Monthly Archives: May 2015

What Is a Proper Romance?

BlackmooreAt Book Expo America last May, I stopped at the Shadow Mountain booth, where the reps quickly won my award for Friendliest Publisher Reps at BEA. Although I had originally been drawn in by the posters of the tween fantasy books that I had already purchased for our library system, the young woman at the booth also presented the publisher’s other lines, including one that she called “A Proper Romance.”

I have to tell you the truth: When a book is called a romance, I don’t expect much in the way of lyrical writing. Purple prose, maybe, but not great wordsmithing. Throw in the expectation that this LDS publishing house is putting out whatever is the Mormon equivalent of inspirational romances, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I told the rep she could give me whichever one was her favorite, and she handed me Blackmoore, by Julianne Donaldson. Despite the lovely cover, I left it in the teetering to-be-read pile until just recently.

Now, what do they mean by “A Proper Romance”? I’ve had a year to ponder this question. Do they mean that it’s innocuous enough to share with your grandmother without blushing? If so, will it be thoroughly boring or just not involve silken handcuffs? On the other hand, “proper” can mean perfectly executed, as in selecting fresh tea leaves, bringing the water to a boil, and brewing for just the right amount of time to make a “proper cup of tea.” Since I’ve read two titles in this series now, I imagine that Shadow Mountain intends for it to mean both innocent and beautifully done—and they are not boring.

Blackmoore was a Regency-type novel about a young lady named Kate Worthington who had declared that she would never marry, but would remain a spinster and follow her beloved aunt to India, where they would live as independent women. Her parents believed that Kate was being ridiculous, as making a good match was the only option for a respectable young lady. Before leaving the country, though, Kate had one wish: to visit her dear friend’s estate called Blackmoore, located on the coast, with the pounding sea on one side and the lonely moors on the other. Her dear friend’s name is Henry, and his mother is not fond of Kate and is furious that she showed up just when a lovely young heiress is visiting Blackmoore in expectation of Henry’s proposal. Shades of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters aplenty, but delightfully so. The attraction and tension in the novel were fairly sizzling.

Heart RevealedSince Blackmoore was better than I expected, I turned to the latest of the Proper Romance series, A Heart Revealed, by Josi S. Kilpack. Another Regency-type tale, this one had also garnered starred reviews. Never has a heroine been less engaging than Amber Sterlington, the most admired debutante of the London season. Although stunningly beautiful, she has pleased her calculating mother by showing that she can rank her many suitors by wealth, title, and even the nearness of their fathers’ deaths, and she means to take her place in society by choosing the man who would be most advantageous to her future plans. She has forced her younger sister to accompany her to various functions, rather than letting her share the season, as if she were Kate’s maiden aunt. In the meantime, Thomas Richards has left his father’s estate in Yorkshire for the season and traveled to London in order to find a wife. He despises city life and can’t wait to get back to his farm until the day he sees Amber at a dance and falls head over heels. However, Thomas is the third son of a country lord, and Amber humiliates him in public when he asks her to dance.

This novel is less of a romance and more a coming-of-age novel for Amber. The reader will be incapable of withholding sympathy for the terrible situation in which Amber suddenly finds herself, and most of the novel concerns the tremendous growth that she experiences through suffering and changed circumstances. Everything she has ever known will be challenged, and she will become a better person, even against her own will. The story was very absorbing, and the character development was astounding.

In between the informative nonfiction and the Important Novels that literary people must read, every woman needs a little romance now and then. These lovely books fit the bill perfectly. Regency stories with a little feminist stretching to bring our heroines up to date, heroes who are both hunky and virtuous, and stories that end just as they should. You can share them with your grandmother, your daughter, or your friends. A very Proper Romance, indeed.

Disclaimer: I read a personal copy of Blackmoore, given to me by the publisher representative, and a library copy of A Heart Revealed. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin FischerLast weekend, David and I traveled to South Carolina to see our two moms on Mother’s Day weekend. We were also happy to see other family members, including my sister and her crew. My fourteen-year-old nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he is fascinated by meteorology and amazingly gifted in music, reading has never held much interest for him. This visit, though, John was eager to share a book with me, and my sister told me that it was the first full-length book he had ever read all the way through. Go, Dog, Go! he had done, but never a complete novel. Could there possibly be a greater commendation for a book than that? I had to read it immediately.

Colin is a teenaged boy with Asperger’s leading a fairly stereotypical Aspie life: socially isolated, good at math, keeping his food separated on his plate. He is sometimes bullied, but since he doesn’t give the bullies the satisfaction of fear and panic, he doesn’t get hurt badly. In the beginning of freshman year, a bully named Wayne dunks Colin’s head in the toilet, but later in the novel, Colin overreacts to being touched and breaks another bully’s nose. So he is not helpless, just clueless. He carries around a cheat sheet of various facial expressions, labeled with the appropriate emotion being expressed, and he writes down all of his observations in his well-worn notebook, which goes with him everywhere. His friend, Melissa, has— shall we say— matured over the summer, the evidence of which Colin points out to her in graphic terms that would earn most boys a slap. Melissa understands him, though, and leaves poor Colin to figure out why his feelings toward her have taken a very confusing turn.

