[BOOK REVIEW] Blood Healing; Colt, K.J.

I had every intention of writing a different review here, but I was so caught up in the adventures of Adenine from my previous review, I just had to move to the second book in the series.
The rich textures and tapestries of intrigue continue with this book, as our young Healer continues on her journey of self discovery, this time away from her home town and in the city of the Queens.
Many questions raised in the first book are answered here, but in such a way it leads to more questions! However at no point are you left frustrated as the descriptions of the places, people and characters sweep you up.
I’m starting to feel I’m incapable of writing reviews, I’m aware I’m not describing the plot of the book very well, but this is one set of books that really needs to be read.
The theme of coping with the fear of sexual abuse is still present in this book, but the author draws on experience as a counsellor to make sure that the topic is dealt with in a very sensitive, yet believable way.
Adenine doesn’t grow up as much chronologically as she did in the first book, but her metamorphosis to adult thinking happens quite fast.
We discover the history behind Klawdia and her son, and find out that in the hunt for a perfect city, sacrifices are deemed necessary by the rulers.
One major twist to the storyline keeps you waiting for the next book.
I really hope that she keeps writing these stories, as they are definitely becoming firm favourites.

[Book Review] Concealed Power, Colt, K.J.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading the opening chapters. There was a strong feeling something wasn’t right, but it was hard to put a finger on it. It turns out that the author is very adept at setting the scene for later parts of the story with breadcrumbs through the book.
I have no doubt if I were to read the book again I would notice even more hidden details that linke through to make the story arc just that little bit more special than is normal in this genre.
Although the book does touch on sexual abuse matters and violent crime, it does so with a compassion and complexity that challenges the binary viewpoints of good and bad.
I laughed, I cried, I stayed up till 5 am several nights in a row to get through this book. The main character Adenine is introduced to us as a girl of ten, and the book spans the four years leading up to the day before her 14th birthday. It covers parental sacrifice, and the issues surrounding ‘doing the best we can’ regardless of legality or morality as judged by a surrounding populace.
It brings to the fore attitudes of judgement and conviction based purely on stereotypical issues and appearances, and challenges the reader to step outside of their comfort zone to identify with the protagonists.
I can not wait to read the next book in the series. Overall a very powerful and gripping tale with well developed characters and interesting perspectives.

Women in Autism, Research Autism conference, London

I am currently sat in a conference about Women and Autism, set in International Women’s Week.
Being an adult female with autism doesn’t normally bother me. I would go as far as to say I love being me. My autism gives me a perspective on the world that helps me make better sense of things than people around me.
However today I feel my autism.
The conference opened with a welcome by Deepa Korea. Deepa is the Chief Executive of Research Autism, and has an extensive past with public and private bodies.
Professor Terrry Brugha gave an interesting talk about the research he has been leading into identifying autism in the general female population. They began by screening about 7500 randomly assigned households with a questionnaire based on popular autism diagnosis questions. A subset scoring higher than a cutoff were then questioned again with a more targeted questionnaire. The research found that the incidence of autism in the general population as tested with these standard tests does tend to reflect the rates given in clinical settings with regards to per capita and gender ratio.
The second set of speakers were students and staff from the Limpsfield Grange school in Surrey. These strong and smart young girls are fortunate enough to be in a very special school indeed. This school accepts them as they are. They have made a video about being a girl on the spectrum, and how they feel they are different, but equal.
This video and the talk with it perfectly fielded by the young women reduced me to a quivering wreck. I lost all my coping strategies one by one as I contrasted their experiences with my own. Normally I can deal very well with public situations, but as I saw these vibrant, friendly, accepted individuals so content with their school and friendships and so positive about their autism I fell apart.
By the time the break came I was unable to even ask people to move out of the way so I could escape for a smoke. I lost the power to look at people, to articulate, to do anything other than stand frozen, surrounded by a hubbub of autism professionals looking like a scared rabbit looking for a bolt hole. Thankfully a young girl who I later found out was on the spectrum herself identified my issue, and said “excuse me” to create a gap for me. I ran through it to freedom, and only realised what she had done when I reached the quiet outside.
I tried to talk with her and her mum when I came back in, but I totally broke down. No one had ever done that for me before. No one saw, understood, and acted without a second thought.
It’s after lunch now, and several outbursts of quiet tears later, I am coping OK with the other talks.
Sometimes it takes a random act of kindness to reduce you to your core. But it has made such an impact that I will remember this girl for a long long time.

