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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd



Release Date - January 2015

Charles Todd
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch



If you have been a fan of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd, you’ll want to get a copy of the latest installment entitled A Fine Summer’s Day.

While the previous novels have followed the Scotland Yard detective after his return from World War I, this one takes us back to before the war. The young detective has just decided to propose to the woman with whom he is deeply in love, and while they make plans for their future together, Ian also becomes involved in a murder investigation that keeps him focused on a series of crimes across England.
 
As the war clouds gather across the English Channel, this could well be the detective’s last case before duty calls and he joins the army. Meeting local resistance in his investigation and realizing this idyllic summer may just be the proverbial “calm before the storm”, Ian has much to think about. And, as you’ll see, some of what will happen to the young man in the military is set in place at this time.

There have been over fifteen novels already published in this popular series, but to fully understand Ian Rutledge you must read A Fine Summer’s Day. Also, if you are not familiar with this character, this would be the perfect time to make his acquaintance.   

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shattered Secrets by Karen Harper



Release Date - September 2014

Karen Harper
MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Tess Lockwood was just six years old when she was kidnapped. While she somehow managed to escape, her memories of the kidnapping are still vague. She never remembered enough to help police capture her abductor, and ten years later, another young girl vanished in the same manner.

Now that Tess is back in Cold Creek to sell her mother's home, she is disheartened when another girl disappears. It's been 20 years since Tess was kidnapped, and police are hopeful Tess might be able to remember enough now that she's home to help solve these kidnappings.

Gabe McCord, the sheriff's son, is now the sheriff. The day Tess was kidnapped, he was the one responsible for watching her. He's never forgiven himself. It's his goal to bring the missing girls home safe, and that means working closely with Tess, a woman he cannot help but admit he's growing very fond of. Will he be able to get Tess to remember in time to help the latest little girl?

Realistically, there is a lot going on in Shattered Secrets. The main storyline follows the kidnappings and Tess's fragmented memories. The romance between her and Gabe is there, but it's not the key element. That's why I will say this book leans more towards being a mystery than a romantic suspense.

There's a minor story involving a local commune that some of Tess's family is part of. Tess wants desperately to spend time with her cousin and her cousin's children, but she's treated like an outsider. She becomes convinced this commune is not the pleasant place her cousin makes it out to be. That storyline ends up falling flat with me, enough that I wondered why it was ever mentioned in the first place. Perhaps it will return in the other two novels and start to make sense?

I usually enjoy Karen Harper's novels, but in the end Shattered Secrets was a miss. I never felt a strong attachment to either character. I'd pegged the kidnapper really early. There were aspects that seemed tossed in for no reason. And, there were questions I had that were left unanswered. Shattered Secrets ended up just being an okay, nothing special kind of book for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good Health, Good Life by Joyce Meyer



Release Date - December 2014

Joyce Meyer
FaithWords

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Joyce Meyer, Bible teacher/TV and radio host, offers incredible insight into improving your health, body, and mind in Good Health, Good Life. This 12-step plan breaks down into:

1. Asking for God's help
2. Learning to love yourself
3. Changing your metabolism
4. Fitting in exercise
5. Learning to eat balanced meals
6. Drinking plenty of water
7. Avoiding overindulgence
8. Satisfying your spiritual hunger
9. Reducing stress
10. Embracing the right goals/visions
11. Laughing at pitfalls and obstacles
12. Taking responsibility for yourself

Each step is a chapter that branches out into subtopics, such as altering your metabolism by ensuring your eat breakfast, getting enough sleep, and hydrating with water throughout the day. Some of these may be common sense to you, but you may learn from other snippets of information.

I find that now is the perfect time to put all, or even some, of Joyce Meyer's steps to work. This is the time most slack off the resolutions they made just a few weeks ago. I also think that if you take the lessons/keys one at a time rather than trying to fit them all in, you'll have much better success. I'm focusing just on the reducing stress for now. That is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I have because of work, life, and then the hurdles thrown my way, like last winter's failed septic or this year's broken water heater.  One step at a time is the best way to work with Good Health, Good Life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sea Air by Jule Meeringa



Release Date - February 24, 2015


Amazon Crossing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The premise of Sea Air, given the back cover blurb, is supposed to be Nele falls in love with a mysterious, much older man during a North Sea getaway. The single mom quickly falls in love, but then her ex, a doctor, reenters the picture making her question who is the right man for her.

That said, I found the return of the ex was mostly glanced over. The real heart of this romance is the battle of wills as Nele, age 35, is certain that Mathis, 60, is Mr. Right, but he's more hesitant and isn't convinced that a 60-year-old man is what Nele, mom to an energetic, precocious 7-year-old, needs in her life.

The settings used in Sea Air made me feel like I was there at the North Sea. The author does well painting the coastal region in her novel. My issue became that I liked the setting more than the characters. Nele seems to jump from man to man, giving her heart away fully each time. Not once does she seem to stop and thing about the effect all of this "I'm in love and want him in our lives" have on her daughter.

 That led to another concern. How much of Sea Air was lost in the translation? The book was originally written in German and is part of Amazon's line of books that take a foreign book and translate it into English. After five years of French, I know how easily some of the emotion can get lost between the original language and the English language. Perhaps, the German version would have had more emotional appeal and pull me in better. As was, I just never connected to any of the characters.





Thursday, January 15, 2015

Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Stories of Hard Science Fiction - Edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi



Release Date - December 2014

Tor Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Carbide Tipped Pens pays tribute to a sci-fi writing group that Ben Bova and Eric Choi were part of a couple decades ago. The focus of this book is on sci-fi stories wrapped around a specific aspect of technology. As there are 17 stories in all, which is a little much to cover in one review, I read this collection and then sat back to see which stories really stood out for me after time passed. These are the ones that still linger in the back of my mind.

The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever is a short story by Daniel H. Wilson. In this story, readers meet a single dad, who is a scientist, and he finds the end of the world is coming. His parental love kicks in as he rushes to keep his daughter as safe as he can during the resulting apocalypse.

Ben Bova's Old Timer's Game takes a look at baseball and where it can go. Anyone who follows baseball knows all about the scandals of steroids, but what happens if newer medical treatments and technologies suddenly change a player's endurance and strength?

Skin Deep is a story by Leah Petersen and Gabrielle Harbowy that delves into a new use for tattoos. This newer tattoo technology has the power to treat any allergy, but at what cost?

In Eric Choi's She Just Looks That Way, the hero decides to undergo a procedure that will erase emotions connected to his memories. He doesn't want his memories to go away, but he wants to move past a serious attraction he has to a woman he knows. Will the outcome be everything he hoped?

This is only a small sampling of the stories found within Carbide Tipped Pens. Some delve into the things many think of when thinking about science fiction - robots, other planets, and others take things we know and love like Shakespeare, the romance between famous characters like Romeo and Juliet, and put them in a new situation or setting.

Whether you're looking to find a new sci-fi author or simply want to read a selection of short stories, Carbide Tipped Pens is an intriguing collection that definitely makes you think about the world and technology surrounding you.






Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward



Release Date - January 20, 2015

Amanda Eyre Ward
Ballantine Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After six-year-old Carla's mother left her children behind and headed to the U.S., young Carla has been the primary caregiver to her twin brothers. Her hopes are that her mother will return to Honduras for them or send for them to join her. Two things happen that start to change Carla's mind. One of her twin brothers is whisked away by strangers and then her grandmother dies. It's clear to Carla that she and her brother must flee their town and make the dangerous, illegal trip to Texas.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Jake and his wife Alice are prominent restaurant owners who are madly in love, but at the same time, know something is missing from their lives. Alice is a breast cancer survivor, and Jake has always been supportive of her, but it just doesn't feel like it's enough.

The Same Sky: A Novel is told from the viewpoints of both Carla and Alice. The chapters alternate and make it very clear as to who is speaking. Much of the story is really an in-depth look at how one person can have it all and still not feel it is enough, while someone from a completely different background would like only to survive to live another day.

