A Trip to the Sixties

Early Out, the title of Carlos Ledson Miller’s early 60s memoir, refers to his rather impulsive decision to leave the Marine Corps after nearly four years and return to civilian life, a journey that takes him from a visit to his father in Belize to a stay in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and then to school and work in Houston. International events intrude—the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassination, the beginnings of involvement in Viet Nam—and hang over Miller’s head as he waits out his two years of inactive reserve service, subject to recall if needed.

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But that shadow on the horizon isn’t enough to disrupt the life of a young man completely on the loose for the first time. Of course not: Miller manages to disrupt his own life often enough, describing with wonder and good humor his adventures in the bars and pool halls of New Orleans (while holding down a respectable job with horrible hours) and his decision to move on to California, a trip which somehow stalls out in Houston, at a time when the Astrodome is just a giant hole in the ground, the Colt 45s are not yet the Astros, and Miller’s vacuum-tube based electronics training is on the verge of obsolescence as transistors begin to take over the industry.

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If you remember the 60s, if you’ve lived in New Orleans or Houston, you’ll enjoy this work of “creative nonfiction.” And if you’re too young to remember a time when a steak dinner could be had for $1.49, you’ll learn a thing or two about the not-so-distant past. A thoroughly entertaining visit to an important decade.

Kindle Voyage Reset

A couple of weeks ago my four-year-old Kindle Voyage stopped working. Well, parts of it stopped working—the main parts: the library, and then the home screen. The Voyage continued to receive the special offer ads, and some of the menus worked, but clearly there was no way to actually read a book on it, even after several restarts and assorted Google research.

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Now this wasn’t exactly an emergency. I have an 8-inch Fire tablet, where I actually do most of my electronic reading, a 10-inch Fire tablet, the Kindle app on my phone, and the Kindle app on my computer. But I do like to have the small dedicated e-reader to stick in my purse for times when I know I’ll be sitting and waiting somewhere, or eating alone.

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The evening the Voyage stopped working, I checked Amazon for a possible replacement. I hadn’t realized that the Voyage had been discontinued a couple of years ago. The newer Oasis, which I might have wanted if I wasn’t reading so much on my Fire, is wildly expensive. The newest Paperwhite, on the other hand, was selling that night for $85, as opposed to its usual $130. Did I really need one? I’d think about it.

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The next day the price of the Paperwhite had gone back up to $130, and I decided that purchase could wait a while. I downloaded the Price Tracker for Amazon app to my phone and set it up to let me know when the price went down again, and I went back to reading on my Fire.

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This morning my phone beeped, and the price tracker informed me that the price of a Paperwhite Kindle had dropped again, this time to $95. That sounded good, so I popped one into my Amazon cart, and added a non-Amazon case I had run across while buying a new case for my Fire.

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Then, just for the heck of it, I opened the Voyage. Out of juice, so I connected it to a charger (by now I have a whole basket of them on the kitchen counter) and went back to reading the newspaper. When I checked the Voyage, the home screen and library were still gone, but I opened the settings to see if there might be something I’d accidentally changed, and found the menu item for resetting the device to factory specs, the nuclear option. This would erase everything stored on the reader, but since it wasn’t working anyway, why not try? If it worked, it wouldn’t be any different than setting up a new reader.

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So I hit reset.

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And it worked.

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After several minutes of doing whatever it was doing, the Voyage came back and asked me to connect to my wifi network and then to my Amazon account. Once that was done, there was the home screen and the library, nothing downloaded but everything available in my cloud. I downloaded and opened the book I’ve been reading on the Fire, and there it was, synced to the right page (something the Voyage had been having trouble with for a while) and ready to go.

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I emptied my Amazon cart. I’ll stick with the Voyage, at least until it craters again.

Random Reading

Here are three books I have enjoyed recently, with absolutely no connection to one another.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a terrific novel. If you remember the 70s (although some say that if you think you remember that era you weren’t really there), you will recognize the time of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, and Daisy Jones pretty much exemplifies all that.

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The story covers the formation of the band called The Six, the tension, conflict, and success brought about by the addition of singer Daisy Jones, and the eventual sudden and unexplained (until now) break up of the band.

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Although Daisy was a spoiled brat in many ways, and a hard core addict, I was still pulling for her to somehow survive it all. Billy Dunne, leader of The Six, also deep into the drug scene (as was pretty much everyone in the cast) had enough redeeming qualities, and made enough good choices (Daisy rarely did) that I was pulling for him, too. And Karen, and Graham.

