‘On a Friday that began ordinarily enough, Matt Durant’s left hook ended two lives.’
Matt Durant, aged 28, is a lawyer in contemporary New Orleans. Mat‘On a Friday that began ordinarily enough, Matt Durant’s left hook ended two lives.’
Matt Durant, aged 28, is a lawyer in contemporary New Orleans. Matt lives alone. His relationship with Andrea, a girlfriend from law school, has just ended and he is increasingly aware that he has always found men attractive. Matt is learning how to box at the gym where he works out each day: it’s one way of relieving stress. After working out at the gym followed by a six pack of lonely drinks at home, Matt decides to visit a gay bar. It’s a place where he and Andrea used to dance.
At the bar, Matt meets Joey Buckner. Later, when they step into the alley behind the bar, Joey is attacked by three drunken homophobes. Matt rushes to assist Joey, and one of the attackers is killed. When the police arrive, Matt is arrested. The other men say that they were intervening in a cocaine deal, and when Joey is found to possess cocaine, things go badly awry for Matt.
The balance of the novel moves through Matt’s experience of incarceration, the pre-trial investigation and the trial. Matt is charged with first-degree murder, and could face the death penalty. The jury selection is an important part of the preparation for trial: what roles will the attitudes and beliefs of jurors play in the outcome of this case?
Essentially, this novel takes a look at gay rights in relation to the criminal justice system. It’s an interesting and thought provoking read. There are some well-defined and likeable characters, including Matt’s mother Mary. The courtroom scenes are especially vivid, and while I found the end of the novel satisfying, it seemed to end very quickly.
Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.
‘The art of embroidery has been defined simply as the ornamentation of textiles with decorative stitchery.’
In this book, Lucinda Ganderton provides a‘The art of embroidery has been defined simply as the ornamentation of textiles with decorative stitchery.’
In this book, Lucinda Ganderton provides a clearly illustrated, step by step guide to over 200 decorative and practical stitches. A copy of this book has been part of my reference library for almost ten years, and I refer to it whenever I am looking for a decorative stitch for a particular purpose or when I need to remind myself exactly how to work a particular stitch.
‘It is an ancient craft which encompasses a wealth of history, and the same stiches are used by embroiderers throughout the world.’
After a section entitled ‘How to Use This Book’, this book contains six chapters. The first chapter covers the equipment, threads and fabrics used for stitchery, and the different techniques involved. This is followed by a library of the 234 stitches featured within the book, with the page reference to the instructions for each particular stitch.
For example: Back Stitch Rings (p102). Turn to page 102 for pictures of how to work the stitch, advice on what it is useful for and the method used and materials required to work this intermediate level stitch. I could have really used this book when I was attempting my first French knots!
The stitches are organised into four categories: Line and Border Stitches Filling Stitches Openwork Stitches Needlepoint Stitches
The colour illustrations for each stitch are clear and uncluttered, and there is an illustration of the completed stitch as well. I most recently referred to this book for decorative border stitches for some applique I’m attempting. The only problem I have is that there are so many different stitches to choose from: an entire world of possibilities.
‘Only a blind man would not know that he was looking at a king.’
Richard I known as Richard the Lionheart (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of‘Only a blind man would not know that he was looking at a king.’
Richard I known as Richard the Lionheart (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death. Richard was the third surviving son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and, almost as soon as he is crowned, makes plans to lead the Third Crusade (with Philippe of France) to reclaim Jerusalem for Christianity. In the 570+ pages of this novel, Ms Penman covers the period of Richard I‘s life from July 1189 to October 1192. A second novel ‘A King’s Ransom’ will pick up from where ‘Lionheart’ ends.
Ms Penman has woven an interesting novel around the historical facts: we see the legendary military genius of Richard I; the internal politicking and fighting amongst the Crusaders; and a portrayal of Saladin as being significantly more virtuous and noble than the European Christians allied (in the loosest sense of the word) against him. The journey to the Holy Land, via Sicily and Cyprus, has its own challenges: storms at sea which divide the fleet, fierce battles and political rivalry. There is always a degree of tension between Richard and Philippe of France, and the arrangements Richard has made for the governance of England in his absence cause additional problems. And the Holy Land itself presents Richard with a complex new set of problems to address.
