Month: November 2013

Review of ‘The Garden of Two’

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In 1916, the world was in turmoil. Europe was embroiled in the first global conflict, and technology was changing the world that people knew.

In New York, two young people – Lillie Whitman, a child of privilege, and Charlie Murphy, a boy from a working class Irish-American background, grew up in New York, but inhabited two different worlds. Then, when Lillie’s father, president of Whitman Construction, hires Charlie to help him care for his ill and widowed mother, the two finally come face to face.

Despite the differences in background, two young people fall in love, and their lives become as intertwined as the two fire thorn bushes Lillie’s father has planted in his garden to honor his own dead wife, whom he dearly loved. Their love, though, is tested to the limit when Charlie decides that he has to follow his friends and go off to Europe to the war.

The Garden of Two, by Vicki-Ann Bush, is a romance, but not of the bodice-ripping, heaving bosom type. It delves deeply into the hearts and souls of its characters with the backdrop of the horrors of one of the most vicious wars of the modern age – a war of mud, trenches, and poison gas. In doing so, it shows the many faces of humanity and teaches the lesson that might seem trite, but in Bush’s hands is profound – love does, in the end, conquer all.

The author provided me the manuscript of this novel for review, and while I’m not usually a romance reader, I found myself immersed in Lillie and Charlie’s world; unable to stop reading until the end – and, I promise you, it’s an ending that will leave you breathless and in tears.

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Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

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Diplopundit

— Domani Spero

Via achives.gov,  below is an excerpt from David Langbart’s The Text Message blog post from November 20, 2012 about  Thanksgiving Day 1918. The Text Message is the blog of the Textual Services Division at the National Archives.

“Thanksgiving is considered by many to be the quintessential American holidayAs Thanksgiving 1918 approached, American had more reason than the usual to give thanks.  On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to an effective end.  In the wake of that event, the United States made an attempt to broaden the application of Thanksgiving to a selected world-wide audience.

On November 13, the Department of State sent a the following telegram, personally drafted and signed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing, to its diplomatic representatives in the capitals of the victorious powers.  The message went to the American embassy or legation in Belgium, Brazil…

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Photography 101: Your Workflow, Part II

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Useful advice for photographers, pro or amateur.

The Daily Post

Last week, fellow photographers on WordPress.com introduced their workflows and editing processes, and talked about how their very best images move from their cameras to their blogs. Today, we’ll wrap up this discussion and focus on important pre-publish tasks and ways to protect your photography online.

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My Top 5 Trips in 2013

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This year, 2013, which is almost over, is the first full year since my retirement from government service. Having spent 50 years traveling for the government, I’ve become addicted to packing and spending a fair amount of time in hotels around the world. I feared that being retired would put a huge crimp in one of my favorite pastimes, but so far, I’ve been pleased to discover that, even in retirement, there are many travel opportunities.

Despite an accident in July, when I fell and broke my right hip, resulting in six weeks of limited mobility when the doctors thought it was just a bruise, and another twelve weeks of being confined to my house when they found a small fracture that required surgery, I’ve still accumulated a lot of travel miles. With a month and a half left in the year, my travel will be restricted to subway trips from my home in suburbia to downtown Washington, DC, but I still had five great journeys that have made 2013 a memorable year.

Arizona and New Mexico

In March, I was invited to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona to participate in the Air Force’s major personnel recover exercise, Angel Thunder. Unlike past exercises, I didn’t get to do any helicopter trips, but did do several road trips between Tucson and Playas, New Mexico, with a side trip to historic Tombstone, Arizona.

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Cameroon

The Canada-based magazine Afrique Expansion invited me to join a media delegation traveling to Cameroon in May to cover Cameroon’s national day celebrations. In addition, we did road trips around the capital Yaounde and then drove to the port city of Douala. Included were visits to a tourist village and an ape sanctuary.

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Dearborn, Michigan

After returning to the U.S. from Cameroon, I left home the next day for Dearborn, MI, where I was the grand marshal for the city’s Memorial Day parade. Great visits to the Ford Museum and Ford Village, which included a ride on a turn-of-the century carousel.

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Chautauqua Institution, New York

Chautauqua Institution, in western New York, is home to the country’s oldest public book club. Despite a broken hip (which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time) I drove up to participate in the institution’s activities. A historic site, and a great place to spend a week in the summer.

