As we move towards the end of June, the season of reading challenges approaches here at Sammi Loves Books. Yay!
July is Indie Only Month
August is Historical Fiction Month
Guenevere: The Queen of the Summer Country is the first novel in the Guenevere series by Rosalind Miles.
Guenevere is the last of the queens of the Summer Country, a pagan kingdom of ancient Britain, where the Great Goddess is venerated above all. But times are changing. Under the guidance of Merlin, Arthur, the secret son of the last High King of Britain, is on a quest to reclaim what is his by rights. At the same time, a new religion is sweeping across the land.
The future seems uncertain. When it is time for Guenevere to choose a husband and king to rule beside her, she must pick carefully. The wrong choice could have disastrous consequences for the Summer Country. So, in her hour of need, she summons to her the one man who can help her…Arthur.
Favourite Quote (or rather, 3 Favourite Quotes)
As Guenevere watched and listened, the power of the ritual stole over her, and her dread began to fade. Lulled by the chanting, cocooned by the warm air, she fell into a trance. Now she could hear the secret music at the heart of things, and feel the breath of the mystery brushing against her cheek. Her senses swam in a pearly light like Avalon, and a great sweetness filled the air.
He came in a silver sunset at the end of a sweet spring day. The evening star was shining in a pearl-grey sky when the message was brought in.
On the far horizon, a white moon sailed up into the sky, bathing the earth with light. She could hear an owl calling from the nearby wood, and the soft cooing as the doves nestled down for the night.
I thought I would really enjoy this book, and although there were parts of it that I did really like (such as the pagan descriptions of the Britain during the Dark Ages), the problem was, I didn’t really connect to the main characters.
When I first saw the title of the book, I thought that it was definitely a book for me. Then I saw the cover and I was smitten. Arthurian myths and legends are my thing; I’ve been reading about the subject since I was a child, both fictional stories (fantasy, historical, re-imaginings) and the history (or lack there of) behind them. So when I came across this, a story being told from Guenevere’s point of view as a strong queen in her own right, I was quite excited.
However, I think the book tries to do too much. Arthurian myth spans centuries, but this book attempts to weave a story from the pagan past, the spread of Christianity and the conflict between paganism and monotheism, as well as the early medieval obsession towards chivalry and courtly love. And in the midst of all this, I think something gets lost.
On the upside, the tale is full of beautiful passages of evocative descriptions, and it is this, above all else, that I will remember from this book. I have included three quotes from Guenevere instead of the usual one to illustrate this and also in the hope that this review doesn’t come across as too negative, which isn’t my intention. After all, I did read the book from cover to cover, and found the story itself to be well written, not to mention I adored a number of the locations found within the story, especially Avalon.
The question is, am I going to read the second novel in the series, The Knight of the Sacred Lake? At the moment, I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that I will at some point in the future.
The Shrine is the short story prequel to Eagles at War, the first book in the Eagles of Rome trilogy by Ben Kane.
The story is set in Mogontiacum, Gallia Belgica in 6BC, and Lucius Cominius Tullus, a Roman soldier, has just accepted a promotion. The new post involves a transfer, moving from the Twenty-First legion to become a centurion in the Eighteenth, stationed in Vetera. En route, he pauses on the way, to watch the famous footrace in Mogontiacum after which he decides to visit the local shrine. The shrine in question is the temple to Magna Mater (the Great Mother) and Isis.
But his stay there is not to be a quiet one. Neither will it be easy to forget…
“Piss off,” hissed Tullus. He had no woman. The army was work enough.
I really enjoyed this short story. It served as a great introduction to the character of Tullus and to the location: the German frontier. This period in Roman’s history fascinates me, and so I found the not-too-heavy, yet still rich detail of the setting a rewarding read. One of my interests is in ancient religion so the part of the story set in the temple held me captivated.
I especially enjoyed reading the “note from the author” at the end of the story, as it explained how and why the story came about.
I’ve already gone out and bought a copy of Eagles at War, and am looking forward to begin reading it. Tullus sounds like an interesting character and I want to see how his story unfolds, as I am aware of the events that happen round this time in this part of the empire.
If you’ve yet to read any of Ben Kane’s books, why not pop over to Wattpad and give this short story a read for free? (Here’s the link if you’re interested.)
Requiem for a Mezzo is the third book in the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn.
When Daisy’s next door neighbour gives her tickets to the opera at the Albert Hall, she has her fingers crossed for a quiet evening out with the dashing Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard. Things are going swimmingly until after the interval when one of the soloists drops dead on the stage. And it quickly transpires that the victim, Bettina Westlea, made many enemies in the musical circle she moved in, the majority of which were with her on stage at the time of her death…
(2 favourites this time as I couldn’t choose between them!)
Tall and sleek, she wouldn’t have been caught dead in last year’s calf length hems, though her budget was as limited as Daisy’s; she made her own clothes and spent on materials and trimmings the equivalent of what Daisy put into books and gramophone records.
‘Daisy! Don’t tell me you’ve fallen over another dead body?’
I am a big fan of Daisy Dalrymple. I like the way perfect strangers just walk over to her and unburden themselves of all they know about whatever crime the Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher is working on, much her to bemusement and his annoyance. How can he keep her safe if she finds herself right in the middle of everything? It’s also nice to see how much Alec recognises and respects Daisy’s intelligence and independence.
There is such an interesting list of characters in this instalment, hailing from all corners of Europe. This adds flavour and colour to the story, and as the majority of the cast are all singers, they have entertaining artistic temperaments too.
Light and easy to read, these books are full of the charm of the era in which they are set, though you will find mention of some of the main events that had a tremendous effect on people at the time: the First World War, the influenza epidemic and the Russian Revolution.
