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Monday, April 12, 2021

How Do You Pick Your Next Read?

There are so many books available at our fingertips today. With ebooks, you can shop and start reading a new book in a few minutes.  But the number and variety of books can be overwhelming. There are well over 1 million books published a year.  Even if a book is one of the fewer and fewer traditionally published, the author shoulders more and more of the burden to publicize the book.  Considering all of that, how do you pick your next read? 

1) Sometimes we are lucky to have family or friends with similar reading taste and can take recommendations from them.  But for those who aren't so lucky, where do you look?

2)  Amazon suggested reads was always a good way to look at similar books and discover a new read, but that has gone away and Amazon is now flooded with paid ads by authors all struggling to get your attention.  

3)  Goodreads isn't perfect, but at least it is all about books and readers with a little of the social aspect of Facebook.  As a reader, do you visit Goodreads regularly, follow authors or reviewers, and find books to read via your favorite reviewer? 

4)  Or there are Facebook readers groups to get input from other readers what they have enjoyed.  Facebook also has author ads.  Have you bought a book based on a FB reader group or ad?

5)  A more old school approach is newspaper or magazine reviews.  They are fewer out there, and they are often syndicated so the same review hits a number of newspapers.  Have you purchased a book based on a review in a newspaper or magazine?

6)  Blogs are still influential and popular in spite of the ever changing trending app of the moment.  There is a plethora of book blogs with reviews of books, often genre specific.  Have you found a new book to read from a blog?

7)  Then there are subscription newsletters for books (BookBub, BargainBooksy, The Fussy Librarian, BookGorilla, Ereader News Today etc.)  These are often for books on sale or bargain priced and seem quite popular.  

Please vote in the poll how you typically find your next read.  If there are other avenues you use to find the next book to read, please share in the comments.  Thank you!

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review - Death on Tap

This is a new to me series that I decided to start at the beginning.  The concept captured my interest, see what I think.

Author: Ellie Alexander

Copyright: August 2018 (Random House-Bantam) 315 pgs

Series: 1st in Sloan Krause Mystery series

Sensuality: Adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Sloan Krause-foster child-turned chef, brewer, and mother

Setting: Contemporary, mountain village of Leavenworth, Washington

Obtained Through: Purchase

Blurb:  "When Sloan Krause walks in on her husband, Mac, screwing the barmaid, she gives him the boot. Sloan has spent her life in Leavenworth, Washington becoming an expert in brewing craft beer, and she doesn’t have time to be held back by her soon-to-be ex-husband. She decides to strike out on her own, breaking away from the Krause family brewery, and goes to work for Nitro, the hip new nano-brewery in the Bavarian-themed town. Nitro’s owner, brewmaster Garrett Strong, has the brew-world abuzz with his newest recipe, “Pucker-Up IPA.” This place is the new cool place in town, and Mac can’t help but be green with envy at their success.

But just as Sloan is settling in to her new gig, she finds one of Nitro’s competitors dead in the fermenting tub, clutching the secret recipe for the IPA. When Mac, is arrested, Sloan knows that her ex might be a cheater, but a murderer? No way. Danger is brewing in Beervaria and suddenly Sloan is on the case."

Sloan Krause Sloan grew up a foster child-turned chef, brewer, and mother so she is struggling with the infidelity and particularly what this means with her in-laws who are the closest to parents she has ever had.  Cheating husband Mac is really a loser and doesn't deserve Sloan at all.  Garrett Strong, owner of new Nitro really likes Sloan and is a possible romantic interest in future novels in the series.  Otto and Ursula (Mac's parents) and Hans (Mac's younger brother) are jewels and I love them. Alex, Sloan's son, is refreshing in that he is responsible and caring of his mother. 

Leavenworth Washington is a unique setting.  It is an entire town dedicated to beer... and is essentially an American version of a German alpine village nicknamed Beer-varia.  Everything is associated with beer in some way or another. Garrett's new pub, Nitro doesn't follow the Bavarian  theme of the rest of town which gets hims some pressure from locals.  This all makes for an interesting setting.

The plot develops over the course of the story.  What was the victim involved in that got him killed, why was he killed in Nitro, and why was Mac's lighter found next to the body? Throw in some good misdirection and it keeps you guessing.  I found it had enough complications and surprises to keep me reading, although at times the mystery takes a back seat to all the personal issues in Sloan's life.

 The killer reveal was realistic with only some tension. I know I love a harrowing killer reveal/confrontation is my favorite. But this worked with the storyline well.  The wrapup gives us an interesting tidbit for Sloan's personal life that will play out in the following novels in the series.