But the story is not just about the men and the battles: Ms Penman also provides us with perspectives from Eleanor of Aquitaine, his sister Joanna the widowed queen of Sicily and Berengaria, the princess of Navarre whom he marries. Berengaria and Joanna accompany Richard to the Holy Land, while Eleanor keeps an eye on Richard’s European interests. There are some fictional characters as well, particularly Morgan (a Welsh cousin to Richard) and the Lady Mariam (the daughter of a Sicilian king and a Saracen slave who has been raised as a Christian) who add a different dimension to the story.
I enjoyed the description of the battle scenes – especially those that showed elements of the military genius for which Richard was legendary, and also those depicting Saladin’s strategic skills. I also enjoyed Ms Penman’s depiction of Berengaria and her relationship with Richard. Be warned, though, that there are a large number of characters in this book (the character list occupies three pages) and it can take some effort to keep track of them.
In an Author’s Note, Ms Penman states: ‘Richard I was never one of my favourite kings, although my knowledge of him was admittedly superficial.’ In contrast, he has always been one of my favourite kings, based on superficial and ahistorical representations in various portrayals of Robin Hood. Entertainment and imagination are not always well supported by facts. As a king, Richard I was viewed as a failure in his own time because of his failure to retake Jerusalem, and as a relative failure in comparatively modern times because he spent so little time (about six months) in England. Based on Ms Penman’s research, this novel paints a more nuanced picture of Richard.
I am looking forward to ‘A King’s Ransom’. I am interested in reading how Ms Penman will present the rest of Richard’s story.
‘Those who succeed and those fail are both destined to die.’
This novel, a work of historical fiction with elements of fantasy, opens in Edo in 1861 as‘Those who succeed and those fail are both destined to die.’
This novel, a work of historical fiction with elements of fantasy, opens in Edo in 1861 as two centuries of Japanese isolation is forcibly ended by outsiders from the West. As foreign ships threaten to destroy the Shogun’s castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries arrives. The missionaries are the Reverend Zephaniah Cromwell, his fiancée Emily Gibson, and Matthew Stark. Unsurprisingly, each has secrets and each has a reason for wanting to be in Japan which is not directly related to missionary work.
The missionaries are received as guests by Lord Genji, the heir to the Okumichi clan, and Zephaniah Cromwell is fatally wounded in an attempt to destroy Genji. Lord Genji, like one member of each generation in his family, is gifted with prophetic visions and he has foreseen that his life will be saved by an outsider. When Lord Genji is forced to flee from Edo to his ancestral home: the castle known as Cloud of Sparrows, he takes with him the missionaries Emily Gibson and Matthew Stark, together with his lover Lady Heiko, and his uncle, the legendary swordsman Lord Shigeru.
Their adventures involve some bloodthirsty battles, some Zen-like wisdom, and some elements both of cultural difference and prejudice. For some characters, their adventures lead to increased self –knowledge and increasingly, tolerance.
‘Courage is knowing fear and overcoming it.’
I really enjoyed the portrayals of Lord Genji and Lady Heiko, as well as many of the minor characters. The turmoil of this period in history is clearly shown: the end of isolation from the West had its own impact on traditional Japanese society. Some elements of the story did not appeal to me – in particular aspects of Lord Shigeru’s story - and yet as a whole it fitted together in a particularly satisfying way. I enjoy reading novels set in feudal Japan, or using elements of feudal Japan to create alternate worlds.
I enjoyed this novel and I’ll be reading the sequel ‘Autumn Ridge’ shortly.
‘If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants.’
I wonder what Isaac Newton really meant, when he included this line in a letter t‘If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants.’
I wonder what Isaac Newton really meant, when he included this line in a letter to Robert Hooke, in February 1676. Was it a generous statement of acknowledgement, or was it an unsubtle reference to Robert Hooke’s stature? All we know for certain is that Newton and Hooke had a number of disagreements, including about the nature of light. As both Hooke and Newton are scientific heroes of mine, I’d prefer to read the statement positively.
We know so little about the Isaac Newton the person, and yet most of us know of him and his achievements. We don’t really know what he looked like, and yet there are a number of differing images available. The accomplishments attributed to Newton in science and mathematics are significant. In his ‘Principia Mathematica’, published in 1687, Newton reasons the universe in terms of a few differential equations. This is profound, but was not accessible to many. The publication of ‘Opticks’ in 1704 had a more direct impact. In that work, Newton described the refraction of sunlight through a prism into a rainbow of colours. The arguments in this book had an immediate impact and its popularity caused greater attention to be paid to ‘Principia Mathematica’.
