Saturday, October 8, 2011

Now for a Little Exchange

A Great Swap Available
By Dale R. Cozort
Publisher: ByTech Services
Pages 252

From Amazon:
Exchange is an alternate history novel where our risk-averse society has to cope with a frontier again, through a series of "Exchanges". An Exchange temporarily swaps town-sized pieces of an alternate reality where humans didn't make it through an ancient bottleneck with chunks our reality.  With little warning, a town can be in a land where sabertooths, giant bears and even more dangerous creatures still roam, a wild, dangerous place people can go to start a new life if they're brave or crazy enough.

When her town is caught in an Exchange, computer guru Sharon Mack has to fight giant predators, escaped convicts, and a mysterious cult to rescue her kidnapped daughter before the Exchange ends, trapping them forever.

About this book:
The story opens as Sharon Mack, having been drafted into service, is helping to set a warning barrier to keep people from wandering under high-tension power lines that crews are dropping on the ground.  Why are they dropping the lines? Because in short order there is going to be an 'exchange' where part of the this world is exchanged for part of an ancient world.  Although most people flee the area due to be exchanged, because of the short lead time, some don't make it out of the area. Then there are those who want to stay either because they want to protect their property or because they plan to slip out of the exchanged area into the wilds of the ancient world.
     Sharon Mack is neither of these people. She intends on getting out before the exchange happens and meet up with her daughter, Bethany, and her babysitter, Mary, who were to leave before the event. But Sharon's ex-husband has other ideas and kidnaps Bethany. As Sharon chases Anthony, her ex, she finds herself entering the wild world surrounding the city, facing animal dangers, renegade dangers, and ex-husband dangers.
    Along the way she meets some interesting characters who she never knows whether they are on her side or not. This includes Leo West, Sister West, and Anna Morgan.

My take:
     This plot is excellent. While the idea of modern man ending up in the wilds with the likes of saber tooth tigers, dinosaurs, and other ancient creatures, is not new, the reason for this in Exchange is unique. The set up of the swap and how it fits into later parts of the plot make quite a story.
      The execution of the plot is entertaining. I enjoyed the part of the story where the ex-husband has so much working out for him.  Every time the reader thinks Sharon is finally going to 'win', something happens and Anthony gets the upper hand. I also enjoyed the vagueness of the Anna Morgan character, as well as other subplots.
    The characters could have been more fleshed out but that doesn't distract much from the telling of this tale. The story takes some interesting twists most of them surprising. The only things I did not like were some of the reactions of Sharon seemed strange given the life of her daughter was at stake and the execution of the romance part of the story seemed a bit forced.

Exchange is very interesting and I recommended to anyone who likes a general science fiction action story with a spot of romance. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday or Factual Friday or Fantasy Friday

    Well, I have been having a discussion with a friend who will soon be doing reviews here.  We have been kicking around what to call our Friday blog. We considered Factual Friday because I wanted to have one day a week for Non-Fiction and it has good alliteration. However, as was pointed out to me, sometimes non-fiction books have few facts; they would be better off being called fantasy as anything. (Fantasy Friday hmmm ?) Still, the idea is on Friday we will be looking at non-fiction books but this being an eclectic site by an eclectic reader, you can expect some wide ranging topics.

Friday's Choice

Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children
Looking at Laws that protect us from us.

Nanny State - How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children
By David Harsanyi
Publisher Broadway Books
Pages 236 with an additional 55 pages of notes, biblioghaphy, and index

From Goodreads:
        When did we lose our right to be lazy, unhealthy, and politically incorrect? 
         Move over Big Brother! An insidious new group has inserted itself into American politics. They are the nannies--not the stroller-pushing set but an invasive band of do-gooders who are subtly and steadily stripping us of our liberties, robbing us of the inalienable right to make our own decisions, and turning America into a nation of children. 

About the book:
  The book begins by introducing us to what New York has banned or is planning to ban including things like pedicabs in the park, trans fats, and fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods. It moves on to the term Nanny State, it's likely origin, and what it means. From there the author takes on drinking, eating, smoking and even playgrounds, pointing out how so much of our freedom to choose has been handed to or taken by the government. It ends with discussing the cost of such laws and the "mission creep" that is happening in America.

