Books

A TUESDAY FANTASY WITH HAROLD – RICH PASCHALL

The Wizarding World of Harold, a neat and mostly organized man


Harold needed to get back on track. He would not let A Tuesday Mystery throw him behind his perfectly planned schedule. He finished dressing by selecting socks from the mystifying sock drawer, then hurried to the kitchen where coffee had been waiting an hour for his arrival. He poured a cup, set it on the table and opened the porch door to collect the newspaper.

“Where is it?” Harold wondered. Was this another schedule attack? He looked around. The paper was leaning against the house behind a shrub. “I will have to talk to that paper boy about his accuracy,” he thought as he trotted back to the kitchen.

During Harold’s working years, his schedule had been periodically disrupted. Machines broke down, employees took leave, got sick. Materials ran short. And then there were meetings, inevitably unproductive, more obstacles in Harold’s path. If these events had taught Harold anything, it was time lost could be regained if you stayed your course and focused on your goals.

Harold left home more or less on time. A small personal triumph. A hot, humid Florida morning greeted him. The heat was not part of Harold’s plan. When he had moved south for pleasant year-round weather, tropical heat wasn’t what he had in mind.

With the car’s air conditioner on high, Harold headed for the library. He parked and entered the foyer of the modest library. He paused to think about his next book. He pulled a paper from his pocket, a list of the books in the library which might interest him. He had read most of what the small library had to offer about engineering or design, so it was probably time to move to another genre.

Maybe history next. There were great books about World War II he wanted to read. Duty by Bob Greene, The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw were on top of Harold’s list. But which book today?

As he approached the history racks, he noticed a young man reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He could tell by his face he was absorbed by the story.

harry-potter

“I wonder what’s the big deal with those books,” Harold thought to himself. He guessed he was one of the few people who had neither seen any movies nor read any books about the boy wizard.

Harold was aware of the phenomenon, of course, but the idea of spending time on something so frivolous didn’t fit into his idea of a well-ordered life. He could not imagine devoting hours to stories about a magical boy who could fly on a broom.

“Excuse me sir,” Harold said impulsively. “Where are the Harry Potter books?” The man just pointed. In a most un-Harold fashion, he went to the shelf and started scanning the titles.

When he spotted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harold froze. He knew it was the first book of the series. Should he take the book? Just to see what the fuss was about of course. Harold wasn’t sure he could let himself read a book not on his list — a children’s fantasy at that. Caught on the horns of a dilemma, Harold stood there, temporarily paralyzed.

After an internal debate, Harold pulled the book from the shelf and went to the table where the young man had been seated. He sat in a different seat, lest the man come back and want his chair. He opened the well-thumbed book and began reading — and was immediately drawn into Harry Potter’s world.

A few minutes later, a boy of perhaps eight took the empty seat. As Harold read, the youngster just stared at the picture of Harry Potter on the cover. It made Harold uncomfortable. He was awkward with children, never knowing what to say. So he asked a question instead.

“Can I do something for you, son?” The boy shook his head. “Perhaps I could help you find a book to read?” Harold would have continued, but the boy gave him a sad look and sat quiet and unmoving.

Harold returned to the book, but even while he read, he could feel the boy’s eyes on him. It made him so uneasy, he soon got up to leave. It was earlier than he had planned.

He had found the Potter story so engrossing he decided against all logic to take it home. He checked it out at the desk, then went to his car.

“This certainly has been a strange Tuesday,” Harold declared to no one in particular. The mysterious lost egg had equally mysteriously reappeared. Now he had impulsively taken a book from the library which was not on his reading list and was not the kind of book Harold would ever read.

At that thought, something made Harold look back toward the library. The boy who had been staring at Harold was now standing on the sidewalk watching Harold leave.

Unbidden, Harold thought, “I hope that little guy has a decent home to go to.” When he got to his sweltering car, Harold looked back again. Something wasn’t right though he couldn’t figure out what.

The boy was gone.

ARE WE LIVING IN THE SAME WORLD?

Terminal Time

You’re at the airport, your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices is working. How do you pass the time?


netflix for books

I don’t believe it. You genuinely don’t know what to do without electronic gadgets? You are lost without your cell phone or tablet? Really? You’re not kidding me?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. Because me, I would simply reach into my carry-on and pick out a book. If none of the books I’ve packed appealed to me, I’d take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them, in case you haven’t noticed) and buy something to read. A newspaper (yes, they still print them). Maybe a couple of magazines. Or — a book!

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

FOOTNOTE: I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone). I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. And I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says. My camera WILL work, no matter where I am!

 

TIME TO SHARE AGAIN – WEEK 17

Share Your World – 2014 Week 17

Time for another round of sharing.


What are some words that just make you smile?

Shirley or surely. Reminds me of “Airplane” and that always makes me smile.

“Walk this way.” A Mel Brooks classic line appearing in at least three four of his movies. Extra points if you can name them!

Finally, anytime anyone in any cop show says “Stay in the car,” it sends Garry and I into fits of laughter. Because they never stay in the car and you have to wonder why anyone would bother to put it into a script … or how an actor can say it with a straight face!

When you lose electricity in a storm, do you light the candles or turn on the flashlight? How many of each do you own?

If it’s dark, I grab a flashlight first because I have to find matches. No problem finding candles. I’ve got candles all over the house, but matches are a different issue and finding them can be more of a challenge. I have no idea how many flashlights we have, but we have two that I can find quickly and which actually work. There are many more lurking in dark corners, probably with dead batteries.

What is the longest book you ever read?

Thomas Wolfe’ “Look Homeward, Angel” is a contender … but since I read that (more than 50 years ago), I’ve read some very long science fiction/fantasy books. Anything by Robert Jordan is a probably winner in this category!

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And then there was the original 18 volumes in one binding “Jean Christophe” by Romaine Rolland. I read it, though involuntarily because Mom figured if the author won a Nobel Prize, it had to be good. It was good, but also really long.

“Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945″ by Tony Judt at just over 900 pages is also a competitor. But worth the investment of time and attention.

So you win a pet monkey at a fair, but this isn’t just any old monkey. It can do one trick for you whenever you want from getting a pop out of the fridge to washing your hair. What would be the trick?

I’m sort of a dog and cat kind of gal. I can’t imagine having a monkey for a pet. Sorry.

SEARCHING FOR A GOOD BOOK

Royalties?

Every once in a while, to my shock and amazement, Amazon informs me I’ve sold a book or three. Wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a genuine reader. Cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any significant money from this. Hell no. The Kindle version of my book yields a whopping dollar something per sale (or loan) (I’m actually not sure the precise amount). Amazon has changed the rules, so almost every month I get 20 announcements of an impending direct deposit into my bank account. Then I get another set from my bank. So far, my biggest month yielded almost $12. This month, it was $3.70.

I have no idea how they calculate amounts and have stopped trying to figure it out. Overall, I figure a year of book sales might just take Garry and I to a big night at McDonald’s — if we order from the dollar menu.

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I still get buzzed when anyone buys or reads my book and delighted when they let me know they enjoyed it, but next time, I think I’ll write about dogs.

Doing PR

I wrote it in 2007, though it didn’t “hit the market” until 2008. I did author things — television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got some nice local press. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

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In total, I sold a few hundred books which isn’t bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks large enough for a cheap dinner at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a very minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed to materialize. So much for Hollywood.

It’s hard to market a self-published book. When it first came out, I admit I had dreams of glory. My husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as time passes, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

When you write a book largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the New York Times bestseller list. Not unless you are already a celebrity and even then, memoirs are not usually big sellers. Books like this become popular only if they reveal scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a perversely sexual nature, or if someone pumps it up on national television — which didn’t happen to me and doesn’t happen for most authors.

Unless you have a recognizable, salable name, there’s no market for this genre. The ones that get published because they were written by celebrities go from a display in front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s unlikely me or you, unknowns that we are, could convince a publisher we’re worth the ink and paper for so much as a trade paperback. And don’t bother to dream of getting an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

A while back, I had the honor of reading (and to some degree, judging) a bunch of fiction deemed among “the best of 2013.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of that year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask “What were you thinking?” There are okay books amongst the dross, a couple of good ones plus a few that make it all the way to “better than mediocre.”

Unfortunately, there are many dreadful ones, books so bad it’s hard to imagine how they could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing at all in any form. Who did the authors have to sleep with to get that contract? There had to be sexual favors involved. Nothing else could explain it.

Most of these books are — at best — okay. Maybe someone might like them, but I find it hard to imagine who it might be. Maybe under the influence of heavy drugs? Some may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. A couple had redeeming qualities, but not enough to get me from cover to cover.

Which brings me back to my book

I will say, in advance, that it is not deathless literature, but it’s not bad — a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2013.

And my book has features that used to be traditional features in books like characters, humor, a semblance of a plot, a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you could learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever and wherever you are, you’d enjoy having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at jobs, raise children who don’t have magical powers or access to time travel and are unlikely to pop off into space to explore other universes, are becoming rare.

Do we no longer find the real world sufficiently interesting to write books about it?

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason so few good books are set in the real world because we find our lives uninteresting? Are the day-to-day battles regular people go through so dreary we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Having someone buy a copy of my book today was a big deal. If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe a half-dozen or so people will buy or borrow an electronic copy or a trade paperback of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage load on our backs when we are too young to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos.

Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also hard to proofread your own manuscript: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is there.

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

12-foot teepee Amazon

You can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. I get the same royalties whether you buy it or borrow it. Go figure.

I have serious concerns about the state of publishing. I am convinced there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who get published. With the opportunities offered by electronic publishing, I would think the potential profit has increased exponentially.

Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until it has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we published more good books?

Perhaps publishers should consider taking a chance on more newcomers who don’t write in trendy genres. I love science fiction and fantasy more than most people, but I also enjoy books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I fear the best of America’s writers are being lost in the scramble to publish only best-sellers. It doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just like they always have. From what I’m seeing, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the nose. Or care.

It’s not that I’m such a fantastic author and couldn’t get a reading, publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that does get published is so awful. It’s not a healthy sign for literature or the publishing industry.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – AN AMAZON REVIEW

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 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.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE OTHER PEOPLE IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S AMERICA – JANE ALLEN PETRICK

This beautifully written book about Norman Rockwell, the artist and his work focuses on the non-white children and adults who are his legacy. The book will be an eye-opener for many readers despite the fact that anyone who goes to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — or seriously looks at Rockwell’s body of work — can see that Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This country’s non-white population have always been there, even when he had to more or less sneak them in by the side door.

These people — Black people, Native Americans and others — are not missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. It is merely that the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via a form of highly effective selective vision. Despite their presence, many people choose to focus on the vision of white America and eliminate the rest of the picture. Literally.

The author tells the story not only of Rockwell’s journey and battle to be allowed to paint his vision of America, but also of the people who modeled for him, both as children and adults. She has sought out these people and talked to them, getting their first-hand experiences with the artist.

It’s a fascinating story and I loved it from the first word to the last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.

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From the Author

Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold.  Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.

Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is because, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogues by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.

Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”

“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”

The America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.

This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.

One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again.I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.

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?

LOVE TO READ – HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Recently I saw the 8th and final Harry Potter movie on Blue Ray DVD. In an introduction to the movie celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

harryPotter

The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. Just as Harry grew up, so did the books and with them, so did the reading public. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvass of the mind.

Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2

Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than any 3-D spectacular or animated feature. The pictures it presents are the best pictures of all time, the pictures generated by the mind.

THE LATE VERY GREAT DOUGLAS ADAMS – MY TIME TWIN

I love Douglas Adams. Although he has been gone from our world for 13 years I miss him as I would miss a good friend. The good times we had together, listening to him read his own books. He was a mad man and such a delicious one.

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" H2G2

I was looking for a short audiobook. I wanted something funny and witty, so of course I found “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” It’s just over three and a half hours — precisely the right length and correct degree of lunacy.

When I began listening, I googled Douglas Adams and realized Douglas Adams shares my birthday.

What an honor! I can’t imagine anyone with whom I could be happier to share a birthday. I’m delighted Maybe there a bit of his madness in me, too.Perhaps I have a tiny piece of his magic. Even a sprinkling of pixie dust would be fine.

The Dirk Gently series — just two books — never enjoyed the monumental success of the Hitchhiker books — but I’ve love them best. And this version is Douglas reading his own book and he’s an exceptional reader. There are a bunch of versions of all of Adams’ books on Audible.com. The few actually narrated by the author are the best.

For my life, forever hence forth, when I celebrate my birthday, I will also be celebrating for Douglas Adams. Happy Birthday,Douglas. No one has replaced you and never ever will.

Douglas Adams

Born: March 11, 1952, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Died: May 11, 2001, Santa Barbara, California

ABOUT TIME! THE UNDEAD POOL – KIM HARRISON

If, as I have, you’ve been following this series from the beginning, this book has been a long time coming. Rachel Morgan has traveled an enormous distance — professionally and personally — since she first decided to leave the I.S. and become an independent runner. She has transformed from witch to day-walking demon and repeatedly saved the world.

dead pool 7

Not that the world has been particularly grateful. She keeps pulling the world’s bacon out of the fire and the world continues to whack her over the head. A simple thank you would do!

Ivy has moved on to a genuine relationship — fragile but real — with Nina. Jenks has (apparently) finally recovered from the death of his wife, Matalina. Bis, the baby gargoyle, isn’t such a baby any longer. He’s coming into his own and may just live up to the name he bears amongst gargoyles — Worldbreaker.

Then there’s Trent. Rachel and Trent have been dancing around each other through a lot of pages. Approach, back off, sashay left and do-si-do. Finally all the waiting pays off and we get some long hoped-for romance.

This is a deeply satisfying book on many levels. Kim Harrison not only gives us what we’ve waited for, but she does it so deliciously. The characters — even background characters like Trent’s irritating fiancé Ellasbeth — are fully fleshed out. Great characters who have been MIA for a while, such as David and his were-pack, are back and ready to mix it up. Hail, hail! The gang is here!

Will Rachel save the world again? You bet.

A quick summary: Living vampires are rebelling. Their undead masters are asleep, apparently unable to waken. The world is being overwhelmed by wild Elven magic and Rachel is at the center of the maelström. There’s no question she has been chosen by the Goddess. Why? For what exactly? Where does Newt fit in?

Although not every question is answered in this next-to-last book in The Hollows series, it answers a great many of them. Things you’ve been waiting for through eleven books finally happen in this, the twelfth volume. It is about time and was absolutely worth waiting for.

dead pool 9

There’s a lot of exposition in the first half of the book. Action explodes in the second half. The momentum picks up to such an extent I found myself backtracking and rereading to make sure I didn’t miss a critical event or piece of information.

I have loved every book in this series and it was inevitable I would love this, too. Unlike many long running series, there’s nothing tired about this book. It’s as fresh, exciting and rich as it was in the beginning and in many ways, more so. I’m going to read it again. And probably, again after that.

Do not — please — read this if you haven’t read the rest of the series. You need the background of the characters not to mention a lot of development of relationships. And history. If you haven’t read the series, read it. It has been my favorite series for all the years I’ve been following it and has never disappointed me. It won’t disappoint you, either.

Marguerite Gavin is the narrator on the Audible download, as she has been for almost the entire series and does her usual perfect job.

This is, in my opinion, the best urban fantasy series. Period.

It’s available from Amazon (and other outlets) in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, CD and from Audible.com. 

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

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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.

BEWARE OF DERANGED BOOKWORMS

Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE ULTIMATE DARWINIAN CHALLENGE — JOHN DIXON’S PHOENIX ISLAND

Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Publication Date — January 21, 2014

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

PhoenixIsland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.