Dri-Dock, A Review – Koh Lipe, Thailand

It is a common sight to see people walking around the island of Koh Lipe with either scuba diving gear, or on a lesser note, snorkeling equipment. The island sits right next to a huge corral reef, and there are amazing spots to go check out the fish and what else might be hiding in between the nooks and crannies underneath its sea. We were able to go just off shore from our hotel to see some amazing sights, but yesterday we took a trip to another island to check out the reef in all of its majesty.

In anticipation of this event, I made an impulse buy on Walking Street, a phone case that claimed that I would be able to take pictures underwater up to 30 meters down by a company called Dri-Dock. Considering I was only going snorkeling, this seemed like the perfect thing to take out on this trip. I took my purchase back to my hotel and tested it out in the little bay just a few steps away from reception.

First of all, it did keep my phone dry. In fact, it did a really good job of this. I was impressed by the way the slip of plastic would seal up and prevent any form of moisture from getting through. And when it was above water, it did a great job of taking pictures. It did not look like the phone was in any case whatsoever, and the pictures turning out as great as the normally would.

But when I tried to take underwater pictures, it did not work as well. Now, keep in mind that my phone is an iPhone6 and I know that the technology has gotten better over the years since I bought it, so some modern phones might have a better ability to take these pictures. But I would press the button on numerous occasions, and sometimes it would click, and sometimes it would take a burst of photos sometimes up to 275 of them, or it would just not work at all.

When there were no fish in the picture, it did much better, but that is not why I wanted this addition in the first place. This corral reef had some amazing fish swimming around it and I would have loved to have gotten a couple of pictures of some of them. If I did get a picture of a fish, it was too blurry to really see what it was, and I just had to settle of photos of the underwater landscape.

I can’t complain too much though because I was able to get a couple of great pictures that I would have never gotten otherwise. It did do a good job of keeping my phone dry, and I only spent twelve dollars to have this ability. Overall, it was worth the purchase.

I don’t plan on going snorkeling again anytime soon, but I will use the Dri-Dock bag again on one of my many adventures on a kayak or out on sea. It will give me the piece of mind of have been looking for when I go out on these adventures and I worry about taking my phone with me. Now, I can get those shots that I have always hoped of getting. I just wish it worked a little better underwater.

The Sushi Attraction

One of my favorite things about getting out of the house and traveling is trying amazing food from all around the world. There are some really great places to eat in my neighborhood, but there is something special about trying places in other neighborhoods and countries. Heading to downtown Bangkok gives me this opportunity to try other worldly cuisine. Of course, there are many Thai restaurants downtown, but I probably have the better examples in my neighborhood that is not toned down to meet the tastebuds of millions of tourists who visit this city every year. Rather, I like to look for the other world cuisines that are not as present in my neighborhood, and one of the types of foods I always look for is a good sushi restaurant.

This is something that is harder to find in Southeast Asia than you would think. There are a couple of places I have found outside of Japan that are able to do this dish well, and one of the better ones happens to be off of the Phrom Phong BTS station down Soi 39. It is a small place with only six tables, but it does a great job of getting fresh fish and creating artistic bites to eat. It is by far the best sushi restaurant I have found in Bangkok so far. It does not rival the places that fill up during lunch time in Japan, but it would do really well in that country and hold its own against the people that created this cuisine in the first place.

My favorite part of eating sushi, besides the taste, is the presentation. I am not one of those people that take pictures of their food very often, and maybe I should be better at doing that considering I write a blog about my travels around the world. I know that people want to see those pictures, but usually when I go out to a restaurant, I am so excited to eat that when my food comes, I forget to pull out my phone and take a picture. But when I ate at Masu Maki, it was really easy to remember that this was something that I should do. They did such a beautiful job of presentation that I had to take a picture in order to remember it. I won’t give you the picture of what it looks like after I have finished because it isn’t as pretty, but when this gets placed in front of you, it is easy to get excited by what you are about to eat.

It is a great place to eat sushi in Bangkok, and if you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to find hidden gems like Masu Maki, especially when it comes to sushi.

The God Organ by Anthony J. Melchiorri

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The God Organ gets a strong eight out of ten.

When I picked up this novel, it was marketed under dystopian literature, and I expected to see a bleak landscape with no hope for its characters that mirrored the problems seen in the United States today. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. Anthony J. Melchiorri tell the story of a great mystery wrapped around the development of a new medical marvel, the God Organ.

The year is 2064, and LyfeGen, a biomedical company, has developed the Sustain, termed by some the God Organ. This medical marvel allows the person who has it implanted into their body the benefit of no longer suffering from heart attacks or strokes. It also offers the bearer a more youthful appearance for the rest of their lives which also gets extended because of this device. Preston Carter enjoys the benefits from his creation both financially, as well as physically because he was one of the first people to have this invention implanted in his body. This is until he falls victim to a stroke that sets into motion a series of events that questions the integrity of this miracle device.

Anthony J. Melchiorri does a wonderful job of bringing to light some of the modern problems facing the Unites States such as the ever-growing division between the classes, and the disadvantage this puts on the poorer members of society as they not only struggle with making financial ends meet, but also with their inability to get the medical attention that they need. Add to this the fact that the jobs usually held by the masses are being taken over by automated machines, making it even more difficult to find anything worth a person’s time and effort, except for those who have the luxury of some of the more prestigious positions. He also brings up issues with the power of religion over certain people as it takes on issues that it perceives to be against their beliefs, and the declining power of print media as fewer people read it and more of it is written by algorithms. These are real issues and Melchiorri handles them well.

The most surprising part of this novel is the way that it was written. It has lots of strong characters that at first don’t seem to have any connection with one another but in the end blend together very nicely. Each character has their own problems and their own flaws which makes none of them the perfect person and also makes them very realistic. He also doesn’t write his story as an overdone representation of what the world will look like in the year 2064. Instead, he shows what life will be like at that time making strong predictions based on the direction that society is headed in. It is refreshing to see a science fiction novel written this way.

But because of the way it is written, I think calling it science fiction is a mistake. The story has more of a feel of a mystery or a thriller, and fans of that genre would really love this story. I don’t believe the hardcore science fiction fan will like this story as much even though there is a lot there to make it worthy of that genre. It definitely keeps the reader engaged with the twists and turns that only a good mystery can take.

The Woodman: Book One. The Roads of Hell by G. H. Bright

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In a post-apocalyptic world, who can you trust? The question of what any stranger is getting out of the starting a relationship with you and whether or not if these motives are really worthy enough to commit yourself to their company always pop up. Sometimes you might have to give up something small, but there is a good chance that their reasons might be something dangerous and could lead to potential pain and suffering on your part. Therefore, you want to be careful. That is until you meet the legendary Woodman. He has proclaimed to uphold justice and seek to help those in need. Rumors of him have spread throughout the forests of Southern England, and if you meet him, you better hope that you are on the side of good because he is not a person whose bad side you want to be on.

This is the hero of G. H. Bright’s first installment of The Woodman series, The Roads of Hell. He will remind you of the concept of Batman in the recent movies featuring this superhero. The Woodman is not a single person, but an idea that can be passed down from one to another in order make sure that justice is served in a violent world.

The world of the novel has become a dramatically different place after a man was allowed to get on a plane from Africa with the Ebola virus. The disease quickly spread, and soon many people died. Of course there were those who were able to survive for various reasons, but this was the minority. Without all of those people around to maintain the infrastructure of the world, transportation and communication as now known by modern society became non-existence. Mankind was forced to live in another dark ages where the strong ruled and the weak got preyed upon. This is the world that the Woodman now lives in.

He tries to keep safe the little corner that he inhabits as he also protects the only haven that he knows about, Coast Town. The town is under the threat of a vicious criminal, the Black Pope, and his band of knights. They have raided the local museum and used the medieval armor they found there as their new uniforms. They travel the countryside making slaves out of anyone they come across, and threatening everyone with the guns that they carry. It turns into an epic battle to save the innocence of this small town from the obvious threat of evil that is brought there by the Black Pope.

The set up to this story creates a very entertaining ride with some wonderful characters. The Black Pope plays out as one of the most memorable villains in recent memory, and the demonic landscape left behind after the epidemic is not your typical post-apocalyptic wasteland. G. H. Bright introduces us to a vivid world of what it would be like if we had to take a step back from out modern conveniences.

There are a couple of problems with the overall book. The story continues long after the climax which leave the reader feeling as if things were drug out a little too long. These story lines could have started the second book instead of finishing off the first one. It just seemed to be placed there as a marketing ploy to leave you with a cliffhanger so you would go out and purchase the next installment. I don’t think G. H. Bright needed to do this though. He could have let the story end after the climax, and it would have been entertaining enough that I would have wanted to get the next book anyway. Even with this flaw, it was still a fun read and definitely worth your time.

