Saturday, August 7, 2021

My Top Twenty-One All-Time Favorite Romance Reads

I don't know about you, but I find it impossible to answer any of the what's-your-favorite questions. Favorite movie? Favorite food? Favorite song? And the list goes on.… Recently, I've been wondering...could I, the impassioned reader of nearly 3,400 romance books, choose one absolute favorite book?! A single book?! Oh, the pressure! Just when I thought I might be able to, I'd think of another amazing favorite, and then another. 

Sheesh. Fuhgeddaboudit! Why should I choose just one? Who's making the rules here?! HAH, me!  Soooo...essentially these twenty-one books are all considered romance (I've decided that a series about the same couple counts as one very long book. I made a further exception to one of the series because I couldn't pick just one. 😊). However, they fall into several different sub-genres: contemporary, erotic, suspense, new adult, historical, and paranormal. 

These remarkable and memorable books are all tagged as favorites in my database, if I read them since I've been doing my yearly favorites post they are on it, they are all books I have re-read (and/or re-listened to), and, most importantly, they are all books "I get lost in; the ones that while reading, I lose all track of time; the ones that evoke the strongest emotions; the ones that make me laugh, cry, blush, gasp, and sigh." (<----That is the description I use every year in those year-end favorites lists.) 

Another detail that shows how much I love a book is when I do whatever it takes to get a signed paperback. Of course, I wish I had signed copies of all of them, but I am thrilled to have the twelve that I do. I will attempt to describe why each of them means so much to me. I realize that only a couple are super well-known, but popularity wasn't a consideration in them achieving my highest regard and long-term affection. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

The books are listed alphabetically by the authors' last names.

Catching Caden, book one in The Perfect Game Series by Samantha Christy, turned out to be the perfect love story. I have major league feels for Caden & Murphy—their beautiful and meaningful slow burn friends-to-lovers romance hit a home run and left me feeling gloriously smitten. *swoons* I am no sports fan, but I truly loved this remarkable romance in every way. I loved it so much that I bought it after reading it in Kindle Unlimited last August and then bought and listened to the Audible book! And maybe someday I'll have a signed copy, too!

When it comes to choosing my favorite sub-genre of romance it's always been my first instinct to say romantic suspense. It's also first instinct to think of Pamela Clare, who writes stellar romantic suspense, as well as contemporary and historical romance. Striking Distance is book #6 in her highly rated I-Team Series and was published in November 2013. After reading about Javier Corbray and Laura Nilsson as the featured couple in the sizzling novella, "First Strike," I was eager for Striking Distance to be released the following month. Let me tell you, this is one on-the-edge-of-your-seat story. There's a level of authenticity to the military and war time reporting that reads like this is absolutely what it would be like! Of course, Pamela Clare was an investigative reporter and newspaper editor, so she's got the chops! I can't imagine the amount of research and knowledge she has, given how superbly she writes the details of these dangerous occupations. This is definitely a gritty story with some horrendous events that left me gasping. But after all of that suspenseful stuff came the development of a relationship built from respect, trust, empathy, devotion, and ultimately a hard-earned lasting love. Whew! I get all choked up just recalling how special Javier and Laura are. It's a book that's so good I wanted to listen after I read, which I did when I got the Audible version adeptly narrated by Kaleo Griffith. Striking Distance went the distance, and it more than earned its place here.

Worth the Fall is such a beautifully done heartwarming and emotional story. One would think it was written by an established author but nope. Claudia Connor wrote this stunner on her first go. Talk about an impressive debut! Matt McKinney (Currently #4 on my Best Book Boyfriend List), Abby Davis, and her children were written with so much heart they pulled every (heart)string I had. It was one of those rare books that I literally could not put down. Staying up all night was the only emotional decision to be made. (Pshaw on being practical!) There were precisely the right amounts of conflict, worry, and insecurity. So when these two beautiful souls finally got beyond those real world struggles, I wept with joy! Yes, tears. Lots of real tears. Totally worth every_single_one. Claudia Connor continued writing heartfelt stories. You should read them...oh, and listen to the audiobooks. 😚

Do you have times like I do when nothing but a good dark romance will do? Well, out of the many (hundred-ish?) I've read, none have filled whatever perverse need I have like The Monster in His Eyes Trilogy by J.M. Darhower. I first read The Monster in His Eyes in a few hours in October 2014. What?! It was over already?! I was like gimme more Naz and Karissa now! I immediately bought and read Torture to Her Soul on_the_same_day! The following April I bought and listened to the Audible version of book one. (Disappointingly, no audio versions were released for books 2 & 3). Target on Our Backs was such an unexpected surprise. When I had finished Torture to Her Soul, I hadn't thought there was a need for another book. What was I thinking?! Of course there was, and J.M. Darhower must have known it. I dove headfirst back into the dark world of Ignazio Vitale and Karissa Reed. And, just like that (*snaps*) I was done and missing them already! I thought Karissa was naive thinking Naz had become less dangerous (not me, I knew better), but he was still inherently Ignazio. All I know is that I have read them a few times, and Naz still gives me the chills. (Effective, yeah?) Oh, and that man is salaciously lethal, even with a pen and a belt. Not dangerous, my backside! If you're wanting to know tropes, here you go...mafia, age gap, forbidden love, and accidental pregnancy. Let yourself go to the dark side for this series. For a "monster" like Naz, I'm should be, too!

