Thursday, June 29, 2017

Classical piano, Genius IQs and Murder

As promised, I plan to review an unputdownable thriller every two weeks this summer, and so I begin with a book that absolutely grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan is perfect for summer back deck reading.

This novel introduces the reader to the world of precocious musician children. 


We meet genius IQ Zoe Maisey a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy. Three years prior to the book’s beginning she was involved in a traffic accident in which three friends died. Was she responsible? How? Was she sentenced unfairly? That fact is made known little by little as the book progresses.

When she "did her time" as a juvenile offender, she and her mother Maria moved to a new town with changed names to begin their “Second Chance Life.” Her mother’s new husband Chris whose son Lucas is also a musical prodigy know nothing of her past life. And they won’t, too. Neither she nor Maria plan to tell them. All seems well, except for one thing. 


Her music.

It’s unmistakeable and unique and of course people from her “old life” would recognize it in an instant. Which is exactly what happens.

The book, the entire book, revolves around the incidents which occur in one terrible, awful, heart-rending 24 hour period following a concert where her mother Maria is murdered.

The reader goes from loving Zoe with an intense understanding, to wondering if she is really all that changed. The reader is introduced to all of the members of this family—Maria and Chris, Zoe and Lucas their children, Grace, the new baby, Sam, Zoe’s first solicitor and Maria’s sister Tessa.

It’s hard to review a novel like this without giving spoilers, so none here, but what kept me glued to this book was the way the author goes into the lives of each of the characters in turn revealing new horrors.

There are three things I demand in the thrillers that I read:

1. Being well-written. This one is.

Here is how the book begins:
Before the concert begins, I stand inside the entrain to the church and look down the nave, Shadows lurk in the ceiling vaults even though the light outside hasn’t dimmed yet, and behind me the large wooded doors have been pulled shut.

In front of me, the last few members of the audience have just settled into their places. Almost every seat is filled. The sound of their talk is a medium pitched rumble.

I shudder.


2. Things revealed slowly, but steadily with a “hook” at every chapter end.

3. A darn good story. And this one is.

If you're interested in this genre, here's a wonderful article in Writer's Digest.

For the next summer thriller review: Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bunches of Thrillers for the Summer!

As the summer begins here in Canada (finally, right?), I’ve decided to devote this blog to recommending thrillers. Whether you’re at the beach, on your back deck, on a boat, or even in a comfy couch in your living room (and it’s raining outside), summer vacation is a time to read.

A few weeks ago I read with interest this article in the New York Times on the best summer thriller reads for 2017. I decided to take a page from their book, and come up with my own list of summer thrillers that you simply MUST read. the same. Here’s the NY Times article, if you want to read some of their recommendations.

My favorite get-comfy-on-the-couch reading is a genre called literary thriller. Although closely related to, it differs somewhat from the genre of “mystery.” Mysteries involve a crime (which often occurs before the book begins), and a crime solver which can be a police officer, private detective or amateur crime solver (librarian, etc.).



Thrillers are about crime as well, but often the crime hasn’t occurred yet. It is only ominously threatening on the horizon, or overhead, or it's something in the past. There isn’t necessarily a crime solver, just someone (often a woman in the books I’m reading) in danger. And often she, alone, has to figure out what is happening to her or to her family. Others clearly, don’t see the danger.

Although I do have a few true “mysteries” in the following list, (X by Sue Grafton and Breeding Ground by my friend Sally Wright,) most of the following recommendations are in the thriller category.

Whether you read by print, on a Kindle or my favorite—my waterproof and dustproof (read sand) Kobo Aura H20, which is loaded with books to read. 


Here are a few wonderful thrillers that I’ve already reviewed here on I Like It that you can add to your beach reading satchel.  

Safe with Me by K.L. Slater

Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

 Here are a few books I’m currently reading (and yes, ah, I do read more than one book at a time!) and will be reviewing here in the coming weeks:

Breeding Ground by Sally Wright—if you like horses, WW11 and intrigue, you will love this mystery set in 1962 in the southern US

In the Woods by Tana French. A new murder that detective Ryan must solve bears too much resemblance to an older, unsolved crime from his childhood.

In no particular order, here are the books on my Kobo just waiting to be read this summer:

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda - a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

After the Lie by Kerry Fischer - Your past will devastate your family. But your lies could destroy them.

Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah  - She's a wife. She's a mother. She isn't who you think she is.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik - What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller - Ingrid writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears

Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell - a pulse-pounding thriller about a man who is haunted by a face from his past.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner - a page-turning literary mystery that brings to life the complex and wholly relatable Manon Bradshaw, a strong-willed detective assigned to a high-risk missing persons case.

Here’s another list put out by Goodreads. 


And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own thriller/mysteries here. Night Watch and The Bitter End are my newest babies.

Well, all of these lists should get you going on some great summer reading!



