Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

52F77A35-623C-4E2F-BB95-126F075ABB6D-3580-0000064962D30F21The follow up to “Missing, Presumed” does not disappoint. You know you're reading a good mystery when you say, “Oh no!” out loud at the end of a chapter.

This installment finds Manon Bradshaw back where she started with an adopted son in tow. Oh, and she's pregnant (the identity of the father isn't revealed early on which lends a bit of tension if you've read the prior books).

It is interesting that the main character, Manon, isn't really involved in the central mystery as an investigator. I don't want to say too much more because I don't want to give anything away.

My only issue with the book comes in the form of the character “Birdie.” The author makes a pretty big deal about the fact that Birdie is fat, and I just got the feeling that this was a thin person writing what they think a fat person should act like. Just one fat guy's opinion.

That's a very minor quibble, though, in an otherwise gripping read.

Who should read it: Anyone who enjoyed the first one.

Would I read it again: I want to read the next one right now!

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Pompeii

As I mentioned in my Oregon trip recap post Marisa and I basically stumbled upon the Pompeii exhibit at OMSI (which is still happening, so check it out if you're in the area).

I just wanted to take a few moments and share how deeply affected it left me, which is unusual because I'm not super prone to crying, yet alone crying about people I don't know who died over 1900 years ago.

That's the cleverest thing about this exhibit, which was entirely by design i'm sure. It made the people of Pompeii into real life people not just figures from a history book.

At the start of the exhibit you stand in front of the “gates” of Pompeii, where a staff member explains what you're about to see and mentions that the “4D movie” might not be for those faint of heart (it was a very mild experience, but more on that in a moment). Then a little film plays, some dramatic music sounds, and slowly the doors open.

In you walk and you find yourself in the atrium of a typical Roman house from Pompeii, filled with ancient artifacts. Like this bust that still has some 1900 year old red paint on it:

Portrait Bust of a Young Woman

All of the sculptures had such fine detail you would have sworn they had just been made. It was crazy.

And as you walk through the exhibit they funnel you through the different parts of the town. Marisa was quite interested in the cooking utensils (of which I took no pictures). Once again, the frying pans and colanders looked like they were just bought the other day (from a high end kitchen store!).

There was even an alcove devoted to the brothels of Pompeii (the Romans did enjoy their sex). It was interesting, and didn't glamorize the life the people working there. Though there was a creepy guy who was hanging out in that section watching the brothel movie over and over again. It was odd.

Then these's the 4D movie: i.e. a regular movie about the day Vesuvius erupted only the whole room fills with smoke (water vapor in this case) and the floor shakes to simulate the resultant earthquakes.

All of this is designed to make you think about the people of Pompeii and how they were very much like you and me. They went to the market, they cooked, they had sex, they argued, they ate disgusting fermented fish sauce called garum (the Romans LOVED garum. It strikes me as completely gross), they had indoor plumbing, and heated floors. Not so different from modern folk.

And that's how they really get you in the gut with this:

Pompeii cast

A room with several of the famous Pompeii casts. Casts of what? Well, of the cavities left by the people who were smothered, and killed, by the volcanic ash. These were some of the about 2000 people who didn't get out in time, or who weren't allowed to leave.

There was a slave who archeologists think was left behind to guard his master's house. A mother holding up her child, trying to save it from the ash… and failing. A dog who was tied up in front of the house and left to die. And a man who they think had gathered up all his money and tried to escape, but he ended up dead on the street with his money next to him (the thinking being he had a fatal stumble as he was running away. Perhaps has he turned he head when a building was crumbling next to him).

It was a shocking, and very moving experience. I knew what was coming as we moved through the exhibit, and had read lots about Pompeii so I thought I knew what to expect. But I didn't. These were people, who had lives. And they all died, their last moments filled with terror and confusion. The only thing they knew was they should run as fast as they could; it wasn't fast enough.


Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green

31538E8F-A0CF-432F-81C3-555F02676C0C-2634-000004E3DBA6C809Another book by Simon R. Green! I borrowed this one from the library and read it in a day (it is both a quick read and a short book).

