Welcome!


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

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

I post my reviews to:

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Always Walk Forward

Always Walk Forward, Billy Wong, Amazon Digital Services, 2016

This fantasy novel is about Vincent and Sam (female) and Drea. They are part of a theater troupe in the city of Belimia. Drea is an obvious fighting expert who tries to make their fight scenes look as real as possible. There is a late night knock on the door. The Paladins have come for Eli, another member of the troupe. Think of them as the secret police; they have kidnapped many people in the past. Vincent and Sam are determined to save Eli, despite their lack of fighting ability. Drea agrees to go with them.

For many years, humans have lived in domed cities. This is because of the ongoing war between daimons and anjeli (demons vs angels). In their travels, Drea tries to teach Sam and Vincent some basic fighting skills. They also meet daimons of various sizes. Some are easy to kill; others, not so much. After one such battle, Drea is seriously injured, but she shrugs it off like it's only a scratch. She suddenly decides to head back to Belimia, but points Sam and Vincent to a nearby city. There they meet Lady Cordelia, who would love to take down the Paladins, permanently. She is also very skilled with a sword. The trio also picks up Giorg, an anjeli with an injured wing.

After much traveling, they find Eli in an underground compound. He says that he is there voluntarily. It seems that he has considerable magic talent, and the Paladins are helping him to develop it. Sam decides to stay and make sure that it is the truth, while the others leave. What follows is a long time in a jail cell for Sam, manacled to a bed. Eventually, Sam breaks out of the compound, and goes back to Vincent and Lady Cordelia. Eli is taken to the capital. There, they learn that he has been taken somewhere else. They also learn that the ultimate plan of the Paladins for Eli is a lot more nefarious than first thought. Who survives the final battle? Does the Paladin organization collapse, once and for all?

The author loves heroic fantasy stories, especially with strong female characters, and it shows. There is lots of good writing, and the (many) fight scenes are well done. Yes, this one is very much worth the reader's time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Golden Dawn

The Golden Dawn, Billy Wong, CreateSpace, 2017

Julianna is the ruler of the five realms that make up the land of Aerilea. She is smart, beautiful and beloved by her people. She is also a powerful mage, and a very formidable fighting opponent, whether with swords, magic or bare fists. Her latest battle is against the Mother of All Monsters, a being the size of a mountain, who has been dormant for many years. She defeats the monster, but dies in the process. She returns to life a couple of years later.

Julianna is now a being of energy, held together by magic, and the sheer force of her will. While she was gone, three of the five realms of Aerilea broke away. She is able to convince them to return. The five realms are also subject to attack by armies of monsters. They are large, carnivorous beasts with claws and tentacles. They are led, or controlled, by a humanoid who calls himself the Father of All Monsters. His motives are a lot more than just killing all humans.

A much bigger problem is that the supply of magic is almost gone. Aerilea is an island continent that floats in the air due to magic. Some of the outlying islands have fallen to the Lower World. An emissary is sent from the Lower World to ask Julianna how they have displeased her. Since Julianna's body is held together by magic, the crisis is personal. A search of the magic "reservoirs" around Aerilea reveal that they are all practically empty. A way is found to stop the collapse of Aerilea, but it involves Julianna leaving this world forever. What is her decision? Is there no alternative?

I enjoyed reading this story. Julianna is a very strong female character, almost a superwoman. There is plenty of sword and sorcery, along with lots of good writing. Fantasy fans will love it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Deep Cover

Deep Cover, Mara Moore, 2016, Instafreebie

Ashley Pepper is a present-day Washington campaign strategist. For the past couple of years, her life has revolved around getting Senator Mueller elected as President. The election is in a few weeks.

A big donor walks into Ashley's office, carrying a check with lots of zeroes. His name is Max Armstrong, and he happens to be incredibly handsome. Ashley's laser-sharp focus on the campaign deserts her. All she can think about is Max. They have quite a steamy relationship going, until the Mueller Committee's offices are raided by the FBI.

It is then that Ashley learns that Max is really FBI Special Agent Max Armstrong. Ashley is  not happy, to say the least. A woman was murdered in the private club next door, and if a cover-up was going on, Ashley would know about it, right? Ashley is attacked in her home, so Max appoints himself as her FBI protection detail. He is torn between doing his job, and totally falling in love with Ashley.

Suspicion then falls on Mason Bryant, Ashley's second-in-command. He is a brash Texan with no "filter" on his mouth. Supposedly, Mason found about his wife's infidelity, so he thought he would do the same. When the dead woman threatened to expose the affair, Mason killed her and dumped her body in the Potomac River. After his FBI interrogation, Mason's truck, and his body, were also found in the Potomac. Suicide is the official ruling. Simple, no? Ashley refuses to believe it.

