Night Shift, by Charlaine Harris

Another fantastic tale of the odd residents of Midnight, Texas! In this, the third installment, people are coming to the crossroads in Midnight for the sole purpose of killing themselves.

Eventually, the residents figure out that something supernatural is going on, and more than likely, it lives underground right below the traffic signal at the crossroads.

In the meantime, as a subplot, someone seems to be after Olivia (the local assassin), and Teacher and Madonna Reed (Madonna runs and cooks at the local diner), don’t seem to be exactly who we thought they were.

It turns out that the entity living under the crossroads is attempting to rise. And it wants Fiji, the local witch. Virgin witch.

There’s plenty of fun and action in this story, and the Midnight series has become my favorite of Ms. Harris’s. I’ve really grown rather attached to the people of Midnight.

Now, I have watched the first season of the TV show adapted from these books. What is weird to me, as I began to read the third book, is that they took plot elements from both book one and book three. And threw in a few non-book scenarios, as well. The TV show was fun, though, and they teased the second book at the end of the first season, so I hope there will be a second season. I also hope that Charlaine will change her mind about this being a trilogy and write some more Midnight, Texas books.

TTFN, y’all!

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Entanglement by Sameer Ketkar

This was a fascinating tale of two people, born on opposite sides of the earth, at exactly the same moment, whose lives were inextricably entangled.

They felt each other’s heartbeats. They felt each other’s emotions. They could even feel each other’s pain. There were other downsides to this, as well, as each one could only sleep when the other one slept. So, as long as they were far apart, they slept about four hours a night.

Eventually, they met, and fell in love, assuming that they were perfect for each other. The closer they got, the louder they heard each other’s heartbeats. And, when they were in the same location, they both slept all night long.

But that’s also when the storm started. Their relationship was a fiery one, made complicated by the fact that each one always knew what the other was thinking.

It’s a fun read, with a tragic ending, although I will not reveal the details of that here. I’m not sure what genre I would place this in. In some ways it is science fiction, but in some ways it is also fantasy, and even a bit of romance thrown in.

TTFN, y’all!

Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s Teaching on Faith and Formation

They had three different memorial services for Dallas Willard, after he passed away in 2013. The essays in this book are divided into the same categories as the three memorials; close friends and family, colleagues in the philosophy realm, and students and others that were inspired by Dallas’s life and work.

I didn’t recognize very many of the names. Richard Foster opened up the book, followed by Dallas’s wife Jane, then his daughter, grand-daughter, and his son. The first two essays had me crying all the way home from work (I listened to this on my drive home from work each day).

I will confess that some of the essays by the philosophy colleagues were a bit over my head, and not quite as inspiring. And there were a couple of the other essays that I simply didn’t like. One person was a gung-ho evangelist type (not there’s anything wrong with that, mind you) who seemed to try to transfer his own passion for evangelism onto words that he thought Dallas would have said in a large stadium full of people. It sounded more like what Billy Graham would have said. I found myself thinking, “I don’t think Dallas would have said that at all!”

The book closes out with John Ortberg, a close, life-long friend of Dallas’s, talking about all the questions that people constantly asked Dallas, all beginning with, “Hey, Dallas!”

I could easily add my own essay to the mix, about how Dallas Willard’s work has inspired me, and continues to inspire me. I’ve read The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God (previously titled In Search of Guidance), and Renovation of the Heart. I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy. Very slowly. Dallas’s work has been described as “dense.” It is that and more. It’s like every single word has meaning, and must be chewed slowly, like a delicious steak dinner.

One of the contributors said something to the effect of, “When Dallas died, we lost a five-star general in the army of the Lord.” That very well may be true, but he left behind a lot of people to carry on the work of transformation in the body of Christ. Many of those contributed to this volume.

TTFN, y’all!

Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City continues where the first Miss Peregrine’s book left off. The children are navigating toward the mainland, away from the island where their now destroyed loop and home are. They rescued Miss Peregrine from the wights in the submarine, but she is stuck in bird form.

This book seems to be all about carrying on in the face of despair. Right from the beginning, there seems to be little hope of success for this rag-tag team of peculiar children, who, let’s face it, can’t even seem to get along with each other.

I’m not going to include and real plot information, because almost anything I write could be considered spoilage, and I certainly don’t want to do that. Suffice it to say that these children demonstrate great fortitude in their journey from Cairnholm Island. Along the way, they meet some strange and interesting, um . . . “people?”

