Category: books

Coming your way in February 2018

Words don’t adequately express how much I LOVE the cover for this new book of mine which will be released into the wild on February 6, 2018. Under the Canopy of Heaven will be my first hardcover; a little detail that has me feeling excited and nervous and elated all at the same time. It’s also the first book of mine in 10 years to feature only a historical time and place. But you know what? It’s the way the book needed to be. I didn’t want to force a contemporary overlay where a second story wasn’t needed just to stay in the dual-time periods lane. I think you will agree when you read it. And I really am so anxious for you to read it.

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity when I was in NYC last week to meet the graphic designer who created this cover. Her name is Colleen and she deserves the kudos for her work here. Thank you, Colleen. You are brilliant.

This story is about a family — a father and mother and their three daughters ages 15, 12, and 7 — who move to Philadelphia in early 1918 when the dad becomes heir-apparent to his uncle’s very successful undertaking business. They have no idea within months of their arrival that the Spanish Flu will also arrive in Philadelphia. Told in alternating chapters by this mother and the daughters, the story reveals what the deadliest pandemic in history was like, not just for the wife and children of a newly trained undertaker, but for Philadelphia, America, and the world.

Swann Fountain in Logan Square as it is today. This photo was taken by me a couple days ago. It was placed here in 1924.

I will be telling you more about his book in the coming months, but for now I want to share with you a photograph from last week’s research trip to Philadelphia as I wrapped up the last edits. The fountain at right, which was erected just a few years after the Spanish Flu pandemic, and which sits in beautiful Logan Square (one of William Penn’s planned green spaces from back in colonial times) is the fountain you see on the cover. The young woman represents one of the daughters — Maggie —  in 1925, when Part Two of the book takes place. The butterfly motif shows up here and there in the pages of the story because they are the perfect example of the beauty and frailty and preciousness of life.

I love those little butterflies on the cover, and the delicious font, and the framing with the Gates of Paradise and especially the golden color palette that makes it seem your hand would come away warm if it you laid your palm across the book.

I’m hoping you love this story when you finally get the chance to read it. I won’t lie. The story might make you cry. Probably will. But it’s a story that in the end celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of love to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. There will be more on this later, I promise. For now, though, I would love to hear what you think so far. Thoughts?

She’s here at last!

I am so happy to announce that A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN releases today! I loved writing this book for so many reasons. One, I got to become good friends with one of the few remaining war brides who emigrated to America aboard the RMS Queen Mary. You can read June’s remarkable story here or watch a lovely 6-minute documentary here. Two, I took a bit of a creative risk with regard to life after death and the existence of ghosts (You can read why I decided to include a ghost or two in this book here!). Three, I fell in love with this storied ship; first a luxury ocean liner, then a troop carrier, then a transport for war brides, and now a floating hotel (famously haunted, so say some) in California.

A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN is a story primarily about two European women who meet aboard the Queen in 1946. They are among two thousand other war brides who married American servicemen during WW2 and are now emigrating to the States. Though both of them survived the hell of war, only one of them, a young French woman named Simone, is an actual war bride. The other, Annaliese, is a German ballerina pretending to be a Belgian war bride to escape a terrible situation. Her secret comes out on the last day of the sailing, and when it does, tragedy strikes. Meanwhile in the present day, thirty-something Brette just wants to live a normal life, but the ability of being able to see ghosts, a gifting that pops up randomly in the women in her family, is making that impossible. When she visits the famously haunted RMS Queen Mary, she comes face to face with the ghostly echoes of Simone and Annaliese’s fateful crossing. She sets out to uncover the truth, right an old wrong, and maybe in the process, learn to live with who she is.  I hope you love it as much as I do! All the buy links are listed on this Berkley Publishing Group page.

Where I will be…

War bride June Allen and me aboard the Queen Mary.

I will be doing some traveling with this book and I would love to see you at one of these book tour stops: (Email me if you would like additional information about any of these)

March 23 Laguna Beach Books  6PM in Laguna Beach, CA

April 8 Lunch and speaking event AAUW Author Luncheon at the Jacobs Center, San Diego, CA

April 22 Barnes & Noble with war bride June Allen 3PM in Noblesville, IN

April 27 Bookmark Shoppe book club discussion 7PM in Brooklyn, NY

May 3 Aaron’s Books at JoBoy’s Brew Pub 6:3oPM in Lititz, PA

May 6 Corona Public Library Historical Fiction Brunch in Corona, CA

May 20 Adventures by the Book event with war bride June Allen aboard the Queen Mary (a ticketed event; only a few spots remain!)

