Book Review – Fall From Grace by J. Edward Ritchie

51xRW3hs0BL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Fall From Grace

Author: J. Edward Ritchie

Genre: thriller

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Summary

Heaven: a paradise of all that is pure in Creation. Led by brothers Michael and Satanail, the Angelic Host is a testament to cosmic harmony and love. When an unprecedented revelation threatens to uproot their peace, a schism splits the Host’s loyalties. Every angel has to make a choice: faith or freedom. Good or evil.

Salvation or damnation.

War consumes Heaven in the first and most destructive loss of life that Creation will ever know. As brother turns on brother, the fate of both Heaven and Earth rests in the hands of the Creator’s chosen son, Michael. How far will he go, what will he sacrifice in the name of their Father, to protect his family?

Witness the tragic downfall of a civilization as told from both sides of the bloody rebellion. More than myth, more than legend, Heaven’s war will forever stand as a harrowing warning that even the purest of souls can fall from grace.

5 STARS

Review

It was evident from the first page that J. Edward Ritchie is a very good writer. The prose contained in Fall From Grace is beautiful and ugly, serene and violent, divine and evil. Ritchie presents both sides of this powerful story – this epic battle of good and evil – in a manner that paints each side of the conflict sympathetically.

Brothers Michael and Satanail are the leaders of the Angelic Host until Satanail makes a discovery that causes him to defect, leading an uprising against Michael and the rest of the angels that stand for good. Filled with excellent character development, thrilling battle scenes, and poignant reflection by angels on both sides of the battle, Fall From Grace goes way beyond our traditional view of good and evil into those gray areas of morality, family loyalty, and the lengths others will go to in the name of their faith.

There were times when I was reading the book when I thought some scenes were a bit over the top, times when I thought that the author had taken an issue too far. Without fail, I was proven wrong, because what was written ended up becoming integral to the story. No wasted words here folks!

Bottom Line: First-time author J. Edward Ritchie hit a home run with this book! His exquisite prose lends an almost “classic literature” feel to this book. I am looking forward to more from Mr. Ritchie!

It Was a Tough Couple of Days for Inner Tubes

20150710_142444It doesn’t matter if it’s a two hour trip or a trip across the country, I love being on the road. Sure, air travel is quick and convenient, but the view you get of the world is far away and sometimes obscured by clouds. Traveling by car allows you a better view of the landscape, though it still restricts you to what you can glimpse at speeds often topping seventy miles per hour. My preferred mode of travel is by bicycle.

Last week, I hopped on my bicycle for what was to be a ride of about twenty-two miles stretching from the shores of beautiful Black Lake to Cheboygan in northern Michigan. I was meeting my family at The Big Dipper, an ice cream parlor straight out of the 1950s, where I would eat an ice cream sundae that would likely nullify the calories I had just burned on the ride.

Just a tick over seven miles into the ride, I crossed a small bridge and felt my rear tire go flat. I pulled off the road onto the gravel shoulder reached for my phone to call my wife to come and pick me up, then thought better of it. I decided to do a roadside tube change, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could make the repair in less than optimal conditions, which for me is putting my bike up on the rack and raising 20150709_152819it to eye level.

Twelve minutes later, with a little chain grease on my hands, I had installed my spare tube, and was back on the road. Eleven minutes after that, my tire went flat again. I pulled onto the shoulder and grabbed my pump, though I knew in my gut that I was not going to be riding anymore that day. I put a few pumps of air into the tire, waited, and confirmed that I was again dealing with a flat tire. Again, I reached for my phone and was dialing my wife when I spotted our minivan coming toward me. They pulled over, picked me up, and we went for ice cream. As much as I enjoyed the sundae, made with salty caramel vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge, I felt out of sorts, and was a little pouty. My youngest daughter Riley, fourteen, noticed my poutiness and asked what was wrong. “Bummed that I couldn’t finish my ride,” I replied. In a gesture that belied her young age, she put a hand on my arm and said, “It’s okay Dad. You’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

20150710_083709I woke up early this morning, eager to “get ‘em,” to get that one last ride in before we ended our vacation and returned home to Indiana. I wheeled my bicycle out by the lake. I figured if I had to wrench, I should enjoy the view while I was doing it. I started by patching the least-damaged of the two failed tubes from the previous day’s ride. I put some air in it to make sure that it held, and satisfied that it did, I put it and the tire back on the rim. I checked it ten minutes later and found that it was flat. Go figure.

