The interplay between the events in future Oxford and 14th century Oxford is beguiling and dizzying. The theme of the ringing of bell changes is a metaphor for this intricate counterpoint of events. The historical details of the past are solid and convincing, and so are the characters of both periods. Agnes, presented with all the exasperating traits that five-year-olds try adults with, is probably the most convincing and lovable portrayal of a young child I have ever encountered in literature. The account of the Black Death and all its horror and grief is not easy reading, but it shouldn't be. It is a real reminder of what life can be like for human beings in any age. The tale is, in the end, consoling and hopeful.
Oh, and in parts, it is very funny.
The book takes surprising turns; at the start, it seems to be a comfortable, Masterpiece Theatre kind of story; then it jolts into something very different. It isn't the romance it later seems to be developing into either - and the ending leaves you puzzling. I am now searching for more books by this author; I am amazed I have have been unaware of her until now. The reading is so well done you barely notice it.
The place and period make this mystery series stand out, but it is very light reading, and the protagonist's enlightened attitudes seem a little too easily achieved for the times. A pleasant enough wish fulfillment fantasy, but the explicit casual sex scenes avoid any mention of prophylaxis or contraception, even though there is a plot that involves backstreet abortions in the first book and discussions of the poor resources for women's health problems.
Stephanie Plum is better than chocolate. Audio is the perfect medium for this series, as long as the narrator is Lorelei King.
I have come very late to discovering Diana Wynne Jones, and I am stunned by the felicities of her imagination. There are not enough of her books in this world.
The book is fascinating and well-written. The narrator reads well, except for her inability to pronounce proper names and foreign phrases. Her many errors are jarring.
Although the author discusses some interesting material, the narrator's voice makes it had for me to judge the style. He sounds pompous and arrogant, and what might has been good-natured humor as written by the author sounds snide and ill-natured. It is also true that geometry is not the best subject for an audio book. But I did choose it.
This installment has wonderful historical research, a lively plot and subtle character relations. The narrator does it all justice.
With each new title, I imagine THIS time, Stephanie will have to make her choice between Joe and Ranger. She's still juggling. This book is stronger than the last, with genuinely surprizing plot twists and good pacing.
My only quibble is that there are too many scatological jokes.
The proposal to the publishers must have been impressive: cutting edge research on dog-wolf and human paleo-history correlated by a science journalist, alongside musings on his personal relationship with his dog. The formula didn't quite crystallize. The author's theories on the co-development of the human and canine brains were not very convincing, and while his praise for his wife's dog and all other standard poodles rang true, it seemed too generic.
His denigration of mixed-breed dogs rankled. I didn't let my shelter-rescued mutts listen.
On the whole, the book was informative and interesting, but did not meet my expectations.
Popular history should combine scholarly detail and diverting anecdote while making it clear which is which. The book accomplishes this very well. My only quibble is that, while the author deals with the plague in historical and biological depth, it is not the major focus of the book - which is really an overview of Justinian's reign and accomplishments.
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