I'm Somebody's Liebster Blog

The Liebster Blog Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have 200 followers or less. It helps people to get to know you as a blogger while introducing your blog to new viewers.

I was tagged/nominated for a Liebster Award by the fabulous Hira at over at Views and Reviews.  Thanks, darlin'!  (About the Liebster)

The strain Hira shared with me included 11 of everything, but in the interest of reader lack of interest and the (admittedly interprative) original spirit of the award, I'm going to compromise with five.

Here are the rules:
  1. Each person chosen must provide 5 facts about themselves.
  2. Answer the 5 questions that the blogger who tagged you has given, then think of 5 questions for the people you tag.
  3. Choose 5 people to receive the award and link them in your post.
  4. Be sure to tell these people that you've tagged them.
  5. Don't tag the person who tagged you.
Five facts about me:
  1. I have been married to my husband, Dallas, for 32 years. I have three sons, three DILs, two granddaughters and four grandsons.
  2. I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  3. I write too much . . . way too much. (As in, Robert Jordan too much.    War and Peace too much.)
  4. The first website I built was back in 2001, before blogs were invented.  It shared my son's missionary letters and pictures.
  5. I am a literary omnivore.

About the Liebster

In my continuous search for great books and super content to share on this  blog, I've run across this little award graphic several times:

Naturally, in my constant need for outside validation and due to my competitive spirit, I wanted one.  Absolutely no idea what it is, but someone else has it, so I want one too.

Now, the marvelous Hira over at Views and Reviews has nominated me, and, after the initial response of "Cool!" came the logical "what the heck does that mean?"  Short answer:  other bloggers like your blog and want to give you kudos.  Long:  nobody is quite certain of its true origins but believe it can be traced to a German blog, with several subsequent transmogrifications.  It seems to me that Sophhey of Sophhey Says has done the most extensive research and provides a link to said German blogger.  (There's not even an entry for it on the omniscent Wikipedia.)

As I said, the terms and requirements of the award have morphed from blogs with less than 3000 followers to less than 200 bloggers (in the strain which found me), and from nominating 5 bloggers to 11.  Also, the strain Hira shared with me has question and answer requirements attached.  One is tempted to be purest, nominate five, grab the award and run, but in the spirit of the thing, I'm going with Hira's request. 

Nana's Camp

 I'm just enough younger than my two older sisters that I watched and envied them everything they did growing up.  That hasn't changed much over the past 30+ years of our adulthood.

My sister, Carrie, has spent her time raising ten children, supporting her husband in his successful business ventures, volunteered countless hours to all manner of causes but especially those centered on her faith and her family, mothered and mentored scores of teenagers, and opened her home to any and every stray animal or child to wander up her country lane of a driveway.  She always manages to turn up when I need her the most, bringing sunshine and laughter in her wake.  Her kind, insightful soul has often spoken wisdom, grace and forgiveness when none other could manage a kind word.

Now that her children are grown, my sister delights in entertaining her grandchildren.  Judging from the way my grandchildren attach themselves to her when she breezes into town for a few days now and again, I have a small inkling of the love her own bear for her.

One of the things she does for them is Nana Camp, which consists of a day with just Nana (and, maybe Bapa if he can finagle it) doing all sorts of wonderful things like painting their own aprons and then preparing their own meal, a trip to the movies or the children's museum, the park and the local frozen yogurt shop.  And, because she is a collector of strays, she may have just as many "grandchildren" unrelated to her as her blood kin.  After all, she only has seven grandchildren, the oldest eight.  That's scarcely any at all.

Of all the ways I would like to emulate my sister, Nana's Camp ranks high on the list.  However, I'm not as tireless or capable as she, and not nearly as fun, so I can't fly solo or even with Papa as an erstwhile co-pilot.  Especially with four toddlers ranging in age from 18 to 33 months, my daughters-in-law wisely spell one another to cover my many lapses.

Even so, Ariane gets to attend the temple for a bit and Desiree' runs a few errands unencumbered.  We pick figs off the tree in the backyard (which they've eagly anticipated all spring), swim for an hour or two, eat ramen and watermelon, and have "quiet time" with a movie.  Then, when it's time to load up for home, Abram clings to my leg and whimpers, "I want to stay with Nanny"—the most intelligible thing I've heard him lisp all day.

It's been a good day.  We definitely need to do this again soon.  I just wish Dustin could have been here.

Book Review: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Book: Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Pages: 354
Format: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle/ebook, audiobook
Publisher:  Random House
Book Source: Public Library System
Category: Historical fiction
Style: Bleak, disturbing imagery

Synopsis from GoodReads:  

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.  read more . . .

My Take:

I didn't care for Shanghai Girls, the sequel of which Dreams of Joy is.  I found it bleak, oppressive and far too graphically violent in a scene where the protagonist is sexually assaulted by a gang of soldiers.  From that nadir, it improved precious little.  I found no hope in it.  However, I read a reviewer who indicated that the sequel, Dreams of Joy, improves the first.  That made sense to me, especially at the particular place Ms. See breaks the story.  A sequel bespoke resolution, and the front half could well be improved by the back.

