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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Yesterday's Kin

Yesterday's Kin, Nancy Kress, Tachyon Publications, 2014

Several months previously, an alien ship landed in New York Harbor. They suddenly really want to talk to Dr Marianne Jenner, author of a scientific paper all about mitochondria. They tell Jenner, and the UN Secretary General, some really interesting things. The aliens (humanity calls them "Denebs" even though they aren't from the star Deneb) and humanity are almost genetically identical. Also, very bad things are going to happen to Earth in less than one year.

A group of Earth's best scientists, including Jenner, are taken aboard the ship in a desperate search, with Deneb help, for immunity from "it." Meantime, outside the ship, Jenner's family is fractured. She is a widow with three grown children, two of whom, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, are constantly arguing. The third, Noah, is a drug addict. The reaction of the rest of humanity to the news about Earth's future ranges from There Are No Aliens to riots and suicide bombers.

Inside the ship, progress is slow, and the clock is running. As the end gets closer and closer, despair sets in among the scientists that they are not even close to a solution. Then the Denebs reveal the honestly real reason for their trip to Earth. Time will tell if Earth's spirit of friendship and cooperation will continue, or if the Denebs have committed a monumental error by getting all of mankind really angry at them.

This book easily gets five stars. It is full of ideas on a variety of topics, it is really easy to read and the hard science is kept to a "reasonable' level. Will there be a sequel? I hope so.

Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners

Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners, James Braxton Peterson, For Beginners LLC, 2016

This book looks at how, and why, America leads the world in the number of its citizens per capita that are incarcerated. The term "prison industrial complex" may be a new term, but it is a very old concept.

Of course, it all started in the days of slavery, when millions of Africans were brought to the Western Hemisphere. In 1829, in Philadelphia, the Quakers and other reformers opened the Eastern State Penitentiary. Solitary confinement was thought to provide a prisoner the space and time to reflect and consider God's judgment. The cells required the prisoner to bow when entering or leaving the cell. The only small window was in the ceiling; it was sometimes called "the eye of God." The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, the one that abolished slavery, contained a big loophole (anyone convicted of a crime was subject to involuntary servitude/slavery) which whites were quick to exploit. New laws were created, including Jim Crow laws, to keep blacks oppressed as much as possible.

More recently, there are many parts to the Prison Industrial Complex. Many inner city schools are closing, and those that are still open are starved for money. This reduces the chances of the average young person doing anything except joining the "underground economy" and ending up in jail. There is little, or no, attempt at rehabilitation in prison. Private prison corporations will cut costs wherever possible (to boost profits) including on things like food for the prisoners. Many well-known corporations use prison labor. The "war on drugs" has been a total failure. All that it has done is jail thousands of non-violent drug offenders. Recidivism rates in American prisons are high. A sure political vote-getter are the words "tough on crime" even though actual crime rates have dropped by a lot. Did I forget to mention "stop and frisk" and Black Lives Matter? This book includes a syllabus for a college course called Black Prison Narratives.

This book deserves more than five stars. It is easy to read, and incredibly timely. The Prison Industrial Complex did not just suddenly appear; it is the result of very specific political, racial and economic policies designed to benefit the few over the many. It is extremely highly recommended.

Threadbare

Threadbare: Clothes, Sex and Trafficking, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Microcosm Publishing, 2016

In graphic novel form, this book shows the connection between the people who sew the clothes, the models who wear the clothes and the mall stores that sell the clothes. The number of such stores is rapidly shrinking, as chain after chain goes out of business because they are not fast enough in satisfying the public's fashion needs.

In the past, there were several different fashion lines per year, so clothes might be in a mall store for up to several weeks. These days, if a shopper sees something they like, they should buy it today, because it may not be there next week. What happens to the unsold clothes? Some of them may end up at a place like Goodwill. Others will go to specialized companies that buy the clothes for pennies per pound. They recycle some of the clothes into insulation, for instance, while a large amount gets shipped overseas to be sold (not to the country where they were made).  An increasing amount of unsold clothes goes right to the local landfill. Americans donated about 12 pounds of clothes per capita to charity, but, in 2012, about 70 pounds of clothes per person went in the trash.

The Asian factories where these clothes are made are literally sweatshops. The workers are, metaphorically, chained to their sewing machines all day. The pay is low, and the conditions are terrible. Workers can be fired for practically any reason. Health and worker safety laws that American workers rely on are non-existent in these factories. American-created free trade agreements, like NAFTA, are a major reason for the disappearance of the American textile industry. In desperation to leave the garment factories, many women will join the sex industry. It certainly has its own set of disadvantages, but the pay is a lot better than in the garment business. Anti-sex trafficking NGOs, to get women out of the sex trade, will put them in front of a sewing machine for many hours a day, putting them right back where they started.

This is a very eye-opening book. As a graphic novel, it is very easy to read. A blurb on the back of this book says that colleges that offer degrees in fashion need to add this book to the curriculum. That is a very good idea.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Swiped

Swiped: How to Protect Yourself In a World of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, Adam Levin, Public Affairs, 2016

The question is not if, but when, identity theft happens to you. This book gives the details.

Everyone has read about the major data breaches of recent years, exposing the personal information of hundreds of millions of people. The bad people in this world have come up with new ways to scam the public. A letter or phone call may come from a debt collector saying that, for instance, a credit card has been opened in the name of a deceased family member, or a newborn baby (Pay Up Now). It's possible that the debt collector, and the bill, are not even legitimate, and they are simply trying to intimidate you into paying.

Hackers have been known to file fake tax returns, using your Social Security number. When you file your return, and are looking for your refund, the IRS will say "we already gave you your refund." If a hacker gets your medical history, using the information to open a credit card, for instance, or giving your name to the police after they have been arrested, is not the worst that can happen. They can also, for instance, delete your allergy to penicillin, or give you HIV, which is much worse.

What can a person do about it? In this day and age, anyone who still uses "password" or "1234" as their computer password is just asking to be hacked. Change your passwords often. Check your bank statement and credit card statement online many times per month; don't wait for the paper statement. If anything looks questionable, start calling today. Get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit-reporting agencies every year. Again, if anything looks questionable, don't wait. Get on the phone today, and document everything. Also, minimize your online exposure, and clean out your wallet.

It's not possible to completely eliminate your exposure to identity theft, but, this book does a very good job of helping to minimize it. Many people may consider what's in this book to be common knowledge, but it certainly bears repeating. This an eye-opener, and very much worth reading.

The Index Revolution

The Index Revolution: Why Investors Should Join It Now, Charles D Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, 2016

What is an index fund, or an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), and why should the average investor care about them?

Take your average mutual fund. Perhaps it covers a specific sector, like biotech, or small-cap (capitalization) stocks. The fund manager had a great year last year, beating the market. That does not mean that the fund manager will have a great year this year, or ever again. The fund manager will buy and sell a lot of stocks during the year; the turnover may reach 100 percent. Each of those transactions means a fee that will be assessed to you, the investor. Even if the fee is only a fraction of a percent per transaction, it will add up over the year. In the past, it was possible for an investor to gain that vital bit of information allowing him to beat everyone else, and get in on the next Apple or Microsoft, before everyone else. That is not possible any more. The rules state that any information that can benefit one investor has to be made available to all investors at the same time.

The average index fund deals with a much broader part of the market, like the S&P (Standard and Poor's) 500. The fund manager buys shares in many, or all, of those 500 companies, and just holds them. The yearly turnover in stocks is closer to 10 percent, which means much lower fees for the investor. Year after year, index funds do a much better job of beating the market than the average active investor fund. There are tax advantages to index funds. The investor does not have to worry about why the fund has not bought shares in this or that hot new stock, so they can focus on their overall investment goals. Index investing may not be "sexy" or "exciting." but which is more important, excitement or profit?

For those who know their way around the investment world, this is a very interesting book. Maybe it is worth moving a small part of your portfolio into an index fund, especially if you are a conservative investor, and see what happens. Regardless, this book is well worth reading.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Breaking Through Power

Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think, Ralph Nader, City Lights Books, 2016

Here is the latest from America's foremost consumer advocate. Nader has been fighting for the rights of ordinary Americans for 50 years.

Corporations have no problem sending armies of lobbyists to Washington to get tax and environmental laws written in their favor. The lobbyists are also there to get Congress to stop any bill which might even slow down the quest of the corporations for more profits. These same corporations also take advantage of the tax laws to, on paper, move profits to a foreign subsidiary in a country with more favorable tax rates. They can also, on paper, move their headquarters to a PO Box in some tax haven like Ireland, Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. That could reduce their federal tax bill to zero, or even make them eligible for a tax refund from Uncle Sam.

The revolving door between Wall Street and Washington is well known. A top executive at Goldman Sachs, for instance, might spend a couple of years in Washington supposedly to regulate the financial sector. When his "public service" is done, his old office at Goldman Sachs will be waiting for him, or he might stay in Washington, and become a lobbyist. According to the 1872 Mining Act, corporations can purchase mining rights to vacant land for a whole five dollars per acre. If they should happen to discover millions of dollars in gold, silver or other minerals on that land, they keep all the money.

What can be done? Nader says that less than one percent of the American people started the movement to abolish slavery, or started the civil rights or environmental movements. The issue does not have to be a "big" one, like immigration or nuclear weapons; it can be something in your state, or town. Get some people together, and have everyone to donating a certain amount of money, to hire full time staff, and volunteer a certain number of hours per year. Examples are included in the book.

This book is short, easy to read, and deserves more than five stars. Nader speaks for the average American, and backs up his arguments with facts. This is extremely highly recommended.

Normal

Normal, Warren Ellis, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2016

There are two different types of people whose job it is to look into the future. Foresight strategists think about smart cities and ways to avoid the Coming Doom. Strategic forecasters think about drone warfare and ways to prepare their clients for the Coming Doom. "Looking into the abyss" is not something that can be done forever; eventually, depression sets in. If the dreaded "abyss gaze" takes hold, the only place to recover is at Normal Head, a facility inside an experimental forest in Oregon.

After an outburst at a conference in the Netherlands, Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, is taken to Normal Head. Being cut off from the outside world sounds pretty good. The different types of futurists at Normal Head do not mix at all. A patient is suddenly missing from a locked room, leaving a pile of insects in his wake. There is a staff investigation. Sitting outside, Adam crushes an annoying bug, only to find that it is full of very sophisticated electronics. Both types of futurists become convinced that they should find, and destroy, any other surveillance insects.

It all has to do with the coming of total surveillance (not just of electronic communication but also of speech and handwritten communication) and a new type of mini drone that is sophisticated enough to drop its micro-explosive cargo on specific people in a political riot.

This is a short novel, and it's really good and really thought provoking. It says a lot about how and why humans think about the future, and the now. It is very much worth reading.

Head In The Cloud

Head In the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up, William Poundstone, Little Brown & Co., 2016

Why should I learn anything when I can just look it up on Google? That's the question this book attempts to answer.

Many areas of knowledge correlate with the quality of our lives, including areas like health, wealth and happiness. The author is not suggesting that everyone should be smart enough to appear on a TV show like "Jeopardy." It's totally fine if a person's knowledge is "a mile wide and an inch deep." The author found strong correlations between income and scores on general knowledge quizzes (even if they are multiple choice). It's possible that learning improves cognitive abilities that are useful almost anywhere, including in a career.

How bad is the ignorance of the average American? Less that 10 percent of Americans don't know what country New Mexico is in. About the same percentage of younger Americans can find Afghanistan on a map, according to a 2006 National Geographic poll. More than half could not find Delaware on a map.

People who don't know which city has an airport called LaGuardia correlates with thinking that there are at least twice as many Asians in America than there actually are. Not knowing that the Sun is bigger than Earth correlates with supporting bakers who refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Thinking that America has more people has more people than India correlates with refusing to eat genetically modified food. Not knowing how many US Senators there are, or thinking that early humans hunted dinosaurs, correlates with refusing to vaccinate children for measles, mumps and rubella.

According to a 2015 report from the Educational Testing Service (the people behind the SAT's), more than half of Millennials don't know the poison that killed Socrates; they can't name the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson; they don't know who recorded "All Shook Up" and "Heartbreak Hotel"; they don't know who (in popular myth) designed and sewed the first American flag; they can't name the secret project that built the first atomic bomb; they can't name the largest ocean on Earth, the longest river in South America or the city whose airport is Heathrow.

Wow (and not in a good way). These people are going to be running America in the near future? This is a very disheartening book, and is extremely highly recommended.  

Screwball

Screwball, David Belisle, Amazon Digital Services, 2016

Hayward Templeton is your average psychology graduate student at the University of Iowa. Coerced into pitching in an intramural baseball game, Templeton consults Google. He finds directions on how to throw a screwball, and he wins the game. The school's baseball coach notices, and puts him on the team. Templeton still has just the one pitch, that no one can hit. During a post-game celebration, he is accidentally dropped on his head. He recovers, with no ill effects, or so everyone thinks.

By now, he is playing for the Kansas City Royals. Templeton starts acting very strangely. In the middle of a game, while on the mound, he is convinced that everyone in the stands is staring at a zit on his face worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records (there is no zit). In the middle of another game, while on the mound, Templeton tells his manager that he wants a sex change operation (he doesn't get it). The phobias and neuroses start coming more frequently, but his screwball remains unhittable, so the Royals keep winning. They also hire a lady psychologist to keep tabs on him.

The Royals are in the World Series. Templeton is going through an A-Z list of phobias and neuroses, even while he is on the mound. Can Templeton, and the rest of the team, keep it together and win the World Series? Does Templeton completely lose his mind?

This is an interesting look at baseball and neuroses, and it's also a very fast read. Not just baseball fans will enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Goddaughter

The Goddaughter, Melodie Campbell, Orca Book Publishers, 2012

This very short novel (actually a novella) is about Gina Gallo, a certified gemologist. She is also related to the local mob in the Hamilton, Ontario area, but she insists that she is out of "the family business." Well, not exactly.

A botched diamond delivery leads to Gina being "convinced" to smuggle them across the border, to Buffalo, in the heels of a pair of fancy shoes. The shoes get stolen, forcing Gina, and local sports writer Pete Malone, to follow the thief, a bleached blond prostitute, to a hotel in Phoenix. The shoes are retrieved, and the pair head back to Hamilton.

Before the delivery can be made, there is the small matter of getting a recently murdered mob associate out of the Buffalo morgue before the autopsy. It involves the use of an ice cream truck to get the body across the border.

Do Gina and Pete get the diamonds to the right people in Buffalo? Since Pete now knows too much about internal "family business," his choices are to marry Gina, or get whacked.

This is a very short book that can be read in an hour or so. It's got some humor to it (the mobsters are not exactly at the level of the film "Goodfellas") and it will keep the reader entertained.

The World in 2050

The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilizations's Northern Future, Lawrence C Smith, Dutton, 2010

This book explores the things that humanity has waiting for it in the next few decades.

The number of mega-cities (those with a population of over 10 million) will only rise, as the world's population will pass 9 billion. Some of those cities will be clean and efficient, like Singapore. It is much more likely that they will be over-crowded, polluted and crime-filled, like Lagos, Nigeria. The question is not will sea levels or the Earth's overall temperature rise, but, by how much will they rise.

As the world gets older and grayer, and as America's baby boomers start to retire, younger workers will be needed to keep the economy moving. Where will these workers come from? Water problems, and water shortages, in normally dry places like sub-Saharan Africa and the American Southwest, will only get worse.

