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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Katja From the Punk Band

Katja From the Punk Band, Simon Logan, Chizine Publications, 2010

Katja is a young woman with a partially-shaved head and a tracheostomy tube coming out of her throat. Playing in a local punk band on an 8 by 12-mile island work camp called home, like everyone else, she wants to get to the mainland by any way possible.

Katja shoots her boyfriend and takes a very valuable vial from him (perhaps it's a new chemical drug). There will be someone on the mainland waiting for the vial, but the deal is for two people, so Katja enlists the help of Nikolai, a local junkie. The ship is leaving for the mainland in a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, Aleksakhina, Katja's corrupt parole officer, chooses tonight to do his job and detains her for not checking in on schedule. He is not the only one who wants the vial as the ticket to the mainland. There's Vladimir Kohl, a local chemical dealer; there is his boss, Szerynski, along with Dracyev, a rival chemical kingpin, and Ylena, his lover.

Katja and Nikolai regain possession of the vial. Their next problem is getting on the ship. The area is full of police who are authorized to kill anyone who attempts to stow away on the ship. If a stowaway is found on the ship while it is in transit, getting shot and thrown off the ship in the middle of the ocean is the least of their problems. Do Katja and Nikolai board the ship? Do they get off the ship on the mainland, also without the police finding them?

This is a really good industrial crime/suspense tale. The reader can almost hear the punk rock soundtrack all throughout this book. It is raw, fearless and very much worth reading.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Who Rules the World?

Who Rules the World, Noam Chomsky, Metropolitan Books, 2016

Here is the latest book of political analysis by "America's most useful citizen" (so says the Boston Globe). Chomsky is a linguistics professor emeritus at MIT, and has been writing about political issues for many years.

The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris has been called the most threatening assault on journalism and free expression in living memory. Evidently, the April 1999 NATO rocket destruction of Serbian state TV headquarters doesn't count. There were no calls for inquiries into western Christian culture in its aftermath.

Why wasn't the US military budget cut after the collapse of the Soviet Union? America must maintain its "defense industrial base" because of the growing "technological sophistication" of Third World countries. America invaded Panama, killed thousands of people, and installed a client regime with no Soviet threat. The pretexts given were nonsense, the invasion was a huge violation of international law and the media neglected to mention the US veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by US troops during the invasion.

Elites and the political class consider Iran to be the primary threat to world peace. The average person does not agree. Polls in Europe show that Israel is the biggest threat to peace. In Egypt, only ten percent of the people regard Iran as a threat. Only a quarter of Americans regard Iran as an important concern. There is strong opposition to military engagement in an Israel-Iran war. A good step toward peace in that part of the world would to be declare it a nuclear weapons-free zone. America will never let that happen.

This book is a huge eye-opener. It has revelations on nearly every page, revelations that will never be mentioned by the US political class or US media. It deserves six stars, and is extremely recommended.

A Mind of Your Own

A Mind of Your Own, Kelly Brogan, HarperWave, 2016

For women, anti-depressant drugs are prescribed for problems ranging from depression to anxiety to PMS to insomnia. This book explores a very different approach.

According to the author, the assertion that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that is easily fixed by a drug like Prozac is total nonsense. Rarely do such drugs help at all. In fact, they may make things worse by permanently disabling the body's self-healing mechanism. Depression, and other such mental and emotional problems, are not separate diseases. They are symptoms of physical problems elsewhere in the body.

There is a well-known physical connection between the gut and the brain, as an example. A digestive or intestinal problem could easily manifest itself in the brain. Inflammation seems to be the cause of of most physical problems that are common today. Some inflammation is quite normal, then it goes away. When the inflammation is "on" all the time, that can be a serious problem, and needs to be addressed.

The author's prescription starts with getting rid of all processed food and going organic. The cause may be those unpronounceable chemicals that are listed in the ingredients. Next, get rid of your artificial cleaning products with more unpronounceable chemicals. There are household cleaners available that are a lot less harmful. The author also talks about what blood tests should be performed at the next doctor's visit. Get a good night's sleep, every night, and start exercising; they will help a lot.

This book is better than excellent. It is highly recommended for everyone. It is especially recommended for those whose anti-depressant does not seem to be working. Your problem may be somewhere else than in your head.

The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best at Everything

The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best at Everything, Juliana Foster, Scholastic Inc., 2007

Intended for tweens, this book gives short descriptions (one to two pages each) on how to do a lot of different things.

Some are light-hearted, like how to survive in a horror movie, how to make sense while talking nonsense, how to annoy people in an elevator and how to cope if zombies attack. Other selections are a bit more serious, like how to deal with bullies, how to save the planet, how to persuade your parents to get a pet, how to avoid jet lag and how to survive in the desert.

This is a really interesting and easy to read book, with very simple instructions. It is recommended for all tweens (there is a separate book for boys, and maybe some adults will also try some of these items.

Dark Tangos

Dark Tangos, Lewis Shiner, Subterranean Press, 2011

This is a thriller and love story set during a very dark time in recent world history.

Rob Cavanaugh's life has hit the skids. He is separated from Lauren, his wife, and Universal Software, his employer, has transferred him to their office in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, he falls for Elena, and they dance a lot of the tango. In Argentina, the tango is more than "just" a dance; it is part of the national soul.

Rob also learns that Elena is part of Argentina's "dirty war." During the 1970's, a series of military governments arrested, tortured and killed thousands and thousands of political opponents, under the guise of fighting communism. America was a supporter of these military governments. This is the period that gave the world the noun "disappeared." Elena's mother was such an opponent. Mother and daughter were separated at birth, and Elena was given to another family to raise as their own.

Elena's real father, also a political opponent, is still alive, but he has to be very careful. The military governments may be gone, but the mindset of killing political opponents, and torturing anyone who gets in the way, is still very much alive. Robe finds that out first-hand when he is kidnapped, and brutally tortured for several days. He is rescued, and while in hospital, Lauren suddenly appears, and whisks him away to America for medical treatment. Is this the end of Rob and Elena? Does Rob return to Argentina?

This is an excellent story, where the reader will learn more than they ever wanted to know about the tango. It has great characters, and plenty of action, and it also explores the meaning of justice. It is very much worth reading.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The One-Minute Cure

The One-Minute Cure: The Secret to Healing Virtually All Diseases, Madison Cavanaugh, Think-Outside-the-Book Publishing Inc, 2008

Are you interested in a simple medical therapy that has been known for at least 150 years, that creates conditions inside the body where disease cannot thrive, that is currently being prescribed by over 15,000 European doctors, and that can be self-administered and costs less than 2 cents per day? The magic ingredient is . . . hydrogen peroxide.

The human body is approximately two-thirds oxygen. It has been shown that unwanted germs and viruses cannot thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. Unfortunately, in our increasingly polluted world, and with the American sedentary lifestyle, most people don't get enough oxygen. It requires more than just being outside and deep breathing.

Several things have to be kept in mind. The hydrogen peroxide found in the local pharmacy is good for use on cuts and bruises and acne, but it should not be taken internally. It is necessary to find 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide (it can be found online). Then it has to be diluted by a lot, down to a 3% strength (taking "straight" hydrogen peroxide internally can be fatal). The diluting has to be done with distilled water, not regular chlorinated water. It also has to be taken on an empty stomach. The hydrogen peroxide could react with the food's bacteria and cause nausea or vomiting. You may feel sick for a few days after starting this therapy. Don't worry about it; it's just your body getting rid of toxins and dead cells.

Why don't American doctors prescribe this therapy? Blame Big Medicine and Big Pharma. This has the potential to revolutionize American healthcare and they are not shy about intimidating any doctor who says nice things about hydrogen peroxide.

Needless to say, this book is not meant to replace your primary care physician. That being said, this book is short, easy to understand, and extremely highly recommended.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Cancer Killers

The Cancer Killers, Ben Lerner, Maximized Living, 2013

This book asserts that it is possible to not just survive cancer, but to actually make it go away, even after a doctor has used the c-word.

First, change your mindset. Get rid of the "poor me" and "it's all over" attitude. You created the cancer, and you can reverse it. Wake up every day totally believing "it's possible." Second, you may not realize it, but there may be a blocked connection between your central nervous system and your immune system, preventing the immune system from doing its job. Talk to a chiropractor.

Third is the big one; change your diet. Unhealthy food doesn't just lead to weight gain. It can lead to hormone imbalance, thyroid problems and cell inflammation, among many other complications. The book goes into what foods to eat, and what to avoid. Fourth is get moderate exercise. Getting more oxygen into your body is a very good thing. Cancer cells can't survive in an oxygen-rich environment. Last but not least, reduce or eliminate your exposure to toxins in daily life. They do seem to be everywhere, from plastics to water to car exhaust to personal care products. There is a list of recommended vitamin supplements. There is also the story of a doctor with Stage 4 cancer that had metastasized in his brain. With weeks to live, he was able to reverse the cancer without radiation and chemotherapy (of which the author thinks very little).

This book is short, and very straight-forward. For those who have a family history of cancer, and are convinced that they are next; no, you are not next. This book will show anyone how to keep cancer away. It's worth reading.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Short Guide to a Long Life

A Short Guide to a Long Life, David B Agus MD, Simon and Schuster, 2014

This short book attempts to answer some of the most common health questions.

What should I eat? Real food (that does not come with a label). Understand basic bio-vocabulary; know the difference between vitamin and supplement, or define inflammation. Consider getting a dog; it will force you to get some exercise, along with leaving your desk and forgetting about multi-tasking. There seem to be a million different diets available. Find the diet that works for you, and stick with it. Grow a garden (or, at least, a window box). Practice good hygiene. Maintain a healthy weight. Caffeine is OK in sensible amounts. Consider getting a DNA test.

Get in the habit of taking a baby aspirin daily. Be smart about being sick. Maintain good posture and strengthen your core. Adopt a positive attitude. Smile. Try an activity that is out of your comfort zone. Eat at least three servings of cold-water fish per week. Never skip breakfast. It's a good idea to be a little obsessive-compulsive about washing your hands. There is no such thing as doing it too often. There is no shame in asking for help.

