Saturday, November 17, 2012

Renegade by JA Souders: A dark dystopia

My life is just about perfect. That's what Evie thinks, despite the memory loss she suffers, and the whispers in her mind of distant memories that she can't pull to the surface.  And what's not to be perfect? She's the pampered, beautiful daughter of "Mother", the ruler of an underwater realm. Elysium was created after a war on earth left only vicious "surface dwellers" living on above and destroyed all civilized life.  Or did it?

In Evie's perfect world, children are selected, based on their genetics, intelligence, and aptitudes, to be either breeders or enforcers. Like other breeders, now that Evie is 16, she's expected to undergo a coupling with another breeder, to ensure the purity and continuance of the people. Her mother has graciously let her select her coupling partner, but odd things keep happening to them -- if only she could remember who they were or what they'd meant to her. Should a citizen steps out of line, or when the expected surface dweller attack comes, then the enforcers step in with deadly precision. But for now, Evie is surrounded by silks, flowers, and beauty.

Until she finds Gavin, a surface dweller who stumbled into the underwater realm by accident, in her garden.  Suddenly she's having a hard time suppressing all those whispered memories of the past.  And let's face it. She's 16. He's handsome, dangerous, forbidden, and exciting. Hormones kick in big, too.  Soon, Evie and Gavin are on the run, fighting all that she believed true, to get Gavin back to the world he knows.

This was a pretty impressive foray into the world of YA fantasy. JA Souders creates this beautiful world underwater, but then rips away the underbelly to free the beast within. There's some pretty horrific realities here, nothing like silks, flowers, and beauty, that come spilling forth. And some comes spilling out of Evie, for she has been manipulated from the get go by her "loving" mother, and it's a crapshoot at times which overlay will win out. All I can say is that when my friend Maris, at age 16, complained that her mother was a "manipulative bitch who only thought about herself", she didn't have a clue how bad it could be. Compared to Mother, Maris's mom was a piker. Elysium is a vicious place, a dark dystopia, led by one psycho woman.

I see that there are other books planned in a series. I'll be curious to see how it all evolves.

Thanks to Tor publishing for sending this book my way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vanity Fare: A novel of lattes, literature, and love by Megan Caldwell (Publish date December 26,2012)

"A novel of lattes, literature, and love"? Sounds like the story of my life, if you change "lattes" to "coffee" or "espresso" and don't mind the loss of alliteration. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for Molly, the 40-something discarded wife/single mother involved, my life is safely my own.  Still, this made an amusing diversion from some of other stuff I'm reading of late (Sholem Aleichem for a book club, sequel to a complex science fiction as an AR, a Nordic noir that's being passed around amongst friends, and some occupationally related reading.)

Molly's left facing a future of no money, no job, no support from the scummy ex, and has to reshape her world. Lucky for her, she's able to get work from an old college friend, who plops her in as the marketing/copy-writing person for a new bakery opening up near the New York City Library.  Did I mention that the chef/owner is handsome, and sexy, etc? Yeah, well, he is, as is his associate who appears to despise Molly as much as I despise the word "sexy" as a descriptor.

So here were the problems for me. Molly loves "literature" but is busy reading romance novels (which is fine to do, but own it, don't be ashamed of a good bodice. Heck, act it out, even.  It's great fun.) And when her non-reading friend wants to start reading good literature, Molly starts her out on Ethan FromeEthan Frome??? I'd be surprised if the chick ever picked up a book again.

Molly loves "coffee", but thinks nothing of drinking stuff that's been sitting on a warmer all day. The coffee geeks I know would be horrified at that, or by the pre-ground coffee she scoops out to make her bucket 'o coffee. I know there's the whole crowd out there that thinks Starbucks or Dunkin' Doughnuts reigns supreme, but not the folks I hang with. They'd shudder, and that's before knowing that the perfect cuppa in this book has milk and one sugar in it. Undoubtedly perfect for some, but not for the purists.

So if I put my judgmental snob hat aside, and focus on the story, it was fine. Molly is faced with some really awful stuff, and faces challenge. She also has a son, who she wants to keep unharmed from his father's desertion. Her mother is a little off kilter, but Molly deals with it well. She's got two great girlfriends to help her, with good shoulders to cry on and ears for listening. She's got a great shrink, another friend who gives her a job, and her health insurance is covered for at least a little while. And she's got a good enough head on her shoulders to not be ruled by her libido.

