Friday, November 3, 2017

My Maria Experience

Hello, everyone!

It's been weeks since my last post, and you can imagine why. It seems my joy at having escaped Irma's wrath was heard and noted, since Maria quickly followed. While Irma just gave Puerto Rico a glancing blow, Maria swept viciously over the entire island. It was as if a sixty-mile-wide tornado had crossed the island from corner to corner. Keep in mind, the island is approx. thirty miles wide by ninety miles long. We were inside the raging beast for hours!

What is it like, enduring a storm of Maria's strength and size for hours? It's not something for the weak hearted, for sure. My house is built like a bunker. Most of the houses in my neighborhood are built the same way. Mine is made entirely of steel-reinforced concrete and concrete block, including the roof. That's right, the roof is concrete. My doors are impact-resistant metal. There are no trees around it to fall; only shrubs and small plants surround it.

I decided that only the windward sides needed shuttering since my windows are meant to withstand winds of 150 miles, and the direction of the hurricane's approach indicated that winds would start from the north, change to the west, and finally sweep in from the south as the storm exited. The east side of the house would be relatively sheltered. Since hurricanes move in a counter- clock spin in our neck of the woods, this is the usual case with storms approaching the island from the southeast corner.

At first, I planned to weather the storm alone. My house is situated on a bluff, with no danger of flooding. I was as prepared as I could be in terms of supplies and water. My car was gassed and safely tucked away. I had dozens of candle jars (I don't bother with batteries) and other emergency paraphernalia. What I did not have was a portable radio or a generator, but I did not expect to be out of power longer than a week if at all. I have no problem being without electricity for a few days. I consider it an adventure. I do have a small gas stove for emergencies.

At the last minute, my cousin Evelyn decided to keep me company and showed up around 8 P.M. on Tuesday night, the 19th. I was grateful for the company, but now we had the problem of where to keep her car. She decided to tuck it as close as possible to the south wall, since the east wall is lined with shrubs. I worried about the car because there is a wide, empty sweep of lawn there and no protection at all.

We watched television and talked for the next two hours; the front door was wide open and a light rain with intermittent light gusts was starting. At about eleven o'clock the gusts picked up, and we closed the door. My daughter and son, who live in Miami, were constantly messaging me. At one thirty in the morning, the electricity went out. The winds and rain were stronger now, but nothing alarming. I texted my daughter that the electricity was out. Her answer was, "So soon?" It was the last message I'd receive, as the cellular signal was lost.

I had jar candles in place. With the cell phone for light, we started lighting candles.  The wind and rain were steady, and we were not worried yet. My phone has a radio app, and we tuned in to it. Interestingly, there were few news reports coming through. We learned that already a shelter in San Juan was having problems and was being evacuated. This seemed strange as we did not perceive the winds as being that strong yet.

We decided to get a little sleep. It was just before sunrise that I woke up to the persistent sound of powerful, sustained gusts and banging on the walls and windows. It was semi-dark outside and we could see little out the east windows. We pulled up two folding chairs and waited for the light of day. We turned our radio apps back on. Only one station was broadcasting, and it was a religious music station coming through loud and clear. All others had lost signal.

At some point, the pounding on the window panels began to get worrisome. It seemed that the now powerful gusts were grabbing hold of the panels and pounding them into the windows. I became afraid that maybe the panels were not strong enough and they would themselves break the windows. We decided to move the sectional sofa and the television into the inner bathroom, which is humongous and very sheltered.

As we began moving the sofa, we saw that water was coming in under the doors at a surprising rate. There was no danger of flooding as the house sits on a high bluff, but the rain was being whipped horizontally and slipping under the doors. I ran to place heavy towels under the doors. The towels soon became soaked and water continued to flow in. Gratefully, the house is entirely floored in ceramic tile.

We kept squeezing heavy towels and trying to keep out the rain. Finally, we gave up. As the dark outside turned into day, we were able to not only hear but see the force of the storm. It seemed to get stronger with every gust, and the gusts now seemed to come back to back without pause. The pounding of the window panels against the windows had me terrified. I expected that at any moment the shuttering panels would be ripped out and the windows would go. We took all our cookies, chips, drinks, and shut ourselves in my bedroom which faced east and was not under "attack" as I perceived it.

Outside, it sounded as if the cry of babies was carried in the wind; this disturbed my cousin greatly. I remembered that during hurricane Andrew, in Cutler Ridge in 1992, my brother had described the wind as "thousands of little elves with little hammers pounding on the walls." The sound of Maria was more eerie, more like a steady wailing. At times, you could hear the equivalent of babies wailing in high-pitched frenzies. It is easy to understand how ancient man might have imagined spirits and demons in such winds.

As daylight became stronger, we were able to see across the street where the neighbor's shed, which had stood storms for twenty years, began to lift from the side and was swept away and thrown down the hill by a gust. Evelyn and I cheered as the shed was an eyesore and every neighbor wanted it gone. Although the wind was coming from the northwest now, our east-facing windows vibrated each time the gusts swept across.

