Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Reviews, Because I Love You

Or, if we're being honest, "Book Reviews, Because I Want You to Love Books as Much as I Do."

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

I discovered Louise Penny's series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache via Cassi Renee; she practically forced me to read them with all her five-star ratings on Goodreads.  This is a solid, entertaining detective series (or "inspector" series, I suppose; the story is set in Canada, so many of the police terms are a little different), Gamache himself being an incredibly likable protagonist, very capable and full of wisdom, but extending grace to all the imperfect characters around him, being deeply aware of his own flaws.  All those characters were richly drawn, but I hesitate to simply classify the stories as being character-driven- the plot is satisfyingly intricate, as all the best murder mysteries are, and I haven't been able to predict the endings of any of Penny's books.
I've been wrestling with my own opinion of these books; I knew I wouldn't call this series one of my favorites within the genre, but couldn't quite figure out why.  I've decided it's because I'm looking for a suspension of reality when I'm reading this type of book, and Penny's characters are so realistic, all shades of grey, just too real for me.  Quite the criticism, right?  I think the problem, for me, is that I'm reading about these characters who are just too human:  most of them possess some seriously messed up traits, things I feel I just can't forgive them for, whereas if I were to encounter those things in a real person, I can actually experience enough of the good side of that person that it enables me to have compassion for them, flaws and all.  Penny talks about the good and the bad in each of her characters, but somehow I end up focusing only on the bad.  It's very uncomfortable to have humanity so accurately portrayed.
I did immensely enjoy learning so much about Canada, its culture, pieces of history, etc- turns out I know nothing about Canada.  I nearly bored Derek to death one night going on and on about Quebec after reading her book A Trick of the Light.
All in all I would recommend these- but cautiously, I reckon, for those who it turns out are a little shallow when it comes to their mysteries (ME).

Also, as a little side note on these books, I found a typo while reading one of them, but what was so fun was that a previous library patron had taken the liberty of not only finding it but also correcting it in pencil.  I love stumbling across corrected typos in my library books.  It's like catching glimpses of family members I've never met.

It's a little fuzzy, but I hope you can see that someone has corrected the word "timber," which is obviously a correctly-spelled word in its own right, to "timbre," something you'd really only know is the proper word from the context of the paragraph.  Book people are the best people.  Somebody put that on a t-shirt for me.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Ephron may feel bad about her neck in this book, but I feel bad about reading it before I should have.  I found it marginally funny, but couldn't really sympathize with most of the things she was saying because I'm either too young or too poor.  I'm sure someday I will feel bad about my neck, and perhaps I should try to re-read this then, and it will be a completely different book to me.  I don't know that I'll ever identify with spending thousands of dollars on my hair every month, because it would appear that the late Ephron and I see money and the things it should go toward very, very differently.
Honestly, though, she could write just about anything and I'd be willing to forgive her, solely because of You've Got Mail, which I have seen approximately three thousand times and gladly anticipate watching three thousand more before I die.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (A Flavia de Luce novel) by Alan Bradley

You read detective series, murder mysteries, etc, and you tell yourself you're content with what's out there, and then you read this series.  Introducing Flavia de Luce, a plucky, 11-year-old girl living in the English countryside of the 1950's, who loves her distant father, is disdained by her two older sisters, and more than anything, loves chemistry, specifically poisons.  Flavia finds herself in all kinds of scrapes and tough spots throughout the series, and constantly has to help the local constabulary solve crimes, whether they want her help or not.
Flavia is simply marvelous.  I want to adopt her and bring her to 21st century Iowa, where she would no doubt achieve world domination in two short years.

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

I blame Shonya for the sleep I lost while reading this book, but I thank her deeply for recommending it in the first place.  This is a historical novel set in the last days of Nicholas Romanov, his wife, and children, after they had been ousted both from power and the royal palace, and told from the perspective of the kitchen boy, one of their last few faithful subjects allowed to serve them to the end, even while under house arrest.  It became apparent through reading this that I know next to nothing about Russian history (this seems to be a disturbing trend for me), and was fascinated to learn about this royal family, their beliefs, downfall, relationships to each other and the Russian people, and all the other things I'm surely leaving out.  This book was good.  Like, five out of five stars on Goodreads-good.  It's relatively short, but the pacing is perfect, you come to love and sympathize with the characters, and while I don't want to give too much away, you may get actual motion sickness from the violence of the plot twist that hits you when you least expect it.  I've refrained quite well from begging you to read this or that so far in this post, but you know I can't let one of these Books posts go by without beseeching you at least once, so here it is:  The Kitchen Boy.  Read it.  Thank me later.


  1. I am reading the Flavia de Luce mystery right now! because Smalltownme recommended it in her comment on my blog. I have only glanced at your review here, just in case it has any spoilers, but I am really enjoying the book.

    I also read "Savvy", which you recommended, and loved it, too. My daughter was thrilled that I was reading a book from the YA section of the library.

    I will come back later to read the rest of your reviews, because right now I must collapse and sleep.

  2. It is so interesting how our own psychology, needs, and age, play into how we enjoy media. I know Rob and I have had multiple conversations about how songs about relationships-gone-wrong, in any type of music, just don't interest us anymore. We're too old. I wonder if the Anna Quinlen "Breadcrumbs" book might not strike a younger reader the same way it did me? And I have lost the ability to really enjoy YA literature --it doesn't speak to me the way it did when I was younger. (Exception: The Bridge to Tarabinthia. I cried through that book and never did read it to Emma.)

    I love that you've read the Inspector Gamache books, but of course I'm also slightly disappointed that they didn't give you the exact same experience I had! And I have read the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I enjoyed it, but it didn't make me want to seek out subsequent books in the series.

    I'm the right age for the Nora Ephrom book, and I've been meaning to pick it up. I'll let you know if I find it funny!

  3. Hurray for book reviews! And hurray for a lack of sleep while reading The Kitchen Boy. (insert evil laugh here). The second one isn't as good, but the third one is. You'll need to read the second one, of course, in order to get the full picture. (who needs sleep?)

    Oh, and I finished Bossypants yesterday. Super fun! I decided not to wait for the airplane ride. The review is scheduled to post tomorrow as today I had to post my review of another simply wonderful book (which you will also want to read. What? I think Tina Fey's bossypants is rubbing off on me.).


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