21 February 2014

Friday's Review: The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen.

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Historical Mystery
Page Count: 272
List Price:  $14.95 Paperback
                 $9.99 Digital Edition
                 $4.99 Kindle
Publication Date:  October 29, 2013
Publisher: Amazon Crossing

My Rating:  3.5 of 5 stars

As a person who really enjoys both mysteries and historical fiction, historical mysteries are often fun reads for me.  The recent translation of Danish author Martin Jensen's book The King's Hounds was just that type of book.  The story is set in 1018, the time when the Danish King Cnut has conquered England and is busy trying to get all of the factions under his control to coalesce into a single unified country.  Unfortunately for him, a South Saxon who is known to be Cnut's enemy is found murdered.  Enter Winston, ex-monk and highly regarded Saxon illuminator, and Halfdan, a Danish ex-noble, exactly the combination  King Cnut needs in order to solve the crime without raising complaints of favoritism.
The story of Winston and Halfdan, and their quest to solve the murder of Oxfrid works on many levels.  Like all good mysteries of this type, we are presented with a dead body who in life had enough enemies to present us with a long list of possible suspects. In addition, the crime solvers are an unlikely pair of contrasting characters.  Not only do they represent opposite sides of the current political scene, thus giving the aura of objectivity, but they also represent very different styles of solving a puzzle.  While Winston's approach keys on observation and deduction, Halfdan is more outgoing and able to get people to talk to him.   Jensen's historical representation of the time is also spot on.  Through the inclusion of real historical figures, events and terms, and his accurate description of life in 1018 England, we get a glimpse of life during a time that is not widely covered in historical fiction. Add to all that the excellent translation from Danish which allows the story to flow seemlessly in English, and it all comes together as a definite win.

Although I would not put this story in the "earth shattering" category, I would recommend it to those of you who enjoy a good mystery , especially those that like their mystery with a bit of history included.  As for me, I am looking forward to reading The Oathbreaker, the second book of the series, and sincerely hope that there are plans to translate even more of them to English.  For one thing, I am anxious to see how the relationship between Winston and Halfdan develops as I think there is a lot of room for growth there.  

18 February 2014

Monday's Review: How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count:  287 pages
List Price: $24.99 Hardcover
               $11.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Emma Chapman's debut novel "How to be a Good Wife"  is a well written, compelling read with many layers, all of which revolve around the main character, Marta.  Marta has been married to Hector for a long time.  In fact, all of her adult life has been spent catering to him, their marriage, and their son Kylan.  Now with Hector becoming distant and Kylan living in the city with his girlfriend, she has a lot of time on her own.  But time on her own is not what Marta wants or needs.

As the book unfolds, the author reveals more and more about Marta, and what we learn, or do not learn as the case may be, is what made Marta's story such a compelling read for me.   On first impression, Marta's life seems to be comfortable and mundane.  She has reached middle age, raised her son, taken care of her husband.  On closer examination, though, there are gaps and inconsistencies.  Why does she keep finding cigarettes in her pocket with memory of smoking them?  What is the medication that she has stopped taking?  Before long Marta's story peels off into a couple of directions with no real explanation of what is fact and what is fiction.  These different aspects of her story continue all the way to the conclusion of the story which I did not see coming at all.

All of this ambiguity in the story may set some readers on edge, but I found it interesting and thought provoking.  I also found the ambiguity to be a great discussion point among readers.  In fact, when discussing this book with others, I was extremely interested to see how many different ways to interpret the story people were able to find.  All that discussion and differing viewpoints only enriched the story for me, enough so that I wasn't upset that the author ended the story without answering the most important questions posed throughout.  That is not to say that I didn't find the ending disappointing, but my disappointment was in Marta and her choices, not with the story or the author.

I would definitely recommend this book as a thought provoking read, with one caveat.  Keep an open mind as you read it and wait until you are finished to draw any conclusions.  Then discuss away with others and see what conclusions they came to and how they arrived at them.  I guarantee the discussion will be lively.