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Archive for the ‘End of the World’ Category

[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BIG DADDY KANE-Tiny Desk Concert #708 (February 19, 2018).

I remember Big Daddy Kane, of course, although I don’t think I knew any of his songs.  As far as I can tell, Kane hasn’t released an album since 1998.  But his voice sounds great and he seems pretty content to rap his old hits.

The smooth operator, Big Daddy Kane, still emits that same palpable swag he did as a lyrical heartthrob during his heyday. He strides into the room and fully commands it with his presence.

One of the greatest to ever bless the mic, Big Daddy Kane treated Tiny Desk to an office block party in the true essence of hip-hop.  Kane, aka Dark Gable, was a breakout member of the seminal Juice Crew in hip-hop’s golden era during the latter part of the 1980s. He popularized quick-cadence flows and multisyllabic rhyme schemes.

He performed a short set of classics, including “Smooth Operator,” “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” “Raw” and a bonus freestyle. Through his warm, engaging and devilishly self-effacing style, the pioneer used an interlude between songs to address the intergenerational divisiveness defining rap today and the importance of fans of all ages supporting whatever they like, while “focusing on what’s positive and keeping that in the spotlight.”

The Concert opens with a great drum beat and a funky bass line for “Smooth Operator.”  The rather wimpy keyboard riff with the sax is kind of a wasted opportunity to give fuller sound to this song.

It’s interesting that Kane–whose voice still sounds deep and full–keeps the old songs with incredibly dates references like “Freddy Krueger walking on Kane Street.”

Mid song Kane says, “stay right here Ben… gonna make this into a family affair.  Are there any smooth operators out there?”  They sing the riff.  Then, “Let me see whats happening behind me.  Jay Dub (John Williams) on sax, is he a smooth operator?”  He is.  Kane tells him to “Make yourself at home” with a good solo.

While that solo is going on, he says “certain members of the band just can’t wait till their turn (looks at keyboardist who had been playing with the solo).  He says, “He’s been with me a long time, he’s the baby of the crew we call him J Minor (Judson Nelson)–most places we play he’s not supposed to be there, he’s not old enough. If I ask you to play like a grown man, how’s that sounds, baby?  He plays a smooth solo.

Kane: “I forgot there was another verse.  I was having so much fun looking at them.”

We should keep this party going.  I saw a couple of these people looking at their watch.  Some of you all might be on lunch break I don’t want to mess it up

“Ain’t No Half Steppin” starts off with simple sax and some more dated lines:  “Friday the 13th, I’m gonna play Jason.”  (Rappers loved horror movies back in the day).  He gets the crowd into it: “Say it like it’s 6’o clock Ain’t no half steppin’.”

“Let me hear you once more…  I lied, just one more time y’all.”

After the song he says, “I’m enjoying myself.  This is all right for real I might fill out an application for a job here next week.  this ai’iiht.”

“I’m gonna do one more song and then were gonna shut it down and this ain’t got nothing with y’all getting back to work, I’m starting to get hot in here.”

A great drum beat starts off “Raw” which is followed by that crazy squeaky sax.  And there’s this one last pop culture line: “The rhymes I use definitely amuse better than Dynasty or Hill Street Blues.

Mid-song, a cool faster drum beat is added–I love the snare sound Matt Lambert gets and then the whole band kicks of for a great riff on bass and sax to end the song–it’s a shame it ended there as it was really taking off.

People don’t want him to leave, so they do a freestyle.  A cool slide bass line from Benjamin Geis and staccato piano.  It’s my favorite music of the show.  And the speed of his freestyle rap is really impressive.  And he (virtually) drops the mic and is off.

It’s a great old school set.

[READ: Summer 2017] The Long Earth

I have read nearly everything that Terry Pratchett has written (I kind of drifted a bit towards the end, but I’ll catch up eventually).  Anyway, I was in the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA and saw this book.  It’s a series I’ve known about but didn’t know very much about.  I decided to check it out to see what it was all about.  I don’t know very much at all about Stephen Baxter except that he’s a hard science fiction writer, meaning he focuses as much on the science as he does on the fiction.

