Welcome!


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:

booklore.co.uk
midwestbookreview.com
2 yahoo groups
Amazon and B&N (of course)
Librarything.com
Goodreads.com
Bookwormr.com
Books-a-million.com
Reviewcentre.com
Onlinebookclub.org
Pinterest.com
and on Twitter
(seriously)

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Quexistence: The Quest For the Meaning of Existence: Time Dreams

Quexistence: The Quest For the Meaning of Existence: Time Dreams, Tom Stafford, 2012, Kindle e-book

This story is about a man who does not just wonder where man came from, he attempts to find the answer.

While granddaughter Angie puts up the family Christmas tree, Gork (so named because of a noisy stomach), tells the story of how he met her grandmother Amani. In the 1960s, Gork joins an archaeological dig in an isolated bit of California. Like many people, he wants to know what his purpose is on Earth. Hiking alone in the hills, Gork has all sorts of adventures.

Gork meets a large being named Mchani, who speaks English and bears a strong resemblance to Bigfoot. He falls in a cave of bat droppings, which forces him to strip naked and wear fur pelts provided by Mchani. He is shot, and severely injured, by a couple of poachers who mistake him for a bear. When he sleeps, or is passed out, he finds himself soemwhere else in time and space. He meets a woman named Amani, who he knows is his soul mate, the other half of his being.

Gork also learns how Man came into being on Earth. Think "alien laboratory experiment." The aliens decide to eliminate those specimens that are deemed "unsatisfactory." It involves ships with ray guns blasting away on a mountain where Gork, Mchani and some "unsatisfactory" specimens are hiding. Gork also learns the truth about free will. If Man's existence on Earth is not exactly natural, what are the chances that Man's free will is somehow restricted, no matter how little? Does Gork meet Amani in the flesh? Does he survive his gunshot wound?

This is a very interesting, and contemporary, novel that will certainly get the reader thinking. Those looking for a different view of Man's origins would do well to start right here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Local Dollars, Local Sense

Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money From Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity, Michael Shuman, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012

A good way to achieve real prosperity in America is to invest money in local businesses, instead of the multi-national conglomerates of this world. This book shows some ways to do it.

First of all, forget about the usual method, that of buying shares in a local store. The vast majority of investors are "unaccredited," and for a local store to legally offer shares to the public requires an accountant, a lawyer, and several thousand dollars in expenses. A way around that is for the business owner to, for instance, offer a $100 gift card for sale to the public. The buyer then gets $125 in goods or services on that card. The business owner gets extra money coming in, and the customer gets something extra for their "investment."

The average Mega-Bank is getting less and less interested in approving a loan for someone who wants to start a business. They would much rather put their money in a higher-risk investment that offers a higher rate of return (credit default swaps, anyone?). Depositors should consider moving their money to a community bank or credit union, which is where loan-seekers should go for a loan. These are institutions where the head office is in your town, or a neighboring town, instead of a neighboring stsate. They will be much more interested in helping local businesses, and treating depositors and loan seekers as more than just a number.

Consider resurrecting regional stock exchanges, which would trade only companies from that state or region. Consider changing the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) rules, to make it easier for smaller companies to sell shares to the public, and make it easier for the average person to buy those shares. If you do nothing else, invest in yourself. Pay off your credit cards, pay down your mortgage as fast as possible, consider going (or going back) to school, to increase your available skills as much as possible, and consider a DIY retirement fund.

This will certainly change perceptions about finance. It is easy to read, and gives a number of ways to keep your money in your town (where it belongs).

The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook

The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook, Brian Carter, Que Publishing, 2012

This book shows that it really is possible for any business to increase their revenue through Facebook.

Among the first things a business owner should decide is just what they want from Facebook. Do they simply want "Likes" and popularity? Alternatively, do they want Facebook to drive people to the company's e-commerce website to buy something? If the latter, then it should be obvious that the buying process on the website should be as easy as possible.

Before you create your ads, you need to decide on your target audience. Please be much more specific than, for instance, "women 25-54." Plan your ads accordingly. Even the best ad is good for only a period of time, not forever. There are ways to keep your ads fresh.

Now it's time to come up with some ads to be tested (it's OK to test more than one ad at the same time). There are ways to analyze their performance; look at things like Cost per Click and Click-Through Rate. It's also necessary to break down an ad into separate parts (headline, color, photos, text, etc). Don't be afraid to delete the parts that performed badly. It's also tempting to come up with a cute and creative ad to show the world how "cool" and "cutting edge" you are. Forget it. How can you make your customer's life easier? How can your product or service fulfill a need that they don't even know they have?

Monitoring your Facebook page is an important part of customer service. Depending on your corporate response, an upset customer can either turn into an evangelist for your company, or be the beginning of an online "boycott" of your company.

This book is not Facebook for Business for Beginners. It does not specifically say it, but the book assumes that the reader has a working Facebook for Business page, and knows how to make changes to it. This is well worth reading for any business owner, small or large.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Magic of Public Speaking: A Complete System to Become a World Class Speaker

Magic of Public Speaking: A Complete System to Become a World Class Speaker, Andrii Sedniev, 2012, Kindle e-book (B009Y8S6OG)

Here is a comprehensive program that will help turn anyone into a good public speaker.

Among the first things to consider is the venue where the speech will take place. As an example, say that you expect 50 people in a room that can hold 100 people. Do you put out 100 chairs and hope for the best? No, you put out 50 chairs. It is much easier to get more chairs from storage for late arrivals than to ask those sitting in the back to move forward (there is very little chance that they will do so). Get to the venue early, and familiarize yourself with the surroundings. If possible, talk with some of the attendees ahead of time, to get a feel for the audience.

Do not start your speech with a joke; it will probably bomb. If handouts are included, leave them for the end. If they are handed out at the beginning, the audience will read the handouts and ignore you. Tell a story with your speech; give your audience someone with whom they can identify. If possible, include some dialogue, too (to make the speech more "human"). If there is a PowerPoint presentation included, leave the slide up long enough to be read, then shut off the projector bulb, until it is time for the next slide. Otherwise, the attention of your audience will be on the slide, and not on you. Tailor your speech to your audience; a speech for senior citizens will not work before senior business executives.

People will remember the last 30 seconds of your speech, so that is the place for your conclusion or call to action. If you have Q&A, do it before the end of your speech; people should remember your conclusion, not the last question that was asked. Do not say "Are there any questions?" (you will probably get silence). Instead, you should say "What questions do you have?" Don't forget things like taking questions from all parts of the room. If the questions aren't coming, you can say something like "A question I get asked a lot is..."

The author has done a lot of research on the art of public speaking, and it shows. This is recommended for those with all levels of expertise in public speaking, from Beginner to Veteran.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Mobile Generation

The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Mobile Generation, Graham Brown, 2012, Kindle e-book (B009FEIRUM)

This book looks at the ways that present-day young people use, and interact with, their cell phones. They are not used just for phone calls anymore.

A teenage boy from China wanted an iPad and a cell phone so much that he felt compelled to sell one of his kidneys on the black market to get the money. He is now in the hospital, suffering from renal failure. He received a lot less than the going rate for his kidney. A young Amish man is returning to the community after rumspringa, but he does not want to give up his cell phone.

In the slums of Rio de Janeiro, a couple of young boys and their cell phones are the only ones telling the world about a gun battle between the government and drug dealers. A majority of the world's youth sleep with their cell phones.

A Venice Beach food truck has created quite a following by using Twitter each morning to give its lunchtime location for that day. Between 1996 and 2010, the number of American teens who smoke has gone down. It might have something to do with the explosion in cell phone usage among teens in that same period.

As part of a study, young people all over the world were asked to go without their cell phones for 24 hours (they had to actually remove the battery). Some found it difficult, but bearable. Others described their feelings using words like dead, lonely, helpless and anxious. A teenge girl posted unpleasant comments about her family on Facebook. When her father found out, he recorded a seven-minute rant, which ended with the father putting two bullets in her laptop.

Regular human contact has generally become a thing of the past. Children don't play outside anymore. Young people don't have anywhere to congregate, like the local movie theater. A group of people can be in a coffeeshop, all working on their laptops (together and alone at the same time). That is part of the reason for people's near obsession with technology. It is the closest they can get to human contact.

If your teenager is spending "too much" time on their cell phone, maybe they are looking for some version of human contact. Reading this book may help explain what they are thinking, and feeling. It is highly recommended. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Swallowtail

Swallowtail, Sheri Meshal, 2012, Kindle e-book, B009913Q98

This novel is about a family experiencing an incredible heartbreak. It's also about love, family bonds and the human spirit.

Claire is an employee at the main office of a Chicago bank. Walking in to work one day, the place is in an uproar. Julia, Claire's office neighbor, has absconded with 3 million dollars of the bank's money. Claire is able to convince her bosses that she knew nothing about it. A few days later, on Halloween, Claire is on a busy road attempting to save a wayward kitten, when she is hit by a car and killed instantly.

Claire had no ID on her, so she is treated as a Jane Doe at the morgue. There is also nothing for the police to tell her husband, Paul, and Anna and Em, her two daughters. That is, on those days, when Paul is not being questioned about her disappearance. Claire is watching everything from the astral plane (for lack of a better term). As her family goes through a reasonable version of Hell, Claire makes a number of attempts to let them know that she is still with them.

No one wants to admit that Claire is not coming back, but, after several months with no news, hope is gone. Christmas comes, and Paul, along with friends of the family, wants it to be as normal as possible (which does not happen). Claire meets Julia, who is now living in Brazil, on the astral plane. It seems that Claire and Julia are much more than just office neighbors. Does Julia get what is coming to her? Does Claire let bygones be bygones? Is Claire's body ever reunited with her family to provide them with closure?