I savored every page, wanting to know what happened next, what realizations the characters would come to. By the end, I did find myself upset that the book came to an end. I wanted more of this very emotional, very poignant look at life, love, and happiness.


Monday, January 12, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven



Release Date - January 2015

Jennifer Niven
Knopf

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

There are a few things I can say about All the Bright Places with a level of certainty. First, this book is amazing, not easy, but amazing. Second, it's not surprising Hollywood has noticed the story's potential for becoming a blockbuster movie and has already cast Elle Fanning. Third, it's going to be a while before I get over Finch and Violet.

Finch and Violet meet in the six-story bell tower on their high school campus. Finch, referred to as his peers as "the Freak," knows why he's up there, but Violet is a popular girl, everyone loves her, and Finch knows one thing, she's terrified. He talks her down from the ledge and then covers for her by saying she went up to stop him from jumping. With her reputation intact, Violet is free to go on with her life, but that one event changed both her and Finch. They begin working on a class project that involves touring their area, seeing sites they've never visited before.

Thus begins an unusual, refreshing friendship that will forever change both teens.

Clearly from the opening, suicide and suicide prevention have their place in this book. I hate saying it, but most readers will know someone or know of someone who has killed him or herself, thought about it, or attempted it. Statistics are too high for this not to be true. Sadly, I know more people than I really should, be it either personally or as someone my kids or siblings knew. Given that, the emotional tug-of-war within this story is captured magnificently by Jennifer Niven.

Violet and Finch go through tremendous growth in All the Bright Places. They start out uncertain of the world around them, of who their true friends are, and learn, mainly by leaning on each other, that there is joy to be found if you simply take the time to look. Yet, with every page, every minute, I found myself learning more and more about these characters. I cried, I snickered, I cried some more, and I found myself wanting to hug my own kids after finishing this book. This is definitely a Kleenex-needed book and one that I think will make an exceptional movie.



Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts



Release Date - September 2014

Jeyn Roberts
Alfred Knopf

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Heam (Heaven's Dream) is a drug engineered to attack the central nervous system and shut down your body. During that brief moment of death, you experience heaven and then revive. For 11-year-old Faye, she saw hell and her best friend died. Her goal in life now is to avenge Christian's death by killing off the men who forced them to take the drug.

With nothing left, Faye attends school by day and trains with her guardian, once a police detective, at night. Her plans seem on track until someone from her past returns. Now Faye is questioning her goals and if she might have a reason to look forward to the future after all.

The Bodies We Wear is instantly addicting. Faye is tough as nails and when she does take someone down, I found myself cheering her one. There's a little bit of say Jessica Alba's Dark Angel to her. I really liked Faye, especially when she started having to reconsider her present and future.

The narrative is gripping and flows easily from one chapter to the next. Before you know it, you've been reading for hours and the end of the book is nearing. I love getting lost in a great story like that.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Reluctant Psychic by Suzan Saxman and Perdita Finn



Release Date - January 27, 2015

Suzan Saxman

St. Martin's

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The writing style in The Reluctant Psychic pulled me in. It's warm, friendly, and definitely introduces you to Suzan Saxman in manner that makes her feel like a longtime pal who is sitting next to you telling you one hell of a story.

Suzan Saxman started seeing the spirits of the dead at a very young age. She grew up confused by what she saw, and the circumstances and her mother's utter disapproval did not help. Suzan's childhood was dysfunctional at best and her forays into adulthood also led to some decisions that were not ideal for her, though they would teach her a lot.

The Reluctant Psychic details Suzan's life through memories of her childhood and adulthood, with snippets of the psychic readings she's done over the years. I thought the bouncing back and forth would throw me off, but it never did. I actually couldn't put the book down, though even I wondered about the validity of one subject in particular involving an actor from a show I watched in my early childhood, but there's really no way to ever know with any certainty.


