September 28, 2019

Plant Files: Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

This plant is the star of my front flowerbeds right now!

Scientific name: Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'
Common name: Stonecrop

Cold Hardiness: USDA zones 3-9
2 feet tall and wide
Full sun and prefers sandy/well-drained soil.
Very drought tolerant.
Blooms in fall and florets stay colorful through until killed by hard frost.

Much loved by pollinators.
If you go out on a warm day, these blooms will be just covered by bees and flies. 

Sedum, particularly this variety, is great as a cut flower as well.
You can cut the fleshy stems any time from when the florets first form and are green, all the way through the last color change.
They last practically forever in the vase and sometimes will even start rooting or growing in there.

I love the colors of the blooms!
They start this dusty pink color and then keep deepening until they become a rusty red.
They also bloom and provide long-lasting color in the late fall, when color can be hard to find.

They will die all the way down to the ground in the colder zones, like mine.
Don't worry, though, come spring they send back up little rosettes, and they're off and growing again in no time!

This is a tough plant! 
Let me tell you a little story.
One time in Washington, a friend of mine gave me some sedum starts from her garden. 
I neglected to plant them and alas, they sat out on my front garden wall in their tiny 4" pots the rest of the summer...AND fall AND winter. Yep. I'm not proud, but it's what happened.
Come spring, I was going to just throw them away, because any other plant would be dead and long gone by that point. Guess what? I saw green shoots coming up! 
Well, you'd better believe I took those starts back and got them planted that very day!
They each grew over the next few years into sizable clumps of beautiful plants.

I have 3 clumps out front, and just added 3 more to my back cutting rows.

This one is a winner!

August 15, 2019

August Bloom Day

I have got to start out this Bloom Day post with a couple of things I'm proud of.

As you know, if you've followed this blog, seed starting has not been a cakewalk for me. 
I have killed so many baby plants over the past couple of years! 

So, behold--2 plants that actually made it! 
(That's right, TWO! Can you be humble and proud at the same time? Humbly proud. 
It's a complicated feeling. Layers.)

First up:

The 'Frizzle Sizzle' pansy.

Isn't she a beauty? 

And here we have the New York Aster!
[Vigorous clapping is entirely appropriate at this point.]

(Give me my moment, alright? Remember, 2 PLANTS that made it?!)

The seeds for these plants are super duper tiny--specks, is all.
And now just look at it! It's almost 3 feet tall and about read to start flowering! 
(I think--it's a fall-flowering plant, apparently.)
This survivor right here gives me such a happy feeling whenever I see it!

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, here's the rest:

Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'
Very pretty, but very short stems for cutting.
I need some mini bouquets or dance flowers to put these in--they would really shine!

Same, plus a China aster.

This front pot--you can't go wrong with geraniums and sweet potato vine.
It always seems like the fancier I try to get with my flower pots, the worse they do.
This couldn't be any simpler, but I have been enjoying it this summer!

My 'Limelight' hydrangea is finally getting some blooms!
I'm wondering if it could actually use more sunlight.
This seems awfully late in the season for hydrangea blooms.
We've got frost coming in a month. 
Go Limelight Go!

'Fragrant Angel' echinacea, above and below

I have absolutely loved these, especially the green centers before they are all the way mature!
Love. I will plant a whole bunch more this fall if I can find them!

Let's see, roses haven't put on their fall blooms yet, sedums are still green (but coming), and I do have some sunflowers blooming out in my flower farm/cutting garden patch.
A handful of other stuff out there too.

What's blooming in your garden right now? 

August 7, 2019

The Year Of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes

What can I say? Another Newberry Honor book. Still plugging away at that goal, even though I have officially given it up.  This one was great!

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes
Newbery Honor 2014

4 stars: Warm hearted and simply delightful!

Billy's Papa is an artist and his Mama is an High School English teacher. Unlike most other kids he knows, his mom is the one who goes to work every day, while his dad stays home and takes care of him and his little sister Sal.

Billy's going to start 2nd grade soon, and he has some worries. 1--Is he smart enough for 2nd grade? 2-Is it babyish to call his mom and dad Mama and Papa? 3-Will his teacher like him?  In the introductory letter his teacher sent home before school she said it was the Year of the Rabbit, but his Papa says it's going to be the Year of Billy Miller. He's pretty sure his Papa is right!