[Book Review] DARK LUMINANCE By E.M. McDowell

I have been recently reading books without reading the synopsis. I find it gives me a much more anticipatory buzz, and stops me looking for how a book fits into neat little boxes.

Dark Luminance (fiction) captured my attention immediately, with the principal character and his friends in a cliffhanging situation.

This book deals with many themes including love found (and lost), quantum mechanics, life-after-death, and existentialism. Without knowing the plot outline beforehand, I was gripped by the story, and I need the next book in the series so badly. The initial chapters contain a small amount of technical explanation, but this doesn’t detract from the story, and does not need to be understood. However, from my recollection of this part of science in my studies, there was nothing that made me think “oh, come on!” like I find occurring with so many modern day authors.

I don’t think my last paragraph truly conveys what the content is about, but then I don’t want to ruin the joy I experienced for other people.

If you are looking for a very smart, fast-paced science fiction novel, where the characters are multi-dimensional and clever then this is a good call.

Dark Luminance is available in paperback and ebook forms, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Deaspification – the coping strategy rituals

I often find myself lost in thought. Last week the gas engineer came out to check our house complies with the gas regulations for the next year, in terms of equipment safety.

They have serviced the boiler every year since we have been here, they are a great couple, he works, she organises, and they are funny, professional, and just generally good people.

But as I sat waiting for them to arrive, I caught myself going through the “Deaspification” ritual that I assume is part of my coping mechanisms. Deaspification is a temporary condition caused by having to interact with people not on the spectrum who you don’t want to give you the “but you seem fine” speech.

I’m not sure how to put it in words, talking about this is new to me, so I will just Do My Best like a good “ex-guiding-movement-gal”.

My internal dialogue floods with questions to myself. Can you remember their coffee preferences? Black with none and white with one I think. (Wrong here, black with three and white with two for future reference, but at least it opened the conversation).

People who do not have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder like to think they are memorable. If you can go that extra step and remember names, and two or three information bits, then you are on track for being Deaspificated.
What can I remember about these people. Coffee preferences, the wife makes lace in her spare time, the son was going to come in the business, the husband has an intermittent bad back.
Now I have little things that make them feel I remember them and I am interested enough to store away things about them.

It gives me conversation openers. And the coffee one gives me an excuse to get out of the room. This gives me the initial space to flap (mentally) about the fact that there are people in my house that don’t live here. It gives me the time to recompose myself and plan my next conversation.

I don’t need to initiate conversation, but if spoken to, I can use one of my three other bits of information to divert attention from myself.

Phone rings, they have been held up on an emergency, will come tomorrow.

Breathe. Relax. Feel strange. When you have focused all your energies expecting something to happen and preparing for it, its hard to let that go, and move on. It’s almost as if you had waited in line for a ride at a theme park for several hours, and right as you get to the gate, they tell you it has shut and to come back next time. You want to argue, but know it is pointless. You knew it was going to be a scary ride but you had psyched yourself up for it, and not going on means that the thought of queueing tomorrow is worse than the actuality will be.

Another situation. Someone is being treated unfairly and is unable to represent them-self to the various agencies that need to be coordinated. On my day to day existence I avoid contact with authorities, I couldn’t function buying goods at a shopping checkout without a huge amount of prep time. But it is easier somehow to slip into the role of being an advocate for someone else. The problems are not mine, so I do not have that emotional investment about what happens if I mess up, and I am safe in the knowledge that even if I don’t help much, it’s still more than the person would manage alone.

It is all about roles. About acting. I know I can pass as a simulacrum of myself, or the version of myself that I let others outside of my immediate family see.

My parents and most friends do not know me. They know the me they see, they don’t see the bare me that my husband lives with. They don’t see the even barer me that is evident when I choose not to keep the coping strategies turned on. They see the Deaspification Model. The sum of the learnt behaviours, the situation analyst, the outcome of many failed attempts.

[Book Review] The Dreamwalker; Bishop, L., Williams, C.

