Friday, April 18, 2014

"The Collector Of Dying Breaths" by M.J. Rose

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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (April 8, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451621532

What is worse that starting to read a book that you know you will love, and also know that you will hate how you will feel when it ends? When you actually get to finish! Every time I read a book by M.J. Rose, that's what happens. I had looked forward to the publication date for "The Collector of Lost Breaths", and eagerly began to read it. I could not put it down! The only thing, aside from awe, that I felt when it ended, was 'when I can read the next book in this 'series' ??!!

I have always enjoyed each and every book from the pen of M.J. Rose, none of them has ever been a disappointment. I do, at times, tend to anticipate that the more an author continues to write a series, the less fulfilling the books may become, but M.J. Rose seems to go in the opposite direction! "The Collector of Dying Breaths" is better that it's predecessor "Seduction" which was the sequel, of sorts, to her wonderful read, "The Book of Lost Fragrances". All three of these books have been delights, but this latest offering really riveted me. It is divinely suspenseful, with a plot that is intricately interwoven with a raft of interesting, well rounded characters. I simply could not put this book down. As predicted, when I finished reading it, I was, indeed, sad! The problem with finishing such a good read is that no other book holds my interest for very long. I have to wait for my enthusiasm to re-ignite!

This book continues the story of Jac L'Etoile and her brother, Robbie, both of whom are well known perfumers. I love perfume myself and so this series of books has really held my interest. Ms. Rose obviously knows her stuff when it comes to the perfecting of scents! The books spans the 16th century to the present. It is, in part, a love story which adds to the interest of the book - but this is no bodice ripper - the  bonds of love in this story are much too delicious just for that! The romance is perfectly interwoven within the plot which is about the concept of collecting the last breaths of dying people in order to reanimate their souls.

I am also a time travel fan as well as a lover of historical fiction and no one manages this writing style more artfully than M.J. Rose. Her books are very well researched and the historical facts blend beautifully with the fiction. This book is a love story, a tale of reincarnation (which will please both believers as well as non-believers), a book of complete suspense right to the end, and it is also a book that presents some interesting historical facts about the indomitable Queen of France, Catherine deMedici and her predilection for all things alchemical and astronomical.

My only problem now is that I have to wait for the next book! I just want to keep reading...maybe I should just begin to re-read the entire 'Reincarnationist' series from the very beginning ?!!

The 'series' includes:  The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist, as well as these last three, amazing, volumes, The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction, and now "The Collector of Lost Breaths". Each is a perfect stand alone book, but if read in order you simply are more aware of some of the small nuances of the series.

The author's website,, is very interesting. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Two New Noteworthy Titles From Search Press

I believe that I have mentioned in the past that one of my favorite craft book publishers is Search Press. The books that they publish are always premium quality and I find that their new titles always manage to entice me. The following two have done just that! Thanks to the great people at Search Press I have been able to take a peek at two of their upcoming releases. Have a look. I bet you will want to add them to your pre-order list!

Jenny Dean is one of my favorite authors who writes about all things natural dye. The first book of Jenny's that I fell in love with and use consistently is called "Wild Color". I love this book. The photography is perfect, the directions are all wonderfully written for ease of comprehension - and they are easy to follow. Nature affords us so many beautiful options for colors of dye!

This new little gem of a book, "A Heritage of Color" covers the colors that are possible to obtain from 50 rather ordinary plants. Plants that have provided our world with color for more than 2000 years. Different ways of processing, using a variety of mordants and "eco-dying" are covered. This little 160 page gem offers a lot. It will have its permanent place on my bookshelf next to "Wild Color" and, I know, it will be an often used, much dog eared book! The release date in June 10, 2014, but this title is available for pre-order now! Get yours reserved!

 I have heard the word 'Zakka'  a lot recently, but really wasn't sure just what it meant - or what the style was. In all honesty, I had not been interested enough to find out more about it. That is, until I saw the cover of this book. I had been looking for a pattern similar to the one on the cover for some time. I am so glad that I got to have a look at this book and learn more about Zakka!

According to author Cecelia Hanselmann, the word Zakka "...originates from a Japanese word which originally meant 'household items', ... In recent years, it has increasingly been used to mean home made everyday items...". 

The 'everyday items' in "Love To Sew Zakka Style Gifts" include (a partial list ) the 'Sakura Box Bag' (on the cover), a camera pouch, a tissue holder, an owl paperweight, a mug wrap, a coin purse, table baskets and more. If you like to sew and also like to make and gift handmade items, then this book would be a perfect addition to your library! 

This very modestly priced book seems to be available for purchase now, although the official release date is May 13, 2014.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen and The Revolution" by Will Bashor

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  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; First edition (October 16, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762791538

I was browsing the "new non-fiction" stacks at the library when I discovered this book. I took it home not really expecting much since the time of French Revolution, as tumultuous as it was, is not really "my" taste in historical readings.

Imagine my surprise when I could not put this book down! It's a fascinating look at the French Revolution and the demise of the French Monarchy from the view of Marie Antoinette's hairdresser, Leonard Autie.

