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Love, murder and reflection: January, February reads

This month's book reviews include "The Lovely Bones," "The Green Mile," "Rebecca," "The I-94 Murders" and Alex Trebek's 2020 autobiography published shortly before his death.

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Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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I’ve always enjoyed reading but haven’t always devoted as much time to it as I’d like.

The last couple years, though, I’ve been trying to make it through more of the dozens of unread books that sit on my shelves. I set a goal in 2020 to read 25 books. I didn’t quite make it, so I set the same goal this year and am on track to beat it.

We’ve heard from some of our readers that they would like to see more content about books in our paper, so I figured I’d do what I could to meet that need by logging the books I read each month.

I’ve got a pretty eclectic taste when it comes to reading. Some of my favorite authors, for example, are Jane Austen, John Green, Agatha Christie and more recently Stephen King. I’m also a big fan of the Harry Potter series. For those good with authors, you’ll know those names and titles span various genres. You likely won’t find reviews of the newest releases in this column, and there may be books some of you have already read, but these are all new stories to me, so I thought I’d share my thoughts. I hope the readers enjoy my list for January and February, and who knows, maybe you’ll find your new favorite book.

‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

This haunting 2002 novel is told from the perspective of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who was murdered in 1973. Susie tells her tragic tale while looking down on her family from heaven, following their lives since her death and hoping beyond hope they figure out who her killer is.

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The melancholy story captivated me as I read it, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this book a page turner. I didn’t get that “I have to keep reading”’ feeling. Instead, it was one of those books where I would look up after an hour or so, realizing I had totally lost myself in the pages.

“The Lovely Bones” made me think about life, how quickly it can be cut short and therefore how precious it really is.

‘The Answer is…: Reflections on my Life’ by Alex Trebek

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a bit of a trivia junkie and absolutely love the show “Jeopardy!” When I had the means, I used to record every day’s episode and look forward to watching it when I got home. After watching for so many years, longtime host Alex Trebek felt like someone I knew. So his death in November 2020 hit me hard.

I’m not the type of person to get overly emotional at the death of a celebrity, but Alex was different for me. He was a familiar face and voice I welcomed into my living room nearly every day. No matter what was happening in the world, he was a constant. He was always there with a smiling face and classy demeanor, welcoming me to “Jeopardy!”

I was excited when he released an autobiography earlier on in 2020 and knew it was something I wanted to read eventually. But it wasn’t until after his death — which came about a year and a half into his battle with pancreatic cancer — that I really felt the need to read his book.

When I finally got around to reading it, I wasn’t disappointed. The main word that comes to me is “beautiful.” I laughed, I cried and found myself once again thinking about life. Alex was no writer, which he points out in the first pages of the book, so I wouldn’t call it a literary masterpiece, but it was beautiful for what it was — short snippets of Alex’s life and insight into who he was as a person, behind the fancy suits and the “Jeopardy!” podium.

I already felt like I knew him, in a sense, but reading his memoir made him even more real, as did the inclusion of photos from throughout his life. As a “Jeopardy!” fan, I think this book was exactly what I needed as a sort of closure after Alex’s death.

‘The Green Mile’ by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author I’ve been getting into within the past couple years. I’ve read three of his books so far and have loved every one of them.

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Many of those reading this column have likely seen or at least heard of the 1999 movie version of “The Green Mile” starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. I saw snippets of the movie before reading the book, so I knew little tidbits about the story and characters but admittedly not very much.

This book was quite the ride. For those who don’t know the story, it takes place on death row in a southern prison in the 1930s. Elderly Paul Edgecombe narrates the story as he writes from his nursing home about his time as a prison guard. He recalls several inmates he watched over, including John Coffey, an imposing African American man sentenced to death for the murder of two young girls. John doesn’t fit the typical profile of a death row inmate, though, as Paul and his co-workers soon come to realize.

Supernatural elements add to the suspense and mystery of the story to keep readers glued to the pages. This is definitely what I would call a page turner. I spent several late nights trying to force myself to stop reading and go to bed, but I ultimately lost that battle several times. This was another book that made me laugh, cry and stop and think about the many injustices in this world. It wasn’t by any means a funny story, but Paul brought a few moments of comic relief to his narration to quell the many moments of tension.

With murder, hate and the death penalty, “The Green Mile” isn’t for the faint of heart, but it was a great read. I enjoyed the journey immensely, even though it was a tragic story, highlighting racial tensions and dangerous stereotypes.

I knew the movie is regarded as somewhat of a masterpiece, so I watched it almost as soon as I finished the book and was not disappointed. I’m the type of person who always wants to watch a movie adaptation of a book I just read but usually spends the whole time pointing out what was lost from the book. I tried not to do that this time, and I was honestly able to enjoy the movie for what it was.

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

The first line of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” is well-known in the literary world for its rhythm and elegance. The famed line begins the classic 1938 gothic novel, narrated by a young woman who is haunted by the thought of her new husband’s dead wife, Rebecca. The new Mrs. de Winter can’t stop wondering about the woman who came before her — where she sat, what she wore, how she spent her time. Will she ever be able to shake her feelings of inferiority and live happily with her husband, or will the continual thoughts consume her, dooming her marriage shortly after it began?

I’ll admit, this one was a little hard for me to get into right away, but I’m glad I kept going. The beginning was slow, but in the second half, all I can say is talk about a plot twist! The further in I got, the harder it was to put down, again forcing a couple late nights.

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The story is one of love and passion, sprinkled with vibrant descriptions of Manderley, Maxim de Winter’s upper class English estate where the majority of the book takes place. I enjoy being able to picture the setting in my mind, with all of its brightly colored flowers and ornate decorations, but the lengthy descriptions are also the main criticism I have. There were times when I found my thoughts were elsewhere while reading walls of text about the landscape, but the story itself ultimately kept my attention and fueled my need to know how everything would turn out.

‘The I-94 Murders’ by Frank F. Weber

Reading about familiar places is always fun, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Frank F. Weber’s “The I-94 Murders.” Weber is a forensic psychologist from Pierz, and he uses his home state as the backdrop for his mystery novels.

The one I read jumped back and forth between the Twin Cities, Pierz and various small towns north of the metro along I-94. Jon Frederick, an investigator with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, follows a killer along the busy interstate, solving the cryptic cyphers he leaves behind.

While I always love a good mystery, what I especially enjoyed about Weber’s book was the change in point of view throughout the story. While Jon was the main character and narrated the majority of the book, some chapters gave other characters the first-person point of view as well, including the killer, which added a unique element to the story.

I usually judge the quality of a mystery novel on how close I am to figuring out the killer. The further off I am, the better the story. In this case, I had my hunches but didn’t commit to a theory by the time the killer was revealed, so it still came as a little bit of surprise, which I definitely enjoyed.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Related Topics: BOOKS
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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