Required Reading

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Books I have authored.

Many times I receive books for FREE to give them an honest review. I do not get paid to give a good or bad review. Spotlights are promotional and should be regarded as advertising for the book spotlighted. Regardless of where or how I got a book, my review will be as honest as I can make it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seduce Me in Shadow by Shayla Black

Romance and magic intertwined provide the setting for this romance. Caden Mactavish has struggled all his life to be “normal”. He has done his best to avoid his family’s magical heritage. He is thrust into the conflict between good and evil when his brother’s wife is kidnapped severing their interconnected souls resulting in Lucan’s desperate illness. Caden’s search for his missing sister-in-law is complicated with his fascination with Sydney Blair, a tabloid reporter.

The Doomsday Brethren were introduced in the first book of the series, “Tempt Me With Darkness”. The Brethren and their magical talents stand between humanity and the forces of evil.

Ms. Black portrays luscious women and robust men. Unless this type of magical romance has sprung full blown from the heart throbbing consciousness of the teenage psychic, I have been pretty much blithely ignorant of the genre. The action and characters are solid but the romantic overtones that permeate the book are just not my cup of tea. Keeping in mind my age and gender, I suspect this book will be very popular as well as the prequel and sequel. I can see my teenage niece devouring it and that is to whom I will give it. For myself, I am going to start avoiding books that have covers featuring roughly shaved studs with no shirts, I am beginning to realize that the interior story is most likely not going to be one of my favorites.

Body of work of Shayla Black


Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Daddy Goes On A Trip" Review

"As a military parent and frequent traveler, I found "Daddy Goes on a Trip" entertaining and thoughtful. From a child's perspective it provides ideas on how to be involved in Daddy's trips. For Parents it provides resources for helping children deal with the stress of Daddy's trips. Given the amount of military Moms who deploy as well, this book begs for the companion "Mommy Goes on a Trip"! I wish I had this book when my daughter was 5 (appears to be the target age) and I started traveling so much."
Jerry A. Hall
Lieutenant Colonel, US Army

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robert B. Parker R.I.P.

Robert B. Parker, the much-beloved author of the Spenser series, died of a heart attack on Monday while working at his desk at his home in Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 77. Besides his detective fiction, he wrote westerns and YA books, more than 60 in total.

There are very few authors that make me laugh out loud. The dialogue between Spenser and Hawk often caused a spontaneous guffaw. Robert B. Parker you will be missed!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Fallen is a romance story with gothic overtones. Luce Price is held responsible for inexplicable behavior. She is sent to the Sword & Cross boarding school which seems to be a thinly disguised reform school. The story plot involves the mysterious events that then occur.

Ms. Kate does a good job portraying teenage angst. Several of the characters were recognizable from my days as a counselor. Sadly I am not overjoyed with romance stories. I suspect this book will be a huge hit with teenage girls. Luce is a sad character that you would like to reach out and help.

Body of work of Lauren Kate
Author Info

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Divine Justice by David Baldacci

The Camel Club is back! Back with a vengeance and the action is non-stop. Oliver Stone, on the run, finds himself unable to extradite himself out of other folks problems. His friends in the Camel Club pull through and back him up.

Once again, Baldacci ROCKS! In case you are not familiar with that accolade, David Baldacci is a story teller of tremendous magnitude who engages the imagination and enflames the passions while rending the heart with honesty, loyalty and steadfastness. Once again I was walking while reading, running into walls and reading while eating and other unmentionable activities. I couldn’t put the darn book down. John Carr is successfully portrayed as a razor sharp weapon combined with humility and all the noble characteristics. The plot doesn’t move, it charges! There are other characters in the book who develop long buried traits due to the example of Oliver Stone.

I recommend the book and am truly dismayed that it looks like the demise of the camel club.

Body of work of David Baldacci

Web Site:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Nightmare

Unless you reside on another planet you are aware of the tragedy that continues to unfold in Haiti. Here is a link to a reputable organization that is helping if you are inclined to help. If not inclined to send money, then please, at least, send prayers.

