Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Cold Way Home - Julia Keller

The Cold Way Home by Julia Keller

First Paragraph(s):

It was 7:17 P.M. on Thursday, October 24th, and Deputy Steve Brinksneader was ready to call it a day.  More than ready, actually.  He had a full shift under his belt and supper waiting on the table at home.  He was supposed to be done.  He should've been finished more than two hours ago, if you wanted to get technical about it, but there'd been too many reports to write and an obese, unruly prisoner--probably high on something, given that he was twisting and lunging and machine-gunning obscenities--that he had to subdue, in order for his colleague, Deputy Dave Previtt, to squire the man into a cell.  He didn't know what the man had done.  The man was Dave's prisoner, not his, and there'd been no time to talk about it, because the man had broken free from Dave and he had to render assistance.
     And now: this.
     The call had come crackling over his radio a minute and a half ago and Steve knew he had to respond, knew he had to attend to it.  Duty was duty. 

My Thoughts:

I've said before that Julia Keller's mystery series, set in West Virginia, is among my favorites.  I'm always delighted to see a new book appear - glad to revisit the beautiful setting that the author paints for us in each book.  Bell Elkins and her friends and colleagues are also favorites of mine.  They are not perfect by any means and certainly the area that Keller describes has massive problems.  However, I love these books. 

The Cold Way Home is the 8th book in the series.  Bell Elkins has had a lot of life changes as we've gone from story to story.  She's now a private investigator and is in partnership with Nick and Jake, both former law enforcement officers.  They each bring their own strengths to investigations, but they are still figuring out how this new business will work in their financially depressed area.  Julia Keller relates a good crime story, but also bases Wellwood, a former mental hospital, on real stories of what happened to patients who no one wanted to live with and who few cared about.  I loved reading this book and will try to patiently wait for the next book.  If this series sounds intriguing to you, I recommend you start with the first in order to meet the characters - A Killing in the Hills.  My thanks again to my blogging friend Susan for bringing Julia Keller's work to my attention several years ago. 


Deep in the woods just outside Acker's Gap, West Virginia, rises a ragged chunk of what was once a high stone wall. This is all that remains of Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital for the poor that burned to the ground decades ago. And it is here that Bell Elkins – prosecutor turned private investigator – makes a grim discovery while searching for a missing teenager: A dead body, marred by a ghastly wound that can only mean murder.

To solve the mystery of what happened in these woods where she played as a child, Bell and her partners – former sheriff Nick Fogelsong and former deputy Jake Oakes – must confront the tangled history of Wellwood and its dark legacy, while each grapples with a private torment. Based on a true chapter in the troubled history of early treatment for psychiatric illness, The Cold Way Home is a story of death and life, of despair and hope, of crime and – sometimes, but not always – punishment.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Strangers at the Gate - Catriona McPherson

Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson

First Paragraph(s):

Looking back it's tempting to say I knew from the start, as soon as Paddy said the word for the first time.  I can nearly convince myself I shivered at the sound of it, Simmerton.
     But I'd be lying.  Truth is, there was a while back then when everything seemed fine.  Or even better than fine.  Everything seemed golden.  If there were worries they were the usual kind that everyone has and then remembers, laughing.  If I had doubts, it was only because I was prone to be doubtful.  And the odd little frights and freak-outs?  They were just stories to tell to tell the grandchildren, come the day.   

My Thoughts:

Strangers at the Gate is quite the Gothic-style mystery.  You can probably tell that from the cover - shades of Manderley and Rebecca indeed.  Set in a small community in Scotland where the sun only tops the hills at certain times of the year, the whole book feels cold and foggy and spooky.  Heavy on the spooky.  Paddy and Finnie have moved away from the city to Simmerton and feel quite lucky to both have such good jobs.  They have a small cottage to live in and one of the first things they do is go to dinner with Paddy's boss and his wife at their home.  And then the twists begin, the wild and crazy events, the quite scary things that made this reader determined to solve the puzzle.  In case you wondered, I had lots of ideas - some were right and some definitely were not. 

I listened to this book on audio and it was very ably narrated by Lucy Paterson - just a wonderful Scottish accent.  I've met the author, Catriona McPherson at more than one mystery conference and she is witty, funny, really a great toastmaster or panelist - with a wonderful Scottish accent to boot.  She writes various kinds of mysteries - historicals, cozies and her darker standalones.  If you ever get to a chance to attend one of her events, go.  She's great.     


Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb are leaving city life in Edinburgh behind them and moving to the little town of Simmerton. Paddy's been made partner at the law firm in town, and Finnie has snagged a job as a church deacon. Their rented cottage is quaint; their new colleagues are charming, and they can't believe their luck.