Friday, January 9, 2015

At the Beach by Anne & Harlow Rockwell (Children's Book Review)



Release Date - June 2014 (Reissue)

Anne Rockwell
Harlow Rockwell
Aladdin

Book Review by Bob Walch

Granted this may not be a book you want to read with your child in the heart of winter, but, on the other hand, it is also nice to remind the youngster that when the snow and ice melt and the temperature goes back up there are some good times ahead.

Reissued by Aladdin, this picture book first appeared in 1987. It chronicles a child’s day at the beach and all the cool things she encounters. The illustrations are simple but effective plus the text is simple enough to manage for beginning readers.

Frankly, there are perhaps glitzier picture books about a day at the beach but this classic will work well with younger children and there is something refreshing about its simplicity.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Love Undone by Cindy Woodsmall



Release Date - September 2014

Cindy Woodsmall
Waterbrook Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I actually read A Love Undone about two months ago and thought I'd done the review. Yet, in going through my emails, I found the publicist's request and cannot find the review for this one anywhere. Given that, I'm surprised still by how much I enjoyed the book, even weeks later when I've read so many other books.

It's a stormy night that takes Jolene Keim's parents from her. She's spent the past decade raising her younger siblings and putting her own life on hold, even breaking things off with her own fiance who was not thrilled to be raising a family right off the bat.

Andy Fisher's wife walked away from both Andy and their son many years ago, but Amish customs dictate he is still married - a grass widower. When Jolene comes into his life, he cannot help but fall for her, but his situation is bound to keep them apart. The last thing he wants to do is to have Jolene shamed for entering into a relationship with a married man.

If you enjoy Amish romances, A Love Undone is one of the best.  Jolene and Andy's relationship seems doomed, but you can't help but keep reading and hoping that something will change to let them have their deserved happily ever after, even if Amish laws are driving a wedge between them.

I highly recommend this novel. It's stuck with me for so many weeks, and that's the sign of a truly powerful romance.




Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko



Release Date - December 2014

Sergei Lukyanenko
Open Road Media

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Generally, science fiction is not a genre I crave, yet I was completely hooked in The Genome. Sergei Lukyanenko's characters drew me in and kept me reading late into the night.

Alexander Romanov has never seen such a clear blue sky, it's rather unusual, but he's being released from the hospital where he's spent the past five months recovering from devastating injuries. Now that he's out, as a "spesh," he must find a job with his experience as a master pilot. In Alex's case, his modifications that turned him from human to spesh involved helping him handle gravity overloads. He also is genetically imprinted to make sure his crew are always kept safe.

On the train, Alex sees a young girl about to be accosted by a doper punk. Surprisingly, she is well equipped to take care of herself. Alex helps her escape the train before authorities arrive and then offers her a place to stay. It's clear that this young girl is about to go through her own metamorphosis, and it's in his nature to help.

While she changes, Alex is offered a job that seems too good to be true. That job involves picking his own crew, so once Kim has undergone her changes, he can keep her with him. Soon, he has his crew selected and learns their first mission. It's not going to be easy. They must shuttle a couple of aliens to tour human worlds, and the crew's dislike of these aliens is clear. That's just the start of the challenge that Alex is about to face.

I really liked, if not possibly fell in love a bit with Alex. He's smart, strong, and definitely the kind of guy you'd want by your side. The rest of his crew is equally likeable. There's young Kim, just 14 years old, who is clearly a fighter; Janet, the doctor, Puck, the navigator, Paul, the engineer; and then Xang, the co-pilot. Each has his or her own quirks. As the mission starts, you begin to see each character's personality really develop.There's also the mystery with who Kim really is and why she is carrying an extremely valuable crystal. That might be why I liked The Genome so much, it's not just a sci-fi, it's a very intriguing mystery that expands to many levels, and there's even an unexpected visit from someone any mystery reader knows well.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Doctor's Diet Cookbook by Travis Stork M.D.



Release Date - October 21, 2014

Travis Stork M.D.
Bird Street Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Find a diet that works for me is a goal I've set. After many discussions with my doctor, her suggestion, one I've recently seen in the newspapers, is that the Mediterranean Diet is really the best outline to follow. Better yet, she suggests using the guidelines set forth specifically for me given my propensity to develop anemia during a certain time of the month due to heavier than normal periods that have plagued many generations of my family. That's where The Doctor's Diet Cookbook comes in.

Dr. Travis Stork, best known as one of TV's The Doctors, has a series of books designed to help you lose weight and keep it off. From what I can tell, his advice is pretty spot on. It deals with learning the better foods to eat, avoiding the fear of fat as not all fats are bad, boosting intake of legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and creating healthier versions of your craving foods. All of this is logical and the same advice my own doctor gave me.

In The Doctor's Diet Cookbook, in addition to a brief recap of his advice, it delves heavily into recipes you can quickly make and not feel guilty eating. For example, brownies, more specifically chocolate, is one of my craving foods. Within this cookbook are recipes for a chocolate mousse made using avocado and a healthier sweetener, such as honey, and a recipe for brownies that uses eggs and no flour. I've already made the latter in the past and can guarantee if you like gooey brownies, these are amazing.

Other recipes found in The Doctor's Diet Cookbook include a number of smoothies, a pizza made with a cauliflower and cheese crust, and baked falafel. I was a little surprised at the use of store bought Italian sausage for meatballs, especially since most commercially made sausages have added sugar and huge amounts of salt. I recommend making your own Italian sausage, it's actually easier than you'd think and the end result is superior and better for you.

If you're looking for a cookbook to start off a new diet, consider Dr. Travis Stork's latest. There are some good tips within and plenty of recipes that will satisfy even the pickiest eater.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tangled Lives by Hilary Boyd



Release Date - July 2014

Hilary Boyd
Hachette Book Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

When she was 19, Annie Delancey gave up her infant son. She really had little choice. Her mother, headmistress of a respected girls' school, essentially gave her an ultimatum. She loved her newborn son though.

More than three decades later, Annie is happily married with two daughters and a son. Her children are all in their 20s and seem to be doing well with their lives. One morning a letter arrives - her firstborn wants to meet her.

Annie and her family are thrown into turmoil. While Annie is eager to connect with the son she had to give up, her husband, son, and daughters are not as convinced. Jealousy rears its head with both her son and husband, especially when Annie must approach the man she had a one-night stand with so many years ago and tell him that he has a son who wants to meet him.Annie is torn. She wants everything in one tidy package, but it appears that having it all could tear her family apart.

Tangled Lives is probably a very honest portrayal of a family's struggle with hidden secrets. I say "probably," because I've never been exposed to that situation. I got Annie's urgency to meet this son, but honestly, I felt her husband came off as a little juvenile. I didn't think much of him. Annie's mother, I really didn't like her. I understood the insane jealousy from the son a little better, but even then at his age, I would have expected better.

I think what I really hated is that the long-lost son ends up being blamed for a number of things that really were set in motion long before he entered the picture. I know my kids, similar in age to Annie's, to know that if I suddenly sprang news that they had a long-lost brother out there, they wouldn't act petulant. They'd question me for never telling them and then want push to meet him. On that front, I did struggle a bit, mainly because I wanted to reprimand a few characters for being so immature.

The story itself flows well and did leave me with tears in my eyes at certain points. I enjoyed Tangled Lives, but never connected enough to really love it.







Sunday, January 4, 2015

Dark Screams Volume One - Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar



Release Date - December 2014

Stephen King
Kelley Armstrong
Bill Pronzini
Simon Clark
Ramsey Campbell
Random House

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The stories within Dark Screams Volume One may not be new to you at all. The first story in this anthology, Weeds by Stephen King, is well-known, whether it's from the 1970's release or from the movie Creepshow (one of my favorite '80's movies.) In this story, the rather dimwitted Jordy Verrill burns his hand on a meteorite that lands on his land, and he's about to learn that not everything in nature is all that nice.

Kelley Armstrong, author of bestsellers that includes the books in the very popular Darkest Power series, offers The Price You Pay. In this creepy little gem, loving mother Kara reunites with her former high school friend Ingrid. After a girl's night out, Ingrid's car stalls on a dark road and the pair are kidnapped by a sadistic madman who knows way too much about their past transgressions.

Bill Pronzini, author of many private eye novels, is next with Magic Eyes. Accountant Edward James Tolliver is in a mental institution for having murdered his wife. Only he knows the truth about the creature that caused his wife's death, and if he tells anyone, they'll never believe him.

Simon Clark's Murder in Chains details the story of John York, a man who is hired to photograph the city of Leeds at night. He never imagines that job will lead to him waking up chained by the neck to a gigantic murdering manbeast.

Finally, Ramsey Campbell, a British horror novelist who always had a treasured place on my mom's bookshelves,  offers The Watched. In this short story, while living with his grandmother, a teen is asked by a cop to listen to the people in the neighboring house. This alleged family of drug dealers are the on the cop's list, and the consequences could be deadly.

This is not a long book. With just five short stories, you'll have them finished in little time. Each is creepy and certainly offers an exceptional look at the different faces of horror. From the absurd to the "could have been a story in the news headlines," Dark Screams Volume One will not disappoint.




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Finding Hope by Stacy Finz



Release Date - January 2015

Stacy Hinz

Lyrical Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After the tragic disappearance of her young daughter, cookbook editor Emily Mathews is ready to get away from the press. Spending time on McCreedy Ranch, away from everyone, is exactly what she needs. She never expects to find herself falling for Clay McCreedy or his sons.

After Clay's wife died, he's struggled to help his sons grieve. Emily is just the person he needs living in the empty barn. She's quiet, studious, and certainly isn't aware of the scandal that led to his wife's death. The one thing he's certain of is that he really doesn't need another woman in his life - or does he?

Finding Hope is a charming romance with two underlying mysteries of sorts. The facts surrounding Clay's wife's death is the minor mystery. However, it was the mysterious disappearance of Emily's daughter that I really wanted to see resolved. The romance builds slowly and honestly. This isn't a romance where the characters rush to connect. They both enter into the relationship with very guarded hearts.

As this is the second in the series, I wasn't sure if I'd feel like I'd missed some of the story, but Finding Hope definitely works as a stand-alone novel. I will likely read the first just to learn more about the town's detective, but I don't feel like I absolutely must for sections of the story to make sense.

What I do know having finished Finding Hope is that I hope this is not the end of Emily and Clay. I will feel cheated if they do not appear in future books.




Thursday, January 1, 2015

Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M. Karle



Release Date - January 2015

Catherine M. Pittman
Elizabeth M. Karle
New Harbinger Publications

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I know a lot about anxiety and panic attacks. First, they run in my family. I've had them, my mom did for many years, my maternal grandmother did, and so do many of my aunts. Sadly, my own children have also had them. Therefore, I picked up Rewire Your Anxious Brain to see what these experts would have to say.

After many botched attempts at using medications - from beta blockers to antidepressants - I sought a therapy that would get me off these horrible pills and all their side effects. Instead, I spent many months in therapy, and the book my psychiatrist had me read included many of the exercises and techniques presented in Rewire Your Anxious Brain. Not every method works for every person. While yoga, Tai Chi, and deep breathing work for me, they didn't help my son at all. He found positive self-talk techniques were far better for his needs.

I found the material presented to be very scientific in nature. It delves much farther into the "why" and "how" than the book I had read and used.  I admit at times the science-y talk bogged me down. If it hadn't been for the examples where the authors took a person and detailed the feelings and reasoning, I'm not sure they could have kept me engaged. That said, it did bring to light a few things and helped me see why some of my panic attacks happened, though there are still some that wake me up or that happened while I was watching TV that I've never been able to explain. I also know that that's normal and just that part of my brain. When that happens, I know the key becomes controlling the effects.

I do think that anyone who deals with frequent panic attacks needs to sit back and read Rewire Your Anxious Brain to learn the how and the why. Use that information to help better control your anxiety. One thing my therapist said is that I'm always at risk for having another anxiety attack, but when it happens, I have the keys to controlling how it makes me feel.