Welcome!! My name is Paul Lappen. I am in my early 50s, single, and live in Connecticut USA. This blog will consist of book reviews, written by me, on a wide variety of subjects. I specialize, as much as possible, in small press and self-published books, to give them whatever tiny bit of publicity help that I can. Other than that, I am willing to review nearly any genre, except poetry, romance, elementary-school children's books and (really bloody) horror.

I have another 800 reviews at my archive blog: http://www.deadtreesreviewarchive.blogspot.com (please visit).

I post my reviews to:

2 yahoo groups
Amazon and B&N (of course)
and on Twitter

I am always looking for more places to post my reviews.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Royal Bengal Horror

Royal Bengal Horror, Nafee Muhammad Anam, 2017

This is a group of spooky/macabre stories set in South Asia.

A newspaper editor visits his top writer, who seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth. He has not been into work in a long time. The writer has physically changed a lot, and not for the better. He says that he was forced to let go his driver, his cook and his housekeeper. The editor is drawn to the basement, where he finds four coffins, three of which are occupied. The door to the main level suddenly closes.

A new family moves in next door. The only child, named Christina, has not been outside at all for several days. Urmi, a young woman of the same age, goes next door to say Hi. In the sitting room are hundreds of drawings of snakes, all done by Christina. Urmi reluctantly enters Christina's room, which is filled with glass showcases holding thousands of snakes. Urmi turns around to get out, and Christina is gone, along with the door to the room. As if on cue, all the glass cages open, and all the snakes head straight for a panicked Urmi.

On the positive side, this is a very good group of stories from a different part of the world. They will certainly keep the reader entertained. On the negative side, this book needs a trip, or another trip, to a proofreader whose first language is English.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Appointed Hour

The Appointed Hour, Susanne Davis, Cornerstone Press, 2017

This group of connected stories shines a spotlight on rural America.

A woman walks into a tattoo shop, wanting a large tattoo across her chest for a less-than-intelligent reason. The male tattoo artist reluctantly fulfills her wish. A few years later, when the artist has his own shop, the same woman wants another tattoo. This time he says no; the art outweighs the money.

A local handyman, who has acquired the nickname Useless John, goes to a woman's house to install a hardwood floor in her kitchen. She just happens to look exactly his wife who died several years previously. He was driving when there was a bad auto accident.

A descendant of the Mayflower attempts to deal with a monument to an ancestor. A woman with post-traumatic stress disorder finds a group of other women to help her regain her voice. There is a story about dealing with HIV. An actress in the 1950's who got to kiss Elvis Presley on screen decided, in later years, to become a nun. She is now known as Mother Agnes.

These stories take place in Connecticut, but they could take place anywhere. Individually, these stories are excellent. Put them together, and this collection nears the level of Amazing. It is extremely highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

My Twin Sister and Me

My Twin Sister and Me, Emiliya Ahmadova, Women's Voice Publishing House, 2018

This Young Adult novel is about Julieta and Rafaela, twin sisters living in Venezuela. They have a typical home life. There is some sibling rivalry, mostly with Kara, their older sister. Montano, a male friend, is the subject of constant bullying at school. He is kind of overweight, and has a severe intestinal gas problem. A beloved uncle, who lives in America, is dealing with Stage 4 Cancer.

The girls have joined the local Girl Scouts, and they have a chanced to go to a Jamboree in Russia. The only problem is that the Scouts have to pay part of the cost of the trip. Their parents are skeptical, but the girls' Inner Entrepreneur has been unleashed. The money is raised, and the girls, and Montano, are going to Russia.

The living conditions at the campground where the Jamboree is being held are basic, but livable. There is plenty of opportunity to meet Scouts from other countries. A bus trip is planned to a museum in Moscow, but Montano has to go to the bathroom, now. Julieta gets off the bus with him, without telling anyone. The bus leaves without them. Everyone is under strict orders to not leave the campground. Just outside the campground is a Russian Orthodox church. Along with Lena, a Scout from Russia, Julieta and Montano visit the church. They also meet an elderly woman who has been reduced to begging. Are there any other eye-opening moments while they are in Russia?

This is a very interesting story, the sort of story that could take place anywhere. For any young girl between nine and thirteen years old (the age range for this book) who is having trouble dealing with adolescence, or thinks that no one can understand what they are experiencing, reading this book is a very good idea.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tantric Traditions

Tantric Traditions: Gods, Rituals and Esoteric Teachings in the Kali Yuga, Gwendolyn Taunton, Manticore Press, 2018

In the West, the word "tantra" is usually followed by the word "sex". Part of mainstream Hinduism, there is much more to tantra than just sex.

