Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: Medieval Mysteries-Priscilla Royal

Now that I have had my fill of ancient Roman era mysteries for the time being, I have moved on to medieval era mysteries.

The Middle Ages were a particularly precarious time in history. From the black death, to the crusades, to civil wars and the internecine family feuds of a few powerful ruling families, this time in European history lends itself to many interesting scenarios. I have written before of the novels of Sharon Kay Penman and how she is able to bring to life this period of time. (Here, Here) Her in depth research transports a person back to the days of chivalry and damsels,. Her books teach us just how nasty real life happened to be back then. Penman provides us with insight into medieval times' movers and shakers.

My new find, the author Priscilla Royal, gives us another look into the world of the Middle Ages. The everyday world of the average person. She brings us into the world of those who dedicate their lives to God, nuns, priests, monks and friars. Royal explains in detail how those who took holy orders lived. She educates us as to what the townsfolk believed and how instrumental the church system was for the survival of the average person.

It is not by coincidence that the heroine of her stories is a Prioress. A nun who runs the local priory in the town of Tyndal. For many women this was their only way to lead any form of independent life (of course within the stricture of the Church). Societal rules were very dogmatic during this time and a woman did not own her person or her life for that matter. In all honesty the individual person, male or female, did not own their own life, the King did. For many who chose the Church it was the only way for them to be more than what society allowed women to be at that time.

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It is through her position as prioress that our heroine is able to solve murders and use her position of "power"in the town to ensure some form of justice no matter how small. In Royal's latest in this series of books, aptly named Medieval Mysteries, the prioress is confronted with a murder on Priory grounds. This is not only a horrendous crime because of the death, but the fact that it took place on concentrated ground is a sacrilege. This scenario plays into the theme of the book Sanctity of Hate because it also brings to the forefront Britain's history of antisemitism.

There is a discussion about how the Jewish people were treated and accepted by William the Conqueror and the subsequent rulers of the day. You hear the familiar names of Henry II, and Edward I. You are taken on a brief history tour of what it was like to be part of persecuted minority and how blood libels, which many still believe around the world today, actually began.

Into this morass steps the prioress to try to help sort out the reason for the murder and to find the real culprit. Meanwhile, she and the "sheriff" attempt to protect a vulnerable Jewish family from being lynched by the townspeople. Part of what is also discussed is how the Church forefathers truly viewed the Jewish people and how Jew-hatred was used by evil men for their own personal agenda. Much in the same way evil people continue to do today.

The prioress is a terrific heroine for a time in history filled with superstition and ignorance. She is the light that kept people together and the backbone of the little town of Tyndal. 


Qi en Pace,


Monday, January 14, 2013

My Choice for Best Dressed at The Golden Globes

That's right Tina Fey. The others stars are the same old same old.  Beauty queens are well supposed to be beautiful. Nothing to see there. But Tina cleans up really elegantly and can still write and produce some of the best entertainment on TV. (OK yes I am sure she had help, but so do all the rest on that red carpet.)

Loved Amy Poehler too.

Others I thought were really lovely....

Zoe Deschanel

Kerry Washington

Glenn Close

Jennifer Garner, loved that hubby Ben Afleck won for Argo after being dissed by the Oscars.

Julianna Margulies

Sofia Vergara (but of course)
Helen Mirren
Kaley Cuoco ...because we love The Big Bang Theory in this house.

ON another note:

Lucy Liu...big hullabaloo about her dress. Love the dress. Really am a fan of  Lucy's new show Elementary too. But the dress overwhelms her and would have looked better on someone taller.

Really bad dress of the evening even if it is Calvin Klein....

Jessica Chastain won best actress for Zero Dark Thirty. Very happy for her. But next time her stylist needs to find something that doesn't look like a gunny sack. The reverse of the dress by the way is awful. It makes her look like her tushie goes all the way up her back.

Now like these stars...into my sweats to get the day started.

Qi en pace,


Monday, January 7, 2013

More of Ancient Rome, Mysteries and History.....Books By Steven Saylor

I seem to be on an ancient Rome footing right now. Actually I have always enjoyed Ancient Roman history: the plots, the intrigues, the fact that people who lived over 2,000 years ago have so much sway in our present lives. The need to understand these people and how they functioned, what they thought and the choices they made is hard-wired into my need to understand my own world. So when I find some good historical novels that allows me into the ancient world while I am still being greatly entertained, it becomes a win-win.

The mystery books by Steve Saylor, Roma Sub Rosa series, is my newest craze. This is the story of a simple man with a Sherlock Holmes ability to figure out murders and mysteries. His name is Gordianus, the Finder. So nicknamed became he simply finds answers to questions. You follow Gordianus along his lifelong path that propels him into the worlds of the patrician elite, the political, the medical and the day-to-day life of the average Roman citizen, slave and barbarian.

