Louise Penny again

It seems everyone loves Louise Penny’s series of mystery novels set in the fictional town of Three Pines, Canada.  I’ve been a fan since her first, Still Life, and have happily spent many lovely reading hours with the entire series.  I also push recommend her novels to anyone unenlightened who hasn’t read Louise Penny.

Glass Houses, her newest in the series will be released August 29th.  So dear readers, once again, mark you calendars to call in sick to work, cancel those appointments, and get thee to your local independent bookstore first thing.

I will be reviewing Glass Houses here very soon, thanks to a digital advanced readers copy from the publishers.

In the meantime, here’s a recent CBS Sunday Morning interview with Louise Penny  (hmmm the “Penny Posse”,  I don’t think so…)

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-world-of-mystery-author-louise-penny/

 

 

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The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

For some reason, I’ve been on a dark(ish) thriller reading binge and remembered I had this best seller waiting for me on my Kindle.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Smith was interviewed on NPR where he described his family’s real life crisis which was the genesis for The Farm.

From the interview introduction:  In the spring of 2009, British author Tom Rob Smith received a disturbing phone call from his father. “And he was crying,” Smith tells NPR’s David Greene. “He never cries. And he said to me, ‘You’ve got to come to Sweden. Your mom has suffered a psychotic episode, and she’s in an asylum.’ ” Then, Smith’s mother called. She had just been released from the psychiatric hospital in Sweden, and she said everything his father had told him was a lie.

The Farm is about a couple who, like Mr. Smith’s actual parents, retire to the idyllic Swedish countryside.  As the novel unfolds, Tilde the mother, has just recently been released from a mental ward and she is carefully and methodically telling her story to her son Daniel.   She reveals puzzling circumstances — how she, and his father Chris, moved to the farm, not to fulfill their dreams, but because they had gone bankrupt, losing all their investments in a  real estate scheme.  Tilde’s story gets darker and more irrational, the crimes she’s witnessed, the conspiracies around her, and how she has been deemed a madwoman.

Tilde’s story is filled with fear and paranoia– sprinkled with some Scandinavian evil (including some shiver-worthy Nordic troll fairy stories). Tilde is a true unreliable narrator  –or is she? How much is true and how much is imagined?  Why was she admitted for psychiatric observation, and was it justified? 

 “Paranoia might be a mental illness–or a means of survival.”

All these questions and more will whisper in the back of your head as you read The Farm. At first, I didn’t know what to make of the odd structure of this book, but it gradually caught me up in its web.  

The plot does not unfold in real time and there are stories within stories, but Mr. Smith does not let this get confusing.  It’s fast paced, suspenseful, and often smart.

“The people you think you have known all your life can be completely different, for different reasons that you have never known anything about.”

But I had some problems with The Farm.  The first was Tilde’s voice.  She is supposedly “telling” the story throughout the book, but Mr. Smith gives her sometimes unrealistic dialogue.  No one speaks like this:    “He was trying to soothe me as if I were a startled horse.” or   “As he emerged from the gloom of his underground lair.”  In the same vein, I just grew tired of the  singularity of Tilde’s voice —  it goes on for over 200 pages.  Mr. Smith breaks it up with Daniel’s point of view, but not nearly enough to prevent the story line from occasionally becoming snooze-worthy.

I hoped that finding the truth to this story was going to be tricky and astonishing, but sadly, I found the ending abrupt and obtuse.  As if the author couldn’t figure out how to work out the truth and so just closed the novel with a final incomprehensible chapter.  But then again, maybe life isn’t meant to be so neatly packaged.

The Farm is a suspenseful thriller, but with an unsettling ending – perhaps this is the author’s intent.

I think I’ll take a break from these dark thrillers for a bit.

 

A digital advanced readers copy was provided by Grand Central Publishing via Netgalley.

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Library Haul

The San Francisco Library allows users to request books, and when they become available, they are delivered to your closest branch library.  My local branch is a short walk away so it’s wildly convenient.  This time, when three hold items all came in at once, I was momentarily overwhelmed but pleased.

So here’s my haul:

A Man Called Ove (DVD)

Based on the book which I read and highly enjoyed, this film is in Swedish with English subtitles.

The film stayed very true to the book and the casting is wonderful.  Rolf Lassgard’s portrayal of Ove is perfection. Even the housing development was exactly how I pictured it.

