Reading at a Social Distance

Picture 1

Staying in, reading more, reviewing the books I love, arranging parking lot pickup of produce, and wearing a mask when I must go into the allergist’s or Costco.  Spring is happening despite our problems, and the birds, frogs and turtles continue doing Nature’s work.

I review on Goodreads, Bookbub, and NetGalley, but since Amazon is being silly about reviews, and I refuse to “pay to play” by buying more than I actually want to, I’ve started putting reviews here, no particular system, and (I hope) no spoilers.  Reading for pleasure is such a gift, and with so many good writers, I need never be bored.

 

Hid from our eyes 

The tri-part plot of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES reminds me of a three-ring circus, or perhaps Flora Joy’s Trispective: the 3-n-1 Quilt, in which the picture changes with a change in viewer’s position.  I did have to remind myself which plot was which, but dates and clear writing helped.  At the end, I slapped my forehead with an “I should have seen that” reaction, clues there but not obvious, just as I like them.  

Besides the triple murders, decades apart, there are other issues to complicate life.  Caring for baby makes it hard to schedule work obligations, and the doctor suggests that the erratic routine and stress might be upsetting baby Ethan.  Perhaps the new intern, who brings her own problems, can help lighten Clare’s schedule?  In addition, the town is dealing with a proposal to eliminate the local police department, and there is pressure from wealthy, powerful persons to replace Russ as Chief, (just another example of the way the rich and powerful treat others as less important, disposable). Kevin’s back, bringing a new set of problems and a lawsuit from Hadley’s vicious ex. Most delightful, we get to see Margy as more than just Russ’s firebrand mother.

I love the twisty plot, the interactions of caring characters, the descriptions (I almost felt summer’s heat despite the cold and snow here in the “real” world).  I do not love cliffhanger endings.  If you don’t either, save the Epilogue to read when the next book comes out . . . already anticipating that happy event.  

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3088992595?utm_content=review_cta_see_your_review&utm_medium=email&utm_source=bookend&ref_=pe_7171740_378325280

Lucy Burdette‘s THE KEY LIME CRIME is splendid!  The crime is only part of the story, as family and friends have equal importance in the plot, and the food adds so much “local flavor.”  (The cheese puff recipe looks almost easy enough for me).

Macabre murder, malicious vandalism, assault with pie . . . and a new mother-in-law for Haley. I did come to like Helen, but my favorite new character is T-Bone, the delightful and most helpful kitten, rescued by Miss Gloria.  (Is she really going to go on their honeymoon in the next book? If she does, who will care for all those pets? Time will tell. 😉  

A student once coined a slogan, “Drop Pies, not Bombs.”  We decided the pies would need parachutes to arrive in delicious condition and would be perfect overtures for peace.  I’ll add Key Lime Pie to the “must have” varieties. 

I loved the insights into Cooking with Love and the cooking school, not quite so in love with the idea of croissant corsages.  The quotes at the beginning of the chapters are insightful, but my favorite, timely offering is Haley’s “We should fight to the bitter end or die trying.”  Never, ever give up. 

https://www.bookbub.com/books/the-key-lime-crime-by-lucy-burdette

https://storytellermary.wordpress.com/2020/01/25/book-reviews-strong-women/

THE FIRST TO LIE  

 If Escher Wrote Books

Like a circle in a spiral . . ., like a series of fun house mirrors, or perhaps like those Russian nesting dolls, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s THE FIRST TO LIE spun through layers of truth in a mystifying kaleidoscope of “what if” possibilities. I suspected many of the tricksters, and many more that weren’t, and was ambushed by some I never saw coming. Disguises rival Shakespeare’s plays, and moral dilemmas hark back to ethics discussions . . . is it ever moral to lie?  Do ends justify means?  It’s rare for a book to be both an escape from reality and an illumination of truth, but this one qualifies. “Lies have a complicated half-life.”

Don’t we all play roles in life?  Teacher self, party-goer self, church self, date self . . . but how far do we take it?   Can one lose oneself in the pretense?  I found myself thinking of those flip books with the pages cut in thirds, to switch heads, bodies, feet. I used various-colored post-its to highlight significant passages and distinguish characters.  My book is now a rainbow porcupine. 

I believe this book will speak to many people, on a deep and intimate level, exploring issues that affect us all. I don’t want to “spoil” with too many details, but this story mirrored friends’ experiences with fertility clinics, false promises given to the hopeful.  Boston’s snowy spring and car crashes awakened memories of a trip one spring break, surprised by the snow still on the ground and carrying the weight of a student’s fatal crash just a week before . . . so many links to real lives, so many details magnifying the theme of mirrors and deception.  I want to be in a book club to discuss every nuance, and I’ll be re-reading in August when the book comes out because, as a favorite professor said, “Any book worth reading is worth reading twice.”

Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY

My college drama professor told us that if there were anything else we could convince ourselves to do instead of acting, we should. The first pages of Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY reminded me of his advice, as financial problems mount and Dana has lost her “day job” in retail.  Things look bleak, but best friend/agent Megan  arranges an audition at The Shopping Channel, something with which I am unfamiliar, but now feel I know a bit about.  The salary would solve so many problems, but a non-compete clause would mean giving up her theater group, Sweat City, but how can she let down her friends?  There are so many more complications, murder and mayhem, sabotage, intrigue and romance, but I won’t put “spoilers” here. 

I couldn’t put it down and at the end wished it could go on and on. I liked the characters and wanted more time with them.  I also appreciate the insight into the rewards for those called to be actors, getting lost in a character, using nervous energy to power the performance, working as a team.  The plot is rewardingly complex and the ending is satisfying.  I love when I think I know what’s coming, and then get a surprise twist.  

A bit of universal wisdom: “She needed this to be a mellow day at work.  But that wasn’t the way it went down.” (It never is . . . we used to pretend a lack of urgency to keep the school copier from messing up).

Crime Travel / edited by Barb Goffman 

Anthologies of short works are  wonderful “palate cleansers” between larger and sometimes heavier works and a way to discover new writers, after I’ve read my favorites.  I was going to name some favorites, but I can’t, as they were all so good!  I don’t want to give too much away, but I did enjoy the ghosts, the hard decision, and the guest appearance by a famous mystery writer. 
I read this over a few weeks and am now looking back with awe at the quality of the whole, with much to think about, much variety, a satisfying tally of wrongs set right, and overall a quality of writing far beyond the norm.   Even the physical package of the “tree book” pleases, lovely cover, perfect size, clear print . . . one could get spoiled by such attention to details. 

RESISTANCE WOMEN by Jennifer Chiaverini

Don’t ever get used to evil.  Don’t treat it as normal.  This was not an easy book to read at this time of escalating criminal malfeasance, but that makes it even more important a work.  I was reminded of Scheherazade, who couldn’t be happy and safe elsewhere when loved ones were in danger. There were echoes of READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN, as freedom, jobs, books were stripped away, and warnings “Where they burn books, in the end they will also burn people.”

A character says, “ . . . celebrate while we can.  What’s the alternative?” — fighting back . .
I had to take breaks, as when I read NIGHT, but their courage and loyalty is an example of the strength needed to combat evil.  Persist!  The more who join the resistance, even if we have to do it at a social distance right now, the more lives are saved. 

I knew of Martin Niemöller, but until I read Jennifer Chiaverini’s RESISTANCE WOMEN, I hadn’t heard of Mildred Fish Harnack.  Perhaps this book should be added to reading lists.  The author’s note says 9/16, her birthday, is celebrated in Wisconsin.

