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Discussion Starter #1
I have been slothful in writing up a new thread on this. But I've done one of these threads for three years now, so why quit?



Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food, by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

This is a book on the perils of eating fast food and the rotten things the big fast food chains, and other companies that market to children do. I was very interested but only got about 12% into the book. Then I had to quit. When I read an expose book like this, I expect the facts to be absolutely straight. And I would like the attitude of the author to be as unbiased as possible, which may be unfair of me to expect in an expose book.

Very early in the book the biography of "Colonel" Sanders is covered. The author makes a point of disparging Sanders for referring to himself as a colonel. He incidentally says that Sanders was never in the military. I was aware of the tradition of the Kentucky Colonel, so was puzzled by this. I did a little bit of research, and found that Sanders was indeed officially a Kentucky Colonel. This really bothered me, because I was aware of Sanders holding this honorary title back when I was a teenager. If the author did any research at all, how could he not Know this stuff? While researching, I also discovered that contrary to what this book asserts, Sanders was briefly in the military, though at much lower rank than Colonel. I was now concerned about the book. But I shrugged it off and kept reading.

The author then began to discuss Walt Disney and the Disney empire. The author made a cutting comment about how Disney was not the artist on his animated cartoons. This really bothered me, as I knew that even the directors of short Warner Bros. cartoons were not the artists. The director and producer of an animated feature have other jobs. And in fact Walt Disney really was the voice of Mickey Mouse for several years. So he did participate directly in making some of his most important early cartoons.

At this point I concluded that I was skeptical the authors had a clue what they were talking about, and even more skeptical that they were ever going to give the subjects even remotely fair treatment. So I put the book aside and won't be going back to it. I don't give out many one-star ratings, but this book does get one star from me
 

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Star Witness, by Lia Matera

I picked this up a while ago when it was offered for 99 cents. I was very happy with the purchase and picked up all the others that were in Kindle form at a reduced price.

Our heroine is an attorney who was raised by unrepentant hippie parents. Her parents are retain their leftist, antiestablishment views now, but she has more conventional ideas on politics in the world. She still is enough of a rebel that she has trouble holding down an attorney job, and has only recently changed jobs when a friend who she owes a gigantic favor insists that she repay by taking a capital case that is way out of her expertise. Her new client is accused of vehicular manslaughter. His car drove over a cliff and crushed a car (with occupant) on the road below. But it seems that her client is not guilty. He was not driving his car at the time of the accident, he was in the UFO where he had been kidnapped! The UFO seems to have carelessly dropped the empty car on the road. At least this explains how his sports car with narrow performance tires passed over a plowed field without leaving any tracks! Of course, few jurors are likely to be impressed by this explanation. So her case may be a tough one.

I enjoyed the book a lot. Lots of twists and turns to the plot, some interesting expert witnesses and others, and I will read the others in the series. Not that I need another mystery series to follow, darn it! A very solid four stars from me. Oh, and I love the cover!
 

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The Hooded Claw said:
I enjoyed the book a lot. Lots of twists and turns to the plot, some interesting expert witnesses and others, and I will read the others in the series. Not that I need another mystery series to follow, darn it! A very solid four stars from me. Oh, and I love the cover!
Star Witness sounds like a fun story with a nice blend of courtroom drama and paranormal geekery. The cover reminds me of the Weekly World News, in a good way. :)
 

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DK Mok said:
Star Witness sounds like a fun story with a nice blend of courtroom drama and paranormal geekery. The cover reminds me of the Weekly World News, in a good way. :)
I agree about the cover. I also liked this cover which was on a book I read and reviewed it last year's thread:

 

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Fer-Dec-Lance, by Rex Stout

I've heard of the Nero Wolfe mysteries literally for decades, but had never read one till now. This is the first in the series (though I understand that the books are independent, so there is no compelling need to read them in order), and we meet Wolfe, a retiring super genius who doesn't get out much. The story is told through his leg man Archie, and Wolfe didn't always reveal his purposes to Archie, and thus to the reader. The story is set when it was written in the 1930s.

As is typical of mysteries, there isn't a lot I can discuss without revealing plot points, so I will be good and hold my peace. I'll just say that Wolfe has a problem in that in his murder case, every possible suspect seems to be in the clear.