20150710_151007I decided to use my last new tube. Perhaps in a rush to get to the breakfast table (biscuits and gravy are one of my food vices), I tore a hole in the tube with the tire lever while getting the tire back on the rim. After breakfast I found the tire flat again, and decided to take the rim and tire into Cheboygan to the relatively new City Bike Shop. As it turned out, I got his last road  bike tube. He told me that he had gone through a lot of tubes in the past week or so.

Forty-five minutes later I was doing what I had set out to do since I had gotten out of bed that morning: taking one last ride around Black Lake before our vacation came to an end.

All of the difficulties with inner tubes had me feeling pretty deflated and frustrated. Why go through all that trouble just to take a bike ride? The answer is quite simple: for me, riding is the key to having a happy and healthy life. While riding keeps me (somewhat) physically fit, it also keeps me emotionally fit.

20150710_142202Plus, cycling is a great way to explore new areas. Much of the riding I do is on the same roads where I live, so a chance to ride roads I have only ridden a few times, or never at all, is always an exciting prospect for me. Riding a bicycle allows for an intimacy with the road, the landscape, and the people you encounter that you just can’t get any other way. You become part your ever-changing surroundings in a way that riding in a steel box doesn’t allow. Bicycling allows you to interact with people that you encounter – the guy watering his flowers, the woman teaching her daughter to ride a bicycle in their driveway, the elderly woman walking her dog – in a manner 20150710_150727that may brighten their day just a bit – something as simple as a nod, a wave, or a friendly smile. And they may return your gesture – a payment made with the currency of human interaction.

It was a bad couple of days for inner tubes. But all the trouble I had to go through for this one last vacation ride was a small price to pay for the calories I burned, the emotional high I got, the beautiful Michigan scenery I saw, and, best of all, the fact that I got to intimately interact with my surroundings.

 

There’s One At Every Show

I’ve been going to rock shows for thirty years. Over the years, I’ve seen maybe a hundred and fifty shows in outdoor sheds, arenas, small theaters, and dive bars. At most of the shows I’ve seen, there’s always that one guy. You know the guy I’m talking about. At my first Rush concert in March 1988, a drunk kid who couldn’t have been more than fifteen decided that it would be a good idea to stagger up to the tenth row and crowd between my friends and I as the band was performing “Tom Sawyer.” We asked him to go back to his seat. He refused, so we pushed his narrow ass back into the aisle. End of dispute.

At another Rush show in 2002, my wife and I were sitting about six rows from the stage. Before the show, I noticed a guy sitting six or seven seats to our right. He was downing beers like it was Prohibition Eve. The drunker he got, the more he started messing with people in front of him, poking them, trying to convince them of his comedic genius. People laughed at him for a while, but when he didn’t stop, they began to get annoyed. This continued throughout most of the show. I thanked my lucky stars that this guy was leaving us alone…until Rush started playing their Grammy-nominated instrumental “YYZ.” At this point her made his way down the aisle toward my wife and I, and inserted himself between us. I asked him to go back to his seat. He refused, insisting that the seat was his. At this point, I moved him past my wife toward his seat. He turned around to face me, and bumped his chest into me, attempting to get past me. He was about 5’7″, maybe a hundred and sixty pounds. I’m six-foot, two-thirty. Before I could even process what had just happened, my hands shot out, and I shoved him. He went ass-over-teakettle back toward his seat, and was eventually escorted from the concert.

On Friday, March 13, 2015, I took my daughter Riley, along with her friend Jansen, to see southern rock band Blackberry Smoke at the Old National Center in Indianapolis. I purchased priority passes, which would allow us early entry into the venue, a standing-room-only affair in the Egyptian Room. We arrived about two hours before the doors opened. There were maybe twenty-five people in line in front of us. I knew that we would end up close to the stage, and was excited that the kids would get to see a great band so close up.

