Elves?

As I mentioned in my post on dragons, the novels I write are in a fantasy world. While each novel is a standalone story, all of them take place in the same world.

So far, all four of my WIPs take place in the human country of Tamryn. I’ve established that magic is real. Vampires are real. Knights smite evil and liches haunt the living.

I have not yet brought it elves. But elves sorta have a but of a reputation…

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Given some of the writing I’ve seen, that reputation isn’t exactly unearned. And I’ve gotta admit, coming up with elven-sounding names is the bane of this fantasy romance writer.

I’ve mentioned them in passing in my work, but I haven’t yet written a story about them much less set one in their magical home of Tanalear.

Part of the lack of story writing is me trying to figure out how to add them to my world. Do I just jump right in and give readers a story in Tanalear? Or should I write a different story that brings an elf to the human city.

Bringing an elf into human lands creates all kinds of issues for me. See, I’m not entirely sure I buy into this half-elf business. If you aren’t the same species, you can’t procreate. There would be no half-elves.

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Nope, not buying it. Not even beer can change the fact species can’t procreate.

While I’m a romance writer, and I can imagine a scenario of an elf and human falling in love, I promise my reader a happily-ever-after (HEA) ending by virtue of writing a romance novel. So, I’m hard-pressed to view a HEA with a hero and heroine where one of them is going to die in seventy-five years, and the other is going to spend the next thousand mourning them.

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Basically, I’m considering if I need to craft some sort of adventure that features an elven protagonist before jumping into the elven world?

This is even harder than the challenges I face as a romance writer because the Tanalearian elves are isolationist and xenophobic, still turned inward even after their empire collapsed thousands of years ago in the Great Cataclysm.

The last remaining vestiges of their once-great empire are protected by ancient magics. Part of their story will be re-assimilating back into a world that now contains humans.

So, yeah, it sort of feels like the elves meeting the humans should be a big, climactic thing.

But I don’t want to confuse readers, either. Readers are smart, but if they’re expecting knights and dragons, I don’t want to disappoint with elves.

I also worry that lots has been written about elves. I sometimes wonder if your civilization collapsed, if the archaeologists piecing it back together would think elves were real.

Given that so much has already been written, I need to give it a fresh enough spin. I like to think I have this mapped out in my head. Besides, it’s not like many stories are truly unique. Amateurs borrow and professionals steal, as the saying goes.

I have given a lot of thought to their queen (Tanalearian elves have a matriarchal monarchy), her son, and some of the new mages. Even a major villain has been knocking around in there.

But none of them want to come to Tamryn. None of them see the point. They have yet to see beyond their crumbling cities.

Hmmm, perhaps we shall have to have an inciting incident…

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How about you? Do you like elves? Tolkien or otherwise? Read any stories that take place in an entirely elven world? Did you like it? What do you think of half-elves and half-orcs? Is my science brain thinking too much on this?

My Legs Are Made Out of Jelly

I started strength training approximately ten years ago. Then, we decided to have children. Between issues with pregnancy and finally having a squalling if amazing baby, I quit lifting.

Yes, I know how important it is. For general wellness and doing things like spreading mulch, and but also to prevent osteoporosis. This disease is big deal in my family, made all the worse by where I’ve lived most of my life.

Per my endocrinologist, the closer to the equator you are, the less likely you are to develop it. Having lived in the north of the US most of my life has increased my likelihood of the disease quite a bit. Things like strength training can help decrease it.

Back before children, I went straight to the gym after work. Eventually, we put a home gym in, and I went to that as soon as I got home from work.

So, I tried that again. Simply coming home, throwing on my gear, and heading to the basement. But it was almost impossible to get there. My daughters wanted, needed, my attention. They hadn’t seen me all day and missed me. How could I possibly walk past my toddler holding her arms out to me with a grin on her face as she says, “Momma, momma, momma!”

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Don’t forget to add writing!

That leaves mornings before they get up and evenings after they go to bed. I am not much of a morning person, but I learned very quickly I don’t have enough energy left to start any kind of exercise after they are in bed.

