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, April 27, 2011

Mass Casualties

Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq, Michael Anthony, AdamsMedia, 2009

This is one person's chronicle of a year in Iraq as an Army medic. It is not a pretty picture.

The hospital is set up in, supposedly safe, northern Iraq. It has 3 operating rooms, so if a large number of wounded are brought in at the same time, very unpleasant decisions would have to be made about who lives and who dies. Staff Sergeant Gagney, the immediate boss of the medics, is one of those who seems to think that leadership involves lots of yelling. He agonizes for hours over the work schedule, and comes up with a rotating schedule for everyone; first shift one day, then second shift the next day, then third shift the next day, etc. Of course, this totally disrupts everyone's sleep patterns, so that, after a couple of weeks, everyone comes to work looking like the walking dead. After a month, a female staff sergeant, Hudge, is given the responsibility of making a new schedule. In half an hour, she makes up a more rational schedule that gives everyone the same shift each day.

Later, when Hudge goes to Gagney to express her concerns about the way the unit is run, she is loudly accused of being the one with the emotional problem. When she visits the unit's Chaplain and mental Health Officer, Gagney had gotten to them first and told them about her supposedly unstable mental state. Another member of the unit attempts suicide. Instead of being sent home, or otherwise getting the help he needs, he is assigned extra duties, and basically told to suck it up. Another Sergeant shocks the unit by announcing that he is taking an emergency leave because his son has attempted suicide. Word filters back to the unit that he was seen in a local bar, back home, getting very friendly with a couple of prostitutes.

A Marine is brought in with a broken jaw, so he is in a lot of pain. The doctor on duty would rather attend a unit-wide awards ceremony than attend to the Marine. The author is not the only one in the unit who learns the value of Ambien and NyQuil (drunk by the bottle) for nights when sleep is impossible. Did I forget to mention the frequent shellings that send everyone running to the nearest bunker?

To call this a "wonderful" piece of writing might be the wrong word, because it gives many examples of human idiocy in a war zone, but it really is that good. By all means, read the "official" stories of American military personnel in Iraq, the read this to get the "real" story.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Adventures of Mad Martin

The Adventures of Mad Martin, Elly Cares, 2011 (Kindle e-book)

This is a connected group of modern-day detective stories about an investigator whose methods are not just quirky or unique, but downright bizarre. However, no one can dispute her record in solving crimes.

Molly Martin is a woman with long, flowing red hair, bright green eyes, and is one of those people who marches to the beat of a different drummer. She lives in a mansion with her assistant, Brian (who she constantly calls Johnny). Martin is a billionaire, so she can afford it. She has a closet full of bags of cheese doodles. The local police detective, Detective Carple, gets a headache whenever she is around.

A man is found dead inside a beautiful old building that has become an apartment house. The body is actually the top and bottom half of two different people, and one of the female residents has, literally, fallen in love with the building.

In the forest, miles from anywhere, five people are found dead, face down in the mud, with their lips and fingers removed. It has to do with some residents of a nearby small town trying much too hard to create the "perfect" town, and a little boy who brings new meaning to the word "creepy."

A woman comes to Martin, very concerned about her sister, living at a local mental hospital. The sister has been making great progress in her recovery, frequently calling and writing letters. All of a sudden, there has been nothing from the sister, for several days. Did she run away? Has she been kidnapped? Is she still alive?

The reason for Martin's different view of the world is that the murder of her family put her in a mental hospital. The director, who calls her in on a case involving the disappearance of dead babies, thinks that she was wrong to check herself out of the hospital. All that Brian and Detective Carple can do is to keep her pointed in the right direction when she, mentally, wants to go off in some strange direction. Throughout these stories, Martin gets strange messages and packages (a salted human tongue in a box) from someone who knows all about her past, and is not afraid to exploit it.

This book contains some really good writing, and the mystery parts will keep the reader guessing. I recall few stories about an investigator who is much closer to actual insanity than the average person. This is different, and is very much worth reading. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Escaping Destiny

Escaping Destiny, Jeffrey Pierce, 2011, B004LX0IW2 (Kindle e-book)

This fantasy novel is set in a world that is somewhere outside of reality. An ancient prophecy says that 13 people hold the key to all of existence.

They are a disparate group of beings. Kai is a warrior who just wants to live somewhere peacefully with Ko’laru, his faery lover. Many people consider faeries to be demons, and any “union” with humans to be unnatural. Beltross is mer, half human and half sea creature. Daen is a prophet who can see into the future. Traela is a teenage girl who very much wants to be a warrior. Leiron and Caraine have unique abilities of their own.

