Friday, October 21, 2011

A Little Something for the Soul

Lately I have been reading books containing time travel as part of their theme. One of my favorites was Replay by Ken Grimwood. I also enjoyed Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein when I read it but don’t remember it now, making it a decent read but not outstanding. There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Heinlein and in fact got my fist ‘A’ from Mr. Allen, a devil of an high school English teacher who sent our papers out to professional graders. (Until he showed up, I could write ‘A’ papers during the five minutes before the bell rang!) I used a line out of Revolt 2100, something to do with censorship being the keystone to tyranny, which seemed to appeal to my 16-year-old mind and libertarian streak. But I have digressed. As  I was saying, I seem to be on a time travel streak and while this new book has some time travel in it, it is not central. 

Time’s Edge
By J. M. Dattilo
ISBN-13: 978-1453853542

From Amazon:
Imagine being a Commander in the Galactic Armed Forces and on a mission so secret that you can’t be told what it is. Imagine being thrown into another time and place with no explanation. Imagine being stuck with a smart-mouthed computer, an ultra-correct android, and a seven-foot tall monster who knows both Santa Claus and Shakespeare. Imagine being lost in time with a woman who may either be falling in love with you or trying to kill you. Imagine being in a place that sits between worlds, dimensions, and times. Imagine Time’s Edge. Time's Edge is the first place winner of the Tassy Walden Award, a literary prize given by the Shoreline Arts Alliance of Connecticut. A fast-paced, lighter tale, the story blends adventure, humor, and romance in a fun-to-read mix of sci-fi and fantasy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thrift: The Skill of Choice for a Difficult Economy

by Samuel Smiles
various editions in hardcover, paperback, and kindle (free version) from Amazon

Imagine yourself in the time of Dickens.  Factories are belching smoke and toxins into the air.  Folks are working for peanuts in the sweatshops.  There are workhouses for the poor, and children working as pickpockets just to survive.   These are the years that Samuel Smiles lived through.   If you've ever seen "A Christmas Carol" you might remember the scene where those working to help the poor ask Scrooge for a donation (which, of course, he refuses).  One of them might have been Samuel Smiles, because he was in the business of helping the poor.  He is credited with creating some of the world's first self-help books, of which Thrift (first printed in 1875, or 78 depending on who you ask), in my opinion, is one of the best.

As you would expect, the language seems really archaic to us now, but I found this book fascinating because human beings have changed a whole lot less that we might think from the days of the Industrial Revolution.  Much of what he writes about could just as well have appeared in the news this morning:

(location 3958 Kindle edition)
"True benevolence does not consist in giving money.  Nor can charitable donations, given indiscriminately to the poor, have any other effect than to sap the foundations of self-respect and break down the very outworks of virtue itself.  There are many forms of benevolence which create the very evils they are intended to cure, and encourage the poorer classes in the habit of dependence upon the charity of others to the neglect of those far healthier means of social well-being which lie within their own reach."

Smiles' work with the poor seems somehow contemporary.  Programs to help folks who are struggling to manage their money, handle their debts, and find ways to cope in a nasty economy, parallel in many ways the tools (many of them, tools developed between the ears) Smiles suggested for people way back then.

He has a number of things to say about what money is for (and it's not just the obvious) what it does to the person who has too much of it, how it can run (or ruin) your life. 

Human motivations and responses were clearly the same then as they are now, and somehow I find this link to the past reassuring.  We've been down this road before, and we've learned (and then unlearned, apparently) difficult lessons the hard way.  This book teaches us that the old adage that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it.  We can learn from this book, and the others in his series ("Self Help," and "Character" in particular)  in spite of the fact that there are some glaring surprises (the view of women in the 19th century was hardly hopeful to those of us who value careers and independence, but might feel very heartening to many stay-at-home moms). 

The best part (for those who are really thrifty) is that the Kindle version is available for free.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wild Card Ghosts

"Take my hand." said the ghost
Oh, it is that time of year; ghosts and goblins; trick or treat; life and death; and apples to eat! So here is your trick. How would a toddler survive a knife welding assassin? Well, by trooping off to the local graveyard of course. And who would take care of him? The ghosts who live there, who else? And how long could he stay there?

This is Wild Card Wednesday and I really do have something new for you. While cruising through my Twitter feed, I found a wonderful tweet.  Many of you, if you follow me on Twitter, may have seen it as a re-tweet from me. And here is your treat! Listen, my readers, and you shall hear Neil Gaiman read from his work "The Graveyard Book" with clear, cool charm.  Neil Gaiman’s | The Graveyard Book Video Tour Readings

To me, this is quite a unique tale. I'd like to tell you all how good this story is but the fact it has won the Newbery Medal, the Carnegie Medal, and the Hugo Award (my favorite BTW), says it so much better than I ever could. So let's leave it at that. My suggestion is you take a look at the link and listen to at least chapter one. Then tell me you aren't hooked on The Graveyard Book. I certainly was.

