Welcome!


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

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

I post my reviews to:

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling With Gods

Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling With Gods, Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015

This yearly compendium of Canadian fantasy and science fiction tales deals with matters of religion and spirituality.

The religions of Christianity and Shintoism are mashed together in a weird amalgamation, led by an android Jesus. A Muslim woman uses surgery to get closer to Allah. A woman summons Ra, the ancient Egyptian Sun God, to see if he can do anything about a Canadian winter. There is a story about a teacher in a rural school, forcing Indian children to learn the ways of the white man, a teacher who just happens to be a vampire. The Hindu god Ganesha is convinced to get rid of his elephant trunk to be more acceptable to modern Hindus. There is also a Last person on Earth story.

Another Tesseracts volume equals another bunch of Very Good to Excellent stories. They will certainly get the reader thinking about Truth and who we are as human beings. As usual, this is very much worth reading.

Dragon of the Mangroves

Dragon of the Mangroves, Yasuyuki Kasai, iUniverse, Inc., 2006

This is a World War II novel told from the Japanese point of view.

In early 1945, part of the Japanese Twenty-eight Army is sent to Ramree Island , off the coast of Burma, to blunt the Allies' counter-offensive. While they are there, one of the soldiers, Superior Private Kasuga, asks a local villager about the horrible smell coming from Myinkhon Creek, which separates the island from the mainland. It comes from the man-eating crocodiles that inhabit the creek.

Fierce fighting against British and Indian troops drives the Japanese to the eastern edge of the island. Their only option is to swim Myinkhon Creek (which is a couple of hundred yards wide) to reach the mainland. Private Kasuga smells that crocodile smell again, and tells his sergeant, who is not sympathetic. The men are ordered to start swimming, at night.

Meantime, Second Lieutenant Sumi has been sent from the mainland, on a desperate mission to rescue as many soldiers as possible. A couple of more direct rescue attempts failed disastrously. Renting several rickety Burmese fishing boats, Sumi and several soldiers land at the south end of Ramree Island (it is not a small island). They have to walk for several days through thick jungle, to reach the Twenty-eighth's last known position. Are they in time? Is there anyone left to rescue?

This is a good novel (inspired by a true story) that shows Japanese soldiers as real people, with loved ones back home. It also shows them dealing with a huge shortage of food and water, ammunition and military leadership. The appearance of the crocodiles takes up only a little bit of the end of the book. Otherwise, it is short, and worth reading.

Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places

Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places, J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did more than just create the character of Sherlock Holmes. He also created Professor George Edward Challenger, a hulking, bombastic man of science (think "bull in a china shop"). He doesn't take any nonsense from anyone, and is not afraid to say so. He also frequently remarks that he is the smartest man in England, which is usually correct. Here is a bunch of brand-new Professor Challenger stories.

An investigation into what looks like a prehistoric man menacing rural England reveals something a lot more horrifying. Challenger and one of his companions, a newspaperman named Malone, find themselves on a derelict sea vessel that is under attack by a real kraken. The British authorities want Challenger to control the beast, and weaponize it, so that it can be used against German ships, an idea that Challenger considers beyond idiotic. A wealthy man serves real dinosaur meat to his dinner party guests, meat that contains a really unique parasite.

There is a trip to the Moon, which has a breathable atmosphere. Challenger and his companions are taken prisoner by the Selenites. There is a tale about growing human brains out of a sort of malleable crystal. It may be able to keep a person alive, but can a person's personality be transferred into the crystal brain?

I totally enjoyed these tales. They are all well done, with enough and weird stuff for anyone. I guess I shall have to read Challenger's most prominent previous appearance, in Doyle's novel "The Lost World." This book is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Disruptive Feminisms: Raced, Gendered and Classed Bodies in Film

Disruptive Feminisms: Raced, Gendered and Classed Bodies in Film, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Palgrave Pivot, 2015

This book looks at several films that explore issues like class, gender, patriarchy and income inequality without being overwhelming about it.

Post Tenebras Lux is a recent Mexican film about two families, one rich and one poor, attempting to survive in present-day Mexico. It is one of those films that has a rather flexible border between fantasy and reality, and leaves a lot of interpretation up to the viewer. A person could watch the film several times, and have several different interpretations. That may be why, at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it received mixed reviews, and the Best Director Award.

Made in the early 1950's, The Hitch-Hiker is about a pair of war buddies who tell their wives that they are going camping for several days. They are actually planning several days of drinking and carousing. That is because they despise their new post-war lives of consumer and office worker. The buddies run into a homicidal maniac who may, or may not, be a repressed, self-loathing homosexual. Being the 1950's, the violence is more implied than actual, but this is still a very dark film. Bottled Up is a more recent independent film set in upstate New York. A grown woman is addicted to prescription painkillers, and her mother has no problem in enabling her, even faking injuries to get her own prescriptions. The daughter has no interest in trying to kick the habit.

In the early days of television, there was an actress with a couple of very popular, but short-lived, shows that spoke to women as real people, and not just as consumers. Her name was Betty White. She was willing to portray women having real thoughts and feelings, including of a sexual nature. The show's sponsor was not in agreement, so the shows were turned into your average sitcoms, and ultimately cancelled.

This is a very interesting book, not just for passionate movie fans. It is recommended for those dealing with issues like sexism and ageism. It is very much worth reading for everyone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Sex Guide - Pleasures of a Blow Job

A Sex Guide - Pleasures of a Blow Job, Marguerite de Lyon, 2015 (audiobook)

This is a fiction/non-fiction audiobook all about fellatio, the art of sexually stimulating a man's penis with a woman's mouth (i.e., blowjobs).

Tammy is a college freshman, and, like all of the other women in her English class, she is infatuated with Marcus, the handsome Graduate teaching assistant. After class one day, Marcus invites Tammy to his dorm room for some "private studying." With the door closed, Marcus teaches her how to stimulate a man's penis, starting with the basics. Tammy is a very willing student. Over a couple of weeks, she learns all about the art of fellatio, in great detail.

The non-fiction part starts with the anatomy of the male penis. The author looks at the very reasonable hangups a woman may have, like dealing with his taste in your mouth, swallowing or how to get around the gag reflex. Then it's all put together in Advanced Fellatio. Take your time; this is not a race. If a certain position or technique will not work, or is painful for you, go right ahead and adjust it any way you want. If he doesn't tell you what he likes, or does not like, be sure and ask. If all of him will not fit in your mouth, don't worry about it. The pleasure part is much more important than doing it the "right" way.

Obviously, this book is very much Adults Only. For couples who want to put some lightning (not just a spark) in their relationship, this is the book. For women who want to give their man some out-of-this-world sex, and keep him coming back for more, this is the book. It is very graphic, and very much recommended.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Black and White Cinema: A Short History

Black and White Cinema: A Short History, Wheeler Winston Dixon, Rutgers University Press, 2015

I got an advance copy of this book, and after seeing it recommended on TCM, all I have to say is that it is a really interesting book. Most movie histories focus on the actors or director. This book focuses on the cinematographer, the person running the camera (also known as the Director of Photography, or D.P.)

Black and white film, even during the silent movie era, allowed an opportunity to experiment with light and shadow, and camera angles, in order to create a mood. Some directors were happy to give their D.P. free rein to light a scene the way they thought best, knowing that what showed up on the screen would be amazing. Other directors planned every bit of a scene, including the lighting, ahead of time, giving the D.P. not much to do except run the camera.

For every great film that was made, like "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca", hundreds of cheap, lesser-quality B-pictures were produced. During the height of the studio "system", in the 1930's and 1940's, an Oscar-winning D.P., as an employee of one of the studios, might be obligated to work on a low-budget film, that if made today, would go straight to video. Each studio owned their own chain of theaters, which needed a constant supply of movies, so Hollywood really was a factory, churning out film after film. People needed an escape from the Great Depression and World War II, so they went to the movies.

The 1950's and 1960's were the era of Cold War paranoia, and New Wave cinema. It was also the time of the introduction of various "versions" of color movies, like Panavision or Cinemascope. Some of the D.P.'s profiled in this book were able to make the transition to TV and color films; others were not so fortunate. The last great black and white film was 1962's "Psycho."

The author starts the book by mentioning that the vast majority of films from the early days are no longer available, at all. The reasons include improper storage of film canisters, human stupidity, or the fact that movie film does not last forever. A film might be a boring, amateurishly done piece of schlock, but it is still a piece of film history, and it is still gone, forever. A number of the films mentioned in this book are not available anywhere.

This book is highly recommended for really passionate fans of old movies, people who are familiar with names like Gregg Toland, Nicholas Musuraca and John Alton. For the rest of us, this is a really interesting look at black and white films. Yes, it is well worth reading.

