Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Goodbye 2014
The year of roller coaster adventures
Twists and turns unforeseen
The Ups were great times together
The Downs made us stronger
Now, 2014, you are here no longer 

Hello 2015
The year of new beginnings, fresh starts and new life
The horizon filled with green
Oh, 2015, if you hold new strife
What great new adventures to be shared
Let us be prepared

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Letters to Loretta from the Radio Shack: a great love story from World War II

Letters to Loretta from the Radio Shack by Laura Lynn Ashworth is a World War II love story told through the letters of Sal, a radio operator aboard the U.S.S. Signet and his lady love back home in Chicago, Loretta.

The story opens in January 1943 as Sal begins to write back home to Loretta who is 16. At the beginning, their letters are filled with life back home, popular music of the day and movies. They debate who is better: Glen Miller or Artie Shaw, two of the biggest band leaders of the 1940s. As the years go by and the war heats up in the Pacific, the letters from home become fewer and fewer. As February 1945 comes around, Loretta writes to Sal but gets no reply from him (as the reader knows that February 1945 is the battle of Iwo Jima). As book approaches March 1945, Loretta’s letters stop, Sal keeps writing in desperation as life on board is wearing thin. He continues to write even as his free time is greatly limited as the Signet approaches Okinawa. The story closes with a letter from Loretta after months of silence.

I really enjoyed this story and I highly recommend it. I could easily imagine life back home for Loretta as she grew up in a world at war and Sal, at sea, who is trying to stay close to home when he is so far away. Ms. Ashworth really compared the era of the 1940s: the music, the movies, the slang. Even though my grandparents didn’t met until after the war, I found myself imagining what if this was my grandfather writing home from war to my grandmother. The reader gets to see Sal and Loretta fall in love, have lover’s spats and make up in letter all awhile aware of the timeline of the war and where Sal is at that moment. Letters to Loretta from the Radio Shack brings a human view of the events of World War II. I also liked that the author, Ms. Ashworth, self-published this book so that she could control the proceeds. She gives 10% of the proceeds to the USO (United Service Organizations) and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).

Letters to Loretta from the Radio Shack
By Laura Lynn Ashworth
Is available on Amazon for the Kindle for $9.99 and in paperback for $13.39

As well as at the author’s website www.lauralynnashworth.com for $14.95

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mickey and the Plow Horse: a story of the impossible becoming possible

Mickey and the Plow Horse by Edward Dreyfus is a story about a shy teenager who is sent to summer camp by his parents. While he did resist going, he soon himself on an adventure that will change his life.

Mickey Branfield is a short, skinny 12 year old with asthma. He spends most of his time reading and playing video games. His parents send him to summer camp with the hopes that he meets new friends and come out of his shell. When he arrives at the summer, Mickey is determined to hate it. He soon meets Samantha “Sam” Hunter and Brian, his bunk mate. As the campers are signing up for various camp activities, Mickey is drawn to a plow horse, Jackson. Soon, the two have an amazing connection that heals Mickey as well as the horse. Mickey becomes more active and soon learns that he can do more than he ever thought he could.

Mr. Dreyfus is clinical psychologist who was inspired to write this book as an example that sometimes we are only held back by our own doubts and insecurities. Just because we think we can’t, then we don’t. I enjoyed reading this book and watching how Mickey is resisted to the changes in his life and very slowly he opens up to new and more exciting activities that he finds himself a very different person. I highly recommend this book for young adults who feel that they are limited when all they have to do is try.
Mickey and the Plow Horse
Is available on Amazon

On the Kindle for $4.95 and in paperback for $9.95

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mary, did she know? A Christmas Eve reflection

As Christmas Eve approaches, I think about Mary. A young girl, pregnant and married to a man she barely knows. She’s nine months pregnant and on an uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem for the census. When I was nine months pregnant, I was very uncomfortable, everything ached and I had modern conveniences. I can only imagine the aches and pains of Mary as she traveled on a donkey on a very long road. As they arrive in Bethlehem, her child is coming and she has to settle in a stable. A stable filled with smelly livestock as the baby Messiah begins His journey into the world.

I never truly grasped Mary’s journey until I am became a mother. The song, “Mary, did you know?” took on a whole new meaning. The song was written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene and originally recorded by Michael English in 1991. The song has since been covered by countless artists, most currently by Pentatonix, an a Capella group. The song asks Mary if she truly realized all the wondrous miracles that her child would grow up to do. A tiny baby who depends so much on his mother will one day fulfill the prophecies that Mary would have learned as she grew up. When Gabriel came to her with his birth announcement, did she fully understand then? Did she realize his mission at all the miracles he performed. Or did she fully understand as she watched him die on the cross? I think she did know, feared the future because she knew that God’s plan was greater than a mother’s love.

