Review: “Blog It! The author’s guide to building a successful online brand” by Molly Greene

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If you’re a blogger, one book you simply must read is, Blog It! The author’s guide to building a successful online brand by Molly Greene. Greene is an author, blogger, and blogging coach who knows what she’s talking about and does it in an engaging way.

This is a kind of nuts and bolts recipe book of blogging, covering everything from building a stable of regular readers to how to sell your books on your blog. The reader is taken from the basics; where should you establish a blog, setting up a writing and publishing schedule; to more advanced techniques such as search engine optimization (SEO) and blog design.

Written in a direct, no-nonsense manner, this book will, if you follow Greene’s advice, make you not just a better blogger, but a more successful blogger. There are a lot of books out there on blogging, but this one is without doubt the best. I give this book an unqualified five stars!

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Review: “Bad Moon Rising” by Helen Haught Fanick

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Bad Moon Rising is a delightful collection of short stories by San Antonio-based writer Helen Haught Fanick. The three short stories feature the unnamed narrator who, with her sister Andrea Flynn, gets caught up in a series of mysteries – the murder of the mayor of the town of Pine Summit, the murder of their Aunt Libby, and a plot to kill a relative – which Andrea solves a la Jessica Fletcher. Written with wry wit and pithy dialogue, they hang together well, giving a good sense of place and character. The narrator’s identify is finally disclosed in the second of two excerpts of novels Ms. Fanick has written; Moon Sight and Moonlight Mayhem. Kathleen Williamson, is a cross between Dr. Watson, who is somewhat passive observer and chronicler of events, and Mike Hammer, who can dive into action when necessary, is a delight to get to know, as are the stories in Bad Moon Rising. I give this book four stars.

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Review: “The Stranger,” a Novella by Chris Martin

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Chris Martin’s The Stranger is a disturbing story. We start with an introduction to Dillon Bledsoe, a resident of Seal Bay, a one-horse town with a secret. We are then taken on a journey with more twists than a Coney Island roller coaster. Despite some clichéd dialogue and description, Martin weaves a compelling tale with a skillfully concealed ending that just might leave you breathless.

A well-written novella with, as mentioned, dialogue that is a bit cliché, but which still manages to entertain right up to the ending. I give this work three stars.

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Review: “City of Pillars” by Dominic Peloso

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Mitchell Sinclair is an up and coming young lawyer. He has a good house in Marin County, north of San Francisco, a trophy wife, Sarah, and a shiny black 1958 Cadillac Sedan. He’s living what one would describe as ‘the good life,’ until one day, while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to his law firm, a strange toll booth collector tosses an even stranger package into his car.

The package contains a sheaf of documents written in strange languages, and as Sinclair struggles to translate them, his life is turned inside out and upside down. This ‘chance’ happening – or, so it seems at first – sets him on a journey that spans the globe, from San Francisco to Machu Picchu in Peru; but, even more importantly, a journey into his own tortured consciousness. As he flees the mysterious ‘men in black,’ Sinclair finds himself at times doubting his own sanity – or insanity.

While it is often thought that a thriller needs lots of dialogue in order to be truly effective, Dominic Peloso, in City of Pillars, shows the beauty of narrative. He deftly puts the reader inside Mitchell Sinclair’s head; for, this is his story. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole City of Pillars. It’s part thriller, part science fiction; with a lot of philosophy thrown in for good measure. This is the kind of story you won’t want to put down; which you, in fact, can’t put down. Highly recommended reading for that next long flight when the in-flight movies are boring, or for curling up over a long weekend. A definite five-star story that anyone can appreciate.

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Editorial Cartoon: Circa 1978

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Figuring out the next postal rate increase.
Figuring out the next postal rate increase.

Plus ca change, Plus ca meme chose

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Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.
Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

NRA’s Opposition to UN Arms Trade Treaty: Shameless!

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National_Rifle_Association

Today in New York, negotiations began at the UN on the Arms Trade Treaty, which would require countries to determine whether the weapons they sell might be used to commit serious human rights violations, terrorism or transnational organized crime.

The Obama administration has indicated that it will support the accord, although US support has been lackluster at best in the past. Predictably, the Neanderthals of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have come out against the treaty, fearing that the treaty will be used to regulate civilian weapons. Among the treaty’s most vocal opponents, if the NRA fails in its efforts to sabotage the ongoing negotiations and gut the treaty, one can be sure that it will redouble its efforts to ensure its staunch supporters in the Senate block US ratification.

Whether this is true or not, one has to take a step back and analyze what’s happening here. It’s really simple, when you peel back the layers of this stinky onion. The NRA, and other gun nuts around the world, don’t seem to care if human rights violations, terrorism, and crime are committed using civilian weapons – just don’t even think about limiting their right to have their phallic substitutes handy and in large numbers.  That this treaty is a common sense approach to reducing gun violence around the world, that has the support of many individuals, is lost on these tone-deaf fools who are still mentally inhabiting a world of wild animals and log cabins, and who don’t seem to know the difference between a muzzle loader and a 15-round automatic magazine with steel jacketed slugs.

I wonder if they’ll push for no limits on private ownership of anti-aircraft weapons to protect against those black UN helicopters that’s trying to invade and install a world government behind our backs.

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Role Model

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"You're not going shopping with me dressed like that."
“You’re not going shopping with me dressed like that.”

Venus FlyTrap

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Review: “The Phoenix Girls: The Conjuring Glass: Book 1” by Brian Knight

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The Phoenix Girls: The Conjuring Glass, by Brian Knight, is a tale of magic that will delight young readers. Penny Sinclair moves in with her grandmother, and has to make the transition from the big city to the small town. She becomes friends with the school outcast, Zoe, and the two set off in search of adventure. They find a magical grove near Penny’s new home, complete with a talking fox. While there’s a bit of violence in this story, it thankfully doesn’t go over the line.

It’s unusual for a male writer to be able to successfully get into the mind of a character of another gender, but in this case, Brian Knight has not only done it well, he’s done it with an adolescent – that species of homo sapiens that few adults comprehend. Written primarily for a young adult audience, it’s not a bad read for adults who still believe in magic.

I give The Conjuring Glass four stars, and look forward to Book 2.

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Review: “Poisoned Pawn: The Fall of the Altairan Empire, Book III” by Jaleta Clegg

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Dace is a merchant ship captain. She has a talent for getting into the most amazing fixes, and this interests the enigmatic Commander Lowell who heads a secretive organization and who wants to recruit her. She also has an unfortunate resemblance to the daughter of the head of a large trading syndicate who is the target of takeover from a ruthless criminal. Lowell assigns Major Clark to infiltrate Dace’s ship as a pilot to keep an eye on her and keep her safe.

Unfortunately, Clark falls for Jasyn, Dace’s partner, and in a moment of inattention allows Dace to be kidnapped. The action, pretty tense from the opening chapter, really goes into high gear as Lowell tries to locate and rescue Dace, and she tries to survive long enough for him to do just that.

A well-written story, although some of the technology is a bit far-fetched, with lots of adventure, romance (tastefully done) and humor. A few ends are still loose as the story closes – for instance, there’s Dace’s love interest left only partially resolved – but, given what we see of her personality as the story unfolds, that’s perhaps to be expected.

Jaleta Clegg’s Poisoned Pawn was a fun read. Unfortunately, even though I was able to get a copy of the Kindle e-Book version for review, I can’t find it on Amazon or LibraryThing, which is really too bad, because this is a book worth reading. I give it four stars.

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The Kind of Review You Want To Receive

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We all want to have out work reviewed favorably by readers. This is, after all, why we write – well, we actually write to be read, but it’s nice when those who read are positively impressed by what we’ve written. Over the years, I’ve received comments, both positive and negative, from readers. I don’t solicit comments – somehow, that is one step I’m reluctant to take. It’s far better when readers comment of their own volition, whether or not they like my books.

Sometimes, the shortest comments have the greatest impact. I think the review that has really made me feel good, was a sort of backhanded compliment, but, as it was unsolicited, I feel it really reflects the feeling of the individual who wrote it. Furthermore, in a few short words, it summed up my writing style. This, my friends, is the kind of reaction I think we, as writers, should be striving for.

This was a reader review of my latest Al Pennyback mystery, Death From Unnatural Causes.

It kept my interest and was an easy and quick read. I liked the main characters.
Not a fantastic piece of literature, but I might read this author again.

Was I wrong? You tell me.

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Review: “A Week With Fiona Wonder” by Kelly Huddleston

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16119001In A Week With Fiona Wonder, written by Kelly Huddleston, we find ourselves plunked plumb in the midst of the angst of teen Mercy Swimmer and the week before she gets to spend a week with movie star Fiona Wonder. Now, before you dismiss this as just another teen ‘coming of age’ story, I strongly advise that you read it. Mercy is doing her best – at least at times – to function in a dysfunctional environment, surrounded by dysfunctional people.

Huddleston paints an environment of economic adversity, where no one is exempt from pain. Not Mercy’s mother, an asthmatic who works two jobs as a waitress to support the two of them. We’re never really told where Mercy’s father got off to, and frankly, by the time we’re halfway through Mercy’s week, we no longer care. Mercy’s mom, though, is one of the most tragically flawed, yet sympathetic, figures in the book – aside from Mercy herself. Severely asthmatic, she foregoes buying a rescue inhaler so that she can buy a trinket for Mercy that wins her a chance to spend a week with Fiona Wonder, a movie star about whom we know little other than that she has a big head on screen, but seems to be beset with as many doubts as her adoring fans.

Then, there’s Valerie, Mercy’s overweight, over-indulged best friend. Valerie treats Mercy like an old shoe, yet Mercy keeps coming back for more. Likewise, there’s Nikki, her mom’s friend, who is also something of a narcissistic personality with relationship issues.

One more warning: while this is a book written about a teenager, it’s not really written for younger readers. It deals with very adult issues, in a blunt, uncompromising way – often even profane. It is also definitely not a coming of age novel; more a surviving from sunup to sundown story. You never know from page to page, really, whether you want to cheer Mercy on or slap her silly. However you feel, though, I predict you’ll keep reading to see what happens next.

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Signs of Spring

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Taking ‘Daisy,’ my daughter’s elderly dog which my wife and I have adopted to make room at her house for her second child, due in May, for a walk this morning, I noticed the first signs that the winter is almost over and spring is just around the corner.

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Daisy isn't really a sign of spring or any other season, but who could resist that mug?
Daisy isn’t really a sign of spring or any other season, but who could resist that mug?

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Review: “The Dimension Researcher” by Chris James

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"Geometry of Curves"In 2068, Lucas Hunter realized his lifelong dream. After years of training, he finally qualifies as a dimension researcher; one of an elite corps of time/dimension travelers who explore the many alternate realities that have diverged from their own, on behalf of the European Government’s Second Internet Café, the world’s most advanced scientific research facility.

Hunter’s dream quickly turns into a nightmare. Some nations, led by the Americans who destroyed the first Internet before he was born, are seeking to shut the Second Internet Café down, and seemingly will stop at nothing in order to achieve that aim. Worse, on his first ‘jump,’ Hunter encounters a mysterious ‘American’ who also seems to be a dimension jumper, but from another dimension, and the stage is set for the worst of all situations, a time paradox and the potential for a trans-dimensional war.

Hunter finds himself fighting not only the ‘aliens’ who seem to be following him from dimension to dimension, but the betrayals of his own superiors at the Second Internet Café, who are playing a game, the rules of which Hunter must understand if he is to survive.

In The Second Internet Café, Part 1: The Dimensional Researcher, author Chris James has described a future ‘reality’ with such astonishing detail, both technological and social, it is vividly authentic, and all too ‘real.’ There’s a tendency, when encountering a new writer with James’ skill, to compare him or her to some luminary of the past. Well, Chris James is no Heinlein, he’s no Asimov; he’s Chris James. The man has a style that is uniquely his, and someday, people will be saying of young writers, ‘they write in the style of Chris James.’

 

"Pip;s Revenge"
 

 

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Review: “Shades of Darkness: Redemption Series Book Two” by Melynda Price

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In Melynda Price’s Shades of Darkness, Redemption Series: Book Two, we pick up on the continuing saga of Olivia, a mortal with the ‘sight.’ Olivia has the rare ability to ‘see’ the dark angels, and thus expose them to mankind, and for this, they are determined to destroy her. She has been guarded since birth by Liam, a Ronnin warrior commissioned to be her guardian angel. Liam’s problem, though, is that he has fallen in love with her, thus threatening his very angelic status.

As Olivia, now a fully grown woman, is about to wed, Liam learns of yet another attempt by the Dark Court to kill her, and he again risks the displeasure of his own superiors in order to save her.

A fascinating blend of theology and mysticism, love and betrayal, Price takes us into the minds and hearts of the characters in a deft way. Although some of the prose and dialogue tends toward the stilted, the reader is nonetheless made to care, and care deeply, about the fate of the protagonists.

A surprise ending, though, lifts this tale above the mundane mortal meets angel story. Language and scenes of violence make it a book not for the squeamish.

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Celebrate National Grammar Day – March 4, 2013

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Celebrate National Grammar Day by focusing on improving the grammar in everything you write.
Celebrate National Grammar Day by focusing on improving the grammar in everything you write.

Sampan: Watercolor

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Sampan

Fresh Air: Cartoon

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"Let's go inside and get some fresh air."
“Let’s go inside and get some fresh air.”