Annette Riggle Dashofy‘s UNDER THE RADAR kept me reading until 4 a.m. — yes, THAT good!  It’s twisty and full of conflicts and uncertainties, none of which will I spoil.  There are burglary, bullying, a blizzard, and bridal planning woes.  (Is there a word like “bridezilla” for the mother of?)  Oh, and there is news of a new half-brother, as well as serious questions about whom to trust, and a too-close-for-comfort election for coroner.  Is it any wonder my attempts to sleep failed?  Add to that a smoothly flowing writing style, which looks effortless, but we English teachers know is the result of careful revision and editing.  This book is a pleasure, the continuation of an excellent series, and there will be another soon. 

 (Purchased and read during Corona isolation closing of libraries — thank goodness for the invention of e-books!) 

ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOOD-BYE  by White, Williams, and Willig

At first I resisted yet another book with multiple POVs and timelines, but then I fell right in.  It was surprisingly easy to follow, with clear labeling of each change, and sweet details tying them together, almost like the fade-out/fade-in of good cinema.  The reward, good characters and fascinating settings.  This is a book filled with courage, beauty, honor, sacrifice, and love and forgiveness, with mysteries to resolve and characters to love . . . and hate.  

Words of courage, for now and always:

“It’s nothing, it’s a raindrop in a thunderstorm.”

“It’s not nothing.  Not to those we save.  To them, it’s everything.”

“Don’t ever lose yourself thinking of the ones you couldn’t save.  Think instead of the ones you did.”

NO FIXED LINE by Dana Stabenow

Kate Shugak is a woman of courage, ready to stand up to “bad men” and fight for good, with courage to hope for better times, as she sees the younger generation in action, activism for good.

“The younger generation . . . Johnny and Van . . .weren’t buying houses, .. . believed in climate change, Medicare for All, dumping the Electoral College . . . voting.”

Not just the youngsters, either, the aunties hold things together. “Don’t mess with the aunties!”  Strong elders’ influence saves villages.
Dana Stabenow is also a woman of courage, willing to write about issues despite those who want dissenting voices silenced.  To stand up for right in compelling and rewarding fiction is brilliant! Powerful writing can make a difference, as did UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and GRAPES OF WRATH. Kate and Dana are an example to us all. 

“You can’t save them all, Kate.”
“No . . . more’s the pity, but I can save the two in front of me.”

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek  by Michele Richardson

I was caught up in the action and conflict of this book, nesting comfortably out of winter weather, as the Pack Horse Librarians faced all the hazards.  I had heard of the blue people and was fascinated by explanations of (methemoglobinemia) lack of enzyme, otherwise healthy, undeserving of others’ fear and hatred.  “Colored” laws applied, and discrimination could turn deadly.  I was touched that Cussy and her father, each worried about dangers to the other, while each insisted on doing important work.  My heart warmed to the special folk who didn’t judge color.  

“Anyone knows a Kentucky man ain’t gonna let the wandering legs plant themselves anyplace other than here” reminded me of storyteller Stephen Hollen’s mountain tales.

Mention of a “children’s moon” in the daytime was sweet but sad. Hunger meant early bedtimes,  “That there were stores full of the cure for hunger kept me awake with . . . anger”

 

THE GIVER OF STARS  by Jojo Moyes

Very moving — I loved the sisterhood of horseback librarians, sticking up for each other and challenging the corrupt mine-owner and the restrictions of “woman’s place” and working, despite danger, to help others.  I cared about these women and the men who supported them and their work.  (I confess to a few tears, not a common reaction for me these days).  It started a bit slowly, but I’m glad I went back to it for a second look . . . another book with some moral ambiguity in the resolution — I suspect I’d have had more trouble debating right or wrong when younger. 

LOUISE’S CROSSING  by Sarah Shaber

Crossing the ocean in a welded, not riveted, Liberty ship with a full load of ammunition and other supplies for the Allied forces is a dangerous undertaking.  Add the discomfort of no heat in sub-zero weather, and throw in a possible murderer aboard, but with so much at stake, investigating takes a back seat to surviving the crossing.  This was an adventure I could not put down, as Louise Pearlie persists in her unauthorized search for justice.  

Sarah Shaber’s writing is clear and compelling, descriptions feel real, so real that I had to bundle up a bit from imagined cold and appreciate baths and plentiful food.  

Wisdom, “After allowing myself an extensive pity party, I pulled myself together . . . I would make the best of it.”  “I thought about my future.”   7th in the excellent series

The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Sadie Walela, another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into . . . good thing there are good people to help you through.  A lovely childhood dream, to own and work a small cafe, a timely opportunity to purchase and rename the Liberty Diner, a bonus discovery of a loyal, helpful group of Regulars who show up early to have coffee and help, how could that go wrong?  It can, with murder, gun threats, broken window, familial disputes, and a reluctant agreement to sub at the bank.  I bought a used copy because my library, having ordered it months ago, still didn’t have it.  It arrived days after mine (of course — I should have ordered sooner).  I couldn’t resist reading their fresh new copy, but I’ll be glad to have mine to keep.  This is second in a series, read out of order because of difficulty getting a copy.  I’m ready for a fifth, whenever that shall be.  ** I looked up Cherokee tear dresses — beautiful!

 

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Three Little Pigs, Lego Version

Thanksgiving story 2

I was helping with a Lego camp and tailored the story to what I saw and heard that week (and so can you, feel free to make changes. 😉  These are my additions to the familiar tale, with wolf huffing and puffing and blowing houses down.  I wrote down these “bones” of the story for a friend and thought I should record and share it.

1st pig liked comic books, filled his backpack with his favorites plus a candy bar and soda.  Traded comic for straw, “Have to give something to get something,” and built straw house. Offered to share comic with wolf, who instead wanted “piggy for lunch.” Ran to brother’s house.
2nd pig had computer game, chips, and juice, let man with sticks play games while he built house, offered to let the wolf play Tetris, but no. Both run to . . .
3rd pig, heaviest backpack, filled with grains, apples, and water . . . and Lego bricks!  He built a strong Lego house with locking door and clear windows and chimney, near a stream, where he planted grain and apple seeds.  Three pigs safe inside house.

I wanted to end with the wolf showing up at Lego shows to learn to build a catapult, and the campers were fine with it, but the visiting little sisters insisted there had to be “wolf stew” from wolf falling down the chimney.  They were right; the menace has to be GONE at the end of a story.  “No one ever saw that wolf again.”

When I told stories to a friend’s high school class, a smart-alec made a comment about “3 Little Pigs” so I included it in the mythology lineup, pointedly saying it was in response to his request.  I’m ornery, but I also like to point out how to change the old tales to fit new interests.  I couldn’t think of a Lego story until I picked up on the fact that true aficionados refer to them as Lego BRICKS. 😉
Lego fun

Book Reviews — Strong Women!

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Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY

My college drama professor told us that if there were anything else we could convince ourselves to do instead of acting, we should. The first pages of Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY reminded me of his advice, as financial problems mount and Dana has lost her “day job” in retail.  Things look bleak, but best friend/agent Megan  arranges an audition at The Shopping Channel, something with which I am unfamiliar, but now feel I know a bit about.  The salary would solve so many problems, but a non-compete clause would mean giving up her theater group, Sweat City, but how can she let down her friends?  There are so many more complications, murder and mayhem, sabotage, intrigue and romance, but I won’t put “spoilers” here. 

I couldn’t put it down and at the end wished it could go on and on. I liked the characters and wanted more time with them.  I also appreciate the insight into the rewards for those called to be actors, getting lost in a character, using nervous energy to power the performance, working as a team.  The plot is rewardingly complex and the ending is satisfying.  I love when I think I know what’s coming, and then get a surprise twist.  

A bit of universal wisdom: “She needed this to be a mellow day at work.  But that wasn’t the way it went down.” (It never is . . . we used to pretend a lack of urgency to keep the school copier from messing up).

 

THE TESTAMENTS

Wow! . . . just wow.  Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS is powerful, well written, scary, but hopeful and satisfying!  I read it in less than two days, finishing just before bed, and I awoke from a dream in which I kicked open a door to rescue a young woman from a rough man. I seldom remember dreams, but this was a moving book.

 I have a no-spoilers rule foTr myself, so am reluctant to reveal too much about the important aspects of the three threads of the plot, just that they do not disappoint.  A bit of wisdom, “once a judge, always a judge” and the “mills . . .  grind slowly but . . . exceeding small.” A bit of comfort, “The minor infirmities of age.  I hope you will live long enough to experience them.”  I was tickled to recognize a pattern in the names of the wedding arrangers, “Aunt Lorna, Aunt Sara Lee, and Aunt Betty” and the offered name, Aunt Maybelline, but it took TIME Magazine’s excellent interview to alert me to the Schlafly Cafe.  I admired this masterful bit of indirect permission, “You are strong.  Strength is a gift.  Gifts should be employed.” 

The teacher in me agrees that “the young are idealistic, have an underdeveloped sense of their own mortality, and . . . an exaggerated thirst for justice.” We’ve seen this in young activists, and I applaud them for their efforts.   

Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

I was caught up in the action and conflict of this book, nesting comfortably out of winter weather, as the Pack Horse Librarians faced all the hazards.  I had heard of the blue people and was fascinated by explanations of (methemoglobinemia) lack of enzyme, otherwise healthy, undeserving of others’ fear and hatred.  “Colored” laws applied, and discrimination could turn deadly.  I was touched that Cussy and her father, each worried about dangers to the other, while each insisted on doing important work.  My heart warmed to the special folk who didn’t judge color.  

“Anyone knows a Kentucky man ain’t gonna let the wandering legs plant themselves anyplace other than here” reminded me of storyteller Stephen Hollen’s mountain tales.

Mention of a “children’s moon” in the daytime was sweet but sad. Hunger meant early bedtimes,  “That there were stores full of the cure for hunger kept me awake with . . . anger”

Jojo Moyes 

THE GIVER OF STARS

Very moving — I loved the sisterhood of horseback librarians, sticking up for each other and challenging the corrupt mine-owner and the restrictions of “woman’s place” and working, despite danger, to help others.  I cared about these women and the men who supported them and their work.  (I confess to a few tears, not a common reaction for me these days).  It started a bit slowly, but I’m glad I went back to it for a second look . . . another book with some moral ambiguity in the resolution — I suspect I’d have had more trouble debating right or wrong when younger. 

LOUISE’S CROSSING  by Sarah Shaber

Crossing the ocean in a welded, not riveted, Liberty ship with a full load of ammunition and other supplies for the Allied forces is a dangerous undertaking.  Add the discomfort of no heat in sub-zero weather, and throw in a possible murderer aboard, but with so much at stake, investigating takes a back seat to surviving the crossing.  This was an adventure I could not put down, as Louise Pearlie persists in her unauthorized search for justice.  

Sarah Shaber’s writing is clear and compelling, descriptions feel real, so real that I had to bundle up a bit from imagined cold and appreciate baths and plentiful food.  

Wisdom, “After allowing myself an extensive pity party, I pulled myself together . . . I would make the best of it.”  “I thought about my future.”   7th in the excellent series

The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Sadie Walela, another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into . . . good thing there are good people to help you through.  A lovely childhood dream, to own and work a small cafe, a timely opportunity to purchase and rename the Liberty Diner, a bonus discovery of a loyal, helpful group of Regulars who show up early to have coffee and help, how could that go wrong?  It can, with murder, gun threats, broken window, familial disputes, and a reluctant agreement to sub at the bank.  I bought a used copy because my library, having ordered it months ago, still didn’t have it.  It arrived days after mine (of course — I should have ordered sooner).  I couldn’t resist reading their fresh new copy, but I’ll be glad to have mine to keep.  This is second in a series, read out of order because of difficulty getting a copy.  I’m ready for a fifth, whenever that shall be.  ** I looked up Cherokee tear dresses — beautiful!

 

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ETSU New England Cruise 2002

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ETSU New England Cruise  2002 Mary Garrett’s reflections . . . .

This was an unusual cruise in several ways.  This was our first cruise of the northeast coast, a new and interesting area.  Also, instead of one storyteller traveling with us, we had a “teller in every port,” allowing us to hear a variety of tellers and get the local flavor of each stop.  This provided interesting variety, but perhaps less “bonding time” with our tellers and as a group.  The “freestyle cruising,” while allowing more flexibility in scheduling meals and other acÎtivities,  also kept us more separate as a group, with no set time and place for meals.  One suggestion I heard was to arrange one (or more?) reserved dinner seatings as a group.  (The main dining rooms would take reservations for 5:30 or 8:30). We were also an unusually small group, only 32 or so, because the cruise line had recalled the unsold cabins early to cover an over-booking.  Sigh!  Reserve early!

This cruise was also different for me personally.  First, I brought my 13-year-old niece, Jill, with me, a new experience.  She proved to be a delightful travel companion, easily fitting into the adult group of tellers, and finding friends nearer her own age at the pool.  I took her back to her dad yesterday (8/5) and I really miss her; after 12 days with her, the space around me seems empty. 

Mary and Daddy John003

My mom once said that my dad didn’t like for us to spend the night away from home; he said there was an empty space when one of us five children was gone — I somewhat understand now.   We brought several stuffed animals with us, including our matching purple hippos (“I want a Hippopatamus for Christmas”), and the stewards arranged Jill’s sweetly on her bed when they came to turn down the beds.  One night when I “hit the sack” before her, Jill even tucked me in, “just like you do for me.”  So nice!

Also, Flora asked me to organize the story swaps on the cruise, a new responsibility for me, and great fun to do.  I am glad to have been able to experience this, and I think it went well.  I had been a little nervous, especially since I also had to think about Jill, but she likes to be up late (later than me, even), and she really took to the sharing in the swaps, even telling some stories herself.  I modeled a little after Dan Keding’s approach last year, beginning most sessions with a short story to get things going.  We seemed to have, to quote Perrin Stifel’s favorite saying, “just enough” tellers and stories each evening, and an interesting flow of themes as well.  In the absence of formal workshops, the swaps were the only time we worked on stories as a group.  Flora had offered critiquing sessions as well, but they weren’t formally scheduled  and I don’t know if any were requested.  (Our special outings, shore excursions, and general shipboard activities did wear most of us out).  

The fun was enlivened by Rosemary and Lisa’s door poster interpretation contest, with prizes distributed at the last session on Saturday afternoon.  The poster had two famous Chinese sayings, and Amy had illustrated them with very nice sketches also.  I didn’t write down her exact wording, but the first was the “Travel safely” characters that John Wu had put on the “Jackie” calligraphy that Jill had bought in Battery Park (and carefully and safely hand carried through the rest of the trip).  Lisa said it literally meant “May the wind fill your sails . . .” and the second had to do with sharing stories. Your words are like a river flowing–or may your words flow like a river! 