This is a heartwarming movie.  Funny, sad, and loving.  I recommend you read the book first, then watch this delightful film.  Even Husband enjoyed it, despite the absence of guns and things blowing up.

 

The One Hundred Nights of Hero  by Isabel Greenberg

This graphic novel was named a best book of 2016 by both NPR and Publishers Weekly, and I’d read about it on several blogs.  I placed my library request for One Hundred Nights so long ago, I’d forgotten I’d done so. I opened this book, not remembering anything about it, and was soon down a rabbit hole — lost in a fairy tale.  Because that is what this is – a revisionist fairy tale– a feminist retelling of The Arabian Nights. 

Like Scheherazade saving her own life by telling tales, in a magical, yet misogynist medieval world, Hero must tell stories every night for 100 nights if she and her true love Cherry are to survive the sexual advances of Cherry’s evil husband and his equally wicked friend.

But it’s a far more intricate puzzle — a story of a story within a story about brave, complicated women and sisters protecting each other, usually from men.  It goes deep into the legacy of female bonds and the power of storytelling. 

We shall tell all the stories that are never told. Stories about bad husbands and murderous wives and mad gods and mothers and heroes and darkness and friends and sisters and lovers… Yes! And above all… Stories about brave women who don’t take s#*t from anyone.

I can’t say I loved this book — I found it charming, yet peculiar.  The feminist, lesbian agenda sometimes overwhelmed the often beautiful writing and the fairy tale-like ambiance.  And I found the graphics stark and not very fairy-tale-like (if that makes sense…).

 

 

 

But I will say, the physical experience of reading an oversize graphic novel, in a non-linear way through the story illustrations…brought me right back to being a little girl, lost in the world of a large picture book open on my lap — very, very relaxing.

 

 

 

 

 

The Likeness by Tana French

Tana French’s thrillers are anything but relaxing, they are gripping, hold-you-by-the throat-and-not-let-you-go reading.  

Set after In the Woods, the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, this book focuses on detective Cassie Maddox, the best friend of Rob Ryan, the narrator of the first book.  In this installment, Cassie narrates, as she is pulled into an old undercover role 

A woman is found murdered and she’d been using Cassie’s fake (and discarded) undercover identity of Lexie Madison. To complicate matters, Cassie is a dead-ringer for this this murder victim.  Her commander from undercover comes up with a plan —  leak to the media that Lexie wasn’t actually dead, but in a coma, and for Cassie to go back into undercover once again as the murdered Lexie to lure the killer to finish the job.

I know – say what?  Utterly implausible!   But when Ms. French is telling a story, you deferentially suspend disbelief as she takes you on a thoroughly gripping ride.

Cassie/Lexie assumes the persona and has to return to the house she shared with Daniel (who inherited the house), Rafe, Abby and Justin — an insular group of university students who enjoy a close and intense friendship.

As the murder squad investigates the (now revisionist) attempted murder, they confiscate the other housemates phones giving Cassie videos that she relentlessly studies in order to act, talk and “become” the murdered Lexie. Eventually Lexie returns to Whitethorn House having come out of her coma but suffering (convenient) memory loss

It took my breath away, that evening. If you’ve ever dreamed that you walked into your best-loved book or film or TV program, then maybe you’ve got some idea how it felt: things coming alive around you, strange and new and utterly familiar at the same time; the catch in your heartbeat as you move through the rooms that had such a vivid untouchable life in your mind, as your feet actually touch the carpet, as you breathe the air; the odd, secret glow of warmth as these people you’ve been watching for so long, from so far away, open their circle and sweep you into it.

The Likeness excels at its psychological insights especially for Cassie, who in her real life is lonely and shattered from her previous case.  She finds friendship — nay, family, among her new Lexie friends.  These blurred identities are made believable with the beautifully written scenes and well developed characters who live, love and murder within the walls of Whitethorn House.  The setting and moods are almost palpable and glitter  with life.  But Cassie gets lost inside her assumed identity and finds herself in a maze of murder quickly spinning out of her control. This is breath-holding stuff,

As others have said, there are many similarities to Donna Tart’s A Secret History  – both have dreamy academic types living together in a beautiful, run-down house.  

But The Likeness makes you feel for Cassie  — what she lost and can never regain.   The heartbreak of assuming a new identity, being part of a loving family, and finding a home in the world  ~~ but in the end, it’s only a likeness.

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

 

The Book Barmy reading list has adapted to the past couple of months of endless rain and a bout with the flu.  I gravitated toward thrillers, wanting plot driven, hold your attention type escapism – as if I were on a long, mind-numbing plane trip

As with Dark Matter, Mr. Hawley, the author of Before the Fall is an award winning television writer, most famous for the strange but compelling series Fargo, so I hoped I was in for gripping story line.

Before the Fall bit me hard from the start and didn’t let go.

A private jet crashes minutes after departing Martha’s Vineyard.   Just two passengers survive, an artist and a 4 year old boy. With J.J., the boy in tow secured to a seat cushion, the middle-aged painter Scott Burroughs swims across the ocean to the Long Island shore.  Turns out Scott is an accomplished swimmer, inspired as a young boy witnessing Jack LaLane swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

The mystery of why the plane crashed is told by weaving together the crash investigation and the survivors aftermath with the backstories of the deceased passengers and crew members. The flight recorder reveals nothing amiss with the plane and it is decided that the crash was due sabotage.  A classic locked room mystery, but up in the air.  The mystery is unwrapped by revealing each character’s personal history and point of view.

The deceased include a financier facing federal indictment and his clueless wife; the head of a Fox-like cable news network with his wife and child; an Israeli bodyguard haunted by war;  a career pilot; a hotshot co-pilot; and a flight attendant in her own life crisis.

In the aftermath of the crash, Mr. Hawley gives center stage to Bill Cunningham the larger-than-life newscaster for the cable news network. He makes the story of the plane crash and the network’s lost leader tabloid news — by asking leading questions, ignoring the facts, assuming the worst, and using illegal means to get information.

It was fascinating to see how the news was no longer the facts of what happened, it became a “story” presented to make the headlines and grab audience numbers.  I cringed as Cunningham digs into the personal life of the hero, Scott Burroughs, using a hacker to monitor his private activities, which Cunningham then announces in his news broadcasts. 

All this a thinly veiled, yet very relevant stab at tabloid media and Fox news

Cunningham was the angry white man people invited into their living rooms to call bullshit at the world . . . who told us what we wanted to hear, which was that the reason we were losing out in life was not that we were losers, but that someone was reaching into our pockets, our companies, our country and taking what was rightfully ours.

[He appealed to] the people who had been searching their whole lives for someone to say out loud what they’d always felt in their hearts.

Just when the mystery of the downed plane seems connected to the corrupt financier, or perhaps the mysterious bodyguard — no no, it must be connected to the news network somehow– the story line shifts to the characters’ blurred boundaries and questionable pasts. The characters, are after all, just humans – fraught with guilt, frailties, and unresolved resentments.

In the end, it’s not money or power, but human vulnerabilities which drive our actions. 

 

Before the Fall reads like a film — it was a fast paced, entertaining and exciting thriller.   And what do you know?  Sony Pictures has acquired the rights to the story.

 

A digital advanced readers copy was provided by Grand Central Publishing via Netgalley.

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Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie

You’ll want to plan a stop at your local independent bookstore on your way home, because Garden of Lamentations, Deborah Crombie’s latest mystery novel, is out today. Trust me on this one, have I ever steered you wrong?

As you know from THIS POST, I am a big fan of Ms. Crombie’s work. However, we have grown despondent here at Book Barmy, it’s been practically three years since the last installment of Ms. Crombie’s mystery novels set in London.

A very long (endless really) time to wait*.

Despite this time apart, upon opening Garden of Lamentations it was like meeting old friends and picking up where you left off.  Duncan and Gemma are still in their cozy home with their chaotic, blended family.   There are still pets underfoot and their delightful, busy life as parents is once again superimposed with murder and crime.

While things have never been easy for this high-powered police couple, their strong relationship always balances their career stresses.   In this 17th installment however, we detect early on there’s an unusual tension between Detective Chief Inspector Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James. 

Duncan is secretive and distant as he investigates a series of presumably unrelated cases, involving a long ago undercover group of police, a racial hate killing and continues to try and understand why he was transferred .  His investigation uncovers a former commander’s secrets and underlying corruption at highest levels of the Met.

Ms. Crombie’s setting is in Gemma’s and Duncan’s own London neighborhood of Notting Hill.   A young nanny is found dead under a bower** and Gemma is called in to investigate this murder in a private locked garden for a block of homes off Kensington Park Road.

If you are not familiar with locked gardens of London, they are open only to the residents backing up and surrounding the garden.  These gardens are enjoyed and often maintained by the residents.  (Many a time I’ve longingly peeked through the gates of these wonderful London oasis’s.)

Through multiple viewpoints we follow Gemma and Duncan through their individual cases, but especially with Duncan’s private investigations, I struggled to recall certain events from the previous two novels. But, as I read on, Ms. Crombie excels at weaving her plots together and most of my questions were answered.

It may have helped to revisit Ms. Crombie’s previous two – Sound of Broken Glass (#15) and To Dwell in Darkness (#16). 

Once again, the flyleaf displays a hand drawn map of the book’s setting.  I found myself examining the map to locate the pub where Duncan meets an old colleague or the spot where the local children have dance lessons.


This is one of the best in the series.  There’s an engaging cast of Notting Hill neighbors, a locked garden mystery, and residents’ lies and secrets. We see the dark side of undercover police work and the repercussions of blurred lines between civilian and police life.  Confessions and duplicity are revealed and some of  the past can be put to rest. There is even a hint of a life change for Duncan and Gemma in upcoming installments.

As always, Ms. Crombie gives her readers absorbing mysteries combined with believable characters and fascinating London settings. 

Garden of Lamentations was worth the wait.

 

Many thanks to Harper Collins/William Morrow for the opportunity to enjoy an advanced readers copy.

 

*  I understand during this time there was a new grandchild for Ms. Crombie, which may have cut into her writing time.

**  I had to look it up – a bower is a pleasant shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood.

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Bedelia by Vera Caspary

My January book sorting clean out, uncovered this gem, which from the scribbled pencil mark inside the front cover, I picked up for a dollar somewhere.

It was stacked behind some other books (oh, you don’t that too?) and was a tad dusty.  So, I’ve had it for awhile.    My hardback edition was published in 1945 and doesn’t look at all like the pretty cover to the left.  My copy (lousy photo below) shows much wear and tear — and even sports a broken spine.    It has been well read and  most of its previous readers spilled food and drink upon its pages.

This poor volume almost went into the donation bag but, at the last minute, I rescued it to browse later.  I had to see why it appealed to me in the first place…

While I was still in recovery from my recent malady, I picked up Bedelia, crawled under the duvet and read it practically cover to cover. This Goodreads blurb perfectly captures the appeal of this 1940 suspense novel:

Long before Desperate Housewives, there was Bedelia: pretty, ultra femme, and “adoring as a kitten.” A perfect housekeeper and lover, she wants nothing more than to please her insecure new husband, who can’t believe his luck. But is Bedelia too good to be true? A mysterious new neighbor turns out to be a detective on the trail of a “kitten with claws of steel”-a picture-perfect wife with a string of dead husbands in her wake.

Caspary builds this tale to a peak of psychological suspense as her characters are trapped together by a blizzard. The true Bedelia, the woman who chose murder over a life on the street, reveals how she turns male fantasies of superiority into a deadly con.

The story is simple but compelling.  Architect, Charlie Horst falls for the beautiful widow Bedelia while on vacation. He quickly marries her and brings her back to his lovely home in Connecticut.  He’s besotted (don’t you love that word?) with her, and as they entertain neighbors and friends – everyone else is entranced with Bedelia too.   There is one sole exception to Bedelia’s charms — Ben the artist and temporary renter next door.  Why is he so skeptical and interested in Bedelia’s past?  (Cue suspenseful music…)

Bedelia is the perfect wife: She’s charming, bouncy, dresses to please her husband, she’s the perfect hostess. Other women are jealous – but even they can’t hate Bedelia. She’s too … well, perfect. But, something is surely awry.  Then, her past starts surfacing…but that’s all I say.  I don’t want to give away any more of the story.

Even though the story is set in 1913 (but written in the 40’s), Ms. Caspary casts the other female characters as career women who discuss men’s lack of respect for working women.  They go on and lament that most men would prefer a submissive woman — just like Bedelia.  I relished that the weaker woman is the one to be afraid of.

A modern reprint of Bedelia can be found via The Feminist Press through their series called  Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp.

There was also a 1946 film adaption called Bedelia and starring Margaret Lockwood.  Although they changed the setting to rural England.  

Ms. Caspary also wrote Laura which was a major film success. 

Much of the story is set during a blizzard  – making it a great choice to read in a warm bed during a stormy day.  Bedelia was fun, suspenseful, and certainly creepy.

 

 

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