The book also includes things that should be avoided. They include: fad diets, detoxes, dangerous sports and risky behavior, sunburns, airport x-ray scanners, insomnia, juicing, smoking and vitamins and supplements (!)

No one is expected to immediately do (or not do) everything in this book. Pick just one thing, incorporate it into your daily life so that it becomes a habit, then pick another. Anyone who cannot find just one health aid here needs more help than this book can provide. For everyone else, this book is short, very easy to understand, and very much worth reading.

Germs That Won't Die

Germs That Won't Die, Marc Lappe, Anchor Press, 1982

The consequence from the extreme overuse of antibiotics is thought to be a new, 21st century problem. This book, published during the Reagan Administration, says otherwise.

A broad-spectrum antibiotic, like penicillin, might kill most of an infection. Some tiny portion of the surviving infection will suddenly acquire a resistance to penicillin. When it comes back, or is passed to someone else, the doctor will have to try some other antibiotic, which may or my not help at all. That same broad-spectrum antibiotic might kill some of the "good" bacteria living in your intestines, allowing "bad" bacteria free rein to cause havoc.

Approximately three to four percent of hospital patients will get a nosocomial infection (an infection gotten while in the hospital). No doubt, that infection has mutated more than once, and is resistant to several, or all, antibiotics. Hospitals need to do a better job in ensuring that instruments, catheter tubes and doctor's hands are properly cleaned or sterilized ahead of time. It seems to be standard hospital practice to give all new patients a shot of broad-spectrum antibiotics, regardless of their infection. This is done without medical testing to see if a different antibiotic is "made" for that infection. This can only increase the spread of antibiotic-resistant infection.

Giving antibiotics to animals as part of their daily care is another potentially big source of antibiotic-resistant infection. The drugs are not given when an animal is not well, but as part of their daily feeding. Another big problem is the average primary care physician prescribing antibiotics much too often, even for things like acne or the sniffles. Eventually, all antibiotics will be useless, after a person's infection builds up resistance to them.

Ignore the year that this book was published; it is still a really interesting book. It shows that overuse of antibiotics is not a new phenomenon. This is a good book to read to get some background on the subject.

The Healing Power of Cayenne Pepper

The Healing Power of Cayenne Pepper, Patrick Quillin, The Leader Co Inc, 1998

There is an herb right under our noses, that for many years has been prized for its healing power. More recently, clinical studies have confirmed its incredible healing abilities. The magic herb is. . . cayenne pepper.

Cayenne pepper, or, more specifically, capsaicin (the ingredient that gives cayenne its spiciness) thins the blood. That can only help blood vessels that are full of cholesterol and sugar. Capsaicin stimulates the conduction of nerve impulses, which will help the common American complaint of fatigue. It is also a mild irritant to mucus membranes, which will increase the flow of mucus from the lungs and sinuses. That will help flush out viruses, bacteria and debris. Capsaicin protects the stomach from alcohol and aspirin, it inhibits cancer, it is full of nutrients, and, believe it or not, it also releases endorphins.

The book also explores how cayenne pepper can help with specific ailments. Angina can be helped because capsaicin triggers the release of calcitonin gene related peptide, which is a potent dilator of the blood vessels that surround the heart. High cholesterol can be reduced because it reduces the absorption of fats and cholesterol in the intestines, and slows the creation of excess cholesterol in the liver. Cayenne encourages sweating and detoxification, which can help remove toxins from the body. It increases the flow of juices in the intestinal tract, which helps move food along and encourages regularity, getting rid of constipation. Capsaicin's ability to warm the body is well known; this can help those suffering from frostbite. It can also reduce pain of various kinds by depleting the body's nerve endings of Substance P (pain). For those new to hot peppers, it can be ingested through capsules, powder or salsa.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Needless to say, a talk with your doctor, before starting, is not a bad idea. Cayenne can be gotten at any grocery store, and after reading this book, which includes recipes, maybe it should be slowly added to your diet. If a copy of this book can be found, it is short and says a lot.

Maid in India

Maid in India: Little Wonders of Hope, Laveena, Amazon Digital Services, 2016

Maya is an average woman living in present-day India. She and her sister, both of whom have Master's degrees, run a tutoring center for students. The birth of her first child forces her to stay home and become a housewife. Her husband, Mohit, says so. A second child makes Maya feel even more like a prisoner in her own home. Maya is very bored and frustrated, and takes it out on Mohit.

Growing up, Maya was a quiet type of person who enjoyed writing. She returns to writing poetry while the children are asleep. A book of her poems is published and becomes very popular. Maya is now a celebrity. She realizes that she needs help around the house, and looking after the children, while she deals with her new writing commitments.

Through informal, family connections, Maya is introduced to Pooja, a teenage girl from a local township. Pooja does an excellent job as a maid and babysitter, but something is very wrong with her. After several months, Pooja tells Maya what is bothering her. Her mother got sick and died, because her father drank away all of their money. Her two younger sisters live with different grandmothers back home, and she wants nothing more than to have all three of them living under the same roof.

After giving it lots of thought, Maya decides to have Pooja work for her only part of the day, and spend the rest of each day attending a local makeup and beauty academy, paid for by Maya (giving her a hand up instead of a hand out). After graduation. Pooja goes back home to set up shop. Does it work? Does her father get in the way? Is she able to help her sisters?

This is a short tale that can be read in less than an hour. It can be set anywhere in the world, and it has something to say. If I wanted to be particular, I would suggest that it needs to go to a proofreader whose native language is English. But don't let that get in the way of reading this very interesting story.

A Short History of Film

A Short History of Film, Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Rutgers University Press, 2008

This book is an attempt at nothing less than a history of film, from the beginning to the present.

It starts in the beginning, with Thomas Edison and George Melies and the film of the Jules Verne story From the Earth to the Moon (that's the one where the Man In The Moon suddenly gets a spaceship in the eye). From there, the book explores the silent film era, the coming of sound, the patriotic and propaganda films that were produced during World War II, film noir, the sudden freedom in subject matter that happened in the post-war era and French New Wave. The book ends with an exploration of new digital technology, and the fact that films no longer have to be shot on actual film.

It also looks at films around the world, during each era, including from countries that were not known for their cinematic output. It also specifically mentions many, many films, some of which are probably gone forever.

This book may be a little light in the overall film analysis, but, remember, the title is A Short History of Film, not A Long and Detailed History of Film. For everyone else, this book is very much worth the time. The casual reader and the film lover will learn more than they ever wanted to know about film history.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Blogging for Smarties

Blogging for Smarties: Blogging for Authors and Speakers, Yvonne Wu, 2014, The YP Publishing

For most authors, especially small press and self-published authors, having a blog to showcase your stories (and offer them for sale) is an absolute must. This book painlessly explains the process of doing it.

Before you get started, decide on your target audience (please be more specific than "everybody"). Do you write romances, mysteries or young adult stories? Orient your blog in that direction. There are several different blog-creation platforms; this book concentrates on Wordpress. Included are screenshots to show exactly how to start your blog. Do you want to host your blog on your computer, or do you want Wordpress to do it? Have a couple of different blog names and URL's in mind in case your first choice is taken.

Wordpress has many widgets that can be added to your blog. Don't go overboard; simple is best. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to buy your stories. You also want to make it easy for the search engines, like Google, to find your blog, so search engine optimization (SEO) is essential.

The most important part is how to make money with your blog. Potential advertisers won't know that you accept ads unless you tell them, so put an "advertise with us" banner on your site. You can also create a membership site that, for a price, will include bonuses, multiple membership levels, endorsements and a contact form to request specific information. It's also possible to do a written podcast to get your name, and your blog, before the public.

Starting, and maintaining, a blog, can be a very confusing process. This short book does a fine job at demystifying it all. Here is a really good place to start.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Remember Me

Remember Me, Mary Ann Barrucco, Morton Books, 2014

This is a non-fiction story about one woman's attempts to cope with life throwing everything at her.

Mary Ann is looking forward to life with Eddie, her husband. Both have good jobs with the City of New York. Eddie's drinking turns into full-blown alcoholism, and he takes it out on Mary Ann. To deal with the abuse, Mary Ann becomes a compulsive gambler. Eddie receives a really good incentive to stop drinking when his health collapses because he needs a heart transplant.

Eddie gets his new heart, and things start to improve between him and Mary Ann. They go on a cruise, and renew their wedding vows. Life is good. That is, until the day that Eddie is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The end comes quickly. Instead of being able to mourn her husband privately, Mary Ann is thrown into a battle among Eddie's family over, you guessed it, money.

Mom, the family matriarch, is 90 years old, and still has her faculties, but she can no longer live alone. Eddie's brother and his wife convince Mom to live with them in Florida. The problem is that the wife is a greedy, manipulative little you-know-what who makes no secret of her desire to get her hands on Mom's large bank account. A bigger problem is that Eddie's brother is totally unwilling, or unable, to stand up for himself or his family in New York to his wife.

Mary Ann makes her hatred for Greedy Wife very clear when the draining of the bank account starts (which the family in New York is able to stop). Greedy Wife cuts off all contact between Mom and New York, except to say things like 'Mom wants Mary Ann removed from the (already existing and rock-solid) will' or 'Mom wants no further contact with New York because they are being mean and inconsiderate' (which are total nonsense). Most of the contact between New York and Florida is done through attorneys. Through all this, a group of widows help Mary Ann grieve Eddie's death and keep her emotional bearings.

On the positive side, this is a very raw and plain-spoken story about love and death and family squabbles. It is short, and very much worth reading. On the negative side, this book really needs a trip, or another trip, to a professional proofreader.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay

I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay, Harlan Ellison, iBooks, 2004

For a number of years, attempts had been made to bring Isaac Asimov's I, Robot stories to the silver screen. In the late 1970's, the task was given to Harlan Ellison, winner of nearly every major fiction award that is available (except for the Pulitzer and the Nobel). This screenplay is his answer.

