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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Thursday, October 31, 2013

of murder, spies and motor cars

Hardcastle's Traitors (A Hardcastle and Marriott Historical Mystery) by Graham Ison 

London, 1915 and New Year's Eve is being seen in by a Zeppelin air raid.
For Divisional Detective Inspector Ernest Hardcastle of the Met. the New Year brings a robbery at a jewelry-cum-pawnbroker's, and  a murder.
Hardcastle is a bit of a stickler.
In terms of type, Hardcastle is not as likeable as the perceptive Foyle, more aware of rank and what's due than Jack Frost, maybe a bit more like Oscar Blaketon of Heartbeat, or not.
Really, there's very little personally endearing about the man, apart from his dedication to the chase, which sometimes is derailed or more often nailed by what DS Marriott calls, 'one of the guv'nor's flights of fancy.'

Set in his ways and pedantic, he has strong opinions. Women shouldn't work, or vote, the advent of police cars is  questionable, the telephone 'is a new fangled device that won't last long.' Hardcastle does think fingerprints are a good thing. They have helped him to solve crimes in the past.He forges ahead oblivious to the demand a he places on his underlings.  His long suffering sidekick, Detective Sergeant Charles Marriott is on the case. Fortunately Marriott is 'accustomed to the DDI ignoring the common courtesies.'
Marriott is a splendid foil for Hardcastle. More caring and considerate of his fellow officers, yearning for time to spend with his family, he wonders from time to time why he took this position.
As an aside, in 1915, bowler hats are apparently de rigour for all Senior Detectives.
Murders, spies, deserters, MI5 interest, and Zionist plots are all grist for the mill in this latest Hardcastle and Marriott investigation.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Rumors that Ruined a Lady (The Armstrong Sisters) by Marguerite Kaye   

Two people who really were soul mates but circumstances, duty and family kept them apart.
Caro, Lady Caroline Rider, always wanting evidence of her father's love, is used as a pawn in  her father' larger game of Marital Chess for his daughters. (As her sister Cressida calls the whole debutante Marriage Mart process).
Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow, all his life rejected by his father, is conversely both a rake in society and a recluse when on his estate.
Both are shaped by their upbringing and need for approval. 
With family estates adjoining, Caroline and Sebastian meet when sixteen year old Caro trespasses. An memorable time for both of them.
Eleven years after this initial meeting Sebastian finds Caro almost dead from ingesting opium at a society party.
Caro having left her husband and a farcical, abusive marriage, has been disowned by her father. Near destitution she has given up all hope.
Sebastian takes her back to his estate to recover.
The story develops from there. We are taken back in time to vignettes of significant instances, where over the years they have renewed their acquaintance prior to the present. 
Would they overcome the very real obstacles before them, much less acknowledge how they felt about each other?
Would they bow to the very real pressures of their time and society?
I really liked both Sebastian and Caro as leading characters.
The gradual blossoming of their love over the years and more importantly over the last intensive months is beautifully told.
All does not flow smoothly. Their struggles and subsequent growth are poignant. Their sexual encounters are at once reasonably explicit, yet tasteful.
As the story unfolded I was captivated.
Keyes gives an insightful introduction into her writing process, how she shepherded the characters to where they now move from and what she is trying to achieve.
Issues surrounding woman as property in marriage, the difficulty of divorce both in terms of ecclesiastical and legal requirements, legal status and financial responsibilities, social stigma, divorce and children during Regency times are raised. Things that seem far away from todays perspective.  We should remember that overall no-fault divorce has only been around from about 1968 to mid 70's. Not so very long ago.
This was an enjoyable read. So much so that the family nearly missed out on dinner. I was too engrossed to shop, let alone cook.

A NetGalley ARC 

...a first rate twisty Elizabethan intrigue!

Crimson Rose (A Kit Marlowe Mystery) by M.J. Trow 
Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan play write and supposed spy for Francis Walsingham has a new play, Tamburlaine, being performed.
Will Shakespeare has a part. He is to fire a gun during the performance. He discharges his gun and in the aftermath it is discovered that he has killed someone in the audience--his landlady. That's just the beginning. It's up to Kit to solve the riddle, and clear Shakespeare. Bodies begin to litter the novel's stage. A corpse is fished from the Thames.
Dodgy doings and swindling is at hand. Spies are thicker on the ground than a London fog.    

The action includes a dangerous chase through the narrow streets alleyways, and a murderer most unexpected.
Trow has made use of interesting historical fact and speculation such as the relationship between Kit and and William Shakespeare, the thought that Marlowe might have been a crown spy, and other factors to great advantage.    