The year was 2012, and there was a new erotic romance book heating up my Goodreads feeds. It was about six weeks after its release, and my curiosity was more than piqued. Needless to say, I caved and went for it. I could not have expected the journey that this 5-book series would lead me on. That book that had set the romance world on "fire" was the first book in the Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day. Bared to You and the subsequent books, Reflected in You, Entwined with You, Captivated by You, and One with You—feature the dazzling disaster of a couple, Gideon Cross and Eva Trammell. If ever there was a couple with a load of (designer) baggage it's these two. Individually, I don't know which of them had the most damaging childhood. Together, I think they fight nearly as much to be together as they fight with each other. If you want conflict to spice things up, then look no further than these two hot messes. Now, you may be thinking it doesn't read like I even like these books. Well, you'd be reading me completely wrong because I'm absolutely crazy about Gideon and Eva! An over-the-top fictional couple like Mr. Cross and Ms. Trammell deserve my jubilant devotion. So here it is. I've read the books and listened to the audiobooks several times. Even when I'm losing my patience with them, I'm wishing them all the peace, joy, and happy-ever-afters fictionally possible. They're super rich. They can do anything. They don't need anyone else. They should just run away, and I don't know, go hang out in a tree house and make love all day every day. Yeah, that sounds perfect! Gawd, I love 'em. 🥰

You know that phrase, "the one that started it all"? Well, Outlander is that one for me. The book that started my adult onset passion and absolute predilection for romantic fiction. To this day, nearly 30 years after first reading it, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser continues to be my #1 book boyfriend. Yes, I've read all eight novels (novellas, too) in the Outlander series. I've listened to the first three audiobooks, and I eagerly await each upcoming season of the Starz series, but this first taste of the Outlander universe remains my favorite. I've read it three times and surely will want to revisit it again. I think of all the books I've read (about 5,000), this series has got to be the hardest to genre-fy. Let's see, it's historical fiction (with real historic events featured), it's science fiction, it's fantasy, and finally, it's romance. The word "epic" fits for the entire saga but especially to the cross century love that Jamie and Claire have. When Jamie says things like: “Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you're mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” AND this: “Does it ever stop? The wanting you? Even when I've just left ye. I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.” *swoons* Thanks to the Queen, Diana Gabaldon, for her decades of commitment and dedication to all things Outlander.

I feel very sentimental about On the Island. I'm not exactly sure what part of this remarkable debut novel has influenced these feelings, but there is this one especially powerful scene that caused the most intensely soul-crushing reaction when I read it (and still did when I recently reread the book). That's some impressive writing! I feel that from the opening line to the last sentence, this book is as close to perfectly plotted and paced as is possible. It's ideally balanced between setup, character introduction, the passage of time on the island, and life following their rescue. The young hero, T.J., and his tutor, Anna, are characters to empathize with, to care about, to root for, and to love. Tracey Garvis-Graves is a very gracious author. She shows her gratitude to her readers, and we show her our appreciation without hesitation. Nine outstanding books and counting. I have loved them all and On the Island was my first. 

War is horrendous, and to be the setting for a romance novel takes some genius writing skills. Jane Harvey-Berrick displayed those skills from beginning to end in Battle Scars. Marine Corps Sergeant Jackson Connor and foreign correspondent, Margaret Jean (MJ) Buckman, are such remarkable and heroic characters. Their degrees of dedication to their jobs and then to each other are impressive to say the least. Throughout the story I found myself crying, not only for what was happening in the lives of MJ and Jackson, but also over the author’s inclusion of actual devastating historical events. Jane's melding of fact and fiction is seamlessly done. One thing that stands out to me is how realistic and sensible the conversations between Jackson and MJ are. The author doesn't have them conversing like a romantic hero and heroine. They feel like real people in real situations, quite often breathtakingly dangerous situations. It's not all dirt and danger, though. There are humorous moments, strong platonic friendships, close-knit family interactions, and romantic & sexy encounters. I consider Battle Scars my favorite book of 2017 (out of 280!). Recently, when my long awaited reread was possible between the actual printed pages of a personalized author-signed paperback, well, it made the story even that much more meaningful.

I am so not a fantasy girl. I think of myself as a literal reader. Fairly consistently while watching or reading fantasy, I scoff and make light of so many of the make-believe things I find so unbelievably, well, unreal. So you might want to ask how is it that this vampire fantasy series ends up an all-time favorite? Well, to me the answer is just this: Elizabeth Hunter. She’s the reason. Oh, and her oh-so smexy fire vampire, Giovanni Vecchio? I wouldn’t kick him outta bed for scorching the crackers! The Elemental Mysteries world and characters she has created never seem to leave me feeling anything but delighted to be spending time with them. Giovanni, Beatrice, and their entire "family" (preternatural and human) all speak to me; and the part that blows me away is that I get them. I understand their motivations for the most part, and that thrills me. I can love fantasy. Elizabeth Hunter proves it to me with every book of hers. Giovanni and Beatrice are such a fascinating couple. One very vampire and one…not. With lots of intelligent dialogue, perfectly placed humor, fantastical world building, exotic locales, those oh-so necessary bits of conflict, and some steamy hot, sexy times how could I not want to revisit A Hidden Fire, This Same Earth, The Force of Wind, and A Fall of Water again and again?

