Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Coca-Cola

By Terry Ravenscroft

For the next couple weeks I’d like to review a couple of collections by Ravenscroft. This is a bit coincidental as I just uploaded a post on my other blog regarding humor. Humor is a tricky thing and each person defines what’s funny. Keep that in mind when you read further.

Former factory worker Terry Ravenscroft, who lives in Derbyshire, England, has written a number of letters to British food corporations describing various ‘complaints’ and offering suggestions for product improvement. This book is a collection of those letters and the companies’ subsequent replies. Mr. Ravenscroft starts with one of the most popular brand names, Coca-Cola, writing to see if the drink includes any type of animal matter because he has visiting friends who are vegetarians. Then he wonders whether the company actually puts cocaine (hence the soda’s name) into the drink. From there he contacts every business from soup to nuts, from tea to pasta, from chocolate to dog food. Most of the replies he receives are very professional with a few ‘standard form letters’ and even some company representatives adding their own bits of humor. Each letter seems to get more outlandish than the last.

For a person with too much time on his hands who wants to stir up a little humorous controversy, I suppose writing letters to companies is the way to go.

None, unless you count the representatives from the corporations who, for the most part, remain professional.

I suppose the dialogue in the letters remains consistent throughout and the dialogue in the replies vary from slightly nudge-nudge-wink-wink to blatant form letter.

While Mr. Ravenscroft is going for humor, he sometimes steps over the line of professionalism and decency. Though there are a fair number of laughs to be had, some of his replies are mildly to medium insulting and after a few of these, it is no wonder the companies contacted simply do not reply as is often stated. Similarly, and this is purely personal preference, it was not necessary to include the plethora information regarding his sexual peccadilloes, true or not. Many letters included information regarding activities that lacked common sense, such as the nanny throwing in an unopened tin of tuna into a meal because the directions suggested ‘adding a can of tuna.’ I admire the companies remaining professional, even going so far as to offer vouchers and coupons. I also give credit to the creativity of Mr. Ravenscroft but he generally came off as a pest.

My ranking:

Camouflage Belt

Monday, February 20, 2012

Night Corridor

by Joan Hall Hovey

It's 1973. Residents in the town of St. Simeon are in fear. A serial killer is roaming the streets. Caroline Hill, in a mental hospital for nine years is released to start her new life. With help from the hospital, she is set up in an apartment and a new job. While she rediscovers herself and tries to cope with the world, she deals with a sexist co-worker and realizes she's being watched and followed. As the weeks roll by, the body count grows and Caroline's fears mount. With the inevitable meeting with the killer she must wage a desperate fight for survival.

I like the premise, but once you get into it, you soon see how the story is 'off' in many places. For instance, weeks go by between the first suspicions of a stalker and the next incident. A subplot is included where the police suspect one guy of killing his wife and making it look like the serial killer's work, but they take a long while to get a search warrant to confront him.

Caroline Hill: 26, nine years in a mental institution. Put there by her Bible thumping father and submissive mother, both dead when story starts. Caroline had a baby out of wedlock and was forced to give it up. She's sensitive to others and wary of her new freedom.

Greta Bannister: Caroline's landlady. Talkative. Caring

Harold Bannister: Greta's 24 year old nephew. Learning disability. Works in a bakery. Develops a crush for Caroline.

Lynne Addison: Nurse in the institution. Dealing with her mother's Alzheimer's. Wants only the best for Caroline.

Thomas O'Neal: Homicide detective

Buddy: Abused as a child. Neglected by his mother and uncles including one who raped him.

Mike Handratty: Caroline's coworker at the diner. Sexist, chauvinist, harasses Caroline.

Jeffrey Denton: Piano player who lives above Caroline.

Relatively unexciting characters, even though Caroline's rediscovery of herself is an interesting study. Some of the background for a few characters is irrelevant to the story. Buddy's is a typical story.

Pretty basic. Some standard B-movie lines. Nothing too exciting.

This was a difficult story to read. Short chapters. Other than some of the plot problems, this book is fraught with mistakes editing should have caught. Missing quotation marks or quotes in the wrong places. Extra or missing words. Sentence structure doesn't flow in many places. There are abrupt switches in POV. Slow action. Climax is drawn out and not suspenseful. End of chapter foreshadowing seems forced and one doesn't pan out. Set in the seventies with some minor references, but not enough to matter. Title is unique, but irrelevant, unless I'm missing something.

My ranking:

Yellow Belt

Monday, February 13, 2012


By David Weddle and Jeffrey Lang

Set in the time after the last season of DS9 ends. An agent from Starfleet’s enigmatic and shadowy Section 31 has once again approached Doctor Julian Bashir for another mission. Another genetically enhanced doctor, Locken, recruited by Section 31 has gone rogue on a planet within the infamous Badlands. Locken, a Khan wannabe, is creating an army of Jem’Hadar in a megalomaniacal plan to unite the Alpha Quadrant. Assisted by Ezri Dax, Ro Laren and DS9’s resident Jem’Hardar, Taran’atar, Julian must fight his own doubts about enhance individuals to stop Locken before the galaxy is plunged into all out war.

Not an original plot, but as a Star Trek fan, I did enjoy the Section 31 episodes and the series of Section 31 stories in books. This one didn’t deal too directly with the black ops agency, which most of them didn’t. I was disappointed because I thought the authors of these books would delve more into the workings and machinations of Section 31 rather than providing another episodic chapter in the lives of the Star Trek characters.

Doctor Julian Bashir: Chief medic on Deep Space 9. Genetically enhanced individual.

Ezri Dax: a Trill and current love interest of Bashir’s

Ro Laren: Chief security officer on DS9

Locken: Doctor, genetically enhanced.

Taran’atar: Jem’Hadar who is observing activities on DS9. He is an altered version of his race in that he doesn’t need the required Ketracel White formula to function.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you know the characters. The only new ones are the race of Ingavi who come across as more monkey like than humanoid.

The authors do a good job of recreating the voice of each character from the series. From Bashir’s above average attitude to Ezri’s quirkiness. The conversations were typical of ST novels.

The story follows the events in a previous book, Avatar, so the station in is the midst of a major overhaul after an attack. The fusion core is being replaced. While the main story is progressing, other DS9 characters’ subplots continue which was a little distracting and unnecessary. This book is written similarly to others in that the main characters are separated and the storyline follows each group, usually every other chapter bouncing back and forth. The action is typical ST and the theme is one seen before. Despite the interruptions for stuff going on back at the station, it is still an enjoyable story.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, February 6, 2012

Engines of Destiny

by Gene DeWeese

The next two weeks, I step into the science fiction world with two reviews on Star Trek books. I usually don't take a sci-fi book unless there's something that peaks my interest. I can count on one hand the number of series I've read, including Doctor Who, the Rama series, and a couple of others. I actually started read Trek as a youth but the first book I picked up was Triangle and I didn't understand it and didn't read another Trek novel for many years. Now, I've collected nearly all of them. You might see other Trek or Who novels here in the future, if I deem them worthy.

Bored by retirement and depressed by Jim Kirk’s death, Captain Montgomery Scott is drowning his anxieties in various taverns in Scotland. One night, he meets an enigmatic woman (Guinan) and soon after embarks on the mission which would ultimately lead him to his adventure on Picard’s Enterprise in the story, Relics.

This story picks up almost immediately after Relics. Scott, wandering around the universe in a shuttlecraft, encounters aliens trying to escape their planet’s corrupt rulers. They ultimately lead Scott to a Klingon Bird of Prey. After helping the aliens to escape, he returns to the Enterprise to obtain the information on how Spock took another Bird of Prey back in time as seen in the movie Star Trek IV. Scott wants to repeat the process to ion order to prevent Kirk from dying. Followed by Picard, they all end up in an alternate universe where the Federation doesn’t exist and the Borg are dominant.

I’ve read many Trek novels throughout the years and, like any other series, some are pretty decent, and some are not. This novel deals with time travel which, in any sci-fi book can get confusing as the science behind it. This plot differs from the usual ones where the crew encounters aliens on a planet and deals with bad guys either on the planet or shooting it out in space. I like the time travel novels although the reader has to pay attention to the story or risk getting lost in the details. I also enjoy the featuring of a minor character, Guinan, in a more prominent role.

The usual cast

Captain Jean Luc Picard
Commander Willam Riker
Montgomery Scott
Captain James Kirk

There are others who fill crew positions on the Enterprise and the alien ships in both the ‘real’ universe and the alternate one. Usually, authors of Trek books do a decent job of portraying the characters as seen on TV.

As mentioned above, it stays true to the characters. The reader can be confident, for example that Sarek isn’t going to go off half-cocked and spout wild emotional soliloquies. It’s basic Trek.

Detailed. As mentioned above, if you don’t focus, you’ll lose the flow of the story. It even begins with a little confusion until you are a few pages into it. However, as with many Trek novels, the science is relatively easy to understand, unlike many other sci-fi books dealing with time travel, quantum theories, etc. However, like many Trek novels, there is a period in the middle where everything drags along as the story moves toward the climax. This is not mean the story gets boring, but rather this reader’s mindset is attuned to the television broadcasts where a story is told in its entirety in an hour. So, one wants the novel to move along quicker. Other readers may not have this ‘problem.’

My Ranking

Blue Belt