Committing herself to God’s will opened Mary to many different scenarios. At worst, she would be stoned to death for what she claimed. At best, she would be ridiculed. Knowing this, Mary said, “May it be as you have said” (Luke 1:38). When did she share this news with her family and friends, did she know the skepticism she would face? I admit if someone today claimed that she would become pregnant with God’s child and he would become the Messiah, I would believe she was crazy. Did Mary receive this reaction too? I’m sure she did and she still kept the faith and allowed God to use her to bring His son into the world. Her faith was courageous. She risked everything for God’s will and promise. She would have a child and raise him. He would go out into the world and perform miracles. She would watch him suffer for the sins of the world.

Mary had a small mention in the Bible but she played a big role in fulfillment of the prophecy which would bring the world her Messiah. This Christmas as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember the young girl who said yes to God, despite the cost to her life. Her story is an example of how God uses everyone in great and small ways for His purpose.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gift cards are still great gifts.

Three days until Christmas and the shoppers are out in force, trying to find that one last gift. However, don’t get a gift card, or at least, according to Big Lots. The recent Big Lots commercial is advertising real gifts, saying “You don’t tell the one you love/Go buy your own gift/Giving someone shopping’s weird.” Since when is giving gift cards bad and a little hypocritical from a store which offers gift cards! I have two main reasons why gift cards are still viable and great gifts.

First, gift cards allow you to treat someone to their favorite restaurant or activity, for instance, a spa day. For instance, you know someone who loves Starbucks coffee. Why not give them a Starbucks gift card and they can buy coffee for weeks or even months after Christmas. It’s a great gift. Or to someone who loves the movies, a gift card to the local theater is a gift they can use when they want to see the next movie and treat themselves to the concession stand.

Second, gift cards are great gifts to give when you know someone likes something but you aren’t sure what they have already. For instance, like me, a book lover. How many of my friends and family know what books I like or which ones I’ve read? Do they run the risk of giving me a book that I’ve already read and then I have to return? How is that not giving someone shopping? Another example, you are shopping for a teenager, unless you really, really know what he or she likes and needs, a gift card is always the better bet. It’s better than giving something they don’t like and have no idea what to do with.

Sorry, Big Lots, gift cards are great gifts. I’d rather give a gift card that says “here go shopping on me” than give them a gift they already have or don’t like and still have to go shopping to replace it. Gift cards are a great way to allow someone to buy something they probably wouldn't buy themselves. Gift cards give someone endless possibilities. I suppose it’s another reason why I don’t shop at your store and probably never will.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Flying into the Night: a story of romance and adventure

Flying into the Night by Freya Velander is a story about the adventures of Eldora Silva, fresh from a divorce, she begins a career as a Flight Officer for an airline and soon finds herself in a situation that she may not get out of. The book is billed as a “gripping adventure and high-flying passionate romance” with terror, seduction, and betrayal (source: author interview).

The story opens with Eldora interviewing for the position of Flight Officer for a Boeing 727. While she is there, she meets Captain Rick Cunningham, a handsome pilot for the same airline. They soon begin a sexual relationship, meeting whenever they are both in the same town. Her good friend, Joel, is a secretive man who recruits her and Capt. Rick to fly a plan into Managua, Nicaragua. She has no idea way they need her to fly but since the airline pilots are on strike, she has nothing better to do. While in Nicaragua, she meets Kyle, who is on the trip with them. Soon, Eldora finds herself in danger, who can she trust: Joel, Capt. Rick or Kyle?

I found Flying into the Night to be a boring attempt at a romance adventure story. First I couldn’t related to any characters, especially Eldora. I didn’t like her use of “oh my goddess.” What is that? Second, I didn’t feel there was a story, no build up, no suspense. I didn’t see any real growth in Eldora from her experiences. What I did like was Ms. Velander’s description of the Boeing 727, the interview process for pilots and Ms. Velander is a pilot herself and her descriptions of inside the cockpit allowed someone who has never been inside one, get a feel of how a plane is flown and the people involved. Overall, as a fan of romance adventure stories, I felt Flying into the Night doesn’t live up to the competition. It’s an easy read with no real story.

Flying into the Night is available
On Amazon on the Kindle for $3.99
In hardback for $33.99
And in paperback for $14.99

Thursday, December 18, 2014

OneRepublic: one of my new favorite bands

I love music. Unfortunately, I don’t get to listen to the radio very often. So when I discover new music, it is usually months or even years after the music has been released. This was the case with my discovery of the band, OneRepublic. I came across their songs one day while surfing YouTube and I enjoyed their sound. Little did I know that the band has been around for a while.

