Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

"In the remote Welsh mountain village of Gwytherin lies the grave of Saint Winifred. Now, in 1137, the ambitious head of Shrewsbury Abbey has decided to acquire the sacred remains for his Benedictine order. Native Welshman Brother Cadfael is sent on the expedition to translate and finds the rustic villagers of Gwytherin passionately divided by the Benedictine's offer for the saint's relics. Canny, wise, and all too worldy, he isn't surprised when this taste for bones leads to bloody murder.

The leading opponent to moving the grave has been shot dead with a mysterious arrow, and some say Winifred herself held the bow. Brother Cadfael knows a carnal hand did the killing. But he doesn't know that his plan to unearth a murderer may dig up a case of love and justice...where the wages of sin may be scandal or Cadfael's own ruin."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

I first became acquainted with Ellis Peters and her mystery series when I read her historical fiction work, The Heaven Tree Trilogy. Ellis Peters is a pen name for Edith Pargeter, an author that has been receiving much attention on the historical fiction blogs lately due to Sourcebook's upcoming release of the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet. I also am participating in A Tournament of Reading Challenge hosted by Medieval Bookworm, so I thought this would be a good time to give the series a try.

At only 197 pages, this cozy mystery is perfect for a quick read, but while it is short, it's rich in period details of monastic life and 12th century life, with a tight, clever plot.

Brother Cadfael is at the heart of this introductory medieval mystery, a very likeable, prosaic Benedictine monk who is skilled in the art of herbal medicine. He has come to the monastic way of life later than most after experiencing battles as a soldier in the Crusades, time spent as a sea captain, and a few well-enjoyed dalliances with women. These life experiences have given Brother Cadfael a peace about his religious way of life, as well as a realistic understanding of human nature and matters of the heart.

When the head of the Shrewsbury Abbey decides that it would be beneficial for the Order to obtain the sacred remains of a martyred saint buried in the Welsh village of Gwytherin, Cadfael is dispatched along with five other brothers to bring the sacred remains back in a reliquary. The monks were not prepared for the strong opposition from the residents of the village, and unfortunately find themselves suspects when a very vocal opponent is found murdered.

Using his skills from the battlefield and intuition, Brother Cadfael is drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder and must use his medical skills and powers of observation to understand the motive for the killing, the true cause of death, and find the murderer... a medieval CSI, if you will. A subplot of lovers kept apart by the social mores of the day adds a little romance to the mystery. A bit of a slow start and some minors characters were hard to keep straight since they were not adequately fleshed out, but an exciting, page-turning ending with a touch of wry humor and poetic justice gave it a strong finish.

For a complete list of all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, click here.

3/5 stars

Title: A Morbid Taste for Bones
Author: Ellis Peters
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
197 pages
genre: medieval mystery

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bibliomania Day

Apparently, today, March 20, is officially Bibliomania Day! (See Kim's post at Chapter Chit Chat). This is a day when everyone who suffers from book addiction can celebrate their vice! Since I've been tagged and brought in for questioning, here are my true confessions:

Are there any books you would like to beg, borrow, or steal?

I would love to have a first edition, first printing of a Nancy Drew mystery. Did you know that when the books were first published, the books contained 25 chapters? They went through a revision in 1959 where they were edited to 20 chapters. If you ever come across a Nancy Drew Vol. 1-35 that contains 25 chapters, hold onto it!

Are you addicted to trips to Borders or the public library?

I do love visiting bookstores (Barnes and Noble, Borders), mostly with my kids, and I try to make a library run at least once every few weeks. I adore the solitude of the library, and I've made the best book finds just strolling up and down the aisles with nothing particular in mind. There's also a used paperback shop near my home that I snoop around in often.

Do you have a way to remember what books you have read?

I started a LibraryThing membership in May of last year as a way to start organizing books I've read and want to read in the future. There's no way I can remember everything I've read in my life, but I have tried to think of as many important ones as possible. After starting LibraryThing, I discovered book blogs...can you imagine? Just a few months ago, I didn't know what a book blog was!

When did your love of books begin?

I guess my love of reading began like most book lovers...snuggled next to my mom as she read fairy tales to me. I have a very strong memory of listening to her reading from a children's treasury of stories and poems. I loved the poem, "The Swing," and my favorite story was "The Elves and the Shoemaker."