As election day approaches, Ashley is kidnapped by people working for the real killer, and taken to an isolated Virginia farmhouse. Will Max and the FBI get there in time to rescue Ashley? Will Ashley be added to the fatality list?

This is a good mystery/thriller that will keep the reader guessing. But, the thriller part does not start until the reader is one-fourth of the way through the book. Until then, it is a steamy romance novel. Even if this is intended as a romance/thriller instead of a thriller/romance, the thriller part could have started a little sooner than it did.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Siding With Plato

Siding With Plato, Michelle Manning, Clink Street Publishing, 2015

Brooke is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. A native of small-town California, she quickly makes friends with three other women in her dorm. Along with Stella, Kate and Darci, they form their own version of "Sex and The City."

The frat parties start almost immediately. There are a number of occasions where they go to a party, and wake up sometime the next day, maybe in their own bed, and maybe in someone else's bed. They may, or may not, be alone in that bed. They also have no memory of how they got there.

Along the way, Brooke meets James. He is kind, very handsome, and treats her the right way. She was not looking for romance, so she tries to hold on to an opinion of him as a rich, conceited jerk. It doesn't last long. She falls for him very hard. He seems to also be falling for her. Life is good.

Around the middle of the semester, James express his feelings about being in a relationship, with anyone, at this point in his life. Suffice it to say that it does not coincide with Brooke's feelings on the matter (the word "marriage" has crossed her mind). An atom bomb has just exploded in her heart. She loudly breaks up with him, and goes into an emotional tailspin. Her schoolwork suffers, and her friends have to drag her out of bed.

In the second semester, James is in one of Brooke's classes. She is determined to stay broken-up with him, but that, also, does not last long. They are together as often as possible. She is very reluctant to tell Stella, Kate and Darci. Does it break some sort of "rule" to get back together with the person with whom you have broken up?\

Near the end of the school year, Brooke hears from another male student that James has been "playing the field" when he wasn't with Brooke. This sends her into another emotional tailspin. Is she nothing more than a name on his sexual conquest list? Can they clear the air, and maybe even reconcile, before separating for the summer?

This one is rather lighthearted and pretty good. Of course, Millennials and "Sex and The City" fans will love it. In any college "relationship," what one person considers just hooking up, the other person might take a lot more seriously. Yes, it is worth reading.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Dark Place

The Dark Place, William C Risp, CreateSpace, 2017

This story, the novelization of a graphic novel series, brings together several different people to fight some extreme evil.

A young woman named Reh-Reh has done unspecified, but awful things for Franko, the local drug dealer. She is desperate to get away from him, but is trapped in his bathroom. Reh-Reh does have a unique ability. Whenever she cuts her wrists, she is instantly transported to the Dark Place. It is a different plane of existence, where people are still visible, but everything is gray and shadows. It is also full of hell-hounds that are best avoided.

Reh-Reh meets Tony Salazar, a 300-pound brute of a man who has never been loved by anyone. The attraction is instant, and mutual. Tony wants to do the right thing, but he also has a huge temper that makes even hardened street thugs get out of the way. During the story, Tony gets shot several times. Reh-Reh takes him to the Dark Place, Where his gunshot wounds are miraculously healed.

Michael is a very special kind of private investigator. His companion is a nine-foot tall humanoid named Zophiel, who only Michael can see. They are real angels, and Michael does his own physical transformation when he draws his sword.

The extreme evil comes from a well-dressed, older gentleman called Mr. Sunshine. He is a being whom the hell-hounds of the Dark Place respect, and fear. He pushes Tony to accept the evil that is within him, and accept his destiny as a god. Tony wants no part of it; he just wants to be normal. The book ends with a handful of humans, in the Dark Place, and a pair of angels, facing thousands of hell-hounds. Do any of the humans survive? Do Reh-Reh and Tony get back together?

Let's start with Wow, and go from there. He is an incredible piece of writing. Based on a graphic novel, it has plenty of action, and weird stuff. There is also heart, and really good characters. This novel zooms past the level of "deserves six stars." I very much look forward to a sequel.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The True Language of Love

The True Language of Love: The Book of Life, Sean Azimov, CreateSpace, 2017

First of a series, this is more than just another self-help book. Many books assert that, to create happiness, a person must stay positive, or believe in themselves. How does a person actually create that happiness? That's what this book is all about.

