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, 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.