Friday, 26 June 2015

Murder on the Minneapolis.. and other summer reads

Back to the previous focus of this blog to highlight good reads that might slip under your radar. Brought to you once again from my talented friends: seven summer reads recently or about to be out. Amazon links included (for which I get no remuneration!).

1. Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison
The only physical book I know I'm going to buy this summer (because I want an autograph!). I've seen drafts of sequels, but missed out on the first, so I'm eager to get the beginning of the story. And how could you not want to read about a couple named Bunny and Flora? Due out on June 30th in the UK, October in the US.

The official blurb: Flora Maguire, governess to thirteen-year-old Edward, Viscount Trent, is on her way home to England from New York after the wedding of her employer’s daughter. Conscious of her status among a complement of only first class passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, she avoids the dining room on the first night, but meets the charming Bunny Harrington on deck, a motor car enthusiast. 
Flora finds the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway, but when his death is pronounced an accident, she is not convinced. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child young drives her to find out what really happened to the dead man.
She confides her suspicions to Bunny, and a German passenger, both of whom apparently concur with her misgivings, but the ship's doctor and the captain are reluctant to accept there is a murderer on board.
Flora starts asking questions, but when she is threatened, followed by a near drowning during a storm and a second murder - the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer.
The UK link.
The US link.

2. The Apothecary's Widow by Diane Scott Lewis
I mentioned this in a previous post - a book for those of us who know that love isn't confined to twenty-somethings with perfect bodies. I hope Diane won't mind my remarking that the heroine is much more down to earth and relatable than that slightly sultry cover picture suggests.

The official blurb: Who murdered Lady Pentreath? The year is 1781, and the war with the American colonies rages across the sea. In Truro, England, Branek Pentreath, a local squire, has suffered for years in a miserable marriage. Now his wife has been poisoned with arsenic. Is this unhappy husband responsible? Or was it out of revenge? Branek owns the apothecary shop where Jenna Rosedew, two years a widow, delights in serving her clients. Branek might sell her building to absolve his debts caused by the war—and put her out on the street. Jenna prepared the tinctures for Lady Pentreath, which were later found to contain arsenic. The town’s corrupt constable has a grudge against Branek and Jenna. He threatens to send them both to the gallows. 
Can this feisty widow and brooding squire come together, believe in each other’s innocence— fight the attraction that grows between them—as they struggle to solve the crime before it’s too late? 
The UK link.
The US link.

3. The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black
Jen self publishes, including being her own cover designer, and her writing puts many conventionally
published authors to shame. Due out July 20th.

The official blurb: In 1893 Daisy dreams of a career as an artist but runs up against the rock that is Adam Grey, who distrusts women and thinks wives should be content with home and family life. When a valuable painting goes missing in the country house where they are both guests, Adam turns detective and Daisy must prove that she is not the thief Adam initially believes her to be. Does she want love and marriage or to fulfill her dreams?
The UK link.
The US link.

4. The Barbers by Katherine Pym
Katherine takes you into the minds of 17th century Londoners not just through her recreation of their lives, but by giving a sense of their language, too. If you enjoy a slightly different reading experience now and then, check out her works.

The official blurb: It is London 1663 and science flourishes in a mini-Renaissance. Celia Barber shares her father’s shop; he barbers, and she heals during a time when women are not allowed to practice medicine.
As a licensed barber, Celia longs to visit the Royal Society or Surgeon’s Hall to see a dissection, but women are not allowed. She befriends a viscount who sneaks her into the Royal Society, where she sees an experiment and meets Robert Hooke, the great scientist of the day. Celia’s sister works as a domestic in Whitehall Palace, who finds an ancient coin. Will it lead to hidden treasure? 
Life in London is harsh. People sicken and die easily. As a healer, Celia sees tragedy. She cannot save all who come to her. Hardest of all, will she be able to save her brothers?
The UK link.
The US link.

