Book Review: The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb

The Apothecary Rose is the first Owen Archer mystery by Candace Robb.

The year is 1363.  Owen Archer, the Welsh former Captain of Archers to the recently deceased Duke of Lancaster has been employed by John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York, as a favour to his dead friend.  Owen lost an eye whilst on campaign in France, changing his life overnight, and so now he seeks a new occupation.  But how will he fare as a spy?

His first mission sees him sent to York to investigate a series of mysterious deaths and the only thread linking them: Nicholas Wilton, a Master Apothecary in the cathedral city.  Only he has also fallen gravely ill.

Getting himself the position of apprentice at the apothecary in question, Owen must unravel the complicated web that has wrapped itself around this mystery if he’s to uncover the truth.  However, learning the craft of the apothecary from Lucie, the Master Apothecary’s young, beautiful wife as her husband is kept to his sick bed, Owen acknowledges to his horror, that she is perhaps foremost amongst the suspects…And as the number of deaths continue to increase, so do his suspicions…

This is another series that I love and am re-reading :-)

The Apothecary Rose is a captivating a novel, and the perfect first book in a series.  I love many of the main characters…Owen, Lucie, Bess Merchet, Magda Digby, Brother Wulfstan…they have depth and complexity, and their interactions bring the tale to life, adding richness and colour to an already enthralling read.

The descriptions of the people and places of the fourteenth century are fascinating and vivid, not to mention historically detailed and accurate.  The storyline is gripping and the further into the book I got, the harder I found it to put down.

I am looking forward to re-reading the second book in the series, The Lady Chapel. This is another great historical mystery series that I can’t recommend highly enough.  If the Middle Ages interest you or if you simply enjoy good, well-written historical fiction, you really should give these books a read.  I love them.

Book Review: The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

The Silver Pigs is the first book in the Falco series by Lindsey Davis.

It is 70 AD.  Marcus Didius Falco is a private investigator in Rome.  Vespasian has only been emperor a short while, and after the Year of the Four Emperors, the Empire has yet to settle down again.

Whilst in the forum, Falco comes across a young pretty woman on the run from a couple of thugs.  Her name is Sosia Camillina.  Being the gentleman that he is, Falco makes the quick decision to help Sosia.

And so, with this small act begins his involvement in a trade corruption scandal, one that has the highest of ambitions and stretches from the furthest reaches of the Empire to it’s very heart.  Silver pigs from the mines in Britain – a place that Falco does not have fond memories of – have been going missing.  Now they have turned up in Rome.

When someone close to Falco ends up murdered, he is willing to do anything, no matter the cost, to uncover the truth and bring a killer justice…even return to Britannia, where he served his not so glorious stint in the army.  But what will he find when he gets there?

As I mentioned in this review I am currently returning to a few of my favourite book series. The Falco books by Lindsey Davis is one of them. I have absolutely loved each and every one of these books and they certainly get better and better with each re-read.

The Roman world the author describes is vivid and historically accurate.  As we travel across the length and breadth of the Empire – from Rome to the far-flung province of Britannia, we are given an evocative glimpse into the Roman world as it is brought to life with ease and in such a way as to make it accessible to those unfamiliar with this period in history.

Each and every character in the story has depth, and their respective roles and and interactions move fluidly through the story.  The book is peopled with realistic personalities; some you’ll like, some you won’t; some that will become firm favourites.

The Silver Pigs is a story that blends historical detail with tragedy, mystery and humour, weaving a novel that is hard to forget, and one that it’s hard not to get caught up in…a thoroughly mesmerising read…

I can’t recommend this book (or the series) highly enough, and I am looking forward to re-reading book 2, Shadows in Bronze.

Book Review: The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

Lincoln, 1380.  Our guide on this journey through medieval Lincoln remains anonymous to us until the end of the book, although we know them to be a ghost with a pet ferret…

The beautiful widow Catlin, along with her unnaturally beautiful children, are new to the city.  Catlin appears to be kind and caring, and having suffered in her life, she is swift in her offer to help look after the sick wife of one of the cities richest men, a wool merchant named Robert of Bassingham.  As Robert’s wife sickens further and requires more care, Catlin and her children move in so that she can be on hand should she be needed.

However, when people start dying around her, suspicions of witchcraft are raised.  Is Catlin a witch?  Or is she the innocent victim of bad luck and superstition?

