HUSHABYE by Celina Grace

Hush    One of those nice semi-cozy mysteries featuring a young woman newly on the job as a homicide detective in the West Country of England, and her first case there  is a murder/kidnapping.

I found this somewhat of an odd story.  A new mom wakes up to find that her nanny is not there at her bedside with the baby for his morning bottle.  So she goes to look for the nanny in the baby’s room waaaaay down the hall of their very large house.  The door seems stuck, she pushes, and to her horror, finds the nanny dead on the floor blocking the door, and the baby gone.

Good beginning, but it gets strange from there on.  On the part of the police there is almost no emphasis on the murder, and seems to be no great panic and rush in finding the baby, for which there is no ransom note or phone call.

The people in the household, the young mother, the overly busy husband, the PA to the husband, seem unperturbed by the death of the young nanny IN THEIR HOME!!!, and only the mother seems frantic about the baby.  The husband goes on working (he is a property developer), instead of staying home biting his fingernails like one would expect a father in this situation to do.  Just a bit over the top.

The investigation turns into days, without anyone rushing about looking for the baby.  I found it rather disturbingly calm.  Maybe because in all the thousands of other police procedural murder mysteries I have read, the detectives seem to work round the clock trying to solve the case.

The protagonist has her own issues which keep interfering in her job performance, and frankly, I would have booted her to the curb and not permitted that to continue on.  She got preggers at 16, had the baby at age 17 (12 years ago), and gave him up for adoption.  She is still having psychological problems over all that these twelve years later which leaks from her personal life into her professional life.

Her partner is a gay guy with a home partner he doesn’t really want.  So there is lots of personal stuff in this mystery, not just the mystery plotline.

Final diagnosis?  Good mystery, overwrought heroine detective lady, strange delay in case solving.  Would I read more of this series when it comes out?  Sure.  Only took a couple of hours to crank through this one and it was pleasant enough.

 

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WOMEN IN THE PUBLIC LIFE IN LATE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND – Kaisa Pulliainen

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Margery Kempe, one of the era's few female writers.  She wrote what is thought to be the first autobiography in the English language.

Margery Kempe, one of the era’s few female writers. She wrote what is thought to be the first autobiography in the English language.

This work is not exactly a book, although it is book length.   It is a Master’s Thesis written by a student at the Finnish university of Jyvaskyla.

In it she (I think this person is a she – not many men specialize in Women’s Studies) examines English medieval life with an emphasis on the impact on women.

She covers the extent to which women in late medieval England were able to use power or authority (very little, and most of that behind the scenes), the attitudes of society towards women who were seen to be independent, or possessing some degree of power or authority.

She also looks at how visible women were in public life, their means of income, and the cultural set up which made them dependent on men.

She discusses in depth literacy in that time, which I found particularly intriguing.  It turns out that getting a clear view of the level of literacy was fairly difficult, because ‘literate’ in the primary source material could mean that the person could read only, or read AND write, or whether they were literate in Latin and/or the vernacular.  Sometimes it simply meant that the person can speak Latin.  Sometimes it meant a formal education.

The level of literacy varied a great deal, even within classes.  I was interested to learn that some of the most powerful men in England at the time were not able to read, while at the same time many of the lower classes were eager to acquire some level of literacy because of the career opportunities that would come with it.

Another interesting tidbit:  in the middle ages, composing a letter was an art, and followed certain formal conventions.  The actual writing of it was just a menial task, often done by scribes or another family member.  Thus, information available today from these historical epistles is usually not terribly private, because so many others had access to the letter.  Sometimes the recipient had to find someone to read it to them.

A different tidbit:  The most common profession for single women (yes, even more so than prostitution) was as a maid.  It was so common, in fact, that the word ‘maid’ became a synonym for an unmarried woman, a term still in use today for a single young woman.

Another interesting take away was that the medieval economy was a family-based home business, and that the wife was usually fully occupied in helping run it.  All women were expect to earn their keep somehow.  No such notion back then as a SAHM.

When we think of educated and publicly visible women, we think of convents, but in actuality, convents were not very common, and could not take on everyone who wanted to join.  And women were expected to bring a dowry with them when they became a bride of Christ,  so that eliminated that choice for a lot of poor women.  Few aristocratic women became nuns.

Margery Kempe, pictured above, is a very interesting woman who barely escaped being burned for heresy a couple of times.  She is discussed at length in this thesis, and I recommend you hitting Wiki for a nice concise review of her life and work.

All in all, I found this to be a wonderfully readable and informative piece.  It has the potential to be expanded, reworked a bit, and turned into a excellent secondary source book.

(A side note:  over the years I have come across and enjoyed a number of monographs and thesis on various topics.  You can use Google Scholar as well as other academic search engines to find something to your taste.)

