This book came recommended to me by someone whose taste in movies I’ve already proven, and who I’m finding knows my tastes equally well with books.

The story is about A. J. Fikry, curmudgeonly bookstore owner too young to be so curmedgeonly. He and his wife, both “literary types”, opened the store on Alice Island, a tourist destination off the New England Coast (I’ve yet to find evidence it really exists). His wife died, along with their unborn child, several years before, and A.J. is bent on destroying himself and the bookstore one drink at a time.

But then one night someone abandons a baby in the store before commiting suicide, and A.J. ends up adopting little Maya and turning his life around. The result is a gentle story full of humor, slices of life, and a few tears, as A.J. learns how to connect with those around him. Something of a literary snob, he initially looks down on those whose tastes fall below his own, but learns that these people are some of the best kind of people. For a book that bears all the markings of a “literary snob self-admiration night”, the result is actually the opposite. It is mostly a paen to the power of stories. It is, truly, a book for book-lovers.

Zevin has crafted a wonderful little story full of little people living little lives, yet interconnect in amazing ways to produce a much better life for everyone than could otherwise have been expected. There are no “bad” people in this book, just human ones who make plenty of mistakes. The only real “failed” character is one who is so completely caught up in himself that he never really tries to love anyone else. The rest are interesting, likable characters (though we have reason to fear for A.J. initially) who I enjoyed following.

There is some occasional language, and several unmistakable pronouncements that characters will have sex (off-screen), but they shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying this book. It’s the type of book that makes you laugh, makes you smile, makes you cry, and makes you believe there are still good people out there doing the best they can to be better people. It’s a poignant reminder that our lives touch so many others in ways we could never predict and seldom even notice.

Of course Zevin had me at “man who owns a bookstore”. If ever there was a dream job, that would be it.  I loved this book, in this case read by the excellent Scott Brick. I know people who would also love this book. I know people who would hate this book. But I, for one, am glad I listened to Uncle Orson.

Thom on October 30th, 2014

My son is learning the trombone, and I suppose that means they’re also getting ready for a Christmas concert. In any case, I hear “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” around my house frequently. Yesterday after my son stopped practicing, my daughter took up the song, applying the words. Several things occurred to me in short order:

  1. The singer in the lyrics is excited about Christmas, but is rather humble. She wants Santa to be sure to know what to bring her siblings, but for her/himself? Well his/her stocking in the shortest one, and he/she really doesn’t know what to ask for, and leaves it up to Santa to bring what he thinks is best.
  2. This song probably wouldn’t have been written today, when everything is about “me, me, me!” and “gimme gimme gimme!”
  3. The song according to modern sentiments has been written. It’s called “Santa Baby”.

Of course “Santa Baby” was released back in 1953, performed by Eartha Kitt:

“Santa Baby” is a 1953 Christmas song written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer. The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at a Christmas list addressed to Santa Claus by a woman who wants extravagant gifts such as sables, yachts, and decorations from Tiffany’s.

I don’ t think it’s tongue-in-cheek any more.

Thom on October 29th, 2014

I just finished listening to an audio presentation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, read by an actor currently starring in a TV series called “Sleepy Hollow”, supposedly based on the story. I decided to go find out a bit more about it. Just how much of the original story did they retain? The answer? Not much.

They borrowed some of the names, and that’s about it. Ichabod Crane, instead of being a lanky schoolteacher, is a (no doubt good-looking) soldier and spy for General Washington. Brom Bones was Ichabod’s friend, betrothed to Katrina Van Tassel, who seeks revenge on Crane when Katrina breaks her betrothal to marry Crane. He becomes the Headless Horseman after Ichabod decapitates him in a fight, but nearly kills Crane in the process. Their blood mixes (I assume they’re compatible blood types?), and when Katrina, who is a witch, casts a spell to save Crane’s life she ends up inadvertently saving them both, who get resurrected in modern-day Sleepy Hollow. Crane is still himself, but Brom Bones is now one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I’m not saying this is a bad premise for a series. And this is a common trope in literature these days, too. But when most writers set out to re-tell a familiar story they tend to keep the skeleton of the story and put new names and faces on it, not the other way around. From the preview available on YouTube the story seems to bear more resemblance to “National Treasure” than “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The only common element that goes beyond mere name is a headless horseman. What they’ve really done is take a lot of disparate elements of American history and folklore, mixed in some Biblical references and a heavy supernatural element, and slapped a bunch of familiar names on it. “Sleepy Hollow” could take place pretty much anywhere. It could just as easily–and accurately–been called “The Last of the Mohicans”. You could just as easily replace Ichabod Crane with Natty Bumppo/Hawkeye–and more realistically, too, since Ichabod Crane was about as far from being a heroic action figure as you can get.

Certainly the series trailer looks interesting, but it really doesn’t deserve to be called “Sleepy Hollow”, any more than putting a Porsche name plate on my Toyota makes it a Boxster. If you were to change all the names in the new series you would be hard pressed to identify to identify the supposed source material. It’s more influenced by “Terminator” than by “Sleepy Hollow” from what I can tell.

But I’m being nit-picky, I suppose. I have no intention of watching this, or any other, series out right now. I don’t have time for television, and barely have time for the occasional movie. My complaint hardly matters.

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Thom on October 28th, 2014

I wonder what my children will remember about Halloween in ten, twenty or thirty years. Hopefully their memory is better than mine, and hopefully they have better memories. I don’t particularly remember any Halloweens past. I do remember going to a spook alley in someone’s house and not being terribly impressed. Mostly I remember the time when I was eight or nine, and put on an old tape recorder with a neck strap, black pants and a long-sleeve yellow knit shirt and went as Spock.

Now, all of you die-hard Trekkies out there can see the problem immediately. But my only introduction to Star Trek at that point in my life had been on a black and white TV, or on those Colorforms toys where you get a bunch of re-usable stickers and can make your own scenes. I knew some had yellow, some had red, and some had blue, but I really had no definitive guide to go by for individual characters. Nevertheless I didn’t have a particularly good day at school from all the kids correcting me with varying degrees of kindness.

Of course it didn’t matter when I went trick or treating. Assuming I wasn’t wearing a coat so that no one could even tell what color my shirt was, the majority of the adults I would have seen that night wouldn’t have known Spock from a spork, and shoveled candy at me anyway.

But really, I can’t say that I have any truly great Halloween memories. Certainly not like my brother who met his wife at a Halloween party. Now that was a treat to be proud of!

It will be interesting to see what memories my kids carry forward from the various Halloweens. I think they’ve got a better shot at some memories than I did.

Thom on October 27th, 2014

Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a really good stretch. You know, the kind where a small stretch turns into a bigger stretch, turns into a full-body, work-every-muscle-and-a-few-organs stretch. The kind you wish you could hold forever, or at least ten minutes, but you’re usually holding your breath so you know you can’t. The kind that cats seem to be able to manage without any real effort, which probably explains the deep animosity some people hold for cats.

There are other ways to accomplish the same thing, of course. Like a laughing attack, where you get laughing so hard and so long that you can’t stop, but when you finally do you feel like a limp noodle.

Of course there must needs be opposition in all things, and inevitably when you’re right in the middle of a reeeeeaaalllly goooooooood streeeeeeeetch someone always comes along and threatens to poke you in the ribs. These people are the spawn of Satan, and should be cast off into that infernal pit where there is weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, tightening of muscles and no stretching or back rubs! Yep, hangin’s too good for ‘em!

So as we all move into the new week, take time to try for a really good stretch. You can find one if you really try.

Thom on October 24th, 2014

It’s Friday, I’m feeling a little pensive, but I’ve got nothing on my mind that just has to be said. So, a little music, Maestro!


I’ve always wondered if this video was semi-prophetic. It wasn’t long before she went solo.