Tantra is actually loosely defined, consisting of multiple schools that worship various deities and practice different techniques. Tantra cannot be "nailed down" to a specific tradition.

The God Siva is a very important part of the social and religious life of India. Among the aspects, or portrayals, of Siva is that of Nataraja, King of the Dance. Another aspect of Siva is Sankara the Beneficent. Nataraja uses constant dancing, and Sankara uses yoga, as a route to a higher level of consciousness. Such different facets of Siva lead to the description as a God that transcends opposites and the limitations of humanity.

Devi is a Goddess with many aspects which are shown under numerous names and forms. In Hindu law, menstrual blood and menstruating women have all sorts of taboos. Touching a menstruating woman is akin to touching an outcast or a corpse. A woman who wears her hair unbound is a sign that she is menstruating.

The holy city of Kasi is not just a place of pilgrimage. The God Siva is said to be always present there. It is said that merely to die in Kasi is enough to release a person from Hinduism's cycle of death and rebirth.

This book is not Hinduism For Beginners. It is recommended for religious scholars, university students or people who otherwise know their way around the Hindu religion. For everyone else, this book can be skipped.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Art of Invisibility

The Art of Invisibility, Kevin Mitnick, Little, Brown and Co., 2017

In this age of government and corporate online surveillance, being anonymous while online is becoming more and more important. This book, from "the most famous computer hacker in the world" (according to Publishers Weekly) gives some pointers.

In this day and age, anyone who still uses "password" or "12345" for their computer password should be ashamed of themselves. Change that password to a long and random string of letters and numbers, like twenty or twenty-five characters long. Write it down, or use a password management program, and frequently change it.

If you are on a public wifi connection, like at the local library or coffee shop, do not do any online banking or e-commerce. It is very easy for a hacker to get your information, or send you to a site that looks legitimate but is not legitimate. If you are using anyone's computer, other than your own, it is a very good idea to delete the browser history, and reboot or shut off the computer before you leave it.

Did you know that many printers, including work printers, have a hard drive that records everything that was printed? Save the printing of personal items, like medical test results or your credit report, until you get home. You can be sure that your boss is keeping a close eye on your internet usage, even during your lunch hour.

For anyone traveling to the US, even American citizens returning from overseas, border authorities have the right to seize your laptop or cellphone, and keep it for as long as they want, searching through files. It is possible to use "strong" encryption on any personal files, store those files securely in the cloud, then wipe, not just delete (there is a difference) those files from your computer, and re-download them later.

Parts of this book may be too technical for the average reader. The rest of the book may be considered common knowledge, but it certainly bears repeating. It is very much recommended.   

Astrophysics For People In A Hurry

Astrophysics For People In A Hurry, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, W.W. Norton and Co., 2017

What is the nature of time and space? What is our place in the universe? Those are the sort of questions that this book attempts to answer.

Scientists don't know just what dark matter or dark energy is all about. It could be some new particle or new phenomenon, as yet undiscovered. Whatever it is, it accounts for the vast majority of the weight of the known universe. Scientists have been able to recreate conditions the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang. They just can't get back to the actual moment of, or just before, the Big Bang.

Several thousand exoplanets have been discovered orbiting other stars. At interstellar distances, it is usually not possible to see the actual planet. Therefore, scientists have to focus their attention on a specific star, and look for a slight dimming of its brightness as a planet passes in front of it. It would be wrong to think that the space between galaxies, like the Milky Way, is just empty space. All sorts of things have been found, like runaway stars, gas clouds, x-ray emitting gas clouds, high-energy charged particles, dark matter and dwarf galaxies. Visible light occupies only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Mankind has started to look at the stars using detectors that focus on everything from ultraviolet rays to infrared to radio waves.

This is a gem of a book. It is very easy to read and understand, even for non-scientists. This book was made to be read on the commuter bus, or while waiting at the doctor's office. It is very much worth the reader's time. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Nomadland: Surviving America In The Twenty-First Century

Nomadland: Surviving America In The Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder, W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2017

This book looks at a growing number of people, usually retirees. Not always by choice, they have abandoned their homes, and are living in a van or trailer or RV as they travel around America.

Perhaps their savings disappeared during the Great Recession, or they are officially "underwater" on their mortgage (owing more than the house is worth). Regardless of the reason, they are living on Social Security as they travel around the country. There are several websites dedicated to the subject. It's possible to make friends with other such "vanampers."

It is also possible to get temporary employment while living in your vehicle. A person, or couple, could, for instance, spend the summer as Camp Hosts at a campsite. Then they could spend a couple of months flipping burgers for a professional baseball team during spring training. More important than the modest pay is the chance to get a safe place to park the vehicle for a time. Then there is working for Amazon; they call the vanampers their "camperforce." Not all Amazon warehouses accept them; who wants to live in a van up north during the Christmas rush? It's normal to walk the equivalent of ten or twelve miles a day at an Amazon warehouse.

