Friday, June 28, 2013

Out of Warranty by Haywood Smith

The basic premise of this book is amusing enough -- after experiencing astronomical expenses for an unusual health condition, a relatively newly widowed Cassie teams up with an equally ill Jack to fight insurance companies in the health care equivalent of a green card: finding a new husband with healthy insurance benefits to have and to hold and cover her health care expenses.

It may sound a little mercenary, but it was all handled in a humorous, tasteful manner. Cassie and Jack's relationship and understanding of each other was a nice plot element to watch. This was a nice gentle, read, that was perfect for my back porch in the summer. The thing that pushed this novel from a three to a four was Haywood Smith's  descriptions of what life is like when you have a serious, but relatively unknown illness. Smith gave Cassie the illness that she, herself, has: a congenital degenerative arthritis, compounded by systemic fungal infection. In my case, it's an allergy to natural rubber/latex and resultant airway disease.  Both illnesses are not commonplace, and often cause blank stares when mentioned to others. Both necessitate huge lifestyle changes, both in terms of what can be in your home, how to clean, what to eat, etc.

So, because I thought Smith presented a glimpse into a world I know very well, and for the character, Jack, for having a heroine who is physically flawed, and for fun shout outs to the Atlanta area (which I am familiar with), I added an extra star.

Without a Summer by Mary Robinet Kowal

This is the third in the series by the wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal (I can verify that "wonderful" having spent time with her in person) and I'm pretty enamored of the series. She's created a world, extremely similar to our own, only with a different sort of magic (for I am convinced there is real magic in our own world.) The books have often been compared to Jane Austen, and while I can see the similarities, in my mind, I feel that though they share a time in history, a love of character and conversation, some character names, and some gentle poking of fun at society/conventions, the Glamourist Histories are truly a world apart. The author's notes at the end of each book have always also been informative. This woman does her research!

With plots that have enough twists to keep those readers who said "I saw that coming" at bay, the three books each have exquisite detail, delicious conversations, and thought provoking insights. This one expanded the concept of glamour and the magic of this particular world in an interesting tangent, that of coldmongers, used for their skills of keeping food, homes, etc cool at a time when refrigeration was not around. Add in some social inequity, strife, throw in a handful or two of greed and treachery, a pinch of betrayal, stir well, and top with a little romance, and <i>Without a Summer</i> serves up a sumptuous read.

I look forward to seeing where Mary Robinet Kowal takes Jane and Vincent, next.

PS I'm waiting for the return of the wicked Livingston.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Here I go Again by Jen Lancaster

Sometimes karma can be a real bitch -- especially when you're a total bitch to those around you when you're in high school. Lissy Ryder was the queen of everything back then, and now she's riding (if you can ride a downward slide) on the results. She's lost pretty much everything she wanted (I can't say cared about, because all she cared about was herself). Instead of being the darling of her high school reunion she's the demon. Life isn't pretty.

Think about it. They say, "paybacks are hell." But what if you could go back and undo your wrongs, to avoid the damage you've done others, and restore the world to some sort of better place? Remember though, valuable lessons taught by Buddha and Marty McFly. You can't change the past without changing the future; all those butterfly wings, pond ripples, and missed first kisses. Lissy learns the hard way, and at 37, actually begins to grow up.

I picked this up after seeing reviews on Goodreads, librarything, and The BookReporter. The reviews were basically right. It's kinda fun when chic lit makes you think and makes you laugh as well.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk

It is my habit to listen to NPR and it was on one of the shows that I heard an <a href="">interview with Patricia Volk</a> about her book, <i>Shocked</i>.

I'm woefully ignorant about the world of high fashion, so the name Schiaparelli did not immediately strike cords with me. Yet as I read, I realized that her influence even peaked into that small home in a middle class, mostly Jewish neighborhood, where I grew up. But the interview was so alive, fascinating, that I immediately headed to the library to request the next available copy of the book. Luckily for me, the wait was just two days.

This was a voyage into a completely different world than my own. Though I grew up surrounded by strong, beautiful, fascinating, forthright women, they were nothing at all like either designer/artist Elsa Schiaparelli or Audry Volk, the author’s mother. It was a glimpse not behind the curtain, but more of one from backstage to the spotlight itself, to see how women of fashion and a prestige my family never experienced lived.

The juxtaposition of the the life of these two women, and how they helped shape Volk, not so much by example, but by helping her to build her mind and ideals into a life she, herself, wished to live, is fascinating. Richly illustrated with photographs and fancy from the world of both women, dotted with dashes of the famous, the memoir reveals lives rich in conviction, passion, flare, and some flamboyance. I loved that each chapter began with a quote from each woman, and then unrolled with Volk's take on a subject or situation. And Volk also reiterates the theme of how a single book can change a life. I would add my own belief, that it is the books you read, and the people you meet, who help shape the person you become. While this book will not change who I am, it certainly has expanded my knowledge and filled in some interesting bits of information. I'm glad I read it.

Some takeaway bits that particularly delighted me:
Schiap (the name she preferred over her given one) regularly scheduled dinner engagements with just herself, and then ate dinner, alone, in her library.

