The Blackhouse by Peter May

I sat up and paid attention when The New York Times Book Review (Marilyn Stasio) raved: “Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth.”  So, of course I added this author to my TBR list.

The Blackhouse was the final in a string of thrillers I read in a row –and, it turns out, I saved the best for last.

The Blackhouse is the first in a trilogy based in the Scottish Hebrides and featuring Edinburgh cop, Fin Macleod.   Finn is sent to his childhood home on Lewis where a grisly murder on the isolated island seems to be a copy of a murder he has been investigating in Edinburgh.

Our detective is somewhat relieved to leave Edinburgh, as he grieves over the death of his young son, while half-heartily trying to prevent his marriage from crumbling.

But first a few warnings:

If you’re at all squeamish, you’ll have to tiptoe through; 1) a full and grisly autopsy, and 2) an honored, traditional, but gruesome, gannet hunt on a small island. 

If you’re expecting a standard police procedural set in the unconventional Outer Hebrides, you’re happily in for more than you bargained for ~~ this thriller has depth and power.

Now that you have read the Book Barmy safety warnings, fasten your seatbelts, because you are in for a great mystery read.

Mr. May is an extraordinary writer, able to take us seamlessly between two narratives.  Masterfully moving from first person to develop Fin’s story growing up on Lewis, and then the third person to tell the current day story– Fin’s broken and disillusioned adult childhood friends, the crime, and its resolution. 

Mr. May has a gift for developing his characters, all of which are remarkable, but Fin is an especially likeable hero.  Having the grand experience of staying in the Outer Hebrides many years ago, I can attest that he also gives the reader unbelievably lovely descriptions of the harsh life in the Outer Hebrides — bleak, windy, and yet starkly beautiful.

 

 

 

 

The plot is a compelling mix of retribution, revelations, and intrigue.  The Blackhouse uses the traditional guga bird (gannet) harvest not only as a pivotal plot point, but also showcases its cultural role in the lives of the island community. Gory certainly, but informative.

High accolades for what turns out to be not only a tightly plotted thriller, but an insightful treatise on growing up, moving away, then coming home — one you thought you’d moved beyond.

From the introduction:

Three things that come without asking:  fear, love and jealousy. A Gaelic proverb

And thank you Mr. May for an absolute stunner of an ending.

There are two more in the Lewis series, guess who found both at the recent library book sale – score!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An advanced readers copy was provided by Quercus via Netgalley

 

Page Habit

I’ve been hearing about special interest book subscription services ~~ where you sign up, pay a monthly subscription fee, and receive a surprise book box each month.  Much like a book of the month club, except you don’t choose the book, the service does.

Hmmm, I thought — Just the perfect monthly fix for this book addict lover.

Surprise, Surprise… I signed up for such a service, namely PageHabit and have received two deliveries.  Such delight, to get a box in the mail without knowing what’s inside (except that’s it sure be a book of some sort).

I can’t contain my excitement when the box  arrives on my doorstep…

 

(even better when Husband is out and I can sneak it in the house without the ritual – hey here’s a package for you, what did you get – say whaaa more books – really?).*

My first sign up was for Mystery and once opened, there’s all sorts of nifty  book nerd lover surprises.  (Click to make larger)

 

In the first photo you see a few tchotchkes — a fox coaster, a patch relating to time travel (the book’s subject) and a pin.  There’s a letter from the author of the book — but best of all (third photo) the book itself is annotated with lots and lots of post-its with the author’s reflections and insights as you read along.

Now really, how cool is that?

PageHabit lets you switch genres at the click of a button, so for October,  I switched to Literary Fiction, and that box revealed two (!) books and the following fun stuff.

The second photo shows the swag this month — a library card pillow case (I know who knew?) a Halloween key chain, a cool bookmark, and (another?) fox coaster.


Again, there’s a letter from the author and here’s a close-up of one of the author annotations in the book.

Also, each month, there is also a little booklet, containing a short story commissioned by PageHabit just for that mailing. I’m keeping them in my bag for when I’m stuck in some long line or waiting in the car outside Home Depot (it happens fairly regularly for some reason).

But the best rationalization bit is, that with every mailing, PageHabit partners with a different organization around the world and supports their efforts in spreading literacy throughout their community. These donations help support building schools, public libraries, and community centers to ensure that every child has access to books.

You can match your PageHabit subscription to your favorite genre, there’s also Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, and many more.

So far, PageHabit has done itself proud – no duplicates to my  book warehouse  library.

I’ve got my eye on Historical Fiction for January…  and the beat goes on…

The subscription is sort of expensive, so I may move to a quarterly subscription but for the near future, I’ll raid my piggy bank.