There are many things to consider when living in a vehicle. The first night in your vehicle, parked in a parking lot, will be nerve-racking. You fear that any footsteps you hear will be vandals, or the police. A growing number of cities and states have taken to criminalize homelessness. If your vehicle is not set up for it, how do you go to the bathroom, or take a shower?

This is a fascinating, and eye-opening, book. Many Americans are just one layoff, or hospital stay, away from joining the "vanampers." If such a thing is in your near future, start your preparations by reading this book. It is very much worth the time. 

The Truth Matters

The Truth Matters, Bruce Bartlett, Ten Speed Press, 2017

In an era of "fake news" and "alternative facts," this short book attempts to show how the average person can distinguish between real news and propaganda.

If a news story is being covered by only one news source, the story is probably fake. Get in the habit of frequently visiting a fact check website. Does a source have a bias in a news story? Are they less than non-partisan?

Frequently, a story will cite "according to a government study" as its source. What study? What agency did the study? When was the study done? Conveniently, it's now not possible to look up the study to see just what it says. It's much better to cite a specific, and researchable, study?

Primary sources, people who were actually at the event, are much more reliable than secondary sources, people who weren't there, but heard about the event later. Journalism terms. like "on the record" or "off the record" have different meanings and can be used by sources to mislead reporters. Visit your local library; they have search engines of most major newspapers, and free online access to valuable news databases. A better job needs to be done at putting numbers, like the federal budget, in proper context. Opinion polls are easily manipulated. It's best to look at trends by several different pollsters, instead of just one poll.

This book also includes a list of websites to visit to get real and reliable information, instead of nonsense. It is short, very easy to read and highly recommended for all Americans.   

Thursday, March 15, 2018

There's No Such Thing as "Business" Ethics

There's No Such Thing As "Business" Ethics, John C. Maxwell, Warner Business Books, 2003

This book was published in the time of the collapse of Enron. A person could be forgiven for thinking that there is one standard of ethics in big business (Don't Get Caught) and another standard of ethics for the rest of humanity (The Golden Rule). The author does not agree.

How would I like to be treated in this situation? This way of thinking is easy to understand and is accepted by most people. Companies that operate this way are consistently more profitable than those that don't. It also works really well as a personal compass.

Before a person can change their business, they need to adopt the Golden Rule as their personal integrity guideline. Make your decisions, personal and business, accordingly. Some people blame their choices on circumstances. Other people make good choices regardless of circumstances. Which are you? Doing nothing is also a decision. Consider asking others to hold you accountable for your decisions.

There are many things that keep a person from adopting the Golden Rule. Most corporate ethics violations come from "cooking the books," so there can be lots of pressure to not say anything. Those in power sometimes feel that the assets of the company are their personal checking account, to be spent any way they want (who cares about ethics, I want it now). Having pride in yourself is a good thing. An excessive amount of pride, focusing only on yourself and your interests, is a bad thing.

After the Great Recession, it sure seems like there are a whole new generation of business leaders who need to read this book. It's short, very easy to understand, and each chapter has in-depth discussion questions. It is very much worth the reader's time.


Hypercapitalism, Larry Gonick and Tim Kasser, The New Press, 2018

In graphic novel form, this book attempts nothing less than an accessible explanation of capitalism. It also shows how present-day worship of markets harms a person's well-being and the planet's health.

The five commandments of hypercapitalism are: Thou Shalt Consume, Thou Shalt Operate Globally, Thou Shalt Not Regulate, Thou Shalt Spend Less on Labor and Thou Shalt Privatize. How can the average person afford all this consumption when wages have generally stagnated over the past couple of decades? The answer is: credit cards, the overall debt of which is about $700 billion. That does not include student loan debt, which is another trillion dollars. Are obsessed consumers really happier than the average person, or do they get a momentary "high" from their purchase?

Is there anything the average person can do about it? Before buying, here are some questions to ask yourself. Can I afford it? Do I need it, or do I want it? Will it improve my life? What company makes it? There are tool banks and seed banks and time banks, where such items can be shared. If your town or neighborhood does not have one, consider starting it. Get to know your local library. It is possible for a business, like an employee-owned business or a non-profit, to be more socially responsible than average. For some people, more direct methods are the way to go. These include boycott/buycott, advocating for a better deal for workers and publicly funded political campaigns or taking to the streets and protesting.

This book deserves six stars. It is very easy to read, and does a wonderful job at explaining capitalism, even for those who "hate" capitalism. It also gives a number of alternatives that anyone can adopt. This is extremely highly recommended.