Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hillary Clinton in Seattle, Shattered by Kevin Hearne, One Day by David Nicholls, and the Glass Sentence by SE Grove

I've long been a fan of Hillary Clinton (and her husband), and the fact that her book signing drew so many people to the U Bookstore is evidence that I am not alone, and that I'm not the only one who thinks it is time that America had a female president. Though I've not read her book yet, I have seen her interviewed several times, and she's just so smart and delightful that I hope, though she says she is still deciding, that she will run for president in 2016. I would vote for her in a heartbeat.

Smooth Signing in Seattle for "Hard Choices"
The fans started gathering on Tuesday evening; by the time Hillary
Rodham Clinton showed up the next day to sign copies of her new book,
Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster), lines of people wound through two
levels of University Book Store in Seattle, Wash.
Some 1,200 customers purchased wristbands to get a book and a chance to
shake Clinton's hand and say a few words. No selfies, though--the Secret
Service didn't allow that, and Boomer the bomb-sniffing dog and the
body-wanding men were out in force.

One thing that was apparent, aside from the eagerness to see Hillary,
was the camaraderie of the crowd after the long wait. Bookstore
employees handed out bottled water, the sleep-deprived descended on the
coffee shop, and good humor abounded.

General books manager Pam Cady said that every waking moment in the week
had been about Clinton. The Secret Service started their reconnaissance
Friday morning, and while the store has hosted Jimmy Carter many times
and Bill Clinton once, this was a little more intense. All presidents
are rock stars, but the energy was off the charts. And happily, there
were no crazy episodes. Cady said, "The only quirky thing about the
entire event is that it wasn't quirky! Everyone had such a good
time--we're still hearing the love from our customers and her team. Even
the press was happy with how smoothly everything went."   

Hillary was gracious and "present" with everyone. Cady used a sports
analogy: "She never took a play off. But the thing that struck me the
most was how all the young women in line were so touched by her.
Hundreds of young women left with tears in their eyes after shaking
hands with her--and in the few moments she had with them she made them
feel that they could make a difference in the world and that they
mattered and what they brought to the table mattered." When Cady met
Clinton at BEA last month, her immediate impression was, "You will never
find a person more capable of running the world." The customers in line
seemed to agree. --Marilyn Dahl 

This is true, especially when you consider the value of a real, solid book that you can hold in your hands and love forever.
The Beauty of 'Real Books in Real Bookshops'
"Imagine getting to the end of your days with a lifetime of reading
behind you and there being nothing to show for all those experiences
save a slab of plastic, the contents of which are only licensed to you
and could be cut off on a whim at any moment.... Thankfully, while
there's still beauty in the world real books in real bookshops will
remain part of our lives."

--Chris Neill in a Sunday Express piece headlined "Why I'm so happy to

I did this, and the result is that my son has the highest reading comprehension score in the state of Washington, and is at 99 percent nationally.  So yes, it works. Just like it worked when my mother read to me from infancy until I learned to read to myself at age 4.

Doctors Prescribe Reading Aloud to Children from Birth

Under a new policy announced this week by the American Academy of
Pediatrics, doctors will advise parents to read aloud to their infants
from birth
The New York Times reported the decision evolves from "the increased
recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within
the first three years of a child's life, and that reading to children
enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills."

The group, representing 62,000 pediatricians across the country, "is
asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every
time a baby visits the doctor," the Times noted. "It should be there
each time we touch bases with children," said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote
the new policy.
 The three books I've finished in the last 10 days are very different from one another, yet all deal with life, death, finding oneself and finding someone to love. 
Shattered is the 7th book in the Iron Druid series by the funny and wonderful Kevin Hearne, whom I met a couple of years ago at the University Bookstore in Seattle. Atticus O Sullivan, the two thousand year old druid who is the protagonist of Hearne's books, along with his dog Oberon, is like the Celtic version of Harry Dresden, if Dresden were written by Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher in collaboration. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know how I adore Harry Dresden, so you'd realize that when I say that Atticus is on a par with Chicago's favorite wizard, that's quite a compliment. Here's the blurb:
"For nearly two thousand years, only one Druid has walked the Earth—Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company.

