Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review - The Scrolls of Udanadar by S. Cameron Roach

I'm trying something different today at It's Not All Gravy. Instead of me writing a review, or having a guest who is a professional writer, today the review is by a reader and a fan of fantasy stories - Dany Russell, who is also my daughter and a wonderful cover designer. We both met the author of this book, Scott Roach, otherwise known as S. Cameron Roach, at the Take 190 West Art Festival in Killeen, Texas, and Dany bought his book. She wanted to try her hand at writing a review, and I came up with the idea of letting Scott ask her a couple of questions. Reviews don't normally have that kind of exchange between author and reader, at least not the professional reviews that are a step above some of what you see on Amazon, but I thought this could be fun and interesting. I'll let you weigh in on that after you read the review.

The Scrolls of Udanadar
S. Cameron Roach
Print Length: 575 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1466954639
Publisher: Trafford (September 20, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

This book portrays what could happen to a boy living in a suburban town who is so bored out of his gourd that adventure finds him. The Wandering Bug takes Bartholomew Fix to another world with kings, knights, wizards, and wayward wandering.  He has no manual and while he has a host, in the beginning he has no guide.

I found this book an enjoyable read. After the first chapter or so, the story really picked up and took me for a ride. There are two other books I have read with “Game” in the title and they were slow starters for me as well, even though they have become immensely popular.

While reading this book, I became deeply involved with Bart’s life and travails. As he learned lessons in basic combat, teamwork, philosophy, or the Ka’uun, Bart steadily, and sometimes unsteadily, matured. The lives of the other characters and their skills intrigued me. How would Bart’s next lesson in the local magic called Ka’uun take place? How would Yuari, the teacher’s ward, respond to the diverted attention and uncharacteristic requests? Would Yuari’s people accept Bart?
Now I will answer the questions from the author:

SCR:  Was the relationship development between the boy and girl paced well and authentic?

A:  I found the interaction between Bart and Yuari to be believable and sometimes amusing. As with any relationship, trust takes time to become a bond. Sharing that time with them was a pleasure.

SCR:  What about the author's writing style needs improvement or further development?

A:  Frequently interchanging proper names like first “Bartholomew” then “Fix” was uncomfortable to read. Thus when you used “the boy” so close in another paragraph, I winced at the awkward word usage.

SCR:  Was the growth of the boy realistic and was he easy to identify with?

A:  For the most part he was very realistic. However, there are a couple of spots toward the end where Bart expresses knowledge or comprehension I thought was well beyond his teachings and growth.

SCR:  Do you think a sequel is in order?

A:  Absolutely!

I hope you enjoyed this "different" review. Perhaps I might try this again sometime. Please do try to come back on Wednesday to meet Scott as Wednesday's Guest this week.

And finally, for all who celebrate Easter:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

States such as Michigan and New Jersey and New York are going to extremes to collect state income taxes. For instance some trucks hauling goods have actually been stopped in those states and held until the corporation pays income taxes on what is being carried through the state. Local revenue agents have seized out-of-state trucks that are simply passing through and sometimes refuse to release them until the businesses that sent the trucks pay corporate income taxes. In some states, finance departments have sent out-of-state businesses bills for thousands of dollars in corporate taxes just because one worker may have visited the state sometime during that year, perhaps for a convention.

Normally, state income taxes are not levied against a company from another state unless they have branch offices in the other state, so this seems to be quite a stretch to grab some more money.

I read recently where the 2016 GOP national convention is going to be held in Las Vegas. It could've been held in Dallas but I guess the Republicans really wanted to party big.

Anybody but me think this is a colossal waste of money?

Freelance writer Jonathan Look Junior wrote an op/ed piece for the Dallas Morning News about the constitutional phrase "the pursuit of happiness" and made it clear that the Constitution does not guarantee happiness for everyone but it does give everyone the right to pursue happiness. He found a quote that was popular in that 1800s that says, "The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it your self." For Jonathan Look that means that "happiness is not something the government can ensure; rather, government can help create a habitat for happiness and fertilize the ground in which it grows."

