The Daily Bongo

February 2014

Wednesday, February 26,2014 -- Evening

cover of Dangerous Summer by Carolyn G. Hart
Dangerous Summer by Carolyn G. Hart
When I was a tween, I read a book that had a huge impact on me. I loved it, and I read it every summer. The paperback book had a picture of a modish, 60s girl on the cover. The girl found herself involved in a kidnap plot with the CIA and Russian agents involved. I loved it because there was an Atlantic cruise and a European tour with a bunch of teens. Whenever I read the book, I would imagine myself on a ship crossing the Atlantic. I can remember the heat of a summer night while I was engrossed in the book. The problem is that as I got older, the book got packed away, and I could not remember the name of the book or the author. Well, imagine my surprise when I heard that Carolyn Hart, one of my favorite mystery writers, who wrote the Annie Darling and Henry O. books was releasing some of her early books in electronic format. As I looked at the descriptions of the books, I found the beloved book of my childhood: Dangerous Summer. Yep! I quickly purchased the book and started to read.

I had some trepidations. When you like a book as a kid, you find that your tastes change as an adult. Books that were real page-turners turn into poorly written pieces of trash. Boy, Dangerous Summer and Carolyn Hart did not let me down. The story was just as gripping and thrilling as I remembered. Nan Russell's parents are going to South Africa to do some geological work for an energy company. While they are gone, they plan on sending Nan to spend the upcoming school term with her grandmother in Scotland. Instead of sending Nan directly to Scotland, they plan an Atlantic cruise and European tour with other teens. Nan travels to New York meet up with the tour. Of course, she goes to a museum to pass a few hours, and notices a woman and a man behaving strangely. The woman acts like she doesn't know the man, but then picks up a brochure the man leaves behind. Imagine Nan's shock when one of the tour guides mysteriously drops out, and the woman from the museum takes her place. Nan is suspicious and keeps an eye on the woman. When Nan hears the woman talking with the other tour guide, Dr. Yates, and telling him that there is a kidnap plot, Nan, and her friends Leslie and Jack decide to keep an eye on the situation. There is a kidnapping, and not what was expected, an escape, and a plot to unveil the hidden agent.

All in all, I loved the book. I am so glad that I found the it, and that it turned out as good, if not better, than I remembered. I know plan on reading more of the early Hart books because I am sure there are some other real gems hidden there.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 -- Evening

cover of Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
I don't know how I missed it, but when I was reading through the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child thrillers, both individual and as a team, I somehow missed an early offering of theirs, Mount Dragon. The book was the second book the team wrote, and it is definitely in the manner of Michael Crichton. Mount Dragon is a biological thriller with the title referencing the location of GeneDyne's desert facility for genetic testing. The scientists there are doing advanced work, but Frank Burt, Nobel winner, turns out to have some weird medical problem that has left him on the verge of insanity. Burt's hospitalization leads to the transfer of Guy Carson to the facility. Once there, Carson learns that he will be working on something called X-FLU. X_FLU is a mutation of a chimp gene that prevents chimps from catching the flu. Brent Scopes, the owner of GeneDyne, wants to create a vaccine of X-FLU that will genetically change people to never catch the flu. Of course, Scopes and GeneDyne have success with PurBlood, a soon to be released artificial blood product. However, there are problems. Charles Levine, Harvard professor who opposes genetic engineering, is a constant antagonist of Scopes. Also, Burt and Carson are having issues making a version of X-FLU that isn't an even worse version of the flu. Imagine exploding cranial cavities, and you get one of the side effects of X-FLU. In addition, it is deadly in a short time. The person exposed to X-FLU may die within hours! Carson eventually figures out what the problem is, but that doesn't mean that he and lab assistant, Susanna de Vaca, are lauded. Instead, they are under physical threat from others at Mount Dragon.

The book is a real page turner, and the twists and turns were unexpected and well-done. I found myself wanted to read ahead to see how things were going to end. The book is a great addition to the biological/scientific thrillers that I love to read. I just wish that Preston and Child would write more in this vein both together and individually. They don't churn out enough books in my opinion. If you haven't tried Preston and Child, what area you waiting for? Go to the library or Amazon right now, and start with a copy of Mount Dragon. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, February 23, 2014 -- Evening