Witch Lake Chronicles - Book 1

Witch Lake Chronicles – Book 1

The Dreamwalker is the first in a series of books set in a town called Witch Lake in North America.
It follows the central character Sam through his adaption to returning to High School after being homeschooled for many years.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, Sam is a little different to the other students as he has the ability to walk in other people’s dreams. This has the unfortunate side effect of any injuries he may experience in the dream world affecting his body physically.

He soon finds out that he’s not the only strange one in the town, making friends with Rhionnan and Nix who have their own sets of secrets.

The Dreamwalker is perfectly aimed at the young adult supernatural fiction market, but is written in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you are older. I found myself sneaking off away from my family to finish chapters, and going to bed early just so I could read more.

There are a few errors not picked up at the proof stage, but these in no way impact the thread of the book, which develops in a way that is not immediately apparent from the earlier chapters.

The ending of this book in the series manages to provide the reader with closure, while totally pulling the story out from under you in anticipation of the next book. Indeed within minutes of completing this book I was hunting on the website of the authors for the first chapter of the second book!

More information on the series (and a scrapbook full of supplementary material) can be found on the authors’ website The Witch Lake Chronicles .

The book is available to purchase in electronic and paperback formats from a variety of retailers including Amazon.

Cooking for the lazy and poor.

I’m not a great cook. We have a kitchen about the size of one on a boat. It just about fits a sink and drainer on one side, and a washing machine and dryer on the other. No room for a fridge, that’s currently living in what used to be a cupboard. We don’t have a working oven as if you use it, the power trips out for the house.
I’m also hampered by my aspergers and my suspected fibromyalgia. I can’t plan meals so that things are ready at the same time, it hurts to be stood around while preparing and juggling different things at different times and the range of ‘sensory issues’ in this house make it a nightmare from the outset.
Take a nice simple spaghetti bolognese. First fry the meat. Then remove half of the meat. Now add onions. Now separate the with onions and without onions into two. Add tomatoes to one with and one without. Now you have one meat (no tomatoes, no onions), one meat (with tomatoes, no onions), one meat and onions (no tomatoes) and one meat with onions and tomatoes. It’s just exhausting.

So I bought a slow cooker a while back and it fell out of favour, but this week I made an effort to make sure my husband bought ingredients for it.
I started by using the MySupermarket app. It allows me to build a shopping list, compare it instantly with other supermarkets, and then export it as a list. Lists are essential with an ADHD husband, they stop the hours of standing in the middle of the shop trying to remember what it was that was meant to be bought, and also limits the ‘I see it so I’ll buy it’ tendency.
I did a search for some sensory friendly meals, and decided that it appears to be meat joints or bust.

What’s great about the crockpot is it’s not an exact science. You don’t have to follow every step of a recipe.
Even though my family are anti-carrot, they make a great base in the crockpot to stop the meat resting on the bottom of the pan. Quartered potatoes are also good.
If you are using a beef or pork joint, you can buy cheap, after cooking in the pot for 6-8 hours on low even the toughest joint is tender. It’s worth searing it in a pan first on all sides if possible.
You can cook baked potatoes at the same time, by wrapping with foil and tucking around the sides of the joint.
The most successful one so far (although so far everyone’s eaten everything!) is the chicken.

Chop up potatoes and/or carrots (and even onions) for the base of the pot. You need at least one root vegetable to ensure the meat is kept up when the veg cooks.

Unwrap the whole chicken (and remove any of the elastic straps), and make sure the giblets are removed. If you like these parts, they can go in the bottom of the pot too to help make a chicken stock for another meal. Stuff the cavity with a pierced lemon (stab an unpeeled lemon with a paring knife several times), or whole onion (peeled and with the top and tail removed). Add peeled garlic cloves if you want, I tend to put a couple inside the chicken, and some more tucked under the skin in places like the leg joints.
You can even put chunks of garlic butter under the skin.

Tuck the wings back (kinda make them into a triangle so they stay in place) and put the whole chicken on the veg bed with the breast DOWN. This makes the white meat even more tender.

I tend to like putting a blend of herbs on, paprika seems to be making it into every recipe at the moment, along with garlic salt, and flaked sea salt. Oregano is also good. But basically add what you want, or what you have got.

Run the spice mix on, add the wrapped baked potatoes and set on low for about 6-8 hours.

With most recipes I tend to count two hours on low as one hour on high, so if times short, you can cook on high for an hour or two and then the remainder of the time on low.

Now leave, don’t fiddle. Opening the lid will slow the cooking down a lot. You can check the temperature with a meat thermometer before serving, or go with the ‘poke with a skewer and check the juices run clear’ method. Not had too much luck with that though, as the juices drain through the meat while cooking. My usual method of testing the chickens done is: Attempt to pick chicken up by leg. If leg comes off in your hand, burning your fingers and splashing juice around inside the slow cooker, it’s probably done.

There should be enough meat after burning your fingers ‘carving’ it (don’t expect slow cooker meat to be cuttable, it tends to fall apart too easily) to last two days. Please refrigerate responsibly.

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I just can’t see her.

I can see it now, the way she tosses her hair when she is nervous. The way her lips part briefly and her top teeth settle on her bottom lip when she is apprehensive. The way her eyes widen as she tucks stray hair behind her ear when she is faced with a situation that challenged her perceptions. The way she wrinkles her nose when she’s amused.
The changes in how she moves driven by her emotions.
I just can’t see her.
I know she is attractive, I’m not blind. Well not in the traditional sense.
She used to have the wavy brown silky hair that supermodels spend hours emulating before shoots. She had sculpted eyebrows, and the type of makeup that looks like none. She had an immaculate dress sense, and a self confidence that captivated many. Now she is older, less concerned with her appearance, rounder, but still secure with that confidence when she needs it.
Her voice is smooth with a hint of Welsh accent cutting through when she gets tired. She is smart with the degrees to prove it. She just feels like a fake sometimes.
I still can’t see her.
Sometimes I catch a glimpse of her in the bathroom, something that hits me with the recognition of the girl I still think of her as. Caught like her image in a photograph as a teen. I can see her in the photograph, I see her hair up, her lips red, a hint of a smile on her face. Large hooped earrings catch the light. I think it’s her great grandad’s 100th birthday. I know it’s her, but she may as well be a stranger.
I know her well. I know her every thought, hope, dream. I know all the masks and strategies she employs when she’s around other people.
But I can’t see her.
Sometimes she shocks me, a change in hair colour makes such a difference. The extra weight from a happy marriage hangs from her frame. Sometimes I see her and I don’t recognise her at all.
Her family are the same though. Her husband is tall, with long red hair, her children are various ages from 6 to early twenties, so they are easily told apart. Except in photographs of them when they were babies. Then they all look the same.
It’s always been like this for me, strangers in a familiar land. Strangers in my own house. Stranger in the mirror.
———
I have been faceblind all my life. I identify people in various ways. I call them markers. This is the sum of things that identifies to me who someone is. You all have them. I can sometimes draw huge leaps of identification from someone I knew as a child to the adult when people around me don’t recognise them. It’s amazing what doesn’t change with people. There’s a girl from school I knew who behaved like a mouse, she’s grown up now, full of confidence, definite swan from a cygnet. But she still moves the same. She still has the same eye colour.
Find a partner. You don’t have to inform them that you are doing this, but choose someone that’s sat near you. Roll up a paper tube like you used to as a kid. Embrace your inner pirate. Now look at them through the tube. They should be close enough that you can see one feature at a time through the tube. Look at their eye, now ear, now nose, now chin, now mouth, other eye. Look at their hair.
That’s close to how it is I guess. I can see the features, but they don’t form a picture. They don’t come together in my mind to identify them.
It’s called prosopagnosia.

The Great Hope (Fiction)

The obituary started with the usual commendations and accolades. Anyone reading could not fail to be impressed with the life being recorded in the two inch column on the most important page of the paper. But things weren’t exactly as they sounded.
The Colonel being commemorated wasn’t yet dead.
No one in the obituary pages was. Yet.
We believe that allowing people to sacrifice themselves for the greater good is important for the continuation of our race, along with the perfect birth rate it allowed us to survive in our land. Well, underland, anyway.
Many cycles ago we were forced to retreat deep underground to allow us to continue existing. Our planet had been visited by the great hope. Things were good, for a while.
The great hope allowed longevity, peace, the end of illness and famine. But it also brought with it a great shadow. What we didn’t know then was that there is always balance. Wrong and right, light and darkness, eternal life and… And what?
Thomas Leroy was one of the first to realise the risk we had taken by welcoming the new technology with open arms and no fear. We may never know why our ancestors chose to adopt the science without rigorous tests, but the results split our world, maybe forever.
Those of us that descend from Leroy and his friends ran deep within the land we had once rejoiced in. And now we were lost. Lost to the sun, the wind, the rains. Lost to our fellows and with luck, lost to the great hope.
Now there are only a few hundred of us, existing with old tech, eating fish and insects from the caverns and ice cold streams that run far beneath the feet of those touched by the shadow. Those who had become corrupted, in mind and body, living forever by hunting their own kind.
Our population has to be controlled. These tunnels can’t support much more than we have, and what we can support decreases every year.
We have to expand our lands or face extinction.
Some of the brightest minds on the planet were with Leroy, and our enclave has remained smart through the generations. Others weren’t so lucky.
I put my obituary down with a sigh and checked the display on the scanner. I still had a lot of land to cover before my death. Results were relayed back to the square, distance, temperature, humidity. If any of us broke to the surface, the tunnel would be collapsed behind us. We can’t risk the great hope penetrating our location, we can’t risk the contamination and possible betrayal.
You see, the great hope was misleading. We should have realised that the promise was empty, that the Golden Fleece was in fact just gilded. But we didn’t. Well, they didn’t.
I shook my torch to get more light, planted the repeater and charge and moved on.
The red earth around me absorbs the sound of my footfall, it’s so quiet you can almost hear the blood rushing through your veins. Sometimes that’s enough to end a sacrifice’s journey. Sometimes the lack of sound drives a person insane. Sometimes the brain invents sounds to compensate, and these lead the unaware in the wrong direction without care and attention to footing or path marking.
We aren’t expected to return. But I will. I know I can do this.
It’s been almost twenty ticks since I last saw another being. My rations are gone, and my water is as good as gone. At least I’m not injured. She was wearing blue. I’m not sure why that sticks in my mind so much, maybe it’s because all I have seen since is this red. Red floor, red walls, red ceiling. Well if tunnels have walls and ceilings that is. Even my fatigues are red from the dust I kick up at nearly every step.
My purpose. Yes, my purpose. I am taking tunnels taken by previous sacrifices. At some point soon I will come to a place that hasn’t been investigated yet. We don’t know what made these tunnels, nor how far they go on. We don’t know if they are still inhabited, somewhere by someone or something. We need to find out. Most don’t return.
I’m sure you’re wondering why we don’t explore in groups. We just can’t risk it. More than one person moving around can be detected above ground, and has in the past resulted in the loss of entire enclaves. In the square and homes we are protected by the shield. But too far out of that protection we put everyone we care about at risk. So we send out the sacrifices. We know that sacrifices rarely return. But what little information gets relayed can mean the founding of a new enclave, if the materials are found along the way to build another shield that is.
Ah here. The body of another sacrifice. Before moving past, I need to check for any rations (unlikely but there’s aways a chance), and send back the signal from their scanner to confirm their passing. This does two things, it lets the family know that the sacrifice has died honourably serving our enclave, and notifies my family (well if I had any) and superiors that I am still alive and progressing into new tunnels.
From here on in, I truly am alone.

FreeBMD and the family tree

This week a friend asked me to help her organise her family tree. She wants more detail than most programs allow, more than five or six generations visible at once.
The conversation led on to my own family tree. My uncle has been doing genealogy research for many years now, and that gives me a great place to start. Sadly my husbands family’s previous research is not available to us so I have the task of finding a route through a very common Scottish surname in Central to North Scotland. Luckily I found some information on his maternal line, so at least half of it is easier.
I came across a site, that is aiming to put registrars lists online. FreeBMD has extracts from quarterly published tomes of UK births, marriages and deaths. It is transcribed entirely by volunteers, and has been going for a long time.
I figured because I have a fair amount of time on my hands I would apply to join a syndicate of transcribers. We have a “quota” of a page a month, and each page has about 3-400 entries on it.
I haven’t received my first assignment yet, but I am looking forward to it. Hopefully if more people that sign up to do it means that the information I need may become available! My syndicate manager has transcribed over a million records himself.
The site is useful for finding out who married whom, as well as the standard births and deaths. Starting with quite vague information I was able to fill in a few gaps that really helped me on my way to updating the tree for my kids.