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
Pinterest.com
and on Twitter
(seriously)

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

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Game of Life

 The Game of Life, Chad Vegas, 2020, self-published

This novel is fourth in a series about Chad and Max, two men involved in the California marijuana trade. Max bought a piece of land in Peru for some high-volume weed growing. There are squatters on the land, and Max has to deal with corrupt gold miners and the Peruvian justice system, which seems to move at the speed of continental drift. Max is ready for the challenge. That leaves Chad in charge of growing, harvesting and selling high-quality weed back in California to make money to send to Peru.

Large-scale marijuana growing is very labor-intensive. There is a fine line between a successful crop and total failure. After it is harvested, there is a short window of opportunity to trim the bad parts off of each plant, leaving only the good parts. Then comes the problem of selling it for a good price.

Everyone is getting into weed growing, causing the price per pound that Chad can get to plummet. There are only a certain number of dispensaries to sell to, forcing Chad to drive farther away to sell his crop. Chad begins to wonder if growing and selling weed is still worth it.

Is Max successful with his legal case, despite the Peruvian justice system? Does Chad get out of the drug business?

As with the previous books in this series, this is not a boring book. Some might have a problem with the insane amount of drugs that are consumed in this book. Get past that, and there is lots of good writing here that will certainly keep the reader's attention.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Three Brothers

The Three Brothers: When George Washington and Edmund Barton Sat Down to Dinner, Stephen Marantelli, Waratah North Books, 2018 

Set in World War I London, this novel is about a rather strained dinner conversation between George Washington and Edmund Barton, who, from 1901 to 1903, was Australia's first Prime Minister.


The book is full of behind-the-scenes looks at the creation of each country's federal Constitution. In neither country, was it a case of tall, square-jawed individuals, united and agreed on the future. There was a lot of disagreement, frustration and false starts. There were times when a person might wonder how a Constitution ever came into existence, in both countries.

This book is not exactly an exciting, action-packed page turner (it has been likened to an arm wrestling match), but, for anyone interested in the building of America or Australia, this is very highly recommended. The amount of detail and research on the American Constitution, in particular, is incredible.

100% Choice: Becoming a Conscious Creator of Your Life

 100% Choice: Becoming a Conscious Creator of Your Life, Sharon Shahaf, Amazon.com Services, 2020

There seem to be a million self-help books available these days. You understand, intellectually, what needs to be changed. When it comes to actually doing it, nothing happens. You feel frustrated and ready to give up.

Among the chapters in this book are "Awaken from the Bad Dream" and "Changing from the Outside In." Instead of "God" or Fate or Them (whoever Them is) being against you, and making you miserable, consider the possibility that you are doing it to yourself. Your thoughts, and your emotions, are helping to create your reality (good or bad).

This book goes into lots of detail about exactly how to change your life story and one day wake up as a totally new person. This book feels different than all the other self-help books that are on the market. It is clearly written, and is recommended for  anyone in an emotional rut, or who wonders "Is this all there is to life?"

Shadow Talker

 Shadow Talker, Sergei Katz, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2020

 

Part 1 of a series, this book takes place on a world where a series of intellectual and athletic games determines a person's profession. James is happy to be assigned to the elite School of Detectives. Finding the School is east, but gaining admittance is much more difficult (you don't just knock on the front door). The sentient School makes it clear that James must solve his first case to stay at the school.

Paired with an enchanted panther and a woman with unique abilities of her own, James must find out who is stealing people's souls. They spread out in the city, looking for clues. A soul cannot survive outside a body indefinitely, so there is a big time constraint included. There is a lot of Sherlock Holmes-style deduction and observation going on. Can the trio find, and stop, the culprit before James gets added to the list of people missing their souls?

This is a really good start to a series, with lots of good writing. It works as an urban fantasy novel, and it works as a detective novel. This will appeal to a lot of people, and it is very much worth reading.

The Leprechaun Wars

 The Leprechaun Wars, Wes Snowden, Corvent Creative, 2020

Set in Ireland of the 1840's, this story is about Gwydion O'Dubney, son of a rival clan leader who is murdered at the hands of King Ortho. Gwydion's narrow escape cause Ortho to spare no expense to get him back (and kill anyone who he even suspects of knowing his whereabouts). Ortho's top enforcer, a hunchback name Extor the Cruel (the name is richly deserved) is hot on his heels.

Many people want Extor, and his son, Horluxx the Head, to die in the most painful way possible. After that is accomplished, focus turns to Ortho. It will take time to build an army against him. It is decided to strike against him at a special event several years in the future. While preparations are being made, Gwydion must hide. His capture would mean the end of the rebellion, and Ortho's obsession with him has gone to the next level (like it or not, Gwydion is now head of Clan O'Dubney). Gwydion decides to live in the world of humans, returning twice a year for progress reports.

While living among humans, Gwydion falls for a widow living alone on a farm. They have a son together. When the time comes, to move against King Ortho, Gwydion faces a heartbreaking choice: stay with the woman he loves, as a human, or return to his people? Does Gwydion fulfill his blood oath to his father/ Does King Ortho get what he so richly deserves?

This is a really good novel. It's got action, suspense and some romance. There is lots of good writing, and this book will keep the reader interested.

Onward: The Art of Leadership

 Onward: The Art of Leadership, Mark Joseph Huckabee, Telemachus Press, 2019

 

Leadership has many different forms (not just business or military leadership). Leadership is a never-ending journey; there is no knowing "everything" about leadership. Leaders never stop growing and learning. This book gives the details.

The book explores concepts like Living Your Principles, The "How" of Leadership, Building Great Teams and Managing Your Life. He uses many present-day examples to illustrate each concept. Steven Spielberg makes an appearance in this book, along with Muhammad Ali, Elon Musk, Nelson Mandela, Hunter S Thompson and Ayn Rand. Also included in this book are movies like Black Panther, To Kill a Mockingbird, Star Wars, Cloverfield, Avengers, Deadpool and Avatar.

Each section is only a couple of pages long. They end with the leadership lesson reduced to one or two sentences in bold font, making this book very easy to read. It is the sort of book that can be picked up and read starting on any page. This is certainly recommended for anyone in a position of leadership, and for everyone else, too.

Natural Solutions for Diabetes

 Natural Solutions for Diabetes, Sudhir Ahluwalia, 2020, self-published

 

For anyone with diabetes, natural solutions to manage or control the disease is a popular research subject these days. YouTube videos and popular literature are full of advice and "miracle" cures. Using a science-based approach, this book analyzes a range of natural options to combat diabetes.

Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have a number of herbal remedies to treat diabetes. The downside is that the scientific studies that have been done have not gone any farther than testing on rats. Therefore, they have not yet been proven to work on people. Much more well known to Westerners are exercises like yoga and tai chi.

Which foods are best for people with diabetes? Which form of exercise is best? Should I adopt a plant-based diet? Can I stop my regular diabetes medication and rely on herbal medicines? Can acupuncture help relieve some of the side effects? This book attempts to answer these questions and more.

As with any medical book, a visit to your local doctor before starting anything in this book is a very good idea. This contains 15 pages of references of the scientific studies mentioned in the book. It is short, easy to read, and for those looking for an alternative to Western diabetes treatment, it is an excellent place to start.

