A Rule Against Murder (CBR8 #45)

This is the fourth Inspector Gamache book, set in the week leading up to Canada Day (July 1), and the Gamaches’ wedding anniversary. I’m glad I remembered when this one was set, because visiting with Gamache always tends to improve the spirits, and its ben HOT here and driving around in the car listening to Ralph Cosham while the AC did its job was a wonderful way to break up the day.

Unfortunately, I felt like this was the weakest thus far of the Inspector Gamache books. Let’s go Pro/Con style as to why I landed on 3 stars for this book.

Pros:

  1. It continues to be refreshing to read about a detective who is also a family man and a good person. So many detective stories feature scarred men (or occasionally women). But not here. Inspector Gamache is a lovely man who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife whom he still loves deeply. The other characters are intricately drawn, even if they don’t always land.
  2. How. When an author writes a seemingly impossible murder they have to make sure they have a plausible and interesting explanation. Penny nails it.
  3. Dialogues and conversations. Penny has an ear for how people speak to each other and inner monologue (even if some of her characters are incredibly well spoken).
  4. Historical Details. Penny highlights the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians focusing on the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s when English-speaking residents of Montreal felt alienated and many left the province which had become officially French-speaking. Penny also highlights the class divisions that the two languages demarcated at the time, and the lingering classism. We learn about Gamache’s personal history and his father’s involvement in protests to World War II. But perhaps the favorite for me was Gamache’s lessons on Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais”.

Cons:

  1. Setting. We weren’t actually at Three Pines, where I want to be when I pick up an Inspector Gamache book, because the cast of characters there are so enjoyable. At times during the bookI wished that I was with Reine-Marie at the practices for Clogging Competition instead of being at the Manoir Bellechasse with the irredeemably awful Finney/Morrow clan. The interactions between Beauvoir and the Chef, or Elliot and the Maître d’Hotel left me cold and confused, and made me miss Gabri and all the rest even more.
  2. Plot. It’s basically a locked room mystery, which isn’t always my favorite, and is harmed by the following two points.
  3. Pace. What bothered me is that the killer is among them and yet no one is in a hurry to catch the killer. There is no sense of urgency, until the very end. Like the other books in the series, about half of the book has absolutely nothing to do with the murder. In the previous books the time away from the murder filled out the world surrounding Three Pines, the Sûreté du Quebec, or the Arnot case. This time… not really.
  4. Reason for Murder. While the how worked for me, the why was a big mystery. I was baffled by the motive for the murder. The murderer’s reason did not convince me: was it a crime of passion? But the incident that triggered the murder was a long time ago and the victim didn’t have anything to do with it. Was it then a crime of opportunity? Or premeditated, because the manner of death took planning? There is no satisfying answer to these questions.

With all of that, I’m still happy with the series and will be picking up the fifth book in the series, The Brutal Telling in the autumn.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Monstrumologist (CBR8 #44)

Sometimes, a book shows up and you read it knowing full well it isn’t for you. This, friends, is one of those books.

I’m participating in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge again this year since I’m usually looking for an excuse to read something different and I have been trying to expand my tastes. One of the challenges, number one in fact, is to read a horror book. Fear was struck into my heart because I don’t even watch horror movies, let alone read horror books. Enter my friend Alison, who suggested this award winning YA horror novel to “ease” me in. If she wasn’t my friend, and there wasn’t a check mark waiting for me at the end, I would have put this book down within about 20 pages and never returned to it.

The Monstrumologist is the first in a series by Rick Yancey, published in 2009, and its genres are listed as YA Horror and Gothic Horror. I get it, and the horror portions were not too much for me, probably because of the YA categorization. The book hinges on the idea that it is the diary of one of the main characters found after his death, chronicling his apprenticeship with the titular monstrumologist as they investigate the case of an infestation of Anthropophagi (please don’t ask me to explain these weird monster creatures with no heads and mouths in their abdomens) in their area.

As I mentioned above, I did not enjoy this one. The writing was fine, if a bit longwinded. The characters are relatively well drawn, but I cared for not a one of them, even the child. Obviously this book works for some people as it won the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award of the American Library Association for young adult literature, but not me. I would suggest the Jackaby series instead, and think I probably could have used that book to check off my horror task, even though it didn’t feel scary to me. I am leaving A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay on my to reads list, and we’ll see if I manage to get there.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Any Duchess Will Do (CBR8 #43)

I have a slightly OCD reading rule: series must always be read in order. Reading as many romance novels as I do (rough estimate is 13 out of 43 so far this year), this has proven a useful rule since series tend to build on each other. Then, CBR’s very own crystalclear read and hilariously reviewed Any Duchess Will Do and I asked to borrow it, because I could, and ended up reading the fourth novel of the series before having read any of the others.