My favorite childhood books were Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, Little Women, The Princess and the Goblin, and of course, Nancy Drew.

Here is one of the earlier photos of me "reading" my brother's comic book at around 2 1/2 yrs. old!

(Why are chunky thighs cute on a baby and not when you're grown?!)

What is a favorite book? Author?

I love all the Diana Gabaldon books in the Outlander series. If I ever go to a desert island, these would be my books of choice.

Do you still have in your possession a book borrowed, but not returned to its rightful owner?

I don't think so, because I make it a point not to borrow other's books; I also don't lend out my books. Once long ago, I loaned my beloved paperback copy of Forever Amber to a friend, and she....misplaced it. :( Never again.

What's the most in library fines you have owed?

Zero -- I'm great about returning library books on time......videos at Blockbuster, however, are a completely different story!

Do you loan books out to others? How do you keep track of them?

See above.

Thanks, Kim -- hope I've answered your questions adequately. Happy bibliomania day to everyone!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy

"One powerful King...two tragic Queens. In the court of Henry VIII, it was dangerous for a woman to catch the king's eye. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were cousins. Both were beautiful women, though very different in temperament. They each learned that Henry's passion was all-consuming--and fickle.
Sophisticated Anne Boleyn, raised in the decadent court of France was in love with another man when King Henry claimed her as his own. Being his mistress gave her a position of power; being his queen put her life in jeopardy. Her younger cousin, Catherine Howard, was only fifteen when she was swept into the circle of King Henry. Her innocence attracted him, but a past mistake was destined to haunt her.
Painted in the rich colors of Tudor England, Murder Most Royal is a page-turning journey into the lives of two of the wives of the tempestuous Henry VIII."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Jean Plaidy (real name Eleanor Hibbert -- 1906-1993), was one of Britain's most popular and beloved historical fiction novelists. She is often referred to as the "queen of historical fiction," or the "godmother" of historical novels. I read and enjoyed many of her gothic romantic suspense novels that she wrote using the nom de plume Victoria Holt, and she also published under the name Philippa Carr, among others.

Murder Most Royal is one title from Plaidy's Tudor series; while I admit it's not the best book I have read on the subject of Anne Boleyn, it was an interesting tale comparing and contrasting the two executed wives of Henry VIII and the events which shaped their destinies as queen and their tragic endings. Plaidy devotes a good deal of the story to the internal thoughts of Henry VIII as he battled with his political advisors, church leaders, and his own conscience over matters of his marriage, the necessity of a male heir, and his methods of eliminating one wife for another. Ran a bit long in parts, and the story did not always flow smoothly, but still, the tale of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard's execution is always chilling and haunting.

I think everyone who enjoys historical fiction will find something of Plaidy to enjoy. Her books cover a wide range of historical topics and there are several series to explore: Normans, Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Queens of England, Queen Victoria, the Borgias, de'Medici, just to name a few.

I'm looking forward to reading Plaidy's The Loves of Charles II next with Barbara, the Countess of Castelmaine; Louise de Keroualle, and Nell Gwyn. I became fascinated with Restoration England and Charles II after reading Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, one of my favorites.

You can go here to explore all of Plaidy's titles.

3/5 stars

Title: Murder Most Royal
Author: Jean Plaidy
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Original copyright: 1949/2006
451 pages

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

"Modern day graduate student Eloise achieved the academic coup of the century when she unmasked one of history's greatest spies, the Pink Carnation, who saved England from Napoleon. But now she has a million questions about the Carnation's deadly French nemesis, the Black Tulip. And she's pretty sure that her handsome on-again, off-again crush, Colin Selwick, has the answers somewhere in his archives. When she finally comes across an old codebook, Eloise discovers something juicier than she ever imagined: an unlikely pair who were hot on the trail of the Black Tulip and had every intention of stopping him from killing the Pink Carnation and bringing down England. But what they didn't know was that while they were trying to find the Tulip--and stumbling upon something like love--the Black Tulip was watching them..." (from the publisher)

my thoughts:

I am absolutely in love with this endearing collection of flower-inspired, Regency-era spies! Book two in The Pink Carnation series, The Masque of the Black Tulip, features Henrietta, the pretty and pampered younger sister of Richard Selwick (aka, the Purple Gentian) and Richard's best friend, Miles Dorrington, a likable, boy-next-door type. The pair become involved in secret activities to protect the Pink Carnation, not to mention the security of all of England, from the Back Tulip, a dangerous French spy that is making the rounds of English society parties. While fumbling their way through one social event after another in the hopes of identifying and capturing the Black Tulip, Henrietta and Miles discover that their developing mutual attraction is causing complications -- especially when protective big-brother-Richard discovers Miles and his little sister in a very compromising situation!