I have read my share of historical accounts of the last days of the Monarchy in France, and I have read even more about the life and death of Marie Antoinette, but this book managed to fill in some details that I had never known, and I learned a lot that I had not previously known. This book provides fascinating historical details that always manage to provide a broader picture of a particular time in history.

Leonard arrived in Paris in 1769 with nothing in hand except his "magical comb", a few francs and his ambition. He swiftly became the queen's hairdresser, hobnobbing with the powerful nobles of the land. In the years that followed his arrival as a penniless coiffeur, Leonard even had hopes of becoming ennobled himself.

 It was Leonard who developed those towering head dresses that always seem to be a part of my collective image of Marie Antoinette. As I looked through the plentiful illustrations of this book (something I truly appreciated) I noticed that these outrageous head dresses manage to balance the equally outrageous fashions of the era, something that I had never considered before. Leonard became fast friends with the Queen's milliner and dress maker, Rose Bertin. I wonder if they planned it all in advance? The "too-wide-to-go-through-a-door" hoops in the dress in sync with the "too-tall-to-go-through-a-door" hair styles!

I had not known that there were actually three royal hairdressers named Leonard (nor had I had ever known the name of the person who created these towering hair styles for that matter). Leonard had also employed his relatives and all three were known as 'Leonard'. I had not known that one of these Leonard's actually had a hand to play in the Royal family's disastrous attempt to flee Paris.  The book goes into some very interesting detail about the multiple calamities that doomed this chance at safety, there were so many things that went wrong with the planned escape. If even one of these things had gone right history might well have played out so much differently. The flight of the Royal family is one detail that I had, heretofore, not paid too much attention to, but  I found that these details were riveting as I read this book.

This book is filled to the brim with fascinating, little known, information that is, obviously, the product of many long hours of meticulous fact finding and precise historical documentation. 

I have often wondered what I would have done had been alive during either the American or the French revolutions.  In the past I  thought that I might have been more of a Monarchist, but after reading this book I think that I underestimated the reckless expenditures of the royals in France with the destitution of the multitudes. This was a French storm that had been brewing for a long time; similar, but also quite different, from the American Revolution. In hindsight it seems as if these tragedies were almost fated to happen. 

The Royals knew no other life but that of wealth and privilege. They thought of money as an endless stream that procured their pleasures and pomp, while the general citizens knew only lives of dire, desperate, poverty that left many dead of hunger. The time of the French Revolution was a flood that washed away the foundations of every belief that had once been known as the law. By the time the Royals knew the extent of the problem it was already too late I think.

This book really helped me to see the Revolution in a very different light than I had previously. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it written in a very 'readable' style. As I said, I could not put it down!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

" A Kings Ransom" by Sharon Kay Penman

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  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam (March 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399159220

I have to admit to having a particular penchant for large books. The thicker the better as far as I am concerned! Often, when I am looking for something new to read, if I have an option between a book with fewer pages and one with more, I will choose the thicker of the two.

Sharon Kay Penman's "A King's Ransom" does not disappoint in any way . I loved this book!

It's an unstoppable novel that pulls you in and keeps you right smack dab in the middle of the action. I could almost believe that I 'knew' Richard, Eleanor, Joanne and Berngaria, Mariam, Morgan and all of the other 'major players' of Ms. Penman's other novels as I read this amazing account of "Richard, the man". 

(The author likens her previous book, "Lionheart" as the story of Richard, the legend, while this book recounts the story  of Richard, the man")

There are not too many authors who can bring me into the time period of which they write. I can count the ones that do on less than two hands. I sharpened my love for  'historical fiction" when I began to read Ms. Penman's earlier works, and I still feel, that to some degree, I judge other authors by her work - as well as by about three other superior historical fiction authors who I think are  write exemplary, historically accurate, fiction. My devotion to history (non-fiction) sprang largely from my love of historical fiction. I read non-fiction now with as much relish and excitement as I read historical fiction - all thanks to authors such as Ms. Penman. That's an inspiring debt to have!

This is the tale of the last seven years of Richard's life. These years were filled with torment for Richard, his family and the Kingdom. Held as a prisoner of Henrich, The Holy Roman Emperor, Richard was kept in a torturous dungeon that almost sapped his spirit as well as his life. Richard and his mother, Queen Eleanor, overcame every obstacle that was put in their way -  regaining both Kingship and Kingdom through paying a huge, punitive ransom that was followed by years of subterfuge and political rankling. Ricahrd was always at war with France, and the many other dutchies and kingdoms that made up the royal world of the time.

This is also the story of his faithful, but beleaguered Queen Berengaria of Spain; of her loneliness and self-recriminations for not providing Richard with an heir. It is the story of Lady Miriam (a Saracen woman from the Holy Land) and her Welsh love. A love that Miriam came close to losing because of surprisingly modern concerns - those of mixed race children and peer discrimination. 

Richard's sister Queen Joanna features heavily in this book as does her love for the 'heretic' Raimond of Toulouse, a man known more for his tolerance than for his prowess on the battlefield. It is also of course,  the story of the strength, courage and remarkable intellect of Richard's mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. A woman who would have been considered remarkable in our own time, but was truly unique and unexpected in her own time. I would give a lot to have more historical background available about this amazing woman!

