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Friends and Readers,

How have you been? Sunshine has returned to Seattle, at least some of the time, and I've been enjoying afternoon walks after work, sauntering beneath the leafy tree canopy and watching the crows zoom around with mouthfuls of snacks.

Late spring is a great time for wildlife viewing around here, especially near the waters of Puget Sound. I was out picking up bread from the Sourdough shop at the waterfront when I saw a sea lion taking a nap. He'd attracted a big crowd of admirers too.

A plump brown sea lion naps on a low concrete pier, next to ripply blue water.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a chance to enjoy some nature this month!

Deals & Discounts

Bargain hunters, this one is for you! Death by Team Building is on sale this week, only at CheriBaker.com.

The book cover for death by team building. Business reports, a coffee cup, evergreen branches, and a knife.

Group work always bites you in the ass. That was true in ninth grade history class, and just as true in a murder investigation.

Kat wasn't thrilled to be “volunteered” to attend the Holy Heart Medical Center team building retreat, but after settling into the remote mountain cabin with the team, she has to admit it's not all bad. The setting is beautiful and there are plenty of snacks. She having more fun than she expected. Unfortunately, enjoyment turns to terror when a member of the group is literally stabbed in the back.

Buy for $2.99 at CheriBaker.com

Adventurous Reads

What makes a book gritty? Well, the word grit can refer to roughness, toughness, or ugliness, for sure. But it also implies a certain perseverance. The willingness to keep on going despite the roughest conditions.

I love stories with a bit of grit, be they fiction or non-fiction. And along those lines, here are some interesting reads for your consideration:

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

The book cover for The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson. It shows the silhouette of a cowboy on a horse.

Wade Barsad, a man with a dubious past, locked his wife Mary's horses in their barn and then burned it down. In return she shot him in the head six times – or so the story goes.

Craig Johnson's Website

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

The book cover for Tokyo Vice. It shows an American reporter among a red and black color scheme.

Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza.

Buy from the Publisher

True Grit by Charles Portis

The book cover for True Grit. It shows a stylized cowboy on a horse riding at sunset. The cover uses bright, cheerful colors.

While I haven't read it recently, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the aptly titled True Grit, which was such a surprisingly vivid read. I adored the young heroine.

True Grit is the story of thirteen-year old Mattie Ross who, allied with the stone-faced Rooster Coburn, embarks on an adventure to bring her father's killer to justice.

Buy from Publisher

I thoroughly enjoyed all these books! Sensitive readers should be aware they contain a fair amount of violence. That's especially true of Tokyo Vice, which discusses many real life criminal cases.


Works in Progress

An exterior wall with an interesting ornament on it. It looks like a face surrounded by brown leaves.

The writing is going well on my end, and I’ve passed the halfway mark on both The Hard Way Home and my next cozy mystery novel. I’ll let you know when I have official news to share.

In the meantime, I'm happy to share a few new posts from my blog:

Some Thoughts on Generative AI and Synthetic Voices

We can care about each other! It's a thing we're allowed to do. In a sense, it's the only power we have.

Life with a Flip Phone

My flip phone arrived, and just like that, I'm transported back to a different time.

To paraphrase Jessica Fletcher, that's all she wrote! As always, if you’ve read anything great lately, I’d love to hear about it, so shoot me a note anytime.

Have an excellent week, and I’ll talk to ya soon. :)

All my best,

Cheri B.

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Good morning, fellow bookworms.

Have you read anything great lately? I'm still nibbling my way through Martha Wells's The Witch King. I started it a few months back, but I wasn't in the right headspace for it at the time. It's really good, though! Very different from her Murderbot novels.

I’m penning this letter on a train to Madrid, watching the green and tan patchwork quilt of agricultural Spain fly by. We just passed a huge field of wind turbines, calling to mind that most famous Spanish novel Don Quijote, whose titular hero mistook windmills for his enemies and attacked them, his sword drawn.

I have yet to read Don Quijote, but it's on my someday list. 😌


Patrick and I enjoyed (and should I say, survived?) the culmination of the Fallas festival in Valencia. There were loud marching bands and loud pyrotechnic explosions right outside our window until five in the morning, all week. We had a blast (ha ha literally) and by the end, my brain felt like it had been pushed through a cheese grater.

