Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dawn's In Trouble - It Must Be Tuesday

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Once More with Feeling SongbookBuffy the Vampire Slayer - Once More with Feeling Songbook by Hal Leonard Publishing Company
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only reason that anyone would read this review is that such a person hasn't seen the awesome TV series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. On that note - go watch it. Now. Then come back and pick up a few pointers about the Kindle version of this book.

The book features a short synopsis and then sheet music to each and every musical number performed in the musical. It's best to read it on a 10" tablet. The text is way too small to read on an ereader.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Oh, God!

Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to ReligionEverything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion by Russ Kick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This remarkable collection of essays and articles are built around a theme of religion and theology. Included are practices, habits and activities of churches and other religious groups as well as essays on matters of religion, scriptural texts, theology and attitudes supported by beliefs. Here are some of the topics covered:

*Is the US a Christian nation?
*Why doesn't the Bible condemn slavery?
*The Philadelphia Grand Jury Report of priest pedophilia.
*Creationism/Intelligent Design.
*Can atheists be moral?
*Religious curses.
*Pseudoarcheology.
*The use of poop in religious practices.
*Why is there a confessional box?
*What do various religious texts say about sexual practices?
*Exorcism
*Books about religion and religious texts.

I learned much from reading this book and while not everything I knew about various gods was wrong, a lot of it was wrong or just absent. If you're not too chicken to do so, read this book.


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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Norman Be Cray!

PsychoPsycho by Robert Bloch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indeed, this is the book on which the movie was based. It's very similar to the movie, but reading the story gave me a better feel for how Norman experienced things as much of the novel is told from his point of view. The plot is a little more involved and there are some differences and additions, but if you saw the movie, you know what happened. In Norman's case, mother is a boy's best friend.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Before Bruce Got His Inspiration

Gotham: Dawn of DarknessGotham: Dawn of Darkness by Jason Starr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the TV series, Gotham. It's in my top ten favorite series of all time. I'm pleased to report that this prequel novel is top notch! The characters are true to form. No, we don't see Jim Gordon in this one, but Harvey, Oswald, Alfred, Bruce, Hugo Strange and Fish Mooney all all present.
Basically, this novel details the events that led to the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. I'll say no more than that. The writing is among the best done for novels based on television series or movies. There is another by the same author that covers Jim Gordon's bounty hunter days.
With the final season about to be unleashed upon us, this is a good time to catch up with some inside scoop.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Die This Way

Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1)Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the first Kindle books I ever read I listened to the Audible version this time. I've also seen the television series a couple of times since I read the book and I'd forgotten how different it was than the first season of the show. In any case, this is a very entertaining, engaging and disturbing read. I recommend it for anyone who wants to get their mental freak on.

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Saturday, December 01, 2018

Let's Get Physical!

The Science of Sports: Winning in the OlympicsThe Science of Sports: Winning in the Olympics by Scientific American
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over the many years of its publication run, Scientific American has produced many fine collections of their articles in the form of books. Much like their special editions, but in a longer form. The volume is such a collections made for ebooks. When they first started publishing these ebooks, they did a sloppy job of copy editing and produced awful volumes with numerous typos and obvious cutting and pasting without formatting. They finally straightened up and fixed those errors, so good on them for that, but then something must have happened between ebook publishers and SA, because they withdrew the over 50 volumes from the Kindle store and went into self-publishing. Fortunately, Amazon maintains volumes already purchased. You can get all of their ebooks at their site, but you'll have to put up with epub and mobi editions and not be able to share highlights. Way to support public outreach, guys.

Anyhow, if you like sports, you'll find most of these articles interesting. They focus on the scientific issues of the 2012 Olympics, but they also address exercise, genetics and even heat stroke prevention. The formatting is good (though I did find a couple of errors lurking). Hey, it's Scientific American! What could go wrong? There are no essays about water with memory is this ebook.

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Not Boring!

