{Review} The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

6449551If you’ll recall, I sped-read Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning during spring semester in order to write an arts review for class. Since then, I had tucked her away in my mind with a note to read more of her books.

While perusing the table of books at Costco a couple weeks ago, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across her again, and being my very cheap self, took a photo of the cover as a reminder to borrow it from the library. The Brutal Telling is the fifth book in Penny’s  Armand Gamache series, and A Great Reckoning the most recent. In fact checking that statement, I just discovered that a new Gamache novel, Glass Houses, will be published in August!

While only my second Inspector Gamache novel, I can already tell that Penny has a penchant for incorporating themes of secrets, truth, and façades. I admire the consistency, and she does it well, all whilst weaving in minor themes, notes, and commentary that, although not the focus, draw an acute attention to themselves.

The discovery of a body in Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines, Quebec rattles the tiny, welcoming village. Instantly, all are plunged into an unfamiliar world of secrets and brutality. As the blame constantly shifts and lies create a façade, it seems that more questions will be created than answered. It begs the question of what is more dangerous: the truth, or the comfortable walls that conceal it?

As the case drags out, Olivier’s past is unearth in a brutal telling, revealing an insecure, greedy man hidden behind the generous, well-loved bistro owner the villagers have come to adore. But, while his secrets are revealed, the process also raises an important question about how we love: conditionally or unconditionally? Do we have the power, or more importantly, the will, to love unconditionally? What are the boundaries? How far will we go when we feel someone we love has betrayed our trust?

All the while, Clara’s about to receive the artistic recognition of her dreams…until her agent makes an ugly remark about her friend, Gabri, Olivier’s partner. As Clara wrestles with her conscience and swings between silence, safety, and acceptance; and courage, risk, and dignity; she must decide how important it is to stand up for friends and family. Is it worth sacrificing her dream to defend her friends and stand up for what she believes is right?

And, remarkably, there is the entrance of a rookie Sûreté agent, Paul Morin, whose courage, gusto, and willingness prove to us that there is much more than what meets the eye. Sometimes, we must stand out from the crowd, withstand the ridicule, and put ourselves out there. If we want our dreams badly enough, we will weather the judgement, the laughter, and sometimes, disdain to prove ourselves and take the risk. In Inspector Gamache, he continues to testify to the power of kindness to strangers, colleagues, and friends.

In regards to A Great ReckoningThe Brutal Telling was lacking somewhat in character development. We see the struggles of Olivier, Clara, Peter, and others, but few come to favorable resolutions, if any at all. Instead, the issues are suspended, perhaps to be continued in the next book, perhaps to be laid to rest.

 

{Review} The Paradise Prophecy by Robert Browne

10110260John Stuart Mill was on to something when he wrote about achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The question of how to achieve this remains mind-boggliningly relevant as we look for solutions to the world’s problems, and it is also a question that Robert Browne expertly wrestles with in The Paradise Prophecy.

With a plot that brilliantly combines history, mystery, and classics for a Dan Brown-esque thriller, Browne transports key figures of John Milton’s Paradise Lost to present day as they all race, in good against evil, to be the determiner of the world’s fate. Tangled up in the action, albeit unwillingly, are Batty and Callahan, and it is unsurprisingly the two humans who, through their actions, ask the hard questions.

First, there is Callahan. She’s skeptical, at best, about religion; tough as nails; no-nonsense; and no frills. Callahan sees what she wants to see, and it troubles her when events don’t line up otherwise. “Seeing is believing” is her mantra, and she holds tight until proven wrong. Proven wrong she is, which leads readers to question her decision and, perhaps, their own life philosophy: Callahan was in Mill’s camp. Greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. She was willing to sacrifice an innocent to save the world, but at what cost? Callahan also chose out of fear for herself.

Are we willing to sacrifice innocence as the price for survival? Extrapolated, will we choose the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? It is also important to look at what drives this decision, because it must somehow, always, benefit ourselves as well—no one would choose the greatest good for the greatest number unless they stood to benefit in some way.

