Review of ‘Democracy: A User’s Guide’

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Is it enough for us to simply elect our leaders and sit back, doing nothing, while they rule over us like autocrats? What good is it to select our politicians, if we have no control over media, police, or military? These penetrating questions are asked in Joss Sheldon’s Democracy: A User’s Guide as he explores democracy in action in a number of institutions and places around the world. Sheldon’s thesis is that we can have a greater say in how we’re governed, we just have to inform ourselves and act.

  An insightful look at how democracy is supposed to work and is recommended reading for anyone who truly cares about living in a truly representative society.

  I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Between the World and Me’

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I received a gift copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, over two years ago. For a number of reasons, I put it aside. What with the number of police shootings of young black men under questionable circumstances, along with the increase in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, I labored under the mistaken assumption that another book about the agony of the black experience in America would only agitate my already agitated mood. Finally, though, I decided to open the covers and see what Coates had to say.


In the form of a letter to his son, Coates, an award-winning New York based journalist and author, talks about his own experiences growing up on the mean streets of an inner city, his exposure to the infinite variety of black life at Howard University, a Mecca for young blacks who wanted to get on the path to upward mobility, to his take on American history from a black perspective.


I was right that the book would be disturbing, but it was not disturbing in a negative way. It s hook me out of my own complacency, and reminded me that every generation of people of color growing up in America has its own memories; its own story to tell.


Every word of this book should be read with care, should be digested, and then passed on to future generations. It is through such sharing of past experiences that we are better able to cope with the turbulent present, and prepare for the unknown future.


Must reading, not just for young black people, but people of all colors and ages, if they truly wish to have a better understanding of who we—Americans—are, and what we can aspire to be.


I give this book a resounding five stars.

Review of ‘Jack Reacher Series: Best Reading Order’

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Some people like to read the end of a book before the beginning, and some people absolutely hate reading series books out of order. Lee Child, who writes the Best Reading Order series, writes for the latter. In his book Jack Reacher Series: Best Reading Order, he lists all the Reacher series books up to the 2017 publication date, with a synopsis and commentary.

You really don’t need this. If you’re not a read from the top type, you won’t care, and if you already are, well, you don’t need to be told. But, at 99 cents, what have you got to lose? If you haven’t read the books, this is a good way to get a sneak look at the ones you’ve yet to read.

Not a total waste. I give it four stars. It was technically well done, and I did find a nugget or two of useful information. I received a free copy of this book.

Review of ‘Countering Hate’

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As humans, we’re all born the same, yet some people grow up to lead peaceful, productive lives, while others turn to destructive, often murderous pursuits. The question: why and how does this happen?

In Countering Hate, Bob Pearson and Haroon K. Ullah look at how people learn to hate and offer some prescriptions on countering this development. They show how, through silence and apathy, society contributes to this process of looking at other people negatively through the lenses of gender, race, or religion, a process that develops during the formative years up to the age of about 25, and how the use of soft-power tools by governments rather than reliance on military responses is the best approach to dealing with the phenomenon.

Rather than doing what many people do, which is, wonder briefly why they hate us, and then turning back to the local sports broadcast, the authors suggest that every citizen, but, most importantly, government officials, must take a proactive approach to countering hate and extremism.

If you’re a government official, this is a must-read. Heck, if you’re just a common citizen who wants to be better equipped to understand and deal with these issues in your own community, it’s also a must-read.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Feasible Planet’

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Have you ever wondered what one person can do to address the serious issue of climate change, and the danger that human-generated activities threaten life on this planet? If that sounds like too ponderous subject for you, then stop reading, because you will not be interested in what follows, or in the book, Feasible Planet by Ken Kroes.

An ambitious book that gives guidelines for more sustainable living, it cannot be read in a single sitting, and has many sections that those who just want it straight forward and unvarnished—or laden with too many complicated charts and formulae. If, however, you make it through, you will be better armed to help Earth survive.

At times, this book can be a bit overpowering, and it could have, I believe, gotten the message across with fifty percent fewer charts and graphs. Having said that, I still believe it is worth reading, and actually, strongly suggest that you do just that.

I received a free copy of this book, and give it four stars.

Review of ‘Stop the Slip’

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Interesting facts: falls are the number one cause of ER visits in the US, and you’re three times more likely to die from a fall injury than a firearm injury. While this doesn’t mean that we should stop our efforts to prevent firearm injuries, it does call for more attention to preventing needless injury and death from falls—mostly in the home.

