Review: “12 Months of A Soviet Childhood: Short Stories: by Julia Gousseva

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Happy New Year!
Happy New Year! (Photo credit: Rinoninha)

In Twelve Months of a Soviet Childhood: Short Stories, Julia Gousseva has written twelve captivating tales that capture a slice of life in the now-defunct Soviet Union. She begins with winter, the dreariest, yet the most colorful month in Moscow, with its New Year’s parties and colorful New Year trees. She then takes us, month by month, on a journey that she calls fictional, but must be in large part autobiographical. We see things through the eyes of a child, unvarnished and without adult filtering.

A captivating collection of tales, as I said; but, the book has some near-fatal flaws. First, the sans serif text is a bit on the difficult side to read. But, the ragged and inconsistent indentation of paragraphs is by far the most distracting. This is a potentially great collection of short fiction that could reach that greatness with a bit of judicious editing.

I’d love to give it four or five stars, but alas, the formatting flaws drop it down to really two and a half.

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Review: “Dracula in Dior” by Scarlett Stoker

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English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: U...

After reading Scarlett Stoker’s, Dracula in Dior: The Ultimate A-Z Fashion Guide for the Undead and Those Who Wish To Be, I will never look at vampires or vampire movies the same way again. A tongue (or fang) in cheek guide to vampires on everything from ‘must-have’ fashions to the appropriate perfume for the undead, this book is hilarious.

It starts slow, and maintains that pace for all of a page, and then it kicks into overdrive, but in a Mercedes-Benz kind of way, not like a monster truck. You find yourself speeding along at triple digit miles per hour without even realizing that someone’s smashed the gas pedal to the floor.

I seriously doubt that Scarlett Stoker is the author’s real name – how weird would that be? – but, whoever she is, she’s a comic talent to be reckoned with. This was, so far, my favorite read of the year, and if I could, I’d give it six stars – but, I’m limited to five.

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Golf on the Cheap in the Washington, DC Area

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Spectators watch golf match at Columbia Countr...
Spectators watch golf match at Columbia Country Club, Washington, D.C. area 1910-20. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Yahoo! Voices article on budget golfing in the DC area:  http://voices.yahoo.com/article/9892352/come-washington-dc-area-golf-not-government-12170787.html?cat=16. Check it out.

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Diplomatic Life: A State Department Yankee in the Defense Department’s Court

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Installment of my reverse biography – life as a Foreign Service Officer. Serving in the Department of Defense.

http://networkedblogs.com/M2aN6

Cameroon: A Photographic Tour

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Located in West-Central Africa on the Atlantic coast, Cameroon has Nigeria to the north, Chad to the northeast, Central African Republic to the east, and the countries of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Republic of the Congo to the south. Its location makes it easy to see why many consider it the ‘crossroads of Africa;’ a place where many tribes and cultures meet. A francophone country, with both French and English as the official languages (although French predominates), it has more than 50 tribes, each with its own language.

I had a chance to visit Cameroon in May as part of a Canadian-US media delegation invited to participate in the country’s 38th Unity Day celebration. After the Unity Day parade, my delegation toured Yaoundé and its environs, including a visit to a primate sanctuary, the tourist village of Ebogo, and along the coast, from Batanga Beach in the south to the sprawling port city of Douala (the country’s largest city).

During our tours, we encountered the exotic cuisine, a fusion of France and West Africa, and saw a lot of what the country has to offer in friendly people and magnificent scenery. The visit was all too short, but nonetheless interesting, and I hope one day to return to explore those regions that I didn’t have time for on this short one-week visit.

Following are some of the photos of this memorable journey.

The Unity Memorial in Yaounde
The Unity Memorial in Yaounde
Yaoundé is called 'the city of seven hills,' and in this picture you can see why.
Yaoundé is called ‘the city of seven hills,’ and in this picture you can see why.
A chimpanzee at the primate sanctuary located southeast of Yaoundé.
A chimpanzee at the primate sanctuary located southeast of Yaoundé.
Our guide, who called himself 'the last crocodile,' in front of a tree that's more than 1,000 years old, in the equatorial forest near Ebogo.
Our guide, who called himself ‘the last crocodile,’ in front of a tree that’s more than 1,000 years old, in the equatorial forest near Ebogo.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
Vendors walking along the beach south of Douala.
Vendors walking along the beach south of Douala.
A scene in the grand market in Douala, where vendors from all over the region converge to sell their wares.
A scene in the grand market in Douala, where vendors from all over the region converge to sell their wares.
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Review: “Czech Mate” by Tom Immins

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Czech Mate by Tom Immins is a moderately good mystery tale, spoiled for me by formatting and manuscript problems in the e-Book version that are mostly easily correctable. The fact that they weren’t made the book very hard to read.

First, let me say what I liked about Czech Mate: the characters were, in the main, believable, and it was easy to get ‘inside their skins’ so to speak. Some of them talked far too much – overlong dialogue can be as unsettling to a reader as overlong narrative, if not more so. I got a little lost near the end, but Immins did tie up most of the story’s loose ends – I think.

Okay, now to the correctable faults. The book was mostly done without indentation, but some paragraphs were strangely indented. Page breaks at the end of chapters would have allowed subsequent chapter headings to be consistently placed rather than occurring sometimes in the middle of a page, with the last paragraph of the preceding chapter above, or at the very bottom of the page. Some of the narrative paragraphs were far too long. A paragraph that exceeds a page is very difficult to read. Likewise, some of the dialogue was up to half a page. No one talks that long unless they’re making a speech, and in a novel, there would be breaks with action or narrative to break up such a long monologue – or should be.

The word boys’ was written several times in the first chapter and this confused me because it wasn’t used in a manner to show what was possessed.

All in all, this was a good story, competently told except for the comments on lengthy narrative and dialogue. A fix of these problems and the formatting issues and this would merit an additional star or two to the two I give it.

Review: “Dawn of Knight I: Xeltian Invitation” by Steven Vincent

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Creating a fantasy world is a difficult task; creating it in such a manner that a reader is willing to suspend disbelief and actually contemplate that such a world could exist is nothing short of a Herculean task. In Dawn of the Knight I – Xeltian Invitation, Steven Vincent has almost succeeded in doing that.

This novel of Xeltia’s Corruptor and her Knight to conquer the world; an effort that had previously been tried and had failed, is really more the story of a wannabe knight and those who find themselves in his proximity. Filled with action, it’s fun to read, but a few glitches keep it from rising to the level of great fantasy – which it could very well be.

First, the e-Book has some formatting issues that caused me pause. Chapter headings beginning at the bottom or middle of pages is jarring – not a total deal killer, but nonetheless, distracting from the story. One of the things that makes a fantasy world believable – well, actually two things – dialogue and character names. A guard named Louie in the opening chapter seemed so out of character I re-read the passage twice to make sure I was seeing correctly. Given that the other characters have names one would normally associate with a fantasy world of swords and sorcery, this was one of those anomalies that bothered me throughout the book. Finally, the dialogue; which was mostly credible, but in places characters used distinctly modern speech, which again sort of jars the senses and pulls me out of the fantasy world and back to today – which is not where I want to be when reading a story like this.

Not major deficiencies, but not minor either. Dawn of the Knight I is a good story. If these problems were not present, it would be a great story.

A Veritable Bouquet of Awards

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I’d like to thank my friend Tazein Mirz Asaad at Transcending Borders Blog for nominating me for these awards. it is quite an honor to be recognized by a fellow blogger like this.

wordpress-family-award-1 hug-award11

wonderful-readership-award2

 

 

The rules for these awards are simple:

1-Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you and link him/her to your blog.

2-Nominate 10 other bloggers.

3-Copy, paste the award logos on your blog.

4-Answer the questions given. (my nominees must do that as well)

Well, I’ve visited and thanked my nominator and pasted the award logos. Now, to answer the questions posed:

QUESTIONS:

1-What is the meaning of life?

To be all that we can be.

2-What is happiness all about?

Being good to yourself and others.

3-Why did you start a blog?

I felt that I had something useful to say, and this was a good way to say it.

4-What is more important in your life: relationships or fame?

Relationships is more important by a small margin. Fame is too fleeting.

5-What is the one thing you like about blogging?

Easing the pressure of too many thoughts rattling around in my brain.

6-What is the best decision you ever made?

The decision to publish my own work rather than mucking around with traditional publishers.

7-Do you believe that unconditional love really exists in any kind of relationship?

Yes, in many relationships; mother/child and between soldiers on the battle field.

8-Do you believe in Karma? If yes then what  are the good and bad Karma according to you?

Yes, what comes around, goes around

9-Do you believe in rebirth or afterlife? If yes, then why?

I neither believe nor disbelieve – I just don’t know.

10-What is the best moment of your life?

The moment yet to come.

My nominees:

http://reachingutopia.com/

http://highheelgourmet.com/

http://damyantiwrites.wordpress.com/

http://soonkeumblog.wordpress.com/

http://betigaklaten.wordpress.com/

http://dancingpalmtrees.com/

http://rickmallery.wordpress.com/

http://www.glennfolkes.com/

http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/

http://patriciaddrury.com/

Congratulations to my nominees, and don’t forget to pass it along.

Diplomatic Life: It’s Not All Parties

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The first in a series of articles about my 30 years as a US Foreign Service Officer.

http://charlesaray.blogspot.com/2013/06/diplomatic-life-its-not-all-parties.html

My wife Myung petting young lions at Antelope Park, near Harare, Zimbabwe.
My wife Myung petting young lions at Antelope Park, near Harare, Zimbabwe.

Watching Over Her Flock – Charles Ray

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Watching Over Her Flock – Charles Ray. Another of my photos on PhotoBotos. Check it out.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

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Okay, this week’s photo challenge is Signs. I hesitated, but as I was going over photos I took recently in Cameroon, I came across this sign for a restaurant I stopped at after visiting the tourist village, Ebogo. Yes, by the way, the sign is accurate – they had serpent on the menu; boa to be exact.

They actually had snake on the menu - freshly killed and cooked.
They actually had snake on the menu – freshly killed and cooked.

 

And, there’s this banner from the Unity Day Parade the day before in Yaounde. I wonder if they realize the implications of this sign? There were dozens of slogans – typical of autocratic, regimented societies, and this is one – but, this one really caught my eye.

Signs, like religious commandments, point out things people are doing wrong. I wonder if the parade organizers realized this.
Signs, like religious commandments, point out things people are doing wrong. I wonder if the parade organizers realized this.

 

Finally, I couldn’t resist this sign – it’s a Francophone country, but they’ve coined this ‘English’ word – ‘Blackitude.’

 

A combination of French and English that is, to an outsider like me, somewhat hilarious.
A combination of French and English that is, to an outsider like me, somewhat hilarious.

 

 

Review: “Knight’s Blood” by Julianne Lee

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Alex MacNeil is an F-18 pilot, flying combat patrol over the Iraq-Iran border. He’s also a knight, fighting for Scottish independence under Robert the Bruce. You see, Alex was taken back in time by the impish elfin king Nemed, along with Lindsay, a journalist who was flying with him when his plane got caught in Nemed’s spell.

Alex and Lindsay got married and when they were returned to the future, she was already pregnant. When the baby is kidnapped, both Alex and Lindsay travel back to the past to rescue him. The adventures they experience and the people they encounter are the stuff of legend.

Julianne Lee’s Knight’s Blood is a rollicking adventure tale, filled with action and human drama, and a touch of Mark Twain-like humor as we follow twenty-first century humans who find themselves thrust hundreds of years into the past. Believable dialogue and credible action mark this author’s second Tenebrae story. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

Review: “Fade to Black” by Jeffrey Wilson

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English: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, ...
English: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, transport a non-ambulatory patient via litter, outside of Fallujah, Iraq in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fade to Black by Jeffrey Wilson is a hard book to categorize. Realistic, gritty combat action opens the story with Marine sergeant Casey Stillman and his men penned down by militants in Fallujah, fighting against impossible odds in their effort to just stay alive. We’re then quickly zipped into the mind of Jack, a school teacher who deeply loves his wife and daughter, but who is troubled by uber-realistic dreams of himself in combat.

Fast-paced action and no-holds-barred dialogue whip the reader the along as Jack tries to determine whether or not he’s going crazy. Wilson puts you there, whether it’s the dusty villages where radicals are trying to blow you away, or a middle class school campus whose occupants have no understanding of the stark reality of life or death combat.

The ending will blow you away, and that’s all I’ll say about it, other than you just have to read this book.

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Dearborn, Michigan: American History on Display

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Dearborn, Michigan, one of the many small towns that gird Detroit, is the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company. Little known to many outside the Great Lakes area except for the occasional news story about clashes between fundamentalist Christian outsiders and the town’s Middle Eastern community, it might not make the short list for vacation spots. And, that’s really too bad, because it’s actually quite a nice place to visit.

The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.
The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.

Dearborn, in its present incarnation, came into being on January 9, 1929, when voters approved a charter consolidating the towns of Fordson and Dearborn. The new, enlarged Dearborn was on the way to becoming one of the major cities in Michigan. As might be intuited from the ‘Fordson’ name, even then this area was dominated by Ford, which is why, even with a population of only around 250,000, the city still looms large in state affairs.

Located astride I-64, and abutting Detroit’s southwest, Dearborn is only fifteen minutes from Detroit Metro Airport, making it easy to get to be plane or by car.  Once there, you’ll find yourself immersed in history like never before – and, that is the main reason this city is a must for your summer vacation itinerary.

An historical starting point for a stay in Dearborn is the Dearborn Inn, located at 20301 Oakwood Boulevard.  On 23 acres of landscaped grounds, this colonial-style hotel was the first airport hotel in America, built to serve passengers at the now-defunct Ford Airport, which was located across the street on what is now part of the expansive Ford Motor Company campus. A fireplace in the large lobby, complete with oil paintings and period furniture, evoke images of upscale life at the turn of the century. The Edison Room offers modern dining, but still has the table reserved for Henry Ford’s visits.  The spacious rooms, overlooking the tree-covered grounds, have large screen HD TV and wireless internet for today’s business traveler.

Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt's horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan's armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan’s armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.

Within walking distance of Dearborn Inn, are the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford is a 12-acre museum, built by Ford in 1929 to showcase Yankee ingenuity. Exhibits include Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the bus upon which started civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Exhibits from the various world fairs show the visionary musings of past eras in America, and the country’s journey from an agrarian to an industrialized society.  Adjacent to the Henry Ford is Greenfield Village, where many of the actual buildings and shops that figured in American history are on display. At the village, you can take a ride on a steam of diesel train, be chauffeured around in a vintage Model T, a horse-drawn carriage ride, or ride on a hundred-year-old carousel. Volunteers in period costumes operate a farm, workshops, and stores. Admission to the museum and village is a bit expensive, but worth the price for the exposure to aspects of American history that are often left out of school curricula, and the fun for children from eight to eighty.

