Month: December 2016

Review of ‘Perception’

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When marketing a product, even if YOU are that product, it’s important to offer value; being the best is important. But, in today’s world, it’s not enough to just be the best; you must be perceived to be the best.

Perception: Take Charge of How Others View Your Brand, Become Irresistible, and Make a Bigger Impact by Franziska Iseli and Christo Hall walks you through the steps to create the desired perception of your brand and then how to take that perception to the level of acceptance in the marketplace.

Each chapter of this book starts with a story of an entrepreneur facing a dilemma, and how that dilemma was solved. The story is then followed by no nonsense guidance on the issue at hand. This brief book walks the reader through the task of self-understanding, the first step in creating the desired perception, and then the steps to creating and promoting that perception with the end goal of making yourself, or your product, ‘talkaboutable’ (one of the many made up words the authors use to drive their points home.

Regardless of the nature of your enterprise, this book offers practical advice, in straight forward, out of the box, language that can be applied immediately.

I received a free copy of this book.

This is a five-star book that should be in every small entrepreneur’s reference library.

Review of ‘Give it Back’

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Ella Jensen, at 33, is a strong and independent woman who tends to shy away from emotional entanglements. But, when her older sister, Lorraine, calls and informs her that she has terminal cancer and needs her, the wall she’s built to keep people out begins to crumble. She leaves her job as a forensic pathologist in San Diego and travels to Seattle to help her sister, and in short order finds herself enmeshed in the lives of many people. First, there’s Lorraine, whose brain tumor has affected her memory to the point that her stories of events change from day to day, and she can no longer read a newspaper. Then, there’s Lexy, the British au pair, who has traveled from London to Seattle to help Lorraine care for her youngest son, Sam, but who is, in fact, looking for something, or someone, else.

When Lexy, and Lorraine’s oldest son, Logan, disappear, the stakes are raised, and Ella is thrust into the role of solving this mystery, while at the same time taking care of Lorraine and Sam.

Give it Back by Danielle Esplin is a mystery, but it’s also a story of coming to terms with dysfunctional family relationships, of facing death, and of learning to love. The author switches point of view among three characters, Ella, Lorraine, and Lexy, as she constructs a tense drama, leading to a conclusion that will shock you. Nothing in this story is what it seems at first glance. The characters are so fully formed, you’re likely to recognize someone you know, or think you know. Esplin is an author to keep an eye out for.

I received a free copy of this book.

An excellent first novel. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Bad Box’

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When Sarah Temple left her abusive boyfriend she was hoping to find peace. After moving to a seedy part of town, she finds herself in a building where she knows little about her neighbors, but she has some peace and quiet at last, until, Peter, an egotistical bully, tracks her down. Peter, in an effort to make her jealous, hooks up with her mysterious upstairs neighbor, Angel, and that’s when things start going off the rails. Angel is not just mysterious, she’s deadly, and Sarah gets caught up in her deadly game.

The Bad Box by Harvey Click is a chilling story of a maniacal serial killer and a sadistic abuser who falls under her sway. But, behind both is an even more malevolent force controlling their actions for reasons that border on the supernatural. This is not a story for the faint of heart. It’s bloody and dark, and not recommended reading late at night, unless you want the nightmares that it’s sure to elicit. The action happens at a measured pace, like the beating of a heart that has been torn from someone’s chest, or like the eerie sound of muffled footsteps on a dark stairwell in the middle of the night.

Filled with bodies and body parts, and a dark force that lurks in the shadows, it’ll suck you in and chew you up slowly.

Five stars.

Morning in Trump’s America

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Given his campaign rhetoric, his post-election tweets, and some of his cabinet nominations and staff choices, I have a feeling that America after inauguration 2017 will no longer be the welcoming place it has been for decades. The phrase at the base of the Statue of Liberty, written by poet, Emma Lazarus, ‘Give my your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door,’ will no longer hold true – at least not for the next four years.As I’m wont to do when my thoughts are troubled, I take pencil and pen to paper and try to express them in a few simple lines–not words, but art. The airport signs in immigration might change, and, the words of Emma Lazarus corrupted entirely.

Source: Morning in Trump’s America

Review of ‘Chasing Rabbits’

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When Alice visited Wonderland, or so the story goes, it was a magical and wonderful place—well, there was the Queen who insisted, ‘off with their heads,’ but over all, it was a nice story for kids. But, when Katherine ‘Kat’ Nottington found herself back in her hometown looking for a job, any job, and she chased a marauding rabbit into a cave and found herself in a strange place called ‘Underground,’ she discovered that Alice was wrong—there was nothing wonderful about Wonderland.

Chasing Rabbits by Erin Bedford isn’t exactly a parody of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ It’s more a sequel with a radically different take on the old classic; and, it’s definitely not for kids. Kat has to deal with strange creatures, like a brown troll and a talking rabbit addicted to her tasty carrots, a queen with a murderous bent, and a sexy Cheshire Cat who gives off seductive vibes. What she wants to do, or so she thinks, is go home, except, home for Kat is not exactly a welcoming place either.

Funny, scary, and thoughtful, with a touch of romance, this story gives a whole new perspective on Wonderland, including a startling revelation about Alice. It turns out that she’s not the innocent little moppet we thought she was.

When you start reading this book, make sure you have nothing else on your schedule, because you won’t be able to put it down.

I give this outstanding story five stars.

Making changes

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In 1999, I did a rough painting of a Singapore street scene, more as an exercise than anything else. Recently, as I was unpacking some boxes in my basement, I came across the painting. Taking a look at it with fresh eyes, I realized that it needed some changes. This is the original. While interesting, it lacks focus and is a bit too rudimentary. Here is is after removing the women under the tree and adding the bench. the tree was improved (a bit, and accents added to the buildings. It could still use some work, but this version, in my view, is much better.

Source: Making changes

Review of ‘The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Outsourcing’

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If you’re an indie author, or are otherwise engaged in a solo entrepreneurial activity, you might think growing your business (or selling more books) means that you have to cram in more hours of work and learn a whole suite of new skills. Not so. With a minimum outlay of money you can do what many big businesses do; you can outsource the things you’re not good at and spend more time doing the things you do well.

Karen Banes’ The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Outsourcing is a brief tutorial that will help you in the task of finding skilled people to do things for you, leaving you more time to spend on doing the things you love doing. Written in plain words and crammed full of links to resources ranging from dirt cheap to expensive, and with a clear-cut guide to setting your solo business up to take the best advantage of the many resources available, this is a handy reference book for anyone who desires to grow their solo business.

Whether you’re just getting started, or you’ve been at it for a while, you’re sure to find a useful nugget or two of information in this book, so don’t delay; get it today and start taking advantage of all that it has to offer.

This one is a five star addition to your reference library!

A place of childhood memories

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Going back home is not what one traditionally thinks of traveling, but for me, after being away from my rural East Texas home for more than 40 years, with just the occasional 2 – 3 day to see my elderly mother, or attend funerals. After my mother died in 2002, I’d only been back twice–once when we left my assignment as a diplomat in residence at the University of Houston (190 miles south of my home town) and once for my youngest brother’s funeral. Each of those visits had been a day or less, and had been very limited in scope. In 2010, while we were in Zimbabwe, I was notified that another of my younger brother’s had died, and I was granted leave so that my wife and I could return to the US for his funeral.You’re probably sensing a pattern here; after so many years, I was beginning to associate my hometown with grief and sadness. During the flight to Washington, where we retrieved one of our cars for the drive to Texas, I determined that, notwithstanding the sad occasion of this trip, I was going to take the time to try and rekindle some of the fonder memories of home. My wife, who’d never seen much of my hometown, other than main street and the neighborhoods where my mother and sister lived, agreed.When I was a kid, I loved to pack a lunch into my scout bag and roam the woods and swamps that surrounded us. I was especially fascinated with Lake Murval, a natural lake 17 miles north of us, and one of the few recreational areas where black people were welcomed in the 1960s–even though we  had to use a separate part of the lake. So, we decided that there is where I’d go to tap into those almost forgotten memories of years gone by.We took a few pictures, had sandwiches sitting on a bench on the shore, and then went on home for my brother’s funeral, and somehow, it wasn’t as sad an occasion as I remembered past such visits being. Our youngest daughter, Denise, accompanied Myung and me. Here they are, posing in the parking lot. Lake Murval is in the background. In the 1950s and 60s, there were segregated parking lots. Not so in 2010. This was an impressive sight to me when I was a kid. The largest body of water I’d ever seen until I joined the army. I remember there being more water reeds (complete with snakes) when I was young. A mallard enjoying the solitude.

Source: A place of childhood memories

Review of ‘What If?’

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What would happen if the earth and everything on it stopped spinning, but the atmosphere kept moving? Sound like a stupid question? It is, but it’s just the kind of question Web comic, Randall Munroe, answers on a regular basis. In What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Munroe uses science, math, and computers to answer some of the most absurd questions you could ever imagine, such as, ‘if your cells stopped dividing, how long would you live?’

Munroe mixes science and humor, illustrated with his signature stick figure cartoons, to answer some of the least profound questions of our age. You might not want to know the answers to some of the questions—a lot of them end in catastrophic results—but, I promise, you’ll get a few good chuckles out of reading this book.

I received a free copy of What If? 

I laughed so hard I almost wet myself reading some of the answers. I give Munroe five stares for this book.

Review of ‘SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome’

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From an insignificant village on the banks of the Tiber, by 53 BCE Rome had grown to a sprawling city of over a million inhabitants and controlled an empire. In SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Mary Beard explores the growth of Rome through a study of documents and historical records, and explains how it changed from a rudimentary collection of huts, narrow alleyways, filth, disease, and death, to a military empire that not only controlled most of Europe and North Africa, but left a lasting legacy that still shapes how we in the Western world understand and view ourselves.

Beard debunks many of the myths we have about ancient Rome, in a style that is neither condemning nor fawning. She examines and discusses documents and relics, as she describes Rome beginning in 53 BCE and how the rivalry between Cicero, a philosopher/poet, and Catiline, a populist/rebel, shaped the Rome that went on to conquer most of the world known to Europeans. She tries to show as many sides of the story as possible from the known records, and makes an effort at objective analysis.

Her description of Roman politics of the era have an eerie resemblance to modern politics, which, when one considers that much of our political terminology comes from ancient Rome, should come as no surprise. A carefully written and thoroughly researched book, it will thrill history buffs, and maybe—just maybe—develop a love of history in those who have yet to discover it.

I received this book as a gift, and have actually read it twice before attempting to review it.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Last of the President’s Men’

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In 1968, Air Force Colonel Alexander P. Butterfield was assigned to a duty station in Australia. His shot at making general required that he either get an assignment to Vietnam or go to where the ‘power’ resides—an assignment to Washington, DC. Through a college classmate, H.R. Haldeman, Butterfield was assigned as an aide in the Nixon White House, with duties described as ‘internal security.’ In his job, Butterfield had an office right next to Nixon’s, and was often the first to see him in the morning, and the last to see him at night. Most significantly, though, it was Butterfield who was responsible for installing Nixon’s secret taping system, the very thing that led to his resignation from the presidency after Butterfield publicly revealed its existence.

The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward, the journalist who first exposed Watergate to the world, is an in depth tale of the Nixon that few people knew, told by a man who probably knew him better than anyone, including his own wife. Haldeman interviewed Butterfield extensively some 41 years after the events that led to Nixon’s downfall, and had access to hundreds of pages of documents that Butterfield took with him when he left the White House. Together, this book gives us a never-before-seen look at the man known as Tricky Dick, and puts a new perspective on his misdeeds while in office, and his abrasive, paranoid, ego-driven personality.

Given the political events of 2016, this book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what motivates some American politicians and the dangers associated with the politics of personality that characterized the 2016 elections. Regardless of your political views or party affiliation, this book will make you think about politics in a different way.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Cassie Mason and the Oracle’

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When Cassie Mason turned sixteen the strangest thing happened; she developed magical powers. At a loss as to how to deal with it, her parents summoned her Aunt Jenni, a paranormal investigator, to help teach her how to control her new powers. In the meantime, people in her hometown begin to make magical transformations—the town is going magically crazy—and, it’s up to Cassie to set things right.

The Magic of Cassie Mason and the Oracle Witch by Keith Coppuck and Kelly Proudfoot follows Cassie as she learns to take control of her magic, while at the same time fighting off a magic invasion of her home. This is an interesting story, but it’s somewhat clumsily told—I couldn’t tell if I was reading a variant of UK English with which I was unfamiliar, or just some grammatical gaffes—and, the narrative is a bit choppy. The biggest sin, though, is that the book just sort of . . . ends. Cassie’s brother is missing, accidentally sent off with Loki, who was invading the human realm, and we have no idea what might happen next. The epilogue describes a young man, not identified, walking through a space containing interesting artifacts. Is that Cassie’s brother? Who knows? I hesitate to call the ending a cliff hanger, because the image I have is a reader hanging from a ledge by his or her fingertips, and that, believe me, is not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

There are some interesting passages in this story, and the overall idea is laudable—sort of your magical coming-of-age story, complete with humor and action. It needs work though to make the story flow more smoothly, and an ending that has at least some of the loose threads accounted for.

I received a free copy of this book.

I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Any Means Necessary’

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Luke Stone, a member of an elite FBI unit, the SRT, is on a leave of absence to decompress from the stress of his job, when radioactive waste is stolen from a NYC hospital. Called out in the middle of the night to rejoin his team, Luke quickly discovers that this ‘terrorist’ incident is more complicated than first thought, and the ultimate objective is not to sow terror, but to change the world.

Following one thread after another, Luke finds himself at the pinnacle of American power, facing a plot of epic proportions, which he must thwart by ‘any means necessary.’

Despite an overabundance of ideology, which is somewhat distracting in places, this is a compelling plot. Any Means Necessary by Jack Mars is, unfortunately, very clumsily executed. The narrative is too choppy, and the ending is left hanging; Luke’s kidnapped wife and son have not been rescued, but their location is suspected; end of book, we’re left hanging. Not fair, not fair at all. There were also parts that strained even a bibliophile’s ability to suspend disbelief. In chapter 8, for example, the jihadists who have been smart enough to compromise the security systems of a major hospital, steal a large quantity of radioactive waste, and escape New York City undetected, refer to Baltimore, MD as a beautiful city of people who are healthy and wealthy, and a city with a low crime rate. I don’t know if the author was trying to show the actual ignorance of the characters, or if he’d gotten his information from a tourist brochure, but as someone who once lived in Baltimore, and who now lives just south of the city, I cringed when I read that. Yes, it’s got some beautiful sites, and some of its citizens are healthy and wealthy, but low crime rate? You’ve got to be kidding!

The theme of people within the establishment willing to go to any lengths to gain power is a worthwhile theme to explore, but it deserves far better execution.  I received this book as a gift. While I give the idea high marks, I can only give it two stars for such poor execution.

Floral arrangements

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Recently (yesterday, actually), I posted photos of the flowers that inhabited the garden of my residence when I lived in Harare, Zimbabwe. I received some immediate positive comments, which warmed my heart. In that post, I promised that when I could find the file, I would share photos of some of the floral arrangements my wife did to spruce up the residence. Well, as luck would have it, I did find those files last night, and I present herewith a sampling of floral art. First, though, a little background. My wife was born in Korea, and finished high school there, so she is influenced by Korean artistic traditions. She was 23 when I married her, and two years later I brought her to the US (that was nearly 40 years ago). She has attended some community college courses in this country, and taken some art classes, so by the time we arrived in Zimbabwe, her style was a fusion of Asian and Western, with a little influence from my self-taught cartoonish style. These are presented without captions, because I think the pictures speak for themselves.  So, sit back and enjoy.

Source: Floral arrangements

My garden in Harare

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Despite a ruined economy and political violence, Zimbabwe, when I lived there from 2009 to 2012, was a beautiful place. I was particularly fond of my residence, which sat on a hill overlooking a verdant valley. What I really liked doing, though, was walking around the grounds, admiring the many species of flowers that grew there. Luckily, I had a full time gardener who tended them, because I’ve never been able to grow such lush beauty on my own. I spent a lot of time, enjoying them and taking pictures of them, which I now, happily, share with everyone. I don’t label them, because, as much as I love flowers, except for a few of the more common ones, I have no idea what most of them are called. Oh well, a rose by any other name is just as sweet and beautiful, right?

Source: My garden in Harare

Review of ‘Power Rising’

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Tatya is a gifted healer, so gifted in fact that a demon is out to ensnare her to gain control of her powers. An enigmatic vampire offers assistance, but since that vampire has recently turned her best friend, she’s conflicted about accepting the offer.

Power Rising by Teagan Kearney is an interesting novel, part urban fantasy, part paranormal thriller. It moves along at a fast clip, almost (but not quite) too fast for comfort. A fascinating cast of characters and a different take on the whole vampire/demon myth.

I received a free copy of this book. It was a nice read that I give four stars.

Review of ‘Bled White’

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If you’ve read book one in the ‘Awake in the Dark’ series, you will probably not be confused by the opening to book two, Bled White, by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus. Our hero, Jeff Grobnagger, wakes up in a strange place with fuzzy memories—okay, I’m cool with that, I suppose, although, it would’ve been nice to have at least an inkling of an idea how he got there.

As the story moves along, we learn that Jeff’s friend, Glenn, is missing; only later do we learn that he’s ‘missing’ in some kind of ‘other’ dimension to which Jeff travels when he experiences his trances. Jeff’s search for Glenn is sidetracked when a burned corpse wearing a League of Light robe is found in a vacant lot, and he is asked to investigate the murder. Jeff senses that this death is somehow connected to Glenn’s disappearance, so he reluctantly takes the case. The victim wasn’t exactly a popular figure, but those with the most reason to want him dead, appear to Jeff to be innocent.

If it sounds like I’m rambling, that’s the way this story goes. But then, what would you expect with a hero with the surname, Grobnagger? The mystery and danger are palpable, and the supernatural is a bit on the offside—I mean, reincarnation after being toasted, really!

This book reads like experimental, paranormal fiction, with a touch of black humor and mystery thrown in to appeal to those readers who can’t quite get into a total magical romp. I rambled through to the end; mostly enjoyed it; but I’m so-o-o-o confused. Could’ve used a little more backstory, so I have a better idea of who the characters are and just how they relate to each other. Other than that, I think paranormal fans, especially McBain/Vargus fans, will like it.

I received a free copy of this book, and it’s a five star theme, but I knock it down to three and a half stars for confusing me so.

Getting ready for the Trump Administration

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For the past year, as the campaign season wore on, and on, and on, and Donald Trump got tons of free publicity for his outrageous statements and churlish behavior, I lampooned him in cartoons, usually focusing on his outrageous  hair and pugnacious expressions. But, now that the Electoral College has delivered its verdict, and in mid-January, he’ll be inaugurated America’s 45th president, I decided I needed a more solid image for what I now will be a windfall of cartooning possibilities. So, with paper, pencil, eraser, and pens in hand, I repaired to my garage–which is where I do some of my best work–and began creating my official caricature of our next president. I always make the heads big, and it’s more than appropriate for this particular subject. Notice the small  hands and feet–if you followed the GOP primary campaign, you’ll get the significance of this. Next, I started sketching in some of the details; the hair and the pugnacious expression–with the yu-u-u-uge mouth. Next comes the inking in. Followed by shading to round it out. The dark face with the raccoon eyes from the tanning, the small hands and feet, and despite the claim of being the’healthiest man ever to run for president,’ if you look close you’ll see he’s a bit pudgy, so my DT will be a chubbo. I was done, and then I remembered that cap with the’Make America Great Again’ slogan. It’s fuzzy here because it was getting cold in my garage (it’s below freezing here in DC right now) and I was in a hurry to get inside and get my hands warmed up. But, here he is, folks. You’re likely to be seeing a lot of this character here in the coming months.

Source: Getting ready for the Trump Administration

Truth and Diplomacy

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Should Diplomats be Good Liars?  Sir Henry Wotton, a sixteenth-century English diplomat, joked that an ambassador was “an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”. The…

Source: Truth and Diplomacy

Review of ‘Bad Habits’

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Bad Habits by T. Patrick Brown is a story of three very different women whose lives intersect through tragedy. Veronica Howe is haunted by the abuse and torment she suffered from her step-father and has vowed revenge. Olivia Darby overcame her childhood obesity and decided to become a nun. But, she is beginning to question whether or not she has missed out on life. Felicity Starr is a detective who, once she gets on a case, doesn’t give up until she solves it.

Veronica’s step-father murdered her mother, was jailed, but then let out for ‘good’ behavior. She meets him the day he is released to exact her revenge, but things spiral out of control, and she kills an innocent bystander as well. On the run, she meets Olivia, and takes her hostage to help cover her escape. Thirsty for adventure, Olivia becomes a willing conspirator in Veronica’s plan. In the meantime, Felicity Starr, assigned to investigate the murder case, doggedly follows one clue after another, always just a step behind the two fugitives.

This is an interesting book. The two characters, Veronica and Olivia, bring to mind ‘Thelma and Louise.’ One has no choice but to empathize with them, even when condemning their actions. While she gets less page time, the real star of the story is Felicity, a strong woman operating in what is traditionally a man’s world, and doing it quite well.

The male characters, especially the killer-con man who has the necklace Veronica is seeking, and who falls for Olivia, come across as less developed—almost cartoon characters who drop into the panel only when needed, and sometimes without explanation. Lack of fuller development of these characters, and scenes that aren’t logically explained, turn what could be a groundbreaking work of fiction into light reading. It’s interesting, in places entertaining, but ultimately, not as enlightening as the opening made it seem it would be.

I received this book as a gift. I give it three and a half stars.