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Suffolk, Virginia

After my hip fracture was diagnosed and I had surgery, I was housebound for more than ten weeks. My doctor, however, cleared me to drive and move around on crutches just in time for me to travel to Virginia’s east coast to work with a team of defense consultants in Suffolk, VA during the second week in November.

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In addition to some great scenery, which I photographed madly, each trip was a culinary delight. From eating some rather exotic dishes in Cameroon to mouth-watering barbecue in Suffolk, I partook of local delights at each venue. For the rest of 2013, I plan to rest up and get ready for 2014.

Review of ‘Badger Lake’ by Aaron Shaffer

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There’s nothing funny about a tornado or a murder. Well, actually, that’s not true; in the hands of Aaron Shaffer and the quietly funny Badger Lake, these two catastrophes are hilarious, especially when you throw in the antics of the staff of a small-town TV station, tropical birds, and local political corruption.

Two murders in two days in the small town of Badger Lake causes the small town news reporters, in their quest for the story, to run afoul of the East Coast mob. Throw in encounters with wild animals, a tornado, twelve state senators trying to avoid the governor, an out of shape sheriff, and a cross-dressing station manager, and you have a story that will have you rolling on the floor laughing your you-know-what off.

Badger Lake is a mystery with a deft comic twist, and Shaffer is a writer to watch for.

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Come Fly With Me: Traveling from the Bottom to the Top of the World

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I’m hip deep in NaNoWriMo, doing pro bono work for a professional association, in the formative stages of a consulting job with the Department of Defense, and recovering from a hip operation; so, participating in NoBloPoMo, while tempting, is just a keyboard too far. I couldn’t pass up, though, a chance to blog about traveling suggested by the Daily Prompt: Come Fly With Me.

I spent the past 50 years traveling from one end of the earth to another. Beginning in 2012 in a little town in East Texas with a population of just over 700, I’ve since lived in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America, and have visited every continent except Antarctica. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve effectively circumnavigated the earth – between 2006 and 2009, for instance, I flew an average of 200,000 miles per year, including multiple trips to Western Europe, East and Southeast Asia, South America, and Russia. I think South Dakota is the only U.S. state I’ve never visited.

So, it becomes a bit difficult to describe the furthest I’ve ever traveled from home, because home has changed location almost every year for me until I retired from public service last year and more or less settled in suburban Maryland, just outside DC, to write, consult, and speak full time from a fixed base of operations. No single trip stands out as being the farthest. They’ve all been far in one way or another – either in distance traveled, or cultural change experienced. There is, though, one trip that stands out as probably the oddest.

When I lived in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa, I was asked to attend two conferences that were taking place in the same week. The problem is, one was in Cape Town, South Africa and the other was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and it was in December. It took some juggling, but my travel office figured out how to make it happen. So, on a warm December day, I left Harare, Zimbabwe and flew to Cape Town, where the weather was also balmy. I got up the next day and attended the meetings. When they were finished, I rushed to the airport and took off for Denmark, arriving in Copenhagen around midday the next day. I was greeted by ice hanging from eaves and piles of snow all over the place. Me and my two suitcases (yes, I had to pack one for warm weather and one for cold) survived the trip, though, and I now have the bragging rights of traveling from near the bottom to near the top of the world in one day. That’s a trip that’s not only far, but far out.

Golden Lion with the bay and Table Mountain in the background.
Golden Lion with the bay and Table Mountain in the background.
Building in Copenhagen across the river from my hotel.
Building in Copenhagen across the river from my hotel.

Review of ‘The Suburban Monsters’ by Bryan Higby

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The Suburban Monsters, by Bryan Higby, with wonderful illustrations by Jim Webb, is a rib tickling story for young readers that will also delight older ones.

Harper is a young girl who never believed in monsters until she and her family moved to Doomsville. Then, she discovers a zombie in her closet, a vampire in the washroom, a werewolf in the pool, and a mummy in the kitchen. The problem is, she can’t get her parents to believe her, until – . Well, to discover what happens next, you really need to read the book for yourself. I was given a free review copy and found it delightful, as did my two-year-old granddaughter.

Despite being about monsters, it’s written and illustrated in a manner that makes it safe enough to read to the young set, and a humorous read for those just learning to read for themselves. As a matter of fact, you’re likely to find yourself chuckling as you read it, regardless of your age.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘El Paso Way’ by Steven Law

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El Paso Way by Steven Law is a different kind of western novel.