The setting is done very well with lots of character.  Sloan is a good character with a lot going on emotionally and she is handling well. I liked the explantions of beer making and its craft side.  The mystery was good. I had suspected the killer early on, but hadn't determined the motive. This is a fun cozy with developed characters.

Rating:  Good - checks all the cozy boxes for a light read. 

Here is a short video tour of Leavenworth, Washington

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Create Family Reading Habits and Traditions

How do you compete with televisions and video games?  Children today have a lot of devices calling them, enticing them.  But if you start early (although its never too late to start), you can build reading into children's lives.  Here are a smattering of ideas to help you with developing reading habits that will carry your children into adulthood.  It will aid them at all stages of their life with academics, focus, theoretical thinking, creativity building, and empathy towards others.  All of which will be critical as they grow older.

Reading aloud to the little squirts is the most basic concept.  If you are fortunate to start early, then start with the baby bump and read aloud to your child at this stage.  This would be good right before bedtime to settle in and start that habit.  Get that habit instilled before birth and you are ahead of the game!

Once the baby is born, keep up the habit.  It may require a bit more flexibility with newborns and may be only a few minutes of reading, but it will be worth it.  Middle of the night feedings are rough, but perhaps after its changed and while/after feeding it may be a good time to slip in a short nursery rhyme or two read aloud.  As your children grow older, an established routine helps even during the terrible twos.  Flexibility is still key since some children have more attention span than others.  

Keep books available to children at all times, whether that is a soft book for infants and toddlers, board books, or early chapters books.  When the children have their own rooms, even one bookshelf with books readily available makes a difference.  There are even books designed for tub-time called bath books!  That is perfect to get children used to books as natural in their lives.

Library trips can be made into a special time.  Keep up with your libraries children's section and if they have story times or other programs you can bring your kids to participate.  This makes books and reading special and reinforces with other children that are modeling a love for books.  Encourage your child to keep a list of books they want to check out to read.  Make it a big deal when a book can be marked off the list!

Its best if you can set a specific time for reading together, whether everyday or on certain days.  It may start as only fifteen minutes and evolve into thirty minutes after the habit is well developed.  It is still best to read aloud to them, unless they ask to do the reading for you.  
I read where a mother always had a book on hand, at first a small board book in her purse and later digital on her phone.  When out in pubic and her child would get restless in a line waiting, she would take out her book and read aloud to her child.  She would have others in line smile as her child focused on the story rather than her restlessness get out of hand.  It may not work for every child, but its worth a try, especially if you have started them early with reading.

Taking the story and getting interactive is always great with children.  This may not be for every story, just the special ones, but try dressing up and playing the characters.  Don't forget dressing up as a favorite character for Halloween.  For years there were scores of  Harry, Ron, and Hermiones at Halloween. 

Another way to get interactive is with some dolls or stuffed animals to play the characters.  If you are really crafty, you can make some basic hand or sock puppets with your kids and dress them to act out some scenes from the book.  

Basics Paper Mache forms from craft store with pictures Mod Podged on.
Speaking of crafts, you could create holiday ornaments by photocopying (reduced size) the covers of favorite books and use Mod Podge to adhere to a form from a hobby store like Michaels.  You could also create a "Have Read" poster for their room with small photocopies of the books they've read glued onto the poster. They can stick on stars for how good they thought each book was.

Another great interactive idea is field trips related to the book.  If you read a book on dinosaurs, a trip to a nature museum within driving distance would be a good tie-in.  If you read a book on astronauts, find out if you have a local astronomy group for a star gazing session.  Go to a ballet if you read a book on ballerinas (or a video of the ballet).  The Nutcracker is great for children and you can usually find it being performed in December.  Any books on local history might have a local spot related to the topic.

Give books as gifts for holidays, birthdays, and rewards which places a value on them.  Of course, buying books on something they are interested in is best.

Children always have questions about why things are a certain way, so find a book or children's magazine to answer the questions.  Ranger Rick is great for animal and nature questions.  The library usually has a great selection to help you out.

Don't forget older kids - Harry Potter saw many tween kids and teens reading the books with their parents and enjoying them as a family.

When your child needs to read aloud at school, it can be stressful for them.  A great way to ease those nerves is to encourage your child to read to a pet. Some schools even have programs where dogs or cats come in just for the kids to read to them. Sometimes it is the local shelter that offers Book Buddies.  Pets are non-judgemental and make children feel accepted reading aloud. 

As your child gets older, the competition for their attention is greater.  I heard of a parent who, rather than an allowance, gave five dollars for each book (age appropriate length and page amount) that their son completed.  The boy thought it was easy money and the parents felt it was the best investment.  You could do your own amount depending on the age of the child and your budget.

Best of all is for you to be an example, let them see you place importance on your own reading and share how you enjoy what you read.  My family talked about the books we were reading at the dinner table.  If you make it a priority, they will often follow that example. 

Create a family TBR list and keep a record of the books you have read together.  This creates excitement for what's next to read and a sense of accomplishment with each book finished.

It may be a challenge at times, but instilling a reading habit early will reap life long rewards.

Here is a full instruction video of how to make basic sock puppets.  It is long because it is a craft instruction video.

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review - The Crossing Places

The first entry in the Ruth Galloway series follows an archaeologist in this gritty winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award.  Somehow it took me this long to begin this series.  So many books, so few hours in the day.  But better late than never!  Read on to see how I felt about this first in the series.

Author: Elly Griffith

Copyright: Jan 2010 (Mariner Books) 306 pgs

Series: 1st in Ruth Galloway Mystery series

Sensuality: One mild (no graphic details) sex scene

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth with touches of police procedural

Main Character: Dr. Ruth Galloway, Forensic archeologist 

Setting: Modern Day, Norfolk, England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties. She lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson calls Galloway for help, believing they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing a decade ago and whose abductor continues to taunt him with bizarre letters containing references to ritual sacrifice, Shakespeare, and the Bible. Then a second girl goes missing and Nelson receives a new letter—exactly like the ones about Lucy."

Dr. Ruth Galloway lives a pretty solitary life. She teaches classes at the university in Norfolk, works archeology digs, and shares her house with two cats that keep her company.  She is brilliant but self conscious of her being more "full figured".  She is relatable in some ways, and not  in other ways.  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson doesn't seem very bright at times. I'm not sure if that is a deceptive ploy or not (like Columbo). Example, simple things need explained to him like the concept of carbon dating, and he made no progress for ten years on analyzing the taunting letters.  Ruth's mentor Erik Anderssen, one of those professional men who expect everyone to bow to his superior knowledge, is part of the story and while intelligent he is abrasive.  Ruth's former boyfriend, Peter, is a total jerk trying to weasel his way back into Ruth's life now that his marriage has failed.  Then there is Shona, her friend, who has baggage of her own.  The characters are complex and all a bit of a mess.

The setting is deliciously gothic with the the bleak and treacherous saltmarsh. I love when the setting is used to optimal effect and that is the case with this novel. 

The story develops, unveiling the suspects and events from ten years prior, creating a twisting tale.  Ruth takes the investigation further than it had for the last ten years without exerting herself much.  The writing style kept me glued to the pages.

If you have followed my reviews for long, you know I love a scary, tense killer reveal/confrontation.  This book excelled in that sense.  Great suspenseful killer reveal.

Conclusion: This is character driven, so we see everything through Ruth's eyes and that is claustrophobic at times which adds to the overall feeling.  It is also written in first person, so if that turns you off you have been warned. Ruth weighs 12 stone (size 16) and you get how people have treated her as overweight in many ways. I know this could be misconstrued as fat shaming - but in reality the author has brought the reader inside Ruth's head to see how she has been treated is now part of her psyche.  I liked how Ruth was a strong character and a little stubborn who therefore makes occasional bad decisions.  This first novel shows strong potential and I look forward to the next book in the series.  

Rating:  Well done, loved it! 

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Monday, March 22, 2021

Cozy Mystery Tropes: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

There are many tropes ("a common or overused theme or device" Merriam Webster) in the cozy mystery genre.  Here I will compile the tropes I know of and a little about what is good and/or bad about them for consideration.  I certainly am not a final say and these are just my thoughts on them for consideration.  

Let's begin with the broad definition of what makes a cozy mystery a cozy.  IngramSpark's blog "What is a Cozy Mystery and Why is it So Popular?" gives us this definition:

 "The tone of a cozy should be upbeat, optimistic and light-hearted. The setting should be the kind of place that the reader might long to live in or to choose for their vacation."

That is a fairly wide open definition that provides plenty of room for an author to be creative while still being a cozy.  A more strict definition will state there is an amateur (usually a woman) investigating a crime, there should be no blood, guts, or gore and definitely no on-page sex, swearing is anathema along with overt violence.  Don't ever hurt an animal or a child in a cozy either! Oh, and the setting should be a small community of some sort to keep suspects limited.  That is the more specific elements of a cozy mystery and what's acceptable.

But, you knew there would be a "but", the cozy genre seems more defined by unofficial guidelines anymore in the form of tropes.  Some of the tropes have been good for the genre, and others I feel aren't helpful.

