Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hospital Holidays

My Christmas plans were a bit unusual this week. Instead of baking and cooking, I hung out with my daughter in the cardiac wing of the hospital. She had cardiothoracic surgery on December 22 and was in the hospital through December 28.

But we had fun. One dear friend brought a Christmas tree. Other friends brought cookies. And our church brought a box of wrapped presents.

One of the gifts was five minute origami. Ariel and I made dragonflies. Though mine looks more like a grasshopper. (I may have bribed people to say mine looked better than hers--mine is the green one.)


Another friend came and played card games.

We're hoping to go home (staying at her apartment until the final chest tube is removed) and have a belated Christmas dinner and open presents on New Year's Day.

N.B. Doesn't she look great for someone who's had her chest cut open and broken? Yep, I know my kids are going to be taking care of me when I'm old, so I only post the good photos. :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Muggle Mailing Labels

File:Magic wand.gif
Cool gif courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Given that Christmas is only a week plus change from now, I decided it was do-or-die time to get out the Christmas cards. I’d done all the prep work—bought stamps, printed photo cards, and written the Christmas letter. (No small feat since I’ve got to get approval from three out of four adult kids. Fourth kid doesn’t care what I write. Bless his heart.)

With all that done, you’d think that most of the horrors were over. You’d be wrong. Because I have about fifty cards to send, it doesn’t make sense to address them by hand. I wanted to print them on labels. (Yeah, you see where this is going, don’t you?)

After a fortifying, over-large mug of coffee, I pulled up Excel and Word on my computer. Before I start, let me just say that I view all Word/Excel interactions with suspicion—they’re kind of like a get-together with obscure relatives who have borderline personality disorders and drink too much. You never quite know what they are going to say or do. So you steel your spine, put on your glasses, and say, “Give me your worst.” And they do.

I Googled the directions on label-making. And discovered, eventually, that I was using the directions for the wrong versions of Word and Excel. Crisis One resolved. Then I followed step-by-step directions for a Mail Merge using the Wizard. (What they don’t tell you is that this wizard is NOT Hogwarts educated. This wizard is educated by Muggles who don’t know that you have to say “LeviOsa,” not “LevioSa.”) I clicked the “Finish Labels” button, and my pages of labels were blank. Right. So unless they were written in disappearing/reappearing ink, this was useless to me.

Needless-to-say, I spent considerable time and emotional energy cajoling Excel and Word to be friends and make nice. Neither paid me heed. Thankfully, I haven’t pursued a career in diplomacy.

About the time I was ready to curse them with “Avada Kadavra,” my tech wizard appeared with his wand in hand. He clicked the screen, which no joke, told him what a Muggle I was and included words like “general default error.” Then he muttered an incantation and my labels appeared on the screen. I tell you the truth, a good Hogwarts’ education is worth its weight in gold.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Easy Holiday Grammar with Zombies

It’s holiday time and the Christmas/New Year’s cards are coming—some ripe with grammar errors, which mystified me since the grammar is straight forward. But then, a younger person (who will remain nameless) asked me a question about grammar on envelopes. I thought, “How do you not know this?” And I remembered that most young people rarely use the mail system. They text with their friends and pay bills online. So here’s a primer on envelopes. And I’ve enlisted my friends, the Zombies as helpers. Here you go.

You want to send a Christmas card to the Zombies, here are your options:

Zeno and Zenobia Zombie
1212 Dripping Blood Drive
Bloodthirsty, TN  37411


The Zombies
1212 Dripping Blood Drive
Bloodthirsty, TN  37411


The Zombie Family
1212 Dripping Blood Drive
Bloodthirsty, TN  37411

Under NO circumstance may you ever write:

Zombie’s (or Zombies’)
1212 Dripping Blood Drive
Bloodthirsty, TN  37411

Apostrophes are only used for contractions and to show ownership. Apostrophes are used correctly like this:

Next Saturday, Blood Suckers Anonymous will be holding a weekly meeting at the Zombies’ house. (Also note, it’s plural possessive because more than one person lives at the home of the Zombies.)

You can always double check whether you need an apostrophe by switching the sentence around. If you can use “of,” then you use an apostrophe.

Next Saturday, Blood Suckers Anonymous will be holding a weekly meeting at the house of the Zombies. 