What will become of Catlin?  And how do her children fit into the events that unfold in that strange household?  More importantly, can Robert see the truth of it before it is too late?

I loved this book (as I love all of Karen Maitland’s stories – she is a very gifted storyteller and her passion for the medieval period is clearly evident in her writing).  There is such a great depth of knowledge to be found in the narrative, in the form of descriptions of the places in and around Lincoln and London, as well as in the detail of the history of the period, especially of the peasant’s revolt, which she brings evocatively to life with such ease. And, as always her characters are fascinating and realistic, pulling you deeper and deeper into the story.

A great piece of historical fiction that manages to weave together witchcraft and superstitions from the period into an amazing, captivating read.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

A Morbid Taste for Bones is The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.

When Brother Columbanus, a young, ambitious Benedictine in the community of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury starts seeing visions of a Blessed Lady, excitement begins to spread.  The abbey is without saint or relic, something that Prior Robert Pennant has been hoping to change.  When it transpires that the vision is of Saint Winifred, buried in a supposedly forgotten corner of a Welsh churchyard, a small group head off into Wales, to the village of Gwetherin to acquire the saint’s holy bones.  Cadfael, as a native of Wales and the only fluent Welsh-speaker amongst them, is sent along to help smooth the way.

However, on reaching Gwetherin, not all the villagers are happy to relinquish their saint.  When the leading opponent is found dead, questions are raised, tensions increase and no-one, not even the holy Benedictine brothers are beyond suspicion…

As part of Historical Fiction Month I thought I would begin the re-visiting of one of my favourite book series (I will be doing the same for another, later on in the month).  Brother Cadfael has to be one of the best historical detectives, and his character is just so likeable.

The great thing about the Cadfael stories is that they make the Marches of the twelfth century accessible.  The historical detail is clear, accurate and comprehensive, enabling everyone to imagine the world of Cadfael with ease.

The characters come across as realistic and their interplay works so well.  From Brother John to Prior Robert, from Bened the smith to Sioned, the personalities of each character is distinct and consistent.

The humour found in the book, although light, is enough to offset the dark subject matter: the disinterring of the body of a young woman, and the murder of a good man.

A Morbid Taste for Bones gets better and better with each re-reading.  I am looking forward to re-reading book two in the series, One Corpse Too Many.

Book Review: The Willow Pool by Elizabeth Elgin

Liverpool, 1941.  Meg Blundell is mourning the loss of her mother to TB.  In the wake of her mother’s death comes answers that Meg has been waiting for all her life.

Meg never knew her father.  She didn’t even know his name.  When pressed, Meg’s mother would not utter a word.  However, on the topic of Candlefold, she would talk ceaselessly for hours.  Candlefold was the house in the country where she had worked as a young woman, and it had been spoken of as if it might be heaven.

Tidying up her mother’s things, she comes across a number of important papers: the deeds to the house she lived in Tippets Yard, which now belonged to Meg; a number of photographs of her mother in service at Candlefold before Meg was born, and finally her own birth certificate, with an interesting entry.  Although ‘Father Unknown’ was no surprise, the fact that she was born at the country house her mother had always spoken so fondly of did.

If she wants answers, the only place she can go for them is Candlefold.  Even though her neighbour, Nell, tells her to leave the past be, Meg needs to understand.   But what she finds at Candlefold is more than she could have ever anticipated…

The Willow Pool tells the tale of a young girl, all alone in the world, as she learns about where she came from, who she is and what she could be.

This was an unexpected gemstone of a read.  I can’t even remember what had prompted me to pick it up at the book sale, but I am so glad that I did.  I don’t think that I have ever read a book that brought to life so vividly what was going on at home during WWII.

The story was full of interesting, unforgettable characters, each with their own wonderfully detailed, distinct personality.  Plain-speaking Nell Shaw, quiet Tommy Todd, the persistent, upright Kip Lewis…But perhaps it is the character of Meg herself that truly makes this story so captivating.  A simple girl, who has never been in love…

The journey of discovery that the author takes us on is a tumultuous one, one that breaks the heart and completely captures the imagination.  I could not put this book down once I got into the story, as I needed to know just how things were going to end for Meg.

I loved this book, so much more than I thought possible.  And so, I will definitely be seeking out other offerings from this wonderful author.  Highly Recommended!