Ellison's introduction chronicles the screenplay's journey through the jungles of Hollywood. It actually incorporates several of Asimov's stories into the script. This would have been an incredible movie if it was made (alas, that never happened). It gives the viewer an interesting story, with excellent writing, instead of relying on sex, violence or car chases.

This really is the greatest science fiction movie never made. It is very highly recommended.

Indecent

Indecent, Ethan Brant, CreateSpace, 2016

Inspired by true events, this book is about one man's journey through the criminal and political underworld of present-day Yugoslavia.

As a teenager, Zlatan (born in Bosnia, raised in Serbia) is sentenced to several years in prison for putting another teenager in the hospital. While inside, he is introduced to the criminal underworld. He becomes friends with an older ex-security agent who he calls "Uncle." He is suddenly let out of prison. Agents of the State Security Service pick him up and make it clear to him that his freedom is not free. He is expected to kill several government opponents living all over Europe. Saying no is not an option.

Zlatan finds it easy to pull the trigger; it does not mean that he likes it. After several such murders, he is under the impression that his obligations to The Service are fulfilled. Zlatan and a couple of friends get into the drug business with money from the robbery of a Cartier jewelry store. After several years of success, one day, The Service calls, and makes it clear that his obligations to them are not fulfilled.

Zlatan spends the next several years as the "power behind the throne" to President Koshtunica, the last President of Yugoslavia and then Prime Minister of Serbia. Zlatan wants, and gets, police protection for his drug shipments. After several more years, Zlatan leaves, and hides with a friend in an isolated cabin, away from everyone. The phone rings.

This is a novella, so it is a quick read. It gives an interesting look inside a very turbulent part of the world. It also has plenty of violence, and it is really good and worth reading.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Libertarianism for Beginners

Libertarianism for Beginners, Todd Seavey, For Beginners LLC, 2016

What is Libertarianism all about? This book attempts to give the answer.

Quoting from the book, it is a "political philosophy that emphasizes individual rights, including strong property rights, and the radical shrinking or abolition of government (since government routinely interferes with your use of your body and property)." A person can do what they want with their body or possessions as long as they don't use someone else's body or possessions without their consent.

Victimless crimes, like using drugs (without physically injuring anyone else) or watching pornography are not grounds for arrest. How do we pay for public services without taxes? By imposing voluntary user fees; the people who actually use the service should pay for it. Government has taken over the task of providing aid to the poor, destroying networks run by poor people themselves. In some cases, government has imposed restrictions on private charities, making their job much more difficult.

There are many different types of libertarianism. Objectivists, followers of Ayn Rand, reject anarchism, religion and other parts of conventional morality. Minarchists believe in a minimal, limited state that consists of little more than police, courts and purely defensive military. Left-libertarians advocate the abolition of the state and of other unequal relationships, like between landlords and tenants, bosses and workers and traditional husbands and wives.

This is a pretty painless introduction to libertarianism. It might take more than one reading to understand the whole book; the effort will be well worth it. Yes, this is recommended.

The Delmont Street Gang

The Delmont Street Gang, Eric A Mann, CreateSpace, 2012

This is a look at life in the 1960's and 1970's in the town of Manchester CT, a few miles east of Hartford, the state capital.

It was a time when young people played outside until dark, with no parental supervision. There was no such thing as supervised play dates. There were just three or four channels on TV, and no cell phones or video games, so there was no choice but to play outside. The local baseball field was a bare patch of ground next to the local elementary school. In an attempt to make it look more like a major league field, numbers were painted on the wall of the school showing the distance from home plate. School officials were not amused. Things got deadly serious when one of the "gang" was hit by a car and killed instantly.

It was a time when it was nothing for kids to get on public transportation, spend the day in Hartford, and come home, all without parental supervision. A person could watch a movie, with popcorn and soda, at the State Theater on Main Street (now a fundamentalist church) for one dollar or less. Winter meant throwing snowballs at passing cars. Summer meant building forts with material pilfered from local construction sites. To the parents, corporal punishment was a normal part of raising a child. If a kid wanted to go somewhere in town, like to the local municipal swimming pool, they rode their bike or they walked. There was no parental taxi service.

Full disclosure: I was born and raised, and still live, in Manchester, so I am automatically going to love this book. I grew up in the same time period, but in a different part of town. This book brought back a lot of memories. For anyone else, the stories in this book could take place in any town in America. It is well worth reading.  

The Sinful Man

The Sinful Man, Keith Rommel, Sunbury Press, 2014

Leo is running through a night-time forest, frantically trying to escape unseen, but evil, creatures that are chasing him. He stumbles upon a small house, and pounds on the door. Twyla, the elderly woman inside, eventually lets him in.

Leo's only thought is to find a phone, or the nearest road, or maybe he can outrun his tormentors (in an unfamiliar forest at night). Twyla tries to tell him that there is no phone, or road, and with an injured shoulder, Leo should forget about trying to outrun the creatures that are waiting for him. She also tries to tell Leo that his presence at this time is not an accident.

Included is the story of Leo's immediate past. He became a junkie with "help" from Saint Nick, the local drug kingpin. Leo's parents have thrown him out of the house. Leo wanders the streets in a torrential rainstorm. A local priest tries to help, but Leo is not interested. Leo owes Saint Nick a considerable amount of money, and really needs a "hit" to calm his physical agony.

Back at the house, someone else is pounding on the door, desperate to get in. Keir, a young boy who lives with Twyla, eventually lets him in, and takes him to a different part of the house. It is vital that Leo and the other man don't see each other until the right time. The other man's thoughts are also consumed with escape, and Keir tries to tell him that it's not possible. The other man tries to escape, but does not get very far.

Twyla takes Leo into a different room in the house, which opens into a vast room, full of shelves containing a book for every person who has ever lived. Leo's name is on one of those books. He also gets to confront the other man, who Twyla says is the source of all of Leo's problems. Is it Saint Nick?

The author does an excellent job at turning up the tension in the first few pages, and keeping it going until the end. It also gets nice and weird, without going overboard, by the end. This one is very much worth reading.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Last Autumn

The Last Autumn, Opheila Juliet, Lepak Monkey Publishing, 2016

Richard Robertson is a young piano prodigy who totally avoids playing the piano; he claims that he can no longer hear the music. His parents died in an auto accident a few years previously; he still lives in the family mansion with Nana Rosy, the maid and cook, and Jackson, the chauffeur (not "chauffer").

Lizzie is the daughter of Richard's piano teacher; the two form a life-long friendship. When they reach high school, Richard's feelings toward Lizzie become more than platonic. He is afraid to tell her out of fear that it will damage or destroy their friendship. It breaks his heart to watch Lizzie become the girlfriend of someone else. He also envies those who have no problem playing the instrument they love.

Life deals Lizzie a major setback. Does Richard get up the courage to tell Lizzie how he feels about her? Does Richard ever return to the keyboard?

This is a really good teen romance. It's clean and wholesome, it's got teens and lots of emotion, and it's got classical music. This would make a really good movie.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Assassination Complex

The Assassination Complex, Jeremy Scahill, Simon and Schuster, 2016

Based on leaked documents, this book gives an inside look at America's military drone program.

Publicly, drone strikes are used only on those who are deemed an imminent threat to America, including American citizens living abroad. The intelligence community is as sure as they can be that they know Terrorist X's exact location and that the possibility of civilian casualties is reduced as much as possible. That's not the reality.

In countries like Somalia and Yemen, America has very few people on the ground who can confirm Terrorist X's location at any given time. Therefore, America relies on tracking their cellphones. Some drones carry what is, in effect, a fake cellphone tower. When Terrorist X's cellphone makes a call, it is forced to connect to that fake tower. The location is pinpointed. The possibility that the cellphone is in the possession of Terrorist X's wife or cousin, or that the SIM card was taken out and given to an associate, is not considered. Civilians who are killed in a drone strike are usually called "militants."

The book talks about America's no-fly lists (there is more than one list). How a person gets on, and off, the list is highly classified. Evidently giving Americans a way to get off the list would hamper the War on Terror. Ramstein Air Base in Germany is a vital relay point between drones flying around Southwest Asia, and their pilots back in America. Officially, this is in violation of German law, but the German Government intentionally does not ask America about it. Ultimately, despite the occasional high profile, and extrajudicial, killing, the drone program has not had much effect on Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

This book deserves six stars. It is fascinating, eye-opening, upsetting and very highly recommended for all Americans.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Steve Jobs: American Genius

Steve Jobs: American Genius, Amanda Ziller, HarperCollins, 2011

This is a young adult version of the life of Steve Jobs.

It looks at all the major events in his life, including meeting Steve Wozniak, the Homebrew Computer Club, Xerox Parc, the Apple I, the Macintosh, being thrown out of Apple, NeXt, Pixar, returning to Apple, the Ipod, the Ipad and the Iphone.

This book is very much recommended for all young people who want to know why Steve Jobs was so important. It is equally recommended for adults who want a quick, and easy to read, biography, but who don't want to attempt the "official" biography.

Communication: Golden Rules for Effective Communication Skills

Communication: Golden Rules for Effective Communication Skills: Communication for Beginners, William Prior, Amazon Digital Services, 2015

This is a very basic book about the art of communication.

Information can be conveyed non-verbally, through facial expressions, hand gestures and tone of voice. Verbal communication allows for immediate feedback from the receiver, and written communication provides a permanent record and can be used as legal evidence.

There are many obstacles to clear communication. The receiver could jump in before the sender is finished speaking (thinking that the sender has used a period when they have actually used a comma). Other obstacles include use of technical jargon, a bad transition from one language to another, not paying attention to the speaker and too much use of hand gestures.

The author's Golden Rules in communication, at work or outside of work include: Be clear when sending your message. Listen to the other person. Silence will help both of you to analyze your thoughts. Focus on the problem, not on the other person.

