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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: February 2015

Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses by Julie Shaw and Debbie Martin

behavior

 

Thanks to Wiley-Blackwell for offering me this textbook in exchange for an honest review.

This comprehensive textbook contains 9 chapters and 3 appendices, and is geared towards the veterinary technician, rather than the veterinarian. Oftentimes, it’s the technician that assesses the patient before the doctor enters the room, and can be indispensable in offering guidance and advice to weary pet owners. The chapters read as follows:

  • The role of the veterinary technician in animal behavior
  • canine behavior and development
  • feline behavior and development
  • the human-animal bond
  • communication and connecting the animal behavior team
  • learning and behavior modification
  • problem prevention
  • specific behavior modification techniques and practical application for behavior disorders
  • introductory neurophysiology and psychopharmacology

As you can see, there is a chapter for everything, with the final one discussing medications as a last resort. The chapters can be read progressively, or referred to here and there to educate a client on a particular issue. The focus here is to understand the patient and correct bad habits in a way that the pet will accept, withour cruelty or harsh discipline. The book advises that shock collars or physical punishment is not akin to learning, and so is not the best method to use.

Also very helpful is the chapter about communication and connecting the behavior team. Occasionally there will be that animal that will not resolve its behavior, no matter how hard the owner tries. If euthanasia is being considered, there will be many different ways the owner may react, and the book goes through the stages of grief and how to help the owner through this hard time.

The book is accompanied by many color photos, graphs, tables, and diagrams illustrating the  text and adding another level of understanding. Here is an example of a schematic that gives a great deal of information at a glance:

behvior book pic

Flowcharts are usually easy to read, and this one also has notes at the bottom that correlate with the numbers in the red circles. Both beginning and experienced behavior techs will appreciate what this book has to offer–and their patients will too!

The appendices (found after chapter 9) are broken down into Forms and Questionnaires, Training Exercises, and Samples and Letters.  There is also a companion website  that offers handouts, review questions, and additional images.

There is a lot packed into this text, and technicians will be better able to assist the veterinarian after becoming familiar with the material covered. Even if the technician is not part of the full time behavioral staff, they will be able to educate the client thoroughly and become more adept at handling patients. Wiley has created another indispensable book for the veterinary technician! You can pick up your copy here.

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with Carol Cassella (Gemini)

 

I had the pleasure of interviewing author Carol Cassella after I read her bestseller GEMINI, and it was a wonderful experience. Here is our Q&A session:

GTB: Which character did you have the easiest time writing? Who was the hardest?

CC:  Although she might seem to be quite different than myself, Raney was the easiest character to visualize and write. I distinctly heard her voice with a rural accent, akin to the Texas drawl I grew up with. No, Raney has certainly never been to Texas, (and I hope I successfully turned her voice into a rural Pacific Northwest accent), but I spent a lot of time riding horses as a young girl and that meant I spent a lot of time outside the city with kids who’d grown up in smaller towns. And, in ways, Raney reminds me of many of my patients: people who live in much more strained circumstances than my own peer group. One of the greatest privileges of being a doctor is that you get the chance to witness, sometimes intimately, the daily hurdles that millions of Americans who live below the poverty line have to overcome. I’ve taken care of a lot of people whose talents and intelligence might have generated good incomes and stable homes if they had had better examples and opportunities growing up. But I so love Raney’s spunk and independence, and her artistic view of the natural world. We enjoyed being together on the page during the long days of writing the book.

David was probably the most difficult character to bring fully to life. He was the most “evil” of GEMINI’s players, a borderline personality disorder type who could lie not only to others but also to himself; a man with a very poorly developed moral conscience. On the other hand, who among us is purely good or evil? No one, in my experience of the world. We are all born with certain traits and inclinations, but are then much shaped and influenced by the kindnesses and cruelties we experience growing up. I had to make David callous enough to abandon Raney on the highway, but big-hearted enough that she could be willing to marry him, even if it was in many ways a marriage of necessity. I intentionally kept his role in Raney’s accident uncertain; because the police were not able to confirm enough evidence to get a search warrant or prosecute him, I wanted readers to walk that line as well—to suspect David but be unsure how far he would go in a fit of anger. Writing such an ambiguous character is challenging, but also more fascinating than creating someone who could be described as one dimensional.