Miranda and the D-Day Caper

 Miranda and The D-Day Caper, Shelly Frome, BQB Publishing, 2020

 

Set in present-day North Carolina, Miranda is a local real estate agent dealing with the sudden arrival of Skip, her whimsical cousin from New York. He is on the run, because he intercepted coded messages like "Countdown to D-Day" and broadcast them on his nationwide radio show. Skip has gotten powerful people upset with him.

 

Miranda starts asking questions around town and discovers links to white nationalists, firebombed churches (that were empty at the time), a crucial vote on a homeland security bill in the US Senate, and the kidnapping of Duffy, Skip's beloved tabby cat. Can Miranda and Skip figure out what "it" is, and stop it before anyone gets hurt or killed?

 

This is a "quiet" mystery/thriller story, in that there are no explosions or hair-raising escapes until the end. It's also a really good story; the reader feels like they are in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is very much worth reading.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sex, Drugs and Rocking Code

 Sex, Drugs and Rocking Code: The Uncensored Autobiography of an Anonymous Programmer, Paul W Carter, Capraro Press, 2020

Written by an anonymous IT programmer (for good reasons), this book looks at one person's search for the true meaning of work and life, while working sixteen-hour days.

On the subject of relationships, is your internal software compatible with hers? Are your sine waves in phase? (Are you compatible with each other?) Learn the art of compromise. Occasionally, do things that she wants to do, but you don't want to do. Not learning to say "No" will turn you into a doormat, in business and in life. 

Achieving a state of "flow" is when you become one with your task, whether it is writing code for several hours, or something like snowboarding. Music is usually a good tool to get there. Find music that works for you, whether it is ambient, chill-out music, or heavy metal. Boredom is part of daily life. How a person deals with boredom, at home, or at work, is what, figuratively, separates the men from the boys. It's OK to do something silly, but do something. Don't just sit in a chair, staring out the window.

Stress and strife are also parts of daily life. A little bit of stress can actually be good for a person; continuous stress is not good. The book explores how to use such negativity to your advantage. After several days, or weeks, working on a coding project, you will be burned out. Find out what works for you when you can't take it anymore. For some people remedy may involve finding an isolated spot in the forest, or overlooking the ocean. For others, the remedy may involve staying home with your phone unplugged.

This book is short, honest and really well written. For anyone in the IT field, or of millennial age, this is very much recommended. It's recommended for everyone else, too.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Sex, Drugs and Corruption: Welcome to Peru

Sex, Drugs and Corruption: Welcome to Peru, Chad Vegas, Amazon.com Services, 2017

 

First of a series, this novel is about a young man named Chad, living in present-day California. Construction jobs are few and far between, because of the Great Recession. He meets an older man named Max, and they decide to get into the marijuana business.

Growing marijuana on a large scale is extremely time-consuming. If the plants are not harvested at exactly the right time, the crop is almost worthless. Night time dew on the leaves can cause them to rot, making the crop almost worthless. After harvesting, each leaf has to be individually trimmed in a very short time, or the crop is almost worthless. But, the payoff can be huge. This was the time when California had legalized medical marijuana, so everyone was growing their own. This led to a huge glut in the market.

Meantime, Max had married a woman from Peru, and he bought an isolated piece of land, deep in the Amazon, for more large-scale growing of marijuana. The land has suddenly become very valuable, so Max is faced with constant bureaucratic and legal attempts to steal it from him. Max is very much up for the battle. Traveling to Peru, Max and Chad learn that the Peruvian justice system does not just have a "laid back" attitude, they honestly don't want to work without appropriate bribes.

Being a red-blooded, and very horny, young man, Chad finds a couple of women in Cusco, the nearest large city, who want to have a good time. They are interested in going to a local discoteca, getting totally drunk and/or high, then going back to Chad's room, for a night of wild, no-holds-barred sex. Chad learns some very interesting things about Peruvians. Drunken Peruvians tend to become mean drunks. Get a Peruvian woman angry at you, for some reason like alleged infidelity, and you take your life in your hands.

This book is very easy to read, but it is not for everyone. Some might have a problem with the huge amounts of drugs, sex and alcohol in this story. Get past that, and this will certainly keep the interest of the reader.

The Oak and His Friends

The Oak and His Friends, Anna Tyumentseva, 2020

This story, for young children, is about an acorn. It was dropped by a badger rushing home in a bad rainstorm. Covered by a leaf, the acorn went to sleep. When it woke up, it was no longer an acorn, but a sprig. As it grew into an oak tree, the local animals made it their home. Bees and magpies made nests in its branches, and rabbits dug burrows among its roots. The oak provided leaves and acorns to help the animals through the winter. Everyone was welcome, including the woodpecker, who made its nest inside the tree. Life was good. Years later, during a bad thunderstorm, the oak is struck by lightning and catches on fire. Is this the end for the oak tree?

Young children will love this book. It's cute, heartwarming and easy to understand. It might also teach them a thing or two about natural science, and why trees lose their leaves each autumn. This is very much worth checking out.

Devil Be Damned

Devil Be Damned, Stuart Masters, Outskirts Press, 2020

 

Set during the days of the Old West, Toby Grimes is a teenager who witnesses his mother beaten to death by her husband (and Toby's father). Over her dead body, Toby vows to find, and kill, his father.

After he turns 18 years old, Toby is made Sheriff of the local town; he has shown that he knows how to take care of himself. He accepts on the condition that if he hears any news about his father, he is out of there. Pa has spent the last couple of years in jail. He is out again, and is leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him. As Sheriff, Toby runs into various thieves, desperadoes and other unsavory people. He finally tracks down his Pa. Is there a tearful family reunion? Does Pa admit the error of his ways? Who is still alive at the end of the story?

This is a very fast read. It's got the Old West, romance, violence and dead bodies and lots of good writing. It's the sort of story that could take place anywhere and anytime. This will keep the reader very interested.

Jews Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

Jews Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust: 100 Stories of Jewish Rescue I, Moshe Gromb, Nadav Books, 2020

 

Yad Vashem, the official Holocaust memorial in Israel, has a long list of non-Jews who helped Jews escape the Holocaust; they are called Righteous Among the Nations (the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC has a similar list). When it comes to Jews who helped Jews escape to safety, Yad Vashem has nothing. Evidently, no European Jews ever helped other Jews reach safety during World War II. (Really?) this book starts to fill in that historical hole.

A variety of methods were used to help Jews who faced deportation and death, all over Europe. Some rescuers were able to forge, and distribute, residence permits. Some were able to travel from ghetto to ghetto, relaying information, and bringing food and medical supplies. Others were able to take care of orphan children, and were able to get them over the border to safety in neutral Switzerland (for example). The stories in this book, only two or three pages each, are heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Some rescuers survived the war, while others were not so lucky.

For anyone who wants to know about a "hidden" part of the Holocaust, this is very much recommended. For anyone who thinks that Jews didn't fight back during World War II, this is very much recommended. Here is a gem of a book.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Song Apart

A Song Apart, Jeffrey H Baer, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2011

On a Manhattan street, rising teen pop star Shannon Kistler sees college Kevin Derow wearing one of her concert t-shirts. She slips him her phone number, and, meeting a few days later, their unlikely friendship/romance begins.

