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.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse: a novel, by Faith Sullivan (lit fic?)

I don't read much fiction these days except for romance novels and the occasional mystery. I gave up on lit fic some years ago when every bestseller included incest and/or childhood sexual abuse and/or chronic substance abuse and/or multiple personality disorder. I lived this stuff on a daily basis in my work and I really did not need to come home to it every night. I don't care for SF/F, horror, or thrillers, so it's a good thing that I favor non-fiction and tried romance.

A librarian recommended this book to me and I checked it out on Kindle mainly to be nice. Not that she would ever know one way or the other but that's not the point.

It's hard to talk about this book without some spoilers. I'll try to be careful but you are warned. Still the blurb tells nearly all of the story, and the book starts with the main character's obituary.

We don’t get a lot of backstory on Nell Stillman right away. We learn that she was born to a large Irish-American Catholic family in the farmland of Minnesota in the late 1870s. We see that she is married to a man who is abusive to her, physically and emotionally. We see that she has a baby son she adores. We see that she lives in a small town. And then we see that her husband has died suddenly, and she is alone with a baby in the days before Social Security or any kind of organized support.

Fortunately, she had gone to a normal school which in those days would qualify one to teach, and kind folks with some say in how things go in this town see to it that she gets a job teaching third grade, which she does for more than thirty years.

We see Nell entertain the idea of another love. We see the son grow up and get caught in the Great War, and how the aftermath of that changes Nell's life. We see Nell's friends and her enemies. We see her get electricity in her apartment, and then running water, and then a telephone. We see her grow older and then old.

It's an ordinary story of an ordinary woman. A woman like many you've known, perhaps, who play the hand life deals them the best way they know how. The story could have been boring or depressing (there is a lot of death in this book - there's a lot of death in life, if you live long enough) but Nell has one thing that keeps her going, and that's her love of reading. She loves to read novels, "important" novels and little novels, the greats and the lesser-knowns. She particularly falls in love with the writing of P.G. Wodehouse. She loses herself in his stories, she recognizes people she knows in his stories and, as she says, the friends in these books never leave her.

I was drawn into the story immediately and could hardly put it down. I stayed up most of the night reading it. I can't say that I laughed and I cried, but I was moved at times, watching Nell face her troubles with courage, watching her enjoy the good times with an open heart.

Kindle formatting perfect. Grammar perfect. This is not a small-town-good book, but a fairly realistic portrayal of what it's like to live in a small town, if there are a few deus ex machina moments. Not much in the way of detailed violence, but we see that Nell has bruises, and that there may have been some permanent consequences from her husband's abuse. War is described, but not in excruciating detail. There is bullying of a child and an invalid, detailed but briefly told. I think a person would have to be pretty sensitive to be triggered by this book, but your tolerance is best known to yourself. There's a little bit of fade to black sex, very little, subtle. Nothing your old Aunt Mabel would find intolerable. There are a couple of quietly gay characters, portrayed again without much detail but with empathy. (Nell and some of her friends may be a bit ahead of their time there.)

I enjoyed the simple directness of the writing, which was so well done, but without the effort showing. Nell is a homebody (like me) and says of herself, "To be unsophisticated was no crime if you weren't narrow, and she hoped that her reading kept her from that." Elsewhere, in talking about someone slowly emerging from the other side of a tragedy, the author says, "George was moving into that pale landscape where the sun shines dimly through a scrim of vanished possibilities." Elsewhere, about a teenage girl at her mother's funeral, "Sally sat beside her father, staring at some distant place where all of this would be a memory." The book is full of similar direct, perfect lines. 

The book is told primarily through Nell's thoughts and experiences, so some things are glossed over, such as the 1918 flu epidemic and anti-German prejudice. Nell's grieving is also passed over quickly (which was fine with me) which may cause some readers to feel as if they're being left out of important angst. One of the things I enjoyed about the book is the fact that not everything is explained right down to the last detail. The author gives us credit for some intelligence. She knows that we know that life does not often tie up neatly, all questions answered, all mysteries solved.

You might think that with all its tragedy, this would be a bad book for me to read right now. In fact, it lifted me up. Nell's life wasn't extraordinarily tragic, just ordinarily tragic. As her mother advised her, she kept putting one foot in front of the other one, kept doing what had to be done that day, and kept her heart open. She sought out friends and companions, and when her elderly friends started to die off, she found younger ones. We see community at its best, and resilience. Compassion. Acceptance (which is not the same thing as resignation). Independence that knows how to find strength through multiple sources, but in the end knows that one stands most firmly on one's own feet.

I am pleased that the last we see of Nell, she's lying in bed, tired a bit, reading. She begins to dream, and in her dream, her lost love comes back to her, and all is well.

I understand that this book is something of a sequel, and that there is at least one other book involving a secondary character. I think, however, that for now I'm going to leave it at this. I'm not ready to leave Nell just yet. I need her strength and her quiet sense of humor too much. I hope the book eventually goes on sale, because I would surely love to read it again and again. If I were grading, it would be 4 1/2 stars, or an A-minus/B-plus. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Let me tell you about my maternal grandmother (personal, not a review)

I think I've mentioned my maternal grandmother here before. Some of us were talking about strong women awhile back, and I'm feeling weak and whiny. I'm changing some details to make it harder for certain of my family to find this blog in a Google search. So some details may not ring true -- 'cause they're not. The heart of the story, the basic facts, however, is all true.

My grandmother was born into sufficient Southern wealth such that she was educated at home, and she wrote a fine hand, did beautiful needlework of all kinds, and knew how to organize and run a household with servants. Unfortunately, when she was seventeen, something happened (the truth is lost to us) and the family from then on lived in poverty. They lost everything. Her father, who had been at least part of the time a Methodist minister, began crop-sharing farming.

In time, she married my grandfather, about whom little is known to us except his name, his profession, and the fact that he was 3/4 Native American. I saw a photo of him once, and he was very tall and looked … Indian, you know, with the high cheekbones and the proud nose and the long jaw. Not handsome, but striking. His face in the photo exudes calm authority, intelligence, and pride.

He and Grandma had a little girl, my aunt, and Grandma was carrying my mother when Grandfather was murdered in the street right outside their home a week before Christmas. He died in Grandma's arms, still clutching the butcher paper of pork chops intended for supper. It was the wild west at that time and place, and the perp did a few years in prison and was released. After all, Grandfather was just a redskin, wasn't as if the perp had killed a white man, dontchaknow. Grandfather had mortgaged everything he owned to expand his business, and Grandma was left with 1.7 children and basically the clothes on her back.

A neighbor had a little undeveloped property just outside of town with a little shack on it and a henhouse, and generously offered the place to Grandma at least until the baby was born and Grandma could get on her feet. Spring came, and so did my mom, small but healthy.

When the baby was about six weeks old, a tornado, now estimated to be EF4, came through and took everything. Grandma said the ground looked like it had been vacuumed, not a blade of grass left. Grandma came out of the storm cellar to see … nothing at all, not a thing. Not a diaper for the toddler or the baby, not a drop of milk, nothing. Everything gone.

She picked up the kids and walked into town, about three miles. She went to Western Union and a kind clerk let her send a free telegram to her sister in the big city: Can I come? Sister: I'll pay for the train tickets on this end. Come.

So Grandma got on the train with two kids, at this point no doubt howling with hunger and heavy diapers. On the way to the big city, the train wrecked.


Fortunately, Grandma and kids were not hurt and eventually made it into the city. She learned to do bookkeeping and did so for her sister and her husband, who owned a general store. After a time, she was able to afford a little house, so she moved there and supported herself by taking in boarders, along with gardening and raising chickens.

She and one of the boarders fell in love and married. He was a kind and gentle man, sweet-natured, hardworking. He was a coal miner. When the mines in that part of the country failed in the early part of the Great Depression, he set out on foot to find work and eventually found it in the Midwest. He sent for Grandma and the - by this time - three kids. They had a decent life, moving around to where work was available, living in camp houses, doing a truck garden to help finances. When others went hungry during the Depression, they at least had potatoes and the occasional chicken.

Grandpa "broke his back" in a mining accident. I don't know particulars, but this hard-working man never worked again, except as he was able in the garden, and he relied heavily on a sturdy cane. My grandmother, at that point in her early 50s, without so much as one year of formal education, learned practical nursing and became what we would now call an LPN. I have her nurse cap, and treasure it.

So what with her, and my Swedish immigrant paternal grandmother, whose story I'll tell sometime, I've got the genes of strong women. And when I whine about my present situation, I remember how hard their lives were, how full of trouble and sorrow and pain, and how they took joy in a fine piece of crocheting, or a row of perfectly canned tomatoes in the cellar, or the flash of a cardinal's red wing against the snow, and found hope in their faith, and I am ashamed, but also strengthened. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson (non-fiction, WWI)

Amazon had this Kindle book at a bargain price awhile back and I snapped it up. I'd been on the library list for it for about 200 years and still had about 1000 people in line ahead of me [gross exaggerations, but you know how it is when the line is moving so slowly], so the $3.99 for something by an author I like on a subject I like seemed like a true bargain. And so it has been.

You may know that I am interested in World War I, moderately, and I like a disaster story, a story of courage and survival against impossible odds, as much as the next person. I picked up Diana Preston's Lusitania years ago but couldn't finish it at the time and it went back to the library and I forgot about it. If you want a book that focuses more on the passengers, and the sinking and survival, Preston's book may be more in your line. It is incredibly detailed.

But if you want to understand the times, the early part of the war, Wilson's attempts to keep the USA out of this war, Wilson's state of mind, Churchill's influence, the state of submarine life and warfare in 1915, and if you want information sufficient to decide, just in your own mind, whether the Powers That Were at the time simply threw the Lusitania to the wolves, despite its high percentage of women and children passengers, in hopes of provoking the then-neutral US, with all its resources, into joining the war, then Larson's book may be more your choice.

Background. The British luxury ocean liner Lusitania was one of the big Cunard Line ships at the turn of the last century. It set sail in early May 2015 from New York headed for England. There were some 1900 souls on board, staff and passengers (and three German stowaways), just people, ordinary people and rich people, first, second, and third class, and because a good number of the passengers were people going home to England from Canada or the US now that England was at war, an unusual number of children and babies.

The German high command had made it clear (even putting an ad in US newspapers!) that any vessel, any vessel at all, in the waters would be fair game, whether war ship or civilian or hospital ship or fishing boat or kayak. They would sink them all with their submarines that were fitted with torpedoes. The submarine captains were rewarded based on tonnage alone, so you could sink a heavy hospital ship and get more reward - praise, promotion - than if you sank a small war ship. So there were warnings, but they weren't taken terribly seriously because at that time, even government leaders didn't think that anyone could be so awful as to sink boats with women and children on them on purpose. I mean, what gentleman would do such a dastardly thing?

And besides, Lusitania was one of the "greyhounds" of the line, so fast it could easily outrun a submarine, even one running on the water instead of underground. Cunard Line officials said it was impossible for any enemy ship to stay within range. [Does it strike anyone else that this is a pretty dumb thing for them to say after the "unsinkable" Titanic sank?] Passengers were reassured repeatedly that all would be well, and many of them thought that there would be a British warship escort across the ocean.

Well, ambitious and dedicated young captains might do such a dastardly thing, and did. Lusitania had almost made it home when it was torpedoed about 15 miles off the southern coast of Ireland, within sight of land, but not close enough. It went down in less than 20 minutes. More than 1100 people died.

While the book comprehensively covers the background, the politics, the people, the questions, and the sequelae, at its core I think it is a book about Turner, captain of the Lusitania vs. Schwieger, captain of the U-boat, the submarine. Turner the old sea dog, confident of himself and his skills and experience and not so sure about upper management and their vague and often contradictory orders. Schwieger, the young … predator… is the only word I can come up with, a good leader of men, a dog lover, and a man who was able to blow up a ship he knew carried civilians and still be able to sleep at night.

Kindle formatting fine. Grammar fine, although there was one odd word, "enflamed" instead of "inflamed" (measles). No photographs! At least none in the Kindle version. (In one of the end notes, the author suggests if you want more information on one particular thing, that you can Google it. Perhaps he figures Google images will give us all the photographs we want.) There is a boatload (oops) of detail; it was not too much detail for me, but it may be for you. I think the author knows when to back away from excruciating detail and when to hammer on it. YMMV. There's some ick factor; I mean, it's a book about war and blowing things up and killing people, so expect some ick. (The captain of the Lusitania hated seagulls for the rest of his life.) There's a bit of a slow start as he sets the stage but the pace accelerates and the story intensifies and focuses such that I found myself breathing more rapidly and feeling nervous, knowing what was to come shortly and waiting for it.

The author clearly has done his research. I found the information about Room 40, the British spy operation that without question knew what was going to happen and approximately where and when, and chose not to warn the Lusitania's captain, to be completely new to me and fascinating. The details of the lives of German submarine sailors at that time simply had me glued to the page.

I also had not previously understood how the sinking was a matter of such delicate timing. If the Lusitania hadn't been delayed by two hours in departure, if the fog had lasted another 30 minutes, if, if, if. A series of events, some human error, some beyond human control. A matter of minutes one way or the other and it would not have happened.

The author is more generous to both Turner and Schwieger than accounts I have read previously. Neither captain is a monster or stupid or someone to be hated. Both simply did their jobs the best they could based on their experience, skills, and orders from the governments they served. The author also isn't interested in promoting a bunch of conspiracy theories, although he does lay out evidence that could cause one to wonder whether the Lusitania was allowed to walk into a trap.

I was thoroughly entertained, as much as one can be when knowing that the death of hundreds of people will be the climax of the story. I learned quite a bit and was taken out of my own troubles for hours. Can't ask much more of a book than that. If I were grading, this would be an A. It may be too much detail for some, and too much death for some, but I will definitely read this again some day, probably after reading more on the subject. For me, the detail is what brings this history to life.

Oh, by the way. A dead wake is the trail a boat or a torpedo leaves behind it, the disturbance of the water as it passes through. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

On becoming single again (personal, not a review)

If you follow this blog, you know that my husband is terminally ill with heart and lung disease, kidney disease, you name it. For almost two years now they've been telling me that he has one foot in the grave, but for many months he proved them all wrong. But it is clear to both of us now that his time is running out, if slowly. They call Alzheimer's the long goodbye, but heart disease can kill a person quite slowly, too. He is weak, more or less confined to his chair, able to walk only a few steps with a walker and with help, and it is clear that his brain is not getting enough oxygen quite a bit of the time. He knows who he is, where he is, and who I am, but other than that, things are iffy.

The hospice nurse says that I cry so much these days because in many ways I have already lost my husband and am grieving for him in advance of his actual last breath. I guess that makes me feel less crazy. Somehow I doubt that this anticipatory mourning is going to make the ultimate mourning more bearable, but perhaps it will. Some. I have only the deaths of my parents to compare it to. My mother took a long time to die, my dad dropped dead; I mourned for them differently, but with equal intensity.

