Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making Rounds with Oscar

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary
By David Dosa, M.D.
Published by Hyperion
Copyright 2010

Dr. Dosa is a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medicine School of Brown University. Several of his patients reside at Steere House, a facility serving the elderly who need extra nursing care. Steere House also serves as residence for several cat. One particular cat, Oscar, lives on the third floor where those who need the most care due to dementia or need end-of-life hospice care reside.

Dr. Dosa begins hearing stories of how Oscar has a gift for identifying those who are nearing death. Being a scientific-minded sort, the good doctor scoffs at first. But as time goes by he becomes curious and begins to interview those families who have had a Steere House resident who was on the receiving end of Oscar’s peculiar services. The book revolves around Dr. Dosa’s supposed skepticism and these interviews.

Having lived with cats for some 40 years now and also having had a mother who had Alzheimer’s disease, I was eager to read this book. However, I was rather disappointed. Dr. Dosa’s skepticism seemed a rather disingenuous device to base the book around. After all, therapy dogs have been around for a long time now, as have cancer-sniffing dogs and those who sense oncoming epileptic and diabetic seizures. We have scientific evidence that the proximity of a pet can lower blood pressure and aid the release of relaxing endorphins. Why could there not be a cat who senses the advent of death?

But then, I have lived with cats and have benefitted from their presence in my life. Dr. Dosa had not. I suppose I should cut him some slack.

I can just see Oscar lifting a hind leg to do his laundry and thinking, “What’s the big deal?”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring is Sprung...

...the grass is riz. I wonder where the birdies iz.

Well, the birdies are daily emptying our feeder and attacking the suet with great fervor. We're particularly fond of a pair of Downy Woodpeckers and a pair of Red-Headed Woodpeckers that hang around the suet like it was the office water-cooler. We've also got Chickadees, Sparrows, Starlings, Bluejays, Mourning Doves and darling little Wrens.

Archie - whose feisty little butt that is in the picture - is in doggy Nirvana with birds, chipmunks and squirrels to chase and neighborhood dogs to visit through the fence. He's a lightning streak running from one place to another in the yard. So much to do and see, so little time. Brandy tries to keep up, poor baby, but gives up after a bit in disgusted resignation. And Dusty just snorts, does his patrol around the perimeter (his job, you know, is to keep the world safe from squirrels) then sits like a sentry near the patio, nose ever on the job sniffing the air for any sign of significant intruders (i.e., the aformentioned squirrels - there's one particularly annoying chubby fellow with white ears who totally delights in tantalizing the dogs with tail twitches and stare-downs and has been Dusty's chief nemesis for the last couple years).

As for me, I sit at my computer sending out resumes on these fine spring days. Not fun. Very few Administrative Assistant positions available in the area right now. No big surprise there, but aggravating none-the-less. However, I have been reading some wonderful books! I will be posting reviews of a few within the next few days.

Enjoy these greenly blissful days full of expectations and promises!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grease Town

Grease Town

By Ann Towell

Published by Tundra Books

Copyright 2010

Juvenile Historical Fiction

Titus Sullivan is a twelve year old boy who stows away on his older brother’s wagon to escape life under the thumbs of his domineering Aunt Sophie. The two siblings arrive in Oil Springs, Ontario, in 1863, to live with their Uncle Amos and seek their fortune in black gold. Titus befriends Moses, the son of freed slaves, on the cusp of a racial riot that changes their lives forever.

I really liked Titus. He’s a plucky sort with a good heart and strong sense of justice. All of Towell’s characters are well drawn and multi-dimensional. The town of Oil Springs and its inhabitants comes alive in all its smelly, oily, rambunctiousness.

I was eagerly reading along until the last third of the book when Titus picked a fist fight with Mercy and then later I just couldn’t quite believe Titus’ silence after the riot. There seemed no justification or repercussions for the fist fight. It left me really puzzled. And the silence seemed more a plot manipulation so that Titus would not have to testify.

