Friday, October 24, 2014

Book review: "Z for Zachariah" (with spoilers)

(This review has spoilers. If you want a review without spoilers, go here.)

"Z for Zachariah" is a simple story with just two characters: Ann Burden, a 15-year-old (she turns 16 during the story) left alone in an isolated valley after a nuclear holocaust, and John Loomis, a scientist who wanders into the valley.

Both of them thought they were last people on Earth, so you'd think finding each other would be a good thing, right?  Uh-uh. Not when John Loomis is, well, insane.

You can't help but love Ann her heart and soul are purer than gold. She nurses John back to health after he carelessly bathes in a radiation-tainted creek. She feeds him and cleans him. She reads to him and plays the piano for him.

And how does he repay her? By trying to rape her. By taking her house and her dog (and contributing to the dog's death). By shooting her and trying to starve her.

By the end, I really wanted John Loomis to die. I didn't care whether Ann shot him or he got run over by a runaway tractor, or whatever. I wouldn't have mourned his loss.

I guess I'm not as good a person as Ann Burden. Even after he tried to rape her, she still brings him food. At the end, even though she has the opportunity, she says she cannot shoot him. And, as she leaves the valley in John's radiation-protecting suit, she promises to send back help, if she can find any.  She's just too good. 

Ann is certainly the most capable 15/16-year-old I've ever met. She makes confident decisions about planting crops, tending to livestock and planning ahead for winter.  She drives a tractor and can shoot a gun with precision. Geez, if I could do half as well, I'd be happy. Ever since reading this I've been imagining what I'd do if I were left alone on Earth.  Could I survive?  Yikes. I need to learn how to milk a cow.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book review: "Z for Zachariah" by Robert C. O'Brien

Imagine that nuclear holocaust has brought death to the planet. You are as far as you know the lone survivor. You grow your own food, cut firewood for heat and get water from a well. You do what you have to do to survive.

Oh, and by the way, you're only 15 years old.

In "Z for Zachariah," author Robert C. O'Brien takes this simple premise and spins a chilling, page-turning tale.

At the heart of the book is Ann Burden, who turns 16 during the story, left alone in an isolated farming valley. She's amazingly competent all the chores of surviving planting crops, handling livestock, running a tractor. You can't help wondering: Would I do as well? Without YouTube, how would I ever learn how to milk a cow?

Then one day, Ann learns that she is not alone. A man dressed in a radiation-protective suit walks into the Valley. Is he friendly, or a threat? Anne is cautious, but when the man mistakenly bathes in a radiation-tainted river and gets sick, the decision is forced upon her. She must help him.

It's hard to say much more without giving away a lot of the plot, but let's just say that there's drama. I was so absorbed as it reached the end, I was zipping through pages.

O'Brien tells the story in the voice of a teenage girl, using such a spare, simple language that it's disarming. This is a good read for young teens and adults.

If you want more details on the book including spoilers read my version that gives away much of the story.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Want a deal on an L.A. Fitness membership? Ask Kay

Update on this topic: Want a deal on joining L.A. Fitness? Call Paul

For four years, this blog has been helping people get a better deal when joining L.A. Fitness. Lately, many readers have been sending in the same tip: Call Kay.

One reader, for instance, said this:

So I just called the number and I was transferred to a location within my state I'm guessing because of my phone number. The lady I spoke with is Kay she was wonderful. Gave me $29.99mth no contract, no enrollment fee, any location I want to go to, and all I have to do is pay for 1st and last mth $59.98. She processed everything over the phone I just had to scan and email her back the paper work.

Anyone in the Atl area who need to speak to her directly Kay 678-995-3430

As it turns out, though, you don't have to be in the Atlanta area to get the benefit of Kay's services.

I just called and spoke to Kay at 678-995-3430 as suggested above ... I live in NJ, so I wasn't sure if she would be able to help me, but she was able to! I got my LA Fitness membership for 29.99 per month (I had to pay first and last month when I joined). No initiation fee!!!!

More accolades for Kay:

Called Kay, she's able to do first/last at $39/mo and the rest at $29 no initiation, which is equivalent to a $20 initiation fee and is still a good deal.


I too just called and spoke with Kay at 678-995-3430 and she was incredibly helpful and made this such an easy process. Just make sure you call her before setting foot into a club because she doesn't want to undercut your local club by stealing their customers


Kay is awesome! She was able to sign me up with no initial fee. Please make sure you call her first before you enter any LA Fitness. Thanks for putting her information on here!


