READING UNDER THE COVERS – Marilyn Armstrong

If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.

As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.

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The reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.

When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5-minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 29 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.

In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how long in rush hour traffic. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.

My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally. The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.

A Kindle and a Bluetooth speaker for listening to audiobooks

It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there …

As jobs got ever more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.

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Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.

The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.

First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as books for the blind, I and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid-1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.

I bought a lot of audiobooks and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.

In 2002, along came Audible.com. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport audible books into your car, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.

Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having been acquired by Amazon is getting bigger by the minute. For once, I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.

Taste of my Audible library …

Ten years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a time when humor is at a premium.

Today, I listen as I do everything except writing. I can listen to books as I play games, edit photographs, or pay bills. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write. I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.

Reading in Bed: My Guilty Pleasure

I read at night on my Kindle using a good little Bluetooth speaker. Reading in bed has always been my biggest guilty pleasure. I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read from the sliver of light coming from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.

“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.

To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too. In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today’s politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. I think there was some kind of law in her generation that kids had to go to bed by a specific time, whether or not they were sleepy. It was the eleventh commandment.

My love affair with literature in all its forms continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift — time. I often get so involved in a book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep. But now, I can sleep in. Not all day, but enough to not be exhausted in the morning — depending on when the dogs decide it’s time to bark.

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I don’t have to commute anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed and in 15 minutes, shower, dress, put on makeup, and chop the ice off my car windows. I can stay up late whether it’s for reading, \writing, or watching movies. No one can make me stop. There are no official bedtime hours for senior citizens.

I knew there has to be some benefit to the whole age thing.

THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Surreal

This is the second of the two Dirk Gently books written by Douglas Adams, my time-twin except he’s dead and I’m not. Yet.  It’s an audiobook and it was written by Douglas Adams and is narrated by him, too.

There are not many of these original books written and narrated by the late, great Douglas Adams. There were original versions of all of his “Hitchhiker” books with him as the narrator, but no one has them anymore. It’s a pity because no one narrated Douglas Adams as well as Douglas Adams. He was, among other things, one of the Goon Show people and did a lot of work for the BBC. He also tended to do at least a small amount of editing and moving about of characters when he read. After all, who knew his books better than he did?

Of the many books Adams’ wrote, this is my all-time favorite. I start to cackle at the opening lines:

By Douglas Adams

I keep chortling, cackling, laughing all the way through. It’s not merely funny. It’s surreal and funny. It’s outlandish and funny. It’s bizarrely and weirdly true — and still funny.

Garry has never read the books, or rather he took a pass at “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but he didn’t get it. But he is definitely getting this. I did have to slow it down to 75% because Douglas Adams talks very fast and Garry doesn’t hear very fast.

Yes, you can read this in words and it is still funny, surreal, witty, and wonderful. To hear the author read it himself is special. The thing is, Adams wrote for radio.

This is part two of a series (it might be a series of three since “A Salmon of Doubt” was supposed to be Part I but somehow isn’t, exactly). It stands by itself and you don’t need to read the books in order.

Author: Douglas Adams

He worked with sound. Most of his material sounds beautiful to one’s ears. It’s an almost perfect counterpoint for the dreariness of current reality.

If by some chance you haven’t really read or listened to Douglas Adams — and especially if the world is getting to you (it certainly is getting to me!) — this will lighten the load. A little bit. A tingle.

A touch of the joy of a world we need to recover.

CAMP YESTERDAY, VAMPIRE TODAY. DO I SENSE A TREND? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Vampire

Yesterday, we discussed camp and today it is vampires? I feel a trend coming on! Shall we move on to robots tomorrow? If so, can we do the ones from Douglas Adams’ books? The ones who really wanted the wicket?

Anne Rice, having recovered from her fit of Christian evangelicalism, went back to writing vampire stories and I was delighted. I’d barely survived her Christian saga. Since the new one was about Lestat (who else?) again, I figured I was in for a hot (sort of) read.

But what was hot and sexy in 1972 wasn’t so hot and sexy in 2011. It was page after page of lecturing about … well … I’m not even sure what, exactly. It didn’t work for me and I abandoned the book more or less in the middle. I couldn’t get interested in the characters and Lestat seemed old. He might not have looked his age, but he was cranky and into the vampiric version of, “Get off my lawn, you twerp!”

I think maybe it’s a trend which came and went. Unless someone manages to give it a new burst of life, which is always possible. I live in hope.

I was disappointed on a number of levels. I had liked her writing for a long time. Granted it was unique in its original day but it didn’t age well. Or maybe she had lost her touch.

What had been fun and breezy seemed kind of leaden and tired.

