Sorry for the delay…but Merry Christmas!

This was my first attempt at blogging during the holidays and I was fully prepared to post everyday up until Christmas!  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  One very bad cold and five family Christmases later and I am finally able to get back on my computer.  We have been quite busy the last week and honestly, my husband and I are both officially Christmased out!

But, that doesn’t mean that Christmas is really over for us or on Sand Between the Pages.  Mike and I still have a bunch of traveling to do and I have two Christmas mystery reviews to share.  I hope you aren’t too Christmased out to enjoy them!

There are still three days until 2015 and I plan on spending them watching plenty of movies and reading my new books.  Expect plenty of reviews in the next year!

So…MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

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Cordially Invited to Meet Death

 

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

by Rex Stout

Cordially Invited to Meet Death: A Nero Wolfe Novella

My synopsis:  Bess Huddleston, an eccentric party planner for New York’s elite, approaches Wolfe with a request; to find the culprit behind letters damaging her image.  Wolfe takes on the case at the promise of a hefty fee, but Huddleston dies of tetanus just days later.  Archie Goodwin is sure it is foul play and pushes Wolfe to search for Huddleston’s murderer.

Cordially Invited to Meet Death is included in The Black Orchids collection.  Black Orchids are a small detail of the story and play an important role for Archie during his investigation.  His statement at the end of the novel is perfect.  It ties everything together but still leaves readers marveling at the mystery that is Nero Wolfe.

I enjoy Cordially Invited to Meet Death because of how the murder is committed.  The scientific nature is just fascinating and is different, as the novella was written long before the mass production of crime investigation shows.  It also perfectly showcases the tumultuous relationship shared by Wolfe and Inspector Cramer.  The two worked together in the last novella I reviewed but this time they are left butting heads.  Cramer insists on throwing his badge and authority at Wolfe who promptly investigates the murder out of spit!  We also get to see the Archie’s frustrations at working with a genius who rarely shares his full thought process.

This is not my favorite novella because of the cast of characters.  Bess Huddleston just irks me, especially with her menagerie of dangerous pets.  I shared Archie’s opinion of Ms. Huddleston’s home.  I personally feel that wild animals should not be pets and that most people who have them as pets don’t even have the ability to train a dog, much less a bear or chimp.  It may seem harsh but I am sure Wolfe would agree with me.  I also wanted to know specific details during the reveal of the murderer, but I can’t go in to that without ruining the story.

Has anyone else read Cordially Invited to Meet Death?  Have I convinced you to check out Nero Wolfe yet? 😉

Lindsay

Holiday Loves and Quirks – Christmas Episodes

Holiday Loves and Quirks is my mini-blog series for December.  Posts documenting my unique take on Christmas will show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is a way for me to share the spirit of the holiday with all of you!  And don’t worry; I am in full marathon reading mode so you will still have plenty of book reviews to peruse!

Christmas Episodes

I collect favorite TV shows.  Just ask my husband; he has to put up with it on a daily basis.  Some shows come and go, but each year I find myself watching the same Christmas special episodes.  They never fail to put me in the Christmas spirit!  So, without further ado, here are my favorite four Christmas episodes.  Note: All images are from my Holiday Pinterest board.

Warehouse 13 – Secret Santa

(Season 2, Episode 13)

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Warehouse 13 is my all time favorite show.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to discuss all the reasons why I love it this time around.  Myka and Pete are sent on an artifact retrieval in California while Claudia is determined to find the perfect gift for Artie.  Secret Santa focuses on the importance of family, specifically the relationship between father and child.  The artifact retrieval is gloriously outlandish as are Claudia’s antics.   The highlights of the episode are Judd Hirsch as Artie’s father and of the mention of the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I.

Eureka – O Little Town

(Season 4, Episode 10)

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Sheriff Jack Carter recalls the first Christmas he spent in Eureka in O Little Town.  He is stuck spending Christmas in pure Eureka style, which means the town is on the verge of disaster thanks to the perfect fruitcake!  O Little Town emphasizes that family is not just blood; family are those who are always there for you.  The whole community comes together to save Eureka from being wiped of the map.  Plus, Taggart as Santa….

Bones – The Man in the Fallout Shelter

(Season 1, Episode 10)

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I will always consider The Man in the Fallout Shelter one of the best Bones episodes of all time.  A 50 year old body is discovered in an atomic fallout shelter and brought to the lab.  A fungal spore is released from the bones leaving everyone stuck in the lab under quarantine.  The emphasis of this episode is, once again, family.  We learn the details of Brennan’s parents disappearing while the team works to uncover ‘Careful Lionel’s’ story.  The witty banter keeps you laughing, except during the revolving family scene.  I cry buckets every time!

