Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 3% Signal

Learn to maximize stock market returns.   Read my review at Racing to Retirement.  

A New Hope: My Review

About the Book:
After losing her child, Ginger Dysart was lost in grief. But since moving to Thunder Point, a small town on the Oregon coast, Ginger is finally moving forward. Her job at the flower shop is peaceful and fulfilling, and she's excited to be assisting with the Lacoumette wedding. 

In spite of her lasting heartache, Ginger is swept up in the pleasure of the occasion. But the beauty of the Lacoumette farm and the joy of the gregarious family are ruined by an unfortunate encounter with the bride's brother, Matt. Struggling with painful memories of his own, Matt makes a drunken spectacle of himself when he tries to make a pass at Ginger, forcing her to flee the scene in embarrassment. 

But when Matt shows up at the flower shop determined to make amends, what started out as a humiliating first meeting blossoms into something much deeper than either of them expected. Everyone around them worries that Ginger will end up with a broken heart yet again. But if Ginger has the courage to embrace the future, and if Matt can finally learn to let go of the past, there may still be hope for a happy ending.

My Comments:
This book is definitely my favorite in the series and one I'd definitely recommend.  Robyn Carr is turning this series into a multi-threaded soap opera and I for one can hardly wait to read the next installment.  We met Ginger in the last book, One Wish (click for my review) in which she was a depressed young woman who didn't know what she wanted out of life.  Now, she is working in Grace's flower shop and seeing a nice guy (though he did not seem so at first).  Both Ginger and Matt need to own up to their parts in the problems in their old relationships before they are ready to move on to a new love.

The serious thread in this book dealt with Grace's mother, who is disabled (and dying, I suspect, eventually, but not in this book) with ALS.  As a New Orleans resident, I've admired our former Saint, Steve Gleason, who has been determined to make something of his life, even if it will be short.  Grace and her mother have a lot of baggage to work through but they are making progress.  I suspect the nurse, a single mom in difficult economic straights, will be a character in a later book.  

I'd like to thank Katie at Little Bird Publicity for providing a complimentary review copy.  Grade:  B+

Monday, June 29, 2015

Last Chance Hero Media Blitz

About the Book:
Ross Gardiner has had his fill of difficult relationships. Returning to Last Chance after a rough divorce, the town's handsome new fire chief just wants safety and stability-a tall order given his dangerous job and the way he has the attention of all the single women in town. All except Sabina Grey, the girl who stole his heart when they were teenagers. 

Sabina knows a lot about playing it safe. Always the good girl, she's now responsible for her antiques store and caring for her sister. But having Ross in town brings back the memory of one carefree summer night when she threw caution to the wind-and almost destroyed her family. Now that they are both older and wiser, will the spark still be there, even though they've both been burned?

My Comments:
When I was contacted about participating in this Release Week Media Blitz for Last Chance Hero I thought I'd have more time to read than what I have.  Unfortunately, I've only read a few pages but fortunately, as a long-term fan of the Last Chance series, I feel right at home.  The book starts with Ms. Miriam making one of her crypic match-making predictions, so as a regular reader, one thing I'm sure of is that while Ms. Miriam got it right, no one else did--they are surely mis-interpreting what the dear lady said.  

If  you have enjoyed this series as much as I have, you can win a copy of Last Chance Hero by clicking on a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Author: 

Hope Ramsay was born in New York and grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina. Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you'll find in Last Chance, South Carolina. Hope earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Buffalo, and has had various jobs working as a Congressional aide, a lobbyist, a public relations consultant, and a meeting planner. She's a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart, and is married to a good ol' Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes. She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.

No, I Don't Hate You, Nor Am I Afraid of You

Rainbow flags are everywhere in social media.  Every state but Louisiana is issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Those favoring gay marriage are rejoicing, and those who don't; those who have the audacity to support traditional sexual morality, are reviled as being "hateful" or "intolerant" or "judgmental".  We are called "homophobic", a word that means we fear same.  With all due respect, I disagree.  That's right, I disagree; I don't hate and I don't fear. 

