Murder in 1093!

Alys Clare Blood of the South
Alys Clare is the pseudonym of Elizabeth Harris, who is well known for her Hawkenlye medieval novels and the Norman novels of the Aelf Fen series. She lives in the fen region and understands the ecology/ environment, which coupled with her understanding of human nature and descriptive writing make her novels excellent reading.
This is the sixth novel, closely following the 2013 Land of the Silver Dragons. Indeed I highly recommend reading them in order if you are not familiar with this author. The character development and overarching plots are more interesting, and greater appreciated, although the individual novels can stand alone. I especially enjoyed Music of a Distant Star, read excitedly through Land of a Silver Dragon, and looked forward to the continuation of the story. Her novels can be long (800 pgs) as they are full of evocative description and peopled with fascinating (often interrelated) characters of their times.

Blood of the South follows two stories in Norman (1093) England, that of Lassair, an apprentice healer which takes place in East Anglia, in the fens between Ely and the Wash, and her partner, Rollo, a Norseman who is on a mission for King William (II) to Constantinople.
Lassair is young, but very insightful, learning to understand her healing gift, while growing into her magic under the tutelage of Gurdyman. Her kindness involves her with a stranger and her child. And Jack Chevestrier, Norman lawman, enters her life. Together they are compelled to uncover the mystery surrounding the child and a body ravaged in the severe flooding (torrential rain complicated by tidal conditions, which was all too appropriate this year in the massive flooding in England). This complicated tale is connected and completed through the Mediterranean journey and political intrigues of Rollo. I enjoyed the alternating, complimenting stories equally.
4 stars

Read on:
If you like Susanna Gregory, SJ Ransom, Bernard Cornwell, Ariana Franklin, or Ellis Peters.

The opening line: “There is a collective evil that comes over a crowd of people intent on bullying someone.”
“Gurdyman is the wisest of the wise; my teacher, my mentor, my companion and my friend. In addition, he is a wizard-…”
“Rollo Guisars, who is my one and only lover; the man who stays in my heart although he is usually far away and we are together only rarely.”
“The seriousness of the moment struck home: beeswax candles are fearfully costly, and Gurdyman had just lit four. Somewhere close by, incense was burning; sniffing, I detected the strong heady smell of frankincense; another very expensive commodity. In addition I smelt cumin, dill and garlic. All four substances are used for protection.”
“You’d be amazed how many folk don’t know not to vomit into the wind.”

Read as an ARC ebook from NETGALLY

When is an accident murder?

When the victim has had a pedicure…
Andrea Camilleri The Fourth Secret
This is a novella, (168 pages), which is part of a larger body of work: 16+ novels and countless short stories, which have evolved into a 9 season television series (26 episodes, with Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano). Beware the translator, he is an Italian author, and those books translated by Stephen Sartarelli are far better (Camelleri was awarded a 2012 crime writers international dagger for Potters Field, translated by Sartarelli). Sadly, this novella was translated by G Arizona and D Siracusa and often feels like a farce. There are also unforgivable spelling mistakes (eg here instead of hear).
The detective series (begun in 1994) features Inspector Montalbano (homage to a Spanish writer Montalban and his fictional detective Pepe Carvalho) who is a famous Sicilian detective in the Italian police force. Montalbano is a complex character, always clever, but often offputting (to me) as he can be very macho, mercurial, selfish. Yet I have continued to read the series, as each book is quite different. I also appreciate the European writing, which can be dramatic while stark, emotional while sparse. Do not start with this novella or you won’t continue the series. Begin with The Shape of Water. I read them out of order, as I found them, which might have lead to some confusion of character development. I intend to start with the television series as I have heard very good things about it.

Read on:
to Simeon (Maigret), Donna Leon (Italian detective).
If you like food to play a part in your novel.
If you like quaint police procedurals a la Agatha Christie.

3 stars

“Certainly it was quite the situation, but the Inspector couldn’t help but notice that Cadarella had a nice voice. …ah, sir, you should know that when I sing, I do damage. I’m so out of tune that dogs start barking as soon as they hear me.”
“Nine lines, including the title, at the bottom of the last column in the right. The page exuded complete indifference toward that unfortunate death, …”
“And so the plot thickened and thinned at the same time.”
Received as an ARC from Netgalley

Book Gifts

Looking for recommended reads? This is the time of year I am supposed to pare down my reading list and chose the favourites out of what I read. Which sounds like it would be easy.
Some years I start with a blank slate and write the first ten books that came to mind.
Other times I try to single out one book per category. Most of the time I can get to the top 20 fairly painlessly, but there are still books I SO want to recommend. I also go through the lists that have been compiled by the New Yorker or the New York Times or the prizes, see what I have missed. Often I think I am not well read at all. 10 of their hundred? And yet, there are well over 300 books I enjoyed last year. There has to be time for travel, gardening, sleeping, etc, doesn’t there?

There’s still time to get a few of these for someone’s Christmas present! I dare say there are even a few in the Friends Bookstore!
What are my best books of 2014?
My 25 personal favourites in fiction and non fiction.

Books 2014
*Bruce Holsinger A Burnable Book
*Hilary Mantel The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Patrick Modiano Missing Person
*Gabrielle Zevin Storied Life of AJ Fikry
*Alan Bradley As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
**John Connolly A Wolf in Winter
*Diana Gabaldon Written in my own Hearts Blood
*Martha Grimes The Way of all Fish (Sequel to Foul Matter)
Laurie King and Leslie Klinger In the Company of Sherlock Holmes
**Ian Rankin Saints of the Shadow Bible
*Charles Todd Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford)
Nicola Upson Death of Lucy Kyte
Jacqueline Winspear Care And Management of lies
Susanna Kearsley Splendor Falls, A Season of Storms
Deanna Raybourn Whisper of Jasmine
Children’s /YA
Gregory McGuire Egg and Spoon
William Ritter Jackaby (para Sherlock)
**Maria Semple Where’d You Go Bernadette
Science fiction
***Deborah Harkness – The Book of Life (Discovery of Witches3rd)
*Douglas Nicholas Something Red, The Wicked
Patrick Rothfuss The Slow Regard of Silent Things
2014 nonfiction
**Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction, an unnatural history
*Terry Pratchett A Slip of the Keyboard
*Hampton Sides In The Kingdom of Ice

Obviously the more Stars the more I loved it.