While Fallas is most known for the enormous monuments, which are burned on the final night of the festival, I was most impressed by something else. Outside the main cathedral, an enormous wooden woman (the local aspect of the Virgin Mary) was erected, and over a course of two days, locals in traditional garb (called falleras and falleros) paraded through the streets carrying red and white carnations. Climbers filled the wooden body with the flowers, forming a beautiful cape and gown. More than 100,000 people participated in the ceremony, which is called La Ofrenda, or in English, the offering.

The four story wooden framework of the virgin Mary and child. Her head, baby, and crown are detailed and complete, and the body below is wooden slats.

Spanish ladies in traditional dress. Large silk embroidered skirts in an 18th century style with lace veils.

Mary's body is full of red and white flowers, forming a beautiful cape with floral patterns.

I kept looking around and wondering what Ellie Tappet might make of all these happenings in Valencia. I'm pretty sure she'd love that flower ceremony. As for the demon children throwing lit fireworks into crowds all week? Well, perhaps not so much. 😏 And as for me, I was grateful for the chance to experience something new.

Even if it meant losing some sleep.

Oh, and Happy Easter to all who celebrate! Do you have any springtime traditions? Back home in Seattle, I’d be walking down to Pike Place Market to pick up fresh tulips from the flower vendors, enjoying the explosion of color that occurs down there this time of year. Or maybe slicing open a package of marshmallow Peeps to get them perfectly stale before I eat them.

Hey! It’s traditional. 😜

I’m still scribbling away, making progress on my books. Speaking of which, I have some time until our stop, so I should make the most of it.

Until next time!

Cheri B.

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Friends and Readers,

Good morning from sunny Valencia, Spain where I’m waist deep in imaginary worlds and making good progress on my next two novels.

A cup of coffee next to my laptop

Valencia is the second city of my heart, and as soon as we landed, I felt all my stress float right out of my body. While we're here, I'll be doing some book research, focused on Valencia's annual cultural festival, called Fallas. (Pronounced FY-YAS)

Fallas lasts about a month, and it incorporates artwork, beauty pageants, parades, the sewing of traditional clothing, religious iconography, and daily fireworks. The festival culminates with an event called la Crema where the artworks are burned in a huge fiery spectacle all around the city. I'd love to set a murder mystery here, but I'm still in the research phase, so for now, that means taking lots of pictures, attending events, and scribbling down notes.

A couple days ago, the first pieces of the “Municipal Falla” arrived in City Hall Square on a flatbed truck. It's huge, and this is only one piece of it! 🤯

A large sculpture of a dove on a flatbed truck. It's upper body is as big as the box of a delivery truck.

If you're curious about Fallas, here's a documentary in English that talks more about the festival and its history.


Let's talk about books! Today, I wanted to tell you about a type of story that you may not have heard of. It's called a “braided novel” or “braided narrative” and I read an excellent one recently.

What's a Braided Novel?

One of my favorite reads this winter was The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler. It won the Locus award for best novel in 2023, and it's one of those books that are difficult to describe without giving too much of the story away. The book is speculative fiction (asking “what ifs” about the future) and the themes include: cyberpunk, marine ecology, anthropology, and artificial intelligence.

Book Cover for the Mountain in the Sea. It shows an illustration of a red octopus

The Mountain in the Sea is a good example of a braided novel. Rather than containing a single story, it contains three separate stories. The novel alternates between those stories, weaving them alongside each other, and the connection is revealed only at the end. Think of that connection as being the tight rubber band at the end of the braid. There's a little snap of “aha!” as the different strands come together.

So what happens in the Mountain in the Sea?

  • A scientist is invited to an island to assist in secret research.
  • A hacker is hired by a mysterious woman to complete an impossible task.
  • A man exiled from his home fights to survive.

For much of the novel, these stories don’t seem to intersect. We skip from one to the other, to the other, unsure of their connection. Braided novels require patience, and there are times when the stories are tightly connected, and other times when the connection is loose. In the end, I was glad I’d persevered because three distinct stories came together in a kind of tapestry.

