A ‘Champion for the Ages’

Reposting from 2018 in honor of Derby Day and the 145th Run for the Roses!

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“Inevitable.” Isn’t that a great word? Learned it from Mom the other day. As in, the 144st annual Run for the Roses is coming up on May 5. So debates about who was the Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time are… inevitable.

Or so I’m told.

A few other things I learned:

The “Run for the Roses” is also known as The Kentucky Derby. The Derby is always run on the first Saturday in May. It’s the first jewel in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing.

Why do I care about Thoroughbred racing? Well, I don’t. Not really. But Mom does!

She’s been reading a Walter Farley book about one of the greatest champions to ever set hooves on a race track: Man O’War. Along with legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Man O’War is a top contender for Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time honors.

Back to the Farley book.

Man O’War’s remarkable life unfolds through the eyes of fictional stable boy Danny Ryan. Mom says the story is nearly as powerful and compelling as the great Thoroughbred himself. I’m not sure what the means. But it sounds good.

Here’s Mom’s review of Farley’s Man O’ War.

So when Kentucky Derby time rolls around each May, the comparisons between Man O’ War and another great champion, Triple Crown Winner (1973) Secretariat, are inevitable. At least according to Mom. Which horse gets the nod for Horse of the Century? Depends on who you ask. And what day it is.

Both possessed blinding speed. Both ran challengers off their feet. Both broke records. Both have great stories.

So whether your vote for The Greatest goes to Secretariat or Man O-War, a few things are for sure:

1) May is the perfect month for awesome horse stories!

2) Any story by Walter Farley is a great story. Inevitably.

3) Churchill Downs promises another great Run for the Roses this Saturday. (“Run for the noses”? I always kinda thought that was when Mom calls me in for dinner. But I may be wrong about that.)

4) One of the finest athletes to ever set hooves on a race track, Man O’War remains a Champion for the Ages. Just like Walter Farley.

Is it dinner time yet?

Update – May 5: Congratulations to the 2018 Kentucky Derby winner, Justify!

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Rockin’ It This Summer With Reading

Kimber The Reading Dog.

Mom’s at it again. She’s skipping merrily around the house, opening every window in sight.  Humming that Temptations song. You know the one. About sunshine on a cloudy day.

Here in the ever-soggy Pacific Northwest, we take whatever we can get in the “sunshine” department. Maybe that explains Mom lately. Why she keeps crowing, “Summer’s comin’! Woo-hoo!”

Has anyone found my frisbee? Cuz frankly, what’s summer without a nice, chewy, frisbee?

Well. According to Her Mom-ness, “summer” also means the library’s summer adult reading program. Last year she read 136 books in 92 days. This year there’s a “limit”: Twenty books.

What’s up with that?

Anyway, this year’s theme is Libraries Rock. Some brain surgeon (The Powder Puff?) decided to combine the adult program with the children’s and teen reading programs. A one-size-fits-none kind of deal.

The sign-up form for tracking your reading progress includes stuff like coloring, singing a song or learning five new words. You write this down every time you finish a book.

Is there a shortage of grown-up Taste of the Wild in the building?

Not to worry. You know Mom and me and books. We’re not going to let something this silly slow us down. No siree, Lassie!

We’ve read eight books and one audio book since we signed up on June 1. Coloring notwithstanding, we’re gonna “rock” this summer. Reading highlights so far:

And a re-read of an old favorite: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

Another stand out: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin.

It’s post-WWII Europe with a catch. A big one: Hitler won. Now a survivor of Nazi experimentation in a death camp, Yael is on a mission to win a race and kill Hitler.

“I couldn’t put it down!” says Her Mom-ness. “It’s a barn burner.” Maybe I should grab a fire extinguisher?

I’d say more, but I feel another skipping session coming on.

 

Meanwhile, have you signed up for your library’s summer reading program? What are your reading goals for this summer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock skipping photo credit: Flickr – Creative Commons License

Reading Challenge 2.0: Why I’m Going Back to Square One

If you’re on Goodreads, you probably know the average Reading Challenge for 2018 is about 51 books in 12 months. I read 136 books in 92 days for last summer’s adult reading program with the library. So what was a realistic but stretch-worthy goal for 12 months?

