A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise Penny

Redd Becker Book Review

Louise penny’s latest Inspector Gamache mystery begins in Three An Inspector Gamache mysteryPines where we find the inspector deciding to accept the Commander position at the Sûreté academy in order to weed out corruption and the perspective of recruits from thugs to officers with integrity. (Many times I wished such practices could root out and change the police forces in some of our cities in the USA.)

When a teacher at the academy is murdered the independent inspector enlisted to oversee the investigation suspects Commander Gamache.

Inevitably, Penny includes scenes with the Quebec village of Three Pines in her stories. In this tale an orienteering map serves at the link between the tiny village and the academy. Four recruits are brought to the village to research its history. The characters Penny has developed living in Three Pines are all there, adding their usual charm.

Plenty of Suspects

There are always plenty of suspects including the independent investigator, Deputy Commissioner Gelinas; Armand’s oldest friend and later foe, Micheal Brebeuf, who Armand enlists to teach corruption, a crime Brebeuf was guilty of committing; four students close to the murdered professor; and a tactician brought in to teach, Hugo Charpentier. Jean Guy even begins questions his old boss, when he suspects Armand of being the father of a recruit. Twists keep you second guessing until the final reveal.

A Great Reckoning is a well-written mystery, although it may not include the fresh writing of some of Penny’s books.

Inspector Gamache Mysteries

Louise Penny has written twelve mysteries with Inspector Armand Gamache as lead from 2005 to 2016. Each develops the man and his connection to the quaint Quebec village of Three Pines.

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise PennyA Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise Penny
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12
Published by Minotaur Books on August 30th 2016
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 389
Goodreads

The next novel in Louise Penny's #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.
When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.
Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.
The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.
For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny pulls back the layers to reveal a brilliant and emotionally powerful truth in her latest spellbinding novel.

salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Redd Becker Book Review

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

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.

 

 

The Immortal Throne (The City #2) by Stella Gemmell, author of The City

Redd Becker Book Review

The Immortal Throne by Stella Gemmell portrays a saga of war. As in war, a plethora of characters with conflicting perspectives vie for by Stella Gemmellattention. Gemmell moves in and out of point-of-view in order to connect the reader with the complexities of her characters. The emotional connection with them, however, was not strong for me. I would like more reason to care, besides the complexities of war.

That said, Gemmell’s settings and plot development reflect her strengths as a writer, which are lofty accomplishments. The settings in The Immortal Throne cover a kingdom/city and its environs, but it’s difficult at times to envision the immensity of it through all the details. Regardless, it’s clear the author envisions the settings completely. Her descriptions leave little doubt. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m not a fan of books based on setting, but I often read them, because buried within the plethora of descriptions are interesting characters, concepts and plots.

Gemmell Works her Plots

Gemmell doesn’t let you down with plot. She works it like an intricate pattern of lace. Characters find themselves facing a broad array of challenges. Moles, traitors, double spies. Even the innocent  play their part. Greed, loyalty, mythic faith and love bind and drive characters to the end, when Gemmell reveals all. It’s then readers realize the most hidden motives behind the ‘Immortals’.

The final chapter brings the Immortal’s history to light, however, justifications for their actions felt trite and the explanations weren’t required. They added little to the overall story. The message that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely‘ came to life through the Immortal’s actions in the saga. No further explanation was needed.

As a reader, my interest lay in Rubin. The youth opens the story and plays a pivotal role throughout. He ultimately stands as a sort of sentinel at the end.

As with war, most characters came through as pawns of the plot, not drivers of it, but by the end, Gemmell ties up each character’s life. Readers are not left wondering about anyone.

Perhaps a Sequel from Stella Gemmell

The Immortal Throne could have been broken into two books. At 547 pages it is a tome, but new characters and aspects of the city’s complex history and war are introduced so frequently readers remain engaged. The Immortal Throne is the second of a series that could go on indefinitely. For a review of The City check out the foundingfields.com.

The Immortal Throne (The City #2) by Stella Gemmell, author of The CityThe Immortal Throne (The City, #2) by Stella Gemmell
Series: The City #2
Published by Bantam Press on March 24th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 576
Goodreads

The emperor is dead…long live the emperor! The fervent hope of the victorious rebels and the survivors of the uprising that liberated the City from tyranny is that the accession of Archange to the imperial throne will usher in a new era of freedom, peace and stability. If only that were so... As the the City struggles to return to something resembling normal life after the devastation brought on by the rebellion, word arises of a massive army gathering to the north. No one knows where it has come from or who leads it, but it soon becomes apparent that its sole purpose is to destroy the City and annihilate all - man, woman and child - who live within its battered walls. And while warriors go forth to fight and die on the battlefield in defence of their homeland and all that they believe in, bitter family feuds and ancient rivalries, political and personal betrayals, and mindless murder surface within the palaces and corridors of power: it seems the City is under siege - from both without and within . . . With this new novel, Stella Gemmell brings the astonishing story of the City to a spectacular climax and confirms her place as a master of the genre.

 

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple mystery

Redd Becker Book Review

In Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, a newcomer to the village receives a poison pen letter and finds The Moving Fingerthat many other villagers received them too. A maid who suspects the identity of the letter’s author is murdered before she can tell anyone.