One ordinary lunchtime, while one of the popular girls is passing out birthday cake in the school cafeteria, a shot rings out, and after all of the screaming and scrambling for cover settles down, Colin sees a gun covered with frosting lying on the floor. Wayne, the school bully, is immediately suspended, but Colin is convinced that Wayne is not the shooter. Emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Colin uses his powers of observation and deduction to try to find the real villain before it is too late for Wayne.

Written in a combination of third-person narrative, journal entries, and footnotes, this novel reveals the inner workings of an Aspie mind with compassion and straight-up realism. There is some strong language, and an understanding of sex, though nothing happens on the page. Colin has great parents, and he loves them, but he sees them with the clarity with which one adult would see another, unrelated adult. His brother, however, is probably the biggest bully in Colin’s life, despite his parents’ efforts, and it is difficult to imagine the pain of living with someone so aggressively hateful every day. Colin deals with all of this rationally, and is sincere in trying to follow all of the rules he has learned and to adjust his communication style in order to interact with the neurotypical humans around him. His desire for justice and truth allow Colin to defend even the individuals who have given him nothing but cruelty, and that purity of purpose leads to a happier outcome than most of us would expect.

Obviously, this is a terrific book for any tween or teen who needs a hero on the spectrum, but many other kids are also facing each day as another encounter with a bully. Colin Fischer will give them courage. On the other hand, aggressive kids could learn compassion in these pages, and everybody loves a good mystery. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read the first 125 pages of this book in my nephew’s copy, and then read the remainder in a library copy. Opinions expressed are solely my own, perhaps influenced by my John’s enthusiasm, but do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Of Drugs and Dust: Conclusions of a Sort

Llama Goiter

It seems that half the women I know are on thyroid medication. If we weren’t, our necks would swell up like this.

My allergist had said that generic levothyroxine had filler ingredients that could cause hives and swelling—officially known as urticaria and angioedema. Since I had already been off the antihistamine for five days, I decided to give it a try and switch back to name-brand Synthroid, even though it was much more expensive. Amazingly, my symptoms improved a lot within two days. Imagine! The pill is so tiny to begin with, and the active ingredients—the reason I take the pill—are fine. It’s just the filler in the pill that can cause so much upset to my system. If something that tiny and seemingly insignificant can do that, what do the foods we eat do to us, since we eat them in much larger quantities?  So much to think about here.

However, I’m still not out of the woods. For one thing, the new blood pressure medication raised my blood sugar, so we had to experiment with a third one! The hives still show up now and then, but are not nearly as overwhelming. In the week before the allergy tests, when I was not able to take any medication, I woke up at 3:00 one morning and just cried from the itching. I dabbed on so much cider vinegar I smelled like a pickle. (It actually does help a bit.)  I always felt as if I’d been scrubbed all over with sandpaper. However, I have only had to take an antihistamine one day since I went off the levothyroxine. We’ve installed anti-dust mite air filters in our vents and washed all of our bedding, comforters, afghans, and so on. We’ve purchased, washed, and zipped on a “dust mite-proof mattress encasement.” Worst of all, I have had to remove my stack of to-be-read books from my bedroom! They are now stacked in the craft room. We have to keep our house very cool and dry to vanquish the dust mites, so we’ll go broke running the air conditioning this summer. I suppose Blue Cross doesn’t cover power bills, either. They are so stingy! I am left mind-boggled that such tiny little things as dust mites and filler ingredients in pills can cause so much havoc in a human life!

After all the doctors, all the work, and all the money spent on drugs and bedding, I think my sister had the best diagnosis of all. When you’re close to your family, they know everything about you, and I rarely take a breath without describing it in detail to Karen. First of all, she followed my accounts of all of my medical visits closely, and she got so upset by my descriptions of dust mites that she went overboard while cleaning her bedroom closet and she decided to rip up all of the carpeting and padding right then and there. No, she does not have hardwood underneath. Just sub-flooring. She is serious.

Karen was also considering everything the doctors said, and she reminded me that when I had an ulcer last fall, I had to take such massive doses of multiple antibiotics for so long that I probably stripped my immune system, and things that would normally not affect me so much are now major problems. That makes a lot of sense. I have never had any problems with allergies before, but now everything makes me sick! Even though I eat yogurt every day and took a 30-day course of probiotics, it has not been enough. So, like a good librarian, I have started to read about rebuilding my immune system.

You know what this means for you, Dear Reader. Soon, I will be bringing you reviews of all the nonfiction I’ve been reading about regaining a strong immune system, feeding the huge populations residing in your guts, and my timid first encounters with kimchi. This could be a long road for me, and although life is much more bearable now than it was a couple of months ago, I won’t stop until there are no hives at all in the morning!

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More Drugs and Dust, Part 2

At this point, my symptoms got even more complicated, because I didn’t know if they were related to my illness or the drugs that my doctors were prescribing.