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Post by Elle Newmark, Author of "The Unholy Mischief"

Better Late Than Early (From Elle's Blog)

The issue of my age came up shortly after Simon and Schuster bought my novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief. After I sent my agent an over-excited email with some text message acronym that sounded faintly adolescent, she bluntly asked, “How old are you?’ OMG, OMG, should I lie? No. It would be hideous to get caught. I shot back, “I’m sixty. Is that a problem? Because, if McCain can run for president I should be able to publish a book.” Not that I was defensive.

My agent and editor were not much older than my children, and I wanted to fit in. I considered emergency plastic surgery. A facelift, liposuction, did I need a chin implant? I had to pretend to be young again. Didn’t I? But I wasn’t entering witness protection, so once again, the answer was no. I needed to be exactly where I am in life to write the book I wrote. And part of the reason for my success was my middle-aged Enough–Already–It’s–time-To-Get-This-Show-On-The-Road mentality. This attitude is not typical of people in their fertile twenties. I looked at the upside of maturity and saw that coming to success—as my tactful agent put it—“so late in life” did not have to be mortifying; it could even be an advantage. Excellent. I wouldn’t need surgery after all.

Still, embracing my age was an uncomfortable novelty. It’s shocking, unbelievable really, that I’m over sixty. I don’t think about my age, and I feel like I’m thirty-five, only smarter. Because, you see, I didn’t spend forty years sitting on my ass, writing in a void and collecting rejection letters. Oh, I was writing and amassing my share of rejections all right, and I have the emotional hide of an armadillo to prove it, but I was also living.

I’ve had jobs, big and little, marriages, good and bad, lovers and friends and children and grandchildren. I’ve lived in many places on two continents and traveled the globe at my leisure. I have survived divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illness, and teenagers. I’ve had moments of ineffable joy as well as patches of despair as black as scorch. I draw and paint, and I’m a great cook. All that living and learning and doing takes time, as well as being necessary fodder for the writing life. The truth is, I didn’t yet have much to say at thirty or forty. I wrote pretty consistently through all those seething and heaving life experiences, but for most of us, writing is a tortuously long and convoluted road.

By fifty-five I had an epic collection of rejection letters and I was feeling like an artistic failure. Isn’t fifty-five the age most people start thinking about retirement? But I couldn’t stop writing. There is something in me that wants to make people feel the rush of life in my words. I want to connect, to capture emotions and ideas, and to communicate them in gripping stories. One of the nice things about writing is that no one can stop you from doing it, and so, at fifty-six, I finished my third novel. I remember the surge of elation when that book caught the attention of a reputable agent. Phew! Just in time. I flew to New York and the reputable agent said, “This book is a gold mine.” Hallelujah! It was finally happening.

And then it didn’t.

After six houses rejected that book, the reputable agent stopped submitting it. I re-wrote it and tried to get another agent, but no luck. I spent a year writing another novel, but I couldn’t get an agent for that one either. One day, I looked in the mirror and accepted that it was too late; my books would never be published. It was crushing, and it knocked me flat out of the game.

I spent weeks on the sofa, reading other people’s novels. The only way I could get out of bed was by rolling directly into my reading chair, a comfy old thing in a corner of my bedroom, and plunging immediately into a fictional world. After an infusion of industrial strength coffee, I was able to shuffle out to the sofa where I collapsed for the rest of the day. It’s appalling, but I wallowed in the tragedy of my own crucified ego.

About that time, I hit my 60th birthday. Wow, that was fun. I thought about Shakespeare who had finished his immortal work in his forties, Van Gogh dead at thirty-seven, Caravaggio who revolutionized painting in his twenties, Bernini sculpting masterworks at sixteen, Mozart composing at five. Even Jesus had wrapped it up and headed back to heaven in his early thirties. I sulked on the sofa in rumpled pajamas and ate cold pizza.

Occasionally, I couldn’t avoid having to interact with people, but if I forgot myself and mentioned my writing I’d see that patient look people get when they’re talking to a lunatic.

Then I got angry.

