Why would you apologize for what you read for pleasure? Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work -- why isn't that something to be respected? - Nora Roberts

I Tweet not, neither do I Like. OK, so now I Tweet. So sue me.

Here we may criticize the book, but never the one who reads it.

Proud supporter of the Oxford comma, and any other comma I can wedge into a sentence.

Authors: You are welcome to comment here, on the review of your book or any other post.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A little bit about a lot of things, mostly personal

Forgive me, please, for not responding to your comments. I do read them, and I appreciate your leaving comments. I'm just not up for two-sided conversation these days and most of the time what I write doesn't make sense. But I do appreciate your being here and offering comments as the spirit moves you.

Today we are putting our last pet, our cat, Abby, to sleep. Put down. Euthanized. Whatever term you prefer. She's 15. She has, we think, kitty Alzheimer's and probably an abdominal lymphoma that causes her pain when she eats. She limps on her back legs and right front. It's time. It's been time for awhile, we think, but now she is starting to lose weight and isolates herself quite a bit.

It's odd, this process, the deciding, the knowing ahead of time. Judge, jury, and executioner.

Still, I worked oncology in the bad old days before hospice, when narcotics were denied or given only sparingly for fear of addiction (addiction a problem in a person with days to live???). A close relative begged me to give her an overdose, a memory that will haunt me to the day of my own death. I don't know whether I would have done it, but I did not have access to the necessary drugs. I did what I could to keep her comfortable. It was never enough. So my thoughts and emotions on euthanasia of pets are rather bound up in those experiences. On the whole, it's a kind thing to do. Mr. Bat commented that both of us will be lucky to have such a quiet and comfortable end.

But there are no more pets for Casa Bat. We're too old, and they're too expensive for us now on such a limited income, and honest to God, I have it in me to do this one.last.time for this sweet cat, but I don't think I can do it again.

*******
In other news, I read Longing, by Mary Balogh, which is a reprint of a 1994 (?) book. I still haven't made up my mind about it. I think it probably was exceptional for its time. I haven't decided whether the heroine was stupidly stubborn or incredibly brave. Perhaps a bit of both? I did not like the way the one love interest controlled her with sex and the other with threats of violence against her. I did, however, very much enjoy the complex characters - none of them all good or all bad - and the rich secondary characters, the overall plot, and the setting of Wales. I looked up the song, Longing, on YouTube and found myself, yes, longing for a place. I liked the way the book speaks of home, finding your home, the place you belong. I'm glad I read it but I don't see it as a potential re-read. As is usual with her books, the Kindle formatting wasn't the greatest, but I've seen much worse and for the most part it didn't bother me. There is explicit sex. There is violence, including a sickening episode of violence toward the heroine in which the one love interest is complicit. Still, overall a decent read.

I spent two months of my book budget and actually bought Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor who is a recovering alcoholic. It was highly recommended to me and I read it once through at top speed, and am now going back over it slowly. I'm going to try to find a paper copy, because this is a book I may study. For all her appearance (tattoos, muscle shirts, jeans) she is at base a pretty by-the-book Lutheran in her theology. Her understanding of grace fascinates me. She is definitely cranky and I'm not sure I'd want to spend a lot of time with her, but she's a no B.S. person and the love of God does shine through her.

I also read It Happened One Midnight, by Julie Ann Long. This author drives me right up a wall with her errors in grammar and word choice, and her very modern attitudes and dialogue, but I do love her characters. This book had great characters. The author has become a library-only or 99 cent-only buy for me, but the book was helpful in getting me through some tough hours.

********
Mr. Bat is going to have a procedure on the 6th that is a different kind of pacemaker. Unfortunately, they have to remove the existing one - that shoulder is going to be agonizing for a couple of days and then just very painful for a couple of weeks - and put in a new one with another wire. The goal is to have both sides of his heart beat at the same time - they are not beating at the same time now and he's filling up with fluid, and even his liver is starting to protest now. He has to have contrast material for the procedure, and last time the dye caused his kidneys to fail completely, so we're a little nervous. There are more risks associated with implanting this kind of pacer. It works for about half the patients who have it. For the ones who have success, the results are astonishing, and that's what we're hoping for. A friend was on death's door when he had his done a couple of years ago, and you'd never know now that there's anything wrong with him. So - we have hopes. There's a chance I'll lose him simply due to the procedure, but life is full of risks, and as he says, there's a risk simply in driving down the road to the hospital. He's all for it. I'm quietly terrified. At this point, we're both dreading the day and simultaneously wishing it were today. Waiting is hard. If this does not work, we're pretty much out of treatment options. Well, time passes, whether you want it to or not. 

I've kind of given up on his dietary restrictions for the last few days. His appetite is very limited, and while we know he'll be more comfortable staying fairly close to the restrictions, I'm letting him have anything he wants. Even half-portions of the things that sound good to him are too much food for his tiny appetite, so we're not going over the restrictions by much. He knows after the procedure we'll need to be more compliant again.

