Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review— The Heart of Valor

Tanya Huff's "Confederation" series has a fabulous heroine, Torin Kerr. As the series begins, in Valor's Choice, Kerr is a Staff Sergeant in some futuristic Marine Corps. In this opening yarn, Huff demonstrates good character development, better world building, and a wonderful flair for dialogue. While I really like other heroines of military sci-fi yarns such as David Weber's Honor Harrington and Elizabeth Moon's Esmay Suiza, those characters are officers. Huff's non-com is gritty and more realistic than either of those officer-characters.

Recently, I purchased The Heart of Valor, the third installment in the series. Kerr has been promoted to Gunnery Sergeant after her exploits in books one and two of the series. Her new found fame is unwelcome, so she jumps at the chance to accompany a platoon and some observers to Crucible, a frozen planet where recruits complete their training. Kerr is there mostly to watch, but once the training platoon arrives on Crucible, there is a series of unfortunate events. A longtime drill sergeant becomes ill, the training drones are out to kill rather than test the recruits, and something odd is happening with the the single officer in their midst. Of course, Kerr works overtime to save her comrades, by using all of the knowledge she has accumulated in her career.

While not boring, this third installment seems rather predictable, until Kerr figures out why things have come unglued, and the plot becomes much more interesting. Unfortunately, that happens about two thirds of the way through the book. The suspense ramps up along with the action, and a three star book becomes a five star read.

I enjoyed The Heart of Valor, but I can't say it lives up to the first two novels. Readers who like feisty heroines, humor, and lots of action should enjoy it, and the series continues with two more installments. I'm reading the next one now.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: The Blind Side

Last Christmas, the movie version of The Blind Side opened in theatres. Although I seldom watch television, hubby and I were in Charleston for our anniversary (what a great place for a romantic trip!) and he had turned on the telly one evening while we were getting ready for dinner. A reviewer proclaimed that Sandra Bullock should get an Oscar for her role in this movie, and the movie poster shot zoomed to the screen. At the time, we were more interested in she-crab soup and touring the battery, but after Bullock won an Academy Award and the DVD became available on Netflix, we watched the film. Great movie, but I wanted to know what they left out.

As anyone who both reads books and views movies knows, rarely is a movie made without leaving plenty of material on the page. Just as the news is less satisfying on television than in a newspaper, a movie, while entertaining, is less satisfying than a book. Quite simply, pages contain more information, and anyone who is even moderately literate can read faster than a film can unfold. So, I picked up a second edition of the paperback, the movie tie-in version with an afterward which contains some interesting observations by the author about reactions to the first edition.

Michael Lewis' book, The Blind Side, has a subtitle, Evolution of a Game. And the book contains much more information about football than the film does. The book opens with a gripping account of Laurence Taylor's tackle of Joe Theisman, the one that ended the quarterback's career. As the pages turn, The Blind Side alternates between discussions of the business of football, significant players and coaches, and the story of Michael Oher. Fans of football might be inclined to skim the passages which inspired the movie script, but fans of the film might skim the intricate treatment of the evolution of football.

Actually, I liked both parts, although they don't always blend together easily. Indeed, the Oher story is not told in a precisely linear fashion, and the football treatise has sections devoted to players, to coaches, and to others who have shaped the game. Lewis does a remarkable job of explaining how the game of football moved from a running game to a passing game, and it is fascinating. Of course, some readers will take far more from this book than others will. Even the title has multiple interpretations. Literally, it refers to the left side of the offensive line, because a right-handed quarterback turns his back to it as he scans the field. But, the phrase is also a tribute to the Tuohy family's attitude toward Michael, and toward the friends and family members who could not understand why a rich, white, politically conservative family would bring a homeless black boy into their lives and ultimately, into their home. Of course, the film begins and ends with football, but it is primarily the story of how Michael Oher came to live with Sean, Leah Ann, Collins, and SJ Tuohy, and his voyage to becoming a left tackle at Ole Miss, and later, a highly paid NFL player.

After I finished the book, I looked for videos of the real people who inspired both the book and the film, and YouTube has plenty of material. Interested readers will find interviews with Michael and the Tuohy family. My favorite one is with Mike Huckabee, and he calls The Blind Side a wonderful story for the holidays. And it is. Christmas stories fall into categories— religious, sloppily sentimental, and fairy tales. The Blind Side isn't any of those, but it is quite appropriate for the season of giving. Both the film and the book are worthy, because the film is emotionally satisfying, but the book satisfies on several levels.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shopping for Nerds and Geeks

Someone once commented on my YouTube video, entitled A Brief History of Science Fiction, with this profundity, "Nerds." Actually, I don't think I am quite smart enough to be a nerd or a geek, but I viewed it as a compliment never-the-less. As Christmas approaches, I have begun making my list, and I sometimes get shopping information and sales pitches which appeal to the wee bit of N/G in me.

For fans of Star Trek, please check out There are some seriously cool gift items there, including new shirts based on the 2009 new interpretation of Star Trek. Add a pair of black pants over short black leather boots, and you are ready to save the universe. N/G types with deeper wallets can also purchase props, from a tri-corder to a command chair. The latter goes for three grand, but how many folks can sit in that chair and order up warp drive?

More practical, but still kinda geeky and nerdy is the online vendor, Cyberguys. They have boring and mundane computer gear, such as bigger and better hard drives and enough cables to decorate your house and your yard, but they also have nifty "security" items, such as keyloggers and wireless video cameras. Anyone can become a private investigator with a bit of gear from this vendor. I must admit that an early Cyberguys catalog was the source for some of the gadgets which are used by the kidnappers in my debut novel, The Gift Horse.

Finally, for the smart shopper (take that either way) there is always Where else can you get a Star Trek Enterprise pizza cutter or a Star Wars light saber laser pointer? For more off-beat geeks, this vendor also has Bacon soap and a Staple Free Stapler. One of my friends suggested it to me, so maybe I am more nerdy and geeky than I think I am.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Call Her Ma'am!

My son recently observed that political ads are just boring. In particular, the "race" for governor in Georgia has been quite annoying. I don't care which one of the major candidates my readers supported, that campaign devolved into just plain nasty. Hopefully, now that the day of mid-term elections has finally arrived, the robo calls and mailers will cease. This morning I spent a few minutes deleting calls from Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee. Probably some of you did, too.

Seldom are campaign ads entertaining or thought provoking. But, there is always the exception to any rule. Have you seen this one? It is by David Zucker, who directed Airplane and other big budget Hollywood flix, and is a spoof of Barbara Boxer, who is probably going to continue representing California in the senate. I have shown it to my friends and family, and thus far everyone laughed. I hope you enjoy this contribution to Election Day in the United States.

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