So how does this pair–a hard science writer and a comic parodist of fantasy work together?  Well, honestly the story is much more Baxter than Pratchett. Although since I haven’t read any Baxter, I guess I can’t say that legitimately, but it’s definitely not very Pratchetty.

Well, maybe some of the character interactions are kind of Pratchetty, but certainly not like any of his Discworld characters.  As with any co-writing experience, I wondered how this story was constructed.  So I found an interview with Stephen Baxter from around the time they finished writing the fourth and final book

How did the idea for the Long Earth series come about?

The whole thing was basically Terry’s idea. He’d started work on this project and short stories set in this world back in the ’80s but he got stuck with it.  He wanted to have a very human, level way to access these words. You don’t need to get there on a rocket ship, you can just walk in.  At the same time, the vision for the end was going to be out on a galaxy somewhere.

We’d known each other for years and [about] five years or so ago at a dinner party, Terry [said he] was going through his archives looking for unpublished short stories and things like that and he came across an aborted project from about 30 years ago.  We were just talking about that and it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.  By the end of that [party] we already had the storylines and Terry was going to send me the material.

Terry was having trouble seeing so Stephen did the typing and then “We fixed each line and each scene together.”

So that’s that sorted.

Baxter also says “it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.”

And that is the truth.  The story can be summed up pretty easily. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GEORGE CLINTON & THE P-FUNK ALL STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #697 (January 24, 2018).

George Clinton is famous for being from outer space and for bringing the funk.  That was a pretty long time ago.  He’s now 77, but he still has the energy and the passion, although it is weird to see him looking so…normal.

He’s just got on a cool coat–no colored dreadlocks, no dresses or sequins.  But he still holds a room’s attention.

P-Funk’s lineage runs 50-plus years. From The Parliaments to Funkadelic to Parliament Funkadelic to the P-Funk All Stars, George Clinton has conducted the mothership as a reliable father figure. When he commands you to “put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership,” he’s presenting to you the first law of Funktonian physics. We at NPR pledged our groovellegiance when he and his P-Funk All Stars touched down to bless the Tiny Desk.

I love that Clinton has kept the spirit and familial nature of P-Funk alive all these years:

Clinton has brought his own bloodline into the most recent lineup of P-Funk: His grandchildren are the newest backup singers, while another grandchild serves as tour manager. Though this was a much smaller outfit than their traditional stage shows — no horn section, no dancers, no Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk — the extended family was also in full effect. Garrett Shider on rhythm guitar, filling in for his late father, Garry Shider, aka Starchild. Even original trumpeter Bennie Cowan, who still tours with the group but didn’t make it to the Tiny Desk, typically plays alongside his son Benzel on drums. Blackbyrd McKnight and Lige Curry cement the foundation as elder statesmen who’ve been rocking with Clinton since 1978.

They play three songs.  I don’t know how much Clinton sang back in the day–was he the lead singer or just a bringer of the funk?  But in “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” most of the vocals are chanted and sung by the backing vocalists (Tonysha Nelson, Patavian Lewis, and Tairee Parks).  Clinton is more like the hype man–getting everyone worked up, clapping and making noise.  Rhythm guitarist Garrett Shider takes a lead vocal, keeping the funk going.  The song is big and the riff is great and the funk is entirely in the house.  Dwayne Blackbyrd McKnight plays an awesome funky guitar throughout the Concert.

“One Nation Under A Groove” is a more mellow (relatively), smoother song.  I love the guitar sound, and there’s some suitably funky and retro-sounding keyboards from Danny Bedrosian.

“Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is the real classic.  Clinton is really into this one–dancing and clapping and the bass by Lige Curry and drums by Benzel Cowan are terrific.

He may not have the interstellar look, but Clinton still has the funk.

