Investment Biker— a review

Investment bikesWhile touring the Barber Motorsports Museum in Alabama, I came upon a display of two rather battered BMW touring bikes, on a round platform, with a sculpture of the world suspended over them. In a museum where even hundred-year-old motorcycles are preserved in showroom condition, these two road warriors stood out. The information spread around the platform indicated that the bikes were used by Jim Rogers and his companion, Tabitha Estebrook, as they went on an around the world trip, on motorcycles.

When I got home, I bought the book that Rogers wrote about his trip, Investment Biker. As a fairly young man who had made his money on Wall Street, Rogers takes his reader on a ride around the world, and into the world of finance. At first, I was rather annoyed, because I wanted to read about the bikes and the sights, but not about the price of commodities. However, as Rogers explained how his trip through Europe, Asia, Africa, Southern America, and other regions influenced his trading, I gained respect for his reasoning in investing in some areas, while steering clear of others.

That said, there are motorcycle tales aplenty, from having a hole in a piston welded in a remote village, because the closest BMW dealer was thousands of miles away, to spills along a road with gravel pieces the size of baseballs for a road surface.

Since this journey occurred a couple of decades back, there are sections which read more like history, such as his observations about why the Soviet Union appeared to be crumbling. And, I am sure that Rogers might want to retract some of his political  predictions, should he ever have a second edition.

Still, I am really glad I read Investment Biker. Many of the reviewers on Amazon seemed disappointed that this book is about travel on a motorcycle, rather than investment advice. I wanted to read about adventure, and this book has plenty of that. Most of the moto-journalism I have read has been inferior. Rogers writes well, and his vision and experiences are inspiring.

The Hunger Games— the movie (a review)

Okay, just about everyone has already reviewed this film,or the novel that spawned it. While I haven’t read the book, I enjoyed the film. And, I am grateful to author Collins for her contribution to science fiction, and to young adult fiction. As an experienced reader, I found the tale somewhat predictable, but none-the-less exciting.

The Hunger Games is another dystopia, with political and social overtones for our times. Clearly, she was influenced by what is termed “entertainment” by television network execs. If nothing else, the reality tv genre is slammed by this tale. Science fiction is a marvelous vehicle for getting those concepts over to a mass audience. Between the success of the books in this series and this film version of the first novel, Collins is reaching many, many people.

Actually, any author would do well to write for the YA market, because the freshest ideas are there. Let’s face it, authors for the adult market are publishing beyond theirs deaths (via ghost writers) so the publishing houses are not willing to develop new talent.

I wouldn’t have picked this film, but my young adult daughter suggested that we watch it together via netflix, and I both the film and her take on it. While the death scenes were not as gory as I had feared, it was realistic enough. Families with middle school aged kids could certainly find fodder for some interesting discussions after viewing it.

The Hunger Games is a good story, with some morality questions for viewers.

By Pamela/Pilar Posted in writing

White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines and Deception—a review

While researching the relationship between vaccines and illness, I ran across a fiction title that so interested me that I bought it, but other matters (and books) were in the way. One evening, iPad in hand, I sat down to read a bit before bed. I launched the Kindle App, and the title jumped out at me again— White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines, and Deception. Thinking I would read just a bit, I began. Quite honestly, the book was like 99 cents, so I wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t get to sleep early that evening, because the book grabbed my attention. Indeed, I finished it within a couple of days.

All mothers are a bit apprehensive about that nurse coming toward a new infant, needle in hand. I remember my pediatrician practically running over me when I voiced concerns about all of the vaccinations that were suggested (indeed required) for my own children. When I was a youngster, I had vaccinations for small pox, DTP, and polio. That was it, and all of the minor illnesses were a matter of take a few days off from school and enjoy a good book or something.

Nowadays, children are vaccinated against many illnesses, including fairly minor ones. And many parents and health professionals are concerned, and rightly so. There are too many vaccines in the same needle; there is too much mercury; there is no need for certain shots. But, if we don’t vaccinate, our country will regress and some of the girls will have cervical cancer. There are convincing arguments on both sides; that is the nature of controversy.