* * * * *
I didn't know what to expect going into this one, and to be completely honest, I had been putting off reading it a bit, because it just didn't catch my eye. It was a happy surprise to find how much I enjoyed it. It reminded me of a Beverly Cleary book, in that the situations are all everyday stuff that every kid goes through. The family is generally happy, even though the father is struggling with his art ("looking for a breakthrough".)

Sal made me chuckle a couple of times, and Billy's worries and the resolutions were like a window into my own 7-year-old's world. Things that seem small to the grownups loom large when you're 7. It's good to remember that. There was so much that made me smile. Billy is surrounded by loving adults--even the babysitter! You know that he's going to get all this stuff figured out.

I'm encouraging my boy to read it. I hope he does, because I think he would find a lot in common with Billy, and a lot to like about the story.


Have you read this one? What did you think? My favorite were the Drop Sisters.

July 31, 2019

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

I've had a stack of books checked out from the library for 3+ weeks now. This is the first one in the stack I've gotten to--partly because I knew it would be a quick read due to format. It was the perfect length for a little sit-down rest between lunch and afternoon projects.

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson
Newbery Honor 2016

4 stars: Troubles associated with growing up, plus ROLLER DERBY!

Astrid had never even heard of roller derby, until one night her mom takes her and her best friend Nicole to see a bout. Astrid loves every minute of it! She wants to do it so bad! She is very excited when her mom points out that they are offering a camp for girls ages 12-17 over the summer, and even more excited when her mom signs her for the camp. The only damper to this fun time is that her bestie Nicole isn't doing it with her. You see, Nicole actually likes ballet and wasn't really into the whole roller derby thing. They have been attached at the hip for years now, so this is going to be a big change.

Despite her dreams of instant success and stardom, as it turns out Astrid isn't very good at roller skating, and also, she is way out of shape compared to everyone else. What she lacks in skills, however, she makes up for in determination. She is going to do this! Make way for this girl!

* * * * *
Roller derby ladies are like, 1000x cooler than I will ever be, but I think they're awesome. Also, it doesn't sound fun to me at all in reality, but reading a book about it was great fun. One of my favorite parts were all their roller girl names. I'm not going to lie--I spent a good portion of the book trying to come up with a name for myself. Haven't thought of a worthy one...yet. I may or may not get back to you on that.

Like so many middle grade novels, this one was about changing friendships, and discovering yourself. The roller derby itself made for a fresh take on the age old topic, and the graphic novel format was a perfect fit, keeping the narrative moving at a fast clip. Astrid's growth was satisfying and realistic. I liked her as a character very much.

I don't read very many graphic novels, but this one was a hit! Glad it got some recognition. Oh, also my 9 year old daughter told me that it was "a really good one." So there you go.

Content: One swear word, mentioned as something Astrid was called by a bully.


July 25, 2019

2 Books Featuring Wedding Planners

Have you inadvertently read a couple of books back to back that were on a theme? That happened to me this month. The first book I chose as a prize for Summer Reading (they let adults get prizes here along with the kids--if you turn in your reading log, that is!), and the second one has been sitting on my shelf for quite awhile now.

Anyway. They both featured wedding planners. Random! So, if you like that very particular niche, then this set of books should be right up your alley!

Once and For All, by Sarah Dessen

2.5 stars: I liked Louna a lot. The not so much.

Louna's mom is a wedding planner extraordinaire. She's so good that her schedule is booked up months, or even years in advance. She has it all down. Her business partner William makes up for anything she lacks (he's the best at comforting nervous brides) and Louna fills in wherever she's needed. It's like clockwork...except for when it isn't.

There's always snags and things to watch out for, but this time it's not a thing, it's a person: Ambrose Little, the son of the bride. He's out flirting (!) with some girl and holding up the entire wedding ceremony. Louna is sent out to find him...and the rest is history. Ha! Not quite. She yanks him into line, sidesteps his multiple attempts to get her dance and thinks that he is out of her life after this one night. Not so fast.

Ambrose just keeps turning up. The thing is, Louna can't stand him. The other thing is, she hasn't recovered from a tragic first romance and the last thing she wants or needs is this clown of a boy hanging around.  I think you can probably see where this is headed.

* * * * *
There was a lot to enjoy in this book. All the wedding planner bits were very funny and spot-on--from the handful of weddings I have seen, anyway. I also liked Louna, and her best friend Jilly, with all the younger siblings hanging around all the time. Ambrose--couldn't stand him. Hey, I guess that meant I related to Louna a little better?

