Introducing November’s Book Club Selection: Ordinary Grace


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

What’s It About?

(Description from Goodreads)

From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger comes a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.

Why Was This Title Selected

The year’s mystery selection. I wanted either a stand-alone or the first in a series. This is a stand-alone, although Kreuger does have a series as well.

Anything Else to Know About It?

The discussion will begin soon in the Facebook group, and you’re welcome to come and join us.

It’s available in Print, for Kindle or Nook, or via Audible.

And a heads-up: you can get the Audible version for a reduced price if you buy the Kindle version first.

What’s Coming Up Next?

Swear on This LifeSwear on This Life by Renee Carlino

What’s it about? A struggling writer must come to grips with her past, present, and future after she discovers that she’s the inspiration for a pseudonymously published bestselling novel.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Nook | Audible | Goodreads

See all the books we’ll be reading in 2017 here.

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Series Love: Maisie Dobbs

covers for Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear

The Basics

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is one I frequently recommend to historical mystery fans, or to those who might become historical mystery fans with the slightest nudge. Maisie is a private investigator who has started her own agency in 1929 London.

As the series continues, she sometimes finds herself assisting the police, and developing a working relationship with other governmental agencies.

Why I Love Maisie

Maisie’s background is unusual – she was a nurse in the war, then studied psychology before being mentored by a well-regarded investigator. While she began life in service, she has connections in high places, and it all combines to allow for varying plot lines that provide a more interesting reading experience.

As you get to know Maisie, you also know the people in her life – family, friends, colleagues. Many of these secondary characters end up becoming significant figures in the books, and because of how the books continue through time you can really follow along with their lives.

The post-World War I setting is appealing, and I appreciate how Winspear allows time to pass throughout the series – from the first book to the most recent has spanned a decade. I found it fascinating to get a taste for how the mood of the country changed, and how life changed for so many of the characters.

Why They Might Not Be For You

The mysteries are the weakest element, and they’re almost all entirely forgettable. If you want mysteries where the focus is on clever plotting and matching wits with a detective (or criminal), these aren’t the ones for you.

There’s a slight mystical storyline running through several of the books (especially the earlier ones) that led to coincidences playing too large a role in solving the mystery. Maisie seems to rely on intuition an awful lot, and her descriptions of it were a bit eye-rolling.

Maisie is almost too perfect of a character. She’s smart and kind and sensitive and has men seemingly falling for her all the time. Her biggest flaw is even that she cares too much for others and tries to arrange their lives.

Reading Them All

Because of the emphasis on characterization, these are books you’ll want to read in order. So much time passes, and so many significant events happen to various characters that you’ll really miss out if you read later books first. Don’t do it!

If you like listening to your books, they’re all available via Audible, but there is a different narrator for each of the first two books. Beginning with book three, it’s the same narrator, so you can get used to a familiar voice telling the story. I enjoyed her narration and especially appreciated being able to hear the variation in accents that Winspear sometimes describes, but I could never really understand until hearing the books.

Find the Books:
  1. Maisie Dobbs Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  2. Birds of a Feather Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  3. Pardonable Lies Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  4. Messenger of Truth Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  5. An Incomplete Revenge Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  6. Among the Mad Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  7. The Mapping of Love and Death Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  8. A Lesson in Secrets Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  9. Elegy for Eddie Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  10. Leaving Everything Most Loved Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  11. A Dangerous Place Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  12. Journey to Munich Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  13. In This Grave Hour Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Read all the posts in the “Series Love” series. Because sometimes it makes more sense to talk about the entirety of a book series, instead of doing a post about each individual title.

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Series Love: Peter Grant / Rivers of London

Peter Grant by Ben Aaronovitch series covers

A new series all about … book series! Because sometimes it makes more sense to talk about the entirety of a book series, instead of doing a post about each individual title.

First up, is my beloved Peter Grant / Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you may remember my post about the first entry in the series, Midnight Riot. You may also have seen the other titles in the series appear in my New on the Stack posts, so don’t be surprised if the author’s name is familiar.

This series is a ton of fun – it’s a delightful conglomeration of mystery and urban fantasy. Things get weird in it, so if you don’t like oddball books these probably won’t appeal to you, but I love them. Peter, Leslie, Nightingale, Beverly, The Folly – the personalities involved and the setting all make me so happy.