Two of the nefarious toughs we first meet attempting a swindle on Marlowe, we continue to meet throughout the story. They are Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Fritzer.  (Historically rumoured to have stabbed Kit to death.)
The problem Kit is having with his Masters Degree being conferred by his Cambridge college, Corpus Christi, a matter that forms part of the background in this novel, is sorted out by the Chief Secretary, one of Walsingham's associates. (That this historically actually was a problem for Marlowe, solved by outside pressure, suggests some think, that Marlowe did indeed work for the crown.)
Kit's investigations leads him into a nest of Protestants. But as one says to him there are many groups, 'What is it they call us? Puritans? Well it takes all sorts, Brother, all sorts. We are actually fifty shades of grey when all is said and done.' A nicely used line by Trow. Wryly amusing.
A thoroughly good yarn!

Monday, October 28, 2013

...stepping into the unknown, a world of rules and treachery

Relic (The Books of Eva #1) by Heather Terrell   

Another dystopian novel touted to be 'like the hunger games.' Ok, there is a time of testing and a new world order to be overthrown. Relic is not like The Hunger Games. (Really publishers! Get over it! Move on!) It has similarities but then it has similarities to many other books where:
*Civilization as we know it has ended due to some catastrophe. (It seems about 250 years ago here)
*Technology is demonized (I love that Apple is touted as the god symbol,the evil cause of civilizations downfall and that iPads are seen as travelling altars of worship)
*A new order has arisen, the people are conservative and  inward looking with strict rules about things like how much naked skin can be revealed, tasks are allotted according to gender etc.
*Testing of the warrior/leadership class, in this case involves survival outside the city in the Arctic wasteland
*Some sort of quest. Here to find a Relic of some significance washed up on the Frozen Shores during the time of Healing (really a catastrophic flood). The finder has to chronicle stories about the Relic that will sustain the myth of the Lex chosen, those from the Aerie.
Eva takes her turn, the first woman for many years to do so. Factions are aligned against her.
A knowledge of the rules, a study of the ancient manuscripts, can be used to discover new information and to use against those in authority. When Eva is challenged about staking her claim she can challenge knowledgeably.
There is an unknown probably powerful group of people who are acting clandestinely to preserve the status quo. The death of Eva's twin, Eamon hints at this.
The arrival of these newcomers to the Arctic disrupted the way of the original inhabitants  (it seems the descendants of the Inuit) who present a different face to the new closed community for reasons of their own. Whilst to the Aerie inhabitants the indigenous peoples appear as less than civilized. The original inhabitants have their own reasons for going along with the new arrivals suppositions.
The use of biblical references are reworked to promote this new society's beliefs and aims according to the leadership goals. 
It's not the Hunger Games. It's a promising read. I am hoping the next books build on that latent promise and the series blossoms as it moves forward.

A NetGalley ARC

...'dark magic could make her just as dangerous'

A Study in Darkness (The Baskerville Affair #2) by Emma Jane Holloway

Baker Street has been bombed! Holmes and Evelina Cooper, his niece, have a narrow escape. Evelina is sure that the detonator is the work of Tobias.
Now Evelina is in trouble. She plays into Jasper Keating's hands and ends up working for him.  Keating, the Gold King steam baron, wants her to uncover the truth about what the Blue King, better known as the Coal King, is planning. 
However, after insulating herself into the Blue King's domain Evelina discovers that Dr. Magnus has returned from the dead with Seraphina his life like automation, and a cohort of automated ballet dancers. Dr. Magnus is the Blue King's maker and Evelina is forced to work with him. Despite his darkness there is something about Magnus that makes him seem reasonable to Evelina. He is a magician, a mesmerizer. Repartee between Evelina and Magnus always on the edge of a dangerous and dark sarcasm.

Evelina and Nick have become reacquainted with their relationship moving to a new level.
Magnus is after that which the gold casket hid which he suspects the pirate Nick has.  Evelina is the bait, sandwiched between these two powerful men, well three really.
Tobias is a cad in my opinion, but Alice, his wife and daughter to Keating, turns up trumps. Poppy, Imogen and Tobias' little sister, turns out to be quite innovative in uncovering family secrets.
Meanwhile, Imogen Roth, is becoming sensitive to strange dreams. In love with Bucky Penner, but forbidden to see him, she is trapped, with a whole new theatre of horror opening up before her. The dreams of darkness within Imogen have escalated and a murdered woman is part of it, her throat slit just like Grace Child's. Imogen dreams true.
Rebellion is brewing and Mycroft Holmes is somewhere in the middle of it all. Who is the School Master? What is afoot? The code or organization Baskerville is heard of again.
More is revealed about Lord Bancroft and the automations dark history.
Questions are answered, but the answers only reveal new questions.
Closure appears imminent, but hold fast, because added depths open up like wormholes and sweep us into a seemingly never ending vortex of plots within plots.
The second in the series certainly maintained it's edge.
Hold on for the ride! A Victoriana steam punk mesmerizer!

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, October 27, 2013

fabulously mysterious...with delightfully droll interludes!

