Book Review – The Bad Weather Friend by Dean Koontz

You’re familiar with the old adage, “Nice guys finish last”, right? Made famous by legendary Dodgers baseball manager Leo Durocher, it posits that if you’re going to get ahead in baseball (or anything in this world) then you better not be a nice guy. You better be ready to get out there and hurt someone with your spikes, bean them with a ball or at least trash-talk them into losing their focus. Because if you’re a nice guy, you won’t be finishing in first place, you’ll be finishing in last place.

And we’re all acquainted (perhaps personally) with the term “Fair weather friend”…a person who is happy to be your friend when it is smooth sailing but disappears when you are having problems.

In Dean Koontz’s novel “The Bad Weather Friend” Benny Catspaw is the proverbial nice guy who suddenly finds his world turned upside down. His boss fires him in the morning and his girlfriend breaks up with him in the late afternoon. Even his favorite chair is destroyed. All with no reason that Benny can discern and yet he holds no enmity. Just confusion.

Then an uncle he doesn’t even know sends him an inheritance in a crate and a video that promises things will turn out right. Even stranger, the crate contains a 7-foot tall being named Spike with supernatural powers who is Benny’s bad weather friend. He informs Benny that strange forces are out to get Benny and he is there to make it right. Benny, Spike and a waitress from Benny’s favorite cafe all team up to find and stop those mysterious forces and make sure Benny is not a nice guy who finishes last.

This is a quirky tale with an off-beat plot and even quirkier dialog that may be a turn off for some of Koontz’s fans. I had to force myself to finish the book, but I’m glad I did. Sometimes I wondered if the author was just winging it on this one, but the ending was satisfactory. Your mileage may vary.

I gave this book four stars.

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Book Review – The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

My tastes in music run to 60’s – 80’s rock and pop for the most part. Ms. Spears’ career began long after that and so I have never been that familiar with her music. I remember when I was working as a graphic artist for Hard Rock Cafe’s corporate headquarters and I was assigned to edit and enhance some images of Ms. Spears. One of the other artists (who was much younger than me, lol) asked if he could do the work on them because he had a huge crush on her. I gladly said, “Go ahead, knock yourself out” and he did.

Even though I never kept up with her music, it was hard not to be bombarded with all the gossip and news about her and her relationships. I remember feeling sorry for her and the microscope she (and other performers, whether they be actors, musicians, writers…just celebrities of all stripes) found herself under. When the news broke that she was put under a conservatorship, I wondered if it was her behavior or greed on her father’s part that put her there. And I assumed we would all find out when that order was lifted by a judge in 2021.

So, a few months ago when I saw that she had a book coming out I put it on my TBR list and recently I finished her work, The Woman in Me.

I am of two minds about her life. On the one hand I see she had fame thrust upon her at an early age and it’s very rare that children or young adults survive that fame unscathed. On the other, I feel like she brought a great deal of her woes, as most of us do, on herself. Yes, it seems her parents and perhaps even her sister, were all more interested in the money she could bring than her well-being. But she also exhibits a lot of immature behavior that opened her up to that from her family and even some so-called “friends” in her life.

Be assured, this book is NOT a work of art. It’s not even well-written, though I do believe it IS written from her heart. She still seems rather immature and child-like, despite being in her 40’s with children and a career that has made her the idol of millions. I am glad that she is no longer living the life of an indentured worker under the thumb of her father. I am glad she feels like she is living her best life now. I hope she is. But other than satisfying my own curiosity about her life and where she has arrived since 2021, this book was a burden to read.

I gave it one star on Goodreads.

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Book Review – Prequel by Rachel Maddow

I know who Rachel Maddow is and that she has a show on MSNBC, but that is about the extent of my knowledge of her. I’ve never watched one of her shows or read any of her books; this is the first.

Cover of “Prequel” by Rachel MaddowIn “Prequel” Maddow takes us back in history to an America that is watching as Adolph Hitler invades neighboring countries. There were two forces in play in our country; those who wanted to fight back against Nazi facism and those who did not. In the run up to WW II America is a divided country with those who wish to preserve democracy on one side and far-right “Christian Nationalists” who would embrace Nazi rule on the other. Having not been alive during those days, I had no idea how much like America today it was back then.

Having lived through the days of Cold War hatred of Russia, it has been difficult for me to understand the words and actions today of those who a mere 30 years ago would have opposed Russian leaders and yet today want to defend a dictator like Putin. But when you look at the parallels between what was happening in America during the rise of Hitler and what is happening today, you see that history is repeating itself.

And the point Maddow makes is that we only preserved democracy back then because there were dedicated politicians and private citizens who stood against the facism that was toppling Europe. The only way we will do so today is for the same to happen today. We need to take the lessons that history teaches us and apply them to preserving our democracy…again.

I highly recommend “Prequel” to those who, like me, were not witness to the threat our country faced before but are witness to the threat it faces today.

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Book Review – The Widow by Kaira Rouda

The Widow bookcoverThis is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Rouda and I’m pretty sure it will be the last.

