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Archive for May, 2014

A Short Review of Guards! Guards!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 31, 2014

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Discworld novel is simply brilliant. Full of typical Pratchett puns, jokes, and satire, it’s about Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, led by Captain Vimes and his crew of Nobbs, Colon, and 6″6″ (adopted) dwarf, Carrot. A shadowy organization successfully attempts to magically call up a dragon to take over the kingdom and the Watch is forced to battle it. But how do you battle a monster dragon? Well, with the help of Sybil Ramkin, a large woman from an old, rich family who raises and breeds small swamp dragons, Vimes learns about what makes dragons go. Sybil is my favorite character in the book. She’s larger than life and captures Vimes’ heart beautifully by the end of the book. She even gives Vimes a swamp dragon of his own, Errol, who is instrumental in defeating the big, bad dragon. It’s also hilarious to see Carrot arresting everyone possible, unlike the rest of the Watch, including the dragon. I also enjoyed watching Patrician Vetinari, the sometimes tyrannical, sometimes benevolent ruler of Ankh-Morpork as he’s deposed by the dragon and rests in a dungeon, biding his time until he uses his key to release himself from his prison and regain his throne. The Librarian, an orangutang, was also a great addition to the book. I was disappointed, however, in not getting to experience the wizards from Unseen University and not much of my favorite Discworld character, Death. I just love Death, especially after reading Reaper Man. Pratchett’s really at his best in this book, brilliantly telling a fascinating tale while also giving us a history/civics lesson and a lesson on human nature. I strongly recommend this book!

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Our Little Church | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 28, 2014

Our Little Church | SouthernHon.

My wife wrote this about our little church and the dilemma we face….

 

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Deer!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 26, 2014

We saw two baby deer on the side of the road near our house last night. Gretchen got some good pictures of one of them. Actually, a hunter friend of mine said they’re only babies if they have spots. These are yearling. Whatever. They were very cute, very pretty and they weren’t scared at all. We were glad to see them.

Deer!

Deer!

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A Review of Our Friends From Frolix 8

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 16, 2014

Our Friends from Frolix 8Our Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our Friends From Frolix 8 is a pretty good story, although far from perfect. Surprisingly, it’s a fairly linear sci fi story from Dick, without his alternate worlds and universes he wrote so much about. And this was published in 1970, while Dick was pretty much at his height of alternate worlds.

The plot is about Nick Appleton, a tire “regroover,” who lives in a futuristic world (about 200 years from now) governed by large headed New Men (with large IQs) and Unusuals, who possess telepathic abilities. The rest of the seven billion humans are Old Men or Under Men, who are fighting a silent revolution to one day overthrow the system.

Nick takes his son for a mandatory civil service exam, which he thinks his son will pass and which will lead him to a better life than Nick has. However, the exam is rigged and his son fails, disillusioning Nick.

Nick finds himself at work conversing with his boss about things. Big things are happening. A revolutionary leader who has been jailed, but who has written numerous illegal pamphlets and booklets is about to be executed. The primary revolutionary, Thors Provino, took off in a space ship 10 years ago, but is apparently headed back to Earth with help, presumably from an alien or aliens. Like I said, big stuff. Nick’s boss talks him into sharing an illegal beer with him and discusses the illegal literature, before taking Nick to a dealer of this literature. There Nick meets a 16 year old girl named Charley, the dealer’s girlfriend, and he is smitten. I know, I know — Dick and his adolescent girls. He had problems, what can I say?

The dealer goes crazy and attacks Charley, and Nick and Charley take off for safety. And he takes her home to his wife and son. Crazy, right? Well, his wife is generally okay with things until she finds an illegal pamphlet in Charley’s coat and insists she leaves. To her consternation, Nick leaves with her. They take shelter at a big printing place, where the illegal pamphlets are printed. Meanwhile, Council Chairman Willis Gram, the world dictator who lies around in his pajamas all day, is panicking about the thought of Thors returning with an alien to take over. He orders the prison camps to be opened and everyone released as a good will gesture, but at the same time, orders an attack against the printing plant. There, Nick and Charley are captured. Gram falls for Charley (how does she have this hold over men?) and releases Nick, but Charley escapes Gram’s clutches and takes off. Gram realizes she’s probably going to go back to Nick, so he puts out a warrant for Nick which they find out about at the dealer’s apartment when the cops (pissers) show up. The dealer, Denny, is killed and Charley and Nick take off.

