Play Dead, Stay Dead, Pretty Dead: Elise Sandberg Series (Anne Frasier)

4 Star Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

The Elise Sandberg series got me through a horrific cold last weekend, and for that I am grateful. All three books were entertaining, with plot twists that kept throwing me for a loop. These were exactly the type of suspenseful crime stories that I needed to keep me sane while confined to bed for most of the weekend. While I hope none of my blog-visitors get sick, I would definitely recommend this series for those of you battling the beginning winter cold season. Along that thread, Frasier’s novels are exciting enough to bring spice to any boring day or event, whether you’re taking a long trip, snowed in, or otherwise unhappily stuck in one place.

The second book in the series, Stay Dead, definitely took the cake for me. This was my favorite, as it kept me on my toes and trying to piece together Elise’s experiences between the first two novels. After reading page 1 of Stay Dead, I actually closed out of the book on my Kindle and checked to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally skipped a book. I liked Frasier’s technique of not explaining what she was doing, and letting the reader figure out how much time had passed and what happened in that space. Frasier expertly leads you through what you need to know to become engaged in the mystery, without giving away too much too soon about what happened to Elise.

Crime novels, as much as I love them, often feature underdeveloped or shallow characters. In this series, Frasier deeply develops Elise and David’s characters, although she leaves much of the minor characters’ stories to the readers’ imagination. Sometimes this style of storytelling bothers me, but it did not so much in this case. Elise in particular has a very unique story, taking in elements of witchcraft and superstition that is uncommon to most literature that I read. At first I was a little turned off by Elise’s belief in these other-worldly ideals, probably because I am not at all open to such things, but her quirkiness grew on me as the story progressed.

Frasier also does a great job of incorporating Savannah, GA into her series, making it seem as if the city has a personality and a mind of its own. I liked the way the city’s history and ambience wormed its way deep into each of the storylines, and it actually made me want to go visit Georgia to see what all the fuss is about. As a comparison, I have read many books set in Seattle recently, and none of them were able to inspire the same interest in the city as Frasier has done in Savannah. I consider this a testament to her writing skill and ability to inspire an emotional response in her readers.  Frasier develops Savannah as more than just the setting, creating a unique atmosphere and feeling that persists throughout all three novels.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

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Lake Placid, NY

We spent New Years 2016 visiting the snowy little town of Lake Placid. Before you start thinking Whiteface, I have to come clean and admit that I did not actually get on the mountain to ski or snowboard. I have never skied, but I did have one failed attempt at snowboarding a few years ago at Stowe in Vermont. I would really like to learn eventually, but I need a solid bunny hill and introductory lesson to get me over the hump.

Lake Placid is a really cute village, with great shopping and restaurants all within walking distance of most inns and rentals. Some of the places that we stopped for lunch didn’t have the greatest food, but they all came with great views of Mirror Lake and friendly local service. We especially enjoyed Lisa G’s down at the bottom of the village, which had delicious food and a comfortable atmosphere.

I much prefer to spend New Years quietly with family and close friends. I had a few wild new years back in the day, but I honestly find the thought of going out anywhere on Dec 31st just exhausting. Writing this makes me feel much older than 24, and I have to laugh at how much of a homebody I have become in the past couple of years. Anyway, the condo that we rented in Lake Placid was the perfect place to stay for a quiet New Years. It came equipped with a game-filled basement, with everything from shuffleboard to Playstation, and a cozy living room with a warm fireplace. It was also freezing cold and snowing, which makes a nice view out the window when you are warm and relaxed inside.

Mirror Lake is a beautiful centerpiece for the town. We had great views of the water from many of the restaurants, and we were able to drive and walk completely around the lake to get the full picture. At one point we tried to find the village’s namesake, Lake Placid. According to Google Maps, we were pretty much right on the shore, but there was too much snow to actually get close enough to see it. I would like to experience Lake Placid in the warmer weather, as the Adirondacks are absolutely beautiful all year round and it seems like there would be much to do.

We also visited the site of the 1980 Miracle hockey game against the USSR. The Herb Brooks ice rink and olympic center is definitely worth the visit, and it was cute to see the elementary-age hockey teams playing on the Olympic ice.  We also walked by the Olympic speed skating rink on our trips into town, although we did not take advantage of the free public skating sessions. We caught a great view of the Olympic ski jumps on our way into town, which tower beside the road in a terrifying way to us non-Olympic skiers. It is unbelievable to imagine athletes flying down them when I haven’t even made it on a bunny hill yet!

On our final day in town, we drove to the bottom of Whiteface so that I could see the mountain before we left. Since I hadn’t been skiing or snowboarding, I only saw it from afar during our trip. Pulling into the parking lot there is remarkable, with Whiteface looming over you. It takes a minute to absorb how steep each of the trails are and how large the mountain really is. One of the many reasons that I love the ocean so much is the feeling of immense smallness that it inspires in you. Large mountains give you a similar sensation, though without the vast openness you get from the sea.

Overall, we had a really good time in Lake Placid and it was a great place to ring in the New Year. I hope that next time I will actually get on the mountain to try some skiing, but not being able to do so really didn’t hurt the trip for me. It was another great long weekend away, relatively close to home, and we probably won’t get another one of those until NY warms up again.

 

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The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)

3 Star

Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

Although slow to start, the Man in the High Castle turned out to be a very thought-provoking book. Despite my interest in WWII, I had trouble engaging in the book until around the halfway point. By the time I finished, I was glad that I persevered through the beginning because it was definitely worth the read.

I watched season one of the TV show beforehand, which might be a first for me. I always try to read the book before seeing it in picture, as it usually does better justice to the story. In this case, I had surprising trouble accepting that the story was completely different than the Amazon interpretation. Specifically, I just loved the Frank-Juliana relationship in the show, and was disappointed that it was not part of the book. Other than the omission of their relationship, I think the book had a better, though less suspenseful, story.

The Man in the High Castle is considered a science-fiction novel, which is not usually my cup of tea. However, the story was not overwhelmed with sci-fi elements, and I might not even have classified it as sci-fi if I wasn’t told the genre before reading. Although alternate reality novels are very science fiction, this one almost bordered between sci-fi, fantasy, and fiction. It was very spiritual, incorporating the ideals of mysticism and energy throughout the story. I would encourage any reader who hesitates before science fiction to give this one a chance – It really might surprise you.

More than anything, I keep thinking to myself – How has nobody used this plot before? I mean, a hypothetical global society that might have emerged if the Axis Powers won WWII…It almost seems like a no-brainer. At first I thought that maybe the further the world moves away from WWII and the Cold War, the easier it is for the general public to look back and imagine what could have been, or what was thankfully avoided. But then I realized the book was actually written in 1963, although it did not become popular until Amazon Prime Video picked it up this year. The Man in the High Castle takes the great risk of making light of a very serious situation, but Dick manages to keep the balance between the emphasis of terror under Nazi rule and the development of quality fiction.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a really interesting read. This is definitely not your light-hearted, happy go lucky book to pickup for the beach, but it was an intriguing story that suggests a terrifying post-war alternate reality to the one that we know.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

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