The story at times gets funny and slapstick,(at one point, during the final showdown with the villain, I kept waiting for Curly, Larry, and Moe to pop out of a wardrobe to join the fracas......wooooo,woooo,wooooo, wooooo! nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!) but really, I was glued to the pages of this light-hearted romp through Regency drawing rooms, glittering masqued balls, and moonlit gardens.....while a treacherous spy is right under their nose!

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is because I can completely identify with Henrietta! Like Henrietta and her friends, my buddies did our share of spying on boys and feigning surprise when we just happened to be where a group of guys were hanging out -- when you go to an all-girl school like I did, trying to meet boys became a favorite after school activity. And with our green-plaid uniform skirts, we would have blended right in with the bushes, but we didn't go quite that far to do our spying! (Gotta read the book to understand that comment.) And although I hate to admit it, I know exactly how Henrietta felt when she and Miles were confronted by Lord and Lady Uppington! (My situation was all very innocent; it was not havey-cavey**....I was just given the keys to the car, and I told my parents I was going from point A to point B, and somehow I ended up at point C with a boy-who-was-just-a-friend and didn't tell my parents where I was, and someone from point B called my house hours later looking for me and....all hell broke loose. Let's just say the words "sending me to an early hair is snow white now.....if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times....your BROTHERS were going to go looking for you....." are still ringing in my ears.) When Lady Uppington was standing there waiting for them, foot tapping and arms folded, I just had a flashback, that's all!

Anyway, back to the book.....loved it as much as The Pink Carnation, maybe even more! Just wish Colin and Eloise in the present-day could get their story moving along a little faster...can't wait to see what further developments there are in book 3, The Deception of the Emerald Ring. I'm hooked!

title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
author: Lauren Willig
publisher: New American Library
453 pages
genre: historical fiction/historical romance/mystery/thriller/comedy/old-fashioned western shoot-out/chick-lit/when-harry-met-sally/swashbuckling adventure....the only thing this book DOESN'T have is a Highland warrior in a kilt!!! (but I haven't finished the series yet, so who knows? ;)

**havey-cavey (adj.): highly suspect, clandestine, illicit, behavior generally indicative of some nefarious purpose (from the Personal Codebook of the Pink Carnation)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Founding - Book 1 in the Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

"Against the turbulent years of the Wars of the Roses, an epic saga unfolds of passion, hatred, conflict, and fierce desires. The Founding of the Morland Dynasty..." (from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Curiosity about this mega-historical fiction series prompted me to explore book #1 of the Morland Dynasty, a series which recently has reached thirty-two volumes in total. While it's doubtful that I will ever complete all thirty plus volumes, (you can put money on it that I won't--I'm such a slow reader!), it is a worthwhile series for those with an interest in English history and family sagas.

The first book establishes the Morland family as wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmers and landowners in the fifteenth century. Edward Morland arranges a marriage for his son, Robert, with the proud and haughty Eleanor Courteney; while she has no dowry to bring to the marriage, she has royal connections which, together with her husband's wealth, brings power and prestige to the Morland family. Robert quickly comes to adore his wife, and she takes on her role as a dutiful but dispassionate wife; she secretly loves another man.

Births and deaths, politics and battles, secret loves and family angst, the Morland family has its share of prosperity and tragedy...over several generations and the period of the Wars of the Roses, Eleanor emerges as the family matriarch who, over the course of her life, staunchly supports the Yorks and suffers the loss of many family members to that cause.

While there was a nice balance of period history and family storyline, I found the most interesting aspect of the book was the way the author brought the fifteenth century to life with details of everyday living; fashions, food, marriages, the mindset of people during this time in was all very well done and well researched.

For a complete listing of the series and information on the Morland Dynasty, click here.