In any event, in many ways it's like being single. When I was single, I was pretty doggone independent. I changed the oil in my car, gapped and changed the spark plugs, adjusted the carburetor. I helped pull a car's engine once, which was fun. I learned how to replace an electrical outlet and a kitchen sink faucet. I painted, stripped varnish, and refinished furniture. My father didn't teach me things as such, but he did let me follow him around when I was very young. I recall messing with some concrete ingredients one day when I was about four, and repairing holes in our sidewalk with the resulting mixture. I remember walking that way when I was about 20 and seeing that my patches were still holding. I wonder what I put in that concrete mix.   :-)

But then I got married, and to a man accustomed to working with his hands. One of those men who don't need instructions, but simply look at the job, or the pile of lumber, and know how to put it together. Ours has been a traditional marriage in many ways. He did the lawn, the snow removal, and took care of the car, the garbage, and the cats. I did the business stuff, the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and anything else that needed to be done. If a faucet needed to be repaired, it went on his list. Lifting went on his list after I became disabled. He did all the driving for the past 20 years until he got sick. And so it has been.

For the last three months, he can't even dress himself, so I'm doing more and more around the house. We moved into this condo that is about 10 years old, and it's been neglected a bit, so there are about eleventy-hundred little fiddly things that need to be done. A kitchen faucet to replace. A dining room light fixture to remove and replace with a ceiling fan (will be calling an electrician for that). Some slow drains to snake. Drapery rods to install. Shelving to put up. A lot of driving, in all weather.

Today I was ridiculously self-impressed for two reasons. We bought a chair for Mr. Bat but it didn't work out well, and it was expensive-ish, so I wanted to return it. I got it out to the car okay (a small SUV) but couldn't lift it in because it was too heavy and I was afraid of scratching it. So I went inside and got a blanket that's kind of slippery, laid it down in the cargo bay, and pushed the chair onto it and then kind of up. It slid into place nicely. Then at the home furnishings store, I had to back the car up about a block with some twists and turns in a narrow alley with a big ol' pickup truck taking up more than its fair half of the alley. I did it and did not hit any of the staff or knock the mirrors off the car. I actually did a pretty good job of it.

On the one hand, I feel like an idiot grinning to myself over these small things I'm doing with my drill and screwdriver and pipe wrench. It ain't brain surgery. On the other hand, it feels good to be less dependent on others, to feel up to small tasks around the house without having to wait for my poor nephew to carve an hour out of his crazy schedule to help me.

And it lets me know that when the time comes, and Mr. Bat needs my permission and reassurance in order to leave this earth, I will be able to say to him honestly, "Go on. It's okay. I'll be safe. I will miss you terribly, terribly, but I will get along. Go on ahead and wait for me in Heaven's coffee shop." 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century, by Harold Schechter (non-fiction, true crime)

When I was a kid, any drugstore would have, usually behind the soda fountain counter but sometimes in the pharmacy area, a big ad for Bromo-Seltzer, an over-the-counter remedy for headache and upset stomach, similar to Alka-Seltzer now. It came in a big blue glass bottle, a lovely cobalt blue, which fascinated me when I was little. I believe the original formula had a mild sedative in it.

Oh, the book. Well. It's complicated. It takes place primarily in 1899. General Edward Molineux was a well-regarded, even revered Civil War hero of the North. He had three sons who were raised in comfort and privilege, and one, Roland, was never quite … what one would desire. He was an accomplished gymnast, a chemist, and very charming, good looking in a delicate way, and had lovely manners. He was also sexually untrustworthy and had a semi-permanent sneer. What he wanted, he got. He truly felt he was above the common herd, better than anyone else.

The short of it is that at least one man, possibly two more, and a woman who was not an intended victim, died by poison because the men were interested in the same woman that Roland wanted (and got - after the others died). One of the men also had, Roland felt, insulted him or possibly was just a better athlete. There were rumors of a degenerate lifestyle (code at the time for homosexuality). These folks were poisoned by eating candy or taking a patent medication (Bromo-Seltzer) they received anonymously through the mail.

[Now, even before the great Tylenol contamination business back in the early 1980s, I would never have been fool enough to take something that I didn't order, or eat candy sent to me via mail by someone I didn't know. But back then, people did. They shrugged off any peculiarities like a damaged label or inexpert sealing and took the stuff anyway. I still am having trouble getting over that. But, as I mentioned, in those days reputable doctors prescribed strychnine, arsenic, mercury, and heaven alone knows what all. ]

[Really, the things people consumed those days staggers the imagination. Mercury gargles for tonsillitis, for example. Milk for children from cows fed waste products. For all its faults, thank heaven for the Food and Drug Administration and similar regulatory institutions worldwide.]

Circumstances were such that Roland was accused of the murders, and this book is a very, very detailed account of the background for the murders, the trials, the appeal, and the aftermath.

People talk about trying to get a drink from a firehose, and that's what this was like. Excruciating but still fascinating detail of Roland's life, the life of his lady love(s), the life of the well-to-do of the Gilded Age of New York City, the state of medicine at that time, the beginnings of yellow journalism, the Hearst-Pulitzer bids for newspaper supremacy, prejudice of various kinds, the way money or fame can influence justice (paging Mr. Simpson, O.J. Simpson), the role of women as faithful wife or femme fatale (Madonna/whore, anyone?), the state of crime scene investigation at the time, oh my, lots of tangents, all pretty interesting, and relevant, one way or the other.

