Memory Palaces and Parkour

  Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert

Memory Palaces are cool things – if you can build one. They can take any shape or form provided you can enter the rooms in which you have stored the data and or the cupboard or vase or… Apparently they all began with a Greek named Simonides who visualised a room which had collapsed whilst he was in it. He was able through his visualisation to recall exactly where everyone was sitting and then used this technique to associate things he wanted to remember with walks through familiar places. Sherlock Holmes of course was a master of the memory palace.

In the same way, when I read a book, or newspaper, I can visualise the exact spot on which a sentence or advert is placed – the right page and whether top, bottom, left or right. This is not such a good trick as the full memory palace of course, as this can store anything or everything. There is still in fact a Mnemosyne project out there studying how we can improve our long term memory.

Who is Mnemosyne_by_RossettiMnemosyne, I hear you ask? Well I didn’t know until I read a book called Pantheon a while back and then researched the Greek Myths afterwards to help me with it. Mnemosyne is the Titan goddess of memory and remembrance, inventiveness of languages and words

She is the daughter of Ouranos (Heaven) and thus also a goddess of Time. She represented rote memorisation which was required of course before the invention of writing. She was the mother of the Muses who were the patron goddesses of poets and the oral tradition. She presided over the underground oracle of Trophonios.

 

In Dark Prayer the characters play around with memory. They are concerned with how memory is stored and can we improve our memory – see Alzheimer’s – or store it in different ways. They were in many ways related to the mysticism of the late nineteenth century which led to the establishment of the Theosophical Society and other mystical treatises which linked magic to mysticism and memory enhancement. What I found very interesting were all the quotes from Meister Eckhart. Now Meister Eckhart was a mystic who wrote much earlier and was even about to be burnt at the stake by the Pope for heresy. He is much used still within the monastic tradition for what is known as Lectio Divina – whereby you contemplate a small statement from Meister Eckhart and see what it says to you. I participate in these weekends myself on a regular basis. We look at what the texts retrieve from our memories and what we associate with the words.

MeisterEckert

I found the writing style sufficient and elegant without any flowery unnecessary language but enough for you to visualise the experience, especially of the parkour or free running that some of the characters participate in. Parkour was a new term to me although I had seen many videos of free runners so I tracked it down – I am researcher at heart after all… it seems it is a holistic training discipline using movement that developed from the military obstacle course training.

Practitioners  use only the human body and the surroundings for propulsion, with a focus on maintaining as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe.  Although clearly there is always the potential for accidents and damage!

Do I recommend this book? Of course. But be prepared for mystic and ‘magic’ as that is what these practitioners believed in. 4*

How to Write a Novel: be lambasted, reviled and lose your sanity

Once upon a time there was a seminar in which students who thought they might be the next Jack Kerouac or not the next Jack Kerouac but better, or different ,or something else  entirely, paid a lot of money to be taken apart by a blustering foul mouthed ex-novel author and perhaps put together again?

So what was this seminar? Well actually, it was a play written by Theresa Rebeck and performed at the Hampstead Theatre with Rebecca Grant, Bryan Dick, Charity Wakefield and Oliver Hemborough playing the students who had paid their money to Roger Allam as the tutor to learn how to write the next best novel.

Theresa Rebeck says the play looks at how authors find their own writing niche and is very pragmatic about how to become a writer and what needs to be done.

It explores the feelings when your writing is rejected and how each rejection and criticism is like having a layer of skin removed. Oh that feeling when yet again, something that you have laboured weeks or months over, edited again and again, checked the submission requirements and are sure that this time you have got it right, comes back ‘Rejected’. I know this feeling from my academic work. I have published it is true, several (academic) books and articles, but I have also been rejected many times. Each time it hurts worse not less as each time you think you have learnt from your last rejection. I can quite understand why people give up and say ‘No More’, ‘it is more than my ego needs – no more layers to be peeled off please’.

The play comes with the most marvellous programme in which they interview the play’s author; have an article by Anthony Horowitz about his writing; re-issue another by Jack Kerouac; and give a guide to writers’ seminars in the US – where the play is set. there are also some wonderful quotes on writing:

Ernest Hemingway; Erica Jong; Barbara Kingsolver; and William Faulkner.

So the programme is good in itself and really interesting to read.

So I wondered if my favourite book about writing had anything to say: Dancing on the Edge of the World: thoughts on Words, Women, Places, by Ursula Le Guin who taught writing at university but unfortunately I had only copied quotes about narrative – in that it a beginning, a middle and an end amongst others. so no help there…. Although some authors might disagree as some novels don’t go in this order at all.

Anyway, we liked the play at the Hampstead Theatre and would recommend people to go.

 

Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five but 14!

Well, I really need to do this more often or read less books. Perhaps when I am back at work? Either that, or I’m reading really fast again – I know I can finish a book in a day with reading it for about 3 hours tops… or a third possibility, I’m choosing really light books to read with not enough ‘meat’. I think  the latter really, as I am not reading my ‘heavier’ authors at all….

So here we go. 14 Reviews. I will separate them out into those I have read for myself, those with my book group, and those for Netgalley review.

Read just for myself:

  1. Fat Chance by Nick Spalding

Very enjoyable and very believable. I so empathise with the weight problem although I’ve never been known to eat whole carton of Rocky Road ice-cream (what flavour is this? I’ve never had any…) or any other flavour for that matter – nor a whole cake.

The description of the visit to IKEA is only too true and faithful to the experience! I have long threatened to take a pedometer into there with me as I swear it miles when you follow the prescribed route and don’t know the shortcuts – yes there are a few but well hidden…

I’m glad that they didn’t win as that would have spoilt the story but their description of how much they lost so fast is a trifle exaggerated I think – I just wonder if the author has actually tried to lose as many stones in that length of time?

I liked this so 3.5 stars. but will not be reading his novellas as I much prefer a book I can get my teeth into and comic books although popular are not for me either and this author seems to write a lot of those types of stories.

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  1. Force of Habit 3: Nun the Wiser by James Scott Bell

This is novella length and is about a kickass nun – but I found the book not as witty and humorous as I had expected. It would have been improved by sharper and funnier writing.

Guilia’s relationship with the Church should have been explained by keeping her in it, rather than in her own small convent as I think this would have made for a better story.

I give this a 2-3 star rating and will not be looking to read more in the series.

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Mom-Con by K. Morris

Now this was a different book indeed where a number of ‘mums’ got together after being ‘done-over’ by their boss to con him out of the value of the proposed project.

I like the story-line and appreciate the concept. However, I seem to recall that my contract says that all my ideas – whether conceived at the physical workplace or not, remain the property of my employer. I can use them myself but I don’t own the copyright.  Thus unless US law is very different from ours, and their contracts said otherwise, the employer was well within his rights to patent their idea, especially as it was related to their work and the company’s products.

So having put aside that small legal issue and concentrating on the story I liked what happened and the way that they did it. I was with the employer when he thought it would make a good franchise idea and am surprised that they didn’t run with it and thus was somewhat confused by the ending. He invested in the idea and paid them a great deal of money, which they siphoned off from him and ran away with. Unfortunately, he was so short of cash that he sold his company to pay for the concept. But he seemed to sell it very cheaply. Which did confuse me.

So I am conflicted here. I liked the story and thought the writing was good and the book was fun to read. But I had serious doubts about some of the background to it and wondered if the author knew enough about valuing businesses and contracts to actually make the story work.

If this type of veracity doesn’t bother you then do read – but as an academic working in a business school I get picky about these types of things. 3*

Book Group:

  1. Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

My choice but i was ill on the night it was discussed. Thought to be slight and of no great literary merit but then most of the book group members had no read Little Women or Jo’s Boys! This of course left them at a severe disadvantage as many allusions to the original stories will have gone right by them…

This is not great literature but then neither were the original stories but they were greatly loved by me when I was a child and I read them many times and thus was inclined to like this book. It brought back to me the story of the original girls and of Jo who I really empathised with and idolised – she was my heroine – she had such an original character and refused to bow down to propriety even in her marriage with an older German who was poor rather than marry her childhood friend – who then married her sister as you do…

My only real disappointment with the book which I read twice – once before suggesting it to my book group – was that the letters were not turned into in a book by the heroine.

3.5*

 NetGalley Reviews

  1. The Great Christmas Knit.  by Alexandra Brown 3*

Now as I am madly knitting for a charity event on Nov 1st where I hope to sell a number of Xmas gifts, the name of this story immediately caught my eye as one to read. In any event, I always like to read stories about knitting as a: a knitting and coffee shop would be ideal for me. I could drink my favourite drink all day and not worry about the cost and could share my love of this by using really good coffee and lots of special tasting events, with all the wool I could handle plus patterns, and lots of people who could come and chat, drink coffee and knit with me; and then b: most of these books provide me with great links to patterns, websites (Ravelry) and so on that I can follow up and this book also gave me some great phrases about knitting  – more of this below.

So what is this book then? It is a cosy village story of the village that doesn’t really exist (but that people would like to believe does…) where everyone Is kind and supportive and loves everyone else.

