Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: How to Survive a Sharknado by Andrew Shaffer


Life is full of hidden perils. Some you can see coming; smog, rabid dogs, visits by your in-laws. Some you can’t; El Nino, UV radiation, and the Hanta virus. Some you don’t expect at all. Thank goodness for Andrew Shaffer and his handy guide to threats you never even knew existed.  Why bother breaking a sweat over global warming or Thanksgiving with Uncle Dwayne when a greater danger lies in wait from a sharknado? For those not in the know a sharknado is a tornado that forms over the ocean. Its whirling fury sucks up several hundred sharks and then flings them out in a random pattern over the nearest city. Needless to say, this agitates the sharks and causes them to chomp away on people with happy abandon. SyFy Channel movies have been warning us to duck and cover for years, but no. You wouldn’t listen, would you? Now sharks are falling from the skies and you have no idea what to do.

Luckily Andrew Shaffer does. He has put all this useful information together in one place to give us poor terrified victims of unnatural catastrophes the best chance of survival. The book is divided into two sections; unnatural disasters and monsters. Each part covers a multitude of dangers humans may have to face. The simple layout makes it easy to thumb through as you’re running for your life. Running, by the way, rarely works when death is hot on your heels. What does work is rapid threat assessment followed by an adequate supply of guns, rockets loaded with dry ice, bombers dropping glaciers, dynamite, the occasional nuclear warhead, and a jewel called The Eye of Medusa (The last is only effective against a basilisk.)

Tips and Treats
Along with survival tips Shaffer also adds additional snippets of information on surviving the unnatural catastrophe. Making your last line of defense against a sharknado is not the time to figure out how to wield a chainsaw. Study the instructions first. Also useful to know are the melting points of various manmade objects. The St. Louis Gateway Arch is stainless steel and at 2600 degrees Fahrenheit is much more durable in the face of a firenado (tornado made of fire) than is the Statue of Liberty at a paltry 1984 degrees. Avid cooks will appreciate the recipe for fried gatoroid. After all, once you’ve disposed of something as big as a Greyhound bus it would be a crying shame to let all that good meat go to waste.

Stocking Stuffer
Do you have a crazed survivalist hiding in the basement? Or, better yet, a Boy Scout or Girl Scout in your family? Forget those silly Red Cross first aid manuals for Christmas. All they really need is How to Survive a Sharknado stuffed into their stocking in order to laugh in the face of death (or perhaps earn some really keen merit badges).

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where Have All the Villains Gone?

It’s tough to find a good villain nowadays. I blame it on psychology, muddying the waters with motivational and emotional issues to explain away actions. Enough of that nonsense. I want my villain to be bad all the way through. Discovering Voldemort was an abused child named Tom Riddle tainted his death at the end. I’ll even admit to a cheer when Dumbledore plummeted out the window. With Tom’s tragic past evident, Dumbledore became an arrogant ass who should have been banned from being around children decades before. After all, he had also allowed Harry to be raised by tormenting sadists who kept him in a closet. If only he had gotten Tom counseling at the start, none of the resulting mayhem would have happened. Frankly, I would gladly have pushed Dumbledore out the window myself.

I don’t want my villains redeemed, either. They should be bad all the way through. Once redeemed, they evoke sympathy and teeter on becoming a hero. If they’re punished, I don’t get that gleeful feeling of righteous satisfaction anymore. I love that feeling. One of my favorite childhood villains was the Wicked Witch of the West. What can be more evil than someone bent on destroying a ten year-old child? Did I cry when she melted? Hell no. Recent writers have delved into a fictional past to explain away her evilness. Pah! I don’t care. Be rotten. Stay rotten. That’s my motto.

Tut, tut, you say. A purely evil villain is only for children’s stories. In order for an adult to enjoy a book, one must understand the character’s motivation. What makes them tick? What is their background? Their psychological imperative? Hell no. Exceptional villains abound in fiction; Count Dracula, Professor Moriarty, the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare’s Richard III. You’ll note, some were written specifically for children, but some are for adults. All are great fun.

In my opinion, one of the most compelling scenes in all literature is the meeting between Richard III and Lady Anne. She’s a grieving widow and hates him—I mean really, really hates him. After all, Richard is responsible for the death of her husband and father. No way will she have anything to do with the conniving hunchback, but as his charming lies unfold, he wins her over with pleas of love and repentance. After she leaves, Richard gleefully admits in his soliloquy he’s going to drop her like a hot rock as soon as gets what he wants. What a scumbag. I adore him.

Keep your psychological explanations. Enjoy your philosophical discussions of right and wrong without me. I want my villains to get their due comeuppance at the end and feel satisfaction as they meet their doom. (I insist on doom, too.) My favorite villain from the movies was Hans Gruber in Die Hard; handsome, charming, debonair, and one nasty son of a bitch at heart. He was not just bad. He was gleefully bad. Maybe because Mummy never made his favorite pudding and Daddy wouldn’t buy him a puppy. I don’t know. I don’t care. Every time Hans plummets to his death at the end of the movie my heart sings. Take that Anakin Skywalker and your wussy abandonment issues. Take that.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review of Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll

Product DetailsPity the poor suffering student trapped in a stuffy classroom with an aging professor droning away about white guys fighting. For most students that depressing scenario constitutes a history class; dates, a succession of wars, and who is trying to kill whom. If only they had Andrew Carroll. Under his skillful storytelling, forgotten history unfolds as a fascinating journey into the past.

History becomes more that a succession of place names and battles. Carroll explores not only how these forgotten places forged our identity as Americans, but why they have been forgotten in the in first place. Women and minorities are often shortchanged in history books, but many previously forgotten accomplishments are enthusiastically set forth.

The details are fascinating, but part of the appeal is the author also journeyed to these sites and often met with eye witnesses or direct descendants to add another layer of interest. One story leads whimsically to another. Some are amusing. Richard Hart, a federal agent who fought bootleggers was Al Capone’s brother. Some are chilling. Madison Grant was a fervent conservationist who saved the buffalo from extinction and the redwoods from the lumberman’s axe. He was also a die-hard racist whose writings influenced Adolf Hitler.

Well-written history should read like well-written fiction and this certainly does. Be warned. After reading this book, you will have a difficult time passing a historical marker.

Here is Where Buy Link