 

GTB:  Do you do an outline of the story, or do you just write for hours and let the plot unfold as it will? Do you let the characters create their own voice as you go?

CC:  I have approached each of my three novels differently so far and discovered that outlines do not work for me. I wrote the first draft of HEALER after creating an extensive outline, and ended up with a book that felt forced, the characters driven into actions to match the plot outline rather than motivated by their own personalities as they developed through the writing process. I took another year dismantling and rewriting HEALER so that it worked as a whole. Maybe this is what we are really describing when we talk about “character driven” stories—stories where the plot builds as a consequence of each character’s choices. As I draft scenes I fill in details about each character that often seem to appear out of nowhere—small background conflicts or hobbies or pet peeves that spring onto the page from my imagination and, over time, create a unique individual who might or might not want to follow the plot line I’ve planned. That is when writing gets fun—when you see the characters developing in such a rich and complicated way they begin to dictate their own choices. At that point they do start to speak to me in their own voice, but I have to invest many hours filling blank pages, often discarded, before that spark of life catches fire.

Certainly, though, plot outlines work very well for many writers, and I have friends who depend on them. I think any tool can be used if the writer understands how their own mind approaches story. I begin each novel with a general idea of major plot elements. The central conflict and topic are chosen because I find them interesting questions to research and ponder for the two or three years I’ll spend writing. Then I spend each writing session by starting with a scene I think I’ll need—two characters in a conversation, or some pivotal event that will turn the action. The scenes might be completely unrelated in the novel’s arc, and many of them will end up thrown away, but after a few months I can begin to see what matters—which scenes will form the core of both the plot and the characters’ motivations. I always start the novel thinking I know how it will end, but I am always surprised that things turn out differently than I’d predicted.

 

GTB:  Is there a possibility in the future to see another book with any of the characters from Oxygen or Gemini? I’d love to see Jake’s story unfold.

CC:  I, too, would love to see Jake’s story unfold. And Marie’s and Joe’s (if he’s alive!). So far, though, I don’t have any plans for a sequel to any of my books. I’m well into the fourth novel now, and don’t yet have a clue about what will follow that. I find that when I’m deeply engaged in writing one novel and one set of characters, I am almost incapable of imagining any other project to follow.

 

GTB:  Charlotte (and subsequently, the reader) viewed the ethics board and the CPG as “the enemy”. This also served to create tension and make the reader aware of time running out for Raney. What are your thoughts, as a medical professional, on those who decide the fate of comatose patients and deal with ethics, rather than medicine?

CC:  If I have one goal for readers of GEMINI, it is to spark discussions about their own beliefs and personal hopes for the end of life. We are not very good about talking about that tangled, uncertain but inevitable future, either as doctors or as patients. For millennia no one had to ponder such questions except in the most theoretical sense: what an ideal death might look like—quickly felled by infection, or being eaten by a tiger? But in the past few decades, thanks to remarkable advances in medical care, most of us will be offered choices as we grow old and ill. Pacemakers, bypass surgery, dialysis, insulin, stroke prevention, antibiotics, cancer treatment—all of these and hundreds more are giving us many more productive and hopefully happy years before age or disease finally outruns the options available. But the quality of those final months or, sometimes, years, can be very poor. Should more time always be our number one goal? What makes your life worth living?

Given that we must all eventually die, shouldn’t physicians also be helping us approach that end nobly and in keeping with our personal values? Interestingly, hospice care has been proven to extend both the quality and quantity of life in terminally ill patients, and yet access to hospice care is usually offered far too late and too infrequently. I don’t try to give readers answers to any of these questions—they are too personal for any outsider to dictate—but we should all be considering them and discussing our wishes and beliefs with our family members and close friends, who might have to make these difficult decisions for us in our last days. You are quite right, though; I used the ethics board and CPG to impart a sense of urgency and loss of individual (Raney’s in this case) control at the end. While the situation of being an unidentified Jane Doe is unlikely, many, many of us end life without having made it clear what our final wishes are to those who will be caring for us.

 

GTB: Who do you think had the happier, most satisfying life, Charlotte or Raney?

CC:  Raney had such a free spirit and innate joy for living, a capacity to be happy in the present, I think she had the most important traits for a satisfying life. But economics and the randomness of fate delivered her into a broken family living in hard circumstances. Thank heavens for Grandpa, who gave her love and stability and backbone despite his gruff demeanor. Sadly, in the end, I think poverty and lack of opportunity and education derailed Raney’s chances for a life as happy and fulfilled as Charlotte’s.