What a Gentleman Desires (The Redgraves #3) by Kasey Michaels

A return to Regency England with the threat of a Bonaparte inspired invasion all too real!
A family's investigation into its duplicitous, treasonous and debauched past, relating to an organization called the Society. Leading the investigation here is Valentine Redgrave, youngest brother of the Earl of Saltwood. Michaels describes him as 'outwardly dangerous as a dandelion.' Delicious! 
Enter Miss Daisy Marchant, 'governess-on-a-mission.' The two come into contact at a house party held by Lord Charles Mailer, debauched martinet, cad, and possible member of The Society. Daisy wonders, 'Was Valentine a badly needed ally, or an exceedingly clever foe?' Valentine mistakenly believes Daisy is a government spy sent by Downing Street. He is not amused. Mystery and darkness surrounds The Society. It's membership, it's purpose, it's monthly meetings. Young women are disappearing, wives have died in odd circumstance. All grist for the mill. 
As some mysteries are resolved others wait like patient serpents waiting to take their place. 
Some of the characters have a definite touch of Heyerism, but with descriptive sexual encounters. Valentine's grandmother, Trixie, keeps reminding me somewhat of the older Duchess of Avon. Daisy is definitely akin to one of Heyer's steadfast heroines. 
I loved the repartee between the Valentine, Daisy and Piffkin, Valentine's valet. I must confess that when I first began reading this I had to leave the story after just a few pages. 
It seemed too confusing at the beginning with the hierarchy of depraved ancestors who were members of a secret, diabolical, hellfire club that continues still--minus the Redgraves. . Somehow I lost my way. I am unsure as to whether it was me or the start of the novel. 
 Fortunately for me, I decided to return and I'm glad I did! Guess what? This time the story all hung together so much more precisely and delightfully than I anticipated that I am now a convert. I am addicted to the family's story and am rushing off to savour the rest in the series. 

 A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, October 26, 2013

...a unique and fascinating read

Ramadan Sky a novella by Nichola Hunter

A compelling look into one disaffected Australian woman's journey to modern day Jakarta as an ESL teacher.
Surrounded by peoples of different values and culture, and weird expats who seem like runaways from their own culture, which they now would have difficulty returning to, Victoria's story is told in colourful prose with a delicate turn of phrase. One can feel the heat rising from the pavements of Jakarta and smell the heavy mix of spices and motorbike fumes.
Underneath the story lurks questions about behaviour in and acceptance of other cultures, about inter-racial relationships and cultural mores.
Told from the viewpoint of the three main characters, Victoria or Vic the older Australian ESL teacher, Fajar a young Indonesian Muslim man from a poor background, and Aryanti his Muslim girlfriend.
Aryanti tells Fajar she can't marry him after he loses his job.
Vic hires Fajar to be her driver.  They have an affair that brings it's own hazards and disapprovals. Vic reflects on Fajar entering into her world in simple ways, like going to restaurants despite the disapproval of his fellow Indonesians, who in a glance can sum up his social status, and how stoically Fajar confronts these moments.
Meanwhile Aryanti resorts to magic to win back Fajar.
Fascinating glimpses of the swings between belief in the magic of Aryanti's village heritage  and Muslim faith are brought into play. As is the difference between the culture's behaviour according to gender, the way people in a community borrow money from each other, and how a life of poverty is a very real thing for so many. The difference between the lives of the poor and the very wealthy is exposed.
At one stage Vic comments about Fajar, 'It is only youth that can outshine poverty.'
There is a transient quality to the story reflecting the short moment in time that is represented, a suspension in some way of reality for all involved. Yet a moment that will have marked effects on all three lives long after it's passed.
As Fajar comments, 'The beginning of change is a narrow lane way that opens like magic onto a large field of rice.'

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, October 24, 2013

a tad predictable

Steadfast (The Elemental Masters #9) by Mercedes Lackey    

Katie Langford, a contortionist and dancer in the circus flees an abusive marriage and finds shelter with a clan of Travelers. Here she learns that she apparently is a drabarni, she has magic. After consultation with the clan matriarch she decides to go to Brighton, hopefully far enough away from the circus path to be safe.
Lionel Hawkins, an Air Magician, is ensconced at the Palace Music Hall in Brighton as a leading act.  Using various personas he is a fixture unlike others of his kind.
Jack Prescott the doorman is a wounded ex soldier from Boer War and a Fire Magician.     
Katie ends up as Hawkin's assistance. It turns out that she is an untrained possessor of fire magic. 
Katie has been referred to as an Edwardian 'sleeping beauty'. Edwardian yes, but 'sleeping beauty?' Really? That possibility just didn't occur to me. Maybe I'm having an off day or maybe it's too tortuous a path to pursue.         

Of course the fiend of a husband, the brutal Dick turns up and Katie's life looks like it will degenerate into the previous hell she has known.
However, this time Katie has friends.
I must admit I was very taken with the all powerful fire elemental that appears to her.
I am puzzled about the help that didn't materialize from the Elemental Masters. There is an expressed opinion between Lionel and Jack that the masters don't bother much about the less powerfully gifted group of mages. Still I felt that this divide between the powerful and the not so powerful somehow goes against the loftier ideals we've seen expressed in previous novels.
A non taxing read.
Fans of Lackey like me will read this even though it is more than a tad predictable.

Monday, October 21, 2013

'This will end badly but I am certain it will be interesting,'

A Man Above Reproach by Evelyn Pryce   

Oh my! The dance of two people attracted to each other in strange circumstances, that become even more curious, is quite fascinating and humorous. The sexual tension builds but   is held lightly although there were a couple of 'Hmm! I didn't see that coming,' moments. Even a mental shake of the head occasionally!
Blue, BB or Bawdy Bluestocking, Josie (Josephine Grant) plays the piano at a bordello. Elias, the Duke of Lennox, is there with friends and is struck by the quality of the pianist's performance. Attraction flares between them. Elias wants to learn more about this masked damsel. Josephine wants the safety of anonymity, not involvement. She is a spirited woman of secrets, piling up on top of each other, more so once she meets Elias.  Elias must marry (to secure the title of course). He is bored by the debutants flung in front of him, wants nothing more than to escape to his estates, and now he has met an intelligent woman, bookshop owner by day, whorehouse piano player by night.   
Josephine occasionally show her exasperation with Elias in interesting ways.
Look for where you find the title as a line in the book. That was an amusing insertion. 
And so the dance continues between our star crossed couple--somewhere between attack, coaxing and retreat. 
Humour is maintained throughout. There is a lot of amusing muttering used by all, from Sebastian in this review's title quote, to Josephine under her breath to Elias, 'I think not, you rake, she muttered.'
The camaraderie and humour between the main men is pleasant. It is something that is rarely shown and I appreciated it.
The storyline approaches the regency romance genre from a slightly different tack.
An altogether enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

...a stunning conclusion to a saga of loyalty, faith and endurance!

Final Sacrament (Clarenceux Trilogy #3) by James Forrester  

The concluding chapter to this Tudor conspiracy saga was excellent. Like some massive Chaucerian pilgrimage the relentlessness momentum surrounding the lives, loves and tragedies of those involved roll on inexorably.
It seems like every page has a line, a gem, that you want to ponder before moving on. However the story line is so intense that all I could do was note them so that I can return and  meditate.
What is the final sacrament? The idea is heavy with meaning and symbolism.          

William Harvey(Clarenceux) comes to know and understand. We the reader come to know and understand somewhat. The final sacrament can allude to many things, but in his fight for loyalty and truth even unto death Harvey the man, not just the Herald, embodies the idea.
As he says, 'Loyalty has been the driving force of my life and betrayal my greatest fear...'
The biblical Job comparison to Clarenceux at the start is a telling comment on all Harvey has faced and will face.
The crux of the three novels is the supposed marriage document of Anne Boleyn to Lord Percy. A document that might illegitimatize Elizabeth and place the Scottish child prince, Charles James Stewart, on the throne. At this time, for a Protestant England especially, the fear of more civil unrest, deaths and persecution, and a possibility of a return to the times of bloody Mary Tudor is a real danger.
Elizabeth learns the truth about the document and the gift of legitimacy her mother, Anne Boleyn had her in reconciling herself with King Henry before going to her death. Again a reference to the idea of 'final sacrament.'
I found Walsingham's later talks to Lord Cecil about Elizabeth insightful, 'She must...do all she can to stay alive--and that means not marrying, not becoming pregnant, not being seen to be womanly or weak, but playing the part of God's angel in England.' Another sort of final sacrament?
The events that leads to this series' culmination, this third act, pares back like an onion being peeled away precisely and carefully, layer upon layer, with a stringency that leaves you helpless in the onslaught of dissection, even as you are brought to tears. 
Always the 'Document', the sword of Damocles, hanging across our characters lives.
Walsingham wants the document to keep the throne and England secure. As does Cecil.
The bitter harbinger of vengeance, Lady Percy has commanded an army of assassins to destroy those near to Harvey, paving the way for her to secure the documents and throw the English throne into turmoil, returning Catholicism to it's former place. Towards the end, a third player, strategically hidden, is also revealed. 
What Harvey wants and is trying to prevent is an England free from the threat of revolution and unrest, and safety for his family, the touchstone of his life and joy.
What I find telling is that in this novel that I am thinking about him and referring to him more and more as William Harvey, the man, the husband, the father, not Clarenceux the Herald of Arms.
Harvey's reflections throughout are wonderful.
When he muses on a quote from Aristotle about memory he reasons,
'Memory is imagination...If that is so...then all recorded memory is merely fable. And the document I guard...is also nothing more than fable. The illegitimacy of the Queen becomes untrue. But the truth is the truth, and always will be; so the truth of the past is changeable even if God alone knows it.'
'In all our struggles the last word is hope...in the final struggle the last word is love.'
If you like Tudor era historical suspense this series is a must!