Setting aside my lack of being a morning person, morning is doubly hard for strength training as you’re supposed to be awake for an hour before you start lifting to help prevent injury. I haven’t been in my indestructible twenties for a long time. Injury is most assuredly a thing that happens to people at my age.

So, I decided to tweak my work schedule and work on strength two days a week at lunch and one day on the weekend. I reviewed my old workout plan, modified a few things to take into account my current physical state, and implemented it.

After strength training for the first time in almost seven years, I’ve discovered just how hard stairs can be to climb.

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My legs feel like jelly and my arms don’t want to lift off the keyboard. I hadn’t thought I’d overdone the workout, but apparently even body-weight push-ups on an incline are hard after seven years. Really hard.

Beyond moving with the stiff gait of the walking dead, the other thing I noticed was how hungry I was.  I mean hungry. Not just in the it’s almost time for dinner hungry. But genuinely hungry. I had an apple in the afternoon and later a Kind bar. I was still hungry when I got home. I snacked on some fruit and a bit of beef jerky and devoured dinner. I was still hungry.

At this point, I was starting to feel like the very hungry caterpillar.

We normally don’t keep snacks in the house because if you don’t have them, it doesn’t take much willpower not to eat them. I was so hungry by eight o’clock that I had a headache.

I ended up finding my stash of frozen custard and plowed through it. I’d love to justify it by saying it was chocolate custard with raspberries in it, so clearly it couldn’t be so bad. But there’s no point. I knew how bad it was while I was eating it and didn’t care. I was hungry and this was finally helping me feel full.

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So, while strength training may help build some strength and some bones, I need to figure out a way to deal with this spike in hunger. I’m hoping it’s just temporary while my body gets used to the new demands being made on this desk jockey.

On the positive side, I had no trouble falling asleep. Literally, I don’t think my head was on the pillow for thirty seconds before I was sound asleep. I also slept the whole night, and when a nightmare woke me up, as they do, I rolled over and was back asleep in less than a minute.

 

How about you? Ever started a strength training routine? How’d it go? Any tips? Or maybe you over did some gardening or other work and paid for it the next morning? Any tips on how you coped?

When the Skeptic is Right

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a skeptic. If you haven’t been reading for a while, welcome!  Hi, I’m Elizabeth Drake, romance author, Gen-Xer, and skeptic.

One thing promulgated in most women’s magazines, beauty blogs, and general female knowledge is that to have attractive skin, a woman must cleanse, tone, use a serum and moisturize every day, twice a day.

Some of you are wondering what this stuff even is.

Cleanse – wash your face, usually with something other than water. Never soap. It supposedly is too harsh and dries out the sensitive skin on your face. Though why it’s okay to dry out the rest of our skin, I have no idea.

Tone –  This is supposed to help sweep away impurities, cleaning pores, making pores less noticeable, and  protecting skin. Yeah, not sure how it’s different that cleansing above. Not sure what’s wrong with pores, either.

Serum – Face serums are lightweight moisturizers that supposedly penetrate deeper to deliver active ingredients into your skin. They’re supposed to make your skin firmer and smoother, make pores appear smaller, and increase moisture levels. Again with the pores…

Moisturize – You add moisture back into your skin to fight wrinkles. Because heaven help us if we don’t look forever twenty. Especially if you’re a woman, though companies are starting to target men, too. Why leave 49% of the population on the table when we can try to convince them they have a problem so they’ll give you money to fix it.  Sorry, that was the Gen-X gene coming through again.

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All in, I’m assuming this is all stuff to give us that awesome “glow” that you see on so many magazine covers. Except, that’s not what they really look like either, and these are professional models.   I’ll save the Photoshop rant for another time. And, if you do get this picture perfect skin, I’m not entirely sure why you’d then put make-up over it. Tons of make-up advice starts out with making sure you have a good skin care regime. Clearly, I’m too cynical to be their target demographic.

And yet, they got me on the cleanse, use a serum, and moisturize.

As I was applying my dye free, scent free moisturizer, after having had properly cleansed my skin and given my serum time to soak in, I noticed my skin was tight. Clearly, I needed to moisturize. I even had a trouble spot I had by super moisturizing for months because it was so dry. Then I thought back to before I started using moisturizer. I was younger, certainly, but my skin had never needed it. Even when I started using it, my skin hadn’t really needed it. I was doing it for wrinkle prevention.

I decided to look and see if it’s possible for skin to become dependent on moisturizers.

This is going to shock you, I know, but yes, it can become dependent on moisturizers.   Chronic use of moisturizers tells your skin to stop making the sebum that naturally protects it. Not only that, but many of the ingredients in moisturizers actually promote dry skin. You know, so you’ll keep using their products.

Because of course they do. While I love research, sometimes it really stretches my faith in humanity.

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Or at least consumer product manufacturers

Other doctors claim that oil, including the stuff our skin naturally makes, isn’t great. It’s water itself that makes our skin glow and feel moist.  Our skin stores this water in structures called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), and the water is then sealed into our skin by the top layer of skin called stratum corneum. This upper layer produces natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) — amino acids, urea and lactic acid. You’ll notice these same ingredients on skin care products, and they’re supposed to help keep skin soft, protect it from UV light, maintain the skin barrier that keeps the water in the GAGs,  and regulate the skin’s natural exfoliation.

Problem is, all these natural processes supposedly break down If you artificially saturate the barrier layer  with moisture. This tells the skin to stop producing GAGs and NMFs, which means thinning skin, less water in the skin, and the appearance of fine lines.

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In addition, some doctors believe moisturizers reduce the skin’s ability to slough off dead cells, create an oxygen-free environment that acne bacteria love, and clog pores which leads to more acne and rosacea.

Yeah, sounds exactly like what people were shelling out huge amounts of money for the skin care products to prevent.

The doctors in the article I linked to above recommended a skin care regime that eliminated moisturizers, but add a chemical exfoliator. This is supposed to get rid of dead cells and help kick-start the skin making its own NMFs and GAGs again.

I went to trusty Amazon, and the number one rated product had over 7,000 reviews and was still at an average of five stars. It was pricy for an experiment, but I decided to risk it. I figured you can’t buy 7,000 reviews and not get caught.

I got it two days later, because that’s how Prime rolls, and I tried it out that night. It was runny, and it was dye free, scent free, and clear. It had no real smell at all, and at first I thought I might have gotten suckered and bought fancy water. But, I followed the directions and got it onto my skin, let it sit for a minute, then gently rubbed it in circles for another minute before washing it off.

My skeptic wanted the British doctors to be wrong so I could gloat here. But after one use, my skeptic had to hush. The dry patches I’d been struggling with for six months are gone. My skin is softer than it’s been in a long time. I’ve been using it twice a week for a little while now, and it’s done more for me than my standard routine ever did.

I’ll stick with it for now, and I’ve learned to listen to that skeptic. She may not always be right, but she’s wrong less often than you’d think.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself following a routine even if it might not be working? Your faith in mankind ever challenged by some product or service that causes the harm it’s supposed to prevent? Any insight into moisturizers, toners, serums, or exfoliators? Maybe some research I’m missing?

Why Fantasy?

I love science. You see me quote it in my posts a lot. Part of the reason I like it is because it can actually help give us predictable outcomes, make life better for everyone, and it isn’t dependent on opinion.

Science doesn’t care that you want the Earth to be the center of the universe. It isn’t. It’s demonstrable, provable, and repeatable. Anything else is a hypothesis rather than proven science.

If it turns out to be wrong, we change. From Newton to Einstein to Hawking, our knowledge grows and changes. Then the engineers get a hold of it and make fabulous things, like the phone in my purse.

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Given this, why do I love fantasy? Why do I have a character use a teleportation spell when I could use a transporter and the theory of quantum entanglement?

