Thursday, February 23, 2017

We all need a brain re-set right about now

You’ve had enough of the constant news. I know. I’m right there with you. Everything seems to be bad and getting worse. You’re sad and angry and deep down you’re even sort of scared. You’ve just read that the American dream is a myth and that certain lesser-known nations are threatening to arm wrestle anyone who comes near with their new nuclear muscles. You feel like whimpering in the corner and sucking on your sweater cuffs.

You know how every once in a while you have to shut down your phone and let all the applications and whathaveyous go back to reset? You might even need to do a total factory reset. It happens.

Sometimes, you need to do that with your brain. A walk in the woods might be the answer, or hunkering down with a good novel, or my favorite - kayaking on a gentle and beautiful and quiet stream.

But there is another way that won’t even take you away from your computer. Move your cursor over to a sleek, smart website called Atlas Obscura and hang around there for a little while. You'll learn things, interesting things. You'll smile, even laugh maybe. Or cry. You might cry. But what you won't do is think about the news.

Today on I Like It, I am recommending a website of alternate and interesting facts about our world, our universe and the people who live here. It’s not one of those ad-heavy sites which appeal to our lower natures like celebrity plastic surgery mishaps or “best clothing malfunctions.” No. Atlas Obscura is a serious place and a marvelous place, a place where you can lose yourself in strange little known facts as you click from one link to the next. And soon you’re lost and the real world out there is forgotten.

Do you know why people in the early 2000s starting painting the interiors of their homes beige, beige, and nothing but beige? Read about it here.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mystery writer but I have long been intrigued with Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum which is described as "America's most famous museum of medical oddities, and home to the remains of Einstein's Brain.”

The pictures at that site are worth the price of admission, but not only the pictures. But it's more than pictures, you'll also learn about the strange and convoluted history behind the museum, and why it’s even there. It's still on my bucket list to visit, and now even more so.

I would maintain that Atlas Obscura, itself is like its own Mütter Museum

Do you like ghost towns? The site abounds with pictures and stories.

How about ghosts themselves? Again, take your pick.

How about a house made entirely of bottles? Put that in the Atlas Obscura search engine an you'll come up with a list. Seems lots of people like to build houses out of bottles these days.

Here’s one I visited back when we lived in western Canada See - I’m not the only one who can come up with alternative facts and interesting places to visit. And that's what the site gets you doing - thinking about all the creative people and oddities in the world, and the fun places you've traveled to.

So, despite all the bad news, I can report that there are still dreamers and inventors, creators and poets. There are joys and oddities and fascinating histories. Animals? Looking for something other than your standard zoo animals? How about the practically impossible-to-kill microscopic 'water bears' Yes. There is such a thing. The photos alone are worth the trip to the site. 

Ever wonder why actors in old time movies seem to talk so differently than we do? Well, this is also explained is here, too. It offers quite a fascinating look into what we thought was important and upscale back then. 

Oh, and did you know that the Mall of America is looking for a Writer in residence? Ah, there’s a job I could apply for. Hmmm. 

Our world is indeed a wonderful place, full of nature and wonderments and good people who invent and create all sorts of machines and poetry and books and libraries and scientists and animals. Head on over to Atlas Obscura for a mind feast.

NEXT TIME  - Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris of Chocolat fame.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

...And Peace to his people on earth.

Glory to God in the Highest...

My husband and I have been attending an Episcopalian/Anglican Church while we’re down here in Florida. And with that, learning an entire new and very beautiful liturgy. It took me three Sundays to figure out in which part of the Book of Common Prayer, the following hymn is located. I just figured everyone had this beautiful anthem memorized. Today, we were a little bit early to church, so I had a lovely chance to sit down and look through the Book of Common Prayer as well as the hymnal. And lo and behold, it was right there. 

I’m sharing it here today as my SUNDAY SONG because in song, it explains the entire Christian faith. Click here to hear it sung by a choir, and then follow along with the lyrics below.

Glory to God in the highest 

And peace to His people on earth

Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father

We worship You

We give You thanks

We praise You for Your glory

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father

Lord God, Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world

Lord, have mercy on us

You are seated at the right hand of the Father

Receive our prayer

For You alone are the Holy One

For You alone are the Lord

For You alone are the Most High

Jesus Christ

With the Holy Spirit

In the glory of God the Father

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In Times Like These - Make Art

And in a recent Facebook post Canadian singer/songwriter Steve Bell encouraged his Facebook Followers to do just that. 

It is in times of uncertainty that artists should write songs, sing them, paint pictures, create stories, weave cloth, make pots and rugs and poems and gardens and loaves of bread. Show them that there is grace in the world. Show them that injustice can be overcome by beauty and creativity.

This week, long overdue in my roster of media to endorse, I am recommending Where The Good Way Lies, Steve Bell’s newest CD. His music has had an impact on my own spiritual journey (and if you are a follower of this blog, you know I am on a profound one.). I am an unashamed and self-proclaimed Steve Bell “groupie.” (I even have the t-shirt to prove it!)

My husband and I saw Steve Bell in concert for the first time some years ago at a Baptist Convention in the maritimes. There was something so simple, so plain, so true about him and his songs. At a time when I was hungering for authentic Christians, His honestly and realness spoke to me right away. He is also an amazing musician!

After his evening concert at that same convention, my husband and I bought every single one of his CDs from the table out back. (Well, how could we not? They were all on sale!)

As a writer, I am constantly striving to be authentic, to be real, to tell it like it is, as they say. And yet, there are voices urging me to do otherwise. Your stories should be about how people should act, not how they really do act. That makes no sense to me. That’s why I find Bell’s music and concerts so refreshing.

I’m not your typical music reviewer and this won’t be a typical music review. I don’t focus on the technical aspects of a recording. I can’t tell you who played bass and who was on vocals and why Choice A for backup vocals was better than Choice B. What I do, and what my blog above says I do, is share how the music moved me along on my journey. That’s what I share.

Here are a some of the songs from Where the Good Way Lies which I could listen to over and over. (And I do.)

One of my favorites is a simple song, the second to the last track - O Love Come to Us - something we need. Have a quick Youtube listen here:

Another is A Better Resurrection. I think we have all prayed:

My life is like a faded leaf. O Jesus Quicken Me.

Wait Alone in the Stillness could be torn right out of the headlines. To indeed prove that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The lyrics are straight from Psalm 62:

The enemies of love in vain rehearse
A plot to undermine the hope of nations
With tongues they bless
But with their hearts they curse
And lie in wait to bait love’s termination

The title track is an interesting one and fuses old with new, ancient music from First Nations, and modern hip hop. I know. I know. But give it a listen. It works, proving that no matter the skin we are in, or when we were born, we are all pretty much the same..

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his instrumental Freedom Road. A century ago the Shoal Lake indigenous peoples near where he lives in Manitoba, were left isolated when the city of Winnipeg constructed a water pipe, which left the Shoal Lake people with no clean water of their own. They needed a road. They were shut out, cut off from the rest of Canada, and under a boil water order for eighteen years.

I have a friend who calls Bell, “Canada’s Bono”, and he worked hard to urge the government to finally build this long awaited road.

Here's a news article explaining it all.

Bell has taken his own advice to make music during perilous times. And not, he adds, to be tempted by ‘celebrity’ but just to make art for its own sake.

And maybe that’s what we’re all supposed to do.

This just in! Where the Good Way Lies is up for a Juno Award nomination! This is a big deal in Canada! Congratulations Steve!

Next time: Something completely different, I will be recommend the fun and interesting website/media outlet - Atlas Obscura 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Reminder of Who We Are as Christians

Today I have chosen as my Sunday Song, the hymn, Today We Are All Called to Be. And today, this day, this Sunday, we need the words of this hymn more than ever. I need to be reminded of my calling as a Christian - to feed the hungry, rescue the poor, make farming tools out of spent ammunition, give welcome homes to the refugee and the immigrant, and care for the land.

Click on this link.
And then follow along with the words:

Today we are all called to be
Disciples of the Lord,
To help to set the captives free,
Make plow-shares out of swords
To feed the hungry, quench their thirst,
Make love and peace our fast,
To serve the poor and homeless first,
Our ease and comfort last.

God made the world and at its birth
Ordained our human race
To live as stewards of the earth,
Responding to God's grace.
But we are vain and sadly proud,
We sow not peace but strife,
Our discord spreads a deadly cloud
That threatens all of life.

Pray justice may come rolling down
As in a mighty stream,
With righteousness in field and town
To cleanse us and redeem.
For God is longing to restore
An earth where conflicts cease,
A world that was created for
A harmony of peace.

May we in service to our God

Act out the living word,
And walk the road the saints have trod
Till all have seen and heard.
As stewards of the earth may we
Give thanks in one accord
To God who calls us all to be disciples of the Lord.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer


For today's song - click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to the song on Youtube.

Click here for that link in iTunes.


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blame Her! She Started It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Look Back...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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