Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Love and Best Friends Forever

Aunt Nellie B –by Dixiane Hallaj

221 Pages / 2758 KB
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
5 Stars

If I didn't know better, I'd swear Ms. Hallaj has known me all my life, and had access to many of my early memories – and late ones, too.

The narrator of the story, Charli (short for Charlotte Ann) is a precocious child who keeps journals. She knows there seems to be a curse on her family, that all the women have several husbands – either through divorce or death and remarriage. She is not privy to the conversations when her mother and aunts get together for coffee and gossip, so develops a strategy to make herself "invisible" so she can listen in. She hears a great deal of adult conversation that she really doesn't understand, and of course, can ask no one about.

I love the voice of Charli, especially as the child. She reminds me of my BFF, Leslie, and me when we were that age. Especially the scene where Charli and her cousin, close to the same age, are together at the table and play 'twins' by picking up their food at the same time, chewing at the same time, swallowing the same time. Leslie and I were known to do that, too ;-) Synchronized eating?

Leslie and I grew apart, and marriages stepped in, with the name changes, etc., and we only recently found each other again. And the 'twinness' is still there. There were absences in Aunt Nellie B, too, but never loss of love.

The story takes place over a span of several years, so it is necessary to pay attention to the dates Ms. Hallaj uses at the beginning of chapters and sections, though it's not nearly as difficult to follow as some other books that do the same thing.

Charli makes some bad choices in her life, as do the other women of her family, but they are always there for each other, giving their love and support through, as the cliché says, thick and thin.

This is by no means a romance, but it certainly is, in the best of all possible ways, a story of Love triumphing over all. In fact, when I finished reading it, I called Leslie, and told her about it, so she, too, will get a copy to read and enjoy it as much as I have.

A marvelous read, great for bedtime, or a one-sit read like I did.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dying Well – Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life – Ira Byock, M.D.

Dying Well – Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life – Ira Byock, M.D.

299 Pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
5 Stars

Dr. Byock's dream is that all of us, when we reach the end, should have the chance to Die Well. He has dedicated his life to that end, and I am grateful.

All of us will die, hopefully not for a long time, but we all will die. And we should have the opportunity to die well, where we want (my mother wanted to die in the hospital, her brother in my home), surrounded by those we love and who love us, and to die free of pain, free of smells, and filled with dignity.

This book contains the stories of several people and their deaths. Dr. Byock starts off on a personal note, about the death of his father, and what he learned as both a son and a doctor.

There is nothing morbid in this book. In fact, quite the opposite. As I read the stories, and shed tears in some, I remembered something I read years ago by Father John Powell, SJ. While in Seminary, he needed to visit the infirmary for some minor ailment, and the Brother was tucking in two of the priests who were admitted. One was a real grump and short tempered, the other was an old sweetheart, and kind and thankful. I vaguely remember that both were dying, but not sure. At any rate, Fr. Powell decided at that time that he had a choice. He could be either of those two old priests, when it was his turn to die and the choice was up to him.

I'm relatively sure we all have our day dreams (night mares?) of what it will be like when we die, and how we will do it, but how many of us have taken care of terminally ill loved ones? How many of us have any idea of what will happen let alone how it will happen?

Dr. Byock lists five things he recommends to those of his patients and their families who are terminally ill. I recommend they be considered now, while we are (hopefully) in relative good health. He goes into detail in Chapter Seven, Writing a Personal Script for Dying: Steve Morris (not his real name) but I will list them here. Something to think about now – I forgive you, please forgive me, Thank you, I love you, and Goodbye.

That script is geared for those who know they are dying and have time. But I know from experience, it's good to think on them, and discuss them earlier. There is not always time. Death can come quickly and quietly in the middle of the night and too often, there is unfinished business and a brick load of guilt after. I suggest you let your loved ones know now, and often, how much you love and appreciate them, in case Death comes on a whisper when least expected. You will feel better if you do.

