Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas - Bah, Humbug

The Christmas season is officially upon us. We've had Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the lead story on many newscasts is about retail shopping. How much is being spent. Are the numbers better than last year. What does this mean for the recession.

Listening to the news after I came home from our rehearsal of "Scrooge" at the local community theatre last night, I realized that just like that old Ebeneezer Scrooge, we have our priorities all wrong. Maybe we need to be visited by some ghosts to point us back in the right direction.

I think this timeless story of redemption continues to be popular because it touches us deep inside where we know the true spirit of this season is about so much more than money and presents and keeping retail stores alive.

That is true, not just for Christmas and Christians , but for every religion, and even for people who don't believe in God. This time of winter solstice is a time to reflect on what is important in life. Perhaps reconnect with family that we have been estranged from. Make decisions to live a better life. Be kinder to our neighbors and our enemies.

There are many holidays and religious observances throughout December: Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Las Posadas, Winter Solstice, Ramadan (Nov or Dec) and the Hopi Soyaluna Ceremony. There may be more, but this is what my Internet search turned up. The main thing all these observances have in common is that they celebrate family, promote helping others, and encourage self-improvement. The giving and receiving of presents isn't even mentioned in all of them, and those that do include that tradition base it on the fact that presents are tokens of love and good wishes. The actual value of the gift means nothing.

So maybe we should all take a lesson from Scrooge as he pleads with the third spirit, "Tell me that I can change these dreadful shadows you've shown me by an altered life! I'll honor Christmas in my heart! I'll - I'll try to keep it all the year. I'll live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. And I'll not shut out the lessons that they teach..."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review - Fly by Wire by Ward Larsen

 Thanks once more to Carl Brookins for sharing another review with us here.

Fly By Wire
by Ward Larsen
ISBN: 978-1-933515-86-1
Hard Cover, 301 pgs.,
Published by Oceanview Press, 2010

An unusual and fresh plot device blends world finance, international espionage, religious zealotry and cutting edge aviation technology in a fine and mostly fast-paced thriller. It is clear that the author knows intimately the setting of his story, aviation accident investigation.

 A new design, a flying wing cargo plane, has crashed in France and a former Air Force pilot, now working as an accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, is sent to the crash site as liaison. His name is Jammer Davis and he's something of a hot-shot loose cannon. Think the macho pilots in the movie "Top Gun," and you get the idea.

Davis's life is complicated by the presence of his teen-aged daughter-and her dating difficulties-Davis is a widower. It's a nice touch, and while Davis is in France struggling to figure out a series of odd circumstances around the plane crash, his daughter occasionally calls him on his cell, disturbing and altering the rhythm of the plot. The story line is also interrupted from time to time by the machinations of the evil cabal behind the plot, which serves to ramp up the tension.

The author is careful to dole out intriguing information in tantalizing dollops which maintains reader interest. That's a good thing, because there are several sections of fairly technical information which are necessary to explain the plot, but occasionally are too long for my taste.

The major flaw in the novel is the somewhat old fashioned macho attitude expressed by the narrative in several places. There is, at times, a sense we are living once again in a simpler time when there was a perception that men and women had their defined roles with lines between those roles to be crossed at considerable personal risk. It was also a time when enemies of the nation were always summarily dealt with. Moral ambiguities and our system of legal niceties were almost as much obstacles to getting the right thing done, as protection of the rights of everyone.

With these caveats, I found "Fly By Wire,: to be a rousing patriotic story that moves along at a decent pace to an eminently satisfying conclusion.  I particularly like the domestic surprise at the end.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 26, 2010

No Black Friday For Me

I remember a time when shopping the day after Thanksgiving was fun. A lot of people were doing the same thing, but there was no pushing, no shouting, no mad rush to get the latest must-have toy, and nobody grabbing it out of your hands once you had it.

For the most part, everyone was relaxed and in a Holiday mood. Smiles were exchanged and clerks and cashiers wished everyone a Happy Holiday. It always made me think of the wonderful Christmas song, "Silver Bells", and I could imagine we'd entered some magical place where people passed "meeting smile after smile. And on every street corner you'll hear..."

It was also a time when stores opened at a normal time, and people came and went, then more people came and went. Stores did not open at some ungodly hour in the AM, so shoppers had to set alarms to get there on time. Folks also didn't camp out in parking lots and on sidewalks for days to be the first ones in. And they   didn't stampede into a store and injure other people in their desperation need to make sure they got the best deals offered.

For most of this past week, we were bombarded with reminders of this all important retail day. The media made a big deal out of Black Friday, airing what I'm sure they thought were cute human-interest stories about what people were doing to prepare. Plus there were all the ads from department stores, and it seemed like they were competing to see who could open the earliest. Some were even open on Thanksgiving and just stayed open all night and into today.

