Review of ‘Theology and the Disciplines of the Foreign Service’

Theology and the Disciplines of the Foreign Service by Theodore L. Lewis will be a difficult book for the average reader to comprehend. Written by a former US Foreign Service Officer turned theologian, its basic premise is that the disciplines of the Foreign Service can illuminate what the author calls ‘natural theology.’ He maintains that theology and the Foreign Service are polar opposites, but are somehow linked.

Lewis spent 29 years working for the Department of State, beginning in 1951, working as a civil servant, a State Foreign Service Officer, and a USAID staffer, and served in Asia, Africa, and south Asia. While I’m not qualified to evaluate this book from a theological perspective, and it is written in a very academic style, making it a hard slog for the non-academic, I believe it would be instructive for anyone interested in understanding the US Foreign Service as an institution.

Having spent 30 years in the service myself – following 20 years in the army – I have an abiding interest in the development of a professional diplomatic service to serve America’s interests. What one finds in Lewis’s book is that the problems faced today regarding developing an independent, professional, and valued service are not new – they are buy old wine in new bottles. His accounts of his relationship with and abuse from unprofessional supervisors and his treatment by a system that often overlooks the egregious behavior of such people – even in the present day, underscore the aforementioned desire to reform and improve the service.

Some of his views are a bit archaic. For instance, his view that only those officers serving the Department of State are true Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), ignores the existence of the FSO corps of Commerce, Agriculture, USAID, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, all recognized under the Foreign Service Act. What can be deduced from his account of his experiences with the HR (then Personnel) system show a still persistent trait of the State Department – an assumption that being qualified for entry in the Foreign Service obviates the need for career-long education and nurturing. In fairness, since the author retired from the service just before enactment of the 1980 Foreign Service Act, he can be forgiven for not being aware of much that has changed, or how many of the things he endured remain much the same.

Despite the overly academic writing, I found this an interesting book, and one that new Foreign Service employees, as well as anyone interested in a foreign affairs career, will find useful to read.

I give it three stars.

Of the Salary Gate and Corruption in Parastatals

Originally posted on Youth and Peace Building in Zimbabwe:

Of the Salary Gate and CorruptionImage

The rot in government of Zimbabwe parastatal’s is a sign of progressing to a failed state.

The education system and ministries tasked with service delivery and assistance to the general citizenry are incapacitated due to lack of funds. As a Zimbabwean I just do wonder why China, EU, USAID,Africa Development Bank etc would come in and give loans to such rotten institutions when the Executive can actually donate enough to run government schools, clinics, maintain roads etc. Those who had seized to offer lines of credit might have a strong reason. There are no systems of checks and balances therefore why would you put your dollar in that left pocket when the right pocket is siphoning it to personal use. It is alarming that our education is underfunded and the leadership of the country are well aware of that yet parastatal executives earn ridiculous…

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#IWSG – What Does it Mean to ‘Write What You Know’?

InsecureWritersSupportGroupHere we are again – first Wednesday, and time for another session of Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group, a forum of writing advice, pats on the back, and anecdotes on the writing life to help us all get over those little bumps in the road. You should drop over and take a look at all the great writers who are a part of this group, whose mission is to ‘rock the neurotic world of writing.’

I want to talk this month about an issue that I’ve addressed before, but taking a different tack. If you’ve read any writing advice or instruction books, you’re sure to have seen the commandment, ‘write what you know.’ Unfortunately, too many people take this advice quite literally, and believe they can only write about things they’ve personally experienced. Big mistake – and just plain wrong. Thing about it. If all writers took this advice literally, we’d have no great works of historical fiction. Think, for instance of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear. Since she wrote of prehistoric times, there’s no way she could have directly experienced it, or even learned about if from direct sources. She studied it intensively, and then used her imagination to create a story that even years later I remember vividly. Her book was even better than the movie.

So, what does it mean, ‘write what you know’? I think it means that you should do what Auel did. Learn as much as you can about your subject, and then let your imagination do the rest. I write a series of novels about the Buffalo Soldiers of the post-Civil War era on the Western frontier. I spent time in the army, so I understand military tactics and protocol, but mainly I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about the era, the weapons, events, etc. And, I try to infuse the color of the time into my stories, all of which are fictional, with a backdrop of historical events for authenticity.

Unless you possess a completely blank brain, you can do the same. Write what you know, but resolve to know something new every day. That way, you’ll never run out of things to write about.

See you next month.

Review of ‘The 15 Success Traits of Pro Bloggers’

Practically everyone is blogging these days. Blogs range from amateurish efforts at self-expression to fairly professional how-to and advice blogs that actually add value to our lives. The 15 Success Traits of Pro Bloggers: A Proven Roadmap to Becoming a Full-time Blogger by Jonathan Milligan peels back the curtain of full-time professional blogging for anyone who is interested in taking blogging to the next level.

