DAVIS WAY IS BACK!! DOUBLE KNOT – GRETCHEN ARCHER

I have loved every book Gretchen Archer has written, but with Double Knot, she has outdone herself.

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Hearkening back to classic mystery writers of earlier decades, Double Knot is a taut, complex, witty, smart mystery with twists and turns that will keep you guessing … while keeping you charmed and amused. Although the characters are sometimes thoroughly wacky, the story has many serious points to make.

Breast cancer and its ravages and survivors. The relationship between mothers and daughters. The vulnerabilities of security in the real world. Tension builds from page one to the final word on the last page. I was not ready for the book to end. I wanted it to go on for many more pages.

This is the book in which Davis Way becomes fully realized. Gains dimensions you knew were there, but had never been revealed. Emotional issues she must face and work through. With her mother along for the ride, it’s time for both to confront their shared past and the painful secrets they have feared to acknowledge. They do it all under the most terrifying circumstances and with everything … life and death … at stake.

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In Double Knot, Ms. Archer has dived into deep water. If, like me, you’ve been wondering “Who is Davis … really?”, this is your golden opportunity to find out.

This is no mere caper. Surviving this will require every ounce of Davis’s creativity, intelligence, training, and techno-savvy. She’s going to have to use it all to save her own life and the lives of those she loves.

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Gretchen Archer’s ability to create an intricate story is hugely augmented by her ability allow her characters to evolve, develop previously unsuspected depths.

The story is not merely exciting, complex, and deliciously edgy, it’s also poignant and heartfelt.

Do NOT miss this one!

DOUBLE KNOT will be available in hard copy, paperback and for all eReaders on April 12th.

MOZART IN MY LIVING ROOM – ELLIN CURLEY

My husband and I just finished binge watching the second season of “Mozart In the Jungle” on Amazon Prime. It’s about the people in a New York City orchestra – the musicians, conductors, Board of the Orchestra which has to finance the operation. The behind-the-scenes staff, friends and family of the lead characters. I cannot recommend it enough!

I loved it because it was well-written, wonderfully acted and mesmerizing. I could wax poetic with words like “delightful”, “charming” and “enchanting”– words that hark back to a gentler, simpler time.

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Most important to me, I loved it because I could watch it with a smile on my face, not a pillow at the ready to cover my eyes when things on-screen get gory. I’m sick of dark, depressing shows filled with violence and brutality, past present or future. I’m sick of seeing man at his worst – angry, terrified, petty and violent.

I am sick of being scared, grossed out, or demoralized by my “entertainment.” I finished each episode of “Mozart” with a song in my heart, not a black cloud over my head. The show made me want to reach for a glass of champagne, not an anti-depressant– which is how much of popular culture makes me feel these days.

“Mozart in the Jungle” is a breath of fresh air. It’s about literate, creative people devoted to the art of making classical music and bringing it to the public. You get involved in their lives, as well as the lives of the people on the administrative side. There’s romance, intrigue (watch out for the first chair oboist), clashing personalities and perspectives, as well as infantile or bizarre behavior. Through it all, you feel the love everyone has for the music.

You are uplifted by “Mozart In the Jungle” and by the orchestral performances. They remind you how much life can be elevated by art and music. It transports you to a place where culture is exalted. Where knowledge, skill, and dedication are valued above all else.

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The show won a well-deserved Golden Globe Award recently, as did the Gael Garcia Bernal, who is exceptionally charismatic. It gets my personal award for the best television entertainment in a long time. It’s a show that makes you feel happy — and glad to be alive!

COMING HOME: A SNARKY TRAVELOGUE

In summary, traveling to Arizona on JetBlue was like travelling first class, almost. Coming home via American Airlines was like being luggage. But less comfortable.

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It was a very long ride home, though shorter than flying westward. Eastbound, we had a tail wind that got us to Logan an hour early.

It seemed much longer. Not only were we starved — which I expected and for which I was prepared having brought a variety of semi-nutritious snack food (do salted peanuts and Fig Newtons count as nutritious?) and a large bottle of water. Bought at the airport because food for which you pay ten times the normal price is safe, while food bought in a grocery at normal prices will explode on impact.

I think we could have been dead in our seats on our return flight on American and only other passengers would notice. The flight attendants were in the back of the plane, playing cards. Having, as far as I can tell, a fine old time.

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There was no entertainment. No television. The WiFi was not free. They wanted $12 (each) for 60 minutes (each) — and the Patriots-Kansas City game was on. Which was more than an hour. They had whacked us with a $25/per bag luggage fee … and wanted another $12 from each of us to use their WiFi? For an hour? It wasn’t even unlimited WiFi. You had to watch one of their programs. Mean-spirited bastards run that airline.

As I told the attendant, “Your airline sucks.” She agreed. They probably treat her like luggage too. Don’t fly American Airlines.

We managed to get the score in real time on our smart phone. It somehow connected to the WiFi despite the firewall American Airlines erected. Let’s hear it for Google. When the game ended, Garry and I had books on our Kindles, so we survived without WiFi …and those salted peanuts helped too.

When we got home, it was obvious no one had cleaned since we left. Talk about filthy. Wow. Two weeks of dog hair, sand, and odeur de canine. The Christmas tree is still up (“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it and I’ll put the wrapping paper away, I promise”). Right. Sure. Uh huh.

I swept three times before unpacking anything and washed the floors twice this morning, but it’s going to take a lot more scrubbing before the place is habitable. I’m not a clean or neat freak, but I draw the line at genuine filth.

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The kid’s going to be 47 in May. You’d think he’d have a grip on “clean,” wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

We are home. No fresh food because we used it all before leaving. Today I threw away about five pounds of leftovers that had become lethal-looking science experiments during our absence. Garry made a very short trip to the grocery store. We needed half-and-half. That’s not groceries. That’s survival.

Tomorrow we’ll deal with The Rest of the Story. Today, it’s football and not being in transit. Sorry I missed your blogs today and yesterday. I’m surprised I’m awake and almost coherent.

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While we were away, someone won the $1.5 billion PowerBall. Even after taxes and fees, it’s still more money than I can imagine having. More money than Garry and I earned in our entire lives. Combined. Before taxes. More money than us and all our friends had or ever hope to have.

Someone won it. On a $1 lottery pick. Go figure.

NOTE: We have concluded that there is a secret interaction between hair gel and PowerZero so dangerous and explosive, it is banned from the air! That’s the only sense I can make of it. Who knows what hidden dangers lie in your luggage?

AUTHOR’S PICK: MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2015 *

(*) At least those I can remember!

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. I’ve been looking through the stats on my various posts to see what they tell me about the “best” posts of 2015. Statistics reveal which posts got the most hits … but that’s all. It doesn’t take into account how the author felt about it.

Because I publish about 1000 posts per blogging year — including re-blogs, photographs, and four authors — it is difficult to remember what I posted this year. I have to rely on statistics to give me a list of the popular posts for 2015. I’m leaving out any post I already mentioned in the “all time top ten.”

These are my favorites of those that made the top hundred most popular — using views as the sorting tool … and then my opinion as the final criteria. Click on a title to open the original post.

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WHAT EMPOWERS YOU? From July 2014, this post apparently resonated with a lot of people and is still accumulating hits. It’s one of those posts that fell out of my fingers into the keyboard. On rereading it, it’s not bad. Perhaps I haven’t given it its due.

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MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969 Originally published in September 2014, it is still getting hits. Some posts apparently are “evergreen.” Not popular when first published, but has gathered momentum during the weeks and months that have followed. I’m glad, because it is one of my personal favorites.

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NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT,  JANE ALLEN PETRICK – This is a review of a lovely book that got almost no attention the first two times I published it. Yet this third time, it garnered hundred of views and several reblogs. I hope it convinced a few people to buy the book.

I’m not shy about republishing pieces that I feel were overlooked or under-appreciated.

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HE SAID YES was published in January 2015. It’s a piece of the very long story of Garry and my courtship. Edited for a G-rated audience and to keep the main characters out of jail. The truer story is longer … a book, not a post. Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll think about it. I’m not sure just how much personal information I’m feeling public about.

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BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS DON’T LIVE HERE! So after Garry got bitten by one or two brown recluse spiders — who don’t live here even though everyone except the experts agree that they most certainly do live here — this is a piece of the story of the great spider bite debacle of 2015.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! – GARRY ARMSTRONG Garry’s affectionate memories of his mom, on her birthday this past July, 2015.

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PASS THE ALUMINUM FOIL (DIRECTIONS INCLUDED) A humorous anecdote of one of the more amusing wackos I’ve met over the years. A little astrology and directions to make your very own aluminum foil hat.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG Just what it sounds like. In Memorium for a baseball great.

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DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS I couldn’t remember the ten commandments. Doesn’t everyone know them? But Garry couldn’t remember them either, though we more or less pieced them together — two minds being slightly better than one. But then, what was the correct order? I’m still not sure.

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GENERATION GAP – GROWING UP BOOMER Communication between generations. Maybe not the impossible dream? Is there hope?

ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

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

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

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

The stranger disappears.

