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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14)
Terry Pratchett
Progress: 10/374 pages
M.R. Carey
Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Progress: 172/311 pages

Lords and Ladies - progress 10/374 pg

Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14) - Terry Pratchett

"This was octarine grass country. Good growing country, especially for corn. And here was a field of it, waving gently between the hedges. Not a big field. Not a remarkable one, really. I was just a field with corn in it, except of course during the winter, when there were just pigeons and crows in it."


I'm not sure why I find Pratchett's writing so funny. But I do, and this book is off to a good start. 

Harvest Home ★★★★☆

Harvest Home - Thomas Tryon

Some books have such compelling action that I get completely sucked in, reading to find out what’s next, what’s going to happen on that next page. This is not that kind of book. Instead, it is a slow burning, wonderfully atmospheric story that sucked me into the mysterious events and curious characters, so that I kept reading because I wanted to know more, to mine the hints and subtleties to find out *why* people were doing and saying and events and stories were not matching up. I am not a fast reader, and with baseball games having started, I’m slower than ever, which is why it’s significant that I finished a 400 page hardcover in only four days. And that’s literally all I can think of to say without spoiling the whole plot.


This novel is not without its problems. It is certainly dated, but I wouldn’t say that it hasn’t aged well. More that it is an excellent snapshot of the cultural issues and fascinations of early 1970’s mainstream America. Although I have never studied the history of feminism, I am willing to bet that a modern feminist scholar would find a lot to dissect here.


One last thought. I first read this book when I was not quite a preteen, because it was all the rage at the time and my parents never noticed when I snuck their adult fiction off the shelf after they were done with it. They never would have let me read the novel equivalent of an R rated movie. So I didn’t have the maturity or the base knowledge to understand a lot of it (no internet in the 70’s and children were much more naïve then), and I’d forgotten most of the plot, so in some ways I was coming to this book unspoiled. And I’m glad of it. This book had been left on my parents’ bookshelves for 40 years, until I found it mixed into a box of my grandmother’s books, when my mother chose to give them to me as keepsakes rather than throwing them out. I was delighted to find it, and now I’m even more delighted after having reread it as an adult.


Previous Updates:

Pg 50: http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1540577/harvest-home-progress-50-401-pg

Harvest Home - progress 50/401 pg

Harvest Home - Thomas Tryon

"She pointed upward. 'See that blue sky now, that's God's sky. And up there in that vasty blue is God. But see how far away He is. See how far the sky. And look here, at the earth, see how close, how abiding and faithful it is. See this little valley of ours, see the bountiful harvest we're to have. God's fine, but it's old Mother Earth that's the friend to man.'"



108 Days ★★★★☆

108 Days - Lisa Lindell

“I am appalled. The doctors don’t actually enter the room to examine the patient? They read the chart, full of lies and omissions, and look through the window. Well they can see a nice IV pole when they look in the window. I guess none of the dozens of nurses we’ve told about his face bothered to note in his chart, ‘Wife concerned about disappearing, bleeding face.’ This also explains his eyes. The doctors never bothered to look at the patient, and none of those nurses bothered to write, ‘Wife concerned about melting eyeballs.’"


While this book was not a pleasure to read, there was value in doing so, as a health care professional. It provides insight from the family’s point of view into how hospital care is provided, communicated, and coordinated. There is also value in this first-hand account of how dysfunctional family relationships can adversely impact the providers’ ability to communicate and coordinate care. Who should the health care providers talk to? Who can make medical decisions? Wife, mother, father, brother, sister, cousin? Girlfriend? Partner? Without a medical power of attorney, this became a vicious power struggle between family members that medical and hospital staff had to navigate.


Since the events of this book in 2003, the acceptance of “patient centered care” as an essential component of health care quality has grown tremendously, and many of the attitudes and barriers that the author encountered are actively addressed, but I have no doubt that patients and families still experience them. We should do better. We must do better.


This story also illustrates how impossible it can become to simply manage day-to-day responsibilities when a medical crisis strikes, and what a blessing small kindnesses can be. The author was moved to tears by these practical but unglamorous offers, to mow her lawn, to clean her pool, to babysit her children, a bag of groceries, a paid long-term parking pass for the visitors’ parking lot.


