Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge

While aimlessly perusing Pinterest (which provides recipes that I pin but almost never make, but at least doesn’t get political), I came across something called The Book Challenge. Loving a good challenge almost much as I love a good book, I’m taking the challenge, and sharing it with you for the next few weeks…..

Best book you read last year: I reviewed my post of January 3, 2020, in which I shared my five favorite books of last year. After considerable thought, I decided that my favorite book was Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda HolmesI like how the author empowered the protagonist. I liked the baseball tie-in. I liked all of the characters. I liked the ending.

A book that you’ve read more than three times: I have read very many books more than three times. I read very quickly, which allows me to read many books, but also results in me not always remembering them very well. I can — and do — reread books very often. But there are those kind of books, and then there are the kind of books that I reread because I love them so much. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, is one such book. I guess I love the atmosphere created by the author. Who gets any creepier than Mrs. Danvers?

Your favorite series: Oh, I love so many series. I’m a big mystery reader, and once I read a book that I like that is part of a series, I must read them all, and in order. But if I have to choose, I pick the Inspector Gamache series written by Louise Penny. Gamache solves mysteries in the small town of Three Pines outside of Montreal. There are 15 books in the series, with another book being released in September. Inspector Gamache is kind, fair, loving, and smart as can be.

A book that made you happy: Britt-Marie Was Hereby Fredrik Backman, made me very happy, and gave me a character that I think of very often. Britt-Marie left her cheating husband, and handled it by being very OCD and critical. That is, until she ends up coaching a terrible kids soccer team. She is surrounded by odd characters and a life that is definitely not made for someone who likes things just so. How she lands on her feet was absolutely delightful.

A book that made you sad: I tend to not choose to read books that make me sad. I also avoid movies with sad endings. No thank you to Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, thank you very much. The Light Between the Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, thankfully, didn’t involve death by cancer. But it was a very sad story about a woman who has been unable to carry a child to birth who finds a boat carrying a dead man and a living baby at the lighthouse where she and her husband live and work. They decide to keep the baby, telling no one of its existance. Things don’t work out well. Very sad.

Continued next Friday….

 

A Taste of France

Bill and I had planned to go to Montreal last year when we visited our family in Vermont, but weren’t able to do so because we were inept in the whole renewing-our-passports thing and they didn’t arrive in time. This time we happily held them in our grimy little fists to hand to the border guards as we passed from Vermont into Canada.

The most notable thing was that you could immediately tell that you were in a different country. And I’m not just talking about being greeted by the border guards, who didn’t seem terribly concerned about us. The landscape changes almost immediately from the woods of Vermont to farmlands of Quebec. I seriously would have thought I was in Nebraska except for the fact that the architecture was also quite unique.

Juliette & ChocolatKnowing us as well as they do, the first thing that Heather and Lauren did was to take us to a chocolate shop, featuring all manner of things chocolate. Bill and Joseph thought they had died and gone to heaven for sure. In fact, they both ordered the same thing – a chocolate lava cake with a side of, yes, chocolate.

And the second thing they did was take us to an outdoor market, probably the most beautiful market I have ever seen, even in Europe. While there were shops featuring seafood and meat and patisseries and boulangeries, it was the vegetable market that amazed me the most…..

vegetable market montreal

micah joseph nana market (2)

This photo is notable in large part because it’s about the only one taken this trip of Micah in which he doesn’t have his tongue out or is making some sort of face. He’s 4, donchaknow.

Being me, one of the things I most wanted to do while visiting Montreal was to experience local food. Lauren, who grew up in Vermont and has spent a fair amount of time in Montreal, told me that there were a few food things for which Montreal was known – mussels, smoked meat sandwiches, and poutine. Poutine? I had never heard of it.