Here's what bugged me: in my mind I have Dessen pegged as a "clean" young adult author. Meaning, that most of her books don't have the sex, violence, or bad language. This one was mostly clean. However, there is a sex scene. No, it's not graphic, but it's there. I was disappointed with that to begin with--there was that hint of betrayal (Sarah Dessen, how could you?!) If that weren't bad enough, though, it was at the end of 1 NIGHT knowing this guy. Not going to say who. I was so frustrated with her, with the boy, with Dessen for coming up with this nonsense. Just a lot of frustration.

I realize that the idea of High Schoolers having sex has become totally normalized. I get that, but I don't have to like it and I certainly don't buy into it! It really bugs me that it's just expected, pretty much, if 2 book teenagers are in a relationship that they're going to have sex. Anyway, that is not the norm in my home! I'm not keeping this book around, even though I liked almost everything else about it, because I'm certainly not going to hand it to my teenage daughter someday.

End of rant.

Content: Guess I don't need to belabor the point any more. There is a sex scene. Oh, also there are some school shootings, which are there but not really dealt with much.

Diamond Rings are Deadly Things, by Rachelle J. Christensen

4 stars: I want more!

Adrielle Pyper is an up and coming wedding planner in Sun Valley, Idaho. She has just gotten her feet on the ground and is starting to book some high-rolling clients when her store takes a devastating blow. They have recently started to sell wedding gowns, and their first shipment included some very expensive, one-of-a-kind gowns. Well, someone broke into their shop and vandalized the gowns, including the one meant for a famous (and very picky) client.

On top of that, Adrielle finds something...very unusual in the hem of a different gown, that has her wondering what she has stumbled into. Yes, she should call the police, but they simply can't afford to have this gown confiscated as evidence right now! If she can keep these items safe until after the wedding, then bring in the police, it could mean the difference between her business thriving and folding.

There's a bit of romance, too.

* * * * *
This was a fun one. As a fairly new business owner myself, I was rooting for Adrielle. I always roll my eyes when the characters in a mystery say, "But I CAN'T go to the police! I had better solve this myself." At least this time it seemed like the reasoning behind her delay made sense beyond just a whim.

I liked her as a character and her friend and family. The love triangle was okay. I mean, it was obvious who she should pursue, but she had a few mishaps getting to that point, of course. Unfortunately, I guessed the twist. Actually it really reminded me of a different book I've read--can't think of the name of it right now--so I had my suspicions early on. I was right.

Despite that, I want to read more in this series, and by this author. It was a fun quick read.

July 20, 2019

July Bloom Day

A belated Bloom Day post for July. (Is there any other kind? HA!)

Despite my feeling like everything is a whole big mess o' weeds, I do have a few things blooming this month. Oh, and it IS a mess of weeds too. They are not mutually exclusive!

 These Shirley poppies keep coming and bringing me joy.
They're not great for cutting, but I still love 'em!

These lilies. 
Just can't get enough of the pink and purple-speckledy goodness.
These ones are planted out in front, down the line. 

Okay, these lilies are fine too, but you know--not like the pinks above.
They have been very useful for cutting this year.

Bachelor's buttons 'Blue Boy' keep pumping out the blooms.
I just went and deadheaded a bunch yesterday in hopes of keeping them coming.

Oops. More poppies. 
Double pinks this time.

And...we'll finish it off with a look at my snapdragon patch in bloom--with the dead weed field behind. We're hoping to get a sprinkler system put in back there and actual grass planted this fall.
So these are the snaps I bought as a flat from the grocery store (!) this spring. 
I noticed that they were the same variety ('Rocket') I had tried starting from seed, but were ever so much bigger than mine at home. Best $20 I spent all spring!
I love snapdragons!
With a good hard pinching at planting time, these are all putting up 4-6 stems, and the ones I 've already cut on have put up some new side shoots as well. 
If I could keep cutting snaps until fall, I would be so happy!
In any case, I'll take them for as long as they'll go!

I have a handful of roses blooming now, as well, but most of them have come and gone with their first flush. So just got them deadheaded this week as well. Hoping for a second round in about a month.

What's blooming at your house this month? 

July 13, 2019

Mini Theme: True Medical Mysteries

I really enjoy books where a medical case is presented, and then the doctor has to try to figure out what in the world is going on with that patient. The hope is, of course, that they do figure it out in time to save the patient. True stories--just to be clear.

If this type of book sounds interested to you, read on! I have a handful to get you started.

Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis, by Lisa Sanders

4 stars: Problems and perils of diagnosing patients, with interesting case studies to back up her points.

As the title would suggest, this book is from the POV of the doctor. Sanders says in the introduction that she hoped to put readers right there at the bedside, with the clues (symptoms) presented and the knowledge or lack thereof that the doctor has to go on in order to find the correct diagnosis. As such, it is broken into sections based on the parts of a physical exam: the patient's history, the actual physical exam, technology/testing, and what she calls "Limits of the Medical Mind." Each section has chapters within it delving into more detail about the various aspects of that method of diagnosing patients, along with case studies of real patients.

* * * * *
I found this one fascinating. Then again, I also like to read my husband's medical journals when they come in the mail. There are so many variables standing between the sick patient and the saving treatment, including: the way they tell their story to the doctor (do they leave out crucial details or tell so much that the important stuff gets lost), what symptoms are presenting at the time of the exam, what the tests show or don't show, and so on.

I was reminded again of the importance of networking amongst doctors. Many of these difficult cases were solved by the doctor/s calling up a friend who was a specialist in that field, or even just another doctor with a lot of experience, and running the case by them to get some feedback. Often it was the collective memory of knowledge that came to the right conclusion, more so than one particular doctor.

If you liked this one, I've got 2 more for you!

The Medical Detectives, below, is more about epidemiologists figuring out what has caused clusters of severe illness, rather than individual cases, but still fascinating.

The Medical Detectives, by Berton Roueche

3 stars: Stories you'll want to tell someone else about! (Though maybe not over dinner...)

A compilation of 25 different unusual medical cases. A handful are presented as the doctor trying to figure out what could be causing certain symptoms, but with most, the disease is known and it's up to epidemiologists to track down the specific cause along with who else might be affected--or infected, as the case may be. 

Somewhat uneven writing between chapters, with some very slow and tedious to get through (particularly the chapter about aspirin) and others high interest to the end. Since they span decades, I suppose it was to be expected. 

I ended up retelling many of the stories to my kids. They clamored for more! In fact, my 8-year-old picked it up to read on his own, but got bogged down a chapter or two in. I guess you can tell there's a strong medical influence in our home! 

Also, wash new clothes before you wear them. it. Please. Thank you.


It has been almost 10 years since I read this one, so I can't tell you what angle it takes. I do remember that I liked it--perhaps this was the catalyst to my seeking out these others!

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, by Oliver Sacks

4 stars: Fascinating.

I had to keep discussing the case studies with my husband just to be able to tell someone. I would recommend skipping all the introductions (there's one for each section), unless you're very interested in the author's research and networking with other doctors.

**My reviews were much shorter back in the day! :)

What have you read that would fit in with this Mini Theme? I'm always up for another!

July 11, 2019

Plant Files: Moluccella Laevis (Bells of Ireland)

It's time to spotlight another favorite plant!
This is only the 2nd year I've grown this one, but it's a winner.

Scientific Name: Moluccella laevis (it took me 3 tries to spell it!)
Common Names: Bells of Ireland, shell flower
I have taken to just calling it Bells...because I'm cool like that.

June 29, 2019

Cold Hardiness: Annual, but it reseeds!
Sprinkle it on the ground in the fall, or let the ripe seedpods fall to the ground and by early spring you'll have baby Bells! 

It can grow to be 18" wide and 2-3' tall under good conditions.
The plants can handle poor soil and drought.
They take full sun, but don't mind part shade, especially morning shade.

Wildlife: Bees love it! 

Floral Design: This is why I grew it in the first place.
It's super useful in floral design. It can be used as filler, as a spike or line element, or even in a stand-alone arrangement. The bright green color blends with anything.
It has amazing vase life, lasting 3-4 weeks.

The scent is interesting. It's sort of a mix between green apple and mint. At least, that's what I smell. Some people say it's straight-up cat pee. In any case, it's a light scent that won't overpower other flowers in the arrangement.

I also love it because you can cut it at just about any stage. If you cut the main shoot out of the middle, the side shoots will continue to develop; so each plant provides several useful stems.

It dries to a beautiful ivory color--though the bells become quite fragile at that point.

A note of caution: Each set of bells has a matching set of spines directly underneath it.
This time of year--earlier in the season--they are soft.
By the end of the summer, they stiffen up and can give break off under your skin. At the very least, they give a painful poke. Last summer I had a couple that hurt for weeks. No joke.
So come August, I'll be wearing gloves to harvest and prep these beauties. 

Just Bells.

July 6, 2019

Carnegie's Maid, by Marie Benedict

This would be a good one for book club!

Carnegie's Maid, by Marie Benedict

3.5 stars: Upstairs, downstairs, and a bunch of secrets to hide.

Clara Kelley is the oldest daughter in a family of tenant farmers in Ireland. Though they had big enough acreage to survive the Potato Famine, their family lands are slowly getting chipped away by the landholder, who disagrees with her father's political views. So she is sent off to America to earn money to send back to them.

As she finally gets off the boat and is beginning to make plans to find a second cousin, she hears a man calling her name. She ignores him at first--it is a fairly common name, after all--but after some time passes and no-one has responded to his calls, she decides that this could be a Chance. He is obviously wealthy (she is obviously not), but the other Clara must have not made it through the voyage if she hasn't answered yet.

So Clara takes on a new identity, with the same name. She is now from Dublin, Protestant (NOT Catholic), and slated to be a lady's maid to a Mrs. Carnegie. She manages to bluff her way into the position using her wits, brash courage, and determination. Then she has to figure out how to make herself indispensable and keep her secrets buried deep.

Meeting the older son of her lady, a Mr. Andrew Carnegie, may be the undoing of everything--if she lets her guard down.

* * * * *
This one was touted as great for fans of Downtown Abbey. Actually, I have never seen that, but I did still like this book. Clara was a survivor and as such, she did what she felt she had to in order to provide for herself and her family back home. That included taking this other girl's identity and running with it. She would never have succeeded (where many other, better qualified girls had failed) if it hadn't been for her quick mind and ability to figure out what her employer needed.

Was it right for her to do that? No, probably not. I could see where she was coming from, though. I think this would be a great one for a book club discussion, so you could really get into the ethics of it. Her family probably would not have survived without the money she made from this job and sent to them. Living a lie vs. saving her it and tell me what you think!

The romantic side of it was interesting. Probably realistic in most respects. I appreciated that she kept it clean. The portrayal of Carnegie himself made me want to find a nonfiction biography to dive into for another perspective. He is always courteous and a gentleman to Clara, but it does show some of the uglier sides of his personality in his business dealings. Which was the true man?

Anyway, I liked it.

Content: Clean, despite an insinuation in the beginning that had me wondering.


July 3, 2019

On Aging Well

It seems there are 2 different school of thought on aging--go gracefully or fight it. 
Is that right? Is there another option?
Maybe let it overtake you when your back is turned? Ha!

In any case, I feel like I'm going to be one who tries to grow old gracefully.
NOT that I'm old, mind you.
I'm only 40, sheesh!
(My kids think I'm old.)

I just saw an ad the other day for a product supposedly proven to remove laugh lines.
Why would you want to?! 
Why would you erase the physical evidence of smiles and laughing, even if you could?
Would you truly rather present yourself as a blank slate? 
If you are the "fight it" person, tell me your point of view! I think I must be missing something.

In any case, flowers seem to have 2 categories as well: those that just drop, brown, and fizzle, and those that fade beautifully--or at least retain interest after flowering with pretty seedpods, interesting branches or bark, or beautiful foliage. 

Let me show you! (Flowers, not people.)

This first group is flowers that retain their beauty as they fade--many of them even changing colors!

#1: Lily-flowering Tulip 'Mariette'

Start off bright lipstick pink (above) and fade to a lovely white and pale pink (below.)

#2: Peony 'Coral Charm'

This one amazed me this spring, because I didn't expect it!
Beautiful coral pink to begin with (above), fading to this lemon yellow gem below!

#3: Peony 'Do Tell'

Striking pale pink with deeper pink stamens in the middle (above), fading to white with whisper pink stamens--almost looking like a daffodil by the end (below). Love it!

#4: Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Start off a rusty orange-red (above), then over time fade to a beautiful dusty pink (below).

There are other examples, but I'll stop there for now. 

For the next round, I'll just show you a couple--flowers that have wonderful seed pods.

#1: Grape hyacinths

Here they are in flower, and the pale green item in the arrangement below is the stem with seed pods on it. I love it!

#2: Poppies

These Shirley poppies are gorgeous, but only last a day or two, even when left on the plant.
However, their whimsical little seed pods will make great additions to bouquets.

Here are some poppy seed pods dried--I like that look as well.
For fresh cut flower arrangements, though, I prefer the green ones.

Since I struggled a bit getting my poppies to grow from seed this year, my plan is to let them blossom, produce their seed pods, and reseed themselves. I may help out a bit, to get as many as possible in the same row where I planted them! 
I will probably not be able to resist cutting a few of the seedpods, however.

* * * * *
What flowers do you know of that age well? 

June 25, 2019

A Cool Start to Summer

So, we've had some ups and downs this month, particularly in relation to the weather.
Join the club, right? 
While we certainly haven't had the severe weather that many in our country have experienced, we did get 2 nights of frost very late--June 8 and 9. 
I regret to say that I was not prepared.
All of my tomatoes and peppers died--the ones I had in the ground, the ones I had given my kids, and the ones still waiting to be sold. 
That was discouraging.
Going down to the nursery at the bottom of the canyon and spending money to buy more tomatoes and peppers was even more so.

These pansies are loving the cool weather!

Of course, my cool flowers aren't minding this weather--thankfully, that was most of what was really growing. However, the warm weather lovers that were up either died back or just gave up completely.
Cosmos and zinnias, especially.
The volunteer sunflowers that withstood April snowstorms were not ready for such a drastic change in temperature, I guess, because most of them died back as well. They have rallied somewhat now, but it was looking pretty sad come Sunday morning.
Sigh. No-one ever said farming was easy.

Last night, temperatures were supposed to go back down to 37 degrees. Again.
I didn't take any chances this time, and got all the tomatoes and peppers covered.
Just hoped for the best for the surviving warm-weather flowers.

It was about an hour before sundown when I realized how cold it was. I was working out in the greenhouse and my hands started to feel numb. Not a good sign in the middle of summer!
So I checked the weather and sure enough--temps in the 30's forecasted for overnight.
I knew I had to get tomatoes and peppers covered--my kids could not take the disappointment a 2nd time if they froze--and by the time I got them done it was past dark.
Thankfully, the flowers seem to have come through okay without covering.

All of this begs the question, though: when will it truly be summer?
It also reinforces to me that I need to put my time and money towards cool weather flowers, perennials, and shrubs. Basically, everything that won't mind an extended patch of cool weather. 

My cool flowers growing right now:
anemones, poppies, pansies, Bells of Ireland, bachelor's buttons, Queen Anne's lace (ammi majus), snapdragons, dill, feverfew

Peony 'Do Tell'
I've got one of these on each side of the front walkway. I left one bloom per plant to just see what I have in store, but starting next year, I'm going to let them all bloom and start to cut from them!

Perennials in bloom:
catmint, perennial bachelor's button, pincushion flower, peonies
+ yarrow, lilies (almost in bloom)

Shrubs in bloom:
roses, ninebark

I am also getting some perennial seeds started in the greenhouse, in hopes that they'll be ready to plant out this fall and overwinter for me.

In the meantime, the kiddos and I have been doing some work and playing too.
So that has been good.
So far I feel like I have kept a better balance between mothering and working this summer.

Here's to some actual WARM weather now! 
We're ready for it!

June 24, 2019

Girl Overboard, by Justina Chen Headley

Perhaps wealth is not everything it's cracked up to be...

Girl Overboard, by Justina Chen Headley

3.5 stars: This one won me over.

Syrah Cheng has a life to envy: ever since her father's company went public, they have joined the ranks of the uber-wealthy, with all the trappings: enormous mansion to live in and enough money to buy whatever they want, as soon as they want it. What no-one can seem to see is that she is miserable in the midst of all the luxury. Her parents never have time for her, her mother is always pushing her to lose weight, and worst of all--ever since her snowboarding accident several months ago, she can no longer do the one thing she loves the most. Well, technically she could still snowboard, IF her parents would let her (they won't) and IF her knee could handle it (highly doubtful.)

Syrah has also found it very difficult to make friends, as everyone seems to just want to befriend her to get to her dad, or simply because of their money. She does have one good friend, Age, who has been her friend since before the big money came along. They used to snowboard together, but things have gotten awkward with him lately as well. She has never been able to bring herself to tell him why she went off alone in the backcountry, when she knew full well it was a bad idea, but a certain summer camp counselor had everything to do with it.

Syrah is constantly expected to live up to the "Ethan Cheng Way" (she hasn't read the book yet), and constantly feeling like she is falling short. As some major changes come her way, she will have to figure out the Syrah Cheng Way to surviving life--the sooner the better.

* * * * * *

Syrah was a strong character, but one who doesn't discover her strength until later on--the best type to write a story about! I had my reservations about this book from the beginning. I mean, another book about the poor little rich girl? That's been done before! I was pleasantly surprised to find it had some depth.

As Syrah figures things out, she starts to look outside herself and realizes she can use this incredible legacy she now has at her fingertips to help others. That is the beginning of her inward shift.

I especially liked the way Syrah went from taking risks on the mountain, to taking risks in her relationships, with a much better payoff. She chooses to be vulnerable, to accept friendship in unlikely places, and to put herself in uncertain and awkward situations in order to get to know extended family better. In the process, she comes to realize how much she is loved (and always has been), as well as the first inkling of what her place might be within the family business.

Content: Some language. Some of the characters mention sex. Syrah tells an abbreviated version of the story of her first sexual experience, which was traumatizing to her, but doesn't go into detail. This is written for Young Adults--I wouldn't go younger than 16 with it. If your teenager has encountered some of these things at school already, this could bring up some good talking points.    


June 21, 2019

Featured Author: Melanie Benjamin

I was really happy when I realized that there were more books I haven't read by Melanie Benjamin. All 3 of hers that I have read so far have been hits for me: historical fiction about real people. Then, always at the end, she talks some about what are the "facts" and what she extrapolated from that--which I am always so curious to know.

Overall, they are clean. They don't have language issues. She handles marital intimacy with care and isn't graphic in her descriptions.

In each book, I have been fascinated by the life of the woman I'm learning about, and feel as though I know them by the end of the book.

If you need a summer read with a bit more substance to it than the usual fluff, give one of these a try!

* * * * * *

The Aviator's Wife, by Melanie Benjamin

4 stars: Warm and understanding look at an iconic lady.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was never one to seek out the spotlight, as a child. She much preferred to blend into the background and let her pretty, vivacious older sister Elizabeth be the center of attention. Then she met Charles Lindbergh, a young aviator who had just become famous for his solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Much to her surprise, he sought her out, and eventually even asked her to marry him. She could hardly believe it--that he would prefer HER above anyone else. Granted, his proposal seemed more practical than lovey-dovey, but that was just details, really. Wasn't it? She said yes, and overnight, the shy girl who sought the shadows was thrust into the blinding light of fame and publicity.

Though the country was going through the Great Depression, the Lindberghs never really felt the pinch. They were arguably the most famous couple in the world, given special attention by kings, presidents, famous actors and actresses, and hordes of hyper-interested fans.

This is the story of their life together and their marriage, told from Anne's perspective. The ways their marriage changed as little Charles Jr. was born, and again when his horrific kidnapping and murder happened. How they went on from there, and raised several more kids, amidst World War 2 and everything else.

* * * * * *
I happened upon this one at the library last week. As soon as I realized who the author was, I immediately snatched this one up!

This is one of my favorite types of historical fiction. I enjoyed learning more about the Lindbergh's, while getting some insight into what Anne may have been feeling and thinking throughout all that went on.

Content: A couple of intimate scenes--not graphic. For adults.


Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin

4 stars

Based on the life of Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, the little girl who was the inspiration for Charles Dodgson's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

Benjamin brings life to Alice's story, far beyond a sunny afternoon on the river with her sisters and some grownup friends. Her personality as a child was a delight, even as I feared for where it would lead her. Her personal triumphs and tragedies felt very real. Side characters were also well-developed: Dodgson and her mother, in particular.

I appreciated her notes at the end about her research, including what was fact as far as we know it, and what she interpreted. I want to read more by Melanie Benjamin!

* Originally reviewed Sept. 2013

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, by Melanie Benjamin

4 stars

Based on the life of Mercy Lavinia Bump Stratton.

"Vinnie" was born normal-sized, but after reaching toddler-hood, simply stopped growing physically. Her parents tried to protect her from life--wheels, horses, other children--but Vinnie would have none of it. She had big dreams; she wanted to make a difference; she wanted to see more of life than there was available in her bucolic home town.

As a teenager, when the chance came to join a showboat, she jumped at it and never looked back...much. From there on to P. T. Barnum's American Museum, to meeting and eventually marrying the world-famous small man, General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), her life was much bigger than her family had ever dreamed it could be. But at what cost to those she loved?

Benjamin does an excellent job portraying the inner life of this intelligent, ambitious woman, who just happened to be 32" tall. This could be a fun one for book club.

Originally reviewed Sept. 2013.

* * * * * *
Looking on Goodreads, I've got more of hers to catch up on, as well. I'm happy about that! The ones I haven't read yet are The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Mistress of the Ritz, The Girls in the Picture, plus a couple more.

Have you read any by her? What did you think?

June 13, 2019

Series Spotlight: Half Upon a Time, by James Riley

This is a trilogy that has taken me many moons to finish. The first book was given to us long ago--I have forgotten how or by whom. I read it way back then and enjoyed it very much, but somehow my frugal  (i.e. CHEAP) side kicked in and I never bought books 2 and 3 to finish it out. The libraries where we lived didn't have it. So it goes.

Then I received book 2 as a Mother's Day gift, and serendipitously happened to find book 3 at the library. Maybe they purchased it since I last checked?! So after 5 years, it's done in a couple of days. Nice!

Half Upon a Time (Half Upon a Time #1), by James Riley
4 stars: Delightful, with a side of sarcastic wit.
Jack has problems, like his grandfather's insistence that he rescue a princess when there are none to be found, for instance. Then a princess literally falls from the sky, and whether she likes it or not, she definitely needs rescuing. Figuring out who she is (could her grandma really be Snow White, or what?) and getting to the bottom of the whole situation is going to be an adventure for all involved.
A mashup of all sorts of fairy tales, Riley's quick wit and deft turn of phrase had me laughing in several parts of this book. The "modern girl dropped into a fairy tale world" theme worked very well here, because we got it all from Jack's point of view, with plenty of sarcastic exchanges between the characters. Along the way there were close shaves with giants, witches (and their children), and a wolf.
It did leave several loose ends to tie up, but it is the first book of a trilogy, so I suppose that's to be expected.
Content: clean
(Originally reviewed September 2014)

** 2019 update: While I did not find it as laugh-out-loud funny as the first time around, I still enjoyed it very much. I would stick with the 4 star rating.

Twice Upon a Time (Half Upon a Time, #2), by James Riley

3 stars: It's the middle book--what did you expect?

Jack, May and Prince Phillip are back to save the world--again. Well, sort of. In attempt to find out who May really is, they happen upon several legendary characters in need of some assistance; if by "assistance" you mean "demand favors at the risk of their lives." The Pied Piper, Bluebeard, the Little Mermaid, and several more. The problems keep coming and these 3 friends keep finding themselves in deeper and deeper, literally and figuratively.

Meanwhile, Jack's dreams are constantly disturbed by an Eye (Wicked Queen's extraordinary guards/henchmen) named Lian who hassles him, predicts his every move, and smacks him around quite often just for the fun of it. It doesn't help that the Mirror's prophecy hangs over all their heads: one of the boys will betray May and one will die. Nothing like a good old prophecy to keep things chipper.

It will take everything they've got simply to survive, but rest assured they'll do it with plenty of sarcastic comments and foolishly bold feats of daring.

* * * * *
Well, talk about a sidetracked adventure! One or two questions about a person's identity become a tidal wave of things gone wrong. The verbal sparring of three main characters was still my favorite part of the book. There were some plot lines that didn't make sense for most of the book, which got old, but I was willing to stick it out based on my general enjoyment of it. It was fun to see how many stories and fairy tales I could spot.

Content: Clean.

Once Upon the End (Half Upon a Time, #3), by James Riley

4 stars: The plot twists in this one were great!

The 3 friends are at the beginning of this final tale, with Phillip and his rescued Sleeping Beauty (Penelope) back in his kingdom doing boring royal stuff; May sleeping in an attic and cooking and cleaning for her surly stepmom and stepsisters; and Jack on the side of the Wicked Queen as one of her Eyes. Nothing is going right for any of them, it seems. And yet...

* * * * *
I'm not going to go any further with my description, because I don't want to give anything away. Never fear, though, there are adventures aplenty still ahead for our Fearsome Threesome--oh, Foursome, I guess now, with Penelope. There were some fun and very clever plot twists that kept everything hopping and incidentally, made certain parts of Books 1 & 2 make more sense.

I was satisfied by the ending--of the book itself and of the trilogy.

Content: Clean.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is a fun series. It's Young Adult/Teen, but I would say probably young teen. Actually, my 11 year old and my 9 year old have read the first book and liked it, so it could go down to elementary-aged kiddos as well.

I appreciated that Riley kept it squeaky clean throughout the series. Even with the boy/girl dynamics, there were a couple of kisses to awaken sleeping...people, but other than that, it was all just fun and innocent. Even the kisses were innocent--everyone was pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, to be  honest!

The characters are all very witty and full of ready one-liners for every perilous situation they encounter. While everything did come together by the end, I liked that it didn't just fall into place from the get-go, particularly with certain relationships. Jack's relationship with his Dad and sister was an interesting story arc.

I guess now I may actually have to purchase book 3, so we have the whole set at home!