Ishmael Jones, the hero of this Green series, is an interesting character even if he talks pretty much like every other Green character. He's an alien that crashed landed onto earth in the 60's and who's ship recoded his body to be human. Though in the process he lost his memory, so he's been working for a variety of secret organizations (which is what all of Simon R. Green's characters do). They get his services, and he gets to move around and lay low even though he seemingly never ages.

Green takes this interesting character and throws him into mysteries that have a dash of the supernatural. This novel finds Jones, and his lady friend, on the shore of Loch Ness in a great house with a sorted history that is playing host to a secret cabal's annual meeting. Someone, or something, is killing people and Jones needs to find out who!

It is pretty obvious who is doing the killing, but it was an enjoyable tale (and much better than the last Green book I read. I do find it amusing that Jones isn't a fan of the ghost hunting organization that makes up the main cast of the series of which I am not much of a fan).

Overall, this did what I expect of a Green novel: took a few hours to read, made me chuckle a couple of times, and was generally pleasant despite the amount of gore.

Who should read it: If you like supernatural mysteries and manor houses you could do worse than this book.

Would I read it again: Nope, but I'll read the next in the series (I won't buy it, of course!).

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Oregon 2017

If you're my friend on Flickr then you already know I spent some time in Oregon recently. It was my mother-in-law's 70th birthday so Marisa arranged for her entire immediate family (her sister and her husband, their kids, her parents, her, and me) to spend some time in Portland and the Oregon coast.

We rented this house:

Oregon Coast

For a couple of reasons. It had the right number of bedrooms, it wasn't too crazy expensive, and it is right on the ocean. What is the point of renting a beach house if you can't see the ocean from almost every room?

This is right out of that gate that you see above:

Oregon Coast

Walk down a little dune and you're on the beach!

Oregon Coast

Growing up I spent the vast majority of my summers on the beach, which has meant that I pretty much have no interest in the beach now. However, spending some time in a beach town felt like coming home! Of course the Oregon coast is very different from the beaches I'm used to on Long Island in New York. You mostly don't swim, which is wacky. And the beaches really don't have that many people on them.

The water is sure pretty though. And it was nice to sleep with the sound of the ocean at night.

Oregon Coast

Once we were done at the Oregon coast it was back to Portland. I only had one requirement: we stay somewhere other than Marisa's parent's place since it was going to be so crowded.

Marisa agreed and decided we should stay on a houseboat! Here's a view of the marina:

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And the awesome bridge down:

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There were all sorts of houseboats docked here. Luckily ours was just straight down the pier, so no need for complicated directions.

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I don't know if this means it was the 14th houseboat in Oregon, but is is a neat picture.

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And here's the houseboat we stayed in! It was very nice, and made me momentarily think that we should buy a houseboat. The reality is probably less attractive than staying on one for a couple of days, but it was nice.

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I've already blogged about the doughnuts on the trip, but here are the Blue Star doughnuts again (very tasty):

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And here's a nice picture of Marisa before she ate her doughnut (and before a nice man at Blue Star gave her a free doughnut because the one she wanted was sold out):

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The sunset over the marina:

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We didn't plan on going to OMSI, which is pretty geared towards kids, but we parked in their parking lot and had to pop in to pay for it. And that's when we discovered they were having a Pompeii exhibit. We had to go.

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A little volcano stamp! I'll write more about the exhibit later.

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The reason we were even near OMSI was so we could walk across the Tilikum Crossing, which is the bridge in the distance.

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And guarded by this sculpture:

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That's what we are looking for! This bridge is only for buses, trams, people, and bikes. No cars, thank you very much. Oh, Portland.

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The bridge is quite striking, as are the views.

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Someone drew little faces on these signs. I approved.

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Then we took a break so Marisa could be famous on TV.

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And followed that by getting some doughnuts.

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And we ended our Oregon trip with a solo excursion (well solo as in Marisa and myself) to Mount Hood, where we stayed at the lovely Timberline Lodge.

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There's Marisa sitting on a fake ski lift.

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We arrived, checked in, and then went for a walk in the twilight. It takes a long time for the sun to set, but we took some pretty good pictures.