While Milligan doesn’t claim that his roadmap is an absolute guarantee of success, he does offer practical advice that will improve your blogging, whether or not your goal is to make a living from blogging. As with all self-help books, this one must be read with an open, but relatively skeptical mind, remaining aware that not all of the steps work for everyone. That said, the benefits of blogging, and the debunking of many of the myths about blogging are useful for any writer. In fact, one can use many of Milligan’s ideas in any kind of writing endeavor.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I found it to be well-written, not overdone in the hype department, and useful for any reader who wants to communicate better. I don’t entirely agree with the ‘proven’ in the subtitle – nothing is ever 100% – but, the hints, advice, and traits outlined in this book are valid. If you’re contemplating going into blogging full-time, this is probably a reference you want to keep handy. I give it four stars.

Help Turn ‘Frontier Justice’ into a Movie

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Help turn Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal into a motion picture. Click http://igg.me/p/the-deadline–4/x/10033849 to support independent film maker Josey Well’s production of ‘Deadline 200 Marshals,’ an adaptabion of my novel about one of the American west’s most famous lawmen.

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A Second Review of ‘Broken Playthings’

It’s not often that I do a second review of the same book – in fact, as I think about it, I’ve not done it before now. But, after receiving a revised version of Broken Playthings by Brennon Noss, I felt it only fair to give my view on it.

When a white suburban couple are brutally murdered in their home, and their teenaged daughter barely escapes with her life, private detective Jake Adams gets involved in exacting justice – read, revenge – for the crime. Opposing the heartless and vicious Big Joe and his coldblooded sidekick, Tea, Jake resorts to actions that are often over the line.
Broken Playthings by Brennon Noss is a hard-to-categorize novel. It is a look at the gritty underside of society and the dark denizens who inhabit a realm that the normal middle class person might find hard to believe exists. In this book, there are no heroes, and few are innocent. Noss holds a mirror up to the seamier side of life, and then turns it to give us a full frontal view as he rubs it in our faces.
The dialogue is probably a bit too earthy for some readers, but Noss has captured the argot of the street perfectly. While it is hard to sympathize with, and impossible to identify with the characters, Noss has done such a good job describing them, it’s easy to believe they could exist.
I previously reviewed this book, and commented on formatting problems, which the author has subsequently fixed. I am, therefore, changing my rating to what I think it really should be, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in ‘noir’ mysteries. My rating is, therefore, upgraded to four stars.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Review of ‘High Lie’

When PI Miami Jones’ friend Lucas fishes a kid out of the water after he’s been tossed there by two roughnecks from a local gambling establishment, things get nasty. Miami learns that the kid, Desi, a young Cuban, was trying to earn money to get his father from Cuba to Florida, but was cheated. He, Lucas, and his sometimes girlfriend, Danielle, who happens to be a deputy sheriff, are determined to make things right for Desi. In the process of doing so, Miami finds himself immersed in the world of gambling, as toughs from all over face off for a chunk of the gambling revenue in south Florida.

High Lie by A. J. Stewart is the third in the Miami Jones Florida series, featuring former baseball player turned private eye Miami Jones. I received a free copy of this book for review.

Stewart, who writes in a style reminiscent of Elmore Leonard, paints a vivid and accurate picture of the world of legal gambling, especially the pari-mutuel scene involving jai alai (pronounced ‘high-lie’), and what can happen when money and the greed for money trump public interest. A cast of believable characters inhabiting a world so realistic you can smell the sweat of the jai alai players and hear the raucous cry of the Everglades water fowl.

This is a great weekend read that shouldn’t be missed. Stewart gets better with each book. I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘A Matter of Perception’

A Matter of Perception is a fascinating collection of short stories by fantasy author Tahlia Newland. I received a free copy of this book for review.

While all of the stories in this collection are good, ‘Sacred Striptease’ is the one that really caught my eye.

‘Sacred Striptease’ takes us through an evening in the life of Lexie (Miss Electra), a stripper who works in a club frequented by mainly working class men stopping for a little entertainment before going home to their families. Told in the first person, the story shows the mental process of a woman who views what she does as art, not for titillation, but for entertainment. Lexie has a strong artistic connection and affection for the men who enjoy watching her perform, but is distressed by the presence of the Creep, a man who views her (in her view) not as a performer, but as a target for exploitation.

A profound treatment of subjects such as self-image, rape, and exploitation, this is a good short read that will entertain as much as Miss Electra’s artistic gyrations do. My only complaint is that the reader is never told why a former ballet dancer such as Lexie (not her real name we’re told) turned to stripping, and while the Creep is introduced and we’re led to believe he exerts a strong influence on Lexie (creating, we believe, a sense of fear and dread in her), he just disappears in the end with no real resolution to the tension, other than a slight surprise at the end, which I will not reveal so those who read the story can discover it for themselves.

Except for these two small weaknesses (in my personal opinion, I must stress), it’s a profoundly entertaining story, as are the others in this not-to-be-missed collection from an accomplished author. I give it four stars.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

This week’s Photo Challenge is Rule of Thirds. This means having your main subject off center. In this photo, the bird is the main subject, and it’s orientation is reinforced by the line of the branch upon which it’s perched. The background is completely blurred, putting the emphasis where it belongs on the animal.