We could see the trees, shrubs, and all kinds of debris being swept by the gusts. The smaller, more flexible palm trees were bent almost to the ground. I remembered a reporter from Miami standing in Irma's gusts to show how strong the wind was blowing, obviously impressed. If he stood in my driveway now, he'd be found somewhere in Central America, maybe.

An interesting effect was caused by air pressure. Once in a while, I'd open the bedroom door to see the extent of the water flowing under the living room doors and to make sure the panels at the windows still held. Although every door and window was secured, the pressure against the bedroom door was substantial. I had to struggle to open my bedroom door. At one point, I tried to open the door to the guest room and was not strong enough to do so.

Outside, the gusts were now incredible. The wind was moving so fast, that lightning stroke directly across the landscape, maybe half a mile from us, but no thunder was heard.  This seemed to me very strange because one of the things that most bothered me about Andrew was the lightning and thunder. I also remember that Katrina in 2005 (or it may have been Rita) touched us in Miami, and the lightning and thunder strikes were horrendous. Maria had lightning, but the thunder seemed strangely muted. The wind speeds must have been incredibly strong to carry off the sound of thunder.

Another effect of the wind speed was the whitening of the air around us. Seconds before especially strong gusts blew, the air outside would turn milky white as if it was raining milk sideways, and everything would disappear in the paper-white landscape. My cousin and I began to fear the gusts as everything became milk white outside. It was a strange and unsettling effect.

I can't remember the exact time, but I believe it was sometime after two o'clock that the gusts stopped and the whiteness cleared. Evelyn and I looked at each other with relief and teetered out into the now totally water-logged living room. I believed the hurricane was over; after all, it had started about eleven o'clock the night before- fifteen hours more or less. I remembered Andrew lasting much less than that. Evelyn was not so sure. She thought we were under the eye.

We opened the door to a calm, grey day. There was no bright blue sky over us. I grabbed a broom and started sweeping out the water. Both of us worked to squeeze out towels and get water out. Evelyn kept warning me that it was the eye, not to step outside. She was right. A sudden gust blew, and I grabbed the door to close it. The door caught the wind and pulled me with it. My cousin panicked and grabbed my arm to pull me back.

My wrist twisted and I let the door go which pounded against the concrete wall. I had a swollen, painful wrist for days. I was lucky it was not worst. My first hurricane injury ever! Goes to show how easily one can get hurt by a hurricane.

Now, the wind began to whip from the south, and it got stronger and more terrifying. At this point, Evelyn worried that her car would not make it. I expected that the small car would be picked up and thrown against the house. Outside, we could see that the small palm trees in my landscaping where bending totally and the absolutely rubbery, strong, Agave-like, round plants that stood low to the ground were also bending!

Interestingly, the power cables vibrated and swung perilously, but they did not fall because in our street, there were no palm trees or trees planted under them. A lesson learned was that any cables under trees or shrubs, came down. The island is a lush, green place where most electric cables are surrounded by forests; this proved disastrous for the electric grid.

Another lesson learned was that structures made of wood as well as rooftop solar heaters could survive if they were tied down properly with cabling and tensors. We watched the heavy, loaded storage shed across being lifted easily and carried off by the wind, but one neighbor's solar heater was left intact. It had been tied down with tensors and survived the strong winds. Evelyn's thirty-year-old wooden cottage also survived; it was tied down to its concrete foundation with cabling that went criss-cross over its metal roof and tied to the foundation with tensors.

The back end of Maria went on forever. All radio stations had gone silent hours before. We had no phone signals, no electricity, no running water. Eventually, exhausted and unable to do anything else, we fell asleep. At six in the morning (now Thursday the 21st), I awakened to intermittent gusts. The rain had stopped. We had been locked inside since Tuesday night, more or less thirty hours. We opened the door to a strange morning.

It was eerily bright but not sunny, just a strange, cold brightness like fluorescent lighting. There was a sense of emptiness in the landscape, and I could see houses and roads and streams that I had not seen before.

Miraculously, Evelyn's car was untouched. Somehow, it was shielded by the house and survived. However, the mango tree I had on the edge of the property, one that dated back to my grandfather's time and was huge, was not only split in pieces but ripped out by the roots. Not one of my banana trees, orange trees, or any other fruit tree survived. However, on the other hill I could see the neighbor's two horses placidly grazing. He'd let them loose to survive because he said that they would go insane locked up during the storm.

Across the street, I could see my neighbor sweeping out water from her balcony. On most days, she would greet me cheerfully; she did not say a word. I walked over to ask if she was ok.
  
"I lost everything," she said. "What's the use of planting and slaving, just to lose it all in one sweep." I think she was furious with God. I looked behind her house, and she was right. All her banana, avocado, orange trees, almost everything was down. Keep in mind that she has a total monthly income of maybe $200. She plants things to eat.

"You didn't lose your house," I remarked. "There are lots of people today can't say the same thing." I know that was little consolation to her, but it was the truth.

Evelyn was desperate to see if her small, wooden house had survived. We got in her car and made our way to the end of my street. At that point, it dawned on us that my street was the exception because it was not lined with trees. At the intersection, there was no way to proceed. The entire main road was a tangle of trees and electric power lines. The tangles stretched out into the distance. Looking in the other direction, we could see where a large piece of a hill had collapsed and choked off the road.

