Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Three Evangelists Books by Fred Vargas

French author Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau, who uses the pen name Fred Vargas, has been writing novels since the 1990s, but her work is new to me. During the many, many, many rainy days of April, I worked my way through a series of her books: The Three Evangelists, Dog Will Have His Day, and The Accordionist. I began with The Accordionist, the third book of this particular series, because it was shorted listed for the 2018 CWA International Dagger Award. That recognition from the Crime Writers Association was warranted as The Accordionist was a highly entertaining read.

Like all the books in this series, The Accordionist is set in Paris. Two women are murdered. The police suspect a young man, an accordionist named Clément, who was seen outside their respective apartments prior to the killings. Clément flees to the only person he knows in Paris, old Marthe, who for a time was a mother figure in his turbulent childhood. Marthe, a former prostitute, in turn calls upon her friend for help, ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler. And so the investigation begins.

Kehlweiler seeks assistance on the case from three friends, history scholars who share a home. These three are the evangelists first introduced in book one, The Three Evangelists (and which won the 2006 CWA International Dagger Award). Reading these books in order is not absolutely necessary, but it will help make more sense out of The Accordionist  and the relationship between all the characters.

This is an interesting series of mysteries, with The Accordionist being the best of the bunch, in my opinion. The books have somewhat of a gritty atmosphere, the characters are unique and the stories are engaging with unforeseen twists and turns. Perfect reading for rainy days.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley (The Flavia de Luce Mysteries)

Are you a fan of the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley? The series started out with a bang with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009). Since then it's been a mixed bag for me, some enjoyable and some not as much. Despite this inconsistency, I persist with this series.

These books are set in 1950s England.  Flavia, the pre-teen protagonist, is a budding scientist living in a crumbling family estate with her two older sisters and widowed father. Flavia's mad chemistry skills and flare for detection get her involved in solving the various murders that occur in her village of Bishop's Lacey. The vibe in the books is, on the one hand, familiar for fans of Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes and, on the other hand, fresh with these characters and their interest in science, literature and music.

The most recent addition to the series is The Golden Tresses of the Dead, and it is an entertaining book. In this outing, the game is afoot when a finger is found in a wedding cake - much to the bride's horror. With good atmosphere and lots of twists and turns, this is a fun read. Fans of Flavia should greatly enjoy it.

Because so much has changed in Flavia's life over the course of this series, readers new to it would, I think, be wise to start from the beginning. Have a book-reading binge! As Ben Dolnick wrote in the NYT recently:

[T]he mind — for all its endless rationalizations and solemn prohibitions — is in fact a ceaseless pleasure hound. Once I’m actually enjoying a book, it really does feel as if the pages are turning themselves; I find myself reading in all the little pockets of time that were once reserved for the serious business of checking to see if my dishwasher pods have shipped.

And pleasure is, after all — once I scrape away the layers of self-image and pretentiousness — the reason that I read. When I’ve found the right book, and I’m reading it the right way, reading is fun — head-tingling, goosebump-raising fun. It’s a vivid and continuous dream that is somehow both directed from without and cast from within, and I get to be awake for it. Netflix can wait.
Ben Dolnick, The New York Times, May 4, 2019

Check out Flavia. Binge on some books and enjoy!

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Power of Reading: Earth Day, Sports, Mueller.

In 1962 Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was published. Her book detailing the poisonous effects of pesticides on our natural world ignited public concern and helped launched an environmental movement that led to Earth Day and legislative efforts at stopping the polluting and poisoning of our world.

Decades later, pesticides are, sadly, still a problem (e.g., Pesticides Are Harming Bees in Literally Every Way Possible, by Liza Gross, Wired, 1/24/2019). But think about the work and courage behind Rachel Carson's book and its impact on all who read it; where might we be now if she hadn't acted?

The power and influence of books is amazing, and that power is influential not just in the broad world with works like Silent Spring or, say, the Mueller Report ("[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President [Trump] clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment." Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, Vol. II, p. 182). Books connect with individuals, too. For example, this interesting story came from soccer star Abby Wambach in an interview that appeared in the NYT Book Review yesterday:
I never read as a child. I was confident on the field, but I was lost in the classroom . . . Although, it is true that I found my way to soccer because of a book. My sister Beth told my mom she wanted to learn to play soccer so my mom went to the library and checked out a book called "How to Play Soccer." Our family read it, signed us all up for teams, and I scored 27 goals in my first three games. I guess I do owe it all to books.
The New York Times Book Review, p. 7, April 21, 2019.

What a great story: Mom gets a library book and the potential for her daughter's fabulous career is unlocked.

Reading and writing are powerful tools. Enjoy the magic!

Monday, March 18, 2019

New Louise Penny Book Coming in Late Summer

Mark you calendars fans of Chief Inspector Gamache (that includes me): A new book in this series will be published in August. The novel is called A Better Man and will be released August 27, perfect for Labor Day weekend reading.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Music We Like: The Rumba Foundation by Jesse Cook

Perfect for Sunday morning, the rumba flamenco music from Jesse Cook is uplifting and infectious. The Rumba Foundation will get you moving and smiling. Check it out.


Monday, March 4, 2019

Hey! Spring is Coming!

The current weather conditions may not reflect it, but spring is coming. For now, let's find something good to read inside. Here are three new books to check out this March.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Set primarily in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Alice Hoffman's novel is a coming of age story about three siblings who can trace their ancestry back to the 1600s and a woman deemed a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. This 2017 novel, a prequel to Hoffman's 1995 book Practical Magic, puts a witchy spin on themes such as parents trying to do their best and young people coping with new experiences in love and launching their adult lives. The Rules of Magic is an easy to read and entertaining novel.