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Good Morning

Like the schedule in the margin says, Mondays are blog days. Normally, the new weekly post appears while you’re catching some shut-eye (hopefully). Today’s will appear a little later.   …But still on Monday, so it counts. [smile]

In the meantime, here’s a picture to brighten your day, pun intended.

Photo by John O'Nolan

Photo by John O’Nolan

Taking Notice

It’s a Grab Bag Monday. Today’s post hails from seven years ago, but the scene it paints still lives vividly in my mind’s eye.

Yesterday David and I took a day trip to Cloudcroft, NM, to see David’s parents. They were there for a few days of relaxation. They chose a great place to do just that; many of us know that Cloudcroft is a beautiful mountain village surrounded by towering pines–a perfect escape from the summer heat.

While there they took us to a nearby campground to see something in particular. The day before, a big thunderstorm unleashed on the area, bringing lots of rain and hail. …And lightning, evidently. We stopped our car nearby what they wanted us to see: In the middle of the campground stood the thick trunk of what used to be a huge pine tree. I say “used to be” because during the storm a lightning bolt whiplashed it, felling the tree and exposing the pale, fleshy lumber inside. A car was also its victim; in that same split second, the same bolt flung an arc to a nearby car and incapacitated it. The aftermath was a pretty impressive sight. Thankfully no one was hurt.

As we drove away it struck me (pun partially intended) how powerful God really is. He is God. His power and glory can be seen all around us, especially in nature. We left that campsite and went about our day. But other things kept catching my notice, from the fragrant wildflower bouquets decorating the edges of the highway, to a photo of a double rainbow my mother-in-law showed me on her camera, to the perfectly round, pea-sized hail cascading outside while visiting The Lodge hotel. Each reminded me of His awesomeness, creativity, and love (yes, somehow the hail even reminded me of His love!). I knew He was there.

Have you noticed that sometimes He wows us with a mighty display of His majesty? Often also it’s the smaller, everyday things we see that He uses to invite us to gaze at Him. I’d love to hear from you:

What about you? When was a time that God used something–maybe in nature, big or small–to remind you of who He is?

Review: George Washington’s Secret Six

Once a month I offer a review– usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes movies/TV. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk!

Let’s talk spies…again. Specifically, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution.  (Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Sentinel Trade, revised 2014)

Washington

Rating: 4-3/4 mochas out of 5

What it’s about: This non-fiction bestseller offers its account of the true-to-life Culper spy ring. General Washington needed crucial intelligence about the King’s army during the American Revolution. The authors walk–at times gallop–the reader through the enlistment of the ring, including spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge and the spy ring handpick unlikely spies from the sleepy villages of Long Island to the heart of the British stronghold of Manhattan itself. Their collective covert work helps turn the tide of the revolution; the title doesn’t lie.

You might like this if you like: American Revolution history, spy thrillers, the AMC TV series Turn, or Siri Mitchell’s novel The Messenger.

What I liked: Off the bat, the reader understands that the authors researched the stories to the nth degree. That helps the reader settle back and enjoy the read. True, even history can be vulnerable to the storytelling itch of authors, but the reader finds admissions of historical uncertainties when the authors can’t claim something as gospel.

That said, the story of the Culper ring fascinates those even remotely familiar with the American Revolution. We learn of heroes like Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend (Culper Sr. and Culper Jr., respectively), who risked and suffered in the shadows to fulfill their missions. We see a faint verbal portrait of the anonymous Agent 355, a female spy who acted with courage in the face of the horrors of war. It’s an insider’s view of the revolution that gives more life and dimension than we all had time to learn in school.

I’m not crazy about: In our secret schools for writers (okay, they’re not so secret), there’s a certain way to write non-fiction/history in long form, like this book. You’ve gotta make it read like a novel. We’re taught to take the elements of fiction storytelling and apply it this scenario: characterization, setting, plot, theme, etc. Tell the truth, but make it an interesting read. Shhh, don’t tell or they’ll kick me out of the writers’ schools. The authors did this well, overall. However, a spot or two suffered from some forced tension that felt thin. …But not enough to prove traitorous.

The bottom line: “I’m telling you, you’ll love it.” I have a particular friend who shall, like Agent 355, remain nameless. Whenever I recommend a movie, she narrows her eyes and shoots me a sideways look and half-smile. I lost her confidence in my recommendations when I tried to sell her on Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. But let the record show: she liked Nacho Libre, and now she even likes my “usual” at our local coffee house.

So, if she is coming around to the genius of my tastes, I can say with conviction (I cannot tell a lie) that I think my fellow history-lovers will enjoy Secret Six.

What about you? Do you enjoy books like these? Do you think you would’ve stepped up to the plate as a Culper spy?

Related Links:

Washington spy letter on display

TV series White Collar’s tribute to the Culper ring  – It’s on Netflix currently.

Pause

It’s a Grab Bag Monday! I have a loose tradition to re-post this each January. 

Which is your favorite month of the year? Of course, January is everyone’s best-loved month, right?

Okay, probably not.

Years ago January was last on my list. Back then I didn’t like cold weather, and January just seemed like a bleak, blustery, colorless month that had to be endured. I wondered if a person could get in on the bears’ hibernation deal.

What changed? Maybe it was when I got married in a January wedding. Suddenly there was a permanent bright spot on the calendar that time every year. Also around that time I launched into my transition from a hot-weather loving/cold-weather shunning girl into quite the opposite.

Whatever the reason, I now like the first month of the year. While not my absolute favorite, it does have its charms. Yes, after Christmas and New Year’s, life resumes with the hustle and bustle of daily routines. …But overall, there seems to be a quiet simplicity that hushes the land. A brisk stillness that can be seen in bare tree branches and blankets of snow. It’s as if nature has paused for a moment.

It’s a welcome chance for me to pause as well, reminiscing with a smile about the holidays, being grateful for countless blessings, and feeling hopeful about the time ahead. Maybe that’s also why I’m drinking hot chocolate more often–it’s a chance to warm up and take a moment to stop and just think…often a rarity in our busy days.

What about you? Is there anything you like about January? What’s your favorite month?

Review: Marvel’s Agent Carter

Once a month I offer a review– usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes movies/TV. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk!

Marvel’s Agent Carter, an eight-part weekly series airing now on Tuesdays, takes the stage this month.

agent-carter-6

Rating: 4-1/2 mochas out of 5

What it’s about: Think post-World War II New York meets female super-spy. Moviegoers met Agent Peggy Carter in Marvel’s first Captain America movie (2011), where she played key roles in the Army’s war effort. With America settling into post-war life, she finds herself still a covert agent yet relegated to tasks viewed by her male counterparts as more befitting a woman. She’s bored, frustrated, and grieving the presumed-dead Steve Austin, a.k.a. Captain America.

Her boredom doesn’t last long. The Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), her employer, hunts a friend of Carter’s as an assumed traitor. He’s innocent and turns to Carter for help. She wants to clear his name but must do it undercover…as a double agent in her own organization.

With only the aid of her friend’s butler, the amiable and capable Jarvis, can Carter prove her friend’s innocence in the growing shadow of evil, keep her cover, and win the respect of her colleagues? Making new friends along the way won’t hurt, either. Usually.

You might like this if you like: 1940s adventure, post-World War II life, the Captain America storylines, spy stories in general and/or female spies such as Alias’ Sydney Bristow.

What I’ve liked: Three of the eight episodes have aired as of this writing (go to ABC’s website here to catch up on previous episodes). I’m a fan. Hayley Atwell deftly reprises the role of Agent Carter. The fast-paced show is equal parts thriller and mystery, with a glimpse of post-war society and dash of friendship mixed in.

At the risk of gushing, I’m loving the 1940s clothes and sets too. Some costumes, including a few of Atwell’s, are authentic vintage pieces.

I’m not crazy about: Let’s be honest: it wouldn’t be much of a thriller or spy storyline without danger. The three episodes so far have sprinkled in a tad too much violence (and brief suggestive elements) for my taste. It’s comparable to what we see in the Marvel movies, such as both Captain America installments, so if you were okay with those you’ll be okay here. It’s still cleaner that most of what’s on prime time these days.

And to nit-pick, the film noir-type soundtrack borders on kitschy at times. Not enough to turn the channel, though.

The bottom line: Agent Carter offers a breath of fresh air in today’s sea of TV sameness. It’s not the 266th NCIS series, a stale sitcom, or a mind-numbing reality show like Honey Boo Boo Meets the Real Dance Moms Plus Eight (no offense if you like those kinds of shows; I’m not completely immune).  The setting and engaging lead characters blend to create a story that’s entertaining and transporting. It’s fun and fascinating to dive into this era through the eyes of Carter. Rumors hint that we might see more Agent Carter if this eight-part series does well.

Godspeed, Agent. We hope to see you again.

What about you? Does a story like this have you from the get-go, or does this veer from your usual taste in TV shows or movies? If you’ve seen this show, what do you think of it?

Related Links:

Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter  – A 12-minute standalone story released in 2013

British sister-spies in World War II