But the book does give insight into a little known historical event through the eyes of a charming and likable character. I would recommend it to my young friends.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bleeding Heart Square

It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. The holiday season bustle kept me busy and very soon I will be in the unenviable position, along with millions of other folks, of being unemployed. And that means without benefits and, well, at my age that’s a huge anxiety producer.

My escape - and my blessed joy - is reading. Reading keeps me sane. Truly. And these wonderful, exciting authors have brought balance to this auldanxiousannie.

I have four book reviews here for your perusal. I’ve been trying to come up with a linking theme for them all, but they are disparate not only in theme but place in time. The first is a mystery with a missing woman and a burgeoning fascist party complicating the life of a young upper-class woman separated from her beastly husband that takes place in 1930’s England, the second a rollicking, swashbuckling romance in Florida of the early 1800’s, the third a How-To for finding balance in our current global consciousness, and the fourth is the last in a beloved series about a wilderness family in upstate New York of the 1820s-30s.


Bleeding Heart Square
by Andrew Taylor
Published by Hyperion

Copyright 2009

“It’s 1934, and the decaying London cul-de-sac of Bleeding Heart Square is an unlikely place of refuge for aristocratic Lydia Langstone. But as she flees her abusive marriage, there is only one person she can turn to... Legend has it that the devil once danced in the square - but is there now a new and sinister presence lurking in its shadows?”
(from the back cover)

Perhaps it is just me, but does anyone else always envision the 1930s in black and white? I have a very difficult time adding color to that era in my mind. My parents were young people at that time and the pictures I have of them are in black and white. Films from that era that I watched and loved as a child (and now - I recently caught Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in “Only Angels Have Wings” on TMC) were in black and white. Black/White photos of the WPA at work during the Great Depression and Okies barely surviving in their tent villages. No color, and the images seem even more intense for the lack of it.

There’s a line in Taylor’s Bleeding Heart Square that perhaps gives us an explanation for this intense lack of color: “He had tried to write a description of her one evening but was unable to get much beyond a list of cliches.” Indeed. There are times when color becomes very limiting and shades of gray are the only way we have to define a thing. Taylor very accurately draws Lydia Langstone’s reserved personality and her cool approach to moving from a life of garish entitlement to living in those shades of gray.

I was fascinated and drawn in by this mystery of the waning of class distinctions, murder definitely most foul, rising fascism in the political miasma of 1930s Britain, and nascent love over kippers and a boiled egg at a neighborhood tea shop.

Miss Penhow’s letters and the unattributed comments regarding same kept the story going when, at times, I felt bogged down in what seemed like too many red herrings and coincidental characters thrown at me. However, all was satisfactorily tied up at the ending.

Definitely recommended to mystery and historical fiction lovers.

The Bride and the Buccaneer

The Bride and the Buccaneer
by Darlene Marshall
Published by Amber Quill Press

Copyright 2009

I do love a Darlene Marshall romance! They are the perfect company for a blustery winter afternoon with a throw wrapped around my legs and a cup of Orange Spice tea at hand. Who could resist Florida in the 1820s, sunshiny, bug-blighted and inhabited by a ballsy, young British woman who inherited an eidetic memory and a treasure map, and a handsome young privateer doggedly after the same treasure? Oh, yes.

Marshall once again gives us well-drawn characters, snappy dialogue and a few hot and heavy sex scenes to warm a cold afternoon. Her characters are terriers at feint and parry with words. Zap! Zap! Such fun!

The plot of The Bride and the Buccaneer is somewhat less bright and involving as Marshall’s previous novels, but her characters and dialogue are so intriguing that I didn’t really notice until I was finished with the book.

Most certainly recommended for an afternoon of sweet diversion.

