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.

Quotes
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

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
Literature
*Bruce Holsinger A Burnable Book
*Hilary Mantel The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Patrick Modiano Missing Person
*Gabrielle Zevin Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Mystery
*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
Romance
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.

Autumn Mysteries

I confess I read so many books, and many many mysteries, that it is hard to write prompt reviews. So here are several recently read, all available in the library! It’s not too early to be thinking of gift giving (Hostess gift for thanksgiving?!)

1) Susanna Gregory 2013 Death In St James’s Park
This is the 8th book in the Thomas Chaloner series that takes place in the 1600s London. She also writes the Matthew Bartholomew series in medieval Cambridge (I adore the series for the titles alone, e.g. A Plague on both your Houses). Interestingly she was a Leeds police officer before changing careers to become an environmental consultant with field work in polar regions (seals, whales, walruses). As an academic she also taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology. She has a vivid eye for detail and a strong research bent, which makes for great (but perhaps dense) historical mysteries. Aka Elizabeth Cruwys (Cambridge academic) and aka Simon Beaufort (Author).

Thomas Chaloner is “spy to Earl of Clarendon or intelligencer to The Lord Chancellor” (and given the title of gentleman usher as his disguise). It is 1665 and an explosion at the General Letter Office (PO!) leads to an enquiry. Thomas is something of an inept spy and leads a rather dreary existence, but then Gregory accurately portrays the harsh realities of everyday life. He’s already sent off to Russia on his next assignment at the end of this book. Most of her characters are real people doing their “jobs” which makes for fascinating reading. You’ll be glad of central heating.
4 stars for excellent historical drama.
Read on to CJ Sansom Shardlake series.
Noted similarities to Cadfael, by Ellis Peters/Ellis Pargeter
I prefer the Mistress of the Art of Death series (Diana Norman, Ariana Franklin) and wait for it!!!! Norman’s daughter has continued the series!

2) Silent Murders 2014 Mary Miley
This is the second book in the not to be missed series (The Impersonator 2012 won Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers First Crime Novel Award).
25 year old Leah Randall, now Jessie Beckett (after impersonating Jessie Carr, book one) is now in the silent film industry after a lifetime in Vaudeville (first with her mother) working in the Pickford/Fairbanks studio. She’s reinventing herself while using past skills to investigate an increasing body count. She’s quirky, plucky, intelligent, fun loving, plucky jack (Jill) of all trades.
This has a who’s who in early film stars feel! Movie buffs will enjoy this.
(Myrna Loy is her new friend, roommate and a friend of hers is Gary Cooper!)
And as Hollywood, there’s starlets, booze, drugs and genuinely lovely people. This is really the roaring twenties, fabulous Jazz Age and the Silver Screen era. It is also well researched, providing a great escape into a period piece. I look forward to the continuation of this cozy series.
4 stars
Quotes
Prohibition laws were treated with the scorn they deserved.”
“I’d rather have met ‘little Mary’ than the queen of England.”
“That night Myrna showed me how to toast a cheese sandwich with ham, adding another recipe to my short list of culinary accomplishments.”
“Jessie Beckett, girl detective.’ Sounds like a feature film, doesn’t it Mary? Too bad women
can’t be policemen.”
Read On
Mary Miley Theobald 2012 Death by Petticoat: American history myths debunked
Reminds me of the spunky heroine Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood) novels, without the money!

3) Blood on the Water 2014 by Anne Perry
This is the 20th Inspector Monk mystery, but it feels like yesterday to me. I love the period detail and the character development (can Scruff really be 15?). It is 1865 and Victorian London is still seething with politics, class and empire. Beloved characters are struggling to balance their ideals with actual human behaviour, which still resonates today. But we enjoy living with Monk, Hester, Scruff and Oliver for 309 short pages.
Monk and Orme witnessed an explosion on a private water craft which caused the death of 200 people. His investigation is particularly gruesome and chilling, literally and figuratively with politics quickly coming into action. The first part of the book concerns the criminal investigation, while the latter is primarily courtroom drama and discovery of motivation, which of course is what finally determines the true killer. It is often the insight of Hester, with help from Scruff that provides import at information to the case. But Rathbone also has a vast understanding of the law, as well as a moral code. Perry is a master in this era, and particularly with these characters, and delivers another outstanding historical novel. I particularly liked the insight noting the fallibility of eyewitness accounts and testimony, and what we chose to see and hear. Many thought provoking moments.
4.5 stars

4) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)
10 Short stories
I am exhausted from reading these tales, and not sure I would have survived if they had been novellas or full length novels. They are penetrating, unsettling, unnerving, unpredictable, ingenious, fascinating and revealing. There are fractured dysfunctional families, yet dreams in every one. I also feel like I have just had a college English class – intense descriptive yet sparse, short stories, beautifully written, evocative, scary to terrifying, full of the unknown, reeling from the passage of time.
5 stars
In Audio books, Jane Carr’s brilliant reading truly rewards the ears. And adds dimension if possible (I listened to most of the stories, after reading them!).
Hilary Mantel is the only woman to win two Man Booker prizes for her amazing novels a out Thomas Cromwell and Tudor England. The third book of the trilogy will be some time but eagerly awaited by all her fans. Don’t miss this stunning collection.

Book Review – Laurie R King

Laurie R King, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series

Garment of Shadows (2012) is the 12th novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell, aka Mrs Sherlock Holmes. As with most of these novels, the actions takes place immediately after the previous novel (the exception was the short story Beekeeping for Beginners, which is the first novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice story from the perspective of Sherlock Holmes).

Mary continues to write her memoirs looking back on her life with Holmes. She is a fascinating character, his intellectual equal and charming partner. Holmes recognised her talents and her character and encourages her personal growth. They truly complete each other and provide wonderful witty repartee. Laurie King does an extraordinary job of giving us these two characters, with wonderful atmospheric prose, superbly researched historical and geographical detail and a fast paced story.

The opening scene in Morocco has Mary trying to solve the mystery of who she is, having awoken with blood and bandages, amnesia and a sense of impending doom. Meanwhile Holmes begins the hunt for her while also uncovering a larger threat of war between France, Spain and the Rif Rebellion (1920s)(with British allies). We meet again the brothers Ali and Mahmond Hazrs (from O Jerusalem and Justice Hall) in a superbly written, intense mystery. The continued development of so many characters that the reader cares about coupled with the political intrigue at an exotic location creates another wonderful installment in this series.

The personal relationship revealed is also acute; they both realise what life might be like without the other. The beloved relationship has subtle clues and wonderful turns of phrase. I loved the scene when Holmes finds Mary but she doesn’t know who he is.  I also drank a lot of mint tea and submerged myself in the warm atmosphere of this book.

Book Quotes:

My wife walked away from all her possessions, and none of the company was concerned?…And yet Sherlock Holmes worried.…he would give Russell until morning, before he turned the town upside down.”

“If Gertrude Bell can sit down with the Arabs in Mesopotamia, why not Russell in the Rif?”

“When the man who claimed to be my husband (he did not look like someone who fit the word husband) said my name, faint reverberations had gone down my spine, stirring – not so much memories as the shadow of memories. As if I were outside the library (Libraries – these I remembered) anticipating the treasures within.”

“He smiled, and for the first time I knew his face. Not his history or who he was to me – but that he was part of me, I know longer doubted. I came near to weeping, at the relief of having a companion in this lost world.”

“My dear Russell, never have I approached you without a qualm.” “Extraordinary how it can hurt to laugh, yet also heal.”

“The library … was silent. It smelt of books and ink. I felt my muscles relax, as if the odour had the power to transport me to my far away home.”

Book Quotes:

“I am an omnivorous reader with a retentive memory for trifles.” Sherlock Holmes

“There is no scent so pleasant to my nostrils as that faint, subtle reek which comes from an ancient book.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Review – Shadow in Serenity

Shadow in Serenity
A Review by Kay Aune

Carney Sullivan is the daughter of professional con artists and grew up in a traveling carnival.  She learned and followed their criminal ways for 17 years, but had eloped with Abe Sullivan and settled in his hometown of Serenity, Texas.
Nine years have passed and Logan Brisco comes to town trying to gain economic support for the building of an amusement park.  Carney immediately recognizes Brisco’s con in the making and tries to get the town’s residents to protect themselves from him. If she fails, the very same people who have forgiven and accepted her back into their fold will lose their life savings!

