Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Top 5 Tuesday - Top 5... Creepy Characters

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme that explores different topics. Originally created by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm, it is now hosted by Meeghan at Meeghan Reads. For a list of October topics you can click here. To participate, link your post back to Meeghan's blog or leave a comment on her weekly post.

As we come to the end of October, I hope you've enjoyed a month filled with family and friends and a bit more normal than much of these year has been. Today's topic is Top 5... Creepy Characters. Here is what I came up with.

Perhaps the creepiest character that comes to mind is Pennywise from Stephen King's It. I never found clowns creepy until I saw this movie. I can't even read the book. 

Annie Wilkes is enough to make you not want to do anything that warrants attention. A crazy fan that tries to kill you. No thanks. 

Peter Pettigrew "Wormtail" is so sick and twisted that no one liked him even as a kid. He betrayed Lily and James Potter which led to their deaths, chose to live as a rat for 12 years to avoid being caught, and hid out with Ron's family to protect himself from Death Eaters. Even Voldemort didn't like him. That says a lot.

President Snow from The Hunger Games Trilogy and its prequel was a conniving man who believed in the Capitol's treatment of those who lived in the Districts. His cruelty does not discriminate; he sends little children to their deaths and has his rivals and those who disappointment him killed. 

Did you ever go to bed the night before a new school year and pray you didn't have a headmistress as dreadful as Miss Trunchbull? She could give you nightmares for years. An excessive disciplinarian, she tortured children and teachers alike. 

What did you think of my list today? Would you add any to the list?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Cozy Mysteries on My Kindle

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a Halloween Freebie. How exciting!!! So, I decided to feature one of my favorite genres for this week--the cozy mystery. This list is of cozy mysteries that I have not read, but attracted me because of the cover art or the book blurb.

Top Ten Cozy Mysteries on My Kindle

These two books are part of a cozy mystery series set in the fictional town of Calvin, Massachusetts. It features Cate MacLeod, a young woman who has lost her job in the city and returns home to find herself living next door to her control freak of a mother and stumbling upon dead bodies whose mysteries she ends up solving. 

This is the first Lighthouse Library Mystery by Eva Gates. I ordered it because it is set on the Outer Banks, my favorite place on earth.

These are the first two books featuring female sleuth Angela Marchmont. I love the covers and beautiful old buildings, so that attracted me to these. They are 1920s whodunits, which sounds like fun.

I believe this was a freebie that I picked up. This cover really caught my eye. The main character is a crime reporter turned antiques dealer who, in this first book of the series, stumbles upon a body and her boss asks her to cover the story. 

What better setting for a book lover than to have a mystery that happens in a library? This third book of the Dekker Cozy Mystery Series finds a man murdered in the locked library of his home. He has left them a clue, but no one can figure out what it means.

Poor Jane is just trying to make a living as housekeeper for wealthy clients. After Bible school, she intends to become a missionary. When she discovers her client's body, she suddenly finds herself ministering to the needs of the heirs and trying to stay out of the way of a murderer. 

This is another one of Traci Tyne Hilton's series, but this one features a Christian top-producing Realtor. That's what attracted me to the book, but this is a cool cover as well. This was released two years after the real estate market crashed in 2008. The 10th Anniversary Edition was released this September.

I like witty and strong female leads, and Lee Alvarez fits the bill. Her ex-husband shows up unannounced and then quickly disappears. Lee can't help but wonder if he is responsible for the recent death of her cousin. 

What do you think of my list? Hope you have a great week.

Monday, October 26, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - Oct 26

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. It's a great post to organize yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye's Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

Here it is Monday again. Not a ton of reading going on, which I find frustrating. I've enjoyed a brisker work schedule, though, because it feels more normal. I'll also have some exciting news to share in the next few months, too. 

Can someone please tell me how to get my labels back? Since switching to the new version of Blogger, all my saved labels are gone. Even though I use some of the same labels over and over, I still have to manually type them in. 

Now, back to reading. I'm still working on these two. 

There are up next because they are promised reviews. 

