Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

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Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

 

MY REVIEW

I laughed and laughed from preface where the author describes her reaction to producing a runaway best seller on punctuation to the final chapter describing how writing is changing from print to Internet medium leading to a flash on the Punctuation Murderer. Verily, I giggled, cackled, chortled, snickered, and tittered like a fiend: while she is not a disciple of the Oxford Comma, I will forgive her the heresy for the rest of her punctuation doctrine is sound.

You should seek out and read this book. Discover how the words “best seller” can and should be bestowed on a grammar book.

If the mene “I like cooking my family and my pets. – Use commas, don’t be a psycho.” tickles your fancy, this is the book for you. 

Note: Uses British grammar rules, not American.

Book Review: Old Nathan

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Old Nathan by David Drake

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FIFTH YEARS AFTER THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, MAGIC IS LOOSE IN THE BACKWOODS

The forces of evil are poised to prey on the folk of the hamlets and hollows: witches, demons, and red-handed men—but first they’ll have to overcome Old Nathan the Wizard.

He doesn’t claim much for his magical powers, but they’re real enough for what they are—and besides, he hasn’t forgotten how to use his long flintlock rifle ….

Enter the gritty, realistic world of Old Nathan, a backwoodsman who talks to animals and says he’ll face The Devil himself-and who in the end will have to face The Devil in very fact.

 

MY REVIEW

Old Nathan by David Drake is a collection of stories about a cunning (witchy) man located in the Carolinas about fifty years after the revolutionary war strung together in a novel-type package but easily read separately. Old Nathan is the person a body goes to when you’ve dun run out of all other options. His price is high. Mostly swallowing yer pride but he do speak to animals and does strange things, and maybe in league with the Devil.

The writing is in the dialect language of the space-time. The stories themselves are getting long-in-the-tooth; not enough for a modern high-speed cellphone addict to identify with. A different time and place, slower and more magic. Back with the things in the woods didn’t take selfies with intruders, they ate ’em.

I enjoyed the magic not being wiz-bang wizard robes and lightning bolts. Farseeing was done with wellwater; ghosts were dealt with by feeding them ashcakes cooked in the hearth. Old Nathan is creepy powerful in that he not only does the minor hedge magic, but goes beyond, into the shadow realms opened at twilight, into places which bend the mind and create madness. 

He is old enough and lived through the war that death holds little fear over him. He is too slow and tired to run far from things people in their right minds should run from. And so the things in the night become curious since he isn’t running or scared, and in their curiosity the teethy things become vulnerable. Not greatly vulnerable – they still be hungry, with great claws and teeth, but sometimes the second pause of “what is this different thing” gives Old Nathan the moment he needs to live. It worked for him so far, but in each story the question is “is this time when the beast will be faster then cunning?”

I wrote the review after the third story but have finished the rest. Again, the stories may not be enjoyed very much longer just because living in one-room houses, drawing from wells, and needing horses to get to your nearest neighbor are becoming things of ancient history. 

Is the cunning man always cunning enough, or does he need to run from the danger in some of the stories? Well that would be tellin’. 

If this your cup of tea, you should read it. – The book is offered for free on Kindle, so take the chance.

Book Review: I, Zombie

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* Someone is Murdering the Dead. *

I, Zombie by Doris Piserchia under the pen name of Curtis Shelby

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When the girl from the asylum drowned in the lake that night, she thought it was the end of her life, but she was wrong.

With robots at fifty thousand dollars a unit, it was far more economical to use corpse labour – all it took was a two-thousand dollar animating pack in the brain, and a zombie worker, under the direction of a helmeted controller, could do just about anything except think.

Or so everyone said. But in the zombie dorms at night, with only the walking dead for roommates, things were not as they should have been. The girl from the asylum seemed to have more mental ability, not less, and someone was trying to kill her. Kill a dead girl?

Maybe there was more to heaven than an afterlife of manual labour in the company of a bunch of stiffs!

 

MY REVIEW

One of my favorite books of all time, I don’t know how many times I have read it. Picked it up back when it was first released in 1982 at an airport to keep from getting bored on a plane. (now available on kindle – yeah! … because my original paperback is Beat Up(tm).)

Interesting psychological study. Pretty cool worldbuilding with the Frogs and the Zombies (deceased humans with brain packs to work them). Actually excellent worldbuilding, the layers to the Zombies and the world trying to translate that over to the mentally disturbed. Layers upon layers with the brain pack technology and the Frog culture.

Then the action adventure with fights in front of a furnace and problem-solving mysteries with someone murdering the dead and the ice world melting, keeps everything moving at a fast pace.

This book is one of my happy places.

NOTE: Curt Selby is the pen name of Doris Piserchia, so “Curt Shelby” appears on the cover but you will now find the book under Doris Pierchia’s real name for the kindle.

Book Review: The Big Bad 2

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The Big Bad II, an anthology published by Falstaff Books.

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Everybody loves the bad guys, and this second edition of The Big Bad brings you more to love! A collection of best-selling fantasy and horror writers brings you twenty-four all-new tales of vampires, demons, ghosts, zombies, and the most terrifying monsters of all – humans. Crack open the pages, if you dare, and explore two dozen tales of humor and horror by some of the brightest names in the business!

