Friday, August 30, 2013

Review of Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

No, you haven't lost an entire week, nor have I forgotten what day of the week this is, but instead of my usual Friday's Odds and Ends, I am doing something different today. It started when Yolanda Renee notified me that she had some reviews of my stories over at her blog, Defending The Pen. Of course I had to go see what she had to say about my short stories and one of my mysteries. What a thrill it was to see how much she liked Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Series of mysteries.

It was also neat to discover a regular blog hop, The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, started by The Armchair Squid that features book reviews. Not just any old review, but a review of the best book you read in the past month. This feature runs every month on the last Friday, and it is a great way to share the best of what you have been reading.  If you would like to join the blog hop, just click HERE for the link! 

My offering for the day is Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson.

This is book seven in the series that features Wyoming sheriff, Walt Longmire. I first met this character in The Dark Horse  and knew I had found another favorite character who has his own way of finding justice. I was thrilled when "Longmire" started as a series on television. It can be seen every Monday on the A&E cable channel. 

In  Hell is Empty,  Longmire is pitted against the elements as he struggles to capture an escaped convict. Craig Johnson is a master at setting a goal and then throwing obstacle after obstacle in the path of the protagonist, and Walt is battered by the wind and blinding snow in a blizzard and nearly frozen in the sub-zero temperatures. Some of the description was so strong, I wanted to get a warm blanket for myself.

Like a previous story in the Longmire series, Walt is up on the Bighorn Mountains where the lines between reality and delusion fade as his body struggles to survive the challenges of the weather and his relentless pursuit of justice. This is all presented in a narrative that is literary in style and thoroughly engaging. 

Part of the delusion in this story revolves around Virgil White Buffalo, who saves Walt on several occasions, but then it is not clear who was the savior and who was being saved. Virgil is a terrific character, a huge bear of a man, who is book smart and nature smart.

I enjoyed so much about this story, especially the connection to Dante's Inferno and the powerful depiction of the landscape and nature of this part of the west in the winter. The story is frightening in places, but the tension is eased with the trademark Longmire wit.

If you don't join the blog hop, please do leave a comment and let me know what terrific book you read this month. And if you have not already, do that author a favor and post a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jewish Ladies Telling Jokes

Please help me welcome Laurie Boris as today's Wednesday's Guest, as she chats with one of the characters from her latest book, Don't Tell Anyone. Meanwhile, I'm over at the Blood Red Pencil with some tips from Kristen Lamb about writing prologues. 

Hi, Maryann. Thanks so much for inviting me here today with Estelle Trager, one of the central characters from the book. She recently had enough of my questions and wanted to ask me a few of her own.

 Estelle: So, Miss Unitarian Author, you didn’t tell me you knew Yiddish. Where’d you learn that, on the Internet-thingie?

LB: I get around. My grandmother used to feed me choice words, and my mother remembered a lot of it. But my editor, a nice Jewish lady, oy, did she get on my tuchas if I got a word wrong.

Estelle: You got my chicken soup recipe right. Most people forget the parsnips. A very important part! Why don’t you cook a little more? That husband of yours is looking too skinny.

LB: I love to cook. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find my kitchen at the moment underneath all the unopened mail and dirty dishes. You and your family have been keeping me a bit busy.

Estelle: It’s that Cara, I’m sure. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a doll, but I don’t know how she gets any work done. She’s always over at the house having coffee with my daughter-in-law. She’s probably in your head right now, gossiping away. So, tell me. Am I really gonna be a grandma?

LB: I think it might happen.

Estelle: We better not talk about it, then. It’s bad luck to talk about it. So tell me the truth. Which of my two boys did you like better?

LB: It’s hard not to fall in love with Charlie. Handsome, charismatic, quick with a joke…

Estelle: I know. He’s like a ray of sunshine, that boy. What’s not to love? Now, my Adam…

LB: He has his own good qualities. He’s responsible, he’s a good provider, and he adores Liza. Okay, he’s a little angry, but you did kind of throw him for a loop.

Estelle: Everyone blames the mother! I’m tired of everyone blaming the mother. That hot streak comes from his father, the schmuck, may he rest in peace.

LB: Estelle, you didn’t tell Adam about the cancer.

Estelle: I didn’t want anyone to make a fuss.

LB: You sound like my mother-in-law.

Estelle: And a lovely woman she is.

LB: You’ve met her?

Estelle: Of course I met her. Her…whaddya call it, ghost, spirit, whatever, likes to visit your writing room. Don’t tell my Adam, but we shared a cigarette once. Okay, maybe twice. We tried to open the window, but, well, you know how that goes. There’s not much a ghost and a voice in your head can do about moving something that heavy.

LB: Did she tell you about her cancer?

