Hallmark TV Movies – How Life is Supposed to Be!

Forget the violence, the long car chase scenes, the F-word, blowing up people and things  -Turn immediately to either of the two Hallmark TV channels. (One is a mystery channel.) I say this knowing that the men that follow this blog just groaned and clicked off. Such a shame, since Hallmark movies, regardless of the theme, give us a world we wish were still true.

Take the Christmas movies: You can count on Carol singers at the door, gingerbread houses made in the kitchen,  a Christmas tree with ornaments that go back to a Santa popsicle stick made in the first grade. There is fresh and fluffy snow on the ground and a Main Street that looks like a fairyland. Of course, there must be a problem, perhaps the Christmas Tree farm will have to close, the very one that provides the tree for the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony in the square. We must have a high powered woman who comes to town from New York or someplace equally far from this idyllic setting. My favorites are when the roads are closed and she can’t leave.  Then there is a wonderful family with a handsome son who is widowed, raising a charming child. Of course, this beautiful woman is in a committed relationship, or worse, is engaged. I mean, these movies are wonderful! You can absolutely count on the fact, that in the end, they KISS.  Ah, happily ever after!

Hallmark movies are a grand escape from things like the advertisement that is running about the one you love smelling up the bathroom. Really? They are a throwback to the movies I watched growing up in Evanston, IL. at the Varsity or Valencia movie theaters — Doris Day and Rock Hudson, twin beds, with a nightstand between. Robes carefully laid at the end of the bed. The truth is I love a good movie. I don’t count these Hallmark movies in the same category as my favorites: Anthony Hopkins in 84 Charing Cross Road, Russell Crowe in A Good Year, Diane Lane in Under the Tuscon Sun. Except that you mix up the Hallmark actors occasionally because they are interchangeable, playing one part here, and another in the next, you can shed a tear, find yourself smiling, and saying, “Nice!”

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I Hope You Made Time to Read This Summer

We are all asking the same question — where did the summer go? I hope my summer books, which I have recommend to you, where suggestions you took me up on.  This is my last review in this series – Summer Time and the Livin’ Is Easy.  I’m sure you read  “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.”  The story of a clandestine book club living on the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands during World War II.  Mary Ann Shaffer, the author, fell ill before the book was ready for publication. Her niece Annie Barrows, a children’s author, completed it. I just watched the movie on Netflicks and loved it too.  Drawing inspiration from her late aunt’s home state of West Virginia, Barrows has written her first adult novel, “The Truth According To Us”

The story takes place in 1938 in the fictional town of Macedonia, W.Va. It’s a novel about a family with well-written characters, an intriguing plot set in the south with its social sensibilities. The one problem I had with the book was reading it on the last hot and humid days of August, combined with the oppressive heat in Macedonia, the book became a sweet tea must.

Layla Beck, daughter of a U.S. senator, is exiled to rural Macedonia by her father after she turns down a marriage proposal he thinks is suitable. She finds employment through the Federal Writers’ Project, which creates jobs for historians, librarians, and writers during the Depression.  She’s there to write a history of the town in honor of its sesquicentennial. While collecting material for her book, Layla revises her opinion of what small-town West Virginia people must be like; the story unfolds in a satisfying and well-written fashion. I highly recommend you add it to your late fall reading after things cool off.

 

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Summer Time and the Livin’ is Easy – Making Time to Read- Alan Bradley’s The Dead and Their Vaulted Arches

I’ve been reviewing books that I have loved reading this summer. August days are dwindling down and my summer reading has been more than satisfactory. The highlight of ‘making time to read’ is a trip planned with book club friends to Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Bookstore this week. Click Here for more about Quail Ridge.  I consider Alan Bradley a writer’s writer always demonstrating how it should be done. Hence, I’m recommending another book in his series. (Book jacket on right.)No one writes a setting- a time, a sense of place into a story better than Bradley. Here is an example:

Mrs. Mullet had fetched out and cleaned one of the mothballed school uniforms that Harriet, when she was my age, had been made to wear at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, Canada: a black-belted horror worn with long black stockings and a white blouse that made me look like one of those grotesque but amusing creatures from Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian’s cartoons. Like Father and Dogger, Mr. Searle had been a prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore, and his work was much admired by some of us at Buckshaw. 

Here is the blurb about this story, which will give you a peek into the world of Flavia de Luce. On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her lost mother, Harriet. Upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and the usual village characters, another well written, wonderful story unfolds.

