Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts (2018)

On an ordinary summer night, in a shopping mall filled with families, three teenage boys armed with their parents guns, opened fire killing nearly one hundred people and forever changing the lives of those who survived. Among the survivors, are Reed and Simone, teenagers at the time of the shooting, whose lives were shattered by the violence they witnessed and the loved ones they lost.

Shelter in Place follows Simone and Reed as they work to rebuild their lives and fill it with purpose and love. As the two grown up, their paths never quite crossing, readers see how the mass shooting haunts them both: Reed becomes a police officer to help protect the lives of innocent people, Simone becoming an artist whose work is deeply influenced by her survival.

Nearly a decade after the attack, a serial killer surfaces and begins to target the survivors of the shooting. One by one, the killer tracks down and ends the lives of people who would have otherwise died in the mall shooting attack. Reed and Simone are both on that list. They are also both now living on Tranquility Island and are embarking on a romance and trying to build a relationship that is not marred by terror or death.

While Roberts have crafted a good story with a strong plot, her story meanders too far from the action for too many pages. She distracts with unnecessary characters and sub-plot lines drawing out for nearly 500 pages a story that could have been told — and possible told better — in 300 pages. While enjoyable, Shelter in Place is not as good as some of her older works.


The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (2008)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Book #3

the cruelest month l penny

The worst of winter seems to be receding from the small, lovely village of Three Pines. Snow is melting, flowers are beginning to bloom, and the town residents are cheerfully preparing for the village’s Easter celebrations. In the opening chapters, readers get to catch up with some of the characters they have grown to love in the series’ first two books as they — along with some new faces — plan for egg hunts and potluck lunches.

At the local B&B, the proprietor Gabri has planned a surprise event for Easter weekend — a seance is to be held, lead by a psychic who is visiting the village for the holiday. Some villagers are appalled at the idea of raising the spirits of the dead: some protest that a seance is in bad taste because the town has been the site of two brutal murders in recent years. Others because it seems sacrilege to host a seance during the Easter holidays. A group of villagers who see it as a lark arrive at the B&B on Good Friday. While fun, the seance does not produce any ghosts; which the psychic suggests is because the B&B is too happy of a place and the guests at the seance too cheerful.

Why not try again, it is suggested, but this time, at the haunted Old Hadley House?

The second seance is much darker, the house’s horrific past seems to be much more conducive to calling up the dead. Indeed, the guests at this seance not only stir up the house’s ghosts, but they make a new one when a local woman named Madeline is scared to death during the event.

Once again, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called the the sleepy village to investigate when it becomes clear that Madeline’s death was not only because the woman was very frightened; her death was hastened when she was drugged by someone before the seance began, drugs that helped stop her heart.

By all accounts the dead woman was beloved by all and no one can imagine who would want her dead. Gamache and his team know that love can turn to hate over time, and that some murderers can hide their evil intent even from those closest to them.

As the case plods along, Gamache is introduced to the idea of the “near enemy” theory by town book-shop owner and psychologist, Myrna Landers. It is possible, he is told, that people can hide their true intentions behind the mask of another emotion. What on the surface looks like compassion can really — in the mind of a person with ill-intent — be pity. Some might see a person in love, but inside, he or she might really just be feeling obsessive attachment: a emotion that is dark and controlling. As Gamache begins to ponder this theory, he suspects that the “near enemy” is indeed at the heart of the case. The murder is masquerading as one type of person, while a more sinister and vindictive person lies underneath.

Yet another masterpiece of mystery fiction by Penny, filled with heart, wisdom, and compassion.

Reposted, originally post from October 20, 2017

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear (2018)

The Maisie Dobbs Series, book #14

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World War II has begun and is casting a pall over all of Europe. England’s position of neutrality has come to an end and now tens of thousands of young men (and women) are heading over to fight in yet another war. Maisie, her colleagues and friends, are in shock that they are living through yet another war with Germany. All of their old wounds, and their old fears, are resurfacing as they watch one young person after another enlist to fight…and to face horrors they cannot even imagine.

Maisie Dobbs is still investigating cases for her London PI firm and regularly returning to the country-side to look in on her family; including its newest member, a little orphaned girl named Anna, who Maisie is working to adopt. Work is becoming more difficult as the war rages on. Maisie is still more than able to solve her cases, but movement around the country is increasingly limited and danger more imminent. Now, with German troops marching across France and English soldiers retreating back to boats they hope will take them across the Channel and home, the threat of attack on London is growing. Should Maisie keep asking her staff to come into the office (away from their families) when an air attack could happen at any time? Should she be with her parents and little Anna, not racing around looking for criminals?

Into this unsettled situation, Maisie agrees to help two neighbors search for their missing son. Young Joe Coombes, a boy Maisie has known for years, has taken an apprenticeship for a military contractor and had not been heard from in quite some time. Maisie heads out into the country-side — which is quickly being covered over in air fields, barracks, and training grounds for the military — to find the young boy. Maisie follows Joe’s trail across Hampshire from one military base to another, collecting pieces of information about the young man that grow increasingly troubling.

Joe — young and naive — has been in the company of much older, and gruffer, men who might not be watching out for a 15-year-old boy. He has been complaining to anyone who will listen that he is struggling with debilitating migraines since beginning his work painting military buildings. His employer is a man whose business dealings are focused on the money to be made during war-time and not on the safety or well-being of his employees…if young Joe wants to complain, there are a hundred men who would eagerly take his job, if just to stay off the battle fields.

As Maisie looks into Joe’s disappearance, racing across the countryside and throughout London, she knows time is running out. Her chances of finding Joe alive growing slim. Too much is happening and few are interested in helping find one missing boy. As the rural coast is flooded with soldiers retreating from Germany and even more soldiers being sent to fight in their place, and as the bombings reach the waters of the Channel, Maisie knows soon many, many boys will be missing or dead; not just Joe.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2007)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Book #2


In her second book in the outstanding Armand Gamache series, A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny takes us once again to the picture-perfect village of Three Pines in the days leading up to Christmas. Nestled in the mountains outside of Montreal, Three Pines is a small, sleepy, village filled with good people, cozy homes, and cheerful businesses. It is a place painted with such detail and heart by Penny that readers can imagine they are in the village along side the book’s characters: walking along the snowy town green, looking up at the towering pine trees by the lake, glancing in the windows of the tidy homes to see Christmas trees lit and fires roaring. Three Pines is a place everyone wishes to call home.

This Christmas, there is a dark stain sullying the village — CC de Poitiers. CC is hard woman who has alienated or insulted many of the villagers since her recent move to Three Pines. Along with her husband and daughter, CC is living in the old Hadley House, a house that looms over the town, a reminder of past horrors, of murder and pain. To her family, CC is hateful toward her daughter and cruel and dismissive of her husband. To the villagers in her new town, she is mean-spirited and largely detested. In a short time of living there, CC has managed to create a long list of people who could be called her enemies. But CC is possessed by a sort of madness, an obsession with herself that blinds her to how much others loathe her, all she cares about are her spiritual “teachings” that she is trying to bring to the (dull, stupid) world around her. She wants to enlighten these poor, backwoods slobs about the real truths of the universe; and she will stop at nothing until she has made millions leading the world down her “path”, which she calls Be Calm.

Despite the ill-will that CC has been spreading in town, Christmas finds the villagers happily celebrating their beloved holiday traditions: church, parties, shared meals, gift-giving, and well-wishes. One local tradition at Christmas is a Boxing Day breakfast and curling match that raises money for local charities. It is at this match the CC’s misdeeds catch up with her. She is electrocuted to death in front of the entire community, yet no one seems to have know who committed the crime.

Enter Armand Gamache, Chief Homicide Inspector for the Sûreté du Québec, and his investigative team who are dispatched from Montreal to solve the crime. Wise, patient, calm, and unfailingly kind, Gamache is known and liked in the town of Three Pines and utterly worshiped by his fellow officers. With his signature slow pace, intimate interview style, and his determination to examine the feelings of those involved in the crime; Gamache begins to piece together a list of suspects who might have wanted to kill CC…a list that is very, very long.

