Important Things in Life

Top Three

Three items top the list of what I think is important to learn in life. First is reading. Once a child can read the door is open to academia and every day how-to instructions. The second is swimming. Even for those far away from the ocean. Finally, everyone needs to learn how to cook. Did the last two surprise you?

Reading is Most Important

As a parent, I stressed the importance of reading and thus books. Bookshelf wealth is now a thing, but our house has always had a plethora of books. Children’s books, cook books, gardening books, novels and how-to books and many, many text books fill a multitude of bookshelves.

My belief is once reading is mastered, any skill or subject matter could be learned. One can literally become a jack or jill of all trades. Instructional books abound and of course every subject taught in school can be learned if one feels the subject is important.

Swimming

My parents prioritized learning to swim before I even started kindergarten. We lived in Florida and water was everywhere! The Red Cross lessons taught floating and diving in addition to several basic swim strokes. In turn, I also felt swim lessons were important even though my kids lived on the high plains and not a hundred yards or so from the Atlantic Ocean.

My insistence that they learned was based on a tragedy from my junior high years. A classmate lost her youngest brother when the preschooler drowned in a neighbor’s pool. Bodies of water are everywhere. Swimming, floating and treading water are necessary skills for everybody.

Cooking is Important Too

Hopefully times have changed enough that learning to cook is important for all. However, I belong to a generation where many males grill burgers and steaks and not much else. Fortunately, my in-laws taught all their kids to cook, and I am married to a man that could be a master chef if he wanted to change careers.

I do not remember the age my kids were when they first started fixing food for themselves. But they needed chairs to reach the counter or the stove top. It was quite important to supervise them in the early years.

Now my grandchildren are picking up skills in the kitchen. All three have multi-functional furniture called learning towers or kitchen helpers depending on the manufacturer. These cool pieces can act as a chair and table/desk when on the side or serve as a very sturdy stepstool when standing on end. The sides provide extra support when they are helping in the kitchen either cooking or at the sink.

The oldest helps grandpa make scones and grandma make brownies. Cooking skills are important to develop from an early age. We just make sure we also emphasize safety.

Enjoying a snack at the kitchen counter.
Learning Tower is in the background.

Basic Skills

Reading, swimming, and cooking are all basic skills. However, each is critically important for living a full healthy and happy life. At first glance all could be placed toward the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Yet each offers an individual a chance to grow toward the pinnacle of self-actualization. Hence, they are important things for all to master.

We Must Not Think of Ourselves Book Review

Warsaw

A recent trip to the public library yielded We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein. Historical fiction, especially any involving World War II interests me. Mostly because I fear a repeat. Those who refuse to learn from history tend to repeat its’ sorrows.

Grodstein’s novel offers a glimpse of life inside the Warsaw Ghetto through the eyes of protagonist Adam Paskow and his journal. He was recruited by Emanuel Ringelblum to participate in the Oneg Shabbat. Both Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat existed. For more information on the group, click here.

Protagonist of We Must Not Think of Ourselves

The story unfolds from Paskow’s point of view. Journal entries and flashbacks build the history. Paskow explains what has long been a mystery. Why did so many remain in the year between the German invasion and the relocation to the Ghetto? Why the acquiescence?

Adam Paskow is a teacher and a non-practicing Jew. And a widower. He still visits his wife’s grave and finds comfort in the surroundings they shared. He stays behind in 1938 when the rest of his immediate family relocates to Palestine. Then, it is too late to go.

Paskow is an appealing character even though the detention wears down his morals. He becomes the lover of a woman who shares an apartment with him. Her husband, two children and another family also squeeze into the same small space.

Takeaways

We Must Not Think of Ourselves offers much to the reader. Well researched, the backdrop of the ghetto and its’ inhabitants shares the story of how genocide builds slowly and then happens all at once. The book highlights the importance of documentation. Without historical records, history can be forgotten or even worse-rewritten.

This reader has mixed reactions to the love story. In some ways, the relationship is believable and needed for the ending. However, conducting an affair in such close quarters…this stretches the imagination. Surely there would be more scenes of tension.

Recommendation for We Must Not Think of Ourselves

I found the novel well written and informative. A check-out from your library or an addition to your personal library is highly recommended. Individual cultures and ethnicities are still threatened today. Indeed, the cultural clashes are as responsible for today’s wars and disagreements as the age-old cause of war-land and resources. If world peace is ever to occur, this hatred and fear of those different or merely from different backgrounds must cease.

January 2024 Wrap-Up

Time Flies

January 2024 is at end. Since I am still coping with the aftermath of 2023, the time passed quite quickly. No travel to speak of since I spent every night at home. So, what was accomplished? Lots of reading. Three books reviewed with a fourth review due out in time for the weekend. Many football games watched since a family favorite team is headed to the Super Bowl. Finally, lots of hand quilting.

Snow storms, blizzards and weather in the mid-sixties made for a crazy month and it looks like the erratic pattern will continue in February. Growing up in Florida, there did not seem to be such wild weather. But perhaps I did not notice. Children have other priorities.

Random Thoughts from January 2024

  • If two old men stay healthy, it looks like we will have a re-match of the 2020 Presidential elections. On the Republican side there will be a new V.P, what about on the Democrat side? Most importantly-do costly elections eliminate younger candidates? Furthermore, why do candidates drop out before or after just one primary? Is the money machine that great?
  • Are pro ball games rigged? The Haters seem to think so.
  • After reading Lauren Grodstein’s We Must Not Think of Ourselves, I wonder if Americans would leave the country if taken over by fascists or communists? Actually, would the inhabitants of any modern country?
  • Why is it so hard for a nobody to become published? I’ve certainly read books that were just so-so and yet published, not self-published. In fact, I have read self-published books that were better than those going the traditional route. Perhaps Amazon deserves a thank you after all.

Bloggers

I read a handful of bloggers on a regular basis. Their content is varied but I enjoy what they write and learn many things. What continues to surprise me is how often I am contacted by others to write articles on subjects that are important to them. Even if I share their viewpoint, I do not feel compelled to “speak” for them.

This last week of January 2024, a different request appeared in my mailbox. The young men wanted to write a column on health and wellness. They sent a link to their own website and no, I did not click on it. But I did search and find the blog. It is a credible blog. So, why not just post there? What happened to independent thinking?

Looking Forward

I am successfully growing indoor herbs for the first winter ever. Basil, Rosemary and Thyme have been harvested from their containers throughout this long winter. Even better, the ginger roots brought back from my parents’ house are growing as well. Now the trick will be to repot so they can grow to full size. The blooms have an incredible fragrance.

February will see the first of the seed starts. The forecast for this week is above average in temperature so winter pruning and clean-up can commence. This is a good time to prune the grape vines and cut off the tops of the dead plants in the garden. It may look like lazy farming, but leaving the plants in the ground helps fight against erosion from the wind.

Finally, the blizzard knocked down some fencing and it is time to repair again. Fortunately, the damage was to the deer fencing and not the heavy- duty privacy fencing like in previous years.

Hidden Potential Book Review

Another Winner from Adam Grant

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things written by Adam Grant was one of the books I gifted to a family member this past Christmas. Now that I have read the book, more family members will become recipients. I found that much value in the tome.

Grant pens a book that is not an easy read self-help book. In fact, I slogged through some of the early parts. But it was worth the effort. Hidden Potential inspires. I found the work insightful, thought provoking and educational.

