Friday, October 19, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

Louise Penny has returned with another Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, and this one really is a beauty!

The Gilbertine order of Catholic monks was thought to have been extinct for 400 years, but then a mysterious recording of Gregorian chants appears and soon becomes a popular sensation.  Fans and pilgrims track down the chanting monks to a remote monastery in the Quebec wilderness, only to be politely but firmly turned away by the Abbot.  You see, these cloistered monks did not want to be found.  But the recording they made in hopes of earning much needed money to care for their crumbling fortress has brought them much more than they realized.  Yes, money from sales of the wildly popular chants was pouring in, allowing for updated heating, electrical and plumbing, but the allure of fame and recognition was creeping into the hearts of some of the brothers.  In essence, the recording had spawned a civil war between the Abbot, who wanted to remain cloistered, and the Prior, who believed the recording and its benefits were a miracle from God, meant to be shared with more recordings.  Conflict is not good in a group of 24 isolated men, and murder is the result.

Chief Inspector Gamache and his right-hand man Jean-Guy Beauvoir travel into the wilderness to the abbey, becoming the first lay people to cross the threshold.  Once inside they find peace and chaos, angels and demons, and the answers to an almost perfect crime.  I love Louise Penny's books because they take me into a world very different from mine, and The Beautiful Mystery takes us one step beyond different to otherworldly.

Au revoir, mes amis!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Shadow and Bone

Get ready, we may have a new movie franchise on our hands.  Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo has already been picked up by David Heyman, the producer of, wait for it, HARRY POTTER. Yes, you read that correctly.  Shadow and Bone only came out last June, and the second book of the planned trilogy isn't going to be available until 2013, but Dreamworks is already dreaming BIG about this unique and powerful story.

Set in a Russia-like world, children here are tested at a young age to determine if they are Grisha, those born with magical elemental powers.  If so, they are separated from their families and trained at the Little Palace in the capitol city of Os Alta to become soldiers of the Second Army.  The remaining children are drafted into the regular army to fight for their king and war-torn country, a country fighting not only its neighbors, but the "Fold", a swath of darkness bisecting the country and filled with man-eating creatures. Orphans and life-long best friends Alina and Mal are in the regular army, but a crisis in the mysterious and dangerous Fold brings out Alina's astonishing hidden talents.  She is spirited away by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha, convinced she is the answer to his prayers and the secret to controlling the evil Fold.  Thrust into a world of luxury and excess and still pining for Mal, Alina must learn how to control her power and who she can trust to use her power for good.

Shadow and Bone is a young adult novel, but like so many others labelled as YA it has universal appeal.  I eagerly await the next book, and can't wait to see what they do in the movie. Yeah, David Heyman!  And hooray for Leigh Bardugo!!  Thank you for inventing this fascinating world.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery

The setting:  Victorian England
The protagonist:  The daughter of the Maharaja of Prindur, Princess Mink
The quandary:  How do you live like a princess when you find yourself penniless?
The solution:  Accept an offer to live in Hampton Court Palace for free!

When the sudden and scandalous death of her father leaves Princess Mink destitute, she realizes that the lavish lifestyle of her past would be coming to an end.  But luckily for Mink, Queen Victoria had a soft spot for her larger-than-life Maharaja father, so she offers her a "grace and favor" home at Hampton Court Palace.  Having no other options, Mink accepts the offer despite the protestations of her maid Pooki, who is convinced the palace is haunted.  But when one of the other residents of Hampton Court dies after eating Pooki's pigeon pie, ghosts become the least of their problems.  Mink takes on the role of detective to save her beloved maid from the gallows, and uncovers more than a few secrets and lies hiding in the sprawling halls, apartments and gardens of Hampton Court.

Part mystery and part history, The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart is a delightful period piece with timeless and endearing characters.  I loved learning about life in this historic estate on the Thames.  But I think I'll stay away from pigeon pie.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

If you thought Lord Voldemort and his cohorts were frightening, you haven't met the residents of Pagford, England.  A tiny and picturesque English village, Pagford would be idyllic if not for the huge egos and lifelong feuds of its residents.  So, when one of the members of the Parish Council drops dead from a brain aneurysm, the vultures immediately start circling to fill his seat.  What follows is the story of small town politics with big time consequences.

Rowling's ability to bring characters to life for her readers is unparalleled. From the self-satisfied and self-appointed King and Queen of Pagford, to the underprivileged children from the reviled public housing tract, she perfectly captures the petty grievances of petty people. And although the story shows us that long held resentments infect a community with a culture of intolerance and hate, we still find sympathy for both sides of the fight.  For who amongst us doesn't have a little bit of the NIMBY residing inside?  (FYI:  "Not In My Backyard!")

The Casual Vacancy shows us that the terror of an evil wizard is scary, but the real problems of real life are even more so. I can't wait for her next book.  (Hint, hint, J.K.!!)

The Book Chick

Paper Towns

A few books ago I read Looking for Alaska by John Green.  (See post on June 9, 2012) Also written by John Green, Paper Towns is a very interesting story of teenagers coming of age.  Both books have similar themes, and both books are quite good, but I have to say that Looking for Alaska is a classic.  So, read Paper Towns if you'd like, but you MUST read Looking for Alaska.  That's all I have to say about that. (Forrest Gump!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Book Thief

I just finished The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.  Wow.  This is a book that EVERYONE should read.  This is why:

1.  It is about a young girl in Nazi Germany, but she is neither a Nazi nor a Jew.  Her name is Liesel.

2.  Liesel's foster parents are German, but they have no love for the Nazis.

3.  Her foster father has silver eyes, is a house painter and plays the accordion.  He is a really good guy.  It's hard to be a good guy in Nazi Germany.

4.  Her best friend's idol is Jesse Owens, and he covers himself with charcoal dust to prove it.  This is a bad idea.

5.  Her  parents hide a Jewish man in their basement.  This is also a bad idea.

6.  Liesel does steal books.  One of them from a Nazi book burning.  Again, this is a bad idea.

7.  She also steals from the mayor's wife, but this turns out to be a good idea.

6.  The narrator is an unexpected and unwanted guest, but oh so appropriate.

The Book Thief is an amazing accomplishment.  It is funny, heartbreaking and horrifying, but it also shows the human side of a terrible time in history.  Please read it!  A little or a lot, it will change you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Miss Buncle's Book

My dear friend Karen gave me a book for my birthday, and I am so glad!  Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson was first published in 1934, but it is totally new to me.

Miss Buncle lives in a tiny English country village in the early 1930's.  No one really notices her, but she notices everyone.  So, when her dividend checks stop coming, she decides to write a book...about her neighbors...anonymously.  The uproar that ensues is entertaining to the extreme!

I found it hard to believe that Stevenson wrote this book so very long ago.  The prose, the characters and their reactions could easily translate into our world today.  Imagine how you would react if the setting and characters of a best selling book seemed to mirror your neighborhood, your friends and your enemies.  To what lengths would you go to find out who the author really is?  Who would you suspect? More interestingly, would someone else's version of you change the way you view yourself?  In writing her book Miss Buncle finds that you can make a different life for yourself, and what you imagine can become real. Those are pretty powerful discoveries.

I'm glad my friend discovered Miss Buncle for me.  I hope you enjoy her as much as I did!