In every direction, I searched the horizon for the antennae that provided cellular and Internet communications. All had disappeared. Neighbors began to congregate in small groups. Everyone wanted to know: Where did the hurricane exit? Did it go directly over us? How is the rest of the island? Are all the roads impassable? Did the bridges survive? Is it safe to cross them? When will the electricity return? The water? Did the nursing home where my father is, survive? Is there phone service anywhere so that I can contact my children?

It was this sense of uncertainty and fear for other family members that permeated those first hours. Still, everyone expected that cell phones would come on line within hours. With the realization that all towers were gone and that neither cell phones nor Internet would be available for communications, a real sense of helplessness set in.

However, you may put a Puerto Rican down, but you can't keep him down. By eight o'clock in the morning, every able-bodied man and many women were out with portable power saws and machetes. They sawed, hacked, and carried. A few hours later, the entire road was cleared for miles. Power lines still could be seen dangling at many spots, and the road was lined with debris so that only one line of cars could move at a time. Everyone understood that emergency crews could not move through choked roads, so the people did the clearing. This happened all over my hometown.

Just hours before the hurricane, some hapless government official had been advising the population that after the storm, the best and most efficient way to request FEMA aid was to enter their web page and apply online! Obviously, it had to be some young professional full of the knowledge of technology with little knowledge of the power of nature. There were some small pockets in major cities such as Mayaguez where some lines and towers survived, but overall, it will be months before the majority of the island sees an internet connection.

During Andrew, in 1992, I lived in Cutler Ridge, just north of Homestead, Florida. The devastation there was different. It was the destruction of houses, all of them sporting wooden roofs that caught the wind and blew off.  In my town, nestled in the mountains of the northwest of Puerto Rico, there was not the same widespread destruction of homes because we build differently. The devastation was to the infrastructure. Portions of roads collapsed, ancient bridges failed, our water dam cracked, thousands of light posts and transformers were ripped apart, and all com towers went down.

With the collapse of the infrastructure, problems we never imagined surged to the front. Portable power generators soon ran out of gasoline. People who were depending on social security checks and other deposited income were not able to access their banks. The ability to distribute gasoline was brought to a stand-still by power struggle between politicians and union leaders.

Nine days after the hurricane, things were bad. I had used my car to charge my electronics in the hope that they would come back on, to listen on the car radio hoping for news, to enjoy the car's AC, and driving to check on family. I had not been able to speak to my daughter or my brothers in Florida. I was taking baths with small water bottles. I used a candle to heat a needle and melt tiny holes in the caps to use the bottles as a shower.

I stood on a line at the bank at 4:30 in the morning, the pitch-black early morning lit only by our cell phones. It was all they were good for. The cops showed up at mid-morning to say that the bank was not opening that day. He said to try Moca or Aguadilla, the next two towns.

Many people did not have enough gas to make it there. Some were afraid to lose precious jobs because they had no gas to drive to them. Most people that live in my town work in the bigger cities. Portable generators were kept silent because the gasoline was needed for the cars.

I went from gas station to gas station. Lines stretched endlessly in both directions. People stood in line for hours. One neighbor stood in line eleven hours and left without getting the gasoline. It must be emphasized that this was nine days after the storm.

The red light in my gas gauge came on. I drove to a cousin's house who lives closer to town and parked the car for good. My son unexpectedly rode in on a HSI truck (rescue mission) intent on shipping his distraught mom back to Miami for a few weeks. I jumped at the chance.

He brought cases of water and boxes of MRE meals which he gave to my neighbor. I took every dollar I had, every dollar he had, all my remaining supplies, and gave them to her too. I felt awful that I had to leave her in such a mess.

My son took me back to San Juan and the hotel where his unit was lodged. My phone got its signal back as soon as we entered the Marriot. I had my first hot shower since Maria swept over the island. That evening I ate a nice churrasco. Let me tell you, I never want to see another Vienna sausage.

The next morning, I was able to access my bank account. The only working ATM gave me $500. which I quickly gave to a family member more needy than me. It seems my family in San Juan was in worse shape than the ones in the country. I figured I needed nothing since in Miami everything was at hand.  I was lucky to fly back on a flight chartered by ICE for their people and family members.

Maria crossed the island on the 20th of September. I will be flying back on Nov.17th. I love my home and have no intention of abandoning it. My neighborhood has electricity and intermittently, water now, but no cellular signal or Internet. I need the Internet because of my publishing and my blog, but I will just have to make do. In other parts of the island, people lost lives and homes to the floods. I was a lucky one.



Available at Amazon. Read for FREE with a Kindle Unlimited Account.















Tuesday, September 12, 2017

What to Read? Part 6

As those of you who have read my short bio know, I live in Puerto Rico. For three days, hurricane Irma made it impossible to do anything but read, as wind and rain knocked off most of the island’s electricity. 

I made sure to charge my Kindle way ahead of the storm, and spent most of it reading! If you're wondering, I am fine. The east side of the island got the worst of the storm, and I live in the west side.

For the last month, I’ve been scanning the Top 100 Free list for those rare books that are both really good and free. I found that those books are usually free only for a few days of special promo, and by the time I finish a book, it’s off promo and no longer free. However, a good book, regardless of price, is worth recommending.