May 21 Meet and Greet with war bride June Allen 2 PM aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

July 13 Common Good Books 7 PM in St. Paul, MN

July 16 Barnes and Noble (time TBA) in Mankato, MN

July 22 Newport Beach Library  6PM Authors Under the Stars event in Newport Beach, CA

 

Give me shout out if I am headed to your neck of the woods! I am so very glad you are a part of my reading community.  I would love to hear what you think about this book after you’ve read it. And if you’ve got a ghost story, I’d love to hear it! I was surprised to hear during my research time how many people have one…

p.s. Happy Pi Day!

Inviting grace to dinner!

Today I am so happy to have my good friend Annette Hubbell on the blog so to talk about her new book, A SPOONFUL OF GRACE, which is a truly lovely collection of mealtime blessings to share around your table, and to give one way to one randomly drawn winner. So do read to the end.

I’ve known Annette for nearly a decade, back when the idea for this book was just a new thought in her head. When she was finished with it, and asked me to read an early copy, I told her and I’ll tell you, I wish I’d had this book when my husband and I were raising our kids and sharing all those family meals together.

Annette has written a lovely guest post that follows about why saying grace together at mealtime is a great idea. If you have any questions for Annette and/or want to get in on a drawing for a free copy of this great book (so sorry but you must have a US address for the drawing), just pop them into the comments section.

 

Ten Reasons Families Who Say Grace Are Happier

Annette earned her undergraduate degree in Marketing from San Diego State University, her M.B.A. from Cal State University in San Marcos, and a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.

by Annette Hubbell

“Mom, I think saying grace makes the food taste better,” my daughter announced the other day. “That’s probably not very scientific,” she went on to say, “but maybe it’s because when I do say grace I’m with people I love.” Then she thought a minute and said, “I have to start doing that when I’m by myself and see what happens!”

Do you find that opening a meal with grace brings an aura of harmony or calmness to the table? Saying grace before a meal does have many benefits—if Grace could be bottled or put in pill form, it’d be a bestseller!

If you come together as a family for dinner—and a 2013 Welch’s Kitchen Table Report asserts, perhaps surprisingly, that a majority of families eat dinner together most nights of the week—there are many reasons a heartfelt prayer before a meal will nourish your hearts, minds, and souls, as well as your tummies. Here’s why:

  1. Studies do show that saying grace with people you love—or even by yourself—affects your attitude, making the food taste better and aiding in digestion. Ever have a good food experience when you’re sad or angry? Probably not. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32).
  2. Saying grace means that—at least once every day—you acknowledge the presence of God in your life. Thanking God is a great way to develop a relationship with him, and he is just waiting for you to ask him into your heart. “I am knocking at your door,” Jesus says, “just waiting for you to let me in” (Matthew 7:7). Can’t you hear him say, “Let the miracles begin!”?
  3. Saying grace means that you take time to think of others, because a grace usually includes a request to watch over someone or praise for a blessing in another’s life. Let’s face it, the world of the young is self-centered by definition. Thinking of others helps in the character building process. Relationships are critical in the development of all God’s children and their ability to carry out His will. Galatians 5:22–23 tells us that the fruit of [having] the Spirit [within you] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  4. Saying grace together promotes benefits such as family bonding and enhanced accountability. When you talk about things together, you’re sharing. And that, by definition, invites more than the stock yes, no, or ho-hum answer, because your understanding of each other grows when you interconnect, better equipping you to meet each other’s needs. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” says Jesus (in other words, listen up!), “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
  5. Saying grace cultivates the confidence to converse openly about your faith. Paul directs us to be ready to season our conversation with salt (Colossians 4:6)—to act with grace, kindness, patience, and reluctance to judge. Saying grace provides opportunities to practice these character qualities with each other.
  6. Saying grace opens your mind to an attitude of gratitude. Did you know that the more thankful you are the happier, healthier, kinder, and more likeable you’ll be—and the better you’ll sleep? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” asserts Paul (Philippians 4:13).
  7. The act of praying aloud together lifts one’s own spirit, fosters praise, and increases mutual feelings of appreciation. “A glad heart makes a cheerful face” (Proverbs 15:13a).
  8. Saying grace reminds us that our food, as well as God’s countless other daily blessings, is a gift. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).
  9. Saying grace reminds us that God is always present. We don’t need to ask him to be with us but do need to acknowledge that he’s always there. “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” says Jesus (Matthew 28:20b).
  10. Saying grace, whether by yourself or with your family or others with whom you’re sharing a meal, sows the seeds of a thankful attitude. Being thankful for what you have fosters an attitude of wanting to make the world a better place and to give to others. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the verifiable truth is that the more you give the more you’ll get: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

