Thursday, January 21, 2021

Black Robe: Brian Moore

Description on the back of the book:

His name is Father Laforgue, a young Jesuit missionary come from Europe to the New World to bring the word of God to the heathen. He is given minimal aid by the governor of the vast territory that is proudly named New France but is in reality still ruled by the Huron, Iroquois, and Algonkin tribes who have roamed it since the dawn of time and whom the French call Savages. His mission is to reach and bring salvation to an isolated Huron tribe decimated by disease in the far north before incoming winter closes off his path to them. His guides are a group of Savages who mock his faith and their pledges even as they accept muskets as their payment.

Quote from the Author's Note preceding the text of Black Robe... 

In the early part of the seventeenth century the native people of Canada were not known to the French as “Indians,” but by the names of their tribal confederacies, and were referred to collectively as "Les Sauvages" (the Savages). The natives, for their part, spoke of the French as “Normans” and of the Jesuit fathers as “Blackrobes.” As for the obscene language used by the natives at that time it was a form of rough banter and was not intended to give offense.

Throughout the book this terminology is used, and there is much rude language used by the Algonkins and the Iriquois. Brian Moore's source data for this novel was Relations, letters from Jesuits in New France sent back to their superiors in France.

This book is set in the 1600s in what is now Canada. Some members of the Algonkin tribe have contracted (informally) with Champlain, the leader of the settlement, to deliver Father Laforgue and his companion Daniel (a younger man, also from France) to their destination. The guides and the two Frenchmen making this journey travel in two canoes that also contain supplies. The Algonkins travel in family groups, men with their wives and children of all ages.

Along the way they have many problems: bad weather, not enough food, the mutual distrust between the priest and the Algonkins, and much worse along the way. Daniel is in love with the daughter of one of the Algonkin leaders. Algonkin females in their teens are promiscuous, having sex with any males they desire, but when they marry, they are treated by their husbands as slaves. It appears in this group that the men value their wives, but they keep it to themselves.

This was a challenging read for me. Eventually some of the Algonkins and the two French men are captured by members of the Iriquois tribe. The violence and torture (and more) in this book was disturbing. But it is also a compelling story, thrilling and very well-written.

Moore does an amazing job of portraying the points of view and beliefs of the Savages and Father Laforgue without being judgmental of either one. They have different spiritual beliefs and the priest wants the Savages to be baptized to save their souls. I found myself more sympathetic to the beliefs of the Savages, at times. Clearly, religion, the differences in belief systems, and the clash of different cultures is a theme in this book. 


Publisher:  Plume Books, 1997 (orig. pub. 1985)
Length:      246 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:      New France in North America, 1600s
Genre:       Historical Fiction
Source:      Purchased in November 2020.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021

I am joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021. The challenge is hosted by a new host, Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. It runs for the entire year.

To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

  • Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please use the direct URL that will guide us directly to your review)
  • Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)

The sign-up post is HERE on Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

Participants can select from the following levels:

  • 20th Century Reader - 2 books
  • Victorian Reader - 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader - 10 books
  • Medieval - 15 books
  • Ancient History - 25 books
  • Prehistoric - 50+ books

Even though I had a hard time writing reviews for all the historical fiction I read last year, I am going to aim for The Renaissance Reader level at 10 books.

I have already read one book for this challenge, Black Robe by Brian Moore, and I am doing a slow read of Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

Here are some possibilities from my TBR piles:

  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
  • Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard 
  • In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
  • Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings
  • Beware This Boy by Maureen Jennings
  • The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare
  • Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
  • The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
  • A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill
  • Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Cross of Lorraine" by Isaac Asimov

I have never read any of Isaac Asimov's stories in the Black Widowers series. Now I find out that they were collected in six books. The one I read recently was in Detective Stories, stories chosen by Philip Pullman. The story was first published in 1976 and was collected in Casebook of the Black Widowers.

"The Cross of Lorraine" is the type of story I did not think I would like, but in fact I enjoyed it very much. A group of middle-aged men gather monthly for dinner, and at that dinner they are presented with a puzzle to solve. I don't know how all the stories go, but in this one the puzzle pops up unexpectedly, it was not brought to them for a solution. 

The story begins with a magician joining the group as a guest, and the group questions him about his experiences in his job. This leads to a puzzle that he has not been able to solve on his on, try as he may. He is trying to find a woman that was traveling on a bus with him. They were traveling at night and she left the bus while he was asleep. The solution is clever and amusing, if a bit far-fetched. But I think it was the tone of the mystery I liked most, playful, light.

So I will be looking for a copy of one of the books of collected stories, hopefully the first one, Tales of the Black Widowers.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Japanese Literature Challenge 14

Again I will be joining in on the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza

The guidelines are simple:

  • The Challenge runs for thee months, from January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021.
  • Read and review one or more books which have originally been written in Japanese.

There is a dedicated review site to link up reviews for the Japanese Literature Challenge 14.