  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Vic 4: Terror Incognita

Vic 4: Terror Incognita, Jerry Gill, CreateSpace, 2015

This is the fourth adventure of Victoria Custer, your average resident of the early 20th century. Using the pen name Vic Challenger, Victoria, and her friend, Lin Li, travel to exotic places and write about them for their hometown newspaper. The unique part is that inside Vic is the avatar of a 100,000-year old cavewoman  named Nat-ul (who is not afraid to call Vic an idiot when necessary). The two are engaged in a never-ending search for Nu, Nat-ul's lover from all those centuries ago. After all, Nat-ul is still alive (in a sense), so Nu must also be out there, somewhere.

In this volume, Vic and Lin Li plan to do some hiking and exploring in the Amazon rain forest. While in Brazil buying provisions, Vic meets Ech, and elderly woman who speaks the original language of the uprights; Nat-ul's language. Ech comes from the land of Goch, in an isolated area of the Amazon. Vic and Lin Li agree to go to Goch, if only to tell Ech's people that she has passed on.

After several days of traveling by boat upriver, and hacking through nearly solid vines and undergrowth, the two are taken prisoner and brought to a man, who speaks English, named Tis. They have found the land of Goch. Tis has a very effective means of keeping the people under control. Think of a cross between a large lizard and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, large enough to have a semi-human, but equally hideous looking, being riding it. They know how to deal with anyone who gets out of line. There are only two pairs at the moment, but Tis has hundreds of eggs ready to hatch, with which he will take over the world.

The two are separated for several days, but they make their escape. They are able to neutralize one of the dinosaur pairs, but even after reaching their boat, with the fuel line conveniently missing, the enters the river and comes after them. There is quite the pitched battle in the piranha-infested water, with some help from Nat-ul. Meantime, with Tis overthrown, do the people of Goch exact their revenge?

I really enjoyed this book. It has plenty of action, and exotic peoples and locations (exotic to the average American). I hope there are more tales of Vic/Nat-ul.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Women's History for Beginners

Women's History for Beginners, Bonnie J. Morris, For Beginners LLC, 2012

Look through the average history textbook, and it seems like all of human history was achieved by only one gender - men. Why? This book attempts to answer that question.

The basic answer is: patriarchy. Through most of history, women were subject to control by men in their families by laws, customs and religious edicts dictated by men. Many women were denied education, so they could not write down their experiences in the servant's quarters, at the Salem witch trials or as a slave in the Deep South. Other women were married at puberty, then after they gave birth, they were subject to control by their husbands.

Why isn't women"s history taught in college? Until the 1970's, women were not even allowed in college as students. If they were let in, they were limited to majors like English or Nursing. Some academics feel that women's history, like black or Native American history, is nothing more than political correctness. Some conservative women feel that the "timeless truths" of Western heritage will be replaced by a radical agenda. There are many reasons for the lack of women's history in school. It will require deconstructing, and really taking apart, religious teaching on women's status; it will undermine male authority, and make men look bad; it will damage, or destroy, traditional family values, and discussion of female sexuality in school will be roundly condemned by parents.

The author gives one version of women's history, which is not pleasant reading. That's because there is no such thing as one story of women's history. Does a person study Aztec women, or Early American women, or women of ancient China or women of World War II Europe? Does a person study marriage, or childbirth, or legal rights after her husband dies (if she has any)?

This is a very eye-opening book. I was aware that women's history was not very pleasant, but I didn't know that it was this unpleasant. This is highly recommended for all women, and for any men whose mind still has some openness and flexibility.  

Hubris

Hubris, P.A. Wilson, (self-published), 2010

Charity Deacon is a private investigator and occasional free-lance journalist in present-day Vancouver. One night, she witnesses a motor vehicle accident downtown (with a fatality). Amid all the hubbub of police, ambulance personnel, and gawkers wanting to record it all on their smartphones, Charity sees two Asian men standing off to the side. It's almost as if they are making sure that the accident went off without a hitch.

Charity asks her friends about them, and learns that they are part of the Chinese mafia. They are the sort of people who have no problem with killing anyone who gets too close. Even Hell's Angels are nervous and apprehensive around them.

Meantime, Charity is approached by Val, a teenage prostitute who hires to help find Val's sister, Emma, another prostitute, who has been missing for the past couple of days. Inquiries among the local prostitutes yield nothing. From one minute to the next, Val shows herself as a scared teenage girl whose parents are dead (murdered by the same Chinese mafia), or as a tough, streetwise veteran with enough attitude for ten people.

Charity's inquiries about the two Asian men get her a trip to the hospital, beaten up by one of them. It also gets her houseboat ransacked. Released from the hospital, but hardly recovered from the beating, Charity gets word of a shipment of trafficked Chinese women coming to a local warehouse. With Val outside as lookout, Charity hides herself inside the warehouse, looking for enough evidence to put the Asian men away for a long time. Does Charity succeed? Is Emma found?

This would make a really good movie. It has plenty of dirt, grime and action. This story is also very well done and easy to read.

Accelerating Returns

Accelerating Returns, Peter Anthony, CreateSpace, 2011

Here is a near future techno-thriller about those who welcome the accelerating pace of technology, and those who want to subvert it.

Isaac and Julia are part of group of rogue extremists called "blockers." Their intent is to perform acts of terror to present the public with spectacles of worst-case scenario science. They are not your average technology-hating luddites, but people in corporate boardrooms and research labs who want to slow the seemingly inevitable joining of man and machine.

There is a major corporate battle going on between Pelius Research and Talbot Laboratories, and Talbot is losing. Even though Talbot is America's largest biotech company, every day seems to bring another lawsuit, ethics violation, or other bit of bad publicity, all orchestrated by Pelius. To say that Arrica, the female CEO of Pelius, does not like Talbot, and Marcus Jovan, its founder and CEO, is much too generous. She wants to put Talbot out of business, and then buy out what's left in a takeover.

Robert Ploof is an arrogant little you-know-what who is not afraid to walk over people on his way to the top. After being fired by Talbot, and quickly hired by Pelius, he takes credit for a potentially huge breakthrough in the coming man/machine integration. A public demonstration of the breakthrough goes very wrong, with "help" from Julia. Meantime, there is a story of an estranged father and son, and a senior executive at Pelius with his own anti-science agenda. Does either corporation survive the Pelius/Talbot war?

This is an excellent story. Not only is it thought-provoking (is technology changing at maximum speed really such a good thing?), but it is also a strong and well-done piece of writing. It is very much worth the time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History

American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History, Alex Bugaeff, 2015

This is the second in a series about "Gomps," who entertains his grandchildren, Hannah and Carter, with stories about early American history. This book is about the women, some famous and some unknown, who helped shape this country.

Lucy Terry Prince, a former slave, argued a land dispute before the US Supreme Court in 1797, and won. During the crossing of the Mayflower, Bridget Fuller delivered three babies, and continued as a midwife in Plymouth for another 44 years. In practice, midwifes were doctors, but without the degree. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to get a medical degree.

Mary Crouch, a native of Rhode Island, ran a newspaper in South Carolina after her husband died. She was a strong believer in independence, and made sure that her newspaper reflected it. Margaret Kemble Gage grew up in New Jersey, and was married to General Gage, the British commander in Boston. Margaret, a secret independence sympathizer, overheard her husband making plans. She told Joseph Warren, a Boston doctor who shared her sympathies, and he told Paul Revere, who then made his famous ride.

Women were supposedly not smart enough to understand military strategy, so many colonial women made the most of their opportunities to listen to British commanders, and pass on the information. There were a number of women who enlisted in the Continental Army as men, and fought on the front lines. Also, there were more women who worked as blacksmiths during the war, and others who provided the troops with food, equipment and clothing. Deborah Reed Franklin ran Benjamin Franklin's printing businesses, while he spent many years in Europe, as his common-law wife.

This is an excellent book. It is very easy to read, because each chapter is only a few pages long, and the book can be read starting at any point. It is highly recommended for those who study American history, and American women's history. It looks at people who don't get mentioned in the average history textbook.

They Don't Teach Corporate in College

They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Revised Edition), Alexandra Levit, Career Press, 2009

You are fresh out of college, and you have just gotten your first corporate/white collar job. Aside from wearing a suit on your first day, what do you do?

If you have a lot of tattoos or piercings, strongly consider covering or removing them. This is just until you get familiar with your fellow employees, and they get familiar with you. As boring as it sounds, read the new employee handouts. It will include important stuff, like the company's smoking policy (if you are a smoker), and the number of vacation days that you have available (for the first couple of months, don't take any time off).

Get to know your nearby cubicle inhabitants. Some of them will be friendly and approachable, and some will not; don't worry about it. Realize that there is a difference between fellow employees who are good to have lunch with, and friends you can call when you significant other has just broken up with you. Sit down with your immediate boss, and iron out just what your duties are, and how often the performance evaluation (or other feedback) will be.

