Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Recently, we had a fun WWW (Wit, Wisdom and Wine) fundraiser event for the Library. I probably donated half of the books that went with the silent auction items as I am radically cleaning my bookshelves and downsizing. It hurts. But it has reacquainted me with so many books and authors and as always the desire to share the next good read. It’s a new book if you haven’t read it. 
Shadow of the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

This is her debut historical novel, in a planned medieval trilogy about Queen Emma. At 400+ pages is it a richly detailed, well written account of a relatively unknown period of English history. The author has thoroughly researched Emma, although some of the characters are rather loosely involved in events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891 to 1154). (NB several of the unexpected events in this novel didn't actually happen. Also, I was surprised by the love interest as well as the guilt/haunting episodes.) The author was intrigued by the silence of 15 years in the Queen's autobiography (Encomium Emmae Reginae 1040) which triggered this novel. I did find it engaging reading, with accurate family history and political intrigue although the use of four voices often interrupted the flow. She includes glossary, map, and a chart of names which are quite useful to keep everyone straight. It is evident that Bracewell has done research on everything from swordplay to parchment, clothes to loos, and reveled in every minute of it (the detail, but also well written).

Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, essentially sold in a treaty to provide allies to protect the shores of England against the marauding Danes. She married King AEthelred II (the Unready) in 1002 when she was 16 and he was 35 (considered old, but he had been reigning for 20+years by then, in turbulent times.) His nickname was given 150 years after his death and is a pun on his name (noble counsel) which would have been better translated as "ill advised or evil counsel", referring to his royal Council the Witan. History has accorded him a powerful king, one of the most forceful kings of the 10th century who created the Kingdom, ending individual control of all the magnate families. The author, however, depicts AEthelred as cruel, old, haunted, although most of the story is told from Emma's viewpoint. She matures and becomes one of the most powerful women of the 11th century, 40 years behind the throne. Her story is fascinating, as she leaves the innocence of childhood, navigates court intrigue, falls in love, endures and creates political rivals and generally survives a rather brutal world. Given how little we know of women in history, she is a fascinating character.

Her son, Edward (who becomes King, the Confessor, d. Jan 1066) is born at the end of this book (1006). Her story will continue with additional portrayals of a life in which two of her sons (by each husband), two stepsons (by each husband) and a great nephew (William the Conqueror Oct 1066) became kings of England. Her life story as detailed here, is an enjoyable, interesting, historical read.

If you like Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy or Elizabeth Chadwick you will enjoy these novels. I also recommend Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series, and Edward Rutherford's Sarum.
3 stars a lot of detail, but editing would help.
Shadow on the Crown is due to be published February 2013.
Read as an ARC

Book of the Moment
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I read books for a variety of reasons. I could have read this because Nancy Pearl highly recommended it, because it was one of the top ten YA books of the year, or because it is an interesting historical genre that I like. But I started it because the author is a writer living in Scotland and a Pilot. And she has a Phd (in Folklore from UPenn). These days I am astonished that most of the authors I love have Phds. I love them for the sentence structure, the plot, the research, and the storytelling. And the experience upon closing the book that I must share it, immediately.

Quite simply, Code Name Verity is one of the best books of the year – this year, last year, whatever. Don’t be put off by the YA classification, this is a great book in any genre. It is stunning, breathtaking, horrifying, thrilling, terrifying, heartbreaking, and absolutely breathtaking. You can not remain unmoved during this story, and the last two chapter might rip out your heart (especially as an adult). It has several very important messages for teens too. It won’t hurt adults to remember the fragility of love, the meaning of hope, the power of courage, and the grace of true friendships.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book of the Moment

Thomas Perry The Boyfriend (publication March 2013)

Thomas Perry is an award winning crime writer (see especially Metzer’s Dog). He has a Phd in English, and news to me, is a producer of primetime network television (21 Jump Street, Star Trek: next generation, etc). His novel The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar in 1983 for best first novel, was truly disturbing to me, where the nice man living next door can actually be a ruthless assassin. I have never looked at my neighbours in quite the same way. That series includes Sleeping Dogs and the Informant and kept me awake into the small hours of the night, with all the lights on. This time, in The Boyfriend, we have an ex LAPD well respected homicide detective, now PI, as a thinking protagonist. I never felt that Jack Till would be killed, but I was on the edge of my seat in the action packed rather brutal ride. He is tracking a serial killer, whose victims are all strawberry blondes, but who also happen to be in the high end call girl profession. The secret agenda provides another race against time. The concise writing and detail on each story level is all too real/plausible/possible and quite depressing, but adds to the credibility. Yes, I read it on one sitting, well into the early hours, heart in throat, wondering how it was going to end. In fact, it ended too abruptly for me! Dare I hope he will write a sequel?