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

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

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The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

The circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have gotten a bit lost in time but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the most perfect paradox where the past, present and future come together in a perfect conundrum.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR – OR LESS

I bought my first media streaming device — the Roku HD Streaming Player, aka Roku 1 in January 2013. It was easy to set up and worked perfectly. Never hiccupped. Always connected to the WiFi and never faltered. I liked it so much, I bought another one for the bedroom a couple of months later. I wrote about it in “Roku – The Little Streaming WiFi Unit That Can” on December 18, 2013. By which time I’d had it for almost a year.

The only problem was the remote. It is line-of-sight. This technology works best in an uncluttered home with fewer dogs. So the remote worked, but it was like target shooting from a long distance with an inaccurate weapon.

FTVstickThis doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s the sort of thing that gets on your nerves over time. I replaced the living room remote with an upgraded version. A nominal improvement.

When Amazon came out with their bargain basement Amazon Fire Stick, I said “Oh, what the hell. Maybe the remote will work better,” and it did. Unfortunately, the stick didn’t. In fact, the stick hardly worked at all. As one reviewer succinctly put it, “You deserve better. Don’t do it.” He was right.

I had read the reviews, but I didn’t read all of them. I missed the ones that said the stick would lose the WiFi and sometimes, would never get it back.

From the beginning, it either couldn’t find our WiFi, or couldn’t hang on to the signal.  Even when it was connected, it was like watching a series of stills with sound. Like one of the strip films we watched in elementary school … a slide show with sound. I am told it’s an antenna problem, but whatever the reason, it stunk.

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Last week, I gave up and bought the Roku 3 with the “point anywhere” remote. Which also, I’m told, responds to voice commands. We installed it today and it works. No stuttering, no faltering, no loading problems. Smooth as silk and you can point the remote at your own forehead and it will still work.

So, here’s the cost breakdown.

Roku 3 cost $49.00. Plus $4.20 for an HDMI cable. We got two years of service out of it, so it doesn’t owe us anything. And it still works, just not on this television.

The Amazon Fire Stick was a bust. It cost $39.00, was unsatisfactory for all 90 days of its service. The new, improved, wonderful Roku 3 Streaming Media Player (4230R) with Voice Search (2015 model) cost $96.04 (and if I’d waited a few days, would have cost $20 less), but really when you include the cost of the Fire Stick, it’s more like $140.

It reminds me of how I always used to buy the cheaper, less comfortable shoes. Eventually, when I couldn’t walk in the shoes I had bought, I ended up buying the more expensive ones, too.

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In total, I spent more than $200 on a streaming devices. If I had bought the Roku 3 in the first place, I would have spent half that.

The motto of the story is worth remembering. You aren’t saving money by buying shoes that you can’t wear. If your feet hurt, the movie won’t load, the remote control drives you bonkers? You haven’t saved money if you will have to buy it again.

It’s not cheap if it doesn’t do the job.

HE’S DANCING AND SINGING IN THE RAIN – MGM, 1952

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Turner Classics was playing “Singin’ in the Rain,” so of course, we had to watch it. It wasn’t raining, but it didn’t matter. We never get tired of it. It has been remastered it, so it looks brand new.

Sometimes, it’s not hard to figure out why a movie becomes a classic. Singin’ in the Rain is an MGM musical comedy made in 1952. It stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography, It is magic.

There’s quite of bit of back story and gossip attached to the movie. Debbie Reynolds hasn’t been shy about sharing her story. The dissatisfaction of Gene Kelly at having to work with Debbie Reynolds — who he had to teach to dance for her role.

By the end of each day of shooting, Debbie’s feet would be bleeding. Kelly was a perfectionist and no kinder than he had to be, but it’s hard to argue with the result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the result is a masterpiece. Sixty-one years after the original opening, it’s fresh and funny, and the choreography is a wonder and carefully works around Debbie Reynolds more limited dancing skills. If you watch “Good Morning” carefully, notice how often she is posed while Kelly and O’Connor carry the complex dance numbers.

The plot is a light-hearted look at the movie business during the transition from silent to talking movies.

There had been several versions of Singing In the Rain before, but none of them enjoyed the success of the 1952 MGM production. How you could improve on perfection?

After more than 60 years, it still plays beautifully. A pleasure to watch and a family favorite. Many great musicals have been produced since this classic. Many were and are brilliant, but although they may be as good, they are not better. In many way, Singing in the Rain set the bar.

Until they make a new Gene Kelly, they won’t improve on it.

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It was greeted with no great enthusiasm when released, yet with each passing year, its popularity grows. That is, perhaps, the true definition of a classic when the years only increase respect for a film. Time has not diminished Singin’ In the Rain.