Book Review: Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness by David Casarett, MD

I will be the first to admit that it took me some time to get into this book — Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness by David Casarett. Usually by about page 50, I know whether to give up on a book. Even if the first few pages don’t capture my attention immediately, I have a hard time investing in it for the long haul. I am of the opinion that life is too short to waste on books you hate. However, this was not a book I hated, after all. 

Well, gee, that sounds like a ringing endorsement, doesn’t it? Persevere, dear reader, as I have more to say. This is one of those books that builds slowly, perhaps with a touch of clunkiness. But once I got into it, I was thoroughly charmed. 

This is a book about a Thai nurse ethicist named Ladarat Patalung. If that’s not intriguing to you by itself, then, well, you and I won’t get along. She solves ethical problems for her hospital, the only ethicist on staff. She spent a year in Chicago studying for this work, and took a touch of American attitude home with her. She’s a widow who expects to remain a spinster, but she has come to peace with that. She enjoys simple pleasures, like tea by the river. Her cat is named Maewfawbaahn. She relies on a textbook on medical ethics written by a Professor Dalrymple, and this American professor’s witticisms always inform her toughest decisions. See? Charming.

Until one day when a detective comes to see her with an ethical problem. It is not a good day for a detective with an ethical problem; Ladarat is in the midst of preparing for an inspection and trying to please a micromanaging boss. She’s also dealing with the ethical problems of her own job, namely, an American tourist who fell into a coma after an injury on an elephant ride, who was there on a honeymoon; as well as a strange, simple-minded farmer from the country who seems to be living in the stairwell of the waiting room. 

But Ladarat has a natural gift for detection, as she calls it, with a strong work ethic, and a keen eye for observation and the nuances of human behavior. It is also what makes her interested in ethical problems. The detective comes to her with a case that piques her curiosity — men have been showing up to her hospital dead, with the same name, accompanied by the same wife. She agrees to help. It doesn’t hurt that the detective is also attractive. 

This was a colorful book, with excellent character development. I felt like I was Ladarat’s best friend by the end of it, although it took me some time to warm up to her. When I finally did, I found her charming. It’s a fine line between what one considers charming and what one considers annoying, perhaps. 

Also intriguing in this book was the descriptions of Thai culture, personalities, and customs. What I found clunky about it at first was that sometimes it was handled in too much of an expository manner. But my interest in the culture soon took over and I found it a well-researched, convincing book. It turns out that the author is also a doctor who made frequent trips to Thailand, both for business and research. His insight into the medical field was also interesting and full of attention to detail. I admired that he brought out the standard of care exhibited by the Thai health care system and was very respectful toward Thai doctors and nurses, portraying the challenges and showing their humanity and strength of character. 

In short order, this was a fun mystery, a lighthearted read, and a delicious escape into the rich sights, smells and food of Thailand. This book really made me hungry for Thai food by the end of it, besides. If you’re looking for a pleasurable mystery with colorful characters and thoughtful attention to detail, this book is the ticket. 

As a side note, I would like to thank Corvallis Public Library for this book, because I have checked it out past the due date and they have waived fines for it on account of their closure. I will return it as soon as things get back to normal around here, whatever normal can be after all of this. I always find interesting books at my wonderfully stocked local library and I am grateful for them. 

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An Eerily Empty Photo Walk in Salem, Oregon

I have no words for today’s blog post; I hope to speak to you instead through pictures. But I will introduce this post first. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, and commute to work in Salem, Oregon. Every week, I indulge my love of street photography. It is a reflective exercise, in a way, as I reach back to my roots and revive my passion for photojournalism and documentary photography. Capturing life as it happens; gritty, real, raw and true.

Every Friday when it’s not raining heavily, I have made it a habit to bring my camera with me to work. I walk around the downtown area to document its comings and goings. Salem’s downtown has a bit more opportunities than the downtown area in Corvallis, which is much smaller. I get bored less often in a new place. Not to say that Corvallis is not photogenic. Far from it.

This Friday, even with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and business most definitely not as usual, I did my usual weekly photo walk. I am clinging in desperation to my routines these days to find order in the chaos. The weather was crisp and fine, approaching a pleasant spring and 60 degrees. I even had time in the morning for golden hour because traffic getting there was so light. It was eerie walking around these empty, ghost-town streets that normally bustled with people from all over the Valley. Out and about were mainly just delivery drivers, a few stalwart state workers like myself, and some teenagers here and there.