Of similar interest: the John Sanford Virgil Flowers series, Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series or Craig Johnson Walt Longmire series.
Of note: If you haven't read the Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry, start at the beginning! I thoroughly enjoyed the initial series, which was very inovative, creative and fascinating. The last novel Poison Flower was a return to his best writing.

Read as an ARC, pre-order on Kindle or ask your library to purchase this (they have most of the rest!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The Beggar King by Oliver Potszch
(3rd in the series The Dark Monk and The Hangman’s Daughter all translated by Lee Chadeayne). These books were published earlier in Germany, with several more installments expected. Interestingly the story is based in part on the author’s family history as descendents of a Bavarian executioner. The Beggar King follows on from The Dark Monk which also follows almost directly on from the Hangman’s Daughter, and while each can be stand alone I also strongly recommend reading them in order as I had a much more vivid picture of the Hangman from the first tale, which resonates throughout The Dark Monk. You don’t forget the humanity of the man from the first tale. And you need to know that especially in the predicament of the Beggar King. The Dark Monk takes place in the winter of 1660 with the three main characters (the executioner and healer of Schongau Jakob Kuisl, his daughter (newly apprenticed Midwife) Magdalena and the physician’s son Simon). They interpret a trail of riddles and myths after a local priest is poisoned (beware sticky donuts) while untangling their social lives. This is a fun historical ride through the Knights Templar (more along the lines of the Da Vinci Code) balancing mystery, historical detail, romance and drama. Medieval life is rather accurately (brutally) portrayed (I still feel cold), the tale is a bit convoluted, while also being somewhat predictable. In the Beggar King, it is 1662 and the action takes place in the Imperial City of Regensburg where Jakob travels to visit his sister whom he believes gravely ill. He finds her dead and is framed for her murder. And while he faces the torturous devices he knows all too well, there is honor among hangmen. Fortuitously Magdalena and Simon arrive, having run away together after tumultuous village life. It is only through the underground network of beggars and thieves that they all uncover a larger plot. You experience the reality of life in medieval times, and this is a fascinating account of an amazing historical city. This installment felt a little more contrived than the previous: for smart characters they do some very inconsistent things. I winced at a few anachronism/slang terms. I did enjoy meeting the characters again and look forward to each case. Note that my copy had a teaser of the next installment and I am already hooked.
Three and a half stars.
Read as an ARC.

Jakob reminds me Gaius Petreius Ruso (a Roman army medic and amateur sleuth) of the Medicus series by Ruth Downie (but an earlier Roman time period primarily set in England). I am impatiently awaiting the release of the fifth book Semper Fidelis in January 2013.

Book of the Moment:

Every January for the past three decades I have read poetry of Robert Burns. The 25th is the second largest Scottish holiday, not only in Scotland, but around the world. I have held a Burns Supper for many years ranging from family dinners of 10 to over 80 friends and family. This year is no exception. So I was delighted to see a new edition of Burns Poetry and Songs to peruse as I prepare for another celebration. The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns has a new forward and a concise factual description of his life (and times) which most people will find useful and I was relieved to see was less opinionated/dated and more practical with a perspective of his work, his ‘scottishness’ and his accomplishments.

Many of the poems are familiar to the reader, from Auld Lang Syne to Tam O'Shanter. Importantly there is a glossary of many of the Scots words which will help in translation! Most people don’t realise how important Burns was to rescuing Scottish folk music, but also creating it. As such, the printed versions here, while lovely, do no even begin to do the songs justice. Please find the music/cds of Jean Redpath (awarded OBE for her astonishing and beautiful musical renditions of Burn’s work), or Andy M. Stewart’s CD of a selection of Burn’s best known works (I still think of this as a definitive album). And the song/poem rendition of Scots Wae Hae by the New Zealander Steve McDonald still gives me chills. This current volume does provide an easy access to Scotland’s National Poet - there are many more kindle books out there too. As well as a huge number of scholarly works.