Tag Archives: netgalley

Treet yourself to something sweet

Sweet bliss

by

Helena Rac

A very sweet (strawberry icing with chocolate) cupcake but sizzling hot hot story. Often quite graphically sizzling…

Funny that we still get a lot of cupcake stories as here in London they are not doing so well now – and the sugar treat has lost its appeal.  And so it has in the USA as well it seems, with the largest chain cupcake makers – Crumb – closing up in 2014. Or has it?

In 2015, Crumbs was bought and began again with different cupcakes. No longer simple chocolate, now they are flavoured rather differently with peanut butter or carrots or hazelnut Frangelico, pink Champagne, spiced pumpkin, vegan, gluten free, and with less colouring, and fresher baking and ingredients – some will even bake to order in front of you – if you have time to wait of course..

But in the UK we have seen a rise in national specialities – the Portuguese egg custard tart is very popular as are French patisseries – we now have several French chain bakeries – themed cakes and those with more unusual ingredients especially vegetable or fruit eg a lime drizzle cake with courgette; and of course the cannoli has made it here big. The cannoli comes with many different flavoured fillings including pistachio and there is even a cannoli cupcake with ricotta cheese filling/cream.

The Italians are now in London in force again especially the Sicilians and their delicatessens are springing up all over, and then of course there are the doughnuts with fillings such as rhubarb, peach, and salted caramel custard.

And no, I haven’t sampled them all! I just look and drool…

So in London there is no real trend setter unlike the cupcake. Is there a reason why cupcakes are not quite as popular? Is it the calories? Are we becoming more weight conscious? Certainly the latest report from our Chief Medical Officer says that some 75% of middle-aged women are obese or overweight – but for me it is the frosting. The frosting just got piled higher and higher and higher. More and more bright and yet brighter colours and much much too sweet. In fact strawberry with chocolate sounds like my least favourite combination. So if you remove the icing, you are back, as she says in the book, to a muffin and a very plain muffin at that.

Would I read more by this author? Probably not. It was, for me, a sweet treat (pun intended) away from crime and thrillers and fantasy and science fiction my more usual fare.

Enter the nosy artist and lots of guns!

The Body in the Landscape

By

Larissa Reinhart

A Netgalley Review

Just who is this all so nosy artist who just keeps encountering crimes including murder? And why is her brother in jail? And who is Tod? Luke? Max? And what are her relationships with them? How did Max hurt his knee?

For me, whilst this was a light-hearted romp through crime and murder, it was clearly not at all aimed at people who had not read the previous books in the series. There were a lot of complicated relationships. Family rivalries and past incidents that affected how people behaved that remained sketchily explained and then not as one first encountered them. Whilst I don’t mind this in a series, it does make it more difficult to give a critical review of a book when many of the links and much of the background is not explained.

That said, by 30% of the way through, enough was explained about some of the characters to encourage me to read on. I had considered giving up because I had been only peripherally drawn into the scenes and storyline.

But by 50% in I was irritated by the gun and hunting culture that permeated the story. And was not sufficiently concerned about the outcome to continue.

I agree with the reviewers of the author’s previous books that the style of writing  has amusing elements, but I was never inclined to smile let alone laugh – mainly I think due to the hunting and guns!

Enter the Queendom of the Red Academy

The Rise of the Red Queen

By

Bourne Morris

An interesting title for this novel, as reading  it you might assume the book was fantasy or YA in genre. But no such thing. It is a crime novel set in a university.

The Red Queen of the title is an academic whose rise is chronicled through the faculty management structure to being Assistant Dean in this university set high above Lake Tahoe in the Nevada Hills, and who has red hair.

She is thus commonly known as ‘Red’ and many of her colleagues see her as their born leader and that they are members of the court of her faculty.

However, not all members of the university appreciate her qualities and there is still a significant misogynistic element  amongst them. Especially in the higher management echelons.

Prejudices and academic rivalry abound and are very intense and even lead here to murder and criminal behaviour.

