90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

This book might be easily tapped as a companion piece to Bill Weise's 23 Minutes in Hell, which I reviewed last year. My review of "23 Minutes"

Once again, you are expected to believe a premise of going to the supernatural realm before life is over. This time however, that the author, a practicing pastor in a Texas church, actually did "die" in an automobile accident and reached the gates of Heaven. The author, or more or less his body at that time, had been declared technically dead by onscene medics, when a fellow man of the cloth supposedly received word from God that he should lay hands and pray for the "dead" man.

This ensued with the miracle of the "dead" man coming back to life. I'm sorry, but only one person has ever been dead and come back to life, pastor. All others may have been technically "dead", but as we see every day, there is much we do not know about the way the world works, or even the science of such things.

Outside of the tale of his trip to "heaven", we have the story of his recovery. (He was pretty much a bed case for a long time due to his injuries.) Then we have the struggle like in "23 Minutes" of the author trying to get people to accept his story. I don't know why I bother with these more fantastical stories, insteadof just reading how to live the right kind of life. I'm always disappointed and skeptical.

Give this one 5 stars.


Reduced Shakespeare by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor

An irreverent look at Shakespeare by the founders of the Reduced Shakespeare Theater Company, this is quite funny as well as quite informative. The life of Shakespeare is boring if you read what your teachers give you to read. But here, its not only interesting, but entertaining.

And Cliff Notes has nothing on brevity for the bard's plays that these guys do. Hamlet: Poop or get of the pot. There's a section on the sonnets which even entertained me, and I usually skip the chapter(s) on the sonnets in most of the Shakespeare books I've read.

And last, but definitely not least, the authors recommend film versions for most of the plays, including a few that are not the plays themselves but based on one of them.

I give it 7½ stars


Stalking the Unicorn & Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick

Mike Resnick is a guy who I will always think of as an editor first, because that is where I first encountered his name; as the editor of collections of stories in a themed series of books of alternate history. (Alternate Presidents, Alternate Warriors, Alternate Kennedys, etc. But Resnick is also an author, and was well before his days as an editor if I read his biography correctly.

The man as an incredibly biting sense of humor. It was his Adventures, starring a character named Lucifer Jones, that I found out how engaging a writer he could be. But I lost track of his work over the past decade since reading that, and didn't even know about the first book in the John Justin Mallory series until my library got it and the newer one this year.

Stalking the Unicorn was actually first published in 1988, so Resnick waited 20 years before writing a sequel, and a third one is in the works to be released sometime later this year according to his website. Be that as it may, 20 years is not the amount of time that passes between the two in the context of the story, so you won't encounter a doodering old detective in the sequel, thank God.

In the first book, Mallory is just beginning to celebrate New year's Eve alone in his office in Manhattan. Just as he starts in on a bottle, an elf shows up to ask for his help in locating a unicorn that was stolen from him. Thinking the elf is a hallucination, he dimisses the thing, but the elf persists, so Mallory ends up taking the case.

Much to the detective's surprise, an alternate Manhattan exist on the same plane as the real Manhattan, only one where all the fairy tale creatures are real; unicorns, elves, trolls, goblins and the like. Along the way, Mallory picks up a few followers who add comic humor and sometimes genuine help in his search for the unicorn. The funniest of these is Felina a cat-woman, who is constantly hungry.

He also encounters his nemesis for the novel, the Grundy, a demon who seems to be as interested in the unicorn as he is. What happens next is what makes the story great, but i won't reveal the twist here. you'll have to read it to find out.

Stalking the Vampire picks up a couple of years after the story ends in Stalking the Unicorn. In the interim, Mallory has picked up a partner in his detective office, Winnifred Carruthers. It's All Hallow's Eve, the biggest event of the year for the fairy tale Manhattan. At the start of the story, Carruthers' nephew, Robert Newton, has come for a visit from Europe.

Somehow he is not very healthy and it is determined that he has been bitten by a vampire. Several times, in fact, an obviously on the boat trip from Europe. Fortunately he is not entirely converted to vampirism. unfortunately, however, someone kills him.

Mallory and Carruthers are on the case. Seeking out this European vampire becomes and adventure, taking Mallory all over the place trying to find him. Again, as with the first, he picks up several helpful (and not-so-helpful) characters along the way before his final encounter.

I liked both books, but I have a partiality to the first one simply because of the introduction to a rational human from this world into that alternate reality.

Rate Stalking the Unicorn 8 stars.
Rate Stalking the Vampire 7½ stars.


The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

This book was passed on to me from my mother, who had it passed on to her from her hairdresser. Apparently a whole hell of a lot of people are doing the same thing, because it is a fairly popular book. Why, I can't for the life of me understand.

The basic premise of the book, stated in the beginning by the author, is that a friend of his lost his youngest daughter to a child molester/killer on a weekend camping exhibition, and had totally blamed himself for the event. Four years after the fact, he receives a note, purportedly from God, asking him to spend the weekend with Him at the shack where the evidence showed his little girl had been murdered.

The book starts out interesting enough, with some background leading up to the death of his daughter, but by the time it gets to the meat of the story, my interest was rapidly replaced with disbelief, boredom, and sometimes, even outrage. I don't mean to say I couldn't accept this fictional meeting with God. (And fiction is what it is, by the way, despite the author's attempt to set it up as having really happened). What I had problems with is that this isn't the God that the Bible portrays. [Note: from here on I refuse to capitalize "god" "jesus" or "the holy spirit" intentionally, because I do not accept these characters as the Christian Trinity.]

I can't say for sure who this "god" is, although a google search for the name he gives the "holy spirit" character, Sarayu, gave me a connection to Indian theology, so maybe its a Hindu religion. Young does stick with the idea that the three characters of "god", "jesus" and "the holy spirit" are individual, but at the same time, one being, but that effort crashes and burns as he reveals characteristics about the "trinity" that one would fail to find in years of intense scrutiny of the Bible.

As far as the boredom, well, the book just drags on shortly after the main character, Mack, shows up at the shack. Most of the effort is spent in trying to justify whatever religion the author is trying to espouse. The attempt to rescue Mack from his depression is at best, mildly interesting, but it drags on for page after page.

I don't recommend this book to anyone, much less anyone who is Christian. And I will not, as the back of the book exhorts, be passing it on to others.

2 stars just to give it a rating, but don't let that influence you.


1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon

Crank up your ghetto blaster and prepare to be seduced by the cacophony of rap music, or pull out the old Victrola and get ready for the sugary strings of baroque classical music. Whether you binge on hard-drive of thrash metal or you are more into the boot-scooting twang of country, there are some choices here to please you.

When one picks up a musical compendium like this, it is likely that he/she will, as I did, thumb through it briefly to find out if your favorites are listed. First crack out of the box, no Rush. Hmmm. Van Halen? Nope. Maybe a different category... How about Waylon Jennings? Not here, either.

Well, I guess Rush and Van Halen and Waylon had to be scrapped in favor of having 6 (count'em, 6) Beatles albums. Of course, there had to be the ubiquitous Sgt. Pepper's... and Abbey Road. (No list ever seems to be without them. I bet even a list of greatest country albums would manage to sneak them in somehow.) But then there are 4 more.

I do congratulate the author for not being entirely focused in favor of one genre over the rest, though. It is an eclectic mix, with samplings from, as near as I can tell, all genres of music. And I am no elitist when it comes to music, myself. I have some of these same recodings in my CD shuffler, classical, rock, jazz or what have you.

I did especially like the endcap for each entry. TMoon not only gives you the essentials, such as which tracks to especially note on the recordings, but gives you helpful suggestions such as other notable recordings by the artist, as well as Next Stop, which sends you on to similar stylings by other artists.

All in all, its a nice introduction into some styles of music you may have overlooked, as well as increasing your range of music in your favorite styles.

I give it 7 stars.


Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer

Science fiction meets the future in this book that tells of how ideas that were once only in fantastic tales of the future and movies like The Terminator are now rapidly becoming reality. Remote controlled robots like the one described at the beginning of the book are being used for what are highly hazardous missions in which the lives of human soldiers, who used to perform the tasks, are preserved.

I first heard the author in an interview on the Art Bell/George Noory late night radio show. For me, the technological episodes of that show are much more interesting than any of the psuedo-cultural ghosts and aliens that predominate it. When I heard what the show was about, I had to tune in. What I heard there was enough to spur me to read the book.

The subject matter here is the ongoing rise of the use of robotics in the war field. Drone planes that are not remotely controlled from a base in Afghanistan, but actually from a base in Nevada. Robots based on the same kind of technology as the Roomba floor sweeper performing what would otherwise be dangerous tasks for humans. And as we speak, the technology is getting even more refined.

Admittedly this is a rather large tome, and I would have preffered the author be more succinct, since it took me the better part of a month to wade through all this. But if you have a keen interest in the workings of robotics, or how they are being used today, you might want to skim through it.

I rate it 6½ stars