Batty, perhaps, wrestles with the heavier topic: the freedom of choice. Batty’s made many poor choices, but it all boils down to one. He must decide whether or not to sacrifice the innocent; the choice is his and his alone. Does he save the world and kill a blameless child? Or, does he spare her, and face unknown, and potentially devastating consequences?

“This is about choices. And the intent behind those choices, and proving to the father that humans are still capable of making the right ones. And this is a choice not made through malice, but out of love. A love for humankind.” -St. Michael to Batty

As St. Michael points out, intent can make a choice evil or good. Whether Batty kills out of malice or love will make the difference, and it’s something we can confront in our lives, too. What are the motives that drive our actions? Selfish gain? Selflessness? Sometimes, what we feel is right may not make sense. But that’s where intent and motive come into play.

“‘If creating some kind of utopia on earth requires me to take the life of another living, breathing human being, I’m sorry, but you can count me out. Self-defense is one thing, but this is flat out murder.'” -Batty

In deciding not to sacrifice the innocent, Batty does right by his conscience and the child, at the risk of potential havoc. His decision only highlights the paradox: If he had chosen to sacrifice the child, it would have only been because of his sense of obligation to prevent the world’s destruction. Obligation obstructs free will and the freedom of choice, because the choice Batty made would not have been solely his own. It would have been heavily influenced by outside factors.

“Free will, Batty thought. That’s what it ultimately came down to. And what so many people thought of as weakness—the ability to empathize, to care, the thing that seemed so absent in the world of late—was really man’s strength. His lifeblood.”

{Review} The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

23460961How daring must we be, for how long must women fight for the recognition of equality? When will all men stand up and say, “yes, you matter, too, as much as we do”? Meg Wait Clayton, in a beautifully crafted novel, uses two brilliant heroines to make the point that not much has changed…but it could, if we are brave enough to stand up. Based on real female war correspondents reporting during World War II, Clayton delivers sharp social commentary, as relevant today as it was in 75 years ago, with fearless heroines proving that determination and good friends can get you just about anywhere.

As the scene unfolds at a hospital camp in Normandy, the readers are introduced to three journalists whom Clayton skillfully uses to portray a few common mindsets prevalence even today.

Olivia “Liv” Harper is a daring, headstrong, and extraordinary photographer, defying even her husbands wishes as she heads to France. Jane is a young journalist, writing for a Nashville newspaper owned by the family for whom her mother works as a maid. Marie is Jane’s fellow journalist and stiff on following the rules. She may not like them, but she will not break them, nor allow herself to think beyond them.

When Liv defies direct orders to remain at the camp, Jane, hungering to see and write about more than field hospitals, takes the risk and follows Liv. As they experience life at the front, Liv and Jane find themselves fighting against the obstacles that come with being females amidst the sea of male war correspondents, but also find allies along the way.

There is a great need in the world for men like Fletcher Roebuck and Hank Bend. In aiding Liv and Jane, from driving them to the front against orders, to keeping the women safe and distributing their stories and photos when they were denied access to the men’s press camp, Fletcher and Hank showed their support with something much more powerful than words. They acted.

Of course, they weren’t perfect, as revealed in Fletcher’s character: “…he certainly didn’t need the distraction of Charles blood Harper’s beautiful wife, no matter how talented she was…”, but his ultimate support of Liv and Jane, acting against the wishes of even his best friend Charles, showed that even engrained opinions can be pushed aside. We are not always obligated to hold onto all the beliefs of society.

Liv’s eventual death while photographing the front is a larger allegory of the sacrifices women have made and will be forced to make in order to obtain the same opportunities and prove themselves equal and capable. More than that, it’s a tribute to the women taking risks, defying norms and doing something that they love, with or without society’s approval.

In Jane’s decision to accompany Liv to the front, she represents those who want something badly and only need a push, people fearless like Liv to pave the way and show us how to live. Sometimes all we need is a friendly face and an outstretched hand, knowing that we’re supported and not alone.

