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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Brevity of Roses

Hello, my dear Fire Enthusiasts. How is everyone? For me, I am well. Life continues to be busy. I’m alone at the day job as some of you have heard. That leaves me doing the work of two. For those who don’t know, I supervise the Packaging Floor for Sun-Maid Raisins (the lady on the red box). I’m in the office by 4 am, work 11 hours, have over one hundred employees and seemingly all of them have my work cell number and call endlessly. Not really, but that’s how it feels. Do you like having to answer the phone when in the bathroom? Yeah, me neither…

Now, a disclaimer: I have just read another book that I’m positively crazy about, but it was a long way from horror. Therefore, if you don’t like anything else but horror, perhaps you’d better come back next week. ;) On the other hand, if you love good fiction. I may have something for you.

Disclaimer, number two: I don’t read what I would refer to as pure Romance novels; HOWEVER, I absolutely adore serious writing about flawed and scarred characters, written by gifted writers, with romantic or heart-wrenching situations.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone by mentioning that. I just wanted to set the stage for the marvelous novel that I just finished devouring. It is called The Brevity of Roses and was brilliantly composed by Linda Cassidy Lewis – an author that I am fortunate enough to call friend.

The Synopsis:

Jalal Vaziri has looks, money, women--and a habit of running from reality. When he abandons New York and reinvents himself as a poet in a California beach house, he thinks he's running from a father who hates him, a career mistake, and endless partying. A fresh start is all he needs. After an intriguing woman enters his life, he believes all his dreams are coming true, but too soon, those dreams dissolve into nightmare. Jalal flees again. Only this time, a woman blocks his retreat and challenges him to finally face the truth about what he's trying to outrun.

The first thing that I was so pleased about was the fact that this novel was not about two blond hair, blue eyed people who find love, lose love and then find it again. Like many of the fabulous gourmet dishes that you’ll find the characters cooking and eating, this wonderfully crafted story has been flavored and spiced with culture. Jalal and his pleasantly intriguing family are not originally from America, in case you hadn’t already guessed that. It was such a breath of fresh air to fall in love with a family that was so different from my own or my neighbors.

Beyond that, this story isn’t about two people at all, but three. They did not ask to be brought together, but fate intervened and they find themselves powerless to do anything about it. In fact, the three try as hard as they might not to be brought together, but in the end, love has its way.

We have three distinctive characters amongst the three leads, and a vibrant and unforgettable supporting cast that surround them throughout. Lewis’ prose is smooth and effortless. Her writing made me forget there was a narrator involved. I simply felt as if I were in the room with every character, sitting out on the deck with them or running that beach alongside Jalal. I also marveled at the pacing and the quality of the subplots, particularly the storyline involving Jalal and his father. I happened to be reading the resolution of that conflict from my desk at work. I am thankful that no one came to see me just then, because it was very moving. I wasn't crying, but I definitely had to get up and walk the moment off. 

Lewis drives me crazy sometimes because she seems to second-guess her talent. Perhaps she’s just worried that one great book is all she’s got in her. I doubt that will be the case, but I would be ecstatic were this the only book I ever wrote. That’s how special I think this novel is.

Lewis may have created the most perfect title for a book ever. In fact, it's a book within a book, since you'll find that Jalal used it to title his book of poetry that was inspired by his wife Meredith. By definition, brevity means "shortness of time or duration; briefness: the brevity of human life". It suits the plot perfectly, but you'll definitely need to find that out for yourself when you pick up a copy of this absolutely delightful and moving book, The Brevity of Roses.

We'll talk soon. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Music on my Mind

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. Several things to do with music went down this past week, so I thought I would discuss a little bit of it with you. We’re breaking up the monotony as they say. Music is, after all, my favorite thing; more important to my well-being than even my writing. I could go without a lot of things (yeah, go ahead and giggle), but in all seriousness, music is not one of them.