Kay was great. Today is member appreciation day so she was able to waive initiation fees and give $29/month.


Kay helped. For Omaha, NE membership. No initiation fee. Had to pay $39.95 1st & last. She gave me code to enter so remaining months @ $29.95. Let me add on husband @ $29.95/mth ... no fee or first & last.

So who is this Kay?  What is her last name?  I have no idea, but clearly she's the right person to talk to if you want the best deal on an L.A. Fitness membership.

Related stories:

"How to get $29.99 per month and no initiation fee at L.A. Fitness"

"How to save money joining L.A. Fitness"


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

The American Airlines E-Rewards fake-out: When 250 equals zero

If you're in the American Airlines frequent flier program and looking to pick up a few extra miles, or at least keep your miles from expiring, you might be tempted to sign up for E-Rewards.

After all, on American's website, it says: "Earn 250 miles for enrolling in e-Rewards." That sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Wrong. In fact, the actual number of miles you get for enrolling in E-Rewards is ... zero.

How do I know?  I tried it. I enrolled in E-Rewards and waited, fruitlessly, for my miles to appear. When they didn't, I complained, and that's when E-Rewards told me that you have to complete one of their "surveys" to get miles. I repeatedly pointed out that that is not what the site says, but they wouldn't budge.

In short, E-Rewards is just another borderline-scam site that lures you in with promises and reneges on the deal.  Avoid it.

UPDATE, Feb. 18, 2015: E-Rewards is no longer listed on as a participant in the American Airlines frequent flier program.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book review: "Dangerous Odds" by Marisa Lankester

As Marisa Lankester tells it, she never intended to make a career in the shady world of sports betting. She simply needed a job.

That's how the 23-year-old Lankester ended up in a nondescript house in Los Angeles in 1986 the only woman in a room full of men taking bets over the phone. Little did she know that this first step would eventually lead her to a life fleeing police and the FBI, and imprisonment in a hellish foreign jail.

"Dangerous Odds" is Lankester's story of her seven years within this sports gambling ring, and her rocky marriage to one of the ringleaders. She has some good stories to tell, and the book illuminates an underworld few of us are familiar with.

I wouldn't be surprised to see "Dangerous Odds" turned into a movie, especially with the blonde, gorgeous Lankester she also worked as a model  at the center of the action.

Lankester's stories are page-turners, but the tricky part is determining what's really true. She says at the start that events have been "recreated," and some identifying characteristics and details have been "fictionalized."  I give her credit for saying this upfront  some authors won't admit that they're fictionalizing even when it's obvious they are  but it leaves the reader wondering what to believe.

Some parts of the book do seem to happen too perfectly, as if snatched from a crime novel. Still, there is enough external evidence news reports and public records to confirm the basic outlines of Lankester's story.

Lankester seems a bright woman too bright, it would seem, to get involved with a gambling ring headed by notorious boss Ron Sacco  so I was struck by some very dumb decisions by her. The dumbest of these is her decision to throw herself at the office boss, Tony, basically because of his looks.

"I liked his perfect teeth, his strong jawline and his thick brown hair," Lankester writes. "I liked the curve of his neck, the shape of his nose, even the shape of his hands."

The problem  not to put too fine a point on it is that Tony is a self-centered jerk.

The L.A. betting operation sails along happily at first.  But after a couple police raids in 1987 earn Lankester a criminal record, she and Tony exit the business. They marry and "go straight."

It's temporary, though. The betting operation moves to the Dominican Republic in 1988, where management assures Lankester, Tony and others workers, there will be no problems because sports gambling is legal in the Caribbean island nation. Long story short: They have problems. Lots of them.

While the FBI is trying to shut the business down, and local police are harassing management to extract bribes, Tony's self-centered tendencies are only enhanced by his new-found alcohol and drug addictions. Lankester divorces him yes! but then bizarrely lets him back into her life and her bed. Sigh.  

One thing is clear. No one on the Dominican Republic Tourist Board is going to be handing out this book to prospective visitors. While Lankester says that she liked living there, the picture she paints of the country is far from inviting.

It is a country where a tiny collection of rich people ignore the widespread poverty around them, Lankester says. Racism is so severe that a light-skinned black can shoot and kill a dark-skinned person in public with no repercussions. The police are both corrupt and incompetent. The so-called legal system is dysfunctional and the jails Lankester can personally attest  are horrific.

"Dangerous Odds" turns things upside down in many ways, putting the reader on the side of the criminals and make police often the bad guys. Somehow it works, and there's enough surprises to keep you turning pages right to the end.

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