Category Archives: General

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Three Little Words3If you’ve never had contact with the child welfare system, consider yourself lucky. My work takes me into that world on a daily basis, and while I’m familiar with the system’s failures, Ashley Rhodes-Courter‘s Memoir, Three Little Words,  provided me with a new perspective—that of the children I and so many others work to protect. Despite my years of interaction with this system, Ms. Rhodes-Courter’s memoir was both enlightening and frightening.

The system is broken. I think anyone who works within our child welfare system or has had any contact with it knows this. However, Ms. Rhodes-Courter’s memoir expanded for me the breadth and depth of its dysfunction. As a general rule, the adults who work on behalf of the children who come into the care of the State tell them little. Some are not allowed to talk about it, others choose not to out of a misguided attempt to protect the children from the truth. Ms. Rhodes-Courter reminds us that children are smarter than we think, that they see and hear more than we as adults give them credit for, and that keeping them in the dark regarding their own lives can be more damaging than giving them the truth they so desperately seek.

Further, like many children, the State failed Ms. Rhodes-Courter and her brother not just once, but many times on many levels, through multiple agencies and at least two states. The problem is systemic and widespread, which is largely due to our unwillingness to invest financially in the agencies and people who are tasked with removing, placing, and finding permanent homes for children whose parents are either unwilling or unable to care for them. And, as Ms. Rhodes-Courter points out, had the State assisted her mother financially to the same extent they were willing to finance the foster homes where she was placed, her mother may have been able to create some stability and fulfill her promise to her “Sunshine”–her repeated promise to take Ms. Rhodes-Courter from foster care and bring her home.

It was a volunteer, a court appointed special advocate, or CASA, who ultimately made the difference for Ms. Rhodes-Courter by advocating to move Ashley and her brother from an abusive foster home, fighting to return Ashley’s few prized possessions to her, pushing the system to put Ashley in a safe place and actively search for a permanent home for her. (*Spoiler Alert*) Her adoptive family never gave up on her, and in time, their love and support restored the trust that the system had shattered. Ms. Rhodes-Courter finally learned the meaning of “home”.

Though difficult to read at times because of its honesty, Ms. Rhodes-Courter’s story is truly inspirational and her resilience remarkable. In lieu of a wine recommendation, I’m asking that you consider donating the amount you would typically spend on a bottle of wine to your local CASA organization. You can find it by entering your zip code in the Find A CASA locator on the National CASA website: http://www.casaforchildren.org.

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Coppola’s Director’s Cut Pinot Noir is the wine to drink at Stephen King’s Revival

Revival pic2The story of Revival is dark and tragic. It is not one I would choose on my own; however, my book club selected it and I read it all the way through. Whether or not you enjoy the more macabre side of his tales, Stephen King is unarguably one of the best writers of our generation. His characters and storytelling draw you in quickly and keep you reading, whether you want to or not. I kept reading Revival for two main reasons: 1) the love of the main character, Jamie, who is introduced as a young child and 2) because I had to see what happened to him and his “fifth business,” the Reverend Charles Jacobs, even though I knew it would likely be disturbing. It was.

King’s description of the small town Jamie where Jamie grew up and the church where he met Jacobs were spot on in my experience, even though my small town and church were deep in the heart of Texas, not in Maine. The similarities were a bit chilling, minus the tragic plot twists and the “terrible sermon” that changed Jamie’s life. All of that was easy to picture, unlike anything that came after it. If you appreciate great characters and storytelling, you should enjoy the read. If you also appreciate Stephen King’s particular type of storytelling (you know, creepy, scary, sometimes terrifying), you will love this book.

I didn’t love Revival, but not because it wasn’t beautifully crafted. It was. I still enjoyed reading it, in spite of its dark nature. It was even better when I could accompany it with a glass of red wine, such as Coppola’s Director’s Cut Pinot Noir. Since summer is almost here and temps are climbing, I would suggest drinking it slightly chilled.

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J.D. Robb’s Festive in Death pairs nicely with Chateau Montelena’s Cabernet

Robb pic2In typical J.D. Robb fashion, the festivities begin on page 1 of Festive in Death.  I love this series and have been waiting for this one to come out in paperback. It was worth the wait and, since the setting revolves around Christmas, I’ll re-read it when the holidays come around this year.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas has come a long, long way since her introduction in Naked in Death. In Festive, she and Roarke are hosting a holiday party for their friends and colleagues—a feat that could not have happened earlier in the series. Eve’s reluctant participation and the party itself add a colorful backdrop to the murder she is, as usual, trying to solve.

What is unusual about this murder, (this is not a spoiler, because it’s clear from the beginning) is that Eve’s victim, Trey Zeigler, is a true scumbag. The depths of Zeigler’s sleezy and predatory nature grow more apparent as the investigation progresses, and Eve gives him far better treatment than he deserves.

Being Lieutenant Dallas, she approaches the murder of her scumbag victim, Ziegler, in the same determined professional way she does with her other more innocent victims, though with slightly less pressure. This lightens her load just enough to allow her be more present in the festivities and truly enjoy her friends and family at the holidays. There is an interesting twist, of course, and Robb keeps it under wraps right until the end. Another great read from a creative and prolific author.