Wow. Need I say more? This may sound like a silly cliche, but do whatever is necessary, and legal, to get a copy of this book. This is a wonderful piece of storytelling, and it is very highly recommended.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Absurd Adventures of Mira

The Absurd Adventures of Mira, Sujata Rayers, Black Rose Writing, 2012

Mira is an Indian-American living in present-day Louisiana. She is also swarthy, weighs 250 pounds, and fantasizes herself as blonde, blue-eyed Cameron Diaz. At a high school party, she is raped by a member of the Black Panthers. her father refuses to acknowledge the rape out of concern that it will make her "spoiled fruit" when it comes time for marriage. Mira moves in with Andy, the manager of the local grocery store that soon goes out of business.

Among their neighbors is a Julio Iglesias look-alike. He is so convincing that a married couple, also neighbors, kidnap him and hold him for ransom. While they spend the next several years in prison, Andy and Mira become foster parents to their two children. Junior is a precocious child who is helping Dad write a guide to local plants while he is in prison.

Mira gets a job at a local clothing store, where her handmade Mardi Gras costumes are a hit. Another clothing store where Mira works is bought and becomes part of a chain. Mira is part of a group who travels to India looking for companies who can supply them with clothes to sell. Mira is able to meet some of her relatives.

Back home, Devi, Mira's sister, becomes part of the clothing empire (her proper, Indian, marriage ended in divorce). Mira has not spoken with her father since the day she disobeyed him by moving in with Andy (who was killed by a grizzly bear during a camping trip). Do they get back together? Do they at least talk to each other?

This is a really interesting story. It's plausible, and well-written, amd Mira certainly has plenty of "adventures." Yes, it's worth reading.

The Cellar Door

The Cellar Door, Brett Gadbois, Belltown Press, 2010

This is the tale of a young boy and his amazing adventures.

Sam Bixby is your average nine-year-old. His parents have been divorced for most of his life. The concern and uncertainty that comes with divorced parents comes back to Sam when Mom asks him to live with her in California. Sam and Dad live near Seattle. On a camping trip to northern Minnesota with Dad, Sam explores an abandoned farmhouse (the kind that children should not explore alone). He falls, and hits his head, and he wakes up in a very strange land.

An elderly human sage teaches Sam the ability to change into whatever he wants (bird, animal, etc.) simply by thinking about it. Sam meets a talking squirrel who is searching for his father. Squirrel Dad has been on the run for a number of years because of a botched robbery. Sam meets talking blueberries who are proud of their color, and streams of water that give Sam fits of laughter even on the worst days. Through it all, no one knows just how Sam can get home, but they suggest that a magic pool of water in a nearby city is the place to start.

Sam also meets several human/animal hybrids, including a pair with human bodies and the heads of crows. They really want the secret to Sam's transformation ability. While Sam is a bird, they trap him inside a bird cage until he gives up the secret. Will Sam spend the rest of his life as a bird? Will he ever be reunited with his father?

This book is made to be read to children, perhaps as a multi-part bedtime story. It's nice and weird, and many children can identify with Sam. The reader will not go wrong with this one.

Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words

Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words, Mark S. Bacon, Archer & Clark Publishing, 2012

Here is a group of extremely short stories, on a variety of subjects.

There are murder mysteries here, along with speculative fiction and mainstream fiction. As the book title says, the attraction behind each of these stories is that each of them is exactly 100 words long. Anything under 1000 words is known as "flash fiction." Such a limitation certainly forces the author to get right to the point of the story.

Some of these stories are easy to understand, while others will require some extra thought. This book was made to be read while siting in the doctor's office, or at the airport. For a very quick read, this book deserves serious consideration.

50 Facts That Should Change the USA

50 Facts That Should Change the USA, Stephen Fender, The Disinformation Company Ltd., 2008

Here is a compendium of little-known facts about America.

America has some of the world's best universities, and some of the worst high schools. More than 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line (today, in late 2012, no doubt that number is much higher). The inventor of recorded sound, Thomas Edison, thought that jazz sounded better played backwards. American conservatives hate political actors, but they had no problem backing Ronald Reagan as President, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California.

Despite assertions that America is in the middle of a crime epidemic, violent crime has dropped by more than half since 1993, while it is rising in Europe. American workers have the shortest vacations in the developed world; over 40 percent take no summer vacation. There is a huge volcano under Yellowstone Park. When it erupts, it will make the loudest noise heard by man in 75,000 years, along with killing thousands of people. More than twice as many US residents claim to attend church as actually do. Americans spend more on civil litigation than any other industrialized country.

America has always been considered an immigration "magnet." Throughout history, about one-third of all immigrants have returned home. Few Americans can name all fifty state capitals. More than 18,000 American adults die each year due to lack of health insurance (again, in late 2012, no doubt that number is much higher). The American national holiday is . . . Thanksgiving.

This is a fascinating bunch of facts, wih references included. It will certainly get the reader thinking, and its' recommended.

The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger: Dynamic Tools for Healthy Relationships

The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger: Dynamic Tools for Healthy Relationships, Jane Middleton-Moz, Lisa Tener and Peaco Todd, Health Communications, Inc., 2004

Anger is a normal human emotion. How a person deals with that anger is what, metaphorically, "separates the men from the boys."

Many of our attitudes toward disputes and conflict resolution are formed by our families while we are still children. Anger can range from loud and violent to giving each other the silent treatment to blaming the other person and being judgmental. Such people have never learned healthy attitudes toward conflict and anger.

Everyone has things that they don't like about themselves. Whenever they are mentioned by others, intentionally or unintentionally, they can cause feelings of shame or self-hatred. No one can make you feel like a victim unless you allow it. Whenever your height, weight, ethnicity, etc. are brought up, have a response ready to say to the other person or to yourself, to keep that comment from getting you upset.

There are many unhealthy ways to express anger. Among them are constant whining, throwing temper tantrums, being convinced that you are perfect and the rest of the world is wrong, people who remember every injustice ever perpetrated against them and aren't afraid to throw them in your face, bullying & intimidation and gossiping. The book tells how to deal with each type of person.

Perhaps the cause of your anger is more physical than emotional. Maybe eating too much sugar, or not drinking enough water, will cause a meltdown. The cause of your anger could be lack of sleep, or consuming too much alcohol. The book explores what happens to our bodies in the midst of long-term, unhealthy anger.

For married couples, notice your partner's anger style. Are they passive-aggressive or a shouter? At your next argument, consider: taking a time-out, avoiding hurtful words, admitting your frailties, not interrupting and changing your behavior.

At the end of each chapter, there are exercises and places to write down your thoughts and feelings. This is a practical and easy to read book that can help bring about changes in our relationships, and inside ourselves. This is very much worth the reader's time.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stop Autism Now!

Stop Autism Now! A Parent's Guide to Preventing and Reversing Autism Spectrum Disorders, Bruce Fife, Piccadilly Books, Ltd., 2012

The rise of autism spectrum disorders worldwide in the last 30 years is rapidly reaching the level of an epidemic. The book presents an easy way reverse its symptoms (legitimately).

The medical profession has no idea as to what causes autism or how to cure it. The best they can do is to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs to ease the symptoms, and tell the family to deal with it.

There is a strong connection between autism and bowel or digestive problems. Cure your child's Crohn's Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or whatever the ailment) and the autism may be reduced, or disappear. The author has a lot to say about childhood vaccines. Does the average child really need 48 doses of 14 different vaccines before they are six years old? Among the ingredients in vaccines, aside from the virus, are: formaldehyde, mercury, aluminum, ethylene glycol, polysorbate 80, MSG and mycobacteria. That is going right into your child's bloodstream, where it has easy access to the brain, liver and other organs.

What causes autism? Microglia are the brain's equivalent to whit blood cells, protecting it from assault by toxins and other infections. When the brain senses danger, the microglia become very active. They return to normal when the danger is over. If assaults on the brain become more frequent, the microglia can stay activated. In the long run, they can do a lot of damage, including disrupting the regular glucose metabolism. If those cells have problems turning glucose into energy, brain function declines. Older children lose some of their social and cognitive skills. Children under 2 years old never learned these skills, so they may seem to have been born autistic.

What can a parent do? The book goes into lots of detail, but start feeding your child coconut oil each day, adopt a low-carb diet, make sure they get some fish oil each week (the best method is by eating fresh fish) and raise their level of Vitamin D, either through supplements or sending them outside.

Can reversing autism really be this easy? This book is very highly recommended for all parents, whether or not an autistic child is in the family. 

The Skinny On Credit Cards: How to Master the Credit Card Game

The Skinny On Credit Cards: How to Master the Credit Card Game, Jim Randel, Rand MediaCo, 2009

Here is a simple, but not simplistic, look at the world of credit cards.

Beth and Billy are your average married couple who suddenly find themselves with a lot of credit card debt. Billy feels that as long as he pays the minimum payment each month, everything is fine, but Beth is not so sure. Along comes Randel, the author, to explain to them the reality behind credit cards.

Credit card companies want cardholders to pay just the minimum payment each month. That way, they can charge interest on the unpaid balance, raising your overall bill. If that particular ard was never used again, it can take years to pay your total bill by paying just the minimum amount. You will also pay the credit card company more than you originally owe, because of the accumulated interest on the unpaid balance.

Credit card companies can, and will, raise your APR (Annual percentage Rate) whenever they want; the Cardholder Agreement says so. They can also be very sneaky about setting the cut-off time for receiving payments. For instance, they can set the cut-off time for 10 AM, when they receive their daily mail delivery at noon. Even if your payment was received that day, it is still late, which means that they can charge a late fee. College students are a goldmine, because they are probably financially illiterate, and think of credit cards as free money.

What can the average consumer do about it? Pay off as much of your bill each month as possible; forget about paying just the minimum payment. Call your credit card company, and ask them for a lower interest. It could shave months, or years, off the time needed to eliminate your debt. If you have a large debt, look for a one-time infusion of cash to reduce the debt. Consider a low-interest credit card as a place to which to transfer your balances.