I’m pretty sure the last two I tried to read was “Memnoch the Devil” and “The Vampire Lestat.” It was like being in a really dull literature class. Now that you bring it up maybe I’ll try it again and see if the past five years have changed my viewpoint.

ALL of her books carry five-star ratings, but all of her books are definitely not five stars of reading.

On a more philosophical view, I’ve always wondered whether eternal life was a blessing or a curse. To not know when you can die — human on some level or other, rather like the very long-lived people in Robert Heinlein’s stories — in one thing. But to know you will never die? That sounds almost as depressing as knowing you have two weeks to live.

Vegan witches

I’m not the first person to ponder this anomaly, either. Eternal life — especially lived in eternal darkness — doesn’t sound delightful. And the whole sucking blood thing? I’m not even sure how I feel about bacon, much less sucking the blood of living people.

Can one be a Vegan Vampire?

AN ILLUSION OF THIEVES by CATE GLASS – Marilyn Armstrong

This is a world where magic has been banned. Anyone displaying signs of ability to perform it is drowned, murdered … or worse (yes, there IS worse). Amidst the terror, a group of secret magic users discovers one another. Collectively, they have the talent to do amazing things, though the law forbids it. If they are caught, they will die and likely their entire family with them.



Unlike the author’s earlier writings, this series promises to be ongoing. Somewhat emotionally less intense, it is nonetheless breathtaking in its complexity and originality. Beautifully written. I consumed the book in two long evenings. Give me a week and I probably read it again. Carol Berg, all of whose books I have read as hard copies or on Kindle is — in my opinion — a very underrated fantasy author. She creates characters who, by happenstance, bad luck, politics or some bizarre law, have been beaten down to near nothingness, yet survive, find their power and are greater than before. You cannot steal or crush their greatness.

She hadn’t written anything in a few years and I have been hoping she would emerge with a new set of stories. She has.

Under the new name of Cate Glass, “An Illusion of Thieves” has the feeling of a (hopefully!) long series. A bit more upbeat than earlier works, the story is exciting and highly complex. For the entire book, it’s as if these folks are tiptoeing through a vast minefield where even a minor misstep would mean destruction for all. How many secret magickers live under the constant threat of terror of death and ruin? We can only guess, but I’m sure there are many and laws notwithstanding, many other secret practitioners exist on all levels of society.

If you have not read any other of Carol Berg’s books … well … given the state of our world, could there be a better time to start? She is a wonderful author and I highly recommend all of her books to anyone who enjoys these kinds of stories.

These days — since my eyes are not quite what they were — I prefer audiobooks. I listened to this the day after it was released. All of her previous books I read first in print, either on Kindle or as a hard copy … and later as audiobooks.

Carol Berg’s (Cate Glass) books are not like other fantasy novels. Her characters are not typical fantasy characters. Her stories aren’t long quests to save the world from a dark lord or prince. They are profoundly personal, deep, and sometimes, heartbreaking … yet good in the end, great events. You’ll meet dragons, lords, prisoners, sorcerers and many more. If you’ve been looking for something new — Cate Glass’s new book is a fine start, after which, you can joyfully dig into Carol Berg’s earlier series.

You will not be disappointed.

NOTE: As part two of this prompt — which is prompting me to review this book which I meant to do before now! — I’m including another review of a book by the same author. The secret word is DRAGONS.

RDP Friday: PROMPT – Part 1

EARLY RISER – A NEW NOVEL BY JASPER FFORDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Early Riser
A Novel – By Jasper Fforde



In Audible. I have it in hardcover too.
I’ve read it and listened to it.
Narrated by Thomas Hunt
Length: 15 hrs and 16 mins

Jasper Fforde has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read. You know, the kind of book you read in bed, but you are laughing so hard it makes your partner wake up and irritably ask what the hell you are laughing at?

This book has moments of humor and once in a while, a chuckle. There’s no hilarity, however. Overall, there’s a seriousness to this story that none of his other books have had. This isn’t so much humor as it is a warning about where our climate is going and who is running our world. I don’t know which is more terrifying: the obvious sub-arctic winters in Scotland … or the death grip the mighty “pharma” company has on all humankind.

There are fighters against big pharma and the corporate grip the company holds over everyone. For reasons you will have to read the book to understand, it isn’t easy to figure out who is the good guy or who is the bad guy. There’s not “history” about how the world got to this place, but if you have been reading even the headlines, it isn’t hard to put it together.

This is science fiction, except … it’s not all that far-fetched. Sometimes, I found myself not merely listening to the story but worrying if this is just a story or this is the real future history of my Earth — unless we DO something about it. Like … NOW.