Layout of Hidden Potential

The author separates the book into three main sections sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue. Grant grabs the reader’s attention with a tale of successful high school chess players hailing from a high school in Harlem. Then he arrives at the heart of the work. The first section is Skills of Character.  Focus of the unit is on the need to experience setbacks in order to improve and gain success. Key takeaways include operating outside one’s comfort zone, and learning as much as one can from a wide variety of sources and individuals. Perhaps the most difficult for a perfectionist is the notion that excellence and perfection can be polar opposites.

The second segment is Structures for Motivation. Grant introduces the concept of scaffolding. Many educators will be familiar with the concept. Others will benefit from discovering this learning strategy. This section will take work to comprehend.

Finally, Systems of Opportunity provides a blueprint for educators, managers and motivated individuals to follow. This last part of the book offers the greatest motivation. I found Grant’s anecdotes rejuvenating. His theories have merit. The answers to many contemporary problems are out there, we just need to work together to find them. Teamwork is vital.

Recommendation for Hidden Potential

This is the second work from Grant that I have read and reviewed. Option B co-authored with Sheryl Sandberg was just as powerful albeit different in tone. I encourage anyone in education or management to read this book. Furthermore, individuals with a thirst for knowledge will also benefit. Finally, Hidden Potential is the perfect gift for those stuck in a rut or anyone underperforming due to fear of success.

 

Winter Weather Preparedness

Winter Storm Heather

Bitter cold is sweeping across the United States this weekend. Parts of the country will also experience precipitation, snow in the North and cold rain in the South. Planning and preparedness are critical to riding out Winter Storm Heather.

Most importantly, use common sense. Something that seems in short supply. Don’t travel unless there is no alternative. Cars break down. Electronics fare poorly in low temperatures. So, newer cars are at greater risk. And in sub-zero windy conditions, frostbite can occur in minutes.

Prepare your home before the weather hits. A roof over head with working heat is the key to riding out a storm in comfort. Several important steps prior to the storm hitting are critical to letting you stay warm and toasty inside.

Winter Weather Preparedness on the Road

Hat, scarf, gloves and body warmers are keys to Winter Weather Readiness

 

Unfortunately, sometimes traveling in poor conditions can’t be avoided. And while preparing ahead of time is not foolproof, it certainly is advisable. Proper car maintenance is the first item on the list.

  1. Check Tire Pressure and Tread

Individual tires vary in required pressure so check the manufacturer’s settings. Tire pressure decreases in cold weather so make sure to adjust for incoming cold weather. Tread depth should be 6/32 or greater.

  1. Windshield Washer Fluid

Make sure the window washer fluid is topped off and can withstand below freezing temperatures. Snow splash back is definitely a problem travelling on highways alongside 18-wheelers and other high profile vehicles.

  1. Extra Emergency Gear
    1. Blankets
    2. Food
    3. Water
    4. Hand, Foot or Body Warmers
    5. Clothing-Coat, Scarf, Gloves, Beanie, Boots

Even though winter weather preparedness gear takes up a lot of room in a vehicle, I insist on all these items before traveling out of town. Each person in the car should have appropriate gear.

These are all minimum requirements. Other items one could include are portable cordless tire inflator pumps, jumper cables (older batteries perform poorly in very cold weather), and snow chains.

Winter Weather Preparedness at Home

Getting ready for the winter season at home starts way in advance of any named storm. Each fall, the furnace needs to be checked. In my case and opinion, this is not a DIY. The only thing I do myself with respect to the HVAC system is regularly change the filters.

  1. Check Furnace
  2. Fireplaces

Those with fireplaces also need to check the flues.

  1. Insulate outdoor hose bibs

I wrap the faucets with bubble wrap and then cover them with a recycled piece of Styrofoam.

  1. Stock the Pantry

Two weeks’ worth of basic supplies is a no brainer to me nor to anyone ever experiencing a blizzard with feet of snow. It takes a while to dig out. Items such as fresh milk will need substitutes such as canned or powdered. Young families need to stock up on essentials like diapers! I still remember the angst of a neighboring family from the Blizzard of 1996. Not only were roads impassable but the grocery stores were closed. At least there were no roof collapses like last year in the California Sierras.

 

Southern States

Winter weather preparedness is also important in warmer climates. Growing up, I only had light jackets and there were few fireplaces. We certainly did not have one. So, preparations need to alter to fit the climate. Portable generators which may be on hand to combat electrical loss after hurricanes can do double duty in extreme cold. It has only been a few years since Texans experienced a major loss of power due to freezing temperatures impacting energy sources.

Good Neighbors

The most important part of battling weather extremes is looking out for others. Make sure to check on your neighbors in the days before and after an adverse event. We are all in this together. And remember, use common sense. Stay warm!

 

Fake Famous Book Review

Young Adult

Fake Famous by Dana L. Davis is a delightful novel. A blend between a sweet romance and a coming-of-age novel, the story will appeal to a wide range of readers. Even though the concept of strangers switching identities is not new, Ms. Davis offers a fresh, contemporary take.

This selection is a library check-out. The back cover described a prior Davis novel as a YA or Young Adult. Since I am trying to expand genres in my reviews, I quickly picked up Fake Famous. I am happy I did.

Red Morgan-Star of Fake Famous

Red Morgan is a hard-working Iowa farm girl. Her ginger hair is passed down through a Creole ancestor. The opening scenes depict her loyalty to her family and their farm. Additionally, the author provides glimpses of the difficulties farm families have in making ends meet.

The protagonist hits her 15 minutes of fame when her younger sister’s video goes viral. Red is singing when a fence gives out and she falls into a large pile of manure. She doesn’t miss a beat and poses like the famous diva Zay-Zay Waters. Unbeknownst to Red, Zay-Zay has just dyed her hair red and sees the viral video. And, hatches up a scheme. Zay-Zay needs some alone time.

Fake Famous Plot

Harkening back to Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, Zay-Zay suddenly appears on the farm with a monetary deal Red can’t pass up. The pop star wants Red to fill her shoes for a week of glamorous appearances. Meanwhile, Zay-Zay will go on a soul-finding retreat. The only catch is Red must interact with Koi Kalawai’a, a fellow singing sensation and boyfriend to Zay-Zay. Except, he’s not.

Apparently Hollywood romances are fake too. But the chemistry between Koi and Red is real and so the complications begin. In addition to romance, Davis provides an insiders look into the lives of the rich and famous. Between the paparazzi and the fakeness, it is a different kind of hard work.

Recommendation

Fake Famous is an enjoyable read. The attraction between Red and Koi moves the story forward as each provides growth for the other. The secondary characters are well-developed and add to the story line. The romance is sweet, and the coming-of-age story is insightful. This is the first novel I have read from Dana Davis, but it won’t be the last. A great novel for young teens to adults.

Lessons in Chemistry Book Review

Chemistry 101

Lessons in Chemistry is a melon-colored book cover with a sketch of a female scientist with a No. 2 pencil sticking out a topknot.Lessons in Chemistry has been out for over a year and I am late to the party of fandom. A Christmas gift from one of my family members and one I treasure. The novel earns a place in the permanent home library. The delay in reading is attributed to the difficult year of 2023. So, I am very appreciative of the book as it is a great start to 2024.