Estelle: Eh, a little. She doesn’t like to talk about that. She talks about you, that you should finish the new book so she’ll have something good to read. Are you done yet?

LB: Almost. Sliding Past Vertical is coming out in September.

Estelle: And I hear the star is a nice Jewish girl? Maybe she should meet my Charlie.

LB: I think Charlie would rather meet a nice Jewish boy.

Estelle: So he says, too. Eh, as long as he’s happy. Speaking of sons, your mother-in-law told me few more things. You should make sure your husband eats once in a while. She doesn’t want her ashes sitting around on top of the entertainment center. And then she told me a very funny joke about the hand grenades.

LB: Hand grenades?

Estelle: You know, the drain thingies. When she had her bosoms cut off. When the nurse was helping her get dressed the day you came to pick her up from the hospital, they had to pin the drains from the surgery—they kind of looked like plastic hand grenades—to the outside of her blouse. She thought up the joke and couldn’t wait until you came walking into her room.

LB: “What do you think of my new jugs?”

Estelle: So you knew it already? Well, you could have said something. Still, I gotta remember that one. It’s gonna kill at my canasta club.


Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels: The Joke’s on Me, Drawing Breath, Don’t Tell Anyone, and Sliding Past Vertical, due out in September 2013. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for She lives in New York's lovely Hudson Valley with her husband and the ghost of her mother-in-law.

 Book blurb:
A family accidentally learns that their matriarch, Estelle, not only has breast cancer but also intended to take it to her grave. Now that the secret is out, Estelle decides to ask Liza, the daughter-in-law she once called a godless hippie raised by wolves, to kill her. A horrified Liza refuses but keeps the request from her husband and his brother. As the three adult children urge Estelle to consider treatment, their complicated weave of family secrets and lies begins to unravel. Can they hold their own lives together long enough to help Estelle with hers?

Buy links:

Visit Laurie at her  Website/Blog - meet her on Facebook  Twitter Goodreads

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

Since it is almost noon here in Texas, maybe I should title this, Monday Afternoon Musings. Sorry I'm late. Life keeps interfering.

One nice thing to interfere has been ongoing enthusiasm for the Winnsboro history book that I wrote with our local historian. Here I am with Bill Jones at a recent signing event. I was so thrilled to get this book done for Bill. Everybody in town kept saying we needed to get a book published with all the historical facts that he has stored in his memory banks, and then Arcadia Publishing contacted me wanting an Images of America - Winnsboro book. Talk about something that was meant to be.

Today I am a guest on Yolanda Renee's blog, Defending the Pen. If you have a moment to hop over, you can find out which of my kids I love the most. :-) This is a terrific blog and Yolanda is generous in supporting her fellow authors.

On another note, deliberations for sentencing Nidal Hasan began today, and yesterday a Dallas morning news columnist posed an interesting question on the issue, "What's worse than death?" The columnist suggests that maybe life in solitary confinement  in prison would be a worse punishment for a man who welcomes death because he would be a martyr and a hero to fellow jihadists overseas. Not to mention depriving him of the 70 virgins that are supposed to be part of his eternal reward.  

Proponents of the death penalty say Hasan deserves to die for his crimes, but I agree with the columnist.  Hasan, who was wounded in the shoot-out at Fort Hood, is paralyzed from the chest down, and a greater punishment would be for him to spend many more long years suffering.

In an article in The Dallas Morning News, Dave Lieberman reported about a Texas resident who recently noted a Medicare over-payment that was double what the actual bill was. When she reported that she was told by a medicate representative that it is now standard payment for some services, and the system automatically pays that amount, no matter what the billing amount is. When the woman asked why each bill is not paid according to the billing amount, she was told that this is the system that is in place and it all balances out in the long run. Some submitted bills are higher than the standard payment amount, so that cancels the over-payments.

Oh, really? And we wonder why Medicare is in trouble.
A charter school in Houston is a little more than red-faced after it was revealed that administrators misused $5.3 million in federal funds for trips to Las Vegas and New York and cruises. The two top administrators also received salaries of $440,000 while enjoying all those trips and the perks that came with the trips.

This type of misappropriation is too common in school districts across our country, and the trickle-down effect is always a direct negative impact on students and teachers. We can't pay teachers a decent wage for the work they do. Parents are having to purchase more and more supplies for their children, as schools can no longer provide them. Just the other day I was asked at the grocery store if I would like to buy a box of tissues to be donated to the local school.

Now to end on a lighter note, here are a couple of jokes I found on Jokes and Humor for Kids. I thought they would tickle the childish funny bone in all of us.

Question: Why are ghosts bad liars?
Answer: Because you can see right through them

Question: What dog can jump higher than a building?