I set my goal at 200 books for the year. I was cruising along pretty well, picking up steam. The “brass ring” was in sight – six months early.

Until today.

Let me explain. First the not so good news. Followed by the good news and some reading highlights thus far.

The Not-so-Good News:

I was closing in on my target goal of 200 books. I went to my Goodreads account today to add a few more completed titles to bring my total to 181. Suddenly, my reading progress vanished. Gone. Poof!

Has this happened to you?

Because not a single title entered over the past five-plus months remains in my Reading Challenge. Zip. Zero. Nada. I know the site was having trouble cataloging dates and updates. But zeroing out 181 books just like that?!

Well I’ll be et fer a tater.

I can’t possibly recreate the entire list from memory. (Yes, I reported the matter to Goodreads. No solution yet.)

The Good News:

Of course I’m discouraged. Not to mention a wee bit miffed. But I’m still reading. And while it’s not exactly cheery to have five+ months of titles wiped out due to “technical difficulties,” I’m going to keep reading. In fact, I’m aiming for another target. Think of it as Reading Challenge 2.0:

200 additional titles by the end of the year.

How does that sound? (Good thing I took a few screen shots awhile back, eh?)

Meanwhile, from some prior notes I jotted down, here are some highlights from my Reading Challenge 2018 (before The Great Poofery struck):

Most Whimsical or Disarmingly Charming:

What-the-Dickens, by Gregory Maguire.

A natural disaster, three kids, a 21 y.o. Language Arts cousin/babysitter. Skibbereens and a flying thing nsmed “Pepper” with lots of sass. Teeth. What’s not to love?

The Faerieground series, by Beth Bracken and Kay Fraser.

Twelve quick, enchanting reads about BFFs Soli and Lucy. One is far more than she seems at first glance, esp, when soneone’s made a wish inside the Willow Forest!

Most Interesting Biogs or Autobiogs:

New York to Paris – Charles A. Lindbergh.

Flying by instruments-only through fog at 1,500nft. over the Mid-Atlantic? Ay! Yi! Yi! Also white caps, porpoises, and “Which way is Ireland?”, the London-Paris runway and the Eiffel Tower.

Man O’ War – Walter Farley

Gripping Historical fiction about one of the greatest Thoroughbred champions to ever set hooves on a race track.

Creepiest

Look For Me By Moonlight.

Forget the silver stakes and garlic. Find an artist friend with a cliffside workshop and a hot stove! And whatever you do, don’t fall for some sweet-talking “30 something” dude in black who comes to stay at your Dad’d rustic, isolated inn in thd dead of winter!

172 Hours on the Moon – Johan Harstad

After yeats of budget cuts and stalled space exploration, NASA is going back to the moon, this time with three teens aboard. Once they hit the lunar surface, everything goes sideways. And astronauts start dying. Will Mia, Midori or Antoine ever see earth again?

Most Intriguing or Surprising

The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary E. Pearson

Hauntingly poignant and powerful, this intriguing story explores family relationships, bio/medical ethics, how far a parent might go to save a loved one, and what it means to be “human.” Earned a rare five-star rating from me.

Fairest – Marissa Meyer

A taut, compelling tale dripping with palace intrigue, rivalry and jealousy, misplaced love, blind ambition and utter corruption. Masterfully crafted. Couldn’t put it down!

Anchor in the Storm – Sarah Sundlin.

Finally. A “romance”” novel that isn’t a romp through the local garbage dump.

This uplifting, engaging story offers solid characters who are both winsome and flawed. They’re wholesome without being sappy. The clever “whodunit” plot has perfect pacing while the love story deftly combines faith, hope, tenacity, and integrity. Superb historical fiction plus plenty of surprising plot twists to keep you guessing!

Old Faves:

Just about anything by Marguerite Henry, C.W. Anderson, and Scott O’Dell.

