books, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Sorceress and the Skull by Donald Michael Platt

Another review originally posted on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

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The Sorceress and the Skull by Donald Michael Platt. Penmore, 2016. ISBN 9781942756569; $15.00, Paperback.

The 16th-century French seer and predictor of frightening futures, Nostradamus, died many years ago. His family line lives on in The Sorceress and the Skull, however. Michele is born in 1932, and prophecies point toward her wielding great power. That is, if she manages to reach puberty when such powers will be manifested. Allies like the Skull, a man disfigured by the horrors of war, join with a gargoyle to protect the young sorceress.

In this solid thriller, the action is slick and fast-paced. The atmosphere is thick and charged with intrigue. Historical details are meticulously researched but perhaps relayed a bit too faithfully. An example sentence reads: “Michele and her aunt, who went by the name of Mrs. Desaix, sat in Principal LeRoy Stephens’ office at Lowell High School, situated on Hayes between Ashbury and Masonic.” This level of detail can make the sentences unwieldy, but it does lend an air of authenticity to the prose, and after a while the reader accepts it as a stylistic quirk. The quatrains scattered throughout the book lend authenticity and an air of mystery to the tale.

I found the characters difficult to sympathize with, mainly because they were hard to get to know. Their portrayal is heavy on action but light on inner thoughts and feelings, another stylistic trait that may trip up some, while others may not notice its absence. Overall, this book leads the reader through dark pathways to a satisfying conclusion by using detailed prose and intense research.

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general wackiness, Hiccups in History, travel, Uncategorized

The Magic of Spain, Now with Added Babies!

Hiccups in HistoryIn six short weeks I will be returning to Spain, a country I have visited the most in my European travels (just three times, but hopefully more in future years). What better time could there be for reflection and daydreaming?

Think of it … Spain. The very name brings to mind exotic ancient lands and the far-away echo of guitar music. And more, following on the warm, orange-scented breezes.

Whirling flamenco dancers. Sunsets over the ocean. Tapas in picturesque cafes. Baby-jumping in the plaza.

Wait. What?

Yes, it is so. Jumping over babies is apparently a thing in a certain part of Spain. Which brings it squarely into Hiccups in History territory. This series of blog posts celebrates weirdness throughout history. Because my spirit animal is some sort of weird turkey/horse/panther hybrid. Or something.

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By Celestebombin (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

Anyhow. This bizarre–dare I say infantile–event takes place in mid-June each year, just after the Feast of Corpus Christi (the blood of Christ). In the north, near Burgos, lies the village of Castrillo de Murcia. The festival of El Colacho dates back to the early 17th century, when good and evil come alive in what may have its roots in the fusion of Christianity and earlier pagan traditions.

Men dressed in red, with yellow masks, dash through the streets impersonating the devil. They insult villagers and whip them with horsehair. All is fun and games terror and hysteria until the sounds of drums herald the arrival of black-clad good guys–atabalero–who drive out the evil.

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By Jtspotau (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

But first babies born the previous year are laid out on mattresses in the street. As the “devils” leap over them they are thought to absorb the infants’ sins, an act which protects them from future misfortune. The villagers hurl invectives at the devils, thus securing for themselves a reprieve from bad luck.

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By Jtspotau (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

After a quick spritzer with rose water, the babies are rescued from the mattresses and all is right with the world again. The Catholic Church frowns on the festival, but it continues nevertheless, drawing a growing number of curiosity seekers.

Alas, I will not be around for any baby-jumping festivals when I next travel to Spain. But unusual places appear on the Camino de Santiago as well. During my 2015 trip I came across a village that honors sacred chickens.

Who knows what I will encounter this next time?

 


Sources:

“The Baby Jumping Festival.” Atlas Obscura. Retrieved January 22, 2018. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-baby-jumping-festival.

Khan, Gulaz. “Look Inside Spain’s Bizarre Baby Jumping Festival.” NationalGeographic.com, June 16, 2017. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/europe/spain/el-colacho-baby-jumping-festival-murcia-spain/.

books, cats, fantasy, Uncategorized

A Prize and a Promo

Who doesn’t like cats? And who doesn’t like pens?

Depraved individuals, that’s who! And you’re not depraved in the least, right? Well, I have a special opportunity for all non-depraved, cat-loving, pen-using, book-reading individuals. Isn’t that lucky?