Most people will consider this book common knowledge. There are people (including those who should know better) who really need this book. It's worth reading.

Jewelry Can Be Deadly

Jewelry Can Be Deadly, Cindy Bell, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2016

A couple moves into a retirement community. She is wearing a very unique diamond necklace that greatly interests Jo, a former thief and fellow resident. Hours later, she is dead, and the necklace is gone. Along with Samantha, a reporter, and Eddy, a retired cop, Jo investigates. Was it the "grieving" husband? Was it one of Jo's fellow thieves? Was it someone else entirely?

This is a pretty "quiet" and really good mystery tale. It has lots of twists and turns and will keep the reader guessing until the end. It is very much worth reading.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dirty Martini

Dirty Martini, J.A. Konrath, CreateSpace, 2013

Part of a series, this novel is about Chicago Police Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels. Her nemesis this time is The Chemist, someone who spreads very lethal poisons in public places. The body count, along with the level of panic, rises very quickly. Before heading to parts unknown, The Chemist plans one last act of terror. Can Jack and the police stop it? Do they stop The Chemist, permanently?


This is an excellent story. It easily reaches the level of Stay Up All Night Reading Until Finished. It also gets two strong thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Get Smart!

Get Smart!, Brian Tracy, Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin, 2016

Everyone wants to act and think like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. This book shows how anyone can move in that direction.

What do you really, really want to accomplish, either personally or professionally? Writing that Ultimate Goal on paper, and posting it somewhere prominent, is more meaningful than simply keeping it in the back of your mind. Be sure to break that Ultimate Goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. Resolve to do at least one goal-oriented thing every day.

Corporate thinkers are concerned with pleasing their bosses, following the rules and doing the absolute minimum necessary to keep from getting laid off. Customers are nothing but whiny irritants. Entrepreneurial thinkers obsess about customers all the time, they continually upgrade their skills and look for ways to become more valuable to their company. Which one are you?

Is it worth it to be in motion all day, looking like a video tape stuck on fast forward, and ultimately not getting much done? On the other hand, maybe you should prioritize your tasks, doing the important ones first, and resolve to actually work while you are at work. Leave the socializing for lunch time. Also, you should resolve to check your email only at specific times during the day. Stay away from it for the rest of the day.

Every policy and procedure in your company should be periodically re-evaluated, for possible changing or removing.The reason that most people stay poor is because of ingrained bad habits, like procrastination, fear of failure and lack of persistence. This book tells how to change those habits.

Start with "excellent" and go from there; that is how good this book is. It is highly recommended for people from any walk of life, young or old, blue- or white-collar.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Wish

Wish, Scott Hungerford, Amazon Digital Services, 2013

The city of Emerald (formerly known as Seattle) is like something out of the Arabian Nights. Communication is done through a form of Skype that uses talking mirrors. Getting around the city is not done with cars or buses, but with flying carpets. The Sultan (the absolute ruler of Emerald) has been deposed in a coup. The new Sultan is a young man named Cassim. He is known to Shea, and her scholar father, as an arrogant, elitist jerk. Several magic rings give Cassim the power to, among other things, command an army of stone soldiers.

Few people know this, but Cassim started his reign by marrying his sister (without her consent), taking her to his bedroom, and, the next morning, ordering the disposal of her headless body. The stone soldiers spread out throughout Emerald, gathering up 500 young women, including Shea, and her best friend, Chloe, to be part of Cassim's harem. The previous night, Shea was attacked by a djinn who forced on her the ability to know a person's complete life story, including when they were going to die, just by touching them. Inside the palace, a sprawling complex of unimaginable luxury, the other women dream of being Sultana, but Shea knows that they have a very short life expectancy. Cassim finds out about Shea's abilities, and orders her to read anyone he wants, and tell him their story, especially the violent and sexual parts.

After being forced to read Chloe, the two manage to get Cassim's magic rings away from him, and help many others to get out of the palace with help from Shea's mother, Eve, a professional assassin. It's now a race to a cavern deep inside a mountain to get a magic lamp, the ultimate source of Cassim's power. It just happens to be guarded by a very large dragon. Do Shea and her parents get to the lamp first? Is Cassim the winner, and does he consolidate his tyranny?

This belongs in that large gray area of Pretty Good or Worth Reading. The story gets better in the second half of the book. Even a small explanation as to how Seattle became Emerald would have been appreciated. Teens will enjoy this book, and adults will like it, too.

Europa Journal

Europa Journal, Jack Castle, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2016

Harry Reed was part of a US military training flight that left Florida in December 1945. It vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. How did his body end up inside a submerged pyramid on Europa about two hundred years later?

Commander Mackenzie O'Bryant is called in, because she has a prominent place in Reed's journal, which she pockets. A member of her crew accidentally pushes the On button. They just manage to escape the flooding of the pyramid, but they don't escape the suddenly-created wormhole that sends them Somewhere Else.

After crash landing on an alien planet, their attempts at First Contact do not go well. They eventually meet up with Reed, who is the only survivor of his flight. He has been accepted by several awumpai (think of a samurai crossed with a yeti). The planet is ruled by a very powerful being called Atum-Khaos. He knows of Earth's existence. His ultimate objective is to take an entire floating city back through the wormhole, and kill or enslave all of humanity. Can he be stopped by a handful of humans, and a couple of World War II-era bomber aircraft? How does Reed's body get to Europa?

I totally enjoyed this novel. It's very easy to read, with heart and emotion along with very alien aliens. It also has lots of action, with a rather high body count by the end. This is another case where just as a novel, this is excellent. Considering that it is the author's first SF novel brings it to the level of Wow.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Subversion: Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales of Challenging the Norm

Subversion: Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales of Challenging the Norm, Bart R Leib (ed.), Crossed Genres Publications, 2011

This is a group of new science fiction and fantasy tales about challenging the status quo. It doesn't have to be political; the status quo can be social, religious or even personal.

In an interplanetary confederation that uses slavery (it's called "contract labor"), a young boy, son of the slave owner, becomes friends with a female slave of the same age. After learning exactly what contract labor is all about, he starts to plan the revolution that will bring down the system, once and for all.

A Jewish woman's grandmother was a pro-union activist in the Great Depression era. The woman's average teenage daughter suddenly decides to drop out of college and become a political activist. That wouldn't be so awful, except that the daughter suddenly starts speaking in Russian-accented Yiddish (just like grandma), a language to which she has had no exposure. Maybe the grandmother is not yet ready to "cross over."

A pair of brothers in the foster care system each have their own android Guardian. On a car trip, they stop at a seedy-looking house for some very illegal upgrades to the Guardians, without the Guardians catching on.

The only way to keep a powerful dragon from destroying a trio of kingdoms is to send heirs to those kingdoms to the dragon, as sacrifices. But one of the three takes the words Know Your Enemy more seriously than do the others.

As in most anthologies, some stories are better than others, but, overall, this group of stories is well worth the time. There is a good variety of times and places, and the writing is really good.

Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen

Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen, Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2016

This latest installment in a yearly compendium of science fiction and fantasy stories from Canada focuses on superheroes. It involves a lot more than constant battles against Dr. Bad Guy.

A female super-villain breaks out of prison and crashes her family's barbecue, in order to visit her dying grandmother. The rest of the family is not thrilled about her sudden appearance. When a superhero is injured in battle, does he or she go to the local hospital, or to a special superhero hospital?   After the public adulation has disappeared, and the government no longer needs their services, what is a superhero to do? Are they forced to fly around the city, carrying a giant "Available" sign, like an airborne taxi?

A woman becomes sidekick to Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things. A native of Prince Edward Island passes up a chance to join an all-Canadian league of superheroes. There is a story about a person who sets herself on fire, and then reincarnates, like a human phoenix. A female friend of Captain Freedom was murdered, chopped to pieces and pinned to a wall as a warning for the Captain. Now she's back from the dead.

Not only is this an excellent bunch of stories, it's also an excellent addition to the superhero universe. There is a lot more to being a superhero than fighting evil.

Tochwyatis

Tochwyatis, Frej Wasastjerna, Amazon Digital Services, 2012

The two-thousand-year sleep of the Sky Father is scheduled to end in a few years, so Kumulhan, High Priest of the Sky Father, decides to honor him by making the whole world worship him through a brutal war of conquest. Ugude, the military leader of the Tagaiashaian people, cuts a swath through the planet of murder, pillaging and desecrating temples of the Cat People and Bird People. Tochwyatis, a young and untrained sorcerer of the people of Maimo, seems to be the only one who can stop him.

The Maimonese gain allies in the Cat People, who are tired of Kumulhan's tyranny. Tochwyatis falls for Niariti, one of the Cat people. The attraction is mutual. There is a long journey to a certain mountain where, it is thought, Ugude will pass in his travels. Tochwyatis kills Ugude with sorcery, but that is hardly the end of the story. There are many battles, with a very high body count.

The end of the book finds Tochwyatis and Niariti in the central Temple of the Sky Father. Kumulhan knows that things have fallen apart, so, as a last resort, he awakens the Sky Father early. What is the Sky Father's reaction?

The overall story may be a bit simplistic, but the author does a very good job. Everything feels very believable, from the romance to the battle scenes to the reality of how to use a crossbow. This easily gets four stars, maybe even four-and-ahalf stars.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

D-99

D-99, H.B. Fyfe, Pyramid Books, 1962

Mankind has started to spread throughout the galaxy, and has met alien races with all sorts of, to humans, strange laws. When those laws are broken, and a human is thrown in jail, the Department of Interstellar Relations is tasked with getting them out and off the planet. When that doesn't work, D-99 gets the job. It's one of those super-secret agencies that officially does not exist.

A pair of men crash landed on a planet where such a thing is illegal. The natives had just finished an interplanetary war, so they were understandably wary of outsiders. The plan is to slip them pills which, when consumed, will make them look dead. The natives will dump their bodies in the nearby desert, where a ship will pick them up. A female journalist is arrested on a different planet for wanting to buy a souvenir, and for being excessively feminine. The plan is to have her transferred to a work farm outside the city, but she never gets there.