Note About My Reviews: I hold to the axiom: “The repeated use of profanity is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Hence, no book that uses same gets high marks from me. Ever. Far as I’m concerned, if an author can’t express him/herself without “turning the air blue,” then s/he is a lousy, lazy author. Period.

Now. Back to square one. And a new Reading Challenge.

How’s yours coming?

How I Read 100+ Books in 90 Days

Sample

It took some creative juggling, but I met my summer reading goal: 100+ books in 90 days. Sound like a lot? Well, yeah.

When I set that goal per my local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program, I knew it was a pretty high bar. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I could clear it. But I liked the challenge. That’s one reason I set it. And made it. With room to spare.

Here’s how I read 100+ books in 90* days (the short version):

1. As a freelance writer, my schedule is flexible. I mostly work from home and set my own hours. I can choose which assignments I accept or decline. So I did. I also got up early every day, usually finishing my work by early afternoon-ish. I could then devote a large chunk of the rest of the afternoon and evening to my “other” job: reading.

2. I multi-tasked, reading audio books while cooking, doing dishes, driving, etc.

3. I turned off the TV.

4. I used voice mail. Prodigously.

5. I recruited my husband and kiddos . (Our youngest is 18.) They agreed to pitch in on time consuming tasks like running errands, grocery shopping, and walking the dog. They also picked up books I placed on hold at the library and/or helped with returns. They helped with book selections when I was out of ideas.

6. I asked the library staff for help. A lot. They were a huge help, from placing inter-library loans to suggestions for every category and genre.

7. I decided sleep is over-rated. I don’t really need 8 – 9 hours of sleep a night. I’m usually fine with 5 – 6 hours.  That’s an extra 3 – 4 hours a day to get busy.

8. I had a ‘reading buddy.‘ My good dog, Kimber, happily joined me through thousands of pages. (A golden retriever/black lab/border collie mix, Kimber isn’t really a ‘lap dog.’ She just thinks she is.)

9. I set up “reading roosts” – places where I could disappear (or almost disappear) for a while and read, undisturbed. Like a recliner off a living room window with lots of light, pillows, a big fluffy quilt and a snack stash. Or a closet off the spare room upstairs. I cleaned it out, moved in a rocking chair and ottoman, added a space heater for early mornings, and cleared shelves for books – in – progress. I grabbed reading lists, munchies and a note pad, and closed the door. No electronic devices allowed. (A library cubby hole also makes a pretty good “roost.”)

10. OverDrive. Library ebooks and audiobooks via Amazon. If you don’t have the app, now would be good.

11. I re-prioritized. If I was going to finish 100 paper and/or audio books in 90 days, some thing had to give. At least for 90 days. So I cut out unnecessary meetings. This freed up about 8 hours a week. I also dialed back on social media, limiting my time to no more than 30 minutes a day. Often less. I also dropped endeavors with limited ROIs (return on investment), like regular posting to other blogs/guest posting.

Yep, 100 books in 90 days is a lot. Some titles were better or quicker than others. For example, the sparse free verse of Karen Hesse’s Out of The Dust or Calvin Miller’s The Singer read much faster than the detail-laden, history-heavy style of Robert Matzen’s Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, or Dinesh D’Souza’s magnum opus, Stealing America: What My Experience With Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party. Since I’m already familiar with the plots, re-reads were also swift.

I also discovered some new genres and authors that turned out to be delightful surprises. Others, not so much. (Most Over-Rated: Anne LaMott, Diane Setterfield. Most Promising: Steve Sheinkin, Robert Morasco.) You can read my reviews of select titles on Goodreads.

Here are some stand-outs. In no particular order:

MOST UNUSUAL and IMAGINATIVE:

Miss Peregrine Peculiar Children series – Ransom Riggs

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

Legend – Marie Yu

MOST INTRIGUING:

The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor

The Secret Sky – Atia Abawi

An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpurgo

Shelter – Harlan Coben

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

NOTABLE NON-FICTION:

Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp – Jerry Stanley

The Family Romanov – Candace Fleming

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery – Steve Sheinkin

Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill-Thomas Hearings (adapted directly from the actual transcripts)

Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup

JUST PLAIN FUN:

Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery– Spencer Quinn. (Told from the dog’s point of view)

Bunnicula – Deborah and James Howe. (Narrated by the family dog, Harold)

The Best of the West (Lux Radio Theatre Audiobook): Destry Rides Again, Gunsmoke, Fort Apache, and the best Western ever filmed:Shane.

FAVORITE RE-READS:

Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis (on disc)

King of the Wind – Marguerite Henry. Newbery Medal winner.

Tuck Everlasting– Natalie Babbitt. Christopher Award winner.

Anything by Walt Morey, O. Henry, Gary Paulsen, or E.B. White (like The Ransom of Red Chief and Stuart Little. I also confess a perennial fondness for a little monkey and a man in a yellow hat.)

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Caldecott Medal winner.

Fury – Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch – Albert Miller

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Flash of Phantom Canyon – Agnes Ranney

Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell. Newbery Medal winner.

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell. Set in Australia, it’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

MOST POIGNANT:
This is a tough category. It’s highly subjective. Of all the books I read this summer, however, the stand-out here would have to be: Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man, by William Shatner (2016).

Meticulously researched and carefully crafted, this biography/memoir/history is a moving tribute to a complicated, talented man by another complicated, talented man. (Talk about rapier wit. Who knew “Captain Kirk” could be so hilarious – or so heartbreaking?)

Hence, the most poignant line I read all summer is probably Bill Shatner’s final sentence in this fascinating read. Toward the end of the book, Shatner chronicles how a rift in the relationship developed over an apparent misunderstanding. Despite Shatner’s efforts to mend fences, Nimoy stopped talking to Bill. Leonard died (2015) before the two old friends could reconcile. Shatner closes this warm, rich memoir with this final elegiac line:

“LLAP** my friend, my dear, dear friend.”

#1 FAVORITES

Of the 100+ books I read this summer, only two moved me to tears: Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me (Jon Katz), and  The Dog Who Was There (Ron Morasco).

A story of faithful love, unswerving devotion, and understanding without words, Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me effervesces like a bottle of Cristal Brut Methusalah.

An abandoned, half-feral border collie reluctantly taken in by author Jon Katz, Izzy becomes a hospice dog. Somehow Izzy learns what can’t be taught: how to help the dying leave this world with dignity – “Oh! A dog! Where on earth did you come from, you handsome thing?” – and how to best comfort those left behind.

Lenore – from the Edgar Allen Poe poem – is a “portable happiness generator.” “The UPS driver threatened to steal her,” says Katz. Big hearted and good natured, Lenore can pierce the armor of the hardest heart. As Katz battles a deep depression and phantoms from his past, the rambunctious Lab pup gently reminds him why he wanted to work with animals in the first place.

Set in first century Jerusalem,  The Dog Who Was There is a heart-warming, surprising story about a little dog, Barley (that’s not a typo), and a Teacher from Galilee. This wonderful story is soaked in loss, loyalty, sadness, promise, and Great Joy. I’ve never read anything quite like it. You won’t want to miss this one.

Indeed, The Dog Who Was There and Izzy & Lenore get the dual nod for Top Books. Paws down.

HONORABLE MENTION (You may detect a pattern here 😉):

Scrub Dog of Alaska – Walt Morey

Now, the real secret to reading 100+ books in 90* days? I. Love. Books. And I love to read. Always have. Ever since I was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper.’ For more, see: Hard Night: Growing Up in the Land of Endless Summer.

Is the library open yet?

*To be precise, June has 30 days. July and August have 31, for a total of 92 days. I slowed some but didn’t stop when I hit 100 titles in mid-August.

                   FINAL summer reading tally: 136 books in 92 days.


**Live Long And Prosper.  While you’re at it, grab a book. With a good dog.


NOTE: This blog will be turning a corner soon. A big one.

 Same URL.  New name. New look. New voice. 

Stay tuned.



What I’m Reading – And You?

Wikimedia Commons

Ever notice how “summer” and “reading” seem to go hand-in-hand? Kinda like “whine and cheese.” “Peanut butter and jelly.” “Presidential debates and you’re kidding, right?”

Like most writers, I’m also a voracious reader.  Here’s what’s on my plate at present:

You may already know that Richard Paul Evans is a long-time favorite. I snap up everything this guy cranks out. Usually within a nano-second of publication. He’s that good. I’m reading through his Michael Vey series right now. Just polished off Book 4, Hunt for Jade Dragon. Fresh and engaging with a dose of gentle humor, this series is just plain fun. Highly recommended if you have a kiddo who’s a “reluctant reader.”

Dogsong – You can almost taste the snow and feel the cold in this terrific outdoor story by Gary Paulsen.  Being a dog lover helps.

Renegade – The Silver Blackthorn Trilogy Kerry Wilkinson’s novel about 11 teenage “Offerings” on the lam from King Victor and the Kingsmen is vaguely reminiscent of The Hunger Games. But there are enough intrigues and surprises to keep you turning pages. Fast. Set in a dystopian kingdom where just about everyone is a fief, a vassal, or enslaved to a sadistic, mad monarch. Bonus points: the author is British. The text is marinated with enough British-isms like “lift” (elevator) and “bonnet” (think car) to keep your average Yank guessing. Lots of fun!

Lie in Plain Sight  Maggie Barbieri’s multi-faceted “who dunnit?” *starring* baker and amateur sleuth Maeve Conlon. I don’t typically gravitate toward “who dunnits.” But this one is fun. Realistic dialogue and three-dimensional characters, with lots of unexpected twists and turns.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Word or Less. I grabbed this one off a library shelf on a lark. It was one of those “swoop in, swoop out” expeditions. This remarkable true-life story by Terry Ryan doesn’t disappoint. Sensitive, crisp and briskly paced, this memoir is as “catchy” as the author’s mother’s “25 words or less” contest entries that keep the family afloat during the 1950s.  There’s plenty of subtle humor and rapier wit in this lively read. I loved it!

The book was made into a 2005 movie with Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore and Laura Dern.

Any favorite titles or authors to recommend?  Chime in!

38 in 10

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” – Stephen King

38 in 10
35 booksThirty-eight in ten. It wasn’t easy. But it was fun!

My local library wraps up its annual Adult Winter Reading Program today  The program began in January and ran for ten weeks. My goal? To read and/or listen to 40 books during that time frame. I came within a cat’s whisker of reaching it.

“How in the world did you manage 38 books in ten weeks?” you ask. “Where’d you find the time?”

Truth? I didn’t “find” the time. I made it. Yep, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you bring a book to the dentist or doc’s office. Read at red lights. While standing in line at the post office or grocery check-out. Hibernate in the library. Listen to a book on CD while doing dishes. Double as a Himalayan hermit.

Why Is That?
The best writers I know are also voracious readers. Why is that? Check out some of the links below to find out.

 

What were the best books I read/listened to in the last ten weeks? Answer: It depends.  Mostly on which day you ask.  Those that were particularly memorable, in no particular order, include:

These Strange Ashes – Elisabeth Elliot
Epic- John Eldredge
Dawn – Elie Wiesel
Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

Noteworthy: Cry, The Beloved CountryAlan Paton; Zia – Scott O’Dell; War Horse – Michael Morpurgo.

Kristine Lowder and friendAre you a writer who reads? Share some of your favorite titles below.

Up next: Books to Grow By. How Many Have You Read?

Book Review: Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

By Anne Lamott

Riverhead Books, 2007.

I was going to write a review of Anne Lamott’s autobiographical collection of nearly two dozen essays and reflections, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.  No, really.  I was.  I have four pages of notes to prove it- double-sided!  Then I thought I’d just to the chase.  So here it is:

Read Shauna Niequist instead.