Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Mystery writer and four-time Agatha Award winner Louise Penny’s seventh book in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, A Trick of the Light, may just be her best yet.  The book follows the same quirky cast of characters who reside in the sleepy village of Three Pines near Montreal, Canada.  Artist and longtime resident Clara Morrow has just reached the pinnacle of her artistic career, a solo exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Montreal.  The morning after the opening celebration, as Clara is relishing in her triumph, her closest childhood friend, Lillian Dyson, is found strangled in Clara’s serene garden and Clara quickly becomes the prime suspect.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Surete du Quebec, and his team are called in to investigate the murder, which has become even more complicated as the Inspector is surrounded by the residents of Three Pines, many who have become friendly with him and his team over the years.  Gamache soon discovers that Clara and Lillian had become estranged after a falling out decades earlier, which moves the investigation in a new direction.  In addition to the murder of Lillian, the story gives the reader a glimpse into the competitive art world and the story is peppered with artists, art critics and museum curators.  Gamache soon learns the true nature of the art world, a place where the competition between enemies and friends can lead to murder.

New to Louise Penny’s mysteries?  Start with the first book in the series, Still Life, which is also a must read and introduces all the residents of Three Pines!

Chelsea Handler Read-Alikes

Did you stop by the library to pick up one of Chelsea Handler’s hilarious books only to discover that they’re all checked out?  While you’re on the waiting list for a copy of Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, My Horizontal Life, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, or Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, check out some other books that you might enjoy:

Pretty In Plaid, My Fair Lazy, and Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster:  Humorous memoirs about the author’s life with stories about dieting and food, sororities, lots of clothes, drinking, and reality TV.

You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start In The Morning by Celia Rivenbark:  A collection of humorous essays written by a brash Southern woman.  The title alone tells me that this book is something Chelsea Handler would approve of.

Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin:  Stories of the comedienne’s life  peppered with Kathy’s trademark humor concerning all things celebrity.

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman:  The famously crude comedienne tells the story of her life, managing to bring her signature humor into even the most serious stories about depression and late-in-life bedwetting.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley:  A collection of witty essays about a 20-something trying to make it in Manhattan.  I particularly enjoyed her evil boss stories and her explanation of her bizzare collection of plastic ponies.

While we wait for George R.R. Martin to continue writing….

After a six year wait, George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons was finally released earlier this month.  Knowing the pace at which Mr. Martin tends to write, we’re in for a long wait until the sixth installment in this epic fantasy series is published.  While you’re waiting, here are some other series you might be interested in:

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is the first series that is always suggested to me when I’m looking for A Song of Ice and Fire read-alikes.  Starting with the first book, called The Eye of the World, the story involves magic, an epic quest, battles, and adventure.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice, is a medieval political saga much like A Song of Ice and Fire, and it even includes an illegitimate son character a la Jon Snow.

Gregory Keyes’ new series, Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, starts with The Briar King.  Like A Song of Ice and Fire, it also has multiple character viewpoints and struggles for the throne.

And if you’re up for something a little less gritty but still tells an epic fantasy tale with fantastic world building, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is always enjoyable no matter how many times you’ve read it.  If you’ve never read them before, start with The Fellowship of the Ring, then The Two Towers (my personal favorite), and finally The Return of the King.  It’s next on my re-read list!

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The three Andreas sisters, Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy) grew up like no other sisters you have ever met in The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.   Their father, a college professor who speaks to them the majority of the time by rattling off Shakespearean quotes, instilled a love of books in his three daughters.

Raised in the college town of Barnwell, Ohio, the sister’s lives took dramatically different directions after leaving their childhood home.  Their lives are as different as their personalities and although they are sisters, they realize that they truly love each other, but actually don’t like each other that much.  The three reunite back in Barnwell for a variety of reasons, most importantly, their mother’s battle with cancer.