Through the ice, snow, and cold; Gamache and his team unearth the truth about who CC was and why she was such a hard, hateful woman and start to connect her to those people she had hurt, exploited, and abused, knowing that one of them was sure to be revealed as the killer.

Louise Penny is a brilliant writer and this book was utterly fantastic! Her prose is gorgeous; so poetic that it is almost spell-binding. Her words bring to life Three Pines in stunning detail and she presents us with characters who are so life-like it seems entirely possible that they will step off the pages of her book, as real as her readers. I have already started the next book in the series and cannot wait to read more about the characters — good and evil — Penny has brought to life.

Still Life by Louise Penny (2005)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Book #1

still life l penny

The book that started the absolutely wonderful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Still Life, is a total gem if not for its plot lines than for its introduction of Armand Gamache, Three Pines and its quirky residents to the world. It is hard to believe it took Penny years — and more than 50 rejections — to get it published!

In the sleepy little village of Three Pines in rural Quebec, residents live a quiet, peaceful life surrounded by beautiful scenery, quaint shops, and kind townspeople. There, being a part of the community means that your neighbors are always willing to help you and that you are made to feel welcome by most, if not all. That is until beloved local resident Jane Neal is killed.

The town is shocked and saddened to learn that a hunting accident took the life of their friend and neighbor. As the days pass with no one claiming responsibility, their shock turns to outrage. When the police are forced to admit that Jane was murdered, their outrage turns to terror.

Armand Gamache and his team of inspectors slowly comb through the lives of the villagers, disrupting the quiet town and unearthing some of the secrets that its residents would rather keep buried. Along the way, he meets and befriends some of the characters that will populate the next next thirteen books (we even meet some that will later commit crimes or perhaps die themselves!)

While this is not the best book in the series, it is well-crafted, unique, and the mystery is solved by an utterly unexpected clue. Do yourself a favor, read these books, you will thank me for it!


The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand (2014)

Moving means that I am currently too far from my (beloved) former local library branch to borrow books and still too disorganized to have been to my new library to check out books there. As a result, my reading options are limited to a stack of dusty paperbacks I found in last year’s beach bag, thus The Matchmaker!

Dabney Kimball Beech is beloved on her island home, Nantucket, not simply because she is a fourth-generation local, nor due exclusively to her encyclopedic knowledge of every inch of the island, but also for her renown as a matchmaker. More than forty couples have been matched by Dabney: all are soulmates, all are still together.

Dabney herself, however, is not living in bliss with her soulmate, Clendenin Hughes. Dabney met Clen at age fourteen and has never once (in thrity-four years) wavered in her belief that he was her soulmate. Despite a deep, desperate love for one another, the two split: Clen to travel the world as a journalist and Dabney to remain on her beloved Nantucket. Clen left Dabney with one parting gift: their daughter Agnes.

Fast forward almost twenty-five years to present day Nantucket: Dabney is known and loved by all Nantucket — residents and tourists alike. She is married to a renown economist to whom she has a pleasant but rather loveless marriage. She is the mother to twenty-four year-old Agnes, who Dabney loves with all her heart, despite Agnes’ engagement to a man Dabney knows is not Agnes’ soulmate.

After almost three decades, having recovered from the tumultuous time after Clen left the island and her years as a single mother, Dabney is living a good, content life. Until she receives an email from Clen, alerting her to the fact that he is returning to Nantucket.

Suddenly, Dabney’s ordered, calm, predictable world in thrown into chaos. She no longer knows who she is; Clen’s return has ignited a flame inside her. She is consumed with a renewed passion for — while still processing her heartbreak by — a man who she has loved for most of her life. She finds herself risking her job, her marriage, her standing in the community, all for chance to be with her true love.

Life, however, will not be put on hold. Dabney cannot act without consequences. By discarding her perfect, predictable life; she must face hard choices about who she will be going forward. A wonderful beach read by one of my favorites, Elin Hilderbrand! Anything by the author is great for summer reading, whose books are all set on the island of Nantucket and never fail to deliver a great story with wonderfully written characters, a dash of drama, and lush descriptions of Nantucket and its residents. Three other of my favorites are: Barefoot, The Island, and Beautiful Day.