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Skilift and trees

Back of the lodge

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Here's Marisa the next morning slightly annoyed that we missed breakfast. Almost every meal we had at the Lodge was great, except for this one. We were both in the mood for breakfast but had just missed it so we had to make due with a crappy turkey sandwich (for Marisa) and a poorly constructed sausage sandwich (for me).

Marisa!

But the lodge rallied by making some good drinks and offering up a sweet little nook we could take over and sip our cocktails and read.

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Then it was time for some hiking!

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We took the ski lift up the mountain, which was terrifying. I've never been skiing, so this was my first time on a lift. As it was moving I was gripping on as tightly as I could thinking it couldn't get much worse. And then the lift stopped! And we were just dangling there. I didn't know they stopped!

I was not a fan. And we walked back down the mountain (though we planned to do that anyway).

There's the lodge!

There was still a good bit of snow, and lots of snowboarders.

Snow and rocks

And the views were great.

So pretty

As was the flora.

Flower detail

I really like this picture:

Bolts

Someone was really into stacking rocks.

Mt. Hood and towers

A little mountain side selfie because honestly.

We are so cute

After all that hiking we were tuckered out, so we headed to the Lounge and lounged about reading.

Marisa reads a book and tolerates me.

I couldn't get enough of the views!

Looks like a matte painting

Or of this pizza! And amazingly, I didn't gain any weight on vacation (I lost like .2 pounds, which I was very ok with).

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Some of the doorways were exactly my size.

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A view of were we were reading.

Very cozy places to read!

Some fun facts about the lodge, on the lodge.

That's a big chimney.

And then we headed back to Portland for a day of hanging out. We took a 10pm flight, so we could have some more time in Portland. Of course that included some conveyor belt sushi (with a cameo by my new hat).

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Overall, the trip was great. Marisa planned it very well to allow me some decompressing at the lodge before we headed back to reality. Plus I bought lots of books, so what's not to like?


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

DD8AB116-959C-48B5-940B-37C5F0E04F49-2541-0000046AA4EB3BCDI am a master of timing, I tells ya.

Fellow Incomparable folks have been singing the praises of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King for a very long time and yet I've been resistant to start reading it. I think mostly because I have boxed away King in my head as a horror writer and I am not so into horror as a genre.

I know this is unfair to the very talented Mr. King, and so with the advent of the movie based on the Dark Tower series I figured now was a great time to try and borrow the book from the library. You know, when everyone else had the same exact idea:

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I was content to wait my turn when from the North came a Bookslinger who ended my wait by shooting the ebook onto my Kindle:

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(Thanks again, John!).

Now I really had to read it! Though I was concerned that I wouldn't like it and disappoint some people I jumped into it.

The first thing I realized when I started reading was that I really knew nothing about the Dark Tower series (I assumed a tower was somehow involved). This ignorance was cleared up by not one but TWO forewords by the author in the edition I read. It was interesting to read the two and notice how his writing style has evolved over time, plus I found out this was King's attempt to write an Arthurian legend set in the Old West.

That was a bit of a red flag for me: I'm not big into westerns but while The Gunslinger is certainly informed by westerns (and people in it love to palaver) it is really something else entirely.

The book does a good job of setting up Roland and the Man in Black as opposing forces in the quest for the Tower. Really, the whole book is one long case scene intercut with some world building (that train station!) and flashbacks to Roland's life. It was well structured and a quick read.

It does suffer from what some first books can suffer from: a lot of setting up the pieces on the board but not much actually happens. There are some encounters with mutants, some death, and eating some rabbits but mostly this book is about one dude following another one across a desert, over the mountains, and then camping with him for a little bit.

The real question is: was it good enough to make me want to read the next book in the series? Yes, it was. I've already but a hold on it at the library. Now I just have to wait for 50 people to read it ahead of me.

Who should read it: I assume if you're a fan of Stephen King you've already read it, but if you are and you haven't… you should!

Would I read it again: Nah, but I will read the next one.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Hey, remember blogging?

Marisa just posted on her blog for the first time in awhile and laments the sad state of personal blogging:

The other thing that I found striking as I scanned through the list of blogs that had gone dark was how many of them were my blogging people. The folks I discovered in my early days and struck up real friendships with. I miss those early days of blogging, when you didn’t need perfect pictures and a post didn’t require a vigorous social media campaign in order to find some readers.

Of course I'm still reading Marisa's blog (we are married and all), but I've also felt the same way as she has.

Which is why I've been posting more on this little old blog! I have no idea if anyone is still reading this blog, but gosh darn it I'm enjoying blogging again.


Empire of Time by Daniel Godfrey

0DF0DF98-E82F-4E5F-8F22-9514A2820756-1665-0000030E1215A08F

A few years ago we were vacationing in the Hudson Valley. I found myself at a bookstore and I picked up a copy of “New Pompeii” on a whim (and based on the subject matter + the cover). It was entertaining, so when I realized a sequel had been published I bought myself a copy.

Empire of Time jumps ahead 15 years and shows us what has been happening in New Pompeii. Oh yeah, you need to know that there's a time machine in these books capable of plucking things out of the past and bringing them forward in time (but it only works 30 years distant and beyond… or does it?!). A company that created this machine plucked people from Pompeii right before the eruption and settled them into an exact replica of Pompeii (minus the water in the harbor, which was a big tip off to the Romans that they weren't in Kansas anymore).

Things go off the rails in the first book, and 15 years later things seem to have settled down in New Pompeii, though the outside world is falling apart. The main character, Nick, is a modern day man who functions as New Pompeii's ambassador. The world isn't too big on New Pompeii since the Romans continue to have slaves, but the world can't get enough of the garum and knockoff frescos New Pompeii produces so people overlook the slaves.

I don't want to get into too much detail, but this is a very satisfying conclusion to the story (though I don't know if there will be another entry in the series, there certainly could be but you aren't left hanging at the end of this book). To enjoy this book, though, you do need to read the first one.

Who should read it: Anyone who read the first one! And if you like Roman history, you should read the first one.

Would I read it again: I think I would read the series again at some point in the distant future.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Final Books of Vacation

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The final bookstore stop during our trip to Oregon was Powell's Books on Hawthorne. This is one of the “smaller” Powell's at only 10,000 square feet.

I, of course, bought some books:


More Goodwill Books

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When you vacation with Marisa chances are good you'll be visiting a thrift store or 4. While we were in Portland we headed on down to the Goodwill where Marisa found herself some fancy, expensive shoes for a steal (though she wasn't as thrilled with my reaction when she excitedly told me. I was all like, “That's good!” She texted her sister to get the correct reaction).

Goodwills usually have a selection of used books, which I enjoy browsing through. Now, I should say that since the books at Goodwill are so cheap I tend to err on the side of buying a book I'm even slightly interested in.

That's how I ended up finding three books in less than 5 minutes to purchase:

  • Terror On Tuesday by Ann Purser
  • Basilica by William Montalbano
  • Strange Images of Death by Barbara Cleverly

It is good to be the Danish Queen

Bjørn Nørgaard Sarkofag

It would seem that the Prince Consort of Denmark isn't happy. For 50 years he wanted to be the King Consort, but the Danes said, "hard pass."

And so, the Prince Consort has decided he won't be buried with the Queen.

All of that is mildly interesting, but the most badass thing was only casually mentioned: the Queen is going to be buried in a crystal sarcophagus resting on three elephant head pillars in Roskilde Cathedral (the traditional resting place of Danish royalty).

That's a pretty strong Queen move.

You can see more pictures on the artist's website.

When I die I've always assumed I would be cremated but that was before I knew about the crystal sarcophagus option.


Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

D6EA9F41-2AB5-4A2E-8059-1D5FEE9103F3-330-0000006CFA85F506Urban fantasy is not my cup of tea. An urban fantasy book with a blurb by Seanan McGuire is a great way to get me not to read a book.

And yet.

Mishell Baker's Arcadia Project series is the exception that proves the rule. I had to read the first one, “Borderline,” for a podcast and I really, really liked it.