The author spends a lot of time talking about exactly what happens in the brain, when things like memories or perceptions are created. It also looks at the basic human needs, like food, shelter and personal security, and what the brain does about it. If the memory or perception is an unpleasant one, the five senses can combine to give a complete picture of that moment.

The author also looks at a number of herbal supplements that can be taken that might just improve things internally. Needless to say, talk to your doctor first. Don't try to take the supplements all at once. Start with just one, and if there are no side effects, then you can add another supplement.

There are a number of exercises in the book that can turn those negative parts of your personality into something positive, or, at least, something neutral. They seem pretty easy.

The famous saying goes something like: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." I must not be ready, because I had a very hard time "getting" this book. I don't mean to imply, for a second, that this is a bad book, because it isn't. I am sure that it has helped, and will help, a lot of people. I am just not one of them.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unbound

Unbound, R.C. Butler, Bulldog Press, 2015

This is a present-day New York City police novel, with a twist.

Lt. Ellison Frost is a female Homicide detective. Her latest victim is Deedrie Bouton, member of a very rich and powerful family. For the past several months, Deedrie had frequently appeared in the local tabloids. She was found tied to a bed, with various ropes, harnesses and collars, and with sex toys nearby. Evidently, she was involved in some kinky BDSM sex before she was murdered.

The twist is that Lt. Ellison is part of that same sex community. The day of her murder, Deedrie made several calls to a local escort agency, wanting to book a specific person. Ellison goes to the agency to ask Angel, the owner, some unpleasant questions. The two women are old friends and former college roommates. Should Angel's client list get released, things could get very unpleasant for Ellison, because her name will be on it.

Ellison gets a lot of help from Rob, the Department's "IT guy." He just happens to be very handsome, and reveals that he, too, is part of the BDSM community. The sexual tension between them stays just below the boiling point. Both of them would love to go somewhere private, and "let it all out," but they know that catching the murderer comes first.

Deedrie, with plenty of money and intelligence, was planning to start her own business in the sex world. It also would have dragged her family name through the mud (intentionally). Did Angel want to eliminate the potential competition? Did her father place the family corporation above his own daughter?

This may sound like a cliche, but this novel is better than excellent. Just as a police novel, it feels very realistic. The reader is kept guessing until the last few pages. The erotic parts, which do not overwhelm the story, are also done really well. The reader will get a look inside the BDSM world, about the line between pleasure and pain which is not supposed to be crossed. On several levels, this is very much worth reading.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dylan's Cosydoze

Dylan's Cosydoze, Elsa Joseph, New Generation Publishing, 2017

Dylan is a very happy little boy. He is happy because he, and his parents, are off to Grandma's house to spend the weekend. Dylan can barely contain his excitement, but curling up with his cosydoze (his favorite blanket) puts him right to sleep.

Dylan has a great time playing with Grandma. When Dylan's bedtime comes, his cosydoze is suddenly missing. A diligent search of the house fails to find it. Grandma tries to substitute one of her blankets for the cosydoze. Dylan replies with the little child equivalent of "No Way." Dad tries to distract Dylan with food; Dylan does not cooperate. Mom suggests that a trip around the neighborhood in an old pram (baby carriage) will put him to sleep. Dylan is very much not interested. It looks like the weekend visit to Grandma will have to be cut short. Where is Dylan's cosydoze?

What child does not have a favorite item (toy, blanket, stuffed animal, etc.) that they can't live without? How many times has that item been misplaced or lost? This is a very good and heart-warming story, told all in rhyme, with which many children can identify. Yes, this is worth reading anytime.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Just Another Girl's Story

Just Another Girl's Story: A Memoir on Finding Redemption, Laura Eckert, CreateSpace, 2017

This is the autobiographical chronicle of one person's difficult journey through life.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Laura was the sort of child who lived for pranks and practical jokes in Catholic school. Dad walked out on the family when Laura was very young. Mom eventually remarried, and just before Laura was about to start high school, announced that the family was moving to a small town 40 miles away.

Laura found herself living the life of an addict. Her addiction was not to drugs or alcohol. She was addicted to sex, with Shawn, her 2-years-younger step-brother. They were intimate whenever, and wherever, they could be. The concept of "protected sex" was unknown to them, so, an abortion when Laura was 16 years old was followed by another one a year later. Her family was very supportive. At age 18, she decided to keep her third pregnancy. The family did what they could to keep them apart, but they used any opportunity to be together.

Laura began to turn her life around, going back to school and working as a waitress. She told her family the truth about her and Shawn. He joined the Army, and was stationed in Colorado. One night, he called her and asked her to marry him, along with moving to Colorado. She immediately said Yes. Now with two children, they managed, except for their frequent arguments, where their sordid past was never far away.

