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review 2017-01-09 04:30
Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life
Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected - Jason Hanson

I'll admit the cheese-factor of the title caught my eye, but it was this, from the summary, that made me put the book on my wishlist:

In addition to escaping handcuffs, picking locks, and spotting when someone is telling a lie, he can improvise a self-defense weapon, pack a perfect emergency kit, and disappear off the grid if necessary. 

 

Ooh, practical skills knowledge!  You know me, I'm always interested in learning new skills, even if I might never use them.

 

As a practical handbook the book is chock-full of useful knowledge, both of the common sense and not-so-common sense variety and I'd recommend it to anyone.  Some of it does come across sounding a tiny bit paranoid or back-woods survivalist, but that's really only because most of us live by the odds (as in, what are the odds of that happening?!).  But as anyone who has been in a disaster would say, it only needs to happen once.  Most of the best information in this book is about being aware of options and strategies.

 

Oh, and learning how to pick locks; and escape duct tape and zip ties.  You can never have too many skills, y'all.

 

A couple of things dimmed the appeal.  There's an ever so slight prevalence of self-promotion.  It's never blatant, but the few sources he supplies are, I think, his own websites (and to be fair, not to sell anything - videos and freebies).  He does tell you what brands of deadbolts are better than others (Kwikset = bad) as well as a few other recommendations of what to look for in security.  But there's a bit too much "I" for my personal tastes.

 

I don't know who is running the editing circus at Penguin, but Hanson should be pissed.  There are more than a few silly, embarrassing errors throughout the text that a primary school kid could catch.

 

As a last note, if the sub-title doesn't give it away, this book is primarily aimed at Americans, although some of the stats are international and all of the skills and strategies are applicable to everyone.  But Hanson loves his guns (he doesn't advocate owning them though).  Look past that though and you'll find a lot of everyday, practical advice for keeping yourself and your loved ones safer.

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review 2015-12-13 01:27
The Secrets of Life and Death - Rebecca Alexander

In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...
As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.

 

-- Book Blurb

I received a copy of the sequel to this book to review. After a couple of pages, I decided I had to read book 1 first. I felt lost and the book sounded interesting, so I figured if I was going to review the sequel, I could at least read the first book.

 

I found that this book required me to really focus. Between the back and forth from the present to 1585, and all the names and the old language, I had a hard time following the story if I didn't. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it took me longer than usual to finish the book. I enjoyed the story, but I didn't expect it to require that much concentration.

 

By the time I finished the book, I was hooked on the story. And I wanted to find out what happens next. And, btw, the next book seems to require just as much focus.

 

Recommended to:

Fans of urban fantasy mixed with historical fantasy. Whatever that means. :)

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review 2015-06-13 00:00
The Secrets of Life and Death
The Secrets of Life and Death - Rebecca Alexander The Secrets of Life and Death tells two stories - one set in current day England where Jack Hammond struggles to save a young girl's life through unconventional means. The other is set in 16th century Poland, following the equally unconventional exploits of John Dee and Edward Kelley as they're called in to aid the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory (you know the one- she purportedly bathed in the blood of virgins...she's a pretty evil lady). As you might guess, Dee and Kelley's experiments with dark magic are intimately related to Jack and Sadie's struggle for life (or, rather, more borrowed time).

This seems like something I would automatically love, but I was left with lukewarm feelings. The characters never quite got there and the dual story lines just felt a bit disjointed. Every time I started getting into the action of one story line, I was yanked out and had to reacclimate. There are ways to pull this off, but it's tricky. The two stories felt a little out of step with each other.

I'd still recommend picking this up. It was a fun read and it's a story I've found myself thinking about over the past few days since I finished it. If nothing else, read it so you know what's going on when you read the second one (The Secrets of Blood and Bone), which was much better.
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review 2015-04-27 06:00
Secret of a Charmed Life
Secrets of a Charmed Life - Susan Meissner

By Susan Meissner

ASIN: B00W8BZAUE

Publisher:  Christian Audio

Publication Date:  4/16/2015 

Format:  Audio

My Rating:  4.5 Stars 

Master storyteller, Susan Meissner delivers a layered, piece of art with SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE, from the present day to World War II England, a story of two sisters, separated by time and of war.

From the stunning front cover, you are drawn to this era and with an engaging, and almost mesmerizing prose, Meissner captures the essence of time with a courageous woman who has no choice but to give up her secrets– it is time.

Oxford, England, a young American scholar Kendra Van Zant interviews Isabel McFarland, at the age of ninety three, she is ready to come forward about the war, a secret she has kept for decades.

