Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for July 2012

Just reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s 3rd Novel in Her “Displaced Detective” Series

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As the title says, I just reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT at Shiny Book Review.  This is a worthy third book in her “Displaced Detective” series featuring Sherlock Holmes, hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick, and some new problems that need to be solved by the team of Holmes and Chadwick.

Now, as this is a third book, I’d been expecting there to be some drop-off — not of quality, per se, but maybe a little bit less inventiveness or freshness.  But that didn’t happen; the “slow” section here contains a number of important plot-points, plus deepens and broadens the romance of Holmes and Chadwick markedly.  And the plot contained more than enough bells and whistles to hold my interest — not that I need such, but nevermind — while the book ends on a rather gentle cliffhanger.  (That last seems like a contradiction in terms, but isn’t; while I can’t explain things better than this without blowing the plotline out of the water, suffice it to say that the last we see of Holmes and Chadwick, it’s obvious that they’re still working hard to solve the various mysteries.)

Anyway, please go read my review, then go grab Ms. Osborn’s book!  (Anyone who can come up with a plot that features both physics and Sherlock Holmes is a winner in my book.)

Second Blog-i-versary . . . Some Quick Hits

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Folks, my second “blog-i-versary” passed on July 10, 2012, without comment, mostly because the weather in Wisconsin has been extremely hot.  While I’ve continued to blog here and there, certainly this hot and humid weather we’ve had — which has destroyed crops, damaged lives, and caused all sorts of financial problems, as our 2012 summer is being compared to other, difficult summers like the summer of 1988 and worse, the “Dust Bowl” summer of 1936 — has gotten in the way.

That said, I’m very pleased that my blog is still here, two years after I started it (two years and a week, to be precise).  I hadn’t anticipated this, but I suppose this blog still being in existence shows a good side to the Law of Unintended Consequences after all.

Here’s a few quick hits as to what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, aside from our dreadful weather:

Last night, the Milwaukee Brewers dropped a heartbreaker, 3-2, to their arch-rivals the St. Louis Cardinals.  Particularly troubling in this loss is the fact that the Brewers led, 2-0, in the top of the ninth; closer John Axford got the first two outs (though both were long fly balls caught close to the fence, meaning both hitters nearly hit the ball out of the park rather than made these long, loud outs), then loaded the bases.  Eventually, three runs scored, and Axford was removed from the game; Kameron Loe got the last out.

So, what happened to the Brewers in the bottom of the ninth?  The hitters put too much pressure on themselves, that’s what.  Corey Hart, who’d hit his 17th HR of the year earlier in the game, went to a 3-2 count before striking out.  The next hitter, Rickie Weeks, took a few pitches, but also ended up striking out.  And Martin Maldonado — well, he didn’t do anything, either.  So the Cardinals closer, Jason Motte, got the three outs he needed, while the Brewers closer, Axford, was wild in and out of the strike zone and didn’t pitch effectively.  Now, it looks like Axford may have been removed from his job as Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) has 19 holds and 1 save, and has looked far better than “Ax,” and no one can blame Brewers manager Ron Roenicke for wishing to try someone else at this point.

Oh, yes — the guy who started the game, rookie pitcher Mike Fiers, pitched extremely well (again), but didn’t get the win due to Axford’s meltdown.  (I like Axford a great deal, and believe part of his troubles with command of his fastball and breaking ball come down to the usual problems relief pitchers have from time to time.  But I have to call ’em as I see ’em.)

Otherwise, I’m continuing to work on AN ELFY ABROAD, and have some reviews planned this week at Shiny Book Review for Stephanie Osborn’s third book in her “Displaced Detective” series, and for Rosemary Edghill’s VENGEANCE OF MASKS . . . I may even review another book on economics, to keep my hand in the game.  So stay tuned.

Finally, I played a concert with the Racine Concert Band last Sunday; for the record, I played second alto saxophone, and didn’t have any solos, though I did have a few good parts.  I was glad I was able to play the concert despite the heat and humidity; the crowd at the concert (which was free, as it always is) was a bit diminished, possibly due to the heat, but we still had a couple of hundred people there and that’s encouraging.  This was my fourth service for the band this year; I have a few more planned later this month and into August, though I hope to be playing clarinet at that time (I say “hope” because originally I’d been scheduled to play my clarinet on the last concert).

But whether I’m playing in the group or not, if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin and love free, live music, you owe it to yourselves to get out to the Racine Zoo and take in the Racine Concert Band.  Concerts are at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays in July, and are at 7:00 p.m. on Sundays in August through August 19.  There’s a wide variety of music, including marches, show tunes, light operas/operettas, and more — and best of all, it’s free.