I’ll finish with these wise words from the author: “I probably don’t need to state the obvious, but at the very least, everyone needs to have a medical power of attorney. Something like this could happen to you at any time. As Americans, we think we have basic rights and authority. When my husband became incapacitated, so did our rights and so did my authority to protect him.”


Previous Updates:


23/104: http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1538423/108-days-progress-23-304-pg

The Grand Sophy ★★★☆☆

The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer

I have to agree with pretty much all the male characters in this story: Sophie is a terrifying woman. Well-intentioned, but a sly and manipulative busybody. A number of her schemes depend on luck, especially her dangerous games with horses. Still, it’s a fun story, and I really enjoyed everyone getting their hearts’ desire in the end, even people who don’t deserve it.


I subtracted a star for the disgustingly bigoted portrayal of the Jewish moneylender. I try to judge books with respect to the social attitudes of the time in which they were written, but this was written as a historical romance in 1950, not 1590.

The Theory of Opposites ★☆☆☆☆

The Theory of Opposites - Allison Winn Scotch

This was one of those rare books that, although I didn’t particularly hate anything about it, I just could not force myself to continue. I could not connect with any of the characters in any way, and none of them were interesting, except one fringe character, a 13 year old boy who exploits his father’s death in the 9/11 attack with a sort of cynical pragmatism. Even the plot was uninteresting, because who cares about developments in relationships between boring characters?


DNF at 40%. Audiobook, purchased via Audible, based on a recommendation from Books on the Nightstand, who seem to be hit and miss for me. Christina Traister does try to infuse some liveliness in the characters.

108 Days - progress 23/304 pg

108 Days - Lisa Lindell

I bought this self-published book at a health care conference after hearing the author speak on her personal experience with medical errors the difficulties of navigating the system when your loved one is hospitalized. 


I've barely gotten started, but her story and experiences are interesting, in spite of the poorly edited, almost stream of consciousness writing style. It's written sort of like diary entries, as a day-by-day recounting of events. The poor woman's extended family is almost more of a burden to her than the hospital, so far, but probably because she doesn't yet realize that the disconnected and poorly coordinated information she's getting is actually a reflection of the care her husband is receiving. 


As a nurse, I remember seeing some family members like "Bertha", who seem to be more intent on creating a spectacle centered around themselves with their theatrical prayer sessions at the patient's bedside than contributing comfort and care to the patient and their more immediate family. 

The Theory of Opposites - progress 25%

The Theory of Opposites - Allison Winn Scotch

I'm really having trouble working up any kind of give a shit about any of these characters. 

Before I Fall ★★★★☆

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver, Sarah  Drew

I should have really disliked this book, because (1) it’s YA, which usually wallows in feelings I left behind decades ago, and (2) it’s mostly written in first-person-present-tense, which I usually hate with the heat of a thousand fiery suns. I was convinced to give it a try by two excellent reviews from people I trust, and I decided to go with audio as the FPPT style is usually less obnoxious when read aloud.


And… I truly enjoyed it. It’s well-written, and the FPPT style actually fits with the story, and I could get over the adolescent drama, because getting over it is really what this book is about. I won’t go into plot details, because that’s been done elsewhere by more skilled reviewers, but I will mention the few flaws that made this a 4 star read for me. The mawkish romance toward the end felt like an obligatory addition to the plot, because apparently, all YA must include a love story and a teen girl’s life is incomplete without it. And the love interest was a male version of the manic pixie dream girl, and the only truly unrealistic character in the book.


A word of caution: As the book starts out, the main character is a truly unpleasant person, and I felt crazy impatient with her and her friends. I might have DNF’d if I hadn’t known that this was the point of the story. I’m glad I stuck with it.


Audiobook, via Audible. Sarah Drew provides an excellent performance.

Sorry about the spam!

Sorry for spamming your dashboards with so many reviews at once, but I'm finally done catching up on posting all the reviews I did while I was taking my BL break. Now I just have about 5 books that I've finished that I haven't written reviews for at all, and hopefully I'll get that done over the weekend. 


Now that BL seems to have addressed its problems and they are communicating regularly again, I'm ready to give it another chance. Fingers crossed!