And then there is the warped mind of one of the community who abducts a young girl. So within this story, other stories intertwine here there are mysteries and suspicious behaviours and suspicions that leave you guessing.

A note here on academic tenure in American universities (generalised).

Tenure in American universities is extremely hard to achieve.

It requires not only a PhD but a significant body of publications, grants, and conference appearances achieved; and then you have to be liked by all the members of the faculty committee that will review your record and award you tenure – or not.

Tenure, is effectively for the rest of your life. It is almost impossible to be fired, and it is very much your choice as to when you retire. Only about 2% of tenured Professors are fired each year – and then it has to be for ‘due cause’.

And: “As a tenured Professor, you are free to do your own work, your own way” (quoted in the book).

The probationary period averages three years for community colleges and seven years at four-year colleges. This is a period of employment insecurity almost unique among U.S. professions. People denied tenure at the end of this time lose their jobs; tenure is an “up-or-out” process.

During the probationary period, almost all colleges can choose not to renew faculty contracts and terminate faculty without any reason or cause. Throughout this time, senior professors and administrators evaluate the work of new faculty-teaching, research and service before deciding whether or not to recommend tenure. The most recent survey of American faculty shows that, in a typical year, about one in five probationary faculty members was denied tenure and lost his or her job.

No more than one-third of all college and university faculty members are tenured. The reason? More and more colleges are relying on part-time or temporary nontenure-track faculty to teach undergraduates — part-timers constituted about 38 percent of the professoriate in 1987 and grew to 43 percent in 1992.

http://www.nea.org/home/33067.htm

Xmas by the SeaSide

Winter Street

_ The inn

by

Elin Hildebrand

A NetGalley Review

Winter Street inn is in Nantucket.  This was once a whaling town and island and rather boisterous in its past life. But now is very sedate and even boasts a private resort. nantucket

It is normally considered a summer holiday resort with sandy beaches  and a population of less than 11,000 and as of April 2015 an unemployment rate of 5% as many of its inhabitants are involved in the tourist trade.

However, there is a lot of competition amongst the tourist accommodation – and looking on the ‘real’ visitor site there are over 40 places offering B&B or calling themselves Inns or Hotels on the island, not to mention the privately rented homes and now of course Airbnb will be available. With a US economy  that is struggling, taking holidays that are expensive, is one option many families are willing to forgo.  Reuters state that consumers now expect deals and discounting for most products that they purchase and this must surely apply to holidays as much as any other purchase.  And with the  discounting, travel abroad may become more viable and additionally, in Nantucket the island is very quiet indeed at Xmas and of the 40 plus places I found on the island listing only 2 or 3 were open at Xmas. It thus is perhaps not a place to spend anything other than a very quiet indeed break.

Note here. My husband and I have often gone away just after Xmas to seaside resorts in the UK and it is almost impossible to find somewhere to eat or to spend time in out of the bad weather. We much prefer to go somewhere warmer!

So back the fictional Inn.

There are a cast of characters that represents what one might call a ‘normal’ family now in the US. A family of many parts where there have been divorces and children mixed from many relationships. Siblings, half-siblings and step siblings all mingle together. Fathers, mothers, step mothers and aunts, uncles, step aunts and so it goes on.

Each of the chapters in the book is written from a different character’s viewpoint but not repeating the action – moving the story along from their vantage of here comes Xmas Eve – can they come? Do they want to come? Who turns up anyway because of what else happens in their life – and so the Inn collects its family together.

And then Xmas Day comes along and there are traditions from the first family and then the second family and which shall be enacted? And thus what food should be cooked?

I found that the writing style just carried you forward in time and space and characters and their lives as each time a character ‘spoke’ their chapter you knew their musings and emotions as events took place.

I found this a very appealing book.

4 stars

chocolate cake

Craving something sweet for Xmas?

Xmas Cravings

By

Emma Hamilton

A very sweet and quite short story.

If artificial sweeteners were definitely never used by ‘Greedily Yours’, one might even say saccharine sweet.

That said it is full of humour. I read a short piece out to my book group from her ‘blogging’ excerpts and they all giggled and confessed that they could visualise very clearly the happening described. 10 random people, including 2 librarians, a GP and a dental surgeon all liked the excerpt which shows that the author speaks clearly to a woman who has ever tried to bake a special cake and failed. And also, that her style of writing is clear, humorous, and well written that our visual cortices were engaged.

Now whilst I appreciate that Mia, the heroine of this story, likes her running and exercise, I am still very concerned for her cholesterol level and arteries. There really is no need to roast a duck and then baste the potatoes in the fat AND add the fat to the vegetables. Too much similarity of flavour surely and far too much fat… try a little butter and sugar and red wine vinegar in the red cabbage and try roasting potatoes in extra virgin cold pressed organic if possible, rapeseed oil, and taste the difference!

Cold pressed rapeseed oil is a ‘good mood’ food. It contains essential fatty acids and these will boost brain power, stabilise moods, balance hormones and reduce inflammation. So an excellent oil to use and can be cooked at a high heat as well as drizzled over salad etc and has a lovely taste to add to stir fries.

I enjoyed this short read especially the ‘blog’ excerpts and the chatty style of writing.

4 stars.

The cat has 9 lives

Homunculus and the Cat

by

Nathan Croft

A NetGalley Review

This author has been steeped in legends, myths and folklore and has used all their knowledge to astound the reader with the breadth of disciplines involved n this story.

I thought I was quite widely read about fantasy and folklore, myths etc and all the afterlifes and hells – after all I had researched Greek myths for one book review, and I had read the series of books about Hell. But the references here baffled me and thus I had to bookmark page after page of things to work out what they were – which of course meant that I couldn’t understand the story as these items were quite crucial to the story-line. And if I was baffled in lots of places, then without being too egotistic, I suspect a large numbers of readers, except those in a very closely knit community of fantasists would be also. This greatly limits the audience for this book and means that I would initially have given it 1 star.

The average reader would either have to continue reading only understanding a part of what was read; or stop and look things up, which greatly interrupts the story.

However, for those people familiar with all these myths, folklore, fantasy worlds, there may well be a 2 or even a 3 star ranking available. I just couldn’t tell. I was not the intended audience it seems. PS, there is a wonderful page on Wikipedia which lists legendary creatures or myth, folklore and fairytales by classification.

So here are the items that I didn’t know about but needed to – and what I found out about them. But don’t take my word that I got it all right as I looked these things up after reading the book, and thus they are not in context.

  1. Orichalcam: a metal mentioned in the story of Atlantis as per the Critias of Plato. It is magenta coloured. Interestingly, some was recovered in January 2015 in a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off Sicily. In the ship, the ingots were found to be an alloy of copper and zinc and small amounts of nickel andiron. The question arise then as to whether this really was oricahum?
  2. Chakram: a throwing disk originating in India. Can be boomerang in type.
  3. Hekatonkheire: a giant god of storms and hurricanes in the Geek myths. 100 hands. There were 3 of them according to this myth, brothers of the Elder Cyclops and Elder Titans and offspring of Gaia and Uranus.
  4. Ennedi: is a plateau in Chad, Africa, reputedly to have a living sabertooth tiger.
  5. Czerno bog: no such bog. However, Czerno is a village within Poland. It is very small with a population of around
  6. Rod: I have no idea here but it could refer to the Rod of Asclepius or staff, which is associated with medicine and healing.
  7. Sun Wukong: a warrior magician in the form of a monkey, hatched from a stone egg according to Chinese myths – not an afterlife place.
  8. Marduk: He was a late generation god from Mesopotamia and patron deity of Bablyon city. He was later considerd to be head of the Babylonian pantheon of gods
  9. Inanna: again old Babylonian. The Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare.
  10. Turritella: medium sized sea snails with tightly coiled shells, looking like a cone.
  11. Atargatis: she was the chief goddess of northern Syria – fertility but also responsible for protection and well-being. Sometime described as a mermaid- goddess but this may be an incorrect / mis-identification of the shrine. But fish were sacred to her. As were doves, as fish were symbolic of the fertility and life of the sea.
  12. Shikome: see number 17 below.
  13. Annwyn: was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruld by Arawn or Gwyn ap Nudd – a world of delights and eternal youth and health and food.
  14. Fusang: Chinese entity or mythological mulberry tree of life or a mysterious land to the East
  15. Cynnamolgus or should it be Cynomolgus: a crab-eating macaque; or the mythical Aritotle’s cinnamon eating bird which were giant birds. Their eat or made their nests from cinnamon sticks.
  16. Hippogriff: front quarters of an eagle and the hindquarters of a horse.
  17. Yomotsu-shikome: aka ‘ugly woman of the underworld’ in Japanese, was a hag sent by Izanami to pursue her living husband for shaming her. There may be 8 such hags. Japanese mythology combines the Shinto pantheon with several kami or gods.
  18. Yomotsu-hisame: an alternative spelling for the hags of Yomi
  19. Yomi: being an underworld of Japanese mythology
  20. Izamagi: seems to be incorrectly spelled – should be Izanagi? A deity born of the 7 divine generations in Japanese mythology – ‘the male who invites’. The first male to be born and who create the world with his sister Izanami.
  21. Manticore: Persian myth aka ‘man-eater’. Also in Greek myths as a creature of multiple parts – lion, humans, scorpion tail.
  22. Stheno: a gorgon sister of Medusa and Euryale – see 23. Eldest of the sisters and parents being Phorcys and Ceto.
  23. Euryale: see 22.

Can you Fix a Psychopath?

Fixed in Fear

By T.E. Woods

Review for

NetGalley and Alibi

Now this book set me wondering – psychopaths – are they born or are they made? Can PTSD cause a person to become a psychopath?

And then there is the whole issue of revenge killing. Do we really believe in an eye for an eye? And you kill one of mine and I’ll kill one of yours? If so, then we can expect far more of the scenes such as recently in Paris and the US and even in the London where the cry comes – ‘This is for what you have done in Syria’. With France declaring that they were at war with so-called ISIS as a result of the Paris bombings and shootings.

So I read with great relief and empathy the article by Caitlin Moran in The Times Magazine. She muses on what you tell your children about the terrorist attacks. How you explain what is happening and why. And why we should, here in London at any rate, and in most if not all of the Western World, not be afraid. And why? Because we have lived through worse.

She lived through the IRA bombings as did I in the UK. Where they bombed busy shopping centres, where they bombed Regent’s Street and where there were no waste bins in case they hid a bomb, and where your briefcase or sports bag or even shopping carrier, if left unattended in a train station, was blown up by a nifty robot. As was your car if left in a route of importance –  I remember watching out of our office window as the police did just that when we were expecting the Queen to pass by our block. Even now, we get plenty of warnings about not leaving our baggage unattended or telling staff of a ‘suspicious package’, and even when they regularly stopped trains as someone had done just that – usually a shopping bag someone had forgotten. I remember this on one train when the American tourists in our carriage were having kittens and we were very blasé as it happened so often to us.

This doesn’t change anything. You are far more likely to die on the loo than being killed by a bomb or a bullet even in a country where there are 88.8 guns per 100 people such as in the US. See the table on the most common cause of death.

causes of death

As Caitlin Moran says, there are certain things that cause psychopaths (back t that word) who want to kill: an unhappy combination of humiliation, bereavement, and fear. She believes that terrorists are psychopaths who simply want to kill and their purpose in life is to find a reason that they can use to justify that want.

Fear can be weaponised, she said, some people want us to be afraid and scared and angry and that can turn us into terrorists too.  And so the war continues.

SO I did my research and it seems that there is some conflict as to how you can become psychopath and just what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. psychopathhttp://hubpages.com/education/The-Four-Basic-Pillars-of-A-SociopathPsychopath

diffs psycho

The four Pillars are:

1.People with Anti-social Personality disorder whether psychopath or sociopath have a great deal of pride. They demand respect and they will ensure that they get it, whatever it may take. They believe that they are better than anyone else, and others should treat them as such. Rules of society and norms are not for them to respect. They are above them.

  1. They are spiteful. They have low tolerance and this can lead to outbursts of aggression or violence. They find a little irritation a major nuisance.
  2. These are sex addicts with high levels of testosterone – which also increases aggression. They need the sexual experiences even if they receive little satisfaction from them and cannot have relationships without sexual intimacy.
  3. They are self-centred, self-absorbed, and very selfish. Everything they do has a benefit to them. They lack emotional sensitivity or empathy and always bored and seeking stimulation though risk or excitement. They don’t care about others or what others need.

For a Psychopath all these attributes are very high but pride and lust are the highest with insensitivity to others coming next and anger being the least prevalent in them.

So we come to the book. Is the Fixer either a psychopath or a sociopath?

I noted a number of interesting points in this book and the first the one about body memory. The concept that trauma is retained in muscle memory. The body of an abuse victim will remember to cower or protect itself when triggering circumstances occur. Interesting as I have just started watching Bone and flesh on Amazon and the girl, who is clearly a victim of familial sexual abuse immediately turns and hits a man with a bottle when he touches her without her seeing. An instinctive behaviour or a muscle memory? More likely the latter I should think.  According to http://www.survivormanual.com/ we do indeed have a ‘mind’ in our muscle that retains moves – in my own case I often move into Tai Chi poses because I learnt it for so many hears when undertaking a gym workout. My legs remember this shaping. And n addition we have the idea that instinct tells us to behave in certain ways under certain circumstances. The Police Chief says a running animal always turns right when trying to escape. This is muscle memory. However, it can also be conditioned in by past experience so here I am not sure of the accuracy of this statement. But it is an interesting thought. Turning left requires the instinct to be over-ridden and thus the brain has to come into action was her theory.

I also looked up the village/town that the murders took place – and yes, it is a real place in the States. Enumclaw is a city in King County, Washington, United States. The population was 10,669 at the 2010 census.

The Enumclaw Plateau, on which the city resides, was formed by a volcanic mudflow (lahar) from Mount Rainier approximately 5,700 years ago.

The name Enumclaw is derived from a Salish Native American term that translates as “place of evil spirits”, apparently referring to Enumclaw Mountain, located about 6 miles (9.7 km) to the north, and referring either to some evil incident that occurred there or to the frequent powerful windstorms that affect the region. Native American mythology tells the story of two Pacific Northwest Native American brothers – Enumclaw and Kapoonis – whose father turned them into thunder and lightning respectively. The City of Enumclaw says the name means “thundering noise” [Wikipedia]

I was also interested in the idea of each religion have a ritual for forgiveness and the Professor having drawn up a grid. This is just the sort of thing that I would do… as a Jew I like the idea that you only confess sins that have offended God, and that if you have offended a person you confess that to them. This makes society operate well I think. What is also interesting of course, is that the 3 Abrahamic religions have such similarities in their rituals about forgiveness and other religious practices. Which of course, brings us back to why are we fighting each other? Perhaps it is that very similarity that we fight in order to define ourselves as different?

So these are some of the very interesting points that I picked up from the book regardless of the story. The Fixer has come out of her ‘retirement’ and tries to over-ride her innate instinct to act as a psychopath and give an eye for an eye but her instinct to help in circumstance where something unjust has happened still operate.

Is this book as good as the previous ones in the series? I think by a hair margin not quite. It is getting difficult to find a scenario under which she will operate in her role as a Fixer. And so I needed to find interest in elements that were not perhaps as key to the story-line. I will still give it 4 stars though, as I do intend to read the series as it continues. I am not yet bored by her, and the story-telling is good stylistically and contains a lot of interesting ideas.