Friday, June 27, 2014

Broken Branches

Thought for the day: Hold a true friend with both hands.  [Nigerian proverb]

It's hard to believe a whole month has flown by since the last get-together of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, but doggone if  we aren't back at the last Friday of the month again. Hosted each month by the Armchair Squid, this illustrious gathering provides the opportunity for participants to talk books. If you're interested in talking about what you've been reading lately, or finding out what everybody else has been reading, pop on over to the Squid's blog and check out the link you'll find there. Oh yeah... didja notice that new badge in my sidebar for the Songs of Summer bloghop coming up on July 11th? You can check that out over at Squid's blog, too... and maybe even sign up. (Or just click on the badge.) In brief, participants name five summer songs with special meaning to them. Could be from long ago, or as recent as this week. Maybe provide the link to them. (I'm including videos for all my picks.) Come on, don't let me be the only oldster talking about songs few people remember... (Because they weren't BORN yet. HA!)

As always, I'll review one of my recent reads at the end of this post. That way, if you don't give a good diddle about my reading addiction, you can just pay attention to the beginning of this post, and ignore the rest. Fair enough?

Look at this tree. Believe me, the picture doesn't even begin to do it justice, but it's a huge sprawling tree that graces the town where we live. I'm telling you, a whole football team... including the bench-warmers...  could find respite from the sun beneath its branches. It reminds me of the words I embroidered on a sampler as a young girl: Friendship is a sheltering tree. They're from Samuel Coleridge's poem Youth and Age, which he wrote in 1797, and I love the sentiment they express. Love... friendship... a sheltering tree. That's how it should be.

And sometimes, if we're very very lucky, that's how it is. Sometimes, friends truly look out for each other, and sometimes, big brothers and sisters are sheltering trees for their younger siblings, too...

Let me tell you about one big brother, an amazing young man, just fourteen years old. This young man from Michigan, Hunter Gandee, has a seven-year-old brother with cerebral palsy, a brother he happens to love very much. Hunter came up with a way to help raise awareness of the muscular disorder afflicting his little brother, something he called Cerebral Palsy Swagger. To help put a face on cerebral palsy, the 155-pound Hunter carried his 50-pound brother Braden on his back... for forty miles. Over a two-day period, he trudged through the heat, walked steadily through the rain, and kept moving, in spite of his intense fatigue and aching muscles. Accompanying them on their walk were his parents, two other siblings, and numerous other supporters, some on foot, and others from within a caravan of cars. But it was Hunter who bore the weight for all those miles; it was Hunter who carried his brother every step of the way. Without a doubt, Hunter is a shining example of a sheltering tree, and I predict he will go far in this world... while continuing to look after his kid brother. This song could have been written about him:

[wikimedia commons]
Unfortunately, not all friends are sheltering trees, even though we may think they are. When we reach out to them, their friendship falters, and their branches of support break off uselessly in our hands. In extreme cases, they destroy our homes and crush our lives.

Which brings me to (ta DA!) this month's book review.

Intriguing title, isn't it?

The book lives up to it. too. You know the rest of that saying, don't you? Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

The real difficulties arise when you can't tell them apart.

Let me tell you about it...

After sixteen years of marriage, Natty and Sean have an unbreakable bond. That's what Natty thinks, anyway. But she's wrong. She also thinks her old college pal Eve is a true blue friend who would never ever hurt her. Wrong again. When Eve shows her true colors, she turns out to be more psychotic than psychoanalyst, and Natty's dream life quickly unravels and turns into a nightmare.

When their younger daughter gets critically ill while on a school trip to France, Natty hops on a plane to be with her in the hospital. Eve happens to be visiting at the time, and "selflessly" offers to stay, so she can help look after their other daughter... and Sean, of course. (What a gal, huh?) It's almost too easy for Eve to worm her way into Sean's heart. She knows all the right moves, knows exactly what to say and when to say it, and knows where all his buttons are and how to push them. But it's no wonder. She's done this sort of thing before. More than once. By the time Natty and her daughter return ten days later, Sean's in love with Eve and ready to end the marriage.

The ten-day time frame is the only part of the story that doesn't ring true to me. Thus far, Sean has been a devoted husband --- even though Natty has been investing most of her time and energy into their successful hotel business. (Let's just say she's had a "headache" for entirely too long, if you know what I mean.) Plus, his daughter... his princess... is in critical condition. I can't imagine that under those circumstances, he'd allow himself to be so utterly distracted by flattery, cheap pandering, thong underwear and dirty sex. Eventually, maybe. Maybe even probably. But in ten days? With one daughter in the hospital and another in the house with them? I dunno. Because the rest of the book is so good, I'm willing to overlook that ten-day capitulation. 

