Hidden History of the Finger Lakes

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My hometown sits along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York. While that waterway is world-famous for its 200-year history, just south of it is a region known as the Finger Lakes. Comprised of eleven long, skinny lakes that run north to south, they got their name from resembling the fingers on a hand. The Finger Lakes are a popular tourist destination for people both near and far, known for the numerous wineries along their banks. However, there’s more to this region than the grapes that grow on the vines.

Patti Unvericht’s book Hidden History of the Finger Lakes documents historical happenings around the region that most might be unaware of. Twenty chapters detail accounts of families, landmarks, events and more, some of which are actually pretty famous. For example, Rod Serling, creator of the popular TV series The Twilight Zone, is a Syracuse native. There’s also Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. There are even some more unusual ones, like a suspect in the famous Jack the Ripper murders in London in the 1800s.

One of my favorite chapters was Chapter 5, detailing the Hamlin Civil Conservation Corps Camp, which provided jobs during the Great Depression and later served as Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. Having learned about these historical events on a national angle, it was interesting to read about a local connection.

I recommend this book because it shows just how much history a region can have.



The Circle

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Technology has become a major part of our lives. Almost everyone owns a Smartphone, tablet, computer or personal device of some kind that connects us to the world. Even then, there is a line between technology and the real world. But in Dave Egger’s novel The Circle, the line becomes a bit blurry.

Twenty-something Mae Holland lands what she sees as her dream job: working in Customer Experience at The Circle. She is quickly enamored by the world of the powerful Internet company, with its generous salary, cushy accommodations and inclusive groups. Initially dividing her professional life and personal life, the two soon intersect when she begins spending more and more time with the company.

The plot focuses on the integration of technology into everyday life. Although the world has that now with smartphones, laptops and other devices, The Circle envisions it further. The Circle’s three founders, particularly the ambitious Eamon Bailey, are determined to change the way people live and how people share their knowledge with each other.

As the novel progresses, new technology is introduced to do just this. The Circle’s “SeeChange” cameras are installed in almost every major city around the world, recording and surveying everyone every single second of every day. Another one is “Transparency,” or a person wearing a camera and microphone that live streams every single second of their daily life, including interactions with people and their work. Mae’s life becomes entirely dominated by this technology and leaves her almost no privacy at all, although she seems unaware of its effects. Her fixation alienates her relationships with her friends and family, who feel she has taken her involvement too far.

An important message of the book is how technology can negatively affect people. Although many people do use social media to document some of their experiences, there are still several aspects of their lives that should not be broadcast to the entire world.  One major example of this is Mae’s friend Annie, who becomes distraught after questionable family history is revealed to the world through one of the Circle’s projects. Annie is subsequently attacked online relentlessly by people from all over the globe. Annie’s mental breakdown further illustrates how one can become overwhelmed by the constant stream of information. Mae’s further immersion also shows how addictive technology can become to someone.

As I read the novel, I couldn’t help but wonder if Eggers was attempting to portray an existing company. With thousands of employees on a Bay Area campus, the Circle mirrors the dimensions of the Google campus in the San Francisco area. Especially since Google already owns several companies, including YouTube, and offers several services, such as smart speakers, online books, smartphones and more. This is just my opinion.

I recommend this book because it’s an interesting glimpse into what our future could be like with technology. But hopefully it doesn’t go too far…

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Ironically, I read this novel on my Kindle e-reader. 

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide

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When I was growing up, acting was kind of a hobby for me, participating in school plays and musicals. I liked using my imagination and pretending to be other people, plus playing dress up was fun. Although I didn’t pursue it professionally, (other than auditioning for MTV’s Made at 14 and being an extra in an independent film at 18), I still enjoy learning about acting. The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide is a memoir/advice book that talks about the steps it can take to become a professional actor.  It’s written by actress Jenna Fischer, famous for her role in the NBC series The Office. 

Before Jenna Fischer had her big break as Pam Beesly, she started her journey at age 22 when she moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis, Missori to pursue acting. It took her a solid three years to get her first acting credit in an episode of Spin City, and in turn another five to land her part on The Office. This came after months and years of persistence.

