Mini-Reviews of Books…

April 21st, 2017

The R.E.M. Effect. J. M. Lanham, author. In this novel, the reader will find entertaining reading with some serious themes interwoven. Because my very first book Full Medical was a sci-fi thriller of this type, I’ve always been particularly fond of this subgenre which mixes sci-fi with thrills and suspense. This is one you don’t want to miss.

Mind-altering drugs are more common in real life than most people think. Big Pharma loves to peddle them, especially when they find out that their drug has other applications like alleviating pain by turning off the human brain’s ability to receive pain signals. Drugs for various brain problems like seizures find a new market amongst pain sufferers in this way. They aren’t necessarily addictive, but they’re still scary.

What happens when a drug to cure insomnia gives outliers in the test population of a clinical trial ESP powers as they dream? This sci-fi theme might become a newspaper headline in a not too distant future as Big Pharma strives to broaden its markets and create drugs with many application. The novel answers that question and adds duplicity by the pharmaceutical company as it colludes with the CIA, because the latter is interested in mind control for political purposes.

Channeling Crichton and other authors who have written tales describing future events that aren’t that farfetched, I found this book a good read that is well worth your time. My only complaint—and it’s a minor one—is that a lot of things are left unresolved at the end. To avoid spoilers, I’ll refrain from making a list. Of course, some of the best sci-fi stories share this feature as their authors leave their readers wondering.

I hope to read more by this author in the future, though, because he is a gifted storyteller.

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas…

A writing life…

April 20th, 2017

I love to write. I love being entertained by a good fiction story; I love to write them. I read non-fiction as well, although I don’t write it (exceptions considered below). I can’t say I’m a successful author—that’s like winning the lottery, in spite of what marketing gurus and many successful authors say—but that doesn’t stop me from writing. I always wanted to do it, collected story ideas for years, and now am producing many stories that I hope entertain some people. My father was of Irish descent, so maybe it’s just the blarney in me, but spinning a good yarn is about the most rewarding thing I do these days.

Success with one book often leads to other successes, of course. Nowadays, with so many good books and good authors, the likelihood of winning the lottery with a successful book is small. Add to that the declining readership—there are too many distractions for the internet generations like social media, computer games, and streaming video—and I have to wonder whether any of my books will “take off” and become popular. I don’t particularly care because I love to write. Perhaps immodestly, I believe my short stories and novels are just as good as anyone’s, but a lack of success won’t stop me.

In these posts on writing, I have written about plots and themes. Themes can weave around and through a good plot and make it into a great one by adding to the entertainment readers derive from a novel material that informs and makes them think. Again, because there exist other distractions which are largely passive, I recognize that some readers will rebel against meaningful themes. But does good entertainment imply no serious themes? The novels I like to read the most have themes; my own also have them. Because I can’t write a story without some ancillary theme, maybe that keeps my books from being successful. I don’t know, and I repeat: I don’t much care.

Read the rest of this entry »

Federalism v. states’ rights…

April 18th, 2017

Over two hundred years ago, the country was in a crisis. States, mostly the old British colonies, had too much power under the old Articles of Confederation. A new Constitution was written that weakened states’ rights, establishing that in most cases that federal laws and regulations must be obeyed by the states. There have been pitched battles about states’ rights ever since, most notably during the Civil War. That racism and bigotry still exists in spite of the that war and the federal Civil Rights Act a century later, as well as the dilution of other rights, shows that the federal government still has a hard time enforcing a moral high ground…if that’s what it wants to do.

The Trump administration is trying to stand states’ rights on its head, pushing many federally mandated policy decisions back to the states as a way of washing their hands of the problem. From allowing insurance companies to charge more for elders and pre-existing conditions in the healthcare debate (Trump made a campaign promise not to do the latter) to pushing gun-carrying reciprocity (a person carrying a concealed weapon in a southern state will be able to do so in New York and California and other states with more reasonable and tougher gun laws), states’ rights have become a matter of convenience for Trump and his minions to carry out their fascist agendas.

These battles will probably be carried out in the courts where the Trump administration is trying to put extreme right-wing judges on the bench to eliminate one of the last dams protecting the citizenry against his fascist flood. I can just see California and other states with strong laws to protect the environment having to fight the U.S. Justice Department as it defends Trump’s program to eliminate environmental regulations and controls. The dizzying attacks on moral legal traditions use both states’ rights and federal oversight as a double-edged sword to chop down the progressive majority in this country and its insistence for a morally responsible government. Federally funded abortions were outlawed some years ago, but that didn’t stop Trump et al from defunding Planned Parenthood, for example, for the simple reason that they still perform abortions. At best Trump and his minions are motivated by vying for unfettered capitalism; at worst these are nefarious fascist plots to assume autocratic power in a nation that, as tarnished as it’s become, has stood for moral correctness in an often morally incorrect world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday words of wisdom…

April 17th, 2017

Save your breath, don’t worry about Death.  A better praxis is to worry about taxes.

