Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

by Louise Penny

At my house when a new Louise Penny book arrives (and yes, this is one author that I pre-order) there's a debate over who gets their hands on it first.  I usually win.  My oldest daughter who lives near (through the back gate) usually heaves a sigh as she realizes Candleman gets it second.  She doesn't complain too loudly because she doesn't pay for the books.

The Beautiful Mystery is book 8 in the Inspector Gamache series.  Many of the other books in the series can be read as stand-alones, although it's better to read them in order.  I didn't the first time I read them but I was able to put the pieces together just fine.  With the second reading, I read them in order.  Definitely better.  But if you're intimidated about 8 books, pick one and read; and then pick another but don't start with The Beautiful Mystery.

You don't want to read The Beautiful Mystery until you've developed a relationship with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his First Lieutenant Jean Guy Beauvoir.  Trust me, if you read any of these books you will develop a relationship with the characters.  They are so real, so complex, and often quirky.

I spent the first 100 pages interested in the story but missing all the characters from Three Pines.  The Beautiful Mystery focuses on Gamache and Beauvoir in the setting of a Monastery.  I enjoyed learning about the monks who lived with a vow of silence except when they gathered several times a day and sank Gregorian chants.

I don't want to say too much about the story because I think each new reader should experience it page by page and not from review to review.  When I say "new reader" I don't mean new to the series.  Again, I don't think this should be the first Louise Penny book you read, but if you have been reading these, this one is a must.  It's powerful.  I have been thinking about it for 3 days since I finished reading and am dying for my husband to finish  so I can discuss it with him.

I liked this description of the abbot: "An autumn face, after all the leaves had fallen."

A theme that comes through in several of the books is appearance.  "Again Beauvoir was taken by the clash of perception and reality in this monastery.  and the choice to reflect what looked good rather than what was truthful."  And, "That was the thing with the bad apple.  It was insidious.  Slow.  It looked just fine, from the outside, until the rot  spread.  And by then it was too late."

Macmillan Audio has provided a short clip to listen to.

My only question at this point is how am I going to wait for a whole year until the next book arrives?

Monday, September 03, 2012

Garment of Shadows

by Laurie R. King

I started this series quite by happenstance several years ago.  At the library I had picked up a couple of books with a word in the title dealing with bees.  This was not an intentional decision.  After reading two, I looked at the 3rd - The Beekeeper's Apprentice - and realized it had to do with Sherlock Holmes.  I was not excited but since I had already decided this was the summer of bee-themed books, I ventured forward.  I'm glad I did.  I have thoroughly enjoy this series.

Garment of Shadows is the 13th or 14th book in the series and I think it's the best one yet.  The story starts off with Mary waking up with bruises, cuts, a reeling headache, and amnesia.  She doesn't know where she is but she senses she is not safe.  For the reader, the stage is set and the questions are numerous - Is she being held captive and for ransom?  Where's Holmes?   Is he in the next room bound and gagged?  Is he even in the same vicinity?  How did they get separated?  Are they in the middle of an undercover assignment?

This has become one of my favorite series and King is one of my favorite authors.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Second Empress

by Michelle Moran

I don't know why I am so lacking in historical knowledge.  I blame my boring history teachers and not my tendency to talk in class or the need to write notes to friends.  All I knew about Napoleon was he stuck in hand in his jacket, was married to Josephine, ruled France, and was short.  I guess I knew that we all must face our Waterloo, but I didn't know anything more about that then it had something to do with Napoleon.  Oh yes, I also knew Napoleon was sentenced to Elba where I thought he stayed until he died.

I love books that help fill in the gaps in my knowledge and The Second Empress did that in a very enjoyable way.  I felt compassion for Marie-Louise being chosen by Napoleon to replace Josephine who was the love of his life but couldn't provide him with a son so she was set aside.  And rumors of Napoleon's ambition and selfishness was well known in the Austria, so Marie-Louise was even more apprehensive to marry him.  For the good of her father and her country she agreed to marry Napoleon and leave the man and country she loved for France.

As the second empress of France, Marie-Louise learned of the strange relationship between Napoleon and his sister Pauline.  The greed of the Bonapartes was amazing.  I'd like to know more about how they grew and what filled their souls with such avarice and hunger for power.  Napoleon must have been very charismatic to come back from Elba and gather such forces to reclaim the throne after he was so hated.  I want to study more about him and his wars with Russia, England, and Austria.

My favorite of Michelle Moran's is Madame Tousand, but I loved following up that tale of the French Revolution with the story of Napoleon's rise to power.  It amazes me that the French overthrew the the aristocrats and then allowed Napoleon to become emperor and allowed the aristocratic life flourish again.  We are short-sighted people, all of us, I guess.  We'll reach for the first hope, and the quickest, to rescue us from our troubles.

My best wishes to Michelle on her upcoming marriage.  I hope marriage doesn't slow your writing, because I look forward to reading many more of your books.

 ** I received a free copy of The Second Empress  from Michelle Moran and Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.