But this book is less about Newton’s science and mathematics as it is about his impact on other thinkers. Ms Fara also investigates the different ways in which Newton’s life and work have been interpreted over the past three centuries.
It is ironic that Newton, who never lost his Christian faith, had presented the Age of Reason with the tools to argue alternate views of the universe. Newton’s many admirers included Thomas Jefferson, François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) and his mistress Emilie du Chatelet. Voltaire’s admiration of Newton was part of an ‘Angolmania’ that spread amongst the cultural and intellectual elite of France in the 18th century. By the early 19th century, a Romantic reaction had set in against Newton and science. In ‘Lamia’ - John Keats wrote:
Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage War on his temples. Do not all charms fly At the mere touch of cold philosophy? There was an awful rainbow once in heaven: We know her woof, her texture; she is given In the dull catalogue of common things. Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine— Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.
Three years earlier, Keats had agreed with Charles Lamb that Newton ‘had destroyed all the Poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism.’
In the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes had this to say: ‘Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians ... Isaac Newton, a posthumous child born with no father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonder child to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage... Why do I call him a magician? Because he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher's treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood... He regarded the Universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty—just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, would be revealed to the initiate.’
This is an interesting book about Isaac Newton and his influence. It is is not a conventional biography of Isaac Newton: the facts of his life have frequently been disputed and his posthumous reputation has its own contradictions. This book left me wanting to know more about Newton’s life, and also to read more of the books Ms Fara refers to.
‘We can only view Newton’s accomplishments and experiences through the refracting prism of a society that has itself been constantly changing.’
‘In the 21st century, sashiko continues to evolve.’
Sashiko (the word means ‘little stab’) is a traditional Japanese quilting technique which uses a si‘In the 21st century, sashiko continues to evolve.’
Sashiko (the word means ‘little stab’) is a traditional Japanese quilting technique which uses a simple running stitch. Originally the technique was used to combine two or three layers of fabric to create warm, economical clothing. Today its use seems to be mainly decorative.
My first introduction to sashiko was earlier this year, when I saw some sashiko panels on my first visit to a local quilting store. At that stage, I was looking at fabric for my first machine quilting project, but was very attracted to the potential (and portability) of sashiko. I’ve since completed my first sashiko project (a small tote bag featuring a wave pattern) and am keen to learn more about the history and techniques of sashiko stitching.
I bought this book after reading a number of reviews, and I’m delighted. The history of sashiko is interesting, the selection of relatively simple projects provides opportunities to practice the techniques, and the different patterns (over 100 are included) provide plenty of inspiration for the future.
This is a great guide for those of us starting sashiko stitching: there’s information on fabric and thread selection, as well as advice on how to mark and stitch the patterns. There are plenty of diagrams and photographs to assist as well. The ten projects include table mats, a table runner and tote bags, as well as cards and cushions: there are plenty of possibilities.
This is the story of two women who each were ‘Lady of the English’: Adeliza, the second wife of Henry I and the Empress‘She has greatness within her.’
This is the story of two women who each were ‘Lady of the English’: Adeliza, the second wife of Henry I and the Empress Matilda (1102-1167), his daughter. Matilda is Henry I’s heir, after the death of her brother William in the White Ship disaster (1120). Matilda was married to Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor in 1114 and when he dies in 1125, she returns to England, before being married to Geoffrey of Anjou. Adeliza of Louvain (1103-1151) was Matilda’s stepmother. When Henry died in December 1135, his nephew Stephen seizes the English throne while Matilda is in Anjou with her husband Geoffrey and their young children. And thus began a period of English civil war sometimes known as the Anarchy.
In this novel, we see events between 1125 and 1149 through the eyes of Matilda and Adeliza. While Matilda’s struggle for the throne dominates the history, the novel tells the story of two quite different women who, while finding themselves on different sides during the Anarchy are strongly linked as the daughter and wife of Henry I. By recreating the era in which Matilda and Adeliza lived, Ms Chadwick makes the history more accessible. While I have read aspects of Matilda’s story before, I’ve not previously read about Adeliza. The two stories joined together made it easier to understand the positions adopted by some of the participants in the Anarchy.
Adeliza finds new joy in her life, as a consequence of her marriage to William D’Albini but is torn between her obligations to her husband and to her stepdaughter. Matilda fights to wrest the English crown from Stephen both for herself, and as her son Henry’s heritage. Ms Chadwick is now working on a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine: having met the young Henry II in this novel, I’m looking forward to the trilogy.
