January Book Reviews

Is one month of the new year already over? Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, it is. And since it’s a Tuesday, it’s time for my January book reviews.

I’ve set my Goodreads challenge at sixty books this year. I’m right on track to complete that goal. These are the books I read last month.

Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper

My first read of the year had been on my Kindle for several weeks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ellie Jordan is a ghost trapper. She and her sidekick, Stacie, set out to help the Treadwell family remove a ghost from their home. Once there, they encounter the ghost of a past resident who tells them to leave. They successfully “trap” the ghost and take it to another location, thinking that will be all.

It isn’t. Turns out the house has multiple hauntings. Their boss insists on bringing in a psychic medium to help. What follows is a night of terror where they attempt to rid the home of the malevolent spirits.

I liked the fact that not only was Ellie a “ghost trapper,” she also investigated the history of the home. The author has her using more scientific rather than supernatural means—something I wasn’t too fond of. There was also one thread regarding Ellie’s past that I hoped he’d wrap up, but maybe he’ll cover (or has covered) that in one of the subsequent stories. I also think he could have done a better job with character development—something male authors writing female protagonists often fail at doing.

Overall, the story flowed well, and it was entertaining—not scary or gory. Three and a half stars rounded up to four for review purposes.

Two Shorts and a Snort

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Two Shorts and a Snort is a quick read that is easily done during a lunch break.

Obsessed is the story of a West Texas oil field worker who comes to a decision regarding a woman in his life.

Maggie is a wonderful story about a couple who longed for a child. The husband, a rancher, finds a special gift in the snow thanks to a wayward longhorn cow.

Friends Instead of Lovers is a poem that reads like a song. And knowing Jan’s love of music, I suspect she may have had that in mind.

Jan Sikes has mastered the art of short stories, packing powerful messages into these pieces of fiction.

Lightning Strike

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read my first William Kent Krueger book last year and vowed it wouldn’t be my last. Iron Lake was one of my top books for 2021. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

Lightning Strike is the eighteenth book in William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series. While I want to read the books in order, Lightning Strike is a prequel to the series, set in the summer of 1963.

Cork O’Connor is a twelve-year-old boy who makes a gruesome discovery—the body of a man hanging from a tree at an abandoned logging camp. The victim, Big John Manydeeds, was a man young Cork admired.

The death was initially ruled a suicide, but it’s up to Cork’s father, Sheriff Liam O’Connor, to discover the truth. The Ojibwe who live on the reservation are convinced Big John didn’t kill himself. Most of the white people of Aurora believe otherwise. When a young Native American girl from another town goes missing, her disappearance only serves to further divide the two sides.

In the meantime, young Cork senses Big John’s spirit is still present, and that he has unfinished business. Cork, along with his friends Billy Downwind (nephew of Big John), and Jorge, set about on their own investigation. Their excursions into the woods near Iron Lake leads them to discover important clues and help Cork’s father ultimately solve the crime.

The book is not only a murder mystery but also a wonderful coming-of-age story with strong family dynamics. Krueger’s vivid descriptions made me feel as if I was right there along with the characters in Northern Minnesota. There was a brief mention of a historical event that wasn’t accurate time-wise, but since it was a minor, it doesn’t deter from the story.

Four and a half stars rounded up to five for review purposes.

Now that I’ve read Lightning Strike, I plan to read all the other books in order.

The Hay Bale

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve never been much of a horror fan, but after reading reviews of The Hay Bale, I was intrigued.

After suffering several miscarriages, failing adoption criteria, and separating from her husband, Claire needs to get away for a while. She rents a rural Virginia home for the summer.

The town has an assortment of weird people and the house she rents, Smallclaw, has a sinister history. There’s also a strange, solitary hay bale that people warn her to stay away from.

Although the story is less than fifty pages, Bettis packs a lot within the contents. The book is chilling and creepy, but light on the gore. Claire is a strong person, her character well-written. The ending leaves me wondering not only about her, but the other people in the town as well. I’ll be thinking about this story for a while.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Agatha Christie’s first book. She began writing it in 1916, and it was first published in 1920. It’s also the book where she introduces us to Detective Hercule Poirot.