[READ: October 25, 2017] Birthright: Volume Five

This is the first Birthright volume that I didn’t love.  There was a lot of demon head ripping off and tentacles and splatters.  Fire and blood and gore, but not a lot of coherent action.

It started out quite good with Rya’s back story. We see her as a baby on a battlefield being rescued by, of all creaturs…an orc.  He told her of the prophecy to defeat Lore.  And then she met young Mikey and “knew that the prophecy was a load of razorbeast dung.”

Then we see Mikey quickly develop into the man he is–and then disappear.  It was rumored he was killed but then Kallista gave away that he was still alive.  That made Rya really mad. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHIS IS THE KIT-Tiny Desk Concert #685 (December 13, 2017).

I know this band because I received a download code for their EP “Spoon Quake Bash.”   I found it really intriguing.  Kate Stables’ voice is unique and has an appealing affectation that I can;’t quite figure out but which I enjoy hearing  And the music on “Moonshine Freeze” is just tremendous–different textures coming from different guitars. I really can’t get enough of it.

The band’s only permanent member is singer Kate Stables.  For this show, she’s accompanied by Rosalind Leyden, Jamie Whitby-Coles, Noil Smith, Adam Schatz, Jonah Parzen-Johnson.  It’s amusing that for the first song, everyone but the bald man is wearing a toque.

In this Tiny Desk Concert the first song is “Bullet Proof.”  It’s just a four piece: bass (Rosalind), drums (Jamie), guitar (Noil) and Kate on lead banjo and vocals.  Her voice sounds like classic British folk singers–very clean and open-voweled.  Once the echoed guitar rises in, the song sound really full.  The song also tells a story, as the blurb points out.

And the stories … Kate … weaves are profound but sweet with a tone that quietly reels you in.

Although it is my least favorite song of the three, possibly because the other two are so much fuller.  For songs 2 and 3 Jonah and Adam join on sax.

“Moonshine Freeze” has so much going on.  A great bass line, echoing harmonics on the lead guitar and Kate’s gentle chugging rhythm guitar.  The drums are a cool shuffle.  It’s such an intriguing song, especially with Kate’s cool vocal delivery.   And then there’s the backing vocals singing in a round.  It’s fantastic.  The horns are a nice touch, too.

“Hotter Colder” sways with a wonderful rhythm guitar melody and some great lead guitar lines from the guitarist hiding in the back.  I love the intermittent oohs from the various singers.  The two saxes also sound great here too.  The song is capped off with awesome bursts of buzzy guitars at the end of the song.

[READ: November 5, 2017] Cucumber Quest 1

Cucumber Quest was (is?) a webcomic.  This book was originally published (via Kickstarter?) back in 2012.  It is now getting a more formal release from First Second (I don’t know if there are any changes in the book).

The book opens with a monster delivering a sphere to an evil queen: “This makes lucky 7, one more and the world will know the meaning of terror.”

The next page is the Prologue.  Cucumber is a bunny and he is about to go off to the school of his dreams–Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted and/or Incredibly Wealthy).  He is nervous but his younger sister says you’re the biggest nerd I know, you’ll be fine.

But then they get a letter from Cuco’s dad (who was in he room when the queen revealed her plan).  He is concerned about world domination and he says hat only Cucumber can put an end to it.  But Cuco is going to school tomorrow!  Plus he’s a real coward. Meanwhile his sister Almond is pretty exited to go on this quest herself.

There’s some really funny jokes in this section

Mom: “Almond sweetheart, you know it’s too dangerous for you.”  Cuco: “But not for me?”  Mom: “Well, Almond IS your little sister.”

As the chapter ends, “Why does dad find a way to ruin everything?”

The Dream Oracle finds him, she is protector of this world and has important information about his quest.  The Oracle then confirms that little sisters aren’t legendary heroes. (more…)

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jack SOUNDTRACK: RINGO STARR-The Best of Ringo Starr: Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters (2003).

This Christmas album came out twice.  First in 1999 as I Wanna Be Santa Claus and then in 2003 as The Best of Ringo Starr: Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters.  The track listing is the same.  Some history suggests that when the 1999 album came out the label failed to push it and it kind of faded away.

