Friday, August 17, 2007

Summer reading, happened so fast ...

The Seattle Public Library had this really cool service a few weeks ago (I think they stopped it, because I went back to their website and couldn't find it), where you filled out a form to get a personalized book suggestion list. They asked you what you felt like reading, what you'd just finished reading, what sort of protagonists you liked, etc. Since I'd just finished Jasper Fforde, I also love medieval mysteries, so I wrote that, and then also that I liked strong female characters and was in the mood for something silly with a tinge of seriousness or something serious with a hint of silliness.

So the list of about 25-30 books and/or authors the librarian sent back contains a lot of historical mysteries with headstrong female sleuths, and a lot more zany, wacky situational comedies. For the first time in over ten years, I have a summer vacation with nothing to do, so I've been making my way through the list.

One of the recommended series was Sharan Newman's medieval mystery books, set in mid-twelfth century France. Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series got me hooked on medieval mysteries back in high school, but Newman's is far more captivating. For one, the main character is a stubborn former nun-in-training whose family hides their Jewish heritage. And real-life 12th-century theologian/scholars Abelard and Heloise are background characters who serve as mentors to the amateur detectives.

I vaguely remembered the story of Heloise and Abelard from high school French class --scandalous love affair, intellectual letters, a love child followed by a secret marriage, castration by enraged relatives, theological debates. I had to re-read up on the story on wikipedia -- it's the stuff that's perfect for teenagers learning French. Anyway, Newman's series features both Abelard and Heloise as background characters.

Newman's first two books are good and addictive, and of course they follow the predictable and mappable route of the mystery genre. The heroine is an accident-prone merchant's daughter who wants to join a convent so she can keep reading and studying. Cue murder, intrigue and mayhem.

Now that I'm addicted, I have to wait for the other books to arrive on reserve from the library. But meanwhile, there are a lot of zany sci fi books to start.

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