Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Pics - Leu Gardens and my new favorite artist

I recently went to Florida to visit my mom and while there we went to Leu Gardens (one of our favorite places), and the Museum of Art in Orlando where I discovered my new favorite artist. But first the gardens. Because, well, flowers.

If you haven't noticed it by now, let me make it clear. I adore flowers and gardens. I could take pictures of them forever, because even a bad picture of a flower can be beautiful. And the colors...oh my! Flowers stun me with their fabulous colors. If only I had a green thumb to go along with my love...

Anyway. Leu Gardens, which was exceedingly hot and humid, but still lovely...

This is a darling little cottage on the property where a black cat was being fed on the front step.

The roses had long since gone by for the most part, but I did manage to find a few that were blooming

Love this cool bird house, though I don't think it's actually a bird house. My boss said butterfly house which makes sense since this was in the 'butterfly garden' but I never knew butterflies needed houses.

No idea what this flower is but wow. Is it not fabulously gorgeous?!

My new favorite artist. Jon Muth. I love him.

Dust Devils.

This is not Jon Muth. I recognized it immediately as a Ralph Blakelock because we have one of his paintings at the pawn shop where I work. I love him, too.

There was more, as you can imagine, but the only other artist I'll tell you about is Nick Cave. Some of his 'sound suits' were on display, and there was a video of a person in one of his suits, moving. The image was then doubled, or mirrored, creating a 42 minute film. I couldn't find a link to what I saw, which was mesmerizing, but this short clip gives you an idea and there are a few brief bits showing parts of the video. It's the black and white one, a bit like a Rorschach image.

So. Wow, right? Lot's of cool stuff to digest. I also read FOUR books, which I will be telling you about in future posts, and saw a movie I can't review without giving anything away but must recommend: A Simple Favor. That's all I'll say.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis

I have long been a fan of Connie Willis. I've read The Doomsday Book, Passages, Lincoln's Dreams, and To Say Nothing About the Dog. The first and last both concern a group Oxford historians who travel into the past as observers, as do Black Out and All Clear.

Black Out begins in a future Oxford where the Director is suddenly moving everyone's assignments around and no one knows why. The main characters are Merope, who goes by Eileen, Mike, and Polly, all traveling separately back to WWII, England. Eileen to observe war orphans, Polly to observe shelters and tubes, and Mike to Dunkirk.  Once they get there, however, they discover that their drops (their way back home) are no longer functioning. This leads them to find one another to try to discover what's gone wrong, because the history they thought they knew is not exactly the one they're experiencing. This causes Polly and Mike in particular to believe that in addition to not being able to get home, somehow they may have changed history.

All Clear is Black Out's sequel.

I'll start with my single criticism. It's one I often have for 'big' authors (Stephen King I'm looking at you). Too many words! Both of these books are fairly long by today's standards, and I feel pretty certain the story could've been condensed, which probably would've upped the tension.

However. I enjoyed every single word. Connie Willis won the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards for these novels and there's good reason for that. First, she knows how to write well. Like, really well. Second, I can only imagine the sort of chart she must've employed to keep all the time lines straight but she did a masterful job. Third and last is the research that went into these two stories, which primarily take place during WWII.

Sure, I knew the Brits had a tough time of it during the war, I'd heard of children being sent away to the country side (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come to mind), and I'd seen some movies depicting the London blitz. But really, I had no clue. Connie Willis immersed me in that time period more than anything I've seen or read. Her attention to all those details that make a place feel real is on full display, and the dialogue is some of the best I've seen. As someone who majored in history, I adored these books, and they gave me a new appreciation of what the Brits went through and how much everyone sacrificed, rich and poor alike.

Finally, I have to mention the orphans, Binnie and Alf, the most awful children you could imagine, who have an interesting part to play. They were horrible and I loved them!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Birds, Skyrim, and Decisions

My son sent me a couple pics he took I thought I'd share. This first is a Western Tanager, very unusual for these parts...

And a hawk who has caught a dove.

Everyone has to eat

Now on to happier things...Namely, Skyrim.

This screen shot is me looking at someone called Astrid.

Previously I was happily at home with Inigo and Lydia, my two faithful companions. I went upstairs to bed, and when I woke I found myself in this abandoned shack. I had a good idea what had happened since I sorta kinda took a job intended for the dark brotherhood. But trust me, that horrible woman running the orphanage in Riften deserved to die. And I don't say that lightly. Still, when the kid started talking about the dark brotherhood I should've walked out then, completely disabusing him of the notion I had anything to do with them. But by taking up the boy's cause (revenge upon the horrible woman who abused him and all the other orphans), I attracted the notice of the dark brotherhood, landing me in the situation I currently find myself.

And in order to get out without harm to myself, Astrid informs me I must kill one of these three people.

I can talk to them first, maybe guess which one deserves killing, and assuage my conscience. Or, I could try to kill Astrid (which won't be easy - I've already tried it once and she kicked my ass) and let them all go.

And therein lies the decision. I know. It's just a game. But I generally don't go around killing and robbing people in Skyrim (unless they're bad guys, Imperials, or Thalmor - hey, I have standards!), and since I don't know these people I don't really want to kill any of them. That's not my job. But...the dark brotherhood path could be interesting...and yet it seems so diametrically opposed to the path of the dragonborn (which I am, btw). What to do?

Of course, the great thing about the game is that I can explore the dark brotherhood path and then if I don't like like it, revert to the earlier game save. Just like I can go back and play having joined the Imperials, rather than the Stormcloaks. Which is why I love Skyrim. So many paths to follow!

Meanwhile, I've also been enjoying American Horror Story, Season 2 Asylum (which I found very satisfying), and Sharp Objects on HBO. Next up will be the latest season of Supernatural. Gotta love those Winchester boys.

As for books, I finished Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, and I think I'll tell you about them next time. Currently reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Pawn Shop & History

This flag came into our shop recently and my question is, does anyone know why a 39 star flag might be valuable?

I'll tell you why a 39 star is valuable, but first I'm going to show you some other fun stuff we have at the shop, like this shelf. My favorites are the clocks and the two paperweights next to them.

Then there's the new antique tool room, which even if tools aren't your thing is still very cool.

We also have this old Stone shield depicting...possibly some manifestation of Shiva....?

And these very cool fish decoys...

my fave

Now, why is a 39 star flag valuable? The obvious answer is that it's rare, which is correct. But why is it rare, you might ask? The reason is because back in 1889, flag manufacturers tried to to get a jump on sales in anticipation of a new state being admitted. But instead of one state, we got two: North and South Dakota. So, there never was an 'official' 39 star US flag.

Meanwhile, I'm working on chapter 21 of THE EXECUTIONER, reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, and very much enjoying Les Revenants, which the American series The Returned was based on.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Jonah Hatch June 3, 2007 - June 21, 2018

I am still bereft.

But I will be back at the end of the month with walks I went on, books I read, and whatever else comes to mind.

Stay well.

Monday, July 9, 2018

First Impressions - Hotel Room

Well, it's been a while since Dianne and I have done this, but out of the blue someone emailed me wanting their first page critiqued and who am I to refuse a fellow writer in need? So, without further ado, I present Selena's first page from her work in progress.


She woke up with a splitting headache and a muddled mind. Without opening her eyes or trying to form a coherent thought, she pushed her head deeper into the soft pillow and sent a silent prayer to the heavens for the pain to go away and let her sleep a little longer. Unfortunately, it took only seconds for a nagging feeling to appear in her stomach, telling her something was wrong. Peeling her eyelids open, she took in her surroundings. The city lights coming through the large floor-to-ceiling window were enough for the sleek lines of the furniture around her to form a disturbing picture in her head. A hotel room. She was in a hotel room. An expensive one at that, if the leather armchairs positioned by the coffee table and plush curtains framing the window were anything to go by. At the same time, she noticed the silky feel of the sheets covering her body and realized she was naked. Panic made her lift her head up with the jerk, and she immediately regretted the move since blindingly sharp needles of pain pierced her brain. Firmly shutting her eyes, she let her head fall back down and waited for the onslaught of nausea to pass. She really was in a hotel with possibly the worst hangover of her life. The good news was that the room was still dark which meant the morning didn’t come yet. Nobody was in bed with her or even in the room, so she didn’t have to get up right this second. Her brain will would probably offer some information about the last night events at some point, so there was no need to panic. She allowed herself to relax just a little bit and sunk sank into the softness of the bed trying to decide on the a course of action that will would get her out of this room and home. Preferably as soon as possible. A headache wasn’t going anywhere, and she didn’t have any painkillers so the shower should probably be the first stop of her escape route. That will clear her head enough to find her stuff, leave the hotel and find a cab that will drive her home. Well, it appears that forging the plan wasn’t so hard after all.

My thoughts: First off, I would give her a name. It's hard to connect with someone who doesn't have a name and the goal of the first page is to pull the reader in and get her to connect with the character. Like so: 
Sasha woke up with a splitting headache and a muddled mind Without opening her eyes or trying to form a coherent thought, she pushed her head deeper into the soft pillow and sent a silent prayer to the heavens for the pain to go away and let her sleep a little longer.
It's much easier to feel sorry for Sasha than some unnamed person. 
The second thing I noticed was that our narrator isn't too alarmed at finding herself in a high end motel room, naked no less, and has access to painkillers, although she doesn't have any on her. This leads me to make certain assumptions about her. Is she a call girl? Does she often drink too much and end up in strange people's beds? 
Last but not least, a first page needs to do something to make the reader want to turn the page and read more. The question of how this character got where she is isn't enough, in my opinion, but mostly because the character is so nonchalant about it. She's not worried so why should the reader be? 
With that said, if there's a reason our character had so much to drink, I suggest that information be conveyed sooner to give the reader more impetus to turn the page. I would also suggest that she feel some regret. Not necessarily for ending up in a hotel room for a one night stand, but for having drank so much that she can't recall. That's not a good thing, and even an alcoholic would be remorseful - and want to get the heck out of there as fast as possible. 

Selena, thank you for submitting your first page, and I hope my thoughts have helped. Readers, if you have anything helpful to add please do, and don't forget that Dianne is critiquing this page as well so head over to her place to see what she had to say.