I liked the book, it is well-written and clear. I had no problems keeping the characters straight, which is sometimes a problem in mysteries with simultaneous investigations of many suspects. The book wasn't gripping. It didn't grab my attention and hold it. I still rate it as four stars.
 

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The Kirov Saga, books 9-11
Altered States
Darkest Hour
Hinge of Fate

I am covering all three of these together, though I read other books in between them. These are part of the Kirov series of time travel naval alternate history science fiction (everybody got that straight?). Last year I began reading these at the rate of one a month using the free borrow from my Amazon Prime subscription. This month I took advantage of my free trial of Kindle Unlimited for reasons unrelated to this series. Since I had access to a bunch of free books, after I'd used KU for my intended purpose, I took advantage of the remaining books, and snarfed up the books in this series.

For those of you unenlightened enough to not have read last year's thread, I'll recap that the Kirov is a near-future Russian warship that spent the first three volumes in the series finding themselves mysteriously deposited in the midst of World War II.
Before returning home, they discovered that World War III would start soon after they got back to their proper time, and that it would destroy all human life. Since they had acquired a limited ability to time travel on command, they resolve to avert the coming war. But not every crewman agrees with the way the commander goes about this
.

The author has started formatting the series into trilogies with one independent book in between each trilogy. This trilogy finds Kirov back in her original stomping grounds of early World War II. But their other machinations have changed history, and this isn't your father's World War II. Things are different, and even the Soviet Union they used to know doesn't exist here. Thus the title of Altered States! One thing that pleased me was that now that there is no longer a thread of existing history to protect, Kirov quits being a retiring butterfly, and actively seeks to talk to the people in their current timeline, rather than just trying to lay low, invariably unsuccessfully. I enjoyed the story and kept reading eagerly.

This flagged a bit in the last book, Hinge of Fate. Several things began to bother me. This series is story-driven, not character-driven, but in this last book, I was more bothered by the flatness of the characters. One new character in particular bothered me. The editing problems of bad word choice, poor grammar, and periodic errors in the generally exhaustive historical research bothered me more than in earlier books. And the author repeatedly harped on how the hinge of Fate was turning, enough that it began to annoy me. I'm not sure if these problems were the result of reading so many of the series in a short time, or if there really is a degradation of the quality. I'm going to give it awhile before reading the next book and see if that helps.

Note that the cover of Darkest Hour includes a dirigible, Stuka dive bombers, and a laser beam.surely the first time in history that particular combination of objects appeared on a book cover!

Despite some worries,I am still thoroughly enjoying the story here, and I must give these books a collective four and a half stars. If I was giving individual ratings, I'd give the last book three and a half, however.
 

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Robots Have no Tails, by Henry Kuttner

I haven't read a lot of Henry Kuttner, but I've been very impressed by what I have read. Kutner was mostly known for extremely creative science-fiction short stories. He was active in the 1940s and early 1950s, until his career was cut short by an untimely death at a young age.

The other Kuttner works that I have read were independent short stories. This is a five-story series about the same character, Gallagher. Gallagher is a very creative super genius type. Unfortunately his greatest capabilities are only active when he is drunk. He has a recurring problem of being off on a bender, agreeing to solve a problem for a client, solving it while still in this inebriated state, but then not being able to remember anything about what he has done when he sobers up. Each of these stories begins when he comes out of the influence and realizes that he doesn't remember what he's agreed to do, or even who he has agreed to do it for. The story involves him extricating himself from the situation.

The stories are very creative, but the very artificial setup took a lot of the joy out of it for me. My favorites were the first story, a sort of locked room mystery, and the second, where his home is overrun with cute talking bunnies from Mars, while he is the object of unwanted police attention because a series of dead bodies keeps materializing in his garden.

One curious feature of the book is the deliberate choice of obscure but appropriate words from time to time. For the first time, I encountered "scarify," "insufflate," and "noumenon." There are more of these. The Kindle dictionary generally came through for me.

The stories are clever and fun, but the artificial setup bugged me, especially when it happened five times. I look back at it with more fondness than I felt while reading it, but my dissatisfaction while reading lets me give this three and a half stars, and that last half star is given grudgingly.
 