This book does a wonderful job at teaching the financial literacy not taught in school. get past the stick figure illustrations, and this book is highly recommended for everyone.

Quexistence: The Quest For the Meaning of Existence: The Dream Begins

Quexistence: The Quest For the Meaning of Existence: The Dream Begins, Tom Stafford, 2012 (Kindle e-book)

Gork is a being who is looking for answers to life's universal questions: Why Am I Here? What Is My Purpose? He meets Itbee, who declines to answer his questions, but directs him to Ustubee, who is behind him. Ustubee is also not willing to answers his queries, but directs him to Yetubee, who is ahead of him. Does Gork get his questions answered, or is he directed to someone else?

This is a short story (less than 2,000 words), but it will get the reader looking inside him- or herself. The quest for the meaning of existence is very normal and very broad. This is a prequel to a soon-to-be published novel, which is why it might feel like a well-done part of a story, instead of a complete story. Yes, it's worth reading.

(Available for free on amazon.com on October 4-6, 2012.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators

The Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators, Joseph L. Giacalone, Looseleaf Law Publications, 2011

Many law enforcement textbooks have been written by academics with little, or no, real experience. The author of this book has many years of actual, crime scene experience.

On TV, detectives will get a phone call, quickly write down an address, and then rush out the door. It's dramatic, and it's also a bad idea. A quick check in the police computer will show if police have been to that address in the past, or if there has been criminal activity in that area in the past.

At the crime scene, the investigator will go over the crime scene with the first officer on the scene (who is supposed to establish the crime scene perimeter, detain witnesses, etc.). The investigator will sketch the scene, take lots of photographs and lots of notes, and establish chain of custody for all physical evidence found at the scene. There is a good, and bad, way to search the scene for evidence. It is vital to document everything. The defense attorney can be expected to focus on the smallest error in police procedure, and use that to move for an acquittal.

The follow-up investigation is necessary, but not very glamorous. It involves things like going over the crime scene photos again, and visiting the various law enforcement databases. The book talks about what is, and is not, allowable when it comes to eyewitness identification.

Much time in the book is spent on what haapens in the interrogation room, whether it is interviewing a witness, or interrogating a suspect. It is vital to establish some sort of connection between the interrogator and suspect. Last but not least, the investigator has to appear in court. The investigator should refresh their memory by going over the file, answer only the question that is asked, and give the impression that they are prepared and they know what they are talking about.

This book should be required reading for all law enforcement personnel. For everyone else, it is very easy to understand, and shows what the police field is really like.

No Other Way

No Other Way, Roger Real Drouin, Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2012

This novel is about two men and a near-mythical bird.

Samuel is a famous bird photographer who is also dealing with his wife's death from cancer a year earlier. He is very familiar with the story of the Northern Stilted Curlew. It is a bird that has not been photographed in the wild in many years. That is because it may, or may not, be extinct. It is the bird watcher's equivalent of the Holy Grail.

The Curlew migrates several thousand miles each year. Among its last untouched nesting areas is in the northern reaches of the Sanford National Forest in Utah. There are no roads; the area is accessible only after several days of hiking. Samuel makes the trek to look for the Curlew.

Things are complicated by a natural gas corporation getting the required permits to beging fracking inside the forest. There will not be just a few wells; there will be many wells, including in the Curlew's nesting area.

Thomas is a forest ranger who has had a run-in with the law. He did a stupid thing, but for the right reasons. He and Samuel put their heads together and see if they can do something to stop the fracking, and preserve a small piece of untouched wilderness.

This an excellent piece of writing. Drouin shows that he knows, and cares, a lot for the natural environment. This is very much recommended.

Ideas are Free: How the Idea revolution is Liberating People and Transforming Organizations

Ideas Are Free: How the Idea Revolution is Liberating People and Transforming Organizations, Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2004

In this hyper-competitive and economically uncertain world, there is a free resource for efficiency and money-saving ideas that few companies have accessed. Why not ask your employees for their suggestions to make the company better?

It's not as easy as putting up suggestion boxes, and waiting for the flood of ideas. First, look at your corporate culture. If yours is the sort of company that discourages ideas from employees (workers are there to work and not think), it will take a lot of work on the part of senior management to convince employees that, this time, things are different. The actual idea submission form must be short, no more than one page. There needs to be a system in place where every idea is acknowledged and evaluated within a specific period of time (for instance, within 24 and 72 hours, respectively). If a middle manager is "sitting on" an idea, for whatever reason, senior management needs to know about it.

In many cases, the immediate supervisor is most qualified to evaluate ideas. Feedback is very important, especially if the idea needs more work, or if the idea has to be rejected. Explaining the reason to the employee will keep them from getting discouraged. When an idea is approved by the right people, there is no reason for it to not be implemented sooner, rather than later (within hours or days, not at the start of the next quarter). There should be continuous checking of ideas to see if they can also be used elsewhere in the company. Managers seem to be only interested in the huge, million-dollar idea. Is there something wrong with a few thousand-dollar ideas?

Setting up a system of monetary rewards for ideas is popular, but not needed. The best "compensation" for an employee is to see their idea implemented, to know that they had a hand in bettering their company. It is very easy for a company to do rewards the wrong way, increasing mistrust among employees. The authors show how to do rewards the right way.

Filled with many real-life examples, this is a clear and insightful book about a surprisingly easy way to get money-saving ideas. This is applicable to all sorts of companies, big and small, and is very much recommended. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Lodestone Trilogy

The Lodestone Trilogy, Mark Whiteway, 2011, Kindle e-book (B006OOC5MC)

This combination fantasy/science fiction trilogy is about an enslaved planet, and a small group who intend to do something about it.

The Kelanni live in a medieval type of society, and are ruled by an unseen being called The Prophet. The Keltar are the Prophet's judge, jury and executioner. They go from village to village, kidnapping in broad daylight, and taking the unlucky ones on a one-way trip to "serve The Prophet." Their actual destination is much more brutal, and more down-to-earth.

Alondo is a genius who has had some Keltar training. Lyall is a musician who plays a very special type of instrument. Shann is an orphan child whose parents are "serving" the Prophet. They learn that the Prophet's skin is actually white, and his blood is red (the Kelanni have green skin and tails). They are joined by Keris, an ex-Keltar who brings along a strange being named Boxx, who has custody of an even stranger machine. It allows the group to speak to a woman from several thousand years in the past, who tells them of a weapon that will stop The Prophet, once and for all. Getting to the weapon is the hard part.

After many days travel, they reach the Barrier of Storms, which certainly lives up to its name. Their first attempt to cross is unsuccessful, because forces loyal to The Prophet are hot on their trail. They eventually cross in a modified sailing ship. Shann and Boxx are separated from the others, and find themselves in a much more technologically advanced society (the two societies know nothing about each other). Along the way, Shann and Boxx learn some really interesting things about themselves and their respective societies. Are they successful in stopping The Prophet, and un-slaving their world?

Here is an excellent piece of writing. The author does a fine job at making the Kelanni seem human, even though they are not human. It is very much worth the reader's time.    

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That Girl Started Her Own Country

That Girl Started Her Own Country, Holy Ghost Writer, 2012, Kindle e-book (B0094IH8HC)

This novel is about a woman who is able to handle herself quite well in federal prison. It is also connected to two very famous pieces of writing, "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas and Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.

A woman is arrested in present-day Miami on charges of running a very sophisticated money-laundering operation. She refuses to cooperate with the authorities, but does give the impression that she may be actual royalty. At her arraignment, she represents herself. She shows that she knows, and can argue, the relevant law better than even a first-rate lawyer. Later in the book, she shaves her head to prevent the authorities from getting her DNA from a strand of her hair.

While in prison, and as an experienced hacker, she looks for dirt on the pair of FBI agents who arrested her. With access to seemingly unlimited amounts of money, she starts leaking high-level information to crusading journalist Steven Larsen, the only man who ever meant anything to her. Very strong precautions have to be taken, because this is the sort of information that could get any journalist on the assassination list of many governments. The connection between a present-day suspense story and a famous piece of 19th century literature comes near the end of the book.

Here is a first-rate piece of writing. I may be among the few people who have never read any of Mr. Larsson's books (I will have to do something about that). This book is very contemporary, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lurking Man

The Lurking Man, Keith Rommel, Sunbury Press, 2012

This novel is about a woman who is forced to take a hard look at her life, and the choices that she made to get her to this point.

Cailean will never be nominated for Mother of the Year. She has take to alcohol to ease the memory of a terrible thing that happened to her when she was a child (it's not what you think). She doesn't drink simply to get drunk; she drinks to pass out. She and Wilson, her husband, are separated. Her record for visiting her son, Beau, who simply wants his mother to visit him, is not good. One day, Cailean shows up at Wilson's door, sober, and convinces him to let her take beau to her condo for just a few hours. The intention for Cailean is to show Beau and Wilson that she really can change. Things do not end well.

Existing somewhere between life and death, Cailean finds herself trapped in a cone of bright light in a snowstorm. She is being held there by a humanoid being named Sariel, who forces her to take a hard look at her life. She finds out just what it was that turned her into such a mean and rotten person, filled with self-hatred (again, it's not what you think). Cailean also sees what has happened to the "good" part of her. At the end, does Cailean have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like epiphany, and work to regain the confidence of Beau and Wilson? Does she even survive the encounter with Sariel?

This book will certainly get the reader to look inside themselves, to see if they have any Cailean-like behavior. It is recommended for everyone, especially those in the grip of alcoholism. Do you and Cailean share a similar reason for your actions?  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Maynwaring's: A Game of Chance

The Maynwarings: A Game of Chance, Digger Cartwright, 2012 (Kindle e-book)

Set in the Nevada Territory just after the Civil War, this novel is about a family for whom things suddenly start going very badly.