If you have thought of death (and who hasn't?) – either your own or someone's close to you – I strongly recommend this book. There are places where you may even laugh out loud. And tears are healing. The more you know, the less fear there will be.

The Study Series Bundle –by Maria V. Snyder

The Study Series Bundle –by Maria V. Snyder

Fiction, Fantasy
1019 pages/ 1280 KB
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
4 Stars

This is the complete trilogy, plus a short story, of Poison Study (Book 1), Magic Study (Book 2), and Fire Study (Book 3).

Poison Study was Ms. Snyder's debut novel, and it was excellent! I borrowed the hard copy, and enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought the Bundle so I would have all the books, and all in the same place. I will be buying more of Ms. Snyder's books!

These books are what I would call High Fantasy, though there are no dragons. There are Sorcerers, Magicians, and of course, Mundanes - no dragons. I believe they would easily cross to a genre I seldom read and even more seldom enjoy, Romance.

As I read fiction for escape, this was perfect! I could escape into a world lush with characters, geography, and conflict.

Poison Study starts off with our heroine, Yelena, being brought out of her cell in the dungeon to stand before the #2 man of the country. He gives her a choice. She can face the executioner for her crime of killing the son of a noble, or she can face the possibility of a slow and agonizing death at some future date, and become the official taster of the Commander (who runs the country.)

Because there might be a way for her to escape, and this is at the beginning of the story, she accepts the latter. An honest person, she wins either the fast and loyal friendship of many, or the undying hatred.

When the Commander took over the country, he outlawed all magic, seeing it as evil, and any who had abilities either did their best to escape to Ixia, where magic was not only allowed, but nurtured, or were killed trying.

As the story unfolds, we learn Yelena was an orphan, taken and raised under the protection and education of General Brazell (whose son she killed). By the end of the story, we learn she was not an orphan, but had been kidnapped for her hoped for, and anticipated, magical abilities.

Life for Yelena was not pleasant in the orphanage, and only slightly more pleasant as a Taster, but at least it was life.

Magic Study finds Yelena reunited with her birth family, and on her way to learning to use and control her magic. Again, her choice is: Learn to use it, or burn yourself out, unless killed first.

In Magic Study, she finds herself in a strange place, untrusted, even by her brother, accused of being a spy, with few friends, and a nasty habit of charging ahead without thinking everything through.

Fire Study is the third and final book in the trilogy. Yelena finds her true magic, which frightens everyone, including her. She is a Soulfinder, one of the most powerful of all magics. By now all the characters are known, or at least most of them, and we're aware of Yelena's foibles, and her undying loyalties.

She tries to avert a war, is caught, imprisoned, escapes, and has a price on her head. The First Magician wants her dead, the Fire Starter wants her soul, and the Commander's Assassin wants her.

For the most part, this was a page burner. Once I started reading it, it was very difficult to put down. So why only 4 stars? Because Ms. Snyder knows better than to use lazy language such as, "Me and him..." and the 3d and final book had entirely too many of those. Each time I read that phrase, it threw me out of the story, and I had to work my way back in. It jarred. The more of them I read, the stronger the jar.

Although "Me and...." drives me crazy, it may not bother you. Perhaps that is the way you speak and write, and you have no idea it is the epitome of laziness in the use of American English; if so, it won't bother you, and you will probably not even notice.

The stories were great fun. I look forward to my next Maria V. Snyder novel. She has a wonderful imagination, and a great ability to create new and interesting worlds.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cinnamon Rolls, Vampires, and Sunshine

Sunshine –by Robin McKinley

405 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
4 Stars

This was a gift, and the kind of a gift with strings attached – I had to read it, and review it. Glad the strings were there ;-)

I'm not sure what genre Sunshine is – it's dark, it's funny, it's about vampires, and mundanes. It takes place after the Voodoo Wars, which really hand nothing to do with Vodou, the religion, but a lot to do with people who handle magic, who are vampires, and in general who dislike one another.

