Friday, February 10, 2017

Rainbows Come and Go

Anderson Cooper’s book Dispatches From the Edge was so interesting I had to take notes. I wasn’t  doing much blogging at the time I read that book, so I just filed my notes.

I learned in November that Cooper had another book published in cooperation with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. The Rainbow Comes and Goes, A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss was published in 2016. I read it and decided it was good, so here is my
blog about both books.
I enjoyed it, but personally preferred his first book. I might be prejudiced, since I was a journalist although I was never in the same league. However, I could understand some of what he was talking about and his feelings. Both books are well worth the reading, but I will start with my favorite.

My notes stated that I found Dispatches From the Edge very moving. “The world has many edges and it’s very easy to fall off. Keep moving in order to live. Keep cool, stay alive.”

Cooper had been a journalist for 15 years when he wrote that. He had covered wars in many areas, including Sarajevo, Baghdad, Soweto, South Africa. He wrote: “Every war is different, every war the same,” and “I set up barriers in my head, my heart, but blood flows right through them…”

After covering wars and disasters throughout the world, he found Katrina harder because it was home, in the USA. This shouldn’t happen here.  He mentioned seeing bodies left on the streets, tied to lampposts. They were people, not just bodies or corpses, he wrote.

He questioned the lack of planning and lack of quick response, as well as the question of race. I was in New Orleans this past year and as we drove past the Astrodome, those questions came back to me. I hope they are being addressed. New Orleans is a beautiful and exciting city.

“In the midst of tragedy the memories of moments, forgotten feelings, began to feed off one another. I came to see how woven together these disparate fragments really are: past and present, personal and professional, they shift back and forth, again and again.” Writing about the Day of the Dead, he says “There is so much laughter, even in the midst of all the loss. It’s the way it should be – no distance between the living and the dead. Their stories are remembered, their spirits embraced.”?

Interspersed with his stories are questions about family and fears. Cooper was constantly moving, filling the hours, “feeling but not feeling.”

Glad he was a Cooper and not a Vanderbilt, he let few people know who his mother was during his early career. His father died when he was 10 and later he lost his brother.  How these early personal events affected him is revealed in this new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes.

The lovely title comes from a poem by William Wordsworth. It was quoted by Gloria Vanderbilt when discussing how her life had so many ups and downs. Approaching 92 years old when this book was being written, she said that she looks for and appreciates the rainbow times.

 The mother and son, who had not shared much personal information in the past, started communicating more on her 91st birthday. This changed their relationship and bought them closer together.

The book cover says that this is a revealing glimpse into their lives. Yes, it was. Sometimes, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. I was a little confused at the beginning of the book, as the conversation goes back and forth, without any he said or she said. But soon I was able to easily tell who was speaking.

Mother and son talked about her childhood and the famous custody case. She was referred to during that time as the “Poor Little Rich Girl.” They discussed their mistakes, successes and losses.

They talked about how they were alike and yet so different.

“We like to think we are our own people, but sometimes it seems we are just playing out a script that was imprinted in us long ago.”

 “The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns.” Vanderbilt wrote. Her son liked the image, but wanting more security prefers to prepare for when it goes, to be able to survive until better times come again.

Both Cooper and Vanderbilt are writers. He is anchor on Anderson Cooper 360’ and a correspondent for CBS’s 60 minutes. She is an artist and designer and has written eight books and many magazine articles.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

As I mentioned in my recent blog, I do read books I receive as gifts and try to read books that have been recommended to me. There are so many books out there and so little time.

In March 2013, I wrote a blog about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. The author, Erin Sankovitch, mentions that she learns something from each book. I find that true also.  In my recent blog, I mentioned that I learned about forensic anthropology, websleuthing, and life and death on Mount Everest in Kathy Reichs books.

We may learn more from non-fiction books, than from fiction, but both can teach us things we don’t know.

