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October reads: Spooky books for a spooky month

This month's reads include "Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie, "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende and "Frozen Harvest" by Minnesota native Joseph Benedict.

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October's reads include "Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie, "House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende and "Frozen Harvest" by Minneapolis native Joseph Benedict. Pictured with the books this month is my new kitten Agatha, who was named for Agatha Christie. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

I didn’t go into October intending on reading books with a specific theme, but it just so happened that I kept to eerie, mysterious, supernatural subject matters that were perfect for the month.

I know I’ve already reviewed an Agatha Christie novel this year, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had a Halloween-themed book sitting on my shelf while looking for something else to read at the end of October. And perhaps this column also serves as a tribute to my newly rescued stray kitten, who I named Agatha in honor of my favorite author.

This month’s featured Minnesota author is Minneapolis native Joseph Benedict.

‘Hallowe’en Party’ by Agatha Christie

My life’s goal of accurately predicting the end of an Agatha Christie novel continues. I’ve read about a dozen of her books now and have had somewhat accurate hunches about a couple of the endings, but I haven’t been able to come up with the full picture.

“Hallowe’en Party” features the infamous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who gets roped into an eerie occurrence at the request of his friend Mrs. Oliver.

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While preparing for a kid’s Halloween party, 13-year-old Joyce Reynolds spiritedly exclaims how she once witnessed a murder. While no one believes the outlandish story — chalking it up to another one of Joyce’s tall tales — Mrs. Oliver believes there may be something to it when young Joyce is found dead at the end of the party. The mustachioed Poirot comes in, as only he can, and shakes up the small community of Woodleigh Commons while searching for the offender.

Joyce isn’t the only murder victim by the end of the book, which culminates with a scene of dramatic reveals that no one, in my opinion, does better than Agatha Christie.

‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende

I’ve been wanting to read Isabel Allende for a while. As a Spanish major in college, I read a lot of excerpts of her work in the original Spanish but never a full novel. Known as one of the founders of the magical realism genre, Allende entwines elements of magic and fantasy into real life settings, creating unique, imaginative stories.

Beginning in 1920s Chile, “The House of the Spirits” spans multiple generations of the Trueba family, chronicling the events leading up the country’s military dictatorship in 1973. Allende uses real historical events as the backdrop, not disclosing names but telling the story of her cousin Salvador Allende’s election as the first Marxist president in a Latin American liberal democracy and the subsequent coup d’etat leading to his death and a 17-year dictatorship.

At the center of the story are Clara del Valle, her husband Esteban Trueba and eventually their daughter Blanca and granddaughter Alba. Clara is a clairvoyant who interacts with spirits, channels the dead and can move things with her mind. Esteban is a severe man who takes up politics and lets the power go to his head, while Blanca and Alba are more free-spirited, loving their dad and grandfather dearly but daring to live life on their own terms.

War, torture, death and destruction figure prominently into the story, which also details a family’s fierce love and sees Alba coming to the realization that all the events of her life — good, bad and in between — shaped her and her future in some way, whether positively or not.

Alba’s mindset is one I try to adopt in my life, too. I like to believe that most things happen for a reason, and I often think about how every tiny little detail in my life led me to where I am today. I may look back on certain moments with regret, but I try to remember that those moments have helped shape me into who I am today just as much as my happiest memories.

I appreciate books with real world implications that make me think about my life and how I want to live it. “The House of the Spirits” did just that, carrying along with it a beautiful, unforgettable story.

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‘Frozen Harvest’ by Joseph Benedict

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Joseph Benedict draws on the state’s harsh winters and abundance of snow in his crime thriller “Frozen Harvest.”

Mary Benton went missing during a blizzard in 1925, never to be seen or heard from again. Ninety years later, Minneapolis Detective Joel Vick gets a strange letter from someone claiming to know what happened to Mary.

When Joel ventures up north to the small town of Seven Lakes where Mary disappeared, he isn’t quite prepared for the sequence of events that takes place or for the state of his aged witness.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the inclusion of flashbacks to Mary’s life in 1925 and the events leading up to her disappearance. It reminded me of the crime drama “Cold Case,” which follows detectives trying to solve cases from years and sometimes decades ago, with older scenes of the actual crime. The flashback chapters in “Frozen Harvest” took me back in time, making me feel like I was in the 1920s and creating an element of suspense as Detective Vick tried to solve the crime in the present day.

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