“Current Events Day”

coachWhen my kids were kids, I often assisted with homework, but I made a tactical error and told them I’d actually do any thing we determined to be “busy work.” (At the time, I still believed in the integrity of most educators.) My daughter had a couple of coach/ social studies teachers in high school who would set aside one day a week for “current events” which basically meant the students were to bring in a news story and read it to the class. There were absolutely no criteria assigned, nor was there any grade. Since the teacher was just using this instead of doing any work himself, this qualified as a mom task, and I decided to use the weirdest items I could find.

As it is has been a while since my kids were in school, I no longer read so much weird news, but sometimes a headline just grabs my attention. So, I just read a news story which would have made the cut for current events day at JHS. What do y’all think of this one? Call 911!

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From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Honour Bound— a quick review


Some time back, I got a bit more serious about writing reviews on Amazon, and I bought several products and did indeed review most of them. Along with light bulbs, measuring cups, and a backpack, I stocked up on Kindle books, too.

One of those is Honour Bound (Lawmen of the Republic Book 2) by M.A. Grant. Y’all, this is a pretty nifty book. Briefly, this story begins with two people, Natalia, a prisoner in a camp on a distant planet, and Alex Cade, the young Lawman lieutenant, who rescues her. The story takes its time unfolding, so I would not term it high suspense, but it held my attention. And, it is a full length novel. I’ve noticed that the definition of novel does differ from author to author these days, with lots of eBooks being closer to novellas than actual novels. All those electronic pages mean that this is a good deal at the current price of $2.72. Apparently, Ms. Grant has other novels available with more in the works. Here’s my quick review for Amazon:

This novel delivers plenty of action in a science fiction setting. I’m a fan of sci fi romance, and while there is a romantic sub-plot, this is primarily a military story. The main characters are well drawn, but the minor ones are…well…minor. Still, I really enjoyed this book and will read others by the author.

And, here’s a link to her site: M.A. Grant Author if you’d like to know more.

Butterfly Garden— a review

Trust me, this book will get under your skin and into your memory. I’ve read a lot of books, but this one is haunting.

One of my favorite genres of fiction is what is sometimes termed psychological fiction because the author gets into the minds of the characters. Perhaps it is due to my life experiences, or maybe it is due to my eclectic reading, but I am fascinated by the caretaker/villian. One my first exposures to this genre was the film “The Collector” based on the novel by John Fowles. Later, I read the book, which was also fascinating, but perhaps even more disturbing than the movie, which nicely bridges the gap between suspense and horror.

I think that Dot Hutchinson may have read the same book. That is not to say that her novel, The Butterfly Garden, is a rip-off of The Collector; it is not. However, there are some common aspects, so I will say that my guess is that she was inspired by the Fowles novel. Both novels deal with a warped collector, interested in butterflies, and his hapless series of victims. But, the villain in The Collector had one victim (at a time); in Hutchinson’s novel, the Gardener has a much bigger operation. Hutchinson basically took the plot, then raised the stakes. Her villain is far more villainous, so be forewarned that this novel is really disturbing. There is some bad language, as well as non-graphic rape and other unpleasantness directed toward the female victims.

The Butterfly Garden is modern in tone, pace, and language. But it is more of a “why” novel than a “what novel” as it begins at the end, and the plot unfolds as detectives try to unravel the story of the interactions between our victim (who has 3 names before it is over, so I won’t name her here) and an individual that the main character knows as the Gardener. Our protagonist is more victim than heroine, but she is certainly brave in a multi-layered manner. The novel is well-written and sufficiently suspenseful for me to have read it in a couple of evenings.

There are few parallels between The Butterfly Garden and my own psychological novel, The Gift Horse. However, an exploration of the role of the victim is common to both. If any of you readers enjoyed The Gift Horse, and were not overly offended, then you should try The Butterfly Garden. I really, really enjoyed it. But, I am not am not outraged by villains doing really bad things. That is what makes such characters villains.

Alarm of War— The Other Side of Fear

A while back, I wrote a positive review of Kennedy Hudner’s Alarm of War. Perhaps its greatest downside was that it clearly was intended to have a sequel. For a few months, I checked Amazon, hoping that Hudner had released the second part, but after a while, I quit looking. Then, as I reviewed my “keeper” files, I saw Alarm of War and looked again. Low and behold, Alarm of War, Book II: The Other Side of Fear was published in 2014. Finally, I had the sequel, but alas, it’s really part II of a trilogy. So, I am back to waiting.

However, it would be remiss to not review the second book. So, here’s a true confession: I went back and re-read the Alarm of War because it had been so long that I was certain I needed a refresher. Good plan, as I enjoyed it almost as much the second time. Once I had swiped the last page, I jumped right into The Other Side of Fear, and it wowed me from the opening scene.

While there are some stereotypical situations and characters, there is plenty of depth to Hudner’s ensemble of main characters, who met as they went through basic training during the first novel. My favorite is Emily Tuttle, a former history teacher with a brilliant grasp of military strategy. Other main characters include Grant Skiffington, the favored son of an admiral; Hiram Brill, a geeky guy who instinctively puts together intelligence into workable prophecies; and Marine sergeant Maria Sanchez, who is super gung ho, but reads books and likes to hang out with the nerd, Hiram. These characters all had intertwining adventures in the first book and book two immediately picks up the action.

Rather than write a bunch of spoilers, I will say this: Mr. Hudner’s series reminds me quite a lot of the early works of David Weber, the creator of the great Honor Harrington series. But, by using the ensemble, rather than centering on one character, Hudner is able to bring in various aspects of his universe, but keep the reader’s interest. At times, Weber spends more time explaining his villains than his heroine, and that has always bothered me. As a huge fan of military sci fi in general, and Honor Harrington in particular, it is hard to say this, but, “Move over, Mr. Weber.” Kennedy Hudner is writing some seriously kick-butt military sci-fi. Really.

As of this writing, the first book is a bargain at 99¢, and The Other Side of Fear is $3.99. My gosh, so much entertainment for less than the price of a movie ticket!

Wes Moss’s “Starting from Scratch”

Wes Moss ScratchI’ve listened to Wes Moss for years now. He’s the host of “Money Matters” on a local radio station, and he seems to be an approachable, common-sense guy. That tone serves him well when he writes, too. Previously, I reviewed his book on “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (Business Books),” and it is an excellent book on preparing for retirement. This is an earlier book, but the approach is similar in certain ways.

In this book on entrepreneurship, Moss discusses the best ways to begin a business, and he uses the acronym HUNT to explain the qualities and techniques used by successful business start ups. The H stands for “harness what you have” and the U stands for “underestimate obstacles.” Each of the sections of the book are grouped around a letter, so some of the stories illustrate the H, then some illustrate the U (but also rely on the H, of course.) Later stories deal with N “Notice your network” and finally T for “Take the first step.” Again, each of these is illustrated by several stories (21 or 22 in all, depending on when edition you read.)

The analysis of how to begin and nurture a business is just as common-sense as other Wes Moss’s writings, and the stories of each entrepreneur are short enough to allow quick reading, but in depth enough to realize that these people did what many want to do but can’t quite see the way forward. And, as the stats for success vs. failure in small business are a bit daunting, the stories are inspirational.

If you have ever wondered if you could begin a business, then this book should be a very welcome read. I quite enjoyed it, although I have many irons in the employment fire and no desire to begin yet another venture.

Up to Date— a quick review of a quick read.


Very light romance is not normally my thing, but a friend suggested that if I would “like” Gemma Halliday on Facebook that I could get a freebie on Friday. So, one of the recent choices was a romance novella called Up to Date, which is also billed as Better Date than Never series, Book #8.

When I began Up to Date by Susan Hatler, I was immediately hooked. The main character’s name is Ginger. Her sister is named Mary Ann. And, yes, their dad was a big fan of Gilligan’s Island. The tone of this book kinda goes along with that… a bit romantic and quite a bit of comedy. This version of Ginger is miserable in her job, because being an office manager is a real snoozefest. Her home life lacks stability, because flighty sister Mary Ann never seems to have money to pay rent, but has lots to spend on frivolous social matters. Ginger is artistic and highly interested in home decor, so her true calling is to be an interior decorator. Knowing this, and knowing her talent for it, a friend suggests that Ginger donate her design services as a prize in a charity auction. The winner of the auction is a guy who wanted to date Ginger, but in typical romance fiction style, Ginger doesn’t care for him. Or maybe she does.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this light romance and urge those who enjoy the genre to download Up to Date. I read the Kindle version, and it is a most pleasant way to spend an evening.

Tales of Honor: Bred To Kill #1 (Comics Review)

I’m looking forward to the further adventures on Honor Harrington in this new medium.

Shadowhawk's Shade

Tales of Honor is the adaptation of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novel series and is written by Matt Hawkins, who is one of my favourite writers in the biz, and is drawn by Linda Sejic, an artist I don’t have much of an experience with, but love her work nonetheless. I’ve read a couple issues of the previous Tales of Honor volume, and even the recent FCBD issue, not to mention that I read the first novel recently as well, so I’m pretty well-versed with the setting and the characters, and going into this new arc, that’s a good thing since I can orient myself that much quicker.

Tales of Honor: Bred To Kill #1 picks up sometime after the recent war with the People’s Republic of Haven in the Basilisk system, and it has Honor coming back during some downtime from her job as the Captain of the HMS…

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Unbroken– the book (review and commentary)

Unbroken coverWhen I was younger, one of the genres of movies and television that was quite popular was stories from World War II. While I wasn’t alive for it, of course, many in my parents’ generation had fought or knew those who had. Indeed, on a wall in my house is a framed picture of my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was killed a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe; he was in Germany, in the Ruhr valley, when he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, the war was quite real to us. We enjoyed the stories, because they were entertainment, but knew that the war had affected most everyone in America.

After seeing the film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, I was telling my sister about it, and she said, “Clearly, you don’t know the whole story. Read the book.” And, with lots of other reading and a bit of teaching, it was almost six months after hearing that advice before I got around to reading the book by Laura Hillenbrand. OMG, why did I wait so long? The movie is very good, but the book is great. Maybe I waited, in part, because I don’t usually like biographies.

As told by Hillenbrand, Louis Zamperini was quite a character, from his earliest days. His parents didn’t quite know what to do with him, and he might be described as a juvenile delinquent. His brother convinced the school authorities to allow Louie to get involved in sports, and Louie was gifted in running. So gifted, in fact, that he became an Olympic runner, and a very good one. He might have known even more fame as a track star, but World War II got in the way. After his plane crashes in the Pacific, Louie and two other Army Air Force survivors were adrift for a very long time. Then, on the brink of death, they were captured by the Japanese. Yes, Louie was still alive, but he faced incredible brutality.

One of my elderly friends is a survivor of a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. She was interned there as a child, one of several children of a missionary who fled there from China, because the parents thought that being in a U.S. territory was safer for their children. The treatment she and other family members endured was brutal, and toward the end of the war, the prisoners were scheduled to be executed before the Japanese withdrew. She was saved because some American volunteers broke down the fence and escorted the POWs to safety. My friend, to this day, cannot understand Americans can embrace Japan as our friends and allies. To her, they were a barbaric enemy, who starved her family and killed far too many non-combatants.

Hillenbrand does explain the brutality, through Louie’s account, and accounts by other prisoners. But she reinforces the brutal nature of the Japanese POW camps with survival statistics. According to Hillenbrand, only 1% of American POWs held by the Germans or Italians (the European theater) died, but in Japan 37% died. She also goes into the cultural differences which led to the cruelty, not as an excuse, but to let readers know more about the “why” which must come to the mind of her readers.

(spoilers)

The film, Unbroken, closes with the end of the war. That is a good stopping point for a Hollywood film; the audience can go home knowing Louie made it out alive and was welcomed home by his loving family. But, as my sister noted, there is more to the story. The book has a subtitle Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and it is appropriate. While I do not fault Jolie for leaving out the “redemption” part, the story is incomplete without Louie’s problems adjusting to “normal” life after the horrific experiences he had in Japan and how finding religion gave him the peace he desperately needed. The author continues to cover multiple story lines, including “Phil” the pilot to “the Bird” who was the most sadistic of the Japanese prison guards.

The entire story is important, and those who watch the movie get only the middle, so I encourage readers to tackle the book by Laura Hillenbrand. While it isn’t a quick read, it is certainly worth your time.