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The story is told in the form of bits of interviews, arranged by the nameless (until the end) Author; none of the characters are together through the interviews, but their versions of the story and their reactions to one another are skillfully braided together, in a sort of modern version of the old epistolary novel.

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It took me a while to find this book, but I’m so glad I did. Now I’ll have to keep an eye out for Reid’s other novels.

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A friend recommended Lyssa Kay Adams’ The Bromance Book Club, a book that might not otherwise have been on my reading radar, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The premise, a group of men (most of them professional athletes) who read romance novels and regard them as “manuals” for puzzling out what the women in their lives really want, is as humorous as it sounds. The newest member of the club is baseball player Gavin Scott, whose wife of three years has thrown him out, for reasons he really doesn’t want to share with his friends. But he loves his wife, Thea, and he’s willing to take advice from his friends, as humiliating as that might be. If following the path to true love laid out in a paperback Regency romance called Courting the Countess (yes, there are excerpts) will get him back into Thea’s good graces, he’s willing to try. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well, it’s a funny, entertaining, heart-warming story, and of course all sorts of things go wrong. But Gavin and Thea are likable characters, clearly meant for each other, and worth rooting for. Adams also does an excellent job of showing how the hurts in their respective pasts cause problems in the present, and how sharing those buried secrets help to solve those problems.

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Thea and Gavin’s three-year-old twin daughters talk and sometimes act like six-year-old girls, and now and then Gavin’s male friends break into feminist rhetoric (if this was a movie they might break into song), but these are minor problems. On the whole The Bromance Book Club is funny and touching and optimistic, and well worth reading. My friend just picked up the sequel, Undercover Bromance.

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Not long ago I ran across an article listing good science fiction romances and thought that Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair looked particularly interesting. So I clicked on the Amazon link, only to learn that I had bought the book in June, 2016 — those little notices are definitely a blessing for bookaholics like me!

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So I located the book in my Kindle library, and a few days later I jumped in. I’ve been a science fiction fan all my reading life (and that goes back a long time), and I suspect Sinclair has been as well, because the science fiction aspects of Finders Keepers are as solid as the romance.

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Trilby Elliot is the captain and sole human crew member of an antiquated and beat up freighter called the Careless Venture. She and her android crewman Dezi are making repairs to the ship at her little hideaway on a rather inhospitable uninhabited planet when another space craft crashes nearby. Trilby rescues the pilot and brings him back to her rudimentary sick bay, where the equipment has a bit of trouble reading him.

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Trilby’s medical bay may be old and somewhat unreliable, but the truth is that Rhis Vanur really isn’t quite what—or who—he appears to be. By the time Trilby finds out the truth, she’s too far involved in galactic politics to get out. And she’s finding out the truth about far more than Rhis.

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Finders Keepers is just the ticket if you’re in the mood for a rousing space opera with a good (but never very graphic) romance running through it. My only complaint is that the ending seemed rather abrupt—and that Sinclair apparently never wrote a sequel (although she has written numerous other novels). I really wanted to know what happened next to Trilby, Rhis, and several of their colleagues.

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Now that I think about it, there is a connection: they all have love stories. That probably says something about my taste in books. I do like a happy ending.

Nero Wolfe Lives On

When Robert Goldsborough took over Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series in the mid 1980s, he brought Wolfe and his crew forward into the age of the personal computer (for the orchid germination records) without aging any of the characters. He wrote seven books, the last in 1994, before taking a break.

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Wolfe and Goodwin reappeared—and met—in the 2012 prequel Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, and Murder in the Ball Park, published in 2014, drops Wolfe and his usual crew, Archie, Lily Rowan, Fritz the chef, Lon Cohen from the Gazette, and Cramer and Stebbins from the NYPD, back into the mid twentieth century, a few years after the end of World War II. The ball park in the title is the old Polo Grounds (demolished in 1964), and Goldsborough has fun with NYC baseball of the period. He also delves into what we now call PTSD and the difficulties of men returning from combat.

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In Archie in the Crosshairs, Goldsborough stays in the mid-twentieth century, which was perhaps the peak of Nero Wolfe’s (and Rex Stout’s) career, the period many fans seem to prefer. All the usual characters are present, trying to figure out who is taking pot shots at Archie (apparently in revenge aimed at Wolfe) and who is blackmailing a naive young heiress. Could these cases possibly be connected?