Which brings us to now. I really liked this book, and while I wished I was more familiar with Spindle Cove and its inhabitants I didn’t feel like I necessarily liked it less than I would have otherwise. It was a remarkably strong reforming of a rake story and while Dare tends to push the limits of believability (you will never come across a review titled “the recognizable 1840s” from this author), I was all-in with these wacky people (not kids! Grown-ups!) and their shenanigans.

Briefest of summaries from Goodreads:

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season—or any season—but his diabolical mother insists he select a bride from the ladies of Spindle Cove. He chooses the serving girl. Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”… and fail miserably in order to earn a thousand pounds. But, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure—a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy—can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?

I also think I managed to put my finger on why I had struggles loving Secrets of a Summer Night as much as some of our other romance readers… I was not having it with the mother’s storyline. Yes, it’s accurate and believable to the time period and an important plot point in driving home our heroine’s motivations, I just didn’t want the incessant weight of it in the novel. This story’s mother character is much more my personal speed, particularly right now. She has her own motivations, history, and personality quirks, but she is moving the story forward as a full character in the plot, not just as a sign post of woe.

While I know not all of the Spindle Cove books are as strong as this one, and they couldn’t possibly have such a delightful main pair, I simply don’t believe it. But I believe in the power of reading to find out.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (CBR8 #42)

While feeling down I find it imperative to read books with happy endings. Our lead character in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Sara, believes the same. I liked her from the start.

This book is predictable, and some may even call it cliché. I prefer to think that it knows exactly which tropes and expectations we the reader bring to the table and lays them out for us in a pleasingly familiar way. This is my way of saying that this book probably isn’t for you if you like daring creative works of literature. This is a love letter to books like itself, and the characters that we love alone the way.

The main character, Sara, travels from Sweden to meet her pen pal, Amy, in a SMALL town, Broken Wheel, in Iowa. If you are unfamiliar with U.S. Geography, it’s in the middle-ish.

Image result for iowa on us map

Anyway, Sara arrives in town in time for Amy’s funeral. Things are not going to plan and the already nervous Sara is pretty shaken and disappointed. The townspeople, in shades of actions to come, convince her to stay and she grows to love Broken Wheel and its way of life and pace, so different form the life she left. While the story starts off slowly (one of our main characters is dead, and we get to know her through her letters to Sara) the setting up of a new bookstore, a well-built love interest, some wacky small town characters (think Stars Hollow or Blue Bell) really had me swooning for the middle of this book. However, the end was full of… hijinks. Serious hijinks. Your mileage may vary.

I decided to pick this one up based on NTE’s excellent review from earlier in the year, and like she said “Sara is a true bibliophile.  Like calls to like – it’s how Sara and Amy initially bonded, over books – and it’s how the author hooked this book-loving reader/reviewer”. I really liked this one, but it isn’t the same as the love I feel for Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik, and all the cozy feelings I get whenever I reread it. A solid four-star book for me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Venetia (CBR8 #41)

With our book club this year I have added the personal goal of reading the runner up choices as well. I figured if it sounded interesting enough to a gaggle of Cannonballers to earn their vote, surely it deserves my reading attention as well. First up on that quest is Venetia one of the runners up to The Bollywood Bride.

I’m not sure if listening to this one via audiobook caused me to not realize how much I was enjoying the story (weird word choice and craft issues can definitely stand out while listening, some things just sound wrong) but when I went about recounting the story to crystalclear I realized how much I loved the main characters of the titular Venetia and her paramour Lord Damerel. These characters are grown-ups with defined personalities, intelligence, senses of humors, and histories. All the things which make us love romance leads.

