A Promised Land

A Promised Land is the first of two Presidential Memoirs from Barack Obama. I’m Canadian, Obama wasn’t my President, but I admired him in many ways.

At the same time, I always felt like expectations of Obama as a Presidential candidate and President-Elect were nearly messianic and impossible to fulfill, especially given the deep ideological and political divide that exist in the U.S.

I listened to the audiobook from the library, and then, because I couldn’t get through the nearly 50 hours of narration during my two week loan period, I purchased it through Audible.

I haven’t read any of Obama’s previous works, so I cannot draw comparisons, but his writing and narration of A Promised Land generally mimic his speeches. Long, ponderous, thoughtful, occasionally humourous, and definitely incorporates the odd “Dad Joke”.

I’m glad I stuck it out and listened to the entire book, but I don’t know if I will the second instalment, particularly if it is as long. Obama is long-winded and very detailed in his recitation of the campaign trail and first term in Office. At points, I felt it was more of an insider’s recounting because only insiders or very knowledgeable political groupies would remember all the staffers 8-12 years later.

I was annoyed at first that it took him so damn long to write and publish the book, but then to be able to compare it to Trump’s Presidency and juxtapose those two eras was extremely interesting. Politics aside, Obama always behaved in a Presidential manner and I truly believe that he was well-meaning and an honorable person. None of that is true of number 45.

I recommend this book if you are really into politics, or want some deep background knowledge on key issues at the time, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but for the average person, A Promised Land might just be too much of a slog.

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Greening my beauty routine

One of my goals this year was to become a little more sustainable with my lifestyle. I’ve been breaking it down to one thing a month that I switch to a reuseable product or cut out completely.

A few months ago I stopped purchasing the disposable cotton rounds that work as makeup remover pads and bought a cute set of bamboo ones I can use hundreds, if not thousands of times.

This set is machine washable and dryer safe, although I prefer to line dry them so they dry flat… they to ball up in the dryer and need a quick two second iron each. These facial cleaning pads come with a bamboo container to store clean pads in on the counter, as well as a mesh bag to wash them in … because they are small … I mean, think how easily your socks get “eaten” in the laundry!

They are soft – not as soft as the disposable ones I used to buy – but still soft and have definitely continued to soften with use. There are many different brands but these ones were my favourite off Amazon and I like that they are white. It is so satisfying to see the makeup and dirt come off my face at the end of each day. They won’t stay white forever though so if you’re the type to be bothered by that, opt for a darker colour.

If you want to replace a disposable product with something more sustainable, inexpensive and useful, I give these five stars!

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The Hope We Hold by Jinger and Jeremy Vuolo

I just finished listening to The Hope We Hold, read and written by Jinger and Jeremy Vuolo, with the assistance of a ghost writer. The Vuolos are two of the stars of TLC’s recently cancelled show, Counting On.

Jeremy and Jinger each recounts a few stories from their youth in alternating chapters, and then share the story of their courtship and first couple of years of marriage together. The audiofile was very easy to listen to and finish quickly since it is only six hours long… an easy accompiant to a day WFH on the computer.

I have always had a deep fascination and skepticism of the Duggar Family from the first special I watched, 15 kids and Pregnant Again. Although not unique to the USA, that deep Christian fundamentalism is foreign to me, and yet the family aspect and comradery drew me in … I was a lonely child.

Jinger and Jeremy are very careful and precise with what they chose to share in this short memoir. Most stories shared were already common knowledge, either from intense media scrutiny or because it was aired on the show itself. However, they were more open about aspects of their courtship and family planning than ever revealed in the TLC confessional booth.

Apparently it is true that JimBob Duggar requires potential suitors of his daughters to fill out a 50 page word document of questions. That doesn’t include blank space for the answers mind you, that is 50 pages of QUESTIONS. When viewed from the perspective that this family has been on television for more than a decade and the Duggar females receive male attention all the time, this doesn’t seem so extreme that they have given their blessing for Mum and Dad to screen their suitors. Especially as they tend to marry young and have limited life experience.

Despite all the justification in the book though, it still creeps me out the level to which a guy has to impress Dad Duggar – who seemingly does 99.9% of the screening solo – before even beginning a courtship with a Duggar daughter. I think it ended up being about 8 months from first conversation to the time JimBob finally allowed Jinger and Jeremy to start “dating”. Not only did Jeremy have to bare his soul, pass through multiple family members and the Duggar’s pastor, his parents also had to be vetted before “Jing” and “Jer” could start their courtship. If you knew that the person on the other side was your one true, then it would all be worth it, but to go through all that for someone you seemingly share values and attraction with, but don’t really know for yourself seems ludicrous.

As does the whole chaperone thing but we won’t even get into that here.

What struck me most in The Hope We Hold was Jinger’s remembrance of Grandma Duggar, who tragically passed shortly after the birth of Felicity Vuolo. I miss my own grandmother every day, and although it has been a couple of years since her death, I still sometimes think, I should give her a call today, or those flowers are beautiful … I think Grandma would love them. And then I realize all over again.

The Hope We Hold is certainly emotional at times, but it is also an uplifting story of hope, love and family. Uplifting is something we could all use a bit more of right now, and I enjoyed listening to their stories despite not sharing their culture and faith. Jinger’s narration is reasonable and she has a melodic voice, but there are large parts where it feels like she is just reading the book to you, rather than recalling her own memories or reciting something from heart. Whether that was just nerves or something else, her narration smooths out by the end, and Jeremy’s – perhaps due to his experience as a church leader – is fluid, easy-listening all the way through.

I recommend this book to anyone spiritual/religious, seeking a positive and hopeful story, or just interested in learning more about the fundamentalist culture and religion that the Duggars come from. If they released a second book, I would listen to it as well.

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A Faint Cold Fear (Grant County #3)

Sara Linton, medical examiner in the small town of Heartsdale, Georgia, is called out to an apparent suicide on the local college campus. The mutilated body provides little in the way of clues — and the college authorities are eager to avoid a scandal — but for Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, things don’t add up.

Two more suspicious suicides follow, and a young woman is brutally attacked. For Sara, the violence strikes far too close to home. And as Jeffrey pursues the sadistic killer, he discovers that ex-police detective Lena Adams, now a security guard on campus, may be in possession of crucial information. But, bruised and angered by her expulsion from the force, Lena seems to be barely capable of protecting herself, let alone saving the next victim.

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A Faint Cold Fear is the third book in the Grant County series, following Blindsighted and Kisscut. I found this book to be much more personal than the previous two; it engaged my emotions much more quickly and easily.

This novel begins seven months following the conclusion of Kisscut and carries forward many of the interpersonal development established in the first two novels. It was difficult to experience Lena’s continued downward spiral as she tried to process her trauma from Blindsighted.

The previous two audiobooks were narrated by the fabulous Kathleen Early. I am very fond of listening to her southern drawl as the series is set in Georgia, and I swear I may end up with a Georgian accent if I keep listening to these audiobooks in such close succession. There are a few different recordings for this novel, and the one I borrowed from the library was read by Deborah Hazlett. She was fine but I prefer Early’s narrations.

Weirdly, the audio file I borrowed electronically from the library announces the end and beginning of each “cd”, even though it isn’t on cds. Clearly the publisher didn’t edit that out when e-audiobooks came into existence which is an annoying but minor detail of the audiobook.

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The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

When Anne Morrow, a shy college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family, she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. In the years that follow, Anne becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. But despite this and other major achievements, she is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

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The Aviator’s Wife is my second novel by author Melanie Benjamin who specializes in writing historical fiction. I was very fond of her novel Mistress of the Ritz and eager to dive into another story about historical characters.

I was familiar with the name Lindbergh and vaguely aware of baby Charlie’s kidnapping, but was completely unaware of any of the details of their lives or Anne’s vast number of accomplishments.

Both Anne and Charles are complicated people with redeeming qualities that I am not entirely convinced overcome their vices. I did find it hard to like them, especially Charles, but throughout the story you have to keep in mind that they were born a century ago, into a completely different world than exists now.

Both achieved greatness in their lifetimes, but at the expense of interpersonal relationships and family life. I give full credit to Anne for raising their children and bearing the brunt of the family’s burdens. I also had no idea of the extent their lives were intruded upon by well wishers, ne’er-do-wells and the media. Few people have ever lived their lives under the scrutiny this couple did; indeed, Benjamin suggests in the afterword that perhaps the only other person subjected to this treatment is the late Princess Diana.