It has the stock characters of the nephew villain, the hard done by and hard luck old woman, the pub that is staffed by jolly landlords and is the centre of village life, the doctor that everyone knows and who comes out to patients when called, the eccentric B & B owner and so on. The shops are slightly more modern though as the dress shop sells vintage clothes.

And yet you are gently seduced into the story even though you know that this is nothing at all like real life! And of course it helps if you knit as the haberdashery with great knitters everywhere is central to the story.

“In the rhythm of the needles there is music for the soul” (Anon) is the key phrase that sums up the story. As does “keep calm and carry yarn” which is on the heroine’s knitting bag and is one of the key pins on Pinterest (see below).

This is also a good time to read about knitting for Xmas as I am sure, that like me, the gifts have already started piling up in spare corners and every shop or website is thought of in terms of ‘Would so and so like that?’.

I read this book in less than a day and I wasn’t reading continuously, so it was not what one would call great literature and the ending was somewhat predictable and heavily hinted at, yet still I carried on reading to the end, wanting to know what would happen, to whom, and why, and yes there was a surprise added in.

What the book did do for me was to decide to go looking for more sayings about knitting and I found lots on pinterest/allfreeknitting/funny-knitting-jokes.

So here are my favourites:

  • Walk in closet? Don’t you mean YARN VAULT? [I have one of these - a set of drawers in a wardrobe dedicated to my stock and always try to come back from markets etc with bags of bargains];
  • Knitting … it’s sitting for creative people;
  • If I knit fast enough, does it count as aerobics?
  • I’m not retired, knitting is a full-time job;
  • Life’s short. Knit fast.
  • You know you’re a knitter when the first thing you pack for vacation is your current project (and your books of course or Kindle);
  • I’m a member of Y.A.A. Yarn Addicts Anonymous; and I don’t want to be cured;
  • I have A.D.K.D. Attention Deficit Knitting Disorder;
  • I have O.K.D. Obsessive Knitting Disorder;
  • Instant knitter. Just add coffee (see above and my coffee shop!)
  • To knit or not to knit? Now that’s just a silly question;
  • Knit happens;
  • Behind every great knitter is a huge pile of yarn;
  • I’m working on my P.h.D. Projects Half Done – in knitting;

K Knowledgeable;

N Noble

I Intellectual

T Therapeutic

T Tasteful

I Inventive

N Neat

G Global.

Ps. Do look at allfreeknitting if you want patterns, they send out a daily email with masses of great ideas – I’m using a lot for my Knitathon projects. And also join Ravelry.

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Seductive Supernaturals

A collection of novels, novellas and short single chapter tasters by 12 authors for review for NetGalley.

As I am reading them interspersed with other books I shall review them as I read them.

So far I have read 30% of the set which comprises 3 main novels.

3. Diablo Springs by Erin Quinn

This is set in a small dying town somewhere in the wild west desert which had been a flourishing mining town at one point with all the wild west characteristics that that entailed.

As the name of the town impies there are a set of hot water springs in the town with a pool which had now dried up due to building andmining activity which had opened up a set of caverns underneath them into which they had drained. Superstition being of course, that the mouth to hell was in te caverns perhaps? In any event the pool that had been was now a large hole in the ground which was abandoned and open to all as the space had not been fenced off or otherwise been made out of bunds. Clearly a safety issue here! Additionally, there were lots of scary stories about the spring and pool that frightened off workers and townspeople alike.

So a story that was scary but yet we could guess some of what was happening – the lights were of course lost souls and the lost girls came to town to help in its boom era in the only way they knew how.

The intertwining of the tales of the lost girls of the 19th century ad the modern day were well done but the storm to end all storms was perhaps a trifle over done.

So a good yarn in the ghost rattling genre but not enough perhaps to encourage me read more by this author.

3*

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  1. Vampire Reborn by Caridad Pineiro

I think I am beginning to get bored with vampire stories as there is little more that can be said about them. They drink blood and don’t age. They are often very nasty and have usually acquired a lot of money due to their long existence. They are usually handsome as it seems they have perfect bodies due to rapid healing and metabolisms that operate to keep them at a perfect weight etc. So apart from their drawbacks they are perfect heroes – never heroines though – I have yet to read a romance where the vampire is female. Hmm shall I write one?

I shall not bother to read more in this series. Maybe more by the author when she writes with her other persona on? I shall see.

(2-3*)

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5. Shadowfall by Erin Kellison

Here we have the fallen angel storyline except this is slightly different as it seems angels are always walking amongst us and have hidden their very modern control centres so we can’t see them.

Here we have a situation where we have hybrids and various supernaturals including Death’s daughter – I would love to know how that happened. Probably a previous story. And lots of fighting and healing and hiding and running and… yes all the usual components.

