This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas; a review for Women In Translation Month and a Give-away

The rumors all over the internet, after five bites in three weeks and three fatalities -all old men- are starting to make people come up with theories and spreading panic. The police hierarchy doesn’t like panic, because it could lead to violence.

Recluse spiders are named just that because they are prone to hide away. How is it, then, that three deaths have occurred apparently from recluse spider bites? Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team work to uncover the reason behind these deaths which mounted to ten total, with six in the last month; exactly how and why are they occurring?

Like all beloved detectives, from Inspector Gamache in Louise Penny’s series, to Robert Parker’s Spenser, Adamsberg is brilliant and quirky and fascinating to read about. His team of lieutenants and commandants have their own peccadilloes, which he must manage, from Froissy knowing she is under the eye of a Peeping Tom in her apartment, to Danglard who is undermining every decision Adamsberg makes.

Fleetingly, Adamsberg thought that life in his squad was very complicated. Had he been too lax? Allowing Voisenet to litter his desk with magazines about fish, allowing the cat to dictate its own territory, allowing Mercedes to take a nap on the cushions whenever he needed to, allowing Froissy to fill her cupboards with food rations as if in wartime, allowing Mordent to indulge his love of fairy tales, Danglard to wallow in his encyclopedic erudition, and Noel to persevere in his sexism and homophobia? And allowing his own mind to be open to every wind.

Yet, they persist in trying to ascertain the reason why recluse spider venom has been used to kill, and how that can be when a recluse spider’s venom is flesh eating, but not always deadly.

You needed at least forty-four venom glands to kill a medium-sized adult man, so you had to find the impossible number of 132 spiders, then get them to spit out their venom. And how on earth did you do that?

Could the motive be revenge against a gang of youths from La Misericorde orphanage, now grown up, who were notoriously cruel by putting recluse spiders into others children’s beds and clothing? Could the meaning of “recluse” be expanded beyond that of applying to spiders in order to solve the case? I read eagerly to the conclusion, fascinated by the intricate web woven within this mystery to its brilliant and unexpected end.

Fred Vargas writes an intriguing story of an unusual nature, a welcome respite from the typical American murder mystery of The Woman In…or The Girl On…(fill in the blank). She is “a #1 bestselling author in France, Italy, and Germany. She is the winner of four International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers’ Association and is the first author to achieve such an honor. In 2018, Vargas won the Princess of Asturias Award for letters.” ~Penguin

Penguin has offered a give-away of This Poison Will Remain (U.S. only, please). If you would like to enter to win a copy of this book, to be published August 20, 2019, please leave a comment below. I will choose a winner one week from today.

Madeleine L’Engle: The Kairos Novels, Review and Give-away

This beautiful set comes in a slipcover …

containing the Wrinkle in Time Quartets and The Polly O’Keefe Quartets.

I have long collected Madeleine L’Engle’s books, and so I have a rather haphazard set, all in different editions. Above are two from the Wrinkle in Time Quartet…

and here are two of the Polly O’Keefe Quartet. But, how lovely it is to have a two-volume set, with each volume containing all four of each series.

Volume 1 contains A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.

Volume 2 contains the Polly O’Keefe Quartet, which consists of The Arm of the Starfish, Dragons in the Waters, A House Like a Lotus, and An Acceptable Time.

The Kairos Novels are edited by Leonard S. Marcus and published by the Library of America.

Few works loom as large in the history of young adult literature as Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 Newbery Award-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time. A truly revolutionary book blending realism and fantasy, science and religion, it was the first great crossover classic, appealing to children, teens, and adults, and setting the template for books such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now, in time for L’Engle’s centenary on November 29, 2018, Library of America brings readers MADELEINE L’ENGLE: The Kairos Novels, a deluxe two-volume set gathering Wrinkle and all seven of its sequels for the first time; an eight book sequence L’Engle collectively called the “Kairos Novels,” named for the Greek word for cosmically critical moments of time.

Edited by Leonard S. Marcus, one of the world’s leading writers on children’s books and the people who create them, this authoritative edition presents A Wrinkle in Time in a newly corrected text based on research in L’Engle’s archives and includes an appendix with four never-before-seen deleted passages.

Two of Madeleine L’Engle’s books changed my life. One was A Wrinkle in Time, the other was The Love Letters. They both taught me things about love I had never really understood before. I treasure rereading these classic books, most beloved by me.

And, I have the opportunity to give a set away (U. S. only, please). If you are interested in being considered for the give-away, please leave a comment below. I will select a name a week from today (on October 9).

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles (and Give-Away)


That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.

I can hardly describe the pleasure A Gentleman In Moscow  gave me. For once, the wealthy aristocrat is not the villain. Although there are plenty of people in 1920 Russia who would consider him one, to the reader he is a hero.

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was in Paris when the Hermitage fell, and returned after the Revolution. While we learn slowly of his story, we are under house arrest with him at the Metropol, the fine hotel in which he lives, for the authorities have forbidden him ever to leave lest he is shot.

How can one live in a hotel, no matter how extravagant it may be? Surely the rubles hidden in the legs of his grandfather’s table can afford him the luxuries to which he had become accustomed. But, life in Moscow passes him by as the streets and parks change without him ever seeing it first hand.

When actress Anna Urbanova falls from grace, after Stalin’s disapproval that the films she stars in refer too grandly to “waltzing and candlelight and marble stairs”, in other words nostalgically looking at times gone by, she and the Count unwittingly join the Confederacy of the Humbled.

Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confedarcy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condensation with an  inward smile.

One day, the Count is paid an unexpected visit by a man named Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, former colonel of the Red Army and an officer of the Party, who wishes to learn the Count’s secrets of being a gentleman. To develop certain diplomatic skills, for he has noticed that the Count is not reconciled to his position. Rather, he is resigned to it, with grace and style.

But these two characters are not my favorite. No, I am enchanted with Nina, the child whom the Count befriends, and with whom he plays, in the lobby of the hotel. Then suddenly Nina is grown up, and she comes back to leave her daughter Sofia with the Count. This little girl is now in his charge. She sleeps in his room on a mattress hoisted above his with cans of tomatoes stacked on top of each other. She invents a game with him called Zut (after the French phrase, “Zut alors!”) which is the only thing one can exclaim when one has run out of answers. They are utterly beautiful to read about, as Sofia grows up, and their relationship grows with them.

This novel is about Russia, and politics, and the time period from 1922 to 1954. But, it is mostly about the Count, and his friends, and life lessons seen from the interior of one hotel which somehow seems to encompass the whole world.

“I’ll tell you what is convenient,” he said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka-and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

The publishers have granted me one copy to give-away, to a U.S. address only please, so if you wish to enter the drawing please mention it in a comment below. A winner will be drawn one week from today.


Thank you to all who entered! The give-away period has ended, but you can buy this book with free shipping worldwide here.