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."