Friday, 30 January 2009

Fortune like the Moon by Alys Clare.

Fortune like the Moon by Alys Clare.
This novel is set in the reign of Richard the Lionheart. When a body of a young nun is found quite near her abbey and a local monastery, the two congregations are witness to a serial of lies and deceipt.The King's emissary Josse d' Aquin is sent to the area to solve the murder , only to be confronted by another body. Josse finds an ally in the Abbess of the Hawkenlye Abbey and between them the murders are solved , but not before the local land owners are involved in the investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will look for more from this author.
This is my third and last book in the Medieval Challenge. Thankyou for hosting it.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Medieval Britain: The Age of Chivalry by Lloyd and Jennifer Laing

This is my second post for this challenge (I despair of finishing my other books before the end!), and it is the first non-fiction book I have read about the medieval time period.
Medieval Britain: The Age of Chivalry is laid out like a text book, and covers the time period from the Norman Conquest in the 1000's to the 1500's. Each chapter focuses on a different area of Medieval life, focusing on Britain, but also giving details about Europe at points. The chapter headings are Society; Castles; The Countryside; The Church; Towns; Trade and Communications; Science and Technology, Superstition and Medicine; Leisure and Fashion; and Intellectual and Artistic Endeavor. This gives you an idea of what information this text has to offer.
Although the information given in this book is interesting, I found it to be too broad of an overview for what I was hoping. This book is definitely a good starting point for someone looking to read more about medieval times. I will have to explore further for a book that delves more deeply into this time period, however.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

No Dark Place - Joan Wolf

In the turbulent realm of Norman England, a young man discovers that his identity is the link to an incredible mystery….

Bereft at the loss of his adoptive father, the Sheriff of Lincoln, Hugh Corbaille is unprepared for a further shock from a visiting knight. Hugh may actually be the sold child of the Earl of Wiltshire, mysteriously abducted thirteen years before onthe day the nobleman was murdered. With no memory of his early years, Hugh begins to believe he may be the missing heir and sets off to find his past.

The journey, however, is far from easy - or safe. Finding himself caught in a web of death and intrigue, and surrounded by a court of scheming strangers, Hugh must turn to the mother he has never known and a supportive young woman to piece together the truth. A cold-blooded killer stands between Hugh and the answers he seeks, answers that may prove his birth - and his death.

Wolf was a familiar name to me as a writer of historical romance and traditional regencies. I was quite surprised when I discovered that she had also written two medieval mysteries and after reading them I can only say that it is a pity that she did not write more.

Set in 12th century England, No Dark Place is the story of Hugh Corbaille and the mysteries that surround him. When the story opens Hugh, the adopted son of the Sheriff of Lincoln has just lost his father and is “recognized” by a visiting man, Nigel Haslin, as the possible son of the Earl of Wiltshire who has disappeared has a child.

The unusually controlled Hugh is still having trouble dealing with his grief and at first refuses to acknowledge that possibility but eventually he decides to investigate as he is both feeling the need to escape the memories of his dead parents and the desire to know if he is really Hugh de Leon. What is known is that fourteen years earlier Roger de Leon, the powerful Earl of Wiltshire, was murdered in his chapel and his young son disappeared never to be seen again. Hugh was found starving and cold in the streets of Lincoln and has no memory of what happened before he joined the Corbaille household.

In Nigel Haslin’s household Hugh meets his daughter Cristen, a sixteen year old girl, who is already a known herbalist and with whom he feels instantly at ease. Hugh and Cristen’s relationship will slowly develop throughout the book, never overshadowing the mystery but showing us a new side to Hugh who seems very much in control of himself except when he is with Cristen.

Nigel’s plan is to “show” Hugh to his uncle and see what comes of it. They all meet in a tournament and Hugh’s physical appearance immediately calls the attention of several people. Besides the mystery of who Hugh really is there’s also the mystery of who killed Roger de Leon and some believe his brother and successor maybe have been behind it. To his natural desire to know who he is Hugh adds something of political strategy, the Earl of Wiltshire is a powerful ally of king Stephen and Hugh knows that if sworn to Mathilda’s side he would be immediately recognised by her and the rightful heir of the earldom.

It was interesting to have this outlook of the time’s political intrigues but what really made the book for me where the characters and the mystery surrounding them. Not only Hugh and Cristen but the whole set of secondary characters make this a really interesting story.

Grade: 4.5/5

This is my extra review to replace The Dark Rose

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Ties that Bound and Growing up in Medieval London - Barbara Hanawalt

These are the first two books of my challenge. Although this is my first posting (and I just recently joined the challenge), I love history and historical fiction and have already read a number of books during the challenge period.

I strongly recommend both of these books by Barbara Hanawalt to anyone interested in learning more about the everyday life of everyday people in medieval England. The Ties that Bound looks at the lives of medieval peasants, while Growing up in Medieval London reviews aspects of life surrounding childhood and adolescence. Although both books are straight history, they read very easily. . . not quite like novels. . .but close.

One of the most interesting aspects of these books -- especially The Ties that Bound -- is Dr. Hanawalt's use of sources. Getting good information about "ordinary" people of this time period is especially challenging since these people just weren't considered worthy of being written about. So info tends to be very scarce, and when it exists, the writer generally has a clear bias. Hanawalt gets around this by using coroners' accounts as her major source. . . her theory being these accounts set down what people actually said and so give a good and generally unedited insight into their lives. In my opinion, Hanawalt is very successful here. . . and the books were all the more interesting to me since I have been reading a series of mysteries in which the main character is a medieval coroner.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Dark Rose - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The marriage of Eleanor Courteney and Robert Morland heralded the founding of the great Morland dynasty. Now Paul, their great grandson is caught up in the conflict of kings and sees, while his niece Nanette, as maid-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, becomes caught up in intrigue at court.

The Dark Rose starts as the story of Eleanor Courtenay Morland´s great grandson Paul. Although I did like The Founding, the first book in the Morland Saga, I wasn’t overly impressed with Eleanor. She seemed a cold woman, determined to succeed in her goals and ready to sacrifice family to achieve them.

I was a bit worried because Paul Morland doesn’t seem overly sympathetic in the beginning either. However I think she managed to convey his complex personality and how most of his actions were rooted on fears and insecurities. Those are feelings that he manages to conquer with age and he becomes a much more interesting person.
One mustn’t think that he is the main character of this story though. As in the first book the author manages to create a strong female character and it’s through her eyes that we witness the main events of that period. Nanette Morland will, as a child, be raised with Katherine Parr and as a young adult be the companion of Anne Boleyn following her from her time as a Lady in Waiting to her final days as queen.

The private story of the Morland family with the jealousies between brothers and half brothers, the alliances sealed with marriages and their worries with religion, social reform, and the political events and how they affect their business mingles beautifully with the bigger picture that is Henry VIII’s court with its political intrigues and religious changes.

I quite like this view of history from a minor, fictional character point of view. I was a bit worried regarding her portrayal of Anne Boleyn since I’ve read a few books about her lately and some authors seem to go a bit overboard in her descriptions but in the end I think it was a well balanced portrayal with a few minor details I would prefer not to have had included.

I also like the fact that she has strong women as characters and from what I’ve read online there are more to come in future books of the series.

Grade: 4/5

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart

The third book of the Merlin Trilogy.

There is such a wealth of great reading and writing in this series, that it was sad to come to the end of the book.

The final part tells of Arthur's reign and how succeeds in pushing back the Saxon's.
We are told of his marriages (the first to Gueneva, who dies in childbirth; then along comes Guinevere).
This marriage is childless, and because of Arthur's frequent absences, Guinevere falls in love with Bedwyr(who we know as Lancelot).
Merlin also features strongly, and he is captivated by Nimue, who becomes his young apprentice, and is really out to learn as much as she can of magic and sorcery.
A bout of sickness leaves Merlin almost to the point of death, and everyone, including Nimue, believes that he has died, even to having his cave closed up.
But he recovers, and it takes some time for his strength to return, whereupon he sends word to Arthur.

Mordred, Arthur's son from his liason with Morgause (his half sister) comes to Court, and so ends this story's tale.

The trilogy is a good read for lovers of the early days of Britain and Arthurian legends.
Have just discovered another book which relates to the Merlin trilogy (The Wicked Day)and will try and get this to read as well.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

"In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews - or anyone, really - but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily - whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe - and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia - the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.

Adelia and her companions - Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor - travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again."

A boy is found murdered on the bottom of the river, those who saw the body say he was crucified, there's a witness who swears she saw him hanging from a cross at a prominent Jew's house, while a wedding was taking place. It's the Easter season and rumour has it that Jews sacrifice Christian children in their celebration rituals, so of course the village people turn against the Jews, and after murdering the couple at whose house the body was seen, they force the rest of them to take shelter at Cambridge's castle.

A year has passed and three other children go missing, despite the fact that the Jews are still locked up in the castle, the village people still believe they're the guilty party, some even say they have grown wings and fly out over the castle walls to abduct the children. Henry II is not at all pleased over these events, not because he has any personal friends among the Jews but because most of his taxes come from them, and now that they're locked up, there's no incoming taxes and he has to feed them all, on top of that. So he decides to hire someone to investigate the murders and if possible, help clear the name of the Jews.

Adelia Aguilar is a mistress of the art of death, something of a coroner in the 12th century, she's a woman doctor, something that is common in Salerno where she comes from but is totally unheard of in Cambridge, if her true identity was found she'd probably be labelled as a witch. Not wanting to draw too much attention to themselves while investigating the crimes, Adelia and her companions, Simon Menahem and Mansur, try to pass as doctor Mansur and his assistants, as a man doctor wasn't uncommon in those days, if though rare.

They arrive in town among a group of pilgrims that come from a visit to St. Thomas Beckett, we find out later that these people are the main suspects for the crimes, one of them is our gruesome serial killer. The only problem is to find out which one of them has a heart carved in ice!

This book grabs you from the start, the plot is extremely well weaved, the historical background if not entirely accurate is still believable and interesting and the characters are one of the best I've seen lately, especially Adelia with her strong character, her wry humour and clever repartees, she made me laugh out loud in certain scenes, I still remember the conversation between her and prior Geoffrey before a very "delicate" operation. The author manages to write fluidly, there was never a dull moment in the story, no matter what she was describing. And the ending was perfect, it's a little sadistic but the "mosquito" deserved it, and Adelia got her happy ending, maybe not a conventional one but you wouldn't expect anything else from a woman like her.

Be warned that there are a couple of very graphical scenes, so if you're faint of heart, this is probably not the book for you. But everyone else that enjoys a good mystery, be sure to pick this one up, and it's only the start of a series. Oh joy! ;-)

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Needle In The Blood - Sarah Bower

January 1067. Charismatic bishop Odo of Bayeux decides to commission a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate his role in the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life - even more than the invasion itself.

His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha - handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy. But against their intentions they fall helplessly in love; in doing so Odo comes into conflict with his king and his God and Gytha with Odo's enemies, who mistrust her hold over such a powerful man. Friends and family become enemies, enemies become lovers; nothing in life or in the hanging is what it seems.
Although I overall enjoyed my reading of Needle In The Blood when I started it I was hoping for a book on the Bayeux Tapestry and now that I've finished it it feels the tapestry was just a small part of this story. In that sense I was a bit disappointed. It's not even a story about the weavers but more the story of one weaver - Gytha - and her love story with Bishop Odo.

Gytha is one of the handmaidens to Harold Godwinson's steadfast wife - Edith Swan Neck - and she goes with her mistress to reclaim is body for burial. The fate of the Saxon women is not a happy one and for a while Gytha resorts to being a prostitute so that she can survive.

Her life changes when Bishop Odo decides to commission a tapestry to register the story of his brother William the Conqueror's victory over Harold Godwinson, he charges his sister Agatha, a nun, of organising the work and Gytha is one of the women selected to embroider the tapestry.

Bower does a good job in bringing this secondary cast to life, but the one that truly stands out is Gytha. She manages to catch Odo's eye and they fall in love starting a relationship in which the power alternates between them and if at first their idyll has a dreamy feel things soon get complicated because Gytha is a Saxon. The blurb in the cover of the book is very accurate – a tale of sex, lies and embroidery...

I must say it took me a while to get into the story and I even abandoned it at some point and picked it up months later so it's not exactly a page turner but I thought Bower was good at conveying the medieval feel and it's quite refreshing to read a story set immediately after the 1066 conquest.

Grade: 3/5

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Book Review -------- Medieval Challenge

The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters.
This was the second book in my Medieval Challenge.
No.X11 in the Cadfael Chronicles, this was an excellent murder mystery. I have read a few Cadfael stories before and always find them interesting.
This story takes place at Christmas 1141 AD when a new priest is presented by the Abbot , this priest will make his home at the Holy Cross(also known as the Foregate).His character is stern and he lacks humility and as such does not warm to the people of the area. When he is found drowned , most of these people could be accused of his murder , including the new young priest who assists Brother Cadfael in his work.
As usual Cadfael displays his investigative talents in the form of the study of fauna and flora.
A very good book, not long at 252 pages. A real page turner.
Posted by zetor at 09:41
Labels: Book Review - Medieval Challenge.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

THE HOLLOW HILLS by Mary Stewart

This is the second book in the Merlin Trilogy.
the story now follows with the growing up of Arthur; how Merlin is led to the sword (Caliburn - which ws later romanticised to Excalibur) and Arthur being crowned The High King of England.
We are led into the boyhood years of Arthur, from his very erly time in Brittany, and then into the household of Ector, a trusted lord of Uther of Pendragon.
Merlin now proceeds to teach Arthur all of the things that will help me in his destiny.
You appreciate the depth of feeling and research that hs gone into this book - the historical angle is also interesting, with the early years of Britain.
Very compulsive reading.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

This is the first book that I have read and reviewed for this challenge (finally!). I am participating in this challenge at the Royalty level, and my goal is to read from each category: modern medieval fiction, medieval non-fiction, and classic texts. In addition to this book I will also be reading Medieval Britain: The Age of Chivalry, Pillars of the Earth, The Canterbury Tales, Le Morte D'Arthur, and one other non-fiction book that I have yet to choose.
To begin this review, I have to say that I am a big Geraldine Brooks fan, this being the only novel by her that I had not previously read. Unfortunately, this is not her best book.
Year of Wonders takes place in the 1600's, in a tiny mining village in England. The narrator is Anna, a young woman who has lived through the year, and helped to bury more than half the people in this town. Her lodger was the first person to die of the Plague, which takes her children and many others as well, eventually. In an effort to confine the disease, the town decides to cut itself off, allowing no one in or out, and receiving help from the neighboring towns only when that help can be left at a distance. Their efforts keep the disease from spreading any further, yet perhaps causes more deaths in their own village.
The heroic efforts of this small village come at a great cost. This book is definitely more violent than I had expected. Some of it is simply the violence of the time: witch trials, punishments for theft. Some of it seems unnecessary, however, although I understand that Brooks was trying to convey the madness that some of the villagers struggled with in their grief. The book is wonderfully well researched, which makes for a story that feels true. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the Plague, or in this time period, but it it not easy to read about what these people went through. Life was hard enough in the Medieval Period without the Plague.

'Mistress of the Art of Death' by Ariana Franklin

Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Book Review -------- Medieval Challenge

This is my first book in the Medieval Challenge.
'Mistress of the Art of Death', by Ariana Franklin.

I found it a little hard to get into at first but after the first 50+ pages I was hooked and couldn't put it down.
Set in Cambridge in 1170 it follows Adelia Aguilar , a doctor, in her quest to find the murderer of children. These children were killed in a hideous manner and in searching for their murderer she uncovers a cavern of evil.
The killings are portrayed in a graphic way, and the people of Cambridge stunned by the brutality.
A great read. Ariana Franklin is a new author to me but not for long as I am on the lookout for her subsequent novels. Graded 5 out of 5.
Posted by zetor at 09:37 0 comments
Labels: Book Review------ Medieval Challenge.

A Tapestry of Dreams - Roberta Gellis

The lovely Lady Audris, whose delicate fingers weave fables of the future unto her tapestries, whose special gifts and radiant beauty set her apart in an enchanted age. And the knight they call Hugh Licorne. In service to his king ... a hero in an age of heroes ... a princely suitor for Lady Audris -- even though she cannot have him. Against all odds, they dare to search for love ... the lady who has sworn not to marry ... and the knight who has vowed to win her heart…

Tapestry of Dreams is the prequel to Fires of Winter. I happened to read that one first and was then curious to know more about Hugh and Audris who show up as secondary characters.

Set during the Stephen and Matilda wars and especially during the Scottish invasions of 1137 and 1138 about which there’s an author’s note the story begins by introducing Jernaeve, a place between Scotland and England where Audris lives under her uncle’s protection and from time to time receiving the visits of her half brother Bruno. On one of his visits he is accompanied by his friend Hugh Licorne. Hugh is an orphan who doesn’t know is parents. Both young men feel deeply the fact that they have neither riches nor land to call their own.

Audris is somewhat different from other heroines of the time, she is sheltered yes but her main occupation is weaving tapestries and she has none of those feminine gifts like cooking, healing or ordering the keep. Since Hugh is introduced as a friend of her beloved brother there’s immediate warmth is their relationship. What I really liked in how their relationship is portrayed, how open and honest they are with their feelings. Hugh is a warrior but is also capable of gentleness and tender feelings for the woman he loves; Audris is passionate and headstrong in her desire for him. I also liked how Gellis made their sexuality such a natural and joyous part of their union, it seemed right.

There’s war going on and soon the mystery of who Hugh really is and the result of their union makes them leave Jernaeve. I thought the first half of the book was a bit slow but towards the middle it definitely picks up the pace not only in their relationship but also in the background story. Gellis successfully blends story with history and mystery to provide us with an interesting and entertaining historical romance.

Grade: 4/5

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


I have read many books over the years (theme being Merlin, King Arthur etc.), and it has been many years since I remember this book. On revisiting the story , I must say that the author has created a wonderful tale.
Merlin is growing up (the illegimate son of Niniane, and it turns out, Ambrosius). He only realises who his father is, after fleeing from his home,at a young age, following the death of his grandfather, the King (and Niniane's father).
Merlin is taken into Ambrosius's kingdom and his powers are becoming evident. Apart from this, he learns many skills - medicine, engineering, but is not a fighter.
This story closes with Uther Pendragon and Ygraine - Merlin having a vision that a child will be born out of Uther & Ygraines night of passion - the boy Arthur.

Having recently read the series "Daughters of Tintagel"by Fay Sampson, which follows the same theme - would say this is a better version - First Class.