Meantime, back on Earth, a major power failure has stranded the D-99 employees at the office on the 99th floor of a skyscraper (that's where the "99" comes from). They can't call for help, because the D.I.R. will never let them hear the end of it. So everyone is stuck until the power is restored. A more serious problem concerns Lydman, one of the employees. He is an ex-spacer who spent time in an alien prison. Everyone is worried about what he will do when he learns that he is trapped at the top of a skyscraper. Does Lydman find his own solution? Despite the handicap, does D-99 rescue the detained humans?

The book is certainly interesting and readable, but there is not much reason to recommend it, either. I wish I could say more than just Meh.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Humanoid Touch

The Humanoid Touch, Jack Williamson, Holt Rhinehart & Winston, 1980

This novel, sequel to Williamson's justifiably classic novel The Humanoids, takes place about one thousand years from now. A small remnant of humanity has fled to a pair of planets orbiting a binary star, in order to get away from robotic servants called humanoids.

What's so awful about robotic servants whose only purpose is to serve Man, and protect him from harm? Aside from the fact that they number in the trillions and are spreading throughout the galaxy, they gently, but firmly, insist on doing everything for mankind. They haven't just taken over dangerous jobs like coal mining or crab fishing, they will not let mankind even drive a car or go to the grocery store. Earth is an enslaved planet.

In this book, most of what's left of mankind don't believe that the humanoids are real; they are nothing more than something for parents to mention to misbehaving children. Keth Kyrone and his discredited father are among the few who still fear the humanoids. Keth inadvertently finds something that may be mankind's only weapon against them.

The humanoids arrive, and start manipulating people's beliefs. Even hard-nosed military types suddenly disappear for several days; when they re-appear, they are practically singing hosannas about the humanoids to anyone who will listen. Is it real, or have they been brainwashed? Keth has to undertake a dangerous mission, mostly on his own. to open humanity's eyes to the benevolent slavery of the humanoids. Does he succeed? Are the humanoids stopped?

By itself, this is a really good story from a master of science fiction. When compared to The Humanoids, the older novel is better. This is still a fine piece of writing that looks at the downside of robots and artificial intelligence.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Eyes Behold Tomorrow

The Eyes Behold Tomorrow, Ken Hart, World Castle Publishing, 2014

Edward Robert Teach is your average human male. He is smart, rich and very un-politically correct. He also abhors his famous namesake, Blackbird the Pirate. One day, a spaceship lands on the lawn of the White House. Out come several gorgeous women. They are actually from the female-dominated planet of Feletia. They are here to recruit human males, including from the general public, to join the Feletian Space Navy. Feletia is in the middle of an interplanetary war against the Lyonians, who have already visited Earth. Edward is personally recruited by Princess Kamini, the leader of the expedition, for her "stable."

On Feletia, Edward becomes the unlikeliest captain of a prototype space destroyer in the Feletian Space Navy. He gets quite a reputation after destroying a Lyonian battle cruiser with a lucky shot with a torpedo. There is a Lyonian bounty for his capture. There are many personality clashed between strong-willed Edward and the equally strong-willed Feletian women.

A new player has entered the Feletian-Lyonian war. Edward watches as a ship of unknown origin destroys several Lyonian ships like it was nothing. Returning from a mission, Edward finds the population in an uproar. There has been an attack by unknown individuals, with many Feletian casualties, including Kamini's mother, Queen Aphelia. He learns from a captured intruder that they are called Grrulagans, and they can change into any being they want. Their intention is to foment a Feletian-Lyonian war, and then clean up afterwards. By this time, Kamini has assumed the throne, and Edward has become Regent. Only Edward can see the Grrulagan impostors among the Feletian population, and after teaching others how to do it, several thousand Grrulagans are rounded up. As Regent, Edward's job is to protect Kamini, any way he can. This leads to more clashes with the Feletian hierarchy. Does Kamini survive? Is there now a three-way war?

This belongs in the large gray area of Pretty Good or Worth Reading. The author, intentionally, does not try to answer any Great Questions, like "Where did mankind come from?" It is a tale of one person's physiucal and emotional journey, and it is worth reading.

Lex Talionis

Lex Talionis, R.S.A. Garcia, Dragonwell Publishing, 2014

A young woman is brought into a spaceport hospital, having been brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. She also has amnesia. All she remembers is Lex Talionis - The Law of Revenge. She also seems to have acquired an alien creature called an oux, rescued from an interstellar zoo, and who physically heals her, almost instantly. Colin, the doctor who runs the clinic, tries very hard to not fall in love with her, but does not succeed. After several weeks, she regains her memory.

She is Shalon Conway, heir to Conway Enterprises, and niece to Gilene Conway, the most powerful woman in the galaxy. Shalon's parents died in a spaceship crash when Shalon was a child, and, publicly, Shalon also died in that crash.

Shalon has been a senior commander in an interplanetary war. After winning a war against A Conway Enterprises subsidiary, former allies became enemies. She is going to another planet in a ship full of Troopers (the interstellar police), arranged by another senior commander. What she doesn't know is that, because she is a Conway, her actual fate is to become someone's sex slave. The crew of the spaceship are in it just for the money, so they decide to "sample" her before delivery. That is when she is repeatedly sexually assaulted. Things go very badly for the crew; Shalon gets her revenge.

Shalon knows that publicly announcing that she is alive is a very bad idea; Aunt Gilene would make sure that she suffers an untimely demise, so Shalon takes her time. How does she appropriately get back at Gilene Conway for killing her parents? Does the author leave room for Part 2?

For any author, this is an excellent novel. The fact that this is the author's debut novel brings it to the level of Wow. It has lots of good writing, and is very much recommended.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Those Who Hunt the Night

Those Who Hunt the Night, Barbara Hambly, Del Rey Books, 1988

A new killer is afoot on the streets of Sherlock Holmes-era London. The difference is that this killer is targeting London's vampires, who have existed in the city for several hundred years. Someone, or something, is opening their coffins during the day, thereby exposing them to sunlight, and certain death.

Simon Ysidro, London's oldest vampire, enlists the help of James Asher, an instructor at Oxford University, and former British spy, to investigate. Asher is given little choice in the matter. Any non-cooperation or attempts at double-crossing on Asher's part will lead to his young wife, Lydia, a medical doctor, becoming the newest member of London's vampire population.

Taking great pains to keep Lydia as safe as possible, Asher and Ysidro visit the now-empty coffins, looking for clues. Ysidro is less than cooperative, not wanting to reveal too much as possible about life as a vampire. Lydia undertakes her own investigation, looking for anomalies in house ownership records, or people who have lived much longer than normal, while spending her nights reading medical journals.

Asher learns that turning someone into a vampire is not as easy as just drinking their blood. More than that is involved, and it does not work all the time. Asher and Ysidro travel to Paris, where they meet Brother Anthony, a very old and frail-looking vampire who lives underground in the Catacombs. Asher also narrowly escapes getting his blood drained by several French vampires.

Returning to London, Asher learns that Lydia, increasingly concerned about his lack of communication, has taken matters into her own hands. Does Asher find her in time? Is the culprit found and stopped? Does this have anything to do with a sudden rash of "unexplained" deaths in London, whose victims have had their blood drained?

This is a really good novel, but not a very fast moving novel. It will take some effort on the part of the reader, but that effort will be rewarded, because Hambly shows that she knows how to tell a story. It is worth checking out.

Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs, Jes Battis, Ace Books, 2011

Part of a series, this book is about Tess Corday, who works the night shift as an Occult Special Investigator in present-day Vancouver. She is den mother for an interesting group of individuals. Mia is a teen-age girl who, in a previous book, was bitten by a vampire, but hasn't "turned" due to daily injections. Patrick is a vampire with the ability to go out in the daytime. Miles and Derrick are gay lovers. In a previous book, Derrick was bitten by a paranormal creature, and fears that he is turning into "something different."

Today's assignment is to steal a body from the local morgue. It may look like a young boy, but it is actually a very elderly demon named Ru. They arrive just as Dr Rashid, the pathologist, starts his autopsy. He cuts into the body, and the child/demon sits up and starts screaming. At the moment, a large, angry centaur appears. It wants to bring Ru back to face "demon justice" (for lack of a better term).

In custody, the centaur threatens all sorts of grievous bodily harm, in very creative ways, for Tess and her group, and for Selena, her immediate boss. It also intimates that it knows the identity of Tess's father. Being half demon, Tess knows that her father was some sort of major-league demon who impregnated her mother. Tess does not even know his name. Do Tess and friends save Ru from the centaur? Does Tess get any answers concerning her father?

This is a first-rate piece of storytelling. It does not overdo the paranormal part, and it is extremely easy to read. Yes, it is worth the time.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Koko Takes a Holiday

Koko Takes a Holiday, Kieran Shea, Titan Books, 2014

Set several hundred years from now, Koko Martstellar is a former corporate mercenary now enjoying retirement. She is a bar and brothel owner on the Sixty Islands, a manufactured resort specializing in sex and simulated violence. Life is good, until a squad of soldiers is sent to kill her.

The soldiers come from Portia Delacompte, Koko's former mercenary colleague. Koko kills the soldiers, and flees to the Second Free Zone, an independent group of arks, ships, and other structures for human habitation high in the sky. Portia's ambitious assistant, Vincent Lee, takes it upon himself to send a trio of female bounty hunters after Koko, even though such a thing is very illegal. A big problem is that Portia, who has "gone corporate" in retirement, honestly can't remember why Koko must die, only that her death is vital. As part of her corporate job, large parts of her long-term memory had to go.