So, I reserved Dreams of Joy at the library.  I wish I hadn't.  I have so many better things to read.

Book Review: The Great Promise by Rick Coxen

Book: The Great Promise
Author: Frederick L. Coxen and Frederick G. Coxen
Pages: 154
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Create Space
Release Date: August, 2012 (approximately)
Book Source: Provided by author in manuscript form
Category: History, Memoirs
Style: Powerful commentary, disturbing violence

Royal Field Artillery testing new phones 1909
Source:  Rick Coxen http://bit.ly/MDLT9o

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Frederick L. Coxen’s debut is a fascinating, visceral journey into the hell of war, the hearts of the men engaging in battle, and the search for closure for those left in its wake. Nearly one hundred years after the BEF’s initial engagement, Captain Coxen’s grandson was given his grandfather’s journal—and a letter he wrote in 1945 detailing the promise that was made but never kept. With these two items in hand, his grandson begins a quest: to find the families of the fallen men and make good on the promise left so long unfinished. Interspersing sections of the grandfather’s journal with key historical background the author transcends the reader beyond the historical depiction of the War, transporting them into the trenches through the experiences of one man who survived while millions of men perished. The Author goes on to describe the grandson's journey as he attempts to track down the families of the deceased in order to close the circle so long left open. The book delivers a surprise conclusion fitting for such a remarkable journey. . . . more


Have I mentioned I'm a history buff?  When Rick Coxen posted the comment "Isn't anyone interested in World War I history?" on a Book Blog forum, I had to respond.  How could I ignore such a plea?  I cannot say how glad I did.

Rick asked me to read his soon-to-be-published book about his grandfather's experience nearly one hundred years ago as an artilleryman and an officer in the Royal Artillery of the United Kingdom.

Rick based his book on a journal Frederick G. Coxen kept and which eventually made its way into Rick's hands.  When he discovered his grandfather had made a pact with three other soldiers to contact their families if they should never return, and when he read his grandfather express his anguish that he had never done so (all three died in the war), Rick knew that he not only had a mission to accomplish, but a story to tell.  Thus, "The Great Promise" was conceived.

In the course of Rick's research and the writing of this book, he was featured on "The Story", a radio feature often aired on National Public Radio and American Public Media.  This podcast is available here and deeply moving.

The Book:

I opened this manuscript expecting a novel constructed around the framework of Captain (then artilleryman) Coxen.  However, I found the actual journal entries, and they are more powerful than any novelist could fictionalize.

In addition to the transcription of his grandfather's journals, Rick Coxen provides us with commentary about the battles, the war, some of the weapons Captain Coxen refers to, and his own experiences researching both the war and his grandfather's mates.  Because of this, and the fact that he had to clarify or guess at some of the entries, he originally thought to present it as historical fiction.  However, this is truly a memoir and a powerful one, not only of his grandfather's experiences but his own in uncovering a lost and forgotten past.

     I gently lifted the journal from the box and held it in my hands.  For a brief time I just started at it, reveling in the moment.  I'll never forget the emotional sequence that followed.  At first I was overcome by an exhilaration comparable to one might expect when uncovering a treasure chest or embarking upon an  adventurous journey.  This elation became intermingled with awe for the piece of history I was holding.  However, these sentiments were soon overshadowed by the riveting realization that I was holding my GRANDFATHER'S journal; a journal written astutely in his own fluent, cursive hand, almost one-hundred years ago. . . . By unraveling the poignantly historical thread of my grandfather's war years through the examination of his personal relics, I was able to sculpt together a more complete replica of the remarkabley complex man he was.     I could not have anticipated that further excavation into the box contents would have such a dramatic effect on the next few years of my life.

Book Review: Conundrum by CS Lakin

Book: Conundrum
Author: CS Lakin
Pages: 283
Format: Kindle/ebook
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Style: Intense, intelligent and compelling mystery

Synopsis from Amazon:

     A happily married man with three small children decides one day he no longer wants to live. He gives himself leukemia and nine months later is dead.
     This is the conundrum Lisa Sitteroff is determined to solve regarding her dead father—the tale her mother, Ruth, told Lisa and her two brothers, Rafferty and Neal, throughout their childhood. But Lisa, now thirty and watching Raff suffer from the ravages of bipolar illness, believes if she can solve this puzzle, she might somehow save her brother. For Raff’s pain is intrinsically tied up with feelings of parental abandonment. . . .
     Conundrum explores the rocky landscape of betrayal and truth, asking whether a search for truth is worth the price, and showing how separating from toxic family members might sometimes be the only recourse for survival. Lisa pays a high price for truth, but in the end finds it worthwhile.  read more . . . 