The Maynwarings are one of the founding families in Carson City, the territory's capital. Barron, the family patriarch, is a United States Senator. They own several buildings in town, along with an immense cattle ranch outside of town.

A well-dressed stramger named Giddeon Van Thorn rides into town, and offers to purchase several businesses, including a saloon and the local mercantile, for a very generous price. Those who decline his offer have a nasty habit of ending up dead. Van Thorn says that he is part of a shadowy Association from back East, whose intention is to develop Carson City, bringing jobs and tax revenue (sound familiar?).

A neighboring rancher, Dan Arkin, is found dead, several hours after a poker game that went bad. Suspicion falls on Jeremy Foster, a recluse, and another participant in the ill-fated poker game. The Maynwarings set up a search party to ask Foster some hard questions; the circumstantial evidence against him is pretty strong. Several of Van Thron's thugs are unknowingly included in the search party. They reach Foster first, and lynch him, preventing the Maynwarings from following the law. The body count starts to rise. The local judge is in Van Thorn's pocket. Things get serious when anthrax is found in their cattle; it can wipe out an entire herd very quickly. Things get even more serious when one of Barron's sons, Houston, is shot and seriously wounded by an unknown assailant in broad daylight. Is all of this Van Thorn's fault, or is there some other explanation? Can Van Thorn's plans be stopped? Will the Maynwaring ranch survive?

The author does a very good job from start to finish. He puts the reader right in the middle of the story, and the characters feel like real people. Here is a first-rate piece of writing. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Sultan of Monte Cristo

The Sultan of Monte Cristo: The First Sequel to The Count of Monte Cristo, Holy Ghost Writer, 2012, Kindle e-book, B008HV55YA

This is a continuation of "The Count of Monte Cristo," by Alexandre Dumas, one of the greatest of 19th Century novels.

Many of the same characters from the earlier book are here. Having escaped from prison, and having faked his own death, Edmond Dantes is sailing the seven seas with Mercedes, his lover. He contemplates living the life of a soldier and pirate, instead of settling down as the Sultan of Albania. Later, Edmond receives a letter from his father, and learns some really interesting things about his ancestry. His family tree can be traced all the way back to Mary Magdalene. After the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, Mary supposedly moved to southern France, and established a new branch of the family tree, the Merovingians. There is a daring mid-sea battle between Edmond and the captain of another pirate ship (the winner gets the other's ship and crew).

I have never read the original book, but, if it is anything like this, maybe I will. This is a really interesting and well-written story. It is short, and well worth reading.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exodus Lost

Exodus Lost: An Inquiry Into the Genesis of Civilization, S.C. Compton, BookSurge Publishing, 2011

This book looks at history and archaeology in a very different way. It also attempts to put dates to several Biblical events.

In the early 1500s, the Aztec leader Montezuma told hernan Cortes and his men that the Aztec civilization was not native to Mexico, but had arrived there from somewhere else across the ocean. According to the author of this book, that "somewhere else" was ancient Egypt.

In Mesoamerica (ancient Mexico), the Olmec civilization showed evidence of, for instance, aqueducts, burial pyramids, paper production and the world's oldest magnetic compass. There were not the usual incremental improvements over centuries; these appeared abruptly and fully formed. Meantime, their neighbors still lived in huts.

The Phoenicians were known to be master sailors, circumnavigating Africa more than two thousand years before the Europeans. There are accounts of Phoenicians reaching a large land mass many days sailing across the Atlantic Ocean (America).

Recent drug tests on Egyptian mummies showed that they tested positive for tobacco and cocaine. Both are indigenous to America and were supposed to be unknown in the Old World before Columbus. There are many other connections between Olmec and Egyptian cultures.

The Biblical Flood has been dated at approximately 3180 BC. On the floor of the Indian Ocean, a giant crater, consistent with a meteor strike, has been found. Independent scientific evidence has been found of a huge, and very quick, drop in global temperatures at that time. Also, the amount of water vapor kicked into the atmosphere by such a meteor strike could easily have caused forty days and nights of rain.

Here is a fascinating book, very well-researched, that will get the reader thinking in a whole new way. It may not be for everyone, but, for any sort of ancient history reader, it is highly recommended.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Sum of Random Chance

The Sum of Random Chance, Lee Chambers, 2012, Kindle e-book

This novel is about a relationship between a newspaper reporter and a woman with a "different" outlook on life.

Cole is a reporter whose failure to cover an assigned story gets him fired. He didn't cover the story because he was watching Sara face down an armed robber during a supermarket robbery, armed with nothing but a smile. Because of his sudden unemployment, Erin, his shallow, high-maintenance girlfriend, throws him out of their apartment. Several other incidents with Sara, who always seems to be smiling, convince Cole that something is very weird.

Sara considers it her "calling" to help people, in whatever way is needed at that moment. Cole writes a newspaper story about Sara, hoping to get his old job back, despite Sara's request that her explanation stay private. The story makes the front page, and Sara is very upset, along with being the latest media sensation. Seeing Cole's name on the front page, Erin suddenly wants him back. Sara refuses to talk to Cole, who knows that he has screwed up with her, big time.

A "sequel" to Sara's story is printed, full of half-truths and outright lies. The national media is very interested. Is there any way for Cole to get Sara to understand why he did it? Can Cole make things right?

Are there some people in this world for whom "random chance" is not exactly random? Are there some people who consider it more important to, for instance, help someone else to win the lottery, rather than get the jackpot for themselves? This is a very intriguing idea, and Chambers does a really good job. Yes, this is very much worth reading.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead

Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead, Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011

Whatever is ahead for humanity, how will vampires react? Will they continue to suck our blood, or will we learn to work together? This anthology attempts to give the answer.

In present-day Mexico, a street kid meets a female vampire and gives her some of his blood. She is on the run, because her kind is being hunted by the Mexican government, drug gangs and nearly everyone else. The night before liftoff, a male astronaut has a romantic encounter that ends with him being bitten by a vampire. What do you think will happen to the first manned mission to Mars?

A very high-class mausoleum, which involves preserving the dead and letting them float around inside a hollowed-out asteroid, allowing families to visit, is not what it seems. A jury has to decide if a young woman, who was beaten to death, was, or was not, a vampire at the time. A woman is truned into a vampire, and is forced to leave her husband and daughter; the temptation is just too strong. Decades later, the hunting of vampires has become established and part of society. In a world where the ozone layer has pretty much disappeared, blisters will form on unprotected skin within a few minutes. People are ripping vampire fangs right out of their mouths, because, when ground up and mixed with blood, it supposedly makes the ultimate sun-block.

This is an excellent group of stories. They are original stories that explore all parts of the vampire world. Individually, they are well-written, and, collectively, this is very much worth reading (even for those who are not vampire fans). 

A Medicine for Melancholy

A Medicine for Melancholy, Ray Bradbury, Bantam, 1963

Here is a group of stories by one of the masters of the science fiction field.

A young woman is bedridden with a baffling illness. Her family decides to bring her, and her bed, outside, on the street, to take advantage of the human tendency to give unsolicited medical advice to complete strangers. A group of male friends, of the same physical size, pool their resources to purchase an expensive white suit, which they will share. It is the sort of suit that is guaranteed to attract the ladies. A young boy is sick with what his doctor is certain is nothing more than scarlet fever. The boy fears that his sickness is much more serious.

An after-the-apocalypse story is about an America where everything, and anything, from the past is to be hated and destroyed, including a famous painting that is based on a woman's smile. A group of human colonists are stuck on Mars because of a war on Earth. A colony ship is sent, five years later, after the war, and finds several hundred Martians, with no knowledge of any human colonists. Traveling across America by train, a businessman impulsively decides to get off at the next stop, whatever it is. He learns why there are some small towns where no one ever gets off the train. A couple of men who wander California beaches looking for coins or dropped jewelry find something really interesting. A real mermaid washes up on shore. Their thought is to pack it in ice, and eventually sell it, but the tide is coming in.

This book shows why Bradbury was such a great author. The stories aren't just science fiction, or fantasy, or horror. They feel like the sort of stories that could happen to anyone. If a copy can be found, this is a gem of a book.

Voices of Doom: Tales of Terror and the Uncanny

Voices of Doom: Tales of Terror and the Uncanny, Basil Copper, St. Martin's Press, 1980

Here is a group of stories by someone who has been compared to H.P. Lovecraft as a master of horror and the macabre.

A professional occultist travels to an abandoned house, in the middle of nowhere, to see if tales told by the locals have any legitimacy. Many years ago, a family, plus servants, lived there, until they were all driven mad or died under mysterious circumstances. Was it just a string of bad luck, or was the house conspiring against them?

A man named Stovold seems to have acquired a "shadow" in the form of a gaunt man clad in black. Wherever Stovold travels around the world, his shadow is somewhere nearby. Back home, with his health falling apart, Stovold sees the shadow knock on his front door, carrying luggage for an extended visit. Is this some denizen of Hell, planning to do something unspeakable?

Soames, a local accountant, notices a closed and vacant shop in his neighborhood. A few days later, during his lunch break, he finds the shop in a different location, and it is open for business. For various reasons, he is prevented from entering. Eventually, he walks through the door of Charon Ltd. Exporters, and is welcomed like an old friend by the proprietor.

This is the way macabre and horror stories are supposed to be done; the horror part is subtle and in the background instead of in your face. Here is a first-rate collection that is really worth reading.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Familiar Stranger: The Order of the Black Swan

My Familiar Stranger: The Order of the Black Swan (Book 1), Victoria Danann, 2012, Kindle e-book

Elora Laikin is pushed into an interdimensional portal just before an assassination attempt. Imaging being run through a blender and flayed alive, at the same time, and somehow surviving. Also imagine being dumped in the middle of a super-secret military base. It's the headquarters of an elite unit, who are part of a 600-year-old Order, and whose purpose is to kill vampires.

