Book Review: The Education of a Coroner

When I saw The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death by John Bateson on the new arrivals shelf I grabbed it thinking it would be a little extra research for the second book in my murder mystery series. I had no idea I would find the book so fascinating on its own merits.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

In the vein of Dr. Judy Melinek’s Working Stiff, an account of the hair-raising and heartbreaking cases handled by the coroner of Marin County, California throughout his four decades on the job—from high-profile deaths to serial killers, to Golden Gate Bridge suicides.

Marin County, California is a study in contradictions. Its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors every year, yet the county also is home to San Quentin Prison, one of the oldest and largest penitentiaries in the country. Marin ranks in the top one percent of counties nationwide in terms of affluence and overall health, yet it is far above the norm in drug overdoses and alcoholism, and comprises a large percentage of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ken Holmes worked in the Marin County Coroner’s Office for thirty-six years, starting as a death investigator and ending as the three-term, elected coroner. As he grew into the job—which is different from what is depicted on television—Holmes learned a variety of skills, from finding hidden clues at death scenes, interviewing witnesses effectively, managing bystanders and reporters, preparing testimony for court to notifying families of a death with sensitivity and compassion. He also learned about different kinds of firearms, all types of drugs—prescription and illegal—and about certain unexpected and potentially fatal phenomena such as autoeroticism.

Complete with poignant anecdotes, The Education of a Coroner provides a firsthand and fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a public servant whose work is dark and mysterious yet necessary for society to function.

My thoughts:

That summary makes the book sound like the boring non fiction slog I thought it might be. And that is so not the case. I don’t know if Ken Holmes is just an entertainer or if Bateson wrote him that way or if their combined efforts gel in exactly the right way. This book was fascinating, a little heart wrenching, and often amusing.

I think the combination of cases, behind the scenes lore, human behavior, and a coroner’s view of the police is what got me. I like to know. Everything.

I’m immediately struck by past arguments I’ve had regarding the police. I always argue that they are good people doing a hard job. But some of the stories told in this book make me feel less secure about that opinion. I also want desperately to go the local archives and read through cases like Bateson did. No time to go down that rabbit hole though. LOL

This is a super well written, very interesting book about the complexities of death and the investigation of death.

Book Review: Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

I’m not embarrassed to admit, I love me a bit of Austen. In fact, in high school in British Literature, the Austen books were the only ones I actually read all the way through. he-he

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly–dazzling Jane Austen authority–looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen’s work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman “of information,” fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel–until then seen as mindless “trash”–could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.


My thoughts:

I am guilty of allowing the visual image of Colin Firth coming out of the lake in his soaking wet shirt color my reading of Austen. I read the books long before that particular mini series of course but subsequent readings, adult readings, always hark back to Colin Firth in his soaking wet shirt. Let’s take a momentary pause shall we?



Moving on. Helena Kelly’s arguments were vastly thought provoking and made me immediately want to reread all Jane Austen’s books. God knows when I’ll have the time, so for now I’m fighting the urge. But I think Austen extra brilliant now. She very effectively used the pastiche of romance to critique every major institution of her lifetime. And she did it without getting her head removed from her body of treason. That is skill. The fact that we’re still reading her 200 years later is all the more impressive.


Book Review: 2k to 10k

My son bought me this book for my birthday but I wasn’t able to get to it until my August vaca. 2k to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What you Love by Rachel Aaron was a quick and easy read I enjoyed with an umbrella drink. Luckily, I was reading on my kindle and so could highlight lots of bits as they appealed to me.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

“Have you ever wanted to double your daily word counts? Do you feel like you’re crawling through your story, struggling for each paragraph? Would you like to get more words every day without increasing the time you spend writing or sacrificing quality? It’s not impossible, it’s not even that hard. This is the story of how, with a few simple changes, I boosted my daily writing from 2000 words to over 10k a day, and how you can, too.”

Expanding on her highly successful process for doubling daily word counts, this book–a combination of reworked blog posts and new material–offers practical writing advice for anyone who’s ever longed to increase their daily writing output. In addition to updated information for Rachel’s popular 2k to 10k writing efficiency process, 5 step plotting method, and easy editing tips, this new book includes chapters on creating characters that write their own stories, story structure, and learning to love your daily writing. Full of easy to follow, practical advice from a commercial author who doesn’t eat if she doesn’t produce good books on a regular basis, 2k to 10k focuses not just on writing faster, but writing better, and having more fun while you do it.

My thoughts:

I did highlight rather a lot but honestly much of her advice is the same ole, same ole you hear from everyone who speaks on writing.

Example: You can up your word average by eliminating the days you don’t write.

In other words, write every day. LOL. Ground breaking.

Her big secret to writing 10K a day — write for 6 hours a day. She gets her best numbers at the end of the 6 hour session often writing 1500 words that hour.

Ahhhhh….and that too seems super obvious. If only I had 6 hours a day.

The book is inexpensive on Amazon kindle. And she does a good job of correlating lots of advice you might have heard other places and using relevant examples.

Book Review: Take Your Pants Off!

Get your mind out of the gutter. Take Your Pants Off! by Libby Hawker is not smut. It’s writing book.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

When it comes to writing books, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”? Is one method really better than the other? In this instructional book, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting any time or words. Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you. Take off your pants! It’s time to start outlining.

My thoughts:

I did take rather a lot of notes while reading this. I don’t want to give away Hawker’s plotting device as that would defeat the purpose of her book. But I will say this, she makes a good arguement for using her method and presents it in a logical step by step way.

I haven’t started using her method and probably won’t. Perhaps my books are just destined to be lower quality. But her method involves character, that’s all I’ll give away, and my characters spring fully formed and let me know where they are going. That is never my problem when writing.

I think however there were a number of good strategies I will broach with my creative writing class this year.

Book Review: Midnight Snacks are Murder

I read the first book in the Poppy McAllister series by Libby Klein earlier this year and adored Poppy. She’s mid life, mid spread, and trying to function with too many people who want to tell her who she is and should be. cough cough. Nothing like me. LOL

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Between trying to get her gluten-free baking business off the ground and helping her aunt remodel her old Victorian into the Butterfly House Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey, Poppy is ready to call, “Mayday!” And now Aunt Ginny—who’s a handful wide-awake—is sleepwalking on her new sleeping pill prescription and helping herself to neighbors’ snacks and knickknacks.

Even more alarming, a local humanitarian who worked with troubled teens is found murdered, and the police suspect the “Snack Bandit.” Other than a bad case of midnight munchies and some mild knickknack kleptomania, Aunt Ginny is harmless. Someone’s trying to frame her. Poppy will need to work tirelessly to uncover the killer and put the case to rest—before Aunt Ginny has to trade in her B & B for a bunk bed behind bars . . .

My thoughts:

It’s a fun cozy. Lots of lying. Lot’s of chatting with people over and over to get them to fess up to their lies. Lots of Poppy figuring out what really makes people tick.

There’s a romance or three a brewing. And lots of good espresso.

And you have to love a woman who shakes off the ashes of her previous life and attempts to build something for herself a new.

Book Review: The Dark Angel

Ah Elly Griffiths, you always entertain me. The Dark Angel was no exception… while I was reading it. More on that in a bit.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!

So Ruth travels to Fontana Liri, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a medieval shrine and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also finds Harry Nelson, who is enduring a terrible holiday at a resort nearby. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Fontana Liri that someone would kill to protect.

My thoughts:

Harry is not enduring a terrible holiday at a resort nearby. He comes to Italy for Ruth and Kate because of an Earthquake. What balderdash.

Anyway. The mystery is slow and languid which is typical for Ruth Galloway novels. I like that. As usual it’s complicated beyond all reason. Love that.

My bone to pick is this. The whole who’s the baby daddy, will they won’t they thing…gone on way too long. I like the series just fine when Harry was with his wife and Ruth was doing her thing and the focus was the incredibly complicated crimes. But now this is the third or fourth book where the focus is shifting more and more into will they/won’t they. Bring back the crime!

Still plan to read every book she puts out in both series. LOL

Book Review: Ghosted

I’m not sure who recommended Ghosted by Rosie Walsh to me but I put it on my wishlist and it eventually arrived.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

My thoughts:

I remember this being described as a mystery to me with a smidge of a love story. It’s not. It’s a sappy love story with a case of “nah-nah, I’m not telling you something.” The something is quite obvious though.

I read the whole book. But the entire time I was waiting for something more. It wasn’t there. It never materialized. It was bread that failed to rise.

Many, many people loved this book. She has a long list of kudos from popular authors. This book was  a NY Times best seller. So many people must enjoy have enjoyed it.

I really didn’t. It was bland with a lot of sadness.