At the end of the NY Times article there is a question- what are your favorite thrillers for the beach?

So, that is my question for you - What are some of your favorite thriller authors and summer reads?

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Letting Go

Today on my blog, I’m recommending The House We Grew Up In, a compelling and wonderful novel by Lisa Jewell

This was a choice for the bookclub I belong to (And may I take a moment out to recommend that you join a bookclub. If you don’t know of any that meet, ask at your public library. They are veritable fonts 
of information on all things book, and bookclubs. Do it. You’ll thank me later.), and all of us in our small group agreed—this one was a winner.


The House We Grew Up In revolves around the lives of Lorelei Bird and her family—her husband Colin and their four children—Megan, Bethan, Rory and Rhys and neighbor Vicki. Lorelei is a hoarder, you know, one of those persons who lets their possessions pile up in boxes around them. It wasn’t always this way with her. At one time she was a a whimsical mother who tacked up all her children’s school papers on the wall. She was the sort of mother any child would want—cooking, baking, having family parties, doing cartwheels in the backyard, and taking care that the annual Easter egg hunts in the backyard went on without a hitch. It is here we get the first inkling of her disorder, when she must save the colorful foils from the chocolates, because they are so pretty.

When one of her her sons dies by suicide, the entire family goes into a downward spiral. Each family member deals with the death in a different way, including his mother who just begins adding and adding and adding to her collections.

As the book plunges toward its horrific ending, we discover why Lorelei turned from being a happy, loving—although eccentric—mother, to one who would not throw anything out, and who would eventually drown and starve in all her stuff.

I know some of you are reality TV fans, and a program like Hoarders is sometimes interesting to watch. What is amazing to me about the few TV hoarding TV shows I’ve watched is the unbelievable link the hoarders feel to their stuff, the weeping when it is suggested that a broken DVD be thrown out. People with hoarding disorders sometimes choose their junk over their families. Their children will walk right out of the door and yet they choose to remain with their boxes.

The disclaimer at the beginning of the particular TV show I've linked to says that “hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.”

I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about hoarding, but I found once I picked up this book, I could not put it down. It was one of those books that got propped up on the kitchen counter while I cooked and washed dishes and got carried with me in my purse everywhere I went.

Good writing and a well-put-together sentence is all important to me, and the writing in this book sparkled.

Here's an example. At one point in the book Lorelei says, 


Look at that sky, just look at it. The blueness of it. Makes me want to snatch out handfuls of it, and put it in my pockets.

Maybe that is the essence of hoarding—when a person loses the ability to simply sit and admire things, but instead needs to own them, and store them within your own walls and keeping.

Here’s another description on hoarding from the novel:

Everything was halfway to being where it needed to be, everything was a work in progress, with no systems, no logic, no sense of organizations about any of it.

And, here is how her neighbor Wendy describes Lorelei to her granddaughter:

You see, your nana is a very special lady—she is really quite magical you know—and when she looks at the world she sees it in a very special way, like it’s a party bag or a toy shop, and she likes to keep bits of it. And she feels sad when she throws things away.

Even if those hoarding TV shows don’t appeal to you, (they don’t to me, especially) I think you will enjoy this book.


I will be reading more of Lisa Jewell, and in fact, have another of her books I Found You just downloaded onto my Kobo.

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

#Thatsharassment A series of Sexual Harassment videos that need to be talked about

Today I'm going to do my best to tackle a hard subject, a most difficult one. But when the president of the most influential country in the western world brags about sexually assaulting women, maybe it’s time we had this conversation.

I am talking about sexual harassment and recommending that you watch six very short videos, part of a new campaign called #thatsharassment. 

Click here. Watch all six. 

I’ll wait. 

After I read this Parents Magazine article about these videos and watched them in their entirety, I felt I had to tell you about them. 

Film director Sigal Avin and actor David Schwimmer of Friends fame have produced these videos portraying what sexual harassment looks like in 2017. 


I had seen only the first half of the very first video, and already there were spiders under my skin. It was like I had crawled into the skin of that young women. Watching all of them, one right after the other, I needed a shower. It was like had I been thrust into each and every situation, and could remember what it felt like. Reading further into the article I was not surprised to learn that most women (not “some” women, or “a few” women, but “most” women) can identify.

I am an older woman now, and have gracefully and gratefully passed into the stage of “invisibility” mentioned by Margaret Trudeau in the book I recommended in my last blog post. (The Time of Your Life). There is a certain freedom in that. I no longer have to totally be on my guard.

But before we go on, let’s have a look at the videos in the order they are presented in the article.

In Video #1, it’s a young woman’s first day on the job at a bar. Her male co-worker is showing her all about how the men will come onto her—in graphic detail.

Video #2 has a woman who is some kind of a wardrobe or costume person for a famous movie star. She is naturally star-struck that day, and trying to do her best, until he reveals all to her.

In Video #3 we move to an office where a married boss comes on to a young, new female admin assistant.