They find that they have a lot in common: dysfunctional families, a passion for music, lonely childhoods and choosing the "wrong" (according to other people) paths for their lives. Kevin unwittingly blows the lid off a payola scandal at Shannon's record label, which could destroy her career. He also loses the respect of friends and family, because of this younger girl that he nearly idolizes. Do Shannon and Kevin Live "happily ever after" at the end? Does Shannon's career survive the payola scandal?

Aside from teen romance and the music business, this novel also touches on things like 9/11 and autism. It's a good, and well-written novel that almost reaches the level of being an excellent novel. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Coronavirus & COVID-19

Coronavirus & COVID-19: What It Is, How to Avoid It, How to Survive It, Peter Kent, Amazon.com Services, 2020

This book attempts to prevent facts regarding COVID-19.

It gives some background on exactly what coronavirus is, and is not. COVID-19 is just another form of the flu, right? (Wrong.) SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the virus, while COVID-19 is the disease that comes from the virus. The author looks at exactly how it spreads.

What can the average person do to slow the spread? Stay home, if you can. If you have to go out, like for grocery shopping, the book tells what to do. If you think you have been exposed, self-isolation is a very good idea. How do you get a COVID-19 test? Last, but not least, how can a person build up their immunity?

An inherent limitation of a book like this is that whenever it is published or posted online, it is instantly obsolete. There are plenty of links throughout this book for further information. It was updated in the last month or two. It presents facts, as known at the time of writing, not suppositions, rumors or conspiracy theories. It is not meant to replace a trip to your local doctor, but it easily deserves six stars.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Suicide Kills

Suicide Kills: Powerless to Powerful, Klaude Walters, Ridgestone Publishing, 2020

This is the story of one person's journey through extreme levels of despair and heartbreak, until she emerged into the Light.

Growing up in eastern Canada, she had to deal with an alcoholic father, multiple rapes and huge feelings of invisibility and inadequacy. Since she was little, she thought about suicide, and actually tried it. Her older brother succeeded at suicide, and it sent her into an emotional tailspin. Along the way, there was sexual assault at work, the breakup of three marriages, and an abortion (at that time, she felt that she was nowhere near emotionally ready to be a mother). What finally got her to start turning her life around? The first of two bouts with cancer.

The author's top suggestion for anyone in a similar situation is to start a journal, whether on paper or on a computer. Getting those negative feelings out of your head may help to deal with them. For anyone who thinks that no one knows what they are feeling, this author has probably been there. This book is very inspirational, and almost reaches the level of Wow.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Pandemic Capitalism

Pandemic Capitalism: From Broken Systems to Basic Incomes, Chris Oestereich, Wicked Problems Collaborative, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has totally changed American society, maybe permanently. Perhaps the biggest change has been economic. Millions of people were laid off, because nearly everything was closed. Some of those jobs are starting to return, but other jobs are gone forever. What is a lower-paid retail or hospitality worker (usually a minority) to do? Enter the Universal Basic Income, or UBI.

It is a monthly cash payment, from the government, that goes right into a person's bank account. It is intended to provide some financial stability while a person is looking for work, or waiting for their job to return. No doubt, some people will use that money to buy unhealthy things, like liquor or cigarettes. Most people will use it to stock up on groceries, or pay overdue bills, or make a long-delayed trip to the doctor. That money will actually be spent, thereby helping the economy, instead of being stashed in some investment account. Isn't nearly anything better that pushing more people into the confusing and overwhelmed welfare system/

This book does not attempt to answer questions like: the size of the monthly check, is there an upper income limit for recipients, or how it will be paid for. It is short, easy to read, and if it simply gets people thinking about a UBI, it will have done its job. This is very much worth reading. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Connecting Beyond

Connecting Beyond: Observing and Learning Relationships, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2020

This book looks at relationships by comparing them to the human body.

The spine represents the bedrock social and moral principles with which we were raised. Just as tendons and cartilage allow the body to be flexible, experiencing new people and places allows for emotional flexibility to adapt to our environment. Any living organism will experience cuts, bruises, broken bones or chronic illness. In interpersonal relationships, pain, frustration, abandonment and trauma are almost part of the landscape.

The author also includes her autobiography. She was raised in Israel, of Yemeni origin. Her darker skin caused some unpleasant moments while she was growing up. Her father's alcoholism brought about a very hard life at home; any residual love between his parents was gone. She left as soon as she could; eventually heading to America.

Several exercises are included to help the reader understand whatever is, emotionally, ailing them. This book is very easy to read and understand. It is recommended for anyone dealing with emotional potholes in their journey through life.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Isolation Moderation

Isolation Moderation, Tonali Windslor, Handwritten Direct Mail LLC, 2019

This book attempts to present solutions to some of the problems faced by America, and the rest of the world.

The main idea is encapsulated in the book's title. Countries, including America, should put much more effort into fixing things at home before they try to fix the rest of the world. America needs to do a much better job at getting a handle on immigration. If a wall along the southern border is needed, so be it. There should be only a couple of places of entry. Maybe should send some technical assistance to Mexico and the countries of Central America to help build up their countries enough so that citizens won't head for America.

The author feels that a temporary military alliance, for a specific purpose (like Operation Desert Storm to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait) is a good idea. A permanent military alliance, like NATO, is not a good idea. Once the objective has been accomplished, the alliance should dissolve, and the foreign troops should go home. Pushing a tyrannical dictator out of power is another good reason for a temporary military alliance. Peacemaking and peacekeeping are two very different things. UN peacekeepers should have the authority, and the firepower, to start shooting, if it becomes necessary (Rwanda 1994).

An important concept in politics is to read the "other" side, to get an idea of what they are thinking. This book may be pretty conservative, but it offers solutions, without finger-pointing. It's short, easy to understand, and will benefit those on the political Left (trust me, the conservatism in this book is pretty painless).

Monday, June 29, 2020

Psi-Wars

Psi-Wars: Classified Cases of Psychic Phenomena, Joshua Viola (ed.), Hex Publishers, 2020

This group of new stories looks at the subject of psychic phenomena, that mainstay of science fiction from the earliest days.

The settings of these stories range from Atlantis to the far future. A nurse in World War I France uses her powers to care for the injured soldiers. But, it's not that simple. There is a secret war going on between psychic factions, a war about which the average present-day person is totally unaware.Another tale is set in Europe, during World War II, after the Nazis have taken the entire continent, and repulsed the D-Day invasion.

Individually, these stories are really good. Put them together, and this is a first-rate anthology. These tales are easy to read, and they are very much worth reading. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Ass, Cash and Grass

Ass, Cash and Grass: Welcome to Cali, Chad Vegas, Amazon.com Services, 2017

Part 2 of a series, this continues the story of Max and Chad, who are trying to make it in the marijuana business in 1990's California. Max has bought a piece of land in Peru, for some heavy duty growing of weed. The land has suddenly become very valuable, so powerful people, with the help of the Peruvian Government, are doing their best to steal it from him. Max and Chad are back in California to sell some of their weed supply, to help pay the legal bills.