I had always followed the rules. I’d written scores of polite, well-crafted query letters and double-spaced and proofread and followed guidelines. I took classes, attended workshops, learned to take criticism, honed my craft, and where had it gotten me? I could paper the Astrodome with rejection letters. I’d given away control of my destiny, and those I gave it to shrugged and gave it back. Okay. Fine. I’d take things into my own hands.

I turned away from traditional publishing and took the humble route of self-publishing. I really wanted to hold my own book in my hands. I believed that just holding a book in my hands would be enough. So I risked money, I went through endless edits, and I risked more money. Then, one day I had a book for sale on Amazon. My baby made its debut to a shrieking silence and a riot of apathy. My friends bought a copy out of loyalty but I don’t have a lot of friends, just very good ones, and the book maintained a rank of about 400,000, which is slightly above nonexistent.

I finally had a book out and it wasn’t enough. That’s when I decided it wasn’t about holding a book in my hands, but knowing that lots of other people were holding it in theirs. They weren’t, and I went into another funk

One night, moodily slumped in front of a late night rerun of Sex in the City, I watched Carrie Bradshaw’s glitzy book launch party. Carrie Bradshaw isn’t even a real person and Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t even a writer, yet there she was having my book party. Champagne flowed, beautiful people milled, cameras flashed, and I got an idea.

I gambled on a do-it-yourself website and spent thousands on an Internet marketing course. I would throw myself a virtual book launch party. Crazy? Maybe, but no guts, no glory. When you get older you start to think that way. I organized a one-day virtual party designed to generate a surge of sales on Amazon, and catapult me onto the bestseller list. The website looked colorful and festive, but we all know the most humiliating disaster is to throw a grand splash and have no one show up. Then I’d have to kill myself for sure. I needed to reach 500,000 people to make a few hundred sales and reach the bestseller list. I needed partners.

I asked droves of website owners to participate. I sent them a letter, a box of homemade cookies, and a signed book marked on the page where those same cookies appear in the novel. The cookies are called ‘bones of the dead’ so, with an aching back, I stood at the kitchen counter, well into the wee hours, shaping cookie dough into little bone shapes, baking them to the perfect golden shade of doneness, and then rolling them in powered sugar to make them look bonier. Only the boniest cookies went out—fifteen hundred of them. The rest…well, I gained four pounds.

My friends and family were apprehensive. I could see the pity in their eyes. Isn’t it sad to see Elle grasping for the brass ring that has so clearly passed her by? But I forged ahead, bold as an old crow. I blogged and talked up my book on message boards. I got a few Internet partners, I baked more cookies, I begged, pleaded, flattered, cajoled, bargained and I got more partners. In the end I had enough support to reach 500,000 people. Yes! I would hit the Amazon bestseller list. Then agents would notice and publishers would come knocking. That was the plan.

But two days before my virtual party, my son, Michael, thoughtfully stroked his goatee and said, “Mom, if you want agents and editors to notice your book, why not just invite them to your party?” And there’s yet another advantage to age: Grown children capable of clever ideas. However, that idea was definitely against the rules. You’re supposed to approach agents according to a well-established protocol, and you’re not supposed to approach editors at all. Michael’s idea was risky and audacious, but in the end, I decided I was too old to be timid. I just didn’t have that kind of time. I got online and dug up e-mail addresses for 400 agents and editors. The night before the launch, I wrote personal invitations with a link to the party site and brazenly hit “send” 400 times.

By noon the next day, I’d heard from dozens of agents and editors. People were clamoring to read my book! An editor from a major house flat out offered me a hardcover deal via e-mail based solely on the reviews. Agents asked me to speed books to New York, and while I manned the computer, my husband, Frank, made multiple trips to the post office. Within 24 hours I had offers from several impressive agencies—including William Morris, with whom I made an agreement at whiplash speed.

I did hit the Amazon bestseller list, not that it mattered anymore.

