Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

January 12, 2013 

Fiction

1356

Bernard Cornwell, HarperCollins, 432 pages

All in all, the Middle Ages in Europe was lousy living for most people. How can you tell? Just pick up “1356,” by Bernard Cornwall, and you’ll see. Like the period it is written about, it needs a strong stomach to finish. The pragmatic hero, Thomas of Hookton, is ordered to find the fictional lost sword of Saint Peter, “la Malice,” which is reputed to bring victory to the armies that wield it. Of course, others are also hunting the weapon.

The quests culminate at the battle of Poitiers where the badly outnumbered English forces, under Edward the Black Prince, face off with the army of a confident King John II of France. The slaughter was overwhelming. The English won.

Cornwall is one of the best writers of historical fiction. He does extensive research. Here, he takes you through the turbulence of the Europe’s Hundred Years War rivalry between England and France – ground warfare at its ugliest.

“1356,” though, is about humanity swept up in constant wars, and it is graphically violent at times. It starts with two rapes at the sack of Carcassonne in France, all within the first five pages. Next, a man’s eyes are pecked out by a hawk, then he is smothered to death. Things go downhill for many from then on.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Shiver

Karen Robards, Gallery Books, 400 pages.

No one does heart-stopping, nail-biting, riveting romantic suspense better than Karen Robards. “Shiver” is no exception. This is an outstanding book, well-written with an enthralling story, engaging characters and spellbinding suspense.

Sam is a single mother, struggling to pay her bills and raise her almost-5-year-old son. She repossesses cars during the night while her son sleeps. Danny is an undercover FBI agent, posing as a corrupt Federal Agent-turned-federal-witness. His job is to draw the bad guys’ attention, keeping the witness safe and alive to testify against a nasty cartel. Sam unwittingly rescues Danny from certain torture and death, but in the process turns her life into a nightmare. Suddenly, she finds herself in a surreal situation hiding from evil men and not knowing whom to trust. The fact that Danny can’t reveal his true identity doesn’t help matters.

While you want Danny to reveal to Sam that he is one of the good guys she can trust, Robards does a good job of making the impossibility of that seem real. So while Sam is incredulous that she’s falling in love with a criminal, there is nothing Danny can do but let her think that.

Without any spoilers, here is the premise: Danny, Sam and her son Tyler spend most of the book avoiding the bad guys. Danny falls in love with Sam, but tries to refrain from showing it so he can keep his focus on keeping them all alive and safe. Sam falls in love with Danny, but tries to fight it because she thinks he’s a criminal facing jail time.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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