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

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

I post my reviews to:

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Necropolis, Michael Dempsey, Night Shade Books, 2011

This novel is about a man who wakes up in a strange, neo-futuristic world, after his murder.

Paul Donner is an NYPD detective who is out for the evening with his wife. They walk in on a bodega robbery, and are killed. He wakes up, forty years later, due to something called the Shift. Said to be the side effect of a retroviral attack, it re-animates the DNA of dead people, causing them to come to life. No, they don't turn into zombies, but they do age younger (an adult becomes a teenager, who becomes a child, then an infant, and ends as a hunk of protoplasm). Such reborn people, or "reebs," are considered third-class citizens, so Donner has to investigate his murder on his own.

A protective blister, or dome, is being built over New York City to keep the Shift "virus" (for lack of a better term) from infecting the rest of America. Manhattan has reverted to the 1930's, the time of Dashiell Hammett and the Studebaker. Harlem has gone back to the time of the Harlem Renaissance, and Greenwich Village is now in the 1960's hippie era. As Donner looks into his murder, he discovers some interesting things, like the person accused of killing him was intentionally released, without being charged. The conspiracy gets bigger and bigger, with Donner and his wife at the center. It involves the existence of an actual immortality serum, and a plan to kill millions of people in a very public, and gruesome, way, to solidify social control over the Big Apple.

This book works on a number of levels. It works really well as a regular detective story. It also works for those who liked the film "Blade Runner." It's well done from start to finish, and the twists and turns will keep the reader guessing. Here is a first-rate piece of writing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The NSA Files

The NSA Files, Terry Persun, CreateSpace, 2013

This detective novel takes place in a very new and different area, inside the human soul, or spirit.

Dan Johnston is not your average private investigator. He is a shaman, which means that he can enter the spirit world very easily. While there, he can, for instance, find a missing person, or convince a cheating spouse to stop cheating. It's not fulfilling work, but it pays the bills.

The NSA learns that some members of Congress are on the receiving end of some unusual political intimidation. An important bill is coming up for a committee vote, with billions of dollars at stake. The messages are received in their dreams, delivered by their spirit totems. Dan is asked to do what he can to stop it, before the vote.

Dan's grown son, Jason (their relationship is strained), and a shaman-in-training, gets involved. What they do in the spirit world has a noticeable effect on the Internet. A couple of assassination attempts convince Dan and Jason that they are on the right track. Marian, Dan's ex-wife (and Jason's mother) is kidnapped to make sure that Dan and Jason back off, permanently.

Focus shifts to a high-tech company in Arizona. Dan is able to find the source, in the spirit world, but nicely asking Mr. Big to stop what he is doing will not work. A more permanent solution is needed (like with guns and bullets). Are Dan and Jason able to start re-building their relationship? Do they even survive?

This one is very good. It works as a regular detective story, and the look inside the siprit world is quite interesting. Yes, it is well worth reading.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

1969: Once Upon a Time in Montreal

1969: Once Upon a Time in Montreal, Richard Austin, Thou Art That Publishing, 2014

This is a personal look, through the lens of a camera, at 1969 Montreal.

As a young man, the author became almost obsessed with photographing people, places and events around the city. The largest student occupation in Canadian history, at what is now part of Concordia University, began when West Indian students accused a biology professor of discrimination because of unfair grading. Austin was there, with his camera. Some small fires were set, damaging campus buildings, but there was no actual "riot."

The author spent some time working at a local, independent record store (who remembers record stores full of 45's and LP's?), where he met lots of interesting people and was exposed to all sorts of music. There are photos, including of some of the female customers.

During that time, the drug scene was quite active; Austin did his part. He shipped some lysergic acid to a friend in Greece who developed a thriving business selling LSD to American soldiers who were in port. He was very careful with the acid-soaked blotters until he accidentally spilled garlic pickle juice on them, causing the trips to get weird.

The annual St. Patrick's Day parade had been going on since the early 19th century. The Irish had a strong community, and maintained their identity, something which did not always go over well with the city's French population.

This is not meant to be any sort of comprehensive look at Montreal, just one person's photographic journey through one year in one city. Some of the photos are blurry, or could have been better framed. That's OK; it just adds to the informality of the book. Yes, this book is very much worth reading.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience

Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience, Matt Kailey, Beacon Press, 2005

This is an inside look at changing one's gender. In his 40's, the author made his female-to-male transition.

Among the central questions is what name to call them (transgender, transsexual, transman or transwoman). Another important thing to consider is whether or not to have Sex Reassignment Surgery (to change your genitalia). If not, then male-to-female transsexuals have to learn how to flatten, or hide, their genitals.

The biggest problem for anyone in the middle of their transition is public bathrooms. Do you use the gender that you are, biologically, or the gender with which you identify? Where's a unisex bathroom when you need it? Another problem is looking for a way to make it easier for sales clerks to call you Sir or Ma'am (without them choosing one and apologizing when they get it wrong).

As a woman, whenever Kailey got a flat tire, she could count on several men stopping to change the tire. As a man, Kailey was expected to do it himself. As a man, Kailey was expected to make disparaging remarks about women's bodies, and to be fascinated by bodily functions (and to think that farting was funny). A further revelation was being able to take his shirt off in public, and not hide the scars from getting his breasts removed.

Friends and family members may, or may not, support your transition. Some might consider it like a death in the family, while others might ask, "What took you so long?" The book also looks at how you tell your boss, and whether or not it is acceptable to ask a person what pronoun they prefer, if it is not obvious.

This book is very easy to read. The author does a very good job at calmly exploring parts of the transsexual world. For anyone who is transitioning, in either direction, give this book to friends and family members. It will answer a lot of questions before they are asked.  

The Secret World of Oil

The Secret World of Oil, Ken Silverstein, Verso Books, 2014

This book provides a peek behind the curtain at the business part of the oil industry, still a major part of the world's economy.

If an oil company wants to start drilling in a "new" country, like Equatorial Guinea, or somewhere in Central Asia, all they have to do is go to the president or Prime Minister, buy an oil lease, and start drilling, right? Wrong; there are other officials who need to be consulted, and compensated, first (American law forbids bribery, but American oil companies know that it's part of the cost of doing business). That is why "fixers" are so important. They know the local political landscape, or they have connections to the right officials. They also know how much the company should pay in "rebates" or "commissions."

Your father is the leader of some small country, with lots of oil reserves (the national treasury is treated like your own personal bank account). Your biggest decision is what glittering residence will you visit, your Malibu mansion, your Manhattan penthouse, or your villa on the French Riviera. Also, which of your dozen luxury cars will you bring with you?

There are a number of ex-politicians who travel the world making speeches about oil. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair traveled to Azerbaijan where he received $150,000 for a speech lasting less than half an hour. In it, he said nice things about President Aliyev, whose human rights record is pretty horrible.

Neil Bush, part of the Bush family, has a bad record in the oil business. His companies don't just fail; they tend to crash and burn. But the Bush name is enough for foreign companies and governments to pay him tens of thousands of dollars for introductions.

This is a very interesting look at the oil industry. The author actually traveled the world, meeting the people portrayed in this book. The reader will learn a lot, and it is very much worth reading.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, Matt Taibbi, Spiegel & Grau, 2014

Among the consequences of the Wealth Gap in America seems to be the establishment of two different sets of laws, one for the rich and one for everyone else. This book gives the details.

The sale of Lehman Brothers to Barclays Bank was advertised as a last-minute, desperation fire sale. How did Barclays manage to get an extra five billion dollars as part of the deal? Among the reasons why the Justice Department doesn't prosecute "too big to fail" banks, or their top executives, is because they have lots of money, and lots of lawyers, to delay and delay the case until the government gives up. It is easier for the government, and it looks better, to go after smaller targets. Evidently, the agreements where a bank agrees to pay several billion dollars without admitting guilt, even for money laundering or handling Colombian drug cartel money, "sends a message." (Really?) There is the story of a group of billionaire hedge fund managers who conspired to drive a Canadian insurance company out of business, using dirty tricks. Countrywide Financial intentionally did not want to know details of the financial health of the people to whom they were lending money. They were happy to lend to anyone.

On the other side of the divide, how can America's prison population be going way up while the rate of violent crime is way down? The answer is: Stop and Frisk. Did you know that standing on the sidewalk in front of your house in New York City can get you arrested and thrown in a police van that just happens to be nearby? After going through the court system, charged with Blocking Pedestrian Traffic (even if there was no one else on the sidewalk at the time), you could be back in front of your house. This time, you are standing at the edge of the sidewalk, almost on the street. Prepare to get arrested again, charged with Blocking Vehicular Traffic (even if you weren't actually in the street).

The new criminal class in America seems to be welfare applicants and recipients. The author does not mean to suggest that accusations of welfare fraud should not be investigated, and, if necessary, prosecuted. What is the sense in assuming that Everyone is trying to defraud the system? This is not a case of "guilty until proven innocent" but "we know you are guilty, and eventually, we'll prove it."

This book easily reaches the level of Wow. It is a very eye-opening, and rather disheartening, look at life in present-day America. It is extremely highly recommended for all Americans.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm

Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm, Kevin J. Anderson, Onyx Books, 2001

This novel is about exploring the body of an alien...from the inside.

During a Soviet military operation in Azerbaijan, an alien ship is shot down. Instead of handing the escape pod, with an alien inside, to the Soviet government, the Deputy Foreign Minister ships it to Project Proteus. It's a Top Secret base located in an isolated part of the California desert. They have found a new method of exploration, by miniaturizing people and machines to microscopic size.