I would also like to read this one before Christmas.

What are you reading right now? Is there something I should be adding to my list?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday & Top 5 Tuesday

 Because of my hectic schedule this week, I am going to skip Top Ten Tuesday and Top 5 Tuesday. That doesn't mean you shouldn't check them out and participate.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday features recent books you've read because someone recommended them. You can find Jana's post and a way to link up at http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/2020/10/the-ten-most-recent-books-ive-read-because-someone-recommended-them/

Over at MeeghanReads, you can read about and share your Top 5... Books with Witches. Here is her post where you can add a link in the comments: https://meeghanreads.com/top-5-books-with-witches/

Have fun!

Book Spotlight: Becoming American by Cary D. Lowe


Cary D. Lowe
Black Rose Press

Becoming American is the inspiring story of the author’s transformation from a child of Holocaust survivors in post-war Europe to an American lawyer, academic, and activist associated with such famed political leaders as Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, Jerry Brown, and Tom Hayden.

Searching for his great-grandparents’ graves in a hidden cemetery outside Prague makes him recall his experiences of becoming American: listening to Army Counterintelligence agents gathered at his family home in Austria; a tense encounter with Russian soldiers during the post-war occupation; seeing Jim Crow racism in the South during his first visit to the United States; becoming an American citizen in his teens; having his citizenship challenged by border guards; fearing for his new country upon witnessing the Watts riots in Los Angeles; advancing the American dream as a real estate lawyer, helping develop entire new communities; and rising to leadership positions in organizations shaping government policies around some of the most important issues of our time.

Becoming American won the 2020 Discovery Award for best political writing from an independent publisher. It features a foreword by bestselling author Edith Eger.









Growing up in postwar Austria, my greatest hope was someday to become an American. A real American, like the khaki-clad soldiers occupying the country or the cowboys in the westerns at the local cinema. My father, a refugee from Vienna who worked on the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, promised me that hope would be fulfilled one day. What I didn’t realize then was that becoming American would cut me off from my roots. Many years later, after my parents and my brother had died, I resolved to restore that connection.


On a sunny autumn afternoon in 1997, I arrived with my nine-year-old daughter at the entrance of a long-closed Jewish cemetery outside Strakonice, in the countryside south of Prague. Thirty-five years after we had left Europe for America, a search worthy of Indiana Jones had brought me and Coralea here from our home in Los Angeles. Inside, I hoped to find the graves of my paternal great-grandparents.

Stepping out of the car into a light breeze, I felt the momentary burst of elation of a marathon runner crossing the finish line. Then reality interrupted. Pursing my lips, I turned to Coralea.

“I just hope this is the right cemetery,” I said. “Aunt Mimi told me only that it was near Strakonice, but she didn’t seem sure. It’s been a long time since she was here.”

“It has to be the right one,” Coralea responded with the certainty of youth.

Six-foot stucco-encased walls and eight-foot wrought-iron gates blocked our way. If I could get in, would I find the graves? How would I read Hebrew inscriptions on the headstones?

I felt as nervous as when I stood before a federal judge to take my oath of United States citizenship at the age of seventeen. I clasped Coralea’s left hand. She squeezed back. I took a step toward the gates, then another and another, with her in tow, until the gates loomed over us like sentinels. An ancient-looking lock the size of my fist secured chains wrapped around the innermost bars. I searched for a sign with information on how to gain entry. A musty smell, a combination of rust and fallen leaves, momentarily caught my attention. Trembling, I reached out with my left hand, grasped the rough bars, and shook them. I knew I would not be entering through those gates.

“We’ve come so far,” I said. “We’ve got to get in there.” Yet, the graves beyond the gates seemed impossibly out of reach.

I thought of the stories of my father’s narrow escape from Vienna on the eve of World War II, of my mother’s years in hiding during the war and her harrowing escape, and of their improbable return to Europe for the Nuremberg trials. I recalled the similarly amazing stories of survival told by nearly everyone I knew. As my father said, “If they didn’t have an amazing story, they wouldn’t be here to tell it.”

