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review 2019-01-01 01:51
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (Brother Cadfael 0.5)
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters

My mother gave me this book when I was last home (I come by my tendency to buy duplicate books honestly), and it wasn't until I was shuffling through my TBR a few days ago that I actually stopped and looked at this one.  I wanted to know which books I needed to find to complete my collection of Brother Cadfaels.  Flipping through this one, I discovered it's a compilation of three prequel stories that Ellis Peters wrote over the years.  Bonus: one of them took place over Christmas.

 

I love this book!  It's illustrated with beautiful color reproductions of medieval (or medieval-style) prints, and there's an introduction by Ellis Peters, explaining a few basic details behind the Cadfael series, like how it got started, how he got his name, and why she'd never written any stories about his crusading days.  She's also very clear, in a manner that feels purposeful, that Cadfael never converted; his entrance to the abby was just the next step in his life; a life that was always one of faith and belief.  It was a wonderful introduction, and I got a very real sense that Peters knew her character to his bones, understood him, and wanted to make sure his readers did too.

 

As for the stories themselves, the first one, A Light on the Road To Woodstock, does indeed take place before Cadfael's entrance into the abbey.  In takes place as he returns to England for the first time after the wars, facing imminent unemployment, and looking to move on to a new phase in his life, though he doesn't know yet what it might be.  His last assignment for the lord who employs him takes him to Richmond during a court dispute with the Shrewsbury Monastery.  Here he meets the Prior of the Abbey and is confronted with a mystery concerning the Prior's disappearance.  

 

This is not a fair play story; the mystery is solved by Cadfael's observance of the people he knows and the human nature he's familiar with, but he does not share those observances with the reader.  Still, it's a lovely introduction to the man, and the story is a good one.

 

The second, my favorite of the three, is The Price of Light, the Christmas story.  Here Cadfael has been a monk for 15 years. A man of means, whose life has been a waste, is beset by ill health and realises he must do something to 'earn' his redemption (read: buy it, as cheaply as possible).  He gifts Shrewsbury Abbey with the rent from one of his holdings, and a pair of beautiful silver candlesticks, both for the betterment and maintenance of their Lady Chapel.  The gifts are made on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day, the candlesticks have been stolen. 

 

What follows is far more of a fair play mystery, with Cadfael poking about, observing, finding clues and sharing most of it with the reader.  The plot is pretty good for a short form mystery, and the story itself is just really lovely.  Ellis Peters understood the true grace that lies behind Christianity and faith, and she writes it beautifully - never, ever preaches it - but Cadfael and most of his brothers are written in a way that is consistent to both true Christianity and humanity, and the struggle between the two is a never-ceasing one.

 

The last story, Eye Witness, is a much more bog-standard short story mystery.  It falls back on a few of the standard tropes.  Man goes out to collect the rents, is bashed on the head and robbed, thrown into the river to drown, rescued, and cannot shed any light on who tried to kill him.  His son is a suspect, of course, and Cadfael gleans the truth not only through observation, but by the time-worn tradition (in mysteries) of laying a trap!  

 

The most pedestrian of the three, it's still a good story, and adds to the fuller picture of life at Shrewsbury.

 

My edition was done by Mysterious Press, and if you're a Cadfael fan who does not yet own this, I recommend it highly, both for the stories and the charm of the edition itself.

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review 2018-11-06 06:14
Ask Me No Questions (Lady Dunbridge Mystery, #1)
Ask Me No Questions - Shelley Noble

I got an uncorrected advance reader copy at Bouchercon this year, but it was from a freebie table, meaning there is zero chance of bias.

 

Up front this is definitely an uncorrected ARC and I sincerely hope that someone not only corrects the grammatical and punctuational errors, but the huge, gaping plot error.

 

Briefly as possible:  Lady Dunbridge's friend's husband is murdered.  Lady D and friend find a hidden safe deposit box key in a safe, and checking the box they find thousand of dollars in cash, which they take out and hide.  At the denouement it is revealed that he had this cash with him when he died, that the murderer took it after shooting him.  Which would make it impossible for Lady D and friend to find it in his safe deposit box afterward. I mean, I'm pretty sure the murderer didn't kill him, take his money, and then return it to the victim's safe deposit box for the two women to find.

(spoiler show)

 

Those issues aside, it's not a bad read.  Lady Dunbridge is an interesting mix of traditionalist and modernist, in much the same way I'd bet a lot of women were at the turn of the century, just before WWI.  Her morality has left the Victorian Age behind, but her pragmatism has her actively searching for a new husband who can maintain her in the lifestyle befitting her Countess title.  That she decides to do that in America is a slight twist on an old theme. 

 

Some of the secondary characters are all written to be interesting in their own right, with Lady D's ladies maid being a downright lady of mystery with some mad and disconcerting skills.  Others are more cardboard prop-ish; either they have more development planned in future books (?) or they weren't meant to be more than props.