It was a great excuse to go by their room (not that Jill needed an excuse — Rosemary and Lisa were her new best friends from the first day, and the three of them did a dynamite tandem telling of Cinderella, exploring the “happily ever after” part into three generations).  Prizes were lovely ceramic charms from Hong Kong and a special antique French salt spoon “so your stories will always be salty.”  Mary Kay’s answer was in the form of a Haiku, very impressive!  Their contest helped me decide how to give away the six copies of my dad’s books I had brought with me.   I gave them out at the end of Friday evening’s swap, calling in order those who had told at previous swaps, stories for stories as it were.

July 26 — Flight to New York — Fabulous New York!!!!

The flight was easy and fun, with wonderful clouds and a good view of the city before landing.  The limo service was efficient (though confusing at first because I didn’t know he was really our driver; Mary Kay had spotted him first and pointed out Jill and me to him, and he had discarded his sign).  Once checked into the Milford Plaza, we formed a dinner group for the Steak House across the street — elegant, leisurely, and delicious.  Jill liked Neva Gail at once, but was a little less enamored with “slow, boring, stuck-up restaurants.”  The conflict over formal meals continued throughout the cruise, but we compromised with a few buffet meals in the Big Apple on 5th deck, and Jill learned to enjoy new treats like veal, zabaglione (which I had given her once by mistake when she was much smaller), lamb, and even tried (but didn’t like) escargot.  At first, the waiters brought children’s menus, then both menus, and by the end just the sophisticated adult menu.  One night we really tested their abilities as Jill decided at the last minute that she was hungry, and they quickly produced pizza and grapefruit juice, and a few nights later she tried the same meal from room service (also a useful source for coffee first thing in the morning — Aunt Mary is so much nicer when she’s had coffee).

The Milford was interesting, with avery elegant lobby, very small rooms (good practice for the cabins on the Norwegian Sea), and no soundproofing of the windows (though by the second night I was tired enough not to notice the traffic noises as much).  The staff was friendly, though service was a bit . . . disorganized?? After four or five requests for washcloths and extra pillows, beginning at about 7 p.m., I made a final request at about 1:30 a.m., “Am I really going to have to come to the lobby in my nightgown to get pillows?” — it worked; I recommend the line.  There was a nice deli on the corner, with a second entrance (we later discovered) from the lower lobby of the Milford — we had the rest of our meals there, very convenient, and helpful to have built a bit of a relationship when Jill’s retainers went missing Sunday morning.  They found the top one, and I left addresses in case the lower one was discovered.  They didn’t even want to accept a tip, but did when I pointed out they would need postage if the other was found (so far, no news on that).  All the storytellers reassured us that everyone loses retainers, but we were still very upset, and wrote careful, apologetic letters to Jill’s mom.

Theater!!!!  We had arranged tickets for The Phantom and Lion King, and both were wonderful!!  We were so close in The Phantom that “when he threw fire, we could feel the heat.” Sets were impressive, singing was awesome — I’ll never be content with the balcony of the Fox again.  We weren’t quiæte as close in Lion King (balcony, behind two women with very big hair), but the whole spectacle, the music, dancing, costumes, puppetry, and the amazing set were almost overwhelming.  Standing ovations for the cast and then for the musicians!!  We could walk easily from the hotel to the theaters, and only got a little confused here and there (a block out of our way — well-done for me, the champion of mis-direction).  On the way back from Phantom, we stoped at Sardi’s for dessert: cheesecake and boccone dolce.  It was so much fun!  I wasn’t sure we would get in without a reservation but the doorman (!!) welcomed us right in.  Times Square, on the other hand, wasn’t as glitzy as we’d expected — in fact, we agreed we could recognize it by its smell.

Jill and I took a tour on the Greyline  double-decker buses — the downtown tour on Saturday, allowing for a stop in Battery Park to transfer to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was disappointing (though understandable) not to be able to go inside the Statue of Liberty, but we did walk the circumference of the island (and stock up in the gift shop).  The new exhibits at Ellis Island were interesting; even more interesting was the gentleman we met on the ferry.  He was returning to the place where he had entered the country as a boy of 10, to join his American father after his Croatian mother’s death.  He had been accorded some special treatment, since he was already a citizen because of his father.  He was accompanied by his daughter and talked of his many grand-children and great-grandchildren.  Jill had not been pleased with the idea of “riding around on a bus all day” but was somewhat appeased with the on-off privileges, allowing for stops at places of interest, and fully enjoyed the banter of the wittiest guide in the whole world, Sherwood.  He was fun, funny, full of information, and friendly to everyone, even waving to various people as we passed by.  On our return from Battery Park, we insisted on riding his bus, and he helped to make it happen.   He has a wonderful philosophy of enjoying life, doing good, appreciating loved ones (he told the husbands on the bus where to buy flowers for their wives).  He says we’ll be seeing him on tv and in movies, and I believe we will.

Jill loved Battery Park, stopping to order a “your name on a grain of rice” necklace — when he offered to do two names, we each bought the other a necklace with both our names, a green turtle for me, a pink elephant for Jill (hers unfortunately disappeared from her neck going from the hotel to the ship — we’re on the lookout for another source).  The pigeons ate all the rice mistakes, and anything else they were offered.  One musician had pigeons landing tamely on his hands.  We waited a long time for the Jackie calligraphy, but it was so well done, and it was interesting to watch the work in progress.  The artist seemed pleased when we asked him to sign his work.  Our return to the hotel included a stop at Pokemon headquarters  — Jill needed to replace a game her dog had chewed up.  It was a huge and impressive store, and we only got a little lost finding it and finding our way home.  In front of the Milford, our N.Y. “home,” was the statue donated to New York by the Missouri firefighters, the one that had just been completed and was awaiting shipment last September.  It was quite moving.

Sunday, on to the Norwegian Sea

On Sunday morning, Jill and I did the uptown tour on the bus, though I think she would rather have slept.  It was great to see Central Park, Harlem, Fifth Avenue — then “home” for breakfast and taxis to the airport.  Boarding the ship was interesting — we had a new room number and accidentally sent our bags to the wrong room. Then when we got to 3212, the door was locked (someone had accidentally, I hope, taken our room).  A call to the operator brought a darling young woman named Jenny, who opened the door, saw someone else’s stuff, and promptly escorted us to a lounge for a cool drink while she looked into it, straightened it out, and arranged for the steward to “refresh” the room.  Her courtesy and sense of humor (“sorry, you won’t get to stay with me, after all”) made the situation fun and funny.  (Now, if we’d had a little of that in Colorado).  The staff were all wonderful.  One night Jill and I were having trouble finding each other, but we knew we would be fine because everywhere we looked, we got reports of each other, from the steward(ess?) cleaning the room, to the hostess in the dining room, we kept hearing, “She was just here.”  So sweet!  The hostess also started asking for stories, whenever she wasn’t too busy, and I was happy to supply them!!

  Jill had the great idea to look for our bags at the wrong room (so she could have her swim suit), and we brought them back ourselves so she  could hurry off for her first swim — well, after the obligatory and always-fun lifeboat drill. Watching the skyline and the Statue of Liberty as we left was very exciting.  We were on our way!!!

