Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

Pros: interesting characters, intriguing family drama, good mystery

Cons: historically accurate slurs

Fired from the police after being found during a raid on a gay bar Andy Mills is prepared to end it all. He’s offered a detective job, to determine if Irene Lamontaine was murdered or if she died in an accidental fall. Lavender House, the family estate, is a haven for the family, all of whom have reasons to love and hate the victim. As the case progresses, Andy is forced to consider his life and choices, and what makes a family.

The book is set in San Francisco during the 1950, when gay acts were criminalized, and makes use of historically accurate slurs and derogatory language, which may be distressing to some readers. It also includes a beating by cops and thoughts of suicide.

The book evokes a lot of strong emotions and there are several affecting scenes. I’m not familiar with the historical period, but the author did an excellent job of making it come to life.

The interpersonal drama of the family was interesting and complex enough to keep me intrigued about the case. It had a satisfying ending.

While not for everyone, this is an interesting historical mystery. I’m hoping it’s the start of a series.

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

Cons:

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.