Month: September 2013

Review of ‘Releasing the Words’ by Rhonda Kronyk and Friends

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There are tons of books on the market about writing; about all aspects of the craft. Some of them are useful, and some of them are . . . well, less so. I should know, I own scores of them in both categories.

When I received a free copy of Releasing the Words: Writers on Writing by Rhonda Kronyk and 11 other writers; a book of short essays on how to get beyond writer’s block and get words onto paper, I was a bit concerned that I’d bitten off a morsel that I would be hesitant to chew. Most of the books I have on writing are written either by well-known authors, or by individuals who have worked for some time as editors. Believe it or not, several of the not-so-useful books on writing that I’ve read, were written by authors of note.

Could, therefore, a group of relatively unknown writers have penned a book that would impress me? Well, surprise, surprise; they did. The fact that these essays that show how writers just like you and me have overcome that thing writers fear most – writer’s block – make it all the more valuable for journeymen scribes. It’s not a perfect book. There are a few formatting errors that need fixing, like chapters running into each other, and the quotes from famous authors, done in bold face text that is larger than the book’s body text, tend to overshadow the essays.

Minor things that a little judicious editing could fix. It’s still a book worth reading. I give it two and half stars for the editing problems, but then I’ll add that other half-star for the useful information it contains.

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Review of ‘The Itinerant Photographer’ by Max Allen

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If your interests tend to wildlife and beautiful scenery, and you happen to be either a photographer, or a photographer wannabe, I strongly suggest you get a copy of The Itinerant Photographer by Max Allen. Allen is a wildlife biologist and self-taught wildlife photographer, and in this book he has compiled a collection of wildlife (animals and scenery) photographs taken throughout North America during a five-year period of wandering. Along with some really awesome pictures, he has included a narrative, not only describing his subjects, but giving details on how the photos were achieved.

A short book, but chock full of entertaining pictures and extremely useful information; it’s like an introductory course in wildlife photography. As a bonus, it showcases the natural beauty of our land, and is a great boost for conserving nature for the enjoyment of future generations.

Four stars for a great book, and since Allen divides his time between North America and New Zealand, I look forward to his photographic documentation of the flora and fauna from down under as well.

 

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Daily Prompt: On the Road

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If I could pause time and go anywhere in the world, where would it be? The Daily Prompt: On the Road sets one heck of a challenge, and it’s one that I can’t really take a run at with just one photograph, because there are so many places that have made an impression on me. Here, though, are some photos from my stay at Chautauqua Institution in New York this past summer:

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Travel Theme: Relaxing

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When we travel for pleasure, I think we all want most of all to relax. This week’s Travel Theme is Relaxing.  I went through a lot of my photos from past trips, and decided that there was one that says it all for me. I hope readers will agree.

A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.

 

 

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Review of ‘Happy Every Day’ by Bryan Hutchinson

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I doubt that there’s a normal, rational person who doesn’t want to be happy. There is certainly no shortage of books by self-styled gurus telling us how to be happy, successful, rich, you name it. The problem with most of these books is, THEY DON’T REALLY WORK.

If you think I’m skeptical about books that offer the secret to (fill in the blanks), you’d be right on the money. It was, therefore, with just that skeptical, ‘I’m from Missouri, so show me’ mindset that I began reading Bryan Hutchinson’s Happy Every Day: Simple, Effective Ways to Better Days. From page one I challenged Hutchinson to ‘show me.’

Well, guess what folks, he did. This is not one of those, ‘here’s the great secret to happiness, and if you’ll only follow these 5 simple steps, you’ll never be unhappy again’ books. This is a practical, no-nonsense book that dissects happiness and, using the author’s own experience, shows that true happiness is within the reach of each of us, but that it is up to us to chart the path to achieve it.

Hutchinson makes no grandiose claims. He just outlines in simple language how an individual can have a life that is, on balance, more happy than unhappy – and moreover, more fulfilling. There are no real surprises here – just plain old common sense. But, it’s pulled together in an easy-to-read, easy-to-comprehend format, complete with end of chapter exercises to help chart your path to happiness.

I’m still not a fan of most how-to books, but Hutchinson has me hooked on his brand of ‘you can.’ Maybe he’s started a new category here, and we just have find a name for it.

Four and a half stars. I took a half star off for a few grammatical missteps. Can’t have him thinking he’s one of the best motivational authors around, now can we?

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Art: Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite

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My next ‘Buffalo Soldier‘ novel will be about the Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite; only, instead of being about them patrolling Yosemite after it was designated a national park, this will be a fictionalized story of Ben Carter and his men escorting the naturalists who mapped the place prior to the designation.

Yosemite National Park - California

Given that the cavalry often accompanied railroad and other survey teams, this is well within the realm of possibility.  At any rate, below are two paintings – or actually, two versions of the same painting – that I’m considering for the cover. Comments welcome.

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Review of “Once Human” by Massimo Marino

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English: A schematic showing the spreading of ...