All of this on top of extreme detail about the murders and the legal case. It's a lot to swallow.

The book is well-written, in that I felt as if I had a good handle on the characters and what was happening, when and why. The author indulges in a little bit of snark about a couple of other writers, and that's kind of rude, you know, even if what he said is true. Especially because the things he is snarking about - hyperbole and over-length - are things some may accuse him of. So there. I wish there had been more photographs or copies of the newspaper articles -- it's possible that there are more in the print edition, but I read this on my Kindle. The occasional foreshadowing sentence got on my nerves a bit, but they did not pop up often.

Overall it was a sad book. Other than the General, there's really nobody to root for, no one to care about. The General served nobly in war and was much loved by the people who fought with him and served with him. He sounds like a good father and protective and affectionate husband and father-in-law. How much his personality, reputation (and wealth?) influenced the final outcome is not for me to say, and really can't be known, certainly not 100 years later. I found the General to be the only likeable person in the book.

The author seems to think that Roland's less than burly manliness caused people to think he was homosexual, therefore degenerate and capable of anything. I don't think the author was trying to cast aspersions. I think he was trying to explain the prevailing atmosphere in 1890s America. But YMMV, of course.

The book ends at the 85% mark, with detailed endnotes following. On my old Kindle, clicking the endnote number in the text did not send me to the endnote, which is a nuisance (published in 2007, though, so understandable). In the end, the author finally gives us his opinion as to Roland's guilt or innocence, and I will say that I agree with him. I was also … "pleased" is not the correct word in this situation, not by a long chalk … but it's what I'll use, to see that my diagnosis was correct.

Ick factor is considerable when describing the illness of the people who were poisoned and to a lesser degree in brief description of the electric chair as execution device. Short passages may be a 7-8 on the ick scale. One place in particular, I had to swallow twice.

By the way, the Molineux rule of evidence is still good law in New York, and apparently has to do with not admitting as evidence prior bad acts by the defendant to prove guilt in the present case.

If you enjoyed The Devil in the White City, you might enjoy this book, although this book not as well written as Larson's. I think Larson's book is tighter writing and has fewer digressions, but who am I to criticize digressions?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters (YA, paranormal-ish)

I kind of cheated on Wendy's TBR Challenge post the other day, in that the 39th volume in the In Death series isn't exactly romantic suspense [anymore - the first books are definitely romantic suspense]. So I read a paranormal, too. Wendy's TBR Challenge

There is no way I would have borrowed this from the library if I'd known it was YA. I am seriously not into YA. Just too darned old, I guess. I am, however, into books about the 1918 flu pandemic, and to a lesser degree, books about WWI, and I thought the Spiritualism connection might be interesting. So I didn't look at it too closely before checking it out.

[First, a note about the Spanish flu as it was called, the 1918 flu pandemic. According to US government statistics, about 600,000 Americans died of the flu that year, from a population of just over 100 million people. An estimated 30-50 million people died world-wide, population less than 2 billion. It hit apparently randomly, was a horrible disease - not your basic cough and fever that we see most of the time now - and took healthy young adults disproportionately and with terrifying rapidity. Without a clue how it spread or how to stop it, people got a little crazy, schools shut down, businesses closed, and people actually bathed in onions and garlic, hoping to stop the disease from hitting them. Woe to the person who coughed or sneezed in public.]

This is the story of motherless 16-year-old Mary Shelley Black (yeah, it's explained, but it still got on my nerves and may have affected my overall attitude toward the book, especially because the book calls her Mary Shelley most of the time) toward the end of 1918 USA, when the war is getting real in the US, and the Spanish flu is terrifying the populace and killing a good number of them. Mary's father has just been taken to prison for being a pacifist (possibly more than that, we don't get much information), and she's been shipped off to live with her aunt. Her childhood friend and first love, Stephen, has enlisted in the Army and she hasn't heard from him in awhile.

Julian, older half-brother of Stephen, not drafted due to flat feet, is cleaning up financially by doing spirit photographs. Photographers would take shots of people who were bereaved through war or flu and then, usually through double exposures or some other trick, superimpose a ghostly presence on the finished photo, usually touching the bereaved in some way. If you've lost a loved one, what would you pay to have solid evidence that they go on, and that they still love you? Lots, probably. Julian is using a doctored photo he took of Mary to promote his booming business.

It's not a spoiler to tell you that Stephen didn't make it, and his spirit is haunting Mary. As the flu picks off more and more people, and Julian's pressure for Mary to do additional advertizing photographs increases, Mary grieves for her father, and for Stephen, and for the life she had before. Mary's need to provide rest for Stephen's tortured and acting-out spirit drives the plot.

There's more plot, but this is enough to go on with.

The writing is really pretty good. I can see and smell and feel Mary's world. The grammar is good. The plot is … okay. The mystery of what really happened to Stephen was pretty obvious to this old bat, but might not be to a teenager with less knowledge of 1918 flu and murder mysteries.