*******
I don't know where I am on this Jane from Dear Author/Jen Fredricks situation. On the one hand, hey, good for her for being a successful author. I don't know where she finds the time, working full-time, taking care of a child, is married, has the huge blog. On the other hand, the lack of transparency -- from someone who has pilloried people she thinks lacked transparency -- is bothersome. I can see how she would want to keep it private, especially to begin with, and then as things snowballed, couldn't figure out how to out herself. I feel very sad for some of the folks who write reviews there, since they clearly did not know and some feel blindsided, among other things. I really can see multiple sides to this, I see everyone's point, and I just feel bad for everyone. People have lost trust and are feeling betrayed, and people are feeling the need to defend someone they think is being unjustly attacked. Lots of unhappy people, and this is not a Twitter Kerfuffle of the Day, it's a genuine issue. I feel bad for everyone involved.

******
Well, now I have to go remove all the cat photo websites from my favorites and block Emergency Kittens for awhile. At least I didn't buy that 2015 cat calendar I was looking at. Unopened cat litter and food will be put in the common area downstairs for some other cat to use. Cat carrier and her blankets will go to the vet with her and they can dispose of them. In exactly 5 hours that brave little heart will stop beating. Damn. I'm sorry: too much change for this old lady in too little time.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Five Stages of Falling in Love, by Rachel Higginson (contemporary)

This is a Kindle 99-center. God knows why I picked it up. I don't care much for contemporaries, and the subject matter should be totally off limits for me right now. (For those of you who just tuned in, my husband is terminally ill.)

First, I have to get this off my chest. I was still a fairly young nurse in oncology when Kubler-Ross's research on grief became a popular subject. Kubler-Ross did not intend that the 5 stages of grief should be carved in stone, or that they were to be lived sequentially. A grieving person steps in and out and back and forth in the stages and at times can be holding all 5 in their head at one time. It is not a sequence, people! Not, not, not! You are not "doing it wrong' if you do not slip from one stage to another, never to see the previous stage again. Okay? Remember this, because people, and even some grief counselors, don't know this and it's maddening to have someone look at you and say, knowingly and superiorly, "Oh, you're in Bargaining." I mean, maddening, claw at the walls maddening! I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I've had to start over with people from square one in their work of grieving in order to get that pushed out of their heads, because they think they're doing it wrong and/or going crazy.

But for the purposes of this pretty good book, we'll let the author go sequentially.

Elizabeth and Grady Carlson had a marriage that exists only in dreams, or Hollywood. They were soul mates. Liz said that when Grady did something, there were fireworks. He called her Light and Life. They had 10 years together, 4 kids in 8 years of marriage. He ran a construction company and built them a custom home, perfect. She was a SAHM. He was an involved father. They complemented one another perfectly. And then Grady got a brain tumor and after 2 years of hell, he died.

He died.

And left her alone to raise 4 kids under the age of 8.

Alone.

Liz has a sister, Emma, a grad student, who loves her and the kids and helps as much as she can, since her schedule has a little flexibility. But grad school, as we know, is no walk in the park, either. Liz is having trouble getting out of bed, nevermind getting the kids to school on time, planning meals, getting clean clothes into the drawers, mowing the lawn. Her MIL, also a widow, and her BIL, now running the business (into the ground) are grieving so hard that while they love her and worship the kids, they can't help much on a practical level. Her parents live in Florida. Mainly it's Liz and sometimes Emma against the ocean of grief, the mountain of responsibility, the sheer weight of the air and the burden of breathing it in and out.

We see Grady's death in the prologue. In Chapter 1, it's been about 6 months since he died, and Liz is doing her best, trying hard for the sake of the kids, but in pain, so much pain. She sees her older son trying to be adult for her and worries that she relies on him too much. She sees her older daughter starting to act out in school, and the younger daughter still thinks that Daddy is coming back from heaven some day. Liz hates it that the baby will not have any memories of his daddy. And there's the lawn to mow. (Why her friends and neighbors don't pitch in here I don't know. Maybe they did and then after a couple of months figured it was time for her to move on, I don't know. It's astonishing how fast other people think you should get over grief.)

The house next door has been for sale, and now Ben has moved in. Ben is about 35, attorney, a no-drama guy, friendly enough, decent enough to the kids. There's a kind of meet-cute scene that would have been funnier if I hadn't been so worried about Liz.

We watch Liz cope, and fail to cope, and then cope some more, and then dissolve into tears, the helpless kind as grief slips its knife between the ribs, leaving us on our knees, unable to breathe, gagging with the impact of it. We see Ben trying to help out just out of common decency, opening his pool to Liz and kids, later shoveling the snow. Sometimes bringing over a bottle of wine and listening. Sometimes ordering pizza for all when the fridge is empty because Liz couldn't face grocery shopping with 4 little kids in tow. He helps with math homework. He becomes a sounding board. He falls in love with the kids and with Liz.

But it hasn't been that long since Grady died, not even a year, and Liz is appalled and terrified about what she is feeling, what she is doing. She panics. Ben tries to give her space. She advances a bit and then retreats, feeling disloyal, feeling as if she is contemplating adultery. It gets complicated. We wonder if there will be a HEA for Liz and Ben (there is), and we worry about those kids, too.

