Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Haunted by James Herbert

Haunted, James Herbert. New York: Jove Books, 1990. paperback, 338 pps.

James Herbert is an English writer apparently of some fame. Haunted is the first book by him that I've ever read.

David Ash is a skeptic of the supernatural who investigates paranormal claims for a society. The society employs psychic mediums but is not interested in furthering the cause of charlatans who give the genuine mediums "a bad name." Some of the claims of hauntings or ghosties are falsified but some others aren't. 

David is hired to investigate a ghostie at the Edbrook Manor. It is a tragic story that he finds there-- three young siblings had been left to the care of an old auntie after their parents died in a horrific car crash in France-- along with a terrifying dog and lots of dust and unkempt grounds.

Things happen. David drinks a bit to take the edge off of his nerves. There is an attractive young woman of course. And two past stories of investigations included within the pages of this novel.

To be fair, I know a bit about cold readings and how to fake psychic phenomenon. Even so, the story drew me in until the end.

sapphoq reviews says: Although the descriptions of the places in Haunted were a bit sparser than I like, the characters were well-developed and the whole book was eerie. I like that in a book. For a mature audience who are able to separate fantasy from reality and who want a good English horror, highly recommended.

"Free Smart Phone or Tablet from Sprint" Offer

I had occasion to contact the Sprint 800 number recently. While waiting for a customer service rep, a recording advised me that "You are eligible for a free smart phone or tablet" and to ask about it after my business was concluded.

A customer service rep answered my call.
My business was concluded.
I asked.
I was placed on hold.

Someone else-- with a thick accent-- picked up my call. The tablet was indeed free and she would be happy to write down my address. I had to ASK about how this would affect the cell phone bill. I was told something like the "easy payment no contract plan for data" was ten dollars a month. Did the tablet hook up to wifi? I asked. Well, yes. But I would still be required to pay the ten bucks a month for data. [There are other legal ways to do this]. 

"Then the tablet is not really free," I postulated.
The accented voice informed me that the tablet worth three hundred dollars was indeed free but in order to use it, I had to [my words here] cough up an extra ten bucks a month for "data."

If I wanted the smart phone instead, the same extra ten bucks a month for "data" would apply.

"I understand what you are saying," the voice told me, continuing to insist that either item was free, as long as [my words] was willing to give them ten more bucks a month.

I declined the offer.

sapphoq reviews says: A free tablet is not really "free" if I am required to pay for "data." Free ought to mean free with no strings. Free with no added charges. Free for my use with a dongle or off-line or as fodder for a campfire if I wish to. Free to give away. Obviously, the word free has been corrupted. Bad enough that most of the public telephones and telephone booths have gone by the wayside. Bad enough that cell phones have become almost necessary. Bad enough that some number of people cannot stand to be disconnected from their wireless communication devices for the length of a meeting or a movie.
So no thanks, Sprint. Not interested.
And no thanks to any cell phone company with the same come-on. 
It may not meet the criterion for false advertising. But it ought to.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. e-book, 330 pps.

One of Sir Terry Pratchett Discworld novels had a Death character who even had a granddaughter! I love all of his books. The notion of becoming Death is one that tickles my imagination. Christopher Moore has a novel called A Dirty Job which I have just finished reading yesterday.

     "I have been chosen, so don't fuck with me."
                                                             ~Charlie Asher, page 93

Charlie Asher had a run-in as his wife died but his newborn daughter lived. This set of events introduced him to single parenting. He and his daughter live upstairs in the apartment building in San Francisco. The storefront on the first floor is his shop.

San Francisco is a wonderful place. It was the perfect setting for A Dirty Job. I appreciated that very much. Visiting places in literature where I've been in actual life is pretty cool. 