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of EverythingFreakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everybody and their dog knows about this book, so I'll not describe it. I will say that rarely have i ever read a book that seriously warped my perspective on everyday issues. For that reason alone i highly recommend that you read it. I thoroughly enjoy having my perspective twisted and mangled. If you like your worldview to be static, don't read this book. Continue to be bored and boring.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Because We Suck At Critical Thinking!

Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! by Robert Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Todd Carroll was a notable participant in the skeptic movement and founded The Skeptic's Dictionary (with an accompanying website), sat on the board of CSI and published other works about skepticism and critical thinking.

The book gets its title from the fact that thinking critically is not natural. We humans evolved to think heuristically to aid in our survival on the savannah. It easy to see that most people evaluate claims and make decisions far more on emotions than on demonstrable evidence, and that is basically why they are so easily duped by charletons, politicians, pundits, media personalities and religious "leaders."

In this book, Carroll addresses many phenomena by which we are deceived and by which we deceive ourselves. Perception, bias, motivation, misdirection, anchoring, bad math, numerous logical fallacies and a refusal to face mortality are just some of the mechanisms by which we are lead away from dealing with reality on its own terms.

Carroll also instructs the reader on how to become a better critical thinking, although I think that there was too little of that and too much complaining about how badly we suck at recognizing deception.

Along with Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, Sagan's The Demon Haunted World, Novella's The Skeptics Guide To The Universe and Randi's Flim Flam, this book makes a fine addition to any skeptic's library.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Looking For Something Frightening?

Burnt OfferingsBurnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been meaning to read this book ever since I got the paperback in 1985. I've had the kindle and audible version for a couple of years now, so that's how I consumed the book.

In 1976, Dan Curtis (of the Dark Shadows fame) directed a lovely little horror film of the same name as the book. I didn't know it was a book back then, but when that bad boy came on TV, it scared the living crap out of me! I particularly loved the little music box theme that I often played on the piano, which frightened my baby sister, Laurie, half to death. Ah, good times!

Looking back on the film now, I appreciate the effort that Dan Curtis took to assemble an all-star cast and create what I consider the masterpiece of his horror productions. I never imagined that the book could be better, but it was!

Robert Marasco tackles the horror of insecurity, obsession and helplessness in the face of uncontrollable events through the story of a house that wants to live. It's a wonderful novel full of gripping imagery, memorable and all too real characters as well as a narrative that forces the reader to look at what must not be seen, but what everyone must face. I love this novel more than I do the movie, and I love that movie!

Read it! I command you! :-)

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Friday, November 23, 2018

In Need of an Editor!

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The movie was charming, entertaining, witty and imaginative. So was the story in this novel. So, why not five stars? Because William Goldman ruined the reading experience for me with his constant interrupting the story to go on and on and on and on and on about his experience adapting the book, making the movie and talking to Stephen King - none of which I cared the least a bit about. I didn't mind him telling about how his father read him the story when he was small as that was also part of the movie, but the rest was complete nonsense and uninteresting to me. I confess that I meely skimmed those parts of the book (taking up about 25% of what was written). I don't know if there is a version of this book that doesn't include all the absolutely boring interruptions, but I'd prefer a copy of that, thanks. In any case, the movie is so good and so much like the story as told in the book that you don't need to read the book, unless you're interested in how the story came to be and a lot of other minutiae that Goldman includes.

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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Gimme Some Space and Time!

