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Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

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How to Become a ‘Fully Alive’ Addiction Warrior

Fully Alive

Using Your Individuality to Conquer Addiction

By Michael J. Surdyka


“Imagine yourself as a warrior,” urges author Michael J. Surdyka in this frank, no-nonsense book on conquering addiction, both alcohol and drug. “If you want to keep your sobriety, you are required to fight for your life every single day.”

The author shows you how in this practical hands-on guide to lifelong sobriety.

Indeed, Fully Alive offers a powerhouse of perspective, support, understanding and practical advice for anyone battling an addiction or those who know someone battling same. What sets this book apart from many other resources on the topic is its emphasis on developing a Sobriety Blueprint and recovery plan specially and specifically tailored to each unique individual.

As explained in the Introduction, Fully Alive is:

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‘Immersed in West Africa’: Not Your Average Travel Book

Immersed in West Africa: My Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau (Kindle) (Travels With Terry Book 1) by [Terry Lister]


Immersed in West Africa: My Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau

By Terry Lister


Truth? When the author initially requested a review, I wasn’t interested. That’s cuz the last few travelogue/memoir type books I’ve read were redundant and as dull as dirt. Think moon rocks. Without the moon.

But the author was gently persistent. So I reluctantly agreed to read and review. (Which just shows you what I know.)

Turns out Immersed in West Africa is a delightful read. Here’s why:

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6 Titles to Curl Up With if You Love Whodunits

You’re kidding, right?

I say this to Mom a lot. Especially when she gets The Look. You know. That Look. It usually precedes a mile-long description of her new favorite book. Of course I listen. Because, ya know. That’s my job. Well, that and being beautiful and brilliant. (It’s a tough job. But I’m up for it!)

So when Mom came up with yet another harebrained idea for Fine Wine Fridays – where do these things come from? – I just smiled and listened.

Mom’s latest brainstorm? A list of really cool murder mysteries/whodunits.

Being the brains in this dynamic duo, I reminded Mom that she doesn’t typically gravitate toward either genre. But you know Mom!

So here, in no particular order, are Mom’s version of Fine Wine Friday murder mysteries/whodunits. (See more Fine Wine Friday picks here.)

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‘Farm Tough’ Lays an Egg

Farm Tough, by Patrick Scott

Rebel Without a Cause meets Huck Finn, shakes hands with The Haymeadow and runs into Lord of the Flies in this “coming of age” story set in Yuba City, California.

The narrator, now age 70+ and dying of cancer, looks back on his summer of 1955. A spoiled rich kid, Ryan was twelve years old when he’s sent to spend the summer with his grandparents while his parents sort out a divorce.

Once in Yuba City, Ryan soon meets meets a bunch of local guys with majorly limited vocabularies. (Someone didn’t bother to read our submission guidelines. More on that in a min.) The boys skinny-dip in the Feather River, pilfer railroad ties to build a raft, and jump off a bridge. Ryan tries so hard to fit in, he lies to his grandparents about an overnight at the river.

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Gold Standard in Historical Fiction?

Calling all fans of historical fiction and anyone else who can fog a mirror!

Today we’re reviewing three outstanding novels. They’re all historical fiction. All are set during World War II. Anchoring these narratives are strong women who survive and flourish against the odds.

Mom says The Nightingale and Cilka’s Journey are two disturbing but outstanding reads. And that The Things We Cannot Say is one of the year’s best. (And she reads alot. When she’s not out walking with me.)

Taken together, these three novels may represent the “gold standard” for historical fiction. 

So sit tight and get ready to dive in.  Let’s go!

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5 Clunkers You Can Skip & Not Miss a Thing

Your time is valuable, right? Especially when it comes to books.

That’s why Mom and I launched the BKLBITS (Big Kitty Litter Box In The Sky) Awards last summer. It was one of our most popular features. I mean, Holy Meow Mix! No one wants to waste their time on lousy snoozers littered with unsympathetic, cardboard characters we don’t know, don’t want to know, and could care less about.

Mom and me, we like to be helpful. As in, save you some time. So here, without any further ado, we’re rolling out BKLBITS Awards, Part II:

1. Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese

This book gets all kinds of rave reviews elsewhere. It’s supposedly about two brothers “whose fate is intertwined.”

So not impressed.

It takes seven chapters – we kid you not – for a laboring mother to give birth. Yea, verily. We don’t expect or require every book to move at warp speed. But this thing moves with the alacrity of a three-toed sloth. Bye!

2. The Demeter Code, by Russell Brooks

We received a request to review this international spy “thriller” novel in November. It’s supposedly about biological warfare, CIA spooks, Syrian arms dealers, thieves, contract killers and corporate espionage, punctuated by lots of gun play and a seemingly never-ending dead body count.