OneRepublic is an American pop rock band formed in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2002 by friends Ryan Tedder and Zach Filkins. The two were high school friends as seniors at Colorado Springs Christian High School. They would be joined by Drew Brown, Eddie Fisher, and Brent Kutzle. The band received commercial success as an unsigned act on Myspace and in 2007, their debut album, Dreaming Out Loud, was released. The songs “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare” were hits and the band released their second album, Waking Up, in 2009. This albums released even more hits, such as “All the Right Moves,” “Secrets,” “Marchin On,” and “Good Life.” In 2013, OneRepublic released their third album, Native, which is off to a good start, producing numerous hits, such as “Counting Stars,” “I Lived” and most recently, “Love Runs Out.”

The band counts many musical influences such as Fiona Apple, Peter Gabriel and most heavily The Beatles and U2. One Republic has expressed that they wish to move listeners the way U2 does with their music and their stage productions. I think the band is off to a good start. The band members will learn any instrument which will help enhance their songs. They play the standard guitars, pianos, keyboards and tambourine. However, they also play unique instruments which I’ve never heard of before. First, the glockenspiel is a percussion instrument which is similar to a xylophone except it has tuned steel plates than wood. Second, the marimba is a percussion instrument that consists of wooden bars with are stuck with a mallet. And finally, the cajon, a Peruvian six-sided box percussion drum.

While I love many of their songs, my favorite is “Counting Stars.” In an interview, Ryan Fedder explained that he wrote the song about the financial problems he and his wife had when they were first married. He explained that the song was about the worry and the stress about wondering how to pay rent and other bills. The open verse is what speaks to me the most: “Lately I been, I been losing sleep/Dreaming ‘bout the things that we could be/But baby, I been, I been prayin’ hard/Said no more counting dollars/We’ll be counting stars/Yeah, we’ll be counting stars.” Anyone who has had financial issues can relate to the late night and sleepless nights worrying about money. I came across this song when my husband and I were in a financial bind and I knew that one day we would fix it and this upbeat song helped boost myself to say yes, we’ll get through this.

If you haven’t heard OneRepublic’s music, I highly recommend it. Their songs are fun, dance worthy as well as emotional and inspirational. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two series filled with action, adventure and characters you can relate to

Today, I’m going to write about two book series which are filled with mythologies, modern day adventures and great imagination. These series introduces Greek and Roman mythologies in a new and inventive way that will spark the readers’ imaginations.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a series of five books which follows Percy Jackson and his friends on quests of epic proportions. First, The Lightning Thief is where we meet Percy, a 12 year old boy who suffers from ADHD and dyslexia who discovers that his father is Poseidon, the Greek god of the ocean. Someone has stolen Zeus’ master bolt and Percy is accused of being the thief. Along with his companions, Annabeth, daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr, Percy must find and return the bolt to prevent a war among the gods. Second, The Sea of Monsters opens with the Camp Half-Blood, the home of many demigods, is under attack. Someone has poisoned the tree which protects the borders. Percy, Clarisse, daughter of Ares, and Annabeth are sent to the Sea of Monsters to retrieve the Golden Fleece and save the camp. Third. The Titan’s Curse has Annabeth and Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, kidnapped. Percy joins Grover along with new demigods, Thalia, Zoe, and Bianca on a great quest to find Artemis before the winter solstice meeting of the Olympian Council because the goddess is needed as the growing war with the Titans. Fourth, The Battle of the Labyrinth has Annabeth has been sent on a quest into the labyrinth to find Daedalus, the creator of the labyrinth, and prevent the Titan army from finding the entrance to the camp from the labyrinth. Lastly, The Last Olympian is the final battle between the demigods and the Titan army. Percy finally hears the Great Prophecy which has been whispered among the demigods for years. Can Percy decipher the prophecy in time to stop the Titan army or will this be the end of Olympus?