Supernatural – A Very Supernatural Christmas

(Season 3, Episode 8)

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Sam and Dean Winchester must hunt down a cannibalistic Santa Claus.  YES!  A Very Supernatural Christmas is a surprisingly uplifting episode.  Yes the brothers must vanquish a pair of pagan gods, but we get to learn more about their childhood in the process.  It is Dean’s last Christmas thanks to a deal with the crossroads demon and he is determined to do it right.  Sam is forced to relive some painful childhood memories only to realize that Dean has always been there for him.  They end up spending a touching Christmas Eve in pure Winchester style.

Honorable Mentions:

Doctor Who and Psych!  Both series have a number of Christmas Specials that are usually watched in December.  I enjoy them as well.

I definitely recommend all of these if you are looking for a different type of Christmas show!  What are your favorite shows?  Do you have certain episodes that get watched yearly?

Lindsay

Five Free Author Gifts For Christmas.

Who else was a tad lost when making their Christmas list this year?  The things I really wanted couldn’t fit under our tree; a new couch and a successful writing career. Our couch will eventually be replaced but I am working diligently on making the writing career dream a reality.  Here are some great gift ideas for your favorite aspiring writer!

Also take the time to check out Jen’s Pen Den and Ronovan Writes!  Both are wonderful people with positive, uplifting blogs!

Jen's Pen Den

Oh we writers, what we don’t want for Christmas that we think would help our writer’s cause would fill a coffee cup, which is actually on the list of things writer’s think we need. Although I don’t drink coffee. Tried it the other day and about went bonkers. If I had a book idea I could have written it that day. Never try to do that, write a book in a day that is. I wrote a 40,000 word book in one day and was useless for days. I think I might have donated an organ but not sure. Actually I think I know which organ and don’t ask. I’m of the age I don’t think that organ is really all that useful any longer anyway.

What every writer needs for Christmas.

(But doesn’t know to ask for.)

There are things every writer out there wants.

  • The perfect first paragraph…

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The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

by P.A. Gardinali

The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

It was the old bastard, all right; laying by the fireplace, contorted in an unnatural pose. The streaks of blood ran down from the mantelpiece, which he had likely grabbed in a desperate escape attempt.” A homage to my favorite noir writer of all times. Set in an alternate reality, just slightly less bizarre than ours.

Note:  This story takes a rather morbid approach to the Santa Claus myth.  I enjoyed it because, well, I have a rather morbid sense of humor.  Just keep that in mind during my review and while reading the story.  I definitely recommend it; especially to the crime noir fans!

To be honest, I purchased The Twelve Gauge of Christmas because the Nook copy was cheap and the title made me chuckle.  It was such a far cry from the Hallmark movies I have binged watched the last few weeks and, oddly, exactly what I needed this Monday morning.

Gardinali provides a the very different approach to Santa Claus with his crime noir short.  You should all know by now that I am a sucker for the hardboiled crime writing style and Gardinali’s prose had me hooked the first page.  I even enjoy the gritty run down cop, Thompson’s, first person POV.  I want to tell you all about the little details that just rocked this story, but I can’t.  I want you to read it!  And I don’t want to ruin it!

I do wish Gardinali had provided more information about the religious division Thompson worked for.  The details concerning this version of our world had me hoping that Gardinali has more stories set in this alternate ‘US of A.’  I just want to know more, but it would have ruined the story structure if he had included it.  I also wondered if Gardinali was trying to make a subtle religious statement; if so, it escaped me.  Of course, this may just be me over analyzing in my lack-of-coffee state.

Have you read The Twelve Gauge of Christmas?  Are you a fan of Gardinali?  This story has me wanting to read some of his other work.  It was nice to read a twisted Christmas story 😀

Lindsay

The Black Orchids

The Black Orchids

by Rex Stout

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)

It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore”.–The New York Times Book Review. Incomparable sleuth Nero Wolfe and his perennially hardy sidekick, Archie Goodwin, find themselves trying to weed out a garden-variety killer at the annual flower show.

This is my FAVORITE Nero Wolfe story!  I am sitting here grinning from ear to ear because I am so excited to share it with you!  I would be dancing but I’m waiting until I finally get home to do so.

Nero Wolfe is an amateur horticulturist who strictly specializes in orchids.  The entire top floor of his brownstone has been converted to a green house and he spends precisely four hours a day attending to his plants.  The Black Orchids starts with Archie stuck at a Flower Show examining the main exhibit, three rare black orchids, for his boss.  Wolfe eventually ventures out of the brownstone to see the blooms for himself; on the same afternoon a young gardener is found dead in a display.  Wolfe eagerly takes on the case in hopes of adding some new orchids to his ever growing collection.