This story is a great read, filled with suspense, learning, forgiveness, and loving.  It is available in the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and large print.

Book Review – “Blackberry Winter”

Blackberry Winter
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I love when a book can grab you by the throat in the first few pages, and hang on until the last page is turned.  It doesn’t happen very often.  Too often a book opens with wonderful promise, only to lose my interest half-way through.  Even worse is when a book opens with great promise, keeps me on the edge of my seat through every page, and then drops the ball in the last few pages.  So disappointing that so many books do that.  Thankfully, that’s absolutely not the case with Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio.  From the first few pages of this book, I was completely hooked; and, as I turned the last page, I did so with disappointment that the story had finally come to a close.  I would miss the characters.

Blackberry Winter tells the story of two women, Vera and Claire, both suffering the loss of a child, but separated in time by more than 75 years.

In 1933 Seattle, Vera Ray is a young woman on her own with her 3 year old son, Daniel.  In the midst of the Great Depression, she’s poor and her resources are limited.  In order to keep starvation at bay, she must leave her precious child alone at night while he sleeps in order to keep her job as a maid at a nearby posh hotel.  She kisses her son goodbye late one May evening and heads to work, only to be shocked early the next morning to step out onto snow-covered streets.  She rushes home only to find her precious son missing from his bed.

In 2010 Seattle, Claire Aldridge is a newspaper reporter assigned to write a story about a freak May snowstorm that has occurred on the exact same day as the one in 1933.  Struggling to find an angle for her story, she notices the police blotter has a brief mention of the disappearance of young Daniel Ray.  Further investigating reveals that his disappearance was written off as “runaway.”  But Claire knows – as every rational adult understands – that 3 year olds don’t simply run away from home.

What happened to Daniel Ray?  It’s a question that Clair simply cannot let go.  As she begins the investigation into what really happened to Daniel Ray, the emotional wounds of her recent loss finally begin to heal.  The need to learn what happened to Daniel and to his mother begins to give her the first “purpose” since the loss of her own precious child nearly a year earlier.  In order for her own wounds to heal, she must find closure for the disappearance of Daniel Ray.

Blackberry Winter is a beautiful novel of loss and healing.  The characters are compelling and made me feel such complete empathy for the plight of both women that I caught myself more than once with tears of empathy streaming down my face.  The story was simply riveting.

This book will be released on next Tuesday, September 25th, and will be available at the Rochester Public Library.

For more information about this book, you can visit the author’s website by following this link.

Check out the YouTube Video Trailer for this book:

Book Review – The House at Sea’s End

The House at Sea’s End
A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

There is nothing better than a good book-friend, and I’m grateful to mine for steering me to The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, university professor and single mom, and she’d be the first to admit that she has no idea which identity is primary. She’s new at the mom game and not entirely convinced that 4 month old Kate even likes her. Ruth is called in to direct a dig on a Norfolk beach when a team studying beach erosion finds human bones wedged in a cleft in a cliff. These are no random bones, but six complete skeletons (well nearly complete…one is missing a finger) with wrists still bound behind them, one still clutching a rosary. When Ruth discovers bullet holes in several of the skulls, the investigation widens to include DCI Harry Nelson, the very-married father of Ruth’s daughter. What follows is a World War II mystery that stirs up the passion and guilt of the living as well as the murky secrets of the past.

I couldn’t put this one down until I finished. Griffiths is a master of using word snapshots and snippets of dialog to create characters so vivid I swear I could point them out on the street. Warning: This is not the first Ruth Galloway mystery, though after a brief, enigmatic beginning, I thought it could easily stand on its own. But for those of you who prefer starting at the beginning, the first title is The Crossing Places, and the second is The Janus Stone. I will absolutely read them, but slo-oo-owly, so I won’t have so long to wait for number four.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library.  For more information about this book or the author, you can visit the author’s website by following this link.