This is ostensibly the story of a crooked (what other kind is there?) congressman and his wife who assumes his congressional seat when he dies and the multitude of behind the scenes shadiness that plays out. But all the characters are one-dimensional cutouts with no substance and none of them, not one, has any redeeming qualities to make you care about them.

The closest I could come to finding any interest in the story was that many of the characters reminded me of some of the corrupt congressional members and their unscrupulous staffs that I’ve had to deal with over the years. They had no redeeming qualities either. If you think that you’re disgusted by what you see of them in public or on the evening news, you would be completely overcome with loathing to see their behavior without their veneer of respectability.

(By the way, there ARE some good ones, but they are few and far between)

But I think my biggest disappointment with this book was the “style” of writing the author employs. It was not enjoyable to read and, in many instances, seemed like it had been thrown together like a word salad. In addition, the dialogue was unbelievable. I don’t know many people who actually converse in the manner that is portrayed. Point of view was constantly changing, however that POV was consistently “What can I do to screw over this person?”

But, Ms. Rouda is a bestselling author, so perhaps that is the style of the day these days. If so, I hope to avoid any such modern style in my future reading.

I’m glad I didn’t pay for this book. Even as a free book, it left me feeling like I was ripped off in terms of time and effort to complete the story.

Highly NOT recommended!

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Book Review – Marie Severin, The Mirthful Mistress of Comics

Cover of Marie Severin, The Mirthful Mistress of ComicsThis book was an X-mas gift from my wife.

Marie Severin was one of only two known female comic book artists when I was growing up (the other being Ramona Fradon, who was best known as the artist for Aquaman) and one of my favorite all-around artists.

I loved her work on Hulk, Doctor Strange and others, but was mostly enthralled by her covers for various Marvel characters such as Spider-man, Submariner, and Captain America.

But I also loved her more cartoon-like art for Not Brand Echh where she provided hilarious caricatures of those same superheroes mentioned above and others from the Distinguished Competition (otherwise known as DC comics)

This book reprints so many covers, pages and panels of Severin’s vast amount of work, as well as in depth interviews with Marie herself and so many of her co-workers through the years. It really was a lot of fun the be able to “peek behind the curtain” and see the background of her professional life before and shortly after she retired.

This book is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the multi-talented Marie Severin and is highly recommended for those who remember her work and/or want to learn more.


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Book Review – Writing Without Rules by Jeff Somers

“Writing Without Rules” book cover.This is a book my daughter gifted me with for Christmas.

If you’re a writer who has grown tired of being told all the “rules” you must follow to be successful, this book is for you.

Somers is a successful (in other words, published) writer who posits that all those rules we’re told to follow to be a successful writer may not be the end of the story. It just may be that all we need is our desire and drive.

Somers addresses the “plotting versus pantsing” debate, the “self-publishing versus traditional publishing” arguments, the “need to research everything” advice and more in this book. In addition, he offers guidance and direction on how to write, what to write, and when to write.

There’s a lot of good information in this book and nothing is offered as the be all and end all of writing processes and outcomes. Somers discusses what has worked for him and allows that something different may work for you. The secret is to find out what that is for you, if you haven’t already.

Highly recommended for its advice, counsel, experience and information presented in a lighthearted yet understandable manner. I’ll be holding on to this one to use for reference and advice in the future.

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Book Review – Promote the Dog Sitter by Edward L. Conley

Promote the Dog Sitter cover
Promote the Dog Sitter cover

If you are just starting in Emergency Management, have been doing it for a while, or are just interested in reading about how to lead during a disaster then this book is for you. I wish I had this book when I started working for FEMA in 2004.

Ed Conley lays out in clear and concise words (which is no surprise since he has made his career out of using words wisely), ideas and philosophies how to be the best Emergency Manager you can be in whatever capacity your might be operating. Ed and I were both working in External Affairs for FEMA; he as a Public Information Officer and External Affairs Director and me as a Governmental Affairs Manager and Assistant External Affairs Officer. But the guidelines he lays out in this book will also apply to someone working in Individual Assistance or Public Assistance for FEMA as well as someone serving as a city, county, parish or state Emergency Manager.

Drawing on his years of experience with FEMA, Ed shares relevant and applicable experiences that prove his points. His recollections are both/ educational and entertaining. I especially enjoyed reading about his interactions with several of my former colleagues like Megan Floyd, Ricardo “Zuni” Zuniga, and Barb Sturner, as well as Brian Hvinden, Holly Stephens Jerry DeFelice and so many others that I had the honor and pleasure of working with during my 17 years with the agency.

As I said in my first paragraph; I wish I had this book when I started working for FEMA. I was fortunate and had some excellent mentors, trainers and supervisors such as Susan Pederson, the late Miss Betty Roberson, Sue Loftin and all of the people I mentioned in the previous paragraph who taught me valuable lessons in my Emergency Management career. But I also had some of those people Ed mentions who didn’t embody all the best qualities of an Emergency Manager and his words in this book would have been such a help to a “newbie” like myself to sort out the best from the not so good. So, I say again, this book is for those just starting as well as those farther along in their life as Emergency Managers.

