Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is absolutely charming (no pun intended!) Arthur Pepper is a man of habit and routine, waking at the same time, eating his toast and tea at the same time, watering his fern daily, and mourning the death of his wife of 40 years. On the first anniversary of her death, he decides it's time to clean out her clothing. As he's sorting through her clothes, he discovers a heavy gold charm bracelet hidden inside her boots. He's never seen it before and it sets him wondering about it. He discovers a phone number engraved on one of the charms which he decides to call. The person on the other end is in India, and as the result of a very surprising conversation, Arthur's life is completely changed. He proceeds to investigate the origin of each of the unique charms on the bracelet and with each charm, he discovers hidden depths -- of his wife, but even more surprisingly within himself.

Arthur is a completely lovely character, and the courage he shows in changing his life is a good lesson for all. I loved this book! I wish I could give it 6 stars!

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This historical novel featured Beryl Markham and traced her early life in what is now Kenya through 2 marriages, to her historic cross-Atlantic flight in 1936. I had read Markham's memoir a while ago, but that focused more on her career as a pilot, while this focused more on her struggles to find happiness and a feeling of belonging. Paula McLain appears to have really connected with Markham and presents her in a very loving manner.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Bridge to Haven

Bridge to Haven Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Abra Matthews is abandoned under a bridge as an infant in the tiny town of Haven. She's rescued by the town's minister and he and wife foster her until she's 5 years old. But when her mother dies, her father realizes he's unable to raise her. He gives her to another family in town. Abra feels abandoned, unwanted, and unloved for the rest of her childhood, and when she's 16, a smooth-talking Adonis sweeps her off her feet. She runs away with him to Los Angeles, where she quickly learns what a horrible mistake she's made. She ends up falling into the hands of a successful Hollywood agent who molds her into "Lena Scott", his vision. Abra soon risks losing herself into his creation, and she begins to rebel. I think that my enjoyment of this novel was dimmed by the heavy-handed Christian evangelizing. The symbolism was overwrought, and while I did like Pastor Zeke, I found his son Joshua too good to be true. I think the author's message would be more effective if the reader wasn't constantly hit over the head with it.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Feeling Accomplished

1.  Last Sunday I had an afternoon all by myself as my husband was driving a busload of campers home from NH to southeastern MA.  The weather wasn't conducive to outside activities so I plunked myself down on the sofa, found a episode of Vera on Acorn TV, and opened up a kit for a knitted bracelet which I had received on Friday.  I haven't knitted jewelry before, thinking I wouldn't like it.  Boy was I wrong.

Here's the finished piece which took me one episode of Vera, and a very early episode of Inspector Morse.  It's called Texo Cuff, by my favorite knitting designer, Laura Nelkin.

2.  On Monday, I embarked on a personal walking challenge.  I met a friend and we walked a 2 mile path through the woods on our town's Rails to Trails.  It is a very level trail which made it do-able for me.  I had to stop twice, briefly to catch my breath, but I made it.  It took us almost an hour.  I was drenched in sweat, however, when we finished.  I had to jump into the shower the minute I got home!  But I was very pleased with myself.    And then, on Wednesday, I walked the same route by myself.  I stopped once very briefly. The rest of Wed. was busy, and by the time I went to bed, I had put  10,084 steps on my Garmin.  The first time I hit 10,000 steps!   On Saturday, I walked the trail a third time, stopping only for a couple of photos, and I completed the walk in 45 minutes.   Today, I walked from my house to the end of the road and back, just over a mile round trip.  The challenge for the walk however was a longish, and steep uphill on the outbound trip, and a less steep, but longer incline on the return.  I made it to the top of the hill both times though without stopping, and I logged 27 intensity minutes on my Garmin which meant that I was exercising above my heart rate target for a good part of the walk.

3.  I have managed to keep my food intake down to about 1500 calories daily, all week.  And I haven't felt deprived or starving to death.  In fact the last 2 nights, after logging in all my food, I'd discovered I actually hadn't eaten enough!  Last night, I still had 743 calories available.   That's probably why I had felt hungry.  I ended up eating ONE serving of whole grain cereal with almond milk, using up 270 of those calories, and bringing my calorie total for the day up to just under 1100 calories.    I have a very long way to go, though, before I can move that balance scale weight another notch to the left.  Baby steps.

A few photos from the trail:

Review: Five Days Left

Five Days Left Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I couldn't put this one down. Scott is a white middle school teacher in Detroit. He and his wife have become foster parents to an 8 yr old African-American boy, Curtis, whose mother is in jail on drug charges. Curtis' mother has been released from jail, and as the book opens, Curtis is scheduled to return to his mother's custody --- in 5 days. Scott is heartbroken, but his wife is thrilled that they are done with fostering. Mara has been diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, and the disease is progressing more quickly than she and her family hoped. She has decided to end her life on her birthday --- in 5 days. The story of these 5 days in both their lives is told in alternating chapters. The author's style reminded me of Jodie Picoult as did the tough questions that Scott and Mara have to ask themselves.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Always Dakota

Always Dakota Always Dakota by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good conclusion to the Dakota trilogy. Loose ends all tied up in a satisfying fashion.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Mr. Churchill's Secretary Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maggie Hope, recent graduate of Wellesley College, was forced to turn down an MIT scholarship so that she could go to London to sell a house that had been left to her by her grandmother. The house didn't sell, so Maggie, a British citizen, has decided to stay in London. Britain has just declared war on Germany and she hopes to get a job as a private secretary in a government agency. Despite her superb qualifications as a mathematician, all she can obtain is a typist's job in the office of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. She's opened her house to several other women, and she has developed friendships with a number of people. She's frustrated by the limitations of her job, but her life gets very complicated when she discovers that the aunt who raised her has lied about her father. Although it was true that her mother died in an accident, it appears that her father didn't die in that accident despite what she's been told. Things are further complicated by a group of IRA sympathizers who are working to bring the British government down. Maggie discovers that she is in the center of things, although she's not sure exactly what she's in the center of.

I was really drawn into the plot and had a hard time putting this book down. While I did guess part of the resolution, I didn't guess it all. And it appears that this book is the beginning of a series. I will check out the next book.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: An Appetite for Violets

An Appetite for Violets An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Biddy Leigh, under-cook, is anticipating her marriage to Jem, when her life takes her in a different direction. Instead of marriage, she's assigned to accompany her master's new wife Corinna, on a mysterious journey to Italy. Corinna has a secret that she soon entangles Biddy in. Biddy finds herself impersonating her mistress, much to the hatred of Corinna's attendant and Mr. Pars, the steward. Disaster and tragedy strike, putting Biddy's life in danger.

The story is told from three perspectives: Biddy's journal carries most of the narrative, but it's supplemented by Mr. Pars' letters to his brother, and by the recollections and memories of Lovejoy, a Polynesian footman who had been captured near Batavia, and sold to his master. The story is also supported by a collection of very old recipes that are contained in Biddy's prized cookery book. This was an interesting though melodramatic read.

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Step by Step

I am feeling accomplished this week so far --- it IS only Wednesday.  On Monday a friend and I did a brisk walk on our town's Rails to Trails path.  The markers on the path said we walked 1.5 miles, but my Garmin says it was 2 miles.

Today, I walked the same path by myself, very early this morning.  It took me about 40 minutes to walk the 2 miles, but my Garmin recorded 21 minutes of intense exercise.    I stopped a couple of times for pictures and once for a breather.  I checked my heart rate a couple of times and was definitely at or above my target zone for most of the walk.  The bugs weren't too bad, but I had "deeted" myself up prior to the walk.  I had parked my car at one end of the trail segment, and had my husband drop me off at the other end of the segment.

It was lovely out there.  I didn't see a single person the whole way.  I heard lots of bullfrogs croaking, and the bird songs were gorgeous.  I did see lots of birds too, mostly feeding on the just-ripening blueberries.  Most of them flew away before I could get a firm ID on them, but I did startle a flock of cedar waxwings.

Here are a few pictures I took:

The end of the walk 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: The Apartment

The Apartment The Apartment by Danielle Steel
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Four career women share an apartment in Hell's Kitchen, NY and this book covers about a year in their lives. Clara is a designer who wants to design fashionable shoes but instead is stuck working for a super traditional shoe company. Abbie is stuck in a dead-end relationship which stifles her creative voice in the writing career she desires. Sasha is finishing her training in OB/GYN and has no time for a social life. Finally, Morgan works at a prestigious investment firm and has a serious relationship with a restaurant owner, but has vowed never to get married.

I found this book pretty boring. There was no depth to the characters and it read more like a plot summary. And despite the fact that over the course of the year, the women encountered a murder, witness protection, an unwanted pregnancy, and an investment fraud, there was no excitement or suspense.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Trying Once Again

For as long as I can remember, I've been overweight, and for most of my life I've been fat. As a child my mom shopped in the "Chubbette" section for me, and I went straight to the women's sizes when I hit teenhood.  Back in my day there were no cool, fashionable clothes for the size 16 or 18 teen.  When I was in 7th grade, my pediatrician prescribed a 600 calorie a day diet for me that my mom and I followed strictly.  I was so excited when I bought a size 12 dress that year.  Unfortunately 2 things happened.  I couldn't sustain 600 calories a day for more than about 6 months (!) so the weight came back on.  But more permanently my metabolism went from slow to snail's pace.  I'm still dealing with the consequences.  At any rate, when I got married at age 23, I wore a size 22 wedding dress.  I briefly lost some weight, getting down to 140 lbs, with Weight Watchers, at the end of the '70's.  But then I got pregnant and my weight ballooned again.  After 2 pregnancies and a miscarriage, I weighed close to 300 lbs.  I eventually leveled off, fluctuating between 250-257 lbs. Then I started dealing with rheumatoid arthritis which left me reeling until it was diagnosed and the meds started working.  I abandoned my 3x/week water aerobics class and my 2x/week strength training because I just couldn't summon the energy to move and I couldn' t grasp things.  It was all I could do to work.   I gave up and of course the weight started creeping up again.

On June 1st I went to the dr where the blood work showed my A1C had also crept up to 6.8.  I came home and ordered a Garmin Vivosmart HR device which is waterproof so I can wear it in the pool.  I also signed up for a calorie counting app - myfitnesspal-- which synchs with the Vivosmart.  So since June 1st I've entered every bit of food that's gone into my mouth and I started keeping track of my steps.  I've been able to limit my calories to about 1600 on a daily basis, and I've been attempting to meet my daily step goals.  I haven't felt too limited (yet) with the calorie restrictions, enjoying gelato and ice cream occasionally.  My biggest diet changes have been to snack on cucumbers, strawberries, or Campari tomatoes instead of crackers, or cookies, or Werther's hard candies.  I've cut out most bread, limited rice, and had pasta only occasionally.  I've also started using unsweetened almond milk (which drives my former dairyman husband crazy) instead of milk on cereal and in breakfast smoothies.  I do allow myself a tablespoon (measured!!) of 1/2 and 1/2 in my unsweetened iced coffee.

The upshot of all this is that I've lost 14 lbs and I got to move the 50 lb weight on the balance scale at the Wellness Center to the left for for the first time in 30 years. I also set small goals --- "I'm going to lose 10 lbs"  instead of "I'm going to lose 140 lbs."  Having done various weight loss programs over the years, I also know that the first 10 lbs are relatively easy.  It gets hard now.  But this is the first time I've combined exercise with heathier eating.   I'm nervous now, because the pool which I go to work out in at least 4 times a week is closed for the next 4 weeks. I'll have to do my sweating in the air instead of the water.  And I know that I'm in a "honeymoon" stage with everything right now.  I hope I can make the honeymoon last for a very long time!

So, I'm trying once again. Maybe it will be the last time I have to.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: Last One Home

Last One Home Last One Home by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick cozy read with an extremely predictable plot, and unrealistic family reconciliations. Not that reconciliations don't occur, just not as easily as in the book. But it's brain candy!

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Review: Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on real people and events, this book follows three women through the horrors of the concentration camps. Kasia, a young Polish Catholic woman, is arrested and sent to Ravensbruck for her activities in the Polish undeground. She becomes one of the "Rabbits", a group of prisoners who are subjected to horrific surgical procedures. Herta is a rarity. She's a female doctor who takes a job at Ravensbruck, thinking it's a re-education camp. However, when she discovers what it really is, she willing participates in the atrocities. Caroline is an American socialite with ties to France. She works as a volunteer at the French consulate and has created an organization which supports French orphanages. She becomes involved with Kasia at the end of the war when her volunteer work brings the plight of the "Rabbits" who are now behind the Iron Curtain.

This was a compelling read, but was also hard to read at times.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: Dakota Home

Dakota Home Dakota Home by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #2 in the Dakota series. Another cozy read. My only complaint is that I think there was too much rehashing of book #1 at the beginning. While a bit of back story can be helpful in a series, especially if there has been a huge gap in the publication of sequels, sometimes authors go overboard. This was one of those cases. However, true to formula, there was romance, complication, and satisfying endings. And a few loose threads for book #3.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: Dakota Born

Dakota Born Dakota Born by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lindsay Snyder has moved to Buffalo Valley, North Dakota from Savannah, GA to start over. The man she was in love with refuses to make a commitment and she's broken it off with him. Buffalo Valley is her father's hometown, and it's a town on the verge of dying. She takes a job as the town's only school teacher and soon begins making waves. She quickly gains the attention of Gage Sinclair, and of course, since this is Debbie Macomber, sparks fly.

There is the predictable happy ending, some loose ends that will be picked up in the next book in the series, and an afternoon of enjoyable reading.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Review: Beachcombers

Beachcombers Beachcombers by Nancy Thayer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set on Nantucket, this is the story of the Fox family which is comprised of Jim, a widower, and his three adult daughters Abbie, Emma. and Lily. Abbie and Emma have just returned to their childhood home. Emma's life has crashed around her; she's lost her job and her fiance. Abbie comes home when Lily sends her an SOS. All 3 women are trying to figure out who they are and what they want. Jim is in the midst of discovering a new relationship with Marina, a recently divorced woman who has rented a cottage on their property.

I enjoyed this "beach read" and found the most of the characters likable. Lily annoyed me, but I think she was supposed to! The ending was a bit too sugary, but it made for very pleasant summer reading.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: The Obsession

The Obsession The Obsession by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Naomi Carson, gifted photographer, has a secret past she hopes stays secret. When she buys an old house on the northwest Pacific coast, she thinks she's finally found a safe harbor. Then she meets Xander Keaton who manages to get through all her defenses. As she begins to come to terms with that, a gruesome murder in her new town threatens to destroy her fledgling happiness.

The characters are likable, and Nora Roberts does a great job of describing the beauty Naomi sees through her camera lens. Because it's Roberts, there's the comfort of knowing that the ending will be happy and/or satisfying.

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: The Island

The Island The Island by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chess Tate's wedding is fast approaching and her mother Birdie has invited her to spend a week at the family summer home on small island off the coast of Nantucket. Suddenly Chess breaks her engagement and quits her fast-track job with no explanations given. Then her fiance dies. The mother-daughter trip is expanded to include Chess's sister Tate and Birdie's sister India. Once on the primitive island (no electricity, no hot water) the four women come to terms with a variety of losses and issues. This is a lovely story about mothers and daughters, and about sisters. Each woman comes to terms with grief, divorce, jealousy, and identity as the island works its magic. The story is told in pieces from each woman's perspective, and through it all the love they hold for each other shines through. I really enjoyed this novel.

Update: July 2 2016. I don't believe it!! I read this book 4 years and have no memory of it. I liked it this time around but was planning to give it only 3 stars. I thought it was a bit slow -- perhaps because I'd already read it and while I didn't consciously remember it, maybe I did subconsciously!

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Sworn to Silence

Sworn to Silence Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast-paced thriller set in a small Ohio town. Kate Burkholder is the police chief faced with a horrific crime that may be linked to her childhood rape and her self-defense killing of her assailant. Her assailant was suspected of a string of gruesome murders that ceased with his death. Complicating the investigation is the fact that she grew up Amish but left the community. Her Amish family kept her rape and the murder secret and now 16 years later, it appears that the Slaughterhouse Killer is back. Kate battles a nervous town council who call in backup, as well as the long-held family secret. I read this in one afternoon. I couldn't put it down. Despite some graphic descriptions of the murdered victims (which I skimmed over), I really liked this and am looking forward to the next one.

Update: Re-read this book June 27-June 30, 2016. It had been so long since I'd read the series, I decided to start again. I found this less compelling the second time around, although I hadn't remembered who the villain was. I think my gruesome meter has become more sensitive with age; I found the graphic descriptions disturbing this time around.

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