VISITING MOCKINGBIRD’S WORLD WHILE WAITING FOR A FEW GREAT BOOKS

Recently, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) on Blu-ray. I bought it months ago and planned to watch it, but hadn’t gotten to it. After we settled in, we remembered why we love it.

It’s a great movie, a wonderful story. Brilliant acting. Gregory Peck in the defining role he chose for himself. In many way, he was Atticus Finch.

A rare movie in which all pieces fit. It never hits a false note. It takes its time. It’s about justice and injustice, racism, the legal system. It’s also about family and love, relationships, coming of age and learning the world is a bigger, better and worse place than you imagined.

Front CoverCoincidentally, my granddaughter was assigned to read the book. She thinks it’s boring, and though I don’t agree with her, I understand her world is far removed from the world of Mockingbird … so far she can’t relate to it. She’s coming into adulthood in a world where the President is Black, where her white grandma is married to a brown man and no one finds anything odd about this.

She’s part of the generation in which everything has been instant. You don’t have to read books to do research. You just Google it. There’s no time for books that move slowly in an unhurried world. Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more often than they drove. Food grew in gardens.

The world was segregated and separated by class, religion, ethnicity. Compared to the world in Mockingbird, our sleepy little town is a metropolitan hub. Kaity cannot relate to that other world and has no patience for it. I understand why she feels the way she does, but I wish it were different.

I’ve read dozens or books during the past year, probably three-quarters of them for review … and the majority were awful.

These books would be considered “serious literature.” Serious seems to have become synonymous with boring, which is totally wrong.These books don’t seem to contain special meaning or lessons. Nothing happens except everyone is unhappy and as the books go on, they become unhappier.

Most are written well, if by “well” you mean good grammar and properly constructed sentences. They offer slices of lives we are glad we don’t live. Missing are plots, action, or any reason I — or you — would want to read them. The authors appear to be trying to do what Harper Lee did … recreate a world, a time, a place. But Harper Lee also had a story to tell. Things happened, events occurred. There were bad people, but good people, too. The story includes ugliness, but also characters worthy of admiration. Atticus Finch is a great man, a fighter for truth and justice. The world is a better place because he is in it.to-kill-a-mockingbird2_9855

The new authors don’t get it. They have forgotten a book is more than description. It needs to tell a story, to involve readers, to draw them in. If my granddaughter is finding To Kill A Mockingbird dull, it’s hard to imagine her enjoying any of these new books. They may describe a world she recognizes, but they are unlikely to lure her into wanting to partake of them.

It’s no wonder that the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and so on. We have lost touch with the entertainment function of serious literature. If a book makes us think, teaches us, provides moral guidance, delves into serious issues, it should also make us laugh and cry, take us out of our ordinary lives. The magic of any good book is that it lets us become part of other lives and see the world through their eyes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have my standards. I don’t read books that don’t meet them.

First and foremost, I want a story. I want a plot and I want something to happen. I don’t want to just hear what people are thinking. I want them to also do something. I want to meet characters who develop and grow. I can cope with bad guys, but I need heroes too. I am glad to learn, I’m glad to be enlightened, but I want to be absorbed and entertained. Otherwise, it isn’t a novel: it’s a textbook or maybe a sermon.

I bet there are great authors out there writing terrific books who can’t get them published. For anyone who has tried to get a book published, you know what a battle it is. Manuscripts are submitted electronically and screened  by software looking for keywords. If you can’t write a proposal containing the right buzzwords, your manuscript will never be read by a human being. Using software to judge literature is probably why so many of these books are so dreadful. Human beings should judge literature, not computers. Computers don’t read. People read. More people should read than do.

75-BookStory HPCR-1

Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee … none of them would get their books read much less published today. Unless we want all our literature to consist of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries — if we want any other kind of literature worth reading — it’s time to take a few chances and publish books that people will enjoy. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I grew up reading all kinds of books.

I miss books that take place on this planet, in this world, in my lifetime and don’t necessarily involve magic, time travel, cops, serial killers, courts, vampires, or terrorists. Surely there are stories about our world worth publishing.

Publish more interesting books and I bet there will be more interested readers.

BERT LAHR – NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION, GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere’s a rumor going around on Amazon that Mike Carey is going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hope it’s true. I’ll line up to be among the first to buy a copy. I love this series.

I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.

Mike Carey is not merely a good writer. He is what I would term hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp.

He actually uses words I have to look up because I don’t recognize them. It has been decades since I learned a new word. Sometimes I don’t know the word because it’s British slang with which I’m just not familiar, but sometimes, it’s a word I’ve never seen before.

He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage more than once, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.

The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Guttersnipe meets Jane Austen in the streets of Liverpool. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.

What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are now available on paperback, for Kindle and as an Audible download.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Devil You Know
  2. Vicious Circle 
  3. Dead Men’s Boots
  4. Thicker Than Water
  5. The Naming of Beasts.

None of the books are exactly a lightweight romp through a sunny meadow, but the first three books are much lighter in tone  … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious. Characters make unique choices and don’t take the obvious or easy way out.

Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.

The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?

ROKU – BETTER THAN EVER AND JUST AS CHEAP

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. 

Enter the Roku, a little streaming device that runs off your WiFi so you can stream movies, TV shows and other channels both free and subscription-based on your television. The price is right: the entry-level model is $49.99, and even the top of the line is less than $100, cheaper than a modest game system.

Roku-1

The Roku comes in different flavors though they all work the same way. Advanced models offer additional bells and whistles including an earphone connection through the remote control. In our case, there is no point in getting an advanced model. Both our television have just one high-definition port and it’s already in use by the cable box. Also, we have wireless Sennheiser headphones hook-ups for both televisions.

plugs roku and headphones

Roku is small, the size of a little bar of soap. Connecting is simple. I did it alone and despite a few humorous moments caused when I didn’t notice I’d accidentally turned off the power strip, it went smoothly. Roku is as easy to install as the ads promise. It works. And keeps working.

Plug A into B, B into C. Insert batteries (2 AAAs, included) into the remote. Turn on the TV and follow the prompts. The single item the instructions don’t cover is reminding you to switch your TV input to whatever input you are using for Roku. This was easy on the newer TV in the bedroom where inputs on the back of the set are labeled. The bigger (older) TV in the living room makes you guess, so you have to click through the inputs until Roku appears. Mostly, you need to know to take this step or you will sit there staring at an empty screen, wondering why you aren’t seeing Roku.

roku to TV + headphones

The instructions promise installing the Roku will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hidden. I just don’t like hardware. In my secret heart, I believe electricity is waiting for the right moment to spill out of the walls. I don’t trust hardware and I believe the feeling is mutual.

Regardless, I set it up and by golly, it works. This was my second installation, so I’m two for two. Yay me. It took about half an hour, most of which involved getting the wires out of the way and finding a place to put Roku where it is accessible yet close enough to plug into a power strip. Compromise was required. I wish manufacturers would include longer power cords longer on electronic devices. They are all — including Roku — about a foot short of convenient.

Despite advertisements to the contrary, there are only few free services. Almost everything is either subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime) or pay-per-use (Blockbuster On Demand).

I was pleased to see that improvements have been made to the remote. The older version works, but it’s awkward and not very responsive.The newer unit has dedicated keys for major channels (nice!) and the unit is much more responsive. I wonder if I can get a newer remote for an older Roku? I’ll have to check.

The “search” capabilities are primitive using the remote, so search on a computer and put everything you want to watch on wish lists. Use the remote only to make selections. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Be aware: You can’t install Roku without a computer. To activate your unit, you must enter a generated code from the television into your account on the computer. 

