A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny is A Compelling Sequel to Still Life

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Rating: 8.0 out of 10 stars



  • Strong writing voice
  • Brilliant descriptions
  • Cozy small town setting
  • Most of the characters are likeable and beautifully written
  • LGBTQ+ representation
  • Creative murder method
  • Interesting poetry


  • Penny’s treatment of an overweight character and obsession with her weight comes off like fat-shaming
  • Characters such as the murder victim are one-dimensional


There are no spoilers for A Fatal Grace in this review, but there are a few minor spoilers for Still Life, the first book in the series.

There are plenty of strange ways to kill a person, but electrocution on a frozen lake during a curling match wins the prize. And that’s no spoiler–it was in the blurb on the back of my version of the book. We know the victim is CC Poitiers from the first page. She’s one of the one-dimensional characters I was talking about. She’s just plain evil, like Disney’s 1961 Cruella de Vil. She even wears shoes made from the pelts of baby seals.

Touching her was like caressing a veneer of ice. There was a beauty to it, and a frailty he found attractive. But there was also danger. If she ever broke, if she shattered, she would tear him to pieces.”

Saul referring to CC

She’s prideful, cruel, abusive and detestable. She wrote an utter trash manuscript and embraced the appropriated and distorted philosophies of several cultures.

Publishing companies “immediately recogniz[ed] the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she’d eat her young.”

With the way she treats her daughter Crie, it seems that she barely stopped short of eating her young. Crie is overweight and timidly wants her mother’s affection. Those are basically the two things we learn about her for almost the whole novel.

I hate how Penny repeatedly emphasizes how fat Crie is in really uncomfortable language.

And beside him an enormous child was wearing a sleeveless sundress of the brightest pink. Her underarms bulged and flopped and the rolls of her waist made the skintight dress look like a melting strawberry ice cream. It was grotesque.

Penny describing Crie

This is cringey and insensitive. This is a child we are talking about, and just because she is obese doesn’t mean everyone has to think of her as grotesque or gross. It keeps happening.

Madame Latour stared at the huge girl and felt a bit of her lunch in her throat. Those rolls of fat, those dreadful dimples, the underwear disappearing into the flesh.”

Seriously? She is so obese that she makes someone almost throw up? I don’t know why Penny needs to emphasize that Crie is unattractive and “grotesque.” She’s just a kid and she’s overweight, so what? Crie doesn’t get much development or depth for most of the book, which is a shame.

Armand Gamache on the other hand, has plenty of depth and is a character I can truly appreciate. He can be careful, pushy, kind, stern, intelligent, ignorant…

Armand Gamache knew something many of his colleagues never figured out. Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.

I love this description. Like much of Penny’s prose, it has a spark of inspiration to it. I also enjoyed the poetry by Ruth Zardo, another beloved character.

You were a moth

Brushing against my cheek

in the dark.

I killed you

not knowing

you were only a moth

with no sting.”

Ruth Zardo’s poem

It was nice to see some LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, mostly through Gabri and his partner Olivier, who are frankly cute together. Remember Phillipe from the first novel? He makes a reappearance too.

The research was good. She was either already very familiar with the sport of curling, or learned a bunch from research. Same with the details of the electrocution. A lot of work went into those details.

The ending was interesting and even though my prediction was correct, I wasn’t right about everything, and I don’t think everyone will predict it.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates a good murder mystery and would appreciate a murder that is outside the norm.

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Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson Focuses on Dalinar’s Backstory

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Stormlight Archive: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars



  • Multiple intriguing points of view
  • Gripping character backstories
  • Different lifeforms than in any other series
  • Unique magic system
  • Richly developed cultures
  • Objects unique to the realm of this book
  • So many quotable moments
  • So much research put into this
  • Illustrations and other worldbuilding snippets between sections of the book
  • Quotes that introduce chapters are interesting and relevant
  • Phenomenal ending with twists
  • The interludes could be books of their own


  • No noticeable cons


This series is without a doubt the best one I have ever read. From character development to worldbuilding, Sanderson knows how to weave a compelling story. Oathbringer is the third book in The Stormlight Archive. With this book, my favorite character has shifted from Kaladin to Shallan.

Psychologically, Shallan is a fascinating character. She makes alternate versions of herself such as Veil and Radiant, until she has trouble figuring out who she really is as a person. Even when she has a better grasp on who “Shallan” is, she wonders if she should discard her original personality in favor of one of the alternatives that is less broken. A big part of Shallan’s character arc is coming to terms with her own brokenness.

I should also say that I never liked the idea of Shallan and Kaladin as a potential couple. I won’t spoil who she ends up with, and I wouldn’t consider whichever choice she made to be a con for the book, but I thought I should mention that. And the reason is that I prefer Shallan and Adolin because they have phenomenal chemistry. Adolin wants Shallan, not her false personas. He is so sincere. I am not big on romance, but they are honestly cute together.

Also, Pattern as chaperone is hilarious.

“What,” Pattern said with a hum, “is a chaperone?”

“That is someone who watches two young people when they are together, to make certain they don’t do anything inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate?” Pattern said. “Such as…dividing by zero?”

The interludes between the sections of the book remain a testament to Sanderson’s solid writing skills. He made me care about characters who may only get a few pages of development here and there, but are nonetheless multifaceted and interesting. Two of my favorites are Rysn and Kaza. Rysn has been crippled from falling from a greatshell’s head and is now keeping ledgers. Kaza is slowly turning to smoke the more she uses her soulcaster. I love them both so much, especially Rysn.

The Windrunners are joined by new members, and I really appreciate the ideals that they must swear to.

Windrunner’s first ideal:

“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.”

Windrunner’s second ideal:

“I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Windrunner’s third ideal:

“I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right.”

The Windrunners are my favorite out of all the orders of Radiants.

This really was more of Dalinar’s book, just like The Way of Kings focused on Kaladin and Words of Radiance focused on Shallan. We finally learn more about Dalinar’s first wife, which is honestly amazing. Dalinar really has a strong character arc, turning from a warmonger to a peacemaker. It is his tragic and violent past that influences him in this novel, although his softer side is involved as well.

The ending was everything I could have wanted. It did not disappoint, with ample twists and tons of suspense and tension. I was in awe.

In conclusion, you should definitely read this book. Read the first two books first, obviously, but this one was amazing too. This book would be best for lovers of high fantasy.


A 1934 Murder Mystery With an Unlikely Culprit

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars



  • Shows strong research
  • Unexpected twist ending
  • Interesting, complex protagonist
  • Complicated mystery
  • Chapter titles inspired by campanology


  • Some of the figurative language is poorly done
  • Ending is improbable


I read The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers for my Modern Christian Writers class. Honestly, other than a major setting being a church, I did not find the book especially religious in nature. I would say at least that it does not appeal just to a Christian audience–it will have much wider appeal.

My favorite aspect of this novel is the focus on change-ringing or campanology. I had never realized the ringing of bells such as those in a church was such a complicated, mathematical, graceful, and artful process. There is a whole set of terminology in change-ringing that Dorothy L. Sayers uses masterfully. The chapter titles are inspired by phrases and terms from campanology–for example “Tailor Paul is Called Before With a Single,” “Plain Hunting,” and “Mr. Gotobed is Called Wrong with a Double”.

Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant Bunter are charming characters. Wimsey both confirms and denies stereotypes of the monocled aristocrat-detective. He is more empathetic than the typical Sherlockian detective, yet maintains that most people are idiots. Bunter is not a simple Watson either. He is knowledgeable about a variety of important and many obscure topics.

That being said, some of Dorothy L. Sayers’ language and diction was poorly constructed. For instance, she uses the simile “blind as an eyeless beggar”…which frankly, sucks. So she’s saying it’s as blind as…someone with no eyes? As blind as a blind person? Not only is that not creative, it’s also completely redundant.

The ending is far-fetched, but it is also hard to predict. I can see how some people would appreciate its originality while others may criticize its improbable nature.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to mystery and music lovers in particular, but believe that many readers would appreciate the book’s creative aspects and strong research.

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Lessons from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Book Review:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars



  • Poignant, heartfelt message
  • Simple, conversational writing
  • Likeable narrator
  • Unusual perspective on life from a dying man


  • Some advice is not that helpful or is out of touch with his diverse audience


  • Short, anecdotal chapters


The Last Lecture was published in 2008 and is written by a professor from Carnegie Mellon named Randy Pausch with help from Jeffrey Zaslow. Carnegie Mellon is somewhat well-known for its last lectures, in which professors are expected to give a lecture as if it were there last, considering their own demise and what is most important to them. Most of those who gave such a speech were not truly dying.

That is not the case with Randy Pausch.

Randy was given a few months to live shortly before he gave his very literal last lecture. He died in 2008, which is the same year that this book was published. He had pancreatic cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of any cancer. He knew he would leave behind his three young children and his loving wife.

Despite this grim future, Randy’s last lecture is filled with with hope, optimism, and humor. He leaves a beautiful legacy to his children in the form of the recorded lecture as well as this published book. And he gives a little advice on living to those of us who are living our daily lives without our mortality hanging over us like the pendulum in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

He chose the topic of “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” for the primary focus of his lecture and the book.

He explains how he was able to really achieve most of his childhood dreams, including being an Imagineer at Disney and meeting William Shatner (who played Captain Kirk from Star Trek). Shatner even sent him a picture of Captain Kirk with the quote “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” written on it after Shatner learned of Randy’s diagnosis.

Much of his advice is helpful, but not particularly remarkable. The better pieces of advice include tips for managing limited time and how to give a proper apology. If he could give only one piece of advice, he said it would be “tell the truth.”

Some advice seemed to not be as helpful or insightful because it failed to consider the audience. For example, the suggestion that one should always keep $200 in one’s pocket is a piece of advice many people from the wide audience of his book would find difficult or impossible.

Even though he admits he won the lottery of life when it came to family and his social situation, his continual emphasis on the importance of hard work to achieve your dreams falls a little flat at times. Sure, some of his achievements were the pure result of hard work, but many of them came from knowing the right person and having connections. For example, he was rejected for a position for professor at Carnegie Mellon, but then his friend pulled some strings to get him the opportunity to get the position anyway.

That being said, Randy was funny and endearing as a narrator, and I was swept up in the emotion of knowing he was going to die–in fact, at the time I read it this year, he had already been dead for more than ten years.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates inspirational books and is interested in what wisdom a dying man would impart.

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