Debut novelist Bonnie Garmus impresses with her wit and the depth of her writing. Depending on the individual reader’s experiences, the soul-searching Lessons in Chemistry will evoke feelings running the gamut from regret to resolve. And many stages in between.

Setting of Lessons in Chemistry

The United States of America, specifically the state of California, with a time period of the late 1950s, early 1960s serves as a backdrop of this delightful novel. Protagonist Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. Unheard of for the time period. Very few women earned science degrees in this era.

She is also a feminist. Author Bonnie Garmus does a great job painting a picture of the early years of women fighting for equality. Some of the obstacles and confrontations remain today. However, it is good to note the positive changes that we take for granted, such as wearing slacks to work and a narrowing wage gap.

Lessons in Chemistry Plot

Zott does not fit in. Yet she finds her soulmate in fellow chemist Calvin Evans. Evans is a misfit. Their relationship is told in retrospect. They share work, home and a dog with the appropriate name of 6:30. Zott is teaching the highly intelligent animal English. Not since Remarkably Bright Creatures, have I been so engaged with anthropomorphism.

Unfortunately, Zott ends up as an unwed single mother. And life begins.

Supporting Characters

Garmus uses a wide cast of characters to tell the story of individuals fulfilling their purpose. In addition to Zott, her daughter Madeline, Harriet Sloane and Miss Frask provide an array of positive female personalities. However, mean girls and women were a thing way back when.

Then there are the men.

Calvin Evans, Pine, Dr. Mason and the preacher Wakely line up on the good side while Donatti, the Bishop, Phil and a few others make you wonder why some men walk the earth. Lessons in Chemistry isn’t just about allowing women to reach their potential. Evil is present in both sexes and Garmus provides examples to ponder.

Entertaining

I found the book to be very entertaining with one particular chapter bringing forth loud laughter. A true paradox since the story itself is bittersweet. And yet I think that piece is intentional. As is the discussion on the role of religion between both Wakely and Evans and Wakely and Zott. Thus, Lessons in Chemistry provides food for thought.

Recommendation

I join many, many others in highly recommending Lessons in Chemistry. A few of us are fortunate enough to have our own E. Zott in the family. For the rest, Garmus has provided a glimpse of such a role model. All youth need encouragement and the chance to grow- physically, mentally and spiritually. This debut novel should be required reading somewhere at the high school level. However, senior year is too late.

Truly this book will be another long-term favorite much like Where the Crawdads Sing.

 

Dirty Thirty Book Review

Latest in Stephanie Plum Series

Dirty Thirty Book Cover, fuchsia colored with gold necklace of the word thirty.Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel, Dirty Thirty, is a treat for long-time series fans. The bad guys are really the good guys and plenty of sucker punches for characters and readers alike. Once again Evanovich leaves the reader hanging over a cliff waiting for yet another Plum novel.

Dirty Thirty Plot Line

The focus on this latest series entry is capturing skips. Stephanie, aided by the always colorful Lula, is after a wide range of bail jumpers. Some are dangerous and others hilarious. Furthermore, Stephanie is moonlighting for Martin Plover owner of Plover’s Jewelry store and an apparent victim. He was robbed twice. His request is for the recovery agent to also find his missing security guard.

As usual, things are complicated in the Burg. The missing security guard may have ties to the jewel thief, and they may or may not have the goods. Both these characters will be new to faithful readers.

Returning Characters

Dirty Thirty has a wide host of characters. At times I would mix the new characters up. Fortunately, the supporting cast remains constant-much like an old sitcom. Stephanie’s boyfriend Joe Morelli makes brief appearances but for the most part the romantic tension is sparked by Ranger.

Comic relief is provided by Lula, Grandma Mazur and Bob, Morelli’s shaggy dog. Evanovich is still golden with her quips and actions. Many smiles as well as laughs keep the reader engaged. Not to mention the double entendres all the way through Dirty Thirty. But even the foreshadowing will leave readers (like I was) surprised at the outcomes of the various plot lines. I will have a tough time waiting for the next in the series.

Recommendation for Dirty Thirty

I love this series and this book is no exception. However, I do not see it as a stand-alone. Dirty Thirty will be enjoyed the most by readers engaged in the series. Indeed, the biggest surprise will fly over the head of a reader brand new to the series. So, if you have read previous books featuring Stephanie Plum, this is a shouldn’t skip. If you are a novice, find the original-One for the Money and proceed from there.

Thanks for the entertainment, Ms. Evanovich.

Econogal’s Top Book Selections of 2023

The Best of 2023

The top book selections of 2023 are broken into three categories, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The non-fiction selections were few and far between. And the top selection in the category actually hails from late December 2022. But recent events make it imperative to include.

As usual, the fiction list is the most difficult to produce as more than ten vie for just ten spots. And the children fiction list contains holiday specific titles so Christmas buying might not be appropriate. However, books for kids tend to stand the test of time. And at least one is appropriate for gift-giving this holiday season.

Non-Fiction Book Selections of 2023

My top selections in Non-Fiction:

  1. Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
  2. Home Grown Herbs-A Complete Guide to Growing, Using and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung
  3. Adrift: America in 100 Charts by Scott Galloway
  4. More Twist-and-Turn Bargello Quilts by Eileen Wright
  5. The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration by Jake Bittle

 

Of the above books, the most impactful was Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. The reading will be even more poignant in light of the author’s recent death. I consider this an incredibly important read. Both Home Grown Herbs and More Twist-and-Turn Bargello Quilts have become handy reference guides for my hobbies. Clicking on each title will direct you to the individual review.

Children’s Book Selections of 2023

Again, click on the link for the individual review.

  1. Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora
  2. Con Pollo by Jimmy Fallon and Jennifer Lopez
  3. The Great Eggscape! By Jory John
  4. Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie by Jack Bishop
  5. Thanksgiving Here I Come by D.J. Steinberg

 

The Childrens’ books reviewed in 2023 are all geared toward the younger set. Con Pollo is a board book and the remaining titles are story books for preschoolers through early grade school. All tested and loved by my trio of grandkids.

Fiction Book Selections of 2023

The fiction category always serves as a challenge and the book selections for 2023 could have included top reads such as Livid by Patricia Cornwell. The following books moved me the most. Warning- a few are tear jerkers.

  1. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
  2. The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland
  3. Zero Days by Ruth Ware
  4. Exiles by Jane Harper
  5. Nightwork by Nora Roberts
  6. Dead Mountain by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  7. Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea
  8. Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
  9. The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper

 

I made it through my personally horrendous year of 2023 by reading fiction. Some escape in front of the television but I turn to books. The fiction book selections of 2023 list includes a variety of genres. Each individual review can be accessed by clicking on the title of the book. I hope you can find something of interest as well as gift ideas on these lists.

Bright Lights, Big Christmas Book Review

Christmas Time in the City

Cover of Bright Lights, Big City novel featuring outline of city buildings and a string of Christmas lights as a backdrop to title and author name.I found Mary Kay Andrews’ Bright Lights, Big Christmas on the new release table at my local library. The book is perfect for getting one in the mood for Christmas. A heart-warming story of friendship and new love, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, I read it cover to cover even though I started the novel just after supper.

Setting for Bright Lights, Big Christmas

The novel takes place in New York City, specifically the West Village. Each year for decades, the Tolliver family from North Carolina sells their Christmas trees in the same spot. Fixtures of the neighborhood from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until the trees are gone.

