DEAD GORGEOUS by Elizabeth Flynn

17 04 2018

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

I didn’t know this book was the second in a series until I’d finished it and at the end came across a blurb for Game, Set and Murder, the first book. So there you are. It stands alone. It needs no prequel and it ends neatly with no cliff-hanger. I like that.

To tell the truth, the title (Dead Gorgeous) grabbed me because I do love a good vampire and/or zombie story, but the word “Dead” in the title here signifies what it used to signify before the vampire and zombie craze, and it is actually one of a new series of police procedurals featuring D.I. Angela (Angie) Costello. About whom, it has to be said, there is nothing particularly special or memorable. She is married to a retired policeman and has a grown-up step-daughter who returns home to live early in the story. A bit like Mr Wilkinson the clergyman.

What I most enjoyed about the book was the setting, the London fashion scene. The author is clearly at home there but I was moving into a new world, and that for me is the acid test of a novel and a novelist.

The eponymous victim is indeed “dead gorgeous” (though still alive) when the story opens. But though she looks like an angel, her character is far from angelic, and when she is murdered there is, as her flat-mate Sandra remarks, going to be no shortage of suspects.

The plot is original, the setting interesting, the characterisation good, the writing professional and the editing competent. I enjoyed it, and if you are into UK police procedurals, then you will, too. However, Angie Costello herself  is, as I say, depressingly ordinary – reality personified – and that is just what I don’t want when I pick up a book. (See the previous post!)


What to do when Life is Just Too Much

17 04 2018


16 04 2018

Denise Linn was one of the first to popularise the whole modern (and I suppose by that I mean Western) approach to reincarnation: learning how to recall one’s past lives and perhaps also undergoing past-life therapy either by oneself or with the help of a professional past-life therapist. She is a writer and lecturer to whom many (if not all) more recent writers on this topic are indebted.

This does not mean that I, or any other student of reincarnation, is going to agree with everything she says. Personally, I take issue with her on several points.

Let’s start though, as she does, with her being knocked off her motorbike by a man in a car who then got out of his car, aimed a gun at her, and shot her. Miraculously, she survived. But the Near Death Experience she describes in detail changed her life, and led directly to her subsequent studies with teachers and gurus as diverse as Zen Buddhist monks, a Hawaian shaman, a Japanese Grand Master of Reiki, and a wise old Native American named Dancing Feather.

The best part of the book is perhaps the chapter on How to Recall a Past Life, which includes a section of Past Life Clues under eighteen different heads ranging from Childhood Games to Food Preferences to Books and Movies, and of course including Déjà Vu Experiences, Personality Traits, Fears and Phobias, and Dreams (as in the title). (If it had been me writing, I would have at least mentioned aptitude for particular foreign languages, which I consider one of the most significant clues.) In the same chapter there is a section on Visualization Technique with a whole series of “different methods that can help you make a successful transition”. Of these, I particularly like the “time tunnel”, the “river of time” and the ‘room of doors”; the method she calls the “mists of time” was new to me as she sets it out but I have tried it and it works – rather more abruptly and completely than the others, so it should be approached with caution (don’t do it alone first time!). This is followed by an actual script you can either record and play back or get someone to read to you while you set about making the transition.

All this is fine, and as I say, indispensable reading even if much of it has been copied and repeated by other authors.

Where I have trouble is with Denise Linn’s concept of changing the past, a form of past-life therapy she seems to particularly favour. Something that happened in a past life is having a traumatic effect on your current life? Then change it. You weren’t drowned, you survived – you didn’t have an abusive step-father, you had a very kind and loving one – and so on. “I believe that you can actually change the past,” she says, but continues “if this is too much for you to accept, then imagine that you are changing the images that are stored in your brain …”

And then there is the problem of Future Lives. Predestination, and its corollary, possible foreknowledge of the future, is a subject on which the great philosophers of the past have disagreed and modern philosophers still do disagree. I obviously cannot begin to go into it here. I would just like to quote one more line from this book and then leave you to read the whole thing for yourself and make up your own mind.

“The future,” she says, “is as malleable as the past.” But surely it should be much more so? No one has any trouble with the concept of planning the future, it is the concept of planning the past which is difficult to grasp – or to swallow.


