Book Reviews

Review: “A Wasting Time” by William Esmont

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It’s hard to describe A Wasting Time by William Esmont. Junkie Angus Mundy is trapped in a no-way-out existence, working like a slave, for slave wages, he barely makes enough to feed his drug habit, and certainly not enough to pay the debt he owes to a bookie-loan shark. When the loan shark offers him a way out; assassinate the Chinese manager of the robot-dominated mine in which he works, and the debt is cancelled, Angus sets out on a path that must lead to his doom. But, will he take Hillary down with him?

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you whether he does or not; you have to read this tense, tightly written thriller for yourself. Esmont has a way of ratcheting up the tension until your nerves a strumming like a well-tuned Strad, and then easing you down, only to jack you back up again.

If you like stories with twists, tantalizing bits of erotica – never fully described, but hinted at in such a way, the mind does the rest – this is a must-read book.

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Review: “Management Matters” by John Hunter

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Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, by John Hunter. Curious Cat Media.

This work has no ISBN.Russell Ackoff at Washington University in St....

In the opening chapter of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, author John Hunter writes, “I believe most of what managers should know was written down decades ago.” I take the meaning of this sentence to be, ‘there are no new management ideas or techniques.’ The author does not, in fact, offer anything new. But, he does provide an analysis of the ‘old’ ideas that he believes to be effective in making an enterprise, any enterprise, more productive.

Hunter calls on the philosophies of such management and leadership gurus as W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Taiichi Ohno, to show how anyone can, with some degree of effort, turn an organization around and make it more capable.

This is a relatively useful book for someone who wants an introduction to management, but there are a few flaws that I feel compelled to point out. First, the author focuses on management, and seems to ignore the importance of effective leadership in building enterprise capability. There are several typos in the book, and some formatting issues in the e-Book version that are a bit distracting, but only of limited negative impact. The area that really needs attention, though, is editing to correct grammatical errors through the text.  This sentence, for instance:  “People who are not willing to learn from the most useful management experts may still be able to accomplish some decent things, but they are very large barriers to reaching the full potential possible from wise management efforts.” I have bolded the areas of the sentence that give me pause.   Another example: “I don’t have much patience for managers not willing to learn from the experts.” The decline in proper use of the language, brought on some believe by the proliferation of electronic media, has inured many of us to hasty grammar, but in a book about enterprise capability, this detracts greatly from what is otherwise a good little book.

The author says that he will be updating the book from time to time. Even with its faults, I enjoyed reading it, and sincerely hope some judicious editing will be his top priority for a subsequent edition.

I give it two of five stars for effort.

 
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Review: “The Almond Tree”

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The Almond Tree, a first novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, starts with young Palestinian Ichmad Hamid watching his baby sister Amal blown apart by an Israeli mine planted near his family’s farm. Despair builds on despair as his father Abbas is jailed as a suspected terrorist supporter, another sister is killed, and his brother, Abbas is crippled in a vicious attack. When Ichmad, a brilliant mathematician, wins a scholarship to a university where Arab students are in the minority, he encounters a Jewish professor, a man filled with hate because of his own family’s persecution by the Nazis. But, both men learn to respect each other as individuals, and in their growing collaboration, despair slowly turns to hope.

The Almond Tree traces Ichmad’s life from the squalor of Palestinian refugee camps to the ivory halls of American universities, as he and his new friend make advances in science, and, at the same time, develop as individuals.

This is an amazing first novel; finely crafted, and full of meaning. It’s easy to casually dismiss it. Some would doubt that a Jewish writer could possibly enter into the mind of a Palestinian and make the reader see the fear, hate, love, despair, and hope that shapes his mind. But, Corasanti does just that. More importantly, she has capably described both sides in this long-standing conflict from a human perspective, a perspective that is all too often missing from other accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the human face of war.

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Review: “Spirits of Lakewood: Hidden Secrets” by Samantha Rindfuss

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When Sophie’s father dies, she goes to live with her grandmother, Emma. Before she even gets to the house, bad dreams start, dreams she later learns are being brought on by the ghost of Carol, a girl who died in the house long before. The ghost continues to haunt her from the first day, and then, Sophie learns from her new schoolmates, Lillian and Thomas, that her grandmother’s house is not just a normal house; it was once a funeral home owned by Carol’s father, a distraught man who went insane after his daughter’s death and eventually hung himself.