 

 

WHITE IS FOR WITCHING by Helen Oyeyemi

witching   A strangely lovely book.  Or lovely strange book. Helen Oyeyemi writes in something of a lyrical way which keeps you struggling on.  Why struggling, you ask?

OK, let’s see. We got a girl with pica, a disorder that compels a person to prefer non-nutritive substances –  stuff that’s not food.   She eats chalk.  And plastic.  And little else, and is fading away to nothing.

We have her twin brother.  Seems normal enough.  We have their father, a widow and a chef trying to run a B&B in Dover, England,  with the help of only a housekeeper.

Oh, yes, and the housekeepers  – a strange, bizarre lot.  One of them sees people who aren’t actually there.  And converses with them. Oh, well.  The other also saw people who weren’t there.  That’s why she quit.  That and the problem with the house’s elevator.

We have a dead mother, a dead grandmother, and a dead great grandmother, who seem to have a rather forceful effect on our young lady, Miranda, especially for dead people.

And the house.  Creepy.  The house is one of the three narrators of the story.  I think it murdered one of the characters.  Maybe two.  I do believe houses have personalities, and this one is maybe not one you would warm up to.

But this is not really a paranormal story.  Or rather, the paranormal stuff is really secondary to the main story of Miri and her brother.   It is about twinness, and loyalty, and maybe even love, a little bit.

But there is that nagging issue of the house…..

 

 

 

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine  What a charming, elegant first novel by Mr. Riggs.  Created as a children’s story, it certainly held my adult interest and attention.  It is a fantasy/paranormal story, about a teenage boy who is told deliciously crazy stories by his grandfather about an orphans home on an island in Wales where he lived as a boy to escape the unpleasantness of his home country in Europe during World War II.

After a rather  horrifying scene where his senile grandfather dies in the swamp near his home, our young hero goes a little nutz, experiencing terrible nightmares.  He is sent to a therapist for treatment.  Eventually, he gets the idea he wants to go see that island and the house where his grandfather spent so much of his younger days.  Through a serious of manipulations, he gets the go ahead from the parents, and dad accompanies him to do some ornithological work on this isolated island.

Once there, our young man finally after great difficulty finds the remote house — but it is a ruin.  No one has lived there for probably  60 years.  His hopes of finding anyone who remembers his granddad are dashed.

But then he sees what appears to be a young girl, and he calls to her.  She begins to run away, and he chases her, calling out that he won’t hurt her.  He follows her through the bog to a cairn, and finds an entrance.  Then……

Pffft.  You think I am going to tell you the whole story and spoil the read for you?  Not a chance, bunky.

It looks like Tim Burton will be directing a movie version due out in 2015.  That should give you some kind of idea of what this book is about.

AND…. the second volume is due out January 14.  Hollow City.  Get your creep on and get in line for this.  ALSO …. the first volume now has a graphic novel version by Cassandra Jean.

Read this book.  Your Inner Child  Adult will thank you.

 

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY – P. D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley-1  I wanted to love this book.  After all, the early 1800s setting, a murder mystery, and, you know, P.D. James! would make it seem a ‘what’s not to like’ kind of book.  But alas, ’twas not to be.

I was astounded to see that my revered P.D. James, creator of the acclaimed Adam Dalgliesh mystery series, has in fact written a ….. gasp …… fan fiction book continuing  the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Fanfiction!  I was rather horrified.

Not that I don’t love Austen.  But the first  third of the book or more was devoted to setting up the characters and reminding us of their convoluted history started in Pride and Prejudice.  It lumbered on and on, tedious and overly formal in that Jane Austen style, and although I was grateful because, frankly, after you have read all of Austen’s work, and the years have passed, all those characters and manor houses, and estates and social relationships kind of merge into one big interrelated story, so I was glad to untwine some of the people from the other books because just this family was enough to deal with.

Then there was the murder itself, not very interesting, or even wildly mysterious.  What seemed to be more important were the manners and mores of the area and the society.

So if you love Austen and can’t get enough, read this to slake your Austen thirst.  If you love P. D. James, sorry, she’s not here.

Back to Dalgliesh, where a mystery’s a mystery, and nobody owns huge manor houses and estates.

EVENSONG by Krista Walsh

I received a free copy for review of this soon-to-be-released book.  It is fantasy, not a genre I usually read, although I have enjoyed a number of short stories in the genre over the last couple of years.

The basic plot is a young man, a successful author of a fantasy series set in a more-or-less medieval land, complete with castle, sorceress, fire breathing dragon, and all the inconveniences of the medieval life,   is mucking around with the fifth and final book in the series, having lost his mojo and ideas of where to take the story.   Then suddenly, BAM, he wakes up to find himself smack in the middle of his story.  Yep.  He is in Medieval Land.