Atticus’s apprentice Granuaile is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy.

And Owen has some catching up to do.

Atticus takes pleasure in the role reversal, as the student is now the teacher. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen must also learn English. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether the wily old coot will be an asset in the epic battle with Norse god Loki—or merely a pain in the arse.

But Atticus isn’t the only one with daddy issues. Granuaile faces a great challenge: to exorcise a sorcerer’s spirit that is possessing her father in India. Even with the help of the witch Laksha, Granuaile may be facing a crushing defeat.

As the trio of Druids deals with pestilence-spreading demons, bacon-loving yeti, fierce flying foxes, and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time, three’s a charm. "
I will have to talk some SPOILERS to note how I felt about the novel, so if you haven't read Shattered yet, skip the next few paragraphs. 
I was actually thrilled that Granuaile finally got some say in the plot of the book, even if it was only every third chapter. We had to hear from the fusty, crude and rude old archdruid every other chapter that wasn't Atticus, which became somewhat annoying as he's a sour and mean old codger who doesn't soften towards Atticus, whom he raised, until nearly the end of the book. By that time I was heartily sick of his nastiness and his focus on his belly and sex (and constantly berating poor Atticus). If it had been me writing the book, I would have killed him off in the final fae battle, and been done with it, but apparently there are things Hearne has in store for him in the 8th book. 
Granny, as I am going to call her, kicks some arse in the book, which is great, but she also makes a serious rookie mistake and nearly gets herself and her hound killed. And speaking of her hound, why is it that Orlaith sounds so stupid when compared to Oberon? Is it because she's a young dog at this point? Still, I enjoyed getting Granny's POV, separate from Atticus' and his usual dramas.  Though I was sad that some great characters died, I think that Hearne has brought his characters in line with what could and should happen when they are both out in the world fighting evil. I think a reckoning is coming for Loki, and I hope it won't be too horrendous for Granny and Atticus now that she has Loki's brand on her, and he's able to track her. At any rate, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to Dresden File fans, Neil Gaiman fans and those who have read and enjoyed the previous 6 books.
One Day by David Nicholls wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I thought it would be a moving love story between two interesting people during a time period roughly equivalent with my own youth and college years. Not only was it not at all like that, it was not really what the blurb made it out to be: "It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself."
The author has them go year by year only in the beginning, and then he adds a year or two here and there to get us close to present day as possible. Unfortunately, that's not the only flaw in this dreary, drab and dull novel. The two protagonists, Emma and Dexter, or Em and Dex as they call one another, meet after graduation and have a brief affair but decide to stay friends instead of becoming a couple. What follows is a dreadful load of whining and self loathing on the part of both Em and Dex, in that neither can seem to find their place in the world, nor can they manage to keep a decent relationship going. For Dex, this is because he's a total asshat and an alcoholic, sexist moneyed idiot who spends a majority of the novel drunk and puking on himself, when he's not having affairs with any and all women within reach. He of course then debriefs to Em, and whines to her constantly about his life, even when he's swimming in money and she's working as a waitress and is poor. the only woman he seems to value at all as a person is Em, but he doesn't seem to have the ability to understand that he actually cares for her enough to be in a real relationship, and, despite his feelings, he treats her badly and they end up estranged for several years. 