So what should we women be doing? Reading about what’s happening, after its happened? No. Rather, we should look to Liv’s daring philosophy to be in the trenches of our lives: “Photos of the parachute sermon itself, the gunfire, the bicycle ride—those are the photos I ought to be taking. Not photographs of a woman in a safely liberated French town recalling them.” We need to be in the thick of it, not picking up the pieces.

Right now, many of us are Marie, discontented with the confines of society, but unwilling or unable to fight against the system. We find ourselves “couch potato activists,” unable to do more than support the Livs from behind a screen.

Not all of us will be Liv, but we can be Jane. Clayton is right. We need to acknowledge the risk, but take the chance and follow. Otherwise, we could be missing out on the greatest adventure of our lives. Liv and Jane were living in a changing world, and it’s still evolving now. Where will it take us?

{Review} Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

I have a running joke that I like science. I’m actually not well suited to the field; I lack patience, am not fond of following directions to the T, and crave a little bit of creativity and my own rules. However, I find its principles fascinating…when I’m not sitting in class. Seeing scientific principles in action is actually quite fun, and so I picked up this little book to learn a little bit more about how the world spins. It’s probably fair to say that I only really processed 60 percent of what was explained, but this was all for fun, after all.

Rovelli divides this book into the following chapters: “The Most Beautiful of Theories,” “Quanta,” “The Architecture of the Cosmos,” “Particles,” “Grains of Space,” “Probability, Time, and the Heart of Black Holes,” and “Ourselves.”

I won’t try and delve into all the details, because I’m not sure how well I understood everything, but I was thoroughly fascinated. His tone is conversational as he carefully explains the principles and history of topics such as the Theory of Relativity (space is gravity?) and what actually happens in black holes. I think that this little book is a lovely way to become acquainted with some the basic theories and principles in physics, whether or not you are scientifically inclined.

Happy reading!

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

28220985Reckoning. It’s a powerful word whose definition depends on the context. A force to be reckoned with. Intimidating. A day of reckoning. Redemption, revelation. The actions we take will come back to haunt us or to set us free. Louis Penny’s beautifully crafted A Great Reckoning shows the messy, beautiful power of reckoning, as an intricate, sometimes painful, liberating process.

 

Set in a tiny Quebec village, Three Pines, the novel follows Commander Armand Gamache of the elite police school Sûreté Academy, following the murder of a corrupt academy professor. More intriguing than the murder are the consequences, lessons, and truths it brings forth. Throughout her novel, Penny’s characters confront their identities, each seeking a reckoning of reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness, from their pasts.

 

Amelia Choquet. Dark, spikey hair. Piercings sprinkling her face. Tattoos. She knows she is not the standard, ideal Sûreté cadet. Yet the one who seems to belong the least has the most to teach. Through Amelia, we learn about the importance of being ourselves and the dangers of conformity. She shows the value of thinking and acting differently, enabling us to perceive situations from a fresh perspective. She makes us consider the value of originality and challenges us to look kindly at people who may be different from ourselves. Her history, tangled with Gamache’s, highlights the power of redemption and second chances with the need for forgiveness and the need to be seen. She shows there is freedom when we forgive and let go of a painful past.

 

The characters’ beautifully complex histories intertwine as Gamache and the cadets work to solve the mystery of the murder of Serge Leduc. Collectively, they reveal that we all have secrets. We hide out of fear, shame, anger, and brokenness. Their stories ask: Where do we draw the line between personal/private and secret? Secrets can break us. How we choose to face them dictates how we will develop and how we reveal the truth. More importantly, the characters prove that vulnerability does not constitute weakness. “Things are strongest when they’re broken,” says Gamache.

 

Penny’s novel is sublime, with each character contributing a piece to the puzzle, bringing it’s own sorrows, struggles, curiosity, and pain. The novel starts slowly, but that does not make it less interesting; rather, it heightens the suspense as details are dispensed like drops through an IV. There are just enough surprises sprinkled throughout to keep the heart fluttering and the pages turning. As she intertwines two mysteries, Penny shows the beauty of what is unseen, the “mundane and magnificent.” We must look at ourselves, look at others, and be reconciled, forgiven. We must embrace identities, offer second chances, and be vulnerable, “Not because it was easy, but because it was difficult.”