Unsurprisingly, I give this book 5 stars for Ed’s advice, wisdom, encouragement and thoughtful writing on how to lead during disasters.

Get it, read it, live it.

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Book Review – The Black Angel by John Connolly

The Black Angel by John Connolly was one of the dead tree books in my TBR stack that I brought back from Wolf’s Haven to read while I am working remotely in Orlando.

The Author

Connolly, an Irish-born author who splits his time between Dublin and Portland, Maine, has written several different series of books and The Black Angel is part of the 18-book Charlie Parker series.

This book is one that Cindy brought back from her last trip to Ireland for me and strangely enough I had just not gotten around to reading it over the years. When I was gathering up books that I needed to read that were at the cabin, I made sure to bring this one back with me. It is also the fifth book in the series which will come into play during the review.

The Story

Cover of The Black Angel by John ConnollyThe Black Angel centers around private detective Charlie Parker who battles “against the darkness” and in this story the darkness is fallen angels who are searching for one of their own who has been missing since being caught and covered in silver in the midst of transforming from demon to human. The resulting silver statue was hidden by monks who created a map to its hiding place and then split the map into quarters and hid these four pieces in small silver cases some 600 years ago.

Now, three pieces of the map have been located and the searching demons and their followers will stop at nothing in their attempt to locate the final piece of the map. Parker gets involved when the niece of one his associates is killed by the demon Brightwell who thinks that she may have the remaining silver case.

Now Parker and his team are on the case as well and their investigation takes them around the world and to his own backyard.

It is intimated that, unknown to even himself, Parker may also be one of the fallen angels. And, having not read the previous four books in the series, I assume this is why the series is called “Charlie Parker Against the Darkness” as a label.

This story stands on its own, but I wish I had read the prior four titles first. Even with the sufficient references to the past stories within this one, I always prefer to read a series in order, mostly to see the main character’s growth as it happens.

This story is long (532 pages), dense in plot and characters, and with multiple layers that kept me regretting every time I had to stop reading to sleep or work. I like the Parker character and Connolly has made him a person with conflicting issues and a myriad makeup of possible outcomes for situations he faces. He is not a cut and dried, cardboard cutout of a character. The same remains true for many of his associates.

The Recommendation

I highly recommend The Black Angel by John Connolly, but would also recommend reading the series in proper order to obtain the greatest level of satisfaction.

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Bookcrossing Again LogogAlmost 12 years ago I began practicing Bookcrossing for the second time, but over the past 2 years I found myself doing hardly any, for many reasons but mostly because I was doing a LOT of my reading in digital format to keep from traveling around with dead tree books.

But a few months ago, when Cindy and I visited Wolf’s Haven, I packed up a box of dead tree books that I had not yet read and had little to no intention of keeping so that I could bring them back to Orlando, read them, and then get back to having some fun with them by Bookcrossing.

A couple of days ago I finished reading Personal Village by Marvin Thomas. It was a book I picked up several years ago from a bargain table somewhere with every intention of reading, but it (along some others) kept being pushed to the bottom of my TBR stack.

Cover of “Personal Village” by Marvin ThomasToday, I had to go out to two different medical appointments and in between them I had time for a bit of lunch at Shake Shack in Winter Park. I’m salivating now just remembering how good the meal was, lol. But I took the opportunity to Bookcross (can you make it a verb?) “Personal Village” by hiding it in the diaper changing table in the men’s restroom. A few minutes ago I filled out my release notes on it at the Bookcrossing website. With any luck, someone will find it, see the sticker inside that identifies it as a traveling book, make note of the specifically individual ID number, and then log onto Bookcrossing and make note that they found it and, maybe, they will release it again later after they read it.

The farthest I’ve ever been able to track one of my releases was a book I left in an airport in the States that ended up in Greece, but who knows where my release, or yours if you join Bookcrossing, could end up!

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Book Review – The Enemy by Lee Child

The Enemy by Lee ChildSo this will sound like sacrilege, I’m sure, to some but I don’t recall ever hearing about the character Jack Reacher until the year 2012 while working a flood in North Dakota when a former co-worker, Jean Riendeau, was complaining loudly at work that Tom Cruise was going to be portraying Reacher in the first film about the fictional character created by author Lee Child.

I didn’t know anything about Reacher, so Jean explained that the character in the book was 6’5” tall and weighed 230 pounds and she thought it was horrible casting that diminutive Cruise was playing the role.

It piqued my curiosity enough that I looked at the books, saw that there were several in the series, and made a mental note to one day start reading them. Over the last 8 years I’ve reminded myself several times, but there was always something else I wanted to read that kept me putting off the “one day.”

That day came last week.

My Introduction to the Character in the Books

So the first thing I did was look for a list of the books so I could read them in order of publication, thinking that would be the best way to see the growth of the character over the years. But while I found that list I also found a list that pointed out an order that was chronological for the character, who started as an MP in the Army. I decided I’d like to read that order instead of the publishing order and thus ended up beginning my “Reacher read” with “The Enemy” which is the 8th Jack Reacher novel.

