The Lost Girls of Paris By Pam Jenoff

I’ve just finished reading a great book! What do I mean by “a great book”? It’s the one that when it’s time to go to bed, and you know you have to be up early the next morning, you can’t put down. You just have to read one more chapter. You need to be sure the characters are going to be all right. In fact, you’ve forgotten that they’re characters. To you, they’re now real people.

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is like that. It’s historical fiction. There really was a World War II and a Normandy Invasion. There really was a female spy ring run out of London to confuse the Germans and help the Allies. The real one was run by Vera Atkins of the Special Operations Executive. The historical fiction one is run by Eleanor Trigg. The real women were heroic and many didn’t come home. The same happens to the characters in the book.

The chapters alternate between the present: 1946 New York City with Grace Healey, who discovers a suitcase in Grand Central Station with 12 photographs of young women on her way to work one morning.

And the past: 1944 London with Marie, one of the 12, who was sent to France as part of a female spy ring to help the Allies. She was picked because she spoke French so well no one would suspect she was really an English spy. Marie had learned French, and her way around the French countryside, which turned out to just as important, when she was a child. Every summer, she and her mother had gone to France.

The Lost Girls of Paris is well written, vivid and inspired by true events. It has a number of plots and sub-plots to keep you sitting on the edge of your armchair waiting for the next thing to happen. The twelve photographs hold the story together as Grace searches to find out: Who were they? How were they connected? Did any survive?

There aren’t a lot of wartime books about female spies and women doing heroic things like blowing up bridges and sending back radio messages right under the enemies’ noses. If this is the kind of reading you enjoy, then this is the book for you.

Writer’s Confessional Part Eight

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems. Fear can be a concrete barrier, miles high and unpassable. But to have the courage and make the choice that has an unknown outcome, well that is astounding. And as with all things hidden, I will fail sometimes. But I must look onward and climb or knock down the concrete wall in my way.

Failure is a bridge to success. I remind myself of this every day. I wanted the reminder so badly I had my own words tattooed on my skin. I won’t give up the journey I forged when I started my business, WjK ARTiSAN DESiGNS. I will travel on media highways to get more attention, to gain traffic that will return often. I will make contacts with store owners to build a retail relationship that will last. And I will look at new outlets to sell my art.

As Mr. Frost iterates in his words, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way…” my travels through life have been one moment touching another as my choices have consequences, just as the first domino falls until the last. Without pushing over the first domino how can I or anyone succeed? That’s why I catapulted over fear and jumped feet first into the deep end of the pool to start my business. I don’t know where the last domino will fall, but as they keep falling the speed with which they tumble gets faster and faster. With every choice, I’m hoping that my success will gain speed as well. I must be hopeful.

So, with fear as my constant companion, and not allowing it to overwhelm me with my daily reminder, I continue down the unknown road because my hope is greater than my fear.

“I took the one less traveled by…” to seek the success that I know I can achieve if I keep traveling down “The Road Not Taken.”

My Top Ten Favorite Small Video Games

While I love video games produced by big name companies such as Capcom, Bethesda, and Bioware, lesser known corporations can also produce some gems in the industry. Occasionally, I’ll forego the lengthy immersive titles for an addictive casual game. And there are some titles I love going back to time and again. Below is my list of the top 10 casual games I’ve played that never get permanently shelved and forgotten.

10) Virtual Villagers – A five-game series that doesn’t have the most stellar graphics, Virtual Villagers kicks off with a small group of shipwrecked people who find refuge on a remote tropical island. Each subsequent game sees a small group of four to five villagers strike out on their own to inhabit a different area of the island. The general goal is to solve a series of puzzles—some more complex than others—to build a thriving community. I would have liked to see the series continue beyond the fifth game, but there was only so much ground that could be covered. And it ended on a good note with a community being established in the central part of the island in spite of opposition from hostile natives.

9) Insaniquarium – Like the title implies Insaniquarium has you in charge of the world’s craziest fish tank. The goal is to keep your fish alive—if you lose them all, it’s game over. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Aside from keeping the fish fed and building up the population, you must also keep your fish safe from random alien attacks. For each level, you must collect in-game currency generated by the aquarium populace to purchase a “pet” that benefits your tank in some way, such as collecting coins, reviving dead fish, or attacking aliens. In spite of how fun and addictive Insaniquarium is, I haven’t played it in years. But recent gameplay videos from a YouTuber called CaptainSauce has reignited my interest.

8) JoJo’s Fashion Show – A three-game series that sees an elderly fashion designer make a comeback with the aid of her daughter, JoJo’s Fashion Show consists primarily of dressing up models in cutting edge attire to earn fortune and fame. The games are very simplistic and don’t require much thinking, but you must move fast to attain a good score. I found the games entertaining enough to keep going back to them even after I’d beaten them, although it has been years since my last playthrough. I do still have a physical copy though, so maybe it’s time I dust it off for another go.

7) Wedding Dash – A fast-paced game series, Wedding Dash puts you in the shoes of a young wedding planner whose basic goal is to host the perfect reception. You must put together a menu that fits the preferences of the newlyweds, get the guests seated and fed quickly to keep the line moving, and keep the bride or groom—depending on which game in the series you’re playing—from blowing a gasket. The most challenging part of the Wedding Dash series is that there are more guests than there are seats available at the reception. Most guests have a preference about which table they want or who they want to be seated by, so you have to stay on your toes to keep everyone happy. To add to the challenge, some guests take longer to eat than others, so keeping the line moving is quite the balancing act. Nevertheless, I do love games that challenge me, and the Wedding Dash series offers that in spades.