Answer: Any dog, buildings can't jump!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review - Don't Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris

Don't Tell Anyone
Laurie Boris
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 9, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1481152092

Right from the beginning I connected with the central character in this story, Liza, who is awakened in the early hours of morning after partying half the night and she wonders if her husband, Adam, " still dancing with Cara Miller's breasts."

When she manages to get to the phone, it is to discover that her mother-in-law, Estelle, is in the hospital with pneumonia. Estelle and Liza have had anything but a close relationship, with Estelle considering her daughter-in-law a "godless hippie raised by wolves", yet Estelle asks Liza to do something she would not ask even her own sons. Estelle has cancer and has hidden that fact since she first discovered the tumors in her breasts. She was raised in the era when people talked in hushed whispers about the dreaded C disease, and after watching her grandmother and mother die painful deaths from cancer, Estelle wanted to keep her cancer secret. Now she wants Liza to help her die when living is no longer an option.

This is a wonderful, multi-layered story, and the reader gets to see how it all plays out from several points of view; Liza's, Estelle's, Adam's, and his younger brother Charlie. Relationships are strained as they all deal with the challenges of a terminal illness, and this all comes across as true and believable. There are moment of extreme anger, sadness, and yet enough humor to lighten that load. I could relate to Liza's no nonsense irreverent approach to the situation, and even understood Estelle's desire to go out on her own terms. I also loved her humor, and you will get a full serving of that when she visits here on Wednesday to have a chat with Laurie about the book. In the meantime, here is just a taste of her acerbic wit. 

"You father," Estelle said, "may he rest in peace, he couldn't drop dead on the golf course like everybody else? He couldn't go quietly in his sleep? No, he had to have a massive coronary in the middle of synagogue on Yom Kippur and make the newspapers and scar the entire communtiy for life."

"I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose, Mom. Although if you have to go it might as well be memorable."

"Adam could have gotten married anywhere. A catering hall. Or that beautiful park on the river. But no, he had to pick Temple Beth Make-the-rest-of-your-mother's-hair-fall-out."

"You need more Valium?" Charlie said. 

Please try to come back on Wednesday and meet Estelle and Laurie. 
Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels: The Joke’s on Me, Drawing Breath, Don’t Tell Anyone, and Sliding Past Vertical, due out in September 2013. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for She lives in New York's lovely Hudson Valley with her husband and the ghost of her mother-in-law. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

For a little over a week I've been a bit preoccupied with medical issues affecting my family, but I have kept up with the trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with massacring soldiers at Fort Hood, the army base in Texas. He is being tried in a military court, and the panel of 13 senior officers received the case on Thursday, with deliberations to resume today.

Photo Credit - Brigitte Woosley via AP
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the November 5, 2009, shooting rampage at a deployment processing center where prosecutors say he targeted soldiers he was set to deploy with to Afghanistan. During the trial, the prosecution said that the evidence shows that Hasan believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible. If Hasan is convicted of two or more counts of premeditated murder, he faces a possible death sentence in the penalty phase.

In the meantime, Hasan continues to draw his full military salary. While so many of us think that is so wrong, and certainly an insult to the families of his victims, there is a reason why pay is not suspended immediately after someone in the military is charged with a crime. On, Kate Andrews had an interesting article about that issue. It is well worth a read.

NOTE: The jury found Hasan guilty late this afternoon, and sentencing deliberations begin on Monday.

In less serious news, a man in Minnesota had his license taken away for driving too slowly and he won't be able to get it back. Gary Constans, 59, was stopped by police several times between 2008 and 2012, when his license was taken away. Constans said in court his Ford Ranger has a "sweet spot" for gas mileage at 48 mph. He plans to continue trying to get his license back. "I just thank the Lord I'm retired from all my jobs, and I thank the Lord I don't have a wife, because could you see her yelling at me?" Constans said.

I'm guessing the folks stuck behind him did a bit of yelling, too.

Now for some fun from the comics. This one is from Heart of the City by Mark Tatulli.

Heart is walking down the street with her side-kick, Dean. She says, "Someday when I'm rich and famous, I'll have somebody to do all my cleaning. I'll have somebody to do my shopping, pay my bills, wash my clothes, drive my car, AND feed my cat."

Dean asks, "So what will you do?"

"Apparently walking around L.A. with a water bottle and complaining about the paparazzi is THE job to have today."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What was That You Said?

My Wednesday's Guest today is Slim Randles again with a few words about something that some of us can relate to.  

“Bert looks good this morning, Doc,” Dud said, quietly. Three stools down the counter, Bert smiled and said, “Yes, I certainly do!”

We turned toward our old pal. “You heard that?”

“Sure did, guys,” he grinned. “Look….”

He pointed to his ears. “Hearing aids,” he said.

We walked over and looked, and sure enough.

“It was Maizie’s idea,” Bert said. “She made the appointment and everything. Said she was tired of having the TV on so loud.”

“But it was a good idea, Bert,” Doc said.

“Oh, I know. I’d been thinking about it for some time, Doc, but you know how a guy gets. You never really want to admit you need them, I guess. Truth is, I didn’t know how bad my hearing had become until I got them. Yesterday, when we got that little shower … I heard the rain on the roof. I heard a clock tick, too, and it’s been years for both those things.”

“Both what things?” said Herb.

We all looked at each other. We knew who should be next.

“Rain and clocks, Herb.”

“Oh … yeah.”

“The hearing test lady came in the little room when the test was over and asked me if I’d shot guns a lot,” Bert said.

Bert’s younger days as a hunting guide brought nods and chuckles from us.

“There’s a range of sound that loud noises can hurt, and I guess that’s what happened with me. Turns out, it’s also the range of most women’s voices.”

He grinned. “That may have something to do with Maizie’s making that appointment for me. Now I have no excuse when she says things like ‘Take out the trash’ and ‘When are you gonna mow the lawn?’”
Join the conversation wherever you go. Good hearing keeps you connected with friends and loved ones. Call BELTONE at 1-866-867-8700 to schedule your FREE hearing screening.

If you enjoy these stories, check out his book, Home Country, which is a compilation of some of the best from the guys at the Mule Barn Truck Stop.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review - Propinquity by John Macgregor

You may notice that my schedule is off as this should have posted yesterday on my regular review day. As I mentioned the other day, I am dealing with a family medical issue and my time at the computer is limited. Since I had this review done, I figured I should go ahead and post it.

John Macgregor
File Size: 584 KB
Print Length: 373 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 148418601X
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: John Macgregor (October 30, 1986)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

Before reading this book the first thing I had to do was look up the word "propinquity" as I was not sure what it meant, and therefore was not sure what the book's main focus was going to be. It all became clear when I found one definition: The propinquity effect is the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often, forming a bond between subject and friend.

The story is about a group of Oxford students who stumble on the perfectly preserved body of a 13th Century queen, buried deep under Westminster Abbey. The queen held Gnostic secrets suppressed by the Church. The group discovers she may not be dead, but suspended between life and death by a rare herb. Some of that plotting was a bit thin for me, but the group of characters were interesting and engaging. Clive, the narrator and his best friend Julian Lake, are central to the story, as is Samantha, who first introduces Clive to the buried queen.

In the first quarter of the book, I thought there was too much back story about the young men and their various interests and travels, but once the story really got going in their quest to find what secrets are under Westminister Abbey and the truth about Queen Berengaria, Richard the Lionheart's Queen, the pacing was better.

The book has been compared to The Da Vinci Code, and there are similarities in plot: secret religious groups that work to keep their teachings alive, a race against the Church hierarchy and the police who are trying to keep the protagonists from revealing that secret, and a romance that develops between the two central characters.

I enjoyed the book, as it is a good adventure written with considerable wry humor and bits of philosophy. At one point Lake writes to Clive in a letter: "I suppose the distinction has been made, now, forever, between what I have and what I am: losing what you have tends to show you what you are. Maybe that's why some bereaved people never recover."   

Propinquity won the 1986 Adelaide Festival Biennial Award for Literature and it was also shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year in 1987. The author had a long career in journalism, writing for the New York Times, and winning a major investigative journalism award for unraveling a real-life conspiracy by the FBI. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

When Life Throws You a Curve

We never know when some emergency will mess with our normal routines, and that is what happened to me this week. Luckily, the emergency is resolving with a good outcome, but I may be absent from the blog for a few more days. So until I get back, enjoy a few recent pictures of our cats. The kittens we got bak in May are growing up.

The kittens were playing one day and the dog was like, "Whatever."

Oops, I posted this from my iPad and for some reason the picture did not show up in all browsers. I apologize for that. I don't have the picture on my main computer, so I will have to add it another day. My time is limited this morning.

Okay, got the picture.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Some Cowboy Humor

My Wednesday's guest is Slim Randles again, and I want to thank him for so generously sharing his columns with us. I always enjoy the guys at the Mule Barn truck stop, and they sure do have a way with words. If you enjoy them, too, you will like Slim's book, Home Country, a terrific collection of these columns. While Slim is entertaining us here, I'm over at The Blood Red Pencil, having some fun for Hump Day.

“Sanctimonious siphons, it’s hot!” said Dud, sitting at the philosophy counter and turning over his coffee cup for action with a single smooth move.  Dud is a regular at the Mule Barn truck stop’s legendary world dilemma think tank.

“Epithet time again, Dudley?” said Doc.

“Epithets and heat time, Doc. When that heat comes along, the only thing that can really change an attitude is a properly tuned epithet. It’s man’s emotional release valve, but of course you know that, being a doctor and all.”

These aren't the guys, but they could be, couldn't they? They have the look.

Dud doctored his coffee and took a sip.


“Oh …” said Doc, “right … of course. We took Epithets 1A and 1B in medical school, naturally. ‘Emotional release valves and their perfection’ they were called. I got an A in Epithetology for the Masses in my third year, too.”

“You’re just putting me on.”


“Let’s look for a moment,” chimed in Bert, “at why epithets are so good for the soul.”

“He’s going to wave his arms again,” whispered Doc to Dud.

“I’m afraid so…”

“Yes,” said Bert, “epithets, particularly those where no swearing is involved, are like a frustrated man’s crossword puzzle. They bring out enough cleverness and creativity in a man to pour salve on whatever it is that’s bugging the bejeesus out of him.”

“I know I feel better with salve poured on my bejeesus,” said Doc, nodding.

“First thing I do in the morning, after coffee,” said Dud.

“Well, here comes Steve,” Doc said, as all eyes turned to the cowboy who looked wise, in the way a caffeine-starved owl looks wise. “He’ll pour some salve and sense on this entire situation.

“Mornin’ Steve,” said Dud. “What’s going on?”

“Bilious blasphemers, it’s hot today!” said Steve.

The groaning continued, off and on, through the toast course.

Saying Huh? and missing words can make you look old. Hearing clearly with virtually invisible hearing aids makes you look young! Call BELTONE at 1-866-867-8700 to schedule your FREE hearing screening.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Morning Musings- To Cool or Not to Cool

First I just want to say what a great time we had at the launch party for the Winnsboro History Book published by Arcadia Publishing. This was the first time for my co-author, Bill Jones, to experience a book signing event, and he was so surprised that so many people were interested in him and his book. Not me. As the official Winnsboro Historian and an all-around great guy, he  is a real treasure in our community and it was my honor to work with him on this book.

A recent column in the Dallas Morning News was quite interesting, and had some information that I'll admit was a huge surprise. Did you know that air conditioning in the United States has a global-warming impact equivalent to every U.S. household driving an extra 10,000 miles a year?

That is a statistic Leon Neyfakh, a staff writer for the Boston Globe cited in his article A/C Alternatives, where he said, "Refrigerating ourselves isn't the coolest way to live."

I also learned that A/C technology was developed in 1902, and the first window unit was marketed in 1939. Just a bit of trivia should you ever get this question in a game.

Neyfakh is strongly encouraging us to consider adapting to a life without air conditioning, giving lots of examples of ways we can adapt to the heat. He asks why we spend so much money on air conditioning office building just so men and women can go to work in business suits. Good question. Maybe we should take the same approach as our southern neighbors who start the workday early in the morning, stop at noon for a meal and a siesta, then resume work late in the afternoon, followed by an evening meal and time spent outdoors with neighbors.

The article is well worth the read for suggestions on how to minimize our dependence on air conditioning that would also bring other benefits, such as being active outdoors in the community in the evenings. I have fond memories of my childhood summer evenings gathered with neighborhood kids to play games. Adults would sit on porches and visit, and if it was really hot, we'd invite friends to come and sit in the basement and have some iced tea. Basements were always a cool refuge on a sweltering summer day.

Since my internal thermostat no longer works, I cannot imagine living without A/C, but I do believe in limiting it as much as possible. We keep our house thermostat at 78 most of the time and use fans. I wish that more stores and restaurants would keep their thermostats set higher. I've walked into some that are so cold it was like stepping into an arctic blast, and I have learned to take a sweater to some of those places.

What do you think? Could you live without A/C? Do you try to conserve energy while using A/C?

Now something to think about from Mallard Fillmore:

Mallard is holding a news conference: U.S. Foreign-Policy-Issue Brief #32. He reads from a prepared statement, "Obviously, we must determine whether to support the regimes now in they can continue to hate us at current levels... or the rebel forces... so that once they are in power... they can hate us. Alternatively we can back groups that, to keep popular support, pretend to hate us... while behind the scenes... they really hate us, too.

Then from off camera comes, "It's all our fault that they hate us!!"

Mallard says, "I was wondering when the media were gonna show up."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review - Love. Honor, and O'Brien

It appears that Carl Brookins has found another good read to share with us today. 

Jennifer Rowe
ISBN: 978-1-59058-543-6
A 2011 hard cover release from
Poisoned Pen Press. 286 pages.

The author of this romp, Jennifer Rowe, is a highly prolific Australian writer. Her list of publications is nothing short of amazing. Once can legitimately wonder how she can turn out so many fine works. Perhaps that’s why this one too frequently sets this reviewer’s teeth on edge. Having made that comment I will go on to note that the book is well-written, contains some fine, well-thought-out unusual characters and resolves a plot that is ingenious.

Holly Love, our protagonist is an inexperienced young woman making her way for the first time in the world of commerce. She’s a back-office clerk in a sizeable office supply retailer in Sydney. She processes invoices in a competent if uninspired manner. She has few friends outside the office and they don’t appear very interesting. Holly Love has the unfortunate experience of falling for a slick, handsome bounder. A man with apparently stimulating talents, but one who has the moral balance of a feral cat.

On the eve of her wedding day to Andrew McNish, he pulls a disappearing act. Holly finds his house empty, his belongings gone and, later, all the money from their joint account. Holly quickly learns that Mr. McNish doesn’t own the house and is in arrears all over town. Among those he apparently owes, are some seriously criminal thugs.

Holly, being of sterner stuff than many young ladies, decides to pursue that man and get her money back, if not her feelings mended. She hires a dodgy private detective who promptly locates the missing bridegroom and just as promptly, dies. Left alone for the second time, Holly does what any upstanding young lady would do, and therein lies the rest of this very funny and very clever tale. I recommend this well-nuanced novel highly.

A copy of the novel was supplied to me at no charge from the publisher.
Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, August 09, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

First off, I just have to say a few words about the launch of the Winnsboro pictorial history book that I wrote with our local historian, Bill Jones. The official title is Images of America - Winnsboro, and it was published by Aradia publishing. Regular visitors to my blog have probably figured out that I live near this small town in East Texas, and I have loved it since we moved here almost 12 years ago. Not only is it a beautiful setting with lots of trees and gentle rolling hills, the town is a mecca of creative energy. We have lots of artists, musicians, actors, and writers who live in and around town, and it is a wonderful place to nurture creativity of any kind.

I am thrilled to have this book out to showcase the town and the people, and doubly thrilled to have the launch party this Sunday at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, which is also dear to my heart as I get to play there on stage a lot. 

NSA chief Army General Keith Alexander recently spoke at a cybersecurity convention and told the attendees, "You're the greatest tech talent anywhere in the world. Help us."

I'm not sure I want the NSA to have any more help in gathering data on what people are doing on the Internet. Yesterday I joked on Facebook about doing research about drugs and drug trafficking for the next book in the Seasons Series. I said I might have to worry about the NSA and then maybe a DEA agent showing up on my doorstep. While that was a joke yesterday, today I wonder. 

Courtland Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post recently wrote about innovation in schools, or rather the lack of it. In his piece, Let's Teach Innovation Like Amazon, he wrote,
"Have backbone, disagree and commit," Amazon encourages. In all but the very best high schools, that kind of attitude is often quashed.
And once quashed, it's hard to get back. Obedience to the point of subservience, rote learning -- that's what passes for success at many public schools.
After mentioning the fact that Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos likes to find solutions to complex problems in ways that appear messy and encourages teams to tolerate approaches that appear chaotic, Milloy followed with:
In many public schools, students never get a chance to experiment with such styles of problem solving. Many schools no longer offer art. No instrumental music, no choir, no theater and no debate. There's no money, or no room in the standardized curriculum.

After 12 years of that kind of creative repression, a student is hardly prepared for more than servitude on the bottom rungs of the American economic ladder.
Yet still our education systems continue to push for rote, standardization, and very little that encourages critical thinking and creative problem solving. And the arts continue to disappear. I saw the importance of the arts during the drama camp we had recently at our local theatre. Those kids did some amazing creative problem solving as they came up with set designs, props, light designs, story elements, and music. Don't tell me that does not help them academically.

Now for just a bit of fun from Baby Blues:

There are several pictures of Wanda and Darryl at a restaurant. In each picture one of them is holding the baby, Wren, while trying to eat, or take a drink. They are doing all the usual things to quiet a fussy baby, patting her, bouncing her, and swinging her back and forth. In the last panel when the family is walking out the door, Darryl says, "Do you ever wonder what it would be like to sit down for a whole meal?"

Wanda says, "People do that?"

I could really relate to that one. How about you? What do you think about the arts - or lack thereof - in education?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Compost Tea Delivered

Here's another bit of nonsen.... er, fun from my friend, Slim Randles. It is always such a pleasure to have him as my Wednesday's Guest. And I wish Dewey lived close to me. I get tired of hauling my own compost tea.

The three of them stood looking at The Fertilizer King’s new entry into the world of corporate success.  Dewey Decker, founder, shoveler, president and chairman of the board if there was a board, stood next to Emily Stickles, corporate financial vice president and girlfriend, and Windy Wilson, willing volunteer.

In front of them sat an older model riding lawn mower they borrowed from the Jenkins kid, hooked up to an old 55-gallon steel drum and a series of pipes coming out of it with spray nozzles on them they picked up cheap at the hardware store. In the drum was about 50 gallons of liquid manure, soaked in water until it was the color of iced tea, with some inexpensive acid added to make it perfect for growing plants.

Dud Campbell had done the necessary welding on the sprayer, and now all that remained was to turn it on and drive around on Bert’s lawn as an experiment.

Emily, the designated note taker, was going over things. “Okay, Honey, I have this pretty much figured out. Five gallons of ‘cow pasture tea’ should cover 500 square feet of lawn. Not counting labor, there is 45 cents per gallon of added ingredients, and we’ll have to figure in about two dollars a barrel for the gunny sacks used for straining it.

“So if we add this, divide by five, and carry the four, this comes out to your cost of 74 cents per 100 square feet of lawn. Does it matter what kind of grass is in the lawn? No? Okay then, 74 cents. Then there are the labor costs to be added to that … shall we say five bucks per average-sized lawn? Because you have to pay Windy something to drive the lawn mower. That’s right. I know you volunteered, Windy, but your time is valuable and Dewey may need you on a non-helper day.”

Windy devotes one day each week to helping someone, for free, just because.

“Then of course, you have to figure in riding mower rental and welding charges … I know they did it for nothing, but you have to be fair and be a businessman. So you then add on research costs, long-term debt service … don’t interrupt … and it comes out to just under $10 a lawn.

“If the yard is twice as big as most yards, charge $20 for the ‘tea.’”

Windy and Dewey just looked at the smile on her face and smiled, too. Corporate progress is an amazing thing.

Brought to you by Home Country (the award-winning book). Take a look at it at

Monday, August 05, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

I spent my weekend getting used to a new computer program, Dragonfly Naturally Speaking. I wanted the program so I could read columns written by the Winnsboro historian, Bill Jones, and get them into my computer to make a book for him. The thought of typing all those columns, or scanning them was daunting, so I though this program would be an asset.

Of course, my friends Marian Allen and Patrick O'Sheen, who write about dragons had a lot to say on Twitter as I posted updates on how my orientation with Dragonfly was going. There were many cautions about fire and such, but so far nothing has burned.

After a couple of days of practicing with the program my reactions are mixed. First of all, I really like not having to type as I have arthritis in my fingers and after a day of writing my hands really hurt. I do notice, however, that the process of getting words from my voice to words on the page is a bit slow. Perhaps that will speed up once I get more comfortable with the process. It took me a long time to get used to composing directly to the computer with a keyboard instead of writing stories with pen and paper and then typing them on the old manual typewriter that I used in the very beginning my career.

So I'm hoping that it will just take more practice for me to get used to yet another new way of getting stories written. However, there has always been something to the connection between a writer's brain and his or her hands, and that is one of the reasons this feels so weird. I don't know what to do with my hands. They want to be typing. Maybe my brain and my hands have to just get over it. (smile)

Throughout the weekend, I learned that Dragonfly Naturally Speaking can be used in a lot of different ways, basically anything you would normally use a keyboard for, such as updating Twitter, Facebook, and a blog. In fact I'm using it now, but the process is much slower than when I type.

So how did you spend your weekend? Did you try anything new different? Do you think you'd like to use a program like Dragonfly?

Now here are some things just for fun.

This one from the comic strip, Non Sequitur is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it does make one stop and think:

Two angels are standing by the gates of heaven watching people line up to get in. There are two entrances in the gate and two signs. One sign has an arrow pointing to the entrance on the left and reads, "Wrong religion entrance." That gate has nobody in line.

The other sign has an arrow pointing to the entrance on the right side and the sign reads, "Right religion entrance." There is a long line of people there.

One of the Angels says, "The funny thing is, none of them ever get the joke."

This one is from Rose is Rose:

Rose is reading a letter and says to Jimbo, "Betty moved. We'll have to send a housewarming gift."

Jimbo asks, "What kind of gift?"

"Oh, I don't know. A house plant is always a nice idea."

In the last panel, the houseplants are talking to each other. One says, "Does that mean one of us is leaving?"

Another says, "I'll go. I have seniority."

The last one says, "Hide me."

Mothers who have not always enjoyed every summer day with kids home from school can relate to this one from Baby Blues:

Early in the morning Zoe and Hammie are sitting on stools at the counter waiting for their breakfast. Zoe is wearing a bike helmet. Wanda, bleary-eyed and holding the baby, gets the cereal box and the milk and slams them down on the counter.

Zoe says, "Told you mom was in a mood today."

Hammie slides off of his stool and says, "I'm going to get my bike helmet before she brings the bowls and spoons."
 And that's why I taught my kids early on how to get their own cereal in the morning.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Book Review - Blood, Ash & Bone by Tina Whittle

Once again, many thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing another book review. He does manage to find some good books to review - and he has penned a few good books, too. 