Sometimes, the best way to humanize such a controversy is via fiction, and that is what White Lies does. The reader is introduced to Jean, a divorce lawyer who doesn’t have the expertise or desire to handle a case involving a brain injury, and Lacy, a mom who doesn’t trust any lawyer other than Jean, who handled her divorce. As Lacy pushes Jean to learn about her son’s tragic injury and as Jean involves various experts, the reader gets an education in medicine, government, and risk. Every fear that a mother might have is realized in Lacy’s tragic case, and it is this emotional involvement, rather than actual suspense (although there is a bit of that) which keeps the reader turning the pages. The tale is extraordinarily readable, considering the subject matter, and I can honestly say that this is a book that should be in every mother’s to be read stack. Even non-readers ought to give it a shot (pun intended) because it has a powerful message.

The publisher states that the book is inspired by true events, and that is made abundantly clear in the notes that follow the novel. After I finished it, I was back researching vaccines, but with new ideas and resources. Sarah Collins Honenberger’s White Lies is a good read but it will haunt readers, especially mothers. Don’t let that stop you, because this novel has a message that needs to be heard.

Review of Star Trek Voyager: A Vision of the Future

I really, really wanted to love Star Trek Voyager: A Vision of the Future. At times I did like it, but no love. None.

The Making of Star Trek, by the same author (under another name) was an eye-opening book for me. Like many viewers, I had accepted the brilliant series with no real understanding of how it all came about. When I read The Making of Star Trek, I learned everything from the nature of McCoy’s instruments, which were almost all made from fancy salt shakers; to fan mail from kids who wanted working phasers. The vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was intermingled with fascinating facts about the production itself. And, as a fan, I loved it, but I also loved it, because it gave me a real appreciation for all that goes into making a television series.

Some thirty years later, three veteran producers of Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine began kicking around ideas for a fourth series, which was ultimately named after the ship, Voyager.

Unfortunately, the author who recorded this process did not filter enough. Yes, I wanted to know about the casting problems, but I don’t need to know the names of the security guards on the set. Honestly, there is just too much information in this book. Unfortunately, there are no doubt some nifty tidbits that were not mentioned, so that literally everyone associated with Voyager would have a mention in this book.

Poe’s record of the process of creating Voyager is worth reading, but it could have been so much better with some judicious editing. I’d love to say it is a great book, but it isn’t. On the other hand, I did enjoy parts of it, such as the description of how Kate Mulgrew quickly pulled the cast together and helped get filming on track for the January debut.

Sometimes, one can’t see the forest for the trees, and that’s the problem with this vision of the future.

How Hollywood Could Solve America’s Financial Crisis

The topic of America’s fiscal future as a topic is a departure for me, for sure, but this post is writing related. The power of Hollywood, especially series television, but also film, is the most important factor in American culture. No kidding! Generations of moms name their babies after popular characters, for instance.

In American television and film, doctors invariably are able to work miracles. Patients die and are brought back with CPR, and so everyone these days is urged to take CPR training. No one on television has broken ribs from the procedure, which is common in real life, and almost everyone coughs a couple of times and is good as new by the next commercial break. But, in real life, most such heroic efforts are in vain. Hollywood thrives on heros and heroism, so extreme measures are rewarded.

However, in real life (and death) most folks who are at death’s door are going to go through it. One out of one persons on this planet will die. Most doctors, who do know the truth, will not take cancer treatments for late-stage disease. They don’t, because they have seen “good” deaths and “bad” ones, and they want to avoid the latter. But family members, brainwashed by the success rate of heroic doctors on the screen, often insist on the latest treatments for family members, even when the pathetic success rate is clearly stated. These acts of love, which often cause patients to be miserable because of side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, cost millions of dollars. Few lives are saved, and if they are lengthened, it might be for months, at best. The most expensive years of life, for many Americans, are the last two.

My husband is a cancer survivor. His illness was treatable; that is, his doctor stated that with treatment, he had an 85-90% chance of living out his normal life. Thus, the treatments, which were grueling, were appropriate. I am not speaking of that scenario. Plenty of people are cured or helped by treatments, but side effects and outcomes need to be discussed frankly.

But, because Hollywood’s fictional doctors can cure even the most hopeless of patients, many Americans have totally unrealistic expectations. And, since our doctors, the real ones, are paid for performing services, the money flows from insurance companies, especially the ones funded by the U.S. Treasury, into their accounts. Doctors are trained to preserve life, and are paid for procedures, so they have incentives to continue aggressive treatments, and well-meaning family members can add more incentives. No one wants to say, “It is time to let go.”

Please, script writers and producers, lets have a new wave of handsome, dignified actors “go gently into that goodnight.” This dose of realism would greatly help families avert feelings of guilt for not doing enough for their loved ones, and it would also save patients from the miserable deaths associated with vigorous treatments. A serendipitous side effect of the Hollywood treatment would be a vast reduction in medicare and medicaid bills for those who are going to die, and die soon, anyway.

Be courageous, Hollywood, and write about death and dying in a manner that is more realistic and, ultimately, more kind.

Alarm of War—Best Space Opera I’ve Read Recently!

Okay, the story line is hardly new: green recruit impresses everyone, gets promoted, and saves the day. But, Alarm of War by Kennedy Hudner does have some freshness, and most of the spelling and all of the grammar is correct. That’s saying quite a great deal in this day of self-published ebooks available for the Kindle.

Our main character is Emily Tuttle. Yep, that does not sound like a heroine’s name, now does it? Especially not a military fiction heroine, who should have a big name, like, oh, say, “Honor Harrington.” But, our heroine is Emily Tuttle, and she doesn’t look particularly heroic, being rather small. Oh, and she has a master’s degree—in history. Her best bud in training is a tall Hispanic chick named Maria, who goes by “Cookie.” And the smartest dude in the training group is a geeky guy named Hiram. And what is really odd is that the leadership of the training facility actually recognizes who is smart and acts accordingly. Maybe the government will do stuff like that in the future.

Anyway, the novel begins with background and political intrigue; actually, too much of that. Oh, it helps to know all that as the story moves along, but it might be better dished out in the middle of the story. To be honest, I did not get interested in this novel until a royal despot kills a lawyer and uses him for decor. Then, I got interested, and I stayed interested. Just when the reader believes that he or she knows exactly what is going to happen, something comes along to shake things up a bit and keep the reader turning the pages.

This one ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger, so I went back to Amazon, intent on purchasing the sequel. Unfortunately, Alarm of War was published in August, and there is (as yet) no sequel. Darn.

I hope that Mr. Hudner is busy working on part ii of this yarn. Maybe it will be out by Christmas. Gosh, I hope so.

“Based on Real Events…”

My daughter and I were recently engaged in a conversation about where to find inspiration for an audience reared on “reality television,” and a not-so-new idea emerged: base your fiction on news stories. And, yes, it is an old idea. Dragnet did it, but by saying so I am establishing that I somewhat chronologically gifted. Kathy Trocheck, whose work I enjoy, has based a number of her books on real crimes in the Atlanta area.

So, what would make good fiction? One idea that I am seriously contemplating, since I enjoy writing psychological fiction, is exploitation of the elderly. Yes, at first, that makes me say, “Yuck!” I very much love my elders and would never take from them. But, why is it that people, usually relatives, will fleece their elders? Come on, you have read the stories, too. There’s the story from New York, where a guy dressed up as his mom so he could cash her social security checks, and he did so for six years before he was caught, collecting more than 44K. Six years seems like a long time, but a guy in Texas did not notify the Social Security Administration for 26 years that his mother had died.

But, that’s not stealing from the elderly, some might say—that’s stealing from the government—which is different, because they have plenty of money. Okay, this post is not about politics, so I will let the reader be the judge on those sorts of cases. However, a novel about a guy figuring out how to look like his dead mom, styling his wig, meticulously making up his face, and so forth, does present an interesting premise. Was it desperation? Laziness? Or something more sinister?

More to my taste, however, is the scenario where a trusted loved one, usually a son or daughter, begins taking small items, or small amounts, and then it becomes a habit. Or a game. So the villain, and this character would most definitely be a villain, ups the ante, so to speak. Recently, I read a news story where the alleged “good son” stole 240K from his mom, over a period of years. He is charged with theft and exploiting the elderly, and officials described the situation as a crime that is on the increase. Of course, I don’t know the particulars of this case, as it has not yet been tried, but there are many, many such cases, and this is an important social problem, thus it is a great idea for a novel. The key to a great plot is a believable villain, and a victim for whom the reader has sympathy, so that’s where I must begin.

And, if I can pull it together, will this one be my ticket to the best seller list?

Leviathan review

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A couple of years ago, I purchased a copy of Scott Westerfield’s novel, intended for a young adult audience, for my son. Alas, he never read it, but that is not a judgment against the book, as my son tends to read books with video game tie-ins.

Since I was assigned a book presentation, (that’s a new term for report, y’all) I pulled Leviathan off the shelf. The book itself is inviting. The cover is amazing in its detail, and the form of the book is slightly non-standard, being just a bit taller and narrower than the norm. The paper is high quality, and the print is just a little wider than normal, which required adjusting the “leading” as the book was formatted for print.

Leviathan is an alternate history set in the era of World War I, written for a young adult audience in a genre known as “steampunk,” and is the beginning of a trilogy. The novel has two point-of-view characters, Aleksander Ferdinand, the (fictional) prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who is forced to flee after the assassination of his parents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. The other point-of-view character is Deryn Sharpe, a commoner, a young woman who disguises herself as a boy so she may join the British Air Service. As the war unfolds, these characters provide insight into two forces in the war. The dualities do not stop there, however, for the British forces of this alternate history have bred various beasts to be both servants and machines of war, such as the Leviathan of the title. The Austro-Hungarian forces rely upon large mechanical warfare machines, such as the walker that Alek has been learning to pilot.

From the moment that young Alek is awakened by trusted old retainers, his story is suspenseful, but not unfamiliar. Count Volger guides Alek literally and spiritually toward a safe haven, as he pilots a huge walker, one of his army’s machines of war, as enemies of his father and of the empire seek to kill him. Alek is not on a hero’s quest so much as he is making the transition from innocence to experience. Nevertheless, there are times when he is heroic, such as his efforts to assist the stranded crew of the Leviathan, when it is wounded and lands near his hideaway in Switzerland.

Young Deryn, too, is on a journey, and while her adventures are also important to the plot, there is far more humor in her part of the story, as her character is propelled though the air via the large creature/ship of the title. The British forces use any number of genetically altered beasts as machines of war. Also, through Deryn, Westerfield makes some pertinent comments on the nature of humanity, such as her weary observation that the young airmen “endlessly competed to see who could spit farther, drink rum faster, or belch the loudest.”

By and large, I found this novel to be well crafted, but there are a couple of annoyances. First, the author substitutes words, such as “barking” for another four-letter word that is universally used as a vulgarity these days. Secondly, the initial swapping back and forth between point-of-view (POV) characters was a bit distracting, but after the first chapter, each POV character is on stage until the next chapter.

Westerfield alternates his POV characters in each chapter until the two meet upon a barren snow covered mountain, roughly half way though the 400 plus page novel. Alek saves Deryn from being trapped in the snow; then she promptly turns him in to her superiors. He is briefly held prisoner, but the British forces have far more to worry about than a mysterious young man from a mountain village. Ultimately, Alek is released so he can assist the crew of the leviathan, so the prince of Austro-Hungary and the crew of the great ship must cooperate to escape from the approaching German forces.

Westerfield’s Leviathan begins with a gripping first chapter and enough action to keep most readers entertained. Although I have not read much young adult literature, this author’s skill is such that I just might read more of his work.

Studying English in the Post Test and Term Paper Era

This is a follow-up to my last post, obviously. My online course is in full swing, and the syllabus was not a shock, because I have been involved in post secondary education in recent years, but it was a bit disconcerting. My course will be graded on forum entries, book presentations (reports), think pieces (term papers by another name) and the now ubiquitous annotated bibliography. No tests at all.

My husband asked, “Are you just doing 100% busy work?”

I said, “Yes” but he is male and I like to keep things simple for him.

Mostly, this course is busy work. Going to grad school nowadays seems to be a training ground for production of organic fertilizer. There is, however, some reading which is rather interesting, especially since the book reports are to be over young adult novels. Mostly, I skipped that sort of reading when I was the appropriate age, so apart from an occasional “coming of age” story, I have read little YA stuff.

To say that I am looking forward to these works is over-stating my position, but the assignments will force me out of my comfort zone a bit, and that is useful.

Still, I was always a good test taker, and I will miss having the opportunity to show what I know.

Back to School— for me!

For several years, I taught basic English classes at a local technical college, but in the past year, technical colleges in Georgia are the new junior college, so my transcript didn’t quite pass muster. So, it is either go back to college (for one course) or do as Candide suggested and cultivate my garden. If this doesn’t work out, I do have a plan for upgrading the plants around here….

Just registering was an adventure. I think I am the oldest person they have had lately. They kept asking if I was okay to climb the stairs, and I am thinking, “my knee surgeon did a good job— let’s live large and climb the stairs!” Anyway, I have a big credit card bill for tuition and five books (yep, five books for one course) because the course, which is really an education course, has an English prefix. Ironically, the problem with my transcript is a course which was taken in the English department which has an education prefix, so I guess that is fair.

Whether or not I will ever teach again is weighing in the balance, so I will no doubt put some effort into this new endeavor. However, if this fails, then I guess I will put the plant plan in the que!