Friday, August 20, 2021

"Me, Myself, and Bob," by Phil Vischer


In the late 1990s, my family met Phil Vischer and his company, Big Idea, through Veggie Tales, The children’s ministry at our church was putting together a performance, and my youngest son, then about eight years old, had to learn the following line:

“I’m sorry that I scared you when you saw me on TV.”

I’m not sure, but I THINK he was picked to say that line because he has always been the biggest kid in his class, and his role was that of Frankencelery, aka Phil Winklestein of Toledo, Ohio. So: big character should be played by a big kid. 

It did not go to my son’s strengths.

Still, we rehearsed the line over and over, and when the time came for him to pop up and speak, he had a smile on his face. And nobody threw stones.

Next thing you know, we were all marching around the house, singing “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man!” to the dog; and, we were happy with that. We bought the videos, we bought the cassette tapes, and we learned the words to Silly Songs. We even performed one of them at a family reunion. In fact, I adapted “The Water Buffalo Song” to introduce my middle school to the concept of student conflict managers.

“Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew
To help you when you’re feeling blue,
When you don’t know just what to do
Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew!”

Time passed, and life went on. My kids sort of aged-out of Veggie Tales videos, but we were always happy when the characters popped up again. When “Jonah” hit the big screen, I was delighted, and we went to see it, but I wasn’t really FOLLOWING what was happening with Big Idea.

And so, I was taken by surprise, when I read a May 2004 article in Christianity Today titled “Running Out of Miracles.” I discovered that Big Idea had over-expanded in developing “Jonah,” and as a result, the company collapsed. The part of the article that stayed with me was the last bit, in which Phil Vischer explains to his son the significance of the collapse of Big Idea. The article ends with the statement of hope “There are a million ways to do it” (tell people about God).  
What I retained, though, perhaps because my youngest son was not much older than Phil’s, was the emotional gut-punch of telling your child that your dream, your creation, was just gone.

And that part of my life crawled off into a cave, and whimpered.

17 years later: one of my oldest friends tells me of this podcast he has discovered, taking very seriously  some terrific challenges facing the Christian church. It turns out that it’s none other than: PHIL VISCHER! I start listening, and quickly become FASCINATED with the combination of humor and deep theology. Eventually, I discover Vischer has written THIS book. So, I get it, and read it, and that whimpering part of me comes out of the cave. 

Yes, the book DOES provide interesting bits about Phil’s background, including his amazing forebears, and how he got in trouble in Bible college. It also describes the way technology and talent combined to permit the birth of Veggie Tales. However, the part of the book that has greatest value, to me personally, AND to anyone who wants to turn creativity into a career, is his detailed analysis of how it all went wrong. In brutally simplest terms, it was a conflict of vision with marketing, and a lack of management over all.

It’s a very poignant story. Like the article in Christianity Today, it ends with hope. HOWEVER! It also ends 15 years ago. That was long before he started the podcast I’ve been immersed in for the past couple of months, and it doesn’t reference a number of creative products he has put forward since then. Not all of them worked! Know this, though: Phil Vischer is still plugging away on one or more of the million ways to tell people about God.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough, by Taylor Schumann

This is an Amazon Associates link; if you click on it, and buy something, I get a few pennies.

Taylor Schumann took advantage of the opportunities that came her way. She had earned a degree in social work, was deeply involved in her church, and was one day away from her bridal shower.

The buckshot that mangled her hand and entered her chest changed those opportunities forever.  The day was Friday, April 12, 2013. It was the last morning she would ever wake up without physical pain.

Her book is not really about the shooting, and it’s not about the shooter.  If you are looking for some methodological police procedural, look elsewhere. True crime junkies will not fawn over this book; neither will those who are rabidly anti- OR pro-gun. That’s because this book presents us with a closely observed experience of a person who saved her own life (literally) by hiding in an unlocked closet, and then was (figuratively) forced to save her life again by fighting her way out of locked closet she was placed in against her will.

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, is a trained birth doula. She comes alongside expectant mothers, and guides them through the complications associated with giving birth in the antiseptic, and potentially hostile, conditions found in many hospitals. Time and again, as I was reading Taylor’s story, I wished she had an analogue of a birth doula at her side, to explain to her what was happening, what she could expect, what the outcomes might be, and mostly, to explain her choices to her. Actually, at SOME steps of the process, she had people to fill that role. She commends the police investigators, and representatives of the victim’s assistance program, for guiding her through some of the rough spots in the immediate aftermath. At other times, she was able to rely on family members to help her with procedures and paperwork that were required due to her injuries. 

Those just covered specific points in her recovery, however. Vanessa sits with the expectant mother, all through the process; she attends birthday parties afterward. And over and over, I wished Taylor had a Vanessa to sit with her, providing comfort, support, knowledge and advice; most of all, someone who understood what Taylor was going through.

Behold, I shall hide nothing from you: I own firearms. I am a Life Member of the NRA. Taylor and I are not alike in many ways. However. HOWEVER. However, Taylor’s story touched a part of me that I wasn’t aware existed. It’s not the universe leading up to her shooting that has changed my mind and heart; it’s the universe that exists afterward.

You see, except for the immediate aftermath, Taylor was ignored by too many of the people who meant the most to her. Her background is one that could be described as firearm-friendly, not firearm-hostile. I find myself unable to describe it, other than solidly Southern middle class. People didn’t carry a gun to the dinner table, but there could very well be hunting rifles in a gun cabinet and perhaps a pistol in the drawer of the bedside table. It wasn’t a big part of the lives of her friends and family, but everyone believed in the Second Amendment. 

And because of that, when Taylor got shot, too many of those she cared for simply didn’t know what to do with that. SO, she got ignored. And so, she suffered another loss, in addition to the physical loss of the use of her hand.

That is the figurative closet she was locked into, against her will. 

This book is the story of how she saved her life, a second time. It is also a story in progress.

Taylor offers some action steps, for those who hear her story. Will you understand me if I tell you that there is NO WAY that some of those steps work for me? However, I am compelled to take action to assist those who, like Taylor, had their opportunities limited because someone shot them. I’m open to anything God leads me to do in this respect, but until I get directed in a different direction, I will be donating money to benefit gunshot victims. I’ve already started the process, and will refine it as I get more light.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Book review: "Other Rhodes," by Sarah A. Hoyt

I’m slow. I get there eventually, but I’m slow.

The cover of “Other Rhodes” CLEARLY designates this as “Rhodes 1.” You’d think that I would know that this is first of a series, right? And yet, somewhere after the first half of the novel, I’m doing a frantic-bookworm plea: “Oh, this would make for a WONDERFUL series! I hope she has a series set up! This HAS to be a series!”

Well, duh. It’s first in a series. Therefore, always assuming that the Beautiful-But-Evil Space Princess doesn’t turn her hand to some other endeavor, we have delight ahead.

Delight, that is, for those who enjoy such delicacies as the Hard-Boiled Detective,  Nero Wolfe, Mickey Spillane, Sherlock Holmes, Damon Runyon, and Robert Parker. You know; like that, but different. Because, all that IN S-P-A-A-C-E!!!

A Professor of Literature who read the above paragraph would immediately foam at the mouth, exclaiming “THOSE ARE ALL DIFFERENT! You  can’t lump them into one category!” Well, I just did, and the category was “Written Stuff I Enjoy.” So there.

A silly/dumb/gorgeous secretary. Except she’s NOT silly or dumb (she is gorgeous); except she IS silly and dumb (or, at least ignorant) in the beginning. She’s a hothouse flower, you see. You’ve heard of gilding the lily, meaning that you put needless decoration on something that doesn’t need it? Well, her maiden name is Lilly Gilding. By her own admission, her early education taught her how to dance and look pretty. In that condition, she married Joe Aster (thus acquiring ANOTHER flower name), a private investigator totally unsuitable for a young lady of her status. Her super-wealthy father responded by cutting her off from support, perhaps hoping to bring her to her senses. 

It actually worked, though not in a way Daddy had anticipated, and not in a way Lilly recognized. Forced into the world of work, Lilly became part of Joe’s investigative operation. Silly and dumb people can’t do what she did, and I can only suppose it was because she had never been allowed to overcome challenges that she fails to appreciate all she accomplishes: “merely” a receptionist, she masters typing and accounting, and gets her Investigator license. She becomes an integral part of Joe’s work. All of that, without realizing that she has become far more than ornamental.

That’s the ignorance that is her greatest limitation.

Joe has patterned his practice on a popular series of detective stories. Even their home base/space ship is christened “West 35th Street,” after the locale of the stories. These are presented as immersive experiences (“mersi”) featuring fictional and flawed detective Nick Rhodes and drop-dead-gorgeous partner Stella D’Or. 

Joe loves them; Lilly does not. However, when Joe shows up transformed and incapacitated, the silly/dumb Lilly realizes that the solution lies in the mersi story. 

And she takes appropriate action. Excitement and intrigue ensue. The foundation for a series is laid!

Apropos of nothing, the real West 35th Street in New York is home of the Church of the Incarnation, celebrating the appearance of the Divine in another form. But that is a topic for the Professor of Literature.

Don’t ignore the glorious cover art. It’s almost photo-realism, and would make a GREAT wall poster.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

"We Dare: Semper Paratus "Edited by Jamie Ibson & Chris Kennedy

All of these stories take place after The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI; I think I got that acronym right). No particular cause was stipulated for the writers, so we get a blend: some are from futures already established, such as Chris Woods’ “This Fallen World” universe; while others are brand new disasters. However, fear not; these cloudy worlds all come with some semblance of a silver lining.

THE DAUGHTER, by Chris Kennedy. Set in “This Fallen World.” One of the distinguishing marks of TFW is that the technology existed, prior to the fall, to imprint an entire personality onto/into a subject. While the imprinted subject may need to develop some muscles, all of the reflexes and knowledge that were in the imprint are transferred over. However, only one personality can be dominant at a time. That means that as long as the imprint is in control, the original is (more or less) dormant. The plot, characterization, action of this story are well-developed. However, we are given something else to think about, and we might be thinking about it for a long time: what are the ethics of keeping a subordinate from suffering?

RESPAWN, by Robert E. Hampson. Any right-thinking resident of the South knows that Waffle Houses are rightly the center of culture and goodness, and may very well be the center of the universe. Well, portals, at least; or, they are in this story, even if given an alternative title. When an active playing character gets killed, they are returned to existence in these blessed locations, where there is always a refill for your coffee. Everything else in the universe might vary, though. So be careful.

BOB, FROM LOS ANGELES, by Brent Roeder. Soren Kierkegaard wrote “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” If that is true, then Bob, from Los Angeles, has the purest heart imaginable. Don’t expect him to engage in much idle chatter, but if a job needs to be done? Bob is your man.  

NOR WAR’S QUICK FIRE, by Rob Howell. A person with great wealth arranges to have a small contingent of employees be evacuated to the fledgling colony on Mars, just as war spasms on Earth. It’s amazing how many different perspectives can be held in a group of intelligent people. What’s more amazing is that some perspectives are subject to change.

WHY 2K, by Jon R. Osborne. Now, THIS is the apocalypse we were promised! What if the prep to eliminate the fallout from using only two digits to record the year hadn’t worked, and all the doom and gloom about Y2K had been realized? That’s what THIS story is about; it’s about time!

THE FALLOW FIELDS, PART I, by Jason Cordova, and THE FALLOW FIELDS, PART II, by Christopher L Smith. Confession: I was so caught up in the story, that I kept reading, and didn’t realize until NOW that parts I & II were written by different authors. I suppose an accomplished reviewer would notice the stylistic changes, and have something clever to say about that, but THIS reviewer was simply engrossed in the adventure. 
I don’t know how much chaos reigned in the land that became the Soviet Union during consolidation after the Bolshevik revolution, but I do know that the US military was involved in two separate campaigns, North Russia and Siberia, in the post WWI period. To that chaos, add a zombie apocalypse, and then follow the crew of a tank as they fight their way through the worst that can come at them.

THE RESERVOIR, by Kevin Fritz Fotovich. First Contact didn’t go so well, and big rocks got dropped on our heads. It didn’t take much to disrupt nearly everything. Still, a determined people can rebuild, particularly when the former enemies can lend help. Other people are determined as well, though.

WARLORD, by Christopher Woods. Books have been written about the exploits of Matthew Kade, deservedly so. The imprinting of personalities went somewhat wrong with him, in the same sense that the Atlantic Ocean is somewhat damp. Somehow, he has managed to find a way that all of his many personalities can get along. He really hates people who keep slaves. And he is always on the lookout for new talent.

TEN BREATHS, by Marisa Wolf. Don’t think that magic will prevent the world from ending. It will just end in a different way, with different options. Still, resolute people can fight back. In this universe, the darkness is on the way, and the people must prepare to fight, and to endure.

MOMENTS, by Kevin Ikenberry. It’s bad enough that the world ends. However, when the world ends just after the worst night of your life, you don’t get an opportunity to make up for a momentary failure. And that turns what SHOULD be a moment, into an eternity.  Maybe another moment will come; but don’t bet on it. Just try to keep doing the next right thing.

YOU HAVE TO GO OUT, by Philip Wohlrab. Here’s the deal: in the Army, you can catch your breath during peacetime. Yes, there is still training, and it is demanding, and people can die in accidents, but at least, in peacetime, nobody is actually shooting at you. So, there’s that. HOWEVER, in the Cast Guard, the enemy is the sea, and the sea NEVER is willing to sign a peace treaty. And it doesn’t make any difference to the Coast Guard if people are shooting at you or not; they still have to do their job, and that means going out.

EIGHT OUNCES A DAY, by Kevin Steverson. In the aftermath of an engineered extinction event, protein is hard to come by; the terrorists did their sums wrong, and killed the animals as well as the people. Still, some survive, including a janitor at Kennesaw State University. Too bad their mascot is an owl; a turkey would have been more convenient.

WRAITH, by Marie Whittaker. Fairly soon after the wraiths appear and start eating people, June Bug discovers that salt will kill them dead. It’s not until much later that things get really weird.

DUST TO DUST, by Jamie Ibson. The most intriguing aspect (among the many delights) of this story is that the reason for the apocalypse is not revealed, until it shows up as a part of the Final Answer. Until then, we start with a near-standard tale of the Old West, with a pleasing young lady from Back East arriving to take ownership of the family estate.  However, she is no tinhorn, not a shrinking violet who must rely on the protection of strong-but-silent, etc. From Western, we shift to a mystery, complete with strangers acting strange, and clues to be found. It’s really a great story, and one that could easily fill the pages of a novel.

The collection is packed solid with great stories, and it’s worth multiple re-reads.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Doctor Inferno, by Pam Uphoff

I would have gotten this book, just because it’s written by one of the Masters of Prolificity, Pam Uphoff. Once you start reading her work, you will never finish (at least, not as long as you are trying to do other things with your life); but what a great way to go!

However, there was another reason for picking this volume, and that is that the person on the front cover looks A LOT like me, with some few differences; my hairline hasn’t receded that far back, yet. I was delighted to find that this represents a super-villain, and more so to discover that he’s about three hundred years older than I. So, I have a while to work on the hairline.

Alas, William N. Furnace (Dr. Inferno) and I appear to have at least one other thing in common: we forget things. He forgets what senior activities he has signed up for; I forget to review books I’ve gotten. This particular item was picked up on March 11; today is May 29. 

Sorry, Pam.

He’s long since retired, and been forgotten by the world. That’s what permits him to live undisturbed in a senior facility, close enough to the bright lights of Las Vegas to permit monthly field trips. Undisturbed, despite the fact that one of his fellow residents is a former agent who had pursued him during his days of active mischief. Time has healed those wounds, however, and now they have a bond formed by the fact that they are both inactive, due to being more than three centuries old. They expect that even their advanced, and manipulated, DNA will give out eventually, though, as it has already shown signs of doing.

But, don’t touch that dial! A comeback awaits!

A combination of irascibility, luck, and general refusal to accept fate without fighting back puts our aged ex-villain back into action. Backed with resources accumulated by his long-active AI, Dr Inferno emerges, just in time to threaten/save the world, one more time.

Uphoff’s ability to make you feel the characters she produces is enough to cause one to be just a bit suspicious. Does she actually KNOW a near-senescent super-villain? Is that why she is able to make this character come to life so thoroughly?

Alas. I fear that it’s merely a case of her being able to write characters that we want to be, ourselves. Is there anyone who WOULDN’T like to rise above the wheelchair and adult diapers, and shake the world to its’ foundations again? 

Maybe it’s just because the cover image and I resemble each other, but I think not. I would have liked to read this when I was 12 years old. I was, of course, a confirmed FAN by that time. And, while the technology referenced in the story would have been far advanced for 1965, the true nature of the adventure lies in the determination of the characters to Get The Job Done. And, as long as she is writing about that, not private relationships with super-villains are necessary.

I’m not ruling them out, though. She does, after all, live in Texas.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Night Mage" (Academic Magic Book 2), by Becky R. Jones

The “Academic Magic” series, of which this is the second installment, delightfully mixes the savagery of battles in the halls of higher education with the more civilized conflicts found in the world of magic. An evil mage will merely seek your death, and subordination of the world to their will; the wicked academic, on the other hand, will seek to sabotage your research, have you assigned to a windowless cubicle without access to a copier, and try to make you grovel in order to obtain the golden apple that is TENURE. There truly can be no question as to where the greater peril will be found.

The team which bonded to prevent a demon from destroying the Philadelphia area in the first book has returned, and a few characters are added in the course of the story. For the opposing team, casualties attendant upon their loss have reduced their number, and the influence those that remain are able to bring to bear is significantly reduced.  Dr. Zoe O’Brien, a recent addition to the history faculty and our protagonist, has the vain hope that this will bring a period of peace and tranquility to the campus in general, and her life in particular. Alas, Nature abhors a vacuum, and the depleted forces of the plotters are supplemented by new hires and new powers.

If that were not enough, Zoe’s mentor in things academic as well as magical has been tapped to cover certain administrative tasks for the college, previously managed by one of the vanquished. Thus, he has essentially abandoned his role as her trainer, in favor of meeting the demands of his new position. 

On the other hand, she has cats; cats who can not only talk to humans, but also communicate with other animals (the Watchers) who are sensitive to magical influences. As long as she meets their demands for food and cuddles, they will provide her with the support they think she needs to be successful. The operative term, as anyone who is a servant of cats will understand, is that the advice will be provided according to the CAT’S schedule, not the human’s.

The new crisis is revealed when a previously undiscovered source of magical influence, in the form of ley lines, is reported to Zoe by a Watcher.

As she is a quite recent initiate to the world of magic, and her own powers, she has no way of evaluating the significance or impact of the discovery. Therefore, at first she doesn’t really know whether the message the Watcher has brought her is cause for great alarm, or not, although she suspects the former. Her confusion is compounded by frustrations with the way the experienced magic users are able to pass along the benefits of their wisdom. 

As the main plot moves along, little threads are planted that will (surely) have future payoffs. The powers of student Declan, his relationship with his djinn father, and mixed messages with his academic and magical advisor suggest development at some later date. In addition, Zoe is able to break out some information from her mother about her own parentage, and the bizarre behavior of her absent father. A third point that does directly affect the main story line is the revelation that not all magical agents can be said to be firmly in either camp, enemy or ally. 

And always remember: food service on campus usually provides dismal meals, but they DO make a good burger. 

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"Responsibility of the Crown," by G. Scott Huggins

 I have read a lot of  Scott Huggins’ work over the years, with delight. This was not one of those experiences.

On a world dominated by a great ocean, three different cultures are brought into conflict: The Consortium, a technologically advanced, expansionist civilization, with both land and sea power; the Grove, a merchant nation with massive trading ships, that journey for decades between stops at the home port; and, Evenmarch, which blends dragon and human citizens with reliance on supernatural forces. These are not the only forces at play, but they form the background  against which the characters play out their own drama.

I found two bizarrely disruptive changes from what I have come to expect of this author: first, there are huge gaps in the narrative; second, the protagonist has an irritatingly lumpy progression in her character arc.

The first gap in the narrative comes at the very beginning. Without ANY preparation, we are tossed into an action scene involving Responsibility and Zhad. We are clued in to the fact that Zhad is blind, by the statement that his eyes are white, and his demand that Responsibility tell him what she sees, but we are given NOTHING to tell us about who, or what, or even where Responsibility is, or the significance of her name.  In the “Acknowledgments” section, the author mentions two prior works involving the character, and perhaps all the necessary back-story is contained there. However, none of that was available to me, and I had to collect the history in minute amounts as it was doled out in the narrative. Had this been an author I was not familiar with, or less favorably inclined toward, I would not have bothered. 

There is a similar gap, although not as severe, in the narrative between chapters 7 and 8. At the end of Chapter 7, Responsibility, now known by her true name of Azriyqam, has just faced a death duel, and has been given significant instruction on  aspects of loyalty and unity. In the very next page, with no transition given at all, we read that she is drowning, followed by a confusing narrative about her instruction in the supernatural arts. I found this to be utterly disorienting; it took me entirely out of the story.

The second significant glitch I encountered was the  inconsistent progress that the protagonist makes during the story. Admittedly, there is much she has to adjust to;  initially, she is a much abused and neglected prisoner, always fearing for her life. Very early in the book, however, she discovers that she is the daughter of the ruler of a powerful kingdom.  The whole of the book deals with her spiritual journey to accept and emerge into her new role. 

However, she is both poorly instructed, in some cases, and then often resistant to what instruction she is given. For example, we learn that she is unable to to pronounce certain phrases of power correctly, as long as she clings to her learned accent. However, if she intentionally mimics the speech of one of her antagonistic characters, her pronunciation is perfect. Despite learning this trick, however, she refuses to implement it.
She seems to shift back and forth, from acceptance to rejection, at random. 
Her stubborn refusal to accept the need to adapt is mirrored perfectly in another character, who is forced by circumstances to become an ally. In her case, though, she has her intransigent behavior stuffed into her face:

“Are you going to keep underestimating us, Captain? Or will you consider that you may have something to learn?” (Huggins, G. Scott. Responsibility of the Crown . New Mythology Press. Kindle Edition.)

And, who is the wiser person who forces this realization? None other than Responsibility/Azriyqam. So, if she preach it, why can’t she live it out?

I really liked the culture clashes possible with the three distinct civilizations. The great world-spanning oceans might be exactly what permits each grouping to go its’ own way, with civilizations based on water at a technological disadvantage to those with access to mineral resources on land. The story of the Lost Princess/Prince is a good one, and can be enjoyed in many permutations. I also appreciate the various aspects of sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic being used in the story; at one point, radio is explained by one character to another as sorcery, because the tech is too confusing. 

Although much of the main storyline is resolved, there are many threads that can be followed in the future. I hope that in those theoretical future volumes, the author will provide the reader with enough history to prevent the disorientation that I experienced. I certainly remain a fan of his work, and hope to see more on the way.

Peace be on your household

Monday, May 24, 2021

"When Valor Must Hold," Book One, Rob Howell, editor

(Amazon Associates link)

Sigh. Another anthology. These are almost always my favorite things to read, but my least favorite things to review.
I love to read them, because they were the first form I was able to enjoy, once I discovered my passion for reading. Being a bookworm with ADD meant that grabbing a big thick chapter book just wasn’t in the cards; but short stories? Yes, those kept my attention quite nicely. And today, sometimes my need for escape is far better met a small bite at a time.
Reviewing them, on the other hand, is a massive undertaking. Each author has compacted an experience into a very small package, and my job is to share that with the reading public. If it’s a novel I’m reviewing, that’s one job; in this anthology, it’s fourteen jobs. To that, add the fact that SOME short stories turn on a small plot twist, or a pun, even, and that I must NOT give that away because SPOILER….and, it’s tough.
Yet, my valor must hold; I must do the job I am called to do. So, let us gird up our loins, and dive into the stories. The monsters await!

Darkness Before the Dawn by Christopher Woods. Things haven’t worked out for Zaro. He has an affinity for each of the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but none of them selected him for training. So, he was left without a career, and separated from his true love, who was bound to Water. Rather than give up, though, he sets his hand to do what he can; and he does his duty, with each new day.

The Game’s Afoot by Christopher G. Nuttall. The people at the top do this and that, and believe that their whims rule reality. It’s always left up to the grunts to get the job done, though. 

The Ogre’s Brownies by RJ Ladon. Dogumrik is a brownie warrior, fierce and brave; but: tiny. The measure of the heart is far more than stature, though.

Dust in the Mouth by William Joseph Roberts. Draven is independent, before he is anything else. Even so, he willingly pledges his service to travelers he meets in the forest. But there are more dangers than sword and beasts to overcome.