When she recovers, Elora meets Storm, Kay and Ram, the members of the team before who she made her "entrance." Interdimensional travel is supposed to be impossible, so the three don't know what to make of her. They also can't help but notice that Elora is gorgeous. She shows them that she knows her way around the world of martial arts and fighting. Ram is something of an overgrown adolescent; he is a 6-foot-tall elf, who mates for life, and seriously messes up the courtship process with Elora.

Going up against vampires in the field, Elora shows more resourcefulness than brains. Many missing person reports seem to center on a Manhattan night club. The four get jobs there and keep their eyes open. An attack occurs, and Ram is seriously injured. In the tunnels under the cities, Elora is betrayed, and left naked and chained in a locked jail cell, with a couple of hungry vampires. Does she survive? Does Ram survive? Who does Elora "choose"? Is it possible to find true love while fighting vampires?

This is a really good paranormal story. It is just strange enough, without overdoing it. The romance part is well done, too. This is very much worth a sequel. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paradox Resolution

Paradox Resolution, K.A. Bedford, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2012

This is the second novel about Aloysius "Spider" Webb, your average individual just trying to get through the day. Of course, it is not that easy.

A former member of the Western Australia Police, Webb was forced out because he became a whistleblower. In a world where time machines are cheap and portable, Webb is eking out a living as a time machine repairman. Most of his business is cause by people who are too impatient, or too stupid, to read the directions.

Things get weird when, one day, in the breakroom refrigerator, Webb finds the severed head of his much-disliked ex-boss, Dickhead McMahon. Iris Street, the local Police Inspector who deals with time travel matters, and who hates time travel as much as Webb, is called in. Footage from the surveillance camera shows no sign of any intruders.

Meantime, Mr. Patel, Webb's new boss, has a huge problem. His young son, Vijay, and Phoebe, a neighbor's child, have taken Mr. Patel's very tricked-out, and very illegal time machine, and disappeared. There is no time machine equivalent of a GPS system, so they could have gone to the distant past or future. Patel asks for Webb's help in finding them.

Webb hears of a concentration camp for time travellers in the far future. Using Patel's other time machine, a working, exact copy of the machine used in the 1960 film, Webb and Street take a trip to the far future. Do they find Vijay and Phoebe? So they stop the destruction of the universe? Do they survive?

This is a fine piece of writing from start to finish. It does a really good job exploring the societal impact of a huge technology like personal time travel. Things might get a little convoluted toward the end, but this is still highly recommended. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, J.R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011

Here is a new collection of fantasy/mystery stories about that most famous of detectives, Sherlock Holmes.

Who was Sherlock Holmes before he became a famous detective? He was a student at Cambridge University, who, while living in Paris, learned the art of detection from another famous person, Edgar Allan Poe. Holmes and Watson travel to the English countryside, where, according to the locals, the Devil himself is causing hoofprints from invisible horses to appear in the turf during frequent storms.

A book, but not just any book, has disappeared from the monastery where it has been under lock and key for several hundred years. It is a compnedium of evil, hideous acts; when anyone reads from the book, they are compelled to enact what they have read. The passage then disappears from the book. Can a book actually be a malevolent, living thing?

Despite Holmes' well-known disbelief in the supernatural, a strange green slime may be legitimately alien. It hypnotizes its victim, before it turns them into a mass of green protoplasm. In another story, Holmes is assisted by a certain Count named Dracula. Another tale takes place in 21st Century Las Vegas.

Five years previously, a disaster on a salvage ship left a man on the ocean bottom in a diving bell. Now, he seems to be alive and communicating from the diving bell. Is it possible, or is the explanation more down-to-earth?

This is a gem of a collection. Fantasy fans will love it, and so will Holmes fans. Those who enjoy good writing, in general, will also love it.

The Return of the Sorcerer

The Return of the Sorcerer, Clark Ashton Smith, Prime Books, 2009

Here are a group of stories by an overlooked master of the science fiction, fantasy and horror fields.

First published in the 1930s, the unearthly beings in these stories are not just denizens of Hell; they come from someplace worse than Hell. Some of these stories take place in the present day. Other stories take place in the distant past, in an era of amazing cities. Still others take place on impossible worlds in some other universe.

Those who are not horror fans need not be concerned; the horror in these tales is not overwhelming. For those who are fantasy or horror fans, and have never read Clark Ashton Smith, you are in for a huge treat. This is a wonderful place to start. Few writers can reach the level of poetry in their fiction; Smith does it.

Crossed Genres: Year One

Crossed Genres: Year One, Bart R. Leib and K.T. Holt (ed.), Crossed Genres, 2010

Crossed Genres is a speculative fiction magazine based in Massachusetts. These stories come from the first year of its existence.

There is a tale about a pitched battle that takes place in a diner, after closing time, among the condiments. A superhero named The Sentinel is getting on in years, with a wife and daughter who don't want him to go out each night, fighting crime.

A story is narrated by the only AI on Mars. It was part of a group of 2 AI's and 300 robots that were to build shelters for human colonists to start terraforming the planet. They hold a burial service for an early human rover found on the surface, rusted into uselessness.

Earth has become a ghetto, with all the rich people living in orbit or on the Moon. A man, and his family, build a rocketship in a junkyard, intending to head for the Moon, where everyone is free. England has a new weapon in its war against germany; witches and warlocks who knock enemy airplanes out of the air.

My favorite story takes place in near-future America. The US Army upgrades it soldiers with things like artificial eyes, and titanium ribs. The soldiers are supposed to re-enlist for two years to help pay for the upgrades. If they don't, the Army no longer provides maintenance for the upgrades, leaving them vulnerable to gangs who kill just to get the upgrades.

There is a good variety of stories, and they are all well-done. The reader will not go wrong with this book.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Od Magic

Od Magic, Patricia A. McKillip, Ace Books, 2006

This fantasy story is about a young man who doesn't know the extent of his magical powers.

Brenden lives in the far north and has an innate connection with plants. He doesn't so much talk to them as instinctively nurture them and understand their healing properties. One day, he is visited by the great wizard Od, who invites him to become a gardener at her wizard school in the city of Kelior, far to the south.

The Kingdom of Numis, with Kelior as its capital, is a place that fears magic. All students at the school can only learn "authorized" magic; even the instructors are not allowed to know any "unauthorized" magic. All graduates are required to serve Numis.

A portion of Kelior is called the Twilight Quarter. It is the sort of place where the shops and taverns open each day at sunset, and continue until dawn the next day, every day. What happens in the Twilight Quarter, stays in the Twilight Quarter. It is visted by a group of magicians led by a man named Tyramin. No one knows what he looks like, or where he comes from, but news of his arrival spreads through the Twilight Quarter like wildfire. There is a fine line between harmless illusions to thrill the average person, and serious, hardcore magic that might be used against the King of Numis, so the authorities are very interested in Tyramin. Several attempts are made to arrest him, but he always manages to keep just out of reach. Brenden is in the Twilight Quarter looking for the name of a strange plant, where he, unintentionally, shows just how powerful he really is.

This is a gem of a story. McKillip ceratinly knows her way around a fantasy novel, and this one is no exception. It is easy to read, and well done from start to finish.

Hammered

Hammered, Elizabeth Bear, Bantam Spectra, 2006

First of a trilogy, this near-future tale is about a woman for whom time is running out.

Set in the mid-21st Century, Jenny Casey is a former member of the Canadian Special Forces. She was part of the UN peacekeeping troops sent to New England in reaction to the food riots of the 2030's. She decided to stay in Hartford, Connecticut, mostly hiding from her government. A new, and very deadly, drug, a Canadian military enhancement drug called The Hammer, has become available on the streets of Hartford. Not even Razorface, the local crime lord, can discover the supply route. Much more important to Jenny is that her cybernetic enhancements are failing.

Years earlier, in a different war, Casey was severely injured. She walked out of the hospital with a metallic left arm, an artificial eye and various internal "improvements." If she doesn't have the required surgery now, she will die. Traveling to Toronto on the track of The Hammer, she is roped into having the surgery (she is pushing fifty years old). Casey is given a chance at what might be the ultimate pilot job (she is a former medevac pilot). It has to do with the "space race" moving to Mars, and shifting from Russia vs America (which is now a Christian Fascist state) to Canada vs China.

Bear does an excellent job from start to finish. I live just a few miles from Hartford, so I was most interested in her portrayal of the city (she gets it right). The book has enough high-tech and near future dystopia to keep anyone happy. This is a gem of a book.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Captives

Captives, Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011

First of a trilogy, this historical fantasy is about two druids who must escape slavery, and protect their ancient magic from one who would really abuse it.

As the spiritual representative of his clan, Druid Mallec is loved and respected by all. But he, and they, can't help bu think that the recent calamities befalling their clan means that they have fallen out of favor with their god. Mallec is also troubled by constant visions of a dark-haired woman. He doesn't know who she is, or where she is, but they are meant to be together.

An evil druid named Deidre has woken prematurely from the druid equivalent of suspended animation. She is a power-mad type who is ready to use anybody, or anything (including abusing the ancient magic), to get what she wants. She has Mallec thrown into slavery to get him out of the way, permanently.

Driad Rhonwen is already in slavery, with each master worse than the last. Her rebellious nature gets her plenty of punishment; her expertise in the healing arts is about the only thing keeping her alive. Mallec and Rhonwen (the subject of Mallec's visions) find each other, and eventually escape slavery. Deidre has broken nearly every rule in the druid "book," so they have to deal with her, once and for all. Are Mallec and Rhonwen able to stop Deidre? Do Deidre, and Caradowc, her equally dislikable son, prevail?

This one is surprisingly good. It's got ancient magic, love, loss, slavery, betrayal; everything a great fantasy novel needs. It's also full of great writing, from start to finish. If the other parts of this trilogy are as good as this, then here is a major fantasy find.