Of course, it’s beautifully written because everything Jasper Fforde has written is wonderful, though I still am in love with Thursday Next.

I do recommend this book very highly, but I have to warn you — it isn’t like his other books. It isn’t hilarious and sometimes, it’s pretty serious. But he’s telling us a story that I think we need to think about … while being well-entertained. Just so you know, this does take place in the future, so it actually is science fiction. Not your usual sci-fi, however.

Is this science fiction or is it our science future? I think you will have to decide for yourself.


I have mixed emotions about the narrator. He was good … but I think I’d have preferred a deeper voice? Or maybe I’m just being overly picky.

THE NEW IBERIA BLUES, BOOK 22 – DAVE ROBICHEAUX – James Lee Burke

The New Iberia Blues:
Dave Robicheaux Series, Book 22

By: James Lee Burke

Narrated by: Will Patton

Series: Dave Robicheaux, Book 22
Length: 15 hrs and 3 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 01-08-19
Language: English
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio


James Lee Burke never fails me.

Every book he writes is rich, sensual, and powerful. The writing, the feel of the place and mood of the times. Of course, Dave Robicheaux and Clete are my favorites, but I have loved every book I’ve read by James Lee Burke, in and outside of the “Robicheaux” series.

I didn’t think they could get better, but this was better.

Why? Because the characters aren’t the same “kids” they were. They have aged, grown, and changed. They aren’t the same “guns blazing” Dave and Clete.

Life has been hard for both of them. Dave has lost three wives, one to Lupus and two to violence, but he’s not full of hate or looking for retribution. He’s an adult, a genuine grownup.

Both men have moved on with the understanding that life isn’t and won’t ever be exactly what they want. They aren’t expecting perfection, yet they are still involved, caring, concerned for each other and the world in which they live. They are entirely alive and deeply involved.

If you like James Lee Burke’s writing, there’s nothing not to love in this book.

Will Patton is a superb narrator (and a pretty good actor too, by the way). He may even be better than the original narrator who was himself, brilliant. What Patton has going for him is clarity of speech which enables him to use a reasonable southern accent, but clearly enough for we northerners to easily understand.

My only regret is that I read the book too fast.

I should have slowed down and made the story last longer. Maybe I’ll read it again.

Maybe I’ll read the last TWO again.


Note: This review is for the Audible.com version, but reading James Lee Burke as a regular book is just fine and in fact until quite late in the series, I read all his books in hardcover. I have all of the first books in hardcover, first edition. I know it’s sentimental, but I can’t help myself. I still love the smell and feel of a new hardcover book!

INFECTED BY AUDIOBOOKS – Marilyn Armstrong

AUDIOBOOKS – A BELOVED INFECTION

Yesterday was the 16th of the month which for me means I get to pick two book from the audiobook collection. This might not sound like such a big deal, but it kind of is. First off, I’ve been an Audible reader for such a long time now, I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve got at least 1000 books in my audiobook library and probably a quarter of them I haven’t read, largely because I wasn’t in the mood when I got them … or I just plain forgot they were there.

I have a whole set of Manning’s “Mageborn” series and since I’m finishing his Thornbear collection, I might as well read Mageborn since I’ve apparently (surprise!) owned the books for several years. All five of them. Or are there six? I know I have at least three of them.

I’m still waiting from some of my favorite authors to finish their series. Jim Butcher, for one. He owes me a couple of books and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is restless. And Mike Carey, who owes all of us the final (fifth) book of his Felix Castor stories.

A lot of books are coming out in June which is, along with the September (buy books for Christmas) collection, the favorite release time for books. Because if you are a reader, summer is the time for a hammock, lemonade, and a good, long book, whether you are reading the words or hearing them spoken. Most of the ones I’m waiting for won’t be out until June or July, but in the meantime, I picked up the first book in a long time by Stephen King because it is not one of his horror stories.  Called “The Outsider,” it sound like a good murder mystery.

It won’t be released until the 22nd, but I can wait. I’m not a horror story fan,  so I have not read all of King’s books, but I’ve read all of his “Dark Tower” stories and his time travel “11/22/63,” but when King gets his teeth into any story, he’s possibly the best writer in my lifetime. His writing can be sheer poetry.

Murder mystery is not a genre King has tackled in the past,  so I’m drooling a little, awaiting its arrival.

Since having met Barbara Rosenblat, I’ve been hunting down her narrations, so I picked up the most recent Nevada Barr  series in which she is the narrator,”Destroyer Angel.”

Also coming up, Laurie King has a new Holmes and Watson arriving in late June, “Island of the Mad.”

Scott Meyer has a new time travel book – “Out of Spite, Out of Mind.” Finally, June, June will also brings one more of Ben Aaronovitch’s stories Peter Grant stories, “Lies Sleeping.”

Just a note for crazy horse-lovers, I just read “King of the Wind,” Marguerite Henry’s story of the Godolphin Arabian, a book I loved so much as a girl I think I read it until the words fell off the page. It was read by David McCallum who, when he isn’t “Ducky” on NCIS, is a brilliant narrator. If you loved the book when you were a kid, you are going to love it again!

On days like this, it’s hard for me to find time to do other things, but I need new glasses and today’s the day. How we’ll pay for them? That is another issue entirely. No idea at all!

Reading is my great joy and I think it is contagious. So these are this months germs. Enjoy every minute of your reading time. And share the infection with everyone else. It’s a disease worth having … forever.

ODDBALLS – OR AT LEAST DIFFERENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Oddball Photo Challenge: April 15, 2018

Photo: Garry Armstrong

When you take a lot of pictures of anything, after a while, you are finished using them for their originally intended purpose and you get playful.

Graphic black & white LJ Ganser and Robin Miles

What light through yonder window breaks?

I took more than 600 pictures of the Tom and Ellin Curley VoiceScapes Audio Theater last weekend. I have diligently processed as many photographs as I felt made sense and weren’t simply duplicates of each other. I dare say there are more, but I’ve gotten through the main, first batch.

LJ Ganser, setting up the microphone

More setup – Sande Sherr, LJ Ganser, Robin Miles

Now, I’m into the “playful period” of trying to see what clever and unique ways I can process the same or similar shots. I think of it as “fun with filters.”

IT’S SHOWTIME! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My audio theater group, VoiceScapes Audio Theater, has been performing live, one hour shows of short, original, contemporary pieces. We perform mostly at local libraries about an hour from our home.

Unloading

Down the ramp

Wheeling the box into the library

Libraries are a particularly good venue for us because two of our actors are popular, prolific, Audie Award winning book narrators, Barbara Rosenblat and Robin Miles. They are rock stars in the library and audio book worlds. So we get enthusiastic audiences of 30-40 people for each show.

Most important, we get the thrill of performing before a live audience!

Ellin Curley

I don’t perform because I am not an actor and we have professional actors who do all the acting. But I write most of the pieces we perform, along with my husband, Tom.

With the audience

Show time!

So I sit in the audience through the actual shows. It’s not the glamorous place to be. But I can’t tell you how awesome it is to feel the rapt attention of an audience and to hear wave after wave of laughter for something you have written. It’s an experience that is hard to describe. It’s beyond gratifying, approaching incredible!

But that’s the ‘sexy’ part of what we do. Nobody sees what goes on behind the scenes to get our show ready for prime time.

First, there’s the highly unglamorous task of packing up all our volumes of audio equipment. Microphones and mike stands, speakers, tons of wires to hook everything up, props like telephones, gaffers tape (of course), etc., etc. Tom has found canvas bags that fit most of the smaller items. These bags, along with eight bulky music stands, have to be brought up from the basement to the garage.

Barbara Rosenblat

Then we have to load the car. This is a highly precise and technical operation. Everything only fits if it’s all put in just right. We also have a giant ‘box’ that contains all the mixers and all the audio processing equipment. It’s on wheels but it weighs a ton. We have to jerry-rig ramps with pieces of wood to get this unwieldy piece of equipment up into the back of our SUV. This all takes plenty of blood, sweat and tears.

Once we arrive at our performance venue, the process has to be reversed. The giant box has to make it down the ramp and into the performance space. Everyone in the group chips in to help with all the unloading and setting up.

This involves dealing with lots of wires, which always seem to get tangled, no matter how careful you try to be. So untangling long expanses of wires is one of the most time-consuming aspects of the process. Once untangled, the wires all have to be plugged into and hooked up to the right mikes, speakers, outlets or whatever.

Once set up, all the equipment has to be tested and adjusted. If there’s more time before the show starts, we can squeeze in a quick run through of one or two of the more technical pieces.

The whole process, from arrival on site to show time, takes three hours! After the show, breaking everything down and packing it back up again, only takes about 45 minutes, with everyone helping out. It’s much faster to break down a complex set up than to get it up and running. Thank goodness!

L. J. Ganser and Robin Miles

After the show, the cast (and I ) get to go out for drinks and a late lunch or early dinner. Hanging out together is one of the best perks of doing live performances. It’s a great reward for all the hard work we put in to put on a show.

