Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: The Nightingale Girls

About the Book:
Three very different girls sign up as student nurses in 1936, while England is still mourning the death of George V. Dora is a tough East Ender, driven by ambition, but also desperate to escape her squalid, overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen is the quiet one, a mystery to her fellow nurses, avoiding fun, gossip and the limelight. In fact she is in the formidable shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life. Can a nursing career free Helen at last? The third of our heroines is naughty, rebellious Millie an aristocrat on the run from her conventional upper class life. She is doomed to clash over and over again with terrifying Sister Hyde and to get into scrape after scrape especially where men are concerned.

My Comments:
Once upon a time I wanted to be a nurse.  In the early 1970's I read piles of nurse romance novels, many of which were set in hospital schools of nursing where girls in blue striped pinafores moved from being probationers who did menial chores to graduate nurses who were in charge of wards.  Students provided labor in exchange for training; a system that pretty much came to an end in the 1970's.  However, that system started years earlier, and the Nightingale Hospital in London was one of the early adopters.  Their students nurses were paid employees who lived on the grounds and were under the supervision of the hospital 24/7. 

This is the the story of these three young women's first year as student nurses.  It is full of period details like descriptions of the hospital wards, the social season and the East End tenements.  Women of a certain age will remember when marriage was a career-ending event.  Those of us familiar with the "same day surgery" concept of hospital care will contrast that with patients remaining on the wards for weeks until they were completely recovered from whatever ailed them.  

I enjoyed watching these three girls, their friends and their enemies grow during this formative year in their lives and I look forward to reading the other books in the series.  If it is important to you, the only sex scenes in the book were abusive and if you didn't realize what was happening you wouldn't know what it was from the description given.  The book is set in England and uses English spellings and words (most notably "Sister" for a charge nurse.)  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the week: With apologies to any of you who pre-wrote your posts using the questions listed above, I'm changing the question this week.  Many of us have been blogging for a long time.  This week's "question of the week" isn't really a question, it's a request:  Go back at least a year and link us to one or more old posts that you'd like to promote or encourage us to read again.  My old posts:

I didn't blog this week.  What about you?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the week:  Introduce yourself. Some of us have been participating for a long time; others are relative newcomers. Take a minute and briefly tell us about yourself and your blog.

Hi, I blog under the name RAnn though it wouldn't take much detective work on your part to learn my real name.  I'm a resident of the New Orleans area, and mom to three kids.  My 22  year old son is autistic and just started his first real job.  Please say a prayer that it works out.  My 19 year old daughter is starting her sophomore year at Northwestern State University of Louisiana (fork 'em Demons!).  She is a history major and part of the Louisiana Scholars College.  My youngest is ten, and a fifth grader at our parish school.  She is an altar server and a Girl Scout.  I work full time as a paralegal and the attorneys I work for do auto insurance defense and criminal defense.  In my spare time I like to read and write and this blog is primarily a book blog.  

This week I did Seven Quick Takes.  I reviewed a Christian romance about a war widow and her husband's twin. I also reviewed an inspiring memoir about a man who was convicted of killing his wife--and later found to be innocent.  

Somebody Like You: My Review

Somebody Like You: A Novel

About the Book:
Haley’s three-year marriage to Sam, an army medic, ends tragically when he’s killed in Afghanistan. Her attempts to create a new life for herself are ambushed when she arrives home one evening—and finds her husband waiting for her. Did the military make an unimaginable mistake when they told her Sam was killed? 

Too late to make things right with his estranged twin brother, Stephen discovers Sam never told Haley about him. As Haley and Stephen navigate their fragile relation­ship, they are inexorably drawn to each other. How can they honor the memory of a man whose death brought them together—and whose ghost could drive them apart? 

Somebody Like You is a beautifully rendered, affecting novel, reminding us that while we can’t change the past, we have the choice to change the future and start anew.

My Comments:
On thing this blurb doesn't tell you is that Haley is expecting a baby--a baby she never told Sam about.  Now as the baby is getting closer she is finding it harder and harder to hold life together on her own.  Unfortunately, one thing Sam always told her he loved about her was her strength, her ability to manage life on her own, and now she has a problem asking for the help she needs.  

As noted above Sam and Stephen had become estranged.  When Stephen shows up wanting to help there is no only the problem of wondering why Sam and never spoken about Stephen but also the problem of Haley's independence.  I enjoyed watching these two learn about themselves by comparing stories of Sam and watching them learn to love themselves and each other.  

The book is light Christian.  There are no intimate scenes but there are no long sermons that just perfectly fit where the characters are in life either.  While their faith plays a part in the story it isn't a "find Jesus find love" story either.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Seven Quick Takes

It is back to school time.  My youngest started fifth grade, my middle child is a sophomore in college and my oldest just got his first real job. 
Photo: So excited to start 5th grade.  Even my baby grows up.
Doesn't she look excited?

I've been writing blog posts about our recent efforts to get our finances in order and figure out the best way to invest my recent inheritance.  Last night we got the first statement on our new mutual fund portfolio from the financial planners.  My husband's IRA went from being invested in one mutual fund to being invested in twenty-three funds.  I put the whole portfolio in Morningstar and analyzed it there. I understand what they are doing and why, but it still seems like a lot of funds.  You can read about our financial planning journey at Getting our Financial House in Order and at Meeting with the Financial Planner.  
Another topic I've been blogging about is my foray into peer-to-peer lending.  Basically, a website facilitates those with money (investors/lenders) lending money to those who need it (borrowers).  Lenders win because they get more interest than the banks pay (but assume risks they wouldn't if their money was in the bank) and borrowers win because they pay less interest than they would pay a bank.  You can read more at Lending Club:  My New Toy, How I Invested My Money, Buying Notes on Lending Club:  New or Old?, Lending Club:  How to Sell Notes and Lending Club:  One Month Later.
When I started this blog, it didn't have any real focus; thus the name "This That and the Other Thing".  Over the years (yikes, it has been nine years since I started this blog) it has evolved into a book blog, with a few other things thrown in.  I'm thinking about moving the financial posts to another blog, and seeing if it goes anywhere.  On the other hand, I'm by no means a personal finance or business expert, nor am I willing to invest huge amounts of time in blogging.  What do you think?  Should I start another blog for these financial posts (which are, as I noted in some of the posts, a shameless effort to be noticed by search engines to attract new readers).
One chore I'm going to have to attack in the next couple of months is my parents' house.  My Dad died in April and my siblings agreed to keep the house together until it cleared probate, which should happen next month.  My brother is getting the house and has no immediate plans for it, so no one is in any hurry and I'm pretty much the only one who wants more than trinkets from the house.  Still, someone has to do something with all that stuff....
I'd like to invite the 7 Quick Takes group to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other.  Those of you who have been around a while may have participated in the Catholic Carnival when it used to move from blog to blog and when the host used to weave comments about each participant's post into one unified whole.  Well, when the host no longer wanted to continue and no one picked it up, and when I read people bemoaning its demise, I brought it back as a link-up.  We'd love to have you join us.  The host post should be up tomorrow afternoon on this blog.
I'll close with a prayer we say at the end of Mass weekly in our archdiocese.  Given the situation in Missouri, I think it is a good prayer to spread:

Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they more form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.

Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Getting Life

About the Book:
He spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He lost his wife, his son, and his freedom. This is the story of how Michael Morton finally got justice—and a second chance at life.

On August 13, 1986, just one day after his thirty-second birthday, Michael Morton went to work at his usual time. By the end of the day, his wife Christine had been savagely bludgeoned to death in the couple’s bed—and the Williamson County Sherriff’s office in Texas wasted no time in pinning her murder on Michael, despite an absolute lack of physical evidence. Michael was swiftly sentenced to life in prison for a crime he had not committed.

He mourned his wife from a prison cell. He lost all contact with their son. Life, as he knew it, was over.

It would take twenty-five years—and thousands of hours of effort on the part of Michael’s lawyers, including the team at the New York-based Innocence Project—before DNA evidence was brought to light that would ultimately set Michael free. The evidence had been collected only days after the murder—but was never investigated.

Drawing on his recollections, court transcripts, and more than one thousand pages of personal journals he wrote in prison, Michael recounts the hidden police reports about an unidentified van parked near his house that were never pursued; the treasure trove of evidence, including a bandana with the killer’s DNA on it, that was never introduced in court; the call from a neighboring county reporting the attempted use of his wife’s credit card (a message that was received, recorded, and never returned by local police); and ultimately, how he battled his way through the darkness to become a free man once again.

Getting Life is an extraordinary story of unfathomable tragedy, grave injustice, and the strength and courage it takes to find forgiveness.

My Comments:
How often have you heard it?  "The crook got off because of a technicality!".  We consider that to be a bad thing--after all, the %$##&*&  was clearly guilty and the police and prosecutors did what they were supposed to do--they tried to put the creep away for a long time.  Michael Morton was clearly guilty in the eyes of the district attorney who prosecuted him.  The prosecutor got him put away for life for killing his wife.  The only problem is that Morton didn't do it.  

There is a case called Brady vs. Maryland which says that prosecutors have to turn exculpatory evidence over to the defense.  In other words, if they interview me and I tell them a story they don't want to hear, one that puts the accused somewhere else, or that describes the perpetrator in such as way that it couldn't be the defendant, the prosecution has to give that evidence to the defense.  Of course the hitch in that system is that either the defense has to know the evidence exists or the prosecution has to volunteer its existence.  While I am sure that most prosecutors do their duty and turn over evidence as required, I also know that Brady violations are a favorite appeal ground for defendants.  Sometimes prosecutors and defense attorneys have honest differences of opinion regarding whether certain evidence is exculpatory; other times prosecutors honestly forget about something and then there are the times when prosecutors don't want some stupid thing that they don't put any stock in blowing a reasonable doubt in their airtight case.  They "know" they are right and don't want anyone to get off on a "technicality".  

This is Michael Morton's story.  Morton was a man who loved his wife and his three year old son.  He left for work one day and came home to police tape around his house and a dead wife.  It wasn't long before he found himself a suspect and then convicted.  He was sent to prison but never lost hope and finally, after twenty-five  years, Morton was released because it was apparent that the prosecutors hid evidence that could have cleared him--and pointed them to the real killer.  

I found the book to be an engaging read and a reminder of why people like my boss are so necessary in this world (I'm a paralegal and one of the attorneys for whom I work does criminal defense work).  While I think our criminal justice system is one of the best in the world, it is administered by people, sometimes people who are more interested in their own public image than in the truth and I admire Morton for being able to come out of that system with his humanity intact.

I'd like the thank the publisher for making a review copy available.  I was not obligated to write a positive review.  Grade:  A.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: The Homecoming

About the Book:
At the age of nineteen, Seth Sileski had everything. A superb athlete and scholar, handsome and popular, he was the pride of Thunder Point. Destined for greatness, he lost it all in a terrible accident that put an end to his professional football career when it had barely begun. The people in his hometown have never forgotten what might have been. 

Seth has come to terms with the turns his life has taken. But now he's been presented with an opportunity to return home and show his father—and the people of Thunder Point—he's become a better, humbler version of his former self. 

My Comments:
I really enjoyed this latest episode in Robyn Car's Thunder Point series.  In high school Seth was the star athlete.  Iris was his best friend, but he dated the cheerleaders (and asked her for advice).  Then one night, when he was drunk, the two of them became more than friends--except that when Seth sobered up he didn't remember it.  Iris of course was heartbroken.  Still, she has never forgotten him.  Now she is the high school guidance counselor who tries to convince girls that they are worth more than that.  Seth was the pro athlete who had more money than sense.  An accident put an end to his career and forced him to grow up in a hurry.  Now, years later, he is back in town as the deputy sheriff, and he decides that it is time to be more than friends with his old friend--but for some reason she is reluctant.  

Letting go of the past allows these two to chart a future of love, and gives us a story that was fun to read. I liked both Seth and Iris and cheered them on happily ever after.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the Week: What did you do on your summer vacation?

My Answer:  Wow, it is hard to believe summer is over already.  It was pretty laid back around here.  I took a couple of trips to Mississippi to go the beach and to start to go through my parents' house.  That job has barely been started; we joke that some families fight over who gets stuff; we are fighting over who has to deal with it.  My youngest and I went to Savannah with the Girl Scouts, which was a lot of fun, and last week my family went to Disney World, which was hot, crowded and expensive.  I don't expect to go again.  

This week on my blog I reviewed a non-religious book about a marriage and included a little Eucharistic theology in the review.  I reviewed a book about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.   

I had two posts about my latest investment craze:  How to Sell Notes on Lending Club and Lending Club, One Month Later.  

Finally, I offer you a chance to win a cookbook.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

No Bow On This One: Accidents of Marriage

Accidents of Marriage: A Novel

About the Book:
From the bestselling author of The Comfort of Lies, an engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis.

Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—which works to keep a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.

Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Accidents of Marriage is a provocative and stunning novel that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

My Comments:
Interesting tile.  Catholics consider marriage to be a sacrament. Another sacrament is the Eucharist and part of Eucharistic theology is a discussion of "accidents" vs. substance.  "Accidents" are defined as  physical attributes - that is, what can be seen, touched, tasted, or measured, which is different from "substance", or deepest reality.  As Catholics we believe that during the Mass, the accidents of the bread and wine remain the same, but the substance, the deepest reality is changed to the Body and Blood of Christ.  In this book the accidents of Maddy and Ben's marriage are changed, but is the deepest reality?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

As noted above, Ben has anger problems, and one day that anger leads to a car accident that leaves Maddy with a traumatic brain injury.  She is in a coma for weeks and when she wakes, she has a lot of deficits to overcome.  This is the story of her family and her marriage during those times.  

Ben was raised Catholic; Maddy as a Jew.  As a married couple, they have not raised their children in either faith, or any faith.  When their mom is injured some of the kids seek God and pray but they never learn enough to understand the whole concept.  At the end of the book Maddy explains to her daughter that they didn't want the kids to hate--that's why they aren't religious. 

There are intimate scenes in the book but the conversation and situation is far more important than the mechanics, and if you are looking for an instruction manual, this isn't it.  

I read a lot of romance novels and one thing I like about them is their happily ever after tied up in a bow endings.  This book doesn't have that.  It ends with hope, not with finality and not with everything settled.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  Grade:  A

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Sacred Fire: Practicing Devotion to the Heart of Jesus

About the Book:
On the night before He died, Jesus called His disciples to abide in Him. This startling invitation to an intimate relationship with God is a great gift to all generations. The devotion to the Sacred Heart gives Catholics a practical way to respond to this invitation. Each of us can experience the love of Jesus in a way that transforms our own hearts. Sacred Fire illuminates the rich scriptural roots of the Sacred Heart devotion and recounts how it has evolved through the centuries. More importantly, it provides steps anyone can take to experience the infinite blessings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Embracing the Sacred Heart devotion brings the believer into a dynamic, personal relationship with Jesus. Lukewarm souls become fervent, and fervent souls enjoy ever greater blessings of Divine Mercy that begin in this life and last for all eternity.

My Comments:
I'm not big on practicing a bunch of devotions but one year my parish was pushing Sacred Heart Enthronement so we did it.  Now we have pictures in our living room but other than that, there was no long term change in our lives.  Nevertheless when asked to review this book I figured I'd give it a shot.  

The book is divided into two parts.  The first is titled "A Heart Open to All of Humanity" and it goes through the stories of the Sacred Heart including those of its devotees St. Gertrude the Great, St. Margaret Mary, St, Theresa Margaret, St. Teresa of the Andes and St. Faustina.  While I found the writing style to be somewhat simplistic and reminiscent of a high school term paper, the information was interesting.  

The second part is titled "Elements of Devotion" and discusses the Eucharist, the Litany of the Sacred Heart, Reparation to the Sacred Heart, Scriptural Foundations and the Promises of the Sacred Heart.  Those looking to practice devotion to the Sacred Heart will find a lot of possibilities.  

I'd like to thank the author, Philip Michael Bulman, for sending me a review copy of the book. I'm not expert enough in theology, scripture etc. to determine whether the book comports with Catholic doctrine.  I have not been able to find any information about the publisher (Laudate Press) and it looks like a self-published book.  There is a substantial bibliography.  Grade:  B.

Lending Club: One Month Later

One month's performance is not enough on which to completely evaluate a new investment; however, it is a good time to look back at what I have, what I have done, what I would do differently and how the investment has performed (especially when compared to what was expected).

As you may recall from past posts, I invested $1,000.  That money was able to be invested on July 10.  Today is August 10.  I invested $500 in brand new notes,  using a variety of criteria I had read in various blog posts, along with some "this looks good to me".  I have notes at varying levels and basically I'm trying to see how this all works.  I took me until the end of last week to get all $500 invested; several of the loans I had picked ended up not being funded and the money was put back in my account to re-invest.  My final result is shown below:

You can click on the picture for a better view, and you'll see that the average weighted interest rate is 13.6%, but that I have loans rated A-E.  At this time I have received no payments and no one has defaulted.  At the end of one month, this $500 has paid me nothing, though interest has accrued.  First payments begin today, and continue through September 6.  

I used the other $500 to buy resale notes.  I bought many of them at a premium--more than the outstanding principal and accrued interest--on the theory that the seller had absorbed the early default risk on the loan and that by the time I bought it, that risk was noticeably less than it was at the origination of the loan.  I also lost $10.16 buying notes that were in grace period (late but not too late) and then loosing my nerve and dumping them before I lost all my money.  This portfolio also has one note I just bought for $22.22 which hasn't made it over from the trading platform yet.  The final reason this portfolio isn't over $500 is because spare cash (right now $0.83) isn't in any portfolio.  Still, you can see that in the last month, this portfolio has paid me $5.16 in interest, and has returned $23.67 of my principal to me.  I've reinvested that money in more notes for this portfolio.  If you ignore my stupid mistake that cost me $10.16 and just look at the other $489.24, then math shows I earned 12.65% annual interest on that money.  However, due to the premium I paid for those notes, I'm in the hole right now--I still have $11.60 to make up before I break even.  On the positive side, I have received payments from all the loans in this portfolio but four, and they aren't due until this week.  So far, no bad payers.

I've continued to read about Lending Club and Peer-to-Peer lending and I decided to invest another $1500 so that I can try some of their automated tools that are available to those whose accounts are over $2500.  If I've caught your interest and you want to invest $5000.00 or more in a new IRA with Lending Club, leave a comment with your contact info and I'll send you an invitation that gives you a $25.00 bonus.

Cookbook Giveaway: The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook

About the Book:
Locals go to the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery in Water Valley, Mississippi, for its Skillet Biscuits and Sausage Gravy breakfasts, made-to-order chicken salad and spicy Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese sandwiches, and daily specials like Shrimp and Grits that are as good as momma made. The B.T.C.’s freezers are stocked with take-home Southern Yellow Squash Casseroles and its counter is piled high with sweets like Peach Fried Pies as well as seasonal produce, local milk, and freshly baked bread. 

“Be the Change” has always been the store’s motto, and that’s just what it has done. What started as a place to meet and eat is now so much more, as the grocery has become the heart of a now-bustling country town. The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook shares 120 of the store’s best recipes, giving home cooks everywhere a taste of the food that brought a community together, sparking friendships, reviving traditions, and revitalizing an American Main Street.

Click here to read my review.

The publishers are giving away a free copy.  

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