This was the time when medical marijuana was legal in California, so everyone was growing their own. This led to a huge drop in price for people like Chad. Evidently, driving all over central California to sell several pounds of weed to dispensaries is not something to be done alone, or sober. Jorge, a friend and fellow total drug addict, is up for a road trip. Armed with huge amounts of drugs and alcohol (for them), they are off.

Along the way, there is a home-made porno film (done in a casino hotel room), there are several instances of Chad passing out (from way too much drugs and alcohol in his system at the same time), and Chad gets a chest-sized tattoo that includes a Care Bear taking a Xanax. What happens with Max's court case in Peru? Is there a Part 3 to the series? (spoiler alert: Yes)

As with the first book, this is certainly not a boring book. It will very much keep the attention of the reader. Some might have a hard time with the insane amounts of drugs and alcohol that are consumed in this story. Get past that, and there is lots of good writing, and this book is very much recommended.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Vanwest: The Past

Vanwest: The Past, Kenneth Thomas, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2020

Set in the year 3000, Earth has been environmentally devastated. The only habitable land is in Antarctica, which is under the total control of the Universal Council. Captain Vanwest is an Enforcer (sort of like the secret police). A group of anti-tech zealots, called Utopians, wants to get rid of the Council, and stop man's scientific progress, by time travel far into the past. Vanwest is given the task of stopping them.

Vanwest travels to Geneva 1951, to the international meeting which led to the formation of CERN, the European nuclear research agency. He is able to disrupt their plans. Returning to the year 3000, Vanwest falls for the daughter of the founder of the Utopians. The final confrontation happens at Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1998. The Space Shuttle "Endeavor" is about to launch, carrying an important part of what will become the International Space Station. Stopping the ISS from being built, by causing the shuttle to explode in flight, would throw a huge obstacle in the way of man's scientific progress. Is Vanwest successful in stopping the Utopians? Does he return to the year 3000?

On the positive side, this is a very good story that is worth reading. On the negative side, this book needs a trip, or another trip, to a proofreader or copy editor. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Bamboo-Scented Love

Bamboo-Scented Love, Vered Kaminsky, 2020, self-published

Set in 1990's China, this is the story of Mira and Ron, a couple from Israel, who, along with their two young children, are spending the next two years in the city of Qingdao. 

They are there for Ron's job; he has been appointed manager of a rice processing plant. The early days are not easy. The children are enrolled in the local elementary school. Eventually, they relax and start to enjoy school. Mira's housekeeper, Linda (she came with the apartment), helps her get used to China. Linda helps Mira learn Chines, and Mira helps Linda learn English, one word at a time. Linda also helps Mira navigate the local food stalls. Mira is greatly helped by making contact with the local expatriate community. She learns to relax, and even enrolls in a Chinese language class at the local university.

Cheng is the assistant manager at the rice processing plant. He was in line for the top job until Ron was appointed over him. Cheng says he is OK with being passed over. Whenever Mira needs a ride somewhere, Cheng suddenly appears. Over time, Mira starts to have feelings for him. Does it become a full-blown affair? Does Mira "find herself"?

This is a very good story. It gets very "ground level," down to the level of individual people, just trying to live their lives. Set in a, for most Westerners, exotic part of the world, this is really worth reading.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Reverse Engineering God

Reverse Engineering God: Irreligious Answers to Fundamental Questions, Michael Rothschild, Amazon.com Services, 2020

This book attempts to use science to answer some of the great religious and philosophical questions that have occupied mankind through history.

Religion contributes to the survival ... of itself only. Why do we empathize? The unquestionable fitness of evolution. Why did the Big Bang bang? Do we live in the Matrix? A paradox is always an error in judgment. The meaning of life. Free will: real or imagined?

This will certainly give the reader quite a mental workout. It 's a very thought provoking book. It may not be a page-turner, but, for those who stick with it, it is very much worth the reader's time.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

How to Live the Dream

How to Live the Dream: Things Every Van Lifer Needs to Know, Kristine Hudson, 2020

Whether by choice or necessity, hopping in a van and traveling the highways and byways of America is becoming an increasingly popular choice. This book attempts to give the details.

If you are traveling solo, a Volkswagen bus might be your vehicle of choice. If children and/or pets are included, something bigger will be needed. Do you want a vehicle that is "move-in ready," or, are you ready to do some re-habbing? Where do you go to find out how to rehab an old school bus? Whatever vehicle you choose, high mileage is acceptable, as long as a mechanic goes through it from front to back, and approves of it. Learn some basic auto maintenance on your vehicle. If possible, get a paper copy of the repair manual. Rest assured, your vehicle will break down, at the most inconvenient place and time.

Do you need creature comforts, like an actual mattress, stove and/or toilet, or, are you OK with "roughing it"? You will have only a certain amount of storage space in your vehicle, so make every inch count. Figure out some sort of power source, in order to charge up your cellphone and/or laptop. Set a financial budget, and stick to it like glue. Resist the temptation to eat in a restaurant every day. Do you have one of those "remote" jobs that can be done on a laptop from anywhere? If so, that can be a good way to make some money while you are on the road. When your vehicle is all ready, and everything is packed, try a short -term trip, for a long weekend, or an entire week. Better to fix any glitches now, instead of later.

This is an excellent book that is very easy to understand. It belongs on whatever electronic device you are taking on your Grand Excursion. It is very much worth reading.

Monday, May 25, 2020

AIPAC'S Grassroots Path to Congress

AIPAC's Grassroots Path to Congress: How Isaiah Kenen Built AIPAC To Be A Powerhouse, Kobby Barda, Simple Story, 2020

This book looks at how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) became one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

What became AIPAC was started during World War II. It was a way from American Jews to influence the American Government to help European Jews who were fleeing to Israel. Early on, it became clear that the way to influence Congress to be more pro-Israel was to flood it with telegrams and phone calls from constituents (this was before e-mail and smartphones).

A man named Isaiah "Si" Kenen became CEO in the early 1950's, and took the organization to the next level. AIPAC was registered as a lobbying organization, not a foreign agent. There was only a small staff in Washington, with a few lobbyists. AIPAC established an inverted pyramid structure, with the CEO at the bottom , and the individual members, in cities and small towns, were at the top. He started a national newspaper, to get AIPAC's point of view out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. For instance, Kenen calls ten regional leaders to alert them to a bill in Congress important to AIPAC. Those ten people will call ten more people, each of whom will call ten more, and on, and on. Within one or two days, Congress will be flooded with comments from constituents about that bill. Even those members of Congress who may not be pro-Israel were forced to admire AIPAC's ability to get their members to communicate with Congress.

This is a really interesting book. It takes years to create an organization that can effectively influence Congress; this is one way to do it. Any new political organization could do a lot worse than read this book. It easily gets four stars, maybe even four-and-a-half stars.

Changing World

Changing World: Origin, Sergei Katz, Amazon.com Services, 2018

First of a series, this novel is about Dave, a well-known computer analyst. A disability has left him unable to smell, taste or see color. When a Japanese company needs beta testers for a new virtual reality full immersion game, Dave jumps at the chance.

The only catch is that he has to remain in the game for at least one year (in real life). If his character dies in the game, rebirth is not possible. A computer glitch puts him right in the game, without any tutorials.