Charlie Asher wasn't planning to become a death merchant, but like any dirty job, someone has to do it.

sapphoq reviews says: Christopher Moore has a delicious sense of humor that I have enjoyed in the other books of his that I've read. Once again, I found myself laughing out loud as I read this one. A Dirty Job has so much going for it in terms of excellence. This one left me guffawing. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel by Jonathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel, Jonathan Evison. Chapel Hill NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013. e-book, 358 pps. including preview of another Jonathan Evison novel.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving tells a [fictional] story about a man whose marriage is ending. Ben Benjamin suffers from depressive thoughts, mainly concerned with his lack of achievement and lack of success in his life. Down on his luck, he takes a course in professional caregiving. He is hired by Trev, a late adolescent suffering from Duchenne's [Muscular] Dystrophy. Trev is in the later stages and running out of time.

At first, Ben and Trev spend their time in Trev's home that he shares with his mother and then they branch out to trips to the mall and stuff. There is a sameness to Trev's routine, even when he is out. It is this sameness that drives Ben a bit bonkers at times.

Ben Benjamin and Trev go on a road trip. Along the way, they meet up several other people and a few of them are given rides in the specially equipped van. There are some funny things that happen along the way at various tourist traps, bars, and motels. Nothing and no one remains the same.

sapphoq reviews says: I enjoyed this book. I could relate to the job that Ben had as well as the opportunity to travel with someone in his care. Recommended. 

The Frugal Survivalist Disaster Preparations Under $500 by James Dakin

The Frugal Survivalist Disaster Preparations Under $500, James Dakin. self-published, 2006, 2013. e-book, 119 pps.

sapphoq reviews says: Unlike some shorter books dealing with how-tos, there is no evidence that James Dakin copied the ideas of others in his book The Frugal Survivalist Disaster Preparations Under $500. This alone is cause to recommend this free [at the time of my purchase] e-book. For those who are just getting into emergency prep on limited budgets, highly endorsed and recommended.

Python for Kids by Jason Briggs

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming, Jason Briggs. San Francisco CAL.: No Starch Press, 2012.  e-book, 953 pps.

I love No Starch Press. I haven't met a book from No Starch that I didn't absolutely love. And I love Python the programming language too. So when I saw Python for Kids, it was practically a given that I would purchase it. Coding is fun and so is this book.

The first chapter of Python for Kids gives easy to follow instructions for installing Python onto one's computer. There are distinct advantages to coding with Python. It comes with a full library. It is user-friendly. It makes sense.

The rest of the book is devoted to actually using Python [and some nifty exercises at the end of each chapter], vocabulary, and then creating two games with Python.  There is also a companion website called for those who want more.

sapphoq reviews says: Jason Briggs did a fine job with Python for Kids. All instructions and concepts were easy to follow. This one is a winner! If you don't know how to code, you really ought to learn at least one language. This book comes with the highest recommendation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Crap Taxidermy by Kat Su

Crap Taxidermy, Kat Su. Berkeley CAL.: Ten-Speed Press, 2014. small picture book, 95 pps.

I have a category of books reserved for days when I need to laugh. Crap Taxidermy is one that belongs in that particular collection. This small book is packed with bad examples of taxidermy from places all over the world. Some of the featured places are both Koreas, Palestine, and Germany. Some of the stuffed dead animals have pasted eyes instead of the glassy eyeballs, goofy expressions, or really bad poses. And there are some morphs too, animals that appear to be combinations. 

sapphoq reviews says: I did not view any large game animals or animals hunted for the sake of weird trophies hanging on the wall in Crap Taxidermy. Those who especially sensitive to viewing examples of animals who have died regardless of the circumstances of their deaths would do well to stay away. So too any vegans or other non-meat eaters who are against this sort of thing. The bonus instructions for how to stuff a mouse were accurate. [I did that once for a demonstration in some sort of field days/career thingy]. Highly recommended for the rest of us. 

Politics and Pasta by Vincent Buddy Cianci and David Fisher

Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale, Vincent Buddy Cianci and David Fisher. New York: St. Martin's Press/ Thomas Dunn Books, 2011. e-book, 314 pps.

After reading The Prince of Providence, I didn't think I would like Politics and Pasta but I actually did. The latter tells the same story as the former but with a different emphasis. Sometimes people really do go to prison who don't deserve to be there.