For this reason I give The Woodman: Book One. The Roads of Hell a seven out of ten.

Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy: Part 1 by Nick Tory

Johnny 12 Steps

This book deserves a strong 8 out of 10. I might even go as far as to give it a 9.

I decided one night to sit down and read Nick Tory’s first installment of his Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy and instantly fell in love with the main character. Here is a man that is so clueless about what is going on around him that he can’t see how much his “Best Friend” hates him, how much the girl of his dreams despises him, and how little he knows about the twelve step program that he tries to make it through in twelve days in order to make his life better and quit his past habits of fighting and gambling. He could be one of the best unreliable narrators ever written, and because of this you will spend your time laughing with the adventures that he finds himself in. It makes this story a truly pleasurable read.

Johnny Tee finds himself trying to save the mom of the girl he has instantly fallen in love with from the clutches of a mobster who has kidnapped her so she can eventually pay off her dead husband’s debt. Johnny isn’t as suave as he thinks he is as he plans, and bungles his way through his rescue mission. Along the way he employs the help of his “Friend” who spend more time desperately trying to get rid of Johnny rather than helping him. He also gets help from a fingerless, toeless bum who has ties with the head mobster and can get Johnny into position to save the day. Of course, whatever the intended outcome of Johnny’s plan is, it always turns out much worse than he could have ever thought or imagined.

Like stated earlier, this book was a fun read, and would be great for any high school boy who struggles with reading and wants to have a great adventure. The problem that I had with the book was the fact that it was incredibly short. When I stated earlier that I sat down in one evening and read the whole book, this is not exaggerated. I would classify this book more as a novella and less a novel. It was still enjoyable, but when I finished the story I was left wondering if there wasn’t supposed to be more to it. And of course there is. Nick Tory has written three other installments in the Johnny Tee story. Of course, if I find myself with a free afternoon again, I might install the next one on my Kindle and read it, but I would rather settle myself into a much larger adventure. I know that it sounds petty that my one complaint was that the story was too short, but I do feel that if it was a little bit longer and still just as enjoyable, I would have given it the 9 that I believe that it deserves.

Simple by Dena Nicotra

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I would give Simple by Dena Nicotra a 9 out of 10.

Lee finds herself running for her life, not because of anything that she has ever done, but because this is the world she now lives in. She, like the rest of society, used to be a simpler life. Simps had been created to make things easier for us. They were androids designed to take over the tedious, menial tasks that caused us so much pain in the past. Without these chores hanging over our heads anymore, we could now engage ourselves in more worthy pursuits. But things could not remain this way for ever, and a computer virus introduced to the world turned all of the simps against humanity. Instead of being there to serve us, they were now looking to wipe out our existence. Because of this, Lee spends her days scrounging for food and avoiding running into anything that might give away her location. She won’t even try to make contact with potential humans because she believes this will only lead to more heartache. But how can we really live our lives without any other human contact, and is there a greater danger if we never trust anybody ever again?

Dena Nicotra has written a wonderfully entertaining story with many dynamic characters. They blend very nicely together to create a realistic world in this post-apocalyptic vision that she has created. There is also a lot of action throughout the whole story that should appeal to any teenager. It starts right at the beginning with Lee’s first contact with a human that leads to the two of them running away and trying to find a spot where they can be safe. This leads to a series of fights and places where they hide out while more people join their group. It all builds up to a huge finale that the reader will never expect coming.

Even though, Dena has written a very entertaining story, she has also explored some great ideas along the way. This makes this book just not a story but a piece of literature worthy of being read and studied. She asks the reader the importance of trust in one another, and whether we really need other people in order to survive. She also explores our dependence on technology and whether this great thing makes our lives easier, or if it will eventually lead us to a place where we cannot live without it. Lastly, she look at the idea of what is reality. Can we live our lives hooked up to a constant stream of entertainment, or do we need to live out lives in the world that we have created for ourselves? Is there a middle ground that we can find in which we can enjoy both of the advantages that living these lifestyles can give us?

Dena Nicotra’s story is a great piece of literature that looks at our society today while entertaining the reader along the way. It also ends leaving the story open for a sequel, and it is my hope that she continues it further, so I can see her explore the profound ideas she has presented in this novel more.

The Emerald of Phaunos

The Emerald of Phanous

I would give Scott L. Collins’s Scepter: The Emerald of Phaunos an 8 out of 10.