When we finally got into the Egyptian Room, we placed ourselves just a bit to the left of center. There was a row of people in front of us leaning on the barrier that separated the audience from the stage. We were ten feet from the stage. The first of two opening acts came on stage at 8pm, played a few songs, and was followed by a band called The Temperance Movement. The lead singer was very energetic, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the show…everyone, that is, except for a guy in front and a couple of feet to the right of us. Suddenly, he began pointing and gesturing to the lead singer, and it wasn’t to congratulate him on his fine performance. The guy’s girlfriend immediately got in front of him, because it appeared that he was going to jump the barrier and go after the lead singer. The girlfriend spent the rest of The Temperance Movement’s show trying to talk some sense into her boyfriend. I’m not sure what the singer did to draw the guy’s ire, but I am certain that the guy was drunk and acting like a dickhead. ‘There’s one at every show,’ I thought.

As it turned out, there was more than one at this show. Blackberry Smoke took the stage at around 9:45pm. Within about 15 minutes, I noticed a ruckus to my right. There was a little guy, maybe 5’6″, holding his girlfriend’s hand, attempting to push his way to the front of the crowd. He was wearing what looked like a leather biker vest, complete with a top rocker. Turns out it was a Black Label Society vest. En masse and like a well-oiled machine, the crowd pushed and shoved this guy and his lady friend back to where they came from, but not before the guy got in someone’s face for taking his beer. ‘Okay, so there are two at this show,’ I thought.

Wrong again. There were two more instances of what I described above – one to our right and one to our left. Both instances nearly led to fistfights, with drunken idiots being the aggressors in both instances. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, there were two ladies who were so drunk that they could hardly stand up, though through some miracle of physics, they were able to hold each other up.

I realize that not everyone is in agreement on what defines fun, but when you having fun is disruptive to others, potentially puts others in danger, and turns you into an asshole, do us all a favor and stay home. Most of the people at the front of the room waited in the rain for hours before the show, and held their spots up front so that they could enjoy what turned out to be an excellent concert. You, on the other hand, showed up late and thought that it was okay to drunkenly and rudely shove others out of your way to make it to the stage. Try not drinking so much next time. You might be surprised at the good time you have, and you’ll be much less likely to have conflicts with others.

In the interest of transparency, I am a recovering alcoholic. I have been drunk and acted like an asshole many, many times. I don’t have a problem with people who drink in a responsible manner. Turns out, I couldn’t. That’s why I quit drinking in 1996. I will say that I never attended a concert under the influence of anything other than the music. I always figured “Why pay good money to go to a concert and get so drunk I couldn’t remember it?”

 

 

 

Book Review: Germ Warfare (of the Corporate Kind) by Noel Warnell

41xdnMqsw8L._SS300_Title: Germ Warfare (of the Corporate Kind)

Author: Noel Warnell

Genre: Humor/Self-Help

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Summary

This hilarious debut book is the result of 15 years ‘in the trenches’ research in workplace diseases and by reading it you’ll take a giant leap towards a happier and healthier place to work, for yourself and others as you: • become aware of the 25 disgusting diseases lurking in your office • discover how to quickly and easily identify symptoms • receive expert guidance on how to disrupt and destroy them.

4 STARS

Review

I read this book in less than an hour, and spent a good portion of the time chuckling to myself. You see, I work for a mental health provider. A few years ago, I left my job as director of one of the organization’s outpatient offices to write grants full-time. With the change in job came a change in the location of my office. I went from having my own office with a door that I could shut to working in a large suite of offices and cubicles. As it worked out, I ended up stuck in a cubicle. I went from working in an office filled with mostly social worker types to working in an office filled with all manner of administrative staff (IT, accounting, billing, human resources, etc.).

I wish I’d had a copy of Germ Warfare when I started my new job on cubicle island. It would have saved me a lot of frustration, and would perhaps have slowed the graying of my hair. I won’t run down the different types of corporate diseases, such as “Bitchy-witchy”, “Verbositoxis” or “Fluff,” but I will say that as I read the book and thought about my workplace, I could identify with many of them. Hell, I have symptoms of a couple of them myself. I highly recommend that you buy a copy and stow it in your desk. I recommend taking it with you for your 9am visit to stall #1 – you know, after the coffee and oatmeal kick into high gear.