Here is the pen in question:

cat pen

It’s from the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. I visited it over the summer and was blown away by how amazing, beautiful, and all over excellent the whole facility is. Its motto is “save them all.” Thousands of animals are euthanized in shelters across the country every day. This needs to stop, and Best Friends is taking action to do just that, through education campaigns as well as running the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the country. The sanctuary has dozens of buildings for animals, gardens, corrals, fields, and cabins for rent, all framed by beautiful red rock hills. Truly a paradise for animals and animal lovers as well.

Anyhow. I was very impressed and I’m happy to support the organization (which has many affiliated organizations throughout the country) however I can. Enter the cat pen.

Blah blah. Let’s get to the important info – how do you WIN it?

It’s pretty simple.

Sign up for my reader’s newsletter herehttp://eepurl.com/DoEz5. That will give you a chance to win it.

Yup, that’s it. I send out brief updates about my books, works in progress, sales, promotions, graphics, and so forth every other week. You’ll always find links to free and low-cost promos that I participate in as well. It’s especially great for fantasy lovers, but I also include info about my historical romance and humor occasionally as well. Of course you can unsubscribe any time you like.

I’m choosing a winner who will be announced in my February 1st email newsletter. Sign up before then.


And remember how I mentioned promos I always announced in my reader’s newsletter? Well, here’s one of them that is active just until the end of the day on the 20th.

Click on the graphic for a boatload of free and low-cost reads. Woo hoo!

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reblogged, Uncategorized

Art from Stone

I love the way these art pieces evoke a feeling of flow and movement, of sweeping ease. My small acquaintance with art – making mosaics – has taught me how difficult and time-consuming it is to create art, which makes me appreciate it even more.

We last featured Johnny Clasper’s incredible stonework in 2015 and since then he continues to delight his clients with his beautiful dry stone works, free-form stone sculptures, and pebble mosaics. Based in Yorkshire, England, the award-winning artist is available for commissions and projects and you can reach him through his website and official Facebook…

via Johnny Clasper Carefully Places Stones to Create Amazing Works of Art — TwistedSifter

hiking, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

The Spanish Countryside in 10 Photos

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Happy New Year! What a blessing to watch the calendar flip to a new page yet again. May your 2018 be filled with peace, protection, prosperity, and all good things …

Like travel.

Two and a half years ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain ending at the city of Santiago de Compostela. There the cathedral is said to contain the bones of James the Apostle of Jesus Christ, who is thought to have come to Spain to live out the last of his life.

The traditional beginning of a pilgrimage in the Middle Ages was to leave from one’s front door and walk toward Santiago de Compostela. This led to a network of paths all across Europe. One of those is the French Way, which starts in northeast Spain and continues across the country for about 550 miles. In recent decades, this pilgrimage route has regained popularity. Today, around 200,000 people walk it each year.

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In 2015, I was one. Though time constraints and unexpected injury constrained me to completing only 350 of those miles, I did more than enough to receive the certificate of completion–the compostela. I’m proud of my achievement. Peregrinos–pilgrims–like to say that when you walk the Camino once you will be compelled to return. Indeed, it is so. In March my husband Dave and I will walk from Portugal to Santiago, a distance of 117 kilometers.

March is not that far away and we are both getting nervous about the trip. We’ll be increasing our activity considerably from now until then. And we’ll see that Dave is properly equipped, since I already have my gear. But there’s more to do–house arrangements and work deadlines and spiritual preparation. 

Below are the top ten pictures of my 2015 Camino. They serve as inspiration when our nerves get the better of us. Perhaps they might inspire you as well?

10. For grain storage. Much nicer looking than a silo.

no 4 grain

9. View of one of the countless beautiful villages you pass on the Way.

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8. Idyllic scenes abound.

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7.  As do magnificent ones like the cathedral at Burgos.

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6. Always with the great views.

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5. And reminders of how far you need to go.

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4. Fields and hills and simple village churches.

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3. But glory is inside some of these churches, though plain from the outside.

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2. Along the way you find acknowledgement of your journey, like this medieval pilgrim, with wide-brimmed hat to stave off the sun, walking stick to assist, and water flask for thirsty times (almost every village has a free fountain filled with sweet, clean water).

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  1. And my favorite photo – storm clouds threatening but light all around them and color before them – beautiful fields of mustard.

Matthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

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Perhaps one day I will meet you on the Road?