I couldn't stop reading this book and got through it in one go, with a break for a cup of hot vanilla and a cookie. Might have been two cookies.

Well, clearly, I was up to my ears and drowning in this book from page 1. I'm not sure I can even judge whether it's well-written because I was so emotionally involved. I will say that at no point did I feel manipulated emotionally. The kids are not just plot moppets. They're good kids and they're real. They love their mom. They miss their dad. They're confused. At no point did I want to kick Liz in the butt and tell her to get over it. She was doing the best she could, and who can do more than that? If she'd had her way, she would have died with Grady, or spent the rest of her life in bed, trying to die also, but she loved her kids fiercely.

Kindle formatting fine. Oddly, at about the 2/3 mark, we have a short run of apostrophe plurals, and then no more. Of course, I couldn't help being annoyed that Liz did not get counseling. Money wasn't a concern. Surely she and the kids saw a physician or ARNP during this time for routine things. Why no counseling? There's no violence. No gory medical detail. A little bit of sex, short, not real descriptive, but too much for the clean-mostly tag. Hot kisses. Heaven is mentioned generically as the place where Daddy is, but there's no God talk, for those of you who are sensitive to that. The ending was a little bit abrupt, but then, when Liz was ready to look at the possibilities in her life, there wasn't much more to tell, I guess. This is not Liz and Grady's story, this is not Liz and Ben's story. This is the story of Liz, and how she learned to live again when she did not think she could.

Ben may have been just a touch unrealistically good and kind, but I know to my own certain personal knowledge that there are good and kind men out there, so who is to say.

This is painful reading. It's intense. Or it was for me. It was too intense for me to cry over. For me, it was a book that is going to make it hard to pick up another book right away, certainly won't be fiction at any rate. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, by Laura Bates (non-fiction, memoir)

Amazon blurb: [Forgive me, please. Energy, physical, emotional, intellectual, is hard to come by these days, as is time.]

Shakespeare professor and prison volunteer Laura Bates thought she had seen it all. That is, until she decided to teach Shakespeare in a place the bard had never been before — supermax solitary confinement. In this unwelcoming place, surrounded by inmates known as the worst of the worst, is Larry Newton. A convicted murderer with several escape attempts under his belt and a brilliantly agile mind on his shoulders, Larry was trying to break out of prison at the same time Laura was fighting to get her program started behind bars. Thus begins the most unlikely of friendships, one bonded by Shakespeare and lasting years—a friendship that, in the end, would save more than one life.

Shakespeare and I became buddies when I was in 6th grade. I fell obsessively in love with him and memorized huge swaths of the plays and poems, writing parodies/pastiches - I mean, I was in luv. But all things pass, and dating an English major in college pretty well put an end to my obsession when it became clear that literary analysis - or even understanding literary analysis - was never going to be my strong suit. (As you know.) I haven't read any Shakespeare in over 40 years, but I do quote him from time to time, and I remember him as one remembers an old friend not seen in years, fondly, perhaps dimly.

When I saw this title at the library, of course I got myself on the waiting list immediately. It was an interesting read, although I do find myself conflicted. On the one hand, what an amazing thing to do and an amazing outcome. On the other: what exactly is everyone's motivation here? Do they even know, themselves?

Ms. Bates was a young professor of English, teaching kiddie lit to primary ed majors by day, traveling to a prison by evening to teach Shakespeare to inmates called the worst of the worst, men living in windowless concrete cells for months and years. Having been turned down for tenure on the first time of asking, she was motivated at least in part by her need to make tenure with its job security and increased salary (aging parents), and need to publish. So here's a goldmine for publication, right? Still, I have to think that her primary motivation was to provide an outlet for these forgotten people, part perp, part victim, to bring literature she loved to a population some people would say is better forgotten - at best.

While we see reactions from other inmates, the focus of the book is one Larry Newton, already a career criminal in his teen years, sentenced to life in prison at age 17, signing away any chance for appeal or parole in exchange for his life, after the random murder of a college student. Repeated escape attempts and the knifing of a guard put him into solitary, not just solitary, but supermax, for more than 10 years. (Think about what you were doing 10 years ago. Think of how much time has passed, how many birthdays, pizzas, holidays, bottles of wine, dinners with friends, changes in you in 10 years. Now think of 10 years in supermax.) (Nauseating, isn't it?)

Larry's understanding of Shakespeare is quite remarkable, especially given his lack of education and deprived background (mother worked 2 jobs to stay off welfare, stepfather regularly beat the crap out of him). His reading of Shakespeare is transformative for him. His insights and talent for teaching cause other inmates also to view their lives differently, to take at least some responsibility for what they have done, to see that moment of decision, and to try to pass that new insight and knowledge on to young people at risk. What is honor? What is integrity? What is true courage? How do you fight peer pressure? When is revenge justified?