5. Lady Faith Takes a Leap by Maggi Anderson
This is the latest in Maggi's Baxendale Sisters series. Once I got through Georgette Heyer in my
adolescence, I never cared for traditional romances... until I read Maggi's stories. Her heroes and heroines are easy to empathise with, and for those who care about the 'bedroom door' issue, the sex is very often post marital and not uncomfortably explicit.

The official blurb: Dutiful daughter Faith Baxendale just wants to please. Faith isn’t as adventurous as her younger sister, Hope, gadding about the Continent with their aunt, nor as rebellious as her elder sister, Honor, who planned to become a card sharp. And Faith couldn’t lose herself in her art like sixteen-year-old, Charity. Even Mercy, at fourteen, shows more backbone!
After Faith’s first Season ends, her father urges her to marry the man of his choice. But when Lord Vaughn Winborne, a neighbor Faith had a crush on while still in the schoolroom, arrives home for the Brandreth’s hunt ball, surprising even to herself, Faith is drawn again towards a man her father would never consider.
The youngest Brandreth male, Vaughn, is the black sheep of the family. His elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, still looks upon him as a reckless youth, and Vaughn is determined to prove him wrong.

A chance comes in the form of a scandal not of Vaughn’s making, and he must learn to trust Faith, who, when all’s said and done, has always known her own mind. The UK link.
The US link.

6. The Captain and the Countess by Rosemary Morris
Rosemary keeps the bedroom door firmly shut, writing old-fashioned romance that reflects its time,
not modern thoughts and mores clothed in long skirts . She's been working on a series in the Regency era lately, but this is part of her late-Stuart romantic novels.

The official blurb:Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes? 
Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess, and resolves to banish her pain. Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage, meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again. However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past.
The UK link.
The US link.

7. All Kinds of Hell by Amy Dupire
Something completely different to round out my seven: a contemporary YA that explores sisterhood and faith in all its facets. Amy used to live in my town - I still miss our chats on life and writing, and most of all her quirky humour that also plays out in her books.

The official blurb: Self-professed Über-geek Joely Malone blames herself for the car accident that nearly kills her and her sister, Becca. But she has no one to blame for Becca's dramatic conversion to Evangelical Christianity, except for Becca's friend Katie. And, perhaps, God. In the following weeks, as Becca attempts to save Joely from eternal damnation, Joely comes to believe that there are all kinds of hell, from her alienation from her sister, to their father's functional alcoholism, to her increasingly tenuous relationship with her musician boyfriend, Aaron.
In a final, desperate attempt to reconnect with Becca, Joely decides to give Jesus a chance. She volunteers with Becca for the church's Hell House event, an interactive drama designed to scare the Hell out of attendees and chase them straight into Heaven.
But it's only when Joely sees how far Becca has gone that she can face her greatest fear and take a step of faith into the unknown.

The UK link.
The US link.
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Friday, 12 June 2015

7QT11: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Lately, I've been keeping up with Better Than Eden. And while I love the boost it gives me - the positivity, the beauty, the sheer whiteness (although I usually skip some of the descriptions of all that amazing homemaking so I'm not too discouraged), it just isn't how life goes in our household. In fact, if I were to keep a blog along those lines, it would have to be called Something Like Bejing on a Particularly Smoggy Day, or Comparable to the London Underground at Rush Hour.  Maybe it's because I'm British and raised on Monty Python, but somehow I only manage to look on the bright side of life when things are at their worst. Here are seven vignettes of our days...

1. Bath Time
A serene baby splashing in the tub? I think not. All our children hated their first few baths with a vengeance. During Alcuin's second bath, he screamed through being undressed by his sister while I tried to fill the bathtub, 'aided' by our cat, Odie, who has an abnormal obsession with water. Here he is below. The second picture is him still trying to get a drink even though the tub is occupied by a screaming baby. I would have shown you the baby, but the picture I got was Full Monty and I don't think he'd appreciate that being on the internet for eternity.

