Stephen Hawking, the groundbreaking theoretical physicist, passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge early Wednesday at the age of 76. Although I suspect many of our children know him only through the TV show “Big Bang Theory,” he was truly one of the great minds of our time.
Hawking had a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s that gradually paralyzed him over the decades, but he fought every day to stay alive and working. Even after the loss of his speech, he was still able to communicate through a speech-generating device, initially through use of a hand-held switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world, and as the European Space Agency wrote, he “showed us there are no limits to achieving our dreams”
One of his greatest impacts was bringing his complex theories to the general public through his bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time.”
His contributions to his field were enormous: the existence of singularities and the theory that the universe might have started as a singularity, the second law of black hole dynamic, new ideas in quantum gravity and quantum mechanics, and the concept that the universe had no boundary in space-time – before the Big Bang, time did not exist and the concept of the beginning of the universe was meaningless. You physicists out there will understand this better than I.
Someone said that with his death, a star on earth blinked out. I would like to think another one blinked in, out there, in our heavens. I hope Hawking is finding the answers to his questions.
The author of The Trial was an Advocate in the Supreme Courts of Scotland, and he made good use of his knowledge of the Scottish legal system in this, his first book in the Parliament House Series.
Glaswegian Brogan McLane is a member of the Faculty of Advocates in Parliament House after being called to the Bar of the Scottish Supreme Court. He is an outsider, having spent years of university education and legal training to reach his position, rather than being handed his judicial office from his father. The other members of the Faculty of Advocates come from a rich and entitled tight-knit community, having grown up in each other’s company from an early age. Brogan, by contrast, comes from a murky background. So who better to frame for the death of High Court Judge Lord Aldounhill, found dead after a transvestite party in his sumptuous home. Brogan is the perfect scapegoat to set up to take the fall, hiding the real killer.
The author takes us skillfully through the trumped-up charges, the holes in the rigged investigation, and the trial, which with a bad outcome can send Brogan away for life. The investigation is continually thwarted by corruption and evil within the Supreme Court. It is not enough that the police officer leading the investigation, Commander Imrie, and Jimmy Robertson, the oldest Queen’s court officer in Parliament House and the provider of inside information, both believe Brogan is innocent. It is up to Brogan’s friends, who live largely on the other side of the law, to provide him with the help he needs to face the power of the nefarious forces within the Court.
I had a great time reading The Trial. It offered a unique setting for a crime novel, and the author provided plenty of twists and turns to keep me turning pages. The treacherous connivance of the members of ‘the system’ set my blood to boil in this good vs evil tale. The characters were enjoyable – even the vilest of the characters were limned in three-dimensions. The steaminess of the crime was presented tastefully as was the (limited) sex. I particularly enjoyed being educated on the Scottish legal system, although I had to refer frequently to the Glossary of Terms and am still not sure I understand the court organization. I also had to read the Scottish dialect carefully – it added to the richness of the story, but not being familiar with it, I found some of it confusing. None of this detracted from a darned good ride. Great story, excellent plot – I recommend The Trial.
About the author (from Amazon)
John Mayer was born in Glasgow, Scotland at a time of post-WW2 austerity. But in 1963, when he heard The Beatles on Radio Caroline, his life path was set. Aged 14 he walked out of school because, in his opinion, he wasn’t being well taught. Every day for the next year, in all weathers, he cycled 9 miles to and 9 miles from the Mitchell Library in central Glasgow where he devoured books of all kinds. He became an apprentice engineer and was soon teaching men two and three times his age. In the 1970s he changed careers, setting out to become a Record Producer. He built his own record company trading in 14 countries. After a disheartening court battle with global giants, he went to the University of Edinburgh and became an Advocate in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. There he represented the downtrodden and desperate as well as Greenpeace International. His specialty was in fighting international child abduction. As an author, Mayer has written non-fiction, legal texts and articles; broadcasting to tens of millions of people on US and UK radio, TV and print media.
The Trial is the first novel in his Parliament House Books series. Set in Edinburgh, it’s an homage to Franz Kafka’s book of the same title.
