FINALLY WHAT?

When I saw “final” as the word of the day, I got a chill. In the past two weeks, I have lost at least three friends with more on the way. Not to mention that my email is full of warnings of: “This is the final hour! Send $3 now!”

Courtesy of Evil Squirrel, here’s the song that rocks it.

I fondly hope this isn’t the final hour for all of us, but it has recently been the final hour for more than a few friends and loved ones.  I don’t know how many more are on the special waiting line. I’m hoping that Death is like the guy in Terry Pratchett’s books. Pragmatic, friendly and most of the time, there to give you a hand to find your right place.

It is a strange feeling watching your friends grow smaller. My mother told me a long time ago that “You know you are officially old when you start to lose your friends.” I thought it was the creepiest thing she ever said. Later, I read versions of the same concept in various books. Mostly memoirs by “famous people.” Which is when I thought “There is nothing to prevent that final loss. No money, power, or fame can change it in any way.” It’s not that I thought money, power, or fame would stop the progression of life toward its ending, but I hadn’t given it much thought. That’s probably why I wonder how come the very richest people in the world are so obsessed with getting more and more money. What are they going to do with it anyway?

Many of these super rich folks already have more money than they could ever spend in a lifetime. Two or three lifetimes. So why is accumulating endless more so urgent that they will rob the poorest? I do not understand it and I hope I never will.

After all these years, I still don’t know how I feel about this ongoing march to a final hour, whether the end of the world or the end of me, but it is the way the world rolls. From opening day to final curtain, the play goes on.

Are we looking at the final days of the earth? Final years of democracy? Final end to everything in which I believed? Or just the inevitable shearing off of living people whose time is done?

If this is final, what does that mean? The final what?

MEET THE EXORCIST: FELIX CASTOR – MIKE CAREY

When I first wrote about these books, Mike Carey was not famous in the book world, though he was very well-known as a screen writer and graphic novelist. Since then, he’s had a couple of big best sellers. And he has promised he will come back and finish this series with at least one more volume. I can hardly wait!

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 Photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2005

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. 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.

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?

The books are available on Amazon and from other booksellers, and as audiobooks from Audible.com.


LUCIFER BEGINS A NEW SEASON TONIGHT ON FOX TV

I would like to mention for those of us who follow Mike Carey’s amazing tales of Lucifer in his graphic novels, that story has been made into a television show. It initially got lousy reviews. Those of us who watched it, loved it.

Apparently the reviewers did what they so frequently do: they either didn’t watch the show at all, or based their reviews on what they thought we were supposed to like. After the show was on for a while and it was one of the top shows of the season, they changed their opinions. Duh.

Lucifer as a graphic novel character comes from a group of writers. I like Carey’s interpretation because I love the way Carey writes. His graphic novels are far more novel-like I expected. Amazing graphics, too.

These are not merely comic books in fancy covers. These are a different kind of entertainment. The books are worth reading and the television show, when it is on (it has short seasons, so grab it when its running), starts tonight on Fox — Monday night at 9 (EDT). If you get American television, you will like it.

JOYFULLY ADDICTED

Times being as crazy as they are, we have needed to find escape. When I was younger, this would have been books and more books. Then, more books on top of that.

My eyes are not happy reading text these days. Maybe its the millions of hours I spent reading throughout my life. Maybe it’s too many hours in front of computer monitors. Or maybe I’m just moving along with the years. I continue to read, mostly via audiobooks. I still read text when I can’t get an audio version of a book, or it’s short enough to not bring on eye strain. And there are books that don’t do well as audio, especially when you need reference materials, maps, and other support documents.

While I’m immersed in audiobooks, Garry puts on headphones and enjoys all the television shows he likes, but I don’t. We get to be together, yet separate. It might not work for everyone, but it works well for us.

When I’m done with my book of the day, we move into whatever current shows we’re watching. Not very many of them. We tried to count them the other day and discovered it might add up to a dozen, including shows that are not currently on the air, but will be in whatever their next season is.

A few months ago, I signed up for Acorn TV. They were just starting out and were doing a ton of advertising. We had gotten pretty far along watching “MidSomer Murders” on Netflix. When I saw that Acorn had several more years of the show available — and they had Poirot and Marple and “Murdoch Mysteries” and a lot more of them than any of the other channels, I bought a full year for $50. Now, I wish I’d bought two years.

We watched the entire series of “MidSomer Murders,” and then got one more year with another still to come. We watched all of Poirot and Marple, moved through “Murdoch.” We followed with “Foyle’s War,” which was brilliant, possibly one of the best shows we’ve ever watched. “George Gently” was next and that was great. After that we wandered a bit, finally landing in Australia.

“Crownies” and “Janet King” which were different stages of the same story and many of the same actors. Both were really good, but as do all things, we ran out of shows. Especially because we find it difficult to stop watching after we start. Still, we could stop watching … until we stumbled into “A Place to Call Home.”

I was reluctant to suggest it because Garry has a deep and abiding passion for murder mysteries. If there isn’t at least one or two corpses per show, he usually feels cheated. The star of this show — Marta Dusseldorp — was also the star in “Crownies” and “Janet King,” so I thought he might like it despite an absence of murders and crime-solving.

Within one show, we were hooked. The only reason we stop watching is because it is so late, we have to go to bed. How in the world did we get utterly addicted to an Australian melodrama?

It turns out that addiction to “A Place to Call Home” (known locally as APTCH), is a well-known phenomenon in Australia. People can barely hold themselves together until the next show comes out. We have been lucky enough to be able to fully binge on a thoroughly bingeable show. For the entire time we are watching, we forget completely about politics. We aren’t worrying about the state of the nation or what trauma our government has in store for us. We get to live in the moment, even if it’s just until we run out of shows.

There will be more shows. I’m sure of it. We have the whole British Empire of television to watch.

HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Read! by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In an introduction to the 8th 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. As Harry grew up, so did the reading public with him. 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 canvas 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 Instagram, Snapchat, facebook live. The pictures that books generate in the mind are the best pictures of all time.

SHARING MY WORLD – SPRING HAS DROPPED BY!

SHARE MY WORLD AS SPRING ARRIVES — OFFICIALLY


How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? 

Some mornings I feel like I’m running a close second to Methuselah. Other morning, I feel better than that, but from a physical point of view, my body has been beaten up pretty badly. On a good day, I can get moving and do some stuff. In a dry, warm climate, I can do a lot more. Unfortunately, this isn’t a dry warm climate, so the weather and I have a relationship. Good days? I’m almost kind of normal-ish.

How old does that feel? Honestly, I have no idea. I had my first spine surgery when I was 19 years old. I’ve had major surgery almost every year for a very long time, so I’m broken, repaired, and replaced. I didn’t feel young when I was young, so I’m not sure if this has any real meaning for me.

But.

BIG but. My mental processes are fine. I buzz along nicely. Aside from memory lapses which my husband says are because I’m trying to take in too much stuff, I’m in better shape than I’ve been for a long time. My brain doesn’t have an age. It’s mature because I’ve been around. And sharp. Because I’ve been around.

So, you’re on your way out and it’s raining. Do you know where your umbrella is or do you frantically search for it all over your apartment/house?

I know where at least three umbrellas are. One is a huge “doorman’s” umbrella, good for at least two or three people.

Do I ever use an umbrella?

I stopped using them when we lived in Boston. Boston streets are wind tunnels. It was always too windy to use them, so while I have them here, there, and elsewhere, they stay where they are. Poor things never come out to play. Sorry old umbrellas.

Do you recharge your energy by going out with friends for a good time or by spending with quiet time alone?

We stay home. We don’t have local friends anyway. We did. They died. We haven’t found new ones. But we are very good together and have a lot of fun. Lots of laughing. Which is good, right?

Name three things you and your spouse, partner or best friend  to have in common.

We — all of us — like movies, television, and books. We are all thinkers, writers. We have stories to tell and we tell them. All of us write, too. And the laughter really does tie us together more than anything else.

We are smart, funny, wordy, and witty. And we all love animals — dogs, cats, anything furry. And oddly, we all live in the country, though all of us used to live in town. I’m sure that means something, too, but I have no idea what.

And yes, we are getting a bit crotchety, but nothing has made us stop thinking. As long as we can think and laugh, we’re okay.

So far, so good.

DOUBLE UP! THE LATEST GREATEST DAVIS WAY CAPER (Number 6) – BY GRETCHEN ARCHER

AVAILABLE ONLINE AND IN STORES — MARCH 21st!


I finished Gretchen Archer’s DOUBLE UP (A Davis Way Crime Caper Book 6). It is a perfect mystery. Murder, Mayhem. Corruption. Good guys, bad guys. Death and deception. Wonderfully complicated technology, just to satisfy our inner geek. I read these books slowly because I want them to last. When I completed that final page, I wanted one more chapter so badly I could almost taste it.

It’s not that the book needed another chapter. It was just that I wanted more. I will always want more.

This was a great book. It starts off with a bang and it never slows down, not for a minute. From page one to the last page, it moves, it lives, it breathes.

I find it remarkable that a series which began so simply — a woman taking a job about which she knows nothing — then learning as she goes. Finding love. Managing the hardest parts of life and being everything to not just a boss, but the bosses wife, her husband, her family, and ultimately, her children. She can still do it all.

Against all odds, with all of her personal (and very funny) foibles, she is a champion woman. Smart. Determined, Sensitive. Brave.

Yet, like in the real world, it’s not easy. She could fold up, give up, and move on. But she doesn’t and she won’t and this is that “thing” which makes her a unique character. In a battle of wits, computers, complex corporate greed and corruption. There’s a story — and a story in the story. It is what it seems to be, what it apparently is. But just when you figure “Okay, I’ve got it,” you discover there’s another layer.

The story twists and turns its way to the right conclusion.

The writing is sharp, crisp, perfect. It’s funny and furious. This is a series in which I keep thinking the books can’t get better because they are as good as they could be. But I was wrong. This is better. The characters have grown up. They have depth and what is more, they have purpose. They don’t just keep their jobs. They do whatever they must to make it all work, even when it seems impossible.

The story is intricately complex yet reads like clear water. Nothing stands between you and the story. It is written like glass, without dangling fringes, loose ends, or unattached pieces. Everything goes where it belongs and you end up feeling satisfied — and ready for the next book.

You will never feel the same way about shrimp.

It’s everything I hoped this series could become. DOUBLE UP is a joy to read.

If you haven’t read the rest of the novels, I would highly recommend you read them. The characters make more sense in context of the whole series. One way or another, this is too good to miss. It’s a laugh and a gasp and DOUBLE WOW.

The books in order are: DOUBLE WHAMMY, DOUBLE DIP. DOUBLE STRIKE, DOUBLE MINT,  and DOUBLE KNOT. All are available through Amazon and other booksellers.

SCHOOL. WAS. DULL.

I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them. I find myself trying to explain that school … well … wasn’t fascinating. That wasn’t the point.

School was dull. I remember being the one who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. I love science today, but in school? In elementary school, junior high school, and high school? It was boring. I remember in high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning. When I was, in any case, half asleep. The class went on for two endless hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but could not speak in anything but the most droning voice. She’d start to talk and I’d black out. Completely. Gone.

I did not do well in the class. A pity. I was actually interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.

Social studies which would today be what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader.  I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures? I flunked coloring.

English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them duller than dirt too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.

If they let us write something, I was definitely good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My previous summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.

The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at entry-level jobs for the rest of my life merely because I was bored at school.

For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because as a child, there wasn’t another choice. I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure once I made it to the top — to college — the rest would follow.

I did learn a lot of things in college, but really, I learned most of the stuff which eluded me in school — math, science, statistics — while working.

When you are working, you learn things that make sense. You discover science has a reason. Numbers in context are not random forms on a piece of paper which you jiggle around until you either get the answer or sit there with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom. It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special thing for it ever figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They did the best they knew how.

College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough insanely wonderful teachers who opened whole new worlds for me. Out of all the courses I took, there were maybe a dozen teachers who were inspirational. It was enough.  For each year, there were at least one or two each semester. Plus, I was in an environment where learning was a thing everyone did. We wanted to learn. We needed to learn. We chose it.

We had managed to stay awake long enough in lower levels to get to this higher one and we weren’t going to toss it away. I know many people dropped out into the world of free love and acid and all that, but most of us stayed. If we were going to mess around, we were going to do it outside of class. We hadn’t gotten this far to ditch it for weekends of fun.

We never properly explained the whole school thing the way it should be explained to our kids or grandkids. We’ve told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

Except, it really is that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse than that bad. School comes with incredibly boring teachers, but also with brutal, cruel classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids are cruel. You don’t stay in school because it’s fun or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know in your brain and your guts that this is what you have to do if you want to have a real life.

If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s much better. But even if they are duller than you, duller than your dullard friends, you need to be there.

School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.