Friday, December 28, 2012

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake

Kendare Blake comes through with Girl of Nightmares. The characters she brought to life (and death) in Anna Dressed in Blood are back, with an interesting plot line. Set six months after Cas and Anna parted, (not your ordinary teenage parting: the ghost of Anna opened a door to the beyond and dragged a horrific soul-stealing, death-bringing ghost with her), Cas is seeing and hearing Anna everywhere. Unfortunately, it's a tormented Anna; the door she opened apparently went to a hell, where the demon she took with her has the upper hand. What's a ghost-fighting hero to do? He goes to save the girl.

From there, the story just gets better.  Clear writing, humor (and a great smattering of black humor), great characters, a plot line that takes you from North America, to the UK, through the Suicide Woods and an enclave of a secret society, and into hell, itself -- that's a lot to pack between two covers.  And no vampires! Yay!

I hadn't realized when I started this book that this is actually the end of the series. It's kind of refreshing to read a book and its sequel (both really well written), and then not be dragged through a half dozen more books simply because you're sucked in, and not really liking the ride. Though I hate to say goodbye to Cas and company, I'm glad they're not going to slide into sequel hell. I think Ms Blake made a wise decision to stop for a bit (she can always start up again, if she chooses) rather than dilute the end product. Besides, luckily for us, she hasn't stopped writing, just stopped about Cas and Anna et al. I'll pick up other books by her, happily and readily.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I do not like ghost stories. I will not read horror or go to scary (or even scarey) movies. I used to close my eyes when Captain Hook threatened Peter Pan, and am not a fan of Weeping Angels. Lovecraft is not my friend. When I first heard that this book was out and so well received, I put it on my wishlist, until I found out it was a ghost story. I then took it off. But the reviews and recommendations haunted me, so I finally picked up a copy at our local UBS. What I found was an amazingly good book: well written, thought provoking, interesting plot, and best of all, a male protagonist in a YA book. That's a rare combination. It will keep me reading more by Kendare Blake, whether it has Cas in it or not.

Other reviews will give you plot summaries. What you'll get from me are just three words: read this book.

Inner Travel to Sacred Places, by Robet Dreyfuss

Sometimes, I open the pages of a book and find a friend. It may be the story that draws me in, or the way the author shapes his words. It may be an echo of a shared experience or memory, or just even the fragrance of what the author is trying to convey that binds me to a book. With Inner Travel to Sacred Places, I opened the book, and found all of the above. But even moreso, I reunited with a friend who left this world just over a year ago.  Through this book, written in the last year of his life, I reunited with my friend, Robert Dreyfuss; he welcomed me to his world, into his life, into his sacred places.

As I read Robert's words, I was carried along on his path for seeking his life's spiritual center. His journeys, beginning as a young boy battling severe asthma, who found himself atop a boxcar in Denver, trying to escape home, fascinated me. Knowing Robert personally, it was easy to recall some of the stories I'd heard him tell in person, especially of those early, heady days in Boston, or of his travel overland, from Europe to India for a gathering with Meher Baba. As I read, I could hear his voice in my memory telling the story in Mandali Hall, of the struggles and situations that were scattered along his path on the trip,of his heart's breaking to learn the gathering was cancelled, and then the complete joy of his meeting with his beloved master. I remembered the hilarity in telling of crossing the Deccan Plateau in a 'throne" atop a truck. I found myself taking a few side trips, as I read, for Robert's road crossed my own in from the late 70's onward. I delighted in meeting up with dear ones, old friends, and family. There were even a few episodes where I was witness to some of the scenes, though an "extra", an unnamed player on the stage.

I knew Robert had some significant health issues in his life. In fact, years ago, when discussing my career change into health care, he said to me (of chronic illness), "It can only beat you if you let it." When I developed a serious medical condition myself, I took those words as a mantra. Robert's skill as a practitioner of Chinese medicine was legendary, and was probably part of what kept him going, against many odds, as his health continued to challenge him.

One of the surprised for me was a glimpse of the artistic Robert that I hadn't really known. Sketches and snippets of poetry grace the pages, as well as a wonderful photo of art in movement --Robert practicing T'ai Chi in the Ellora Caves).  Readers journey to some other places that were of spiritual significance to him. I appreciated how Robert threaded his love for Meher Baba into a world view which took him from Machu Picchu and to the feet of the Dalai Lama. This was not a story of simply one trip, but of the journey of a lifetime.

My thanks to the publisher, Sheriar Foundation, for sending me this book to read.

*There's also a new book out of his verse, Blue Ridge Sonatas which I hope to read soon.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Time Travel

Grandma Ida (Adella) with Uncle Ed's 1957 TR3
My task of late has been to catalog, sort, document, and discard. We're downsizing. So that means we no longer have the luxury of storing a lifetime of memories for somewhere between 9 to 13 people, depending on how you shuffle the family deck. Some things are wonderful to find: samples of handwriting of the grandparents I never knew; a fan letter to my dad who was a child vaudevillian and movie star, the Triptik from a journey we took driving across the country in 1961. There are pictures that really do light the corners of my mind. Some things are easy to say goodbye to -- there are photographs (and faces) I never need to see again. But some things are a little heartbreaking, such as the box of newspaper front pages my mother kept for the significant days in her life (marriage, birth of children, sibling's weddings) or significant events in history (D-Day, JFK's assassination, Hurricane Hugo papers from ground zero here in Charleston.)

We built this house in 1997. When we built, by code, we had to elevate above the highest flood point recorded for our location. This was not to allow for storage of precious, irreplaceable mementos, but to keep our home out of flood-waters, should the lowcountry of Charleston be inundated again. Apparently, at some point after 2000 (last headline was from January 2000), my mother shuffled the box of newspapers, as well as 4 or 5 boxes of photographs, letters, and other memories to the space under the house. Under the house there is no climate control, and there are a plethora of things that like to eat paper. Plus we've had a flood, or maybe two floods. I don't remember. But finding a box of half eaten, pulped papers was really a down moment in this downsizing. I'm glad she wasn't around to see, because it would have been even harder for her.

The last week or so, I've stopped cataloging the personal library,which is up to 2907 and still going. (For the record, I did not include the 3 boxes of books which were also pulped and mildewed in the basement.) I've turned instead to try and make some order of the 30 photo albums and 6 cartons of photographs my mother had. The woman loved pictures as much as she loved books. And like her book collection, she often had photo duplicates (even triplicates, and for some special ones, 6 or 7 copies.) Sometimes things were well ordered, but other times, 1921 would be mixed with 1965. Talk about disconcerting.