Video #4  has a doctor “examining” a female patient.

In Video #5,  a young woman (Oh, she looks SO young) involved in a photoshoot of some kind, is asked to do some things she feels very uncomfortable with. In my opinion, this is the scariest one, because at the end, it cuts away to all of the people watching, all complicit in his instructions.

A woman journalist is interviewing a famous politician in Video #6. He asks her to turn off the tape, and then he tries to come on to her. But, she needs that interview. She needs that article.

I think what struck me about all of these were the subtleness of the suggestions. These were not lewd, greasy, horrid men, these appeared to be sort of nice guys. If it ended up being a “he-said she-said" in court they would probably win. And the women, all who want to keep their jobs, know this.

First there is the nervous laugh—women have that "nervous laugh" down pat, don't they? These same women probably went home thinking, “Did that really happen? No. Maybe it didn't." And then imperceptibly shoving the blame onto themselves.

In most of these videos it’s powerful men, and the women who work for them who “want to keep their jobs and so they must go along.” 


Sadly, in recent days we’ve seen this. The most recent fallout goes to Bill O'Reilly one of Fox News greatest assets. He lost his job after a number of women came forward to accuse him of doing just this.

And before him, Roger Ailes also of Fox News. And before him Bill Cosby.

But lest you think it's just a Fox News thing, or an American thing, and that we are who live in Canada are somehow immuned to this, may I remind you of Jian Ghomeshi, who was once the darling boy of CBC. As well, there have been long and ongoing investigations into sexual harassment in Canada’s military and RCMP


Yes, our military who are admired all over the world, as well as our RCMP.

"Is it okay?" the office boss in Video #3 continually asks. “It is okay? No hard feelings? We're okay? We're good?"

Nervous laugh. “It’s okay.”

“You sure it’s okay.” Sad voice. Contrite voice.

“It’s okay.”


"You sure?"

"It's okay."

No. It's not okay. 


I applaud Sigal Avin and David Schwimmer for tackling this project, and I would hope that these videos are shown in HR programs throughout the country. 

(Interesting sidebar: The man who brags about sexually assaulting women, complete with lewd x-rated language, gets elected president. The man he was talking to from Access Hollywood, gets fired. What's wrong with this picture?)

My one complaint with the videos? They are not Closed Captioned. They need to be.

Next Time: A look at hoarding, in a compelling new novel, The House We Grew Up In.




Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Rocking Chair Sitters Here

Today I am recommending Margaret Trudeau’s self-help/memoir The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future. If her name sounds familiar to my readers south of the border, she is the mother of our current prime minister here in Canada and wife of a former prime minister.

Hand on my heart, I admit it—I am a Margaret Trudeau fan-girl. Forty-five years ago when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, I married a Canadian and moved to this wonderful country. (I became a citizen ten years later). The country was vast and beautiful and unknowable, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and his wife was the charming, spunky, oh so pretty and often misunderstood Margaret.

Because I was determined to be a well-rounded Canadian, I read all the novels of Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood and page by colorful page through the history books of Pierre Berton. (I also began to wonder if your name had to be either Margaret or Pierre to live in this country.) I was learning to love my new adopted country.

In 1976 on Haida Gwaii (known when I lived there as the Queen Charlotte Islands), I had the privilege of meeting Margaret Trudeau. My husband was a school teacher in Queen Charlotte City, and the prime minister was there to open the brand spanking new Haida museum.

Click on that aforementioned link and croll down until you get to Haida Gwaii Museum. On that day forty years ago, it didn’t look anything like it does in these pictures. I remember rickety folding tables outside laid with salmon and all sorts of food, Haida dancing, displays of Haida button blankets and mud. I remember lots of mud.



It was there that I met Margaret Trudeau. My baby daughter was fussing and I retreated away from the press of people and stood under a tree. It may have been raining slightly. A friend of mine came over and pointed, “That’s Margaret Trudeau over there. See her? Why don’t you go over and say hello?”

There she was. Standing alone. By herself.

I went over and we struck up the most wonderful conversation. She was friendly and kept going on about my beautiful little baby girl, and how she had sons, three of them, in fact (of course I already knew this) and how her youngest was with his grandma in Vancouver because he “has the sniffles.”

(Oh, and I must mention this here. All kinds of things were different back then. You could walk right up to important people without security keeping you away. Partway through the ceremony my husband hoisted Justin, our now prime minister, on his shoulders so he could see his dad better. I wish we had a picture. Sadly, we don’t. But, then again, maybe that’s a good thing!)

Since that meeting I have followed her through the years, her antics (which are legendary), her books, even her early ones, and of course, her mental health struggles. Because I had met her and she was so gracious to me, I was always prone to forgive her her many transgressions. I always stuck up for her.

Truth was, she wasn’t being difficult, she was battling bi-polar and depression. It wasn’t until later in life that she finally got a handle on this with medications and therapies that work. She now travels extensively through this country lecturing on mental health issues.

If you are interested in reading her personal story in its entirety, may I suggest Changing my Mind.

I was pleased to be able to meet her a second time this past fall when she came to my city to tell her story and speak about mental health.


In this blog are two photos. The first is of Margaret and me on Haida Gwaii back in 1976, and the second is of Margaret and me this past fall. My, how we both have changed from young mother hippies to serious women with lots of grandkids and lots of stories to tell.


.
But all of this is by way of introduction. Whew! 

My intention today is to recommend her latest book,  The Time of Your Life. If you are a baby boomer woman, especially a Canadian baby boomer woman, then this book is for you.

I found it to be uplifting, inspirational, funny and personal. I could relate on almost every level. The subtitle urges women to choose “a vibrant, joyful future” But we are women in our mid-sixties. We’re mostly retired now. Choosing a "vibrant joyful future" gets to be something you do in your twenties, maybe thirties, not your sixties, not your seventies, right?




Wrong, according to Trudeau. She calls on older women to “reinvent what it means to age.”


She begins the book by stating:

Women should prepare in their fifties for the rest of their lives. What we do today will affect how long we live, how healthy we will be where we will live, how much fun we will have, how solvent we will be.

She calls on women to “rediscover” their purpose. No sitting and rocking for us, she cites numerous stories of women who have found purpose in continuing to work at their careers well into their dotage, women who have found fulfillment in volunteering, in traveling and finding adventure and personal fulfillment in helping others across the globe. She also encourages us baby boomer women to take up new creative pursuits.

All through the book I thought of the quote which is attibuted to CS Lewis: “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

The book is full of many, many stories of older women who set new goals, dreamed new dreams.

One of my favorite sections was “embrace the freedom of invisibility.” And let’s face it, women "of a certain age" become unnoticed, invisible. Instead, of wringing our hands over that, we should embrace it. We can do more. We can do more good with nobody watching, nobody noticing. She calls on women to find the upside of “being invisible.”

Did you know that statistics state that women tend to become happier as they age? That’s in there, too.

Trudeau is not afraid to share personal stories, even very personal ones on her own older dating experiences.

There are chapters on health, housing, finances, and finally grief, for that is the one thing we know, or will come to know as we age - grief and letting go of loved ones. I loved that chapter very much, and I’m sure it’s one I will read over and over.

I will end with this Native American saying:

“No Wise Person ever wanted to be younger.”

NEXT TIME: a timely, serious topic, I will be exploring and recommending a series of sexual harassment videos #thatsharassment. Watch them here.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dark, but oh so watchable

Of all the dark, nuanced British crime dramas, I think Luther is one of the best. So, today as part of this “I Like It” blog, I am recommending that on the next rainy weekend you hunker yourself down and watch all four seasons. I watched them on Netflix, but I think there might be other options (iTunes?) depending on where you live.
Luther has all of the attributes which make a good series—a flawed handsome character, a multitude of difficult to solve, almost “personal” crimes, weird and compelling mysteries, and an overarching theme which will make you come back for more. John Luther is the handsome, flawed character. He loves his wife, Zoe—but she’s leaving him, and yes, that is mostly his fault.  And as much as the “established” police force would like to let him go, his talent and instincts for crime solving are much needed.

In the very first episode we meet Alice Morgan, a young sociopath who Luther (and everyone else) believes murdered her parents. He can’t prove it. No one can. And throughout the entire four seasons, she and John develop this most strange and convoluted psychological relationship. That over-arching story line weaves its threads through every episode in the four seasons.

Some of these British crime dramas are so complex and nuanced that a second watching is almost required. I have watched the entire series twice, and the second time around picked up things I had missed in the first go round. Sets are brutal and noir. The stories are brutal and noir, the photography amazing.


Episodes include serial killers with strange fetishes, art museums, and even the murders of people close to him.

If you read this blog you know that I am a lover of first lines. It’s hard to do that in a TV series, so instead I offer you the music of the opening credits. The opening song 'Paradise Circus' by Massive Attack is haunting in its bleakness. Click here for a listen

I think it's because I love music, that I notice things like songs within television shows and movies. I've been known to scramble for a piece of paper when I hear a particularly compelling song that I wish to purchase on iTunes. I have actually filled my iTunes library with songs I have heard on Longmire, Luther, and many of the other dramas I have watched. 


And because I pay attention, I noticed that Massive Attack also do the opening song for the TV show, House. Here's a link to Massive Attack's Teardrop which is used there.  

Next time: It’s back to books this time with a part memoir, part self-help book by Margaret Trudeau entitled The Time of Your Life.




Thursday, April 6, 2017

How ASL Changed My Life

Today in "I Like It," I am taking a u-turn away from books and I am recommending that you acquaint yourself with American Sign Language. 