Now go enjoy your holidays grammar-error free!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Tsar of Love and Techno

Having read and enjoyed A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, I was eager to read his next book The Tsar of Love and Techno. I appreciate Marra’s beautiful yet spare style and am fascinated by his exploration of the Russian-Chechen war.
This collection of interconnected short stories treads the same war-ravaged ground, with a foray into a Siberia and its post-gulag life including surreal details like a faux forest littered with the dead and a chemical lake holiday.

Much of what I enjoy about Marra’s writing is on display in these stories. His ability to redeem tragedy (though he is not adverse to steal away some of that slim hope) through the lyrical use of language, to give it beauty, is on display in the first few stories. In particular, the story of the censor was exquisite.

However, the stories in the middle of the book were very gritty. The language itself lost some the beauty it had possessed earlier. And while this is likely the author’s intention as much of this section takes place during the Chechen war with all its attendant absurdities and horrors, it was very difficult to read as it felt like a descent into a nihilism.

While I think that the author achieved the lofty literary goals he set for himself in this book, it’s not the type of book I would chose to read again. Still, I would recommend this collection to those with a strong love of literary fiction and an understanding of its goals and ideals.

N.B. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Grading by Chunkage

My youngest son Matthew is a sophomore in college. Because he has a college scholarship (covering tuition and books), he is required to maintain a very high GPA. So he’s always concerned about his grades and always he knows exactly what his grade is. Or at least he did. Until he took physics.

His physics professor will remain nameless (though I think he’d be an interesting addition to a dinner party) to protect his innocence. Or guilt.

After the first exam, Matthew went to his prof and said, “Uh, I think there’s an error with my grade. I got 106.25%, but you marked it as 102.99%. (Apparently, even hundredths are important.)

Prof: That’s not an error.
Matt: But I got a 106.25%.
Prof: But everyone else did badly. The average was a 56.7%. So I put everyone’s grades through a normalizing algorithm. And since you got the highest grade, you lost the most points.
Matt: Oh…
Prof: Yup.

Matt complained long and loudly. At home. (Technically, lots of other people got his points.)

Now it’s the end of the semester and Matt is calculating what grade he needs to get on each of his finals to get As in his classes. Then, he portions out his study time on the basis of those calculations.

Normally, this is a straightforward set of calculations. All the chemistry and math professors have data available explaining the weights and percentages of each test and what scores they consider A, B, etc. Not physics.

In preparation for the final, the prof explained his grading system while Matt cringed and mentally called down imprecations on all persons/things physics-related.
Prof: After the normalizing algorithms, I construct a histogram of all the grades. Then I look at the histogram, considering the chunks. I say, ah, this looks like an A chunk, this looks like a B chunk, etc.

When Matt told me, I (being exceptionally amused) said, “So your prof grades by chunkage?”
Matt: No. My prof is blowing chunks.

I wonder if Matt’s going to have this same professor for the second semester of physics…

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Veggies, DIY Doors, and Sunsets.

I'm almost halfway through the read-aloud edit of my latest novel. My goal is to have it finished and sent to beta readers before my daughter's surgery. (If you remember last May, my son had cardiothoracic reconstruction. My daughter also needs the procedure. Only hers will be a more invasive reconstruction. I know, it's hard to imagine anything more invasive.)

Besides editing, I've been doing some other things. Do you remember my Postage Stamp Garden? Well, it's mid-November and I'm still harvesting! (Though not in the quantities I was earlier in the season.) Here's some fruits of garden.

Bell peppers, jalapenos, ghost peppers, basil, and burgundy cherry tomatoes. Yum!
And since I'm never without a DIY project. Here are some photos.

I was going to paint the door on the left. But during some preliminary sanding, the paint began coming off in hunks and I had to start scraping. FYI to the previous owners of the house, you can't throw some latex paint on a solid mahogany door and think everything's going to be okay, i.e., latex on top of of oil isn't going to work. Ever.

In any case, on the right is the finished door to my office. And yes, you do see double-shelved stacks of books. (But no judging.)

And coolest thing of all, my dad found a strange, huge cocoon on a river birch tree in his yard. After a Facebook plea, we discovered that it's the cocoon for a Polyphemus moth, which has a six inch wing span. So we're going to put it in an empty aquarium and we can't wait to see it break free.