Our heroine, Rae "Sunshine" Seddon is the daughter of the Magician Onyx Blaise whom her mother divorced when Rae was young and she never saw him again. She did see his mother, her Gran, who taught her a bit of magic before the wars came and her dad and gran disappeared. Her mother remarried, Charlie Seddon, who raised Sunshine as his. Charlie also runs a coffee house, where Sunshine works as the chief baker, make of cinnamon rolls extraordinaire, and other calorie laden goodies. (WARNING: I gained weight just reading this book!)

Sunshine wants only to bake, and to a degree, to be left alone. She goes out to the lake, to her Gran's old house, and is captured by vampires. She is shackled in a mostly sunny room with another vampire, Constantine, who is also shackled, and starved, and is supposed to kill Sunshine.

They sort of become friends (as much as two sworn enemies can ever become friends) and she remembers the little bit of magic she was taught several years earlier, and transmutes her pocket knife to a key to unlock the shackles. The problem: Her feet are cut and bleeding and will leave a trail and Connie, as he's called, cannot go out in the sunshine. The solution: As long as he maintains contact with Sunshine, her magic will protect him, so he carries her home (vampires move very fast) before their captors arise after dark and discover they have, uh, flown the coup.

Sunshine is a bit whiny at times, but to be honest, if I found myself in her shoes, I'd probably be a whole lot whiny. It took me a while to get into the book, but mostly because it just seemed soooo long (and I like long books), which is why only 4 stars. The further into it I got, the faster it seemed to read.

The whole story is from Sunshine's point of view, which was no easy feat of writing, and of necessity, required some long passages of exposition at time. However, I enjoyed reading it because it was well done, and different from most books I read. I think the author stayed in voice, or if she didn't, I didn't notice.

If you like vampire books, comedic horror (horrifying comedy?), and want something a tad different from your usual read, give Sunshine a try. And let me know how you like the ending ;-).

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Companions Make Good Reads

Companions On The Road – Wondrous Tales of Adventure and Quest –by Tanith Lee

183 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
5 Stars

The first of two novellas, Companions On The Road, is the story of Havor, a mercenary and officer, who befriends a lowly soldier who is sure he will die in the upcoming battle and leaves his small savings and asks Havor to deliver it to his family. Havor agrees. The boy dies, Havor resigns his commission, robs the now-dead Mage of the fallen city of his magic chalice, and sets out to deliver the money of Lukon, the boy.

Of course, in a fantasy that includes a Mage, dead or otherwise, nothing can ever be simple or straightforward, and Havor must pay for his thievery. And the evil Mage must pay for his evilness. And Havor has companions upon his road he'd really rather not have, until he reaches the house of Lukon, where he finds only Lukon's sister, Silsi. Lukon's mother and younger sister having died.

Not wanting to bring misery to Silsi, Havor leaves, and goes to bury the chalice far away, and to await his fate, his death. Unbeknownst to him, Silsi is also a witch and the final battle between good and evil comes to a satisfying conclusion, thanks to Silsi and her family.

The shorter novella, The Winter Players, is also about magery and shape shifting and the stealing of holy relics so old, and so powerful, none alive including the Priestess in charge of them, know what they mean or from whence they came.

Three relics – the ring, the jewel, and the bone – are kept in the shrine that Oaive cares for and guards. She speaks the ritual at dawn and sundown to keep the village and fisher folk safe, she makes the medicines they need, and is happy and content. And then Grey comes, a young man with and old man's grey hair, a shape shifter who knows about the bone, who finds it in its secret place, and who steals it.

Oaive must retrieve the bone, and leaves her village to follow Grey across the unknown, and learns of her magic powers. She, too, must face great evil, for Grey is merely the slave of the evil Mage Niwus. When she retrieves the Sacred Relic, she travels back through time to her village before the relics existed. Grey and Niwus follow, the battle is fought, of course Good triumphs over Evil, and balance is restored. And history changed.

If you enjoy fantasy, you will like these stories. Tanith Lee spins marvelous tales, of which these are only two. She has over 70 novels and 250 short stories to her much deserved credit.