Monthly Archives: June 2020

‘A Trick of the Light’ by Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache, Three Pines Mystery # 7)

“While every artist wakes up believing this is the day his genius will be discovered, every dealer wakes up believing this is the day he’ll discover genius.”

As I get deeper into this series, reading them in order, I can clearly see development in Penny’s writing. It’s getting better and better. The police detectives, the residents of Three Pines, and Gamache himself are pleasantly familiar, but never stagnant or stuck in their ways. There are delicious mysteries surrounding each of them and in every instalment Penny teases out more of their personal journeys in addition to the murder mystery at hand.

The dead body of a woman is discovered in a back garden in Three Pines after a party celebrating Clara Morrow’s first art exhibition. “There is strong shadow where there is much light.” Penny’s beautiful writing is layered with themes of light and dark, things hidden and revealed…or is it just a trick of the light? The images refer to artistic talent in a fickle art world, but also of course, to humanity. Penny has a sense of humour. An important piece of evidence at the crime scene is an AA sobriety chip/disc with both the serenity prayer and a figure of a camel engraved upon it. Why a camel? Well, perhaps if a camel can go for 24 hours without a drink, so can you? And I loved the classic Agatha Christie ending, also deliciously tongue-in-cheek–all of the suspects gathered in the same room during a thunder storm, with the lights threatening to flicker out at any moment, while Gamache reveals the murderer…  🙂

Some people call this a ‘cozy’ mystery series, with little graphic violence or offensiveness, with the exception of a potty mouth senior in the village called Ruth. This quote by Patrick Anderson in Washington Post review says it all, “If you’re looking for a well-written mystery that highlights an amusing village, takes a nasty look at the art world and doesn’t contain any cannibalism, beheadings or sexual perversion, you could do a lot worse than Penny’s ‘A Trick of the Light.'”

‘To the Land of Long Lost Friends’ by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the 20th instalment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels.

Even though it was fun to hang out with Mma Ramotswe and the crew again, my feeling is that Sandy Smith has gotten a bit too comfortable coasting along in this series. I still enjoy his ethical mental meanderings, but there’s not a lot of new twists and the characters don’t develop much, with one exception–Charlie is the one to watch in this book. He’s been maturing and in this one he does himself proud!

When I lived in the UK, I went every year to listen to this author speak at my favourite bookstore in London (Daunt Books in Marylebone). He is such an intelligent, warm, hilarious, and engaging speaker. This National Book Festival interview is long, but well worth watching if you have ever enjoyed any of his various books and series.

‘Paris for One and Other Stories’ by Jojo Moyes

A charming novella and a few short stories comprise this collection from a favourite author of mine. For a lighthearted romance, Paris is of course the perfect setting. But Moyes is never saccharine sweet and you can always rely on a few funny and unexpected twists in the story. All of the stories feature troubled relationships and are from the woman’s perspective. Two weeks on from reading this book I remember the novella, but the short stories (which I did enjoy), I now have no memory of anymore–completely forgettable. 🙂

‘The Memory of Old Jack’ by Wendell Berry

This is a slim companion novel to Jayber Crow. I think I liked Jayber Crow a bit better, but The Memory of Old Jack has some really moving reflections on living a life and growing old and some great stories well-told. You get the sense of the generations marching on, each inhabiting the same section of land, the land itself like a character in the novel. Another of his books I would like to read eventually is Hannah Coulter. Might as well hang out in Port William a little longer, although it is not a series, some characters do pop up in other books.

What I enjoy about Wendell Berry is his poetic prose and his mastery at describing the nuance in relationship. His fiction combines wisdom with the earthiness of America’s rural past. A quote from New York Times Book Review says it best:  “Few novelists treat both their characters and their readers with the kind of respect that Wendell Berry displays.”

‘The War I Finally Won’ by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

(Age 9+)
This sequel to The War that Saved My Life, seamlessly continues the story of Ada and Jamie and Susan, suffering the shortages, constraints, and dangers of the war. After the frightful abuse Ada suffered as a child, a war within herself also continues to rage even though she has found a new family. Ada must fight to find out who she is so that she can learn to love and trust again, especially when things get complicated and an unwelcome visitor arrives.

These two YA novels are easy to read but also get at some very adult issues in a gentle manner, a quality that is often captured in a book narrated by a child. The child’s perspective softens the things that adults know to be complex and challenging. The warmth of the author and her love for horses is very evident in the books, as well as in this little youtube promo below. She has also written many other books for children and young adults: click here.

BTW, if you are noticing that I’m defaulting to reading series a lot during this pandemic, you would be correct. This is because it takes less energy to focus on a book when I already know some of the characters and the setting. Older books are easier to access with libraries closed and I am enjoying the sense of accomplishment by catching up. I highly recommend this reading strategy for those of you who are struggling with reading focus during this weird and troubling time in the world. Know that you are not alone–many people I know are ironically reading less, even though they may actually have more time!

‘Lethal White’ by Robert Galbraith

(Cormoran Strike # 4) If you’ve read the first three in this series (The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil) it’s definitely worth going on with this brick of a book (650 pages). The books in this series do need to be read in order. Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) seems to be in the same pattern of writing as Harry Potter–the books keep getting longer as the series goes on. And with this fourth instalment the crime/mystery seems to take a back seat to the relationship between the main detective war veteran Cormoran Strike and his agency partner Robin Ellacott. I enjoyed hanging out with these two again, and Rowling’s writing is good, but I was a little disappointed and found the book overlong. The crime and the reasons for it were tediously complicated and not compelling enough. After the cliffhanger ending of book 3, Robin and Matthew’s relationship continues to be troubled as the detective agency meets with ever more success.