Book Talk Tuesday: BURDEN OF PROMISE

Today the disclaimer goes upfront: I know the author, Ralaine Fagone, personally. I didn’t know her when the events she describes in her book took place. I met her some years after when she began to write about the murder, arrests and trials. She joined a local writers’ group I was part of and she had a column in a magazine. The group critiqued Ralaine’s columns, then later, when she decided to write a book, she joined another group who helped her. I also did some editing for her, as well as proofreading and copyediting. Also, Ralaine furnished me with a free digital copy of the finished book for this review. So, since I strive to be “fair and balanced,” I want to put all those caveats out here.


Fresno, California has a few claims to fame/infamy. It’s on the way to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The Underground Gardens. Raisins. Home of some pretty good sports teams (National Championship Women’s Softball, National Championship Men’s Baseball, as well as NFL players Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Derek Carr, Lorenzo Neal, Ryan Matthews, …). Searing summer temperatures. A satirical 1980s mini-series starring Carol Burnett, modeled after Falcon Crest and Dynasty. And the Acid Lady Murder.

In 2003, Ralaine’s son, James, was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of his former employer’s estranged husband. Larissa and Tim Schuster were separated and fighting over custody of their son, Tyler, as well as property. Although no longer working at Larissa’s lab, James still helped Larissa by house-sitting and hanging out with twelve-year-old Tyler.

When Tim disappeared, Larissa was questioned and released. James was also questioned, but not released because he confessed to … well, here is where things get murky. Did he confess to the murder? The police and prosecutors say yes. James says he didn’t know Larissa planned to murder Tim and he thought they were going to retrieve some of Larissa’s property. He says he confessed to helping her rob Tim, then he got pulled into being an accomplice when the robbery escalated to murder. Tim’s body was put into a barrel and acid from Larissa’s lab was poured in to destroy the remains.

Ralaine walks the reader through her feelings during that time. Her devastation at the arrest. Her horror at the details of the murder. Also, the months leading up to the arrest, when James’ life took a radical departure from the path he’d been on. As a Christian, Ralaine raised her children to follow God and His precepts, trusting that if she did that, God would keep His end of their “bargain,” and her children would be “good,” and stay out of trouble, and have happy lives. With James’ arrest, all her beliefs about God, faith, and her church came under scrutiny. And not all survived intact.

The reader will experience Ralaine’s emotions. She is honest and vulnerable. The book is more than the story of the Fagone and Schuster families and the murder and trials. The book is part memoir, part true-crime story, part Christian Living, but totally compelling.


Ralaine is offering a free print copy of BURDEN OF PROMISE to a blog reader who comments below. Tell me about a time you were shocked and saddened by a story in the news.

 

 

The Excellent Adventure: Portland Area

Friday, February 14, 2020

One of us was prepared with a Valentine’s Day card for the other, and one of us was not. And that’s all I’ll say about that!

We had some personal business to take care of in the morning, but by 1:00 we were on the road from Eugene to the Portland area. We had another uneventful drive to our hotel in Wilsonville, which was much appreciated. We won’t take those for granted again!

hf19l69hTO6j%+1lHVESswThe hotel is still undergoing renovations, but the lobby is done now. David checked out the restaurant in the hotel and they were having a Valentine’s Special so he made a dinner reservation. We ended up having a lovely evening, when I thought we’d be having Trader Joe’s snacks in our room. We had an amuse bouche of a grilled curried shrimp, then a grilled Caesar salad, then a salmon filet topped (they called it “stuffed” but it just had a little mound on top) with crab and seafood, with a wild rice pilaf and asparagus. The food was all delicious! Much better than you’d expect from a Holiday Inn. Dessert was warm chocolate fondue with fruit and cheesecake and truffle bites for dipping. All together most unexpected and delightful!

There was a DJ playing some music. No one danced, until we finally got up and did one dance in our bumbling-tripping-arguing-over-who’s-going-to-lead style. So maybe we broke the ice. We called it a night, took our leftovers, and headed upstairs.

Saturday, February, 15, 2020

Our first event of the year in Oregon was at the Divisional Wrestling Championships at Canby High School. The rain poured and it was cold, but spirits were high and we had a great day.

We started the day off with two Clackamas County Commissioners and two Grange members taking the tour. They were very engaged and interested and we had an excellent time. They were barely out the door and a Canby Police officer arrived. Dave gave him the tour. We also had some parents and coaches come through. Toward the end of the day, I had a female coach come through and she shared that a friend of her daughter’s was experimenting with drugs. She asked how much longer we were going to be there, because she was calling the girl’s mother to come over right away. We had less than an hour, but I told her where we were scheduled to be on Monday.

We had a discussion with our consultant about Monday’s venue. There was a small parking lot that would accommodate the trailer, barely. But not the trailer and truck. And backing the trailer in would be difficult if there were other cars in the parking lot. Rebecca apologized profusely, but given the short notice and the fact that Monday’s a holiday, we had to work with what we had. I asked if it would be possible to park the trailer there Sunday afternoon (when, presumably, there would be fewer cars in the lot to work around), and leave it overnight. Rebecca checked, got a thumbs-up, and we had a plan.

We were in kind of an awkward space at the high school, and another car and trailer had pulled in next to us. They were inside the (nice and dry and warm) gym selling T-shirts and other merchandise. They came out and said they were going to get some food and would return soon. Well, we got packed up and were ready to go, and they weren’t back yet. But Dave did some amazing pulling forward, and backing up and swinging wide and he got the trailer out of there just fine. I’m sure when the guys came back they were scratching their heads, wondering how the heck that happened?

Back at the hotel, we walked/biked in the workout room, had a bite in the restaurant, then Dave hit a wall. He was snoring by 9:00. I read for a while and then called it a night, too.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

We slept till 8:00 am (late for us, but still tired by the long day yesterday), hurried to breakfast, then back to our room to watch our churchEBOOQKtGSCm08lv2MnP6JA service online at 8:45. I worked for a couple of hours doing my mid-month reports, then we took the trailer to Monday’s venue. It did take some backing and maneuvering, but Dave got it in and it looked like the trailer was made for that spot.


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We ran a couple of errands in the Portland area (Duluth Trading Company!), then met my cousin and her husband for dinner at Oswego Grill. We had stayed with them several days the last time we were in the area and they graciously offered again, but given that our two events were on the east side of town, it just seemed to make sense to stay closer to our venues, so we’d thanked them and asked if we could go to dinner. It turned out we went out on Lisa’s birthday, so we got an extra dessert from the restaurant! We’d been there once before, the last time we visited Portland, and the food was delicious. David got salmon and I had baby-back ribs with a wonderful coleslaw. I’m not always a coleslaw fan, because it can be heavy and drowning in too-sweet dressing, but this one was just right–not too sweet, not overly dressed, still crunchy. Too soon, we said good-bye again, and headed back to the hotel.

It was another early-to-bed night.

Monday, February 17, 2020

We arrived at our venue, the offices of the Oregon Association of Nurseries at 9:03. Our consultants were waiting for us. It took only a few minutes to get the trailer all set up and ready to go.

We had a U.S. Congressman scheduled to arrive at 10 AM, and I was to give him the tour. He had a hard departure time of 10:30, which meant the tour would be somewhat abbreviated, so he would have time for questions and answers and chatting with other people.

He arrived promptly and we got right to it. He was thoroughly engaged and we had a delightful time. Our consultant told me after, my tour was, “Perfect.” I hit the highlights, and the timing was just right. The congressman was interested and stood around for several minutes afterward, asking more questions. He asked what he could do to help the project. He really was fabulous to engage with.

8yUSSGuvTSWB1%nYTcMZlAAfter my time with him, he filmed some more questions and answers, then departed pretty close to on schedule. The rest of the day was fairly steady. This event had been well publicized and I had a couple come because they’d heard about it on the radio (she was a school nurse and familiar with vaping and where that paraphernalia is hidden and what it looks like), and wanted to learn more about opioids. Other mothers came because they’d seen a newspaper ad. Dave took two moms on tours whose kids are already experimenting with drugs, especially marijuana, and wanted to be better informed.

Oh, and the mom that coach on Saturday said she was going to call? Yep, she came. I got to give her my last tour of the day on Monday. She was definitely intrigued by what she learned and said she’d be giving her daughter’s room a thorough search. She arrived in denial, but I like to think that maybe she left with opened eyes.

One of Dave’s tour mom’s commented that her son had recently begun collecting “soda cans.” Dave showed her the Coke can personal safe. And the Monster Energy personal safe and encouraged her to go home and take a closer look at some of those “soda cans.” She promised to do that.

Monday was definitely one of our most encouraging events so far. Everyone was so welcoming and eager to take the tour and blown away by what they learned. Everyone from a US Congressman to moms and dads trying to keep their kids safe and healthy.

Tuesday we’re headed to Tacoma for a couple of events in Washington. I’ll be back soon to catch up. Thanks for reading!

The Excellent Adventure: Yreka–>Eugene

After a long day yesterday, we decided to take it easier today. We only drove about three and a half hours into Eugene. It was fairly easy. There was definitely wind, and we did run into some light rain, the further north we got.

I did some work in the hotel room before we left at noon, and continued to work in the truck as we drove.

Once we checked into our hotel in Eugene, we did a short workout (treadmill for me, stationary bike for Dave), then went to dinner at a nearby brew pub.

We’re in our room at 6:00. I have a conference call in a few minutes.

Overall, a very quiet day, which we needed after yesterday!

Tomorrow, on to the Portland area. We plan to stay in Wilsonville, at a hotel we stayed at previously. It had some construction going on, the lobby was all torn up, and the parking lot was an obstacle course. Fingers crossed that things have progressed!

The Excellent Adventure: Back on the Road

Today we left home for the first extended portion of our Season 2 with the drug IMG_4516education trailer. We’re headed to Portland for two events this weekend. We planned to leave at 9 am and we were only about 30 minutes behind schedule this morning. We should have been either on time or a few minutes later.

After about an hour an a half, everything was going well. I was working on my laptop. (Since we knew where we were going, I didn’t need to navigate.) Suddenly David said, “Hold on!”

I looked up to see a truck/trailer stopping in front of us. David was braking but we were not stopping quickly enough. Sure enough, we hit them. Not hard. No airbags deployed. The other vehicle immediately pulled to the shoulder and we followed. Dave and the other driver exchanged information. Traffic had just slowed and he stopped quickly. More quickly than we could.

Everyone is fine, so that’s a blessing. The back doors of the other trailer will need to be replaced. Our truck front bumper has a couple of dimples and the license plate is slightly bent. This truck is a beast.

We were back on the road after about twenty minutes. Dave called the boss and told him. We continued on and pulled into our stop for tonight. Whenever we head to Oregon and Washington, we like to spend a night in Yreka. It’s a long day to or from home, but then IMG_4528it’s a shorter day to an Oregon destination. We have our favorite restaurant, so we got to town in time for dinner, checked in, and walked on the treadmill in the workout room.

David is now writing up all the accident information to send to the insurance company and our boss.

Since this trip started with a (literal) bang, we’re hoping and praying the rest of it will be smooth!

IMG_4527 It was a beautiful day for driving and we had gorgeous scenery to help pass the time.

Thanks for reading! I plan to stay mostly caught up as we travel this year.

Book Talk Tuesday: SISTERS BY CHOICE

I love opening new books by my favorites authors and a new book by Susan Mallery qualifies in every way.

SISTERS BY CHOICE is her newest and it’s my favorite read of the year so far. We return to Blackberry Island, off the coast of Washington state, in Puget Sound, and spend time with three cousins.

Sophie has just returned to the island to rebuild her cat toy/supplies business after a fire destroyed it in Southern California. She ignores helpful suggestions that she let her employees do their jobs while she does hers. She’s the one who grew the company singlehandedly. She’s the one who knows the company better than anyone else. She’s the one who works tirelessly for the company. She’s also the one who threatens the future of her beloved company by her dogged determination to do it all.

cover-sisters-by-choiceKristine loves life as a homemaker, her husband, and their three sons. She also loves her side career baking the cookies and brownies she sells to local tasting rooms, even as she dreams about opening her own bakery. Because her husband isn’t supportive, Kristine keeps those dreams to herself. Until the perfect location becomes available. Then Kristine may have to choose between her family and her own dreams.

Twenty-year-old Heather skipped going to college off the island to stay home and take financial care of her indolent and demanding mother. She feels trapped and resentful. Sophie bringing her business to Blackberry Island means Heather can quit two of her part-time jobs for one full-time job with the cat toy company. But as Heather learns about business and real life, she also learns she has to take care of herself before she can take care of anyone else.

Mallery writes romance and women’s fiction. SISTERS BY CHOICE is women’s fiction, with a dash of romance. Sophie is determined to stay single, but she meets a man who is just as determined that they deserve a future together. Kristine and her husband have a happy marriage on the outside, but when Kristine shares her dreams, it turns out they have some deep issues that need to be worked out.

I enjoyed seeing all three women grapple with their problems and emerge stronger and with better lives than they thought possible at the beginning of the book. They were cousins, but they support and love each other as sisters should.

I love this book and highly recommend it!


I received a free copy of this book, but that did not induce me to review it favorably.

Book Talk Tuesday on a Thursday: THE STORY OF US

It’s a twofer this week. Because I have a review already scheduled for next Tuesday, and I don’t want to let this one go another week.

THE STORY OF US is a charming tale that would be a perfect Hallmark Valentine’s movie. Oh wait! It is a Hallmark Valentine’s movie!

TSOUJamie Vaughn owns the perfect bookshop, True Love books, in the perfect town, Waterford, Oregon. Okay, maybe life isn’t perfect. The downtown business district has been losing stores and a redevelopment company is poised to swoop in and buy up the area, closing her shop. And she’s on a romantic hiatus. Her heart just can’t seem to get over her high school boyfriend who broke up with her when he left for college across the country while she stayed in Oregon for school. Her most recent sort-of-boyfriend took a job in Texas. He asked her to move with him, but she couldn’t leave her bookstore.

Sawyer O’Dell has to nail this next job and he’ll be offered a permanent position with the company. No more freelancing and living out of a suitcase. If only it didn’t mean returning to Waterford, where he graduated from high school and left behind his high school girlfriend. They were too young to be that serious, so he knew it was for the best, even if it hurt and even if he’d never met anyone else who made him feel like Jamie did. So he has to get this bid accepted. His design for the business district redevelopment is good and he knows he can sell the business owners on it.

Except he hadn’t counted on running into Jamie as soon as he arrives back in town. And he hadn’t counted on her determination to save her shop–and the business district.

The plot of THE STORY OF US is somewhat formulaic. This is a Hallmark romance, after all. We know how it’s going to end. But that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. There’s a lovely secondary plot about Jamie’s friend, Lucy, and Sawyer’s friend, Rick.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, and I can whole♥edly recommend it.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but it did not induce me to review it, either favorably or not.

 

 

 

The Great Adventure: Part 2

Yes, we’re getting ready to head out on the road again. The groups sponsoring the Code 3/RALICares/PhRMA trailer decided to do another season and offered us the opportunity to continue with the trailer. We accepted. We loved the job last year and are looking forward to what God has in store for us in 2020.

We’ve had a lovely two+ months at home. Well, mostly lovely. We spent a good part of the first six weeks sick, but once we got past that, it’s been lovely. We’ve gotten to love on our grandkids and spend time with family and friends. We’ve worked a lot around the house and on other projects.

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The trailer stayed at our house for the winter. We did two local events in Fresno while we were home. One at the local Code 3 Ministries/JARON Ministries, and one at a 5K run for a local treatment/recovery program.

At the first event, at Code 3, we had about a dozen people come, most of them friends who wanted to see exactly what we’ve been doing. It was so fun to show them the trailer and give the tour. We had a great time! Dave even stayed and hung out with his buddies for a while after the event was officially over.

The second event was last Saturday. We induced Taryn to come and help us. She took the IMG_4477place of a RALI Cares consultant and passed out tote bags for us. She was a huge help! Everyone at the 5K was interested in what we had as they were impacted by drug use in one way or another, either as an addict or a family member.

We arrived at 7 AM to be set up by 8. I gave my first tour at 7:45 to an eager group. But they weren’t quite sure what to expect and as I showed the signs of drug use that I pulled from the trash, one man left suddenly, taking two other men with him. That happens occasionally. Someone may get a phone call, or they see something that reminds them of a loved one they lost. I didn’t think much of it, just continued on. He came by later to tell me that he runs a recovery program and the two men with him were new in the program and he realized that they may see items that would be triggers and he decided he needed to get them out and get them out quickly.

We gave 30 tours in just two hours. We were hopping the whole morning. But it was great. We were home by 10:30.

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Then we left again Sunday morning, headed to watch the Super Bowl at my brother’s home near Sacramento. We stopped for gas and David took the driveway at an awkward angle, a little too fast, and … we had to change a tire on the trailer. It didn’t take long and we were soon on our way again. We’ve spent a few days in the Sacramento area after watching the 49ers lose.

We have an event at the Capitol this afternoon, then we’ll drive home tonight. We’ll be heading back to Oregon and Washington next week sometime. We were told our first event is near Portland on the 15th, but I got an email this morning that it may be as early as the 12th, so who knows? I’ll keep you posted!