I love The Black Orchids because it perfectly showcases the dynamic between Wolfe and Archie.  Readers experience Archie’s snarky attitude and his joy at badgering his boss through his narration.  Wolfe’s quirks, including his brash selfishness, are spread out in detail for the readers.  But one of the best parts is getting to experience one of Wolfe’s theatrical who-dunnit’ reveals.

Rex Stout is just gifted.  His prose pulls you through the narrative making you eagerly await the answers.  He delves in to the personalities of most of his characters and I enjoy what he shares of Inspector Cramer and Lewis Hewett.  But be warned; the female characters can read flat.  Wolfe resists interacting with women on the off chance they get hysterical and Archie is more focused on the physical attributes.  But don’t worry; they are not sexist pigs.  Both men enjoy conversing with highly intelligent and independent women so they show up on a regular basis through the series.  Wolfe even verbally spars with two female witnesses in The Black Orchids.

Read it!  I always recommend Rex Stout for those interested in crime noir.  The Nero Wolfe books are not as gritty as most hardboiled crime pieces but I personally enjoy the humorous aspects.  Have you read any Rex Stout?  Which story is your favorite?

Lindsay

Holiday Loves and Quirks – Nero Wolfe

Holiday Loves and Quirks is my mini-blog series for December.  Posts documenting my unique take on Christmas will show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is a way for me to share the spirit of the holiday with all of you!  And don’t worry; I am in full marathon reading mode so you will still have plenty of book reviews to peruse!

Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe is a fictional private investigator created by Rex Stout in 1934.  Stout produced, during forty-one years, 33 novels and 39 short stories about the eccentric armchair detective and many other writers have continued the series since 1975.  The stories usually take place in New York City, and document Wolfe’s investigations.  Wolfe is a large man who delights in gourmet meals, never leaves his house on business, loves the color yellow, and grows ornate and expensive orchids as a hobby.  The narrator of the stories is Wolfe’s right-hand man, the cheeky gumshoe Archie Goodwin.  Archie is always there to run errands for Wolfe, and keeps the eccentric genius grounded with his sarcastic humor.  Expect to see Nero Wolfe book reviews over the next few weeks!

Carl Mueller Illustrated Rex Stout's fir Nero Wolfe Novella, "Bitter End," for The American Magazine

Carl Mueller Illustrated Rex Stout’s fir Nero Wolfe Novella, “Bitter End,” for The American Magazine

I love the books, but I was first introduced to the character via the TV show.  A Nero Wolfe Mystery aired on A&E in 2000 and only ran for two seasons.  It was different in that it contained a repertory cast.  The same actors played the central characters, Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  Regular actors also portrayed the essential supporting characters: Inspector Cramer, Fritz Brenner, Saul Panzer, and Sergeant Purley Stebbins.  The rest of the roles were filled by the repertory cast each week and the diverse acting skills is just impressive.  Plus, the settings are just beautiful!  I definitely recommend that you watch the series; my favorite episode is “Door to Death.”

Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin

Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin

Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe

Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe

My mom is the reason we watch this series over and over again at Christmas.  She received the box set as a gift one year and we watched the entire thing in four days!  We both ‘nerd out’ when it comes to Christmas Nero Wolfe marathons 😀  Do you have any odd Christmas traditions?

Lindsay

In The Dead of Winter

In The Dead of Winter

by Nancy Mehl

In The Dead of Winter (Ivy Towers, #1)

Samantha “Ivy” Towers returns to Winter Break, Kansas, where she spent her summers as a child, to make funeral arrangements for her Aunt Bitty. While there, she begins to suspect her aunt’s death, which resulted from a fall in her bookshop, wasn’t an accident after all. Childhood friend Amos Parker, now sheriff of Winter Break, seems anxious to get Ivy out of town. A missing book, a message scrawled by an unknown person, and an extra coffee cup leave Ivy with more questions than answers.

Monthly themed reading means that I scour the holiday mystery nook book selection each week.  In The Dead of Winter is one such find.  Ivy Towers is forced to travel to Winter Break, the small town where she spent part of her childhood, to bury her beloved great-aunt.  Aunt Bitty fell from her rolling ladder and now Ivy is the soul proprietor of her aunt’s bookstore.  Ivy is convinced that Bitty’s death is more than just an accident.  She is determined to find the truth and get back to her own life far away from the small town.  But, life has a funny way of changing when you least expect it.