You will be given lots of boring, grunt work to do that you may consider beneath you. Just be quiet, and do it; it's called "paying your dues." Besides, it never hurts to show your boss, instead of trying to tell your boss, just how good an employee you really are. In meetings, it might be tempting to say that, in school we did it this way, or, at my previous job, we did it that way. In the first few months, don't do it; your job is to listen and learn.

Some of your fellow employees will be"difficult," at best. Take several deep breaths, count to ten, or get in your car and scream and curse, but don't lash out at them in the office. If you do, you will be the one with the attitude problem. Other employees are going to try to get you to do their work for them. Learn how to say no, without really saying no.

This is an absolute gem of a book. It will answer a lot of questions before they are asked. Large companies should in the habit of including a copy of this book (there is a more recent third edition available) with the handouts given to all new hires. It is very much worth reading.

The Pig Plantagenet

The Pig Plantagenet, Allen Andrews, Viking Press, 1981

Set in 13th Century France, Plantagenet the Pig is a very kind and considerate animal, but may be lacking in brains. He has a rather easy life in a farmstead carved out of the forest, and is doted on by Adele, the farmer's lovely daughter. His ability to run very fast keeps him in touch with the animals of the forest, and makes him lean enough to keep him off the menu.

Word quickly spreads throughout the forest of a plan by the feudal lords to systematically go through the forest, and herd all the animals toward a specific spot. Killer dogs will be waiting for them, to kill them. The humans are getting tired of losing animals to the forest inhabitants. Contact is made with animal residents of a nearby forest, who agree to take in the animals that are on the move. The big problem is that there is a clear space between forests, where an attack by humans and dogs, against the animals, is expected. Plantagenet is appointed leader of the animal exodus, and takes his job seriously.

The mass migration is underway before the human forest sweep begins. Plantagenet is in the lead, with Grondin the boar and Hurlaud the wolf keeping everyone in line, and watching for the expected attack by the dogs and humans. It happens in the clear space between forests. There are many animal casualties, on both sides. Plantagenet is not unscathed. The animals make it to the other forest, to rest and lick their wounds. Is there any chance of going back to their old forest? Will Plantagenet ever see his old pig sty, and Adele, ever again?

This is a very good story. It's a well done allegory about forest conservation and teens will enjoy it (the battle scene might be too much for younger children). Adults will also like it. 

A Thane of Wessex

A Thane of Wessex, Charles W. Whistler, Capricorn Publishing, 2005

Set in Saxon England, in the 9th Century AD, Heregar is a nobleman, with lands of his own, in what is now the county of Somerset. Out of the blue, one day, he is arrested, and thrown into solitary confinement. After a couple of months, he is brought before a grand council, called a moot, where he is charged with treason against the King.

Heregar freely realizes that with the impetuousness of youth (he is in his early 20s), he occasionally says some stupid things, especially when the ale is flowing. But there is a huge difference between that and treason. He is confident that his friends will exonerate him, but they are the ones who condemn him. They are led by Matelgar, the father of the fair Alswythe, the love of his life. He is found guilty, declared an outlaw, stripped of his lands, and told to leave Somerset, permanently.

His only option is to head for the coast, and join the Danish Vikings. When he reaches a town on the coast, it's in flames. The Vikings are already there. Heregar knows that Matelgar's lands, formerly his lands, will be next, so he manages to warn the people, while staying out of the way. He runs into a messenger, who gives him a war arrow. It means that all able-bodied men are called to fight, immediately. A person does not ignore a war arrow. Heregar walks up to Matelgar, and, returning the arrow, says, in effect, "I am reporting as ordered, and now I'm leaving."

The Saxon authorities feel that the best thing thatt Heregar can do is to get Alswythe, and her maidens, out of the way. Meantime, Matelgar falls in battle, and Heregar has a couple of visions of Matelgar apologizing for the way Heregar was treated. Heregar becomes a senior adviser in the counter-attack, led by the local bishop. A major problem for the Danes is that, during low tide, their ships are literally stuck in the mud. Does the counter-attack succeed? Do Heregar and Alswythe liver happily ever after? Is Heregar's punishment lifted?

This one is surprisingly good. The author, an Anglican priest who lived in the early 20th Century, does an excellent job with this book. It really feels like it was written more than 1000 years ago, and recently discovered, and republished. Very few authors of any kind of fiction can do that. It has heart, and adventure, and is well worth reading.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Twice Sold Murder

Twice Sold Murder, Margaret Evans, Moonlight Mystery Press, 2014

Laura Kane is returning to her hometown of Raging Ford, Minnesota, after growing up with an aunt in Baltimore. The death of her parents, under mysterious circumstances, made the move to Baltimore necessary.

Laura plans to open a thrift store in town, and live in an apartment upstairs. A person might think that the residents of Raging Ford would descend on Laura en masse, and welcome her back home, but Harry's Rules (Harry is one of the three members of the Town Council) say that everyone has to basically wait their turn. In stocking her store, Laura buys a couple of pieces of furniture that belonged to a family from a nearby town who perished in an accident. The parents, and one identical twin, perished in the accident. Which twin survived, the "good" twin, or the sociopath?

Little by little, things get more and more mysterious for Laura. Jenna, a good friend from high school, is engaged and ecstatic. His name is Jeremy, and the best way to describe him is "creepy." He says that he grew up in Raging Ford, but there are too many holes in his story. Laura investigates the story of the family who perished, and is not very careful about leaving her laptop where customers can see what is on the screen. Not all of the customers are from Raging Ford, maybe one of them is the culprit. The store is broken into, and only those two pieces of furniture are taken. Encouraging Laura to continue her investigation into the deceased family is a mysterious cat who does not eat, and who only Laura can see.

First of a trilogy, this is a really good piece of writing. It's a pretty "quiet" story in that there are no hair-raising crises fro our plucky heroine (until the end). It's very easy to read, and it's the sort of story that can take place in any small town in America. It will certainly keep the reader's interest.

Time of the Great Freeze

Time of the Great Freeze, Robert Silverberg, Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1964

In the year 2600, Earth has been in an ice age for the past couple of hundred years. Jim Barnes is a teenage resident of New York City, which is actually several miles under the ice. Learning that the ice is starting to recede, is part of a small group that has made radio contact with London. For unknown reasons, London sounds less than overjoyed at the thought of visitors from New York.

The group is forced to quickly turn their talk of an expedition to London into reality. In the space of a few hours, they are arrested, tried, convicted of treason and exiled to the surface (with appropriate supplies). It seems that hundreds of years of no contact with any other cities have made New Yorkers (or, at least, their rulers) very mistrustful of foreigners.

The expedition is helped by a pair of solar-powered jet sleds. Along the way, the group runs into several groups of wandering nomads, some of whom are more civilized than others. Having spent their lives underground, eating synthetic protein, they have a hard time eating raw meat from a freshly killed animal. Jim "convinces" a sea captain to take them across the open water of the Atlantic (the only way they can get to London) by using his knowledge of judo to defeat the captain in hand-to-hand combat.

Eventually, they are met by a delegation from London, who have come to meet them. New York's rulers don't have a monopoly on distrust and paranoia. Does the entire group make it to London? Can both groups start to regain trust in outsiders?

This story might seem rather simplistic, but remember when it was published, long before Young Adult fiction became popular. It is still worth reading for young people, or those who are new to science fiction.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Discovering the IT Factor Within You

Discovering the IT Factor Within You: Developing Your Charismatic Personality, Leesa Rowland, Kismet Publishing, 2015

Whenever a person like Oprah or Bill Clinton enters a room, people are drawn to them like a magnet. Why? Were they born that way? Do they have "good genes"? Is it a case of "you either got it (charisma) or you don't"? Can charisma be learned by the rest of us? That's what this book is all about.

There are several qualities that help make a person charismatic. Among them are: being open to change; developing good taste, whether in art, literature or clothing; staying humble; being approachable; improving eye contact and listening to others with your full attention (like there is no one else in the room at that moment).

The first step to developing charisma is to take a long, hard look inside yourself. If you are the sort of person who makes racist or sexist remarks (even if you intend them as a joke), or yell at the neighborhood kids to get off your lawn, then you have some work to do. After that, keep a positive attitude, stand up straight, be flexible, be confident, treat people like they want to be treated, don't compare yourself to others, and realize that charisma comes from the inside, so don't worry if you aren't the most attractive person in the room.

The author looks at the connections between spirituality and charisma, love and charisma and karma and charisma. Is it possible for animals to be charismatic? Can a person be charismatic at work? Concentrate on your body language (stand up straight). Look like a leader (dress appropriately for the message you want to convey). There is nothing wrong with dressing like a VP when your company's dress code is jeans and t-shirts. Influence people by really listening. Sometimes, what you don't say is more important than what you do say. Also, show that you have the ability to think outside the box.

This is a gem of a book. It is full of tips to help people from all walks of life. Anyone who cannot find just one helpful idea in this book is in serious trouble. It is very much worth reading for everyone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The SHIVA Syndrome

The SHIVA Syndrome, Alan Joshua, Champagne Books, 2015

Beau Walker is a brilliant psychological researcher with a strong dislike for military authority. He is practically forced onto a military aircraft by Burton Grimes, the source of his dislike. Along with several other eminent scientists, he is taken to what was a secret research facility near Moscow.

Something happened to cause the total destruction of the facility and the nearby town, at the cost of several thousand lives. Whatever the cause, this was not a "normal" explosion. The crater from a normal, even nuclear, explosion would not be still growing. A normal explosion would have blown the nearby trees, outward, not inward. A normal explosion would not create a time warp inside the crater. After investigating the best they can, the group gets back on the plane.

They are taken to a Very Top Secret research facility inside a mountain in the California desert. Experiments are being conducted in parapsychology, with the intention of creating people who can, for instance, set off explosives from a great distance away, or perform cutting-edge genetic engineering, with their minds. That is what the Russian facility was doing. At the exact moment "it" happened, an American nuclear-powered space shuttle in orbit vanished, and several other such anomalies happened all over the world. Back in California, the same complex is conducting research to create extremely lethal toxins (not just "regular" Ebola, but "super" Ebola), and genetically created hybrid super soldiers, with an explosive device implanted in their necks, in case of death.

The group manages to escape, along with Adena, the first psychic test subject, and her two children. Of course, the military will not let them go so easily. On several occasions, the children show that they are the next step in human evolution. The final confrontation takes place in an abandoned town in Nevada.

It is not easy for any author to sustain the reader's interest for almost 500 pages, but this author does an excellent job at it. It covers a number of subjects, from psychology to physiology to government conspiracy to santeria. Much of the book is very technical (the science can get a bit overwhelming), but the last part turns spiritual. This is a gem of a book, and is very much recommended.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tesseracts Seventeen

Tesseracts Seventeen, Colleen Anderson and Steve Vernon (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2013

Here is another compendium of weird stories from north of the border, in Canada.

A new mother can't leave her baby alone for a second, out of fear that The Wall will devour the child. It's a creature that creeps along walls, looking like a shadow, and with very sharp teeth. On the other side of The Wall is a land of torment straight from Hell. Another story looks at the difference between people who are spiritual without believing in a specific religion, and those who are absolutely sure of the infallibility of religious doctrine, for instance, without being spiritual. What if all newborns are genetically tested, and the "non-believers" are killed?

A doll tells a little girl a story about vultures who go down chimneys, and kidnap little children as they sleep. They are taken to the deep, dark Underground, where the goblins live. The "lucky" ones are cooked and eaten, and the "unlucky" ones are sent to the mines as slaves. A young man visits his grandfather's grave, which now has an interactive video of Grandpa (the software needs some diagnostic help). He also burns his worthless Ph.D. in Education, because there no longer are any live school teachers.

All over the world, strange spheres appear and tell people "touch me and you will get twenty thousand dollars" (or win a cow, or save one hundred acres of rainforest, etc.). Their prizes come due in sixty days. Do they actually get their prizes?

As usual with this series, this is a first-rate group of stories. They are not specifically science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, but somewhere in the middle. They are the sort of tales that could easily be on a TV show like The Twilight Zone. It is very much worth reading.

Expiration Date

Expiration Date, Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015

Many things in life have an ending or an expiration date. It can range from the food in your refrigerator, to the finish of a horse race, to the stopping of a stop-watch, to the end of a person's life. That's what this group of new stories is all about.

Stuck in that split second before dying (or not dying) in an auto accident, a woman gets to see how her family will survive, both with her and without her. Fascinated by death from an early age, a woman becomes an EMT to get as close to death as possible. She learns that when a person's time has come, getting in the way, and bringing them back to life, is not a good idea. Death makes several appearances in this book.

A group of present-day ghost hunters gets a little too close to the ghost of Lizzie Borden and her axe. A young boy is visiting his very sick younger brother in the hospital; the younger brother's life expectancy is down to minutes. Does he tell his younger brother what he really thinks, that there is nothing after this life, except blackness and decay? On the other hand, does Older Brother tell Younger Brother that he is going to nice place full of green grass, where he will meet his deceased grandparents?

When a person dies suddenly, like in an auto accident, is there someone nearby to help them get to the Other Side, or do they have to find their own way? There are a couple of stories about people who, from the outside, look to be in an irreversible coma, but, on the inside, they are very much alive.

I enjoyed reading this book. All of the stories are excellent; some of them actually reach the level of Wow. Only a couple of stories get into actual horror. Death will affect everyone eventually; these tales provide some possible ways that it will happen. This is highly recommended.

Mike Mars Flies the X-15

Mike Mars Flies the X-15, Donald A. Wollheim, Paperback Library, 1961

Part of a series, this adventure novel is about the very early days of the American space program.

Everyone is familiar with Project Mercury, the beginning of America's journey into space. But no one is familiar with Project Quicksilver, a secret program to plant the American flag on the Moon. Mike Mars, one of the astronauts in the program, has been dreaming about going into space since he was a boy. Rod Harger, another of the astronauts, has a very different motivation. All he cares about is the fame and glory (and money) that will come from being the first man in space. His rich father hires a thug names Cahoon, and sends him to Edwards Air Force Base in California to do what he can to ensure that Rod is the first in space.

The X-15 is the state of the art in spaceplanes, and any attempt at sabotage is a bad idea, because before every flight, every square inch of the X-15 is checked, and re-checked. After each of the astronauts gets a chance at flying the X-15, which takes off attached to the wing of a B-52 bomber, Mike is chosen to pilot the first flight to the edge of the atmosphere.

Meantime, a storehouse on the edge of the base is broken into, and a Sidewinder (heat-seeking) anti-aircraft missile and launcher is stolen. Johnny Bluehawk, another of the astronauts and a full-blooded Native American, investigates. He gets knocked out and thrown in the back of a truck. Next thing he knows, he is in Nevada, near Las Vegas. The course the X-15 will take back to Edwards is known in advance, so the missile is set up near one of the radar stations over which the X-15 will have to travel. The intention is to blow Mike, and the X-15, out of the air. During a major brawl between Johnny and Cahoon, the missile is launched. Does Johnny make it back to Edwards in one piece?

Considering when this novel was published, when manned spaceflight was considered insane, this is pretty good. It's a very quick read, and will bring the reader back to those hallowed days of yesteryear.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

Fat Girl in a Strange Land

Fat Girl in a Strange Land, Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib (ed.), Crossed Genres Publications, 2012

Many science fiction stories are about tall, square-jawed adventurers boldly exploring the galaxy. The women in such stories are the female equivalent of tall and square-jawed. This anthology looks at a very under-served part of the population - fat women.

A woman in Guatemala dreams of becoming the first female luchador, until she discovers a greater calling that is much closer to home. A midwestern soccer mom, nicknamed Flux, refuses to wear the new spandex outfit given to her by her superhero colleagues. A team is being sent to a far-away planet that is in the middle of being terraformed. They will be working practically non-stop for months, so they need every bit of bodily fuel that they can get. That is why they were instructed to put on a lot of weight before they leave.

Most of Earth's population has emigrated to a new planet, Terra Nova, because Earth is dying. Among those who are left is a teacher at a special school for fat kids. Also fat, she makes the long trip to Terra Nova, but is detained and sent back to Earth. Mary Beth's friends have their own spaceship, for quick jaunts to Mars or the Moon. She is asked to get out of the spaceship, because she is too heavy. With help from a local junkyard, she attempts to build her own spaceship. It is not a short or cheap process. Does she succeed?

This is a pretty good group of stories from a marginalized point of view. Some of the stories were better than others, but this book is still worth reading.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

We Are the Destroyers

We Are the Destroyers, D.K. Lindler, First Life Publishing, 2014

Environmental degradation and over-consumption are destroying Bel'lar's home world. A growing movement among the people is to adopt the Syn (synthetic) lifestyle, to practically live on synthetic chemicals. The minority Organs (organic) want Bel'lar to take a ship called Light Traveler, and a small crew, to the semi-mythical planet blue/white planet. to see if it is suitable for colonization.

Just before their hurried departure, just missing a mob of rampaging Syns, a beautiful mystic and seer named Ry Sing gives Bel'lar a horrifying vision. Long, long ago, Bel'lar was the Great One, the religious leader on a world called the Planet of Abundance. It faced a similar over-consumption crisis. His advisers convinced him the purifying the planet was the only option. It wasn't until it was too late that Bel'lar realized that "purifying" the planet involved using several nuclear weapons buried around the planet to kill everyone. Even worse, scripture says that he is destined to do it again.