15 04 2018

Please click on the image to read the original article:

Wonder Women

The entire country is outraged by the brutal gang rape and murder of the 8-year old Asifa Bano. The argument by many people that this is just an addition to the list of rape cases in India doesn’t make the incident any less horrific.

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14 04 2018

[This is a review I wrote a while back of a book I loved and considered very important. I thought I had posted the review on this site but as it doesn’t seem to be here so, as it is even more relevant today than it was then, I am posting the review again.]

At first sight, it is just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting us know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.

The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.

But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:

While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …

Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.

I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.

Now THAT’S Reading

13 04 2018

A DEADLY BREW by Susanna Gregory

13 04 2018

Cambridge, winter, 1353

‘And what happened after you brought your ill-gotten gains back here?’ the monk asked, looking from one to the other with eyebrows raised in disapprobation.

‘Brother Armel was carrying one of the bottles. When we arrived …’

Xavier faltered, gazing down at his feet, and the red-haired student took up the story. ‘Brother Armel opened his bottle, took a great swig and …’

‘And what?’ prompted Michael.

As one, the novice Franciscans looked to where Armel lay on the floor. Xavier gave a sudden sob, loud in the otherwise silent room.

‘He staggered for a moment,’ continued the red-haired student unsteadily. ‘Then he grabbed at his throat and fell to the floor. We thought he was playing the fool, so we ignored him at first. Then we tried to rouse him, but it did no good.’ He swallowed hard. ‘Brother Henry said he would fetch Father Yvo, but Xavier said we needed the Proctors because Armel had been …’

‘Poisoned,’ finished Xavier in a whisper, as the red-haired student failed to utter the dreaded word. One or two of the novices crossed themselves and all eyes were, once again, fixed on the prone figure on the floor …

A petty thief breaks into spmeone’s cellar and steals a case of fine French wine – twelve bottles of claret that he proceeds to sell to students and apprentices. Then the deaths begin, because somehow the bottles contain a deadly poison.

But one of those who dies is the scholar James Grene, unsuccessful candidate for the post of Master of the College of Valence Marie, who drinks the poisoned wine during the feast celebrating the inauguration of his rival, Thomas Brigham. Why? Was this pure chance, or had he been given that wine purposely?

Meanwhile, smuggling is on the increase. The Fens, which stretch from Cambridge to the sea, are a flat wasteland of pools and streams and marshes and bogs that have always been a haven for smugglers, but now it seems a new and greedier gang is operating in the area. Was the poisoned wine brought in by them?

Matthew Bartholomew, who teaches medicine at Michaelhouse, and Brother Michael, the Benedictine monk who is Senior Proctor of the university, do not know where to turn. Then they are summoned to nearby Ely, the cathedral city of the fens, by the bishop, and have no choice but to go, though several people warn them that the message might not be genuine and they might be walking into a trap.

The fact that they do not listen is typical of Matthew and Michael. They are both, especially the “hero” of the series, Matthew, unbelievably obtuse and slow in the uptake. It struck me repeatedly while I was reading this story that it is like having two Watsons and no Holmes. A typical example of Matthew in action is when Julianna warns them that she has overheard a plot to murder them both that night. This is at the Convent of Denny, where they have taken refuge. Neither of them pays any attention to her, depite that fact that they have been ambushed on the road to Ely and escaped by the skin of their teeth and that somebody obviously wants to kill them. During the night, Matthew wakes to find Michael’s bed empty. He foolishly suspects that Michael is meeting Julianna in the orchard. He goes there and finds Michael talking to an elderly nun called Dame Pelagia, who, it turns out, is Michael’s grandmother. While they are out there, the part of the convent where they have been sleeping goes up in flames. Do they thank Julianna and apologise for not believing her? On the contrary. And when Matthew, Michael, Julianna and Pelagia flee from the convent and are attacked again on the road and Julianna saves Matthew’s life by hitting his assailant on the head with a stone, does he thank her? No, he seems to thinks she should be charged with murder! His attitude to everyone and everything, even his friend – yes, friend – Mathilde, the prostitute – is amazing in its combination of naiveté and arrogance.

These are wonderful books if you want to feel at home in 14th-century Cambridge, see life as it happens in the colleges and the town from day to day. But do not expect any clever investigations from the least talented and most reluctant sleuth in detective fiction.