Friday, May 22, 2015

Historical Fiction: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

As I will eventually be covering her most recently published novel, A God in Ruins, I decided to also read Kate Atkinson's previous work, Life After Life, which was the winner for Best Historical Fiction in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. With a premise that promises readers a character that is forced to relive her own life over and over again, I was ready for a novel that could probably span more categories than just historical fiction.

The Situation: In England in 1910, Ursula Todd is born during an epic snow storm. For years the family and their servants would remark that they had never seen snow like that, and hadn't since. As Ursula grows up, her life is marked by a constant sense of deja vu. She often has the feeling of having done certain things before, even though she never actually has, and having been certain places, even though she has never seen them in her life. She is also often plagued by strange and cryptic dreams, and knows answers to questions that no one has even asked yet. Sometimes a sense of dread or foreboding will come upon her so heavily that she must act, leading her mother to send her to a psychologist, and her father to quite naturally be very concerned. Her brothers and sister all have their own individual traits - Maurice is forever a jerk, Pamela reliable and caring, Teddy sweet and incredibly likable, and Jimmy...well he is just Jimmy - but Ursula's is most likely the most troubling.


The Problem: It seems that Ursula has been destined to live her life over and over again, with her death being different from the one she experienced before. While she does end up dying from an incredibly aggressive strain of the Spanish flu multiple times, it isn't for lack of trying to avoid it. But only once does she die from accidentally falling out of a window, from unknowingly gassing herself in her own apartment, from choosing to die in the middle of the war, or from the collapse of a wall after England has been bombed by the Nazis. And in each life, small decisions she makes can not only save her own life, but others as well, especially with Adolf Hitler rising to power in Germany, bringing about World War II and all of the devastation it would inflict on Europe. In each life that she lives, Ursula has different experiences, and gets a little better at avoiding peril. But what is the point of her being given all of these chances? What is she supposed to do that would stop her waking up on that incredibly snowy night after having died moments before?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel with elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Ursula Todd is living her life over and over again. A lot of the events are the same, but some are completely altered, or erased altogether, with just the slightest change. Only sometimes does she get a kiss from a boy on her 16th birthday, and only in some timelines does she end up married, and only in one does she end up a mother. Life After Life is a book that allows the author to give her character multiple story lines without having to pick and choose just one to follow through on. Because Ursula is bound to wake up again on that snowy day as a new baby, she gets to try out a different course this time and see how her life will go. Unfortunately for her, because she is always born in England in 1910, her life will always include World War II and the awful events that come with it. Her brothers will always become soldiers, England will always be bombed, and many will always end up dead. It isn't so much a question of whether we would change our future if we could. It is more of a question of if we could change our future, would it matter?

My Verdict: It is always tricky business for any book, movie, or TV show to try to attack time travel, because logically, it just doesn't work. But Atkinson deals with it in such a way that doesn't let the troublesome logistics of it get in the way of a good story. And with every fresh start of Ursula's life, the reader all at once both knows and doesn't know what to expect. The general path stays the same, but many key events could turn out very different, and that is what makes the book such a compelling read. With every little decision that Ursula makes, the reader doesn't know if any little change will cause Ursula to live a little longer, maybe even accomplish whatever it is she is supposed to accomplish to stop the cycle, or cause that particular timeline to come to an end, allowing her to try yet again, starting with that snowy day. I recommend this book not only to historical fiction lovers, especially those who are interested in the events and people surrounding Europe during World War II, but also anyone who would enjoy a somewhat fresh take on time travel. 

Favorite Moment: While it may be the longest and most tedious section of the book, I did enjoy the timeline where Ursula works as a sort of rescue worker, looking for survivors among the destruction left behind after the Nazis drop bombs, risking her own life in the process.

Favorite Character: Ursula's lives are unfortunately full of unsavory and reprehensible characters, but her sister Pamela is always one of the good ones. 