One of my favorite newer bands, Train, came out with a new album last Tuesday, entitled: California 37. I have been listening to it all week. I have seen these guys three times in concert already: California Mid-State Fair, Vegas and The Fresno Fair; if that tells you anything about my devotion to everything that they do. If you like them as well, you’ll probably like the new stuff. If you are like my wife and eldest son, you may find your devotion waning.

You see, my wife loved, loved, loved the first album, Train, as well as the sophomore effort, Drops of Jupiter - after that, only a song here or there. My almost 18 year old, himself a musician (both Wind Ensemble and Choir; twice making All-State Jazz Choir), who appreciates all types of music, was a huge fan of DoJ and My Private Nation. For my part, I love them like a family member, so with this album as they dabble in some Country flavors, which I usually am not a fan of, I can let it go.

The following are the highlights: "This'll Be My Year" - you may find the lyrical timeline that Pat sings a tad hokey, but the chorus will end up inside your head before long and should be enough to lean this one into the winner column. "Drive By" - This one is catchy and a safe play as their first single. "50 Ways to Say Goodbye" - No one in my family digs this one, but I think it's fun. When you hear the opening Spanish intro you may fear that you've had too much to drink and ended up married to someone you don't remember in Tijuana. *gulps* Shouldn't have told you that... ;) "We Were Made for This" - Everything that Train does well is here. Sweet vibe, touching lyrics and understated vocals by Pat Monahan and a rare display of guitar power by Jimmy Stafford. "To Be Loved" - It's a great track to finish the record. Train fans like me eat it up. It's all warm and fuzzy and mid tempo, making you want to come back for more with the subsequent records.

The low lights on this album are some of the lame lyrics that Monahan whips out. They can be cute and amusing when used sparingly, but this time he goes to that well too often. On "Mermaid", a song that beckons thoughts of Jimmy Buffett, drinks with colorful umbrellas and sand that one can never quite be free of, he sings, "Can't swim, so I took a boat to an island so remote, only Johnny Depp has ever been to it before." It's a cringing moment, even for me.

As a Train fan, I hold out hope that this will not one day be Train featuring Pat Monahan. He's a fantastic vocalist and very underrated among his peers, but with each record I worry that we'll get more of him and less of the remaining original members Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood. This album is fun, moving at times, rocks a little for those (like my wife) who are growing tired of mid-tempo and proves to be a worthy successor to the great catalog.

On a sad note, we lost a couple of important legends this week: Levon Helm and Dick Clark.

If you don't immediately recognize Levon's name, I didn't quite recall it either, although I knew who he was. Levon Helm was the vocalist and drummer for The Band who had huge hits in the late 1960's with "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek". The Band broke up in 1976, but reformed for the classic 1978 Documentary, The Last Waltz, directed by Academy Award winning Director Martin Scorsese. Mr. Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer back in 1998, underwent a series of treatments which eventually helped him regain his voice; however, just a day before (much like with Freddie Mercury) an announcement was made signalling that Helm's journey was nearly over. He died April 19.

As is all too often the case, celebrities tend to die relatively close together and this week was no exception as the once ageless wonder, Dick Clark, died the day before on April 18. Generations of music lovers have been touched by him, whether they know it or not. As host of American Bandstand, Clark helped usher out racial and music prejudices as he featured the greatest singers, bands and acts, regardless of color or style or volume. He also created The American Music Awards. As host of Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve, he helped the country ring in the new year with his positive energy and great demeanor.  For decades he was known as "America's oldest teenager" and teased for being the man who never aged. Sadly, that all changed when he was afflicted by a terrible stroke which robbed him of this, causing him to seemingly age instantly in 2004.

Mr. Clark is famous for having said, "Music is the soundtrack of your life". I totally believe that, and as I have said many times, I could not live very long without it.

Because of his passing, I will forgo my usual goodbye to you and paraphrase what was the last thing that he typically ever said to us.

"...So long..."

