Friday, January 19, 2018

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

It's been far too long since I read Louise Penny. I remember starting the first Inspector Gamache novel, and now I've lost track of the last one that I've read. I grabbed A Trick of the Light, hoping that I didn't wildly misjudge which was the last book I read. While going back to Three Pines felt a little strange at first (I didn't recognise some of the incidents), it was good to be back.

In A Trick of the Light, Clara finally gets the artistic recognition she deserves with a solo exhibition. Everything seems to go well (or as well as it can go) until a body is found in Clara and Peter's garden the next day. Worse, the body is of someone Clara knows - Lillian, her one-time toxic best friend. Gamache is going to reach into her past if he's going to find out who's the killer.

In a way, this was a good book for getting back into the world of Three Pines because I've always had a soft spot for Clara. The development of her relationship with Peter was something that I've always seen coming and it was, in a way, cathartic to finally see what happens (hopefully that wasn't a spoiler). Anchoring the novel around her and her past made it easy for me to slip back into the world and I quickly remembered the other characters.

As more of the characters are revealed, the more the mystery unravels. Inspector Gamache and his team don't solve the mystery through fancy deductions of logic a la Holmes, but through hard work and by understanding the relationships between people. When the murderer is revealed, it feels like the right answer (although I did not manage to guess who it was).

Speaking of Inspector Gamache, it was a little heartbreaking to see the strain between him and Jean Guy, his protege. I don't recognise the incident that he talked about, the one that put the cracks in the relationship, but it made for a good subplot and I hope that it's solved in the next book (and I will be reading on to find out what happens).

If you're into people-centric mysteries, the Inspector Gamache series is for you. However, if this is the first time you've heard of the series, I would suggest that you start with the first book because the characters develop over the course of the books, and it would be strange to read them out of order.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Deluxe by Dana Thomas

I decided to borrow this book because the luxury industry is pretty interesting (at least from an economics standpoint). Luxury goods tend to be Veblen goods, with the demand increasing as prices go higher, unlike most goods. So when I saw this book, I decided to borrow it and see how the industry has changed.

Deluxe is a history and analysis of the luxury industry, starting from the 17th century to about 2005, near to the publish date of the book (2007). Most of the history and analysis centers on the Post World War II period, where the luxury industry became corporatised and a greater focus on the bottom-line came into play. The main claim that the book makes is that this focus on the bottom line has, in fact, cheapened the luxury industry, resulting in less exclusivity and quality. This is explored through issues such as fake luxury goods, the perfume and bag industry, and the luxury industiry in non-American and European markets (most notably Japan, with substantial sections on China, India, and Brazil).

Sadly, not much of the analysis focused on economics. It's a bit of a pity since the book claims that the luxury companies are now focusing on the mass market, and I would have liked to read an exploration of whether there was an economic contradiction in that. After all, luxury goods are Veblen goods, which imply that people buy these goods in order to signal a high status (conspicuous consumption), and a marketing shift towards the mass market could end up making these same consumers disinterested in the good, as it is now seen as something widely available and hence less of a status symbol.

Another issue I would have liked the book to explore would be the effect of counterfeiting on the demand for goods. The book talks about the increased quality of counterfeit goods and what the brands are doing for it, but I wonder how it affects demand. Does it reduce demand, because the good is no longer as exclusive, or does the counterfeit good train consumers to buy the real product? For example, are there any statistics on how many consumers start off by buying counterfeit goods (as aspirational symbols) and then 'graduate' to buying the real deal when they have enough money? That was a topic that I hoped would be explored but wasn't.

I just realised I've spent two paragraphs talking about what I hoped the book would have instead of what it does have so let's change focus now. What the book did a good job of was in interviewing people related to the luxury industry and weaving their knowledge into the broader view of the industry as a whole. While the account stops in the mid-2000s, it does provide a pretty comprehensive understanding of what the industry was like at that period of time and how it got there.

Speaking of time, the book did not feel as dated as I feared. I was warned by a friend that because the book was published in 2007, much of the luxury industry now is very different. While I don't know how much of that is true, I didn't find the book to feel very dated, the way some technology books are. There is a lot of emphasis on history (especially on the first part) and the analysis of the modern industry only appears in the second half of the book, which meant that the book felt fairly evergreen.

