Saturday, September 24, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... "Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places" compiled by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec

In the course of a prolific career that traversed a wide variety of genre, British writer Arthur Conan Doyle created - for me, at least - three singular characters. Over time, those three have achieved varying degrees of popularity and shelf-presence.

I have read all of Doyle's stories of detective Sherlock Holmes, and almost all his stories of Brigadier Etienne Gerard. In contrast, I have read only one of his Professor George Edward Challenger stories ... but what a wonderful story it was! And I am not at all surprised that it provided much of the foundation for “Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places” a collection of short stories inspired by Doyle's brilliant, headstrong and physical academician.

The stories were compiled by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, and I strongly recommend reading their introductions before proceeding to the stories themselves. These intro’s provide a very good background from which many of you will learn something new and useful ... I know I did.

As for the stories themselves, it should be no surprise that some appealed to me more than others ... although the general level is good, and I recommend them all. It’s just that some were less successful for me than others. One of those was Guy Adams’ and James Goss’ “Professor Challenger & the Crimson Wonder,” which is related to us in the form of a series of communications between the story’s characters. It’s not a bad idea ... it worked very well for Lawrence Sanders’ “The Anderson Tapes” ... but here, not so well. Still, though, I was intrigued enough to want to finish the story and find out how it ends .. it was just a little harder getting to that end.

Some stories that appealed to me more were those that captured – even in brief snippets – some of Doyle’s original story, and the exchanges between its characters. There are several with brief exchanges between Challenger and Edward Malone that display thr professors disdain for the ‘dim-wittedness’ of people in general, and the journalist’s public education in particular. Another was Stephen Volk’s “Shug Monkey,” which closes with an exchange between Challenger, Malone and Lord John Roxton that very much captured the spirit of an exchange between those same three characters in “The Lost World” ... a spirit of work to be done and adventures to continue.

More than a century has passed between the publication of these stories and thr novel that inspired them. So it should be no surprise that the passage of time and concurrent development of science and technology is reflected in the vocabulary. I have no problem with that. I also have no problem – welcome it, actually - with the stories including female characters of strength, intelligence and initiative who are allowed to do more than just scold the professor, or wail when said scolding leaves them set atop a high dresser.

My thanks to Campbell and Prepolec for assembling these stories ... and inspiring me to seek out and read the rest of Doyle’s stories of Professor Challenger. I recommend the - both this collection of stories, and the stories that inspired them - to you all.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Love is in the air ...

Loading-up at H.E.B.
... well, green chile, actually ... same thing.

For me, September is one of those times where something touches and excites the senses, bringing fond memories to the surface, and setting me on the path to add yet another page to that particular 'fond memory' archive.

It's chile-roasting time in the southwest ... and love truly is in the air ... well, for me, at least!

The first page of this particular archive was entered more than forty years ago, when I made the move from northeast to southwest, bidding farewell to the Keystone State to pursue my education - and, eventually, my life - in the Land of Enchantment.

It was only a few weeks after my arrival, and the start of the fall semester, and I was on my way to class when I caught a whiff of something new, something wonderful in the air. It was still there after class, and I had some spare time, so I took Toucan Sam's advice ... "Follow your nose!"

That led me to a nearby K-Mart parking lot and my first view of a chile roaster, and my first taste of fresh-roasted green chile, harvested just the day before from the fields of Hatch, New Mexico (the Green Chile Capital of the Universe), and trucked overnight to Albukookoo.

Firing-up at Market Street
There was a hint of love in the aroma ... and the taste sealed it, beginning a passionate relationship that continues to this day, renewed each September when roasters set-up in parking lots of shopping centers around the southwest ... when I take a bag of freshly-roasted chile home to wash and package, some for now and some for later ... and when I think about the meals ahead - green chile stew/casserole/strata/enchiladas/quiche/cheeseburgers/chicken salad/pizza (especially with piƱon nuts)/omelettes/queso/cornbread - you name it!

Something that touches and excites the sense of smell, bringing fond memories to the surface. For some, it's the smell of freshly-laundered linens drying on the clothes line, while for others it's bread baking in the kitchen, or a pile of leaves burning in the backyard. For me, it's the smell of roasting chile ...