The book is the classic murder in a locked room, something that has been overdone in recent years. However, Christie had a gift of keeping readers guessing up to the end. You think you know, but you really don’t.

Despite the differences in literary styles from a century ago, I enjoyed this book. One can easily see why Agatha was known as the Queen of Mysteries.

That wraps it up for January. Pretty good start for the year, don’t you think?

The Disappearance of Agatha Christie #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone. It’s time for the last Mystery Monday post of 2021. This month’s story is about one of my favorite authors.

A young Agatha Christie (Public Domain)

Agatha Christie is known for her sixty-six detective novels, fourteen short-story collections, and the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap. Her books have sold over a billion copies, making her the best-selling novelist of all time.

Several of her books were made into movies, including Murder on The Orient Express. I enjoyed the 1974 film with its all-star cast including Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Albert Finney, and Jacqueline Bisset. (I was highly disappointed in the 2017 remake. The only positive thing I can say about it is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the murderer Ratchett.) But enough about that.

Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in 1890 in Torquay, Devon United Kingdom into a wealthy upper-middle-class family. Her American-born father home schooled her, something highly unusual at that time. Agatha’s mother was an excellent storyteller and didn’t want her daughter to learn to read until she was eight. Being the only child at home (and bored) Agatha taught herself to read at the age of five.

Agatha married British military officer and businessman Col. Archibald Christie in 1914. But after twelve years together, their marriage began to fall apart. Archie Christie was involved with another woman, Nancy Neal. He asked Agatha for a divorce.

On December 3, 1926, Archie left their home saying he was going to a weekend house party, most likely a rendezvous with his mistress. Between 9:30 and 11:00 that night, Agatha left the house. According to maids, she was visibly upset and carried a small travel bag and her fur coat. She left a note for her secretary asking that all her weekend appointments be canceled.

The following morning, Agatha’s car was located an hour’s drive from her home. It had gone off the side of the road, but there was no sign of the famous author. Several eyewitnesses said they encountered Agatha before she disappeared. One man, Earnest Cross, said she seemed upset and wore only a thin dress despite the cold weather. He claimed she drove in the opposite direction from Newlands Corner, the village where her car was found.

Two railroad porters also spoke with Agatha outside the station and thought that she had boarded a train.

Eleven days after Agatha Christie was reported missing, she was located at an elegant spa, two-hundred miles from her home. She had registered under the last name Neal, the same name as Archie’s mistress. The chief inspector notified Archie and brought him to the spa.

Archie and Agatha soon left. They never commented about her mysterious disappearance. The press concluded Agatha had suffered from amnesia.

Others, including author Gillian Gill, think otherwise. “I believe that Christie had a definitive and terrible fight with her husband. It drove her over the edge. She had been depressed, now she becomes on some level psychotic. She is not herself. She takes on another identity. She wanders off. She gets on the train. She takes another name. She goes into this hotel and she lives another life. That’s very, very, very rare, but it’s known. It’s documented in the annals of psychology. And we know that Agatha Christie was an unusual woman.”

Still others, including author Gwen Robyns believe it was a publicity stunt. “I think she plotted and planned it from the start. She would use the media to push the only thing she knew, which was revenge, mystery, and the possibility of murder. She checked in to this hotel under the name Neal, her husband’s girlfriend’s name. I think it’s just madly funny. I think she took endless delight in the fact that the police shadowed Archie. He couldn’t go anywhere because they suspected him of murdering her. And I think she took marvelous delight in reading this in the papers. Again, I think in a sort of revenge and twisted up sort of way, she was thinking it was very funny.”

Not long afterward Agatha and Archie separated and divorced. He married Nancy Neal in 1928. Two years later, Agatha married archaeologist Max Mallowan. They remained married until her death in 1976. Agatha, a 1979 movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman, and Timothy Dalton was based on the famous author’s mysterious disappearance.