So on Friday night we went to a restaurant appropriately called Poutineville, featuring all sorts of options for poutine. Poutine is basically a dish consisting of French fries covered in cheese, some sort of meat, and some sort of gravy. I had the house specialty, which was French fries smothered in a red wine gravy, cheese curds, and braised beef…..

poutine

We arose early the next morning and went to yet another market, where we quickly spotted a beautiful pastry shop. Lauren and I agreed to wait in line while the rest found a place to sit. The shop was extremely busy, and Lauren and I stood in line for probably 15 pastries montrealor 20 minutes before we realized we should have grabbed a number. Have you ever seen the movie Beetlejuice? You remember the scene where Beetlejuice grabs the number – something like 1,032,587 – and looks at the screen and sees they’re on number 6? We were Beetlejuice. Nevertheless, time passed quite quickly once we grabbed our number and in short order we all were eating croissants so fresh, warm and crumbly that it brought tears to my eyes. And, yes, also a second visit to the patisserie and another 20 minutes in line. I also bought some of the beautiful macarons for which the French are famous. They deserve their fame as they are light and delicious, as well as so very pretty…..

macaroon tree

Macarons

Our final Montreal food treat was a visit to a brasserie at which we got our mussels. Well, actually, Bill shockingly ordered a steak, but Heather and Lauren and I each ordered a different kind of mussel dish and shared. I’m not sure when I’ve ever tasted anything so very good. And also beautiful…..

Lauren Heather Kris mussels

Montreal musselsI will admit that perhaps the highlight of our brief trip to Montreal was what probably would rank among the top three tourist attractions – a city tour on an amphibian bus. Yes, my friends, we toured Montreal from the bus, which then drove into the St. Lawrence River from which we were awarded with another view of Montreal. Joseph, Micah, and Nana all had eyes the size of quarters as we drove into the water. It was a grand treat.

amphibian bus

And we had a wonderful visit of Montreal, without a doubt. I loved hearing the beautiful French language spoken by the people around me and experiencing the feeling of being in Paris, and yet, wasn’t. I am motivated to return, and to add Quebec City to my itinerary. In the meantime, I’ll get my fix by reading the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Rule Against Murder

imgresI don’t make a habit of reviewing books that are part of a series. In particular, I wouldn’t normally review a book that is number 4 in the series.

Still, I can’t stop myself from writing a review highly recommending A Rule Against Murder, the fourth in a series by Louise Penny, if for no other reason than to strongly urge mystery lovers who haven’t yet discovered Inspector Gamache to do so AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

And I would suggest you not start with number 4, but, just like Maria in The Sound of Music, start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start. Pick up Still Life, and begin your journey into the French-speaking part of Canada around Quebec in the little town of Three Pines.

Penny’s mysteries are gentle, but definitely not cozy mysteries. The townfolk – at least the ones we hear about in every book – are not typical small-town characters. They are complex, sometimes unlikeable, but always interesting. The protagonist, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, might be my favorite detective of all the mysteries I read – and I read a lot. He is smart and logical, kind and gentle, a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. People who meet him can be lulled into thinking he’s simple, but he most definitely is not.

The first three books in the series had a mystery-within-the-mystery that encouraged you to read the next story to see how and if it’s wrapped up. That mystery is brought to a surprising and satisfying finish at the end of the third book in the series, The Cruelest Month.

While that storyline was tantalizing, the absence of it made A Rule Against Murder a refreshing change. That, and the fact that the first quarter of the book is simply a love story about Inspector Gamache and his marvelous wife Reine-Marie. Their relationship is one of the things I like best about this series, and it permeates this entire book.

Gamache and his wife are taking their annual vacation at the country inn where they had spent their honeymoon many years earlier. Penny’s descriptions about the couple’s sweet and loving relationship make this a love story as well as a mystery.

The Gamaches must share the inn with an extremely unpleasant and odd family, and predictably, murder ensues.

Gamaches team arrive at the inn and begin the process of trying to figure out the identity of the murderer.

Readers are rewarded with Penny’s beautiful descriptions of the location and the marvelous food and service. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made me so wish I could be there. Well, except for the murder part.

The best thing about this book, and all of the Gamache mysteries, is Gamache himself. Treat yourself to a wonderful read.

Buy A Rule Against Murder from Amazon here.

Buy A Rule Against Murder from Barnes and Noble here.

Buy A Rule Against Murder from Tattered Cover here.

Buy A Rule Against Murder from Changing Hands here.