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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lessons from Lucy, now on my favorite books of 2018 list. Thanks Dave Barry.

If you are on my book receiving Christmas list, get're getting a copy of this wonderful book.

From the book's blurb:
"Faced with the obstacles and challenges of life after middle age, Dave Barry turns to his best dog, Lucy, to learn how to live his best life. From “Make New Friends” (an unfortunate fail when he can’t overcome his dislike for mankind) to “Don’t Stop Having Fun” (validating his longtime membership in a marching unit that performs in parades—and even Obama’s inauguration), Dave navigates his later years with good humor and grace. 
Lucy teaches Dave how to live in the present, how to let go of daily grievances, and how to feel good in your own skin. The lessons are drawn from Dave’s routine humiliations and stream-of-consciousness accounts of the absurdities of daily life, which will leave you heaving with laughter and recognition."

Steven King said, "I laughted until I fell off my chair." My reaction was, 'yeah, sure, Steve.' But now I believe him. I laughed so hard, I almost choked to death, several times. I think Dave Barry has been stalking me and then writing about this old lady. It was all so honest and spot on for those of us in Dave's age group. 

If you love dogs, you'll love this book. I can just see all the dog lovers in my family smiling and thinking 'yep, that's my dog.'

If you have trouble with today's technology, you'll you love this book. I truly believe Dave watched me trying to take photos with my phone and then rushed home and wrote about it. My grandchildren are going to roll their eyes and think, 'that's Mimi' when reading this chapter.

If you've lost touch with so many old friends and don't care to make the extra effort to make new ones, you'll nod with understanding and some nostalgia as you read about Dave's friendships.

If you've ever tried to order refills of your medications, or unsubscribe to something, or get help from a cable company, you will be shouting your agreement with Dave when he tells of his experiences along that line.

You get my drift. This is a book we can ALL relate to. And I'm not exaggerating, all my families with get a copy of this book for Christmas. Even the 'non'readers. 

Thank's for the laughs, Dave. Sometimes we all need to laugh at ourselves and know that we are not alone in our misery.

I received my copy of Lessons From Lucy through Net Galley. Thank you so much. Book is not available until late October but you can preorder as I am. Now if only I can catch up with Dave when I get my box full and have him autograph them for me. But no one comes to Tally for book signings.  Not even Dave!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Romanov C.W. Gortner

The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

From the book's blurb: 
"Even from behind the throne, a woman can rule. 
Narrated by the mother of Russia’s last tsar, this vivid, historically authentic novel brings to life the courageous story of Maria Feodorovna, one of Imperial Russia’s most compelling women, who witnessed the splendor and tragic downfall of the Romanovs as she fought to save her dynasty in its final years."

This lovely historical novel is the story of Dagmar, called Minnie, a teenager from an improvished line of Royals in Denmark. She seemed doomed to a second or third place in history, but she rose to become an Empress of Russia through her marriage to Alexander III and she became the Mother of the last Tzar of Russia, Nicholas. She lived in splendor and in hiding and depravation.  Both were vividly described by the author.

More importantly for me, the author brought to live all the various members of the Russian royal family. So often they are not as clearly delineated, one from another, and they simlply become a mass of humanity. This time the characters were real, with real foibles and strengths.

The Empress is shown as a daughter, wife, and mother. She is loved and honored, and sometimes used by those in power, but through her strength of character she proves that even from behind the throne, a woman can rule. I liked Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, Minnie. Thank you, C. W. Gortner for making her come alive for me.

Last week, July 17th, was the 100th year anniversary of the Imperial family's murder. The Empress was not with the family during their imprisonment, so she escaped their fate. In Grotner's novel we learn of her later years as she tried to find her place in the world after the Russian Revolution.

This is a must read if you like good historical fiction about the Romanov's. Now svailable online and at major outlets. I received an advance reading copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Writing Childhood Memories for someone else. Or, everyone has a story to tell.

I recently completed a three year project that had me digging into the childhood memories of a friend. I'm writing this post because I think others should do this for loved ones, friends, even strangers. Strangers, you ask. Yes. Work through your locale elder care services, VFW, American Legion, or retirement community, and they can point you to those in their care who have stories to tell and are willing, even wanting to tell them, but no one to listen.

For instance, what about the old man on the corner who sold fruits and veggies from his garage for years. He would even play his guitar for you if you asked. Now he's living in a retirement community. Did you know that he has a story to tell? He is a decorated WWII vet. Returning home, he toured with several country music groups. For most of us, he simply became "the tomato man on the corner." But, he has stories to tell, and his stories, and countless others like his, should be recorded and left for posterity.

One of our local retirement communities sponsors a summer history academy open to high school students. Student's families may attend which is how I became involved. The focus, however, is on the student and the resident as the resident tells his or her story. Often students meet with the residents more than once and hear their stories in detail. The students then write the history of that resident for books being compiled by the resident chaplin at the community. The books remain in the community's commons room.

We've heard from a lovely woman who was a young girl in London during the bombing of WWII.  We've heard from a State Supreme Court Justice involved in two of our state's largest stories in years. and from a couple who met during WWII in Japan and fell in love. It took an act, signed by President Truman, for them to marry.

One quiet lady shyly looked at the young high school girls sitting just across the table from her when she was describing her life in occupied Poland and said, "I don't know if I should describe what happened next to these lovely children." Our older population, wherever you live, whether they're family members or not, have stories to tell.

Now, about my friend...Terry has been in my life for for 40 years. We've worked together, played together and traveled together. For several years we left our husbands at home, and traveled somewhere for a "wild" girls' getaway week. Now she is unable to do this, so I go to her. She lives in a community without access to anyone to record her memories for her. There is no such program as described above and there are no family members to help. She is becoming less and less able to order her thoughts for periods of time. She is also losing her eyesight. She wanted her childhood memories recorded while she could recall some of them. So we got to work.

At first she could recall an event or a preson or two. Soon, each thing remembered brought up another memory. I was traveling from my home to hers, about 1000 miles each way, once or twice a year, and there were phone calls each day. She would call so excited for she had 'just' remembered something else. Memories were not in order and were often retold several times, sometimes with changes in the memory.

Still, through laughter and tears, we persevered, and now she has a product. The story of her life from birth until college. Because her father was career military, her memories come from places around the world. What looked like it would be just a few pages is now 161 pages, complete with photos from her childhood and photos I found online that augment her memories. It is large print, 24 pt text. That size fits under her table size magnifier and looks wonderful. And in a pinch, for just a moment, she can look at the book without help from others or her machine. She is proud of her accomplishment, and frankly, so am I.

You may think you know Grandma's story, or Dad's adventures, but you may be surprised at all the new stories he or she might have to offer you. You may think that old woman living alone down the street is nothing but trouble, but she may have an enchanting story to share with you. So, find an elderly person who would love for you to record their life story. You might just make a new friend who will enrich your life.

My entire family became involved in the writing of Terry's story. Each in their own way helping me and thus helping Terry. Even our youngest granddaughter. She saw the title and turned to me with a question. "But Mimi, I thought you said she is your friend. Why are you calling her a brat?" Time for the teacher in me to explain a new concept to a granddaughter and time for Terry to have a new memory, for after I told her this little story, she remembers it exactly and with a big smile on her face, repeats it to anyone who will listen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Happy Birthday Heart of my Heart

It's here. Jim's 82nd birthday. He is active, young at heart, and the heart of my heart. Two years ago when we celebrated his 80th birthday, a former employee of his at the Orlando Sentinel wrote Jim a lovely tribute. I'm printing it here for our family and friends who may not have seen it.
Picture, if you will late 1969, journalism and newsrooms of the day. Man has just landed on the moon and...

From Bill Dunn: July 8 2016

 80 years! Them’s a lot of years, Jim… Why, you’re older than chocolate chips! Older than Nylon and that mystery meat Spam! You’ve even been around longer than MGM’s Wizard of Oz...and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. 
But birthdays are nothing to be afraid of, pal -- it’s been scientifically proven that people who have the most birthdays live longer.
Officially an octogenarian, you’ve now outlived most of the wits and nit-wits who were our sidekicks back in the day… laboring as we did in smoke-filled newsrooms filled with gluepot fumes, serenaded by that bell-clanging symphony of wire service teletype machines, the clatter of typewriters and pneumatic tubes crashing into wooden boxes… I know, I know, it sounds more like a TV game show, but to think we labored in that cuckoo’s nest with the goal of getting our facts straight. What were we thinking?
You may be 80, Jim, one of the last men standing who remembers all that stuff, but to me you’ll always be that dashing young editor who moved about that maze of mayhem with all the cool efficiency of a honeybee drone on roller skates… Part boss, part buddy, there you were, always on the prowl for someone frazzled by headline or deadline... and asking, "How can I help?"
I’m especially grateful to you for going out of your way to help me “launch” my career when I arrived at the paper fresh out of J-school in the summer of ‘69… for not only adopting me but taking me home with you one memorable July night. On that occasion, as I recall, you taught me a thing or two about rapid-fire brainstorming … and also about professional dedication. Even with Faye and your precious newborn Tricia still down at the hospital, you babysat not-quite-two Dane with one hand and gave birth to the Apollo 11 moon landing keepsake edition with the other -- right there on your kitchen table! I’m not sure how impressed Faye was with your journalistic obstetrics, but as an aspiring newspaperman, I found it inspiring, for I knew that I had witnessed the true joys of labor and delivery.
Happy 80th… Peace & all good things in the years ahead.
 -- Bill Dunn

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Something in the water by Catherine Steadman is all about choices and consequences.

                            By Catherine Steadman

Something in the Water begins with Erin feverishly digging a grave.  Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave? Wonder no longer. Erin is about to tell you.

From the book’s blurb:
If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?

Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?”

My throughts: Two lovers, three prisoners, money laundrying, mobsters, deception, and something in the water.

Erin and Mark appear to be passionately in love. They marry and begin that dream honeymoon so many aspire to on a tropical island, In this case, Bora Bora. While scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .

Suddenly, it’s decision time. This book is all about decisions people make. It beautifully illustrates how one decision impacts many more down the road. The reader soon realizes that the decisions the characters make regarding their discovery changes the course of their lives.

Working through these decisions gives us a chance to get to know both characters better. For me, Erin was the stronger of the characters. Mark, the dark one capable of all manner of deceptions. Finally, I was asking, is Mark really who he we thought he was or have we been deceived all along.

After the gripping opening, the book slows to a crawl as the endorphines released by Erin's massive digging effort kick in, and the author, through Erin, suddenly uses too many words, full of self importance. This pattern reappears at the end of the novel as Erin thinks through the recent events. Additionally, there are also too many minute details throughout that do not move the action forward until finally the drama takes shape again and the action moves along nicely. 

There are many mysteries and intriques. The story and the characters were interesting but not compelling. Finally, to the ending…well, I wasn’t satisfied, but I’m sure others will find it all they hoped for and more. The ending does, I think, leave room for a sequel.

Still, I liked the book and am glad I read it. It is a debut novel by Catherine Steadman the actress who played Mabel in Downton Abbey.

The first question, the one that hooked me was answered by Erin.
 Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave? Wonder no longer. It takes an age. However long you think it takes, double that.”

 I received this book from NetGalley  in exchange for an honest review.. The book is now available at major bookstores and online.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris brought me back for a second reading!

From the book's blurb: 

She went missing. He moved on. A whole world of secrets remained—until now.

Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.”

The book moves quickly and for the most part is well-written. I cared about Finn and Ellen. And then there's Layla. Do I care about her? Maybe. I know that I didn't care much for the secondary characters and didn't think they were always essential to the storyline.

Bring Me Back is a psychological thriller that twists and turns with a Hitchcock ending and didn’t enthrall me until I finished the book. After completing the book, it would not move from my mind. I was questioning. ‘Did I miss something?’ ‘How did that happen?’ 

So I reread the book and the pieces fell into place, even the symbolically Russian nesting dolls,  and I enjoyed it. Still, does the reader have to read something twice to understand it? Most people don’t have that kind of time. 

