A Morbid Taste for Bones

by Ellis Peters (pen name for Edith Pargeter)

Published 1977

Whoops, I apparently forgot to take a picture of this one!

It has been several years since I have read the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I am so excited about reading them again!  They are some of my favorite mysteries of all time, and if you have never read them, I can’t recommend them highly enough!

These mysteries are set in England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud in the early 1100’s, at a Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury, a town very close to the border with Wales.  Brother Cadfael is a monk in his late 50’s or early 60’s who came to the monastery later in life; his younger life was spent fighting in the Crusades and having adventures of all kinds.  But now he is well and comfortably settled into his quiet life, content with his vows and the rhythm of life within the monastery.  As he says, he is like a ship come to rest in a peaceful harbor, and glad to reach it.  His focus now is the herb gardens and the medicines and such that they produce.  As such, he is almost an apothecary,  helping to care for the minor illnesses and ailments of the residents within the monastery, and also within the town of Shrewsbury.    Cadfael is also Welsh by birth, and, living so close to the border, is often called upon as a translator.

It is in this role that he ends up traveling with a small deputation of brothers into Wales to retrieve the bones of a minor saint.  Prior Robert has been determined for some months to bring glory to their house by means of a saint’s remains, and he has found one at last.  However, not everyone in Gwytherin is willing to part with their beloved local saint.

I will not try to describe the plot here.  You simply should read this book.  And then I think that you will want to read the next nineteen books as well, because they are equally well-written and delightful.  They are good mysteries, yes, but they are also simply brilliant books.  Peters is known for her in-depth research and historical accuracy, but I more admire her for  her ability to so perfectly capture human nature.  We all have good and evil struggling within us, and she beautifully records that.  Brother Cadfael himself is delightfully human, but also delightfully wise and insightful; I love reading this book wherein the hero is a man well past his first youth, who replaces youthful zeal and enthusiasm with tempered wisdom and thoughtfulness.

Every single one of these books has the perfect ending.  I get to the end and heave a deep sigh of completely contentment, for all is as it should be.  The series itself progresses through time and reintroduces characters; these books really must be read in order.  Thankfully, Peters was able to complete the final book before her death in 1995 (Brother Cadfael’s Penance was published in 1994), and it, too, is perfect.

Betsy-Tacy

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by Maud Hart Lovelace

Published 1940

(this edition illustrated by Lois Lenski)

So the Betsy-Tacy books have been floating around my library my entire life.  I know that they were on Mom’s bookshelves growing up, but when I asked her the other day, she said that she had never read them; she just collected them at booksales thinking that they looked like nice books.  I had had much the same attitude, but finally decided to add them to the list of series to-be-read (for serious).  And I am so very, very glad that I did.  These books are delightful!

I am not even sure that I can describe them.  They are set at the turn of the century, and focus on the adventures of three little girls (this first book only involves Betsy and Tacy; Tib moves into the neighborhood in the next book).  These are the most stress-free books you could ever want to read.  I keep waiting for something bad to happen, and nothing ever does!  And yet they still manage to be quite readable, even without any kind of villain.

In this first book, Betsy lives with her parents and her older sister, Julia.  A new family moves in across the street, and they have lots of children, including a girl just Betsy’s age.  After a rocky start, the girls become firm friends.  Much of the book is not so much actual adventures as it is the stories that Betsy tells of their imaginary adventures, which are often quite imaginative indeed!

In Betsy-Tacy, the girls are quite little, but they grow throughout the series.  I have read the first three books now, but the series concludes with Betsy’s Wedding, so apparently they still have quite a lot of growing to do!

Lois Lenski’s illustrations are perfect as well.  I love her work.

I cannot express the true extent of just the innocence and joy in these  books.  They are precious and delightful and full of gentle lessons about love, friendship, and respect.  I am only sorry that I didn’t read them earlier.

5/5.

The Case of the Ticklish Tooth

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by Scott Corbett

Published 1971

In this third volume of the Inspector Tearle series, the Inspector begins the book with a cavity.  And, like so many of us, he is not terribly excited about visiting the dentist.

One of the things I especially loved about this book were the descriptions Corbett gives us of the dentist.  The other secondary characters are a lot of fun, too, but I get the feeling that the Inspector’s view on dentists closely reflect those of the writer (indeed, the book is dedicated to a dentist!).  “Old Sarge” also makes an appearance in this book, adding to the small-town flavor that  make these books so much fun.

Paul Frame, incidentally, illustrated these, and I love his line drawings so much.  He illustrated a lot of books in the 1960’s and 70’s; I frequently stumble across then (Trixie Belden and Katie John come to mind).

All in all, this was another fun read about small-town “crime,” enjoyable and lighthearted.  4/5.

Curtain

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by Agatha Christie

Published 1975

Although this book was not published until 1975, Christie had actually written it years earlier, in the early 1940’s.  And it is every bit as brilliant as the other novels she was writing at the time.

Curtain is the emphatic and definite end to the Poirot books, and it is possibly one of the best series-conclusion books that I have ever read.  It was eerie, disturbing, enthralling, and a perfect mystery.  It is tragic and sad, and not everyone may like Christie’s manner of concluding the long and full career of Hercule Poirot.

This book returns Poirot to the location of his first British mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Stylesand also returns to him his favorite and most faithful of companions, Captain Hastings.

I had never before read Curtain, but I definitely recommend it if you have read some of Poirot’s mysteries before.  It is a fitting climax to an excellent series.  5/5.

The Endless Steppe

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by Esther Hautzig

Published 1968

You should read this book.  Today, if possible.

This is the true story of a young Jewish-Polish girl whose family was swept away into Siberia during World War II.  And it is a beautiful tale of family and love and heartbreak and loss and the determination of humans to live and thrive no matter how desperate their circumstances.  In much the same way as To Kill a Mockingbirdthis tale of tragedy is somehow made less-so by being told from the perspective of the innocent.  I definitely recommend this read as a fascinating glimpse into a life so different from the one of ease that all of have in comparison.  5/5.

Maid Marian

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by Elsa Watson

Published 2004

I actually really enjoyed this book.  And I didn’t have very high expectations.  It seems as though most recently-published books that focus on a heroine instead of a hero, especially when the hero is well-known, become more of a treatise on the Independence of Women and the Stupidity of Man.  But Watson has written a book that delves much deeper than that, telling the story of a young woman who becomes determined to direct her own fate, and yet who manages to still love and respect the man whom she has chosen.

This is a story that unwinds better without too much foreknowledge, so simply go read it for yourself and enjoy.  While I prefer some more humor to leaven my fictional reading, this was still a well-crafted tale.  4/5.

The Case of the Fugitive Firebug

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by Scott Corbett

Published 1969

The Case of the Fugitive Firebug is actually the second book in a series, but I do not own the first, The Case of the Gone Goose, (and neither does the library).  Still, while there is some continuity between the books of this series, it is rather simple children’s fiction, a step up from Encyclopedia Brown, and it is not too difficult to pick up the story starting here, in the second volume.

Roger Tearle, more commonly known as The Inspector, is a 12-year-old detective, who, with the assistance of his twin sister, Shirley, and best friend, Thumbs, finds himself entangled with mysterious goings-on in the neighborhood.  In this book, Roger becomes the unwilling protector of an accused firebug.  The Inspector doesn’t even like Hazy Milford, but is still convinced of Hazy’s innocence, and determined to find the true culprit of the garage fire Hazy supposedly set.

While the story is not ridiculously dramatic, it is still well-told.  Roger, Shirley, and Thumbs are all fun (if not terribly in-depth) characters, and Roger’s exasperation with Hazy is well-written.  Roger manages to come off as intelligent but not a know-it-all (again, think Encyclopedia Brown).  I love the books from this era, because the children are just that–children–and treat their elders with respect, even when the elders are in the wrong.

Fun read.  4/5.

We Were There at Pearl Harbor

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by Felix Sutton; Historical Consultant–Vice Admiral Willard A. Kitts, 3rd USN (Retired)

1957

First off, SORRY that it has been so long since I have posted.  Life has been quite crazy.

Second apology…  there is probably going to be just a binge of books, because it’s a beautiful and quiet Sunday afternoon; my husband is gone; and I have no other pressing plans.  So.  If you read my posts on WordPress, you are probably going to get a brief deluge.  Tumblr readers at least get the posts on queue.  ;-)

Anyway.

Unless you were a home schooler, you are probably unfamiliar with the We Were There series.  Published in the 1950’s and 60’s, they are simple books written at around a 5th-grade reading level that place fictional children inside of a real historical event, thus giving the readers a character to whom they can relate.  While in some instances this works very well (events like traveling the Oregon Trail, for instance), in others it seems a bit of a stretch.  Pearl Harbor is an example of the latter.

December 7, 1941, is Mike Morrison’s 14th birthday.  His dad, a Naval Captain stationed at Pearl Harbor, gives him a small sailboat for his birthday.  Mike and his older brother Jeff, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, and the neighbor girl, Mary Jane Fisher (who is a year younger than Mike, and until this particular day, generally regarded a nuisance), all head out to take the new boat for a ride.

And so, they are actually out on the water when the Japanese attack, giving the readers a first-hand view of the event.  Mike, Jeff, and Mary Jane, use Mike’s boat to help rescue soldiers (or sailors I guess?  I’m not very good at military terms) from the water, somehow avoiding death at every turn.  Throughout the rest of the book, Jeff makes his way back to the airport to attempt to attack with one of the view undestroyed planes, while Mary Jane ends up helping the nurses at a makeshift field hospital.  The grandest adventure, however, is left to Mike, who sneaks aboard a rescue mission to help men who have been trapped in a capsized minecraft.  Mike ends up being the only one small enough to fit through the porthole with the diving gear, and so he is able to save the trapped men, leading them to safety.

The next day, Mike and Mary Jane go exploring and capture a Japanese soldier who has washed up on the beach (!!!).

Overall, while this is a fine book, it is definitely one of the more unbelievable additions to this series.  Also, when this book was published, anti-Japanese feelings were still quite strong, and this shows through, as well as the Americans-can-do-no-wrong attitude.  Still, a fun read, especially for younger readers who may relate to Mike and Mary Jane more closely.