We had our own special reception the first night, and made plans to meet for dinner, necessary in the absence of assigned tables, but it did allow us to mingle more.  The next day (Monday 7/29) was at-sea, plenty of swim time (Jill even talked me into that cold pool, and taught me the secret, warming in the hot tub before and after) and dress-up dinner and photos with the captain.  Mary Kay, Fran and I even sat on deck and knitted for a bit.  I helped them get started with apple caps and even showed a waiter and two waitresses how to knit. (Ask Mary Kay about taking knitting on the plane in her carry-on.  If she’d been caught with them, she might have been accused of knitting an Afghan — seriously, put them in the checked bags nowadays).  I didn’t actually knit much on this trip.  I was busy during the swaps, and on the bus rides, Jill would fall asleep; so I was busy being a pillow (and loving it).  I used to fall asleep on car rides, too, until I became the driver.

We also had our first swap — great fun!  Rosemary Potter told “door knock stories” about her log house, and Neva Gail added a chilling story of the burning of an orphanage.  Lisa Tan shared a Chinese legend of the Monkey King in search of a weapon.  (Lisa has since written a book about the Monkey King).  Harriet told a family story of her uncle’s glass blowing (beer bottles, what else?) and getting advice from frogs, “too deep” and “go around” with really great frog voices.  Nancy told about her Nana, the best band-aid, with all that extra skin “to keep the stories in.”  

When we went back to our cabin, Jill stared our our window and made up her own ghost story, with ghostly warnings saving the passengers and crew.  I took some pictures of Jill sitting in that window, and when she told the story at the next swap, all were impressed that she could fit there (and Lisa was going to try it herselîf).  Jill really loved that window, and one day saw a whale from it.  On the first day while we were still docked, she made a joke about the “terrible view” — I told her I had read of someone actually calling to complain about the view once, and we decided the captain should have arranged to “change the view just for (you)” — big tips all around!!

Tuesday, 7/30 — Halifax, Nova Scotia

Our guide, Heather, was a trip!  Send future husbands to learn “light-house keeping” . . . older women can hold their liquor, but not the water.  Then a sad, spooky story of “widows’ island” when all the men were killed after helping pirates bury treasure.  Privateers were authorized by England and only became “pirates” if they attacked English ships.  At Peggy’s Cove, we enjoyed the lighthouse and the rocks (Jill was so agile on the rocks!!).  She even picked wildflowers after the musicians said, “She might as well, the goats eat them anyway.”   I believe it was also on this excursion that we saw all the dry stone walls (made with no mortar, these were a bit less elaborate than the ones in Golden, Colorado).  We started quoting lines from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,”  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Then on to Hubbards for lunch at the Shore Club, lovely old place where they often hold dances.  The lobsters were good (Jill had chicken, but did taste the lobster).  I gave my second tail to Marsh, and Flora was sad; so Jill gave her blueberry shortcake to Flora and got 15 ETSU credits for it!!!  Sheila Smith was our teller — very impressive!  A recitation of “sailors’ rights” led to the story of the Kingdom of Outerballdonia, a fisherman’s paradise to which “women need not apply.”  Then the sad story of Captain Hall’s Harbor in 1813 when the cabin boy of the MaryJane and the Indian girl Softfeather perished because of the curse of Midas.  Then the story of the ghost ship the Young Teaser(?) with the powder cache set on fire and no survivors.  Her final stories were also songs, of the sea people and the sea as a jealous mistress, and Sheila’s voice is lovely.  On the way back, we made a quick stop at the Citadel for pictures of the lovely view and the very patient royal guard.  It was a wonderful day!  

That evening’s swap was lively.  Jill started with her Jamie and Johnny story “listen to a warning, it could save your life.”  Ruth told her Malcolm Will-ya story, based on her own brother, but with the foolishness of Jack.  MaryKay told about her Kirkwood house, found to have secret rooms for the underground railroad.  Rosemary told the story of the odd housekeeping vocabulary (extra points for not being distracted by the strange lighting going on behind her). We all agreed that on the ship it is  best to take no “hot cockelorum” into your “barnacle.”  Fran finished the set with the story of her own recovery from serious injury and the lessons, “The body will heal.  Ignore those who laugh at you. Take a hot bath every night.”

Wed. 7/31  Bar Harbor, Maine

Marsh pulled a real coup, getting the earliest tender tickets so we could go ashore and wander before our formal tour.  We shopped and then found Oli’s Trolley and enjoyed a trip into Acadia National park to hear Jackson Gillman.  Jackson actually found us as we entered the park, and after a bit of scenery we joined him, his wife Susan, and daughter Jillian (!) for wonderful stories.  The two Jillians bonded afterward with Jill’s gift of grass-weaving and mutual admiration of their great name.  We enjoyed Jackson’s song of the “Hang-downs” (the one that scared Robin last October), and the clammer song, his Potato Head County Eastern music, and his hysterically funny skit about Archibald TooGood (performed in tandem with Flora rising to new heights).  We also received “News of the Finest Kind” from the Maineiac satirical newspaper (I bought one to bring home).  As befits a member of the Fraternal Order of Old-Fart Fathers, he shared his song of anticipated new life (Jill can do the gurgly baby sound quite well; I can’t, but the tune kept haunting me even after I came home).  Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon and a final admonition to re-charge ourselves in the outdoors sent us off with healthy aspirations.

 

Thursday, 8/1  Boston — Marblehead & Salem Tour

Jill and I chose to see Marblehead and Salem, and it was lovely.  Our guide gave us an “insider’s view of Marblehead, including a visit to see the original of “The Spirit of 1776.”  She even managed to find time for us to walk up to see the House of the Seven Gables.  The witch museum’s recorded historical background show was chilling, and the gift shop was terrific, but once back on the bus we realized we had taken a wrong exit choice and missed the self-guided museum part.  Time was too tight,  and I hope we can go back someday. (Jill wants to be there on Halloween sometime).  Jill had a long list of people to get gifts for, and a special commission to get five t-shirts for her mom, one from each stop (leaving out Newport, oops!)  Jill also used her own spending money to get a warm fleece jacket for her mom at Ellis Island — on sale even!

Judith did her stories on board the Norwegian Sea — more finessing by Marsh to make that possible, and Judith had to leave her driver’s license for security!  Judith was wonderful!!!  She began by teaching us a song about cod, the livelihood of the Marblehead fishermen, “cut, clean and cut again, ah for the sparkling cod.”   This led to the story of Wilmott Red, the only Marblehead citizen to be tried by the “Calvinist foreigners” of Salem.  The adopting of a four-year-old orphan by the suspected “witch,” the “two trickling streams of sorrow” coming together to bring wholeness and happiness, the sad ending, but with life continuing afterward — it was so moving!  It also helped explain the Salem/Marblehead animosity our guide had alluded to Judith is brilliant!

Jill and I planned to go to the midnight chocolate buffet, but we lay down to rest for an hour or so before it — it was a strenuous day.  When the alarm and the wake-up call came, Jill was sleeping so soundly that I just couldn’t wake her.  I went, took pictures, met Lisa and Rosemary, and collected a plate of chocolates to make her feel better in the morning.

Friday, 8/2  Martha’s Vineyard

Again, Marsh got us ashore early, and we wandered and shopped.  We even sat and enjoyed the view in a closed restaurant and on the porch of a B&B with no one seeming to mind.  Jill craved ice cream (my fault for letting the kids have ice cream for breakfast when they spend the night).  I took a taste when we finally found an open shop (Yum!).  She also found magic tricks, a whole new area of expertise for her.    We also saw . . . Susan Klein!!  She had conducted a successful auction for charity the night before and had just a few minutes to spend with us, but they were wonderful minutes!  

