Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Darker Things by Rob Cornell

I’m a pretty avid reader. I would say “voracious” but I tend to go in spurts where I spend most of my free time reading book after book after book and then go several weeks without reading anything (other than my daily news feeds on the internet, that is). Lately I’ve had some trouble finding anything that grabbed my interest beyond the first chapter or two. Personally, I blame George R.R. Martin, who’s epic writing style has nearly ruined me for being able to read other authors (he needs to hurry the hell up and finish book six of A Song of Ice & Fire, dammit!). I also kind of lost my love of Terry Goodkind’s Richard & Kahlan novels due in part to his repetitive dialogue and constant preachiness regarding Objectivist philosophy (not that I entirely disagree with that school of thought, but I don’t read fiction to understand philosophical points of view; I read fiction for entertainment).

Several months (actually, almost a year) ago my Twitter feed was followed by one Rob Cornell. I typically ignore follows unless I happen to know the person in real life, but this time I decided to return the follow. Mr. Cornell is a writer, albeit not of a genre of fiction I normally go for, but I decided to follow him on Twitter nonetheless just in case I decided I wanted to check out some of his work. Well, recently I did just that; Darker Things (The Lockman Chronicles, book 1).

As previously mentioned, Darker Things is not typically the type of novel I would read. Being a long time fan of Fantasy and the occasional science-fiction piece, I’m not normally a fan of horror, thrillers, and the like; or, what Cornell calls “urban fantasy”. With all the vampire craze these days with the True Blood series on HBO, not to mention the Twilight novels and movies that are so popular (although I can’t imagine why), I was a bit skeptical of reading something that (at first glance) would fall into that niche. Well, I was both proven wrong and pleasantly surprised that Darker Things is decidedly not a “vampire novel”. I think the authors label of “urban fantasy” is probably the best way to describe it. Yes, there are supernatural elements (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, magick, etc.), but that doesn’t seem to be the focus. It’s more like an espionage/thriller/action story that happens to include elements of the fantastical. I would say more, but I really don’t believe in spoilers in a book review.

I took advantage of the free sample on my Nook, which included the Prologue, Chapter 1 and about half of Chapter 2. That was enough to get my hooked (especially since Cornell didn’t waste much time getting right into the action) and I quickly found myself paying the $2.99 to download the complete novel (note, I happened to catch it on sale - but the normal price for the ebook is still only about $3.99; when you consider that a typical mass-market paperback these days runs $8-10, this is a great bargain and you don’t have to kill a tree to read it).

The characters are well thought out and developed. The story moves along quickly with each chapter ending in way that makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens next. The author definitely keeps you guessing; I can’t call this novel predictable by any stretch. If I had to give any critique at all it would be Cornell’s tendency to use sentence fragments when conveying a character’s inner-monologue instead of using semi-colons, but that’s merely a stylistic thing I suppose and in no way detracts from the quality of the story itself.

I thoroughly enjoyed Darker Things and look forward to reading the next two books in the The Lockman Chronicles.

Darker Things is available in several formats for download:

If you’re still into dead-tree versions of books, well, you may be out of luck - but Smashwords does have formats that are viewable in a browser, Adobe Reader or a word processor, and I guess you can always print it out yourself if that’s really a big deal for you.

~ JC

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Great Gadget Debate

It’s no secret that we live in a high tech society. It’s impossible to go anywhere these days without seeing an abundance of people with their gaze firmly planted on the incandescent glow of a LCD screen of one kind or another, be it a laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. I am just as guilty; I don’t even read “real” books anymore but choose instead to use ebooks (honestly, I think it’s been well over a year since I picked up a print copy of a novel); my Android smartphone is always close at hand and is used to read news feeds and the occasional few pages of a novel whenever I’ve forgotten my Nook; and I recently bought a laptop so I could sit anywhere in my house I want to surf the internet or write and of course still have access to a computer whenever I go out of town.

With so many choices in the marketplace these days, not to mention the seemingly constant announcement of things to come*, making the decision as to what gadget to invest in can start to become muddled. My perspective, for the most part, is that the decision is mostly subjective - you find the platform that works best for you and go with it whether that be Android, iOS, or Windows Phones/RT. My best friend, for example, recently switched from Android to iPhone, and an old college buddy of mine raves about Windows Phone (despite his being the biggest Microsoft hater I knew back in the 90s). Me? I still like my Android; I’ve had two and my next smartphone will likely also be Android (seriously considering either the Samsung Galaxy S III or the Galaxy Note II).

There’s an App For That

One of the big deciding factors is the selection of apps available from the respective stores. I’m not necessarily referring to total numbers here - lot’s of people like to used the volume of apps in in the iTunes App Store compared to what is now called Google Play, for example, to claim the iPhone’s superiority, but having hundreds of thousands of apps versus only, maybe, tens of thousands doesn't impress me; I can’t and won’t use all of them, and having too many choices can be just as bad as not having enough. Google Play (formerly known as Android Market), of course, has caught up and has just as many apps as iTunes these days.

At this stage of the game, I have a set of apps I use regularly enough that their continued availability, or even a suitable equivalent, is what matters most. Which is why I’m much more likely to stay with Android as my platform of choice. Windows Phone is quite intriguing especially since I recently made the move to Windows 8 for my primary computer OS, but the apps I need just aren’t yet available on WP, or if they are, aren’t yet as developed. As far as iPhone, there are pretty much the same or suitably equivalent apps for the most part, but I’m just not a fan of Apple’s proprietary nature or, more importantly, the lack of choice when it comes to devices.

Phones, Tablets and “Phablets”

Cellphone, Smartphone, Mobile Device, Tablet, Pocket Computer, “Phablet” - whatever. I’m not here to argue about which nomenclature is “correct” when referring to the various devices folks carry around these days. Can I make a phone call with it? Then it’s a phone. Can I use it to surf the internet? Then it’s a computer. Can I carry it around in a pocket, or backpack? Then it’s also a mobile device. “Smartphone” is the common terminology for a device that is both a phone and a miniature computer, while some argue that it should just be called a “mobile device” or “pocket computer”. The next gadget I’m considering, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, has been saddled with the nickname “phablet” due to still being a phone while the other features are more tablet like than other smartphones. Again, whatever - call it what you want, as long as it does what I need it to do, I don’t care what it’s name is.

Speaking of “doing what I need it to do”, this brings up my reason for considering (as I’ve mentioned a couple of times already) the Samsung Galaxy Note II as my next Android device. I currently have a HTC Droid Incredible 2 as well as a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Both have served me well, but lately their abilities to do what I want has become a bit more lacking. Trying to surf websites on the Incredible is limiting due to the screen size, while trying to do so on the Nook is limiting because it’s not really a tablet. Now, I could get a less expensive smartphone and a different tablet, but why should I spend a grand or more on two devices when I can spend $200-$300 on a single device that can fit the bill as both a phone and a tablet while also being more portable than a traditional tablet? Sure, with a 5.5-inch screen it’s rather large for “phone” and rather smallish for a tablet, but for my purposes it’s a happy medium; large enough to read a book or surf a web page, but not so large that I can’t fit it in a pocket.

Whatever you call it, whatever I choose, one thing's for sure when it comes to picking a new tech gadget, though - in a couple of months, something better will come out and the device I just dropped a few hundred dollars on will be half the price ;-)

~ JC

* Samsung, for example, is due to release the most recent version of its “Galaxy” line of Android based smartphones soon - the Galaxy S IV

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Margaret H. McPhail
FAYETTEVILLE - Mrs. Margaret Hamilton McPhail passed away Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. She was born to the late Augustus Hamilton Sr. and Nellie Osowsky Hamilton on Nov. 4, 1920, in Camp Sherman, Ohio. She was a devoted wife and mother who spent the majority of her life as an Army wife. in her words, “I’m an Army brat myself, and I have a house full of them.”  One of the greatest joys of her life was to have lived in Hawaii for five years as a child. She spoke of this wonderful experience often. She was preceded in death by her husband, Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Quincy E. McPhail; a brother, Augustus Hamilton, Jr.; a sister, Augusta McLeod; and a daughter, Barbara Jo Teller. She leaves behind to cherish her memory: Sons, Gus McPhail and his wife, Linda, of Fayetteville, Bob McPhail of Tijuana, Mexico, and Bill McPhail of the home; daughters, Kathy Degarmo of Fayetteville and Gail Bowden and her husband Bill, of Garner; sisters, Natalie Allen of Star and Helen] White of Pensacola, Fla., brother Bob Hamilton of Lavaca, Ark.; eight grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; and six great-great-grandchildren. Services will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in Sullivan’s Highland Funeral Service & Crematory in Fayetteville. Visitation will be from 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home. Services entrusted to Sullivan’s Highland Funeral Services & Crematory of Fayetteville.
Published in Fayetteville Observer from February 24 to February 26, 2013

This past week has been difficult, emotionally. We laid to rest my grandmother whom I was very close to as she raised me from the time I was nine months old and I lived in her house for the majority of my life. While history may not remember the name Margaret McPhail, those of us who loved her always will. She didn’t invent anything, nor write any famous books, but she was, by my estimation a great woman. She did something that was truly great - she raised a family. The art of the “housewife” is a dying profession. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. She almost single handedly raised a brood of children while either constantly having to move around when her husband was restationed to a new base, or while he was overseas fighting for his country. She did it all with love and patience and during a time with there weren’t high tech gadgets to help. She loved her family, unconditionally and took care of all of us her entire life.

As I said, she may not have invented or written anything, but she accomplished something just as great by being a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and even a great-great-grandmother and making sure we were all loved and cared for all of us.

I miss you Gramma.

~ JC