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LoraM

Lora's Rants and Reviews

My own unapologetic opinions on books and writing. I DO NOT accept review requests but only review books I choose to read and I don't post reviews on Amazon. I'm also persnickity about genre and plot. DO NOT FOLLOW ME IF YOU'RE HERE TO ADVERTISE, ESPECIALLY NON-BOOK PRODUCTS. I WILL BLOCK YOU!!!

Currently reading

Kitchen Witchcraft
Rachel Patterson
Progress: 2%
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army
Edoardo Albert
Progress: 1%
Magic Medicine: A Trip Through the Intoxicating History and Modern-Day Use of Psychedelic Plants and Substances
Cody Johnson
Hero at the Fall
Alwyn Hamilton
Progress: 9%
Pieces of Her
Karin Slaughter
John Peters in the land of Demons
A.H.matai
Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles, Book One)
Tamora Pierce
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream
Christopher Golden
Barnabas Tew and The Case Of The Missing Scarab
Columbkill Noonan
Progress: 3%
Sound—The Fabric of Soul, Consciousness, Reality, and the Cosmos
Ramiro Mendes, João Mendes
Progress: 16%

Haunted Castles of England

Haunted Castles of England - J.G. Montgomery

by L.M. Montgomery

 

Non-fiction

 

This started out with a dramatic scenario description, written in second person, sort of guiding the reader through a ghost encounter situation. After that, to my surprise, it actually explained ghost stories as only having life as stories and nothing real behind them. After that it gets into individual castles that are known for ghost stories and I was amused to find seven of them that I have been to.

 

Most of the book is a series of blurbs about each of the castles, giving a little history and relating what stories have been told about ghost sightings in them and any speculation about who these ghosts might be. The approach is refreshingly objective, though the author does admit to seeing three ghosts first hand at the end.

 

I expect to refer back to this book as a reference whenever I travel, to see what stories have been told about castles in the areas I visit. Though the individual entries are short, they are sufficiently descriptive to be a good travel guide for the castles themselves, with or without the ghosts.

Ghost Boy

Ghost Boy - Stafford Betty

by Stafford Betty

 

Sometimes a book starts a little awkwardly, like the author was trying too hard to make a start and to get too many things in too soon or to make a special effort to mention some 'agenda'. I had to make a few allowances for this one because the story I was expecting to read, about a protagonist who sees ghosts, was worked into that crucial first chapter smoothly enough to hope for some good flow to the rest of the story.

 

It did flow well after, though I felt the narrative was 'young' for my taste, but it's targeted at YA and middle grade and I would say appropriate for the middle grade age group, apart from the diversions into conversations about 'God' that don't quite fit in and come across as if the author is laying ground to push young readers towards religious beliefs.

 

Ben Conover is a boy from a religious family, but he sees ghosts, especially a girl ghost who he calls Abby. His parents don't believe what he sees is real of course and try to get him to stop making comments about it. The story covers interactions with other kids, both friends and foes, as well as family members. There are a few lessons about following the lead of older kids, especially relatives, who do things you know aren't smart and about dealing with life in general from a 12-13 year old's perspective.

 

Overall I did enjoy the story, but it didn't really progress in a central theme and I thought the ending left some inconclusive loose ends. I liked Ben as a character, but I did think some of the situations could have been better developed or followed up.

Llewellyn's Little Book of Life Between Lives

— feeling dead
Llewellyn's Little Book of Life Between Lives  - The Newton Institute

The Newton Institute

 

I have to admit that the first few chapters of this put far too much emphasis on belief. Maybe it's because I've read other books on this subject matter but I feel that someone who takes the trouble to read about it has already become at least open to belief and the 'exercises' in the first few chapters seem redundant and amount to quiet contemplation of the sort of things that will have already led the reader to pick up the book, like being attracted to certain places or eras.

 

As the chapters went on I had hoped for something more, but the 'exercises' continued to be more suggestions for things to think about rather than guidance for self-hypnosis as I've seen in other books. There were references for going between lives but no real instruction about how to accomplish that.

 

All of the 'evidence' presented was completely subjective accounts. No examples of evidence that got confirmed by historical records or surviving relatives of the previous person as I've seen elsewhere.

 

When it began talking about a council of elders, the book pretty much lost me and it went further into new age territory after that. To be quite honest, if this were the only book I had ever read on reincarnation, I would be writing the topic off as total fantasy. The writing itself is good, but there is nothing to convince the questioning reader that any of it is any more than imagination.

