Friday, December 30, 2005

Coke, Mr. Pibb, and Red Bull

Coke, Mr. Pibb, and Red Bull

Growing up as a child, there was a Pepsi Challenge taking over the airwaves. My Mom drank Pepsi. My Step-father drank Pepsi. My Dad drank Coke. I was undecided for a time. Then Coke won. Not sure why. Not sure when. But in the past 20 years (or more), I’ve had one sip of Pepsi. That’s it.

I can still remember going to a little Greek restaurant close to home and ordering Coke to drink. The waitress always asked what kind of Coke I wanted. Not meaning Diet Coke or Regular Coke or even New Coke. She meant Coke, Sprite, Mr. Pibb, etc. Coke was the all-in-one word for soft drinks where I grew up. It wasn’t just Roma’s, where I always ordered a Mr. Pibb (it was the only place that had it, so it was a treat for me).

As I got older and went off to college, I encountered a major culture shock. Part of it being the lack of Coke in the region. Thus my temporary conversion to Mt. Dew, one of the few Pepsi products that I’ll drink. Now that I have aged even further, I’ve become quite the Coke connoisseur.

Whether it’s Coke in a bottle or Coke on tap, I can taste the difference. And I’ll even tell you if it came from a glass bottle or a plastic bottle. My preference is Coke in a glass bottle of course. But due to the difficulty in finding it (usually around holidays, in Williamsburg, or from a very friendly Coke driver), I tend to settle for Coke from the tap (that’s a fountain machine for the rest of you folks). McDonald’s tends to have the best mixture, but most restaurants and dining facilities have a decent handle on it. Then comes Coke in a plastic bottle. Be it 2-Liter, or 20 oz., the flavor is just a little off. More syrupy than I prefer. But I’ll always have room for a cold can of Coke. On hot summer days most men prefer an ice-cold beer. I veer off the beaten path and reach for the can of Coke. It’s a bit acidic in flavor, but quite refreshing. While most people drink water when they’re thirsty, I drink Coke. I’ve grown to accept Diet Coke, but all I’m really interested in is the caffeine. I don’t like coffee, and don’t like cappuccino. That leaves Coke.

Until now. Now I drink Devil’s Milk. The nectar of Satan. Red Bull. It tastes like liquid Sweet Tarts, but the caffeine content is over the edge enough to make a difference now. After 20 plus years of caffeine intake, my body must have built up a resistance. Like a heroine addict, I’ve resorted to extreme measures to increase my intake to keep the high from going away. While I’m still trying to stop my eye from twitching after every sip, this 8 oz. of liquid evilness is the only thing keeping me awake.
©2005 Productions

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dreams Of The Desert Wind Review

Dreams Of The Desert Wind
By Kurt R. A. Giambastiani

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Having followed Kurt’s writing for a few years now, I’ve come to appreciate not only the time and effort put into a novel, but also the sheer skill and determination.

Aside from the Ploughman King and various works in magazines, I’ve read everything Kurt has published. I’m not trying to brag, just to set the tone of the review. And while I’m not an expert (self-proclaimed or otherwise) on his writing style, I’m come to know him through his works and through several conversations. So when I read Dreams Of The Desert Wind, I was flabbergasted. In both good and bad ways.

So let’s start with the bad, because most of it is in the beginning of the book. The first 50 or so pages was a rough start. In the past I’ve thought about using a “40-Page Rule” but eventually decided to trust my judgment when I pick up a book to read. After all, I’ve only been wrong twice. So aside from the thoughts of putting the book down, I continually dwelled on two main things early in the book. First being my supreme lack of knowledge about the Middle East. Specifically Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, etc. What I know these people hate those people and vice versa. There are differences in culture, language, religion, and who really owns what piece of land. Thankfully, I won’t be getting on a soapbox anytime soon about it, because I don’t know enough to start a conversation. The second pre-occupation I had was the sheer lack of excitement early on. I’m not sure if it was the lack of character development or character history or just a simple lack of explosions, but I had a hard time getting excited about the story. It wasn’t until David begins his trek after the Bedouin, that I started to wake-up and pay attention.