My take:
   This book's slant is most definitely toward less government interference with the everyday choices people make.  For example, do you want to buy UglyRipes tomatoes because they are vine ripened?  On page 209 "In Florida, selling live lobsters is still legal, but exporting ugly tomatoes is not" Apparently Florida has a mandate that these tomatoes do not meet the standards for the Florida Tomato Committee "lack of blemishes" clause. Never mind the taste, or the food value. So you will have to get your vine ripened ugly tomato from some other state.
   Not everyone will find Nanny State take on various laws acceptable. After all, Harsanyi does take on laws about vices such as drinking, smoking, and eating. He does, though, make compelling arguments why we should be looking at these issues.
   I liked the writing style in this book. It is down home and straight forward, without being demeaning to the reader. Another thing that makes this book easy to read is the way it is broken into small pieces.  A reader can pick up the book and read any of these short passages and get something.  While I recommend reading the book from front to back, it is not mandatory as much of it has commentaries that are just like reading the opinion page of a newspaper. And just as interesting.
  While not every reader will agree with Harsnyi's position, the book is entertaining, and a worth a read if only to answer things like, how did Glendale, Colorado manage to pass a law that made it illegal to sell or own fish and a law that technically outlawed the sale and consumption of chocolate? (This is not in the book but I was there when the laws were passed!). Nanny State will have you thinking.
  I recommend this book for anyone, but especially for those who are interested in how the governments at all levels are slowly making our choices for us.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Two for the Price of One

    First let me say I had a hard time deciding on my Wild Card Wednesday choice, so hard that I didn't get it out on time.  Never fear, though, I now have a book for review for Wednesday and one for Thursday"s deadline.
     We are in the process of packing for the winter migration and all my wonderful books are packed away for the next three weeks.  I really, truly hate trying to review a book I read but don't have sitting next to me.  It is like treating a patient over the phone with his daughter as a go-between. It can be done but you are never sure if you are doing it justice.
   So my book pile is limited and I always want to bring you books that are 3 star (I liked the book and I think you won't be disappointed), 4 star (I like the book, I want others to read it, and I think you will be glad you read this) and 5 stars (I loved the book, I want to promote it, and Oh, my goodness, I think you really ought to read this book!). While I don't give actually ratings, most can tell by what I say where the book likely stands. Any of you that don't on a particular book, can drop me a note here and I will get back to you.

First up is our Thursday's book.
Just Fun; More Information

Mercury Falls
By Robert Kroese
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Pages 350

From Amazon: While on assignment in Nevada, Christine Temetri isn’t surprised when yet another prophesied Apocalypse fails to occur. After three years of reporting on End Times cults for a religious news magazine, Christine is seriously questioning her career choice. But then she meets Mercury, a cult leader whose knowledge of the impending Apocalypse is decidedly more solid than most: he is an angel, sent from heaven to prepare for the Second Coming but distracted by beer, ping pong, and other earthly delights. After Christine and Mercury inadvertently save Karl Grissom—a film-school dropout and the newly appointed Antichrist—from assassination, she realizes the three of them are all that stand in the way of mankind’s utter annihilation. They are a motley crew compared to the heavenly host bent on earth’s destruction, but Christine figures they’ll just have to do. Full of memorable characters, Mercury Falls is an absurdly funny tale about unlikely heroes on a quest to save the world.

About the book: 
    We meet Christine Temetri just as her last assignment covering an end of the world cult ends in a whimper. When her boss, Harry, wants her to cover one more cult headed by Mercury, she demands another assignment not another crackpot. Her boss sends her to the Middle East where her actual destiny begins and it lands her right back in California and in the home of (drum roll) Mercury. After a divine intervention is the form of a pillar of fire, the two of them are off on an adventure that takes Christine from a planeport (on a different plane of existence) to the bowels of hidden caverns under Anaheim Stadium to the Redwood Forest. Meanwhile we met angels, demons, and minions who all have their own agenda for the end of the world.

My take: 
     I laughed, I laughed out loud, I read it out loud so others could laugh.  In short, I found the book adorably funny. 
    In the vein of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Christine is taken for a serious ride for several days with little or no control over what is happening. Mercury, who seems to want to stay out of things, is always in the middle of things. Most of the rest of the characters in the book are just backdrop. If you read the story for serious character development, you will be disappointed. It is not that sort of book.
    Mercury Falls seems to be a social commentary (at least to me) and reminded me a lot of Mark Twain's writings. There were times, particularly in the beginning, where the humor gets a little heavy handed. Some is good but too much is like drinking a bottle of syrup, a bit tastes sweet, too much makes one nauseated. Be aware that the few bad comments about this book on Amazon often referred to the style of humor and overuse of dialog. Some say the writer is no Douglas Adams. For me, I couldn't get through the Hitchhikers Guide, so while I can't comment on others, I will say that maybe you have to be interested in the topic that is being made fun of and are familiar with the references.
    The book is thick with dialog but I read and enjoyed Asimov, so this does not bother me but the reader should be aware of this aspect.
   Kroese makes references to things of the day: we have the demon Kate who writes YA books somewhat similar to the Potter series; there is a chain of fast food burger joints making use of the Antichrist to open their stores; there are scenes of bureaucracies that make no sense and make no decisions; there is a mention of layer after layer of bosses. Even Kroese's glass apples of mass destruction reminded me of a recent book, Heir to Power (Healing Crystal Trilogy), where the Crystal is said to be powerful, though for good or evil, no one knows AND the picture on the cover shows a crystal apple. (The second book is called Fall of Eden). 
  I would recommend this book to anyone but suggest you read a few pages before you buy. The humor is not for everyone.

Uppity Women of Medieval TimesWednesday Wild Card.

Uppity Women of Medieval Times
By Vicki Leon
Publisher MJF Books
Pages 230 without apendex

From the Back of the book: 
     200 Daring Damsels who dazzled the dark ages and rocked the renaissance. From blacksmiths, bankers, plague-ridders, and sheep thieves to secret agents, pirates, holy women, and holy terrors, medieval women around the world used wits, wiles, patrons, and  networking to make a winning hand of their lives.

About the book: 
     Short vignettes fill this book with tidbits about different women throughout a history covering more than just the medieval times.

My take:
   The book does contain interesting bits about different women throughout history. The writing style is very light, bordering on slangy. One might wish the stories were more complete.  Uppity Women is more of an appetizer than a full meal. One might also wish the book contained something of a bibliography so a reader could further research a woman of interest. I certainly found several women I want to know more about.
   Basically this is a fun book, not meant to be read as a novel or as a history. I did like many of the snippets in the book but I suggest taking the book a little at a time like reading "Life in These United States" in the Reader's Digest, a page or two is fine, a whole book at one sitting, not so much.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rediscover Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Excellent read available
by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
Current Publisher Borgo Press (December 1, 1999)
pages 192

From the inside flap of my book published in 1974:
    To the paradise world of Langri comes H. Harlow Wembling, a ruthless billionaire promoter. He looks at the sparkling seas, magnificent beaches, and fascinating plant and animal life and envisions a world-wide vacation resort that will be the financial coup of his life.  Langri's human population is no match for his deft manipulations and the charter he obtains makes Langri virtually the private property of Wembling and Company.
     Construction machines convert vast stretches of the beautiful sea into smears of wasteland and so damage the ecology that the natives face imminent starvation.  They have only one weapon with which to oppose Wembling.

About this book:
     Opening sentence - "It came to Obrien quite suddenly that he was dying." And so begins The Plan, Obrien's plan to protect the beautiful tropical planet he crashed landed on some decades before the opening paragraph. Fast forward to "present day" when the rest of the galaxy has discovered this paradise. They try to build schools, medical facilities, and import 'businesses' to help the natives.  But all the outsiders do to help actually hurt the natives of Langri.
    Meanwhile, the natives do all they can to slow down and stop the construction or destruction of their world. It is amazing why they are doing this.  Most of us would say that such a thing does no good but most of us don't have The Plan.
    Through the Wembling and Company various manipulations and legal wrangling and the Federation's uncaring justice system only a handful of people really care. Taliitha and Hort are two of those people but even they are unsure how to protect the natives.

My take:
   This story is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. In fact it might even be more relevant considering the punch line. Most old science fiction has problems when read today because technology has changed so much. This book does not suffer from that mainly because it doesn't depend on technology even though it is what might be called true science fiction.
   I first read this in the short story format. I loved it, inhaled it, and never forgot it. I then bought the longer work, the novella, although today it might be consider novel length at 192 pages. The full length story lost something for me but it might have been simply that I knew what was coming. You, my dear reader, can check this out yourself, since the short story can be found online for free.  I would suggest that you read the full length story first. There is just so much more detail. 
   I highly recommend this book or the short story to all ages but especially to anyone who can appreciate the political and social dynamics of the story since The Plan hinges on an understanding of how our political system works.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Movie vs. Book and the winner is...

Product Details
Good Book, Great Movie available
Enemy Mine 
by Barry B. Longyear
Publisher iUniverse
pages 96

From Amazon:
    The story of a man, incomplete in himself, taught to be a human by his sworn enemy, an alien being who leaves with the human its most important possession: its future.

About the book: 
    War forces two enemies to crash on a tiny island which is slowly overrun by waves.  They must rely on each other for their survival but no one said they had to like it. The sea keeps rising until the two are forced to leave the island, but not without serious injury to the human, Davidge. The Drac, Jerry, builds a shelter and nurses Davidge until he recovers from his injuries caused in their violent sea crossing. This is just the beginning a a unique friendship. The whole story is complicated because the Drac is pregnant and gives birth. But that is less than the first half of the story. The rest of the story concerns the raising and safety of child Zammy.

My take:
    First let me say  I absolutely loved the movie adaption of this story. Dennis Quad was hot, hot in this movie and Lou Gossett, Jr. had my heart in his hand by the middle of the movie. After I saw the movie, I wondered how I missed reading the story.  After all I was a big, big science fiction fan at the time. The truth is I didn't miss the story, I just didn't find it as wonderful as the movie.
    The book is still good, the writing tight, the plot while not totally unique (There was a WWII movie that  about a Japanese and an American soldier stranded on an island fighting each other) was good. I enjoyed the friendship that develops between the two main characters as well as how Davidge handles the birth of Zammy. It is amazing how much story can be built into just 95+ pages.
    One of my favorite parts of the story is where Jerry apologizes for his blasphemous remarks he made about Mickey Mouse.  Yes, you have to read the book or see the movie to find out what I mean.
   This story is told in the first person, something I have found I dislike as of late.  This could be a result of so few current writers handing it well.  This book shows how it should be done.
   I recommend the book to anyone who likes introspective stories, even those who do not normally read science fiction. I also recommend our readers see the movie because although the movie is like the book, there is more action in the movie, different action, and Quad and Gossett bring life into the wonderful characters Longyear created.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Words vs. Words; the fight is on!

First I want to share a note from Zoe Winters, author of Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author:

   Thanks for the review! Glad you found it helpful and engaging. It was originally meant to be the first of a series and other books were going to go in depth about each topic. But then I decided I didn't want my image/brand to be about teaching writers how to publish. I wanted to stay focused on the fiction. And while I do make some pretty decent change each month off this title, the bulk majority of the money I make (six figures this year), is from the fiction. Both with my Zoe Winters pen name, and another pen name.

I suspected this was true. I have not read any of her other books YET but I can tell, just by reading her non-fiction book, I WANT to read her books, even if they are outside of my genre. Yes, her writing style is that engaging. 

DraculaNow forward (Sunday, football) to the next review. I want you to know we are still working on what genre will be featured on Sunday and have kicked around Sensual Sunday as a title. I considered doing Dracula by Bram Stoker as it has what I believe (at 15 years old) to be the most sensual scene I have ever read. However I have covered several older books and thought I should cover something more contemporary today. To that end, we have another non-fiction:

Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again
Words versus Words
Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again
by Mignon Fogarty
Published by St. Martin's Griffins
ISBN 987-0-312-57337-9

From amazon:

    Millions of people around the world communicate better thanks to Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, whose top-rated weekly grammar podcast has been downloaded more than 30 million times. After realizing her fans were asking the same questions over and over, Mignon decided to focus her attention on those words that continuously confound the masses.

About the book:
    This is a short book that covers many of the words people confuse when writing such as 'farther and further'. It takes on some grammar confusions including 'I versus me' as well as words that are simply used improperly. Each page is dedicated to one word or one group of confused words. A tip appears at the bottom of the many pages to help the reader remember the distinction between the use of the words.

My take:
     This is a handy book, easy to carry, and much better than a dictionary when you are wondering how to describe the ice cream you had last night (dessert)versus what your boyfriend did when he found out there was a plus sign on your test strip at that same meal (desert). The tips are extremely helpful, mostly because we tend to remember something more involved. Memory tricks have you imagining a money wear your dry cleaning climbing a pole hold a pound of butter and fly paper, for instance.
     The book also contains some interesting information about the word roots as well. Consider hanged versus hung:
        "We have to deal with two forms because there were at least two separate words for hang in Old English. They eventually merged into one, but the separate past tense forms remained. Hung  became the word for most uses, but the losing form (hanged) stuck around for executions, probably because it was used in legal language, which is less likely to change than common language."

   Grammar Girl does say there are so many more confusing words than the book had room for and indeed has added another seventeen words in a grid at the end of the book.  Some interesting word groups are missing; good and well come to mind (probably because I just heard a football player on TV use the wrong word).

    One thing that bothers me, having seen gray/grey, is when did we lose some our Old English spellings and when does the change become permanent with the old spelling wrong? For instance, when I was a child, colour and honour were acceptable spellings as well as grey. Now those spellings are not only chiefly British but are considered wrong. Another change we are witnessing during our lives is the acceptance of further in place of the word farther. My dictionary is showing further as an acceptable substitute for farther (shudder) but dictionaries reflect the actual language in use, not necessarily the proper use or we would still be speaking 14th century English.