I decided to write about another book, non-fiction this time, that I received as a gift recently. Yudhijit Brattacharjee’s The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, about "a dyslexic traitor, an unbreakable code, and the FBI’s hunt for America’s stolen secrets."

My friend assured me I would enjoy the book and she was right.

It was rewarding to see the various intelligence agencies working together to catch this spy.

I was lost reading a lot of the information about secret codes, in which I have little interest. You might find that challenging.

I did find myself wanting to learn more about this spy who was dyslexic, but had a credible military career and then worked his way up in the intelligence community. He was able to view highly classified information, use secret codes that were difficult to break and hide classified documents that threatened America’s security.

This was the largest theft of government documents before Edward Snowden’s data breach.

The book has us follow the successes and frustrations of those who are trying to catch this mole, who they can tell has top secret clearance. But, besides catching him, they need enough evidence that will hold up in court. Even after the capture and conviction, the agencies still had to find the hidden documents.

The author also helps us understand what motivated this spy who couldn’t spell. He was a family man, active in the community, with a good military record. Bullied as a child, able to overcome handicaps because of his dyslexia, and underestimated, he…..

Oops, I don’t want to give away too much. If you are interested in espionage, government agencies or just learning new information, I think you will enjoy this book. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bones in books

Recently, I read two books by Kathy Reichs. I had heard that she was a good writer and sometimes watched the TV show Bones (trying to avoid the gorier scenes).  Normally I read more cozy mysteries, but gifts from friends and family often lead me to read books that normally would not be on my “to read” list. Seldom am I disappointed.

Reichs really is a forensic anthropologist, one of only 111 people certified by the Board of American Forensic Anthropology. She has worked in forensic facilities in North Carolina and Quebec.

She has identified remains of victims of the genocide in Rwanda, victims of the World Trade Center attack and other victims of disasters or in mass graves.

In the first book I read, Speaking in Bones, a websleuth asks Dr. Temperance Brennan for help, saying “Lost. Murdered. Dumped. Unclaimed. This country’s overflowing with the forgotten dead. And somewhere someone’s wondering about each and every one of those souls.”

The book provides various red herrings, false leads and plenty of suspense. I was sure I knew “who done it” early, but like Dr. Brennan, I would discover I was wrong.

Luckily, unlike Dr. Brennan, I wasn’t in danger as we looked for clues in a rural mountain area that was home to a secretive religious cult. Her investigation led to exorcism and even more murders.

The second book, Bones in Ice, also offered plenty of intrigue. Dr. Brennan is asked to verify that a woman who died several years ago on Mt Everest is actually the daughter of an influential family. It seems this should be easy. But, the condition of the bones, lack of teeth and other inconsistencies make this more difficult and leads Temperance into a dangerous situation.

She wanted this book to honor those lost on the mountain and to direct attention to organizations providing disaster relief, after the terrible earthquakes in 2015, as well as groups dedicated to improving long-term conditions of the Sherpas, the guides and porters on Everest.

In this book, she gives information about Mount Everest, with more than 200 bodies frozen in its death zone. This is the area above eight thousand meters, where bodies are not recoverable

In her Authors Notes, she wrote, “The body of the legendary mountaineer George Mallory has remained intact on the peak since 1924. Others have evolved into more recent climbing landmarks, such as “Green Boots Cave,” or “Rainbow Valley,” named for the multicolored down jackets and climbing gear of corpses dotting the hillside.”

Horrified and yet fascinated by what she had read about high altitude climbing, like most writers, she asked herself that “what if” question. She wondered, “What would happen if one of those bodies came down and revealed unexpected secrets.

Kathy Reichs’ books may not be for the squeamish, but they are well written and interesting.

Her first award-winning book, Deja Dead, was published in 1997. She is the author of at least 17 books since then as well as scripts for the television series Bones. However, don’t expect the same characters in these books as you watch on television.

