DEALING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES…& DISTRACTIONS

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Sometimes life’s unexpected treasures can be discovered in past moments…events we may have forgotten.

With blogging, we can sometimes recapture those moments.  As I changed my themes and headers on my remaining SIX blogs, I went back in my archives to read old posts.  As far back here as 2010.

Sadly, some of the links don’t work anymore, as the reviews or other title hook-ups go to blogs I no longer have.  Earlier today, I spent some time linking reviews to Goodreads, in those cases where the links went to “Neverland” (note my header with Neverland images).  Accidental?

But this could go on forever, right?  Do I want to spend time back there, fixing what is now broken, because of my recent actions?  Does it matter?

I must admit that I am a perfectionist, and sometimes my older blog posts make me cringe.

The content, not so much.  But the images and links…that’s another story.

But onward…and let’s focus on the present.  I am finally getting in the mood for the holidays, and brought out a few Christmas decorations. (Note the little gingerbread boy hanging on my cupboard at the top of the post).

In the image below, note the candy stripe “bear” hanging from another cupboard.  So far, I haven’t done much more in this part of the room.

 

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Here, on my pub table, I planted one of my miniature trees, and the little Christmas fairies.

 

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And on the hearth, you can see a few holiday “characters,” like the Nutcrackers.  The poinsettia seems a little “fake,” but that’s what I have from my bins.  Fantasia Mickey is a regular “greeter” on the hearth.

 

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Am I distracting myself from the consequences of my blog deleting?  The links that don’t work?  The ones I still should fix?

Well, I hope to also distract myself with reading…but the last two books I read didn’t do much for me.

Here’s hoping that this one, The Guest Room, by Chris Bohjalian, will do the trick.  It is a spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

 

 

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Do you ever search your past posts and cringe?  Do you try to fix things, or do you move on?  What are you hooked on now?

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HOW A NOVEL CAME TO BE: “AN ACCIDENTAL LIFE”

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Tonight when I found myself distracted from the book I was reading, I decided to peruse the archives in this blog, and found this post from 2010.  The photo (above) is one of me back in my early social work days:

In my novel “An Accidental Life,” I focused on a local phenomenon in the Central Valley of California – methamphetamine abuse. In the early nineties, I was working in child welfare services for the County of Fresno, and a proliferation of substance abuse cases (related to methamphetamine or “crank” abuse) became a regular aspect in the life of the social worker.

Years later, when I decided to pen a novel that featured these issues, I chose to zero in on characters that were composites of those I met during this time in my professional career. I also added my own personal take to the story by creating characters from my own history.

As a result, we have a bird’s eye view, as it were, into the lives of social workers and their clients.

To spice things up a bit, I added a subplot that featured a stalker/murderer, a nod to another aspect of Central Valley life – homicides. We have had our share of unsolved mysteries in this Valley city, but in my novel, I chose to reach a solution to the stalker/homicide that focuses on one of my characters.

Finally, because I do not believe in “happily ever after,” I did make one concession to this familiar theme: I chose what I call a “hopeful ending.” The characters are left with the faith that the “journey” in life is really what it’s all about. Finding themselves on the path of self-discovery, with its complexities and obstacles, allows the characters to persist – to believe.

In the end, that’s really all we have.

 

WHEN AUTUMN SLIPS TOWARD WINTER: MEMORIES & AN EXCERPT

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Fall is the season of new beginnings.  For me, that has always been the case, starting back in childhood when the season brought release from the long hot summer days…and the endless chores.  Living on a farm was like being on a treadmill of continuous chores.

Above is a photo of my second son and his daughter Aubrey, years ago when I still lived in my house in the foothills.  This snap was captured at Thanksgiving.  Aubrey is now in college, so you get the sense of the passage of time.

In the background, note the climbing device…my youngest son built that, and the grandchildren all clamored to it.

In my first published book, An Accidental Life, one of my characters lives in an A-frame house with a guest house next door.  Like mine.  Here’s an excerpt:

 

Autumn slipped toward winter, its days beginning with that hideous, low-hanging fog that characterized this part of the valley.   But Melody woke in the mornings feeling something akin to happiness.  Taking her large mug of coffee over near the tall side windows, where she had set up a little table and wicker chair, she would spread out the newspaper.  Reading, sipping her coffee, and occasionally glancing toward the guesthouse, waiting for the first sign of Hugh so she could invent some excuse to saunter on over.

Since their first encounter a few months back, the two of them had established a more or less regular routine.  One or the other would initiate contact, they would chat for a bit, and then they would end up in bed.  Melody still felt wonder when she reflected on their moments together.  What an unlikely pairing they were.

She felt the heat rising in her face as her thoughts raced backward and she quickly fanned herself with the front page of the paper.  Despite all the passion the two of them generated, however, she sometimes walked away afterwards wondering who Hugh Kincaid really was…They never really talked about anything substantive.  Oh, they had shared the superficial biographical sketches.  He knew that she had been in Haight-Ashbury in the sixties and on the road for awhile in the seventies.  He knew about the trust fund that had brought her this house.  She knew that he’d retired from a state job as an engineer, that he loved photography as art, and that he had been married once…But had no children.

Her brow furrowed as she tried to focus on the newspaper.  Her thoughts refused to cooperate, continuing instead to ramble in Hugh’s direction.  She realized that she wanted to know more.  And she was even willing to share more of herself.  The realization surprised and worried her at the same time.  What did it mean?

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What does Fall bring to you?  Family moments?  New beginnings? 

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WHEN LIFE THROWS US A CURVE….

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Our lives are a journey, and they bring unexpected treasures—as well as obstacles and problems to solve.

My Blogging Journey has been like that, too, and over at Potpourri, I have detailed some of those moments.  In 2009, I created several blogs, and this one was originally An Accidental Life, in honor of the first book I published.  That premise was all about those moments in life that seem accidental…serendipitous.  We can choose to see them as annoying…or they can be viewed as gifts.

Here are some images, followed by a description of An Accidental Life:

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The cover was based on the A-Frame house in the foothills where I lived when I wrote the book:

 

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Summertime is hot and dull in the Central Valley of California and four teenage girls from very different families are determined to spice it up. With a single-mindedness that foretells disaster, they push aside all the rules and explore the underbelly of valley life. Drugs, sex, alcohol, adventure, anything to challenge the norm, yet all experienced without the benefit of maturity. As the girls become increasingly uncontrollable, their mothers–from dramatically diverse social backgrounds–are forced to work together to save their daughters. Like a tornado moving across the landscape, lives are wrenched from their foundations…

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The young girls in my book were based on teenagers with whom I worked in my social work career…and I borrowed some of the characteristics from my daughter and her friends…embellishing them, of course, and fictionalizing them.

To this day, my daughter thinks the character Bridget is her…and she isn’t far off base.

The setting of the novel is California’s Central Valley, where I have lived for more than 40 years!  I cannot believe it even as I write the words.

I never intended to “end up” here:  another of life’s accidental moments…or unexpected treasures, depending on how you view it.

That’s what I am trying to share in the book.  Perhaps it seems as though life throws us challenges, accidentally, as it were.  But we do have a choice.  What we do with those unexpected events can inform our lives.  Are they a curse…or are they unexpected treasures?

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I just changed the “look” of this blog again…the image of the blackboard on the header and background take me back to my favorite moments:  school.  Especially my early years, when my teachers wrote on those blackboards. 

I grew up on a farm and had little exposure to many of the ideas I would find in school.  I soaked them up, like the treasures they were.

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What unexpected events in your life have transformed you, for good or bad?  Did you find that you could look at each thing from a different perspective?

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REVIEW: MY REAL CHILDREN, BY JO WALTON

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Confusion. Holes in her memory. A surreal sense of two separate lives that veered from one path into two during her younger years.

Patricia Cowan remembers a few incontrovertible facts about herself. She was born in Weymouth, England, in 1926. She attended Oxford University. And at one point, she was involved with a man named Mark.

But did she marry Mark and have four children and five stillbirths? Or did she live with Bee and have two biological children and one whom Bee gave birth to, but who was also her “real” child?

In both lives, Patty (or Trish or Pat) ended up with memory issues, living alone in a home, trying to piece together the lives she had lived and the choices she had made.

My Real Children was impossible to put down, and one could feel confused before reaching the final page. But along the way, the story of each life is told in alternate chapters, from the perspective of either Trish (four children, married to Mark) or Pat (living with Bee and with two children of her own and one who was not).

The narration is a summary of life moments, skipping ahead quickly in order to bring decades of two separate lives to the reader, from the 1940s to 2015. There were many characters, but some of them left an indelible print on the lives of our narrators, either through loving kindness or condescension, as in the case of Mark. He treated Trish badly, and demanded from her all the things an old-fashioned male chauvinist would expect from a wife. It is easy to see how an alternate life with a loving partner like Bee would appeal to Trish/Pat. The children in the life of Pat and Bee were more loving as well.

Could Patricia have imagined that life as an escape from the dreary one she shared with Mark? If the “real children” were the ones she shared with Mark, she would have to accept that they were dismissive and condescending, instead of the loving, caring children from her alternate life. In the end, however, Patricia concludes that they are all her “real” children, as she loved them all, no matter how they came to be or how they treated her.

I won’t stop thinking about this story and what it reveals about the nature of choice and memory. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy a good “sliding” reality tale. 4 stars.

REVIEW: FURTHER OUT THAN YOU THOUGHT, BY MICHAELA CARTER

18505817They had come to Los Angeles as dreamers, eager to imbue their lives with the magic of Neverland, and hoping to fulfill those dreams.

Gwendolyn Griffin, 25, has been putting herself through graduate school, and her job as a stripper was her way of paying for it. Living with Leo, the boyish man she had fallen in love with a few years before, she is now beginning to question her choice, as his perpetually stoned state leaves him no closer to his dreams as a musician and has put her in charge of paying the bills and keeping a tenuous grip on reality. A neighbor, a former nightclub crooner named Count Valiant, is slowly disappearing before their eyes as death marches toward him.

In Further Out Than You Thought: A Novel, we watch the slow crumbling of their dreams as they try to move forward, even while sliding backward. Then, on one explosive day as riots break out throughout the city after the Rodney King verdicts, we see events become a catalyst for change.

Poised to make a big decision about their futures, they take drastic actions. Will fleeing the city for an idyllic journey to Mexico help them find a new perspective? What will happen to them there that will put Gwendolyn’s choices in sharper focus? How will the trip clarify things between them all?

A dark, gritty story with poetic language that softens the harsh glare of their lives, I was totally engaged with what would happen to them, but mostly I connected with Gwendolyn, whose persona at the strip club is “Stevie.” Her narrative revealed much about her and her challenges and even as I questioned her choices, I could also understand how life sometimes throws curves that make logic and rational thought go out the window. By the end, I was rooting for her, even as I suspected that none of her future choices would be easy. This is not a book for those turned off by explicit sex and the harsh realities of lives gone wrong, but for those who do take it on, there is an opportunity to see how the downside of life can have rooting value. For me, this one earned four stars.

WEEKLY SUNDAY/MONDAY UPDATES: LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES!

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Good morning!  Today’s post will link up to Sunday Salon, The Sunday Post,  and Book Journey, for  Weekly Updates.

**Mailbox Monday is now hosted at the home site:  Mailbox Monday.

Good morning, Bloggers!  Grab some coffee (or a mimosa), and let’s talk about our weeks.

 

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This weekend, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Bloggiesta stuff.  My focus this time was on my Curl up and Read site.  I love how this event offers the opportunity to fix up the blog(s), and to connect with other bloggers.

Earlier, I went to see the movie This Is Where I Leave You, and it was every bit as delightful as I’d hoped.  Great cast, lots of funny moments, and I am happy I read the book first.

 

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HERE’S WHAT LAST WEEK LOOKED LIKE:

 

Bloggiesta To-Do List

Sunday Potpourri:  Night Reading & Netflix Watching

From the Interior:  The Kaleidoscope Turns Again – Gone Girl

Let’s Take a Risk with Intros/Teasers – “Safe Keeping”

Hump Day Potpourri:  Waiting for “Crazy Love You”

Guilty Pleasures:  Vintage Collections & Awesome Books

My Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts;  Bloggiesta, Etc.

Friday Sparks:  Book Beginnings/Friday 56 – “Crooked River”

Creative Saturday:  Found Treasures

Review:  A Question of Guilt (e-book), by Frances Fyfield (Mt. TBR Challenge)

Review:  Then and Always, by Dani Atkins (Vine Review)

Review:  A Wedding and a Killing, by Lauren Carr (Author Review Request)

 

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INCOMING BOOKS: (Titles/Covers Linked to Amazon)

Only ONE book came in the mailbox…from Amazon Vine, but Sparky is happy with the four e-books I downloaded.

Hello From the Gillespies, by Monica McInerney (Vine)

 

 

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Desolation Row (e-book), by Kay Kendall

 

 

 

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The Paying Guests (e-book), by Sarah Waters

 

 

 

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The Lemon Orchard (e-book), by Luanne Rice

 

 

 

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Ellen Foster (e-book), by Kaye Gibbons

 

 

 

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THE WEEK AHEAD:  (Titles/Covers Linked to Amazon)

 

Currently Reading:  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (e-book), by Susan Cain (For Mt. TBR Challenge)

 

 

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Then I hope to read these books:

 

Safe Keeping, by Barbara Taylor Sissel (Vine Review)

 

 

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Friendswood, by Rene Steinke (Vine Review)

 

 

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Crooked River, by Valerie Geary (Vine Review)

 

 

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Now I’m going to curl up on the sofa and finish reading Quiet…and I also plan to watch some movies on my DVR.  What did your week look like?  What are you eager to read and blog about next?

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Here’s a glimpse of my daughter in a gentler, more peaceful time….oh, what a difference a few years make!

 

 

Heather way back in the day

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REVIEW: THE LAST FIRST DAY, BY CARRIE BROWN

17288602Ruth and Peter van Dusen have stood together for more than fifty years, and on the first day of the term in the Derry School for Boys in Northern Maine, they are still together, but facing what lies ahead for them, now that Peter will likely retire soon. Will this be his final year? And, if so, what will become of them? They have lived in the headmaster’s cottage for forty years. Where would they go?

We meet Ruth first, in this story that weaves the past and present together, but begins in the year that Ruth and Peter are in their late seventies. They have been childless all their married lives, and despite Ruth’s own university education at Smith, Peter has mostly been the primary breadwinner.

As we follow them into the past, we learn more about how their lives became intertwined, almost serendipitously, in their childhoods.

Was it love at first sight for the two of them, in the small Massachusetts town where they first met? And were they drawn together because it was forbidden? Or was there an explosive spark that was inevitable?

When something tragically alters their lives going forward in that year when they were in their seventies, they are forced to move on….and perhaps, to look backwards, to find the core of strength that has sustained them.

In their younger years, as Ruth struggled to find her own place, she returned regularly for many of those years to Dr. Wenning, the psychiatrist for whom she worked back then, but who has remained a confidante and support system for Ruth, helping her make sense of her past. The secrets she carried with her always would inform her present and future, but she seemed to make peace with them.

I enjoyed the back and forth flow of The Last First Day: A Novel, as it helped me understand more about this couple, who could seem, in their twilight years, to be just an ordinary husband and wife facing retirement. They are so much more…and at the end, I was sad to say goodbye to them. I liked how, in the ending, the author took us back again to reveal additional details about them. I wanted to know more about the past secrets that were never revealed, however, but perhaps the mystery was more like real life. A journey through the years from 1945-to the twenty-first century, the story centers on themes of family, careers, and women’s issues. Four stars.

FROM RECLUSE TO “ZEN GODDESS” – AN AUTHOR’S ACCIDENTAL LIFE

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When aging novelist Amy Gallup has a freak accident in her backyard, only hours before a scheduled interview that she has almost forgotten, nothing could have prepared her for the subsequent fallout of her literal “fall.”

Almost immediately, we are struck by the theme of how accidents can have such unexpected consequences, but for Amy, her accident thrusts her into an ensuing period of renewed interest in her work, as well as to participation in a number of radio interviews and panel discussions throughout the country.

Up until then, Amy had been a recluse for years. And as we see her struggling against participating in the events that unfold, we are shown some of her backstory, including her marriage to her best friend Max and a subsequent marriage to someone she thinks of as “Bob,” complete with quotes; and the thought of whom makes her cringe to this day. We learn more about why as we keep turning those pages.

Amy is the kind of character I enjoy, for her eccentric charm, witty repartee, and even for her struggle to remain a private person. But it was also fun to watch her slowly coming into her own in this new age of social media and realizing that she could roll with those punches,too. One of the funniest events involved a panel discussion and a firestorm of tweets that bombarded her on that day, and on subsequent days on her blog.

What did Amy learn most about herself along the way? How did her new experiences change the way she viewed her future? And what did her basset hound Alphonse contribute to her new world?

A book that was funny and charming, and a little quirky, Amy Falls Down: A Novel kept my attention throughout most of it, but there were some moments in the middle when it didn’t quite grab me. But before I turned away from it entirely, I kept going and the story engaged me once again. Four stars.

SERENDIPITOUS RESOLUTIONS: BOOKING THROUGH THURSDAY — JAN. 3

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Welcome to our special Thursday event:  Booking Through Thursday, the place to go when you want to talk books.

Today’s Prompt:

Any reading resolutions for the new year? Reading more? (Reading less?) Reading better books? Bigger books? More series? More relaxing books?

And hey, feel free to talk about any other resolutions you might have, too … or why you choose NOT to have any.

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Speaking of reading plans, my New Year’s Resolutions this year are simple.

  I want more balance in my life, along with peace and harmony.

Vowing to make healthy choices tops the list, too.

Learning to say “no” to review books that don’t appeal to me.  I’ve been working on this one for awhile.  I hope to get better at it this year!

I want to read more books from my own stacks and pick books that I initially bought or accepted because I think I’ll enjoy them.

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My challenges for this year mesh nicely with these resolutions.  Like the Mt. TBR 2013.  In previous years, I’ve joined challenges like this one and whittled down those stacks.

Then there’s the Sequels Challenge, which will allow me to focus on the series books that I haven’t finished.

Some of the books I really enjoy are the Cozies, so Cruisin’ Through the Cozies was another choice for me.

Finally….the Women’s Murder Club Challenge will help me grab those James Patterson books that I enjoy.

I love a nice mix of books.  So between these challenges, and saying “no” to review books that don’t absolutely entice me should make for a great reading year.

What about you?  What will your 2013 look like?