Meanwhile, Em flutters around, being a teacher and a playwright and a waitress, all while sleeping with and living with losers whom she's only attracted to because they're in love with her and spend a lot of time stroking her failing ego. That's another thing that makes this book such a stinker, no one likes themselves, and if they do, its for all the wrong reasons. Everyone's faults are played up until you find yourself wishing that they'd all commit suicide already or seek counseling or just fade away and quit whining about how pathetic their lives are. Though she's supposed to be brilliant, Em comes off as weak and wimpy and stupid, unable to actually do what she loves, writing children's books, until the final chapters of the book. But when Dex and Em FINALLY get together and things are going well, of course we can't have that, because happiness isn't allowed in "real life" or slice of life novels, so the author goes and SPOILER, kills off Em in a stupid bicycle accident. This leaves our male protagonist with the perfect excuse to slide back into being a drunken arse until the final pages of the book, when we learn that he has suddenly pulled himself out of his tailspin and is dating an employee and spending time with his daughter from his brief marriage to this horrid woman named Slyvie. 
I wanted to throw this novel against the wall and abandon it halfway through, but I kept thinking that eventually either Em or Dex would wake up and things would start to fall into place for them. I was sure things had to get better, but that was only a very brief moment in the book, and then it went back to being dull, dreary and drunk. And why is it that every British novel I've ever read has cold, disapproving parents who are total shite at the job of caring for their offspring? Why have children at all if you're going to only be cruel and distant to them? Makes not an ounce of sense to me. But then, most of this novel didn't seem to make much sense, or have a reason for existence. I am giving it a generous D, and not an F only because the plot was such that it went by at a decent pace, even if you stopped to wince in embarrassment for the characters every chapter. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who enjoys literature, romance or a good read.
The Glass Sentence by SE Grove is a steampunk style novel that reads somewhat like Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" YA novels, but with fewer gruesome animal killings and more political infrastructure. There's also maps, loads of magical and fantastic maps in this post "Great Disruption" world. As with many great YA adventures, our heroine is an orphan by circumstance, in that her parents are explorers and cartographers who set out to make some discoveries after the GD, and subsequently disappear from our heroine Sophia's life for the next 10 years. Sophia is left with her uncle Shadrack, who is a master cartographer,albeit somewhat of an absent-minded father figure. Of course they have the standard mysterious housekeeper, who turns out to be a kind of refugee herself, and once Sophia encounters a boy named Theo who has escaped from the circus, things get really interesting on the character's quest journey.Unfortunately, Uncle Shadrack gets kidnapped by a crazy cult leader and is forced to tell the crazy cult leader lady where Sophia is going, because if he doesn't, he will have all his memories squeezed out of him and into the sand of an hourglass, then transferred to a map. The crazy lady is looking for the glass "tracer" map that can only be read by moonlight, which tells of where to find the carta major, or map of the world, which crazy lady longs to get her claws on it so that she can force Shadrack to change the map and send her back into her own time, before the GD. The world building in this book is extraordinary, very detailed and fascinating, as are the characters, who are full-bodied and brilliant. Though the main characters live in the late 19th century, the GD has created pockets of different times/eras throughout the world, and There re scientists of all stripe studying these eras to find out how they came to be and how to best allow the people within them to move around to other times. The pirates and botanists, princesses and thugs that Sophia encounters are all written as realistically as possible, not as throw-away side characters at all. The prose is beautiful and crisp, the plot sails along swiftly and the story itself is gripping and engrossing. I'd give this book, which is the first of a series, an A, and recommend it to those who love unique YA novels, steampunk and original world building.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seattle's Bold Minimum Wage Experiment, Jamie Ford Quote and Downton Abbey Tidbits

So my adopted home city of Seattle has been at the forefront of the new $15 minimum wage movement, which they have three years to fully enact. A lot of business owners are saying that this will end their business, but I think paying a fair wage to workers is a wonderful idea. It’s not cheap to live in the Puget Sound, so anything to alleviate poverty and give working people a fighting chance is good with me.  I realize that this isn’t my normal fare for this blog, but since it effects bookstores and libraries, I think it has relevance here.