As readers revisit the dark time in history, 1940s in England, a turbulent time as Hitler wages war against London while one million children are evacuated to foster homes. While 15 yr. old Emmy and her younger sister, 7 yr. old Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy wants to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer. The sisters are cruelly separated. Emmy blames herself and does everything to find her sister, but she does not know for such a long time. The Blitz changed so many lives, with guilt and blame and, the what ifs.

With an ongoing mystery will not give anything away, the story keeps you intrigued, of how the pieces will come together. Rich in vivid settings and descriptions, we hear from difference voices, letters, and diaries, while readers experience raw emotion, mystery, passion, love, choices, and hardship. It was heartbreaking to hear the devastating effects of lives and families torn apart. There is a remarkable take away message of learning to forgive, others and yourself in order to let go of the past and have a future, a charmed life.

 

A story about sisters, but also about the bond between mother and child, and ultimately the resilience of love.

Highly recommend, this beautiful mix of historic and contemporary fiction - of love, loss and sacrifices, and characters you will not soon forget. I have only read one other book by Meissner, A Fall of Marigolds; however, look forward to reading more. I listened to the audio version narrated by Alana Kerr,  delivering a pleasant performance. Fans of Sarah Jio and historic fiction will appreciate being transported to another time- what an experience of survival!

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/#!Secrets-of-a-Charmed-Life/cmoa/553dc2c00cf2adc1acf03d13
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review 2015-04-04 10:13
The Secrets of Life and Death - Rebecca Alexander

In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....
In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...
As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

FTC Dislcaimer: Edelweiss & Blogging For Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions below are entirely my own.

 

 

The story starts in the 16th century where the reader meets Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the niece of the king of Poland, Istvan Bathory. Elizabeth is slowly dying from a mysterious illness that doesn't seem to be responding to any treatment. King Istvan & Elizabeth's husband call in alchemist Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley. Dee & Kelley are held captive and given the ultimatum that either they come up with a cure for her or face execution. While at the palace, Dee & Kelley discover there are some other important guests at King Istvan's place -- members of an Inquistion panel! Bad timing!
 
Fast forwarding to modern times, the reader is introduced to Jackdaw Hammond (such a clunky name for a woman!) and Felix Guichard (pronounced Gwee-shar). Felix is an anthropologist specializing in, as he puts it, "esoteric belief systems... cultural beliefs outside of the mainstream (witchcraft, sorcery, magic, superstition, etc.)" Felix is asked to assist on a murder investigation -- a body of a young woman covered in mysterious symbols no one can decipher. Felix does some research and is able to tie the symbols back to the reign of King Istvan. Jackdaw, or "Jack", brings the urban fantasy element to the plot -- she's secretive about the fact that she's technically dead, kept alive only by magic sigils (symbols) tatooed on her skin. Jack tries to save girls who may share her same fate, one such girl being Sadie. People start trying to hunt down Jack & Sadie, wanting the secret to immortality.Jack and Felix team up to figure out the origin of the symbols, their secrets, and who these people hunting them might be. The chapters then flip-flop between modern times and the time of Elizabeth Bathory, progressively explaining the tie between the two (trying to avoid giving away spoilers here).

I found myself really intrigued by the historical fiction-paranormal-scifi mashup offered in this story...at least at first. I wish there had been some more tension written into the plot. There just seemed to be a lot of "don't leave the circle or you die" over and over again in every chapter. The story was entertaining enough, but there were no mind-blowing plot twists for me. Also, I was a little confused at the attempt at a romance all of a sudden between Jack & Felix. It just felt like the author went that route because maybe she assumed her readers would expect a romance of some kind to be in the story. But it wasn't really all that well developed between them. There wasn't any slow build up to the friendship where a romance would have seemed inevitable, but there also wasn't any death defying moment where even insta-love could have plausibly been written in... they just felt very mashed together. 

 

I got pulled in a little more around the 210 page mark, but the whole book is only 365 pages. Also, the writing style was very reminiscent of the tone and flow of Bram Stoker's Dracula. That may have been somewhat intentional, as the historical fiction portions of the story do periodically mention Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. As I read on, I also noticed likenesses (probably just coincidental) to tone & storyline elements from the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke and Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. I am in no way knocking the author for this, I actually thought it was kinda cool to be reminded of these other stories while reading Alexander's novel. So if you like those kind of stories, I recommend checking out this one. Like I said, had there been a little more plot tension, I think I would have really loved this one. 

 

 

 

 

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