Watching this all unfold, I realized that Thanksgiving is getting lost. Think of all the retail personnel who were not able to truly celebrate the day because they had to get ready for The Big Day. And what about all the people who opted out of getting together with family at all because they preferred to be the first in line at Best Buy. One local man was interviewed on television and said, "Sorry, Grandma, we're not coming for Thanksgiving."

He laughed. The news anchors laughed. But I wanted to call up Grandma and tell her how sorry I was that her family preferred the X-Box over her.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

When our children were young,  it was hard for me to face the formidable task of creating Thanksgiving Days that would live in glory for our children. Would they ever match the standard set by my memories?

By the time our children were old enough to appreciate the holiday, we were living in Texas, so mountains and snow were out of the question, and my singing never could quite match my father's. I didn't possess even a tenth of the culinary skills of my grandmother and my aunts, so the meal would probably be lacking. And we were more than a thousand miles away from cousins to help distract my children from their impatience.

Despite those limits, however, we managed to muddle through in those early years of family. I was able to prepare a passable dinner, and my husband actually raved about the German dressing. The pies were a major hit, all ten of them, and everyone was willing to eat the broccoli for the promise of a second piece of pie.

After cheering the Dallas Cowboys to another victory, most years, we would all tumble outside for a family game of touch-football. Not the same as rolling down a snow-covered hill, but good enough.

Now, in sifting through all these random recollections, I realize that the memory itself is not what is important. What is important is the fact that we have memories and they don't happen by accident. No matter what we do to'mark these important occasions, it is vital that we do mark them. Even if our process doesn't live up to a Martha Stewart image or our own fond remembrances of childhood.

This year, we are doing something totally out of tradition. The kids and grandkids are scattered and not all are able to come home for Thanksgiving, so the ones who are left are going out to dinner. Never thought that would happen as long as I was alive and able to haul out the old roaster, but everyone agreed to a hassle-free Thanksgiving. And except for the fact that there will be no leftover turkey and dressing for dinner on Friday, I really like this idea.

What about you? How will you be spending Thanksgiving? Hope you have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving - Part One

In honor of the holiday most Americans are celebrating this week, I thought I'd share some thoughts about Thanksgiving from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Part 2 will appear tomorrow for the one or two folks in America who might be on the Internet at some point in the day.

There’s an old traditional Thanksgiving song that starts out, "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go….”

When I was a child, my Dad would break into that song as we crossed the Pennsylvania border into West Virginia on our annual pilgrimage from Michigan to celebrate the holiday with his family. "The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifting snow..."

The closer we got to his childhood home, the heavier his foot rested on the gas pedal as our Chevy station wagon climbed the hills on twisting roads and flew on the downside. His rich baritone voice belted the song, and in my imagination we were on that sleigh behind dapple grays in their rhythmic trot. I could hear the clump of their hooves and feel the blowing snow bite my cheeks as we were carried along.

It was magic, pure and simple. A magic that continued for the few days that we stayed in that otherworld.

Today as those memories float pleasantly through my mind, I can almost smell the wonderful aromas of sage dressing, pumpkin pie, and mulled cider that permeated my grandmother's house. And I can hear the bustle of activity accompanied by short bursts of conversation among the women in the kitchen. The front bedroom is where the men gathered and brought out guitars and harmonicas. Their music became another soundtrack.

My brothers, sisters, and I would join other cousins in the back bedroom in between our numerous trips outside. Our biggest challenge was to see who could roll down the hill and retain the most amount of snow, turning ourselves into living snow people.

The second biggest challenge came at dinner when we vied to have the honor of receiving one of the drumsticks. They were dolled out on a 'merit' system based loosely on which of us waited the most patiently for the great announcement, "Dinner's Ready."

Today, almost all of the people who were part of those celebrations are gone, even my dad. What I wouldn't give for one more opportunity to sing that song with him again, but I am ever so thankful for the memories.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery - Open Season

Here is another excerpt from my mystery to be released in December. If you are tired of reading the excerpts, just tell me and I will post something else. Honest. I won't mind. I might cry for a little while, but I'll get over it. LOL

The tight lines of tension she saw on Sarah’s face wiped any trace of doubt Angel had of where her new partner had gone. There was also no doubt that the effort had been fruitless. Why was that such a surprise?

Yesterday McGregor had told Angel that her promotion hadn’t been moved up to satisfy any public relations effort to placate the black community. As much as Angel wanted to believe that—as much as she needed to
believe it—she knew the official city reaction to any incident. Throw a bone to the angry dogs in the street.
The teeth marks were starting to hurt.

Should she just end it right here? Refuse to partner with this woman who so obviously didn’t want it any more than she did?

No. They had a job to do, and, by God, she’d do it. She’d worked too hard to make detective to throw it all away.

“You drive,” Angel said, walking around to the passenger side of the plain, vanilla Buick. “That way people won’t think I’m the chauffeur.”

Sarah slipped into the driver’s seat, snapped her seatbelt in place and pulled out of the motor pool. After driving several blocks in thundering silence, she sighed. “It’ll be easier to work together if we at least speak now and then.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Angel glanced out the side window. “I figure this partnership’s short-term anyway.”
“How’s that?” Sarah eased the car into a break in the traffic on the expressway.

