Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sunday Salon and Moon Called and Mistress of the Art of Death

The Sunday

A family of 5 + 1 working computer = little computer time for Susan. Add in:
a new leather sofa with a chaise = one woman, asleep on the chaise every night by 10, and you will understand why I haven't been able to post this week!!

The good news is, we are buying yet another computer for all the kids, it should be in by next week. So I will be able to be posting more often again.....if I don't make the mistake of sitting on my new chaise instead! The good thing is, we bought it so I would have a comfortable place to read, and it is lovely. So far in this past week I've read Moon Called by Patricia Briggs and I finished Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin today. I just get on my chaise, open my book, and read until I fall asleep. Literally. The sofa has a recliner at the other end, and that's where my husband relaxes into slumber. Every night. It's fabulous. So now the chair by the computer doesn't look quite so inviting as the chaise does........good for reading, bad for posting!

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs: Book One in the Mercy Thompson series.
This was a fantastic read. Several bloggers have recommended this book, and I had had it for over a year to read. So I finally pulled it down, wondering why I was avoiding it. The cover. I realized I didn't like the girl on the cover. Not that she is sexy, but that she doesn't look friendly. Kind of scary, actually. I'm happy to report that she is the opposite in the book. Well, frightening to others, but not us us, her confidantes in the story she is telling.

I really enjoyed this book on several fronts: Mercy is not part of the werewolf world, she is an observer of it, for though she understands all the rules having grown up in it, she can't be accepted because she's not one of them. She's a coyote, but not a skin-changer, she's a walker, which means she is able to change and remain conscious of who she is, whereas the werewolves become either wolf or man, but are not both at the same time. Coyote walker involves a magic found only on North America, and is not bound by the rules of faerie. How Mercy finds this out, and what she learns about herself, is one of the most interesting parts of the story. I also enjoyed very much the werewolves. They feel real. The changes at the full moon, the society they live under, the rules of co-existing with other fae and the human world, are all well-thought out and realistic. I also thought Samuel, the white werewolf who Mercy loved in her youth, very intriguing, even as a werewolf.

There is a mystery, about how werewolves are made which ends up to be more about Mercy's adopted werewolf clan and their plans to come out to the humans, but I preferred the romance angle - Adam the werewolf next door, Samuel the werewolf who first chose her to mate, and the possibility of a vampire 'friend.' Yes, there are vampires, trolls, gremlins, in this story too. I love how Mercy moves among them, learning more about them as she does, and about how they try to remain hidden among humans, right among us. It's very well-done.

Most of all, Mercy lives up to her name, but she's not a softie. There is killing in this book, some of it handed out by her, but it is life-or-death, and it's pure animal on one level. It is gripping reading, and I read it in a few days. I couldn't wait to get back to it! In fact, I am rushing out to order the next book at my local bookstore!

It doesn't have the depth Lonely Werewolf Girl had, for me, but then not many fantasy books do. Moon Called is an excellent first book in an urban fantasy world that I would dearly like to live in - though I would need a special skill of my own to survive! - and Mercy feels like a really good friend I'd like to have on my side. Highly recommended.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin is book one of the now called 'Mistress of the Art of Death' series. When it was published two years ago, I began hearing people talk about it almost at once. Last year by friend who is a bookseller recommended it. I gave it to my mother, who read it before I had a chance to, and she also raved about it. So when I picked it up 2 days ago, I was hoping I'd enjoy it. Well, not only did I read it in 2 days, but I stayed up until 2:30 and 3:00 am each of the last two nights to read as much as I could. Seeing as I'd fallen asleep so early in the week on my chaise, this was a miracle, but that's the weekend for me!! I know I can sleep in a little bit!

Where to start? This is the second book I've read lately that's set in medieval England, though this one is set in 1171 England, and Doomsday Book is set in 1348. It is as detailed and realistic as Doomsday Book, which was the first book I'd read so many years ago that really recreated medieval life for me. Mistress of the Art of Death stars Adelia Aguilar as a doctor of the art of death from Salerno, Italy. She is called to England by Henry the 2, who invites through a letter to ask the the King of Sicily to send Simon of Naples, a renowned investigator and also king's spy, who is the one to request a doctor of death to accompany him to England, to investigate the mysterious deaths of three children in the city of Cambridge. "Doctor of the art of death" really means a forensic investigator, a coroner, a medical examiner - these terms don't exist in 1171! - she examines the dead, and they talk to her.

Because this is 1171 england where women were at most midwives or herbalists, and they are not allowed to be doctors, she has to go as the associate of a manservant Mansur who is a Moor and can barely speak English who pretends he is the doctor, accompanied by the real investigator, Simon. It really is rather hilarious, these three in the beginning, because quite clearly Adelia is the doctor, and she is unable to hide that she cares for people. She is a doctor in Italy, has trained at the best school for physicians, so she has a valuable set of skills that allows her freedom to go through all levels of society no matter where she goes. Together these three try to find out in the medieval town of Cambridge what happened to the three children, which quickly becomes 4 victims after the story opens. This is a remarkable mystery because it does cover so much of medieval life and politics, all viewed from a foreigner's eyes, which of course we are also, removed as we are 900 years from that time. Franklin manages to work in the Jews and how they were treated at the time, the people of the Fens around Cambridge, as well as the two priories, the bailiff, the tax collector, and most of all, the people. None of it is boring, either. This is such an intriguing mystery.

The heart of the story is Adelia as she uncovers the truth about the murders, which are the most heinous and terrifying that I have encountered in a mystery series in a while. She also discovers things about herself and the people around her. She learns about love, even as she seeks justice for the dead by discovering what happened to them. The early autopsy scene is gripping:
When Sir Rowley didn't move, she turned and saw his look. Wearily, she said, almost to herself, "Why do they always want to shoot the messenger?"
He stared back at her. Was that what his anger was?
She came outside, brushing away flies. "This child is telling me what happened to her. With luck, she may even tell me where. From that, with even more luck, we may be able to deduce who. If you do not wish to learn these things, then get to hell. But first, fetch me someone who does."

She cannot perform an autopsy by cutting open the bodies, so she can only examine the exterior. The clues are there, and from beginning to end, this is a most satisfying mystery.

This is also satisfying in terms of characters, because by the end of the novel, I cared about all of them, from Adelia herself, to Simon her friend, Ulf the boy and his grandmother Gyltha, to Sir Rowley, and even the King of England plays a mesmerizing crucial part at the end of the book. This is well-written, a gripping, enthralling, mystery of darkness and light. Very highly recommended. Just make sure you have a few free evenings ahead of you or don't mind staying up late into the night to read it!.....

If you have read this book and reviewed it, let me know and I will add a link to your review here.


zetor said...

I read 'Mistress of the Art of Death' a little while ago and loved it!

Lezlie said...

Adelia is my hero! I can't wait for the third book! I think it comes out in March.


Kailana said...

I have read both of these books and am big fans of the series! Actually, I just read the fourth book in the Mercy Thompson series and the third book in the Ariana Franklin one. :)

I have Lonely Werewolf Girl started, but for some reason had to put it aside. I keep looking at it and thinking I need to pick it up again!

Ana S. said...

Susan! I was wondering where you'd run off too. It's great to see you posting again. I have a package ready with your name on it (literally :P), btw.

I haven't read either book (yet, yet!), but they both sound fantastic.

Eva said...

Very jealous of your chaise! That's a piece of furniture I'll definitely own when I have my own house. :)

Jeane said...

Moon Called sounds very intriguing. I haven't read any werewolf books yet, but I want to and I'm putting this one on the list! Nice review.

Lisa said...

I LOVE Patricia Briggs right now. I can't wait to jump into Bone Crossed.

Susan said...

zetor: I'll come see if I can find the link to your post. thank you! Isn't it a really good mystery?