4/5 stars

Title: The Founding
Author: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
527 pages
genre: historical fiction

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Suddenly Sunday

Suddenly Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Muse at Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog. You can visit her lovely blog here.

It's been a very long, tiring week around our household, but in a good way. Both of my children are involved in the performing arts (gotta balance out sports activities with a little culture, you know?), and their concerts and plays are happening within a week of each other. I'm running all over town getting them to rehearsals and feeling like I'm not accomplishing very much reading -- seems like this would be a good time to start seriously looking into audio books. I've resisted the concept of e-books and audio downloads, but I'm beginning to see the error of my ways...Do you have a kindle? Are you a fan of audiobooks? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Looking ahead.....(aren't you ready for the freshness of spring and days of sunshine?)...I have these books on my nightstand, and I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you when they are completed in the next few weeks:

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

"Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archeological site run by the Emerson brothers--the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one--one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy--and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last...." (from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Oh, how I love those strong, independent Victorian female sleuths!

Amelia Peabody is not your typical spinster -- she's moderately wealthy, thanks to her father's inheritance, scholarly, adventurous, and ready to explore the wonders of the world. After all, she's unencumbered by marriage or motherhood, and has no intentions of sitting primly and embroidering all day. Who needs a man when the glorious historic sites of Greece, Rome, and Egypt beckon?

Once Amelia sets off on her travels, she meets a delightful cast of characters that will forever change the course of her life. From Evelyn, the lovely damsel-in-distress who is ready to end her life over a disastrous love affair , to Radcliffe Emerson, the arrogant archaeologist, and a mysterious ancient mummy that roams the valley of the Egyptian tombs and threatens their lives, Amelia takes them all on with razor-sharp wit and spunk. Heaven help anyone who stands up against her--especially arrogant archaeologists!

Witty and entertaining, this is a delightful Victorian mystery that is great for a quick, light read and lots of chuckles. Elizabeth Peters, a PhD in Egyptology, writes with an amazing charm and keeps you turning the pages -- you just can't wait to hear what Amelia is going to say next! You won't have too much trouble figuring out the "mystery" here, but it's fun watching the dynamics of Amelia and Radcliffe.

I'll definitely be continuing this series as Amelia and her group find many more
adventures in the Valley of the Kings -- it looks addicting!

For a complete list of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, click here.

4/5 stars

Title: Crocodile on the Sandbank
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Publisher: Hachette Group
genre: cozy mystery; Victorian-era mystery
262 pages

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper

"Dark haired and strong-willed, Elizabethan beauty Anne Whately takes up her pen to divulge the intimate details of her daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton was betrothed to Will just days before he was forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway of Shottery. Their secret wedding in a country church brings together two passionate souls whose union survives separation, betrayal, and the barbs of small-town gossips." (from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Historical documents indicate that "Anne Hathway (sic) of Stratford wed William Shagspere (sic)..." However, there is a curious entry one day earlier in the official marriage records of one "Anne Whateley and William Shaxpere (sic)." Was this merely a clerical error (spelling was not standardized), or were there two completely different women in Shakespeare's life?

Mistress Shakespeare is a fictional account of Anne Whately, Shakespeare's "wife not of his hearth but of his heart."

Karen Harper creates a story of the woman behind many of Shakespeare's works, his true love and muse, who remained a well-kept secret after William married a pregnant Anne Hathaway.

Anne's Whateley's story of her childhood friendship and eventual star-crossed relationship with William Shakespeare is written from her point of view in five acts. Throughout her story, Anne maintains a love/hate relationship with William and supports Shakespeare as he struggles to establish his career. It's very much like the old adage, "Behind every great man there is a great woman." Through troubles ranging from persecution and the plague, Whately remained supportive of Shakespeare to the end, believing that she was his true love.

This was one of those books that, while I enjoyed it, I wasn't captivated by the writing or the story. It took a while to get the story really going, and I kept waiting for rich, vivid details of Elizabethan life and Shakespeare' works to emerge. I had high hopes that this period piece would make Shakespeare's world come alive. It was a bit of a letdown; interesting at times, but not a great read.

3/5 stars

Title: Mistress Shakespeare
Author: Karen Harper
Publisher: Putnam's Sons
370 pages
genre: Historical fiction

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »