An Ancient Evil (Stories told on Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, #1) by Paul Doherty

An Ancient Evil (Stories told on Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, #1) by Paul Doherty

anancientmysteryAn Ancient Evil is a charming historical fiction based loosely on the premise of The Canterbury Tales.

In the introduction, a knight tells a story to a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. “My tale begins hundreds of years ago, just after the great Conqueror came here. So, gentles all, your attention as I describe these horrors sprung from the very pit of Hell.” pg 6.

In the story within the story, a menacing prologue introduces the reader to Sir Hugo, who buries alive the leader of a group of evil magic doers and burns the rest of his order. The evil leader who is buried alive doesn’t seem that upset about the whole thing. Which is weird.

Fast forward a couple hundred years into the future.

Sir Godfrey and a clerk, Alexander, are tasked by the king of England to discover the truth behind a series of mysterious and grisly murders in Oxford.

They are assisted in their task by Dame Edith, a blind anchorite who is known for her exorcism talents. ‘Sir Godfrey, whoever the killers are, we are about to enter the Valley of Death, but,’ Alexander couldn’t resist gentle banter, ‘we have your sword, my brains and the prayers of Dame Edith.’ ‘I think we might need more than that.’ pg 64.

I enjoyed this medieval, just a bit too bloody to be called “cozy”, mystery.

The characters are layered. The author drops enough hints to lead the reader towards the bad guy without giving the game away.

It reads a bit like a Nicholas Cage movie. We’ve got a battle between good and evil with some paranormal stuff and swords thrown in.

“Dame Edith tapped the side of her head. ‘Sir Godfrey, you are a soldier. You, of all people, should realize that a man is what he thinks he is. What causes one man to be a coward and another to be a hero? After all, they may be the same flesh and blood. They may even be brothers from the same womb. It’s what they think.” pg 170.

I also enjoyed the details about medieval life that are sprinkled throughout.

Recommended for readers who enjoyed The Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn or Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.

Thanks for reading!

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Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner

Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People  by Cindy Conner

seed librariesSeed Libraries gives readers the tools and know-how to set up their own seed distributing communities. The community could be through a public library, informal seed swap, or other location.

Cindy goes into enough detail about the specifics so that first timers or inexperienced gardeners can get an overview of what will be required, but not so much information so that the reader feels overwhelmed.

Even though I knew a bit about seed because I have an uncle who has owned his own seed company since the early 80’s, I found this book useful and informative.

Through his experience, I learned how seed producing mega-companies introduced hybrids into the supply that will only grow one season. This hurt the smaller, local seed companies (like my uncle’s) that processed seed for the farmers who grew it and then used it to plant the next crop.

He was forced to expand his company away from seed processing, which was once a major part of his enterprise, in order to stay in business.

The farmers, who only purchased seed every couple of years and grew out their own plants to save money, were forced to buy seed every year. It was a huge shift in how planting and seeds were handled.

It also changed who controlled the food supply.

If there is a way that I can help get seed back into the hands of local people, I’m all for it.

The afterword to this book discusses a legal challenge presented by the state of Pennsylvania to a public library that wanted to start a seed library there. I was wondering what Illinois has to say about seed libraries.

Maybe I should look into it.

I’m very excited about the possibilities that Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has sown in my mind. If you’re interested in starting one of these in your town, this text is definitely required reading.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading.

The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3) by Erika Johansen

The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3) by Erika Johansen

fatetearlingThe Fate of the Tearling ties up the series nicely. All questions of the founding of Tearling, the shadow and Mort are answered.

And we also learn all of the secrets of the Fetch. Finally! “For three long centuries… William Tear’s dream sunk further and further into the mire. No one in the Tearling could even see Tear’s better world any longer, let alone muster the courage to dig for it.”pg 6, ebook.

The path isn’t easy. Kelsea questions herself every step of the way. “Maybe we aren’t capable of being satisfied, Kelsea thought, and the idea seemed to open a chasm inside her. Maybe utopia is beyond us.” pg 90, ebook.