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Reviews

Greetings and salutations, Fire Enthusiasts. I’m so glad to see you, and I can actually see you, you know? Some of you aren’t morning persons, I can tell. While we're on the subject, perhaps it's time to replace those frayed robes that some of you have been wearing. And for one of you, I'd just be happy if you wore any robe!

Just kidding. I can’t really see you. Or can I? *sports devilish grin*

Thanks so much for all of the kind advice and comments over last Monday’s post. I like to be real like that because I know that all of us go through much the same feelings and questions. Hopefully, by discussing it we all felt a little better; recharged even.

In any event, I have come before you this week to tell you about two very cool books that I read since my last review. Both of these are definitely worthy of your time; one might be new to many of you, while I believe that I am way behind the curve on the other.

The first is a book entitled, An Unfamiliar Murder. It was written my one of the nicest people that I have had the good fortune to meet, and a very promising and gifted author as well. Her name is Jane Isaac.

The Synopsis:

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder enquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim... Leading her first murder enquiry, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

I found Jane’s novel to be quite the lovely page turner. Due to circumstances beyond Anna's control, she finds herself swept up in a dangerous world of murder and treachery. In so doing, she undergoes a transformation. Much like a butterfly, emerging from its chrysalis, Anna is taken above and beyond the person that she knew herself to be. Many authors tell you a character has grown due to life-changing events, but Isaac did a wonderful job of “showing” that transformation. In the Star Wars prequels, for instance, we know that Anakin becomes Darth Vader, I just personally didn't believe it. Lucas is a genius at a great many things, but I just didn't think he did as wonderful a job with that character’s transformation from protector of the Jedi to murderer of women and children.

I didn’t mean for this to become a Lucas bashing. I admire the man a great deal. I just didn’t buy into the transformation. Here, Isaac does a splendid job.

Isaac also did a fine job of character-building with her supporting cast. An Unfamiliar Murder gives its readers several varying and multi-dimensional characters that we can readily believe and follow. You will find no cookie-cutter characters here. You'll find that the supporting cast's sole purpose is not to aid or thwart Anna, but very much have lives, hopes and dreams of their own.

I also enjoyed the pacing and the twists. One might suggest that the direction the novel took in the last quarter or so was a bit of a stretch, but I think it worked fine. I found myself hoping the family secrets went even darker and deeper than they did, but overall I found myself pleased with both the reveal and the resolution. I’m being purposely cryptic here since I don’t want to give anything away.

Author Jane Isaac is as cute as a button, has the most infectious giggle you've ever heard and, more importantly, is a serious and skilled author. I will very much look forward to whatever she's got planned next.  

The second novel that I'd like to share with you is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

The synopsis:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography,
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I saw this novel making the rounds through several blogs last year, and I could tell that readers were very excited about it. It just took me a while to clear through my TBR pile in order to get to it. Actually, my family gave it to me in March as part of my birthday gift. I'm so glad that they did because I, too, am happy to suggest it to the few remaining holdouts in the world who have yet to take the plunge.

One of my favorite all-time books is The Thief of Always by Clive Barker. This book reminded me so much of that classic. Much like a great animated film that is pleasing to both children and adults, this book reaches the entire audience. Nearly the entire book is centered around the young Jacob and eventually the "children" he meets at Miss Peregrine's Home; however, it never once feels like you're reading a children's book.

There's little point in my telling you what most of you have already discovered, having read the novel way before me: the characters are well designed, the writing is top notch and the entire thing is gripping from beginning to end. And perhaps making it the most brilliant piece of writing ever is the fact that Riggs first had to find the strange and mysterious photographs to inspire the story, rather than have them produced by a special effects team once the book was completed. This novel is incredibly imaginative and a real breath of fresh air. 

If you haven't read the book, you really ought to do so. It was a marvelous ride, and I am very interested to see what he has planned for the survivors in book two.