I wasn't on the jury. I had never even heard of Buddy Cianci-- an ex-mayor of Providence, Rhode Island-- before reading this pair of books. I have been to the outskirts of Providence but not downcity. I don't know what evidence the jury heard but evidently the prosecution did enough of its job so that Buddy did wind up in the fed pen at Fort Dix [N.J.] for time just shy under five years. The evidence must have been compelling enough for one charge to stick.

On the other hand, having read both books, I am not prepared to give Buddy a pass on his temper or his tumultous marital life. It was difficult for me to believe that "everyone lied" about whatever happened during the three hours or so that a fellow claimed to be too afraid to leave. At the same time, the claims that money wrapped in tin foil being passed around in the open were difficult for me to believe.

Would I myself want to be an intimate of Buddy Cianci? Sleep in his bed? Share his daily life? No. Did he belong in prison or were his outbursts [which he denies in his book] related to some untreated medical foe or both? I really cannot say, nor am I qualified to.

The two books shared some material yet the point of view could not have been more different.

sapphoq reviews says: David Fisher did an excellent job helping Buddy Cianci get his version of the events out. The writing came across as folksy and friendly. Although I could not reconcile the two histories, I think both The Prince of Providence [reviewed before this book] and Politics and Pasta are worthy of reading.  I would have liked to have heard more about Buddy's incarceration but that may very well be my personal preference. While I don't excuse personal violence inflicted upon others in the form of threats and explosions, I do recommend Politics and Pasta.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prince of Providence by Mike Stanton

The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, America's Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds, Mike Stanton. Toronto: Random House, 2002, 2003. e-book, 470 pps.

I have never run into Buddy Cianci, the subject of The Prince of Providence and a former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. Vincent Buddy Cianci Jr. grew up in an Italian family in the Italian section of Providence. He went to law school and at some point ran for mayor on an anti-corruption ticket as a Republican. He was mayor several times and then once more. There was an extensive investigation of corruption and bad things happened.

I have only been to Providence twice and both times the trip was really to the outskirts. Once I went with friends to a dog show. That was pretty neat. I got to hang out with a retired champion. The next day we went to a huge hardware store. That was also pretty neat. But I haven't really been to Providence proper or to any of the places that the book talked about. I'd like to see City Hall and the waterfront and the gay bars and the places that Cianci used to live in. Maybe I will go on tour through some of the old mansions [I like architectural stuff] and then go hang on the beach. There is a beach there, yes? If I'm lucky, I will run into Dennis Aiken and tell him he done a great job!

Buddy Cianci has now published his own book Politics and Pasta, in the year 2011. I read the sample and I will probably read the rest of it and review that one as well.

sapphoq reviews says: I enjoyed The Prince of Providence. Mike Stanton illustrated the two sides of Buddy Cianci. Buddy could be charming or vicious, depending upon whether or not people were doing as he wished, according to Stanton. Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good true political story.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (Samuel Craddock Series #3), Terry Shames. Buffalo NY: Prometheus Books, 2014. e-book, 225 pps.

Jarrett Creek is broke. A deal with a water park promoter fell through and now a son of a banker is dead. Who killed him? Samuel Craddock is called from retirement and he has to find out. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek is much better than this short summary might imply.

sapphoq reviews says: I enjoy the writing of Terry Shames and have quickly become a fan. I failed to anticipate whodunnit in this one-- a mark of a mystery well-told for me. If you like mysteries combined with a touch of life in a small town, then the Samuel Craddock Series is for you. Highly recommended. 

Fives and Twenty Fives by Michael Pitre

Fives and Twenty Fives: A Novel, Michael Pitre. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014. e-book, 317 pps

I believe Michael Pitre when he says he was there in Iraq. Fives and Twenty Fives is his first novel. It is a fictional Iraq in which a platoon is out fixing potholes blended in with the aftereffects for some members of the platoon. From the interpreter to the people he met along the way before landing in the somewhat safe haven of the Army as a terp to the leaders and the grunts, the smell of war is intermingled in its pages.