My Take:

I first read Ms. Lakin's writing in a guest blog post on the subject of Christian Fiction:  Is It Effective?  I wandered over to her author page, and finally to Live, Write, Thrive, her blog for writers and editors.  By then, I was hooked and simply had to get my hands on her work.  In addition to her bang-up writing advice, her proposition that "Christian fiction" can and should reflect a wide world view and reach a broad range of audiences resonated with me.  To quote:
I feel a pressing calling from God to reach out to the lost in the world, to those who have no hope and do not know a plan of salvation has been executed on their behalf and is being offered to them. I look at my writing as 100% ministry, and my efforts and prayers are all directed toward those ends. I take the views of authors like Flannery O’Conner and Madeline L’Engle who felt strongly that their writing should honestly and even painfully reflect the true state of the human condition, of sin, and all its ugliness without censoring. from Nikole Hahn's Journal, Christian Fiction: Is It Effective
Ms. Lakin does exactly that with Conundrum, a story about the dysfunctional Sitterhoff family with an unhappy past:  Lisa, the daughter and care-taker, all things to all people; Jeremy, her long-suffering husband; Rafferty, the eldest son with way too much baggage and debilitating, life-threatening bipolar disorder; Neal, the irresponsible baby of the family; and Ruth, the matriarch incapable of tenderness who uses wealth and a finely honed talent for inflicting guilt to manipulate her grown children.

Book Review & Author Interview: As We See It: Hong Kong Stories by The Hong Kong Writers Circle

Book: As We See It: Hong Kong Stories
Author: members of The Hong Kong Writers Circle
Pages: 260
Format: Kindle
Publisher: The Hong Kong Writers Circle
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Book Source: Personal Purchase
Category: Anthology/Short Story
Style: Brisk short stories with rare language, primarily suspense/thriller themes

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Why do we read, if not to experience the world from a perspective other than our own? Why do we write, if not to deepen that experience by putting ourselves in another’s place? We write about the unknown in an attempt to know it. We explore the mysteries of life in an attempt to understand. By keeping an open mind, we welcome the surprises that life has to offer whenever we open another door, peek under a rock, or turn a page.  read more . . .


I first met Laura Besley on Book Blogs, a networking site for writers and bloggers, shortly after I read Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  In the book, in the 1930s, residents of Shanghai look down on Hong Kong as somewhat provincial, and so stumbling upon this anthology intrigued me.  I was curious to see the other side of the story, which is in itself kind of freaky, in that the Writers Circle chose SIDES as their theme.  The concept of a writers association compiling their work for an annual publication also captured my imagination and I wanted to investigate the execution.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Laura about the book, writing, the HKWC, her blog, and Hong Kong.  We prearranged our dates (13-hour time difference) and place (Google Chat), I wrote up a few questions to have ready, and we went from there.   I have included that discussion below, with a few minor editorial changes for punctuation and continuity. Laura provided the graphics. 
Enjoy.  I know I enjoyed the chat as much as I enjoyed the book.

Laura in Norway

Author Interview:  Laura Besley

me: [delete a bit of chit-chat] Are you ready to start?

Laura: Sure Fire away

me: Okay. Why don't we start out with a brief bio. Where you're from originally, a little bit about yourself, etc.

Tidbits: Stillbrook Dairy

Deleted scene from My Father's Son by Penny Freeman

[In route to London, Duncan, Shepherd, Dovey and Foreman take shelter from a hundred-years storm.]

     Floundering through the mass of swirling white engulfing him, Duncan at last groped a low stone wall with the low eaves of a pitched roof just higher than his brow.  He had no idea what he found, but they would take any shelter in that storm. 
     "Wait here!" he shouted to his mates over the howling storm. "I will find the door!"  Deaf and blind with nature's fury, each had stopped after plowing into the horse before him.  Duncan surrendered the reins of his mount to his partner,  communication enough for the four friends.
     They had stumbled upon a small but prosperous dairy, with walls of stone and a flagstone floor, kept with meticulous care. It was not The George at Dover, but it would do. They had slept in far worse, and they would have never survived the fast encroaching night out of doors.
     Within, instead of darkness, a lantern burning low hung from the rafters near the doors. In the center of the space, a large, circular hearth contained a well-tended fire. Duncan turned to his partner, Shepherd. "Find him," he muttered softly.

Book Review: Trail of Storms by Marsha Ward

Book: Trail of Storms
Author: Marsha Ward
Pages: 264
Format: Paperback/Kindle
Publisher: iUniverse (March 2009)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Western
Style: Compelling, some violence, rare profanity

Synopsis from GoodReads:

After her sister suffers a brutal attack, Jessie Bingham and her family flee post-Civil War Virginia and endure a perilous trek to New Mexico Territory. When she hears her former sweetheart, James Owen, has taken a wife, Jessie accepts Ned Heizer's marriage proposal on the condition they wait until journey's end to wed. But then Jessie encounters James again . . . read more . . .
Spoiler Disclaimer: Unlike Ride to Raton in relation to The Man From Shenandoah, it is very difficult to review Trail of Storms without risking the revelation of key plot developments of Road to Raton. I shall do my utmost, but I can't guarantee anything. If you have not read Road to Raton, be forewarned.