The Heroes of Olympus is a second series which features all the characters from the Percy Jackson series as well as introduces new ones. In this series, the narration alternates between the characters, giving the audience a new perspective within the minds of the characters. First, The Lost Hero introduces Jason Grace, who has woken up on a bus without his memory and no idea who he is. Along with his friends, Piper and Leo, Jason is taken to Camp Half-Blood by Annabeth. They must discover who he is, who has stolen his memories and discover his connection to Percy, who has disappeared. A new threat in Gaea, a primal element of the creation of the final, is raising and wishes to take control of the world. Second, The Son of Neptune opens with Percy finds himself being chased by two gorgons and no memory who he is. He comes across Juno who offers him a deal. He agrees and finds himself at Camp Jupiter, the Roman equivalent to Camp Half-Blood. Percy, along with Hazel and Frank, goes on a quest to free Thanatos who has been captured which has kept death from occurring. Will this help Percy regain his memory and find his way home? Third, The Mark of Athena has the two camps joining together to confront a new quest. They must find the Mark of Athena, a statue that was stolen from the Greeks by the Romans and lost in time, in order to stop the Roman demigods from destroying Camp Half-Blood. Fourth, The House of Hades finds Percy and Annabeth in the depths of Tartarus as the rest of the demigods race to find the doors to Tartarus, rescue Percy and Annabeth and close them forever. Meanwhile, Annabeth and Percy must travel through Hell to the doors as they are confronted with many of the monsters they’ve battled before. Will they be able to close the doors in time? Lastly, The Blood of Olympus is the final push to stop Gaea. As Gaea’s powers grows, the team must race against time and giant monsters to save the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed these series. The Percy Jackson series covers five years and the Heroes of Olympus covers one year. Each book grows with complexity and adventure. I loved how Rick Riordan mixes modern day with the classical Greek and Roman mythologies. These series are filled with suspense and adventure. Mr. Riordan creates characters that the readers can connect to and eager to see survive their beyond belief adventures. While the characters are battling mythological monsters, they still face real world problems which readers may have faced themselves and may be able to see a solution to their own problems. I highly recommend The Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus series. I look forward to Rick Riordan’s future series.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What happiness means to me

With the Christmas season in full swing, everyone is shopping for that perfect gift. The gift which will make someone else happy. What is happiness? How does someone know what will make someone else happy? Everyone is searching for what will make them happy. Happiness is different for everyone. It is difficult to define without diving into philosophy and psychology. When I think of happiness, I think of the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” it is the same for happiness. Happy people realize who makes them happy, will look for the silver lining, and allows happy moments to just happen.

First, you are in charge of making yourself happy. No one else can do it for you. If you are unhappy with your job, find a way to change it. Maybe it would with a new position or even a new job. Many people are looking for the Mr. Right or Mrs. Right to marry and make them happy. Requiring someone else to be completely in charge of your happiness is a difficult and almost impossible thing to do. Many couples with this mentality often will run from the relationship when the person fails to live up to such a task. We must take responsibility for our own happiness and find it where we can. Although, I do know some people just can’t be happy no matter what the situation. They may have their dream job and will find something wrong with it.

Second, there's a saying that is attributed to many different people. It says that happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them. Every life will have its problems. People get sick, into accidents and run into a variety of different troubles. The difference between happy people and unhappy people is the ability to look for the silver linings in their lives regardless of their problems. For instance, when the family car gets into an accident, while the loss of a car is a burden, most people will be happy that no one was serious hurt or killed. Happy people tend to enjoy the little things in life than the stuff you can get or do. For me, happiness does come in the small things. It’s hanging out with my husband and my daughter. It’s hanging out at home watching football or a movie. It is laughing over a board game and enjoying home cooked meals.

Third, happiness usually comes when you sit back and relax. As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued is always just beyond your grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” I like this quote because it describes how I used to live and how I have changed. I used to pursue and force happiness and it would only leave me disappointed and depressed. Until I sat back, let go and let God. Now I am happily married with a beautiful daughter. We may not have much but what we do have, we cherish. Sometimes what we can desperately trying to find will come to us when we relax and let it come. Sometimes it will come in ways we would have never imagined!

In conclusion, happiness isn’t the goal, it’s the journey. It’s in the moments as life happens. A common misconception is that a happy person has a happy life, that every moment is happy and good. Life just doesn’t work that way. Humans were made with a wide range of emotions. We get sad, angry, depressed, and annoyed. Just because we experience these emotions in the moment doesn’t mean we can’t have a happy life. In the life filled with struggles and strife, you sometimes can find the happiest people. Why? Because they look for the happiness in the everyday moments than in the whole picture. The example that comes to mind is the Tiny Tim Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, who is filled with happiness and positive thoughts despite being seriously ill. Sometimes having a Tiny Tim state of mind can go a long way.

Friday, December 12, 2014

1001 A.D.: a story about the Viking adventures in the New World

1001 A.D. by Wes Wetzel is an adventure story of Leif Ericson and the first Vikings to explore North America. Leif Ericson was a famous explorer who is famous for settling Vinland which is in modern day Newfoundland.

The story opens with Jonathan Henry, an archaeologist giving a lecture at Cornell University. He is discuss the amazing discovery that a U.N. team sent to explore the effects of global warming in Greenland. The team discovered the remains of a Viking village. In the village, they discover the ruins of a church and images of iron hammer and well as two sunken Viking ships in the harbor. While excavated the site, they discover old hide scrolls in Old Norse script. The team discovers it is the journal of Eric Thorson, a Viking man born in 975 and a friend of Leif Ericson. The audience is then introduced to the life and adventures of Eric Thorson and the Vikings who left their home in Iceland, settled in Greenland and would explore to new land in the New World.

I enjoyed this book as it explored a part of history that is often forgotten as Christopher Columbus is celebrated as the “discoverer” of the New World. Since the 1960s, there have been discoveries of evidence that the Vikings were in North American almost 500 years before Columbus. I enjoyed Mr. Wetzel’s imagination of what life may have been like for these men and women who adventured from their home to create a new home in new lands. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy reading about another piece of history. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 10th: Alfred Nobel Day and the Nobel Prizes

December 10th is Alfred Nobel Day in Sweden. We are all familiar with the Nobel Prizes. They are handed out every year in five categories: physics, chemistry, literature, physiology or medicine and peace. Although many of us probably don’t pay much attention to the awards, but they are awards for great achievements in the chosen categories. The Nobel Prizes have been handled out almost every year for the past 113 years all because one man wanted to change his legacy. Here are some interesting facts I learned:

Alfred Nobel was born October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. He would become a chemist, engineer and inventor. He would amass a fortune from his 355 inventions with dynamite being the most famous. In 1888, Nobel read his own obituary in a French newspaper which called him “the merchant of death” due to his inventions which would be the precursors for military grade explosives. The article would state that Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” The obituary would be eight years premature as the newspaper mistaken him for his brother, Ludvig, who had died. The article left him concerned about how he would be remembered. He changed his will and he would die on December 10, 1896 from a cerebral hemorrhage in San Remo, Italy. He was 63 years old.

His will would specify that 94% of his fortune would be used to create a series of prizes for those who work for the “greatest benefit of mankind.” He stated that the prizes would be in the categories of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology/medicine and literature. There was a great skepticism about the validity of the will and the prize would not be approved until April 1897. The Nobel Foundation would be formed by Nobel’s will executors, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist. The first prizes were handed out in 1901 to: Wilhelm Rontgen (Physics: X-rays), Sully Rudhomme (Literature: Poetry), Emil von Bhering (Physiology/Medicine: an antitoxin for diphtheria), Jacobus van’t Hoff (Chemistry: chemical thermodynamics) and Henry Dunant and Frederic Passy (Peace: their role in the founding of the International Red Cross).

There are a lot of interesting facts about the Nobel prices. The Curie family would be the most decorated family with five prizes. Marie Curie would receive prizes in Physics (1903) with her husband, Pierre Curie and in Chemistry in 1911. Their daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, and her husband, Frederic Joliot-Curie, would receive the prize in Chemistry (1935). The Curie’s son-in-law, Henry Labouisse, would receive the prize in Peace (1965) as director of UNICEF. President Theodore Roosevelt would be the first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his successful mediation of the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

To some receiving the Nobel Prize is a high honor and accomplishment; however, there have been some who have said, thanks but no thanks. Jean-Paul Sartre declined the prize for Literature in 1964. He said, “A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form.” Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Peace Prize for his role in the Paris Accords which ended the Vietnam War. He won the award with Henry Kissinger but he declined, claiming that there wasn’t an actual peace in Vietnam.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Secrets of a Charmed Life: a story of choices and survival

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner is the story of one woman’s journey through WWII in England as her life is torn apart by the London Blitz. The description on the back of the book says it all: “She stood at a crossroads, half-aware that her choice would find her down a path from which there could be no turning back. But instead of two choices, she only saw one- because it was all she really wanted to see…”

The story opens with Kendra Van Zant, an American college student studying abroad at Oxford, is on her way to interview Isabel MacFarland, a survivor of the London Blitz and who has refused interviews until now. Kendra arrives on the day of Mrs. MacFarland’s 93rd birthday party. As they settle down for the interview, Mrs. MacFarland opens her story with she is not Isabel and she’s not 93. The story then turns to London in 1941, as Emmy Downtree, 15 years old and her seven year old sister, Julia, are admiring dresses in the window of a bridal shop. Soon, Emmy and her sister are sent to the country as the children are evacuated from London. Even though Emmy enjoys her stay in the country with her foster family, she foolishly heads back to London. Her world would be torn apart on September 7, 1940 as the London Blitz begins. Emmy is separated from her mom and sister. We know that she survives the Blitz but will she find her sister and how does she change her name is Isabel?

I received a copy of this book through Goodreads as a part of their book giveaway. Since I have read a couple of books by Ms. Meissner before, I was anxious to read this one. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I loved the detailed about wartime England, the descriptions of the London Blitz were terrifying and the reader will get a sense of what it was like to be in London at the time. I loved reading how Emmy becomes Isabel and how she rebuilds her life after the war. I highly recommend this book.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Will be available February 3, 2015
On Amazon for the Kindle $7.99 and paperback for $15
As well as other booksellers

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How to recognize sincerity versus insincerity

Sincerity is the quality of being free from pretense, deceit or hypocrisy. It is a virtue of one who speaks and acts truly about his or her own feelings, beliefs, thoughts and desires. We all know people who are sincere as well as know people who are insincere. The trouble is figuring out which is which. George Burns once said “Sincerity – if you can fake that you’ve got it made.” There are ways to recognize genuine sincerity regardless how good they are at faking it.

How do you recognize true sincerity? First, people who act the same regardless of the group they are in and when they are alone. For example, someone who is sincere will have the same attitude whether they are with their family, friends, and co-workers or by themselves. Second, sincere people will do things because they want to and not with thought of reward or repayment later. For example, someone is a couple dollars short at the cash register, a sincere person will hand over the money without expectation of being paid back. If repayment is made, great. If not, that’s great too because he or she did it because someone needed help. Third, sincere people will not do or say things they do not believe in. For example, a sincere person will not say they don’t believe in eating meat and then chow down on a bacon cheeseburger.

How do you recognize insincerity? First, insincere people who always take but never give. They may promise to reciprocate one day but that day never comes. Second, insincere people will avoid eye-to-eye communication and will often deliver bad news through a text or email. Third, insincere people have an excuse for everything and nothing is their fault. The fate is holding them back. George Orwell once wrote “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms.” In other words, be short and sweet. If a friend asks for a favor and you don’t want to do it, just say so. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said. “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” Short and sweet.

We all have moments of sincerity and insincerity. We all have said and done what we meant and we’ve all have not. While researching this topic, I realized that the most insincere people who have been in my life have a way of moving out of my life on their own. There are a few insincere people who are stuck in my life and I deal with their insincerity as it comes. I also realized that the people who stick around and are actively engaged in my life and allow me to be a part of their lives are the most sincere people. I have learned to recognized those who say “I want to help” and finds ways to help and others who say “I want to help” and never do. Bottom line is sincere people will walk the walk after they’ve talked the talk.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Defending Jacob: a murder mystery that will keep you guessing

Defending Jacob by William Landay is the story of a parents’ worst nightmare to have to defend their child against a horrible charge: murder. How far does a parent’s belief in their child’s innocence go when the evidence is staking against him? Should a parent blindly believe in their innocence?

The story begins in the days after the murder of a local boy named Billy Rifkin. The quiet, small town of Newton, Massachusetts is shook to its core at this brutal crime. Andrew “Andy” Barber is the First Assistant District Attorney leading the investigation. The best clue they have is a single bloody fingerprint on the boy’s clothing. Soon, his life with wife, Laurie, is turned upside down as fingers are being pointed at Andy’s son, Jacob, a quiet and shy fourteen year who liked video games and the internet. As Andy begins to dig into his son’s life, he becomes afraid of is known as the “murder gene” and the question: is violence hereditary? As any parent fears, Andy learns that there is a darker side to his quiet son. Soon, the fingerprint has been identified- it’s Jacob’s. The case against him is fast tracked and any investigations into other possible suspects is dropped. Did Jacob kill Ben Rifkin? Was it someone else hidden in the shadows?

This story had so many twists and turns that even after finishing the book leaves more questions than answers, not unlike real criminal cases. Not all investigations and trials are as black and white as they are sometimes portrayed on TV. As to the murder gene, I think if you look into any family long enough and far back enough, you will find less than savory behavior and individuals. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could not put in down and finished it within one day. There were a few lighter moments with the very serious topic. There is one statement that Andy makes about Whole Foods grocery stores that made me laugh because I feel the same way. I also enjoyed that the author leaves judgment up to the reader while challenging their understanding in what is inherited and what is learned. The ending is shocking and left me saying “WHAT?!?!?” The reader is left wondering who the real killer is. Was the killer the one who confessed or the one who got away? I highly recommend Defending Jacob. It is a great mystery that leaves no clear answer as to who, what or why.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Justice: easier to define, harder to implement

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer and the cries that justice had not been done got me thinking what is justice? The legal definition of justice is the constant and perpetual disposition to render every man his due. In other words, justice is about fairness and moral rightness. In our legal system, it is the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals. How do we know when justice has been done? How do we know that the right person was punished?