A quote from Bruno Bettelheim: "Books lie in wake for our readiness."

A quote from Patricia Volk: "No book is the same twice."

I was ready for this book. Now I wonder what I'd think on a re-read.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I tell time by the hydrangea bushes in my back yard. As the leaves green with awakening of spring, I carefully check for the first hint of buds. The days grow longer, lighter; I watch those buds flesh out, puckering into what will become individual blooms in a ball of purple, blue, and white. And I know that when those flower bloom in fullness, it will be June. June: the month I think of as Bumma's Bounty which marks not the anniversary of a passing, but for me celebrates the memory of a special soul.

Other years I've written a lot about how I've marked the month. This year is different. I am remembering her in deed, action, and donation but it's all much more low key. We've put this home on the market and soon hope to move back downtown, where we can be more directly in the city we love, rather than out here on the island. This is a beautiful home, but it was built for many more people, and the two of us rattle around in it, using only one floor except when we are graced with overnight guests.

It's odd having people traipse through the house, considering if they want to buy it. I definitely feel a difference in the vibrations or energy after viewings. There are pictures of our sanctuary on line in the listing, and I know that somewhere, someone is pouring over them the way I pour over online listings for places downtown. I feel a little vulnerable, as if I am living in a fishbowl.

Leaving here is really an ending to the nuclear family we started back in the 80's when bumma moved in with us just before her first grandson was born. We were three generations tucked into a house downtown, and we thrived there. Circumstances changed, and we built this haven on the lake. It was a place of healing for me. It was the place our son launched from the nest. It the family home for brothers, cousins, and other assorted relations. It was my mother's last home on this earth. Those are all tough things to leave. But I've learned that if there is one thing my love and I are good at, it's building a home filled with love.

I've also learned, since that rotten year of 2009, a year that started in hope and ended in stunned recovery, that it is true: memories find their home in the heart, and thus are easily portable. When I forget something small, like where my keys are, or turning off the water after filling the tea kettle, I feel the first panics that this may be a sign of a failing mind. My panic has two branches: the possibility of becoming a burden to those I love the most, and the thought that all those memories of loved ones lost will be really lost for good.

But for now, I tell time by the hydrangeas. They remind me of my mother. Hydrangeas and rosemary (for remembrance) from our garden went with her as the ambulance took her to the hospice. Some of the blossoms and some roses dried from my father's funeral, were cremated with her. The final few, which resided with her ashes (now scattered) are in the care of a dear friend, who will be my surrogate and take them to my father's grave, bringing it all full circle-- just like the circle that is closing with our time here on the island.

I don't think I'll see another springtime in this home by the lake, tucked away on a sea island off the coast of Charleston. But maybe, just maybe, wherever we move, we can plant some hydrangeas. When they bloom, I'll know it's June. I'll feel my mother's embrace.

Earlier posts from previous years of Bumma's Bounty
here and here, though there may be some overlap.

Serena, by Ron Rash

If you're wanting warm fuzzies, inspiring female role models*, altruism, or characters you'll hold in your heart, this is not the book for you. But if you want a well written novel about the early days of the depression, logging in North Carolina, development of the US National Park System, and one of the most ruthless women you'll meet in literature, pick Serena up.

This book takes place near our cabin, just over the NC state line, which is one of the reasons I like to read Ron Rash -- he sets many of his works in my stomping grounds. I've hiked and camped in these hills, and treasure the beauty of the land. It amazes me whenever I realize how much of this breathtaking landscape was brutalized by the forces of man. In Serena the reader is given a back seat into the logging industry, circa 1929, and a glimpse into the lives of the George and Serena Pemberton, and their partners in a large logging company. George Pemberton had the misfortune to not follow the advice my mother-in-law gave her teenage sons (the bit about having a good time, but "keep your pecker in your pants") and before his marriage to Serena impregnated a local girl. As the Pembertons narrow their focus on their plans for the company ("narrow their focus" being a euphemism for killing off their partners and competition), the Missus shifts her focus to the problem of to her husband's bastard, and the plot thickens.

Beautiful, clever, passionate, ruthless -- that's Serena. And this book plays out the suspense of the rape of the land, and the single-minded quest for power of one intense, memorable woman.

*unless you want to be the next Lucrezia Borgia or
Cruella de Vil.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

If Lincoln didn't keep a set of secret diaries, he should have. Brilliant minds like that should have many outlets. Loved the mix of fact and fancy, though there were a couple of historical documents I wish I had the oomph to look up to see how they actually read.

Best thing I liked about this vampire story? The hot and sexy card isn't played.

As the story moved into the later years of Lincoln's life, I was struck again by how much tragedy he endured personally, beyond the near shattering of the country. It's no wonder his shoulders sagged and his face grew more haggard before his encounter with John Wilkes Booth.

Plot is described elsewhere, but if you're into history, alternate history, and fantasy, maybe give this one a whirl. Some people are too interesting to die, it seems, and Lincoln lives on in this book and the film of the same title.

(Rating is more of a 3.5 out of 5, but I rounded up to a 4 because of exceptional cover art.)