Friday, September 23, 2016

The Fifth Column

Another day, another air raid. For Detective Inspector John Jago,  there's nothing unusual when two men report a body at one of the air raid sites.  However, the initial investigation reveals that the body wasn't at the site the previous night, and no bombs had fallen in the area since. Could it be foul play? Supplies have gone missing from the classified office where the young woman worked; her sister seems indifferent, and not all stories match up.  As Jago investigates the case, it seems everyone has something to hide....

The Fifth Column by Mike Hollow is the first novel in a new series, The Blitz Detective. As the title suggests, the novel focuses on a British detective during WWII.  The historical setting provides both atmosphere and motivation for several plot elements without becoming too dense for causal reading.

Mysteries aren't my usual reading fare, but I'm familiar with the basic genre conventions.  Two writing elements stood out for me in this book. First, the number of characters and perspectives. I'm not sure how common this  tactic is in mysteries (historical or otherwise), but there were at least half a dozen characters/perspectives in the book. While they did overlap to a certain extent, it made it tricky to judge which information would be relevant to the murder. It's not the same as red herrings or false leads, but I'm not quite used to it.

The second aspect I noticed (related if one likes to try solving mysteries ahead of the book) is that some of the motivations would have been inexplicable if they had not been spelled out by characters. For example, 1940s methods of dying hair have a certain relevance, but I didn't even think about it until one of the female characters brings it up to Jago.  It's not the sort of thing a single man would know, but it still seemed ....lecturish?

I would probably still recommend this book, but I doubt I'll reread it,

I was given a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Beautiful Thread

The Beautiful Thread by Penelope Wilcok, picks up where the previous novel, The Breath of Peace, left off. William de Bulmer has returned to St. Alcuins as a layman to help the cellarer manage a big wedding. But in addition to practical concerns and personal issues, the wedding coincides with the regular Bishop's Visitation. Both sets of visitors place additional pressures on Abbot John, and his choice to invite Brother Conradus's mother to help with food brings its own set of problems. However, the biggest problem is that the bishop has heard rumors that Prior William attempted suicide and left the order--both of which are crimes under the law.

While this book can be read on its own, it really makes the most sense with the context of the previous novels, particularly starting with number four in the Hawk and Dove series. The bishop's accusations are correct, but they  are taken out of context--and he shows no interest in learning the situations which led to either choice.

I was given a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series when it comes out.

The Breath of Peace

Reading The Breath of Peace by Penelope Wilcock, the seventh novel in The Hawk and the Dove series, was like receiving a long letter from old friends who you haven't seen in a while. The plot is understandable for new readers, but the characters and plot development mean so much more if the reader knows their history.
(Spoilers for previous books): After a year of marriage, William de Bulmer is still struggling to master common household tasks, such as shutting in the chickens or having a conversation with his wife. Meanwhile, Abbot John is faced with finding a new cellarar and replacing his prior, with no obvious candidates in mind. William was a perfect candidate for the former position, but his broken vows led to a painful departure.  Can John still call on his old friend for help?
One of the things that makes these books so good is the author's willingness to let the characters grow and change over time. William is adamant that he made the right choice to leave the abbey, but that doesn't make his history go away or make married life any easy. A lot of authors would be tempted to have William 'get over' his problems right away, instead of showing how those patterns continue to affect his life.
I was given a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Saints and Sailors

Saints and Sailors by Pam Rhodes is the fourth book in the Dunbridge Chronicle, telling the story of a vicar and his congregation--including an unhappily married couple, a WWII vet and his son and grandson, the choir leader, a senior citizen with dementia, and others-- when they set off for a cruise around the British Isles. Tempers sometimes flair and some people get on each other's nerves, but everyone might just make some new discoveries on the trip.
I have not yet read the other three books in this series, so it was difficult to keep track of the cast of characters. The book includes a cast of characters at the beginning, but I dislike having to flip back and forth to check who I'm reading about, so I mostly ignored it.
I don't read much Christian or contemporary fiction, but I have enjoyed some similar books before, especially the Sisterchicks series. However, I found this novel rather slow and full of too many characters. Regardless of the genre I'm reading, I like stories with plot and character development; this story had too many characters to develop any of them in detail. While there were some points where readers could get an insight into characters, these moments were haphazard, leaving me with only vague memories of each character and his or her relationships.
I'd give it 2/5 stars personally, but maybe a 3/5 for other readers

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes by Mel Star is the eighth novel in the chronicles of medieval surgeon Hugh de Singlton, bailiff to Lord Gilbert.  (The author has helpfully included a glossary of common medieval jobs and other terms in the beginning of the book, but I would recommend just diving in. Looking back and forth at definitions is too distracting.)
When human bones are discovered in the ashes of the local Midsummer Ever fire, Hugh is called on in his capacity as a bailiff to determine whether the death was accidental or a murder.  At first, it seems a simple enough task--an elderly man whose description seems to fit has been missing from his home. His widow confirms the man's identity and they hold a Christian burial; but the man's drowned corpse is discovered later that day. Who did they bury, then?
I've read the previous book in this series and quite enjoyed it. The author does a good job of keeping a historically accurate mindset and methodology.
I received this book for free from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review .
Four stars

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Abbess of Whitby

The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dallady is an intriguing look into the history of Britain in the 7th century, as Christianity spread among numerous small kingdom. This historical fiction novel sheds light on a period that’s rarely discussed, especially in America, but remains fascinating for not only historians, but readers in general.  Hild is known to history from the monk Bede’s History of the English Church and People, but is not a household name.

For people who are not familiar with the period, a family tree and listing of names are available at the beginning of the book, but another possible hurdle might be the time span—the book covers over thirty years of Hild’s life, with the rise and fall of many kings in the background. However, readers accustomed to wide-ranging novels will enjoy the rich historical detail. I’d recommend this book for teen and older readers just because of the unfamiliar setting and many characters.


I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.  They have also published other books set in 7th-century Britain, including Edwin: High King of Britain, which are worth checking into if this book has caught your interest.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Hardest Thing to Do

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock, the fourth book in The Hawk and the Dove opens after the death of Father Peregrine, just as the new abbot returns to take command. But the peace of Lent is disturbed by news of a fire at a nearby community of Dominicans, led by Prior William, known for harsh rules.
The previous books have shown what love looks like in a community, how growth can come from loss, but this is so much harder. This is an enemy, this is a man that we desire to see brought low, but at the same time his world has been so utterly destroyed.
This book can be read without any knowledge of the previous installments in the series, but I would recommend reading at least the chapter of The Wounds of God  featuring Prior Williams.  Even if someone doesn't normally like historical or Christian fiction, these books are a raw, honest look at people, at the body of Christ, and how he works through people. I've really enjoyed the previous books and am looking forward to reading the next installments.
I received a free copy of this book from  Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. Five stars