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

(Originally written over winter break!)

Okay, I can’t remember if I’ve raved written about Pride & Prejudice here…I feel as if I have, because if I haven’t, that would be disastrously out of character, and you would never know about my extremely unhealthy (but totally okay) obsession. Case en pointe:

13568894_912547038872853_8100235906221232866_oI FOUND MR. DARCY’S BUST AT PEMBERLY!!

I also have this little tradition of reading Pride and Prejudice every time I get on an airplane…so (I didn’t manage to finish) this journey home from BU for Christmas break marked the seventh(!!!!!!!!!!) time I’ll have read it.

 

 

 

25852870My lovely friend Haley (hi, Haley!!) recommended Eligible to me after we discovered that we both have a love for P&P and Jane Austen. There are approximately 40 books on my reading list on Goodreads  and I have finished three in the five days I have been at home. Eligible was one of the books (aside from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and If I Stay), and I have to say…I’m a fan! It is, in all essence, P&P set for 2016 (or somewhere between 2014-now??!!). Honestly, when she first recommended it, I had my doubts. I was a P&P purist. How could anyone even think about adapting or modifying Jane Austen’s already very perfect love story? With all the observations on social protocol, a fierce and headstrong Lizzy Bennet, and wit? How? Sittenfeld did it, and actually quite brilliantly. As a bonus, it was also hilarious. I ACTUALLY laughed out loud at some parts. The 2016 version of the Bennett family was everything that it should be, and Sittenfeld adeptly transposes 1800s Lizzy Bennett into a very modern, but still very Lizzy, Liz Bennett. READ THE BOOK!

This afternoon I wrapped up a re-read of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, English-language version. Not as beautiful sounding, but still made me want to cry huge, heavy tears. After re-reading, though, I cemented what I thought I understood in French, and better understood the sections of the original novel that were a little fuzzy when translating French to English didn’t work out well. Regardless of the language in which you read the novel, there are some extremely beautiful excerpts that you should read, and that I’m going to share, accompanied by photos when the opportunity arises and inspiration strikes. For now…I recommend it, too! A recap of If I Stay will be following soon, and I’m excited because I’ve just started Gourmet Rhapsody, also by Muriel Barbery, abut Pierre Arthens, one of the minor characters in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Happy reading!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

4374400Usually, I’m pretty decisive (GASP) when it come to books. I’m never decisive about anything. My friends and I struggle to make decisions…and as a result that usually results in throwing the responsibility of deciding the group activity onto someone who isn’t you…and we waste a few good minutes trying not to be the person to make the decision and not step on other people’s toes. I don’t know how we function or do things together, because at that rate, we should never be going anywhere at all, because we could never decide.

This book was kind of like me with my friends trying to decide what to do. Mixed feelings and no strong objections or approval. But right now, I’m going to make a decision and say that yes, I liked the book. I didn’t love it. I liked it, and I think that anyone who picked it up could enjoy the storyline and the unique style of writing. The reason that I’m deciding to like the book is because the style in which it was written was refreshing; it’s not a style I come across often.

The book was made into a movie that was released last year under the same title, so I’ll assume you know the premise: the protagonist, Mia, and her family are in a horrendous car accident in which she finds herself the sole survivor. She must decide whether or not she wants to keep living. What I found quite interesting was that Mia was the narrator, narrating the events in an out-of-body experience. The readers know that she is, in reality, in a coma in the hospital, but her…mind? Essence? Her conscious is narrating everything, and she sees everything as if she were actually living it, even though she is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. The story is also told with lots of flashbacks, which I always enjoy because I don’t see myself as the writerly type who could arrange a book in that way and ensure that it would be cohesive. So the readers find themselves ping ponging between past in present, as Mia and her past are slowly revealed in sad little morsels. The one thing that sealed the deal was the end: you never find out whether or not she wakes up! She regains consciousness, but I have a passionate hatred for cliff hangers, so for that reason alone, I only liked this book. There is a sequel, titled Where She Went, so you know that she does eventually wake up and decide to keep living…but the ending was too abrupt for me.I n short, I’d recommend it…but I won’t read it again.