My Take:

Trail of Storms is Book 3 of The Owen Family Saga.  Six years elapsed between the publishing of volumes 2 and 3, but Ms. Ward picks right up from where she left off in the powerful ending of Ride to Raton.  However, she leaves the James Owen, et al, in Colorado territory and whisks us back to the Shenandoah Valley  where the left-behind Bingham family is suffering their own misfortunes.  The Yankee occupiers continue to oppress the little town of Mount Jackson, rapscallions and scallywags carry on an unchecked reign of terror.

Book Review: Ride to Raton by Marsha Ward

Book:  Ride to Raton
Author: Marsha Ward
Pages: 222
Format: Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher: iUniverse (November 2003)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Historical Fiction, Western
Style: Character-driven, action, some violence

Synopsis from GoodReads:

After losing the heart of his fiancee to his brother, James Owen leaves home to make a new life for himself. The turbulent world of post-Civil War Colorado Territory is fraught with danger and prejudice that increase his bitter loneliness as personal setbacks threaten to break him. Then James's journey brings him into contact with another wayfarer, beautiful young Amparo Garces, who has come from Santa Fe to Colorado to marry a stranger. read more . . . 

My Take:

The second installment of The Owen Family Saga, Ride to Raton picks up where The Man From Shenandoah left off. It follows jilted James Owen as he storms away from the wedding of his brother and Ellen, the women to whom he had been betrothed, albeit an arrangement between parents. Not quite out of his teens, hostile and belligerent James shakes the dust from his feet as he leaves his family behind him.

His professed intent the gold fields north of Denver, James narrowly escapes not only death and marriage in Pueblo, scarcely a day's ride from his home. He then heads south in search of work and is again waylaid by a corpse and a promise. He finds one put upon young Latina patiently awaiting the opportunity to sacrifice herself to an arranged marriage, standing in the way of fulfillment of that vow.

Video: Creating a Book at Random House

Here's a pretty interesting video from Random House that briefly explores the processes of creating a book, from editing to e-readers and everything in between.    Thanks to Margaret Larsen over at Words & Works for sharing this with me.

They make it look so simple! 

Book Review: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward

Book: The Man From Shenandoah
Author: Marsha Ward
Pages: 246
Format: Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher: iUniverse (January 2003)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Historical Fiction, Western
Style: Character-driven

Synopsis from Amazon:

Carl Owen returns from the Civil War to find the family farm destroyed, his favorite brother dead, food scarce, and his father determined to leave the Shenandoah Valley to build a cattle empire in Colorado Territory. Crossing the continent, Carl falls in love with his brother's fianceé while set to wed another girl, but he might lose everything if the murderous outlaw Berto Acosta has his way. Carl battles a band of outlaws, a prairie fire, blizzards, a trackless waterless desert, and his own brother—all for the hand of feisty Ellen Bates.

My Take:

The Owen family is large, with five living sons and two daughters, having put two sons in the ground during the Civil War. With the final return of the four soldiers of the family (Rulon, Carl, James, and father Rod), the family decides to leave their farm in the Shenandoah Valley, destroyed by the Union Army, and set off to Colorado territory to raise beef cattle.

Rod sets about gathering up families (including Rulon and his wife) to make up a wagon train, two of whom conveniently have daughters for Carl and James. Without letting on to the boys, he arranges for the marriages to take place the evening before they hit the trail. However, his plans are foiled when the preacher is called away to a dying woman's side. The two couple are forced to make the journey unhitched. Conflicts ensue.

Book Giveaways: Incandescent Enchantments

The book blog Incandescent Enchantments is having a one-year anniversary celebration with a huge book giveaway.  There's plenty here for any fan of young adult fantasy: mermaids, magic, ghosts, time travel, guardian angels, alternate dimensions and telepathy, all involving youths from 13-24.

Authors include:  Amber Garr, Charlotte Blackwell, JA Templeton, Laura Eno, Deborah J. Lightfoot, RA McDonald, Victoria J. Hyla and Kathleen Harsch.

I haven't read any of these books and so do not endorse them, but if you would like to enter the three separate giveaways all on the same blog, visit:  Prize Pack One, Prize Pack Two, and Prize Pack Three.

If you have read any of these books or others by the above authors, leave a comment and tell us what you think. 
—A Chaotic Mind

Incandescent Enchantment update: Today, enter a brand-new giveaway with twelve books to choose from.  Follow the button below to get there.

Note to Self: It's the Story, Stupid!

Recently I've been asking myself this vital question:  am I a writer? or a storyteller?  I think the answer at this point is writer.  I want to be a storyteller.  But primarily, I want to be both.  Not all authors are.

One of my favorite adaptations of
Dickens' Oliver Twist
Let's face it.  Some of the best storytellers in the English language were deplorable writers.  Charles Dickens could not structure a sentence properly to save his life.  As an editor, I writhe in agony reading his grammar. I marvel that he got away with structuring his story arcs as he did, writing for periodicals notwithstanding.  But, as a storyteller, he was second to none.  He knew how to captivate, to compel, to reach into a person's gut, grab hold and twist—and leave them begging for more.

Flash Fiction: Out Back

Flash fiction?  To quote Wikipedia:
Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity.[1] There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.
I first learned about flash fiction on writer Laura Besley's blog, and thought I'd give it a go.  Here's my first attempt, Out Back (677 words).
Bobby stood pressed against the wall beside the door, careful not to be seen through the window from the house. Rick filled his pad with the cool stuff Mom banned. Ray always stayed with Rick above the garage whenever he came home from the Army. Rick owed him. Ray softened up the folks and Rick got the benefits.

Book Giveaway: Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

For a good book giveaway today, visit The Girl From the Ghetto, a blog about books and other good things which seems to have lots of giveaways.  Today's offering:  Caleb's Crossing, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks.  Ms. Brooks writes historical fiction, and Caleb's Crossing is about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College back in the late 1665.  This seems to be an author after my own heart.  I look forward to exploring her work.

GirlFromTheGhetto looks like a fun reviewer and there are a bunch of different ways to connect with her.  Check out her site and get in on some free books!  

—A Chaotic Mind

Blogger Tools: Badge Grabs

Okay.  One more really quick post tonight.  Most bloggers don't take very long to find out that one of the best ways to increase traffic on your blog is for other like-minded bloggers to share links to your blog.  The best way to make your link visible is to make a badge.  Bloggers like to swap badges/buttons (two names, same thing).  You can find a few of my favorite sites here.

Badges can be simple or snazzy, a few minutes fiddling on Adobe Elements or  Techsmith SnagIt can produce something simple (which is what you want so other people can use it), the real trick is getting the code for your blog that makes the script that makes the badge code grabbable.  Like this:

Perpetual Chaos of a Wandering Mind
<div align="center"><a href="http://amindwandering.blogspot.com" title="Perpetual Chaos of a Wandering Mind"><img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-ckmaKkppVsE/T-_tHdMjDwI/AAAAAAAAHNo/I7EjrvvtDhM/s170/badge170.png" alt="Perpetual Chaos of a Wandering Mind" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Without that spiffy little window of code that bloggers can cut and paste, you've got nothin'.  I can produce the code in the window, but danged if I can figure out how to make the window, but, lucky me!  I found a site that does it for you for free.

My First Blog Tour

Fun!  I was just chosen to participate in my first book blog tour, and I'm a bit trepidatious.  I'll get to interview the author and have a book giveaway, which should be really fun.  So, mark your calendars now for August 5, 2012, for a full-court press of Shadowlands by CM Gray.

Now, That's Poetry

Hey! yo! It's really not funny yo
That our favorite heroines who had such gumption
Most likely would have died from consumption.
Hey! yo! It's really not funny yo
That us ladies would rather lose our hair
Than miss watching a show about class warfare. 
Thanks, Pretty Darn Funny videos.

—A Chaotic Mind

My Two Dads

Today being Father's Day, I wanted to pay tribute to both my dads.

Les Neves, my step-dad
An unhappy divorce left its mark on my family, but without it, we would have never been blessed with my step-father who made all seven of us his own.  W. Leslie Neves is the "Daddy" of my childhood.  I was four when he and my mother wed.  Gentle, soft-spoken, loving and self-sacrificing, he was the great intercessor whenever I would knock heads with my mother as teenagers are wont to do.  He could always restore peace to our home.

A subset of our family, 1972
Les never owned anything he would not sacrifice for my mother or us children.  After they wed, more were added.  Ultimately, he counted twelve children his own.  He hated his job at the IRS but sacrificed his dreams for us: the law school he had to abandon to care for us, his writing career that always got pushed back for something else.  But most dearly, he sacrificed himself, for his needs always came lowest and last.  We lost him in 1999 to cancer and he has been sorely missed.

Glen Tarbet and my step-mom of 15 years, Ann.
Ironically, Glen F. Tarbet, my biological father, is the "Dad" of my adulthood.  Seven hundred miles of desert separated him from six of his seven children, but he performed miracles stretching the dollars to suit the distance at least twice a year.  My childhood is filled with fourteen-hour treks across the great deserts of the Intermountain West, Los Angelas to Salt Lake City and back again.  We would always fist-pump drivers of the big rigs we passed who would obligingly blow their big horns for us.  I can just imagine the sight: six kids piled into a long-finned station wagon, the windows rolled down, the wind ruffling through my sisters' long hair,  the tailgate window hosting two pair of dirty bare feet, each urchin with their nose stuck in a book.

Tidbits: Fleet Street

Deleted scene from My Father's Son

by Penny Freeman
Holborn, January, 1809

     Accustomed to their drafty garrets and scanty meals, too little coal for their fires, too few hours in their days, the overworked, underpaid, unappreciated solicitor apprentices of ‘the pit’ gallery at Schoonover, Pensinger, Conroe & DuPre knew that despite the terms of their articles being fulfilled, they may spend years more as a ‘fledgling’, as pompous Pensinger delighted in calling them, and thus never questioned their fate.
      Rather, they endured it for, after all, theirs were the oldest, most respected chambers in The Temple.  To represent Schoonover even as a lackey afforded a man a certain measure of respect.  The chamber’s portfolio of patrons was second to none and in such a situation, an alert, attentive apprentice could find his fortunes made.
      Thus, they guarded their places of honor and subjugation, ‘the nest’, as Schoonover dubbed it long before the birth of any there.  Flanked by the long row of windows which lit the room and guarded by an iron rail as solid as the firm, the nest sat situated atop the closet for the chamber’s most closely held documents.  It overlooked the pit, a warehouse of clerks and attorneys perched atop their high stools, row upon row, scratching their lives into oblivion.
      Their own desks too narrow and confined for the books and folios which overburdened them, each allowed far too little space in which to work, the fledgling solicitors performed their own tasks conscientiously.  They toiled ever with an eye for appeasing Stickler, their master, for they knew him impossible to impress.  A brittle old man of failing eyesight and short temper, with ears to compensate for one and exacerbate the other, he possessed not an humane bone in his body.  Taut, sharp, and austere, they knew the ancient yet breathed for he was far too near to brook the expense of dying.

Book Review: Bridge of Deaths by M. C. V. Egan

Author:  M. C. V. Egan
Pages:   374
Format:  Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  Author House (June 2011)
Book Source:   Provided by Author
Category:   Historical Fiction
Style:   Character-driven

The date: August 15, 1939. The place:   Storstrombroen in Denmark. The people: a pilot, a copilot, two oil-company executives, a German corporate lawyer and a British member of Parliament.  A fiery crash, suspicious circumstances, conflicting reports, five deaths, and one survivor.  A world on the brink of war.  All true facts, all meticulously documented.

Add in Zionists, Palestinians, an arms race, the military industrial complex on three continents, psychics, nightmares, hypnotists, past life regression, a Peruvian shaman and espionage.  Garnish with a famous bridge and landmark notorious for Nazis gun placements, a watery grave for scores of Allied aircraft and a popular suicide destination.  Stir well and you have a really great action/suspense thriller.  All the elements are there.

Tom Clancy would have spun a tale of spy vs. spy, arms dealers, intercontinental assassins and Nazi infiltrators.  John Grisham could have produced a novel rife with Big Oil, political intrigue, corporate posturing, dirty dealings, and sabotage.  Dan Brown would have lead the reader down a maze of cold, hard facts and totalitarianism vs. deep conviction and heroic sacrifice, all against a backdrop of spiritual intensity and intricate relationships with consequences on a global scale spanning more than seven decades.

Cut-away of the
Lockhead Electra
Unfortunately, Ms. Egan doesn't do any of these things.  Lost and floundering in a sea of conflicting loyalties (conventional scholarly research vs. journeys of faith), she cannot decide which approach to take, dabbles with each and ultimately accomplishes none.

In an attempt to better understand her grandfather and explain the reasons for his death, she poured her heart and soul into this book.  She sacrificed decades of her life and a significant amount of money to the effort.  She retraced her grandfather's footsteps and researched as carefully as any historian working on their doctorate dissertation.  However, her personal journey into the spiritual or supernatural arena left her doubting her own veracity (or at least growing fretful of what "true" historians would make of her work) and decided to make her research into fiction.

Note to Self: Never Underestimate the Value of a Good Editor

D2 (my #2 son) has accomplished something I never have.  He's received a rejection letter.  He wrote a very original piece of speculative fiction that I've never before seen treated, with some great ideas and choice humor.  Okay.  To be fair, I thought it was choice, as did his wife, Lynda.  His brother and sister-in-law thought not so much, but then, they don't "get" him like we do.  (Okay.  Nobody gets him like we do).  Still, D2's book was so him.  It was funny.  And thought-provoking.  And original.

But, it wasn't ready for publication or even a query letter, and he knows it.  He hasn't let the rejection from Thor discourage him.  He's considering rewriting it from scratch now that he's older and wiser.  He's just been too busy being a husband, father, and full-time post-graduate student to devote any time to his passion, writing.