(And yes, I have been taking this seriously. I stayed home when I had a cold last week, and I am healthy again. My job is not easily telecommutable and I need to work. I have been socially distancing and washing my hands frequently. When I am home, I don’t go out except when I need food, or for some fresh air in nature, and staying far away from other people.)

Any of these photos are available as a digital or print for purchase; feel free to PM me on Twitter or email me to get copies. You may also donate to my Venmo if you support my artistic and creative efforts. Every little bit helps these days when our budgets are stretched thin.

Without further ado, because I wrote more words than I intended, I present my photo essay. All photos shot by Denise Ruttan, March 20, 2020, Salem, Oregon.

Book Review: Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael

This next book is rather difficult to review without providing spoilers, but I will try to exercise restraint. The full meaning of title of the book is not immediately apparent until one steps back and takes a full accounting of the story in its entirety.

This is a lovely, sensitive book, a must for Brontë fans. I would describe it as a biopic first and foremost and a romance secondary, although it is most certainly a work of fiction, albeit one that is vested in research. This is the story of Charlotte Brontë and her humble country life in Yorkshire, altered forever by an intellect restrained by the demands of the time and a decision to write — to publish.

The book begins with the less-than-glamorous arrival of a new curate, Arthur Nicholls, and his unceremonious introduction to his new, spartan life helping the stern, hard-to-please father of three young women. As the story unfolds we see that we not only have one protagonist in the form of Charlotte Brontë, but another main character in the form of the steady, yet headstrong figure of Arthur in the remote country parish.

Almost at once the two strong personalities clash. Arthur, described simultaneously as a bigot and charitably as rigid in his views of the traditions of Catholicism and modern society, is dismissed by Charlotte, who does not find in him her intellectual equal, and rather a churlish bore. This is not the love story of her wildest imagination; Arthur is no Mr. Rochester. But regret is not to be the focus of their relationship, either. Spoilers lie in that territory, so I will demur.

This is instead largely a heartfelt, tender tale of Charlotte’s relationship with her sisters and their father, her alcoholic brother and all his wasted potential. Through vivid descriptions of the countryside moors in which the sisters loved to wander, and the apt details of sisterly affection and complexity, these characters are brought to life. Characters that could be seen as one-sided and flat (the ogre of the father, for example) gain complexity and layers as humans with wants, needs and flaws in challenging circumstances trying their best.

I don’t normally seek out romances. (Although I do love myself a good period drama and admit to a deep abiding love of Jane Austen and all Victorian-era glory.) I used to love Harlequin-style romances in my teens, but as I have grown older, I find I have less and less patience for these kinds of books, in which women are not complex characters beyond their role as a love interest for a man; while they may start out as strong personalities, in the end they remain subservient to a domesticated role, and become flat, shallow characters, idealized versions of the wife and the mother. These kinds of romances lose my interest, in the end. I’m just being brutally honest here; I know not all romances are like this, so don’t throw rocks at me.

What I appreciated about this book, on the other hand, was that the romances in it, some often one-sided and full of regret and longing, were subplots to developing the characters of Charlotte and who she was in relationship to her family and the tragedies they endured together. I appreciated that the author did a wonderful job of humanizing this famous, revered, legendary author. Charlotte Brontë was not merely a woman who loved and regretted and loved again. Charlotte Brontë was more than her Mr. Rochester.

Charlotte Brontë was real.

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First publication!

It is my goal this year to write one short story each week and submit them all with the hopes of publication. I fully expected a number of rejections and steeled myself for that possibility.

I simply changed my mindset about rejections. Rejections aren’t a reflection of my character or my self worth. Earning a rejection is, instead, a sign I’m a real writer! It means at the very least I finally finished something.

So I started writing and put aside my novel in progress for a bit. The hardest part has been coming up with enough original ideas to remain so prolific.

I submitted two in December. The publications had a 2-month response time. Then my production slowed because I got stuck trying to make my Ambrosia Brockton story better. It has since turned into a novella or at the very least a lengthy short story. I hope to get to 8,000 words.

So my writing has stalled for the last couple months while I’ve focused on WIPs. It can be hard to keep up the motivation for the submission numbers game.

My first story was rejected, but it was a 2,000 word story and I wasn’t satisfied with the pacing.

My second submission, much to my surprise and delight, was accepted! Only my second ever submission! Talk about a jolt of inspiration java. I feel so jazzed to keep going on my writing journey.

It was published today in Danse Macabre’s Du Jour section.

Here’s the link: The Innocence of Alders.

Also, I am back on Twitter, although I don’t plan to be as active on there as I once was. I find that site far too distracting. My handle is @PassageofSpace.

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