At first, the intention is to gather the 13 people together in one place, then work on making the prophecy come true. A monastery is attacked by bandits led by a man named Nollon, because a young boy named Rann at the monastery is the key to the prophecy. Traela is severely injured in the ensuing battle, beyond the abilities of human healers. The group detours to the city of Node, where Traela’s only chance lies with the Maat.

The Maat are alien beings who guard the gates between worlds. They are literally nothing more than bags of fluid enclosed in a thin membrane. A member of the Maat agrees to heal Traela, but they do not come cheap. Their price is not always monetary, a price that Kai is willing to pay. The Maat are also very picky about weapons being taken from one world to another. They have ways of detecting any attempts at smuggling or deception.

There are a number of battles against strange beings, including stone monsters, sent by the forces of evil to kill or capture those involved in the prophecy. First of a trilogy, this is a surprisingly good novel. It has everything a fantasy reader could want: a quest, violence, alien beings and a bit of romance. My only complaint has to do with the editing or proofreading. In several places in the book, the word is supposed to be "prophecy," not "prophesy." But that does not detract from a tale with language that borders on poetic. It gets two strong thumbs up.    

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rebooting the American Dream

Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country, Thom Hartmann, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010

When a computer is acting up, the first thing to do is reboot and start over. America's operating system, which has worked pretty well until recently, was weakened by Reaganomics, and then by policies from Clinton and the Bushes. This book tells how America can reboot and restore.

Manufacturing is the only way for a country to build wealth. The service economy, or simply moving money from place to place, does not build national wealth nearly as well. Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton knew it, but we seem to have forgotten it. For instance, where is the advantage in needing parts from China to build a missile or aircraft carrier to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack?

A little-known study done by the chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute showed that the Reagan and Bush tax cuts actually grew the size of the federal government. The higher pre-Reagan tax rates and the increased taxes under Clinton actually shrank the size of the federal government.

Reagan's decision to stop enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act has led to a huge growth in the size of oligarchic corporations that dominate all parts of the economy. It has led to the devastation of local economies. Are cheap, mass-produced goods really more important than a healthy local economy? Hartmann asserts that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act needs to be re-enforced and America needs to return to the "trust busting" policies of Theodore Roosevelt.

It is wrong to think that America can forcefully impose democracy and an opensociety on the rest of the world. If they think that democracy is such a great idea, they will steal the idea and do it themselves. The problem is not "illegal immigration," the problem is American employers who pay much lower wages than an American worker would receive. There are few ways to reverse bad Supreme Court decisions, like the Citizens United decision, except by advocating for a Constitutional amendment.

This is an excellent book. It's interesting and easy to read, and it's written with passion. It is very much worth the time.

The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell

The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell, Jamie Court, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010

Hope and change are all well and good in present-day politics, but the time has come for some old-fashioned anger in order to get things done. This book gives the details.

The author advocates that activists focus their attention on state-wide issues. Half the states allow citizen groups to put ballot initiatives on the state wide ballot. Visit your state's Secretary of the State to see if you live in one of those states. If you do, then go for it.

As an example, say that your proposed ballot initiative deals with the subject of health care. Exposing new information about your opponents, information that conflicts with their public image, shows how out of touch with public opinion they really are. Don't be afraid to confront your opponents. Eventually, they will make a mistake, even if it is just saying something dumb in public. Use that mistake to shame your opponents, and make that mistake the issue. If they don't adopt your ideas, keep forcing mistakes until they do concede. Last, but not least, don't let go.

The author, a veteran consumer activist, gives a number of other rules to consider in any campaign. Don't try to change everyone's opinion; target the little things and a few people. Even small victories are still victories. Keep your moral sentiments short, and to the point. Fight even if you can't win today, and someday you may win without fighting. Put people first; keep it human. Make it personal for decision makers. When the time comes, when your opponents make a mistake, seize the moment and have the goods. The bigger and more important an opponent is, the more afraid they are of falling. Use that fear to gain a win without combat. Some people, and some organizations, think that it is preferable to have a "seat at the table." The author asserts that it is more important to have a rock to throw through the window.

This book is full of real-life examples from the author's ballot campaigns in California. It is very highly recommended, especially if live in a ballot-friendly state. For those who don't live in such a state, it is full of ideas for any state-wide campaign, and is still well worth reading.