We'll talk soon. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Balancing Life with The Writer Stuff

Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. I trust you had a fine Easter holiday. My teacher wife and two teenagers were off from school. My oldest actually went on a trip to New York City for a choir performance with his high school jazz choir. We did not travel with the group this time as we did last year for the Wind Ensemble trip to Carnegie Hall. We could have gone, but decided to stay home and worry instead. *laughs* Actually, we have college to begin paying for this year, so that was chiefly the reason.

We did take a few days and travel down to Anaheim, California. No, we didn't go to Disneyland... Yes, I know. There's a special place in Hell for people who get that close to the Magic Kingdom, but don't go in! We only live 3 hours away, so we go quite frequently. This time was for an Angel's baseball game and some really good food and shopping in either the Garden Walk mall or the Downtown Disney section between the parks.

How are all of you doing these days? I battled the blues a bit recently. You know the drill: Why am I killing myself with all of this work, effectively working two jobs? What’s the point? Few are reading my book, so I need to promote it more… However, the more I promote, the less I actually write another…

I’m okay now. We all go through those feelings, don’t we? Having said all of that, I do think I need to re-evaluate once again. I’ve done a much better job with networking of late – many of you no doubt have noticed me lurking about your blogs. I see many more still, but sometimes do not have time to leave comments. I know that I have more followers now and I need to check those out and see if I have yet to follow back, etc. One could easily network all day long, am I right?

The question remains: am I a blogger or a writer? Ultimately, I’m a writer. I know this. You know this. And you know this about yourselves, too.

I was taking my writing to work with me there for a while until it dawned on me that bringing a virus to work on my USB might not be the best idea that I have ever had, so I have since discontinued this risky endeavor. Since that only leaves a few hours after work with which to get writing in, I haven’t been able to do so, instead spending all my free time networking. I considered buying an iPad. I could then take my writing to work with me without penalty (I’m a supervisor at my day job, so I have some down opportunities amongst the 11 hours spent there). On the other hand, aren’t I paying enough for Internet? Good Lord! Between the High Speed at home and the 2 iPhones, we don’t need another bill. In the meantime, I am only writing on Saturday mornings. It is usually a very productive time, but not nearly enough.

What I am trying to do is read through the blog posts that I want to visit from my iPhone while at work, and then quickly commenting en mass when I get home. I hate attempting to comment from my trusty iPhone because it's too frustrating on such a small device. I have only been trying this procedure for a couple of weeks. This week, I hope to begin writing for an hour each day. Hopefully, I will be able to do this, as well as visit a few blogs. If not, I might have to drastically cut down on the amount of blogs I visit throughout the week. I hope it doesn't come to that.

We’ll see what happens. It is all a constant re-evaluation. I have one book released. I have another which is to be released sometime this summer. I'm very pleased with the development on my third novel, but finding that time to write has proven elusive. Beyond that, I can think of two other projects that I would love to begin.

I just don’t have the time...

My sons are getting older, too, and I spend very little time with them. I’m talking about real time, not just saying hello and bumping into them in the hallway or at the dinner table.

Everything just continues to be a constant re-evaluation. I'll continue shaking things up as needed with regard to what I refer to as: The Writer Stuff. What I absolutely refuse to do is let our friendships die because I just disappeared to write more.

It's that dreaded and mythical word: Balance. How are you dealing with it right now? Are you winning that battle or not? I'd love to hear your tricks as well as your steadfast rules or stance on juggling The Writer Stuff.

So, to that end, we’ll talk soon.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. I thank you so much for stopping by. You know how much I love your visits.

My friends, I have read some very good novels this year and it’s only April! Just when I might have figured that my hot streak couldn't possibly continue, along came Jennifer Hillier and her gripping debut Thriller, Creep.

The word “gripping” gets thrown about quite a lot when discussing fiction. I have used it myself for some reviews, and have contemplated using it for others; but have held it back lest I be accused of its overuse. Well, let me tell you something. I read this particular book in two days! That never happens. During day two, I read every down minute that I had while at the day job, and then I got home and read it for 3.5 miles while power walking on my treadmill. I pushed that healing left knee of mine (which we discussed a few weeks ago - yes, it's getting better - thanks), extending myself that extra half mile because I simply could not put it down.

