Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Rule Against Murder and The Brutal Telling

Title: A Rule Against Murder and The Brutal Telling
Author: Louise Penny
Series: A Chief Inspector Gamache, book 4 and 5
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2009
Rating: 7.5/10

I have continued reading Louise Penny's mystery series featuring Inspector Gamache. Sometimes I find a new series and want to read more and more about the characters. This series is one such. Five books in the same series within a month is quite a bit for me, but I am enjoying it.

A Rule Against Murder is a bit of an interlude in the story; for the first time the action takes place not at Three Pines, but at a resort in Quebec where Gamache and his wife are vacationing. The set of suspects is obviously limited to those present at the Manor, but to keep in touch with the previous books, some of the familiar characters from before make an appearance there as well. I enjoyed the book and the large ensemble of new characters introduced there and some reversal of roles present in this book.

The next installment, The Brutal Telling, brings us back to Three Pines again. People sure get murdered a lot there! Unlike the previous tome, this is clearly the first book of a larger story arch and for the very first time in the series, the ending is more of a beginning than a wrap-up.

The book has all the signature Penny moves: lots of references to books, arts, sculpture, poetry. There is tension and the ending is actually rather unexpected. There are also unrelated-to-murder story line developments dealing with Clara's career and Ruth with her duck. I rather liked these interludes. The ending as I mentioned leaves on a bit of a cliffhanger, I am very likely to pick up the next book in the series.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2012
Rating: 8.5/10

The Fault in Our Stars was suggested to me by Chad for our group read. I haven't read any John Green before, but have seen this book in a number of best of the year lists and hence readily agreed to try it out.

The story follows 16 years old Hazel who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer at 13 and survived to this day via experimental treatments that keep her tumors from growing. Her mother forces her to join in a support group for teens with cancer where she meets Augustus, with whom she becomes friends and shares her favorite book.

It seems like a simple straightforward story, but I can see why this book will undoubtedly score some awards in the near future. First and foremost I loved the portrayals of both characters. They seemed very authentic. Their actions and characters are clearly shaped by their disease as they necessarily would have been, but at the same time they are unique and teen-like. The dialog is crisp and funny and ridiculous and I enjoyed all of it.

In high school, I had a phase where I read a bunch of books by Lurlene McDaniel which generally feature a young adult with some terrible disease. So I knew what to expect of a book in this particular genre (lots of heartstrings tugging for one) and some of those expectations held up, but the prose surprised me in a good way and several plot elements in the book broke the cliche.

The biggest problem I see with the book is its ending -- I felt at least one aspect of it seemed nonsensical and really out of character which made me a bit frustrated. But otherwise the book had a fairly conclusive ending, though not quite the one you might expect at the beginning.

All in all it was a quick and heartfelt book that is enjoyable, quirky and fun. Recommended.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Fatal Grace and The Cruelest Month

Title: A Fatal Grace and The Cruelest Month
Author: Louise Penny
Series: A Chief Inspector Gamache, books 2 & 3
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2007 and 2008
Rating: 8/10

I have gotten into the Gamache series in the past week. After Still Life, I wanted to learn more about Gamache and hence picked up A Fatal Grace. It was an enjoyable read, set in the same little town of Three Pines and featuring many of the same characters who were in Still Life.

The book also introduces some new members of the cast. There is a new investigator working with Gamache and we also meet some of the other residents of the Three Pines. I enjoyed the additions, but I was also very happy to see that the characters who made the first book memorable were present as well.

We also get to learn more about the Arnot case in book 2, which is a mystery in itself, independent of the murders Gamache investigates. I rather like how there's this other thread between all these books dealing with Surete politics. In fact, the reason I picked up The Cruelest Month immediately upon finishing A Fatal Grace is because I wanted to know what would happen in this larger over-arching mystery.

The plots of the two books are reasonably distinct and interesting as mysteries. In A Fatal Grace I did figure out who the murderer is before it is revealed, but in The Cruelest Month my guess turned out to be incorrect. Still, the fast paced narrative kept me reading through the books really fast.

Altogether, I enjoyed these two books even more than the first one. I think having gotten used to Louise Penny's narrative style, I found it much more enjoyable to read about these characters whom I already knew, their personal growths, and their sense of the world. There's a surprising amount of personal philosophy discussed by the characters and I really liked that as well. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes cozy mysteries.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Still Life

Title: Still Life
Author: Louise Penny
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2005
Rating: 8/10

I've read a glowing review of Still Life by Carl awhile back and have been meaning to pick up the book and give it a try. I stopped by a book store on Saturday, noticed the book on the shelf, and decided it was fate. Then I read the whole book on Sunday -- staying up late to find out who's done it.

At the beginning of the book I was actually taken aback a bit by the writing style. Some of the prose is very literary for the lack of better word and felt a little pretentious to me. Here's a quote from the book to explain what I mean:
"It was a look of studied nonchalance which suited his toned body but was easily contradicted by the cord-tight tension of his stance. Jean Guy Beauvoir was loosely wrapped but tightly wound."
The descriptions are just too snappy and cheek in tongue and at first it just kept snagging on my brain. However, a few chapters in I got used to the style and just enjoyed the story.

Armand Gamache and his team are called to a small Quebec village of Three Pines to investigate the death of 
Jane Neal. I really liked the portrayal of the team and the village residents. Everyone seemed very real, multidimensional, good and flawed at the same time. We get to meet and observe together with Gamache and slowly piece the puzzle together.

I thought it was a bit strange how the investigative team entrenched themselves in the village from the very beginning. The pacing of investigation felt very different from the detective-type TV shows like Castle where everyone is running around and gunning down the suspects. Gamache's team settled down in the village, observed, had literary discussions, and by-and-by figured out who's who and what happened to Jane Neal. At the same time the pacing didn't feel slow -- things were happening and I really didn't want to put the book down.

Altogether it was a very enjoyable novel with a surprising twist at the end as a mystery ought to have. I enjoyed the setting and I really liked Gamache himself. There were also a bunch of small subplots mentioned that are likely to be key for further books in the series and I am certainly looking forward to picking up further books in this series.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New books in 2013

There are a few scheduled releases in 2013 that I will be looking forward to:

1. Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley.
I've been following this series all last year and I am looking forward to the next novel in the series coming out on January 29th.

2. Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
This is the next book in the Outlander series scheduled to come out sometime in the fall of this year. And while the last few books were a bit weaker than the beginning of the series, I am still looking forward to this installment.

3. The Human Division by John Scalzi
This is a serialized novel set in the Old Man's War world. I am looking forward to more Scalzi humor. I've also been enjoying his blog lately.

Altogether I have been reading more standalone novels lately, so there aren't that many series installments for me to read -- yet I am sure I will find a way to pass the time. What 2013 releases are you looking forward to?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year Goals

It's January 2013 and as the gyms fill up with everyone who's made a resolution to lose weight this year, it's time for me to take stock of my goals for the year.

  1. Read 40 books
  2. Read 3 non-fiction books
  3. Enjoy goals 1 & 2 :)
I decided that I am not going to try for anything too ambitious, mostly because I really want to do goal 3 rather than pick up books based on some arbitrary criteria.

Here are 3 of the books that I would like to read in 2013:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein - this is a YA novel that appeared on so many 2012 best lists that I am really curious to try it

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer - this also got a whole lot of rave reviews and sounds like a fun read.

Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny - I first read a review of this book on Carl's blog and it caught my interest. I am definitely expanding into mystery novels these days.

Looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading. Best of 2012 lists definitely bolstered my to-read list and I am looking forward to some awesome books in the months to come.