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review 2017-08-10 13:28
The Merchant's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Merchant's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries Book 4) - Ann Swinfen
I look forward to each addition to Swinfen's Oxford mysteries series, and this installment did not disappoint. Occurring just weeks after The Huntsman's Tale , the story of lovable Nicholas Elyot carries on seamlessly. Now we find ourselves returned to Oxford in time for the St Frideswide's Fair, where some people have nefarious deeds in mind.

Nicholas is emboldened enough to begin pressing his suit with the lovely Emma and I felt the squeeze of my heart just as I would if two people I personally knew were finally discovering that they were perfect for one another. Mild mannered Nicholas proved that he can be a charming romantic at times, such as when convincing Emma that he would walk her home. 'There is no need, Nicholas. I shall be quite safe with the others.' 'You will be even safer with me.' Be still my heart.

I am also enjoying the development of other characters and relationships. For example, it is fun watching Nicholas' daughter Alysoun become a young woman. 'Alysoun looked pleased and slightly smug, finding herself part of Margaret's armed forces against the incompetent world of men.'

If it takes Nicholas and his comrades ridiculously long to determine just who could be the target of a mysterious murderer using the fair as his cover, this can be forgiven because the reader is treated to more exquisite views of daily life in 14th century Oxford. The challenges of gathering fruit and preparing food, the excitement and dangers of the fair, the struggles of a business owner falling under the rules of the Church, and much more make this novel a joy to read for the way it truly transports the reader back in time.

This is a series that is put at the top of my TBR as soon as a new book is released. I wonder when book 5 will be arriving, because I don't believe for a moment that Nicholas is 'once again a humble Oxford bookseller and glad to be done with high drama.' I have a feeling that mysterious events will find you again, dear Nicholas.


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review 2017-07-28 15:19
The Huntsman's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Huntsman's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries) (Volume 3) - Ann Swinfen
I love pretty much everything about this series. Nicholas Elyot is a charming protagonist who loves his friends, his children, and his books. The setting of Oxford and the surrounding area following the plague that decimated the population allows for wonderful exploration into how the people remaining were impacted. And just look at those gorgeous covers!

This third installment in Swinfen's Oxford Medieval Mysteries did not disappoint, though there are still plenty of questions left that led me to download The Merchant's Tale as soon as it was released. I NEED to know if Nicholas finds love again. The dear man has spent long enough in mourning.

We are taken away from the city of Oxford for this adventure, but Nicholas brings most of the existing cast of characters with him to assist on his family's farm for the harvest. It was fun to see these men of learning getting their hands dirty and blistered, and I was amazed at how interesting the author made detailed descriptions of medieval farming. Despite the difficult work, this would seem to be a time of fellowship and feasting if it weren't for a pesky murder.

The local lord, no more able to protect himself or his family from the black death than the common man has been replaced by an arrogant upstart who believes the villagers are his to rule with an iron fist. When he is killed during a village hunt, it is difficult to determine who would not have wanted to kill him. Nicholas, scholar and bookseller, finds himself part of another investigation that leads down paths he could not have anticipated.

This book, like the two that precede it, is a fun, quick read packed with all sorts of interesting history, characters the reader can cheer for, and a mystery that becomes more than one might be expecting. I will be picking up book 4 immediately!


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review 2017-01-18 18:16
The Revolt by Douglas Bond
The Revolt: A Novel in Wycliffe's England - Douglas Bond

This book covers a rich era of British history through the rather different perspectives of a young Oxford scholar and a peasant. Events first bring the two together on the battlefield of Crecy where both are forced to grow up quickly.


Once they return home, each man encounters the injustice of the age in a different manner. Hugh is at school with John Wycliffe, a man whose legacy requires no explanation. Willard's life in contrast is a struggle. When the plague arrives, status protects no one.


While Hugh assists Wycliffe in translating the Bible, Willard lives in anger at the position he is born to. When the men next come together, it is to join again in another type of battle against the corrupt friars and priests of their day.


