A Rare Benedictine (Cadfael Series)

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Rare Benedictine (Cadfael Series)
Ellis Peters, 1988 (Kindle version 2014)

Premise: Collects three short stories from across the series' timeline, including the account of when Cadfael joins the monastery.

I love Cadfael, and when I recently needed a quick comfort read, I knew this wouldn't disappoint. However, if you're looking for a dramatic turn of events to drive Cadfael the crusader to the Benedictine order, you won't find it here.

The first story, "A Light on the Road to Woodstock," is the account in question. Given the character as revealed throughout the series, it would be surprising if Cadfael had some supernatural or esoteric revelation.

In the introduction to this volume, in fact, the author describes the decision as analogous to the way some people (more common in certain times and cultures) simply find they have reached another phase in life and choose to renounce the world in some way.

As it is, it's a lovely story in which the Welsh man-at-arms (described as blunt, insubordinate, and an utterly reliable man of his word) accompanies an English nobleman home after fighting in Normandy under Henry I. Said noble faces a land dispute with the Shrewsbury Abbey. While Cadfael will, of course, protect the noble's safety to the best of his ability as he has been asked, his private judgment as to the rightness and fairness of the actors in the disagreement will hold great import by the end.

The second story in the volume, "The Price of Light," is a Christmas tale that I read previously in The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I liked it then; I like it now.

The third, "Eye Witness," is basically a shortened version of a Cadfael novel. It has all the red herrings, dramatic reveals, and unique characters, plus a bit more of a final punchline.

This volume is short, and it felt even shorter because I had already read the second story. The publisher even padded the end of the Kindle file (from 63% on!) with a good portion of the beginning of A Morbid Taste for Bones.

I still enjoyed what there was here, but I wish there had been a bit more material.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The Price of Salt

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Price of Salt
Patricia Highsmith (released under the name Claire Morgan), 1952 (e-version 2011)

Premise: Therese is unsatisfied with her life, her retail job, her boyfriend. One day, she meets a beautiful stranger, and her life is changed.

I watched and enjoyed Carol for Mainlining Christmas, but I was curious about the source material. When I had an opportunity to pick it up cheap on Kindle, I took it.

I think from the descriptions, I was expecting something that felt more dated, or that had more of the conventions of pulp. I found nothing of the sort.

This book could have been written yesterday. At least in style, it could have.

Of course, today it's harder to imagine a person like Therese would get to be nineteen with so little interest in sex or men and not really consider an attraction to women as a possible alternative. But that would have been the reality for many women of the time.

This book is a romance with thriller elements and a character study: a gorgeous and nuanced portrayal of a young woman who overthinks things and gets tangled in her own head. I knew the basics of the plot, but reading the book was still compelling, thanks to the lush descriptions and Therese's complex and conflicted thoughts.

After watching the movie, it was interesting how the book only follows Therese. We only glimpse Carol's motivations and feelings as Therese does.

The aspects of the story which play up the limitations and danger of being a lesbian at that time are vivid but not overpowering. They are simply real and painful, as they were for the author and her contemporaries.

It's a truly lovely book, and I'm glad I read it.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Cutting Season

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Cutting Season
Attica Locke, 2012

Premise: Caren grew up at Belle Vie as generations before her did, and now she lives on the plantation with her daughter, managing the historical reenactments and booking weekend weddings. When a woman is found dead on the grounds, she is horrified, but not prepared for the ramifications for her family, past and present.

This is a solid mystery-thriller made special by context. The plot takes place in the present, but Caren's life is intimately affected by her family's history with the land. Her ancestors were slaves and then freedmen working the same land she now manages. One disappeared, possibly murdered, in the same fields where a woman is now found dead.

Caren is the central character by a large margin, but her daughter, her ex-boyfriend and all the actors and staff at the plantation are each interesting and unique. Her past with the facility and the family that owns it both supports her career and traps her in the past. She both loves her home and is troubled by the history.

The past and the present are connected in a poetic and tragic way in this book, although I could have used even more. Caren understands the ways that her ancestors who cut sugarcane are connected to the Latino migrants doing the same job today.

It's an engaging story with strong characterization and a vibrant setting.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book