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

'Let the games begin!'

The Seduction of Lady Phoebe (The Marriage Game #1) by Ella Quinn

An amusing regency romantic romp complete with banished lords, thoroughly modern gun toting ladies, and the requisite villain.
Subjected to the unseemly behaviour at the tender age of fifteen by Marcus Finley, Lady Phoebe resents him for eight years. As a callow drunken youth he had  forced his attentions upon her.  He was brought up short by a punch in the nose delivered by Phoebe's strong right arm. Phoebe had until then secretly admired him. On the eve of being banished to Jamaica, Marcus had fallen for Phoebe. He called her his Vision. In his inebriated state he frightens her off.
Marcus never forgets Phoebe, and on his return to England determines to make her his wife.
The problem is that Phoebe wants nothing to do with Marcus. She bolts to London in hopes of avoiding him. Of course en route she has quite the adventure, and Marcus becomes involved.
There are some amusing lines throughout such as, 'Marcus decided to behave with Phoebe in the same way he had when he'd faced the pirates. He'd show no fear.'
I liked both main characters but found the palpitating hearts when they touched a little too contrived at the beginning. However, as the relationship progressed this aspect became more natural.
The lovely Phoebe is a radical woman for her times and during her courting by Marcus we are treated to lively discussions on the education of woman, their abilities and roles, and the influence of women's rights champions like Mary Wollstonecroft. (Having been discussing Wollstonecroft moments before coming across her name in 'Seduction'. I must admit I was taken aback by the synchronicity of it all).
A fun read with the men and the women of the respective families having echoes of those met in Stephanie Laurens' Cynster novels.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Murder, betrayal and daring...Garfield is as always, a special treat!

Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket  by Leon Garfield 

Leon Garfield has long been one of my favourite children's authors, so I lept at the chance to reread Smith. This is pure Dicksonian melodrama for a younger audience. A gift of talent indeed. 
The depths of Eighteenth century London slums, where 'the houses reared and clustered as if to shut out the sky,' are no place for the soft or uninitiated. The very atmosphere weeds the weak from the strong, if not through illness and malnourishment, then by the preying on the unknowing. Surrounded by this miasma of complacent intent is Smith, a rapscallion street pickpocket who breezes through the most atrocious situations with an acceptance of life that amazes. Smith lives in the cellar of the Red Lion Inn with his two sisters who eke out a living makeover the gallows clothes of the condemned. They refer to Smith as 'dear Smut' and 'felonious child!' Half will-o-the-wisp, half trickster and with heart of gold, others might be downcast and resentful at their lot but not so young 'glass-half-full' Smith.    

Garfield's language draws you in. I was grabbed from the first with utterances like, 'Smith's speed was remarkable...a rat was like a snail beside Smith.'
His descriptive use of phrase, the twists and turns and metaphors are a delight and are as twisty as the narrow streets and alleyways Smith inhabits.
12-year-old Smith's daily haunts, the atmosphere of the crowded, narrow, putrid streets come alive with brilliant imagery. Colourful images that contain a whiff of the overpowering smells and sounds. Language that gives sight and sound.
Smith's troubles begin when in a narrow lane he picks an elderly gentleman's pocket.
Hearing footsteps he blends back into the shadows and witnesses his mark being stabbed. Murdered! Escaping the scene he discovers that he has, not the valuables he was expecting but some sort of document. And therein lay the rub. Smith cannot read!
Ah, the mystery of the fatal,document leads Smith across the dark streets to new acquaintances, the depths of Newgate Prison, and onto Finchley Common with Lord Tom the highwayman. It's all mad dash and adventure, the tension seesawing from despair and anxiety to determination and hope, underlined by daring and courage.
I must say I had my heart in my mouth and the occasional tear in my eye! 
The reread only strengthened my admiration.

A NetGalley ARC

...'eventually [he would] see through the smoke that clouded the truth'

Through The Smoke by Brenda Novak. 
In her prologue Novak tells us that writing historical gothic romance à la Jane Eyre is one of her favourite literary styles and it's given her pleasure to return to this genre. It has certainly given me pleasure as a reader.
Within the first chapters of 'Through the Smoke', the plot reveals intrigue , death, a woman compromised, villains, miners rights and dirty doings at the diggings. All finely held in tandem right until the end.
Katherine the unbalanced wife of the Earl of Druridge, Truman Stanhope, had died in a fire. Many accused him of deliberately causing it. Valuable paintings may have been stolen prior to this that could prove Truman's innocence. His investigations have so far only led to dead ends.         