I live with someone who is hard of hearing. He has worn hearing aids since his forties and understands maybe around 50% of any given conversation. Each year his hearing deteriorates just a little bit more.

Here’s something that a lot of people don’t understand: In most people, glasses can pretty much correct vision to 20/20. Hearing aids do not do this. What they do is amplify everything. If you get a chance, place someone’s hearing aid close to your ear and you’ll see what I mean. It’s certainly better than nothing, but not like glasses.


Helen Keller once said that blindness separates you from things. Deafness separates you from people. 

Any hard of hearing person will tell you this is true. Plunk them down in the middle of any church pot luck with its decibels of ambient noise, and they’ll sit there, and do what is called “the deaf nod.” It means - I’m smiling and nodding, but I cannot be a part of this conversation because I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

Last fall, my husband enrolled in an ASL level one course (American Sign Language). I did not. I decided to wait and see if he would “like it or not.”

Well, he likes it. Loves it, actually. It opened up a whole new world of communication to him. I remember one evening after he came home from "deaf chat” at the mall. He said that for once, he didn’t have to lean forward, hands like funnels behind his ears, straining to hear, and missing most everything. He even said it was a joy to completely turn his hearing aids right off and be a full member of the conversation.

How has ASL changed my life? I have a new appreciation for what my husband goes through. I always thought I did, but this opened my eyes even a bit wider. I am realizing that it’s okay for him to be who he is. And sometimes being “who he is” has him “talking too loud,” because his hard-of-hearing ears are telling him that his speech volume is perfectly okay.

We spent the past few winter months in Florida where we got quite involved in the deaf community and ASL learning. I took a four-week beginner’s course, which turned into six weeks. He took an advanced course and twice a week we went to evening “deaf chat.” I’m learning that most communities have something like this, usually in a mall, where deaf people, hard of hearing people, interpreters and family members just go, buy themselves a coffee and talk. In ASL, of course.

I treasured our Tuesday evenings at Dunkin Donuts, which were always followed by Taco Tuesdays at a pub called Lollygaggers.

Some of the highlights of this winter:

- Attending Children of a Lesser God, a play put on by a local troupe in an eclectic theatre in Tampa called The Space. The play was interpreted and the main character, as in the movie, was deaf herself.

- Learning that deaf people are quite capable, thank you very much. After one of the Dunkin Donuts meeting, I, my hard-of-hearing husband plus two deaf friends were headed to Lollygaggers. When we walked into the pub I thought, “Well, I’m the hearing person here. I guess it’s up to me to get us a table and take care of everything.”

I had barely put my jacket down, and the deaf gal had already very well communicated to the waitress that we wanted those two tables over there shoved together because we were expecting more people, and that she wanted a pitcher of beer. She did all this with smiles and miming. The waitress understood perfectly.

Okay then.

The fact that the bar was so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think? Made no difference at all to this group of talkers.

- Even though we are beginners, my husband and I are finding it a useful language to communicate. It’s great when you’re out kayaking, or across across a crowded and noisy room.

- Chances are you already know some sign language. The word “Crazy”? The forefinger going in circles around the side of your head. Ask any teenager how to sign the word “Loser,” an L shaped with the thumb and forefinger and placed against your forehead while making a dumb face. Also, “come here,” “goodbye,” and “hello,” are all pretty universal in this language of pictures.

So then, why should you learn ASL?

1. You can communicate with deaf people. Even being able to say “thank you” is important and nice to the deaf community.

2. You can talk to babies. Seriously. Many parents are teaching baby sign language to infants before they learn to talk. My grand baby twins already know the signs for "more," "milk." "finished," and "again." There is some research in its infancy, that is suggesting that nonverbal autistic children are benefitting from learning and using ASL. Click here for that study.

3. You will learn a new culture. I have studied the Spanish language for most of my school years, and then a few university courses. It's a language I love. But not only did I learn a new language, but I learned to appreciate the culture that goes along with it. Culture is how a group of people thinks, and how better to know how they think, than by their words and how these words are put together. The deaf community definitely has their own culture. They are an accepting and huggy lot. They are perhaps a bit more blunt than us non-deaf. If you learn their language you will come to appreciate their culture.

4. There are many studies which indicate that learning a new language, at any age, is good for the brain. It’s especially good to learn a new language in your dotage. It gets your brain treading down a different road. I have found this to be true. I find when I’m scrambling for an ASL sign which has eluded me, I'm suddenly thinking of Spanish words. Or long-forgotten Chinese words, which we studied briefly forty years ago. I can just see the computer neural cells and synapses in my brain saying to one another. ”Okay, This is a language. Spanish? 
Wait. No. Chinese? Here’s the Chinese word. It's got to be Chinese. No. Wait...” Until my brain figures out the correct sign. There's a part of the brain devoted to language.

Here's an article about learning a language and Alzheimers. 


Here's an actual study about the same thing. 


In Two Weeks: A look at the TV series Luther.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A New Voice in Literary Thriller

I’ve written extensively here about the genre of "literary thriller" and how books that bear that classification are my favorite goto reads. I love a suspense novel that is so well-written it could stand side by side next to any "literary" novel at any time of day. I have also written here about the late Ruth Rendell and how her "literary" mysteries and short stories were so influential in my own writing and early years as a mystery author. 

I am now discovering that there are a whole new generation of suspense writers who are taking up the torch and producing quality work that leaves you turning page after page (or pressing screen after screen) far into the night.

Today I would like to recommend one of these "new to me" authors: K. L. Slater. Her book Safe With Me is today's blog recommendation.

I love books with twisty-turny plots and well-developed  “strange and mad” characters—who you might not realize are “strange and mad” until quite near the end.

In Safe With Me we meet Anna, a solitary young woman who lives by herself in her family home and works as a mail carrier. She witnesses a road accident where a young man, Liam, on a motorcycle was injured badly. The story begins when she recognizes the driver of the car as the woman who destroyed her life so many years ago and contributed to her own little brother's death.

In true "Rendell” form, we get to know all of these characters through flashbacks, which don’t distract from the story, but add to it. That is an art, having flashbacks appear seamlessly through the story.

Is Anna sane? Or is she, perhaps, the crazy one? How about Liam? He seems so normal. Maybe he is, or maybe he isn’t. How about the neighbor, J
oan Peat, who has known Anna since she was a child. Maybe she’s the nuts one. And what about all that mail that Anna has to deliver? I don’t give spoilers here at all, but that little subplot had me nervously biting my nails. Because mail is important. And what if it was mine?

Just to give you a taste of what is to come, here is the first line of the book.

So, they’re tucked up in bed at last. 

You take a handful of matches and you light each one, 
watching the burn die to a powdery black dot.

Can’t you just see those matches one by one burning right down, almost scorching the fingers that hold them? And who is tucked up in bed at night? 


I was hooked.

Right now I’m reading another of her books, Blink, and enjoying it as much.

If you like well-written thrillers and wish there were more Ruth Rendell books to devour,  I highly recommend this British author.




I found this online article on why women read thrillers. I think I’m right up in that demographic. Even though this article is a couple of years old, I don’t see the psychological thriller genre falling off any time soon. I'll certainly keep reading them. They have always been my favorites—from Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier in my teens, to Ruth Rendell and PD James in my younger adult years to authors like K.L Slater and others today.

Next Time: "I Like It" takes a look at how ASL (American Sign Language) is changing my life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's about time I read this author's work!

Before reading Five Quarters of the Orange, the novel I am recommending today, I was not familiar with this author’s work. I never even watched the multi-academy award winning movie Chocolat.

Watching the trailer I get a sense of what the movie is about—Woman comes to town. Woman takes over abandoned building. Woman turns it into a successful eatery. In the case of Chocolat, it’s a chocolate shop across from a church.

In Five Quarters of the Orange, it’s a crêperie. 

And, that’s where the similarities end. The trailer for Chocolat calls it a comedy. Five Quarters of the Orange is anything but. I would call it a tragedy cocooned in mystery. 

I guess it’s the mystery reader/writer in me, but I love stories which revolve around mysterious tragic secrets. For that reason, Five Quarters of the Orange does not disappoint.

Framboise, the main character in this book, was driven out with her family from their small French village during the war, following a tragedy. She returns fifty years later in disguise to try to rebuild her family’s abandoned farm. 

The book deftly moves between "past" and "present." During the “past” portions of the book, we get a glimpse of small town France during the German occupation. Framboise is nine then, and along with her older sister and brother and single mother they work on the farm, collecting eggs and and helping to make jams and other things to sell at the local market.

The river Loire plays an important role for the children. I
t’s their secret place, their swimming hole, their fishing place, a place where they store their “treasures,” and the place where "Old Mother" resides. She’s not anyone’s actual mother, but a huge pike, a fish that no one can catch. 

The story's mystery revolves around one particular German soldier who befriends the children. I won’t say more. Somehow I knew that the catching of Old Mother would usher in the deadly end of the book. And that it would involve him.

Fifty years later, the now widowed Framboise, under a new name and in disguise, returns to her childhood abandoned farm, the place where her family was cast out so many years ago. She has a copy of her mother’s recipe book which also includes scribbled margin notes by her mother which give Framboise a new and different look at the grim, sickly and stern mother she grew up with and never knew. Framboise wants to restore the place. And she does, finally opening up a successful crêperie. 

But the past can never be truly erased, can it?

Food is a constant throughout the book, and I hadn’t noticed this, but one reviewer mentioned that a lot of the characters are named after foods. Framboise being the main character and also there is Pistache, Noisette and Prune. (I admit I stumbled a bit on the name “Prune.” Who names a child Prune? Well, maybe in French it sounds different.)

The writing was superb. Every sentence sings.

Here is the first:

When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar, a jar containing a single black Périgord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspended in sunflower oil, that when uncorked, still releases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor.

This beautiful prose progresses and and a story that captured my attention until the dark climax, which was worse than I had even guessed.


If you love extremely well-written historical fiction and demand a good plot at its core, I highly recommend Five Quarters of the Orange

I will read more of Joanne Harris, that's for sure.

In two weeks: Another thriller - Safe With Me by K. L. Slater

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Songs

Another beautiful Sunday Song for you. 

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need comes from The Book Of Praise, my favorite hymnal of all times, the one used in the Presbyterian church. It's a beautiful song, one that I have also sung as a solo. 
Please click on the link here and listen along with the words, and be transported to some other place.



My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
His presence is my stay;
One word of His supporting grace
Drives all my fears away.
His hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
His oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We all need a brain re-set right about now

You’ve had enough of the constant news. I know. I’m right there with you. Everything seems to be bad and getting worse. You’re sad and angry and deep down you’re even sort of scared. You’ve just read that the American dream is a myth and that certain lesser-known nations are threatening to arm wrestle anyone who comes near with their new nuclear muscles. You feel like whimpering in the corner and sucking on the ends of your sweater sleeves.

You know how every once in a while you have to shut down your phone and let all the applications and whathaveyous go back to reset? You might even need to do a total factory reset. It happens.

Sometimes, you need to do that with your brain. A walk in the woods might be the answer, or hunkering down with a good novel, or my favorite - kayaking on a gentle and beautiful and quiet stream.

But there is another way to reset your mind that won’t even take you away from your computer. Move your cursor over to a sleek, smart website called Atlas Obscura and hang out there for a little while. You'll learn things, interesting things. You'll smile, even laugh maybe. Or cry. You might cry. But what you won't do is think about the news.

Today, here on "I Like It," I am recommending a website of alternate and interesting facts about our world, our universe and the people who live here with us. It’s not one of those ad-heavy sites which appeal to our lower natures with stories about "celebrity plastic surgery mishaps" or “best clothing malfunctions.” No. Atlas Obscura is a serious place and a marvelous place, a place where you can lose yourself in strange little known facts as you click from one link to the next. And soon you’re lost and the real world out there is forgotten.

Do you know why people in the early 2000s starting painting the interiors of their homes beige, beige, and nothing but beige? Read about it here.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mystery writer but I have long been intrigued by Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum which is described as "America's most famous museum of medical oddities, and home to the remains of Einstein's Brain.”

The pictures at that site are worth the price of admission. But, it's more than pictures. You'll also learn about the strange and convoluted history behind the museum, and why it’s even there. It's still on my bucket list to visit, and now even more so.

I would maintain that Atlas Obscura, itself is like its own Mütter Museum

Do you like ghost towns? The site abounds with pictures and stories.

How about ghosts themselves? Again, take your pick.

How about a house made entirely of bottles? Put that in the Atlas Obscura search engine an you'll come up with a long list. Seems lots of people are building out of bottles these days.

Here’s one I visited back when we lived in western Canada See - I’m not the only one who can come up with alternative facts and interesting places to visit. And that's what the site gets you doing, thinking about all the creative people and oddities in the world, and the fun places that you have traveled to.

So, despite all the bad news, I can report that there are still dreamers and inventors, creators and poets. There are joys and oddities and fascinating histories. Animals? Looking for something other than your standard zoo animals? How about the practically impossible-to-kill microscopic 'water bears' Yes. There is such a thing. The photos alone are worth the trip to the site. 


Ever wonder why actors in old time movies seem to talk so differently than we do? Well, this is also explained is here, too. It offers quite a fascinating look into what we thought was important and upscale back then. 


Oh, and did you know that the Mall of America is looking for a Writer in residence? Ah, there’s a job I could apply for. Hmmm. 

Our world is indeed a wonderful place, full of nature and wonderments and good people who invent and create all sorts of machines and poetry and books and libraries and scientists and animals. Head on over to Atlas Obscura for a mind feast.

NEXT TIME  - Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris of Chocolat fame.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

...And Peace to his people on earth.

Glory to God in the Highest...

My husband and I have been attending an Episcopalian/Anglican Church while we’re down here in Florida. And with that, learning an entire new and very beautiful liturgy. It took me three Sundays to figure out in which part of the Book of Common Prayer, the following hymn is located. I just figured everyone had this beautiful anthem memorized. Today, we were a little bit early to church, so I had a lovely chance to sit down and look through the Book of Common Prayer as well as the hymnal. And lo and behold, it was right there. 

I’m sharing it here today as my SUNDAY SONG because in song, it explains the entire Christian faith. Click here to hear it sung by a choir, and then follow along with the lyrics below.