Now back to our regularly scheduled sweltering, already in progress.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Ben Sheets On the Comeback Trail; Wins First Start Since 2010

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Today, Ben Sheets won his first start since 2010 — his first start since returning from the most extensive arm surgery in the history of major league baseball in mid-2010 — as he led the Atlanta Braves to a 6-1 win over the New York Mets.  Sheets pitched six scoreless innings, threw 88 pitches (57 for strikes), gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out five.

As Atlanta SB put it, “Ben Sheets probably couldn’t have imagined a better debut.” 

Carroll Rodgers, writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said this about Sheets’s debut start:

Sheets threw a 91 mph strike to Ruben Tejada to start his day, setting up his first strikeout, and finished it with a 91 mph fastball to strike out David Wright for his fifth. Sheets allowed only two hits in between, while walking one, and threw 57 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He outdueled Johan Santana to win his first game since July 10, 2010 with Oakland against the Angels.

Rodgers also mentioned this toward the end of his blog post:

Sheets, who hadn’t pitched since July 19, 2010 for the Athletics, showed what the Braves have been raving about in his work on the side and in the minors. His fastball velocity was back to 90-92 mph, and he reached back and found 93 mph a few times, which he used to retire Wright. He also mixed in a sharp curveball that he was known for on those days like the one when he struck out 18 Braves in 2004.

Rodgers also had quotes from Sheets in this article, also from the AJC:

“It was pretty incredible,” Sheets said afterward. “Honestly in my mind, two years ago I was done, which was fine. I gave myself ‘coach of the year’ award in youth ball. Somebody asked me ‘Who gives that?’ I said ‘I give it to myself.’”

(Note that Sheets has never been known for his humility, which is why this quote made me laugh out loud.)

Another quote from Sheets, also from Rodgers’s second article at the AJC:

“I feel like myself,” said Sheets, who out-dueled Johan Santana for his first win since July 10, 2010 with the Athletics. “That’s one thing I can say I never felt like in Oakland.”

And here’s a quote from long-time Braves star (and likely Hall of Famer) Chipper Jones:

“We are ecstatic,” Jones said. “We get contributions like that from him, I see us winning a lot of games here in the second half.”

See, the Braves see Sheets as what he is: an ace.  Sheets also is the type of guy who would not have come back unless he felt he could pitch extremely well — it’s either all or nothing with Sheets, and it’s always been that way.  So the Braves, who apparently kept a close eye on Sheets once Sheets’s agent Casey Close started putting out feelers earlier this year regarding a potential comeback, has shown itself to be extremely prescient in signing Sheets.

As far as the Milwaukee Brewers go (Sheets’ old team), they won today, too.  Yovani Gallardo had 14 strikeouts in a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Gallardo is one of two aces on the Brewers current staff; his record raised to 8-6.

But the day belonged to Sheets, all the way along . . . and this Brewers fan couldn’t be happier.  Way to go, Ben!

Just Reviewed Osborn’s First Two “Displaced Detective” Novels at SBR

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Tonight’s new review at Shiny Book Review is for Stephanie Osborn’s first two books in her Displaced Detective series about Sherlock Holmes as brought into the modern day via modern physics.  These are fun reads, but more to the point, they’re faithful to the spirit of Holmes in milieu and mythos.  Osborn came up with a great way to start her series by using modern-day physics along with the “World as Myth” concept as delineated by Robert A. Heinlein; the two together explain how Holmes could be a real person, and then how it came to be that Osborn’s hyperspatial physicist, Skye Chadwick, was able to rescue Holmes before he ended up dead at Reichenbach Falls.

These are really fun reads that make good sense in context.  The mysteries Holmes solves are appropriately complex (yes, I said that at SBR, too, but it’s a phrase I don’t get to use much, thus the repetition), Holmes’s abilities seem realistic (for him), and the halting romance that grows between Holmes and Chadwick is worth the price of admission all by itself.

But do expect there to be a romance, especially in the second book, and do expect it to be PG-13.  This makes sense in context, and it’s something I applauded in my review — but some Holmes-o-philes may not wish to see their hero in love.  (If so, the more fool, they.  Osborn does a great job showing how these two extremely brilliant people could and did fall in love, and it works, plot-wise.  To great effect.)

Seriously.  Go read my review of these two fine books, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL and THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED.  Then go buy the books already.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm

July 2012 Odds and Ends

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I’ve had a number of comments recently about various things, but none of them have reached the level of a full blog post.  So here goes with the latest edition of Odds and Ends.