The Second Free Zone is dealing with depressus, an endemic psychological disease. It is characterized by increasing levels of depression and wild mood swings, like an extreme case of "the blues." The sufferer is eventually compelled to commit suicide. To keep the suicides manageable, every so often, the authorities turn off the safety barriers, and let sufferers fall a very long way to their deaths. Koko meets Jed Flynn, a security officer and depressus sufferer who is part of the next suicide group. He helps Koko stay ahead of the bounty hunters, two of who are eliminated. They head back to the Sixty Islands, courtesy of a flying garbage truck. That is where Portia decides to take care of Koko, personally. Also, one of the bounty hunters is still on Koko's trail, and she still has a price on her head.

Here is a fast-moving, hard rocking excellent piece of writing. It has a cyberpunk feel to it, even though there is very little "cyber" in it. There is plenty of action, and I hope there are future books about Koko Martstellar.

Eight Keys to Eden

Eight Keys to Eden, Mark Clifton, Doubleday, 1960

The human colony on the planet Eden is well established. Many pictures are sent back to Earth of houses, plowed fields and a hangar for their ship. Eden has missed their regularly scheduled check-in with Earth. Is their equipment broken? Is there a space disturbance between Earth and Eden? Are the colonists being inconsiderate jerks and deciding not to call Earth? A ship, with Junior E Calvin Gray on board, is sent to investigate.

The Extrapolators (E for short) are Earth's intellectual supermen. After a rigorous process of being taught the "right" way to think, and much testing, when a person becomes an E, they cannot be charged with any crime. It is also illegal to interrupt an E when he is thinking or talking.

The ship reaches the planet, and finds the spot where the colony is supposed to be. There is no sign of a colony at all. The only thing the ship finds is a bunch of naked colonists aimlessly wandering around. The ship lands, and disappears. Gray and his three-man crew are sprawled on the ground, naked. The leader of the colonists reports that everything just vanished, including their clothes, a couple of days previously. What is worse is that the colonists are finding it increasingly hard to care about their plight, like they are reverting to the level of animals.

Several other ships are in orbit, wanting to see for themselves just what is happening. Among them is a ship from the Attorney General's office. They really do not like the E program, and would love to dish out some public humiliation. Worldwide photos of nudist colonist, and a naked E, doing heaven-knows-what, would certainly qualify. A transparent, but impenetrable, barrier has enclosed the planet, preventing any further landings.

Gray begins to get an inkling of an intelligence at work. Maybe this intelligence never evolved to the point of using tools, so it took away the human tools to level the playing field. Can Gray communicate with it? Can he restore the colony to the way it was?

This one is pretty good. It's a well-written, and pretty "quiet" book (remember when it was published) about a new kind of intelligence. If you can find a copy, then, yes, it is worth reading.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Paperboy's Fable

A Paperboy's Fable: 11 Principles of Success, Deep Patel, Post Hill Press, 2016

This short book gives easy-to-follow rules for any entrepreneur to be successful. They are given in the form of a story.

Ty Chandler is your average high school student heading into his senior year. The usual summer jobs are taken. One day, he runs into the adult newspaper carrier for the local newspaper. The route is about to become available, and Ty asks if he can have it. He is now a paperboy; with less than a dozen customers in a 200-unit subdivision, there is plenty of room for growth.

From the beginning, Ty does things the right way. He invests in a supply of bright red newspaper bags, and resolves to place every copy, every day, right on the front porch, and not just somewhere in front of the house. Extra copies of the paper, along with an inexpensive greeting card, and a passport-sized photo of Ty, are dropped off, free of charge, at the homes of his "not yet customers" (not "non-customers").

Ty thinks nothing of going the extra mile. He notices that one woman has a couple of empty cough medicine boxes in her recycling bin. He goes to the local drug store, buys a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, and delivers them, free of charge. Another elderly neighbor asks if he can clean out her gutters, or rake her front yard and bag the leaves.

His new after school lawn and garden business takes off, due to word of mouth advertising. He invests in a decent lawn mower, and a mini-trailer that can be attached to his bike. His morning paper route is also growing, along with school, and his customers expecting extra-special treatment. Can Ty keep this up until he goes off to college?

This book is short, and very easy to understand. If there is such a thing as a dying profession in America, "paperboy" is probably it. Any entrepreneur of any kind who can not find just one job aid in this book has a real problem. This is very much recommended, for everyone.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

251 Things to Do in Tofino

251 Things to Do in Tofino: And It Is Not Just About Surfing, Kait Fennell, BlueFire Media, 2016

Tofino is a small town on the west side of Vancouver Island, right on the Pacific Ocean. It is known as Canada’s surfing mecca. As this book says, there are lots of things to do in Tofino that do not involve surfing. A person can hike through the nearby rain forest, go whale watching, sample local First Peoples culture, or just hang out and enjoy the vibe.


Tofino sounds like a great place to visit to get away from it all. This very complete book, with addresses, phone numbers and websites, is well worth the money for any such visitor.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ben Franklin for Beginners

Ben Franklin for Beginners, Tim E. Ogline, For Beginners LLC, 2013

This book looks at the life of Benjamin Franklin. He was a lot more than "just" one of America's Founding Fathers.

A native of Boston, Franklin's father wanted him to become a minister. Realizing that Ben was not cut out for the religious life, he took Ben on a tour of the local trades. Ben ended up as an indentured servant to James, his older brother, a printer. It was not a happy relationship. Ben left Boston and found himself in Philadelphia.

Over time, he became a successful printer, gaining contracts through word-of-mouth advertising. He used a variety of pseudonyms to write articles, poems and letters to the editor for a number of different newspapers, including his own. James, his older brother, was not happy on learning that a series of very popular letters signed "Silence Dogood" that he printed, actually came from Ben, his younger brother. Ben was also a well-known hoaxster and humorist.

Franklin was interested in many things besides printing. He invented swim fins (at age 11!). He invented the Franklin Stove, a new kind of fireplace. People were reluctant to accept his invention of the lightning rod, fearing that re-directing lightning bolts was defying the will of God. Ben felt that six of the alphabet's 26 letters were redundant, and could be removed, replaced with new letters. He was also known for his famous "air baths." Ben founded the first lending library, the first volunteer fire department and helped raise money for America's first hospital.

Franklin made several trips to Europe, spending more than 25 years overseas. His duties ranged from agent for several different American colonies, to later being American Ambassador to France.

This is an excellent introduction to the life of Benjamin Franklin. It is very much worth reading for everyone, including teens, and those who know him only as one of America's Founding Fathers.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Snowden

Snowden, Ted Rall, Seven Stories Press, 2015

In graphic novel form, this book looks at the life and motivation of Edward Snowden, one of the most famous, or infamous, people in the world.

Snowden grew up in Maryland, just a few miles from the headquarters of the National Security Agency, or NSA. It was the sort of community where one learns not to ask their neighbor, or their spouse, just what they do for a living; it's probably secret. An attempt to join the Army after 9/11 was not successful. As a CIA employee, he was stationed for a time in Switzerland. He was exposed to other systems of values, and began to wonder if America was really the "good guys."

He left the CIA, and joined the NSA, eventually becoming a systems administrator, or sysadmin. He spent some time in Japan, which further removed any notion that America was on the side of the angels. As a sysadmin, he had access to all sorts of classified files that detailed America's surveillance plans. Whenever he had a chance, he downloaded file after file onto flash drives.

Here are a couple of examples. An NSA program called "Captivated Audience" lets them track you through your smartphone and listen to conversations in your home, even if the phone is Off. "Gumfish" allows the NSA to take a picture of you, at any time, using the camera in your laptop. Smart TVs, those that allow streaming of web content, have a camera that the government can activate at any time to watch anybody (like the telescreens in Orwell's "1984").

Now working in Honolulu for an NSA contractor, one day Snowden hopped a taxi to the airport with his flash drives. His next stop was Hong Kong where he leaked his information to a couple of journalists. After the worldwide bombshell, he was planning to fly to Latin America to ask for asylum. While in the air, his passport was revoked. He also knew that if he flew through the airspace of a US ally, the ally would force the plane to land. Snowden would be arrested, handed over to American authorities and "disappeared" (like Bradley/Chelsea Manning). Snowden got as far as Moscow, where he remains today.

Say what you will about Edward Snowden (he is a hero or he is a traitor), this is an excellent, and very easy to read, look at why he did what he did. It's very highly recommended.

Digital is Destroying Everything

Digital is Destroying Everything, Andrew V. Edwards, Rowman and Littlefield, 2015

Digital (which includes robots, the internet, algorithms and smartphones) is supposed to usher in a new era of convenience and lower prices for the consumer. There is no downside to all this inter-connectedness, right?

Very wrong, according to the author of this book. He explores how streaming and file sharing have basically destroyed the music industry. The newspaper business is also on "life support." Those who are unemployed are told to learn how to code or re-train for some 21st century job. That may be possible for some people. What is your average middle-age factory worker whose job has just gone overseas supposed to do? Besides, is there much of a demand by companies to hire these semi-trained, but inexperienced, coders?

Digital (especially Amazon) is one of the forces that has emptied Main Street of mom and pop retail shops, and emptied hundreds of strip malls all over America. Retail itself deserves some of the blame (JC Penney, for instance). The newest trend in retail is to build "lifestyle centers" or "Town centers" which are little more than strip malls with a village facade. Have you ever hesitated to go into a store out of fear that the owner might actually. . . talk to you? The object of American entrepreneurship seems to be to create a smartphone app to be sold to some major corporation for an insane amount of money. Creating actual revenue through sales of the app was never a consideration.

Human interaction seems to be deader than dead. How many dinner times are silent because everyone in the family considers the happenings on their tiny screen to be more important than the person sitting across from them? Is personal privacy an obsolete concept? Political discourse has become balkanized, in that believers in nearly anything can put up their own website (or websites) and tell themselves that they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

What can a person do about it? Reduce Your Digital Exposure. Leave your smartphone off until you actually need it. This is an excellent and eye-opening book. It should be read by everyone, especially by those who have to check Facebook (for instance) every few minutes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

What Next?