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of RealityThe Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was published in 2004, so, yes - it's dated, but mainly in that some of the things that Brian hoped for have come to pass, like the discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO and the evidence to support the existence of the Higgs particle/field. Of course, any advances in the cutting edge research described that have been made since 2004 are not included. My biggest disappointment is that Brian doesn't have a support page for this book. In this book, Brian Greene gets down to the nuts and bolts of exactly what space and time are. He takes the reader through the history of the subject, and avoiding mathematical treatment at all costs, brings the reader to the state of the science as of 2004. He makes extensive use of analogies, but is careful to point out the limitations of the analogies he uses. The last 40% of the book or so, Brian gets more into the speculative views and cutting edge research into string/brane theory and even loop quantum gravity. He take the aside note several times to point out that experimental evidence is needed to bring these views and hypotheses into the mainstream of science, which is better than he did in his previous book. I think that maybe Neil got on his case about it. Anyhow, for its lack of mathematical treatment of the subject, the very abstract concepts are explained in great detail and Brian patiently hammers them home from multiple perspectives. Realizing that he is nearly beating a dead horse at times, he even advises readers who don't want to get that intimate with the subject to skim or even skip ahead, but he is faithful to his die-hard readers. You gotta love him for that! See the PBS/NOVA series and read this book as carefully or as casually as you like. I assure you that you will be educated, fascinated and mystified - in that order.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Much Too Predictable!

A Walk to RememberA Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK, this one is way out of my usual genre, but my friend, Shelby, recommended it to me, and I'm glad she did. I didn't buy it. I checked the kindle version out from the Austin Public Library. My first thought was, "OMG, chick lit!" and, in the end, that's what it was, but, I must say that I mostly like the way the story was told. The first half of the book was spent vividly describing Landon's life in his senior year and the pretty hilarious events that occurred then. Landon is a very believable 17 year old. Jamie was a very compelling character. Their family and friends were very ordinary, yet memorable, people. Their home town was a decent description of a 1959 Southern small town. The entire book was an engaging read. I did not have a problem with Jamie and her dad being holy rollers and turning Landon into one, because these things happen, and the idea that faith can sustain a person in difficult times is not contestable. I just happen to be one of the many people who hold that faith isn't necessary when dealing with life. But, yes, in the real world, it does happen, and we are each free to choose our method of dealing with life. I didn't have a problem with the mushy parts, because, I knew it was a romance novel, so it comes with the territory - all the touching, loving, squeezing .... and crying. Jesus, all the crying! I admit that I did roll my eyes a few times. Well, OK, more than a few. What I did object to was how freaking predictable the story was. Just like it was with The Notebook , I knew what the next scene was going to be pages ahead of that scene. The only surprise (and a pleasant one at that) for me was the revelation of the book title's namesake. That was pretty sweet. No, I did not cry. I saw the tears coming long before they fell. Yes, it was sad, but it was also about courage and when does courage ever make anyone sad? I think that Nicholas Sparks is a pretty decent writer, and I liked Landon's voice. I kept hearing Andy Griffith as I read the book. I just wish that he would write something much more surprising.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Look Away

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1)The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After watching the first season of the series on Netflix and discovering that it was based on a book series, I had to check it out. Often times, first books in a series are not the best written (the Harry Potter series being a noteworthy example) and I hope that this is the case for this series, because I really enjoy the story. The writing is good, but not not outstanding as popular books for young readers usually are. There are some motifs that I find imaginative (like addressing literacy by defining words) and the creation of unusual signature actions of the characters (Violet's tendency to put her hair up when she's in an inventive mood or Mr. Poe's coughing fits), but none of that is really "out of the box" creativity. I will continue the series, because I find the story very engaging and that's why the book gets a 5 star rating - not because it's awesome writing, but because it's pretty good storytelling.

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Jesse Likes To Get Action Of All Kinds!

Trouble In Paradise (Jesse Stone, #2)Trouble In Paradise by Robert B. Parker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jesse Stone is back to thwart a robbery and kidnapping on an island near Paradise featuring explosions, murder, nut cases, Jesse getting some action, Jesse enforcing law and order, Jesse pining over Jenn (so pathetic) and, of course, Robert B. Parker's engaging writing and storytelling. Always a fun read with this guy and particularly this character. If you've read the first novel, you'll want to read this second one.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Disturbing! Most disturbing!