The author spends much of the book looking at the New North, the countries that border the Arctic Circle, including America, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. There is the potential for a lot of oil or natural gas under the ice. In Alaska and Canada, local indigenous groups have gained joint, or total, control, over the natural resources that lie under their feet. The extending of the temperate climate zone to the north makes agriculture more and more possible on formerly barren land (like growing potatoes in Greenland). The thawing of the permafrost makes building more difficult in remote northern towns. Digging foundations, or putting in pylons on which to build a building is impossible when rock-solid ice is only a foot or two below ground level. It also shortens the "trucking season," where those remote northern towns can be re-supplied by trucks, which is a lot cheaper than doing it by boat or helicopter (think of the TV show "Ice Road Truckers").

This is a fascinating book. For some people, the information here may not exactly be new, but the author does an excellent job. It is compelling, and very much worth reading.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Brief History of Comic Book Movies

A Brief History of Comic Book Movies, Wheeler Winston Dixon and Richard Graham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017

Comic book / superhero movies have become extremely popular in recent years. This book explores their history.

In the 1930's, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were among the first comic book characters to make it to the big screen. They were multi-chapter movie serials (the film equivalent to a radio serial) to get children to come to the theater week after week. In the 1950's and 1960's, TV shows like Superman (with George Reeves) and Batman (with Adam West) were still aimed at children. With the booming popularity of annual conventions like San Diego Comic-Con (attended by upwards of 100,000 people), comic books are now marketed for adults.

The authors look more specifically at DC Comics, home to Batman and Superman. A number of films have been produced over the last 30 years with each character, with varying levels of quality and level of box office receipts. DC has also produced a number of lower-budget animated Batman and Superman films over the years. The average comic book fan has not heard about them because they went straight to video or straight to streaming.

Marvel Comics, on the other hand, has a seemingly infinite number of superheroes, and combinations of superheroes, from which to choose. Examples included Spiderman, the Avengers and Iron Man. The first few Marvel films were underwhelming, in regards to quality and box office receipts, so Marvel Studios was created. The quality of the films, and their receipts, increased dramatically.

No book on comic book movies would be complete without a look at Japanese anime. It started after World War II when American brought comic books to Japan. The reader will learn a lot about anime. The book alsop explores movies that began life as comic books from companies other then DC and Marvel, like Barb Wire, Tank Girl and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Comic book fans and pop culture fans will love this book (despite the high price). It is short, very easy to read and well worth the reader's time. This easily gets five stars. (I received this book from the author in exchange for this review.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Esper Files

The Esper Files, Egan Brass, CreateSpace, 2016

This steampunk novel, set in Victorian London, starts with a person named The Professor demonstrating a new energy machine. The major consequence of its untimely explosion is that twenty percent of the world's population have had their latent mental or psychic abilities suddenly awakened. They have become Espers.

Fast forward a number of years. The Professor runs what looks like a private school, but is actually a place where young people who are Espers can be with others like them without fear of being hunted and feared. There is a young child, nicknamed The Siren, with a singing voice that is not to be believed. With his voice, he can reach into a person's soul, and cause feelings of joy, sadness or any other emotion. If a nefarious person is able to plant mind control instructions at such a moment of emotional openness, the proverbial sky is the limit.

An extremely shadowy figure called The Baron wants The Siren (his real name is Cyrus) no matter what. A trio of murderous harpies are sent to get him. His adoptive parents are murdered, but Freya, his sister, escapes by unleashing some pent-up abilities of her own. Back in the day, The Professor and The Baron were colleagues.

Freya takes matters into her own hands when she and The Professor (and the other "good guys") don't share the same timetable for attacking The Baron's private estate to rescue Cyrus. She is captured, and nearly murdered, by a group of teenage Espers who agree to do anything The Baron wants.

The Baron makes his mind control move during a special performance by The Siren. Is there any way to "jam" his voice, or otherwise stop The Baron, once and for all? Is there going to be a sequel?

This is an excellent piece of writing. It has everything a person could want; a shadowy villain, plenty of action, strange mental abilities and murderous harpies. This will certainly keep the reader entertained.