One last picture to share. Sunday evening on the way to church, we came over the ridge and were treated to this amazing sunset. And, of course, all I had was my cellphone and the photo quality doesn't do the sunset justice. (Sorry the photo is blurry. Traffic was whizzing past.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Asterisk Edit and Aunt Sophie's Cigarettes

I’ve been busy. I finished a writing assignment that I’ve been working on for months, and I finished my new novel’s asterisk edit.

This is probably the first time you’ve ever heard of an “asterisk edit.” Because I made the term up. 

"Aunt Sophie," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Here’s how it works. You’ve just finished your first draft of your latest novel. You celebrate (or weep). Likely both. Celebrate because “Hey, the first draft is finished!” Weep because a first draft is a celebration of everything that can go wrong on a page…and now you have to fix it.

You begin to edit. You fix, rewrite, rearrange, etc. But sometimes you’re not sure. You need a beat in certain spot but you’re not sure what type. Or something is wrong with a scene opening, and again, you’re not sure what. Or you think you already dropped a clue about Aunt Sophie’s fling in Paris in the ’20s, but you don’t know where. Or you need to verify a fact on Google. All of these things can really slow down your first edit—because spending an hour trying to figure out what brand of cigarette Aunt Sophie would have smoked in Paris is going to take you out of the plot and voice. When I run into something like that, I stick in a single asterisk into the text and leave myself a note in the text in parentheses. Then, I plow ahead.

After the grand first edit is complete, I begin the asterisk edit. Using the “Find” feature of Word (far right side on the top of the tool bar under “Home”), I type in an asterisk and Word will bring up all the asterisks I added to the manuscript. One by one, I deal with each asterisk, until they are all gone. Sometimes I can do a dozen asterisks a day. Sometimes one—it took several hours to discover Aunt Sophie may have rolled her own cigarettes.

For my current manuscript, I had 71 asterisks—in a document that is currently 75,000 words. Not too bad.

By the end of the asterisk edit, the novel is in decent shape. I’ve patched the plot holes, added in beats, and verified all historical issues. The next step is the voice edit. But that’s another post.

Anyone else have special types of editing passes?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

DIY Cloche Hat

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that I was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease (alopecia areata) over a year ago. As far as auto immunes go, the one I have isn't a bad one. My immune system attacks my hair follicles and my hair falls out. It’s not bad for body hair, but not so nice when it’s hair on your head, eyelashes, etc.

Almost two years ago, I began treatment, which ended up being a series of 40 to 50 shots in my scalp every six weeks. Not fun. (And, eventually, insurance decided they didn’t want to cover the shots.)

But the shots weren't very effective, so my doctor switched me to an oral medication and topical steroids. The combination seemed to work. (Either that or I went into remission.) Now, neither is the case. I’m losing a lot of hair again. Maybe it will come back. Maybe I'll lose more.

Since I believe in preparing for the worst, my husband suggested I sew a hat. He even offered to go with me to the store, so I could buy fabric. (FYI, Calvin feels that the fabric store is a circle of the Inferno that Dante forgot to include. So when he offered to go with me…love endures all things.)

Here is the result of the purchases. 

The pattern for this cloche hat (Rosabelle), courtesy of sewmamasew is by Wendy Talene of Elsewhen Millinery. I decided to sew a hat rather than buy one because 1. It’s cheaper. 2. I have a rather large head—and if a hat doesn’t fit right, I get migraines.

After completing the hat, I would highly recommend this pattern. The instructions were very clear (unusual in patterns and highly unusual in patterns outside of traditional pattern makers). Also, the fit was perfect because the pattern includes very specific directions on how to choose/cut a size.

(One small caveat, I didn’t realize that pieces B1 and B2 were supposed to be taped together before cutting. Thankfully, I had extra fabric.)

Also, the pattern gives very specific directions if you chose to sew a hat from difficult or non-traditional hat fabric—stretch materials, linen, etc. Perfect for those of us who like to sew outside-of-the-box.