All of my paternal male relatives have served in various wars and actions. Of those who came back, they were changed. Those who didn't make it back live on in my memory.

As a youngster, I didn't understand the why behind wars. As I got older, I learned about the huge vastness of empty grayness between the over-simplified version of black-and-white that we were compelled to learn in school. 

My quarrel today is not with the veterans. My gripe is with the president who felt it his duty to show up in Saudi Arabia to honor an old now dead king and to greet a new king who is more of the same. Because Big Oil is more important than lost lives and because beheadings in the background become white noise that he can somehow sleep through. Those kings in Saudi Arabia support beheadings of the citizenry and human rights advocates who dare to disagree. Five beheadings happened during the first week of the new king's rule. I don't understand how the president was able to sleep at night in that country knowing that human beings were suffering and continue to suffer cruel deaths.

We as a country have to wake up and smell the gasoline. Campaigns for us to lessen our usage have failed. We need to develop our own resources in our own country NOW so that we can become independent from those other countries who provide us with oil but would just as soon kill us all or place us under the bondage of Sharia as look at us as human beings. We are the infidels who must rise up.

Secondly, we ought to continue to develop modes of transportation [cars and like that] which are "green," that is depend upon renewable sources to run.

But we, in our own stupidity, will not do these things. We will continue to have presidents who kiss foreign asses for Big Oil.

sapphoq reviews says: A true winner of a novel. Highly
recommended. Must read. It is haunting. Read this one.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black. Boston: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette, 2013. e-book, 340 pps.
Holly Black on twitter-- @hollyblack

     Teen Tana lives with her father and younger sister Pearl. Her mother became infected some years ago and died. The first chapter of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown depicts Tana waking up the morning after a party in a bathtub. Things are not good.

     Due to an outbreak of vampires, the streets are not safe after dark. Even at home, one must ensure that windows and doors are shut. Vampires can squeeze in when taken by hunger. Coldtowns have been established in places which used to be large cities. If someone is turned by a vampire and does not successfully throw off the infection, he or she is obligated to show up at a Coldtown. A few non-vampires also live in Coldtowns for a variety of reasons. Tana and a couple of cohorts do show up.

     Despite the popular show of a wild vampiric ball on television, the truth in the Coldtown where Tana shows up is far less glamorous. An ancient feud between vampires is going on. Tana gets involved. Through a series of missteps and adventures, she survives uninfected.

sapphoq reviews says: Holly Black is a popular author and it was easy for me to understand why as I read through The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I enjoyed the book, the first of a series. Suspense of disbelief came early for me. The teen characters reminded me very much of the teens I had known when I was in high school. The depiction of life in a Coldtown was inventive. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is suitable for teens [and some of us adults too]. I highly recommend this one.

n.b.: Parents, if you object to the subject matter in this book, it is your responsibility as parents to monitor what your teens are reading. I just write the reviews.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Homing Instinct by Bernd Heinrich

The Homing Instinct: Meaning & Mystery in Animal Migration, Bernd Heinrich. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. e-book, 297 pps.

     I was delighted to discover that Bernd Heinrich hunts deer. We have far too many deer-- more than our ecological landscape can support-- and those who hunt [and use what they hunt] are doing evolution a favor by culling the herd. Most folks in Maine are either starving or they hunt and that's the way of it.

     The Homing Instinct is a fascinating book. I read it all at once on a night waiting for a snowstorm that didn't come. There are all kinds of nifty things in it-- and all of it is field observations backed up by laboratory research. I found that whether animals pass on their migratory routes to their offspring or the offspring are driven by instinct makes a difference, that we had one native locust in the United States [related to the grasshopper but not the same as the grasshopper] which went extinct but via climate change and glacial melt, many corpses of said locust were found and scientists did DNA stuff on them, that some communal nesting arrangements allow for an extra species of bird to fill in the spaces and stuff like that. Stuff I like as an avid birder and nature child.

sapphoq reviews says: Bernd Heinrich continues his personable but scientific expository style in The Homing Instinct. Highly recommended.