It was obvious early on that the author did not bother to read our submission guidelines. Or maybe he figured we wouldn’t notice just how majorly this thing sails outside our wheelhouse. Ugh. (Main character Ridley Fox gives stray alley cats a bad name.)

But a request is a request. So here’s our review:

If you gravitate toward trashy “thriller” books of the pulp fiction variety, this one’s for you. Otherwise, feel free to choose something more productive. Like watching grass grow.


3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

“Beautiful forever” is a corporate slogan for Italianate floor tiles. That matters in Annawadi, a .miserable slum of Mumbai where residents young and old scrape out a meager existence in the shadow of luxury hotels and an international airport. Because this novel is all about mercurial promises that gleam like new tile but crack and crater the moment they’re set down or even lightly jostled.

This colorful novel centers around the “professional competition for trash” that keeps Annawadi barely alive, eking out bare subsistence in a society roiling with corruption, disease, poverty, and squalor.

A Pulitzer Prize nominee for general nonfiction, this story is reasonably engaging. It’s beautifully written. But you may find its pace uneven and the plot plodding.

4. I Will Always Love You, by Ashley Lee London

This book is an ambitious effort, spanning multiple generations and relationships. That’s part of its problem. There’s no real cohesive, unifying theme. It’s all over the place. The result is a confusing, muddled morass of artificial emotion and manufactured pathos. For example, the godfather/goddaughter relationships between Michael and Lori seems artificial. Like it’s trying too hard to make up for deficits in Lori’s upbringing.

There’s also a recurring issue with print quality. Numerous pages sport smudged ink and blurred paragraphs.

Additionally, the characters are hackneyed, the plot humdrum. While the story had potential, much of it is frittered away scampering down multitudinous bunny trails and story arcs that are tangentially connected at best.

Unfortunately, story threads don’t really start coming together until around page 300. Only the most diligent of readers is likely to wait that long before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest exit. (Read our full review here.)

5. The Aviator, by Eugene-Vodolazkin

A man wakes up in a Russian hospital. He has no idea who he is, how he got there, or what year it is. He gradually realizes he’s been in cryo storage for most of the 20th century. Memories of his grandmother reading Robinson Crusoe, a summer dacha, a murder, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and a barbaric gulag bubble to the surface as aviator Platonov tries to make sense of who he is, where he is, and why.

Reminiscent of Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘The Aviator’ is also dense. At times it’s even oblique in the tradition of Franz Kafka.

The narrative is packed with details and rich descriptions of people, events, and observances that are seemingly superfluous or irrelevant. Connecting the dots into some semblance of coherence can be a challenge, perhaps mirroring the mental and physical deterioration of the main character.



Next up:

One of the best historical fiction books we’ve ever read! Stay tuned!


ALL ABOARD for Adventure With 2 Unique Travel Tomes

  “Car ride! We’re goin’ for a car ride!!”

Wait. We’re not goin’ for a car ride, Mom? Whaddya mean, “Travel by book?” To where? Can I come? Is there food?

Kimber here. Mom says it’s all aboard for two nifty travel-ish tomes she recently read. One takes us aboard a humongous passenger ship making the New York to England crossing in 1915. (I’d bring a really, really good life jacket ‘fize you.) It’s called Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. The a pert and pretty “travel memoir” about traveling with youngun’s, Passports and Pacifiers: Traveling the World One Tantrum at a Time.

So. All aboard! Let’s go!

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JUMP Start Your January With These Fine Fiction Titles

Are you or your kids battling the winter blues? If so, check out these Juvenile Fiction and Young Adult titles.

You may not have heard of these books. But they’re all good, solid stories. Even better, they come highly recommended by The Momster and Kimber. (We love historical fiction. But we love well-written juvenile and YA fiction too. That probably means something. Can we get back to you on that?)

Anyway. Grab a hot cuppa. Put your feet up. Stoke up the fireplace or crank up the furnace. Get ready to warm up your winter with these excellent Mom-Tested, Kimber-Approved reads:

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Best Animal Stories EVER!

Happy New Year!

Mom and I are ringing in 2021 right (or write) with our latest Super Duper Awesomeness List of Best Animals Stories Ever. At least that was the plan. Until one of us got sidetracked. Again. (Hi, Mom.)

“There are just too many great animal books out there,” says Her Crankiness. “If we tried listing even a fraction of the excellent stories told from an animal’s point of view or feature animals as the main character(s), we’ll be here till Kingdom come!”

No idea what that means. But that’s where one of us changed plans. So instead of tallying up a list of Best Animal Stories Ever, we’re shifting to a list of Awesome Authors of Best Animal Stories Ever. Because some authors write numerous animal books.

So here to ring in the New Year WRITE is our totally subjective, 100% unscientific list of Awesome Authors of Best Animal Stories Ever and a brief list of their best known books. All are either told from an animal’s POV or an animal is the central character. (You may detect a slight canine bias here. But, hey! It’s me! Ready? Set? Go!)

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