You can find John Mayer
At his website: https://parliamenthousebooks.weebly.com/
On Twitter: @johnmayerauthor
A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of a religious war, feuding clans and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597 – What’s not to like about A House Divided? I couldn’t wait to read it and savored it for as long as I could.
This is the second book in series about the Munro family and their enemy, the arch-villain of their story, William Cunninghame. Although I have not read the first in the series, The Turn of the Tide, A House Divided can be read as a stand-alone novel with no problem…except that I now feel compelled to treat myself to that first book.
The Munro family has been forced into hiding to escape their enemies, the wealthy Cunninghames. While Adam Munro fights in France with the Scots Garde, which is supporting Henri IV, Kate Munro takes shelter with her children at the Montgomerie stronghold of Braistane. There she takes the surname Grant to hide her and the children’s identity. The Cunninghame son, thinking all the Munros are dead from their persecution, takes possession of the Munro’s home at Broomelaw and is rebuilding the estate for himself.
Kate supports herself by working as a ‘wise woman,’ the term used for an herbalist and a midwife. These woman are often accused of being witches, and Kate courts danger during a period when witchcraft trials and burnings are common in Scotland. Kate is partially identified when she attends the wife of a Cunninghame supporter, and her daughter, who is training with her mother to be a wise woman, also becomes visible in the countryside when she answers some of the calls for Kate to provide medical help. When Kate’s growing reputation results in her being asked to attend Queen Anne, the wife of James VI, the chances she will be seen by the Cunninghame family at court increase exponentially.
Although the story focuses on Kate, Adam is not forgotten as the reader is treated to the vicissitudes of the war in France, King Henri’s increasing reliance on him, and Adam’s attempts to find a way home to see his family, from whom he has been separated for several years. I found these interludes to be less compelling than Kate’s story, but necessary to the direction of the overall plot.
This is an exceptional book, combining the tensions of several story lines with exquisite detail of life in Scotland in the 16th century. I loved the descriptions of herbal remedies and as the wife of an obstetrician, I found the midwifery fascinating.
The characters are exceptionally well wrought, pulling you into each scene. Skea is a master of description, from the lovely countryside to the details of siege warfare, the trials of witches, and the daily, mundane chores of everyday family life. Set against this rich tapestry is the rising and falling tension that Kate and/or Adam will be discovered, which did not play well with my blood pressure!
Skea also weaves into her story broader issues of morality, science vs superstition, loyalty and justice. This is a must read for all lovers of historical fiction, and I think Skea’s writing is comparable to that of Phillipa Gregory and Diana Gabaldon. I’m hooked and looking forward to reading the next in the series.
About the author (from Amazon)
Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. Awarded the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014 and Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition for her debut novel Turn of the Tide, the sequel A House Divided was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2016. The third book in the series will be published in autumn 2017. She is passionate about well-researched, authentic historical fiction and providing a ‘you are there’ experience for the reader.
You can find Margaret Skea
on Twitter: @margaretskea1
at the Scottish Book Trust: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/profile-author/105036
on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.skea
and you can find all her books on Amazon:
Stan Smith, Professor of Biology at Bowling Green University, and my friend
I first met Stan when I arrived in Evanston, Illinois, to begin a belated post-doc in the spring of 1977. Stan was a graduate student in the lab I joined, and when another student got his Ph.D. and moved on, I moved into the desk space next to Stan’s. Stan was a typical mid-westerner, and if I hadn’t known better I would have sworn he was from Missouri, the Show-Me State. He was roughly cautious of me initially, sure that I would invade his contiguous space with my books and papers and generally bother him while he was working.
Apparently, he was rather surprised when I did neither and after a few months, we became fast friends. Stan had a wonderfully dry sense of humor, much of it directed at his sons Danny and Michael, and his down-to-earth, very thoughtful way of looking at life. He was a perfect match for his patient and always smiling wife, Beth. There are too many small things to recount about Stan, but we always laughed at his contribution to any potluck the lab: a bowl of Jello with a whole banana in the bottom.
Stan grew up on a farm, one of five boys, and graduated from Churubusco High School, Purdue University and later Northwestern University where he received his PhD. He worked at Bowling Green State University for 28 years as a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences teaching Anatomy and Physiology; he also served as Graduate Coordinator. Stan enjoyed listening to classical music, collecting insects, and collecting decks of railroadiana cards and calendars.