The escape pod resists all scanning attempts (x-ray, MRI, CT scan), so a specially-built vessel, with a four-person crew, is shrunk and sent inside (by drilling a needle-sized hole in the view plate). Once inside, they find lots of nano-machines, who treat the vessel as food, a threat or as raw materials to build whatever they are building. The crew is in the middle of a running battle/chase scene to keep away from the nano-machines. Unknowingly, the crew finds an On switch, which, among other things, opens the escape pod.

On the outside, the nano-machines easily make the jump to the two physicians who are examining the alien's body. Within a few minutes, the nano-machines transform the physicians into aliens. If even one of those nano-machines gets loose, it will create others and they will turn all of humanity into aliens before Earth can mount any sort of defense.

Inside the alien, the crew has been running from the nano-machines for so long that they no longer know where they are. The shrinking effect lasts for only a few hours, so it is very much in their interests to find any sort of escape route. Once they exit the body, they learn what has happened to the tow doctors; the original alien has also woken up. Can they make it out of the sealed room, while staying away from the three aliens, and not let out any of the nano-machines, before returning to normal size?

In my experience, Kevin J. Anderson has always written strong, well-done stories, and this is no exception. A person could question some parts of the story, but, for those who are new to science fiction, or have never read the original Isaac Asimov novel, this book is well worth reading.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Get Rich Quick Book

The Get Rich Quick Book, Jeffrey Blake, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014

Here is a short, and interesting, book about how to make money online, even while you are sleeping.

There are many different types of items that can be sold online. The easiest, and least costly, for you, the seller, to sell is some sort of electronic product, like an audio or video recording, or an e-book. If your website is properly set up, you can receive orders any time of the day or night. It takes just a few keystrokes to "mail" the product, removing the need for inventory and overhead.

Find a way for your product to make the life of your customer easier. How can it fulfill a need they don't even know they have? It's easier to make money teaching a person to do something instead of doing it for them.

The book gives some subject areas to consider. Can you do something to help people get over their fear of heights, or flying? Perhaps you can sell miniature cameras, and other such spy equipment, for couples in the middle of divorce proceedings. There seem to be a million smartphone apps available. Consider starting a subscription site where you review some of these apps. Find someone on one of the freelance sites to actually create the apps for your client (be sure to split the revenue equally).

If you are a fashionista, you can start a site keeping women informed about the latest fashion trends (with affiliate links helpfully provided). Start a site that provides the services of a psychic, astrologer or medium. Last, but not least, where would the internet be without pornography? Start an adult web chat or phone sex site. Start a subscription site where you review other porn sites.

This is a very "basic" book that is light on details. Those are in the free, with purchase of this book, DVD (with a retail value of $97). Maybe that will help ease the pain of the high price for this book. Yes, this is worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies

A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut, Steve Thornton, Shoe Leather History Project, 2013

In the early 20th century, the Industrial Workers of the World, or "Wobblies," attempted to organize a working-class movement that crossed racial and ethnic lines. This book looks at one part of their story, their strikes and campaigns in Connecticut.

Free speech may seem like an obvious right for all Americans. It wasn't always that way, especially for those who opposed the prevailing order in society, like labor union organizers. There was no mass media, so the only way to reach a large mass of people at once was to do it live, whether in a local theater, or literally standing on a soapbox on a street corner. Such gatherings were usually broken up by the police, or by paid henchmen working for the owner of whatever company was the subject of the latest labor unrest.

Many of the important figures in early 20th century labor came through Hartford, the state capital. They included "Big Bill" Haywood, Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman (who actually got her start in Hartford). The long, bitter, and ultimately successful, strike in Lowell, Massachusetts was a big inspiration to Connecticut workers. While an IWW strike was in progress, one would think that the American Federation of Labor (AFL) would be willing to help whenever possible. Rarely did that happen. Among the best IWW organizers was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who traveled the country organizing strikes while still a teenager.

A constant problem for the IWW was the accusation that they were an anarchist or socialist organization. Anyone who opposes capitalism must hate America, right? After World War I came the Red Scare. Led by the Justice Department, America was convinced that Moscow was going to take over and turn America into a socialist state. This led to many arrests and deportations of union leaders, and the destruction of many IWW offices. It never recovered to its former strength, but the IWW is still around today.

This is a fascinating piece of American labor history, and of the history of Connecticut. It is the sort of history that will not be taught in school. On many levels, this is very much worth reading.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vic: Never Give Up

Vic: Never Give Up, Jerry Gill, Ann Darrow Co., 2014

This is the third in a series of novels about your average female resident of the early 20th century who isn't really so average.

Victoria Custer's "day job" is as a travel and adventure writer for her local, Nebraska, newspaper. Using the pen name Vic Challenger, she travels to places that even experienced, male adventurers would hesitate to visit. Vic has a very good reason; she has inside of her an avatar of a 100,000-year-old cavewoman  named Nat-ul. She came from an era where violent death could come at any moment. If Nat-ul has survived all these centuries, then Nu, her lover, must also be alive. That search is the real reason for Vic's adventures.

Vic and her friend, Lin Li, are booked on a very fancy ship for a trip to England in a couple of weeks, so they make a quick trip to the Grand Canyon for some camping. They will take some photos, write some articles; it will be fun, right? They are taken prisoner by some Native American warriors who accuse them of being human slavers targeting Native American children, they are later taken prisoner by actual human slavers, and they come across a bottomless cavern full of what looks like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. They manage to reach their ship for England with minutes to spare.

Once in Britain, they head for Scotland, intending to camp in the ruins of a Scottish castle on the shore of Loch Ness (home of the famous Monster). The local inhabitants are tormented by the mysterious disappearances of animals, and people. Some say that the Loch is inhabited by a number of "beasties." Other tales are about a family of human cannibals. Vic and Lin learn, to their horror, that both stories are true. Amid all this Vic just misses meeting an artist named Stu James, who she is sure is the reincarnation of Nu, her lover.

I totally enjoyed this book (and this series). It's got a strong female main character, it's got plenty of action and brushes with death, and it would make a really good movie. This is very much worth reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Coconut Ketogenic Diet

The Coconut Ketogenic Diet, Bruce Fife, Piccadilly Books, 2014

This weight loss plan actually encourages the consumption of fat on a daily basis.

The low fat or low calorie diet that you are on is the reason why your weight loss has been slow, or non-existent. Fat is an essential nutrient; the human body needs a certain amount of it every day. It helps to slow down food in your digestive system so that it can be absorbed. Besides, food producers will add chemicals to make up for the fat or calories that have been removed, chemicals that are even less healthy than fat.

Your whole thyroid system may be malfunctioning, not just your thyroid gland, which the usual thyroid blood test may not pick up. The problem may be an iodine deficiency, or chemicals like fluorine, chlorine and bromine that are in your tap water. Take your temperature several times during the day. If it is chronically more than 0.3 degrees low, that may indicate a thyroid or metabolism problem. How can a person stimulate their metabolism? Drink lots of water, get regular exercise and exposure to sunlight, eat a wholesome diet, consume coconut oil and add cayenne pepper to the diet.

What about this coconut ketogenic diet? The two most important parts of it are to greatly reduce, or eliminate, your consumption of carbohydrates, and have three tablespoons of coconut oil with each meal. If your body tells you to start with one tablespoon per meal and work your way up from there, that's fine. The book has a list of the carbohydrate content in fruits, vegetables and breads, along with a chart showing desired body weight. The explains why coconut oil (also known as medium chain triglycerides) are so healthy.

This is an excellent book. It is not the usual "diet," where the dieter is limited to certain foods. If all a person can do is greatly reduce their carbohydrate consumption, and do a lot more exercising, without doing anything else, that can only help. This book is recommended for everyone, with and without a weight problem.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Shadow on the Sun

Shadow on the Sun, R. Julian Cox, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2012

This present-day techno-thriller is about the intersection of government, big business and a possible nuclear apocalypse.

A well-known dissident Iranian scientist tells the US President, Juan Sanchez, that a major earthquake is coming for the Pacific Northwest. The "Big One" won't happen sometime in the future, but in the next couple of months. The fault line just happens to go through the Hanford nuclear complex, home to thousands of tons of nuclear waste. If that waste got loose, the Pacific Northwest would become a permanent nuclear wasteland. The Iranian scientist has all his data on a couple of portable hard drives, but he needs American supercomputer power, like at Los Alamos Laboratory, to help America with Plan A (Plan B is to permanently evacuate everyone in Oregon and Washington State).

Meantime, the British are about to test a very classified, over the horizon, laser-based missile defense system (not even America knows about it). The bean will be on for only a fraction of a second, but the power is so high that no one knows just what will happen. Will they punch a hole in the space-time continuum? A high US official is heading to London for an extremely important meeting. He is traveling in a classified, and very fast, space plane called Aurora. Suddenly it disappears from radar. Why would the wreckage be found, buried in the English countryside, along with swords and other metal objects dating from the time of King Arthur, about 1500 years ago? Naturally, the two hard drives were on board. Can they be found in time? Do they still work?

This one is really worth reading. It has everything a person may want; it has high-tech, it has impending disaster, it has medieval history, and a bit of romance. It also has some very good writing. The reader will not go wrong with this story.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Red Rising

Red Rising, Pierce Brown, Del Rey Books, 2014

First of a trilogy, this book is all about revolution, and love.

Darrow has spent his entire life as a miner, living underground on Mars. Part of a colony whose job is to mine Helium, all of the miners have been told, for many years, that the surface is uninhabitable. They are helping to build a new human society on Mars. Doubts enter into Darrow's mind after his wife is murdered by the brutal, sadistic government. Recruited by a secret underground group, Darrow learns that, for the past couple of hundred years, the miners have been Really Lied To.