Carol gives Sophie an ultimatum; find a way for her to reunite with her father’s spirit, or die herself. Only Lillian and Thomas believe Sophie’s story, and they set out to help her comply with the ghostly command.

An interesting ghost of possession and danger, that tends, unfortunately, to drag a bit in places, but that is nonetheless an interesting read, and is probably written appropriately for younger readers.

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Review: “When the Siren Calls” by Tom Barry

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In Tom Barry’s novel When the Siren Calls, we’re introduced to Jay Brooke, a wheeler-dealer real estate manipulator with a smooth line for hooking naïve investors and a fatal attraction to women. Working an iffy time-share deal in Tuscany, Jay meets Isobel Roberts, a frustrated woman married to a workaholic, and seeking meaning in her life. As these two planets orbit closer and closer to each other, circumstances conspire to cause perturbations in both lives.

Lucy has her sights on Jay, and has hooks in him. The time-share deal, which he has drawn his friend Andy into, is in danger of coming apart at the seams, and Jay finds himself painted not so neatly into a corner; with no apparent escape.

Suspenseful, touching, erotic; all are adjectives that aptly describe Barry’s handling of this novel that defies neat categorization. The author’s familiarity with the setting is apparent in every scene, and he uses setting extremely well to establish mood. The characters in When the Siren Calls are a troupe of complex, flawed creatures, driven by greed, loneliness,  the desire for revenge, but most importantly, by the need to be noticed.

Though not a mystery, this is a page-turner that is guaranteed to keep you up late. It has humor, suspense, and will keep you reading until the last page; and then, salivating for more.

"Deadly Intentions"

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Review: “The Cartel” by A. K. Alexander

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A. K. Alexander’s gripping suspense novel of the drug trade, illegal immigration and brotherly betray will keep you reading from the first page to the last. Fully formed characters, authentic dialogue, and credible settings make this a must read.

While a lot of reviews go on and on, I don’t feel there’s a need to do that about The Cartel; besides, to do so might away some of the intricate plot twists in this skillfully written book, and every reader should experience it for him or herself.

Yes, it’s that good.

Review: “Living Half Free” by Haley Whitehall

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If you’re offended by harsh racial epithets and violence, you might not want to read Living Half Free, a first novel by Haley Whitehall. Set in the South before, during, and after the Civil War, it tells the story of Zachariah, a very light skinned black who is held in slavery, and who is sold away from his family, and taken from Virginia into the deep South, where he faces harshness and bigotry worse than he’s ever encountered.

Over time, he earns his freedom and meets a young Indian woman, Lillian, and the two fall in love. Able to pass himself off as white, he’s able to live with Lillian on the reservation, until the arrival of the sadistic son of his second master uncovers his identity. Zachariah then learns that prejudice runs just as deep among the Indians as the whites and is forced to accept being put back into slavery to save Lillian from the tribe’s harsh punishment. Lillian uses her wiles to free him once again, and the two of them flee to California where the prejudice is less.

As you follow Zachariah through his life, beginning in Strasburg, Virginia in 1838, to San Francisco in 1867, you will be alternately moved and repulsed; moved at how his strong faith helps him survive the severest of conditions, and repulsed at the depths of depravity to which some people can sink in their treatment of others.

This is a great story, only a bit in parts by what is difficult for even the most experienced writers – dialect that sometimes doesn’t ring quite true. Dialect, when written, depends on the reader’s pronunciation to be rendered, and having grown up in the South in the 50s and 60s, when some people still spoke much like they did during the 19th century, as well as being a writer and teacher of English, I found some of the words and sentences a bit difficult to comprehend, and not like I recall old people of my childhood talking. The author can be forgiven, though; this is one of the most difficult skills to master, and some of us never truly get it. Once you get past these few glitches, though, you’ll find this a good read, for a first timer who I predict will get better with time.

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Review: “The Lurking Man” by Keith Rommel

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Cailean, a self-pitying alcoholic; a failure as a wife, mother, and person, finds herself in a strange place, in conversation with an even stranger person, Sariel.  Forced to relive events in her tortured life before she dies, she comes face-to-face with the demon that lives inside her; an evil that has consumed her since childhood.
Keith Rommel’s The Lurking Man is a tale that is both chilling and touching as he takes us back and forth in time during Cailean’s voyage of self-discovery. The dialogue in a few places comes across as a bit stilted, and in at least one chapter, I got lost as to whether the events being described were past or present, but overall I found this to be a fascinating story of redemption and revenge.
The line between life and death becomes blurred in Rommel’s deftly-written tale. As Cailean struggles with the realization that much of what has plagued her in her life has been of her own doing, the reader is pulled ever deeper into the whirlpool of her out-of-control life. I found myself rooting for her success, despite the way she’s painted as a thoroughly unlikable person in the early part of the story.
The Lurking Man defies categorization – it in fact probably belongs to a genre all its on. It’s science fiction, fantasy, and with a bit of dialogue polishing, literary, all rolled into one.  This is not a book for the faint-hearted; it’s gritty reality – even with some of the stilted dialogue – is likely to make many uncomfortable, but it shows life ‘like it is.’ Highly recommended reading.
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Review: “Marked for Vengeance” by S. J. Pierce

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I found Marked for Vengeance: The Alyx Rayer Chronicles difficult to read. Not, mind you, that it’s not an interesting story; I’d go so far as to call it an intriguing story; it’s just that there are certain things about it that makes it very difficult to hang in for the long slog.

The preface, which explains the author’s motivation for writing this novel, would have been better as an author’s endnote. Placed where it is, at the very beginning, it seems to foreshadow everything that will follow. And, of course, the following prologue seems to be of a piece; we’re allowed to witness the ‘birth’ of some strange creatures, or perhaps actually the ‘rebirth;’ “Waiting to be brought to life, their bodies felt more like prisons to their souls that shuddered in response to the darkness around them. Her mind reeled with images, distant, agonizing memories of the last two times she had endured this torture, and her frozen muscles itched for movement so she could flee.” Are we witnessing the appearance of some alien being, angels, perhaps? The author carefully, and sneakily, does not say.

In chapter one, we’re introduced to Alyx Rayer, and only because of the book’s subtitle and that pesky preface are we able to believe that she just might be one of the ‘strange’ beings, until it is revealed to us near the end of the chapter.

I think you’re getting the picture; this is a story of the ‘aliens among us,’ but one with a few twists over the standard ‘encounter’ tales. An interesting concept, that I mostly enjoyed reading, but for a few faults. First; the formatting of the e-Book was extremely distracting, with sudden spacings separating sentences, causing the eye to stumble while reading, and initially wondering if this was intentional or just an oversight. Then, there were the sudden shifts in point of view, from one character to another, from third person omniscient to third person limited. This is great in experimental fiction, but when you want readers to get to know and care about your characters, it’s a bit off-putting. Finally, the dialogue tends in many places to be a bit too wooden, as if the character was reading from a note pad rather than actually speaking, and there are too many unnecessary tags, such as ‘her hands balled angrily into fists,’ that don’t really add to the flow of the story in any significant way – rather, they detract from it.

Like I said, even though it was hard to read, I did enjoy Mark of Vengeance, even though I didn’t totally understand it. It shows signs of developing into a fascinating trilogy, or maybe even a series if the author takes note of the aforementioned weaknesses, and, either corrects them, or makes sure readers know they’re part of the story.

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Review: “Kismetology” by Jaimie Admans

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Jaimie Admans is, in her own words, a young English-sounding Welsh girl, who has written a great first novel, Kismetology. MacKenzie lives with Dan, her significant other, three houses down from her domineering divorced mother. Wanting to get out from under her mum’s oppressive thumb, Mac sets out to find her a man. I found myself alternating between mirth and sadness as I followed Mac’s madcap antics. This is a romance, a wish-I’d-not-come-of-age, mystical ménage of crazy characters, merry misadventure, and deep feelings, put together better, I think, than I’ve ever seen a first effort done.

Kudos to Ms. Admans for an excellent effort. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more and even better in the future.

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Review: “The Iron Bloom” by Billy Wong

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Iron Bloom by Billy Wong is an interesting story. It’s about Rose, something of a tomboy, struggling to make it in what is clearly a male-dominated world. The story opens with the reader being plunged right in the middle of action as Rose confronts a murderous stranger at the home of people for whom she works (or, at least that’s the impression one gets). Nearly killed, Rose m manages to slay the intruder, save the only child of the unfortunately slain parents, and make it home where she miraculously survives the terrible wound the marauder inflicted upon her.

English: A Red Rose at Bloom
English: A Red Rose at Bloom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So far, so good. But, this is just the beginning of Rose’s adventures. A tale of derring-do and coming of age that would be rated as outstanding but for its failure to follow the conventions of this type story. The author uses modern language for the most part, and it is frankly jarring. Breaking the rules of the genre works sometimes, but having dialogue that sounds like a teen at the mall coming from the lips of a girl who has just slain a sword-yielding murderer is a bridge too far.

Having said that, and the criticism is meant to be constructive, I found it an interesting story that has only that one flaw. Not a fatal flaw, but one hopes that if there’s a sequel, it will not be repeated.

"Pip;s Revenge"
Available in paperback and for Kindle.
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Review: “The Phoenix Egg” by Richard A. Bamberg

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Caitlin Maxwell is on the phone with her husband when he is involved in a highway accident. At first, totally distraught over the fact that he might be dead, she doesn’t make the connection between his accident and a subsequent attempt on her life in the expensive, high-security apartment where she lives. Thwarted by the apartment security officials, and viewed with skepticism by the police officer who comes to investigate her assault complaint, she strikes out on her own. When another attempt is made on her life, she turns to the enigmatic John Blalock for help.

Caitlin and Blalock quickly find themselves pursued by agents of the U.S. Government, Japanese industrial spies, and a French security official; all seeking something Caitlin has. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what she has. Blalock has to use all his wits to keep them alive while they seek answers.

This is the way The Phoenix Egg starts; searing action from the first page; action that continues to climb page after page, reaching an explosive conclusion. Richard A. Bamberg has crafted a well thought out thriller, with action, suspense, and romance that devotees of the genre will appreciate. Formatting in the e-book format is a bit distracting, but, only mildly so, as are some of the long flashbacks, which, while being action-packed themselves, disrupt the flow of the current story a bit.

These two minor flaws are the only negative things I have to say about The Phoenix Egg, because it’s a must-read book that, the flaws notwithstanding, won’t disappoint.

This book is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/The-Phoenix-Egg-ebook/dp/B007WN25GU

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Review: “A Wind Doth Blow” by Daniel Kelley

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Daniel Kelley has written, in A Wind Doth Blow, a romance story with a different take, and one that will keep you turning the pages until the very end. The protagonist is an artist with what has to be called an obsession with his oboe-playing neighbor that quickly begins to consume his every waking moment, and causes him to doubt himself as a person. A fully fledged, well-rounded character, you find yourself pulled into his existence, cheering him on to take the plunge and declare his affections for the enigmatic Elise. I won’t spoil the ending for those who have yet to read this masterpiece, but trust me, it will leave you gasping for more.

A Wind Doth Blow is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/A-Wind-Doth-Blow-ebook/dp/B00AC8B6F8/

A Wind Doth Blow

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Review of ‘Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets’

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Lavin in 2005
Lavin in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets, by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan, Wiley (Asia), Singapore. 2011.  ISBN: 978-0-470-82816-8

Like it or not, we live in a globalized world where borders have little meaning anymore in an economic sense.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a manufacturer of widgets in Waukegan or a writer of fiction in a basement office in Washington, DC, you have to be able to pitch your product to a global world, or risk being sidelined and forgotten.

Frank Lavin, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and undersecretary for trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Peter Cohan, president of a management consulting and venture capital firm, have written an excellent book on not just surviving, but thriving, in that world.  As practitioners of international trade, they know what they’re talking about.  Moreover, unlike a lot of books of globalization and international trade, they’re able to explain it in terms that don’t require an advanced degree in economics and finance to understand.

While this book is written for companies looking to invest in foreign markets, its common sense approach to international trade and cooperation apply to anyone who has a product to market, even writers.  The whole book is useful, but parts one and two, which address market analysis, self-awareness, and developing marketing strategies are the most valuable.  The case studies that the authors use to illustrate their points are interesting, but as a writer, I only find them mildly useful.  The background and the final part, on taking action, though, were valuable in and of themselves.  If you’re pressed for time and can’t read this book from start to finish, just go to pages 213 and 214 and read the first two pages of Chapter 10, “Take Action.”  These few brief words should be engraved on parchment, framed, and hung in the office of every one of us.

You don’t  have to be a businessman to appreciate this book.

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Interview with author Jack Durish

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Historical fiction author Jack Durish

1.      What is the one book you want us to read (title, genre, and availability).
Rebels on the Mountain: Historical Fiction available in all ebook formats on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

2.      Give us a one sentence synopsis.
Nick Andrews, a U.S. Army spy assigned to unwrap the mystery of diplomatic failures in Cuba, avoids being entrapped in Castro’s Revolution until he is forced to bury his friends and fight.

3.      Who are the main characters and who would you like to see portray them in a movie?
Fictional
Nick Andrews: A U.S. Army Ranger and Korean War Veteran who has made a career of reconnaissance patrols behind the Iron Curtain – possibly portrayed by Stephen Amell
Lucia Comas: An American-educated, island-born mulata, daughter of the second wife of don Carlos Comas, a Cuba sugar plantation owner, and love interest of Nick Andrews – possibly portrayed by Christina Milian
Emma Regan: An American socialite whose husband, a retired pediatrician operates a free clinic on the sugar plantation she inherited, and sister to the don Carlos Comas’ second wife Sigourney Weaver
Real
Fidel Castro: The charismatic leader of the revolution that overthrew the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista – possibly portrayed by Jsu Garcia
Che Guevara: The Argentinian doctor who became one of Castro’s most notorious lieutenants and his executioner following Fidel’s rise to power – possibly portrayed by Guillermo Diaz
Ernest Hemingway: Nobel Prize winning author and Havana resident who mingled freely in the halls of power in Havana and purportedly supported Castro’s revolution – possibly portrayed by William Hurt

4.      Tell us about the story, but please don’t reveal too much.
Nick Andrews uses the cover of a pleasure trip with friends, the Regans – a retired doctor and his socialite wife who own an estate in Cuba – to infiltrate the island from its halls of power in Havana to the rebel camp in the mountains at the eastern end of the island. Unexpectedly, he rekindles a childhood crush with the island-born niece of the Regans, and makes friends with a loyal Fidelista rebel. Romance, rum, rumba, and revolution layer themselves into a thrilling tale of intrigue, action, and suspense.Rebels cover

5.      What inspired you to write this book and how long did it take?
I was slated to pilot a vessel from Galveston Bay to the Chesapeake, with a stop in Havana, when I was a young sailor, but the trip was canceled due to several factors including the fall of the Batista government in Cuba. I suppose that I never let go of the disappointment of missing that adventure. Thus, I followed events in Cuba closely and studied the history of the island and its people during the intervening fifty years. I spent another two years cataloging and studying my research, and another year and a half to write and edit the manuscript.

6.      What other books have you written?
Dream Pirates – Fiction for young readers with impaired reading skills and new English speakers
WordPerfect: Creative Applications – Technical manual
Infantry School: A Soldier’s Journal – Personal memoir
Vietnam: A Soldier’s Journal – Personal memoir
Trifles: Literary Dessert – A collection of short stories to be published soon

7.      Which authors inspired you, your style?
Many including…
Ernest Hemingway: Voice
Mark Twain: Irony
Charles Dickens: Memorable characters

8.      Where can we learn more about you and your books?
Http://www.jackdurish.com contains my personal blog as well as my biography, a synopsis of all my books and links to them, and recommended websites for anyone interested in reading

9.      How can we follow you? Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.
Twitter
Google+

Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I am currently working on my second novel featuring Nick Andrews as a young soldier in the Korean War. Also, I have been posting to my blog a series of articles built from my research into Cuba with special emphasis on the love-hate relationship between the island and the United States. Most expect a change in US-Cuban relations when Fidel Castro dies, and Americans will begin looking forward to visiting this Caribbean paradise which has been off limits for so many years.

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