He has been brought there by a spell because things are going so badly for the folks there.  A drought, that dragon I mentioned, people just disappearing without a trace, hunger because of the drought, and so forth and so on.  They want him to make things better.

(OK, this is why I don’t read fantasy. First of all, why are so many of them set in quasi-medieval settings?  Do cold and drafty castles, outdoor plumbing and having to walk everywhere seem so romantic?)

Well, no matter.  To continue:  if this is a story, how did these people get the idea there was an author, one who concocted their world and their lives?  This was never satisfactorily explained, rather glossed over, in fact.    Next, he agrees to improve things by going back and rewriting and changing his plot ideas.  Except now the nice lady sorceress cannot work out a spell to send him back.  But she has been working on sending back his toothbrush.  And calls it that.  How can she even know what a toothbrush is?  I don’t even remember how the toothbrush came to be with him.

So if we readers could be given some coherent explanation of how these storyland people  knew he existed and existed in another dimension or whatever,  it would make the whole plot line more interesting.   Because here’s where it does get interesting.  These people have a whole backstory, a history, that the author knows nothing about and didn’t create.  There are locations in the region he knows nothing about, and lots of other people that he didn’t write.  Some of his flatter characters are actually quite  intriguing when met in person.  But he never gave them those depths and personalities.  OK, so you can see how interesting this could be if handled right.

But here’s what happens.  As he is wandering around the castle trying to find his room,  he is vamped on by some oversexed sweetie.  There is almost a sex scene.  Sigh.  The requisite sex scene.  And totally unnecessary to move the story along because this woman never appears again.  Nor does any sex.  But it does create a scene where one of the main characters can burst into the room (without knocking, of course), to find them in a compromising situation.

Which brings me to my next cavil — people are always coming into rooms and overhearing something which they take wrong and makes things harder for the beleaguered author.  It happened four times when I stopped counting.  Once is a plot device, four times is just laziness and not knowing how to kick the action into the next scenario.

The voice of the writing tends to be upbeat and kicky. In fact, I originally thought it was a YA book … until the sex scene.  But the action becomes violent, bloody,  and gratuitous,  not in keeping at all with the writing style.  Rather disconcerting.

There is a villain, of course, who is really over-the-top evil, and who in fact somehow knows about the dimension in which the protagonist author lives, makes a spell which hauls a young woman from the author’s world to whom the author is attracted to, back into the story to be held as hostage.

Probably three quarters of the book consists of violence and bloody battle scenes.   I found it incomprehensible and tedious, the characters trite and rather stereotypical, and the protagonist author something of a dim bulb,  and not one which the reader can work up a lot of  enthusiasm for.

One thing that kept running through my mind as I read was if the author couldn’t get back to his world to do a rewrite, why didn’t he just do it there, with paper and quill?  Or at least try?  That was never addressed and to my mind a glaring hole in the plot.

The final thing as this book dragged on through battle after battle, was:  this is a story.  Even though they think they have a life and a backstory, they are fictitious characters.  They are not real.  Much as the protagonist author gets to thinking they are, they aren’t.  They are a story.

Final verdict:  Tedious story that starts out good, but devolves into a lot of negative crap.  Very interesting trope of an author getting transported into his own work, not new, but definitely something to work with, with the added conundrum of just what constitutes ‘real’, and the deeper question about  unreality actually having a future.   If a writer doesn’t write it, can it exist?

This is the first volume of a planned trilogy.

 

SOUTHEASTRN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES 500-1250 by Florin Curta

southeastern-europe-in-middle-ages-500-1250-florin-curta-paperback-cover-art  Southeastern Europe – that would be the region we know of as Bulgaria, the Balkin states, northern Greece, and parts of Romania, Dalmatia, Croatia, Serbia, you know, that region.

It is an academic study of the evolving civilization and society and religion of the area.  This region was at a crossroads of trade and crusading routes, within the sphere of influence of both the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Christendom.

The book discusses the rise of medieval states, the conversion to Christianity, the monastic movement inspired by developments in Western Europe and in Byzantium and the role of material culture in the representation of power.

What I learned was that there is still much archeological work to be done, especially in researching settlements, as most of the work was done with cemeteries.

The early history, in the ‘dark ages’, 500 AD to 800 AD, was one primarily of different groups invading from the area of the Northwestern Steppes, such as the  Avar and the Magyar.  It seems to be one long conflict and counter-conflict, making it difficult for larger settlements to take hold, especially because of the style of the time of relocating the conquered people to different regions.

It was in this time that Christianity was trying to get a stronger foothold  against the widespread pagan beliefs, and the two competing flavors,  the Byzantine Orthodox Church, and Roman Catholicism were at odds to be the authorities in this developing area.

The book itself is a scholarly study, and is part of the Cambridge Medieval Textbooks series.