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Cartoons of World War II, by Tony Husband

My attention was drawn to this when a friend bought a remaindered paper copy at Barnes & Noble (first time he'd been in one for ages). I was pleased to see it is available on Kindle for a reasonable price. The book is just pages of editorial cartoons organized by year. There is some text, but it focuses almost entirely on the cartoonists, there is little explanation of the events the cartoons comment on. So to get the full benefit of the book, you need to have some knowledge of the war.

The cartoons begin before the war, with the earliest covering the rise of the Nazis, and end with a few cartoons about the end of the war and demobilization. Cartoons from many countries are included, the ones from Soviet and Nazi publications are especially jarring with their completely different world views:

These are a few of my favorites:

A commentary from before the war on naval arms races...



This was done during the short-lived alliance between Hitler and Stalin...



And this Nazi poster showed how the Germans sought to portray American "civilization."



I like this book a lot. Five stars for those interested in World War II. Others will quite properly ignore it.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
telracs said:
um, your favorite cartoons are missing...
To avoid problems posting, they were added in later...
 

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telracs said:
i don't get the "liberators" one.
It suggests that instead of being heroic saviors from a shining city on a hill, the Americans are a despicable and alien hybrid of black, KKK, Jewish, and money-grubbing capitalist influence, who view the jitterbug (inside the birdcage), world's greatest leg contests, and drum majorettes as big cultural achievements. So obviously all civilized Europeans must unite behind the Germans in defending civilization from these uncouth foreign interlopers who shatter our cities with their bombing! Pretty crude appeal to chauvinism. Of course, we Americans are above such crass things :-X
 

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A Companion to Easter Island, by James Grant-Peterkin

I am preparing for a trip to South America in April, and this book is part of my background reading. It is a travel guide, not a general information book on the island and the statues. Much of it is given over to detailed descriptions of routes around the island and what you will see while traveling them. I won't be able to give it a true rating until my trip is over, but for the moment I give it 3 1/2 stars. Not recommended for anyone not planning a trip to Easter Island.
 

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Last Chants: A Willa Jansson Mystery, by Lia Matera

It is actually out of order, but I'm going to cover this now as I will otherwise forget about it. This book is a sequel to Star Witness, which I read a few weeks ago and really enjoyed. I started reading it last night. Our heroine is an attorney who was raised by parents who remain unrepentant hippies, but she didn't quite follow in their unconventional footsteps. She is now an adult attorney, but absorbed enough rebellious spirit from her parents to be not completely comfortable with mainstream thinking.

I love the first book, but gave up on this one 8% into the book. The book begins with our attorney seeing a family friend who is about to be arrested by the police. She intervenes with a rather dimwitted plan to save him from arrest, which works. The friend is a bumbling absent-minded professor type, and doesn't understand his peril. This professor is supposed to be an anthropologist who has done cultural research spending long periods living with savage tribes deep in the Amazon and with Arctic aboriginal people in Siberia. To establish these relationships and live in those circumstances would take a very savvy and aware person, but this professor should not be allowed to use plastic tableware except under responsible supervision. Among many other failures, he seems completely unable to understand why the police would be upset with him because in their eyes he threatened people with a pistol and left the scene with a hostage at gunpoint (I told you her plan to extricate him was stupid). Despite the bumbling professor and bold but foolish lawyer they make it to a place of safety, at which point we learn that the lawyer's mother who is a friend of the professor, has with surgical precision done the most damaging thing possible in this situation. At this point, I closed the book. I don't think I'm going back to it. Since I read so little of the book I'm not going to give it a star rating despite my temptation to give it a very bad one. I grabbed a couple of these these at low price, and will probably give the series a try with another book. I really did like Star Witness!
 

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Weight Training for Dummies, by Liz Neropont

Upfront I have to say that I have an older edition of this book, but it is by the same authors as this one. There is also yet another Kindle version of this book which is almost brand-new released in December 2014. Two revisions later, I assume the content is quite different.

