Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: What Are You Waiting For? by Kristen Moeller, M.S.

Stop Waiting. Start Living. 

Are you waiting for your "real" life to kick in? Are you always busy making other plans while constantly striving to improve yourself? 

Through candid stories and insightful lessons, writer and self-proclaimed "self-help junkie" Kristen Moeller helps us explore the pervasive human tendency to wait as life goes by and to look outside ourselves for answers. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." 

Kristen Moeller's mission in life is to inspire you to get on the path, move forward and take the shot. Everything you need for happiness and fulfillment is right inside of you.

Received for review.

The back cover made this sound like a good book but I was seriously disappointed.

This self-proclaimed "self-help junkie" didn't provide the reader with any new information at all.  She just offered up the same tired self-help suggestions that every other author does, while sprinkling in some personal stories of how "tough" it is to be so successful.

I really felt no connection to this rather shallow and unlikeable author.  Her stories were not inspiring in the least.  

There was some well worn advice she repeated that was thought provoking but it certainly wasn't life changing.

Overall this was a decent book but if you've read any self-improvement books then you'll most likely not find much new in this.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Author Q&A: John J. Berger Author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis

John J. Berger, author of the book Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis, stopped by for a Q&A.

What is the message of Climate Peril?

Climate Peril shows how grave the climate crisis is—the tremendous price that we’ve already paid and are going to pay in terms of human and environmental health and socioeconomic well being, and how pervasive the increasingly adverse climate impacts are across many different ecosystems and natural resources.

The present is already deeply alarming: the oceans are rising at an accelerating rate and acidifying; ice is melting in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic and in Antarctica. Extreme weather and fires are on the upsurge. The Amazon and other tropical rain forests are beginning to dry out.  Frozen permafrost holding 1.9 trillion tons of carbon is beginning to melt in the Arctic. Millions of people have already been sickened or died from the effects of the rapid climate change we’ve had so far.  But the future is even more menacing.  If current emissions trends continue, we are heading straight toward temperatures in 2100 that haven’t been seen on this planet in 5 million years. We cannot allow Earth’s temperature to rise to levels that only prevailed long before humans even existed.

Even the so-called safe temperature increase of 2° C would be hotter than at any time in the past 800,000 years. That will drive the Earth’s climate past various tipping points that could trigger irreversible climate feedbacks.  We don’t yet know enough about the exact temperatures at which these triggers will fire and deliver uncontrollable additional warming.

Absent that knowledge, we are currently conducting a totally unprecedented and reckless experiment with the Earth’s climate.  Climate Peril shows what we’ve already done to the Earth and makes clear that we are heading rapidly towards a climate catastrophe.  One of the most important take-aways from the book is that the 2° C safe warming threshold we often hear about is really not an absolute guarantee of safety, and that we really don’t have much time left to change course in energy and environmental policy, given how vast the changes required of us are.

In the book that follows Climate Peril, a book titled Climate Solutions, I outline the policies that I believe are necessary to address the climate problem as effectively as possible by weaving together energy and transportation with agricultural and forestry programs that, taken together, will arrest the growth of emissions and begin to reduce the burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The primary goal of the book is to show how we can combine protection of the climate with economic policies that bring full employment and a just, sustainable economy.

What can you say about the role of science writing and journalism in the movement to restore and protect the Earth. What can writers do that adds to the work of the ecologists and other scientists?

I believe that science writers, like translators, are vital to communicating complicated ideas of science into language the public can understand.  This creates a larger bloc of people who really understand climate issues and the choices that have to made about them.  Science writers understand the methods and language of science and ideally are able to convey it more simply and clearly in ways that are more interesting to people without specialized backgrounds.

One way they do this is to humanize the issue by writing stories in which scientists are protagonists portrayed as characters overcoming obstacles in a saga of discovery. Science writers also sometimes focus on the human implications of research, for example the child cured of asthma by a new medicine or a wetland restored by the ecologist or hydrologist who understands how nature operates and therefore can write a prescription for repairing it.

In that sense, science writers can highlight good work that can then serve as a model for others to follow. The science journalist can also synthesize and correlate important field observations and bring new scientific and investigative findings to light, as Rachel Carson did with the harmful effects of DDT. Cynics would have us believe that bringing truth to light and expecting change is na├»ve, but dispelling lies and inaccurate information was essential for controlling pesticides and tobacco and thereby protecting public health. It is equally or more important for science writers to dispel the lies and misinformation that are now so current about climate change so that public officials and leaders have accurate information on which to base climate policy. The information itself is not sufficient to bring sound policies—hard political organizing is necessary—but honest information is a necessary prerequisite.

What would you say to those concerned about the scalability of renewable energy technologies to people who say it can help on a small scale but won’t replace oil or coal anytime soon given our standard of living in the West.

If you look at the magnitude of the renewable energy resources and their declining costs and versatility and increasing adoption rates along with the still-extensive opportunities for increased energy efficiency, you can’t help but see that renewables have the capacity to meet very large energy demands indeed. Our wind resources alone are far greater than our electrical demand. There are huge untapped solar resources in the southwestern deserts of the U.S. and northern Mexico and on rooftops throughout much of the nation.  We also have important geothermal and biomass resources and new technology is emerging to harness wave energy. Hydroelectricity has been an important resource for generations. The main obstacle to the wider use of renewables is political rather than technological. I explain my views on renewables in some detail in previous books like, Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy and What It Means for America (University of California Press) and in Beating the Heat: How and Why We Must Combat Global Warming (Berkeley Hills Books) and in “Renewable Energy Sources as a Response to Climate Change” a chapter I wrote for Climate Change Policy (Island Press), a volume edited by the late Stephen H. Schneider and others.

What are some of the best ways ordinary people can get involved in helping our environment and transforming our energy systems? I know you’ve talked about that in Restoring the Earth (Knopf, Doubleday Dell).  What would you say people and policymakers should do that would be practical and have an impact? By the way, we’re an international magazine and plenty of our readers are non-Western (India, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, etc.) Would you have different thoughts and suggestions for them? I know the condition of the planet affects everyone!