We talked by phone once or twice each of those 28 years, catching up with what we were doing in our academic positions, grousing about students, and laughing at life.
I was contacted by a friend of the family in late 2007 to tell me that Stan had stomach cancer. He was in hospice by the summer of 2008. I wanted to visit him and regret to this day that I didn’t. I wrote and called but that’s not the same. I didn’t visit because the trip to Ohio was a long and rather expensive one, and I knew I would be the representative of our former lab at his funeral. Why is it that funerals take on more importance than saying good-bye while the person is still living? I knew Beth and Danny and Michael would want me there, though, to talk about Stan to the people assembled to celebrate Stan’s life.
I still think of him from time to time. Stan died way too young and he still had a lot to contribute to the world. He was a wonderful and patient teacher at Bowling Green, beloved by his students. He was such character…I can still hear his voice clearly in my head.
Sometime after the funeral I received a bound booklet with a collection of his short poems. I hadn’t known he wrote poetry, but somehow it seemed right. Here are three, which give you a small sense of who Stan was.
I’m sorry, old friend, that it’s taken me this long to tell the world about you — and we miss you.
Old Floor Boards
there’s something comforting
about plank floors,
not the young new ones
virtuous and straight,
but the old ones bent
and warped from years of doors
being slammed and children
fighting on them and scuffing
them for nothing they’ve done;
these old boards will bend with any gait
and they’ll accommodate almost any weight
and never argue, complain or clack
although at night they’ll creak
to ease the pain in their backs.
Auburn Love (to his Mom)
The auburn beauty that held men’s still sight
By the star of days and stars of night
Is done. The bright eyes that caught time’s delight
And frame it into images of love
Are shut. The gentle hands that moved above
The ivoried keys in joyful chords of
Song, and Traced the small brows of sleeping sons
Are still. The heart, the minde both very strong
Fled her body’s failing instincts; have gone
To mystery where eternity runs.
Wholly, thoughts now linger in living place,
In the grateful minds of those who embrace
The remembered woman of quiet grace,
Whose auburn love still warms their inner space.
Dad gave away our outhouse
To a neighbor when I was six;
Dad gave away our outhouse
Before he had figured out how to fix
The large hole left in the ground.
So every rock, large or small, in our village,
Went with a plopping sound
To a very unsatisfactory grave
In that deep and fertile ground.
I’m in the doghouse…or is it cathouse? My two legged clearly had plans for me this morning, because last night she put a new house with a door on the floor in the family room, where I play. I didn’t like it and didn’t even stick my nose in it. It smelled funny. This morning she tried to put me in it, but I wasn’t having any of it, no siree.
She thought she could trick me into it, using the old box and putting that little pink light I like to chase and some of my treats inside, but I didn’t fall for it. She put a bowl of my favorite wet food inside. I didn’t fall for that either. Then I heard her talking to someone about changing an appointment. Hah! I fixed her.
I was alert and ready to run all morning.
She finally left the new box with the wet food just inside it and went away. I ate the food when she wasn’t looking. I didn’t get any cuddles this morning.
I selected this mystery to purchase for review because I was attracted by both the setting and also the protagonist, who is half Maori.
Here’s the story:
Carlos Wallace spent thirteen years in Australia, eight of them as a police officer in New South Wales. When he kills a man in the line of duty and his wife is subsequently murdered, he comes under suspicion and he’s dismissed from the force. He’s devastated and decides to return home to Christchurch and become a private detective. He arrives shortly after the earthquake of 2011, which leveled the city’s business district, and the reality of the devastation is a grim backdrop to his depressed mood. An absent and mysterious Mr. Prince sets Carlos up with a PI business office and funds to continue cases that Prince left behind. A blood relative deeds him a house, asking only that in return, he look after his cousin Miriama (a beautiful matakite or seer to whom he is attracted) and his whānau or family.