During Irma, I read a few books I'd downloaded from the Top 100 Free over the last few weeks. The World Beneath by Rebecca Cantrell is one such book. I read it in one day because I could not put it down! 

It's a mystery that begins in 1949 when a former Nazi scientist working for the U.S. government is bricked-in alive (as in "The Cask of Amontillado") in the subterranean tunnels of New York City and forgotten. Jump to present New York City where a contract-killer tracks his prey to that same brick wall.   

The story is imaginative, fast moving, full of tension and atmosphere, and has great characters that include a brave, lovable dog called Edison. I loved the ending too! The book is now $4.99 on Amazon. It's part of a series called the Joe Tesla series.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

What to Read? Part 5

Honestly, the pickings are slim today on the Top 100 Free. Overwhelmingly sexy romance, even the book in 1st place is a romantic mystery. Compare the top six free to the top free paid.





Top 100 Paid for Aug. 27th 2017





First item to draw my attention is that Beneath a Scarlet Sky, about to be made into a movie, is number 5. For $1.99, that’s almost as good as free.

Next, #1, #5, and #6 have over 16,000 reviews with an average above 4 stars. Sixteen thousand readers cannot lie!

It’s an interesting note that two of the top six are tales of courage and love during the Nazi years (Beneath a Scarlet Sky and From Sand and Ash). Three are Thrillers/Suspense. All are priced below $5.00.

However, if what you want is FREE, then you’d be better off searching the Free offerings under specific categories. 

For example, Top Free in Fantasy or Top Free in Science Fiction. Below is a listing for today of the Top Free in “First Contact,” a subgenre of Science Fiction. Notice that even here, you’ll find the erotic romance (i.e.: Her Alien Trader). However, you’ll find a wider scope of pure sci fi.





Here is the equivalent listing of First Contact paid books in the same category for Aug. 27.




You’ll find the list is primarily solid science fiction with prices ranging from $0.99 to $4.99. As you encounter titles by traditional authors, prices do increase because those are set by the publishers and not the authors.

In conclusion, to find a choice of free books that fall into categories such as mystery, fantasy, short reads, suspense/thrillers, science fiction, etc., you must search out the Top Free list for the specific genres. Otherwise, you get bombarded by the erotic romances that seem to populate the Top Free Kindle list. 

If you want a wide selection of true best-selling books, then you’ll have to browse the paid list for each genre. However, those books are reasonably priced, and you’ll seldom have to pay more than a few dollars. Many are on sale for as little as $0.99 and you’ll get excellent choices.

My choice for today from the Top 100 Free is Skeleton's Key. It has an average of 4.5 stars out of 500 reviews. It's first category is Hard-boiled>Mystery>Thriller>Suspense. 



I also got (from the paid list) Beneath a Scarlet Sky for $1.99, which I think is almost free.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Took or Baggins? Part 4



Chapter 4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms

  -In the morning, the friends awaken to find the elves have gone.

  -Frodo, Sam, and Pippin leave the main road and cut through the

    wilderness  just in time before a Black Rider appears.

   -The group ends up in Farmer Maggot’s house. He tells them that a dark

    stranger on a black horse is searching for Frodo.

   -Farmer Maggot gets them to the ferry crossing in secret.



Wonderful Quote:

Short cuts make long delays.



My thoughts:


There is beautiful imagery and great reading for those readers who actually love the process of reading: the enjoyment of mood, atmosphere, subtle creation of suspense, beautiful and poetic wording. Those looking for action-based, fast reading may be bored.



Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked
   
   -A short history of Buckland is given.

   -A glimpse of a Black Rider happens as they disembark from the ferry.

   -At Crickhollow, Merry and Pippin disclose that they know all about the

     Ring.

   - It's decided that Merry and Pippin will join the quest. They all break into

     song for the third time. 


   _Frodo has a disturbing dream that night.

My thoughts: 

This chapter reminds me much of The Hobbit:  when the friends break into song unexpectedly during the bath and later after they decide to go together on the quest. 

It furthers the characterization of  Hobbits as childlike, innocent, natural creatures who are truly out of their depths in adventures. Only Frodo, in his dark and prophetic dream, seems to have a clearer understanding. It seems that maybe the possession of the ring has already affected him in ways that make him different, less childlike.



Chapter 6: The Old Forest


   -The Hobbits enter the forest and find it a hostile, cunning place.

   - The trees seem to watch the group and paths move or disappear, herding the little group

     away from their destination.

   -They reach the Withywindle, a river edged and surrounded by willows.

   -A spell renders the friends asleep. 

   -Merry and Pippin are swallowed by a crack  in a willow.  Frodo is dumped in the river 
    by the tree he fell asleep on.

   -Enter (singing) the ridiculously cheerful and colorful character  Tom Bombadil, 
     who saves the friends!

   -They arrive as guests at Tom Bombadil's house.