So much so that I bought the second one as soon as it came out. And then I didn't read it for awhile because, life, ya know?

I stayed up late last night to finish this book because I was enjoying it so. The main character has a raft of issues, and yet she uses what many would consider weaknesses to her advantage. She's great, and she reacts to supernatural situations in a pretty believable way (well, as believable as possible!).

I will say that I thought the final climactic scene was… well not really climactic or exciting. It sort of fizzles away, which in the story makes sense… but it left me unsatisfied. Luckily, the actual ending of the book won me back.

Who should read it: Anyone who has read the first book (and you should read it if you haven't!).

Would I read it again: You're probably picking up by now that I rarely re-read books, and this book isn't good enough to be an exception to that rule. It is quite good, don't get me wrong.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Powell's Haul #1

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Any book lover who visits Portland, OR has got to go to at least one Powell's. I went to two whilst I was in Portland, because why not?

The City of Books is their biggest store right in the middle of downtown Portland. It is billed as the largest independent bookstore in the world, and I believe it! They carry something like a million titles. Displaying admirable restraint I purchased 6 books:

Powell's Haul (main store)

One of the things I love about Powell's is the fact they shelve new and used books together. That just makes me happy… and did I mention the mind boggling amount of books they have in that store? It is crazy!

Powell's, like any successful bookstore, also carries a bunch of other things. I picked up this super cool robot pin (though I have no idea where I'm going to put it):

Powell's Fashion Pin

And given who I am, I had to buy this:

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Stay tuned to see what I purchased at the other Powell's I visited. Can you contain your excitement?


Pip's Orginal Doughnuts and Chai

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My doughnut tour of Portland concludes with 2 mini-doughnuts (Marisa ate the other two) from Pip's Original Doughnuts & Chai. I ordered the candied bacon doughnut and the cinnamon sugar.

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They were tasty (and hot! Part of their deal is that the doughnuts are fresh to order) and I liked that they were only a couple bites each.

I still think that VooDoo is my favorite, though I like the aesthetic of Pip's. Though boo to them for not having the tshirt I wanted in XXL. Come on!


All Systems Red by Martha Wells

24CE98FF-BD21-4FF9-B36D-2E140BD662D8-3012-000003B2DE6AA3D5Tor.com has always been a favorite of mine, and when they started publishing novellas I bought a few. I didn't read any, since I'm a very busy man and all, but I bought them and that has got to count for something!

I finally decided to read All Systems Red, and on one hand I wish I had read it sooner but then again if I had the wait for the second novella would be even longer.

The main character calls itself Murderbot, but I don't want to talk too much about it since that might give away some things that are better off discovered while reading. I will say that Wells manages to paint a very comprehensive world in less than 200 pages. I know there's lots more to discover in this universe and I hope that she is working on a full raft of books!

The ebook is super cheap, and it isn't a big commitment of time so just read it already.

Who should read it: If you like introspective robots, this is the book for you!

Would I read it again: Sure! Though I'd rather read the next one.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Ghost of a Dream by Simon R. Green

B4B96E36-D60B-42A8-8411-A792705C4A96-2868-000003669024383CSimon R. Green writes several series and Ghost Finders is my least favorite. I only pick them up if I find them for cheap in used bookstores which is why I just read “Ghost of a Dream.” I paid $2. That might have been too much.

This isn't a good book, though it is a quick read. Why isn't it good? Well, in it we follow the adventures of a ghost finding team. The one thing, we are told, these people are very good at is knowing if something is a ghost or not. In the first part of the novel, which is totally unrelated to the rest of the book, the characters meet someone who turns out to be a ghost, but hid it from them. This is treated as a big deal since it can't ever happen. Then it proceeds to happen at least two more times in the book. Ug. And that's just one example of why you shouldn't read this book.

Plus, in the book one of the characters always wears a white suit and sunglasses. The cover features three people, who I can only assume are the three ghost finders we follow in the book, and none of them are wearing a white suit OR sunglasses. Sheesh.

Who should read it: No one.