Woven in Wire

Woven in Wire - Sarah Thompson

by Sarah Thompson

 

The cover picture of this book is enough to see that it's for the more intricate and polished end of wire jewellery making. This is not one for beginners!

 

Having said that, the basics are still covered. Tools, Materials and Techniques are the first chapters, followed by Weaving and Sculpting before it gets into Symmetry and Transformation.

 

There are a lot of full color pictures of some very impressive jewellery pieces. The chapter on tools is straightforward enough and would be useful at any level of experience. It goes into more detail than I've seen in other books on wire weaving. Materials is slanted towards working in silver, though other craft wires are mentioned.

 

The chapter on techniques seems short, yet it's mind boggling. How can something look easy and complicated at the same time? As I said, this one isn't for the beginners. Weaving and sculpting are similarly simple yet complicated. Then instructions for the pictures pieces give the reader a chance to apply the information and find out just how easy/complicated putting it all into practice can be!

 

I'll be honest, this book scares me. It also intrigues me! I want to be able to make the sort of amazing jewellery that is shown but I know it's not as easy as it looks. I think practice is in order, but I'm not ready to invest in silver to the extent that making the really cool pieces would require.

 

The pieces are gorgeous though and the instructions are clear and detailed, so maybe someday.

Unnatural Creatures

Unnatural Creatures - Maria Dahvana Headley, Neil Gaiman

edited by Neil Gaiman

 

This is a collection of mostly excellent stories edited by Neil Gaiman. Naturally the quality of writing is set to a high bar and I enjoyed most of them very much. Except for Gaimans own contribution, they are all previously published somewhere, one as far back as 1909! Many are by known authors, though I'm not familiar with a lot of them.

 

Ironically, the first one I thought was a little slow was Gaiman's own story, which was number 12 and followed by a werewolf story that was a favorite of his, but I couldn't get into it. The theme of the anthology is strange and mythological creatures. Each story has at least one of these unnatural beasties. Or something close to it. The second to last one was a stand-out for an original approach to this theme and very well written.

 

As anthologies go, this was very high quality, but what else could you expect from Neil Gaiman?

Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals Vol. 2

Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals, Volume 2 - Jill Stansbury

by Dr. Jill Stansbury, ND

 

This is the second of a five volume set of herbal formularies, this one focusing on respiration and circulation. It starts with an introduction about honoring traditional knowledge, remembering that modern pharmacology came out of folkloric herbal medicine and most medicines are still refined from the same plants our ancestors used in raw form.

 

The book is well presented and reads like a serious book on medicine rather than the sort of airy-fairy new age stuff you often see about herbalism. There are three chapters within 184 pages of fascinating information, partially laid out in encyclopedic form. The first chapter is The Art of Herbal Formulation. This covers diagnosis, symptoms, and basically how to determine what herbs to use for a problem.

 

There is preventative advice like how to support vitality instead of opposing disease. The second chapter goes into creating formulas for the circulatory system. This includes what nutrients will support various biological processes and parts of the system. Some of the information like using cardio glycosides makes me think that a doctor's advice would be needed rather than self-treatment, but as a reference volume for someone in the medical profession it would be brilliant.

 

The drawing of various herbal plants add visual interest and are very well done. A lot of the herbal names are full Latin rather than common names, though the common names are included in the encyclopedic lists, so this is a book for serious study. Even if it gives me mental images of shelves lined with arcane bottles and a wisened old man with a long beard as apothocary!

 

The third chapter is on formulas for respiratory conditions. Like the second chapter, it explains the processes and follows with an encyclopedic list of relevant herbs. There is an appendix to compare scientific names to common names followed by another one to translate the common names to the Latin, then a glossary of therapeutic terms.

 

Unlike a lot of reference books, I think this one would be worth reading all through to familiarize the reader with the material, after which it would sit well on the shelf of a medical reference library. Someone with a formal medical education would probably already be familiar with most of the terms, but I found it all rather interesting.

Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated

Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated: Techniques and Patterns for Traditional Sweaters - Beth Brown-Reinsel

by Beth Brown-Reinsel

 

Not just another knitting pattern book!

 

Ganseys and their southern cousins, Guernseys, are a traditional form of textured sweater made for fishermen to keep in extra warmth and with gussets in the arms for extra freedom of movement.

 

This is a new edition of a book already in publication. It's well presented and has lots of good quality color photographs. It starts with a little history, explaining exactly what a Gansey is and where they come from. It goes into detail about the materials, tools and methods traditionally used, but adapts instructions for modern knitting tools.