While enjoying his new senses, Dave teams up with a small woodland creature who can turn into almost anything (and who really likes his liquor), a young boy named Alex (who is on a quest of his own) and a hawk who he calls Copper Wing. They battle lots of monsters, and engage in several smaller quests, while Dave's in-game numbers, in categories like Intuition and Herbalist, keep going up and up. Can Dave extend his time in the game while in a fairy forest full of killer spirits?

This is a really good fantasy novel, intended for lovers of games like Dungeons & Dragons. Non-gamers may have a hard time with the constant listing of abilities like Craftsman, Scout, Attentiveness and Intellect. Get past it, and this is a very worthy start to a series.

Perception vs Truth

Perception vs Truth: Spirituality in Simple Words, Eyal Cohen, Amazon.com Services, 2020

Believe it or not, it is possible to change your life for the better. It involves opening your mind, and changing your perception of reality. That is what this book is all about.

This book consists of short sections, one or two pages each, with titles like: Point of Reference, Victor or Victim, The Principle of Simplicity, Religion, Polluted Minds, Become What You Are and Wisdom of Life.

In order for our hope to connect to reality, we have to act in a way that facilitates the thing we hope for. The seed of change exists solely inside of us. We can decide for ourselves -- either we are a victim or a victor of life. Instead of agonizing over the past, we can learn from it. Why is life so difficult? Because we have lost our Simplicity of Being. A sense of wisdom comes when we are being mindful. Religion is the underlying principle of all that is good, noble, honorable and beautiful.

Our perceptions of reality are shaped by many forces, including society, parents, culture and the internet. Maybe it is time for a change, and this book will help. It is very short, and is the sort of book that can be picked up and read starting on any page. It is well worth reading.

Changing World: The Fast Flow

Changing World: The Fast Flow, Sergei Katz, Amazon.com Services, 2019

Part 2 of a series, this continues the story of Alder, who is testing the ultimate in virtual reality role-playing games. There are those, inside the game, who do not want him there. The slightest error on Alder's part, and he will lose everything he has accomplished until then. Also, his new found friends will lose everything, permanently.

As with the first book, there is lots of good writing. Fantasy fans, and especially gamers, will love this story, with plenty of action. Non-gamers might have a hard time with the constant listing of abilities like Intuition and Herbalist and You Have Completed This Quest. It is still very much worth reading.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Big Deal

The Big Deal: A 6-Step Formula to Kill Your Low Sales Stress and Help You Close the Biggest Deals Ever, Hisham Al Gurg, Amazon.com Services, 2019

This book shows a way to greatly increase the chances of a favorable outcome for any business salesperson.

As an example, let's assume your product is HR software. The first thing you should do is make that product as perfect as possible. Why should anyone even consider buying your software if it is full of bugs? Among the objects of selling is to fulfill a need that the customer foes not know that they have. If your software fulfills only a small need, again, why should the customer buy it? Make sure it fulfills a big need of the customer.

After you have chosen your target company, stay away from the CEO (for now). Going right to the CEO, with a PowerPoint presentation that basically says "Buy My Software," will guarantee an answer of No. Meet with senior people at the target company, and learn everything you can about it. What is their fiscal year? Are more approvals than the CEO's needed for purchasing decisions? What sort of person is the CEO? Does he have to see it, hear it or touch it before he understands it? Know the company, inside and out. Also, know your competition. When the CEO asks, "We have dealt with your competitor for many years. They charge less than you, and we are very satisfied with their customer service. Why should we switch to you?", make sure that you have an answer handy. Now, you talk to the CEO.

Don't ask the CEO to buy the software (yet). Instead, ask for authorization to set up a Proof of Concept (or POC). It's a chance for the target company to test-drive the software. How long will the POC last? What features of the software will not be available? In the target company, who will have access to it? In the selling company, who will be on-site for questions or problems? If the target company wants changes to the software, how far is the selling company willing to go? Assuming the POC was a success, and HR loves the software, go back to the CEO, with plenty of built-in fans of the software.

If the answer is Yes, the job is not done. How will the software get onto the target company's mainframe? Will everyone in HR have access to it, or just certain people? How much customer service will be available, days or months?

This is a very thorough, and very easy to understand, book. It is good for businesses of any size. It is very much worth reading.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Babel: A Guide to the East-West Encounter

Babel: A Guide to the East-West Encounter, Ofer Grosbard, Amazon.com Services, 2020

What the heck is a "vector of the mind" and why should a person care about it? This book attempts to answer that question.

Those with an outward oriented vector of the mind have an eastern paradigm of mind, and emphasize the group, or consensus. Perhaps the best known example is the Japanese concept of "saving face." On the other hand, those with a western paradigm of mind have an inward oriented vector of the mind. The best example of this is the American emphasis on the individual. Dealing with someone whose paradigm of mind is opposite to ours creates a cross-cultural problem. Both of you might speak the same language, but you will have a hard time understanding each other.

It is normal to think that a person from another culture thinks the same way that we do. That is because we only know one way of thinking. Is it possible to "translate" from one to the other?

This book contains many examples of negotiations between America and Israel and its Arab neighbors. It also includes a questionnaire so that a person can assess their own vector of the mind. Is it possible to get away from being Politically Correct and acknowledge our differences?

Here is a very interesting book. The many examples of Arab-Israeli contacts also make it pretty easy to understand. This will get the reader thinking.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Nature, Spirituality and Illegal Gold Mining

Nature, Spirituality and Illegal Gold Mining: Welcome to the Amazon, Chad Vegas, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2019

Part of a series, the narrator is living in the Amazon jungle in present-day Peru. He is occupying a piece of land, on which marijuana is grown, for Max, the owner of the whole operation.

Along with a couple of local men assisting in holding the land, the narrator faces many battles. On one hand, he has to watch for illegal, scorched earth, gold miners, who have no problem with killing anyone who gets in their way. Along with the always-encroaching jungle, there are also squatters on the land, who will not go quietly.

Max, who is arriving soon, wants Chad, the narrator, to go through the police, and legally remove the squatters. Chad learns, through experience, that Peruvian police don't just have a laid-back attitude, they actively don't want to work without appropriate bribes. They treat squatter removal day as a joke. Several of the police spent the previous night drinking, then show up very hung over.

As a young man with a very active libido, Chad travels to Cusco, the nearest big city, every month or so, to satisfy his sexual needs. He has a couple of women that he calls whenever he is in town. As long as their boyfriend/sugar daddy is away, they are more than happy to have sex with Chad. He already has a bad ulcer, from excessive drinking, and he is very familiar with cocaine. This leads to a practically non-stop alcohol and drug-fueled sex binge, from the time he arrives in town until he has to return to the jungle.

This is certainly not a boring book; it will keep the reader interested. The author has, justifiably, been compared to Hunter S Thompson. There is lots of really good writing, along with lots of drugs, alcohol and sex, so it is not for the faint of heart. Other than that, it is very much worth reading.

Spin Off: CEO's Version

Spin Off: CEO's Version, Yehuda Holtzman, Simple Story, 2019

This is a chronicle of one person's time as CEO of a company that was spun off from another company. It is a software company dealing with smartphones, and had fallen on hard times.