After visiting the blue/white planet, with an unscheduled stop at its smaller, red, dead planetary neighbor (the Planet of Abundance), Bel'lar and crew head home to tell the people what they have found. Because of time dilation, nearly 350 years have passed since they left. Their world is on the verge of environmental collapse. The air and water are full of synthetic chemicals. There are no fish or animals left. Genetic modifications from the Syn lifestyle have made the population fat, hairless and stupid. The few Organs who are left are forbidden to leave their compound on pain of immediate death by the Syns.

An entire religion grew up around Bel'lar during his absence. A competing religion has grown up around a man named Quasar, leader of the Organs, and de facto ruler of the world. Bel'lar is to be forced to publicly recant (he has no interest in being another Great One), so that the people will have no choice but to worship Quasar. A short distance away is another planetary purification device. Does Bel'lar "purify" another planet? Is there anyone worth saving?

Personally, the first half of the book, when the crew visited the two planets, felt a little too new age-ish. The second half of the story, when they were back home, was much better. It will give the reader a lot to think about, and it is still worth reading.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

No Place on Earth

No Place on Earth, Louis Charbonneau, Doubleday, 1958

In the year 2240, Earth is ruled by the dictatorial Population Control Corps, which keeps the world in a state of constant famine. Petr Clayborne's father, Jack Clayborne, was a senior figure in the Underground, the only political opposition, but was executed when Petr was a child. Petr has no interest in following in his father's footsteps.

Petr is in PCC custody, and is being interrogated, with pharmaceutical help. Members of the Underground are given a false tooth with a liquid memory obliterator, instead of cyanide, if they are caught. Petr has used his fake tooth, and the PCC has supposedly developed a drug to reverse the obliterator. Captain Hartung of the PCC, a romantic rival for the affection of Petr's wife, Alda, is convinced that Petr knows the location and destination of a secret submarine which is about to slip out of the PCC's surveillance.

During the drug injections, Petr relives his life. Alda's father, who may or may not be a senior figure in the Underground, does not approve of their relationship, because of Petr's unwillingness to join the Underground. Alda and Petr are married in a bureaucratic process which bears a strong resemblance to spending a day at the DMV. They decide to have a child before they are authorized to do so, something which is very illegal. Petr eventually finds the Underground, which agrees to help them escape in the above-mentioned submarine. But, at every pickup point in New York City, the PCC is waiting. The only possible explanation is that there is a "mole" in the Underground. Does Petr reveal the sub's location to Captain Hartung? Do Alda and Petr escape via the Underground? What does the Underground know that could destroy the PCC's hold on power?

This one is pretty good. It is very "1984"-ish in that a loyal citizen slowly turns into an enemy of the state. It's a pretty "quiet" story in that there is very little violence until the end. For those who like reading dystopia stories, this is well worth reading.

Alive Souls: Inception

Alive Souls: Inception, Elena Yulkina, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2015

Maya is your average teenager, but not really. She can read minds, and she can control fire with her mind. She knows that she is not like her classmates in school. One night, she asks, out loud, who is she and where did she come from. Then she gets the answer.

Maya suddenly finds herself in a well-lit ballroom with lots of expensive-looking paintings on the walls. It is also full of people. She is suddenly hugged by a younger man who treats her like his long-lost daughter, which she is. It seems that Maya is a real princess who was sent to Earth to get her out of the way. All of the inhabited worlds have been fighting a long-running war against the Darkness. They have been holding it off, as best they can, while waiting for Maya to become old enough, and powerful enough, to fight the Darkness single-handedly (scripture says so).

Maya can't go back to Earth, because there is too much chance of her being found by the Darkness. Her twin sister, Varvara, takes her place. She can't stay where she is, on a planet called Zabir, for the same reason. Maya is sent to another world, called Udas. A young man named Mayvert volunteers to go with her, as her bodyguard, but he does not do a very good job of it. There are several narrow escapes, including Maya being burned at the stake as some sort of monster, and walking out of the flames, totally unhurt. Did I mention that Maya and Mayvert are able to grow actual, working wings? Does the Darkness come to Udas to find Maya?

This is a short novel, less than 100 pages, but it is surprisingly good. It works as a teen/young adult tale. It also works as a fantasy story, with interesting possibilities for future stories. It's well worth reading.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Only Superhuman

Only Superhuman, Christopher L. Bennett, Tor Books, 2012

In the early 22nd Century, Mankind has expanded into the Asteroid Belt, allowing people to set up all sorts of societies. A major issue is the attitude concerning genetic and cybernetic modifications of people. Earth and its nearby colonies banned such practices many years ago, but, in the Belt, anything goes.

Emerald Blair is one such "mod." Inspired by old-time comic books, she and other mods join together to form the Troubleshooters, policing the Belt as best they can. Emerald had a difficult home life, and strongly believes in not taking another human life, if at all possible.

The Troubleshooters work for a powerful man named Gregory Tai, who feels that all the separate Belt societies (or, at least, the major ones) should be politically united, under his leadership. Emerald has a falling out with her colleagues, and meets an equally powerful man named Eliot Thorne. If there is such a thing as the "father" of genetic modifications, it's Eliot Thorne. He is also very handsome, and his daughter, Psyche, is beyond gorgeous. He is putting together a major conference, so that several of the major Belt societies can form an alliance. Emerald sees the rest of the Troubleshooters engage in some very questionable behavior (the Thorne's have convinced Emerald that Gregory Tai is the "enemy").

Are Eliot's motives really as innocent as they sound? Is Psyche more than just Eliot's daughter? Does Emerald rejoin the Troubleshooters?

Inspired by comic books, this novel is pretty good. It feels plausible, both scientifically and socially. On the good, or bad, side, there is a lot of sex in this book, maybe a little too much. Yes, this book is worth the time.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Occasional Diamond Thief

The Occasional Diamond Thief, J.A. McLachlan, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2015

On his deathbed, Kia's father, an interstellar space trader, entrusts to her a diamond from the planet Malem. The problem is that it is very illegal for any off-worlder to possess a Malemese diamond; the penalty is death. In order to get away from an unpleasant home life, Kia engages in the occasional theft to get money to pay for translator school.

Kia is caught by Agatha, part of the Order of Universal Benevolence; sort of like the religious police. Kia is sent to Malem, as Agatha's translator. Malem is a cold, wet planet, in great contrast to Kia's dry, arid home world. Malem recently got over a plague which may, or may not, have been started by Malem's planetary neighbor. Among the thousands of casualties was the Queen's young daughter. She blames Kia's father for not reaching the planet quickly enough with the necessary medicine.

Kia learns that she cannot, for instance, go into a local tavern and say that she found the diamond lying on the ground. Diamonds are passed down from one generation to another, with the recipient keeping it for their entire life. She has to find its rightful owner. A young child contracts the plague. The requirement is that she is quarantined, alone for seven days, in the Plague House, a stone house in the middle of a swamp. At the end of that time, she either walks out of the House cured, or someone goes in to get her dead body. Agatha volunteers to enter the Plague House to take care of the child, even though it means almost certain death. While she is in there, Kia begins to get the idea that the High Priest is using the Plague House, and what it represents, to mess with the facts, and keep the people on edge. It involves Agatha not leaving the Plague House alive. Does Kia find the diamond's rightful owner? Does Agatha survive the Plague House?

This one is really good. It's easy to read, and very well written. Having a main character of color certainly helps. This is recommended for teens, and adults.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tarzan and the Madman

Tarzan and the Madman, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Canaveral Press, 1974

These are harder times than usual for the Lord of the Jungle.

Someone who calls himself "Tarzan" has been kidnapping girls and women from the local tribes, never to be seen again. It is causing Tarzan's usual allies, both human and animal, to turn their backs on him. The latest kidnap victim is Sandra Pickerall, a white woman from Scotland. A couple of bounty hunters are very interested in the reward offered by Sandra's father for her safe return. They certainly won't ignore the reward for delivering Tarzan, dead or alive, also to Sandra's father. As an added complication, there is a tribe of cannibals in the area who are best avoided at all costs.

Sandra is rescued from the cannibals by Tarzan, and he is shot, and severely injured, by one of the bounty hunters. In their travels, the bounty hunters discover that the cannibals wear lots of gold jewelry. A person can almost see the dollar signs in their eyes; there has to be an incredible gold mine somewhere nearby. Meantime, "Tarzan" rescues Sandra from the bounty hunters, and takes her to the top of a high mesa, where God rules in real medieval castle. He isn't really God, just the leader of a group of Portuguese soldiers. Sandra is very uninterested in becoming a goddess.

Later, "Tarzan" rescues Sandra from the Portuguese, after learning the truth about them. As time goes on, she begins to have feelings for him. She realizes that he is not insane or a psychopath, but an average guy with a case of total amnesia. When the Tarzans meet, can Sandra keep Tarzan from killing "Tarzan?" The bounty hunters find the mine, with chunks of gold just lying on the ground. Do they make it back to civilization with their new riches?