Daniel and his brother, Aidan, along with their friends Olivia and Lilly set out on their quest to bring the Scepter back together by finding its four missing jewels. They travel to the land of the tree people to find the first jewel, the Emerald of Phaunos. Along the way, they make some new friends, revisit old ones, and say goodbye to others, but the whole way there they experience the adventure of a lifetime. They travel over adverse weather settings while being chased by a pack of blood thirsty hybrids of humans and werewolves called diegylis. These are King Argyle’s most ruthless creations, and he is not holding back anything when he attempts to bring down these rebels who threaten the existence of his dictatorship.

The action in this installment is more exciting than the first book. I could feel the pressure of the group as they tried to overcome all of their obstacles. In fact, there are very few places in this book where the action slows down which made it a fun read. Middle school students who enjoy fantasy stories should find this to be one of their favorites.

Also, the major complaint that I had about the first book was addressed in the second one. The bad guys are no longer faceless drones that the reader can’t build any feelings about. For the first time I was able to see King Argyle, and understand why there are so many citizens of his lands that are afraid of him. I was also able to see his most diabolical creation, the diegylis. This group of creatures can be controlled by their leader, Fracik, but there are many times where they let their bloodlust take over and they lose control of their inhibitions as they destroy anything that comes in their path.

Fracik would have to be the most interesting character of the whole story so far. The reader gets some insight into his past before he became this hideous creature. It is this life that he is forced to leave behind that creates a wonderful conflict that is enjoyable for the reader to follow. He struggles with his loyalty to his master and a life he longs to live again. I am really interested to see where Scott Collins will take this in the future. I have my suspicions, but I won’t ruin the future of this story by telling you what I think right now. But I suspect that Scott Collins has a big surprise in store for the readers in the future books of this series.

Middle school readers should connect nicely with the main group of the kids, but it is a little hard to take as an adult reader. They get along a little too well, and seem like caricatures of real people. At times while reading the book, I felt like I was watching a group of good friends gathered around a table  in a basement while they played an adventure for Dungeons and Dragons. It is probably my only complaint with this book, but it is easy to overlook because the adventure Scott Collins created made reading so much fun.

I look forward to the third book, and this would be a great addition to any middle school’s library. If you happen to fall in this age group I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the whole story so far so you are ready for the next installment.

Blott by Daniel Parsons

Blott

Blott by Daniel Parsons deserves a solid 8 out of 10.

Parsons tells the story of a young boy, Blott, who has lived in an isolated village his whole life. No one is allowed to leave, and for the most part everybody is content to stay where they are until a drought causes severe hunger amongst the villagers. Blott takes it upon himself to travel to the outskirts of the village where the white plains begin with the hope that he will be able to find food. While he is there, he unleashes a power that he has kept hidden from the villagers for years because if he did reveal this power, they would not understand and make him an outcast. The villagers might be right about Blott’s special ability because with it, Blott lets loose a pack of cat-like creatures that begin to terrorize the villagers. It takes Blott on a journey to discover himself in order to find the right thing to do in the end.

Daniel Parsons has blended elements of fantasy in a landscape that reminds the reader of an old west showdown. He has also developed a bunch of rich characters to populate this landscape and by doing so he has been able to delve deep into some interesting ideas: the origins of evil, the journey for self-discovery, and the importance of taking risks. I could see the small secluded town that he had created, and realized quite quickly the extent of the whole world he has made even though he does not supply the reader with a map to the white plains and what might lie beyond them. It adds to the isolation that the villagers feel and lets the reader empathize with them.

The creatures that Daniel Parsons has created to inhabit this world are also original. He doesn’t take from old mythology to create a new one for himself. Instead, he creates a whole new class of creatures that the reader can see as they terrorize the townspeople. They aren’t overboard either, but just the right amount of dangerous to add a realistic element to this fantasy.

Parsons also does a great job of giving the reader some closure in the opening novel. Too often when new writers write a series, they believe that they need to create a huge cliff-hanger that leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions and doesn’t give the first story any sense that it has ended. I do believe that it is important to have some unanswered questions at the end of the first installment of a series to keep the reader interested, but it should also be able to stand on its own. Daniel Parsons definitely leaves the reader with a cliff-hanger in the epilogue of this book, but if you did not read that you would feel satisfied with the story where it had left off. Of course, with the rich characters and the original landscape that he has created, it will be hard for a reader not to feel excited for the release of the next installment, and Parsons left just enough unanswered questions to have this feeling linger. He walked this difficult tightrope very nicely, and he has to be commended for it.