Stop the Slip: Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls by Thom Disch addresses this pervasive, but little discussed, problem, with statistics and preventive measures that anyone can understand and apply. Everything from addressing clutter around your home to more intelligent selection of footwear is covered in this chilling book. Fall-proof yourself today with this handy guide.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Rat Pack Party Girl’

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Rat Pack Party Girl by Jane McCormick with Patti Wicklund is the compelling life story of Jane McCormick, abused as a child by her stepfather, and then trapped in an abusive relationship when she married while still a teenager, who then became a high-priced call girl in Las Vegas. While McCormick earned a lot of money plying her trade, and hobnobbed with many A-list celebrities, she began to realize that she was being exploited, but was for a long time unable to free herself. Abused, physically and mentally, she even attempted suicide. But, after finally finding a relationship in which she was respected for who she really was, she was able to turn her life around, and became a relentless advocate for abused women and children.

McCormick’s story, in addition to giving little known (or, in some cases unknown until now) secrets about the rich and famous, is a case study in the manipulation of the helpless, and an engrossing look at sex-trafficking in the United States. It offers advice, from a victim’s perspective, on how to end the cycle of manipulation, and is a cautionary tale for any young person even considering embarking on the ‘high life.’

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Blood Money: The Method and Madness of Assassins’

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In the comfort of our suburban homes, probably the last thing on our minds is the danger that we might become the target of a contract killer. These low-level thugs who kill for money, though, are more common than the average person realizes. In Blood Money: The Method and Madness of Assassins, author R. J. Parker examines the history of assassins, and how they’ve worked through the centuries. He traces the use of murder-for-hire from biblical times to the present day, with historical profiles of some of the most prolific assassins.

A book that will chill you—as he points out that a significant number of contract murders are arranged by people for revenge or money rather than being related to organized crime—and, hopefully, educate you to the reality of the world in which we live.

Repetitive in places, the prose is a bit choppy, but, the subject is handled with a researcher’s skill. Of particular interest is the author’s analysis of how popular media, TV and movies, portrays professional assassins, and how far the portrayals are from reality.

If you have a strong stomach, but and inquiring mind, it’s a worthwhile read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Business Plan Bible’

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Whether you’re a small business needing a loan to start up or expand, or a non-profit looking to interest investors or donors, the one thing that is absolutely to your success is an effective business plan.

Robert Lawrence’s Business Plan Bible is a short guide to preparing business plans that work. From a one-page plan that is in reality a vision statement to a more detailed plan, including goals and objectives and financial projections, this book will assist you in building a plan with a minimum of hassle and wasted time.

This is a must-read book for the entrepreneur preparing his or her first plan, and a good refresher even for those who’ve done it before.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Most Dangerous’

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In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND analyst and former DOD official, leaked the 7,000-page secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. This action ignited a series of actions that led eventually to the Watergate burglary and Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. Ellsberg, who had been a committed cold warrior until he became aware that the government had been misleading the American people on the Vietnam War for more than 20 years, had a crisis of conscience that finally led him to violate his oath of office and commit a crime in the interest of the peoples’ right to know.

Most Dangerous by investigative journalist, Steve Sheinkin, is a powerful look at what happens when those in government put personal pride and ego ahead of their responsibility to live up to the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers and to respect the right of their ultimate bosses, the American people, to know what their government is doing in their name.

The book includes interviews with many of the people who were directly involved during this turbulent period in our history, as well as excerpts from the media and official documents. It’s a must-read for anyone who is interested in how government often really works.

A well-written book, its weakest part comes at the end when the author compares NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who leaked classified files exposing NSA’s programs of spying on Americans’ communications to Ellsberg. While both leaks exposed what were, in fact, government’s misdeeds, Ellsberg, unlike Snowden, made a valiant effort to correct the problem from inside government, and when that failed and he made the decision to leak the information, stayed and faced the legal consequences of his actions, which included being put on trial. Snowden, on the other hand, shows no evidence of ever having tried to deal with the NSA situation inside the system, and after he leaked the information, fled the country and sought asylum in Russia. For me, this weak comparison of two very different people who took vastly different paths did a disservice to Ellsberg, who was more in the mold of the Civil Rights pioneers who violated unjust laws, and took the consequences, even when they ended up in prison for their stands.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Psychology’

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When I downloaded this book, I thought I was purchasing Understanding Human Psychology by Kevin Jobson, but what came up on my Kindle was Psychology by Hezi Medina. After reading the downloaded book, and frankly, being somewhat disappointed, I went back to the Amazon page and ‘looked inside’ the advertised book. I found that, other than the title and author, they seemed to be the same, so I am left completely confused as to what happened.

Basically, the book starts off talking about psychology, but then spends the bulk of the contents discussing the subject of becoming a mentalist and performing mental parlor tricks. It does contain some gems of self-improvement and emotional control, but the problems with grammar and the typos tend to detract from its credibility. In addition, with no information provided about the author, I have no way of determining his credentials to address the subject.

The bottom line is that the book doesn’t live up to either title really. It does contain a few neat parlor tricks that could be used to entertain your friends and family, but I would be hesitant about recommending it as a read for anyone seriously wanting to understand human psychology.

Regrettably, I can only give this one two stars.

Review of ‘The Past That Would Not Die’

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In 1962, when Air Force veteran James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi at Oxford, over the strenuous objections of the state’s white power structure, led by Governor Ross Barnett, who stood against the weight of the United States government, it led to several days of rioting and bloodshed. This was not, however, an isolated incident in the turbulent Civil Rights era of the 1960s, but a continuation of a struggle that had plagued the nation’s poorest state since the Civil War and before, as whites in Mississippi fought to retain their ‘privileged’ status vis a vis black citizens of the state; a struggle that infected much of the rest of the country while it came to terms with how to deal with its minority populations.

The Past That Would Not Die by Walter Lord was written originally in 1965, and has been reissued in e-Book format. The result of extensive research and interviews with participants in this epic struggle, it offers a rare insight into America’s struggle with race and class that has some bearing on current populist movements in that it shows how economic upheaval can cause people to look for ‘others’ to blame for their misfortunes, and how politicians can manipulate feelings of dispossession to unfortunate ends.

This book will aid those interested in history to better understand a dark chapter in American history, but also help in understanding some of the undercurrents in today’s society. It is disturbing and enlightening at the same time, and a must-read for anyone wanting to get behind the headlines.

A five-star read!

Review of ‘Shipwreck: the Strange Fate of the Morro Castle’

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On September 8, 1934, the luxury liner, S.S. Morro Castle, just hours from the port of New York, caught fire. Of the 566 passengers, officers, and crew aboard, 134 perished in the disaster. Inaccurate media coverage and missteps by investigative agencies abounded, swinging wildly from speculation that it was an unfortunate accident to a deadly plot by Communists. In Shipwreck: The Strange Fate of the Morro Castle  by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, an exhaustive examination of surviving documents and media coverage, as well as interviews with some of the survivors and their families, the reader is treated to an alternative answer. The S.S. Morro Castle disaster was the work of one man, a deliberate and meticulously executed plot by chief radio officer, George White Rogers.

Sounding more like a thriller than nonfiction, this book pieces together the final days of Morro Castle in a compelling narrative that, while it probably couldn’t stand up in a court of law, leaves no doubt that this deadly disaster wasn’t part of some Machiavellian Communist plot, but was the work of one deranged psychotic who had little regard for human life, and who was striving for recognition and attention. At the same time, it shows how individuals and organizations, even government agencies, can be misled in an atmosphere of fear and conspiracy theories. With the attention today being given to ‘fake’ news, it’s instructive to see that this isn’t a new phenomenon, but something that has been with us for a long time, and how people with over-large egos and sociopathic tendencies can manipulate it to the disadvantage of society.

A fine bit of investigative reporting to which I give four stars.

Review of ‘Learn Any Language’

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There are many myths about language learning, most of them designed to convince us that learning a foreign language is all but impossible for the average person. In Learn Any Language by Janina Klimas these myths are ripped to shreds and flushed away.

A language teacher and speaker of several languages, Klimas addresses the history of language and language teaching in the United States, and then offers detailed, step-by-step guidance that will enable anyone to learn any foreign language, with or without a teacher.

Klimas uses her own experiences and gives examples from several languages to help the novice language student navigate the tricky waters of learning a new language. With more than two decades of language learning and teaching, she has learned the most important element of conveying such instructions; communicating in a clear and unambiguous manner. Her detailed plans for structuring your personal language program don’t require you to be rich or possess a super-high IQ, nor do you need to travel abroad. All you need is the desire to learn and the will to apply these common sense techniques.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘CEO at 20’

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When he was a sophomore at Louisiana State University, Ben Gothard started his own social media marketing company. While, it’s tempting to say he started on a wing and a prayer, in actuality, he laid out a business plan, obtained funding, and registered the business, becoming a CEO at age 20. In CEO at 20 Gothard outlines the practical steps that a person, at any age, can take to realize his or her dreams and achieve success.

Unlike a lot of how-to books that go on for hundreds of pages, often rehashing points until they become boring, Gothard’s book lays it out briefly and moves on. This book can be read in less than an hour; twenty minutes if you’re a speed reader; but if you’re a budding entrepreneur embarking on your first—or your twenty-first—business venture, you’ll probably read it several times.

