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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Making Bank: The Personal Finance Lessons They Never Taught Us in School

Making Bank: The Personal Finance Lessons They Never Taught Us in School, Claudio M. Ghipsmann, Bridgeway Books, 2010

This book attempts to distill a subject like personal-finance into small, easy to read pieces. The author speaks as someone who learned personal-finance the hard way.

The first thing a person should do is to purchase, or free download, some sort of money management software like QuickBooks. Get in the habit of entering all of your income, and all of your expenses. After that is done, you can start printing reports, like a Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss, which will show you exactly where your money is going. Each month your expenses need to be less than your income. If that is not your situation, the sooner you start changing things, the better.

If you are thinking of getting into the investment world, have extra cash on hand, and pay off your credit cards first. Decide on your level of acceptable risk. Are you more interested in safe, conservative investments, or in high risk investments that could go through the roof, or crash and burn? There are, seemingly, 1 million places to invest, so research is needed ahead of time.

Paying off your credit cards, by itself, is a good way to put money in your pocket. Imagine a card with 20% interest, and you are carrying a $2000 balance. You are giving the credit card company $400 a year, for no reason. Pay off the card and that $400 will go in your pocket. Banks are getting rich on the everyday mistakes of their depositors. Use only your bank's ATM, and you will save that one or two dollar fee each time. Sign up for online access to your bank account, and check it often. When your balance gets low, you can transfer money from another account, or just not use that account for the time being. It will save you from an overdraft fee, and a bad check fee, which can be substantial. Get familiar with your 1040 form, so you can intelligently talk to your tax preparer, or do it yourself and save some money. The author also looks at insurance, real estate, and how to take care of your credit score.

This book does a very good job in taking the reader through the basics of personal-finance. Money management skills are rarely taught in high school, so even if the reader takes away one or two concepts from this book it will be a big help. Yes, this one is worth reading.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Graphics Essentials for Small Offices

Graphics Essentials for Small Offices, David Loeff, SciTrans, 2011

Graphics is an essential part of any small business, but it can be very difficult and confusing. This book aims to make it a little easier.

It is tempting to designate one of your employees as the "graphics person," instead of using an outside vendor; it's cheaper, right? Can other employees pick up the slack while the person is learning PhotoShop or InDesign? Will overtime be needed to keep up with the workload? If you do use an outside printer, make sure that they are aware of your budget. It helps no one if they deliver "champagne" graphics when all you have is a "beer" budget.

Come up with some sort of corporate identity manual, which includes your logo (with possible variations) and the colors and print font to be used in your documents. It's acceptable to re-visit the manual from time to time to do any necessary revising, but few things say "unprofessional" like constantly changing fonts and colors from one document to the next. You also need to decide what sort of text alignment will be used; left aligned, or justified. Don't use right aligned text unless absolutely necessary.

When you are designing your page, resist the temptation to get "creative" and fancy. Readability is most important. Use color sparingly. Put the headline right under the picture, and above the body text. Use a serif font instead of a sans-serif font (the book explores the differences between them) for body text. A reader's eyes travel from top to bottom and left to right. Don't try to make the eyes go in some other direction. Learn how to use, or not use, white space. The book also looks at working with images, and photo editing. If you are getting, for instance, an 8-page brochure ready to be professionally printed, the book shows just what the printer has to do to make it come out the right way.

The entire graphics process can be very frustrating for any small business. This book does an excellent job at explaining what should be going on, and will answer your questions before they are asked. It is short, and is well worth the time and money. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Musa Dagh

Musa Dagh, Edward Minasian, Cold Tree Press, 2007

This is the true story about a famous bit of early 20th century history, the Armenian Genocide. It is also about the suppression, with the help of the American government, of a movie based on a novel about that time.

In the early 1900s, Turkey was run by a government of younger activists who wanted to "cleanse" Turkey of all non-Muslims (sound vaguely familiar?). Starting in 1915, it became official policy to kill or deport all Armenians (who were Christian). The population of Armenians in Turkey dropped from approximately 2 million to its present number of less than 100,000. Several villages of Armenians, facing "relocation" to the Syrian desert, made their last stand at a place called Musa Dagh. It is in present-day southeatern Turkey, just north of the border with Syria. They held out for approximately 2 months against the Turkish Army, before being rescued by a French ship.

In 1934, a novel called "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" by Franz Werfel was published to worldwide acclaim. The Armenian Genocide had become The Forgotten Genocide, so Armenians around the world were overjoyed. They were even more overjoyed when MGM announced, in 1935, that a major motion picture would be made based on the novel. Then the Turkish government got involved.

They exerted a lot of diplomatic pressure to stop the film from ever being made. Turkey threatened to ban all American films from Turkey. France, their long-time ally, was willing to go along. The American State Department took Turkey's side. To this day, the Turkish government strongly denies that anything like genocide ever took place. MGM was eventually convinced to shelve the film, but they refused to let anyone else make it, diligently renewing their rights to the film every few years.

In the years after World War II, a number of well-known Hollywood figures were interested in making the film. No less than 15 different scripts were written. To satisfy Turkey, it was suggested that the Turkish Ambassador in Washington read the script before production, or that the title or setting is changed, so that it has nothing to do with Turkey or Armenians. The Turkish response was that no amount of re-writing was sufficient. During the Cold War, the threatened closing of the NATO base at Incirlik, Turkey, provided a very good reason to not get Turkey upset over the film.