Seattle Indies: Maximum Concern About Minimum Wage

On June 2, the City Council of Seattle, Wash., voted to raise the city's
minimum wage to an unprecedented $15 per hour over the next seven years.
Seattle businesses, depending on number of employees and current
benefits, have varying deadlines to phase in the wage
increases--businesses with more than 500 employees have until 2018,
while businesses with 500 employees or fewer have until 2021. And by
April of next year, businesses with 500 or fewer employees must pay at
least $11 per hour to employees who receive only wages as compensation
and at least $10 per hour to employees who receive tips or benefits in
addition to their wages. With no U.S. model to look toward, Seattle
business owners, including independent booksellers, face a great deal of

"What we know is that our expenses are going to go up starting next
year," said Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company He described his reaction to the minimum wage increase as one of cautious optimism--from a social justice
perspective, it's a great thing for workers in an increasingly
unaffordable city, and it could result down the road in more people with
more money to buy more books. But there are many questions.

"If there is an increase in sales from an overall improvement to the
economy and the strengthening of our customer base, then it will have a
neutral to a beneficial effect," Aaron explained. "The worry is if it
goes too far, too fast, the negative effect of job loss--by virtue of
companies that can't afford the higher wages having to reduce staff or
relocate--dominates the positive effect of wage increases."

Aaron reported that he's spoken to many other small business owners in
Seattle about the wage increases and responses have been varied.
"Reactions have covered the spectrum from 'this is the end of the world'
to 'this is the greatest thing that's happened since the American
Revolution,' " he said.

"We're all supportive of the fact that Seattle is a very expensive place
to live and that people should be paid fair wages," said Lara Konick,
human resources director for University Book Store
UBS, the vote to raise the city's minimum wage coincided with an
internal, store-wide compensation analysis. "Long term, it will improve
living standards for people living in Seattle and for the people who
work for us," she said. "Those are great things."

At the same time, however, like Aaron, Konick is concerned. Although the
minimum wage hike could result in more people with more money to buy
books, she's worried that the extra money will be swallowed up by living
expenses. "People are already squeezed on rent and food," she said. "I
think [the extra money] is going to go to living costs, to just allow
them to keep up. But hopefully more of that money will stay in people's
wallets for things like books."

Ultimately, Konick continued, UBS will follow the letter of the law and
do what it needs to do. "We're going to be looking very hard at hours
and schedules and staff needs," she said. "Our goal is to not lay people
off or make any sweeping changes."

Robert Sindelar, the managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash.,is in an unusual situation: the Ravenna store is in Seattle, but the
Lake Forest Park store lies outside of city limits. He is trying to
figure out the implications of the wage increase on the separate stores.

"We have a company-wide policy on health insurance," Sindelar said.
"Legally I have to look into it, whether I can have one policy for one
store and another for the other store. I'd rather not change these
things, but it looks like at some point I'm going to have to adjust.

"In general, when I'm looking at our business, it's not necessarily a
good thing for our business or our employees," he continued. Third Place
Books, Sindelar explained, offers a competitive health-care package and
a 401(k) plan, and, among other discretionary expenses, also pays for
its employees' bus passes. As costs rise due to the wage increase,
Sindelar worries, these benefits may be at risk. He also wondered
whether it was a better value to employees to pay them an extra $2
directly and have taxes taken out of it, or to put that same $2, before
taxes, into health insurance coverage. "As you start increasing what you
have to pay employees based on the law, we have to look at decreasing
the other money we spend on employees," he said. "At the end of the day,
total compensation will probably be a little less. That doesn't feel
very good."

Sindelar acknowledged the potential long-term benefits that a higher
minimum wage could have for Seattle, but is worried about short-term
effects and the lack of any model. "There's no case study," he said.
"Seattle is going to be the case study. I think in the short term, this
is probably going to scare small business entrepreneurs from opening....
It's scary enough for us."

