Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Hurricane, by Jenna-Lynne Duncan

So lately I've been wondering about when to set my novel. I'm leaning towards setting it in 2004, the summer before the senior year of the class of 2005. I sorta want some discussion to arise about Green Day's American Idiot album. This would be, of course, an alternative to the ambiguous "now" that many novels seem to float in, especially YA novels. I understand that books need to seem current, but my generation lived history too. Setting a novel seven years in the past lends that feel without dipping into historic research because the author is reminiscing. It's a cozy feeling.

Hurricane, by Jenna-Lynne Duncan, does just that. This novel, set partly in New Orleans, begins in the late summer of 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina was to strike the Gulf Coast and bring devastation to the area. Yes, it's a paranormal teen romance, but it lacks the moodiness that tends to shadow that genre.

I won't lie to you. I really enjoyed Hurricane. The main character was a normal girl, if fictional characters can be. Sure, she's described as blond and blue-eyed, but unlike other books she doesn't harp on it and talk continuously about her looks. It's a visual reference. The description gives you a solid view of the character and grounds you in the novel so that the real storytelling can begin.

Like many books in the YA genre, it's written in a first-person perspective. I'm not always a fan of the technique, because it can become a crutch for some. But Hurricane had the feel of a friend telling you a cool story. The dates and locations at the beginning of each chapter give the novel a journalish feel, and an abruptly ending paragraph at the end of the epilogue seems indicate that the lead, a writer herself, is indeed journaling her experiences along the way.

As a teen romance, there are, of course, the required hot guys. Though obviously handsome, the two young men aren't described constantly. Duncan instead prefers to focus on their personalities and relationships to the main character. Sarcasm, humor, and snark are comfortable and welcome in this novel's dialogue, and the two boys, Hayden and Luke, are presented as somewhat preppy (in a Southern way) and probably, if they were real, pretty nice guys. A sudden self-sacrificial move by Adriana had me thinking too much of Twilight, but it did prompt me to wonder what I'd do in such a situation.* But even that doesn't detract from Ana's strength as a character. She's likeable enough that the moment comes as more of a brief annoyance, a low note in an otherwise good book.. She's not perfect, and she makes a bad decision. It's real. Ish.

The characters are terribly stock, but the future mom-in-law is a lot like Esme Cullen, and probably no like any real in-law at all.There's a conflict between Adriana and her dad that is solved conveniently at the end by an arrangement that I don't think any father anywhere would be cool with, at all. There is one time when Adriana describes her own hair color swinging around, as in "my blonde hair swished behind me as I ran" or something like that. You'll find out later why stuff like that is a pet peeve of mine.

The late-summer Southern setting is rough and spooky and lends some beauty to the atmosphere of the novel. The descriptions of a post-Katrina New Orleans chill the bones as Duncan so aptly describes a horror more terrifying than any ghosts in the book. But through it all, the tone never loses hope, and the story ties off neatly in the final chapter over a plate of beignets at the Cafe du Monde.

I'd recommend this novel to anyone who wants something that entertains. It doesn't ask much of the reader. The few unlikelihoods, (such as minors moving in with other minors with no problem) that do pop up are annoying, but it really is a well-polished YA novel. And if I'm not mistaken, at least part of the proceeds from this novel are donated to Katrina victims. So go ahead, indulge and give back at the same time.

*I would actually have a gun.**
 **Heck, if I were a superhero, I'd still have a gun. Super-power stunting losses of confidence would totally be nullified with a 9mm. Just sayin'.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Minnie Cinnamon Cale, September 1996-January 25, 2012

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.
Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .
An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an
embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . ."
                                                           C. S. Lewis

My bed has been colder these past two nights.

I dreaded this, for so many years. Even since I was a child, I knew this day would come, deep down, though I hoped that, somehow, my family was touched with a sort of immortality.

On Wednesday, January 25, my little dog Minnie slipped quietly into eternity.

She'd been fighting cancer since sometime in November. I don't remember when. Her breath had just been stinking so bad, so I went to brush her teeth. She didn't mind the finger brush so much, but she didn't want me to grab her jaw and open it this time. She always let me do that before.

That's when I found the lump.

It was greenish and ugly. We thought maybe it was an abscess in her tooth. That would require surgery and removal of a tooth. I was fine with that, as long as my baby would be safe. She was fifteen years old. We'd celebrated our "anniversary" of fifteen years. I got her when I was ten, on my birthday.

It was melanoma, the most aggressive form.

We opted out of traditional treatments, both because of her age and because my family believes that chemotherapy and radiation do more harm than good. Mom said quality is better than quantity. We'd do some natural things.

Then it grew back.

We tried more. The Budwig Protocol. Essiac tea. Raw meat and vitamins and things to boost her immune system. Fresh water and love and comfort.