New York talent scouts were talking about The Book of Unholy Mischief, and the buzz was so loud I could feel the vibration in California. I swear the earth moved. During that first wild week, my new agent turned down a respectable offer from a major publisher. She said, “We can do better.” I swallowed hard and hoped she knew what she was doing. Two weeks after my virtual party, The Book of Unholy Mischief went to auction.

The auction was due to start at 11:00 a.m. EST, which was 8:00 a.m. for me on the west coast. I planned to be sitting at my phone, showered and fully caffeinated by 7:30. As I stepped out of the shower at 6:00, the phone rang, and I ran for it, dripping and clutching a towel. My agent said, “Are you sitting down?” I stood there, holding my towel, and said, “Yes.” She said, “Two book deal, Simon and Schuster.” Then I sat down. I was naked and wet—like a newborn.

In the following unbelievably heady days, the foreign sales started. It was a global feeding frenzy. As of this writing The Book of Unholy Mischief will be published in a dozen languages.. Personally, I can’t wait to see the Hebrew and Cyrillic and Korean editions—I love exotic alphabets that look like music—and I have a place in my house ready to display them all. Dec 30 The Book of Unholy Mischief will be released in the United States and Canada. In January I’ll go to Venice for the Italian launch, then come back to the U.S. for a national book tour—every writer’s dream.

I’d like to refrain from using that tired old chestnut, Better Late Than Never, but I can’t. It is better late than never. In fact, I might even say, Better Late Than Early. First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that I earned my success, and I feel a profound gratitude that I probably wasn’t capable of twenty or thirty years ago. Second, I’m pretty sure my agent and editor are not worried that I will celebrate by getting sloshed and trampled in a mosh pit, which is a comfort to all three of us. Third, there is the knowledge that I did not waste my time writing for no one and nothing. Every day I lived and every word I wrote was necessary to find my voice.

So my image will be The Author Who Finally Did It “So Late in Life.” That’s fine. Now that I have spent time on the business end of publishing I see more clearly than ever that the greatest satisfaction is in the writing itself. For the most part, it’s not about me or anyone else holding a book, it’s about the work. All writers hope to be published, but we began writing because something inside of us yearned to make something beautiful or to shed light on what it is to be alive. Like any other passion, we did not start doing it for fame and fortune, but for those transcendental moments when we are swept up in the act of creation. We pursue those flashes of clarity when we are able to express the divinity within. I call it “being in the zone,” and it is what gives my life meaning.

Chasing commercial success is, by itself, an unsatisfying ambition, albeit one that I indulged with dogged persistence for many years. Today I know that real success is finding something you love and then doing the hell out of it. Success is nice, but being good at something makes you complete and valuable.

Our passions are our consolation for mortality, age is irrelevant, and none of us knows what waits around the next corner. When my work is passed over or my age seems like cause to quit, I think of Winston Churchill: With the sky over England littered by falling bombs and London besieged and people dying and the future looking hopeless, sixty-eight year old Churchill pushed out his pugnacious chin and growled, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Review On "The Adventures of Hardy Belch"

Here is the latest review on Amazon on "The Adventures of Hardy Belch".

5.0 out of 5 stars William G. Benrim's best yet, January 11, 2010

The Adventures of Hardy Belch by William G. Bentrim is, in my opinion, the author's best yet. Twelve year old Hardy Belch (What a perfect name for a 12 year old boy!) and his dog, Tiny, are featured in three stories: The Bully, The Green Man, and the Delaware River Pirates.

Tiny, who is actually very large, is also telepathic dog and when problems come up he loves to help Hardy plan solutions. These are all stories that are not only entertaining, but also have an important message. Children will love the stories of Hardy Belch and Tiny and will also learn about how to stop bullying, how to treat those who may look different, about fairness, and dealing with financial stress.

Parents can read the Author's Notes in which Mr. Bertrim explains his mission to help children learn in a positive and fun way. The author has a wonderful web page here ,where you can meet Hardy and Tiny, and even print out a Hardy Belcher bookmark. I highly recommend this wonderful book for children.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dies The Fire by S. M. Stiriling

Mike Havel thought his life was over when the all the gauges and engines stopped on his two engine puddle jumper. Little did he know that is was merely the beginning of a post apocalypse saga. The world has changed and those in it must adapt. Some turn to good and the others to evil. This story documents the rise of three distinct new world societies, led by one who fantasizes his role as the evil overlord, one who carries her Wiccan principles into the new age and one who is thrust into the role of warlord.

