Thursday, October 30, 2014

Children's Book Review: Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis

About the Book:
Captain No Beard and his crew of loyal pirates heave anchor for another adventure, this time in the icy waters of the Arctic. 

Captain No Beard's steering a course due north, sailing by the light of the North Star. Everyone on the crew wonders what the captain's up to, especially as he gets embarrassed when they ask. 

When the captain finally admits his plan, the crew discovers he plans to steal the aurora borealis, the beautiful northern lights that brighten the arctic sky. They're all shocked. They may be pirates, but even they know stealing is bad. Besides, how can anyone steal the lights from the sky? 

A charming, engaging tale about doing what's right, Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis is the latest installment in Carole P. Roman's award-winning pirate series. The first book, Captain No Beard—an Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life, received the Kirkus Reviews Best of 2012 award and the Star of Remarkable Achievement. The series presents real-life problems in an imaginary setting and encourages discussion with both parents and educators.

My Comments:
Every child has been tempted to take something that did not belong to him or her, and every child has justified the choice.  Of course, we know that isn't something we want to encourage and in this delightful story, Captain No Beard learns from his crew why he can't steal, and what he can do instead.  

I'd like to thank the author, Carole P. Roman for sending me this book.  I hope the kids at my daughter's school enjoy it.  Grade:  B.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Children's Book: Miraculous Me

About the Book:
What thoughts crossed your mother's mind the first time she saw you? What dreams did your father hold in his heart? Told from the perspective of a baby in utero whose parents are seeing the ultrasound picture for the first time.

A colorful and inspiring way to instill the message that we are each wonderfully made and treasured from the moment of conception. Great pro-life gift for baby showers, new parents, and teaching children!

Fun Fact: In early spring 2013, while putting socks on her newest daughter's feet, Ruth spoke out loud, "Look at those toes, where will they go?" In a moment of sheer inspiration, she grabbed her eldest daughter's Tinkerbell notebook, and between folding laundry and scrambling eggs, wrote the manuscript for this book.

My Comments:
Written in a poetic style, this book is a fun read-aloud showing parents at their first ultrasound dreaming of what their baby will become.  One thing is sure; this baby is cherished whether a he or a she; whether a ballerina or an astronaut.  The parents are ready to play with this child and care for him or her.  That a baby is a gift from God is clear.  

I'll be donating this book, which was given to me for review by Catholic World, to my daughter's Catholic school.  I hope the kids enjoy it.  Grade:  B+.

Catholic Word is the leading Catholic publisher group in the United States, with over 35 publisher members producing books, study programs, audio and videos which provide answers to the burning needs and questions relevant to today's Catholic.

Review: Snow Angel Cove

About the Book:
Nothing short of a miracle can restore Eliza Hayward's Christmas cheer. The job she pinned her dreams on has gone up in smoke—literally—and now she's stuck in an unfamiliar, if breathtaking, small town. Precariously close to being destitute, Eliza needs a hero, but she's not expecting one who almost runs her down with his car! 

Rescuing Eliza is pure instinct for tech genius Aidan Caine. At first, putting the renovation of his lakeside guest lodge in Eliza's hands assuages his guilt—until he sees how quickly he could fall for her. Having focused solely on his business for years, he never knew what his life was missing before Eliza, but now he's willing to risk his heart on a yuletide romance that could lead to forever.

My Comments:
This book was as sweet and cozy and the cover would lead you to believe it is.  Like many Christmas romances, it isn't terribly realistic.  Eliza moves to a small town with her young daughter and all her worldly possessions in an old car.  She is there to take a job at a local hotel, but as she arrives in town she sees the inn burn.  So much for her job.  However, her luck turns when Aiden almost runs her over, and then gives her a job working at his house.  Of course this means they spend time together.  Of course they fall for each other.  Of course all the people in this small town fall in love with her.  I certainly didn't expect anything different when I picked up this book and I was not disappointed.  

Those familiar with Rae Ann Thayne's Hope's Crossing series will recognize many of the peripheral characters in this book but you do not have to have read them to enjoy this book.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: The Sweetness of Honey

About the Book:
Dark-haired beauty Indiana Keller buys a property in Hope Springs, Texas, for three reasons: to expand her vegetable business, to harvest and sell delicious honey from the property’s established bee colony, and to reunite with her estranged siblings. But her older brother Tennessee keeps his distance, even after Indiana hires his construction crew to fix up her cottage. It’s almost as if he shares her guilt over the disappearance of Dakota, their missing brother…

While Indiana tries to reconnect with Ten and find Dakota, two local men begin vying for her heart. Handsome, laid-back Will Bowman has a checkered past, but now he’s determined to get what he wants out of life…and he wants Indiana. Meanwhile, refined Oliver Gatlin can’t fight his own attraction to Indiana, especially since his brother also fell victim to tragic circumstances. Amid the raw natural beauty of Hope Springs, can Indiana’s heart finally heal enough to love?

My Comments:
This is the third book I've read in this series and I've enjoyed them all.  As I noted in the other reviews, the writing is better than normal for romance novels.  Indiana is the sister of the hero of Second Chance Cafe  and she wants to find a third sibling, a brother who went to prison for assaulting a boy who had tried to rape her.  Oliver is the brother of the boy in the accident that was important in Beneath the Patchwork Moon.  He has spent years blaming himself for the accident.  Will wants Indiana but that spark isn't there on her side.  There were times I found myself trying to remember what happened in the other books and what other people remembered about the accident.  Also, at the end Will does something important but we never find out how or why.  We also aren't privy to an important conversation at the end of the book; there are lots of why questions still floating in my mind not only about the car accident but about the recent life of one of the characters.  I hope the answers will be forthcoming in another book.  In short the book is clearly part of a series and reading the other books, while not absolutely necessary, certainly adds to the reader's knowledge of the situations described.

There are a couple in intimate scenes in the book.  Personally, I didn't like them and think "lust scenes" better describes them than "love scenes".

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

It's Monday: What Are You Reading


I've gotten out of the habit of the Monday Memes but thought I'd stop by and say hi to some of my favorite book bloggers.  It's Monday!  What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila over at Book Journey and I encourage my readers to peruse the other participants' posts and see what books are out there for us.  

Here are the reviews I posted this week:

Also, I am giving away a set of four books by Sherry Boas.   Stop by and enter!  

Wing Tip: My Review

About the Book:
Dante De Luz's steel was forged in his youth, in the crucible of harsh losses and triumphant love. But that steel gets tested like never before as the revelation of a family secret presents the young Catholic priest with the toughest challenge of his life, with stakes that can't get any higher. 

This unique tale of relentless love offers a profound look at the mercy of God as revealed through the trials of one man and the failures and flaws in his family line. 

Wrapped within the plot line is a thought-provoking love story that reveals the power of authentic and pure romantic love to see beyond social classes and materialism. 

“Wing Tip is the compelling story of how one man refuses to allow a stunning revelation about his very identity to destroy his life, but amid much struggle, transforms the dark revelation into a restoration of a lost soul,” says literary critic Leticia Velasquez, Catholic Media Review. “It allows the reader a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the heart of a fervent priest." 

“Through the life of one man, Wing Tip journeys with the reader into the adventure of God’s relentless pursuit of His lost sheep,” says Father Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix. “So relatable, so enjoyable, this book will leave the reader to consider the enduring joys that come with living God’s will in the situation that we find ourselves in and the legacy that we will leave when at last we are called home.”

My Comments:
The book begins with an almost deathbed scene.  Fr. Dante's mother is elderly and frail and not long for this world.  He has heard her confession and now wants to give her Communion.  She refuses, and says that she needs to go to confession, there is something she has withheld, but she wants a different priests.  Fr. Dante calls another priest who hears her confession, and shortly thereafter, she dies.  After the funeral the other priest gives him a letter that his mother dictated, a letter that tells her secrets.  Fr. Dante then makes contact with the other person mentioned in the letter.  The book is the story of Fr. Dante's life and this man's life along with the lives of Dante's mother and father.  

I found the book to be an engaging read that very overtly presented Catholic doctrine and practice.  I liked Fr. Dante and would love for him to be assigned to my parish (not that I have any problems with my current pastor).  The Catholic church and the sacraments were clearly presented as the means by which Jesus reaches us to save us.  

That being said, the book had editing problems.  Dante's mother is described in the opening scene (which happens in the present day) as frail and old, but the beginning of the story took place when she was twenty-nine. At that time, she knew a man who had WNBA tickets (the league started in 1996), she listened to Sonny and Cher songs on the car radio including I've Got You Babe ( a 1965 hit--and Sonny and Cher split in 1975) and there is a reference to Farrah Fawcett vs Cheryl Ladd (Charlie's Angels 1975-1981). Ten year old Dante and his mother go to Mass and hear "We proclaim your death, oh Lord and proclaim (sic) your resurrection, until you come again".  Also, the window Fr. Dante has on his mother's past is a letter she dictated while on her deathbed.  Fr. Dante then uses this letter to tell his mother's story to the other person mentioned in the letter.  There was far too much story; far too much detail for such a letter.  Had the letter directed him to journals or to other people who would know details, it would have made more sense.  

There are times I wanted to give this book an "A" because of the beauty of the writing alone, and other times that I almost rolled my eyes at things that seemed to be put in the story just to give Boas a chance to inform her readers about another aspect of Catholicism.  While I enjoyed the story, it is definitely the story of the spiritual life of a priest and as readers we listen to Fr. Dante speaking to penitents in the confessional, counselling unbelievers and encouraging believers.  

I'd like to thank Catholic Word for providing a review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.  Grade: B-

Catholic Word is a one-stop resource for leading programs and religious titles from over 35 top Catholic publishers. For over 15 years, Catholic Word has built a reputation based on quality, personal relationships and a devotion to excellence in service.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the Week:Do you have any suggestions regarding the Rosary? Books? Audios? Ways to pray it?
My Answer:  Nope, I'm hoping to learn something.  The rosary isn't generally my prayer. 

This week I have a giveaway in honor of Respect Life Month  I reviewed a book about a girl who has two women claiming to be her mother.    I also used a respect life theme on my Seven Quick Takes.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Respect Life Edition

October is named Respect Life Month by the bishops.  Of course the first thought that comes to mind is abortion, but the whole respect life thing goes so much further--and can be a real challenge to even those of us who consider ourselves pro-life.

I saw a headline today that Pope Francis is calling us to oppose the death penalty (no news there) AND life imprisonment without parole.  Does respecting life mean locking the bad guys up forever, or does it mean respecting them as people who may change, and risking letting them out?  I saw an article recently on a ten year old who killed an old woman. They were going to charge him as adult because children can't be charged with manslaughter.  Is it respectful of the life of that old woman to make the one who killed her pay; or is charging that child as an adult disrespectful of his life?  There is a reason we have separate juvenile and adult justice systems, namely that, in general, we don't consider children to be legally responsible for their actions.  We don't let them vote or sign contracts.  Was that boy's behavior acceptable?  Of course not.  Should he be held responsible and kept out of society if he is not able to conform to societal norms?  Yes. Does that necessarily mean saddling him with a criminal record for life?  I'd hope not.
Politically, I'm conservative.  I think that as a general rule, the less government, the better.  However, when someone who loudly spouts the anti-abortion viewpoint equally loudly talks about eliminating aid to the poor or requiring birth control as a condition for aid, I think they are encouraging women to "take care of the problem" before it becomes public knowledge.
Unfortunately one set of people whose lives are respected the least are the handicapped.  It is routine for pregnant women to be offered a battery of tests to see if the fetus is defective so that it can be terminated early.  Of course in some cultures the main defect some of these fetuses show is XX chromosomes.
While killing a fetus is clearly against Catholic moral teaching, what is  your opinion about the morality and/or advisability of a pill that would cause the death of defective gametes (eggs and sperm) pre-conception?  In other words the pills would be able to detect one or more genetic problems in the eggs or sperm and cause them to die before fertilization/conception.  Such a pill is at the center of the story The Things Lily Knew, which is a Catholic novel about how the life of a woman with Down's Syndrome effected her family, through several generations.

In honor of Respect Life Month, Catholic Word is allowing me to give away a set of the Lily books.  
I really enjoyed them and they challenge readers to consider a lot of life issues and for the most part manage to do so without getting preachy.  Please stop by and enter the giveaway--a simple leave a comment, not a 20 things to do Rafflecopter deal.  

Our Catholic schools are on the front lines of the pro-life movement.  Besides teaching kids that they don't have to jump in bed with the first person who makes sweet eyes at them, our Catholic schools teach that abortion is wrong and pray for those involved in it.  Unfortunately the Catholic school my son attended, one that was willing to take him despite his autism, is closing.  Too few kids, too many costs.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

No Excessive Realism Here: The Heart of Christmas

The Heart of Christmas (Whiskey Creek Book 7)

About the Book:
Eve Harmon has always enjoyed Christmas, but this year it reminds her of everything she doesn't have. Almost all her friends are married now, and that's what Eve wants, too. Love. A husband and kids of her own. But the B and B she manages, and even Whiskey Creek, the small Gold Country town where she was born and raised, suddenly seem…confining. 

Eve's worried that her future will simply be a reflection of her past. There's no one in the area she could even imagine as a husband—until a handsome stranger comes to town. Eve's definitely attracted to him, and he seems to have the same reaction to her. But his darkly mysterious past could ruin Eve's happily ever after—just when it finally seems within reach. And just when she's counting on the best Christmas of her life!

My Comments:
A couple of years after I moved to New Orleans I got involved in a church singles group.  Most of the members were like me--college graduates in their mid 20's.  One common theme you heard over and over was that people's friends had gotten married and they felt like third wheels or like they just didn't fit anymore.  While older than I was at the time, Eve is in much the same place.  She is close with a bunch of people she has known since childhood but many have paired off,either with other members of the group, or with outsiders.  She wants a child and a husband and is beginning to wonder if she needs to leave this small town to find them.  Then the stranger shows up.  The attraction is instant.  She knows he is lying to her (or at least not telling her the truth she wants to know) but does she dump him?  Of course not.  

As noted in the title of this post, the climax to this story is about as unrealistic as they come.  Honestly,other than hormones and seasonal depression, I don't see what a sensible woman like Eve is doing with a guy like him; it just doesn't fit.  Oh well, it's a Christmas romance, so you know the ending.  

The book is clearly part of a series and while those who haven't read the other books will wonder about some of the side stories, the basic plot is,well, basic.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October: Respect Life Month

In honor of Respect Life Month, I've been offered the opportunity by Catholic Word  to give away a set of the Lily books, written by Sherry Boas.  These books tell the story of the effect a woman with Downs Syndrome had on her family.

Catholic Word, the group sponsoring this giveaway, describes itself as " a one-stop resource for leading programs and religious titles from over 35 top Catholic publishers. For over 15 years, Catholic Word has built a reputation based on quality, personal relationships and a devotion to excellence in service."  The mission they espouse is "to build up the Church one soul at a time through top quality Catholic materials and resources. Wherever a person is on their faith journey, we offer real help to taking the next step closer to God. Our motto is to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason."  They claim to be "100% faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium".

To enter this giveway, please go to Catholic Word's website, find a book that you would like to read that has not been previously mentioned in the comments, and leave a comment with the name of the book.  Good luck!  Winner will be drawn on the Feast of All Saints.  

Review: The Stolen Girl

The Stolen Girl

About the Book:
‘Your mother has been arrested. She stole you.’ 
For as long as thirteen-year-old Diya can remember, it’s always been just her and her mum, Vani. Despite never staying in one place long enough to call it home, with her mother by her side, Diya has never needed anything else. 

Then, in an instant, Diya’s fragile world is shattered. Her mother is arrested, accused of abducting Diya when she was a baby… 

Vani has spent a lifetime looking over her shoulder, determined to make the best possible life for her daughter. Now she must fight for her child, re-opening the door to her own childhood in India and the woman who was once as close to her as a sister. 

Told through the eyes of Diya, Vani and Aarti, this is a heart-breaking story of friendship and betrayal, love and motherhood, which asks the question; how far would you go to protect your only child? 

My Comments:
The story opens with Diya and Vani in England.  Diya is a 13 year old schoolgirl; Vani works in Indian restaurants.  I say restaurants because she never stays long in one place.  One day when told to get ready to move again, Diya storms out; she had just made her first friend ever and she doesn't want to leave this place.  When she comes back, she sees the authorities arresting her mother for stealing her from her real mother. Her real mother, she is told, is waiting for her at a hotel.  She can either go there or to foster care.  Diya chooses foster care and is furious at the woman who tried to separate her from her mum.  The story is a combination of the events of the present day, told mostly by Diya, and the events of the past, told through the recollections of Vani and Aarti.  We meet a girl who had nothing--but at least knew she had been loved and another girl who had everything but love.  We see how power and influence can be used for good and for bad.  We see love prevail.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the Week:Have you ever tried the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office)? Why or why not, and, if so, is it something you pray regularly? 

My Answer:  Yes, I've tried it.  I even have the app on my Kindle Fire.  Do I say it regularly?  No.  Is it on my list of things to do more often?  Yes.

Only one post this week--a book review of a book that wasn't all that good.  The Mason Jar.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Litfuse Book Tour: The Mason Jar

About the Book:
What if your old college roommate called, raving about a book someone sent her, calling it the most beautiful book she's ever read? "But," she said, "it's about you." The author is your college ex.

In The Mason Jar, Clayton Fincannon is a Tennessee farm boy raised at the feet of his grandfather. He and his grandfather leave letters for each other in a Mason jar on his grandfather's desk; letters of counsel and affirmation. When Clayton attends college in Southern California, he meets and falls in love with a dark haired debutante from Colorado. However, when an unmentioned past resurrects in her life and she leaves, Clayton is left with unanswered questions.

Clayton goes on to serve as a missionary in Africa, while he and his grandfather continue their tradition of writing letters. When Clayton returns home five years later to bury his grandfather, he searches for answers pertaining to the loss of the young woman he once loved. Little does Clayton know, the answers await him in the broken Mason jar.

A story about a girl who vanished, a former love who wrote a book about her, and a reunion they never imagined.

Written for the bruised and broken, The Mason Jar is an inspirational epic, romance, tragedy which brings hope to people who have experienced disappointment in life due to separation from loved ones. With a redemptive ending and written in the fresh, romantic tones of Nicholas Sparks, The Mason Jar interweaves the imagery of Thoreau with the adventures and climatic family struggles common to Dances with Wolves, A River Runs Through It, and Legends of the Fall.

Note: In September 2014, a new version of The Mason Jar (distinguishable by the blue title box on the front cover) was released with a redemptive ending. Used versions sold may be the old edition.

Follow James Russell at

James Russell Lingerfelt's debut novel, The Mason Jar, is hot-off-the-press and causing quite the buzz. It's even been optioned for a feature film and is in pre-production.

My Comments:
I thought the writing was top-notch as far as the use of language went but really thought that Clayton pined far too long and far too much over a short relationship with a woman who was obviously holding something back from him at the time.  Frankly, even if I was the woman he with whom he was enamored, I'd run in the opposite direction.
The copy above says this is a new version, which may explain a few things in the book that I found confusing.  
I'd like to thank the folks at Litfuse for providing a complimentary review copy.  

Catch the spark by entering James' Kindle Fire giveaway!


One grand prize winner will receive:

A Kindle Fire

The Mason Jar by James Russell Lingerfelt 

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 19th. Winner will be announced October 20th at James Russell's blog, Love Story from the Male Perspective.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the Week:Share a family sacramental memory--the cute thing the kid said, the cake at the party, your in your wedding dress, the family gathered around the baby--anything is fair game as long as it at least sort of involved a sacrament.

Since our parish is celebrating milestone anniversaries tomorrow and since we'll be there renewing our vows, 25 years after making them in that church, I'll share a wedding picture

This week I continued my series on Lending Club.  I reviewed two romances:  Mr. Miracle and Christmas Bouquet  Finally, at the request of a reader, I wrote about my son's job hunt.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Three Months Later with Lending Club: I've Broken Even!

This was the screen that greeted me when I logged onto my Lending Club account tonight.  If you have been following this series of posts, you'll notice that Lending Club has changed its front screen and the way it reports earnings.  What you see there is what they call my "Combined Return", the return I'm earning when you look at both the notes I bought new and the notes I bought on the resale market.  As a reminder, I started this account on July 10, 2014 with $1,000, and a month later I added $1550, for a total investment of $2550.00.  8.18% of that would be  $17.38 per month.  As of a month ago I had $22.09, and if you add those together you get $39.47.  Obviously, but looking at the chart above, I've earned more than that. It just goes to show how hard it is to track/calculate your returns with this investment.  However, the bottom line is that I invested $2550 and my account value hasn't quite reached that point yet--but on the other hand, this is doing far better than the stock market has lately.

So, what's happened in the last month?  Well, one note I bought new was late paying (but still within the grace period).  Since this was the second payment and since the collection notes said they were unable to contact the borrower, I got nervous.  Most of my $25.00 was at risk and I didn't want to lose everything.  I decided to mark the loan down and sell it.  I probably marked it down too much, but I got $12.50 for it and now it is someone else's problem.  Of course it went current shortly after I sold it.  Such is life.  I also had a $2.77 note that was 15-30 days late.  The payment record on that loan had been bad for some time (lots of grace period payments or skipped payments) and honestly I don't remember why I ever bought it.  I managed to get $1.00 for it so I consider myself lucky.

I had several loans pay off early, and in two cases the amount of money I received was less than the amount I had invested in the loan.  In one case I bought a note for $23.70 and only got back $23.15.  The note was about a year old when I bought it and it had four years of payments left.  The interest rate was 25.83%.  I paid a premium for the note, but since the yield to maturity was over 20% I didn't worry about that.  I purchased another note at $9.30 which also had about four years to go, at 19.47%.  I only got 9.22 for it.  Besides any premium paid, the other thing that hurts lenders on an early payoff is Lending Club's 1% fee on payments received.  If the value of the loan when I bought it was $9.30 and the borrower paid it off the next month, Lending club would charge me 9.3 cents, which really hurts in that case.

Since I do not plan to invest any new money, unless I get another deadbeat (and the reality is that they are to be expected and are the main risk with this investment) I should pull ahead in the next month.  So far I haven't had any defaults on my high interest loans or on the small dollar ones I'm churning through the account to see how it stacks up against a savings account for at least some of my needs.

I'll let you know next month if I've made it into the black.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Review: The Christmas Bouquet

About the Book:
For the very driven medical student Caitlyn Winters, catching the bridal bouquet at a Christmas wedding has set off a chain reaction that she's sure is more curse than blessing. Not only has she fallen in love with family medicine resident Noah McIlroy, but an unexpected pregnancy threatens her well-laid plans for the future. It doesn't help that Noah—with a whole lot of help from her O'Brien relatives—is completely on board with the prospect of marriage and happily-ever-after. 

It takes a whole lot of patience, love and family persuasion to help Caitlyn realize that she can still have everything she ever wanted, including a home in her beloved Chesapeake Shores and a man who understands all of her dreams. 

My Comments:
It is a Christmas romance novel.  That tells you all you really need to now about the plot and resolution, doesn't it?  While I found the book to be a sweet, easy, reasonably clean (no bedroom scenes, but she is pregnant) read, I found Caitlyn to be self-centered an annoying, even in her generous spirit.  The basic problem is that her life was all planned out, and the pregnancy derailed those plans.  Still, while rejecting abortion as a solution to her problem, Caitlyn seems to think that choosing marriage will do more to derail her plans than having the baby will.  Maybe I'm getting too old for romance novels.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Mr. Miracle: Short Review

Mr. Miracle: A Christmas Novel

About the Book:
Harry Mills is a guardian angel on a mission: help twenty-four-year-old Addie Folsom get her life back on track—and, if the right moment strikes, help her find love. Posing as a teacher at a local college in Tacoma, Washington, Harry is up to the task, but not even he can predict the surprises that lay in store.

After trying to make it on her own, Addie has returned home to Tacoma for the holidays, but this time she plans to stay for good, enrolling in the local community college to earn her degree. What she doesn’t plan to do is run into Erich Simmons.

Addie and her next-door neighbor, Erich, are like night and day. Growing up, he was popular and outgoing while she was rebellious and headstrong, and he never missed an opportunity to tease her. Now she intends to avoid him entirely, yet when they’re suddenly forced to spend Christmas together, Addie braces for trouble.

Perhaps it’s the spirit of the season or the magic of mistletoe, but Addie and Erich soon find they have more in common than they thought—and that two people who seem so wrong for each other may actually be just right. With a little prompting from a certain angelic teacher, the two are in for a holiday miracle they’ll never forget.

My Comments:
If you are familiar with Debbie Macomber's "angel" stories, then you have a perfect picture of this one--sweet, heartwarming, and almost believable, but not quite.  It will leave you smiling and of course you know the ending before you ever pick up the book.  

Sunday, October 05, 2014

My Son's Search for a Job

I'm writing this post at the request of a regular reader.  As I mentioned in last week's Seven Quick Takes, my autistic son recently started a paying job, which has been a goal for a long time.  This post will outline what we have done to get the job, who has helped us (and who has not) and will generally outline what will happen once school is over.

My son is autistic.  Compared to some, his disability is not severe.  He gets himself up in the morning, prepares and eats his own breakfast (as does everyone else in this house), gets ready for work, drives to work, does his job, drives home, runs errands or does chores, and then participates in his favorite recreational activities.  He can communicate with people, make his needs known and follow instructions.  He can read, write and do math as well as most high school graduates (and he is a high school graduate who did not need remedial classes when he started at the community college). On the other hand, he is 22 going on 12.  He has no long-term goals, he would prefer to stay home and play all day.  He has no social skills to speak of and does not present himself well.  He has no specific job skills and is not at all interested in going to school to acquire any.  He has problems with fine motor skills and overall coordination and strength so most blue-collar jobs are not going to work for him.  What to do?

SSI and Ticket to Work: The Social Security Administration runs a program called SSI.  Parents of limited means who have handicapped children are able to collect a monthly check to help care for those children.  Once the handicapped child turns 18, SSI is available to handicapped individuals who qualify, regardless of family income.  This check, which is a little over $700 per month provides the basic support for my son.  While it is a nice addition to my family income, it is obviously not enough to allow him to move out and set up housekeeping by himself.  It also does nothing to keep him busy all day.

However, Social Security and the state department of rehabilitation team up for a program called Ticket to Work.  This program pays employment vendors (some for-profit businesses; some non-profits serving the handicapped) to locate jobs for the handicapped, place clients in those jobs and to support those clients via job coaches to make sure they are able to perform their job functions and otherwise get along in the workplace.  The vendor gets paid a certain sum for an initial evaluation, a certain sum when a job is found and the rest of the pot of money after the client has been on the job for six months.  If the job doesn't last six months, the vendor must find the client another job at no additional cost.  The payments are set up this way to give the vendors incentive to find appropriate jobs and to provide sufficient support as opposed to just finding a job.  Unfortunately I think this payment scheme also encourages vendors to not put much effort into finding a job for a difficult-to-place client.

So how did it work for us?  Shortly before my son graduated from high school I started calling vendors on the list we had been given.  One wanted to meet with my son and me.  We met, we talked and the vendor talked about placing my son in a toy store or a video game store. My son was sold, and since I didn't know anything about any of the other vendors, I went ahead and signed up with them.  I realized we were looking for a low (probably minimum) wage job, and that it would likely be part-time. I also realized that it was summer and that the job market for that type of job was probably flooded with high school kids, and that if I had a choice to hire a normal high school kid or my son, I'd hire the normal kid.  Therefore, I did not get too upset when nothing materialized over the summer.  However, we went through the fall with only slight contact from the vendor, and cancelled appointments.  Then the state rehabilitation department called, asked if I was happy, and said they hadn't gotten the reports they should have gotten.  I said I wasn't happy and she recommended a different vendor, so I picked that one.

He's not ready.  When we met with the new vendor, a new evaluation was done.  She told me that my son was not ready to get a paying job.  He didn't follow directions or stay on task.  He didn't relate to other people.  I couldn't disagree with what she said, but what to do?  She had an answer.  She referred me to a program run by a local school for the handicapped (primarily those with cognitive impairments).  He would work at a local health club under the supervision of a job coach.  Instead of being paid, I would pay the school to make him work and teach him job skills.  She also referred me to a state program which would pay for the training program; unfortunately funding for that program was cut off about that time such that people who applied a coupe of months before us were the last ones funded.  Luckily, I did not need his Social Security to pay the bills at our house and was able to use that to pay for the training program.

He's still not ready.  When my son started the program we were told that they would re-evaluate in three months.  When I spoke to the people at the school they were very complimentary and said he had come a long way.  When I spoke to the vendor she said she wished they wouldn't tell people that; he wasn't ready, he still had issues.  I asked what criteria she was looking for and she said that when he was ready, the healthclub would offer him a job.  At that point I began to suspect that she had no intention of beating the bushes to find my son a job; that she intended to wait for him to be offered one.  Also several parents of other young autistic adults who had been through that program said their kids were working at that club.  While I would have no problem with him working there, I did not necessarily want to wait until they had a position available.

Try again.  At that point I decided to switch vendors again.  The school running the program said they couldn't take him because it would cause a conflict with the company that sent him over there, but they said they heard ARC was good.  ARC said they submitted three applications per month but we never got an interview.  They run a landscaping service and needed help with it and put my son on a crew; however that did not work out (and I didn't think it would when it was offered). I found a store with a help-wanted sign, and they handled the application process and helped him with the interview.  The manager wanted to hire my son but his superiors said he did not have enough sales to justify the position.  Finally they got my son an interview with Lowes.

If at first you don't succeed fire the vendor and hire another.  After a year of no action from ARC other than the application I instigated, I called the school running the job training program.  I asked if they thought my son was employable in a real job, or whether they thought I needed to change my expectations to sheltered employment (jobs made for the handicapped which pay less than minimum wage and have more supervision and less expectation than a normal job provided by a real business).  They said they definitely thought my son was capable of holding down a real job.  I talked to them some more about what they would do if he was their client and then decided to switch to them as our vendor (there was no conflict now since I had already fired the vendor who sent us to them).

Success at last.  We had just switched vendors when the healthclub offered my son a job.  Unfortunately it was at night (he'd get off at 11:00 p.m.) and my son insisted "I sleep at night".  A week or so later, he was offered a position at another health club, but it would have only been 6 hours a week. I said "no".  A few weeks later, he was offered the position he has, working in food service at the Superdome and Arena.  A job coach went with him the first few days and has been slowly fading out.  He had a rough start as far as dealing with the other people but that seems to be smoothing over.  They like his work, according to the job coach.  He won't let me take his picture but he goes to work in black pants, black tshirt, white chef's coat and apron and a black hat.

Money in his pocket.  My son says the job is "ok" and he likes having money to spend.  SSI lets him keep the first $80/month that he earns.  After that, they cut the SSI check by 50 cents for every dollar he earns.  Since he has started working, I've given him access to the bank account where his SSI check and his paycheck are deposited.  I charge him rent at the beginning of the month and a car payment at the end of the month which clean out the SSI check.  He has to buy his own gas, clothes, car repairs, and toys.  I'm trying to get him to see the benefits of working without giving him too much money to waste on foolishness.

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