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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer

SUNDAY SONGS

For today's song - click here.


Today I am beginning a new segment to my regular I Like It review blog. I've decided to call it Sunday Songs. Sometimes it happens on the way home from church on a Sunday. Other times it's during the week, when I hear a song which reaches me on some profound level. I often post them on Facebook, with a link to Youtube. 


I decided to up my game a bit and maybe make this a regular feature of this blog. It will always be on Sunday. I decided that. Will it be every Sunday? Probably not. Every other Sunday? Maybe. Maybe not.

Those who know me, know how important music is to me. I have always sung in choirs, in groups, trios and in bands. When I can, I love to sing at a local nursing home. Just me and my guitar and I get to do all of my favourites.
 

But enough about that. Today I’m going to introduce you to the song Sanctuary by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Carrie Newcomer. I have quoted her poetry often when speaking, and her music is my constant companion. Already on this blog I have recommended A Permeable Life.  This song Sanctuary comes from her newest album, The Beautiful Not Yet.

These lyrics and this song are especially meaningful today as we witness the shutting down of borders, the promise of high walls and the threat against sanctuary cities. It is a day when even some are suggesting that churches themselves no longer be safe places for those in need. It makes me weep.

So, on a day like today, a day when I am simply sad, I offer Sanctuary. I played this one over and over and over again on November 9.


Click here to listen to the song on Youtube.


Click here for that link in iTunes.

Sanctuary

Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire's all but gone?
Will you remember
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary
Til I can carry on, carry on, carry on?


This one knocked me to the ground.
This one dropped me to my knees.
I should have seen it comin'
But it surprised me.


In a state of true believers,
On streets called us and them,
It's gonna take some time
'Til the world feels safe again.


You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
A quiet grove of trees
Or between two bookends.


Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire's all but gone?
Will you remember
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary
'Til I can carry on?


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blame Her! She Started It!

My blog today is going to take a bit of a backward glance as I introduce you to an author who was one of the greatest influences in my early life as a mystery writer. That author is the late Ruth Rendell and, although I have read every single thing she ever wrote, the book I am recommending today is The Water’s Lovely.

Way back in the 1980s I knew I wanted to be a novelist. I had no idea how one went about making this a career choice. I decided I wanted to focus on Christian publishers and so I wrote The Josiah Files.

Set two hundred years in the future, it was my look at the future of the church and culture. It remains the only book I haven’t re-edited and put up as an eBook for your reading pleasure. I guess the reason for this is that if I were writing that book today, it would be a very different book. So much has changed in my life and my faith, so I have left it there, as a testament to what I used to believe. But, at the time, I wrote what my heart told me to write.

(Oh, here’s a little aside - I like to say that I invented the eReader. It’s true! I did! Sort of. In my book I had people reading books and newspapers from what I called hand-readers—small devices that they carried with them, and to which books and newspapers were remotely "sent" to them. Wifi as we have come to know it, hadn't been invented yet.)

After the book came out and no more book contracts were forthcoming in that planned trilogy (another story), I decided that I needed to change genres completely. Because, you see, I always read mysteries. I have always read mysteries. Even as a child. My favorite mystery writer during the time of my early writing career, was Ruth Rendell. I had my name on the library list long before her next Inspector Wexford novel was set to release. (And sometimes I was even first!)

I read her Inspector Wexford books. I devoured her non-series psychological suspense. I immersed myself in her books written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym. And her short stories. I love her short stories.

A few weeks ago I saw her book The Water’s Lovely in a second hand store. I immediately picked it up. It had been years since I'd read that book, and with my old brain, it would might just be like reading a new book, I reasoned. Well, the second reading has been just as satisfying as the first. I have decided to re-read all of her books and stories.

I love the way she gets into the minutia and detail of every character she describes. I can turn to any page of the book and give you an example. Here’s just one:

She was a little thin woman of forty-something with stick-like legs and bony feet thrust into blue flip-flops. The flip-flops which would have been passable with a sundress, looked very strange with a check tweed skirt and a red sweater…

There is an old crime in The Water’s Lovely.  Ismay and Ismay’s mother Beatrix believe that young Heather, Ismay’s sister, was responsible for the death of her step-father when the young woman was just a child. It was one of those family secrets that no one ever talked about. Not once. I am not giving a spoiler here, all of this is in the first chapter.

Now the sisters are grown and living in the first floor of an apartment, and their mother and aunt lived above them.

Rendell goes on from there, in her twisting turn way of delving into each character’s psyche backstory, motivation, fears and loves.

There is nothing light or whimsical about a Ruth Rendell story, and yet she achieves a certain Stephen King like reliance on quirky characters to people her story. In this story, that honor goes to Marion, and to a lesser extent Beatrix.


Just to whet your appetite, here is the first line of the book -

Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all...


Here's an interesting NPR tribute to her. Click here.

What are some of your favorite Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine books?

NEXT TIME: Singer/songwriter Steve Bell, long overdue in this blog of mine, and his newest CD Where the Good Way Lies.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Look Back...

One year and twenty-seven reviews ago I started this blog. I had long wanted to write a review blog, but a number of things held me back. First of all, my own writing schedule was pretty heavy, did I really have the time? And what about the money? It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist of a financial planner to tell you that taking time away from a paying gig (writing novels) to a non-paying gig (writing a blog) might not be a good idea from a career-making standpoint.

Plus there were other considerations. If you’re one of those people who research online “trends” you may have heard that “blogs are on the way out” people just don’t read them anymore. Really?

If you do decide to go against the odds and write a blog, conventional wisdom says that to increase traffic you must update it several times a week.

So, in an era where people don’t read blogs, and if they do, they want two or more entries per week, and of course, it won’t pay anything, I decide to come out with a twice-monthly book review blog.

But it’s what I wanted to do, and I haven't regretted
 it for an instant. (I think I have blogged about this very thing when I reviewed Big Magic.) 

I decided early on that I wanted 'I Like It' to be a recommendation blog rather than a review blog.  I refuse to give zero star reviews and write scathing comments about books I don’t like. Authors get enough dumped on them. This would be a blog where I would only recommend books worthy (in my opinion) of four or five stars. If you and I were talking books over a cup of coffee these are the ones I would suggest.

After a few postings, the blog morphed into something else entirely. And I changed the mast head to reveal this: A Blog of Personal Endorsements and My Journey With Them.

An old friend of mine keeps after me to write my memoir. I guess I’ve always been a bit reticent to share “everything” with “everybody.” (It’s why I write fiction, after all!) I’ve always admired people who can be candid about their lives —Anne Lamott comes to mind, as well as Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. What they write truly inspires me, but I guess I can't be that candid. People will have to read between the lines of my novels or glimpse my own spiritual journey through what I recommend here.

A third thing happened as I began this blog journey. I decided not to make it about books alone, but about other forms of media. Music has always been a very important part of my life, so how can I not write about how the music of Carrie Newcomer and Steve Bell (still to come! I’m working on a review of Where the Good Way Lies.) Music has shaped me and comforted me, especially music that tells a story.

And video—how can I not recommend that you glimpse a bit of God’s creation in Moving Art, and science vs. humans in the haunting movie Ex Machina.

I began a year ago with William Kent Kruger’s Ordinary Grace. That was intentional. For a number of years now I have been on a journey away from writing Christian fiction. My publishers wanted things I couldn't write. And then I read Ordinary Grace - a faith novel about a very real family and their struggles. I thought, Christian fiction doesn’t need to be sappy everyone-saved-at-the-end type of book. I could write about real people struggling with real problems. At that same time my own faith began shifting, and Kathy Escobar’s (who has become an online friend of mine) book, Faith Shift really helped me to see that I wasn’t alone, and that I was okay.

I have also had the comment—Why don’t you stick to one kind of book? Make this a "spiritual memoir” blog or a “mystery/thriller” blog. Because, you know, you really can’t have both.

I can have both, because I read both. I usually have a nonfiction book on the go as well as a novel. Here’s how I read a novel: every day, my eyes glued to the pages, reading fast and far into the night. Here’s how I read nonfiction: slowly, a chapter a day, meditatively with my morning coffee and often writing notes in the margins.

Some have also asked me, do I review only independently published books or do I stick with a traditionally published books only? Actually, I don’t give two hoots who published the book. I never mention publishers in my reviews. If it’s well written and has affected me personally, I’ll review it and recommend it
So, there you have it. A year into this blog and I've no intention of stopping.

 I thank all of you who have sent me emails with suggestions of books to read. 

Here's what's on tap for the future: - Steve Bell’s Where the Good Way Lies, Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, the music of Richard Shindell, Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins, as well as The Shack (the movie will be out soon!) and on the thriller side of things: The Couple Next Door, and The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell. 


In two weeks: The mysteries and thrillers of the late Ruth Rendell, who profoundly influenced me as a beginning mystery writer. I am now re-reading The Water’s Lovely and will be writing about that next time.