 

There's no romance, although the Countess is plenty interested, and there's heavy foreshadowing of mysterious men and sadly, a possible love triangle.   Nothing specific, just inferences that can be made from inescapable tropes.

 

The plot, other than the train-sized hole running through the end of it, was pretty interesting.  In a very weird coincidence, the book centered on horse-racing; the Belmont Stakes, specifically.  (I was completely unaware of this when I picked it up to read.)  It was an interesting story, and I loved the tie in with Doyle's Silver Blaze (which, towards the end of the book became Silver Blade, something I really hope they catch before publication).   It could have been a tighter story - it did drag a bit in the middle - but overall, it held my attention.

 

I'd probably read another one if it comes across my radar; there's enough here to show promise.

 

I'll use this book for my Melbourne Cup Day Festive Task, since it's been handed to me.  (Read a book about horses or a horse on the cover.)

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review 2018-10-18 10:00
Treacherous is the Night (Verity Kent Mystery, #2)
Treacherous Is the Night - Anna Lee Huber

This series is driving me crazy; I love the author's writing, the characters, the settings, the mysteries.  But I hate one of the major plot points.  

 

Verity Kent's husband died during WWI - except, he didn't.  He was wounded but allowed himself to be listed as killed in action, hiding while he hunted out the traitor in his unit.  Well over a year later, after Verity has started moving on, and falling for another man - a man designed by the author to make readers fall for him - her dead husband decided to let her know he's in rude health for a corpse and not understanding why she's not happier to see him.

(spoiler show)

 

I'm not sure how to reconcile this, really.  I want to read them, but they piss me off at the same time.

 

With that disclosure, it's a good book, although a bit rambling.  I notice tis with a lot of Kensington books, so I think it's more an editorial style than a failing on the author's part.  A tighter editing would have resulted in a faster paced mystery and less exposition about the devastation of WWI.  Don't get me wrong: the exposition was interesting, but it was a tad repetitive.  My biggest complaint, and again, something that could have been avoided by a stricter editor, was Verity's constant, constant, mention of Her Big Secret and how she should tell her husband; it's revelation is inevitable; they can't move on unless she does; really, it would be best to come clean... but not now.  Never now.  Then, finally, the revelation.  And all I could think was omg, who cares?.  I realise people were a lot touchier about things in 1918, but give me a break; without spoiling things, her husband didn't have a leg to stand on and she really ought to have just told him to suck it up and deal with it.

 

I don't know if I'll read the third one when it comes out or not.  If I do, I'm pretty sure I'm stuck with that plot point and, well, I just don't know that I care enough about Verity as things stand.

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review 2018-07-25 08:23
Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Mystery, #3)
Monk's Hood - Ellis Peters

I finished this two days ago, which means the details are fuzzy at this point.  It's excellently written, of course, and the plotting equally well done.  Peters was clever; obfuscating the murderer with ease and subtlety.  

 

I resisted this series for a long time; I like historical mysteries, but tend to prefer Victorian time periods.  The middle ages don't interest me in general, but Ellis Peters' storytelling transcends the time frame its written in.  I'm reading it wondering what happens next, not cringing over the living conditions.  

 

I like Brother Cadfael quite a bit; he's not pious with all its negative connotations; there's no preaching or evangelising.  He's devoted to his faith and his calling to monastic life (a devotion that is tested in this book) but he's not trying to be a martyr to either.  I was a little disappointed that Hugh didn't have more page time, as he brings a spark to the pace, but overall, this was an excellent mystery.

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review 2018-04-16 08:45
The Essex Serpent
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

What an odd book.  I liked it, but I'm struggling to say why.  I suspect I've just been fed literary fiction disguised as something more palatable and mainstream, wrapped in an irresistible cover.

 

The two most overwhelming impressions I took away from the book are poetry and allegory.  Poetry in the form of the prose in the opening pages of the story, where it's so heavy with lyrical verse as to be cloying, and again in the opening pages of each section, where it's dialled down but still more melody than verse.  Allegory, because the story feels like the author's way of working out the balance between faith and empiricism, if not for the reader, then perhaps as an exercise for herself.

 

On a literal level, the story is, as I said, odd.  The reader is held at such a remove from the characters, it's hard to feel any emotional investment in any of them.  I liked Cora and Will and Stella, but the rest?  I'm afraid I really don't understand the point of Luke's part, and for me, Perry utterly failed to convince me that Frankie was anything more or less than a selfish and spoiled boy.  Martha, too, struck me as nothing more than a narcissist, caring more about her duty than the people she is fighting for.  For me, the most convincing character of the lot was the pan-handler, Taylor.

 

Still, it's a beautiful, richly told story, if one is willing to experience it as the distance the author holds it.  Looked at too closely, it's flawed, but hold it back far enough to fuzz the edges and it's gorgeous.

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