After Shawn's Army tour was done, they immediately moved back to Wisconsin. Studying for her Bachelor's degree, she elected to write a paper on abortion for one of her classes. It forced her to re-examine her feelings from her two trips to the abortion clinic. She had a very hard time dealing with it. She withdrew from her family, and started drinking heavily, which her family certainly noticed. Can God ever forgive me for my actions? Can I ever forgive myself? When I reach Heaven, will the souls of my unborn children welcome me or, figuratively, turn their backs on me?

This is a very open and heartfelt chronicle of one person's experience with the aftermath of abortion. Any woman having a similar hard time would do very well to read this book. Anyone, male or female, who wants to know more than just the politics of abortion, would do very well to read this book. It is well worth the time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Expect Civilian Casualties

Expect Civilian Casualties, Gary Bonn, Firedance Books, 2012

Jason is a teenager living alone on a secluded beach. There are hints of abuse and time in an institution. One night, a young woman joins him at his fire. She doesn't have a name, so Jason calls her Anna. She is wild and vivacious, and they have a great time hanging out together on the beach. That is, until the day that Jason sees Anna eat another person.

She sucks the other person down her throat, like a Hollywood special effect, instead of consuming flesh like a zombie. Anna immediately takes off, closely followed by a large group of soldiers and scientists. They are trying to get a handle on what Anna is doing, and are trying to stop Anna and the others (she is not the only one) by any means possible. When a report is received on their location, the intention is to kill them, instead of capturing them.

Later, Jason tries to convince Anna to give herself up (her answer is an emphatic No). Jason learns that Anna, and everyone in her group, are compelled to each consume 1000 people, and then they will leave. Is this the first step in some sort of invasion?

As Jason gets to know some of the soldiers, he realizes that he could consider them to be his friends. But they also want to kill Anna, with whom Jason has fallen in love. Taking matters into his own hands, a scientist has decided to do something about climate change. It involves doing something extremely illegal to Anna and the others. Do Anna and Jason ever get back together?

This story is told from Jason's perspective, so it may seem rather dry reading. It is also a really well-done story, combining love and chaos. This is very much worth checking out.

Terminal City

Terminal City, Trevor Melanson, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2016

This paranormal novel is about Mason Cross, resident of Terminal City and student at the local university. His father, John Cross, was a well-respected professor at the university until his death several months previously.

A mutual friend, Lester Wright, tells Mason that John was a Necromancer, someone interested in magic and communicating with the dead. Lester is also a Necromancer. Mason is shown Dad's library of old books on necromancy, and learns that he is also a Necromancer. Mason has no interest in raising the dead, or anything like that, he just wants to know more about it. That does not matter to the Inquisitors.

For the past several hundred years, an all-out war has been going on between Necromancers and Inquisitors, religious fanatics who think that the only good Necromancer is a dead one. Lester is killed by them, and so is Mason. He finds himself in the spirit realm, where the spirit of his father helps convince the being in charge to give Mason another chance. Mason is returned to Terminal City with a task; kill a "bad" Necromancer named Rowland, and send him back to the spirit realm.

Rowland has been alive for over 300 years, and has perfected the ability to kill with a mere thought. He also knows that Mason is coming for him. Meantime, Rowland has made it known to all the Inquisitors in North America that he is making his final stand at the top of a Terminal City skyscraper that is still under construction (come and get me). Mason is also there. Who is still alive when the battle ends; Rowland, Mason or any of the Inquisitors?

This is an excellent piece of writing. It is just weird enough, without being too weird, or too much like a horror story. The body count gets pretty high by the end, but it is very easy to read. I look forward to a sequel.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dinnusos Rises

Dinnusos Rises, Tej Turner, Elsewhen Press, 2017

Dinnusos is a nightclub on the edge of town. It is not the sort of place frequented by tourists or drop-in visitors. It is also the center of a large group of people, some with unique abilities.

Faye plays the flute, and Ellen is the lead singer, for a local band called Summer Rain. They play the sort of music that reaches into a person's soul and finds a place the person didn't know they had. Ellen also channels the spirit of Jessica, her dead twin sister; Jessica died soon after birth. Jessica is wild child type who fancies Faye. Faye is not interested, so, one night, she and Naomi banish Jessica to wherever spirits are banished, without Ellen's consent.