Out of the Storm

Out of the Storm, William Hope Hodgson, Centaur Books, 1980

Here is  group of imaginative fiction stories from the early 1900s, a very different era in the fiction world.

There are a pair of stories about large sailing ships being attacked by huge, hideous sea creatures. On a ship where the crew is starting to talk back to the drunken captain, the second mate is murdered from behind, but there is no one nearby. The crew, all of which are accounted for, can't help but think that there is a supernatural explanation.

There is a daring mid-ocean rescue of a young woman who is the only person still alive on a derelict ship. The complication is that the ship is also home to thousands of very hungry rats, who are not particular about what, or who, they eat. There is also a mystery story about a pair of dead bodies that are found at the top of a rural water tower.

Hodgson was one of the pioneers of the entire imaginative literature field. He did it all; he wrote mysteries, horror, fantasy and adventure tales. This book is a really good example. If a copy can be found, it will certainly keep the reader entertained.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Circle Tide

Circle Tide, Rebecca K. Rowe, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011

Set in Los Angeles in the mid-22nd century, this novel is about two unlikely people on a mission to save the world.

Noah is a rebellious member of high society. His mother runs a Domus, which is something like a family-owned multi-national corporation (but a lot bigger). She is not afraid to roll over people to get what she wants, and is a very dislikable person. Noah promises that he will deliver a datasphere to the right person. Meantime, and ecological disease called Circle Tide is ravaging the city, a disease that is fast-acting and deadly. Noah is afced with knife-wielding monks and a smart intelligence that wants him dead.

Rika is a Data gatherer (or data thief) whose expensive, and not-paid-for, neural improvements are failing. Her last chance to prove herself, and get out of debt, is to stop Circle Tide (simple, no?). But she has to steal Noah's datasphere.

The pair travel from the top of society to the bottom, accused of crimes thy did not commit. They seek clues to catch a murderer, and keep mankind from being destroyed by Circle Tide.

Here is an excellent piece of society-building. It has enough going on (virtual worlds where memories are stored, for instance) to satisfy anyone. This may not be a very fast read, but it is very much worth the reader's time.

Broken Slate

Broken Slate, Kelly Jennings, Crossed Genres Publications, 2011

This novel is about a brutal, planet-wide system of slavery. It's also about one person's attempt to push back.

Martin Eduardo was taken off his family's merchant spaceship in his mid-teens. He was put into the contract labor system on the planet Julian, where he has spent the other half of his life (perhaps "contract labor" sounds a little less awful than "slave," but it amounts to the same thing). Among the first things a contract laborer, or "cot," learns is Do Not Fight Back. Any attempt at talking back to your contract holder, or trying to stand up for yourself, leads to an automatic beating. Any attempt to run away is complicated by the computer chip implanted in each cot's shoulder bone, which makes tracking easy. It also leads to a very public murder, in front of the other cots. Also, all cots are assumed to be lazy and lying, even when they are telling the truth.

Martin's contract has been sold six times in the past. He has a decent, but very precarious, relationship with Lord Strauss, his seventh Holder. Strauss is a lecturer at the local university, and finds that Martin actually has a brain, and knows how to use it. A number of times, Martin has sat outside classrooms, listening to the lectures. Strauss has Martin run some of his classes, which does not go over well with the other students. Martin is also kept around for other tasks, which take place in the bedroom, and behind closed doors.

A cot rebellion is brewing in the hills, but it's only a little more than rumors. As it begins to gain monentum, Martin has some serious deciding to do. He is very aware of the penalty for disobedience, but the penalty for obedience may be even higher. Does Martin get his chip removed, and join the rebellion?

This is a really good story about an oppressive social system. The author has also left room for a sequel. It will keep the reader interested, and, yes, it is well worth reading.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Curse of Borage-Doone

The Curse of Borage-Doone, RA Jones, 2012, Kindle e-book

This young adult novel is about a young boy, and his grandmother who opens the "wrong" email.

Sam is your average ten-year-old resident of Britain. His Gran is staying with him while Mom and Dad go hiking up European mountains. The two have a strong connection, because they are both "cunning people." This means that Gran is teaching Sam what herbs, and incantations, to add to his baking to, for instance, hypnotize people, or force them to tell the truth. This means that they have dealt with various beasts and goblins that are invisible to the rest of us.

Gran is an internet beginner, so she believes an email saying that she has won a chance to meet Aaron Kid, her favorite TV chef, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sam is skeptical, to say the least, but off they go. They stay with Mungo and Lottie, who are fellow cunning people. Mungo's eyes don't point in the same direction at the same time, and Lottie is physically frail, due to some ailment that is beyond the reach of human and cunning medicine.

Sam's skepticism is justified, and Gran is kidnapped. The whole thing has been orchestrated by a woman named Tabetha. Gran, Lottie and Tabetha were classmates, and good friends, when they were children, but something happened, and Tabetha is now looking for some serious revenge. Sam travels in the tunnels under Edinburgh, looking for help, a mission which, at best, is very foolhardy. Does Sam find, and rescue Gran, stopping Tabetha once and for all? Meantime, the stress of worrying about Gran, and searching for her in the damp Edinburgh climate, has pushed Lottie's condition from frail to critical. Can anything be done for her?

This one is surprisingly good. It is intended for 9-12 year olds, but older children, and maybe some adults, will enjoy it, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Success Attitude: Haunting Messages Guiding Us

The Success Attitude: Haunting Messages Guiding Us, Janice Davies, 1st World Publishing, 2011

This is the true story of an average woman who left an unpleasant personal situation, and found herself.

Born in New Zealand, Davies grew up in a very normal family. There were yearly Christmas camping trips, and many excursions on sailing ships. As a child, she showed leadership qualities, and had an attitude of saying Yes to new challenges and opportunities. A year of being bullied in secondary school changed everything.

Davies suppressed herself, wanting to fade into the background, and changed her attitude to No. After high school. she did some traveling, living and working in Australia and England. She came back to New Zealand, and married Phillip. A pair of daughters soon followed. Phillip was not physically abusive; he did not smoke, drink or stay out all night. Phillip was mentally and emotionally abusive. After several years of such treatment, Davies took her daughters and left him. Nearby parents and relatives helped greatly. Money was tight, but they managed.

Even on good days, being a single, stay at home parent is hard and exhausting. Getting involved with other mothers, Davies slowly started to re-discover herself. She got a job as a travel tutor, teaching others to be travel agents. The hours were very long; most weekends, she would collapse from exhaustion. The three moved into a large house that provided rooms for tenants to help pay the mortgage. It was not until after they moved in, and strange things started happening, that they learned that the house was haunted.

Davies continued to grow, emotionally and professionally. She became a full-time life coach. On several occasions, she received clear messages from "God" (meant as a generic term). Writing this book was the subject of one of those messages. Have you ever received such a message, telling you to do something outside of your comfort zone? Did you listen to the message?

This is a very inspirational story. It shows how one person got out of a very difficult marital situation, with children involved. It also shows how messages from "God" (or Spirit, or The Universe) can help us to become the person we were meant to be. This is very much worth the reader's time.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Life Coaching for Mothers

Life Coaching for Mothers, Melissa J. Magnus, 2011

Being a mother is one of the most rewarding, and stressful, jobs available. This book shows how to find a middle path between being a mother and an individual.

What did you like to do when you were a child? What sort of things do you like to do now? Who do you admire and why? What are your values? These are the sort of questions you should ask yourself to determine your purpose and goal in life. Visualize that goal, make it specific (please be more specific than "I want lots of money"), and express gratitude for what you do have.

An important tool for any mother is time management. Have a daily to-do list. Get a big calendar and write down each day's activities. See if you can trade babysitting duties with another mother, or a group of mothers. If you are a stay-at-home mother with internet access, start a home-based business. When your child is old enough, get them involved in daily goals and chores. Start with something simple, like eating their vegetables or picking up their toys.

You will be of no use to anyone if you don't take care of yourself. When your baby is sleeping, you should also be sleeping. "Eat right and exercise regularly" may sound like a cliche, but it's true. Exercise could consist of putting baby in a stroller, and going for a walk; housework can also be a workout.

The book also looks at how to deal with your child's behavior. What works for one child may not work for another child. Make it clear that the action is bad, like hitting or making a mess, not that they are bad for doing it. Practice leaving them alone in a room for a few minutes at a time, that slowly increase that period of time. Getting used to not having you around every minute will help when it is time for them to start kindergarten.

This book is short, but it does a really good job. A visit to http://www.lifecoachingformothers.com/sign_me_up.html to get a copy and find more information for stressed-out mothers is a very good idea.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

5 Steps to Financial Freedom

5 Easy Steps to Financial Freedom: Do What You Love and Get Rich Doing It, Duane Harden, CEOeBooks, 2012

Many books have been written about how to make money doing what you love. This book reduces the process to just five steps.

Before anything else, you have to commit to changing your life. Don't just say it; you also have to mean it. Write a Creed, or other inspirational saying, and post it someplace where you can read it every day. Some people, knowingly or unknowingly, will try to discourage you, convinced that you are going to fail. Limit your exposure to such people.

What are you passionate about? What do you love doing? That is where you should look for income-generating ideas. Don't get into, for instance, real estate investing because all those infomercials have convinced you that you will be instantly rich. Do it because you want to do it. Get a copy of your credit report and credit score. If your score is Average or Poor, work now on fixing it. The book talks about using OPM (Other People's Money) to finance your venture. A bank, or other lender, will have a hard time approving your loan request if your credit score is just Fair.

It's normal to want to plan and plan and plan, removing all possible obstacles before starting your income-generating plan. You may just over-analyze yourself right out of a great business opportunity. At some point, you have to Just Do It (to quote Nike). If things don't work out, pick yourself up, regroup, and start over.