Let’s unpack them a little: first we have Damerel: an older confirmed rake who doesn’t care much about anything any longer. Or at least he thinks he doesn’t, but underneath there’s a kind man which his growing friendship with Venetia brings out. He starts out intending to seduce her—but respect for her and her brother soon make him realize that he can’t do that. Which leads to a moral conundrum for Damerel: his life has been so reprehensible that he’s no longer accepted in society (his two elderly aunts are trying to find an appropriately on the shelf/desperate wife to help make him respectable enough that they can make him their heir instead of his fop of a cousin), and marrying a sweet younger lady like Venetia would make people despise him even more. Which brings us back around to Venetia – witty, resourceful and not easily fazed by events that would make most ladies throw up their hands in despair (seriously, her brother sends home a pregnant wife and terrible nuisance of a mother-in-law that Venetia is told nothing about and she moves smoothly along like things like this happen all the time to ladies used to running the family estate in their brother’s absence). She’s 25 years old–just about on the shelf by Regency standards. Because her father was a damaged soul, Venetia has spent her entire life in a small town with a very limited circle of friends and acquaintances, but she’s nevertheless well-read and socially adept, if rather innocent in the ways of the world, at least according to everyone else. She knows what she does not know and thinks that’s fine enough.

It’s charming to watch Venetia’s developing relationship with Damerel, they trade all manner of inside jokes (usually literary quotes and allusions that went over my head a bit) and they just understand each other. Their relationship is in turns witty and heart-wrenching since these are two characters who likely shouldn’t end up together on paper, but you as the reader are rooting for them in a major way since the other two men attempting to win Venetia’s heart made me want to punch them through the page and even Venetia is *this close* to rolling her eyes and hitting them with rolled up newspaper. There was also way more smolder than you might expect from a romance written in the 1950s in the style of Austen. Heyer never gives you anything more than a kiss, but that doesn’t stop her from making heat rising off the pages when these two are together.

This book is definitely worth the read.

Secrets of A Summer Night (CBR8 #40)

I don’t know if this was the best Kleypas to start off with, my other Romance readers will have to let me know, but I was not overly enraptured with it. There was plenty in this book which had the potential to hook me in, but it felt very by the numbers, even for a book that supposes its turning the tropes on themselves. (I unfortunately have a high bar for that.) Mrs. Julien is going to be so annoyed with me (she rates this book as 5 stars, I’d give it 3.5. It is very obvious why Beth Ellen is her romance twin and not I).

Secrets of a Summer Night is the first book of the Wallflowers series and focuses on the passed over debutantes of their season: Annabelle, Evie, Lillian, and Daisy. The four are young women out in society who bond over their mutual rejection by eligible men. After spending time on the side lines of many a ballroom, they decide to make friends with the women next to them and work together to find suitable husbands.

First up is Annabelle, 25 and about to be in serious danger of being made into someone’s mistress. Annabelle’s father passed away several years preceding the action of the book, and his minor fortune has not lasted, no matter how carefully Annabelle or her mother have been about their finances. Enter Simon Hunt, who has been highly interested in Annabelle since a chance meeting a few years earlier. Being stuck in the middle class, no matter how rich his financial investments in business have made him, he knows Annabelle won’t marry him and he’s not the marrying sort anyway so he’ll just procure her as a mistress. But Annabelle won’t be anyone’s mistress if she can avoid it, and with the help of her friends she’s using a country house party to ensnare a member of the peerage.

Of course things don’t work out that way, this is a romance novel after all, and instead we are treated to some lovely scenes of a headstrong woman and a rake sure that he doesn’t need reforming coming to understand that they do in fact wish to be married to the other. I was… only okay with the book up to that point, no matter how much I enjoyed the characters. I thought the book improved once they were married and the characters had to figure out how to exist in each other’s worlds. I also REALLY liked the other wallflowers and hope to have a better experience as I head through those books soon.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (CBR8 #39)

In finishing Hamilton: The Revolution, and being mired by yet another round of inequality for women in our country, I decided to stay the course with another non-fiction book, this one about a dynamo of gender equality. I was familiar with Justice Ginsburg, but Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave me so much more.

Notorious RBG chronicles the personal history of RBG, her experiences in law school and pursuing a law career while being a mother (not an easy job ever, but certainly difficult in the 1950s and 1960s), her work as an educator, a founder of the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, the cases she presented to the Supreme Court, her eventual move to a judgeship on the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and her eventual nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1993 as only the second female justice following Sandra Day O’Connor.

But it also does more than that.

The book strives to introduce us to RBG’s life’s work, and why it became her life’s work in the first place. I tweeted about my first “aha” moment in the book when I came across the timeline which makes up chapter 2, and I read this:

historic rape culture

And then I was even more invested. I tweeted about it, and got the most retweets and likes than I’ve ever had and the book just kept the ball rolling, including great academic notes on some of RBG’s writings for the court about equality under the law. As someone whose favorite amendment is the fourteenth, I am now even more in love with the Notorious RBG.

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