Jack is half-fae and is squatting in an abandoned building. His globe-trotting father suddenly shows up and wants to resurrect a political action group called Taxus Baccata. They have no problem with in-your-face civil disobedience. Tilly is an introvert who jumps into the drug and alcohol culture (provided by Jack's father) head first. There is a large protest march which turns violent, courtesy of someone who is paid to cause chaos. The government uses the resulting riot as a pretext to pass legislation that basically criminalizes dissent.

The hand-painted murals inside Dinnusos are changing, all by themselves. A shadowy figure is appearing in different places in the murals. Jessica may be out of the way, but she is not gone. It is necessary for Faye and Naomi find her, and convince her to return. Jessica agrees; there are surprisingly few recriminations between the three. But Jessica needs to borrow a body. Is she able to help find those who are "lost" and start the process of getting the legislation rescinded? Does everyone live "happily ever after?"

This book leaves "Excellent" in its rear view mirror and zooms right to the level of "Deserves Six Stars." The author does an excellent job at telling the story from several different points of view. It is very highly recommended.

The Salarian Desert Game

The Salarian Desert Game, J.A. McLachlan, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2016

On the desert planet of Salaria, games are taken very seriously. Losers in the Salarian Desert Game are required to spend several years as an indentured servant/slave in the crystal mines to pay off their debt. Kia is a translator for the Order of Universal Brotherhood (sort of like the religious police). She is determined to go to Salaria to rescue her sister. Just before she is ready to leave, she is ordered to accompany Agatha, as her translator, to Salaria. There has been a vision, so the mission is more important than anything. Kia has surgery to become Idaro, daughter of Philana, who left Salaria many years previously, in opposition to the way things were. Philana helps Kia to become Idaro.

Salaria is a matriarchal planet. The men are a little better than slaves. As a rite of passage, all fifteen-year-old girls are sent into the desert on a survival mission. Kia/Idaro is included. The idea is that the girls will bond with others, and choose their triad. It's stronger than marriage, and it's for life. Women are not identified by family names, but by the triad  of which they are a part.

As soon as they arrive on Salaria, Kia and Agatha are separated. Kia realizes that Salaria is on the verge of civil war. Kia first has to convince Ryo, the matriarch of her triad, that she really is Idaro. Kia also knows that if she makes one wrong move, joining her sister in the mines will be the least of her problems. She joins the other "fifteens" in the desert, and almost does not return. The others run the gamut, from decent, reasonable people to those with their own agendas. Do Kia/Idaro and Agatha ever find each other? Does the planet erupt in civil war? Does Kia rescue her sister? Can Idaro do anything about the slavery on Salaria?

This is an excellent novel. The author does a fine job at making the reader care about the characters, especially Kia. The story explores a number of subjects. Even though it is marketed as a Young Adult novel, adults will also enjoy it.

It Happened One Doomsday

It Happened One Doomsday, Laurence Macnaughton, Pyr, 2016

Dru is a young woman who runs a New Age shop. She can use crystals to see enchantments, and she can brew the occasional potion. Dru does well enough to not get evicted.

Things get very interesting when a very handsome man, with unnaturally red eyes, and driving a possessed, black muscle car, enters her shop. The man, named Grayson, has been having bad dreams where he has turned into a demon. Along with three other demons, they are about to destroy the whole world. Grayson also has little nubs growing on his forehead; the beginning of actual horns.

Dru realizes that Grayson is not just turning into your average demon. He is turning into one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three Horsemen, looking like creatures right out of an H.P. Lovecraft story, are looking for their "colleague." Dru's crystals can slow, but not stop, Grayson's transformation. The only choice is for Grayson to fully become one of the Horsemen, and hope that Dru can find some way to not kill him.

A group of seven fallen sorcerers called the Harbingers want to rule a new magical realm where humanity is out of the way, permanently. An ancient scroll called the Apocalypse Scroll has been unearthed. It has seven seals on it; four seals have been broken, for the Four Horsemen. If all seven seals are broken, very bad things will happen to humanity. Along with her friend Rane, who has a very unique ability, can Dru save the world? Can she rescue Grayson, which whom she has fallen in love?

This is a really good story. It has first-rate writing, good characters and plenty of action. The reader will learn a lot about crystals, and will not go wrong with this novel.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Portals, Passages and Pathways

Portals, Passages and Pathways: In the Land of Magnanthia, B R Maul, CreateSpace, 2014

This young adult fantasy novel is about a young boy who suddenly finds himself in very strange circumstances.