We also have ballet with the veil between worlds being rent by the mystery of the dance. An interesting thought.

Then there is Wolf who is conjured from the shadow and seems to become an almost human when he falls in love.

So some different concepts and it is more original than others I have read, and yet it still did not grip me and I shan’t bother to read more in the series or by the author. Each to their own.

2-3*

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Other Novellas reviewed for NetGalley: 2 by Lisa Unger – the first and second in a series.

  1. The Whispers.

This is the first in a series about the Hollows a small town somewhere in the USA.

The heroine finds out that she has psychic powers to see the dead, abused and missing women/girls after a car accident that takes the life of her husband and eldest daughter and leaves her in a coma for 6 weeks.

She begins to help the police to solve cases but also begins to find it increasingly psychologically hard as she hears constant whispers from souls reaching out to her for solutions to their situations.

7. The Burning Girl

A second novella in the Hollows series. Years have moved on and the psychological damage is intensifying and has had a severe impact on her physical body too. She has aged prematurely and her daughter cannot cope and has moved away.

I give these 2 novellas 4*. Both stories are well constructed and tightly written as a novella needs to be t catch your interest.  A lot of the feelings and minor characters are explored yet but could prove useful in later novellas. In these two the heroine is the sole focus of the story.

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  1. Bewitching the Enemy by Dawn Chartier – a Vieux Carre Sister Novel

A book as indicated by the title about witchcraft. There are witches, warlocks and some people called Palladins dedicated to killing all the warlocks who as a rule practise dark magic and are therefore bad.

The book is set in current day New Orleans badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina with the witch owning a construction firm (her sisters also were part owners although their roles seemed to be very slight) and trying to keep it afloat in a market where there was little building due to the state of the US economy in the area – much of the promised aid and restitution being either cut or late in coming.

She is unaware of her heritage and witchcraft is not openly practised by the community as warlocks would sense it and kill the witches for heir power.

We have some mention of the Cajun accents and people who may have lived there but he focus is on the town.

The story is somewhat unusual in its premise as usually warlocks are not always considered to be evil but despite this the writing is slight and sometimes confusing. I was not clear about what exactly the story was – a romance possibly but not enough was made of this I thought, or a story about the supernatural but again not enough of this – it seemed to be 2 stories in one and not well integrated. Just what was the training that the witches were to undergo? Just how did one become a Palladin? Was it hereditary? Or was it a set of learned skills and if so, how did one choose to become one or was chosen?

So I found the story confusing. It may be that some of this was explained in other novels in the series but as this is the first I have read in it there needed to be some back story, which was, in my opinion missing. It did not stand alone.

Thus I am giving it 2*,

  1. If you’ve got it haunt it by Rose Pressey

All about ghosts, a murder where the clue is clothes, especially vintage, and a vintage clothes stall. Now I had never heard of most of the vintage designers mentioned but I do love vintage clothes and so this was a must for me to read. I have a lovely 70s probably, black suede jacket/waistcoat something that is made up of suede patches joined together with lacing that everyone raves over and a lovely Chinese style long blouse too in faded autumn colours..vintage stores are always a great place for me to rummage in, I even have a vintage knitted hat and I can knit these in an evening myself! Just not the same is it?

Did I like the book. Well it wasn’t tough reading and was amusing, though the tips for vintage clothes shopping were so obvious – and it never mentioned at all, that you need one to two sizes up from your normal size as clothes are now made much larger than they used to be, and anyway, US sizes are different to European to UK and you need to know all of this before you go shopping.

Would I read another one? Maybe, but although I liked this one the story was very light and rather obvious so probably not. 3* for topic if not content.

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10. Murder at the book group by Maggie King

This sounded so much like my thing again. Murder and book groups – I belong to one – and a complicated story line. However, I have read 65% and stopped. I have just given up trying to keep track of all the complications in the lives of the characters. They marry each other’s spouses. Or have affairs with them. Marry 4 times (!) or swap or…. And honestly, I think the poison was in the ice not the tea so all their speculation will come to nought as the access could have been done anytime by anyone…. If you want to try and work it out for yourself well, good luck! I needed a white board and lines drawn and arrows to make sense, and just wasn’t prepared to go that far.

2*

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12. The Oracle by Michael Sedge

Slightly disappointing as the original Greek Oracle wasn’t followed up sufficiently in my opinion. More could have been made of it. The mother was scary even  though I did immediately realise who was in the cellar and didn’t think she had been down there long enough to turn into the creature – and why not link here to the Oracle? Again 2-3*.