No books I've ever read have offered me such diametrically opposing emotions of pleasure and grief than the Fifty Shades Series. Fifty shades worth? Hmm. Pleasure from reading my very first erotic romances featuring BDSM and being absolutely drawn into the world of Christian and Ana. Grief over the mass public hysteria and condemnation because erotic romance finally hit the mainstream. Especially with such unassuming covers and titles. I don't think that those of us who are avid romance readers were horrified. Maybe a little shocked? It definitely wasn't the end of the world. Sheesh, relax, they're fiction! And, I still think very romantic. I wrote quite the review of the initial three books (from Ana's perspective) when I read them in 2012. If you're at all interested, it can be found here. If you check out that review you'll see that I read Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed ELEVEN TIMES EACH! Holy crap! I was completely enraptured with them. I've since calmed down quite a bit; but anytime I think of the series, I get a bit sentimental. Besides reading the books again, I can get my fix of Christian and Ana by watching the movies and listening to my 100-song Fifty Shades playlist (which I have, many times!). I have also listened to the audiobooks; I was extremely disappointed with the narration in the original trilogy but loved Zachary Webber's narration of Christian's books. Waiting for E.L. James to complete the three books (Grey, Darker, & Freed) as told by Christian; and, well, they were definitely worth the wait. The reasons for some of his mercurial thoughts and behaviors were uncovered. Finally! I have a lasting affinity for Christian and Ana; and knowing they're settled and all is right in their world makes me unrealistically happy!

The Ravenels Series (Cold Hearted Rake, Marrying Winterbourne, Devil in Spring, Hello Stranger, Devil's Daughter, and Chasing Cassandra) by Lisa Kleypas—ah, how much do I love them? Let me count the ways. 1) They're filled with delightful, colorful characters. 2) There are commitment phobic rakes who fall hard for their lady loves. 3) Those aforementioned lady loves are all bright, open-minded, intelligent, compassionate, loving, and unaware of their very pleasing appearances. 4) Reading as the heroes fall under the charms of their heroines is just so much fun! (Goody-goody, hand-clapping, and giant-smiling kinds of fun! I recall some serious swooning on my part, too.) 5) And if reading the books wasn't enough fun, I then listened to the audiobooks (this all done via my library's digital collection). OH MY GOODNESS! The narrator of the entire series is freaking fantastic! (I have yet to read the 7th book, Devil in Disguise, but have it on hold.) The written stories that I loved so much were brought to life very vividly and flawlessly by Mary Jane Wells. They are beyond-description good! When I was gifted an Audible 12-month subscription while on a free month, can you guess which books were my first acquisition? You betcha. I got all of them and listened again! Honestly, I'm much more of a contemporary romance reader. I do make exceptions and am beyond ecstatic I made one for this series. Undoubtedly, it is my favorite historical romance series ever!

This is an updated cover, and it's throwing me off. Oh, not from the story. I will love that no matter the cover. Rock Me (Ross Siblings #2) by Cherrie Lynn, introduced me to the hot rocker/tattoo artist Brian Ross. And let me tell you, he is dreamy! There is the little thing about him being a heavy metal guy and me being more of an alternative rock girl; but I have never let that diminish my crush on him. There are many details that make this book one of my top favorites. One, of course, is Brian. Another is that I like and empathize with Candace, the heroine. There is the fact that it is a bit of a forbidden love trope. I really appreciate the realism that comes across in the characters and their lives—daily real life kinds of struggles, family prejudices issues, critical decision making—you know, stuff we can all relate to. There are lots of setbacks and heartbreak on the road to Brian and Candace going from casual acquaintances to a super hot and committed couple. They had to prioritize and compromise, and that made them even more relatable. It is another story that came to life with amazing narration. Alix Dale did a fantastic job voicing both Brian and Candace in the audiobook. Hooray to another way to enjoy this story!

The Blackstone Affair Series
(Naked, All In, Eyes Wide Open, and Rare and Precious Things) has a powerful pull on me. It draws me back in every few months, and I can't imagine resisting that pull. Ethan James Blackstone and Brynne Bennett have my ever-loving and overflowing devotion. Ethan Blackstone, is a filthy-mouthed, sexed-up, um, gentleman? Yes, ma'am!  He is ultra charming and divinely vocal with his intentions, which happens to be exactly what beautiful, damaged Brynne needs. They've each survived horrific damage to body and soul and not without lingering effects. I saw the following quote and thought of these characters immediately: "Everyone comes with baggage. Find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack." That is exactly what they do for each other! These books were the very first of my "trinity" books. I have them in Kindle, Audible, and signed paperback; and they've been well loved! I've read and reread. Listened and re-listened. Imagine loving a series so much that you've listened to them TWELVE TIMES! Yep, that's me and I'm not embarrassed—even a little. Raine Miller created Ethan in the image of British supermodel, David Gandy—perfect choice in the looks department. Oh yeah. By the number of times I've listened to the audiobooks you can probably tell I think they chose the perfect narrators, too. Shane East is the only one who could be the voice of Ethan and Grace Grant was the ideal Brynne. The only way to make this series more desirable to me is to release more books! I follow Raine Miller online everywhere, and she's mentioned at least one more book is in the works. Ooooooh, more Ethan and Brynne! *claps excitedly*

I've read my fair share of student-teacher romances but none more fine than this debut novel by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake. I think the author created a character that is in a class of herself in Maise. I believe it's Maise that sets the tone for the entirety of Unteachable. I was impressed by her character's fortitude, bravery, intelligence, and prodigious vocabulary. Her observations, descriptions, and dialogue are quite astute, and her and Evan's sexual chemistry is off the charts. This keenly written book inspired me to highlight a great number of passages and to reread and re-listen to the audiobook numerous times. Unteachable is not a lighthearted romance but it is certainly a thought provoking one. I should mention that Maise is a very mature, jaded eighteen-year-old when she hooks up with the handsome older, Evan, at the beginning of the book. Little did they know... 