Simon is your average nerdy tween. He is good friends with Jessica, his neighbor. With no prior warning, one day, Simon is invited to go on an overnight fishing trip with Jessica and her parents. Their destination is Lake Itasca in Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Simon becomes more and more sure that Something Is Going On, and that he is the centerpiece of It, whatever it is. Eventually, a portal is opened to another world, and people come through looking for Simon. They come from a place called Magnanthia, and Simon must return with them, because he wears a very powerful ring called the Ring of Affinity.

Meantime, elsewhere, another portal to Earth is opened, and a young man named Jak is taken. He comes from a very rich family, and has become an arrogant little you-know-what. He is in a land called Bedlam, run by an evil person called Severn. Jak is forced into the Maze of Mayhem. Six young men go in, and only one survives. The winner's "prize" is to become an automatic warlock. Is Jak the survivor?

Simon learns that Bedlam and Magnanthia have been at war for many years. The final battle is coming, and things are not looking good for Magnanthia. Simon, and his ring, are a vital part of Magnanthia's hopes for survival. An added complication is that Simon was not supposed to be introduced to Magnanthia for another couple of years. A lot has been thrown at Simon all at once. Does Simon rise to the occasion, or give up and ask to go home?

First of a series, the author does a very good from start to finish, especially with the society building. It's easy to read, and teens will enjoy it.

The Transference Engine

The Transference Engine, Julia Verne St John, Daw Books, 2016

This steampunk novel is set in 1830's London. Madame Magdala has reinvented herself many times. Several years previously, she destroyed a machine called a transference engine. Lord Byron was totally obsessed with being able to transfer his soul into another body, thereby becoming immortal. Magdala's fear is that Byron's fanatical followers will kidnap her and Ada Byron Lovelace, his only legitimate daughter, and force them to rebuild the transference engine.

During the day, Magdala runs a fashionable coffee salon and reading room while living on the edge of polite society. She and Ada use the massive library stored there to keep an eye on political and business activity around the world. An army of street urchins keeps Magdala informed about what's going on around London.

The coronation of Queen Victoria is coming in a few days. An all-black hot air balloon that shoots searing light from a hidden cannon suddenly appears above London. Is Victoria the target? Does this have anything to do with the disappearance of a number of young women from all walks of life? Lord Byron died a few years previously, or did he?

I enjoyed reading this book. It's just weird enough, and it is very easy to read and comprehend. I am looking forward to reading a sequel.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Halo: New Blood

Halo: New Blood, Matt Forbeck, Gallery Books, 2015

Set approximately 500 years from now, this novel, part of a series, is about humanity in the middle of an interplanetary war. Their opponent is a large group of species and factions collectively called the Covenant.

Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck is an average soldier in that war. He and his Strike Team are part of the Orbital Deep Shock Troopers, or ODST. The relationship between Strike Team members is much more than just trusting each other. They have to know what their colleague is going to do before he does it. Even though they have the latest weapons and battle armor, the Troopers still have a high death rate.

The ODST play a major role in thwarting a Covenant invasion of Earth at the end of the Covenant War. Buck has every justification for wanting to retire to someplace quiet with Veronica (who works for the Office of Naval Intelligence), his girlfriend. The Spartan program will give Buck and the other Troopers the chance to, literally, become super soldiers. Buck is very reluctant to go through the internal, and external, modifications that are necessary, until Veronica convinces him.

Meantime, there are some humans who really don't like the United Nations (the name of the human planetary confederation). Now that the Covenant War is over, they can't help but think that the Spartan soldiers will be used on them, to stifle all dissent. For Buck, fighting the Covenant War, was, figuratively, easy (if a being is alien, fire away). It gets a lot harder when the enemy is human, perhaps even another Spartan.

This is my first exposure to the "world" of Halo, based on the popular computer game. This novel is really good. As you can expect, there is a lot of action, but the characters are real people, too. The author does a first-rate job from start to finish, and it is well worth reading.

Of Ants and Dinosaurs

Of Ants and Dinosaurs, Cixin Liu, Amazon Digital Services Inc., 2012

This novella is about an unlikely partnership, between ants and dinosaurs, that started many centuries ago, during prehistoric times.

Fast forward tens of thousands of years. With much help from the ants, the dinosaurs have developed quite a technological civilization. The ants have the capacity to make the required fine electrical connections, while the dinosaurs contribute intellectual curiosity to the partnership. There are now dinosaur-sized automobiles, computers and spacecraft.

The two dinosaur "countries," Gondwana and Laurasia, have also developed nuclear weapons, with the ability to launch them at their opponent. The ants really don't like this. An ant general strike is crushed, literally. The ants hatch an audacious plan to take out the top levels of both dinosaur societies, not just the political and military leaders, and destroy all of their computers, all at the same time.

The plan works, but, then the ants learn that the dinosaurs had a version of Mutual Assured Destruction in place, to keep either side from "pushing the button." It involves the transmission of a certain electronic signal, every day. Can the ants fix the dinosaur transmitters, and convince some very upset dinosaurs that they sincerely want to help, before it's too late?

It's a really interesting science fiction fable that has something to say about life in the present day. Young people will enjoy it, and so will adults.  

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth, Cixin Liu, Amazon Digital Services Inc, 2012

This novella is about Earth being on the move - literally.

Astronomers have determined that the Sun is using up its supply of fuel much faster than expected. It will explode, and turn into a red giant, swallowing the Earth, in approximately 400 years.

For most of that time, humanity has built giant rocket engines, powered by rocks and debris from Earth's mountains, pointing into the sky. The intention is to stop Earth's rotation, and then to send the whole planet to its new home, in the Proxima Centauri system, more than four light years away.

It is not simply a case of turning on the engines, and sending Earth out of the solar system. A number of years are needed to get Earth's orbit more and more elliptical, to make it possible to break out of orbit. The floods, earthquakes and the trip through the asteroid belt have laid waste to the entire surface of the Earth. What's left of humanity has long since moved into giant underground cities.

Nearing the edge of the solar system, many people take one last look at the Sun. They can't help but notice that it looks exactly like it did 400 years ago. Where's the red giant star that the Sun was supposed to become? Is it possible that the worldwide Unity Government has pulled off the biggest con job in human history?

This story has lots of ideas, and lots of possibilities. The author does a very good job at this length. There is a longer novel version available. I look forward to reading it.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Empath's Ultimate Guide to Shield Yourself From Negative Energies

Empath's Ultimate Guide to Shield Yourself From Negative Energies, Sandy Quinn, 2017, Amazon Digital Services LLC

Are you afraid to say No to friends and family who ask for your help? Do certain smells or bright lights give you a headache? Do you not watch the TV news because all those negative events totally drain you? Do you intentionally avoid people because of their negative emotions? Congratulations, you are a Highly Sensitive Person, or maybe even an empath.

There is no reason for concern; all it means is that you feel emotions more strongly than the average person. Empaths look for time to be alone to recuperate and de-stress. Empaths can easily read and interpret emotional cues, and they can also easily tell when someone is lying to them. The "sixth sense" of an empath is more tuned in than average, so they can sense potential danger before other people.

An energy vampire does not have fangs or suck blood. They are deceptive, and masters of manipulation. They are also notorious guilt-trippers and are prone to making threats. What can the average empathetic person do to lessen their influence? Don't talk to them. Use mindfulness practice and visualization to improve your positive outlook on life. Get in the habit of smiling; the higher emotional vibration will be felt by low-vibration energy vampires. Practice positive affirmations.

What can an empathic person do, in general. to shield themselves? Learn how to say "No" (it will take practice). Your health and well-being should be your top priority. Take up yoga or other light exercise. Enjoy the outdoors. Buy flowers for yourself. Get eight hours of sleep. Create physical distance or barriers. Consider using protective stones or crystals.

This is a short, and interesting, general look at the "world" of empathy. If you, or someone you know, is more empathic than average, then reading this book will be time well spent.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Declutter Your Mind

Declutter Your Mind: Simple Action Plan to Quiet Your Mind and Negative Thoughts, Sandy Quinn, 2017, self-published

Many books have been written about de-cluttering your house or your life. This short book focuses on de-cluttering your mind.

First of all, you should set aside twenty minutes per day, preferably in the early morning or evening (it can be done anytime during the day). You are not too busy; how much time do you spend on Facebook, every day? Set the timer on your smartphone, but set it to Silent notifications. It can also be done anywhere. Sit on a yoga mat at the park or beach; drive to a quiet spot and do it in your car; do it at the local library or sit in an unused closet in your home. You can also do it in the bathroom while sitting in the bathtub or on the toilet. The book includes several mantras that one can chant to help focus the mind.

Your mind will wander, to work or kids or what's for supper. Don't get discouraged; figuratively, attach a leash to your mind and pull it back. Do it everyday, make it a habit. Anxiety and negative thoughts are a normal part of life; letting such thoughts take over is not normal.