 

MY REVIEW

Much more consistent in story quality than the first book (but slightly less daring), Mr. Hartness and Ms. Leverett seem to have their strides with their second anthology of Big Bad. 

So often we see the put-upon minority, the bad guys, get trampled, locked up, even killed by good guys and government agents (unless, of course, those are the bad guys). It is a pleasure seeing them not only survive, but thrive … I think.

Feels like Justice to Me by Edmund R. Schubert may be one of the best justifications I have ever read for someone doing something unusual. An amazing character piece! This one is a five star. It’s about half-way through the anthology.

And Stuart Jaffee for his Portrait of a Psychopathic Man wins the “what was I thinking reading this anthology at midnight” award. Really I was reading this anthology at midnight – WHAT was I THINKING?

Quick rundown on some of the other 24 stories
A Family Affair – by Selah Janel – So nice to see a son take after his mother. I can see him growing up to be just like her … she should be worried.
Old Nonna – by Gail Z Martin – A lovely twist of an ancient Russian story transferred to mountain folk everywhere.
A Day in the Life – by James R. Tuck – Some days are better than others, even for the fiends of Hell. But you know, a good working environment can help make the difference.
Overkill – by Sara Taylor Woods – Word of advice, don’t make a Southern waitress from a redneck bar angry. She will bless your heart.
A Fitter Subject for Study – by Sarah Joy Adams – All in the name of science. (I can soooo see this as the first stage of a Call of Cth game. … Little surprised the editors choose to have two letter-based shorts, but they are both horrific fun.)
Ghost and Sands – by Jay Requard – Another short about Mr. Conjer whom we met in the first Big Bad Anthology. Pleased to see him still in business.
The House on Cherry Hill by Emily Lavin Leverett – Some old houses are more than just money pits.
Phone Home – by E.D. Guy – A sci-fi! So much of the horror genre is historic or contemporary; so nice to see one proving bad guys continue to destroy humanity in the future.
I Think of Snow – by J. Matthew Saunders – This author’s beautiful language perfectly capture a love interest (ummm, maybe not the right description). 

and finally …
The Cully – by D.B. Jackson – A Sephira origin story … enough said, if you like the Thieftaker series.

Book Review: Salvage

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Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

 

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Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called it “brilliant, feminist science fiction.”

Ava is the captain’s daughter. This allows her limited freedom and a certain status in the Parastrata’s rigid society—but it doesn’t mean she can read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. When Ava learns she is to be traded in marriage to another merchant ship, she hopes for the best. After all, she is the captain’s daughter. But instead, betrayal, banishment, and a brush with love and death are her destiny, and Ava stows away on a mail sloop bound for Earth in order to escape both her past and her future. The gravity almost kills her. Gradually recuperating in a stranger’s floating cabin on the Gyre, a huge mass of scrap and garbage in the Pacific Ocean, Ava begins to learn the true meaning of family and home and trust—and she begins to nourish her own strength and soul. This sweeping and harrowing novel explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family, and after a tidal wave destroys the Gyre and all those who live there, ultimately sends its main character on a thrilling journey to Mumbai, the beating heart of Alexandra Duncan’s post–climate change Earth. An Andre Norton Award nominee.

 

MY REVIEW

A young adult (YA) science-fiction coming-of-age story. Several different venues touched from a broken down post-apocalyptic-feeling spaceship, to a bustling aging space station, to a plastic-trash-mining town in the middle of the ocean, and finally a city in India. 

Some of the readers complained about the unique dialect the isolated spaceship community developed as being hard to follow. Also that the tech language was a bit unapproachable. As a long-time reader of science fiction/fantasy I did not feel either of these fell outside the typical troupe level for the genre; in fact most of the technical language fell solidly within modern science. The only thing I found bad scientifically was Ava’s grandfather sociological study of the spaceship-community; but then he broke nearly every rule of studying an isolated community (which is accurately noted in Salvage).

Ms. Duncan does an excellent job of creating a multi-layer universe. From the unique dialect to the boy’s home and the cultural drift of the spaceship community, everything holds together well. I found Ava’s slow development from a semi-privileged daughter-of-the-captain to a more powerful grown woman believable, especially her long time strength building while residing in Gyre and her frustration as a non-reader in a reading society. The coming-of-age character development has both leaps forward and the back-slides a sixteen year old displays constantly as they go from being a child to an adult both in society and with their body (and the related hormone swings and mental changes).

A couple of things kept this from being perfect. (1) Yet another time when a teenager having sex is immediately punished (at least this time both the girl and boy get about equal bad things happen); (2) Ava is not a Mary-Jane (several times you just want to shake her for being a jerk teenager – this could also be a plus); (3) the instant love between the main character and her first love interest (yes, there are two, but it is not a love triangle except in that comparing new people to the people you lost) – the instant love is believable because Ava first ran into the first-love years earlier (he was the only non-relative male she had every interacted with – so, of course, she crushed on him forever once she reached the age when crushes happen). … I am just tried of the YA instant-love punishment cycle at this point of my life.

Plus side Ava runs into people during her exile who help her because they just do, people who are indifferent, and people that take advantage of her. And, just like real life, there are actually more people who help than harm even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

A really good science fiction YA coming-of-age which I think both genders would enjoy.