Stirling does master character development. You learn to love or hate his characterizations. He pains a grimly real portrayal of what desperation can drive otherwise normal people into doing. He also shows the fine line between civilization as we know it and chaos. This has an excellent story line with clear plot development that doesn’t telegraph the next move. Stirling frequently portrays the dark side of humanity and forces you to ponder uncomfortable scenarios.

I recommend the book.

Body of work of S. M. Stirling


Web Site:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Oblique Approach by David Drake

A parallel can be drawn between this book and the General series. I enjoyed it too. Belisarius, a Roman general, is approached by a friend and an acquaintance with a “magic” crystal that provides visions. The rest of the book is dealing with those visions of the future and working to insure that they don’t come to past.

In many ways the book is the typical, sword swirling, swashbuckling (what is a swash anyway?) action adventure. Being a simple sort, I actually enjoy that genre periodically. I have no recollection of the world being changed by the “Conan” novels, yet I still enjoyed them. (Unless you consider the guvinator in CA as a side affect of the “Conan” popularity.) There are pauses in the action for some forethought and character development. Drake always insures his female protagonists are not victims, even in cultures where they were basically devalued. The hard nosed interaction between the privileged few is entertaining. The banter occasionally eliciting a full blown guffaw is a measure of my enjoyment, in spite of startling my baseball mesmerized bride.

I enjoyed the book, I recommend it. I am going to start the second in the series as soon as I finished writing this review.

Body of work of David Drake

Web Site:


The Sunrise Lands by S. M. Stirling

This book can be considered a sequel to Meeting at Corvallis or the beginning of a new Change trilogy. Whatever the category, the book is excellent. Set in a post Apocalyptic world where technology has been truncated by some unknown source. This story focuses on the children of the initial survivors featured in the Dies the Fire, the first three books. The kids or young adults are on a quest demanded by the powers speaking through Juniper who is the Chief of the Mackenzies and Rudi’s Mom.

Rudi and Mathilda, the heirs to the Mackenzie lands and the Association territory explore more interpersonal action in this book. Rudi’s two younger, twin sisters are highly entertaining. New allies and new villains are introduced in this book. There is action and treachery abounding. Stories are told over campfires that backfill information that would enable this book to be read without reading the preceding trilogy. I enjoy the character interaction, none are super heroes, they all demonstrate human fragility and are thusly more believable.

Once again, I highly enjoyed a Stirling book and recommend it and the preceding trilogy.

Body of work of S. M. Stirling

Review         Website

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Guest Essay by Author Susan Arnout Smith/blog: genesis of Out at Night

When I was growing up, often eating dinner was an anxious affair.

It’s what we did as a family at the end of a long day being apart. It’s where tempers flared, wars were fought. There were snipings, direct attacks, curve balls. And then we lunged at the butter, scooped extra servings of mashed potatoes and hunkered down for round two.

The food, always, was excellent, (my mother was a home economics teacher), but because of the uncertainty, because safety was never a given, meals were eaten hurriedly, and under stress.

We never knew if this was the meal where everything would be relaxed and cheerful, or the meal where something unexpected and fearful would come for us out of a dark place, galloping toward us with metal hooves and snapping teeth.

I know this wasn’t my parents’ intention. But it was the truth of our lives.

The table is where I learned to lie well for my own protection, to cover my feelings, and yes, to eat, even if I’d stopped long ago tasting the food or feeling hunger. It’s where I learned to hang on until dessert.

Some days I was lucky. Some days I was supremely not.

When I was thinking about writing Out at Night, my second thriller, (after writing The Timer Game, Minotaur, 2008), I thought about food and how this source of comfort and nurturing—much like a family—can be twisted into something dark and anxiety-provoking.