Currently half of all school aged children in the U.S. are poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches. One quarter of our children don’t have enough food to eat. Raney may seem like an outlier, but her life represents a very large number of people who are our neighbors, just a few doors or miles down the road.

 

Carol Cassella is a practicing physician, speaker, and the national bestselling author of three novels, Gemini (2014), Healer (2010), Oxygen (2008), each published by Simon & Schuster and translated into multiple foreign languages. All three novels were Indie Next Picks.

Carol majored in English Literature at Duke University and attended Baylor College of Medicine. She is board certified in both internal medicine and anesthesiology, and practiced primary care with a focus on cross cultural and underserved populations before becoming an anesthesiologist. Prior to writing fiction Carol wrote for the Global Health division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, covering their grant projects throughout the developing world. She has been a contributor to the Wall Street Journal as an Expert Panelist in Healthcare, and edits a literary section in Anesthesiology, the journal of the American Society of Anesthesiology. She is a founding member of Seattle7Writers, a non-profit supporting literacy and reading in the Pacific Northwest, and also serves on medical organizations working in Nicaragua and Bhutan. Carol lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington with her husband and two sets of twins. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

 

Gemini by Carol Cassella (plus INTERVIEW)

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Many thanks to author Carol Cassella for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review.  At the bottom of the page there will be a link to a Q&A I did with the author–enjoy!

An unidentified woman is hit by a car and abandoned along a rural highway in western Washington. She is life-flighted to a Seattle trauma center, where she’s admitted to the intensive care unit overseen by Dr. Charlotte Reese, who battles to keep her “Jane Doe” patient alive while a police investigation tries to discover who is responsible for this hit and run—a charge that could turn into murder if this gravely injured woman dies. Charlotte also senses a more covert battle brewing with the hospital’s legal department when they assign a professional guardian to stand in lieu of Jane’s unknown family and make critical decisions about her care. In frustration, Charlotte and her boyfriend Eric, a science journalist, begin their own efforts to find Jane’s family, veering across the professional boundary between physician and patient. As their lives become more entangled, the truths Charlotte learns will radically alter her own life more profoundly than they alter her patient’s.

 

This book made my heart ache with sorrow and joy so much, that I had to put it down at times to let my feelings ebb away, in order to absorb what was happening next. Cassella strikes a chord as she writes about young love, loss, and coming to terms that your life could be so much more, but isn’t. The separate plot of Raney and Bo, who meet as children and move in and out of each other’s lives,  is told as flashbacks, interspersed with the present tale of the nurse Charlotte as she navigates her relationship with Eric while she  is trying  to find out the identity of Jane Doe.  Eric has a health issue that prevents him from being able to commit fully to Charlotte, and she is becoming discouraged. As she learns more about Jane and who she is, she becomes forced to make decisions that will affect the rest of her life, while putting Eric at a crossroads he never wanted to reach. Cassella’s writing allowed me to empathize with Charlotte, and captured the stress and wariness of both partners as they face things that could tear them apart.

However, the story of Raney, a young artist from the poor side of Quentin, Washington, and Bo, who spends a few summers in Quentin with his aunt, is where the story really shines. They grow older and develop feelings for each other that never really fade away, no matter how many times life causes them to part. Each emotion is told with heartbreaking texture, first from Raney’s perspective, then from Bo’s. Life gets in their way, as Raney must care for her ailing grandfather while Bo, from a well to do family, attends college and travels the world.

Each of the four characters must make sacrifices and learn how to make the best out of every situation.  Raney, by far, is the one that shines brightly throughout, as a girl who guards her heart and nurtures her feelings for Bo over the years. I was overcome with emotion time and time again, turning pages as quickly as I could to see what would happen to Raney next. I was affected by her story so much I still think about her to this day and feel as if I could cry. Not many fictional characters get under my skin, but Raney did.

Cassella is adroit at mixing medical situations with real life problems, and the story comes to a resolution that is plausible and bittersweet. If you can get to the last page and not be affected, perhaps you had better check to see if your heart still beats within you. These characters will stay with you for a long time. GEMINI is a must read. You can pick up your copy here.

 

Click here to be taken to the page with the EXCLUSIVE interview I did with Carol!

 

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

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From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set.  From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother’s astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she’s socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning “Shadow Queen.” Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king’s bed.

Indeed, Claudette’s “reputable” new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King’s favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

This book was on my “want to read” list, and I picked it up from my local library. As soon as I started reading, I was transported into France in the 1600’s–with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the period. Claudette was an easy heroine to like, and her desire to make her family’s life better will resonate with many readers.

One of the best things about THE SHADOW QUEEN is that the author Sandra Gulland didn’t bury the plot in a lot of politics. Rather, she spends her description on the trials and triumphs of stage actors, and later, the sumptuous trappings of Louis the XIV’s Court. Her characters come alive: Moliere, Corneille, and Athenais are alternately drawn to scale and then appear larger than life at times. Gulland keeps the story true to life, for the most part, as she takes historical fact and makes it sing. She brings the hopes and fears of Athenais to the forefront, and helps the reader to see who she was and who she turned into: a cunning and manipulative woman who fears the loss of her youth and vitality, and resorts to black magic to keep the affections of her beloved Sun King. It seemed hard to understand if that affection was true, or just opportunistic.

Claudette stayed true to herself throughout the book, continuing to care for her mother and brother even as her innocence is slowly pulled from her; and she made a stand against her beloved Athenais, which comes back to haunt her and threatens to ruin her life. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would end for Claudette.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, and intend to read other novels of Gulland’s. Her research is thorough and her writing is clean. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen

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In 1911 two wealthy but hypochondriacal sisters found a sanitorium that promoted a special “fasting” cure for whatever ails you.  They were so eager to check in and become patients, but didn’t know that Dr Linda Hazzard would try to kill them, not by fasting, but by placing them on a starvation diet that would weaken and terrify them. This is their story, including the famous court case against Dr Hazzard.

Claire and Dora Williamson thought that the revolutionary “fasting” cure would help their vague maladies: female trouble, headaches, malaise. A plan was concocted to get in touch with Dr Hazzard and gain admittance to her sanitorium. The sisters told no one of their journey, and thus no one missed them, as they were always traveling here and there.  The sisters were separated once the fast started in earnest, and could only hear each other. As they grew weaker, dizzy and exhausted, each one thought the other one was getting stronger. Finally Claire slipped away, her jewelry and money appropriated by Dr Hazzard and her husband Sam. Dora was told that she was becoming insane, and it was her sister Claire’s wishes that she stay on at the sanitorium until her death. Purely by accident the sister’s former nanny tracked Dora down, and spirited the emaciated woman away. Part Two of the story tells the story of how the British Vice Consul championed the Williamson’s plight and attempted  to take legal action against Dr Hazzard and Starvation Heights.

 

This is a true story, told with chilling detail  due to author Gregg Olsen‘s thorough research. Washington State provided archival materials to the author, such as Claire Williamson’s death certificate, the court ruling, interviews with former residents and photographs of the town of Olalla at the time of the incident. Dr Hazzard’s place was notorious amongst the residents, but they were an insular group and no one thought to say anything against the Hazzards. This was why so many people had died  (at least 40) at Linda Hazzard’s hands.

Linda Burfield Hazzard was a strong willed woman, a feminist who railed against the Old School of male doctors. In fact, she was never given a real medical license, a fact that was made much of in court. She felt the medical establishment was against her, and only wanted to provide an alternative method for healing.

On the one hand, she did prove herself as a maverick, but on the other hand she took things too far and was greedy. Healing by starvation was not her intent–or was it? Olsen paints a picture of her as just a little off, controlling and single minded. I was not sympathetic to her character at all, and felt as if she set the female gender back many years with her antics. Being an advocate of natural healing does not mean starving someone against their will in the name of medicine.

Olsen’s writing is detailed and colorful, giving equal time to both good and bad guys. Back story on both Linda and Sam Hazzard is given, albeit towards the latter part of the book, but it does explain a lot about both of their psyches. The court proceedings do not consume too much, which I liked, but the parts about the Consul trying to enlist help from the British and neighboring cities became a bit dry.

All in all, this was a good read. Fans of true crime will enjoy this, and marvel at the facts that permitted such injustice to proceed unchecked for so long. Author Olsen is well versed in the true crime genre, and provides fact and sensation equally. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

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