Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Books Received in January, 2023

Many thanks as always to the publishers that send me review copies this month.

Mary Magdalene: A Visual History by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona - I find it so interesting that the medieval church conflated all of the New Testament Marys into one woman. I also find it curious that at least 2 French monasteries claimed to be her final resting place. So I can't wait to learn more about her and how her legend has changed and how she's been portrayed in art through the centuries. Out February 23.

From faithful apostle and seductress to feminist icon, Mary Magdalene's many complex roles in Christian history have fascinated us for 2000 years. Illustrated in full colour, this visual history reveals how images and presentations have created a Mary who is often far different from the real woman, the first witness of the Resurrection in the gospels, or even from her appearances in the works of the Church Fathers. Beginning with the earliest sources, uncover who the real Mary was, and what she meant in her own time, before embarking on a fast-paced tour of Magdalene's depictions in great works of art, forgotten masterpieces and contemporary visual culture. Considering relics, statuary, paintings, sculpture and recent works for stage and screen, discover how Mary Magdalene has been seen across time as a witness, a sinner, a penitent, a contemplative, a preacher and a patroness. Above all her complex roles, Mary has emerged as a powerful feminist icon, the closest person to Jesus himself, with a visual history as rich and varied as the roles she has fulfilled in numerous contexts of faith and worship for two millennia.

Medieval Plants and their Uses by Michael Brown - I'm a real sucker for books on medieval plants and I've already learned about several vegetables that used to be common that I've never heard of (ones people stopped using as potatoes are easier to grow & cook). Out March 30.

Plants were an essential part of medieval life. Most people lived in houses made of wood and thatch, which often accidentally burned down when they cooked their food or huddled over wood fires to keep warm. People wore linen clothing dyed with plants. They drank ale, cider and wine as they danced to music played on wooden instruments. Beauty, love and seduction could all be made easier with a few herbal preparations. If you became ill, plants provided many of the cures. The unwary may have mistaken a poisonous plant for one that was good to eat, with fatal consequence. Others may have used the poisonous plant to remove an unwanted rival. Some plants had magical properties. The mysterious mandrake could kill anybody who tried to dig it up without taking the appropriate precautions. Demons could be summoned or dismissed by the aid of plants. The church used powerful incense to clean the air and induce a sense of religious euphoria.

This book is designed to give a broad introduction to the plants that were used during the medieval period. With many colorful photos, a list of plants that were available and some original medieval recipes to try, you can set out on an adventure to explore the wonderful world of medieval plants.

Put Your Anxiety Here: A Creative Guided Journal to Relieve Stress and Find Calm by Lisa M. Schab - I'm part way through this book and so far it's been very good at helping me deal with my anxiety. Out April 1.

Creative journaling prompts to write your way to calm….

Did you know that journaling can have physical, emotional, and mental health benefits? Research shows that expressive writing can actually strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and release physical tension in our bodies. Writing about our thoughts and feelings can help us clear our minds, release pent-up feelings, ease everyday tension, and let go of negative thoughts and worries.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or stress, this journal can help you find instant calm, increase your self-awareness, and enhance your overall well-being. Written by a psychotherapist and guided journaling expert, and grounded in evidence-based therapy, the creative prompts in this beautiful journal are combined with space for you to write, draw, make lists, compose letters, and write down reflections. Also included are sensory-based activities, such as outdoor walks, listening to music, breathwork, calming scents, and more.

If you’re looking for therapy that doesn’t feel like therapy, pick up this journal, write down your worries, let go of stress, and find lasting peace of mind.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Video: Ancient Magical Artifacts Explained "Solomon's Seal has Annihilated You"

I started following Antikemagie recently, an "archaeologist with a research focus in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman magic". She's put out a video on a fascinating bronze amulet from ca.600 AD with Christian, Jewish and pagan elements that protects the wearer from a particular demon. 

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Shout-Out: Karma of the Sun by Brandon Ying Kit Boey

Six Suns, six blasts in the sky; a seventh one, and the earth will die.

In the isolation of the Himalayas, the snows still fall, but they are tinged with the ash of a nuclear winter; the winds still blow, but they wail with the cries of ghosts. The seventh and final blast is near. As the world heaves its final breaths, the people of the Tibetan plateau—civilization’s final survivors—are haunted by spirits and terrorized by warlords. Though the last of the seven prophesied cataclysms is at hand, young Karma searches for a father who disappeared ten years earlier, presumed dead.

Driven by a yearning to see his father again before the end, and called by an eerie horn unheard by anyone else, Karma forges into the Himalayas and discovers that his father’s disappearance may be linked to a mystical mountain said to connect the physical world with the spirit lands—and a possible way to save their doomed future.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Book Review: Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson

Illustrated by Alan Lee

Pros: beautiful pictures, variety of stories


Merlin is trapped under the earth, dreaming of his past and things yet to come.

This is a book of 9 pseudo-medieval short stories based around the frame story of the British sorcerer Merlin, dreaming. There is a good variety of stories, including knights, kings, and villages with problems. There’s a slew of fantasy creatures: a form of werewolf, mermaids, dragons, enchanted knights, a basilisk and even a sciopod, which was kind of cool.

The stories take weird turns and generally don’t end the way you’d expect, but do often end in a more realistic manner.

The art is a stylistic pencil work (or maybe charcoal?), some in black and white, some with a hint of colour, and a few with bold colours of knight’s heraldry and ladies dresses.

The book is out of print, but may be worth keeping an eye out for if the story content interests you.
(If you have a free archive.org account you can borrow it there.)

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Book Review: Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire

Pros: psychologically astute, lyrical writing

Cons: packs a real emotional punch, may be distressing for some readers

When Antsy ran away from a bad situation at home she opened a Door. The Shop Where the Lost Things Go is a nexus connecting all the worlds and provides a new home for her. Antsy wants to return to her mother someday, but doesn’t realize what her adventure has already cost.

The book begins with a content warning from the author that Antsy runs before she is sexually abused. The first few chapters are difficult to read all the same. While she is a child, you know what’s happening and feel the tension and horror. The book also begins with the death of Antsy’s father. It’s a highly emotional scene that gut punched me harder than expected. This is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, so if the content will distress you, you can skip it. If you can deal with the content, it’s an emotionally rewarding story.

In feel, the story has the same mixture of lyrical writing and keen psychological observation as the other books in the series, and Down Among the Sticks and Bones in particular.

Antsy’s a surprisingly astute child, who realizes something is wrong with her new stepfather but isn’t quite sure what. She has good instincts and follows them to positive effect in the story. She is a delight to read about.

Seeing through several doors was a lot of fun, as was learning more about the store.

As with most of the series the ending is a little bittersweet, but appropriate based on what happened.

Saturday, 31 December 2022

2022 My Reading Year in Review

I've done a lot more non-fiction reading the past few years, so the number of books I finished is smaller than I'd like, though I did read some fantastic books. I only managed 28 books, 15 of which were history or history adjacent (like a cookbook and a book on gardens). For SF/F/H I read 13, only 1 science fiction and 12 various fantasy (6 general fantasy, 3 urban fantasy and 3 historical fantasy).

The books I enjoyed the most were for fiction:

The City of Dark by Tara Sim (my review)

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (my review)

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire (Comes out in Jan, 2023 so my review isn't posted yet.)

For non-fiction:

The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel (my review)

The Rose Window by Painton Cowen (I didn’t end up reviewing this for my blog (sometimes I just want to enjoy books without breaking them down). Though it came out in the 70s, it has some great information about the possible origins of Cathedral rose windows and gave me a few churches to check out during my recent trip to France.)

I'm still fully into non-fiction books, so I expect my reading numbers next year will be similar to this year's. I'm hoping to take a trip to Italy, so I'll be deep diving into more Italian history and medieval primary sources (I'm slowly making my way through the Decameron). I'm also hoping to put up more photos from France but that will depend on time as I have a lot of touch-up work on those to do. I'm torn between trying to finish France stuff while also looking towards prepping for Italy.

I hope you've all had a great year. Hopefully 2023 will be a fantastic year, with less war and illness. 

Thursday, 29 December 2022

Books Received in November and December 2022

Many thanks to the publishers who sent me books to review the last 2 months. 

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling - Set in Canada, it sounds pretty interesting.

In a near-future northern settlement, a handful of climate change survivors find their fates intertwined in this mesmerizing and transportive novel in the vein of Station Eleven and The Power.

America, 2049: Summer temperatures are intolerably high, the fossil fuel industry has shut down, and humans are implanted with a ‘Flick’ at birth, which allows them to remain perpetually online. The top echelons of society live in Floating Cities off the coast, while people on the mainland struggle to survive. For Rose, working as a hostess in the city’s elite club feels like her best hope for a better future.

When a high-profile client offers Rose a job as an escort at an American building project in northern Canada called Camp Zero, in return for a home for her displaced mother and herself, she accepts it. But her real assignment is to secretly monitor the mercurial architect in charge.

Rose quickly secures the trust of her target; but in the north, she begins to sense a new way forward, and her objective shifts. Through skillfully entwined perspectives including a young professor longing to escape his wealthy family, and the collective voice of an all-female US military brigade at a climate research station, the fate of the Camp and its select inhabitants comes into stunning relief. Atmospheric, original, and utterly gripping, Camp Zero interrogates the seductive and chilling notion of a utopia; asks who and what will survive as global tensions rise; and imagines how love may sustain us.
Culinary Travels by Emily Szajda - This is a fun cookbook with recipes from around Europe. I've reviewed it here

A map of flavors, aromas and evocations from across the European continent and beyond, Emily Szajda takes you on a culinary journey traversing borders. In this narrative cookbook, you will encounter healthy adaptations of traditional recipes from her travels and life abroad along with stories and takeaways on how food, the simple act of breaking bread, creates an experience. It has the power to tear down walls and create a space for conversation, understanding, and memory. Awaken your senses and relish the moment. From an afternoon tea with fresh baked scones and clotted cream at the St. James Hotel in London to a plate of delectable truffled risotto with osso bucco in Rome, food is not merely sustenance, a part of the human existence but an act of love and fellowship. Please be my guest. Learn how to have a soulful, interactive relationship with food that not only fills your belly but your heart and mind. Take time. Pull up a seat at my table. Let's eat!

Dragonfall by L. R. Lam - I haven't read a good dragon fantasy novel in ages. Really looking forward to this one. Out in May 2023.

Long-banished dragons, revered as gods, return to the mortal realm in the first in this magical new epic fantasy trilogy from a bestselling author

Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to a dying world. Centuries later, their descendants worship dragons as gods. But the "gods" remember, and they do not forgive.

Thief Arcady scrapes a living on the streets of Vatra. Desperate, Arcady steals a powerful artifact from the bones of the Plaguebringer, the most hated person in Lumet history. Only Arcady knows the artifact's magic holds the key to a new life among the nobles at court and a chance for revenge.

The spell connects to Everen, the last male dragon foretold to save his kind, dragging him through the Veil. Disguised as a human, Everen soon learns that to regain his true power and form and fulfil his destiny, he only needs to convince one little thief to trust him enough to bond completely--body, mind, and soul--and then kill them.

Yet the closer the two become, the greater the risk both their worlds will shatter.