Yes, it's good. It's a well-written, tension-filled tale, and a fast read. Eve's clever cold-blooded campaign threatens Natty's sanity, and almost sends her to prison. Then Natty unearths some unsettling secrets about Eve's past, secrets that put her life in danger. Lies, secrets, a death, and revenge all come together to create any woman's worst nightmare --- and a darned good book.


Oh, one thing. The copy I read is a straight-from-the-publisher uncorrected proof. The book isn't due to be released until September. (Sorrrrry.) But you can pre-order it on Amazon, if you'd like.

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Innocent Fun, or Foul Play?

Thought for the day:  The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears, and score your points when you get the opportunity. [Lewis Grizzard]

Lewis Grizzard scored some good points of his own with that witty quote. There's a lot of truth in it, but I think the analogy can only be taken so far. When people try to force the whole life is like a football game comparison beyond a certain point, someone may have to step forward, blow the whistle, and call a penalty on the play.

I'll tell you all about it in a minute, and let you be the judge, but first? A step back onto Memory Lane, if you will... to the days when we were all (gasp!) teenagers.


Recognize this stuff? Anybody else remember hanging rolls of crepe paper across the ceiling of a knotty pine-paneled basement with your friends the day before a party? Our favorite trick was to twist two different colors together for an extra special touch of sophistication. (That's what we thought at the time, anyway.) As the evening wore on, the streamers would inevitably stretch and sag, until they literally brushed the tops of our heads while we danced. That didn't stop us from stringing them up for the next party, though. It was part of our thing. 

Matter of fact, it was so much a part of our thing, we even used them to decorate the school gym for our junior and senior proms.

You know what? As all-important as they seemed at the time, I honestly don't remember much about our proms. (And NO, the fruit punch wasn't laced!) Do you? One thing I do remember is how stressed a lot of the girls got ahead of time, because they were worried sick that no one would invite them. I dunno. Maybe the guys were stressed too, and worried about being rejected?

But let's face it, it's traditionally been females who place so much importance on events like proms. It's their time to shine. To feel as pretty as a princess. To feel special. As much as proms have mutated from the days when my friends and I danced under crepe paper streamers to records played in the high school gym, I think today's girls dream just as wistfully about their proms. They still want to shine, to feel as pretty as a princess, and to feel special.


So what happens when teenage boys treat a prom like it's another extension of football? What if they rent a fancy venue, huddle there in their suits and ties...

[wikimedia commons]

and go through an NFL-like draft pick process to decide who to invite to the prom? I introduce you to... the prom draft.

I kid you not.

For an undetermined number of years, that's exactly how some... but not all... boys at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California have been selecting their prom dates. Based on draft pick number, which is determined by drawing either a lottery-like ball or numbered slip of paper, the boys take turns selecting their dates from the previously-ranked favored pool of girls.  In keeping with NFL draft rules, boys also have the option of  forking over money in exchange for a more favorable draft pick. This year, one boy allegedly paid one hundred and forty bucks for the privilege of picking the higher-ranked gal of his dreams. (They'd never even spoken to each other before! Do you think she accepted...?) The whole procedure is done with much hoopla and fanfare, and they even go so far as to report draft pick results via Twitter. Nothing more humiliating than being selected last... unless it's having that information disseminated to all your twitter-pated friends, eh?

When I read about this in the newspaper, I got to wondering. What criteria do you think the boys use in  those girl-ranking sessions of theirs?

Intelligence, kindness, and a good sense of humor, maybe?


On the other hand, the ranking might have gone something like this:

"When Mary Lou walks, she has a mighty fine backfield in motion. I think that merits a decent number, don't you?"

"Nah, she follows a strict blocking below the waist policy. Nothing happening above the waist, eitherShe's good to look at, but doesn't go in for any holding at all."

"I agree," another stud muffin added. "She's a stickler for pass interference. She's been known to rough the passer upon occasion, and gave one guy a shiner for a little innocent illegal use of hands."

"Oh, man, I had no idea. That makes her a strike out, as far as I'm concerned."

"Dude! Wrong sport! Get with the program."

"Oh, right, sorry. My bad. Okay, a low number it is. Besides, I heard she's never on time. Nothing I hate worse than having to put up with a delay of game..."

Okay, so I have no idea how those sessions really went. But word has it, there may not be any more prom drafts in future years. The school's principal... a woman... found out about this year's draft, and wasn't any too happy about it. You could say she stepped in, blew the whistle, and called a penalty on the practice. Even threatened to cancel this year's prom. Whether she did or not, I don't know, but now some school board members are talking about instituting mandatory ethics classes to teach students what was wrong with this whole draft scenario in the first place.