Somewhere in most cozies today, you will read the amateur sleuth repeatedly admonished, harangued, and downright hounded to not sleuth - don't even consider the possibility of asking even somewhat innocent questions.  This is by far the trope I dislike the most.  An entire genre based on the premise of an amateur solving murders is weighed down by this lazy attempt (in my opinion) at creating story tension.  Sadly, this hounding is usually done by the romantic interest.  I find myself yelling at the star sleuth to immediately break up with the fictional boyfriend, he isn't adding to the story, just being a nuisance.  Some argue that such haranguing is more realistic.  Cozy mysteries are the closest to a fantasy world with a smidgen of crime.  If you want realism, then you want police procedurals - but those have violence, swearing, sex, and blood because... that's realistic. If you are reading a cozy, you don't really want realism.  So please, can we ditch the nagging the sleuth to not sleuth?

Whew, glad I got that out of my system.  Now on to the next.

A police officer must be the sleuth's boyfriend.  I have nothing against police in fiction, but again this seems like a lazy way for the sleuth to gain certain information for their investigation.  This is a setup for the harassment mentioned previously.  I find these policeman boyfriends tedious at best because they are duty bound to talk down to, nag, and deride the sleuth for asking any question at all - in some cases even charge them with obstruction or interference to make a point.  

Obstruction is officially defined as:  "an act that "corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice."

 I haven't seen many sleuths that fit this definition even minutely!  So the cop boyfriend claiming that the sleuth essentially gossiping for information constitutes obstruction is absurd.  The setup is most often a gossiping situation or asking round-about questions of who was where.  That isn't interfering with the administration of justice, or influencing either.  If that were the case, every time people around a water-cooler gossiped about a murder in town then gossiped with their neighbor over the fence about the same murder, they would be arrested.  Again, the entire point of the genre is this amateur will be snooping like your nosey next-door neighbor, so I wish more would have boyfriends who aren't a cop and get the info they need via other methods than a defensive cop boyfriend.  Granted, this may just be me.  

Next up is the trope of two eligible men (one probably a cop!) are trying to date the female sleuth.  When handled well this can work for a book or two.  The biggest problem with this trope is it has been used so much and for too long in a given series that the reader gets sick of the situation.  I'm not a fan because I think it makes the woman out to be rather insipid and opportunistic.

Often the amateur sleuth is a prime suspect in a murder which kicks off the penchant for sleuthing.  From that point on people look to this amateur for assistance when there is a murder.  This is a useful way to start an amateur's foray into sleuthing and it leaves plenty of room to not be the same old thing every time.  

Another often used introduction to a cozy series is the sleuth left the big terrible city and high powered job for small town life.  Often this is because of a messy breakup or occasionally a job loss.  This same driven and highly successful woman finds fulfillment working a small town job like a retail store of some sort or a librarian (without the usual prerequisite degree in library science.)  Somehow, this is when realism isn't a big deal.  This sort of woman would need more mental and creative stimulus than what most small towns have on tap, if we are true to the origin story of the character.  The second part to this trope is how a small town retail store, like a bookstore, yarn, or bead shop, makes enough revenue to support one or more employees.  I don't know about all small towns, but the ones I have been a tourist in see the owner slaving long hours with no help and barely scraping by.  So if you want realism in your cozy mystery - forget the nagging boyfriend and be more true-to-life in this aspect perhaps.

One of my favorite tropes is the animals.  Who doesn't love an adorable dog or cat?  Their involvement can just be devotion to the sleuth or sometimes an intuition that aids the sleuth in their snooping.  These animals help to round out the character and humanize them.

Another good trope is the funny or quirky sidekick friend or family member.  This gives much needed "girl time" and comradery that rounds the character and helps us witness what kind of a friend our sleuth is.
Family is a tough one in the cozy mystery.  They are either quirky or too judgmental of our sleuth.  I love when they are an eccentric or funny family who provide support and aid in snooping.  I really don't have much tolerance for the difficult, nitpicking, disrespectful, or judgmental trope family.  Usually the sleuth takes the verbal lashings and doesn't stand up for herself, which drops my opinion of the sleuth right off.   There is the subset trope of a parent pushing and prodding our sleuth to marry and have kids.  I had my sleuth push right back on that score.   

One of the definitions of a cozy is they take place in a small, tight community so there are limited suspects.  I love the authors who do this within a big city such as Cleo Coyle's cozies in New York City, or Juliette Blackwell's two cozy series set in San Francisco.  An intimate community doesn't have to mean a small town.  I enjoy the quirky denizens of the setting best.

Finally in this list is the trope of a food or hobby theme.  This has been done so much that forecasts for the future trends in cozy mysteries say food and hobbies may have been overdone and travel is the next trend.  We will have to see, because food and hobbies are comfort and spirit enhancing, which is part of what makes cozies so lighthearted and upbeat.

Thank you for indulging my short rant and opinions on the most common tropes in the cozy mystery genre.  What are your thoughts on cozy tropes?  Share in the comments.

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