Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Value of Rain

by Brandon Shire

This is the moment for which Charles Benedict has been waiting his whole life: to stand in front of Charlotte, his mother, on her deathbed and finally confront her, finally prove to her that she didn't win. He survived the betrayal by his family, being separated from the young man he loved after Charlotte finds them sleeping together. He survived being moved around from mental institution to mental institution, each trying to "cure" him of his perverse ways. He survived life on the streets, toughening him up so that he could face this one singular day.

The Value of Rain delves into Charles' past to uncover his tortuous life behind the walls of the mental institutions. From days spent undergoing electroshock therapy at the hands of sadistic guards and doctors to brief glimmers of love, Charles plots his revenge allowing it to fester and blossom. In spite of warnings from tentative friends, a kindly doctor, and even a homeless man who becomes his teacher, Charles refuses to let go of his anger and revenge, allowing it to taint everything that crosses his path, both good and bad.

And now that he's reached that final moment, where Charlotte sits on her deathbed in front of him, still mocking everything that he is and that he does, will he allow his desire for revenge overtake him, or will he finally be able to let go of the past and move into a new future?

It's a gritty novel that doesn't flinch when describing the horrors of young Charles' life both within the institutions and with his equally sadistic mother. But I like that it doesn't hold back, making it easier to empathize with Charles. It's also easy to see how too much desire to exact revenge can cloud all the good things going on around you, especially when it comes to the young men with whom Charles tentatively falls in love throughout the story.

My only gripe concerns the character of Breece, the homeless man from whom Charles learns how to survive the streets. Charles' being directed to him specifically seems a bit too coincidental, especially given Breece's relationship to Charles' family. But it can be overlooked because the story is entertaining and definitely worth a read.

I definitely recommend picking up a copy of The Value of Rain.

The Value of Rain
by Brandon Shire
The Practical Group at Smashwords
ebook, 314 pgs

purchased ebook

Rain droplets on Public Domain Images

Sunday, August 26, 2012

That Friday Morning......

I've had bronchitis before...and pneumonia. The chills, the fever, the awful congestion, the hacking cough that feels like red-hot railroad spike being driven through your chest from the inside out. But Friday morning brought with it a first for me: a little after 3 a.m., I started shaking. At first, I thought it was just a muscle spasm. I get them all the time, though usually confined to a leg or a foot. This time, the shaking began with my torso and slowly coursed through my entire body. I silently told myself to calm down, to try keeping my breath even, but I admit that I was freaking out.

I woke Caesar and, with a stuttering voice, told him what was happening and that I wanted to go to the hospital. I slowly dressed, trying to fit my shaking legs into my jeans, my feet into socks and shoes, and a baseball cap on my head. I tried talking just to calm myself, but even that was almost impossible. Walking down the back steps was tortuous, as was buckling the seat belt. But I made it, and soon we were speeding toward the hospital.

I won't go into too many details about the hospital, but we were there from 3:45 a.m. until 11 a.m. Chest x-rays (which were clear), numerous blood samples, two doctors listening to my lungs, and finally pumping Rocephin directly through the IV drip, and they cleared me to go with a prescription for a Z-Pack. They told me it was acute bronchitis bordering on pneumonia.

So I've been out since half day on Wednesday, when my co-workers urged me to go home. I'm staying home tomorrow, with a doctor appointment scheduled for the morning. Hopefully, he will clear me to go back to work soon. If not, I picked up Epic Mickey from right where I left it many months ago as well as started a game of Red Dead Redemption. (Those Western outlaws have nothing to worry about with me on the case.) And shelves filled with books -- one of which made me cry this morning as I finished it. But I'll write about that later. Now, I'm going to go back to sleep. Nighty night!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cars Land 2012

Click here to view these pictures larger

So I'm trying out a new feature from Shutterfly; hopefully, you'll be able to see our pictures from how we spent our 7-Year Anniversary. I'm home, sick with a 100˚ fever, and don't plan on posting anymore today. Enjoy while I go back to sleep!

Monday, August 20, 2012

100

Thanks to the heat, I did nothing but sit in front of a large fan this weekend, reading a book or watching home improvement shows on TV. Though I did manage to step into the heat yesterday morning to do the unthinkable.... I earned my 100th Foursquare badge. Yes, it is from MTV, and yes, it does have a pink-tinged outer layer. Unlocking the badge also earned me entry into a sweepstakes to potentially win a trip to this year's MTV Video Music Awards. I've received some flack for my Foursquare addiction. But you know what? Foursquare Badger don't give a darn!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fear

I learned on Monday that one of my short stories has been accepted for publication in a charity anthology due out this October. The anthology, Fear, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing and benefits Doctors without Borders and Barnardo's.

Now all I need to do is to finish editing my novel...and a few other short stories....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Portlandia

These doughnuts greeted me when I walked through the door of our Portland office on Monday -- one dozen Voodoo Doughnuts, each unique in its own way. From the Maple Bacon Bar to the one I enjoyed covered in Fruit Loops, they were one of the foods I wanted to try when I reached the City of Roses. The one tasted so good that I trekked to the shop the very next morning, before the office opened, to enjoy my very own Voodoo Doll -- a chocolate bar shaped like a person, filled with raspberry jelly, with a pretzel stake through the heart. Yum!

I spent the workdays training the new Office Manager and scoping out what changes/enhancements/updates need to be undertaken as the office continues to add new people. The space is located downtown in a great building, and I love how close everything is.

I stayed at the Heathman Hotel, another historic building built in 1927. Original art nouveau murals decorated the lobby walls, and the second floor contained a library filled only with books written by authors who have stayed at the hotel. Plus, the Heathman Restaurant and Bar was amazing -- I don't think I've eaten better King Salmon.

My off hours (i.e., before and after work), I wandered around downtown, spending a few hours at Powell's City of Books and Jackpot Records, trying to figure out what the heck the 24 Hour Church of Elvis is -- other than a bizarre art installation that really has no connection to Elvis -- trying out different restaurants, and ogling all the art. You can't walk half a block in any direction without coming across some piece of sculpture on the sidewalk or an amazing fountain or an historic building. I almost missed the Portlandia statue; if I hadn't spied another person drag out his iPhone, point it upwards and snap a picture, I would have walked right by. It's very impressive, looming over the sidewalk.

I can't wait until we return in September for our official vacation. There's still so much more to see and do....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

City of Roses

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I hop on a plane for a business trip to Portland, OR -- the City of Roses, and I thought it appropriate to post a rosy picture. This should be fun, even if it is work-related. Voodoo Doughnuts, the 24-Hour Church of Elvis, Powell's City of Books -- I can't wait!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Music I'm Digging Right Now

I actually had never heard of Esperanza Spalding until she earned the ultimate musical upset by defeating Justin Beiber for Best New Artist of 2011. And that's sad -- not the Beiber bit, but because I love good jazz music. I bought Chamber Music Society and fell in love with her take on traditional jazz. So when she released her next album earlier this year, it was a no-brainer to buy. Radio Music Society mixes jazz with R&B, soul and funk, and it's one of my Top 10 albums this year. This is the video for the first single from the album, Radio Song:

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Playing Catch-Up

I feel so behind these past few days that perhaps a quickie summary blog post might help me get back on track.

Saturday, we purchased a new 40" LED TV. After a price match in the store, using a $300 gift card from Verizon, and $30 in rewards certificates, we spent $450 (with taxes and such) for a $800 unit. My eyes are still adjusting to the picture quality; everything looks like a live broadcast -- even black and white movies from the 40s. We finally hooked up the PlayStation, too, which may not be such a good idea now that we've played one game using the new TV. I sense money disappearing from my pocket as soon as I find a copy of Red Dead Redemption with the zombie expansion pack....

In the evening, we caught a performance of La Cage aux Folles with George Hamilton as Georges and Christopher Sieber as Albin. Such a great show, and Christopher Sieber has an amazing voice! He didn't need that pesky microphone.

Sunday, we somehow managed to heft my old TV -- from when I was still in college -- down the front stairs of the apartment building, around the back to my car, and finally dropped it off at Goodwill. We moved the TV from the living room to the bedroom and hooked up the HD so that we really never have to leave the bedroom again. Well, except for work. And food. And the PlayStation.

My short story is almost done. The submission date was extended to 8/14, giving me more time to re-revise it. Thank goodness, because it needed it.

I booked a work trip to Portland, OR, for next week. The company hired a new Office Manager, and I will provide much of the training. I also will scope out a few things for Caesar and I to do when we return in September for our vacation.

Now, I need to figure out what to pack, what needs washing, what books to bring for the flight, etc. etc.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Invitation to a Beheading

by Vladimir Nabokov

In an unknown and abstract country, a man named Cincinnatus C. awaits death be beheading, convicted for the crime of gnostic turpitude. Spending his days confined to his cell, his jailers try everything in their power to convince Cincinnatus to be like everyone else. The director Rodrig Ivanovich wants him to play the part of the repentant prisoner. Rodion the jailer's feelings are hurt when Cincinnatus doesn't like the food he prepares. Even M'sieur Pierre, who pretends to be a fellow prisoner in the next cell while in fact serves as the executioner, determines to make friends with Cincinnatus and to have him follow the established rules of society. But poor Cincinnatus, he wants only two things: 1) a visit from his wife Marthe to explain his situation so that she can grieve and move on with her life, and 2) to know the date and time at which the execution is to take place because, after all, he is allowed that knowledge by law. While he waits, he begins to understand that the world around him is nothing more than pretense, a circus act to appease the masses, and that his rejection of what is expected and routine can be unexpectedly freeing.

At first, I was put off by the story's setting. It's very absurdist, with jailers asking prisoners to waltz with them about their cells or Cincinnatus' visiting in-laws bringing all their furniture with them to his cell. But I'm glad I stuck with it to the end. Cincinnatus views his own world in a different way than his fellow countrymen, and that makes him dangerous. Their bizarre actions, instead of convincing Cincinnatus of the error of his ways, re-inforce his determination to be himself regardless of the consequences. As the hour of his execution approaches, his belief begins to punch through the artifice of the world around him, and he can see things as they truly are.

To me, Invitation to a Beheading comes across as a statement of individuality: think your own thoughts and forge your own path in the world, even if that doesn't conform to society at large. After all, where would we be if those people didn't take a chance and stray outside the lines? The world would be a more boring place, indeed.

Definitely a book I recommend reading.

Invitation to a Beheading
by Vladimir Nabokov
Vintage International
trade paperback, 223 pgs.

purchased book

Image: Veit Stoss [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, {{PD-Art}}.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Music I'm Digging Right Now

I fell in musical love with Gossip after the release of their single Standing in the Way of Control. And I love Beth Ditto's voice. So I was eager for the new album, A Joyful Noise, and took an immediate liking to the first two singles -- Perfect World and Move in the Right Direction. The album required a few listens through before it grew on me. The songs feel a bit more pop-ish which is a different sound for them, or what I'm used to from them. But it's still a good album.

Here's the first single, Perfect World from that album....