The most interesting part of this book was learning about the business side of acting. Most people would assume that an actor simply acts in movies, does all the publicity, collects their paycheck, and moves onto the next one. But there is in fact an entire process behind it. When starting out, an aspiring actor must secure an agent that can help them find work, have professional head shots, a resume and a demo reel if necessary. It’s a game of plugging along and having discipline and a lot of patience. All of this can cost a lot of money and time, and cause a lot of frustration.

Show business also includes all the people that work on a movie or television set: producers, directors, photographers, and more. Fischer uses her own real-life experiences to illustrate each point, and includes points of caution, like making sure an agent and/or audition is legitimate. There are also interviews with different people in the industry to give the reader different perspectives.

Fischer repeatedly emphasizes the importance of being proactive instead of sitting around waiting for something to happen. She suggests creating your own work, such as a play or a short film. Or joining a creative group, like a community theatre troupe or an improv class. In her experience, being involved in these helped her land her first agent and open more doors for her goals. She also talks about the “day jobs” that most actors have in order to make ends meet. She herself worked as an administrative assistant and receptionist in the years before making it big. It was a long process, but helped her relate to her character of Pam even more.

I recommend this book, even if you’re not planning to become a professional actor, because of its humor and candor.


The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls

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When I first moved to D.C. four years ago, one of the first things I did was get a library card. It was free and helped me feel like a permanent D.C. resident, even though I was technically an intern at the time. What I didn’t realize is that living in a city meant that I had access to 25 different libraries, a contrast from the one local library I had in my small hometown.

Anyway, on to today’s review, which is on the novel The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls, written by Jessica Spotswood, who lives in D.C. like I do. Having liked her novel Wild Swans and seeing her speak at the D.C. Author Festival at the Library of Congress this past April, I decided to check out this one.

Set on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, The Last Summer of the Garretts Girls chronicles the lives of the eponymous sisters- Des, Bea, Kat and Vi. Since their parents died in a car accident ten years ago, the four have relied on each other and their Grandmother to help navigate life and raise each other. This particular summer, the last one before Bea leaves for college, has each sister experiencing something new in their hometown of Remington Hollow.  Des, the oldest, at 19, runs the family’s bookstore and is searching for more independence. Eighteen-year-old Bea is planning to go to Georgetown for journalism with her long-term boyfriend Eric, but is starting to have second thoughts. Kat, age 16, is focusing on the summer theater production and dealing with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Vi, the youngest and 15, is grappling with her crush on the girl next door.

The story is told in four alternating perspectives for each sister and in the third person. I liked how each sister had experiences and feelings reflecting their age. For example, Des, at 19 and one year out of high school, would usually be in college, but has been dedicated to taking care of her sisters and the bookstore with her aging grandmother. This is a contrast to 15-year-old Vi, too young to work and is years away from college, is still trying to figure out her identity. There are important messages, such as deciding something based off of what you want instead of someone else’s desires.

To me, this seemed like a modern-day Little Women. Four sisters who each have their own strength, trying to figure out their own paths. The major difference is the time period and the family dynamics. I was surprised when I reached the acknowledgement page and found out Spotswood’s idea came from “Little Women meets Gilmore Girls by way of Sarah Dessen” (p. 355).

I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about the relationships between siblings, especially sisters.




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When I was in grade school, there was a requirement that you had to read a certain amount of books from the school-provided list each year. After reading the book came the mandatory report, or the occasional more elaborate projects, which over the years came in the forms of cereal box collages (without the cereal) and PowerPoint presentations (complete with the animation and sound effects.) I’m pretty sure Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot was one of the novels on the list, but I never read it. So when I received a free copy at a recent literary event, I decided to check it out, despite being a little older than its intended audience.

Set in Florida, Hoot is the story of Roy Eberhardt, a new student at Trace Adkins Middle School. Friendly and approachable, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the athletic Beatrice Leep and her stepbrother, a mischievous boy nicknamed “Mullet Fingers,” who is stirring up trouble at the site of a future Mother Paul’s Pancake House. Initially confused about the motive, Roy soon discovers the reason behind it: families of burrowing owls. Roy, Beatrice and Mullet Fingers set out to save the owls from the threat of having their habitat being destroyed by the construction.

The story features simple, relatable characters and plenty of humor, involving the two antagonists, a bumbling Officer Delinko and the site supervisor “Curly.” The theme and plot were pretty predictable, but very appropriate for the age group it’s geared toward. Messages include letting people be the way they are and what standing up for an important cause can entail. Plus, I thought was interesting to have a character who’s real name is never revealed throughout the novel, only referred to as his nickname.

Hoot is a fun, quick read that’s worth checking out.




When Shadow Falls

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Since first discovering J.T. Ellison’s Dr. Samantha Owens series a couple of years ago, I’ve been meaning to read all the book in the series. The novels are set in Washington, D.C. and follow Dr. Owens, a medical examiner. This is a review of the third in the series, entitled When Shadows Fall, coming after Edge Of Black and before What Lies Behind.

In this particular installment, Dr. Owens receives a letter from an unknown man named Timothy Savage asking her to solve his death. The problem is, his death in a remote cabin in the Virginia woods was deemed a suicide by the authorities. However, Sam grows curious when his will requests her autopsy his body and names her a beneficiary to a certain amount of money, along with several others. Aided by her boyfriend Xander and friend Detective Darren Fletcher, Sam uncovers the web of mysteries that involves old kidnappings, cover ups, and a cult in rural Lynchburg, Virginia.

The story is told in both third and first person. The third person focuses on Sam and one of the antagonists. The first person focuses on another person who might be either a good or bad person. I found the first person one the most fascinating since it’s an unreliable narrator, in which the reader is not given all the information and must decide whether the person is telling the whole truth. It definitely keeps your attention.

The novel also touches on the idea of how much you can find out about someone without even meeting them through the Internet and media. Sam has become semi-known through her involvement in the Washington Metro attacks in the previous book, and Savage used his knowledge of her through the media to profile and contact her. It’s a somewhat creepy highlight, because it shows the danger of stalkers and others with unknown purposes.

One of the continuing features of the series I’ve appreciated is Ellison’s decision to make the protagonist a medical examiner. There are a majority of series that focus on the detectives, officers or the victims. From the medical examiner’s point of view, the reader gets an interesting perspective of situations. For example, when Sam autopsies the body, she uses physical evidence and deductive reasoning to determine a cause of death. In another example, when a person is wounded, Sam is able to pinpoint the type of medical attention they need to prevent them from dying.

When Shadows Fall isn’t my favorite in the series, but it’s definitely worth checking out.


Coming Clean

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Several years ago, I reviewed C.J. Omololu’s novel Dirty Little Secrets, which is about a teenage girl named Lucy who is faced with the possibility that the whole world will find out about her mom’s secret hoarding. While surfing the net looking for memoirs, I found Coming Clean, a memoir about a girl who actually grew up in a hoarding household.

Kimberly Rae Miller is a writer and actress who lives in New York City. Like everyone else, she had a childhood, growing up on Long Island as an only child with her parents. But her childhood had one major secret. Her father was an information hoarder, and loved collecting magazines, newspapers and anything else that contained knowledge. His habit caused several problems for her family as Kimberly was growing up, including a house fire, several health issues, and them having to constantly move.

Memoirs have always fascinated me because of people’s personal stories. There’s something about reading real-life experiences that help you understand people better and even relate them to your own life. This one was no different. I could feel Kimberly’s frustration throughout the memoir. She clearly loves her parents, but wants to forge her own path and make something of her life. Her parents constantly draw her back in as they move from place to place and continue to fill it up with stuff.  She fears growing up to have the same lifestyle as them and having people finding out about her parent’s habits.

The book brings to light the issue of hoarding, which actually affects a million people in the United States alone. I myself didn’t grow up in a hoarding family. (Although my empty nest parents do use my brother’s old bedroom as a “craft room.”) But I can relate to the feeling of not wanting people to know about certain parts of my life because of what they might think. Kimberly admits that the hoarding still affects her psychologically, and that writing was her outlet. I’ve always liked writing about my experiences, because it feels great to get it out in the open.

I definitely recommend Coming Clean because it’s a book about honesty and overcoming obstacles to make your life your own.

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