Tom Nissley, who bought Santoro's Books earlier this spring and will
re-open it shortly as Phinney Books, didnot expect the wage increase to have much of an effect on his store. In a decision that he said was totally unrelated to the minimum wage
increase, he plans to keep staff to a minimum after re-opening. He did
say, however, that he doesn't anticipate the wage increase to hinder
future hiring. Despite the myriad uncertainties, he said he  supports
the increase.

"We're all of the opinion that our booksellers are more than worth it,"
said Janis Segress, co-owner and manager of Queen Anne Book Company

"As a co-owner and manager, it's all about overhead," Segress continued.
"In order to compensate, there'd have to be cuts in other areas. Not
sure if that means smaller inventory on the floor, or cutting back on
office supplies, or not offering bags or bottled water, or start
charging for gift wrapping. But for a small store, it's those little
things that count."

Segress is optimistic that the higher minimum wage will result in more
money in people's pockets, but with the slim margins of a small
business, she's worried about surviving the transition. "Because of our
size, we have seven years to put this into effect," she said. "Hopefully
within seven years we'll be making enough money to absorb it." --Alex

Jamie Ford has the right of it!
"[W]e need more bookstores and libraries. They're tactile. They're
immersive. They're humane. They've always been trendy. But more than
that, they are staffed by dedicated booklovers who curate collections of
actual books, and books are the written record of the human condition.
So buy online, but also buy local when you can--that way you're
supporting a healthy literary ecosystem.

"After all, I met my wife at the public library and proposed in a
bookstore. And you can't do that on a Kindle. (Though I'm sure someone
is working on it)."

--Author Jamie Ford
in a post on the Hive blog 

Delicious Downton Abbey is coming back, though next year, and I live for these little tidbits about one of my favorite shows, which just also happens to be a favorite show around the world.

The Hollywood Reporter offered a first look at the upcoming season of
Downton Abbey
"as it goes on location to England's Highclere Castle
with stars Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith, creator
Julian Fellowes and more.... As they wait to film another of Downton's
carefully appointed dining scenes, the cast and crew reflect on the
streak of success none of them could have imagined."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cool Shoes, Saving CeeCee HoneyCutt by Beth Hoffman, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny and Gemini by Carol Cassella

I would love a pair of these shoes, and though they're colorful, I think that New Balance could have put quotes from the authors or excerpts of their books on the shoes to make them even better. 
New Balance will introduce its "Authors Collection"
this summer. The line "is inspired by American novels and their
creators," Sneaker News reported. "The result is an earthy set that
channels a library-like aesthetic of leather bound books and the sort of
tweed clad folks behind them."

"Our muse for the New Balance Made in USA collections has always been
the storied history of the United States," Ben Cuthbert, associate
product manager for New Balance's lifestyle department, told Boston
magazine. "No one captures the essence, spirit and the American
experience better than American authors
and the stories they have told throughout history. For the Made in USA
Authors Collections, we pay homage to great American authors by building
a collection inspired by their stories and moments."

Women's Wear Daily reported that Bespoke, "the most premium
of the three packs, will include two 998 colorways in Horween leather
with waxed laces. Only 300 limited-edition styles will be created. The
Distinct collection references iconic figures from classic Wild West
novels--the prosecutor, the outlaw and the conductor--while the
Connoisseur series recasts pivotal points in American history in earthy
neutrals with graphic insoles."

David Sedaris is one smart, funny guy. I actually met him once, and started reading his books soon after because he was not only funny, but sharp, kind and fascinating. Now of course he's famous and much sought-after, but I recall him with great fondness when I met him outside of Elliott Bay Bookstore, when they were still in Pioneer Square in Seattle.

"Maybe I'm out of touch, but I'd rather go to an actual shop--preferably
a small one--than to a harshly lit superstore, or, worse still, a
website. I don't want to buy my books and my toilet paper and my
clothing all under the same roof. I want beauty in my life. I want
charm. I want contact with actual people. It is, for me, a large part of
what makes life worth living."