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Stop the Presses! is set in the late 1970s, when Nero Wolfe is asked to determine whether or not a highly popular but widely detested muck-raking columnist committed suicide. Before his death he told his colleagues at the New York Gazette that he had been receiving threatening phone calls, and that he believed they were the work of one of five people he had gone after in his column. Inspector Cramer of the NYPD is convinced of the suicide theory, but the owner and the editor of the paper believe the columnist was murdered. As usual, Wolfe solves the case without ever leaving his brownstone. Archie, however, does a bit of traveling.

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I know there are Stout/Wolfe purists who decry the continuation of the series, but I’m enjoying the books. I read all the Stout novels (long ago) and I think Goldsborough has done a fine job recreating the characters and atmosphere. There are three more in the series waiting on my Kindle, and yet another scheduled for May 2020 (and Goldsborough is 82 years old!). Cheers to Open Road Press for making so many mysteries, both vintage and new, available.

Lark Brennan’s Hidden in Shadows

Hidden in Shadows is the fourth installment in Lark Brennan’s Durand Chronicles, and although I highly recommend reading the previous books, Shadows in the Deep, Mind Shadows, and Shadows of the Past (because they are really good!), Hidden in Shadows works as a stand alone novel.

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When Marie Robichaud’s aged Camry dies near the Texas/Louisiana border in the middle of the night, she knows she’s got trouble. She’s on the run from the cheating boyfriend she left back in Las Vegas, and she’s carrying a valuable necklace that said boyfriend bought with money he stole from her. Marie is pretty sure whoever sold him the necklace didn’t exactly have a clear title to it, but she’s past caring. If she can just get to the casino in Shreveport, she can pick up enough cash at the poker table to give her a cushion while she figures out what to do next. When a handsome man driving a powerful Porsche stops to offer her assistance, she’s leery. But she sure needs that ride into Shreveport.

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Victor Durand, the man in the Porsche, has been following Marie for hours. Well, actually, he’s been following the necklace, which radiates psychic powers no jewel thief could possibly imagine. Much to his surprise, his “jewel thief” is a young woman with psychic powers of her own, a form of telepathy she’s been using for years to make a living playing poker.

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Victor and Marie have little reason to trust each other. Experience has taught Marie that handsome, wealthy men are not likely to have her best interest at heart. Victor sees Marie as a con artist and a card sharp. But there are truly dangerous people searching for Marie’s necklace, and Victor knows that if he simply takes the necklace from her, he will be abandoning her to a very bad fate.

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When their uneasy partnership takes them to the voodoo-haunted streets of New Orleans, where Marie grew up and where Victor has left some bad memories behind, Marie finds herself drawn into Victor’s world, where the unending struggle between the Durand Protectors and the evil Dissemblers threatens Marie’s family.

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The Durand Chronicles combine romantic (and occasionally steamy) suspense with the varied psychic powers of the Durand family and their associates. Hidden in Shadows includes characters from the first three books and leaves just enough unanswered questions to fuel one more book, Shadow of Death, coming soon.

Marie Brennan: Turning Darkness Into Light

One of my favorite science fiction/fantasy series of the last decade (or ever, for that matter) has been Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent, beginning with A Natural History of Dragons in 2013 and ending, alas, with Within the Sanctuary of Wings in 2017. So I was delighted to spot Turning Darkness Into Light last summer.

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Why it sat in one of my To Be Read stacks this long I have no idea, perhaps so I’d know I had one more book to read set in Lady Trent’s world, which is like our own in many ways, from its pseudo-Victorian social structures to its vaguely familiar (but strangely named) geography, but totally different in others, most especially the existence of a wide variety of dragons (non-sentient wild animals) and the remains of the ancient and mysterious Draconean civilization.

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Turning Darkness Into Light tells the story of Lady Trent’s granddaughter, Audrey Camherst, a philologist studying the clay tablets left behind by the ancient Draconeans. When she is recruited to translate a recently discovered cache of ancient tablets by Lord Gleinleigh, a collector of antiquities and the discoverer of the tablets (and a rather unpleasant fellow), she takes the job against her better judgment: Lord Gleinliegh’s restrictions seem unreasonable and his estate is isolated and unwelcoming. But the lure of previously undeciphered tablets is too much to resist. The project leads Audrey and her allies into misadventure, danger, conspiracy, and revelation.