A braided novel can do things that a traditional narrative cannot. We may see events unfold over the breadth of an entire society. Some braided narratives are told from different points in time, showing how the past, present, and future connect. A braided novel can have more than three strands, but three or four is typical. I’ve even heard George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones books called “braided”, because they often follow different groups for long periods of time before connecting them together.

Anyway, if you’re into cyberpunk, artificial intelligence, and anthropology, check out The Mountain in the Sea. It was a challenging read, but if you enjoy speculative fiction, highly worthwhile. Also, if you have a favorite “braided novel” – tell me about it!

Until next time,

Cheri B


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Cheri Baker. Books for Adventurous Readers

Friends and readers,

Greetings from Lisbon, Portugal, where I am writing you from my hotel room, laptop propped on my knees. 😎  Patrick and I are back on the road for a springtime adventure, mixing work and play, and I'm writing to share some book recommendations and a few of the interesting sights I've seen.

A small bookstore called Letra Livre on the lower level of an old building in Lisbon. The building is on a steep hill, and the sidewalk in front tilts sharply down. The inside looks small, organized, and welcoming.

A typical small bookstore in hilly Lisbon

In preparation for this trip, I loaded up on novels with a connection to Portugal. I read an entertaining (but rather improbable) thriller, Two Nights in Lisbon, by Chris Pavone, and I dipped my toes into the multiple literary award winner, Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier. But my favorite of the bunch was The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques, a gritty police procedural with a paranormal tilt.

While not related to Portugal, I kept myself entertained on our long flight reading Death on Board by Anita Davison. Davison has a nice knack for description, and the story is set on a transatlantic voyage from New York to England in the early 1900s. The sleuth is a British governess.

Literary Lisbon

During our brief time here, I learned of Luís de Camões, considered the “Portuguese Shakespeare,” whose influence was so profound that the Portuguese language is sometimes called “The Language of Camões.” I haven't explored his poems yet, but you can learn more about his interesting life here, including his adventures and misadventures at sea.

And imagine my delight when I learned that the world's oldest continually operating bookstore was a short walk from our hotel! The original Livreria Bertrand (now part of a chain) has been selling books since 1732. We went inside and found a surprisingly modern collection, well-organized and welcoming.

The book cover for outlaw justice. It shows a small spacecraft flying away from Mars. The subtitle reads: The First Guardian Book One

292 years of bookselling history, right here.

I'm unlikely to learn Portuguese anytime soon, so I picked up a charming copy of Alice in Wonderland. A grim-faced saleswoman at the desk applied an “official” Livreria Bertrand stamp to the book before glaring at me like she wished I'd die of a painful disease. Perhaps my tastes were too basic?

Visiting a country for the first time is indeed like visiting Wonderland. You're lost. You don't know how things work. Don't offend the queen of the bookstore, or she'll lop off your head! Ha.

With my head firmly attached to my neck, I headed back out into the rain. Rumor has it that our next stop, Porto, has one of the prettiest bookstores in the world. (Video Link)

Literacy as Resistance

ut when it comes to the power of words in Lisbon, what moved me the most was my visit to the Museu Do Aljube Resistência e Liberdade (The Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom). It's dedicated to the activists who struggled for decades to overthrow Portugal's former dictatorship, and many of the exhibits were about communication and literacy.

From the ways the authoritarian government strove to suppress literacy (because an uneducated populace is easier to control), to the explosion of underground magazines and hidden printing presses that kept pro-democracy movements alive, the museum was a powerful reminder of the importance of language and communication, not to mention the dangers of government control over books, media, and communication.

The book cover for outlaw justice. It shows a small spacecraft flying away from Mars. The subtitle reads: The First Guardian Book One

Antifascist activists used “muffled typewriters” like this one to avoid being hauled off to jail for sharing their ideas.

Portugal is a young democracy, compared to the United States. As one local told us, “Young people can be tempted to give up on our system, especially when life is difficult. It's important we show them our history, so they understand how dangerous authoritarianism is.”

Reading helps to build up our critical thinking skills while at the same time building empathy for others. My time in Lisbon reminded me that when it comes to literacy, there's far more at stake than entertainment. Words can bring us together, and from time to time, they have the power to change the world.

Until next time...

All my best,

Cheri B.


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