--David Sedaris in an interview with Mary Laura Philpott, editor of the
Musing blog at Parnassus Books
Nashville, Tenn.
 This is just grand, that they are experiencing a boom in bookstores in England. Thank heaven that Amazon hasn't swallowed up all the bookstores in the UK and put them out of business.
"A mini U.K. bookshop boom
appears to be under way as a fifth new store opening is announced in a
week," the Bookseller observed in reporting that Winstone's plans to
open a second location. This follows the recent, highly publicized
launch of a new flagship Foyles branch on London's Charing Cross Road;
announcements of new branches for Waterstones in Lewes and Hatchards in
St. Pancras Station; as well as news that "former Borders boss Philip
Downer has also revealed he is to open a second branch of Calliope Gifts
in Alton, Hampshire."

"If the location is right, the demographic suits your offer, and your
customer base is affluent and values its high street, then there is an
opportunity to open a bookshop in this climate," said Wayne Winstone.

Booksellers Association CEO Tim Godfray said, "No one can doubt that
booksellers, through their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial
skills are absolutely adding value to the bookshop experience for
consumers. It is very heartening too to see increased support for
bookshops from publishers and authors. There seems to be an increased
recognition of the importance of booksellers in bringing books to life
and, indeed, authors to the market."
This is just an amazing video of the birth of a star. So poetic and brilliant, I would like to think it is a glimpse of God at work.
I thought I'd already read "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" by Beth Hoffman, but after reading her wonderful "Looking For Me" with my book group for this month's discussion, I found myself reaching for my copy of "CeeCee" out of sheer desperation for a good uplifting read with characters that I'd want to get to know, love and spend time with. Fortunately, I was wrong about having read Saving CeeCee before, and I was soon enthralled with another brilliant work by Beth Hoffman.
The book starts with CeeCee in her youth, trying desperately to survive in a home where her cowardly father is absent most of the time, leaving her with a mother who is deteriorating into profound mental illness. CeeCee does her best to try and keep her mother from making embarrassing public displays (Her mother was once a beauty queen, and buys old prom dresses from the thrift store and wanders around with her old tiara on and makeup smeared on her face, believing herself to be the young woman who was attractive to everyone when she won her crown) but often failing, as when her mother tries to get into the local beauty queen parade float and falls down half naked in the street in front of the entire town. 
Poor CeeCee is only able to get decent food and help from her elderly neighbor, Mrs Odell, who comes to care for CeeCee as if she were her own child. After CeeCee's mother is killed by being hit by a truck after another trip to Goodwill, CeeCee's father sends her off to live with her great-aunt Tootie, who lives in a fancy house in Savannah, Georgia.
Though at first she feels enraged at her father for not being able to raise her himself, and lonely, CeeCee soon finds that her new opulent home and her aunt Tootie's maid, Oletta and her neighbor Thelma Goodpepper become family to CeeCee, making her world full of adventure, laughter, love and kindness in late 60s, early 70s. Ceee is also a kindred spirit to me, in that she's a book lover who, when things get bad, does what I did as a child (and still do, to some extent) and immerses herself in a good book. She not only has access to the library in Georgia, CeeCee gets access to her rich neighbor's private library, which sounds fine enough to make even the most stoic bibliophile swoon with book lust.
I loved the nearly all-female environment of this book, and I adored how Oletta and Aunt Tootie's love and caring for CeeCee brought her into her own as a person, and helped her learn that she was worthy of being loved, and not just some unwanted kid who feared falling prey to mental illness like her poor mother, whom I gathered was driven to insanity by her boring, unfaithful husband. I also had to laugh at the horrid Violene Hobbs, the next door neighbor with a poisonous personality and vicious nature. The final throw-down between Thema and Violene was better than any movie, though I'd be thrilled to actually watch it play out between actresses on the screen. Written in heartfelt prose that gleams it's so clean and tidy, with a plot that zings and zips along, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt deserves every accolade that it's gotten. I'd give it an A and recommend it to those who like their Southern fiction funny, spicy and full of love.
Gemini by Carol Cassella is the second book that I've read by this author, having read Oxygen a couple of years ago.I had mixed feelings about Oxygen, which was well written but I found the characters ambiguous and often too unpleasant to empathize with. 
Gemini's prose is much smoother than the previous novel, and it has stronger characters with a more stalwart plot. The story takes place half in the past, with two kids in a small Washington town named Raney and Bo growing up on opposite sides of the track, as it were. The rest of the story takes place in the present, where Dr Charlotte Reese works feverishly to save a Jane Doe who was hit by a car and left for dead. Readers twig right away to the fact that the Jane Doe is Raney, of course, but it won't occur to many readers until late in the book that Dr Reese's boyfriend is Raney's childhood love, Bo, who goes by his given name of Eric as an adult.
I realize that Raney as a character is supposed to be sympathetic, but there seemed to be so much cruelty and anger in her, as both a child and an adult that I was surprised that she actually married twice, though I couldn't fathom why she married such a horrible old man the second time. She seemed to lose her ability to discern good men from bad ones as she grew older, and she also seemed to lose her courage to leave him when he became abusive to herself and her son. But though I didn't actually like Raney, I certainly wouldn't wish her the fate she was given, nor would I wish her son to be left to her horrible second husband, who didn't even want medical care for the boy, who was obviously disabled.
So what is the take-home from this novel? That if you are poor, you'll live a difficult life and then die at the hands of some scumbag that you married for the sake of convenience? We never really learn what happens to poor brain-dead Raney in the end, nor do we learn if her son gets the help and medical care he needs. We assume that he will, because he is being adopted/fostered by the Doc and Eric. But still, why leave poor Raney in the lurch? I'd give this book a B, with the caveat that if you don't like medical and scientific detail, you will find this book way too full of that for comfort. I'd recommend the book to people like my mother, who love non fiction medical books, and prefer "realistic" fiction to genres like science fiction and fantasy.
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny is the first of her "Chief Inspector Gamache" mysteries that I have ever read. Since it takes place in a monastery in Quebec, Canada and has a mystery about the first documented music being plainsong or Gregorian chants, I felt that it would be a good place to start to see if this particular series would be of interest.
Here's the short skinny on the plot: "No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of  prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

The Beautiful Mystery is the winner of the 2012 Agatha Award for best novel, the 2013 Anthony Award for best novel and the 2013 Macavity Award for best novel."
I wasn't surprised to find that Gamache is a stubborn, crusty old guy whose only softness comes when he thinks or speaks of his wife, whom he deeply loves. Gamache reminds me of  Inspector Morse, with a bit of Hercule Poirot thrown in for good measure. He's a smart curmudgeon, though, and he tells the monks right out that the murder investigation will change them all. His second in command, Beauvoir,is recently rehabilitated from having a pain killer addiction, and he's also in love with Gamache's daughter. Unfortunately, Gamache has recently been through something of a trial by fire, where corruption in the police dept was uprooted, but at the cost of lives under his command. Beauvoir was injured and wasn't going to make it during this fight, but when he did, he became a loyal friend to Gamache. However, when the head of the police force shows up and is determined to thwart Gamache in any way possible (he was obviously friends with the corrupt cops who are now jailed), he manages to get to Beauvoir by getting him back on the painkillers and telling him that Gamache and his daughter don't really care about him. 
Meanwhile, of course there is the mystery of who killed the choir director, and why. Readers learn a great deal about early Christian music and musical notations, and about the vagaries of monastic life. Having gone to a Catholic college and been fascinated by religious history, I wasn't at all put off by all the discussion of faith and the simple life and the love of music, and the fear of the Inquisition. Other readers might be, however, and might also be put off by the pessimistic tone of the book. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I'd give this book a B+, and I would recommend it to readers of classic mysteries by Agatha Christie and her generation.