... oh, YES ... love IS in the air!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My problem with Patriot Day

It's been just under fifteen years, now, that Joint Resolution 71 passed through the U.S. House of Representatives, then the U.S. Senate, then was signed into by law President George Bush, proclaiming September 11 as Patriot Day. This followed President Bush's proclamation of September 14, 2001 - just three days after the horrific terrorist attacks of '9/11' - as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Personally, I think President Bush had the right idea in that proclamation, perhaps realizing that there was more to what we experienced that terrible day - and the days and years that followed - than just patriotism.

You see, I have a problem with labeling 9/11 as Patriot Day ... I believe there was so much more to those attacks, and to the response of people on-the-scene, across our nation and around the world, that was deeper than an emotional attachment to a nation.

I have no doubt that there were patriots among the firefighters who and police officers rushed into the Twin Towers that day. But they were also responding to a call of duty, fulfilling an oath they took upon graduation from the academy, with their hand upon a Bible, closing with 'so help me God.'

Was it strictly his patriotism that led Mychal Judge, O.F.M. - a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department - to enter the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower, where he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead until debris from the collapsing South Tower sliced through the lobby, killing him and many others?

On the far side of the world, I believe there was something more that patriotism at work when a Thai village delivered an illustrated letter of condolence to the U.S. Embassy in Bankgkok, for the people in America. and in the months following the attack, the Japanese government found a way to support America's war in Afghanistan with non-combat support troops, in spite of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution - drafted in the wake of World War II - that forbade use of Home Defense Forces abroad.

These are just a few examples ... I'm sure you can offer others ... and I welcome your contribution. You may also offer examples of how I'm wrong, that this 9/11 is aptly labeled Patriot Day ... I welcome those contributions, as well.

BUT ... whatever you call it, please find some means in your mind and in your soul, to mark this day.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling With Gods compiled by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart

Don't let the title of Wrestling with Gods, a collection of short stories and poems assemble by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart, fool you. It DOES provide an overlying theme for this latest installment of the Tesseracts series ... but it provides only a hint of what the reader will find inside.

The idea of wrestling with gods is an old, even ancient tradition ... just ask Jacob about his wrestling an angel, or Gilgamesh about his battle with Ishtar's bullish minion, or Sun Wukong about his smackdown with Buddha's palm.

Over the millennia, tablets have crumbled into dust and temples have been consumed by the jungle. But the belief in gods is still with us, and tales of conflict with said deities are still part of our shared literary tradition.

Wrestling with Gods is a good addition to that tradition. Story by story, we read of a protagonist's conflict ... with faith or religion, with family or community, with themselves or with a wide and colorful variety of gods and demigods, their priests and supplicants, their blessings and curses. These stories, their settings and their cast of characters are limited only by the imaginations of the contributors, and their ability to tell stories in a manner that draws readers in and entertains them ... which in this case is to say, 'unlimited.'

And the variety of 'styles' employed by the different contributors - their perspective, their language, their tone - was another attraction for me.

That's not say there aren't stories that will appeal to you more than others ... there were, for me. My favorites included "Mecha Jesus" by Derwin Mak, "Come All Ye Faithful" by Robert J. Sawyer, "A Cut and a Prayer" by Janet K. Nicolson, "Summon the Sun" by Carla Richards and “Ganapati Bappa Moriya!" by Savithri Machiraju.

That's just a small sample of the total offerings ... I'm sure you will find some favorites of your own ... and enjoy the book in general.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Railroad Rising: The Black Powder Rebellion by J.P. Wagner

I am told J.P. Wagner covered a lot of ground and a lot of topics in the course of his career as a journalist. Having 'been there, done that' myself, I suspect it left him with an appreciation for a broad range of interests.

That certainly appears to be the case in his first published novel, Railroad Rising: The Black Powder Rebellion. Fantasy, action and adventure, swords and sorcery? Check, check, check. Steampunk, royal court intrigue, love story? Check them all off as well.