In addition to their mother’s illness, each of the Andreas sisters has their own personal struggle to deal with whether it be running away from their past lives or struggling with their future and its choices.  The engaging characters and witty dialogue make The Weird Sisters a treat to read.  You will find yourself immersed in the lives of the sisters as a member of the Andreas family and you will find yourself caught up in their triumphs and in their failures.

A great Norweigan crime author!

After reading Swedish authors Steig Larsson, Camilla Lackberg and Asa Larssen and becoming addicted to Scandinavian crime mysteries, I came across rave reviews about Norweigan author Jo Nesbo and decided to try one of his most recent books that has been translated into English.

The Devil’s Star begins simply enough with a small trickle of water that streams down the wall of an Oslo apartment.  The Devil’s Star continues to take the reader on twists and turns to a unexpected and thrilling end with a myriad of victims courtesy of one serial killer.  Each victim has a telltale sign left at the scene – a five point diamond near each of their bodies.

Detective Harry Hole, who is still reeling from the murder of his former partner, struggles both with alcohol and his new partner (and nemesis) Tom Whaaler on this case.  Hole is convinced Whaaler has something to do with his partner’s death.  To complicate matters, Detective Hole also struggles with his on again off again girlfriend, Rakel – which makes for more drama in the Detective’s life.

If you enjoyed reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, give Jo Nesbo a try – his latest book to be translated into English, The Snowman, comes out in May.

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg

Though the recent cold and snowy weather makes us all dream of warmer places, I still can’t stop reading more Scandinavian mysteries, where the cold climate plays a major role.   The Preacher is the second mystery novel by Swedish author Camilla Lackberg – if you have recently enjoyed other Scandinavian crime fiction you may want to add her to your list.  I blogged about her first novel, The Ice Princess, a few months ago and after I finished reading this book I couldn’t wait for the next book in the series to be translated into English.

In The Preacher, again we meet Erica and Patrik who are now expecting their first child.  As a detective in Fjallbacka, a tiny fishing village in southwest Sweden, Patrik has been thrown in to a new investigation – the murder of a young tourist from Germany.  With this new case, the 30 year old unsolved disappearance of  two young women is also thrust into the spotlight – the young tourist’s body is found with the remains of these two young women.

The case takes an unexpected turn when a young girl, Jenny Moeller whose appearance is nearly identical to the murdered tourist, is kidnapped and Patrik and his fellow detectives know that time is running out to try and save her.  With Jenny’s disappearance, clues come to light that  focus the investigation on a local and radical family, the Hult’s, whose public feud only complicates the case further.  The ending is completely unexpected and shocking – definitely well worth it!

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, begins a new series, The Cousin’s War, in which each book focuses on an important woman who had a pivital role in England’s War of the Roses.

The White Queen tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a recent widow with young children, who catches the eye of the young Kind Edward IV.  Elizabeth then marries him in a secret ceremony and becomes queen.  Soon thereafter, the King leaves to fight a battle against his brother, in which the winner will be declared the rightful King of England.

Years later, Elizabeth is caught in the middle of the long standing war and makes drastic decisions as a mother and as a queen.  Her most difficult decision concerned her two sons whose fate as the “princes in the tower,” has baffled historians for centuries.  Philippa Gregory’s book seamlessly weaves historical fact with a fictional but personable account of medieval life in the first person. This fascinating book portrays the epic battles for power, treason, humanity and the dynamics of a royal family.

The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham

The Wedding Girl by Madeleine WickhamOnly a couple more months until my wedding (GAH!) so I picked up Madeleine Wickham’s The Wedding Girl, hoping that the funny, whimsical hijinks of Milly Havill, the main character, would distract me from stressing out. Unfortunately, those hijinks turned out to be kind which cause more panic than giggles.