This is a lesser-known, but pretty good part of the Tarzan series. It's easy to read, with plenty of action, and will keep the reader entertained. Yes, it's worth reading.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Genius Dilemma

The Genius Dilemma, Dustin Grinnell, CreateSpace, 2014

This novel is about an attempt to artificially enhance the abilities of the human brain.

Richard Powell is the CEO of Cerebrical, a high-tech company that has created Trillium, a serum that it says will create geniuses. To get much-needed venture capital financing, the company needs a well-known neuroscientist as its public "face." Alan Price is a world-renowned Stanford researcher who has fallen on scientific hard times after switching to the "dead end" of investigating Alzheimer's Disease. The venture capital meeting does not go well.

The US military has a secret unit called Project Genesis. Sophisticated computer algorithms are used to predict which politicians, or rebel leaders, around the world are going to pose a threat to America in the future. They are then assassinated before they can do anything. Project Genesis is very interested in Trillium, and it is administered to the members of the team. It really does increase their IQ by a lot, but, naturally, there is a huge and unpleasant side effect. A member of the team kills the other members, and takes off on what he is convinced is a mission to keep America safe.

The latest victim of Project Genesis was Nassir Lwazi, the president of Kenya. He was a tyrant who pitted the two main tribal groups against each other. The whole country is on edge, just waiting for the spark to start a civil war (can anyone say "Rwandan Genocide, Part 2?"). Thomas Amani is a student at Harvard who does not know that Lwazi was his father. He feels compelled to go to Kenya to bring peace, even though he has no idea what he is going to say. The surviving member of Project Genesis is totally convinced that Amani is just as much of a tyrant as his father. Therefore, Amani must die, along with the American President, who is there as part of the "peace process." Can he be stopped? Is there any way to reduce the influence of the side effect? Can Trillium lead to a cure for Alzheimer's Disease?

This story works really well. It works as a regular political thriller, and the scientific part feels very plausible. I am not sure why the book was printed with every line double spaced, making it twice as thick as necessary, but it is still a first-rate piece of writing.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The King of Elfland's Daughter

The King of Elfland's Daughter, Lord Dunsany, Ballantine, 1969

Written in the early 20th century, This fantasy tale is about a small town that wishes to be ruled by a magic lord.

Several leading citizens of the Vale of Erl go to their King, suggesting that a magic lord will help their town to be famous far and wide. The King sends his son, Alveric, into Elfland to bring back Lirazel, the King's daughter, as his bride. The misty border between the two lands causes those who live just to the west of Elfland to pretend that the compass direction of East, toward Elfland, does not exist.

Lirazel produces a son, Orion, but the marriage is not happy. She is unwilling, or unable, to give up her belief in praying to the stars, in favor of Alveric's religion. In his desperation to get her back, Lirazel's father sent over a powerful rune to Lirazel, which she puts in a drawer. She knows that if she reads the rune, it will immediately send her back to Elfland. After being told, again, to give up her religion, now, in frustration, Lirazel uses the rune. Alveric immediately goes after her. After traveling for several days through a vast wasteland, he is forced to realize that not only has the castle of Elfland disappeared, but the entire land of Elfland has vanished.

Alveric goes back to Erl and puts together an expedition to the far North to find some piece of Elfland that is not gone. After several years, a couple of members of the expedition return to Erl, no longer as committed to finding Elfland as they once were. Alveric shows no sign of giving up. Watching with her father, Lirazel begins to think that maybe she should go back to Alveric. Do they get back together? Do the people of Erl get their wish to be ruled by a magic lord?

This was written in a very different time, so it is not a quick read; it will take some effort on the part of the reader. But that effort will be richly rewarded, because Dunsany, one of the overall masters of the fantasy field, does a wonderful job with the language and descriptions of this story. It is lyrical and poetic and it is a joy to read.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Heads of Cerberus

The Heads of Cerberus, Francis Stevens, Fantastic Books, 2013

This is a rarely reprinted science fiction novel of the early 20th Century about three people suddenly sent on a wild adventure.

Set in Philadelphia of the early 20th Century, Robert Drayton is a young lawyer in ethical trouble. Terry Trenmore is a big, strapping Irishman, full of muscles, but perhaps a bit lacking in brains. Viola is Terry's teenage sister. Through a busted burglary and a bit of intrigue, they are sitting at a table with a mysterious glass bottle in front of them. The sterling silver stopper is shaped into Cerberus, the mythological three-headed dog. It contains "the dust of Purgatory," said to have been collected by Dante himself during his time there. Terry touches the dust, and immediately disappears. Viola and Robert soon follow.

They find themselves in a strangely changed Philadelphia. After just a few minutes on the street, they are arrested for not wearing their number in public. It turns out that they have traveled 200 years into the future, to a dystopian Philadelphia, where everyone has numbers instead of names. They are taken to the Hall of Justice, where the punishment for breaking the law is to be thrown into the Pit of the Past. It is a large pit that is home to a carnivorous creature with steel spikes for teeth. Instead, the three are entered into "democratic" civil service exams, to become part of the ruling class.Actually, the contests are fixed, and the losers die. The ruling class does have names, like Cleverest, Swiftest and Loveliest; they also have total control over the population. History has been suppressed, and literacy is forbidden. Drayton gets in big trouble simply for asking for a newspaper. In 22nd Century Philadelphia, William Penn is worshiped as an angry god, and the Liberty Bell has been turned into a disintegrator machine. Can the three return home? Do they survive this dystopian nightmare?

This novel should be much more available than it has been. It does stereotype its characters, but the author stays away from insulting stereotypes. It certainly works as a dystopian novel, and is very much worth the reader's time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dress for SEXcess

Dress for SEXcess, The Scissor Man

There seem to be a million books available on how couples can rejuvenate their sexual relationship. Most are written by psychologists, or academics with letters after their name. This is written by an average person.

Ladies, when your husband makes an admiring comment about some part of your anatomy, think of it as a request to occasionally wear something that emphasizes that area. Please don't respond with "Is that all you think about?" (Yes) Your husband is going to look at other women; it's part of his DNA. Instead of considering it as a personal insult, think of it as a way to find out exactly what turns him on sexually. If you don't already know what turns him on, ask him. He will be happy to tell you.

Gentlemen, to encourage your wife to be more amenable to sex on your schedule, you must treat her like a goddess all the time. Every girl wants to be swept off her feet by Prince Charming. Be that Prince Charming. Treat her like she is the most important person in the world. An underlying foundation of mutual trust and respect will improve the sex. It's not necessary to jump right to sex every time. Kissing, hand-holding and making out can be just as meaningful for her. Make absolutely sure that she agrees before you even think about bondage or more forceful sex. If you don't already know what turns your wife on sexually, ask her.

There is no reason to spend lots of money on lingerie or sexy outfits at the local mall. Go to your local thrift store or church tag sale; sometimes you can buy clothes by the pound. Depending on her physical size, consider looking in the children's section. Bring them home, and don't be afraid to use a pair of scissors on them. The book, written from a male perspective, goes into lots of detail on exactly how to modify clothes to emphasize her figure. If your wife is the creative one, and creates a sexy outfit for you to wear, of course you should wear it (even if it looks totally ridiculous). Whether or not it gets her excited, and interested in sex, is all that matters.

This book is written by a man in his 70's, who is still deeply in love with his wife, even after 50 years of marriage. The sex is still great, and frequent; nearly every day (!). Newlyweds have no trouble being interested in sex. Those who are going through marital problems need more help than this book can provide. It is intended for people who have been married for several years, and have a good marriage, but their sex life needs a jump start. As such, it does a wonderful job. Anyone who cannot find just one idea in here to
re-start their sex life is in serious trouble. This is highly recommended.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Government Opportunities for Small Business

Government Opportunities for Small Business, Harriet Grayson, Ocean Breeze Press, 2011

The federal government has a seemingly unlimited number of grant opportunities. This book attempts to simplify the grant-writing process.

The first step is to find the grants that are being offered. There are a number of places to look, including the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. Apply for grants only in areas where your non-profit is qualified (if you are an arts organization, why are you applying for an agriculture grant?). Get a copy of the instructions from the grantor, usually called something like Request for Proposal, or RFP. Read it thoroughly, then read it again. The grantor may get very picky about what should, or should not, appear in your application. You don't want an otherwise first-rate application to be rejected because you couldn't follow directions.

How do you get a government agency to notice your little-old non-profit? Have you handled similar projects in the past? Is your non-profit, or your staff, distinctive in some way? As you put together your application, follow exactly the directions in the RFP. Give the grantor some sort of idea about your anticipated budget, and the financial records you will keep about the project. When the application is done to the best of your ability, send it to the grantor.

The RFP should indicate the waiting time for an answer from the grantor. If the answer is Yes, the celebrate and rejoice (and start work on your next application). If your application is rejected, it is not the end of the world. The grantor will usually tell you why it was rejected. That way, you will be much more prepared for next time.

This is a short, and very interesting, book about a potential source of revenue for groups and individuals. It is very easy to read and understand, and is very much worth the reader's time.

Murder is a Lousy Way to Die

Murder is a Lousy Way to Die, Robert L. Hecker, World Audience, Inc., 2012

This novel is about Benjamin Roan, a government security consultant who someone wants to kill - again.

The book opens with Ben regaining consciousness in the middle of the Nevada Atomic Test Site. Next to him is a woman also just regaining consciousness. A simulated atomic bomb will be tested in just a couple of minutes. If they don't get under cover, now, the bomb will not only kill them, but incinerate them, and then turn them into dust.

After barely surviving the bomb blast, Ben learns that his companion is Taja Singh, owner of the Mojave Research Center, a private lab with Top Secret government contracts. She is also beyond gorgeous. The two have nothing in common, so who was the target, and who was in the wrong place at the wrong time?

If anything illegal was going on the Center, Taja was confident that Roger Stillwell, the Center's day-to-day manager, would know something about it. But he is killed by an unknown assailant right in front of them. As an added wrinkle, Jim Carr, a friend of Ben's, is worried about his sister, Paula, an employee of the Center's marketing department. She hasn't been seen for several days, so he asks Ben if he can ask Taja to look into it. Could the big conspiracy be something "normal" like industrial espionage, or could it be something much more sinister? The end of the book finds Ben and Taja in a small private plane, several thousand feet in the air, with the culprit pointing an Uzi machine pistol at them.

This is a first-rate piece of writing. The author is a veteran writer, and it shows. It is well done from start to finish, and it has plenty of action, along with a bit of romance. The reader will not go wrong with this one.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mesmer's Disciple

Mesmer's Disciple, Edward Swanson, River Run Select, 2012

This historical novel is about a man forced to confront evil beings directly from Hell.

Alvord Rawn is a police captain in 1840's New York City. He is not afraid to fight violence with violence, until the day that he goes too far. Now an ex-police captain, he is traveling to St. Louis, the gateway to the frontier, on a private matter. Charles Deas is an up-and-coming artist, whose letters home to his mother, a member of New York's high society, have become increasingly dark and bizarre. She asks Rawn to find her son, and bring him back home.

Deas has fallen under the influence of Count Abendroth, a practitioner of mesmerism. It's an early form of hypnosis, but, in Abendroth's hands, it is a lot more than just hypnosis. In looking around Abendroth's estate, Rawn sees a woman literally climbing the walls. He also hears hideous sounds, not of this earth, coming out of people's mouths. Abendroth's plan is to train disciples in mesmerism, and use them to control the state of Missouri, then control the neighboring states and territories, and then, who knows?

Rawn gets his own taste of mesmerism (which has led to a population explosion in the psycho ward of the local jail). He is exposed to black, unspeakable beings who are just waiting for a chance to suck an innocent soul to Hell. Rawn fights his way out of it, but, to get to Abendroth, he has to get past Otto Volkmar, A Prussian giant and Abendroth's chief enforcer. Who wins the epic, no holds barred battle? What happens to Deas and Abendroth?

This is an excellent novel. It feels historically accurate (Charles Deas was a real person who lived in St. Louis, and later went insane in New York City), and is very easy to read from start to finish. It also has plenty of action. This is highly recommended.

How to Get What You Want For Girls

How to Get What You Want For Girls, Zanna Anne Jezek, CreateSpace, 2010

This short book, written by a teen for teens, shows how to get more out of life by setting and achieving goals.

The goal could be something small, like earning enough money to buy a new mp3 player. The goal could be something bigger, like spending more time with your family, or improving your academic performance in your worst subject in school. It needs to be specific; vague goals like "I want to get healthy" or "I want to win the lottery" are not acceptable. It needs to have a time limit attached to it. It is totally OK to break a large goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. Write your goal on a piece of paper, and post it somewhere that you can see it every day. Putting it on paper is more permanent than leaving it in the back of your mind.

When you write your goal on paper, put it in terms of what you want, and not what you don't want. For instance, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds before the start of summer vacation, write "I want to lose 20 pounds before the start of summer vacation so that I can feel better about myself, and so that I can look hot at the beach." Don't write "I want to lose 20 pounds before the start of summer vacation because I don't want to be overweight anymore."

There will be days when you don't want to do anything toward your goal; you might have to dig deep to find the discipline and motivation to keep going. Consider doing just one goal-oriented thing per day. After a couple of weeks, you will be that much closer to your goal. When you reach it, be sure to celebrate, then start looking for your next goal.

This book is short, very easy to read, and goes step-by-step through the whole process of setting goals. My only criticism is that it needs a trip, or another trip, to a proofreader or copy-editor. Get past that, and this book is well worth reading, for teens and adults.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Navigator

The Navigator, Eoin McNamee, Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2006

This novel is about a young boy who finds himself in a very strange situation.

Owen's father committed suicide, and people around town whisper that Owen will follow in his father's footsteps. Mom has sunk into a fog of depression. In Owen's forest hideaway, there is a huge flash, and everything has changed. Geographically, Owen is in the same place, but everything, and everyone, that he knew is gone. A person called the Sub-Commandant tells Owen that a rag-tag group of humans called the Resisters are at war with ethereal beings called the Harsh. They have succeeded in causing time to run backwards. The intention of the Harsh is to go back to a time before humans, take over Earth, and turn it into a frozen wasteland.

Some of the Resisters think that Owen is a spy for the Harsh, or, at minimum, a collaborator. Before he died, Owen's father played a significant part in causing the war. The only way to end the war, and to get time going in the right direction, is to bring a special piece called the Mortmain, to the Puissance, or Great Machine, far to the north. Then Owen must go down into the earth a great distance, and place the Mortmain in the right spot. Naturally, the Harsh will be waiting. Does Owen succeed? Does Own even survive? Is everything restored to the way it was?

As you may have guessed, this is a young adult novel, and, as such, it is pretty good. There are good characters, and plenty of action. Older young people, and adults, will also like this book.

Uncategorized

Uncategorized, Sue Lange, Book View Cafe, 2010

Here is a group of previously published stories on a variety of subjects.

There is a story about suicide, from the "inside." A small-town tinkerer builds a mobile anti-bullying device. Its artificial intelligence is able to learn the difference between teasing and real bullying. In a world where the weekend entertainment consists of watching bulls be slaughtered and cut into pieces, while still alive, what is the worst, most disgusting thing that a person can do with their spare time?

A woman runs the bar at a run-down, isolated hotel. Just before she calls a plumber for a water-pipe problem, an elderly woman walks up the road to the hotel, saying that she is a plumber. But, she is more than just a plumber. The workers on a mining planet are about to stage a wildcat strike. Having spent years on the planet, they figure they can easily get jobs on other planets. A female worker, who recently came to the planet from outside, and who supposedly has no management aptitude, quickly corrects the notion: there are no jobs out there.

Will there come a time when a company health plan includes quotas? For instance, Company X is required to have a certain number of pregnancies, or cases of cancer, per year. What if that quota is not reached? A female worker is able to spend a lot of time, unprotected, in the radioactive part of a nuclear reactor. It is because of a cell-transformation process that uses a special protein to cause her cells to secrete the biological equivalent of lead. A central ingredient in that protein is male sperm. Company policy says that she has to have sex a minimum of once a year, taking time off work, if necessary. If she doesn't do it, her cell walls break down and she dies.

The only thing these stories have in common is that they are all really good, and well written, and pretty thought-provoking, too. This is very much worth reading.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Protest Inc: The Corporatization of Activism

Protest Inc.: The Corporatization of Activism, Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron, Polity Press, 2014

In a time of what seems to be a rise in global activism, this book presents a very different view.

Things are not at the point of "Greenpeace/Pepsico" or "Amnesty International (A Division of Unilever)," but a person could be forgiven for thinking that such a day is coming. Major NGOs have entered into multi- million dollar partnerships with corporations like Shell, Coca-Cola or Walmart (they certainly have more global than the United Nations). These corporate partners are going to expect more business-like behavior out of what, twenty years ago, was a rag-tag bunch of activists. Groups like the Sierra Club or World Wildlife Fund now have multi-million dollar annual budgets, boards of directors, offices all over the world and hundreds (or thousands) of employees. A growing number of organizations are interested in "corporate friendly" activism.

The consumerizing of activism is another growing trend. Purchase a certain item (usually made in China) and a portion of the money will be donated to some worthy cause. It helps the retailer to look good, and the worthy cause may get a small amount of extra money in their bank account. On the other hand, is more consumerism really the answer for world hunger or cancer research?

