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 rest...eh 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. Just...do 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 family....read 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?