However, this year there is a late start. Old Jock Tolliver is ill. His somewhat estranged daughter, Kerry, is roped into helping her older brother. Her brother Murphy is like a stranger. Both are casualties of divorce, each raised by a different parent. However, Kerry and Murphy grudgingly form a bond in a neighborhood known for creating ties. Much of the story focuses on the pair discovering the talents of the other.

Storyline and Characters

Multiple challenges complicate this year’s sales. In addition to the late start, competition has moved in bringing pitfalls. But as the siblings overcome the obstacles thrown their way, they also forge new bonds.

Key to the story are the many residents of the street. Most know Murphy and befriend Kerry as well. Another thread to the tale is the budding relationship of Kerry and divorcee Patrick. He and ex-wife Gretchen move in and out of their flat while young son Austin stays put. Thus, providing stability for the precocious kid.

The final piece is the mysterious Heinz. Scruffy and possibly homeless, Heinz captures the devotion of Austin and the respect of Kerry. The cantankerous old man constructively critiques her artwork, pushing her to improve. Heinz disappears and everyone in the neighborhood contributes to the search.

Feel Good Novel

Bright Lights, Big Christmas is an uplifting novel perfect for reading during the Christmas season. Caring characters serve as a reminder the importance of family and friends. Andrews skill weaving plot and persona results in a page-turning novel sure to please both her long-time fans and those just discovering her writing. I highly recommend Bright Lights, Big Christmas.

 

Thank You, Omu! Book Review

Learning the Importance of Unselfishness

Book cover of Thank You, Omu! Showing Omu holding a big bowl of stew.One of the recipients of the 2019 Caldecott Honor Book awards, Thank You, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora tells the story of giving. Since sharing can be difficult for youngsters, this is a perfect book to illustrate the importance of unselfishness. Furthermore, readers will be entranced by the original artwork. The illustrations are collages of acrylic paint, printed materials and waxed pencils. Thank You, Omu! was Mora’s capstone project while a student at Rhode Island School of Design.

Plotline of Thank you, Omu!

Omu lives on the top floor of a tenement. She has a pot of delicious smelling stew simmering on the stovetop. As the fragrant aroma wafts out the window, Omu sits to read a book. Then a loud knock and a little boy from down the hall appears. Naturally, he asks about the savory smell.

Omu barely hesitates before offering to share the stew meant for her evening meal. This scene is repeated throughout the day as everyone from the mayor to the hot dog vendor stops by drawn by the delectable scent of the stew.

Even the youngest listener will not be surprised by the outcome-no more stew. And then the giver becomes the recipient.

Oge Mora

The author/illustrator Mora achieved success with her first picture book. In addition to the Caldecott Honor, she earned awards from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent and Ezra Jack Keats. Her mixed media illustrations garner praise from multiple sources including The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Forbes.

In addition to Mora’s second release, Saturday, the gifted artist has illustrated a number of books including I’m From and Everybody in the Red Brick Building. Click here for her website.

Recommendation for Thank You, Omu!

I loved this story of giving and included it in my gifts of Thanksgiving books for the oldest grandchild. Even though the book is not holiday related, it carries a similar theme of sharing. This world we live in needs more books showing kindness and love. Thank You, Omu! Belongs in every library and is highly recommended.

November 2023 Wrap-Up

A Challenging Month

The challenge of November 2023 parallels the rest of the year. Patience, stamina and endurance are all needed when acting as a support system for a loved one. Good quality medical care is available, but the health care system in the United States of America definitely has room for improvement.

Coping with stress takes an effort. Each individual needs to discover what mechanisms work best for them. Both spiritual beliefs and Earthly pursuits may relieve the strain one faces in the most difficult of times. If you are experiencing personal troubles, find what works for you.

Health Care

A few months ago in the August Wrap-Up, I discussed a downside of rural living-travelling hours to reach specialized health care. Thus, it is not surprising we opted to spend weekdays in a major city and only returning home on the weekends. Unfortunately, many still drive hours on a daily basis for therapy. Cancer treatments involve specialized care.

I am spending much time in waiting rooms while acting as a support system. So, my observations may be skewed. However, any of you working at or running an insurance company need to re-evaluate your industry. There is no way any doctor would prescribe unnecessary chemo treatments. Nor would patients willingly take additional chemotherapy. Yet, a few days ago I witnessed a young woman (decades younger than I) denied treatment because insurance authorization for the current week had not yet been approved!

This is unacceptable in this country of ours. Or in any country. If private companies cannot act in good faith, we will become more and more socialist. Pros and cons of the various “isms” will be written another day.

Family Visits in November 2023

On the positive side of the month, we have seen many family members on a weekly basis. Each has roots in the rural areas but have chosen to live and work in the city. Even though I can see the attraction, I still hate the traffic.

However, I will take advantage of the closeness of grandchildren and great-nephew and look forward to seeing all the youngsters during this difficult time. Thanksgiving provided an opportunity for family support as well as delicious food. This Thanksgiving holiday ranks among the best.

In the Library

Illustration of a Thanksgiving gathering passing food around the dinner table.Children’s book reviews filled up much of the month. Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie remains a favorite long after the feast. However, other than Sanibel Flats, no other adult reading took place. My top ten books of the year may be difficult to compile next week.

November 2023 Quilting

Sitting and waiting in doctors’ offices and hospitals yields much time for lap quilting. I finished the beautiful bargello baby quilt and am now working on one of the UFO’s. Quilting is one of my coping mechanisms for the challenges of November 2023.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie Book Review

A Thanksgiving Celebration

America’s Test Kitchen produced Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie as a complement to their many cookbooks. This wonderful story geared towards young grade school kids was written by Jack Bishop with illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter. Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie is a multi-layered tale rich with life lessons. And the story is a perfect fit with the message of Thanksgiving-food, family and friends gather to give thanks and share.

The Picky Eater

Peyton doesn’t consider herself picky, she is just rather particular about her food. For example, she doesn’t like her foods touching. Nor does she like certain colors of food. But most of all, she doesn’t like “gooey, or gummy, sticky or slimy, frosted or flaky…chunky or lumpy” foods. However, she’s decided to try one new food at Thanksgiving dinner–pie.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie

Open pages from the story book Peyton Picks a PieExpanding one’s food likes is the foundation of the story. However, Bishop kicks it up a notch. Peyton has a wide range of choices because all the dinner guests arrive with a different kind of pie. No cookie cutter pies and neither are the guests. The all-inclusive message is subtle and as rich as the desserts. So, while Peyton is having second thoughts about leaving her comfort zone, readers will glimpse the message of inclusiveness.

Multi-layered Message

At heart, the story is about trying new things. In this case new food. But the story and illustrations provide so much more. Harkening back to the first Thanksgiving, friends and family with different backgrounds and experiences are gathering together to celebrate another year. Food, family and friends is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Peyton Picks the Perfect Pie is author Jack Bishop’s first picture book. However, I hope the veteran cookbook author and editor, considers writing another. I love the wittiness of the story and Michelle Mee Nutter does an outstanding job with the paired drawings. Each pie coming in the front door made me hungry. As a bonus, the book includes the recipe for the pie Peyton decides to try. Consider giving this book to a youngster this Thanksgiving.

Illustration of a Thanksgiving gathering passing food around the dinner table.

Thanksgiving Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Three Thanksgiving Books

Three Thanksgiving Books geared towards preschoolersI am on a reading jag. My current interest is Thanksgiving books for kids. The board books reviewed in the previous post are geared towards infants and toddlers. Now, this review showcases books geared for a slightly older age range of toddlers and preschoolers. All three are delightful storybooks geared for longer attention spans. And all three include interactive components.

Thanksgiving Here I Come

D.J. Steinberg pens the delightful aggregation of story-telling poems themed around Thanksgiving. The opening entry entitled The Biggest Turkey in the World is perfectly illustrated by Sara Palacios. Steinberg engages the audience with the comic prose of each story and all vary in length. The humor carries through Thanksgiving with titles including Wacky Friday and Turkey Again? Finally, the book includes a page of stickers.

Pete the Cat-The First Thanksgiving

Pete the Cat lovers will delight in this contribution to Thanksgiving books. Kimberly and James Dean mix traditional lore into a lift-the-flap book. So, a story highlighting Pete’s role as a pilgrim in the school Thanksgiving play is also an early history lesson. I found the presentation of historical facts well done. Kids will delight in discovering the illustrations hiding behind each flap. At the end, Pete and his family share how they are thankful.

Thanks for Thanksgiving

Finally, Thanks for Thanksgiving is the last of the three Thanksgiving books. Julie Markes writes the simple story of thankfulness. And I was enchanted by the beautiful illustrations of Doris Barrette. The details bring the pictures to life. Plus, the final page records what the reader is thankful for in successive years. Unlike the previous two books, Thanks for Thanksgiving is not part of a series.

My youngest was upper grade school when this delightful book was published. So, this 2004 book focusing on gratitude is new to me. I am thankful for the grandkids-so many books to discover! Unsurprisingly, I highly recommend this trio of Thanksgiving books geared toward toddlers and preschoolers.

Thanks for Playdates

Thanks For School

Two Board Books for Thanksgiving

Celebrating Thanksgiving with Books

Thanksgiving display with two board books, cornucopia and ceramic figures of Pilgrims and Indians.I love giving books to the little ones and here are two board books for giving this Thanksgiving. The first is You’re My Little Cutie Pie by Nicola Edwards with illustrations by Natalie Marshall. The pair have released a series of books which I classify as peek-a-boo instead of lift-the-flap.

The second book is Where is Baby’s Turkey by Karen Katz which is a traditional lift-the-flap board book. These two board books are perfect for the chubby fingers of the sixteen-month-old in the family. And they celebrate one of my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving is about family.

You’re My Little Cutie Pie

At first glance, I thought You’re My Little Cutie Pie was the similarly titled You’re My Little Pumpkin Pie. However, the latter-a Halloween book- was still on display. Both books feature fall-themed covers, however the Cutie Pie version features the squash as a pie topped with whipped cream.

Rhyme and cadence make these books by Edwards favorite bedtime books. Plus, the cut-outs highlighting the raised illustrations pull the prose together as well. Marshall’s artwork is perfect for the little ones. Even though this book will go to the youngest, I am sure the toddler and preschooler will also enjoy the Thanksgiving themed book.

Where is Baby’s Turkey?

Karen Katz writes a delightful tale of a baby searching for his toy turkey on Thanksgiving morning. This lift-the-flap book reveals all the delightful “ingredients” which comprise the traditions of the day while hunting for the plush toy. My grandchild will delight in lifting the flaps and discovering the clever illustrations. This is the first Katz board book I have read.

Two Board Books

Both of these Thanksgiving themed board books are sure to delight the youngsters in your family. The two board books have different approaches to entertaining the reader. The pages of You’re My Little Cutie Pie have cutouts that allow the reader to peak ahead. The raised area peaking through is the focus of the rhyme for those pages.

Where is Baby’s Turkey has a simple plot aided by the lift-the-flap technique. In this release, the flaps are quite sturdy although supervision of young children is still a good idea. These two board books will make a great addition to the little guy’s home library. I can’t wait to read them to him!

Sanibel Flats Book Review

Action Adventure Series

Three paperback books including Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White

Randy Wayne White penned Sanibel Flats over thirty years ago. This first in a long series is an action adventure featuring Doc Ford as an ex-operative returning home to focus on marine biology. His hopes for a quiet life are shattered by a request from an old high school buddy. The author creates plausibility for a return to action along with a gorgeous description of Florida’s barrier islands.

Key Characters Introduced

To be honest, I have read other entries in this series out of order. And I enjoyed them without the back story. However, if you have not read any of White’s novels, I suggest you begin with this one. He does an outstanding job of building character. After reading Sanibel Flats, I realize the depth of the various personalities throughout the series. And I understand how the serious character of Doc Ford and the laid-back hippie Tomlinson (one of my favorites) become so tight.

Furthermore, the author gives you a glimpse of Doc Ford’s double-standard thinking with respect to love interests. Every character needs a flaw. And each also needs hope.

Plot of Sanibel Flats

Doc Ford is newly returned to Sanibel Island. He is contacted by his long-ago best friend for help. Apparently, high school buddy, Rafe Hollins, kidnapped his son from a drunken druggie ex-wife only for the boy to be kidnapped by a Central American crime lord. Then Ford finds Hollins dead and knows rescuing 8-year-old Jake Hollins is his duty.

Convincing fellow marina dweller Tomlinson to come to the jungles of Central America is easy. And the action adventure begins. Moreover, the author introduces the many grey areas of a moral life. Sanibel Flats is not a novel for those who see the world as black and white. However, good and evil are easy to decipher.

A Descriptive Sanibel Flats

White excels at bringing locales to life. The descriptions of coastal Florida ring true for this former inhabitant. Thus, his jungle scenes of Central and South America are given credence. If a few readers get bogged down by the settings, action awaits at the turn of a page.

Sanibel Flats does not shield one from descriptions of violence and gore. Between the gunfights and the bedroom scenes, this book belongs in the hands of a mature audience. Since the book takes place in an area known for growing drugs, there are those who may find that objectionable as well. However, the story of rescue from a foreign locale without military aid merits the above-mentioned scenes.

Recommendation

The Doc Ford series is pure entertainment with moralism thrown in. The characters are human and very relatable. While I may not read the entire series as my spouse has, I know Sanibel Flats will not be the last. However, I do think I will go back and read the series in order.

 

October 2023 Wrap-Up

Halloween

A platter shaped like a witch's hat full of candy for Trick or Treaters.
Ready for the Trick or Treaters.

It is Halloween once again which means it is time for the October 2023 Wrap-Up. From a personal standpoint it has been yet another tough month. I have talked before of the feeling of having a shoe drop. Well, shoes are dropping all over the place. So many that my closet must be getting empty.

I realize everyone has time periods of difficulty. 2023 is mine. Hopefully, I will become a stronger person. Furthermore, I finally understand the anticipation of ushering in a New Year. I sure hope 2024 will bring more joy and less sadness, frustration and angst.

A Troubled Soul, A Troubled World

Other families and individuals are also facing grief this year. Most recent among the Hollywood set was actor/author Matthew Perry. Please click here to read my review of his incredibly honest autobiography, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing. Condolences to all that knew and loved him.

And as difficult as my own saga has been this year, it has unwound in a nation that has strife but is not under attack from foreign invaders. Unrest continues in Ukraine and now in the Middle East. May peace on earth become a reality versus a holiday saying.

Those of us that have seen many trips around the sun understand no one wins in a war. There are only survivors. Unfortunately, casualties often include innocent children. What a waste of the future.

October 2023

Late fall ushers in cooler weather and final harvests for those of us in the north. This past weekend saw snow in the mountain west and cold rains elsewhere. Crisp air is warmed by afternoon sunrays only to bite once the sun retreats and the moon takes over. Animals know the seasons are changing. Around these parts, tarantulas are on the move, geese are flying south and squirrels are gathering acorns from my oak tree.

Kids are learning “new” Halloween ideas in October 2023 such as the Switch Witch. Apparently, kids can keep five pieces of candy and leave the rest on the front porch before going to bed and by morning the Switch Witch will have switched out the candy for a toy. I just learned of this from my first trick or treater. Perhaps a new kids’ book read in preschool, certainly a new tale for me.

Staying Positive in October 2023

In challenging times, it is difficult to stay positive. But a smile and a good attitude will aid in keeping the negatives of stressful times at bay. Seeking help from family and friends as well as professionals as needed is my plan. The blood pressure medicine is working and that is a blessing of modern science.

Thanks to all the loyal readers out there. The posts have been sporadic but overall readership has remained stable. Also, thanks to all who have reached out via email and phone. Positive vibes are so important!

Save What’s Left Book Review

Debut Novel

Book cover of Save What's Left depicting a small beach house next to a cubical McMansion.The debut novel, Save What’s Left by Elizabeth Castellano is hard to pigeonhole. The story is set in a beach town and yet more than a summer beach novel. The main character, Kathleen Deane, is a newly retired, middle-aged woman recovering from the shock of being dumped after thirty years of marriage.

Candidly, the protagonist lets the reader know that the marriage wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. So, after decades of muddling through life, her husband Tom decides to travel the world to discover the meaning of life.

Meanwhile, Kathleen decides a change of scenery will get her life back on track. She buys a beach house. Sight unseen except through a grainy video. Then the “fun” begins. Environmental activism stirs the growth of the lead character as she struggles to reshape her own identity.

Many Levels of Save What’s Left

The characters in Save What’s Left were quite unique. Some were likeable. And a few were grating. However, most perplexing is Kathleen. She becomes a strident advocate to save what’s left of the natural beachscape. Thus, much of the story is told through her numerous complaint letters concerning the McMansion materializing just outside the window of her humble home.

Castellano does justice to this theme of urban growth crowding out natural landscape in former rural areas. So, those from coastal areas grasp the dilemma immediately. Furthermore, the activism of the lead character and the roadblocks she encounters ring with truth.

Plot

Save What’s Left does have a storyline. Local corruption circumvents covenants protecting the seashore. Furthermore, the misconduct goes beyond the boardroom complicating Kathleen’s advocacy. And involving secondary characters important to the growth of the protagonist. Tangling matters more, Tom reappears. Their tenuous relationship weaves its’ way into the plot. Tom’s character is quite interesting.

Recommendation for Save What’s Left

I picked up Elizabeth Castellano’s novel at the bookstore for multiple reasons. First, the name jumped out at me. One of my favorite East Coast based jockeys shares the same surname. (Highly doubtful they are related, but one never knows.) Then, the fact it was a debut novel. I love giving new authors support. Finally, the cover design. A small beach house much like I grew up in juxtaposed with a sugar cubed McMansion.

I didn’t quite like a few of the characters, nor the plot structure. The numerous complaint letters often interrupted the action flow. (However, the letters are integral to the story.) Yet I could not put the book down! A key win for Ms. Castellano. I can’t wait to see what she publishes next.

 

2023 Fall Harvest Re-Cap

End of Season

The 2023 Fall Harvest is over for the most part. A few root vegetables remain in the ground. However, three nights in a row below the freezing mark put an end to the tender plants above ground. Overall, the yield was fair at best. A combination of wacky weather and a very tough year on a personal level for this gardener garnered poor results. But there were lessons learned as well as some success with respect to the root vegetables.

Underground Crops

Potatoes in a harvest basket.With one exception, the root vegetables were the stars of the garden this year. The white potatoes were actually grown outside of the big garden with limited access to irrigation. Yet, a small store of potatoes is still available from a mid-summer harvest. I attribute this to the abundance of rain in the early part of the season.

Storage onions were a mixed success. The number of onions was on par with recent years. However, the size was considerably smaller. A combination of haphazard harvesting along with a lack of rain in the latter part of the season created this outcome for the 2023 fall harvest.

Unfortunately, the beets tied for the worst performance of the year. Less than a dozen including the three that are still in the ground. Fortunately, carrots were good and those not harvested remain in the ground covered with straw to store until they are needed. As are the leeks.

Star of the 2023 Fall Harvest

The best crop production is the sweet potato. These root vegetables are tricky to grow this far west and north. Since they are a family favorite, I have found a nearly foolproof way to grow them.

First, Centennial Heirlooms are the type I grow. They are ready to dig in 100-110 days. Therefore, most years will produce a crop with our late May for a last freeze and mid-September for a first frost as the averages. Even the short 2020 season produced enough to store into the late fall.

Second, the slips are started by the end of March allowing enough time to grow to transplant size. I am still experimenting with water versus a growing medium as to how to produce the healthiest transplants. Ordering slips through the mail can be a back-up, but often they are too stressed to survive.

Next, a warm ground is required before planting. I achieve this by raising my sweet potato crop in raised beds. The soil warms faster inside the metal rings I use. But if you don’t have raised beds, a black tarp put in place in late spring will also work.

Finally, I water them and leave them alone. Instead of picking by the calendar date and curing for two weeks, I wait until the first frost. Then early the next day I “dig” them up. The raised beds allow me to dig with my hands instead of a pitchfork. The frost makes them sweet. But a delay in gathering the tubers will ruin the crop. This year’s harvest yielded about 20 pounds. Plenty to feed two through the winter.

Sweet Potatoes in a harvest box.

Above Ground Crops

The 2023 fall harvest of tomatoes was fair. The dry spell in August and September coupled with the cool temperatures of June resulted in the tomatoes not ripening until very late. Green beans fared even worse. Nary a green bean until mid-September. Only a few meals worth.

However, a crop of shell beans performed well enough to plant again. Harvesting dry beans is labor intensive. And the beans should have a storage life of about four years.

Evaluating the 2023 Fall Harvest

Even though the 2023 fall harvest lacked in numbers, the produce from one’s own garden is impossible to beat. Keeping notes and taking pictures will remind me what works and what doesn’t. The information also helps with crop rotation. A smaller harvest also makes one appreciate the bumper crops. Furthermore, the yield is a reminder that crops like animals need attention. I am looking forward to a better year in 2024.

Dead Mountain Book Review

New Release

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child pen a new winner in the 2023 release Dead Mountain. The latest in the Nora Kelly series involves a cold case mystery.  How did nine veteran climbers perish under unusual circumstances? Of course, Halloween as the date of the event adds to the eeriness.  Furthermore, only six bodies were recovered in the aftermath.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Dr. Kelly is an archaeologist frequently contacted by young FBI agent Corrie Swanson to either give expert opinion or handle ancient finds uncovered during investigations. Previously, the two teamed up in several Preston & Child novels including The Scorpion’s Tail. Both women are strong likeable characters. Neither gives up until the truth is found.

Dead Mountain- A Cold Case Never Closed

Two young men stumble over human remains inside a cave. In the process of verifying the remains as ancient, Kelly and Swanson stumble upon more skeletons. But these remains were much younger. Thus, the Dead Mountain case becomes active once again.

The story line is actioned packed. The FBI takes a lot of heat for never discovering the truth from the 2008 event. Backstories of the families and former agents create a nice subplot. Additionally, Dr. Kelly’s brother Skip lands in hot water once again. This subplot mostly serves to show the corruptness of Sheriff Hawley. The bones were discovered in his county. To be honest, Skip is a character that grates on one’s nerves, even if he’s with the good guys.

Top Secret Bunker

At the heart of the mystery is a secret bunker originally built to protect President Eisenhauer. Agent Swanson surmises the scared hikers were headed for the safety of the bunker. Perhaps the remains of the still missing final member of the expedition will be found there. Unfortunately, she cannot gain access. Instead, she is ordered to cease and desist with the investigation. Furthermore, she is ordered to pretend to continue investigating. Naturally this does goes against her moral compass.

So, Agent Swanson pushes on with the help of Dr. Kelly. They discover the missing hiker and his journals and camera-only to be ambushed. Fortunately, Swanson’s new mentor Agent Sharp and Sheriff Watts arrive just in time. Watts reveals his feelings for Swanson adding just the right touch of romance for the end.

Terrific Duo

Preston & Child the talented duo behind Dead Mountain are prolific authors. And they work well as a team. Each also writes solo books. Both have a long list of impressive credentials. So, it is not surprising how well researched their books are. This is important to me because nothing encourages me to stop reading a book more than inaccurate details.

Praise for this duo is found in the previous blog posts Library Book Sale and City of Endless Night. To be honest I have read more of Mr. Child’s work since supernatural thrillers are often read in this household. For anyone with a non-fiction preference, Mr. Preston brings fine detail to all of his work. Needless to say, I enjoyed Dead Mountain and highly recommend this novel.

 

Harvesting Dill Seed

A Favorite Herb

Dill seed is one of the many herbs I harvest. It is a messy process. And time consuming. Dill heads that are not totally dry need to be hung upside down in a paper bag. If you do not use the bag, seeds drop all over the ground.

A secondary method is to allow the seed to dry on the stalk. This is possible if you live in a very dry climate or are encountering a lengthy dry spell.

Labor Intensive

Harvesting dill seed is labor intensive, much like coriander seed. Perhaps commercial growers have machines. But this hobby herbalist does not. While some herbs such as sage and basil can be hung to dry then crumbled as needed, dill takes more work. A lot more!

First separate the seeds from the umbels. This part of the plant is shaped like an umbrella and holds the yellow gold flowers which then produce the seed. If you have used the bag method some seeds may have dropped to the bottom of the bag. But often the heads still contain seed.

After separating the seed from the umbels, the cleaning process begins. But NO Washing! Water may cause germination.

Cleaning dill seed is much like cleaning grains by hand. Sifters and colanders are needed. Wind or fans can help too.

Umbel

A dried umbel containing dill seed.
After hanging upside down in a bag for a month, seeds still cling to the umbel.

Sifting chaff.

Sorting dill seed from chaff
Harvesting the dill seed is a lengthy process with lots of waste.

Sifters with graduated-sized screens

Three sifters stacked during the cleaning process.
Stems and umbels are the first to sift out during the cleaning process.

Processing the Dill Seed

Large planting of dill on a patio.
Volunteer Dill Forest

Seeds saved for sowing in the garden next year can simply sort into an envelope or other seed storing container. However, dill seed to use in cooking requires cleaning the chaff. This outer cover of the seed is not desirable for consumption. It is a multi-stepped process to separate the seed from the chaff.

A warning- the process can be messy. Furthermore, working outdoors can result in a forest of dill next year.

I first use a colander to separate the largest of the stems from the seed material. Then I use a larger mesh sifter or sieve and shake down into a smaller meshed sifter. The lighter, smaller chaff passes through. Mostly seed remains.

An alternative method uses a light breeze outdoors or a fan indoors. The seed can be sifted back and forth utilizing the moving air to shake the chaff off the seed. Occasionally seed will also blow out/away. Indoors can get messy.

Time Consuming

Canning jar filled with dill seed
Almost ready to use.

Harvesting edible dill seed is time consuming. Saving dill seed for growing next year is so much easier. However, I do like to have dill seed on hand for both winter soups and breads. So, I will take the time to at least harvest enough to fill a small spice jar. Now you know why spices are so expensive in the grocery store.

The Recovery Agent Book Review

New Evanovich Series

I first encountered recovery agent Gabriela Rose in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series release Going Rogue. I was delighted to spot the book on the new release table at my local library. Gabriela Rose promises to be a character worthy of a spin-off series. As the first in the sequence, The Recovery Agent proves delightful with strong characters able to support a new direction for Evanovich’s writing.

Plot of The Recovery Agent

Altruism is the motive for finding hidden treasure. In a straightforward plot, Gabriela Rose and ex-husband Rafer Jones crisscross the continents of North and South America. Encountering danger and dangerous people, the two remain true to the idea of saving their hometown, Scoon, South Carolina with any found fortune. Devastated by a hurricane, Scoon needs rebuilding. Naturally, opportunistic developers are swooping down on the seaside hamlet creating a time crunch. Can Gabriela and Rafer set aside differences for a shared goal?

Since action scenes dominate Evanovich novels, readers will find plenty of scenes reminiscent of the type of adventure found by swashbucklers on screen as well as in print. Ms. Rose is quite skilled and delightfully unique from many of author Evanovich’s previous heroines. The quick-thinking protagonist more than her carries own weight. However, Mr. Jones does get to play the role of the rescuer upon occasion. (And sometimes he needs rescuing.)

Secondary Characters

One of Evanovich’s greatest talents is fleshing out secondary characters. She creates a strong supporting cast with The Recovery Agent. Indeed, the seriousness of the primary character is complemented by the (sometimes) unintended humor of those surrounding her.

Best of all, bad and evil are differentiated. Lots of grey areas in The Recovery Agent. Drug dealers are favored over psychopaths. Readers can decide just how often to look the other way, much like Gabriela Rose must.

Chemistry in The Recovery Agent

True to Evanovich form, the novel includes romance. So, sparks fly between the exes. And the two seem more compatible than most. Perhaps they married too young. Furthermore, the reader keeps wondering if or when something will happen. Just the right amount of tension.

Unlike recent attempts at new series, Evanovich penned this refreshing story alone. Her distinctive style makes The Recovery Agent a fun book to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story with appealing characters.

Exiles Book Review

Cold Case

Australian author Jane Harper’s 2022 release Exiles once again features federal investigator Aaron Falk. However, in this recent release financial gain does not seem to factor into the disappearance of Kim Gillespie.

The cold case comes to the forefront as the one-year anniversary arrives and a teenager is desperate to locate her missing mom. But Falk has more than one motive for returning to the Maralee Valley Festival. In addition to helping long-time friend Greg Raco and his family find their missing relative, Falk seeks to reconnect with the festival director, a widow still grieving the unexpected loss of her husband-missing and then found dead.

Are the two cases related?

Life’s Exiles

Harper instills great meaning in her titles and Exiles is true to form. Readers of the Aaron Falk series know the background to his ‘exiles’ status. However, the missing mother becomes an exile from her own family. Estrangement from family and friends creates its own form of aloneness. Thus, suicide is a plausible outcome.

However, Harper writes murder mysteries. So, Falk sets out to find the truth behind the disappearance. And the truth should give anyone experiencing alienation from family members great pause. Does that family member really want severed ties? In Gillespie’s case the answer was no. But too often family are blind to reality.

Recommendation for Exiles

Since Jane Harper has been a favorite ever since reading The Dry, naturally I enjoyed Exiles. However, for new readers, her writing style is one that unwinds at a measured pace. The action is tempered by the protagonist’s point of view as well as provoking dialogue and thoughtful character development.

The best part of Harper’s writing are the twists and turns of the plot and yet after the reveal everything falls in place. No loose threads from this talented author. Plus, as alluded to above, Jane Harper gives the reader ‘something’ to think about long after closing the book. I highly recommend Exiles with a caveat that her message may leave anyone with an estranged family member more than just a bit uncomfortable.

 

Love of My Heart

Double Entendre

Creating names and title is part and parcel of writing novels and Love of My Heart sounds perfect for a romance novel. However, in this case love of my heart needs to be taken literally. The stresses and strains of life are at a tipping point. So, to lower a greatly elevated blood pressure I now take blood pressure medicine.

Tipping Point

The tipping point came last week when I woke from a good night’s sleep but still felt off. My blood pressure reading was more than off, I was soaring into space with readings from two devices of 205/105 and 197/101. It’s hard to believe I wasn’t experiencing a stroke or other heart event.

My natural reaction was to call my health provider. However, it was still before working hours for most. So, I went for a long, slow-paced walk, keeping my heart rate in check. Upon returning the blood pressure had fallen a bit, but I made the call and was deemed enough of a concern that an appointment was made for that day.

I trust my health provider and even though I hate taking daily medication, for the love of my heart I will. So far there have been a few side-effects. Light-headiness is the primary one. And though the readings are lower, they are still in an elevated range. A follow-up visit in a few weeks will determine any adjustments. Until then I am monitoring the pressure on a regular basis.

Love of My Heart

The most likely cause of the blood pressure increase is stress aided by the aging factor and genetics. Both my parents experienced high blood pressure. So, I grew up leaving out or reducing salt from recipes. (Herbs are a great alternative for seasoning.) Additionally, I am active, not much of a drinker and not overweight. Thus, an unlikely candidate for high blood pressure.

Stress is the main culprit. Unfortunately, for the love of my heart I am not good with processing harmful stress. I let things eat at me versus letting things roll off my back or just ignoring what I don’t like. Recently personal stress has been accompanied by concerns for my country. The United States is polarized and I don’t like that at all. Within the last week, a statesman I used to admire and respect stated that if his candidate did not win in 2024 ballots needed to be replaced by bullets.

This is wrong. I hope most Americans agree with me. Civil War is not the answer.

Reducing Stress

On a personal level, my offspring are really stepping up to the plate. Much of the stress level revolves around handling the many things involved with closing out my dad’s estate. The kids have really rallied. They are not materialistic in nature so no fighting for “things.” Unfortunately, I can hardly get some of these companies holding limited assets as well as debts to talk to me as executor. Thus, the frustrating aspects of probate cannot be delegated.

Recognizing the stressors is a first step. Action is the next. My spouse found a good article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘The Power to Decide How You Feel’ which is well worth the read. I am trying to implement a few of the suggestions.

Writing as More than Brain Therapy

In the meantime, I will continue to write and make submissions. An active brain needs a healthy heart. In the short-term (and possibly forever) I will avail myself of the wonders of modern medicine. Love of My Heart really is catchy…now I just need a plot. And characters…and a setting. Good stressors not harmful ones. Writing is such good therapy!

August 2023 Wrap-Up

Writer’s Block

Of the many difficult months, I have lived through, August 2023 ranks as one of the most difficult from an emotional standpoint. And as a result, writer’s block has reared its’ ugly head once again. Even with multiple book reviews in the can so to speak, uploading on to the blog was more than I could handle.

Clearing Out a Lifetime

Many readers can relate to the discomfort faced by deciding what to keep and what to give away when going through the belongings of loved ones who no longer walk this Earth. You feel like you are losing that person or persons all over again.

Moreover, in a small family, there are too many items filled with memories and no place for them to re-home. I first encountered this problem nearly thirty years ago. While visiting a neighbor, she proudly showed me a roll top desk her father had made and gifted to her to celebrate her twenty-fifth anniversary. She knew then, years before her demise that the family would auction the item. It was bulky and both offspring were condo dwellers.

I think of Marilyn each time I walk by the beautiful desk commanding attention in my front room.

Now I face a similar problem. August 2023 was the month to clear out my parents’ home and ready it for sale. Both were hoarders. Yet, many of the items they owned have meaning for me. Short of buying (or keeping) a second home, I have no place for most of the items. Nor do my offspring. I can only hope someone will treasure whatever pieces are not kept.

Rural America Problems

Maybe once a month I wait at a stoplight. This is one of the best things about living in a rural part of the country. In fact, of the five towns in my county, only one even has stoplights. How much time do people waste sitting at a stoplight?

But there is one big problem with living in an unpopulated area- a lack of specialized healthcare. Fortunately, young doctors rotate in and out as a means of debt forgiveness via a loan forgiveness program. This means primary care is available. And sometimes they stay and raise a family, embracing the rural life.

But specialty docs just aren’t needed enough to operate in a rural area. So, one must travel to a city for treatment of a wide range of conditions from high-risk pregnancy check-ups to cancer treatments to heart issues. Really for any advanced medical problems.

High tech equipment is not economically viable in a town of only a thousand or two. Much less one of five hundred. And for my Urban Area readers, often it is over one hundred miles to reach a city of more than ten thousand people. Telehealth can only reach so far.

This is not new to me as I made quarterly trips to a Children’s Hospital for years. But as I age and as the appointments are at times for me, the travel is more tiring. It is a balancing act. August 2023 saw four such trips of over one hundred miles.

August 2023 In the Library

Many books were read and some shared this month. A backlog of reviews exist. Reading offers me the escape that most people find in television. I prefer to let my mind imagine the characters. Both old favorites and new discoveries with respect to authors were enjoyed. I hope you find a book through the reviews that appeals to you.

Record Heat

August 2023 scorched parts of America and the world. I personally experienced 111 degrees Fahrenheit on my cross-country drive. Perhaps, even more difficult was the slow cool down at night. Nightfall was needed to drop below triple digits on multiple dates and locations.

The summer of 1980 was also a scorcher. I remember triple digits all throughout July. I hope it is another forty plus years before we have a repeat this heat.

August 2023 In the Garden

High heat hinders growth in the garden. The tomatoes are slow to set, and the cucumbers suffer as well. However, the potatoes enjoyed their underground lair. As a result, the harvest yielded some good-sized spuds with a wonderful taste. One can only hope for the same result next month from the sweet potatoes.

Potatoes in a harvest basket.