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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Louise Penny’s New Novel Out!

If you’re looking for that blockbuster summer read, it’s here! The latest in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny arrived in stores on August 28.

The Beautiful Mystery
Louise Penny
Buy on Amazon
More details at Raincoast Books

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache delivers again and again. Traditional mystery fans will like the whodunit plot, but those who have a literary bend like me will appreciate the well-written dialogue and excellent story arch.

Indeed, it is a page turner, but Louise Penny’s prowess is in delivering fallible heroes in a way that still makes us cheer. I’m speaking of course of Inspector Gamache, but also of Lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is suffering from an addiction to painkillers.

The evil twist, beyond the murder at hand, is the psychological foul play used by the police force’s headman who has it out for Gamache and his team. I won’t tell you any more about what happens here because it is all too irksome.

For a book set in a monastery with an ancient secret to hide, this novel sure is illuminating. I 100% am in love with Louise Penny’s Inspector, the village of Three Pines and this awesome series.

If you haven’t read Louise Penny, I really liked A Trick of Light, which seems like a natural place to start before getting into The Beautiful Mystery—this is book 8 in the series. There is so much revealed in book 8 that I wouldn’t want you to start here. If you have the time and aren’t itching to read The Beautiful Mystery right this minute (which you should actually), then read the full series. It does not disappoint.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny is also available as an audio book
Listen to an audio clip

And if you’re in Vancouver, Louise Penny is at the Vancouver International Writers Festival on Oct 20.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Book Review: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle


Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

One of the magical things about a Guy Delisle book is the fly-on-the-wall perspective of countries that are inaccessible (or relatively so) to Westerners.

His previous graphic travelogues were about Burma, Pyongyang and Shenzen. I loved both Pyongyang and Shenzen, but Pyongyang has a special status as it was my first Guy Delisle encounter.

I’m not sure if having been to Jerusalem aids in the enjoyment and depth of Delisle’s account of the Holy City but I’d still recommend it to anyone curious about Israel or the Middle East in general as I think there’s a tone that runs through the region that is incomprehensible to most outsiders.

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The book opens with the introduction of Delisle’s children. His parner Nadège is working with Médecins Sans Frontières and the family is on their way to Jerusalem for the year. Guy hopes to work, as he’s done on other trips, while minding the children. (Good luck with that!)

The opening scene portrays a seemingly Russian Jew with concentration-camp numbers on his arm distracting Guy’s collicky child. They don’t share a language but Guy makes a ton of assumptions, and checks himself, all within a few frames, which really sets the stage for what’s to come. Jerusalem is a land of mixed emotions, assumptions, perceptions and deceptions.

Throughout the travelogue, we get treated to the differng points of view Delisle encounters: Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, and Muslim, as well as those of Médecins Sans Frontières staff, Nadège, their cleaners and childcare providers, tour guides and reporters he meets along the way.

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Delisle doesn’t claim to understand each of these perspectives and he has a certain skepticism or cynicism whenever strong binary positions are presented, but it’s a real treat to see Jerusalem from his vantage point of a year-long adventure vs a few days or weeks as a tourist. Delisle is in the region long enough to have some of his initial ignorance disappate and he has time to see the underside of the official messages or points of view in the press.

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Although Delisle doesn’t offer a completely neutral account, he’s not judgmental either. Jerusalem is subjective observation but from a rather level head.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Book Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperon by Laura Moriarty reminded me a little bit of The Paris Wife. The book opens in 1922 during a summer in Wichita when not much is happening for Ms Cora Carlisle. Both her sons are grown and moved away, her husband’s successful law practice keeps him busy and Cora is idling away her time. What seems like an adventure is presented to her: chaperon 15-year-old Louise Brooks to New York City for her dance audition.

Cora, of course, has her own private reason for making the trip, and it’s not just boredom. We quickly find out that Cora was orphaned in New York and was sent out on an orphan train to be adopted by willing parents, who have since died. Her plan is to accompany Louise and seek out her birth parents. The orphanage has already refused to provide that information by mail, but Cora is optimistic.

The part of the story that reminds me of The Paris Wife is the insights into the 1920s. It was a time of transition where skirt lengths (above the ankle) were still shocking and girls were coached that no man would want to marry an unwrapped piece of candy. At the same time homosexuality, the bob haircut, jazz and other shocking disregards for convention (like black and white people sitting side by side in the same theatre) were part of daily life in a bustling metropolis like NYC.

Cora takes all the shocks in stride, in particular the difficulties posed by Louise’s free-spirit attitude, and really finds her own place in the world. She goes by to Wichita with quite a backbone.

The Chaperon by Laura Moriarty
Published by Riverhead Books (Penguin Canada)
Available in hardcover on amazon.ca