What Next?, Jeffrey M. Daniels, Booklocker.com, 2013

This is Part 2 in the story of Jeremy Shuttle, a young boy with a very special sketchbook. Anything he draws in the sketchbook becomes real.

Jeremy makes what he thinks will be a quick trip to Washington DC using the sketchbook. He is kidnapped by a couple of henchmen who work for a man named DaHurst, a man who knows how to get what he wants, like the sketchbook. Things do not end well for those who get in his way. Jeremy escapes through a self-imposed time limit on his sketchbook trip.

The story shifts to caves in southern France, where Jeremy drew a cave painting 30,000 years ago, during a previous trip (read Part 1). There Jeremy, his mother, Teresa, and his sort-of girlfriend, Natalie, run into DaHurst, who really wants the sketchbook, and his henchmen. Jeremy has been working on a special sketch that will take him to his father, so he slips out of DaHurst's grasp. Dad disappeared in these caves 13 years ago, but there are current indications that he is still alive. Things look pretty bleak for Teresa and Natalie.

Jeremy is somewhere else (think "collective unconscious") telling this story to someone who may, or may not, be his real father. "Dad" is less than forthcoming with straight answers to Jeremy's many questions. They find themselves on a small plane traveling over ocean for a long time. They are forced to jump, with one parachute, after the plane is struck by a pterodactyl. Jeremy and "Dad" find themselves on an island full of dinosaurs right out of Jurassic Park. How can they get out of where they are, and find Teresa and Natalie? Does Jeremy find his real father?

This novel, and this series, is pretty good. Teens will enjoy it, and adults will, too. It is really well written, and will keep the reader's interest. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Revenge and Blood Sacrifice

Revenge and Blood Sacrifice, Celeste Walker, Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2012

This novelette is about the things that some people, including vampires, will do for love.

Seamus is the leader of a group of Vampire/Areneas (giant spiders) Hybrids living high in the Himalayas. He recently lost his daughter, Ariel, to a true vampire named Caleb, so Seamus wants revenge. The rest of the Hybrids agree to join the war; it is not just Seamus' battle. Nessa's human lover/husband, Thomas, agrees to stay behind; he would simply get in the way, and Nessa would spend too much time worrying about him.

The battle turns into all-out war, with a number of true vampire casualties. Caleb joins the battle, and tries to tell Seamus that Ariel's death was an accident. Seamus is not interested. Just then, Aidan, a nearly indestructible First Vampire, and Caleb's uncle, joins the battle. Both sides really hate the other. Seamus falls in battle, along with Caleb, so the Hybrids decide to retreat.

Nessa is among the Hybrid wounded, having been bitten on the neck by Aidan, which is supposed to be fatal. She is alive, for now. The only way to heal her is to replace her blood with a fresh supply of blood, not from a blood bank, but from a living human. What does Thomas decide to do?

This one is pretty good. If it is part of a larger novel, I would like to read that novel. It is well written, and is more than just vampires or just violence. It can be read in a few minutes, and is worth reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Black Glass

Black Glass, John Shirley, Elder Signs Press, 2008

In near future Los Angeles, ex-cop Richard Candle has just been released from prison. This is not your average prison; he has spent the last four years being UnMinded. What happens is that your body functions as normal, used for heaven knows what, while your conscious mind is turned off. It basically turns a person into a brainless automaton. Richard took the fall for Danny, his younger brother, who would have done hard time in a real prison.

Meantime, Grist is the head of Slakon, the world's largest multinational corporation, which owns everything, including the police the courts and Congress. He is building a multisemblant, which is a melding of the copied personalities of the other Slakon board members into one artificial program. His intention is to kill the other board members, and, with the multisemblant's help, run Slakon on his own.

It is a world where the only "good" thing seems to be the ability to lose one's self inside a 3D virtual reality existence, sometimes to the point of starving to death. Richard's intention is to take Danny, a VR addict, away from LA, and get him cleaned up. Danny slips out of Richard's custody, and takes one last VR trip. Things do not end well.

The multisemblant decides to take matters into its own "hands". There are a number of loose ends to be tied up before it can run Slakon on its own. People start dying in all sorts of graphic ways, including Grist. Can Richard find the actual server where the program is stored, and put it out of business for good, before his name is added to the death toll?

This is a very cool, and very high-tech, novel, written by one of the pioneers of the cyberpunk genre. A person can almost feel the grime, the pollution, and the neural implant telephones while reading this book. This might be the first the novel to do something different with the chapter headings at the start of each chapter (read the book and you'll see). This novel may not be for everyone, but it is extremely highly recommended.

Change the Story, Change the Future

Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy For a Living Earth, David C. Korten, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2015

For many years, the world has been operating under a Story (or Narrative) that governs many aspects of daily life. It's all about money and markets, and it goes something like this: "Money equals happiness. Those who have a lot of money are to be admired and revered. Those who don't have a lot of money are just lazy or stupid. Slightly altering the 1980's bumper sticker: He Who Dies With the Most Money Wins. Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of economic growth, whether it's an increased level of air pollution, or an endangered animal whose forest habitat is about to be clearcut." Among the effects of such a Story are the near destruction of the American economy, and an income inequality gap the size of the Grand Canyon. Maybe the time has come for a new Story.

The author calls it a Sacred Life and Living Earth Story. It is designed to work in harmony with the Earth, and not treat this world like it's a dead rock for sale. The author calls for shifting employment away from activities that harm society to activities that help society. Unproductive financial speculation should be made unprofitable. In college, the focus should shift from pre-employment degree programs to facilitation of lifelong learning. Replace the business school curriculum of phantom-wealth economics with one of living-wealth economics. Get rid of the walls that isolate academic departments from each other and the walls that isolate formal learning from the living world. It is reasonable to say that these proposals have no chance of being adopted, given the current conditions in Washington. Don't all great social movements go through stages, from Impossible to Maybe to Inevitable?

The author does a great job diagnosing the present state of the world. His proposals for how to fix it are not exactly new, but they are still very thought-provoking. Perhaps it is time for a radical rethinking of our current impasse. This book is an excellent place to start.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Women Own All the Vaginas

Women Own All the Vaginas, Richard Nocera, Dick N Jane Publishing, 2010

Why do men do what they do? That's the question this book attempts to answer.

Men are genetically programmed to want to have intimate relations with as many women as possible; it's to propagate the species. They think about it every day. Even a woman he passes on the street will bring about a momentary "What about her?" His ultimate goal is to receive a long-term all access pass to a woman's crotch. Every man starts off as Vagina Man.

Competitive Man compares himself to other men on a constant basis. Distorted Man fiddles with people's perceptions of him by finessing the truth. Dishonest Man thinks that lying will change reality. Scared Man wants to run away as fast as he can.

After he is married, he has no idea what he is getting himself into (Married Man). He didn't know that his life was pre-programmed (Socially Engineered Man). Crisis Man creates a crisis, so it will change his life for him.

The time will come when he has to take a hard look at his actions; it won't be pretty. That's when Courageous Man dares to feel his raw emotions. Honest Man commits to a mantra of No Lying. Wounded Man is deeply affected by his past.

When he comes out the other end, Healing Man starts to heal his emotional wounds. Conflicted Man realizes that he has two aspects to his nature. Whole Man integrates his truth into how he lives his life.

The author is not a psychologist, or an academic with letters after his name. He is a hairdresser, who has spent many years in therapy experiencing the 29 interwoven characteristics of a man's life explored in this book. It is recommended for men, for obvious reasons. It is also recommended for women. It will help to explain why men feel that they must watch porn, or must visit a strip club.

Voices of Our Children: Stories of Music Education

Voices of Our Children: Stories of Music Education, Tatiana Bandurina, Quintecco Educational Products Inc, 2008

Among a parent's "jobs" is to decide when, or if, their child should learn to play a musical instrument. That's what this book, written by a music educator, is all about.

It tells the story of Jessica, who, along with her husband, Nicholas, wants their baby daughter, Alexandra, to learn the violin. At the local park, she runs into an older woman named Elizabeth. A music educator, Elizabeth is a seemingly inexhaustible source of wisdom, and connections, about music education.

If your child, or spouse, loves to sing, but sings horribly off-key, don't worry about it. The music-loving "gene" is already inside them. Training will help them find the right key. Is there such a thing as starting your child's music education too soon? When looking for a music teacher, first watch them interact with other students. If the teacher says that your child is musically hopeless, thank them and look for a different teacher. Don't choose the one with the lowest price or the biggest ad; be sure that they specialize in young children.

Your child is playing the piano or violin like a musical prodigy (Next stop: Carnegie Hall!). All of a sudden, they start hating the instrument and refuse to play it any more. What happened? What can a parent do to keep their child's interest? Is it ever a good idea to remind the child how much money was spent on the instrument and lessons, so you better keep practicing? (No) Who gets to decide what instrument the child should play, the parent or the child? If possible, try to turn learning music theory into a game. Finally, what is the benefit (if any) of a music education for children?

This is a really good book. It is pretty easy to read as a story, instead of a dry recitation of pedagogical techniques. For any parent who wants their child to learn a musical instrument, here is the place to start.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Useless Arithmetic

Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future, Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Columbia University Press, 2007

Government administrators and policy makers use quantitative mathematical models to form future environmental policies. The authors of this book assert that these models are basically useless, that they lead to policies that make things worse, not better.

These models are filled with assumptions, suppositions and several pure guesses. "Fudge factors" are included to come up with an acceptable answer. Politics is frequently involved. An example is when the Canadian government said that the Grand Banks fishing area was in good condition, when "collapse" was a much more accurate description.

The EPA has required that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site must be safe for the public for the next 10,000 years. Based on current models, that is absurd enough, but, in 2004, a federal appeals court ruled that the safety of the repository must be assured for up to one million years. Really? That is longer than Homo Sapiens has existed, and there will be at least one major advance and retreat of glaciers, with corresponding huge changes in climate.