The story follows the adventures of Cartog, a young nobleman far down in the line-of-succession, and far-removed from any prospect of inheritance. Accompanied only by Yakor, his faithful retainer and a formidable master-of-arms, Cartog has set off on a journey to find his fortune elsewhere and make his own way in the world, perhaps as a mercenary.

They ride into a small town seeking employment ... but instead find themselves in the midst of a what appears to be an uprising and attempted kidnapping. This is the first of a series of events that will involve Cartog and Yakor in a growing conflict and circle of enemies, as well as a growing prospect for advancement and circle of friends. It could lead to great fortune in the long term, or death in the short term.

"Railroad Rising" was an easy read and enjoyable enough, with a straightforward story line and simple characters. But I have to agree with other LibraryThing Early reviewers who thought it could have used some editing, and some polishing to the story and characters.

And we might have gotten some of that, had it not been for circumstances far removed from the realm of Cragmor, in our own real and mundane world ... "Sadly," we read in the book's postscript, "J.P. Wagner passed away in 2015, before the publication of 'Railroad Rising.'" It is something I read with regret as I finished this book ... I was looking forward to Wagner's NEXT book.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews by Phyllis Chesler

WARNING: Reading Phyllis Chesler's book "Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews" may be hazardous to your sense of well-being. It could lead to increased levels of skepticism. This, in turn could lead to a variety of side-effects ... a willingness on your part to question what we are told about the world around us, to make an extra effort to gain more information. You may even find yourself rejecting what 'everybody knows and believes,' in favor of a view that is more complicated, more detailed ... and perhaps more truthful.

These were my thoughts as I came to the conclusion of the book, a compilation of selected articles and essays Chesler composed over a 12-year period as she documented a growing number of incidents that form part of what she describes as a “slow motion Holocaust.” It is a theme that is familiar to those who have read Chesler's works in the past. This was my first introduction to Chesler, and I found myself engrossed, article-by-article, page-by-page. All of it delivered in a style that is clear, concise and compelling.

The incidents she documents have a growing range, occurring in a variety of social, educational and cultural settings around North America and Europe. They also have a growing level of shrillness, as denunciations of 'all things Israel' are encouraged ... and dissenting voices are discouraged.

And it's not just the talk. There is the way 'Middle East issues' are reported in the media. And there are the calls for excluding pro-Israeli attitudes from public fora, from universities, even from churches. Then there is the growing movement to call-out corporations that do business with Israel, and moves to divest investment funds from those corporation who won't go along.

An initial response might be something like, 'come on ... not really.' I was thinking that very thing, at first. But then you find yourself stopping, thinking, then recalling your own first-hand experiences ... as I did when my own Christian denomination began considering divestment from companies that do business with Israel ... JUST as Chesler reported.

There are still among us survivors of those years when the noun 'holocaust' became forever capitalized. Chesler's "Living History" will leave you with the unsettling thought that still another Holocaust may be in the works.

I strongly recommend this book ... with ample time to read it closely, carefully, and to occasionally set the book aside and consider what you've just read.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Dominions by James Hetley/Burton

Like many of the other LTER contributors, I found myself diving into Volume 2 of the "Bladesmith" series without first having read Volume 1. In my case, that did not pose any problems with my enjoying this book ... though it HAS left me wanting to go back and read Volume 1, as well as other books by James Hetley/Burton.

Has there ever been a time when we have not shared stories with one another about gods, their relationships with one another and their relationships with us? It is an ancient and colorful tradition ... one that I studied closely in my youth, and later in college as I pursued majors in anthropology and English literature. After reading "Dominions," I have to say Hetley's knowledge of those topics is deep and wide. Couple that with his experience and expertise in such diverse fields as wood and metal working, martial arts, mechanics and electronics (not to mention his skill at writing) and you have the foundation for some VERY good storytelling.

And "Dominions" IS good storytelling, as Mel and Al find themselves navigating dark alleys and dangerous battlefields in their own world and in alternate worlds they find through inter-dimensional Doors. In the course of their travels they encounter a variety of characters, and that includes a variety of gods ... but that's something Mel and Al are well-equipped to handle ... or are they?

And while their quest for a safe return to their own world continues throughout the book, there is also a growing quest for peace and justice, for a new standing in their relationship to one another, and for a good meal with a cold beer.

Whether you jump right into "Dominions" or start with Volume 1 ("Powers") of the "Bladesmith" series, I strongly recommend this read. My summer has been filled with more leisure time than I had wanted ... and I'm going to fill that time with more books from James Hetley/Burton.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Friday, July 08, 2016

In the News ... "Dallas sniper attack: 'Our worst nightmare happened'"

AP Photo by LM Otero
• Please pray for us to redeem this tragedy with unity, to the glory of God

By Dr. Jim Denison
Denison Forum on Truth and Culture

DALLAS, TEXAS - Dallas residents are waking up this morning to the deadliest day for police officers since September 11, 2001.

At 7:00 last night, protesters gathered in a Dallas park and began marching through the streets of downtown. They were responding to officer-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. The rally was peaceful; police officers were present and were conversing with the crowd.

Just before 9 PM, as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "Our worst nightmare happened" ...

 • read the rest of this commentary ...

Friday, July 01, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Downtime by Cynthia Felice

In her book "Downtime," Cynthia Fleece offers us a love story and a science fiction story ... maybe it's the guy in me, but I wish there could have been a little more 'science' in the story.

Don't get me wrong ... I enjoyed the read, and I recommend it to others. It's a recent addition to a long tradition of stories that illustrate the complications that arise when love blossoms across a disjointed time stream. Rod Serling tackled it 50+ years ago in "The Long Morrow" ... and before that, there was F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." It's still makes for a good story today in films and television ... and in books like "Downtime."

My gripe about 'more science?' I blame it on my biblio-upbringing. Fifty-some years ago, my introduction to science fiction was through hand-me-down paperbacks of stories by Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clark, and later on some Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury ... good fiction, good storytelling, with generous doses of of good (if hypothetical at the time) science and technology added to the mix.

While I read through "Downtime," eager to get to the conclusion to see how the characters might fare and the story might end, I also found myself wishing for a little more detail on the jelly bean, the stellerator ... and, of course, that all-important elixer.

BUT, while I've devoted a lot of words to my little gripe ... it really is a LITTLE matter. All-in-all, I recommend "Downtime" to you as a good read, and a good addition to that tradition I mentioned earlier ... illustrating the complications that arise when love blossoms across a disjointed time stream. You'll want to read "Downtime" to the end ... and discover whether those complications might be overcome.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Added to my virtual bookshelf ... Colonel Stierlitz by Robin Wyatt Dunn

I needed to take a break after a few pages of Robin Wyatt Dunn's "Colonel Stierlitz" ... not due to any fault in the book itself, but to bring myself up-to-speed on the book's protagonist, the literary/television/film tradition from which Dunn drew the protagonist, and the original creator of that tradition.

I recommend those who want to read Dunn's novella do the same ... and I certainly DO recommend reading "Colonel Stierlitz."

Imagine a vodka-fueled, stream-of-SUB-consciousness journey through the heart and mind of a Soviet agent ... a journey that takes him around the planet (and even off the planet) ... as a man or as a horse, by himself or with an incredible array of companions, pursuing missions and activities that stretch credibility while fending-off antagonists that include Swedish agents, a reanimated Stalin, and Yulian Semyonov (that "original creator" I mentioned in my first paragraph).

Think of a cocaine-fueled Sherlock Holmes dating Irene Adler as he deals with Moriarty and Doyle, or a martini-fueled James Bond dating Miss Moneypenney as he deals with Blofeld and Fleming, and you have some idea of what to expect in "Colonel Stierlitz."

The novella is not for everyone ... if you wish an easy read, with a conclusion that ties-up all the ends nicely, I cannot recommend it. But if you would like to stretch yourself some, I VERY MUCH recommend it.

And really, 'stretching' can be a good thing for readers. I did it fifty years ago when I tackled Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49," and it was good for me. And while I do NOT place Dunn's work on the same level as Pynchon's, I certainly DO recommend "Colonel Stierlitz" to you as a stretching exercise, a glimpse into a bygone Russian literary tradition, and (most of all) a good read.

NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.