I am reporting on this now but I actually have been using this as a reference for almost a year. If you've been following this thread you know that I lost quite a bit of weight over the last couple years and have been working diligently to keep things that way. That desire, Plus reading about how a key factor in being able to live independently as you age is to maintain your strength as you get older motivated me to do resistance training. Resistance training is what people who actually work in this field call what most of us think of as weight training. This is not just for barbell boys. And much of it does not involve actually lifting weights at all, but doing things that create resistance your muscles have to press against.

I recently realized I had at one point or another read most of the book. I read the first half or so in one go back when I started this and every read chapters and it periodically and now I have literally gone through every chapter. So I decided to counted as a book read and talk about it here.

In short, if you're interested in building and maintaining your strength, and I'm not talking about Charles Atlas stuff I'm talking about things real people do, this book is outstanding. It begins with a great deal of information and advice on benefits of resistance training, and how to start doing this yourself. Topics covered include deciding whether to join a gym, or just work at home, choosing what equipment if any you want to acquire (barbells are not necessary), advantages of using a personal trainer if you decide to do so, and how do you choose a gym or personal trainer if that's the route you take. Basics of anatomy and what different muscle groups do are covered. This is followed by numerous chapters on exercises to focus on particular groups of muscles. There are illustrations safety tips and detailed written instructions.

The only complaint I have and it is a minor one, is that although the illustrations are of good size and show up wonderfully on my 7 inch Kindle Fire, and usably even on my smart phone using the Kindle app, there are usually only two illustrations per exercise. Sometimes I'd like to see intermediate steps. Fortunately there are numerous YouTube videos illustrating the same exercises. So this is not a major deficiency.

Highly recommended for those who want to do this. I give it a solid 4 1/2 stars. If you buy this, you'll be getting a later edition. Probably best to pick up the most recent edition, though I don't know how much it is changed from what I've been reading.
 

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The Hooded Claw said:
A Companion to Easter Island, by James Grant-Peterkin... I won't be able to give it a true rating until my trip is over, but for the moment I give it 3 1/2 stars. Not recommended for anyone not planning a trip to Easter Island.
I look forward to hearing your final review of the book (and Easter Island). I hope you have a fantastic trip!
 

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What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood (2nd Edition), by T.R. Locke

I've never been star-struck or particularly interested in Hollywood. Until recently anyway. For the past few months the glamour of the place, how it works, and the history of it have begun to appeal to me. When I had free access to a few more books using my Kindle Unlimited trial, I saw that this book by a script writer was available, and snarfed it up.

Author Locke identified himself as a scriptwriter, he never said he was a SUCCESSFUL scriptwriter! Don't read this book when you are depressed. It is largely a tale of woe and frustration. But it was interesting to read. If I had any actual ambitions of heading to Hollywood to make my fortune, I suppose it would've been useful to read. If only for insight on some new ways to get diddled around.

I'm going to start off with a few direct quotes:

"There are 120,00 SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) members. At any given time, 85% of them are out of work. The average salary of a SAG member is less than $10,000 a year. Eighteen to 20% [sic] fall into star roles and earn serious money. Others are just trying to make at least $7500 this year so they can qualify for their health and medical benefits. Less than 1% get into the million-dollar and double digit million dollar realm.

"It's imperative that an actor either has a job that allows him this freedom or that he work at night. That's why so many actors are waiters. ... Catering companies work on a per day basis--They call you up and check if you're available a day or so in advance and, if you work it right, it's possible to bring home upwards of $500/week."

"People wonder why rappers who succeeded in becoming big stars still hang out and often do the same things they did before they made it big. T.I. gets caught with machine guns with silencers on them, while he's already on probation? Stupid!...The inspiration for their art is shattered as soon as they become stars. It's very difficult to write about injustice and dirty cops when those cops are guarding your mansion and keeping your child safe at school."

"If my agent and manager and I were lunching together at Hamburger Hamlet in Beverly Hills, and discussing my next million-dollar script, I wouldn't feel free to say what I say here. I wouldn't even want to."

"I asked him what he animated (on the Disney Tarzan movie). I can't remember the exact thing he said, but it was some minutiae related to the way that one group of animals moved during the musical sequences. 'I worked on that for three years,' he said glumly, 'and they only used ten seconds of what I'd done.'"

"Hollywood is full of distractions. By that I mean some of the best looking people in the world--many of them extremely friendly, intelligent, open, supportive, creative, driven, alone, horny and single; every type of drug, every type of lifestyle, and every type of entertainment. When things aren't right in one part of your life, it's often too easy to find a temporary fix in a bad place."

Back to Claw now. In the book Locke describes how he convinced his wife to abandon their stressed but plush double income professional lives in Chicago so that they could move to Hollywood and he could pursue his dream of being a scriptwriter. He also describes how this led him to bankruptcy and nearly to divorce, though he says he and his wife have reconciled.

When I was initially in the Army as an enlisted man, I briefly conceived the idea of reenlisting to get a special benefit. I was sent to a special reenlistment NCO who handled the unusual type of contract that I wanted. The reenlistment NCO listened sympathetically but told me to come back later. When I came back later he told me to come back even later. This went on for a while, and I eventually talked to another reenlistment NCO who I knew better and complained. He explained that the sergeant had met his quota for the month, and was putting me off so he could use me to meet his quota in the following month. I was eager to get on with things and didn't want to wait a month, and in my naivety was shocked that a professional would do something so selfish and dismissive of my interests. To be young and idealistic again! I was sufficiently annoyed by this that I abandoned the idea of reenlisting and went back to my original plan of returning to college, going through ROTC, and coming back as an officer. The manipulative reenlistment NCO was a small time operator compared to what goes on in Hollywood. In this book the author describes many different ways of being had as a writer. One of the simplest ones, and one that even I was aware of before I read the book, was when producers interview you in detail about your script ideas, then take the idea and have their favored writer modify it and turn it into a movie script. There are many different ways in which people use each other shamelessly, and the book describes them in a way that will make you weep at man's inhumanity to man. On the other hand, the author describes how he became frustrated with a very important producer and literally screamed obscenities at the fellow. The author now believes the producer's protestations that he was genuinely trying to help. Maybe he's right. Maybe he isn't.

Despite all this, the author still is genuinely committed to his goal of succeeding in Hollywood as a writer. He doesn't seem to be getting far, this is the second edition, said to be published several years after the first but there is nothing in the book that I would consider as very successful. Though at least when he is old and gray, he won't sit and lament that he wasted his productive years doing a job he hated, when he should have gone to Hollywood and pursued his dream.

Most of the book is the author's recollections, but the last part is interviews with various (usually anonymous) people of greater and lesser success in different types of Hollywood jobs. The interviewees focus on what has worked for them, and what hasn't. It's interesting that one of the people interviewed had a substantial success as a producer with HBO, that I would've thought would lead to a successful career, but is now working outside of show business, I believe in North Carolina.

As long as you can handle the rather frustrated and gloomy yet still ultimately optimistic demeanor of the author , this is worth reading if the subject interests you. I'm going to give it 3 1/2 stars, but it is awfully close to four.
 

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Unnatural Acts, by Kevin J. Anderson

Where do you find a zombie that's lost its arms and legs?

Exactly where you left it.


Another tale of Dan Shamble, the private investigator who was murdered on the job, but returned as a zombie when The Big Uneasy released magic and all sorts of legendary creatures into our modern world. Like most of the various new types of resident, Dan just wants to make a living and have a happy life.

This story has a fairly standard set of interwoven cases, but hanging over everything is the rhetoric of Senator Rupert Balfour, who seems determined to rise to power by defending "normal, natural humans" against the monsters because "God hates unnaturals." And he seems determined to use the power of the law in his crusade. Sen. Ballfour is omnipresent enough and obnoxious enough that you just know that he is going to be involved in Shamble's cases. There's no deep philosophy here, just a pleasant read if you like this sort of thing, which I do. As in the other book in the series that I've read, the author gets in some interesting tidbits about integrating undead into society. Fitness is still a concern, zombies can't build new muscle but they do have to worry about maintaining their flexibility. Vampires can actually get fit and strong but a heart monitor is of no use to them in their fitness training! Oh, you also learn how a zombie can successfully hold hands with his non-corporeal ghost girlfriend.

A fun read. I give it an extremely solid 3 1/2 stars. I am a hard grader, so 3 1/2 stars is a very honorable score. I will definitely continue the series.
 
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