Perfect country for bad things. Perfect metaphor for genetically modified crops. Once an element has been added, it’s impossible to ever take it back. Not completely.

Now hunger is a terrible thing with a terrible human cost and face. It’s true that good has come from genetically modified crops: in the lab, scientists have created seeds that are drought resistant, weed resistant and even some—like Golden Rice genetically modified to carry Vitamin A, (funded by Bill and Melinda Gates)—will significantly improve the lives of children in Third World countries and prevent blindness.

It’s also true that scientists are combining genes from different organisms (translation: taking genes from humans and adding them to plants), to produce crops that will produce vaccines for AIDs and Hep B, or create insulin or help clot blood or inhibit diarrhea.

But what if you don’t want to eat a plant that produces a human gene to help clot blood? What if your blood works just fine, thank you very much, and actually you need a little aspirin every once in awhile to thin things out. What then?

Michael Fernandez, in a PEW initiative on Food and Biotechnology, makes the point that there’s no worldwide uniform standard about what constitutes seed purity. In the US, producers are required only to reveal how much of something not-seed is mixed in with that labeled seed. I take that to mean they’re not required, from the sounds of it, to disclose what that not-seed actually is. In all fairness to the producers, they might not know.

In 2005 in the UK, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a study that GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to fifteen years after being harvested. The study examined five locations across England and Scotland, sites not currently growing GM oilseed rape. They found ‘significant amounts’ of GM crops still there, growing willy-nilly mixed in with the new non-GM crops.

And there’s wind drift. When I was signing Out at Night on the island of Kona, I met wonderful organic coffee growers worried about this very thing. The organic papaya crops recently had been contaminated with pollen from GM papaya crops.

And the entire organic papaya crop had to be destroyed. Can you imagine, if that was your family’s harvest, your family’s work and sweat in the sun and dreaming hope of a payday, what that seemingly innocuous GM pollen drift had cost?

Sometimes even hungry countries turn back our non GM food, (we’re the world’s leading producer of GM crops), fearing contamination. That happened in 2002 when Zimbabwe refused an aid shipment of grain from the US. From where I sit, things have to be pretty serious before a starving country turns back food because it fears what it holds.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about what happens when you eat it.

In 2008, the Austrian government released results of a 20-week study. Results that confirmed that GM corn directly affected reproductive health in mice. The results were so startling (things died), that now there’s a serious and vocal push in Austria to immediately ban all GM goods and crops to protect the fertility of women around the world.

The Russians just completed a similar study at the Russian Academy. With similar results. Over half the off-spring of lab rats fed GM crops died within the first three weeks of life. And all the GM off-spring in the preliminary results were sterile.

The UK’s been worried about the cost of GM to health ever since one of their leading scientists, Arpad Puztai, went on British television in 1998 with word that biotech food stunted the growth of rats.

There’s rats. And then there’s us.

Inventive, creative problem solvers, working to eliminate drought and poverty and famine. Hopeful. Anxious.


William Neuman, in The New York Times, writes in an article August 29th about a move in the US to test and label products to identify them as being mostly biotech free. They do this already in the UK and have for some time. In order to get a ‘butterfly checkmark’ of approval, processed foods here will have to contain no more than 0.9 percent genetically modified material.

And so we live with percentages. In our food. In our lives.

The question is and always has been, at every meal, every moment, what dark thing is waiting to come inside?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Out at Night by Susan Arnout Smith

This is the second book in the Grace Descanso series. Grace is a CSI technician which is not initially clear but becomes more so as the book progresses. The plot could be pulled out of national headlines. The detective work surrounds an agricultural conference focusing on gene altered food.

Frankenfood has moved into the common vernacular. Fear surrounding gene altered food and the possible environmental impact provides the motivation for the plot. The book is the second in a series and I feel a brief recap would have help ground the story. The book starts with a heinous crime and then jumps to a paranoid’s idyllic vacation. It is a good story but more initial background on what makes Grace tick would have been nice. The story sometimes is hard to follow but it is a solid mystery.

I recommend the book.

Body of work of Susan Arnout Smith


Web Site