The first thing a new CEO has to do is to find out how bad things are. In this case, it was not good. Any technological superiority the company had was gone. Software updates took a long time to download, and they were filled with bugs. The Customer Service department needed a lot of help.

Next, a CEO has to do a lot of listening to the employees. If the company is small enough, give every employee a chance to speak their mind. Travel to all (or as many as possible) sales offices in other states, asking for the unvarnished truth from employees. If there are offices in other countries, get out your passport, and hop on a plane.

Now the CEO must put together a new management team to turn the company around. It must include departments like Operations, Manufacturing, Marketing and Quality Assistance. The group must go to an off-site location, without distractions, and ask a lot of hard questions. Is this company more interested in growth or profit? If the company has applied for few, or no, patents over the last several years, why? Can any sales offices be combined, or eliminated? Can any products be combined, or eliminated? If a certain country, or region, accounts for only a small portion of sales, is an office there really necessary? After those questions are answered, then comes the hard part of actually turning the company around.

This is a very interesting book that is very easy to understand. It works for all kinds of companies (not just high-tech companies), and for companies of any size. This is a really good inside look at being a CEO. It's really worth reading.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Nutrition Facts

Nutrition Facts: A Guide to Good Health, Sudhir Ahluwalia, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2020

This book does not promote the latest diet or weight-loss plan. It does attempt to provide some facts so that the reader can make an informed decision about the best way to proceed.

It talks a lot about organic food; how many hectares are under cultivation worldwide; what countries are the biggest importers and exporters, etc. Fruits and vegetables with thin skins, like strawberries and blueberries, probably have pesticides in them. If at all possible, look for their organic equivalent. Thicker-skinned items, like bananas, are much less likely to be carrying pesticides.

The book also looks, specifically, at foods like broccoli, tomatoes and citrus fruits. Where did they start? When did they start? What country is the biggest importer, and exporter? What chemical do they contain that is healthy? What will it do for the human body? Also included is a nutrition label for each item. This so the reader can see, for instance, just how much fiber or vitamin C or saturated fat is in each item.

This book does not reveal the latest Guaranteed Weight Loss system. However, it does a very good job at showing how healthy fruits and vegetables and grains really are. This will help the reader come up with their own healthy eating plan. Yes, it's worth reading.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Parable of the Spirit That Whispers

The Parable of the Spirit That Whispers, Melvin Douglas Wilson, Yorkshire Publishing, 2019

This is a young adult fable about a far land run by a king called Americus. He built great worship centers so that the people could praise the Good Spirit. Americus also learned about the Spirit That Whispers, by reading the Books of Old, and trained his people to resist the bad spirit. Life was good.

On the death of Americus, Europa, his son, became king. He kept the worship centers open, and embraced the Good Spirit. But, he stayed away from the Books of Old, and told the people that the Spirit That Whispers was just a myth; don't worry about it. The young people of the kingdom started to turn away from the Good Spirit.

When Europa died, Asiaia, his son, assumed the throne. He kept open the worship centers, but he didn't believe in the Good Spirit. Bad people started spreading discontent and turmoil throughout the kingdom. No one could explain the cause. Things got so bad that the king barricaded himself in his castle. To pass the time, he started reading the Books of Old, and he learned the truth about the Spirit That Whispers. As he is pulled from the castle by the bad people of the kingdom (all of the good people are gone), he tries to warn them about the Spirit That Whispers. Does it have any effect? Is he too late?

This is a very interesting story for middle grade students. It will give them (and their parents) something to think about. Yes, it's very much worth reading.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

No One Left But All of Us

No One Left But All of Us, Stacey Roberts, Sons of Joy LLC, 2019

Here is one person's view of the troubles that currently afflict America, and what to do about it.

"Elect me, and I will fix (insert issue here) once and for all!" Every four years, Americans are told that this is the most important election of their lives. Politicians also say that this election is all about abortion, or trade or illegal immigration. Perhaps the American people should get together, and tell politicians that this election is about, for instance, the national debt, or getting all corporate money out of politics. Any politician who refuses to talk about such issues will quickly become an ex-politician.

The author advocates term limits for members of Congress. Before that happens, the term for members of the House of Representatives should be increased from two to four years. The increase is so that members of the House can spend more time legislating, and less time raising money raising money to stay elected.

In the past, there have been times when Americans came together for a common purpose, when country, and helping your neighbor, came first. A recent example of such civic-minded behavior was during World War II. Those days have certainly disappeared (forever?). Now, party comes first. All that matters is damaging the Other Party. Depending on whether a person considers themselves an R or a D, they are automatically a good person or an implacable enemy.

Agree or disagree with this book's point of view, but it is still a first-rate piece of writing. It is easy to understand, and written with a lot of passion. If this book can get even one person to start moving in the direction of Country First, instead of Party First, it will be a success. It is very much worth reading.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Flying High Through the Course of Life

Flying High Through the Course of Life - The Challenge: Thinking Your Way to Self-Realization, Dr. Orna Markus Ben-Zvi, Niv Books, 2020

Many books have been written about how to live a happier and more emotionally fulfilling life. This book is different.

How is this book different? It is short (less than 100 pages), and it consists of 200 affirmations, or things to remember, or ways to get more out of life. Here are a few examples: From this day on, we will live our lives in gratitude. Adopt a more optimistic approach to life. We are not perfect because perfect people do not exist. In many ways, man creates his own life, full of suffering or full of joy. Never agree to be taken for granted. A man is alive as long as he has dreams. The teacher's role is to plant the seeds of morality, humanity and love of man in his/her students.

This is a gem of a book. It can be picked up and read starting anywhere, and it is recommended for people from all walks of life. Everyone will find some sort of help in this book. It is very much worth reading.

Monday, February 17, 2020

College Level Evolution

College Level Evolution, AudioLearn Team, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2020

Developed by experienced professors, this book attempts to present college-level evolution in easy-to-digest chapters. It is also professionally narrated, for those who learn better by hearing it than by reading it.

The material is up-to-date and accurate. It covers topics like early evolutionary theories (people were talking about evolution long before Charles Darwin), extinction (perhaps a species has reached the end of its "life span," or it can't adapt to new conditions), genetics and genetic variation, the origin of life and evolution and disease. There are key takeaways at the end of each chapter, along with a quiz. At the end of the book is a 200-question test.

This is an excellent book that works for everyone. It works for life-long learners, and students who are home schooled. It especially works for college students, as a supplement to, and, perhaps, a substitute for, a heavy and expensive, textbook. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Paths in the Storm

Paths in the Storm, Ilana Maor, 2018, Alonim

Based on a true story, this is the tale of 20th century Europe as seen through the eyes of two Jewish families.

Marek comes from a family of medical doctors. He just wants to complete his studies, despite the increasingly harsh conditions for Jews. He is forced to keep moving from school to school, country to country. Max is obsessed with the new technology of moving pictures; he just wants to make films. This leads to several "relationships" with his female co-stars.