As you noted, whole books have been written on these questions. The answers vary a great deal depending on the nature of the problem, location, and the conditions surrounding it.  I’ll mention a few general principles first and then some more specific ideas.

First let me address the policy question.  Many constructive steps can be taken.  We need to phase out all public subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries and impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels. This will make fossil fuel use progressively less competitive and will provide revenue that can be used to build a renewable energy economy. The burning of fossil fuels is the main problem, and the use of nuclear power is not a cost-effective way of replacing them. We need to give producers of nonpolluting power generous long-term energy production tax credits to make clean energy even more profitable to producers and to help them in securing long-term financing. The use of coal power without carbon sequestration has to be phased out as quickly as possible and renewable energy R&D needs to be scaled up. The destruction of forests and wetlands needs to be stopped globally and policies need to be implemented in agriculture to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

In the U.S. we need a comprehensive national energy plan aimed at nothing less than a total transformation of our national energy system.  It needs to include a steadily increasing national renewable energy requirement, the electrification of the transportation system, more and better energy storage technologies, and modernization of our electric transmission system and its reorientation to enable our remote renewable energy resources to provide their abundant power to major urban markets.  Furthermore, it needs to be designed in the context of a domestic full employment and economic revitalization plan aimed at creating a sustainable and more equitable society, so that ordinary people will both benefit from, and vigorously support the plan.  Calls for such a program initially have to come from below, from organized but ordinary working people.. Pressure will work its way gradually upward from this base to put powerful pressure on those in power at the top.

In terms of personal action, each person has different gifts and passions. We each need to do something that makes best use of our talents and determination not to stand by while the Earth and the climate are abused.  I don’t live in Eastern Europe or in a developing nation in Asia or the Southern Hemisphere so I’m not sure I’m in a position to advise people in those societies.

These are some general thoughts mainly for the U.S., although some may apply elsewhere. Fundamentally, protecting the climate is a large and complex issue.  Trying to work alone can be overwhelming, so work with others. Find organizations whose concerns you share and volunteer with them or support them in any way you can.  On a personal level, we can all try to avoid wasting energy and resources, and we can be conscientious when we shop or invest so we support companies that are trying to behave in environmentally and socially responsible ways, for example by observing Fair Trade practices and using renewable energy. We can also read widely and educate ourselves about climate problems, share our knowledge with others, and become involved in the political process.

The least we can do is exercise our right to vote, a right people fought and died for.  Yet almost half the American electorate doesn’t even bother to vote in presidential elections.  Far fewer vote in off-year elections. Less than 56% of those eligible voted in the 2012 presidential context.  People under 30 were even less engaged—about half of them didn’t vote.  My suggestion is, don’t fail to vote!  And during campaigns, support candidates who are working for climate protection, safe energy, economic justice, and truly representative democracy. When elections are over, demand meaningful action on climate change from your political representatives.  Let these powerful people know what your concerns are and that you will absolutely not support them—and will discourage others from voting for them—if they fail to stand up for climate protection, the environment, and the public good.  Don’t accept “no” for an answer.  Recruit others to join you in political action and organizing.  Support new candidates who understand the problems and what needs to be done.  Use people power to create a groundswell of political pressure for change.

Change comes from the bottom up. We may not have the financial support of wealthy corporations or major donors, but millions of people do care about the Earth and the climate. We need to find and connect with them to build a politically powerful base for change. Don’t forget to also commend leaders when they do the right thing. They also very much need encouragement and support.

I believe there is still reason for hope, but that we are perilously close to irreversible climate change that will trigger uncontrollable global warming.  We don’t know precisely how close we are—no one has a year and a date—but scientists at the prestigious Hadley Research in the UK have said that if we continue on our present course, it could happen as early as the middle of this century.  That’s less than 40 years from now and probably within your lifetime.

In terms of the rapidly rising carbon content of the atmosphere and the rising global average temperature, we are clearly close to the point at which, for example, we finish melting the Arctic sea ice, destroy the Amazon rain forest, release more carbon from permafrost, and possibly oxidize the massive Indonesian peatlands, putting so much carbon into the air that the strength of the ensuing positive feedbacks overwhelms anything we could conceivably do to counteract these powerful natural forces. The hour is very late to begin making the dauntingly vast and pervasive changes in energy production and use, along with the far-reaching land use changes required to rapidly and definitively set global emissions on a downward trajectory. The work that needs to be done is so enormous in scope and scale that the prospect is absolutely sobering, but I believe it is still conceivable to accomplish.

On the daunting side, population is still growing toward 9 billion; global energy demand is climbing; global oil and gas exploration and development is booming—including production of highly polluting tar sands and oil shales and oil and gas drilling in fragile frontier locations. Trillions of dollars have been committed worldwide to the fossil fuel energy and transportation enterprise. The quicker we change over to clean energy systems, the more of that infrastructure will have to be retired before it wears out. The large corporations holding those assets will resist that with everything they’ve got and will mobilize their lobbyists and pull all the financial strings that large campaign contributors hold to control Congressional representatives.  (It’s important to note, however, that some fossil fuel plants are old and have already been fully amortized.  Their outputs can readily and economically be replaced without much controversy by renewable facilities and by greater investment in energy efficiency.)

Meanwhile, construction of the needed renewable energy facilities and new transportation technologies is not going to be a walk in the park.  Expanding the electric grid involves jurisdictional issues and building new renewable energy facilities requires time-consuming environmental studies, permits, and battles over rights of way.  Better and less costly energy storage facilities are needed to compensate for the intermittency of some renewable technologies.  Better batteries are needed for electric vehicles.  Then people will take time to adapt to new vehicles and modes of transport. Less expensive biofuels with fewer environmental impacts need to be mass produced.  Forests, wetlands, and prairies that naturally sequester carbon in soils need to be protected, enhanced, and restored; global agricultural practices need to be improved to reduce their emissions.  A lot needs to happen very, very quickly.