My thoughts: 

Once again, this chapter is also reminiscent of a children’s tale. The dangers and evil encountered are more like those found in the telling of a fairy tale. The forest shows malice, but it does little harm to the friends. Old Man Willow tries to eat Merry and Pippin, but he is easily derailed by Tom Bombadil’s spell singing. It is almost as if the Black Riders and the Ring have been left behind. The appearance of Tom Bombadil itself is rather comic and unexpected.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What to Read? Part 4

When trying to choose a variety of genres from the Top 100 Free list, a problem soon emerges: there is little variety. A careful examination of the list shows that the majority of titles are in the romance genre. On the first page (#1-#20) there are 12 romances out of 20 offerings.





As the reader moves up the list, the proportion of romances to other genres increases. On Aug 8th, 2017,  items 41-60 are as follows. Reminder: this list changes as the day wears on. 

41- Lucky in Love- Romance>Sports
42- A Real cowboy Never Says No- Romance>Westerns
43- Accounting for Love- Romance>Westerns
44- The Red Door Inn- Romance>Inspirational
45- Married This Year 2 -Romance>Contemporary
46- The Chocolate Garden- New Adult>College
47- Damnation- Romance>Paranormal
48- Uncommon- Woman’s>Christian
49- Ella Wood- Romance>Historical
50- Tougher Than The Rest- Romance>Western
51- Haunted by Love- Romance Paranormal
52- Hawaiian Hangover- Cozy Mystery
53- The Yakuza Path-Blood Stained Tea- Crime Fiction> Gay Fiction
54- Escape From Oz- Sci Fi>Space Opera
55- Summer on the Lake- Romance Contemporary
56- In Love With the Alpha- Romance>Paranormal
57- Tank- New Adult>Romance
58- The Sekhmet Bed- Historical>Biographical
59- The Way Back- Romance>Inspirational
60- The Lone Survivor- Paranormal>Urban Fantasy

Of the above titles, only six are not romance. 
#48- Uncommon- is Woman’s Christian Living 
#52- Hawaiian Hangover is a Cozy Mystery 
#58- The Sekhmet Bed is also a woman’s read, telling the story of an Egyptian princess and her arranged marriage. 

Only two books: Escape from Oz and Lone Survivor fall into genres that may appeal across the board. It’s interesting to note that as the list gets past the first forty, the number of covers showing sculpted male chests and low-hanging jeans increases. These reflect the more erotic content of the romance.



MY OPINION, and once again I must emphasize that it’s an opinion and everyone is entitled to one, is that if you want to read genres other than spicy romance, your pickings in the Top 100 Free are slim. 

Today, you could have chosen The Game You Played, a suspenseful mystery thriller with 4.4 stars average in 1298 reviews. It sits at #1 and you have to grab it now because it will go off promo quickly. Hard Fall by P.T. Reade sits at #3, and it’s crime fiction with 4.4 stars average from 176 reviews.





The Game You Played at Amazon.

Hard Fall at Amazon.

The Old Man and the Tea at Amazon.


I chose The Old Man and the Tea, described as “Another fun-filled adventure” in the Reverend Elmo Jenkins series. It has an average of 4.4 stars from 385 reviews. The genre is Religious>Inspirational, but I'm always open to new genres. I expect it to be funny, not preachy. Let’s see what happens.


On the aug. 9th early list, the following looks promising if you are a fan of the action/suspense, special ops hero.




King's Ransom at Amazon.  This book has an average of 4.7 stars from 124 reviews. This is #3 in the Xander King series by Bradley Wright. 




A Spirited Tail  at Amazon is listed as a Mystery>Cozy>Animals and sits at #29 in the Top Free on Aug. 9th. It sports 509 reviews (not shabby) and a 4.4 stars average. 
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Do you like Paranormal Romance? Want to try a new genre and a story full of suspense, action, humor, and romance? Try Zeece Lugo's Angel's Guardian series.



Self-exiled from the vampire nation, Maxim spends his days in quiet solitude and his nights prowling the heights of New York City, hunting prey. On a cold November night, he chances upon a gang rape in a desolate back alley. He leaps at the chance to feed on predators of the worst kind, his favorite prey. But the situation takes a turn he never expected, and soon he finds himself wishing he'd made a different choice on that fateful night.

Kidnapped by a sex-trafficking ring at the age of fourteen, Angelica escaped only to be relentlessly pursued by her enemies ever since. Tonight, they have found her. As she lies dying on a cold, dark alley, her only fear is for the secret she desperately hid moments before they caught her. A secret she must protect with her life from her enemies and from the monster that destroyed them and now turns red, fiery eyes upon her.

Now available at AMAZON. Read for FREE with a Kindle Unlimited account.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Took or Baggins? Part 3

Prologue

  Tolkien uses the prologue to give the reader background he feels is necessary. We are told not only about the physical, cultural, and racial traits of the Hobbits, but also quite a bit about their history. He tells that they descended from three different breeds: the Harfoots, the Stoors, and the Fallowhides. He implies that the histories he talks about may have spanned many thousands of years.


Tolkien then goes into an extended narration of the history of Bilbo’s finding of The Ring and ends up touching on the subject of Shire records. It’s clear that Tolkien assumed that the person delving into LOTR may have never read The Hobbit, and he endeavored to provide information that would be useful to such a reader. 


Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party. (Tolkien titled each chapter.)