Brown packages, surprise books, fun swag, and author notes –

Priceless.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

* I’m being mean, Husband is actually very tolerant of my book habit collecting and never grumbles ~~ too much.

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The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

The Widow’s House is so much richer than the current spate of modern thrillers (my previous book included).  This book has it all.  There’s a crumbling estate, family secrets, haunting ghosts, a vulnerable heroine, a couple of murders, and lots and lots of atmosphere.

Sound confusing — like it may be too much?  Fear not, Ms. Goodman weaves all these elements together into an enthralling and well-crafted Gothic tale.

 

I’m going to cheat and quote the back cover blurb, just because it’s that good:

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation–of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is–this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate–it seems to be after Clare next…

Riven House is indeed falling down, has an unusual pentagon shape, and is haunted by ghosts — according to the locals.

As Clare delves into the history of the house, she uncovers a series of tragic deaths.  The ghosts are said to be those of Mary Foley and her baby, both of whom lost their lives at the creepy estate. Then there’s the tale of the Apple Blossom Queen, a local beauty who came to a horrific end at Riven House.

Were these just random accidents or the actions of the reputed ghosts in the house?  Clare decides to try and uncover some answers, and with the help of her former professor, starts to expand this work into her novel. Jess’s writing also seems to be doing well.

At contrast to the ghosts and creepy estate, Ms. Goodman weaves a sensual beauty into the idyllic setting of the Hudson Valley apple country — we can smell the apple blossoms, see the ripening apples in the orchards, and then as fall approaches we can taste the area’s special apples:

The first time you bit into one your mouth was flooded with caramel, but when you took another bite, looking for that taste again, you got plain apple.  You had to sneak up on it. The taste was elusive, but when you caught it you wanted to suck that sticky sweetness right of its flesh.

But, cue ghostly sound effects – nothing is quite right. There’s trouble in Clare and Jess’s marriage, an old boyfriend is with the local police, there’s clandestine meetings between Jess and their sexy real estate agent, and a parade of local characters who range from slightly odd to the definitely strange.

Soon Clare starts to actually see the ghosts and experience the haunting of Riven House.   She comes close to accidental death, and tries desperately to figure out what is real versus her imagination.

Just picture me, in the chilly dark nights of Lake Tahoe, as I snuggled tighter in bed and happily kept reading.

Fair warning dear readers, there is a fairly complicated family tree, babies switched at birth, and family secrets kept for many years — all of which are key to the unraveling of the story line.   So, as much as The Widow’s House is a proverbial page turner — you should slow down and savor the unraveling of a wonderful suspenseful story.

Ms. Goodman is a master at plotting and building tension as she take the reader through her twists and turns.  The ending of the tale will haunt you with this lingering thought — “was any of this real”?

A perfect read for Halloween 

Ms. Goodman has a long list of well-received novels.   A new author to add to my list, given this one was so good.

Thank you to William Morrow/Harper Collins for an Advanced Readers Copy.

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Buried in Books

This is the week of the Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale and I’ve been busy.  Lots of fun, lots of work.

Here are some photos of the wonderful bookish madness.  Click on these photos to appreciate the full enormity of this sale.  A massive amount of work is required by volunteers, corporate sponsored volunteers, and staff to pull off this – the largest used book sale on the West Coast.

Each year, the Friends ask for table sponsors in order to raise money for the sale, so this year Book Barmy took part.  Here’s the sign and the table — Graphic Novels and Comics —  a most popular table indeed.

I must admit after awhile, working at the Big Sale gets pretty overwhelming, so many books ~~ etc.  For a break, I sign up for extra shifts at my regular haunt,  the permanent Readers Bookstore in a separate building at Fort Mason.

While back at the store, I got to meet the delightful Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow blog, photographic evidence here…my bad hair day notwithstanding.

Go to Scott’s blog, it’s fascinating, as he specializes in British Women writers from the mid-20th century.  Even more impressive, he started his own imprint, Furrowed Middlebrow Books, published by Dean Street Press.  This series of books had been long forgotten and unpublished until Scott got them reissued.  ~~~ Those covers, sigh, I want every title…

The Big Book Sale goes on through Sunday, so if you’re in the area, stop by – info HERE.Or any time of the year come by the permanent Readers Bookstores – info HERE

Thus endeth my shameless promotion of the Friends of the SFPL, the Big Book Sale, and the Readers Bookstores.

My enthusiasm knows no shame.

 

In other news, we’re off to Lake Tahoe for a week.   I’ve plucked a few popular thrillers from my toppling pile of publisher’s ARCs taunting me and causing great guilt.