Open pit mines are frequently dug beneath the level of the local groundwater. Constant pumping of water keeps the mine dry. When the mine is abandoned, the local water, filled with all sorts of chemicals from the mine, fills the pit. How to predict things like the balance between inflow and outflow of water from the lake, acid production, and chemical reactions within the new lake?

Perhaps it would be better to say, for instance, "Given current conditions, the ocean level will rise over the next hundred years" instead of "Given current conditions, the ocean level will rise by (a specific number) over the next hundred years." Researchers freely admit that the models are full of flaws, but, until someone comes up with something better, they will continue to use them.

Written for the non-scientist (like yours truly), this book is very thought-provoking, and injects some much needed skepticism. It's a must-read of a book.

Witches of Yerosia

Witches of Yerosia, Celeste Walker, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2012

This Kindle edition fantasy short story is about Allison, your average teenager, but not really. Allison is also a real, live witch.

The high school gymnasium is decorated to look like the land of Yerosia, part of a famous fantasy story that is part of the school curriculum. During a school dance, Kyle, Allison's high school crush, takes her away and shows her that the imaginary land of Yerosia really exists. He has an important position there, and he has a curse hanging over him. There is a blue sapphire of great power that Kathaleya, the bad guy, wants very much. Kyle gives Allison an ancient book to take home.

Allison's mother, who knows more about witches and Yerosia (and the location of the blue sapphire) than she has ever told her daughter, gets very upset at her possession of the book. Looking through the book, Allison finds a place where the words turn into English right before her eyes. She makes the mistake of reading that part out loud. A few minutes later, Kyle/Kathaleya is in her bedroom demanding the blue sapphire. Kyle's curse has been partially activated. What does Allison do?

This story is very short; it can be read in just a few minutes. It is also pretty good. It's recommended for anyone who is new to witch stories, or anyone who wants a witch story set in the present day.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Unleash the POWER of Branding

Unleash the POWER of Branding: The Smart Guide to Branding for Beginners, Joe Praveen Sequeira, BlueFire Media, 2016 (Kindle edition) 

A brand is a very important part of any business. It separates your company from everyone else. It is the overall perception of your business.

There are ways to find out why people visit your website, then leave. Constantly try out new ads through Google. Don’t let any negative online comment go unanswered. Well-defined values, and amazing customer service, will encourage people to buy from you, when they can get it cheaper elsewhere.


CEOs of any size company, especially those that are struggling, would do very well to read this book. It is easy to read, and very much worth it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Vic Challenger 5: Fast!

Vic Challenger 5: Fast!, Jerry Gill, Ann Darrow Co., 2016

This is the fifth story about Victoria Custer, who, using the pen name Vic Challenger, is an adventure and travel writer for her hometown newspaper. She happens to have the avatar of a 100,000-year-old cavewoman, named Nat-ul, living inside of her, which gives her the self-confidence to do things that even experienced male adventurers won't do.

Vic, and her friend, Lin Li, travel to the Australian Outback to visit Vic's relatives. During a party with some of the locals to celebrate their arrival, the group is robbed at gunpoint by unknown individuals (The word "treasure" has been used). Vic and Lin Li go after them, after appropriate preparations. A person can't just chase someone who is on horseback in the Outback without carrying food and water, at minimum.

They are not totally sure if they are following the bad guys, or a decoy. Eventually, they catch up to them at an abandoned cattle station. Vic and Lin Li can't just burst in with guns blazing; two of them against several bad guys are not good odds. Before that, they have to deal with some Tasmanian wolves called thylacines that are kept at the station. They are large and carnivorous, and have been beaten and starved into becoming killers.

As the chase continues, dehydration is a major concern for Vic and Lin Li. They manage to find just enough water and edible plants and animals to keep going. The chase leads to a small forest, at night, where unseen, but very carnivorous, creatures mow down the rest of the thylacines like they were nothing like they were nothing, and nearly do the same to Vic and Lin Li.

The "treasure" is found in a grotto, next to a pond that is guarded by a creature that sets new records for carnivorousness. Again, our heroes barely escape, this time with the leather chest. Finally, Vic runs into the leader of the bad guys. Who wins the draw? Is this the end of Vic/Nat-ul's quest to find Nu, her lover from all those centuries ago?

By the time a fiction series reaches Part 5, there is bound to be some lessening, however small, in the quality of the writing. That is not the case here. The writing is still really good, with plenty of action. Any of these novels would make a really good movie.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Origin of F.O.R.C.E.

The Origin of F.O.R.C.E., Sam B. Miller II, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2015 

Here is an alien invasion novel that starts with What Really Happened at Roswell.

The Chrysallaman Empire is looking for new colony planets. A very worthy planet is found, called HG-281 (Earth). The inhabitants, an inferior race called Humans, are very fragile, and are no match for Chrysallaman telepathy. They are very ruthless green lizards about five to six feet tall, and their military has no qualms about killing, or devouring any inhabitant of any planet who gets in their way. During their exploration, one of the scout ships is brought down in the American Southwest. The pilot is killed, but his son, approximately twelve years old, is captured.

The exploration ship, and its remaining scout ships, leave Earth, and head home, to a planet called Chrysalis, about 30 light years away. A very secret part of the US Military knows that they will be back, in force. A secret organization is formed, not of superheroes, but of really smart people, called the Federal Organization for Response to Celestial Enemies. Some attempt to understand the workings of the alien vessel, including what looks like a toy ray gun that shoots a very destructive beam. Knowing that conventional warfare will not work against a powerful telepathic enemy, others work on a way to genetically activate a person's latent telepathic abilities. A chemical is found, but the problem is how to get everyone in the world to take it without revealing its true purpose.

Fast forward about 60 years. The Chrysallamans return with several hundred warships, and a few million colonists. Humans have to let them land on Earth and get comfortable, because they are no match for the invaders in space. Needless to say, the human death toll is huge. The aliens are horrified to learn that their formerly unstoppable telepathic abilities have no effect on humans. But humans have found a way to bring down the ships of the invaders. It's time to take the fight right to the Chrysallamans.

This is an excellent novel. It is very easy to read, and certainly feels plausible. Famous bits of 20th Century history, like the Salk Polio Vaccine, fluoridation of water and the Hubble Space Telescope, make appearances in this book, in very unexpected ways. A second novel is in the works; I hope there is a third and fourth novel to come.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Best Time to Do Everything

The Best Time to Do Everything, Michael Kaplan, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005

Have you ever wondered when is the best time to place a sports bet, deliver a baby, sue for millions, buy life insurance, or snag a tough restaurant reservation? Wonder no more, this book has the answers.

This book is based on interviews with experts in each of the fields. The best time to go to the emergency room is Wednesday, Thursday or Friday morning. The best time to get comped at a casino is when you make your reservations; don't wait until you arrive. According to Bill O'Reilly, the best time to rattle an interview subject is when he is about to give you a canned response.

If you want to serve on a jury, the best days are Monday or Tuesday. Early January is usually very heavy, due to the Christmas holidays layoff. The best time to turn state's evidence is just before you are going to get whacked. When do you reveal a potentially disturbing fetish to your lover? After you have had sex three times. That way, the other person knows that you can still enjoy regular sex. When is the best time to pick up someone in a bar? After you have already gotten one phone number that night. You will be extra sure of yourself, and you won't worry as much about being shot down.

There really is a best time to be dragged through the gossip columns; it's when you are young and desperate to prove yourself (there is no bad publicity). The best time to get drunk with a client is when he is Japanese; it's no sin to get drunk with clients. Summer is the best time to come out of the closet. You can take a week off from work, spend three days explaining things to your family, and take long weekend mini-vacation the rest of the time.

This is a very interesting book of the type that can be picked up and read at any point. If you want to live your life cooler, smarter and better, you could do a lot worse than start right here.

The Bridge of Light

The Bridge of Light, A. Hyatt Verrill, Capricorn Publishing, 2005

This is a rousing adventure tale about the lost city of the Mayan Empire.

Traveling through rural Spain, the narrator purchases a couple of old books from a cubbyhole of a shop in a former monastery. A piece of folded papyrus falls out of one of the books. It is a 2000-year-old Mayan Codex that has never been seen before. It's value is beyond priceless. He takes it to eminent archaeologists all over the world to get it interpreted. They can't help, but they all agree that it is a historic find. He travels to Central America, and decides to look for Mictolan, the lost cities of the Mayans.

Naturally, there are no signs saying "Mictolan-This Way". A person must pass through the Valley of Death, the Tunnel of Serpents and the Pit of the Great Crocodile. After that, the person must cross eight deserts with a raging whirlwind that cuts solid rock. There is a demon and a fiend to face in the realm of hot ashes and two blazing mountains. Last, but not least, there is a Cave of Bats to be traversed, and a Bridge of Light to be crossed. By this time, the narrator is alone, everyone else in the caravan having run away in fear, or been killed by various carnivores.

He finds the city of Mictolan. He falls for a beautiful woman named Itza, who is about to be wed to the Sun God (it involves human sacrifice). Ancient prophecy says that Kukulcan, the winged Mayan God, will send his son, a white man, to lead the Mayan people back to their former glory. This gives him some authority over the people, which he uses by stopping the "wedding". This really upsets the ruler of Mictolan, a religious dictator named Kinchi-Haman. He can't publicly say that the "son of Kukulcan" is a fraud, but he waits for his chance at revenge.

The narrator learns exactly why the Mayan people disappeared. They have done amazing things with astronomy, but the introduction of the wheel is a stop-the-presses Event. The major obstacle in his escape from Mictolan, along with Itza, is the Bridge of Light. Is is a natural phenomenon, or does Kinchi-Haman control it? Do they escape Mictolan, and make it back to civilization? What happens to the people of Mictolan?

First published in a 1920's pulp magazine, this is an excellent adventure story. To quote from the back cover, "Before there was Indiana Jones, there was A. Hyatt Verrill". He knew a lot about the Mayans, and he is also a good storyteller. This will certainly keep the reader entertained.