The usual revolt would be crushed within a couple of days, so Darrow is given a different assignment. Months are spent turning him into a member of the elite class, both physically and mentally. He is to infiltrate the elite class, and become one of them. After he has risen to a senior position in the regime, then he will bring it down from the inside.

Along with a couple of dozen other young people, Darrow becomes a student at an institute to decide the next member of the ruling class. Split into several groups, they are each assigned to a castle in a river valley, and told to go from there. What follows is a Hunger Games-style competition, with real casualties, to winnow down the field. Darrow shows real leadership, and plenty of guts. Another student, the son of one of the rulers, is "supposed" to win, but isn't going to follow along. Does Darrow pull off an unauthorized win? Does he even survive?

This one is a gem of a story. It has everything; a brutal government and dystopian society, growing revolution, young people and some possibilities for romance. It also has an easy to read story. This is very much worth reading.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Vyrkarion: The Talisman of Anor

Vyrkarion: The Talisman of Anor, J.A. Cullum, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2013

Last of a trilogy, this fantasy tale takes place on a planet with nine different races. For the humans, an ever-present threat is of being enslaved by a race of shape-changing lizard people. There's also an ancient prophecy whose time has come.

While traveling, a young noblewoman named Alanna meets Myrriden, a wizard who is also bearer of Vyrkarion, one of eight living crystals. Myrriden makes Alanna Vyrkarion's new bearer. He had little choice; he was dying at the time. Myrriden tells Alanna that she must be trained in how to handle a living crystal by a famous wizard named Jerevan. (In part 2 of this trilogy, Jerevan was given a very advanced curse by another wizard. It's the sort of curse that can only be lifted by Jerevan becoming an "expert" wizard.) Alanna is very aware of Jerevan's past, so she would rather get her training from anyone else.

Aavik is the leader of the isklarin (the lizard people). He is very aware of Vyrkarion's change in "ownership," and makes plans to get the crystal for himself.

Rhys Cinnac is cousin of the king, and also bearer of Cyrkarion, another of the living crystals. He is most interested in the part of the prophecy which says that the king will die, and a child will be saved. Could the child be Aubrey Cinnac, legitimate heir to the throne? He acts incredibly mature for his age. Can Alanna get over her strong dislike for Jerevan, and let him train her, so Aubrey can stay alive, and help the crystal to show its full power?

This is an excellent novel, and trilogy. The author does a fine job from start to finish, with the storytelling, the society-building, and the wizardry (and other weird stuff). It is very much worth reading.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Perpetual Motion Club

The Perpetual Motion Club, Sue Lange, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013

This novel is set in a near-future high school. It is similar to, and very different from, today's high school.

Northawken High School is full of the usual high school cliques. It is also a place where many of the students are sponsored by one or more corporations, ranging from Abercrombie and Fitch to Microsoft. The school is full of six-foot high logos for the latest junk food or software.

Elsa Webb is one of the few un-sponsored students. She is very smart, but full of the usual high school emotions. Despite encouragement from her friends, her parents and her geometry teacher, Elsa is very uninterested in joining the school's Science Society. It will supposedly look very good on her resume; she may not get into a good college without it. Impulsively, she decides to start a Perpetual Motion Club.

Interest among her classmates in joining the club is nearly non-existent. The only other members are her friends May, who is a witch, and Jimmy, who has loved Elsa from afar. She is unable to get the club sanctioned by the school. Meantime, Elsa has a major crush on Jason, the new kid in school, who is part of the basketball team. Even though Elsa helps him out of a huge jam, Jason barely knows that she is alive.

With a school-wide science competition called Future World rapidly approaching, Elsa decides on a major change in emphasis. Instead of trying to build a perpetual motion machine, she will look at the subject from a different angle. Will Jimmy and May help build her new idea? Will Jason and his basketball cohorts lend a hand? Will she get it to school on time?

The author does a really good job exploring the good and bad of the high school experience. The story is interesting and believable. This is not just for high school students; adults will also enjoy it.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Clockwork Heart

Clockwork Heart, Dru Pagliassoti, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, 2013

This fantasy/romance tale takes place in a very stratified society.

Taya is an icarus, a courier (with metal wings) who can move freely between the social classes in the city of Ondinium. A person's class is tattooed on their forehead; only through reincarnation can a person rise in class.

One day, Taya saves an Exalted (members of the elite class) and her son from what could have been a mid-air disaster. There is a growing terrorism problem in Ondinium; was this their handiwork? Her heroism attracts the attention of Exalted Alister Forlore, a member of the ruling council (he is also very handsome). He also writes computer programs for the Great Engine, the analytical engine that helps to run the city. He has written a program that is supposed to predict a person's most compatible mate. Taya also meets Alister's brother, Christof. He is a sarcastic you-know-what who has renounced his Exalted status and lives in the Ondinium equivalent of the inner city.

Tempting as it is, Taya knows that having any sort of intimate relationship with an Exalted is a really bad idea. A few days later, an aircar in which Alister was supposed to be riding explodes in midair. There is no chance for a definite identification of the dead, but everyone assumes that Alister is dead. It becomes known that someone has been trying to run unauthorized programs in the Great Engine, which is a huge offense, even for an Exalted. Taya and Christof learn, to their shock, that Alister staged his own death, and that his personal-compatibility program is only the beginning of his plans for the people of Ondinium.

I totally enjoyed this book. It's got steampunk, and it's got really good writing that is easy to read. It also has a bit of romance. I am very interested in reading the other parts of this trilogy (whenever they are available).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Puzzle Box

The Puzzle Box, The Apocalyptic Four, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, 2013

This book shows that reality is not what we think it is, and the key is a puzzle box.

Professor Albert Mallory has stolen an ancient puzzle box, and plans to sell it to pay gambling debts. The night before the debt comes due, a man named The Chronicler visits Mallory and demands to see the box. From the open box, Mallory watches the stories of four other people who opened the box.

Warlock is a roadie for a rock band. He falls for a woman who really is part of a coven of witches, which he is all set to join. Through the open box comes Satan, who offers a chance to become the band's lead singer, replacing the current lead singer who is in the hospital. Autumn Bailey was sent to Earth to live as a human until her 30th birthday. She actually has a very strong connection to Greek mythology.

Angela Matterly is a video store clerk who likes to wear cats-eye contact lenses. One night, Roger, a fellow employee, gets the box open, and out pops an eight-foot tall djinn named Skip. Angela is offered three wishes, but there is a time limit. She uses one of the wishes, but things turn very bad, so she is able to put things back the way they were. Things get complicated when Angela learns that Ellen, her mother, and Skip, the djinn, already know each other (it's not what you are thinking).

Sam is a comic book artist who meets Lucy at an art show. Their relationship gets hot and heavy, until Lucy's ex-boyfriend interrupts them, carrying a shotgun. After he shoots Lucy, and then himself, things get weird.

These are all first-rate stories (personally, the second pair of stories are a little better than the first pair). They are well-done, and they are nice and weird. The reader will not go wrong with this book.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Factory World

The Factory World, Joseph Edward Ryan, Steam Press, 2013

This post-apocalyptic novel is about two people who find themselves in a very strange place.

Simon is a young boy who wakes up in a drain pipe, with no memory of home. He is wearing a Cowardly Lion costume, because he is a fan of the Wizard of Oz. Simon is met by an older man, who also doesn't know where he came from, or even his own name. Simon calls him the Tin Man.

They start walking along abandoned railroad tracks through a desolate landscape. They pass huge, deserted factories. There are a number of what look like mannequins made out of black rubber (later in the book, a way is found to make them come alive). They meet a couple of other humans who, in various ways, are not very friendly. Occasional shooting stars plow holes in the earth which show a series of pipes underground, like the planet is a giant factory. Do they find a way back home?

This is a pretty "quiet"novel, with only two main characters, so it will take some patience on the part of the reader. That patience will be rewarded, because this is a good story. My only criticism is that the ending felt a little too easy, or cop out-ish. It is still well worth reading.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Semmant, Vadim Babenko, Ergo Sum Publishing, 2013

This is the story of a man and his sentient computer program.

As a boy, Bogdan Bogdanov is taken away from his home in the former Yugoslavia, and sent to a special school for the very intelligent in Brighton, England. After several years, the school is forced to close, so Bogdanov finds himself on his own.

His first job is at a laboratory in Switzerland. He starts it with the highest level of enthusiasm, but, after a couple of years, he gets bored and quits. Moving from lab to lab all over Europe, the pattern is always the same. Bogdanov learns about world financial markets by working for a swindler and currency manipulator. He eventually finds himself alone in Madrid.

Bogdanov spends months writing the ultimate financial trading computer program, which he calls Semmant. He does not just fill it with prices from the financial section of the local newspaper. He also fills it with books and articles on psychology and sociology, anything that might have an effect on the financial world. Semmant's first solo financial trades do not end well, but it eventually gets the "hang" of it.

Meantime, Bogdanov has loved and lost the lovely Lidia. In an attempt to get her back, he creates an online character named Adele, and posts stories of their "relationship" in an online forum that Adele is known to frequent. The reconciliation does not end well, and Semmant (who has been filled with a lot more than just financial information) falls for Adele. It then takes matters into its own hands.

On the positive side, this book has a lot of interesting ideas, like a computer program that achieves anything resembling sentience. On the negative side, told in flashback, the reading is dry and slow. Also, cuts could have been made in the word count of this book. If the reader has a lot of patience, then this book is worth reading. Otherwise, this book can be skipped.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nest of Worlds

Nest of Worlds, Marek Huberath, Restless Books, 2014

This dystopian novel is about a very rigidly stratified society, based on a person's hair color.

Gavein and his wife, Ra Mehleine, are moving to the Land of Darabel, by law. Every thirty-five years, everyone is required to emigrate to another of the four Lands. They are of different social classes, so Gavein needs special permission to include his wife on his passport. Time moves at very different speeds, based on altitude, so they are able to eliminate the several years age difference between them. All citizens also have a Significant Name, which details the manner of their deaths.

As time goes on, people start dying around Gavein (who was given the name Dave by the immigration authorities). It is many more than normal, and all in accordance with their Significant Names. Gavein professes total innocence; it could be someone he passed on the street, or someone he saw on TV. When the death toll reaches the hundreds, panic sets in. Central Darabel is deserted. Anyone named Dave is taken into the street and lynched. All attempts to kill Gavein and Ra Mehleine fail.

Ra Mehleine develops terminal cancer. The only time she is not in pain is when Gavein reads a book called Nest of Worlds. It's a Russian doll sort of book, with a world within a world within another world. If there are an infinite number of worlds, one inside another, and if the "real" world of Gavein and Ra Mehleine is World One, is there a Superworld Zero? Are they all characters in someone else's story?

I loved this book. The author has a way of quietly introducing new concepts, like the very different time speeds, so this is not a book for skimming and skipping chapters. For those who like to read the last chapter ahead of time, don't do it. The reader will have little or no idea what is happening without having read the rest of the book. Things get rather convoluted by the end, and it will give the reader quite a mental workout, but this book is extremely highly recommended.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Red Sky Radio

Red Sky Radio, Matt Howarth, Merry Blacksmith Press, 2011

Set in the far future, this book is about a group of freelancers who harvest gases from a Jovian planet.

Peri Fairchild is one of the divers who has been physically modified to survive in vacuum. She could become very rich harvesting gases from the gas giant Baltuss, but she is addicted to diving. All of the freelance divers live in an abandoned space hotel. Harvest Corp., the corporation who runs the harvest operation, considers the divers to be pirates, and would love to destroy the space hotel, if only they could find it (it's not as easy as it sounds). Another big headache for Harvest is the existence of Red Sky Radio, a pirate radio station that plays really good music, instead of the boring crap that comes from Harvest.

Dezi is an older miner, who has several personal secrets. He also loves to start rumors, just to see what will happen. He whispers to Peri that Harvest has developed killer robot drones, to pick off the "pirates" one at a time. During a mining trip in Baltuss' atmosphere, Peri spots one, and freaks out. None of the other miners will believe her. During another mining trip, accompanied by Juul, a recent defector from Harvest, Peri spots another "drone" and Juul shoots it with his laser gun. They have just done what Harvest has been unable to do for years, put Red Sky Radio off the air.

The other miners are convinced that this is the just the first move by Harvest Corp., and that the "final battle" is coming. Dezi admits to Peri and Juul that he is behind Red Sky Radio. It will take money to repair the transmitter, so Peri is obligated to go gas mining, for real this time. Meantime, one of Dezi's "secrets" causes the destruction of the entire Harvest Corp. base, and the moon on which it was built. Can both sides find a way to work together?

This is a very well-written story. It's nice and weird, and the inclusion of pirate radio certainly helps. The reader will not go wrong with this one.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Cross to Bear

A Cross to Bear, Jack Patterson, Green E-Books, 2014

This novel is about two young men caught up in the world of big-time college football recruiting.

Tre'vell Baker and Dominique Martin are lief-long friends, and very talented high school football players, from small-town Louisiana. Therefore, all the big southern universities (Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, among many others) are very interested in recruiting them. They verbally commit to Bryant University in Alabama, then visit the school. It's the sort of school that doesn't just severely bend the NCAA recruiting rules, it outright ignores them. While at Bryant, Tre'vell records something that causes both of them to un-commit, and would bring the NCAA Death Penalty down on the school. A couple of days later, Tre'vell is shot and killed by an unknown assailant.

Cal Murphy is a sports reporter from Atlanta. He is sent to do a story on college recruiting, focusing on Tre'vell and Dominique. He meets several "boosters" for several schools. They are passionate fans, whose unofficial job is to keep an eye on the recruit, and do whatever is necessary to get them to "their" school. One day, a brand new sports car is in Dominique's driveway. Supposedly, it's from his Uncle Bernard (who works as a janitor). Dominique knows that it is from one of these boosters (which is very illegal). He posts pictures of himself with the car online. He suddenly goes from Golden Boy to Radioactive; all the other schools who were very interested in him are no longer interested. As Cal gets closer to uncovering just what is going on, a burlap sack is thrown over his head, he is tossed into the back of a pickup truck, and taken deep into the Louisiana Bayou. Several hungry alligators are very nearby.

This story works on all levels. It works as a thriller. It works as a look inside big-time football recruiting, in a part of America where college football is taken Very Seriously. The author is a sportswriter, so it also feels real and plausible. This is a first-rate piece of writing.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Yarashell Abbily and Her Very Messy Room

Yarashell Abbily and Her Very Messy Room, Sybrina Durant, CreateSpace, 2014

This is the tale of a little girl and her very messy room.

Yarashell is your average three-year-old who jumps out of bed each morning with a spring in her step and a song in her heart. She tears through her dresser, and her closet, looking for the right outfit to wear (it just happens to match the outfit of one of her dolls). Her room is now a mess, because Yarashell has tossed clothes everywhere in her search for the right outfit. Mom walks in, and she is not very happy.

Yarashell can't explain it, but says that she enjoys messing up her room. Dad is called in, to see if he can help. Can Dad convince (and not tell) Yarashell to clean up her room?

This book is made to be read to the average three- or four-year-old, especially those who are in the "messy room" stage. It helps when the author dedicates the book to her four granddaughters, who each had a messy room when they were Yarashell's age. Yes, this book is really worth the money.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow, Tachyon Publications, 2008

This novel is about an audacious plan to end World War II in the Pacific, without invading Japan. It involves a man in a rubber monster suit.

In mid-1945, Germany has already surrendered. A Top Secret American project involves the creation of a trio of mutant, bipedal, fire-breathing lizards, and unleashing one of them on a Japanese city. A total Japanese surrender is the only way to cancel the attack. It is decided that the Japanese should first witness a demonstration of the potential devastation. A miniature mockup of the city of Shirazuka is created at an isolated Army base in the California desert. The hope is that the visiting Japanese delegation will be so horrified by what they see, that they will run to the Emperor, and beg him to surrender.

Enter Syms Thorley, veteran B-movie actor. He is most known as the living mummy Kha-Ton-Ra, and the monster Corpuscula. Thorley is assured that just one rehearsal is needed, with a less-detailed mockup of Shirazuka, and there will be just one performance, so he can work it around his current movie. He has to get used to the rubber suit, so he takes it to the beach a couple of times, and almost gets arrested. He also drives around Los Angeles with the suit strapped to the roof of his car.

Performance day has come. The miniature Japanese ships and planes are firing bits of actual gunpowder at him, to make it look as real as possible. As the mock-devastation goes on, Thorley is supposed to act "injured," but he really is injured. Does Thorley give the performance of a lifetime? Is it enough to force a Japanese surrender?

I really enjoyed this story. It's short, and easy to read, and it is very well done, from a veteran author. It is very much worth reading.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Wind City

The Wind City, Summer Wigmore, Steam Press, 2013

Set in present-day Wellington, New Zealand, this book is about two people who learn that the world is not what they think it is.

Saint is a destitute, loser type. On the bus, one day, he sees a very strange woman with straight white hair named Hinewai. Saint is the only one who can see her. She tells him that beings from Maori legend, that go under the general name of iwi atua, are coming to Wellington, some with violent intentions toward humans. Saint can't help but think that he is losing his mind, until his roommate (who he calls The Flatmate) turns into a large, hairy, carnivorous creature who almost makes Saint his next meal. Saint meets an ethereal being named Noah, who convinces him that the rest of the iwi atua are just mindless creatures who don't deserve to live.

Tony is a female boat owner who runs one of those see-the-dolphins tourist boats. One day, her boat is deliberately sunk by Hinewai, who tells Tony that she is actually a type of iwi atua, called a toniwha (a type of large lizard that can swim underwater). Tony is surprised when she actually transforms into a toniwha. Hinewai is upset because, in Maori folklore, she has only a minor role in someone else's tale, but she doesn't have her own tale. Tony figures that the first step in getting Hinewai her own tale is to take her to some of the bars and restaurants in Wellington, where she might meet her True Love. They run into Saint, who learns, to his shock, that those iwi atua that he has been killing, by the hundreds, really are intelligent beings. Many of the surviving iwi atua would like to make Saint pay for what he has done, slowly and painfully. Can Tony keep Saint alive, and prevent a war between humans and the iwi atua?

This is a gem of a story. Considering that it is the author's debut novel (she was only nineteen years old when it was published) brings it to the level of Wow. It is well-written from start to finish, and it is highly recommended.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Lockdown, Timothy O. Goyette, Quantum Muse Books, 2013

This novel is about a man who did a considerate thing, and is paying for it, big time.

The good thing that Samuel Rochez did was to keep a bomb from exploding, that would have killed many aliens called the Loscar. Unfortunately, humanity was at war with the Loscar at the time, a war that humanity eventually lost. Rochez is universally reviled as the person who was responsible for humanity's defeat. His attempts to live in anonymity don't last very long.

Rochez is forced to join a band of mercenaries traveling to another planet looking for Carlinium, the rarest mineral in the galaxy. It is supposed to be a very simple operation, paving the way for the industrial mining equipment that will come later.

Rochez discovers that the planet is inhabited by very friendly flying creatures that communicate by telepathy. There is little, or no, fear of strangers. Rochez undertakes a long-distance journey with Jawell, one of the natives, to attempt to convince them that the rest of the humans mean to do them, and their planet, a great deal of harm. Along the way, the natives have a more urgent problem. Imagine a herd of stampeding buffalo heading right for your village. What, if anything, can be done about it?

Meantime, back at the ship, a major complication occurs when the Loscar visit the planet, and put it under lock and key. There is no leaving the planet without the Loscar knowing about it. A mutiny is staged because the Captain is supposedly too moderate with the natives. Rochez is re-captured, and a plan is put together to create a way to leave the planet secretly, a plan which involves a nuclear warhead which may destroy part of the planet. Can Rochez keep the home world of the natives from being destroyed?

This is a strong, well-done piece of storytelling. Parts of it might seem preachy or predictable, but it is still well worth reading.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sammy, Where Are You?

Sammy, Where Are You? An Unconventional Memoir...Sort Of, Ira Spector, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014

This is a memoir of a person's life, but it is not the average memoir. Instead of separate chapters looking at each part of his life, this book is a bunch of related short stories chronicling his life.

Born in Depression-era Brooklyn, Spector did the usual teenage things. He frequently stayed out late at night, and once he locked the keys in his father's car a long way from home (there was no AAA in those days to unlock the car). As teenagers, he and a friend took a two-day bus trip to Miami, with the permission of his parents. They then hopped on a plane to pre-Castro Cuba to see the sights (including the local prostitutes).

In the early 1950's, Spector joined the Coast Guard, and was able to have his official file specify No Ship Duty (because of a lifelong tendency toward extreme seasickness). Becoming a pilot, one day he was flying in formation, when a small plane, unwittingly, flew right through their formation. Only some quick thinking by Spector prevented a mid-air catastrophe.

After the Coast Guard, Spector got married, and lived in Southern California. His wife, Suzi, was a commercial artist, so Spector was the Sales Department and assistant artist. The first bit of art he ever did in his life was a 24-foot long mural for a major department store. A married couple who were friends of theirs commissioned a large sculpture for their front yard. They approved the design ahead of time. It was about nine feet tall, white plaster over a metal framework, and with multiple arms. A picture of it is on the front cover of this book; it is the sort of thing that is guaranteed to get the neighbors talking. It was installed in place, and that night, the wife had a nightmare about it. The husband paid the agreed-upon fee, but requested its immediate removal. It took a long time before the sculpture, named Sammy, found a permanent home. Another piece looks at some of the employees the couple had, for their art business, and for their ill-fated attempt to own a pizza parlor (it eventually destroyed their marriage). Some of the people were decent and reasonable, but the majority could, charitably, be called jerks.

I really enjoyed reading these tales. There is a good mixture between humorous and serious. It is the sort of book that can be picked up and read at any point. This is very much worth reading.    

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What If? Jeremy Shuttle Adventures, Book 1

What If? Jeremy Shuttle Adventures, Book 1, Jeffrey M. Daniels, Booklocker.com, 2010

This YA novel is about a young boy who suddenly acquires a unique ability.

Jeremy Shuttle is your average middle school student. He loves asking questions in class, he deals with the school bully, and he has a friend named Natalie. He also loves drawing in his sketchbook. One day, an art supply store suddenly appears at the end of his street. Yesterday, it was no there. The elderly proprietor gives Jeremy a very special sketchbook. He should have listened more closely to what the proprietor said about it.

Just for fun, Jeremy draws a picture of his school being attacked by a multi-tentacled creature, kind of like a giant octopus. He is shocked to learn that his school really is under attack by a giant octopus. Jeremy tells Natalie about the strange art supply store, and takes her there, but it is gone, like it never existed. Natalie urges Jeremy to be really careful, but Jeremy has to "test" the sketchbook, so he turns himself into an ant.

Jeremy is a very big and strong ant; think of the ant equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He meets other ants and tries to tell them that he is not an ant, but a human. Their reaction is Whatever. Part way through his time as an ant, Jeremy realizes that he doesn't know how to turn back into a human.

Natalie saves his rear end, and strongly urges him to get rid of the sketchbook. Jeremy refuses, and has another "test" for the sketchbook. It involves going back in time to the caveman era, and drawing crude pictures on cave walls. When he returns, Natalie very strongly urges him to get rid of the sketchbook. Jeremy's continued refusal damages their friendship. His ultimate idea is to do something for his mother, whose husband, and Jeremy's father, disappeared during an archaeological expedition several years previously, and has not been heard from since then. Jeremy's idea is either a very considerate thing to do, or it will set new records for backfiring (which almost happens).

First of a trilogy, this YA novel is very good. Who hasn't wanted a way to answer What If? Teens, and adults, will enjoy this story.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dangerous Illusions

Dangerous Illusions, Joseph J. Gabriele, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014

This novel is about a murder that happens right in the middle of an upper-class Manhattan dinner party.

Eliot is the author of a couple of well-regarded books on economics. He lives in a fancy apartment building, with a doorman, and actual elevator operators. During the dinner party, Eugene, a member of the Mayor's administration and a former diplomat, is found dead in Eliot's office. An extremely valuable set of drums is missing (Eliot is working on writing a history of drums). Detective Garielik of the NYPD is a no-nonsense type who is convinced that everyone is guilty (not all at the same time). He asks very pointed questions of everyone involved, including the staff of the apartment building.

Charles is related to Eugene. His wife, Kate, is a lawyer and an overbearing you-know-what who loudly proclaims her anger at not being named executrix of Eugene's will, and at learning that she will get little or nothing of Eugene's considerable assets. Blair is a beautiful woman with several years of government service. She is in New York working for a jerk of a boss, and has developed a major drinking problem. There are a couple of other loveless marriages going on. A couple of times, Detective Garielik thinks that he has found the drums (they are much too valuable to go through the local pawn shop), but Eliot takes one look at them and says No.

As a murder mystery, this book does not work. The was no feeling of needing to keep reading to find out whodunit. It works better, but not much better, as a book about members of Manhattan's upper class. The reader will certainly learn more than they ever wanted to know about drums. Personally, the last quarter of the book, aside from the revelation of the killer (and thief) is the best part of the book. Ultimately, this book is not worth the time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Mindhealer, Lilith Saintcrow, ImaJinn Books, 2008

Part of a series, this book is about a modern-day society in the middle of a long-term war between the forces of Light and Dark.

Caroline (Caro) Robbins is a Mindhealer, a special kind of witch. She has the ability to go into the mind of someone who has been psychically ravaged by Dark forces, and repair the damage. During an ill-advised drive to a safe house in the city, Caro almost becomes the next victim. She is rescued by a Watcher named Merrick, and brought to the safe house.

Watchers and Witches are never supposed to physically touch; if they do, the physical reaction is something like a severe electric shock. When Merrick touches Caro, and nothing happens, he realizes that the two are bonded. The Watcher/Witch relationship is much more than just a lifelong, 24-hour bodyguard.

Merrick is bound by honor and duty to never let Caro out of his sight, and to sacrifice his life, if necessary, to keep her alive. This is despite Caro's extreme disinterest in having another Watcher. Her previous Watcher died in the line of duty, and she is determined to not go through that again.

The safe house is under nearly constant attack by Dark forces, despite being covered in magical protection spells. Being saved by Merrick, more than once, has not blunted Caro's very wide stubborn streak. During one trip inside a victim's mind, a waiting Dark carnivore almost makes a psychic, and physical, meal out of Caro. Merrick is tormented by not wanting to disobey her, wanting to handcuff her, and sit on her, to keep her out of danger, and the tendency of his crotch to do the thinking, instead of his brain. Do they survive the attacks?

 My only complaint about this book is that it is not the first in the series; I am one of those who has to read a series in order. It's a first-rate piece of writing, with enough romance and emotion between Caro and Merrick (maybe a little too much). Even for those who don't think that they like dark fantasy stories, this is very much worth reading.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Missing Microbes

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, Martin J. Blaser, MD, Henry Holt & Company, LLC, 2014

This book looks at the harm that is being done to the human body by modern medicine, especially by the overuse of antibiotics, one of the greatest health discoveries of the last century.

First of all, if a person is suffering from some major ailment, and antibiotics have been shown to work in the past, then don't hesitate to take them. But, taking antibiotics for every sniffle and sore throat is a terrible idea. Penicillin, for instance, is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. That means that it does not just kill the "bad" bacteria, it also kills beneficial bacteria (yes, there is such a thing). Out of, say, a million cold germs, at least one will be resistant to penicillin. With the "good" bacteria, that may have neutralized all of those cold germs, out of the way, that penicillin-resistant germ is now free to multiply without restrictions. Maybe it turns into penicillin-resistant flu, or even worse, pneumonia. What does the person do now?

According to the author, overuse of antibiotics starts in early childhood. A baby spends nine months in a sterile environment before being born. It's first exposure to beneficial bacteria and microbes comes from going through the mother's birth canal. Wiping babies clean, as soon as they are born, while understandable, is a bad idea. Taking a baby by caesarian section, purely for convenience, totally bypassing the birth canal, is an even worse idea (if the life of the mother or the baby is in danger, then, by all means, do a c-section).