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony
Good-bye Sochi
The Sochi Olympics ended today. The games were fairly interesting, and I spend many an hour watching sports. Unfortunately, NBC didn't do a very good job of providing a mix of sports. However, the Olympics went off without a hitch. There were no acts of terrorism. The water turned out to be okay. Even though the some athletes complained about the conditions of the half-pipe and slalom course, other athletes managed to do just fine, thank you, on the same courses. All in all, it was a good Winter Olympics.
Same Story, Different Venue
Pittsburgh Penguins fans experienced deja vu when they when watched Friday and Saturday's USA men's hockey games. With Dan Bylsma as coach, the team moved to a stubborn defense strategy, which was doomed to failure since the team had not scored any points. So as anxious fans watched, Bylsma kept the team on the straight and true. The team lost 1-0 to Canada, relegating the US to the bronze medal match against Finland. Not to worry! Let's keep to the defense pattern that doesn't work, and that resulted in the US losing the bronze medal to Finland 5-0. What had happened to the high offense, scoring demon that was Team USA in the earlier rounds? Playing when it counts is what happened. Don't get me wrong. Bylsma is a good coach when it comes to the regular season. When it comes to winning playoffs or meaningful games, the guy is a dud. Yeah, I know, he won the Stanley Cup after coaching the Pens only one month. But what does that tell you? As most, if not all, hockey analysts will tell you, Bylsma and the team just stuck to the Michel Therrien strategy. The team did not want to play for Therrien anymore, but that doesn't mean the guy didn't know how to win. Bylsma gets credit for that, and then in succeeding years, with a stellar team, he underperforms in the playoffs. And Bylsma underperformed in the medal rounds, when it counted, for Team USA. As players commented after the game, they were frustrated. They felt Finland, in particular, was playing as the USA should have played. Heck no! All I have to say is that as a Pens fan, I've learned that when it counts, Bylsma loses. Now maybe more people will see that too.

Finland got the bronze, and in this morning's gold medal game, Canada bested Sweden, 3-0, to win gold.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 -- Evening

Men's Olympic Hockey
The Men's hockey competition at the Olympics has been quite entertaining this year. The USA team has been doing really well. On Saturday, the US played Russia, and with the help of TJ Oshie in the shootout, the US won. Oshie got a ton of Twitter followers and publicity. The rules in Olympic hockey state that after the first three shooters, the team can continue to play the same player. Oshie was great, and he he really seemed to have Sergei Bobrovsky's number. All I have to say is Go USA!

Meanwhile the Russians seem to be having problems scoring. I heard some hockey analysts say that it's because the Russian defensemen aren't moving out of the defensive zone. Seems they have been having issues with the big ice, so it comes down to the Russians usually playing five on three in the offensive zone. Tomorrow, well, starting at 3:00 a.m., the quarterfinals start. Sweden will be playing Slovinia, Finland will be playing Russia, Canadian will be playing Latvia, and the US will be playing the Czech Republic. We have some pretty good hockey to watch this week.

Sunday, February 16, 2014 -- Evening

cover of Easy Go by John Lange
Easy Go by John Lange
As I've mentioned before, I love Michael Crichton. It's such a shame that there will be no more new books by Crichton, and that means that I've been looking for authors with a similar style to get a good thriller fix. So, as you might have imagined, i was happy to find out about the John Lange books, which are being re-released in e-book format. That's the pseudonym that Crichton wrote under while he was in medical school. Recently, I read Easy Go, which has a hunt for ancient Egyptian treasure as a theme. The gist of the plot has a group lead by an Harold Barnaby, an Egyptologist who translated hieroglyphics that show where an undiscovered tomb can be found. He enlists the help of writer Robert Pierce, who comes up with an ingenious plan to fund the search for the tomb, AND to make money off the deal. The plan is to find the treasure, then send pictures of the trove to the Egyptian authorities to extract a generous ransom before turning over the items. The book covers the build up to the search and then the search itself.

The story is thrilling. I found myself really liking Pierce, who was the hero of the story, and wishing that things would work out so he could win out in the end. Things look bleak, and then ending has a very interesting twist. So far, I think that it is my favorite of the John Lange books that I have read in recent months. The characters are well drawn, and the plot moves along at a fairly good pace.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 -- Evening

Katie Uhlaender's skeleton helmet
The folks who participate in skeleton competitions at the Olympics are one crazy bunch. The competitions were being shows this morning when I woke up, and you have to admire someone who runs with a tiny sled, then flings himself/herself on it to go flying down the ice track head first. Arms are tightly held to the sides of the body. The athletes control the sled with movements of the head and shoulders as they barrel down the track at speeds close to 90 mph!! Wow, right? The coolest thing about skeleton are the athletes' helmets. Most of them have really cool ones, like Katie Uhlaender's above, which are faces looking down the track. I like her eagle because it is so symbolic of her country. After today's competition, Uhlaender is in fourth place, but there are still two more heats to be run tomorrow before the winners are awarded their medals.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 -- Evening

Norwegian Curling Team
Styling Norwegian curling team
I love curling. Yeah, I only watch during the Olympics, but I enjoy it every time. This Olympics, I'm loving the stylish pants that the male Norwegian curling team wears. It makes the viewing even more entertaining! When I was a young child, I had a pair of pants eerily similar to the Dixie style in the pictures above. My favorite on the curling teams is Dixie, with Rosemaling Black a close second.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 -- Afternoon

Shorn Shaun White
Aging of a Half-Piper
You know it had to happen. Everyone who is young becomes the dreaded mature person. In this case, it's Shaun White. White, who earned the nickname the Flying Tomato because of his flowing auburn locks. White charged onto the scene when he won the gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He went on to get gold in Vancouver in 2010. Now it is eight years from Turin, and White is eight years older. Gone is the young teen to be replaced by the mature short-haired adult. The adult who turned down a chance to participate in slopestyle competition because the course wasn't very good. Some critics said that White was scared, but I don't think he was. He was just being a thoughtful mature person.