We met at the pier for our tour, but were missing two people, whom I won’t name here.  We looked for them for an hour and then gave up.  Jill (and others) were upset at the loss of time, which gave us only a few minutes on the beautiful beach and made us cut short the stories in the library.  Our lost sheep, as it turns out, had been given directions to a shop, got on the wrong bus, and spent the rest of the day seeking us — you have to forgive lost sheep!  We ate our sandwiches on the bus (giving extras to the guide, her daughter, and the driver), and we did at least get to touch the water and take pictures of the Gay Head (Aquinas) cliffs.  As as every stop, we were told that we were lucky to have perfect weather, and that the day before was much hotter and less pleasant.  Did Marsh arrange the weather, too?

Barbara Lipke’s stories were fascinating, based on her Vineyard summers as a child (not a native — she told the same analogy as Jackson, “if the cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits”).  They had been getting sour cream free from a dairy, until he tasted it and started charging.  Three brave girls kept the Liberty Pole from being commandeered by the Phoenix.   Mrs. Sanford, the cook, married into money but was not accepted by the “finest people.”  “Lucy are they staring? . . . Then sit up straighter!”  Best of all, Barbara’s wonderful house, with remodeling to be finished in the spring (which spring?) and with a resident ghost who “seems to mean no harm.”  Martha’s Vineyard is so beautiful!  I may have to read those want ads at mvtimes.com, mvgazette.com, mv.com/diaspora.

Jill, Rosemary, and Lisa began our swap that evening with their tandem tale of Cinderella, and the continuing problems because you can’t get away from conflict.  Ann did a wonderful rhyming Cinderella story, and Lisa followed it with two brothers trying to take the golden squash.  I told “The Stolen Child” story from Healing Stories — the Scottish setting of Nova Scotia had brought it to me for Jill’s bedtime story (and it had taken two nights to tell — she was too tired to stay awake).  Neva Gail told of a weaver whose weavings came true, with a warning to demanding spouses everywhere.  Fran told of Jesus healing the child afflicted with demons.  Again it was an interesting mix of stories and tellers, and just enough time.

Saturday 8/3 — Newport, R.I.

Outstanding day!  We went to Belcourt Castle for elegant coffee, tea and pastries in the elegant dining hall that was originally the coach room.  Alva had inherited it from her second wealthy husband (divorced the first, Vanderbilt, for adultery and got much property there, too).  She was a staunch feminist, so when we got back to the bus, we sang “Sister Suffragettes” from Mary Poppins. (We had tendered over on the Amazing Grace, so we sang then, too). The castle was so elegant, and so filled with treasures!!  We took many pictures in the main room and garden (not allowed elsewhere).  Most of us couldn’t imagine living in such splendor.  (Of course, I’d be willing to try . . .)

Valerie Tutson was our teller — phenomenal strong woman!!  She had us singing in Zulu (Yabo means yes) and laughing and crying about her trip to discover her roots, to Africa by way of her grandfather’s Scotland.  In Senegal she visited Gore, the door of no return.  She gave me chills in that hot, stuffy room.  Her main story was of Duchess, owned by Wm. Ellery Channing, who earned her freedom by baking — even George Washington liked her baking.  She had been brought in 1739 from Africa to Barbados and then to Newport, which had the highest rate of slavery in the colonies.  She told as Duchess would have told to the children who gathered at her home for stories and plum cake, and then gave us plum cake.  She was so intense, and Jill, as the only child in the group, was a center of focus for her.  Jill declared Valerie her favorite teller.  Storytellers agreed — we want to see her in Jonesborough (and St. Louis?) and with some tapes for sale!!

We had lots of time left after the tour, and Jill wanted a beach.  We got good directions for using public buses and were prepared to do it, but the bus, when it finally came, was so slow that we worried we would repeat the “lost sheep” episode.  We got off, walked back (five minutes for what took the bus twelve — Folk Festival traffic) and tendered back for late lunch (they kept the line open way past scheduled closing) and swim and sauna (Lisa taught Jill about the sauna).   We watched sailboat races from the ship and saw the huge crowd gathered for the festival.

Then our last swap (sob).  I began with the “Dervish in the Ditch” from Doug Lipman and the “Heaven and Hell” analogy.  Fran told of Mother Mouse and of a monastery where the monks were told that one of them was the Messiah.  Henry and Flora warned of the dangers of Mother Goose and told the Frog Prince in a most amazing way.  (I was sorry Jill had come late, but then realized her presence might have inhibited the steamy princess).  Ramona told the story of the Samurai warrior and the tea master, a lesson in focus, discipline, and self-acceptance.  MaryKay shared a story of lost gold buried by fur traders on the Missouri River — the solution to our funding problems?  Rosemary told the familiar story of the monkeys and “hats for sale” but then added a piece from NPR about monkeys gathering oranges in . . . plastic shopping bags?!!  Lisa shared the good news/bad news/who knows? story.  It was such a wonderful  cruise and wonderful group!!  Mostly good news, I think.

On the way to dinner, Jill complained of a sore toe and back from a fall, and during dinner she seemed to feel worse, so on Rosemary’s advice, I stopped at the main desk to report it.  The nurse called us soon after in our cabin and asked us to come in to make a full report.  The doctor taped her cut foot and gave her extra-strong Tylenol, which she didn’t need to take.  There was also an amusing disagreement between doctor and nurse about what to call the “cots” for keeping her toe dry when she showered.  To use our new catch phrase (coined one night when we were both over-tired), “I never saw that on a cruise ship before.”  

Then we packed and celebrated the “closing of the suitcases” with one last smoothie apiece. Jill had purchased a book of coupons for special drinks and still had several left; she bought one for the photographer, which along with her bringing Rosemary and Lisa in to buy photos the next morning (really good prints!), earned her a free photo with her “push here for music” sticker on her nose.  (Sticker from the Tango Frog I bought for myself).

It was sad to leave, but good to get home.  I actually made it out to the deck to see Liberty one more time — Jill slept longer, with her Squeaker puppet-bird finally waking her.  While we were waiting for a taxi to the airport, we were offered a ride in a “stretch limo” for slightly more.  Marsh didn’t tell us not to (I try to check things out with Marsh when I can) so we set off, down elevators, out to the street,  and across a busy street hauling our luggage.  The light changed, and no one honked or anything (I think N.Y. drivers have been maligned).  Then we saw the limo, dull, rusty, dirty.  Jill was so disappointed.  I told her there was a lesson there about what h.appens when you go for the glitz.  We did get to the airport safely, though, along with the other family traveling in the same limo, so that’s what matters.  Someone on the cruise said I reminded her of  Auntie Mame — Mom used to call me that when I took kids on adventures, and I’m pleased to do it, and so far I’ve always brought them home safely . . . .