Turning to Coralea, I said, “I wish my parents could be here with us.”

“Especially grandma,” she replied with a sigh. “She wanted to bring me back here so much.”

Closing my eyes, I searched for an answer. My thoughts rushed back over the unlikely path that had led me to this time and place.

I recalled my childhood in Austria, just a few hours’ drive away. The Iron Curtain had blocked us off from our roots for years, just as the cemetery walls threatened to do now. Although the slaughter was over, the guns were silent, and the armies mostly had gone home, I lived amid the aftermath of the war -- the bombed cities being rebuilt, the Hitlerhaus that cast a cloud over my hometown, my refugee nanny Herma, displaced persons in squatters’ camps, and concentration camp survivors piecing their lives back together.

I remembered my first interactions with Americans -- the military occupiers, the intelligence agents that gathered at our home and told wild tales, and my childhood friends in Austria and later in Germany. And the combination of excitement and apprehension I felt later, realizing I was becoming gradually Americanized. I marveled at how immigrating and becoming an American citizen had launched me into a life of political involvement in my adopted country.

Most of all, I thought how much those experiences had changed my life. I had evolved from a German-speaking, Austrian-born child of war survivors into an English-speaking American, eagerly drawn into a new and exciting culture. What I experienced and witnessed in the years after the war had shaped how I viewed the world, how I interacted with people, and how I identified myself.

In becoming Americanized, however, I had lost much of my connection to those early years and to my family’s places of origin. They had receded behind the more recent people and places of my American experience.

I opened my eyes, bringing me back to the present. The gates seemed even more ominous. Still holding my hand, Coralea looked up at me expectantly. I peered between the bars at the rows of headstones. The closest ones looked ancient, like those in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, with weathered, barely legible Hebrew lettering. Behind them stood newer markers, taller and more ornate.

Weeds and grass had so overgrown much of the cemetery that I wondered when anyone had visited last and opened those gates. Whatever I might find inside, I could not imagine being denied after coming this far. I struggled to figure out our next step until Coralea interrupted my thoughts.

“You can do it, Dad,” she said. “You found this place. You can find a way in.”

Cary Lowe is the author of the award-winning book Becoming American: A Political Memoir. He has published over fifty essays on political and civic issues in major newspapers, as well as professional reports and articles in professional journals.

Mr. Lowe is a retired California land use lawyer with 45 years of experience representing public agencies, developers, Indian tribes, and non-profit organizations. He holds a law degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He taught courses in law and urban planning at USC, UCLA, and UC San Diego, and he writes and lectures on land use and environmental issues. In addition to his legal experience, Mr. Lowe is a credentialed mediator affiliated with the Land Use & Environmental Mediation Group of the National Conflict Resolution Center.

Website:  https://carylowewriter.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/carylowewriter/?modal=admin_todo_tour


Monday, October 19, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - Oct 19

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. It's a great post to organize yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye's Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

Welcome back to Monday. Hope you had a great weekend. Ours was good, but I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to. I did, however, make some great chicken stock. 

Last week, I posted my review of this cute picture book at my children's book blog.

I am reading these next two right now. Not that I'm surprised, but I'm really loving The Christmas Spirits of Tradd Street. I'll be so bummed when Karen White releases the last book in the series next year.

There are up next because they are promised reviews. 

I would also like to read this one before Christmas.

What are you reading right now? Is there something I should be adding to my list?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Book Spotlight: Down to the Potter's House by Annette Valentine

Annette Valentine's latest novel Down to the Potter’s House (Morgan James, November 2020) is a 1921-1942 historical tale set on a tobacco farm turned racehorse breeding stable in rural Kentucky, and follows the tenacious Gracie Maxwell to higher ground as she climbs and never stops. A fast-moving novel of romance and redemption, intrigue and revenge, the book showcases a finely-tuned protagonist who grows from naïve schoolgirl to committed missionary to loving wife and mother. Written in an exquisite style, Down to the Potter’s House is an astute study of the contrast between good and evil inside an extended family.