This book will grab you by the throat and squeeze it tight until it is done with you, much like protagonist Ethan Wolfe might do. The author Jeffery Deaver had this to say about Creep: "Jennifer Hillier's Creep is top-of-the-line thriller writing. You better call in sick, because you're not going anywhere until you finish reading..."

Here’s the synopsis:

Dr. Sheila Tao is a professor of psychology. An expert in human behavior. And when she began an affair with sexy, charming graduate student Ethan Wolfe, she knew she was playing with fire. Consumed by lust when they were together, riddled with guilt when they weren’t, she knows the three-month fling with her teaching assistant has to end. After all, she’s finally engaged to a kind and loving investment banker who adores her, and she’s taking control of her life. But when she attempts to end the affair, Ethan Wolfe won’t let her walk away.
. . . no one else can.

Ethan has plans for Sheila, plans that involve posting a sex video that would surely get her fired and destroy her prestigious career. Plans to make her pay for rejecting him. And as she attempts to counter his every threatening move without her colleagues or her fiancĂ© discovering her most intimate secrets, a shattering crime rocks Puget Sound State University: a female student, a star athlete, is found stabbed to death. Someone is raising the stakes of violence, sex, and blackmail . . . and before she knows it, Sheila is caught in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with the lover she couldn’t resist—who is now the monster who won’t let her go.

This novel is an amazing achievement for a debut author. We’ve all read good works from seasoned authors that did not do what Hillier does here. I have spent more time reading the Paranormal and Horror genres this year, but Hillier’s work makes me realize that my first love might very well be the Thriller. The pacing in this thing was a work of art, with no slow sections. I literally refused to put my Kindle down until the ride was over.

Another thing that impressed me was the deeply three-dimensional characters. From Sheila, to Ethan, to Morris the fiancĂ©, to retired police officer/turned Private Investigator Jerry, Hillier did a superb job bringing these people to life for me. I would not be shocked to find out that they are all real people living quietly in Seattle, Washington, hoping not to be recognized. That’s how real they were for me.

Not only is Hillier a master of the suspense, but she is one in Psychology as well. She flexed great skill here, displaying troubled characters that populate her tale so believably that we never question it; capturing well the troubled people that surround all of us, whether in our neighborhoods and workplace, and, sadly, on the nightly news as well. She also did very well with props, police procedure and subjects like make-up effects, and she did so, not in a way to impress us with her impeccable research or knowledge, but to seal the deal; getting her readers to totally become engrossed with her tale.

This was a near-perfect work of art. Spoiler alert! My only gripe was getting a piece of information from a mysterious voice in the darkness at one point, late in the story. We were given a clue to the outcome that I wish we had not been given. When it was said, I knew immediately the twist, and I was saddened to know it too far in advance. I didn’t mind at all having the same hint revealed by the villain a bit later on. That would have been enough. Perhaps you will not find that to be true, but I’m one who likes to have his presents revealed on Christmas morning and not before. I would have preferred having the jaw-dropping moment come much later, and to find me unsuspecting.

Other than that, this novel owned me and would not leave me alone until I had finished the ride. If you love a good Thriller like I do, and you have not yet been introduced to the incredible talent that is Jennifer Hillier, I strongly urge you to crab a copy for yourself. The price was a bit higher than I was used to, for those of us who buy e-books, but I can guarantee you that this ride is worth both the cost and the time it takes to wait in line for it to begin. I already have my eye on her next release later this year. That one is called Freak.

The author can be found on Facebook as well as her website. She's been very approachable in my experience, which I adore her for, so say hello. Notice that I used the word "approachable" and not "stalked"! But you'd better hurry. Soon we'll be dealing with her staff. Yeah, she's that good. 

We’ll talk soon.