2012 May 13
Arrived at the beach today and took two hundred pictures. I took HDR long shots, impromptu shots, running blurred shots, cool depth-of-field work, great light and shadow compositions, and none of them turned out worth anything.
Then I took this shot.
It’s interesting that the pictures you think might be nice are not the ones that necessarily work out.
When I was reading Origins (Spinward Fringe) it reminded me that sometimes you find yourself reading a book that you dislike, then hate, then kinda like, then like a lot.
This was my experience with this book.
It’s a story about a guy who has a dead-end job at a space station. He likes playing video games, er, combat simulations, and he’s hacked into the defense system’s combat simulation programs and, with his friends, are beating all the professionals at space combat simulations. He gets caught, and things get interesting from there on.
First, this was LaLonde’s first effort, and I believe it was written as a serial, in other words, in little pieces published on the web. So it doesn’t read, and shouldn’t be judged, like other books. For instance, I’m not really sure LaLonde had any idea whatsoever where he was going with his characters or his plot.
To a guy used to reading “pro” fiction, this got really annoying! At the beginning, there were parts where one of the characters gave long speeches. There was a lot of dialog. “Get on with it!” I wanted to yell at the author, and I suppose his fans did exactly that, because a little later we’re deep into the action. Then there was too much action, then back to too much dialog.
You get the picture.
I hated that. I mean really. Got under my skin. But before you think I am not recommending the book, let me tell you why I like it.
First, it was free. As in zilcho. Bupkis. $0.00 Just clicked on the little button on Amazon and there it was on my Kindle. Can’t beat that.
Second, it had a lot of great reviews. People really loved the guy. I figured it was worth a shot.
But what happened about 3/4ths of the way through the novel was that I started identifying with the author. Instead of a book series, to me this became something more like an extended series of fictional blogs — I got to watch his style improve, his characters deepen, and the plot thicken. By the end, hey, the guy was almost a pretty good author. I’ve always enjoyed good space opera from time-to-time, but watching not only the storyline grow but the author get better too? That was pretty cool.
So I ordered the next five books, which are $2.99 each. Something tells me Amazon is nobody’s fool!
If you like space opera, want a fun little diversion with space combat, adventure, a little bit of all the sci-fi you’ve seen in your life, and making friends with a new author? Origins (Spinward Side) is a pretty good place to start.
I got Divine Justice as a birthday present. I don’t think I’ve ever read Baldacci before, so I was looking forward to the experience. After all, he was lauded on the cover as a “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author!”
After finishing it, I have very mixed feelings about the book.
First, I liked that it was set in Virginia, seeing as how I live here. All the places struck chords with me and the color and background of the book was wonderful to absorb. Baldacci knows how to write quick portraits of people and places around the state.
I also liked the fact that the book was a thriller. There’s nothing like the fast turns and quick plot changes in a good thriller to keep you reading. And this book really kept be reading! Good job.
However the book itself — and I’m not sure exactly how to say this — was trivial. It was a great airplane or beach book because little or no thinking on the reader’s part was required at all. Parts of the book reminded me of a Scooby Do episode, complete with the characters driving around in a van. The bad guys were comically bad and the good guys were always saving orphans from drowning. It was a bit trite and one-dimensional.
But pop fiction is like that. And if I sighed several times at the lameness of the depth, the book did it’s job: it kept me reading it. I managed to finish in just a day or two. Reading books like this is a great way to put your brain in neutral for a spell.
The only other bad part was that this was book #3 in a series about some group called “The Camel Club”. Perhaps if I had read the earlier books this one would have seemed more deep. I don’t know. What I do know is that Baldacci was able to pull me along even though I hadn’t read any of the other books.
The plot is basically a cat-and-mouse, chase book wrapped around a murder mystery. I won’t go into details — after all, the fun part is reading it yourself — but it delivers on the action, suspense, and thrills.
I might pick up another Camel Club book — I think Baldacci has already written another. Reading Divine Justice reminded me that there’s nothing like a nice summer book to help you relax.
Wartime is a history book unlike any other history book I’ve read. It’s about World War II, but it’s not about battles, or strategies, or famous generals, or heroic or tragic narratives. Instead it’s about how things were: how people acted, what their opinions were, what they read and what they sang. It’s a “social history” — an overview of the lives that soldiers and civilians lived. In this way I found it a much more personally meaningful book than many of these other types of books.