But only days after moving into the gate house, Finnie begins to have doubts. She keeps hearing strange sounds, and the thicket of trees make her feel claustrophobic rather than safe. When they witness the bloody aftermath of a brutal murder, it changes everything. They've each been keeping secrets about their pasts. And they both know their precious new start won't survive a scandal. Together, for the best of reasons, they make the worst decision of their lives.

And that's only the beginning. The deep, deep valley where Simmerton sits is unlike anywhere Finnie and Paddy have been before. They are not the only ones hiding in its shadow and very soon they've lost control of the game they decided to play...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Unhoneymooners - Christina Lauren

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

First Paragraph(s):

In the calm before the storm--in this case, the blessed quiet before the bridal suite is overrun by the wedding party--my twin sister stares critically down at a fresh painted shell-pink fingernail and says, 'I bet you're relieved I'm not a bridezilla.'  She glances across the room at me and smiles generously.  'I bet you expected me to be impossible.'
     It is a statement so perfectly dropped in the moment, I want to take a picture and frame it.  I share a knowing look with our cousin Julieta, who is repainting Ami's toes ('It should be more petal pink than baby pink, don't you think?'), and gesture to the bodice of Ami's wedding gown--which hangs from a satin hanger and on which I am presently and painstakingly ensuring that every sequin is lying flat.  'Define bridezilla.'

My Thoughts:

After posting a query to everyone a few days ago seeking advice for my choice of first book to read in 2020, I totally ended up reading another book, The Unhoneymooners.  I actually picked this one because it had flowers on the cover and I was looking for something to go with my 2020 word 'BLOOM'.  Ha!  Plus, I read a few paragraphs and started laughing and just continued on.  I did like this book and it has been a while since I read a book that could easily be a good romantic comedy movie.  In it, Olive and Ami are twins.  Ami is lucky (or so Olive thinks) and always has been.  If something bad could happen, Olive is the twin that experiences it.  All the way from childhood.  However, even though Ami won practically everything for her wedding free, including Olive's crazy green satin maid-of-honor gown, the seafood buffet ends up making everyone very ill - everyone but Olive and Ethan, the groom's older brother and best man.  Now Olive and Ethan have met before, but neither liked the other (or so it seemed).  Ami insists on Olive taking her place on the 'free' honeymoon in Maui and Dane, the groom, insists the same for Ethan.  And the comedy begins.

This is the first book I've read by Christina Lauren, who is actually two people, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings.  Their books have been quite popular and I'm glad I tried this one.  Was it perfect?  No and I did get a little tired of some things, but overall it was a nice 'first book' for 2020.  Cheerful, snarky, and even a little poignant.  Olive and Ethan find out that they are not so different in many ways and Olive discovers that life isn't all 'lucky' for Ami.  Wonder if it will be made into a movie?  Now I'm off to find my next book...what to pick...


Olive Torres is used to being the unlucky twin: from inexplicable mishaps to a recent layoff, her life seems to be almost comically jinxed. By contrast, her sister Ami is an eternal champion . . . she even managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a slew of contests. Unfortunately for Olive, the only thing worse than constant bad luck is having to spend the wedding day with the best man (and her nemesis), Ethan Thomas.

Olive braces herself for wedding hell, determined to put on a brave face, but when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. Suddenly there’s a free honeymoon up for grabs, and Olive will be damned if Ethan gets to enjoy paradise solo.

Agreeing to a temporary truce, the pair head for Maui. After all, ten days of bliss is worth having to assume the role of loving newlyweds, right? But the weird thing is . . . Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, the more she pretends to be the luckiest woman alive, the more it feels like she might be.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Walking and yoga and food and me...a pretty honest post

I shared a couple of weeks ago that my health and wellness journey continues.  I said that I try to walk several miles most days and attend yoga class a couple of times a week.  I also continue to be a member of WW (or Weight Watchers for those of us who have a hard time re-branding things - sigh!).  I've had success in getting my weight and my fitness to a better place for my health.  I'm delighted that my blood work is all normal.  My doctor is happy.  This is all true, but it's not the whole story.

I am not to the end of my journey - I haven't 'solved' all my issues with food and my emotions.  I've gotten lax about a number of things - made excuses - made, what for me, are not the best choices.  That has resulted in my weight creeping up, my head telling me it's OK to sit in front of the computer or the TV or sit reading instead of going for my walk or attending my yoga classes.  This is not a path that is good for me.  I have not quit going to my WW meetings, though in the past this is the stage where I would throw in the towel and quit.  I'm not quitting.