On the encouraging side, the nation and the world have the natural resources, the scientific knowledge, the collective economic might, and the energy technologies to deal with the extraordinary global crisis we face.  When faced with epochal threats like Pearl Harbor and World War Two, the U.S. pulled together and rose to the occasion.  Once political leaders really fully grasp that we are in the midst of a global emergency with everything ultimately at stake and no time to waste, then they will finally get that we must slash carbon emissions and create a worldwide renewable energy economy. From that point, the shift will begin to accelerate and—if climate change has not by that time begun to undermine our economy—the creation of the new energy economy will revitalize the global economy. Then as new jobs materialize and emissions fall, the process will inspire new hope for a sustainable future.

To accomplish this, our greatest challenge is develop the political will as a nation and as a family of nations to take the bold and far-reaching actions that are absolutely necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect the climate, human life, and the environment that sustains us.

We don’t have time any more to lament the situation or make excuses for inaction.  Everyone can do something.  We need all hands on deck.  Be determined. Fight the good fight.  Do something, no matter how insignificant you may think it is. Chances are you have more power and influence than you think. Millions of other people are out there who already silently agree with you. They will stand up if you do.  Use your power.  Amazing and tremendous things have been done and will be done by committed individuals.

About the book:

In an easily accessible work of enormous scope and depth, John J. Berger vividly evokes the looming hazards of a warmer world. Based on the latest climate science, Climate Peril reveals that the impacts of climate change on our health, economy, and environment are far worse--and more imminent--than many realize. The book identifies the obstacles to climate protection and shows why steep and unprecedented--yet affordable--cuts in greenhouse gases are needed now to avert a global climate catastrophe. Climate Peril portrays the radically altered world we will create in 2100 A.D. if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and documents the rapid and unnatural climate change already taking place. The book explores all major consequences of climate change, especially its astonishing impacts on the economy, human health, other species, and the oceans. Among other awesome risks, Climate Peril describes the billions of tons of carbon lurking in ocean seabeds and thawing permafrost and the global danger of crossing an invisible threshold beyond which catastrophic climate changes become inevitable. While its conclusions are alarming, Climate Peril is above all a realistic and authoritative book that you can use to better understand how climate change may affect you and your family. Climate Peril is the second of a three book series. Volume 1, Climate Myths, focused on the political campaign waged against climate science, and volume 3, Climate Solutions (forthcoming), shows how to create a climate-safe world by radically transforming global energy, transportation, and land use practices.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets 

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets. 

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places. 

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time. 

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

Received for review.

While I'm not normally into fiction set in the South this had an interesting premise that  promised to be quite entertaining.

As I got deeper into the book I found myself disliking the characters more and more.  Izzy and Dollbaby were whiny and annoying while Queenie was a bully.  The only interesting character was Fannie who, of course, was mentally ill.

This was also incredibly difficult to read since Queenie and Izzy and every other black character simply refused to speak real English.  It was seriously as bad as listening to Scarlett's maid in Gone With the Wind and her constant exclamations of "Lawdy, Miss Scarlett!".  The complete lack of any sort of grammar was distracting enough to detract from any tiny bit of enjoyment I had while reading.

The story itself was interesting and, I suppose, thought provoking for those who are still fighting the Civil War.  Granted, it was set in the 1960s so the characters were quite stereotyped, but I just wasn't impressed, especially since the author constantly harped on the whole "white people are rich and unstable while black people are poor but actually better morally" theme.

Overall the story was interesting but the characters just ruined it for me.  However, if you're a fan of Southern fiction with a similar theme, such as The Help, then you will probably enjoy this as well.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Guest Post: David Rountree author of Demon Street

David Rountree, author of the book Demon Street, stopped by to share with us a piece he wrote.

About the book:

A summoning gone awry leads to problems for Penelope, who is driven from her home by phantom parties, a dancing stove, and a wave of demonic force that tosses her around like a ragdoll

Looking for help, she turns to her friend Robbie Lunt, who brings her to David Rountree, a Lakota shaman. Robbie and David embark on a whirlwind journey of learning, racing against time, visiting sites of spiritual power, and acquiring artifacts and allies in their quest to exorcise the evil before it can seriously injure someone--or worse.

David and Robbie's mission to banish the demon culminates in an astonishing psychic battle on Halloween night.

Demon Street, USA is a forewarning to those who would explore the paranormal. Evil exists--but it can be battled and won!

About the author:

David Rountree, AES, has been researching the paranormal since 1976.

He is the executive director of SPIRIT LAB, a scientific research organization based in Hackettstown, New Jersey, where he lives.

He has become a fixture in the paranormal world as the authority on the technology of ghost hunting with his book Paranormal Technology.

As a balance to his scientific side, David is also a shaman who practices wolf medicine.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Book: Death By Probability by Urno Barthel

About the book:

A prim and pristine research lab isn’t the type of place where murders are supposed to happen – but it may just be the place where the brutal crime is solved. When Evan Olsson finds his mentor’s bloody body sprawled on the floor of a top-secret computer research lab, the sanctity of this cloistered, clandestine world is shattered. Who would, or could, do such a thing – and why? Evan enlists the help of a reluctant FBI partner and every computer science and nanotechnology tool in his arsenal to unravel the mystery. But Evan’s quest leads him to uncover a potentially catastrophic hacker plot that threatens the U.S. and Canadian electrical power network and the millions relying on it. Death by Probability is a genre-bending tour de force that weaves in technology and fringe science, friendship and romance, computer intelligence and human frailty for a riveting read that builds to a fast-paced climax. Crafted by physicist-turned-author Urno Barthel, the book is a delight for those who enjoy technology and science fiction, as well as mystery buffs who revel in plausible stories and fully formed characters that pull them seamlessly into another, thrilling realm.

About the author:

Urno Barthel is the pen name of Art Chester, a physicist turned technology manager turned writer. His characters are based on real scientists whose quiet lives are disrupted by terror and murder. Art invites you to his website, which offers commentary about science in our lives, and fiction about scientists: After many years in Malibu, California, Art now spends his time in Michigan, New York state and Hawaii.