Closed captions are available on almost everything. Some old television series and movies don’t have them, but that’s true on cable too.

roku and headphones

Is Roku going to replace expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently can’t afford movie packages from your cable or dish provider, this is affordable and easy to use — as easy as they say it is and getting more versatile every day. You will find that Netflix streaming video does not include most popular movies. For that, you need to sign up for their DVD service too … and I won’t do it. I’m not really thrilled with Netflix, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that. I’m tempted to try a different streaming service to see if it’s any better. I’m an Amazon Prime member and while their free selection is smaller than Netflix, it is higher quality.

You need one Roku per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account for a household, no matter how many televisions you have, is enough.

Roku is great addition to your entertainment package, especially for the price. It delivers the goods, is more than worth the money, whether you buy the economy model or top of the line. Whether or not it can replace other services is subjective.

REMEDIAL NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY – THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

IN MEMORIUM, MARIA VON TRAPP

See on Scoop.itMovies From Mavens

Maria Von Trapp died today at the age of 99. Here’s a bit of her real story.

Prologue Magazine: The real story of the  Von Trapp Family. The real story is a lot less sweet than “The Sound of Music,” but far more interesting and believable.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you enjoy history and like to know the real story behind the Hollywood version, this is wonderful information that will make “The Sound of Music” more than just a pretty movie with nice music.

If you just happen to  live in New England, you may already know most of this since the Von Trapp family settled in Vermont and were/are well-known local celebrities.

See on www.archives.gov

REVIEW: THE DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET

After the Kindle HDX washed out, I had a hole where a small, portable web-capable device should be. With hospitalization soon, I wanted to be able to do small footprint basic computing. My laptop is great, but too big and heavy for a hospital bed.

I’ve been using the Dell Venue Pro 8 every day for the past few weeks. I no longer find myself shouting at it — big improvement. The real problems were solved when Dell installed new drivers. The rest of the issues have gone away as I’ve gotten to know the hardware and operating system.

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I remain underwhelmed by Windows 8. It offers no advantage over Windows 7, at least to customers. My son pointed out it offers value to Microsoft by making everything proprietary. It blocks you from using applications not made specifically for Windows 8. Considering the whole advantage to Windows has always been its universality, this is a strange, self-destructive direction for Microsoft. They have a new CEO. Let’s see if he gets the company back on a sensible course. Otherwise, this will likely be my last Windows device. Sad, after such a long relationship.

Technically, you can run standard Windows applications on any Windows 8 machine, tablet or otherwise. Practically speaking, it’s not true. Some things run. Most don’t. The Venue 8 only lets you install by download, which eliminates a lot of my software by default. Most of the other applications I use on Windows 7 don’t run on 8 — or run so poorly it isn’t worth the effort. It’s ironic. Just as Apple is opening up their platform to all kinds of applications, Microsoft has gone the other way.

The tablet’s native software runs well. The email app is fine. IE runs smoothly. You better like IE because you won’t be using Firefox or Chrome — neither runs on the tablet. I’m not a big gamer, so the lack of games doesn’t bother me as much as it aggravates others, but still. Aside from Solitaire, there are no games. You can’t even get a download of Scrabble. That’s rough.

Photography apps? None worth the effort. I won’t be taking a lot of pictures using the onboard camera (which works pretty well), or uploading photographs to the tablet — even for viewing. There’s no USB port, no slot for an SD card other than one micro card which is an extension slot for memory.

If you want to play games, read books, watch movies, listen to music? The Kindle Fire HD (the old version, not the HDX), is just $139 from Amazon. It’s a far better choice for entertainment. Not as good for email and other Internet activities … but for entertainment, it’s a winner.

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is solidly built. It feels great in hand. It seamlessly connected to Netflix. Watching movies is easy. You can listen to music on Amazon’s Cloud Player, but it’s not straightforward. Microsoft really wants you to use its own software … but I find it confusing, complicated and lacking documentation or instructions, ultimately incomprehensible. It’s inexcusable to provide so little support.

The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch. I don’t know if I’ll get out much use from it. That’s not what I bought the tablet for. I found a bunch of other useful small applications. Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them without incident. I uninstalled a few things too. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast. If only there were more apps!

The speakers are great, though not terribly loud. Which is fine. I can use earphones if I need it louder. For such a little tablet, the graphics are fantastic. I watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix and enjoyed it. My website looks great.

The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work but the lack of editing software limits their usefulness. It would be okay for Skyping — probably — but I don’t Skype, so it’s moot. The video camera seems fine as does the voice recorder, though I have little use for either.

It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, some of which I might use yet it’s missing important basic tools. Not being able to edit its own photos is bad, but not being able to upload my photos at all? Worse. All for the want of a USB port.

It’s good for reading (Kindle and maybe other reader apps), watching a movie on Netflix. I don’t know about other services but you can’t watch Amazon Prime. Or I can’t figure out how.

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It’s good for quick emails. I’m disinclined to write much on a virtual keyboard. I can  do small amounts of web editing but wouldn’t want to do more. But not because the tablet won’t. It loads this website fast and switches to editing mode with no problem.

The Venue Pro 8 is too small for web editing. It’s too small for a lot of things. My son has a 10″ device and he can do a lot more. The “OK” boxes and other targets on-screen are tiny. Even using a stylus, I miss as often as I hit. Fine editing is out of the question. That is not the fault of the tablet. I chose this size. I knew it would have limitations. I was right.

There are no after market accessories — yet. Well,  there’s one, but it doesn’t work. I bought a secondary market keyboard — blue tooth — and returned it. It wasn’t broken, but you had to enter a generated key code. You couldn’t see the code because the virtual keyboard popped up and blocked it. By the time you got the keyboard out of the way, the code was gone. The codes are good for only 30 seconds. I don’t understand why they designed it like that. Just provide a printed code. Why make me jump through hoops to sync a keyboard?

Dell sells a keyboard that apparently works, but it’s $99. Too expensive. I’ll do without. I don’t know how well any blue tooth accessory will install. If it includes a “time out” code, it won’t. It’s a tactical rather than technical problem, but it stopped me.

If anyone wants to point out how I could use my iPhone, may I remind you I find an 8″ tablet too small. Do you think the iPhone would be better? Think before commenting.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Good camera and video (but no editing tools)
  • Free Microsoft Office, email and other workaday stuff
  • Fine build
  • No problem loading websites
  • Fast boot time; almost instant
  • Long battery life and short recharging cycle
  • Comes with a charger.

What I don’t like:

  • No USB port
  • No SD card slot
  • The cord is too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? Serious inconvenience
  • No documentation. The PDF is just generated data. Useless
  • Windows 8.1 sucks
  • The graphical Interface feels like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

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DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL | Serendipity

THE LAST STAND (2013) – BEST MOVIE EVER STARRING A FORMER GOVERNOR

Last_Stand_2013Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro. Jaimie Alexander and lots of other people, this is absolutely the best movie ever made by a former governor of California. Or any former governor.

I’m not a very intellectual movie reviewer. That’s just as well, since there is nothing intellectual about this movie.

It’s pretty good. Lots of shooting. Blood spurting. Vicious bad guys. It has the grace to not take itself too seriously, with enough humorous moments and entirely predictable but nonetheless funny lines to make it easy to watch.

“I’m The Sheriff!” growls Arnold and by golly, he is, though Garry and I simultaneously pointed out that he used to be The Governor.

There are a lot of car chases … or maybe not really chases. More accurately, it is exceptionally good stunt driving. They actually did some stunts I’ve never seen before and I really thought I’d seen them all.

Plot? Oh, right. Plot. Okay. Think “High Noon” with a strong whiff of “Terminator.” Or any western movie where the sheriff stands up to some incredibly evil guys and whups their collective asses with the help of his faithful deputies and one old lady with a shot-gun. You’ll be glad to know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, senior citizen, ex-governor gets shot, stabbed and beat up, but walks away proudly in the end. Not into the sunset, but into the local diner. Irv’s Diner. Killing people and catching malevolent drug lords gives him an appetite. I’m just sorry I forgot to buy popcorn. It’s a beautiful, deeply touching, moment.

If you need a violence fix, this is a pretty good choice. It’s well made. Moves right along. Some great artillery and the aforementioned stunt driving.

It’s available on Amazon — free for Prime members. Probably on Netflix too. I haven’t checked but usually if it’s on one, you’ll find it on the other.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – A REVIEW I DIDN’T WRITE MYSELF

Obviously I didn’t write this.I would be embarrassed to say this much nice stuff about me, but I have to admit I’m kind of delighted. In the midst of the craziness of my life, all of a sudden I’m getting wonderful reviews of the book I’d pretty much given up on. It never went anywhere. I’m not even sure I know how to find my publication website … or have any idea what my password is. Or anything.

If nothing else, it’s humbling that there can be such a huge disparity between my perception of the book I wrote and other people’s view of it. That I might not be the best judge of my work goes without saying … but to be 180 degrees out of alignment forces me to wonder what else I’m completely wrong about.

teepee book shelf

In any case, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting the review here because I have no idea how one reblogs a review that isn’t on a blog. And this is on the Canadian Amazon site, making it even more inaccessible. The title of the book is also a live link to the source, so please visit that site too. The author deserves your support.

I’m beyond grateful for this review. I’m touched and encouraged. This is a difficult time for me, for obvious reasons. Having something so nice happen right now makes me feel (sorry about the pun) heartened.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE

5.0 out of 5 stars

The fascinating construction of a life Jan. 30 2014

By Jiibo Dyallo

Format: Kindle Edition | Amazon Verified Purchase

Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, teepee12 dot com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this book, and I think that that keeps the book current. A life contains its own archaeology, and what is an autobiography (as I assume this is, in essence) if not a tell?

Protagonist ‘Maggie,’ as a child, was sexually abused by her father. That revelation is how the book begins. I worked for an LGBT newspaper in the 1980s and kept current on feminist and lesbian literature during the period when the magnitude of familial incest was first being disclosed to the world. I’ve read many dozens of accounts – brief, elongated, literary, plain, agonized, detached – by people who endured this experience. Also, I’ve read numerous complex bestsellers embedding the theme, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I noticed right away that Marilyn was somehow overcoming the saturation factor and writing highly readable text. Perhaps it was her style of writing – plainspoken enough to be nodded at by Hemingway, yet subtly full of craft. Her approach was fresh, and witty at appropriate moments. Perhaps there was some engaging mystery, too, in the enigma of her father as an inconspicuously, but almost incomprehensibly, evil man. I’m not sure if I would even have credited Marilyn with restraining herself from exaggeration if I hadn’t read M. Scott Peck’s monograph on such folk, People of the Lie. I knew that such individuals really do exist. In any case, Marilyn’s way of telling the tale with judicious truth but without a show of anguish, and without the jargon that is now often used in such accounts, made the difficult events completely readable.

The book then progressed through subtly interwoven anecdotes to the unveiling of related tales: the construction of a knock-off Sioux-style teepee as a project for self-healing and for spending quality time with a lively granddaughter; the concurrent battle with spinal problems and surgeons of greater and lesser competence; and the challenges of new-found poverty for Massachusetts people caught up in the tech bust of the 1990s. This all sounds daunting, not to mention rather random and terribly personal, but Marilyn makes it as vivid and coherent a piece of writing as you will find anywhere. She wins your heart. The feeling that you want things to go well for her (I don’t know her personally at all apart from a couple of emails back and forth among fellow bloggers) turns out to be a waterslide of suspense that runs you right through the book from beginning to end. She also integrates a spiritual journey from secular Judaism into Christianity that is neither dwelt upon nor glossed over – it has its time and place in the story – and it also arouses interest – regardless, I should think, of the personal persuasion of the reader. The bottom line, though, is that Marilyn is a writer who can captivate you with a tale of how her son pieced together PVC pipe sections to make wobbly teepee poles. I can’t imagine what topic she couldn’t make interesting.

I think that this book deserves more attention than it’s had. Marilyn is not sure that it does – she says in her email that she has, to some extent, returned to religious skepticism in recent years. Life has gone on. The tell has mounded up further. Where a church once stood in her psyche, a big community teepee for comparative religion and degrees of religious belief now stands, pole on pillar. Its architecture is newer than the book.

If you have a sense of discovery, though, you still need to know how it got there, and this book is the only dig that’s been done.

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

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Not long ago, I chronicled my adventure with Dell Customer Disservice and Dell Technical nonSupport. A few days later, I wrote ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER. The following day, my Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet arrived. Such a little package. Well, what did I expect? It’s just a wee bit bigger than a Kindle.

dell-venue-8-pro

Why Do I Always Have Be the Fixer?

Yesterday was computer fixing day. My son used to be a professional computer repair guy but has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew. He handed me his laptop. Seven hours later, it was running pretty well, though it could use a full reload of the OS which I’m not going to do. Still, I think it’s at least a working computer.

With all the jokes they make about Old People and computers, how come I’m the ONLY one in this 3-generation household who understands how computers work? How come, huh? I wanted to beat the kid (all 6’4″ 240 lbs of nearly bald 44-year-old kid) to death with that 15″ laptop. I’m definitely getting old and cranky.

Back to the Review (Already In Progress)

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is well-built. It has a lovely, solid, silky feel. It easily connected to the Kindle application and Netflix. Without a hiccup. Chrome, on the other hand, would not work and I gave up. Some battles aren’t worth the effort. The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch too. Eventually I found a variety of other useful applications, a reasonable version of Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them too. I uninstalled a few things I didn’t have any use for. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast.

The tablet wasn’t working quite as it should. It dropped its Internet connection each time it went to sleep and it wasn’t sensitive enough to touch.

This meant – OMG!!!! – another call to Dell’s tech support. I didn’t hesitate. I have learned that thinking about it will make the inevitably horrible experience even worse. Moreover, I have no intention of keeping the tablet if it isn’t going to work properly.

The problems weren’t big ones, but they were annoying. Mostly I like the tablet. Good speakers, exceptional graphics. Watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix. Not bad. The sound isn’t as loud as I might like, but the quality is excellent and it has an earphone jack. The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work pretty well, even in low light. I haven’t tried the video camera or the voice recorder yet. Overall, it’s got a lot of bells and whistles I might really use (be still my heart).

Tech Support Again (Oy)

I am not going to go into details. Suffice to say, I was on the phone with this doofus for 4-1/2 hours. When the conversation started I had 2 relatively minor issues. After he fixed things (reinstalling the drivers, etc.), the tablet was dead. Unresponsive. He said he wanted to try one more thing. It was getting late, past dinner time and I said, “No, I’ve had enough. Either you put me on with someone who actually knows what needs to be done and can speak English well enough for us to understand each other (this guy not only didn’t speak English, he didn’t understand it either) or I swear I will return this tablet to Dell, explain that YOU are the reason why and never, ever buy anything from Dell again in this lifetime.” Which, if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, might not be very long.

He threw in the towel and passed me to a Supervisor. Who spoke and understood English. And knew how to get the tablet up and running.

The secret of getting a dead Windows 8 computer up and running is 3 successive cold reboots. Third time, it goes into “self-repair and diagnostic mode” — the new version of Safe Mode.  Which doesn’t require a password. So finally, I was able to adjust the setting after which it began to connect automatically to WiFi. Problem solved.

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Next, I insisted I make the table NOT password protected. Which is when I discovered Windows 8.1 is still — as all Windows have been — a hack over DOS. It was comforting in a weird way. There was the old DOS prompt in its little black window, like an old friend. It meant I was not really learning a new OS. I was just learning to work around the changed GUI. I felt better.

Eliminating Password Protection

For anyone who wants to get rid of password protection in Windows 8.1, here’s how to do it:

(1) Use Search to find the command prompt. Start typing “Command” and before you hit the second “m,” you’ll see command prompt as a clickable link. Click it.

(2) Type: control userpasswords2

(3) Up comes a little window, a little window you’ve seen on every version of Windows since 3.1.

(4) UNCHECK “require all users to have a password,” then enter your password as requested. Exit all the way out and reboot. That should do it. Sometimes you have to do it twice.

Win 8.1 has the identical sub-structure as every version of Windows. Control panel, menus, SysConfig, Uninstall. It’s all there, buried a level deeper under a new — pointless and unattractive — user interface. You can change the interface using “Personalize” and make it less ugly.

My over all opinion of Windows 8.1 remains unchanged. It is not an improvement over 7. If anything, it’s a step backward. It requires significant relearning without offering any noticeable advantage to users. After you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to work with, but it’s unnecessary and adds an unfamiliar layer to what ought to be simple.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Surprisingly good camera and video
  • Useful apps that work and most of them are free
  • Feels nice to the touch with a fine build quality
  • Good battery life.

What I don’t like:

  • The cord is much too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? This is a serious inconvenience, not a quibble
  • Horrible documentation. I’ve seen the PDF and it isn’t much more informative than the leaflet. It’s not that Win 8 is difficult. The documentation is totally inadequate
  • I don’t like Windows 8.1. Now that I can use it, it’s a lot of flash and dash. It isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 — quite the opposite. Sorry dudes. I still don’t understand why you took a good OS (Win 7) and made it harder to use
  • The graphical Interface is neither tablet or user-friendly. It doesn’t feel integrated or smooth. More like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

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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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.

Camera Industry: the trend towards “good enough” is affecting enthusiasts too

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

From ATMTX PHOTO BLOG

A lot has been written about how smartphone cameras have decimated the point and shoot market. It’s actually worse than that. Most regular people, non-enthusiasts, don’t really want to use DSLRs — they’re just too big and cumbersome. I see former DSLR owners just bag it and end up using smartphones instead. But how about people like me, the crazy, passionate photo enthusiasts. What are we doing?

Well, we are falling victim to the “good enough” mantra too.

I see two distinct groups of photo friends. Some diligently continue to use DSLRs for their serious work and then flip over to an iPhone when capturing casual snaps. I got a laugh when we go on photo walks. We all have expensive, sophisticated gear and we end up taking group pictures with an iPhone. These people are the same as the masses, documenting their world on smartphones. Except, for their serious pro or hobby work, they break out the DSLR. It’s like they have two distinct modes.

The other group, which I’m a part of, have embraced mirrorless cameras or even premium point and shoots. They may still own a DSLR but use it infrequently. These people tend to use tweener cameras (between DSLRs and smartphones) for both their serious and casual work.

Which ever group you’re in, there is no right way, of course. And I’m sure there are some people who don’t fall conveniently into either camp. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s going to get even harder for camera companies. Most cameras, especially under typical conditions, are now good enough. People know this. There is no longer a pressing need to update to the next model. The camera and sensor companies have done too well. They are perfecting themselves out of business.

So what can these companies do? There are still a few under served niches. Sony is the first to the mirrorless full frame game. Perhaps some others will follow. There is the retro camera movement that Fujifilm is leading. Nikon has followed with their Df. But ultimately, as the market saturates, these companies need to be in the aspiration business.

See  the rest of the story at ATMTX PHOTO BLOG

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I can’t argue with any of this … and that worries me. Because “good enough” really isn’t the same as “good.”

See on blog.atmtxphoto.com

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.