Let me start out by saying that CD Reiss is a word wizard. Some call her the "Shakespeare of Smut." I consider her a genius. I mean, she wrote this book about a detrimentally superstitious baseball player who woos and kinda strings along an elementary school librarian. What's there to love in that? Well, loads, if you go by how many times I have reread and re-listened to the audiobook. I'll reiterate, I don't do sports. I am not a baseball fan, but I am most definitely a fan of Dash and Vivian, the hero and heroine of Hardball. I also love Vivian's Jewish step-father, her students, the author's description of Los Angeles, and the camaraderie of the team. But let's be honest, the main reason I love Hardball is the undeniable chemistry between Dash and Vivian. Vivian is straight-up a good woman, a good daughter, a good student advocate. Dash, if nothing else, is honest. He's also always been strictly about baseball. I appreciate very much how the author wrote his struggle to do right by his game while doing right by Vivian. It's called compromise, people! That's one of my favorite themes in a romance. Let's see more, please. I'll just leave my comment after my first time reading it right here. ------> "Hardball covered all the bases and hit a home run with that epilogue. I'm done for. LOVED IT!" ⚾

How to describe such a lush, grand, cultural, and passionate series? Well, those descriptors are a start, but the Gabriel's Inferno Series (Gabriel's Inferno, Gabriel's Rapture, Gabriel's Redemption, and Gabriel's Promise ) is so much more. It's indescribably romantic and filled with literature, art, music, and Professor Emerson. Granted, he's a bit of an ass to start; but he redeems himself—in regards to Julianne, anyway. Ah, Julianne, his brown-eyed angel...she's sweet and kind, but she matures and doesn't put up with his snobbery and hot temper. There is much Gabriel, being The Professor and all, can teach Julia. And he does, but he also makes a good student when it comes to learning the art of being kind from Julia. The books have a huge fan base around the world. There are extremely active communities of Gabriel's Inferno devotees in many countries, including the United States. The author, Sylvain Reynard, interacts a great deal with us. SR is very gracious, indeed. I have read the books and listened to the audiobooks. My next read will be between the pages of my signed copies. Not only can I read and listen to the audiobooks, but because Passionflix optioned the series, I can watch the movies! That is, I can watch parts one, two, and three (5.5 hours!) of Gabriel's Inferno which have premiered; but Gabriel's Rapture is in post production, and we "Passionistas" are super eager about that! I'm particularly thrilled, as these were the only books I recommended to Passionflix; and I am thrilled they listened to me! 😉

It's been nine years since I first read The Witness. I have read and listened to the audiobook (Julia Whelan's narration is superb!) several times since. I still find it remarkable that it is Nora Roberts' 200th book! It's another story that stirs nostalgic feelings, which every so often leads me to download it back into my Audible app for another visit with Abigail/Elizabeth and Brooks. Those two...they just hit all my happy buttons. I wrote a really gushy review back in 2012. If you're interested, you can find it here. This book has fascinating plot lines involving Elizabeth's restrictive childhood, her act of rebellion and its repercussions, her character's evolution, character introductions, and character interaction. The dynamic between uptight genius Abigail and levelheaded Brooks is the perfect coupling. The delicious banter that ensues is captivatingly clever! The Witness is an all-around exceptional romantic suspense.

The Search by Nora Roberts—gosh, I get so lost in this one! The suspense aspect is quite chilling. The heroine, Fiona, is capable, driven, focused, and quick-witted. She trains dogs and does volunteer search and rescue. Dogs, you say?! Yes, there are lots of dogs! Then the most adorable grouchy hero and his pesky puppy are introduced into the mix. I love grumpy Simon and his trouble making Jaws! When Simon and Fiona meet it's so enjoyable; but when things become seriously dangerous, they, along with her dogs and close friends, become a vigilant unit to protect her. What a team! The way the entire group puts protection in place is brilliantly choreographed. To have a posse like that would be amazing! There are a lot of those extraordinary Nora Roberts conversations where each comeback is the perfect reply. The book is an immensely gratifying romantic suspense. More suspense than romance but what's there is quite satisfying. The audiobook is very good, too!

Carnal Innocence has been a favorite since I first read it in 1992! I've read it five times since and listened to the audiobook a couple of times, too. It's definitely an oldie and a goodie! It is a bit dated, but I think it's still relevant. Confession time: overall, I am not a fan of a Southern accent. That said, I will also confess that when Tucker Longstreet, our Southern hero of the story, utters his first, "Yes'm," I_was_charmed! Dang, he's so affable, generous, handsome, and, yes, charming, too. He just warrants being adored; and he is, by most everyone except the new-to-town Yankee, Caroline Waverly. She's not all! Some pretty awful doings are going on in and around his small town of Innocence, Mississippi. Of course, Tucker and Caroline end up in the middle of those awful doings. Still, what develops is some of the most entertaining flirting in my romance-reading history. The way Nora Roberts sets the tone for each of the main themes—the romancing and the suspense—is masterful. And I'm not about to write off this treasure because it's a bit outdated. No, ma'am, it's deserving of my constancy.