I passed the book on to my daughter-in-law, and she loved it the first time. So, I think I just missed something the first time I read it. 

Now, we both recommend the book and look forward to more from B.A. Paris.

Available at major outlets after June 19, 2018. I received my copy from NetGalley for an unbiased review. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What one strong woman with determination can achieve: Ann Lowe on International Women's Day.

Sometime success stories come from the most unexpected sources. Meet Ann Lowe, the Granddaughter of a former slave, an Africian American woman born in a poor Southern town during the Jim Crow years of the American South. This setting was not exactly an encouraging one, but Ann had a talent and a dream, and nothing was going to stop her.

For months I researched this little known designer. The details of her life were scattered and often varied from source to source, but taking a cue from Ann herself, I perservered and am so glad I did. I learned that even at the height of her stardom, she was known only to the elite circle for whom she designed. She was, in her own words, a "design snob" and in the words of one interviewer a "secret known only to her society clients". But she was, oh, so much more. Here's my story of the research that allowed me into her social circle.

I met her in an airport in Maine. I was in the airport, she wasn't. She died decades ago, but as I was 'surfing the net' I came upon two sentences about her. A 'did you know' kind of post. I was blown away, for no, I didn't know and I thought the circumstances were such that I should.

Born in 1898, the great-granddaughter of a slave and a plantation owner, the granddaughter of a slave and a free man of color, she entered the world in a small, rural Alabama town. She descended from a long line of seamstresses and designers.

Through talent, determination, and a desire to reach a goal, she refused to let the circumstances of her birth keep her down. She didn't preach; she didn't march, she didn't give up. She allowed a dream to be born in her heart and in her own personal way, she overcame all obstacles and achieved her dream.

She designed for a first Lady of Alabama, for Gasparilla patrons of Tampa,  for an Oscar winner and for the socially elite of America. In the 1960's she appeared on the afternoon talk show, The Mike Douglas Show. Mike asked her what drove her to work so tirelessly. She remarked that she "wanted to prove that a Negro could be a major dress designer." From this statement I found the title for my book, Something to Prove, A Biography of Ann Lowe, America's forgotten designer.

When I began my research, I was writing an historical fiction. Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was, at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and  the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women. I decided that I could not do her justice in fiction. I could not get in her head and speak in her voice. I wanted her to speak for herself. And so she does.

Here's the blurb from the book cover:
"For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Years earlier, as the sun rose on the morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South, but from an early age she recognized her dreams.

Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future.

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding dress to the home of the bride. Even fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.
Even today, few know her story."


The biography is now complete. Along the way I have learned to marvel at what she overcame, and at the people she met. This woman who under normal circumstance might not be welcomed in their homes, became a darling to the Duponts, Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Posts, Auchinclosses, the Bouviers,..well you get my drift.

As I researched her life, I found beautiful gowns, and their owners. I have been in touch with some fascinating women. A concert pianist now living in Belgium, an academic in Ohio, a lovely socialite who invited me to her home, the daughter of a novelist whose works became the story for several John Wayne movies, including the unforgettable, Shane, and a lady who has the distinctive sound of my mother-in-law on the phone.

I've tramped through graveyards, seen homes falling down, visited with ladies who still speak of the members of her family with their family nicknames as if they are just around the corner, and I've driven through beautiful rolling hills only to find an improvised town at the end of the road, Ann's hometown.

I had fun with this research, even when I was pulling my hair out trying to find the beautiful brides, debutantes, and socialites from the 1950's and 60's. That's the beauty of research, you never know where the path will take you or who you will meet along the way. I love it.

I hope you will read and enjoy this small unpretentious biography of a strong woman.

From a review on Goodreads. "I could not put this book down. I am amazed that she has been so overlooked as an important designer for so long to so many. I attended fashion design school myself in the early 80's and yet had never heard of this phenomenal women. I enjoyed that it is written in "fact nugget" style."

 The book is published in three forms, with color photos, with black and white photos, and ebook for Kindle. All available through Amazon. AND, movie rights have been sold.