As the novel opens, it’s New Year’s Eve 1990. The Berlin Wall had fallen less than 2 months earlier and Reacher is a 29 year old MP in the Army, holding the rank of Major. He’s just been unexpectedly transferred to Fort Bird in North Carolina from Panama where he had been a part of the U.S. invasion that took down Manuel Noriega a few days earlier.

In short order, a high-ranking general is found dead in a seedy hotel nearby that caters to prostitutes and their clients, his wife is also found dead in their home a couple of hundred miles away, and Reacher is on the trail with a young female MP from the base. Their chase takes them all over the North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, DC area, as well as Germany, France, and California before they finally solve the case while on the run from Reacher’s new CO who is treating Reacher as AWOL. Reacher also has to deal with Delta Force soldiers who want to avenge a fallen comrade they think Reacher killed, and the impending and subsequent death of a close relative.

Child helps give his tough, no nonsense character some depth by having him deal with that death I mentioned above, and made (for me, as a newbie to the character) Reacher more sympathetic and gave him a softer center than his tough exterior showed. In other words, a more well-rounded and human character.

The character grows, changes, and suffers loss and setbacks, and finds out a secret about his mother that he could not have imagined, but never really changes his core of doing what is right. I WAS surprised by one of his final actions, but I’ll let you read it (if you haven’t already) and decide for yourself if that was right or wrong.

It took me a couple of chapters to get into Child’s writing style, but by the time I finished the novel I had grown accustomed to it. His bio doesn’t mention any military service, either in his native England or his adopted America, but he seems to have military processes and procedures down pat.

So, What About the Movie Character?

Back to my friend Jean; I saw both of the Jack Reacher movies (2012 and 2016) and not having any background on the character thought Cruise did fine. Maybe his small size made his fight scenes even more incredible than if they had been choreographed for a larger man. I don’t have a huge problem with it, but after reading this novel I would like to see someone who actually is 6’5” and 230 pounds portray the character.

Dwayne “The Rock” JohnsonThe first person that popped into my head was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I mean, he has the size, the weight, and the action-hero fighting ability that makes up a large part of Reacher. And I’m not the only one that thought The Rock would be great as Reacher – it turns out The Rock thought he would too!

During an interview on Instagram last April he related that he had been asked if there was a role he wanted badly only to find out it went to someone else.

“Was there ever a role in Hollywood that I wanted so badly and I didn’t get it and it went to someone else? That answer is yes, that role is Jack Reacher and of course, it went to Tom Cruise.”

Back to the Book

Anyway, putting the movies aside and getting back to the book; I ended up enjoying my first Jack Reacher novel, enough that I will soon pick up the next book in the series to read. If you’ve never tried one of Lee Child’s books in this series, you might want to do the same.

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Book Review – Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski

Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood Becoming Superman”, by J. Michael Straczynski is the writer’s autobiographical story of his childhood and career, constantly backlit by his desire to emulate the greatest superhero of all time; Superman.

Like a lot of children from my generation, which is also his, Straczynski found superhero comics at an early age and, also like me, his favorite was Superman. He would desperately need that example of goodness and right, because his childhood was one of violence, poverty, and sadness visited upon him by his own family; his father in particular.

Without getting into the details that you should read for yourself, suffice it to say that he suffered physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at the hands of his father and unspeakable sexual abuse from his grandmother. Through all of those things over years of his childhood that would have made most children as evil and demented as his family, Straczynski held onto the Man of Steel as the example he would follow to the best of his ability. He vowed to be the opposite of his father and as much like Superman, who was fair and just and kind and stood for right, as he could.

I first became aware of Straczynski when I began watching the science fiction TV show “Babylon 5” in 1993. Strangely enough (and you find out why in this book) it came out at almost the same time as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and for a fan of science fiction like myself, this was a treasure trove of TV viewing. However, although I am a huge Star Trek fan in general, I found myself liking B5 more than I did DS9.

But “Babylon 5” was not Straczynski’s first TV work by any stretch of the imagination. It turns out he was a writer for the animated cartoon show “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” a decade earlier as well as other animated shows and moved on from those to network live action series shows such as “Jake and the Fatman” and “Murder, She Wrote” (neither of which I ever watched aside from a few minutes of Jake one time).

Before becoming a screenwriter, Straczynski was a print journalist for various weeklies in the LA area where he grew up and even wrote a play or two for fun. Writing was something he felt a compulsion to do, like most writers. But once he exhausted all he felt he could do in print journalism he moved to stage, television screenplays, and then…comic books.

The Amazing Spider-Man by J. Michael StraczynskiWhich was where I picked up him again in 2001 when he became the writer for “The Amazing Spider-Man” at Marvel Comics. I liked some of the things he did with the character, but there were more things I didn’t like and so I gave up reading the title. That’s OK, no one is going to agree with everything a writer does to a character they have been reading since they were 7 or 8 years old.

He also was the writer chosen by Marvel to bring back “The Mighty Thor” in the comic books. Much of what he did in the book was also used in the first Thor movie. And best of all, he was an extra on the movie. Remember the first guy that drives up to the crater where Thor’s hammer has landed, gets out of his pickup truck, goes down into the crater, and tries to lift the hammer? Yep, that was J. Michael Straczynski.

