His main killing ground was about an hour and half from the town I grew up in. But I still thought about him when I was walking my dog alone at night. I followed the stories in the newspaper and I knew that there was a task force assigned to catch him. I liked that idea -- a team of professionals who were working really hard to keep me safe from the bogeyman.

I still wasn't thinking about writing gory thrillers. Though I will admit that, in seventh grade, I got 40 pages into a novel about a female PI. I typed the entire thing in a cursive font. I thought it looked fancy.

Journalism. That was my college goal at the University of California, at Irvine. I didn't know anyone who wrote books, and after the fire-dog disappointment, I wanted to be realistic about my professional aspirations.

I even went to graduate school in journalism at the University of Iowa where I wrote a column for The Daily Iowan, dyed my hair dark red and stared reading Sylvia Plath. Literary towns will do that to you.

But there was one thing about journalism that I didn't like at all: talking to strangers. Writing books, on the other hand, requires talking to far fewer people. And Iowa City, home of the lauded Iowa Writers Workshop, was full of people writing books.

So I wrote a few too.

That's a lie.

I moved from Iowa to Portland to New York and back to Portland with brief stays in Florida and Pennsylvania, and in the process wrote a dozen books over the next ten years.

But I only published a few.

The rest were really, really bad.

Don't worry. I had a real job. I was a creative director for a PR firm. (My hair was very blond at this point.)  Then I fell in love with the clerk at my local video store, and in the throes of an identity crisis (I had dyed my hair red again), I retired from PR at the grizzled age of 31. I married the video store clerk and a year later, pregnant with my daughter, I was up late at night and I came across an episode of Larry King Live about the Green River Killer.

They had caught him in 2001, nearly twenty years after his first victims were discovered, and he had a name: Gary Ridgway. I hadn't thought about the Green River Killer or that case in years, but there, live on TV, were the cops from the task force I remembered as a kid. I recognized them from the newspapers photographs that were burned into my mind. They had spent their careers looking for this guy. And they had caught him. Finally.

I was safe.

And I thought to myself: gory thriller!

That would be fun to write.

(You find that you have lot of time on your hands when you suddenly are not drinking because you are pregnant.)

So I wrote HEARTSICK. Having begun a book while pregnant and finished it with a baby in the house, I can tell you it is a feat that cannot be adequately praised.

But I guess that I shouldn't be surprised to find myself writing thrillers. It does bring together many of my interests: forensic pathology, medicine, damaged heroes, dead pets, Nancy Drew, TV cops shows, my home of Portland, Oregon, and having an excuse to be alone in a room for long periods. Sometimes I think being a thriller writer might be as fun as being a fire-dog.

But I guess I'll never know for sure.

Copyright © 2011 Chelsea Cain, author of The Night Season
Author Bio
Chelsea Cain's
 first three novels featuring Archie Sheridan -- Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart -- have all been New York Times bestsellers.  Also the author of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, and several nonfiction titles, Chelsea was born in Iowa, raised in Bellingham, Washington and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Date You Can't Refuse by Harley Jane Kozak

A Date You Can't Refuse by Harley Jane Kozak
352 pages
Published March 2009 by Crown Publishing
Source: loaned by me by my parents

When she's finished performing jury duty on Yuri Milos' trial, Wollie Shelley, greeting card designer and artist, is more than a little surprised to have him approach her with a job proposal.  But even with a very generous salary offer, Wollie is sure that she'll turn him down...until an FBI agent approaches her and convinces her that it would be in her best interest to accept the job.  As in, issues that she's having with the care of her schizophrenic will become much worse for her if she doesn't agree with take the job and work undercover for the FBI.  Within 24 hours, Wollie finds herself living in the canyons of Calabasas, out of cell phone range, and wearing the designer clothes of her predecessor.  Who died in a car crash that no one seems to want to take about.  And someone seems to be shooting at one of the houses in the compound. When a corpse shows up while the team is out on a walk, Wollie really starts to become concerned for her safety but already she is starting to bond with the people she works with and she's not sure that she'll be able to walk away from them or turn them into the FBI.

I'm going to have to admit right up front that I go into any Kozak book wanting to like it because Kozak is a native Nebraskan who is actually an alum from the same high school that I attended.  After the first book, this was a lot easier because I discovered that I really did like her writing.  It's quick paced, humorous and loaded with fun characters.  Kozak also creates good guys with flaws and bad guys with redeeming traits. A Date You Cant' Refuse is not a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat so if you're the kind of reader that expects that in a murder mystery, these may be a little light for you.  But if you're looking for a quick, quirky read and an ending you won't expect, then I'd encourage you to pick up one of Kozak's books.  Her first Wollie Shelley was Dating Dead Men, followed by Dating is Murder, and most recently Dead Ex.  You don't need to start at the beginning of the series; Kozak does a terrific job of bringing the reader up to speed without making you feel like you're spending the first few chapters playing catch up.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Lambkin and The Little Fish

Because March came in like a lamb here (which generally means that the whole month will work the opposite of the way it usually does and March will go out like a lion), I thought it was only fitting that this Friday I tell you about The Lambkin and The Little Fish.  There seems to be no other history for this one other than it is a German tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.

There once lived a brother and sister who loved each other with all their hearts.  Their mother was dead and they lived with their stepmother who not only was not kind to them but seemed to go out of her way to be cruel to them.  The pair loved to play beside a lake that was just outside of their home.  One day their stepmother say them singing and playing a game with their friends and became infuriated.  Since she understood witchcraft, she put a spell on the brother and sister turning the girl into a lamb and the boy into a fish.