Glory to God in the highest 

And peace to His people on earth

Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father

We worship You

We give You thanks

We praise You for Your glory


Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father

Lord God, Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world


Lord, have mercy on us

You are seated at the right hand of the Father

Receive our prayer


For You alone are the Holy One

For You alone are the Lord

For You alone are the Most High



Jesus Christ

With the Holy Spirit

In the glory of God the Father

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In Times Like These - Make Art

And in a recent Facebook post Canadian singer/songwriter Steve Bell encouraged his Facebook Followers to do just that. 

It is in times of uncertainty that artists should write songs, sing them, paint pictures, create stories, weave cloth, make pots and rugs and poems and gardens and loaves of bread. Show them that there is grace in the world. Show them that injustice can be overcome by beauty and creativity.

This week, long overdue in my roster of media to endorse, I am recommending Where The Good Way Lies, Steve Bell’s newest CD. His music has had an impact on my own spiritual journey (and if you are a follower of this blog, you know I am on a profound one.). I am an unashamed and self-proclaimed Steve Bell “groupie.” (I even have the t-shirt to prove it!)

My husband and I saw Steve Bell in concert for the first time some years ago at a Baptist Convention in the maritimes. There was something so simple, so plain, so true about him and his songs. At a time when I was hungering for authentic Christians, His honestly and realness spoke to me right away. He is also an amazing musician!

After his evening concert at that same convention, my husband and I bought every single one of his CDs from the table out back. (Well, how could we not? They were all on sale!)

As a writer, I am constantly striving to be authentic, to be real, to tell it like it is, as they say. And yet, there are voices urging me to do otherwise. Your stories should be about how people should act, not how they really do act. That makes no sense to me. That’s why I find Bell’s music and concerts so refreshing.

I’m not your typical music reviewer and this won’t be a typical music review. I don’t focus on the technical aspects of a recording. I can’t tell you who played bass and who was on vocals and why Choice A for backup vocals was better than Choice B. What I do, and what my blog above says I do, is share how the music moved me along on my journey. That’s what I share.

Here are a some of the songs from Where the Good Way Lies which I could listen to over and over. (And I do.)

One of my favorites is a simple song, the second to the last track - O Love Come to Us - something we need. Have a quick Youtube listen here:

Another is A Better Resurrection. I think we have all prayed:

My life is like a faded leaf. O Jesus Quicken Me.

Wait Alone in the Stillness could be torn right out of the headlines. To indeed prove that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The lyrics are straight from Psalm 62:

The enemies of love in vain rehearse
A plot to undermine the hope of nations
With tongues they bless
But with their hearts they curse
And lie in wait to bait love’s termination


The title track is an interesting one and fuses old with new, ancient music from First Nations, and modern hip hop. I know. I know. But give it a listen. It works, proving that no matter the skin we are in, or when we were born, we are all pretty much the same..

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his instrumental Freedom Road. A century ago the Shoal Lake indigenous peoples near where he lives in Manitoba, were left isolated when the city of Winnipeg constructed a water pipe, which left the Shoal Lake people with no clean water of their own. They needed a road. They were shut out, cut off from the rest of Canada, and under a boil water order for eighteen years.

I have a friend who calls Bell, “Canada’s Bono”, and he worked hard to urge the government to finally build this long awaited road.

Here's a news article explaining it all.

Bell has taken his own advice to make music during perilous times. And not, he adds, to be tempted by ‘celebrity’ but just to make art for its own sake.

And maybe that’s what we’re all supposed to do.


This just in! Where the Good Way Lies is up for a Juno Award nomination! This is a big deal in Canada! Congratulations Steve!

Next time: Something completely different, I will be recommend the fun and interesting website/media outlet - Atlas Obscura 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Reminder of Who We Are as Christians



Today I have chosen as my Sunday Song, the hymn, Today We Are All Called to Be. And today, this day, this Sunday, we need the words of this hymn more than ever. I need to be reminded of my calling as a Christian - to feed the hungry, rescue the poor, make farming tools out of spent ammunition, give welcome homes to the refugee and the immigrant, and care for the land.


Click on this link.
And then follow along with the words:

Today we are all called to be
Disciples of the Lord,
To help to set the captives free,
Make plow-shares out of swords
,
To feed the hungry, quench their thirst,
Make love and peace our fast,
To serve the poor and homeless first,
Our ease and comfort last.


God made the world and at its birth
Ordained our human race
To live as stewards of the earth,
Responding to God's grace.
But we are vain and sadly proud,
We sow not peace but strife,
Our discord spreads a deadly cloud
That threatens all of life.

Pray justice may come rolling down
As in a mighty stream,
With righteousness in field and town
To cleanse us and redeem.
For God is longing to restore
An earth where conflicts cease,
A world that was created for
A harmony of peace.

May we in service to our God

Act out the living word,
And walk the road the saints have trod
Till all have seen and heard.
As stewards of the earth may we
Give thanks in one accord
To God who calls us all to be disciples of the Lord.