What’s happening with Thors? Well, he IS returning with an alien, from Frolix 8. He’s lived millions of years and is a 90 ton gelatinous slime blob. He encompasses the ship, protecting it from missiles the army is sending up against the space ship. He feeds on things and grows. They announce they’re landing in Times Square and Gram ships a huge laser up from Baltimore to incinerate Thors upon landing. They land eight hours early, but the laser is ready and they fire, only to find the alien devouring the beam and growing larger.

At some point, Charley and Nick find themselves in Central Park, where they make love and Nick recites a Yeats poem. Gotta get the statutory rape in there, don’tcha Phil? They take off in their squib, followed closely by two pissers and Charley crashes and dies violently. That seemed unnecessary, but I guess that’s the only way Dick knew to close things. The alien starts telepathically lobotomizing the New Men, rendering them useless and Nick confronts Gram, where things basically end. The last few pages are pretty interesting, but I won’t go into more detail here — I’ve already shared enough.

In this book, there are drug bars, where people can legally get high and in this book, too, everyone is a walking pharmacist. It’s bizarre to think that your average person would know so much about drugs. Dick also brings Biblical themes into play, as well as race, divorce, and futuristic gadgets, all themes and things he wrote so much about. This isn’t one of his better known works, and there are some textual inconsistencies (with dates especially) and the dialogue is often somewhat clunky, but it’s a fun story and it’s pretty action packed, so I suspect many Dick fans will like this book, as will many other readers. I can’t give it five stars because it’s not his best, but it’s a solid four star effort and as such, it’s recommended.

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Penguins Blew It!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2014

So my Pittsburgh Penguins cemented their monumental meltdown last night by losing to the New York Rangers 2-1, thereby losing the series 4-3. A week ago, they were up 3-1 and poised to go on to the conference finals once again, but they just lost it and scored only three goals in their final three games. New York really outplayed them and out energized them the whole way and it’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing to see this happen — again. The Pens had a marvelous regular season and finished with a great record, like they have every year since at least 2008 when they went to the Stanley Cup, winning it in 2009. However, since then, they’ve blown it in the playoffs, losing to lower seeded teams each of the past four years. This was also the second time in four years they’ve blown a 3-1 series lead. That’s totally inexcusable. The last two years, a primary culprit for playoff losses was our once sterling goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. But he had two shutouts in this series and had a decent playoffs, I think. The person I’m most pissed at is captain Sidney Crosby, widely considered to be the best player in the world and who will likely win the MVP of the league award. He’s always superb in the regular season, but got shut out by Boston in last year’s playoffs and scored only one goal in 13 playoff games this year. That indicates to me that he’s not a money player, that he can’t be counted on to be a clutch player at crunch time and that’s bitterly disappointing. The other former MVP on the team, Evgeni Malkin, had a decent playoffs with, I think, five goals, but he really wasn’t overly effective either when he needed to be. They both let the team down. Everyone says the coach is going to be fired. Here’s what I think needs to be done. The team has shown it’s got plenty of All Stars and lots of talent, but underachieves in the  playoffs every year. So tear the damn team apart and start over! Fire the coach and bring in someone who can get these guys to play their best when it counts. Here’s the big one — trade Crosby! That’s right, I said it. Do the unthinkable and give away the face of the franchise. Trade him for a top line goalie who will win us games like Boston’s Tuka Rask or the Ranger’s goalie, Lundquist. Trade him to the LA Kings for Jonathan Quick, who was America’s Olympics top goalie and he may be the best in the league. I’m sure the Kings would love to have a player like Crosby — who wouldn’t? He scores 100 points every year. Trade him and get Quick, a scoring center, and a number one draft pick. Then trade Fleury for another top line scorer and a good defenseman, maybe one who has a temper and is big enough to beat people up. Our top penalty man was Tanner Glass this year and he only had 83 penalty minutes. That’s embarrassing. Back in the 1970s, people got like 300 penalty minutes. That’s when men were men. Also, trade James Neal. He’s a former 40 goals scorer, an All Star, but he’s been worthless in the playoffs and just gets stupid penalties that hurt the team. He’s overrated. Trade him even up for another high scoring forward who can score in the playoffs when it counts. I’d also think about unloading Kris Letang. I know the Pens signed him to a five year, $56 million contract last year when he was a finalist for the Norris trophy, but his game really slipped this year and I think he lost us some games. Besides, we have at least four defensemen who are better than him defensively, which is what we need. There were many times during the playoffs when our defense wasn’t good enough. Bring in more high quality defenders, please. But I think the top priority has to be a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie. Get him, get proven playoff scorers, and take us back to the Cup. Please, Pens, do something. You’re going nowhere fast.

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A Review of Hogfather

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 11, 2014

Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Call me stupid, but this was one of the more confusing books I’ve ever read — and I really like Pratchett. His humor is definitely on show in this book, which is good, but I never got what was happening in the book’s plot.

It goes like this: ethereal beings called the Auditors want to do away with the Hogfather, Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. Apparently they hate life and hate humans and they think this will do something to humanity. So they hire Assassins to take him out. But that doesn’t really happen. He disappears from the scene, so apparently he’s been kidnapped somehow, but by whom, we’re never told. Meanwhile, Teatime, the Assassin, hires a bunch of thugs and a student wizard to help him out. They find themselves in a castle (?) tower (?) trying to unlock numerous locks on a door. To get at what, I never found out. Meanwhile, they’ve taken over the Tooth Fairy’s collection of teeth because that somehow means something to the plot, but what that is I never found out.

So the Hogfather has disappeared. Well, Death steps in to act on his behalf on their version of Christmas eve and he dresses up in a red suit and fake beard and takes a sleigh driven by four hogs around to all the houses, delivering presents to good children. He even takes time out to stop in a department store and act as the Hogfather there for children who get up on his lap and ask for things. It’s actually a pretty humorous scene.

Additionally, the Death of the Rats and a raven play a role in this novel, mostly as intermediaries between Death and his granddaughter Susan, who’s a governess now and is trying to forget about her heritage. Yet she’s the one who saves the day. She dispatches monsters for the children she serves and ends up going with the rat and raven to Death’s place, for what, I’m not sure. But she locates the Tooth Fairy (What does the Tooth Fairy have to do with the Hogfather???) and engages in a climactic scene with the Assassin and his henchmen, dispatching them with ease.

Now, you can’t have a Discworld novel without funny wizards mucking things up and this is no different. And as they gather for a holiday feast, Teatime comes flying down from above and they think he’s a corpse, but he regains consciousness and leaves. It’s really weird. Where did he come from?

Susan ultimately saves the Hogfather from a pack of dogs, which are really the Auditors, who are chasing him while he’s in hog form. After she saves him, with Death’s help, he reverts to his usual form and goes off on his sleigh and everything is once again right with the world. OK then.

Death was my favorite character in the novel. I first encountered him in Reaper Man and I’ve loved him ever since. He so tries to understand humans and his insights are hilarious. However, Death wasn’t enough to save this book for me. I have no idea what happened in the book or how it happened and that frustrated the hell out of me. I’d normally recommend Terry Pratchett to anyone, but not this novel, not today.

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A Review of The Tangle Box

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 9, 2014

The Tangle Box (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #4)The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tangle Box was a very enjoyable book to read. The fourth in the Landover series, I have read the first one several times, but this is the only other one I’ve gotten to. Fortunately, it can stand on its own merits, so you needn’t have read the preceding books, although I suspect it might have helped. It’s a good book.

Ben Holiday, the king of Landover, discovers that he and his sylph wife, Willow, are going to have a baby and he’s overjoyed, only to become disappointed when Willow tells him she must go on a solo journey for their baby’s sake. And so off she goes, and her journey is a doozy. Meanwhile, Horris Kew and Biggar, exiles from Landover, are returned there from Earth by powerful magic, tricked by a magical evil fairy called the Gorse, who has escaped from the Tangle Box, a box of fairy mists one can never escape from without outside help, and which he uses to trap Ben, Strabo the dragon, and Nightshade the witch. A good part of this book tells of their travels through the gloom of the Tangle Box. In the meantime, Questor Thews and Abernathy are left to care for the kingdom, not knowing what has happened to Ben.

In the Tangle Box, everyone’s worst fears are realized, and it’s interesting to see the interrelationships of Ben, Strabo, and Nightshade, sworn enemies, as they no longer remember their previous lives and work together to try and escape whatever it is they’re trapped in.

So Kew and Biggar help the Gorse as he seeks vengeance on Landover through an elaborate scheme to take over the kingdom before allowing it to be destroyed by demons Ben has battled before. Abernathy and Questor suspect, but seem powerless to intervene. Soon the whole kingdom is in uproar and has marched on the castle. Where is Ben? And what of Willow? She has traveled to Earth, on a mission from the Earth Mother, and back into the fairy mists. Her story nearly becomes a back story, though, and I think Brooks falters a little here. Until the birth of the baby, it seems to be an afterthought for much of the book.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but it’s good to see Ben not have to resort to calling the Paladin to save everyone. The ending is abrupt, but satisfying, in my opinion, and leaves an opening for the next book in the series, which I intend to read soon. This book wasn’t as good as the first, and there’s a bit too much Tangle Box here for me to give it five stars, but it’s a good four star effort and worth the read. Recommended.

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A Review of Tales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 1, 2014

Tales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Penguins Stories Ever ToldTales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Penguins Stories Ever Told by Joe Starkey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a longtime Pittsburgh Penguins fan, this was an awesome book to read! And I think it would be interesting for any hockey fan. However, if you’re not into hockey, this might not be the book for you.

The book starts out with the founding of the Penguins in 1967. Among the names considered for the team were the Shamrocks, Hornets, and Eskimos. However, the wife of one of the original investors chose “Penguins” and that’s what they became.

The first chapter is on the early years, namely 1967-1974. The first game was a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Their first rivalry was with the St. Louis Blues, although it soon became heated with the Philadelphia Flyers, a rivalry that continues to this day. The original hockey arena was called The Igloo, and I remember going there as a kid in the ’70s. It was a fun place to watch hockey.

The next chapter covers 1975-1983. The 1983-84 team was the worst ever, getting only 38 points on the season while using 48 players. The team declared bankruptcy in 1975. The book doesn’t say how they got out of it though. It describes a game that was played the night before Pittsburgh’s fourth Super Bowl win. It was against Edmonton and it erupted into a bench-clearing brawl. Eight players were ejected and the Pens were given 144 penalty minutes. That’s pretty cool. The 1970s Penguins may not have been all that good, but they could fight. The chapter also goes on to mention how the team’s colors were changed from sky blue to Pittsburgh black and gold in 1980, much to Boston’s displeasure. The chapter closes with a description of how the team might have flopped to get the worst record so they could draft superstar Mario Lemieux in 1984.

Mario was an instant hit and he scored a goal in his first game, on his first shift, with his first shot against Boston. And on to an incredible career. The chapter mentions how the Pens had gone 0-39-3 — 15 YEARS — without a win in Philly, only to finally get one in 1989. That’s crazy! Around the same time, Pittsburgh acquired awesome goaltender Tom Barrasso, who would go on to help the team win two Stanley Cups. I still remember him in goal. He was great. Meanwhile, going into 1990, Mario had scored a point or more in 46 straight games before a bad back injury forced him out of the lineup. That was disappointing. Another great Penguin was also acquired in the late ’80s — defenseman Paul Coffey. He would finish his career as one of the great scorers in the league. The pieces finally came together in 1990 when Pittsburgh drafted Jaromir Jagr, who would go on to also become on of the greatest scorers in league history. He and Lemieux made a formidable combination.

The next chapter covers the great Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992 and several great subsequent seasons. The 1992-93 Pens had four 100 point scorers, which is amazing. This year, only Pen Sidney Crosby scored 100 points in the league. Four on one team in the same year. Amazing. Finally, in 1997, Mario retired due to terrible back problems and Hodgkins Disease. The 66 jersey was immediately retired. He was also elected to the Hall of Fame.

The following chapter covers 1997-2004, which were pretty lean years for the Pens. In fact, they went into bankruptcy once again and were only saved when Mario stepped in to buy the team. The next chapter is all about Sidney Crosby’s 2005 rookie year as the new savior of the franchise. He lived with Lemieux his rookie year. He scored his first goal in his first home game against Boston.

After the chapter on Crosby comes a chapter called “The Rising,” covering 2006-2008, when the Pens were putting the pieces together for another Stanley Cup run. They got Evgeni Malkin from Russia and he sure could score. Like Lemieux and Jagr before them, Crosby and Malkin would go on to become the most feared scoring pair in the NHL. Of course, Pittsburgh played Detroit for the Stanley Cup in 2008, losing in six games. However, the next year, both teams went at it again, with Pittsburgh winning its third Stanley Cup in seven games. I remember that series well. Nail biting, to say the least.

The final chapter covers 2010-2013, and it’s as good as the other chapters. Now it’s 2014 and the Pens are in the playoffs again and I really hope this year we can bring home a fourth Stanley Cup. Crosby and Malkin are no longer the kids they were in the previous ones and this team can’t last forever. It’s time for another.

This was a fun and quick book to read. My only complaint is the contents of the chapters aren’t linear, so that you get something that happened one year followed by something that happened four years before. It can be confusing at times. Still, excellent book and I strongly recommend it.

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