They say authors shouldn't read their own work since writers are rarely actors, but those people have never heard Gaiman. It's truly excellent, even if it is not 'acted'.  At first, having heard many a book on tape, I was distracted by watching him read...well, have you seen him? Who could blame me? Within three or so minutes, his rugged good looks gave way to the beauty of the smooth snugness of the words which then gave way to a captivating tale. One I plan to buy. Just so I can read it. And perhaps review it in the future. (But mostly I want to see how he weaves words together in such a poetic way.) As to a review, for now, the awards speak for the book. Besides, I got to read it first!

Don't for get our giveaway book this month - Heir to Power by Michele Poague.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time and Time Again

Just finished two time travel novels and I surely wish I had more time! I always look forward to seeing time travel movies and reading time travel novels because the possibilities are endless (and timeless) just as any sub-genre in science fiction can be. I believe it is harder to write a good and internally consistence time travel novel. It is so easy to forget which timeline the guy shaved his head or when did he speak to that woman named Susan or When did Elaine become Polly. As confusing as it is for the author and the editor, think of the poor reader who is doing their best to unravel a world full of crossing paths especially when there are consistence errors. The Polly thing threw me for such a loop and it wasn't until the second reading of Willis' book that I realized it was a typo!

First up is:

Faces in Time
By Lewis Aleman
Publisher: Megalodon Entertainment LLC

From Amazon:
A 20-Year Race Through Time...
     In the near future, one man holds the key to our past. Chester Fuze lived a solitary life until he flung himself twenty years back in time. For years, he had loved movie star Rhonda 
Romero through television screens, movie theaters, and magazine covers. It wasn't until she had fallen so far as to sell her face for a cosmetic transplant that he knew he had to travel back and save her before her life headed down such a tragic and destructive path. Lunging backward through two decades in a flash, Chester races across country and enters the world of seedy gambling and the bizarre jungle of behind-the-scenes Hollywood, while being hunted down by a deranged bookie, an escaped convict, and even his past self, all of whom are determined to kill him. He had put aside the secret to time travel, daring not risk the world to test his theory. It had placed him in a straight jacket for several years of his life. It had estranged his own mother from him. He had let it go for his own sanity. Now, he'll pick it back up to save Rhonda. God help us all.

About the Book:
     The story opens with Chester watching all the news coverage of Rhonda Romero's face transplant for money operation and recovery through the various news outlets. This is the woman he has passionately loved from afar for more than 20 years! We follow Chester as he makes the jump to 20 years earlier; his whole being bent on saving Romero from this fate worse than death - selling her face for billions (face prostitution). But some things don't make sense. Why is his car there when he goes back? Where did the purple shirt come from? Can he actually change events or will he have to suffer through everything again? And why, when everything he had with him came through unchanged, is he looking 20 years younger?
   As the story proceeds Chester is faced with problems trying to save Romero, problems with his present day self, problems with a bookie out to kill him, and problems trying to save another young woman's life

My take:
    The basic plot is interesting. The first few pages piqued my interest enough to pay 99 cents. Yes, there was some torturous descriptions and similes but the plot felt like it would go somewhere new and different. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Have you ever watched one of those crime shows where the first five minutes is spent looking at the evil psychopath or through the eyes of the killer?  Remember how eerie that is? The first 30% of this book feels just like that. To top it off almost half of the book is like this:

      "Sometimes that which one wants to see least is the hardest from which to look away. It was a meek moment thrust into audacious light when Rhonda Romero, the fallen star and facial donor, exited the hospital two days later. The clicking, the flashing, the calamity of it all; it was both a sad intrusion and a powerfully obscure perversity."
      Or this:
     One discriminates one's company shrewdly in youth, lightly in adulthood, and with broad abandon in age. In youth, one expects the most interesting and perfectly uniform friends. By old age, one brightens just at the sight of another born within the same decade who might remember the same sone, movie, or event - one who might hold some knowledge on how to defeat their ticking nemesis or, in the least, help one better enjoy life's slow, automated ride."

     Such passages wouldn't be terrible if the first half of the book wasn't ALL written this way. If any of you have read the original Frankenstein by Shelley and thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of the plot due to language such as this, you might well enjoy Faces in Time. For me, both were hard to read, but yes, I read them to the very end. For the last 25% of the book, Aleman finally lets the reader enjoy the plot, though the plot is quite thin in the end.
   I didn't find the characters enticing nor fully filled out. Even our protagonist is a little hard to take because the first 20% or more of the book is spent wondering if he is a psychopath or not.  It is hard to change horses in the middle of a race, even if it is a slow one.
   I don't fully recommend this book to anyone but caution the reader to be wary. Much of the book reads like a treatise and I never did find it actually telling a good story.


Next on base:

Do Over
By Jeff Kirvin

From Amazon:
Richie Preston is 27 years old and still lives in his parents' house, still works at a dead end job, lost his great love, still hasn't really begun his life.

One day the fates smile on him and give him the opportunity to start over, to go back to being 17 and about to start his senior year of high school, only this time with all the memories of what he did wrong the first time. All he has to do is not interfere with anyone else's life. It sounds like a great deal, but living up to his end of the bargain turns out to be harder than Richie ever imagined.

If you had the chance, would you make the choice?

About the book:
    Richie flips hamburgers for a living and even though he is a great worker, one of the best, he can't get an assistant manager position. His boss doesn't find him management material. To top it off he lives with his parents and doesn't have a girlfriend. In short, he feels like a loser.
    Then into his life comes Jack Fates who gives him a 'do over' because life has been unkind to Richie. Going back 10 years, he gets to try to win his sweetheart, try to beat out the bully in school, and try for college once again. The only thing he must not do is tell anyone, make a profit on his future knowledge or interfere with anyone else's life. If he does, he will find himself right back in the future with no changes.
    As Richie drifts through school, he starts making small changes that end up to be big ones.  He changes his name from Richie to Rich, his eyewear from glasses to contacts, his study habit from okay to good. He asks his female friend out on a date because he wants to learn how to do it. Everything goes along well until he has to make a life or death decision, one that may forever trap him in his previous future life.

My take:
   The plot in Do Over was well constructed though it began to feel a bit like the movie Family Man. The rules Richie had to live under for what would be ten years seemed too strict for success. He does tell one person about his step back in time and gets a warning from Jack Fates that he is flirting with being returned to his old life. But the story never makes much about this break in the rules until much later in the book. What Richie must deal with is handling others' misfortunes. He is not to do anything that drastically changes the life of another but how to you stand by knowing...
    While the story itself was well executed, I didn't find the writing engaging or nor did I feel in touch with the characters. First, I think it is incredibly hard to write good stories, so I always marvel when someone does it perfectly and try not to be too hard when someone misses. It is too easy to say things like," I went to the movies with Jim. Mary came in at the last minute. She ate some of my popcorn." instead of drawing a picture of the scene. Too much of this book is told in this fashion. Seldom does the reader get to live inside the story. For me, I would have found it more fun to be part of the action.
     This is a short read and I believe young people will enjoy the plot, twists and all. The dilemma is one I think anyone could enjoy. For the mere price of 99 cents, less than a bottle of pop, you might want to take a chance on it. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Work it Off!

Pretty Woman
Add caption
   Pretty Woman
   By Fern Michaels
   Audio book
   Read by Laural Merlington

   About this book:
   Rosie Garderner and her best friend Vickie Winters were extremely close but when Vickie, who only wanted the best for her friend, tries to tell Rosie the man she is about to marry is a loser, things go very bad, so bad they quit speaking. Rosie finally realizes, after three years, that Vickie was right. She throws her husband, Kent, out. Unfortunately the next day she finds she had purchased a winning lottery ticket, one worth $302 million! How can she keep Kent's hands off the money? How does she rebuild her self-esteem? How does she move on?
   Rosie reconnects with Vicki and starts on a new life by hiring a trainer to help her lose weight and shape up!.

   My take:
   While listening to the book, the first thing I noticed is the author had no clue as to what size and weight woman wears what dress size. I realized this when Rosie admitted being 25 pounds heavier than Vicki but Rosie wore a size 14 while Vickie wore a size 6. Really? I would think any woman would know that, for smaller sizes, each size translate to about 15 pounds difference. It made me wonder if Fern is a woman or not. And a size 14 to 16 has nine rolls of fat? Really?
   Beyond this, the plot is okay. Rosie gets in shape, maybe a little too fast, and competes in a triathlon against her husband. Every divorced woman's dream is to best the creep who made her life miserable. (Same for a divorced husband, I suspect.)
   I liked this book and found it entertaining. I especially enjoyed Vickie and wished that she had more of a role in this book. Anyone who likes light romance, may well enjoy this.