Category Archives: Canadian authors

Glass Houses and Readalikes for Louise Penny

cover image of Glass Houses audiobookGlass Houses by Louise Penny is #13 in the Armand Gamache series, and the books have become enormously popular. I’d like to think I was an early adopter, but #1 came out in 2006, and I can’t say for sure I’ve been pushing these books for 11 years!

If you haven’t heard of Louise Penny, you must not avoid anything that even remotely resembles crime fiction. She was even on CBS Morning America last month:

https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/louise-penny-on-her-new-inspector-gamache-novel-glass-houses/

Glass Houses might be a hard one to jump into the series with, because the series is so far along, but I think the book succeeds both as a stand-alone title and in moving the characters forward in the series. The author does very well bringing in enough backstory for new readers (or to remind regular readers of the series) to grasp the personalities and motivations of the main characters and the essential peacefulness of the village of Three Pines, which manages to remain undisturbed despite the disturbing number of violent murders that happen there!

In an interview recorded with the audiobooks’ new narrator, Robert Bathurst, at the end of Glass Houses, Louise Penny says her books aren’t crime fiction. With the main character the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, the police department for the whole of the province, and with a murder mystery at the center of just about every book, it seems like plain old genre prejudice to claim the books aren’t “crime fiction”.  But they definitely do fall at the literary end of the crime fiction spectrum, with themes for each book and thematic explorations of ethics and morality running throughout the series.

With characters who grow and change over the course of the series; the author’s fondness for word play and her often poetic language; and the rigorous intellectual, philosophical, moral, and cultured scaffolding every story is mounted on, these books will probably not appeal to readers looking for a straightforward murder mystery.

I’ve tried before on this blog to come up with a list of authors to try if you like Louise Penny, and I still think Jane Langton’s Homer and Mary Kelly mysteries are the closest match for style. But here is a list of other books that might hit the spot while fans of Louise Penny-style literary crime fiction (Shhh, don’t tell the author I said crime fiction!) wait for next year’s Armand Gamache book.

(I’ve listened to all of the Armand Gamache books on audio, as I do most of my crime fiction, so all of the books on this list are also recommended as audiobooks.)

Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next series
Less serious and with fantasy elements, the word play and humor of these books might appeal to readers who find the banter of the residents of Three Pines one of the best parts of this series.

Jane Langton
Homer and Mary Kelly series
The author imbues her mysteries with history and culture with deftness and humor. The marriage of Homer and Mary Kelly is reminiscent of the Armand and Rene Marie Gamache partnership.

G.M. Malliet
Max Tudor series
Classic village mysteries with a handsome, unmarried vicar in the lead role, these stories have the wit and ironic self-regard seen in the lighter books in the Armand Gamache series.

Inger Ash Wolfe
Hazel Micallef series
Darker in tone than even the darkest of the Armand Gamache books, the Hazel Micallef books may appeal to readers looking for literary crime fiction with realistic characters set in Canada.

 

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Male Family Dysfunction in Maine (Even the Narrator is a Boy): The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly

cover imageThe publisher of The Miracle on Monhegan Island calls it “another rollicking, summertime family saga” from author Elizabeth Kelly, but I think “rollicking” is a slightly misleading description, unless you’d also call the stories of the dark dysfunctional family summers in We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or Maine by Courtney Sullivan “rollicking.”

Although The Miracle on Monhegan Island overflows with humor and is narrated in its entirety by Ned, a purebred Shih Tzu who is wise beyond his years on the subjects of both human nature and dog breeds, the humor is mostly dark. The Monahan family is still recovering from events related to mental illness that broke up the family in the past.