EKG

My new blood pressure medicine worked by reducing my heart rate—to 46. Forty-six! I was afraid that my heart would forget what it was supposed to do from one beat to the next! I looked up “low heart rate,” and it said that sometimes people in very good shape have low heart rates. I considered that for half a second and admitted, “Nah. Probably not.” I called my doctor, and she told me to cut it in half. That helped a lot. In the meantime, the itching from the hives was becoming unbearable and the swelling continued. Of course, I was going through the usual allergy questions: laundry detergent? Soap? New foods? Nothing seemed different. The next time I showed up at my doctor’s office, she sent me to an allergist. Since I had had another bout of laryngitis caused by throat swelling, she got me into his office that same day.

As usual, I got lost in downtown Raleigh. Arriving at the allergists’ office completely stressed out, I found a practice full of people who see patients reacting to mysterious and sometimes invisible substances in all kinds of ways all day long. No big deal. To me, it was a very big deal. In the past, I’d known that I was allergic to cats and latex. Solution: Do not touch cats or latex. Boom. Done. Now, I didn’t know what was going on. My preternaturally calm doctor and nurse decided to send me out to a lab for blood work, and then see me again in three weeks for a follow-up. They couldn’t do allergy tests that day, since I had had Benadryl (newly purchased!) the night before, but he was going to put me on a daily dose of a prescription antihistamine that would allow me to work. I launched into probably the most ridiculously condescending speech of my life (and there have been a few), saying that my goal was not to add another prescription medication to my daily routine, but rather to identify the problem and to eliminate it. The doctor was admirably restrained, and said that that was his goal, too, but that sometimes that was not possible, and it was certainly not going to be possible today. I was most unhappy. I was even more unhappy when, after more than two weeks, the five vials of blood I donated that day turned up nothing but a dust mite allergy.

Dust Mite

These critters are all over your house, your car, your office– you name it.

Three weeks after that appointment, I was scheduled for allergy tests. I had to go off my now-beloved antihistamine for five days before the appointment. Within three days, I went from symptom-free to completely symptomatic. Even though we had bought a new mattress, box spring, and pillows, there had been no change in the hives, which mostly started in the wee hours of the morning. Fifty-five allergy tests later, I could see that I was a little bit allergic to cats and extremely allergic to dust mites. Talk about welts! The best thing that happened in that visit is that my husband accompanied me, so he got to hear three different professionals say, “You should never dust or vacuum by yourself.” One went so far as to say to David, “Maybe you could do that?” I asked the doctor if he thought I could get Blue Cross to cover a maid, and he replied, “I can’t even get them to cover Zyrtec.” He admitted that he did not think that dust mites could be the complete answer, and neither did I. He noted that I had recently switched from name-brand Synthroid—which I had taken for fifteen years— to the generic levothyroxine, and said that the inactive ingredients in the generic sometimes caused these symptoms. If that was the case, I would be only the third patient he had ever treated with that allergy.

Would I be that rare patient?

Stay tuned….

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Of Drugs and Dust, Part 1

One bulging cheek

Some days, I looked kind of like this guy, only not as cute.

One morning in January, I was talking to a colleague when I realized that I was biting on my lower lip as I spoke. A trip to the ladies’ room mirror showed me that my lip was swelling up. It went away after a few hours, but on the way home that evening, I stopped at a grocery store, and walking into the store, I was concerned that when I coughed, it came out as a squeak. Checking out, I could not answer the clerk, so I drove to urgent care a couple of blocks away. The doctor there diagnosed me with the laryngitis virus that was going around then, and opined that the swelling lip was unrelated. I believed him, since I had several co-workers who had had that very virus.

It was not a virus.

A couple of weeks later, I had a regularly-scheduled checkup with my primary care physician, and I told her about the urgent care visit, and said that the facial swelling had continued, now accompanied by hives, mostly in the morning. She asked about stress in my life, and I said, “Let me see. We’re financially stressed, my son moved out in December after a prolonged closing, we’re in the midst of rearranging our house since his move, my mom fell and broke her hip on Thanksgiving and is now in rehab…” and on and on. So, yeah, my life was a big ball of stress. She put it down to that, and I believed her, since hives are a typical sign of stress.

It was not stress.

A couple of weeks after that, I was still having hives and facial swelling, and had even had to take days off from work because my face was so disfigured many times when I woke up in the morning. A lot of my stress factors had been relieved, but my symptoms hadn’t gone away. I came home early one day because of a winter storm, and as ice fell outside, my throat started to swell up. I was terrified, since if I could not breathe, I didn’t think an ambulance could get to me on the ice-slicked roads. I searched for Benadryl in our bathroom closet and found that our bottle was two years past the date. I took it anyway, and in a couple of hours, the swelling went down. I went to my doctor the next day and she immediately took me off my blood pressure medication, Lisinopril, as my symptoms are a typical allergic reaction to that drug, even though I’d been on it for ten years. When I told this to a group of people the following week, I didn’t even have to name the drug. Everyone in the room said, “Oh, I’ll bet it was Lisinopril.” I was so relieved to have found an answer.

But it was not Lisinopril.

To be continued…

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