Amen to that.

I had to agree with the writer of a recent letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News about the Academy of country music awards last Sunday. The letter writer, Ronnie Smith, said he's not normally a country music fan but decided to watch the show anyway, and he thought that it was a good show, "It moved quickly, the humor was funny, and it was done without any profanity in the music and the performances were enjoyable." But what he really noticed was that the ladies were all able to sing very well - and with all their clothes on. He wished other award shows would take notice of how to produce a family friendly show.

Can I hear another, "Amen?"

 And now some fun from the comic strip B.C. by John Hart. In the first frame we see B.C. painting a very large Easter egg. Peter walks up and asks, "What in the world is that?"

B.C. says, "Easter's almost here. I'm decorating and egg."

"That's an egg?!"

B.C. answers, "Yepper."

Peter says, "Where on earth did you find it?"

"Would you believe the world's biggest bunny? Just kidding. It was in the woods over there."

Suddenly Peter's eyes get real big, and B.C. says, "What?"

In the last frame, Peter says, "Don't look. Just run!" Behind B.C. we see at dinosaur - a very angry dinosaur.

Finally, just a quick note of advertising. My police procedural mystery, Doubletake, is free for the next four days for Kindle and Kindle apps. Grab a copy if you are so inclined, and, as always, I would be ever so grateful for a review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Christian Bale - An Inside Story

Today I am so pleased to have Harrison Cheung as Wednesday's Guest. Harrison has spent a number of years working in Hollywood as a talent manager, publicist, and personal assistant, and one of his clients was Christian Bale, the amazing actor who showed us another side of the legendary Batman. Harrison wrote a book based on the years he worked with Bale. Christian Bale; The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, published by BenBella Books. The biography, co-authored with Nicola Pittam, chronicles Bale's years as a former child actor, to Internet sensation, to the star of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy.

According to an article at WikiNut, Batman does not drink alcohol. His alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, fools people by drinking ginger ale and pretending it is champagne. So let's all grab a glass of ale and pretend it is ginger and welcome Harrison to the blog.

Photo courtesty of MSN Food
Photo Courtesy of MSN Food
Or we could just have tea courtesy of Harrison who is sometimes referred to as Alfred
Q. Is there any anecdote from your years of working with Christian Bale that is not in the book that you would like to share?

A. Nothing printable! :-)  But aside from Hollywood orgies and other benefits of hanging out with an up and coming actor in L.A., I do remember how remarkably na├»ve Christian could be. He had never been to a hair salon when he was growing up in England, and after a week of me bugging him to get his hair cut, he went to a salon in Manhattan Beach, California.  When the stylist took him to the back room to shampoo his hair, he thought she was hitting on him so he unzipped his pants! As I recall, he was told by other British actors that he could look forward to being a novelty in America.

Q. Did you have a close relationship with him, or was it purely a job?

A. It was a very close relationship.  At times, I felt he was like an odd kid brother, especially as he was such a stranger in a strange land, having just relocated from England to Los Angeles.  He is the youngest in his family, and the only son, so he never really connected with his sisters.

Q.  If you could go back in time, what one thing would you change about yourself?

A. If I could go back in time, I would go back to my teen years and encourage my younger self to be more confident. I spent the early part of my career promoting other people’s careers rather than developing my own talents. I was always worried that my ethnicity would bar me from pursuing my love of film and writing. When I was in high school, the guidance counselor really damaged my self-confidence when she told me not to pursue writing because – and I’ll forever remember her quote “No one will ever hire a Chinese person to write English.”

Q.  If you could go through a wormhole, would you go into the future, the past, or stay right here? Why?

A.  I think I’d go to the future with the hope that ethnicity and race will matter less. It was always an issue growing up. It occasionally resurfaces as an issue even today. I recently read that Asian-Americans continue to be the most bullied minority in the U.S., and that makes me very sad. 