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Review: The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

The intrepid Edie Kiglatuk discovers one of her female students dead in a toxic lake in her third arctic mystery 

In the third novel in this highly praised mystery series that will appeal to fans of The Killing, Top of the Lake, and The Bridge, Edie Kiglatuk works as a summer school teacher in the Canadian arctic. When one of her female students is found dead in nearby Lake Turngaluk, Edie enlists the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser to pursue the case, promising the girl’s Inuit family that they will uncover the truth. Meanwhile, lawyer Sonia Gutierrez investigates the toxicity of the lake and suspects that there might be a larger conspiracy involved. As the three clamber over rocky terrain under twenty-four-hour daylight they start to unearth secrets long frozen over—risking their own lives in the process. With stunning prose, M. J. McGrath delivers another thrill ride through a hauntingly beautiful landscape.

Received for review.

I have to say that I knew virtually nothing about life in the Canadian Arctic before I read this and it really opened my eyes to what a cruel, hard life it is, even in modern times.  

There were quite a few unfamiliar words, including many place names, which slowed down my reading rather significantly at first but I quickly became accustomed to them and they were no longer an issue after the first few chapters.

The mystery was interesting, as were the characters.  I can't say that I truly connected with any of the characters but they had a feel to them that I really liked.  They, and the story, actually reminded me quite a bit of the show The Killing (the U.S. version).  It just had that inexplicable feel to it that was oddly soothing for a book of this type.

This is the third of a series so it's best if you start at the beginning but this is an excellent stand alone novel as well.  You may miss a few things if you haven't read the first two books but there's nothing critical that takes away from the plot.

I definitely highly recommend this to mystery fans looking for something different.  The unique setting and characters make for a very interesting read which you are sure to enjoy.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: A Pinch of Ooh La La by Renee Swindle

To get to happily ever after, sometimes you need to start from scratch.... 

Abbey Ross, who runs her own bakery in Oakland, California, is known for her visually stunning wedding cakes. But lately, Abbey’s own love life has become stale. According to her best friend, Bendrix, Abbey’s not the spontaneous young woman she was when they were teenagers listening to the Cure and creating attention-grabbing graffiti. Of course, her failed relationship with a womanizing art forger might have something to do with that. Nevertheless, it’s time for Abbey to step out of the kitchen—and her comfort zone—and Bendrix has even handpicked a man for her to date. 

Samuel Howard is everything Abbey’s dreamed of: handsome, successful, and looking to raise a family. But a creamy icing might be needed to hide a problem or two. When Samuel complains about disrespect for the institution of marriage, Abbey’s reminded of her nontraditional family, with thirteen children from various mothers. And when Samuel rails about kids having kids, Abbey thinks of her twenty-year-old sister who’s recently revealed her pregnancy. 

Soon Abbey is facing one disaster after another and struggling to make sense of it all. Her search for love has led her down a bitter path, but with the help of her unique family and unwavering friends, she just might find the ooh la la that makes life sweet. 

Received for review.

This is pretty standard Chick Lit with a woman desperately wanting a husband and children because her biological clock is ticking.  And, of course, she runs a bakery.  If you add in a murder this could be any number of cozy mystery books.

What sets this (a bit) apart is that Abbey goes around spray painting buildings.  She seems to take some sort of joy in it.  Frankly, I almost liked her until she started with that nonsense.  I mean, really, she's in her mid-thirties and she should know better by then that graffiti is inappropriate.  I was actually glad when she had to pay for her actions.  Graffiti is not art it is a destruction of property that is just plain wrong.  I'm not entirely sure why the author thinks that promoting destruction of property is a good idea, but at least she had the good sense to have Abbey face the consequences of her actions.

In any case, with the thirty something main character, her gay best friend, and her bakery this is rather formulaic Chick Lit.  There's nothing particularly endearing about it but it isn't outright bad either.  It just left me feeling rather neutral but you're a fan of Chick Lit then you'll certainly enjoy this. 

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Book: A Beacon of Its Forms: A Manifesto Drawn from the Deeds of Bob Marshall

About the book:

Depending on one's definition of a political form, this book is either utopia or manifesto. The literary critic, Fredric Jameson, has described utopian thinkers as tinkers in a workshop of the imagination. As such, this book delves into the fantasy that new and different political and social and cultural and economic forms can be experienced and lived. This book provides a vision that unites environmentalism with some form of leftist economics and politics: an eco-socialist or eco-collectivist vision of the future. But it draws from the past, most specifically from the life and works of a U.S. Forest Service manager named Bob Marshall. Marshall had been employed by the U.S. government in the 1920s and 1930s, where besides engaging in wilderness advocacy, he worked for the advancement of civil rights and the legitimacy of labor unions. This protean commitment of content determines the hybrid form of this book. It is both poetry and prose, a prosimetrum that seeks to combine fancy and reality.

About the author:

Leonard Gigliobianco has been writing poetry for three decades. A book of poetry, "Your Words" has been published by Outskirts Press.

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Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You 

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story. 

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. 

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

Received for review.

I've become quite the Jojo Moyes fan lately and was excited to discover that her latest book was out.  She writes absolutely perfect beach reads and this was no different.

This was such a fun book since it was written from the perspectives of all the characters in turn.  It was so unique and entertaining to read what each character was thinking and really get inside their head as the story progressed.

The whole idea of a road trip with a woman, her two eccentric kids, their dog, and an annoying rich dude was just so awesome to begin with and their adventures were so upbeat and funny.  I could seriously see this as a movie, it was that rich and entertaining, probably starring Adam Sandler.

This sweet, funny, thoroughly enjoyable read was absolutely perfect for summer and I definitely highly, highly recommend it.  This is truly a must for every bag bound for the beach this summer.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Featured Book: The Unusual Class of '55 by Gypsy Jostes

About the book:

The Unusual Class Of ‘55 is a story about high school life in the mid-fifties with a very unusual twist. 

A catastrophic condition the class found itself in, caused them to unite in a sociological phenomenon experiment that may never be repeated: the class took control of its own education. 

The work is also a documentation of high school life in the fifties that can be compared with high school life today. 

In just six decades bad behavior changed from chewing gum to carrying a gun. 

This is an unusual book with an unusual story written by an unusual author sprinkled with some very unusual brain sneezes.