First, I’m taking the summer off from watching television.  This is the main reason I haven’t written about the fourth season of “Drop Dead Diva,” despite all the hits I’ve had on my review of the season three finale.  I do know that Fred the angel is off the show and there’s a new angel there instead — an impossibly gorgeous male who, sight unseen, bothers me.  But that’s the only thing I’ve really gathered, aside from the fact that Kim Kardashian seems to have a recurring role this season.

Second, the Wisconsin GOP has, quite predictably, slammed the District 21 state Senate election, all because Democrat John Lehman won over R Van Wanggaard.   Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has led a number of prominent Rs in proclaiming that the Racine elections had “numerous errors” and that supposedly, Racine County must get its act together before the November elections — all because we had the temerity to throw out our one-year Senator when the rest of the state held the course.

I have no problem with former Senator Wanggaard saying “I shall return!” as if he’s a modern-day incarnation of General Douglas MacArthur, because he’s a politician and that’s what politicians of either party tend to say.  (Maybe not quite so stridently as Wanggaard.  But then again, as the only R to go down on June 5, 2012, I suppose he must feel terrible.)  Nor am I upset with Wanggaard for asking for a recount, pointing out various issues he and his staff have been alerted to, etc. — he’s a politician, so he has to say those things.  And considering he lost by less than 2% of the vote, I suppose that’s his right.

My problem remains with the Wisconsin GOP as a whole; they didn’t slam Waukesha County in 2011 when there were massive problems there — problems that make the City and County of Racine’s issues look extremely small in comparison — because those problems benefitted them. 

So, if an election goes the Rs way, even if there are terrible and systemic problems with a County Clerk like Waukesha’s Kathy Nickolaus, the Rs are OK with it.  But if the election goes the way of the Ds, the Rs aren’t standing for it, even though whatever problems Racine had were due to an overwhelmingly high turnout (the highest on record for any election, including Presidential elections), nothing more.  That’s why the WI GOP’s stance regarding Racine County’s recall election smacks of sour grapes as well as political expediency;  I remain unimpressed.

Third, what on Earth does the United States House of Representatives, led by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, think they’re doing taking vote after vote to repeal Obama’s national health care plan?  (Especially as they know, just as the rest of us do, that the US Senate will never go along with them.)  Here we are in a jobless recovery; the economy, overall, is terrible.  We need jobs, we need more economic development, and we need it right now.  Yet they’d rather waste our time, and our taxpayer dollars, by taking these unnecessary votes.  This is political grandstanding and it should not be tolerated.  Period!

Fourth, are the Milwaukee Brewers going to get any better this year?  And will Zack Greinke stay a part of the team?  Stay tuned.

Fifth, and finally, the summer is a bad time for me.  It’s not just my asthma, or other associated summertime health woes, which have been exacerbated as we’re having one of the hottest, driest summers on record in SE Wisconsin.  It’s that I have a number of important dates on the calendar that I observe — my wedding anniversary.  My late husband’s birthday (even though he didn’t observe it).  Etc. — and the fact that I must observe them alone, always alone, is a trial.

Look.  I despise the fact that I’m a widow.  (Very few people will come right out and say this, but I will.)  If I had the power, my husband would be alive right now and I’d not be typing out these words.  But I’m human, mortal, fallible, all that, and I don’t have that power. 

What I do every day is to try to find some meaning, some purpose, in whatever remains of my life.  I continue to write (as you see).  I continue to edit.  I play my instruments.  I compose music when I have the time, energy, and ideas.  I talk with my friends, as I’m able . . . all the things I have to do in order to continue to stay alive in any sense.

But of course it’s difficult to be without the love of my life.  I’d be lying if I said anything else.

And that difficulty is made much worse because the person who understood me best since that time is also dead — my good friend Jeff, whom I’ve discussed many times on this blog.   That I haven’t been able, as of yet, to go to Colorado and make any peace whatsoever with his passing has assuredly not helped.

I know it doesn’t matter — would never matter — to Jeff where I mourn.  But it would help me to go there and visit the places he told me about.  Which is why at some point I will go there; it’s just a matter of when.  Let us hope that down the line, I will find enough work at a good rate of remuneration, so I can finally take that trip.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 13, 2012 at 10:10 am

Just Reviewed Alethea Kontis’s “Enchanted” at SBR

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Folks, my newest review for Alethea Kontis’s ENCHANTED is up at Shiny Book Review right now, so you might want to go take a look at it.

(I’ll pause while you have your chance to click on the SBR link.)