Living in Soviet-occupied Warsaw, as a well-to-do family, one of the families is rounded up, and forcibly deported (in a cattle car) to Soviet Central Asia. They are expected to become farmers. This is despite the fact that the soil is very bad for farming, and, as city dwellers, they know nothing about farming. After several years of bare survival, things improve slightly when they are reunited with an uncle who was similarly deported. They are able to get decent, non-farming jobs in a big mining town.

The level of storytelling in this book is excellent, from start to finish. For anyone who wants to know what WWII era Europe was like, at the individual, or family, level (not at the history textbook level), this is the place to start. It is a first-rate piece of writing.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Glass Shards

Glass Shards, Emilie Vainqueur, Lili Books and Company, 2019

Part 3 of a series, this continues the story of Amethyst, a female jewel thief, and Diamond, her younger sister. Amethyst has made it out of the extremely lawless Devil's Backbone, alive and intact. She is increasingly concerned about her abilities, which shows itself when her eyes turn fluorescent purple. Amethyst is now able to control the weather.

The reader sees the (literal) hole in the ground that is home for the sisters. Amethyst wants very much to have her abilities removed, but that would mean leaving Diamond behind. Amethyst also rekindles a relationship with Tyryn, an ex-boyfriend. Several years previously, in a moment of stupidity, Tyryn pushed Amethyst away. Ever since, he has looked for a chance to tell her his true feelings. Amethyst also runs into the Black Flame, master jewel thief. This time, he is unmasked, and there is something familiar about him. . .

The excellent level of writing in the first two volumes of this series has not dropped off at all. This book, and the whole series, is very much worth reading. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Jimmy's Got a Gun

Jimmy's Got a Gun: The Crash Brothers Forever, Melvin Douglas Wilson, Yorkshire Publishing, 2017

This is the story of a group of inner-city junior high school students, led by Mely Mel, the narrator, who are bused to a suburban junior high school. This is because their local school is very unusable.

They form their own "crew," called The Crash Brothers. They concentrate on helping the elderly in their neighborhood, with things like lawn mowing and snow shoveling. They go to church every Sunday, and otherwise work to be good people. They run into Big Mike, the local bully, and his crew, and they scatter. Jimmy, one of the Crash Brothers, isn't so lucky. He is grabbed by Big Mike, beat up, and his lunch money is stolen.

Several days later, the Crash Brothers are at a local pizza parlor, when Big Mike enters, and asks Jimmy to step outside. Jimmy calmly finishes his pizza, walks outside, and pulls out a gun (registered to his father), pointing it at Big Mike's head. Does Big Mike become another gun violence statistic? Does Jimmy get hauled off to jail?

This story is intended for middle school students, and it is really good. Gun violence affects every corner of America, so this is extremely timely. The faith-based part is at the end, when the local pastor helps the crew understand exactly what just happened. It is short, and very much worth reading, for kids and adults.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Black Flame

The Black Flame, Emilie Vainqueur, Lili Books and Company, 2019

Part 2 of a trilogy, this is the story of Amethyst, a female jewel thief in the Devil's Backbone, an extremely lawless part of the city. She is captured by the Black Flame, a master jewel thief. While fighting, they learn each other's secret identities. This gives them plenty of reason to stick together. Such information would be fatal for them in the wrong hands.

The Black Flame gives Amethyst enough jewels to set her up very nicely somewhere else, on the understanding that she never returns to the Devil's Backbone. Of course, it is not that easy. Amethyst is hated, and shunned, by the people of the nearby city. Whenever she gets excited, or emotional, her eyes glow fluorescent purple. It leads to accusations of being a witch or a demon.

The reader gets a better idea of what it's really like to have such a gift/curse, from the "inside." The reader meets Diamond, Amethyst's younger sister, and the only family she has left. Amethyst also runs into Tyryn, an ex-boyfriend. Do they consider getting back together?

Here is another excellent piece of writing. It has everything a person could want, fantasy, romance and dystopia. This is very much worth reading.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Nobody Gets Out of Catering Alive

Nobody Gets Out of Catering Alive, Joe Montaperto, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2019

The author was a rising star in the 1990's New York City comedy scene, along with people like Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart. Suddenly, it all fell apart. In his 30's, he found himself living with his parents (in Jersey City), talking to a figurine of Napoleon at 3:00 AM and wondering what he was going to do next.

He spent several months at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in upstate New York. He witnessed, firsthand, the gentrification of New York City; his favorite bars and local restaurants were replaced by Starbucks and Rite Aid. He wanted to understand more about economics, so he found a pay-what-you-can school based on the writings of Henry George (look him up; you'll be glad you did).

There are a couple of girlfriends; neither relationship lasts very long. Linda, one of them, convinces him to join her in New Mexico. There he gets a job, and has a near-death experience, as a Ranger in a national park. Back in Jersey City, he pays the bills by getting shifts working for various corporate catering companies. It is as funny, and as awful, as it sounds.

He starts to put together a one-man show, featuring several different characters, including a stoner and an executive for Monsanto. Initial feedback is very favorable. He rents a local theater in lower Manhattan for a special performance for potential financial backers. It is a necessary step to take his show to the next level (maybe, eventually, to Broadway). Then 9/11 happens.

Be prepared for a wild ride. The writing is very funny, and very heartfelt. This will certainly keep the reader's attention.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

My Journey Around Mont Blanc

My Journey Around Mont Blanc, Dan Karmi, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2019

The author allows an adult friend to convince him to undertake a strenuous, multi-day hike around Mont Blanc. It's a mountain in the Alps, on the border between France, Italy and Switzerland. A pair of potential obstacles present themselves. The first is that the author is 70 years old, so such a hike may not be such a great idea. The second is that the pair live in Israel, not known as a good mountain hiking training ground.

Nevertheless, the pair are on the trail, which is marked pretty well. There are inns and hostels every 10 or 20 kilometers, where a hiker can get a meal and a bed. There is a man with a car who will take your luggage from Hostel A to Hostel B. This is a huge help, because it eliminates the need to carry everything on your back. After a couple of days, the friend goes off with a couple of ladies, leaving the author to continue solo (also, not a great idea). Armed with a pair of smartphones, including one with GPS, the author learns that the trail is marked pretty well, but not totally well. This leads to a couple of instances of having to double back, and take another route. He meets fellow hikers from all over the world. The weather does not always cooperate, but being out in nature to such an extent is also a new experience.

This is a really interesting book, full of color pictures of the incredible scenery. It is not meant to be anything more than one person's experiences around Mont Blanc. Armchair travelers (and everyone else) will love it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The New Supervisor's Handbook

The New Supervisor's Handbook, Julian Talbot, TA Trust, 2014

Congratulations! Someone in the upper reaches of your company has decided that you have reached enough milestones to officially become a supervisor. This book will help answer some of the many questions that have just popped into your head.

Among the first things you need to learn is how to communicate with your subordinates. Do you need to see it, hear it or do it before you learn it? Don't assume that your subordinates all communicate that same way. If they communicate some other way than you, both of you may be speaking English, but it is like you are speaking a foreign language to them.

Then there is the subject of meetings, that black hole of modern day business. Be sure that the only people attending are those that need to be there. Email an agenda to everyone ahead of time. During the meeting, stick to that agenda like glue. Don't let anyone monopolize the meeting. Later,l email notes or a summary of what was discussed to everyone, especially those who have to see it before they understand it.