Of course, the book ends with a massive plot twist and cliff-hanger ending. So I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book, Library of Souls. Oh, and I almost forgot, this book is most certainly enhanced by the strange and real photographs that Riggs has found along the way.

TTFN, y’all!

Chicago Transit Authority

So Peter Cetera turned 73 years old today. Earlier this morning, I posted a video of “Hard Habit to Break,” one of my favorite later songs by Chicago, on Facebook.

A conversation with a couple of old friends ensued. One reminded me what a great album the original “Chicago Transit Authority” album was. Is. It still is. My friend commented on what a great bass player Cetera was, and that he had not realized it “back in the day.” The other friend commented on the greatness that is the second Chicago album, specifically, “25 or 6 to 4,” which, if I understand correctly, was what time it was when they decided on a name for the song.

Anyway, all of this inspired me to listen to “Chicago Transit Authority” on the way home from work today. It was just about the perfect length, save having to sit in the driveway for the last four minutes of the long song on side four, “Liberation.” I listened intently to Cetera’s bass playing as I drove. My friend was right. Cetera was masterful on this album. Like most bass players who sing lead, Ceter’s bass work is somewhat underrated. Geddy Lee of Rush is another player who is extremely underrated. By the way, if my memory serves me, which it frequently does not, “Chicago Transit Authority” was the first album I every bought.

As I listened to the album, I tried to pay closer attention to who sang on what songs. I found it interesting that Terry Kath got the opening song, which is, aptly, called “Introduction.” It’s a great piece to introduce us to this new (in 1969) fusion of rock and jazz.

Next up is a song that will always be a Chicago favorite, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Bobby Lamm wrote and sang this one. What you don’t hear on the radio is the interesting and complex piano introduction to the song.

Another single/hit from that album follows right on the heels of “Does Anybody Really Know . . .,” “Beginnings,” another song by Bobby Lamm. Almost everyone has heard this song a hundred thousand times, so I won’t say much more about it.

Those three songs comprise side one of a four-side album.

Side two begins with a favorite of mine, “Questions 67 and 68.” This one was written by Lamm and sung by Cetera and Lamm. It is Cetera’s first appearance as lead vocalist. Supposedly, this was Chicago’s first single release, but I don’t remember hearing this on the radio until much later, when stations played “deep tracks” from albums. The title is supposed to refer to a relationship that Lamm had in 1967 and 1968. You can hear Terry Kath shining on lead in this song.

Another favorite follows. It’s called “Listen,” and you can hear the greatness of both Terry Kath and Peter Cetera on guitar and bass. Lamm wrote and sang the song. It’s the shortest song on the album.

“Listen” is followed by “Poem 58.” Again, you can hear Kath and Cetera blazing away on this song, which features no lyrics until 5:24 into the song. Again, Lamm wrote and sang.

Side two is undoubtedly my favorite side of the album.

Side three takes a weird and interesting turn with a “song” that could only be considered filler. On “Free Form Guitar,” Terry Kath hammers away on a Fender Stratocaster for almost seven minutes. From the Wikipedia article on the album: “According to the album’s original liner notes, the solo performance of Kath on ‘Free Form Guitar’ was created without the use of any pedals. In a nod to Hendrix’s guitar expressionism (Hendrix most notably used wah and fuzz pedals), Kath instead plugged directly into his studio amplifier and improvised the entire track in one take for the purpose of pure tone. ‘Free Form Guitar’ is also noted as being another influence on the genre of noise music.” When I was a pre-teen, I thought this song was amazing. By the time I was middle-aged, I had decided it was pure noise. But . . . as I listed to it this afternoon, I tried to listen for the sounds, for what Terry Kath might have been doing. I tried to imagine how he made some of those sounds. I have to believe that he was one of the pioneers of the technique of “tapping” on the frets (there is a segment that sounds like computer noises), because I had never heard anyone do that before.

Following “Free Form Guitar” is another song that I loved from the first time I heard it. “South California Purples,” again, written and sung by Lamm. Interestingly, Lamm quotes The Beatles in this song, a little over halfway through: “I am he is you are he is you are me and we are all together.”

Next up is the only cover on the album. Chicago didn’t do many of those, but for some reason, they chose to record Steve Winwood and Jimmy Miller’s “I’m A Man.” All three lead vocalists are featured on the song. It’s worth noting that I didn’t know it was a cover for years. Cetera also has fun on the bass on this song.

That’s it for side three. Now for side four, which is, in it’s own way, somewhat epic. It begins with a thing called “Prologue, August 29, 1968.” It’s just under a minute, and appears to be live audio recording from the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. It’s unclear what is being said at the beginning, but the crowd can be heard chanting, “The whole world’s watching! The whole world’s watching!” James Pankow (the trombone player) and Bobby Lamm then took the rhythm of that chant and created the song that follows, “Someday (August 29, 1968).” This is Pankow’s first writing credit on the album. The two tracks are linked together in this clip (as they should be). It is Chicago’s first time to “get political.”

The final track on the album is a fourteen and a half minute almost entirely instrumental jam called “Liberation.” The only vocal (outside of the conversation before the song actually begins) is Terry Kath singing what sounds like, “Whoa, thank you people,” at around the thirteen minute mark. The piece was entirely written by James Pankow. It’s great fun, classic Chicago sound.

People who know me know that I’m a trombone player. You might wonder why I didn’t talk more about Pankow in this article. Hey, it’s Peter Cetera’s birthday! Not James Pankow’s. Hahaha.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s my ramblings about what may be the best album ever produced by Chicago, their first recording. And one other friend commented on my Facebook post. He said that Chicago was never the same after Terry Kath died, and then after Peter Cetera left. He was absolutely right. They carried on fairly well after Kath’s accidental death, adding the husky vocals of Bill Champlin. But Peter Cetera was never adequately replaced, in my opinion. I mean, how could they ever do “Dialogue” live without the two of those guys??

TTFN, y’all!!

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton

I noticed that one reviewer said that this book was worthless. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was probably my stubbornness that made me finish the book.

There are some gems in here, though, so perhaps it was patience more than stubbornness.

One of the gems is his insistence that we be both astonished at the world and at home in it. And in this book, he sets out to prove that his faith, Christianity, is the only way to accomplish that. It is interesting that, in his defense, he says that he set out to discover something, and then found that it had already been discovered. At one point, he says that he tried to be “ten minutes in advance of the truth,” but instead, found himself to be “eighteen hundred years behind it.”

As he proceeds, he says things like, “Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.” One of my favorites, “Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do.” I don’t know if I agree with that one hundred percent, but I see some truth in it. Bobby Fischer was most definitely on the edge of insanity. “Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite.”

Chesterton kind of loses me, though, in his lengthy discussion of optimism and pessimism. In all, the book is quite philosophical, and I will confess that I am not well-trained in the language of philosophy. I kept reading, though, and did finish the book. One thing I will say is that this book seems to have been written in 1908. A lot of things have changed since then. As Stephen King says in his Dark Tower series, the world has moved on. I think Chesterton might have written a slightly different book, had he been alive today.

TTFN, y’all!

The Beauty of the Fall, by Rich Marcello

I received this book as part of the Goodreads giveaway program (do they still call it First Reads?).

I almost put this book down when the main character smashed a Martin guitar with a sledgehammer, within the first ten pages. There is nothing bad enough, NOTHING, that could EVER make me do that!

Dan Underlight, is a driven man, who has started a company. The thing that caused him to smash the guitar was his release from that company by his business partner, Olivia. The thing that caused him to lose that job was, ultimately, the death of his ten-year-old son.

After grieving for a bit, he begins working on this new idea he had, a somewhat fantastic idea that involves people coming together on the Internet to change the world. The probability of something like this ever actually happening is, of course, very slim.

As the story progresses, Dan, who has already been divorced, destroys another relationship because he has issues with trust. And, it seems that he never learns, because he continues to pour every ounce of his life into work, which he claims to believe is what was responsible for the death of his son.

And lets not forget the hypocrisy of him having an ongoing relationship with a prostitute (several times a week), while engaging in conversations about the evils of prostitution, with hopes of causing legislation to be passed that would eventually eliminate it. But it’s all okay, because he stopped.

I think Rich Marcello’s writing style is good. I might like him if he wrote a different story. And, in all fairness, I’m probably not in the target audience for this one. There was way too much business lingo for me, much of which I will be perfectly honest and say I didn’t understand. I’m not a business person, not an entrepreneur. I can’t even spell it.

There were parts of the book that I didn’t like, and parts that I did like. But not enough to get more than an “it’s okay” two-star rating.

TTFN, y’all!