One doesn’t have to be in Dearborn long to realize that it’s a company town – and, the company is Ford. Members of the Ford family are immortalized in street names, school names, and plaques all over. But, it’s a company town with a difference, reflecting the personality of Henry Ford, a farmer at heart who liked to build things. As Ford built his auto empire (which also included aircraft manufacture before World War II), he provided employment to all regardless of race, nationality, or religion (although Henry Ford was thought to be somewhat anti-Semitic, he also employed Jews in his plants). The most notable community, though, is from the Middle East. Dearborn is home to more Arab-speaking people than anywhere else outside the Middle East. To get a look at this community, a visit to the Arab-American National Museum is a must.

Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.
Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.

From the affluent west and south sides to town to the more working class neighborhoods of the north and east, near Ford’s Rouge River Plant, Dearborn has a small-town atmosphere; where people say hello as they pass on the street; with big city convenience. As might be expected, because of the large Arab population from diverse regions of the Arab world, there is an astonishing selection of Middle Eastern restaurants.

Cameroon’s Primate Sanctuary Attempts to Prevent Extinction of Apes

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For many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, tourism offers the hope of economic development to deal with poverty and overpopulation, but in many cases, development of the tourism sector is hampered by increasing reductions in the very resources that attract tourists. Species of animals are hunted and poached to the brink of extinction, and habitats are destroyed through deforestation and human encroachment.

Some countries are taking steps to reverse this unfortunate trend – small steps, but necessary if the cycle of poverty on the continent is ever to be broken.

One such project, in the West-Central nation of Cameroon, is the Primate Sanctuary at Mefou National Park, south of the capital city of Yaounde. The park was created in 1999, and is currently devoted entirely to the sanctuary project, which is attempting to halt the destruction of monkey and ape species such as the red-capped mangabey, the mandrills, chimpanzees, and gorillas.  Managed by a British NGO, Ape Action Africa, and supported by the Cameroonian government and international donors, the sanctuary cars for 250 primates at Mefou and another 150 at the zoo in Yaounde.

276Most of the animals have been orphaned when their mothers were killed or captured by poachers. Animals are poached for local consumption, either as traditional food or for ritualistic purposes, and for international markets such as Southeast Asia where certain animal parts are used for medicinal purposes. While some of the devastation of primate species is due to animals damaging crops, most of the poaching, according to a guide at Mefou, takes place in primary forests far from human settlements. Poaching has resulted in the virtual extinction of many of the country’s native primates

In addition to providing care and treatment for the animals, the sanctuary conducts education programs to introduce wildlife conservation to young Cameroonians and show the interrelationship between humans and animals. A motto prominently displayed at the Mefou site says, “Where will the great apes be without man? Where will man be without the apes?”234

Mefou is about an hour or so drive from Yaounde, with the last several kilometers over a bumpy dirt road. A knowledgeable guide conducts a walking tour of the facility, which takes nearly two hours and covers more than a kilometer as each species is given an amount of area suitable to its needs. Among the species currently at the sanctuary are gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, and some smaller monkeys, such as the agile mangabey and the red-capped mangabey.

Restoring Cameroon’s primate population is a monumental task, and probably beyond the capacity of one sanctuary, but one has to applaud the effort. If nothing else, it goes a long way toward helping mitigate the damage humans are doing to their own environment.

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Did You Miss Me?

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I’ll be disappointed if no one noticed that I’ve been strangely silent for the past week. I spent the week in Cameroon, in West-Central Africa, as part of a Canadian-US media delegation that attended the country’s national day. Just got back home early today. We also had a chance to visit some of the tourist spots around Yaounde and along the Atlantic coast. I’ll be doing more detailed articles here on the blog and on Yahoo, but here are a few of the phot

Lobe Waterfall.
Lobe Waterfall.

os I took while there.

Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.

Angel Thunder: An Exercise in Life Saving

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http://www.dialogo-americas.com/en_GB/articles/rmisa/features/special_reports/2013/05/13/feature-ex-4143

Colombian, Brazilian, and Chilean forces disembark from Chinook flown by Singaporean pilots.
Colombian, Brazilian, and Chilean forces disembark from Chinook flown by Singaporean pilots.