‘Causation only runs forward. Things happen once, only once.’
The novel begins with a prologue in which we meet the main characters Clare and Henry, an‘Causation only runs forward. Things happen once, only once.’
The novel begins with a prologue in which we meet the main characters Clare and Henry, and learn of the nature of their relationship. Henry DeTamble is a time traveller. He has Chrono-Displacement Disorder - a genetic glitch which, especially at times of stress, moves him from the present into his own past, and sometimes into the future. Time travel is dangerous for Henry: he arrives at some other point in his life naked and nauseated, vulnerable and often in danger. Henry meets his wife, Clare Abshire, at the Newberry Library in Chicago for the first time when she is 20 and he is 28. Clare has known Henry since she was 6.
The story is told, in alternating first-person perspectives, by Clare and Henry. Time travel has its dangers for Henry, but for Clare there are periods of absence – some short, others long – while she waits for Henry to reappear and never knowing at what stage he will be in his life when he reappears. The time traveller’s wife spends a lot of time waiting, wondering and wishing.
‘Why is love intensified by absence?’
It’s a love story, complicated by Henry’s involuntary and disruptive time-travelling. It’s a comparatively long novel, but easy to read because of the way in which it is laid out. Many of my friends loved this novel, and I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me such a long time to get around to reading it. I’m glad that I’ve read it now.
I’ve recently ventured into the world of quilting (whatever took me so long?) and turned to a book, rather tA Beginner’s Guide is just what I need ...
I’ve recently ventured into the world of quilting (whatever took me so long?) and turned to a book, rather than a class, to learn more about the tools required and the techniques used. I initially borrowed a copy of this book, but very quickly realised that I just had to have my own copy.
Why this book? Well, in addition to the step-by step explanations of every aspect of quilt making – from tools and equipment, through fabric selection and measuring seam allowances, it explains the different techniques involved for piecing and appliqué. It includes information that is really important for a beginner like me: understanding the properties of different fabrics, how to estimate fabric quantities and importantly, how to assemble the layers and then to actually finish the quilt.
There are clear instructions, supported by diagrams and colour photographs to demonstrate aspects of the quilt making process. But in addition to all of the technical information about what quilts are and how to actually make one, there’s information on quilt design, a library of classic block designs and ten wonderful projects to consider.
I have a lot to learn about quilting, but reading this book has increased my knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm.
Catherine Parkstone is seeking to make a fresh start. Catherine is a 48 year old divorcée, with two grown childr‘You think there will always be time.’
Catherine Parkstone is seeking to make a fresh start. Catherine is a 48 year old divorcée, with two grown children who is now free – more or less – to pursue her own dream: a rural idyll in a place where she enjoyed childhood holidays. Catherine sells her home in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cévennes Mountains in France where she hopes to use her skills in needlecraft (tapestry and soft furnishings) to establish her own business.
Catherine finds the Cévennes beautiful, but it is also harsh and lonely terrain and it is difficult for an outsider to find acceptance – even a fluent French speaker. And there are other battles as well: both with the French bureaucracy and the mountain weather. Despite the initial reserve of her new neighbours, over time Catherine becomes part of the daily life in the community of Le Grelaudiere. She also becomes fascinated by the enigmatic Patrick Castagnol, her nearest neighbour. While Catherine is keen to build her new life, she also feels the pull of her former life: her aging mother is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and she misses her children Lexie and Tom, and her sister Bryony.
This is a delightful and enjoyable novel about family, friendship, love and new beginnings. It is also about the fragile beauty of a place and way of life. I enjoyed the way that Ms Thornton portrayed the relationships in this novel, and I loved her descriptions of the landscape in the Cévennes. The seasons of the mountains provided their own chronology for various events in the lives of the characters and Catherine’s tapestries also formed a partial metaphor for her new life: bringing together fabric, colour and idea to create something new, or to repair something old.
Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this novel for review purposes.
In the summer of 1545 England is at war with France. A massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the channe‘Murder follows me on this journey’.