 


This song always had an ethereal quality to it that I liked. And then it opened “You’ve Got Mail”, which is an important movie in my life.

 


I almost have to credit producer more than the artist on this one. I’ve always connected with the orchestration behind Ms. Carlton as much as with her singing, and I think the whole piece reminds me a little of David Benoit’s “Urban Daydreams” album. You be the judge. Or don’t.

 


Speaking of David Benoit, he played on the very first Rippingtons album, “Moonlighting”, with Russ Freeman. I’ve usually enjoyed Freeman’s quieter stuff; the Rippingtons went on to become more of a rock fusion Jazz band, and I could only handle so much of that. But finding this song, getting Benoit and Freeman back together again, was something of a treat. It’s like a rediscovered lost “Moonlighting” track.

 


Which leads us to Bob James’ Animal Dreams, from his Restless album. This song always struck me as playful and flirtatious, but a relentless motion and some great changes.

 

Let’s finish up with some video game music, because the SimCity3000 soundtrack was concentrated awesome mood music. Unfortunately it doesn’t allow embedding, so if all we get is a link, I’d encourage you to click on through.

 

Bonus content! Because the weekend is coming; get up and dance!

 

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Thom on October 23rd, 2014

And this is why, when I do finally crack, no jury on earth will convict me. Or stop laughing, probably. It won’t be a hung jury so much as a doubled-over-laughing jury.

Thom on October 22nd, 2014

I met Michaelbrent Collings at a writers conference a few years ago and consider him a top-notch guy. So effusive in coolness is he that I decided I would try reading some of his horror to see what I might be missing. The first book I read was “Mr. Gray”, which he recommended as a “gateway book”, as it’s not true horror, but leads in that direction. I enjoyed it, and decided to try something a little more mainstream horror. He set me up with The Haunted.

The story follows a young couple (the wife is expecting their first child) who have just purchased the epitome of bad-mojo real estate. The prologue establishes the situation so well (ie. gave me the mega-willies) that I spent the first several chapters screaming inside that these people could be so stupid as to buy this house! And, predictably, the bad stuff starts to happen right away as the house begins it’s work of repelling invaders.

I can’t tell you much more than that. The novel hinges on a pretty significant plot twist that I can’t even begin to discuss without giving too much away. It suffices to say that there were plenty of clues, and while I was starting to get suspicious realizing that something about it all wasn’t right, I still failed to anticipate the twist. And that’s saying something. It means either the twist was so fundamental that I never even entertained  the idea, or that I was too interested in the story to want to stop and think about what was going on.

If you like horror, and horror that is reasonably clean, this is a book for you. There’s some language, and of course horror elements, but its not overly gorey or graphic, and sex is scarcely mentioned in passing.  That said, this is horror, not just suspense. Don’t give your kids this book. (I have to add that because I do review a fair number of children’s/YA books here.)

Michaelbrent is a best-selling author on Amazon, and a self-publishing success story. He’s also very open about writing and publishing, and shoots straight. If horror is your thing, or if you’d like to see if it’s your thing, he’s someone to check out. The Haunted is a safe place to dip your toe in the water.

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Thom on October 21st, 2014

Last week, as mentioned yesterday, our family hiked the Frary Peak Trail on Antelope Island. As promised, here are some pictures. (Click for larger images)

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Antelope Island is within view of Downtown Salt Lake City. Such a view inspires me–to hold my breath for a really long time. No wonder I have trouble breathing around here.

 

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The island is primarily low, rolling land around the base of a range of peaks, the tallest about 2200 feet above the lake. This is the view toward SLC. It’s late in the year, and the Great Salt Lake is getting pretty low. You could just about walk from Syracuse to Antelope Island and only get a little wet.

 

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Here we go, up the trail toward the crossroads, where the trail splits. One fork goes north to Dooley Knob, the other heads toward Frary Peak to the south.

 

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One of the best features of Antelope Island is the sheer variety of terrain and rock formations. At first glance it’s a fairly bleak place, but the longer you spend there the more you realize what a unique and beautiful place it is.

 

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There’s not much rain or run-off to speak of, but clearly there’s enough to create some ravines that support the few clumps of trees on the island. They can be quite striking in their fall foliage.

 

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In case you needed proof, I did go on this hike, too! This is at a natural fortification overlooking a gentle plain we figure would make a great site for a truly epic battle.

 

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This is Elephant Head. After looking at it for much of the hike we decided that we need to go there for our next hike. It’s probably twice as long a trail to get there as the one we took, but it’s mostly flat until the end, so it might not be too bad. But we’ve got to have a goal!

 

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And here we are at the summit; that’s the three-mile marker. Someone else planted the flag. In the background you can see the true highest point on the island, but the trail ends not much farther on, and unless you’re a mountain goat or an experienced climber I wouldn’t go much farther.

 

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And here we make our way down again, looking toward the northwest. That’s Elephant Head poking up at the left.  The boys are out in front, with Terhi trailing behind, while Emma and I lag at the rear–no one ever wants to wait for the photographers. We got a fair number of flower pictures, but I’ll leave those for another time.

Once we got back to the van we pulled out the cooler and had some lunch before we headed to the visitors’ center and the gift shop, then home. We just love Antelope Island. Even though you can see the city across the bay, it still feels remote. It’s very quiet out there, and it’s easy to feel like you’re the only people left on earth. We may have to go camping out there sometime.

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Thom on October 20th, 2014

Not far from our house, in the southeast corner of the Great Salt Lake lies a large island known as Antelope Island. It’s also a state park, and one of our favorite places to go, whether for a scenic drive or hiking. We’ve made several trips out there since we first discovered it a couple years ago. On one of our trips we found the Frary Peak Trail, which takes you to the highest point on the island via a three-mile trail that rises 2100 ft. It’s not a difficult trail–there are a few spots that require some get-up-n-go to get up–but the heat of summer can be a little daunting. There are nearly no trees, just baked hillside.

The first time we tried to hike it we didn’t have water. We made it to around the two-mile mark before we turned back. But there’s something about having “been beaten” that niggles at you, and we vowed to go back and finish the trail.

We tried again this summer when we had a Chinese exchange student with us. His dossier said he liked hiking, so we took him up on it. We had food and water. But we hadn’t even reached the mile mark before he was acting like he was going to drop dead at any second. While we thought he was being melodramatic, we didn’t want his death on our hands, so I turned around and went back to the car with him while my wife and kids took a short trail to Dooley’s Knob, which was just a little over a mile to the top. They enjoyed a nice view of the island, but Frary Peak remained unconquered.

So this last week we decided it was time to try again. We picked a perfect day for it; clear and cool. We had water and food, and determination. And we made it. It was a little anticlimactic to find a transmission tower there, but the view was incredible, and the scenery quite dramatic. There was a higher point still above that, but the trail ended, and it would have required rock-climbing skills and gear to make it the rest of the way. We decided the official end of the trail was sufficient. No “Family Hike Turns Tragic” headlines for us.

We took lots of pictures–none of which I have handy, of course. Perhaps I’ll post up a photo-essay tomorrow. It’s a harsh environment out there, but there’s a rugged appeal to it, much like the more extreme coasts of Scotland. I’d hate to be out there where the weather really turns bad, though.

Along the way we selected our next goal. Along the western shoreline there’s a promontory called “Elephant’s Head” for semi-obvious reasons (if looking at an overhead map, anyway). We overlooked it for much of the hike, and noted there is a hiking trail up onto it. It’s a longer hike, but most of the trail looks to be little more than semi-flat road. We’re thinking that might be fun to tackle next spring.

Meanwhile, we have a sense of accomplishment. Frary Peak is the longest hike we’ve been on as a family, and the fact that it took us several attempts just makes the success sweeter. No matter what, we’ll always have Frary Peak.