Blood, Ash & Bone
by Tina Whittle
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0093-9
A 2013 HC release from Poisoned
Pen Press. 285 pages

Tai Randolph is an unusual character. She’s a southern gun-shop owner with her own set of tattoos and a questionable background. She also sports intimate contacts in her past with some seriously evil people, people like KKK members, like gun and booze runners. She’s also one of the go-to merchandisers of authentic costuming and equipment for Civil War re-enactors. This novel is Randolph’s third adventure.

There are big re-enactment doings coming up and Randolph has to pack up merchandise to set up at the Southeast Civil War Expo in Savannah. The first problem is her history. Savannah is her home town, seat of her family and scene of some of Tai’s most notorious escapades.

Complications arise almost immediately when her ex-lover a scallywag biker-cum-independent entrepreneur enlists her aid in retrieving a long-sought Bible, once thought to have been in the possession of both President Lincoln and General Sherman. Is it real or just a Maguffin? If it’s real, it’s worth a ton of money. According to John, Tai’s ex-boyfriend, the bible has been purloined by Tai’s ex-roommate, Hope. Hope and John were a heavy item some time ago but that relationship seems to have cooled.

Enter Tai’s current main squeeze, a seriously hot but damaged ex-cop, now a security expert for an upscale security firm in Atlanta. He obviously is highly suspicious of anything Tai’s ex boyfriend touches, especially Tai. Now add some layers of interesting active honest and criminally inclined citizens, some with too much money at hand and you have as rich a gumbo as any reader could ask for.

The story is fast-paced, clean and highly evocative of the place. Whether you’ve been to Savannah or not readers will revel in the city scenes and waterfront activity. Whittle knows her characters, her setting and how to tell a fine story. This one is an excellent novel.

A copy of the novel was supplied free of charge by the publisher.

Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, August 02, 2013

Fridays Odds and Ends

One couple in Fort Worth, Texas are missing the home that belonged to the husband's grandmother. It was demolished by the city when a demolition crew went to the wrong address. The house next to it was the one that was supposed to be razed after being condemned. The owners were not there at the time, but a neighbor tried to intervene and get the demolition crew on the right track, but those attempts failed. According to an editorial in the Dallas Morning News, the owner is not in the kind of snit many of us would be. He is requesting that the city pay him the fair market value for the house that was demolished, and could the city please remove the concrete slab. "It's not much good anymore."
Not the actual slab, but imagine driving up to your house and seeing this.
 In an interesting take on the whole debate about Snowden and whether he is a traitor or a hero, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said that one good thing to come from the mess is that now a public debate about NASA's domestic snooping is now unavoidable.

I agree that the discussion needs to happen. Ever since 9/11 the average citizen has been negatively impacted by anti-terrorism efforts in too many ways. More thought has to be put into how we protect against terrorism without infringing on the rights and privacy of American citizens, lest we live under the control of Big Brother as fictionalized in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The original cover of the 1949 British Edition

In a real feel good story, I read about a boy of four who is raising money to replace the neighborhood park that was destroyed in the plant explosion in West, Texas. Apparently, this was the park that the boy liked to play in near his grandparents' home and he lost it, along with the home and his father who was a volunteer firefighter. The boy, Parker, is following in his father's legacy of raising money for charitable works, and he held a hot dog sale on a recent Saturday to start raising money to rebuild the park. His grandparents, while still grieving the loss of their son and Parker's father, joined in the effort, along with other residents who added a bake sale and a silent auction to the event. According to the grandmother, the amount of money raised was not enough to even get started on rebuilding the park, but she thought it was important to work with Parker and let him make this effort.

Kudos to Parker and to his grandparents.

Now for some fun from the funny papers. This one is from One Big Happy. Rose, Ruthie's grandmother, is sitting at a desk with a laptop open, her husband, Nick, stands behind her, looking over her shoulder.

Rose says, "Wasn't that cat video adorable."

Nick says, "Below it is the comment 'ROFL'"

Rose translates, "Rolling on the floor laughing."

To which Nick says, "Oh, I thought it meant 'Reaching out to fellow losers.'"

And from Pickles: Earl is sitting on the edge of the bed and Opal asks, "Why are you just sitting there staring into space, Earl?"

"I'm having one of those mornings where I can't decide whether to comb my hair or put on my socks."

"What, you can't do both?"

In the last panel, Opal has walked out and Earl calls after her. "Hey, we're not all overachievers like you you know."

The dog that is on the bed next to Earl adds an "Amen."

Did anything in the news recently strike you as particularly interesting or absurd? What is your favorite comic strip?