   -Preparations begin for Bilbo’s 111th birthday and Frodo’s 33rd, as
    they both share the same birthday, September 22nd. A party like no other
    is planned. Rich Bilbo spares no expense.

   -Gandalf arrives with fireworks. He and Bilbo discuss the Hobbit’s plan
    to leave the Shire and bequeath all he owns to his nephew Frodo, including The
    Ring.

   -The party goes off as planned. At the end, Bilbo makes a farewell speech
    and secretly dons the ring. He disappears in a poof, to the consternation of
    all his guests.

   -At the last minute, Bilbo experiences an inner struggle; he yearns to keep The Ring. 
    The Ring clearly owns a piece of his soul and works its evil, but with Gandalf’s help, 
    he is able to walk away from it and leave it to Frodo. 

   -Before leaving, Gandalf warns Frodo that The Ring may be dangerous and not to
    use it.

Wonderful Quote:
    I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.



My Thoughts: 

Chapter 1 serves primarily to paint the image of the Hobbit and the Shire in the eye of the reader. It’s one thing to be told that Hobbits love to eat and have hairy feet. It’s another to see them as a people interacting, gossiping, drinking, blowing smoke rings, living with round doors painted in bright greens and yellows, time marked only by the gentle passing of the seasons. Their idyllic simplicity and lack of concern with the outside world makes them both admirable and vulnerable. I want to both join them and shake them up. But more than anything, I want to protect their world and keep them safe and innocent.



Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past.

   -Frodo becomes his own master. The years pass and he grows more like Bilbo.
    Rumors of evil and darkness seep into the Shire, but no one pays any mind.
    Strangers are seen crossing through the Shire.

   -After a long absence, Gandalf reappears. He tells Frodo all he has learned of The
    Ring, and tests the ring in fire. He tells Frodo of the making and losing of The
    Ring, of how Gollum found it and was changed by it, and how Bilbo truly got
    The Ring. He tells that the Dark Lord seeks it because it is the one master ring
    that rules all the other rings.

   -Gandalf warns Frodo that the enemy finally is aware of the Shire and the name
    Baggins. 

   -Frodo accepts that to save all he loves, he must leave and take The Ring away
    from the Shire. Gandalf tells him he need not go alone. Caught eavesdropping
    on the conversation, Samwise Gangee is chosen to go with him.

My Thoughts:

This chapter is all about The Ring. Most of it is narrative in Gandalf's words. Here we finally get the true picture of The Ring's nature and its ability to influence and possess its bearer. 

Here Frodo struggles with the decision of being the one who has to take The Ring away and his fear of  being insufficient to the task. 

The temptation of Gandalf is quite interesting too. As powerful and central a character as he is, he's always steady and unchanging at his core. He is not  the dynamic character in this tale.

We also get a compelling  image of Smeagol/Gollum. He has always, in my opinion, been the most moving and disturbing character in the series. 

  
Chapter 3: Three is Company.

   -Gandalf presses Frodo to leave soon. Frodo promises to leave on his 50th birthday.

   -Frodo sells Bag End to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and buys a small house at
    Crickhollow, Buckleberry. He tells everyone that he is retiring there.

   -Gandalf warns Frodo never to use The Ring and leaves for the southern borders to
    search for news. He promises to be back before Frodo’s departure.

   -On the evening of Frodo’s departure, a stranger shows up at the village asking
    about Frodo. 

   -Gandalf fails to return. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin leave quietly. Merry left
     earlier in the morning with the moving cart.

   -The traveling party walks, talks, sings, eats, rests. The first encounter with the Dark
    Rider happens. Frodo feels a strong urge to wear the rings.

   -The second appearance of a sniffing, tracking Dark Rider is interrupted by the
    appearance of a band of traveling elves. Upon hearing about the Black Riders,
    their leader, Gildor Inglorion, invites the Hobbits to go along with the elves.
    Sam is delighted with the elves!

   -They reach a grassy clearing surrounded by woods under the starlit night. The elves 
    play the gracious hosts to the Hobbits. Later, Frodo and Gildor hold a long conversation.
    The elf advices Frodo to go quickly toward Rivendell, to take companions, and to
    evade the Black Riders, for they serve the enemy.

Wonderful quotes:
 -The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for
   ever fence it out.
-Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.
-…advice is a dangerous gift.

-Courage is found in unlikely places.


My Thoughts:

If Chapter 1 was about Hobbits, this one is about elves! I cannot but share Sam's delight and awe of the beautiful, wise, glowing, merry but mysterious creatures. 


______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

ZeecĂ©  Lugo is a blogger and author of the Angel's Guardian Series. 




Angel's Guardian is ZeecĂ© Lugo's  fast-paced, romantic paranormal suspense. 


The vampire Maxim makes his home in New York City. Self-exiled from the vampire nation, he spends his days in quiet solitude and his nights prowling the heights and hunting evil, his prey of choice. On a cold November night, he chances upon a gang rape in a desolate back alley. He leaps at the chance to feed on predators of the worst kind, his favorite prey. But the situation takes a turn he never expected, and soon he finds himself wishing he'd made a different choice on that fateful night.