What do you think about those prom drafts? Innocent fun... or insensitive, and highly insulting to females?  Did you go to your prom? Remember much about it? I remember I had a lot of good clean fun, and maybe that's enough. I don't think I would've appreciated being entered in some juvenile draft for the entertainment of the boys in our class, though. (Unless, of course, I was ranked number one... HA!)

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined; no sleep until morn, when youth and pleasure meet to chase the glowing hours with flying feet.  [Lord Byron]

It wasn't that no one asked me to the prom, it was that no one would tell me where it was. [Rita Rudner]

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cover Stories

Thought for the Day:  Do you ever judge a book by its cover???


So who are you more likely to trust... a pious bunch of church-goers, led by a sweet-faced white-haired man with pale blue eyes and a cowboy hat...


or a free-wheeling bunch of bearded, leather-clad bikers led by a bad-ass looking dude on a Harley?

Looks can be deceiving, you know. Could be a... cover story.

What if that sweet-faced church leader clutching his Bible like a weapon were... Fred Phelps?  Yeah, that guy.


The fruit loop guy who led the Westboro Primitive Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas from 1955 until he died a few months ago, the guy who taught his congregation to... hate. Protected by freedom of speech laws, they got their self-righteous jollies by protesting and picketing... even at funerals. Especially at funerals... especially at military funerals.

And what if those scary-looking bikers were Patriot Guard riders? They're members of a nation-wide volunteer organization of bikers who make a difference by attending military funerals to show respect for our fallen heroes, and to shield grieving families and friends from the additional pain dished out by those protesters. What's more, they do it peacefully, legally, and with great dignity.

I certainly know which of these groups gets my respect... and trust.

Bottom line, when referring to those particular church-goers and biker dudes, one could easily jump to the conclusion that you can't judge a book by its cover. But Whoa, Nelly! Not so fast. Sometimes, you can. Sometimes, we do. Like Joyce O'Neal said, You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can sure sell a bunch of books if you have a good one.

And I'm about to reveal a really really good one. My prediction is it's gonna be holding a really really good book inside, too. How do I know? Because I've read Carol's other books, and they were all terrific. Okay, ready to sneak a peek... ?






Isn't that gorgeous??? What's more, the story sounds terrific, too:

By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of the first lady’s dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for. The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.


Does that have you salivating like Pavlov's dog?

Yeah, me too.

I hate to tell ya, but Secrets of Honor isn't gonna be released until September. Yeah, I know. Bummer.

But don't blame me. Blame this lovely lady for teasing you like this. Blame Carol.

Yeah, just look at that smile on her face. That's because she knows how the story ends... the rest of us are just gonna have to wait. (Don't worry; I'll remind you in September.)

Wanta hear a little something about this talented writer with the 100-watt smile?

Carol writes grocery lists, texts to her family, new lyrics to old songs for her dogs, love notes to her husband, and novels for herself. And for you. In between, she blogs weekly at Under the Tiki Hut and is active on Facebook and Twitter.
She sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially ones with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy.


Under the Tiki Hut blog:
Website with Monthly Contest:

Once upon a time, there was a jewel thief. Her name was Katia. She worked for The Government. Yes, that government. But one day, Kat took something she shouldn’t have. She really shouldn't have done that.


How about you? Are you pretty good at judging books by their covers? Are you as het up to read this book as I am? (And did you find it as ironic as I did that Phelps' family had the audacity to ask the public to respect their privacy after he died...?  I swear, bearing spiritual fruit is one thing, but those folks are religious nuts.)

                             Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Wonderful Weekend in Europe

Thought for the day:  Sartre went into a French cafe and asked for a cup of coffee without cream. The waitress said, "I'm sorry, monsieur, but we're out of cream. May I bring it to you without milk?"

No, Smarticus and I didn't go to France to celebrate our anniversary. It was more like... Germany. (NOT Germany, but kinda like it...)

Where we went was to the delightful alpine village of Helen, which is located in north Georgia. It's about all kinda things German: architecture, beer, food, clothing, beer, shops, music, more beer. Lots of flowers. Lots of walking. Lots of fun.

We got up there too early to check into the hotel, so we visited a place called Duke's Creek, a rock and gem grubbing place just outside of town. It's a little different from the places where we panned for gold and gems last year, because the owner laces the buckets of grubbing dirt with goodies he dug up in other states. In the picture is my favorite find: a hunk of turquoise as big as my hand, which he brought home from an Arizona dig.

Oh, by the way, she said breezily, we had lunch in Munich. Okay, okay, okay, so if ya want to be strictly technical about it, we went to Helen's version of Munich's famous Hofbrauhaus. A verrrrry neat place.

The sign over the front and side entrances says Gateway to Europe. Feels like it, too, when you walk inside. Lots of gorgeous dark woods, artwork and old photographs.

Check out this cool mural that's on the side of the restaurant.