As you can see from the images, the original cover was the same, more or less.  So, for whatever reason, this new label or maybe its the same label) decided to repackage the Christmas disc as a best of.  Well, whatever, it’s still a great Christmas album, and has quickly become one of my favorites.

Like most people, I’ve never been a huge fan of Ringo.  And yet, I feel like I have new respect for him as a musician and as a humanitarian (he has recently been knighted).  This album is also a perfect example of good will, love and happiness.  And while it may be a bit cheesy here and there, his joyfulness overrides any complaints.

There’s some new songs and some traditional songs as well, all done in a vaguely Beatles rock n roll sorta way.

“Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On” is a new song.  It’s a rollicking childlike good fun wondering why it’s taking Christmas so long to get here. I can’t believe this isn’t played on more Christmas channels.  With lots of big loud chanting.

“Winter Wonderland” is like a slower Beatles swagger, with some great backing vocals and a cool instrumentation.

“I Wanna Be Santa Claus” is exactly what you think a Ringo Starr original Christmas song would be like: light-hearted whimsical and very sweet.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a quick-tempoed version of the song (which is good as it’s usually too slow) with some solid drumming from Ringo himself.  I was delightfully surprised at the presence of bagpipes throughout the song.

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” sweet and boppy with swinging bass sax and more great backing vocals.  There’s a spoken part where Ringo gets to use his Liverpudlian accent that the luved him.  There’s even a “mistake” where he speaks, “he said Santa, no he didn’t he said Rudolph” [laughs].  He even throws in a Ringo the Red Nosed Reindeer line.

“Christmas Eve” is a sad song about being alone.  But he’s not willing to totally bring us down as there is some hope.

“The Christmas Dance” is a fun skiffle song about going to, yes a Christmas Dance.  It swings and is generally good fun.

“Christmas Time Is Here Again” is my least favorite song on the disc.  Although I do like the chorus the main part is just too simple and repetitive (and long!).  It’s just repeating that same line over and over (with a weird shout of “Do it for Jesus, Jesus Loves you.”  It’s also weird that several times he states O-U-T spells out, but the song doesn’t actually.

“Blue Christmas” is almost country-sounding with a slide guitar. It’s sweet and is one of the better versions of this song.

“Dear Santa” sounds about a mash up of several songs (I expect to hear the “oooohs” from “Twist and Shout”;  there’s a bit of “Dear Prudence,” there’s even the melody of “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease.  It’s a nice sentiment but a little long.  However, I do really like the shout out to John: “Dear Santa, I’ve heard it all before, from Jingle Bells, to no more war.”

“White Christmas” is done in a Jamaican lite-reggae feel with steel drums.  It’s rather silly and fun.

“Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)” is a cool Middle-Eastern sounding jam with a sitar.  There’s also vocals in several languages.  he ends this song by muttering. ” Merry Christmas, Annabelle.”

It’s a fun and enjoyable Christmas album from a fun and enjoyable Beatle.

[READ: September 9, 2017] Mighty Jack and the Giant King

I rather assumed that this Mighty Jack series would have several book s in it.  So I was surprised to see that this story pretty much ends the Jack saga (although the epilogue does leave things open…)

The story picks up right where it ended–Jack and Lilly are climbing a beanstalk to chase the monster that stole Jack;s sister Maddy.  They are clearly not on Earth and the monster seems to be rats working together as larger monster.

Jack and Lily are separated.  Jack heads toward the giant’s castle while Lily falls underground and meets goblins. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN ZORN’s A Dreamer’s Christmas (2011).

You can never say with certainty what kind of music you will get with a John Zorn record.  It could be beautiful; it could be scary.  It could be chaotic; it could be traditional.  There’s could be death metal or gentle jazz.  There could be vocals or not.

Some time in 2008, Zorn started yet another project.  This one was called The Dreamers and it proved to be on the mellow, jazzy side of his spectrum.

The members have been Cyro Baptista − percussion; Joey Baron − drums; Trevor Dunn − acoustic and electric Bass; Marc Ribot − guitars; Jamie Saft − keyboards and Kenny Wollesen − vibes, chimes, glockenspiel.  For A Dreamer’s Christmas, Mike Patton (notorious for making a racket) sings some delightful vocals on 2 songs.

The album contains eight tracks: six traditional and two original Zorn compositions.

“Winter Wonderland” is played on vibes.  There’s a cool repeating bass signature that bounces the song along and a groovy jazzy keyboard background before the electric guitar comes in to play the main riff.

“Snowfall” is just lovely with more vibes and a delicate guitar and twinkling piano.  There’s even some hand drums to add some cool percussive effects.  the songs is primarily a lovely piano instrumental.  I don’t understand why I don’t know this song.  Why isn’t it on other Christmas albums?  It’s lovely.

“Christmastime is Here” is, indeed, the song from The Peanuts movie.  The main melody is guitar and vibes and this version is possibly more entertaining than the original.

“Santa’s Workshop” is a John Zorn composition.  It’s faster and a bit more upbeat than the others, but with a really groovy riff and some fun vibes to match it.  There’s also a fun keyboard solo.  This song first in perfectly with the others.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”  begins with a quiet and somber piano playing the melody.  It’s a lovely piece with some fun piano noodling.

“Let It Snow” starts with a bell and a rather funky bass line.  After a minute or so the guitar takes over to play the main melody.  There’s some weird and wacky 70s keys playing around in the background that you don’t really notice right away.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is the first odd-sounding track on the disc.  The guitar is plucked and the percussion seems to be all kinds of small wooden things clattering around.  I assume someone is playing the rims of glasses as well.  That goes on for a minute before the piano comes in and it gets very jazzy (with an upright bass).  It sounds a lot like the kind of piano playing featured in Charlie Brown.  The end of the song features a kind of whispered, slightly sinister take on the lyric by Patton.

“Magical Sleigh Ride” is the second Zorn original.  It is a swift-moving treat–fluid bass, repeated guitar licks and solos, and a fast percussion beat before the melody kicks in.  After about 2 minutes there’s a pretty wild and rollicking guitar solo.  It’s the most intense thing on the record (which isn’t very intense really) but all along the jazzy pianos and percussion remains.  Its followed by a similarly exuberant vibes solo.  It’s another great Christmas song and fits in perfectly with the others.

“The Christmas Song” returns to the traditional with a lovely, quiet piano rendition of the song and a nice vocal delivery from Mike Patton.  Patton is in perfectly deep-voiced crooner mode and it suits everything perfectly.  There’s a lengthy piano solo in the middle and then Patton finishes the song.

The disc ends with everyone wishing us a Merry Christmas.

It is a surprising and wonderful Christmas album worthy of addition to everyone’s collection.

[READ: November 26, 2017] The Crown of Fire

This is the fourth and final book in the Copernicus series.  There is no third or fourth mini book (I wonder why there wasn’t at least at third one).

I found this book to be exhausting and depressing.   And that’s because for the most part that’s how the characters felt–exhausted and depressed.  I also felt more exhausted by the series than I apparently felt after book three.  I thought I had stopped because I was burnt out on the series, but that’s not the impression I get from reading my post.  But this book did get very dark for most of its 500+ pages.

Lily and Darrell are together by themselves and they are fleeing once again.  They eventually find someone who will help them leave the country in a cargo ship–two weeks in a tiny hold by themselves.  Even Darrell who is still crazy about Lily finds it a bit much.

Back in the other part of the world, Becca Wade and Sara have just gotten a message from Roald.  But it turns out to be a trap. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO-Tiny Desk Concert #680 (December 4, 2017).

Up until now, I have more or less missed Ted Leo and all of his phases.  The blurb notes:

How you listen to Leo depends on when his work came into your life. If you’re a back-in-the-day type you might rep for Chisel, his ’90s punk outfit born on the Notre Dame campus and bred in Washington, D.C. If you’re just tuning in, you may have witnessed his understated comedy chops in arenas like The Best Show on WFMU and a highly enjoyable Twitter feed. At the center of this bell curve are those who found Leo at the dawn of the 2000s — when, at the helm of what’s most commonly called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (shout-out to the typographical variants still mucking up iTunes libraries), he kicked off a run of five stellar albums in just under 10 years, each one urgently attuned to its political context and yet defiant in its ideas of what punk could sound like and whose stories it could aim to tell. Fans will tell you the songs about eating disorders and missing old ska bands felt just as vital to their moment as those that explicitly took on Sept. 11 and the Iraq War.

I know Ted Leo from when he played with Aimee Mann as The Both (they did a Tiny Desk show) and I am aware of Ted Leo + Pharmacists (the above mentioned typographical variant), but I somehow never really heard him/them.  I didn’t even know he was a Jersey guy.  (My friend Al is a big fan, I recently learned).

Recently, WXPN has been playing his new song “Can’t Go Back” which is wonderfully poppy and catchy and which I sing along to each morning.  Leaning more about him (and how funny he is in the Tiny Desk show) makes me want to see what I’ve been missing.

I obviously had no idea about his punk past, so I was pretty surprised to hear the feedback and heavy guitar of the first song here “Moon Out of Phase.”  Leo sings pretty hard on this song, too.  It’s fairly simple musically, but there’s a bunch going on lyrically that’s fun to pick out.

[After] the bone-rattling slow burn “Moon Out of Phase,” he smiled and explained the song was perhaps “a little heavy for noon — but, practically speaking, it helps me get the cobwebs out.”

“Can’t Go Back” couldn’t be more different. It’s catchy and not at all heavy.  It has backing vocals (provided by Leo himself) and just swings along.

 It’s a bit faster than on record, and as the blurb notes:

By the time he hit the first chorus of “Can’t Go Back,” a danceable bop about accepting that the life you have isn’t quite the one you planned for, any remaining cobwebs had been scattered to the wind.

Interestingly for being such a guitar based guy, there;s no solos on the songs (and yet they’re not short either, the first and third songs are about 4 minutes long).  Rather than a solo on “Can’t Get Back,” there’s a cool guitar chord progression.

He seems unsure of the quality of that song (not sure why–because he doesn’t hit those high notes perfectly?)  But then says he’ll finish off with a request.  “I’m a Ghost” is an old song that he doesn’t usually play solo, but figured he would because of the time of year (guess this was recorded around Halloween).

He tells an amusing story about someone asking about the first line: “I’m ghost and I wanted you to know its taking all of my strength to make this toast.”  The person asked if the toast was “a toast” or a ghost pressing the lever down on a toaster and “the hand of the frosty apparition is just going through the thing.”  He says it was originally “a toast” but now it is absolutely about the toaster, that’s the greatest metaphor for so many things.”

It’s really about “alienation from the political process.” It’s more rocking, like the first song, but with a catchy chorus like the second song.  This is a fun set and a good, long-overdue introduction to Ted Leo.

[READ: April 6, 2017] The Golden Vendetta

This is the third full-sized book in the Copernicus series.  It follows the mini-book about Becca.

I enjoyed this book more than the second one.  I enjoy the sections where they have some downtime and aren’t just running around.  And there was more downtime in this book.  I was also really intrigued by the way it began.

The families had been reunited and them separated.  So Darrell and Wade and the adults Kaplans were living in a hotel under an assumed name.  And Lily and Becca were also together under assumed names–but they were not allowed to contact the boys.  This went on for two months.

In that time Galina Krause had been inactive.  We learn that she had been in a coma, but the good guys never find that out, they’re just in the dark for months.

Until Galina wakes up and is on the move again.  And then everyone is on the move.

The families travel under assumed names but are still followed relentlessly by the bad guys. (more…)

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