Now, as for what I thought of it?  It’s a good book, a well-told fairy tale that mixes a number of traditional fairy tales with elements of both Patricia C. Wrede’s and Orson Scott Card’s work; while not particularly original, per se, it is charming, and I enjoyed the romance between Prince Rumbold and Sunday Woodcutter no end.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun fairy tale that won’t demand too much from you, Alethea Kontis’s ENCHANTED will be right up your alley.  (And I’ll admit it; sometimes that’s all I want in a book, a fun read that will transport me away from the cares of the world for a few, short hours.)  I enjoyed it, and look forward to whatever Ms. Kontis writes next.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Just Reviewed Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s “A Sense of Direction” for SBR

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Folks, if you haven’t read any of Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s essays before, you may be bemused by his new non-fictional epic, A SENSE OF DIRECTION: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, which I just reviewed over at Shiny Book Review. This is a book that’s partly a coming of age treatise for Lewis-Kraus himself due to his difficult relationship with his openly gay rabbi father, but mostly a reflection on the need for modern-day pilgrimages — both internal ones, and external ones.

Of course, the three pilgrimages Lewis-Kraus does are all external — the first one he does is the Camino de Santiago (colloquially called “the Camino”), the second to the 88 Temples of Shikoku, a circular pilgrimage, and finally he goes to Uman with his father and brother, Micah, to take part in the Orthodox Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah despite the fact that the Orthodox Jews don’t approve of gay men (or women) and that Lewis-Kraus isn’t particularly religious, though he is spiritual. This latter pilgrimage has the most to do with Lewis-Kraus’s coming of age narrative, but lest you think that’s all Lewis-Kraus has in store for you, think again . . . there are meditations on the greedy people of Uman (who live for a full year off the proceeds of these Orthodox Jewish men’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah), how the Orthodox men have only this one safety valve all year to look forward to, and how Lewis-Kraus’s father the gay rabbi seems to have the most compassion for them, all while wondering how anyone can put up with the cynical people of Uman.

A SENSE OF DIRECTION is a moving work of non-fiction that feels palpably real and makes clear the need for pilgrimages even in the modern era. It’s also bitingly funny, trenchant, honest to a fault, and shows the troubles even an extremely intelligent man can have in attempting to claim his adult self.

Simply put: go read my review, then go read the book, soonest. (You’ll be glad you did.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Just Reviewed Kowal’s Alternate Regencies; Fun Stuff

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Folks, as it’s July 5, 2012, and I’d promised the Shiny Book Review faithful a new review or two, I just reviewed both of Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternate Regencies, SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY and GLAMOUR IN GLASS.  Check out my review of both books here.

Now, what is it about the Regency period that makes for such great fantasy material?  In addition to Kowal’s two novels, I’ve seen several other really fine writers do some interesting things with either the Austen canon (not merely PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which I viewed as kitsch, but Sarah A. Hoyt and Sofie Skapski’s excellent A TOUCH OF NIGHT, which incorporates Weres — shapechanging into animals — into PRIDE AND PREJUDICE without a hitch) or with the milieu itself (the two books by André Norton and Rosemary Edghill that comprise CAROLUS REX, THE SHADOW OF ALBION and LEOPARD IN EXILE, are both excellent).

I think the main reason novelists in and out of the romance genre have returned to this milieu is because of how unusual it seems to us in modern-day society.  The Regency era was much more formal in its speech than present-day English-speaking society, at least when it comes to middle class people and above.  The fashions people wore were much different.  The way people thought then has diverged just enough from today that it makes for fascinating reading . . . yet it’s not so far in the past that we have no referents whatsoever.

So my guess is, there’s a mixture of familiarity in what we see in the Regency period — comfort, if you will — and unfamiliarity, and that’s what these excellent novelists see in it.  Because if you’re writing fantasy, and you can come up with a great way to incorporate a fantasy element into this interesting, turbulent time, why not do it?

At any rate, if you love Jane Austen, love Austen pastiches, love Austen-inspired works, or simply love the Regency Era with fantasy idea as a whole, you’ll get a kick out of Kowal’s two alternate Regencies as they’re fun, fast, faithful reads that don’t cheat the reader.  But do yourself a favor, please:  read these other great books I’ve referenced, too, even if you have to go to the library to read the Norton-Edghill collaborations.  (You’ll be glad you did.)

Long-time Member of Brewers Grounds Crew Dies During Sunday’s Game

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Folks, this is a terribly sad story . . . one I wish I didn’t have to pass on.

During the start of yesterday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Miller Park’s grounds crew lead, Jeff Adcock, died in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen of an apparent heart attack.  Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful; he was transported to Froedtert Hospital in West Allis, where he was pronounced dead.  Adcock was only fifty-one years old, and had worked for the Milwaukee Brewers organization since the age of eighteen.