The image of Lady Justice is a combination of the Roman goddess Justitia and the Greek goddess Themis. She is depicted with a set of scales in her right hand which she measures the strengths of a case’s support and opposition. In her left hand, she holds a double-edged sword which symbolizes the power of Reason and Justice that may be wielded either for or against any party. The Roman and Greek goddesses aren’t blindfolded as Lady Justice is today. The blindfold first appears in the 15th century to represent objectivity. Justice is to be handed out without fear or favor, regardless of identity, wealth, power or weakness.

But is justice really handed out regardless of identity, wealth, power or weakness? No, it isn’t. There are countless of examples where the rich and powerful were able to use the system in order to get what they want. For example, all the rights regarding trials given to us in the Bill of Rights aren’t really given to all citizens. Depending on the crime and the wealth of the defendant, many cases are pushed through the system. One reason being that the court’s dockets are so full that there isn’t enough time to give every case the full extent of the legal rights. Another reason is most defendants don’t have the money to hire an attorney who can effectively argue their case. There are also examples of being rich and powerful is a strike against regardless if any wrongdoing was actually done. For example, the civil lawsuits against big corporations with depictions of the fat cat executives who don’t care that their products are harmful. Is this image true? Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.

Is justice served because one side got the outcome they wanted? Or is justice served because the wrongdoer got the punishment he or she deserved? According to one article, the goal of justice is make the victim feel equal or whole again (Edmonds July 6, 2010). How does one make the victim feel whole again through the legal system? I can’t imagine the anguish of a family who has lost someone through the actions of someone else. But how does the legal system make them whole again? This is why I believe in this statement: “Justice remains a hard topic to pin down because people often disagree over what they deserve and whether they’ve received it” (Edmonds July 6, 2010). Is justice subjective instead of objective?

In conclusion, our criminal justice system is fallible. It’s fallible because it was designed and is carried out by humans. A human is on the bench as judge, humans serve as attorneys, witnesses and jurors. Humans are fallible. Humans will lie, cheat and forget. I hear the outcry over the Ferguson case and I see the destruction that was caused over the decision. How does violence get the justice you think you deserve? As Pope John Paul II said, “Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” Can justice truly be attained? Alfred Nobel didn’t think so, he said “justice is found only in the imagination.” Is justice one of those ideas which will only exist in a perfect society?

Edmonds, Molly. “What is justice?” 06 July 2010 www.howstuffworks.con date retrieved 25 November 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doggie Delicious: a story of discovering new skills

Doggie Delicious by Mary Jo Wisneki Johnston is an imaginative book about a dog on a ranch who grows wings and learns to fly. The story begins as the narrator is approached by a stranger telling her that her new dog is waiting for her over there. She and her husband had no intentions to get a new dog but were curious about the stranger’s message. They soon fall in love with a puppy and go through the adoption process. They name their new dog Bialy Habibti, which is Polish and Arabic for White Honey, and call her Bibi for short. Soon, strange things begin to happen on the ranch and Bibi is growing wings. With her new abilities, she begins to help around the ranch in ways that no one else can and she inspires the other animals to display their unique talents.

Doggie Delicious was a cute story which kids will have fun imagining a dog who can fly. There are a few minor annoyances I found. For instance, the narrator kept explaining what the abbreviations were that she used. Explain once and that’s it. The repetitive explanations are unnecessary. I like the message of the story to keep the faith, determination and courage to fulfill your dreams. The “possibilities are endless with belief and persistence.”

Doggie Delicious is available on Amazon

In hardcover for $24.95 and in paperback for $18.95

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!!

Today is Thanksgiving. In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Thanksgiving has its origins in English traditions from the Protestant Reformation with aspects of a harvest festival as well as the English Reformation and King Henry VIII. Thanksgiving is a day of food, family and football! Yes, football is a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday as college football games were played on this holiday since 1876 when Yale and Princeton began the tradition of playing each other. The Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving since 1936 and the Dallas Cowboys have played on this holiday since 1966. A third game was added in primetime in 2006.