Angelica has been on the run for years. Kidnapped by a sex-trafficking ring at the age of fourteen, she escaped only to be relentlessly pursued by her enemies ever since. Tonight, they found her. As she lies dying on a cold, dark alley, her only fear is for the secret she desperately hid moments before they caught her. A secret she must protect with her life from her enemies and from the monster that destroyed them and now turns red, fiery eyes upon her.


See it at AMAZON


Sunday, July 30, 2017

What to Read? Part 3



Rogue Wave was #3 on the Top 100 Free on July 27th. Today it sits at #15. 





I chose it because it’s not a romance, but a book that anyone, female or male, young or old, might enjoy. It’s by author Christopher Cartwright, book #4 of his Sam Reilly series, which I have never read or even knew existed until I saw the book on the Top Free list. I noted that this is the only free book he offers, but it’s not first in a series. 

The book starts with a prologue. The prologue is quite effective at creating suspense and mystery. Five days before the main story starts, a wealthy, handsome, thirty-eight-year-old engineer Luke Eldridge gets ready to compete in a regatta. He has been threatened by a mysterious conglomerate not to sail until he has made a decision on a billion-dollar offer for a scientific discovery he and colleagues have made. The scientific discovery will change the world, and this evil conglomerate wants it. 

The writing is concise; the short, clear sentences will appeal to those looking for action-clad, to-the-point reading. The writing moves quickly and is mostly dialogue based. The setting is present-day, starting out in Colorado, moving out to a research vessel in the Caribbean Sea. The main character is Sam Reilly, a billionaire oceanographer hired to look into death of an old-school-friend: Luke Eldridge was killed by a strange rogue wave that hit only his racing yacht during the previously mentioned regatta! 

On to the rest of the book! 

Well, I finished reading Rogue Wave in record time. My opinion: this is a fast, shallow read with a great deal of pseudo-science built from a few scientific facts. Every character is either a billionaire, a genius, stunningly beautiful, or all of these. There are no love or sex scenes, no deep characters, and by the end of the book, I still had no idea what the main protagonist looks like. 

Is the book worth reading? IN MY OPINION, if it's free and you’re looking for a quick read to see you through a few hours on a plane or a book that will not tax your emotional state much, you might give this book a go. It’s the equivalent of an Indiana Jones movie without the adorable Indiana Jones. There are tantalizing glimpses of the previous adventures of Sam Reilly such as the finding of Atlantis, proving the existence of “The Master Builders,” and saving the world from a deadly virus. You might be better off trying the first book in the series.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Took or Baggins? Part 2

I am reading The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first of the LOTR trilogy. (ISBN 0-345-33970-3) At the time I bought it, years ago, it cost $6.99 for the paperback copy. It's the Ballantine edition, containing a foreword by Tolkien himself. 

One thing that drew my attention is that toward the end of the foreword, Tolkien complains about other paperback editions being published without his consent. He states that only the Ballantine edition is the one he approved and encourages readers not to buy any other! And here I was thinking that stealing authors’ work was a recent thing born of the internet. Obviously not. 

While most readers skip the Foreword (I seldom pay a second’s attention to it), this time I have made a special effort to trudge through it. I’m glad I did. First of all, this is Tolkien himself talking about his work. In my mind, silly as it sounds, he’s talking from beyond the grave, as he’s been dead many years. 

Tolkien denies that his books had anything to do with the war (WWII) and points to the fact that his work’s origins go back way before the war. His main motive in writing the works was to “…hold the attention of the readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” Those are the reasons any true writer writes. 

The writing of the series (LOTR) went on from 1936 through 1949! Today, authors put out a book every three months. Anyone who doesn’t produce in numbers is not considered a true writer. But Tolkien, one of the most beloved and successful authors in the English language, did not write every day! His duties, his interests, and the war got in the way. It took him thirteen years, but he never gave up. 

A final point of observation I have is in the way Tolkien writes, primarily his sentence structure. His sentences are complex, often taking up the space of a small paragraph. He uses plenty of commas and an abundance of semicolons. He also does not skimp on the word "that." 

I don't find his work difficult to read.  I don't see many extremely hard or out-of-date words. Words like “laborious, decrepitude, and allegorical” are few and can be easily Googled by anyone who has never heard them. 

The one thing that may make him difficult for today’s reader is that he requires the reader to hold more than one line of thought within one sentence. Today’s readers want to get there fast. They have little patience for the meandering way. 

Tolkien’s Foreword is not without humor. At one point, he talks about his reviewers: 

   Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, 
   absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions 
   of their works, or of the kinds of writings that they evidently prefer.

Here is a genius writing books that eighty years later are still selling, and he had reviewers who put him down! Some of the indies on Facebook and Goodreads should learn from him.

At the end of his Foreword, he dedicates his book to us across the water. America. He obviously knew that we, across the water, would continue to buy millions of his books for many years to come. Smart marketing move, the dedication!

On to the Prologue, where we are filled in on all kinds of background info on the Hobbits.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Took or Baggins?



This morning, early, I got a text message from my daughter. She is married to a great guy named Alex and living and working in Kendall, Florida. Kendall is a suburb of Miami, closer to Homestead than Miami proper. Miami is home to my children; they grew up there.