Q.  Have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? What was that career?

A.  I think I’ve always wanted to be a film director, but those opportunities didn’t present themselves when I was growing up. I came from a very pragmatic Chinese family that had survived WW2 and my parents really wanted me to have a career where I could prosper, so the concept of the “starving artist” was alien to them! In a way, a writer is a director because we storyboard the tale in our minds.

After university, marketing in the high tech industry was my bread and butter until I moved to Los Angeles. Marketing in the film industry was very unstable, so today, my day job is still marketing in the high tech industry, but my writing is very important to me. It is cathartic. It is therapeutic. And it’s taken me years to do what I had always wanted to do.

Q.  What are your favorite movies?

A.  I’ve had an uncanny ability to catch independent films and pick out up and coming actors. So I think I have a pretty good eye for talent. I’ve worked with Bale, of course, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling. I love some of their earlier work. Unknown actors take bigger chances and risks.  Once they’re famous, they all have to worry about public image and box office.

I thought Christian’s first major film, Empire of the Sun was wonderful. Ryan Gosling was in a searingly unforgettable movie about Neo-Nazis called The Beliver.  I did the Internet marketing for a cult favorite that starred a then unknown Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko. A couple years ago, I saw a brilliant film called We Need to Talk About Kevin  that stars a wonderful new American actor, Ezra Miller. And a few years back, I caught this very touching film called Wah-Wah that starred Nicholas Hoult, an actor who is on the brink of breaking out. 

Q.  If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A.  I’ve always enjoyed ancient history, and would love to go to China and Egypt some day to look at Xi An – where the terracotta warriors were found, and to see the Great Pyramids. I read Marco Polo as a child and would love to retrace the Silk Road. I’ve traveled across Canada and the U.S. and am disappointed with the “mall-ification” of North America. We have the same chain restaurants and stores in every city. I have a romantic notion that the Old World still has many places that don’t have a McDonald’s; where a restaurant serves a 1000 year old recipe that they refuse to sell to Olive Garden.

Q. What gives you the most pleasure in writing?

A.  I’m currently working on a novel. I completed the initial draft for the November Novel Writing competition where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The initial reaction from my agent, my editor and my writing coach have been overwhelming positive. Though I’ve been very lucky that my Christian Bale biography has been successful, I prefer to be a novelist because I think I have some interesting stories to tell.  By comparison, writing a non-fiction biography with lawyers fact-checking like crazy was very dry.

And therein lies the pleasure. The characters in my novel come alive, and I feel as if I’m watching a movie in my head. Sometimes, dialogue just occurs to me. Sometimes, plotting is like solving a mathematical problem, and I’d be so pleased with myself that I’ve figured out a solution to tell the tale.

Q.  What do you do for fun?

A.  I consider myself a gourmand and can be devastatingly picky with my Yelp reviews! I hate eating the same thing in a row, so I love to explore new eateries of every cuisine on every level – whether it be a fancy five-star restaurant or a fast food for lunch bite. So when I combine this for my love of travel, I really want to eat my way around the world!

The Christian Bale biography was an Amazon 100 Best Seller and has garnered stellar reviews and won the Indie Book Award, Indie Excellence Award, and the Texas Association of Authors Award for Best Biography. The book remains popular with Baleheads and Hollywood watchers, with over 75,000 Facebook fans. Harrison and the book have been featured on Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, and Chelsea Lately.  Harrison will next be seen on Thursday, April 17 on E! Network's Secret Societies of Hollywood. He will be appearing on three segments of the hit series.

The Christian Bale book is available in stores and online across Canada and the U.S.

The Christian Bale Biography Facebook page to see posts about Bale and movie-related news.

The Christian Bale Biography on Twitter

The Christian Bale Biography Youtube Channel

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

A recent headline in the op/ed section of The Dallas Morning News caught my eye: Does porn harm kids? (By the way, I really don't like the new trend in headline writing that no longer capitalizes all the words. But maybe that's because I am now considered a dinosaur among journalists.)

Anyway, I found the article most interesting. In it David Segal, a business reporter for The New York Times, wrote about the results of scientific research that cannot difinitively prove there is a correlation between teen watching porn and then engaging in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex or sex at a young age.

A report, produced by the Children's Commissioner in England studied 276 research papers on teens and pornography, showed that there could be a link between porn and risky behavior, but exactly what that link is could not be defined. Segal wrote, "Given the ease with which teenagers can find Internet pornography, it's no surprise that those engaging in risky behavior have viewed pornography online. Just about every teenager has. So blaming X-rated images for risky behavior may be like concluding that cars are a leading cause of arson because so many arsonists drive."

Luckily, Segal did not end the article there. I might have lost all my respect for him at that point. He included the results of a debate conducted by the Children's Commission that asked a group of teens, aged 16 to 18, to debate whether viewing porn had an impact on them. Half of the group, which was comprised of boys and girls, were to take the con arguments, the other the pro arguments. According to Miranda Horvarth, a professor of psychology at Middlesex University in London, the group arguing the pro side had very strong opinions. "They said it had an impact on their body image, on what young people thinks sex should be like, what they could expect from sex. They talked about how if you see things in pornography, you might think it's something you should be doing and go and do it."

The bottom line from researchers, and from David Segal, comes down to parental involvement and guidance. Parent-child conversations about sexuality separate from pornography is vital, as are controls of what very young children are exposed to. Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles offered this thought to Segal, "Putting a computer in a kids room without any limits on what can be viewed is a bit like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: 'Go learn how to drive. Have fun.'"

What do you think? Do you think porn and violent video games have a negative impact on kids?

On a much brighter note, I do hope you will try to come back on Wednesday to meet my special guest that day; Harrison Cheung, who worked for Christian Bale as publicist, marketer, and personal assistant for almost a decade. His book, Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, has received high praise and offers a balanced and diplomatic look at the life of the most lauded Batman. I'll admit I am a fan and can't wait to read the book. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review - Matriarch: A Journey Through Tradition by Suzann M. Brucato

Suzann M. Brucato
ISBN: 978-0-615-47832-6

This lovely photo journal is a wonderful tribute to the family to which Suzann Brucato belongs, tracing her heritage back several generations. The pictures and the poetry speak to the importance of family and traditions and special rituals that all families seem to have. I'm sure her large extended family is thrilled to have the history and the poetry that honors them all.

No matter where we go in life our ties to family are never broken, and the stronger those ties are the more secure we feel, and it is that sense of security that I saw in this journal. The book is divided into sections starting with Matriarch where the poems focus on motherhood. Next is The Journey, with a mix of poems about family, friends, travel and dreams. Tradition focuses on the things that families find important, such as special meals and places that have significant meaning. I especially liked the piece called Answering Machine.The next section is Home, which has a mix of poems about women, affection, sea shells and more.

Rounding out the book are two great recipes; one for Paticinni and the other for a dessert cookie called Fresine. I had never heard of Fresine, but I am going to try the recipe. It just seems like a real, feel-good dessert.

Susan sent me a copy of the book in the hopes that I would review it, and the production quality is so high, I am happy to do so. The only little quibble I have with the presentation is the few typos or misspellings. Everything about the rest of the production was so well-done, those little mistakes really stood out for me, but then, I'm at editor and maybe they bothered me because of that.

The rest of the book; the images, the design, the vintage look of it all, as well as most of the writing is just terrific. It is the kind of book that can help readers remember the special times and people of their lives.


Susan lives in New Jersery and is especially proud of her rich Italian heritage. The vintage design elements in the book are used with permission by  - Judy at a Touch of Class: An Art Nouveau Heritage Scrapkit

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

Regarding the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down caps on aggregate giving to federal candidates, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say in an interview in the Washington Post, "If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades - despite the profound offense such spectacles cause - it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition."

So, even though more and more Americans would like to see campaign reform that focuses on taking the power of politics away from big business, they've just been given more power? I realize the high court has to uphold the letter of the law, but does the right to free speech really mean the right to buy favors?

 Kris Gentz, a former staff member at the Plano Independent School District, recently pleaded guilty to the charge of embezzlement. Apparently, he and two other staff member embezzled several million dollars by using fraudulent invoices for goods and services. Another staff member noted an unusual invoice and reported it. In his statement to the court, Gentz reportedly said, "...he intends to rectify the unfortunate dilemma."

'Unfortunate dilemma?' It was a crime, not a dilemma.

Now for a little fun. I really related to this from the comic strip, Drabble. Ralph, the dad,  and the kids are at a park and Ralph says, "This is aperfect day for kite flying."

Patrick, the youngest son says, "I don't get it, Dad. Why do you alays want us to learn to fly a kite."

"Kids today don't realize the importance of kite flying," Ralph says as he starts to launch the kite. "It teaches you important things like aerodynamics and perseverance. When you get that kite in the air and then reel it safely back in, there's a sense of accomplishment."

He finishes with, "Every kid ought to know how to fly a kite."

The final panel shows Norman, the older brother with his iPod, and Patrick points to it saying to Ralph, "And every adult should know how to download songs to their iPods."

To which Ralph replies, "What for? I have you guys to do that for me."

Rock on Ralph.

I also loved this one from Bizzaro. A spaceship has landed in a park and an alien that looks like a mutation of an octopus comes down the ramp toward the people gathered to see this phenomenon. The Alien says, "People of Earth - we have captrued all of your most powerful politicians.

"Do EXACTLY as we say or we shall RELEASE them."

Oh, no. Keep them. PLEASE!

Have you flown a kite recently? That was one of my favorite pastimes as a kid. I'm thinking I need to go buy a kite.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

To Drill or Not to Drill

Please help me welcome Slim Randles with another bit of humor to brighten our Wednesday. I'm not sure I agree with the last statement in his post, but you can decide for yourself. Since poor Herb has such a bad tooth, maybe he should have a milkshake and we could all join him.

Herb walked into O’Dontal Dental the other day, holding his hand against a swollen face. He hadn’t even made an appointment to see Perry first, and it became obvious why he hadn’t.

“Good morning, Herb,” said Andrea, the receptionist. “What can we do for you today?”

“Mmfft Crullit!”

“Certainly. Have a seat and I’ll let Perry know you’re here.”

In less than a minute, Dr. O’Dontal had Herb seated, numbed, and ready for work. Herb’s labored breathing had returned to normal, even if his speech patterns hadn’t.

“At what o’ the clock did the infliction attack, good sirrah?”

“Lfft’ent mmst,” said Herb.

“You should’ve used the phone to let me know, Herb. Oh, that’s right. What was I thinking? Well, you’re here now, let’s see what we can do.”

“Wonk oo.”

“You’re welcome. Open wide. Little more. Cast open the gates, Leander! Let us gaze upon the source of woe!”

Perry worked his way through dental school as a Shakespearean actor, and didn’t make it out of there unfazed.

“Aha, brothers of mine on this field of battle today, I glimpse with fearful eye the seat of our alarm. It’s a tooth, by Cuspid!”

Perry dove into the fray with drill and pick. Snicker-snick! GRRRR and fill. Rinse and spit.

“And so, Leander, take these, the pills that weave up the raveled sleeve of pain. Do so in remembrance of this day, this meeting, this sceptered isle of dental chair. Those who weren’t here with us this day will forever cast envious eyes upon us, for they will say this was our finest hour, the culmination of drill and yawn … the grinding and filling of fang for fun and profit. Arise, sweet prince, and fulfill your destiny!”

It’s almost worth getting a toothache.
Brought to you by Home Country (the book). 

My son-in law sent me a link to this video the other day, and it made me smile. I thought I would share it here so you could smile. If a dentist can quote Shakespeare, why not a typewriter in an orchestra? Enjoy