The flight back was great.  We played the Storytelling card game, and I was impressed with her creativity, and together we did the crossword and the Mensa puzzle in the in-flight magazine.  (We’d done the ones on the way out, too, but August was a new month).  Jill stayed one more night, so she could join me for lunch with Patricia McKissack (Jill is a big fan, of course, as am I).  Pat brought a copy of Fly Away Home and autographed it for her (I goòt it from the library to read myself –it’s wonderful!  A young girl, a “practical dreamer,” faces the KKK, befriends a Comanche boy, helps build desks for Booker T. Washington’s school.  I’ll have to get my own copy now).  We had the most wonderful long, chatty lunch.  I still think we could solve the world’s problems if we were given the chance.  Jill and I made one last stop at the Butterfly House (www.butterfly house.org), to honor Mom (we took two of her nightshirts on the cruise also), and then I gave Jill to her dad.  (Margaret had stopped by to see her in the morning — she missed her girl just a bit).  I am glad they both agreed to share her with me — what a great young lady, creative, a good traveler, able to handle adult situations so well, and just plain fun!

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About the Storytellers

SHEILA SMITH of “StorygemS” is a singer, song writer and storyteller and your community Storytelling host in Nováa Scotia for the 2002 ETSU Storytelling cruise. For more than seven years she has been sharing her gift of storytelling with folks as a national conference and workshop facilitator, entertainer, and recently as part of the “writers-in-the-school” district program. Sheila is a graduate of AST Ministry & Theology Diploma Program in Halifax, NS and the Summer Institute in Pastoral Liturgy at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Ontario. She looks forward to sharing the wealth of Nova Scotia’s folklore, music and Maritime hospitality with you.

 

BARBARA LIPKE tells tales—folk tales, original tales, and tales that make you giggle, guffaw, or send a shiver down your spine. A long time “summer Vineyarder,” her Vineyard tales recapture a time gone by. She has told at Boston First Night, Exchange Place, National Storytelling Festival, and at festivals throughout New England, including the First Storytel^ling Festival on Martha’s Vineyard. She has two audiocassette tapes: Tales from The Vineyard, and From Off-Island, Vineyard Summers. She is the author of Figures, Facts, and Fables, Telling Tales in Science and Math, Heinemann, 1996. All are available from Barbara at 799 Commonwealth Ave, Newton Centre, MA 02459, or by e-mail at bliptales@earthlink.net.

 

JACKSON GILLMAN is better known as “The Stand-Up Chameleon.” Energy, wit, music, and wisdom are his stock-in-trade. More than twenty years in the business of speaking and performing have given him an enormous amount of material on which to draw as he customizes an engaging program of comedy, music, and oratory for this cruise event. Humor can enliven and enlighten any group, meeting, or gathering, and his is based on a foundation of beneficence, hope, and a belief in the enduring power of the human öspirit. So come along with him and let him introduce you to some of his characters.

 

VALERIE TUTSON graduated from Brown University with a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and a degree in a self-designed major: Storytelling as a Communication’s Art. Valerie has been telling stories in schools, churches, libraries, festivals, and conferences since 1991. She draws her stories from around the world with an emphasis on African traditions. Her repertoire includes stories and songs she learned in her travels to South Africa, her experiences in West Africa, and stories from African American history. In addition, she is gaining quite a reputation for her exciting retelling of age-old Bible stories. She not only delights listeners with her tale-telling, she also teaches workshops and classes to students of all ages, and hosts CULTURAL TAPESTRY, an award-winning show for COX 3 celebrating the diverse cultures around usö.

 

JUDITH BLACK. Judith’s stories include explorations into the mythic and dissections of the minuscule, with traditional and original material available for all age groupings. Well known for stories sculpted from her own observed life, subjects such as patient (or the attempt at it) parenting, disasters in dating land, and even helping elders through their last journey, are no strangers to her repertoire. Her source of comedy and her template for human growth and development have come from being a post feminist, vegetarian, and pacifist. She also gained much story material via her son’s path through the ranks of football playing and into the US Marines. One of her tales appears in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and many of them are on her recordings. These all can be found both in her adult repertoire and stories for children and families.

Books and Reviews — Retirement Avocation

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I am luxuriating in the broad margins of my retired life, in awe of the me that could teach six classes a day and complete six errands on the way home.  I recall warning students with a notice on the board to “Be considerate.  Your tired teachers were at parent conferences until 9 p.m. last night,” and with their help making it through the day’s classes.  One wag snuck up and added, “Teachers be nice to students.  We have been dealing with tired, cranky teachers all day.”  I have fond memories of those students, but love my status as human be-ing rather than do-ing.  My last week, I raised a fist to declare, “as God is my witness, I’ll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again,” and my first period students applauded . . . 7:25 a.m. is too early to start school. 

I do give a storytelling workshop every spring for MOAEYC Early Childhood educators, and get some exercise and crafting in at the Y, but my main avocation now is what delighted me during all those summer vacations — reading!  I have also been writing reviews for those I love, on Goodreads, Bookbub, NetGalley, and (until recently) Amazon.  (Their policy now is to only allow reviews from those who spend $50/year on “non-promotional” items, whatever that is.  Their sandbox, their rules. Bah, humbug!)

I will be posting some of my reviews here, beginning with a few of the more recent ones, and I encourage others to write reviews also.  It’s a way to let authors know they are appreciated and help ensure there will be more of the books we love.  

 

Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles

I thoroughly enjoyed the Full Cast Audio performance of Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles.  It’s a splendid tale, complex, with compelling characters, and the drama is so well done! Even the credits at the end are presented in an interesting way. ❤  There are three additional short stories, “After the Third Kiss,” “The Guardian of Memory,” and “The Boy With Silver Eyes,” which helped ease the pain of separation at the end of the saga. I loved the world of Luster. 

 

Victoria Thompson’s CITY OF SCOUNDRELS 

captured my full attention and wouldn’t let go.  Cheating a widow of her livelihood is low, as is selling shoddy goods to the army, and that’s just the beginning of why “they had it coming.”  Justice comes in many guises, and it’s fascinating to follow the workings of a successful con done for a good cause.  There are nerve-wracking moments also, at the mercy of evil, greedy persons or facing the less personal but deadly flu virus and war.  Love, honor, concern for others are the antidotes . . . of which we are in need.  Elizabeth might be a “counterfeit lady” but she’s a genuine good person, as are her co-conspirators.  I’d join in, if I thought I had the talent.  Meanwhile, I hope to read more wonderful books in this series.  Thought to ponder:  “When she became a wife, a woman gave up all rights . . .” Scary!    Book 3 of a series . . .and they just keep getting better!

 

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES 

The tri-part plot reminds me of a three-ring circus, or perhaps Flora Joy’s Trispective: the 3-n-1 Quilt, in which the picture changes with a change in viewer’s position.  I did have to remind myself which plot was which, but dates and clear writing helped.  At the end, I slapped my forehead with an “I should have seen that” reaction, clues there but not obvious, just as I like them.  

Besides the triple murders, decades apart, there are other issues to complicate life.  Caring for baby makes it hard to schedule work obligations, and the doctor suggests that the erratic routine and stress might be upsetting baby Ethan.  Perhaps the new intern, who brings her own problems, can help lighten Clare’s schedule?  In addition, the town is dealing with a proposal to eliminate the local police department, and there is pressure from wealthy, powerful persons to replace Russ as Chief, (just another example of the way the rich and powerful treat others as less important, disposable). Kevin’s back, bringing a new set of problems and a lawsuit from Hadley’s vicious ex. Most delightful, we get to see Margy as more than just Russ’s firebrand mother.

I love the twisty plot, the interactions of caring characters, the descriptions (I almost felt summer’s heat despite the cold and snow here in the “real” world).  I do not love cliffhanger endings.  If you don’t either, save the Epilogue to read when the next book comes out . . . already anticipating that happy event. 