In The Dead of Winter reminded me of the Hallmark holiday movies I have binged watched the last week.  It provides a clear moral message mixed with an interesting mystery.  And the main setting is one of my dream locations; an antique house that has been converted in to a bookstore with an attached apartment.  I want to live there!  Back to the message:  Mehl wants her readers to remember that love and forgiveness is the way to lead a full life.  These characters must learn to embrace all aspects of themselves, including the aspects they would rather forget, and constantly strive to be the best person possible.  It was a nice reminder of the selflessness we should all strive for in the craziness that permeates the holiday season.

The story occurs in the weeks leading up to Christmas but barely touches on the actual holiday.  This was surprising because In The Dead of Winter is a Christian book.  Mehl specializes in novels that feature intrigue and murder with a touch of faith.  So I was shocked that Christmas did not come up.  Instead the focus of the message was forgiveness.  Mehl does a descent job of mixing the Christian message with the murder mystery but it is not seamless and can read a tad forced at times.  Don’t discount it though because it is a good point and an enjoyable mystery.

Plus, Ivy is just fun to read.  She reminds me of myself and I actually cried I laughed so hard at her mad flight through the funeral home.  Some moments were a tad cliché, remember Hallmark movie, but none turned me away from the story.  The one thing that bugged me were the names.  I know that Mehl immerses her readers in the small town culture but Amos is not the name of a modern love interest in his early thirties.  No.  I absolutely loved the character but I kept calling him A in my head because Amos just made me cringe.  Oh well.

In The Dead of Winter was an uplifting read that is perfect for curling up on a puffy couch with a glass of hot chocolate.  Have you read any of Mehl’s novels?

Lindsay

Holiday Loves and Quirks – Christmas Decorations

Holiday Loves and Quirks is my mini-blog series for December.  Posts documenting my unique take on Christmas will show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is a way for me to share the spirit of the holiday with all of you!  And don’t worry; I am in full marathon reading mode so you will still have plenty of book reviews to peruse!

Christmas Decorations

White Christmas lights have to be one of the greatest invention of all time.  They have always been my favorite and I cant help but feel all warm and happy when I see them.  This is a good thing because I am in charge of putting up, and taking down, our Christmas decorations.  My husband does not want to deal with them and I love organizing them all…it works!

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Simple is the key word for our decorations.  Our house isn’t big and we just don’t have the dough to compete with the Griswolds.  So our outdoor decorations are restricted to the bay window area and our indoor decorations are placed strategically around the living room.  We also reuse our decorations from year to year.  I made our stockings three years ago and we still use the fake tree I bought seven years ago during my first round of college.  We lovingly refer to it as our Charlie Brown tree.

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Our decorations have stories and some of our favorites are my husband’s homemade pieces.  Each were handcrafted by his grandparents.  They are a sweet reminder that one of the best parts of the holidays is spending time with family.  A reminder for us to ignore the frustration and stress we may feel during the season and to focus on the good parts.  They are a reminder that our loved ones remain with us years after they have gone.  Each one has a story to share.

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The decorations are simple.  And we wouldn’t want them any other way!  My favorite will always be my great-grandmother’s ceramic Christmas tree that has been the Christmas nightlight in my room since I was seven.  What are your favorite decorations?  What stories do they tell?

Lindsay

Holiday Loves and Quirks – Christmas Music

I have decided to start a new series for this month: Holiday Loves and Quirks.  Posts documenting my unique take on Christmas will show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is a way for me to share the spirit of the holiday with all of you!  And don’t worry; I am in full marathon reading mode so you will still have plenty of book reviews to peruse!

Christmas Music

Today’s post is about Christmas music.  I loved Christmas music as a kid and still couldn’t wait to start rocking out to my Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD during my first round of college.  Then I worked in retail…and I never wanted to hear Christmas music ever again.  All day.  Everyday.  For two months.  There is only so many times you can listen to Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer before you lose it!  I spent years refusing to listen to Christmas music.

Then I heard Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song.  That was all it took to get over my Christmas music hiatus.  That song always induces happy tears.  It was one of my grandpa’s favorites and a can see my Daddy Bill’s smiling face every time I hear it.  How could I not listen to music that brings such wonderful, happy memories?

So now I’m back to listening to Christmas music, but I am still quite a picky connoisseur.  I prefer Judy Garland’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and my Christmas playlist includes Elvis, Dolly Parton, and Nat King Cole.  I just can’t get in to the new pop versions of songs that insist on adding two-three syllables to each word!  But I’m not completely archaic 😀  I do have some Kelly Clarkson and classic N’SYNC on that playlist, as well as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Now I sing along at the top of my lungs!

So here is some music to brighten your day and I have included my favorite, Carol of the Bells.  What is your favorite Christmas song?  What happy memories do they hold for you?

Lindsay