Recommended Reading: I typically avoid novels that center around any sort of war, so I had a hard time coming up with a recommendation here. But I did thoroughly enjoy Between Shades of Gray by young adult fiction writer Ruta Sepetys. The story follows fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas as she and her family are deported to Siberia by Stalin in 1941. It doesn't have the time travel element, but it is an incredible story of a harsh journey as experienced by a teenage girl.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reaper: The Blog Tour

Today kicks off the blog tour for my book, Reaper. The tour begins today and will continue through May 31st, with a different book blog posting a review everyday. 

Of course this is a great way to get my book out there and possibly gain it a wider audience and get it into more hands. These blogs could have followers that would never know anything about me or my book without this tour. Even so, I am still nervous. It is very possible that a reviewer may not have liked my book at all, and I naturally am not looking forward to reading something negative. But I will remain grateful for the opportunity either way and continue to look for more ways to get my book out there.

Below is the schedule for the Reaper blog tour. Be sure to give these fellow book bloggers some attention and check out some of their other reviews.

May 18 - Reading Addiction Blog Tours - Kick Off
May 19 - Penny For My Thoughts with Interview
May 20 - My Reading Addiction
May 21 - Steamy Side
May 22 - Texas Book Nook
May 25 - The Indie Express
May 26 - A Life Through Books
May 27 - Ashley's Bookshelf
May 28 - What U Talkin 'Bout Willis
May 29 - Lindea on Books and Writing with Interview
May 30 - The Northern Witch Books
May 31 - The Things We Read
May 31 - RABT Reviews - Wrap Up


 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Nonfiction: The Barefoot Lawyer by Chen Guangcheng

I entered to win The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in the New China by Chen Guangcheng through the Goodreads giveaway program, and was thrilled to win and receive the book just a few short weeks later. My interest in the book began after coming across the shorter version of Guangcheng's story in the National Book Award winning Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. The story of a blind man escaping the surveillance of literally dozens of guards while he is under house arrest is just too good to pass up.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book, pretty much a memoir, written by Guangcheng after he managed to escape from China into the U.S. with his wife, Weijing, and his son Kerui and daughter Kesi. The many social and political themes include discrimination and prejudice against the disabled, social justice, access to education, the economic divide in China, common practices of the communist party, and even some common Chinese customs when it comes to weddings and funerals. After losing his sight as an infant, Guangcheng would be discriminated against because of his blindness, with even close friends and family believing he'll never get married and only be able to make a living as a wandering storyteller or psychic, which is the fate of many blind people in China. Even his access to education would be affected, and it didn't help that his family was extremely poor and could hardly afford pay his share of the taxes, much less send him to college and pay the tuition, room and board. Guangcheng will be able to attend a school for the blind, but his options regarding his profession were still narrow. And although he studies medicine, Guangcheng would eventually become what is known as a "barefoot lawyer." While he held no formal law degree, he still studied it, practiced it, and advocated for himself and those around him. It is this advocacy, specifically concerning the one-child policy, that would land him in prison, and after his release, oppressive house arrest. It is a story of overcoming enormous obstacles in an effort to fight for what is right.

My Verdict: While this story is autobiographical and mostly talks about Guangcheng's life growing up, and how he came to be under brutal persecution in his own country, the very beginning of the book, as well as the ending, include his time in prison, and reads much like a political or suspense drama. Also, there are many moments when this book almost becomes an exposé of all the things Guangcheng believes to be wrong with China, and there are a lot. The man names names, repeatedly, of both those who persecuted him and those he is grateful for (the latter list includes many American political figures that most readers in the U.S. will easily recognize). And the book reads as if Guangcheng went over his story with a fine-toothed comb, making sure to leave nothing out, as he wants the world to know what is happening in his home country. Guangcheng has one purpose, to get this story out to as many people as possible. I have to admire his bravery and boldness, as well as his resolve and persistence. Those that are interested in what really goes on in China - all the stuff they are so eager to cover up - may want to read this book. 

Favorite Moment: The very beginning, when Guangcheng, a blind man, manages to escape the watch of literally dozens of men who have surrounded his home, and in broad daylight.

Recommended Reading: I definitely recommend the aforementioned Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos. This book will give a much broader view of China's political history and practices, as well as how they came to be the economic powerhouse they are today, and how the people are dealing with this change.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Classic Fiction: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I figured it was time to cover another classic, so I more or less just searched through my bookshelves for a classic written no later than the 18th century that I haven't already covered. Clearly, I landed on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and will discuss this gothic novel here.

The Situation: Mr. Lockwood, a renter at Thrushcross Grange, visits the landlord of Wuthering Heights, and is forced to stay the night at his farmhouse after becoming snowed in. After having a bad dream in which the dead Catherine Earnshaw tries to enter the room through the window, Heathcliff, the landlord, escorts Lockwood to a different room and keeps watch at the window. In the morning, once he is escorted back to Thrushcross Grange by Heathcliff, Lockwood asks the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, about the people of Wuthering Heights. What Lockwood gets is an intricate and complicated story involving bitter, broken, and often hateful people. Some would call it a love story; some would refer to it as a case study in the inherent messiness of relationships; and still others would say it is the story of selfish and insecure people inflicting their own misery upon others.

The Problem: Heathcliff's adoption by the elder Mr. Earnshaw thirty years earlier makes his son, Hindley, incredibly jealous. It also doesn't help that Hindley's sister Catherine is also quite fond of Heathcliff and the two become close. After the death of his father, Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights and allows Heathcliff to stay on only as a servant. While Catherine and Heathcliff are still close friends, she becomes influenced by the good manners and superior appearance of the Linton family, who are the current tenants of Thrushcross Grange, and eventually becomes engaged to the son, Edgar. It is Catherine's confession to Nelly about her engagement, one that is only half-heard by Heathcliff, that causes him to run away and disappear. And although he would eventually return, his relationship with Catherine is never the same, and the rest of the family suffers due to their spiteful and vengeful behavior. Lockwood eventually gets the strange family's entire history from Nelly, catching him up on the events still going on in the present day.

Genre, Themes, History: Wuthering Heights is a British gothic novel set in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As I mentioned before, it could be considered a love story, albeit a tragic one.  And not quite the Romeo and Juliet type of tragic either, even though the body count is actually higher. Catherine and Heathcliff care for each other. But Catherine is essentially a snob and believes Heathcliff isn't good enough for her. Of course that doesn't stop her from becoming incredibly hurt when he runs off to get married. And while Catherine is used to pretty much getting everything she wants, and manipulating and pouting whenever she doesn't, Heathcliff is predisposed to hating everyone and vowing revenge for how he is treated. In short, these two people are making themselves and each other miserable, while everyone around them becomes miserable by proxy. Initial reviews for the book were deeply split, with some believing that the cruelty depicted was unusually severe for the time. And of course, there has been much comparison between this book and Charlotte Bronte's book, Jane Eyre, as the two authors were sisters, and both books were published within the same year. Jane Eyre is longer, but easier to swallow, while Wuthering Heights is often seen as more entertaining.

My Verdict: Writing books where pretty much every character is a terrible person is not a recent trend (The Girl on the Train, I am looking in your direction), and Wuthering Heights is a good example. People are awful, and apparently have been at least since the late 18th century. With that being said, I actually really like this book, even though every other page had me wishing for Catherine's death. The woman is exhausting.  And Heathcliff isn't much better, although for me, he elicits much more sympathy. I can see why reviewers and critics of the time thought the novel's tone was harsh and somewhat shocking. I would say even by today's standards, it still kind of is, especially when it comes to how Heathcliff is treated, and in turn, treats others. If you are looking for a classic with some grit to it, Wuthering Heights is most certainly for you.

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Catherine dies. Yeah, I said it.

Favorite Character: Nelly Dean, the housekeeper and narrator for most of the novel, seems to be a completely unbiased bystander, and is able to tell the story just as it happens. Of course, that would mean that the people are just as awful as her story shows them to be. 

Recommended Reading: It's easy to recommend Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre as a companion novel, seeing as the two authors come from the same family. But I will go ahead and also recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, another classic novel that shows the darker side of human beings who are allowed to get away with treating people however they want.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: Twisted by Marjorie Brody

The week's choice was written by a fellow member of the San Antonio Writer's Guild. Marjorie Brody's Twisted is a young adult novel set in small-town Texas, so it naturally appeals to me anyway. The fact that I know that author made it that much easier to choose it for the blog.

The Situation: Fourteen year-old Sarah doesn't want to talk about what happened the night of the school dance. She would like to forget about it and move on with her life. Ideally, she would go to her parents, but her father would no doubt do something rash that would land him in jail for the rest of his life. And her mother would find a way to make it seem like it was Sarah's fault. So Sarah does whatever she can to hide the truth, and she hopes that the other person who knows what happened will do the same. Meanwhile, 18 year-old Judith has a secret of her own that her and her boyfriend Carlton must come to a decision about. The answer seems pretty obvious, especially with the future the two of them already had planned out, a future that would be ruined should Judith decide to keep the baby.

The Problem: While Sarah would love to forget about what happened, even if that means stewing in her own hatred and anger while the offenders go free, it looks like the events of that night are going to be found out anyway. But even though the police have been told, which in turn means Sarah's parents have been notified, she continues to insist on keeping her mouth shut and denying that anything happened, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. She finds an unlikely friend and ally in Judith, who is going through her own struggles with an unplanned pregnancy, an alcoholic father, and an absentee mother. Somehow, the two become friends, confiding only in each other about what is really going on. But even the girls don't realize how linked they really are.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in present day small-town Texas. While Sarah is a freshman, Judith is a senior with plans to attend college and be with her boyfriend, Carlton. While Judith is wise, beautiful, and confident, she has an alcoholic father to deal with. He is drowning himself in liquor due to his grief over Judith's mother's death, and Judith is trying to take care of him and make it through these last few weeks of high school. Sarah actually has both parents fully involved in her life, but her mother is so preoccupied with seeming perfect and put-together that she ignores what is really going on with her family. Her father, however, always has Sarah's back and defends his daughter, but going to him with her issues isn't an option either because of the dangerous way he may react. Another issue that seems to plague both girls is how much gossip can circulate in a small town, which only adds to people's desire to keep things quiet and deal with issues privately, even if that means causing more harm. There are many instances throughout the book that seem like they would be cleared up if the characters were just honest. But much like in real life, sometimes things aren't quite what they seem, and there are more issues than what shows on the surface.

My Verdict: The title on this one is most certainly appropriate. The story appears to be going one way, and then makes several sharp turns before the book is over. In fact, the story continued to take twists right up until the very end...much like an actual twister. It certainly made for a compelling read; however, some of the twists and turns did seem cheap. Something like this can be really great if it is done well, but as the story got closer to the end, many of the twists felt like shortcuts the author took to hurry up and get to the ending. If the novel were a bit longer and the story were given just a little bit longer of a timeline, the ending probably wouldn't have felt so convenient and slapped together.

Favorite Moment: When Sarah was finally ready to tell the truth about what happened to her.

Favorite Character: Judith has her own demons, but she ultimately stops being too afraid to face them. It becomes clear why Sarah is so drawn to her.

Recommended Reading: As for a young adult novel, I would recommend Ava Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead as a good follow-up. If you're looking for something more geared towards adults, I would recommend The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Contemporary Fiction: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

When The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was consistently compared to Gone Girl, I was naturally hesitant, because I didn't like Gone Girl. But then I read reviews from people who clarified that this new suspense/thriller novel was similar to Gone Girl in that it has many twists and turns and is incredibly suspenseful, and that is something I could get behind. So, with still quite a bit of hesitation, I decided to try it out.

The Situation: Rachel takes the same train into town everyday, that makes the same stops, allowing her to look at the same houses and observe the same people. The perfect couple, Jess and Jason, live just a few houses down from where Rachel used to live before her life fell apart not too long ago. But that would never happen to Jess and Jason, Rachel has decided. Having observed them from the train for quite awhile now, she not only has given them imaginary names, but also imaginary jobs, personalities, hobbies, everything. She imagines that they have the life she ruined, by wanting something she can't have so badly that she began to drink, heavily. And even though her ex-husband, Tom,  has moved on and remarried, that doesn't stop Rachel from sending drunken emails and text messages, calling the house, and even coming by the neighborhood. So while her life remains far from perfect, and seems to get a little further away from perfect with each passing day, Rachel imagines that Jess and Jason have what she has lost.

The Problem: One day Jess, whose real name is Megan, goes missing, and it is all over the news. This would shatter Rachel's perfect image of the couple whose house she could always see from the trains, except that image was already damaged when she saw Megan in the house not too long ago, kissing a man that wasn't Scott, her husband. And if Rachel's behavior was not already erratic and embarrassing enough, her obsession with her imaginary couple brings her to the attention of the police, whom she contacts when she feels they need to know about the other man. It's bad enough that Anna, Tom's new wife, has wanted to take legal action against Rachel for some time, hopefully getting her out of their lives for good. But now she is also seemingly involved with the awful disappearance of Megan, who lived just a few houses down. As Rachel fights her alcoholism, she also willingly entangles herself in an investigation that has nothing to do with her. At worst, it will be her most public embarrassment and shaming yet. But at best, she may find out what really happened to Megan, what it has to do with her current situation, and what really happened the night she went missing.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a suspense/thriller novel set in and near London around late 2012 to summer 2013. For the most part, the novel centers around five people: Rachel; her ex-husband Tom; his new wife Anna; Megan, the woman who goes missing; and Scott, her husband. At first the book starts with Rachel telling the story. If there were ever an unreliable narrator, it would be this woman. Sometimes she drinks so much that she doesn't remember the horrible things she did the next day, so other people have to tell her. But the book also switches to Megan's story once in a while, up until the day she goes missing. At first it would seem that the story would be a little clearer coming from her, but that proves to not be true, especially when she begins having an affair with her therapist. And then there is Anna's side of the story. For the reader, she is the last remaining hope for any sort or sanity, but believing even her poses a problem as she pretty much delights in the fact that she stole Tom from Rachel and loved being a mistress, even before she realized that her husband's previous marriage was in a bad place. The entire novel comes from three incredibly broken women whose issues shine through how they tell of the events happening around them. But even with these shifting perspectives, one thing that always stays constant is the train that passes by the houses. It is the train that Rachel takes into town everyday, despite having lost her job months ago and really having nowhere to go. Anna hates living by the tracks, not only because of the noise, but also because she is living in the house Tom shared with Rachel. And it is the view from this train that will allow Rachel to see into Megan and Scott's lives. If she wasn't able to see them from a distance everyday and decided in her head what their lives must be like, she most likely would have never gotten involved once Megan turned up missing.

My Verdict: I'll just go ahead and say that I enjoyed this book so much more than I did Gone Girl. I make no pretense about not liking that book, especially the ending. However, my dislike of it actually started before the ending as it took a turn about 1/3 of the way through that I knew it would never recover from, and it didn't. For me, The Girl on the Train is just a better story with better pacing and a better mystery to solve. The characters are still painfully terrible people. At one point I wasn't anxious about the story at all because everyone deserved to have something happen to them at some point. Rachel specifically is one of the most frustrating narrators I have encountered in a long time (although Scarlett O'Hara still takes the top spot). She could barely stay sober long enough to follow through with anything effectively. And even when she was sober, she would do stupid things or say stupid stuff that most people with any amount of common sense could realize would only make the current situation worse. And really, Megan and Anna weren't much different. But even with the terrible characters, I found myself enjoying the book all the way through. It does have the twists and turns that everyone said it did, but they are well done and tied together beautifully.

Favorite Moment: When there begin to be hints that Anna's world isn't as perfect as it seems.

Favorite Character: None. No one. Everyone is awful and people are the worst.

Recommended Reading: I won't say Gone Girl, because I could never recommend Gone Girl. So instead I'll recommend Night Film by Marisha Pessl, although it is more on the haunting and scary side, as opposed to being a suspenseful thriller.   

Friday, April 17, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I first took notice of today's book when it started showing up around Goodreads as a book to be excited about in 2015. Before it officially became available, people were already raving about Jasmine Warga's My Heart and Other Black Holes. But when I read the synopsis and realized what this book was about, I hesitated. In its simplest form, the book is about a pair of teenagers who have made a suicide pact. Not only is that a heavy topic to read about, but the author could either handle it well, or poorly. However, given the generally positive reactions the book had already gained, I decided to take a chance and go for it.

The Situation: Aysel Seran wants to die. A deep depression has taken over her life and she is ready to be done with her miserable existence. She can occasionally remember moments when things weren't so bad, when she was actually happy, but when her father committed a terrible crime that shook the entire town of Langston, Kentucky, Aysel's entire life changed. Instead of living with her dad during the week and only visiting her mom and her new family on the weekends, Aysel now lives in her stepdad's house and shares a room with a half-sister she feels she has nothing in common with. She feels like her family wishes she wasn't around, and the kids at school don't talk to her, although they clearly talk about her. Add in a miserable job with the isolation at school, and being avoided at home, and Aysel is done with living.

The Problem: Aysel wants to die, but she doesn't think she has the courage to go through with it, not by herself. So when she finds a partner in Roman through a website that specializes in pairing people together who want to commit suicide, it looks like she may actually be able to do this. Roman is even more determined to die than Aysel. After living with the guilt from a terrible tragedy for nearly a year, Roman wants a partner who will jump in the Ohio River with him. He is both terrified of not being able to do it because his worrying mother rarely lets him out of her sight, and that Aysel will flake out on him. And while Aysel and Roman get to know each other and make their plans, Aysel starts to wonder if she can go through with it. And if she can't, how can she convince Roman to back out as well?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that focuses on two teenagers who have decided to kill themselves, but for different reasons. Aysel (pronounced like "gazelle") is the narrator of the story. As a young Turkish girl in small-town Kentucky, it is safe to say that she never really felt like she fit in. She was never incredibly popular or anything close, although once upon a time she did have friends. But when her dad committed a terrible crime, Aysel pushed away anyone who hadn't distanced themselves willingly. With the story being told from her point of view, the reader gets her constant assurances that people don't like her (and maybe they don't), that people are talking about her (and maybe they are), and that her family doesn't want her around (although she is pretty good at pushing them away). But even with only her perspective to go on, it is clear that things aren't quite as dark as Aysel wants to believe. And the title of the novel comes from Aysel's favorite subject in school: physics. She feels like her heart has collapsed in on itself, threatening to take the rest of her with it. While Aysel feels like her depression is eating her from the inside out, Roman feels the same about his guilt over his sister's death. Unlike Aysel, Roman used to be, and still is, quite popular. But even this continued popularity and support doesn't keep him from wanting to end his life.

My Verdict: There are parts of this book where Aysel's sadness, and sometimes Roman's as well, could be felt from the page. The title of the book could not be more perfect, as I often felt like my own heart was incredibly heavy with Aysel's sadness and loneliness. And the character of Roman genuinely made me nervous because he is so insistent on going through with something that many people couldn't imagine making real plans for. Warga doesn't treat the subject lightly, and she doesn't make fun of it or skirt around the issue. This is a book about two broken people who are tired of being broken. It is heavy, it is often dark, and it is incredibly sad and heartbreaking. But the topic was treated with the honesty it deserves, even if that means the book was sometimes painful to read. With that being said, the book also isn't sad and depressing just for the sake of being sad and depressing. And I honestly wasn't ready for it to end when it did. I wanted it to go on and tell me more. So I guess it wasn't too painful if I wanted it to continue.

Favorite Moment: Any moment when Aysel was able to see how her family really feels about her.

Favorite Character: This was actually pretty tough for me to choose, but I finally landed on Aysel. She is hurting, and her decisions are a result of being tired of being in constant emotional pain. While that isn't exactly fun to read about, I didn't feel like Aysel was playing the victim. The reader gets access to the thoughts she refused to express to people in her life. And maybe the fact that I still liked her even with knowing all of her deep dark secrets is proof that she should reach out more to the people around her. 

Recommended Reading: I think Ava Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead would be a great follow-up to this book. With both novels, the importance of communication and reaching out to people close to them play a key role in the narrators' healing.