1941

Dear Kids and All Readers,

I’ve been off with my Botanic Hill Detectives on their fourth case this past month. That is to say, I’ve now written over twenty-five percent of the Book 4, Saffron Street: Island Danger first draft. Yay!

The four detectives, Lanny, Lexi, Moki, and Rani, have accepted a case on Saffron Street that will take them to Hawaii. What’s the case? Below is a teaser of the mystery as presented to them by Mr. Itsuki Yamada who, as a child, witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 from his front porch on Oahu. He is now eighty-five years old and living in Las Palmitas near the kids.

As you may know, because I am a retired teacher, I enjoy incorporating learning into my mystery books. This time, you’ll be transported back to that horrific Sunday when Pearl Harbor was bombed as Mr. Yamada relays his fascinating eyewitness story. The mystery is very much tied to it.

So . . . I now reveal the first draft of the book’s mystery–well, part of it, anyway!

 

             Mr. Yamada’s smile faded. He slowly hobbled back to his overstuffed chair, sat down with a groan, and looked at each detective in turn. “You have reminded me of why I invited you here today. I have a favor to ask of you.”

             Lanny crossed the living room in a couple of strides. Then, he took a seat on the sofa with the others [the other three detectives] following and asked, “So how can we help you specifically, Mr. Yamada?” He leaned forward to give the man his attention.

            “Since you’re going to Hawai‛i soon, I’d like you to find something there for me.”

            “Of course,” Lanny replied. “We’ll try our best.” The rest of the squad nodded.  “What do you want us to find?”

            “I have every confidence that you four talented detectives can find a cherished Yamada family heirloom for me. It is certainly valuable in cost but priceless in sentiment. In fact, it should have been given to my great-granddaughter Inari recently when she turned eighteen. You, see, I strongly believe the heirloom was stolen.”

            “When do you think it was stolen?” Moki asked.

            “About eighty years ago.”

 

So, get a clue, all Readers. First, please watch for Book 3, Walnut Street: Phantom Rider (with California Gold Rush tie-ins), to release in late 2021 or early 2022. Then, Book 4 should follow soon after. Not a United States history fan? Maybe you will be after you’ve read these next two books in the exciting Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series!

Details

Not “Happily Ever After”

Dear Readers,

February is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day and true love.

We, of course, know that in real life as well as in literature, some of the most intriguing romances have a dark side, maybe even a tragic ending. This type of literature is called Dark Romanticism.

Dark Romanticism falls within Gothic Literature, which became a popular literary style in nineteenth century England, Ireland, Europe, and North America. Themes include self-destruction, sin, diabolical actions, insanity, death, heroes and heroines in distress, and often, the supernatural. Not your typical hearts and flowers stories. But they’re often grippers!

Prominent authors of Dark Romanticism include Edgar Allan Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), J. Sheridan Le Fanu (Carmilla), Bram Stoker (Dracula), and many others. Not to be excluded in my opinion is Emily Bronte, one of the three famous Bronte sisters, and author of the tragic romance Wuthering Heights. She published the book–her only novel–under her pseudonym, Ellis Bell, in England in 1847. Perhaps because of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking about two of her characters from that book–Catherine and Heathcliff.

Wuthering Heights led a 2007 British poll as “the greatest love story of all time.” But some of the novel’s admirers also considered it “not a love story at all but an exploration in evil and abuse.” Dark Romanticism. Psychologists, feel free to weigh in here.

A little backstory for those not familiar with Wuthering Heights: Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff meet as children when Mr. Earnshaw finds the ragamuffin Heathcliff in an English train station and brings him home out of pity to live at Wuthering Heights, the family’s farmhouse on the bleak, windswept West Yorkshire moors. The two kids are close in age and drawn to each other. They soon enjoy day-long rambles on the moors and climbing hand in hand to the top of their “castle” Peniston Crag, a massive outcropping on the landscape near the Earnshaw farm. Catherine considers the greatest punishment anyone can give her is to separate her from Heathcliff.

But . . . when they become teenagers, the English caste system starts tearing them apart. Catherine abandons Heathcliff for fortune and social standing by marrying Edgar Linton, a member of the landed gentry.  A heartbroken Heathcliff runs away during a rainstorm (adds drama), and everyone, including a grief-stricken Catherine, thinks he’s never coming back. But he does come back, years later, a rich and polished man, now bent on revenge for his miseries in love. He proceeds to carry out his intricate plan–but I’ll let you read the story to see what ensues. I wouldn’t want to be guilty of spoilers!

Despite Catherine and Heathcliff’s flawed, dysfunctional relationship (as some describe it) that ended tragically, it still draws me in–probably because it is so tragic as are many works of Dark Romanticism. And we know that good literature must have a problem, or we lose interest. These two characters, who have what John Whitley of the University of Sussex calls “a wild, passionate, intense almost demonic love,” are arguably, I believe, the nineteenth century’s Gothic era answer to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era Romeo and Juliet.

Why else do I find Wuthering Heights so compelling and consider it my favorite story of all time? Perhaps Virginia Woolf said it best in a review: “It is as if Emily Bronte could tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognizable transparencies with such a gust of life that they transcend reality.” And I know that I read to escape reality while simultaneously looking for ways to deal with it. Plus, there’s the whole intrigue surrounding Emily Bronte’s ability to envision and write such a passionate story while leading a solidary, dreary life on the bleak Yorkshire moors. She never married and had no romantic attachments, then died soon after her thirtieth birthday. But all of that is of itself fodder for another blog–and maybe another dark Gothic romance!

So, get a clue, Readers. Check out Wuthering Heights, even if you’ve already read it. It’s a tale that might give the lie to Tennyson’s famous quote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And if you’d like to read more about the story and Catherine and Heathcliff’s tempestuous relationship, you can find some  fascinating information here: https://study.com/academy/lesson/catherine-heathcliffs-relationship-in-wuthering-heights-analysis-quotes.html

Details

From the Depths of My Heart

Dear Kids and All Readers,

Friday, February 5, 2021, was National Wear Red for Heart Health Awareness Day. Coincidentally, one of my family members had major heart surgery that very day. (All is well! Problems repaired.) And here comes Valentine’s Day when we celebrate all that is heartfelt.

These events have made me reflect on my own heart surgery back in November of 1994.

My surgery was a seven-hour open heart repair of a congenital birth defect called Atrial Septal Defect. Basically, the two upper chambers, or atria, of my heart had a massive hole the size of a fifty-cent piece in the wall, or septum, between the atria. Little wonder I had been tired my entire life with very little oxygen getting to the right places!

No one caught this problem until I was in my forties. After complaining for years of shortness of breath, chest pains, and lethargy, I was told every time that I was just stressed and working too hard. I will always believe that it took my switching to a female primary care physician in early 1994 to get the problem properly diagnosed and a surgery date set.

I arrived at the hospital on a scary, cold and gray Friday morning. As I later told my students, my heart stopped beating (to begin the surgery), and I lived to tell about it! But I almost didn’t live. I was taken to another planet until Sunday night, having slipped into unconsciousness due to a grand mal seizure from an air bubble left in my bloodstream after being taken off the heart-lung machine. When I wouldn’t come to, the doctors told my family, including my thirteen-year-old daughter, that they gave me little hope of a full recovery–if I survived. My poor daughter, God bless her, remained strong and a staunch advocate at my side in the ICU.

But my time wasn’t up. I had more to do–like raise my daughter, see her graduate from high school and college, marry, and give me grandchildren; teach kids for almost twenty more years; and, retire and become a children’s mystery book author! So I opened my eyes, did everything I was told to do to recover, which took a full six months since I was so sapped, and finally learned to swim in the summer of ’95. My energy surged back like a tidal wave that June and hasn’t left. I count my blessings every day. No more naps, just verve and a strong heart that serves me so well. I’m an Energizer Bunny!

I thank the doctors, hospital staff, and family and friends who kept up a long vigil at the hospital to pull me through and care for me in the aftermath.

So, get a clue, Readers. We all have our stories, don’t we? This is one of mine. You never know when you’ll need every ounce of strength to survive a physical ordeal. And, kids, don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or do drugs. If I had slipped into any of those bad habits in my youth, I wouldn’t be here today. So the doctors told me the day after I rejoined Planet Earth.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you from the depths of my healthy heart!

 

 

 

Details

Bramasole

Dear Readers,

As I write this blog, many of you are probably sinking in snowdrifts and sorry the groundhog has announced six more weeks of winter. How about an escape? –at least as an armchair traveler, for now!

But first, I feel compelled to introduce to you the Italian word bramasole. It means “yearning for the sun.” It’s also the name of Frances Mayes’ villa near the town of Cortona in Tuscany, Italy. She and her boyfriend Ed restored the abandoned, scorpion-infested house in the early 1990s to turn Bramasole into “una bella villa!”

If you haven’t read Under the Tuscan SunI highly recommend Mayes’ book so you can savor her gorgeous descriptions of their labor of love over five years on their sienna, rose, and ocher-colored house fit for summer clothes and open shutters, the overgrown garden with blackberry brambles, and the sun-drenched fields around their home. All will warm you to your bones.

In the Preface, Mayes says that Italy “is thousands of years deep” with herself standing “on the top layer . . . on a small plot of land” where she is “delighted today with the wild orange lilies spotting the hillside.” She hopes the reader will become a visiting friend and “walk down the terrace paths singing of the grapes . . . see hill towns of round towers and spilling geraniums . . .  and feel the breeze rushing around those hot marble statues.”

I’ve only just started reading the book but already, I have become that friend Mayes mentioned, entering their three-story house, and walking through each room with rose-tangled balconies where I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a few glimpses of spindly cypresses on nearby hilltops and the warm green valleys beyond.

So, get a clue, dear Readers. I recommend this book over the movie so you can allow the author’s superb language to wash over you like a hot spring and drool over the scrumptious Mediterranean feasts conjured up in the couple’s rustic kitchen. Under the Tuscan Sun will certainly transport you as well to sun-saturated Tuscany. Bramasole! And grab the sunscreen.

 

 

 

Details

Beginning Remarks

Hello, Kids and All Readers,

While listening to President Biden’s Inaugural Address on January 20, I was inspired to see what other presidents had said on their Inauguration days.

I purchased Collected Presidential Inaugural Addresses 1789-2017, by Eupator Classics Law and Liberty Library, 2020. It covers Presidents Washington through Trump. (I have added a copy of Biden’s speech to the back of the book to make it current.)

In my opinion, this is a book to be savored, not read straight through too quickly. I have decided to read the speeches in order, but at a pace to allow me to appreciate the words and to visualize the historical times when these leaders lived.

Previewing the book has shown me that President George Washington’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1793, is the shortest to date. I timed myself reading it aloud; it clocked in at one minute. Also, Washington delivered it just before he was to be sworn in, not after, as is now done. Washington warned that if he didn’t uphold his oath, he should incur “constitutional punishment” and “be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.”

President William Henry Harrison’s Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1841, is the longest to date. (It covers thirteen pages in the book and must have lasted well over one hour!) The average timespan for most other speeches since appears to be 20-30 minutes.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Second Inaugural Address on January 20, 1937, was the first to be given in January, not in March. The Inauguration date had been permanently changed to January 20 (or the 21st if the 20th is a Sunday) with the passage of the “Twentieth Amendment” in 1933.

Also, many presidents made references to other presidents’ remarks, usually in a positive way! And God’s name was invoked often for guidance in the task ahead.

So, get a clue, Readers. Reading inaugural addresses or other politicians’ speeches can be a rich, fun way to learn history, or to launch more study of the period in which our presidents lived.

Details

“The Hill We Climb”

Dear Kids and All Readers,

During the January 20th Inauguration ceremony, I, along with others worldwide, were captivated by a twenty-two-year-old woman named Amanda Gorman when she gave a dramatic recitation of her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” It contains themes of grief, pain, labor, hope, healing, transcendence, and unity.

Ms. Gorman is the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. Dr. Biden discovered Gorman when the poet did a reading recently at the Library of Congress.

Gorman referenced herself in her poem as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.” She has shared elsewhere that she suffered a speech impediment as a child but learned to “dream big.”

As a result of her now-famous, televised appearance on the Inauguration platform, Gorman has earned two book deals! Her collection of poems, The Hill We Climb, and her picture book, Change Sings, will be published on September 21, 2021, by Viking Books.

Awesome. You go, Girl!

So, get a clue, kids and all readers. If you missed Ms. Gorman’s memorable poetic reading, or if you’d like to hear it again, please click on this link.

Details