I always enjoy Agatha Christie’s writing. Her style reads easily. She includes plenty of dialogue interlaced with setting descriptions. Equally important, she keeps you guessing with well placed clues as characters develop. The typical English village settings intrigue American readers, but her popularity demonstrates that English readers adore her stories equally.

The Moving Finger POV

Christie’s books, particularly her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot series, fascinate me. Both sleuths capture reader’s imaginations, yet they often don’t appear in a story until the ancillary characters become well established. In The Moving Finger Miss Marple hardly appears at all. The delay in the sleuth’s appearance may be due to the narrators Christie chooses to tell the story. She often writes in first person, but not from the sleuth’s point-of-view. 

Agatha Christie is well worth reading, even if you’ve seen the TV BBC dramas.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple mysteryThe Moving Finger (Miss Marple, #4) by Agatha Christie
Published by Harper Collins on January 1st 1970
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 299
Goodreads

The placid village of Lymstock seems the perfect place for Jerry Burton to recuperate from his accident under the care of his sister, Joanna. But soon a series of vicious poison-pen letters destroys the village's quiet charm, eventually causing one recipient to commit suicide. The vicar, the doctor, the servants—all are on the verge of accusing one another when help arrives from an unexpected quarter. The vicar's houseguest happens to be none other than Jane Marple.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, a Cinderella story

Redd Becker Book Review

Ella Enchanted retells the fairytale of Cinderella, but Levine adds several twists. At birth a fairy castes the ‘gift of obedience’ on Ella, thus burdening her with the drive to do as sElla Enchanted, a Cinderella storyhe is told by anyone who orders her. Ogres and a boarding school, where Ella meets her future step-sisters, spice up the tale further.

I found the first part of Levine’s rendition of Cinderella captivating. Toward the end of the book the magic of the read waned. The ball,  pumpkin coach, dancing and losing the glass slipper scenes, although well told, held no mystery or intriguing caveats to amuse me, like the first parts of the book did. For that reason I wouldn’t have considered it a Newberry Honor Book Finalist, but it was.

Still, Ella Enchanted is fun and Gail Carson Levine writes many popular teen books with female heroines.

A Cinderella Tale

As well as originating in multiple cultures this classic fairytale boasts a history of 1000 years in some form. Interesting Literature wrote an article of fun facts about it. And Refinery 9 wrote ‘Nine Stories You Might Not Know about Cinderella’.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, a Cinderella storyElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Published by Scholastic Books on September 1st 1998
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 232
Goodreads

Also see: Alternate Cover Editions for this ISBN [ACE]
ACE #1

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.
Gail Carson Levine's examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Redd Becker Book Review

A. S. King gives us a well written coming-of-age story in Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera struggles with more than any teenager should. Her mother abandoned her, her father struVera Dietz by A.S. Kingggles with life, her best friend’s father beats his mother and love seems always out of grasp for Vera. Pressures from the gang at school demean Vera and when her best friend and love of her life rejects her, her world implodes.

A difficult story for me to read, because everyone makes bad decisions, one after another. They never seem to make a good decision. No reprieve appears in sight. Even King’s ending laid a heavy hand on the heroine.

Undoubtedly, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an important depiction of how life for many teens works. For those more fortunate, the story depicts issues some teens face, however, it hurts to visualize such a bleak life as completely as King depicted Vera’s.

Vera Dietz comes to life with style

King writes in a familiar first person perspective that suits the story well. Written in Vera’s voice, the style is believable and carries you into her world.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. KingPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Published by Ember on April 10th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 326
Goodreads

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.
From the Hardcover edition.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10

Redd Becker Book Review

Many of you are familiar with Louise Penny’s Québécois inspector, Armand Gamache. A character full of warmth, compassion and, by Louise Pennyalways necessary for a great inspector, an ingenious perspective. When Gamache’s friend and neighbor’s husband fails to show up for a date on the one year anniversary of their separation she wants to know why. The search for his whereabouts leads Gamache from Paris, to Italy, to the recluse reaches of wilderness Canada, where the estranged husband has gone to redeem himself.

Penny paces her mystery. She takes the reader on circuitous paths that develop characters and enriches the overall ambiance of the story. By the end we are as fond of the isolated community of Three Pines, where Gamache lives, as the characters directly connected with the mystery. Fear not, however, as Inspector Gamaches’ patience and understanding of human psychology prevail to unravel the mystery.

Louise Penny Writes with Style

Once again I enjoyed Penny’s mystery. She writes in third person omniscient, developing the plot with care and paying attention to the details.

I didn’t like the end of The Long Way Home. It was too expected–although perhaps necessary in order to remain within the mystery genre’s expectation.

For those interested in writing: Take a look at Penny’s use of sentence fragments. She builds paragraphs on incomplete sentences that create images with the least amount of words. Penny uses this style to its fullest effect in her later novels.

Point-of-view shifts often, sometimes for only a short period of time. This technique builds rapport with multiple characters.

Although Penny breaks some of the rules teachers advocate these days, her fragmented sentences and word choices create a familiar atmosphere appropriate for the caring Inspector Gamache.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #10) by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books on August 26th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 373
Goodreads

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. "There is a balm in Gilead," his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, "to make the wounded whole."
While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. "There’s power enough in Heaven," he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, "to cure a sin-sick soul." And then he gets up. And joins her.
Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

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