Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life, by Maggie Callanan. Bantam Books, 2008

Maggie Callanan, along with Patricia Kelley, wrote “Final Gifts”, a groundbreaking book about how people die. “Final Journeys” is a companion book and focuses on the care giver’s role and how they can best help the dying and take care of themselves at the same time. She explains how entering hospice care is not ‘giving up’, what paperwork the dying (which is all of us, really) should have completed to make things easier for themselves and their loved ones, that it’s okay for the dying and the family to laugh and joke, and why you shouldn’t call 911 if the person does not want aggressive resuscitation. 

Callanan is a veteran hospice nurse with 27 years of experience working with the dying at the time she wrote this book. She’s helped innumerable families as a member passes on, and has seen all sorts of scenarios. In this book, she answers a lot of the questions that people have about giving care to a family member facing death. She doesn’t just dwell on the dying person, but on what the care giver experiences; how different people react to the impending death of a loved one; how they grieve; and various options for end of life care. The book is written in an easy to read style, even when dealing with medical details. I’m not a stranger to caregiving and dealing with death and I learned a lot from this book, especially about family dynamics. 

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, by Sharma Shields. Holt Paperback, 2015

In 1943, when Eli Roebuck was nine years old, his mother invited a large, non-vocal, hairy, man named Mr. Krantz to their house for tea. Afterwards, she walked off into the forest of north Idaho with the hairy man and didn’t come back. This set Eli off on a lifetime search for Sasquatch. Not in a flamboyant, showy, way, but as scientifically has he can do it. Mr. Krantz has become Eli’s great white whale, and it affects all his relationships. His two marriages suffer from this, as do his relationships with his daughters.  They are all secondary, as is his career as a podiatrist, to his hunt for Mr. Krantz.

The magical realism in this novel means that it’s no surprise that Sasquatch exists; there is also a lake monster, half dog babies, and unicorns. Shields has created a fairly seamless world, based in eastern Washington and north Idaho. Different chapters are told from different points of view: Eli’s, various members of his family’s, even Mr. Krantz’s. The cast of characters is interesting and varied; they are far from caricatures but they seem a little… flat? Everyone is fighting their own monsters, but somehow they don’t come completely alive. Still, I enjoyed the book a lot, and will be looking out for more of Shields’ work. (It didn’t hurt that it was set in the area I live in)

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things affected my review. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and the 90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion, by Maureen Callahan. Touchstone, 2014

The 1980s were all about excess- huge hair styles, giant shoulder pads in rigid skirted suits, fancy everything, lots of cocaine. At some point in the 90’s, though, things changed. Grunge took over from hair metal. Fashion got stripped down and dirtied up and became shocking instead of pretty- but the cocaine stayed. The author has picked out three people who she feels were the primary forces behind this movement: two fashion designers and one model.

Kate Moss has a very different look from the super models of the 80s; skinny, wan, and messy. She became the first model to have the look that came to be named “heroin chic”- strung out and apathetic. Marc Jacobs’s first collection- which failed miserably- was grunge. Alexander McQueen was an outsider, showing in empty warehouses and stealing fabric for his impossible to wear early collections.

Of course these three did not work in a vacuum. Kate was discovered by a photographer digging through a drawer full of ‘maybes’ at a modeling agency; McQueen was given contacts by his ‘muse’, Isabella Blow; Jacobs took the traditional route of design school. And the zeitgeist of the world of haute couture was changing.

The picture Callahan paints of these three and their world in the 90s is not pretty. All three indulged in huge amounts drugs- I’m talking super human amounts that it’s hard to believe they survived it. Their personal lives were wrecks for most of that era. It’s rather hard reading, really- but I couldn’t put it down because it was another of those books that’s like watching a train accident. But it was also very interesting to see how art and fashion made such a sea change so fast.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way affected my review.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter, Mary Shelley

This thoroughly researched dual biography presents us with the lives of two women who were indeed outlaws – they defied conventions by living by their pens and having children out of wedlock. Both were groundbreaking writers- Mary Wollstonecraft wrote political and social criticism from a feminist viewpoint (work that was given serious consideration and debated by the intellectuals of the day, right up until they found out it was written by a woman) while Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) gave us the classic ‘Frankenstein’.