Would I read it again: No.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Voodoo Maple Bacon Bar

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The other doughnut you have to have while in Portland is from Voodoo Doughnuts. While Blue Star focuses on simplicity, quality, and unique flavor profiles Voodoo answers the question, “How much Capt'n Crunch can you get on a doughnut?”

My go to, pictured above, is the Maple Bacon Bar. As I said to Marisa: the Blue Star is better but I like the Voodoo doughnut more. It just tastes like what I want a doughnut to taste like… and I feel like Blue Star is just a touch pretentious.

Of course, if I could only go to one doughnut place in the world neither of the Portland options would make the cut. I would save that honor for NYC's Doughnut Plant. But I don't want to live in a world where I can only go to one doughnut place.


Blue Star Maple Bacon Donut, guest starring a vanilla cardamom donut

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When you're in Portland, well at least when I'm in Portland, that means it is donut time!

Marisa prefers Blue Star to other famous Portlandian donuts, and so we made our way to Blue Star to have a couple of donuts. I opted for the Maple Bacon, and Marisa wanted a blueberry burbon donut (yeast, not cake!), but the last one was sold to the guy right in front of us (though he did offer to give it to Marisa, she declined). Marisa settled for a vanilla cinnamon cardamom donut (and even scored a free orange donut to help soften the disappointment of not getting the one she wanted).


Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

IMG_0204Vacations are for reading mysteries!

Missing, Presumed is a modern day (well, set in 2011) police procedural; a genre that I typically eschew. I generally look for reading material that takes me away from the real world, not stories which highlight real world problems (I get enough of that watching the news, am I right?).

That being said, this book is set in England which is far enough removed from my daily existence that I could enjoy it (you won't find me reading any of the many, many NY/LA based police mysteries!).

Manon Bradshaw, the main character, is a 39 year old woman working for the Cambridgeshire police force and assigned to a high profile missing person case. It looks like foul play was involved, and to make things even more complicated the missing person is the scion of a physician to the Royal Family. Add in a motley assortment of characters, a handsome boyfriend, and a corpse and you've got yourself a fine mystery.

Each chapter of the book switches from character to character, which works well to paint the complicated picture of the case and Manon's life. That's what makes this book so interesting to me: the mystery is a good hook but I really wanted to learn more about Manon and her life. Good thing this is the first in a series! I'll certainly be reading the next book (I almost bought it the other day, but it is only about 300 pages and the hardcover cost $27. I'll probably get it the from library and then write about it!).

Who should read it: Fans complex characters trying to do their jobs.

Would I read it again: I'll read the next one!

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat


Third book of vacation

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Seaside, Oregon isn't my favorite Oregon coast town. It feels to me what I imagine the Jersey Shore feels like, though to be fair I've never “gone down the shore,” as they say in Philadelphia.

It is a town populated with arcades, souvenir shops, and family friendly restaurants. Not really a place I would opt to go on my own, but Marisa has spent many a happy hour at Seaside with her family so there we stopped. Plus my nephews had fun at the arcade, so who am I to judge?

Luckily for me, there's a bookstore called Beach Books and I was able to spend a few minutes, and dollars, there. The bookstore itself is yet another typical beach bookstore: lots of fiction (with an emphasis on mysteries) and not too much else (Marisa found their cookbook section to be lacking).

I did pick up “The Crossing Places” by Elly Griffiths. I read “The Zig Zag Girl” by the same author last year on a lark without knowing she had written a long lived series. Based on my enjoyment of the book of hers I had read I bought this one, which is the first in her series (and was recommended by an employee at the book shop).


Second Book from vacation

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The second book purchased on vacation is a brand new copy of “Blueprints of the Afterlife” by Ryan Boudinot (the cover of which assures you that is it, in fact, a novel). Why this book? Well, I've looked at it countless times and I thought I should give it a whirl.

I picked this up from the Cloud & Leaf Bookstore in Manzanita, Oregon which is a lovely little beach town bookstore. Not much science fiction (boo), but lots of non-fiction, mysteries, and things that you'd read on the beach.

Oh, and if you're in Manzanita and are craving Mexican food I can highly recommend El Trio Loco 2.