One final note, this pattern comes with instructions on how to make the most beautiful roses to add to the hat. I’m in the process of doing that using dark red/black taffeta. (I’ll update when I’m finished.) But I made several hat bands (including this black velvet with embroidered rosette), so I can interchange them based on my mood, occasion, etc.

And, yes, I will be buying another pattern from Elsewhere Millinery. The Kimberly in crushed velvet is calling my name for the holidays. (Also, the pattern author does make custom hats, so if sewing isn’t your expertise, you can still wear a beautiful hat.)

Elsewhere Millinery patterns gets a five star review from me!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

18 Books to Fall In Love With This Autumn

File:Carlo Dolci - St Catherine Reading a Book - WGA06372.jpg
St. Catherine Reading a Book by Carlo Dolci, courtesty of
Wikimedia Commons.
Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. Leaves turn yellow, orange, and red and give the light a pink cast. Besides walking in the chill wind (which hasn’t arrived here yet—it’s almost October and it’s still hitting 80), I love reading next to a window where the pink light spills on the pages of the book and I can sip hot cider.

If you’re looking for some great reads this fall, here are some recommendations.

(Please note, some of these books contain adult situations and/or language. If you don’t like something, skip it.)

Hurry Up and Read This Before The Movie Comes Out: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Upmarket/Literary Fiction: A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Kite Runner/A Thousand Splendid Suns/And the Mountains Echoed By Khaled Hosseini, The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Thrillers: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Note these first two books don’t have sympathetic main characters.) The Expats/The Accident by Chris Pavone, Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes, The Vanessa Michael Monroe series (The Informationist, The Catch, The Mask, etc.) by Taylor Stevens, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Spy Thrillers: the Gabriel Allon books by Daniel Silva (The first one is called The Kill Artist).

YA: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (excellent book, even for adults), Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles: Cinder, Cress

Romance: (I don’t usually read romance. But I got this novel to review “by accident,” and it was quite good): The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Fictionalized History: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife.)

Non-fiction: The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

Theology: Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke (a distillation and explication of John Newton’s pastoral letters.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Velvet Purse for a Writing Break

The last two weeks, I've been taking a break from my newest novel. (Though not from writing as I had a writing deadline approaching and needed to get my work to the editor.) I finished the first major edit of the novel and wanted to recharge before Edit, Part 2.

So I'm doing some needlework and sewing. I posted photos of a hand towel I embroidered last week. And I finished sewing a purse.

I used this pattern several years ago to make my son Matthew a set of black faux snakeskin gauntlets. And at the time I was intrigued by the "man bag" in the lower left corner. I thought it might make a lovely purse.

Recently as I was sorting through my bins of remnant fabric, I came across some chocolate-colored velvet and remembered the pattern. Of course, as I read through the pattern, I didn't like some of the construction--I didn't want to have to untie and tie a bow every time I opened my purse and I didn't want to have a belt strap on the top of the purse. So I re-engineered the pattern.

The finished project is below. I ended up using elastic cording as a drawstring closure, threading it through tiny buttonholes.  I added a tassel because the weight of the tassel keeps the flap of the purse closed. Also, the rounded trim was not cut on the bias. I cut it with the grain to give more shape to the flap without having to use stiff interfacing, which would make the seams bulky.

Now I'm waiting for the weather to change so I can start using the purse--velvet doesn't make sense in 80 degree weather.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Martian, Book Review

The Martian by Andy Weir

A freak accident leaves Mark Watney, an astronaut/engineer/botanist, stranded on Mars. And it’s four years until the next group of astronauts come to Mars. Mark doesn’t have enough food or water to make it. The Martian is the story of his survival.

Though I don’t usually read sci-fi, I really enjoyed this book! Maybe it’s because I have sons who are chemists and engineers (Weir nailed what engineers thinks of chemistry!), or maybe it’s because Weir took an amazing survival saga, added a good dose of dry humor and excellent pacing, and turned it into a story that reaches beyond genre—it’s a novel I can recommend to anyone who wants a good story told well.

The one caveat I have is that this book has a lot of profanity. I understand it at the beginning—when you discover you’re most likely going to die alone on the red planet, swearing is a natural reaction. But eventually, the liberal use of f-bombs began to grate on me.

That aside, this was an excellent book. I hope this author writes more novels—I can’t wait to read them.