Call in the Night ★★☆☆☆

Call in the Night - Susan Howatch

A sensible Manhattan schoolteacher is drawn overseas by a panicked call from her sister. On arrival, the sister seems to have vanished, and our heroine tries to unravel the mystery, although she takes plenty of time to sightsee around Paris and enjoy plenty of cocktails and dinners with the charming stranger that had last been in her sister’s company. The tension ratchets up when she discovers that everyone is lying to her, and she realizes that she has fallen so deeply in love with the charming stranger over the course of 3 days that she doesn’t even consider 

calling the police when she literally digs up the body of his ex-fiance out of his garden

(show spoiler)

.   It’s not badly written, and as stupid as the insta-love is and as puzzling as all the characters’ motivations are, I was sort of enjoying it until the last couple of chapters, in which the mystery is revealed much like a Scooby Doo cartoon, where everyone shows up and offers long monologues explaining everything. Then everybody lives happily ever after, except the murdered and the murderer.


Read for the 2017 Romance Bingo. I had intended to use this for the Gothic Romance square, because the author is a writer of gothics and the cover art (I own the version below) certainly looked gothic, but this story was missing most of the key elements of gothic literature. The applicable squares are:
Insta-love: The heroine and her mysterious stranger are madly in love within 3 days, despite the concern of missing sisters and dead bodies turning up
Love is Murder: crimes of passion galore


Heroes Are My Weakness ★★★☆☆

Heroes Are My Weakness[HEROES ARE MY WEAKNESS 11D][UNABRIDGED][Compact Disc] - SusanElizabethPhillips

A really cute story about a quirky ventriloquist whose puppets provide ongoing commentary to everything she does, but are at least mercifully silent during sex. It’s got a brooding, complicated hero, a couple of easily guessable mysteries, and a Happily Ever After, which I don’t consider a spoiler since this is a conventional romance.

I mean really, the love interest is never a sociopathic murderer in these kinds of books, and you can certainly never trust an aging woman who dresses garishly and has a heavy hand with the makeup.

(show spoiler)


What dragged this down from 4 stars to 3 stars was the eye-rollingly awful use of pop psychology, where characters who suffer extreme psychological trauma 

are instantly cured when they can finally be coerced into talking about it.

(show spoiler)

And our quirky heroine knowing full well that only a trained psychologist should be attempting therapy, but since there isn’t one around, well, the couple of human psychology classes she took in drama school will do. No consideration that she might do more harm than good. Also, this story should have wrapped up a few chapters earlier, but it gets unnecessarily dragged out because our two lovers are incapable of having an adult conversation about their feelings for one another.


Audiobook, borrowed from my library via Overdrive, with an excellent performance by Erin Bennett.


Read for the 2017 Romance Bingo. It could fit any of these squares:

Headless woman: beheaded by the cover artist

Guy/Girl Next Door: they spent a summer living in the same house as stepsiblings, and are neighbors in the current timeline

Rogue: The MC believes her love interest is

a sociopath who played cruel tricks on her and has even attempted murder

(show spoiler)

Second Chances: Also third and fourth chances

The Call of the Canyon ★★☆☆☆

The Call of the Canyon - Zane Grey

The best parts of this book are the beautifully detailed descriptions of the landscape and the characters’ interactions with it. The story itself is problematic. Contrary to the author’s intent, I really liked Carley through most of the story. Although she was a little self-absorbed, she was spunky and independent and determined. When she arrived out West, she stubbornly pushed herself to cope with the physical hardships she was unused to, to prove to herself and to the man she loved that she was no “tenderfoot”. Her dawning appreciation of the beauty of the landscape was enjoyable to witness. Then it all went to hell when she began embracing the author’s (and her fiancé’s) ridiculous ideas about the duties of  “American women”, which include giving birth to a “troop of healthy American kids” (I shit you not, that is a direct quote) and serving as her “American man’s” helper as he strove to build civilization in the West, while dressing modestly and unfashionably, so as to not distract the men from their own duties, and not pursuing any interests of their own. This whole modesty concept is reinforced through a running commentary by all Western characters on her fashionable city dresses being so revealing. This being set around 1920, this wanton display included rolled stocking and exposed calves. And a woman so dressed should be neither surprised nor upset when sexually assaulted. Instead, she should be upset with herself for inviting such a natural response from men.


I try to judge all books by the mores of the times in which they are written, but remember that this was published within a year of The Great Gatsby, which also had some things to say about 1920’s decadence, but none of it was about women staying in their place behind their menfolks and pushing out packs of kids and covering their legs so they don’t invite assault.


Audiobook, read by John Bolen. The audio quality was poor, with a lot of static and background noise, and Bolen’s performance was unimpressive. He sounded uninterested in the material, and the voice he used for Carley was a really strange sort of faux-British accent that I guess was supposed to represent an upperclass, East Coast, voice. Rating 2 stars only because I was able to finish and for the way the landscape was brought to life.


Read for the 2017 Romance Bingo. It fits the following bingo squares:

Key to My Heart:

Because the MC has a complete change of heart once she embraces her lover’s philosophy and way of life.

(show spoiler)

It unlocks her happiness and purpose in life.

Wedding Bells: Because the whole point was to get him to marry her, and apparently, marriage was the only acceptable quest.

Historical Romance: Post WWI. Although it was actually a contemporary romance at the time it was written, so maybe not.

Second Chances:

She rejects his way of life and breaks the engagement, then goes running back after her change of heart, hoping that he hasn’t already married another. Of course, HEA, with her barefoot and pregnant for as long as she’s fertile.

(show spoiler)

Hero at Large ★☆☆☆☆

Hero at Large - Janet Evanovich

This must rank in the top 5 most asinine stories I've ever had the misfortune to attempt to read. It doesn't even deserve the compliment of bothering to explain why I thought it was so bad.


Audiobook, borrowed from my library via overdrive, read by CJ Critt, who did a pretty good job, considering the material she had to work with. I gave it 7 minutes longer than my 20 minute minimum before DNFing.


The Exile ★★☆☆☆

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel - Diana Gabaldon, Hoang Nguyen

I’m really not familiar enough with the graphic novel format to judge it on its merits as such, so I’m only going to remark on how well I enjoyed it, or more accurately, did not enjoy it.

Although the story is told primarily from Murtaugh’s POV rather than Claire’s, it seems very much like the story I remember from reading Outlander many years ago. Of course, we get how much Murtaugh distrusts her and disapproves of Jamie’s relationship with her, but we already knew that. There’s also a new character added, who doesn’t seem to add much to the story. I didn’t find the artwork very impressive. At least, it didn’t especially help me to connect with the characters or the story. Overall, the book was okay. I’m not sure how someone who isn’t already familiar with the story would have enjoyed it.

I read this for the 2017 Romance Bingo. It would fit several of the squares:
Insta-love: Jamie desperately wants Claire and is willing to risk death to be with her within a few hours of meeting her.
Blown Away: The characters on the cover are certainly windblown, and in several of the panels the characters appear to be battling a high wind, although that just may be how the artist portays action.
Key to My Heart: If I’m interpreting this square correctly, Jamie and Claire are soul-mates, and their love enables them to share dreadful secrets that they hold very close.
Man in a Kilt: Every freakin’ panel has plaid or kilts, although there is a disappointing lack of hairy dude-knees
Eyeshadow and Heaving Bosoms: Claire’s boobs seem to swell and shrink throughout the book, but at times she could give Dolly Parton a run for her money. The artwork also seems to have gifted them with their own independent motion. They might even be sentient, they’re so lively.
Virgin Best First Time: This time, it’s the guy who’s the virgin, and the panel of them mid-coitus is hilariously captioned with a white thought-bubble over Jamie’s head, “Holy God!”
Wedding Bells: The whole plot revolves around the forced marriage trope
Historical Romance: Time-travel to the 1700s

The Lost Wife ★★★★☆

The Lost Wife - Alyson Richman

I was so moved at times in this story of a Jewish couple separated by war and the Nazi occupation of Prague and the terrible choices they were forced to make. Especially so when Josef desperately searches for his missing wife and longs for what he has lost with her, contrasting with

the emptiness he shares with his new wife, who has lost as much as he.

(show spoiler)


Audiobook via Audible, with beautiful performances by George Guidall and Suzanne Toren. Guidall is one of my favorite audio narrators, and he meets all my expectations here.