“I’ll make my own visit to the Lieutenant. He’s bound to listen to one of us.” Angel turned to face Sarah, and her expression left nothing to doubt.

“It wasn’t personal,” Sarah said.

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever you want it to.”

 Sarah transferred the surge of anger to the gas pedal, and the car lurched around a slow Cadillac with a screech of rubber. Her eyes went quickly to Angel who appeared to be once again enthralled with the scenery.

Swinging over to grab the next exit, Sarah dodged through the heavy traffic, feeling like she was in the middle of an amusement park ride. Finally, she pulled up behind the patrol cars at the east entrance of Northwood Mall.

It stood like a relic compared to newer, glitzier malls, but it still clung to a certain level of classiness, sort of like a dowager queen who merits respect by means of association. It didn’t hurt to associate with Neiman Marcus.

Sarah got out and slammed the door, looking over the roof of the car to Angel. “Can we do this?”

The other woman held her gaze for a long moment, then nodded.

“Good.” Sarah pushed off, and covered the distance to the entrance in quick strides, the soles of her shoes slapping the concrete.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review - The Bone Chamber by Robin Burcell

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing another review.....

The Bone Chamber
By Robin Burcell
ISBN 9781590583753
HC from Poisoned Pen Press
2009, 378 pages

Feisty independent-minded FBI forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick is off on another case. This time she bouncing between Washington, DC, San Francisco and various Italian locations, and all the while she and her cohorts dodge international hit men. Burcell is a good writer and her varied law enforcement background gives her writing a level of authority lacking in some crime fiction.

The novel is a wide-ranging tale of intrigue, sanctioned and unsanctioned black ops, involving the CIA the FBI, and several other sometimes questionable agencies.  Here are active old and new world mafia figures, the Knights Templar, and several world governments. The story dredges up long-standing rumors, beliefs based on very sketchy and tenuous evidence, ancient legends and involves some vast and secretive organizations such as the Vatican, Freemasonry and maybe some left-over bits of the Tri-Lateral Commission.

Conspiracies within governments, especially those involving questionable banking institutions and practices are fruitful and always interesting. That is especially the case when the venal actions of important institutions from the distant past are held up to the unblinking gaze of modern research.

This novel, now available in paperback, has 'em all.  And that's part of the attraction of the book.

Burcell has linked in an essentially fanciful way, an incredible chain of real events that reach back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and possible implications in the modern era.  The novel proves that murder, corruption and cynical manipulation with the goal of great power and wealth are not the province of our times.

If the novel has flaws it is the multiplicity of threads that wind through the book, sometimes creating a Gordian's Knot of complexities. Nevertheless, "Bone Chamber" never completely loses its foundation in the
real world of plausible outcomes.  A tense and intriguing ride from start to finish.

FTC Disclaimer: I have not profited in any way from this review, unless you count the fact that I didn't have to write anything but this disclaimer. As for Carl, you will have to check with him.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

Fiscal Responsibility:
Texas Gov Perry is asking state agencies to cut their budgets in  the face of a growing deficit. Why doesn't he cut his expenses, starting with the $10,000 a month spent on the home he is renting while the governor's mansion is repaired and renovated?

Not to be Believed:
In Texas,  a father who was driving drunk, slammed into a utility pole, then fled the scene. That was bad enough, but he left his critically injured children.  His daughter lay bleeding in the street and a son was wedged in the car.

Shame on him.

After a 3-year-old Boston girl complained that her foot hurt, her preschool teacher took off her sneaker and found 17 small plastic bags containing crack cocaine. The teachers told police the girl said her mother had put "candy" inside her sneaker.

Turns out the crack belonged to the mother's boyfriend, but still, could Mom not find another hiding place for her "candy?"

A Florida woman was arrested on charges of child neglect after her 4-year-old son called 911 to report that his mother had left him home alone. Jocelyn Villot, 25, of Deltona, Fla., was arrested after her son spoke to a 911 operator last Sunday, wondering where his mother was.

When I read that story I couldn't help but think of this line: "I know that boy. Oh. I was so lonely. Poor boy." Scrooge from Dicken's A Christmas Carol.

 A Bit of Nonsense:
I received a piece of mail that had this disclaimer on the outside of the envelope: This is an advertisement. How considerate. I didn't even have waste time opening it to know I would probably just throw it away.
But wait. What if it is advertising something I might want? I should probably open it….

What a waste of time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Got to Love Froma Harrop

Okay, maybe you don't. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about columnists, but Froma Harrop is one of the best voices out there calling for the application of  a little common sense in the business of government.

One of her recent columns dealt with government subsidies, and she took aim  at Dairy Management, a marketing company that is partly funded by the Agriculture Department.  Her research revealed that the former CEO of  Domino's received over $4 million in compensation last year for his efforts to help the dairy market by using more cheese on the pizzas.  

On the other side of the Agriculture Department coin is the current effort to fight obesity. Froma found it ironic that "one arm of the Agriculture Department is promoting sales of cheese as another urges the public to eat less of it for health reasons. Your tax dollars at work fighting other tax dollars."

She points out, as have many other columnists, that the problem of obesity is not so much connected to what we eat as it is to the fact that we don't get enough exercise.

While Dairy Management does get most of its revenue from fees paid by the industry, the taxpayers still put millions into the enterprise. Froma suggests that the dairy businesses run their own trade association and pay for it. Take it out from under the auspices of the government.

Hear, hear. And what about getting rid of subsidies altogether? Folks in Washington say they want to cut the deficit this year. Ending this feeding  out of the government pantry would be a good beginning.

What do you think? Should we end subsidies?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery Novel - Open Season

I hope you've been enjoying the excerpts of my new book I've been posting. This one introduces Sarah's new partner, Angel. 

God, it feels good to be back. Sarah thrust her hands deep in the pockets of her jeans and surveyed the large room housing the Crimes Against Person’s division. It was an ugly, old place supported with cinder-block exterior walls that were only slightly drabber than the gray interior walls. Early-Salvation Army desks and chairs did little to brighten the place up but, hey, it was home. The jangle of phones and the buzz of voices were as comforting as long-ago memories of family picnics. Back when she had a family.

Grabbing a cup of coffee, she descended the few steps into the Homicide area, relieved that her fellow officers held to tradition. No one made a big deal out of her return, and no one mentioned John’s name. His desk, cleared of all papers and personal effects, stood in sharp contrast to the clutter on nearby desks. Seeing it brought an ache to Sarah’s heart she didn’t want to feel.

Walking past the desk, Sarah pushed the pain away and headed toward the briefing room. She opened the door and glanced around, finally spotting an empty seat at a table halfway into the room. She pulled out a chair and sat down, nodding to the woman in a smart, tailored suit across the aisle from her.

Must be fresh out of the uniform, Sarah thought, remembering her first week in civvies six years ago. The professional image had seemed important then, but quickly bowed to practicality. Socks lasted longer than nylons. Reeboks were easier to run in than heels. And there wasn’t a perp alive who cared diddly about whether you wore jeans or a skirt.

The woman turned to give Sarah the briefest of nods, and she recognized the mass of tight curls haloing a creamy mocha complexion as belonging to a former patrol officer. Angel?

Couldn’t recall her last name, but the woman had been at a couple of crime scenes with Sarah. Other than being a little too eager to prove herself, Sarah remembered her as more than capable. It wasn’t surprising that she’d made detective.

Sarah’s attention was drawn to the front of the room as Sergeant Murphy hitched his belt over his ample stomach and started outlining the on-going cases. “Simms and Burtweiler, you’re still on the Highland Park B&E case.” Murphy pulled another paper from the podium. “Frankfurt and Aikins, you pulled a cush one. Crime-watch meeting over at SMU”

“Can I go, too, Sarge?” Another officer called out. “My date book’s getting a little thin.”

A wave of laughter swept the room, and Murphy waited it out without even breaking a smile. When the last chuckle subsided, he continued, “Kingsly and Johnson, you’ve got the big one today. Homicide over at Northwood Mall. Call just came in from patrol.”

Sarah turned sharply to look at Angel, and the elusive last name clicked. Something else clicked, too. An attitude that Angel wielded like a sword, heralding the proclamation, “Don’t think that the only reason I’m here is because I’m a woman and I’m black.”

Sarah hated attitudes, especially ones that might be honed to a new sharpness by recent events. She held the other woman’s gaze, trying to get a read. It wasn’t friendly. She expected judgments from people like the Reverend Billie Norton and the crowds he managed to assemble for public outcry. He didn’t have a clue what it was like on the streets. But Angel knew. Everyone who ever wore a badge knew. So where were her loyalties going to fall?

Murphy’s voice cut into her thoughts. “You two might want to hustle your butts over to the crime scene before the corpse decomposes.”

Sarah stood and led the way to the door as another thought fell into place. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that she was partnered with a black woman. The longer she considered it, the more she was convinced. She stopped halfway down the hall.

“Go out and grab us a car,” she said to Angel. “I’ve got something to take care of.”

Without giving the other woman time to respond, Sarah strode in the opposite direction. She pushed through the door to McGregor’s office with so much force it rattled the window. She leaned against the front of his desk. “Since when did you start listening to Price?”

McGregor pushed his chair back and made a steeple with his fingers. He rested his chin on the tips and regarded her with a level gaze.

“Come on! This new partnership reeks of good press.”

“You know me better than that.”

“I thought I did.”

McGregor sighed. “Nothing changed while you were gone. I still make decisions for the same reasons I did before.”

“Oh, really? And the public outcry over a poor, innocent, black child being shot by a big, bad, white police officer didn’t enter into it at all?”