After some time had passed, strangers arrived at the castle and the stepmother decided that this was a good time to do away with the girl.  She ordered the cook to kill the lamb and serve it for dinner.  But as the cook was sharpening his knife, he heard the lamb talking to the fish in the lake outside the window.  The cook took another sheep and used it for the dinner; he sent the lamb and this fish to a good woman and told her all he had learned.

This woman immediately suspected that the lamb might be the little girl and took it to a wise woman who pronounced a blessing over the lamb and the fish, restoring them to their human form.  She took them both into a great forest, where they lived alone, but were contented and happy.

Certainly one of the tamer fairy tales I've read but it does bring up a couple of questions for me.  Just where are the fathers in these stories and why do they marry such awful women?  And why are the "bad guys" always stepmothers?  Given the mortality rate at the time these stories were originally told, there were an awfully lot of stepmothers.  I can only guess that the tellers of these stories needed to put someone into close proximity to the innocents who has no deep affection for them.  What do you think?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
224 pages
Published April 2010 by Random House Publishing
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Henry L'Hote's first novel was enormously successful.  But when he pitches a unique idea to his publisher, a flip book that combines a novel and essay about the Holocaust, he is so thoroughly shot down that he gives up on writing entirely.  He and his wife settle into a comfortable life in which Henry has found himself a pleasing job in a chocolate shop and has involved himself in a local theater.  But still the occasion letter from a fan reaches him and one day a letter arrives that so piques Henry's interest that he tracks down the address it came from.  This leads him to a taxidermist, also named Henry, who is asking for Henry's help with a play he is writing about a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil. As Henry learns more and more about the play, he becomes convinced that the play is about victims of the Holocaust and finds himself sucked into the vortex that is Henry, the taxidermist.

When this book first came out, emotions really ran high.  In the book blogosphere, where Martel's Life of Pi is so beloved, expectations were high.  Reviewers really wanted to love this book.  But almost none of them did; in fact, the ending of this book even made some of them very angry.  So, of course, I had to read it.

Not having yet read Life of Pi, I had no great expectations for this book going in; I was just looking for a book that would make me think.  On that score, Beatrice and Virgil succeeds. Henry (a not-so-thinly veiled Martel) goes on at length about the capacity of fiction to be even more real than nonfiction and, in his defense of fiction, poses the idea that "if history doesn't become story, it dies to everyone except the historian." Martel also takes the opportunity here to explore the reasons that some books just don't get made.  In Henry's case, it's largely due to the fact that no one knows how to market the book.

Once Henry makes contact with the taxidermist, the book takes on an entirely different tone and much of the rest of the book is the taxidermist's play.  The play is not particularly interesting in the beginning and once it starts to pick up, Martel spends a lot of time explaining to the reader how cleverly he is telling the story of the Holocaust in fiction.  And yet the reader does begin to become attached to Beatrice and Virgil, just as Henry does.  And then, sure enough, the big twist.  It didn't so much make me angry as it made me think that Martel had gotten to a point where he just couldn't figure out any other way to go on, any other way to wrap things up.

Martel does write beautifully (although Publishers Weekly called the prose "amateurish").  So I'm taking that piece from this book and looking forward to finding the time to read Life of Pi with the hope of liking it so much more.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I find, in reading the reviews of the other hosts, that I'm not alone in my opinions about this book.  Was it interesting? Yes. Was it also flawed? Again, yes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mystery March - Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke

Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke
333 pages
Published February 2009 by Kensington Publishing
Source: borrowed this one from a friend

Bakery owner Hannah Swensen's mother is publishing a book and Hannah needs to be able to fit into a Regency dress for the book launch so her sister convinces her to begin dieting and exercising with her at the local mall's health club.  Even though Hannah is used to waking up early and hitting the ground running, she's not used to hitting the treadmill running and she's not enjoying it a bit. Finding the body of the town hussy dead in the jacuzzi one morning doesn't help matters.  Neither does the fact that her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Detective Mike Kingston, has been pulled off the case because of his "relationship" with the deceased.  When her brother-in-law and other sister's boyfriend are also pulled from the case for the same reason, the three women team up to solve the mystery.  Hannah's other on-again, off-again boyfriend, Norman, also pitches in to help, as do Hannah and Norman's mothers. With most of the women in town bearing a grudge against the deceased for her flirting ways or meanness as a fitness instructor and a slew of potential jilted lovers, there are a lot of suspects to rule out and not a lot of clues.

I've heard great things about the Hannah Swensen mysteries and Joanne Fluke so when my coworker offered me this book for for what I've designated as Mystery March, I was quick to say "yes."  This is Fluke's 11th cozy mystery feature Hannah and it's obvious right from the beginning that Fluke is working hard to bring first time readers up to speed with the cast of characters in Lake Eden, Minnesota.  The problem for me was that there were just too many characters and it took a lot of pages to finally get to the point where a story could really build.  Not that Fluke wasted any time in letting the reader know who the murder victim was going to be in this book.  Already on page three, the reader knows that village vamp, Ronni Ward is going to get hers.  But it's not until page 119 that Hannah finally finds Ronni's body.

Much is made throughout the book of Hannah's cat, Moishe and the gift of a multi-day feeder she receives for him.  At first I was just getting annoyed with all this talk about the cat and how much he was eating .Once Mike suggested that Hannah put in a surveillance camera to try to figure out what was happening to all of the food that was disappearing in hours, not days, it became obvious that the camera was going to become key to solving the mystery.  But even understanding why the story line had been included didn't stop me from feeling like it had taken up entirely too many pages.

There is also a lot of discussion about the baked goods that Hannah and her shop are creating.  The details were distracting from the story for me but the good news is that recipes for all of these goodies are included in the book.  So even though I finished the book quickly, it's not going to be back in my co-worker's hands until I have time to copy down several of them!