You need to register your venture as a separate business entity (like an S Corporation or an LLC) with the state and federal governments. If for no other reason, do it to reduce your personal liability should someone get injured on the premises. You can't do this alone, so you need a team behind you. Start with a CPA and an attorney who specializes in real estate investing, or whatever your venture entails. The book also explores what to do when the time comes to sell your venture (your CPA says that you have gotten all the tax benefits you are going to get, or you decide that it is time to retire).

This is an excellent book, written by someone who has been through the process. It is easy to read, and full of information. The hardest part is to convince yourself that Now is the time. This book shows the reader how to do everything else.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sudden Unexplained Death

Sudden Unexplained Death, Ryan Clover, 2012, Kindle e-book

This novelette is about a woman who ends up on a coroner's table with no discernible cause of death.

Jessica Firth is the local Toronto detective investigating the sudden demise of Cleister Vanier (the woman on the table). She learns that Ms. Vanier was on a trip to Eritrea, accompanied by Marilyn French. Ms. Vanier had donated a large amount of money to a local orphanage, and wanted to see for yourself where the money was going. She was concerned that the money was going "elsewhere."

While in Eritrea, Ms. Vanier went out to dinner with the director of the orphanage, which is where she suddenly died. Ms. French brought her body back home. A little background research by the police on those on the suspect list, including Ms. French, show some interesting things. Was the culprit some strange, undetectable African poison from the days of "deepest, darkest Africa?" On the other hand, was the culprit, and motive, much more down to earth?

This is a really good story. It's short, so it can be read in just a few minutes. Few present-day murder mysteries involve the country of Eritrea, which, automatically, makes this worth reading. Yes, it's worth the reader's time.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Razor Sharp 3.0

Razor Sharp 3.0, Ola Adigun, CreateSpace, 2012

This novel is about a young man who, in trying to pay off a debt, gets in way over his head.

Zeus (real name Supo) is a resident of present-day Nigeria. His father died recently after running up large debts in online stock trading. Zeus assumed his father's debt, and, as a math genius, is able to do something about it. Along with a few friends around the world, including Dido, a female Ph.D. computer student from California, Zeus comes up with Razor Sharp. It's supposed to be your average stock picking program, until it develops a mind of its own.

A glitch in the program allows it to go into aggressive mode, hacking into more and more computers, looking for processor power. Among them are computers best left alone. Zeus and Dido (who impulsively flies to Nigeria to meet Zeus) find themselves on the run from anonymous people from an unnamed organization, the sort of people who have no problem with killing anyone who gets in their way. Do Zeus and Dido escape? Is there any way to shut off Razor Sharp, or, at least, slow it down? Does Razor Sharp have any other value than in the financial world?

This is a first-rate piece of writing. It's high-tech, it was written by someone who certainly knows their way around present-day Nigeria, it's got action and a bit of romance. Someday, Nigeria will be known for more than just religious violence and spam e-mails. This novel may help. It's worth reading.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Holy Shmit!

Holy Shmit!, Corey Deitz, Kindle e-book, 2012

This novel is about your average parish priest, who is given a special assignment directly from the Pope.

Father Shmit suffers from Tourette's Syndrome. Naturally, it manifests itself at the most inconvenient times, except when he is conducting an exorcism. Some priests give wonderful and inspiring sermons week after week, and some priests are best at one-on-one contact. Father Shmit's talent is in exorcisms. His methods can charitably be called "unique," but no one can argue with his success rate.

He is called to the Vatican, and meets privately with Pope Benedict. Father Shmit is told that God is being held hostage by Satan, and that his special talents are needed (no, He is not chained to a chair in an abandoned warehouse). Father Shmit travels to the site along with a computer hacker friend (his plan involves God's e-mail address). Do they succeed? Is God freed from captivity?

As you may have guessed, this is a satire on Christianity. Those who take their religion seriously, and feel that Christianity should never be satirized, will probably skip this book. That is a very bad idea, because it also has some really good writing on the nature of God. Is He a cosmic puppeteer, controlling every bit of our lives, or is He more like a bowling alley reset machine, setting up the pins for humanity to knock down? It's normal to ask why a loving God would allow things like 9/11 or African famine to occur. Take a step back, and look at the bigger picture. For every Adolf Hitler, there is a Martin Luther King, Jr. For every Joseph Stalin, there is a Nelson Mandela. Overall, throughout history, things have gone pretty well for humanity. Atheists want their non-belief to be respected by society. Is there some reason why they can't return the favor, and respect those who do believe, especially around Christmas?

A really open mind will help when reading this book. Get past the satire, and the foul language, and this is a thought-provoking, and funny, story that will keep the reader interested. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Lightbridge Legacy: Destiny's Call

The Lightbridge Legacy: Destiny's Call, Elayne James, Mischievous Muse Press, 2011

This is the first of a trilogy (actually one long novel split into three books). This young adult tale is an excellent piece of writing. Ani, an adolescent girl who, troubled by strange dreams and visions, finds herself remembering things that haven't yet happened, is a very believable 12-year-old. Along with all the normal adolescent traumas, she is faced with an unexpected move to New York City where she encounters enemies both natural (school bullies) and supernatural. Add in some Native American spirituality and you've got a story that has plenty of heart and soul. Young people will enjoy this novel; adults will enjoy it too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Socialpunk

Socialpunk, Monica Leonelle, Spaulding House Publishing, 2011

First of a trilogy, this novel is about a near-future world ravaged by environmental collapse. As usual, things are not always what they seem to be.

Ima is a teenage girl of Asian ancestry living in the domed city of Chicago. Leaving the city is forbidden, because outside conditions are so bad. It is the year 2052, and Chicago is cut off from the rest of the world, because satellite access has been lost. Ima sneaks out of her parent's apartment, and attends a downtown party with Dash, the love of her life. At the party, she meets Nahum, a recent immigrant from Dubai. The rare immigrants to the city are mind-locked, preventing them from remembering anything about their lives before entering the city. Ima and Nahum are suddenly pulled outside by Vaughn, a mysterious young man in a black hoodie, just before the party venue is destroyed in a huge explosion.

Told that they are in a lot of danger, the two join Vaughn on the subway, and travel past what Ima thinks is the last stop on the line, outside of the city. The part about environmental collapse is true (the world's population has been reduced by more than 90 percent), but, otherwise, everything that Ima knows is a lie. Silicon City of the year 2198 revolves around the creation and dissemination of art. The city is in the middle of a huge controversy about the length of copyright. Most times, people ingest pills for nourishment instead of eating real food. Ima and Nahum join Vaughn's "hash," or gang, called the Socialpunks (they have little choice). Everyone in the city has been "upgraded" with things like bionic eyes, superhuman strength, etc., so Ima and Nahum get similar modifications (again, they have little choice).

Domed Chicago, what Ima knows as home, is going to be destroyed very soon, so Ima insists that the few remaining Socialpunks rescue Dash, who, Ima is sure, loves her as much as she loves him. Complications ensue.

There may be echoes of other such novels here, but this is still a very worthy addition to the cyberpunk/dystopian genre. This might work best as a Young Adult book, or as an introduction for people who are new to the genre. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

3 Steps to Recovery: One Man's Triumph Over Alcohol and Drugs

3 Steps to Recovery: One Man's Triumph Over Alcohol and Drugs, Dan Farish, T-87 Publishing Co., 2011

This is the story of one person's journey from alcoholism to recovery and sobriety.

Dan was your average native of the Boston, MA area. Dad worked as a subway janitor, and seemed to come home angry every night. Taking it out on his family, Dad reached new levels in Mean, Rotten and Nasty. He was the person in the neighborhood who would loudly complain if the local kids were making too much noise, or if someone rode a loud mini-bike past the house. Mom was not much better. A number of times, she stuck her head in the oven, wanting to commit suicide. The rest of the time, she would take Dad's side against her children. Dan's older sister, who had no problem in standing up to Dad, packed a couple of suitcases, and practically ran out of the house the day she turned 18, never to look back.

During adolescence, Dan discovered the "joys" of alcohol and drugs. He would stay out all night nearly every night, drinking a case of beer daily. Soon, he was drinking all day, too. There were several smashed cars and run-ins with the law. Somehow, Dan graduated from high school, after which, he too left home. Marriage, and 2 children, soon followed. They moved to a small town in Tennessee, where they opened a pizza place. Their total lack of experience in running a restaurant was not important. For a couple of years, the place was thriving. Dan turned the restaurant into the local after-hours drinking establishment, which was not a good idea (he was still drinking heavily every day). He also upset the "wrong" people in town. After the restaurant failed, he decided to try again, in Atlanta. This time, Sue, his wife, wanted no part of the new restaurant. Still drinking heavily, this one failed pretty quickly. Dan finally realized that he had hit rock bottom, and agreed to rehab.

He though very little of the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, and of group therapy. His attitude must have showed, because he was named Most Likely To Fail by his counselors and the rest of his group. He was also kicked out of the program with only three days left to completion. After much soul-searching and sleepless nights, he reduced the 12 Steps to only 3 Steps, and held on to those very tightly. Is he stiil an alcoholic, or did he kick his addiction? Did his vital organs shut down from all the beer he was drinking? Can the 3 Steps also work for any other addiction?

This is a very inspirational story. Farish is also a really good writer, who does not sugarcoat anything. The 12 Steps will not work for everyone; perhaps the 3 Steps will work. Anyone affected by alcoholism would do very well to read this book. It is very much worth the time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stop Alzheimer's Now

Stop Alzheimer's Now! How to Prevent and Reverse Dementia, Parkinson's, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders, Bruce Fife, Piccadilly Books, 2011

Dementia is a huge problem for a rapidly growing number of people all over the world. This book shows how to prevent its onset, and even reverse the symptoms, without drugs.