“I don’t give a good goddam what the public says.”

“That’s not the way—”

“We’re not having a debate here.” McGregor cut in. “You’ve got a job to do. Either you’re ready for it, or you take a permanent leave.”

“How the hell can I do my job when you’ve set us up to be hounded by the press?”

“I’m going to pretend there was no insubordination happening here.” McGregor’s voice was soft, but his deep brown eyes flashed a harsh warning.

Sarah reined in her anger, turned and walked stiffly out of the room.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review - Too Many Clients by David Walker

 Thanks again to Carl Brookins for providing another review. If the FTC is watching this blog, my disclaimer is that I have not received this book, or read this book, or had any monetary gain from posting this review. I might read the book, as it does sound interesting. If so, I will purchase it legitimately. How does one purchase illegitimately? Oh, wait. I know.....

Too Many Clients
By David Walker
ISBN: 9780727869302
Published by Severn House,
2010, 214 pgs.

Another sparkling crime novel in the Wild Onion series. It’s always a pleasure to open a book knowing you are in the hands of an experienced storyteller. Author David Walker has been around the block a few times and he has the accolades to show for it. His latest does not disappoint.

Here we have a pair of wise and witty practitioners who are married to each other. In less sure hands, the marriage of two characters often lets a lot of steam out of a relationship and sends readers searching for other diversions.

Not this time. Private investigator Kirsten, married to uber-relaxed lawyer Dugan, takes on her husband as a client, after a corrupt cop is found murdered.  Dugan, never a careful person, has blundered into the thing in such a way he becomes a suspect. And while Dugan can act odd at times, almost the antithesis of the hard-driving lawyer of many crime novels, he is far from the only odd-ball character. There’s Larry. Larry Candle is a partner in Dugan’s office. He just doesn’t come off as someone whom you’d want to represent you in court for anything more serious than a parking ticket. Yet Larry manages to get the job done, all the while irritating nearly everyone around him.

Dugan and Kirsten continue to collect new clients who all want them to locate the killer of this bad cop. To Kirsten and Dugan’s collective thinking these new clients don’t seem to be entirely above suspicion, either. Meanwhile the cops continue to zero in on Dugan.

Gradually, as Kirsten digs deeper into the people who knew or knew about the dead cop, the story takes on wider and wider implications, tangling mob figures with international activities, a prominent churchman and….well, you get the idea. Twists on top of fascinating complications.The novel is well-paced, complicated, and a truly fun read. I look for more cheeky stories in Walker’s Wild Onion series.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

High on the Yuck Factor:  According to a report in a French newspaper, Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq attempted to unleash terror in the skies by deploying a pair of kamikaze canines on a U.S.-bound airplane. The plot failed because the bombs were so poorly stitched inside the dogs that they died.  

Is there no depth too low for people to sink to?

Announced this week: U.S. News and World Report will no longer be a regular print publication. It is switching to an Online version, with only periodic special editions in print.

Sad. I remember using that publication as a main source for research when I was in high school and college. I even used it a lot when I was researching my early nonfiction books. What a wonderful resource it has always been, and I hope the Online version is as good as the print one.

Big Brother taking care of us: No more Happy Meals in San Francisco. A new ordinance there requires meals to meet certain nutritional guidelines if restaurants want to include toys with them.

Tell me why: For the second straight year there will be no increase in Social Security payments. The reason cited is that there has been no increase in the cost of living. So why do my grocery bills continue to climb? And the cost of health care? And......?

Picking on Politicians:  Rick Perry was just re-elected governor of Texas - maybe that designation should be changed to Czar of Texas, he's been in the top spot so long. So what is he doing? He's on a tour to promote his book: Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington that he wrote with Newt Gingrich.

I know how important book promotion is, but, gosh, don't you think he could have spent a few weeks taking care of business for the state before taking care of personal/political business. 

What did you find of interest in the news this week?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Talented Young Singer

If you have not heard of Rhema Marvanne yet, you will, and my advice is to hold on to your socks. This  talented young singer is only seven years old and already sings like a seasoned pro. She has incredible breath and voice control for one so young, and I look forward to hearing what she can do in another few years.

Rhema, who lives in a suburb of Dallas, inherited her talent from her mother, Wendy, who died in 2008 from ovarian cancer. Wendy loved to sing and often sang to Rhema, so now Rhema feels a connection to her mother through the music. 

Her music of choice is gospel, one of my favorites, and she puts her whole heart and soul into the songs. Her fans praise her for her talent and her spiritual strength. On her Web site, her father has this to say, "The best way to describe Rhema is that she has a beautiful heart and soul. She is sweet, kind, caring and most importantly pure in heart. Most people who have dealt with or are currently dealing with cancer, disease, challenges, etc…..see hope and inspiration in Rhema. The little girl who should have been scared or harmed by seeing her mother suffer and gone, is strong and perfect.

"I see Rhema as a cancer survivor. She gives me hope for goodness in mankind. God gave her a beautiful heart and the voice of an angel. Most people that hear her sing can not deny that God does speak through a child. Her voice touches people’s hearts." 

 That is so true, and I don't think you have to believe in the same God that she does, or I do, to appreciate that there is something special here that transcends mere humanity.

Here is a link to one of her videos on YouTube where she sings "Amazing Grace"

Here is a link to another video of her singing "O Holy Night"

Monday, November 08, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery - Open Season

Here is more from my upcoming release, Open Season. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Sarah, one of the central characters....

Sarah stirred her drink with the plastic straw, the ice clinking against the glass. She tried to remember if it was her fourth or fifth Rob Roy. Not being sure was maybe a good sign that she should stop. Wouldn’t do for one of Dallas’s finest to be stopped for a DWI.

“Shit,” she muttered, taking a big swallow of her drink. “Doesn’t matter anyway. If SIU doesn’t get me, the Review Board will.”

Normally, Sarah shied away from going to bars alone, especially in the late hours before night turned into day. She hated the mating ritual that was often triggered by a woman walking in alone. It created a veritable frenzy of anticipation, playing out in postures and expressions that said, “Maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.”

She wasn’t a virgin, or a prude, but she couldn’t reduce sex to the same level as buying a lottery ticket.
Tonight, however, was not a normal situation. The second week of her enforced exile had driven her to the point of near madness. Lieutenant McGregor had told her she needed the time away from the job for herself. Time to deal with losing John. Get her head on straight about the kid. But she also suspected that he wanted her away from the controversy. If she wasn’t accessible to the protesters lined up outside the Municipal Building, they couldn’t lynch her.

The waitress, who wore a tight, leather mini-skirt that restricted her movements to short, bouncy steps, paused by Sarah’s table and set a fresh drink on the scarred wooden surface. Sarah looked at the petite brunette, puzzled.

“From the guy at the bar.” The waitress nodded a mass of curls toward a man who raised his glass in salute when Sarah caught his eye. Ford truck ads with rugged cowboys flooded her mind, tempting her to rethink her position on the lottery.

Ignoring her usual caution, Sarah accepted the drink and waited, trying not to be too obvious about watching him.

Finally, he pulled his lanky frame off the stool and walked toward her table. Two things caught her attention. Well, actually, three. A dimple at the corner of his crooked smile, wisps of curly black hair escaping from the neck of his red cowboy shirt and tight blue jeans defining well-muscled thighs and . . .

“May I join you?” His voice was as smooth as rich leather.

Sarah blinked, wondering if he was just a drunken illusion. But he didn’t disappear. He didn’t sit down either.
He shifted his weight to his outside foot, and she realized he was waiting for permission. Maybe he really was a cowboy. The gallantry was a nice endearment.

Before she could respond to the man’s question, a large, beefy figure loomed behind him, and the voice of Lieutenant McGregor broke into the moment. “You’re a hard woman to track down, Kingsly.”

The sight of the men eyeing each other like junkyard dogs brought the first smile to her face in a long time. She offered an explanation before one of them drew blood. “This is my boss.”

After a moment’s hesitation the other man extended his hand to the Lieutenant, “Paul Barnett.”

“Thomas McGregor.” He accepted the handshake. “We just need to talk here a minute.”

Paul turned to Sarah and the depth of his eyes, the color of a midnight sky, held her. Then she gave a slight nod. He fished a card out of his shirt pocket and pushed it across the table to her. “In case you ever need help with your taxes.”

McGregor slid his considerable bulk onto the bench across from Sarah. “A casual bar pick-up? You?”

“Never had a chance to find out,” she mused, watching Paul stride back to the bar.


“I’m not sure.” Sarah dropped the card into her jacket pocket, then turned her attention back to McGregor.

“How’d you find me, anyway?”

“Simple deductive reasoning.” He motioned for the waitress. “After a couple of weeks of waiting to hear if I had a job or not, I’d try to ease the tension with a few belts. And I’d do it close enough to home that I could walk if I needed to. So I did a little legwork that paid off.”

“You come just to commiserate?”

McGregor paused to order a Johnny Walker Red, straight up. “No. I heard from SIU this afternoon.”

Nerves sent her heart on a wild drumbeat. “And . . . ?”

“They ruled it a clean shoot.”

Her sigh of relief came out in a loud whoosh. The Special Investigative Unit, what some still referred to as Internal Affairs, could have stripped her of her badge forever. “What about the Review Board?”

“They don’t run things at the station. They just like to think they do.”

“What if they decide the shoot was racially motivated?”

“Was it?”

The question slammed into Sarah like a freight train. “I thought you knew the answer to that.”

“I do.” McGregor leveled deep brown eyes at her. “I just want to make sure you do.”

The waitress stepped up and set a glass down in front of McGregor. Sarah lifted her own and took a quick swallow. “When do I get to come back?”

McGregor eyed her over the edge of his glass. “What does Doc Murray have to say?”

“I thought you made the decisions.”

“I do.” He paused and drained half of his drink. “Just gotta make sure I don’t have any loose cannons around.”

Sarah twirled her glass on the table, concentrating on the intricate design of wet circles. “Murray said I’m coping.”

“And what do you say?”

She raised her eyes to his, gauging how much he wanted her to say. Did he want to hear about the nightmares that plagued her restless sleep, or the nauseating, heavy feeling in her stomach each time she saw that kid’s face in her mind?

No, she finally decided. McGregor had two shoots on his record. He already knew.

“I can do the job.”

“Okay.” He tossed the rest of his drink down, then set the glass on the table with a satisfied sigh. “I’ll put you on the schedule tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Lieu.”

McGregor stood and dropped a ten on the table. “I never doubted you for a moment.”
Sarah savored his reassurance. Maybe if she focused on that, it would help keep the demons at bay. Despite what the shrink had said, she wasn’t always so sure about the coping business. Her grief and her guilt hovered in separate corners of her consciousness, coming out and facing off like boxers responding to the bell.

Only she never knew when it was going to clang.

In desperate attempts to avoid the bout, Sarah had given in to silly impulses, including falling victim to the plight of a stray kitten. When the pathetic little thing had scooted through her open apartment door, she hadn’t been heartless enough to throw him out on an empty stomach. But that was all she’d planned to do. One meal, then he’d be history. She’d never wanted anything to depend on her for life. Not even a houseplant. But the feel of prominent ribs poking out of a ragged orange coat had touched some soft spot in her that she usually kept well-protected.

Now, she was actually contemplating letting the cat grow up before she gave him the boot.

Boy, wouldn’t John laugh himself silly over that.

The thought stopped her rambling mind cold. She hated having to remind herself that John wouldn’t laugh anymore.

Searching for a distraction, Sarah let her gaze travel back to the now empty barstool. Had the guy been real or just a player in some wide-awake dream? Dropping her hand into her pocket, she fingered the edge of his very real business card. She pulled it out, recognizing Bordowsky, Smithers & Payne as one of the largest accounting firms in Dallas, but her eyes faltered over the title neatly embossed under Paul’s name.


It couldn’t be.

No CPA ever looked like that.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book Review - Set the Night on Fire by Libby Fischer Hellmann

 Thanks again to Carl Brookins for introducing another good read....

Set The Night On Fire
By Libby Fischer Hellmann
ISBN: 978-0-98406-5-7
Trade Paperback from
Allium Press, Chicago, 2010
346 pages.

Every so often a novel comes along that connects with the reader in such a visceral way that it is like a punch in the stomach. This is such a story. If you lived through the nineteen-sixties and your memory is reasonably intact, or you learned even a small amount about those turbulent times, you will connect with this story.

On one level this is the story of Lila Hilliard. Forty-some years after a particular series of spectacular and dangerous events in Chicago that revolved around a nasty far-off war and a political convention, a mysterious fire has robbed her of the only family she has ever known. At about the same time, a man named Dar Gantner, just released from prison, returns to Chicago from prison to reconnect with a few of his former companions from the same era. One, a woman named Rain, tells Dar that another of their mutual friends has just met with an odd fatal accident. It is clear in their conversation that Rain doesn’t entirely believe that it was an accident.

From that moment on it becomes apparent that dark and unknown forces are at work. But why? Who are these people we meet at the beginning of the book, who targets them and why? Through a series of small and then progressively longer flashbacks we are transported to a time when young people believed the rhetoric, that they could indeed change the outcomes of momentous happenings, that they could affect the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Some of those players, whatever they believed, moved on to build calm and substantial lives of commerce, and politics, and contemplative existences. They don’t want to relive any part of that time.

Most readers alive today will have memories of the Chicago convention of 1968, or of the riots, and will begin again to remember the emotions of the time. And even if not, the measured, artful, portioning out of connections, of information, will bring those emotions to the surface. On another level, this is the telling of the great events of the late sixties, the crimes and the abuses and the trails that descended from them, not from the newspaper headlines or the televised reports, but through the eyes and hearts of some of the young people at the center of the conflicts. But this is no polemic, nor is it an attempt to change the record.

What the author has done is produce a cracking good thriller that grips a reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final pages. One after another the revelations keep coming, and as the central characters struggle to stay alive long enough to solve their mysteries, the author maintains our interest in the love story, the history and the dynamics of the times. It doesn’t matter your political beliefs, then, or now; the characters and their trials will reach off the pages of this fine novel and touch you in ways that are basic to our existence as human beings. This is a fine, fine novel that well deserves the accolades it will surely receive.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

*Everybody says they want a major change in Washington, but for the most part, all we did in Tuesday's election was replace career politicians from one party with career politicians from another. How does that help?

And the Republicans are now saying that their main agenda item is making sure Obama is not re-elected in 2012.

