Monthly Archives: July 2018

A Sign of the Times-When Sci-Fi Becomes Reality

Today we live in a world where smart houses are becoming everyday fact.  When I was growing up, the idea of a “smart house” was still considered science fiction.  Of course, I’m old enough to remember when The Jetsons wasn’t a rerun seen only classic cartoon channels.  When Back to the Future Part II (1989) came out, the technology presented from the McFly’s future home was still fantasy, but today televisions capable of showing multiple shows at once and video door bells are things we take for granted.  (No flying cars yet, though.)

Robot helpers, automated household help, and endless viewing choices- not too far off from today! image from cyberneticzoo.com

My husband and I recently gave in to both encouragements from our kids and the financial relief of ditching cable TV in favor of switching to internet options like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Not only are we saving money, but we are also rediscovering a number of programs which we never had the time to watch on cable, that are available, commercial-free, at our finger tips or at a voice command to Alexa.

That is another “futuristic” feature we’ve added to our house recently, a second Amazon Echo Dot, so we that we can use them in tandem as a functional intercom, in addition to everything else they are capable of, such as giving us a weather forecast, playing radio stations, and now controlling our TV access.

There are so many time and effort saving gadgets out there, now, that only a couple of decades ago could only be seen on Star Trek or at Disney’s World of Tomorrow.  We can purchase from any store or online retailer self-propelled vacuuming robots, plugs to run houselights from a phone app, and appliances such as washing machines that be preprogrammed to begin a cycle in the future and refrigerators that can email us when we need to add eggs to the grocery list.

We live in a time where digital books are available any time we wish, from retailers or even the public library, and any information resource we could want from movie schedules to college courses can be accessed from a laptop or any Wi-Fi capable device.  For a one-time purchase, anyone can use a digital personal assistant such as Alexa or Siri to order dinner, schedule appointments, or remind us to pick up the kids.  We can use our home Wi-Fi networks to shop for anything from a new house to a new car, and even take care of the financing and purchase insurance, without leaving our front door.

Thanks to virtual reality, we soon won’t have to leave home to take a vacation.  I’m still waiting on that flying car, though.

Maybe in another twenty years? image /i.dailymail.co.uk

 

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Storm Front

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

I recently reviewed another book by author Jim Butcher, Brief Cases, which was my personal first foray into the realm of The Dresden Files.  That review is posted here.  Drawn in by the book of short stories, I couldn’t resist going back for more.

In this first installment of the tales of Harry Dresden, modern wizard extraordinaire, Harry is asked to consult on a grisly double homicide by the police department, and at the same time takes on a case of a woman’s missing husband.  His investigations are quickly hampered, though, when the killer strikes again.  Dresden realizes dark magic is involved in the murders, and that there is a link between the two cases.

Before he can discover the identity of the dark wizard who conjured these crimes, he runs afoul of crime boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who wants to halt the investigation for his own reasons, as well as the Chicago P.D., and the wizarding governing body, the White Council, who suspect he may be involved in the murders.

A physical attack makes Harry realize he is meant to be the next victim, and survival becomes just as important as finding the truth.   These two goals will take every ounce of resolve and every bit of magic at his disposal.

Butcher skillfully draws readers into a world that combines arcane spells with mundane issues such as car troubles and pizza delivery, and leaves them hungry for more. The author’s first person narrative, reminiscent of noir fiction, moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action and a matter of fact delivery of the possibilities of magic, tempered only by the character of its denizens.

Harry Dresden is a paranormal, urban fantasy hero with skills to rival Merlin, paired with enough angst-filled background to equal The Dark Knight and the lone-wolf sensibilities of gumshoe Sam Spade, right down to his black duster trench coat.  All of this wrapped up in a package of a flawed, human nice guy just trying to make a living in modern day Chicago.

I award this novel five stars, and recommend this book to any readers who are interested in urban fantasy, paranormal, or detective stories.

Catching Kindness

I saw the following sign posted in front of a local church: Be Kind, Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle. 

While this is hardly a new sentiment it is actually more relevant today than ever.  In the course of an ordinary day, we all chance meeting people and situations that will try our patience, and where a few hasty, unthinking words can escalate an uncomfortable situation into a conflict.  Or we can choose to take control of our own emotions, and ease the tension and diffuse the situation before it grows into a conflict.

You can never know when a stranger is struggling. http://www.quoteswave.com

I’m not by any means advocating that you should allow strangers to take advantage of you or mistreat you just so you can avoid having a confrontation.  By all means, stand up for yourself when it becomes necessary.  However, sometimes we may be able to control a situation and eliminate the need for harsh words or even violence.

Since we only truly can know our own hearts and minds, consider the following in dealing with others, especially when they seem to be angry or aggressive:

Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Before you allow harsh words or careless actions to color your own behavior, ask what could be happening in the other person’s life that makes them respond a certain way?   What information are we lacking about their point of view?  Unless they have taken the time to explain their situation and outlook to you, it is impossible to truly know at a glance how they feel about a subject or situation, or why it affects them a certain way.

Don’t judge other people on their reactions.  You never know if someone is behaving out of character-perhaps they are having a bad day, or have recently experienced a major traumatic event.  There may be a very good reason why they are acting a certain way that has nothing directly to do with your or the situation you are experiencing with them.  Until you know their circumstances, offer others the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt.

Try to be non-confrontational in a tense situation.  Don’t allow yourself to be provoked into raising your voice or responding in anger.   Demonstrating calm in the face of conflict can help defuse the situation.   When the other person fails to get an angry response from you it may help deflate their anger and give them a chance to calm down.  At the very least, you will be able to work out a better response with a cool head.

Confrontations are an unavoidable fact of life, but they should not define us.  Deal with any tense or unpleasant situation you must face, and then move past it.  Try your best to let go of any negative feelings that remain.  If necessary, give yourself a time out or take a stress break by deep breathing, exercising, listening to music, or whatever else helps you calm down.  Do not let one bad situation affect the rest of your day and everyone you meet.  You owe that to yourself, and everyone else you will encounter.

Here’s hoping you all have a peaceful, pleasant rest of your week!

Amy

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters

More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories by Autumn Chills
More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters (Spooky Stories Series Book 2) 
by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review
Are you looking for a quick paranormal read that won’t leave you too afraid to turn the lights off at night? Check out author Autumn Chills’ anthology featuring an assortment of spirits that are as friendly as Casper, as benevolent as angels, and as heart-warming as a hug.

This short story collection includes tales of otherworldly beings such as a mischievous prankster at a movie theater, a beloved grandmother who gives romantic advice from beyond, and an unseen housekeeper who loves to take care of her home’s new inhabitants. Unlike many other books in this genre, these stories are all family-friendly and I would recommend this  5- star collection to paranormal fans of all ages, or simply to anyone seeking a condensed, uplifting read.

Asking for and Accepting Help

When was the last time you truly felt overwhelmed by some crisis or obstacle you had to face, but you did not want to admit, even to yourself, that the problem existed, or that you would be unable to resolve it on your own?  I’m not talking about something simple, like lifting a 50-pound bag of dogfood; I have no trouble at all asking my husband or son for help with that.  I’m talking about something much more serious, like accidentally forgetting to back up a critical file on a computer, or dealing with injuries caused in a car accident.

07.01.2012 - His Hand
We all need a little help from time to time.  Photo by Jlhopgood on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The truth is no one is perfect; we all have shortcomings we struggle with on a regular basis.  There will always be situations where we need advice, support, and/or assistance from others, even if the last thing we want to do is ask for help.

There is a commonly held myth that accepting ourselves as we are, flaws and all, and asking for help when we need it, becomes easier as we grow more mature.  This is not necessarily the case; completely accepting our whole selves as we truly are is something we all struggle with from time to time.

  • Often pride gets in the way of admitting when we need help, both to ourselves and others. It is natural to want to feel that we are capable, to present an image that is confident and competent.  Unfortunately we may sometimes tend to use others’ perceptions of us as a mirror to bolster our self-confidence, without admitting that the image perceived by others doesn’t necessarily match what we feel inside.
  • Our own insecurities don’t always allow us to ask for the help we truly need. We may worry that our requests will meet with rejection, belittlement, or that others will think we are lacking in some way.
  • Sometimes we fear that those we would ask for help will think less of us for being weak. Weaknesses can be exploited by individuals or groups that prey on our feelings, that seek to make themselves look better at our expense.  To ask for help requires that we open up, and allow others to see our vulnerabilities.  To do so, even with people we trust, means facing our fears.

No one who truly cares about us is going to intentionally take advantage of our needs, insecurities, and weaknesses, but the irrational parts of our minds can’t always believe this to be true.  Perhaps we have been hurt before, by someone who used us to express their own weakness, their own insecurities, in a bid to make themselves feel better.  Perhaps we aren’t sure who we can trust.

When we are truly in crisis, ignoring the problem won’t bring the resolution we need; we must find a solution even if that means asking for help.  I know from personal experience it can be a scary thing to do, but if you go to a loved one or a true friend, have faith they will understand.  Someone who is worthy of your attention and your help in turn, will not judge, but do their best to assist you.

My advice is this: learn to accept counsel and assistance from others.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.  Listen to opinions others may offer, but make your own choices.  When in turn someone comes to you for help, put yourself in their place, and remember how it felt when you were the one in need.  It truly is okay to ask and receive help; after all, we are all only human.

Amy

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
The Bookshop of Yesterdays 
by

Amy Meyerson (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Miranda Brooks had loved spending time with her Uncle Billy, the owner of Prospero Books, and the designer of grand scavenger hunts, until his mysterious disappearance shortly after her twelfth birthday.  Sixteen years later, she receives a package in the mail, on the same day she learns that Billy has died.  The package contains a book sent by Billy, with a clue hidden in its pages.  As she travels to San Francisco for his funeral, Miranda learns that he has left her his beloved bookstore.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays is more literary fiction than genre mystery, not the type of book I read frequently, but I still found myself caught up in the tale of a young woman searching for answers about her past.  Author Amy Meyerson, under the guise of Billy’s letters to Miranda, leads readers on a hunt for clues derived from passages of classic literature.

As she follows his trail, Miranda uncovers the untold story of Billy’s life, as well as unexpected information about her own.  Why did he disappear that day, and who is the woman in the photo she finds at his apartment?  What deep, dark secrets did Billy take to his grave, which Miranda’s parents are still hiding from her?

Miranda discovers that everything she thought she knew about her own life was wrong, and she’s not certain how to deal with it all.  Now that she knows the truth, will she go back to Philadelphia, to the life she has made there, or will she stay, and keep Billy’s legacy alive?

This novel from debut author Meyerson expertly combines quotes from classical literature, including such diverse writers as Shakespeare and Mary Shelley, with a mystery containing the story of one woman’s life.  I recommend this work to anyone with a love of mysteries or a passion for books, and give it four stars.

Hitting the Road (and Life’s Journey)

July always seems to meander along in the Midwest, with swells of heat and lazy days where the afternoon sun sparks a desire to nap in the shade.  This is a time when many of us turn our thoughts to vacations from the daily grind, and very often, this means road trips.  These motor excursions come in all forms and styles, can be long or short in duration, and can lead to anywhere the highway can reach.

Retour en Arizona / Back to Arizona
What summer is complete without a road trip?  Photo by OliBac on Foter.com / CC BY

Just gather the family or your best friend, pack a bag and some snacks, fill up the tank (or charge the battery) and head out.  And if you need food for thought on your odyssey as interludes to car games, here are some big questions to ponder:

Which type of traveler are you?  Are you a plotter or a freewheeler?  Do you prefer your route to be charted out to the last rest stop, or would you rather simply jump in your vehicle and see where the road takes you?  I think most of us lie somewhere in between these extremes.

While both of the above approaches to travel have their own merits, how you choose to plan, or not plan, your adventure can have an impact on your life.  Do you have a 5, 10, or longer year-goal for your life carefully plotted, or are you guided only by impulse?  Do you have expectations for your future, or do you prefer to live in the moment, embracing life as it comes your way?

While life is definitely a journey, and the destination is not always the main purpose, there is something to be said for planning ahead.  There are benefits to spontaneity, don’t get me wrong, but having at least a few plans made can make a trip go much more smoothly.  No one wants to arrive at a motel after a long drive and find there are no vacancies, or even worse, that you forgot to bring a toothbrush or a change of underwear.

In the same vein, while being spontaneous can lead to unexpected opportunities, a few life plans prepares you for the journey that lasts a lifetime, and can lead to the fulfillment of dreams and goals more lofty than visiting every diner mentioned on Food Network in the last year (that one’s from my husband.)  It’s really hard to purchase a house, or save for retirement, for example, without making plans.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost.

One of my all-time favorite poets is Robert Frost, and I am forever fond of his poem we had to memorize for seventh-grade English class, “The Road Not Taken.” How many of us, at the end of the day, wonder if we have chosen the correct path for us?  Sometimes we can turn back, and try the other route, but other times we decide we’ve already gone too far to begin the journey again.  So while it is easy to plan or not, a vacation, take your time when planning your life’s excursion; after all, it will hopefully last far longer.

As you cruise along the highway this summer, take time to think about the path you’ve chosen.  Be it a quick trip to the nearest city, or an epic journey across country, only you can determine if you have picked the road that is right for you.

