Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Winter Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 4: Cozy/Wintry Reads (Make this prompt suit your current season if needs be.)

There’s nothing I love more than curling up under a blanket with a good book and some hot cocoa while the snow is falling outside. Here are my favorite cozy winter reads:

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Hercule Poirot is on a train that is trapped by an avalanche, just before a passenger is found murdered. Poirot is on the case and the thirteen other passengers in the car are his only suspects. The only problem is that they all have both an excellent motive and an airtight alibi. Just an FYI, the recent film changes some elements of the ending, so even if you’ve seen that, you may still be surprised.

51mxt4oifll-_ac_us218_2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden- Vasilisa grows up in a home in the Russian wilderness that’s snowed in each winter. She spends the season with her siblings listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife home from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is religious and won’t allow the family to honor the household spirits as they always have. Though the family acquiesces to her wishes, Vasilisa suspects that this decision will have grave consequences in this re-imagined Russian fairy tale.

41d0oywr9zl-_ac_us218_3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey- A childless couple in Alaska in 1920 indulge in a bit of silliness on the night of the first snowfall. They build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone but Jack and Mabel start to catch glimpses of a little girl, running through the trees. This child seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Is she their snow child come to life or are her origins more mundane? Jack and Mabel come to love this girl, whom they call Faina as if she were their own. But will they be able to care for her as they would a normal child?

51qgclwqxal-_ac_us218_4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This is kind of a love it or hate it book (though don’t judge it on it’s bizarre film adaptation!). In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Peter Lake attempts to rob a mansion that he thinks is empty one cold, winter night. It’s not empty. Beverley Penn, the daughter of the house is there, dying of consumption. They fall into a love so powerful that Peter, an uneducated thief will embark on a quest to stop time, bring back the dead and cure disease. It’s full of symbolism and beautiful writing, but some readers will find it overlong and indulgent.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I read this one snowy day, and I’ll always associate it with winter for that reason. Vida Winter (is the name a coincidence?!) is a reclusive author who has made up stories about her life, but hidden the truth of it. Now that she’s old and sick she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a tale of gothic strangeness, and a ghost, a governess, twins, a topiary garden and a house fire.

 

218weryp6kl-_ac_us218_6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The title character of this slim novel is a farmer burdened by a barren farm an a hypochondriac wife, Zeenia. When Zeenia’s cousin, Mattie visits, Ethan falls in love with the warm girl who is everything that his wife is not. But his attempts to escape with Mattie may doom them all to a cold life on Ethan’s unproductive land.

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn- Anna Fox is an agoraphobic who spends her days in her Harlem townhouse drinking wine, watching old movies and spying on her neighbors. When she witnesses a  murder in one of the their houses, the police don’t believe her (she’s a drunk with a history of psychological issues). We learn more about the chilly roots of those issues, and the mysterious events of that happened in her neighbors house, as we read.

517vbd5d37l-_ac_us218_8. Still Life by Louise Penny– There’s been a murder in the tiny town of Three Pines, a rural village just south of Montreal. When Inspector Gamache and his team arrive, everyone assumes that middle aged artist Jane Neal was killed in a tragic hunting accident. But Inspector Gamache soon discovers that Three Pines is hiding some dark secrets. While the village seems cozy and the food is described as yummy, the murders would probably keep me from wanting to move to Three Pines.

51zrrxlch9l-_ac_us218_9. The Loop by Nicholas Evans- In Hope, Montana, a Rocky Mountain ranching town, a pack of wolves has emerged and reawakened a tension that existed a century ago between humans and wolves. Helen Ross is an environmentalist who is sent to Hope to protect the wolves. Her mission brings her into conflict with Buck Calder, a brutal but charismatic rancher, as well as his son, Luke, with whom Helen begins an affair.

 

51laj9fuhcl-_ac_us218_10. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick– In 1907 Wisconsin, 58 year old Ralph is waiting for his mail order bride to appear. He put out a classified ad, and is expecting his new wife at the station, but with Catherine Land gets off the train she’s not at all what he expected. She has plans to slowly poison Ralph and leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow. But on Ralph’s snow bound estate, he reveals to Catherine that he’s a man with secrets and plans of his own.

 

 

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A Bit More Shameless Self Promotion

I promise not to do this again for a while!

Firstly, I’m pleased to share that Beautiful is included in Enchanted Quill Press’ Festive Fairytale & Fantasy Book Fair. If you haven’t read Beautiful yet, it’s a lovely way to escape the stress of the holiday season. It’s free for Kindle Unlimited customers and only $2.99 for an ebook. Also, check out some of the other amazing books that are included in this promotion.

Festive Book Fair Image

Also, today I skyped with a middle school class that is learning about fairy tales and retellings. I remember a few occasions when authors came to my school and spoke to my class. It was always such a thrill for me to feel like someone who had actually created a book was taking the time to answer my questions. Today, I was about ten times as thrilled to answer some of the questions that these kids posed. I don’t imagine they were as thrilled as I was to have me there, but they asked some great questions and I really enjoyed talking to them as an author. I suppose that I don’t feel like an author most of the time. Usually I don’t identify myself as an author unless I’m writing (and sometimes not even then) so it was a bit odd to talk to people who know me only by a book I’ve written. Odd but exciting!

Shameless Self Promotion and Updates

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Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago I posted about my #PerNoFiMo or Personal Novel Finishing Month, which I did in lieu of #NaNoWriMo this November. My intention was to finish a rough draft of my WIP and I’ve pretty much done that. So now I put it aside for a few weeks and then revisit, send it off to betas and generally make it readable! It’s probably too early to do much teasing but the working title for this one is Frozen Heart (but that might change because something about it doesn’t “grab” me the way I want it to) and you can get some idea of some of it by checking out my pinterest board.  I tend to pin images that serve as inspiration for various characters and settings in the story.

Crossroad Reviews Screenshot

Also, I was interviewed by Crossroad Reviews about Beautiful and my writing generally. Be sure to check it out!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Friendships

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 27: Platonic Relationships In Books (friendships, parent/child, siblings, family, etc.)

For this one I decided to go with friendships. Sometimes the friendships in question are between siblings, but there’s always a strong basis in affection as opposed to just familial bonds. It’s also OK if two characters within a group are in a romantic relationships as long as the group itself is held together by platonic bonds.

511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_1. The March Sisters in Little Women– Yes they’re sisters. And that holds them together even when they grow apart in other ways. But the March’s bond is built on a foundation of confiding in one another, having shared memories and experiences and being there to support one another when things go wrong. All those are things that exist among groups of friends, whether or not they share the same blood.

 

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_2. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in the Anne series by LM Mongomery- Anne and Diana are kindred spirits, bosom friends pretty much from day one. You can only get drunk on cherry cordial with a bestie. When you share something sweet with a bosom friend it tastes even sweeter because you shared it.  A best friend like this stands by you even when you’re not using your best judgement, and helps to pick up the pieces when you fall. Yes, I’ve read some contemporary criticism that claims this was more than platonic friendship. But on a purely textual level they’re simply BFFs through thick and thin.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_3. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I was probably one of the few readers who was relieved to see Hermione end up with Ron, without even a hint of a romance with Harry. As Harry tells Ron in The Deathly Hallows “She’s like my sister.” These three befriended each other early in the series and proved that together they were a formidable trio. Yes, Ron and Hermione hooked up eventually but they were friends first and since there was nothing going on at any point between Harry and Hermione or Harry and Ron, they qualify for the list.

51h6recpxtl-_ac_us218_4. The narrator and Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving- The unnamed narrator has nothing but love for his best friend Owen Meany and their friendship survives a turbulent childhood in which Owen accidentally kills the narrator’s mother (oops!). Owen weights less than 100 lbs and is less than five feet tall when he’s fully grown. He has a screechy, strangled voice. He’s also kind, honest, selfless, and rebellious.  He comes into the narrator’s life early on and his influence is felt to the point where the rest of the narrator’s life is lived as a prayer for this childhood friend.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- These four friends met in college. Over the next few decades there are fallings out and other friendships that come into and out of their lives, but these four are there for one another through it all. In this case the biggest threats to the group don’t really come from the action of the novel, but from the character’s  haunted pasts. Once again there’s some romance in the group, as Jude and Willem eventually become a couple, but their relationship started as friendship only and existed as friendship for two decades before becoming romantic. Since there are no other couples within the group at any point, it qualifies for my list.

41haymrzhdl-_ac_us218_6. Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar in Shirley by Charlotte Bronte- Caroline’s father died and her mother abandoned her, and she was raised by an uncle. Shirley is also an orphan, but she’s wealthy, and cheerful and full of ideas. The become good friends and get involved in  a labor dispute at the local mill. They also learn some family secrets and become romantically involved with two brothers. There’s confusion and revelations in the plot, but even at a point when it seems like Caroline and Shirley are being set up to be romantic rivals, they maintain a friendship. In fact while the book deals with a number of topics I consider the primary plot to be a story of friendship.

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_7. Mary, Dickon, and Colin from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- As a child the fact that the garden was a metaphor for the friendship that blooms between these three characters, went totally over my head.  Fortunately I reread it later on. Well, actually now that I think of it, the garden is a metaphor for several things in that book, but one of them is the friendship forms among these three very different children from vastly different backgrounds.

41uqpdzu9hl-_ac_us218_8. George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck- George and Lenny are two migrant workers during the Great Depression who dream of a little bit of land and a home to call their own. Lenny is a large man with a child’s mind and George is his protector. But when Lenny’s love of soft things leads to tragedy, George shows the kind of loyalty that the best of friends share,  in the most terrible way possible.

 

51e3moi918l-_ac_us218_9. Jane and Prudence in Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym- Jane is a forty one year old Vicar’s wife, with a daughter, who lives a very proper parish life. Prudence is a twenty nine year old spinster who lives in London and is fiercely independent. Jane was Prudence’s tutor at Oxford and despite their different lives, they’ve maintained a friendship. Jane decides that local widower, Fabian, would be a perfect match for Prudence, but Prudence is interested in her (married) boss. Neither character is particularly likable but as I finished reading the book I felt like I would miss them and their friendship.

51kwpr263l-_ac_us218_10. Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash and Goodman in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer-  Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash, and her brother Goodman meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s and dub themselves “The Interestings.” Over the next few decades the group comes together and breaks apart in various ways. Their dynamics change and change again. Ethan and Ash marry but that’s really the only romantic relationship within the group.

 

 

What I’ve Learned From Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies

It’s hard to say why we love these movies. They’re all slight variations on the same theme. Someone with difficulties in their personal or professional life learns about What’s Really Important thanks to some holiday magic (which may or may not be literal magic). They’re uniformly cheesy and often feature bad acting and/or cringe-worthy screenwriting. But starting on Black Friday and continuing through the month of December, I can’t get enough. I think the reason they appeal is because they’re so predictable. I can’t count on much in this world. Even fictional escapes come with their own stress (what if things don’t play out the way I want them to? I’m invested dammit!)  But with these movies, I know exactly how things will play out. I can sit back and enjoy. If I’m in a snarky mood I can mock them. If not I can just go along with it.

For the purpose of this list, I will be considering both Hallmark Christmas movies and Hallmark style Christmas movies (films not made by the Hallmark channel but still channeling the same mood. Often said films are made by Lifetime, Netflix, Ion, etc)

  • Europe is filled with tiny countries that no one’s heard of. English is the primary language in all of these countries, and most accents there sound British. Each of these countries has a handsome prince, looking for a quirky American to marry.
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    from buzzfeed

  • Small town coffee shops are frequently filled with confused city girls who can’t order their fancy latte and are trying to figure out how to drink plain old coffee with milk. The same thing happens at small town diners when the city dweller tries to order an egg white omelette and gluten free toast.
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    from whatsfilming.ca

  • Only real Christmas trees are acceptable. A fake Christmas tree marks the owner as a soulless monster. If you know someone with a fake tree, the best thing to do is run away fast.
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    from outsourcemarketing.com

  • Cell phones can also be indicative of the lack of a soul. But there is some gray area: sometimes people with cell phones aren’t truly soulless, but just misguided and confused about priorities. These people can sometimes be saved, usually by a quaint Christmas celebration.  The same cannot be said of fake tree buyers.
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    hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com

  • Children love to set up romances between the adults in their lives. In fact, that’s pretty much the reason that children exist
  • Final Photo Assets

    from hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com

  • All children are adorably precocious. There is no other kind of child.
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    from vulture.com

  • Mistaken identity is very common. Outright lies about identity are totally forgivable, no matter how far they go.
  • princess-switch-1014x570

    from tvinsider.com

  • If a guy truly loves you, he will propose marriage after knowing you for two weeks (maximum).
  • street-proposal-inset-custom

    from fangirlish.com

  • It always snows on Christmas eve. No matter where you are. Florida? Australia? Mexico? The Sahara? It doesn’t matter. On Christmas Eve it will snow. I promise.
  • christmas-card

    from southernliving.com

    Do you like these silly holiday movies? Any favorites?

Top Ten Tuesday: Thanksgiving/Thankful Freebie

For That Artsy Reader Girl‘s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 20: Thanksgiving/Thankful Freebie

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Last year I did a list of ten books that made an impact on my life (or the world in a way) that I’m grateful for. But this year I’m doing ten books that gave me a much needed escape from my real life and the real world. There have been times when I think having that ability to escape has kept me sane and I’m grateful for that. These aren’t all great books by any stretch of the imagination. But I found them at a point in time when they were just what I needed.

51culgbrdcl-_ac_us218_1. The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. Ja whmes– I read this one when things at work were kind of crazy and overwhelming. It was a relief to be able to come home from work and escape to a murder mystery and romance in 1920’s London.

 

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_2. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– This past summer there was a job opportunity that I really wanted that didn’t work out. Naturally I was disappointed, and I was replaying my interview and getting angry at myself for not being more impressive. But it was great to pick up this book about a woman who had a much bigger reason to be angry at herself than I did, and much bigger problems than a temporary disappointment!

 

51o8egjihul-_ac_us218_3. My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella– I read this one when I was getting ready to start a new job and I was kind of nervous. The heroine here is also in a professional limbo but that was really the only similarity to my own life. It was sweet and funny and light enough to float on for a while.

 

 

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_4. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– I was in a stressful situation regarding a friend of mine when I read this. Sometimes in stressful times I want to revisit an old favorite (like seeing an old friend), and sometimes I want the novelty of something I’ve never read before. This darkly comic re-imagining of Jane Eyre offer both novelty and familiarity.

 

 

61ezfwf-vnl-_ac_us218_5. Falling for You by Jill Mansell– Remember the election of 2016? It was a horrible time where each day you felt like the world was descending further and further into a black hole. And in ended in the worst way possible… I read a lot of Jill Mansell at that point. Her light, funny, romantic comedies were about all I could handle and were an escape to a world where people were nicer…

 

51mmrr0hqcl-_ac_us218_6. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal– In 2015-2016 I suffered several significant losses in my personal life. It was an incredibly stressful period and the Glamourist series was the complete break from reality that I needed at the time. Think Jane Austen but writing fantasy. Yep, that’s what I needed.

 

 

41tmygolmvl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marion Keyes– Anyone who deals with a chronic health condition can probably relate to the heroine of this book who feels like her life has been stolen by illness. But there’s an element of wish fulfillment too as that very illness ends up delivering fame, fortune, and Mr. (or in this Dr.) Right to her doorstep. Realistic? No. But living in a fantasy world can be fun too!

 

51d6qta-nll-_ac_us218_8. Spells at the Crossroads by Barbara Ashford– You know when you’re writing a novel and you’re on the seventeenth draft and wondering if you should just trash the whole thing? Well I was lucky to find this weird fairy tale- musical theatre hybrid story when I was feeling totally blocked creatively. It isn’t a great book by any means but it combined two things I love in a totally bizarre way that drew me in and reminded me that there are no rules that you have to follow when it comes to creativity.

51ilpdd3pwl-_ac_us218_9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker- I was just in one of those periods where everything feels like too much when I read this tale of two mythical beings set in turn of the century NYC. It helped to know that I could deal with reality during the day, and then come home at night and spend some time in a fantasy.

 

 

515oqah-rtl-_ac_us218_10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid– This was another book I read in 2016 which was a horrible year for me personally as well as the world in general I think. A lot of what I read at the time was an attempt to escape into fantasy. This isn’t fantasy per se, but the life of a glamorous movie star in Old Hollywood is also about a far away from my day to day existence as you can get!

 

 

So this year, I’m thankful for books that let me escape the stress of reality.

Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Blade Runner

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A while ago, I saw this post on Moon in Gemini announcing The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon. Basically the idea was to watch a film that you’ve never seen before, but one that is typically considered great, and review it. I took a look at AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies list. Given my fondness for old Hollywood movies I’ve probably seen more of them than most of my generation. But I did take note of some of the other lists on the site. I looked through them and finally selected Blade Runner (1982) from the 100 Years 100 Thrills list to review.  I chose it because I once had a friend who was obsessed by this movie and talked about it constantly, and because it’s taken on a sort of cult status, as well as the fact that it’s not usually the kind of movie I’d gravitate toward.

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Theatrical release poster designed by John Alvin

So what did I think of it. I’m going to give it a resounding “I don’t know.” I may not have been in the right mood to enjoy it when I watched it, but it was an interesting movie.

It’s set in Los Angeles in the year 2019. But that’s 2019 as imagined by Phillip K Dick in his 1968 novel, Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? a novel of which this film is a loose adaptation; as well as imagined by director Ridley Scott in 1982. It has no resemblance to what Los Angeles will probably look like a few months from now.  In the dystopian future that this film imagines, synthetic humans known as “replicants” have been engineered by the Tyrrell Corporation to work on “off world colonies” (other planets). When a group of replicants tries to escape back to earth, a jaded cop who once specialized in “retiring” (killing) these synthetic beings (a job called a “Blade Runner”) named Rick Deckard agrees to hunt them down. At the same time, an advanced, experimental model named Rachel is making him question his own humanity as well as that of the replicants.

blade_runner_spinner_flyby

A police “spinner” flies by a giant skyscraper with an electronic billboard.

If all that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. We have to get used to a whole new vocabulary and it takes some time to remind ourselves what “replicants” are and what a “Blade Runner” does and what “retiring” someone actually means. Important things are happening while the viewer is still trying to understand the structure of the fictional world, which means that it’s easy to get lost in the first thirty minutes or so. But once we establish where we are and what’s going on, we can go along for the ride.

Thematically this movie is about what it means to be human. There is very little that’s natural about the imagined world of 2019.  Police are everywhere, corporate power looms large.  Artificial animals have replaced real ones which are extinct. This is a reason why off world migration has become so popular. In order to determine who is a replicant, an empathy test is used. Interestingly it’s the replicants who appear to show empathy and concern for one another while the humans are cold and impersonal. Implanted memories mean that it’s hard for even the characters to know if they are human or not. Of course this ambiguity extends toward the morality of how replicants are treated. Is their “retirement” like shutting down a computer or like killing a person?

All of this is happening against a very noir-ish backdrop. In fact, the movie itself is essentially about a detective solving a crime. Rick is give ample, cynical voice overs. Rachel is a chain smoking femme fatale.

It’s a very stylish movie and it combines a lot of elements and genres that I enjoy. That said, I didn’t enjoy watching this movie, and I can’t say exactly why. It’s well done with impressive visuals, a compelling scripts and a interesting setting. But ultimately I kept watching because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, rather than what I wanted to do. As I said, I may just have been in the wrong mood for it.

What’s The Good News?

With a few exceptions, it definitely feels like the news is pretty bad. Actually between floods, fires, shootings, bombings and more, turning on the TV or glancing at a newspaper has felt a bit like bracing myself for an attack. So I decided to collect small bits of good news as I find them. A lot of the time they’re not huge things. But they’re small ways that people are being kind and helpful to one another and seeing them reminds me that there’s still good in the world. So I decided to share a few in the hopes of brightening the spirits of others a bit:

  • This celebrity hair stylist gives free haircuts to the homeless. Sometimes a small change in appearance can make a  big difference in someone’s life:
  • Rosa’s Fresh Pizza serves 50-100 free slices to the homeless every day due to small donations from customers. $1=1 slice.
  • https3a2f2fblogs-images-forbes-com2ftrevornace2ffiles2f20182f092foceancleanfeatured-2The world’s largest Ocean Clean Up has officially begun. This $20 Million system aims to clean up, reuse and recycle the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

 

  •   4 year old Austin Perine uses his allowance to feed the homeless.
  • 181030103100-southampton-bookshop-human-chain-exlarge-169October Books, a small nonprofit bookshop on England’s south coast, was forced to relocate after a rent increase. They were able to buy another space, just down the road, but relocating their stock furniture and shelving was a potentially expensive enterprise. So 250 local volunteers formed a human chain moving what they needed to by hand.
  • When this little boy’s sister got hit by a basketball she started to cry. He immediately gave her a hug and a kiss and then told her “you’re strong,” gave the ball back to her and lifted her up to help her dunk the ball.
  • This lady was trying to pay for gas with pennies. Some guys noticed, and gave her the cash that she needed to pay for it. She burst into tears at the offer, telling them that her husband had just died and she wasn’t usually like this. When she asked how she could repay them, they told her to “pay it forward”.
  • Donut City in Seal Beach California has opened at 4:30 am, every day for almost 30 years. When owner John Chhan’s wife, Stella suffered a brain aneurysm, she began the long path to recovery. He continued to run the shop by himself but got back to Stella ASAP. When his customers learned about the situation they bought more donuts and pastries earlier in the day, so that John could get home to Stella sooner. Sometimes he is even able to close the shop by 10am.
  • I posted this a few weeks ago, but the Charity Miles app uses corporate sponsorship to donate to charities for every mile you walk/run/bike/dance etc. Not only does the exercise make you healthier, but it’s all for a good cause. You can choose from over 40 charities that help children, animals, the environment, health and more. You can change the charity you fund-raise for whenever you want.

I guess the point of this post is to remind people that even though the news is bleak sometimes and absolutely devastating at other times, there are kind people out there, who put good out into the world in big ways and small. Sometimes just seeing it and sharing it, can make you feel a bit better.

Top Ten Tuesday: Backlist TBR

First of all, if you are reading this and have not yet voted, do so now. This post isn’t going anywhere. It’ll still be here when you get back.

Now, for That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 6: Backlist Books I Want to Read

There are a lot of backlist titles that I want to read. These are really just the top ten that came to mind!

21w51tywckl-_sl160_sx135_1. Sing to Me Of Dreams by Kathryn Lynn Davis– I really enjoyed some of Davis’ other work (Too Deep For Tears trilogy, Child of Awe) and I am curious about how she handles a different setting/culture from much of her other work.

 

51hukb9xql-_ac_us218_2. Silence and Shadows by James Long– This has been sitting in my Amazon cart forever, and I’ve never actually read it. It’s about an archaeologist who is working with a woman who reminds him of his late wife. At the same time, his brother in law has been singing a song about a Saxon princess who also resembles the coworker and the wife, and the archaeologist makes an important discovery that  may tie all of these characters together.

5174gdpp4ml-_ac_us218_3. Hearts and Bones by Margaret Lawrence– This has also been on my TBR for ages. It’s set in post Revolutionary war America and it’s about a midwife who is drawn into a murder investigation. It’s a combination of a few genres I like (historical fiction, suspense) so hopefully it’ll be good.

 

51ienjvnb4l-_ac_us218_4. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis– I really like Connie Willis’ other Oxford Time Travel novel The Doomsday Book, and I’ve heard from some fans that this one is even better, so I’m looking forward to reading it!

 

41oulsn7jul-_ac_us218_5. Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn- This interracial romance has been in print since 1966. A copy of it has been sitting on my shelf for about two years.

 

 

51myynrq6l-_ac_us218_6. The Group by Mary McCarthy– This was a major bestseller and National Book Award Finalist  when it first same out in 1963. It’s about eight friends from college making their way in the world. It’s been compared to everything from The Best of Everything to Sex and the City. I’m curious to read it as see how it holds up.

 

51mw0x9so4l-_ac_us218_7. Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow– This story of a female spy during the Revolutionary war was written in 1959 and has been compared to Gone With the Wind. I suppose that the comparison also comes from the fact that it’s about a southern heiress who has some kind of romance. Regardless it’s sitting on my shelf and it looks like it could be fun.

51ffmarlcpl-_ac_us218_8. Bird Box by Josh Malerman– I vaguely remember reading a good review of this when it came out. I put it on my TBR and never got around to it. Then I saw the trailer for the movie coming to Netflix in December. I’d like to read the book before then.

 

51dyrlatcxl-_ac_us218_9. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey– This may be the record holder for book that’s been sitting on my shelf for the longest. It’s on pretty much every “best fantasy books” list on the internet.

 

 

514fv3sagil-_ac_us218_10. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard– The Cazalet Chronicles has been on my TBR for a long time.  The fact that it’s a five book series always holds me back from  getting started.

 

 

One Nation, Indivisible? *Warning: LONG Post*

 

person dropping paper on box

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Over the past two years, I have been giving more thought than ever to what it means to be an American. The reasons for that are obvious. These are unprecedented times. But I’d like to share a few thoughts that I’ve had about my American identity and what that means moving forward. I don’t like to discuss politics too much on this blog for a number of reasons. But sometimes it’s too important to ignore. This is one of those times.

My Background

As far as childhood in America (or anywhere else!) goes, I was far luckier than most. I never wondered whether there would be someone to take care of me when I got home from school, or where I would sleep, or where my next meal would come from. When I got sick, I knew that I’d be taken to the doctor and I’d get medicine that would make me feel better. I didn’t even think about random acts of senseless violence. When I started school I worried about being separated from my mom for a whole day. I worried about whether I’d make friends with the other kids in my class. I didn’t worry about mass shootings.

I attended a Quaker school in elementary school. No I’m not a Quaker and neither is my family. Nor were most of the families who sent their children there. The student body was made up of a diverse population, ethnically, racially, and religiously. My parents felt that such an environment would teach me to appreciate a diverse, inclusive culture and it did. Most of the Quaker influence in our education involved learning how to be “friends.” That means the obvious of course, how to be there for your friends, help them when they’re sad, celebrate with them when they’re happy. But it also meant learning to get along with people you may not like. Being kind to people, even when you think they don’t deserve it. I think that attitude made me a better person.

The Quaker perspective influenced how we looked at history in school. Quakers were dedicated abolitionists, and we learned that our nation was founded on a contradictory set of dual ideals. There were the high minded ideas of equality and on which our constitution is based, but those were tainted by the fact that they were written by slave owners who also wrote slavery into the fabric of society.  So in school we learned that our role as Americans meant trying to create a society that lived up to those ideals, while being aware that there were remnants of that original sin still in our system. We learned that the effects of slavery were felt long after slavery ended, with segregation and laws that kept power squarely in the hands of white Americans. We revered the memory of the civil rights leaders who practiced nonviolent resistance (Quakers are very big on pacifism) and brought about real change in that way. We learned the happy, fictitious Thanksgiving story, but we also learned that European settlers were dishonest and treated the indigenous population badly. Being educated in this school gave me the idea that I lived in a good country but a flawed one that was striving to be better than it’s troubling history.

I also remember asking my mom about political parties after hearing something about them on the radio in the car. I must have been about five years old or so at the time. My mom explained that everyone in America wanted a better future, but they didn’t always agree on how to go about creating that. The two parties, Democrats and Republicans, had different ideas about how to make the world a better place, and often disagreed. Neither was right or wrong or better or worse. Sometimes one would be right and the other wrong, and sometimes vice versa. But we all shared common values, such as a belief in free speech, due process, equal protection under the law, etc.

So that’s the perspective that I had on my country as a child. It was a perspective that allowed me to be proud of being an American, because being an American meant learning from past mistakes and trying do better in the future.

people holding banner near building

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Now

Of course as I grew up  and became part of the world, things changed. Some of what changed was me. I was more able to understand and appreciate nuance. I was able to evaluate things critically for myself. But some of what changed was the country. I was still a kid when the rhetoric in the US became more vitriolic, and the tone of politics grew divisive. I found myself taking a side that I felt reflected my personal values. But I felt that I could still respect people who felt differently. I always identified as a Democrat but I had friends who were all over the political spectrum.

Do I still respect people who disagree with me on certain issues? It depends on the issue. I can absolutely still respect and like someone with whom I disagree about how much a corporation that makes X in profit should pay in taxes, or whether a building in city limits can exceed a certain height. But if we disagree about who counts as a human being, I can’t respect that.

What I’ve seen over the past few years is the notion that only certain people should count as “Americans.” This is the notion that only those who are accepted under this label are entitled to due process and equal protection. It is also the notion that some (wealthy white men primarily) are actually entitled to special treatment, so that the laws which are set to protect us all, don’t apply to them. That is something that I cannot accept, because it infringes on the safety and rights of too many people.

Some of those people are Americans whether or not the alt-right want to think of them that way: they were born here, or are naturalized citizens. They contribute to society in important ways. They pay taxes and are therefor entitled to protection and representation. Others are not Americans. They live elsewhere in the world but are still affected by the decisions that are made in the United States.  They are trying to live their own lives in their own countries, where they are affected by US action (or lack thereof) on climate change. They breathe the air and drink the water that may not be clean. As a result they may become refugees. That’s why an “America First” way of thinking isn’t practical. America is not the only country in the world, but it is a large and powerful one, and our actions affect what happens in other countries. What happens in those other counties then affects us.

Whatever you may think of the two parties in the US historically, this election is not about that. Over the past two years, Republicans have proved themselves unwilling or incapable of curbing Trump’s divisive, incendiary rhetoric, even when that rhetoric attacks the values that we all share.

i voted sticker lot

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The Future?

There is so much that I want to discuss here that I don’t have the time or the space to address. But I am begging my fellow Americans to think about what their vote means. Maybe you’ll be voting blue on Tuesday just like you’ve always done. Maybe you’re historically a Republican or an Independent. If that is the case I implore you to look at the bigger picture. I know some people who voted for Trump in 2016, thinking of it as a vote for the Republican party rather than a vote for Donald Trump. But the Republican party as it is today is not the party of Reagan and is certainly not the party of Lincoln. It is the party of Trump. I hope that changes, because I think that having two (or more) healthy parties is crucial to a functioning democracy. But if the GOP remains the majority in both the House and the Senate that’s not going to happen. Instead, I fear that we will be closer to a dictatorship under Donald Trump. He will see a midterm win as an endorsement of some of his most heinous behavior, and that behavior will continue and perhaps worsen. However, if Democrats can regain some power, we will have more of a balance. That balance creates accountability for everyone in government. That is something that we should all want.

If you are a Democrat or a Republican/Independent and you plan to vote Democratic this election, please make sure you VOTE! We are the majority in this country and when we vote, we win. In a perfect world we would be inspired by candidates in every election. Maybe you are inspired by a candidate in this election, and if so, that’s great. But if not, you still have to vote. Vote for a candidate that you feel will protect your rights and listen to your voice. You may not agree with that candidate on every issue, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass.

We are all morally obliged to vote on Tuesday. Do it for yourself. Do it for your loved ones. Do it for our planet. Do it for Democracy. Just do it.