 CLICK HERE: MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR AND THE FLAVIA DE LUCE SERIES

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Summer time and the ‘Livin is Easy – Making Time to Read – Joseph E. Persico’s Roosevelt’s Centurions

It was not until the days of my life have begun to dwindle down to a precious few, as the song, September says, that I suddenly needed to know more about the background in which my life has been set. In particular, the people whose names have followed me through my life. When our monuments came under threat, how was I to defend them when I knew so little about the story they represented? What about Jefferson, Grant, Lee? My reading life changed directions as I have pursued what I think of as the backstory of my life. Growing up, Teddy Roosevelt was the ‘good’ Roosevelt, and FDR was a series of iconic photographs incidental to my early years. FDR has never stepped off the pages into my life in any meaningful way until now.

It has taken Joseph E. Persico’s book about Roosevelt and his Commanders that fought and won the second world war to give me a new appreciation for FDR’s presidency and his everlasting impact on the world. My world! After reading Bret Baier’s book on Eisenhower this summer, I am delighted that our respect and admiration for Ike is once again supported in this book. Omar Bradley is a new found hero added to a long list of heroes I have created through the years. Names as diverse in backgrounds and careers as Mike Singletary that played football for the Chicago Bears. If you are only going to read one book of this nature, I highly recommend this one.

In a nutshell, you will have a deeper understanding of FDR, Churchill, Patton, McArthur, Bradley, and others military men written about in the book. The dutiful yet independent-minded George C. Marshall, charged with rebuilding an army whose troops trained with broomsticks for rifles, eggs for hand grenades; Dwight Eisenhower, elevated from obscurity to command of the greatest fighting force ever assembled; the vainglorious Douglas MacArthur; and the bizarre battlefield genius George S. Patton. Also less widely celebrated military leaders whose contributions were just as critical: the irascible, dictatorial navy chief, Ernest King; the acerbic army advisor in China, “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell; and Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, who zealously preached the gospel of modern air power. Though I have a new found respect over FDR’s important place in history, it astounds me that we have forgotten the nature of Stalin and Russia in today’s dealings with Russia and its leaders.

Roosevelt was wrongheaded in his belief, almost to the end, that by obliging Stalin he could make the Soviet Union a benevolent member in the family of nations…he failed to  grasp that the Joseph Stalin’s of the world do not respond to goodwill, which they interpret as weakness, but to force, even bullying, which they fear and respect. Stalin and the rest of the Soviet leadership possessed not a single democratic impulse.

 

 

Happy Reading!

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The Voters Need to Save Chicago – Another Tragic Weekend

“I cannot watch the city of Chicago be destroyed by petty politics and bad government.” Harold Washington

Born in Chicago, I grew up in Evanston, IL. at a time when kids could ride their bikes all over town and no one worried. The YMCA was a big part of our leadership training, we graduated from one of the top four high schools in the country at that time. I can close my eyes and find myself sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car, listening to them sing once again. I knew all the words to Stardust and Melancholy Baby, Sunny Side of the Street and more, often part of the drive as we left Evanston along the Outer Drive headed to the Lincoln Park Gun Club that sat along the lake. The architecture of Chicago, a city of neighborhoods, and places like Wrigley Field, The Edgewater Beach Hotel, and the Marshall Fields Windows on State Street are forever with me. A beautiful city that is clean and works. The setting of Chicago made it into my second novel, Facing East, partially set on the Gold Coast facing East looking out on Lake Michigan.

There were “63 murders this weekend” in Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s legacy is “more murders in his city than ever before.”— Rudy Giuliani on Monday, August 6th, 2018    I won’t elaborate on this information. I feel sure you saw it on the news. This beautiful city must have new leadership to stop this endless slaughter of its people. The current Mayor hasn’t a clue how to protect the city on the many levels needed. The voters must save Chicago with their votes!

Vintage Posters from my Pinterest Boards

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Summer Time and the Livin’ is Easy – Making Time to Read – Robert Parker’s Night Passage

Jesse Stone is the lead character in a series of detective novels written by Robert B. Parker. They were among his last works and the first series in which the novelist used the third-person narrative. The series consists of nine books, starting with Night Passage (1997) and ending with Split Image (2010), which Parker completed before his death in January 2010 but did not live to see published.