The main case Carlos sets out to solve is the disappearance of a young French girl, missing since the earthquake and presumed dead. His search is tortuous and has international tentacles, but he acquires a feisty and capable partner, Ginny Andrews, who has a mysterious background of her own. Interspersed in this case are searches for lost dogs and unfaithful wives, which at first seem rather superfluous but which eventually tie in. One of the best character in the book is Uncle Tau, a local cop whose links to the community are a big help to Carlos. But his uncle also reminds him of his duty to family and a supposed curse he needs to explore.
To be honest, I found this book a tough read with some definite roadblocks. There are initially many Maori terms, which are defined at the end of the book, but going back and forth with an e-reader is tedious. The plot lines are complicated, and when I put the book down, I had to go back when I picked it up again and skim through what I had read.
Nevertheless, the setting and the Maori family culture are fascinating and that kept me going, when I felt a little frustrated. Initially slow with the introduction of characters and their past, the pace picks up as the various plot lines come to the fore. There are many interesting and complicated turns, but the characters are vivid and compelling. To me, they were one of the best aspects of the story. I particularly like the taciturn Uncle Tau and Carlos’ beautiful but troubled cousin. The descriptive details are spare, but Christchurch itself, as it struggles to revive and rebuild, is a wonderful background.
The Maori Detective was not a totally satisfying mystery for me because of the density and the foreignness. I felt like I was standing to the side, observing the story and trying to understand it, rather than being pulled into it. I do think the book will be a huge draw to readers in that part of the world. All in all, the insight into Maori life and the backdrop made it a read worth the effort.
About the author (courtesy of Amazon)
David (D.A.) Crossman is a novelist and short story writer with a passion for flawed detectives, sinister spies, and femme fatales. English on his father’s side and Norwegian on his mother’s, he was born in South Africa and raised in South East London. He spent a number of years as an itinerant worker and he has resided in France, Israel, India, and Australia before settling down in rural New Zealand where he now lives with his family and their clowder of cats.
You can find him
on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.cl/da_crossman/
on Twitter: @crossmanDA
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DA-Crossman-1040957715953267/?ref=py_c
The Maori Detective is his fourth book. You can find all his books on Amazon:
This is my 300 word entry for the Blogger’s Bash, scheduled for Saturday May 19, at the George IV in Chiswick, London. I can’t attend this year but wish I could!
P.S. Please excuse the profanity, but it was necessary.
Peggy smoothed down her men’s trench coat and wrapped a grungy scarf around her neck. It’s really cold today. Where do I stay tonight? The shelter over on Peabody? Someone there had stolen things from her shopping cart. Mulling over her options, she shoved her cart down sidewalk. In the distance, bells tolled for a wedding.
People gave Peggy a wide berth as they passed and cast her pitying looks. Either that or they deliberately bumped into the cardboard hanging out of her cart. At the next corner, there was a driveway where she parked her cart. Her friend Sid was already there, sitting on a camp stool, hat on the ground, looking sad in the hopes of getting coins to fill it.
“Peg, my girl! What’s happening?”
“Nothing, just cold.”
Sid pulled his ragged parka closer around him and looked up at her with a smudged face. “Damn right.”
“Sid, when was the last time you washed? You look like a chimney sweep.”
“Hell, no one even knows what a sweep is, any more. I’ll get a shower and clean socks at the shelter tonight. Clean sheets, too. You goin’ there?”
“Nope. They steal from you.”
Sid picked at something between his front teeth. “Suit yourself, but you could freeze.”
“I’ve got my cardboard house…”
“Hell, that won’t give you any warmth. Here.” He bent over to the box next to his stool and pulled out a moth-eaten, dirty red wool blanket. “Take this, but I want it back tomorrow.”
Peggy knotted the short end of the blanket around her neck, giving Sid a toothless smile. Head high in the air, she walked to her cart, giving the Queen’s wave to imaginary people and dragging the blanket behind her.
“Who do you think you are, Peg? Fookin’ royalty?”
I promised to divulge my choice, and it was made with input from all of you. It was a thoroughly informed choice with some tweaks.
The artist is Kristin Bryant of Kristin Designs. She is really talented and did the cover for Death by Pumpkin. I plan to ask her to do the cover for my fifth book, Death at the Asylum. If you buy Death in a Mudflat, you’ll get to read the prologue to that one. (I can’t help it, I am a shameless marketer.)
Here it is: