JIM BUTCHER: COLD DAYS

skin game jim butcherJim Butcher’s new Harry Dresden adventure will be out in a few days. It’s been a long wait, but it’s nearly over. Thought it might be a good time to remember the last book — which was one of my favorites and which I just reread to remind myself of what came before, the better to enjoy the new book: The Skin Game.


It was a long wait between books last time too. All I could do was wait, which I did with the proverbial bated breath. I love Harry Dresden’s world and with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages. I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook.

James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters. Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil in my reality consists largely of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously bad-ass. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn.

Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point. He is changing. He is painfully aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting.

This is good. There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic.

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment — and don’t  read the new book until you’ve read at least a few of the earlier episode (all of them is better!). It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The Dresden Files:

COLD DAYS IN THE DRESDEN UNIVERSE

Congratulations to Jim Butcher. Cold Days is the winner of this year’s GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS FOR THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR in the Paranormal Fantasy category. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past half-dozen years in any genre. I unreservedly recommend the series. However, if you have not read the earlier books, do not start with Cold Days. You need the history and back stories from earlier books for this one to make sense.

Check out all the winners on Goodreads!

I waited with a proverbial bated breath for this episode of the Harry Dresden series. I am enchanted by Jim Butcher’s writing and the world he has created, in love with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages.

I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook. James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters.

Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away.

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

I’d keep reading the books even if the characters started walking on their hands and speaking Latin, but wouldn’t mind less abrupt transitions when a character is about to flip from the dark to the light side. It’s not a matter of believability, more like giving readers a chance to catch up with the author. If you are a Harry Dresden fan, reality is not your issue. You probably left it behind a long time ago.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on my reality plane consists of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance.

In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously badass. This is where Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point.

He is changing. He is painfully — in the most literal sense — aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. This is good.

There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic. In this life, I shall settle for unmagical me.

 

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The  Dresden Files:

Book 1: Storm Front

Book 2: Fool Moon

Book 3: Grave Peril

Book 4: Summer Knight

Book 5: Death Masks

Book 6: Blood Rites

Book 7: Dead Beat

Book 8: Proven Guilty

Book 9: White Night

Book 10: Small Favor

Book 11: Turn Coat

Book 12: Changes

Book 13: Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: Cold Days

Returning to the Dresden Universe — Cold Days in Audio

Including spineListening Cold Days again took me back to a world I love. James Marsters is a wonderful narrator. Marsters has become the voice of Harry Dresden. One book used a different narrator and fans were up in arms. I wasn’t quite as bothered as some, but I prefer Marsters. He strikes that perfect balance to enable me to see the story in my head. My own movie.

I am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.

In the last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.

“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line. “Cold Days” brings Harry back in the flesh. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.

Jim Butcher is a clever. He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He’s a poor listener and does not heed advice, a combination that has cost him dearly.

Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.

I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.

I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey (2009)

Sandman Slim is fantasy, horror, and mystery, gift-wrapped in a deliciously witty package. It’s got the cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and every place in between. Enough zombies, in various flavors, to satisfy anyone’s enthusiasm for gore. Enough violence to get your heart pumping.

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

The writing is sufficiently sophisticated, literate and sharp-edged that you have no doubt you are reading a book for grown-ups. This is no excursion into adolescent sparkly vampires. The undead are as far from cuddly as a bunny is from a crocodile.

The good guys aren’t particularly warm and fuzzy either. It’s a new perspective on angels and demons, good versus evil. The distinction between the good and bad guys is a matter of degree and ultimate intent. Both commit atrocities. It’s a matter of whose side you are on and what your final goal happens to be … and whether that’s evil or holy is a matter of opinion.

In Kadrey’s world, angels are as lethal as any of the bestial dead. Flaming swords or not, there’s nothing human or huggable about these heavenly hosts.

Meet Lucifer, Uriel and a few other big shots of the hereafter. Spend some time in Hell. Take a quick peek at Heaven.

Kadrey’s biting wit makes this first book and subsequent books in the series addictive. I read the first one, then hustled over to Amazon and bought the next two installments (Kill The Dead and Aloha From Hell).

It’s set in Los Angeles, but this is not your grandfather’s L.A.

Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey

“L.A.” says our hero, if indeed Sandman Slim can be classified as a hero, though he is indeed heroic, “is what happens when a bunch of Lovecraftian elder gods and porn starlets spend a weekend locked up in the Chateau Marmont snorting lines of crank off Jim Morrison’s bones. If the Viagra and illegal Traci Lords videos don’t get you going, then the Japanese tentacle porn will.”

In terms of hyper-literacy, Kadrey rivals Mike Carey, although these books are darker — and the Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books are very dark — and noticeably more violent. And gory. Jim Butcher on steroids and meth.

If fantasy is your genre and you don’t mind violent and gory, check these out. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are extremely well-written and the perspective of God, Heaven, Hell and human life is sufficiently unique to hook me. I don’t usually like quite this much violence and am not especially into zombies … but these are good. Intense. Reeking of testosterone.

Trapped, Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 5, by Kevin Hearne

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I got the notice from Amazon. Kevin Hearne’s latest new book in the series — HUNTED – was delivered to my Kindle today. I’m not going to have time to read it for a while. I have a long list of books to review and many pages to go read before I can read anything not on my “to read and review” list.

In honor of the new release, here’s my review of Book 5, TRAPPED.

This book was released November 27, 2012. I had it in hand the day of its release. I took several weeks to read it. It wasn’t terribly long, but I wanted it to last. Then, after I finished reading it, I got the audiobook and read it a twice more. Just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I read the first three books Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered. I liked them. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I enjoyed them enough so that when the fourth book came out, I bought it. I liked it better than the first three and when this most recent book was released, I was right on top of it. Each book has been better than the one before it and I can hardly wait for the next volume.

Trapped is the fifth installment of the Iron Druid series. It is wonderful. The writing has smoothed out, the characters have become more solid, three-dimensional, real. Atticus finally has a human companion. He’s always had a companion, of course, his faithful wolfhound Oberon. More about Oberon later. But now, it’s the beautiful Granuaile, his apprentice now about-to-be Druid.

One of the things I most like about Kevin Hearne‘s writing is the care with which he constructs his world. It has rules, axioms, standards. Within his world, his characters and nature obey. There is symmetry, logic and order. The world feels right. Although it’s a different reality than ours, but makes sense. Nothing falls up.

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The story has more than adequate action to satisfy any fantasy reader, but it is also graceful and elegant. Add to that a hefty dollop of wit, humor, historical tidbits and mythology. It scratches all my literary itches at the same time.

Many authors supposedly base stories on mythology, but really, they use names taken from mythology but that’s as far as it goes. Hearne’s gods, from whatever pantheon they are drawn, are remarkably true to their namesake. My very first literary crush was on Apollo via Bullfinch and I’ve come a long way since then, but my affection for gods and goddesses and their many descendants remains.

sausage-festThen there’s Oberon the wolfhound. If I had no other motivation, I think I’d read these books just for Oberon. He has a wonderful “dog’s eye view” of the world and human relationships. He is the first “talking dog” who is a dog, not a furry human. He thinks doggy thoughts, lusts after sausages and poodles. He has a big vocabulary and great communication skills, but he is a real dog. And funny.

I liked everything in this book: an intelligent plot, fully realized characters, lots of action, care for the details. Best of all,  the story is unpredictable — full of  surprises, plot twists and wonderful words.

I would not — as others have — compare Kevin Hearne to Jim Butcher. Although both write in the fantasy genre and I love both authors, the worlds about which they write are very different. I’m sure Harry and Atticus would like each other and enjoy a glass of brew, but they move in different circles. I’ve never liked comparing authors as if they were interchangeable parts. There’s more than enough room for everyone and plenty left for those who have yet to set pen to paper.  Atticus isn’t going to replace Harry or vice versa.

Should they find reason to join forces, that would be very cool. I bet Oberon and Mouse would get on  too … but if they never meet, I’m sure that both will do their part in saving this sad old world of ours.

The Iron Druid Chronicles — Hounded to Trapped — by Kevin Hearne

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The Iron Druid Chronicles includes (to date) five books: Hounded, Hexed, Hammered, Tricked, and Trapped. The books follow the adventures of the last of the Druids,a  2100-year-old survivor of the Roman massacre of the Druids back in the reign of Claudius (41 AD to 54 AD).

The Beginning: Hounded (May 2011)

Atticus O’Sullivan — not his real name, but we never find out what his real name is, though many hints are dropped — survived the long ago massacre by fleeing to North America which had not yet been discovered by the Old World. After many years, he has established a peaceful life in Arizona where he runs an occult bookshop, does a bit of  shape-shifting that lets him enjoy hunting with his Irish wolfhound, Oberon. Atticus’ shifted shape is also a Wolfhound and his friendship with Oberon goes far beyond dog and master or even dog and dog.

Atticus’ appearance suggests a young man in his early 20s, belying his two millennium life. Through his long years of survival Atticus has gained a great deal of power, drawn mostly from the earth to which he is bound.  Personally, he’s pleasant, witty and hyper aware of the forces of earth, air, water and other. He has not survived for so many centuries without gaining enough wisdom to know when to fight and when to run. He has power, but he is also a survivor, choosing his battles with great care.

In the course of ages, he has come to possess a magical sword — Fragarach, the Answerer. Fragarach is coveted by an ill-tempered and powerful god. Although Atticus initially prevails and keeps the sword, many wheels are set in motion by the battle for its possession and the scene is set for the next five books in the series.

From the Paperback edition

Hounded was recently reissued as a Mass Market Paperback.

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Most Recent: Trapped (November 2012)

I’ve followed the adventures of Atticus, Oberon, and more recently, the beautiful Granuaile, his apprentice who is now about to become a full Druid in Trapped, released November 27, 2012. I had Trapped in hand the day of its release. I finished reading it, then got the audiobook and read it a couple more times. Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. That is a pretty fair indicator that I very much enjoyed the book.

Hounded was the first of the series and while I did enjoy it, I felt each subsequent book has been better than the one before it. Trapped was the best to date. With Hunted due to be released soon, I can hardly wait!

All of the books are rousing good fantasy yarns. Even better, Hearne has done his homework. His Pantheon(s) of Gods are pretty accurate, much more so than most fantasy books that call on various gods. The writing is intelligent, witty, fast-paced and original. Kevin Hearne‘s world is constructed with care. Within that world, the characters and nature itself are subject to natural law and logic. There is symmetry and order. The world feels right. It’s a different reality, but nothing ever falls upwards.

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Each story has more than enough action to satisfy any fantasy reader, but it is graceful and elegant.

sausage-festAtticus is the kind of character I’d love to hang with, but if I had to take my pick of one character with whom to spend some quality, it would have to be  Oberon the wolfhound. Oberon has a delightful “dog’s eye view” of the world and human relationships. He is the first “talking dog” who is a dog, not a furry human. He thinks doggy thoughts, lusts after sausages and poodles. He has a big vocabulary and exceptional communication skills, but he is a dog. And a funny dog at that. He has a thing for poodles which I have actually heard criticized as sexist. Folks, if this bothers you, perhaps you are taking life too seriously. Really.

The Iron Druid has it all: intelligent plots, fully realized characters, lots of action, great detail. Best of all,  the stories are never entirely predictable. There are enough surprises and plot twists to keep you hooked. The words are delightfully well crafted. For me, books are always about the words … and Kevin Hearne uses words beautifully.

I would not — as others have — compare Kevin Hearne to Jim Butcher. Although both write in the fantasy genre and I enjoy both authors, the worlds about which they write are significantly different as are the personalities and lifestyle of their protagonists. I’m sure Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan would appreciate each other and might enjoy a glass of brew together, but they move in different circles. I’ve never liked comparing authors as if all writers in the same genre are essentially interchangeable parts. There’s more than enough room for everyone and plenty left for those who have yet to set pen to paper.  Atticus isn’t going to replace Harry and Harry is unlikely to be at home in Atticus’ world.

And that is the way it ought to be. Should they find reason to join forces, that would be cool. I bet Oberon and Mouse would get on well … but if they never meet, I’m sure both will play their part in saving this old world of ours.

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A happy slave to books

Half a dozen times during every month of the year, I see the sun rise and hear the birds sing the morning in. It’s not insomnia. I am in the thrall of a good book and I just can’t stop reading. I’ve been a book junkie since I was a very young child and its an addiction I have no interest in breaking. It has been my inspiration and my refuge, my world away from reality, my alternate universe of choice.

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It’s my all time favorite drug. It’s not illegal, although it has cost me a lot of sleep and a fair bit of money.

I read. Constantly. I read on my Kindle, I listen to audiobooks. I read regular books. I often read several books at the same time: an audiobook by day, a print or Kindle edition at night in the delicious comfort of my bed.

I’m addicted to books and not just a single genre. I read straight history, with a particular passion for the 14th century, perhaps because it seems to have been the turning point of western civilization, the rise of central government, the creation of free peasantry and what we now call the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism the created two popes … one in Avignon and the other in Rome … which for the Christian world was calamitous. There was endless war, brigands who roamed the countryside, burning, raping, despoiling and destroying what pitiful remnants of communities that survived other simultaneous catastrophes. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were effectively depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops … and famine followed. The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that strangely comforting.

I read thrillers and mysteries and police procedurals. I read courtroom dramas … lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and trials. Then, when the world is more  real than I am willing to bear, I read science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in places that could never be, in futures that might be, and vicariously pursue magic and sorcery. Books are my escape. Take away everything else, but leave the books so if I cannot physically fly away, I can escape in spirit.

Ever since I got my first Kindle, I feel like I’ve been given ultimate freedom. I’ve spent my live traveling with trunks full of books. Now, I can bring a whole library with me to the dentist’s waiting room. And since I got my amazing Bamboosa Lap Log, I have achieved electronic reading Heaven.

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I am, for the moment, discovering new favorite authors. All of my previous favorite writers seem to be in that never-never land between the last book and th next in the series. Since they are still creating and waiting has never been something at which I excel, I put these months to good use and seek out more authors to feed my hunger for books, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore. In case you are looking for something to read, here’s an updated bunch of my favorite authors and books. Please feel free to tell me about your favorites because they may very well become mine, too! It’s through readers’ suggestions that I’ve discovered most of the authors I love best. I count on you!

Bamboosa with closed Kindle HD in its hard case.

Bamboosa Lap Log with closed Kindle HD in a hard case.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, though by no means the only history author I love. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin are rapidly overtaking her, however … especially Ms. Goodwin who writes very serious history, but also some wonderful memories of growing up in Boston with the Red Sox. I always have a special place in my heart for local kids who made good!

Don’t miss the Hollows Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison. I think it’s the finest of the all urban fantasy series. If you haven’t discovered Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series — a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case — dive in. Check our The Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7") open and on.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7″) open and on.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. Her humorous short stories and novels, from Bellwether to All Seated On the Ground are among the funniest, smartest books and stories I’ve ever read.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

In the sometimes grim and gory world of fantasy, take a look at Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant series, Richard Kadrey whose Sandman Slim keeps me fascinated and also awake at night. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor in a world filled with the dead and demons.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book.

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series was one of the significant influences on my life,. Angelique lived a life she chose and never accepted defeat. Her story piques my interest in history and she also inspired me to a personal courage I might not have found without her. The English language versions of the books are long out of print (though you can occasionally find them on Ebay and book search sites) but recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and maybe some other languages too, but sadly, not English.

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I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose world I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

There are so many way to keep yourself up at night … and I recommend them all. Books are still, page for page, the best entertainment of all because no one can do special effects like you can with your own brain.

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