Massino Marino’s Once Human: Vol. 2 of the Daimones Trilogy continues the saga of Dan Amenta and his family after the arrival of the Moirai on earth has triggered the culling of the human race and the resurrection of humanity. Dan has been ‘selected’  by the Moirai and given special powers. New communities of the ‘selected’ have cropped up, the largest being that led by Dan. Humanity seems on its way to a new beginning, until raids by the ‘spared,’ humans not selected for transformation, signal the presence of a third entity, the Kritas, a race at war with the Moirai.

Dan, with his Moirai allies must deal with the incursions, a task complicated by the possibility of traitors within the Moirai ranks, and doubts about the real intentions of the Moirai.

Marino, in this second volume, has found his stride. The suspense that began to build in the first book rises to heights that will make your blood race. At the same time, he explores what it really  means to be human, even when given superhuman capabilities.

One has to wonder whether Marino will be able to maintain the same level of wonder in the final book of the trilogy – but, I predict that he will not only maintain, but surpass.

Once Human is easily four stars, and for all the right reasons.

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DS Wikipedia: All Things Diplomatic Security — Deaths, Heroism, Authors, Videos and Black Dragons

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Diplopundit

— By Domani Spero

 

One of our readers pointed us to a new wiki on all things Diplomatic Security.  DS Wikipedia is described as “an unofficial, non-US government affiliated wiki for both the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Diplomatic Security service – more commonly known as DS.”

Updated on 10/1 at 10:02 am – The site’s name has been changed to Diplomatic Security Wiki – http://www.diplomaticsecuritywiki.com; a contact page has also been added for the wiki administrator.

Why was it created?  “This Wiki was created to provide a common location to put information that would not meet Wikipedia normal submission guidelines. Specifically, it was originally created to hold a page for DS affiliated personnel who were killed in the line of duty. Although originally on Wikipedia, the page was deleted by editors because it was considered to be a memorial page.

Its Bureau of Diplomatic Security…

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Review of “Daimones” by Massimo Marino

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Strange and unexplained deaths of several species of animals go unnoticed on an earth beset with the misery that mankind visits upon himself. Dan, an employee of a high-tech firm in Switzerland, like others around him, fails to notice what is happening until he is fired from the firm in a power play.

Curious, and now with idle time to use in other pursuits, Dan begins to investigate the strange occurrences. His research is interrupted, however, when, while taking his daughter Annah to school, he observes multiple fatal accidents. Dan then discovers that people all around him are dead or dying. Can the world be coming to an end – or just the world as he knows it?

Daimones, is an interesting first novel by Massimo Marino, a scientist who writes about technology and science with authority, and who also has woven a tale that will captivate fans of apocalyptic literature. The only real weakness in this tale, for me, is Dan’s ability to make contact via Internet and Facebook, while unable to contact the local police. That some people survive what appears to be a culling of earth’s species makes perfect sense, but that technology and energy-dependent platforms would continue to work needs more explanation. There are also a few places where the language comes across as a less than perfect translation into English from some other language.

These are, however, only minor imperfections – that are easily fixed – in a gripping narrative that I highly recommend. Marino, whether or not it was his intention, has effectively captured the hubris and folly of humanity.

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Review of “The Fifth Empire” by K. P. Ambroziak

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Little vampire

Given the current obsession with vampire/zombie movies and books, you might think that the last thing you need to read is another vampire novel. K. P. Ambroziak’s The Fifth Empire: The Journal of Vincent du Maurier, though is a vampire novel that takes a completely new direction.

It’s 2052, and Vincent du Maurier is leader of a clan of vampires that, due to the lack of human blood upon which to feed, and a virus that is now fatal to vampires, is on the verge of extinction. To make matters worse, the land is overrun by zombies who feed on vampire flesh – turning the vampire into a zombie in the process.

When Vincent and his group find three healthy humans, one of whom is a pregnant woman, it sets the clan on a course that none could have predicted. Could the fate of vampires and humans be intertwined? K. P. Ambroziak, with a combination of narrative that swings from gritty to delicate, and dialogue that gives you the feeling that you’re snooping on private conversations, managed to convince this reviewer that this is within the realm of possibility.

Ambroziak tells her story from the point of view of the vampire Vincent, a daring thing to do, given that any author desires that readers sympathize with your main character. Vincent is hard to sympathize with – he comes through, though, as a complex character – bad to the bone, but with a tiny streak of compassion beneath his pale, undead exterior, and even though his heart doesn’t beat, he is capable on occasion of almost human feeling.

I’m  giving The Fifth Empire four stars for its excellent writing, tightly woven plot, and sheer entertainment value.

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Daily Prompt: Stillness

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Today’s Daily Prompt is Standstill. Here’s how I view stillness photographically:

 

A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala, Cameroon.