Hanging by a Thread by Benjamin Tyler Smith. What a strange place to set a story! Some folks are dead, though still moving around; others are maybe not. But regardless of their status, it seems that without good policing, the mighty will ever persecute the weak.

Shard’s Fortress by Dexter Herron. This anthology contains 82 f-bombs, by Kindle count. 79 of those are contained in this selection. Is there a story, in addition? Possibly, and that’s a shame, because anything worthwhile is lost in noise.  I gave up, in disgust, after the third or fourth page. I don’t think it’s funny, and I really don’t know why someone with the authority to do so didn’t point out that 79 f-bombs gets tiresome.

Horse’s Heart by Sarah A. Hoyt. When it looks like all is lost, a myth turns out to be true. The tale of multiple heroes, but mostly of one who conquered his own death.

Island of Bones by William Alan Webb. The magicians hitch a ride with the smugglers, and snark at each other; the dialogue is worth the price of admission. Finding faithfulness in the treacherous is also quite pleasant, but I don’t think I understand what happened at the end.

Goddess’s Tears by Cedar Sanderson. Strip away the magnificent language, and the adventure, and you have the story of an abused and neglected woman who has had enough. Because she faces supernatural opposition, she has supernatural support; it’s her determination that makes liberation possible, though, and there is nothing supernatural about that. Magnificent, but not supernatural.

Hold the Line by Kevin Steverson and Tyler Ackerman. This is the story of the scouts. Circumstances deprive them of their role, but they report for duty anyway, and do what is needed.

What’s in a Name by Rob Howell. The protagonist begins the story disoriented, and I joined him in that; I didn’t have any idea WHAT was really going on for quite some time, which isn’t something I enjoy. It turns out to be a tale of conflicting loyalties.

The Errand by Jon R. Osborne. Vikings are jerks, and Vikings with magic are REALLY hard to kill. Even a ferocious Irish archer can use some magical help, from time to time, in order to fight back.

No Trade for Nice Guys by D.J. Butler. I’m not familiar with Indrajit and Fix, but they seem like a lovely pair of sell-swords. They have a way of making things work out, even if they aren’t playing with a full deck.

Fistful of Silver by Quincy J. Allen. Rellen is a sort of bounty hunter, or roving problem-solver. Magic is nicely limited in application in this story, by factors we can understand: if we haven’t LEARNED a language, we can’t read it. Getting to the root of the problem requires some serious detective work.

I found some of the stories to be excellent, and this despite the fact that fantasy really is NOT my cup of tea. Of the rest, all, with the notable exception of Shard's Fortress, were quite palatable, and worth the read. 

Peace be on your household.

Friday, May 21, 2021

"Jaguar Rising," by Amanda S. Green


(an Associates link)

The first book in this series, Nocturnal Origins, was one of the first books I reviewed when I started out in 2014. I blush now, when I admit that I wrote the review with my tongue so firmly placed in my cheek that my ear was slightly bruised. At the time,  I was a bit put off by message-fiction, in which all of the value seemed to be related to whether some social or political agenda was promoted, and good story-telling was ignored.  As an act of rebellion, I decided to write the review as if I were one of the worst of the message-fiction lovers, and had missed the point, utterly. The title of my review on Amazon was “A blisteringly erotic LGBT allegory.”

I blush, again.

If my count is correct, this is the tenth installment in the story of Mackenzie Santos, who started her story as a cop, only to have complications added over the past seven years (or so) of her life in literature. Thus we have a significant problem for the author who writes a series:

How do you address the disorientation of a reader who enters the world, somewhere other than at the beginning? And, how do you do that, without boring the reader who has been following the story all along?

Without detailing the alternatives, other than saying that failure to provide SOME mechanism to bring the initiate up to speed is a BAD choice, I think the method Amanda Green chose in this volume is magnificent. She incorporated most, if not all, of the necessary background into the narrative. Thus, as we see Captain Santos preparing for a new job, we are also given the history of the job she is leaving behind. Her relationships with friends and family are revealed, in the course of the discussion of who will attend which event, and which child needs a snack, and who will provide it.

A straight data dump would likely have been indigestible to the novice, and a waste of space for the committed fan of the story. Furthermore, the transition from background to current events would have been clunky; with this treatment, I found the transition to be perfectly seamless.  

I’m going to have to give part of my applause to the craftsmanship of the writing, and another part to what HAS to be some great planning of the story arc. Knowing what is going to happen in the life of the character isn’t always possible, I’ve learned, but it surely does make for good beginnings and endings to stories.

There is no guarantee that the principal characters in these stories are going to emerge unscathed, or even alive. After all, Santos herself dies in the first installment. However, WHATEVER befalls them is integral to the story; they aren’t killed off just for the sheer bloody-mindedness of it. So, be prepared to have some shocks, as you start your read. Green does NOT hamstring the villains, and in some cases, they accomplish their evil plans.

And those evil plans initiate RAPIDLY. Before the close of the second chapter, the action commences. I really wouldn’t call the book “action-packed,” as it isn’t one exploding spaceship/car chase after another. However, it IS story-packed, with no wasted narrative, and if there are any rabbit trails, I didn’t notice them.

The complications added to Santos’ life over the years are present in the storyline; we see her in her role as a cop, as a Marine officer, as a member of a family with close ties, and as a person with responsibilities to a greater organization. All of these are strongly positive in her life, but they also take a toll on her, and there are times when her fatigue is palpable; I found myself wanting to take a nap for her. 

I find myself wanting to tell the story, but I’m not going to do that, because spoilers. However, I WILL say this: there is no time in which Santos shape-shifts into a duck. I’m not saying whether that is a good thing or a bad thing; it WOULD bring an element of the absurd into the story, which would be out of place, but who am I to judge? At any rate rate, it doesn’t happen, and we can thank the good sense of the author for that.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Guest Column: Addiction and Spree Killing

 I regret that I didn't post this earlier; at the time I got it, I was in a schedule crunch, and then I forgot. But I DID remember this morning, WITHOUT being reminded, so: here is a guest column!

First off, hello Padre, thank you for taking the time to read your favorite daughter's discombobulated thoughts!

Second, HELLO, INTERNET WORLD!!!!!! Hello to friends and family, known and unknown, I sincerely pray that this finds you healthy and full of joy! 

If you haven't already read Papa's posts (HERE and HEREon the events in Georgia, you should start there, or at your news outlet of choice, otherwise this may not make much sense. It may not make sense anyway, but I digress. 

I grew up in a little town called Woodstock in the state of Georgia. And when I was growing up, it really WAS a little town. It was SAFE, it was SHELTERED, and bad people didn't live there or ever go there. At least, in my kid brain, that's what I thought. And most of it might have even been true. But then, as is known to happen, the Big City just south of us got bigger and bigger, and Woodstock turned into "north Atlanta." Now, that doesn't really matter, EXCEPT that for my kid brain, BAD THINGS DON'T HAPPEN IN WOODSTOCK, AND NO WOODSTOCK RESIDENT WOULD EVER DO ANYTHING BAD!!!!! My adult brain knows how false that is, because I was a heroin addict in Woodstock, and I did plenty of bad things. Again, I digress.

I heard a snippet of a "news" program the other day, I do apologize, I didn't pay enough attention to know names or stations, but I did see the header "Parlor Shootings in Atlanta" and I was aware that they were interviewing an Asian reporter (the only reason that stuck was I feel like they said something about "thank you for being the voice of your people" and it made me roll my eyes a little bit, again, I didn't really know what happened). 

It's a bad day when a 32 year old woman can see something about a shooting on tv and just think "ah crap, another one. Here come the lobbyists for gun control." I had NO context about it. NO IDEA except for "shooting in Atlanta". And then I read Papa's blog post, and looked into it a bit. And my first thought was "Oh no..... He's from Woodstock." It immediately shattered my "small town feel" of my home town. IS THAT IMPORTANT???? Yes and no, but mostly no. People are dead, lives have been changed forever, in the long run it doesn't matter where the suspect received mail at. Yes, only because it shows me that the whole world is hurting. It's not just the big cities. It's not just minorities. The whole entire world is on fire, but instead of trying to do something about it, we want to micromanage issues that are political hot buttons and "sexy" right now. Namely, gun control. Here's the problem..... There have been changes. There have been issues that have been addressed. This VERY young man (he's only 21, that's a BABY) still somehow got his hands on a firearm, walked into several buildings, and took innocent lives.

This is not a gun issue.

Another hot button that we will choose to talk about? Racism. Most of his victims were of Asian descent, and he is a white man, so OBVIOUSLY he was a racist. Now, I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT, so I'm not going to say anything about that, but I will say this: this is not a race issue.

And then we're going to go a little bit old school and rehash some hot buttons of years past: Pornography. Ted Bundy blamed it for his crimes, as did countless other serial killers that I don't feel like naming. I'm going to go ahead and pop this bubble right now: Pornography does not make people murder other people. It just doesn't have that power! It can ruin relationships if it's allowed to, sure, but then we're getting into another issue altogether, which is what the suspect has blamed his abhorrent acts on as of now: Addiction. As an alcoholic and an addict, this is something that I understand, at least to a point. The suspect has said that he blames massage parlors and the people who work at them for fueling his sex addiction. 

During my sickness, I blamed poor Kroger for selling alcohol because I was an alcoholic and I was GOING to buy booze when I went grocery shopping.

I blamed the people I hung out with for having drugs in their pockets that they would share. 


Oh but we are a selfish lot. 

I'm going to bring this up, and I'll put it right back in the box, because it's something I am currently working through so I don't have as much knowledge, wisdom, or understanding as I will, God willing, in the future days, weeks, and months. 

The article that I read (from The Patch) stated that the suspect was very active in his church. Keeping in mind that this is a sick individual who needed help BUT I BELIEVE chose not to seek it, bear with me here..... I was brought up in the church and I am unashamed to say that I am a Born Again Christian and I do attend a church that preaches the Word of God. I ALSO have some very deep wounds from "the church" when it comes to sexuality. I believe that we live in a CULTURE where, if you are religious IN ANY CAPACITY, sex is a subject that is off limits. I say in any capacity because THIS IS NOT A CHRISTIAN THING. This is something that is seen in almost EVERY religion around the world, sex is not talked about in a healthy way, and HUMAN SEXUALITY has been DEMONIZED, and as a result, people are going off the deep end because "if I have sexual feelings, then I obviously don't really believe in *enter deity here* and I'm going to *enter bad underworld here* so I might as well be bad because I OBVIOUSLY am hopeless". AND THAT IS A LIE!!!!!!!!!! I'm not going to get into a talk about sex here, but I will say this: SEX IS NOT UNCLEAN. IT DOESN'T DAMN YOU TO HELL. THE CREATOR CREATED YOU AS A SEXUAL BEING, SO STOP THINKING YOU'RE UNLOVEABLE BECAUSE YOU HAVE FEELINGS!!!!!!

Now, that being said. This young man stated he has a sex addiction, and that brings me to my possibly final point: I am curious to know if he sought addiction counseling. I highly doubt he did, and here's why:

1) Counseling is expensive

2) We still hold on to this archaic belief that if we go to a head doctor, there's something wrong with us, people will look down at us, they'll think we're crazy, and they won't want to be around us anymore.

3) Counseling is expensive.

4) Most "regular" people don't even know where to start when it comes to looking for a therapist who is an expert in what we're dealing with, so after a quick webmd check to diagnose ourselves and then getting distracted by other things online, we get frustrated with not being able to find any help and we stop. 

5) I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but COUNSELING IS EXPENSIVE. 

So we self medicate, which makes us more sick, which makes us that much more unlikely to reach out for help.

All of that to say, yeah, I know what PART of the solution is. Quality, affordable, accessible mental health options. I don't know how it'll happen, because that's not what they're paying me for, but I will say this: I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic. I sought out help. When one thing didn't work, I tried something different. I go to my psychiatrist on a regular basis. I'm on a wait list for a talk therapist. And yes, it's expensive. I wish it wasn't. But I will die if I don't get help.

I leave you with this:

Feeling bad, don't mean doing bad.

Be angry, and sin not.

Do the next right thing.

Bess B.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The April Fool of 2021, plus it's Good Friday, and RED Friday

A great good morning to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, this story will not come as a surprise.


The blog title is “The April Fool of 2021;” but if I were writing this as a 19th century adventure, I would most assuredly add 
How Dr. Joseph Cousin, Senior, 
and I 
Combined Efforts 
To Produce 
Goodness From Goofiness.”

Despite appearances, you ARE getting a massively edited version of the events taking place on April 1, 2021. This is a John 21:25b-type event! (If I wrote it in detail, even the world itself couldn’t contain it…)

So, dispensing with the HIGHLY significant and relevant 1995 events, as well as those from 2001,  2011, and 2020s, even MOST of 2021 events (!), I present to you the story of how The Reverend Doctor Joseph Cousin, pastor of Allen Temple AME Church of Woodstock, and the Forward Focused Thursday broadcast, combined with my own gifts (!!) to play the best April Fool Joke on me EVER!!!

If you wish to know the background, you will find it in the breathtaking true-life story of “The Church Lady and the Motorcycle White Boy, Volume II,” which is still being written. And lived.

For reasons, every Thursday at noon since November, I have made it a priority to listen to Allen Temple AME’s Facebook live stream, “Forward Focused Thursday.” The patriarch, Bishop Philip Cousin, is joined by two of his two sons, Dr. Michael Cousin, Sr, and Dr. Joseph Cousin, Sr, and by grandson Reverend Steven Cousin Jr, with grandson Reverend Timothy Cousin making frequent appearances as well. (All these men are AME pastors, and the godly heritage itself is enough to commend it to listeners.)

I never finish the live stream as the same person I was when it started. Sometimes challenged, sometimes comforted, usually both; it’s an exposure to probably two centuries of combined experience of godly men. (Must I state explicitly that they all, particularly the 89 year old Bishop, bring a perspective that I can only PARTLY comprehend, and that’s my reason for tuning in?)

Yesterday, I go to the live cast as usual. Almost immediately, the team reminds me that this is Holy Week, when we remember the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus; yet, knowing the RESURRECTION is coming. Deep thoughts, not only of first century events, but what we can do TODAY. And I’m thinking those thoughts, when…

...a little past the six minute mark, Pastor Joseph says this is pre-recorded, because he has been asked to attend a “rally/press conference/event” to protest some legislation placing restrictions on the voting processes.

Since I am under a self-imposed ban on news, I wasn’t aware of this issue, so I paused the stream, and googled “Atlanta Voting Protest.” And THIS  is the result I found. The article states that a protest to Bill 531, to restrict some voting rights, was being held at the Capitol, starting at 5:31 AM, and going to 5:31 PM. 


O Best Beloved, if you have clicked on that link, and seen the article, did YOU catch the TWO alerts that I missed? Yes? No? I’ll tell you later, in case you missed them, as I did.

"That's a good cause," I thought. "I need to go to that, and take Kenneth." He's my 16 year old son, and was home yesterday. 

"Come on, Kenneth, put on your shoes and socks. I'm going to take you to your first protest demonstration!"

(SQUAWK SQUAWK!! “Protest? Protest WHAT?” SQUAWK! SQUAWK!!!)

But, he’s a good and cooperative young man, and in a moment or two, he does appear, wearing shoes and socks. 

I want to get there, participate, and get back home before the traffic gets bad. It’s about 12:30, I figure it will take us an hour to get to the Capitol, find a place to park, and walk to the event. So, minutes count; which is why I don't even finish listening to the rest of Forward Focused Thursday. They are around 10 minutes in, at this point, and talking about football, about which I know little and care less, so I just hit the PAUSE button, and down the road Kenneth and I go. 

I will spare you from hearing the chants I told Kenneth he would have to learn before we got there. 

“It’s a protest, Kenneth! Of COURSE you have to chant.”
“I don’t want to chant,” he replies. “It bothers people.”
“That’s the POINT!” I said.
At the Capitol, we do find a protest, and some of the protesters are wearing "VOTE" facemasks, but they are there for something else. 
I eventually discover NO ONE is there for protest against 531, and that the 531 protest was: 
last month. 

This rally was in support of the family and cause of Justice for Jamarion (Robinson), who would have been 31 years old today. I wept, hearing his story; could have been my Kenneth. Could easily have been me, at that age.

When we get back home, I discover that the Channel 11 news item I had seen was dated MARCH 1, not APRIL 1. And that the protest took place on a MONDAY, not a Thursday. (Didn't notice that.)
Then, I listen to the rest of the Forward Focused Thursday cast, and at around 33:00 hear Pastor Joseph say that he is headed to the World of Coke for the protest event.

Wrong cause.
Wrong place.
Wrong month.

Other than that, everything went GREAT! 

I had a great time with Kenneth, and was deeply moved by Jamarion's story. 
I got to take Kenneth to his first protest event:
One of the organizers and Kenneth, 
because I needed a pic to send to Vanessa,
who had no idea what I was doing

And I learned another lesson in the sweetness of willingly accepting a drink from the Cup of Humiliation! It burns horribly if you resist, but it goes down like cool balm for the soul if you accept the correction. 
Habakkuk21b: “I will keep watch to see what He will say to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” 
If my reply is “Yes, Lord,” then I can laugh at my foolishness, and not be ashamed.
So, laugh with me!    

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Violet Mouse, by Cedar Sanderson

 A great good afternoon to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, my foot feels better.

"It’s just that there’s not much hope for me right now." 

(Sanderson, Cedar. The Violet Mouse, p. 13. Sanderley Studios. Kindle Edition)

Among the good writers, there are writers of great beauty. Not EVERY good author writes great beauty, and that’s okay; desirable, even. I’m not sure we could take it if EVERY writer stamped great beauty on every page.

Why? Because when you encounter great beauty in a passage, you have to put the work down, and whisper in a very small voice, “wow.” Or, perhaps you have to grab the book, and run to find your beloved, and read the passage to them. Or maybe you just sit, flummoxed in your chair, at the personal insight you have been given.

It’s almost always a personal insight; I don’t know that a writer of beauty ever cares about trivia such as international relations. I’ve got six lines from more-or-less obscure-ish works (not on the NY Times Best-Seller’s List) that I could probably quote to you verbatim. Half of those are from three different authors; the other half come from the eclectic genius we know as Cedar Sanderson.

To the best of my knowledge, I have cherished most of these in my heart, at least in the beginning. They have been too intimate for me to record them in a review, at least as first. There was one exception, where I referred to a passage I’d found in a preview of her work in progress 

 as “A Diamond The Size Of Your Fist.”

Now, you may be eagerly awaiting the revelation of what beauty-writing I have found in THIS short work; get used to disappointment. I may not tell you. Not WILL not; MAY not. That’s because it would be an unconscionable spoiler. It’s the fourth line from the end of the story, though. DON’T go there first! What are you, eight years old?

Sanderson, to whom I once awarded three Nobel Prizes (Literature, Physiology, and Peace) after a long period of sleep deprivation 

has acquired multiple skill sets over the years, but for the recent past, has been employed in a laboratory where Science happens. As she has done in previous works, she uses her experience to bring out a richness of characterization, while constructing a solid plot. 

In this story, three laboratory workers proceed with an ethically and legally risky next step, after discovering that the covert work of one of them has  permitted a complete color change on two select rats.

And that’s VIOLET, as in purple, lilac, etc. Although, I first read it as including an ‘N,’ making it a VIOLENT mouse. 

I wonder if the story had an origin with a mouse that beat up the other mice, and bit fingers?

Peace be on your household. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Todd, Hannah, Beach Access #01: A Divine Appointment

 A great good morning to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, help yourself to some pinto beans. I’m having mine over Ritz crackers, but there is brown rice as well.

This is the story of Todd, Hannah, and Beach Access #01. It takes place in Jacksonville, Florida,  a lovely city, with just a few drivers intent on vehicular mayhem; none of them feature in this story.

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I were in Jacksonville this past weekend to say good-bye to our dear Jan Patterson-McIvor, my step-mom, who had crossed over earlier this month.

It was a very positive, albeit sometimes weepy, weekend.

Sunday morning, Vanessa and I checked out of the hotel, emerging into wind-driven rain and 50 degree temps. Still, we wanted to visit the beach.

I had promised Alicia Ann that if we DID go to the beach, I’d bring her some back.  Besides that, an  ocean beach can be impressive in rotten weather. 

Waze directed us to Beach Access #01, just a few miles from the hotel.  Not being made out of sugar, we stepped bravely into the drizzling wind, made our way across the wooden bridge, and followed the short path to the water, where I scooped up a small bottle of sand and ocean for Alicia. Both of us took pictures with our phones, and I took a couple of short videos.

A 7-second video of Vanessa at Beach Access # 01
Caution: WIND NOISE!

The wind was behind us, as we strolled down the beach to the nearest lifeguard post, but when we turned around to head back, WHAM!!! Driven sand, cold rain, fierce cold breeze, BRRRR.

Walking back. See the wind-whipped jacket?

Vanessa had her hoodie up, but the sand-filled wind was still chewing on her. I don’t mind the cold so much, so I took off my jacket, and tried to wrap her up in it. I think that was when it happened: 

Her phone fell out of her pocket.

Of course, we didn’t realize it until we were back at the car. We chatted for a bit:

No, you stay here, I’ll go find it. 
The ringer is off, you say? 
No problem, your phone is pink.

On my way back out to the beach, I greeted the Beach Stranger, a tall & handsome younger-ish man (a tiny bit of gray in his well-groomed beard) who was wearing some sort of ocean-guy suit, covering torso and shorts. (I’m sure it has a name.) We exchanged howdy, and that was it, until I fell down on the stairs to the bridge. Then, I had to assure him that I was okay, just old and clumsy, and thanked him for his concern and encouragement.

I headed toward the lifeguard chair, to look for Vanessa’s phone, while Beach Stranger went straight to the ocean (barefoot, which is wise) and took some pictures. 
I could find nothing, but I could pray:
“Lord, help me find Vanessa’s phone. Please don’t let this sour her memory of the weekend. Please, Father, let me find her phone.”
(By the way, you CAN pray with cold rain and sand being driven into your beard.)

I headed back toward Beach Access #01, looking for the path we had taken. The wind had obscured our footprints. 
As I drew closer to the Beach Stranger, I asked him if he was leaving right away, or if he would be here for a while. I told him of the lost phone, and said if he didn’t mind looking around, I’d give him $5 just for that, and real money if he found it. 
He laughed at that, and told me he wasn’t concerned about money, that he was doing well. He said he was out here to go for a swim, but he seemed happy to help. 

I showed him where we had walked, to the lifeguard chair, and how I had tried to repeat our path, but found nothing. He pointed out that the tide was coming in. I realize now that if I was basing my search on distance from the ocean, I could be off by several feet.

He continued down the beach toward the lifeguard chair, while I stomped through the possibly phone-obscuring foam accumulated at the edge of the waves, to no avail. 
I turned back, just in time to see him bend over and pick something up, and wave at me.

You know what it was.

At age 27,  I would have run toward him. At 67, I just trudged. When I got to him, he was still wiping the sand off Vanessa’s phone, and it was still working.

We headed back to Beach Access #01. I said

“I know money isn’t important to you, but would it make you mad if I prayed to the Most High God, to give thanks for you, and for finding that which was lost?”

He looked at me strangely. Oh, so very strangely. It was one of those moments that stretches out, and then he said:

“That’s what I was going to ask you to do. I’ve just lost the love of my life. I believe she is my soul mate, but she is younger than I am, and she wants to learn more about life before settling down.”

He said a few more things, but they were private, between the two of us. And I said a few more things to him, mostly a bit of my own story, and broken hearts healed; also private, between the two of us.

He told me his name was Todd, and her name was Hannah.

We had arrived back at Beach Access #01, and we walked over to the Suburban, where my Sweet One waited. 

The mighty prayers my wife can pray! She prayed for blessings, and healing of the heart, and comfort, and reconciliation, and God’s purposes made evident, and the desires of the heart fulfilled, and thanksgiving for this stranger who had helped us without thought for himself. And she prayed that Hannah would find what she was looking for. 

We do not know all of the things that Todd the Beach Stranger brought to his meeting with the Redneck Biker and the Church Lady. We know almost nothing about Hannah. 

But we do know our Father, and we know about Divine Appointments.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Mass Murder: An Oblique Approach

The solemn nature of this post, along with yesterday's, prompts me to abandon my typical whimsical opening. Be sure, though, that I do care for those who read this, and ALL my posts. 

Yesterday, I called for a return to federal and state support of mental health services. I referenced a WORKABLE solution to the specific problem of school shootings, which I had personally been involved in establishing in my home county, about 30 years ago. 

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, had some mild concern that my linking the shooting with mental health would serve to further stigmatize that problem. This was troubling to her. As is the case with many, if not most, of you, there are people we know, and love, who are struggling with some mental health issues. I hope NEVER to add to the burden these must bear already.

As I said, Vanessa had some mild concern. This she expressed in both digital and analogue form. The digital manifestations were comments that she added to yesterday's post, as well  as on my BootFace posting. These were written in brief, in passion, and on her scant lunch break.

However, when she got home, she expressed those same concerns in analogue fashion; although, her approach COULD be termed as analogue digital, as she used her DIGITS (fingers, get it?) to get my attention. After grasping my mat off chest hair and drawing me close, and driving her knee into an area I'll not be using for much of anything for a while, she whispered gently, directly into my ear, at about 120 decibels: 

"It's not mental health, dear. It's sin."

I disagree not at all with my wife, for her scintillating exposition gently brushed away any objections I might have. In addition, even before she explained her position to me in a way I could understand, I, too, believe the root problem is one of sin. In fact, I'm inclined to say the sin runs far deeper than what my Sweet One was suggesting.

Vanessa, despite my jokes about her affirmative approach, is above all a nurturing mother (and grandmother and great-grandmother). When she heard of the shootings, her heart  turned first to the families of the eight dead, and the wounded, and almost simultaneously to the family of the shooter. (My policy is NEVER to mention the name of shooters, thus I can't identify them here.) Vanessa is appalled and horrified that the innocents are paying a terrible price for something they bear no responsibility for. 

And thus, not ONLY does she wish to protect the people suffering from mental illness from being compared to a murderer, she also can NOT tolerate the idea of the bringer of so much suffering and grief being excused by a casual classification as "he is mentally ill." Who could NOT appreciate her perspective?

I agree with her. One of the FEW things we know about the shooter, is that he stated that he was driven to eliminate sources of sexual temptation, stating that he was a sex addict. Clearly, treating other humans as an object, only useful as a means of gratifying lust, is sin. If you are willing to admit that such a thing as 'sin' exists, then treating other humans as things has to qualify. 

In fact, I regard a core element of most, if not EVERY vile action to be regarding humans as things. Genocide: get rid of those things; they aren't us, therefore they aren't worth anything. Looting pension plans: the people who invested their life savings aren't real; they are barely significant as entries in a ledger somewhere. Slavery; Rape; Pedophilia; all have at the core the concept that these are not humans to be considered, but objects to exploit. Even trivial, misdemeanor crimes likely have some element of objectifying humans. Would you speed in traffic, if you were thinking about the people in the other cars as people, not barriers to your progress?

Four dead; one wounded.

I do NOT know what transpired inside the three businesses that were attacked on Tuesday. I know the names of the businesses; I know that seven of the eight people killed were women, and six of those were Korean; and, I know that the shooter regraded them as temptations. I have ZERO evidence that they did anything unethical, immoral, or illegal. And Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms quickly, and correctly stated that there was NEVER going to be any blaming of the victims. She is right, she is right. SHE IS RIGHT.

But, let us return to the concept of sin, and to the idea of victims.

Even without the assumption that the employees of these businesses were performing lewd acts, I maintain that they were already victims, before the shooter entered the building.

About five years ago, my family lost a close friend, a smart, charming, beautiful young single mom who had grown up eating meals and hanging out at Vanessa's house, classmates of our (now adult) daughters. Struggling to make it on her own, while earning a degree in psychology, she took a job as an "exotic dancer." In other words, a stripper. 

She was a victim. Men paid outrageous sums of money to see her take her clothes off, and that is all they valued her for. She was a victim, in part because there was NO WAY that she could make the money she needed to support herself and her little girl, and pay for school, without being a stripper. 

Look, I GET it. Consenting adults. Freedom of speech. And so on. ALL of those are good ideas, and I will not speak against them. 

It's just that I happen to know, via private sources, that the women in the clubs are paid as independent contractors, and thus are denied ALL fringe benefits, INCLUDING employer payments into Social Security, any health insurance; AND!!!! they are not truly in the status of independent contractors.

So, let us NOT blame the victims, but let us DO consider the sins against them. 

Mayor Bottoms: you had four women killed in your city. Were these women essentially forced into working in these environments because there was NO OTHER WAY they could support themselves and their families? I think that's systematic, institutional sin. Were they ALSO being paid as independent contractors, without really qualifying? Also institutional sin. 

Also: two of those killed in Cherokee County, and all four killed in Atlanta, were Korean women. I don't know; perhaps those six consisted of ALL the Korean women working in massage parlors. Maybe the shooter went after them specifically, although the cops are saying that doesn't seem to be the case. But if we were to investigate, and find that Korean women are vastly over-represented in employees of massage parlors, then I think that is evidence of a systematic sin. 

I'm sick about this. I'm sick thinking about the way things were before the shooting, and I'm sick thinking about the fact that unless the institutional sin is addressed, victims will still suffer.

SO: I'm going to start by writing my congressman, to address the mental health issues I discussed yesterday, and I'm going to contact the IRS to see if they will investigate the employment status of the women in the shadowy industry. And, I'm gonna pray, too.

Peace be on your household. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When Will We Pay The Price To Stop Random Mass Murder?

I had written something else for today, but then I discovered that a 21-year-old Woodstock man had murdered eight people in three separate shootings last night.

Police identified the shooter, and somehow discovered he was heading south. He was arrested in Crisp County (county seat = Cordele)  in a combined Georgia State Patrol and Crisp County Sheriff's Office pursuit. The location is a little more than halfway to Florida from the Atlanta area. 

I'm a little confused about the locations where he committed the murders. The one a few miles from me had the word "Massage" in the business name; the other two , "Spa;" some of the articles have identified all three as massage parlors. We do know that most of the victims were female, and reportedly at least four were Korean. (And so far, Newsweek has the best information.)

I believe that it is inevitable that the same tired old arguments are going to be dragged out again. 

One group will shriek "No more thoughts and prayers! Time to pass sensible gun control legislation!" and then move to ban, or restrict...something. Or, all things related to firearms.

One group will shriek "The only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!" and then decry any attempt to take action as un-American, wicked, and dictatorial.

And they will BOTH have missed the point. 

I know this, because EVERY time there has been violence, they have missed the point. Actually, I don't think most of the Big Mouths on either side REALLY are invested in solving the problem. That's because it will require them to advocate for something that will IMMEDIATELY cost money.

The problem is mental health, and it's a problem because:

  1. Our country, and individual states, made the decision to get out of the mental health business
  2. A few private hospital groups discovered they could charge insurance companies $900/day to provide mental health beds (including addiction issues), and keep people in the hospital for a year or more
  3. Insurance companies finally got fed up at the ABUSE of the system, and cracked down under the umbrella of  'managed care.'
It was GREAT for taxpayers! At first. And the ability of insurance companies to limit just how many days they would pay for helped their bottom line. But it was AWFUL for the general public.
First, it tossed a LOT of people with poor social skill out on the street, and we had an immediate homeless problem.
Second, as mental hospitals and treatment centers had their income slashed, the budgets for services got slashed as well, and what USED to be a pretty good safety net vanished. I addressed some of that in my post about solving school shootings 

Here's what we have now:
  • You have reason to believe that someone is a danger to themselves or others.
  • You report that to your doc, or the cops, or county mental health
  • A designated professional person evaluates them, and makes a recommendation
  • Pretty much, nothing happens.
You see, there are only a tiny number of mental health beds. The evaluators KNOW this. So, if there are not beds to place a person for treatment, then something OTHER than hospitalization is recommended. Sometime after I wrote my post on school shootings, I discovered that at least ONE time, the Parkland shooter had been referred for an evaluation, and: nothing happened. So, 17 people DIED, more were wounded. And nothing of significance has changed.

Nor will it this time, if we leave it up to the shriekers. Oh, some legislation might get passed; in fact, there is already some ineffective (legislation) which the House passed, now in the Senate. And some of the shriekers on the other side will protest.

PLEASE HEAR THIS: if they had WANTED to solve a problem, it would have been solved! None of those who shriek WANT the problem to go away, because it makes for a GREAT fund-raiser topic. Yes, I am a life member of the NRA, and they don't want the problem solved. Not saying that's true of all members, nor of other groups, but the Big Mouth doesn't want to throw this football away.

This will ONLY get fixed when We, The People, make a demand on those in state and local government to 

and re-implement a public mental health safety net. 
We can choose: pay for it in money, or pay for it in blood. 
There are no other solutions.

Peace be on your household; and mine; and theirs, as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Rogue Magic, by Amanda S Green writing as Ellie Ferguson

 A great good morning to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, I'll be seeing some of you soon, and some on the Other Side. Meanwhile, Power Llama coffee is G-o-o-d for morning Go Power.

It seems that because the house is recently paid off, therefore we need braces, dentures, a newer car, and other medical things not covered by insurance. Kenneth is a sophomore, Alicia Ann a freshman, and so, for the first time since 1992, it might be possible, or even desirable, to consider a move in a few years after they finish high school. 

Selling the Patterson Domicile would bring in stupid amounts of dough, but: where would we move? We have 15 grandchildren (with one on the way), 1 great-grandchild (with one on the way), and we have a deeply felt need to babysit. At the time of the contemplated relocation, four of the grands will be adults, and the balance are in clusters: West Virginia, north Georgia, central Georgia, and who knows? One cluster of three might move to Colorado or East McKeesport. 

What can my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I do? Where ever shall we go?

Since Tara is right out, I'm thinking Mossy Creek, Texas.

Cover Image: Biker Girl by Andrey Armyagov. 
Is it not lovely?
Cover design by Amanda S. Green.
Is it not lucid?

Now, don't get your panties in a wad! Sure, there are some things about Mossy Creek that are a bit bizarre, even for Texas. I've lived in San Antonio twice (1959-60, Sunset Hill ES;  1972-73, C-2, Medical AIT & BAMC, Fort Sam Houston), and while the dirt was the wrong color (not a speck of red clay anywhere!), I never saw anything more bizarre than an ancient Green Beret Master Sergeant.

And, as strange as that might be, Mossy Creek has houses that will lock the doors to intruders, and people that shape-shift (in retrospect, the Master Sergeant might be a shape-shifter).

On the other hand, Vanessa is a legal parapro, and Mossy Creek has some BODACIOUS attorneys who would hire her in a moment. AND! They now have a new veterinarian, who I expect would do WONDERS for our cats, and we could finally get those puppies I've been wanting for ages.

AND! They have BIKER CHICKS! Admittedly, they ride classier bikes than I do, but they don't have an attitude about it. (SEARCH COMPLETED : no snootiness found.)

I could go on and on about why I'd like to move to Mossy Creek, but I'll sum it up this way: If I can't be a superhero, I'd at least like to live in a superhero-friendly environment. Also, NONE of the people with non-standard abilities are primarily that. Every character HAS a character, including those who are not primaries. Green (or Ferguson, if you prefer) writes real people. 

Depending on whether you count prequels or not, this is #5 or #3 in the Mossy Creek/Eerie Side of the Tracks saga. At least, that's by my count; AND more has been published. 

It seems that there is a yearning for the otherwise, no matter what your origin is. If what I have read of some some pre-Industrial Age societies is correct, a regular part of growing up included a vision quest. It's my understanding that snooty rich people took a year-long tour of some parts of the world, before settling down to run an empire, eat bon-bons and persecute the working class; some clusters of peoples have what is referred to as a wanderjahr, and I wonder if the mission year done by some high-commitment churches might fill this role; for my cluster, it was either a term or so of military service, and/or a hitch in the pen. Whatever the reason, there are a LOT of Mossy Creek folk who have gone away, or been driven away, and are now drawn to return.

Keep that in your mind; it cannot POSSIBLY be a spoiler, if it is a major plot line: folks are drawn to return.

The lady on the bike is the hard-working veterinarian Dr. Jacqueline Powell, known as Jax by people who care about her. She is one who was driven away, mostly by her parents. What kind of parents were they? Well, if Jax had been a dog, the veterinarian would have reported them for abuse, neglect, exploitation, and refusal to be nice (that's not really a thing. btw). And what draws her back is a 911-type call from her goddaughter Ali. 

Here's how important the call is: Jax KNOWS she is dumping her job in responding by immediately booking a flight. At the precise time of the call, she doesn't care for some aspects of Mossy Creek AT ALL; that matters not at all. She is DEEPLY bonded to Ali, to Ali's mother Quinn, and to Ali's aunt Annie.

I had to make a spreadsheet to diagram all the relationships. They aren't COMPLICATED, but there are four generations (at least) involved, and I've been reading this series for some small number of years.

So, what's the emergency? NOT TELLING YOU! HA HA HA HA HA!

I will say this, and it's a clue, and not a spoiler: NOTHING is more toxic than a toxic family, and nothing brings that toxicity to a boil than fights over money. (I actually think, courtesy of Bunker Hunt, that the play is not for money, it's for power, and money is just how we keep score.)

So, how do the superpowers enter?  NOT TELLING YOU! HA HA HA HA HA!

However, it's FAR more important to have a rested, resolute heart, than it is to be able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

There is a brief, mildly explicit sex scene between two consenting adults forming a permanent pair bond. It's my understanding that this is essential for literature in this genre; it certainly isn't enough to attract porn addicts. If you don't like that, it will be easy enough to skip those two or three pages. I am strongly biased toward sexual activity as a participatory rather than spectator sport, and I didn't find it problematic; YMMV, but don't get all bluenose on us, okay?
As an exercise, I searched for the terms "love" and "lust." Of the three appearances of "lust," one of them was a biker expressing admiration for a motorcycle. That leaves the ration at 44:1, in favor of love; hardly an X rating. If there is adult language or drug use, I didn't see it. (I can't remember if there are any other things I'm supposed to notice/warn/wail about.)

"Rogue Magic" was a delightful book for me to read. I found it to be upbeat, even though there was the potential for tragedy at MULTIPLE points. Those situations are treated seriously, but the character defects of the Good Guys never tend toward betrayal of those beloved, for personal benefit. There is also a great reveal that has implications for the entire series, not just this installment.  

Peace be on your household.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A Very Strange Week

 A strange week. 

Monday, my sisters came up from Macon,  and we had a Bucket List visit, at the home of the Windsong Pattersons, Jordan and Courtney and Heath and Eliott and Miss Evelyn, Soz and Fiona.

Lunch was Chicken Garden Skillet, which was a GrandBebe special from 50+ years ago. At lunch, we talked a lot about how GrandBebe was doing, and the difficulty of visiting her under COVID restrictions. 

We also talked about GranJan, down in Jacksonville, and how the blessed McIvors had moved her back into their home, with hospice services. I wondered out loud about how they were taking on the maintenance of Jan in her final days; Carol didn't say anything, but just pointed to Heaven. Yes.

 Then we were off to the gun range at Big Woods Goods. Wendy and I both had new pistols we hadn't had the chance to try out, and Carol was trying to find something to replace the hand cannon she had carried for years. She liked my Beretta Model 81, in .32 ACP.

Carol, Wendy, and Me

Tuesday was GrandBebe's 93rd birthday, and Carol and Wendy got to do another remote visit with her at Carlisle Place. 

And I did some follow-up on firearms issues raised on the range trip.

Wednesday Alicia spent four hours in the dentist's chair in the morning, AND STILL WENT TO SCHOOL!!!! Which I find to be both virtuous and encouraging. And that evening, I used Old NFO's grandmother's recipe, and made a giant pot of jambalaya. 

Astoundingly delicious.

Thursday  started with sad news. GranJan passed away. She became a part of our family in 1971, when she married our dad, and was an amazing person. Dad passed in 2007, so they were together for 36 years. We have kept close contact as possible since then; in fact,  when she remarried a sweetheart suitor from her youth, I gave her away, in the name of her children and grandchildren.

I passed the news along to as many of the Patterson Clan as I have contact information for. The Moose was able to stop by for a bit; we had Old NFO's jambalaya, and shared joy and sorrow.
And JUST as I was going to bed, I get an email from one of my primary surplus firearms vendors, and he has a new shipment in, and it has four of the Beretta Mark 81 pistols that Carol liked.

Red Friday, and I'm writing this. The offer-to-buy MUST be emailed to the vendor at 10:00 EXACTLY, and I don't even know if Carol is ready to buy or not. 

So, what to do? 
Years ago, I learned that tasks/assignments should be classed as important/not important, and urgent/not urgent. If it's important and urgent, do it FIRST. Important & non-urgent, do second. The other two, do them as you please. 
So, writing this was first. I had some heavy things on my heart, and writing them down is a part of healing for me. "Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning." (Ps 30:5, NKJV)
Actually, coffee and cereal was first, now that I think about it.
I guess I've got time to prepare my offer to buy a Beretta Mod 81.

Peace be on your household.