 

Homicidal Holidays

Holiday . . . Cheer?  From Groundhog’s Day to Christmas, there are multiple ways to go astray, make trouble, get in trouble, and face justice.  I enjoyed reading favorite authors’ work and meeting new ones.  I confess to a special liking for the four-legged accomplices, cat, groundhog, tamandua, even the occasional toad.

 

BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH  by M. C. Beaton

I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with Agatha Raisin and associates.  Agatha may have been upstaged by Wizz-Wazz the brave, loyal, cranky, smelly donkey, but in true Agatha fashion, she makes the best of every opportunity.  There are mysteries to solve, and mistreated people (and donkey) to stand up for, and an environment to protect.  Electric cars are only as good as their batteries, and a longer-lasting one would increase range of car, but something is amiss. Agatha is called in to project the factory from industrial espionage and sabotage, but all is not as it seems. Agatha, AKA the donkey lady puts all her skills to work in the “Wizz-Wazz is innocent!” campaign.  How could she not?  The adorable, cranky donkey clearly loves and trusts Agatha — kindred spirits?  This is one of my favorites in this series, #30, but you don’t have to read in order.

 

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“Aunt Mary, you’ve been blocked,” my niece explained. “There’s nothing wrong with your computer.” 

“What?  How? Why?” 

 Jill had told me when she was very young, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things,” and she did.

 “Hard to know the why, but how to block is easy, even though it’s the highest level of “distancing” on social media.  If you need just a little distance, you can “unfollow” someone and go to their page to read posts only when you want to.”

I nodded. “Glass of wine in hand to prepare for my nephew’s angst-filled posts.”

“Right, and they won’t know you’ve done this, especially if you check in now and then.  Next is ‘unfriend.’ This might be noticed, as you will disappear from their list of friends.  They can still see comments and posts as “friends of friends” and you can see theirs. Blocking is the most extreme, usually reserved for scammers and trolls. If you can’t see anything at all, it means they’ve blocked you.”

At first I hadn’t realized what was happening when a “friend” disappeared on Facebook. Sometimes I’d see four comments in a row with none in between, like a person talking to herself.  Some people do set comments to “friends only” so if we don’t know that person, we won’t see her comments. Technical difficulties, glitches in the system?  Then I read about “ghosting,” blocking friends as one would the scammers who “like your pretty smile.”  It’s the electronic version of “cutting them dead” in old books on manners.  

My niece explained the process and offered consolation. She reminded me of my mother’s warning that “two girls can play nicely together, three or more will fight.”  She called it the JacKaL Effect, but never explained the odd capitals, initials perhaps?

“Really, if they are mean, you are better off without them. You’d never have done that to anyone, and you’ll never really trust them again. Move on,” and I did. Cyber-friendships were ephemeral anyway. It’s not as if it was happening in real life, until it was. 

Real-life blocking began, reasonably enough, with law enforcement enforcing  restraining orders and witness protection.  Then someone hacked the technology, and soon there were seemingly empty desks at work with work getting done, empty seats in theaters and restaurants that one couldn’t manage to sit on, involuntary weaving on sidewalks to avoid invisible obstacles.

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It all came to a head for us one Thanksgiving when the youngest niece started crying, “Grandma, make them stop! Make them stop being mean and talk to each other.  It’s rude to ignore people.”

Jill, always practical, asked, “How can we fix it? I know, let’s take roll. Raise your hands if you can see Beth.” Everyone could.

“Who can see Grandma?”  Everyone.

“Who can see Uncle Joe?” Ben’s hand stayed down. 

“Ben, could you say something positive about Uncle Joe?  Anything? Anything at all?”
“Well, Uncle Joe taught me to fish.  He was very patient, even when my hook caught on his cap.”

“Uncle Joe, tell me something you like about Ben . . . please?  Just one thing?”
“Well, Ben is very bright . . . and helpful.  When my old car wouldn’t start, he helped me fix it.”

Grandma, the patient crocheter of lace and mender of boo-boos, continued Jill’s work with each person at the table, coaxing everyone to remember good things and acknowledge loving gestures, reminding all of what family was.  When there were no more shimmering gaps around the table, she had everyone join hands to say grace again.  Then she brought out the pumpkin pie and whipped cream, the cheesecake, and the cherry pie that was Beth’s favorite.  Gaps might still exist on (anti-)social media, but Grandma love can fix everything important.

I asked Jill if it would work online.  She winked and said, “Not worth the bother. Just mentally thank them and let them go.”

Smart girl!  

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We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another. Luciano De Crescenzo

 

 

Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign

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At Lou Fusz Subaru with Fran the Prius. Thanks, Matt
Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign
Fran’s the Prius’s New Adventure
My little Prius, Fran, is so confused. We headed out for oil change and inspection, but stopped much too soon, at an unfamiliar place.
“Wait, this isn’t right!”
Oh, oh, I should have explained. “Yes, it is. It’s where we’re going now.”
“Noooooo! We ALWAYS go to P’s Toyota. It’s where I started. It’s where I always go! Even the tow truck knows that.”
Actually, it goes back much further, more than thirty years of total customer loyalty to those who’ve helped me through rough patches. I remember winning deluxe tickets to a Cardinals game, which Donna took Mom to. Easy access even for Mom’s wheelchair, and she had a great time. Yeah, grateful for that, and a few months later, for their finding time to fix my Tercel so I could get to the hospital to see her. They had said there were no openings, but then found time. Did someone skip lunch? I had bonded with Fran for a year, every time I brought the Tercel for service, and was so happy when a new “floor model” meant I could buy her just when I needed to.
“Well, this is where we’re going today. You’re good at adapting. Remember going to Louisville on just one tank of gas? and Texas? and Jonesborough, TN? It’s just an oil change and inspection. Let’s see how it goes.”
“Why?”
“There are balloons at P.T. and I’m allergic to latex. The nice techs took me home last time, and I paid by phone, but it’s not the same, and when I called to ask for the safe environment I’d been promised, the mis-named customer service guy yelled and was insulting.”
“Oh, that’s not nice.”
“No. I’ve heard he has a reputation as a bully. Most oddly, he kept saying, ‘I know who you are.’ I wish I knew what he meant by that. He also compared a request for no balloons to the absurdity of cutting down all the trees in St. Peters because of pollen allergies.”
“Not nice at all. Okay I’ll try . . . wait, you aren’t trading me for a Subaru are you?”
“No, I hope you keep going for a long time. Oh, and you’ll like this: they have a car wash. Spa day!”
“Will we ever go back to P.T.?”
“Let’s see how this goes. It would take a sincere effort to change their ways, and probably, as one of the laid off teachers responded when asked if he’d come back from his new district, ‘Only if the new guys are really mean to me.’”
So far, Fran and I are happy at Lou Fusz Subaru, close to home, courteous staff, and competent and fair. I’ve remembered that my Corolla came from Lou Fusz in Kirkwood. My sis says Fusz is another branch of our Fussner family tree . . . so it might be a bit of a homecoming after all.
Thinking of a commercial with very cute kids and the punchline, “When you’re the best, you don’t need balloons.”
Thinking also of my first boss at Prudential saying, “The most expensive advertising is poor customer service” . . . and the best, value beyond measure, is being good to your customers, 35+ years of building a great relationship tossed in the trash by one ill-tempered bully.
When you decorate your business with latex balloons, you might mean to be festive and fun, but you are signaling “off limits/danger/not welcome here” to those of us with a latex allergy.
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