To sum, Deluxe is a readable account of the luxury industry. If you're interested in how the luxury industry has changed in the last few decades and don't mind not having the very latest information, I think this is a good read. Of course, if you're looking for economic analysis as well, you might want to look for another book.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne

Reread this after Chord of Evil and it’s just as chilling as I remembered it! If I remember correctly, this was the first Sarah Rayne book that I read.

A Dark Dividing is a dual narrative with a dual narrative nestled within. The present day follows journalist Harry as he investigates an up and coming artist named Simone Anderson, with flashbacks to Simone's childhood.. The narrative in the past consists diary excerpts from Charlotte, who’s pregnant with twins. The present day narrative is slightly more complicated as Harry, Melissa (Simone’s Mother), Simone (as a child) and Rox (crazy nurse) are all POV characters. As the story continues, it’s clear that two sets of conjoined twins lie at the heart of the story.

And of course, there’s a sinister house named Mortmain...

The story could be extremely confusing, but the writing and pacing are extremely well-done and I wasn’t confused at all. Admittedly, this is a reread but I didn’t feel confused at all. The multiple POVs and time-shifts worked well to increase the tension of the book and the plot was well-paced as well.

My favourite part of the book is the dark and creepy tone. I looked and someone on the blurb called it a psychological thriller but it feels a lot more like horror to me. There is a dark undertone that’s present right from the start and it gave me chills, even during the day.

A note about characters: the two ‘baddies’ of the book - the creepy girl that Simone hears (hopefully that’s not a big spoiler) and Rosie were really well-developed. In particular, Rosie’s descent from a slightly odd character into madness and obsession was very well-written and felt natural (as odd as that sounded). There was a darkness in Rosie that grew and grew and in a way, she was the dark dividing.

If you’re into dark, creepy novels with deftly written dual narratives that tie together, you’ve got to read this (and other Sarah Rayne books). It’s got me wanting to reread more, and I probably will borrow whatever I can find from the library. And now, the question is: when will I get to the library?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chord of Evil by Sarah Rayne

I requested this book because Sarah Rayne is one of the few horror writers that I enjoy (because I'm too much of a scaredy-cat to explore the horror genre). While I haven't read her works in a while - something that I should remedy soon - Chords of Evil has the same suspense and crescendoing dread that the other works have.

Chords of Evil is a story told in two time periods and through four points of view. It starts in the modern day, with Phineas Fox. His neighbour, Toby, asks for his help in finding his missing cousin Arabella. To be honest, the normalcy of the beginning threw me off, but the book after they find a mysterious painting, the book quickly shifts to Margot, who's a bit obsessed with her brother, and then back into the past to Giselle in Nazi-era Germany and then to one last character (not going to name her to avoid spoilers). As the different threads start to weave themselves together, the world of the story got darker and darker and I felt that familiar sense of dread creeping over me.

Sarah Rayne tends to be a master of the dual plot structure, but I'll admit that I was a bit confused initially. I'm not sure if it's just the ARC copy I received, but there was nothing to indicate a POV change, which meant that I ended up going back and rereading a couple of chapters because I got lost. To be fair, I did put the book down and I suppose that if I read the first few chapters in one sitting, this wouldn't have happened. But as the story progressed and I got a hang of who's who, the shifts in POV and time felt a lot smoother and instead of being confused, the tension increased with every change.

As for characters, I thought that Giselle and the other character in the past felt very well-rounded, while Phineas was a little more forgettable and Margot was just creepy. I also thought that Arabella verged on being just a bit too manic pixie dream girl-ish, but since she didn't really appear until the ending of the book, she ending up being more charming than anything.

To be honest, I don't think Chord of Evil is as good as some of her other books, like A Dark Dividing, Roots of Evil, Spider Light, or Ghost Song, which were the first few books of hers that I read - before this blog, or perhaps in its earliest days - and which I would dearly love to re-read again. But on the whole, it is a solid thriller and did a good job of creeping me out, even if the beginning was a bit rough.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.