Both women had unpleasant childhoods; Mary W. had an abusive, drunken father and a mother who died young, leaving Mary W. to provide for them all. She eventually died only 9 days after giving birth to Mary Shelley. Mary S.’s father married a woman she despised- a woman who reciprocated that feeling. Both women had children out of wedlock, which meant polite society would have nothing to do with them. Both women were constantly importuned by their families to send them money. Both of them had their work denigrated by critics, usually simply for being written by a woman. They were feminists long before the term was coined. Both women, while primarily known for only one book each, did a lot of writing throughout their lives.

The book, while grounded in facts, is an easy read- once you get past the format. The author devotes every other chapter to each Mary in chronological order. With them having the same name- and with some other name duplications, too- I had a bit of trouble at first figuring out which Mary was being discussed. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it. Gordon really brings the women to life, especially Mary S.; Mary W. fares a little less well. She comes off as a bit pathetic in a couple of her love affairs. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the author or just how Wollstonecraft really was. One thing I was impressed with was the author’s description of the French Revolution from an English person’s point of view- Mary W. went to write about the revolution as it happened and lived there until it got just too dangerous. If you have an interest in early feminist writers, take a look at this book.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. 47North, 2014

Nineteen year old Ceony Twill has graduated magic school and is being sent for a year’s apprenticeship with a Master Magician. Sadly, she’s not going to learn to bespell metal; she’s being sent to a magician who uses paper for his spells. She considers this a bad fate, paper magic not being very fearsome and useful. She rapidly learns there is a lot more to it than she thought as Emery Thane demonstrates. And soon she’s learning on the fly when Thane is put out of action by an Excisioner- a magician who wields flesh. Thane will die soon if Ceony cannot best the Excisioner.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the author introduced a method of magic I’ve not seen used before: the magic of folding paper to create objects of power. It never occurred to me that origami could produce such things as a self-powered glider, a protective chain worn around the body, an animated dog or a beating heart. On the other hand, the story features a teenager falling in love with her 30 year old teacher (nothing happens between them; he spends most of the book in a coma). The teenager herself is bright, brave and talented but kind of irritating with her snoopiness. The time spent with her cooking meals and doing laundry were really not needed as part of the book. The first part of the book moved speedily along, with lots of things happening. The second half bogs down as Ceony wanders through the chambers of Thane’s heart and learns his history via scenes from his past played out in front of her. That section could use some serious editing. Final verdict is that if the library gets the other two books in the serious I’ll probably read them, but I’m not going to go seeking them out. Not sure if this book is aimed at the Young Adult crowd or adults; our library had it in the adult section but it seems more fitting for YA.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way affected my review. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest. ROC, 2014

Lizzie Borden -Lizbeth- yes, ax wielding Lizzie Borden- and her invalid older sister Emma live quietly a Maplecroft, a large house in coastal Fall River, MA. At least that’s how it seems to outsiders. The house is far away enough from neighbors, to conceal a lot. Like a basement laboratory, a large gas fired ‘cooker’ beneath the basement floor, and the strange things that come creeping around the house at night, pounding on the walls, seeking entrance. Because there was a lot more to the story of her killing her father and stepmother with an ax. Her father and stepmother were long gone when she took an ax to the bodies that still shambled around.
In the same vein as ‘Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter’, Priest has taken a historical personage and inserted a horror tale into their biography. In this case, it’s not run of the mill zombies or vampires. Priest has created her own monsters, albeit ones that seem like they would feel right at home in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Somehow, people in the town are being infected by… something. Something that changes them slowly to have razor sharp teeth and glassy, dull eyes. To lose their wits and become violent. What is infecting them? Is it supernatural?

Lizbeth and Emma have been trying for two years to figure it out when they run out of time. Suddenly it’s not just an isolated person or two. They are forced to take the town doctor into their confidence, and soon there is an out of town inspector poking around. To complicate things further, Lizbeth’s actress girlfriend is staying with them, a woman who is intensely nosy.

This was a really fun book to read- yes, I think reading creepy things at night is fun. The fact that the monsters are never totally explained adds to the creepy factor. People changing into beings that defy the laws of physics adds to it, too. There is a constant, palpable menace. I have to admit that I was dissatisfied with the fact that things weren’t well explained until I found out this is the start of a series. It makes sense to leave things to explain in later volumes. The story is told from different points of view: Lizbeth’s, Emmas, the doctor, a professor who Emma-posing as a male marine biologist- sent a sample of unknown sea life, and others. This creates a fuller picture of the action, and of the characters. A fast, absorbing read. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way affected my review.