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews of Books #27…

April 14th, 2017

Under the High Ground. Scott Michaels, author. In spite of its faults, this novel is entertaining. There’s a thirty-year-old conspiracy in Washington D.C. that started with the death of the main character’s father and ended with the death of his brother, who is president of the United States. That premise gets your attention, but the reason for the conspiracy will leave you saying, “Huh?” It also comes out of nowhere—no real hints—so in that sense this is more a mystery than a thriller. The characters aren’t well-developed and many aren’t believable, especially the main character, who does a Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll flip from frail and needy sot to Rambo-like hero. The main character’s love interest adds unnecessary international flavor and is too enamored with psycho-babble. The best character is the assassin, a one-man wrecking crew, but you’ll learn little about him too. He’s a clone of the Jackal. Maybe the author was trying to do too much?

Serenity. Craig Hart, author (Y, …) Not a bad tale, but it leaves too many things dangling, creating a diffuse novel with multiple cliffs remaining for the reader to hang over. Too much is left unresolved. There’s not enough back story about the main character, his ex-cop buddy comes out of nowhere and then returns to nowhere, and the premise is a bit absurd: turf wars between drug pushers in the Michigan woods? The main character’s daughter is a whiny irritant all through the story too. Like the book above, this novel still is entertaining, though. Just skip through the whininess of the daughter and you’ll be fine, but don’t have high expectations. The best character? The sixty-year-old main character’s thirty-year-old girlfriend. The two have a modernized Marshall Dillon and Kitty relationship.

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas…

News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #141…

April 13th, 2017

Book reviews anyone? I’ll post two mini-reviews this Friday. They were on my TBRoR (“to be read or reviewed”) list. When authors query me for reviews, their books often go on this list, which is more a list I maintain for possible incidental reading. When I get around to them, I’ll review the book if I liked it enough to recommend to other readers. Note that these reviews ONLY appear on this blog—I no longer post reviews for TBRoR-books to Amazon for many reasons.

My formal reviewing activity is still done under the auspices of Bookpleasures.com. Authors might want to query there. First, there are many reviewers associated with that review site who might like to review your opus, not just me. Second, the reviews tend to be more extensive and therefore more useful for readers and the author. Third, reviews are reposted to Amazon if the author so desires—that means that your Bookpleasures reviewer reserves the right to point out negatives as well as positives. (Of course, I’ll do that even in my mini-reviews.)

Readers might excuse over-exuberance in a review that neglects the negatives, but such reviews don’t help them make informed book purchases. Neither does the Amazon ranking. A reader should always read the blurb for the book carefully and use the “peek inside” feature on Amazon before buying. Any author submitting a book for review should ask for an honest one and NEVER, NEVER pay for a review—paid reviews are inherently dishonest.

Genres. We love to categorize things and people. From “household appliance” to “environmental activist,” labels have pros and cons. They fill a need for order that many of us have. On the other hand, they’re often limiting or just plain wrong. Book genres are like that. Do you pay attention to them? They’re no doubt a convenience for bookstores, including Amazon, but in the online versions they tend to be used just as keywords. In a big book barn like B&N, though, you can often scratch your head about how they’ve shelved a particular book.

Read the rest of this entry »

Preemptive strike against North Korea?

April 11th, 2017

The nuclear ogre has been sleeping in his cave since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s a long time, so it’s no surprise that small minds like Trump have forgotten or purposely ignored how terribly destructive that nuclear ogre was. Of course, awakening the ogre is the kind of blustery threat Narcissus le Grand likes to make. This pathetic man believes that like-minded tyrants will bow down before him because he controls the mighty nuclear arsenal of the U.S. His restrained use of Tomahawks against Assad in retaliation for the Syrian despot’s use of sarin gas shows he’s not reluctant to end his isolationist policies and shoot off missiles. How far will he go?

My first criticism: U.S. leaders have NO business talking about preemptive strikes. Their cause must be geared to sanity in this insane nuclear world, setting an example for the rest of the nations and their leaders. Emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric perhaps, India is talking about preemptive strikes. Against Pakistan? Against other non-Hindu ethnic groups? Will Israel unleash the nuclear ogre on Iran—or vice versa? North Korea against South Korea? Right now North Korean missiles can’t reach the U.S. mainland, but that can change. They can easily reach Japan and South Korea, though. That ogre owes no allegiance to any nation and is indifferent about which one he gnaws on. His only goal when awake is to fill his maws with human beings.

I’m in agreement with Il Duce’s limited response toward Syria’s Assad with respect to the sarin gas attack. It followed seven years of frustrating attempts at a diplomatic solution complicated by Russia’s entry into the foray into the skirmish on the side of the Syrian despot. In 2013, we thought Assad got rid of his chemical weapons—obviously he didn’t. The attack on that little Syrian town was obviously his tactic for determining how far he could go, so the measured response was correct. Whether this will keep him from using such weapons again—I would have liked to see all his airfields destroyed for that reason—and it might drive the particulars back to the diplomatic table, no one can predict what Trump will do in the future. Will he shake his nuclear stick at Assad now? What will Russia, Iran, and the various terrorist groups do in response?