Why should a person bother with this mindfulness stuff? It is not religious, it is psychological. There are many health benefits, including improved memory and problem-solving ability, increased productivity and a raised serotonin level can lead to a level mood balance and restful sleep. The amygdala is the "fight or flight" part of the brain. When it is "on" all the time, an inability to relax, a tendency to get sick easily and gastrointestinal problems can result. Regular mindfulness practice can shrink the amygdala. Physically, mindfulness practice can lower your blood pressure, help your immune system and reduce or prevent diseases ranging from asthma to epilepsy to fibromyalgia to Alzheimer's Disease.

On the positive side, this is a short book that is easy to read. If it can help the average person even a small amount, then it is worth the money. On the negative side, this book needs a trip, or another trip, to a proofreader or copy editor.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Forgotten Reflections

Forgotten Reflections, Young-Im Lee, CreateSpace, 2017

This historical novel takes place in South Korea, both during the mid-20th century, and in the present day.

In 1945, Korea's Japanese occupiers had just left, leaving a devastated country behind; there was very little to eat. Iseul was a young woman living in a village called The Wasteland, which was part of Yeoju (back then, Yeoju was a county; it became a city in 2013). People believed that village carpenters, like Iseul's father, could put ghosts in chairs and tables that they made, so Iseul was not looked down on.

A young man named Jung-Soo, part of a well-off family, was brought to the village, as an attempt to get him "out of the way." His father may, or may not, be a Communist spy from the North. In the beginning, the relationship between Iseul and Jung-Soo is pretty rocky.

A few years later, war returns to Korea. Starvation is a constant danger, the local forest around The Wasteland is pretty much cleaned out of any edible fruits and vegetables. All able-bodied men, including Jung-Soo, are conscripted into the South Korean Army. Plain white writing paper has become almost impossible to get, so Iseul leads the women of The Wasteland, and the neighboring villages, to make paper from the bark of the local trees. They are quite successful, making thousands of sheets of paper. The women include blank sheets of paper with letters to their husbands, intending that they give them to other soldiers.

The war is not going well for the South, including the Americans. Jung-Soo learns that the North, including the Chinese, intend to push the South between two mountain ranges. At the point of the mountain ranges is Yeoju. Some of the battle will reach The Wasteland. Jung-Soo is convinced that he has to get back to the village and warn the women. They already know; some join the exodus of refugees heading south, while others want to stay and fight. The armies may be coming because of a rumored huge storehouse of rice. Does war come to The Wasteland again? Do Iseul and Jung-Soo get back together/

This is a first-rate piece of writing. It may take some effort on the part of the reader; give it a chance. It is the sort of novel that could take place anywhere in the world, and during any war. Yes, it is very much worth reading.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Live With Purpose

Live With Purpose: Creating Positive, Lasting Change, Nathalie Virem, 2016 (self-published)

This book aims to help anyone, average person or entrepreneur, to find their purpose in life.

Before starting any journey, personal or physical, you need a starting point. Take a thorough look at yourself. Complete a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Ask your friends and family how they perceive you. What are your talents and strengths? What are you passionate about? Does anything make you want to get out of bed each morning?

Be grateful for what you have. If you feel like you have little reason to practice gratitude, start with being grateful for being alive, and go from there. You can't always control your environment, but you can control your reactions to it. Visualize what you want, and ask for it. Don't just do it once or twice, but do it often. Say it in terms of what you want, and not what you don't want ("I want to get healthy" instead of "I don't want to be sick any longer").

Why are you in business? What is the purpose or vision of your business? Please say something other than "to make lots of money". A well-defined purpose channels innovation, and is a force for transformation. Steve Jobs started by answering the "Why" question. It is perhaps best summed up in the slogan "Think Different." Then came "How", the strategy for turning that slogan into reality. After that comes "What" the business will do to achieve that purpose. Does your business purpose align with your personal purpose?

Set a goal for yourself, whether personal or professional. Look at it from many different perspectives, including the Skeptic. Break it up into several smaller goals, and resolve to do one goal-oriented thing every day. If you can't visualize the ultimate goal, don't worry about it. A step, then another step, then another step will get you that much closer to that ultimate goal.

This is a really good book. It is short; each chapter is only a couple of pages long, so it is easy to understand. It is made for busy people, who want just the highlights on how to improve their lives. It is very much worth reading.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Yesterday's Kin

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

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

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

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

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

Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners

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

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

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

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

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

Threadbare

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Swiped

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Index Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Breaking Through Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal

Normal, Warren Ellis, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2016

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

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

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

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

Head In The Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screwball

Screwball, David Belisle, Amazon Digital Services, 2016

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Goddaughter

The Goddaughter, Melodie Campbell, Orca Book Publishers, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

The World in 2050

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Brief History of Comic Book Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Esper Files

The Esper Files, Egan Brass, CreateSpace, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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