Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Suspicion drapes itself round him like cobwebs on the autumn bush.”

Another excellent excursion into medieval England. Ellis’ world building is worthy the best of fantasy—simultaneously delivering verisimilitude and a sense of other.

“Cadfael … had considerable sympathy with the ardent young, who overdo everything, and take wing at a line of verse of a snatch of music.”

This chronicle explores the matter of love. Not just romantic, but familial and patriotic. What might a man or woman do for someone (or some cause) they truly love. Die for it? Kill for it? Take the blame for another?

“I never knew a postulant to pursue his novitiate with so much passion, and so little joy.”

Moderns, of course, cannot imagine a young person willing exiting Continue reading


Book Review: The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Sanctuary Sparrow (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #7) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Fear for yourself crushes and compresses you from without, but fear for another is a monster, a ravenous rat gnawing within, eating out your heart.”

Who belongs, and how do they belong? Or not? Among Peters’ better Cadfael tales. Medieval enough to be other; modern enough to be understandable. Lots of misdirection, even Cadfael is befuddled occasionally.

“Young things are easily moved to generous indignation and sympathy. The old have no such grace.”

As in modern mysteries—and maybe real life—officialdom tends to follow the obvious and easy clues. The mob even more so.

“I would have taken her barefoot in her shift!”

Peters has a penchant for star-crossed lovers. Occasionally even … oops, that would be telling.

“And now, I suppose, you will tell me roundly that God’s reach is longer than man’s.” “It had better be, otherwise we are all lost.”


Book Review: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters. (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Virgin in the Ice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #6) by Ellis Peters.

(Four Stars)

“Never go looking for disaster. Expect the best, and walk so discreetly as to invite it, and then leave all to God.”

Among the most popular of the Cadfael chronicles, this tale heralds the first appearance of Oliver de Bretagne. (Read the book to discover his significance.)

“In a land at war with itself, you may take it as certain that order breaks down and savagery breaks out.”

By this sixth volume, Peters has reached her stride. Firmly set in the history and geography of twelfth-century England, these tales dig into the always-current dirt of humanity and find both gold and dross. Often it’s our favorite monk doing Continue reading

Book Review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

(Five Stars)

“Such as he live with a humility that transcends all possibility of humiliation.”

One of the best of the twenty-volume corpus. Ellis Peters has found her pace and strides boldly forward.

“Death is present with us every day of our lives, it behooves us to take note of its nearness, not as a threat, but as our common experience on the way to grace.”

These are tales of murder and romance in medieval England. Well researched and well told. That you get a practical history lesson along the way is a bonus.

“A comely person is no warrant to a comely spirit.”

Formulaic? I suppose, but life isn’t easy for anyone, least of all Cadfael. Just as the obvious culprit may be innocent, so the obvious lover may not be Continue reading

Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #4) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“The manifold gifts of God are those to be delighted in, to fall short of joy would be ingratitude.”

Better with each reading. I discovered Cadfael twenty years ago. I have read each book at least twice since as well as watched all thirteen Mystery! episodes. Though they have some merit, many of the latter turned the originals inside out.

“It’s no blame to men if they try to put into their own artifacts all the colors and shapes God put into his.”

Saint Peter’s Fair is a murder mystery, but it is also an immersion in medieval culture and history, a reflection on the world and man’s place in it, and a romance. Peters weaves all her threads into a fascinating tapestry simultaneously fun and informative. Each book has a background story about medieval history or culture. This one focuses on trade fairs.

“Penitence is in the heart, not in the word spoken.”

Earlier readings left me with the impression that Cadfael was a twentieth century man in monk’s robes, but he is thoroughly a reflection of his time, though he rises above the stereotypes.

“What you see is only a broken part of a perfect whole.”

A good story well told. Mystery Theater (PBS) got this one pretty close to right, which they didn’t always.

Movie Review: Downton Abbey, directed by Michael Engler (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Michael Engler

(Three Stars)

“I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.” “Machiavelli is frequently underrated.”

Disappointing. They simultaneously try too hard (to replicate the TV series) and not hard enough (to rise above that genre). This movie is more of the same; a fix for Abbey addicts suffering withdrawal, but little to commend itself to a new audience.

“Let’s not argue.” “I never argue. I explain.”

While the setting, costumes and such retain a century-old appearance; the story/stories feel more Continue reading

Book Review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: One Corpse Too Many (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #2) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Do you know any human creatures who are not strangers, one to another?”

First story in the Main Sequence of Cadfael stories. You may read A Morbid Taste for Bones or A Rare Benedictine first, but you’ll not be disappointed if you start here. (This review falls the third in the current reading.)

“The ugliness that man can do to man might cast a shadow between you and the certainty of the justice and mercy God can do to him hereafter.”

History, in the personage of King Stephen of England comes crashing into twelfth century Shrewsbury and Brother Cadfael’s life will Continue reading

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“The uncomfortable feeling that God, nevertheless, required a little help form men, and what he mostly got was hinderance.”

Opening historical fiction set during England’s twelfth century. Peters combines medieval history and a modern who-done-it, starring a crusader turned Benedictine monk.

“Brother Cadfael himself found nothing strange in his wide-ranging career, and had forgotten nothing and regretted nothing. He saw no contradiction in the delight he had taken in battle and adventure and the keen pleasure he now found in quietude.”

Not at all Christian in either intent or style, the story nevertheless accepts that Cadfael and those around them are not beset by the doubts and conflicts over faith which be devils moderns.

“When you have done everything else, perfecting a conventual herb-garden is a fine and satisfying things to do.”

The church and clergy are not spared Peters’ critical pen. On the other hand, wrongly accused innocents and young lovers (often one and the same) get special dispensation. A pattern that will persist through the series.

“He had been scouring the borderlands for a spare saint now for a tear or more, looking hopefully towards Wales, where it was well known that holy men and women had been common as mushrooms in autumn in the past, and as little regarded.”

“God resolves all given time.”

Book Review: A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #0.5) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“My son, you are not one of these sinful men?” “Sinful man I am, but not of their company.”

Excellent introduction to Cadfael and to the series. Three novelettes, spread over the career of our monastic sleuth, introduce the reader to Ellis’s style of medieval cozy.

“He had been in the world fifty-five years, and learned to temper his expectations, bad or good.”

Then first story is an origin tale, which readers of the corpus will not wish to miss Continue reading

Book Review: Moon Water by Pam Webber (Five Stars)


Book Review: Moon Water by Pam Webber

(Five Stars)

“Some things must end for others to begin.”

Amazing story. Two sixteen-ish young women come of age in historical fiction set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in 1969. Nettie gives up the freedom of childhood (see The Wiregrass) and expects certainty in adulthood: love, faith, friendship. Nope.

“Journeys force us to make choices that never leave our lives in the same place.”

Slow start leads to a cataclysm of Biblical portions, which actually happened fifty years ago. Excellent character and plot development and foreshadowing, if occasionally telling too much too soon. Nettie lived in a different world: no computers, camera-equipped cell phones, social media, credit cards. Manners mattered. The focus is local; the moon landings, Vietnam War, and politics are Continue reading