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If you haven’t read the five books of Lady Trent’s memoirs, Turning Darkness Into Light will probably be wildly confusing, not to mention that it is full of spoilers for the earlier books (which is why I’m not going into more detail here). If you have read the series, this book provides many answers to “so what happened next?”

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Turning Darkness Into Light is an epistolary novel (something I love), told in the form of diary entries, letters, translations of the tablets, occasional newspaper clippings, and even a couple of police reports. Most of the story is told from Audrey’s point of view, but quite a variety of other characters have a chance to chime in, including Lady Trent herself.

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Perhaps I find this series so fascinating because I share a background in anthropology, archeology and folklore with Brennan, or because I love the alternate world premise, or just because I’m blown away by Brennan’s imagination and writing skill, but I highly recommend all six books. One of these years I’ll have time to reread them all (paper copies on my keeper shelf) without the year or two wait between volumes.

More Cozy Series

I started to call this “Two New Cozies,” but actually only one, from Zara Keane, is a new series. The other, by Alice Duncan, I discovered thanks to (I think) Bookbub (I get far too many ebook sales emails every morning!). Just for fun, I’ve added the second book in Nancy Cole Silverman’s series about a Hollywood radio reporter.

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I have enjoyed all of Zara Keane’s Movie Club Mystery stories, and she starts a new Irish-set cozy mystery series with Deadline With Death, throwing in a touch of the paranormal with a bit of time travel. Dee Flanagan performs a daily balancing act, juggling her ill-paying job as a reporter for the Dunleagh Chronicle, her non-paying work on her history blog, and her irrepressible grandmother. When she finds herself caught in the middle of some very odd happenings at Dunleagh Castle, her knowledge of Irish history makes her wonder about the man, dressed in a century-old Royal Irish Constabulary uniform, who falls at her feet, wounded by gunfire. Is he a stray from some sort of historical reenactment? Why didn’t anyone else hear the gunfire, and who shot the clown? Dee tries hard to separate herself from her family’s reputation for eccentricity (all that woo-woo stuff), but with both her grandmother and her mother drawn into the mayhem surrounding the castle, Dee doesn’t know what to think.

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As in her Movie Club Mystery series, Keane fills her tale with the inhabitants and circumstances of life in a small Irish town. Her Time-Slip Mystery series promises to be just as full of humor, eccentric characters, and, of course, mystery. Thoroughly entertaining.

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Lost Among the Angels is the first in Alice Duncan’s Mercy Allcutt cozy mystery series, new to me but published several years ago. I picked it up because it’s set in Los Angeles in 1926, a setting and time period that I always find entertaining. Mercy, the naive but enthusiastic narrator, has moved from her sheltered (and wealthy) life in Boston to live with her sister (married to a movie executive), experience Real Life, get a job, and someday write a novel. She manages to land a position as secretary to a private investigator named Ernie Templeton (her big adventures back in Boston involved taking typing and shorthand classes, a secret from her family).

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Secretary, heck, Mercy wants to be an apprentice P.I., and she throws herself into helping her boss with his cases. And help she does, although sometimes it’s more by accident than intent.

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Lost Among the Angels gets off to a bit of a slow start, with Mercy trying to figure out Los Angeles, perhaps a bit too silly and naive, but she grew on me, the cases piled up, and Ernie turned out to be a peach of an employer (and perhaps something more in the following volumes?), alternately amused and aggravated by Mercy’s impulsive behavior, and Mercy’s East Coast elite upbringing actually stands her in good stead from time to time. A fun book, and I’ve downloaded the next one, Angels Flight.

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And here’s the second book in a series I’ve been enjoying, also spotted on a sale. In Nancy Cole Silverman’s Beyond a Doubt, Los Angeles radio reporter Carol Childs investigates a body dropped from a helicopter, meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator named Holly Wood, and sees someone who just might be the ghost of Clark Gable. Her investigations lead to a string of missing girls, some prominently reported and some barely noticed, and then to the possibility of a human trafficking ring. With her prime suspect seemingly untouchable, and her station management shying away from hard news, Carol may be on her own, but she’s determined to get the story—and find the missing girls. This is another series from the Henery Press cozy stable.

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