N.B. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

News and Embroidery

Two blog posts in one week. This hasn't happened in quite a while. I'll do my best to post more often. Though posts will probably fall off again in November. As you may remember my son had a cardiothoracic reconstruction in May--click here and here. (Nine days in ICU, six weeks of intensive home care since he wasn't able to move without help, etc., etc.) He'll finally be cleared in November--though he'll have to have surgery again in three years to remove the metal bars and plate in his chest.

And he's being cleared just in time for his sister to have her surgery. Yep, we get to do this again. (And maybe a third since our oldest son is having similar heart problems.) Only my daughter's surgery is more invasive and she doesn't live at home any more. So I will be traveling and staying with her during her surgery and recovery. I'm guessing blog posts will be a bit more sporadic.

Aside from the family update, here's what I've been doing (besides editing).

                          Plain white linen hand towel.         I embroidered and added trim.      

   I'm showing you the back because I had an aunt who taught needle art (embroidery, cross stitch, weaving, etc.) at a fancy Swiss boarding school, and she gave grades on the back as well as the front. This would get a B. Okay maybe a C. She was a strict grader.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Holiday Weekend: Reading, Writing, and Tiki Torches

This holiday weekend everyone in our family is doing some of what they need to do and some of what they love best.

I'm cleaning house (definitely not what I love best), writing (almost done with the first edit of my second Southern noir), and reading.

To the right is the novel I'm currently reading. I've read two of Ms. Steven's Vanessa Michael Monroe thrillers and had to read the book that started it all. So far, I'm loving it. Next up, The Martian by Andy Weir.

One of my sons is studying (hopefully) and playing Counter-Strike.

The other son is studying quantitative analysis. And during his study break, he decided to make a tiki torch. (Chemistry majors frequently feel the urge to make things burn or explode.) See below.

Kind of looks like a Molotov cocktail.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Mask, Book Review

This is the second of Ms. Taylor’s novels that I’ve had the privilege of reviewing. (Click here for my review of her novel, The Catch.) And like the previous book, I enjoyed this one very much too.

In this novel, Vanessa Michael Monroe, a polyglot who can add to her linguist abilities nearly at will, finds herself in Japan, trying to discover who framed the man she loves for murder. And, of course, it’s not straight forward, not when it involves industrial espionage, the Japanese mafia, and hostess clubs.

One of the things that I so enjoy about Ms. Taylor’s novels is that Monroe, a tough, struggling heroine, finds room to grow amidst all the action and intrigue. In fact, it is the action and intrigue that cause Monroe to discover not only who she really is but what she wants and values.

Aside from the character growth, the novel is well-paced in terms of action. The writing is deft and clean and yet never draws attention to itself in a way that detracts from the plot.

I would highly recommend this novel to any reader who enjoys action/adventure thrillers. Even though this novel is fifth in a series (plus a novella), Stevens gives the reader enough of a backstory that the novel can be read as a standalone. Highly recommended.

N.B. I received this in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bradstreet Gate,Book Review

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman is the story of three students and a professor at Harvard University, whose lives are thrown askew by the murder of a female undergraduate. Even as time passes, the victim’s death haunts the characters and forces their lives along on trajectories they never could have imagined.

This was a wonderful novel. The writing itself was clean. The book was well-paced and engrossing—I had difficulty putting it down. And I was enthralled the moment I began the story, having lived in the New Haven area of Connecticut, which had its own Ivy League murder (the unsolved death of Suzanne Jovin) and shares many elements with this novel.

However, the conclusion of the novel frustrated me because I had the impression that this novel was a literary mystery (its genre is listed as crime mystery), so I anticipated the loose ends of the murder would be tied up in the end. They weren’t. Had it been clear to me when I started reading the book that this was not the case, I would have been less disappointed with the ending. That said, considering the novel on its own merits without the presumptions I brought to it, I thought the story was an excellent exploration of the effects on an unsolved murder on the lives of four characters. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

N.B.: This book does have some graphic adult situations.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grinning Down a Bear

We live in Tennessee, the home of Davy Crockett, who was known for "grinning down a bear." When we went on vacation last week to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, little did we know that we'd be "grinning down a bear" too.