Hello, what about the real job you were sent to Washington to do? We have some serious issues that need attention. What about Afghanistan? What about jobs, mortgages, the financial crisis, the national debt.

* The estimated cost of Medicare fraud each year is $60 billion. Surely there has got to be a way to monitor the process more effectively and verify claims.

*Bizarre News:

Bandits in North Carolina broke into a home, took some items and left a "thank you" note.

A school in Memphis does not have enough cafeteria workers to fill little cups with condiments, and the school board is slow to act on the request for individual packets of mustard and ketchup for students to use.

A jury in Fresno, California, says Janet Orlando should get paid for getting smacked on the bottom in front of co-workers. The woman had a $1.4 million settlement with her former employer, over the so-called team building exercise.

Haitians are ignoring evacuation orders as hurricane Tomas threatens. 

Do these news items make you wonder about the state of humanity, or do you just laugh and forget them?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Daylight Saving Time - Who Needs It?

This coming Sunday is the day most of us in the United States are to turn our clocks back one hour as Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends the first Sunday of November.

There have been many reasons for establishing DST, some factual, some not so factual. One I always heard was that it was established to give farmers more hours of daylight in which to work. However, that never made sense to me as farmers work from daybreak to sunset, no matter what time it says on some clock.

This morning I decided to check online to see if I could find some verified reasons for the time change, and I found this on Wikipedia:
Modern DST was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson, but the practice is controversial. Adding daylight to afternoons benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, but causes problems for farming, evening entertainment, and other occupations tied to the sun.
 Traffic fatalities are reduced when there is extra afternoon daylight, but its effect on health and crime is less clear. Although an early goal of DST was to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting, formerly a primary use of electricity, modern heating and cooling usage patterns differ greatly, and research about how DST currently affects energy use is limited or contradictory.
DST's occasional clock shifts present other challenges. They complicate timekeeping, and can disrupt meetings, travel, billing, recordkeeping, medical devices, heavy equipment, and sleep patterns. Software can often adjust computer clocks automatically, but this can be limited and error-prone, particularly when DST protocols are changed.
 In a letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News, Jim Watt, who works for American Airlines and handles takeoff and landing slots at European and Asian airports, wrote that the difference between the U.S. and European time changes creates havoc for the airline industry. In the European Union, their version of DST - Summer Time -  begins and ends at 1:00 a.m. Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time). It begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October. In the EU, all time zones change at the same moment.

The result, Watt wrote, "Are airline schedules that are compromised because most large European airports are unable to accommodate the one-our shift of our schedules required to maintain the normal departure and arrival times in the States."

I'll admit I am not a huge fan of DST, but do remember appreciating the extra daylight hours at the end of a workday when I had a 9-5 job. It was also easier to adjust to the changes when I was a bit younger.

What about you? Do you like DST? Is it easy for you to adjust? Do you think there should be a global schedule that has the time change on the same day and time?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery - Open Season

This is the first killing that occurs in the book. Is it right to say, "Enjoy?" Seems a bit sicko to say that....

Mel unlocked the door to the maintenance room and flicked the switch on the wall for light. He still had fifteen minutes until his shift ended at midnight, but he didn't figure anyone would notice if he bugged out early. There was only one other person left in the whole mall anyway. And by the time the security guard made his pass through here, it would be well past clock-out time anyway.

He pushed his tool box into its designated place on the dented metal shelves with a harsh scrape, thankful that he'd had a light workload tonight. Wouldn't have to lose time with a shower. He could just zip out of here and head straight for his favorite watering hole. If he was lucky, he could pick up some good shit on the way. And Rita would be there with some good stuff of her own.

 After locking the door to the storage room, Mel set off at a brisk pace, his boots thumping hollowly in the empty corridor.

He stood in the shadowed doorway down the hall, watching. He'd watched unseen before, waiting for the right moment. He'd long ago quit the debate on the wisdom of what he’d planned. It was the only choice he had left.

He eased the door closed and listened to the thud of footsteps draw near, then pass.

It was time.

A rush of adrenaline sent his heart on a wild, erratic riff, and a sudden storm of panic threatened to overwhelm him. It was no simple act he was about to perform. All kinds of things could go wrong.

Maybe he should leave. Forget the whole crazy scheme.


The sound from the hallway ceased. He cracked the door open and saw the man stooped over the water fountain.

Go! Now!

Mel whirled at the unexpected creak of the men's room door opening behind him. Who the hell was skulking around down here at this hour? He relaxed when he recognized the man standing a few feet away.

"You scared the piss outa me." Mel wiped drips of water from his chin. "What're you doing sneaking around here, anyway?"

The man didn't answer, and the lure of Danny's finally overcame Mel's curiosity. If the guy didn't want to talk, so be it. Bastard never was very friendly. Not even when Mel offered to share some of his best shit. If anything, the guy had been downright unfriendly since then. So screw him.

The decision to act was made somewhere deep in his subconscious. He lunged, whipping the weapon around Mel’s neck in one fluid move and pulling it tight.