The cast – from left to right, Tom, Barbara Rosenblat, Ellin, Sue Zizza, Sande Sherr, and behind, Robin Miles and L.J. Ganser

Check out our website at https://www.voicescapesaudiotheater.com and hear some of our fully produced material. Go to our Facebook page and friend and follow us to keep up with what we’re doing as a group and as individual performers.

SO WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR SUNDAY?

I’m glad you asked.

I am a long-term Kindle user. I started using one when they had keyboards and no WiFi. They’ve come a long way since them

The Kindle is my reader and my audiobook listener. I have thousands of books and probably even more audiobooks. I also have a ton of music, too. When I don’t feel like reading in bed, I watch Amazon Prime for movies and TV.

My HDX 8.9-inch Kindle was getting old. I liked it for its size. As my eyes have gotten less sharp, I find I need a bigger font. To use a bigger font, I needed a bigger surface and my previous 7-inch Kindle was too small. It was also old enough several parts no longer worked. When I got the “big one,” I thought I would might continue to use the small one when I traveled, but I discovered there was no going back. That 7-inch device is somewhere in a dusty corner of my bedroom — long out of use.



The Big HDX has been great for the past four and a half years. Lately, the battery has not stayed charged very long. Download speed has slowed, too. While I can still download and play books or music using my Bluetooth speaker, it takes a long time to download and the device doesn’t connect well or consistently with the router.

The last time I called Amazon for help, she subtly suggested I might consider a newer model. I pointed out my older HDX was a better model than the newer ones.

“True,” she said, “but even good ones get old. Everything gets old.” I pointed out that I was getting old. She sighed and agreed. That call was two years ago. What was getting old then, got old.

Meanwhile, Garry stopped using his 7-inch Kindle because it was too small and too quiet. The email stopped working months ago and it too has just been gathering dust. I thought “I could get him a new Kindle for his birthday.” Which is in April. Except I don’t wait for holidays or birthdays. I’m not a good “waiter.”

For the past month, I was checking prices on new Kindles. Prices have dropped a lot, but the other day they were also having a sale. Wonder of wonders, a twofer sale. Two 8-inch Kindle Fire Tablets for $99! They were also available in multiple colors, so I chose one in red and the other in black. I invested in two 32 GB micro SD cards ($10 each) plus two modest covers (also $10 each) and nice pair of Bluetooth headphones for Garry.



Today, I spent all day setting them up. Normally, they are not difficult to set up and in fact, they come pretty much ready to go. All your Amazon stuff automatically downloads to your new machine. All your previous settings, your books, audiobooks, music, and games.

All I had to do was log on. Except the first one I set up was for Garry. It needed to have his email address in it rather than mine. Google went wacko. I set the password and after accepting it, it would promptly reject it. I would try the new password on the computer (Garry’s computer) and it rejected it, so I changed it, but when I tried to use the new one on the Kindle, it wouldn’t recognize it either. It took half a dozen tries until finally, one password was accepted on the Kindle and the computer. Yay me!

The last time I had this particular problem, it was an iPad that refused to recognize the password. It’s good to know that problems repeat and don’t even have to be on the same kind of equipment.

Then I paired Garry’s Bluetooth headphones and turned them on. Garry put them on his head and … smiled. Yay me again.

Then all I had to do was the same thing on MY Kindle. But at least I didn’t need to change passwords. I did have to pair my new Kindle to my old speaker, but that only took a couple of rejections before the speaker calmed down and decided it was okay to unite with a new device. I feared it might be faithful unto death.

I probably should mention that Alexa comes bundled with the Kindles. I have NO idea what to do with Alexa. Anything that works on voice never understands me. There is something in me that deeply resents sitting and trying to get me voice-activated system to understand me. So I disabled Alexa. If someone can explain to me what, exactly, I could do with Alexa, I might try it. But as far as I can tell, the only thing I could use it for is ordering stuff on Amazon. I think I’m safer doing that by hand. Accidentally ordering stuff on Amazon? Does that sound like a good idea?

So that was how I spent my day and if I didn’t get much else done, I feel I have, nonetheless, spent my time profitably.

NOTES AFTER SOME HOURS OF USING IT:


There was far too much spooling on video. I never had that problem on the older HDX. Also, I’m not thrilled with their new format, though I suppose I’ll get used to it. It’s fine for books and audiobooks, but not so fine for video. It IS much lighter. The battery is definitely an upgrade.

I may continue to use the older 8.9″ HDX for video, though. All that spooling makes me crazy.

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

EVOKING IDEAS, EVOKING DREAMS – BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS


Seriously, I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t have a job. I am definitely, absolutely 100% retired. Yet — I’m always busy!

It’s probably all the reading. In recent months, there have been publications of great books by some of my favorite authors, many of whom hadn’t released a new one in quite a while.

You know I absolutely had to read them. Immediately!

There were two new books and a short story by Jodi Taylor, “The Something Girl,” and “The Rest is History.” book 8 of her St. Mary’s time travel series. Both were great. I’m crazy about the time travel books. Sometimes I need a “time travel fix” and listen to them again.

Then, “Mary Russell’s War: And Other Stories of Suspense” was released — a whole bunch of short stories about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. “The Furthest Station: A PC Peter Grant Novella” by Ben Aaronovitch was released and while it wasn’t as long as the other books, it was a day of reading.

Somewhere in there I also read the last three Michael Connelly books, two about Harry Bosch and another new one for another L.A. cop. The new Bosch stories are narrated by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch on the Amazon series, so it’s not just any old book. You can watch the series — or the movie — in your head and the right guy is the star.

I stumbled across “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw which is the kind of book you sincerely hope is the start of a new series. It was way too good to be a onefer! It’s about Dr. Greta Helsing who specializes in a  medical practice for treating the undead. Great book and I hope it is followed by many more!

And then, Craig Johnson came out with a new Walt Longmire book — best one in quite a while — and there was Dan Brown’s “Origins” and Peter Clines’ “The Fold” and  Neal Shusterman’s “Scythe” … and finally, to finish me off, the long-awaited “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke. It has been a few years since his last Dave Robicheaux story and this was a honey. Simultaneously, up came this new book about Trump, “Fire and Fury” and …

You know? I just realized why I’m so busy.

As you may have realized, I’m a listener rather than a text reader. I started listening to audiobooks when I was commuting long distances. I got so into the habit of listening … and very much out of the habit of focusing on text … that I pretty much always listen and very rarely read. I do read a few things because they aren’t available as audiobooks and I want to read them … or I’m committed to reading them. To be fair, though, I love listening. It’s like watching a long movie in your head. It’s better than movies, really.

It’s definitely the books. And that isn’t all of my list, either. There are at least a dozen more still waiting for me to get to them.

I’m in the middle of “Fire and Fury” right now. Curiosity won on this book … but really, I just can’t resist a good book!

NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY – JODI TAYLOR AND THE CHRONICLE OF ST. MARY’S

Yesterday, January 2, 2018, was NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY


It was another day too, including National Cream Puff day, but I’m much more interested in science fiction. So I’d like to talk about Jodi Taylor, author of a series called “The Chronicles of St Mary’s,” a school which isn’t a school where all the historians are time travelers. Never have I found time travel so much fun as I have found in all of Jodi Taylor’s books.

Just One Damned Thing After Another cover art

Book 1

There have been nine full length books and a bunch of short stories too, many of which are free. All of them also available as audiobooks. It’s actually less expensive to buy the Amazon Kindle version and get the audiobook for a couple of dollars than to buy the audiobook by itself, by the way. But I don’t care: I’d have bought them full price too.

The Long and the Short of It cover art

Book 9

The books are funny. Not in a slapstick, stupid way, but with intelligence and lots of historic detail. I’ve learned a lot of history from these books. Lots of cool details I never read in more “serious” history books. And oh how I have laughed!

It’s hard to find good science fiction that’s funny without being dumb, but this is it. There’s also drama and violence, a bit of sex and sometimes, death. But mostly, the books are a great deal of fun. Extremely British, witty, and smart. AND well researched. If you like time travel, you cannot go wrong with any of these. They are great.

They are all available from Amazon and pretty much on every continent and also on Audible.com. Super highly recommended!

LEGEND OF A BLOGGER

Legendarily speaking, I’m a nonstop blogger who always has something to say. This is a great idea and flattering, too … but this is one of those days when it isn’t working out. And this is going to be just one of a whole bunch of such days coming right up to a theater near you.

Today we are taking Gibbs for a full winter cleanup. We also need to hit CVS for prescriptions and I need wrapping paper. And then, there are a few groceries. Owen is bringing over the new replacement vacuum cleaner because the lightweight one seems to have bitten the big one. Yes, I know, cheap is cheap and when you spend a little, you don’t get much, but the lightweight machines tend to be inexpensive and they don’t last a really long time. Like a year or two and then they pack it in. This one bit it.

Our bigger machine is too heavy for me, but I need something light that will move dirt. It’s a hard combo to get. We used to have an expensive machine to do that, but it was forever breaking down and mostly, it was more broken than not. Now, it is now abandoned, somewhere in the basement. Bye bye Oreck.

This January, it’s (again) my time to be a judge for the Audie awards. I do this every year. I no longer do the first round where I have hundreds of hours of reading. I do only the finals where I have a manageable number of books. But it is coming beginning of January and it will eat the month. This is not something I can dodge and to be honest, I don’t want to dodge it. I enjoy it. It’s fun. Reading a lot of new books is nothing to scoff at.

It does mean I won’t be doing a lot of writing. I won’t do nothing, but daily? Probably not.

In other news, many people I have enjoyed and with whom I’ve become friends are sliding out of blogging. Some are just tired. Others are angry and frustrated with the political mess and can’t find the energy keep going. I understand, but it hurts. People I lose from blogging aren’t just virtual contacts.

They are friends and I care. I hope they feel the same way. All I ask is if you are leaving, please don’t go without at least a good-bye — and maybe your email address?Also, I think this is exactly when our voices are most important.

I’m not dropping out, but I have stuff to do. Right now, with the awfulness of our political system in a tailspin, this is when those of us who have a voice and a platform — and have something worth saying — should be saying it. We need to speak up and keep speaking up. Maybe we aren’t going to change a lot of minds, but who knows? The internet is a funny place. You never know how much of an impact you are having on your world. Every once in a while I discover I’ve made someone think about something differently, see an old concept in a new light and I feel proud. Maybe it’s a small thing, but it feels good.

Meanwhile, for at least the next month, until I’m done reading for the Audies, I’m a bit busy. In case you don’t know what the Audies are, they’re the awards for Audiobooks. This means that unlike words-on-pages books, you can’t “read faster.” Audio unfolds at its own speed, so if a book is 32 hours long, that’s it. In theory, you can speed it up, but listening to an audiobook at 1.5 times normal speaking rate is downright weird. Makes your brain do flip-flops.

I really love blogging but this legend has be less legendary because I can’t fit 34 hours of work into a 24 hour day and it isn’t because I have not tried. It simply doesn’t work.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

“SCYTHE” BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN – ARC OF A SCYTHE, BOOK 1

Scythe By: Neal Shusterman

Audiobook narrated by: Greg Tremblay
Book 1: Arc of a Scythe

Every day, Audible.com (part of the Amazon group), offers one book at a huge discount. Often it’s an older book or a classic which, if I missed it along the way, I may buy. Sometimes, I read it years ago, so listening to it in Audio can be a treat … like a movie with all the “action” in my own head. More often, it will be the first book in a series. Pay a few dollars for the audiobook, get hooked, and then you will buy the rest of them. I’ve gotten into a lot of really good series this way and I like it because I run out of books rather more often than I would like. Also, as the years have gone on, I’ve gotten pickier about what I want to read. The world has gotten so outrageous and kind of terrible, I’m looking not for great literature, but for entertainment. If it is going to inform me, it is also going to amuse me or I simply won’t read it.

Scythe is Neal Shusterman’s first entry into a series called, as it turns out, “Arc of a Scythe” and it’s about (you guessed it) the guys who go out and kill people for a living. Humankind, in this world, has perfected medicine. No one dies of disease or disaster. Whatever happens to you — including having your spine snapped or falling off a 120 story building — they can fix you. People age, but very slowly.

No one has to work particularly hard because a giant computer — the Monsterhead (it was a cloud, but it grew to godlike proportions) has taken over the care, feeding, and entire management of the human race. Also mankind was feeling a bit hinky about it in the beginning, the giant computer has been a pretty good god … rather a lot better than the old-fashioned ones from “The Old Days.”

But death … that was a problem. What with medicine having been perfected and no one dying of disease or age or accident, something needed to be done to keep the population in check.

And so a group of men and women were created to take care of this problem. Monsterhead — as a machine — did not feel equipped to handle killing people. He — or really “it” — felt this was a human job for humans to manage. The Scythes were born. A set of rules was created and people were scythed as needed. There wasn’t any particular reason for the reaping. Crime was gone because no one had any reason to be a criminal. Sometimes people who behaved dangerously or just badly were reaped because they were the kind of people who would have done themselves in anyway. More often, it was just … your turn. No reason, but your file came up and a Scythe came to your house and done you in. Quickly, with no fuss or mess.

Even in the most perfect of scheme, the can be “issues” and the Scythes are not perfect. They are Scythes now, but they were people first and a few of them are perhaps “over-eager” and enjoy killing too much. Some of them, in a need to make themselves eve more godlike than they already are — which is pretty godlike — grant too many favors. Reprieves, given for a year or sometimes forever for families of the Scythes themselves.

Being a Scythe is a powerful position not only because it brings death, but also because Scythes have essentially unlimited wealth to go with their power — and therein lies the rub.