Of the twenty-one books on this list, Family Blessings by LaVyrle Spencer affects me the most emotionally. Another way to put that is, it induced the most ugly crying. This is a major tearjerker! The loss that Lee Reston suffers is the most heartbreaking kind. Christopher Lallek comes bearing the most horrible news but ends up coming to Lee's rescue...repeatedly. (He currently holds the #2 spot on my Best Book Boyfriends List!) My first reading occurred in 1995 with a paperback copy I bought at the Waldenbooks across the street from where I worked. I read that paperback three times, each time bawling my eyes out. Years went by without reading it, when in 2013 I bought the Kindle version. I read it, and...queue the waterworks, again. Then in 2017 while cruising our local library's fundraising store, there on the front table was a hardcover copy in pristine condition for one dollar! Of course, I snatched it up, and once again, reading it reduced me to sobbing. How gifted a writer LaVyrle Spencer was to instill this kind of tearful devotion! All of her books were meaningful and relied on the realism of family life, but Family Blessings? I feel it is in a class by itself. It's not entirely tear-inducing. Oh, no. There was much to feel positive about, and I think it concludes very splendidly. 🥰

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) by Tammara Webber was my very first new adult read. I knew it was really special then; but nine years and about 150 new adult books later, and it remains the most special. I reread that Kindle edition; and in September 2013 I won a signed copy, which I read a couple of years ago. I think the manner in which we were introduced to Lucas, how he made his subsequent brief appearances, and finally, how he started to stick around really gave him an air of mystery. Couple that with his tattoos and lip-ring, and I feel that initial impression just didn't fit with his innate goodness. (Lucas currently holds the #3 spot on my Best Book Boyfriends List.) There are several difficult themes dealt with in Easy, which I feel the author handled remarkably well. The story has a real world quality to it. Some of it is raw and frightening. Some of it is subtle and thought provoking. The characters of Jacqueline and Lucas are exceptionally intuitive, empathetic, and intelligent. He notices much more about her than her looks, and she discovers much more lies beneath his looks. Easy is easy to love!

Well, that's my list. I'm extremely curious. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are the things that make a book a favorite of yours? What are some of your favorite romances? Any books you are looking forward to reading? Do you strictly read or do you do listen to audiobooks? Or both, like I do? Thank you so much for checking out my love list of books!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Creating a Digital Archive of Your Belongings

How much do you treasure your belongings? Your memories? Do you think about what would happen if you lost them? If they were destroyed? Are you considering downsizing and wonder how they will fit in your future smaller life?

My story may help you to decide if creating a digital archive is something for you to consider. I was someone who alternated from moving fairly frequently to staying in one home for many years. As is fairly typical, I acquired more stuff in each place I lived. I received various types of correspondence. I took photographs. I bought furniture and other home goods. I was also the family historian and ended up with thousands of documents, photographs, and collectibles. I lived in fairly large houses, mainly because of all the things my family and I had. (You may want to read the entry, "Lightening Your Life by Downsizing." It specifically addresses the whys and how-tos of dispersing your belongings.) In my case, I was moving from a house into a recreational vehicle, but I was certain I wanted to be able to reminisce over the special things that were physically no longer with me in future years. So I decided to make digital records of those things that meant the most to me before I recycled, donated, or passed them on to my daughter. I refer to this 3-month epic event as “The largest scanning/reading/shredding project in the history of the world!”

Below is a dramatic visual comparison of what my physical "paper" life looked like BEFORE (five file drawers and two under-the-bed plastic totes full of cards and letters) and AFTER, with my critically important "keepers" (one accordion file). The rest of the documents, records, letters, etc. were scanned, saved to my computer and Dropbox, and either shredded, recycled, or given to my daughter.

If you are considering or have already decided that you want to have a digital record of your belongings for whatever reason (e.g., a renter's or homeowner's insurance claim record), there are many options available to you to accomplish just that. If you're wanting or needing to move forward without them, it basically comes down to how you can keep the memories of the special things you have without actually having those things. The answer may be to create a digital archive of those items.

If you've read this far you're probably at least considering digitizing your memories. Here are three things you'll need at minimum. You'll need a computer, a scanner, and a backup. If you also have a smartphone, that's a HUGE bonus; but a smartphone alone without a computer is not sufficient because you likely can't put all of your documents on it. If you have a smartphone and not a scanner, you can use a scanning app on your phone and export the scans to your computer or a cloud service.

Say you already have or plan to acquire the necessary equipment. How will you want to back up, view, and share your photos, scans, and videos? Do you want your photos grouped in albums? Would you like to add descriptions and/or tags? There are photo album apps for your mobile device that will let you do that. However, if you later decide to change from one operating system to another, all of that work probably won't be transferable. Another option is photo and video hosting services, such as Google Photos, Amazon Photos, or Flickr. Currently, with Flickr's Free account, you can store and share up to a maximum of 1,000 photos and up to 3-minute long videos in albums with titles, descriptions, and tags. If you choose to pay the $60 yearly Flickr Pro account fee, you'd have advertising-free unlimited storage of full resolution photos, up to 10-minute long videos, plus other benefits. (I've been a Flickr user since 2006 and find their features and flexibility unmatched elsewhere.) For videos, YouTube is the king because it's free to use with unlimited storage. However, you don't actually have to share your videos; you can upload unlimited videos and keep them private. As the Google account holder, you can view and download them; also, if you choose to, you can share your private videos with up to 50 friends or family members, as long as they have a Google/YouTube account. If you have enough drive space on your computer, you can save scans, photos, and videos to your computer, as well. If you decide to do that, I can't stress enough how important it is to also back them up elsewhere. Something like an external drive is better than not backing up at all, but they can fail, as can internal computer drives. Then where would you be?! So, in addition to your computer drive and possible external drive, I would recommend a cloud service, of which there are many! (I decided upon Dropbox in 2011 and have never considered another. Personally, I find that their multi-platform interface, flexibility, and a long list of features make them stand out as the service with the most value.)

Below is the Windows Directory on my laptop showing the document folders and sub-folders I created for saving my scanned letters. It also shows what it looks like with chronological dating by year, month, day, sender name, and the number of pages. This is my preference, but you may prefer something different. (Click on the image to see the larger readable version.)

So, what things are worth making a digital record of? Well, the things that hold the most importance to you may be worth it. The things you would miss if you no longer had them may be worth it. The things that will help you remember important details of your life may be worth it. The things you might need to reference in the future may be worth it. Only you can decide which of your belongings are that important to you. Here are some of the items I decided were that important to me.

 1.) Important documents (e.g. driver licenses; Social Security cards; vital records; insurance, banking, and credit info; ownership records, etc.).

 2.) Employment Records.

 3.) School Records.

 4.) Medical Records (including all immediate family members and animals).

 5.) Receipts and Warranty Info.

 6.) Photographs.

 7.) Cards, letters, printed emails, and instant messages.

 8.) Genealogy Records. (Being the family historian made these a huge priority for me.)

 9.) Handcrafts and artwork created by myself and my immediate family.

10.) Select furniture pieces, collectibles, books, special articles of clothing, and personal mementos.

From my personal experiences of being the family photographer, genealogist, archivist, and basically the holder and protector of everything, I've learned some things that may be helpful to anyone wanting to efficiently and accurately make a digital record of their life. Following are some steps that helped me in my deadline-induced frenzy to create an organized and easily accessed digital archive for myself in three short months.

1.) Prioritize your efforts based on the time you have to finish.

2.) Organize those priority items by the project, i.e. things to scan (e.g., photos and other documents), things to photograph (e.g., 3-dimensional items), and things to video (e.g., collections and items with a detailed history you want to narrate).

3.) Outline what you plan to do with each item (group) once you've created its digital file. Do you want to keep it, sell it, gift it, recycle it, or destroy (trash or shred) it?

4.) Have your plan written down with the desired completion date as a goal to get it done!

5.) Set aside time as often as possible to work on the project. Make it a priority.

6.) Be organized! I can't stress enough how important this will ultimately be to your project's smooth completion.

7.) Determine how you want to name and file your scans, images, and videos on your computer. Be consistent about your naming of files, folders, and subfolders. Do you want them filed chronologically, alphabetically, or by importance? For example, if you have a lot of correspondence from different sources you want to save, you can create a Folder called Correspondence, and then save the individual letters by the source's name or initials, and then the YYYY-MM-DD to keep them grouped alphabetically by sender and then chronological. Now, if you've already sorted and organized your letters by sender, you'll have an idea of how many of them you want to scan or photograph. If you have a lot of letters from one sender, you may want to create a subfolder with that source's name on it. Then saving each letter by date will keep them chronologically ordered within that folder if you name them using a format something like this: "YYYY-MM-DD title of document" (see this National Archives article about file naming). If you have multiple page letters or documents that you don't want to edit, scan them as a single PDF document.

8.) When scanning, be sure to choose a common file naming format, such as JPG, GIF, PDF, or PNG (i.e. screenshots). JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs can be opened and easily edited by many different apps, programs, and online image editors. Editing PDFs will require different alternatives. There are several options available, including a paid Adobe Acrobat subscription, some versions of Microsoft Word, or any of the multiple online free editors. (PDFs are generally considered the best option for reading, printing, and conserving your original formatting.) I recommend not relying on a proprietary app or photo editing program because you'd always need to have that specific program to open your documents. (For example, I use Corel Paintshop Pro to scan, edit, and save images, but I never save images only using their proprietary .psp extension.)

9.) Use an assembly line technique to keep things going at a steady pace. That will also help you to not forget an important step. I found it helped me speed things along when I used the following order when scanning and saving my files.

a) Scan item.

b) Save to the desired location, naming it to finalize the save.

c) If you want to, are able to, or have the time, you can do minor editing (like cropping, removing minor damage, sharpening, etc.) However, you can always plan to do editing later.

d) Save any updates.

e) Copy>Paste to whatever previously selected external drive and/or cloud or hosting service.

f) After being sure all documents and items are saved to all locations, shred, recycle, or set aside object for whomever you are giving them away to.

g) Congratulate yourself when done, and reward yourself by enjoying the fruits of your labor!

To give you an idea of how you can store, annotate, and potentially share images on Flickr, here are a couple of albums I created featuring historical family items. 1) Family Heirlooms and Collectibles and 2) Vintage Postcards.

Above is an example of how a narrated video can capture the story behind treasured keepsakes.

[If you have trouble viewing this embedded video, you may view it directly on YouTube here:]

So, even though all of my current belongings fit into one 5th-wheel RV bedroom suite and one deck trunk I can open the secure Dropbox app on my iPhone and take a virtual stroll down memory lane, reminiscing with the tens-of-thousands of photos, videos, documents, letters, etc. that I can take with me anywhere in the palm of my hand! Let me tell you, IT FEELS GREAT!

Go forth and digitize!

[NOTE: This article has been edited and updated from its origins on my sister's and my camping/travel blog, Over the Hill Sisters.]

You Can Lighten Up Your Life by Downsizing

Sometimes less can be more. Having less stuff can lead to…doing more, traveling more, appreciating more. It can lead to those things because of less expense, less worry, and fewer restrictions.

People downsize (or downscale or whatever word you prefer to use) for various reasons. Sometimes it’s relocating to a smaller abode. Sometimes it’s due to splitting of a household. Sometimes it’s due to an overabundance of belongings. Sometimes we just feel the need to “clean house,” and sometimes it’s a lifestyle change.

My personal downsizing journey came about for all of those reasons. Ultimately, though, the decision was made for me because of a need to move back to the West Coast without the use of any vehicle and into a tiny area. I was able to downscale in stages, and I believe that made the process much easier.

When I moved across the country to get married many years ago, I required a 26’ U-Haul truck and a flatbed trailer to haul my vehicle. During my marriage, I collected a lot more furniture, had a baby, and added a lot of little things that, through the years, added up to a huge amount. When my husband and I separated, I required only bedroom furniture, some kitchen items, and what I felt at the time was the important stuff: personal items, files, photographs, family history, books, movies, my dog’s necessities, organizing helpers, and some special decorative items. That move required a 15’ U-Haul truck—significantly smaller, yes?

The 15' Truck Only Partially Filled
Then early in 2016 came a full-scale lightening of my life. I had to be ruthless. I had to decide what was really important. I had to let go. Fortunately, I had three months to place the majority of my belongings with others. Some people are in the position of having to immediately get rid of things without time to think things through. I can’t imagine how stressful that would be. We grow to love our “things” a great deal, and I believe that having to haphazardly leave, dump, or give away those treasures can lead to resentment and regret. I am thankful not to have experienced either. I do admit to still feeling sentimental, though.

I did some reading online to give me ideas, and I feel good about most of my decisions. If you search for “downsizing tips” you will be inundated with articles on how, why, and when to downsize. You may connect with some of the information you find. My hope is that you can use some of my personal experience to make your journey to living with less a positive thing.

The items that ended up going to friends and family are the ones I feel best about. I was able to place many of my books with friends who had a genuine interest in the different subjects. I was able to give all of the furniture and family history to my daughter. I couldn’t find any parties interested enough to buy a couple of collections I had but was able to adjust their importance to me to make it less painful to let them go. I donated a lot to a local thrift store. I found an animal shelter that needed some of my dog’s unused items. I found a women’s shelter that desperately needed clothes and shoes. I thought long and hard about how I was going to get my remaining belongings from the East Coast to the West Coast.  And, because I still wanted to be able to see the things I needed to leave behind, I commenced with what I refer to as, “The largest scanning/reading/shredding project in the history of the world!” (Link to that article is here: Creating a Digital Archive of Your Belongings.)

Just One of the Trips to the Thrift Store
I ended up shipping all of the items I didn’t need to keep with me via USPS. I thought back to that time when I rented the largest truck possible to transport the things I believed I needed. Flash forward to five years ago when all of my belongings fit in 13 boxes, one suitcase, one purse, and one dog kennel. My life’s true measure of what I needed accompanied me on the flight west: my daughter and dog.
Most of My Belongings Were Shipped via the USPS
Traveling was something other people did—people who were financially solvent enough to travel even though they had a home, a family, and animals. I wasn’t one of those people for my entire life. Now, because of being willing to downsize and live a minimalist lifestyle and living with my sister who’s got the means and vehicle, we’ll be free to see and experience places we’ve never been. (Like our 5-month long epic driving and camping adventure up and down California, Oregon, and Washington State. It was over 5,000 miles of encountering beauty and wonder like we've never seen before!) Here’s to letting go of things to experience life!
All of My Belongings Fit Neatly in this RV Bedroom Suite...

...and This Deck Trunk!

Whatever the reason you’re considering downsizing, try to give yourself time to consider all of your options. If you have a deadline, don’t wait until the last minute. Things you will need to keep will vary depending on what you’re going to be living in: house, apartment, RV, etc. One way you may determine the need for the items that you are unsure of is to set them aside and live without using them for a while. That way you’ll still have them in case you change your mind. I believe there are ways to keep the memories without keeping the physical item. You will hopefully find living without doesn’t mean not living. All it may take to see downsizing as a positive thing is adjusting your priorities. I wish you the best!

[NOTE: This article has been edited and updated from its origins on my sister's and my camping/travel blog, Over the Hill Sisters.]

Monday, January 25, 2021

Book Review: Savaged by Mia Sheridan

Title: Savaged

Author: Mia Sheridan

Rating: Five out of five stars

Published: 05/27/2019

Publisher: Self-published

Genre(s): Romantic Suspense


A new heart-pounding, suspenseful, and supremely romantic novel from New York Times bestseller, Mia Sheridan.

When wilderness guide, Harper Ward, is summoned to the small town sheriff’s office in Helena Springs, Montana, to provide assistance on a case, she is shocked to find that their only suspect in the double murder investigation is a man described as a savage.

But the longer she watches the man known only as Lucas, on the station surveillance camera, the more intrigued she becomes. He certainly looks primitive with his unkempt appearance and animal skin attire, but she also sees intelligence in his eyes, sensitivity in his expression. Who is he? And how is it possible that he’s lived alone in the forest since he was a small child?