There have been pages and pages written by people far more authoritative and erudite  than I am so I'll save you the time it would take to read my explanation of why homosexual activity is wrong.  If you need a reference, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Suffice to say, this is not a new position, it is not one born out of hate for those who are different and it does not condemn anyone for any inborn traits (though it may condemn behaviors those inborn traits make you more likely than average to engage in).  

It seems that the greatest sin of our age is "intolerance" or "judging"; but that's only if you support traditional notions of sexual morality.  I'm not called judgmental or intolerant for saying it is wrong to rob a bank, to use racial epitaphs even in private conversations, or to gossip or to rape someone or to (at least right now) have sex with minors.  "Everyone" knows those things are wrong, so I'm not considered judgmental if I say they are wrong, teach my children they are wrong and choose not to associate with people who openly engage in those behaviors.  Frankly, I'm more interested in what God believes is right and wrong than I am in what "everyone" or the US Supreme Court believes is right or wrong, and I'll trust the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church over the majority opinion on facebook any day. 

I saw a meme floating around facebook even before the Supreme Court ruling saying that the "love the sinner"  approach is wrong because it requires me to see someone as a sinner and that Jesus said to take care of the plank in my eye before worrying about the splinter in yours.  I daresay that everyone reading this is a sinner, as is the writer.  I also would venture to say that I have readers who engage in behavior that I, if asked to judge, would say is sinful, but which they do not consider to be sinful--and that's the thing, we ARE supposed to decide, to judge if you would, whether actions are sinful or not, and we are to avoid those that are.  Sometimes that may mean avoiding certain sinners--I would never leave my kids alone with someone I strongly suspected of child molestation.  Sometimes that means counseling them about the error of their ways (but that requires a relationship that I don't have with the overwhelming majority of people in the world), and sometimes it means praying for them, while loving them letting God handle the rest.  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: Redemption Bay

About the Book:
McKenzie Shaw would do anything for her hometown of Haven Point. It may be small, but it's never let her down…unlike gorgeous, infuriating Ben Kilpatrick. He was her childhood hero until he closed his family's factory, leaving the town's economy in shambles. Now his tech firm is considering opening a local facility. For Haven Point's sake, McKenzie has to grit her teeth and play nice. 

What could a town filled with painful memories ever offer Ben? Yet seeing the town through the eyes of McKenzie—its fiery young mayor—he suddenly has his answer. If only he can resolve the animosity crackling between them, Ben may have found the place where he can build ties and find healing…a place where love arrives when it's least expected.

My Comments:
RaeAnne Thayne  moves herself into (ok, she invents) a small town and makes herself and her readers right at home.  Her Christmas novel, Snow Angel Cove moved us from Hope's Crossing to Haven Point, and this story picks up where that one left off.  We find out during the book that Ben and McKenzie share one characteristic that neither would have imagined they did (and I'm not talking about their fondness for dogs).  It is a romance novel so the happily ever after is pretty much guaranteed when you open the book.  While there is plenty of electricity crackling between the two, there are no bedroom scenes. If a clean sweet modern romance is something you enjoy, I think this one is a winner.  

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Parable of the Dragon

Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a community of people.  These people were not so unlike you and me.  Some of them loved their families, and some didn't.  Some worked hard, and some did not. Some were smart; others, well, hopefully they had other talents.  Some lived long lives, but many did not.  Since the area where they lived was very cold much of the time, many people froze to death or sustained injuries like frostbite because of the cold.

One day a dragon was walking through the area when he tripped and broke his legs.  He couldn't move at all.  He bellowed in hunger--since he couldn't move he couldn't eat.  Some people were nearby and realized how nice and warm it was around the dragon while he was breathing fire.  Little by little though they noticed the dragon was growing weaker and not putting out as much warmth so they approached him and asked if he could warm them up more.  The dragon replied "I haven't eaten in three days and soon not only will I not be able to breath any fire, I will die of starvation since my legs do not work anymore and I cannot move."  The people had no idea how to fix dragon legs, but they asked what the dragon would like to eat.  It turned out that the dragon ate the same types of food they did, so they cut a deal with the dragon:  We will bring you food and you will breathe fire to keep us warm.  Both the people and the dragon thought they had a good deal.  

At first, the dragon only had a few people to keep warm, and those people were close to him.  When their friends visited and saw how nice it was, they wanted the dragon to keep them warm too.  They agreed to add more food to the dragon's diet so he would have the strength to blow fire further.  Because of the extra heat in the area, more people settled there.  Also, over the years, people got used to being warmer, so in some ways, their internal thermostats reset.  Before the dragon came, if the weather was above 50 it was warm; now people were uncomfortable if it was below 70.  The dragon told them that if they put crops in the field to his right, he had perfected his fire-breathing enough so that he could keep the field warm without scortching the crop.  The community had more food than ever and people were living longer.  Of course, everytime more heat was wanted, the dragon had to be fed more. The dragon was ok with this and the system seemed to be working well, for a time.  Little by little the dragon (and some of his close friends) throught of more and more things the dragon's heat would help with, and since there seemed to be no end to the amount of heat the dragon could produce, provided he was fed enough, more and more of the community's resources went to feed the dragon.

Eventually, when the dragon's feeders were making the rounds in the community to gather food for the dragon, people were unable to contribute.  At first, it was just the poor who couldn't feed themselves and the dragon, but the nice charitable people next door or down the block put in a little extra to help those who couldn't put in their share.  The community decided that those who couldn't pay their share should have to move to the outskirts of town, where the dragon's fire did not reach as well.  "But we will freeze to death" the poor complained.  "No", said the others "you may be colder than us, but you can stay close enough that you don't freeze".  Still, it became obvious that those on the edge of town did not do as well as those who were closer to the dragon's heat. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, that dragon, since he really liked to eat, continued to find ways that his heat could help people, and those who had the means to feed the dragon more and more came to believe that he was necessary to life.  Feeding him became more and more of a problem.  More and more people were complaining when the feed bowl was brought to their house.  When it was suggested that they could move the outskirts of town, they protested--surely everyone knew it was too cold out there.  Being warm was a human right, how dare anyone suggest they do without it?  

Then one day the town got a new mayor a board.  They had the solution to the problem.  "It is simple, and it is fair.  Instead of taking more food from those close to the dragon or those who use more of his heat, we are going to take more food from those who have more money, and less from those who have less.  Because we will have more people contributing something to feeding the dragon, most of us will have to give less"  Some people grumbled, but most also realized that the wealthy generally lived closer to the dragon and probably, as a whole, got more benefits from the dragon than the poor did, so things settled down again, for a while.  Still, that dragon did not stop thinking of new things he could do--or ordering more food.  

The next new mayor had a new idea:  Let's tell the dragon that we will pay him by the project.  He gets so much per field, so much per house, so much per warm swimming pool.  No more open bowl; he has to prove he is worth it.  Now, that dragon was a lot of things, but dumb wasn't one of them.  He figured out the new payment schedule and soon enough his bowl was as full as ever, and if you wanted to get him to warm something that didn't pay well, good luck. 

People were still complaining that they couldn't afford to feed the dragon, but no one suggested putting the dragon on a diet.  After all, they knew that if you didn't feed the dragon, he was going to quit working, and everything the dragon did was necessary (even thought they had lived (or died) without it not so many years ago).  Every time there was an election, the mayoral candiates would promise that they would come up with a new way to feed the dragon, but no one ever suggested putting the dragon on a diet, except in the most general terms (cut waste, cut the feeder's pay) that didn't get to the heart of the problem.  No one wanted to talk about whether it was really necessary for the dragon to do all he did because so many people had loved ones who thought they benefitted from those services.  No one wanted to be the one who said "the dragon could do it, but he's not going to, because we don't have enough food".  

Do you thing that one day the dragon will consume the town?

Any idea what I'm representing by the dragon?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Five Days Left: My Review

About the Book:
Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.

Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.  

My Comments:
I just finished this book with tears rolling down my face.  I truly enjoyed it and think it would make an awesome book club selection because of all the possible discussion topics.  

Those who read this blog regularly know that I hold rather conservative traditional beliefs about about sex, sexuality and marriage.  You also know that I regularly read and enjoy romance novels whose characters (characters I like, and cheer for) have very different beliefs, and act on them.  As a Catholic I believe in the sanctity of human life from birth until natural death.  Mara, as noted above, in an attorney, a wife and a mother.  She suffers from Huntington's Disease, a progressive, genetic disease that results in the destruction of brain cells and the loss of control of the body. Mara has decided that she is not going to put herself or her family through the late stages of the disease; she is going to take her own life in five more days.  Is she being heroic, or selfish?  Is her choice going to deprive her family of the opportunity to love  her and to be loved by her, or is it a way to give them freedom?  Is this choice the free choice of a woman who has always been independent and goal oriented, or is it a symptom of a brain-damaging disease?  These are the questions that ran through my mind as I read this book.  

Mara's story contrasts with that of her online friend, Scott.  Scott teaches and coaches at an inner city school in Detroit.  While Mara is planning death, Scott is affirming life.  While Mara seeks to eliminate pain through death, Scott opens himself to the pain that comes with loving a child he knows is his only for a short time. While Mara sees her death as a way to save her family from suffering she knows will come, Scott encourages  (even guilts) his wife into embracing the challenge of raising a child whose mother is in prison and who has many of the problems one would expect in such a situation.  If Scot has any flaw, it is that he is too perfect, or that he is too concerned with those outside his family, at the expense of his wife and marriage.  I could see a book club discussing Scott's relationship with his wife and whether he should have asked some of the things of her that he did.  

The thread that ties Mara and Scott together is that they both participate in an online forum for foster and adoptive parents (Mara adopted her daughter).  Periodically we read their exchanges and both find strength in being able to say things to people they know, but don't, about how they are feeling. Have you ever participated long-term in an online forum, message board, facebook group etc.?  There are some of you who read and comment here whose blogs I read and who I feel I know, at least in some ways, since we've been doing this for years.  Are online relationships real, or do they keep people from engaging with those people who are a part of everyday life?  Neither Mara nor Scott seem to be lacking in friends or the support of family, yet they both use screen names and stay up late to talk to strangers.  What is it that draws people to online groups?  Yes, book clubs could find a lot to talk about after reading Five Days Left.

Mara is specifically described as a woman without faith.  Interestingly, she asks her friend to take her daughter to church at some point in the future.  Scott's faith or lack thereof is not discussed though his actions speak of self-sacrificing love.

I learned about this book when Kathleen Basi invited me to the Women's Fiction Cafe, a facebook group, and I was lucky enough to find it in my local library.  Grade:  A.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cookie Love: My Review

About the Book:
Mindy Segal is serious about cookies. And Cookie Love is your new go-to, never-fail reference for turn-out-perfectly-every-time cookie recipes. Mindy, award-winning pastry chef and self-professed “cookie nerd,” shares all of her secrets for turning classic recipes into more elevated, fun interpretations of everyone’s favorite sweet treat. From Peanut Butter Peanut Brittle Cookies and Fleur de Sel Shortbread with Vanilla Halvah, to Malted Milk Spritz and Peaches and Cream Thumbprints, Segal’s recipes are inspired and far from expected. Inside you’ll find more than sixty perfected recipes for every kind of cookie including drop cookies, bars, sandwich cookies, shortbread, thumbprints, and more, as well as the best tricks and tools of the trade and everything you need to know to build the ideal cookie pantry. A must-have for anyone looking to up their cookie-baking game, Cookie Love is a celebration of the most humble, delicious, and wonderful of baked treats.

My Comments:
It is my opinion that there are two types of cookbooks.  The first is for people who need to get food that the family will eat onto the table on a regular basis with minimal fuss. The second is for people who consider cooking to be a hobby--something in which you enjoy investing time and money beyond the amount necessary for utilitarian success. While cookies are one of my favorite things to bake, and while homemade cookies are a family favorite, I have not made anything from this book despite the fact that it has been in my possession for several months. In short, Cookie Love: More Than 60 Recipes and Techniques for Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary  is a book for the cooking hobbyist, not for the mom who wants to make a quick batch of cookies for the kids.

Had I decided to use one of the recipes, I could have chosen Raspberry Rose Rugelach (page 181).  To make these, I would start out by making Classic Cream Cheese Dough (p 179), which calls for both Kosher salt and Sea Salt, neither of which is in my kitchen. The dough itself is easy to make and then must be chilled for at least two hours.  While the dough chilled, you could make the Raspberry Framboise Jam (p 214) which calls for raspberries, framboise lambic (a Belgian ale brewed with raspberries, which, if you can find it,  appears to cost about $6.00/bottle.) and sugar.  Making the jam takes about thirty minutes.  Once the dough is cool, you roll it out and the put it back in the refrigerator for another thirty minutes.  Next, you spread the jam on a sheet of dough, and cut the dough into triangles.  Each triangle is then rolled up and put on the baking pan.  Next, the cookies are brushed with egg white and sprinkled with rose sugar (p 12.--made by combining rose water, sugar, and if a pink color is desired, rose petals).  Finally, the cookies are baked.  

A favorite cookie at my house is Oatmeal Scotchies.  I use recipe on the back of the butterscotch chip bag.  This book has a recipe for Oatmeal Scotchies so I thought that might be the one I would try.  This recipe called for both light and dark brown sugar, both kosher salt and sea salt, and both regular flour and cake flour.  It had about twice as much butter in proportion to the dry ingredients as my recipe does and it makes a cookie that spreads a lot more.  I will say though that this recipe would not be hard to make--it would just take a lot of stuff I don't keep in the house or use regularly.

The cookies on page 73 are Smoked Chocolate Sables.  The ingredient list includes smoked cocoa nibs, smoked sea salt flakes and demerara sugar.  I'd have to research where to find these before I started to think of making these. The dough making itself is pretty standard, but then you have to chill the dough overnight.  The next day you let the dough sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes and then you cut it into strips.  You use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the dough in egg white and then dip it in the demerara (large grain) sugar, and then slice the strips in half before baking, cut side up.  

In short, for a gourmet cook looking for something new and original in the cookie department, this book would be a lot of fun.  For the rest of us, it is kitchen porn--lots of pretty pictures of fantasy.  

Racing Towards Retirement: My Financial Planning Blog

Besides writing this (mostly) book blog, I also write a blog on financial planning:  Racing Towards Retirement.  I invite you to read my latest posts:

  • Motif Investing is kind of a do-it-yourself mutual fund company.  
  • My Inheritance talks about how I invested my inheritance and why.
  • Kickfurther is a new investment vehicle were investors extend short-term loans to relatively new business to help them buy inventory.  Investors can also begin online shops to help these companies sell the inventory.
Have you found any interesting ways to invest money lately?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: That Chesapeake Summer

About the Book:
Jamie Valentine is the wildly successful author of self-help books advocating transparency in every relationship. But when her widowed mother passes away unexpectedly, Jamie discovers her own life has been based on a lie. Angry and deeply betrayed, she sets out to find the truth—which may be in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay. Cutting her most recent book tour short, Jamie books a room at the Inn at Sinclair’s Point, just outside St. Dennis.

The death of Daniel Sinclair’s father forced him to take over the family inn, and his wife’s death left him a single parent of two children, so there’s little room for anything else in his life. His lovely new guest is intriguing, though, and he’s curious about the secret she’s clearly hiding. But in the end, Jamie and Dan could discover the greatest truth of all: that the search for one thing just might lead to the find of a lifetime—if you keep your heart open.

My Comments:
I don't think it is much of a spoiler to say that the "lie" on which Jamie's life has been based is that she was adopted, and her parents never told her so.  While cleaning out her parents' house following the death of her mother, Jamie learns her parents secret and decides to try to find her birth mother and her search takes her to St. Dennis, the setting of this story.  

I enjoyed watching the relationship between Jamie and Daniel develop and it happened a good pace.  While they eventually ended up in bed it didn't happen right away and it wasn't graphic.  I also liked the relationship Jamie developed with Daniel's mom and enjoyed looking at back issues of a small town newspaper with them.  I also liked the fact that Jamie respected the wishes of her birth mother and did not contact her until she knew the birth mother approved.  The only thing I did not like about the book is that in a few places there were pages from the diary of Daniel's mom and she mentions that it is time to get out the Ouija board.  That did not advance the story and just pushed something I believe is wrong.  Nevertheless, both the plot and the setting make it an ideal beach read.  

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

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