Last week I attended a Janis Ian concert at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, Delaware. The venue, a renovated vaudeville theater, was beautiful. There was a bar on the far end of the vast room, and in between it and the stage were tables of six to eight people. This communal atmosphere made for a great, conversational environment. Within minutes of arriving, I got to know my neighbors and what brought them to the show. Some had seen Janis many times, while others, like myself, were newbies.
Prior to the music starting, the attentive and polite wait staff took drink and food orders. Just as my salad arrived, Diana Jones, the opening act, took the stage. With a guitar in hand, she told us how grateful she was to be touring with Janis and the story behind her first song, which escapes me. What struck me was her unique voice and interesting lyrics. If you’re into folk/country music, she’s worth checking out.
As Dina’s set came to a close, she introduced Janis Ian and provided backup vocals on her opening song. After striking the final chord, Janis welcomed the crowd and launched into “From Me to You,” a track off her best-known album, Between the Lines. This fiery number was deftly sung by Janis, who brought the song’s complex vocal arrangement to life with her still-magnificent voice.
Janis weaved in humorous and insightful stories in between the songs that kept the crowd’s rapt attention. She talked and sung about her autobiography, for which she recently won her second Grammy, and her displeasure with the United States dragging its feet when it comes to granting equal marriages rights to homosexuals. Janis married her long-time partner, Pat, in 2003 and wrote the song “Married in London” to talk about this sensitive issue. One of the lyrics that set the crowd into a fit of laughter was, ” We wed in Toronto, the judge said ‘Amen,’ and when we got home we were single again.”
As expected, Janis performed her biggest hits, including “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child.” She also brought Diana Jones back onstage to perform a wonderful, new song, “I’m Still Standing Here.” For your enjoyment, I’ve included a video of this performance. Janis ended the show by sitting on a stool with her guitar and singing, without a microphone, “Jesse.” Her voice was in rare form as it effortlessly bent notes and conveyed the raw emotion contained within the song’s poignant lyrics. As her final guitar chords reverberated throughout the silent theater, the crowd rose to its feet and met her with a well-deserved standing ovation.
After the show, Janis took the time to meet a long line of fans and sign memorabilia. When I approached her, I told Janis how I recently discovered her music and that “Take Me Walking in the Rain” was my favorite song of hers. We also spoke about me being a writer and the novel I’m working on. After taking a photo with her, Janis said to me, “Send me your first novel when it’s done.” I beamed as I walked out the door, realizing what a grateful and positive person she is. Despite the great fame and success she’s achieved, Janis values her fans and gives them her all. After meeting her, I have more respect for what she does and who she is. Like the songs she’s sung, Janis Ian’s not done. This train still runs.
10 years ago Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, took the world by storm. When it came out, I remember passing by numerous book stores and seeing it prominently displayed as a bestseller for months. Then people I knew started reading it, including my Dad. Once he was done, I read it and thought it was pretty good, but not mind blowing. When the film came out, I went with my Dad and his friends and felt the same way: It was good, but not great.
Now that 10 years have passed, I decided to revisit Dan Brown’s most popular book, which went on to sell more than 80 million copies. During these past 10 years, I’ve read hundreds of books, so I was afraid I would think even less of The Da Vinci Code. To my surprise, I enjoyed the book even more than I did the first time. To be fair, I listened to the audiobook version instead of reading the free e-book I downloaded. I opted for the audiobook for two reasons: I love audiobooks and it’s a much faster way to consume books – especially when you work two jobs and go to school, like I do. As an added bonus, the audiobook featured an interview with the screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman, who was tasked with adapting the novel to film, as well as a 2005 Dan Brown speech at the University of New Hampshire. Both special features were interesting and insightful.
All in all, it was an excellent book that magnificently blended fact and fiction. If you’re not one of the millions who has already read it, I highly recommend you check it out right away. It’ll keep you turning pages late into the night wondering what’s going to happen next.
I also decided to revisit the film, which came out in 2006, and I’m glad I did. I watched the extended version and it was beautifully done. While it wasn’t a line-for-line or scene-for-scene reenactment of the book, Ron Howard did a wonderful job of bringing the novel to life through film. The cast was excellent across the board, especially Sir Ian McKellan as Leigh Teabing. The score by Hanz Zimmer was well done and suited the movie perfectly. Overall, it was a thrilling experience that kept my attention from start to finish.
If you’ve read the book, you’ll notice that certain changes were made in the film, but, in my opinion, some of them helped move the plot along at a faster pace while staying true to the story in the novel. But don’t take my word for it, check out the film, for free, below.
“Have you gained weight?”
“Are you married?”
“So, do you want my number?”
“Do you carry milk?”
“I need condoms now! Where are your condoms?”
Some have been flattering, some have been insulting, but they’ve always been entertaining. This is especially true when it comes to the illogical questions. Speaking of which, I had two customers ask me what I classify as the most perplexing question of all time. But before I reveal this astoundingly bizarre question, let me provide some context.
I work in what most would call a “traditional” supermarket, and directly across the street is an organic food store. For many customers – and employees – having these two stores next to each other is extremely convenient. Many of them shop at both stores and those who drive park in our lot or the other store’s garage. However, sometimes people leave their cars in the organic store’s parking lot when they’re shopping in our store and don’t come to this realization until after they’ve bought an absurd amount of groceries.
This brings us to the strangest question that’s ever been uttered: “Do your elevators go to the other food store’s parking lot?”
The first time I was asked this question, I was stunned. The person that asked it seemed intelligent, and as far as I could tell the individual wasn’t drunk or high. The same goes for the second person. Let’s think about this from a physics perspective. For our elevators to reach the organic food store’s parking lot they’d have to do the following:
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound feasible to me. And even if it was, that seems like an awfully dangerous way to travel. This isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While I would love to take a ride on the Great Glass Elevator, I’m fairly certain it’s not at the local supermarket.
On my lunch break, especially when the weather is nice, I like to take a walk and listen to a chapter or two from an audiobook. This allows me to decompress and exercise at the same time. My usual destination is Rittenhouse Square, the epicenter of social activity in center city Philadelphia. Little did I know that I’d run into one of the most bizarre individuals in the City of Brotherly Love during one of my daily treks last week.
Last Friday I stared at my computer screen, realized it was lunch time and headed for the door. With my earbuds popped in and my iPhone at the ready, I picked up where I left off in the audiobook version of The Da Vinci Code as I took the elevator to the ground floor of the building. I’m revisiting the book in anticipation of Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, and it’s just as good now as it was 10 years ago.
The steel doors opened, I passed the security guard and burst through the front doors onto Broad Street. Passing by a motley crew of University of the Arts students, I approached the corner of Broad and Walnut Streets and gazed up at City Hall – the world’s tallest masonry building. To this day, it still impresses me every time I see it.
Weaving in and out of human traffic, I made my way to Rittenhouse Square in record time. Upon my arrival I turned left and searched for a bench where I could unwind and focus on the story being piped into my ears. As I traversed the curved path I noticed to the right a crazy-looking woman with frizzy hair. I walked forward several benches and found an empty one, seemingly waiting for my behind to rest on it.
I sat down and within two minutes the aforementioned crazy woman left her bench to join me. I ignored her but she started to speak, so I took out my headphones and said, “What?” As I turned toward her I noticed that her skin was weathered and laden with deep-set wrinkles. Her unwieldy mane of hair blew in the air as she said to me with a two-toothed grin, “Can you light this for me? They don’t let me light them.” Bemused and wondering who “they” were, I looked down and saw in her outstretched hands a cigarette and a lighter. Hoping this would convince her to leave me alone, I said, “Sure.”
Assuming everything was done and over with, I put my headphones back in and continued to play my audiobook. Then I realized Frizzy Frannie was still talking to me. I took out my earbuds again and she said, “You’ve got the power! Come on baby, light my fire. Come on baby, light my fire. Try to set the night on fire.” While I’m a fan of classic rock, having a gravely-voiced senior citizen who looks like she could give Lindsay Lohan a run for her money isn’t my idea of a good time. Thinking quickly, I acted like I received a phone call I had to take and said, “Excuse me.” To make it convincing, I stood several feet from the bench and said to no one on the other line, “Where are you? I’m in Rittenhouse Square. Yeah, I know where that is. I’ll be there in five minutes.” Then I swiftly walked away, leaving Frizzy Frannie by her lonesome.
Rittenhouse Square is a beautiful park that’s regularly inhabited by street musicians, people having picnics and doormen walking dogs. It’s a great place to unwind and soak in a beautiful day in the city. But like any urban oasis, you never know who you’re going to find on the other side of the bench…so have an exit strategy in mind.
Andrew Gross, the bestselling author of 15 Seconds, is out with a new thriller: No Way Back. I recently finished the novel, and I was impressed. Gross hooks readers by starting out with storylines about two characters: Wendy Gould and Lauritzia Velez. Eventually the lives of these two women intersect, and discovering how they are connected and why they need each other kept my rapt attention. The deeper I got into the novel, the more attached I became to the characters and cared about their welfare. And the moving conclusion made this roller-coaster-ride of a book even more satisfying.
Gross cut his teeth writing captivating thrillers with James Patterson, and No Way Back shows how he’s honed his craft since then. It features believable characters in against-the-odds situations that’ll make you think, “What would I do?” If you’re a fan of intricately-crafted, fast-paced thrillers filled with intrigue, you should check out No Way Back. I highly recommend it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Andrew Gross and No Way Back, make sure to check out my interview with him.
Wendy Gould is an attractive, happy suburban mom, and an experienced ex-cop. A chance meeting with a stranger in a hotel ends when the man is murdered and she’s the only witness, forcing her to run from rogue federal agents determined to keep her silent, even if it means killing her. Things only get worse when the authorities—the wrong ones—find their way to her door, giving her no recourse but to flee from her only safe haven.
Lauritzia Velez, meanwhile, is a devoted nanny. She’s also a woman with a deadly secret that has driven her into hiding until she can prove her innocence.
Scared and alone, these two women with nothing in common will eventually join forces and embark on a dangerous odyssey to find the truth and save their lives. It’s a desperate hunt that leads them into a nefarious web of treachery, lies, and corruption involving drug lords, arms dealers, and shadowy figures in the highest echelons of government.
A breathtaking tale featuring two strong, sympathetic women who must rely on each other to take down powerful, lethal forces, No Way Back is a riveting tale full of twists and thrilling surprises from the bestselling author who is “coming up on the rails behind Harlan Coben and Lee Child” (Evening Standard, U.K.).