If you like cosy mysteries set in 1920s England, I think you will enjoy these books, as you will if you enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Phryne Fisher stories or pretty much anything written by Agatha Christie.
Bologna, 1311. Mondino de Liuzzi, a well-known physician is staying late at the university where he teaches. This is nothing unusual for he often stays late in order to secretly study corpses in an effort to understand as much as he can about the human body. When a surprise knock on the door disturbs him, he answers it to find one of his students holding the body of a murdered friend.
The victim: a Templar knight. But what is striking is that there is something very unnatural about the dead body: his heart has been turned to iron.
Mondino’s curiosity is piqued. How could a human heart be transformed into a solid block of iron? Is it alchemy? In order to find out, he is going to have to help a wanted man catch the murderer and in so doing, go up against a dangerous and ambitious Inquisitor…
It was clear to his scientific mind that the transformation of Angelo da Piczano’s heart was not the result of the shadowy spell of a witch, but the much more concrete art of alchemy.
A few times I’ve had trouble reading books that have been translated into English; they can lack fluidity, creating jarring sentences that inhibit the pace of the story. Inquisition was translated by Sophie Henderson, and in my opinion, she has done a fantastic job. It was so well translated that, if it hadn’t been for the brief mention of it at the start of the book, I would never have guessed.
Fourteenth century Italy was vividly brought to life as I worked my way through the story. Mondino de Liuzzi is an engaging character; he has an interesting job as a physician teaching at a university at a time when science and religion are at loggerheads. He is a complex character that finds himself in a very difficult, and very dangerous, position. And as he tries to unravel the mystery of the iron heart, he has much more to contend with. The rest of the cast are just as well thought out and believable as Mondino, and like the scientist, have their own secrets and agendas, making this a fast-paced, gripping read.
Filled with action and drama, secrets and revenge, Inquisition is a suspenseful read which held my attention from the very first page. A number of times I wondered how the characters were going to get out of the situations they found themselves in, and there were more than a handful of twists and turns to keep me guessing. I also thought the ending was clever.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it to those interested in any of the following: the history of fourteenth century Europe, the early days of modern science, the Knights Templar and the Inquisition.
Angelology is the first book in the Angelology series by Danielle Trussoni.
Evangeline has spent the majority of her life behind the walls of a convent, living a life of contemplation and prayer. Her mother died in Paris when she was small, and only a few years later, she was given into the care of the sisters at St Rose Convent in New York by her father. When she is old enough, she decides to become a nun at the same convent. But, a chance meeting with a visiting historian has lasting consequences and turns her life completely upside down.
Secrets abound, and Evangeline and her family are caught up in them. And as the truth unravels, Evangeline finally uncovers who her parents were and what they did…
It’s funny how the past is so often judged sacred while the modern world is held in suspicion.
So, this is going to be a mixed review. Let’s look at what I didn’t like to begin with.
First off, I feel like I should have liked this book more than I did. I love paranormal fiction especially if it is blended with a nice dose of mystery and history too. However, I think I’ve realised that I do not like my paranormal fiction to have a literary bend; to me, it makes the story too…heavy. And I’m guessing it is that which is responsible for my feelings towards this book. It was a heavy read, and that made it a slow read.
The other big problem I had with this story was the ending. So, I had made it through the heavy, slow-paced 640+ pages, the driving force behind which was to finish the book and reach a satisfactory conclusion, only to be given the foundation of the next book in the series instead. I had no idea this book was part of a series, so you can imagine that this was a major stumbling block to my enjoyment of it (which I freely recognise is more my own fault than that of the author’s).
And so to the good points of the book. The characters. They were great. It was easy to like the good characters (Evangeline and Verlaine) and dislike the bad ones (Percival Grigori). Also, if you like rich, fluid detail in your prose, you will love this book. It is packed full of vivid descriptions, of settings, of people, of their thoughts and feelings. The story was fresh and on the whole, engaging, which kept me reading until the end. The mythology and lore that is wrapped up in the narrative is interesting and helped to create a fascinating premise, I only wished I enjoyed reading it more.
The next book in the series is Angelopolis.
Toronto, July 1895. When a midwife and abortionist is murdered, Detective William Murdoch investigates. Although the dead woman, Dolly Merishaw, seems to have kept quiet about the clients that had used her services, it transpires that she kept a record book as protection, should she need it, or, for a spot of blackmail. Fallen on hard times, it seemed that she tried to get some money out of one of these old clients. But which one? And did they resort to murder?
Dolly wasn’t very much liked and there are no shortage of suspects. But when one of the young boys in Dolly’s care turns up dead on the kitchen floor, Murdoch must work quickly to uncover the murderer, before any other children are hurt.
“…The wicked shall get their due.”
That didn’t sound quite right to Murdoch but maybe it was a Methodist saying.
As I mentioned when I reviewed the first book in The Murdoch Mysteries series, Except the Dying, I am a big fan of the television series. The first book was brilliant, and the second didn’t disappoint either. I like the fact that the books and the TV series are so different, and I love them both. The books are far more grittier than the cosy mystery series we see on the TV, and there is a place for each.
The author easily captures the time period and brings it to life with ease. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a grittiness to the story, but then life was gritty, hard and dark for most people at the end of the nineteenth century, and that clearly comes through.
The pace is good and there were enough twists and turns in the story to keep me guessing. Murdoch is a fabulous main character and is very likeable and realistic. I was pleased to see Dr Julia Ogden make a small appearance in this instalment, and I’m hoping that there will be more later in the series.
I can’t recommend this book and series highly enough, and am looking forward to reading the third Murdoch Mystery, Poor Tom is Cold, soon.