Latest book in the Roma Sub Rosa series
You meet Sulla, Cicero, Crassus, Caesar, Pompey, Marc Antony and for certain, Cleopatra....and a cast of thousands who change Rome's course, and by extension, actual human history. Using highly researched information, Saylor, writes so that you feel that you are walking along the Tiber or part of the Forum, the Palatine Hills and the Roman Senate. You can see the homes of the extreme wealthy and the hovels of the poor. You understand their commerce, their military, their religion and their familial structures. You get to see inside ancient Romans.

As with any good historical novelist, they cannot know from beyond the letters, books or manuscripts left behind just what was said at any one given moment. Yet their talent lay in the fact that they can infer, reason and with a keen understanding of how society worked in the ancient world, produce possible scenarios that compel the reader to keep reading. Then add in a good murder or two or three, coupled with the actual political intrigue of the day and you have a rather good diverting yarn.

As with most books in a series, I recommend you start from the beginning rather than diving head first into the middle or the end. Not because one mystery leads into another, but because part of the charm of such a series is living the life of the protagonist and seeing how they grow, change and develop along with the society in which they live.

Now before the Roma Sub Rosa books, Saylor wrote two historical novels simply about ancient Rome: Roma and Empire. (No murder mysteries involved) If you enjoy muti-generational accounts of history through one or two prominent families these books are for you. From the mythical beginnings of Rome and how it probably happened, to what actually made Rome the center of the ancient world, these two books are very engrossing on their own.

As for me, I am at the beginning of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. They are still friends, or what passes for friendship among the politically ambitious, and tethered by their shared love of Caesar's late daughter Julia.  But not for long. Meanwhile Gordianus is out there waiting for a new assignment along with his sons and his entire household retinue.The modern world as we know it is about to begin.

For those that do not know the history of the phrase, "crossing the Rubicon" comes from this dramatic time between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar in contravention to laws set out by the Roman Senate, returned to Rome at the head of his army to challenge Pompey for control of the city and thus the Empire. When Caesar crossed over the Rubicon river, there was no turning back and the Roman civil war had begun.

Qi en Pace,


Friday, January 4, 2013

Britannia and Ancient Rome Collide..Mysteries by Ruth Downie

I happen to enjoy historical novels based on ancient history. I have always been fascinated by ancient societies and how they operated. Understanding the gifts that the ancients left us is a good way to better understand ourselves. Here we are not just understanding the beginnings of democracy and familial ties, but even the concept of military prowess and how the lessons of battle figure into our day to day world. The society in which we live was started by the ancients, and it is an interesting look back to see how many things have never changed.

Yes, I read straight forward history texts too, of course. Have  a library full as a matter of fact. But the historical novel, when done well, is so much more fun. My latest reading find is a murder mystery series set in ancient Britannia written by Ruth Downie.

Downie is a UK based author who explores the relationship between the ancient Roman occupiers of Britannia and the island's native inhabitants. We become privy to Roman attitudes and transgressions. The mindset of ancient Britains toward their occupying masters. We learn how the Romans ruled and how they used the native peoples to Rome's benefit. We also learn about the political machinations back in Rome proper and how it effected the outlying areas. We learn about Gaul (modern day France) and her tribes, their relationship to Britannia and Rome. We are educated into Roman medicine and the duty of a legionnaire. We hear scuttlebutt about a failed Jewish revolt and the slaughter of the inhabitants.  Downie hits every note and does it with interesting aplomb.

Meanwhile, as you are learning a bit of history along the way the main characters just happen to solve a number of murders. There are twists and turns which confound like any good mystery. There are good guys and bad and the ones you just can't figure out. There are the persons you feel sorry for and the ones you wish would get their just desserts yet never do.

You find yourself enthralled to the Medicus, the main character, with his failed marriage and family obligations. His slave/housekeeper Tilla, a native Britain with a very scared past. You meet the Medicus' friend another doctor, Valens, and the Roman legions they both care for. You meet Tilla's tribal family and learn about the infighting among the Britains themselves. You eventually even catch up with Boudica and the legacy of the Iceni.

As with all good historical novels these stories propel you back into ancient days and make you feel as if you are living at those times. You can identify with the wants and needs of the characters. You see in these protagonists so much of ourselves. The trick is not to just relay the facts as they were, but to make you understand the humanity of those that came before us and how we are truly not that much different in so many ways. This is the hallmark of a good historical writer and Downie does not disappoint.

While you can always jump into a series at any point (always the reader's choice), for these books I recommend you start from the beginning and move forward. Begin with Downie's first book in the series MedicusHere is her page at Amazon. Here is the list of her books from her webpage. Here is her page at goodreads.

All her books are available in eReader form too. I recevied my Kindle Paperwhite two weeks ago and have read three books so far. I love it. I highly recommend it.

Downie's next book in the series prints next Tuesday. Can't wait.

Qi en Pace,