Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Stickle Island, by Tim Orchard. The Unnamed Press, 2018

Stickle Island is a tiny bit of earth in the ocean, a mile off the south east shore of England. The population is small; most people have long since moved away in search of jobs. A few back-to-the-landers have moved there. The entire population can fit into one meeting hall at the same time. The story takes place during Thatcher’s term of rule; the twice daily ferry that is their life line to the mainland is something that will be cut. How will they survive on the island without this service?

Their salvation arrives after a terrible storm; six bales of high grade marijuana have washed up on shore. Realizing the value of these, and that there is apt to be someone who expected their arrival out looking for them, they are promptly hidden by a small group of enterprising teens, who call a general meeting of the entire populace. Together they will stand against the dealers when they arrive. And arrive they do, with fancy cars and armed muscle.

This is a satire, and it reminds me of lots of British sit-coms. If you’re into British comedy, you can pretty much picture the cast and setting. It’s not deep, and the characters are not well developed, but it’s great fun. Four stars for this first novel.

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

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program free, in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What Should Be Wild, by Julia Fine. HarperCollins, 2018

Little Maisie Cothay was born from her mother’s dead body. Right away (thankfully) her father discovered that the touch of her bare skin would kill- or resurrect. It could even happen repeatedly- she killed her father several times before reaching toddlerhood. She could even resurrect the long dead, which necessitated coating all the bare wood floors and trims in the house she grew up in with several coats of varnish, and making sure she only wore synthetic fiber clothing. She grew up in her mother’s decrepit Blakely family mansion in a large forest, with only her anthropologist father (who seems to see her as a long running experiment) and the housekeeper for company. Her father educated her and she read everything in the large library- being careful to wear gloves, of course. But one day the housekeeper dies, she accidently runs into the housekeeper’s nephew, and her father disappears. This is when she decides she must go on a quest to find her father.

She’s not the first girl of her mother’s family to go into the forest, which was forbidden to her. Through the years, many have gone in and not returned.  Maisie also finds herself going into the city and meeting new people for the first time. It’s a very abrupt and sudden coming of age as she explores both areas, and finds that evil can wear an attractive face.

The story is a fantasy, coming of age, fairy tale. Unlike in most fairy tales, the girl is the hero, not the princess in distress. There is a sleeping beauty, but she isn’t waiting for a prince to kiss her. It’s well written, and I liked the back stories of the Blakely women in the woods. I enjoyed the book, but I can only give it four stars; there were some problems with pacing, and something lacking in the Blakely women in the woods.     

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they 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. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery, by Barbara K. Lipska with Elaine McArdle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018

One day, Barbara Lipska, two time cancer survivor, doctor, and a researcher trying to discover physical markers of schizophrenia in the brain, puts a nice gloppy mass of henna on her hair, wraps it in plastic, and goes for a run. A very long run- we becomes disoriented and lost for quite a while. She returns with red dye running down her head and body, looking like a victim of a serious crime. Then she suddenly loses a quarter of her visual field. Despite being aware that this means something bad has happened in her brain, she thinks little of it. It’s only with urging from her family that she goes to the doctor. All she is worried about is getting ready for a conference where she’ll be presenting, and also getting some skiing time in. This is just the start of another battle with cancer, a return of her melanoma, this time in her brain.

As the cancer spreads and proliferates, her cognitive problems become worse. Radiation brings no permanent solution to her cancer. As the author runs out of treatment options, she enrolls in a clinical trial of immunotherapy. Her cognitive difficulties get worse over the course of the four dose regimen, but she keeps the worst of it to herself. She feels that a lot of her problem is inflammation in her brain due to the immunotherapy, not the cancer itself. She manages to hide her problems enough to get the fourth and final dose, something she knows she wouldn’t be allowed to have if they know how much inflammation she has. If she has too much inflammation, the brain swelling will kill her. If she doesn’t get the final dose, the melanoma will do the job… fortunately, she wins her gamble.

As the inflammation goes down and the tumors shrink away, she begins to remember all the strange things she went to while her brain was swollen and being pushed on by tumors. She realizes she has lived through a situation very like schizophrenia, proving that mental illness can be created by physical stresses on the brain.

It’s interesting to read; Dr. Lipska relates the various cognitive issues she had to the parts of the brain that were inflamed or squeezed by tumors. The prose is a little choppy but readable. You don’t often read accounts of people who “lost their minds” and then were able to get them back. Four stars. 

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

I received a free copy if this book from Net Galley in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My Father’s Wake: How the Irish Teach Us How to Live, Love, and Die, by Kevin Toolis. Da Capo Press, 2017

Kevin Toolis has experienced a lot of deaths. As a child, he caught TB and was put in an adult ward of men with various lung diseases- cancer, TB, black lung, a veritable buffet of death. He grew up in rural Ireland, where traditional death customs linger on. His brother died as a very young man- after receiving a bone marrow transplant from the author. As a journalist, he witnessed death in war zones. He has been virtually steeped in death. But it wasn’t until he went home for his father’s death that it all came together for him.

As his father lay dying, the whole extended family, friends, and neighbors started showing up, to stay through his death, wake, and funeral. They spoke with Sonny before he died, they washed and dressed his body after, and they kissed him in his coffin. Endless tea and sandwiches were consumed. Everyone, from old folks to young children, participated. Death, in this village, was an everyday occurrence, not something to be hidden away. Deaths occurred at home, not in a hospital. The body was not whisked away to a mortuary. This, he says, is the way it should be. We all die; why should it be hidden away? Why can’t we once again normalize it, like weddings and birthdays and all those other landmarks of life?

Alternating the course of his father’s death, wake, and funeral with essays on death in other circumstances, it’s not a feel good book. It’s a thoughtful look at a sad subject- there are sections that brought tears to my eyes. But it’s a book on a subject that our society needs to think about these days. Four stars.

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality, by Sarah McBride. Crown Archetype, 2018

Sarah McBride is the woman who was the first trans person to speak at a national political convention in 2016. She was only 26 at the time, but had lived a life packed with more events than many people get in a long life time.

Obsessed with politics since she was a child, she was student body president in college as well as being head of the student newspaper. She had worked on campaigns for local politicians already at this time. When she came out, she was lucky; her family was supportive (although shocked, and grieved the loss of their son for a while before realizing she was still the same person), the student body was supportive, and the politicians she knew were supportive. While it was by no means easy, she managed to avoid a lot of the problems some other trans people suffer- violence, loss of friends or family. And she is very aware of how lucky she is!

As soon as she was out of college, she began working in politics. There she met Andy Cray, a trans man who also worked in politics. They fell in love, and planned to make a life together. Then he was diagnosed with a fast moving cancer. After enduring grueling treatments, he died just four days after they were married.

McBride’s story is both inspiring and heart breaking. While this is her personal story, there is much of politics and trans issues in here, as well as basic LGBTQ rights. It’s a very informative book as to what LGBTQ people have to go through, how much they have gained legally and how far there is to go to achieve full equality. The book is well written- the author does a lot of writing professionally- and easy to read- the legal and political parts blend seamlessly with her personal life and do not bog the story down. I hope she has a long and happy life from here on out- one thing I’m sure of is that it will be a busy life!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Tapestry Garden: The Art of Weaving Plants and Place, by Ernie O’Byrne Marietta O’Byrne. Timber Press, 2018

In one of the best growing areas in the US, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the O’Byrnes have created a wonderful garden- or, perhaps it should be called “gardenS”.  On one and a half acres they have created a garden with several microclimates in it. They have both used existing microclimates and created some of their own- trees they planted when they first got there have matured and created shade gardens. No matter; they are not averse to moving plants when needed. Or, for that matter, moving tons of soil amendments and rocks.

It amazes me how they have done this garden; when they first arrived, they gardened for other people as a profession. Then they started a nursery. As someone who has done both those things, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can do those things AND find the energy for doing what they have done!

The books chapters are the different zones in their garden: kitchen garden, chaparral, shady border, rockeries, conifer & heather, the woods. There is also a chapter on the garden in autumn and winter, and the last chapter is on caring for the garden. There are wonderful pictures that make me long to see the garden. Except for the last chapter, it’s not a how-to gardening book, but more of a ‘this is what you can do’ book of inspirations; there is a section on how to deal with pretty much any situation your garden has. It was a wonderful book to read this winter to make me long for spring.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Silent Companions, by Laura Purcell. Penguin, 2017

In 1865, Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly pregnant, and newly widowed, arrives at the family home of her late husband. Here she will wait out her pregnancy with only her late husband’s cousin, Sarah, and a bare handful of servants. This setting, far out in the country, is a new thing for her. She grew up in her father’s match factory in London, working there as soon as she was able as a child, and, following the deaths of her parents, bringing up her brother.

The Bridge, as it is called, is immense, and not in good repair. There are not enough servants to keep it up, and the villagers are afraid to work there. Soon enough, Elsie starts to see why. Mysterious noises fill the night. The nursery is clean and lovely one day, and dusty and filled with falling apart curtains and linens the next. But it’s not until a trip up into the attic (which is locked one minute and open the next) that things really get weird. Elsie and Sarah find two volumes of diaries from 1635, written by Anne Bainbridge, and centering around a visit by Charles I and his queen. These form a different narrative strand. They also find the silent companions- wooden cut outs that are painted very realistically as people. These were a real thing in the 1600s, although mainly in the Netherlands. People would put them in places in the house to startle people or just for d├ęcor. These particular companions, though, aren’t quite, stationary decorations. These move- but only when you’re not looking. Like Weeping Angels, you don’t blink if they are after you! For some reason, inanimate objects that pursue seem scarier to me than having a living person after you. And one looks surprisingly like Elsie- even though she’s not a Bainbridge by blood.

The third narrative strand is taking place in 1866; Else is in a mental hospital, in solitary, mute, and horribly burned. Her doctor gives her a pencil, and asks her to tell him what happened. Slowly she unveils the tale of the horror that she and the others went through. And it really is horror. One is never sure if it is supernatural (it certainly seems to be) or if someone is gaslighting Elsie- and if that is true, *who* is doing the gaslighting? It seems like everyone in the house is seeing and hearing the unexplained events. In the end, things still aren’t clear. Someone gains immensely from the situation, but is that person the perpetrator, or simply a very lucky by stander?

I downloaded this book and decided to take a quick look at it… I ended up sitting down and reading the whole thing over the day and evening. I could not wait to see what would happen next. I liked Elsie and found her a very intriguing character; although not so nice things about her turn up over the course of the book, she had reason for doing the bad things she did. Sarah surprised me. Elsie’s brother is an entitled twerp. I was sympathetic to Anne; she was the start of the terror but did it innocently. I was genuinely creeped out by this story, and it takes a lot to do that. I’m looking forward to more books by the author! Five stars.

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

I received this book free from Net Galley in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.