Words in a French Life by Kristin Espinasse

When Rose City Reader recently posted an extensive list of novels with French connections, I went looking for my copy of  Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France by Kristin Espinasse.

 

The book is a collection of essays — originally written as blog posts –about Kristin Espinasse’s daily struggles and triumphs as an American living in France with her French husband and family. Each essay focuses on a few related French words and phrases that tie together with events that occurred. At the end of each is a glossary explaining each French word or phrase used in the text.

Words in a French Life is an absolutely delightful book to help increase both vocabulary and an understanding of French culture for high school and college-level students as well as adults. Even though I have never studied French, I found it totally enjoyable to read.

If you would like to get a taste of what the book is like and find out more, be sure to visit Espinasse’s blog French Word A Day, which is still active in 2020. As a bonus, on the blog she includes audio clips with pronunciations and gorgeous photographs. What a resource!

#BookBeginnings The Janes by Louisa Luna

So excited to be able to join Book Beginnings on Fridays. I’m reading The Janes by Louisa Luna today.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Janes* by Louisa Luna

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The second Alice Vega novel travels to the San Diego area where the bodies of two young women have been found. Lacking identification, one of the girls is clutching a slip of paper with Alice Vega’s name on it. She calls in her partner from a previous case in Pennsylvania, Max Caplan, and together they begin to piece together what happened to the girls while trying to prevent anyone else from meeting the same fate.

First Sentence:

Meet our girl:  seventeen, arrived here a year ago from a rough and dusty town in Chiapas, considered pretty by most standards because she is young, her face unmarked by scars or wrinkles, her body boasting the tender snap of fresh muscle.

Discussion: 

Did you notice the way the author used “our girl” for the victim? It continues throughout the scene, not just in the first line.  I wasn’t completely sure whether it made the reader empathize with the girl or if it created the impression that she was being described by someone who treated her like a possession.

How did it strike you?

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The wife tilted back on her heels and then steadied herself. She struggled against the doctor for a moment but then didn’t fight.

In this scene, Cap is watching a couple of suspects.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Louisa Luna?

Recent Reads: Catching Up

Having read a bunch of novels recently, I decided to quickly post summaries of my thoughts before I move on.

Spoilers likely!

The Last Sister* by Kendra Elliot (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When Emily Mills discovers a man dead hanging in a tree, she is disturbed by the memories of finding her own father hanging under similar circumstances twenty years before. Her phone call to report the crime to the FBI brings special agent Zander Wells with his partner special agent Ava McLane to the scene. When Zander begins to investigate her father’s death to see if the crimes are related, Emily wonders about her older sister’s involvement and what she really witnessed all those years ago.

Notes:  The Last Sister drew me right in. It was enjoyable not to notice any frayed edges or issues, but just disappear into the story.  There were some interesting twists, most of which were believable. I also like that author Kendra Elliot uses a few law enforcement (FBI special agents) characters from previous novels, but shows them in a different light or brings someone who was a secondary character in a previous book up front to be a main character. It is less confining than a series with only one main character, yet there are familiar faces.

Although I totally get that the crime has to be of a certain type for the FBI to be called in, the hate crime/racism aspect was pretty disturbing.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

Vanished by Kendra Elliot (2014)

 

Summary:   When eleven-year-old Henley disappears on her way to school, the FBI is on the case. Special Agent Ava McLane stays with the family to keep them safe and informed. Police detective Mason Callahan, who was once married to Henley’s stepmom, also arrives to help find the girl, even though someone he knew through work has just been murdered.  As clues are uncovered, Ava begins to suspect that more is going on than a simple kidnapping and other family members may be targeted as well.

Notes:  Once again, it was easy to lose myself in this novel. I liked that the family was a complicated one, with step moms and step dads in the mix. Although they all had the same goal, conflicts still arose because of their histories. The plot moved along smoothly and the characters were for the most part well developed. I liked the romance that emerged, also. It added some spice.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

 

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Alice Fine works in a construction office with her dad by day and volunteers with an online group that matches unidentified bodies (“Does”) with missing persons at night. Unlike many of the other members of the group — who started because they have missing relatives — Alice was drawn to the work because she herself was a missing person when she was very young. She was rescued in less than a day, but her kidnapper was never caught. When Alice recognizes a man from a photograph on the missing persons website, she soon realizes he is the one who kidnapped her so long ago. With the help of other volunteers, Alice delves into the mystery of who he was and why he took her.

