Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer


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.


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 BrenĂ© 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.