Dementia, which includes Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's and other such diseases, can come about in a surprisingly large number of ways. Did you know that Alzheimer's is also known as Type III Diabetes? The connection between them is that strong. The toxins can come from an improperly cleaned out tooth that is getting a root canal (it is very difficult to properly clean out such a tooth). For some people, the cause can be getting the wrong anesthesia during a routine operation. Be very careful when taking a statin drug, or any drug that alters brain chemistry (the book contains a list of drugs that seniors should avoid). Other things to be reduced, or avoided altogether, are aluminum, like in frying pans, and excitotoxins like aspartame. The author does not mean to say that being diabetic, or taking an over-the-counter medicine, or living on diet soda will automatically to Alzheimer's or ALS, but that such people are more susceptible than the average person.

Now, on to the important part: how to stop dementia, or at least greatly slow it down? Raise your body's ketone levels by consuming at least 5 tablespoons of coconut oil (available at your local health food store) every day. It can be used in food preparation, or taken separately like a supplement. Go on a low-carb diet; how low depends on your fasting blood glucose level. If you don't already do so, get in the habit of reading nutrition labels. Get your teeth checked, and correct any existing infections. Take dietary supplements, including an iron-free multivitamin, Q10, Magnesium and Vitamin C. Get some Vitamin D in your body, either through taking a supplement or being outside. Have at least 1 serving of fish per week. Last, but not least, get some moderate physical and mental exercise.

Stopping dementia does not get much easier than this, especially if your family has a history of it, or the symptoms have already started to show themselves. For those who are Alzheimer's caregivers, consider trying some of the things mentioned in this book (you have little or nothing to lose). This book is extremely highly recommended, for everyone.

Wagons to Hangtown

Wagons to Hangtown: A Story of the California Gold Rush, Diana M. Johnson, Superior Book Publishing Co., 2010

Set in the 1850s, this novel is about a trio of young men who travel across America, seduced by that word: gold.

Edward Daingerfield, his cousin, Richard, and their friend, Lewis, are not the only ones heading west. In St. Joseph, Missouri, they buy provisions, and have to wait their turn crossing the Mississippi River. Eventually, they join a wagon train. Trying to make the crossing on your own is, on many levels, a really bad idea. After many trials and tribulations, including a couple of deaths from cholera, and passing the skeletons of wagons and animals that didn't make it, the train reaches California.

The trio find a spot to start their gold prospecting, and immediately get to it. They do find some gold, enough to buy supplies, but their luck is generally bad. After several months, Edward takes a part-time job at the local post office, in order to provide a more steady income. He becomes an early mailman, delivering mail by stagecoach to the nearby towns and villages. Edward gets involved in writing for a couple of local newspapers. After a couple of years, Richard and Lewis head back home to Indiana, having actually made some money. Edward decides to stay in California.

Edward can't get Mrs. Gould out of her mind. She is an older woman who came west as part of the same wagon train, and whose (second) husband was one of the cholera casualties. She now runs a rooming house in Sacramento, which Edward visits every week for a home-cooked meal. Also coming west is Ellen, Mrs. Gould's 10-year-old daughter. During the trip west, she boldly announces that, one day, she and Edward will be married. Does it happen?

This story is full of excellent writing. Edward Daingerfield is an actual ancestor of the author, so the research is meticulous. It's interesting from beginning to end, and is very much worth the reader's time.

Crooked

Crooked, Brian M. Wiprud, Bantam Dell, 2006

This is a rather quirky mystery novel that involves a very valuable stolen painting, drilling for gold in New York Harbor, and various types of dysfunctional relationships.

Nicholas Pahlinic is a hustler and retriever-of-missing-items for big insurance companies. He is the family black sheep who knows every lowlife and nook & cranny in the city. His brother, Garth, is a taxidermist. His latest job leads him to Beatrice Belarus, a high-powered art dealer who has no problem with rolling over people to get what she wants. She also has a very large cash-flow problem.

Drummond Yager has spent his adult life traveling around the world retrieving things for Newcastle Warranty. Usually, the assignments took him to places like deep in the Amazon rain forest, or deepest, darkest Africa. He is in New York City while his employer looks for the best way to get rid of him. Barney Swires is a city employee with a 'sixth sense' about finding things like abandoned maintenance tunnels and unused sewers deep under the city. He is confident that he has found the site where, in the 1850s, a ship went down carrying millions of dollars in gold. The spot is now part of an unofficial island in New York Harbor. Some "unofficial" drilling is needed, so the Pazzo brothers are hired. They are roughnecks who play in a local hockey league. It's the sort of game where the broken bones and concussions are counted at the end. Everything manages to come together at the end of the story.

This is a really good piece of writing. The mystery part will keep the reader's interest, along with the unique characters. It feels like it was written by someone who knows his way around the less well-known parts of the Big Apple.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Winnowing

The Winnowing, Chris Fyles, Lulu, 2012

This novel is about a young man who seems to have lost his moral compass.

Set in northwest England, Richard is living in a strange city, friendless and an alcoholic. After an encounter with a transsexual prostitute one night, and seeing a couple get intimate against a stone wall, Richard tells how he got to this point.

Richard strongly believed in moral absolutes; certain things are Right or Wrong. It came from his parents. On his way to school, Richard sees a couple of boys who are torturing a cat. It has been tied to a fence post by its neck, and the boys are throwing gravel at it. Richard chases them away, and tries to untie the cat. At that monent, the cat's owner drives up, rescues the cat, and loudly accuses Richard of causing the cat's torment. Richard falls in lust, not love, with Laurie, a friend of his mother's, who does little to dissuade him.

Bullying and fighting seem to be common at Richard's school. He is usually one of the targets; rarely does he have the guts to defend himself. On one occasion, Richard and another student circle each other, both waiting for the other to throw the first punch. A teacher stops it, both students are dragged inside, and Richard is suspended for a week. His parents are very upset. Later, Richard is told by other students that his punishment would have been less severe if he had let the other student beat him to a pulp.

Richard also seems to acquire a liking for violence. He tries to firebomb a neighbor's detached coal bin. A friend has gotten involved in the White Power movement, so Richard is dragged along to the commission of a hate crime. Laurie introduces Richard to Jack, an elderly man who is attempting to put his life back together after some, shall we say, emotional challenges. Richard visits Jack several times; Jack seems like a decent person, except for his hair-trigger temper. At the end, Richard learns the exact nature of Jack's emotional challenges.

In a way, this is not very pleasant reading, but it is very good reading. It's the sort of story that could take place anywhere, and happen to nearly anyone. There is lots of good writing here, and it is very much worth reading.

What Sex is a Republican?

What Sex is a Republican? Stories From the Front Lines in American Politics and How You Can Change the Way Things Are, Terri McCormick, The Capitol Press, 2010

This book gives and inside look at present-day state government in America. It is not a pretty picture.

The author, a resident of Wisconsin, first got involved in state politics while working to get a law passed establishing charter schools in Wisconsin. It was intended to help those students who don't fit in the usual classroom setting. The state teacher's union was not happy. McCormick ran for the state legislature on the Republican ticket, but with a populist philosophy. Solving problems that affect the people of Wisconsin should be uppermost in the minds of all state legislators, right?

Republicans are all about cutting spending, and shrinking the size of government, at least in public. But, heaven forbid that a Republican legislator should propose a bill to actually cut spending. The Republican leadership will make sure that the bill never sees the light of day, and the legislator will be told that if they even think of ever doing that again, they can expect a primary opponent at the next election. Many members of the Wisconsin legislature are there simply to line their own pockets (while McCormick was in the legislature, several senior Republicans were under indictment for fraud). The next most important job for a Wisconsin Republican legislator was to do whatever was necessary to make the Democrats look bad. Helping the people was at the bottom of the list.

Intending to keep McCormick busy and quiet for several months, the Republican leadership gave her a task force, involving Medicare Cost Sharing. After several months of meetings and public hearings, McCormick wrote a bill that would actually save the state some money. She was not supposed to do that.

This is a very eye-opening look at the condition of state government in America. If you think Congress is partisan and inflexible, read this book and see that, frequently, state government is just as bad. This is very much worth the reader's time.

Red Alert: How China's Growing Prosperity Threatens the American Way of Life

Red Alert: How China's Growing Prosperity Threatens the American Way of Life, Stephen Leeb & Gregory Dorsey, BusinessPlus, 2011

America is in a race with China that will go a long way toward determining our future quality of life. Few Americans know that this race is underway.

World supplies are growing very tight of certain key minerals (sometimes called strategic minerals) that are absolutely vital for the smooth running of a 21st century economy. Names like neodymium, europium, indium and niobium may sound very boring, but you can't run a high-tech economy without them. China has spent years, and a lot of money around the world, getting its hands on every bit of such materials that it can find. China is doing it not just to keep their economy growing, but because, one day, the supply will run out, and they want to be in the driver's seat.

For a number of other, equally important, minerals, of which America imports all of its supply, the world's biggest supplier is China. The American attitude is that technology will save the day. How is that going to happen if China decides that some vital mineral will be much less available?

Estimates put the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at nearly $3 trillion. Even a portion of that money would have been much better spent on renewable energy, especially solar energy. China is the world leader in making solar panels, and their lead widens every day. How can America have any hope of catching up when federal investments are in the hundreds of millions of dollars (at the most), and China's investments are in the billions of dollars?

Everyone has seen pictures of acres and acres of electronic equipment dumped all over China. The methods to extract the metals inside may be low-tech and toxic, but even a small amount of gold, for instance, per monitor, multiplied by millions of monitors, is a substantial amount of gold that China can use elsewhere.

America can not depend on new sources of oil to power its economy, because the authors assert that "peak oil" has arrived. It is the point at which the era of "easy" oil extraction has ended, and any new discoveries will be harder and harder to extract ("Drill, baby, drill" is simplistic, at best).

This is a fascinating and very important book. It is very much worth reading for all Americans, and especially for all members of Congress.