6) Farm Frenzy – There are at least fourteen titles in the Farm Frenzy franchise, but they all follow the same formula—the production and sale of goods from a small farm. The goods that are produced range from simple items like eggs, milk, and wool to more complex or wacky goods such as cheese wheels, electronics, or costumed bears. Each level in Farm Frenzy sets goals for you on what must be produced and rewards you for how quickly you can make it happen. While this series isn’t quite as innovative as other games on this list, it’s still good for a quick boost of fun.

5) Fate – A dungeon-crawler series in which no two playthroughs are exactly the same, Fate sees you assume the role of a fully customizable adventurer out to eradicate monsters in a nearby “bottomless” dungeon. Each title in the Fate series sets a penultimate goal related to saving the kingdom, but the game doesn’t end upon completion of this goal. You’d have to go a long way just to reach the end of the dungeon. There are hundreds of levels you can fight your way through—though many later monsters are re-colored versions of what came before. The last game in the Fate series, Cursed King, upped the ante by having at least four separate dungeons to explore and allowing you to build a team of customizable A.I. characters. Though I’m sure that such a game could get repetitive after so long, it is one that I don’t see myself ever getting bored with.

4) Space Colony – A game I originally purchased and played back in the mid-90’s, Space Colony is a title that kept coming to mind over the years. I lost the game disc a long time ago—I never figured out where or when—but I always yearned for an opportunity to play it again. I got my wish last year when I learned it had been remastered and released on the Steam Network. Space Colony generally centers around a team of misfits who must construct and successfully maintain an otherworldly colony. There are two separate campaign paths to follow—one where you build up a successful entertainment resort in a set amount of time and one where you undertake military missions against a hostile alien race. Aside from the main campaign, Space Colony also features a sandbox mode where you can build whatever you like with no strings attached. Or you can delve into the challenge mode to conquer a number of different worlds—one of the hardest levels is a molten world with limited space to build where you must construct habitats to house, feed, and entertain up to eighteen workers. I haven’t yet mastered every aspect of the game, but I very much look forward to doing so.

3) Octogedden – A wacky little title in which a mutant octopus sets out to destroy the world one city at a time, Octogedden is addictive enough to keep me craving more. All that’s required is to use the mouse buttons to turn left or right, but the game is very challenging due to the sheer amount of enemies that are thrown at you. I am generally very observant, but even I can’t see at times what hit me.

2) Governor of Poker 2 – A fun little title in which you must travel back and forth across the state of Texas competing in tournaments, Governor of Poker 2 serves as a good way to hone your skills in the classic card game. And there is a lot more to Governor of Poker 2 than just beating your opponents over and over. You can use your winnings to purchase whole towns in the old west, compete for the rights to a revenue source such as a coal mine, and increase your standing as a prestigious player by beating the best A.I. card-sharks. This game is one that I’ve never played all the way through due to taking too many risks with no reward, but I do hope to one day reach the conclusion.

1) Recettear – Easily the most layered game on this list, Recettear tells the story of a young naïve and quirky girl named Recette who inherited a store from her deadbeat father after he ran off. Problems arise for the heroine when she is paid a visit by a loanshark fairy named Tear looking to collect a large debt owed by Recette’s father. Repayment falls on Recette’s shoulders and she will lose her house and the shop if she doesn’t deliver. However, Tear takes pity on the young girl by agreeing to divide the debt into more manageable payments; the two even go into business together by selling weapons, potion ingredients, and other items in the store. Despite the nature of their relationship, Recette quickly comes to regard Tear as a friend and makes the shop name an amalgamation of both of theirs. To acquire more items to sell, Recette and Tear can either purchase goods at a discount from a local merchant or hire an adventurer\fighter to help them snag loot from one of the nearby dungeons. What I love most about Recettear is that you never truly get a game over. If you ever fail to acquire the funds for a payment, the game will take you back to the starting point while letting you keep the inventory, merchant level, and fighter level you had at the “game over.” It took me several playthroughs to figure this out, so I kept starting a brand new game every time I “lost.” I could go on and on about every aspect of Recettear, but I’ll let you all discover it for yourselves if the game intrigues you.

I hope you all found this list enjoyable and that you found a game that interests you. If you would like to share your own experiences with a fun casual game, please do so in the comments below.

How do you pack for a trip?

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

During your travels, have you dealt with extreme weather conditions? On a recent trip, my husband, Roger, and I experienced a humid Vermont with temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties. This contrasted with a winter trip there where one day the temperature dropped to thirty-five degrees below zero. We’ve also traveled there during the beautiful fall foliage where the temperature ranged from the mid-forties to the mid-seventies. We love Vermont.

Packing efficiently for our various trips depends on us knowing the temperature range of our destinations and the activities in which we’ll take part. During our early vacations, I always over packed. Over the years, I learned to make do with a lot less.

This learning curve came in handy for our twenty-seven-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. Our traveling companions couldn’t believe that I packed all my belongings in a twenty-one-inch carry-on, a backpack, and a large purse. Roger used a twenty-four-inch suitcase and a backpack. I should mention that doing laundry a couple of times during our trip played a large part in our ability to pack less. Do you have a difficult time deciding what to take for a trip or have you mastered the art of efficient packing? Do you have any helpful hints that could make traveling easier?