All in all, a fine escape read for a chilly autumn day. The references to books, in the copy Molly supposedly came up with for the bakery products, were entertaining. The recipes for those products a nice touch. A little more of Brooklyn would have been just great.  The best thing would have been if the bakery was real, and I could order one of those muffins to have with my freshly brewed, black coffee.

Many thanks to LibraryThing and the publisher for sending along this copy of Vanity Fare. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Midwife's Tale by Gretchen Moran Laskas

Our local Friends of the library has frequent book sales, where I do my best to support an institution I love, both through volunteerism and patronage. At the last book sale, I found this novel tucked into the health/science section by someone who judged a book by its title, not its content. As I walked it toward the fiction section, I read the back blurb, then decided perhaps it should come home with me, instead.

In my younger days I spent much time in the West Virginia mountains. There, I got to know many folks whose family had settled the hills -- hardworking, forthright people, who cared for their families, land and mountains with a determination and strength bred through the generations.  This book takes place in the early 1900's in those same hills of West Virginia. In the characters that populate the pages, I could see the ancestry of the mountain people who populated my youth.

The story itself is of Elizabeth Whitely, who was born into a long line of midwives, women who "caught babies" born to the other women of the mountains. While Elizabeth struggles with her destiny, she also struggles with her heart, for she has loved one man since childhood, and while he cares for her, he's given his heart to a woman "from off" (as we say here). Though Ivy and Elizabeth become friends, and Elizabeth becomes godmother to Ivy's daughter Lauren, she can't put aside her love for Ivy's husband. And when Ivy dies, and Elizabeth takes her place as woman of the house, it is with the knowledge that she'll never win the heart of Lauren's father. And then Elizabeth's world gets turned sideways when Lauren begins to display the gift of healing.

While this might sound like a depressing tale, it's one of those gently written novels that spins images with the words and sweeps the reader into another time. Interlaced with the unrequited love story is that of Elizabeth's relationship to her own mother, and her mother's story, also a compelling one. For me, what drove the novel was the sense of time and place, even more than the tale itself. Though the ending came a bit abruptly for me, it still rang true to the rest of the story.

All in all, when my own debut novel eventually makes an appearance, I hope it can carry the grace and dignity which this one does.

I can haz sex (subtitle: bumma votes) [Originally published October 22, 2008]

With the election tomorrow, I keep remembering the 2008 campaign, and inevitably, my darling mother. She's never far from me in heart and thought, but sometimes, a little extra beam of Bumma comes through.  On election eve, I thought I'd re-share this one from the last presidential election with you.

As election day approaches, I get a little twitchy, Not just because the fate of the country seems to be a crap-shot, but because I think I am reliving Bumma's spectacular performance on Election Day 2006, when she gave a good imitation of standing in the check-out line of life. So, this year, to avoid the strain on my heart, I again offered to get her an absentee ballot. Again, she declined.

A few days ago, after checking in on her and seeing that she was watching a story on CNN about how crowded the polls are expected to be on November 4, and how record numbers of people were voting early, I offered to take her to the South Carolina State Election Commission's local office, where she could vote early. We planned to go early this morning, to beat any possible crowd that might accumulate.

This morning, I made her oatmeal and checked what time she would be ready. "As soon as I get dressed," she replied. I trotted off to brush my teeth, grab a book (don't feign surprise-- Insincerity isn't flattering) and help her down to the car.

But bumma was in her fluffly pink robe, curled up in her chair watching TV.

"Ummm...bumma? You still wanna go vote today?"

"Yes, my dear. We can go as soon as I'm dressed."

"Okay, " I say, highly confused.

I sit down in the living room and wait. And wait. And wait. 20 minutes later, I peek into bumma's room. She's still in her fluffy pink robe, only now she's curled up like a little shrimp in her bed. Clearly, I have misunderstood something.

So, I go upstairs and pay a few bills, write a book review or two, and wander downstairs. There is bumma, fully dressed, waiting in the living room.

"It's about time you're ready," she says when she sees me.