The plan is to decrease the number of albums, eliminate duplicates, scan most of the photographs, and keep some significant ones in hard copy. I'm sorting through, having a lovely time, feeling a little like Pooh's Rabbit, with all the friends and relations. I actually have been through the photographs enough with my mom in the 50+ years we had together, so that I can easily recognize faces of family I never met, or who I last saw when I was 2 or 3. But there are some that stump me totally. I'll look at a face and try to figure out which side of the family looks back at me. I find that my impulse with those is to think, "I have to ask Mama who that is", then sigh, and shift the photo to the pile/folder labeled "Who are these people?"

So if you ask me what I'm doing for the holidays, don't be surprised if you hear me say I'm time-travelling. In my case, my T.A.R.D.I.S is a photo album. And as the good Doctor would say, "Pictures are cool."

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.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

I'm not sure how this book first got on my radar, but remember standing there in the bookstore, with it in my hand, trying to decide if I should get it, or pick up the book I'd originally come for, to give to my granddaughter. Grandmotherness won out, and I put it back on the shelf, in favor of granddaughter's wishlist. This audio copy came my way via the Library Thing's Early Reviewer program shortly after, for which I am grateful to LT, the publisher, and the gods of book selection.

Ben Benjamin is pretty much at rock bottom at the start of this novel.  A tragedy (which unfolds as the book progresses) has shaken his world and taken all that he cared for from his life. Quite literally all that he cared for, because he'd been a stay-at-home dad for his two kids, who, along with his wife, are lost to him. As a last ditch effort to find work, he has completed a course called "The Fundamentals of Caregiving", hoping to find employment as a health care aid/assistant. He ends up working with trev, a 19 year old in the advanced stages Duchenne muscular dystrophy. What Ben finds is that there's a lot a course on caregiving can't prepare you for.

I've been a professional care giver, and a private one as well.  There is no course in the world that can prepare you for the realities of the job, but that's pretty much because there's nothing in the world that can prepare you for life. The rocks and rolls that Ben has to navigate, both in his personal life, and with Trev, are enormous (and sometimes enormously humorous, as well as serious and complex.)  The author deftly portrayed both those moments where life kicks you in the gut (or arse) as well as those where it pats you on the back. Though Ben's life choices may not be mine, I was fully engaged with his story, and the stories of the characters brought in to his world.

One element of this book which came off surprisingly well was the road trip Trev and Ben take to see Trev's estranged father. It introduced a cast of characters and another level of father/child interactions (there are several portrayed in the book, with varying degrees of pathology or success.) The trip also provided Ben and Trev a vehicle (no pun intended) for exploration of their inner and outer worlds. It could have been the downfall of the book, but instead it enhanced it, and brought readers some great characters and scenes.

The story of Ben's family and his loss is interwoven with that of his life with Trev. Realistic, heartrending, and beautifully written. Though I really loved getting this book as an audio, this is one I almost wish I had in hard copy so that I could provide some of the quotes that I found moving. I will look for more books by Mr Evison.

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

I first was introduced to Colin Cotterill via the delightful novel Killed at the Whim of a Hat. What I came away with from that book was an interesting story, non-transparent mystery, realistic characters, all in a part of the world that I am exceedingly unfamiliar with. There was a gentleness to the story, too -- none of the harshness so often found in many of the mysteries on the market these days. Almost and old world charm. (Were I the type to compare books I could drum up a likeness to at least one series set in a third world country, but since I despise it when people say things like "a cross between Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and the Vish Puri, Indian detective novels" I won't.)

This is a different series, featuring Dr Siri Paiboun, who at 72, instead of being able to relax in life, finds himself appointed national coroner in Laos of 1975.  Though he is a physician, he has no training as a coroner, which shouldn't matter, as he is more or less expected to find the cause of death for the bodies presented to him to be pretty much what the newly installed Communist government wants the cause to be. This would be fine, but Siri is not exactly a "play by the rules" kind of guy, and like the Siri familiar to most iPhone owners of today, seeks answers to questions, and often finds them, even if they're not the correct answer. But Siri perseveres to find truths, and that makes the tale that much more interesting.  That he is aided by ghosts of the dead, and some interesting side characters fleshes things out a bit.

Anyhow, I truly enjoyed this book, and suspect that any of Coterill's books will be winners for me.

Honoring Ruthe -- A String of Pearls (Originally written/posted September 18, 2010)

Today would have been my mother's 88th birthday.  It's the first one that I can really focus on since her death.  Last year I was still to shell-shocked with Eric's murder and Heather's injuries to pay much attention to anything.  But time has passed.  And my mother's memory continues to be a gentle balm to my spirit.  She still is teaching me and still is bringing a smile to my heart.

When I was three, the elementary school my brothers (and later I) went to had their usual celebration of Halloween.  The kids wore their costumes to school, had parties filled with lots of sugar, and then proceeded to walk all the sugar off in a neighborhood parade to show off the inventive costumes.  I think it was the same year* one brother (and I think it was Jimmy, but it could have been Eric) went dressed as a mummy.  He completely wrapped himself in strips of cloth for the authentic look.  Unfortunately, on the parade around the school, the strips began to unravel.  As various body parts and skin began to appear, neighbors placed bets on what was underneath.  Luckily, for all concerned, the family jewels were covered by a speedo bathing suit, so some dignity could be preserved. 

With all the excitement of big brothers costuming themselves, I announced to my mother I wanted to dress up, too.  What did I want to be?  A Mommy, came the reply.

"Oh", my mother said.  "What does a Mommy wear?"

"Pearls, a hat and white gloves," I confidently answered.  "And she has a baby."

Bless my mama's heart -- she helped me be a Mommy.

This morning, as I woke up remembering Ruthe, I wanted to do something special to honor her.  My white gloves are soiled, and my hats aren't the sort the 3 year old me had in mind, and my baby is a young man out at Stanford, but I have pearls, my mama's pearls that we kids gave to her on her 63rd birthday, a few years after my father died.  She had always wanted real pearls, but had wanted my father to buy them for her.  His mother had once given her pearls, and she'd returned them, saying that she would wait for her husband to give them to her.  Well, he somehow missed the memo, because she never got them.  We kids decided to each use some of our inheritance to buy her pearls from Eli.  I'd say in the 25 years she had to wear them, they were her most worn piece of jewelry.  When I turned 50, she gave them to me, with the understanding that they were her's until she died, then they were mine.

So this fine September day, I am wearing my Mommy Pearls.  I may be in jeans and a tee shirt but I've got my pearls. I wore them to breakfast, to Belly Dancing, to Yoga, to grocery shopping, to releasing BookCrossing books, and maybe even in my bath tonight.  I wear them in remembrance of beautiful bumma, the remarkable Ruthe, who I am privileged to call both mother and friend.

(*Edited to note that there is a picture of Eric as a snake charmer that year, but I can't find one of the mummy boy, so still don't know if it was Jimmy that year, or Eric another year.  Could have been either.  My brothers both got the creativity gene.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Meeting God in Human Form, by Rick M Chapman

Reading books written by dear friends is always interesting, particularly when they are memoirs. I've known Rick Chapman over half my life. The image of his long form and dear mustachioed face is embedded deeply in my heart. I don't remember the initial meeting, but know that Rick has always been "family" to me -- one of those souls that clicks with mine, with the certainty that in another life, in another time, or maybe in one to come, our lives intertwined.

Rick is a brilliant, fascinating, multifaceted man. I've heard his thoughts on the philosophical and the spiritual (and confess that sometimes it's gone over my simple understanding.) I found this memoir introduced me to different aspects of Rick, some of which I'd seen shine through in this gem of a man, some of which had remained hidden to me. Here before me, in these 300 pages, was a youth in his early 20's, during the 60's, burning with a passion to know God. The man I first met was that same person, but tempered through time and life's lessons, no longer rough and raw. Through this book, I got to see the fire that drew Rick and forged him into that man. It fascinated me, and not just because it was a firsthand account of meeting Meher Baba, but because of the entire view into Rick's life, and into a time like no other. That it also featured people I know and love was an added bonus. I also liked reading his initial experiences in India, especially since the man I met a decade or so after had become so comfortable in that environment. And I confess that I'd forgotten he was a Fulbright scholar.

One thing that fascinated me was the difference between our two paths to God and our travels to India.  He first went seeking, and while that was part of my first trip, too, mine was more of a family journey. My brother and sister lived at the ashram, and the people who were legends to other seekers, were the life companions of my own family. I read about them in weekly letters home and had a glimpse into an intimate world of daily life at Meherabad and Meherazad.  When I met the mandali finally, it was more a comfortable recognition of family initially than meeting the companions of the Master.

My approach to my relationship with the Divine is pretty basic, too. Love God, be kind, do good works, hold fast.  I still screw up a lot, but I keep trying to get back on track. Having grown up in an atheistic/agnostic household, it's been an interesting journey. People who can discourse quite philosophically about spirituality and the soul's journey have usually either intimidated me or made my eyes glaze over. (In fact, when I was in India years ago, I despaired to Mani, Meher Baba's sister,  of my inability to read books about the spiritual journey. She gave me a gift to carry on, a legacy that Baba had given her: the release from reading about it, but the commitment to trying to live a life devoted to God.) Rick never has intimidated or bored me, and did not do so here, either.  In this book, he led me by the hand through the intensity of his discovery of a passion for God. He is a good companion for such travels.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Through the Door, by Jodi McIsaac

I first heard of this book from a friend who lives in the same area the author does. She gave an enthusiastic review, which intrigued  me. She then was kind enough to send me a copy of the book, for which I am grateful. I quite often stay clear of self published books, but there have been a few I've read that have been rather good, and a couple of those have been picked up by publishing houses. I wouldn't be surprised if Jodi McIsaac becomes one of those authors as well.

This book with an interesting premise, a little mystery, and a bit of magic thrown all together. I enjoyed the story, and though there were some rough spots in the plot and writing, over all, it was a good read.

Cedar MCleod raised her daughter Eden alone since the disappearance of Eden's father. He left before learning of the pregnancy, leaving Cedar heartbroken, sad, angry, wondering -- all appropriate things for a woman abandoned by the man she thought loved her. Life though, continued on in a normal way, until Eden suddenly developed an unforseen ability: she could open a door which would lead into another place. In her quest to understand what has happened to her child, Cedar seeks out the family of the man who abandoned her. They, too, have secrets and mysteries. And as Cedar tries to understand what is happening, Eden is spirited off by one of her father's clan, taken across the world to be exploited for the power she has developed. Cedar follows Eden, to save her, protect her, and bring her back, through the door, if she can. There's more at stake than just one little girl, though, and the task is anything but simple.

I recently read another book featuring a group of people who may, or may not be descendants of the kin to the family of Eden's father (I'm being careful not to give too much plot away), so it was interesting to see how that was treated in this novel as opposed to the other one. The blending of folklore into a present day novel can be tricky business, but the author did a fine job. In my opinion, one must always trust there is magic in the world. Though she didn't at the start of the book, I'm pretty sure by the end, Cedar believed in magic, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Goodbye, Monroe

Joe Nadel with Eli (on pony) and Monroe
My uncle Monroe died Tuesday night.  He left us years ago, bit by bit as his mind was swallowed into the gaping maw of Alzheimer's. What was left bore no resemblance to the uncle I loved as a child.  It was a bitter, angry shell, confused and lost. But occasionally, a spark would come through. Just like I would occasionally see a glimmer of my father in my uncle's gestures after my father had died, I'd see a flash of that uncle in the old man who lived in his body. But a diseased mind is a tricky thing, and that flash could be extinguished all to suddenly.

There are dozens of stories I could tell, some humorous, some with great pathos, about how Alzheimer's claims a soul. The moment that comes to mind most often was a few years ago, when we took the train to New York for the funeral of my cousin Jon, who died suddenly.* We came up the night before and stayed in Brooklyn. As we stood at the deli counter, getting our breakfast before heading into town for the service, an old man wandered in, followed by a woman. It took me a moment to realize that the frail but dapper man, his full head of silver hair neatly combed, was my uncle. It was only by happenstance that we met at that deli, but we shared a meal with them.  My aunt was still shell-shocked at the sudden death of her eldest child. My uncle was dazed, but somehow unfazed. He recognized me, once I identified myself, but a few minutes later, told me he had a niece named Amy. Did I know her? Then his eyes clouded, as he tried to remember.

"I have a son named Jon. I have a son named Jon, and he died. He died. Did you know him?"

His bewilderment and grief clutched my heart. I reached for my husband's hand, and squeezed hard.

"Yes, I knew him. And, I loved him. I love you too, Uncle Monroe. I'm so sorry Jon is gone."

"Jon's gone?" he replied. "I have a son named Jon. What's your name?"

At the memorial, friends and family spoke. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute. And my heart, already broken by the sudden death of my cousin, shattered even more, as I saw my uncle looking around, and heard him ask, "Where's Jon?"

Not too long ago, my Uncle turned 90. He outlived most of his generation in that family. He was frail, confused, occasionally combative, and difficult. His world had changed as much to him as he had to us.  He'd always taken great care of his looks, meticulous in the care of his face and hair. He might have weighed next to nothing near the end, but he still kept his hair combed, even if he used a toothbrush to do it instead of a comb.

Goodbye Monroe. Though your mind and spirit left us years ago, courtesy of Alzheimer's, your body just caught up. I have golden memories of you from childhood, my daddy's baby brother. And it makes me smile to think that though you didn't know who you were, you were happy to be 90, with all your own teeth and a full head of hair.

*The boy with laughter in his eyes

The boy with the laughter in his eyes (redux)

(Written Monday June 30, 2008 on the train home from New York City)

I went to visit Jon yesterday. It had been years since I'd seen him, but that didn't matter. Mention Jon, and my heart smiles. The image that comes to mind is one I only actually saw in a photograph. I vaguely remember the picture being taken. It's more a memory of the "feeling" of the time. The grown-ups are grouped on the old brown sofa in our living room on Walden Road, probably in 1958 or at the latest 1959. (It was the couch that later caught fire and the undamaged half became my first bed when I outgrew my crib. When the fire broke out my big brother ran upstairs and scooped me from my crib, carrying me in his arms to safety. I told Daddy, when he came home, that Bobby had carried me in his arms "like Superman".) Sitting at their feet, if you looked at the black and white print, you'd see a little blond girl, with her sun suit strap slipping off one tanned shoulder and the other arm thrown around a patient looking beagle. She's looking away from the camera, almost as if she knows that the star of that photograph is the small brown haired bundle of energy sitting next to her. He's looking straight at the camera, his face fully lit up by his delight with life, exuberance spilling out of his toddler's body. His smile takes up most of his face. There is laughter in his eyes. He is palpable joy. He is Jonnie. He is my cousin.

I suppose there was a time when I didn't know him, but it was very brief, and hidden deep in the realms of earliest memories. He was born a month before I turned one, and my memories of the time before Jonnie are very, very faint, if at all. I can't say we grew up exactly "together", as we lived several states apart, but in those childhood years, our families visited often and we children grew to count on the security of one another when the grownups went off to do whatever it was grownups did in the 50's and early 60's. I'd visit his family in the Bronx or they'd come to our home. Sometimes, there'd be a little awkwardness as we became reacquainted with each other, and learned the leaps and bounds we'd each taken in life since the last visit. Two smart, focused little kids, checking out each other, testing to see had done what since the last visit.

There were some things I was better at (swimming, playing with large groups of people, smoozing the grownups) and some he was better at (math, being precise in saying what he meant, remembering facts and letting me know I didn't.) But we couldn't outdo the other's love of books. We each loved to read. I remember him being surprised that a girl read boy-oriented books. I like to think it was something that made him like me a little bit more.

There are other childhood memories-- playing on the merry-go-round on the playground behind my home, swimming in a saltwater pool in the Bronx, watching fireflies from the stoop of Mikell Avenue, sharing a joke or a funny turn of phrase (we both seem to have developed a dry humor. Perhaps it's genetic?) putting on a show for our Grandmother-- but I'd rather remember my absolute favorite conversation with Jon. It was when we both were in our early 20's, unmarried, neither with a prospect in site. He came through St Louis on business, and stopped to visit. We went out for a drink, and spend hours talking. I found that the little boy with the laughter in his eyes had grown into a thoughtful and very insightful young man. I liked him a lot. There was an amazing intensity in those blue eyes, but a real vulnerability, too.

Maybe it was our 20 some years of knowing each other. Maybe it was the scotch. But regardless, he let me into a little space of his soul, and I have never forgotten. I don't remember the exact words but the gist of what he said was beautiful.

"I know the world values money and material success. I know that succeeding means making more and more money, and getting ahead in business. But what I want is a woman I can open my heart to and build a life with. A woman I can love completely. To me, that would be success."

Jon found that woman, and built a life (and rebuilt several houses in Brooklyn in the process.) They started a family. Their oldest son has my father's name as his middle name, and that always touched me more than I ever thought possible. Every time I heard about Jon, he only grew in my esteem. The boy with the laughter in his eyes had grown up well. And I looked forward to getting to know him again as adults. It was something I planned to do.

I went to visit Jon yesterday. I went with family and friends, who gathered together to remember him. Jon died suddenly a few days ago, leaving a stunned and shell-shocked group those of us who loved him. At the memorial, the words spoken by those who had been close to him these years when I was not gave me both enormous joy and great sadness. I missed my chance. I thought I had time. The boy with the laughter in his eyes had indeed grown into a remarkable, remarkable man. I am honored to be in his family, and grieve more that I could imagine at his passing. I grieve for his wife and sons, and for his parents, and for his brother, sister-in-law and nieces. I grieve for the missed opportunity.

At his memorial, Jon's best friend Joe spoke some real words of wisdom. I'll paraphrase him and add a bit, too, for it helps me to put some sense of something into the senselessness of loss. If you love someone, tell them, don’t wait till tomorrow, tell them now. If you miss someone, tell them, don’t wait, you may not have it tomorrow. If you’ve been thinking about someone whether it’s a friend, family, an old lover, the kid you grew up with, whatever, if you’ve been thinking about them, get in touch with them. If you haven’t had a physical, get one. If you haven’t updated your will, do so. Take the time now, take it now. For those who love you and those you love.

Goodbye, Jon. I miss you. I always thought we'd have time, that you'd be there. I'm glad you had such a love-filled and full life. I'm glad you have such wonderful sons and such fabulous friends. I'm glad you found the woman of your heart. I just wish there was a tomorrow, so I could tell you I love you.

From the New York Times
Jon Nadel
NADEL--Jon. Born August 13, 1957. Passed away suddenly on June 25th, 2008. Loving husband to Kim, beloved father of Jamie and Skye, son of Monroe and Evelyn. Director of Membership and Connectivity with the International Securities Exchange. We, as well as all who knew him, will miss his intelligence, his keen sense of humour and fine wit. Services will be held at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, Amsterdam Avenue corner 91st Street, New York, 2pm, Sunday June 29, 2008.
Published in the New York Times from 6/28/2008 - 6/29/2008.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Walking through memories

The afternoon light has just begun to take on the gleams of autumn, but not yet willing to release the intensity of summer. I love that time of September, when the balmy air wraps around like the softest cashmere, sliding like silk. As a girl, I dubbed it air bathing: when the air temperature and body temperature melded together like slipping into a glorious pool of water.

Walking around the city of my heart, which has been my home for many years, I found myself on a journey. Though I've lived roughly half of my days here in Charleston on James Island, the rest has been downtown, almost exclusively in Harleston Village. On this sultry afternoon, my steps wandered the streets of my past -- stopping at those places I had called home.

When I first relocated back to Charleston, it was shortly after my father had died. I searched for a place to make my nest which would allow me easy access to my work at the hospital, but, more important, it would be accessible to my mother, and would have a place for her to visit any time she wished. I packed up my car in St Louis, and, together with my cat, Tezra, began the journey that ended on Wentworth Street, in a 2 bedroom apartment, carved out of an old single family home. It was scruffy, definitely more student housing than that of a more permanent sort. Though it met my requirements, my neighbors were loud, and the cockroaches plentiful. I have some dreadful memories of living there, for with it came the end of a relationship, but I also have some wonderful ones. I recall making curtains for the bedroom with my mom. They matched the linens I'd purchased just after moving in.  (I still have the sheets we bought together. I use them up at the cabin, and they make me smile to remember the two of us sewing. Though we both loved to work with our hands, and were quite good at some things, we were terrible seamstresses. The only thing that kept those curtains from looking horrible was that the fabric was pretty.)  Or how we'd sit in the rather depressing living room, listening to "A Prarie Home Companion" on the radio. I tried to make that dark little apartment a home, but never was very successful.  When a wonderful little home a few blocks over came up for rent, I jumped at the chance, even though it meant I'd need to find a roommate.

It was just a slight tumble over to the cottage on Gadsden, but there was a world of difference between the two. Despite the street that floods in high tide, and the miniscule kitchen, I'd move back into that place in a skinny minute. Though the roommate situation turned out to be the stuff of stories (not fairy tale kind, but the kind where the roommate ended up with a man who married her for her fortune and then tried to kill her.  I knew the marriage was doomed when the song she danced with her father, where her groom cut in, was "The Tennessee Waltz.") it was a great place. I hosted my first oyster roast there, got a crush on the boy next door, tried my hand at gardening, and turned out some great supper parties for friends, despite the miniscule kitchen.  But alas, the landlord's son got married and wanted the cottage for himself, so I packed up the cat and moved yet again.

Luckily, there was a place around the corner, near a close friend. It was a comfortable duplex, and like its two predecessors, had a spot for my mother to visit, though she only came a time or two. It was the same shade of Pepto Bismol pink, but had lots of hard wood and deco interior elements. I was living there when I met Javaczuk. He was up in DC, but we managed to see each other regularly and talk daily. I would come home from the night shift at the hospital, and he would call every morning to wish me sweet dreams.  I remember standing up on the 7th floor of the hospital, watching Calhoun Street in the dawn hours, to see if I could find his car as he drove into town for a visit. My roommate of the time was a sweet, sincere young woman, who was studying to be a physician. Though she was skeptical about my sudden, passionate, long distance romance, she was a good sort, and feigned enthusiasm when he and I got engaged the second time we saw each other, 6 weeks after we'd met. She wished me well when I decided to follow my heart and move up to DC.

A few years later, we moved back to Charleston, this time with my mother. Together we purchased a home on Smith Street -- a glorious Queen Anne Victorian, where I thought I'd stay forever. Oh the memories from that house -- the laughter and love. It was a bountiful harbor for the family, and was there that our son was born. It weathered some losses, a hurricane or two, but still stood proud. My favorite spot was the curved portion of the front porch, where we set up a swing. I could sit there and listen to the sounds of the street, the birds in our garden, and the laughter of children playing. We had our reasons for moving, to numerous to list, but all valid and real. I was always sad that we left downtown, but it was something that had to be done at that time.

Life has its cycles. I feel the turn of another one for the two of us. We're beginning to shed ourselves of the possessions (both ours and others) that have built up in this lovely home by the lake we have here on the island. Our souls are yearning to find a spot in the city of our courtship again.  We are Charleston bound.

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

So, what's life like if your father was an unspeakable monster, who killed not only your mother, but the whole soul of a kingdom, and you're the orphaned princess who has ruled the kingdom since his death at the hands of one of your dearest friends? That's where Bitterblue takes up: eight years after the ending of Graceling and something like 35 after the telling of the companion book Fire.

The story has been told elsewhere. I will say that the characters were well drawn, even those with secrets to hide. Bitterblue's growth from a sheltered girl into a young woman of honor, strength, and charity was nice to read. Plus there's that lesson of trust to be learned. What I was struck with most of all is the question of how do you heal wrongs to a society -- not just the physical scars, but the emotional and mental ones. How does a society learn to function again when it's entire core has been ripped and shredded? It's something we see all too often these days, when someone takes a plane, or a gun, or a bomb, or a gas chamber and shatters a piece of the world.  The reparation must be handled with compassion, dignity, and respect, as well as righting the wrongs that still exist.  That a girl of 18 must do this, let alone one who has been orphaned, sheltered, protected, and isolated from what the real world is, becomes a huge task.  It won't be done quickly or easily. We're still recovering from the Holocaust and 9/11. As long as there are people alive to remember and feel those horrors, the wounds may heal, but the scar will still exist, unforgotten.

There are a few other things of Cashore's writing that I especially like. She takes a non-traditional view on love and relationships, both heterosexual and same sex ones. This is refreshing in a YA series. And the dynamics between the various couples also is interesting/varied. But fiery or playful, they do ring true. Though there is some romancing, it takes a back seat to the righting of a damaged kingdom.

Another thing I like about Cashore's writing is her world building.  Fascinating. When reading the descriptions of Bitterblue's kingdom, I was hearkened back to some of the descriptions of the Dells in Fire, where Leck had fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole. I won't go into more detail on that here, for fear of spoilers, but Cashore has done a great job.

Also, as I was reading the book, I was struck by how good and how detailed the cypher work was. That will be a true education for anyone reading it, who has an interest in the subject. Plus the bits and bobs of healing that came about.  Interesting for this nurse.

Finally, the art for this one, especially the inside covers and some of the final pictures and maps were superb. I want to see some of the art, tapestry, and statues that Leck collected in person, but until then I have CAshore's words, and these fine graphics to help me along.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Publication date Oct 2, 2012)

Steampunk fantasy in a world that has echos of Regency times -- right up my alley it would seem. With Ironskin, the reader enters a world just after a war between humans and fey. While humans appeared to have won, there are wounds left in the world, humans hideously scarred by fey blasts, now outcast, or else wearing iron coverings to stop the fey curses from leaking through and tainting the world.

Jane Eliot was wounded in the war that killed all of her family, except her sister Helen. While Helen has found a place in society and is to be wedded soon, Jane (definitely less flighty and frivolous, and considerably smarter than her sister) heads off to take a position as the governess for a child who also bears a fey curse.

Here's where it got a little confusing: I thought we might be headed towards a steampunk Jane Eyre (which would have been great, only sadly, the author states in her acknowledgements that when someone compared the novel to Jane Eyre, her response was, "Who's that.") Then there were Beauty and the Beast elements that got added in, the only question being who was the beauty and who was the beast. Next, came The Snow Queen bits, only this one was the Fey Queen.  While it all worked, I think my love of the other stories got in the way for this one.  In the end, though, it's all up to Jane (as it often seems to be for main characters who bear that name.

While there were some wonderful bits in this book that crossed all my t's and dotted all my i's, there were other times when my mind strayed from the plot. However, the world-building here was really well done.  It's not a retelling of a story with another element added in, but a nicely crafted tale.  The disappointments I had were probably because of my own expectations which I set myself (though a cover blurb also alludes to a reverse Beauty and the Beast).  I will look for other works by this author.

Sent to me by the kindness of Tor books. (3.5 stars)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Suppose there was a group of people, deep in the heart of Appalachia, who arrived before the first Europeans -- who had music buried deep into their cultural soul, resounding in all that they do. Whose origins were lost in history, but glimpses could be caught in the very songs that weave through their lives. Suppose these people, the Tufa, rarely leave the glens and hollows of Cloud County, remain close knit, and wary of outsiders.

This is the world, Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to as a war hero, after being seriously wounded in Iraq. Once home, there are signs and whispers that point to trouble coming maybe even death. Bronwyn, who was a wild girl in the days before her enlistment, must confront her past, the signs, a haint (ghost for you non-southerners), her vicious ex-boyfriend, to help her family find a balance, a place within the hum and the shiver. And, she must find her music again, plus find her own heart, and her place in the Tufa world.

The book has mystery, a deep-seated spiritual strength, and some folklore. Who are the Tufa and what can they do is more compelling than what happens in the plot at some times. It's an ingenious blending of different worlds.

I cannot remember what prompted me to add this book to my wishlist, but I'm glad I did. And I'm glad Tor Books sent it my way.  I'd not read this author before, and liked the way the story flowed. Plus there was enough olde lore to match the Child Ballads and other old songs brought to life in the book.  It's interesting that the same painting mentioned in this book has been mentioned in another book, with a totally different plot line. SPOILER ALERT (of a minor sort) STOP HERE!!

The painting is Richard Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which is a bit of a mystery in itself.  It hangs in the Tate Museum. The author leaves it up to the reader: are the Tufa descendants of the Faerie folk who fled the old country? Read the book, have a look at the Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, and decide for yourself. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, by Robin Maxwell

This is one book when it's perfectly fine to judge a book by its cover. The pages between take the reader on a trip back into time, with a portrayal of Jane that is fresh, captivating, and spirited. I realized about half way through that I've never read the original Tarzan book(s) and only know the story from comics, hearsay, and the movies. I'm curious now how close to the original this book flies, especially with the ending (which seemed like something out of an old Hollywood adventure.) 

Robin MAxwell's Jane is intelligent and willful, determined to pursue her interests in anthropology, biology, and archaeology, even if such interests deny her a husband, and leave her tottering on the edge of spinsterhood at age 20.  Yet despite all the objections of society (and her mother's despair), she leaves with her father to head into Africa in search of the bones of missing link between apes and humans.  What she finds instead is treachery, adventure, some pretty cool learning curves to climb, and a glimpse of various societies that give her much to ponder. Oh, and she also find this perfect specimen of manhood that seems to fancy her, too. Not bad for the jungle.

Actually, the meeting occurs after Jane has been mauled by a panther, and is saved by Tarzan. As he nurses her back to health, the two begin to build a common language and understanding. Together they try and make sense of some mysteries in their world, and together, they must face not one, but two evils.

I was pretty captivated up until the very end, when the novel moved into some realms of big screen adventure film stuff.  That's why I'm interested to know if that bit was in the original book, or movies (I can't remember. Indiana Jones has clouded my mind.) This particular novel was authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate, so I guess the ending fits into something somewhere in the Tarzan lore. It wasn't bad, just not to my taste: a little too over the top/fantastic/tomb raider-ish. It by no means diluted my sheer enjoyment of the first 3/4 or more of the novel, and definitely lived up to the cover.

Sent to me by Tor books.  Thanks!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

"White fangs" and Werewolves and lawyers! Oh my!

This was a fun excursion of the paranormal, urban fantasy sort.  Clever world, where the supernaturals and humans coexist relatively peacefully.  And though the vampires are heavy into the legal system, the werewolves are in the military, and the elves are into the glamorous parts of life, humans still have their say.  Of course, those with loyalty to a particular branch of supers are rewarded in their careers and personal lives, some even being "turned'.  But in this world, only males can be turned, it is taboo to bite a female.

We see this world from the life of Linnet Ellory, top of her class in law school, and who was fostered in a vampire household. She enters a prominent White Fang firm, and runs into all sorts of problems. Her colleague is killed in the office by a werewolf on the rampage, she inherits the dead end case he'd been on, and begins to be knocked around by all sorts of events.

Phillipa Bornikova has created a great world, fabulous characters, and plausible plot twists and turns, plus some great references and Easter eggs. I get the feeling we'll see Linnet et al again, which is fine by me.  I also re-entered the world of horse training (though at a much more elite level than I participated) but that was a wonderful bonus.

The book's called This Case is Gonna Kill Me, but the book won't. In fact it will probably suck you in (ha!) to this genre of great female characters in a paranormal world.

Thanks to Tor Books for sending this along for me to read.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bumma's bouquet

The endless job of clearing out the accumulation of several lives continues. It's a given that we have books; lots of books. Some to keep, some to give to friends, some to donate, some to bookcross, and some to maybe even sell. But in every library, there are a few books that no longer meet the criteria for any of the above. I suppose I could send them to the Charleston County recycling center, or use them for kindling, but have decided to try some projects that have intrigued me instead. (Note to self: you are almost 56 years old and still always spell intrigue wrong. LEARN IT!)

So, today I tried making paper flowers.  The pages are from a book published in 1968. The spine was no longer intact and pages cascaded out when I took it off the shelf. That seemed a pretty clear sign from the crafting elves that I should use this book for my maiden attempt at book art.

I did a couple of daisies, and used vintage buttons for the center that I'd inherited when I inherited my mother's sewing box.  Not that I didn't have enough buttons anyway, but somehow hers got added into the mix and now I have enough buttons probably to stretch across the city, or at least across the streed. One was a puke-green, so I painted it orange, but there were plenty of others that met my criteria for flower centers.  After a few daisy/aster type flowers, I began trying different petals. Fun!

Then, after a few of those, inspiration struck.  My darling mother had also left behind probably a dozen single screw back or clip on pearl earrings. I had yet to dispose of them, because somehow I knew I'd either find the mates or find a use. And find a use I did. 

I expect that very soon, we'll have a new bouquet to enjoy.  The fragrance will be one of memory, but that will make it especially sweet.

(To give credit where credit is due, I used the wonderful tutorial over at Sunday Baker for the daisies, and extrapolated for the petal flowers from several pictures I'd seen on Pinterest (where I have a board of things to inspire me or to try for book art) and at an article on Uses for old books by Savvy Sugar.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante (and some thoughts on Alzheimers)

The only reason I picked this book up was because it was the first of this year's Stanford Book Salon's selections. I have a deep, unholy fear of developing Alzheimer's and as a result, avoid anything that has the slightest hint of the disease. Reading this book, it is unavoidable.  Alzheimer's enters your life, your mind, your thoughts, and your world.  But it's only fair. It has done the same to the narrator of the story, Jennifer White, a recently widowed, gifted and brilliant orthopedic surgeon.

Alice LaPlante does a magnificent job of portraying Dr White's world through the use of a notebook she uses to write a record of her days and life, and then through Dr White's own thoughts. She's progressed beyond the phase of lists and sticky notes plastering her home. When the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's hit, she retired from her profession, and engaged a live-in companion/helper. The book opens shortly after Dr White's best friend, Amanda, is found murdered, with the fingers of one hand neatly amputated. Dr White is "a person of interest" in the case.

The reader is taken through the twists and turns of Jennifer White's diseased mind. We meet her children, her husband, and friend through memories that seem as present day to Dr White. Woven through this world is the underlying investigation of Amanda's death. Dr White is at some moments totally in the present, fully aware of her condition, competent and lucid. At other times, she is (and I mean this in the nicest of ways) crazy as a loon, paranoid, sly, and cunning. It is brilliant, totally real, brilliant.

One of the interesting aspects of this novel for me was that I was so drawn into it, but really didn't like almost all of the characters. Dr White was a highly regarded surgeon, but as a mother and wife, she was less than stellar.  Her kids both "have issues." Her husband wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Even the murdered Amanda was a not-so-nice person. The best character for me was the police investigator, gave a beautiful description of what it is to lose a loved one to this horrible illness. I found myself speaking similar words to my aunt, who just had my uncle placed in a long care facility for people with Alzheimer's.  Only it wasn't my uncle.  He'd left us long ago, for the most part. It has been years since we dealt with just forgetfulness. What loved ones, and even the person themselves, is unprepared for is that the entire personality can change, and the person you love leaves you a thousand different ways, replaced by someone totally unfamiliar. They can be vicious and angry. They can be charming. But they never again are the person you knew. Yet you lose them over and over, every day.

This was a compelling book, both heart-wrenching and beautifully drawn. It's yet one more reason I am grateful to the SBS for taking me outside my comfort zone, into the world of amazing writing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Staub

My father was a child of the great movie studios.  At the ripe old age of 4 or 5 he made the transition from Vaudeville to Fox Studio, and had several silent films under his belt as "Little Eli." He also was in a precursor to the Little Rascals, called the Sunshine Kids. One made it; one didn't. He used to talk about Jackie Coogan as his big rival. We have posters and pictures, and at least a copy of one film he was in. As a child, it fueled my imagination to think I could have been the daughter of a star.
My dad's the little brat dripping in Richard Dix's arms in the poster, after being pulled from the lake in Central Park.

But the depression had other plans for the life of Little Eli. He went on to become a physician of note, and though he was nominated for a Nobel Prize, it went instead to Jackie Coogan in the scientific world.  He always felt like a footnote in history.

Which brings me to this novel.  I had great hopes for a glimpse into the world of the studios in their glory years.  The classics of film still remain my favorites.  Give me Claudette Colbert, Katherine Hepburn, or Mirna Loy, or some equally slim, glamorous female pitted against the men of the day -- Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, or even Alan Ladd  (who my husband was named after)  black and white film moving on the reels, and the music of the big bands, and I'm a happy camper. Though a large portion of this book takes place in that world, I never really was transported there.  I'm not sure if it's because Emma Straub chose to make up a studio and stars entirely, with no basis in the real history or what. But the transport to that world never happened.

Elsa Emerson, enters stage right, youngest daughter in a Wisconsin family who run the summer theater in their small town. Elsa eventually wends her way to Hollywood (with a new husband she met in summer stock and later divorces), has several children and morphs into Laura Lamont, under the guidance of studio head Irving Green. The story follows Elsa/Laura's life over the next 50 years. What struck me most was how unhappy most of the people in Laura's life were. True, she did find her big love, but even that was cut short. The joy in life seemed to be lacking, especially as Laura moves from starlet to former star. I did like the way the author chose to end the book, with a new phase opening for Laura, that at least looked hopeful.

I'm not sure what I expected of this book -- maybe more of the Hollywood I knew existed at the time.  Everything was made up, without touching the actual Hollywood of those days.  Even the rival studio was made up. I wish Laura's world could have slipped into the golden age I know existed back then. I wish her family (birth, acquired, and studio) could have had more joy in it. As it was, I felt that I was looking at a faded picture of a place I knew and loved.

Rounding up to 3 stars because the story did keep me engaged, even though it did make me sad. Also, some of my beefs in the writing may have been due to this being an advanced reader edition of the book.

    Received via the kindness of LibraryThing and the publisher.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In a Fix by Linda Grimes

There seems to be a new genre of book coming out now: Sassy, independent women in paranormal mystery/adventures with a bit of flirtation or the occasional tumble in the hay thrown in. I'm not quite sure how to classify that in terms of tags or categories, but In a Fix is right there on whatever shelf that might be.

Ciel is not your average life coach.  She is an aura adaptor (but don't call her a shapeshifter) who helps her clients solve the sticky moments in their lives they don't want to handle by assuming their forms (with permission) and getting the job jobbed. This book promises to be the start of a series of Ciel adventures. She's busy at work posing as her client, who is eager for an engagement ring from her handsome sweetheart.  It's all almost in the bag, (and in the bed), except the hunk in question gets kidnapped, and their vacation love cottage gets blown to smithereens. Ciel enlists the aid of her quasi-step-cousin (who wants the relationship to move into the kissing cousins realm) and the best friend of her elder brother (who she has a super-sized crush on) to rescue the guy.  Did I mention that the brother and crush are CIA, and that all are adaptors? And that the bad guys are modern day Vikings who are protesting against the unmanning of the male gender? They're on the rampage against having to pee sitting down and other emasculating gestures of society.

Though it sometimes got a little confusing who was taking which form/body, the premise was clever, and had some downright brilliant moments. Some of the unique ways Ciel used her adapting were quite inventive. The romantic tension added a nice touch.  It'll be interesting to see how Ms Grimes chooses to take the series. 

As an additional note, not only was there a cover blurb from one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon, but she was thanked in the acknowledgements as well.  If Linda Grimes is a Gabaldon fan/friend/mentor, it's no wonder there were some pretty sizzling encounters in the book.

Thanks to Tor Books for sending this along for my reading pleasure.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio (Release date: Sept 25, 2012)

As a child, I learned the phrase Blackberry Winter when we had a sudden, surprising cold snap that left our springtime world blanketed in snow.  As a kid, it was magical, and the image of the azaleas covered with snow still remains in memory. Not so long ago, I heard Hilary Kole sing a beautiful rendition of Blackberry Winter. It has haunted me, and apparently haunted author Sarah Jio as well.  In an author's note, she tells how hearing the song on the radio sparked her to write this story. That alone is enough to endear me to the book, however, the story Jio wrote is worth liking on its own.

Set in Seattle, one of my favorite towns, Blackberry Winter combines two tales from two times, both when there were late snows on the first of May.  In the height of the depression, a young, single mother, headed to work as a chambermaid. Circumstances forced her to leave her precious son home alone, tucked safely in bed in their small apartment. In the morning,snow blanketed the town.  Her son had vanished. Only his teddy bear abandoned in the snow, remained behind.

In the 2010 story, after the town is once covered by a May 1 snow, a newspaper writer is assigned to write a feature about the blackberry winter of 1933. The story of the missing boy captures her. As she digs to learn what happened to little Daniel and his mother, she also faces  the ghosts haunting in her own life as well follow as a possible connection to the past.

I read this book pretty quickly. It took me a little longer to track down the lyrics to the song that captured both Ms Jio and me (which are written below, as well as a link to a video.) There were some weaker moments in the book, but mostly in the wrapping things up angle, so I can forgive some of the coincidences, especially if they involve a good coffee shop (don't want to say more for fear of spoilers.)

One of the things I especially enjoyed about this book was a glimpse into the world of the Depression in Seattle.  I'd recently read several other Seattle based novels (one written in 2000, but set in 2018; another set in an alternate reality present) so I feel like I've been to the town in the past, present, another present, and the future.  Maybe it's time for a real visit?

Lyrics to Blackberry Winter Video here.

Blackberry Winter comes without a warning
Just when you think that Spring's around to stay
So you wake up on a cold rainy morning
And wonder what on Earth became of May.

Blackberry Winter only lasts a few days
Just long enough to get you feeling sad
When you think of all the love that you have wasted
On someone that you never really had.

I'll never get over losing you
But I had to learn that life goes on
And the memories grow dim
Like a half forgotten son
'Til the Blackberry Winter
Reminds me that you're gone.

I get so lonely, most of all in springtime
I wish I could enjoy the first of May
But I seem to know that Blackberry Winter
Is not so far away.

Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending this lovely glimpse into two Blackberry Winters my way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Girl Like You by Maria Geraci

Let me tell you about this book. I was at the library using wireless there since our cabin is sans Internet. Every time I glanced up, the bright pink cover of the book was smack in my line of view. The darn think taunted me, but I resisted. The next day, I chose a new seat, but the book had been moved on the shelf and again was right in my face. The next time I was back at the library, the book had been checked out. No magenta cover mocked me-- until the librarian came by to re-shelve books, and guess what was back and placed on the shelf across from me. Uh huh. That's right.

Let me tell you about this story: fresh, funny, thoughtful. Yes, it's chick lit, but chick lit with character and decent writing. I liked it. Emma, the main character has wit, intelligence, and a keen perspective on life. She is blessed with good friends, loving mothers, and a dogged determination that carries her through some interesting situations. Ms. Maria Geraci chose to create a path for Emma that carries her out of the realm of chick lit, into something with more depth and insight than someone picking up that magenta cover might initially suppose. From the opening gambit, where Emma hears someone describe her as "the fat friend" (you know, the one who other girls bring along so that they'll look better) Maria Geraci creates real characters, puts them in believable situations, and tops it off with nice writing, humor, and insight that gave this reader an author to watch. The relationships between friends, lovers, co-workers, and family were refreshingly believable. And I love a book that makes me laugh with the cleverness of a phrase or situation. Emma's "let me tell you" moments were a nice touch, too

Let me tell you something I've done, that you probably haven't , that happened in the book. Cow paddy bingo-- only I played it with horse droppings. And I won. So there!

Maybe I liked Emma so much because she and I share a commonality. As Emma said, "I have a tendency to overanalyze things. It's both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness." Let me think on that a bit more, and get back to you.