Eleven-year-old Enrique Osorio comes home from hunting to find his parents slaughtered and his sister Amelia kidnapped by Valdar, the Demon Warrior. When he’s spotted, he must run for his life, but not before swearing vengeance.

Pang Lo is a young Chinese living in Arizona Territory. He’s engaged to a young Chinese woman, but Valdar intrudes on the engagement dinner, killing Pang’s father and kidnapping his fiancée and his sister. He can expect no help from local white law enforcement, who think of the Chinese as heathens, and in fact jail Pang for having the temerity to press charges. Pang escapes from jail and goes in search of vengeance against Valdar.

When the white sheriff, Dutton, finds a white man who has been brutally killed by Valdar, he is forced to form a posse and go after him.

Three disparate individuals whose lives are entwined by a common quest, in a sweeping tale of adventure, romance, vengeance, and violence, set in the historical backdrop of America’s westward expansion and conflict with the indigenous Apache led by Geronimo, who resent the white man’s encroachment upon their land and customs.

Law is a master story-teller, who has woven a spell-binding tale that will leave you panting for more.

 

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Review of ‘Bullet Catch’ by Scott Jenkins

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The ‘Krokodil’ is an efficient killing machine. When activated, he kills without feeling or mercy. But, on his final mission things go badly wrong when he encounters a small boy with a cape and wand and then the boy is killed by one of the agents with whom he’s working. Suddenly, the ‘Krokodil’ is ‘Adam,’ and he’s confused. He has to find his mother, Lena, to end the confusion.

It is with this chilling scene in Scott Jenkins’ Bullet Catch: Smoke & Dagger Book 1 that we’re plunged into the murky world of rival intelligence agencies and spies, intermixed with the world of magic performed by Nora and Mike Watson, the famous Watson Family, who also happen to be spies for the CIA.

Bodies start turning up in Berlin, and all indications point to the Watsons, until it looks like they, too, are targets of a mysterious group of assassins. But then, other killings occur which appear to be the work of a mad man, and the Berlin criminal police, especially Inspector Wilhelm Eberhardt, are challenged as they’ve never been challenged before.

This is a nail-biting thriller that will keep you guessing until the final page, and will have your mouth dry and your heart pounding with excitement. From back alley to backstage, the excitement is non-stop. A five-star offering that will have you salivating for the sequel.

Review of ‘To Catch a Ripple’ by K. Rosemont

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When is a fantasy-romance more than a fantasy-romance? When it’s also a mystery-thriller that will send chills up your spine and cause you to check the closets when you enter a darkened room.

Helen Knight is a fantasy-romance author who has neither fantasy nor romance in her life. Afraid of intimacy because of abuse at the hand of her step-father, she only has her friends and roommates Angie and Vincent for human contact until Vincent’s cousin Robert Seagrave, also a writer, comes to visit.

Helen finds herself drawn to Robert, but runs into problems when she learns that he is subject to the whims of Lord Gabriel, head of the Seagrave clan; a man who has absolute power over all his kin. Worse, Gabriel is hiding a deep, dark secret that he is willing to do anything to keep from outsiders.

In To Catch a Ripple, author K. Rosemont pulls the reader into a world of mystery, intrigue, romance, and terror. In this, her first novel, she defies labeling. Although it’s called a fantasy-romance, it has all the hallmarks of a finely crafted mystery, with huge dollops of thriller for good measure. This fusion works so well, it might be necessary to invent a new genre classification to adequately describe it – or, on the other hand, perhaps it shouldn’t be labeled, only read and enjoyed.

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Review of ‘Sierra Girls’ by Richard Ewald

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Twelve-year-old Michelle Quinn is home alone. She’s angry with herself because of a fight with her dad, Gabriel, a pilot, over his not taking her on a trip to Lake Tahoe. She gets a visit from Roper Lund, a graduate student studying to become a guidance counselor, telling her that her father’s plane has crashed near Tahoe, and he’s come to take her there. Michelle wakes up a prisoner in Lund’s dungeon of death.

In the meantime, Gabriel, when he learns of his daughter’s abduction sets out to find her. He has to contend, though, with being a prime suspect himself.

This is actually two stories that proceed along parallel lines until; on the one hand we have Gabriel’s desperate efforts to find his daughter; on the other, Michelle’s decision to try and save herself after she discovers that she’s not the first occupant of the dungeon.