Why They Might Not Be Your Cup of Tea

The series is very British and sometimes I have to guess on some of the slang or Google it if I can’t figure it out by the context. I’m sure I’m still missing some nuances, but I love how British it is. It makes me wish I knew London better, as I’m sure I’d appreciate some of the events more if I wasn’t so clueless as to where things take place in relation to each other (I know, I could get out a map, but I don’t care that much).

There are a few sex scenes, but nothing is too graphic. It’s enough that my grandmother wouldn’t have been willing to continue reading the books, so if you’re a very conservative reader you may want to pass (or know that you may have a few pages to skip over).

If you’re a sensitive reader, you may be bothered by some of the more disturbing scenes. There are some icky things mentioned; not usually super detailed, but it’s in there. I am not a sensitive reader so I could usually just think “ew” and move on. Know your own reading tolerance for this sort of thing.

While I love the series as a whole, the books themselves are sometimes uneven. Book #4 ends on a major cliffhanger, so you’ll want to have #5 ready to go. Book #5 mostly takes place outside of London, and I prefer Peter in a more urban environment. The ending for book #5 is fairly weak as well – it just kind of ends, and many loose threads are left dangling. If all I’d ever read was that one, I’d be wondering what on earth all the fuss was about the series – this isn’t a series that works well enough as potential stand-alone titles.

Reading Them All

If you find you love the series, there are some graphic novels, short stories, and novellas that are intermixed with the main novels. None of them are essential for following the storyline from the novels (although there are some comments in a few of the later novels that refer back to events from the graphic novels).

Numbered titles in bold are the novels, that need to be read to follow the overall plot, and should be read in order to avoid spoilers. Other titles are optional, but fun if you’re a series fanatic. Be aware that the visual nature of the graphic novels makes them a poor choice for Kindle copies, and don’t be like me and let your kids peek over your shoulder as you read them. A couple of the illustrations caught me off guard and I quickly moved to close the book before my kids could notice.

Audio book fan? The narrator for the series is excellent. You can get a good sample of his style on the free Audible short story linked below.

  1. Midnight Riot (published in the UK as Rivers of London) Print | Kindle | Nook | Audible | Goodreads
  2. Moon Over Soho Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  3. Whispers Under Ground Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  4. Broken Homes Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  5. Foxglove Summer Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  6. The Hanging Tree Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
The Graphic Novels
Extra Stories

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Black Coffee by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's Black Coffee - a Hercule Poirot mysteryBlack Coffee by Agatha Christie, adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne

Miss Marple is my preferred Christie character – she amuses me in a way that Poirot does not. The additional bonus with Miss Marple is the lack of Hastings in the narrative – I’m not a big fan of his bumbling.

So, Black Coffee had some strikes against it already when it came to a Christie title – it’s Poirot, and Hastings is in it. Then when I borrowed the title I discovered that it was originally a play, written by Christie, but adapted into a novel by someone else.

Unfortunately, that adaptation shows. The action is very tightly located, and there felt like an excess of directions – someone enters the room, sits here, moves there, etc. I have no doubt it works better as a play, where the limitations that felt cramped in a novel are appropriate for a theatre setting.

I don’t regret reading it by any means, and for Poirot fans or anyone wanting to be sure to read all of Christie’s works it’s a must-read. For anyone else, it’s skippable.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:

Inventor Sir Claude Amory feels a bitter taste in the mouth, when the new formula for explosive material stolen by someone in the household.

In order to quickly remedy the situation, Sir Claude locks the door and turns off the light, giving the thief a chance to return the formula without being detected. But darkness brings death and Hercule Poirot has to untangle family strife, love and suspicious visitors tangle in order to clarify the murderer and prevent disaster.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The SilkwormThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The second book in the Cormoran Strike series, and while I liked the first book well enough, I LOVED this one. I stayed up till 2 AM reading it, when I finally and had to force myself. If I hadn’t known my kids were going to wake up and expect food and attention the next day I’d have continued.)

I wanted to immediately get the third book and find out what happened next. The only reason I have paused in reading the series is the knowledge that book four isn’t released yet. A publishing date hasn’t even been set (sob!) and after hearing that book three ends on a cliffhanger I’m trying to minimize my wait time.

If you haven’t read the series, I do think you should start with the first (even if I didn’t like it as much). That allows you to meet the characters and I think the more time with Robin the better.

Despite my love for this book I have some cautions: if you’re squeamish, or opposed to language or other graphic content you’ll want to skip it. I kind of hate having to tell anyone to pass on it, as it’s so good, but have to admit that it’s not for everyone. Know your own comfort level of what you want to read.

I’m not much of a TV person, but the BBC is developing the three books currently out in the series into a show and I am thrilled to hear it. The actors have been chosen for the lead roles: Tom Burke will play Cormoran Strike, and Holliday Grainger will play Robin Ellacott.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the number-one international best seller The Cuckoo’s Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives – meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Four years ago: Book Review: Dinner, a Love Story

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Death on the Sapphire by R. J. Koreto

Death on the SapphireDeath on the Sapphire: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery by R.J. Koreto

Enjoyable enough mystery & there’s sufficient promise shown by the author, and with the characters, that I’ll look for the next in the series. (But it’s not so good that I feel the need to go out of my way to tell everyone I know they need to read it immediately.)

Lady Frances is not a fully believable character, both for the time period, and as a pseudo-detective. However, her maid was a more interesting character and was also more believable (still not perfect, but better). I hope there’s more with her in future books!

The mystery is fairly weak, both the premise of it and how it’s resolved. The ending includes an absolutely ridiculous event too (can’t give details as it’s too spoilery) that helps it all wrap up neatly.

All those criticisms and it seems odd that I’m giving it 3 stars, but I did like it well enough for a mostly-fluff fun read. When you’re in the mood for a cozy historical mystery, it might fit the bill for you too. It helps that it’s currently only $1.99 for Kindle or Nook – if you like these sorts of books you may want to grab it before the price increases. Unless you’re a major fan of the genre though, I’d skip this one even at the sale price.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
An extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times, Lady Frances Ffolkes is an Edwardian-era suffragette who has an uncanny ability to attract danger and romance.

When Major Colcombe, a family friend and war veteran, dies under mysterious circumstances, Lady Frances discovers that he was working on a manuscript about South Africa’s bloody Boer War, which reportedly revealed a scandalous mistake that cost the lives of many brave soldiers. Now, it’s up to Frances and her loyal lady’s maid, June Mallow, to track down the missing manuscript and bring the killer to justice. Despite clashes with Scotland Yard and the British Secret Service, Frances never backs down and finds herself in several very unfortunate positions–and one very fortunate love triangle.

Death on the Sapphire is R. J. Koreto’s witty and winsome debut of a series that is sure to be fan favorite for years to come.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Book Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

A Fatal GraceA Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Book number two in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, and I do love the setting for these books. Penny is amazing at bringing the location to life – not only the village which is so appealing, but in this book the time of year almost becomes a character in the story as well. She’s so convincing that I’d look up from reading and feel surprised that there wasn’t snow outside.

If anything, the flaws are that the setting is too perfect – Three Pines seems unbelievably quaint and charming. Even the village curmudgeon is beloved. The murder victim is also an extreme – so hateful, so mean-spirited, so vicious, it’s hard not to root for her killer to get away with it as a kind of public service.

I should probably pace myself with the series, as some of the aspects of the books will likely begin to annoy me if I binge read them. However, I am so curious as to what’s going to happen with a few of them I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at that plan. As I write this post I’m already about a quarter of the way through book #3.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Responses to the Reader Survey, part 1
Four years ago: Review: Enough by Will Davis Jr.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

Death Wears a MaskDeath Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

I was reminded of this series thanks to my own “on this date” posts (as found at the bottom of blog posts). Late in July, Weaver’s first book, Murder at the Brightwell, popped up which prompted me to go looking for the next book.

Once again I enjoyed the main character, and was entertained by the book. Although I am not super fond of the whole marriage-situation plot device, it’s not (currently) a deal-breaker as far as continuing to read the series. I have some concerns that it’s going to get really tedious if she doesn’t resolve it in some way, but I’ll read the next one and then decide if I’ll keep going (assuming the series keeps going).

The books are light and although this one isn’t as good as the debut, I’ll try the third, A Most Novel Revenge, after it releases in October. The description leads me to believe the marriage issues that so bugged me in book #2 might not be an issue in book #3 so here’s hoping. 🙂

(A heads-up if you’re interested in trying this series, book #1 is currently only $2.99 for Kindle.)

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Amory Ames is looking forward to a tranquil period of reconnecting with reformed playboy husband Milo after an unexpected reconciliation following the murderous events at the Brightwell Hotel. Amory hopes a quiet stay at their London flat will help mend their dysfunctional relationship. However, she soon finds herself drawn into another investigation when Serena Barrington asks her to look into the disappearance of valuable jewelry snatched at a dinner party.

Unable to say no to an old family friend, Amory agrees to help lay a trap to catch the culprit at a lavish masked ball hosted by the notorious Viscount Dunmore. But when one of the illustrious party guests is murdered, Amory is pulled back into the world of detection, enlisted by old ally Detective Inspector Jones. As she works through the suspect list, she struggles to fend off the advances of the very persistent viscount even as rumors swirl about Milo and a French film star. Once again, Amory and Milo must work together to solve a mystery where nothing is as it seems, set in the heart of 1930s society London.

Death Wears a Mask is the second novel in Ashley Weaver’s witty and stylish Amory and Milo Ames mystery series.

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Anniversary Week: A Look Back, a Look Around, and a Look Ahead

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On Rereading Books: Still Life

Still LifeYears ago I read Louise Penny’s novel, Still Life. It introduced a new mystery series set in Canada.

And I was thoroughly unimpressed with it, and proceeded to ignore future books in the series as they were released.

Except. Friends whose reading tastes I trust kept saying good things about her books (especially on audio). They said that the first wasn’t her best, but that the series improves.

There’s so many things to read, it’s hard to justify rereading a book I didn’t like, in the hopes of it turning into a series I like, but I do trust my reading friends.

Last week I reread Still Life, with the plan being just to get it read to reintroduce myself to the characters, with the expectation of continuing on with the series.

And I don’t know if it was the (very) low expectations I had, or if it was a different stage of reading life, but I really enjoyed it. Now I’m left wondering why I thought so poorly of the book the first time through. This is when it would be helpful if I’d been blogging about my reads all along; all I have is that star rating, with no comments. Was it a mistake – had I meant to type 3 stars and my finger slipped? Was I in a particularly cranky mood when I read it and nothing would have pleased me? It’s a mystery, one that no detective will solve for me.

On the bright side of things, it means I have the entire Penny series to look forward to reading, thank you very much Jessica and Sarah and Janet and Anne.

On the not-so-bright side, what other books or series have I potentially been ruling out because of a bad first experience, when if I tried them again I might think quite differently about them?

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter. Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces – and this series – with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

Book Details

Title: Still Life
Author: Louise Penny
Category: Fiction / Mystery
My Rating: 3 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Three years ago: Book Review: Poison

Snow Angels by James Thompson

Snow AngelsSnow Angels by James Thompson

Loved the setting, liked the premise and main characters, and the story showed a lot of promise early on. It went off the rails at the end – lots of coincidences and I was all but rolling my eye sat how everything resolved. I’m undecided about reading more in the series – I’m a bit intrigued by Vaara and his wife and their situation, but don’t know if I care enough to give the author another shot. There are just so many other books to read instead…

What really keeps me from recommending them without hesitation, even to crime fiction fans, is the amount of graphic detail Thompson includes. If you’re familiar with Nordic Noir as a subgenre, this won’t surprise you, but I’d hate for you to go into it thinking it’s going to be a gentler mystery than it is. It’s not. Be aware of this if you’re a sensitive reader. I’m not a particularly sensitive reader and I still found myself wincing at times. If you like that subgenre I still think there are stronger options, but perhaps his plotting improves in later books.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
It is called kaamos–two weeks of unrelenting darkness and soul-numbing cold that falls upon Finnish Lapland, a hundred miles into the Arctic Circle, just before Christmas. Some get through it with the help of cheap Russian alcohol; some sink into depression.

This year, it may have driven someone mad enough to commit murder. The brutalized body of a beautiful Somali woman has been found in the snow, and Inspector Kari Vaara must find her killer. It will be a challenge in a place where ugly things lurk under frozen surfaces, and silence is a way of life.

Book Details

Title: Snow Angels
Author: James Thompson
Category: Fiction / Mystery
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Relentless by Darcy Wiley