Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever by Claire Cook

What do you do when your favorite author personally asks you to review her newest book - you say YES, of course.  I feel so honored and excited to share my latest book review, Must Love Dogs 4 - Bark and Roll Forever by Claire Cook.  If you are not familiar with Claire Cook, she is a best-selling author who writes stories about reinvention, something she knows a great deal about.  Claire wrote her very first novel in her minivan at 45 years old, and by age 50 she was walking the Red Carpet in Hollywood as her book "Must Love Dogs" was turned into a major motion picture.  As a midlife author, I have found Claire's story to be very inspirational, but more than that I just love her friendly and genuine personality.  It is my pleasure to share my review of Claire's latest work.  If you have not checked out the entire Must Love Dogs series, I promise you will love all of them!

Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll ForeverMust Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever by Claire Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claire Cook has done it again. Must Love Dogs 4 - Bark and Roll Forever is another fun visit with the irrepressible Sarah Hurilhy and her family. Sarah is such a wonderful main character, with all of her quirks and personality flaws, she is so likable and real. In this book Sarah and John have made plans to move in together, but the challenge is finding the right place, and they are quietly trying to have a baby together. As they begin their search, Sarah's ex-husband's new wife manages to push her way into the process by finding buyers for Sarah's current place. Time is running out, and with very few options open, Sarah and John decide to move in with Sarah's dad temporarily. The usual Hurlihy family hijinks include Sarah's dad being involved with a group of women who run the "Bark and Roll Forever" dog-walking business.

Sarah is consumed with self-doubt that she has waited too long to begin trying to have a baby, so naturally she is surrounded by pregnancy, from her co-worker at the preschool to her very own niece. Even her ex-husband's new wife is expecting.

Bark and Roll forever is like a visit with some cherished old friends. Claire Cook does an amazing job of keeping the story fresh and interesting, while staying true to the Hurilhy family charm. You can't help rooting for Sarah and John, and cheering along with them once they finally find a solution to their housing dilemma.

You will want to add this book to your list of beach reads for the summer!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review

View all my reviews

The Must Love Dogs series
Must Love Dogs (#1) 
Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life (#2) 
Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later (#3) 
Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever (#4) 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Summer Bucket List

Have you ever noticed that summer seems to arrive before you are ready for it, and then in what feels like the blink of an eye, the lazy days of summer vanish into the rush of fall activities? Now that Memorial day is over it is officially summer for most folks. 

Well this year I am making a summer bucket list – a plan for some of the fun things I hope to accomplish during those warm and wonderful summer days.

·     Un-plug – take some time completely away from technology, not e-mail, texting, tweeting or status updating. My goal is to completely unplug at least one day per week in the summer

·     Binge watch for a day – There are so many shows that folks have told me that I MUST watch, so I was thinking about picking a day to do just that, go through the list of “you simply must watch” shows and grab some junk food, head for the couch and see what all the fuss is about

·     Road trip – summer is such a perfect time to hit the road, what a great excuse to go and see my childhood friend from Sedona that I have been meaning to visit 

·     Feel the sand between my toes – summer is simply not complete without a trip to the beach

·     Read – duh, I already love to read, but summer is perfect for those fabulous beach reads, the books that are light and fun & my favorite author for beach reads is Claire Cook but there are so many others

·     Tubing down the Salt River – there is nothing quite like a day on the river, floating along with friends

·     Make a blanket fort – who says kids get to have all the fun, there is no rule that adults can’t make a fort in the living room and enjoy some grown up fun reliving their childhood

·     Spend a night star gazing – Summer is perfect to sit outside and enjoy the night sky, especially in August when the meteor showers give a spectacular show

·     Go skinny dipping – A nighttime swim with my hubby can be romantic and fun, and a great way to cool off on a hot summer night…or make it even hotter J

·     Have friends over for a BBQ – nothing says summer like hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill

·     Go fishing – time up in the mountains is a must during the summer and hubby has a cool new fly-fishing pole that he really wants to use

·     Plan a romantic picnic – packing goodies to eat and reliving that sweet moment from every known chick flick where the couple lays dreamily on the blanket.
What’s on your summer bucket list?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where are the Female Super heroes?

My husband is a huge Marvel fan so we see each and every new Marvel movie – usually on opening day and the new Avengers movie is no exception.  We watched Avengers Age of Ultron and thoroughly enjoyed the action-packed adventure.  
One of our favorite characters from the Avengers is Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson.  Her portrayal as a smart and fierce heroine is brilliant, and in Age of Ultron, Black Widow has some steamy scenes with Dr. Bruce Banner, also known as the Hulk.  Age of Ultron also introduced several new characters, including the title character Ultron and a unique set of twins with special powers.  Although one of the twins, Quick Silver, does not survive, the remaining twin, the Scarlett Witch, plays a pivotal role in the successful defeat of the bad guy. 

Just a few days after the release of the movie, Avengers toys and promotional materials began to flood stores everywhere, but I was incredibly surprised and disheartened when I saw a Target ad for a set of Avenger toys that only included the male characters Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk.

I am so disappointed in the decision to exclude Black Widow and Scarlett Witch from the collection, not only would girls like to be represented by these strong female characters, but they were central to the story.  The female characters are on all the promotional material along with the male characters and I am sure little boys would like them just as much as little girls. 

As a mother of two daughters, I am unhappy with the message that Target is sending to young girls everywhere.  By not including these female characters, Target is placing less value on woman. Now, more than ever we need young woman who are strong and confident, women like the characters of Black Widow and Scarlett Witch, who will face their fears and confront the bad guy – and who triumph over evil.  We should all be celebrating characters like Black Widow and Scarlett Witch, not excluding them. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

History is Powerful

Attempts to deny or distort history have been around for as long as history itself, but to allow the denial or distortion of history is not only morally wrong, but it can create situations where horrific parts of history can be repeated.

Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of this is the attempt to deny or distort the Holocaust.  The Holocaust is one of the most well documented events in history, yet some individuals spread the belief that this event did not happen, or that it was not as bad as we think.  According to experts, Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests. In an absurd attempt to defy all logic and the countless documented atrocities of the holocaust, these deniers persist in their warped viewpoints.

The holocaust is not the only part of history that has been challenged.  The Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire has been extremely controversial, with many prominent political leaders refusing to use the word genocide to describe the systematic killing and relocation of more than one million Armenians from Turkey in 1915.  Political expediency and unwillingness to admit blame have prevented an accurate description of events, in Turkey it is actually illegal to use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the mass killing of Armenians in 1915. 

Other notable examples of distortion include the former Soviet Union, in their attempts to ‘erase’ what they considered to be undesirable facts from their past. Some simple methods the Soviets used to revise history were changing the name of Russia's former Imperial capital St. Petersburg to Petrograd, Leningrad and Stalingrad, in an attempt to eradicate memories of Tsarist rule. Historical revisions carried out by Stalin included changing photographs and history books, thereby distorting children's learning within educational establishments.

The soviets are not alone in their attempts to influence the education of children to erase or distort facts from the past.  North Korea is famous for controlling what their citizens are taught, including teaching North Korean children that Kim Jong Il was walking at three weeks old and talking at eight weeks old and that he was born under a double rainbow.
There have been many reports in the news of U.S. textbook companies removing references to slavery or other facts that they deem too 'negative' to include in history books for American school children.   A quick search on google will share numerous examples all over the world where history is being denied or distorted - and this mis-information is being taught to children.  This is incredibly dangerous; we will have generations of children who are unaware or misinformed about the important events in history, and as Edmund Burke reminds us, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ricordando l'Italia

Saint Mark's Plaza in Venice
I love to travel.  I also love to eat.  I also love to drink wine.  Putting these three elements together you will understand why Italy is one of my favorite places in the world to visit.  I have had the incredible pleasure to visit Italy, not just once, but twice.   
AESU Trip - Florence Italy

When I was in college I signed up for a student tour of Europe.  I spent my entire life savings on a three-week tour that included England, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, and of course Italy.  It was amazing.  We ate and drank our way through Europe and I gained twenty additional pounds and a lifetime of memories. 
Pisa and its famous Leaning Tower

A decade later, my mother had decided to pursue her lifelong goal of travelling, but my father was not very keen on nine hour flights across oceans, so my mother enlisted my help as her willing travel companion.  The first stop on her list of desired travel locations was of course Italy. 
The Ruins of Pompeii

I renewed my passport, packed my bags and accompanied my mom on a ten-day adventure through Italy.  We were part of an organized tour group, and although the median age on the tour was sixty, the tour provided us with plenty of activities and excitement.  I am so lucky that my Mom was such an adventurous person, we didn’t just stick to the tour group, but we ventured out on our own as often as we could to see and experience Italy.  
The canals of Venice
I can still vividly recall Mom and I walking down a few blocks from our hotel in Rome to a little restaurant.  We walked in and sat down, and a lovely young woman came over to help us, unfortunately she spoke no English and we were barely able to pronounce ‘Buongiorno’ so mom and I randomly pointed to something on the menu and we hoped for the best.  It was delicious, although I still have no idea what we actually ate that day.  
We travelled all across Italy, from the Italian Alps to the Isle of Capri; we visited Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Pisa, Naples and many others.  We toured everything from the Vatican to the ruins of Pompeii. 
The Grand Canal in Venice
Mom loved Venice, with its iconic canals.  We rode in a gondola, and I can still hear the gondolier singing to us in his rich tones.  Mom and I both believed in making the most of our time in Italy, we signed up for lots of ‘extra excursions’ and although I know they were added cost, they also added a great deal to our trip. 
Giovanni, Mom and Ricardo
We had a sexy young tour bus driver named Giovanni and our tour director was a handsome older gentleman named Ricardo - with a slight resemblance to Ricardo Montalban, which was wonderful since Mom had a big crush on him.  They were wonderful to us and made the trip so special.
One of the great benefits of an organized tour is the access to special things that others may not be able to see or do.  We toured a Venetian glass factory and we travelled by boat to a picturesque village named Burano, with bright colorfully pained homes. 
 Juliet's Balcony in Verona
One afternoon the tour bus stopped in Verona, and after a quick tour of Juliet’s famous balcony, the tour guide gave us the afternoon to explore.  Mom and I shopped and then stopped at a lovely little cafĂ© for some authentic Italian pizza.  I can still remember the strange gorgonzola cheese on mom’s pizza.  Being a big fan of bleu cheese, she, or course, loved it but I was not as convinced.  As we made our way back to the appointed spot to be picked up by the tour bus we were both shocked when several of the other tour members made their way out of a McDonalds.  Mom and I just didn’t understand why someone would travel for thousands of miles and then eat lunch at a crappy fast food place. 
Me and Mom on Capri
 My favorite afternoon of the trip was on the Island of Capri.  Mom and I chose to skip the excursion that day, and we simply strolled along the quaint little streets of Capri and stopped for a luxurious lunch out on a beautiful patio. 

There are so many other stories from that trip…mom dragging me through the Vatican to buy some gypsy statues that she had seen the day before, because she decided she wanted them, when my crown came loose in Florence and I had to find a drug store so I could try to glue it back in until I got home, throwing our coins in the Trevi fountain, and many more.  I am so grateful for that trip.  I loved getting the chance to see and experience Italy with my mom, and now that she is gone, I am even more grateful for the special time that I got to spend with her – just me and Mom in Italy, having our Italian adventure.