Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White

cover of Heartstone, featuring yellow dragon
I can guarantee that the vast majority of my readers will stop reading this review and race off to one-click as soon as I finish the following sentence:
Heartstone is a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in a fantasy world with talking dragons. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

 

Aliza, her parents, and her sisters live in Merybourne Manor. The youngest sister, Rina, was killed by a gryphon. Her father hires a group of Riders (as in: dragon riders, the most elite social class) to get rid of the gryphons. The Riders are led by Alastair Daired, who is taciturn and snobby. Aliza’s sister, Anjey, is instantly attracted to Daired’s affable best friend, Brysney. However, for Aliza and Daired, it’s intense dislike at first sight.

 

There’s a lot happening in this book. We get a fairly faithful rendition of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, complete with embarrassing dancing and a wayward younger sister (Leyda). We also get an action-filled fantasy novel complete with sparring sessions, fights between riders on both horses and dragons against packs of gryphons, and threats from an ancient and mighty foe. With all this commotion there’s not enough time for leisurely character development, but the basic character arcs come through fine as Aliza learns to question her first assumptions and Daired learns to stop being such a snob. The world feels real and lived in, and did I mention that the dragons talk? And have opinions on matchmaking and social issues? I loved that!

 

So why am I not crazy about this book? For one thing, I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. There’s the usual Pride and Prejudice characters, but most have very different names and often very different trajectories. Then there are dragons, hobgoblins, and other creatures, many of which are distinct characters that must be kept straight. Then there are class distinctions. All you really need to know is that Daired is elite and Aliza is not, but I wanted to know more about the social structure and all these words (for instance: Tekari, Rangers, Riders, Shani, Nakla). All of these words are explained somewhere in the text, but the world is so interesting that I would have liked just a bit more of it.

 

Also, the book opens by introducing hobgoblins, a small but sentient species that lives in gardens. They are supposed to cute and maybe not too bright. Although Aliza refers to a hobgoblin as her “friend,” she’s also patronizing. Daired calls them vermin and kicks one. Even though he treats them with great respect later on, I could not get past his initial attitude. There is too much racism in the world for me to be amused by what amounts to the same thing in a fantasy context. It’s a very common trope in fantasy but it just drives me up the wall.

 

I did enjoy the way some of the more irritating characters from Pride and Prejudice are redeemed in this retelling. Aliza’s best friend marries an irritating, self-absorbed, pompous idiot – who turns out to be a truly loving husband and father. Charis, Daired’s mean friend (standing in for Catherine Bingley in the original novel) is mean for sure, but also a kickass warrior who truly cares about her family and about Daired. Best of all, no one makes fun of Mari, Aliza’s introverted and well-read sister who saves the day through scholarship.
This is a well-built fantasy with a well-written romance at its core. It does have flaws, but the writing is solid, the action exciting, and the dragons are amazing. The sequel, Dragonshadow, came out on November 20, 2018. Those of you who one-clicked at “Pride and Prejudice with dragons” will not be dissapointed!

Laura Palmer, Rest In Peace

 

Laura Palmer's homecoming pictureDear readers, yesterday was a momentous day. On this day in 1989, poor Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks) was found dead and the rest of us spent a lot of time over the nex few years wondering what the hell was happening. The pilot of Twin Peaks scared me so much that I never watched the series regularly, but I gather that you could never tell what was going to happen next, as in this scene wherin the Log Lady looks like she might do anything. Go home quietly and watch TV, suddenly burst into flames, spit out a live frog, order pie – who knows?

 

I wasn’t able to embed the next video, so you’ll have to click here  to find the priceless Saturday Night Live parody of Twin Peaks with guest star Kyle MacLachlan. Truly, this is a priceless gem!

Between the Lines Book Club: Link suggestion

between the lines book club logoTomorrow we will be discussing When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM. When Breath Becomes Air is Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir, written after his diagnosis with terminal cancer.

For more about the book and author, check out paulkalanithi.com. This page includes essays by Paul and his widow, Lucy, as well as interviews, podcasts, and reviews. See you tomorrow!

Book Review: Around the Tarot in 78 days

Cover of Around the Tarot in 78 DaysThis is a short review of a long book: Around the Tarot in 78 Days by Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin. As some of you know, I’m offering Tarot readings by appointment for individuals and events. For more information, or to schedule a reading, email me at sessarego1@gmail.com!

Around the World is a versatile book. If used as recommended, the reader does daily study and some kind of meditation or reading, which should lead to a deep understanding of the cards. You will also learn about incorporating the cards into numerology and astrology, and get practice using the cards as parts of a spread as opposed to just memorizing each card’s individual meaning.

I used the book as more of a quick refresher, doing one unit a day as opposed to one card a day. This was a more superficial approach, and I noticed that the cards blurred together after a while, so I’d suggest the one card a day method instead. As a skeptic, I found some of the information to be outside my area of interest, but the book is well-organized so it’s easy to take what you want from it and leave the rest. The authors are influenced by the teachings of Alister Crowley and by the Kabbalah, so keep that in mind as you read since every person approaches tarot from a different angle. I especially enjoyed “how to connect to your card” which helped cement the cards for me. I also loved the variety of spreads in the book.

I recommend this book for a new reader who wants an in-depth approach. More experienced readers will like the variety of unusual layouts. As a new professional, I appreciated the appendix which contained suggested codes of conduct for professional readers. Overall, the book is a good resource.

