Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Reading: Ghosts, Murder, and Audiobooks — Oh, My!

Well, as I expected, I have veered far from my proposed reading list this summer. 

I discovered two new murder mystery series: Mystic Notch Cozy Mystery Series involving cats, possibly magic and definitely ghosts; and the Bibliophile Mystery series involving murder in California wine country and a book restorer.

I also have managed to fit in a biography, a couple of titles from my back list, a boatload of children's books (thanks, Maddie!), at least two young adult novels and some historical fiction. Some of the titles actually were on my original reading list.

So far, my favorites have been the new mysteries, Ghostly Mews and Homicide in Hardcover. Who knew my inner Agatha Christie would re-emerge? 

In In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I discovered that 2016 is not that different from 1918, what with disease, xenophobia and mistrust ricocheting around our nation.

I have only one Joe Hill in my "read" stack, and at least one from Stephen King is waiting to join it: Revival or Mr. Mercedes? I wonder.

I've stalled a little on my audiobook adventure, but I can't wait to hear Jeremy Irons read Lolita to me. Or maybe Rosamund Pike with Pride and Prejudice. The possibilities are endless.

Now, what are you doing online? Get back to reading — after you tell me how your summer reading is going!

Monday, July 11, 2016

From the U.S. Poet Laureate: @ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem



@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
                       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
                       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
                       their families. And to all those injured.
 
                                               Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing

Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
                                                            what happened in Afghanistan

                                                  what
                flames burned inside

(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )

This could be the first step
          in the new evaluation of our society    This could be
                the first step of all of our lives

by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herreracourtesy philly.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Illustrated Dulce Et Decorum Est



Wilfred Owen: Dulce Et Decorum Est,
Graphically Represented


One century ago, the world was stunned and wounded by The Great War.

Poet Wilfred Owen, a casualty of the war himself, tried to tell us the cost. here is one of his most well-known poems rendered graphically by Nathan Gelgud.

courtesy Signature

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day: Our Power is Our Diversity

Independence Day, celebrated on July 4 in the United States, is an exciting day, one whose origin is all but forgotten — or, perhaps, ignored.

In the late eighteenth century, a group of immigrants occupied a country under the control of a monarch across the ocean. Rather than live as subjects of the English crown, the people of the nation rose up and claimed independence from the crown.

Who were these people? French, English, Irish, Scottish, African — in a word, immigrants. Some came for personal safety and security, some came for financial reasons.

We celebrate still, two and a half centuries later. Yet let's always remember what made us great: our diversity, which, when harnessed, exuded a power too great for even a king.

When we stand together, we are too mighty a force to be defeated. Do not let anyone, within or without, divide us and dilute our greatness and power.

Click on the video below for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Max McLean.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Jim Limber the Adopted Mulatto Son of Jefferson Davis Visits His Adoptive Parents After the War




Jim Limber the Adopted Mulatto Son of Jefferson Davis Visits His Adoptive Parents After the War

The man said I could see them if I wanted
He said     America would never be
A place where we could     live together not at
Least in my lifetime     but the damned don’t see
No     important differences     between the Ne-
gro and the White the damned     don’t see no bad
In folks if what bad they done they ain’t     free-
ly chose to do the damned don’t see     no good
In folks if what good they done they ain’t     hoped
To do and the man     he said part of momma
Varina part of daddy     Jeff alread-
y     was burning in Hell I ought to join them

He     said we     might see good     from seeing each other
Tortured we might     finally see each other

by Shane McCrae
courtesy poets.org

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Horror by Joe Hill: NOS4A2, or How to Make Christmas Creepy

I love a good horror story, and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is a good horror story.  In fact, it was a great horror story. It had true fear and horror, great characters and a fascinating storyline.

I read it on three platforms — audio, e-book and print book — and it was great in each. In fact, I would strongly recommend giving Kate Mulgrew's audio performance a try, no matter your stance on audiobooks.

However, it was relentless enough, and long enough, to make me beg for sweet release by the end.

Plus, I can never stomach how the King men kill animals in their novels. (Seriously, guys, just stop it. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Even when it makes total sense and makes the story more poignant, resist the urge. Thank you.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand. I started the book a couple of times since its publication in 2013. I got as far as the prologue, maybe a couple of pages into the body of the book, and put it down. It was weird and fascinating, but it didn't snag me. Why the nurse? Why this kid? Lots of portended creepiness, but nothing concrete.

Then I let Kate Mulgrew pull me in with that throaty voice I've loved since "Ryan's Hope." Her portrayal of the characters was sincere and gripping. (A couple of them sounded more like Minnesota hicks than I would have imagined them to, like Lou, but it fit their personas.) Because I was switching between platforms, I never heard her read Maggie Leigh, for which I am grateful.

I loved Maggie. I found her flawed and tragic, and the progression of her story was poignant and gorgeous. I would love to read a book in which Maggie is the central character.

I think.

I am still processing how brittle and flawed Hill makes his female characters, and what the male characters of his story have to contribute to the definition and capabilities of the females. I think every character has a chance at redemption — well, nearly every one — and most work hard to become more of who and what they are. It's a lovely progression, even for the people who appear to be villains. (Not all "villains" actually are villainous, after all. Some are just incapable of being more than their weaknesses.)

As much as I enjoyed the story, Hill has taken on the mantle of writing the horrific joy out of a scene by stuffing it full of superfluous information, buffoonish characters and ridiculous situations. I stopped reading Stephen King for a while for that same reason, and now still approach his work with the same caution. I am sorry to do the same thing with Hill.

I am about to discuss details of the storyline, so if you have not read the book, beware spoilers.

Okay, you've been warned.

Proceed with caution, or skip the following bulleted paragraphs.
  • Hill belabored the haunted telephones that drove Vic to destruction and institutionalization. It didn't spiral, but dragged. Snipped a little, the scene could have been even scarier and more haunting — but instead, readers wove through the longest streets in Denver with a woman in underwear that, inexplicably, no one seemed to see.
  • Hill handled Charlie Manx's autopsy scene with an unexpected level of clumsiness. The security guard was totally ridiculous, a sex-crazed stupid kid who was even more useless than Barney Fife. The senseless buffoon felt superfluous and distracted from the horror of the situation. 
  • How did a dead man and a masked psychopath in a huge, vintage car move in across the street from Linda McQueen's house without detection? In every neighborhood in which I have lived, everyone knew everyone else's business. Even if I wasn't in the know about, say, the Brown family, Mrs. Herrera was, and she told us. Major loss didn't distract us from each other, so Linda's death should not have created such a vacuum of observation.
  • Finally, the ending was way too weird. No municipality would have allowed Sleigh House to remain standing (such as it was) after all of these years, thanks to back taxes, death and human heebie-jeebies. Children who have not aged in centuries would be hard for anyone to accept, even an open-minded fibbie. I loved that Lou had to break the spell, but if NOS4A2 was the key to Manx's power, why in the world didn't Manx's power end when NOS4A2 did?


Thus endeth the spoilers.

I don't know if I can recommend this book. Have you read it? Would you recommend it? Why?