Bottom line: This a quick and funny read that sheds a humorous light on the different types of people we encounter at work.

Reviewer’s Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Album Review: Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

imgres

Title: Holding All The Roses

Artist: Blackberry Smoke

Genre: Southern Rock/Country Rock

5 STARS

 

Review

With songs as diverse as the dishes of food on Grandma’s Sunday afternoon dinner table, Holding All The Roses, the fourth studio album from Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke, is a record that shows a band that is maturing, both musically and thematically. And is if that wasn’t enough, the record, which was produced by Brendon O’Brien (AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), just sounds great.

Lyrically, Charlie Starr sings of love lost on “Living in the Song,” revenge on “Paybacks a Bitch”, narcissism and the need for some people to be the center of attention on “Wish in One Hand”, and the destructive power of drugs and hopelessness on the heartbreakingly honest “Too High.”

Musically, the band is in top form throughout the album. The first track, “Let Me Help You (Find the Door),” is a solid southern rock song that hits you right between the eyes. The title track is a great bit of southern boogie, with great acoustic guitar and fiddle interplay, followed by a rocking electric guitar solo. “Rock and Roll Again,” the first song I heard via streaming prior to the release of the album, is a fun song with an old time rock n roll vibe, with a little edgy electric guitar thrown in for good measure. “Lay It All on Me” is a simple country song that is held together with Brandon Still’s piano and keyboard work, along with some fine steel guitar.

Blackberry Smoke’s rhythm section, consisting of Brit Turner on drums and Richard Turner on bass guitar, lays a solid foundation throughout the album. Brandon Still’s keyboards, though understated much of the time, really shine through, particularly when he’s providing thoughtful texture with what sounds like a Hammond B-3 organ. The guitar duo of Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson is a solid as any duo out there in country music and southern rock. Charlie Starr’s vocals are distinctly southern – soft and melodic, loud and gruff – perfect for the band’s music.

Though I’m a self-professed prog-rock snob, Blackberry Smoke came onto my radar in 2013 when I was flipping through the channels and came across one of their concerts. What I saw and heard took me back to 70s-era southern rock – Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Blackfoot, and Molly Hatchett – stuff I listened to on WFBQ-Indianapolis as a preteen and teenager. Blackberry Smoke’s heartfelt music and honest lyrics about everyday problems really appealed to me. I immediately went out and purchased all of their music. Holding All The Roses has all of that and more. The music has a universal appeal that is sure to span genres and generations. Thanks for keeping it real guys!

Book Review – Tortured Dreams by Hadena James

imgresTitle: Tortured Dreams

Author: Hadena James

Genre: thriller

Series or Standalone: Book 1 in the Dreams & Reality Series

Summary

Aislinn Cain’s life is a horror story – A Serial Killer Thriller

When the US Marshals Serial Crimes Tracking Unit comes knocking at Aislinn Cain’s door, she is given a chance to use her past to save other people’s futures. She has survived attacks by two different serial killers and devoted her life to studying the darker side of human history.

A new killer is using medieval torture methods to slay his victims. She can give them a glimpse into his twisted world, but not without a cost. If she opens herself, she risks falling into the depths of her own darkness. Can she afford to help, knowing that the cost could be her own humanity?

Review

1 STARS

I was excited when I started this book, sure that it was going to be a top-notch thriller. How can you go wrong with a killer that uses medieval torture devices? What I got instead was a book filled with a lot dialogue, much of it meaningless, and very little in the way of action.

The main character, Aislinn Cain, is a shallow, unapologetic sociopath, and thus, very hard to like or even care about. I don’t feel like any of the characters in the book were particularly well-developed. Most, including Aislinn, felt like robots responding to stimuli, but unable to do much of anything else.

What action there was, although somewhat fantastical and hard to believe, did manage to move the story along, unlike the endless, meaningless banter between the various characters.

Bottom line: This book could have been cut by twenty-five to fifty percent and wouldn’t have lost anything except a lot of meaningless dialogue.

Remember When Facebook Was Fun?

imgresI figure I’ve been on Facebook for about six years now. I went through a period when I was lucky to log on once a week. For the past couple of years, I have visited Facebook on a daily basis. Many days, I am on the site multiple times. It has become my go-to way to communicate with many of my friends. I also really enjoy reading people’s updates and seeing pictures of them with their families.