But she is determined to see things through to the end: “We can’t simply stay here, hiding, while the kingdom burns. What sort of queen would I be?” pg 273.

Though Erika Johansen writes a thorough ending, I found myself dissatisfied with it. Read it and let me know what you think. I’m still thinking about it, even though I finished this book last week.

From a lackluster start, I think The Queen of the Tearling series turned out to be fairly enjoyable. I would classify it as adult because of some of the themes, imagery and language.

It uses fantasy to examine the human condition, society and what happens to communes after a charismatic leader dies.

I think Kelsea is one of the strongest female characters I’ve read. Bravery-wise, she fits right in with Katniss Everdeen. She doesn’t quit and isn’t afraid to admit when she’s wrong.

Throughout the series, we see her grow from uncertain child to warrior queen. Bookish and introverted, Kelsea may appeal to those who wish they could be something more than they currently are.

Recommended for readers who are willing to invest some time in a series to enjoy it and for fans of fantasy/dystopian worlds. The Queen of the Tearling grew on me. It has heart.

Thanks for reading!

See my review of the first book here: The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1) by Erika Johansen

Second book here: The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2) by Erika Johansen

Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story by Steve Kamb

Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story by Steve Kamb

levelupSteve Kamb, the creator of nerdfitness.com, offers behavioral games and community support to assist readers in becoming their best self. It’s the self help genre meets gamification.

Steve was addicted to video games, miserable at his job and disappointed with life. “I still love those games and movies and enjoy the entertainment they provide. They’re a part of who I am as a person. The problem was that they had become a way to avoid the unhappiness in my real life while also allowing me to continue doing nothing about it.” pg xi

The game that had him hopelessly hooked was EverQuest. “What had begun as a fun way to blow off some steam after school or work quickly became an addiction.” pg 5.

So, Steve took what he loved best about the game- the levels, the endless quests, the secrets- and created an online community in which the members support each other to become the best whatever-it-is you want to be through just those things.

Essentially, Steve takes the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, and crafts a way to implement that into your life through your own preferences. “Life is meant to be lived on your own terms.” pg 23

I picked this up because I recently read a behavioral game book and I wanted to see what the theory would look like in action. Steve has done a solid job making his game completely customizable.

He provides examples between the chapters of people who have used his game to “level up” their lives. The results are impressive.

“The truth is that most people fear change. They, themselves, might want to change but don’t want to put forth the effort and energy to make it happen.”pg 57.

With Level Up Your Life, Steve gives readers the tools to make their lives into a game of their choosing. Recommended for gamers and the young at heart.

Thanks for reading!

Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life by Gotham Chopra

Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life by Gotham Chopra
walkingwisdomGotham Chopra, the son of Deepak Chopra, shares what he has learned through the ownership of his crazy dog, Cleo, and becoming a father for the first time. He also deepens his relationship with his own father when his mother has to spend an extended time away in India.

It’s a hodgepodge of a book with the themes differing from chapter to chapter. I generally enjoyed it but felt like it was a bit scattered.

I remembered Gotham from all of the Channel One news I watched during junior high and high school. I thought it was a waste of time (even then, I would have rather been reading), but I remembered him.

A few years ago, I watched the documentary he made about when his father joined a monastery- he mentions this at the end of Walking Wisdom. I was intrigued by the dynamic between them in the documentary.

Gotham seemed to focus on his father’s foibles, like his addiction to his phone and his frequent trips to Starbucks. I thought those parts were unfair, but the window into his strange, spiritual/rock star world was one I couldn’t forget.

My favorite parts of this book were similar to that documentary. I loved learning about Gotham and Deepak’s close friendship with Michael Jackson. The best part was when Gotham brought his pup, Cleo, to meet the mega-star. It’s very surreal.

I also liked learning about how Deepak’s family handles his active mind and constant spiritual seeking. Gotham describes being his father’s “guinea pig” for different experiments from meditation to yoga to spoon-bending.

Gotham’s non-traditional upbringing gave him a quirky lens through which he views the world. It also has made him a master meditator.