Happy reading!

The Book of Proper Names (Robert des noms propres) by Amélie Nothomb

1003801First, I am seriously lamenting the lack of foreign-language books in America. Or at least, the lack of them at my local library. I’ve got a stack of books, including several from my favorite French-language authors, Muriel Barbery and Amélie Nothomb, but could only locate the English translations. Disappointment, I tell you!

Anyways, the semester is over, and I’m writing to rave about Nothomb’s The Book of Proper Names. In short, it’s beautiful. I highly recommend. In French, of course, if you want the experience to be enhanced by the beauty of the French language.

The plot is strange, but it talks about a lot of good themes~ our identity, how we construct it, and the role that society and our worlds play in constructing our identity for us. And, how could you help but love the protagonist, Plectrude? Named after an obscure 11th-century nun, this highly intelligent, extremely talented young girl shows us why c’est encore plus beau comme ça.

So, this winter break, you know what I see? You + Robert des noms propres + hot chocolate. It looks marvelous.

Next on my reading list are the following titles:

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery (a re-read, it’s so good!)

The Life of Elves, Muriel Barbery

Gourmet Rhapsody, Muriel Barbery

Tokyo Fiancée, Amélie Nothomb

Hygiene and the Assassin, Amélie Nothomb

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (!!!)

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

 

Happy reading, friends!

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (L’élegance du Hérisson) by Muriel Barbery

2967752Back with a book review!! This post will be in English, but I actually read this book in French! This was part of the required reading in order to explore le roman français, but I really enjoyed it! I actually read it a few years ago in English, so reading it in French lent a whole new perspective and experience.

Quick synopsis:

The story revolves around three characters: Renée, the concierge; Paloma, a 12 year old girl living in 7 rue de Grenelle; and Kakuro, the new tenant in the building. Renée and Paloma are both extremely intelligent, and are struggling to see the beauty and the meaning of life, trapped in their respective social classes. Kakuro comes along and helps them discover what it really means to live and to see others.

I have to say, if you can read this book in French, it will enhance the experience 200%. French is just more beautiful than English~~it adds another dimension and feeling to the words. (Language is such a marvelous thing!)

Whatever language you read this in, it speaks profoundly about class, identity, cultural capital, and why we feel reluctant to step out of our boundaries and show our true selves. It’s definitely one of my favorite books, and I love it so much I think I’m going to buy the English version (I already have the French version). Which says a lot, because I never buy books.

 

Happy reading!

The Heart Goes Last (Margret Atwood)

This is my third Margret Atwood book. The first two, Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin didn’t impress me very much. I thought they were okay. The end goal was just to write a literary analysis paper, and at the time I didn’t feel that Atwood was my jam. However, I started perusing the virtual Goodreads (thank goodness for that site!) shelves of friends…and strangers, and found that she had published another book! And, to my delight, the book was published recently, last year, to be exact.

First, this book is weird. Like, really weird, Margret Atwood weird. I’m not going to go into details, that’s how weird it was. I am, frankly, surprised that I made it to the end, because it was so strange at certain points I just wanted to throw the towel on it.

However, it’s also a compelling and powerful novel about surveillance, choice, humanity, gender roles, and the power of choice. Plus, the title is very poetic and ties into the story in a couple ways. I always find that a fun and interesting little bit.

Overall, I would, despite it’s thorough quirkiness and downright disturbing content, recommend it. Although, I feel like the climax/denouement was not tied up of well as it could have been. Towards the end, I found detail lacking, as if Atwood were trying to fast forward everything. All around though, it’s a nice read!