And that’s about where the good stuff comes in. David, an archeologist of languages, is searching for a veiled woman who spoke a dead language. Not quite the exciting McGuffin of Kurt’s other stories, but interesting enough to follow. David’s lover, Rivka, chases after him thinking he’s been kidnapped. In reality, he’s leaving of his own free will.

Thus ensues a classic chase across the desert. Military chases Rivka who chases David who chases Ghazayil who have an ulterior motive for David. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I was also pleasantly surprised at the end when I found out how the Ghazayil came upon their special powers. Not at all what I expected.
© 2005 Productions

Cloak Of Deception Review

Cloak Of Deception
by James Luceno

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The plot in Cloak Of Deception fits it’s title. And once again, the Master of Lies (Palpatine) is at it again. There were so many twists and turns and so much manipulation, it’s no wonder the Old Republic gave way to the Empire. Palpatine does it all.

Aside from the generous helping of deception, the book was an average addition to the pre-Phantom Menace era. Valorum is still the Supreme Chancellor, Palpatine is just a lowly Senator, Amidala was just raised to Queen, and Obi-Wan is still apprentice to Qui-Gon.

The biggest thing this book brings to the table is the historical background that leads to the blockade of Naboo. The reader learns of all the manipulating done in the background to maneuver two Jedi to embark on a mission to Naboo. And the rest, they say, is history.

And now to add a little spice to an average read. The Fight For Truth led to Deceptions. The Master Of Disguise waited to spring The Shadow Trap during The Moment Of Truth. There was a Maze Of Deception that would eventually trigger The Cestus Deception. Because of this, the Path To Truth would reveal the Secrets Of The Jedi. Even a Sheild Of Lies could not hide Delusions Of Grandeur from a Traitor.

Obviously there have been many references to deception, lies, and the devious machinations of Palpatine in just titles alone.
© 2005 Productions

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas 2005 Holiday Card

December 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

We would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. We have stayed very busy this year and continue to be amazed with all that Elizabeth is able to do.
This spring we celebrated Elizabeth’s First Birthday in April. My parents and my sister Monica were able to come for a visit to help celebrate. Elizabeth seemed to enjoy all the attention and all her gifts. In May we watched Elizabeth start walking without our help at all. We also celebrated Memorial Day with our Annual Picnic and the company of lots of friends from Edinboro as well as many of our King George friends. At the picnic we decided to try to burn some of the brush we had accumulated over the last few years. It turned into a nice sized fire and lots of fun was had just sitting around it and talking.
This summer we visited Colonial Williamsburg for Father’s Day and decided to get annual passes. We have made several enjoyable visits so far and are looking forward to visiting again later this month to see all of the holiday decorations. August went by very quickly, but was a very important month for me. I had LASIK eye surgery and no longer have to wear glasses. I am very pleased with the results and only regret not having it done sooner. We also enjoyed a visit from my sister Monica. We are not sure who had more fun with the toys—Elizabeth or Monica.
This fall I started work at a different elementary school in the same county. I am the reading specialist for second and third grade. I am enjoying my job a lot and have a lot less to do at home. We also had concrete poured for our new shed. We are hoping to have it finished by Christmas. Neil got to go to Tucson, Arizona for work and while he was there he got to visit a lot of family. Elizabeth was a horse for Halloween and attended a ‘baby’ Halloween Party. Elizabeth is talking more and taking charge of the house and Henry. Almost daily we are amazed with all that she understands.
If you are interested in seeing pictures and video of Elizabeth and the rest of us, please feel free to visit Neil’s webpage We are looking forward to 2006 and all the excitement that it may bring. We hope that everyone has a safe and happy year to come.


Yvonne, Neil, Elizabeth, and Henry

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ode To Seven Swords

Seven Swords, Inc.


75 Green Street
P.O. Box 755
Clinton, MA

Phone: (978) 365-2786
Toll Free: (888) 655-3422
Fax: (978) 368-7867


  • Additionally, as member of Seven Swords, the company he co-created with a group of long time gaming buddies, he helped author the Forgotten Realms game module The Accursed Tower. –from

  • Here he teams with his original gaming group, The Seven Swords to present a low-level, stand-alone adventure set in the Icewind Dale, home of the famed Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden. –from

  • His gaming group of 18 years still meets on Sundays to play everything from Nintendo 64 Goldeneye to the AD&D game, and even set up its own company: Seven Swords. Together they wrote The Accursed Tower, a Forgotten Realms game module set in Icewind Dale. –from

  • Design: R.A. Salvatore, Mike Leger, Brian Newton, Tom Parker,David Salvatore, Gary Salvatore, and Jim Underdown –from

  • (Quake III Arena) Bot combat/chat responses - R.A. Salvatore / Bot combat/chat responses - Seven Swords –from

  • Now, Salvatore and his original gaming group, the Seven Swords, return to the Savage Frontier in this exciting 32-page adventure. –from

  • He spoke highly of the Seven Swords, his original gaming group and now an online company ( Through the web site, surfers can order artwork and t-shirts of Salvatore's characters, and signed copies of books by Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and other fantasy authors. –from

  • Head Book Nurse / Brian Newton –from
© 2005 Productions

Dark Tide Onslaught Review

Dark Tide: Onslaught (New Jedi Order #2)
by Michael A. Stackpole

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 4 out of 5

As the reader begins this second New Jedi Order book, more and more is learned about the Vong. They are brutal and honorable. And they are just as in the dark about the Jedi as the Jeedai are about them.

The Vong continue to display their exclusive use of biological technology and weapons. The amphistaff acts as a bo, whip, and poison snake. They wear crab-like armor that is easily defeated with a lightsaber to the armpit yet can absorb hits from blasters and lightsabers. The Vong have the ability to quickly engineer an animals genetic makeup to fit their needs.

While their brutality is readily apparent now, we also begin to see their view of honor. They torture their prisoners yet see the abandonment of the slaves as wrong. The recovery of bodies is important yet the disturbing of graves is sacrilege. Quite a view askew on honor.

Stackpole returns to the new generation of Star Wars books with the same flair for space battles. With the Vong continuing their galactic invasion, the Jedi and New Republic are scrambling to find ways to fight them. The X-Wings and Star Destroyers work, but with limited capabilities. Stackpole brings out the great drama of fighter pilots and begins to develop one of the New Jedi Order’s break-out stars, Jaina Solo. Jaini earns her call sign “Sticks” because she has a flight stick in the cockpit and carries a lightsaber. And as Rogue Eleven, there’s another pair of sticks. In the end, “Stix” might have been more fitting, for she does bring a wave of death to many of the Vong.

In conclusion, this was another great addition to the series. The Vong are truly a new threat to the peace of the New Republic and many socio-political issues will be raised during their invasion.
© 2005 Productions

Monday, December 12, 2005

Homeland Review (comic adaptation)

Homeland (comic adaptation) by R. A. Salvatore, Andrew Dabb, and Tim Seeley
A review by Neil Richard

Overall Rating = 4 out of 5

I was a bit hesitant when I found out there would be a comic adaptation for Bob’s Dark Elf Trilogy.  There had been a first attempt with Demon Wars and I don’t think it was very popular.  The artwork was pretty good, but there didn’t appear to be much of an audience.

Then there’s the Dark Elf Trilogy (or just DET to hardcore fans).  This is likely one of Bob’s most popular series, possibly more popular than the Icewind Dale Trilogy.  Nearly every fellow fan I’ve talked to over the years has read this series at least twice, if not more.  And maybe because of my lack of fanaticism with the Dark Elf Trilogy, I wasn’t too sure the comic would float.

I was right, it didn’t float.  It soared.  Good thing I’m not in marketing.

Exile is due to come out soon and I’m sure there are talks of the other series going graphic after the popularity of this series.  The artwork in Homeland is great.  While it doesn’t quite match what I’d imagined in my own head, it was a fair representation and didn’t take anything away from the story.  Some of the scenes had to be cut for obvious space and time constraints, but all the important ones are there.

