Stalking Susan

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“Write what you know.” is a quote I thought was from Stephen King, but is actually from Mark Twain. Basically, write about a subject that you’re interested in, passionate about or something like that. News producer-turned-novelist Julie Kramer wrote a book about a broadcast journalist following a mystery in her debut novel of Stalking Susan. 

Riley Spartz works as a reporter for Channel 3, an affiliate station in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Bored with her assignments and still coping with the recent death of her husband, that all changes when a source of hers drops a cold case file in her lap. The case involves a serial killer who has murdered women named Susan over the course of several years. Riley works to piece together the cases and find the common link between them.

Since Kramer is herself a news producer, her inside knowledge of the business helped her write Riley as a realistic character. She (Riley) describes working with her photographer, assignment editor, news director and the CEO of the station. Having interned at a news station myself, I could easily visualize the characters. I liked how Kramer took the time to describe the people who are essential to the news business. All viewers usually see are the anchors and reporters, but it takes an army of people to successfully create a television broadcast. Terminology used in the news business is also mentioned.

I would classify the story as a whodunit mystery from the perspective of broadcast journalism. In a way, reporters are like detectives when they investigate stories and get to the bottom of a lead. Riley works to solve the mystery by making profile boards, doing research and so on, similar to a detective. As some who’s obsessed with Law & Order, reading a mystery from the perspective of a civilian was different, although Riley does consult her cop friend for some help.

There is more to the story than the mystery though. Riley is also navigating life as a young widow after the untimely death of her husband. The memories she has sometimes affects her actions. This added depth to her character, and shows that there can be a whole story and person behind the reporter and anchors you see on the television news. Their lives are not flawless.

I recommend this novel to anyone who wants a fresh take on the mystery genre.

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Open Book (Original Poetry by Me)

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I’m an open book

Ask me anything

Tell me anything

I have nothing to hide

If this is going to work out

We should know each other

I’m not going to judge

I have a past

Everyone does

But it’s what makes a person a person

Life is life

Communication is key

That’s why I’m an open book

This Adventure Ends

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Having read Emma Mills’ debut novel First & Then last year, I decided to check out her second novel, entitled This Adventure Ends.

Sloane Finch has just moved to Florida from New York for her junior year of high school. Moving to a new place isn’t easy as a teenager, and she doesn’t expect to make friends that easily. That all changes when she meets Vera, a charismatic teen who’s a social media star. Sloane falls into their eclectic group of friends which includes Vera’s twin brother Gabe, quiet and intelligent Remy, his ex-girlfriend Aubrey and popular party host Frank. Through her experiences during the school year, Sloane learns important lessons about friendships, which in turn teaches her more about relationships in general.

This is one of the few novels I’ve read recently that focuses on friendship as one of their major plot points. Sloane’s bond with Vera’s group is entirely new to her and I found this dynamic refreshing and new. The commonplace of most books is a protagonist with a lifelong best friend. Sloane goes against this archetype by admitting that she’s never had a best friend before, despite being about seventeen. it addresses the question of whether or not it’s easier to have friends or not.

Another subplot is Sloane trying to find a painting that Vera and Gabe’s late mother did.  I did find this part of the novel to not be that believable, considering that Sloane has only known the twins for a short of time and seems to be going out of the way to do a big favor for them. That’s just my opinion.

I recommend this novel to people who like reading stories about friendships.

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Broke Millennial

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Living in the nation’s capital doesn’t come cheap. I currently live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, where rent is basically one whole paycheck. I moved into my own place last summer, and wanting to fine tune my financial skills, I turned to Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life in Order by Erin Lowry. Lowry runs the website BrokeMillennial.com and graduated from the same university that I did. (Shout out to St. Bonaventure University!)

My first experience with finance began at 15 1/2 when I got my first real job working in the dining room of the local retirement home. I only worked about 10 hours a week at making the then minimum wage of $7.15, but earning my own money felt great.  I learned about depositing money, what a debit card is, and why teenagers are too young to get credit cards.

Now, 10 years later and in the real world, I earn a real salary and deal with credit card bills, student loan payments, and 401Ks, all topics that are covered in Lowry’s book. Although it may sound like a bunch of generic information, it’s written in a way that makes it easy and fun to read. She includes vignettes about her personal experiences and the experiences of her friends, which made the book very relatable. Interlaced with the advice are humorous references, an example being on page 65 in the credit report chapter, “Your goal should be to join the ranks of the 700+ Club- not to be confused with the oddball evangelical talk show.” Some chapters even cover more personal topics, such as buying a house, splitting the dinner bill with friends, and even how to discuss finances in a relationship. Each chapter ends with a checklist or summary of the material from it. I found her advice about affording life in the big city helpful, as spending in D.C. is a much different story than life in Western New York State.

I’ve already started to incorporate advice from her book into my own life. I used to buy lunch every day, but now that I have my own apartment with my own kitchen, I can make my own lunch and save a ton of money. Another way I’ve been able to save is trying to walk to work more (depending on the weather.) This saves on bus fare, which costs $2 per way, so that’s an extra $4 I can save everyday for weekend excursions. I also freelance write as a side hustle for some extra money. Buying a house isn’t in my plans anytime soon, but I could use the advice for the future.

I definitely recommend Broke Millennial as a way to figure out your finances, especially since money can sometimes be a taboo subject to discuss.

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Words in Deep Blue

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The modern technology age has changed just about everything in the consumer market- music, shopping, and more. Bookstores fall into this category as well.  There was a time where there were several national book chains, now Barnes and Noble remain the sole one. However, independent bookstores still exist in just about every city and town. This is where the events unfold in Australian author Cath Crowley’s novel Words in Deep Blue.