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The Changeling and the importance of sound in #horror #horrorwriters

Charles Ray:

Good advice for writers. Using sound, and other senses in your writing can hook readers.

Originally posted on Tea Talks: Home of Helen Treharne, Writer and Reviewer:

The Changeling and the importance of sound in horror movies | Den of Geek.

I had to share this article when I found it. I was raised on horror films and one of the things that stand out for me are often the soundtracks. The Changeling is an excellent example of how sound helps transcend a visual medium into something even more powerful. It’s more than building a generalised mood or atmosphere, it’s about conveying emotion. It’s not just the music that does this in The Changeling. The repetitive, haunting thud of a drowning boy as he beats his limbs againt the bath is something which has stayed with me and is the first thing I think of when someone mentions the film.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to films. In literature, the presence of noise (although we may not hear it) can help set the scene and…

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Book Trailer Love Fest – Voting Starts Today

Voting begins . . . NOW!

Book Trailer Love Fest 2

Show your support of over 30 authors including USA Today bestsellers by voting in the first ever Book Trailer Love Fest. Watch the trailers, vote in the polls, and share the contest with your friends! The voting is live from February 15th to February 22nd. Winner will be selected on the February 23rd. This is a fun, free contest made to support all authors! So hop on over to booktrailerlovefest.com and get your vote on!

Here is a list of authors participating in the contest:

USA TODAY Bestselling Authors:

DelSheree Gladden

Noree Cosper

Rainy Kaye

Angela Fristoe

Amazon Bestselling Authors:

Devorah Fox

Alesha Escobar

Emerald Barnes

Fiona Skye

Frank E. Bittinger

Award Winning Authors:

J. Andersen

Jennifer Chase

Also featuring these fabulous authors:

Charles Ray

Jennifer Fisch-Ferguson

Susan Laqueur

L. Bachman

J.R. Smith

Lindsey L. Loucks

Sessha Batto

Angelica Dawson

Yolanda Renee

Katherine Jean Pope

Jamie Marchant

Everett Robert

Charity Tober

Tam Linsey

W K Pomeroy

Jordan Mierek

Elle Boca

Isabella Tredway

Elle Jacklee

Support your favorite author by voting for his or her book trailer today. Remember, reading is FUNdamental, so read and enjoy!

Review of ‘Double Ugly’

Detective Sergeant Armand Burke works for the Undercover and Surveillance Unit of the Irish Garda’s Serious Crimes Division. Relegated to staking out customs crimes because his superiors don’t trust his ability to control his temper, and distrusted by his colleagues, Burke only became a cop because his beloved wife Maeve felt he needed something more substantive than acting to be able to support a family.

Burke sees life as mediocre, and on his 36th birthday wishes for change. This is a mistake, because he gets what he wishes for – and regrets it. When Maeve goes out of town to visit relatives, and a hooker is found dead in Burke’s bedroom, in his bed, his life begins to spin out of control.

Double Ugly by Jim Murray is a free-wheeling mystery/thriller that explores people, places, and events in a way that only someone intimately familiar with the milieu could do. Follow Burke as he begins a downward spiral in his efforts to prove his innocence and redeem his life. Snappy dialogue and in-depth descriptions take you into the bowls of an environment that is so realistic you can smell the stale urine on the floors, and the dust in the air will make you sneeze. There are no likeable characters in Double Ugly; Burke is something of a psycho, and he’s set against a ruthless serial killer who is without human emotions. You nonetheless will find yourself rooting for Burke, who is bad, but makes an effort not to be completely evil.

Murray sets a gold standard for hard-boiled cozy mysteries that will be hard for others to live up to.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I give this book five stars, and look forward to the next in the series.

Review of ‘Broken Playthings’

When a white suburban couple is brutally murdered in their home, and their teenaged daughter barely escapes with her life, private detective Jake Adams gets involved in exacting justice – read, revenge – for the crime. Opposing the heartless and vicious Big Joe and his coldblooded sidekick, Tea, Jake resorts to actions that are often over the line.

Broken Playthings by Brennon Noss is a hard-to-categorize novel. It is a look at the gritty underside of society and the dark denizens who inhabit a realm that the normal middle class person might find hard to believe exists. In this book, there are no heroes, and few are innocent. Noss holds a mirror up to the seamier side of life, and then turns it to give us a full frontal view as he rubs it in our faces.

The dialogue is probably a bit too earthy for some readers, but Noss has captured the argot of the street perfectly. While it is hard to sympathize with, and impossible to identify with the characters, Noss has done such a good job describing them, it’s easy to believe they could exist.

A really good story, it’s marred only by too many formatting problems, primarily in paragraph indentation, and spelling errors throughout. Easy enough to fix, though, and doing so would raise the rating in my estimation.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I give it three stars.