Superman: Earth One Vol. 1 by J. Michael StraczynskiThe next time I came across Straczynski was in 2010 when he had been hired to write 3 graphic novels of my favorite character and his; Superman. Titled “Superman: Earth One” he did a few different things with the character’s origin and arrival in Metropolis, but I looked at them as taking place on a slightly different earth and he did do some fun things that I enjoyed.

What was even more interesting was after I finished this book the other night I went back and re-read all three volumes of “Superman: Earth One” and I was amazed and amused to see how he had taken events from his own life and woven them into the comic book story, such as meeting a vivacious redhead (who sort acted as a stand in for Lana Lang, in my opinion) and even gave Clark a kitten/cat much like a kitten Straczynski literally rescued from a drain pipe that lived with him for many years.

I don’t mean to give you the impression that this man was perfect in any way. He made some mistakes and some bad decisions, but we all do. Here is the main truth of this autobiography; always strive to be the best you can be and stand for what is right. My end thought on completing the book was this: Straczynski has a will of iron. He determined that he would never be like his father and in fact would be the complete opposite of his father. He would hold Superman as his example and would do all he could to emulate those attributes of truth and justice and standing for the humanity of mankind.

There is much, much more to his story than what I have covered here. Finding out the truth about his father, a million-dollar movie deal and so much more.

One last thing; That front book cover photo of a Superman costume hanging in a closet is not just wishful thinking. Straczynski claims to have a tailor-made to his body exact re-creation of the Superman suit that George Reeves wore in “The Adventures of Superman” TV show from the 50’s and 60’s hanging in his clothes closet. He also claims he’s never worn it, but c’mon! I think this might be one time he is fudging it just a bit. How could you have THAT in your closet and NOT wear it at least once?? I know I would! Lol!

This is an inspiring book to read whether you are familiar with J. Michael Straczynski and his work or not, but I admit I think I enjoyed it more because I’ve seen some of his work and this book gives you that all important “behind the scenes” peek that always excites me.

I highly recommend “Becoming Superman” as an excellent book to read.

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Book Review – Redshirts by John Scalzi

Cover of “Redshirts” b John ScalziAnyone who is a fan, even just in passing, of Star Trek: The Original Series, knows what is being referenced in the title of this book, ”Redshirts” by John Scalzi.

For those who do not; on almost every episode there would be at least one poor security staff member (from the Operations Division which also included engineering, communications, administration, and yeomen) who died, usually on away missions, during an episode.

When “Redshirts” was first published about 8 years ago I thought about buying it to read because I usually enjoy anything referencing ST:TOS. But, for whatever reasons, I did not.

Hugo Award Winner 2013

Even when it won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel, I still did not buy it to read.

Hugo Awards logo

Through the intervening years I thought about buying it to read, but ultimately did not.

Then, last week. offered the ebook as a free download and I thought, “Well, now is the time”, lol.


I truly wish I had better things to say about this book. Over the years I’ve heard and read good reviews, so I expected a lot. Maybe that’s part of the problem, but I’m not so sure that it is.

The first half of the book was enjoyable and I had high hopes that this would be a story I would remember fondly through the years. Some of the dialogue was…boring and repetitive in nature, but the twist of a “Narrative” being responsible for events on Intrepid (their version of the Enterprise) was interesting. Their equivalent of the red shirts becoming aware that at least one of their number on an away team will die, and their subsequent efforts to avoid being chosen to go, drive a lot of the humor during the early portions of the story.

But things went downhill in the second half of the story and especially, to me, in the three Codas that followed. I get that Scalzi was trying to inject satire into the use of nonsensical plot points to explain away poorly written screenplays, but it just did not resonate with me. I found it confusing and disappointing.

Your mileage may vary.

This is the only work by Scalzi that I’ve read, and based on my experience with “Redshirts” it may be the last. I’ve read posts by others praising some of his following works, but this one just left a bad taste in my mouth and, since I had heard good things about “Redshirts” that did not line up with my reading, I have a real reluctance to take that chance with him again.

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Book Review – Armada by Ernest Cline

When I went to BookPeople a couple of weeks ago for the reading/book signing of “The Oracle Year” by Charles Soule,  I also picked up a copy of a signed edition of “Armada” by Ernest Cline. I pretty much purchase dead tree books for only two reasons these days:

  1. I love the book and/or author so much (for example, Neil Gaiman) that I want the hardback version on my bookshelves.
  2. I’ve either had the author sign the book or the bookstore has signed editions so I can add it to my bookshelves.

Armada by Ernest Cline“Armada” fell into the number 2 category. Other than one review from a friend of mine shortly after it was published almost 3 years ago (and that didn’t matter because I couldn’t remember if it was a good review or a bad review), I hadn’t seen any other reviews on the book and my first thought was, “Well, it’s the same author who wrote “Ready Player One” so it’s probably a good read.”

When I was checking out, the clerk asked me if I’d seen the movie. We both quickly figured out he was referencing Cline’s first book “Ready Player One” and had a good laugh. I told him that reading the inside flap description made “Armada” sound like another “The Last Starfighter” and he said, “You’d be pretty close in getting that impression.”

So, a few days ago I had the time to start reading “Armada”  and finished it last night.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; “Armada” is indeed another story with constant references to pop culture from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. If you liked “Ready Player One” because of those references, then you should LOVE “Armada” all to pieces. It felt like there were double or triple the pop culture references, mostly under the umbrella of sci-fi, (video games, movies, TV shows, etc.) but also a lot of music and even commercial jingles. I enjoy those references as much as most people who lived through them, but they really almost got to be too heavy-handed in their use in this story.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have not read the book and intend to, so I’ll try to keep this as generic as possible, but you already have an idea from “The Last Starfighter” comparison above.

And I’ll say from the beginning; I wanted to like this book. I really, really enjoyed “Ready Player One”, so I was hoping that “Armada” would be just as good, if not better than “Ready Player One.” I mean, there’s always that question when you have such a hit like “Ready Player One” as your first book,  “Will the author’s sophomore book be as good as their freshman offering?”

In this case, close, but no cigar.

Zach Lightman is a high school senior about to graduate and contemplating life after school. He’s a video playing kind of nerd who works in a video game store after school and on weekends and lives with his widowed mom. His father died in a sewage plant accident when Zach was less than a year old. His two best friends are gamers too, but they’re not as good as Zach.

It turns out that all the top video games on the market are just a way for Big Brother to find out who their best defenders might be because aliens are coming to destroy the world. Turns out his boss at the video game store is not who Zach thinks he is; his dad may or may not have really died in the shit plant accident; and he meets a super smart beautiful girl his age who’s being recruited as well.

You could probably write the rest of this book yourself. Right down to the schmaltzy ending.

I think the most disappointing thing was that this felt like a “write by the numbers” story. The characters were cardboard, plucked from central casting, given a standard background and then placed in a formulaic “80’s coming of age saving the world tale” that was so easy to predict it lost any of its suspense. I’ve often said there’s nothing wrong with a formulaic story if it’s handled properly. If you give the characters lives that are as real as possible and work the story in such a way that plotting is not as obvious as one plus one equals two, then you craft a story that makes it stand out from the formula.

“Armada” is a perfectly readable and serviceable story, but it is not even close to being as good as “Ready Player One.” I felt like Cline just relied on the standard tropes for this kind of story and put no effort into making it stand out. It was disappointing.

I’m sure Cline has another great book in him, but it’s not this one.

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Book Review – The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

The Oracle Year coverA couple of months ago I was reading about a new book coming out titled “The Oracle Year” by Charles Soule (the “e” is silent) and what caught my attention in the review was that the writer was also a writer for comic books such as “Daredevil”, “She-Hulk” and others. I haven’t really read any new comics in the past decade, at least, so I haven’t read any of his comic book work but I usually enjoy novels written by comic book writers. I love Neil Gaiman and have been impressed by Peter David, Steve Englehart, and others, so I made a mental note to look into “The Oracle Year” when it was published.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I was looking over the list of authors coming to Book People bookstore here in Austin to do readings and signings, and there was the note that Charles Soule would be there on Wednesday evening, April 25th to read and sign his new book, which had recently hit the shelves. I knew I would be there as well.

Charles Soule, author of The Oracle Year, reading and signing at Book People in Austin, TexasThere were only about 12-14 people present, so after Mr. Soule read the second chapter of his book (I had already read up through Chapter 7 while waiting for the event to begin), it was good to hear that the way I “heard” the characters speaking and interacting in my head was exactly how the author read them, with the same inflections and tones. Afterward, we asked questions and then the book signing began.

“The Oracle Year” centers around Will Dando (The Oracle) who awakens one morning from a dream with 108 specific predictions in his head of things that will happen in the future. To protect his anonymity, he sets up a super-secure website with the help of The Florida Ladies (don’t ask, just read the book) and he and his investment banker friend Hamza selectively release a few of the predictions, netting them billions of dollars from corporations looking for any advantage in their business forecast models.

Autographed page of The Oracle YearBut Will is not about the money at all. He’s about social good and looking out for the other guy. He meets a beautiful reporter at an event that he knows will cause some people to die, hoping that his call to the police and perhaps even his anonymous presence will change the prediction, but it doesn’t. In fact, Will soon discovers, with religious leaders calling him the AntiChrist and his own government leaving no stone unturned in trying to discover his identity, that the predictions work together for some reason. A reason that seems to be a nefarious one. The book leads us around the world with action, thrills, and a satisfying ending to such a complicated tale.

The characters work well, which I would expect because comic book characterization is important and Charles Soule’s many admirers attest to his ability to create believable characters. The story and plot hold up well and, frankly, longer than I expected. It was a page-turner of a pleasant read and I have no doubt that Charles Soule’s next novel will be even better.

I recommend “The Oracle Year” for a good read.

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Happy Tolkien Reading Day 2018

J.R.R. TolkienToday is Tolkien Reading Day and the theme of Tolkien Reading Day 2018 is Home and Hearth: the many ways of being a Hobbit.

I first fell in love with Tolkien’s work when a classmate in the 10th grade sold me his paperback trilogy of “Lord of the Rings” for $5 so he would have some beer money. I devoured those three books in about 10 days and bought “The Hobbit” at a newsstand near my high school shortly after that.

Several years later I bought the hardback version of The Silmarillion, but I could never get past the first few pages. I tried again a few years after that with the same result. I wish I could have made my way through this book because I loved his way with words and languages, but I count myself sadly incapable of rising to the intellect needed to understand and enjoy that work.

Here’s a little bit I wrote about Tolkien on his birthday a few years back.

Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings parody of the J. R. R. Tolkien classicI never read any of Tolkien’s other works; I did, however, read Harvard Lampoon’s “Bored of the Rings” parody and I have re-read “Lord of the Rings” several times over the years since I first read it in the 10th grade, and loved it every time, so I hope that counts for something, lol.

And why is it celebrated on THIS day? Well, you’ll have to read the link to find out.

Happy Tolkien Reading Day 2018!

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It’s “Deep-Seated” Not “Deep-Seeded”

Deep-seated versus deep-seededI glanced up from my laptop screen to look at one of the TV screens we keep on all the time in our External Affairs office to monitor news around the country. On the screen, the closed captioning underneath the image indicated that someone had said something “was deep-seeded” and I fought the urge to jump out of my chair and rush the TV set because it’s “deep-seated” not “deep-seeded.”

The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the TV is mounted 8 feet in the air on the wall. Lucky TV!

But it wasn’t really the TV’s fault, of course. It was whoever was transcribing the spoken words for the closed captioning. In fact, today’s occurrence is but the latest of many, many such malapropisms creeping into closed captioning. So many that I am wondering if transcribing for closed captioning is now being done by a computer that “hears” the speaker’s words and spells out the closest approximation it can come up with, instead of a person who would understand the subtleties of spoken language and type the correct words or phrase within its context.

It’s interesting that this happened today because, coincidentally,  3 years ago today I blogged about “20 Phrases You’ve Likely Misused” and in the article I was citing was the misused phrase, “deep-seeded” so it felt like deja vu.

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Do You Read Books?

Open books on tableAs an avid and voracious reader this statistic, from the Pew Research Center, that 26% of American adults have not read even a part of a book in the past year just blows my mind. Are you part of the 26%, or the 74%? Do you read books?

I DO know people who don’t typically read books. One of my best friends; I’ve never seen him with a book in his hands, or tell me about a book he has read. I’ve gifted him a couple of books and he’s never indicated if he has read them or not. I know he reads. He reads newspapers, magazines, online articles and such. But I can’t recall ever seeing or knowing about him reading a book.

My late father quit school after the 8th grade and though he was not illiterate by any means, reading was difficult for him. It may have had more to do with his eyesight than anything else and by the time he was old enough to obtain the kind of glasses he needed to see clearly, he was no longer in school being taught how to read. When I was 2 to 4 years old I would climb up into his lap at the breakfast table (especially on Sunday mornings) and he would read the comic strips to me. Around the time I was 4 to 5 he stopped and my mom told me later in life it was because I was reading the comic strips faster than he was and correcting him when he misread or mispronounced a word. It embarrassed him. I have always regretted that, though of course at the time in my young mind I was just showing my father how good I was doing and looking for his praise. It was never, ever meant to embarrass him. Throughout his life I saw him read newspapers and magazines, but I can’t recall ever seeing him read a book.

The article goes on to state that science seems to support the finding that reading books is good for you on several levels. Such as:

Book MemeReading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative – Getting into the minds of other people through stories about them makes it possible for you to broaden your own mind and thought processes and realize that there are things you never considered that are indeed possible.

People who read books live longer – I like that scientific conclusion! And the reasons seem valid.

Reading 50 books a year is something you can actually accomplish – One of my favorite things about Goodreads is the annual reading challenge. You take part in it by setting a goal of how many books you want to read in the upcoming year and then track them throughout the year. This was something I had never done before; track the number of books I read. Since taking part in this for the past 5 full years (2011 was a partial year because I started late in the year and of course, 2018 is not complete yet) my most prodigious year was 2014 when I read 58 books. My least was in 2012 when I read 22 books. Thus far this year I have read 14 books. All of that to say I agree that you CAN read a book a week if you wish, but even if you read a book a month you’ve made quite an accomplishment.

Successful people are book readers – For this, I would say it depends on your definition of success. I do like to see what people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Barack Obama are reading and recommending, but I also search for the types of books that I feel will touch me where I am in my life right now and where I want to go in the future. Personal success is just as, if not more, important than what the world considers successful.

So, what is the secret to getting adults to read books? I’m not a professional in this field by any means, but most likely it is to ignite that love of reading in them when they are children. Especially if you can find WHAT they like reading about so that they WANT to read. I don’t think you can force a child (or adult) to read, especially if they have some condition (like dyslexia) that makes it incredibly hard, but if you can find something that they want to read about, I think you have a better chance of sparking a love for reading in general.

Children reading books

Are you part of the 26%, or the 74%? Do you read books?

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Proofreading Day

"Keep Clam and ProofreadWho knew, but yes, there is a Proofreading Day that is observed on March 8th and has been since 2011.

“In 2011, Judy Beaver created Proofreading Day in remembrance of her mother, Flo. On her website, Judy relates that her mother loved to correct people. She thought by creating the day on her mother’s birthday it would be a fun way to remember her, and help people take more time to proofread their work!”

I’ve covered this subject before on this blog with this post, this post, and this post especially. You can see it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

I’m usually pretty good at spotting errors in things I’m reading unless I’m speedreading to finish something quickly. I’ve been called a perfectionist, a grammar troll, and a few things that aren’t anywhere near as nice as those two labels. The things is, I don’t really try to do so most of the time; these things just jump out at me.

Proofreading my own writing is “a whole ‘nother story” as one of my friends used to say. And it’s for the same reason that proofreading your own writing is a bad idea for anyone; because your mind fills in words or meanings that failed to come out through your fingers.

I don’t have the luxury of hiring a proofreader for any of my blog writing so I employ some tricks based on spellcheck and grammar software and some such as reading my words backwards to do my best to reduce the errors that might creep in. Still, sometimes it happens because we’re all human.

But if I were publishing something that people were paying for, like a newspaper, magazine, or book, I would be damn sure to have at least one other set of eyeballs read through my words and correct any errors that I may have made.

Happy Proofreading Day, everyone!

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Book Review – Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci Book Cover“Because the soup is getting cold.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Back in November of last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Texas Book Festival here in Austin, Texas for the first time. I was especially excited to get to be there because Walter Isaacson was present and was signing his books. I picked up his biography of Leonardo da Vinci (as well as his Steve Jobs biography) and he graciously autographed both for me. It took me until February to work my way through my TBR stack to his da Vinci bio and it was well worth the wait.

I was especially interested in the da Vinci biography because I have always admired his artistic skill, his scientific mind, and the incredible inventiveness of his life. The man took old ideas and reimagined them into something even better and also created completely new ideas, some of which were too far ahead of their time to be possible in his lifetime.

But another reason I was very excited to read the da Vinci biography was because back in May of 2007, I had the immense pleasure of visiting the town of Amboise in the Loire Valley of France and the Château du Clos Lucé, just down the road from the King’s palace, where Leonardo spent the final three years of his life. I count it as one of the highest experiences of my life that I was able to walk through the same halls of the Château du Clos Lucé that da Vinci walked, tour through his workrooms, his living quarters, and his bedroom where he drew his last breath, surrounded by some of his incredible paintings and writings.

Château du Clos LucéI wish that they had allowed photos inside the Château du Clos Lucé, but sadly they did not. You could only take photos outside and on the grounds, which are beautiful, but you would have been so amazed to see the things inside. Paintings and sketches in various stages of completion, inventions, notebooks using his “mirror handwriting”, the view from his bedroom of the palace (which had an underground tunnel so that the King could come to Clos Lucé unseen, or so Leonardo could do the same going to the palace). The bed where he passed away.

Isaacson’s biography is absolutely incredible on multiple levels. Not only does he tell the story of the life of Leonardo da Vinci, but he deeply explores the thoughts, relationships, skill, and talent of the man. Isaacson is a writer and journalist, as well as a professor of history at Tulane University. To read Leonardo’s biography, you might be inclined to believe that Isaacson is also a university art professor. He delves deeply into the artistic style of da Vinci (and how that changed and improved over the years), and incredibly explains the techniques the master employs to achieve the effects that he does in his sketches and paintings. Isaacson makes you appreciate all the more the wonderful artistic works of da Vinci by explaining the technical mechanics that enhanced the talent.

In addition, Isaacson goes into great detail about da Vinci’s engineering and scientific thought processes, showing how he imagined the way things should work and then proving or disproving those imaginations through observation, experimentation, and building scale models of his inventions to see how they would actually work in practice.

The last writing we have from Leonardo is a page in his notebook where he is working out a puzzle involving rectangles within triangles. Abruptly he stops writing his observations with the words “et cetera” followed by these words, in his distinct mirror script, explaining why he is putting down his pen. “Because,” he writes, “the soup is getting cold.”

The tomb where Leonardo da Vinci was interred at Château du Clos Lucé

On May 2, 1519, three weeks after he turned 67, Leonardo da Vinci passed away in his bed at Clos Lucé. There is a painting done afterward called “The Death of Leonardo” that shows the King cradling the head of this genius of a man, but historians are divided on whether that actually happened or not.

At 525 pages, Isaacson’s book is a hefty read, but not one word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter is wasted. And while it contains all the facts of da Vinci’s art, engineering and science accomplishments, he also lays out the kind of life Leonardo lived. How he thought, what his reasonings were, and why he took the actions that he did at different phases of his life.

If you want to examine the life and work of one of the greatest thinkers and artists of our time, the true Renaissance Man, then Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci is the book you should read.

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