Charles appears to have been an expert in gaslighting, long before that term was in use, and to my mind was verbally and emotionally abusive to his wife for most, if not all, of their relationship. He was a complicated, difficult, brilliant man.

If you are looking for a story with a happy ending, this is not going to be the romance you dream of. However, it is a fascinating exploration of mid twentieth century America, covering the depression of the 1930, WWII and the post-war years up to the 1970s.

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Kisscut (Grant County #2)

Saturday night dates at the skating rink have been a tradition in the small southern town of Heartsdale for as long as anyone can remember, but when a teenage quarrel explodes into a deadly shoot-out, Sara Linton–the town’s pediatrician and medical examiner–finds herself entangled in a terrible tragedy.

What seemed at first to be a horrific but individual catastrophe proves to have wider implications. The autopsy reveals evidence of long-term abuse, of ritualistic self -mutilation, but when Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver start to investigate, they are frustrated at every turn.

The children surrounding the victim close ranks. The families turn their backs. Then a young girl is abducted, and it becomes clear that the first death is linked to an even more brutal crime, one far more shocking than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile, detective Lena Adams, still recovering from her sister’s death and her own brutal attack, finds herself drawn to a young man who might hold the answers. But unless Lena, Sara, and Jeffrey can uncover the deadly secrets the children hide, it’s going to happen again.

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I love the thrillers from Karin Slaughter and am steadily making my way through the audiobook collection for the Grant County series, her earliest novels.

Kisscut starts five months after the end of Blindsighted and continues to tell the story from the points of view of Sara, Jeffrey, and Lena. This novel was less graphic that the previous one and the mystery aspect was more prevalent in my opinion. There are also several aspects of the series that appear to carry over into future novels in this series, which has just made me even more excited for my hold to come in on the third.

My favourite thing about this series is the relationships between the different characters and the fact that none of them are perfect human beings. Slaughter write real, flawed, passionate characters who feel like real people in addition to well-crafted, intricate thrillers.

I would love to see the Grant County series turned into a mini-series special on Netflix or Amazon Prime, where I think they would instant hits. I have heard rumours pre-covid that the rights to the books had been sold for production so fingers crossed that content materializes before long.

Listening time for Kisscut is 12 hours and 39 minutes. It is narrated by Kathleen Early, the same women who narrated the previous book. I definitely recommend reading this series in order as character development for Lena, Sara and Jeffrey is in relation to the events of Blindsighted.

I do want to provide a content warning for this book: the crimes being investigated involve a child sex ring. No children are molested on the page but the consequences of this crime are heavily discussed and investigated by our crime-fighting team and it might be disturbing for some people to read about.

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The Beginner Genealogist

If you are just starting your research as resident family historian, you may have no idea where to start. There are so many services and websites available now that it can be overwhelming. Additionally, some websites work better for certain ethnicities than others. So keep in mind that I am writing this post from the perspective of a white person with Western European ancestors.

My favourite website to recommend is still industry giant ancestry.com or ancestry.ca. I think the website is laid out functionally and easy to learn, even though there are a lot of features. Additionally, you can pause or cancel your membership which eliminates your ability to research records but maintains all your research and tree entries to date so you won’t lose information. Of the three website I am going to recommend, this one is best at including documents from non European countries. Ancestry regularly has sales on memberships and is also connected to different money saving services like Rakuten, which helps reduce the cost of the membership.

FamilySearch is another great website for starting your family history. It is free to make an account and search most of the records provided. Many of the records are indexes so you won’t be able to see the original document, but the goal behind this website is to eventually catalogue every person who has ever lived in history. It also provides in-home activities and other resources for putting your research together into a family collection, or involving kids in the process.

The last website I recommend to beginner genealogists is FindMyPast. It caters to Americans researching their family’s arrival in North America, but will also contain documents for those searching early Canadian history as well.

Most websites will allow you to upload an existing gedcom file, which is a family tree file. This means that if you decide to switch websites or exhaust the resources in one, you can take your tree and upload it to another service. Just keep in mind that you can’t always transfer documents attached to people in your tree, but you can always transfer the tree itself.

Good luck in your research!

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Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give #0)

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby who depends on him for everything. It’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

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Concrete Rose is the prequel novel to bestselling YA book and movie, The Hate U Give. It follows the story of Maverick Carter as a teenager, leading into the births of his eldest two children, Seven and Starr.

Sidenote: The film is currently available on Disney Plus for anyone who has the standard membership and I highly recommend watching it!

I have been anticipating Concrete Rose since the author first announced it a couple of years ago and was not disappointed. It has the same great storytelling that made Thomas’ first novel an instant hit, as well as positive messages.

Even though I did enjoy reading Maverick’s story, it is my least favourite of Angie Thomas’ books to date. This is entirely due to the fact that we already know most of Maverick’s story and there were no surprises. It was easy to see where she was taking the book from the beginning, and although this book portrays some characters, like King, from a different perspective, anyone who has read The Hate U Give knows the general plot of this book.

For this reason, I would still recommend this book, but I particularly recommend it to anyone who is not familiar with the author, and insist you begin the series with Concrete Rose.

This book contains themes of drug use and distribution, underage sex (between two willing minors who are the same age, and it is not graphic), and gang violence. My general rule of thumb is that if the main characters in a book are teenagers then it is appropriate for teenagers to reader. However, some parents may disagree and I would not recommend this book for children 13 or under.

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Keeping Ancestors Straight

If your family is anything like mine, you have three, four, five generations in a row with the same damn name. Our families weren’t imaginative back then were they?

I got super tired of flipping back and forth between family member profiles on ancestry, trying to make sure I have the right generation, or crosschecking facts to see if a new one makes sense. Some I came up with this little trick to keep everything simple and accessible.

I bought a role of Kraft paper off Amazon, and wrote down each generation as I plug in the facts. I list every kid in birth order for each couple including my direct ancestor, then draw a line up to the next generation I also put it in the year of each marriage.

While this helps me keep the different generations straight, it has also helped me to remember which documents I have tracked down and purchased. I make a note beside each name for marriage certificate (MC), birth certificate (BC) and death certificate (DC) and it has honestly really helped me to keep track.

I bought this paper from Amazon and I tend to just tape it to the wall in the office so it is always easy to reference but the benefit of this paper is that you can just roll it back up and tuck it into a drawer until you need it again.

The paper I chose is 24″ wide, but you can choose different sizes and price points as desired :)

Happy researching!

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Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests–and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For the falsehoods they tell to survive, and to strike a blow against their Nazi “guests,” spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone–the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.

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Mistress of the Ritz is inspired by a true story. In the afterword, author Melanie Benjamin discusses her research of Claude and Blanche, pointing out that both were extremely reticent to discuss the war years in the time after, and there is little primary research on either. As such, many aspects of this book could be taken as creative license, although she does address the main facts she used to build the story, something I always appreciate an author doing in a historical novel.

I listened to the audiobook version which is 12 hours, 17 minutes in length and narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I did find the narrator’s voice slightly annoying, especially her portrayal of Blanche’s brash accent. However, the accent was probably accurate as to what Blanche’s own accent sound like, because there are pieces of her past she hides from the reader until the end, although I guessed at them just from the accent the narrator utilized.

Blanche comes across as too stupid to live at certain times, and I certainly see how she gets into trouble at that one pivotal point in the book. This does appear to be based on fact although exactly what happened in the restaurant is a mystery. I wonder how those who knew Blanche would feel about this depiction of her, as a flighty, childish, petulant border-line alcoholic. It certainly isn’t the most flattering, but there is no denying the heroic efforts both Blanche and Claude took to undermine Nazi occupation of Paris.

Blanche and Claude have a troubled marriage, that might even be classified as toxic. The deeper into the book I read, the more this became apparent to me. And yet, their reunion and new-found respect, love and appreciation for each other during the liberation of Paris shows that any relationship can be repaired given commitment and perspective.

I regret that their story isn’t more widely known, and that there isn’t enough concrete evidence to draw a more illustrative picture of their lives and war efforts, but I did thoroughly enjoy listening to Benjamin’s accounting. I was able to get through this audiobook in two days, while painting a bedroom and find myself missing Blanche and Claude a little bit.

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