For more detail and a list of her other books, check out

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dark and Sweet books

Arthur Houghton III, who wrote the novel Dark Athena recently spoke at a meeting of library supporters, about writing, culture and the art world. Although the book is fiction, it was based on factual information and made more interesting by his questions of “what if?”

“The investigation of a statue’s provenance by museum director, Jason Connor takes him into the darkest corners of the art world to unravel a dangerous conspiracy involving stolen art, fakery and the tradecraft of intelligence , and raises profound questions about who should own mankind’s cultural heritage.” (from information provided at the event)

Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock said, “a good story is just life with the dull parts taken out.” Dark Athena sounds like a good story. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but have added it to my “To Read List” and am looking forward to entering (temporarily) the darker side of the art world.

Houghton has published four books and more than 60 articles about art, ancient history and economics. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art from Harvard University, and a master’s in Near Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut.

He served in the US Foreign Service station in the Middle East from 1966 to 1979, was acting curator of antiquities at the J Paul Getty Museum from 1982 to 1986, and the foreign policy coordinator for the White House Office on National Drug Policy from 1988 to 1996.

Also, Marcia Leiter of New Windsor, MD, the author and illustrator of the Sweet Pea series of books for children, talked briefly about her books with a focus on gardening.
The first book by the artist, gardener, writer was Sweet Pea’s Tale of Too Many Tomatoes. Her second book Sweet Pea’s Christmas was published recently by Birdberry Press. She mentioned that she had other books written and being prepared for publication.

I always enjoy being with others interested in reading and recommend supporting your local library, whether through volunteering, donating or using its resources . You can find out more at

As 2016 draws to a close, I wish a Happy New Year to everyone.  Read more, write more and enjoy life.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Books for Christmas

Anyone looking for the appropriate book to give as a gift for Christmas, should consider suggestions from Books Sandwiched In, an annual event at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. It is too late for you to attend this year, but I will share a few suggestions.
First, congratulations for McDaniel College. This year Books Sandwiched In celebrated its 25th anniversary. Attendees enjoyed cake, as well as the usual cider, tea, coffee and cookies. As usual, the room was full and there were extra copies of the 2016 list of Books for Holiday Gifts. The fact that this event is held during a lunch time in November led to its title.

Jane Sharpe, librarian emeritus at McDaniel College, has been recommending books for the past 20 years. She tries to include books from various genres to help people who want to give the appropriate gift for Christmas. She includes fiction and non-fiction books, historical and humorous, children’s and How-To books, such as those on cooking and gardening.
Jane reads many books during the year to choose her favorite 25 to 35 books from that year. She rejects many books.  Others are replaced on her list by books that, in her opinion, are better.

I was pleased to see I had read several of the books on her list, plus some of her top five favorites. Quite a few of her recommended books for 2016 have been added to my list of books-to-read, including The civil wars of Julia Ward Howe, a biography, by Elaine Showalter. I’ve read and given books she has recommended in the past and have never been disappointed.
My friend Betty Houck had read and (like Jane) would recommend Glory over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Now she is looking forward to reading Kathleen Grissom’s prequel, The Kitchen House.

In The book that matters most by Ann Hood a woman, struggling after the end of a 25-year marriage, joins a book club for companionship as well as her love of reading. Members think of the one book that  mattered the most to them. This might be an interesting discussion for book club member.
My sister-in-law might be interested in Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. Jane said it helped her get through Downton Abbey withdrawal. Beginning around in 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche,

Jane speaks with an attendee
of th2016 Books Sandwiched In
at Mc Daniel College
A friend’s granddaughter will be receiving The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan, about an orphaned 11-year old girl, who goes to live with her Aunt and discovers how she can help. Her aunt is (based on) Kate Warn, the first American female detective, who worked with famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. I think I want to read this one also.
Next year, my new grandson will receive Can I tell you a secret? by Anna Kang, with illustrations by Christopher Weyant. I look forward to reading it to him in the beginning since he will still be far too young to read it himself.