Nearly all types of farm animals are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy, or fatten them up for slaughter. Some portion of those antibiotics will end up in the milk you drink, or the meat you eat. The lack of "good", disease-fighting, bacteria in the human body may be behind the recent huge rise in allergies, digestive diseases, asthma or some types of cancer.

This is a huge eye-opener, and it will give the reader plenty to consider. It is very highly recommended for everyone.  

Will There Be Donuts? Better Business One Meeting at a Time

Will There Be Donuts? Better Business One Meeting at a Time, David Pearl, HarperCollins, 2013

Meetings are the bane of modern-day business. Is there any way to make them not so long, boring and unproductive?

First of all, exchange the donuts and soda for something much healthier, like water and protein bars. The sugar rush, followed by the mid-afternoon sugar crash, helps no one.

Why do people attend meetings? It's a nice alternative to doing actual work, technology makes it possible, we confuse "efficient" and "effective", and we forget that there is an alternative.

Looking at the anatomy of meetings, there is a big difference between what a meeting is about, and the intention. Make sure the "right" people are at your meeting, like the Leader, the Recorder, the Facilitator and the Coach. Look at things from the point of view of your customers. Read magazines that you would not normally read; listen to other radio stations. Who attends meetings? Do they have to be there?

What can be done? The average hotel "business conference room" is a windowless room in the basement with harsh artificial lighting. Stay out of that room. Hold your meeting in the hotel lounge, or, even better, hold it outside. Back at the office, consider getting rid of your big, rectangular conference table, and replacing it with several smaller tables with swivel chairs.

Have an agenda, and stick to it (but leave room for the unexpected). Is this meeting to brainstorm new ideas, or to keep everyone informed on recent developments? Don't let anyone change the focus of the meeting, or otherwise monopolize it. Impose a Fine Jar, where all participants are required to pay if they are caught texting during the meeting.

This book is very much worth reading for companies of all sizes. Even small changes in a company's meetings can only help. Some sort of summary or bullet points would have made this book even better, but, yes, it is worth the money.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Fight Presidents

How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country, Daniel O'Brien, Three Rivers Press, 2014

Did you know that a number of former American Presidents would fit in quite well in a Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger action film? Imagine that they now want to beat you to a pulp. What do you do?

Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone (among many other things). He intentionally left out any mention of his time as President, because he didn't think it was that important. To quote from this book, "If "leaving your Presidency off of your tombstone" isn't the nineteenth-century equivalent of "walking away from an explosion without turning around to look at it," then I don't know what is." John Quincy Adams was involved in fighting the British when he was eight years old (What were you doing at eight years old?). He also swam the width of the Potomac every day at 5 AM, and thought that having sex outside in the snow was a good idea. James Madison may have been short and scrawny, but he did grab a couple of pistols and a horse, and rode out to the front lines to fight the British during the War of 1812 (as a sitting President).

It takes a peculiar amount of ego and ambition to want to be President, but Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson belongs in a category by himself. At age thirteen, as a British prisoner of war, Jackson was forced to march forty miles, barefoot, with an undressed head wound, and suffering from smallpox. If there were no wars to fight, Jackson liked real duels. On one occasion, Jackson allowed the other man to shoot first. The bullet almost hit his heart. Jackson then shot and killed the other man.

If a person wanted a private word with Lyndon Johnson, the person frequently had to follow Johnson into the bathroom and watch him poop. Johnson's sexual conquest numbers, while President, were comparable to John Kennedy, the King of Presidential Sexual Conquests. Chester Arthur is compared to Lex Luthor, and Ronald Reagan is compared to Wolverine. William Howard Taft once got stuck in a bathtub; it took four men to extricate him. The biography of Calvin Coolidge reads like the origins of a serial killer. Every day, Herbert Hoover played a game with his friends called Hooverball. Think of volleyball played with a ten-pound medicine ball.

Get past the foul language in this book, and this is a huge eye-opener. The reader will look at the past inhabitants of the Oval Office in a whole new way. It's also really funny. This is highly recommended for everyone.  

An Abduction Revelation: The Comeback Kid Returns

An Abduction Revelation: The Comeback Kid Returns, Thomas L. Hay, Balboa Press, 2012

(Kindle Book Review)
This book is about an average person with an almost unbelievable story to tell, a story that involves abduction by aliens.

Hay lived a rather normal life. He joined the Navy after high school, becoming a radioman, and getting very good at sending Morse Code. After the Navy, he married Claudia, and settled down to a normal life, except for the part about being abducted by aliens. With no prior warning, one night Claudia asks for a divorce (at the end of the book, Hay learns that she had a very good reason).

While living and working in Saudi Arabia, Hay falls in love with Fiza, an Arabian woman (very bad idea). They keep their relationship very quiet, but the male members of her family find about it, so Hay has to practically run to the airport to catch the next plane out of the country. They re-connect outside of Saudi Arabia, get secretly married and live in America, but things end very badly.

In the depths of depression, Hay is visited by a couple of men from NASA, with an invitation to join a Top Secret project. It seems that all the reports of UFO sightings and abductions since the mid-20th century are not all mass delusions; they happen to be true. Hay is able to telepathically communicate with a real alien, who really is not so alien after all. He also learns why, during an earlier visitation, the aliens took some sperm from him. The alien race is sterile; Hay is asked for his assistance. This is one of those decisions where there is no going back. What is his decision?

Hay had some memories of his abduction experiences, so he wrote a book about them. Claudia discovered a way to totally neutralize the alien mental blocks that were put in her head. Hay tried it, and he suddenly remembered everything that happened to him. He felt compelled to write a revised and updated book about his abduction experiences; this is the book. The reader can decide if this is fiction or non-fiction; the author insists that it is a true story. Either way, it works really well. It's very well-written and easy to read, with more than enough "strange" in it. Yes, this deserves five stars.

(The Kindle Book Review Received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guardian Dragons

Guardian Dragons, Catherine L. Vickers, Kindle Direct Publishing, 2013

(Kindle Book Review)
Part of a series, this fantasy novel takes place on a very divided world.

Aarabassa is one of those planets where one side is always light, and the other side is always dark. A magic Wall separates the two sides, a Wall which none may cross, except for Guardian Dragons (keeping watch on the Dark side) and a powerful human mage called the Changeling.

Heather is the newest Changeling. She is an impetuous teenager who can't wait to try out her abilities. She turns into a huphin, a human/dolphin hybrid, and meets Prince Gadon, the huphin leader. Heather's friend, Prince Leon, tries to get her to slow down, but to no avail. She is one of those who doesn't know the meaning of "no."

Meantime, Leon's father, King Alfred, has simply given up on everything. He is no longer interested in being King, or even in taking care of himself. His beloved wife, Elma, died several years previously, giving birth to Alfred's son, Raphael. Alfred is still in mourning. He knows it is wrong, but he can't help but hate Raphael.

The Master (the Dark side Emperor) is not standing still, content with simply hating the Light side. He is able to take control of humans on the Light side, and have them serve his wishes, knowingly or unknowingly. The mother and son duo of Rikka and Fedros are among them. She is a healer around whom the sick tend to die. She isn't incompetent; she is making it possible for the Master to feed on their souls, and subject them to eternal torment.

There is a lot of introducing of characters in this book, and not much in the way of action. That is quite reasonable; the author has to introduce the characters sooner rather than later. The author does a really good job with the characters and the society-building. I hope the action and the "sword and sorcery" will come in later books.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book in exchange for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Unrecognizer, Rheo Palaeo, 2013, AuthorHouse

(Kindle Book Review)
This novel is set several hundred years from now, when Mankind has spread out throughout the galaxy.

Nearly every political and sociological way of life, from anarchism to communism, has been tried somewhere. A series of wormholes, both natural and artificial, has aided Mankind's expansion. Earth is no longer the "center" of Mankind. Rumors start to spread of a new, and very powerful, drug called Unrecognizer.

It temporarily disables the part of the brain that understands human speech, and the part that allows a person to speak. That's why it is also called Mute. A sort of cult has grown up around the drug. In some places, it is practically worshiped. A first-time user of the drug is called a "newborn." Of course, smuggling the drug can be very lucrative, and very dangerous, as one character discovers, the hard way.

Another side effect of the drug is that it gives some people strong psychic and telekinetic powers, with little or no distance limit. Can the pro-Unrecognizer forces get past corrupt police and politicians on nearly every planet to spread the drug far and wide, and maybe bring about a new system of galaxy-wide government?

This story easily gets four stars, maybe 4.5 stars. It has some interesting economic and political ideas, and it's also a good story. The reader won't go wrong with this one.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Max Daley, the Lion and the Werewolves

Max Daley, the Lion and the Werewolves, Akin Ola, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013

(Kindle Book Review)
This short novel is about your average young person who learns that he is really not so average.

Max Daley goes to middle school, has his eye on Anne, and deals with the school bully. One day, his mother tells Max that he was adopted as an infant, and he had with him a crystal cylinder. It brings forth some very powerful assistance, which Max finds that he will really need in the future.

Max is at the center of an ancient prophecy. A trio of vaguely European-looking men come to town, and suddenly people end up very dead. They aren't just dead, but looking like they were torn to bits by some huge creature. The trio is coming for Max, but he has some help in his Native American godfather, who knows something about visions and paranormal beings. Does their interest in Max have to do with the identities of his real parents? Does Max learn his destiny? Does Max survive?

I read this entire story in less than an hour, and it's pretty good. It's a present-day, and believable, YA story that has just enough weird in it. Yes, it's worth checking out.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book in exchange for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Aliens From the Black Sub

Aliens From the Black Sub, Liliane Bird, Exophilia Press, 2014

This short novel is about a new kind of First Contact with aliens.

The narrator lives alone in a tree-house somewhere near the Cascade Mountains. She enjoys living off the grid. She has an on-again, off-again relationship with Peter, her boyfriend. One day, a black, submarine-shaped spaceship lands in the forest right next to her tree. Curiosity gets the better of her, and she goes out to investigate. Suddenly, she is running for her life, chased by . . . something. It is not long before she is caught and brought back to the ship.

Next thing she knows, she is inside the ship, and strapped to a table. The thought of alien "experiments" crosses her mind more than once. But these aliens are interested in a different type of experiments. These aliens are interested in sex.

Not being a modest person, the narrator needs little convincing to get involved. There are several sexual encounters with the aliens, in various positions and combinations (described in detail). Peter returns, and is very uninterested in joining in the orgy. The aliens hypnotize him into participating, and, afterwards, he takes off again. The narrator thinks that maybe she can introduce the aliens to the good parts of humanity. Maybe she is the only thing keeping Earth from being invaded. Does she become pregnant with an alien baby? Do the aliens take her back to their home planet? Do the aliens suddenly leave in the middle of the night?

As the reader may have guessed, this is a very "specialized" story; it is not for everyone. For those who don't care for detailed descriptions of human/alien sexual encounters, this book can be skipped. For everyone else, who's to say that First Contact won't happen this way? This is well done, it's a very quick read, and, yes, it's worth reading.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Time Sniffers

Time Sniffers, C.S. Lakin, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013

(Kindle Book Review)

First of a series, this novel is about a group of young people who are the only thing keeping Earth from being destroyed by an evil alien.

Set in the near future, Bria Harrison is the brilliant daughter of two famous scientists. Several weeks previously, her mother's experiment with lasers went very wrong, and her entire laboratory vanished. Bria is convinced that she is still alive.

Attempting to re-create Mom's experiment in her family's basement, Bria creates a small hole in space/time. A time sniffer pops out of the hole and into her basement. It looks like a big, shaggy dog who can camouflage itself (like a chameleon) and can sniff out time streams with its nose (it also speaks English).

The time sniffer, named K-Six, tells Bria (and several friends) that the disappearance of the laboratory (Mom is still alive, but trapped somewhere in time) has created a huge rift in space/time. It has allowed an alien named The Interloper to pour huge amounts of dark energy into our galaxy. The Earth will eventually be destroyed.

K-Six tells the humans that the only way to close the rift is from the inside, by finding the right time stream. They are taken through the space/time hole, where they are trained and physically altered. After several close calls on other worlds, the group finds itself inside the lab, before it disappears. Of course, it isn't as easy as Bria simply explaining to her mother why the experiment should be cancelled.

This is a really good YA story (at least four stars) that is full of science. Things may get a bit convoluted at times, but sticking with it will be worth the reader's time. Teens and adults will enjoy this story.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Allied: First Contact

Allied: First Contact, Blake Ridder, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013

(Kindle Book Review)
Prequel to an upcoming novel, this novelette is about an Earth whose climate changes from normal to catastrophic seemingly overnight.

Ethan is your average resident of England who wakes up one morning to find a hurricane going on outside his window. He grabs Cara, a young woman who lives in the same high rise apartment building, and they get out of the building before it collapses. Making their way to the nearest Underground station, they find it jam-packed with people, who start disappearing. They find an open shop, where a man named Fisher gives them a partial explanation.

What looks like a permanent overcast cloud cover has made any watching of the sky impossible. Fisher has a cousin named Jake, who is currently aboard the International Space Station. Jake tells Fisher of some Very Interesting Things going on in orbit, not least of which is the sudden appearance of an alien spaceship. The secret mission of the astronauts is to investigate the alien visitor. Jake is the only survivor of the crew, by being taken aboard the alien ship. Ethan, Cara and Fisher also find themselves on board. The ship is run by a group of humanoid aliens who just happened to be in the vicinity. They quickly realized that the only way to save humanity was to take as many of them as possible aboard their ship. Conditions on Earth are getting worse, so going back home is not an option. What do they do now?

If the writer can keep up this level of writing in the upcoming novel, then it will be very much worth reading. The story is short, and has believable characters. It is more than worth checking out.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Contact: Episode One

The Contact: Episode One, Albert Sartison, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014

(Kindle Book Review)
This novella starts the story of Mankind's first contact with an alien civilization.

In the 22nd Century, Mankind has started to spread out throughout the solar system. He has also started to fiddle with Mercury's orbit through remote manipulation. Steve is a graduate student in astrophysics at an unnamed university. One day, the computer tracking system tells him of an unknown object coming this way from outside the solar system. Figuring that it's just a comet or meteor, Steve tells the system to keep an eye on it. Within 24 hours, the object has come from outside the solar system, used the planet Saturn as a brake, and put itself into orbit around Jupiter. That requires an insane amount of speed, many times faster than the fastest human ships.

Steve calls in Clive, a fellow grad student, to confirm his findings. Steve knows that Clive will find any holes in his theory. Clive is convinced, and the two call in Dr. Shelby, dean of the university. He is convinced that the object is not a comet or meteor, and convenes an international conference of eminent scientists. The public reason for the conference is to discuss future experiments to manipulate Mercury's orbit. When everyone is behind closed doors, Shelby reveals the real reason for the conference.

There is much discussion around the question "What do we do now?" Using electronic pulses, does Mankind say "Greetings?" Does Mankind send scientific constants or numbers that will not change, like pi (3.1416)? Will the visitor even respond at all?

Think of this as part of a larger novel, and it works really well. It's well written, and it feels scientifically accurate. It stops at the right spot, when Mankind sends its first message to the alien visitor.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book in exchange for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Remembering Love

Remembering Love, Nadine Christian, Eternal Press, 2013

This is a tale about a woman returning to her birthplace after many years, love and family secrets.

Holly returns to Pitcairn Island after spending much of her life in a New Zealand foster home. A native of the island, her parents died in a murder/suicide when she was a child. (Pitcairn Island is in the South Pacific. The nearest recognizable land mass is New Zealand. The island's claim to fame is because of the story, and the movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty." The only way on or off the island is to get a ride on a supply ship that visits the island four times a year.)

Holly runs into Jack, her childhood friend from when she lived on the island. The attraction is mutual and instant. The people on the island (the total population is around 60) seem to thrive on gossip; the worst offender is Masie, an older woman who implies that Celeste, Holly's mother, may have been unfaithful.

Just before Holly and Jack are ready to take their relationship to the next level, a huge and sudden obstacle threatens to destroy it. Holly's search for answers is complicated by learning that soon after Celeste died, Masie intentionally burned all of her things. Does Holly find out the truth about her mother? Do Holly and Jack get back together?

Not being a romance reader, I was ready to not like this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. It moves very easily, and it is set in an exotic part of the world (the author lives on Pitcairn Island). It is recommended for everyone, especially those who don't normally read romance stories.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pilgrims to Patriots: A Grandfather Tells the Story

Pilgrims to Patriots: A Grandfather Tells the Story, Alex Bugaeff, CreateSpace, 2012

There are many ways to tell the early history of America (some of them work better than others). In this book, a grandfather tells the story to his grandchildren.

Over the course of a year, "Gomps" tells his grandchildren, nine-year-old Carter and eleven-year-old Hannah, the story of America. He starts with the voyage of the Mayflower and the Jamestown Settlement. The early settlements barely survived, but when they became established, nobility from all over Europe wanted a piece of the New World. In the 1630's, Connecticut was the first colony to have a written constitution, called "The Fundamental Orders."

The reader will learn about Molly Pitcher, the War of Jenkins' Ear, the Indian Prophecy, the day the British shot themselves in the foot, the Sons of Liberty and the Hundred-Year Lawsuit. The reader will also meet the Super Six, which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Gomps also explains how, during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington got little or no financial help from the Continental Congress.

Start with "excellent" and go on from there; that's how good this book really is. The chapters are only a few pages long, and the stories are told in a much more entertaining way than the average school textbook. For any young person, or any adult, who wants to learn more about early American history, this is the place to start.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Guide to Grants Writing for Non-Profits

Guide to Grants Writing for Non-Profits, Harriet Grayson, Ocean Breeze Press, 2013

For many non-profit organizations, grants are a very lucrative source of income. How does one get their modest non-profit noticed by all those corporations and foundations?

 It is going to take a lot of time and research. Visit the website of your local bank or credit union. Visit the websites of major retailers in your area. They are always looking for opportunities for good public relations. For a new non-profit, applying for a grant from the federal government might be reaching a little high, so try your state government first (the book provides websites to visit).

Some foundations might restrict their giving to, for instance, a certain geographic area, or groups run by women, or veterans, or minorities. If the grant is for a specific purpose, make sure that your group can handle it; don't apply for everything. Read the requirements, usually called the RFP, or Request for Proposal, thoroughly; then read it again. Some grantors will get very particular about what should be in the grant proposal, and how long each part should be. Follow those directions exactly. You don't want an otherwise first-rate grant proposal to be rejected simply because you didn't follow directions.

How does one get the grantor to approve the proposal? Be concise, but tell a compelling story. Mention other grants that you have received in the past. Include your proposed budget. How will your group fulfill the need better than any other group? In short, force the grantor to choose your group. If your proposal is rejected, it's not the end of the world. Sometimes the grantor will explain why they rejected it. Therefore, you will be that much more prepared next time.

This book is short, it gets right to the point, and it's very easy to read. For any person, or any group, who is new to the grants world, here is a good place to start.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Internal Security

Internal Security, David Darracott, CreateSpace, 2012

America is rocked by another terrorist attack. Has Islamic terrorism again come to America?

A large truck bomb explodes at a Daytona Beach hotel during Spring Break. The casualty list, and the amount of damage, is huge. Tom Darden, a reporter for a regional radio news service, gets into the blast area, when everyone else is being kept out. Over the next few days, he writes a story that starts to put some of the pieces together. It involves a couple of missing illegal aliens, and a black pickup truck with Texas license plates. Darden's boss has no interest in running the story, because he was officially told, by his boss, to back off the story. As punishment, Darden is sent to Iraq.

The patrol that Darden is part of is attacked, and, in the chaos, Darden photographs things that he shouldn't have photographed. He is thrown in prison, but this is not your average prison. For lack of a better term, this is an unofficial, "off-the-books" prison. It's the sort of places where Iraqis with absolutely no connection to the insurgency, are tortured, frequently to death, simply because the civilian contractors can do it. Darden's cell neighbor is a former Army medic whose "crime" was treating one of those tortured Iraqis. After a few days, Darden is released and put on a plane back to America.

Back home, Darden writes about his experiences in Iraq, and posts on several different websites. It attracts the attention of powerful people in Washington, which leads to an assassination attempt. A senior adviser to the President, called the War Hawk, goes live on national TV. Using the Daytona Beach bombing as a justification, he imposes martial law. Rioting is widespread. The country is very divided. Can Tom, along with sympathetic government officials, expose the truth before it is too late?

This is an excellent piece of writing. It works really well as a political thriller, and it's much too plausible. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vic: Mongol

Vic: Mongol, Jerry Gill, Ann Darrow Co., 2013

This is another novel about Victoria Custer, your average citizen of the early 20th century who really is not so average.

On the outside, Victoria, who now calls herself Vic Challenger, likes to wear pink and has a big interest in cloches (women's hats). On the inside, she has an avatar that is a part of her. It's name is Nat-ul, a female cave dweller who lived about 100,000 years ago. Because of her presence, Vic has acquired a desire, or a wish, to go to places that even the most experienced male adventurers would hesitate to visit. She is searching for the modern incarnation of Nu, her lover from all those centuries ago.

In this book, Vic, and her friend, Lin Li, travel to Mongolia. On the boat ride across the Pacific, they assist in a murder investigation. Upon reaching China, they meet up with Chu, whose family lives in an isolated bit of Mongolia. These are tough times for Mongolia, with the Chinese on one side and the Russians on the other, and criminals from either side ready to attack at any time.

The trio narrowly escape being eaten by giant worms that live under the sand. If the mouths full of sharp teeth (like a lamprey) don't get you, then the liquid they spew, that can dissolve flesh and bone in seconds, will. Later, they come under attack by a band of Russian pirates. They get some unexpected help from more of the giant worms. Chu shows them the entrance to a buried city that really is full of treasure. Almost too late, they learn that the city is not deserted. Does Vic find the modern incarnation of Nu, her lover?

This is a very good page-turner. It's exciting, and it will really keep the reader's interest. It has just enough weird stuff in it, and it shows the power of real love between two people.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

SOS: Stop Only Sugar Diet

SOS: Stop Only Sugar Diet, James A. Surrell, MD, Bean Books LLC, 2010

This book is all about a very easy weight loss program. It consists of only two rules.

Greatly reduce, or eliminate, your consumption of refined sugar. Greatly increase your consumption of fiber. That's all. The author strongly believes that most "diets" are much too complicated. He subscribes to the MISS principle (Make It Short and Simple).

When digested, refined sugar, is stored in the body as body fat. Among the potential, and reported, side effects are: it may lead to childhood and adult obesity; it may increase your risk of stroke, heart attack and vascular disease; it may lead to Type 2 diabetes in children and adults; obesity will increase the risk of cancer, and it may double the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.

Sugar substitutes, like saccharin and aspartame, are much less unhealthy than is refined sugar. A popular weight loss idea is to do a colon cleanse. Getting rid of that waste material will drop your weight by several pounds. Don't do it. The colon is supposed to have waste material in it. A cleaned-out colon can lead to very bad things physically.

The human body is over 60 percent water, so drinking several glasses a day is a very good thing. Fast food restaurants are increasingly adding healthy items to their menus. Another side effect of excess refined sugar is that it causes the body to produce more insulin, which leads to the production of more cholesterol. The book also includes a list of low-sugar and high-fiber foods, and those foods that are to be totally avoided.

Just two rules: how much easier can it get? This book is short, very easy to read, and it has a lot to say. This is very highly recommended.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, Riverhead Books, 2013

Everyone has heard of Big Data; huge amounts of information, usually involving computers or the Internet. Is there a cultural or historical equivalent of Big Data?

Yes, and it comes from Google's intention to digitize all the world's books (or, at least, a significant portion of them). The authors created an algorithm that would search all those books for certain words. On a chart, it will show, for instance, how many times, per million words, the name "Abraham Lincoln" was used, or "World War II." It can also be used to compare the historical use of pairs of words, like Satan/Santa, evolution/DNA, men/women, war/peace, tea/coffee or old school/new school. It can be found at books.google.com/ngrams ("Possibly the greatest time-waster in the history of the Internet." - Mother Jones magazine). Google needed convincing that this was a good idea, that it would not open them up to millions of copyright infringement lawsuits.

Using this algorithm, it is possible to look at things like historical attempts at censorship. It can range from Nazi attempts to remove Jewish artists like Marc Chagall from the German cultural landscape, to the 1950's Hollywood Blacklist. A person can also look at how long a certain word or phrase stays in the cultural memory. For instance, "Korean war" has a huge jump in usage in the 1960's, then an equally huge drop in usage soon after, down to its present level of almost nothing.

The book also looks at the evolution of the English language. If we have pairs of words like drive/drove, what happened to thrive/throve? Also, what happened to words like burnt, learnt and dwelt? It all has to do with irregular verbs, which change over time.

This is a fascinating book, but it will take some effort on the part of the reader. It's very well done, and it gives the reader the chance to do their own historical research.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access

Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access, Wheeler Winston Dixon, University Press of Kentucky, 2013

Like it or not, the streaming of movies and music is becoming an increasingly large portion of all internet traffic. This book gives the details.

Why shouldn't a person be able to pay a few dollars to stream a movie at home, when going to the theater or buying the DVD costs a lot more? At the theater, does the projectionist load a film canister on a 35mm projector and turn it on? Increasingly, the answer is no. The majority of theaters have gone to all-digital systems. The movie is downloaded from the distributor, along with an electronic code. That code can be good for just one showing, on one specific day. If the right code is not available, or if it does not work properly, then there is no showing.

Fewer and fewer movies are being shot on actual film, because fewer and fewer theaters have film projectors. Unless there is an art house cinema nearby, any watching of older, or less well known, films, on actual film, is pretty much impossible. When is the last time that an older or obscure film was available at the local multi-theater megaplex? If whoever has a film copy of that older, obscure film, does not think it is lucrative enough to put it on DVD, there is little that can be done about it. Soon, the only way to watch films of any kind, will be through on-line streaming. Depending on your point of view, this is either that natural progression of technology, or it's the end of the world.

What Netflix is doing to the movie business, Apple is doing to the music business, and Amazon is doing to book publishing. Amazon is now selling more Kindle copies of books than paper copies. Facebook is little more than a way to suck up people's personal information, and sell it to advertisers (Google Glass, plus new facial recognition technology, will make that much easier). Facebook has created over 80 million fake accounts. The hope is that the author, for instance, will see their account already set up, and decide to use it. For that reason, the author says that he will never post on Facebook.

This is a very interesting book. For some, it may be common knowledge, but I learned a lot from it. It's no-technical, and very easy to read. It's also very much worth checking out.  

Eden M51

Eden M51, G.R. Paskoff, Amazon Digital Services, 2012
(Kindle Book Review)

Set a few decades from now, this science fiction novel is about an Earth that has seen better days. A potentially Earth-like planet is found. . .in another galaxy.

The climate of mid-21st Century Earth has pretty much fallen apart. The polar ice caps are gone, leading to a big rise in sea levels. This has forced the creation of cities like New Orlando, and a new Washington DC. That is because the old cities are under water. Common animals like cows and horses are extinct; the situation is no better in the oceans. Earth's population has risen to over 20 billion. Very long range space probes have found an Earth-like planet, in the M51 galaxy.

America would prefer to keep the news to itself, but that becomes not possible, so an international expedition sets off for a trip that takes six months each way (intergalactic travel in only six months?!). Led by Captain Nathan Hawke, some small bits of sabotage are discovered. It's nothing obvious like a bomb found in an inaccessible spot, but someone does not want the expedition to succeed.

The planet Eden really does live up to its name. It has a breathable atmosphere, crystal clear water, abundant plant and animal life, and friendly humanoid natives called the Myng'h. They knew the humans were coming, because Ahn-Ben, their god, told them. Each of the humans has a private conversation with Ahn-Ben. He finds the secret spots in their souls that they don't like to talk about. He also knows a lot about humans.

There are those among the humans who think of the Myng'h as little more than animals to be rounded up and confined to some barren part of Eden. The flood of colonists and corporations would spell the end of the Myng'h culture. Ahn-Ben is not interested in doing anything about it. Can the human expedition keep Eden for the Myng'h?

This novel gets four stars. While parts of it may be a little predictable, the author does a very good job throughout, especially with the society-building (of Earth and Eden). Yes, it's well worth reading.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book in exchange for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)