Now, I wouldn't be me if I failed to show you this next picture...

This sign totally cracked me up. Know why? It was pointing the way to the... bathroom. (Ya gotta love the German language.)

Our table overlooked the river, where a couple fishermen in waders were trying (rather foolishly, I might add) to share the shallow water with a steady stream of rafters. Very entertaining! We even saw a dog  floating down the river in his very own tethered raft.  Oh, and of course, the food was yummy, especially the potato salad. (German, of course!) Alas, we were too full to sample the straight-from-Munich homemade apple strudel.

I didn't take this picture. It's courtesy of Wikimedia, and was obviously taken in December. But it gives you an idea of what some of the shop exteriors look like. There's all kinds of shops on a labyrinth of streets. Lots of musicians scattered here and there, too, but the music wasn't overpowering, and didn't overlap, even when the musicians were fairly close together. And very little of the music was of the oom-pa-pa variety. (I suspect tubas... and costumes... may be more prevalent during Oktoberfest.)

This sweet little Alana Falls and garden were located in a park at the side of the road. Lots of gardens and potted flowers abound in the village, making for a very picturesque ambiance. Plenty of benches scattered around, too, thank goodness, because we did a LOT of walking. (And resting.)

This is part of a mural painted on the exterior wall of a place called Charlemagne's Kingdom. Inside, the exhibit hall contains a massive HO gauge train layout, depicting Germany from the North Sea to the Alps.

No one photograph can fully capture the size and intricacy of this creation. Painstakingly built by owner Will Lindhorst, who came to the United States from Oldenburg, Germany in 1963, the layout measures twenty by fifty feet, and contains four hundred feet of railroad tracks. All the buildings are allegedly modeled after actual buildings in Germany, and there are 5000 hand-painted figures, hot air balloon, a three-ring circus, and just about everything else you can imagine.

Here's a better shot of the hot air balloons when they "floated" closer to where we were standing. Cool, huh? There were some other bits of whimsy here and there, too. Like a spiffy dragon beside an impressive castle on the side of the mountain.

Oh, and a couple of saucer-shaped UFOs, too. See them? One is in the air... and the other, crashed into the mountain, is engulfed in a ball of flame and smoke. I have a feeling Herr Lindhorst had a lot of fun creating his Kingdom, don't you? We sure had fun looking at it.

Here's a shot of some of the rafters coming down the river through town. Most of the groupings of rafts are actually tied together. For safety, I guess, although the water appears to be quite shallow.

This is what I had for dinner on our anniversary. ( I MEANT to take a picture of it as soon as the server brought it to me, but, um, I forgot.)  Anyhow, it's sauerbraten, a big half-eaten (erp) potato dumpling, and red cabbage. Very good. Our other option that evening was to go to a big Bavarian fest that was taking place, but since I don't drink beer, and Smarticus enjoyed a little too much of it the night before, we decided this lovely little restaurant was more to our liking. If I remember right, it was called Bodensee. Something like that... it's named after a river in Germany.

Smarticus opted for a wurst sampler platter... with sauerkraut and fried potatoes. It must have been very good. When I was taking a picture of it, he said oh-so-lovingly... Every hog to its own trough! HA! (I tell ya, such romance.)

Alas, once again, we had no room left for dessert. With such a mouth-watering selection of  decadent desserts offered in every restaurant, it's hard to believe we didn't sample a single one of them. Or any of the homemade candy and pastries offered in the shops, either. Oh well. Maybe next time. (Next time, I think I'll start with dessert.)

On the way home, we stopped at this antique mall just outside Helen. The house it's in is the oldest  in the county. (circa 1874, or so) Just look at those porches! The original wood floor inside is in surprisingly good condition, and every single room on every single floor is packed with wonderful, glorious antiques and collectibles. Decent prices, too!

All in all, it was a wunderbar way to get away from it all for a few days. Ya know, our wedding may have taken place over forty-five years ago, but the celebration ain't over yet. And I hope it never is.

Oh, two things I'd like to tell you before I go. One, I read an OUTSTANDING book of poetry that I think you might enjoy, too. It was written by fellow blogger Joanne Faries, and is called Wordsplash Poetry Puddle: Hazy Memory. She sure knows how to tap into familiar memories most of us share. I highly recommend it. You can get it on Amazon. She has a couple other poetry books there, too, but I haven't read them. Yet.

Second, Screwing Up Alexandria, Connie Keller's latest book in her Screwing Up Time series was released a couple days ago. I bought it, but haven't read it yet. Judging by her first two books, I'm sure to love this one, too. It's a YA time-travel through history kinda book suitable for all ages. Some humor, great sense of history, and lots of fun.

                                         Talking about fun, y'all have a great weekend!

                                   Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.