nonfiction

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.

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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 goodreads.com.

Review of ‘Social Media Monsters: True Stories of Internet Killers’

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Social Media Monsters: True Stories of Internet Killers by R. J. Parker and J. J. Slate is a compendium of 33 stories about monsters who use the Internet to locate, lure, stalk, and exploit their victims. Many of these stories are about serial killers who have been with us for a long time, but who are now able to use the efficiency of social media sites and chat rooms to lure their victims to their deaths. The book also includes sections on how law enforcement is now using the Internet in their effort to solve, and even prevent, criminal activity, and a useful section on effective ways to protect yourself when using the Internet.

A compelling read that exposes an area of criminality that knows no boundaries, and which no one is safe from. After reading this book, you’ll think twice about accepting that ‘Friend’ request from a stranger. Must-reading for anyone who uses the Internet.

This is an easy five-star book.

Review of ‘The Dark Knight: Armchair Analysis’

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‘The Dark Knight,’ second in the trilogy of Batman films, was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the past few years—notably because it was Heath Ledger’s last film before his untimely death. Batman fans have probably killed many hours arguing over the film’s symbolism. In Dark Knight: Armchair Analysis by Film Philos, the author explores the characters and main themes of the movie in depth.

This is an interesting book, with some fascinating takes on the interplay between and among the main and supporting characters, and an excellent exploration of the many contrasting themes in the film. The analysis of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker and the dichotomy of Batman-Bruce Wayne are perhaps the best of all.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review—and, I have to confess that it’s difficult to be totally unbiased, because I’ve been a fan of Batman since reading Batman comics way back in the 50s and 60s. I found myself agreeing with the author’s analyses for the most part—except his view that Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s love interest, was a traditional ‘damsel in distress.’ My own view is that Rachel acted as a catalyst, both for Bruce Wayne and Arthur Dent, in that her death devastated Wayne and tipped Dent to the dark side. I also found a number of grammar errors (e.g., ‘Rachel whom ends up dead’) and misspellings that should have been caught in the proofreading stage. These small errors aside, the book was a great read, and anyone who reads it will have an advantage the next time there’s a Batman confab in the local gin mill.

I give it four stars for an otherwise excellent analysis, grammar and spelling notwithstanding.

Review of ‘The Billion Dollar Spy’

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The Billion Dollar Spy
by Pulitzer Prize winning author David E. Hoffman is a riveting tale of one of the CIA’s most successful espionage operations, conducted in the heart of the former USSR, right under the noses of the vaunted KGB. Based on unclassified CIA reports and interviews with individuals who were intimately involved, the story of Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer in one of the Soviet’s secret military labs, who voluntarily offered some of his country’s most closely-guarded secrets to the Americans, reads like fiction—but, it’s real.

Hoffman pieces together a compelling story of Tolkachev’s life and death, and the story of American spycraft during the early years of the CIA’s efforts to define its role in the life and death struggle between the two superpowers. He presents an in depth assessment of the CIA’s efforts to recruit and run spies inside the Soviet Union during a time when the prevailing notion in the U.S. was that this was an impossible task; when the agency was hamstrung by a dearth of experienced personnel, by bureaucratic impediments, and by betrayal within the ranks of our intelligence organization.

Using declassified documents, interviews, and a masterful way with words, Hoffman paints a sometimes depressing picture of American efforts to solve the problem of conducting effective spy operations in an oppressive state where every interaction was under the close scrutiny of one of the KGB, a state security apparatus that had honed its skills over decades under the hand of Stalin, and where every aspect of people’s lives was controlled by an oppressive state. It also shows how one man, a neophyte in the espionage world, but determined to overcome the strictures imposed by a regime he hated, was able to do what highly trained agents were unable to do—expose some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. Tolkachev’s life and death is presented in detail, and his final betrayal, not through the efforts of the KGB, but due to the betrayal of two of the most notorious traitors in American history, Edward Lee Howard, a CIA trainee washout seeking revenge against the CIA, and Aldrich Ames, the CIA’s most famous traitor, will leave the reader seething in anger and frustration.

This is past history; overtaken by the demise of the USSR and other world events that claim today’s headlines, but it is instructive nonetheless. It shows how bureaucracy and complacency can undermine the most carefully crafted plans, and the dangers when we allow preconceived beliefs and notions to lead us down dangerous paths.

This is a book that is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the dark days of the Cold War, and the battles that were fought out of the glare of media scrutiny. It is a fitting tribute to all the unknown heroes of an era that still defines the world we live in today.

I received a free copy of The Billion Dollar Spy as a gift, and though I had a long list of books to review, I happened to open this one out of curiosity. Once I started reading it, though, I found myself unable to stop until I reached the end. This is a history that is mostly unknown to the MTV/CNN generation, and that’s truly tragic, because these are the events that have shaped the world we live in today.

If you only have time to read one book before 2015 ends, this is the one I recommend.

 

Review of ‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’

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Furiously Happy is a funny book about horrible things. The author, Jenny Lawson suffers from clinical depression and a number of other emotional and physical ills, and after a serious bout of depression decided to combat it by being furiously happy. She tweeted about her experience, which started an immediate trend and won her a worldwide audience.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Instaread dissects Lawson’s book for the reader, summarizing the genesis of the book, and the stream-of-conscious style she uses that creates a book that is funny and poignant at the same time. This summary, which highlights the fact that Lawson’s technique of focusing on the high points in life can help raise the low points, and shows her celebrating her zaniness, will certainly make most readers want to know more.

A comprehensive list of references at the end of the summary is like icing on a tasty cake—it adds greatly to the value of an already valuable resource. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea’

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Most of us never stop to wonder where the dish we eat in some fancy restaurant comes from. What, for instance, does that dish of succulent shrimp in front of you have to do with murdered fishermen in Honduras or killer hurricanes on the Gulf coast?

In Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea, Kennedy Warne writes about the disappearance of the world’s mangrove forests, nearly impenetrable masses of trees and plants along some of our shorelines that serve as great breeding grounds for shrimp and other marine species. In easy-to-understand, nontechnical language, he shows how the rampant exploitation of these irreplaceable resources impacts peoples’ lives, local economies, and the global ecosphere. Warne details, in stark words, how the world’s fate is inextricably linked to the fate of the mangroves.

He gives you something to think about the next time you order a shrimp cocktail. Warne gets my five stars.

Review of The Total Money Makeover: by Dave Ramsey | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

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The Total Money Makeover: by Dave Ramsey | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Eureka Books is a summary of Dave Ramsey’s book outlining the 7 steps to financial security. This short guide to Ramsey’s work, which gives the baby steps he recommends for anyone desiring financial security, is a good stand-alone guide to financial wellbeing. I particularly like Ramsey’s seventh step: have fun, invest and do good with your wealth. The final section, giving some of the myths about money and moneymaking, are also very useful.

This has been one of the better—and most useful—Eureka Books I’ve read and reviewed. Like I said above, this book alone is a good brief road map to financial security, and it certainly makes me want to read Ramsey’s book.

Thank you Eureka Books. Easy five stars.