May all your travels be happy ones!

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Goblins of Bellwater

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
The Goblins of Bellwater 
by

Molly Ringle(Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

A chosen few know that there is another world that lives alongside our own.  Of course, those chosen don’t necessarily feel privileged with the knowledge, especially Kit Sylvain, the goblin’s liaison-under duress.  Kit is the latest member of his family to be subjected to a centuries old curse- if he doesn’t bring gold to the tribe of goblins that occupies the forest near Puget Sound on a monthly basis, they find someone to hurt, or kill, or even worse, become one of their number.

When Kit meets Livy, he can’t permit himself to fall in love, because he doesn’t want to expose anyone else to the goblins’ manipulations.  He doesn’t realize that he’s already too late on that front.  The goblins have chosen another victim, Livy’s younger sister Skye.  Skye is enthralled by a spell that will make her leave her humanity behind, and drag Kit’s cousin Grady along with her.

For The Goblins of Bellwater, author Molly Ringle created a background of an entire population of “fae” characters, those native to the Washington state area, and the encroaching goblin “weeds.”  I was intrigued by Ringle’s take on the origin of the goblins, as they were once human and “turned” into beings of nature, mischief, and violence.  While her goblins by far take center stage for the otherworldly cast, the imaginative and ultimately benevolent intervention of the native fae creatures help prevent a disaster of horror-story proportions.  The human characters are well-developed as well, with intricate backstories of their own and seemingly natural incidents that draw them to each other.

The plot somewhat reminded me of a movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010,) which featured a group of ancient beings that lured people into a basement to join their ranks.  However, this is a paranormal romance and not a horror story, so there was an escape clause, which Livy, the environmental scientist, was able to undertake thanks to the favor of the “other” fae in the woods.  Ultimately it takes the love, friendship, and willingness to sacrifice between the four young people to save them all, and stop the curse for all time.

This beautiful story should delight fans of the paranormal, romance, and urban fantasy books.  I thought it seemed a little slow in the beginning, but within the first hundred pages the action picked up and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.  I ultimately decided this novel deserved 4.5 stars, and I would definitely check out more of the author’s work in the future.

A Mixture of Values

As I rush about making preparations for another Independence Day barbeque, I find myself considering all the various meanings that so many people attach to this most American of holidays.  July 4th is not just a red letter day on the calendar, a day many of us are granted a paid holiday, or an excuse to display our national flag on the front of homes, offices, and lampposts in public areas.  This is officially the day we celebrate our declaration of independence from our colonial roots.  As with most holidays, though, the ways and reasons we “party” has grown and taken on new life as the day holds a variety of meanings as divergent as the individuals that make up this country.

D is for....320/365
Each individual may have a different favorite aspect of today.  Photo by AndYaDontStop on Foter.com / CC BY

Food, Fun and Family.

For many, the Fourth of July is all about spending time with loved ones-outdoors in someone’s backyard or at a nearby park, or even in a pool as the sun reaches its zenith; and of course, the food.  Anything and everything that can be cooked on a grill, accompanied by salads, watermelon, and desserts served ala mode to beat the heat.  While the food settles in over-full stomachs, the kids may run around with sparklers (have parental supervision, please!) and grownups rouse to challenge each other to games like corn hole and baseball.  The perfect ending to a perfect Fourth is fireworks, either set off in backyards or a nearby professional show.

Entertainment.

Many citizens will take advantage of their community celebrations today.  A mass of parades, fireworks shows and concerts, many free, are available throughout this week, easy to locate from local listings online or in newspapers.   Participants should be prepared for sitting in traffic, and expect to share grassy areas with plenty of others seeking the best spots for viewing.

Concerts in the park are a welcome venue, often accompanied by local food vendors who compete for space to have patrons sample their wares.  For those who do not wish to venture out, there are always televised events that showcase the beauty of the lights without the need to weather sweltering temperatures and the loud “boom” of the displays.

4th of July San Francisco Fireworks 2013
A fitting tribute to the day.  Photo by davidyuweb on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Celebration and Remembrance.

This is a day to honor and remember servicemen and women who have, and continue to, fight and work to ensure our safety and freedoms.  Today we honor the values our nation was built on, and the belief that despite our differences and issues, we still have a strong future ahead.  Today, above all days, we stand up and demonstrate our national pride and the certainty that, no matter our politics, religion, or ethnicity, we are all citizens of a free country.

God Bless America!

Amy