Sierra Girls by Richard Ewald is an edge-of-the-chair thriller/mystery that, with the exception of a few typos, has all the elements of a best-seller. The reader anxiously roots for Gabriel as he discovers just how much danger his daughter is in, and that the clock is ticking as he seeks to find and rescue her. I haven’t been twelve years old for a long time, but Ewald got me credibly into the mind of not only a twelve-year-old, but a girl at that. The parallel stories whiz along like twin roller coasters, until they finally intersect in an explosive finale that will leave you both breathless and relieved.

I received a free review copy of this book, which I predict will rise quickly in the ranks of the genre, marking Richard Ewald as an author to watch.

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Marketing Your Book: Like a Trip to the Dentist

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InsecureWritersSupportGroupThis is my second posting for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group.  This month, I’m addressing an issue that really bothers me sometime, and that I know bedevils other writers, marketing what you’ve written.

Make no mistake about it, writing; serious writing; is hard work. After deciding what to write, you struggle with how to most effectively express it in words, sentences, and paragraphs. When you plotted, planned, and shaped those words, you then have to face the daunting task of re-writing and editing to make sure you’ve expressed yourself in the best possible way.

If you think, after you’ve done all that, the job is done; stop, have a cup of coffee and listen up. The job’s just started. Unless you’re writing merely for your personal amusement, you want to be read, and that means you have to take the next step – and, it’s a big one. You have to get what you’ve written in front of readers, and hopefully keep it there long enough for them to read and enjoy it.

That’s right; I’m talking about the m-word. Like trips to the dentist, marketing your writing is unpleasant and uncomfortable, but ultimately necessary if you’re to succeed in this line of work we call writing. There’s that ‘work’ word again.

There are a number of ways to market your books. Social media, public engagements, ads, are all ways to get your efforts in front of an audience and, hopefully, create a buzz about it that leads to more readers and more sales.

One method that has generated a lot of comment and controversy of late is using give-aways as a means of promoting your writing. Some writers swear by it, while others swear at it, and vehemently avoid it. After all, the second group maintains, if your work is free it will be seen as having no value.

Before enlisting in this group, though, I recommend you think about it for a while. It might seem counter-intuitive, but offering people something for free can be a way to get them to buy. Big stores do it, and successfully. My own experience with this form of marketing offers a look at some of the advantages of this method.

Like many, I was reluctant at first. My thought was; I’ve worked long and hard on this book, why should I just give it away? But, I’m always up for trying something new, so I decided to give it a go.

Most of my books are available on Amazon in Kindle version, and the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program enables an author who enrolls a book to offer it free for a designated period, provided it is exclusive to the program during the free period. You can get the details of the program at the KDP link, but here’s how it’s worked for me.

I do two series; a western/historical fiction series about the Buffalo Soldiers, and a mystery series. I dipped my feet in the water by offering a couple of my mysteries free for the five-day period. Each time, there were hundreds of downloads (primarily in the US market, with a few in the UK). There were no big upticks in sales, but I did notice that whenever I offered one book in the series free, there were modest sales of all the other titles. I then decided to try it with the Buffalo Soldier series, which were just beginning to catch on. The first couple of times, sales went up moderately each time for each book in the series, but nothing to write home about.

Then, in May 2013, I released the fifth book in the series, Buffalo Soldier: Renegade. After two weeks of lackluster sales, I decided to try a free promotion. During the five-day promotion, there were nearly 400 downloads, mainly in the US market, but it was the two week period following the promotion that opened my eyes. In addition to another 400 sales of that title, readers purchased 5 to 10 copies per week of each of the other titles. My royalty revenue for that month was over $800, which isn’t a bad return for a loss leader.

That wasn’t the end of it, either. The next book in the series, Buffalo Soldier: Escort Duty was released in September. I waited a week and then offered it free. There were 336 downloads during a short three-day period, and then the week after it ended, sales of that title were approaching the 200 mark, and again, 5 to 10 copies per week of each of the five preceding titles. Revenue thus far is nearing the $500 mark, and it has even generated sales of the paperback versions of each.