With the drought in every part of Todd County, Kentucky, and surrounding counties, survival had become more intensified. Foreclosures were threatening even the ardently industrious

farmers, but for those who were exceptionally hardheaded and efficient—such as former Senator Robert Rutherford Maxwell—procedures at Hillbound in 1930 continued uninterrupted. 

Harvest time had signaled the end of yet another growing season at Hillbound, and the routines of tobacco farming were not unlike the ones I had watched from my youth. Negro folks still toiled in the fields—their brows covered with maize-colored straw hats—topping and cutting, stripping and bailing, but I knew none of them. All new faces had replaced the familiar ones that I could have spoken to by name. Thoroughbreds of Father’s wistful dreams roamed the places where I’d previously helped the children learn to read, practicing on them my rudimentary teaching skills whenever possible. The young ones were gone now. The mighty oak under whose branches we’d sat was gone as well. 

Robert Maxwell was holding his own, counting himself among the smattering of gentleman farmers who maintained their property with economically disabled and politically powerless black laborers. Hard times had deepened the dependency of the black folks, affording them little choice but to stay on as hired hands, working the devastated farms that brought in, at best, a piddling one-third of the revenue they had in the three years prior. 

From outward appearances my father projected prosperity in the way he walked and the way he talked, but I suspected differently. The previous day I’d spent with him at Hillbound all but confirmed Father was putting up a front. He’d sold a portion of his beloved five hundred and sixty acres of burley tobacco farmland along with the forty acres of wheatland he had acquired when he married Francine Delaney. 

Father was an imposing man, dark-complected with a full head of sleek black hair and a broad smile. Even at sixty he was straight backed and poised as we rode into the center of Elkton. Other folks, too, made their way into town for essentials. If any one of them owned an automobile, more than likely he could no longer afford to drive it. The depression had hit, and gasoline prices were high, so most folks came in carriages and congregated at the square. 

A late-autumn breeze rippled the surrey’s fringe that canopied above my head. Our ride into town in the splendor of this October Saturday was proving to be a chilly one. After two miles of the horse’s clip-clop, we rounded the last turn. Straight ahead of us was the courthouse square.

For a small town in Kentucky, the two-story brick building with its white clock tower stood modestly impressive. 

Father halted in front of Jim Carver’s Grocery and Hardware and stepped down from the carriage, leaving me perched on the seat while he hitched the reins to a post. No looks, no whispers indicated I had something to hide. 

I held my head high. Even so, gossip’s sting could prick without warning beneath my skin. I hadn’t thought of the scandal in months, and it took a mere single night in Francine’s presence to resurrect it. Her staunch ability to live with herself was not my concern—yet it was, and my urgent need to guard outcomes for my brother and the entire Maxwell family name had overtaken my restraint. The moment had crystallized in yesterday’s outburst. 

I wish I had said much more to Francine. Looking back, I wish I had said less to Father. 

My two years spent away at Logan Female College and the subsequent two at Athens College in Alabama had solidified my ambitions and reshaped my less constructive attitudes as if they were a lump of clay. No longer the broken fifteen-year-old or the self-empowered eighteen-year-old, I accepted the hand Father offered to assist me from the carriage and grasped his fingers as my foot touched the ground. 

“Sister would love some horehound sticks,” I said, “and of course I want to see Jim, if he isn’t busy. I’ll pop inside and be right here when you return. That’s all, Father. Nothing too long.” 

Father was quick to plant a kiss on my forehead. “Fine and dandy, Gracie, go ahead. Give my best to Jim . . . I won’t go in this time. We should get us over to Millicent’s house directly. I’ll be across the street, but only for a few minutes. If you’re ready to go before that, don’t hesitate to send word,” he said, nodding with a two-term-senator polish to a passerby. 

The out-of-doors had a way of doing wonderful things for me. I breathed deeply the refreshing air as I waltzed toward my brother-in-law’s store, my long coat fluttering behind me. Several of the town’s men had gathered in front of Carver’s Grocery and Hardware to exchange news of the day and toss about their ideas on how the turn of events might affect the nation. Most of them were nowhere near recovering income losses that supported their livelihood. 