Mealtime is the hub of family life, and prayer is the foundation of a Christian home. Those who eat together, and make their time together about more than just food, are happier, healthier, and more loving. Those who regularly add a warm and loving grace to their mealtime already know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not that incorporating prayer is a cure-all or in itself creates a life full of joy (It certainly won’t stop siblings from arguing). By making grace a part of your regular family mealtime experience, however, you open the door to possibilities unimagined. Family prayer heals, protects, strengthens family ties, teaches forgiveness, builds unity and brings the family closer together. “If you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you,” Jesus promises, “you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon” (John 15:7).

Some people think the meal is incomplete without dessert. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we made grace our dessert and adopted the motto Have Dessert First!

Susan here, who says, “Who can argue with that?” Say hello in the comments to be put in the drawing. A winner will be randomly drawn from those who comment on Friday at noon PST. Have a great week!

Ten more days and a wake-up!

Five war brides aboard the Queen Mary in 1946, as they sailed into New York harbor.

It’s always as nerve-wracking as it is thrilling, the last few days before a book is released into the wild. I love this novel that’s coming your way in just a matter of days, (March 14) but to be honest, I took a creative risk on this one and so naturally I’m anxious.  I don’t write ghost stories, but this one, ahem, has ghosts in it. And I don’t usually tread into the world of the wildly unknown and unproveable, but I have with this one. And just in case you missed my earlier post about the ghosts that appear in A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN, they are quite literary and not at all out to scare you. Seriously. They have the same quest for happiness that the mortal characters in the story have. Just so you know.

And while I will be posting again when the book releases, I thought I’d use this moment to let you know where I will be in the coming months so that if you live near any of these places we can say hello face-to-face. Here’s the line-up so far, with more to come:

A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN

March 10 Litchfield Moveable Feast – 11AM Luncheon and 2PM signing, Myrtle Beach, SC

March 11 Foxtale Book Shoppe 1PM – Woodstock, GA

March 14 Book launch at Warwicks Books  7:30PM La Jolla, CA

March 23 Laguna Beach Books  6PM – Laguna Beach, CA

April 8 Lunch and speaking event AAUW Author Luncheon – Jacobs Center, San Diego, CA

War bride June Allen and me aboard the Queen Mary earlier this week.

April 22 Barnes & Noble with war bride June Allen 3PM – Noblesville, IN

April 27 Bookmark Shoppe book club discussion 7PM – Brooklyn, NY

May 3 Aaron’s Books at JoBoy’s Brew Pub 6:30PM – Lititz, PA

May 6 Corona Public Library Historical Fiction Brunch – Corona, CA

May 21 Meet and Greet with war bride June Allen 2 PM -Aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

July 13 Common Good Books 7 PM – St. Paul, MN

July 22 Newport Beach Library  6PM Authors Under the Stars event – Newport Beach, CA

I would love to meet and chat with you at one of these events. Comment below if we’ll be able to do that or if you need any additional info about one of these dates.

Have a great weekend, folks!

My new favorite author

I’ve been away from the blog the last few weeks (my apologies) while working on revisions for a book that will come in 2018 — my first hardcover!  The good news is all this hard work will be worth it, I think. I already love this story so much more now than I did when I turned it in to my editor the first time.  The bad news is, I’ve let some other things go, like the care and feeding of the blog. Sorry. But I do have some book recommendations for you today that will hopefully make up for it.

A long while back I read Alice Hoffman‘s TURTLE MOON. It was the first novel I’d ever read told in the present tense and I remember loving it. Then life got busy and for whatever reason, I failed to read Alice’s next offerings to the literary world. That was a huge mistake. I’ve since rediscovered this immensely gifted writer and now I know I missed out on a lot of good reads since Turtle Moon. Suffice it to say I have some catching up to do.

One of the great things about modern technology is the ability to have a book read to you while you drive. I don’t have much of a work commute. (I walk from the upstairs to the downstairs) but I spend a surprisingly ample amount of time in my car anyway. Errands, visits to book clubs, shopping, weekend stuff, visits to the grandlad in Orange County. All of that time behind the wheel adds up. I checked out from my library Alice’s THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES for a drive up to Los Angeles back in December and loved loved loved it. The narration was exquisite and I actually found myself wanting to drive back to LA to keep listening to it.  When I finished with MARRIAGE, I next checked out THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS and was again spellbound. Both books are so amazingly well written and full of rich layers of characterization. I highly recommend them both. And if you’ve never tried an audio book before, I’d say start with these. I plan to get on board with Audible sometime this year, although I do like patronizing my local library’s audiobook shelves.

One more thing about Alice Hoffman’s novels.   My meter for adult language and bedroom stuff probably leans toward a more moderately modest setting and I am happy to say Hoffman is careful here. She manages to write stunningly real and relevant prose without excess adult language and bedroom situations. You don’t miss it if you’re used to it, and you don’t notice the absence of over-the-top profanity and etcerera until you read perhaps another book where highly adult language and etcetera seems to appear on every page. I love that about her storytelling.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Alice Hoffman speak about her latest book, FAITHFUL, which is on my nightstand now, and I’m so ready to read it when I’ve got these edits done.

If you’ve been reading Alice, I’d love to hear your thoughts on her style and storytelling goddessness!

And I promise to better at feeding the blog in 2017!

Here I am with my mom and daughter Stephanie at Warwick’s Books when Alice was here in my neck of the woods for the book tour of FAITHFUL. So, yeah, we’re in the front row…

Quiet and yet full of sound

commonwealthpatchettI’ve been a fan of Ann Patchett since Bel Canto many years ago. She is a master artist of the written word and as clever and insightful as they come. So naturally I was a happy clam when I got my hands on her newest, Commonwealth.

The story starts out at a christening party where two families are present. From that afternoon and across the next five decades, the individual lives in these two families will overlap. The pages quietly but evocatively explore the wonderful and wily way stories are shared between family members. The back cover says, and I love this, “Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

I had the rare and amazing opportunity to hear Patchett speak about the writing of this book at an event hosted by my local indie bookstore, Warwick’s Books.  She had my mom and me and the other 300 people in the venue in stitches and in tears as she cleverly spoke of the autobiographical quality of the story – it is crafted on her own family history. How like family life – to be laughing so hard your sides ache one moment and then huddled together in tears the next as you console each other over a shared loss.

I am impressed any time a writer can take me on a story journey that is quietly impacting, sublimely demanding. I tend to write novels that have a more overt story arc, and usually about a protagonist who wants something and who faces a clear obstacle in her quest to have it. That’s the story. Ann Patchett is able to write a tale that makes me primarily ponder the art of living, rather than the art of storytelling.

I think what I found the most delicious was that every chapter read like a short story. Amazing, really, how Patchett was able to do that. The bigger story was always being told, but no chapter was wholly dependent on the one before it or the one after.  That, to me, is flawless story-crafting and I now I am itching to try my hand at it.  Some books I love because of their structure more than anything else. This is now one of them, along with The Art of Racing in the Rain, Life After Life, Life of Pi, and All The Missing Girls, and The Good Girl.

Did I love it as much as Bel Canto or State of Wonder? Hard to say. It’s a different kind of book. A Goodreads reader said of Commonwealth, “If there’s a grand theme in this novel, it’s this: who owns the stories that compose a life?…What is public and what do we keep to ourselves?”

That, to me, sheds a lot of light on how this novel is different from most I read and certainly every novel I’ve written. It asks a different question.

Another Goodreads reader said this: “There are no surprise endings, no hidden lessons, no zombie apocalypse. Just the slow burn of daily life as the characters make mistakes and learn from them, trying to piece together a meaningful existence like the rest of us.”

The oldest definition of “commonwealth” is “the general good.” We live our lives, short or long, woven into the fabric of a family, good or bad, and we quietly want this for our little tribe: a general good. Life is the pursuit of it.

Highly recommended.

Why I wrote a ghost story

casper_the_friendly_ghostI used to be scared of everything when I was little. Up-and-down carousel horses, the Michelin Man, Mr. Bubble, blimps, and steep hills, just to name a few things. When the rest of the family watched “Lost in Space” in the living room I had to hide out in my bedroom because I nearly had a heart attack every time the robot flailed his wiggly, pincer-tipped arms and yelled, “Danger! Danger!”

I should have been afraid of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” a TV show that only aired from 1968 to 1970. But oddly enough I loved that show. Do you remember it? The premise is that a pretty, young widow and mother of two, Carolyn Muir, discovers that the seaside house she’s moved into is haunted by the former owner, a sailor named Captain Daniel Gregg, an old salt who at first resists the intrusion but quickly falls in love with her. The producers took care to make every ghostly sequence lighthearted – the laugh track is ridiculously overused – and any show that had Charles C. Reilly in its cast wasn’t going to be hardcore horror. Still, the captain was a ghost, and yet I loved the show.

Looking back on it now, I think it’s because the Captain was a regular character in this story. And like all characters in all stories he wanted something he didn’t have. That made him human, if not supernaturally so, and not a hellish phantom with no aim other than to terrorize people.

If I am to imagine that ghosts are real – and being a novelist and not a scientist I don’t have to prove they are or are not – then they must want something. Why would they linger if not because they want something? And because I chose the beautiful and famously haunted RMS Queen Mary as the setting for my next novel, A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN (Berkley, March 2017), I knew I wanted to add a ghost as a character.

I am a believer in life after death. I believe in God and the spirit world of angels and demons, so as a novelist who gets to cook up all kinds of scenarios, it’s not so far off to imagine that the spirit world might be one we don’t know everything about. As a Christian, I also find it very interesting that when the disciples of Jesus were out in a boat on a very stormy night and he came walking out on the water to them, the gospels say they were terrified because they thought he was a ghost. He calms them not by saying, “There are no ghosts!” but by saying, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.”  Then after the resurrection when Jesus appears to the disciples, and they are again scared out of their minds that he’s a ghost, he says in the gospel of Luke, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When I was researching A BRIDGE ACROSS THE abato_finalOCEAN, I asked many friends if they’d ever had an experience that had no earthly explanation. I was surprised by the number who emailed me back with a story that they don’t always share with people because it defies conventional wisdom. These stories reinforced for me the notion that we don’t know everything about everything.

All this is to say I have a ghost in my next novel. More than one, actually. But it’s not a scary book. Not at all. My ghosts are literary ghosts, if you will. They are just like the mortal characters in the story who want something, are on a quest to have it, and face hearty opposition.

I think you will like my ghosts. If you liked Captain Gregg, I know you will! I don’t know if it’s truly possible for any of us to hang around after we pass away, but it was supremely interesting for me to wonder and suppose that if we could, why would we do it?

Would love to hear your thoughts! Have you ever had an experience that defies explanation?

A remarkable book for any age

sepetysWas there a time when Young Adult lit was truly only for young adults? I am beginning to think maybe there was but it only lasted five minutes. I’ve been wowed over the last few years by more YA titles than my chronological age should allow. Ruta Sepetys’ page-turner, SALT TO THE SEA, is apparently shelved in YA, though you need to know I read my mother’s copy (who is obviously at least two decades older than me!) and she loved this book just as much as I did.

It’s a hauntingly evocative, tender, moving, and remarkable story of four young people trying to survive the horrors of WW2. Told in four rotating viewpoints, Sepetys was nevertheless able to create the literary magic that makes the reader very okay with switching from one character’s head to another. You know those books with multiple points of view, where you really only care about two of the four and you race to get past the pages of the characters whose stories aren’t as compelling? This isn’t one of those books.

The story is all the more riveting because it’s based on a true-to-life disaster that, unless you’ve read the book, you’ve probably never heard of.

Here’s the premise from the back cover:

“Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.”

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys‘ Goodreads author page tells us that she was born into a family of artists, readers, and music lovers, and that she is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning debut novel, “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania and is published in 45 countries. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and “Salt to the Sea, which is her third novel, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II.

It also says she lives  in a tree house in the hills of Tennessee!

I may not be a young adult, but I am also drawn to stories of “strength through struggle.” Isn’t that aptly descriptive of life itself at any age? Some days are easy and a wonderful, some are hard and harrowing — but all of our days make up our lives and thus make us who we are, at the age we are right now.

Highly recommended.

 

 

A story of love, loss, and courage

childrenWhen I began writing SECRETS OF CHARMED LIFE a couple years ago, I had only the vaguest of notions of how much London suffered during World War II. Here was a city teeming with civilians – mothers, pensioners, children too young to be evacuated or just plain not evacuated – and yet it was bombed as if it were a military fortress filled with soldiers. When ordinary people are thrust into such extraordinarily difficult circumstances, their best virtues and worst flaws will emerge, twinned and twisted, and sometimes hard to distinguish between. War reveals to us what we love and fear most.

I love what the back cover copy says about Chris Cleave’s EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN, a novel I just finished reading, which is set during this time period:

“This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.”

I keep telling myself, “Okay. No more WW2 novels! Broaden your horizon! Read about something else!” And yet I keep getting pulled back to books with this setting. Chris’s new book, which earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly, is a gem, and written with such achingly beautiful prose, sometimes you can forget this is a book about what war does to people.  Several times I re-read a sentence just for the pleasure of tasting it again. All that said, it IS still a book about wartime decisions and the characters who must make them. The plot centers on three Londoners, Mary, Thomas and Alistair, and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. It is loosely based on love letters between Chris’s grandparents. You can read more about the premise here.

The beauty in this book is not so much the story, but how the story is told, with delicious prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It’s different than THE NIGHTINGALE and ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, recent WW2 favorites of mine (and surprisingly also with lovely blue covers); it’s a little more Dickensy, as one reviewer suggested, but the wordsmithing here is golden. It’s one of those books that makes you ponder not just “what does this story mean?” but also, “what does this story mean to me?”

I’d read it again. A great book for book clubs. 4.5 stars

 

 

Where have I been?

the-nature-of-the-beastEver since I listened to Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE on a long road trip with my husband, I’ve been itching to devour more books on audio. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize how a good book on audio can revolutionize the way I look at driving up to Los Angeles or going anywhere during rush hour here in San Diego — both of which I used to dread. With a good audio book in the car with me, I — dare I say it? — I almost look forward to bumper-to-bumper traffic because it means more time with the book.

I could bring the book inside in the house with me, of course, but I purposely don’t. I always have a pages book on my nightstand that I am in the midst of reading, so the audio book is for the car and only the car. It’s my own personal quirky rule. But it makes driving fun instead of a chore.

At the library a couple weeks ago I saw that Louise Penny’s newest, THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, was available to check out on audio, and having never read one of her novels before but having heard of her, I decided to give the Canadian mystery writer a go. I listened to my first Inspector Gamache tale and was instantly hooked, just like I was back in high school a million years ago with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. And since THE NATURE OF THE BEAST is the 11th in the Inspector Gamache novels, I know I have some serious catching up to do.

The audio version is wonderfully narrated by Robert Bathurst (whom you might remember on Downton Abbey as the man who abandoned poor Lady Edith at the altar). With a cast of characters as broad as this one with male and female, young and old, I was amazed at how adept Mr. Bathurst was at keeping the voices distinct and yet not overdone. The audio version contains a message from Ms. Penny about this being Mr. Bathurst’s debut as narrator for an Inspector Gamache mystery, after the untimely death of the originator, Ralph Cosham.

The story is set in the quaint village of Three Pines, just outside Quebec, here an ensemble of  secondary characters make you wish it was real and you could stay at the B & B and eat at the bistro and sit on the village green with Armand Gamache and Reine-Marie. There’s a murder, of course, to set things off — every mystery has one of those — but the story feels very much character-driven, even though most murder mysteries are steered by the plot.

I can’t wait to back up and start at the beginning with Inspector Gamache with STILL LIFE, hopefully on audio, so I can “meet” dear Ralph Cosham myself. But I will definitely look forward to future Gamaches from Robert Bathurst.

So have you read or listened to any of Louise Penny’s books? Tell me which one has been your favorite so far…