 

It explains the forms and construction of this type of sweater and the reasons for such attributes as the underarm gusset. The instructions start with basic casting on and include design variations and a selection of edges the knitter might want to use for their project. It also includes instructions to make samplers for those who don't feel confident to jump right in with a full-sized pullover.

 

Reasons for different designs of ribbing and welts are explained and I saw some interesting possibilities for using side welts to make a more tabbard-like project. Knitting in initials was shown with a chart for all letters and my imagination took me well out of the traditional with possibilities for writing slogans on the backs of knitted projects!

 

There are lots charts for different traditional patterns of textures and information about how they were traditionally used. One thing that is different about this book is that it encourages the knitter to create their own designs, based on the basic elements. There is a little cabling, but most of the patterns are a matter of basic knitting and garter stitch.

 

Naturally a few different neckline choices are also offered. I have to say that as far as personal design in knitting goes, this is probably the most interesting and useful book I've seen. I can see myself experimenting extensively with these ideas! The way the patterns are broken down into basic squares, gussets, edges and shoulder straps and joins allows for a very personally tailored fit and completely personalised combinations of textured designs.

 

The knitting methods themselves are pretty basic and should be easy for any knitter to follow. Charts are given for measurements when creating your own designs as well as instruction for making the right fit. There's even a worksheet for planning out your project.

 

The last part of the book gives nine of the author's own patterns for those who feel more comfortable with working with an established pattern and these make good examples for the adventurous who are ready to jump in and design their own. One of the things I note is that the sleeves tend to mostly be roomy, which allows for wearing a pullover over a long-sleeved top which is likely in the sort of cold weather that would merit wearing a pullover at all.

 

I really liked this book. I think I may get more use out of it than any knitting book I've had before.

DNF 29%.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen

It's just not for me. I may try another Austen sometime but I get the feeling she's just not for me.

June wrap up

The Flight of the Griffin - C.M. Gray Cat Lady Embroidery: 380 Ways to Stitch a Cat - Applemints Gypsy Blood - Jeff Gunhus Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler - Mary Sharratt A Secret Twice Hidden - Shanna Lauffey The City of Brass - S.A. Chakraborty

So, I finished 6 books this month. Not bad for me. 4 of them were Netgalley reads and all of those were good, as was the most recent installment of the time travel series I follow. The one YA book I read was reasonably good even, with a few allowances.

 

The only problem is that when I was giving feedback at Netgalley, I went a bit mad and requested too many books again! If my currently reading shelf looks mental, it's because I always put my review promises there, even if I haven't started them yet.

 

This could take a while.

Flight of the Griffin

The Flight of the Griffin - C.M. Gray

by C.M. Gray

 

This is a YA story and reads like one, yet it has a dark and magical plotline that intrigued me and kept me interested. A young thief makes a special haul on a dare that includes a magical knife. The previous owner of the knife seems to be unaware of its significance or the connection to a small grey cat that has been living with him for several weeks.

 

The thief and his friends live on a boat, but don't want to sail away too suddenly as the city watch would notice and they would come under suspicion for the significant burglary. In the course of deciding how to stash some of the loot and minimize evidence, they discover some of the unusual properties of the knife.

 

Their adventures soon begin to look like a gaming campaign or the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series, but a lot of imagination goes into the plot and there are some original ideas I found interesting. It's the typical Order vs Chaos scenario with heroes and demons and would be gold for a middle grade reader.

 

A few too convenient solutions and the innocent nobility of the warrior among the heroes being reluctant to kill an unarmed enemy makes it most appropriate for young readers, but still it had some wonderfully fantastical ideas and the writing itself was flawless.

Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

— feeling bad egg
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen

Does anything actually happen in this story? Or is it all about gossiping about the insufferable Mr Darcy? I'm seriously considering DNF.

Cat Lady Embroidery

Cat Lady Embroidery: 380 Ways to Stitch a Cat - Applemints

by Applemints

 

This is a pattern book, so not a lot of text. The designs are all cats; cat faces, cats doing things, whimsical cats, cats with kittens, holiday cats, both Halloween and Christmas, cat alphabets, and of most interest to me, kitty borders that would look great on clothing.

 

The first section is full color pictures of all the designs, followed by a 'project inspiration gallery' with suggestions of where to apply the embroidery. Any piece of clothing or accessory made of cloth is a potential canvas. There is a comprehensive section on tools and materials that gives all the basics of this type of embroidery in simple enough terms for a beginner and shows the effects of using different numbers of strands of embroidery floss.

 

There are just three basic stitches involved; a chain stitch, a fill stitch and a French knot. Anyone who can wield a needle can do these. They include a chart to identify colors in two major brands of embroidery floss as well.

 

After that is pictorial chart instructions for all the designs. All the needleworker has to do is transfer the design onto whatever they want to embroidery and follow the lines with the color and number of strands indicated. Easy peasy, anyone who can follow a line can decorate their clothing with cute cats!

 

I thought it was brilliantly done and the designs are really cute. I'm looking forward to transforming my entire wardrobe into crazy cat lady clothes.

Gypsy Blood

Gypsy Blood - Jeff Gunhus

by Jeff Gunhus

 

The very first chapter of this one had some attention-grabbing phrases that sucked me right into the story to see what was going to happen. A couple of chapters in and there was some graphic violence that challenged my squeamishness, but there was also a spooky aspect to the situation that made me want to know what was going on too much to let a little grossness put me off.

 

The story develops into a sort of supernatural mystery-thriller. Corbin Stewart is a writer having a hard time with finances and writer's block. He goes to Paris and finds himself caught up in some sort of war between a mysterious cloaked albino cult and the local Roma after his blood is tainted while trying to help an old man being attacked in an alley. A woman who says she works for his publisher is somehow involved.

 

There was a constant stream of surprises in this one. Just when I started to think I knew what was going on, another twist would throw a wobbler into the mix. It all became clear except which side certain characters were on. There was a certain amount of keeping the reader guessing on that one until the very end.

 

I can't help wondering if genuine Roma people might take offense at the way the group in the book are portrayed, but the story had plenty of action and a supernatural aspect that kept it interesting. The violence and grossness would return, but at least it wasn't a constant and only came in where the story was moved forward by it.

 

A couple of things were overly convenient but overall I really enjoyed the story and would definitely read more from this author.

Ecstasy

Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler - Mary Sharratt

by Mary Sharratt

 

Near the turn of the 19th century, Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. Female composers are unknown at the time, though new possibilities for women are opening up. She marries Gustav Mahler, who insists she give up her music as a condition of their marriage.

 

I liked the writing voice on this one right away. Alma had such enthusiasm that I wanted to see her achieve her dream from the start. The story takes us through her life as a young girl, her first love and her relationship with her various family members, but especially with her music.

 

It's not all upbeat though. Alma sacrifices a lot for her marriage and it's inevitable that she will question her decisions as time goes on. Mahler himself is a challenge to deal with and it was an era when women were expected to suppress their own needs and be supportive of a husband. Alma is a naturally passionate and creative person and this state of affairs can only clash with her natural inclinations.

 

I enjoyed reading this, despite the unhappy parts. The narrative kept my attention, even if at times I wanted to shake Alma and tell her she was making some bad decisions.

 

The historical note at the end was as interesting as the story itself. Alma was a woman ahead of her time, though her unfaithfulness in her marriages would bring a lot of criticism. She weathered some difficult times and gave her love to some of the top composers of her time. Some of her own compositions can be found on YouTube and I couldn't resist having a listen after reading this story. I found her 5 Lieder for voice and piano pretty amazing and can only imagine that if her music had been supported earlier in her life that she might have been recognised in history as one of the great composers herself, rather than just a shadow of her husband's accomplishments.

A Secret Twice Hidden

A Secret Twice Hidden - Shanna Lauffey

by Shanna Lauffey

 

I tried to read this episode a chapter at a time but there was some fast action and I just couldn't stop. Needless to say this series is still holding my attention!

 

The regular characters have been developing throughout the series and we've seen a different side to Kallie this time, one more vulnerable. She's still a strong female character but we get a look at some of her younger life and how it has affected the woman she became.

 

There are a couple of new characters who bring a new dimension to the ongoing story and the primary nemesis from the early books resurfaces. He has also developed over time but not in a good way. A couple of story lines are left open for the next episode, but I don't mind that in an 8th book of a series. The first book of this one (Time Shifters) tied up neatly so that it felt complete, but it's worth continuing because it keeps getting better and better!

 

Other previous characters have at least been mentioned which suggests to me that they are likely to reappear in the last two books. I get the feeling that all the factors are coming together for the series end, which I can't even begin to guess! There are a few sentimental moments too. I have some hopes for where the end of the saga may go but it's yet to be seen if things will go that way.

 

One thing I can definitely say for this series is that enough new elements get introduced that it's still holding its own 8 books in. Most series get too samey after a few books and I end up abandoning them. Not this one. I can't wait for episode 9!

For the Tolkien fans.