The Amelia Peabody Series

"I always say that if one cannot have a pyramid, a nice deep tomb is the next best thing." Amelia Peabody (Photo by Yassin Hassan | Creative Commons

“I always say that if one cannot have a pyramid, a nice deep tomb is the next best thing.” Amelia Peabody (Photo by Yassin Hassan | Creative Commons)

Review:

One of my favorite series! Though I had issues with some of the later books, overall this is an extremely fun and enjoyable historical mystery series, starring a female Egyptologist and her family in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The mysteries themselves are mostly pretty good, but I love the series most for its humor. Expect to laugh frequently and loudly! The novels are among the most quotable I’ve ever read, from recurring catch phrases like “Another shirt ruined!” to Amelia’s pithy observations on life. (There are good collections of quotes here and here.)

Correction: I love it for the humor, and the characters. Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, Sethos, and the rest are larger than life, but so entertaining and (frequently) adorable that they’re irresistible. Reading about their latest adventures is like catching up with old friends. Amelia and Emerson in particular are rumored to be part of the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones, as well as Rick O’Connell and Evy Carnahan in The Mummy.

Series author Elizabeth Peters, who died in 2013, had a Ph.D in Egyptology, so you’ll also learn interesting stuff about Egyptian culture and archaeology along the way.

Here’s the complete series, with my commentary:

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Julian Kestrel Mystery Series Review

The cover that caught my eye

The cover that caught my eye

Sometimes it pays to judge a book by its cover. One day years ago, I was browsing in a nice little independent bookstore in my hometown when my eye was caught by the cover of The Devil in Music, by Kate Ross. I noticed it first because it was illustrated by Kinuko Craft, one of my favorite illustrators, but when the pages decorated by the cover turned out to contain a murder mystery starring a Regency dandy named Julian Kestrel as sleuth (plus: opera!), well, there was no way I wasn’t taking it home!

It was a good choice.

The Julian Kestrel series was cut tragically short when Ross lost a long battle with cancer at the age of just 41, but she left behind four very enjoyable mysteries. I ended up reading them all out of order. The Devil in Music turned out to be the fourth and last book in the series, but I read it first anyway, then I read the second and third, because I had trouble getting a copy of the first. I finally read the first last! This worked out okay because the books are mostly stand-alone, and I might even recommend starting with the fourth, as it might make you less likely to guess the twist. However, I’ll review them in the correct order.

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Historical Fiction By Sharon Kay Penman Review

Sharon Kay Penman has been one of my favorite authors since I was a teenager. Her novels focus on the Plantagenet family that ruled England for several centuries starting in the 12th century, and their contemporaries.

It would be admittedly be pretty tough to make the Plantagenets boring (they were some of England’s least boring rulers, and that says something!) but Penman’s novels are not only highly regarded for their historical accuracy, they’re also rip-roaring good reads, with plenty of action, romance, and intrigue to keep almost anyone enthralled. For such a male-dominated period of history, I like that she also puts a lot of focus on the female characters and their complex situations.

My Favorite Penman Novels: The Welsh Princes Trilogy

The Welsh Princes trilogy were the first Penman books I read, and are still my favorites. I think they have the most appealing characters (confession time: teenage me had a huge crush on both Llewelyns), although history being what it is, they’re also something of an emotional roller coaster, especially the second and third books.

Book 1: Here Be Dragons



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The first in the series focuses on Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John. (Yes, that King John.)

Joanna is married to the Welsh prince Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (more commonly remembered as Llewelyn Fawr, or Llewelyn the Great) at the age of 14, and soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to her beloved father (who is here given a more nuanced portrayal than usual) and husband, who she also grows to love deeply.

Joanna is nearly unique in the annals of royal wives in that she was caught in an adulterous relationship and not only forgiven by her husband but restored to full favor and position at court. (A Royal Affair demonstrates a much more common aftermath for such a situation.) By all accounts, Llewelyn was grief-stricken by her death some years later, and even founded a Franciscan friary in her honor, which was completed shortly before his own death. I thought Penman navigated this tricky and unusual situation well, and came up with a plausible explanation for it, given the apparent happiness of Llewelyn and Joanna’s marriage otherwise.

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

Book 2: Falls the Shadow



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Book 2 continues with the deaths of most of the characters you grew to love in the first book (seriously, keep a tissue handy!) but introduces new ones in the form of Llewelyn Fawr’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, and Simon de Montfort, the reform-minded French husband of Joanna’s younger half-sister Eleanor (Nell), as they each contend with John’s weak and incompetent son Henry III, and the rise of Henry’s far stronger son, the future Edward I (Longshanks).

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

Book 3: The Reckoning



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Don’t throw that tissue away yet! You’ll need it a few more times as Edward warms up for his future role as “Hammer of the Scots” by taking on the Welsh. Although I love them all, this is probably my favorite of the trilogy. Family drama, romance, and high tragedy abound.

My rating: (5 / 5)

If you enjoy the Welsh Princes trilogy, I also recommend Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which focuses on the lives of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother Davydd.

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A Gentleman of Fortune Book Review



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Review:

I picked this up at the library the other day and found it to be an enjoyable read. Advertised as a cross between Jane Austen and Miss Marple, it’s a respectable addition to both the cozy and historical shelves of the mystery section. The heroine and sleuth, a Regency spinster named Dido Kent, wasn’t as memorable as some, but was clever and appealing enough to spend a few afternoons with, and the mystery itself kept me guessing. On the downside, I found part of the solution to be improbable to the point that it broke my suspension of disbelief, but I still enjoyed it enough that I plan to read some of the other Dido Kent mysteries.

My rating: (3 / 5)

The Killing, Season 1 Review



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Review:

This show got off to a really promising start, with great acting and a good premise, but quickly got mired in pointless red herrings and uninteresting personal dramas. Nevertheless, I stuck it out almost until the end, wanting to at least find out who killed Rosie… only to be accidentally spoiled that the killer would NOT be revealed in the season finale. “Screw that,” I said, and never watched another episode.

For anyone who might be intrigued despite this unflattering review, the internet informs me that the killer was finally revealed in the season TWO finale.

My rating: (1 / 5)

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Gosford Park Movie Review



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Review:

Written by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, this movie has the same attention to detail in depicting the everyday life of the family upstairs and the staff downstairs and is brought to life by an outstanding cast, including Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Kristen Scott Thomas, and more. The plot (a murder, with almost everyone having a motive) is of somewhat secondary interest to the personal dramas surrounding it.

My rating: (5 / 5)

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Dead Again



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Review:

Murder! Amnesia! Reincarnation! I stumbled on this supernatural thriller entirely by accident in a Blockbuster back in the day and rented it because of the cast, despite the cheesy-sounding plot. It turned out to be surprisingly entertaining and gripping, and not nearly as cheesy as I expected. Recommended.

My rating:  (3.5 / 5)

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