Here's the thing: I didn't give a darn about any character. Not Mary, not Stephen, not the terrified aunt doing the best she could, nobody. I simply didn't care what happened to them. I don't think this is because of where I am in my life right now. I cried my eyes out over one of Grace Burrowes's books last week when lovers had to part.

Actually, the first third of the book was pretty good, and I got hooked right away, but then it became repetitive and I skimmed quite a bit of the last third.

I liked Mary's interactions with the hospitalized soldiers. These scenes seemed the most authentic to me, and the closest to heart-felt. Everything else was just blah. The treatment of Spiritualism was superficial. Photography and spiritualism fraud not well explained. The Aunt Eva character was the typical clueless adult found in YA literature. Mary started out pleasingly quirky but then that fell away, too. Mary's conversation, everyone's conversation, sounded very 21st century to me, although no obvious anachronisms. Just that certain tone. Stephen's letters, forgive me, but they sound to me like letters written by a woman. Again, a certain tone, nothing I can pick out as an example for you. That may be my age talking again. Flashback haters should know that there are flashbacks, in fact, if memory serves me (hah!) the book starts with one.

There's some short description of war wounds and of the horrors of this particular type of influenza, a little more description of battlefield deaths and general trench warfare conditions, which were nightmarish. If you're very sensitive, or if this information is new to you, it might bother you, and maybe quite a bit. The author doesn't go on and on about it, however. It is described and we move on. For me, the ick factor was a 2 if that much. For someone new to the details, it could be a lot higher.

I'm not a teenage girl. This book might have thrilled me at that age. I don't know. Although at that age I was more into Shakespeare, Donne, and Ian Fleming, so who knows. As YA literature goes, this wasn't terrible, but kind of flat. Still, perhaps a good way to interest someone in the history of Spiritualism, 1918 flu, or the things that went on in the US during WWI (prejudice against Germans, more soldiers dying of flu than of war wounds, and such). I think this was this author's first book, and she's got the skill, the technical skill of writing, so maybe she'll develop the art, the soul. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Festive in Death (In Death, Book 39), by J. D. Robb (romantic suspense, maybe?)

This is for the October entry in the 2015 TBR Challenge by Wendy the Super Librarian Wendy the Super Librarian TBR Challenge I've missed a few months due to obvious reasons but want to get back in the saddle. I'm hoping this qualifies as romantic suspense, but I do have a paranormal on tap also. 

I've read quite a few of the In Death series books, but after the first, I don't know, twenty or so I started skipping. Some of the recent entries have been too violent for my taste, almost torture porn, which is not to my taste. I have enough nightmares as it is. However, it appears that Ms. Roberts has settled into a pattern of one procedural followed by one relationship, then procedural, then relationship, and I feel safe reading the less gory ones.

If you haven't read any of the In Death series, start at the beginning and read them in order. If you like them, you're set for a month or six weeks of solid reading.

It's the Christmas season and Eve is in full grump mood, but her grump is starting to soften. She and Roarke have been married for, what, two or three years now, and it's a good marriage, with mutual respect and love. Plus, he's a billionaire, so that eases out any little wrinkles life may offer, donchaknow.

Not so festive for Trey Ziegler, personal trainer and heaven alone knows what all else, who is found by an ex-girlfriend (and her friend Trina the hairdresser Eve loves to hate) oh very dead with a head injury and a kitchen knife through his heart.

It becomes clear rapidly that half of NYC had a motive to kill him. Trey was not a nice person. The more Eve learns about him, the more she wants to pin a medal on the person who expedited his disappearance from the earth, but he is a victim now, so he is Eve's, and she will do her best to find the perp and see justice done. Because it's against the law to murder even creeps and bad guys.

The identity of the perp is pretty obvious if you've read much in the way of murder mysteries, and the focus of the book is really on Eve and her personal relationships. I've enjoyed watching Eve grow and change into the person she was meant to be. We have short scenes with all of the major secondary characters, and they're all well and happy. Eve and Roarke are happy. The sex scenes are less athletic, more like married sex, comforting as much as erotic.

The writing is, oh, okay. I really think Ms. Roberts is having a ghost writer write these books nowadays, based on her outlines or ideas. A lot of the sparkle and inventiveness is gone. I wish she'd slow the machine down, write one or two books a year, and write them herself. The books have become quite formulaic and while there's nothing wrong with that - it can be quite comforting, in fact - she's a better writer than that. The checklist of characters and plot points really showed in this book. After awhile, I had a hard time telling some of the suspects apart; for the most part, they were not strongly written. The police work seemed sloppy to me. I mean, the killer left a note, but did they do analysis on it? Um, no.

For example: Eve makes a deal with Summerset, the butler-and-more, that results in her having to supervise the decorating of the house for this huge Christmas party they're throwing. In past books, there would have been snarky repartee between the two, and we would have seen Eve gradually kind of get into it after a lot of bitching and snarking. In this book, there's some momentary snark and then we are *told* that after awhile Eve kind of got into it and we're on to the next scene. See what I mean? 