Lezlie: I know, now that my mother says the 2nd one is as good, I have to get it!!! and I've seen the third one on Amazon - the cover at least....Adelia is my hero, too. I'm so glad you like it, have you reviewed it on your blog?

Kailana: I tried finding your Mercy Thompson review, but i could only find the third book. When I have time (ie the second computer is finally bought) I'll come looking. I love your reviews, and you got me to read this because you and Rhianna raved about them!! and I hope you like LWG better this time around. Though I have seen a review or two where they did prefer Mercy Thompson books instead.

Nymeth: *waves hello* I just needed some sleep!

you haven't read either? I'm not the only one then! And they are really very good. I can't get either character out of my head even though i'm reading three other books now. I can hardly wait for the next visit to the bookstore :-D

oooh, a package for me! :-D thank you! I can hardly wait now! Of course, now that I'm looking for something for you, do you think I can find one? of course not!!

Eva: we all love the chaise! It's the greatest buy! I do feel spoiled, though :-D

Jeane: oh good, I hope you get it soon. I was really delighted with how good it is.

Lisa: I know, I'm looking for the second one right now!

Lezlie said...

Susan ~ I reviewed the second one on there. I read the first long before I started my blog.


Cath said...

Mistress of the Art of Death was one of my favourite reads of 2007. Ariana Franklin's real name is Diana Norman - she's the wife of a well known film critic in the UK. Her book (written as Diana Norman) The Vizard Mask is one of my favourite ever historical books. Not that easy to find, but well worth the search.

Susan said...

Lezlie: ok, that's what I saw then, but it sure impressed me!

Cath: I know the name Diana Norman, does she write romances/historicals (as well as the one you mention)? And just because it's you, I know I will enjoy the Vizard Mask, so on my to get list it goes! You'll get another point very shortly!! :-P thanks!

Cath said...

Yes, Susan, Diana Norman does write other historicals, there is some romance in them but no way would I call them 'historical romances' as they're too realistic for that. There's a trilogy: Catch of Consequence, Taking Liberties and The Sparks Fly Upwards. They're centred on Makepeace Hedley, a woman who lives in New England in the mid-1700s. The first book is set there, the second moves to Devon in England (that's the only one I've read and it's excellent) and involves smuggling and prisoners of war. I'm not sure about the third. A good trilogy though.

I also discovered, while I was on Amazon looking her up, that there are two more Adelia books, The Serpent's Tale and Grave Goods, and a fourth to be published this year. I was shocked as I has no idea. Two good lists for her are here:

and here:

And if you say 'Barry Norman' to your husband, he'll probably know who you mean.

Susan said...

Cath: did you know that I plan on writing a book set in Yorkshire during the 1700s and the smuggling there? So when I read what you told me about Diana's second book in the trilogy, well, it gave me a start and now I have to find this book!! I don't know any of the titles, so now I have some fun research to do :-D thank you! and I just bought the second book in Ariana Franklin's series, yesterday. I couldn't wait any longer, I saw a copy and grabbed it! Then I can ask for the third one from my mother for my birthday :-) The first one is so good, it keeps lingering in the back of my mind.

My husband is snoring on the infamous recliner, so I'll ask him about Barry Norman tomorrow.... :-D

Cath said...

My pleasure, Susan, I hope you're able to find the book without too much trouble. No, I no idea you were thinking of writing a book about smuggling, set in Yorkshire. I tend to think of the smuggling trade as being a Devon/Cornwall, south coast of England thing, but of course it went on *everywhere*. I'm thinking there must be other books that could help you with that but other than 'Jamaica Inn' I can't think of any.

Anonymous said...

I love the Mercy books and am looking forward to reading the fourth very soon. You should check out her Alpha and Omega series which starts in the anthology On the Prowl and continues in book one Cry Wolf. I haven't heard of 'Mistress of the Art of Death' but it definitely sounds interesting.