To help commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service, former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager, created Our Great Big Back Yard . This picture book is a tribute to our national parks and the importance and fun of connecting with nature. It is written for children approximately four to eight years old. Colorful illustrations are by Jacqueline Rogers.
I plan to buy Our Great Big Back Yard in the future for my grandson, as well as Jane’s recommended National Geographic Kids Almanac.

Other books for children include Chris Gravenstein’s Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. In fact, she was pleased with all the Mr. Lemoncello library books. Other recommendations for very young children include Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Christmas; Drew Daywalt's The crayons book of colors  (with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers) and Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard (illustrations by David Slonim).
Usually she usually avoids mentioning books of poetry, but liked Billy Collins The rain in Portugal, which, like the other books mentioned here, was published in 2016He was the US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003) and was often considered the most popular poet in America.

Some light Christmas reads recommended were Joanne Fluke’s Christmas Caramel Murder and Debbie Macomber’s Twelves Days of Christmas. Macomber’s coloring book, Come Home to Color, also made the list.
My Day in the Garden by Carolyn Seabolt is for children two to seven years old. The story is from her cat’s point of view in the garden behind Carolyn’s Cat Tracks Studio, Westminster, MD.
Jane also recommended Mark Luterman’s Abe’s Final Masterpiece: a symphony of lessons for business and life. Mark is an entrepreneur in Reisterstown, MD. Another business book on her list was How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 for children 10 to 14 years old. It was written by James McKenna, Jeannine Glista and Matt Fontaine.

There are many other wonderful books on her list, including The Rainbow Comes and Goes: a mother and son on life love and loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt and If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Green. Unfortunately, I can't include them all on this blog.
She includes others on her list, including cookbooks, gardening and coloring books. If you want to discover what other books Jane recommended, just let me know.

Other thoughts on gift giving 
The holidays have begun and we are besieged with ads informing us of gift ideas. One thing I am disappointed about is that (except for bookstores and websites) most ads primarily stress toys or electronic gifts for children and teens. Both are fine, if they help children use their imaginations and explore their world.

As you can tell from reading the above, I love to give books as gifts. Besides books for children, these have included books on sports, “How-to” books, sewing or craft books or magazines and books by local authors.
Online sites are wonderful, but don’t forget to support your local bookstore. Often they have a wide variety of books available at the last minute. The gift of a book encourages children to read and use their imagination.

I often give a child a book and then maybe some tie-in, such as a small toy.  Digger, Dozer, Dumper plus a small bulldozer; a Calvin & Hobbes book with a stuffed tiger; an American Girl book with an appropriate doll or accessories if the child already has the doll, or some Legos with a Lego book.

Also, look for different types of gifts for adults and children from your local art store, hardware store or craft show.
Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season and keep reading.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Writing a book in a month (or two)

Recently I read the book, Write-A-Thon: write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it) by Rochelle Melander. This book gives detailed suggestions for writing a novel in 28 days.

Since it was almost November and I was planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month, (nanowrimo) I thought this would be good preparation.

Melander refers quite often to Nanowrimo, but she gives hints that should help you complete a basic novel in less than a month. Amazing! Remember though, that this does not include the editing and rewriting after the month. She gives tips, exercises and inspirational quotes.

Much of the information is similar to books such as No Plot? No Problem! The low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days by Nanowrimo founder Cris Baty; Book In a Month, a foolproof system for writing a novel in 30 days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and The Extreme Novelist, the no-time-to-write method for drafting your novel in 8 weeks by Kathryn Johnson.

Product DetailsMelander stresses planning your novel ahead of time and knowing what genre you want to write in. Each genre has its own set of conventions.

“Knowing the genre you are writing for can help you structure and write your book,” she writes. ““What do you love or hate about books you read?”

She recommends keeping a story bible, such as that used with screenwriting. It holds notes on all the planning for the novel, so it is easy to find what you need. Organization is necessary if you want to finish in a short amt of time.