However, for some people, Facebook has become a forum for their endless discontent with society. You know the people I’m talking about. Every other post consists of some meme touting their political party (or demonizing the political party they don’t like). Or maybe their discontent revolves around gay rights, racial inequality, animal rights, vaccinations for children, workers’ rights, minimum wage, women’s rights, immigration, police brutality, the 2nd Amendment, the right to say Merry Christmas, the right not to have to hear Merry Christmas, religion…the list could go on forever.

imgresDon’t get me wrong, these are all noble causes. Well, all but one. The anti-vaccination bullshit rankles my hide. I was vaccinated as a child, my children and grandchild are vaccinated per the recommendations of their doctors, and none of us are autistic or paralyzed or suffering from any mental or physical maladies that anti-vaccination proponents like to attribute to vaccinations. I get my medical advice from a person who studied medicine and received a medical degree, not some bonehead like Jenny McCarthy. Okay, enough of that.

23903663Though I identify myself as a member of one of America’s two major political parties, I am able to recognize that each political party has its own set of strengths and weakness, and that there are enough idiots on both sides of the aisle to fill a 747 or two. Every day, I see memes bashing both political parties. Many of these memes contain information that is presented out of context, or information that is simply untrue.

As for other causes and issues, remember that you don’t win people over to your cause by ramming information down their throats, particularly information that is inaccurate, or is presented in such a manner that vilifies people who may not agree with you. I am a firm believer that honest, open, and…wait for it… respectful dialogue is what leads to change, not hate and vitriol.

Far be it from me to tell someone what to post on Facebook or criticize someone else’s posts. However, just because someone took the time to make a cute little meme DOESN’T mean that the information on that meme is anywhere close to being true and imagesaccurate. What it means is that someone wants you to think a certain way, and unless you fact-checked the information on that meme before you posted it, you drank the Kool-Aid, and by extension, you are letting someone else tell you how you should think. Here’s an idea: THINK FOR YOURSELF. Folks, there are enough idiots in this world who can’t or won’t think for themselves. Don’t be one of them.

Also, I have a couple of questions for the people who spend hour after hour, day after day posting the kind of stuff I have been talking about. Do you really believe in the causes you are “promoting?” Do you believe imgresin them enough to participate in peaceful rallies or volunteer at the animal shelter (or homeless shelter or wherever)? If so, that’s great! If not, you are what’s known as a slacktivist. Slacktivism is “the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slacktivism).

For the sake of transparency, I have, in the past, posted memes without verifying the information they contained. I have, in the past, been a slacktavist. Currently, I don’t make a habit of either. I try not to post stuff that is divisive on Facebook. I go to Facebook to have fun, catch up with friends, and post stuff about my family. People who I’m friends with on Facebook know that I have the world’s 10418253_10204519337050094_3840918047854906823_ncutest granddaughter, Ariana, and good kids, because I post lots of pictures and stories. And they know that I’m a big fan of the Canadian rock band Rush. And England’s Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree. And Pink Floyd. Oh, and Indiana University basketball and Indianapolis Colts football. That’s what Facebook should be: a place where people go to share what’s good. You want the bad? Just watch your local news or any of the cable news shows. There’s enough bad stuff and bullshit there to fertilize every cornfield in Indiana. Do we really need to rehash it all on Facebook? Or worse yet, present information that is false or misleading?

Yesterday, I was talking my good friend Julie Foltz about this very issue. She is passionate about helping people with HIV, and trust me, she ain’t no slacktavist. She puts her money, time, and talent where her mouth is. She said, “I think I get more depressed from looking at Facebook and the hatred that people in this world have.” I completely agree with her. I love it when someone builds up someone else on Facebook, rather than tearing them down. I love it when I see a picture of someone’s kid, happy and carefree, rather than some idiotic meme that someone else created, bashing one group of people or another.

If this blog applies to you, do me a favor and try this: Go one day, heck, even one week, without posting anything negative. Instead, focus on the positive things in your life. You’ll be amazed at how good it makes you feel. Or, if what I have said offends you, feel free to unfriend me or unfollow me or whatever. My newsfeed will immediately be less cluttered.