A useful reference for your business library. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Doing Germany 2’

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Doing Germany by Agnieszka Poletta was a hilarious romp through a foreign culture through the eyes of a hybrid immigrant North American who, despite her multi-cultural background, was something of a naif when she encountered Germany for the first time.

In Doing Germany 2, the author picks up right where she left off in the first book. Married now, to a German-Pole, or is that Polish-German, with a baby newly arrived, Agnes and M (she refuses to name him through two books, can you believe that?) argue over whether the kid should be named Max or Maximillian—thankfully, Max wins. Agnes (the anglicized version of her Polish given name) continues to struggle with the cultural chasm she must cross to learn to get along in Germany.

If you’re into sophisticated, low-key humor, in the words of the infamous mobster, ‘fuggedaboudit.’ This book is low-brow, in your face humor from start to finish. If you’ve been in a situation where you’re encountering a completely alien culture for the first time, though, you’ll immediately see the point.

Light reading, quick to read, and funny as hell. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Missing Wives, Missing Lives’

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When a woman is missing, it’s often the husband who is the prime suspect in the disappearance. Some 2,300 women go missing each day, and less than 5% of them are victims of kidnapping by a stranger.

J.J. Slate’s Missing Wives, Missing Lives is a chilling true-crime narrative of 30 cases of wives who remain missing and whose husbands are suspected of having a hand in their disappearance, and presumed murder. Some of the cases in this book go back to the 1970s, and in some, authorities have even managed to indict and convict the husband of murder, despite having no corpse. Each case, though, is a story of a family that continues to seek answers, and will chill you to your marrow.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Doing Germany’

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Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta is a different kind of travelogue. Follow the adventures and misadventures of the author, a Polish-Canadian who loves Italy, as she leaves Italy with M after accidentally stepping on his toes in a crowded Italian night club.

Lovers of travel stories will be enthralled by this author’s view of an alien country, its differences and similarities to her hybrid native culture, and her responses as she learns to call Germany ‘home.’

This book will make you laugh until you shed tears, and in some places will just cause tears, but in the end, you’ll be aching to read the follow-on book to see where life goes for Agnieszka, now a wife and mother, and you’ll wonder, is she ‘doing’ Germany, or is Germany ‘doing’ her.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars for its sheer chutzpah.

Review of ‘Summary of While the City Slept by Eli Sanders’

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Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper lived in the rundown South Park area of Seattle. They were sexually assaulted and Butz was killed by Isaiah Kalebu, a mentally disturbed young man who had slipped through the cracks of the mental health and criminal justice systems due to the warped priorities of government budgeting.

Eli Sanders, a journalist who covered the case, wrote an account of the events surrounding this tragedy. Instaread’s Summary of While the City Slept by Eli Sanders analyzes the book for busy readers who would like a sneak peek inside a book before making the decision to buy. While Sanders’ book goes into some detail about the case and the factors that contributed to it, the analysis is that his prose is disjointed, and his choices of characters and elements to emphasize make it a tough read. This Instaread book, like all others from this publisher, is a boon to anyone who wants assistance in separating the wheat from the chaff, and is highly recommended before investing in the full work.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.


Top 1% Goodreads’ Reviewer

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1459554269-1459554269_goodreads_misc Have you ever opened your email and seen one that you’re tempted to delete without opening because it just seems highly improbable and is maybe a phishing scheme or an enticement to buy something? That’s kind of how I felt when I saw the subject line informing me that I was in the top 1% of Goodreads reviewers. I mean, sure, I write a lot of reviews and post them on Goodreads, but I wasn’t even aware that they were keeping track.


Turns out, though, that they were–are, and they let me know that since I signed up for Goodreads in 2010 I’ve done 704 reviews. Since I often review books here whenever I do Amazon or Goodreads reviews, that means I’ve done a few hundred here as well. Who’d of thunk it. Heck, I just like to read, and I like to share good books with others. Add to that my desire to see indie authors like myself succeed, and doing book reviews is a natural fit.

It hasn’t been all gravy, though. I’ve had a few authors take exception to my reviews when I didn’t give them four or five stars. Believe me, though, I’m a generous reviewer, and if I give a book three stars, chances are it’s actually a bit below that level. That, however, is not an assessment of the author of that book. Perhaps it’s just that the subject matter doesn’t impress me. More often than not, though, it’s because there are just too many technical problems; problems that can be solved with a good bout of proofreading or careful editing.

At any rate, this is, I know, just a bit of blatant horn-blowing and auto-back patting, but I just had to share this with all my readers. Oh, and if you haven’t discovered or signed up to Goodreads, you should really think about it. It’s not just a site for authors, but a good place to find the latest indie gems. Check it out at