Many cultures around the world have a form of a thanksgiving feast. Celebrations to mark a good harvest, a wedding or a birth of a child. The Wampanoag tribe helped the Puritans and Pilgrims as they arrived in America. The first Thanksgiving was held after a good harvest and a year of health and prosperity. Over the years, the two traditions of a solemn European Puritan thanksgiving would be combined with the Wampanoag celebrations to become a celebration of joyous gratitude. The traditions of Thanksgiving continued as George Washington declared the first Thanksgiving as a national holiday and it was declared every year. Thomas Jefferson would be the only president to refuse to declare a day of thanksgiving, calling it “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.” Thanksgiving as we know it today was fixed to the fourth Thursday in November on December 26, 1941 by President Roosevelt, changing President Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation of the final Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

Today, many people see it as a feast before heading out to go Christmas shopping on Black Friday. They plan their dinner around the best times to head out and stand in line. I refused to shop on Black Friday because it takes away from Thanksgiving. Many of my childhood memories of Thanksgiving were playing flag football at the park, playing on my grandparents’ swing set or gathered around the TV watching the football game. It wasn’t bundling up to wait outside a retail show to save a few hundred dollars. I want my children to have the same memories I did. I want them to look back at the fun times we have on Thanksgiving and not the craziness and insanity of people who will knock you to the ground because you are standing in their way of something they want.

Thanksgiving to me is about time with family and friends and to be thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed on us. This year, I am thankful for:

  • The grace, strength and endurance that God has granted me this year. This year has been a tough one for my family and I am grateful for every little blessing. 
  • My wonderful husband and daughter who keep me going through dark times. I am thankful that my husband works as hard as he does so I am able to stay home with our daughter. It may not last forever but I am grateful for the time I have. 
  • The improving health of my friend. I’m grateful that dreams so long denied are finally coming true. Every day I pray for improvement.
  • For family and friends who give and support my family in times of crisis and stress regardless of their own needs and struggles. I hope that one day I can truly repay their kindness. 

Thanksgiving has different meanings to different people. Whatever it may be mean to you, please take this time to think about the little blessings in your life that you may take for granted during year. Be thankful for the job you may hate because it helps put food on the table and a roof over your head. Be thankful for the clunker of a car that still gets you from point A to point B despite its problems. Be thankful every day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two new titles for the wonderful "If you were me and lived in..." series

Two more great books from the If you were me and lived in… series. First, we visit Peru where the readers learn about this South America country and its culture, weather, and topography. We learn that Peru has many different climates from dry plains to the wet Amazon Rain Forest. The Andes Mountains runs through Peru and is the home of the famous city of Machu Picchu. Ceviche, a popular Peruvian dish, is discussed as well as other not so famous dishes. 

Second, we visit Greece, the “crossroads of Europe, western Asia, and Africa.” The readers learn about Athens, the largest city in Greece and the “cradle of western civilization” and the birthplace of democracy. Greek food is mentioned giving few examples of delicious Greek food like the loukoumades, doughnuts with honey and cinnamon. Of course, you can’t read about Greece and not learn about the Olympic Games and its origins. As well as the Feast of St. Basil at the New Year where a coin is hidden inside a cake and whoever finds the coin is said to have good luck in the new year.

I highly recommend this books for any classroom or family library. All titles in this series are available in Amazon on the Kindle for $0.99 and in paperback for $8.68

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Forgotten Knight: a new twist on a knight in shining armor

The Forgotten Knight by Emilie DeRitter is an adventure about a knight named Sir Christopher of Calidore who has been cursed to travel from kingdom to kingdom, doing good deeds until the end of his days. His traveling companions are a sorceress named Aurora of Beldain and his faithful horse, Jonathan.

The story opens with a cry for help. Sir Christopher and his companions follow the sound to find Princess Gwenyth trapped in a mirror. They defeat the evil wizard, Varuk, and rescue the princess. They agree to take the princess home. On the journey to Gwenyth’s home, they save a family from a burning barn, they rescue a band of centaurs from a Cyclops, and they save a kingdom from an ogre. Duke William of Romalia is grateful for the heroes’ efforts and offers them a place to stay. While they are there, Princess Gwenyth falls in love with the duke. Sir Christopher leaves her there as he continues on his task. Along the way, he meets new dangers, new friends, and battles an old enemy. Will Sir Christopher ever be able to break the curse and live happily ever after?

I enjoyed this book as a great adventure with fast paced battles of mystical beasts and knights in shining armor. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and I loved the ending which I can’t reveal but it’s very sweet and touching. I recommend this book for young readers who are looking for a great adventure story with knights, magic and battles.

The Forgotten Knight by Emilie De Ritter
Is available at Amazon.com for the Kindle $6.99

and on paperback $10.95