It’s been so long! The last few months have been off-the-charts crazy. My dad was really sick which lead to him being in the hospital for over a month, and while some hospital visits lend themselves to reading time, sadly, this was not the case. So, bear with me, while I go back in time to April.
This year I attended the Southern Kentucky Book Fest for the first time. IT. WAS. SPECTACULAR. Now, if you’ve read any of my posts you’re thinking “Umm, Elizabeth, you love books. And reading. And reading books. How is it that there is a huge book festival in your hometown that you’ve never attended?” That, my friend, is a good question to which I do not have an answer. All I know is that, God-willing, I’ll never miss it again. It was fun, educational, and a little overwhelming to see so many authors sharing their books with the public and getting the chance to talk to them about their work. I sat in three different author panels which were highly informative and entertaining. I limited myself to five purchases because the books are sold on site through Barnes and Noble which makes them a little pricey. My plan next year is to start saving in January and then buy ALL THE BOOKS. I’m sure Brad is fine with that.
All of the authors I met were absolutely charming and signed the books I purchased. We read A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab for our book club (post coming in the (hopefully) near future), so I was excited to purchase the second book in the series directly from the author. She was delightful, and I helped convince the girl in front of me to purchase A Darker Shade of Magic. (Spoiler alert: I loved it!) Murder at the Courthouse is a cozy mystery which grabbed my attention; and, as a horror lover, I couldn’t pass by the table of local ghost stories written by a husband and wife duo from just a few counties over without picking up a copy.
As much as I loved the festival itself, the highlight for me was attending the Kentucky Writers Conference which was held the day before. The conference is a day of free writing workshops hosted by different authors who are attending the festival. There were so many great topics it made choosing sessions difficult, and I picked up lots of great tips, techniques, and information. The other two books I purchased, Bliss House and Smoke, were both from authors whose writing sessions I attended during the conference.
You are probably beginning to wonder, but don’t worry, all of this does lead back to Still Life. My title was not just an empty promise. Laura Benedict (author of Bliss House) led an inspiring session during the writers conference on genre literature. While discussing the mystery/detective genre, she mentioned her love for the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Lucky for me, my wonderful husband had bought me the first three books in the series for Christmas the previous year, but I hadn’t yet been able to get around to them. At the Book Fest the next day, Laura and I were chatting about her session and I mentioned that I had the first three Chief Inspector Gamache novels at home. She again professed her love for the series, the characters, and especially Penny’s writing. I knew immediately Still Life would be my next read. Also, I cannot wait to read Bliss House because I think you can tell a lot about a writer from what he or she reads, and as you will soon find out, Still Life was a fantastic recommendation. Thanks, Laura!
Title: Still Life
Author: Louise Penny
Published: January 1, 2005
Format I Read: Paperback
Synopsis: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, and his team are called out to investigate the suspicious death of a local elderly woman in the quaint village of Three Pines. At first Jane Neal appears to be the victim of an unfortunate hunting accident, but as Gamache begins to dig into the town and its inhabitants he uncovers malevolence and murder.
Thoughts: Have you ever wanted to crawl into a book and never leave? This is what Louise Penny did for me in Still Life. Her writing is elegant, descriptive but unfussy. She is able to draw you in immediately, and you quickly form attachments not only to the characters but also to the place. If you have ever dreamed of village life (Anyone? Only me?), Three Pines is (despite the murder) an ideal vision of what you would want. The mystery definitely drives the story along, but the characters and the town are what make this book worth reading. I had this same feeling when I read The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. I fell in love with Gamache and Three Pines, and I am thrilled that this is a series. I would have been heartbroken at the idea of never returning.
Gamache is a great leading detective. He is secretly sharp, using his quiet pondering to take in everything about a crime scene, a witness, a suspect, or even a new member of his investigative team. He is intelligent and sincere while inspiring the same from those around him. I really enjoyed the interactions between him and his team as well as the interactions among the townsfolk. Penny includes just enough backstory for Gamache to entice you, making you wonder what happened in his past and how it will affect his future.
There was a Canadian TV adaptation done in 2013 called Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery, and I had actually seen it prior to reading the book. In fact, our viewing of it was what inspired Brad to purchase the books for me. I started reading knowing that if the plot of the TV movie followed the book I already knew the resolution, and it did, but I don’t believe that had any effect on my enjoyment of the book. Without having seen the adaptation, I would never have guessed the ending. After trying to piece the mystery together while reading I almost think there could have been a few more clues pointing in the right direction, and the end would still be a complete surprise. If you have neither read the book nor seen the TV movie, I highly encourage you to read the book first. The TV adaptation is fine for what it is, but it captures none of the magic that’s in the book.
I am excited about going into the second book of the series with no knowledge of the plot whatsoever. I am pacing myself before I re-enter this world because I want to spread them out and savor them. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but while reading I will immediately re-read (occasionally multiple times) passages, sentences, or phrases that capture my attention or are exceptionally well written. I was afraid I would never finish Still Life because I kept going back and re-reading sentences so beautifully crafted or sentiments so perfectly stated that I wasn’t ready to move on. If you love mysteries plus stories that wrap you up and take you away, Still Life is well worth your reading time.