This link from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel will give you more about this sad story, but here’s perhaps the most important quote:

“We are all saddened by the news of Jeff’s passing,” said Bob Quinn, Brewers executive vice president. “He was a part of our organization for many years, and was a fixture during games in our bullpen area. Jeff developed many friendships with our uniformed staff, and he will be missed by all of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Well said, Mr. Quinn.

As you might expect, the Brewers organization and the Brewers players (the bullpen personnel in particular) are taking the loss of Mr. Adcock particularly hard.  Here’s a link to that story, and a relevant quote from pitcher John Axford:

“He was in the bullpen all the time,” said closer John Axford. “Everyone had a good time down there with him. We had special handshakes with him. We liked to see his attempt at basketball moves. He was always there to open the door for you when you come in the game.

“He always wore these gigantic Chuck Taylors (basketball shoes). This year, he wasn’t wearing them, though. So Kam (Loe) bought him so new shoes and he wore them.”

Now, why did this happen?  Perhaps we’ll never know, but pitcher Tim Dillard has a good observation:

“None of us knew what really happened,” said Dillard. “The paramedics got there quick. We were just talking to him and he collapsed. You wonder if there was something you could have done but that’s just human nature. There was nothing we could do. It’s very sad.”

That it is, Mr. Dillard.  That it is.

Here’s a few more words from the second article (with one name inserted by me):

The grounds crew workers will wear a “JA” patch on their uniforms for the remainder of the season. The Brewers relievers also took a huge flower arrangement down to the bullpen before the game Monday night against Miami with a ribbon inscribed “In Memory of Jeff Adcock.

“He was an awesome guy to be around,” said (pitcher Kameron) Loe. “He did anything we needed him to do. He loved his job. He loved being down there. We’ll definitely miss him. When somebody passes away so suddenly like that, you can’t believe it.

“We all loved him down there. Our hearts and prayers definitely go out to their family. I’m sure they’re stunned. Nobody saw it coming. It’s an extremely hard thing to swallow.”

That it is, Mr. Loe.  And I wish I had some answers for you as to why these things happen, but I don’t.  The best I can do is give you the following advice, for whatever it’s worth: cherish the life of your fallen friend.  Honor his memory.  Remember the good times, and even remember the bad times (if he ever shared any), because that’s how you can best remember your friend as he was — as the good person he undoubtedly was, the one who shared so much with you, the one who knew you well and wanted to make you laugh.

Remember him as he was.  But do remember him, because the longer you can remember — and remember as accurately as possible — at least a part of your friend has lived on within you.

I have great sympathy for everyone who knew Jeff Adcock, including the Brewers players and coaches, the grounds crew staff, and every member of the Brewers organization who ever came into contact with him.  A loss that’s this sudden, for no apparent reason, is one that’s very tough to bear, and I hope that remembering your friend as he was — alive, happy, and glad to be doing a job he enjoyed — will help somehow to lighten your grief.

And finally — if there is a positive afterlife (which I strongly believe there is), I truly hope Mr. Adcock is there, is at peace, and is getting reacquainted with all of those friends and family members who may have passed on before him.  Because sooner or later, he will reunite with his friends again, in that place, and ’tis said that all the grief we feel now will be transmuted on that day to pure joy.  I know that doesn’t help anyone who mourns Mr. Adcock now — it doesn’t help me much, when it comes to mourning my friend Jeff or my wonderful husband Michael — but as it’s the only source of potential comfort in this situation, I can’t help but proffer it in the hopes that it may somehow help someone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Ben Sheets Signed by Atlanta Braves to Minor League Deal

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Folks, Ben Sheets’ comeback is official, as he’s been signed by the Atlanta Braves to a minor league deal as of last evening (Sunday, July 1, 2012).  Here’s a quote from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, which is here:

“We’re getting a guy who is a four-time All-Star and there is nothing wrong with his arm,” Wren said. “You have a quality major league pitcher prior to the deadline without having to give up any talent. It really is the best of all worlds.”

Sheets is scheduled to make at least two starts in Double-A Mississippi, largely because it’s only 90 minutes from his home in Louisiana. He’ll go five innings or 75 pitches on Wednesday, then six innings or 90 pitches in a start after that. If all goes well, the Braves think he could be ready shortly after the All-Star break.

This all bodes well for Sheets, as the Braves’ team philosophy is one Sheets can get behind.  Plus, the Braves obviously haven’t forgotten the fact that Sheets once struck out eighteen of them on May 17, 2004 and seem to want Sheets on their side if he can indeed make a comeback a la former Milwaukee Brewers teammate (and pitcher) Chris Capuano.

Best of luck, Ben, with your comeback efforts.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm