Reviews Of Books, Movies, Music, And Software

Below, you'll find my latest reviews of books, movies, and software:

Review of Grammarly, A New Software Program for Editing Par Excellence!

I was asked to try Grammarly for a month at the request of the company. I suppose, as an author and editor, they figured I might actually know something about editing and such. Well I do, so I did—that is decide to check out their new editing program.

First of all, I have to tell you, I think Grammarly is in danger of making us editors an extinct species. When it comes to an editing program with power and capabilities, Grammarly is certainly all that! I have MS Word Professional Plus, and I assure you, it has one of the most powerful and capable spell and grammar (including style) checking programs around. In fact, I thought it was the best until I tried Grammarly. 

I’m not partial to clichés, but I have to say that, as an editor, I found Grammarly does “run rings around” the standard grammar and spelling checker programs. For one thing, and I love this, the program checks your documents to make sure you haven’t accidentally plagiarized anything. Since I write non-fiction books on a variety of topics and draw much of my content from various sources on such subjects, I’m constantly worried that I don’t accidentally plagiarize those sources. For me, plagiarism is the worst thing any author can do. It is the “third rail” for writers and is more capable of ending a promising career than any other single thing when it comes to being an author.

Besides this, while I thought MS Word have a darned good grammar/style checker, Grammarly also puts that program to shame, as well. At first, I found this daunting. I deliberately checked a document for everything with the MS Word program. I mean everything! Spelling, clichés, fragments, run-on sentences, too much use of the personal pronouns—you name it—I checked for it. Then, and quite deliberately, I ran the “finished” document through Grammarly. I was shocked! The results showed problems with virtually every line of my document. Moreover, these were valid flags, ones I hadn’t noticed and ones that my MS Word failed to detect. I have to admit, it took me a while to clean up all those things.

Why is Grammarly so good compared to the MS Word program? Well, rather than just checking in a “business” or “casual” mode as my program does, Grammarly has a whole range of choices, from “academic” to “creative.” This is a powerful addition to an editor’s arsenal. Checking the document for plagiarism is also a new and incredibly necessary feature, one so necessary; I will use it again and often.

In short, I would highly recommend Grammarly to any author or editor. This program seriously works! It makes the whole idea of line editing no longer a necessary function for the editor or the author, because Grammarly catches everything they would catch and I’m certain more, as well. It did for me. Actually, it helps enormously with content, as well since it catches so much even in the preliminary draft stages of a document.

With Grammarly,  I found my documents not only were edited even better than I could do since humans are fallible and do miss things, but it required only the one pass to catch everything, whereas I have to reread documents/stories/novels multiple times to achieve such a level of cleanliness. And I’m not just talking about spelling, grammar errors, and such, but questionable choices of word use and other items, as well. The program has a feature where it offers “enhancements” to your document by suggesting better alternatives. I love that!

As for drawbacks, I found that ease of accepting the changes Grammarly offered weren’t always so easy. It says to “click” on the change to accept the offered solution. Sometimes this worked, but others, as when it flagged commas, didn’t seem to. This may be more my fault than Grammarly’s, however, since I’m a slow learner in some regards when it comes to efficiently using and figuring these sorts of things out.

The online version has a bit of a problem for me, as well. The program can only take about 20 pages of a document at a time and since I write full-length books, novellas, and rather long “short” stories, this bothered me. I’m lazy, it seems. I want to just paste it all in there at once and “get ‘er done,” as it were. So I’d like to see Grammarly extend the amount of material one can upload at a time.  However, I used the MS Word add-on version, and I loved it.

Other than those quibbles, I have no complaints at all, but only high praise for Grammarly! Again, I love it! And no, Grammarly may not make editors extinct since we do still have to decide whether to make the suggested corrections or not, but it may make us become a highly endangered species!

Still, anything that speeds up and eases the tedious task of editing is great news to me, and I assure everybody, Grammarly goes a long ways to helping editors and authors in this regard. If you want to send out only your very best, the most polished and perfect versions of any sorts of documents, then I strongly suggest you purchase Grammarly.   

Oh, and I ran Grammarly on this review, as well. If there are any mistakes in it, they are because I overrode some of Grammarly’s suggestions. I think, maybe, it was just to prove that as an editor, I was still needed somewhere in all this?

Movie: The Philadelphia Experiment

Movie: The Philadelphia Experiment

Cast: Emily Ullerup, Gina Holden, Malcolm McDowell, Nicolas Lea, Ryan Robbins

Director: Paul Ziller

Date: 2012

I'm going to start off by saying that The Philadelphia Experiment, which debuted in 2012, and a remake of the original 1984 movie, which was excellent, is an unredeemable piece of garbage, a pathetic and badly done rehash. I have no other way of describing it.

The premise is a bad rework of that superb original version, that is, a ship that mysteriously vanishes in a 1940s government experiment and suddenly reappears in current time The sole surviving crewman disembarks even as a sheriff boards, and then the ship disappears once more. Subsequently, the ship keeps reappearing and then disappearing again, as with landing on top of a Chicago skyscraper, landing on top of a British nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom, etc. Yet, amazingly, the ship is undamaged, although everything else is destroyed. Why is this? Well, it seems the ship has some sort of a “shield.” Yeah…right…so convincing an explanation, but one right on par with all the other ones the writers of this movie used.

What was wrong with this movie version? Well, you name it, it had problems — big ones! First of all, this is what I often refer to as a typical "Canadian" production and I mean this in a bad way. By this, I mean the movie is incredibly formula and not in a good way. Although Canada can and does produce excellent movies, those done for the SyFy Channel these last years are almost endemically not in this vein, and without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. And by formula, I mean not only how the story so predictably progresses (terribly), but even to the casting, the writing, the plot, well you get the idea.

A whole series of unknown (Canadian?) actors play the roles, and at best, they can only be described as wooden in their style of acting, or even deadpan,  and this is with few exceptions. I mean, I know Canada has good actors, because I can name some excellent ones, but not with these movies! And Malcolm McDowell, who does have a part in this movie, and is usually a brilliant actor, just didn’t come over well for me in The Philadelphia Experiment. His character wasn’t believable, but I blame that on the writers. The same goes for the poor dialogue. Apparently, even a great actor and can’t win out against such negatively stacked odds.

Moreover, the evil (but always beautiful) woman who works for the government is a two-dimensional character in the extreme. She's so lacking in real motivation for everything she does that my willing suspension of disbelief went right out of the window. She never stops to think, to reason, or even to have sensible motivation for what she does. The motivations provided by the writers for this behavior of hers are virtually nonexistent. They just want her to be unrelievedly bad, so she is.

They have a supposedly intelligent and efficient government woman acting like a vicious bitch who never uses her mind to attempt to resolve any issue, but only to bomb everything, assassinate everyone, even her benefactors and own researchers? Come on! And people blindly follow her and do her bidding in this same way? Oh, and the assassins are never killed outright until the very end. The “good guys” keep letting them live, and the assassins keep chasing and killing them?!! Isn’t there one intelligent person in this whole scenario? Apparently not…

Even though what she does repeatedly results in disaster, she's determined to bomb the ship yet again, this time with a nuke! Stupid??? Duh! But this, of course, is to initiate the inevitable and in this case, literal, thriller-countdown sequence. And even more stupid is the American government backs her to the hilt in every one of her dumb misadventures. Why? Well, I almost suspect the writers of these movies have a thing against the United States Government to so wantonly and repeatedly cast the government people in such extremely two-dimensional roles of unreasoning, vicious and murderous villains, ones without any good qualities whatsoever.

With regard to the casting, this is what I refer to as typically Canadian SyFy Channel casting in that they seem to resort to racial tokenism, or so it sometimes seems to me, personally. It's almost as if they have a government (Canadian?) mandate to include at least one black actor and one Asian actor at the very least. Oddly, rarely does one see more than this number, or at best, maybe at the most just one or two other characters, if one is lucky.

But having at least that many minorities in a movie is better than none. Still, they could vary the minority actors’ roles more! The black actor is almost invariably cast in an authority role, most often as an unreasoning, dictatorial American general who always wants to resort to violence first, listens to no one but other generals, and who worries about the consequences later. The character in this movie is the same. He is two-dimensional, unreasoning, and so hard to believe, at best. Even when it doesn’t work to his advantage, he takes the violent route, listens to the woman government agent, rather than anyone reasonable.

This, for me, denigrates the whole idea of casting minority actors in roles, because just giving them an authority position isn't enough. Sometimes, they actually have to be likeable roles. And Asian actors always seem to be cast as researchers of one form or another, which smacks of stereotyping to me, at best. And if you do make the character always one the moviegoer will hate as with the generals…well, it makes me wonder about the writers’ real objectives at times. I’m not saying they do it on purpose, but for whatever reason; it comes off as a form of belittling minorities for me, personally, when they are so often made the “bad” or at least, the “unreasonable” guys in these movies. But then, none of the roles are well thought out, so maybe that’s just it?

Yes, these may be harsh words, but I’ve watched (on and off) the SyFy Channel since its inception, and increasingly this is a pattern I see with their movies and it is one that offends me.  I seldom watch the channel anymore for this reason. I wouldn’t have ordered this movie from Netflix, frankly, if I knew it had been a “made for television” one, because I would have suspected the worst right off.

The heroine is terrible in her acting. She defines the term “wooden” in this reagard. She is deadpan, unresponsive, cries but with no tears – every, and at the death of someone she supposedly cares, about, etc., etc., etc., she recovers in an instant. I found her about as believable as the Tooth Fairy. Honestly, the acting quality in this movie, as with others of this ilk, is atrocious at times, and pedestrian at the best of times.

In short this movie, as with so many of these productions for the SyFy channel these last years, is a cookie-cutter formulaic one, with poor writing, poor plot development, terrible character development, and with mediocre actors. Furthermore, since the movie is so short on any original plot, they rely heavily on CGI, computer generated imagery that is badly done, sometimes almost cartoonish in nature. Unlike the movie, 2012, which had incredible CGI, if little real plot, and so was still worth watching, I can't say the same for this movie, not even close.

I rank this movie, The Philadelphia Experiment, right up there with Sharknado, Frankenfish, and so many other SyFy Channel pieces of unadulterated crap. What started out as a great channel, once took classic sci-fi books and brought them to life, as with Frank Herbert's works of Dune, and did many original stories that were great, sometimes even profound, has now descended into the worst sort of schlock and trash imaginable. It's as if the SyFy Channel decided to forgo anything of any value at all, and I mean any, and instead cater to the absolute lowest common denominator. Even teenagers, young adult males deserve better than this. For God’s sake, at least give them credible CGI to watch, if nothing else!

You'd think just once in a great while, the channel would actually toss something worthwhile to watch into the mix. Instead, as with Sharknado, they have become the subject of ridicule, thousands of derisive Twitter comments, and so much else. None of it good.

Whoever is in charge at the SyFy Channel should take note: The vast majority of science fiction aficionados think your movies are pathetic! My biggest complaint is that Netflix doesn't specify some of its science fiction movies were made for TV, but not just any TV, but the horrible SyFy Channel, which for me, has become garbage personified. I wonder there isn’t a change of leadership at the channel, and before it’s too late.

And as far as Sharknado being a great cult hit, give me Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes anytime. At least, it didn't have pretensions of being anything more than what it was -- ridiculous in the extreme! Would that I had some of those killer tomatoes right now to throw at the SyFy Channel. Truly, to think we want to see this sort of stuff, and only this sort of stuff is incredibly offensive to me! There are those of us still capable of thinking, after all, and enjoying a good piece of drama, believe it or not!

My advice? Run don’t walk away from The Philadelphia Experiment. It’s almost two hours of your life you’ll never get back again, and for that the SyFy Channel should be brought up on charges! Time is precious. It’s the stuff of life, and I feel almost two hours of it has been stolen from me!

BOOK REVIEW: PROOF OF HEAVEN, Nonfiction Book on the Subject of N.D.E.s (Near Death Experiences) by Eben Alexander


Okay, I'm going to say this right up front; this book was the epitome of awful! It is without a doubt one of the worst books on the subject of Near Death Experiences I've ever read and I've read a lot! The author, a "highly trained neurosurgeon," claims that he has "Proof of Heaven," as the title states. 

What utter hogwash! 
What complete nonsense! 

Although I believe some N.D.E.s are verifiable and so are intriguing and give us insight into what really may lie beyond this life, this book is definitely not in that category! I wish it had been, but it wasn't, not even close.

Briefly, the book talks about Dr. Eben Alexander, his family (at length!), and how he falls ill and ends up in a vegetative state type of coma, from which there is supposed to be no hope of return because the Neocortex area of his brain had been destroyed. This means although he was being kept alive, he was "brain dead." This is according to him, and this also constitutes the first major fallacy I found in the book. 

You see, he did recover, so he wasn't really brain dead in the first place and the Neocortex had not been destroyed as he first insists or he couldn't have recovered. This means whatever he experienced was probably a dream, and not an N.D.E at all! That was disappointing to realize--very!

Secondly, there is the fallacy of this being proof. Nowhere in the book does the author provide us with such. At best, he provides us with a quasi-version of an N.D.E. and it is strictly a subjective recounting of it, nothing more. No empirical evidence is given. No hard evidence or data of any kind is offered for this highly subjective retelling that could in anyway constitute "proof" as the title definitively states the book has. 

Are we supposed to assume it has to have all been real just because it happened to a neurosurgeon? When they fall terribly ill, are they somehow immune to having hallucinations, nightmares, and dreams like the rest of us non-doctor folk, just because they are "highly trained neurosurgeons?" I don't think so. I think the author has convinced himself of this fact, but he didn't convince me! 

Doctors are human. When they get ill, they can have the same symptoms/problems the rest of us have. Although, judging by some of his comments in passing, and spotted throughout his book, they may get better treatment than some of us just because they are doctors. Quelle suprise!

Worse, this book is a terribly padded account that really only required something much shorter in length to relate the story to us. He fleshes out (or "fattens out") the book by going on at great length about his son, "Eben 4," how his extended family reacted to his dire illness, and then gives us a very detailed and lengthy account of how special his particular disease was. We hear all about it, in depth, and right from the start. I believe more chapters are devoted to this aspect of it all by far, then to the actual N.D.E. 

And when I say a lengthy account of his illness, I mean lengthy! I learned more about E. Coli than I EVER wanted to know! It was almost as if the doctor was trying to convince us, repeatedly, that his was a very special, very rare, and so a very singular illness, indeed. Truth is, who cares? It was the N.D.E. I wanted to know about, and more importantly this claim for "proof of heaven!" Alas, there wasn't any such proof, absolutely none at all.

When all is said and done, this is at best a possible account of an N.D.E, or perhaps an hallucination, I'm not sure which, but sadly this book in no way, not in any sense, provides any "proof" of any sort at all that his encounter was "real," that there is any "proof" to support this contention. 

This use of the word "proof," I personally think is a deliberate attempt to make this book seem a better option for readers to purchase because it claims to give such "proof." In short, there are much better books on the subject on the market, and books that give the reader a feeling something special really may have happened. 

Pathetically, this book seems to be just an imaginative tale of a man having a flying dream, and riding along on the back of a huge butterfly wing with a very pretty girl. Not a bad dream as dreams go, but probably not an N.D.E. For one thing, the constant scene changes and the shifting nature of the participants are much more the hallmarks of a typical dream, for they do change like this and constantly. There seems no real consistency in his narrative of his N.D.E. that would lead me in any way to believe this was the actual thing. Again, I think it far more likely it was just a lovely flying dream.

My recommendation? Run, don't just walk as far away from this book as you can get. Do not waste your money for this overpriced, over-padded, and poorly written piece of what amounts to fiction in many senses for me. That he has a loving family, that they stayed by his side through a terrible illness, I have no doubt. I'm sure all that is quite real. But we read way too much about that (chapter after chapter devoted to this), and way too little about the actual, purported N.D.E.

And reading this because it has proof? Forget it! There isn't any, none, nada, zilch, nothing in this book that constitutes real proof of any sort, or even anything close to it! I think the use of it in the title was just to help sell this "fantasy," as I think of it, to unsuspecting readers who have a genuine interest in this subject. 

My advice: Do not buy this book. Spend your money on other books on the same subject. You'll be better far off! And there are good books out there on N.D.E.s, trust me.

BOOK REVIEW: IMPACT -- a thriller/suspense novel by Douglas Preston


MORE OF THE SAME OLD, SAME OLD? I read a copy of Douglas Preston's suspense novel, Impact, recently and although I considered it "okay," as a suspense thriller goes, sadly, I wasn't overly impressed--not at all. In fact, I was very disappointed.

Why? Well, for one thing, it was very formula to me, too much so this time. We have the usual cast of characters, a secret slowly unveiled (which secret was a bit of a stretch for me, having a science background as I do, so my willing suspension of disbelief was pushed a little too far in this particular instance), and as always, the desperate attempt to survive and "discover" the secret. Then, as usual, they have to save the day. In this case, they have to save the earth, entire solar system and apparently our quadrant of the galaxy, no less! And doing all this while someone stalks our heros, intent on blowing them away, etc., etc., etc.... The premise, although believable in theory, wasn't carried out too well, in my opinion.

This book seemed to be about 90 percent stalking/running action. What's more, the stalking happens twice, with two different stalkers! And I have to say the fact that these stalkers keep surviving, keep on stalking and no matter what, became just a little old for me. It's been done! And it's been done repeatedly! Of course, one of them (I won't say which) does die about halfway through the tale, but then the same woman, along with a friend, is then stalked again by another (you know--the guy we love to hate and who won't say die until a dead horse kicks him...repeatedly?), who seems to find them no matter what, no matter where they try to hide, and despite all their attempts. Too predictably, they end up by having to face the killers one-on-one, and more than once!

The killer always, and I mean always, somehow manages to have the upper hand--until near the very end for them, as usual. I'm reminded of "Austin Powers" when he deals with a woman trying to kill him. She is shot, stabbed, pushed out of high-rise building and just won't die. At one point, Austin cries out: "Why won't you die?" That's how I felt here, especially with the professional assassin. What does it take to kill him, for gosh sakes?! Why won't he die???

Does this all sound a bit familiar to you? It did to me. This sort of plot has been done over and over, and as I've said, is dreadfully formula at this point. With guns blazing, wood chipping off boats from bullet hits, windows shattering repeatedly, and this is with two different boats at two different places in the book, mind you. One just gets a strong sense of deja vu even before completing the novel. 

And, of course, when in a boat, what must happen to that boat? Guess! Well, you have to have at least one sinking! But how about two, even three? Why waste all that water, right? Honestly, this sort of plot is just so stale, with the victims so incredibly ineffective and pathetic at counterattack, but always just managing to survive somehow. This is so they can go on being chased, one supposes.

Impact is written as if the author intended it for a violent action film, and the scenes are written as if you were viewing a movie instead of reading a novel.

What does this mean? Well, the depth of the characters suffer for me, and I suppose this is to allow more space for action. Too much so, I feel. For instance, we start to learn something about the male hero, and then we are left dangling, not really knowing things we were led to believe we'd learn about him, like his wife, as one example. And the ultimate, have-to-save-the-world plot is over the top for this book, but fine for a two-dimensional action movie, I guess. The constant boat chases, truck/car chases, on-foot chases, with the assassin always tracking them down, etc., is the usual fodder for this type of an action flick. But for a book? Well, for me, personally, I was glad when I finished. It was a bit like reading a "Transformers" novel version of one of those non-stop action movies, with seemingly hours of mindless, violent action scenes. In other words, boring.

My advice? If the movie version is ever made, watch it instead of reading Impact. Why? Because, the author, Mr. Preston, seems to have forgotten that novels and movies are intrinsically different. Novels allow for more depth and plot development, as well as in-depth character development. Action movies, because of time constraints, must gloss over the more subtle aspects of character development. But unfortunately, I feel that's what Mr. Preston did in his book, as well--gloss over so much that the book is more of a screenplay or storyboard for a possible movie than a novel, for me.

Of course, Mr. Preston always writes well enough to make anything he does, at least "readable" and that's the case here. But about halfway through, I was bored, knew what the outcome would be, and found nothing to further surprise me in this regard, at least, not to any real extent. Just more chase scenes and the reason for them is such a flimsy premise--a turncoat who is an agent for a foreign power, and that particular foreign power is rather an unlikely and ridiculous one at that, I feel.

In conclusion, I do not personally recommend reading Impact, by Douglas Preston, and I'm sorry for that, because I think he's usually a great author and normally, his works make for a good read. This time, his book comes off more like that most lamentable of Michael Crichton's novels, Timeline, and we all know how that did at the box office...

My personal advice to Mr. Preston is to go back to writing thrillers as books, and not as possible screenplays or storyboards for movies. I usually like his work, solo, and when co-authored. And I still intend to read more by him. One mediocre book does not define an author, not in this case.


TYMBRAL--A Great New Album!

Something truly unique! This doesn’t just apply to the name of the group, “Tymbral,” but is particularly apropos in describing their music, as well. For not only is it new and inimitable in the genre of Christian music, but it’s beautifully unique. Tymbral has a refreshing sound, one that once again makes us lift our heads toward heaven, open our eyes to possibilities beyond our ken, stirs our hearts with feelings once more, and makes us want physically to move with the rhythms this group creates. Tymbral truly does “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” And, oh, how we’ve needed that of late!

Christian music has been begging for something new, something fresh, and most of all, something good! It seems the genre has been in a real rut recently. We’ve had an endless-seeming series of groups all churning out repetitive styles of music, and all providing an unending parade of dreadfully trite lyrics to go along with them, ones that dim our souls with their redundancy. There has been a deadly dullness of late, a real staleness to the Christian music genre.

Tymbral has changed this. They have brought a sea change to this state of affairs. With an eclectic mix of music and styles, they’ve swept in like a fresh breeze off the cool ocean. I particularly like their bluesy style, which they use at times. To my way of thinking, this sound rivals or surpasses the best blues music out there, and I mean anywhere!

My personal favourite in this regard is Spiritual Cry with Sherry Evans as the vocalist. If ever there was a plaintive yearning, a cry from the depths of the soul unto God, then it is in this piece of music.

The guitar work is dazzling. Guitarist Ernie Saylor has stirring echoes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, with maybe a touch of Steve Morse thrown in for good measure. I use the term “echoes” here, because Mr. Saylor creates his own unique style and blend. His is an exceptional synthesis that has created something new, something bright.

Like the result of sipping a good cup of robust coffee in Jackson Square, New Orleans, on a Saturday morning, the song, Spiritual Cry, awakened feelings in me that I haven’t felt for a long time. And this is what good Christian music is supposed to do in my estimation, to awaken, to refresh, to remind us of not only the glory and grandeur, but to stir within us those deep-seated yearnings to be a part of it all.  

But it doesn’t stop there. The members of Tymbral are not only flexible in their talents, but they are unpredictably delightful in their demonstration of them. Another of my favourites, which exemplifies this, is When The Warrior Returns. Now there’s a song with classic rock at its heart and the Christian joy in its soul. It’s good listening, folks!

Mind you, it isn’t just the efforts of the lead guitarist and vocalist making the music so good. Rather, it is a comprehensive and inclusive merging of talent, an incredible array of it, in fact. Matthew Rivera’s dexterity on the drums, Sam Line’s deft command of his bass guitar, Dwayne Cobb’s skilful charge of the keyboard, and Charles Wilkins’ expertise on the rhythm guitar, all combine to create a platform of music that stands on its own, and without apologies of any sort!

Then add in the vocalists, the plaintive-sounding Angie Ninan, the haunting voice of Ginger Buehl, the gentle and flawless Maggie Wilkins, and of course, that belting bluesy singer, Sherry Evans, and you have a winning team!

I enjoy many types of music, and I have to say, wherever this group plays, regardless of venue, I want to be there! I want to not only hear them, but also see them perform. I want to watch Sherry Evans belt out her Christian blues, watch Ernie Saylor work that guitar, and stare with fascination as Matthew Rivera plays the drums. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t the whole point of Christian music to draw you in, make you want more, and in the whole process, bring you into the light of the Christian concept?

My hat is off to Tymbral, because they’ve certainly achieved this. They left me not only feeling joyful, but with a yearning to once again reach out for my God. And that, to me, is just about as perfect as you can get when it comes to Christian music.

My recommendation is to buy the album and see for yourself. I can guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed. The music is marvellous! It will not only edify, but it will enchant you. A more enjoyable Christian album, I simply haven’t heard--ever!

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