Being his mother as I am, I want him to succeed.  I want the entire world to know how brilliant he is.  (Did I mention he's halfway through a second book that is absolutely fabulous?)  While I was driving to Austin with him a couple weeks back, we had a discussion about self-publishing.  It went something like this:

Book Review: Deconstructing Infatuation by Mercé Cardus

Book: Deconstructing Infatuation
Author:  Mercé Cardus
Pages:   148
Format:  Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  CreateSpace (June 1, 2012)
Book Source:   Provided by Author
Category:   Contemporary Romance
Style:   Character-driven, some sexual situations, occasional profanity

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Sometimes, whether you're single or with a significant one, somebody appears in your life unexpectedly. We feel the need to know who this person is, the need to know exactly who this person is.
A story may offer different interpretations, even with several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings. As in Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta's story in Dante's Divine Comedy, this story is not about unfaithfulness either. This story is about infatuation: what burns inside of oneself when we let ourselves fall madly for someone.

My Take:

Central to the plot of Deconstructing Infatuation are Helen Hayes, a late thirty-something literary agent living in Manhattan, and Tiziano Conti, a handsome Florentine in town to run the New York Marathon (one would assume, referred as it is as the marathon). Helen has a significant other who lives in his own apartment across town when he is in town which is not often as he is traveling 360 days of the year.

Her roommate, Marlene, comes and goes, it would seem, although the reasons for her itinerancy are never explained. It's enough to the author and presumably to the reader that Marlene will be out of town for a month and wants to sublet her bedroom, which she has done in the past with less than satisfactory results. However, this negative experience does not deter the roommates, and the story opens on the pair holding an open house in an attempt to find the right temporary tenant.

Book/Film Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

“Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as Persuasion but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say, 'Collecting material'. No one can object to that.”
                                          ― Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
Book: Cold Comfort Farm
Author:  Stella Gibbons
Pages:   260
Format:  Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  Penguin Classics (org. ed. 1932)
Book Source:   Public Library
Category:   Classic Literature
Style:   Humor, Parody

Film:   Cold Comfort Farm (TV movie) 
Starring:   Kate Beckinsale
Released:   UK:  1995; US:  1996
Format:  available in DVD (95 minutes)
Produced by:   BBC Films, BBC
Film Source:   Netflix
Category:   Romantic Comedy
Style:   PG for brief sounds of heavy breathing

Synopsis from GoodReads:

THE DELIRIOUSLY ENTERTAINING Cold Comfort Farm is "very probably the funniest book ever written" (The Sunday Times, London), a hilarious parody of D. H. Lawrence's and Thomas Hardy's earthy, melodramatic novels. When the recently orphaned socialite Flora Poste descends on her relatives at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm in deepest Sussex, she finds a singularly miserable group in dire need of her particular talent: organization.  Read movie synopsis at IMDB.com.

My Take:

I've wanted to see this movie ever since I saw Kate Beckinsale plug it on Letterman way back in the day, but I never got around to it.  Since then, I've followed Ms. Beckinsale's work from Much Ado About Nothing to Emma to Van Helsing and everything in between.  She is a talented actress, even as kick-butt vampire Selene in the Underworld series. When I finally caught Cold Comfort Farms on Netflix, she did not disappoint.  I enjoyed it so well, I had to scrounge our local library and actually read the book.  (As much as I like Gwyneth Paltrow, Ms. Beckinsale ruined Emma for any other actor).

The Great Kiss-off from CleanShorts.tv

This CleanShorts.tv video is produced by the husband of author Becca Wilhite, Scott Wilhite (who also takes great portraints).  We definitely need to see more of these.   
—A Chaotic Mind

To Star or Not To Star: About Book Reviews

So, I'm working with an author who wrote what looks like a very interesting book which will be released soon.  They want to send me the manuscript and I want to read it.

However, they made the stipulation that I refrain from posting anything less than a five-star review on the book's Amazon page.  They want to ensure the page puts the book's best face forward.  I certainly understand this, but I don't agree with it.  I wrote them an email telling them all the reasons why.  

I have been recently mulling on the issue of writing negative reviews, and once I finished my response, I realized I had written today's blog post.  Here it is (more or less):

Tidbits: Francesca's Garden

Here's a bit of The Famous Mrs. Darcy that will never make it into print.  Still, it's worthy of a Tidbit.

[Location:  Longbourn garden---a joyous celebration for Jane & Bingley within; time:  evening after Elizabeth accepts Mr. Darcy's proposal; setup:  Elizabeth's pre-Pride & Prejudice history includes—among other things—a physical assault by a spurned suitor from which she was narrowly rescued from a terrible fate by a mysterious stranger, with his best mate hard on his heels.  The incident was the talk of Meryton.]

