Search This Blog

Monday, November 21, 2016

Three Totally Different Genres: Louise Penny, Julia Claiborne Johnson, N.K. Jemisin

In between researching stuff about making handmade paper and other crafty projects, I read several good novels this past week.  And made some more paper!  

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny is now one of my favorites in the Three Pines series. Along with other followers of this well-loved series, I want to live in Three Pines and interact with Ruth (and Rosa), Gabri, Olivier, Myrna, Clara and other villagers.

The Great Reckoning takes place partly in Three Pines and partly at the Surete Academy of Quebec.  After nearly dying in his attempt to clean up the corruption in the Surete, Chief Inspector Gamache takes a new position as Commander of the Surete's Academy with the intention of getting rid of the vicious practices (and individuals) put in place by the previous adminsitration and intended to continue the corruption in the Surete itself.  The practices are ingrained and the solutions will be challenging.

As usual, Gamache's approach is unconventional.  His decisions about which professors to keep and which to get rid of and which young applicants to accept cause surprise and concern even among those who know and trust Gamache.  When some of his decisions result in unanticipated and unwelcome events,  Gamache and some of the young cadets are endangered.

I love this series, and A Great Reckoning exceeded my expectations.  This may be the best so far in this series...or do I say that too often?

Library copy.

Police Procedural.  2016.  400 pages.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson has been on my TBR list since Lark mentioned it.  Funny, poignant, and Salingeresque are some of the terms used to describe the novel, and I found all of them to be appropriate.  

When the reclusive author M.M. Banning finds herself in financial difficulties, she knows she must write another book, the first in decades.  In order to do so, she needs an assistant to manage her household--mostly as a nanny for her nine-year-old son Frank, an eccentric genius with an unusual wardrobe, an encyclopedic store of facts, and a few other quirks that make him uniquely interesting, vulnerable, and often difficult to manage.

Enter Alice Whitley, who at the request of her boss Isaac Vargas, Banning's publisher leaves New York to join the Banning household in Hollywood.

Parts of the novel are funny and joyful, but while we may love and admire a child like this in literature and revel in his eccentricities--life isn't always easy or fun for the child or for those who love him.  Julia Claiborne Johnson makes the most of both of these aspects without going overboard with the fact that children like Frank are alienated from their peers.

Be Frank with Me was a pleasure.


Contemporary fiction.  2016.  309 pages.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison was a compelling introduction to her new trilogy.  I read The Thousand Kingdoms trilogy (reviewed here) last year and was impressed, but this book blew me away.  I was immediately engrossed, found it difficult to put it down, read until late, and finished the next morning. 

From the blurb:  

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. 

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. 

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. 

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Told in 3 narrative strands that you know will fit together, even though you don't know when or how, the novel begins with a mother who discovers her young son's body.  Essun is an orogene (orogenes can control the environment for good or ill and are feared or used according to the situation), but Essun who has disguised herself as an ordinary member of the community.  

Damalya's sections deal with the treatment of orogenes who are discovered in the general population and considered feral (orogenes are bred and trained at the Fulcrum).  Any orogenes found within the general population are either killed outright or taken by Guardians to the Fulcrum for training.  With this section, we gain a better understanding of Essun's need to hide her abilities.

The third narrative strand follows Syenite, a young woman trained at the Fulcrum, who has earned four rings and aspires to advance in the Fulcrum hierarchy.  She is assigned a mission with ten-ringer, and in the course of their association, learns a great deal more than she wanted to know about the Fulcrum.

A novel about the abuse of power, the artificial divisions of society, the subjugation of elements of the population, and the power of the earth.  Seems to fit right in with some of my own worries at the moment.

Library copy.

Dystopian/Scifi/Fantasy.  2015.  500 pages.


  1. I've been meaning to read both Jemisin and Penny for ages now. I *will* get around to them both in 2017!

    You know, hopefully :)

  2. The Fifth Season sounds amazing, not to mention timely. I am glad you liked it, Jenclair. Someone recently recommended Be Frank With Me, but I didn't really know what it was about. It sounds good from your description of it. I can see how it would be difficult to raise a child like that, and it's good the author was able to find a nice balance with the realities of it.

    I've heard often that Louise Penny's books just get better and better. That's rare for a long running series.

    1. It is Julia Claiborne Johnson's debut novel, and I had never heard of her until reading Lark's review. I Johnson will write more.

      Penny's books have steadily gotten better--there is surprising depth and richness in her characters.

  3. I'm happy you liked Be Frank With Me, too! I always worry when I recommend a book that others won't like it as much as I did. So I'm very glad you weren't disappointed. :)

    1. Oh, yes! I thank you for your recommendation, Lark. :) I loved Frank!

  4. You've read some great variety of books there, Jenclair! I've the first four books by Louise Penny and so far I've only read the first book. I love the writing and the storytelling was amazing, too! I need to get to the rest of her books soon.

    1. As each book got better, I became more and more involved and became a Three Pines citizen in abstentia. :)

  5. I enjoyed the first two Louise Penny books but for some reason stopped there. You've reminded me that I need to go back to Three Pines soon :)

    I read a couple of chapters of a Jemisin book in another series a long time ago but never went further. Not my usual genre, but this one sounds like something that could possibly appeal to me. Thank you so much for 3 great reviews!

    1. The characters, including the village itself, develop over time. The first couple of books--at least for me--were not as compelling. I'm not sure when the series tipped over the edge for me into something much more than a mystery, but I've been devoted for quite a while now. :)

      Jemisin is not for everyone. I liked The Fifth Season much better than The Thousand Kingdom books, but still Jemisin has a unique approach in style and content that people seem to love or hate.

  6. I hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving! You've reminded me that I really need to catch up with the Louise Penny series. Gamache is such a fantastic character.