About the author:

Gypsy Jostes was born at a very early age. He was an outstanding student generally out standing in the hallway... (Enough with the old jokes) Gypsy graduated from the Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, Missouri. And he started his forty-three-year career with the Otis Elevator Company, working from jobs on high steel to the supervision level. He never lost the lesson he learned while in High School: Have fun and enjoy life. The highlight of his working years was the three years he lived and worked in Shanghai, China, helping to start a new company. He courted his future wife (Anne) by flying his airplane each weekend to Columbia, Missouri, where she lived. They were married after about three dates and have been married fifty-three years and counting. They have four children: Bud, Randall, HollyLu and Chris, and nine grandchildren. Gypsy has been published in two short stories: “In Quest of It” in the BIG MUDDY, a Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, and “Goose Wars” in the Farm & Ranch Living magazine.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Book: Phantom Panthers by David Shultz

About the book:

Two World War II German Panther tanks that have been ordained with the Order of the Teutonic Knights are liberated from a watery mausoleum.

In an Occult ritual administered by the top-secret Geheimnisvolle Korps gives them supernatural powers that make them impervious to harm. 

If the Phantom Panthers do not partake in the Ritual of Resurrection, their super natural power could result in an international incident that could be the start of World War III.

About the author:

Dave “The Tankman” Shultz is a Vietnam veteran that is a Machinist by trade, a Manufacturing Engineer by profession and a wanna be entrepreneur. His latest project, he has developed radio controlled Panther tanks to give this SyFy action adventure story the potential to be adapted into an exciting film commodity.

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Review: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

A war bride awaits the arrival of her GI husband at the platform… 

A Holocaust survivor works at the Oyster Bar, where a customer reminds him of his late mother… 

A Hollywood hopeful anticipates her first screen test and a chance at stardom in the Kissing Room

On any particular day, thousands upon thousands of people pass through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, through the whispering gallery, beneath the ceiling of stars, and past the information booth and its beckoning four-faced clock, to whatever destination is calling them. It is a place where people come to say hello and good-bye. And each person has a story to tell. 

Now, ten bestselling authors inspired by this iconic landmark have created their own stories, set on the same day, just after the end of World War II, in a time of hope, uncertainty, change, and renewal…. 

Received for review.

I'm a big fan of short story compilations since they're so fast to read and it's satisfying to finish an entire story in a single sitting.  Having visited Grand Central Terminal in New York City several times made this even more fun to read since I could really connect with the setting.

Each of the ten stories had its own unique twist on the theme and it was fun to see all the stories unfolding on a single day.  It really made me think about all the stories of all the people who pass through that terminal in a single day.

All the stories were very good but I think my favorite was Pam Jenoff's Strand of Pearls.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking and completely satisfying.

I highly recommend this lovely collection of stories from very talented authors. 

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: East India by Colin Falconer

In any other circumstance but shipwreck, rape and murder, a man like Michiel van Texel would never have met a fine lady such as Cornelia Noorstrandt.

He was just a soldier, a sergeant in the Dutch East India company’s army, on his way from Amsterdam to the Indies to fight the Mataram. Such a woman was far above the likes of him.

But both their destinies intertwine far away from Holland, on some god-forsaken islands near the Great Southland. When their great ship, the Utrecht, founders far from home, surviving the Houtman Rocks is the least of their worries.

As they battle to survive and the bravest and the best reveal themselves for what they are, Cornelia’s only hope is a mercenary in a torn coat who shows her that a man is more than just manners and money.

He makes her one promise: ‘Even if God forsakes you, I will find you.’

But can he keep it?

Described by one critic as ‘Jack and Rose in the seventeenth century’, East India will keep you wondering until the final page.

Received for review.

This was my first book by the author and I have to say that I was impressed enough that I would certainly read his future releases.

I am probably in the minority but I did not actually like Cornelia.  She was, frankly, a nasty, horrible woman who reminded me of a certain hotel heiress and I was actually a little bit disappointed when she did not suffer the same fate as many of her shipmates.  Alas, she survived long enough to fall in love with a lowly soldier (who could have done much better for himself than the snotty Cornelia).  I really cannot imagine how one could possibly compare their "love" to Jack and Rose on the Titanic.

The characters were incredibly well written - otherwise I would never been able to dislike Cornelia quite so much.  I really liked how the author made them feel so genuine.  Christiaan's development as a character was dealt with beautifully and it just felt so real.  The behavior of the castaways was even more spine chilling in that it is based on real events.

With his admirable writing skills the author transports you back into the horror of the situation and holds you there, breathless, until the final page.  I definitely recommend this to historical fiction fans who are sure to appreciate the level of detail and historical accuracy provided.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Book: Impressions and Memories by Thomas Noel Smith

About the book:

In Impressions and Memories, poet Thomas Smith draws on a wide array of inspirations and reflections to create a collection of poems that speak to the song burning deep within each of us. 

Using the rhythm, melody, and language of traditional poetic forms, these verses distill the essence of daily experience, from the beauty of the world around us to the poignant nostalgia of cherished memories. 

Lyrical and thoughtful, deeply felt and broadly accessible, Impressions and Memories will remind you of the richness and wonder of the world around you, and give you a moment of healing calm to refresh your spirit.

About the author:

Thomas Smith grew up as an “army brat.” He lived in France and Germany, as well as several different states. His interest in the arts developed early. He performed as a magician, and attended Ringling Brothers Clown College. He traveled for two years with a small one-ring circus as a professional clown. Thomas earned a degree in English from the University of Tampa; a degree in theatre from the University of South Florida; and an MA in directing from Chicago College of Performing Arts. Currently, he is a film actor in Florida. In addition to writing, Thomas’ interests include exploring his Irish heritage. He is currently learning Gaelic, and hopes to visit the land of his ancestors.

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Review: Bianca's Vineyard by Teresa Neumann

Bianca Corrotti's vineyard is more than a piece of mouth-watering real estate in Tuscany.

It's an inheritance; a storehouse harboring the secrets of her Uncle Egisto, a world-class sculptor, and his troubled wife -- a woman whose destiny converges with Mussolini's when WWII overtakes them all.

Based on a true story, Bianca's Vineyard follows a devoted family of strong-willed men and lion-hearted women waging an epic battle against a gathering storm intent on destroying their lives.

Received for review.

I wanted to like this as it sounded quite intriguing from the description and I liked how it was based on a real family but it was a bit of a disappointment.