In the summer of 1545 England is at war with France. A massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the channel as a consequence of Henry VIII’s unsuccessful invasion of France. The English fleet is gathering at Portsmouth, and the country is raising a militia army. The currency has been debased to pay for the war, and the country is gripped by soaring inflation and economic crisis. Against this backdrop of turmoil and uncertainty, Matthew Shardlake’s legal services are requested by Queen Catherine Parr to investigate the death of Michael Calfhill, the son of one of her former ladies-in-waiting. Michael, a former tutor to Hugh Curteys, believed that ‘monstrous wrongs’ were being committed against Hugh. Hugh, and his now deceased sister Emma, became wards of Sir Nicholas Hobbey when their own parents died of plague. Michael is found dead in an apparent suicide before the matter is dealt with. While Shardlake is not a lawyer of the Court of Wards, which governs the affairs of orphaned children, he agrees to take the case.
Investigation of the case involves travel through southern England where Shardlake also hopes to investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettiplace (an inmate of the Bedlam whom we first met in ‘Revelation’). Shardlake’s investigations lead him into danger as he seeks to make sense of what he uncovers. Neither his investigation of Hugh Curteys’s wardship nor of Ellen Fettiplace’s past progress smoothly and while he receives assistance from an old friend; he also crosses his old foe, Sir Richard Rich. Ultimately, Matthew Shardlake becomes caught up in the events at Portsmouth, where the fleet is massing, and ends up aboard the Mary Rose.
Matthew Shardlake is a wonderful character, and through his intelligent and principled investigations we are treated to a splendid view of Tudor life, law, history and politics. While it would be possible to read and enjoy this novel on a standalone basis, it really is best to read the novels in order to fully appreciate the characters and the setting.
‘A philosopher would have had a better chance of solving this riddle.’
Mikael Bloomkvist, Millenium publisher, has been approached by a journalist with‘A philosopher would have had a better chance of solving this riddle.’
Mikael Bloomkvist, Millenium publisher, has been approached by a journalist with a well-researched investigation into sex trafficking. Bloomkvist cannot resist becoming involved: he has built a reputation through exposing corrupt Swedish establishment figures.
Bloomkvist’s attempts to contact Lisbeth Salander (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) have largely been unsuccessful: she is avoiding him in person while closely monitoring his activities via his computer. Salander’s own past draws her inexorably into the sex trafficking investigation.
And then there are three murders. Evidence indicates that Salander was involved, but she disappears. Bloomkvist believes that she is innocent and tries to find her, and to work out who the killer really is. It’s a race against time as Salander is not only being sought by Bloomkvist and the police.
Two stories unfold simultaneously in this novel. First, there is the investigation into the murders which encompasses the sex trafficking investigation. Secondly, there is Lisbeth Salander’s traumatic past. The action moves between different sets of characters: the police investigation; an investigation by the private security investigator who once employed Salander; by Bloomkvist and also Salander’s own activities.
In the world inhabited by Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Bloomkvist, coincidence certainly seems to play a large part, yet this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Sure, some of the action seemed over the top and some of the characters – especially the bad guys - are stereotypes. But the central characters of Mikael Bloomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are flawed and enigmatic, and that is enough for me. This is the second book in the Millennium Trilogy, and I would strongly recommend reading them in order.
‘Perhaps the wolves saved them from a fate worse than death.’
In the Canadian winter of 1867, near the remote settlement of Caulfield, Laurent Jammet i
‘Perhaps the wolves saved them from a fate worse than death.’
In the Canadian winter of 1867, near the remote settlement of Caulfield, Laurent Jammet is found murdered. His body is discovered by Mrs Ross, whose first-person narrative is one thread of the story. Mrs Ross’s son, Francis, is a friend of Laurent Jammet. When Francis doesn’t return home after Jammet’s murder, he becomes a suspect.
A search for Jammet’s murderer is soon organised. The searchers include Mrs Ross and Donald Moody, representing the Hudson Bay Company. Others join the search as well, and the community is reminded of an earlier search for two young sisters who disappeared some years earlier. Solving Jammet’s murder is not the only truth being sought, and there are a number of other mysteries to be explored and motives to be understood. The wintry landscape both hides and preserves the pasts of some characters, as well as some of the evidence.
‘Doesn’t it always matter, finding the truth?’
It’s a challenge at times to follow the various narrative strands, but it becomes easier as the story progresses. There are a number of sub-plots which add different dimensions to what otherwise might be a straightforward murder investigation. The weather, the past and the country each play a part in the story.
I enjoyed this novel and while I fleetingly wished that all loose ends had been tied off at the end, I realised that would not have worked. Not for this novel.
‘The sound is inescapable; quiet but insistent, like conscience.’