Tyrants like Trump aren’t known for their diplomacy. In Trump’s case, that’s ironic because he and his minions are often touting his skills using that infamous “Art of the Deal.” So far in his administration, he has only governed like a tyrant with his executive orders, the one move against Assad being a notable exception. Even the latter bypassed Congress, and those executive orders tend to get bogged down in the court system. There is no deal making whatsoever (so far his healthcare wheeling and dealing has flopped because he can’t get the factions in his own party together). You have to wonder if his definition of “deal” is as twisted as those “alternative facts” used in his tweets, in other words. There is no diplomacy in his deal making, only bluster and strong-arming, “talents” he developed in his very restricted and surreal business world that has little or no relevancy in international politics, or even politics in general.

Hence my second criticism: Trump (or any other president, for that matter) should be forced to appeal to diplomacy before going to war, especially nuclear war. The less likely diplomacy is used, the closer that Doomsday Clock approaches midnight. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war; diplomacy brought us back. There was no pre-emptive strike against the Cuban missile installations. Instead, Kennedy waited for the Soviet Union to blink. The threat of retaliation and assured destruction, not a pre-emptive strike, solved that crisis, and that threat was iterated to Kruschev in no uncertain terms, an example of strong diplomacy, to be sure, but still diplomacy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday words of wisdom…

April 10th, 2017

A Buddhist monk approaches a hot dog stand and says, “Make me one with everything.”  (Apologies to my Detective Castilblanco, who became a Buddhist.)

***

Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocenc, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas!

Colons, commas, and all that…

April 6th, 2017

In these days of acronymic texting and tweets, good praxis for spelling and grammar seems nonexistent. If my old teachers could see what’s going on, though, they’d be aghast or bewildered and think it was all some kind of code. They knew the rules, and even those who weren’t directly involved in teaching their students how to write and speak English would knock off points on a term paper if you didn’t obey them.

Many authors rebelled against this straitjacket of arcane rules, bending them for “literary effect” and perhaps a bit of revenge. That process still continues today. Punctuation has become one of the many victims on the literary crime scene, most of the time only criminal because arcane rules aren’t followed.

Before I do forensics on the punctuation crime scene, let me begin by stating up front there never was just one set of rules. Chaos reigned because there are many “manuals of style,” so many that professors would often announce that the term paper for the class must follow X manual of style. I can even imagine pedantic organizers of a new MFA program debating which one to use and how to enforce it.

Trying to control the evolution and use of language is like trying to juggle globs of oatmeal mixed with gelatin. Good luck! The French invented l’Academie to keep their language pure, for example, but I once knew a very educated Frenchman who insisted that “le weekend” was French and Americans had stolen the word. (The Spanish are more purist, using “el fin de semana,” which works in French too, of course, but is a wee bit longer—now wonder the French use the American word.) Changes creep into languages all the time “On the level” is ubiquitously used in English to mean something is correct, but it came into the language from the Freemason, who weren’t just masons, of course (Mozart was a Freemason).

Read the rest of this entry »

Free and responsible journalism…

April 4th, 2017

I’ve always admired journalists. The good ones far outnumber those paparazzi and in-your-face reporters. They are maligned and persecuted even in democracies, and we all know what can befall them in regions of the world where despots and fanatics know the power of a free press and try to stop it at all costs. Many journalists, real or fiction, were childhood heroes of mine, and in my books the reader will find journalists of all kinds as principal characters (in my first book, Full Medical, ezine reporter Jay Sandoval helps bring down a government conspiracy; in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Pam Stuart, Castilblanco’s wife, is a TV reporter often involved in her husband’s adventures; and in The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, an investigative reporter plays a major role in toppling another conspiracy).

A free press is absolutely essential if a country wants to call itself democratic. “Free” means independent of government control. The concept is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Along with the independent executive, legislative, and judicial sections of government (with X systems, some of the first two overlap), one has four strong legs that lift up and provide a solid foundation. The first signs of a democracy coming apart, no matter how the despots spin it, can be found when any of these legs begin to crack. For example, Venezuela no longer has an independent press, legislature, or judiciary—the “president” is becoming yet another South American strong man. We have watched the process in Russia progressively worsen as the despot Putin consolidated his power. Many of Putin’s victims are, in fact, journalists.

It’s therefore no surprise that a despotic-minded Trump is attacking the press. As in 1930’s Germany, Bannon, Conway, Miller, and Spicer help engineer this attack—a formidable and evil quartet. Because a free press is involved with the control and flow of information in order to maintain an informed citizenry, also essential for a democracy, distortion of information and attacks on the free press are par for the course. Narcissus le Grand and his minions spend lots of time battling the press, spinning and manipulating information, and creating false information. As Goebbels well knew, and Putin and other modern despots know, tyrants can often win their despotic battles against the citizenry without guns or violence. A psychological coup d’etat can be just as effective if the citizenry accepts the version of news propagated by the government. This was a major theme in Orwell’s 1984, but that book was fiction—Putin and Trump are real despots, not fictional ones, and their techniques have been considerably by the march of technology, which despots can use as well as anyone else, if not more so.

Read the rest of this entry »