On our first day of hiking, I decided on an easy hike to test Matthew's stamina. After his grueling surgery, I didn't know how much energy he'd have. So we hiked to Laurel Falls. It was beautiful.

Me, cooling off in the mountain snow fed falls. Bliss.

Sons enjoying the hike.

In the photo below are my guys on our hike out from the falls, right before we met the bear.

Not long after the above photo, we saw a mama bear in a ravine with four cubs. But she was too far away for good pictures. So Jacob (orange shirt) suggested we go farther down the trail where the path would angle right next to the ravine. We decided to go for it.

When we finally got there, there wasn't any sign of the bears. So Jacob walked about 50 feet down a footpath and looked up the ravine. I heard the cracking of branches but didn't see anything. So I started down the footpath. Immediately, Jacob held up his arms and waved me back. Slowly, he backed up the trail as the mama bear came out of the brush less than 50 feet away. 

Here she is coming out of cover, sniffing the spot where Jake had been standing only moments before.

Checking on her cubs.

Staring us down as she began walking up the footpath toward us. We grinned and backed away slowly.
 Okay, not too slowly. But not running either, didn't want to seem like easy prey.

 The next day, I decide to try something less scary. I misread the guide. While we didn't see any critters, the hike I chose was a rock climb. Up a mountain.
At the end of the hike, the incline became almost vertical. Even steeper than it looks here. And if you slipped, there was nothing to break your fall. Until you reached the valley below. (The forestry service had posted "At your own risk" signs.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Shakespeare!

Every summer for the last nine years, our kids have participated in the Homeschool Shakespeare Troupe. It has been a wonderful experience. Sadly, this is the last year for us. Matthew will turn nineteen in August and he'll be too old. (Even though he was in college this past year, he was allowed to participate because he doesn't turn nineteen until after the play.)

This summer Matthew tried out for a smaller role because after his cardio-thoracic reconstruction, he wasn't sure what his physical limitations would be. Matthew got the role of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. For those who haven't read the play, Bottom is a peasant weaver whom Puck gives an ass's head.

So Matthew needed a peasant costume. And a donkey's head.

Here's the costume. (Because Matt's a peasant, I couldn't sew a fancy costume, but I used a wonderfully soft moleskin fabric.)

The donkey's head was much more of a challenge. But I took this...

And made this.

Not bad. But the director (whose husband is an engineer) had a much grander and better idea. Now this is a donkey's head! Plus, the audience will be able to see Matthew's facial expressions.

Plug for the play: it's Saturday, July 25, at 2pm 
at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Fine Arts Center.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Review, The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop is the story of a lost man, Jean Perdu. Two decades earlier, the love of Perdu’s life walked out on him and his life stopped. This novel tells the story of how Perdu comes to life again.

The rebirth of Jean is delightfully mirrored in the reanimation of his senses: sight (Paris, the Seine, Provence), sounds (singing, tango music, soughing winds), tastes (wine, new potatoes with rosemary, the thirteen Christmas desserts of Provence), smells (lavender, books, skin), and touch (the grit of sand, the kiss of the sun, the touch of a woman).

This revelry of the senses grounds Perdu as love is reborn in him. Love of the physical world, his friends and family, and, of course, a woman. And, while I’m not a fan of romance novels (I thought this novel was literary fiction when I requested to review it.), this is a beautifully written story. The characters are engaging, the pace is fluid, and the sense of place envelopes the reader.

While the book ends a bit too cleanly for my personal taste, I do believe that any reader who enjoys exceptionally well-written romance would delight in this novel. In light of that, I give this novel five stars and my recommendation.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."


NINA GEORGE works as a journalist, writer, and storytelling teacher. She is the award winning author of 26 books, and also writes feature articles, short stories, and columns. The Little Paris Bookshop spent over a year on bestseller lists in Germany, and was a bestseller in Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands. George is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg and in Brittany, France.

@nina_george • @jean_perdu

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Viper Wine, Book Review

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

Viper Wine is set in 17th century Britain and revolves around the relationship of Kenelm and Venetia Digby, their love for each other and the individual obsessions that destroy their love. For Sir Kenelm, alchemy and the quest for knowledge become his hamartia while Lady Digby’s fatal flaws are youth and beauty.