 

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Doctor Memoirs

between the lines book club logoSometimes the best lessons doctors learn happen when they become patients. If you liked our book club pic for February, When Breath Becomes Air, then you might also like some of the following books. We’ll be discussing When Breath Becomes Air on Feb. 23, 2019 at Arden Dimick Library.

For Starters, try this list from The New York Times.

Here are some other suggestions. Unlike the more general memoirs listed by the New York Times, these are specifically about health care providers and scientists who become patients:

My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bole Taylor: chronicles a brain scientist’s recovery from a massive stroke.

Opening My Heart: A Journey from Nurse to Patient and Back Again, by Tilda Shalof: A nurse’s recovery from heart surgery changes her perspective on he relationship between patients and caregivers.

Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story, by Jerald Winakur: A doctor who specializes in elder care struggles to care for his own elderly parents.

Being Mortal, by Atul Gwande: Our book club pic for June!

 

A Rant Against Fake Meds

200.gifSwearing ahead.

Dear Reader, I have chronic problems with my physical and mental health. While these problems are not life threatening, they are annoying and painful and adversely impact my life on many levels. This has given me a personal stake in the ethics of alternative medicine. In short – as far as I’m concerned, anyone who touts a practice that has not beaten a placebo in a scientific study can die in fire, unless that practice happens to be harmless and cheap, which most are not.

 

I’m a member of a Facebook group that is dedicated to funny memes and jokes about chronic illness. Yesterday I found a post which mentioned placing sliced onions around the house to catch germs (the onions are said to pull germs out of the air and when the onion turns black you know it’s working). When I pointed out that this idea has been around since before the bubonic plague and makes no sense at all, the onion users replied, “But it works!”

 

Here’s the thing. Onions are cheap and onions do no harm. If putting onions around the house or, as some other people do, putting a piece of potato in their socks at night makes people happy, well, no harm no foul. However, we (chronic pain patients) are the targets of all kinds of remedies that really can cause harm and that do cost money. I’ve developed a true hatred for companies that sell products with no actual value. They prey on the desperate, a word I plan to overuse here because it’s the word that fits.

 

People in pain are like everyone else – some of us are probably stupid and poorly educated, but most of us are not. We’re just terribly, terribly vulnerable because we are desperate for sleep and pain reduction. There’s not a pain reducing method or weight loss method (low weight is supposed to help my arthritis) that I haven’t seen, realized is scientifically invalid, and then googled anyway just in case maybe it really would be possible to shit myself thin using diet drinks or cure my bad ankle by rubbing essential oil on it.

 

Not only is touting “alternative” cures harmful to the wallets and/or bodies of patients, it’s harmful to alternative cures. Essential oils really do smell nice which reduces stress, and some can help my stuffed up nose, but I sincerely doubt that you can prevent cancer by putting a drop of myrrh and frankincense oil behind your ears daily. The actual benefits of oils, assuming there are any, are eclipsed by the inanity of the larger claims – which I would argue is true of most “alternative” therapies which may actually be great for some things in some cases but which make such broad claims that its impossible to support them.

 

My disability/disease/whatever – it doesn’t give me super powers. It doesn’t build character. It just makes me miserable and I’m desperate to fix it. So when some asshole comes along and promises that I will feel better if I take this homeopathic pill, it’s all I can do not to beg him to take my money even though I know it can’t work. To that asshole I say, fuck you for trying to prey on my jacked up neck and my ability to pop a hip out of joint by getting out of bed. How dare you try to wring my money out of my shitty ankle and my shitty knees and my exciting new trick of spontaneously dislocating my fingers? And even more so, how dare you try to exploit worried moms and terrified cancer patients and people with other serious diseases? You should be ashamed.

 

There are plenty of uneducated and, well, stupid people out there, but I don’t believe that they are the ones keeping things like homeopathy and juice cleanses afloat. Desperate people are doing that. And when we do things like put potatoes in our socks, well, hooray for the placebo effect, but when we spend our money on things that are useless at best and harmful at worst, then we are hurting ourselves. Don’t let predators make money from our hunger to be thinner and happier and, above all, free from pain.

Between the Lines Book Club: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

between the lines book club logoOur book club pick for February is When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This book is a memoir by Dr. Kalanithi. Dr. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After his diagnosis, his wife became pregnant and he wrote this book in large part so that his daughter, who would probably not remember him, would be able to get to know him.

In an essay for the New York Times, Kalanithi wrote about how difficult it was to decide how to make choices when he didn’t know how much longer he had to live:

In a way, though, the certainty of death was easier than this uncertain life. Didn’t those in purgatory prefer to go to hell, and just be done with it? Was I supposed to be making funeral arrangements? Devoting myself to my wife, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my adorable niece? Writing the book I had always wanted to write? Or was I supposed to go back to negotiating my multiyear job offers?

The path forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d just spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d have a plan (write that book). Give me 10 years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The pedestrian truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day? My oncologist would say only: “I can’t tell you a time. You’ve got to find what matters most to you.”

Reading this book gives us an opportunity to reflect on what matters most to us. Ultimately Kalanithi found hope in the words of Samuel Beckett:

I remember the moment when my overwhelming uneasiness yielded. Seven words from Samuel Beckett, a writer I’ve not even read that well, learned long ago as an undergraduate, began to repeat in my head, and the seemingly impassable sea of uncertainty parted: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” I took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” And then, at some point, I was through.

We will be discussing the book at Arden Dimick Library on Feb 23, 2019 a 10:30AM. You can also leave comments here!