The story begins when eighteen year old Milly travels to Oxford on her first summer away from home and gets swept up in an intimate friendship with two gay men, Allan and Rupert. Soon the men approach Milly with an elaborate favor–Would she agree to marry American-born Allan so that he can remain in England to be with Rupert? Milly doesn’t hesitate before saying yes and soon finds herself smiling and waving at passerbys as she stands arm-in-arm with Allan in front of the registry office.

Ten years later, Milly has four days until she weds Simon, the son of a local millionaire, and her secret marriage has begun to leak out sending Milly and everyone around her in a downward spiral as they try to make the wedding still happen. This seems like it may just be the perfect set-up for a witty, British comedy ala Death at a Funeral, does it not?! But no! It is heavy and melancholy, but still every bit a page-turner thanks to the questions surrounding the whereabouts of Rupert and Allan. Although I enjoyed The Wedding Girl, I would instead suggest Meg Cabot’s Queen of Babble for Brides who are looking for a fun, romantic read with lots of wedding drama.

Books on CD- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

“They can’t make me be a princess…I mean, this is America for crying out loud.”

The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot is not only one of my favorite book series, but also one of my favorite audiobook series. In fact, I have only “read” the final two in the series–the first eight were purely experienced by audiobook! I seem to gravitate towards audiobooks where the story is in diary format (Princess Diaries, Bridget Jones, Confession of Georgia Nicholson, etc). They are usually light and funny, and I do not lose track of the story if I get distracted by something else for a second.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Princess Diaries’ movies starring Anne Hathaway (her first role, in fact!) and Julie Andrews, the series follows a girl named Mia Thermopolis as she deals with being invisible at school, having a crush on her best friend’s older brother, seeing her mom kiss her math teacher, and, oh yeah, finding out that she is the sole heir to the throne of a small European principality (the made-up country of Genovia). Mia is incredibly big-hearted and intelligent, but also quite dramatic and neurotic. Thus, she gets herself into all sorts of hilarious entanglements much to the enjoyment (and sympathy) of the listener. Also, almost everyone I know who has read this series has become infatuated with the character of Michael Moscovitz–as in he is right up there with Mr. Darcy for romantic literary figures. If that won’t get you to read/listen to it, I don’t know what will! (and extra bonus, the movies’ version of Michael was played Robert Schwartzman, who will be in the Quad Cities on August 6th to perform with his band Rooney at the Redstone Room.)

Celebrate with the Classics: Everything Old is New Again

With a few tweaks to design and format, many classics have found themselves again at the top of recent bestseller lists and looking glamorous in the bookstore window displays. Here are a few of my favorite classic updates that would excellent viewing for recent graduates:

Wuthering Heights is all the rage right now due a certain saga of Vampire novels giving numerous nods in Emily Brontë’s direction. And if that wasn’t enough make this classic fly off the shelves, Penguin Deluxe Classics just reissued a new edition of the book featuring a FANTASTIC cover design by fashion illustrator, Ruben Toledo, where Heathcliff is looking particularly handsome and Edward-ish.

One of the most popular trends in publishing right now is the graphic-novelfying of both old and new classics. A People’s History of American Empire: a Graphic Adaptation by Howard Zinn is a great choice for those High School Graduates heading off into the heat of a liberal arts college’s world of discussion and debate.

Nothing gets more classic than a Superhero story of Good vs. Evil. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a 3-part musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion was produced by cult hero Joss Whedon and originally released online. Can a classic story get any more updated than that?! It has since been released on DVD with tons of extras and is a MUST SEE for anyone who will be living in a college dorm where spontaneous, amateur performances of the show are not uncommon.

Your graduate has read the books, seen the movies, and listened to Jim Dale’s narration over and over again. But have they rocked out to Harry and the Potters yet? You cannot know the depths of your love for HP until you have sung “Save Ginny Weasley” at the top of your lungs with a hundred other fanboys and fangirls. Don’t believe me that Wizard Rock is one of the awesomest things right now? Come see Harry and the Potters at the Eastern Grand Opening on July 10, 2010!