This book does an admirable job of portraying those who took advantage of the church for their own benefit while balancing it with those who truly wished to share the gospel. Including several verses of scripture in Old English made it real. This was the work they were doing that continues to benefit us to this day.


Life in the 14th century was vividly brought to life through these characters. I only wish that the book had not ended so abruptly. Received from NetGalley.

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review 2017-01-04 21:12
The Novice's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Novice's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries) (Volume 2) - Ann Swinfen

As I said in my review of The Bookseller's Tale, I was powerless to resist the urge to move on to this second book in Ann Swinfen's Oxford Medieval Mysteries once I had finished the first. I was not disappointed.


While this novel retains the characters and setting that I grew to love in the first book, the author also added some interesting changes. Instead of solely depending on the first person point of view of Nicholas, this installment moves back and forth between him and our titular novice, Emma Thorgold. She winds up being the center of our second mystery, which this time involves some fraud and deceit rather than murder.


I was torn between adoring these two and becoming frustrated with them as they both worked toward the same end but with different strategies. My desire was to shake Emma and say, 'Just wait! Nicholas will save the day!" However, Emma is not one to wait for her knight in shining armour to save her, which may be all well because I do not believe that sweet, bookish Nicholas has a suit of armour.


The different sort of plot and storytelling made this novel no less captivating than the first. If anything, I am more invested and cheering for Nicholas' success. As the series progresses, we also get to see the characters more deeply developed and their relationships evolve. I particularly enjoyed this little moment of burgeoning friendship between Nicholas and an unexpected ally: 


"'I have reason to be grateful to you for your' - he searched for the right word.


'Interference? Nosiness into the affairs of others?'


'I was going to say your championship of those less fortunate than yourself.'"


This book left me hungry for the next. Nicholas has begun to dream of a future that he believes is out of reach, but he cannot help desiring it all the same. I cannot help but want it for him too, and will have the next book in my hands as soon as it is released.

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review 2017-01-04 20:36
The Bookseller's Tale by Ann Swinfen
The Bookseller's Tale - Ann Swinfen

This novel was pure pleasure. I find that I have increasingly less time to read books that I have chosen just for the joy of them, but this was one of them. In fact, I became so caught up in the story of tender Nicholas Elyot that I moved immediately on to the next in the series, The Novice's Tale. Unfortunately, now I am left simply hoping that Swinfen writes the next book quickly, because I am hooked.


By setting the tale in 1353 Oxford, the author is able to explore some wonderful story elements. Besides the thoroughly lovable characters, the reader is introduced to a city of learning at a time when books were scripted and bound by hand, death has devastated the country, and some see the way of life changing as labor proves scarce. Through Elyot's amateur investigation of a young scholar's murder, we are treated to an intimate look at 14th century Oxford and its surrounding countryside.


The plague has passed, but it's shadow looms. "For those of us who survived, there remained a lingering fear of ever allowing ourselves to love anyone again, so fragile is life, so terrifying the sudden loss." Throughout both books, this theme of being careful where love is spent lies underneath the mystery. Nicholas lost his wife to the plague after he had given up a bright future for her. However, he never regrets his decision for a moment.


Nicholas is thoughtful, devout, hardworking, generous, and about as perfect a man as one could hope for, as long as one is attracted to the soft-spoken man who is more attuned to the scent of ink and parchment than the gleam of sun upon a sword blade. I found myself wishing that I could visit his bookshop and watch his scriveners at work. His joy at discovering an expertly done illumination was contagious. His love of books is second only to his devotion to his family and friends.


Against this wonderful backdrop, Swinfen paints a murder scene that tugs the heartstrings and awakens the cry for justice no less in the reader than in dear Nicholas. He was not prepared for the journey that he was set upon when he discovered a body in the twisting river enveloping his town, but I, for one, am enjoying being a part of his adventures.

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