Overall, Blott was a fun story to read with just the right amount of action, and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out so I can continue to follow the adventures of Blott.

Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford

Souls of the Never

I would give Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford a 6 out of 10.

Souls of the Never is the first book in the Neverwar series, and it combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and young adult romance to create a unique story. It is a little bit of Fringe combined with Twilight and adding just a hint of urban-fantasy mixed together. Katheryne is plagued by strange dreams where she must protect herself and others who are tormented around the universe from a formidable beast who is set to ravage the world. She does this by collecting them all on an island in her mind where they can find sanctuary. Help comes to her from a dashing alien, Derren, who she can never tell if he is real or not because it only takes place in her dreams. All of this comes to a head when she sees the same person from her dreams in a bar in Belfast one evening and she discovers that what she has been participating in is actually part of a greater chess match and she is one of the key players.

C. J. Rutherford explores some great ideas in this story. There is the ever present battle of fate versus freewill and whether we have control over our actions or are just a part of some greater plan. Multiple universes also play a part in this story and how our lives might be different by making a simple choice over another one. Rutherford also explores the concept of time, and how our choices might change the course of history. These are all interesting ideas, but they have been explored by other writers, and Rutherford doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The concepts do play out nicely together in the story that he has written. He combines a lot of action with the obvious romance that is quickly developed between the “star-crossed” lovers. It creates an entertaining story that would play out nicely on a summer movie screen and probably would enjoy moderate success if it ever finds itself there.

The problem comes with the editing of the novel. Within the first couple of chapters there are many glaring grammatical errors that distract the reader. He couples this with a series of stock characters: the helpless heroine who finds strength in herself, her sassy best friend who is her rock in a sea of troubles, the dreamy yet mysterious love of her life, and the faceless enemy who torments them all. This makes me wonder if this wasn’t written by a younger man. There are also problems with time in the text of the story where the reader starts to wonder if only a day has passed or a whole week. The book just screams that an editor could have helped C. J. Rutherford come up with a more quality product.

With this still in mind, the story itself is very good, and there is a lot of potential there. Like I said earlier, it is very entertaining, and the concepts that Rutherford plays around with are very cool. It makes me wonder where this writer will end up in ten years after he has developed his craft a little further.

The Calling by Louise G. White

The Calling

I would give The Calling by Louise G. White a 7 out of 10.

A feral young girl, Carolyn, finds herself irresistibly drawn to gateways that open up in her world, and take her to other worlds filled with demons who kidnap humans to use for their own wicked purposes. She has this calling because she witnessed a group of demons suck her mother and brother into one of these gateways. Now she is constantly looking for her loved ones while saving other humans from a similar fate. She lives this animalistic existence, avoiding the “suits” and killing demons, until one day when she “anchored” to a demon. This releases dormant hormones within her, forcing her to have a irresistible attraction to her new demon friend.

Louise does a great job creating fantastic creatures and wonderful worlds to explore. She wraps this all up in an action adventure that engages the reader at numerous occasions. Adding to the flavor of this adventure, she creates a love triangle centered around a strong willed girl as she explores what the true meaning of love is. The author does a wonderful job of making the reader see this struggle with this powerful emotion in a way that most teenagers would see it. It makes you wonder if what Carolyn is really experiencing is true love, or just an effect of the new hormones rushing through her body.

The book, however, does lag a little in the middle. This is not something that is unusual for larger fantasy pieces because the author does need to establish the world that they have created and introduce the reader to all of the characters needed in order to fully tell the tale. Louise G. White does a good job of keeping the reader entertained while developing this aspect of the story even though there are a couple of occasions where I wondered if what she added was actually necessary to the story.

The one major complaint I had about the book was the ending. This is my own personal taste, but I believe that the first part of any series should be able to stand on its own as a book. Of course, the author should leave the reader with some questions to get them excited for the next installment, but I believe that there should be enough closure in the book to allow the reader to feel satisfied without having a burning desire to have those questions answered. There is a huge cliff-hanger at the end of this book, and even though I do have a desire to find out what happens next, I feel like it is part of marketing ploy to get me to buy the next installment. Of course, I probably will, but I still like that sense of closure that wasn’t a part of this book.

Otherwise, the story that Louise G. White has created is a lot of fun and if you are willing to go on the full adventure, I would recommend picking up The Calling.