 

 

Back next week.

 

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Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Lucky old me, I was granted an advanced reading copy of Glass Houses and read it in three days.  I could have read it in a day, but had to slow myself from ripping through this newest gripping mystery from Louise Penny.

As many of you know by now, I’m a fan —  I’ve read every one of Ms. Penny’s Chief Superintendent Gamache novels and that I can’t stop raving about her characters, multi-layed plots, and often gorgeous writing.

Ms. Penny was a CBC journalist and in interviews she says this experience gave her insight into people at their most vile, but also she got to witness acts of incredible forgiveness.  As such, her mysteries involve dark human acts, but balance this evil with mankind’s redeeming graces.  Not only am I a fan of her poetic phrasing and intelligent writing, but also her luscious food descriptions.  (She says she writes with a pile of cookbooks on one side and poetry books on the other.)

Each of Ms. Penny’s books has a theme and in Glass Houses it’s conscience~~ having a conscience, acting on your conscience, avoiding your conscience, and the consequences therein.

A mysterious dark hooded and caped figure appears on the village green of Three Pines town square. The figure stands, unmoving for several days and upsets the entire village.  There is nothing Gamache can do as the figure just stands, but he is also concerned.  Turns out this figure is a “Cobrador del frac” – a Spanish debt collector with roots in the Middle Ages.  The Cobrador is meant to publicly shame debtors by stalking them and reminding them of their indebtedness.  But the villagers have no idea who the Cobrador is meant to intimidate.

Glass Houses has a bit of a new style, Ms. Penny goes back and forth in time using Gamache on the stand in court as a conduit for unraveling the mystery of the Cobrador and subsequent murder in Three Pines.

But Gamache has more to deal with than the murder, he is simultaneously  planning a secretive massive drug operation on the US/Canadian border.  He must tread carefully, as he’s still not sure who he can trust, after uncovering rampant corruption within the Sûreté du Quebec.

Once again, Ms. Penny weaves thoughtful prose with historical references. She uses the phrase “burn the boats”, during Gamache’s drug operations, which was how Cortez prevented his armies from retreating to Spain.  And poor Gamache continually has the children’s rhyme “ashes, ashes, they all fall down” running through his mind, which gives the reader not only the same brain worm, but an extra layer of suspense to the throat clenching last few chapters.

The Three Pines regulars don’t play a large part in Glass Houses, but Clara has a showing of her portraits of each of the villagers and the paintings reveal a wonderful insight for each of them.

Thank goodness Ruth* and her foul-mouthed duck are still causing trouble, there’s plenty of mouthwatering food, and cozy evenings at Myrna’s bookstore with cocoa and cookies.

There now, stop — that’s all I’ll tell you about Glass Houses – no spoilers here.

As with any of Ms. Penny’s mysteries — you’ll fall hard for the characters and the imaginary Three Pines, you’ll laugh and cringe at the village mishaps and misunderstandings, you’ll be deeply invested in the solution of the crime, and you will never– ever be bored.

 

I told you I went to see Ms. Penny on book tour yesterday, well this photo perfectly captures her spirit and personality.

“Surprised by Joy”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Ms. Penny quote:  “Ruth is the Greek chorus of the village of Three Pines.”

 

Thank you to Minotaur Books for a digital advanced readers copy via Netgalley.

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Seeing Ms. Louise Penny

We’re having a blinking heat wave, so who (or what) could entice me away from my relatively cooler ocean breeze over to Book Passage in Marin where it’s a gazillion degrees?

Okay, you’ve already guessed the answer… Louise Penny of course.  She’s on book tour for her newest book Glass Houses which came out just a few days ago.

The store was packed for this appearance and I was told it had been sold out for days.  It was hot and sticky but not one of us minded because Ms. Penny was upbeat, witty, and as always, gracious.

Here’s how crowded it was (I’m not in the photo — I’ve learned to sit up front left on the window ledge- where it’s less claustrophobic).

 

Fellow mystery writer and Ms. Penny’s good friend  Rhys Bowen introduced Ms. Penny and it was great fun.  If you look closely you can see the sweat on everyone’s faces.  Air conditioning just couldn’t handle the hordes of Ms. Penny’s fans.

I’m back home now admiring my beautiful autographed copy of Glass Houses.

But, never fear you lucky Barmy fans ~~I’ve already read it.

So tune in over the weekend, when I promise to give you the full BookBarmy review – without spoilers.

But right now, I’ve got to get me some ice tea.  It’s now late afternoon and it’s even hot out out here by the ocean.

Later gator. 

 

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