Well, today was the halfpipe competition: the competition that White was putting all his eggs into. White didn't a good job today. He wound up finishing just out the medals in fourth place. The gold medalist was 25 (Iouri Podladtchikov), but the silver went to a 15 year old (Ayumu Hirano), and the bronze to an 18 year old (Taku Hiraoka). There's no dishonor in the aging process. Halfpipe, slopestyle, and other X Games like events are for the young. It's not that 27 is old. Heaven forbid! However, it is outside the realm of foolhardiness. So good for you, Shaun White, for trying!

Sunday, February 9, 2014 -- Evening

What the Heck??!?!?!?
I have seen the most ridiculous competition ever in this Winter Olympics: team figure skating. Over the past few days, teams made up of ice dancers, pair skaters, and individuals from men's and women's individual skating, have been competing as a team to score points for a medal. Different groupings from each country participated, and I have to admit the whole was just plain dumb. Russia wound up getting the gold, Canada the silver, and the US the bronze. Why did I think it was so stupid? Because it's really doesn't add anything to the sport than a total of the medals for the individual competitions. I guess the powers that be think that we are all so desperate for more figure skating, and this was a way to give us more of the same. I'd rather see more biathlon or speed skating. Heck, I'd rather see more of any of the other competitions going on in Sochi. With this competition garnering more TV air time, something else loses out.

Friday, February 7, 2014 -- Late Evening

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony
Sochi Opening Ceremony
The Sochi Winter Olympics officially started with the Opening Ceremony today. There was some team figure skating action going on Thursday, but I really didn't count that. The televised show on NBC started with a video of a little girl dreaming of things Russian, while going through the Cyrillic alphabet. My personal favorite was using one of the letters for Albert Einstein, who was definitely NOT Russian. Then entrance of the athletes was cool because a map of the country was digitally displayed on the ground as the athletes entered through the stadium tunnel. Unfortunately, NBC switched to closeups of the athletes, so it was hard to see the country display. I always liked the entrance of the athletes because of the colorful official outfits for each team. So many of the countries had day-glo outfits. Once the USA athletes came out in their flag jackets, the NBC cameras focused on them to the exclusion of the countries that immediately followed. Shaun White looks so different with short hair, than with his long locks. He looks more like an adult. I'm not sure that I like the USA jackets. The flag effect looks cheesy to my eyes. Overall the visuals and animatronics in the Opening Ceremony were brilliant and quite captivating. Now onto the Games!

Friday, February 7, 2014 -- Evening

cover of Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz
Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz
I'm always looking for new books, even when they aren't necessarily newly published. That's how I happened to come across Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz. I know Horowitz as the creator and screenwriter of Foyle's War. He's also written episodes for other television series, such as Midsomer Murders. I know that Horowitz also did the Alex Rider series of spy books for kids that I have on my TBR pile. So when I saw Groosham Grange on the shelves at the local library, I picked it up.

As I started to read the book, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that the book was eerily similar to the Harry Potter stories. Instead of being an orphan, David Eliot is the seventh son of a seventh son. HIs parents make the Dursleys look like ideal parents. As David is expelled from his most recent boarding school, his parents receive an offer from Groosham Grange to take on David. David is quickly bundled off to the school, which is reached by a train ride, and the school itself is on a secluded island. The students and teachers at the school are strange, and as David nears his thirteenth birthday, he feels the tension pick up.

Notice any similarities yet? Yep, it was very like the Potter books in spirit. It turns out that Groosham Grange is a school for wizards and witches. The teachers include a werewolf (named Leloup, French for wolf, like Lupin) and a ghost. Hold on a minute! I went to look at the publication date, and (strong>Groosham Grange came out in 1988. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone came out in 1997. Horowitz didn't go to the lawyers and sue. Instead, he just thanked J.K. Rowling for contributing to young adult fiction in the UK. How do you like them grapes?

Groosham Grange is a good read. It's much shorter than any of the Potter books and much darker in tone. Read the book yourself, and see what you think. All the Potter readers should give Groosham Grange a try. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, February 6, 2014 -- Afternoon

Don't Drink the Water!
There has been a ton of controversy as the Winter Olympics drew near. This year, it's in Sochi, a resort area of Russia, located on the Black Sea, and on the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. That was the start of the problem. Terrorists have been making threats and committing acts of terror that make many concerned about the safety of the athletes. This week, the news media travelled to Sochi to prepare for the Opening Ceremonies tomorrow. Well, imagine the cries of surprise when the media found that for the most part the media hotels were practically uninhabitable. The water was a dark yellow, and the reporters were warned that it was dangerous to wash in, let alone drink. Notes were left by toilets telling the bathroom user to deposit used toilet paper in waste baskets instead of flushing it. This really puts two black eyes on Vladimir Putin's face, but do you think he cares that his country is viewed as such a hell hole? It makes sense when you hear that alcoholism is rampant in the country; you have to drink vodka because the water isn't safe!

As Garry Kasparov has commented on via Twitter, the journalists and Western media will leave after two weeks, and the Russian population will be left with the mess that is the oppressive dictatorship of Putin.