Posted in Book review

Book review: Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

Two of five stars

I picked up the Sepulchre audiobook from the bargain bin at the local megachain bookstore because I wanted something to listen to on a cross-country road trip and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t. Spend a lot of money, that is.

As with Mosse’s previous novel, Labyrinth, I wanted to like this story. Historical setting juxtaposed against modern setting, with a supernatural-ish link between them: just my cup of tea. As with Labyrinth again, the premise was better than the execution.

17-year-old Léonie Vernier and her older brother Anatole leave their mother behind and flee 1891 Paris for the country at the invitation of their Aunt Isolde, widow of their mother’s estranged brother. Anatole has some rather nasty people after him, and Léonie just wants to get out of the city for a while. Upon arriving at the country estate, the Domain de la Cade in Rennes-les-Bain, they settle in for a long visit. But all is not as it seems at the Domain, and the siblings, along with their aunt, may not have left all the danger behind them in Paris.

Jump to modern-day France, and meet 26-year-old American graduate student Meredith Martin, who is researching a biography on Debussy as well as her own family history. She has also come to the Domain de la Cade, now an exclusive hotel, in search of both a family connection and a Debussy connection. She is eerily familiar with the Domain although she’s never before visited. And soon she also discovers danger lurking for her in the recesses and grounds of the estate.

The story pops back and forth between these eras in a fairly logical pattern and is entertaining enough. I had some difficulty with character differentiation: the reader, whose name escapes me at the moment, had a convincing French accent although she made little distinction between the female voices. She did not give Meredith an American accent, which did not help. I found Léonie annoying, whiny, and overly childish for her age. I didn’t care much for any of the female characters, which is unfortunate since the story was essentially theirs. In fact, I didn’t care much for any of the characters. If I’d had been reading a hard copy rather than listening while driving across Oklahoma, Texas, and the desert Southwest, I’d have put it down and found something else. As such, I was a captive audience. But I breathed a sigh of relief — “Thank heavens that’s over!” — when I finished the last disc just as I pulled in front of the hotel where I would be staying in California. It’s hard to say whether the relief came more from being done with the drive or the book.

Posted in Book review

Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madame Renée Michel is the widowed concierge of an apartment building in Paris. On the surface, and to the casual observer, she is the epitome of such an individual: cranky, dim, and interested only in her soap operas and her cat, Leo. In private, and apparent only to those who know how to see, she feeds her amazing intellect by devouring art, music, and literature while secretly looking down upon the less intelligent but vastly more wealthy social elite who inhabit her building. Since her husband’s death several years ago, Renée shares this side of herself only with her friend Manuela, a housekeeper in the building, and thus her social equal, although not her intellectual equal. Renée wants desperately to maintain her disguise of dull mediocrity. She is petrified of being found out; she cloaks the fear with pungent disdain to hide it even from herself.

Paloma Josse is the the youngest daughter of one of the families in Madame Michel’s building. Behind her disguise as a typical vacuous ‘tween, she is full of herself as only a 12-year-old can be, especially one who is vastly smarter than the rest of her family. She cannot see the point in life. She intends to commit suicide by burning down the building on her 13th birthday, but she keeps a journal in which she writes her observations and thoughts in case she finds some reason to continue living.

Renée and Paloma have much in common — their intelligence and the disguising thereof chief among them — but it takes a new resident to bring them out of their protective shells and, eventually, together.

When wealthy Japanese businessman Kakuro Ozu buys one of the apartments, the whole building is abuzz with gossip and speculation. Monsieur Ozu is polite but distant. A shared involuntary flinch at the misuse of language during a conversation with a fellow tenant brings Renée to Kakuro’s attention, and Paloma endears herself to him when she addresses him in schoolgirl Japanese while they are stuck in the elevator.

Alternately told by Renée’s inner dialogues and Paloma’s journal entries, the story of how these three disparate individuals become friends and confidantes is a marvel to discover. Renée begins to blossom, Paloma becomes open to possibilities: even the abrupt and unexpected tragedy that ends the story does nothing to diminish the hope and joy Kakuro brings to these two lives.

A beautiful story, beautifully told. And more than occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. I loved it.

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