"Sorry. I got confused when I looked in your room and saw you curled under the covers."

"I love my bed," she tells me, and grins.

Down to the car and off we go. The place, when we get there, is pretty mobbed. But I secure a seat for bumma and I stand in first one line to register, then one to check in at the polling place, and then a third to actually get to vote. She sits patiently while I do the lines. The wait was made better by the group of folks around me -- we all had that sinking ship camaraderie, and had a great time discussing the whole election season. At one point, a poll worker handed us a sheet which had the various amendments on it. It became clear that at least 4 of the 7 of us misread the first amendment. It reads as follows:

Must Section 33, Article III of the Constitution of this state be amended so as to delete the provision that no unmarried woman shall legally consent to sexual intercourse who shall not have attained the age of fourteen years

There was a explanation which only confused some. It pointed out the state legislature currently has the age of consent set at sixteen for most cases. The problem, it seemed, was that some folks weren't understanding that the legislature and the constitution were not one in the same. They were thinking that the amendment was to drop the age of consent from 16 (horrors enough) to (shudder, gasp) 14. Not so. The amendment is to take the age of consent out of the constitution and let the state legislature set the age of consent, hopefully higher, not lower. (After all, many of them are Daddys with shot-guns.)

When I realized that lots of people were misreading this, I thought it best to let bumma take a look at the sheet ahead of time. She didn't have her reading glasses with her and asked me to read it to her. So, in a very crowded, very noisy room, I begin to read to my deaf mother.

Me (as quietly as possible, but still loud enough that she hopefully hears me): Must Section 33, Article III of the Constitution of this state be amended so as to delete the provision that no unmarried woman shall legally consent to sexual intercourse

Bumma: Did you say sexual intercourse?

Me (did I mention the room was crowded?): Yes

Bumma: Intercourse? Sexual? They're voting on it?

Me (crowded as in lots of people?): Let me finish the statement

Bumma: There's more to sexual intercourse that I don't know?

Me (ignoring that one totally. I don't want to go there.): Must Section 33, Article III of the Constitution of this state be amended so as to delete the provision that no unmarried woman shall legally consent to sexual intercourse who shall not have attained the age of fourteen years

Bumma: Did you say 14 years old? They're babies? What do they know from sex? They want 14 year olds to have sexual intercourse?

Me: No bumma, the amendment is to change the age of consent to something else, something higher.

Bumma: Oh, good. What?

Me: Probably 16.

Bumma: 16??? I was 16 when I met your father and we didn't have sexual intercourse.

Me (really not wanting to go there, either.) That's the amendment bumma. Vote yes if you want to let the legislature change it, or no if you want to leave the section of the Constitution in place.

Bumma: Though he did have a lovely hairy chest. Did I ever tell you--

Me (interrupting because I REALLY don't want to go there): There are two other amendments bumma. do you want to hear them?

Bumma: Is there sexual intercourse involved in them, too?

Anyhow, we made it through. Bumma voted. As we walked out to the car, she turned to me and said, "I hope Obama wins." She walked a few steps and turned back to me again. "And next year," she said, "I think I'll apply for an absentee ballot."

Obumma. You are something else.

Bumma does her civic duty (Reprinted from November 12, 2006)

I mentioned last week that bumma wasn't feeling well. She's her usual self now, sometimes incredibly pert, sometimes lost in memories, but up and about, and interacting with the world. When I wrote last week that she wasn't well, I was afraid that by the end of the day I'd have to come back and tell the bumma fans around the world that our bumma had left the building. But-- she pulled through and seems fine now. I've talked with my brothers and with her doctor and with her, and we all know that she could have moments left or years. There is no telling. But considering her ability to confound, I expect that it may be on the years end of things. Last week, however, I honestly didn't know.Monday evening, we'd had an interesting supper table discussion about the elections the next day. All three voting adults and the nearly voting age boyczuk are thoroughly disgusted with the leadership in our country. Not that the Democrats offer a much better solution, but at this point, you grasp at anything. We all had the same strategy-- throw the bums out. And if the two candidates for an office were equally scummy, vote for the one that wasn't an incumbent, or who wasn't supported by the incumbent. A few weeks back, a neighbor has offered to help bumma get an absentee ballot so that she didn't have to go to the polls-- but she declined the offer, saying she wanted to go and pull the lever on the voting machine to see her vote count. She was afraid that an absentee ballot wouldn't make a difference. About 8 o'clock, she trotted off to her room and soon after her light went out.Apparently, though, more than her reading light went out. At 8 am when she still hadn't emerged from her room, I went in to check on her. (We call these checks "Bumma breathing checks", in a tongue in cheek way, but seriously, sometimes I wonder if that's how I'm going to find out she's passed on-- when the little lump under the covers doesn't rise and fall with her breathing. She sleeps curled up in an impossible position, beyond fetal-- more like a breech birth and Gumby rolled together. It's hard to sort out where her head is let alone other parts. Plus she usually throws the pillow over her head, so I always worry that she'll smother herself. 8:30, 9, 9:30. 10. No bumma. At 10:30 I could detect that she had shifted positions though-- her foot was hanging off the bed, roughly parallel to her head. (Figure that one out if you dare.) She didn't actually wake up until 12:30. The way I found out she was awake, was I heard a crash, and found her on the floor. She said she was just standing there, not trying to walk or move, and that she had her walker right there. She hadn't hit her head, didn't black out, was just terribly shaken. (She falls a lot. It's a constant battle with her to have her use her walker. More often than not, she just kind of waves in the breeze, unsteady, with her walker a good 6 or 8 feet away. I tell her all the time that I'll take care of her if she breaks something, but that I'd rather not have to.) Her speech was slurry, her eyes dull, the left side of her face looked loose and funny to me. I went to call 911 and she stopped me.
"My dear, don't look so distressed. I have to die sometime."

Yeah? Well, not on my watch, toots!

Anyhow, long story short, she refused medical care. Flat out, point blank. Reminded me that I had health care power of attorney only if she was unable to make decisions, and she still could make decisions. She just wanted to be home. I helped her back to bed and then sat with her, keeping a close eye on her vitals and her cognitive function, and applying ice to the various tender spots she'd banged when she fell this time. She drifted off to sleep, and I called my husband, her doctor again and wrote my brothers. I figured she'd had a stroke. I honestly didn't know where this was going, and thought that she very well could check out. (Please, I was distressed enough at her refusal of care. It goes against everything I was taught. But I was in touch with her physician throughout this, and did the best I could, and still honor my mother's wishes. She even reminded me of the living will she has on file and what her wishes are regarding end of life care.)

But then about 3:30 she woke up. Her eyes were clearer and her speech normal.

"Am I too late?"

"Too late for what, bumma?"

"Too late to vote. To do my civic duty."

We got her dressed and into the car. I drove to the polls, and then took her voter registration card inside, past the huge lines of people who had turned out, in the rain, to vote. We found out last year that something called "curbside voting" exists, where the ballot is brought out to a disabled person so that they can vote. And that's what they did. They brought the computer voting machine out to bumma, and she voted from the car. It had been raining all day, but in the time that it took for the poll workers to come out to bumma, the skies cleared. The poll workers thanked her for coming out (by law, two have to go out to the car for curbside voting) and she thanked them for their work and for helping her to cast her vote by bringing the ballot to the car. It was really very sweet.

As I got in the car she turned to me and said, "It's too important a thing to skip. I believe my one vote makes a difference. Let's go home."

In follow-up, I got her to her doctor on the pretext of getting a flu shot, which she hadn't yet gotten. She told me that getting the flu shot was the "height of optimism" that she'd live long enough to get the flu. Hmph. Her doctor knew she'd refused care and only had my descriptions to go on, but he knows me and knows my nursing background. We figured that it had been a TIA (transient ischemic attack or "mini stroke") that had cleared, and when she came for her flu shot, he did a quick head to toe check without her really being aware he was assessing her. I watched as he greeted her by taking both her hands and squeezing them gently as he said hello-- she squeezed back and that day, unlike Tuesday, her grip was equal. He put her through the paces without her ever realizing she was being checked out. It was masterful.

So...that's the quick version of it all. Our bumma pulled a new trick out of her bag and scared the bejesus out of me. But she seems to be okay now, just a little tired. I truly believe that voting saved her life. Now I can only hope that it saves the country as well.