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Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)
Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)
by Priscilla Royal
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.68
29 used & new from $9.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another in the series..., February 7, 2016
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A good novel of historical fiction can teach as well as entertain. And that's certainly evident in Priscilla Royal's "Medieval Mystery" series. Featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndale, Brother Thomas, and other relatives and religious, the books are somewhat less "mysteries" and more about life in Edward I's England. Her latest, "Land of Shadows", has the requisite murders but is much more about relationships and duties (to Crown and Church and Family). Anybody buying "Land of Shadows" for the "action" may be sorely disappointed.

Priscilla Royal has written about 12 books in the series, and I think I've read most of them. They are all good reading and often bring up things other mystery writers don't bother with. In this book, Royal writes about the Jewish population in medieval England. This book is set in 1279, and English Jews faced an uncertain future. They were eventually ordered out of England in 1290, but trouble had been afoot long before that. The book begins at Woodstock Manor, where Prioress Eleanor has come, along with several other members of her order, to visit her dying father. Also there is Queen Eleanor, who is giving birth to her 11-teenth child. A raid is conducted on the small Jewish community of Oxford by the King's men, trying to root out the "coin clipping" said to be occurring in the community. (Look up "coin clipping" on Wiki if you want to know the definition.) During the raid, a Jewish doctor was falsely accused of the act and is hanged, leaving his mother and his two young daughters. The grandmother and granddaughters travel to Woodstock Manor to attempt to talk to Queen Eleanor and possibly get help from her in order to emigrate to France.

Prioress Eleanor is again at the center of the action and agrees to look for the murderer, as the bodies pile up. Her brother Hugh is there with his illegitimate son, who he's raising to go into the army with him. Richard FitzHugh ("Fitz" in a name connotes a "by-blow" birth.) is accused of one of the murders and his aunt sets forth to exonerate him before the bedridden Queen Eleanor finds out about the murders under her roof. IF the plot sounds a bit convoluted and the characters numerous, it is and they are. However, most of the readers of the book will have read Royal's books in the series before.

I am not recommending "Land of Shadows" to a first-time reader. He or she should read a couple of earlier books first and find out about Eleanor, Brother Thomas, as well as the Abbey at Tyndal. (Brother Thomas has a particularly interesting back-story.) For those who are old readers, I think you'll like the latest in the series.


Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
8 used & new from $14.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A simpler time..., February 7, 2016
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As a child, one of my favorite books to be read from and then to read myself were Betty MacDonald's "Mrs Piggle-Wiggle" series. Of course, I was living in the early 1950's and lived in a neighborhood where we all played outside, unsupervised, after school. The dads went off to work, and the moms stayed home with the kids. It really was a simpler time - but not a time I'd like to go back to. I have an almost three year old granddaughter and wanted to see if she might like the books - in a few years.The other day I downloaded the audio version of the first of the series, "Mrs Piggle Wiggle" and listened to it. I was just as delighted to hear it 60 years later.

It's always interesting to read or listen to a book that was written contemporaneously. This series, in particular, would be fobbed off as "politically incorrect" if published today, about today's world. It was a picture of a purer, more innocent time and that was how much of the country lived in the post-WW2 years. But, here's the thing: the times might have been more innocent but human nature doesn't change. Children still worry about the same things as we, their grandparents did, and still don't pick up their toys or bathe enough. They still go through stages where they talk back to the parents and teachers, and I don't think the "selfish gene" has been scrubbed from human reproduction. Betty MacDonald's parents and children - and Mrs Piggle Wiggle - are the parents and children of today. Addiction, violence and poverty have added to our problems but there was always a bit of that in the past. Hiding under our desks at school from the threat of nuclear war - like our wooden desks were really going to save us - and diseases that were rampant back then have been eradicated by cures. Betty MacDonald's wonderful stories full of interesting characters are as timely now as they were 60 years ago.

By the way, did you know that Betty MacDonald wrote the adult book, "The Egg and I"? That was one of four "adult" books she wrote, in addition to the children's books she wrote.


1916: A Global History
1916: A Global History
Price: $9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complete look at 1916..., February 5, 2016
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Irish professor Keith Jeffery's new book "1916: A Global History" is the second historical look at a single year I've read in the last week or so. (The other is "1924: The Year that Made Hitler" by Peter Ross Range.) By examining a single year, the author is able to cover his material in greater depth than possible with a larger-in-time book. I might be wrong, but it seems as if a lot of single year or single event books are being published and I'm very pleased to read them. (Two other books, "The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911' and "The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War", by British author Juliet Nicholson are also highly recommended.)