To get ideas, start with what you know. This is advice that we have heard for years, but it is important to consider your experience, knowledge, training, hobbies, interests and possibly family secrets.

What do you wonder about: People, places, issues, events, facts and idea or everything? Do you prefer true stories or fiction? Other questions you should be thinking about include: What If? If only? Why? Why not? Wouldn’t it be interesting if….?

Remember, your characters must want something, have a unique point of view and they should change. You can portray them through description, self-portrait, appearance, actions, behavior, their habits, reactions of other people to them. You can reveal more through dialog and thoughts.

Decide where you are going to set your story. Setting provides the where and when of the action. It also creates atmosphere and mood, supports plot, and reveals character. Setting also can function as a character.

She recommends having some sort of outline. Details give you a road map for writing. Having a skeleton provides the broad strokes of plot. Before starting the month, consider: What am I writing about? Who am I writing for? Why am I writing this book?

This Write-a-thon book also includes information about planning for your non-fiction book. Many non-fiction works have less than 50,000 words, such as memoirs, How To books, essays, lists and quote books and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books.

She recommends keeping a project binder to help stay organized. You want as much information at hand as possible.

Again think about who you are writing for, why you are writing this book and what you are writing about. What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? What do you know about? Once you discover your passion, find your purpose. You have something to say. You have a unique point of view. You need credibility which you can increase by blogging, teaching, building a better platform and more. (read the book)

Design your book structure. An outline can help. Think of it like building a house, with plans for the foundation and framing.  Design your marathon schedule and prepare your environment, including clearing your work space.

Melander said it helps to monitor yourself. Since I am participating in Nanowrimo, I have been doing that and now that I have more than 45,000 words, I am encouraged and am determined that I will complete the 50,000 word challenge.

For more information about the other books I mentioned check out my blogs of October 21, 2015 and October 2013 and January 2015.

Melander quotes Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” That is good advice for writing a book and a blog, so I will end here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Devens, Dobson and Fall recap

In October, I wrote three different blogs and now have a little more to say about each of them.

I mentioned Autumn Glory in the blog about Fall. Happily, I was able to go to Garrett County with my daughter, grandson, son-in-law and his parents for that weekend. We rented a house on Deep Creek Lake, so were able to enjoy the changing fall colors, the peacefulness of the lake (off-season) and the festival activities in Oakland.

My daughter and I enjoyed returning to Dottie’s CafĂ© in Englanders, Our Town Theatre, Traders’ Coffee Shop, and many other past favorites of ours. Everyone watched the parade. My five-month-old grandson loved seeing and hearing the old putt putt tractors.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for years, especially for the Autumn Glory Festival. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored. The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt and antique shows, and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in the small town of Oakland and surrounding areas. Maybe in the future, my grandson will be able to take part in the Sundae Ice Cream Eating Contest. I love the Creamery’s ice cream and you can get to it by boat, as well as by car.


Recently I read Barefoot Beach by Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, and really enjoyed it.  She mentioned “A writer is a witness to the world,” and she showed how to portray some of that in this book through the different people and situations.

Details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, took me back to wonderful times in Ocean City. Besides the wonderful stories about the lives of these three friends, it was interesting to learn a little more about therapeutic dancing, prosthetics, and turkish food an customs.

You can find out more about her at her website:


Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but they don’t start writing until the first of November 1. At least I have made it more than half way there so far, but I need to keep those fingers moving faster if I am going to succeed in meeting the 50,000 goal.

Write-ins are held at various times and places during the month, such as libraries and coffee shops. I had my largest word count from the write-in at the Taneytown Library. I am heading for another one now.

The weather is about to turn cooler, so enjoy the fresh, crisp air and what remains of the colorful trees and flowers. Thanksgiving is coming so think of the people and things you are thankful for. I am thankful for many things, including the opportunities I have to write and for those who read what I have written. Thank you.