Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration

This week’s photo challenge is Admiration.

Show us someone or something you admire (and tell us about them, too)!

I admire independent bookstores! This one below is a store called Face In a Book. I just love the name. Who knows what treasures await inside for a youngster who enters. It could be the beginning of a lifelong love of reading and books.

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I visited this store yesterday in honor of the Independent Bookstore Day.

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Such an inviting store with lots of displays and special touches.

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With everything close by and in reach, including a section for local authors.

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A great visit and I bought a book I can’t stop reading. Everyday should be Independent Bookstore Day! Don’t forget to support your local bookshop. We can’t take it for granted it will always be there.

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For more photos for this prompt, visit the Weekly Photo Challenge site.

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Carrie Rubin’s Novel EATING BULL and My Personal Food Connection

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I know I’ve read a great book when I’m still thinking about it months after I’ve turned the final pages. Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull is one of those books. It is a tightly crafted thriller, told from the point of view of three characters: Jeremy, an overweight, bullied teen whose favorite friend is food; Sue, the pubic health nurse on a mission to sue to food industry for their reckless manipulation of consumers; and, finally, Darwin, the mystery serial killer who is targeting the obese. It’s a mix of mystery whodunit, horror story, and public health crisis all rolled into one.

Many of the characters are suffering some past emotional trauma which is pulled into their eating habits. This backdrop makes these characters seem all the more human and vulnerable. I thought Carrie did a masterful job of telling a horrific story, alongside the complexities of food.

While eating is foremost about survival, it is so much more than that in the modern era of food convenience and choices. Food relates to our health, quality of life, eating habits, social gatherings, and family. Socio-economic factors play a role, too, and often hinder access to healthy food or enough food. Food is not an equal opportunity for all.

After reading Carrie’s book, I pondered this complex issue of food and how it related to my life. More recently, I have attempted a few clean eating challenges offered by my boot camp, because we know exercise isn’t enough and especially as we age. Sigh. On a positive note, I’ve spent most of my life not worrying about calories and meal choices and their impact on my health. Now that I’m getting older, it’s not so easy. So, I took on these clean eating challenges, which meant eating mostly real food, either from the ground or from an animal. While I’d like to be vegetarian, so far I’m not. Nothing processed, nothing out of a box, and very little sugar or salt.

In these efforts to control my eating choices, I could relate to Carrie’s characters in her book. My meal choices of lean protein and vegetables were quite similar to those of Sue. As we are made aware of her restrictive choices, it feels as if Sue, too, is noting them for herself. I also identified with Jeremy’s hunger for more, even when I wasn’t hungry. It’s emotional eating and I never felt this so strongly as I did when everything I loved was removed, especially carbs! I missed snacking. It was tough.

Jeremy’s mother Connie also has her share of challenges of feeding her family healthy options with limited time and resources, not to mention with different needs in mind. Would her son and father eat the same foods, for example? This is a constant struggle with my household and cafeteria-style planning and eating. When I did the clean eating challenge (for six weeks) it meant cooking separate meals for my family, which made it extra challenging. While there may be solutions for all these problems, it doesn’t make them any easier.

What’s more, there’s a public health scenario looming in the story: suing the food industry. I, for one, did not think this was that far-fetched. While it may never happen, I hope Carrie’s book encourages a careful look at their practices.

For example, no matter how much willpower I have, I can’t just have one stop at the Famous Amos cookie box. I just can’t!! One reach turns into three. I lost count of the number of cookies.

Well, they are famous.
Well, they are famous.

And then I saw this video about how America is getting hooked on processed food. You must watch this eye-opening video. Have you ever heard of “Vanishing Caloric Density”? It’s no wonder I love cheese puffs so much!

Talk about reckless manipulation of consumers. Carrie weaves all these complex issues with a serial killer on the loose. All the while, the issues don’t get lost in the story or take over, but add layers of intrigue for a compelling, entertaining read.

It’s no wonder that Eating Bull is the silver medal winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) for Great Lakes, Best Regional Fiction. Congratulations to Carrie! 

Here’s a link to Eating Bull on Amazon. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy today.

Please Say Kaddish for Me: A Novel for Everyone

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From the very first page of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’s novel Please Say Kaddish for Me, I was swept up in Havah Cohen’s story. I was spellbound, so much so, I didn’t want to put this book down. The book is simultaneously driven by character and events at a quick pace, divided into four parts. The year is 1899 in Czarist Russia, a time marked by Jewish pogroms in which entire families are randomly massacred. 

The book begins with a horrible tragedy of Havah Cohen, our main heroine, and the slaughter of her family in the middle of the night. When we meet her, Havah is driven from her home, shocked and grief-stricken, and wanders barefoot, reciting the Hebrew prayer of Kaddish, a prayer for the living for the dead and for the bereft.

Because Havah is a rabbi’s daughter, she is well versed in its study which was uncommon at the time. So, when a father and son, Yussel and Arel Gitterman, find Havah at their doorstep, mumbling Kaddish, they are awestruck and quickly come to her aid. What’s more, Arel who has been promised to another since the age of 13, is completely captivated by Havah’s presence. When Havah is conscious and recovering, she too becomes aware of her forbidden connection to Arel. At the heart of this story is romantic, passionate love between Havah and Arel, and the barriers that they face.

This story is also about the love of family and of community, and how this love transcends the horrible acts inflicted upon them. There are many characters in Ms. Wisoff-Fields’s story, but I was never overwhelmed, but rather carried along, almost as an eavesdropper, but just as easily a participant, for it is hard not to get wrapped up in the anguish of this community and the depth of their suffering. Her descriptions of the horror of these brutal acts are gruesome, vivid and difficult to read, I believe as they should be.

I am struck by the authenticity and honest portrayal of this dire time in history, and by this family’s resilience, their bravery and the way that they lift one another up. Their Jewish faith holds them together, but their traditions and customs are also challenged in the face of all that is at stake and with the complete upheaval of their lives.

Wisoff-Fields’s storytelling is keen and her writing both crisp and fluid, but underneath it all, the author’s passion is undeniably present. There are no words wasted here. As I read, I felt as though I was standing next to them, hearing them breathe and listening to them speak. It’s not often I feel this way when I read a book. Her characters are well-drawn and, in fact, as the author is also a talented artist, she has actually illustrated many of her characters and provided character studies. You can find them posted on her blog Addicted to Purple and on her publisher’s website Loiacono Literary Agency.

As many of you may know, Rochelle is also the host of a wonderful writing community, Friday Fictioneers. There, I have enjoyed many of her well-crafted stories. It is with great pleasure that I recommend Please Say Kaddish for Me. As I read the last page, I thought to myself, “Everyone should read this book.” Now, more than ever, this story needs to be read and shared, because unfortunately the world is not a more kind and gentle place. I hope that this story also finds a place inside the classroom, with its message of compassion and courage of the human spirit.

Please note this story is the first part of a trilogy. Her sequel From Silt and Ashes is also just recently published and available.
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You can find Rochelle’s books here on Amazon and from W&B Publishers. 

Here is video for Please Kaddish for Me, I think you’ll enjoy. (used with permission)

Down the Rabbit Hole – Friday Fictioneers

It’s time for Friday Fictioneers, where writers from all over the globe face a challenge to write a 100-word story based on a photo prompt.

Sorry, so late again this week. I was having a hard time pinning down a story and finally decided on something close to home. I had been working at a job related to writing and reading. I can’t say I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel and I can’t say anything else, but this is fiction.

Thanks to our lovely hostess Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and to Stephen Baum for this week’s delightful photo.

If you’d like to play along and write your own story, visit this link for instructions. All are welcome!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Stephen Baum

Down the Rabbit Hole

Genre: Too Realistic Fiction (100 words)

“We’re here at Meadowlark Elementary to reintroduce the ‘book.’ I’m holding in my hands Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a story about a girl who falls the down the rabbit hole.”

“That sounds boring,” Chad said. “Who wants to read that?”

Kids did just that for the following two weeks. They devoted extra time to practice reading still words on a white page. Initially, the lack of moving images disturbed them and the suggestion that they could imagine the story all of their own was downright troubling.

Chad looks into the camera. “I’m feeling hope and it’s spelled H-O-P.”

Close enough.

Cut

*******************

Click here for more stories from the Fictioneers.

What happens to a closed Barnes & Noble? I’ll tell you.

In my sleepy town, the world shuts down at 8:30 pm. Once upon a time, our town had a Barnes & Noble, and at that time, our little town stayed up until 9:00 pm., maybe even sometimes 10:00 pm. It was a sad day when they closed their doors, and I was there. I had purchased a few items, and the lady at the cashier was grief-stricken. Sure, she was losing her job, but we both knew something greater was at stake. It was and is the beginning of new era: the era of disappearing bookstores.

That was two years ago, and hopefully that cashier got another job, possibly even working at another Barnes & Noble. There’s another store a few towns over, just far enough away that I never seem to get to it.

The Barnes & Noble is usually a warehouse of a store, am I right? When it closed, it sat vacant for a long time, reminding us all that once books lived there, and coffee and couches.

But have no fear, Halloween came along….the holiday that boasts over $2.5 billion in candy sales alone. A huge warehouse with an empty come-hither, vacant, dusty space was finally in demand. What space could be better for costumes, witches, werewolves…and….

BOO!

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I got you, didn’t I? This scared the living daylights out of my son. Here he can be seen running away from this friggin place.

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That mega Halloween store is not as mega this season, and made another temporary home to right of this picture… (not shown).

Many moons since, a whole lot of bottles have moved in.

Introducing the latest occupant….Total Wine & More!

Incidentally, last summer I noticed many college-age kids camping out in the parking lot in a nearby shopping center with actual patio furniture. I imagine all these kids live with their parents and have nowhere else to go. I don’t know what they’ll do when it’s chilly out. Now would they even inhabit a Barnes & Noble?

Let me tell you one thing I know, they ain’t getting into Total Wine. It’s a kind of a slap in the face. Let’s take the last place you maybe mighta coulda hung out in kids…

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Nope…now it’s truly the parking lot for you guys.

But there is wine.

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Rows and rows of it, stacked to the ceiling.

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Kind of like books….NOT. More delicate than books. Better not let your toddler run loose. Can you imagine?

That said, I like this store. I can always find a delectable wine at a good price. Wines in all aromas, flavors, styles, for any kind of dish from regions all over the world. Germany, France, Portugal, South Africa, lots of places, and local wines, too. You have many decisions to make here. Would you like something light and crisp with a hint of pear? Perhaps, you require a more intense, full-bodied experience. Will you pair it with a dish? Maybe you need something sweet like butterscotch or vanilla. Are you in the mood for soft and elegant? Decide your mood.

Feeling confused? Just like the book recommendations at Barnes & Noble, they have a wine team here with their favorite picks.

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I chose Chuck’s* favorite, a French Luc Pirlet Cabernet Sauvignon. I honed in on the milk chocolate and dark cherry flavors. Sadly, I did not have any grilled flank steak to go with it.

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There are plenty of beer and spirits, too.

Your Froggy B…

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Let’s not forget your Pumpkinhead…

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If you want to whet your palate, you can taste. I noticed, however, that there are no chairs.

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Oh, Barnes & Nobles., this store might as well be screaming, “There are no books here. Just get drunk!” But what about a few chairs at the tasting booth? And while they’re at it, how about a few more chairs strewn about the store…

…and a couch or two, a rug, reading lamp…a glass of wine.

I’ll bring a book like old times. Now we’re talking.

What about you? Have you seen a bookstore close in your town or city? What replaced it? Do you still get out to a bookstore? Do you want to? 