In the 1980s, rights to the film were acquired by an Armenian from California named John Kurkjian. He was very interested in making the film, but he had a huge time constraint. If the film was not "in the can" by a certain date, a few months away, all rights to the film would go to Anna Mahler, Werfel's widow. Kurkjian was forced to make the film in the Hollywood Hills, using unemployed Armenian actors and a second-rate director. He was a total newcomer to the world of "Hollywood," so he was unmercifully taken advantage of by everyone involved in the film. It was a rushed, low-budget film, and the final cut looked like it. Kurkjian made the deadline, but when the film was shown in front of Armenian audiences, words like "disappointing" and "tragic" were used (the film stunk). He was able to make back the money he spent on the film; the only good thing about the whole experience was that the permanent rights to the film were now held by an Armenian.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening book. It exposes a little-known piece of American film history and is highly recommended.    

Monday, December 26, 2011

Waiting for Pops: A Journey From Boy to Man

Waiting for Pops: A Journey From Boy to Man, John Philip Riffice, INDI Publishing Group, 2011

Told in reminiscences, this novel is one person's story of growing up in 1950s Chicago. It is not a very pretty picture.

Johnny Ryba was your average resident of post-war America. Dad worked long hours driving a forklift. He was offered lots of weekend hours, but refused them all, preferring to spend weekends at home. Mom stayed at home, and started drinking. An occasional beer turned into scotch every day. Being the sole care-giver for Rosie, his younger sister who was severely autistic, might have had something to do with it. The parents argued constantly, but always behind closed doors and at night.

One night, Dad dies in a car accident, and the body is immediately cremated. Mom is forced to put Rosie in an institution, where she spends the rest of her life. Mom continues drinking, and the yelling and emotional abuse against Johnny gets worse and worse. He takes care of all the cooking and cleaning, because Mom is usually passed out.

In high school, Johnny gets into a relationship with Holly. He puts off bringing her home to meet Mom for as long as possible. He doesn't know which Mom she will meet, the "happy" drunk or the "mean and rotten" drunk. Mom actually quits drinking for several months to impress Holly. Johnny is unable to tell anyone, including Holly, about his home life, even after learning that Holly is going away to college, because her home life is similar to Johnny's. Later in life, after Johnny is married, he learns some really unpleasant things about his sister, his mother and his "beloved" father.

This is a really well-done, and really interesting, piece of storytelling. Words like "sad," touching" and "poignant" also work very well. It is also recommended for anyone who over-indulges with alcohol, and thinks that their drinking does not affect their spouse or family. Read this book, then think again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Versailles Conspiracy

The Versailles Conspiracy, Robert "Digger" Cartwright, Xlibris Corporation, 2010

This novel is set in present-day Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is about a murder mystery that turns into a whole lot more.

Max Spalding is the local Building Inspector. He is also a member of the local commission dealing with a proposed addition to the local convention center. It is a very touchy subject among the local elite; any hint of scandal could destroy the whole project. One day, Max dies in a horrific car accident. As they investigate, Detectives Wickland and Graisco of the local police begin to realize that Max's death was not an accident.

His car had been tampered with just before his death. His last appointment was with Vladimir Stratavynski, owner of a local clothing and souvenir store. It had been raided by the police a number of times in the past for selling counterfeit goods, but the police could never put Stratavynski away for good. A former Russian oligarch who became "unpopular" when communism ended, he is part of a secret group looking to re-establish communist control in Russia.

Max was having an affair with Janet, his secretary. He had a huge conflict of interest concerning the convention center project. He had just returned from a week-long convention in Palm Springs, Florida. Why, during that week, did he suddenly fly to a very expensive resort in Quebec, and back again? In his safe deposit box, why did the police find over one hundred thousand dollars in cash, and a set of plans to the local water treatment plant? The police are also exposed to a Russian arms dealer, betrayal, the FARC rebels from Colombia, very large amounts of cocaine, and a local, extremely private, country club called the Versailles Country Club. It's the sort of place where, if you aren't a member, you shouldn't even bother walking through the front door.

Here is an excellent piece of writing. The plot might get a bit convoluted at times, but it has everything a good thriller story needs. This is very much worth the reader's time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Murder at the Ocean Forest

Murder at The Ocean Forest, Robert "Digger" Cartwright, Xlibris Corporation, 2006

This is a murder mystery set in World War II-era South Carolina. It is about a husband and wife who would have been better off never getting married to each other.

Terence and Faye Underwood are traveling by train to the Ocean Forest, a very high-calss resort right on the shore. Faye thinks that Terence is a serial adulterer, constantly looking for women with which to have illicit affairs, despite his constant protestations to the contrary. They are both members of high society, so divorce, let alone raising their voices in argument where others might hear them, is simply not an option; the scandal would be overwhelming.

A few days later, Terence goes off by himself quail hunting, while Faye goes horseback riding along the beach. Several hours later, the horse returns without her. A diligent search along the beach is made, led by Feltus le Bon, the hotel detective. Faye's red scarf, along with some blood, is found near a patch of quicksand. The next day, terence is coerced into showing Feltus exactly where he was hunting. It turns out to be just a few yards from the quicksand. It would have been very easy for Terence to shoot Faye with the shotgun he was carrying, and dump her in the quicksand, freeing him to have as many illicit affairs as he can handle. Things get complicated the next morning when, serving an arrest warrant on Terence, Feltus finds him in bed, murdered.

Investigating further, Feltus focuses his attention on Preacher Cooper, a priest involved in illicit activities, Elizabeth Bascomb, an elderly, blind psychic, and Lord and Lady Ashburn, visiting from England, all of whom have very good reasons for wanting Terence Underwood dead. Feltus tries several ways to ratchet up the pressure, hoping that the guilty party will crack. While all this is going on, the area is battered by a major hurricane.

This is a really good mystery, but I thought that it moved too slowly. The first death does not occur until almost halfway into the book. I understand what the author was trying to do, and totally agree that not all murder mysteries have to move at breakneck speed. The author certainly knows what he is doing; I guess I would have liked it more if the first half of the story moved a little faster than it did.