Still, it was diverting, and since I got it from the library, I was out nothing but an hour or two of my time. It got me out of my head for awhile, and I'm grateful. I didn't notice any Kindle formatting issues. The violence is not real gory, maybe a 3 on the ick scale at the most.

But: there is date rape (described in some detail from the victim's POV) and there is marital infidelity. If either one of these things triggers you, be warned.

If I were still assigning grades, this would be a D-plus to C-minus. Not terrible, but not very good, either. It's time for Eve to be promoted to a desk job and for this couple to think about having children, biological or adopted, or hell, I don't know, have them move to Ireland or go off-planet for an extended time or something. Something to shake up the story a bit.

ETA: The link. The link. The link. ::headdesk::

Saturday, October 10, 2015

An update. A few short reviews, mostly personal.

So. We moved. What a nightmare. There was some miscommunication (I'm being kind here and generous) and the movers put all the boxes into one room (the second bedroom, which I hope to have as a study/storage area), labels facing the walls, book boxes and things marked "Misc from study" in front. I'd asked for them to put the book boxes along the walls, and the boxes with clothing and food in front, and to have the labels facing forward, and to take the boxes marked "garage" to the garage. I had labeled the boxes on two sides, so it didn't seem like a tough project. I was tending to Mr. Bat when they did the unloading, so didn't catch it until the next day, when I went in to start unpacking. Nightmare. Still haven't found the vacuum cleaner. It's in there somewhere.

So we're still only about half unpacked. We're getting along fine, though, with what we have now, which makes me wonder how much we even need the stuff that is still unpacked :-) I am loving having our own clothes washer and dryer again and - a first for us - a refrigerator that dispenses ice! We are *uptown* now, my friends!

Mr. Bat is about the same, maybe a touch better. He can walk a few steps on his own with his wheeled walker, but needs help getting up from a chair or the bed etc. He is mentally sharper quite a bit of the time, and more interactive. I think he is oxygenating a little bit better. I can see that he is failing, very slowly, but we are still able to find things to enjoy about most days and are very grateful for the time we have. Ice cream and short car rides are tops right now, but he ate several bites of steak today and some lovely red grapes and enjoyed them, too. We watched part of the Cubs/Cardinals game tonight until he got too tired to follow.

The hospice team - oh, what lovely people they are! - but their resources are somewhat limited. I was hoping for respite care a couple of hours twice a week so I could get in some water exercise, but there just aren't enough volunteers to go around. If Mr. Bat improves a little more, I might be able to take him to the pool with me in his wheelchair, and he can sit there and sleep. So I still have some hopes. They're trying to get a volunteer for me for the 17th so I can take 2 hours away to have lunch with a friend. I'm hopeful for that as well. Haven't seen any of my friends in more than two months. But hospice aides come in and give him a shower two or three times a week, and they draw his labs when he needs it, so we don't have to pack him up and go to the lab to have it done, a real blessing to us. Luck of the draw: we got a very cheerful, matter-of-fact, sensible, nurse to coordinate his care, and I like her very much.

This condo is very, very small. Very small. After all the downsizing we have already done, it looks like we'll have to get rid of even more things, and that means parting with more sentimental items. I know the routine. 1) This item is not your loved one. 2) You will remember the loved one whether you have this item or not. 3) Take a photograph and perhaps write the story of the item. 4) Someone else will love it just as much if not more. 5) Etc. Still hurts and is difficult. It's hard to part with things just now.

Tonight I simply closed the door on the room with all the boxes in it. I'm tired of looking at it. Tomorrow I'll go back in and do the one or two boxes a day I do most days, but tonight I'm tired of looking at the mess.

I have been reading as I can. I re-read a bunch of Mary Balogh and Carla Kelly books for the comfort. Last night I read Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams, and only halfway into the book remembered that someone - Willaful, I think - warned me against the book just now. I was thoroughly intrigued but left with a lot of questions and it's not a book I think I'll ever read again. Sci-fi isn't my thing, and it was, oh, not depressing, but quite focused on death, regrets, "what dreams may come". Very well-written, though. 

Right now I'm reading Barney Frank's memoir, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage. So far it's more political than personal, but I'm just getting into it. It's funny, insightful. I'd probably recommend it to anyone interested in American politics of the last 50 to 60 years.

I read Jo Baker's Longbourn and enjoyed the first half or so but then lost interest and started picking it apart, and really, really disliked the ending. The idea of telling Pride and Prejudice from the downstairs viewpoint was a good one and was well executed for a time. Then the heroine got more and more 20th century in her attitudes and actions, and the book became more and more … bitter … is the word that comes to mind. Good first half, though.

I read 17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History,
by Andrew Morton, about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their ties to the Nazis. I suppose we'll never know, but some of the actions recorded about the Duke come very close to treason in my opinion. But there wasn't much new there until the end, when the author discussed Nazi documentation of the interactions Nazi officials and Hitler had had with Edward VIII/the Duke, and how those documents were secured by American and British allies at the end of the war in order to save the House of Windsor severe embarrassment (or worse). That was information I hadn't read before. On the whole, however, the book seemed more gossipy and not terribly well documented, especially the first third to half. What sad, unhappy, unpleasant people they must have been.

We're having beautiful autumn weather here. The trees haven't turned for the most part. The maples are really spectacular - I saw one the other day that looked exactly like rose gold - but the rest of the trees are either dropping dried-up leaves or haven't turned. It was a very wet year. The crops look good, though. The corn looks wonderful, and so do the soybeans. Should be a good year for farmers, which means a good year for the rest of the state. They say El Nino will give us a warmer than normal winter, which would be nice; those streaks of 20 below zero F. the last two winters have been a real pain, and Mr. Bat is so very cold all the time.

I hope life is treating you all well, and that whatever bumps there are in your road are small and not too jarring. I keep hoping to get back to reviewing books properly - well, as properly as I ever did (grin)  - but I feel as if I'm holding down two full-time jobs just now. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Don't know when I'll be back. (personal, not a review)

Hello, anyone who is left who still reads this blog. I haven't been around for awhile and I'm not real sure when I will be. Not until the end of September, probably, at least.

We are moving mid-Sept to a little bitty condo that's closer to what there is of my family. So there's that. (Lord, I hate moving.)

Mr. Bat is doing very poorly. We've consulted hospice because the doctors say it's time to do that, but there are one or two fairly mild treatment options left, and he wants to explore those options. Can't do that plus hospice, so no hospice for now.

Also, when we move, we'll be in a different county, so we'd have to start over with a new hospice team anyway, so.

I'm pretty tired, and I cry a lot. He's so weak and pale. He did laugh today, though, at the cat's antics, and it was lovely to see it. He requires a great deal of care, can't walk more than 1-2 steps, can't get out of a chair or bed on his own. He's not in any pain, and I'm so grateful for that.

We have some hope for the remaining treatments, and I tell you that hope can be a terrible thing. The up and down, up and down, of hope and then despair, then hope, then despair, sometimes cycling in less than an hour, makes it hard. We're hoping for symptom relief. If he could get strong enough to sit up for an hour or so, I could get him to the car and we could go look at the harvest. They say the leaves are starting to turn already. I'd like him to have another ice cream cone.

Everyone says I'm being so strong and good. I don't feel strong at all. What I feel is love for Mr. Bat, my companion of over 40 years, and I feel compassion for this sweet and gentle old man who is quietly and slowly shutting down and saying goodbye to life.

I don't know how to face his death. For so many years, everything I've had to face in life, I've faced with him, and I don't know how to do it without him. I know that in time, all our good memories will be a comfort, but right now good memories just hurt.

I don't know where I'd be without the support and comfort of my on-line friends, here and at Twitter. God bless you all for your continued kindness. I'll be back, but not sure when. Hugs to everyone who would like one.

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson with narrator Christopher Ryan Grant (drive-through review)

Country music is not one of my passions. In fact, I can't stand to listen to quite a bit of it. That whiney stuff or the belligerent warmongering USA! stuff makes me nuts. But there's nothing like seeing someone live in concert to make a person appreciate a performer, and I get a serious kick out of Willie Nelson, God love him. I haven't read his other books, but I saw this at the library and had to bite. Unfortunately, all they had was the audiobook, and I really dislike audiobooks, but there you are.

First, the disappointment that it was not narrated by Willie. I didn't notice that when I checked it out. The narrator is good enough, as far as that goes, with no excessive breath noises, no odd pronunciations, no verbal tics that I heard, but I can't imagine that he's ever been to Texas and he sure as heck does not sound like Willie Nelson. That might not bother you but as a person with family - well, I used to have family - in Texas, it annoyed me. Lord, a fake Texas accent.

The second thing some of you might want to know is that there are a lot of what my grandmother called "bad" words in the text, casually used. Most of the worst would be found in the sections dealing with Willie's tax problems, and what red-blooded American doesn't lob a few f-bombs at the IRS from time to time. Still, if you're sensitive to language, it might bother you. In an audiobook, you can't really skip over it.

This is a mostly chronological history, told as an 80-plus year old man remembers it. He does not dish a lot of dirt about various musicians, although he does talk, gently and with respect as a rule, about other musicians. Mostly he talks about his own relationships with women and more than that he talks about music. How he wrote this song or that song, and whose work influenced his, what he thought about this or that performer's work or their songs. It's all about the music. And the IRS. And the women he's loved. 

He talks about his faith from time to time. It's an interesting mix of old Southern Methodist with a lot of emphasis on doing to others as you would have them do to you, and being gentle with people plus Norman Vincent Peale-ish about how God wants us all to be happy and successful. I think hearing about his faith explains quite a bit about his life. He seems to have an endless capacity for love - for family, for women, for folks down on their luck - but he makes his own rules and for the most part, they've worked for him.

He's not done with life yet. He's still performing, still writing. This book may be only for country music fans (don't expect a lot of gossip) or Willie Nelson fans, but perhaps also for someone interested in reading the story of a life lived fully, told with warmth and quiet humor, as if you were sitting on a porch somewhere, watching the lightning bugs, hearing the soft breeze in the trees, with a little of the sipping whiskey and all the time in the world. I enjoyed it as much as I can enjoy an audiobook. I'm hoping the Kindle edition will go on sale someday.