I am a big fan of author Elizabeth Kelly, although you might not know it from my blog. I was so impressed with her two previous novels – Apologize, Apologize! and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns –  that I was afraid my reviews wouldn’t do them justice. But after reading an advance copy of The Miracle on Monhegan Island, which is coming out on May 10th and is written in the same understanding, unsentimental tone – a blend of light and dark, heavy on the dark– as her earlier books, I want to make sure my blog readers don’t miss hearing from me any longer about author Elizabeth Kelly (not to be confused with Canadian romance author Elizabeth Kelly, or Catholic inspirational author Elizabeth Kelly.)

Monhegan Island is a real island in Maine with cliffs overlooking the ocean, miles of walking trails, unspoiled natural vistas, and no cars.

photo of Monhegan Island
Photo from Monhegan.com http://monhegan.com

Before Spark, the prodigal adult son, returns after an absence of many years to the family home, he steals a dog as a gift for his young teenaged son Hally on impulse from the backseat of a car, thus changing Ned’s life completely, as Spark’s return to Monhegan Island also changes the life of his son Hally, who has lived alone with his artist uncle and stern preacher grandfather since the death of his mother when he was little. Pastor Ragnar is either a crackpot or inspired by God, but his faithful following grows exponentially when Hally reports seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, igniting a firestorm of media attention and obsessed visitors to the isolated island.

Ned muses frequently on how different and more meaningful his life turned out to be from the petted and pampered life he had believed was his lot; his witty observations of the behavior of the members of the human family he now belongs to and the other humans (and dogs) on the island are equally keen and thoughtful.

You don’t have to be either a dog person or a God person to appreciate the dark humor of this story of the fine line between religious fervor and psychosis and the strength of blood lines and family ties. Add this one to your summer reading list, if you don’t mind a few loose ends and unanswered questions to ponder over after you close the book!

The Miracle on Monhegan Island
Kelly, Elizabeth (@ElizabethKelly8)
Norton, May 10, 2016
9781631491795 (hard.)
$25.95

Disclosure: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

This Book Scared Stephen King and Grossed Me Out: The Troop by Nick Cutter (Audio) @SimonAudio

cover image of audiobookIn case you’ve missed me, I’m trying to recover from an unexpected blogging slump. I had actually hoped to post more audiobook reviews than usual during June to celebrate National Audiobook Month, but instead, June got away from me almost completely.

Put The Troop by Nick Cutter on your audiobook listening list if you’re looking for a good scare from a book that’s firmly in the traditional horror genre but has enough character development and Lord of the Flies overtones that fans of literary horror might like it too. Did you notice Stephen King’s blurb featured prominently on the cover?

The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick people. It’s the perfect gift for a winter night.” — Stephen King

The Troop came out in February, which is still deep winter up in Maine, but the story takes place over a long weekend in the summer, so it would be perfectly suitable for a summer vacation read, as well as in the winter. Unless, of course, you’re camping alone on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island in Canada – in which case, The Troop might come a little too close for comfort.

OK, when Stephen King says it’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s saying something. The Troop really is a gross-out fest and pretty darn scary, so it would not make a good family road-trip audiobook choice. (I was listening to this on my way in to work one morning and was the first one in the building. A few minutes later, I jumped a mile when I heard the door open, and this was first thing in the morning and broad daylight.) Remember I mentioned Lord of the Flies (as has every other review and publicist’s notice, I’m sure). The Lord of the Flies isn’t a jolly camping story you want to read to the family around the campfire, and neither is The Troop!

Nick Cutter is actually a pseudonym for Canadian literary fiction author Craig Davidson, I found out while writing this review, so that explains the literary overtones that seep into this story of blood, gore, and other bodily fluids coming out instead of staying inside where they belong. The author says in an interview that he was a voracious consumer of horror fiction and movies, growing up, and that’s why he decided to write a horror novel himself.

The audiobook edition is narrated by actor Corey Brill, and is excellent! I highly recommend listening to The Troop if you have a strong stomach and are in the mood for some no-holds-barred horror.

The Troop
Cutter, Nick, author
Brill, Corey, narrator
Simon & Schuster Audio
February 2014

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