Here are six reasons I write fantasy:

 

  1. Dragons. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? No matter how hard I try to realistically wrap dragons into a science fiction world, it feels wonky at best. Even in a fantasy world, you have to be careful with how you use dragons, what limits on their power you put, and how to keep them from becoming the god-beings they already see themselves as being. Perhaps FTL dragon space travel…

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  1. The White Knight – This has always been a favorite trope of mine, so of course they feature in my work. Yet, the white knight doesn’t feel right in much of sci fi. While Star Trek, at least TNG, took the high road and showed humans in a more Utopian universe, most of my experience with science fiction doesn’t go this route. It tends to be gritty, filled with anti-heroes, and a very bleak outlook on our future.

 

  1. Aesthetics. – This is tougher to define, but there’s something more fun to me about horses, silk dresses, and castles. Yes, I know the smell was horrible, hygiene lacking, and the castles drafty. I know how women were treated since the advent of the plow. But that’s not what I’m writing about. This is a fantasy world with a different pantheon of gods and a different history. Once we add in magic, the benefit of brawn over brains diminishes. It allows me to experiment with good and evil in different ways.Which leads me to…

 

  1. Good Always Wins – I find this is easier to realistically achieve in fantasy world. Unless…

 

  1. Space Opera – Unless I am looking at writing Space Opera. Which, I have considered. I’ve had a few ideas floating around for alien words on the edge of the galaxy. I’d got he space opera route partially because a big portion of what interests me in Sci Fi is alien worlds, colonization, etc. That means FTL travel, and FTL travel doesn’t mesh with science as we know it. And yes, I do like space opera. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly. Westerns aren’t my thing, but wow, I loved Firefly. Still mad as anything that they canceled that show.

 

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How about you? Do like sci fi or fantasy? Which do you prefer to read or write? Why?

Pleasure Reading

I read for pleasure. There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted it.

Strange thing is, I don’t know why I need to admit it. Yet, I regularly feel like I do. For some reason, I must justify choosing books that promulgate fun over enlightenment. I’m not alone in this, either. Especially fellow romance readers. We love our books, but there’s a sort of secret shame to it.

I don’t know why.

When was the last time a group of people felt guilty going to see Transformers? Disappointed, maybe, but guilty? Seriously, two hours of explosions and special effects didn’t leave them any smarter. Yet, that’s totally okay, and no one who saw the movie feels the need to explain why. They went for fun. Some eye candy, and on to the next thing.

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So why do so many people that read feel the need to justify pleasure reading?

Perhaps this goes back to high school English class when so many of our teachers literally killed really great books. I remember reading The Scarlet Letter for enjoyment two years before we read it in English class. It wasn’t something I would’ve actively sought out again given how heart-wrenching it was, but I had enjoyed it. It made me think, and it made me cry.

Then my English teacher got a hold of it. Suddenly, the rust on the wrought iron fence was imbued with all sorts of symbolism. I went from liking the book to being ecstatic for the day we were done with it. On my second read through with my English class, I didn’t care about any of the characters or their struggles. It was read, regurgitate, repeat.

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That same class, the teacher was chastising some of the lower performers in the class and asking them what it would take to get them engaged. I remember the ring-leader of this group asked why couldn’t we read something like The Stand. My ears perked up. If ever there was a book laden with symbolism, a true epic struggle between good and evil…

But that wasn’t in the curriculum. The teacher never approved it, and we plodded on through Shakespeare and whatever else was “required” reading.

Makes me wonder if this is where so many people had their love of books squashed. While there’s a lot in Shakespeare, Golding, and Hawthorne, there’s also a lot in Tolkien, King, and maybe even Patterson. Given the current popularity of the latter authors, it truly surprises me that they don’t get more time in a classroom. These books are all written for a modern audience (okay, maybe no Tolkien, but I bet his work would still spark interest).

If something is interesting, there’s a higher probability you’ll learn something and keep that learning with you beyond the test. Interest is powerful, and for some reason, we horribly underestimate and discredit it.

Perhaps too many people had English teachers that didn’t engage them and began to associate reading with my second trip through The Scarlet Letter. Reading was a chore, a task to do so a paper could be written before we scampered off to do what we wanted to do, like watch a movie.

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If that’s how reading is perceived, I can understand why people don’t get pleasure reading. Why it seems odd that we’d open up a romance novel and snuggle onto the sofa to have a lovely afternoon read.

This comes back to a different question though: should every book we read have the same depth my English teacher assigned to The Scarlet Letter?

I’m going to say “no”. There’s no reason why everything we do must be learning endeavor. Maybe it’s just me. I strongly dislike most literary books. Give me a romance, epic fantasy, or space opera. Give me characters I can cheer for and an ending that leaves me satisfied. Basically, give me a good movie or mini-series between the pages of a book.

 

What do you think? Do you pleasure read? Why or why not? Do you hold movies and TV shows to the same standards as books? Maybe you had a really awesome English teacher that gave you a totally different experience?

 

 

Book Review: An Unexpected Wish

Book: An Unexpected Wish

Author: Eileen Richards

Recommendation: Save your time and wash the cat

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I love a good romance. Heck, I like a decent romance.

Unfortunately, this was more like watching the writer play “Barbies” than actually reading a romance.

The entire novel could’ve been condensed into a short story. There wasn’t enough plot to hold up a full length novel, so the author substituted melodrama, lots of running away, and contrived situations to get the page count.

(Spoilers Ahead)

The premise of the novel is a young woman is in dire straights as she attempts to support herself and her sisters on a paltry inheritance left by her mother. Their brother has tossed them out for reasons the author never does a good job explaining (because their father praised Anne’s accomplishments and wanted his son to live up to them? Really? So the son tosses all three of his sisters on the street, with literally just the clothes on their backs when their father dies? Really?)

In a desperate attempt to have enough food and burning fuel to get through the winter, Anne makes a wish for a handsome husband that will provide for her and her sisters.

Low and behold, shortly after making the wish, the rich hero arrives and starts paying all sorts of attention to her.

Let’s state again the heroine and her sisters are on the brink of not having enough food or fuel to get through the winter. We’re talking about starvation or a life of prostitution to survive.

But the heroine decides she can’t possible marry the hero because he loves her only because of her wish. Let me tell you, if I became a New York Times best-selling author because of a wish, I’d take it with both hands and never look back.

What makes this even more disingenuous is that the heroine had no problem marrying her younger sister off to “save the family”.

Frankly, the story should’ve ended with the handsome hero offering for her, and Anne saving the family.

If the author wanted a full length novel, she needed something more to keep the hero and heroine apart. The “oh, he couldn’t possibly love me for real because of I made a wish” held absolutely no water. Let me tell you how much I disliked the heroine after hearing this a dozen or so times, and there were several dozen more times of listening to her say it still to come.

I mean, seriously. This is what she wanted, what she needed, to keep her sisters from starving. To keep them freezing come winter. And to reject it because of superstition?

Most hungry people would marry him and thank the fairies, not throw their “wish” back in the fairies’ face.

Now, enter deadbeat brother who has lost the entire family fortune to gambling (with the hero, nonetheless) and is looking for his sister to part with her mother’s jewels to save him from some very relentless creditors. And, he’s told every hoodlum in London that his sister has these jewels. Of course, there are no jewels or Anne would’ve sold them already.

You can guess where this is going. The brother must be redeemed, but the path to his redemption is unbelievable. One minute he’s willing to sell his sister to the hero for his “get out of debt” free card, and the next minute he’s suddenly willing to go to India and work off his debt to the hero. Nothing I saw created that change. Just sorta, yep, we need a happily-ever-after ending, so he’s gotta change.

Not even the “twist” ending was believable.  Why would Cecil Worth bother with the whole use of the Fairy Steps in the first place to trick Anne into thinking she was getting a wish? Anne had no suitors. If he was suddenly interested in her because of the jewels, he had no need to go through with the ruse. Never explained, and makes no sense given his character. But, you know, the plot needed a villain and a plausible explanation for the wish.