But returning to "1916", Keith Jeffery begun the book with the troops evacuating the area of Gallipoli at the beginning of the year, and ending with the murder of Rasputin. In between, he covers the Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme, the Irish Easter Sunday Uprising, as well as many other events that year. Since the Great War was the first world-wide war, Jeffery's book looks at battles and political movements from Western Europe, southern Africa, as well as Asian sites. He's first rate in looking at many of the personalities involved in the fighting, the nursing, the politics, and the diplomacy of the year.

Professor Jeffery's writing is easy for the armchair historian the book is aimed for. He has written book about the British clandestine service, MI6, as well as other histories. This one is first rate. (I also want to add a note about the price of the e-book, which is $9.99. I don't normally comment about an e-book's price, figuring that either I buy it...or not. But this book is priced so very, very nicely.)


Spoils of Victory: A Mason Collins Novel
Spoils of Victory: A Mason Collins Novel
by John A. Connell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.77
38 used & new from $12.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Second in the series..., February 4, 2016
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"Spoils of Victory" is American author John Connell's second book in his "Mason Collins" series. Set - so far - in post-war Germany, Collins is a policeman who is hired by the US Army to investigate criminal activity in occupied Germany. The first book in the series - "Ruins of War" - was set in Munich. This one is set in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a resort community in the mountains south of Munich. (It was also the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.)

Something very rotten is happening in Garmisch. Mason Collins has been sent there after getting into trouble while solving crimes in Munich. People in Garmisch - innocent or not-so-innocent - are turning up dead. Some are turning up quite unattractively dead, with missing body parts. As the body count rises, Collins and his aide, Abrams, set out to investigate the active black market in the town. Basically, everything 's for sale - food and other necessities of life now in short supply in post-war Germany - and the black market trading seems to involve almost everybody around. Germans, American GIs, former concentration camp inmates - everyone's on the take. Connell's world of Garmisch-Partenkirchen seems to be gray and murky. All his characters, except for Collins and Abrams, exist in a mist of murder and cheating. And because everyone's murky, there are very few characters who are not drawn as caricatures. Now, that's not a criticism; if the reader cared for all those getting butchered, "Spoils of Victory" would be as depressing as a Scandinavian crime novel.

"Spoils of War" is an entertaining novel about that "murkiness" of post-war morals. It may be about 50 pages too long, but it makes good reading. I'll look forward to Connell's next "Mason Collins" novel.


Holy Spy: A John Shakespeare Mystery
Holy Spy: A John Shakespeare Mystery
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great book in the series..., February 2, 2016
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"Holy Spy" is British author Rory Clements' seventh novel in his "John Shakespeare" series. The series books, set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, are more similar to each other than not. All basically are concerned with threats to Elizabeth, both from within England and without. If the Spanish aren't sending an Armada off, then the threat might come - as it does in "Holy Spy" - from Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. So the reader of all the Shakespeare books can assume Elizabeth and her survival are the plot points most often used.

But Elizabeth I is not the main character in these books. Oh, she pops up every now and again, but "Holy Spy" and the others star John Shakespeare - brother of a certain writer of plays - and Sir Francis Walsingham, who is in charge of the Queen's security and intelligence operations. In fact, Shakespeare and others working for Walsingham are called "intelligencers" because they are agents of Walsingham, sent out to pick up intelligence. And sometimes, as in "Holy Spy", they are sent out to create havoc among Elizabeth's many enemies. In "Holy Spy", Shakespeare manages to infiltrate a band of Catholics who are plotting to kill the "usurper" (Elizabeth) and place Mary on the throne. History tells us that Elizabeth managed to survive all these plots and reigned for 45 years. Shakespeare is also trying to clear his former lover, Kat, of the accusal of plotting to murder her wealthy husband.

So, if the plots are similar to each other, why do Rory Clements' books continue to be popular among readers of historical fiction? I think it's because with any good historical fiction, the discerning reader learns about the times and the characters - fictional and real - who made up that time and place. In fact, Rory Clements seamlessly weaves the real figures of the Catholic plotters and Francis Walsingham with the fictional John Shakespeare and his friends and helpers.

"Holy Spy" is a long book but an incredibly well-written one. The series reader returns once again to the Elizabethan age and is reunited with the characters so well crafted in previous books. "Holy Spy" is another excellent book in the series.


R.I.P
R.I.P
30 used & new from $11.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny black comedy..., January 30, 2016
This review is from: R.I.P (Hardcover)
Newly retired bank manager, George Pearmain, woke up on the morning of the celebration of his mother Jessica's 99th birthday, dead. He was dead in his bed, and coincidentally, downstairs, his mother was also found dead on the kitchen floor. And so begins British author Nigel Williams' newest black comedy, "R.I.P". Most of Williams' novels take place in Putney, a prosperous London suburb located southwest of the city. (Filled with executive types and their families, Putney was also the scene of one of Williams' funniest novels, "Unfaithfully Yours".) George and Esmeralda Pearmain have raised two sons in Putney and have had a reasonably happy marriage, at least until George's sudden death.

But not only is George's death untimely, it also doesn't cause George to go where ever you go when you go. George is still around; invisible to the living, he hovers above the police and family as both his death and his mother's are being investigated. He sees the family as they tiptoe around the two deaths, which increase by one as George's batty sister is found dead. Her death by hanging is considered a suicide. But as much as the three deaths are mourned, much more interest is being paid to Jessica Pearmain's will and missing codicil. That codicil is worth both finding...and then destroying as the guilty party is basically named in it. The characters - both dead and alive - are, for the most part, vain, petty, dotty, as well as evil and dastardly. Oh, and there's a dead dog who makes the scene.

Part of Williams' novel is a mystery - who's knocking the family off, but the other part is a family love story. George Pearmain only begins to truly recognise how much he loved and valued his wife after he's unable to express those sentiments to her. Nigel Williams' witty novel is not for every reader.Both his characters and plots are dark...but darkly funny. I love his work.


Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice
Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.78

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read the original..., January 29, 2016
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Author Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel, "Eligible", is a "modern retelling of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'". Evidently, Sittenfeld is only one author who was hired by the Austen Project to update all the Austen classics. This was not such a great idea, because as well as Sittenfeld writes, she cannot write as well as Jane Austen. In fact, no author can. That's not to say they can't write their own books quite nicely. Sittenfeld's "American Wife" was truly great, but this one is not. In fact, it's almost unreadable.

Curtis Sittenfeld does give it a go, though. She really tries but her characters let her down. Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Katherine, and Lydia go from being all very young women - Lizzy was twenty in the original - to being ages 40 down to 23 in this book. That's a large age span and a large range of behavior. Jane at almost 40 is not the same as she would have been at 21, though Sittenfeld seems to endow her with the same emotional responses as a much younger woman would have. Same with Lizzy at 38. These are women, not girls, yet Sittenfeld treats them as young women. Now, we all know that girls were more mature back then and seeking husbands at an early age, but there's still a big difference between a woman at the age of 20 in 1813 to a woman at the age of 40 in 2013. The men, too, have been aged by Sittenfeld but come off as being very shallow. The elder Bennets are the most interesting characters, though I'd love to slap both parents upside the head for their general stupidity about life and finances. They were charming in 1813, but not so much in 2013.

Sittenfeld has moved the book to Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bennets are an upper-middle class WASP family, though Mrs Bennet is embarrassed to have had a Jewish maternal grandmother. (But probably not as embarrassed as the grandmother would be about having Mrs Bennet for a grand daughter!) Their finances and their old house are both falling down around them at the same rate. None of the five daughters are married. They are either dating unsuitable men...or are not dating at all. The seem to be drifting through life, although Lizzy is a magazine writer - but the others show about as much initiative on earning a living as their own father has displayed. They'd go drifting, still, if two doctors-in-their-late 30's hadn't moved to Cincinnati. These two were, of course, "Chip" Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy the Fifth. Bingley is fresh off appearing on a "Bachelor"-like series called "Eligible". Bingley and Darcy are as shallow as the other characters and the parts about "Eligible" are badly drawn out. In fact, the 500-plus page book is at least 100 pages too long. If I hadn't been required to finish it in order to review it for Amazon, I'd have stopped at about page 200.

I'll return to my first paragraph when I ask WHO hired Sittenfeld to write this book, and why she accepted the job. When I tracked down the Austen Project, and saw the lists of excellent authors commissioned to update material that aught not be updated. The bottom line for me is that only Jane Austen can write Jane Austen. Curtis Sittenfeld shouldn't have even tried. She writes her own books quite well. To the potential reader of this book, I'd say, "save your time and sanity and read Jane Austen's original. Then read any/all of Curtis Sittenfeld's own writing".
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2016 6:11 PM PST


1924: The Year That Made Hitler
1924: The Year That Made Hitler
by Peter Ross Range
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.24
48 used & new from $14.50

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important year..., January 27, 2016
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There are two types of historical biographies. The first is the sweeping look at a long life. The second type is a small, shortish look at a particular part or event in a life. Adolf Hitler's life and the 12 Year Third Reich is closely examined, for instance, in William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". A smaller segment of Hitler's life, though, is examined quite thoroughly in "1924: The Year That Made Hitler", by Peter Ross Range.

The year 1924 was quite important in Adolf Hitler's rise to power. He and a small band of Nazis - along with General Erich Ludendorff and others in the disbanded post-war German army - tried to take power in Munich on November 8-9, 1923. Proclaiming their "putsch" in the large beer hall - the Bürgerbräukeller, and then out in the street - Hitler and his crew planned badly and the putsch was put down. Hitler was put in Landsberg prison, while awaiting his trial for treason. As the year began, Adolf Hitler was ensconced in fairly fancy quarters in the prison. Peter Ross Range gives a lot of detail to the putsch and subsequent trial, where Hitler, acting often as his own lawyer, gave hours-long political speeches, under the guise of defending himself. Despite his defense - or maybe because of it - Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which was immediately reduced to six or so months.