This has turned out to be an interesting story and a pretty good mystery. I wasn’t expecting much. I love science fiction and fantasy, but so much of the newer material is the same old stuff. Tired old plots and tired old characters. This is something new and a little different. The plot is a standard mystery of who killed who and I’ve seen it before on a lot of cop shows over the years. But the setting is quite different and the world in which it is happening is nicely unique. I’m also glad it’s a series. Many of my favorite series seem to have run out and I’ve been looking for something new.

This is new. It’s nicely ghoulish, a tiny bit sexy (not much — don’t go looking for the hot parts because there aren’t any), and the world creation is not absolutely original, but pretty close. Actually, it reminds me somewhat of the world in “City” … but it takes place entirely on earth.

If you are intrigued by the idea of a horde of reaping Scythes as the wild card that will send you to whatever may lie on the other side, this is a good one. Well written, nicely narrated too. Available as a hardcover book from Amazon and probably other booksellers as well. A nice, well-written fantasy. No magic … just really super advanced computers which might just as well be magic.

Because:


British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three adages known as Clarke’s Three Laws:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

 

TOM STRANGER: INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT by LARRY CORREIA

“What’s that?” you cry. “What’s an interdimensional insurance agent and who is Tom Stranger?”

From the official blurb on Audible. com:

“Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future? Don’t let this happen to you! Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle. 

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent – by: Larry Correia Narrated by: Adam Baldwin

If you like funny science fiction, this was one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to. It was obviously written for audio. The author is part of the story, as is the narrator (Adam Baldwin).

tom stranger

If you like science fiction and you’ve got a weird sense of humor, this is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s just over 2 hours long. I probably will listen to it at least twice, just to pick up on all the humor and wit. It makes fun of science fiction as a genre, and sci fi writers. It also does a great take-down on insurance companies, their agents, and customer service as well as those people who won’t stop calling and trying to sell you something.

As a side note, we’ve been getting a deluge of calls from a company that comes up on Caller ID as “Burial Insurance” … so maybe they know something we don’t know? Or maybe it’s TOM STRANGER!

WHEN DOGS RULE THE WORLD – CITY (1952), CLIFFORD SIMAK

City is a 1952 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. The book is episodic with eight or nine (depending on which version you read) short stories that have “bridges” between episodes. Version of the book after 1980 includes the ninth tale, “Epilogue.”

The novel contains eight stories which are the mythology of the Dogs. Each tale is preceded by doggish notes and learned discussion. An editor’s “preface” notes after each telling of these legends, suggest that puppies will ask many questions, for example:

1st-edition by source fair-use en wikipedia.org

“What is Man?” they’ll ask.

Or perhaps: “What is a city?”

Or maybe:”What is a war?

There is no positive answer to any of these questions.”


In the world where these stories are legends, there are no humans, no cities, and no war.

Generally, I find old science fiction awkward and occasionally dull. In City, the technology and science is dated, but the concepts are as innovative and unique as they were when I first read the book in the 1960s.

This “remembered human world” questions whether or not humankind will continue as a species, but not for the usual reason. Quite the opposite.

In these stories, earth was repaired in every way you can imagine. There is enough of everything — food, money, housing. Roads are useless because everyone flies. Cities are empty. Everyone lives in the country. Crime disappears and mutants have strange powers, especially telepathy.

The stories focus around one wealthy family named Webster and their robot Jenkins, . Over time, the name Webster becomes the noun “webster,” meaning “human.” Each story builds on a previous one. All discuss the breakdown of the urban world. The breakdown isn’t a bad thing because human life is enormously better.

And then, there’s Jupiter.

Doug Webster hates the new world. He’s an agoraphobic. Although the word “agoraphobic” is never used, Webster (all his family members share the same issue) becomes ill if he is has to go out into the bigger world. At some point, Webster provides dogs with speech and improved vision. Meanwhile, the breakdown of civilization allows roaming mutant geniuses to make their own odd changes to earth. Joe, a wandering mutant, decides to see what would happen to ants if they remained active and free of hunger year round.

The ants form an industrial society and eventually take over “our” earth while humans go somewhere else — as do the dogs. A lot of stuff happens and there isn’t a lot of specific information provided. You will need your imagination.

Dogs see other worlds. They always have. Their worlds are “cobbly worlds.” In case you were wondering, cobbly worlds are why your dog barks at seemingly nothing. Dogs bark to warn the cobblies to stay away. Other worlds familiar to us, are invisible to Dogs.

Ultimately, humans abandon earth and dogs have nothing but mythical memories of humans. They are not even sure we ever existed. The stories in this book are their myths and legends. A few dogs believe humans existed, but most do not. I really enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook. If science fiction is your thing, this book is worth your time.

And don’t forget about those cobbly worlds.