Francesca's Garden
by Penny Freeman

              Behind the house at Longbourn, behind the carefully groomed lawns and gardens meticulously planted to reflect its tasteful fashion, marshaled into order for inspection by the neighbors, behind a long and tall stone wall and through a little arched door which guarded the breach, tucked neatly out of sight where it could bring no shame to its betters, a small patch of dirt had been given over to the whims of little girls. To mark the distinction, because it was so marked and so distinct, they called it Francesca’s Garden.
              Had any outsider been allowed to frequent that garden (which rarely happened), initiated to the secrets beyond that curious door, if they were familiar with the Hermitage, a quaint little cottage on the grounds of a local abbey, they would suppose that the Bennets copied their more prosperous kin. They would have been mistaken, for it was entirely the opposite. The Mastersons, especially the gardeners of Oakhaven, knew that such as Francesca’s Garden grew from within. Anything else, no matter the grandeur of the scale, was simply a monkey aping the actions of a man.
              Once, when Elizabeth was just a girl and still unafraid of approaching her mother, she asked her why they called it Francesca’s Garden. Her mother’s eyes turned soft and sad. She attacked the soil beneath her spade until she had dug up enough courage, then leaned back on her haunches and looked to her daughter, her eyes shimmering with tears. When Elizabeth considered her mother’s timeless beauty, she thought of that day in the garden as she knelt in the dirt surrounded by a riot of blooms.
              Her mother told her that her father used to call her as much once, her name in a tongue strange and foreign. They had been young, before the hardships and disappointments of his life had ground all the romance out of him. But that was long ago. Before she broke his heart.

Film Review: Sherlock

Film:  Sherlock (miniseries)
Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) & Martin Freeman (Dr. John Watson)
Installments:  2010 (3), 2011 (3)
Produced by:  Hartswood Films, BBC Wales, PBS
Book Source:  Independent Purchase
Category:  Murder/Suspense
Style:  some scenes of violence & nudity 

I caught the last fifteen minutes of the last installment of Season 2 the BBC's Sherlock on PBS last night and was so blown away, I had to write about it.  Luckily, PBS has all three episodes online until the 20th of June, so I'm catching up on what I've missed.

The History

My husband has always loved and loves to own Sherlock Holmes videos.  Which Sherlock?  Take your pick.  So, a few years back, I picked up this book off a bargain table at my local Barnes & Noble.  It sat on the shelf unread.

Then, an elderly friend of mine fell and ended up in a rehab facility for several months.  The lady has macular degeneration and can see very little, so a few times a week I would visit her and read to her.  She loves murder mysteries, and so we read (aloud) this book from cover to cover—all 752 pages of it.

Honestly, by the time she was released from rehab, I was good and ready for that book to end, and I came to think precious little of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I found his narrative pedantic, his plots thin and predictable (to say nothing of redundant), and Sherlock's reputation for amazing deductive powers overblown.  But then, we're rather jaded, are we not—we of the CSI generation?

Book Giveaway: Tracy Higley

Christian Bookshelf Reviews is sponsoring another book giveaway by author Tracy Higley.  Well-traveled and -researched, Tracy writes Christian historical fiction/romance.

Shadow of Colossus, City of the Dead, and Guardian of the Flame are all novels in a series inspired by the seven wonders of the ancient world, which I think is a pretty original concept.  Right now, she's working on a novel set in Ephesus, with Christians struggling in a city of pagans, the Apostle Paul to lead them, and, of course, romance.

I think I am going to enjoy getting to know this author. 

—A Chaotic Mind

Living Extraordinary Lives

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a political blog (I think) with a headline that blared:  ‘YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL’: WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER GIVES THE MOST BLUNT COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS EVER. Intrigued with the blurb that the publication chose to quote, I followed the link to the complete text and formed my own opinion.

Erm . . . to be blunt, the headline missed the point.  The point of David Mccullough, Jr.'s speech was not that the 2012 graduating class of Wellesley High School were spoiled and coddled, but that they should go out and make their lives something special.  With kind words and a humorous approach, he managed to deliver his message and still leave his students feeling positive about themselves.  I suspect he is a favorite teacher at Wellesley High School, which explains his role as faculty speaker.

I felt it such a good speech, I wanted to share it.

Mr. McCullough (purportedly the son of David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian) summed it all up in his closing statement.

More Book Blog Giveaways: 5 mystery-thrillers and a fantasy novel

The Yard by Alex Grecian

Three other book blogs are having giveaways today.  The first is from Popcorn Reads, The Yard by Alex Grecian.  Set in late Victorian London, this is a book about, you guessed it, Scotland Yard, a serial killer, and the very earliest days of criminal forensics and murder detectives.

Popcorn Reads is a well-established book blog with a long list of reviews from just about any genre you can think of.  Their comments are insightful and full of information.  I really enjoy this blog.

Solitary by Travis Thrasher

Our next entry comes via Christian Bookshelf Review in the form of an interview with Travis Thrasher.  Solitary, the first installment of the Solitary Tales series is young adult thriller with Christian values.  However, from the reviews on the book's page, it doesn't appear nothing but pap—in the words of one reviewer "too pretty".

Here's the synopsis from GoodReads: