AWAKENINGS: THE LOST SPIRITS – SHARLA SHULTS

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

Today is a quiet day…a co-o-o-old day so definitely a day to stay inside simply enjoying the warmth of hearth and home. Just finished reading The 12-ft Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong (featured below) and thought I would take some time to visit blogs I am following. How surprised I was upon coming across The Lost Spirits @A Misbehaved Woman.

What better topic to revisit than that of the American Indians?

Disturbing, however, is the fact this story is not totally past history…it is tied to history, yes, but it is also right here, right now, in America, in New York City.

Read the rest of the story on Awakenings!

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

So much good stuff to read in this post … including (blush) the best review I’ve ever gotten of my little book.

See on awakenings2012.blogspot.com

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BEWARE OF DERANGED BOOKWORMS

Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination. Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS.

I can do this. I have books. I wrote a book … and it has its own blurb! Wow! I can DO this, oh world! Just hold on, let me run and get the camera and I’ll take a few pictures. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave. I won’t be gone long …

(Time: 11:10 AM EST … tick tick tick …)

Okay, I’m back and it’s just 11:21 AM. I took pictures. A few more than I intended and gave the desperate canines another round of biscuits. I’d like to know which of you rotten little terriers peed on the kitchen floor! Too cold for your little paws? You know, that could affect your biscuit distribution if I ever catch you!

Now, please wait another few minutes while I take a look at the pictures and see which ones I want to use. Stay put. I’m just going to peek into Photoshop briefly … tick tick tick …

I’m nearly ready. Not quite, but pictures take time. It’s already 12:15 PM. I never seem to leave enough time to process photos. Anyway, I get hung up, frozen while trying to decide what to do with which pictures. I guess this is going to go up tomorrow, rather than right now, because it’s getting late and I’m not finished yet. Drat.

Tomorrow is another day. (Who said that?)(Just kidding. I know.)

You can tell a lot about people from the contents of their bookcases. I’m always shocked to go into a home and discover there are NO bookcases. I realize there are people who don’t read, but I still get upset. How can you not love books?

You can look at the pictures here and know a lot about both of us. We share many books … mysteries and histories … but branch off into specializations too. I’m into antiques, sci fi and fantasy. Garry is a film buff, a devotee of classic film — and baseball.

Between us, we never lack for something to talk about. Or, at least, I don’t!

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DAVIS WAY IS BACK — DOUBLE DIP, BY GRETCHEN ARCHER

Double Dip is the second mystery starring the intrepid Davis Way, written by intrepid author, Gretchen Archer. Even better than Double Whammy, it’s fast, funny, witty and complex.

double dip in bookcase

Something is rotten at the Bellissimo casino where Davis Way works high level security. Employees are double dipping all over the place, including at the slot machines. It’s slot tournament season. How better to catch a cheater at slots that be part of the action? Davis Way’s has never seen, much less played in a slot-tournament, but duty calls … this time as a competitor in the tournament. Good news? She gets to wear really great clothing and stay in the finest accommodations Bellissimo has to offer.

Bad news? She working day and night until further notice. Her personal life is going down the tubes. Even on the job, she’s in the deep end of the pool … and swimming isn’t her best sport.

Of course nothing is what it appears to be. Nothing is simple or straightforward. Work is driving her crazy. Her personal life is running off the rails and working all the time is not helping.

The boss’s wife’s personal assistant is missing after bullets are fired. A mousey elderly church lady appears to be the key to a suspicious series of slot machine wins. Meanwhile, after Davis faints dead away in the arms of Bellissimo’s hugely popular emcee, he seems to be gaga over her — not exactly what Davis needs while trying to track down where that slot-playing church lady came from — and what her real motives are.  And what does the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church have to do with all of this? Everything is linked to everything else and it’s going to take all Davis’s sleuthing skills to untangle this Gordian knot.

dbl dip cover

Where’s Bradley Cole during all of this? Working late with Mary Ha-Ha, that’s where. The class action suit on Bradley is working is as suspicious as the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church … and maybe connected. What’s worse? Davis is pretty sure her persistent upset stomach is not the flu. If only their respective jobs left them some time to talk. If only her sleaze-bag ex-ex Eddie Crawford, would stop showing up where he is so unwanted!

acknowledgement

Complicated? It is indeed. Yet the author carries it off with aplomb, style and humor.

Plots within plots, entwined with subplots and back stories. Ms. Archer juggles all the complexities while keeping track of at least a dozen characters, then ties all those dangling threads into a beautiful bow. Nothing is left hanging by accident. At the end of the book, all that remains are tidbits designed to lure you into the next adventure.

All my favorite books make me laugh. There’s nothing I value more in an author than a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. Gretchen Archer has these in abundance. I admit I got more involved in this book than usual and had a small part in an early edit of the text … which changed enormously afterwards. I’m delighted to have taken part in the project and grateful to Gretchen for giving me more credit than I deserve.

Read Double Whammy and then read Double Dip. You will absolutely be glad you did.

BEYOND THE MOON: ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER, ALDRIN AND BARNES

Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz AldrinJohn Barnes

Originally published in July 1996, Encounter With Tiber was released on Kindle on May 28, 2013. I’m a lifelong fan of science fiction and space exploration. I watched the moon landing in 1969 — the glory days of NASA — and dreamed I’d see space flight become accessible to everyone, even me.

I jumped into reading this with enthusiasm. Buzz Aldrin’s fingerprints are all over the first section of the book. Not only does it give you an up-close and highly personal look at the inner workings of NASA, but it gives you an uncomfortably intimate view of the politics of America’s space program. From this, I gleaned an enormous amount of information about what happened to the U.S. space program.

How it is that more than 40 years after landing men on the moon, our space program is moribund, hobbled by in insufficient budget. Our human dreams of venturing into space are dead on the launch pad. The 16-years since the publication of the book have dealt unkindly with NASA. It’s hard to see what would revive the program.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...

This first part of the book is a beautiful presentation of our space technology, why it worked, why it stopped working. For the first time, I understand the workings — and failures — of our technology.  Aldrin uses diagrams to explain all kinds of stuff that I had heard about and never understood. I know it is supposed to be fiction, but it felt real.

Then the book switches authors. Rarely in a co-authored book has it been so obvious when one author stopped writing and the other picked up. The style goes from scientific and precise, to … something else. Aldrin writes like a scientist, which he is. Barnes writes like a novelist for whom details are optional.

Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Armstrong t...

The change in “voice” is abrupt and somewhat jarring.

Both authors write well but very differently. This is an ambitious book which covers the development and fizzling of our space program then takes off into the stars with a crew composed of different sentient species leaving from other planets in yet another star system. The stories tie together by sharing a common theory of the life and death of stars and planets.

I was a bit put off by the sudden switch from Aldrin’s precision to Barnes lack thereof. Aldrin explains everything and can’t go 10 pages without a diagram. When he’s writing, you don’t spend a lot of time saying “huh?” Barnes, on the other hand, doesn’t bother to define any terms at all. Vague and belated attempts to rectify the initial omissions are more annoying than satisfying. Eventually, I just rearranged my brain and moved on.

The characters — human and otherwise — are interesting, though the aliens weren’t sufficiently alien for me to feel their alienness. More like humans in wookie costumes.

English: Footprint of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

It’s worth reading just for the first half obviously written by Buzz Aldrin. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to our space program and why, this book will make it all clear as a freshly washed window. As science fiction, it’s a long and complicated book — 596 pages. And it’s really two books, the one Aldrin wrote and the one Barnes wrote.

The theory it postulates is troubling. If you accept the book’s premise, the failure of our space program will ultimately doom us to extinction. All of us. Not tomorrow, but eventually. The foundation principle of the plot is in the end, that everything dies.

Planets and stars have a life span. Worlds get old. Stars wink out. If a sentient species has no way to escape its dying planet, it will die with the planet. It’s enough to give one pause. If you never thought about it before, Encounter With Tiber will get you thinking in new directions, perhaps worrying in new directions.

Think of this as two separate book fused together, related, but not the same. It will make more sense and be easier to read. Essentially, that’s what it is. Two books. Two authors. Related, but not the same. Everything you never wanted to know about NASA and then a trip through the stars in an alien ship looking for a new planet to call home.

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THE ULTIMATE DARWINIAN CHALLENGE — JOHN DIXON’S PHOENIX ISLAND

Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Publication Date – January 21, 2014

The story that inspired CBS TV’s Intelligence. Phoenix Island was supposed to be a boot camp for troubled children. Carl Freeman, at 16, is a boxing champion. He’s also about to be sentenced by a judge … prison? It’s not his first time in front of the bench. He isn’t even sure how many times he’s been here before, but always for the same thing — defending someone from bullies. It gets him in trouble every time, but this time, it’s worse. No slap on the wrist. He’s going to a “terminal facility,” the toughest boot camp of them all: Phoenix Island. It’s a two-year sentence — or a life sentence. Sometimes, there’s a thin line between the two. When Carl realized Phoenix Island is actually a mercenary training camp designed to change orphans — kids with no attachments to the “outside world” — into deadly, conscienceless super soldiers, he decides to do whatever it takes to save the people he loves even at the cost of his own life.

PhoenixIsland

The popular TV show Intelligence is based on this book. Since I’d never heard of or seen the show, I wasn’t swayed one way or the other. This is not the kind of book I usually read. Too much violence, too much intensity. Life is intense and I prefer my reading relaxing. But, I was intrigued and decided to give this one a go and I’m glad I did — mostly.

The book is much better than I expected. It just kept getting better from the beginning to the end, picking up speed and adding layers to the characters and the story. There are a lot of deaths and plenty of violence leading up to said deaths. And it’s not just  physical violence. There is systematic torture, emotional and psychological abuse, starvation and bullying of the most horrible kind. You name it, it’s here. The audience for this book is supposed to young adults. Is this what we are giving our kids to read? Yikes.

There’s no sex at all, nor any rough language, but there is sufficient graphic violence for a dozen books. If I had read this when I was 16 , it would have given me nightmares for years. Parents and teachers might want to consider whether or not every kid is emotionally equipped to process graphic violence before recommending this book. I wouldn’t let my kid watch Pop-Eye cartoons because they were ugly and violent.

For those who can handle the imagery and still get a night’s sleep, it’s a gripping story. And a surprising one. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, don’t stop reading. Something else will happen, something you probably didn’t see coming.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book — maybe its best part — is the presentation of evil as not entirely black versus white, but many shades of gray. That a person having the same character and personality might be worthy of kingship in one generation, but be incarcerated as a criminal in the next. That the same talents can be applied for good or evil, depending on circumstance, timing and luck. Good and evil are not absolutes, but are born (at least in part) from the popular attitudes of society at a given time and place.

If the general cruelty, ugliness and brutality of the story doesn’t bother you, you’re in for a good read. Taut and tense, the book starts off a bit slow and gathers momentum. Meet the giant spiders, the vicious pigs (human and four-legged), the bullies, the torturer, the power-mad-evil-genius, the baby assassins and don’t forget the hammerhead sharks. You may find your stomach heaving, but you won’t be bored.

The book is available in Kindle, hardcover and as an Audible.com download beginning tomorrow, January 21, 2014

DOUBLE WHAMMY – A DAVIS WAY MYSTERY, GRETCHEN ARCHER

Dble Whammy-NK-03

Double Dip, the second Davis Way mystery by Gretchen Archer is due for publication in January 28, 2014. Today seems a perfect time to take another look at Double Whammy.

Davis Way used to be a cop in Pine Apple, Alabama. Her name sounds like a road and the name of the town looks misspelled, but really, that’s her name and Pine Apple is indeed the town from which she hails. She used to be married. To Eddie. Twice. It didn’t work out the first time and it’s hard to figure why she married him a second time.

doubleWhammy

In the course of the second divorce from her first-and-second husband — she refers to him as her ex-ex — Davis and Eddie behaved badly. Badly enough to get her fired from the force by her father and for 2-way retraining orders to get slapped on Davis and her ex-ex. The juicy details of what happened are never given. I rather hope future books will flush out that piece of history.

After a very long search for some kind of job, she is hired by a Biloxi casino, purportedly to discover how someone(s) is beating the machines to collect the jackpot on their Double Whammy Poker slot machines. The terms of her employment are murky. From the get-go, Davis is sure that there’s something seriously awry with the entire setup but she needs the job. She needs the paycheck.

It’s hard to do your job when you aren’t sure what your job is. Harder still when nobody is who or what they appear, including Davis herself. Davis gets in deeper and deeper until she is about to be swallowed by the crime she is investigating. Eventually, with help from unexpected parties, she extracts herself from the quagmire that threatens to keep her in prison for a very long time. And she finds love. Her own double whammy.

The book is funny, fast-paced, witty and ironic. The biggest problems for me were occasional narrative leaps and missing transitions. I found myself backing up and rereading to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But that’s quibbling.

Davis comes from a small town, but she’s no hick. She has degrees in Computer Science and Criminology. There’s not a dumb bone in her body. She has the makings of a strong female character and that’s rare enough in the world of mystery writing. I like Davis Way. She’s bright, observant, creative, dedicated and brave. She has a lot of heart. The book is a bit uneven but Gretchen Archer has a fresh voice and I hope to hear it many more times.

As a first novel, Double Whammy is ambitious and well-realized. She has created a strong main character and a story with plenty of action. She handles a complex plot, a lot of characters, a love story plus back stories. The author manages to keep track of the plots and sub plots and tie up the ends. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a new author. I’m convinced as Ms. Archer gains skill at her craft, her characters will grow and mature too.

It’s a good book — fast-paced, lively and charming. It leaves plenty of room for character development and future stories. When there are more books in the series, I will read them. I’m expecting great things from Gretchen Archer.

She has been compared to Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum). There are similarities in their writing styles, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Davis Way is potentially a strong character. She isn’t just funny. She has depth. Computer expert and criminologist, she’s been brought up by a police chief father. She knows how to handle weapons and has the instincts of a real detective. I hope the author develops these qualities.

Davis will be a terrific sleuth.

About the audio version from Audible.com – This is about as bad an audiobook as I’ve ever heard. The narrator is all wrong. She can’t do a southern accent, even a bad one. Her voice is wrong for Davis. She manages to suck all the humor out of the book. This is about as poor a selection of narrator as I’ve ever encountered. Just awful. Did anyone at Audible actually listen to this before releasing it? Even for free, don’t bother. I got halfway through it and I’m not going to finish it. It’s that bad.

Double Whammy is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. At a $2.99 introductory price on Kindle, it’s priced to sell. It’s more than worth the price. It is also available from Audible.com but I strongly recommend you NOT buy it.

Double Dip Teaser

Double Dip is even better than Double Whammy. It’s great! Fast, funny, witty and complex, it continues the Davis Way story.Too early to review it, but It’s scheduled for release January 28th, so you’ll see my review January 27th.

acknowledgement

This is the first time I’ll be reviewing a book in which I participated. I’ve loved it from the first look I got at the manuscript. It has come a long way since then. The final version, the one you lucky devils get to buy, is delicious. You might want to read Double Whammy first. Become acquainted with Davis Way … and get ready for the next adventure.

I’m tickled pink … perhaps tickled rainbow? … to have been a part of the project, even in a small way. I got my very first ever acknowledgement in a book and it feels great. I simply had to show it off.

About the Author

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy is her first Davis Way mystery and her first novel. The next, Double Dip, will be available beginning January 25, 2014.

OPPOSING IDEAS CREATE A NATION – JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation

John Ferling

Publication date: October 1, 2013

coverJeffHam-medium

One of my professors in college was Broadus Mitchell. He was the foremost Hamiltonian scholar of his day, author of multiple biographies of Hamilton and associates. Not surprisingly, my freshman year at Hofstra’s New College with Broadus Mitchell was an intensive study of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America. The textbook was (surprise!) one of the several biographies of Hamilton authored by Broadus Mitchell.

When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I was intrigued. I wondered what the author could tell me I hadn’t read elsewhere and if he could tell the story better or differently, perhaps offer some fresh insights.

I have patience with history books. I don’t expect it to read like fiction. Much to my delight, John Ferling’s opening chapters in which he compares and examines the youth, upbringing and psychological makeup of both men is beautifully written — entertaining and lively. Perceptive. Astute. What drove them, what inspired them to become the men who built America.

All was going swimmingly well for me until the war began. The Revolutionary War.

I am not a war buff. I was not expecting a play-by-play of the revolution. But there it was. Battle by battle, troop movement by troop movement. I could feel my brain switch to off. I’m not sure why the full details of the war are included. Aside from showcasing Hamilton’s military career (doable in a few paragraphs), it adds little to my understanding of either man. As far as I’m concerned, it mainly adds hundreds of pages where a page or two of summary would have sufficed.

If you are a military history buff, you will want to read it. I’ve read other accounts of the military side of the Revolution and this is as good or better than any other book I’ve read on the subject. Perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t want to read it here. It’s your choice. You can choose to skim sections. It’s a long book and there’s plenty of excellent material to engage you. When Ferling is writing about the character and personality of his two extraordinary subjects, he’s brilliant. It makes everything else worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were two of the most influential men in American history. The author said it well when he commented (sorry, this isn’t a quote … I’m paraphrasing) that there are lots of statues dedicated to Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s world. True enough. Hamilton was the consummate advocate of a strong central government with economic control through a central bank. Jefferson advocated extreme individual freedom, leaving most government to local authorities.

It amuses me that Hamilton is the darling of the conservatives while Jefferson is a liberal ideal. Given Hamilton’s belief in strong central government and Jefferson’s preference for isolationism, individualism and decentralization — well, it pretty much defines our nation’s problem with cognitive dissonance.

If you’re a serious history buff, there is much to like, even if not every part of the book is equally gripping .

It is said that “Both men were visionaries, but their visions of the United States were diametrically opposed.” That may have been true in 1780, but it has long ceased to have any relevance. The strands of their initially opposing philosophies have twisted into a single ball. Both strands are necessary to our American dream.

Jefferson and Hamilton is the story of the struggle — public and ultimately personal — between two major figures in our country’s history. It ended when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president.

Worth reading for sure, but it’s not light entertainment. This is history buff material. Fortunately, there are still a few of us around.

Of all the reviews I’ve written, I’ve gotten the most feedback on this one (especially on Amazon), both pro and con. I didn’t expect that kind of response and it’s a pleasant surprise. Apparently there are still people out there interested in history, interested enough to argue about it. I find that very encouraging. Maybe there’s hope for our future after all!

About the author:

John Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of many books on American Revolutionary history, including The Ascent of George Washington; Almost a Miracle, an acclaimed military history of the War of Independence; and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark. He and his wife, Carol, live near Atlanta, Georgia.

WHAT A GUY! DAN BROWN’S INFERNO

Dan Brown’s Inferno is a page turner. The author has created a highly successful formula for his best sellers. They are entertaining, fast-paced. Inferno is no exception. In this adventure sent in Italy and loosely following stuff drawn from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, he offers readers a sense of inclusion, as if we are all reading something that contains Truth and Meaning, but without requiring we perform any real mental exercise.

It’s a formula that works. Inferno – all 560 pages — whisks you along while feeding you tantalizing tidbits of apparently arcane knowledge. You feel you’ve been let into an exclusive club and taught the secret handshake.

Cover of "The Inferno (Barnes & Noble Cla...

As with all of Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon — my pick for The Most Interesting Man in the World – is hired (hijacked?) to unravel a mystery wrapped in an enigma, to follow a trail, find and stop a catastrophe on which the fate of humankind hinges. Which is what he does in every book in which he appears. There is (of course) a beautiful woman of mystery. In this case, two. There are dangerous men of questionable loyalties, dreams and visions of death and plague. There is the inevitable evil genius who has constructed a terrible mechanism of ultimate destruction (or is it?) and the clock is ticking.

Only Robert Langdon, of all the professors in all the universities in all the world could possibly unravel the knot. This is made more difficult because, for much of the book, Dr. Langdon is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember several critical days and events. Not that this will stop the intrepid professor.

It’s almost as good as a trip to Italy, without the expense and stress of physical travel. Whatever Dan Brown may lack as an author, he has a remarkable gift for description. He brings his locations alive. You see them through his eyes in all their glory and it is, in my opinion, what raises his books above the ordinary and makes them memorable. You probably only remember the outline of the plots, but you remember the places because he describes them so vividly.

It’s something of a scavenger hunt. Langdon and his companion(s) follow the bread crumbs (clues) to the ultimate destination. Will he get there in time? Can he stop it from doing the evil thing the madman who set it in motion planned?

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell...

There’s a bit of a surprise ending to the book. A few extra plot twists leave the story wide open for a sequel. Inferno is a much better story than The Lost Symbol (probably because Florence trumps Washington DC) though he has not topped The DaVinci Code. As far as stories, got, Angels and Demons (the book, not the movie) was almost as silly as Harrison Ford surviving a nuclear explosion by locking himself in an old refrigerator. Nothing will ever top the nuke vs. the refrigerator for the “surely you don’t expect me to believe that” medal … but Langdon’s parachute jump using his jacket comes pretty close. He didn’t even sprain an ankle. What a guy!

If you examine it closely, you will notice more than a few parts don’t make sense, but it’s fiction. Do not take it seriously. If you read it just for fun and don’t think too hard, you’ll enjoy it. Not only is Dan Brown the master of non sequitur, but his hero, Robert Langdon makes leaps of logic that go far beyond impressive, They are absolutely psychic. The cherry on top is Langdon does most of this while suffering from amnesia! Again all I can say is, what a guy!

It’s not great literature — maybe not even good literature — but it is great recreation. It’s all action, sexy without anyone having sex, no small achievement. And, if there’s a trip to Florence in your future, it’s a must-read. It’s better than any guide-book.

Inferno is available in bookstores everywhere and of course on Audible.com and Kindle. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was excellent, so if you prefer listening, this is a good one.

CELEBRITY LAUGHS AND A FEW TEARS – HAM: SLICES OF LIFE, SAM HARRIS

Ham: Slices of Life, Essays and Stories by Sam Harris

From the publisher: With a wry style that evokes comparisons to Carrie Fisher, David Rakoff, and Steve Martin, Sam Harris proves that he is a natural humorist. Even The New York Times, in a review of one of his musical performances, called his stories “New Yorker-worthy.”

Ham slices of a life coverUntil I read this book, I’d never heard of Sam Harris. Not merely had I never heard of him, I’d never heard him sing or seen him perform. Not even as a guest on Leno or some other show. How out of touch am I? Well, about 25 years, give or take a decade. I more or less stopped listening to new music sometime in the late 1970s except for the occasional score from a show or movie. I would declare it to be “my bad” except that I don’t feel the least bit apologetic. I’m content with the music I know and love and a great deal of classical music that, to put it in new-speak, never gets old.

When this book came up for review, I took it not because it was a celebrity autobiography but because it promised to be funny and I am always up for a dose of funny.

I am pleased to say the book delivers everything it promises and perhaps a bit more. It is, in many places, laugh out loud, giggly guffaw funny. In those sections which are not funny, the subjects are well-handled, thoughtful and occasionally brought tears to my eyes. Having recently read two celebrity autobiographies that disappointed me because I expected a lot and got little, this was exactly opposite. I expected nothing but got a great deal.

Sam Harris — who I have still never heard sing — is an intelligent, literate guy. His recounting of the celebrity wedding of his pal Liza Minnelli to “the man whose name shall go unmentioned” is hilarious. The 16 essays cover Harris’s life from childhood to performing on Oprah’s first show after 9/11, a recounting that caused me to choke up with painful memories. His disappointing opening for Aretha Franklin during a blizzard — sometimes, the legend is better than reality.

Though poignant in places, the book is more often funny. Which is good because I really like funny.

I am reading Ham on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite. I’m laughing so hard I feel my husband staring at me, wondering what in the world is going on. After ascertaining I am not having a seizure, I tell him it’s a celebrity autobiography … and I think he should read it too because … well … it’s funny. I ask. Turns out, he has never heard of Sam Harris either. We are united in our out-of-touchness.

Growing up a gay kid in Oklahoma had to be rough, but he doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself. He gives credit to his parents for supporting him even though they didn’t necessarily understand him. He avoids the dreary trough of “kiss and tell” into which so many autobiographies fall. He does manage to include a reasonable amount of self-promotion — it wouldn’t be a celebrity autobiography without it — he doesn’t  wallow in it, either. For a celebrity, he’s almost modest.

But most important, the book is well written. Funny, sad, cogent, literate … it avoids being mawkish or snarky. Yes, there’s gossip, but it isn’t just (or all) gossip. The most revealing information is the author about himself. He is candid about his failings and failures. His alcoholism and recovery. His stubborn refusal to face reality until it bangs him painfully over the head. The problems he has relating to his adopted son and the credit he gives to his partner as a human being and a parent.

It offers enough tidbits about the great and near-great to titillate those of us who enjoy a little titillation … and enough wisdom to make me feel I didn’t waste my time. I can recommend this book with a whole heart and a clear conscience. It’s good. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you are a Hollywood gossip enthusiast, you’ll probably like it even more.

Available starting today on Kindle, from Audible.com, in hardcover and no doubt paperback in short order.

THUMBS DOWN ON KINDLE FIRE HDX – THUMBS UP ON PAPERWHITE

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They were supposed to be pretty much the same as the Fire HD, but with better graphics, battery and sound. A few other perks like really great support and cameras front and back. Gadget junky that I am, I resisted until December, but my Fire was slowing down. Probably from all the stuff I was doing on it. Mind you, it never stopped working but it didn’t work quite as fast or smoothly as it had. When Amazon dropped the price by $50 before Christmas, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest. Nice.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new, improved interface for email and the calendar is better too. I know the audio and video were technically better, but they weren’t noticeably different to me. The audio and video on the Fire HD are great and if the HDX is a little better, it’s not a big difference.

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I loved my Kindle Fire HD. I figured I would love the new one even more. And I did. For a day. Maybe two. That was when I realized the battery was draining phenomenally fast. At one point, I was on the phone with Kindle support complaining about the battery — and it was dropping at about 1% every two or three minutes. She said video uses up a lot of battery and I said I’d been able to watch movies on the Fire HD, but at this rate wouldn’t make it through a movie on the HDX without plugging it in.

In about 40 minutes, it dropped more than 50%. I plugged it in before it went flat. It also drained while it was not in use — sleeping — at approximately 5% per hour. Reading — not using audio or video — drained it at 15% per hour. As the battery hit less than 20%, it became unresponsive. Customer support suggested I let it drain all the way and recharge it. Which I did.

No improvement. Part of the problem is you can’t turn off apps except by forcing a stop. This is an awkward process which merely slows (but doesn’t stop) the battery from draining while the device sleeps. If you are using the HDX, it chews through the battery at warp speed. You can actually see it drop.

Back at customer service, she suggested I return it and try a different unit. I had an itchy feeling in my brain the problem was NOT my unit, but a design issue. I’d been reading reviews. Too many people complaining of battery problems to be just a coincidence. I noticed the reviews before I bought but couldn’t believe Amazon would knowingly market a seriously flawed product. The Fire HD didn’t get weeks from its battery as does a plain vanilla Kindle, but it gets a solid 12 hours. That’s twelve hours of actual use. On the HDX, you’d be lucky to get 4 hours of simple reading. Nonetheless, after being assured I could return it if I didn’t like it, I agreed to try another one. A couple of days later, the new HDX arrived.

The second HDX was worse than the first. Not only did it eat its battery, but it took forever to connect to WiFi — and sometimes wouldn’t connect at all — a problem I hadn’t had on the first unit. In a house with 9 working computers, I knew it wasn’t my WiFi. It was the device. The connectivity problem persisted even when plugged in. And even when it found the WiFi, it would rarely open a website, even Amazon. This pushed me over the edge. I’m not eager to return things. I hang on to all kinds of things with which I’m not entirely satisfied, but I couldn’t afford to do it this time. I need a working Kindle.

Maybe I could have lived with the awful battery performance, but not with the useless browser too. After less than a week, I called Amazon and said “That’s it, I’m done.” In the meantime, in a fit of totally unwarranted optimism, I had given my Fire HD to my daughter-in-law and couldn’t bring myself to ask for it back. I wouldn’t have gotten it anyhow because she really likes it.

Which left me without a Kindle. Not good.

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I bought the Paperwhite — the model with WiFi, not 3G. It arrived yesterday. I set it up late in the afternoon. It went live as soon as I plugged it in. At blinding speed it connected, displaying all my books and documents sorted into categories I’d created on my original Kindle. The Paperwhite reminded me why I fell in love with Kindles.

It’s a great reader. It has a just a few bells and no whistles. It’s light, small, easy-to-use. It has a touch screen, virtual keyboard and its own light, but retains many things I loved about the older Kindles, mainly that it’s a wonderful device on which to read a book. Paperwhite is a dedicated reader, not a tablet. Flat, non-reflective surface — easy on the eyes. Adjustable fonts and lighting that won’t wake your spouse. It weighs almost nothing, even with a cover.

I settled in to read last night. For the first time in a long while, I could focus on a book. The Fire HD was a fine tablet, but it was forever teasing me away from reading to play a game, hear a tune, or watch a movie — things I can do on my laptop.

Perhaps this is what I should have bought in the first place. I cannot recommend the Kindle Fire HDX, but hey, if you want a reader? The Paperwhite is fantastic.

THE HOLLOWS RETURNS, FEB 2014 — THE UNDEAD POOL by Kim Harrison (Review by Annie Tegelan)

See much more about this book, this review and all things Hollows-related on KIM HARRISON’S DRAMA


Reviewed by Annie Tegelan
Posted January 1, 2014

Paranormal

Welcome back to the Hollows! In THE UNDEAD POOL, the twelfth book of the series, Kim Harrison gives readers exactly what they have been wishing for.

Witch and day-walking demon Rachel Morgan has a new set of problems wreaking havoc on Cincinnati. Spells are misfiring everywhere, but the origin of the glitch seems to be her ley line. Which makes Rachel responsible for cleaning up the mess. The timing is bad, to say the least. The union of humans and Inderlanders is shaky and Rachel wonders if this task is too big even for her. With undead master vampires in the mix, it could become war. There’s no time to waste.

If things aren’t sufficiently complicated, there’s the ongoing, always tentative relationship between Rachel and Trent. They’ve been dancing around it for what seems — forever? As they circle one another, giving hints and kisses, readers are on the tenterhooks while Harrison addresses the burning question: “Will Rachel and Trent finally get together?”

Harrison’s writing and amazing world-building are second to none. It’s no wonder this series has gained such a passionate following. The characters continue to grow, the world is constantly changing — and the plot in each book feel fresh and new. THE UNDEAD POOL is without question the best of the series!

In Pale Demon, Rachel Morgan saved the demon’s Everafter from shrinking and ultimately disappearing. But it came at a high cost. Strange, dark magic is attacking Cincinnati and the Hollows. Spells backfire or go horribly awry. The truce between Inderlander and human is breaking up. Rachel must stop the dark necromancy before the undead vampire masters — those who keep the rest of the undead under control — are destroyed bringing an all-out supernatural war.

Rachel knows of only one weapon with the power to ensure peace: ancient elven wild magic.  Which carries its own perils.

And painful experience has shown Rachel that no good deed goes unpunished . . .

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

My favorite series is drawing to a close. This isn’t the final book. There will be one more ( I keep hoping for even more). In the meantime, I’m experiencing advance withdrawal pangs!

See on freshfiction.com

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

By James Garner and Jon Winokur - Release date: October 23, 2012

garnerfiles

From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong opinions, you would be right. He has a great many opinions and no reticence about expressing them. He’s an unabashed liberal, egalitarian, man of the people who made good.

He thinks acting should come naturally and claims he’s never taken acting lessons.

It’s true. He never took any formal acting lesson. That he spent weeks huddled with Marlon Brando when he was shooting “Sayonara” and learned an incredible amount from the man he considers the best actor ever … I guess that doesn’t count as acting lessons. And lessons or no, this is an actor who’s easy-going, deceptively relaxed acting style makes it look easy. Making it look easy took a lot of hard work which seems to be the way it works with so many things that appear easy … when someone else does it.

Garner is an honest guy. He tells it like he sees it, or at least remembers it. He ruthlessly reviews every television series he made in detail, including his favorite episodes with lots of back stories and anecdotes. He reviews and rates every movie he made. I like some of them better than he did, but mostly I agree with his assessments. We all agree “The Americanization of Emily” was not only his best movie, but maybe the best movie of that type. Ever. I’m inclined to agree. “Emily” was not merely a movie but an ideal. He spent the rest of his life trying to live up to.

Probably the one that has given me the most laughs is “Support Your Local Sheriff” in which he reprised his Maverick persona.

If “Emily” was his best movie, “Grand Prix” was his favorite. Like many other Hollywood stars, he’s in love with fast cars and racing. Grand Prix was pure fun for the entire cast.

Who he likes and doesn’t like? You won’t have to guess. He tells you exactly how he feels about everyone. He’s not big on forgiving or forgetting. Given that he shares his birthday with my husband, I’m not surprised.

Grand Prix (1966 film)

He came from a  poor, rough, abusive childhood. He worked hard and is the only person who seems to have had more surgery than me. That’s a lot of surgery, believe me.

It never occurred to me that acting was so physically taxing, but apparently he is by no means the only performer to have broken just about everything at one time or another.

His two famous battles with studios were history-making because he won. The second lawsuit revolved around “The Rockford Files” and the issue was shady bookkeeping practices employed by studios to avoid paying performers. Technically he settled out of court for what was (apparently) so much money he’s still laughing about it. He wanted to keep fighting because there was a principle involved. His friends told him to shut up and take the money. Eventually, he decided they were right. It must have been a lot of money. My guess is that the studios continue to play fast and loose with bookkeeping and will … as long as they get away with it.

I enjoyed reading the book on Kindle and then enjoyed it a second time as an audiobook. I wish Garner had done the narration himself. Although Audible found a narrator whose voice and intonation resemble Garner’s and it’s good, it’s still not the same as having Garner do it.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of James Garner and his movies … or for anyone who likes knowing what was going on behind the scenes. It’s entertaining, honest, surprising and often funny. I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll probably read it again. I’d give this one a solid 9 out of 10.

It’s a fine autobiography. It’s available on Kindle, Audible.com, in paperback and hardcover (large print).

- – -

SAVING THE WORLD AGAIN — THE TENTH CIRCLE, JON LAND

tenthCircle

Open Road Media - Publication: December 24, 2013

Blaine McCracken and John Wareagle are called upon to save the world from an ancient weapon of mass destruction which has lain hidden for centuries.

Unleashing the terror is the Reverend Jeremiah Rule, a man whose hate-filled rhetoric has begun to further devastate a society already wracked by terrorism. Rule is an insane megalomaniac, the embodiment of purest evil — and he isn’t acting alone. Working with him is a cabal of powerful political and ex-military men, using him for their own ends, to pull down the government. 

McCracken finds himself targeted too … as do others who fight the wars about which the public never hears. Forced to work in secret, with bare hours to prepare, McCracken must enlist help from wherever he can … from among old friends and old enemies.

This is a battle Blain McCracken cannot afford to lose.

I was new to the Blaine McCracken novels, so I read this without having read any of the previous books in the series. I didn’t even know this was part of a series. Regardless, I had no trouble following the story. I’m sure reading the other books would have enhanced the experience, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Now, I’m planning to go back and read the others. I love discovering a new series.

This is a fast-moving thriller. Lots of action, guns and hi-tech weapons of mass destruction. McCracken and Wareagle are my kind of heroes — totally committed to saving the world and absolutely on the side of Good and Righteousness.

It’s not deathless prose, but it’s the kind of thriller I love, in the tradition of writers like Clive Cussler, but without the Deus Ex Machina. There’s no deep meaning here, but there’s nary a dull moment either. If you are looking for a lively read and exciting battles with seriously evil bad guys and the world at stake — with enough technological goodies to make it ring true, give this one a try.

A HOLIDAY LONGMIRE STORY – THE SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT, CRAIG JOHNSON

Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story

SnapIt-165By Craig Johnson

PENGUIN GROUP Viking
Viking Adult – 161 Pages

A holiday tale from the New York Times bestselling author of the Walt Longmire mystery series, the inspiration for A&E’s hit show Longmire

“It’s a question of what you have to do, what you have to live with if you don’t.”

As Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on Christmas Eve, he’s interrupted by a mysterious young woman who claims to know him. And Lucian Connally, Walt’s predecessor who now lives in a retirement home.

She is indeed a ghost of Christmas past. It takes Walt a while, but when he sees the scars, one that runs across her forehead, the plastic reconstruction work around her mouth and nose — he remembers. When the young lady is introduced to Lucian, he claims to not recognize her … but it’s not true. He knows who she is. They both do and soon, Walt is deep in memories of the hellacious blizzard of December 24, 1988.

It’s the story of a rescue, a decrepit B-25 bomber named “Steamboat.” How, after three people die in a terrible crash, a girl survives, in desperate need of immediate medical care far in excess of what this small, snowbound community can provide. How Lucian flies that old, leaky plane through the worst blizzard in memory — while Walt, the doctor and a co-pilot white-knuckle onward against all odds.

It’s a novella with a lot of back story for the ongoing Longmire series. It’s a touching Christmas story, full of valor and determination in the face of impossible odds and an epic storm. The girl will die if they can’t beat that blizzard — and they are not about to let her die.

If you have read, or are in the process of reading the Longmire series — or if you are following the story via the A&E television series, this is a worthwhile addition to your reading. It’s available from Amazon and on Audible.com.

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT is a wonderful, inspiring holiday read — an excellent read any time!

NEW AGE SCI FI – ONE GREAT YEAR

OneGreatYear

Paperback: 456 pages
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group

By Tamara Veitch, Rene DeFazio

I’m pretty easy-going about religion. All prayers are good prayers and your intentions are more important than the words you use or whatever dogma and ritual you follow. The problem with this book is that it’s blatantly preachy, clearly intending to convert readers to a New Age version of religion I find distasteful.

I’m not a big fan of Atlantean New Age religious writings of any kind. I particularly don’t like it when it pretends to be fiction, but is a thinly veiled attempt to sign me up. I get snarky  and resentful. Mind you, it’s decently written most of the time. It’s got a moderately interesting storyline. The characters have potential. It’s rough around the edges — especially the first few chapters — but after it gets rolling, it’s readable albeit uninspired.

You could read this and pretend it’s not a religious tract, but I’m not sure how. You’d have to ignore the entire tone and intent of the authors — or be incredibly obtuse. Personally, the book annoyed the crap out of me. I do not like attempts to convert me and I don’t care who is doing it. I find it offensive and want it to stop. The only thing that kept me reading the book was my intention to review it.

The Story:

The Golden Age ended. The world passed into the dark and brutal Iron Age. Marcus has been reincarnated uncountable times during the preceding 13,000 years. He is an Emissary. It has been his duty throughout all his lives to help humanity move forward towards the light and usher in a “lighter” age, to bring enlightenment to those ready to receive it. His soul-mate Theron and his Adversary, Helghul are present in each life in some form. He seeks Theron endlessly and repetitively — and battles (equally endlessly and repetitively) Helghul as the ages roll on.

The story moves back and forth between former and current incarnations. The most interesting of these episodes are ancient Greece and the Mongol Hordes. The present is a bit lame, but tolerable. Ancient Atitala (Atlantis to we misinformed souls) is awkward and the writing improves a lot once the authors move past those early chapters.

A lot depends on how you feel about science fiction as religion. It’s not my cup of tea. Maybe it’s yours. If it is, consider this as the New Age version of L. Ron Hubbard’s writings. More books are in the works. Why does that not surprise me?

GAME CHANGER

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was altogether vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align my expectations with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

movie-set-bostonBut extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, we waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. While we waited we were required to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom – without permission. Permission you had to get from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing to say the least. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment and your presence or absence was life and death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case. I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.” Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one. Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but (supposedly) better and faster.

I can’t even imagine life without my Kindle. I’ve got hundreds of books on it. It goes everywhere with me … literally everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand.

And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal.  After all, it’s just another toy, one more electronic doohickie. But it isn’t. For me, it was a life changer. Because finally, I could always have books with me.

If you were to take away everything else, all my toys, gadgets and widgets — but let me read, I’d be okay. I can live without TV, movies and games. I can’t live without books. My Kindle has become a magic doorway into that world of dreams called literature, the place where everything is possible. Where I go to live when life in the this world is too real.