An unpleasant, but necessary, part of being a supervisor is disciplining, or terminating, employees. In short, document all contact with the employee. Have an impartial witness, like someone from another department or someone from outside the company, present at all meetings with the employee.

This book will not answer all possible questions that a new supervisor might have, but it will certainly point them in the right direction. It is short, and easy to understand, and very much worth the time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Amethyst

Amethyst, Emilie Vainqueur, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2019

Part 1 of a trilogy, this book is about a young woman named Amethyst. She is a professional jewel thief in a part of the city called the Devil's Backbone. Full of the dregs of society, it is the sort of place that even the police refuse to enter. The bandits there don't take finger or toes as a "trophy," they take a different part of the body (hence the name "Devil's Backbone"). They don't always wait until the person is dead before they do it.

In the first part of the book, Amethyst is running from people who mean to do exactly that to her, especially a shadowy individual named the Black Flame. Much of the book takes place several years previously, when Amethyst was growing up in the Devil's Backbone. She has a special physical ability that she has to keep quiet as much as possible. Otherwise, it will lead to her being shunned by the neighbors, as well as her own grandmother. 

This novel is full of really good writing, along with plenty of action. Here is a very worthy part 1 of a trilogy. Checking it out is a really good idea.. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Dar Lumbre Chronicles

The Dar Lumbre Chronicles, Don Johnston, 2018, Amazon.com Services LLC

Dar Lumbre, a world famous geneticist, is about to be arrested for conducting banned genetic experiments. Before the feds can close in on him, a massive solar flare destroys much of America's census data. In the ensuing chaos, Lumbre disappoears. Did the feds get him? Has he voluntarily gone to an "undisclosed location"?

In 2086, fifty years later, America is under corporate control, run by NatGov. All Americans are required to register to vote, as a Republican or Democrat. Those who don't are officially "outsiders," and get no government benefits. DL-666 is a very reliable system for creating an artificial heart for anyone who needs one. There is no longer any need for donated hearts from the recently deceased. It was developed by Lumbre before his disappearance, but a major problem with it has just been discovered. Things get critical when America's First Lady suddenly needs a new heart.

Meantime, rumors, and flyers popup all over America from the Dar Lumbre Society (NatGov has banned all other political parties). Is Lumbre still alive? Where could he have been for all these years? Is he returning as some sort of savior? Does NatGov reassert control and crush the Dar Lumbre Society before it gets going? Does DL-666 get "fixed"?

This is a really good hard science fiction novel, containing lots of genetics. Perhaps the society building is a little bit better than the actual story. That should not stop anyone from reading this book. It is very much worth checking out.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Surveillance Valley

Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, Yasha Levine, PublicAffairs Books, 2018

Conventional wisdom says that, in the 1960's, a group of universities started what became the Internet with help from the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency. The reality is very different.

William Godel, a military intelligence officer, thought that a better way to win in Vietnam was to use new technology to anticipate the movements and understand the motives of the enemy. Such new technology was also used on domestic war opposition. That is what led ARPA to create the Internet; using computers to spy on Americans.

Today, all of the major Internet firms, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, all collect private information for profit. They also let agencies like the National Security Agency scoop up their activity for its own purposes. Silicon Valley and the military are generally one and the same; a sort of military/digital complex.

The Tor browser was supposed to be The Answer: a method of communication that the government could not read. But, Tor got most of its original funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the people behind Voice of America and Radio Free Europe). For most of its existence, it has subsisted on large government contracts. Why is one part of the government, the BBG, supporting Tor, and another part of the government, the FBI, trying to shut it down? It keeps all the activists and other anti-government types in one place. Tor's credibility is certainly helped by an endorsement from Edward Snowden.

This is an excellent book. For some people, this book might be common knowledge. For the vast majority of people, this book is full of revelations about how ubiquitous surveillance has become in America. Nobody comes out clean in this book, which is highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Greek Cat

A Greek Cat, Moshe Karasso, Amazon.com Services LLC, 2019

This novel is about a formerly well-off, but now impoverished, Jewish family living in the Greek islands.

The novel jumps between childhood, adulthood and old age, and back again. The author grew up during the Nazi occupation of Greece. He escaped to Crete, and joined the British Army. He was welcomed because of his fluency with the language and the culture. It didn't last long; his group was eventually forced to surrender. He received special treatment by the Nazis, being taken out of the prison camp, and sent to a farm to work. It caused him great problems after the war, when he was an adult. Later in life, when he was getting on in years, an older, female neighbor really, really wanted to marry him (at that time, he was not interested in marrying anyone).

The book is full of excellent writing. The author does a very good job at recreating the sights and sounds and smells of the Greek islands. It is very much worth checking out.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Security Risk Management Aide-Memoire

Security Risk Management Aide-Memoire, Julian Talbot, SERT Pty Ltd., 2019

Business security has always been a problem for businesses of any size. These days, it seems to be an even bigger problem. This book aims to help.

Security problems can come from any direction, whether it is from hackers, terrorism or an active shooter. They can also come at any time of the day or night. All companies, big and small, must have some sort of security plan in place and ready to activate at a moment's notice. For any company that does not have a plan in place, why not? "It will never happen to me," right?

Is your computer system as hacker-proof as possible? Do you need to beef up your physical security, perhaps with more, and better-trained, security guards? A tip has been received, stating that an "attack" is imminent. Is that tip reliable and credible? Is it designed to get you looking in one direction, while the actual attack is coming from a different direction? After the immediate security problem has been eliminated, evaluate your security plan. Did it work? Did it not work? Look at what needs to be changed for next time, for there will certainly be a next time.

This is a very specialized book, so it is not for the general reader. It assumes that the reader is familiar with the world of corporate security. There are many charts included, to make it easier to understand. For security professionals, this book is very much worth reading.

Friday, January 10, 2020

It's Only the Dream That Counts

It's Only the Dream That Counts, Arye Dreyfus, 2019, Amazon.com Services LLC

This group of stories is about average people just trying to get through this thing called Life. They are not high and mighty, or extremely poor, but somewhere in the middle. They are chasing their dreams, with varying levels of success.

There is a Nazi celebration in Paris, and a shelling in Haifa. A recluse falls in love with the picture of a woman that he finds in the newspaper, He paints her portrait several times, in various poses, even though the picture is right next to her obituary. David works in an office where one of his co-workers wins the lottery. The rest of the office is suddenly very interested. He has never been one to splurge on himself, but he takes his portion of the winnings and spends it on himself. He also starts playing the lottery on his own. Does he get lucky, or does he blow all of his new-found wealth?

A young woman is sexually assaulted in her apartment. A stray shell kills her attacker, and severely injures her. She rarely leaves her apartment anymore, so that she won't have to deal with people looking at her mangled body. An introverted military hero goes to college, and becomes an accountant. He has crossed the same plaza, twice a day, for years. Suddenly, he is physically unable to do it. The problem is much more than the attempts to patch up the many potholes in the pavement.

These stories are really good. They are also "quiet," in that there is little, or no, sex or violence. They may require some effort on the part of the reader. This book easily gets four stars, maybe even four-and-a-half stars.