Roarke has a preference for high-end red wines, typically a cabernet sauvignon. To keep him and his cop wife company, I would recommend one of Chateau Montelena’s cabernets, such as the one pictured here. They are a little on the pricey side, but it’s a quick read, so one bottle should suffice. Enjoy and happy reading!

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The Dresden Files…The Saga Continues

Dresden filesSince February’s review of books 1-4 of the Dresden Files, I’ve continued to burn through them, having difficulty putting them down. This is due in part  to my Kindle, a magical and dangerous device, which immediately upon reaching the end of one book provides a popup offer to download the next book in the series. I tell myself I’ll just download it–I do have other books to read–but inevitably I start reading and find myself sucked into Harry Dresden’s increasingly dangerous world yet again.

As I’d hoped, he’s continued to grow both in maturity and in his magical abilities, which have yet to be fully explored (looking forward to that in books 10-14). While he hasn’t totally overcome his overblown sense of chivalry, he’s toned it down thanks to being surrounded by strong female characters, especially Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, but also Anastasia Luccio, captain of the wardens of the White Council, and Lara Raith of the White Court Vampires.

Wizard Dresden’s dry wit remains, providing humor in the most unexpected places. He admittedly can’t keep his mouth shut, especially in dangerous situations. As the cast of characters grows—some human, others not-so-much—so does the family he’s creating, which inevitably raises the stakes on his antics and involvement. These well-constructed characters are easy to love and only serve to add to the reasons I’m compelled to continue reading. Even with the higher stakes, Dresden is unable to stop himself from intervening to protect the weak and the innocent, the vulnerable and non-magical. You can still find him on Twitter @HarriedWizard and also at Jim Butcher.com.

Due to the nature of Harry’s adventures, a Storybook Mountain wine would complement them well. I would recommend a Red Zinfandel. If you have a preference for white wines, their Viognier is also an excellent choice. You can order them at http://www.storybookwines.com/

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Crystal is Still Foolin’ ‘Em

Billy Crystal 3

My introduction to Billy Crystal was as Harry Burns, in When Harry Met Sally, my all-time favorite rom-com. So when I read his book, Still Foolin’ Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? I was surprised to learn that he had also played for the NY Yankees, was an adopted little brother to Mohammed Ali and friend to Mickey Mantle. I had no idea that Crystal was also a director and had hosted the Oscars 9 times, or that he hosted one of them while also hosting the flu virus. Crystal’s account of turning 65 doesn’t make me look forward to it, but I certainly admire and somewhat envy his journey to get there.

Another thing I didn’t know about Billy Crystal—that he is such a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. I loved the entertainment history Crystal describes, especially regarding his movies (When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, Analyze This, and Monsters, Inc. to name a few) and his experiences with Saturday Night Live, but it’s the special family moments and events he shares with thoughtful clarity, such as his daughter’s wedding, that brought tears to my eyes. Crystal’s perspective and memories on the 9/11 attack were also insightful and touching.

Like most of Crystal’s work, his book will make you laugh, cry, and groan. What a truly amazing life. My thanks to Billy Crystal for sharing it with us. Santa Barbara Winery’s Pinot Noir is an excellent accompaniment for this journey.

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Meiomi Pinot Noir and an Act of War

Act of WarBrad Thor has an uncanny knack for anticipating our next national security threat before it happens, which make his most recent thriller, Act of War, especially frightening. In the latest of his series with former Navy Seal Scot Harvath, Thor brings a long-standing enemy onto new territory—American soil—and Harvath must save the country he loves from a threat that skirts the boundaries of science fiction, and which, if deployed, would not only destroy the American way of life, but kill millions in the process.

Thor’s latest installment is nonstop action and you can’t help but wonder exactly where the line of his fictional world crosses into our modern reality. I’m not going to become a doomsday prepper yet, but Act of War certainly made me consider it.

Harvath typically prefers beer, but not being a beer drinker, I recommend Meiomi Pinot Noir. It’s light and slightly sweet—the perfect contrast to Harvath and his ongoing adventures.

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Dry Creek Vineyard’s Red Zin Warms a Cold Cold Heart

Cold cold heart pic Cold Cold Heart grips you from the first sentence of the prologue, pulling you into the mind and unrelenting heart of its heroine, Dana Nolan. Although parts of Tami Hoag’s thriller about the sole surviving victim of a sadistic serial killer are hard to read due to their graphic and violent nature, it is even harder to put down.

The details and insight Ms. Hoag offers into the realities of a brain injury add an interesting element to this crime thriller. Also, as the child of a veteran, I especially appreciated her treatment of PTSD and the adjustments and harsh realities many of our veterans face when they return home.

You can’t help but pull for Dana, wanting her not only to survive, but to reclaim herself and what the killer took from her in the process. Somewhere along the way the plot becomes a bit predictable, and I saw the ending coming long before I reached it. Regardless, Ms. Hoag has created a sympathetic and interesting character in Dana, and her dual story of recovery and survival makes for an exciting read. Like a good roller coaster, even though I saw the end coming, I still enjoyed the ride.

This read requires something that will provide warmth and comfort. With that in mind, I’d recommend Dry Creek Vineyard’s Heritage Vines red zinfandel. Enjoy, and happy reading.

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