Perhaps Rachel, the daughter of a miner who had been asked to set the fire, holds the key!
Someone it seems is out to destroy both Rachel and Truman.
En route to seek help for her dying mother from Truman, Rachel is attacked and wakes to find herself in his lordship's bed.  
From there Rachel's choices become limited. I must admit that I thought she accepted her 'fate worse than death' more easily than The situation deserved. The outrage at her predicament was not enough. But the the attraction between her and Truman was strong and in that day and age she was pretty much powerless. It seemed that her choices were limited.
I was alternately entangled, dismayed, appalled and entertained throughout the novel.
The way the villagers and miners turned on Rachel is frightening, perhaps more so, as it reveals the power of gossip, and the mindset that can encourage others to brutality, to unthinking judgement.
...with more twists and turns than a mountain track, the trials of Rachel drew me on into the wee small hours of the morning!

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, October 14, 2013

The gift of prayer!

A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner's Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads by Kristen E. Vincent 

A few months back I became more interested in using beads as a meditative prayer tool. Over the years the idea of prayer beads has drifted in and out of my consciousness. I had investigated several sites, mainly looking at various Tibetan (Mala) Prayer bead sites. At that time I also became aware of Anglican prayer beads. But as so often happens, Interruptions came and went, and I drifted off to other things. 
And here is the relevance. Oh how I love the mystery of synchronicity!  
I came across Kristen Vincent's book as an ARC. For me this is a timely intervention. 
Prayer Beads have come into my life again. 
The opening quote by Robert Benson resonated,'We need some ... Sacred things that are as mysterious as the Mystery itself!'
Kristen's book opens up a an exciting, proactive way to approach prayer and meditation using our own 'sacred things', literally 'touchstones' assisting us on our spiritual journey.
The concreteness of the beads focus us in the now of the prayer cycle, adding a further dimension to the prayerful experience.
Instructions are given to make your own bead set. The suggestion to include beads that might have some significance, I love. I think I will include my grandmother's crucifix. I like the idea of a generational chain of continuity.
The book has instructions about making a set of prayer beads and the significance of bead placement. Following is a four week guide to using the prayer beads.
The Appendix is valuable and has links to various resources and I must admit I spent many minutes lost in the exploration of the various sites.
Thoughtfully composed this is an exciting beginning to a different journey for those feeling called to undertake it. Kristen's book is surely a gift.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Choices count!'

Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath 

'Choices count. You can make decisions today that will give you more energy tomorrow.'
Opening words that zap straight into my guilt ridden consciousness. 
I know this!
Can this manifest be the one to help?
I am older, seem to sleep less and my range of movement is somewhat curtailed.
All of which I know could be helped by weight loss.
Certainly the courage demonstrated by Tom helps to focus one's thoughts.
Small steps. That idea gabs my attention.
Of course I just had to sign up for the online personal program. (I did think the questionnaire was geared towards a younger demographic)
...and there are timely reminders
'even modest increases in proteins, coupled with a reduction in carbohydrates, helps us.' Good news as I love my protein. Maybe a bit too much.
Read labels and 'set goals. Go for products that have a ratio 1 gram of carbohydrates to 1 gram protein.' That's a great hint.
The treadmill with monitor I would love to try but space is a huge problem.
They are so ugly you need a basement to hide them in.

What Tom says I think we've mostly seen before.
What sets this book apart is its short chapters with 3 steps to immediately implement.
In other words the book has been designed for easy access that doesn't overwhelm the reader. That galvanizes me. I can cope with small bites.
The web support is an added bonus.
Certainly a fresh look at the whole weight loss conundrum.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

...'she loved him quietly'_______31/2 stars

The Cracked Slipper (The Cracked Slipper Series) by Stephanie Alexander

This adult Cinderella story with a twist is the story of love story gone awry. It showcases the less than perfect prince, Gregory, a drunken womanizer, and a strong heroine, his wife Eleanor.
Dorian, the handsome prince's friend has our heroine pulled between duty and love, family and feeling, what might have been and what will be.    

Family secrets are revealed and new secrets held close.
Then there's unicorns and dragons, talking parrots and witches and magicians.
And let's not forget the slipper. The preface gives an interesting interpretation on that lost slipper. I love the title, the 'cracked' slipper, a wonderful metaphor. It sums up the heartache, the misplaced love, misplaced assumptions, and the not so happily ever after reality.
A fresh look at age old themes, including the love triangle.