Notes:  I really like this book. I like that the author was inspired to write it by real events in her neighbor’s life. I like that the amateur sleuths were based on actual volunteers who run The Doe Network website.  I like that Alice’s memories may or may not be reliable, but that her present day narration is reliable.

My only criticisms were that a couple of the male characters had odd character arcs or seemed to get tossed into and out of the story randomly. One example was Jimmy, who was the son of one of the co-owners of the construction business. Jimmy stole Alice’s backpack and hated the fact she secretly owned the business that he thought he would inherit. Except he was in love with her in the end/climax scene?

Merrily’s potential love interest(?), Vasquez, more or less also randomly shows up at the end climax scene. It isn’t clear what his motives are, who he is investigating, and why he keeps popping up except that Merrily needs a guy.

Still, the rest works very well.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

The Secret Place by Tana French (2014)

 

Summary:  A teenage student at a boarding school for boys, Chris Harper, was murdered a year ago, but the perpetrator was never found. When sixteen-year-old Holly from the neighboring girls’ school shows up at Detective Stephen Moran’s  desk in the cold case division with a clue, he uses it to join Lead Detective Antoinette Conway of Dublin’s Murder Squad as she reopens the case. Nothing is as it seems, however, as Holly’s friends and rival cliques are determined to muddy the waters.

Notes:  Finally, a Tana French novel to truly love (see my complaints of other novels on the author page). The writing is still gorgeous, as with all the others, but this time the police do their jobs and the ending is satisfying. Yes, Tana French can pull it off.

What is most delightful in this novel is the theme of lies and deception. It is a merry-go-round ride as Moran and Conway try to deceive the girls they interview into revealing what happened and the girls do their best to lead the detectives astray. For that matter, Moran is trying to butter Conway up so he can move to the Murder Squad. Who is lying for the “right” reasons? Perhaps they all are.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

Rough Day: Detective Lottie King Mystery Short Stories* by Shelley Coriell

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Author Shelley Coriell introduced Detective Lottie King as a minor character in the first book of her Apostles series, The Broken (reviewed here). Lottie was so popular, Shelley decided to write more about her. By the way, Shelley is a bit of a foodie and she includes Lottie-inspired recipes — and drinks(!) — between each chapter.

The stories range from Lottie working with her granddaughter’s Girl Power group to solve a locked room mystery, to helping a twelve-year-old boy find his missing grandfather.

Notes:  Given that this is a collection of short stories, it is easy to put it down between chapters, which I did over a year ago. When I picked it up again, I had forgotten how much I loved Lottie. She plows right in and gets the job done, all the time wearing the most amazing shoes.

I went to see if Shelley Coriell had any new novels out, but her last apparently was another collection of Lottie short stories published in 2017.  Hope that is remedied soon.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

#BookBeginnings Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Today I’m looking forward to reading Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Two young sisters disappear from a parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town and the police aren’t making any progress. Desperate, their mother hires a bounty hunter named Alice Vega, to search for the girls. Vega enlists a local PI, Max Caplan, to help her. Will the pair be enough to find the girls in time?

First Sentence:

Jamie Brandt was not a bad mother. Later she would tell that to anyone who would listen:  police, reporters, lawyers, her parents, her boyfriend, her dealer, the new bartender with the knuckle tattoos at Schultz’s, the investigator from California and her partner, and her own reflection in the bathroom mirror, right before cracking her forehead on the sink’s edge and passing out from the cocktail of pain, grief, and fear.

Discussion:  A first glance, this seems like a pretty straightforward beginning. When you look closer, however, you begin to notice there’s a lot of information. She has a boyfriend, so she is a single mother. She has a dealer and knows a bartender, so she might have addictions. Plus, she is in a lot of pain.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

Cap truly believed there was nothing harder than being a kid. You were always an alien trying to learn the earth rules.