*His name is supposed to be Odysseus, but he turned out to be stupid rather than cunning, so we had to downgrade him to Odie.

2. Reflux
He doesn't have it as bad as his sister did, but it's pretty impressive. There is spit up on his clothes, my clothes, heck, everyone's clothes, the floor, the bed. Probably on the cats, too, but they have white fur anyway so it doesn't matter.

3. Night Time
I decide to nurse the baby back to sleep *quickly* at 2am. He decides instead to fill his nappy. We stagger to the changing station. He pees over everything. Then spits up. Then pees again. I change his clothes. He spits up on them. I change him again and get him back to the bed, where he promptly spits up over the sheets.

4. Memory Loss
I have trouble thinking of the right.. what do you call them?  Oh,words.

5. Pediatrician Visit
Somehow, in my postpartum haze, I agree to an 8.30 appointment. Of course the baby doesn't sleep the night before.  When the nurse calls us in, I try to hold my head high and walk past all those parents who look about fourteen and are staring at the couple who've brought their grandchild in. It's been so long since I've seen our pediatrician that she's gone blond. Later, my husband tries to cheer me up: "We might have been the oldest parents, but until that Asian woman came in, you had the smallest butt." Thanks, dear.

6. Lowered Expectations
My daily goal is to have breakfast and be dressed by 9. I do mean a.m. If the baby is half dressed by lunchtime, that's a bonus.

7. Gender and Species Confusion
I'm not used to having a boy. I call him girl. Or sometimes Odie, I'm not sure which is closer. Yesterday, I held him up to the mirror and proclaimed "There's Beatrice!". Oh well, gender fluidity is popular now, and maybe I'm just head of the curve on species fluidity.

For more lucid Seven Quick Takes, pucker up and whistle, then join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, 5 June 2015

7QT10: An Alcuin-pedia

We debated for a long time whether to go with Alcuin as a first name for our son, mainly because of others' possible reactions. But when he was born he was definitely Alcuin. I like to think of it as a special name for a special baby, or an ancient name for a child with ancient parents :). So, to celebrate our nerdiness, here is a mini Alcuin-pedia.

1. The name, pronounced AL-kwin, is an ancient British one (well, Teutonic, but we'll go with British). It means "noble friend".

2. The most (only?!) famous Alcuin in history is Alcuin of York, ca. 735-804 AD. He was sent to York cathedral school as a child, and remained there as a teacher and then headmaster. On a journey to Rome, he met with Charlemagne, who was sufficiently impressed to persuade Alcuin to lead the palace school at Aachen, in which even the Emperor and his wife enrolled along with their children. One of the foremost scholars of his time, Alcuin was a key figure in the Carolingian renaissance. He is credited with restoring Latin as a literary language and with developing the miniscule script which, among other things, made it easier to copy mathematical texts. Though more a teacher than an innovator, he is also the only name of note in mathematical history in this period. It was said of him that "wherever anything of literary activity is visible, there we can with certainty count on finding a pupil of Alcuin's."

See - how long did that take you to read?

Note the uncanny lack of resemblance

3. Here is a contemporary depiction of Alcuin of York

4. Famous Alcuin quotes:

  • He who does not learn when he is young, does not teach when he is old
  • Man thinks; God directs
  • Oh how sweet life was when we were sitting quietly... among all these books

5. Alcuin loved libraries - he established a great library at Aachen, and at Tours, where he retired to be Abbot at Saint Martin's monastery. One of his poems celebrates York and its library (sadly destroyed by Viking raiders after his death).

6. The Alcuin Club, formed in 1897, promotes sound liturgical scholarship. I'm waiting for our complimentary membership.

7. Although I didn't know this at the time, our Alcuin was born at the very time Alcuin of York was being commemorated in my church's noonday service. And the vicar who will christen him in England is a member of the Alcuin Club. So there you go - a name that was meant to be.

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