A NetGalley ARC

'I have...we have a history with this woman'

The Republic of Thieves (The Gentleman Bastard Sequence #3) by Scott Lynch

Entering into Locke Lomora's past world is to enter Shades Hill, an underground Fagin like hell in Camorr where an army of thieves, children without hope, are trained by the Thiefmaker through the realization that they have nowhere else to go coupled with coercion and bullying. 
The narrative flows from past to present as seamless interludes. Even when we finally meet Locke in the now, this past keeps intruding. Mysteries of the Crooked Warden are revisited, as are his companions Chain, Jean, Sabetha and the twins Calo and Galdo.
Locke is with his companion Jean in Lashain, now older more experienced. He has been brought to a standstill. Locke has been poisoned by black magic. There is no cure despite Jean's increasingly desperate efforts to seek out alchemists and physikers for help, to the point of kidnapping someone with powerful connections. Near death, blood oozing even from his fingernails, with Jean beaten, and both of them robbed of all but their weapons, Locke and Jean are confronted by the Bondsmagi, Patience. There's history between them. Patience is here to trade. She wants a Karthani election 'adjusted.'
Jean looks into Patience's eyes, 'eyes like that had killers behind them, and Patience for...sure had a pair.'
Against Locke's volatile wishes they trade. Patience is their new 'employer.' With employers like this who needs enemies?
Simple! Right!? Oh Yeah!
Talk about characters and their history and of course Sabetha is a core part, and now that core opens up into a whole new dimension.
I love Lynch's vibrant use of language, his metaphors such as when Locke is being lectured by Chain he accepts 'something behind personal verification, like the number of angels that could play handball on the edge of a rose petal.' Lynch's dialogue  keeps you reading, along with one's sheer enjoyment of his characters of course. Locke with his self deprecating humour and shrewd intelligence is just plain great. Jean with his steadfast loyalty and inner sadness, what can I say. And Sabetha or rather Verena Gallante! Really it's often the little things that made me smile! An excellent read!

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, October 6, 2013

'he'd been bested by a she-wolf and one flowery suitcase'

Howl for a Highlander (Heart of the Wolf #10) by Terry Spear

'he'd been bested by a she-wolf and one flowery suitcase'

Another werewolf novel dealing with the highlander branch of wolves met in Heart of the Highland Wolf. Journeying to the Cayman Islands when tracking the family's stolen money, Duncan McNeil meets up with Shelley, a female from an unaligned family. Of course the sparks fly, furniture breaks, tussles ensue and the attraction is strong. After all dominance and Royals goes hand in hand.
And Shelley does need rescuing by this Highland warrior. Although she is the independent type. Shelley is a Botany Professor. Her deeper research is focused towards finding a plant that might help non royal werewolves fight the change or to be able to shift when they need to.  
Sadly, taking the warrior wolf out of the Highlands just didn't work for me. Yes, the storyline is good, and yes I liked the main characters and the twist is interesting. I just prefer my highlander wolf 'in situ',striding out across those rugged mountains, fording raging streams etc. etc. I just wasn't as captivated as I have been by the rest of the series.

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Nutritious, simplified and delicious!

Mighty Spice Express Cookbook: Fast, Fresh, and Full-on Flavors from Street Foods to the Spectacular by John Gregory Smith

'Spice Express' metamorphosed into something of a trip down memory lane for me. Add to that the quick cooking times and this cookery book is a must for life in the fast lane--as the business of today so often is.
Korean crab and scallion pancakes, (quick, easy and tasty) reminded me of buying food from street vendors in Seoul.
Dosa Rosti (anything with hot lime pickles is a bonus!)
Lahmacun Turkish Pizza took me back to lazy days spent visiting Istanbul.
The lime and ginger dressing (two of my fav combos) with smoked salmon opens up a whole new way to experiment and impress. I can also see this as an appetizer without the scrambled eggs and bagels.
Moroccan paper bag sardines. We lurve sardines and I'm always looking for a different way to cook them...and swoon at the  cardamom and orange French toast. What a winner!
...then there's Villa Dinari--apricot and orange yogurt!
I started my love affair with Vietnamese noodle soups in the 70's and it's still a fav. When I hit my home town I always gather friends and head to where Bun Cha is normal fare for a relaxed catchup and a yummy lunch. So this recipe is a bonus.
I have just touched the surface of the treasures here. There's so much more to be found in this book that's blends wonderful ingredients, allowing you to compose dishes in minutes, and give you great food experiences.
The layout of the book is very pleasing to the eye. I do like the little photographic spice lists at the bottom of the page for each recipe. Very nicely done.
The photos with their intense colour make the dishes 'pop' adding to the overall attraction of the book.
A winner!

A NetGalley ARC

'Garlic, lemons and fresh herbs...pomegranate molasses, citrus fruits...yogurt.' Bliss!

