From murder mystery to romance to shapeshifting in the woods of Duluth: April reads span several genres

This month’s books include “Crooked House” by Agatha Christie, “Message in a Bottle” by Nicholas Sparks, “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell and “Hearts of Prey,” the debut novel from Pequot Lakes native Jennifer Schultz.

This month’s books include “Crooked House” by Agatha Christie, “Message in a Bottle” by Nicholas Sparks, “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell and “Hearts of Prey,” the debut novel from Pequot Lakes native Jennifer Schultz. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

After my last column, one of my coworkers told me I need to read something I don’t like this year, as I’ve practically raved about everything I’ve read so far.

Well, I’m sad (or maybe not) to say this month was no different. So here are four more books that come with my seal of approval.

‘Crooked House’ by Agatha Christie

One of my goals in life is to accurately predict the ending of an Agatha Christie novel. It hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will, but we all must strive for something, right?

I haven’t yet met an Agatha Christie mystery I didn’t enjoy, and “Crooked House” is no exception. For avid Christie fans, it might be a little disappointing to hear that this book does not feature one of her primary detectives — Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or the duo of Tommy and Tuppence. “Crooked House” is instead narrated by Charles Hayward, the son of the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard who comes to help when the wealthy grandfather of the woman he loves is murdered.
The victim? Eighty-five-year-old Aristide Leonides. The weapon? Insulin replaced with eserine eye drops. The suspects? The extended family members living in what Charles refers to as the crooked house.

Under intense scrutiny is Aristide’s 34-year-old wife Brenda and her supposed lover Laurence, hired to tutor the grandchildren. But there’s also Aristide’s sons — one with poor business sense, the other jealous of his older brother. Charles must strategically place himself inside the house and figure out who among the family is a murderer before the lovely Sophia will agree to marry him. And with the help of Sophia’s odd, yet precocious 12-year-old sister Josephine, Charles may just come up with the answer.


Like all of the Agatha Christie novels I’ve read, this one came with an ending I absolutely did not expect, which — in my book — is the mark of a good mystery.

‘Message in a Bottle’ by Nicholas Sparks

If you’re in need of a good cry, or if you’re looking for an encapsulating story that might keep you up until the wee hours of the morning, have I got the book for you!

“Message in a Bottle” was my first Nicholas Sparks book, recommended to me by a coworker. I’ve seen a few of the movies based on his novels but hadn’t read any of his writing up until now. Since I’m trying to branch out with my reading this year, I decided reading at least one Nicholas Sparks book was a good idea.

The author of well-known books turned into hit movies like “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” Nicholas Sparks’ name has become synonymous with the romantic fiction genre.

“Message in a Bottle” is his second novel, following single mother Theresa Osbourne, a columnist for a Boston newspaper. Theresa’s life is turned upside down when she happens upon a message in a bottle washed up on a beach on Cape Cod. The eloquent love letter, obviously written by a husband to his late wife, brings tears to Theresa’s eyes, reminding her of the love she lost after her recent divorce. When her editor and friend Deanna convinces Theresa to write about the letter in her column and eventually search for the writer, she ends up on a journey she never imagined.

I ended up reading this book much faster than I had imagined, staying up until 6 a.m. nearly bawling one morning finishing off the last 200 pages in one sitting. The story was captivating, and I felt like I had no sense of time as I was reading. I just kept going because I had to know how it ended.

So if you’re in the mood for something sappy and romantic that will likely elicit at least a few tears, I highly recommend “Message in a Bottle,” and it’s not just because the main character is a newspaper writer named Theresa.

‘Julie and Julia’ by Julie Powell

The full title is actually “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” but I felt that was a little long for the heading.


This memoir from Julie Powell tells of her life stuck in a dead-end job in New York City. Julie begins to feel her biological clock ticking as she nears the age of 30 and learns she has polycystic ovary syndrome — essentially meaning her chances of having a baby are slim if she doesn’t start trying soon.

In what I like to call a quarter-life crisis, Julie turns to cooking — more specifically the French food of famed chef Julia Child. After nabbing her mom’s old copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume I” by Julia Child, Julie sets in motion a plan to cook all 524 recipes from the book in a year while blogging about her experience. She calls it the Julie/Julia project.

I know there have been a lot of mixed reviews of the book and criticism of things like Julie’s swearing and continuous complaining about her job, along with the idea of her making almost a mockery of Julia Child and her cooking.

I didn’t see it that way though. I felt like Julie was relatable, with her raw emotion, self-deprecating humor and acknowledgement of not knowing what she wanted to do with her life. Maybe it’s because I’m similar in age to Julie when she wrote the book that I feel like I understand her anxiety of the future and applaud her for stepping out of her comfort zone and trying something new.

The combination of her somewhat inappropriate humor and vivid, complex analogies had me both laughing out loud and contemplating the deeper meanings of life. One passage I really enjoyed was when Julie cooked with bone marrow and called it “the center of the center of things” because you can’t get much more interior than the interior of bones.

“If marrow were a geological formation, it would be magma roiling under the earth's mantle. If it were a plant, it would be a delicate moss that grows only in the highest crags of Mount Everest, blooming with tiny white flowers for three days in the Nepalese spring.”

Anyway, I liked the book a lot, and I recommend it as a fun read for anyone who isn’t too sensitive about crude language.

‘Hearts of Prey’ by Jennifer Schultz

“Hearts of Prey” is a paranormal romance and the first full-length novel by Pequot Lakes native Jennifer Schultz.


This was another step outside my comfort zone genre-wise, and I absolutely loved it. I sped through this book rather quickly because I just couldn’t bring myself to put it down.

The story centers around Shaka Reed, a young woman living in Duluth with a big secret — she can shapeshift into a wolf. The only one who knows her secret is her grandfather, who also happens to be the only other shapeshifter she knows. But after her grandfather disappears, Shaka remains largely alone in the world, except for her best friend Rena, who she’s known for decades but still can’t bring herself to confide in.

But when new people keep popping up in Shaka’s life, she realizes she may not be alone in the world as far as her shapeshifting goes, but also that she may not be safe. There are people out there who want to exploit her ability, and she’s not sure who — if anyone — she can trust.

“Hearts of Prey” definitely makes me want to explore more paranormal literature and read anything else that Schultz has to offer in the future.

Coming in May

Next month I’m going to celebrate my birthday by reading works from authors also born in May. Potential names on my list so far include Robert Ludlum, Dashiell Hammett, Maeve Binchy (again), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nora Ephron and Ian Fleming.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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