This was a great excursion into the graphic side of the story and I can only hope the next ones in the series are just as good.
©2005 Productions

Streams Of Silver Review

Streams Of Silver by R. A. Salvatore
A review by Neil Richard

Overall Rating = 5 out of 5

This being the second book in a trilogy, it’s always subject to extra scrutiny.  The primary question is always will it live up to the first book.  Often times sequels just aren’t as good as the first one.

This one is as good the first one, if not better.

To this day, I’ll always remember how I felt when I read the end of this book for the first time.  But let’s start at the beginning.

At the end of The Crystal Shard, we saw Drizzt, Bruenor, Wulfgar, Regis, and Catti-Brie (now dubbed the Companions of the Hall) defeat Akar Kessel and the Crystal Shard.  Bruenor convinces Drizzt and Wulfgar to follow him on a quest for his childhood home, Mithral Hall.  Streams Of Silver (a reference to the mithral ore the dwarves mine) picks up with the companions heading out of Icewind Dale to find Mithral Hall.  Catti-Brie stays behind until confronted by the assassin, Artemis Entreri.  She then follows their trail, but not by choice, as Entreri has kidnapped her.  We now have a damsel in distress and a quest for lost treasure.

With swords flying against the trolls and laughs filling their guts with the Harpels, Streams Of Silver has a wonderful combination of humor and action.

And cliffhangers.

Mithral Hall is found, then lost again.  Entreri and Drizzt die, then live again.  Regis is hunted by Entreri, safe, then kidnapped.  Bruenor is king, then dies on the back of a dragon.  Or does he?

And that’s the ending that made me hoot and holler.  I can still remember reading the very last line about another stone shifting and I just about screamed.  I had to wait for the next book to come out before I could find out what happened to Bruenor.
©2005 Productions

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Vector Prime Review

Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore
A review by Neil Richard

Overall Rating = 5 out of 5

By far the best Star Wars book I’ve read (and I’ve read at least 200 so far).  To me, Vector Prime is a different generation of books for Star Wars readers.  Prior to VP, the typical reader would have some Zahn, Anderson, or Stackpole on their shelf.  All great writers, all great stories.

But something was lacking.  Something was missing.  Reality.

I know, sounds dumb, after all, it is a science fiction book, right?  But reality was missing from the books.  All of the books.  We could relate to the characters and follow them along on their grand adventure.  Something would go wrong, the bad guys would get the upper hand, then the hero (or heroes) would come to save the day.  In the end, nobody got hurt (at least nothing too bad) and everyone lived happily ever after.

Then came the new kid on the block.  Salvatore had been around a few years when VP came out in 1999.  He’d written several books in his Drizzt series and was now taking another step into the sci-fi genre (he’d written Echoes of the Fourth Magic, which might be considered sci-fi instead of fantasy).  So here’s a national best seller penning the first book in a 20 book arc that’s chronologically well after the existing Star Wars books.  It includes the main characters from the classic trilogy (Luke, Leia, and Han) and the next Jedi generation (including Han and Leia’s kids).  And Lucasfilm dropped the bomb.  A main character was going to die.  Chewbacca.  Salvatore didn’t much like that, but was too late to back out.

Thus Bob became the whipping boy for Star Wars fans across the globe.  He became the guy that killed Chewie.  I think now, these years later, some fans have gotten over the shock and can now see the reality of Lucasfilm dictating what was and was not written.  So yeah, Bob wrote it, but the idea didn’t start with him.

And the death of Chewie is the dawning of the realization that the new enemy to the galaxy isn’t weak.  They’re strong and often underestimated.  They abhor technology and use biological items exclusively.  Space fighters?  Living creatures.  Housing?  The empty shell of a once living creature.  The ability to crash a moon onto a planet killing Chewie?  A living creature.  Very ingenious, very creative.  And completely different than any previous Star Wars novel.

With the biologically prone aliens and the death of Chewie, so dawned the birth of a new generation of Star Wars novels.
©2005 Productions

Tuesday, December 06, 2005