Pomegranates & Pine Nuts: A stunning collection of Lebanese, Moroccan and Persian recipes by Bethany Kehdy

'Eat and you shall forget your worries,' a quote from Kehdy's uncle. Certainly her family influences have been extensive. Kehdy's introduction brings alive the sights and smells of the Beirut of her childhood.
Her background explanation of Middle Eastern foods illuminates the path to these culinary delights.
Pomegranate molasses is obviously a key ingredient to keep on your shelf. As is sumac.
As with any cook book there are recipes you might try and leave. Then there are others that join your staple collection to be used and reused.
Whipped humus with lamb, two of my favourite foods, add the pomegranates and I'm in seventh heaven
Corn of the cob with saffron infused butter great for corn in season served with a little difference and a whole lot of flair!
Zucchini and sumac fritters. Wow, I love sumac and now here's a new recipe to use with those zucchini that seem to never stop growing. I'm always finding one that got away and grew into a giant despite my determination to harvest them small.
Spiced lamb flatbread pizza's, Yum!
Not all the recipes are for me but there's certainly enough to make this book a worthy addition to my cookery book shelves.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, October 4, 2013

'Marry in haste repent at leisure'

Bad Miss Bennett: A Novel (Pride and Prejudice) by Jean Burnett 

Thus Lydia describes the adage that fits her three years of marriage with Wickam after he perishes at Waterloo.
I really found it difficult to read this novel. Not because of anything the writer did, but because of my cherished vision of Austen novels. How can I blame an author for my disillusionment?
I felt that the novel certainly confirmed my opinion about the thin social veneer that Lydia Wickham entertains as a member of polite society and exposes even more the hedonistic romp that she is. Lydia has no trouble falling from one outré situation into another.
I felt that the novel diminished my idea of Elizabeth and that Darcy appeared as an elderly bigot, which upon reflection he might grow into but I'd rather hoped that Elizabeth would be a softening influence.
So I will give the book 3 stars even though I personally did not enjoy it. 
3 stars because It is my problem that I found the treatment of the subject matter not to my liking. This is the problem when one's long loved literary denizons are exposed by new voices. It took me a long time to finish.
Fans of this genre will enjoy it more than I.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

gentlemen such as he...discarded women like they discarded a spentcheroot

A Lady's Secret Weapon (Nexus series #3) by Tracey Devlyn

English nobleman, Ethan deBeau, Lord Danforth, notorious rake and Nexus spy has been set upon. Badly beaten he is rescued by a mysterious figure, The Spectre. His wounds are attended to by a maid.Charged with finding a young boy, an English traitor Lord Latymer, and a French spymaster LaRouche, Danforth's search places him within the orbit of one Sydney Hunt. The puzzling thing is that he comes across her posing as an empty headed do-gooder at a place of interest, Abbingale Home, an orphanage for boys.Nexus it seems is a secret spy organization hidden in the bowels of the English Foreign Office dedicated to protecting English shores from forays by Bonaparte's agents tasked to prepare England for a successful French invasion.Sydney Hunt, is in actuality a benefactor and reformer who heads up an employment agency as part of her cover to help those who find themselves in need due to the extreme, careless and often cruel actions, of some members of high society towards their servants. She helps those in need, hurt and often destitute to find new situations. She also compiles information about the employers themselves and their treatment of their often powerless dependants.Obviously there are dark and tragic secrets in Sydney's background. Hints of such are constantly implied from the beginning.  Sydney's stress about being alone with a man and the devoted loyalty and protection of her loyal twin footmen confirm that there lurks a greater cause for her anxiety.In fact there are dark secrets surrounding many of the characters. No one seems exempt. Well except perhaps for Tanner, Danforth's much put upon butler. I do like him.The thing is Sydney's attraction to Ethan deBeau, Lord Danforth, the transition from prim agency owner to woman deeply appreciative of and tantalized by Danforth's obvious good looks seems extreme. I'm still trying to figure out where this wanton woman act comes from. Her inner fantasies seem to jar and I'm not sure why. They come out of left field when I and Sydney least expect them. What they do tell us is that despite her inclinations towards the opposite, Sydney is a passionate and aware woman, alive to the attractions of the opposite sex. Somewhere she has been betrayed and deeply hurt.It is when Sydney declares, 'No  Ethan, you did not upset me...you've begun to heal my soul, ' that we at last begin to make headway into the enigma that is Sydney Hunt and the dark secret she harbours.

I am unsure as to why a minor character I enjoyed was killed off. I am hoping this is a hook to be resolved in future novels. This is not the only secondary character whose story left me wondering.
I must admit that I kept feeling that I was constantly missing something with this story. That there was a background that was important. When I realized that 'Secret Weapon' is the third in a series (the Nexus series) things began to make more sense. Unfortunately the ARC hadn't included that piece of information.  As things hinted at, and left unsaid, kept niggling at me I was able to see that these previous stories linked the characters and were the 'raison d'être' for their off screen interplay. I did purchase the rest of the series to read at a later date as I am now curious about the other members of Nexus and how the pieces of the puzzle come together.Despite my misgivings, I obviously enjoyed 'Secret Weapons' enough to want to read more.

A NetGalley ARC