Also, there will be a group read of Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami, for those who wish to join in.

I am currently reading my first book for this challenge: Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. This book is a standalone crime fiction novel, and it is a chunkster, at about 550 pages. 

I also plan to read Malice by the same author. That is the first book in the Police Detective Kaga series. This one is not such a long read, about half the length of Under the Midnight Sun. Both of these books belong to my husband.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Chief Inspector Gamache series, books 8 and 9

The Beautiful Mystery is the eighth book in the Inspector Gamache series. Following that book is How the Light Gets In. The books have a connection, with a cliffhanger ending (of sorts) in The Beautiful Mystery leading to events which are resolved in the next book. Thus I am posting my thoughts on them together.

The Beautiful Mystery

I really can't do justice to a summary of the plot for this book so I will rely on the description at the author's website:

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Québec, 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.

As usual this was a beautifully written story. I enjoyed the new setting. The stories set in Three Pines are charming and I love visiting the inhabitants of that small town, but I also enjoy exposure to other parts of Québec. It was interesting to get a look at the workings of a small monastery.

There is a second plot in The Beautiful Mystery. In past books there have been references to differences within the Sûreté du Québec. At the highest levels, there are people who resent Gamache. This situation comes to a head in this novel, but is not resolved.

How the Light Gets In

Had I realized that this book was set at Christmas, I might have tried to read both of these books before the end of the year. As it is, I started this book a couple of days before the end of the year, and it was the first book I finished in 2021. I read the books back to back because I saw that the cliffhanger ending in The Beautiful Mystery was going to bug me until I read the next book.

There is a mysterious death that is determined to be suicide at the beginning of the book. The incident keeps coming up until it is finally tied in to the rest of the plot towards the end of the book. Around the same time, Myrna, the owner of the bookshop in Three Pines, calls Inspector Gamache and asks him to check on a friend who lives in Montréal and was scheduled to visit Myrna for Christmas. When Gamache goes to her home, he finds the friend dead, murdered. He also discovers that she was one of a famous set of quintuplets who were born in Québec in the 1930s. She had used an assumed name to conceal her identity. 

But at the same time that Gamache is investigating that death, he is dealing with changes in his department. Many of his best detectives have transferred out of his department, some voluntarily, some forced to move by Gamache's superior officer. Only Inspector Isabelle Lacoste is still working with him. New officers have been transferred into Gamache's department.

This book was a very good read. It was overly long, but had a faster pace than The Beautiful Mystery, and kept me reading too late at night in order to finish the book. I will admit to having some reservations as to some plot choices in both The Beautiful Mystery and How the Light Gets In, but not enough to deter my enjoyment. 

These two books fit together very well, it was like reading one very, very long novel. And fortunately, I enjoy immersing myself in the Inspector Gamache books. But that only worked for me because I already had a copy on hand. I would have been quite unhappy to read The Beautiful Mystery when it first came out and then find out I had to wait a year to find out what was going on.


Pub. data for The Beautiful Mystery

Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2013 (orig. publ. 2012)
Length: 373 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #8
Setting: Québec, Canada
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Pub. data for How the Light Gets In

Publisher: Sphere, 2018 (orig. publ. 2013)
Length: 534 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Inspecter Gamache, #9
Setting: Québec, Canada (Three Pines, Montréal)
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: Purchased in 2020.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


Rose City Reader is hosting a TBR Challenge. It is called the TBR 21 in '21 Challenge. The idea is to read 21 books from your TBR shelf in 2021. "TBR" counts as any book that was on your shelf prior to January 1, 2021. "Shelf" includes your ebook reader and audiobooks you own, but it doesn't include library books. 

The rules and sign up for the challenge are here. Rose City Reader's sign up post is here.

I love this idea -- I like picking a specific number of books and I like visuals. I went through my shelves pulling books for the challenge but I will have to put them all back because I don't have a shelf I can devote to this purpose. 

I was aiming at books on my TBR purchased prior to 2020. The only exception on my list is The Travelers by Chris Pavone, which I purchased in mid-2020. 

Here are the books I selected:

In case some of the titles are hard to read, here's a list:

  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell
  • Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
  • The Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman. Second book in a series of two books. Set in Bosnia, Germany, and Italy.
  • The Travelers by Chris Pavone
  • Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
  • Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. Fifth book in the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. I read the fourth book in 2011 and I have had this one on my TBR since then.
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter. This book was the 2002 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction.
  • Bangkok 8 by John Burdette
  • Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson
  • The End of Your Life Book Club by David Schwalbe
  • Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce
  • Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
  • Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  • A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
  • Village School by Miss Read
  • Death Has a Small Voice by Frances and Richard Lockridge
  • Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris
  • Mad About the Boy? by Delores Gordon-Smith
  • Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith. The seventh book in the Arkady Renko series. I read the sixth book in 2008 and I have had this one on my TBR since 2010.

If you have any thoughts on these books, please let me know.