Maybe offering free books is not for everyone, but I’m sold on this as an effective marketing tool. It’s not the only one, and if you don’t have a large number of books on your backlist, it might not be worth the effort. But, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. It hasn’t hurt the value of my books. I continue to get fairly decent reviews on Amazon, and repeat readers who are willing to shell out money to read them, so until I experience a drop in sales I will continue to do what entrepreneurs in other sectors do, and do quite successfully.

Review of: Cryptic Tongues by V. A. Jeffrey

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Cryptic Tongues: Book Two of the Red World Trilogy by V. A. Jeffrey is an epic tale of the never ending battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil; of the competition between light and darkness for the souls of men.

A complicated tale that has a cast of thousands (well, not precisely thousands, but the parade of characters is long) and that spans a vast geography of the mind. Somewhat biblical in structure, Cryptic Tongues is an interesting tale, and thankfully, the author has included a glossary at the end to help keep the clans, characters, and locales straight.

Competently crafted dialogue and a fully-formed world make this an interesting read for fantasy and sword and sorcery fans. The character development, while it could be stronger, was quite believable, and the settings reinforced the sense of doom that hangs over the inhabitants of this strange world.

I received a free review copy of Cryptic Tongues, which is the second in a trilogy about the Red World. I give it four stars.

Review of “Ranch Hero 2: Moooving Velma”

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“Life is indeed a wonderful mystery . . . and not all guardian angels have wings.” This is the main theme of Ranch Hero 2: Moooving Velma, an entertaining tale for children written by Janet Green and illustrated by Linda Cowen.

Barn Barn and his sister Chubadoo are dogs who live on Sneaky Creek Ranch. They are excited because they are being visited by their adventurous cousin Libbi Lou. As the three follow Farmer Max to see what he’s up to, they discover that Velma the cow is stuck up to her udder in a muddy creek.

But, all is not lost. Ziggy, the Hero of Sneaky Creek Ranch, is there to save the day. Now, Barn Barn and Chubadoo can’t see Ziggy because he’s invisible, but for some reason Libbi Lou can see him, and she watches in amazement as he comes up with a plan to get Velma out of the mud.

This is a nice story to read to younger readers, or to be read by those who are learning to handle more complex sentences and concepts. The illustrations are colorful and really help to move the story along. I received a free review copy of the book and was completely enthralled by the vividness of the writing and illustrations, and plan to get a copy for my granddaughter who is an avid reader.

If you’re looking for a good holiday gift for that special young reader on your list, you couldn’t do better than this.

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Review of ‘Tempted’ by Paul Micheals

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Tempted by Paul Micheals is a coming of age story with a difference – a dark twist that will come at you from left field and knock you to your knees.

When his father is murdered, Alexi Gallo has to drop out of school and take a low-paying job to support his pregnant mother. His life seems to be going nowhere fast until one day he is approached by a slick-talking attorney, Rudolph Dontinelli, who offers him a job. He is puzzled that Dontinelli knows so much about him and his family, but eventually gives in and becomes a runner for a string of high-priced prostitutes.

Life gets complicated when he finds himself falling for Traci, one of the hookers, and then even more so when his mother dies during childbirth.

Tempted shows the gritty underside of life, that plane occupied by a large percentage of the population – but with a freakish difference. Alexi has a secret that even he doesn’t know at first, but one that spells the difference between order and chaos, between life and death – and, if his luck runs out, the choice for him could be death.

Michaels is a master craftsman who takes the ordinary and mundane and somehow molds it into a grotesque, almost unrecognizable image, which is nonetheless believable. Take a wild ride with him through the twisted pathways of Alexi Gallo’s life; you won’t regret it.

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Review of ‘Stovepipe’

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Rance Kerrington is a security guard, keeping watch for graffiti artists in a train yard in Kansas City. In a dead end job with few prospects, he is unprepared for the arrival of wounded hit man Paul Gallagher, who has just killed to federal officers and the two witnesses they were protecting. Rance’s actions set him on a journey from which there is no turning back.

Daniel Sink’s Stovepipe is a fairly competently written first novel, with tight dialogue and good characterization. It would benefit from some editing to correct formatting problems such as abrupt and distracting hyphenations and eye-wrenching spacing in places. These editing problems, though, only distract in a minor way from the non-stop action and intense drama of a man with nothing to lose who is faced with a choice that will change his life forever.

I’d love to give Stovepipe a rating that underscores its potential, but unfortunately, the editing flaws drop it to three stars. No doubt in my mind, though, that Sink will be back with a vengeance in his next book.

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