How to Thrive in Changing Times

How to Thrive in Changing Times
by Sandra Ingerman
Published by Red Wheel/Weiser

Copyright 2010

The subtitle for this book is: Simple tools to create true health, wealth, peace, and joy for yourself and the earth. Quite an undertaking in such a small book, you say? I agree, however, it’s the “simple tools” part that should be stressed and which Ingerman masters in this slight, but packed, little manual of self-help.

I became familiar with Ingerman’s work through her book Soul Retrieval: Mending Your Fragmented Self quite a few years ago when I was going through my own “dark night of the soul.” Her approach to the shamanic path is a focused one which helps to simplify what others can make a real muddle. She does indeed, with both books, provide simple tools to move forward when confusion, depression and old perceptions provide obstacles to any movement at all.

Those who have done the work for many years can often use a refresher on getting back to the simplicity offered in How to Thrive. Ingerman offers clear and concise concepts and exercises to bring about balance in what we often perceive as a very off-balance world.

There is nothing new and startling in these concepts, they are as old as the earth itself. It is Ingerman’s presentation that clears away the detritus of skewed perception to open eyes to the simplicity of these concepts.

In the stillness and the silence, the space is created to come upon something totally new. p. 165

That is so simple. We shake our heads, yes, but tell ourselves how difficult it is to find stillness and silence in our daily hustle-bustle lives! Ingerman offers the tools to do so with simple exercises and practices, such as Starting the Day in Gratitude or Replacing Sabotaging Thoughts with Hopeful Ones. Yes, those sound deceptively simple (and goody-goody?). But these are directions on how to change our perceptions and that is NOT a simple thing for us change-hating human beings to do!

But Ingerman challenges us to BE part of the change that so popularly is said to be needed in our world today. And the only way to be part of that change is to change our own individual perceptions.

It is who we become that changes the world, not what we do. p. 93

That, in particular, is a concept that likely is unfamiliar to many and goes against the grain. We often want to do without looking at our intent behind the doing. Does it really matter? Who says? This is probably one of the biggest incongruities of service-oriented organizations. How do we make service and our perceptions congruent?

This little book could bring about much discussion and discovery for those looking for a way to come to that congruency.

The Endless Forest

The Endless Forest
by Sara Donati
Published by Delacorte Press

Copyright 2010

I have been an unabashed fan of Elizabeth Middleton Bonner’s and Nathaniel Bonner’s family saga since first opening Into the Wilderness. The Endless Forest is Sara Donati’s (aka Rosina Lippi) farewell to the indomitable Bonner family. Yes, I wept. Difficult not to weep over the passing of old friends, even if they are fictional.

The book starts with a monologue directed toward the reader from Curiosity Freeman, a manumitted slave and resident of Paradise, the New York village which is home to the Bonners. Curiosity is a family friend and healer/midwife under whose wing most of the Bonners flourish along with Curiosity’s own family and the rest of the village. This monologue of Curiosity’s and a story she later tells about Elizabeth’s mother and the early days of the village itself frames the continuing stories of those with whom we have become close to through Donati’s/Lippi’s four other books.

I refer to the indomitability of the Bonner family - they are, in fact, almost too perfect throughout the books. If it weren’t that they were all so terribly stubborn (Something I share in abundance! *cough*) I think I’d have tossed the first book against the wall and never made it to the last. And Curiosity- well, her homey wisdom can be downright annoying at times. It was, therefore, a relief to find in her revelatory storytelling about Elizabeth’s mother and true father that she was less than perfect. Well, a little less. Curiosity is whole-heartedly forgiven, while Jemima, the family’s nemesis, was certainly not forgiven despite the fact that Jemima had little chance of becoming more than what she became. Curiosity definitely had a choice of what to do and chose a judgment that became a burden for her and defined the lives of Elizabeth and many others. Curiosity was the manumitted slave, but Jemima never managed to free herself from her blighted past.

The Endless Forest was a satisfying ending to this much-loved series. The epilogue of newspaper articles, including obituaries, about the extended Bonner family and other Paradise residents was a treat that we don’t often get with a series such as this.

Nicely done.