From the very beginning this was incredibly slow moving.  I didn't look forward to picking it up again after taking a break from it, and finishing it was an absolute chore.  It was just so boring and drawn out.  It felt like watching the scenes set in Italy from Godfather movies with all the good parts cut out.  It was all just endless, mind numbing details with very little actual action.

The setting was interesting but the characters were, again, boring.  They didn't feel well rounded and I, frankly, didn't care one way or another about them or their fates.  By the time I slogged my way to the end I was actually beginning to resent the sheer number of characters that I needed to keep track of.

Unless you really, really like fiction set in WWII Italy I really cannot recommend this.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Review: Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

A New York Times Editor's Choice 

1924. George Mallory is arguably the last great British explorer, having twice tried—and failed—to conquer Mount Everest. The mountain has haunted him, but his attempts have captivated the hearts of a nation desperate to restore its former glory after World War I. Yet George has sworn to his wife, Ruth, that he will not mount a third attempt. He will remain with her and their three children instead of again challenging the unreachable peak. 

Then, one afternoon, Ruth reads a telegram addressed to George: “Glad to have you aboard again.” And with this one sentence, the lives of the Mallorys, and the face of the nation, are irrevocably changed. 

A beautifully rendered story about the need for redemption and the quest for glory, Above All Things is a captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction. It is a heartbreaking tale of obsession, sacrifice, and what we do for love and honor.

Received for review.

I have to admit that initially I was a bit confused, and even irritated at points, that the story was told from three different perspectives - that of Mallory himself, his wife Ruth, and another climber Sandy.  It really seemed like overkill at first but by a few chapters in I got used to it and things went smoothly from there.

This was a lovely blend of historical fact and fiction.  It was truly difficult to believe that it was not all fact by the way the author beautifully handles the material.  She skillfully show us George's determination and Ruth's heartbreaks and struggles.  Sandy's story didn't do as much for me but it was still interesting and added a new dimension to the book as a whole.

What I found especially interesting was that the group climbed without the sophisticated technology and climbing gear available today.  These men actually climbed the mountain on their own power.  It really made me look at the people who climb Everest now as almost cheating as they use oxygen and specialty gear.  It's an interesting new perspective that I hadn't really thought about before this book.  

Overall this was a fascinating read which provided a fresh new look into the people behind the history.  I highly, highly recommend it.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield. 

Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room. 

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them. 

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer. 

Received for review.

I never did read the author's first novel, The Borrowers, so I wasn't sure what to expect with this one despite the excellent recommendations it had.  I was a tiny bit disappointed.

The story was interesting and I liked the idea of going back in time to discover the secrets of the house and its inhabitants but I just couldn't connect with the characters.  Zee is so typically a whiny rich brat who claims to hate her parents being incredibly rich but still has them funding her lifestyle.  She actually reminded me of Piper from Orange is the New Black.  Whiny and rich and completely clueless that her life is actually not as bad as she claims it is.  Actually, her husband, Doug is significantly more likable despite his many flaws.  At least he had some depth to him.

So, while the story itself is interesting and its presentation unique, the characters don't do much for it.  It's worth a try though, especially if you are a fan of the author's first book.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Treat Yourself by Jennifer Stainhauer

If you grew up on corner-store treats, memory lane is paved with Ho Hos, Yodels, Oreos, and Ring Dings. And while your taste buds may have grown up a bit, chances are you still crave these classic flavors. Now you can re-create the lunch-box delights that made you the envy of other kids, with all-natural homemade versions.

After much obsessing and experimentation, Jennifer Steinhauer has cracked the code for 70 iconic treats to re-create in your own kitchen. There are cookies with a perfect crunchy base for cream filling, snack cakes with frosting so thick you can peel it off all at once, candies dipped in chocolate and dusted with sugar, and ice cream pops so juicy that they drip down your arm. A self-taught baker, Jennifer had no interest in complicated techniques or chemical gunk, just easy hacks that break down and remaster these throwback snacks.

So go ahead—treat yourself to your own homemade version of these favorites:

• Samoas, Pecan Sandies, Chips Ahoy!, and other classic cookies
• Nutter Butters, Mint Milanos, Oatmeal Creme Pies, and other sweet sandwich cookies
• Twinkies, Drake’s Coffee Cakes, Devil Dogs, and other snack cakes
• Fig Newtons, Lemon Mini-Pies, Strawberry Pop-Tarts, and other fruity, filled treats
• Soft Pretzels, Pizza Pockets, Funyuns, and other salty, savory snacks
• Cracker Jacks, Goo Goo Clusters, Candy Dots, and other candy favorites
• Orange Creamsicles, Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Pops, Nutty Buddies, and other frozen treats

Received for review.

I adore cookbooks and I simply could not pass up this one featuring beloved snacks.

I knew I'd love this book as soon as I saw recipes for both Samoas and Thin Mints in the very first chapter. As a Girl Scout cookie addict I almost fainted from joy! Then I discovered the Drake's Coffee Cakes recipe in a later chapter and almost fainted again! I was also happy to come across recipes for Fritos and Cheez-Its. I was very impressed with the sheer variety of recipes offered from sweet to savory.

I love that almost every recipe has a lovely photograph of the treat which is a huge bonus so you know what to aim for when you're making your own.

If you've ever lovingly (and longingly) remembered a Pudding Pop or Twinkie then this is the book for you. It would also make a lovely gift. I definitely highly, highly recommend this!

★★★★★ = Loved It

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Featured Book: If These Trees Could Only Talk by Theodore L. Kazimiroff

About the book:

Ever wished for a “read”, intense and compelling, with life and death adventures? Add characters with real emotions and personalities that “ring true.” Here is an amazing journey of mind and spirit, bound to get your blood racing. You will vicariously experience fear, pain, even death, at the hands of real villains. Here is the “Catharsis” Aristotle defined as the necessary goal of “drama.” What makes this story so different? It is real! The Earth-shattering cataclysms, blizzards of Ice age proportions, invasions, piracy, theft of homeland, wars and much more have all happened. Through a prequel, the author of the highly acclaimed book The Last Algonquin takes us on a virtual safari to the dawn of time, and forward to the near present. The world of the Algonquin natives springs alive: Kazimiroff leads us through a New York City park where ancient as well as more modern history is still evident. Experience the Indians’ rise and fall, the colonial era and modern times through a series of interrelated first-person stories, events and anecdotes. The author was raised and taught Indian lore, history, woodsmanship and survival skills in Pelham Bay Park, The Bronx, which is actually the largest by far of all New York’s public parks. The book includes maps and a self-guided multi-disciplinary walking tour which is separate from the official “Kazimiroff Nature Trail.” Go! Stand in the foot-print of a malicious devil. Listen for the “spirit voices” on the wind, and study the many natural sciences available in the protected sanctuaries of this park treasure. Whatever you do, enjoy your park as the unique heritage it certainly is.

About the author:

Theodore L. Kazimiroff, BA, MS, CH, prefers being called “Ted”. Ted is retired from teaching in the New York City Public school system. His specialty was the identification, motivation and instruction of gifted and talented students. He served proudly in the United States Army as an artilleryman and guided missile specialist, both here and at several overseas duty posts. Ted’s interests run the gamut from A for archaeology to Z for zoology, and in this regard he has followed his father’s footsteps. Fishing, boating and skin diving have always been favorite activities. He was a certified skin diving instructor from 1957 on, and taught S.C.U.B.A diving at the Y. M.C.A. He belongs to the Golden Key National Honor Society for academic excellence, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans. At present he is exploring a very old Spanish wreck in the Caribbean Sea with high hopes of salvaging treasure, or at least some lobsters.

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Review: Writing with the Master by Tony Vanderwarker

With seven unpublished novels wasting away on his hard drive, Tony Vanderwarker is astonished when John Grisham offers to take him under his wing and teach him the secrets of thriller writing. “The beginning and the end are easy,” Grisham tells him. “It’s the three hundred pages in the middle that’s the hard part.” 

To ensure his plot doesn’t run out of gas, Grisham puts Tony though his outline process. Tony does one, and then Grisham asks for another … and another … and another. As they work together, Grisham reveals the techniques that have helped him create compelling bestsellers for more than two decades—for instance, “You’ve got to hook your reader in the first forty pages or you’ll lose them.” After a year of constructing outlines, Grisham finally gives Tony the go-ahead to start writing. 

Writing with the Master immerses the reader in the creative process as Tony struggles to produce a successful thriller. It’s a roller coaster ride, sometimes hilarious, and often full of ups and downs. Grisham’s critiques and margin notes to Tony reveal his nimble imagination and plot development genius. For Grisham fans, Vanderwarker’s memoir pulls back the curtain on his writing secrets, and for aspiring writers, it’s a master class in thriller writing. 

In the end, Tony resolves to take Grisham’s teachings to heart and eventually decides to write what he thinks he was meant to: a book about the creative process and his incredible two years working with John Grisham.

Received for review.

I'm not the biggest fan of John Grisham's latest books but I loved A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, and The Firm so I simply had to read this.

The important thing to note is that this is not really about John Grisham at all, it's about the author's experiences with him and his reactions to Grisham's input.  As such it was a bit disappointing.  

This wasn't bad or anything but it was a bit on the whiny side.  The author constantly whined about Grisham's input and how tough it was to write.  It was hard to sympathize with a rich guy writing as a hobby.  
Authors may find this more interesting, but as a reader I found it rather dry and borderline amusing at best.  It's certainly educational but it is definitely not entertaining.  If you're an author looking to learn this is worth a peek but if you're a Grisham fan you'll probably be let down.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

“Profoundly moving . . . I cannot remember when I last read something as touching as this.” —Amitav Ghosh, author of The Glass Palace 

First published by a small press in India, Jerry Pinto’s devastatingly original debut novel has already taken the literary world by storm. Suffused with compassion, humor, and hard-won wisdom, Em and the Big Hoom is a modern masterpiece, and its American publication is certain to be one of the major literary events of the season. 

Meet Imelda and Augustine, or—as our young narrator calls his unusual parents—Em and the Big Hoom. Most of the time, Em smokes endless beedis and sings her way through life. She is the sun around which everyone else orbits. But as enchanting and high-spirited as she can be, when Em’s bipolar disorder seizes her she becomes monstrous, sometimes with calamitous consequences for herself and others. This accomplished debut is graceful and urgent, with a one-of-a-kind voice that will stay with readers long after the last page.

Received for review.

This was actually quite an interesting and mildly amusing novel until the very end which ruined the entire thing for me.

The entire book is quite difficult to follow at first.  It jumps around a bit and characters are referred to by numerous, completely different names.  It did come together about the midway point though and became quite readable.

Despite their clear love for one another I was not drawn to any of the characters as people.  They were all rather shallow and rather selfish.  It was difficult to really become engrossed in their stories when they were such disagreeable people.

What ruined this the most for me was the final few pages where the main character makes two unfortunate comments - the first when handing out food to homeless people "Beggars can't be choosers." which I thought was in extremely bad taste until I saw the second comment - "Do the poor have allergies?".  That was just beyond bad taste and made me sincerely dislike the character even more, if possible.  I was frankly shocked at his callous attitude.  It was completely uncalled for and quite disgusting behavior.

So, while this is interesting at parts it didn't do much for me in the way of an emotional connection with the characters.  The final few paragraphs completely ruined the entire book for me and I was tempted to throw it against a wall but, thankfully, the book was already over.  I really cannot recommend this.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

The stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy 

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned. 

 Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying. 

The Magician’s Land is an intricate and fantastical thriller, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Received for review.

While I'm not a hardcore fantasy fan I do find the genre quite enjoyable so I was quite excited to read this final book in this well crafted trilogy.

This was everything a reader could have hoped for in the final book of a series.  It was a brilliant book on its own, but it also provided the perfect ending for our much loved characters.  By the end, although there were some tears along the way, I felt like everything had been resolved satisfactorily and I was able to close the book feeling fulfilled rather than resentful.

This is an excellent book and the trilogy definitely deserves a place next to Lord of the Rings.  It really is that good.  I definitely highly, highly recommend this.  If you haven't read the first two books start from the beginning.  I promise it will be well worth the journey and rather significant time investment!

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Featured Book: Toto's Reflections by Kevin Fickenscher

About the book:

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s Toto was clearly a dog of character. He knew when to sit still, when to bark, and when to make a fuss. He was simply a real dog with real observations about real situations. And the Oz experience reinforced what his parents taught him as a small pup: Care deeply. Bark only when necessary but then, forcefully. Be curious. Express yourself. Embrace the world and have no fears. The story of Dorothy’s journey to Oz has captivated generations of children and adults alike since it was first published by L. Frank Baum in 1900. Dorothy’s adventures have been analyzed from virtually every perspective—psychological, historical, economic, and the like—except from the perspective of the only other character that was with her every step of the way: Toto! Dorothy’s little dog wrote this book and buried his manuscript in a can with an old bone on the original Gale farmstead. Dr. Fickenscher came upon it quite accidently and was given the opportunity to edit Toto's original thoughts on the Leadership Lessons from The Wizard of Oz, which he now shares with you. Of course, there are the usual thoughts on brainpower, heart, and courage, but in this book, there is much, much more. The many lessons of Oz will captivate your imagination and, no doubt, serve as a guide in your quest to become a better leader! Toto's Reflections will help you contribute to making a difference in the world, and challenge you to consider what you can do, starting right now, to make the world a better place!

About the author:

Kevin Fickenscher, MD is a dynamic, visionary healthcare leader with worldwide experience. He is consistently ranked among the Most Powerful Physician Executives in the US. As a leader of complex organizations, he brings his unique understanding of leadership through the voice of Toto, the only individual—aside from Dorothy—who experienced all of the events in Oz.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Featured Book: Career Wonders and Blunders: If I Knew Then, What I Know Now by Claudia A. Samuels Newton

About the book:

As you embark into the world of work, wouldn’t you like to hear the practical advice of successful employees who have already gone down their career path? Wouldn’t you like to learn from their mistakes? Build a unique and successful career path by reading this guide of unwritten workplace rules. It’s what you will not find in your company’s books of policies and procedures. Claudia Samuels Newton knows that experience is the best teacher and that you can avoid making devastating mistakes on the job that can stunt your career. In Career Wonders and Blunders: If I Knew Then, What I Know Now, she has provided the advice, insight, and experience of others who have walked this path in the world of work before you. Dr. Linda Salane, Executive Director The Leadership Institute at Columbia College states, "Career Wonders and Blunders is a comprehensive career guide with direct, concrete, and basic advice for success in the first job, and for positioning oneself for advancement. The author identifies fundamental realities that this generation of new workers may not consider: understanding the company’s culture, cultivating good work ethics, dealing with difficult bosses, navigating office politics, establishing value, choosing a mentor, networking, personal wellness to establishing a professional image. The book is honest and readable. It covers essential blunders (do not sleep on the job; do not call in sick when you are going to a ballgame). More interesting are the complex “wonders” (how do you evaluate a company’s culture? how do you successfully establish value?) that give a new employee insight into what he or she can do to be more effective. Filled with personal stories and chock full of good advice, Career Wonders and Blunders is a great present to a new graduate or a new employee." Read the powerful advice of successful executives including CEOs and COOs. Equally powerful are the candid stories of people just like you - acquired over the course of their working years. This is Career 101 - what you were not taught in school. Use the wonders and blunders of real people with real experiences at the end of each chapter to ascertain you are on the correct path. Now you have an essential tool to prevent you from repeating their mistakes on your career journey.

About the author:

Claudia Samuels Newton is an adjunct professor of Communications, a manager in Corporate America, and the owner of Rewarding Career and Resume Services. Her career articles have been published on numerous websites and she has been published in newspapers. She has been a guest on local television and is a sought-after presenter at colleges and state agencies around South Carolina. Claudia earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, NJ and a master’s degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Phoenix in Arizona. The author identifies fundamental realities that this generation of new workers may not consider: understanding the company’s culture, cultivating good work ethics, dealing with difficult bosses, navigating office politics, establishing value, choosing a mentor, networking, personal wellness to establishing a professional image.

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Review: Days of Rage by Brad Taylor

In former delta force operator and New York Times bestseller Brad Taylor’s latest Pike Logan thriller, the Taskforce must stop their most devastating threat yet—a weapon of mass destruction. 

The Taskforce is used to being the hunter, but this time they’re the hunted. 

Intent on embroiling the US in a quagmire that will sap its economy and drain its legitimacy, Russia passes a potential weapon of mass destruction to Boko Haram, an extreme Islamic sect in Nigeria. A relic of the Cold War, the Russian FSB believes the weapon has deteriorated and is no longer effective, but they are wrong. Boko Haram has the means for mass destruction, which will be set loose upon a multitude of unsuspecting innocents on one of the world’s grandest stages. 

Trying to solve the riddle of who might be stalking them, Pike Logan and the Taskforce have no idea what’s been set in motion; but there’s another secret from the Cold War buried in the Russian FSB, and exposing it will mean the difference between life and death—not only for Pike and his partner, Jennifer, but for perhaps millions more around the globe.

Received for review.

Having recently finished Brad's previous book The Polaris Protocol I was dying to find out what would happen next so I rushed to get Days of Rage.

There is simply no other writer who can write military fiction like Brad Taylor.  I'm not even a big fan of the genre and I love his books!  His books feel like a combination of the authentic detail of a Vince Flynn with the emotional impact of Robert Ludlum and his Jason Bourne series.

Once I started this there was just no putting it down.  I sat for hours and read with my eyes barely blinking I was so engrossed.  The action and suspense were so unrelenting that I was so stressed I simply couldn't stop at the end of a chapter and had to keep flipping the pages as fast as I could read them.  I was up well past my bedtime several nights in a row as I devoured this.

The scariest thing, and what makes this such a fascinating book, is that it is based in so much real life.  The situations in the book could actually happen and that's really disturbing on so many levels.

I highly, highly recommend this excellent book.  Military fiction lovers will find it especially good but general fiction fans will enjoy it just as much.  I am eagerly awaiting the next Pike Logan novel.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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