I gave them a passing smile and continued toward the store. My father’s agenda was evident to me, and time wasted was intolerable. I had come to accept the vigorous manner that let his wishes be known. 

Inside, a buzz of activity swirled about in immeasurable contrast to the motionless bystanders outside. I went straight to the candy counter without dilly-dallying. My mouth watered in anticipation of the taste of chocolate. “Glorious day, isn’t it, Miss Baxter?” 

“It is at that. And I’m just glad as I can be to have you visiting every now and again. Tickled pink, I am, you’re spending another year nearby. Good thing for us folks here in Elkton that Russellville’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away.” A generous smile spread on her face. “So tell me: how’s our young schoolteacher doing?” she said, squeezing her chubby hands together atop the glass case that covered the candy confections. 

“Fine, fine. I haven’t expelled anyone in the first two months of this term . . . and not anyone last year either,” I said, grinning, briefly distracted by the appearance of a tall man warming his hands by the potbelly stove at the rear of the store. 

Miss Baxter gave a jolly laugh to acknowledge my attempt at humor, and my glimpse of the gentleman ended. 

“You’re right. Russellville’s not very far. And you haven’t seen the last of me, unless I start spreading out like Sunday dinner on a picnic cloth,” I said, realizing Miss Baxter resembled my remark. “Then I’d have to stop eating chocolates.” 

“Me too,” she said with a never-you-mind gesture, relaxing her forearms farther across the counter. It was clear, she was in no hurry for my candy selection. “Your sister sure tries to keep everybody up to snuff around here. Got her own schoolgirl nowadays. That little Louise is cute

as a pie. Second grade . . . Goodness, goodness!” 

“I know. It’s certainly amazing how time flies,” I said, focusing on the candies.” Point out what Louise would like, then the usual: three sticks of horehound for Millicent. Now then. Chocolate. Let me . . . um . . . decide between the—” 

“Please excuse me for interrupting. May I offer a recommendation for the chocolates before you make your decision?” The smooth voice slid into our conversation like butter on a hot biscuit. 

Surprised, I turned to find the tall gentleman from the back of the store standing next to me. Having captured my attention, he smiled a gorgeous smile that momentarily broke my concentration. 

“The finest of the fine is right before your eyes—your beautiful eyes, if I may be so bold. I’m something of an expert on the subject.” 

Seriously? I thought. An expert on how time flies or chocolate? 

“But first things first. My name is Simon Hagan.” 

After a slight hesitation, I gave him a brisk once-over during which time his smile never faltered. I’d not ever met a statelier man and maybe not a better-looking one. The weight of his gaze caught me off guard. But only a little, I told myself. I then recast my answer: “How do you do, Mr.

Hagan? I am Gracie Maxwell.” 

Miss Baxter wasn’t helping the situation’s awkwardness. She no longer rested against the candy counter, but rather leaned in to hear what she could hear. Her mouth had dropped, and I warned mine not to do the same. 

I tried to give as little heed as possible to Mr. Hagan’s remark about my eyes and forced myself to look straight at him as he continued to speak of how glad he was to meet me. Perhaps he missed the cold shoulder that I thought I was presenting. He proceeded to select a bar of chocolate from the case with one hand, then gave coins to Miss Baxter with the other. 

Father passed the window. A tip of his hat indicated he would just as soon be on his way. 

I stood dumbfounded as Mr. Hagan handed me the chocolate bar. Jim Carver’s voice rose above others, dickering politely with a woman who had doled out produce and eggs for his consideration. Their transaction seemed to be coming to an end, and my brother-in-law turned toward us at the front of his store where Mr. Hagan continued to stand at my side. 

Miss Baxter’s smile was way too big. 

Flustered by the simultaneous doings, I offered a quick thank you to the tall stranger, snatched the horehound that Miss Baxter had laid on the counter—forgetting to pay for the candy sticks—forgetting the candy treat for Louise—then darted straight out the front door without a backward glance. 