Fussell covers every topic imaginable. Things like condom usage and sex, drinking, popular magazines, rationing, listening to the radio, the horrors of combat. Yes, at times he does get a bit tedious: he seemed to go on and on at length about the WWII-era magazine “Horizons”, and he (to me at least) also seems to be a bit of a snob.
My opinion of the overall tone at times was this: old cranky academic surveying the social landscape of the war.
But for those flaws, it still was a very good book. It was filled with great anecdotes and pieces of trivia. Many times I got to read how people lived through it in their own words. For the first time I started to feel that I knew what it was like to have lived through the war, instead of just being able to recount various stories about the conflict.
More importantly, it allowed me a better view of some of the things people complain about today, like the allied fire-bombing of Dresden or the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. It’s been more than 70 years, and all of the people who participated in these events are now gone. If we are to understand the reasons for the things they did, we need to read more books like Wartime.
So if you have a bit of patience, this is a book that will make you think about important things. The Second World War was an incredible event that left lasting scars on humanity. Wartime is highly recommended.
A year ago, I bought a Garrity Lower Lite from Amazon. I figured what the heck? Might be fun to have a flashlight that doesn’t require batteries. We could always use it in an emergency and we wouldn’t have to worry about keeping fresh batteries close to it.
After it arrived and I got it out of the packing, I had a bit of a nerd moment. You see, the light feels strangely like a Star Trek Type II phaser. Not exactly, but enough that it made me want to walk around the house saying “engage” a bit.
That wasn’t the only surprise. I also found that the light was very bright for a flashlight. LED technology has come a long way in a few years. The light has a low and high setting, and it’s way too bright to shine into somebody’s eyes (although it does have a weird, flat, blue color).
And what do you know? I could charge up the light in just a few seconds for most of the things I needed a flashlight to do. It wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, it was kind of fun turning the crank and hearing the dynamo wind up.
So the Garrity Power Lite became my new favorite flashlight. I use it all the time. A couple of months ago, I bought several more. We’re throwing out most of our old lights and just going with the Garrity. Sometimes when you do the green, environmental thing you can actually get something you enjoy more and it saves you money! Goodbye flashlight batteries!
I’d recommend the Garrity Power Lite to just about anyone. If you have a problem using cranks, then at least buy some other LED flashlight. They’re a much better product than all that older stuff.
Make it so.
This was the first Jack Ketchum book I ever read, and wow, did it make an impression.
Since then I’ve read a few Ketchum books. He has a talent for gore and disgust. By way of analogy, I love watching “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” where great comedians ad-lib various funny situations. But over time I’ve found that if they can’t make you laugh because it’s funny, they’ll just do something that embarrasses you. Laughing because you’re embarrassed to them is just the same as laughing because you think something is funny. It’s kind of a cheap trick (but one many comedians use, and to great effect).
Likewise, some horror writers try to disgust you instead of scaring you. They try to think of the most awful and insensate acts of evil, then play them out for you on the page. Ketchum to me is one of these guys. That’s not saying he’s a bad writer, just that his style is like that. If you like that thing, you’ll probabaly like all of his books.
But every now and then the writer’s style and the material move together such that the writer’s character and the character of the story merge. In The Girl Next Door, this is what happens. It’s a story about a typical suburban neighborhood around 1958. Ketchum does a great job of describing this world. It made me feel like I grew up in the 50s. Due to an accident, a couple of girls move in with the family next door. At this point the story slowly drifts from being a slice-of-life story to something much, much darker. It becomes a meditation on how people treat each other, especially how people treat outsiders. The Other. Basing it on a true story only adds to the punch.
I won’t go into details. I don’t want to, even if you’ll never read the book. I find them disturbing to recall. The entire book moves from a warm, lighthearted suburban drama to a dark tale of vile horror. In short, it was a great book! Left me thinking about it a month later, and that’s always a sign of a good read. Many of the books I read and review here I have to review right after I read them, otherwise I forget a lot. Not The Girl Next Door — it stays with you a long, long time after you’ve finished.