Ms. Eyre does a masterful job of exploring Venetia’s vanities and her dependence on viper wine to maintain her beauty. And lest the reader feel too superior, the author juxtaposes Venetia’s foolishness with our own society’s youth and beauty obsessions resulting in everything from fad diets to breast enhancement to liposuction. However, in exploring Sir Kenelm’s folly, the author misses the mark. Kenelm is a bit too disconnected from the narrative and his own life for the reader to fully vest in him. And the brain messages he receives are often jarring to the narrative flow of the text.

Despite this, the writing itself is usually clean and lovely. I felt like with a bit more editing, particularly in the last quarter, this novel could have been a more fluid and engaging read.

N.B. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review, Emotions in the Wild

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I first heard about this book, I was struck by how much I wanted it. How it filled a need I didn’t even know I had.

As any writer knows, one of the most difficult things to communicate is the emotion of a character. How can you communicate a character’s feelings subtly yet distinctly? In other words, how do you show these emotions to your reader without telling them? And how can you do so without using clich├ęs?

Ms. Garver’s book Emotions in the Wild is a guided journal that shows writers how to use the power of observation in their everyday lives to create an “emotions bible” to guide them in crafting a unique reference book for their writing, a personal source book for help in describing what an emotion (anger, jealousy, etc.) looks like, sounds like, and even how it might be provoked.

The book begins with an introduction explaining how to use the journal. The rest of the book is divided into emotion chapters—a total of 39 different emotions are given for examination. Each chapter includes pithy quotations from famous individuals to stimulate thought about the emotion. Following the quotes are sections where the writer records observations on the particular emotion’s “Common Triggers,” “Facial Expressions,” “Postures and Movements,” “Range of Reactions Observed,” and “Related Words, Idioms, and Phrases.”

In the past when I’ve been stumped with how to describe or explain something, I’ve often used Roget’s “Concept Index,” but now I’m looking forward to incorporating this journal into my life and watching it bear fruit in my writing. Five Stars! Click here to buy it.

Me and my copy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Stainless Steel Man

Matt leaving the hospital.
I wanted to title this post “Iron Man,” but Matthew isn’t Iron Man. He’s Medical Grade, Stainless Steel Man. During the surgery (see previous post), Matthew had two metal bars and two small plates implanted into his chest. That sounds cool. The reality…not so much.

Here are the recovery highlights.

1. Matthew is five weeks into recovery—which means that in one more week, he’ll be able to bend, twist, lay on his side, use a pillow, and get in and out of bed on his own. Woot!

2. He has discovered that when he breathes (even though it’s painful), his chest expands out to the sides. Before, he was using his stomach muscles to breathe.

3. Matthew can never be a recreational drug user. According to the anesthesiologist, morphine has no effect on him. (Yeah, you take encouragement wherever you can.)

4. I realize that he’s a much better patient than I would ever be. I know I’d be whining and complaining.

5. I've caught him with refrigerator magnets, trying to figure out if they'll stick to his chest.

6. He is not above taking advantage of his situation.

     A. This morning, he pointed at the French press. I said, “Pour it yourself.” He said, “It’s more than two pounds.” I poured him a cup—but I’m seriously thinking of weighing the pot.

     B. I am not always as quick at doing what he wants when he wants it.

The only chair he’s allowed to sit in is a massive wingback chair, which has to be carried wherever he wants to be. That thing is a beast, so I’m not always eager to move it. The other day, I found Matt in the living room sitting in the wingback, which had been in the dining room.

I said: How did that thing get in the living room?
Matt: I dragged it.
Me (hands on hips, narrowed eyes): Dude, that’s way more than two pounds
Matt (smirking): I dragged it with my foot.
Me: So you balanced your unsteady body on one foot, dragged the chair with the other?
Matt: Yep.
Me: And the possibility of falling during this feat of gymnastics?
Matt: (shrug)
Me: To the long list Things-You-Are-Not-Allowed-To-Do add dragging chair with your foot.

Now if I take too long, Matt says, I’m thinking of dragging the chair with my foot.

I respond: If you do, I will pick up a tree and kill you. Because if you do something stupid and those bars pop, you'd rather be dead.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Things I Learned in the PICU

 Recently, my son Matthew had cardio-thoracic reconstruction surgery. Even though he’s almost 19, it’s considered a pediatric surgery, so he’s been in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) for eight days and counting. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the PICU.

1. PICU has the nicest nurses. Hands down. Bar none.

2. Laughter is still the best medicine.
  •    Matthew asked me to call Miracle Max while Matt was still only “mostly dead.”
  •    Matt got so tired of the respiration monitor alarming because he was breathing too slowly that he’d occasionally pant just to mess with the machine.

 3. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the baker’s dozen of technological marvels that monitor and maintain post-surgical health will inevitably malfunction, but only between the hours of midnight and four am. Also, these wonders have alarms that squawk every two seconds and are only fixable (or mutable) by a specialist who lives 700 miles away.

4. Eye rolling is a good thing. The other day, the physical therapist said, “Sweetie, I know you’re feeling a bit better—you just rolled your eyes at me. Yay!”

5. Healthy hospital food isn’t healthy if it’s inedible. Nothing is as unappetizing as a plain, microwaved boneless-skinless chicken breast sitting on Styrofoam. (Except meals that don’t even arrive. Yeah, that happened more than once.) Eventually, we told them we no longer required their food, and we brought Matt food from home. The nurses apologized profusely for the horrid food. But it wasn’t their fault.

6. When a visiting great dane licks your hand, it’s better than morphine. A hospital employee (who will remain nameless) may have offered to get our black Lab Jezebel into the hospital to visit Matthew. We assured said employee that this would not be wise.

7. The ability to walk should never be taken for granted. Because the surgery reshaped Matt’s chest (and consequently his spine, giving him one or two inches in new height), it has completely altered his sense of balance. As Matt practices walking, Cal and I stand very close on either side so he can “ping-pong” off us as he moves down the hall. It makes him look like a drunken zombie. But as he lurches through the PICU, the nurses cheer as he relearns balance. (Like I said earlier, best nurses ever.)

8. One of the amazing things I learned is that aside from the single incident of eye-rolling, Matthew is the most gracious, patient person I know. He bore the pain, setbacks, and discouragement with quiet dignity that was a wonderful testimony to Christ’s strength. I know I wouldn’t do as well.

So now that we’ve learned these lessons, we’d really like to leave. Soon. 

Before surgery!

Several days after surgery with pain under control.
Matt's dinner. I don't think our dog would eat this.
Calvin and I having a picnic with good food.
 (Yesterday, I got a Mother's Day gift from the PICU. They gave gifts to all moms who were spending the day in the PICU. Did I mention how great the nurses are?)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Own Postage Stamp Garden

I decided to take the things that I learned from The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden and begin my own postage stamp garden. (Click here to read my review of this fascinating book.)

I don’t have the space for a 5 x 5 garden or even a 4 x 4 garden, but I applied the principles to my south-facing flowerbed. Also, I didn’t make a raised bed. Hopefully, in the autumn my husband and I can do that. But we just didn’t have time this year. Our youngest son is having a cardio-thoracic reconstruction in early May, and it was all we could do just to prepare the flowerbeds for planting and get the seedlings in place.

My space measures 2.5’ x 44’. (It seems like a huge space. But since much of it is unusable because it abuts the side of the house of driveway, it’s still a small space.) In this space, my husband and I planted:

12 white corn plants
6 jalapenos (Yes, I realize how many peppers that will give me. My guys live on peppers.)
1 habanero (Scoville rating: 250,000)
1 ghost pepper (Scoville rating: 1,001, 304. Matthew is giddy about this.)
4 red bell peppers
4 yellow bell peppers
4 beefsteak tomatoes
1 purple cherry tomato
2 cucumbers
Mint (Properly contained in a fabric-lined pot, set into the ground)
Chocolate mint (Same as above)
Strawberries (I originally had six plants. Now I have more than I can count.)

Here are some photos of the beds. I'll post more later in the summer as the plants mature.

Most of what you see here are the strawberries and herbs
I've been growing for several years. 

Some of the pepper plants are behind me.
Corn plants are beyond that.

 Habanero (foreground) and ghost pepper.
Black tubing is drip irrigation.

N.B. My blogging, which has gotten sporadic, will probably be even more sporadic over the summer since my son's surgery has a 12 week recovery.