Slowly, the cancer began to take things. It took a few teeth at first, then bits of her gum, then half her palate. I found one of her teeth in my bed the other day. It scared me and broke my heart a little. She wasn't eating well and she'd lost weight.

We just kept giving her good things and loving her.

Tuesday night, she suddenly got very tired. She slept most of the evening, snoring, almost in a sort of coma. I just held her while she slept. We took her upstairs, and I put her on my bed, and we went to sleep.

The next morning, Wednesday, she walked around in circles in my room after jumping off the bed. It scared me, but I figured she just had to go to the bathroom, and I was right. We went back inside. I put her on the couch, and she started sleeping again. I tried giving her water, because she seemed dehydrated. Just medicine for now. Mom decided we should take her to the vet, and let her get some fluids and maybe, if she perked up, she could continue on them.

I got ready for work, and we took Minnie to the vet. She was mostly asleep, didn't even know we were there.

This wasn't my baby, at least not on the outside.

I had to go to work while Mom and Dad were still at the vet with the dog. They left her there, to get some fluids.

I worried the entire couple hours I was at work, and I called Mom. Minnie was at home, on the couch.

When I walked in, Dad was weeping. Minnie was asleep on the couch, her breathing somewhat labored. The vet had said she probably wouldn't live through the night.

I changed my clothes and just loved her. We kept a vigil all that afternoon and evening. I held her for a long time, and let her sleep. When the terrible snoring began, we laid her back on the couch so she could breathe easier. Mom and Dad went to get some supper, and I stayed behind, watching American Idol, stroking her head. Sometimes, she'd blearily open her eyes and look at the door, as if to ask when they'd be back.

We watched the rest of the show, and more TV, and then the news. We keep two lamps on, so the light in the living room is always soft and warm. The news was about to go off.

She sat up, looked at me and Mom, and started making this odd groaning noise, and struggling. Mom went to get Dad.

On the couch, as I stroked her head and talked to her and told her I loved her, Minnie took her last breath and slipped away into Heaven.

We buried her next to Buster, in a plastic box, wrapped in her plaid blanket and laying on a pink baby blanket she had. I kissed her once more before we put the box in the ground.

Life has not been the same since that night. It can never been again, not for me. There are other griefs that my family has endured, that I probably will never write about here. I keep myself disconnected from those horrors. They are too much.

I got Minnie for my tenth birthday. She was a complete surprise. She was a sweet, shy puppy who liked to sniff and run and stick by us, without a leash at all. As she grew older, her nosiness overcame her shyness and she wandered. Other animals in the neighborhood made her a fiercely protective dog. She loved walks, even when her short legs and age required the distance to be decreased. She loved my bed, and my rug, and my pajamas. Wendy's nuggets were a tradition for her on Wednesday nights.

I know that God is merciful. He didn't want her to suffer. I like to think that He sent Buster to get her and take her home. I believe that they're there now, in Heaven, together playing and chasing each other like they used to when they were young.

I think the hardest thing is the regret I have for the ten days I didn't get to see her. I flew out to Missouri to visit my fiance. When I got back, Minnie's health was sloping downward, very slowly. There are ten days of my life that I enjoyed very much, but ten days of Minnie's life that I can't get back.

God, I miss her so much. Yesterday morning, I came an instant close to asking my mom what I always asked, every morning I went to work early. "Where's Minnie?" I only got the first syllable out. It insisted, even if I held it back. For a moment, I forgot.

For a moment last night, it felt as though she was at my feet as I used my computer in bed. I looked down, almost automatically. She's still not here. Everywhere, I see what's left. Stains on my sheets and on a long pillow, from her mouth. A collar on an end table. Her water bowl in the sink. The memory of stroking her ears and tugging on them softly and scratching them. She loved when I scratched her back end. There are little marks on our hardwood floor in the hall, from her nails.

"People fall out of the world sometimes, but they always leave traces. Little things we can't quite account for. Faces in photographs, luggage, half-eaten meals. Rings. Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back."

I know I'll see Minnie again one day. My God is loving and good. He has seen fit to have trees in Heaven; why should He not also have the souls of those creatures who never sinned? But I'm selfish. I wanted Minnie to be here forever. As her health declined, and she could no longer be the dog I knew she wanted to be, I dreaded the day that I knew was coming. After she passed, though I am still grieving, there was relief. I didn't have to worry anymore.

She beat the cancer. When her little lungs took their last breath, the cancer died.

Minnie lives on.

She went with no fear. Fear is a human thing, a flaw instilled in us by the horrors we have wrought upon the world. Minnie was fearless.

Dad said she had a dream last night that she was twirling around on her back legs, a trick I called "ballet" when I was young. But in the dream, there was no one standing over her waving a treat around. She danced on her own.

I know eventually I will get used to her not waiting on the stairs when I come home in the afternoons, or sleeping on the couch, or hiding in the darkness of my bedroom. I know that I'll be accustomed one day to not hearing the swishy tapping of her nails during the nightly rounds she took around the hall and the kitchen. It will never feel normal, at least not from this side of it.

But I swear I've felt them, both Minnie and Buster, playing somewhere near.

It is likely that I will get another dog one day. That puppy will not be a replacement, not by a long shot. No one will replace Minnie, for she is irreplaceable. She left her mark on me, and I on her. I was ten when I got her. We bond with animals so closely not only because we love them and they love us, but because we become like each other. When she passed, it felt as thought part of my soul was taken from me, and I am not whole. Her legacy is a huge one, and any pups that come after her will be taught and brought up to be like her.

Rest in peace, Minnie, my lion-hearted little dog.

“Forgive my grief for one removed
Thy creature whom I found so fair
I trust he lives in Thee and there
I find him worthier to be loved.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sentience Part 7

And after quite a hiatus...the seventh part of Sentience.

Sentience Part 1
Sentience Part 2
Sentience Part 3
Sentience Part 4
Sentience Part 5
Sentience Part 6


Macon watched as Marie dropped her shoulder bag onto the floor beside the couch. "Can I just go ahead and get some sleep now?"

"Sure." He glanced around, feeling awkward, glad the shades were closed. Glad for some reason. "How's your head?"

She sat on the couch and shrugged. "I really won't know until I can find a doctor, but it hurts a lot and I feel sick."

"I'm sorry." He clenched and unclenced one fist. "Would it be alright if did some work right over there in the kitchen? Just in case?"

"I'm not gonna steal anything," the girl replied, her voiced muffled by a pillow.

"No, I meant I don't want to be closed off in a closet if someone were to bust in here."

"Whatever makes you feel better." She let out a huff of air. "Now please let me take a nap."

He started to reply, but thought better of it and stepped away to grab his tablet.

His cell phone buzzed. He gulped, feeling nauseous again, and pulled it out of his pocket, hoping it was the normal use one. The fake cell phone, the mask he used.

He knew when his fingers touched it that the small, plain thing was his oversight. He should have gotten rid of it when he could.

They'd be able to find it just because he had it. That was easy for them. He debated answering and just lying. It might buy them time, but he didn't want to leave Marie here and he most definitely didn't want to meet these people anywhere. Not now.

So he turned the phone off and crushed it under his foot.

He turned on the tablet and sat at the kitchen table, doodling idly. The cartoons he drew were cathartic, and he knew they were decent. Any other time, he'd be working on one. It was long due for an update, he knew, but he had no inspiration. He'd do it later, find some way to put it up, wherever he ran, in defiance of these ruthless people he'd become far to connected to.

He waited as the sliver of light visible between the shades changed and dimmed as the sunlight moved ever on to it's setting point.

Restless didn't even begin to describe it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking

I'm back! Sorry about that. Here's a new book review for yall to enjoy. 

I like to say occasionally that there's only room for one Twilight on my shelf. The meaning should be pretty obvious. I liked the books, and they entertained me. But I have never been, nor is it likely I will ever be, a lover of modern vampire lit.

Logically, it then follows that while YA literature does interest me, the rise in popularity (re-rise? constant presence?) of paranormal romances and leaves me feeling, well...frustrated because it's just a teeny tiny bit all the very same and I end up desiring something fresh and quality for the upcoming generation.

When I heard of the success of Amanda Hocking's self-published novels, I decided to read into some of her books, several of which are available on Amazon in digital and traditional formats. A few of the Kindle ones are 99 cents. (I just looked for a "cent symbol" key. It's not there. I feel old.) One of the 99 cent offerings was My Blood Approves, obviously a vampire novel. But it had good reviews from others on Amazon. I figured I'd give it a shot.

It was...okay. It, like all books, had its high points and low points.

My Blood Approves was written in the first person person perspective, and Hocking does display a gift for making one feel at home with her main character. The casual manner of Alice's speech made you feel like someone was telling you the story between classes. I liked that. I also liked the main male vampire. He wasn't the epitome of "brooding sexiness" that seems to come standard with vampire novels (or X-men movies.*) He was immature, annoying, and boyish. That I liked, because it was refreshing. And, honestly, pretty funny.

However, the book does have the dreaded stock characters. You know. The mom and dad figure vamps who are so nice that you imagine they probably run a puppy rescue on the side. The vamp brother who is brooding and angry and all "thirsty" and stuff. The sensitive little human brother who cooks delicious food.

The climax of the story comes suddenly and with little buildup. An anticlimax, maybe. By then, I wasn't sure I cared much anymore.

The accomplishments of Ms. Hocking do not protect My Blood Approves from being standard vampire fare. Though far from being sloppy, the novel was full of stock characters and a lackluster, well-worn plot. I won't be partaking of the remainder of the series, though I might check out Hocking's Trylle Trilogy. It's recently been published by a major house, and I'm, quite frankly, curious.

*Yeah, not a Wolverine fan here. I don't dig sideburns.