For the past twenty years, Henry Jones’ family has run a secondhand bookstore in Gracetown, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Henry, the oldest child who lives above the shop with his parents and younger sister, lives and breathes books. The store is famous for its “Letter Library,” a section of books where people are free to write in or leave notes between the pages.  One of many notes that were left there was a love letter to Henry from his best friend Rachel Sweetie, who left three years earlier.

Rachel should be looking forward to being 18 and her future. Instead, she is overcome with the drowning of her younger brother Cal ten months earlier. Having dropped out of school and needing a distraction, she returns to Gracetown to live with her aunt Rose and find a job. She ends up working at the bookstore with Henry, and they begin to reconnect through a series of letter to each other and experiences with old friends.

While this may sound like the classic unrequited best friend love story, this is far from it. Instead, it is the story about grief, friendship and life choices. Rachel initially decides not to tell anyone about Cal, thinking that it will get better. Meanwhile, Henry struggles to figure out his future, wrestling with feelings for his ex-girlfriend and his family’s decision on possibly having to sell the bookstore.

The story is told through alternative first-person perspectives. Rachel’s chapters are filled with her inner thoughts about her brother. Henry’s chapters describe his confusion about Rachel’s mood. This made the story very realistic, because in real life people don’t know what’s going on in another’s head. The rest of the cast of characters are quite real as well, reminding me of people I’ve known in real life.

Henry does eventually find out about Cal, and his reaction is honest. ” ‘I don’t know how to talk to you about this,” Henry says,” because I’ve never been where you are.’ ” (page 190.)

Interspersed within the chapters are letters and notes written on the pages of certain books, paying tribute to the practice of letter writing. My favorite quote from the novel is:

“Words matter, in fact. They’re not pointless, as you’ve suggested. If they were pointless, then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history. If they were just words, we wouldn’t write songs or listen to them. We wouldn’t beg to be read to as kids. If they were just words, then stories wouldn’t have been around since before we could write. We wouldn’t have learned to write. If they were just words, people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, felt bad because of them, ache because of them, and stop aching because of them.” (page 210.)

I highly recommend this novel because of its beautiful tribute to words and books, and its realistic depiction of how grief can affect one’s life.

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The Rooster Bar

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Happy New Year! Today I am reviewing John Grisham’s latest novel The Rooster Bar, which I received as a Christmas present and read over the course of a couple of days. (Warning: minor spoilers.)

Mark, Todd and Zola are three friends who are law students Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, D.C. Now, with one semester left until graduation, the three realize that the school is nothing but a for-profit scheme set up by a millionaire who owns a major bank corporation. After the suicide of their best friend Gordy rattles their lives, Todd and Mark make the decision to drop out of law school. Taking on new identities, the two establish their own law firm despite not having licenses. They plan to make money to pay off their student loans by picking up clients at D.C.’s crowded courthouses. They also hope to expose the scheme involving the law school. Meanwhile, Zola deals with her Senegal-native family being deported.

The novel explores several modern themes: law school, student loans, immigrants, unruly lawyers and more. While I’m not in law school, I could definitely relate to the burden of having to pay back thousands in student loans.

The three main characters learn how to take on clients through the action of “learning by watching,” by observing the actions of the lawyers they see in court. Although it’s obviously illegal what they were doing, it made for a fascinating plot and pace. It makes me wonder if false firms like that actually exist.

I did find the characters of Mark and Todd to be a little unbelievable and annoying. They seem almost too sure that they were not going to get caught, and even when they did, repeatedly said they are not going to jail. Their attitudes just didn’t appeal to me, but characters don’t always have to be likable.

The Rooster Bar is definitely worth a read for anyone who likes legal thrillers.

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What Light

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Since it’s the holiday season, I decided to check out a YA novel set during this time of year. Written by 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher, What Light is a love story that includes friendship, letting go of the past and Christmas trees.

Every year, 16-year-old Sierra has traveled to California from Oregon with her parents to run their seasonal Christmas tree lot during the month of December. Although she doesn’t like leaving her best friends behind for the holidays, Sierra revels in the tradition, the chance to see repeat customers and spend time with her California best friend Heather. This year, faced with the possibility of her family not returning the next year, Sierra’s Oregon best friends suggest that dating somebody might be a fun way to spend what might be her last time in California. Sierra is wary of the thought of a short-term romance, but then she meets local guy Caleb. Caleb works at a local diner and delivers Christmas trees to less fortunate families. Sierra feels a connection to Caleb’s sensitivity and humility and the two begin to form a relationship. As she bonds with Caleb, Sierra faces skepticism from Heather and her parents, but is determined to make her own decision.

I liked Asher’s different take on short-term romance, a concept usually used in stories of summertime flings. Instead, the story takes place during the holiday season, a time when most people are ready to start fresh in the new year. The presence of Christmas trees serves as a symbol of something that brings people together.

Given the heavy themes in 13 Reasons Why, I wasn’t surprised to see Asher weave in serious issues within the plot. Caleb’s backstory (which I won’t spoil) focuses on the idea of not letting someone’s past actions dictate who they are and how rumors can sway people’s opinions. These are issues that are prevalent in today’s society, especially in the age of social media. There are also themes of honesty and relationships with family and friends. I did find the ending predictable and some scenes slightly unrealistic, but this novel is worth checking out to help you get into the holiday spirit.

Happy Holidays!

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