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

The Library, My Friend and Yours

Recently, I had a bit of snag with overdue book notices from my local library. Like the rest of civilization, the library must progress with the digital age. I’m not going to pick on the library. I love my library. I rely on my library.

As a kid, I went to the library with my mom often. It was part of our cheap fun. My two sisters and I were allowed to check out 10 books a piece, and my mother, an avid reader, checked out her own set. At $.05  a book per day, we could rack up some fines, and my mom recalls we often did just that.

The date stamp was imprinted on each book. If you wanted to know when a book was due, open the inside cover and there it was. No hassle. No remembering. Ah, yes, simplicity at its finest. The date stamp. I fear some of you may not even know what this is.

What you have now is an onion skin sheet of paper printed with a list of your books and the due date. All good and well if you can keep track of a thin scrap of paper. It usually gets lost inside of a book until, of course, the books are past due, or it’s thrown in my purse, the big black hole.

I pick up books for my sons on a regular basis, especially my six-year-old who only wants to read everything just once. Occasionally something is worth mentioning, named by title, or even considered for his permanent collection. “Mom, buy this one.” I keep checking out more and more books.

So, understandably, I get a pile of books each time. I usually scan them myself, even though the librarians look, well, a little lonely. I doubt that they don’t have enough to do. With all the budget cuts, hours have been cut as well. It’s hard to keep track of the new hours and, at my local library, Mondays are just simply closed all together.

Conveniently, I have an online library account, which for the first two years went to the wrong email address. My fault. But this didn’t help matters. I was in a darkness for a spell hoping I remembered when my library books were due, usually about a dozen or so books at once, a guess a far cry from my mother’s forty books that she had to keep track of. I knew they had a three-week check-out span, and I could more or less keep track of that. More or less.

If my son was finished with most of his books, but really just wanted to hear one story over and over, which didn’t happen often, I would return the other books except the one he fancied. This was confusing if I then later stopped by the library to pick up a few more books. You see, now I had books with two different due dates.

When I finally visited my online account and provided the correct email address, things were working like clockwork. The library gives a three-day notice to gather your books and return them. Things were working like clockwork I tell you until I received an overdue notice of books I had already turned in. Panic settled in momentarily. This must be a mistake? Was there a library thief awaiting with gloved hands as I dropped them into the book drop abyss? Was someone just dying to have my book on The Everything Guide to Social Media?

My next notice from the library was a list of books that were due in three days, Ellison the Elephant and Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent (I highly recommend this book).  Fine, but it didn’t list the other ten or so books I checked out. Whatever, I can assume they all due.  

So, they are promptly turned in and I go about my business checking out a new set of books using the lightning quick, efficient scanning machine. Even the very young want to have a crack at it, swiping to their heart’s delight. It’s not like the self-checkout at the grocery store, which is only convenient when buying no fruits or vegetables, and/or if you don’t have many groceries. I feel a sense of obligation to use it to move forward with technology. Can’t you see the capable scanner there? I But I wonder if the librarians miss the human interaction. There must be less of it, yes?

Still I hesitate. What about my late books? Will the scanner scream at me, “Your account is delinquent. Access denied.” Will I be in trouble? Will it resemble the airport late check-in? Since it is the library I think they would announce something like, “Your account requires attention. Please seek assistance from your nearest librarian.” Oh hell, the library is so dignified there is no voice, only quiet. They let you check out books even if your account is past due.

I racked up almost twenty bucks in late fines once when I was in my darkness period (the wrong email). When I checked it out with the librarian, he encouraged me, stating I only pay half of it on that day. I don’t even know what the fee is these days. I think 25 cents a book per day. I can’t find the information on their website.

I decided to check my online account. I guess I should get re-acquainted with it. Oh, I just owe a $1.50. fee; $1.25 for a special book with no renewal possible and $0.25 for a book from long ago.

My ever-forgiving, understanding library. No mention of the latest charges, missing, overdue books. I guess they will show up if necessary. The library relies on the honor system for your support. What would I do without you?

All is wants is for you to read. One of the last holdouts of civilization.