“Gracie!” Father was waiting outside when I emerged. “Guess I should have come inside . . . I’d already unhitched us, though. Here, let me help you up. When you see Jim later today, do remember to give him my regards.” 

I hopped up onto the seat, and Father steered the horse around the town square, its hooves plodding noisily on the cobblestone street. The ride was quieted as the buggy rolled onto the dirt road leading to Millicent’s house. 

“Glad you didn’t, Father. No need to come inside,” I said without knowing why. “It will be a good visit with Jim tonight at supper.” 

He peered over at me. “You seem preoccupied, Gracie. Everything all right?” 

I didn’t look at him. “Of course. Just met a gentleman . . . He must be related to Mr. Hagan who got me my teaching job.” Slightly embarrassed, still puzzled by my own doings, I held up the chocolate bar and waited for Father’s reaction. “I believe he said his name is Simon. Yes, Simon Hagan.” 

“Ah! For sure. Simon’s been away from Todd County for quite some time. Didn’t realize he was back.” Father shot me a suspicious gander, then signaled the horse to pick up speed, giving the reins some slack with a nimble foist from the driving whip. 

The surrey’s wheels creaked in objection to the horse’s surge, and the forward jolt startled me. I wondered if the timing had not been right to exhibit the chocolate. “Oh, Father, he just happened to be at the counter as I was deciding. All of a sudden, he was there. He simply insisted on making this a gift.” 

“Hardly proper for him to cover your purchase of chocolate.” Father glanced at the horehound sticks. “He didn’t pay for those, too, I hope.” Realizing my predicament, I cut my eyes at him. “No. Nobody did. I got them for Millicent . . . I forgot to pay. Silly me! Mr. Hagan was just being kind,” I said as we rolled up to the front of the Carvers’ house. 

“What’s he doing now, anyway? Believe he had tuberculosis . . . although I could be confusing him with another of the Hagans. Geoffrey had six or seven boys and a couple or three girls.” 

“Heavens, Father! I have no idea. You mustn’t go thinking poorly of him, though. And I can certainly fend for myself. I am twenty-three, not fifteen.” 

He stepped down from the carriage, hitched the reins. “Big family, the Hagans.” 

Millicent had not missed the sound of the approaching carriage. Oblivious to the October chill, my sister was out the door to greet us. 

Father paused to serve up his customary greeting to her. I reminded myself not to compare its woodenness to the top-shelf affections he openly lavished on Francine, practically from the time of Mama’s passing. The crater in my heart caused by his attraction had stubbornly closed, but having spent last night in my stepmother’s presence, old grievances had threatened to undo family peace that time and my absence had afforded me. 

Inside the short day spent in the country, I’d seen the signs that revealed my brother’s discouragement. Hardest to take was seeing how Father regarded Henry with cool detachment. Witnessing my brother falter with every attempt to make a decision was more than I could stand. 

Father offered me his hand to steady me off the carriage step.

Having squelched the bitter rise of contempt for the fresh evidence of Francine’s power over Henry and the ease with which she dominated Hillbound, I rallied, grateful that Father had avoided either subject. Our arrival at Millicent’s had interrupted the discussion of the Hagans. It had stilled, too, the recurrent rusty attitude of bygones that had no place in my reshaped heart.

Links to purchase

Annette Valentine is an inspirational storyteller with a flair for the unexpected. By age eleven, she knew that writing was an integral part of her creative nature. Annette graduated with distinction from Purdue and founded an interior design firm which spanned a 34-year career in Lafayette, Indiana and Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette has used her 18-year affiliation with Toastmasters International to prepare her for her position with the Speakers’ Bureau for End Slavery Tennessee and is an advocate for victims and survivors of human trafficking and is the volunteer group leader for Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette writes through the varied lens of colorful personal experience and the absorbing reality of humanity’s search for meaning. Mother to one son and daughter, and a grandparent of six amazing kids, Annette now lives in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and their 5-year-old Boxer. To learn more about Annette’s life and work, visit https://annettehvalentine.com