 

 

Review of “Properties of Light” by Linton Robinson

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English: Author photograph of Linton Robinson

I’ve been into computers for decades, and for the past eight years, really into e-Book publishing. For all that, I’d not encountered an interactive, or hyper-, novel until I received a copy of Linton Robinson’s Properties of Light. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I mean, a novel that allows you to select different paths is never the same in successive readings, now is it.

Linton calls Properties a ‘hypernovel’ because it’s not read linearly according to a plot or time line. It’s a story told by an unnamed photographer; short chapters that describe photographs or scenes relating to photographs. Links at the end of chapters, or links on words within chapters allow you to jump around – following a color ‘route’ or some other scheme as you desire.

The chapters are short, pithy, and in some cases quite humorous. A ‘novel’ concept for a novel, this is not your usual read. It’s also not traditional literary fiction. So, I suppose we’ll have to invent a new genre label for it. What it is, though, is funny and entertaining. Linton wrote this book 20 years ago, but has only recently worked out the technology to make the hyperlinks work. We’re a ways away from being able to do this with a print book, but with minds out there like Lin’s working on it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in my lifetime.

Properties of Light is set for launch soon, but is already available for your Kindle. If you want to see what cutting edge writing is all about, get yours now.

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Review of ‘Allergic to Life’ by Kathryn Chastain Treat

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Imagine waking up one day and learning that you’re becoming allergic to everything around you. Foods you formerly ate can now make you deathly ill, and your work environment is not just uncomfortable, but potentially fatal.

This is the situation that Kathryn Chastain Treat found herself in, and about which she has written in Allergic to Life. A journal of her battle with a debilitating condition that threatened to break her family apart, and caused her to have to physically separate herself from the things that she had grown up with, it is also a story of courage and persistence. Treat’s battles with an uncomprehending and often uncaring bureaucracy, dealings with doctors who didn’t understand her condition, and with her own frustrations and anxieties, are related almost matter-of-factly. She takes us almost day-by-day through her ordeal, in amazing detail.

What really shines through in this book, though, is the power of human will; the ability to keep going when there is nothing left but the will to ‘go on.’

There are a lot of medical terms, but Treat provides a glossary at the end that explains them. A highly recommended read for those who feel that all hope is gone. Treat shows us well that, as long as there is hope there is life.

I give this book three and a half stars. It’s not a literary masterpiece; but it is well-written, and worth the effort to read.

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Review of “Hour of the Wolf” by Andrius B. Tapinas

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Hour of the Wolf  by Andrius B. Tapinas is a tale of intrigue and not a small amount of horror, set in Russia, spanning a period from 1870 to x.

A financially strapped Imperial Russia, suffering corruption and the excessive consumption of its ruling class, is approached by the Rothschild Corporation with a deal; give them several cities with which they can form an Alliance in which they can carry out scientific research, practice alchemy and other pursuits, and in return, they would write off the Empire’s debts and guarantee no interest on credits for 30 years.

To the advisors to Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolajevich, many of whom with their fingers in the till, it seemed like a grand deal. But then, deals with the devil often are.

Anti-Semitic and intensely nationalistic, the Russians quickly begin to look for a way to get out of the deal. But, deals with those who can summon magic – or higher technology – are not so easily broken.

A fanciful tale, rich in local color, culture, and history, Hour of the Wolf will delight fans of mystery, international intrigue, and fantasy alike. It is alternate history that reads like it could have come from the headlines – albeit a counterculture media outlet. It’s not without a touch of humor here and there either. It is a bit heavy with Russian names, but this merely adds to its authenticity. One word of criticism: some of the names are quite complicated, and a little judicious editing is in order to make sure they are consistent throughout the text. Grand duke Konstantin, for instance, is Nikolayovitch in one paragraph and Nikolajevich in a following paragraph on the same page. A minor glitch in what is otherwise an outstanding first novel.

I received a free copy of this book for review, but would have been quite happy to purchase it.  I give Hour of the Wolf a solid four stars.

Sunday Stills, the next challenge: Boats

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This week’s Sunday Stills, the next challenge is boats. Here are my offerings relating to this, one of the oldest forms of long-range transportation.

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Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.

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Photography 101: Shape, Line, Texture, and Pattern

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The Daily Post

Now that we’ve covered a number of fundamentals in photography, from composition and light to focus and POV, let’s now think about elements out in the world that we can use to create more visually interesting images: shapes, lines, textures, and patterns. Today, we’re excited for photographer Evan Zelermyer, the blogger at Urban Mosaic, to share his ideas and illustrate shape, line, texture, and pattern through his urban, architectural, and abstract photography.

Urban Mosaic is the result of many years spent exploring New York City’s five boroughs, searching for interesting sights and finding lesser-known nooks and crannies. New York is a large and varied place, and serves as an endless source of visual inspiration. The goal on my blog is to provide a fresh perspective on familiar urban sights (streets, subways, architecture, etc.), and also to reveal hidden beauty in the marginal, little-noticed details of everyday city life.

Take…

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