Anyway, she texted me the following message: "Alex just called me a Took. He says I'm a Took and he's a Baggins."

The message brought a burst of laughter to my lips. I experienced a sweep of emotion that most of you would be hard-pressed to understand.

First, you'd have to know the frame of reference. What are Tooks and Bagginses? If you ever read The Hobbit  and remembered it, you'd get it.

Years ago, when I first read Tolkien, I also quickly identified myself as a Took.

Tooks love adventures. They take chances. They get restless and shun the accepted and conventional. Tooks make a difference! They are a pain in the ass. We all want to be Tooks, but mostly, we are Bagginses.

But why did her text bring me such pleasure? Because she is carrying on my ways. She is doing something I did and thinking like I did. She is carrying on tradition. She does this also when she listens to Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix, artists who were dead long before she was born.

Why is she suddenly reading Tolkien? Most of today's generation are happy to watch the movies and take the plot as true to the books.  However, my children are not your average stock. I did a good job raising them. They seldom shrink from a challenge.

A few days ago, in a telephone conversation about my writing, I said to her that most young people today cannot read the books I grew up reading. They have lost the language. To them, reading Tolkien is like me reading Chaucer or Shakespeare in the original text.

I told her that as indie authors, we are encouraged to write at no higher than a seventh-grade level because that is what the average reader is comfortable with. Classic works that have been the reading bread and butter of generations, are now considered too wordy and "purple" because they contain adjectives, adverbs, and complex sentences.

One of the biggest challenges I face in my editing is cutting down my sentences into palatable pieces that modern readers can digest. Sometimes I feel that my work looks more like a shopping list strung together than a creative endeavor.

Back to my daughter- it seems that she took my words as a challenge. She immediately picked up a copy of The Hobbit, and she loved it. Of course, an immediate discussion followed on the vast differences between the movies and the book.

She started the LOTR  series this morning. I told her that the series is quite different in tone, themes, and reading difficulty. Unlike The Hobbit,  the books that followed were not written for children. Just the foreword can be daunting. I offered to read along with her so that we could discuss as we go along.

That should be fun. For me, anyway. I will post once in a while about our progress.


Friday, July 21, 2017

What to Read? Part 2 (Top 100 Free in Kindle)

I again chose my next book from the "Best Sellers in Kindle eBooks- Top 100 Free."

The title of the book is The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan. It was at number #2 on July 19th. It has 147 reviews and with a 4.3 stars average. It's not the usual type of story I normally read. It starts out with a funeral. A funeral at the start of any book is depressing, to say the least, unless you're looking at the start of a Marvel's Avengers story.

Chapter 2
It caught my attention, and I'm definitely invested in it! The main characters, mother and daughter, are headed for a trip to Ireland. I love Ireland. (A good comeback from the funeral.) The trip is the mother's way of getting on with life after the death of her husband. Annabel, the daughter, appears to be caught up in a relationship she seems to be ambivalent about, but the story is really about her mother and the love of her life, the one that got away.

The book is well-written. The About Author states that Claire Allan is a reporter and columnist, so her writing should be good and it is. It definitely gives a sense of place, especially after they get to Ireland, and it gives hints of a mystery regarding the mother's reason for the trip. Yes, I am hooked. I will read more!

Now, wait a minute! Where has the book gone? It's no longer in the Top Free list. I do a search for the title, and see that it's back on regular price. That brings up the point that the books on the Top Free are not necessarily there by popular demand. One good promo on ENT or BookBub or Amazon's Marketing Ads can put a book at the top of the list, usually for a day or two.

This does not mean that the book is regularly popular. It means that thousands of readers are downloading anything they can get for free from the promo sites. As soon as the promo is over, the book drops off the list.

The Top 100 Free list changes constantly. The book that is #2 today, can be #40 tomorrow or disappear entirely, as this one did. The Top 100 Paid list is far more stable, and there are many $0.99 through $4.99 offerings. However, you're more likely to discover something new  and unexpected in the free list.

Now, to keep reading.

Final report: Oh, my God! I'm crying! Not a sad-ending cry but a happy-ending cry. This book is definitely worth reading, and this words are coming from a woman who does not do sappy romantic well. In my opinion, and once again- I must emphasize that my opinion may not be anything like yours, this book is definitely worth reading.

Normally, I like my reads spiked with the occasional sex scene. This book has not one of those!

I like my books to be fast-paced, full of action reads. This has none of those things.

I like my books full of vampires, tortured heroes, and sexy rogues. There are none of those hunks in this book.

This novel is a sweet, gentle, nostalgic, bittersweet tale that switches back and forth between the years 1959-1960 and 2010. Yes, the two characters whose story we're told in flashbacks are in their seventies! However, the story grabbed me and didn't let me go. I read it in two seatings. And I finished reading with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. If I ever meet the author, I will punch her in the nose for making me cry.

The First Time I Said Goodbye is well-written, definitely above 7th-grade reading level. It gives a good sense of time and place. The characters are interesting and they speak in intelligent dialogue. Finally, I could not let go until I knew what happened! By the way, it's based on a true story according to the author. I loved it!