Speaking of plot, it mostly consisted of lots of running from here to there for the heroine as she goes from dodging one suitor to another. Seriously. Let’s run away to the Lodge. oh no, hero is there. Let’s run back home. Oh no, brother is there. Let’s go for a walk in the woods. Oh no, other suitor is there. Ugh. I think fifty percent of the book was the heroine running around for “reasons”.

There’s the obligatory steamy scenes towards the end, but they’re as cardboard and unbelievable as the rest of the story.

The writing itself is okay, but the use of line break to denote a change in point-of-view or scene are non-existent. Pulled me out of what little story every time there was one. The dialogue can also get pretty awful. Here’s an actual excerpt from the end of the book, as we discuss for the 100th or is that 1,000th time that the hero might actually love her:

“You think he loves me?”

John nodded. “When you were taken, he went still. He was icy calm. But his eyes burned. It was clear that someone he cared about deeply was in danger.”

Oh yeah, then there was my least favorite romance trope. The heroine being kidnapped. And because its snowing, her captor totally doesn’t give chase when she slips into the forest after getting motion sick. But, you know, the hero is totally just going to pay a ransom when he can find her footprints in the snow. *eye roll* The author must’ve been getting to the end of word count and didn’t want to spend much time on this.

All in, I walked into this book looking for a bit of pleasure reading. Some book candy while my kids watched a movie on Friday night. I wanted a fun romance, maybe some good steamy scenes, and a happily-ever-after. I got the HEA, but that was about it.

 

Book Review: Swamp Team 3

Book: Swamp Team 3

Author: Jana Deleon

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(No Spoilers)

This is the fourth book in the series, and I’m not sure how long the series is planned to go. I’ve seen up to at least nine books.

I will give you fair warning. If you can’t overlook grammar and punctuation issues, this author is not for you. I realized after reading this book so closely to the other just how much I was over looking. Comma splices abound. Consider yourself warned.

I’m starting to think I’m not much of a series person. While the author does a great job of not rehashing the previous books, and this book can stand alone, I felt like it was missing something.

The story still revolves around Fortune Redding hiding out in in Sinful, Louisiana, because she has put a price on her head and a leak in the CIA. She’s been befriended by the Geritol Mafia, senior citizens Gertie and Ida Belle, who are former counter intelligence operatives and leaders of the Sinful Ladies Society. One of Fortune’s new Sinful friends has her home set on fire and is being stalked.

Yes, you get your usual hijinks, although those are starting to become less funny. A wet tee shirt contest? Really? I was also a little leery on the way the author treated the stalker. I’ve done zero research on stalkers, and even so, I found it hard to believe.  Still trying to figure out how Fortune survived as a CIA assassin given some of her antics and choices.

I also needed more to sell me on Fortune and the gang getting involved in solving the arson attempt. For some reason, this felt more disingenuous than in previous books. Why couldn’t Carter solve this? Why are they getting into the middle of a police investigation? In the other books this is more clear. In this one, it feels more like “my friend is involved, so hey, I can’t trust the law”. Carter even points out all the foolishness they went through and risks they took were for nothing when he already knew what a suspect was doing because, you know, that’s the first person he investigated, too. And he can do it lawfully.

The romance moved along a little, but as a reader of romance novels, this is moving so slowly that it might as well be non-existent.  Book four, and we’re still no closer to knowing any of Fortune’s backstory or what’s happening with the CIA. We are seeing some change in the heroine. Seeing her develop real friendships and have real feelings for the people in the town.

For me, I think the best thing is to take a break from the series for a while. These are not deep thought books. They will not withstand too deep of an analysis, and the more of them I read, the more my brain starts processing patterns and can’t simply relax and enjoy the book candy. It starts analyzing and dissecting, and these books can’t stand up to that. That’s okay. It’s not what they’re meant for. They are meant to be funny and an easy read on a rainy Saturday.