Recommended for dog lovers and those curious about what goes on behind the scenes of Deepak Chopra’s life. If you can’t stand books that skip from one topic to another, you may want to choose a different read.

Thanks for reading!

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

confectionsConfections of a Closet Master Baker can be an abrasive, no-holds-barred memoir about the dark and impersonal underbelly of Hollywood, at times. At others, it is a poignant reminiscence and heartfelt cookbook by a woman who still mourns her mother.

I wouldn’t call it “hilarious.” This memoir is sarcastic and unapologetic about it.

“As a matter of fact, I have only two truisms that I apply to humanity. Never trust anyone who drives an Astro van. And never trust anyone who doesn’t drink beer or coffee unless they have a doctor’s note.” pg 17, ebook.

All the same, I felt privileged to be allowed a glimpse into the highly-introverted life of a woman who described herself as so socially adverse that she believes she’s “pathologically shy with severe misanthropic tendencies.” pg 24, ebook.

I saw the title of this ebook and checked it out of the online library without noticing the name of the author. She kept mentioning, “my famous sister” and “Sandy.” I thought, did Sandy Duncan have a sister? and then felt like an idiot when I enlarged the cover and saw the hyphenated last name. Duh, Heidi.

“Each year, I wrestled with the knowledge that no matter how well I did my job, no one looked at me as anything but “her sister” with nothing to offer but a fancy job title born of nepotism and access to a movie star.” pg 100, ebook.

Gesine carries some serious angst about her Hollywood experience. She needed a life change, so she moved to Vermont and opened a bakery.

“No road rage, no cell phones, no fake tits or tans, no prestige handbags, no billboards, no stoplights, no braking, no traffic, no nothing. Welcome to Vermont. Just heaven.” pg 13, ebook.

Serious bakers may find a lot to love as Gesine includes many of her customer favorite recipes after each chapter.

Personally, I loved learning about what it’s like to have an A-list sibling. Gesine’s story about baking Sandra’s wedding cake was my favorite.

She also includes personal details about her childhood and relationship with her mother. “I saw the devil at age three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever.” pg 5, ebook.

A large part of the complicated relationship Gesine had with her mother was about food. Her mother was a German opera singer and a strict vegan. She adhered to a restrictive diet and ate foods that Gesine thought were disgusting.

Sadly, she died of colon cancer. Gesine is still devastated by that. Her mother did everything she could to exercise and eat right, and it didn’t seem to matter.

Gesine seemed to swing the other direction and celebrate sugar, butter and all manner of naughty baked goods. Part of that is because she was raised on such a strict diet as a child. The other part is, baking is what she loves to do and how she shows love to others.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker is not for the faint of heart. Don’t read it if you’re easily offended because she doesn’t hold back. I think Gesine would approve of this sentiment: if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

Thanks for reading!

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

murdersofmollyThe Murders of Molly Southbourne is a short story about a girl who is born with a horrifying condition. Whenever she bleeds, the blood changes into a homicidal version of herself that won’t stop until it, or Molly, is dead.

“The rules are simple. If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight. Don’t bleed. If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach. If you find a hole, find your parents. Molly recites the lines to herself many times.” pg 24.

I’m not sure I understood what the author was going for with this short story.

Yes, what happens to Molly is horrific. I guess I didn’t make the connection between what was happening to her and the broader meaning the story was reaching towards.

Because it was certainly reaching: “She cannot stand children. They remind her of the mollys, with their innocence and their half-formed personalities, and she expects them to burst into violence any minute. They never do, but they might.” pgs 63-64

Or, beyond the death-through-your-children angle, I could use this story to consider the futility of life itself. “How is it that humans bleed so much? Or maybe Molly herself bleeds more than the average human. The rule are useless, an attenuation at best. Lifeblood escapes all the time, minor hemorrhages, a little a day. Maybe that is how we age. Maybe that is how we die.” pg 91

It is creepy and could fit the bill if you’re looking for one more short and spooky pre-Halloween read. I just didn’t connect with it.

Thanks for reading!