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American PowerThe Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeff Sharlet has presented an excellent accounting of the history of the role of Christian fundamentalism in US politics as well as the infrastructure of US government. The read is very disturbing. It is disconcerting that an essentially small, but very vocal segment of the US population could have placed key personnel in such lofty positions in the US government with the goal of ensuring a power base staffed by white Christian fundamentalists. While the US is not in any real danger of becoming a theocracy, the religious right wields far too much power in US policy and too much influence on US legislation and jurisprudence. The presentation is well researched and amply cites reliable sources.

Two things interfered with having a pleasurable reading experience for me. (1) The kindle version does not link footnote indices to the notes directly as most nonfiction kindle books do. The publisher sucks. (2) Jeff Sharlet's writing style simply does not flow well in my mind. I will accept that this could very well be my problem alone, but I am a voracious reader and it's rare that I find a prolific author's writing such a struggle to read, so take my assessment for what it's worth to you.

I think that every voter should read this book so that they have a heads up about who the players in the halls of US power are. I'm sure that White Christian America will be pleased with what is presented here, but those who want a democracy that serves citizens of all faiths as well as those with none will be very disturbed.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Rivetting!

The Keep (Adversary Cycle, #1)The Keep by F. Paul Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this novel just after the movie was first aired on TV back in the mid eighties. After thirty yeats, I'd forgotten almost the whole novel, but I didn't forget how hard it was to put down. If you like a scary story with the classic good vs evil, and a little romance thrown in with Nazis, great scenery and Damned good storytelling, this book is for you!

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Meh....

The Body Farm (Kay Scarpetta, #5)The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As police procedural novels go, this one isn't too bad. The science is really good. The plot plays out a bit too obviously for my taste. Needs more subtlety. The narration seems a bit forced, but the character voicing is excellent. Still, I'm not all that likely to read another Patricia Cornwell novel. other than what I already have in my library.

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I Didn't Know That!

America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a NationAmerica's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not an historian or even a history buff. I have a mild interest in history and I have a firm belief that everyone should know enough history that they don't repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. I enjoy Davis' other books, so I happened on this one and thought, "Why not?" While this book takes a more serious tone than his other works, it is not a textbook or a book if historical analysis, nor does it pretend to be. I found the six historical narratives interesting, and as far as I can tell, that's what Davis intended me to do. If I could write a better book than this, or even a book like it, I would actually do it rather than say that I would do it. Enjoy, because learning is fun.

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Universe Is Not A Mistake! It Is A Happy Accident!

Not by DesignNot by Design by Victor J. Stenger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason anyone should read this particular book is if he or she is a fan of Victor J. Senger's writings. A combination of his later writings are more comprehensive, lucid, and contemporary than this somewhat outdated 1988 publication. Stenger's description of entropy's role in the evolution of the universe is an exception to the above. His description rivals that of Sean Carroll who does an outstanding job with the subject matter.

In case you're curious though, the book provides a history of cosmology and particle physics aimed at the layperson with a modicum of scientific literacy. He then lays out a fairly good argument that there is no good reason to suppose that the universe came about by design. He does a much better job of this in his books, God, The Failed Hypothesis, and The Fallacy of Fine Tuning. He then points out that humans are much better at design than accidents of nature and that we will make ourselves extinct through our machine inventions. Whoo-hoo! But in a good way.

Read this if you want to study the evolution of Victor J. Stenger's writing and ideas. Also, if you have nothing else to read, this book will certainly not harm you as long as you realize that some of the cosmology and particle physics are a wee bit outdated.

Oh, and seriously, people! The temperature of the universe is 2.7 kelvins (2.7 K). There is no reason for a PhD physicist to be using degrees with kelvins - even for a lay audience. That's insulting dumbing down! You use degrees with Celsius and Fahrenheit - not kelvins! Jesus H. Christ! Also, a PhD physicist should know that people can hear sound from supersonic sources, but most cannot hear ultrasonic or infrasonic frequencies of sound.

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