Hitler returned to Landsberg to complete his shortened prison term and spent most of the time writing his memoir, "Mein Kampf". Legend has it that he dictated the book to also-imprisoned aide Rudolf Hess, but the truth is that Hitler wrote the first volume, using a Remington typewriter. Hitler's life in prison was made even easier by the constant gifts of food made by his supporters. All in all, a fairly pleasant and productive way to spend a year behind bars. Hitler was released in December of 1924, and Peter Ross Range ends his book by looking at how he remade his personal political identity, as well as the Nazi party.

Range is a very easy writer, with a wonderfully fluid style. According to his Amazon listing, he has written a couple of crime books. This is his first historical biography and I hope he writes more.


HATCHETT AND LYCETT
HATCHETT AND LYCETT
by Nigel Williams
Edition: Paperback
23 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WW2...and before., January 25, 2016
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This review is from: HATCHETT AND LYCETT (Paperback)
Nigel Williams is a British writer whose work I wish was better known here in the United States. He writes wonderful novels about English life, using characters we can mostly identify with. I'd say that most of his work has a satirical bent but he's rarely mean in his portrayals of the lazy, the stupid, the crazy... One of his best books, "Unfaithfully Yours", is an absolutely hysterical work about four married couples who grow to hate their partners. I mean, REALLY hate their partners...

Williams' novel "Hatchett & Lycett" is less funny and more poignant than the others I've read. Set in 1939 - with flashbacks to 1921 - it is the story of two young men - Alec Lycett and Dennis Hatchett - and their life-long friendship. The third of their group is Norma Lewis, who is a bit in love with both guys. August 1939 brings the beginning of the war to their town of Croydon, located directly south east of London and the site of London's first airport. Hatchett and Norma teach school together, while Lycett has just joined the army. But they continue their friendship and Lycett proposes to Norma; she accepts. Meanwhile, some teachers at their joint school begin to die. Norma and Lycett look into these murders while continuing to dance around their own feelings for each other. The war begins to literally "hit home" as soldiers are rescued from Dunkirk and bombs are dropped by German bombers on their way to and from London raids.

The book also looks at the lives of the two boys in 1921. There is a mysterious death and Lycett's identical twin brother is sent off to school as a punishment for "misdeeds". The past - 1921 - plays as much a part as the present - 1939, and Williams does an excellent job in joining the two parts together. While there are some humorous parts to the book, most of it is sadly charming. Sort of like real life.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2016 4:42 PM PST


The Other Side of Silence (A Bernie Gunther Novel)
The Other Side of Silence (A Bernie Gunther Novel)
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.11

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great read..., January 24, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
British author Philip Kerr is back with, "The Other Side of Silence", his latest "Bernie Gunther" book. (It's the 11th book in the series, and Kerr tells the reader that Bernie will return in 2017 with the 12th book, "Prussian Blue") Before I review this book, though, I'd like to tell potential new readers of Kerr that the books are not written in any kind of time order. The first three - "Berlin Noir", "The March Violets", and "The Pale Criminal" - should be read first (and they are sometimes published in one large volume), but after that, you can read them in any order. Philip Kerr's books skip around from place to place - Berlin, the Russian Front, Cuba, etc - and years - 1936 up to 1956. This latest is set on the French Riviera in 1956.

While Kerr likes to write about Nazi Germany - the before, the during, and the after - "The Other Side of Midnight" definitely is a book about Britain and East Germany. The clandestine services of both countries find themselves dueling it out over members of what came to be called "The Cambridge Five". Somerset Maugham - himself an old hand with MI5 and MI6 in his time - is living out his life in his splendid villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferret. Bernie Gunther, living under an alias, is on the run from too many people and countries to go into here, is a concierge at a local deluxe hotel. He likes his job and is good at handling the hotel guests under his care. He plays bridge in a twice weekly game and seems to be biding his time in life. He's tried to commit suicide, but the attempt failed, so he's back to living each day. And waiting... Waiting for his former lives and deeds to catch up with him? Waiting for love? Who knows; I'm not sure Bernie himself knows.

But he meets a woman who claims she is a writer who wants to write a bio of Somerset Maugham and would Bernie try to find a way to introduce them? From there, Bernie meets an old Nazi comrade, also on the run, and he get mixed up in blackmail and ferreting out spies. Philip Kerr does his normal excellent job putting Bernie physically in the middle of the action, while remaining a bit on the outside, emotionally.

The new reader doesn't have to know Bernie Gunther's history to enjoy the book, but they might want to know something about the spies in London in the 1950's. Kerr's book is in the line of predictably good reads.


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