Tag Archives: book lists

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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Nonfiction To Win Over Book Club Readers @MassBook

Looking to add some nonfiction to your book club’s reading list? Try one of these Massachusetts Book Award honorees – narrative nonfiction titles selected for their literary quality and discussablity in libraries and book groups.

They’re all either written by Massachusetts authors and/or have a connection to Massachusetts, but take a look and you’ll see that the subjects of these books are wide-ranging and of broad interest. The first-place winner, The Sixth Extinction, also won the Pulitzer Prize.

In other words, you don’t have to be from the Bay State to enjoy reading these award-winning nonfiction titles with your book club!

Massachusetts Book Award 2015 Nonfiction
2015_winnerThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert  (Holt)cover image of The Sixth Extinction

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.  – from the publisher

The Court-Martial of Paul Revere by Michael M. Greenburg (ForeEdge)

cover imageThe single event defining [Paul] Revere to this day is his ride from Charlestown to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775, made famous by Longfellow’s poem of 1860. Greenburg’s is the first book to give a full account of Revere’s conduct before, during, and after the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, and of his questionable reputation at the time, which only Longfellow’s poem eighty years later could rehabilitate. Thanks to extensive research and a riveting narrative that brings the battles and courtroom drama to life, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere strips away the myths that surround the Sons of Liberty and reveals the humanity beneath. – from the publisher

John Quincy Adams by Fred Kaplan (Harper)

cover imageIn this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred Kaplan brings into focus the dramatic life of John Quincy Adams — the little known and much misunderstood sixth president of the United States and the first son of John and Abigail Adams — and persuasively demonstrates how Adams’s inspiring, progressive vision guided his life and helped shape the course of America. – from the publisher

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding  (Gotham Books)

Once considered a respectable cover imageantiquarian map dealer, E. Forbes Smiley spent years doubling as a map thief — until he was finally arrested slipping maps out of books in the Yale University library. The Map Thief delves into the untold history of this fascinating high-stakes criminal and the inside story of the industry that consumed him. – from the publisher

Other People’s Houses by Jennifer Taub  (Yale)

cover image of Other Peoples HousesIn the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008, many claimed that it had been inevitable, that no one saw it coming, and that subprime borrowers were to blame. This accessible, thoroughly researched book is Jennifer Taub’s response to such unfounded claims…. Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure. – from the publisher

The Race Underground by Doug Most (St Martin’s)

cover image of The Race UndergroundDoug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at the centuries of fears people overcame about traveling underground and tells a story as exciting as any ever ripped from the pages of U.S. history. The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, their rich, powerful and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions. – from the publisher

Bringing writers and readers together in libraries for meaningful conversation about books that matter to our shared lives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Center for the Book

Massachusetts Book Awards


The Massachusetts Book Awards is a program of Massachusetts Libraries administered by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Find out more about your state’s Center for the Book here (USA).


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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Memoirs of Traveling with Family #books

Travel memoirs are one of my favorite types of nonfiction. There’s one on this list for every mood. Some of these are literally laugh-out-loud funny; others may start you bawling before the end, or will at least bring a tear to your eye.

The list is in alphabetical order, of course.

cover imageFour Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2007)
Before Anthony Doerr became famous for the novel All the Light We Cannot See, he had to write the book. He writes about working on it (and about not working on it) in Four Seasons in Rome, a memoir about the author’s year in Rome with a studio to write in and an apartment to live in, covered by a stipend.
Literary and lyrical except for a few episodes of parenting panic and moments when he wonders “what was I thinking when I accepted the Rome Prize with newborn twins?”, this book about reading, writing, and the terrifying and wonderful experience of being a new parent and living for a year in the heart of Rome when you don’t speak much Italian will appeal to readers of literary memoirs.

cover image audiobookIncontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy (Audio) by Jane Christmas, read by Eileen Barrett (PostHypnotic Press, 2009)
Incontinent on the Continent is a serio-comic travelogue about a six-week trip through Italy that the author, an adult (in her 50s) takes with her aging mother in an attempt to repair their fragile relationship before it’s too late. The dream trip turns into somewhat of a nightmare as the author’s expectations and what her mother wants to do (and is physically capable of doing) don’t coincide; the weather won’t cooperate; and the hoped-for mother/daughter bonding doesn’t come easy. The book is funny, but cringe-worthy in a lot of places.
The audiobook narration is great and, since the author learned conversational Italian in preparation for the trip, the book includes frequent snippets in Italian.
Read AudioFile review of Incontinent on the Continent

cover imageAn Innocent, a Broad by Ann Leary (William Morrow, 2004)
Back in 1990, when her husband Dennis Leary was an unknown comedian, he was hoping for his big break on a weekend jaunt to London. He got his big break, but his pregnant wife’s waters break while she’s walking down a London street. Only 26 weeks along, Ann Leary is put on bed rest, and due to the premature birth of their son, the Learys don’t return home to the U.S. for five months.
If you’ve read either of the author’s novels (The Good House, Outtakes from a Marriage) you know Ann Leary has a caustic sense of humor that manages to be essentially kind, and she writes about her experience figuring out the English people, the National Health Service, and first-time parenthood with a graceful wit.

cover imageTaking the Kids to Italy by Roland Merullo (PFP Publishing, 2013)
Originally published in serial form, Taking the Kids to Italy is the author’s account of a disastrous family vacation with his wife, two very young daughters, and his mother (who has the patience of a saint, and is a tremendously good sport). The humor that the adults can see in retrospect doesn’t always manage to cover the despair that seeps into the narrative, but I found myself laughing despite myself. The author has also written a memoir about a wonderful family trip abroad – The Italian Summer: Golf, Food, and Family at Lake Como (Simon & Schuster, 2009) – which would probably make a good companion read.

cover imageThree Weeks with My Brother by Nicholas Sparks and Micah Sparks (Grand Central, 2006)
It’s been years since I read this with a book club, but I do remember being surprised at how much I liked it. The bestselling author of tear-jerker novels such as The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks has actually experienced more than his share of tragedy in real life, and this book is a result of realizing your world can change in an instant. In Three Weeks with My Brother, he and his brother – both in their mid-thirties and the only surviving members of their family – share their experience of traveling around the world, hitting major global landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal, and musing on fate and faith. (The Christian or spiritual aspect of the book is very low-key, if I remember correctly.)

cover imageTraveling While Married: How to Take a Trip with Your Spouse and Come Back Together by Mary-Lou Weisman (Workman, 2003)
This is a collection of humorous essays, illustrated with drawings by Edward Koren, that are laugh-out-loud funny. (Or maybe you have to be married?, I don’t know!) From the publisher: “This is the real skinny on what happens when Mars and Venus hit the road. With a sly wink, a comic nod, and just the right amount of optimism, Weisman shows us that despite the shortcomings of one’s beloved, harmonious travel is possible.”
Written by a wife, but her own foibles and failings are just as funny as her husband’s.

cover imageUntil I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living With Joy  by Susan Spencer-Wendel (HarperCollins, 2013)
When the author, a journalist, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), she has been in denial for some time, so her physical decline is steep and sharp after the diagnosis. If you choose to read this memoir, which she laboriously typed out first on an iPad and then on a phone, which was all she had the physical ability to manage, you will probably cry your way through it as I did, but you will marvel at the emotional strength she holds onto for the sake of her husband and three children. She decides to fill the year she has left with trips with family members – going with each child to a place of his/her choosing, and taking trips with her sister, her best friend, her husband.
While every page may not be beautifully written, the language she uses to tell the story of her final months spent making joyful memories for those she’ll be leaving behind is never sugarcoated and is very moving.

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