For the reader there are also questions. How is it that someone not yet old enough to buy cigarettes was allowed to actually sign his life away in a plea bargain? How much of our justice system is based on rehabilitation, how much on vengeance? Is educating lifers worth the tax dollars required, and if no tax dollars are directly involved, is it fair to put more burden on the guards and the system to protect the volunteers from these people with a history of random violence? Do "hardened criminals" deserve this education when children of middle income parents can't scrape together enough money to go to college?

The book is well enough written although it could be tighter. The impact of the story is reduced the longer it goes on. No errors in grammar :-) and no Kindle formatting problems. The prose is fairly dry. No flights of fancy here, no poetry, perhaps to better showcase Shakespeare? There are photographs and drawings that came through well enough on my old Kindle. If you've never been in a prison, or visited anyone in a prison, you may find some of the conditions, even some of the photographs, shocking. Sex is mentioned, a little bit, and violence is mentioned, but no graphic detail of either one. The realities of having groups of men warehoused in environments that surely violate the most basic humanitarian standards are shown here. The book is a little self-congratulatory at times.

I could have done without the personal journey of the author, but I think probably many or even most people would want to hear it. Other than trying to figure out her motivation, it didn't interest me particularly. Again, I think it diluted the focus of the book. I do give her proper respect for her achievements, and for facing her fears. At one point she tracks down the site of the murder Larry committed, and she does comment on the senselessness of it. But her focus is on Larry and the program. I do applaud her also for objectively reporting what she saw and experienced, no preaching. We are allowed to draw our own conclusions for the most part.

I enjoyed reading different insights into Shakespeare's tragedies. Some of the things the inmates said, and especially how a person gets sucked into violence, comments on Hamlet and MacBeth, were quite interesting and I'm still thinking about some of them. Need to do a serious Bard re-read. Maybe this coming winter will be a good time for that.

In the end, what did I feel? Mostly I felt sad for the waste. The waste of the lives of the men behind bars, and the waste of the lost lives of the people they killed, and the impact these acts had on their families and friends. Whether victim or perp, your family and friends are never the same, never ever the same. You have to pick your causes and concentrate on a few, and prison reform has never been one of mine, but - damn. How do we make right what can never be made right? Are we fools to even try? How can we not at least try?

Here's some background and excerpts: huffingtonpost shakespeare-saved-my-life-excerpt

And her TED talk: TED talk

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King (mystery)

This is for Wendy the Super Librarian's 2015 TBR Challenge. The March challenge is to catch up on a series. Wendy's Challenge   [Yes, I did two books for this challenge.] 

I couldn't decide which series to catch up on. I am easily bored, and I find that usually after three or four or maybe if I'm lucky five or six books in a series, the writing quality falls off sharply, the author having lost interest or something. It's rare for me to continue a series past the 5th or 6th book. However, I found the Mary Russell series from Laurie R. King to be of unusually high quality, and since I've been a Sherlock nut from a single-digit age, I was in hog heaven.

But Locked Rooms, the eighth book in the series, seemed to me to finish the story in a satisfying way. I tried one or two of the subsequent books and simply could not get into them. Wordy and downright weird. However, I'd heard good word-of-mouth on Dreaming Spies, the twelfth book in the series, so I jumped over four or so books and picked this one up from the library. It's pretty good.

If you have not read the Mary Russell series, this is not the place to start. The books are best read in publication order. Definitely start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book. The idea is that Sherlock Holmes, retired from public but not the King's service, has semi-retired in the country to raise bees. Along comes 15-year-old Mary Russell, a half-American, half Cockney Jew heritage smart-ass bluestocking, planning to major in theology, orphaned and living with a careless and sometimes cruel aunt, and they form a very unlikely but still believable partnership. If this idea is anathema to you, then nevermind. Nothing is for everyone.

Here is the Amazon blurb for this book:
After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan.[…]

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer [. …] And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Russell has grown up some since Locked Rooms. She's softened - slightly - some of the attitudes and habits that irritated me. Well, she is no longer so very young. Their relationship is tender, fond, and respectful - from both sides. They work together here, and with less of the competition and one-upmanship I've seen before. On the other hand, the characters have relished the competition, so far be it from me to say that they can't have it. Still, snotty superiority in an overly-bright and socially isolated and uncomfortable adolescent is almost to be expected. In a woman in her early to middle 20s it's just obnoxious, so I'm glad that the character has grown a bit, or at least learned to stifle some of her oh-so-superior attitudes.

Ms. King has fallen in love with Japan, and who would not? In the 1920s, Japan was emerging from several centuries of self-imposed isolation, and although it is an ancient civilization, was very young and new in the pre-Depression 20th century. Seeing the old ways giving way to some new ways, but retaining the sense of honor and duty, was interesting to me and I thought well-written for a book that is, after all, a mystery novel and not a history text or sociological study. Ms. King writes with some insight and much admiration.

The mystery kept me guessing all the way through, as it did Holmes and Russell. They kept seeing pieces of the truth, but never enough. I was well entertained.

Kindle formatting fine. Grammar perfect. Dialogue very good. Enough description to let me know where I was without boring me to death. No sex, really, except for some BDSM books that shock the daylights out of conventionally-raised Russell (very short mention of this, no real descriptions). Not much violence, and not much description of what there is, thank goodness. There is an suicide that we hear about but do not witness. Russell's time in the library at Oxford is described as only a book lover would describe it, and I drooled, and made promises to myself with respect to my next life.

The pace was quite a bit slower than I'm used to in a Russell story. The time on the ship felt a little claustrophobic, which reflects how Russell was seeing it. I loved the Japanese poetry included.

If I weren't so invested - or at least I was in the past - in this series, I probably would not have enjoyed this book as much. I enjoyed seeing Russell grow. As always, I wished there were more Holmes in the book, which is a common complaint about the more recent books. However, it was good enough that I checked out book #11 from the library to read it. Sometimes it's fun to read something, anything, that is written well, with no errors in grammar, no howlers, simply good, skillful writing, regardless of the subject. I was coming off a series of Kindle freebies so bad that every one of them was a DNF, and this, despite its faults, restored my will to read. However, this is far from the best of the Russell novels, and is certainly no place to start. 

Notorious Nineteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel, by Janet Evanovich (contemporary mystery with romance elements, I guess)

This is for Wendy the Super Librarian's 2015 TBR Challenge. The March challenge is to catch up on a series. Wendy's challenge page  Now, I am the Queen of Fickle. Few are the series, whether book, TV, or film, that I have read more than, oh, four or five of. I get bored. I really don't care whether that PR person with the shoe obsession ends up with the ex-priest or the magician, and I'm tired of cats preaching Libertarianism at me, and I was never Team Anybody with poor Sookie. Richard Jury and Adam Dalgleish have gone their solitary melancholy ways without me.

So it has been with Stephanie Plum. I laughed my way through the first book and still recommend it. The next few books were nearly as good, but then quality began to fall off, and by book 10 I was go-went-gone. Every now and then I'd pick up a paper book in the store and read the first and last chapters, and I would see that absolutely nothing had changed, and I'd move on. There was no character growth, and the bed-hopping got on my nerves. Recent books have been little more than recycled jokes about Lula being fat and Bob the dog pooping and barfing in inappropriate places, while Ranger muttered, "Babe." I don't know who was writing the books. I sincerely doubt it was the author of the first three to five books.

I saw this challenge and checked the library and saw that the 19th book in the series - I think there are now 21 - was available. So I checked it out.

Not much has changed in the world of Plum. Stephanie is still hanging out with Lula and having trouble deciding between Joe and Ranger, although she seems to be sleeping with Joe exclusively. Lula is still pouring herself into outfits and eating enough for 12 people. Ranger is still saying little more than "Babe." Joe is still putting up with this stuff and has not tracked down the person who has custody of his balls. Oh, and cars are still being blown up willy-nilly, and Grandma Mazur is still probably the best character in the book, which at this point is not saying much. Ma Plum has taken to drink, something I guess we're supposed to think is funny. I don't find functional alcoholism funny.

But there was a plot to this book, so that's something, and it wasn't a bad plot, although it was a tad transparent. People, bad people, are going missing from their hospital beds after routine surgeries, and they all have the same surgeon, and the nurse in charge moonlights at a clinic in a remote location, and the location is owned by a man with his own fleet of airplanes. If you've read any mysteries, you've got it figured out.

But it was adequately told, considering. Bob the dog didn't barf on anyone, although Stephanie did. There weren't a lot of potty jokes. I did actually laugh once.

Kindle formatting fine. I didn't notice any grammar problems. There's some violence, but it's very cartoonish, so even the guy who blows himself up in Stephanie's living room didn't inspire any reaction in me. I suppose I should assign an ick factor, especially to the ending, but again it just didn't seem real enough for an ick. There's some icky stuff, but it's not rape, although there is brief non-sexual torture toward the end. It just didn't seem real. I'll give it an ick factor of 6, though, because if the characters and book had seemed real to me, it would have been mildly to moderately upsetting. One of the bad guys is a deranged war vet, and - I don't know, I guess I'm looking in the wrong place to find anything even remotely sensitive or nuanced regarding that, 'cause there wasn't any, other than Ranger's refusal to discuss it. There's also some gross ickiness at the end, but again, so cartoonish. It's not described too much, so if you don't think about it, it probably won't bother you. The writing is a tiny - and I mean tiny - bit tighter than in the last few books I read in this series, but there's just no tension, no substance, no growth.

I'm more or less caught up. I haven't missed anything by skipping at least nine volumes. Nothing has changed. I'm as caught up as I need to be. I don't know how long the machine is going to keep churning these out. As long as they keep selling, I guess. Blah. Lifeless. Stale. Not even a TBR challenge will get me to read another one. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Personal update - not a review

First, thank you for the prayers and good wishes. They do help, truly. I do think that positive energy sent out into the universe, however it is done, helps somehow, and then, of course, there's the comfort of knowing that someone, somewhere, is holding you close in their heart, even if only for a few seconds.

Mr. Bat isn't doing very well right now. He's not sick unto death yet. Meds aren't working very well, pacemaker isn't working as it should (due to his heart, not the pacer). He is simply wearing out. He has swelling - not terrible, perhaps 10-15 # (7 kg) - but a lot of fatigue and some shortness of breath. He is otherwise comfortable, but weary.

They have offered him a different type of pacemaker. There's about a 50/50 chance that it will help him for awhile, but there is a much higher surgical complication rate with this particular device for someone with his particular constellation of diseases and disorders. He wants to go for it. It will be done the 2nd week of April, which is the first opening (tell me again how we don't ration medical care in this country. Go on, tell me again.). He says he ain't dead yet and wants to go for it.

We have had a couple of weeks of glorious early spring weather. I've been able to get him out most days, well, for doctor appointments for one thing, but also to drive around and check water levels in the rivers, to watch the mounds of snow melt away, to watch the robins coming home and the geese flying north, to watch the squirrels play, and to get the occasional ice cream cone or some other treat (what would you do for a Kit Kat bar? :-)). Probably tomorrow, the last day of predicted fine weather, we will drive past the various places we have lived over the past 40-plus years and share some memories.

If the new pacemaker does not work, it will be time for hospice. What an unhappy sentence to have to type. But we have great hopes for the new pacemaker to buy us a little more time and some relief of his symptoms. His doctor has a national reputation and we trust his judgment and skill.

He's still my guy, my sweet boy. Cheerful when approached, but otherwise very quiet. He says, when I ask, that he is not afraid. I believe him. We are holding off on decisions about the cat (who is reasonably comfortable but also clearly declining) and moving to a cheaper apartment for now. We are living very much in the now, which is all one can do, and that's as true at 20 as it is at 80, it's just that not many people know the reality of it at 20. Nearly all of our friends have died, had strokes/Alzheimer's and gone to nursing homes, or moved to Texas or California to be near family, but we do have one true and faithful friend nearby and one nephew who can help, and we can count on them.

I probably won't be blogging or tweeting much, certainly not much until after the procedure in April. I may not be able to respond to comments for awhile, but be assured that I will read them. I am, as you can imagine, both busy and nearly paralyzed by anticipatory grief and anxiety. Cleanest apartment in Iowa, though! 

We have no regrets. We have shared a love that not everyone gets to experience, and we're grateful for that. Even the best HEA ends eventually, and our hope is that ours will end with us still holding hands and smiling into one another's eyes with love, faith, and gratitude for all we have shared.

Thank you for your many kindnesses. I'll be seeing you as I am able.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cute little story about raccoons - true, even. (personal, not a review)

This happened to a neighbor and not to us but I'm pretty sure it's true because he told the story the same way every time. We'll call them Peter and Anna.

Peter and Anna lived in this big old Victorian house in an older part of town with lots of old trees and some creeks running through the area. They were pacifists and vegans (well, Peter was as long as Anna wasn't out of town. When she was out of town it was Cheeseburger Week for ol' Pete.) and had a huge garden and lots of cats and dogs, plus they fed a small herd of feral cats, trapped them and got them neutered and their shots and then turned them loose again. Nice, peaceable people. (I miss them terribly.) (Anna was the turkey sandwich Anna, if you're a long-time reader here.) 

One night in the middle of the night, Peter woke up to the sounds of someone downstairs, probably in the kitchen. Now, they didn't live in the world's best neighborhood, and Anna had had a stalker for some years, so he woke Anna, pulled out his service revolver and Anna got her big ol' flashlight, and down the stairs they silently crept. Yep, definitely coming from the kitchen. Not a lot of noise, some rustling, some soft thumps.

Anna turned on the flashlight as Peter shouted his best ex-Navy "Who goes there?" and what did they see but three raccoons.

One raccoon was eating breakfast cereal out of the box.

One raccoon was helping himself to ice cream straight out of the carton.

One raccoon had found a plate of fried chicken intended for the church picnic the next day, and was chomping away on a drumstick. Silently, still gnawing on the leg, he held the plate out to Peter, as if to say, "Want some? It's really good."

Peter yelled, which woke the dogs up (finally), and the coons took off down the back hallway to exit the way they'd come in: the cat door. The one little raccoon with the cereal wouldn't give up the cereal and tugged and tugged on it until the waxed paper bag inside gave way from the cardboard, and he pulled it out after him into the night.

The dogs looked very embarrassed. The cats looked at Peter like "Hey, we thought he was your brother."


So, Twitter people, that's my raccoon story. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Drive through reviews, short takes on a lot of books

Been busy, busy, busy, had some minor surgery with some complications, this, that, and the other. Here's some of what I've been reading.

Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Library book. Historical fiction. This is a book for children ages 10-14, but I enjoyed it. We follow a young girl (14?) through the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Well-written, it held my attention all the way through to its reasonably happy conclusion. May be a bit intense for a sensitive 10 year old, though, due to descriptions of the disease process and the death of a family member. A little looting-type violence, no rape threats. People at their best, and worst, in the face of plague. Some medical details. Well-researched, a good read. I wonder what else she has written.

My Last Marchioness: The Amberley Chronicles. Kindle cheapie/freebie. Late Regency. I got about halfway through it and it just wasn't holding together at all for me, neither did I care about any of the characters. Book had a lot going on in it, many plots and subplots, but I couldn't stay awake while reading it and gave up at 50% mark. Just not for me.

Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, by Mallory Ortberg. Self-explanatory from the title. Lots of people are loving this. I think maybe I'm too old for this book. Glad I got it from the library. So much modern humor is just plain mean, it seems to me. Probably I'm simply too old for this book.

Revival: A Novel, by Stephen King. Library book. Whoa, classic King but oh my gosh is it dark, dark, dark, with no hope, no comfort whatsoever. I've read a couple of places where he won't even discuss the book now, and I can see that. Really rather restrained and tightly written for the most part, for King, shorter than his usual. Full of the references that make his writing so compelling for people my age and slightly younger, the nostalgia factor. Washington Post said: "the teeth marks left by time gnawing away at youthful love and ambition". Sincere young minister of the gospel becomes evil after his wife and child die. Our protag is the young witness to all this, from the early 1960s to the present. Lots going on here, as always with King, but by every god who has a name, the ending is so totally devoid of hope. For psychological horror lovers only, Lovecraft lovers only, and I almost wish I hadn't read it. I am having some trouble shaking it.

Always to Remember, by Lorraine Heath. Library book. American Civil War romance. Hero is considered a traitor by both sides. I was trying to read it while reading Revival and it just wasn't working for me. Reviews are good. I'll check it out again sometime.

His Heart's Delight, by Mary Blayney. Kindle freebie. Regency. Sham courtship with the predictable results. She wants to be friends, good friends - only. He begins to want more. It wasn't bad, but I wanted to shake the heroine for willful stupidity. On the other hand, life really was bitch-slapping her pretty thoroughly there for awhile, and she was quite young and naïve. Good sibling relationship.

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1), by Robert Galbraith, J. K. Rowling. Library book. I was busy during all the fuss about the author of this book and barely took notice, promptly forgot about it until I picked this up. It's a pretty good detective/mystery story. Characters brought to life by good writing. Bogs down a trifle in the middle but enough going on to stay with it. Pretty good plot, even if the villain is totally obvious if you've read many mysteries. I plan to read the sequel.

The Duke of Shadows, by Meredith Duran. Got it on sale for Kindle. I have enjoyed several books by Ms. Duran, but I think this one hit me at the wrong time in my life. The heroine has serious issues - legitimate issues - with loss and abandonment and what she perceives as broken promises, and of course the book is so exceptionally well-written that I'm right in there with her and it's just too painful to read right now. I'll try again some other time. Now I'm interested in the 1857 rebellion in India (India's first war for independence), about which I know next to nothing.

There may not be a lot of reviews over the next few weeks. Lent, doncha know, and I generally try to read mostly religious nonfiction during that time. I rarely review that kind of book here. Yes, I'm trying to scale Mt. Merton again. He's way over my I.Q., but I keep trying! A friend has told me my problem (don't you love it when someone offers to tell you what your problem is?) is that I keep reading him as if he were a Christian when he was actually a Buddhist. Mebbe. Also did a fairly predictable Marcus Borg glom after his death, for fear that they would raise the prices post-mortem. Working my way slowly through A Shelter in the Time of Storm, recommended by Ros Clarke, a meaty meditation on Psalm 27. And some others.

Oddly, I find that I actually take less time to read now that I'm retired. It seems as if I spend my days and nights taking care of Mr. Bat, and of course I wouldn't have it any other way, but when he's resting, I can't seem to settle to read, but rather putter around the apartment, dusting, or simply staring out the window. It's odd, after 50 years of it, not to be working. Most peculiar. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Weaver Takes a Wife, by Sheri Cobb South (Regency, probably)

I am about to kick a prolific and apparently well-loved author. You are warned. I wish I had been. I saw the blurb that Mary Balogh recommended this book and it was inexpensive and I liked the premise, so I bit.

At least this book isn't going to require any trigger warning.

Lady Helen is the daughter of a gambling, pockets-to-let duke. This is her third season, and she's managed to scare every decent suitor off with her sharp tongue. Boy, does she ever think well of herself. There's a mildly slimy nobleman who expresses interest in her, but her dowry is tiny and her father is about to start selling off his stable to pay some of his IOUs.

Ethan Brundy, 28, is a truly self-made man. His mother apparently was a prostitute and after she died, he spent some of his childhood in the workhouse before being sold to the owner of a cotton mill. Ethan is an intelligent man and a hard worker, and now owns the mill and is worth, at a conservative estimate, half a million pounds.

For some reason, Ethan is friends with a couple of noblemen. I didn't catch why and I'm not sure it's explained. In any event, they take him to the theater and there he sees Lady Helen. He falls in love with her instantly, and when he ascertains that her father is up the creek (we don't call that creek Tick in this country), he essentially pays the duke 75,000 pounds for Helen.

Helen sees her alternatives as marriage or finding work as a governess, and chooses marriage, but the whole thing still seems unreal to her. We, of course, are able to see that Helen is a nice young woman who just needs to have the spoiled brat loved out of her, and that Ethan is a stellar young man. Eventually Helen sees his value, and there's some stuff with a villain and a stupid younger brother (where have I read this plot before?) and we have our HEA as promised.

In the first place, Ethan can't say his aitches. So it's 'elen all the way through the book, and believe me, he uses her name a lot. Everyone else calls her Nell, but not Ethan, no sir, he's got to drop those aitches to remind us with every breath that he is common and proud of it.

In the second place, all it takes is for Ethan to show himself to be a reasonably decent, kindly man, and Helen goes from shuddering disgust at his touch to wildly, passionately in love.

Oh, and just in case we're missing that development, the author tells us that it is happening every time. In case we were, I don't know, thinking about something else while reading the book. Stirring the soup. Making a bed. Learning long division. Something.

The book is clean. There's no sex until marriage and precious little after it, and everything is closed door with just a couple of kisses. It's a sweet little book, I guess. But that 'elen bit really got on my nerves, as did the OCR or spellcheck errors in the text.

I suppose it's fine for what it is. A nice, clean, traditional Regency. But I really hate being talked down to, and that's what this felt like. An overly-simple story told with lots of hand puppets and flannel board people to help me understand. Probably it's a fine little book for when you're taking narcotics after dental work or something. There's minimal angst. One-dimensional characters for the most part. ETA: Some of Helen's snark is pretty funny. 

I don't know. How can Ethan love her when he doesn't even know her? They don't spend but 5 minutes together before the wedding, and not a lot of time after the wedding. That's not love, that's lust. And then he buys her. Just as he was bought. And you know, Ethan learned to waltz so he could dance with her. Couldn't he find a speech therapist?

Not for me, and if I try anything else from this author, it will have to be free. Mary Balogh, I trusted you. ETA further: I have now checked for other reviews, and everyone else in the world loved it. Dear Author, All About Romance, everybody thinks it's wonderful and hilarious. So - there you go. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Cat Called Cupid: A Romantic Comedy Novella, by Mazy Morris (contemporary cat romance)

This was a Kindle freebie almost a year ago - it's still cheap at about $1 - and it looked cute. Cute little romance that is narrated by the heroine's cat, Cupid, who speaks English but thinks like a cat. It is good that someone in this story is able to think. The combined I.Q. of all human characters cannot possibly reach 100.

Cupid was a gift from a previous lover to Ann, who is a dental hygienist and practices serial monogamy. Cupid loves his lady but doesn't think much of her lovers, especially the current one, who steals from Ann and steps on Cupid's tail - on purpose. Cupid manages to set up a (completely impossible) situation in which Ann sees the lover for what he is - mostly - and she breaks things off.

Shortly thereafter, Cupid sets up a meeting with Ann and her neighbor, Craig, attorney, nice guy, messy apartment. Things progress and then regress and Cupid finds a way to make everything be at least HFN if not HEA.

If you're a cat lover, it is a cute little story and you can perhaps forgive its flaws, of which there are many. If you're not a cat lover, I can't imagine that you'd put up with it. First, Ann, who is 30-ish, seems to me to be rather silly and certainly has poor taste in men. It may be my age talking here but she's had a lot of partners. A lot. She does not seem to learn anything from each relationship. She puts the moves on Craig so fast that it takes him aback. I suppose I should congratulate her on owning her sexuality. Plus, she learns something innocuous about Craig's distant past and breaks off the relationship because of this. How old is this woman? 12? 13?

The ex-boyfriend swears a lot, and the author has chosen not to use the words, which is fine, very nice, but has put in #### for every letter in the word every time there is cursing, and there's a lot of cursing. After awhile it made me itch. I'd almost rather see ___ than ### when there's 10% of a page of it. #### isn't so bad, but ######### ############ line after line after line gets very old very quickly.

While I appreciate the lack of "language" so that the book is relatively clean, it's hard to reconcile the sexual activity of Ann with the ###. Granted, there's not a lot of description of sex, it's all kisses and fade to black, but even so it struck me as straining at a gnat, you know? The author says the book is PG because of the lack of swear words, but really, Ann's behavior?

Ann's BFF is annoying beyond belief. She talks like a Valley Girl with no relief from that, ever. Fortunately, she doesn't have a lot of lines.

I don't know why I went on reading it. I suppose I really liked Cupid and I wanted to see what he would get up to next. He showed some character growth when he began to see the neighbor's mastiff as more than a lumbering threat. He showed good judgment in the way he handled the Big Scary Ginger Tom. He really cared about Ann and was willing to risk all to see her happily settled. I value loyalty.

Recommended for rabid cat lovers only, ones who don't mind a little fantasy or very unrealistic situations, and can overlook repetitive stupid human behavior, and then only as waiting room or post-dental work material. It's a pity, really, because Cupid was a pretty good cat character and he deserved a better book.