THE VAMPIRE AND A WITCH – WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE (TALES OF CALLIE WALKING) – HUNTER CASSELLS

with friends like theseWhen Callie Walking — child of a Lakota magician father and a Scottish witch mother — meets one of the oldest living vampires, a creature so powerful it’s impossible to even gauge the extent of his power, one of two things is going to happen. Death or friendship.

I would be struck dumb if this is not the first story in a series. Callie Walking and Aristo Ionios are perfect for a series. He’s ancient with powers beyond understanding. She is young, but no slouch in the power department and one can only imagine how much more powerful she will be as she matures.

They meet. They talk. They take a wild ride on a classic Indian motorcycle. They talk some more. A chord is struck, a resonance.

She wants to know how he defeated the wards she set up to protect her client. She’s not deep in mourning for the client — he was, after all, a serial killer. But she want to know how her wards were defeated. The vampire she meets is not what she expects. He’s something else. Unique. Despite herself, Callie is fascinated and attracted.

This isn’t a full length novel. It’s 93 pages, which makes it either a long short story or a novella. Whatever you want to call it, it’s very good. I don’t say this lightly, but rarely have I encountered two more intriguing main characters. And I want more. There isn’t any more, not yet … but I live in hope. This could be a series worth following. Magic, witches, vampires, great dialogue and the entire story just oozes atmosphere.

You can buy With Friends Like These on Kindle at Amazon for $3.99 and it’s worth every penny. Buy it. If you do, maybe the author will write more and I would personally appreciate that.

GOT A KINDLE? MEGA BARGAINS FROM AMAZON TODAY!

Need something to read? Like mysteries? How about the classics? These are some of the amazing values you can get free or for very short money from Amazon.These are currently available. You can’t beat the prices, so if you’re a reader, there’s no downside except possibly that some of these books are huge.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available for PC, Mac and a variety of mobile phones and tablets. Truly a win-win. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots more.

Delphi Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition] Samuel Clemens … $.99

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (37 plays, 160 sonnets and 5 Poetry Books With Active Table of Contents) [Kindle Edition] … $.99

Alice in Wonderland: The Complete Collection (Illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated Through the Looking Glass, plus Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and The Hunting of the Snark) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (My all time favorites!)

Oz: The Complete Collection (All 14 Oz Books, with Illustrated Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Exclusive Bonus Features) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (Note: I would have given a body part for this when I was a kid.)

The Detective Megapack [Kindle Edition] Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, much more … $.99

The Classic Mystery Collection (100+ books and stories) [Kindle Edition] Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anna Katharine Green, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Honore de Balzac and more … $2.99

Agatha Christie Collection (Illustrated): The Secret Adversary AND The Mysterious Affair [Kindle Edition] $.99

The Dashiell Hammett Megapack [Kindle Edition] … $.99

“All You Zombies-” [Kindle Edition] Robert Heinlein (Possibly the best time travel short story ever written) … $1.25

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Kindle Edition] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … $0.00

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) …  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection) … $.99

H.G. Wells Collection, Over 50 Works: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Little Wars, World Set Free, Tales of Space and Time, When the Sleeper Wakes & MORE! [Kindle Edition] … $.99 ( I don’t know how many pages this is, but it’s a huge file, so I’m better a thousand or more pages.)

Charles Dickens Collection 55 Works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, MORE! [Annotated] [Kindle Edition] This is 15 novels and all the short fiction … an entire library … $2.99

Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Love and Friendship, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Lady Susan & more! [Kindle Edition] … $.99

The Complete Little Women Series: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (4 books in one) [Kindle Edition] (807 pages) Louisa May Alcott … $.99

The Bronte Sisters – The Complete Novels (Annotated) + Extras [Kindle Edition] by Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte (894 pages) … $.99

Jules Verne Collection, 33 Works: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Mysterious Island, PLUS MORE! [Kindle Edition] (8876 pages — apparently not a misprint). … $.99 (You may never need another book!)

Truly, the selection is huge, the prices are more than reasonable. If you’re short on money, long on loving literature, you’re going to love this! And there’s so much more. I kid you not. SO much more.

Ever After, Kim Harrison – Fantasy Comfort Food of the Literary Kind

When I began reading Ever After, by Kim Harrison – on the day of its release — I read it first on Kindle. Next, to get the full flavor, I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. Oh my. I just sank into it, the same way I sink into my bed … with a sigh of sheer delight. How good it felt to be home again.

Home again? In Cincinnati? When I’ve never been to Cincinnati and probably never will be? Where witches consort with vampires and pixies and a powerful elf rules the political world? Where you can hire a werewolf as a body-guard and you must take care to avoid demons and banshees?

Yup, Cincinnati. I feel like it’s the home town of my wistful soul, a world that somehow makes more sense than the reality in which I live my real life.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks and I realized … I need a fix. I need to go home to Cincinnati and visit the gang at the old church. I started listening to it again last night and of course, I loved it as I have each time before. Maybe I’ll reread some of the earlier books I haven’t read in a while because there’s a new book in the series coming out and I want to be psyched. Like I wouldn’t be :-)

I have loved every book in the series, though I have loved the last three or four even more than the first group. The characters have matured, come into themselves, their powers. They are grabbing hold of their destinies, moving into their futures.

One of the signs a book may deserve  the label “classic” is when rereading it is — no matter whether it’s the first reread or the 10th — is like reading it for the first time. Maybe better. I was barely past the first few paragraphs when I realized it was as if I’d never left. I was back in the Hollows, home in magical Cincinnati and the church where Rachel, Ivy and Jenks live. My friends were waiting for me.

Ever After was new all over again. I relived the adventure, relishing each twist and turn of the plot, each character’s development. I was happy for Ivy, finding her own life at long last but sorry not to have her with me on this journey. Glad that Jenks was still involved and Biz is coming into his own. Delighted with the direction of Rachel’s relationship with Trent, sad at the loss of beloved characters. Bemused at the changes and growth in the world of demons as they evolve from caricature bad guys to people with memories of better days, their own private griefs and joys.

I keep discovering new layers to the story. This is a great book. I know it’s genre urban fantasy but it is far superior to most of the stuff I read in any genre. The consistent, careful development of characters and plot are outstanding. Kim Harrison never drops a stitch. Knowing  something about Kim Harrison’s process has given me a better understanding of how she achieves this remarkable, near-perfect construction. It has improved my writing. Following her blog is a good thing for writers. She is unusually forthcoming about how she does what she does. I continue to be fascinated by how excruciatingly precise she is, how very careful. No wonder there are not lapses in continuity, no strange leaps in time. She is careful, organized. Compared to my writing style, she’s downright anal compulsive and probably why she is able to keep such a high standard of quality. I don’t have that kind of dedication. Which is why she is a best-selling author and I’m not.

If you’ve never checked out her blog and you write, I highly recommend it. She answers questions about anything other than the details and plot of upcoming books.

She is an extremely focused and precise writer. She plans every detail of the plot, every twist of the story. No “off the cuff” writing. She doesn’t depend on obvious answers nor use genre clichés.

There’s nothing raw or unfinished in any of her books. Ever After would be a fine novel be any standards. If it weren’t urban fantasy, it would be good literature.

In my opinion, most of today’s creative authoring is happening in fantasy and science fiction. General fiction, of which I have read a great deal recently, has become drab and unimaginative. Very little new territory is being explored in “serious literature.” If you want to read something that’ll knock your socks off, visit another genre.

Kim_Harrison_06lrI have heard a lot of complaints about the popularity of science fiction and fantasy, that people don’t want to read anything that doesn’t have supernatural creatures or time travel as part of the plot. But those who complain might consider the paucity of good books coming out of “main stream” fiction. It doesn’t have to be dull, but it so often is. And bleak. And depressing. It’s no wonder that many of us don’t want to go there.

The thrill of reading isn’t gone but it has just moved to a different part of town. Read Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series and check out Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid. Discover Carol Berg. Pick one of her books or series; you can’t go wrong. Move right into the book world with Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next series. If you haven’t already read it, Stephen King’s 11-23-62 is one of the best books of the decade — maybe any decade — and it’s pure science fiction.

Try some of Connie Willis‘ works. This is an area of fiction where creativity is running rampant. You’ll find books to entertain you and fill your mind with ideas. And you won’t be bored, not for a moment. There are lots more wonderful writers waiting for you to discover them. It’s not a whole world. It’s many worlds and they are all yours to explore.

Ever After is a very satisfying read. Magic, love, passion, battles. Complicated relationships, love in bloom, hope, loss, and danger. I mourned the fallen, exalted for the living and dreamed about the future. It’s not the only good book I’ve read recently, but it sure is among the top few.

If a witch, an elf and a demon can come together to save the world, anything is possible.

All of the Hollows are available as paperbacks, on Kindle and as audiobooks.

STYXX by Sherrilyn Kenyon – Total Immersion Escapism

Styxx Amazon

Series: Dark-Hunter (Book 23)
Hardcover: 848 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition – September 3, 2013
Language: English

Epic in scope and length, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s latest offering has everything. I mean that in the most literal way. Absolutely everything. Eleven thousand years of … well … What would you like? If it’s fantasy, sexual, violent, weird … it’s here. My reality has been a real drag lately, so despite the fact that I had stopped reading Ms. Kenyon’s books a while back, I got this. Actually, to be fair, I forgot that I had pre-ordered it months ago, so when it showed up on my Kindle, I said “Oh, lookie here. Ooh, and it’s a long one. Yummy.”

Thing is, I’d stopped buying her books. They had become so much the same, I figured rather than spend money on a new one, I could reread an earlier one. Save a few dollars. Get the same kicks.

Styxx isn’t one of her cookie cutter, interchangeable books. Like Acheron, this is a big book in every way. I actually listened to it on Audible rather than reading it because my eyes don’t do well on very long books, and now that Audible.com is owned by Amazon, you get a big discount on many audiobooks you already own on Kindle. Then you can follow the bouncing ball in your Kindle while a narrator reads to you. As an audiobook, it’s 31 hours of listening. The narrator is overall good, but I am not sure why some Atlantean Goddesses and Greek gods and demigods have Cockney accents. Just wondering, is all.

Styxx audibleStyxx lets you spend  serious time in those golden olden days of yore. It’s enough to make you glad you don’t really live then and there.

So, what will you find in Styxx?

Sex, for one. A hefty dollop, though oddly, not quite as proportionately much as many of her lesser books. It’s there, but it’s not the most prominent feature of the book. Still, you won’t feel deprived. There’s plenty … but it’s not the only thing.

The most prominent feature of the book is torture and violent rape. Male-on-male rape. Agonizing torture, sex slavery, more torture, whippings, serious chains and bondage, straight up child abuse and cruelty, child rape (I sincerely hope that isn’t your thing). It’s all there, a cornucopia of perversion. Keeps you turning pages. In CinemaScope and surround sound. Name your hottest S & M fantasy. This book has got it. Lots of it, whatever it may be.

Oh, I almost forgot about the drugs. Them too.

Chains. Whips. Brands. Bondage. Rape. Torture. Regular sex too, just for contrast. And love. Karma in action. Reincarnation. Immortality. If you have read any other books in the series — Acheron in particular — you already know the plot. Horrible things happen to the hero. Cruelty, injustice, misery, torture. Not to worry. Love conquers all. Heals all. A fair amount of melodrama transpires along the way. Keep a hankie nearby to dry your tears.

This book also features the ever-popular war. There are some excellent, well-written battle scenes. Some of the best writing in the book is devoted to military maneuvers. She also provides (as usual) a substantial amount of pseudo-history, as well as Sherrilyn Kenyon’s special brand of “she made it up herself, really she did” mythology. She does it so well you think it must be based on something other than her imagination, but it has no basis in fact. Her ability to create things that feel very real is one of her strongest abilities as an author.

She give this book something she has never really given in any of the many books in the series I’ve read. True, there were hints, but this time, she lets it hang out.

Sherrilyn Kenyon is witty and clever. Her humor tends to the dark end of funny, but it’s there. Much of the wit falls into the category “Easter eggs,” hidden jokes for those in the know. She makes literary and movie references that, if you notice them, make you stop and say … “Hey, wait minute … that’s from …”

It was when Styxx, our hero, looks at the heavens and says “The old man was right” that I could no longer ignore it. This a very famous — and favorite — line from “The Magnificent Seven.” My husband uses it as his email signature.

I couldn’t let it pass, so I stopped reading and went to tell my husband, a man who can recite the entire script of “The Magnificent Seven” from memory. He and I discussed if it could be accidental and he said, “Not a chance” because that’s as famous a movie line as any, up there with “We don’t need no stupid bodges …” (NOT in the book). However, after that, I started consciously listening for hidden wit. I found plenty.

Underlying everything, Sherrilyn Kenyon has a wicked sense of humor. I love that in an author. I will forgive anything for cleverness, snappy dialogue and something to make me laugh. She made me laugh. More than once. It told me that she was not taking herself overly seriously, that she knew who her readers are. I was profoundly grateful.

You can miss the wit entirely if you aren’t acquainted with the source of her little surprises. If you don’t recognize where they come from, you won’t get them. The book goes on fine without them but they are a nice bonus for those of us who do catch them as the fly by.

Favorite original quote from Styxx: “A quiet man is a thinking man. A quiet woman is an angry one.”

I’m going to have to find somewhere to use that. Great line.

Plot? Oh,  yes, the plot. If you read Acheron, it’s the same plot, but from the other side of the mirror. This is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” Styxx is Acheron’s twin brother, the one who was supposed to have it easy, a spoiled princeling while Acheron struggled to survive. Not so, not so at all. Styxx’s tortures exceed even Acheron’s and last longer. Acheron is not the hero of the story. For followers of the Dark Hunter series, it may come as a painful shock to discover Acheron isn’t always a good guy. His nasty, mean-spirited, closed-minded side gets a good airing in Styxx.

I started by saying I was really ready to escape from my reality when this book showed up. I might not have bought it if I hadn’t pre-ordered it … but it was fortuitous that it did. I needed a dose of “out of this world.” You need to absolutely suspect your credulity to get into the book. Logic? Oh please. We don’t need no stupid logic. Just let the book sweep you away, accept it for what it is and enjoy it. If you don’t like explicit sex or violence, skip it. It’s not for everyone. If you are homophobic, skip it. If you are a Conservative Christian, skip it. I suspect the audience for this is mainly women, but I’m sure there are men who would like it too.

A lot of the story doesn’t really make much sense if you examine it closely. So my advice? Don’t examine it closely. Also, it is very clear where the story is going next and that should be most interesting. For the record, this is not the book where the danger of Acheron and his mom getting together to end the world as we know it is concluded. Not yet. More to come. Stay tuned!

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES – At Winter’s End, Robert Silverberg

Original Publication date: October 1, 2005, Kindle Publication date: May 14, 2013

At Winter’s End: The New Springtime, Volume 1. By Robert Silverberg, .

The falling death stars came again at last. Long predicted, the recurring catastrophic collision of earth with the world-destroying celestial bodies arrived on scheduled. In its last pass, it had killed the dinosaurs, brought the ice ages and ultimately, the ascendency of humankind as Earth’s dominant special.

It is many hundreds of thousands of years in the future when the cycle recurred. By then, Earth had not only humans, but other intelligent species — vegetals, mechanicals, hjjk (insect-like) and emerald-eyes (heirs to the dinosaurs) sharing the planet. Of the intelligent earth-based species, only humans and the hjjk were destined to survive the longest cold winter of the Earth. The others either could not or would not endure the 700,000 years of the Long Winter.

Simians who will become heirs to humanity have survived in an underground cocoon. Within this highly structured, rigidly organized society, they are driven by a singular goal. Endure until the New Spring comes. Survive until the sun warms the Earth. It’s an unthinkably long wait.

When finally signs portend the arrival of spring and The People are led by their chieftain Koshmar and chronicler Taggoran from the cocoon into the Outer World, it’s terrifying to many. The odds against survival are formidable. There are but 60 of them in total, the exact same number who entered the cocoon. This number has been maintained through ruthless reproductive control and pre-scheduled death dates. The number of tribe members has never in all 700,000 years been allowed to grow by a single member. But now, it’s a new day. The rules are gone and from where will the new rules come? robertSilverberg

Earth does not exactly throw the People a welcome party. Many are glad to see them, but not for the happiest of reasons. The rat wolves, the bloodbirds, endless vermin, bizarre predators and hideous insects await them … hungrily. With the warming has come the yearning for a taste of warm flesh.

The hjjk — those strange, cold insect like beings — have survived, to no one’s surprise. But there seem to be no other humans or humanoids anywhere. Koshmar’s band is so small and the earth so huge and empty. Losing Taggoran, the Old Man and Chronicler — preserver of the People’s knowledge and history — to the rat wolves means Koshmar must anoint a new Chronicler. She chooses the 9-year-old prodigy Hreesh-of-the-questions. It’s never been done before … but nothing is as it was. Everything must change.

Can this small doughty band of survivors fulfill the age-old promise to become the masters of the new-born Earth?

This is a long book with a lot of philosophical content. I enjoy the speculative nature of science fiction. That’s why I read it and that is, in my opinion, what sets sci fi apart — as a genre — from other kinds of fiction.

Sci fi is concept-oriented rather than centered on personal and emotional stuff. This is classic science fiction. There is a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here, much of it about the importance of following rules — and when rules no longer apply. How to know when it’s time to change and when it’s better to stand fast. If you are looking for a novel that explores the personal feelings of people and their relationships, you’ve come to the wrong book. If you like to give your brain a little exercise, don’t mind philosophical meandering (better yet, you enjoy it), give this one a read. And then read volume 2 — The Queen of Springtime. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

 At Winter’s End is available in hardcoverpaperback and now in Kindle. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking novel of world’s end, world’s beginning. Robert Silverberg is a  master science fiction writer. Earth and its people reborn.

Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein

SnapIt-137

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In this strange endless and infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears. During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man.

And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!

Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place.

Tree of lives

The logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.

You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.

I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this  particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.

Leather, explicit sex, immortals with magic powers — The Dark Hunter Series

I read a bunch of these books, but quit before reading all of them. I realized I didn’t need to buy another one because I could reread ones I already own. I don’t remember which was which. What’s more, it doesn’t matter because if you are reading these books, it isn’t for their literary merit or intricate plots. Or three-dimensional characters.

Cover of "Acheron (Dark-Hunter, Book 12)&...

To say all of Sherrilyn Kenyon‘s books are the same is not overly harsh. Some books are longer than others. The covers are different as are the titles. Also, some characters have dark hair, others are blond. I think that sums up the differences.

It’s important to like explicit sex and a lot of it because that’s pretty much where these are at. All the books have the same characters and plot. The dialogue appears to have been copied from one manuscript and pasted into the next with the names changed. Characters recur in multiple books, so Ms. Kenyon doesn’t always have to change all the names. The formula has been highly successful and profitable for the author and publisher. Her books sell very well, probably because you always know what you’re getting.

This is just what the doctor ordered for late nights when you want something to read in the sleepy minutes before you fade. Nothing in any of these books will keep you awake.

Now for the plot. There’s a guy. He has suffered terribly — frequently tortured — and for no good reason. He’s immortal so the torture goes on a really long time, like thousands of years. He is a total hunk. Insanely handsome. Perfect body. Sex on a stick. He meets a young woman. She is stunning. Gorgeous, sensitive, caring, powerful and very horny. They have sex. They have more sex. Then, they have more sex. After that, she cures his neuroses and guilt complexes. She banishes his evil memories however horrific, even if they lasted for ten thousand years. Literally.

As a couple, they must fight to avoid being killed by other powerful (evil) immortals with amazing powers. They triumph because their powers are more powerful than the evil powers of the bad guys. And the author is on their side.

They get married, live happily forever after because somehow, she too has become immortal — if she wasn’t in the first place. Did I mention magical powers? Godlike powers? Godhood itself? That too. Oh, I almost forgot. Sometimes the main character is a woman, so reverse the sexes but retain the plot.

Apply this to every book in the series. Don’t worry about names. You won’t remember them. I was halfway through one book before I realized I’d already read it.

These are fun if you want what they offer: a lot of sex with hot immortal guys and gals who wear leather, drive expensive cars, fast bikes and have magical powers. Keep your expectations modest. Kenyon’s books are entirely predictable. You will never experience surprise or disappointment. If you want or expect more, you’ve chosen the wrong books. To quote a famous football coach, “It is what it is.” No more, no less.

The entire series is available on Kindle, Audible.com and in paperback.

- – -

Gadget saturation.

Pointy shoes hurt

When I was a young woman, I refused to wear pointy shoes. They hurt my feet. It took some hunting, but I found round-toed shoes. I wore comfortable sandals, even having them made for my feet — simple, flat and strappy. I owned boots with square toes made in England or Australia. I would not wear shoes that caused me pain.

I still won’t wear clothing I don’t like or is uncomfortable. I didn’t care about fashion when I was 20 and I care less today.

I am equally resistant to gadget fads. I’m geeky enough to understand the latest gizmos and old enough (and poor enough) to think long and hard if it would be useful enough to be worth the cost. What I buy, especially tech stuff, is driven by what I need rather than what’s new, trendy or sexy.  I don’t have an MP3 player because I don’t need one and I hate earphones. When I’m not near a computer, I use my Kindle.

Being unfashionable has advantages. It saves money. If you don’t need the latest thing, you need not replace your wardrobe when what was “In” goes “Out.” I have a pea coat  made for the U.S. Navy as warm and attractive as it was 35 years ago.

My computers were bought with an eye toward running everything I have now plus anything I might need in the near future. I bought computers with as much memory as I could get. I got the highest resolution monitors available. I bought fast hard drives and big external drives as back ups. I got the best video cards the machines would support, Blue-ray reader/writers, and sound cards to support any system I want to hook up.

If we aren’t hit by a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake, as far as computers go, I’m set for a while, a few years at least. And most everything is upgradeable.

“The sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little. “PC sales have flattened out!”

I’m surrounded by desktop and laptop computers that run smoothly and on which everyone depends. Meanwhile, ZDNet is predicting the end of the PC.  This deduction is worthy of Chicken Little or maybe, Turkey Lurky. Computer sales having flattened out while mobile device sales remain brisk from which the author concluded everyone will do everything on mobile devices. We no longer need hard drives or embedded applications. We can pick up apps from the app store and everything we need can be accomplished … on the telephone? iPad? Chromebook? Android tablet? Having made an earlier and even more baseless pronouncement that we don’t need dedicated GPS’s because you can use your telephone or iPad, I should not be surprised, but stupidity always surprises me. For some reason, I expect better of my peers.

Others have said we don’t need cameras. If you are a photographer, you’ve probably bumped into these people on forums. They don’t understand the difference between photography and snapshots. “We can take pictures just as good on our phones,” they shout. Shall I take their advice? I will just throw away my cameras, lenses, filters …everything. I mean, Hell, I have a telephone. What more do I need?

They have declared anything I use for work or art obsolete. However, before I start editing a 16 X 20 photograph on my telephone, there are a few issues to work out.

Who are these pundits?

In what world do these predictors live? Do they work? As in, for a living? Are any of them musicians, authors, or photographers? Book designers, engineers, developers? Accountants, financial advisors? Movie makers? Are they aware that most professionals rely heavily on powerful installed applications, like Photoshop, Acrobat, Framemaker and CAD?

Or are they kids who think playing games on their iPhone is the ultimate technological achievement?

People aren’t buying PCs because they have computers … and they don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like Windows 8. I want to like it. I just can’t.

Sooner or later, everyone has enough and they don’t need another, especially if buying a new one means having to relearn everything they already know.  Microsoft made a huge miscalculation when they banked on touchscreens as “the next big thing.” Hubris is dangerous, whether you’re a Greek demigod or a corporation. I think until they back off, Microsoft is in very troubled waters.

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You aren’t going to see a buying surge for microwave ovens or refrigerators either. People usually replace what they have when it no longer does the job. The market for expensive new toys is not limitless. One day, everyone will stop replacing their almost new cell phones with the next generation that has a new bell or whistle. Everyone who wants a tablet will have one, two or three of them.

Right now, almost everyone who wants a PC has one. Most have several. In this household, with 5 computer-using adults, we have 12 laptops, desktops and tablets. None is obsolete. Plus a couple that are in working condition but no one uses.

Like other families, we tight for money. Bad economy. We buy things, but only when something else breaks or becomes too old to do the job. We can’t afford mistakes.

A few years ago, we ran out of space for books. I bought Kindles for my husband, son, and me. Later, I got a Kindle HD Fire that plays audiobooks, music, videos, collects email and can be hooked up with Facebook and Twitter. It’s my compact media center and it didn’t break the bank. it’s not a full service computer, but I knew that before I bought it. I’m addicted to audiobooks. Since I no longer commute, listening has tied me to the computer in my office. The Kindle has freed me to roam.

But I still wanted a lightweight compact computer. My netbook was supposed to fill this niche, and it tried. Like “The Little Engine That Could” it mumbled “I know I can, I know I can.” The Kindle will do many of the things I did on my Netbook – which moved down the line to my daughter-in-law — but the Kindle isn’t a computer. It is what it is, so I got an Ultrabook. I also have an iPhone but don’t use it even for phone calls. I hate it, actually. I have yet to figure out what people find so great about it.

I took a long, hard look at Chromebooks, but lacking a hard drive, its limitations exceed its value.

Lies and suppositions

Not long ago, an equally ill-informed ZDNet author announced the death of dedicated devices, in particular, the GPS. The author (I use that word advisedly) surmised that since we all own tablets and smartphones and will use them for navigation. The idea of using iPads, iPods, or smartphones for navigation attaching a 10-inch or 7-inch iPad to my windshield is hilarious. Having tried my phone as a GPS, no thanks. I can barely understand what someone is saying on a phone call. As a GPS, it’s useless. I wouldn’t be able to read the map or hear directions. Just because a device has a technical capability doesn’t mean it really does the job.

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These same pundits have repeatedly announced the death of personal computers and the replacement of standard application with mobile apps. They y think free apps will replace everything. Really? Or do they believe that we are all going to sign up for expensive monthly subscriptions? I’m not. Are you? I can barely afford my current overhead: I’m not going to up the ante.

We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! 

Instead of professionals producing thoughtful articles about technology, we have a bunch of stooges for big corporations. They are not working for their readers. They are trying to sell us on whatever their sponsors want them to push. The articles are nothing more than slightly reworded corporate PR releases. I would say they are badly researched, but I no research is more accurate. How do I know? Because I used to be a tech editor. I got those releases too.

They got a PR packet, picked some information out of it, did a little tweaking, and voilà, that’s the article. If I’m going to just take the manufacturer’s word for it, I don’t need them.

I assume whoever wrote the last article saying we are all going to do everything on mobile devices has never tried to do anything working people need to do. He certainly never tried to do it on one of the devices he was touting. He probably thinks his telephone is a fine precision camera and he is welcome to his opinion so as long as he doesn’t ask me look at his pictures.

Anything that can do everything doesn’t do anything well.

In the realm of small dedicated devices, from cameras and MP3 players, to telephones, DVD players and book readers, dedicated devices perform far better than equivalent “add ons” to general purpose devices. A modern computers is not a dedicated device: it’s a platform with power to drive a lot of different things, rather like a big empty room. It does many things, but it won’t do everything well. You can use it as a TV, but sitting in your living room, feet up on the recliner and watching a movie on your big-screen TV is a more satisfying experience.

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You can use a computer as a GPS, but a small dashboard or window-mounted unit works much better. Nothing takes pictures like a good camera. Nothing reproduces music better than a sound system with quality speakers. Book readers are great for reading books and if you want to make music, learn to play an instrument.

I don’t want to read on my computer or take pictures on my phone. I am a photographer and I use a camera. If you are positive your iPad is just as good as a camera, if you believe your cell phone or android tablet is good enough to fill your picture-taking needs, you’re probably right. Don’t show me your pictures. Please.

I own cameras. I edit in Photoshop. I write books. I design books and I use Framemaker, the world’s most anti-intuitive software, but also the only software that does the job. In the ZDNet fantasy world, we are going to do everything on our telephones or tablets. Where do I fit into this portable society?

The answer is simple: I don’t. Maybe you won’t, either. Many of us have been declared obsolete.

“There’s an app for that!”

No, there isn’t. There is no app by anyone anywhere that can come anywhere near any version of Photoshop. There is no application other than Framemaker that will create indexes across chapters. For creating PDF books for reading online, you need Acrobat. What? You don’t need to do any of that?

I do. So do others. Spread sheets and other office applications need screen real estate. Before you declare the PC obsolete, you might want to try really working on a tiny devices you want to sell me. You’ll be shocked to discover a spread sheet is invisible on a telephone. You might be able to create a small one on a tablet, but if you are a serious number cruncher, you aren’t going to do it on an iPad or any other tablet. You may use a tablet to display the final result, but you won’t use it to do the work. If you are editing pictures, you’re not going to use a little screen on a pod, tablet, or telephone. You want a big high-def monitor.

Some people take their jobs and art seriously. They want real tools. If you think games are the height of technological achievement, get a job.

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How come people are still buying small mobile devices but not computers? Aw, c’mon. You know why. They don’t need another computer. If they do, they are hoping Microsoft will come to its senses and give us a real operating system before they have to decide what to buy.

Meanwhile, technology for telephones is changing fast too. Telephones are subject to more abuse than other devices. They get rained on, dropped, and sat on. Crumbs and coffee make the keys sticky. Touchscreens become unresponsive. But, people will not always buy a new phone twice a year. They’ll demand sturdier phones that are waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof.

Eventually, everyone will have enough telephones, tablets, and other gadgets. No doubt there will be new gadgets, but if they want us to buy, they’ll have to come up with new needs. Otherwise, they will create sexy, cute and trendy gadgets and manufacturers will expect a rush to buy them but no one will care. They will be gadgeted out.

Computer sales will stay modest until the expensive high-powered laptops and desktops we recently bought break down or are obsolete. Are personal computers going the way of dinosaurs? Mine aren’t.

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No amount of salesmanship will convince me to buy stuff I don’t need or like.

I like gadgets. I like cool devices. If someone gives me a toy, I will play with it but I’m not going to spend a lot of money to get it. Free is my price on anything I don’t need.

It would also be great if magazines and journals that supposedly provide information to the trades would really do it. I resent them trying to sell me stuff. The only reason I read trades is for impartial information on technology. I can no longer trust what they say so, so other than finding out what’s new on the market, they are useless. They might at least test the products before they tell me how great they are.

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Everyday goodies that make a difference …

I write a lot about computers and computer-related equipment. I also write a good deal about photography and photographic equipment. Strangely missing from my writing are the many “low tech” items on which I depend and many of which are so integral to my life that I don’t know how I would manage without them. Most of these were reviewed on Amazon, which for a variety of reasons, is my shopping site of choice. Most of these items are available elsewhere, but not around here.

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Copco 2510-9963 Acadia Reusable To-Go Mug, 16 Ounce Capacity
Price: $7.99

Copco 2510-9963 Acadia Reusable To-Go Mug, 16-Ounce Capacity (Kitchen)

Copco 2510-9963 Acadia Reusable To-Go Mug, 16-Ounce CapacityEver since Dunkin Donuts “improved” their cups, I have been looking for travel cups with a screw top that are big enough (16 oz.), will fit in my car’s cup holders, and will help me not spill my coffee into my computer keyboard. I have very specific preferences in lidded cups. I hate handles and the pressure fitted lids that explode all over the place when you open them.

I was actually searching for a new coffee machines — not finding what I wanted — and there were these cups. I read other reviews, then ordered 4 of them.

I don’t know how I lived without them. They are solid and the screw tops have a rubber gasket inside the lid that, assuming you get the lid on straight, keeps the coffee in the cup and off your clothing and equipment. It also keeps your coffee warm much longer than most of these cups.  They required just a quarter turn to open or close and you don’t have to jiggle it around to get it to fit on straight. They don’t have handles to get in the way and they fit comfortably into auto cup holders. They are not bad-looking, either. AND they were very reasonably priced.

Well designed, right-sized, and a great price! I haven’t drowned a keyboard since I got these about a year ago. That’s a record.


Logitech Wireless Mouse M310 Dark Aces (910-002087)
Offered by LLYtech
Price: $14.71

Logitech Wireless Mouse M310 Dark Aces (910-002087)Logitech Wireless Mouse M310 Dark Aces (910-002087) (Personal Computers)

I have a lot of computers in my home, 8 or 9 at last count. I have 4 of these mouses (don’t argue; mice are fuzzy and squeak, mouses are electronic and point). One lost a foot after heavy use and has become a back up  … but it still works. These never die from use. If you drop them often enough, they might break, although I can’t count the number of times I’ve dropped mine and it doesn’t seem to mind … but wear out? Not in my experience.

I’ve had many mouses from many manufacturers and my favorites have all been from Logitech. Of the many Logitech mouses — and they certainly make a wide variety from ultra high-tech to basic and compact — this model is my favorite, not only mine, but everyone in the house. It’s a good size for any hand, large or small. It’s comfortable, accurate, and it doesn’t have any bells or whistles which for me is a big plus. The transmitter is tiny; you can leave it in your laptop. It won’t get in the way when you pack the computer in its case, even if it’s a tightly fitting case. Its one of the ones that theoretically you can use to operate multiple devices, but I’ve never succeeded to making it perform properly and inevitably wind up using a receiver for each device. It works without special software. It has what you need, no extra doodads, wheels, or buttons to annoy me. I have had fancier mouses and hated them. I always return to this model.

It comes in more colors and designs than I can count and at least one of them is always on sale. If you aren’t picky about the color, you can find what you one  at a price you can afford. If you’re picky, you can pay more and get something that will match your computer, your decor, or your shoes. This one tickled my fancy. It’s a bit girly, but I’m a girl. I gave my husband the solid red one, which was okay with him and took this one, which he felt was a tad feminine for his taste. My granddaughter has a blue striped one. My son has a grey one with some sort of design. Other than the color on the casing, they are exactly the same and work precisely the way you want a mouse to work.

I love Logitech products. I have Logitech keyboards, mouses, speakers, and other accessories. They are well made, reasonably priced, and last forever. You can’t ask for more.


Lodge Logic L8DOL3 Pre-Seasoned 5-Quart Dutch Oven with Loop Handles
Price: $29.99

Lodge Logic L8DOL3 Pre-Seasoned 5-Quart Dutch Oven with Loop Handles

Lodge Logic L8DOL3 Pre-Seasoned 5-Quart Dutch Oven with Loop Handles (Kitchen)

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Stuck as I am with an electric range, the Lodge series of cast iron solve so many problems. Their flat bottoms work fine on my smooth top stove. I’m sure it would work just as well on a gas range. Great cookware.

You can keep a pot of chili or pasta sauce simmering without scorching for hours … and there is nothing easier to maintain than cast iron. Treated with even minimal care, these will last forever and are as non-stick as Teflon without the side effects.

It’s easier to clean than even the best stainless steel, better quality and a more durable almost anything … certainly more so than fancy and much more expensive brands.  I’ve owned all kinds of cookware over the past 40 years and finally, came back to where I started: nothing is better than cast iron and Lodge makes excellent cookware in all the right shapes and sizes. Whatever you need, they make it and you can probably afford it. It doesn’t get better than this.

If there is a fault, it is that it is very heavy. This pot, when full, weighs a lot. NOT something to pick up with one hand!

That being said, I have a whole set of this cookware and I love and use every single piece of it. It’s the best.


Lodge LCC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker
Price: $29.99
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Lodge LCC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo CookerLodge LCC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker (Kitchen)

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Talk about useful, this is as close to a pot that will do everything as any pot possibly could. Chili pot, frying pan, dutch over, stew pot … that and more. If it has a flaw, it is the problem with all good cast iron … it is heavy. This is a very substantial piece of cast iron and when it is full, even heavier (obviously). It can be difficult for someone with weak wrists to lift. That being said, its advantages hugely outweigh any problems. It heats evenly and keeps an even temperature. It works very well on my flat-topped electric range because it has a flat, smooth bottom. No small thing if you are stuck with using an electric stove. I should think it would work even better on a gas range.

It holds enough to feed a family, if not a crowd. It is the perfect pot for a couple and is my go-to pot for just about everything. Season it properly, treat it as cast iron requires and you will have a lifetime of use from it. Best pot I’ve ever owned and that includes some absurdly expensive pieces from big name manufacturers. The frying pan top is relatively shallow and you can use it as you would a griddle. Great for eggs … or pancakes. Or anything else, actually. I recommend this without reservation.


Dial AA and AAA Battery Storage Box
Offered by MMP Living
Price: $4.04

Dial AA Battery Storage BoxDial AA Battery Storage Box (Kitchen)

It’s exactly what it says it is … and just what I need.  After I made the big move to rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, figuring out what to do with them so they wouldn’t get lost became increasingly urgent. You’d think it would be no big deal to find a convenient and inexpensive box in which to store your charged batteries … but you would be wrong. Most of the boxes are fancy, expensive … overkill in the extreme.  Then, I found this and the problem went away. Light, small, closes securely.

Good rechargeable batteries are expensive, so you don’t want to lose them. You can pay a lot of money for something fancy that does the same thing, but this works, holds both AA and AAA. It’s the no frills solution.  Sturdy and worth the money.


OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Utensil Holder
Price: $19.99

OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Utensil Holder (Kitchen)
OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Utensil Holder

I like to keep utensils within reach while I’m cooking. This means next to the stove on the counter top. I want to be able to grab things I use for daily cooking without searching. Many times, I’d just as soon not leave whatever is cooking, even for a couple of minutes, so having things within arm’s reach and visible matters.

I’ve used all kinds of containers to hold the spatulas, wooden spoons, and those myriad hand tools I use daily, but none of them enabled me to keep them in any kind of order so that I could grab what I wanted without dumping everything all over the place. This container is the best looking container I’ve found, but its design is also practical. It fit in a narrow space, yet it holds a lot of utensils and keeps them upright and separated. It contains everything I need and with room for more. I thought I was being self-indulgent when I bought it, but it has turned out to be a big improvement in “kitchen dynamics.” Easy to clean, too.


Eco To Go Cold Drink Tumbler – Double Wall 16 oz. Capacity – Smoke
Offered by California Tools
Price: $2.99

Eco To Go Cold Drink Tumbler - Double Wall -16oz. Capacity - SmokeEco To Go Cold Drink Tumbler – Double Wall 16 oz. Capacity – Smoke

I am always toting a drink around with me, usually fruit juice. It’s next to me when I travel, watch TV and most importantly, work at the computer. I am not the most graceful individual and have knocked over a lot of drinks over the years. I get particularly twitchy about having a glass of liquid next to the computer and have been looking for a cold drink cup with a good cover for years. This is IT. It’s big enough, solidly made, keeps stuff cold, is easy to clean and sturdy. It fits fine in my car’s cup holders too. And finally, with 3 dogs in the house, I spend a lot less time worrying about a wagging tail sending my drink flying! The screw on lid fits on easily and the rubber gasket forms a nice, tight seal. It is NOT dishwasher or microwave safe, but I don’t care about that. I have plenty of other glasses and cups that I can nuke. These are GREAT cups. The clumsy computer user’s best pal.


Case Logic JDS-6 USB Drive Shuttle 6-Capacity-Black
Price: $5.98

Case Logic JDS-6 USB Drive Shuttle 6-Capacity-BlackCase Logic JDS-6 USB Drive Shuttle 6-Capacity-Black (Personal Computers)


Always losing your flash drives? This may help. It’s got 6 slots, it zips shut, it’s a nice little case and gives you someplace to put them where you may actually find them again. Before I bought this case, I lost my flash drives almost as soon as I bought them. Since I got this simple little case, I can find my flash drives. Sounds like no big deal? Do  you now where your flash drives are? I do.

So many things, so little time … I’ll post more soon.

Are “real” books obsolete?

I read constantly. If I don’t have a book to read, I feel lost. I read as many as a dozen books a week, depending on format and the size of the book.

I keep almost all my current new reading material in an electronic format. Because I read so many books a week, it’s impossible to find places to put that many books if they were paper. I am usually reading at least two books simultaneously: one on Kindle and another in audio.

I buy very few paper books, not because I don’t love them, but because I am out of space in which to store them. Moreover, there are definite advantages to electronic books.

I can take an entire library with me when I travel with my Kindle. For audiobooks, all I need is my laptop … and I would take that with me anyhow.

Our books say a lot about us … maybe too much.

I no longer haul a trunk full of paperbacks on vacation. My Kindle is light and small and fits tidily in my bag. My wrists don’t get tired from holding it and I can read one-handed. My Kindle cover has a built-in reading light that doesn’t keep my husband awake and will turn itself off if I fall asleep while reading.

It keeps my place for me and the bookmark doesn’t fall out.

I grab my Kindle on the way out when I’m off to the doctor. I don’t mind waiting because I’ve got books to read. I don’t have to figure out where to put the “real” books I do purchase because for the first time in 30 years, there is room in the bookcases. We gave away hundreds of books to our local library, the high school, the senior center, and any friends who wanted them. We’ll have to do it again, eventually, but we’re being very cautious about what we buy.

Garry has his own Kindle. So does my son. I wish they’d put my granddaughter’s text books on Kindle so she wouldn’t have to haul 50 pounds of books to school every day. I don’t know why they don’t do it. They could save whole forests, not to mention a lot of young backs from serious damage.

Mixed media … books, movies, music and more.

But I still love books. There is nothing like the smell of a new book when you open it. The paper and the ink, and the soft crack of the binding as it loosens for the first time. The rustle of paper when you turn a page. If I had unlimited room, I’d have a library with every book I love filling the shelves.

And then there is the software and the manuals for all the applications I no longer use, books, a few antiques, and more, mostly obsolete, software. And one music box.

I think I’d choose to read on the Kindle anyway.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of things. Books will never be obsolete; buy them as long as you have room in your bookcases. For everything else, there’s a Kindle.