I became acquainted with the character, Jesse Stone, played by Tom Selleck, watching the movies made for TV. With a great cast, setting, and excellent cinematography, they are well done! I had never read one of Parker’s books, however.  When Amazon offered  Night Passage, for $1.99, I downloaded it.  Not a long read, I could hardly put it down. I will admit that it was hard to cast aside the image of Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone. Since I’d seen many of the films, I already knew a great deal about Stone as I started the book.

While becoming acquainted with Jesse Stone in Night Passage, we learn that he has played in minor league baseball, retiring after injuring a shoulder, that he has been working as a detective for the Las Angeles Police Department and is forced to resign because of his drinking.  With a bleak future, Jesse is surprised when he is hired as chief of police for the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts (based on the actual town of Swampscott, Massachusetts.) After showing up to the interview intoxicated, Jesse is unaware that he has only been hired because the corrupted president of the town council feels he can be easily controlled. It doesn’t take long for Jesse to realize that something is amiss in this seemingly innocent town.  Seizing this opportunity to turn his life around, Jesse battles with his drinking and begins the mystery of exactly what is going on and why the last Chief of Police is killed out west where he is now living.

After reading this first book and getting the jest of the situation, I think you can read them in any order. Usually, I prefer following a series, one after another, but if your library has any of Parker’s Jesse Stone books, give them a try. I may skip #2 because the reviews were mixed, but I enjoyed the style of Parker’s writing and look forward to trying some more. If the premise doesn’t strike your fancy, keep your eye out for the TV movies which they rerun. I know you will like the film version of Jesse Stone.  HAPPY READING!

 

 

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Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy- Making Time to Read -Donna Leon’s -The Waters of Eternal Youth

I’ve been to Itlay once on a wonderful garden club tour in Tuscany. To this day I revisit it again and again in my memories. I’ve researched and used both Lucca and Pienza for locations in my second novel, Facing East. The tour did not include Venice, but I’ve spent hours there now through the mystery novels of Donna Leon. Over time I have come to consider the intelligent and capable Police Commissioner, Guido Brunetti as one of my most interesting and likable friends who waits for me on the pages of Leon’s books. Brunetti and the ensemble of characters never fail to deliver a satisfying mystery that I find addictive.  Each case reveals another facet of Venetian life. Brunetti reports to a self-serving Vice-Questore Patta, while inspector Vianello is at his side helping to solve the crimes. There is the all-knowing and well-connected Signorina Elettra, Patta’s secretary, who provides endless information she should or should not be looking into on her computer.

I just finished The Waters of Eternal Youth, the 25th in the series published in 2016. Brunetti finds himself drawn into a case that may not be a case at all. Fifteen years ago, a teenage girl fell into a canal late at night. Unable to swim, only surviving thanks to a nearby man, an alcoholic, who heard her splashes and pulled her out, though not before she suffered irreparable brain damage that left her in a state of permanent childhood. The drunk man claimed he saw her thrown into the canal by another man, but the following day he couldn’t remember a thing.

Brunetti is unable to let the case rest. Awash in the rhythms and concerns of contemporary Venetian life, from historical preservation to housing, to new waves of African migrants, and the haunting story of a woman trapped in a damaged perpetual childhood, The Waters of Eternal Youth is another wonderful addition to this series. I always recommend you start at the beginning of a series to enjoy the changes and accruing knowledge of the characters. You can read them independently. I highly recommend this Donna Leon series to you and look forward to those I haven’t read YET. Happy Summer Reading!

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Summer Time and the Livin’ is Easy – Make Time to Read -Three Days in Moscow

How is your summer reading going?

Three Days in Moscow, Bret Baier’s new book explores the dramatic endgame of America’s long struggle with the Soviet Union and President Ronald Reagan’s central role in shaping the world we live in today. They are touting this as the best book on Reagan, but since it is the first book I’ve read about him, I can’t be sure. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it. I’d forgotten things or things I never knew in the first place.  I have a new appreciation for the 40th President of the United States (in office from 1981 to 1989)

On May 31, 1988, Reagan stood on Russian soil and addressed a packed audience at Moscow State University, delivering a remarkable speech that capped his first visit to the Soviet capital. This fourth in a series of summits between Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in their tireless efforts to reduce the nuclear threat. Reagan viewed it as “a grand historical moment”: an opportunity to light a path for the Soviet people—toward freedom, human rights, and a future he told them they could embrace if they chose. It was the first time an American president had given an address about human rights on Russian soil.  The importance of Reagan’s Moscow speech was largely overlooked at the time, but the new world he spoke of was fast approaching; the following year, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, leaving the United States the sole superpower on the world stage.

Today, the end of the Cold War is perhaps the defining historical moment of the past half-century and must be understood if we are to make sense of America’s current place in the world, amid the re-emergence of US-Russian tensions during Vladimir Putin’s tenure.  Baier illuminates the character of one of our nation’s most venerated leaders—and reveals the unique qualities that allowed him to succeed in forming an alliance for peace with the Soviet Union when his predecessors had fallen short.

I have my Godson, Thomas, and his sister, Peggy, to thank for my autographed copy of Three Days. Thomas knew how much I enjoyed Baier’s Eisenhauer’s book built around the three days before Jack Kennedy was inaugurated. It is a fabulous read. These are interesting reads about our American story, about two important men and how they helped shape that story. Author, Bret Baier deserves the acclaim he is receiving for both these books.  ENJOY!

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Summer Time and the Livin’ is Easy – Make Time to Read – Christopher Fowlers’ Off The Rails

I’ve just reread the #8th Peculiar Crimes Unit novel, Off The Rails by Christopher Fowler. Fowler has become one of my favorite authors. This is another superb, satisfying romp with Arthur Bryant and John May who are Golden Age Detectives in a modern world. They head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, London’s most venerable specialist police team, a division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest. The technophobic, irascible Bryant and smooth-talking, well-dressed John May, head a team of interesting characters. The cases take on the different styles of the classic detective story.

The series is set primarily in London, with stories taking place between World War II and the present. While there is a progressive narrative, each of the cases stands alone as separate stories. (the exceptions being ‘On The Loose’ and ‘Off The Rails’, which should be read together). Fowler weaves many factual layers of London’s history and society throughout the series making each one unique and fascinating. Most of the locations are recognizable London landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Gallery, and various theaters. London can be considered a separate character in the novels. Christopher Fowler never fails to teach me something interesting, whether it is about English pubs or in the case of Off The Rails, the history of building the Underground Tube Stations. 

In Off The Rails, London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit has been given a week to clear its backlog of investigations or be shut down. While the team is looking for Mr. Fox, who killed one of their own while escaping, what appears to be a mundane accident takes place – a young mother falls down the escalator in a rush-hour tube station, in full view of commuters and cameras. Bryant and May suspect that the ‘accident’ is far more than it seems. As this mystery is unraveled, you will become a Christopher Fowler fan.

Here is an example of Fowler’s fine writing.

Arthur Bryant: Have you met him before? If not, imagine a tortoise minus its shell, thrust upright and stuffed into a dreadful suit. Give it glasses, false teeth, and a hearing aid, and a wispy band of white hair arranged in a straggling tonsure. Fill its pockets with rubbish; old pennies and scribbled notes, boiled sweets and leaky pens, a glass model of a Ford Perfect filled with Isle of wright sand, yards of string, a stuffed mouse, some dried peas. And fill its head with a mad scramble of ideas: the height of the steeple at St. Clement Danes, the tide table of the Thames, the dimensions of Waterloo Station, and the MOs of murderers. On top of all this, add the enquiring wonder of a ten-year-old boy. Now you have the measure of the man.

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Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy – Make Time to Read – The Swans of Fifth Avenue

I am never without a book. When I finish one, I start another. Throughout this summer of 2018,  I am writing about the books I’m reading, and only those I highly recommend. I hope you have already read The Aviator’s Wife, a novel by Melanie Benjamin, a story told through the eyes of Anne Morrow about her life with husband Charles Lindbergh. After this well-written book, I looked forward to The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I’m not sure anyone is writing better historical fiction than Melanie Benjamin where the research, characters, the sequence of events are fact, the storytelling fictionalized, This is how it is done!

The only drawback in reading this well crafted, romp through New York Society with some of its most famous, glamorous creatures and famous locales,  is spending time with Truman Capote. He took me to the edge of closing the book several times because I have no interest in him at all.  It has nothing to do with his homosexuality and everything to do with his strangeness. I have always found him unlikeable, and an often pathetic man. Nothing has changed my mind. Truman remains as a caricature of his sexuality, working hard at being gay to promote the stereotypes that were stumbling blocks for those who came after him. The dripping scarves, the awful cattiness of his remarks, his flighty, gossiping self.

Ah, but Melanie Benjamin’s writing takes you beyond all this objectionable wiredness to the heart of friendships that last a lifetime, the importance of the stories we carry for one another, growing older and what we fear.  Benjamin writes from a lifetimes fascination with New York, its setting and people; her knowledge and heart are evident, but I am in awe of her contribution to the ongoing theme – – the value of the journey as well as its destination.

Of all the characters, I was the most interested in Willaim S. Paley, founder,  CEO of CBS, advisor to President Eisenhower, the man who discovered Bing Crosby, and Edward R.Murrow. Yet, he too was taken in by Capote, as were The Swans, until he betrayed them all. The complexity of Truman Capote, who you first met as the little boy, Dill, in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, is best left there.

 

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Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy – Make Time to Read – Start With Jack 1939

“One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

A glance through the books on our shelves says a lot about who we are. I think of it as an archeological dig into our lives revealing what interests we’ve had along the way. Throughout this summer 2018, I will be blogging about the books I’m reading. I know that no two people read the same book, but I will only write about books I highly recommend. I’ll begin with a book thrust into my hands by a good friend, “I think you will like this one.” Author Francine Mathews was unknown to me and I’ve always had more interest in Bobby Kennedy than Jack, but….Jack 1939 it was to be. I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Well researched, well written, a page turner, a historical setting you are familiar with, and a novel you won’t want to put down.

As Francine Mathews, she has written two series: one set in Nantucket featuring police officer Meredith “Merry” Folger, the latest in a long line of police officers in her family, including her father who is also her boss. Her second series are spy thrillers based on her time working with the CIA. As Stephanie Barron (her middle and maiden names), Mathews has written historical novels featuring the English novelist Jane Austen (1775–1817) as an amateur sleuth. The books are presented as lost diaries merely edited by Barron. Altogether she has written twenty books including Jack 1939.

It’s the spring of 1939. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust. His choice:  Twenty-two year old John F. Kennedy, who is planning to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy to provide information that will help  stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt to lose. Francine Mathews has written an espionage tale combining fact and fiction as the world careens toward war.

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A REFLECTION on the 2018 AtoZ Blog Challenge

Upon reflection…how did it all turn out? What do your stats tell you? Did you pick a theme that worked with the nature of The Challenge? If the point is to encourage new readership, if I am visiting for the first time on day 12 in the middle of a short story or find a subject that is depressing, worthy as it may be for another time, neither are great ideas for a “26-day expiration date opportunity.” Offer an interesting theme and valuable information worth someone’s time to follow. You are trying to demonstrate that your blog is easy to read, uncluttered, font and background readable, and that in order to navigate the template you are using, a person doesn’t need a rocket science background while clicking here, there, and everywhere, trying to get at the post.

I suspect other people like myself were frustrated that the links on the participation list were not live, meaning EACH TIME I had to cut and paste the address. Eventually, I said, “the hell with it.” Every blog I looked at, on average, had 15 likes and a scattering of comments. The LIST is the key. In 2017, participation was way off, because they tried to change the LIST and added daily messing around. At least, once again, a list was provided. The #Challenge is a WONDERFUL adventure. There are amazing blogs that model how it should be done. I’m appreciative of the time, research, and fine writing that goes into preparing for the AtoZ experience. If increased followers are the only benchmark for a successful outcome, you may be thinking, is it worth it? Before you say, no, take a hard look at your blog as it appears today.  I am a better writer because of the years I have participated. In blog hopping, I have found teachers that have taught me valuable lessons by example. They cause me to reconsider content, appearance, and a host of other ideas. I’m pleased that I have 29 new followers, that my theme, BOOKSHOPS, was well met, and that I am following several new wonderful blogs I found in April. Upon reflection, I can say without hesitation, that the preparation, research, and the writing are worth the effort and make my heart sing.

Thank you for keeping me company during the month of April. Let’s not lose touch. FOLLOW ME

HERE ARE THREE GREAT EXAMPLES OF BLOGS I FOLLOW.

Everyone Has A Story:  everyonehasafamilystorytotell.wordpress.com (Challenge theme-All About Nancy Drew)

If I Only Had a Time Machine: mholloway63.wordpress.com (Challenge theme: Fiction-non-fiction books about World War II)

A Field Trip Life: afieldtriplife.com (Challenge theme-Maps in Children’s books)

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