When dealing with the police or city officials, taking the streets has never been easy. Post-9/11, new laws have been passed which make it nearly impossible. Almost any public protest or disruption of daily activity can be equated with terrorism. Facing a police force that dresses and acts like the military, courtesy of surplus equipment from the Defense Department, certainly doesn't help.

In the middle of the 20th Century, there was much more of a social interest in getting together, like at the local union hall, to discuss the state of society. Those days are gone. Today, society is much more atomized. People are working two jobs, just to make ends meet, or they are spending their free time playing video games, so getting together to better society is low on the list of priorities.

This is a gem of a book, though also rather disheartening. It is a huge eye-opener, and should be read by all parts of society, including activists and non-activists.

The Trillionist

The Trillionist, Sagan Jeffries, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2013

This novel is the story of a young man named Sage Rojan. Even from birth, Sage's parents knew that he was "different."

In the crib, it looked like he was talking to someone. He spoke in complete sentences at a very young age. As a child, Sage would suddenly fly into a rage, for no apparent reason. He was also incredibly smart.

The reason was that Sage had a Presence, not an actual being, living inside him. The Presence needed a technologically advanced planet, so, with its "help," Sage invented all sorts of techno-marvels. It started with a way to learn what was happening on the other side of the world. Imagine if America had technologically progressed from the light bulb to the Internet, within ten years. Sage becomes the most popular person in the world.

The Presence thought nothing of taking over Sage's body, working it past the point of exhaustion, and letting Sage deal with the aftermath. He couldn't tell anyone about the Presence, because his popularity would vanish, and he would be thrown in the equivalent of a mental hospital. His popularity did vanish, because the Presence's single-minded determination turned Sage into a mean, rotten person.

In space, Sage is forced to build a thing which goes very wrong. It starts moving toward Sage's planet, and will destroy the planet if it reaches it. An attempt to tow it out of the way is a failure. A plan to teleport the whole population to another world never gets going. The only possibility is for Sage to plead his case before The Artisan, the being which created the universe. Does he succeed? Does The Artisan help Sage get rid of the Presence, once and for all?

The story is very easy to read, and does a fine job at showing a society in technological fast-forward. From start to finish, it is very much worth reading.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hook

Hook, Nicolas Tsamis, Amazon Digital Services, 2012

In part one of a series, in India, a Buddhist holy man dies of old age, but not really. His spirit stays around, somewhere between life and death. He is able to inhabit, and speak through, any being that he wishes. Spirit's press conference, via a talking German Shepherd, is a worldwide sensation.

In present-day Greece, Spirit urges Konstantino, through his parrot, Hook, to do a really heartbreaking thing concerning Myrna, his long-time girlfriend (no, he doesn't kill her). He is convinced, through mental images supplied by Spirit, that it really is for the good of mankind. Myrna is not told, intentionally, but Konstantino's emotional anguish is very severe. When "it" happens in Vienna, Konstantino begins to start to understand.

Everything involves the holy man being born to Myrna, and leading mankind to new era of peace and happiness. Rahul, one of his followers is brought in and will be able to tell if the holy man has made it into the soul of Myrna's child.

The CIA gets interested. Many years before, they kidnapped a brilliant scientist, and have kept him isolated ever since. It's for a good reason; his invention would totally revolutionize the world. His only companion has been a parrot, which is how his invention got to "the group" (it's more than just Myrna and Konstantino). They have been quietly amassing huge amounts of money, to bring the invention into reality. Despite their very diligent precautions, the government is closing in. Does everyone survive? Does the holy man make it into the soul of Myrna's child?

This is an intriguing idea that almost makes it to the level of "excellent." There is nothing specifically wrong with this book, just a feeling of "almost, but not quite."

 

The Great American College Tuition Rip-Off

The Great American College Tuition Rip-Off, Paul Streitz, Oxford Institute Press, 2005

This book gives a very different view of the world of college tuition.

It's rare when any college's annual tuition increase is at or below the rate of inflation (usually they are far above the inflation rate). Colleges know that parents are a captive audience, that they will pay whatever the college decides.

A major culprit is the yearly college listing published by US News and World Report. Among the things they measure is college expenditures, so any thought of cutting spending is forbidden. Heads will roll at a college if it drops in the ratings. Is there any real difference in the quality of education between a Top Ten and a Top Fifty school?

Back at school, the academic requirement that professors must "publish or perish" needs to stop. Most academics will make no real contribution to their field, but they still require the latest in (very expensive) equipment to do their "research." If they do get published, it will be in some obscure journal that no one reads, and that exists only to publish papers. Professors should be hired to just teach.

A large number of clubs or other activities at a school shows that the academic part is not enough to hold a student's attention. Are parents shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year so their children can get an education or be involved in the Chess Club or Drama Society? There are colleges that focus just on academics, and they are surviving quite nicely. When a wealthy benefactor gives money for a new library or sports building, is the gift enough to cover the entire cost of construction, or is it just enough to start construction, with the school, and the parents paying the rest of the cost?

The author also has nothing good to say about multiculturalism. All points of view, even those that hate America, are to be celebrated, while the achievements of white Americans are denigrated or marginalized. At Hamilton College, a private "elite" school in New York where the author spends most of the book, all of the fraternities were arbitrarily abolished, in the name of "diversity". A person from the outside was chosen to teach a course in the school's brand-new Gender Studies Center. This person just happened to have spent twenty years in prison as part of the Weather Underground. A public outcry forced the canceling of the teaching offer.

This is a very eye-opening book. Read it, and then look at your local college. You might be surprised at what you suddenly see in your own backyard.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Paul Robeson for Beginners

Paul Robeson for Beginners, Paul Von Blum, For Beginners LLC, 2013

Who was Paul Robeson? He was a lot more than just the singer of "Ol' Man River."

A native of Princeton, NJ, Robeson received a four-year athletic scholarship to Rutgers College. He was twice named All-American in football, and also played basketball, baseball and track. Graduating as class Valedictorian (an member of Phi Beta Kappa), Robeson attended, and graduated from, Columbia Law School. His attempt at a legal career did not go well. Robeson continued to play semi-pro football on the weekends, and tried his luck as a stage actor.

He became a huge star on the stage, including almost 300 performances as Shakespeare's Othello. Robeson also became a world-famous concert singer. He couldn't help but notice that during trips to Europe, especially the Soviet Union, he was treated much better than he had ever been treated in America. From the 1920's through the 1940's, Robeson made about a dozen films, including a couple of silent films. On the positive side, audiences could actually see a strong, intelligent black man in the lead role. On the negative side, Robeson's performance was usually the best part of the film. It was otherwise filled with clownish stereotypes about blacks. In frustration, Robeson walked away from Hollywood.

Robeson was not afraid to speak out on political issues, ranging from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's, to racism in America, to opposition to the Vietnam War. Such activities made him a victim of the 1950's Blacklist, along with having his passport seized. This, plus his wife's diagnosis of terminal cancer, brought on a huge bout of depression. When he was next allowed to travel overseas, the "magic" was gone. There was time in a sanitarium, and a suicide attempt. For the last dozen or so years of his life, he lived quietly with his sister in Philadelphia, and saw very few people.

This is a wonderful book. Robeson's erasure from 20th century history should be on the level of a national embarrassment. This book will start to correct it. It is very highly recommended for everyone.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Modern Disciples (Volume 3)

Modern Disciples (Volume 3), Ian Anderson, Outskirts Press, 2013

This is the third in a series of novels about several people who learn that they are the offspring of various ancient gods of antiquity. They also have unique abilities to help them fight non-human evil.

Lisa Mikoto (daughter of the Japanese god Izanagi) travels to a Japan in crisis. An unknown force has put a sort of permanent black cloud over the whole country, cutting Japan off from the sun. Electric power plants have been attacked, leaving electricity sporadic over the whole country. The famous Tokyo nightlife is dead. Anyone who can leave Japan, by any route, is doing so. Those who remain do not go out after sunset, because of carnivorous flying creatures looking for a meal.

Lisa's initial task is to look for a young woman from Texas who vanished, without a trace, several years previously. She is rescued from a sex slavery ring, and put on a plane back to America. The other five members of the group fly to Japan, and join Lisa to find the cause of the black cloud. Many evil creatures are thrown in their way to stop them, or, at least, to slow them down.

A Shinto ceremony will encourage Lisa's sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, to bring back the sun. An important part of the ceremony is the use of three very old mirrors, from Japanese folklore. The group has to travel considerable distances to get them. Naturally, the mirrors are not exactly in plain sight, just waiting to be found. This leads to more battles with inhuman creatures, including goblins and a giant spider. A major complication in the ceremony happens when the Shinto priest is murdered by the "bad guy" before he can finish. Does the sun return to Japan? Do all members of the group survive?

It's rare when the first three novels in any series are all excellent, but this author has done it. It has plenty of action, and the reader will learn more than they ever wanted to know about Japanese folklore. The reader will not go wrong with this book.