Actually, this is just a random quote that I liked.

I heard good things about this series, so I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

What do you think? Do the quotes draw you in?

What are you reading this week?

#BookBeginnings The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

Let’s take a look at The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Alice Fine works in a construction office with her dad by day and volunteers with an online group that matches unidentified bodies (“Does”) with missing persons at night. Unlike many of the other members of the group — who started because they have missing relatives — Alice was drawn to the work because she herself was a missing person when she was very young. She was rescued in less than a day, but her kidnapper was never caught. When Alice recognizes a man from a photograph on the missing persons website, she soon realizes he is the one who kidnapped her so long ago. With the help of other volunteers, Alice delves into the mystery of who he was and why he took her.

First Sentence:

Audrey89:  RE: RE: RE:…This thread is getting long and tedious already and you jerks are starting to repeat yourselves.

Discussion:

Oh yes, I’ve been on forums that were like that.

This section isn’t labelled as prologue, but it begins in front of Chapter One. Throughout the text, the author sprinkles in online discussions, emails, etc. between regular-length chapters.

The idea that a victim can investigate the crime really works.  It is done in a believable way. The online group is based on an actual organization.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

When Merrily jolted awake from strange dreams, her mouth still tasted weird.

Technically this is from page 57, because page 56 was an email.

Hum, wonder what Merrily was up to before she fell asleep.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny in Older Interview

Having watched a couple of seasons of the police procedural mystery Vera, I was interested in find out more about the books, which are written by Ann Cleeves.

Poking around, I found this amazing older interview with Louise Penny and Ann Cleeves. It turns out these two genius mystery writers are friends. The story behind their writing careers is amazing. If you have some time, it is well worth watching.

 

I find it interesting that they both have such strong settings.

For their books, see our author posts:

 

Ann Cleeves

Louise Penny

Three Mysteries with Unreliable Narrators

What was I going to write about? Oh yes, narrators with — ouch — head injuries that mess with their memories.

And, before I forget, this post has spoilers.

Amnesia is incredibly rare in real life, but within the last year I’ve read three novels with this kind of unreliable narrator.

The books

From 1997

Upon a Dark Night* by Peter Lovesey

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  A young woman with bad injuries is dumped the the hospital parking lot. When she awakes, she has no memory of who she is or what happened to her.

Although Detective Inspector Peter Diamond is the protagonist of the series, many of the chapters are from the young woman’s rather hazy point of view.

“Her loss of identity was total… She didn’t even know what sex she belonged to.
It called for self-discovery of the most basic sort. Tentatively she explored her body with her hand, traced the swell of her breast and then moved down. “

 

From 2015

Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner


A mysterious woman survives a car crash, but has a head injury that leaves her memory severely impaired. Is it coincidence that she has sustained two previous head injuries in the recent past? She doesn’t remember.

 

My name is Nicky Frank. Except, most likely, it isn’t.

 

From 2018

The Witch Elm by Tana French

After Toby Hennessy is assaulted badly, he loses parts of his memory. He’s not at all sure what happened and, more importantly, what criminal acts he might have carried out in the past.

Discussion

Unreliable narrators are incredibly popular right now (see Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train, and We Were Liars, for example). As a writer, I can understand the impulse to include a character who is a living, breathing victim, but who can’t reveal too much about what happened.  It helps generate sympathy for them, increasing the chances the reader will stick around to figure out the crime.  When the author drops a dead body in the first few pages, it is up to the detective(s) to generate emotional investment in solving the crime, which can be a more difficult task.

Writing an unreliable narrator, however, can be tricky. The best ones slowly regain their memories, creating a character arc that amounts to a writing trick for revealing back story in a believable way.

The worst ones aren’t consistent, remembering pieces when convenient, then forgetting again in the next chapter. Even worse, when it isn’t believable in what they supposedly forget. Take for example the young woman in Upon A Dark Night quoted above. Gender identity isn’t stored in the same place as the type of memories she appears to have lost. Plus, imagine yourself lying in a bed with your eyes shut. Can you figure out your own gender without feeling yourself up? I can. That error dumped me right out of the story.

Even the set up must be believable. In Crash & Burn, a woman who has had two previous bad concussions receives yet another brain injury. Why would the author do that? Perhaps to make sure the victim doesn’t regain her memory? It seemed like overkill, however, and frankly made an unlikely story even less plausible.

Authors often use unreliable narrators to generate convoluted plot twists, leading the reader down one path before careening off in a new direction. To keep the reader invested, there must be clues that things aren’t exactly as suggested on the surface. Unfortunately, if the clues are too subtle it can make for exhausting reading because you have to evaluate every word, every sentence for hidden meanings.

That was definitely the case in The Witch Elm for me. Not only was the main character an unreliable narrator, he turned out to have a negative character arc, starting out as a seemingly mild-mannered, pleasant young man who might have done something shady. By the end, I was trying to figure out why we were supposed to be interested in this man’s story at all. No one else in the story cared, either. It was only Tana French’s beautiful writing that kept me reading at all.

On the whole, I would say that mysteries with unreliable narrators who have amnesia or memory loss leave me unsatisfied. Let’s face it, people with their memories intact are unreliable enough. No need to add what is obviously an artificial construct into the mix.

 

How about you? Do you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators?

 

#BookBeginnings Upon a Dark Night by Peter Lovesey

Today’s shelf find is Upon a Dark Night by Peter Lovesey for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Upon a Dark Night* by Peter Lovesey

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Detective Inspector Peter Diamond of the Bath homicide squad is working two cases:  the death of a woman who fell from the roof of a local landmark, and that of an elderly farmer who shot himself. He has no time for the mystery of a  young woman dumped in the hospital parking lot, injured and without a memory of who she is or what happened to her. He will leave that one to someone else. That is, until it becomes apparent that the cases may be linked in some way.

First Sentence:

A young woman opened her eyes.

The view was blank, a white-out, a snowfall that covered everything.

 

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

He said, “I like chocolate chip cookies. I like chocolate chip cookies the best.”

I chose this quote because I like chocolate chip cookies, too.

Although the sentence seems like it might be filler dialogue, it turns out later in the page that it is actually a clue. A tiny clue, but a clue nonetheless. It’s great when chocolate chop cookies can be a clue.

When a friend gave me some older mystery novels a few months ago, based on the cover I thought this was one Lovesey’s historical novels. I put it away on a shelf. Last week I saw a Lovesey mystery featured on Shiela’s A Quiet Georgie blog and realized the Detective Inspector Peter Diamond  series is contemporary (well, as contemporary as the 1990s can be).  Another awesome shelf find!

What do you think? Would you pull out some chocolate chip cookies and read a Detective Inspector Peter Diamond mystery?

Are you finding any gems hidden on your shelves?

#BookBeginnings Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner

Today I’m reading Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings

Live to Tell* by Lisa Gardner

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When four members of a Boston family are murdered and the father is barely alive in the hospital, everything points to a murder-botched suicide. Police detective D.D. Warren isn’t convinced that things are as obvious as they seem, however, and begins to dig more deeply.  Does the case have anything to do with another tragedy from decades before?

First Sentence, Prologue:

Danielle

I don’t remember that night much anymore.

 

First Sentence, Chapter One

Thursday night. Sargent Detective D.D. Warren was out on a date. It wasn’t the worst date she’d ever been on. It wasn’t the best date she’d ever been on.

Notice the switch from first person to third person?

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

D.D. slept until seven the next morning, an unusual luxury when working a high-burn case.

Actually this is page 57 because 56 is blank.

I have four Lisa Gardner novels in my TBR pile. I decided to start with the oldest one in the D.D. Warren series because I had already read the first two.

Lisa Gardner is prolific, so I also have one from the FBI Profiler series, and one from the Tessa Leoni series. I don’t know why I have waited so long to read these. I enjoy her books.

What do you think? Would you read Live to Tell? Have you read any novels by Lisa Gardner?

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