I could probably write a short book about all of the reasons why I loved this book, and why I am so sad that I have finished reading it. I hate it when a superb books ends, because then nothing that comes after, for a while at least, quite seems to measure up! This book became a place  for me to get lost in, a place where my imagination could spin clothing and colors, odors and fear.

Richard's death came as almost an after thought. It was happenstance . It came from a wound not acquired in the heat of battle or from a disease contracted in the mire of an infested camp ground, but it came as a 'bolt from the blue'  as he was inspecting his sappers. A wound that he almost missed!  How history might have different but for a few inches! I was especially pleased at the finesse that Ms. Penman used in NOT finishing the book with this wound, for the pages continue to flow for a time after, and follows the lives of the main characters just a bit further down the paths of heir lives. Perfectly done!

One of the things I like the best about Sharon Kay Penman's work is the historical basis upon which she creates her novels. I love reading her "Afterwords" and her  "Author's Note's", although it has been said that the Authors Note is  not one of the aspects of writing that she looks forward to. Ms. Penman's background in the history about which she writes is formidable, as well grounded as any historian can be. I can read with a good amount of certainty that most of the salient facts of the book are truth-based, and every time I read her Author's Notes I learn something more about the historical novelist's burden of accuracy, for a burden it must surely be to so skillfully weave the facts into the thin veil of fiction.

Had Richard lived today he would be hailed as the worlds foremost commander and political strategist. Had Eleanor lived today she would be running for President or Prime Minister. 

This book has been one of my favorite reads in some time. It  offers something to please everyone, and, I believe, will become one your favorite new read too!

I was thrilled to be able to read and review an ARC of this amazing book.
My opinion and review are true to my personal feelings about this amazing book! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

World Enough and Time On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen

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  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bauhan; first edition (May 11, 2011)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872331464

My dear friend, Janet, gifted me with this book for the holiday. She could not have chosen a more perfect gift! I began to read it as soon as I opened it and, having the luxury of time alone this Christmas, I spent the best part of the day reading it. It's been an inspiration for me, and I think that many of you might also benefit from reading it. 

Most of the creative people that I know experience times when the muse flees the mental coop, leaving us  brooding  about "what now"?  We wonder if this will be a short hiatus from our internal creative dialog or if, a paralyzing thought, the muse has left on a more permanent basis? Who are we if not one with our muse? I have personally found that more I give in to these thoughts, the more ludicrous and self-perpetuating they become. I have learned to accept, as benevolently as possible, these fallow times as a gift. A pause, if you will, in my internal need for accomplishment. 

This is an important book! Important for all human beings - not just those of us who aspire to create.

This is a book in which author, poet, teacher, Christian McEwen applauds the pauses, the fallow times, the quiet, and the stillness. The book hails the mindfulness of those who take note of the world around them, who can open their eyes and absorb the sounds that exist even in 'silence'. It gives a nod to slowness and reflection, it provides a relief filled bow to an appreciation for the stillness that can lead us to lead a more healthy, fulfilled life. Indeed, it is these slow times that can leave us more inspired rather than less so. For expressives it goes a long way to clarify why these untilled periods that we all experience in our creative lives, when the muse seems to have taken flight, are actually opportunities to dwell within and reflect, to recharge and to slow down and appreciate what 'is'. 

I had been feeling that I was not producing enough art work and that I should be working faster and more efficiently. In short, I felt that I was floundering just a bit. In the back of my mind I also acknowledged that I seem to be uniquely suited to retirement. I treasure my first morning hours now when I sit and read, taking the time to 'really' read, to makes notes, to study the history books that I enjoy so much. Also, I have a lot of interests and my days are almost never dull. I just kept feeling that I needed to go faster, even though I really did not want to! 

In retrospect I think that those weeks of slight worry were symptomatic of my "monkey mind" at work and also, possibly, a part of the whole internal process of retiring. I do believe that there are stages that one goes through when you leave your work of many years and bid adieu to your 'work family'. It's a loss in a way, and because of that perhaps a bit of mourning comes into play. I was giddy for the first couple of months, giggling to myself over the wee bit of luscious lazy that I continue to luxuriate in each morning as I read away an hour or two. Occasionally, truth be told, I do experience a sporadic bit of fear over the future of my finances, and for me, the occasional, yet insistent thought that I must put forth some additional effort into being more social. Yes, I have to admit that human contact is a necessary thing. Hitherto, my 'work family' filled that social need for me, but now I will have search for that connection a bit further afield. As a true introvert this is not really much an issue for me most of the time.

"World Enough & Time" has become a powerful ally for me. It gives credence to my inner beliefs that 'slow' = 'good', not slothfulness. I am savoring my slowness to it's fullest at this point in time. I am at peace with my life as it is and my 'word' for 2014 is going to be 'savor', or if I were to choose a New Year's phrase it might be "savor life in the slow lane".

" World Enough and Time" is available on Amazon, as a book or e-book and, as always, your Indie bookstore would, I am sure, be most happy to provide you with a copy!