As secrets begin to emerge, Harper is thrust into something bigger and more diabolical than she ever could have imagined. And standing right at the center of it all, is Lucas. But is he truly the wild man he appears to be? A cold blooded killer? An innocent victim? Or a perplexing mix of all three?

Harper must find out the answers to these questions because the more time she spends with him, the more she risks losing her heart.


In the acknowledgments section of Savaged the author wrote: "This story had an abundance of moving parts . . . the mystery, the romance, Jak’s language, an unusual setting where every item the characters used had to be considered..." It absolutely did have much to consider and I think Mia Sheridan did a phenomenal job with every part of the story.

Jak's and Harper's backstories were well-defined and emotionally powerful. The ways in which the author unraveled clues, wove those backstories together, and introduced us to the lives of adult Jak and Harper were extremely fulfilling.

The inexplicable connection between Jak and Harper was very transcendental. Their life stories progressed from one of tragedy to enduring to victory to adapting to discovery and finally, to a physical connection both visceral and emotive.

Savaged went well beyond being entertaining. It was absorbing, inspiring, and left me feeling SO happy for Jak and Harper's happily-ever-after!


“Dwayne tells me your father was the sheriff here before him.” For a moment Harper simply stared at him, the question taking her by surprise after she’d just literally been thinking about her dad. She gave herself an internal shake and cleared her throat. “Yes. He . . . he was. For a short time.” Mark Gallagher paused for a beat before nodding. “I’m sorry for your loss.”


The agent stared at him, but his face didn’t say anything. “So, you’ve been living out there how long?” “Fifteen winters.” So many. So much cold. So much hunger. So much loneliness. The agent was looking at him in that funny way. Lucas didn’t know what he was thinking. “Alone? All of them?” “Yes.”


“I’m sorry. I was careless and rude. I . . . I thought I recognized the locket hanging around your neck. It looks familiar and I . . . I was wondering if I could see it, just for a moment. I’ll give it back. I just . . . may I look at it? Um, Lucas. Oh, and in case you don’t remember my name, I’m Harper.”


He didn’t know if he could do it anymore, the constant suffering. The winters always coming, the hunger, the loneliness that felt like darkness carved deep into his bones. Why should he fight? For what? Why should he survive? He understood the look in the blond boy’s eyes now. The happiness that it was finally over. Jak should have died on that cliff that night, with the other two boys, maybe three. But he had fought to live. Why? He didn’t want to fight anymore, and there weren’t any pigs nearby.


She smelled like life, like sweet water, like fertile earth, and perfectly ripened berries that would take away the pain of hunger. Her woman scent was the beginning of everything and the place where he wanted to draw his final breath. She was meant for him, he knew that now. No other woman. Only her.


He was a complete dichotomy—wild and sensitive, uneducated and astute, and he fascinated her to no end.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: Bridgerton: The Duke & I by Julia Quinn

Title: Bridgerton: The Duke & I

Author: Julia Quinn

Rating: Five out of five stars

Published: 04/28/2015

Publisher: Avon

Genre(s): Historical Romance


Can there be any greater challenge to London's Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1813

By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend's sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it's all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it's hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it's his devilish smile, certainly it's the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love.


Bridgerton: The Duke & I was a lovely entertaining story. My natural inclination leans toward contemporaries, so historicals must be introduced by attention-grabbing means. Practically the entire Netflix universe found the first season of Bridgerton to be something to talk and write about. What kind of romance reader would I be if I didn't also dive into a televised romance series (or movie) with great anticipation? I binged all eight episodes of Bridgerton on Christmas Day. Then I utilized an ancient gift card to purchase the gorgeous series tie-in edition trade paperback. I am a devoted Kindle reader but just had to have this stunning version in print. I am glad to have watched before reading. I felt the series kept the essence of the story and what details were changed did not deflect from the source. Daphne may be ignorant in some regards, but she is bright, resourceful, and feisty. Simon knows immediately how remarkably different Daphne is and subconsciously allows her to alter his rigid life plans. The repartee between them is OUTSTANDING! Daphne gains critical insights into Simon’s painful childhood but ends up letting her emotions guide her to take advantage of a situation seemingly out of Simon's control. The aftereffects offer the main conflict in the book but this is a romance and that should guarantee at least a happy-for-now ending. In this updated version Julia Quinn adds a second epilogue that proves their besotted coupledom with that much-deserved happily-ever-after! Just a side note: Simon is absolutely adorable when drunk!


“Men are sheep. Where one goes, the rest will soon follow. -Lady Whistledown”


“There were rules among friends, commandments, really, and the most important one was Thou Shalt Not Lust After Thy Friend's Sister.”


“It's the curse of motherhood. You're required to love us even when we vex you.”


“It was those eyes as much as anything that had earned him his reputation as a man to be reckoned with. When he stared at a person, clear and unwavering, men grew uncomfortable. Women positively shivered.”


“He was proud and stubborn, and all the ton looked up to him. Men curried his favor, women flirted like mad. And all the while he'd been terrified every time he'd opened his mouth.”


“Simon gave her a startled look. 'I don't believe I have ever been condescended to by a woman before.' She shrugged. 'It was probably past time.”


“All I meant to say is that a rake's humor has its basis in cruelty. He needs a victim, for he cannot imagine ever laughing at himself. You, your grace, are rather clever with the self-deprecating remark.”


“As she spoke, she turned her face toward his, and in that instant, with the wind catching her hair and painting her cheeks pink, she looked so enchantingly lovely that Simon nearly forgot to breathe.”