Dead Man’s Ransom



by Ellis Peters

Published 1984

In this installment of my beloved Cadfael mysteries, England’s civil war impacts Shrewsbury on a personal level when, in battle, the county’s sheriff is taken prisoner by the Empress’s men.  Luckily for Shropshire, the King’s forces have a prisoner to exchange.  But when the sheriff dies before the ransom is complete, suspicion falls on the young prisoner, leaving Cadfael to untangle the truth of it.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again–a huge part of the charm of these books is their brilliant historical context.  While Peters doesn’t prose on and on about the political situation, it is an ever-present and very real part of the lives of the characters in these books.  The ebb and flow of the fortunes of the various contenders for the throne shifts military might, battles, scavengers, highwaymen, and the common folk of England all over the war-torn countryside, in a time where the smallest decision of a king or empress could have an almost immediate impact on the daily lives of many innocents.

These are wonderful books.  This title, in particular–excellent mystery, believable characters, and a well-paced story make it great fun.  5/5.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years



by Livia Bitton-Jackson

Published 1999

In this autobiographical story, the author recounts her perspective of World War II as a Czechoslovakian Jewess.  She was 13 years old when the Germans invaded her country (in 1944).  Her story tells of the swift disintegration of her family’s quality of life, and the eventual separation as they were sent to concentration camps.  Through a series of events, Elli was able to stay with her mother throughout their terrible adventures.  The book covers a little over a year of time–they were liberated in 1945.

It is, obviously, a sad book.  And yet, like so many books about the Holocaust, it manages to offer hope, as well.  This story was very readable, with short chapters and a flowing narrative.

Perhaps the saddest part of the book, in a strange way, came after the liberation.  Returning home to find it not home-like at all.  Eventually, Elli and her (surviving) family immigrated to the United States.  This part of her life is recounted in a sequel to I Have Lived a Thousand Years, which I have checked out of the library to read soon, as well.