I have struggled with my weight my whole adult life.  We all get struggles.  My biggest is with food and using it to handle most everything that involves feelings.  Plus I never thought I liked exercise of any kind.  My pattern in the past was to lose some weight, rarely exercise even when I was 'on a diet', excuse myself out of my 'diet', gain it all back and more, and repeat over and over.  The first time I joined Weight Watchers (which has worked well for me more than once) was when I was engaged and wanted to lose a bit for my wedding.  That was 40 years ago this year.  I have never gotten to my Weight Watcher 'Goal' weight (whatever number that might be at the time - it's changed).  I would like to do that and my doctor and I have set a number that she and I can live with and that we feel I could maintain.  I'm not there yet.  I was 12 pounds away from it 15 months ago.  I'm now over 37 pounds away from it.  As I said above - this is an honest post.  It's not so much about that exact number - it's about learning to process my emotions differently, being kind yet also firm with myself regarding health and fitness, and then also being 'at goal' for the first time.  This is a challenge for a lifetime.

I think that long-term maintainable weight loss takes much longer than anyone would imagine.  I feel that 99% of it is psychological.  Some things are easy to figure out, if not very fun to do.  Some things kind of creep up on you - one thinks that a behavior or mindset is resolved and then it's not.  It just shows up in another way.  For example, I rid my house of certain foods that I have trouble with regarding portion size - we have called them 'red light' foods in the past.  And you think - OK that's done - except, something else can become one of those foods - even something that never was a struggle before - like peanut butter.  Sigh.  I was never a peanut butter lover - now I could probably eat a whole jar at one sitting.  I may not be able to eat it anymore or perhaps only rarely.

Well, I don't mean to go on and on.  I started this post to say that I have begun walking regularly again.  I attended yoga on Tuesday of this week and plan to attend Thursday, the day that this post will be live.  I am refocusing on what to do with my eating plans, tracking what I do eat, and also being a little more strict with myself again.  This is needed and, though it's a challenge, it's really good for me.  We will have some trips later in the year.  Some are to places where I have loved to take challenging walks.  I want to be able to do that and enjoy them and take beautiful pictures to share.  I don't want to have to buy new clothes again (in a bigger size!).  I liked buying clothes in a smaller size.  Ha!  I want my husband and I to enjoy this 40th year of marriage and not take for granted the good health that we are experiencing.  He works hard to be compliant with what his cardiologist says is best for his heart health - he can't make his heart history go away, but he can try to avoid more problems in that regard.  I have worked hard too to avoid becoming diabetic and to reduce all the other high numbers that I had.  I intend to continue to reinforce that hard work.  I'll share a few pictures below to remind myself what I am committing to each week.

Thanks for listening!  This post was mostly for me, but I do appreciate your kindness in being my friends and supporting me.  So, if I don't comment as often on your posts (though I do read them), just imagine that I'm in a yoga class or striding around a walking track or outside listening to something fabulous.


Friday, January 3, 2020

My 2020 'One Word', a first book choice, and podcasts?

In the last few years I've chosen 'One Word' to be my focus for the year.  I've used JOY and JUST BREATHE (OK, two words), and PERSEVERANCE.  This year I decided to take a quiz to get suggestions.  Ti at Book Chatter mentioned that she had done this and so I tried it as well.  After answering a few questions through DaySpring (a faith-based card company), the word I got was


At first I wasn't too impressed, but the more I have thought about this word, I think it might be just about perfect.  The definition of BLOOM used as a noun is: (1) the flowering state or a period of flowering and (2) a state or time of beauty, freshness or vigor.  When used as a verb, the definition is extended to (1) to produce or yield flowers and (2) to mature into achievement of one's potential.  I think there could be a lot of possibilities for growth here and so I'm keeping this word.  My word for 2020 is BLOOM and we shall see where it takes me.


I've been going back and forth and to and fro deciding on my 'First Book' of 2020.  I haven't exactly been in a reading slump, but I have not been reading quite as much.  I've watched a lot of British crime shows and reread our mystery group's January selection (Dark Matter by Blake Crouch).  I've also listened to some podcasts (see my question at the end of this post, please).  However, I've narrowed it down to two books.

by Abbi Waxman

by Julia Keller

Have you read either of these books?  If so, what did you think?  The Keller book is the latest in her Bell Elkins mystery series, which I love.  Abbi Waxman's book begins with a couple of quotes, one of which is: 

Happiness is having your own library card.--Sally Brown, Peanuts

Now who wouldn't love a book that begins with that quote, right?  You can tell me which you think I should try first...

Oh, and are you a podcast listener?  I listen to several book-related podcasts like Ann Bogel's What Should I Read Next?  If you have a podcast you really love, let me know in a comment.  I'm pretty familiar with all the book podcasts and I don't like true crime.  Otherwise, I'm open to suggestions.  I love audiobooks, but sometimes a podcast is just the right length.  Share your thoughts if you'd like.


Thanks for coming by and reading what I have to share whenever I get motivated to share things.  I appreciate all of you so much!    

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!!!

Here are a few things to ponder as we begin a new decade...wishing all of you much peace and joy in 2020!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C.S. Lewis

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” —Maya Angelou

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” —William James

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” —Ghandi

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” —Albert Einstein