BACK TO THE DRESDEN WORLD: READING THE SERIES AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I really missed Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden. I missed Harry, the only wizard listed in Chicago’s telephone book. I miss his huge furry dog Mouse. And his gigantic cat. I  miss his magical Chicago and the strange island in the middle of Lake Michigan.

The only new writing he has put out in recent years is a collection of short stories, which I bought and read. And then, I began the entire series from the beginning, books one through 15 because I live in hope that someday, he will decide to write one last book about Harry Dresden. Just one more.

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

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

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

Jim Butcher is brilliant.

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

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

He listens better these days.

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

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

Harry Dresden

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

I’m now finishing the last full book – Skin Game. I think there needs to be at least one more. Please Jim, one more. Just one. After that, I’ll stop begging.

He has his own website where you can find all his books. It’s called Jim Butcher. All his books are available at Amazon and everywhere they sell books, including Audiobooks.

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.

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!

WINSOME IS AS WINSOME DOES

Winsome. When I was editor of the Doubleday Romance Library … oh so long ago! … this was a great word especially when describing the attributes of a young woman in one of the Gothic romances.

Winsome, implying lovely, gracious, charming, and possibly attractive in a non-gaudy, un-flashy way.

So I was trying to think of what in my world might be winsome these days. Bonnie? Maybe? Dogs are always a bit winsome, at least by personality if not by visage. All those adorable things they do are kind of winsome-ish. Okay, not when Duke drags a tree branch in through the dog door and proceeds to imitate a wood-chipper … but when he plays peek-a-boo with his paws, that’s ridiculously adorable.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – At home with dogs

Less adorable when he take those same paws and whacks them hard on my keyboard. I had to pry up a key this morning and one of these days, he’s going to take the ship down with him. Forgive the digression.

I read the beginning of “Fire and Fury: Inside the White House” by Michael Fuller last night. I couldn’t help myself. After Tom Curley’s review of it today on Serendipity, my curiosity went into overdrive. One of the brilliant things about electronic books — audio and other — is that you get them instantly.

Want the book?Before you take your finger off the “buy” button, it’s in your library. It may absorb my time today. Just a warning. I’m in the middle of James Lee Burke’s (last?) book about Dave Robicheaux titled “Robicheaux,” and I want to read this one … and this is the month I’m getting a bunch of audiobooks for review, so it will be my “not-so-available” month.

My winsome dogs will smile at you, though.

FYI for anyone who is following the snow, the cold, and the bank: the bank gave us all the money back. The issue isn’t settled, but they gave us the money anyway. Nice! Thank you BOA. You done good.

The plow was here this morning, so we have a driveway. Paying the guy is going to be an interesting tale because as I have previously observed, free is not the way to go in the snow in New England. Unless YOU own the plow, you have to pay someone. Let us hope for less snow.

Unless there’s such as thing as “self-shoveling” snow? Is there an app for that?

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.