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.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Summoner by Layton Green

A country in corrupt decay sets the scene for a morally reprehensible Yoruba priest’s deprivations.   This blackest of villains is on a quest for spiritual and political power.  Dominic Grey, a security agent of questionable pedigree, is his only stumbling block.

Dominic Grey is certainly not the white knight but a more believable, emotionally conflicted hero.   He appears to be a man with a moral compass that is undeterred by legal and illegal restraints.  While he is not exactly likeable he is admirable.  

Viktor is a mysterious, international, professorial enigma.   His character was shrouded in mystery.    Nya was well painted as a woman on a quest for revenge.  

The book illustrated a wealth of mistrust between allies and opponents.   The background of Zimbabwe was thoroughly depressing.   A smidgen of research leads me to believe the author portrayed the country accurately.  

I happen to discuss the book with friends who had visited Rhodesia and then later visited when it was Zimbabwe and they confirmed the negative changes.   Another acquaintance who was a policeman in Rhodesia also lamented over the condition of the people and the rampant corruption.  

This is not a book for the light of heart, it is frightening and gruesome.  It also points out the power of psychosomatic reactions to belief systems.   It is not a fun read but it is engrossing.

BTW I read this book on my Droid X using the FBReader from Geometer Plus free application. 

I highly recommend the book.

Body of work of Layton Green

Web Site:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stolen Lives by Jassy Mackenzie

This book deals with the despicable practice of human trafficking.   Jade De Jong is a private detective who stumbles into a human trafficking ring.

If you are squeamish, you probably don’t want to read this book.   It is graphic and it details some pretty gruesome events.  With that said, it is a good mystery with a likeable female protagonist who survives in a Johannesburg that seems akin to the wildest days of the U.S. west. 

Jade’s characterization is excellent and Mackenzie clearly provides a detailed, colorful background and motivation.   The story jumps from the U.K. to Johannesburg and back.   Occasionally I lost track of where I was supposed to be.

I don’t know how accurate the author’s description of Johannesburg might be but it certainly provided an appropriate setting for her story.  

There is plenty of action and violence.   The book is disturbing but it is a good story and does illustrate a seamy trade that is hidden in the dark corners of our world.

I recommend it. 

Body of work of Jassy Mackenzie

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West

I don’t gush much in my writing.   This is one of the best books I have ever read.   How’s that for gushing?  I am well read, several books a week for 60 years or so.   That doesn’t make me an expert or a critic, I just “calls them the way I see them”.   This book isn’t about ponies, or Montana and it isn’t just a “feel good” book that was disparagingly ascribed to it in one review.   It is a book about the indomitable, unquenchable human spirit and revolves around a tiny, down on it’s luck, in the middle of nowhere small town and it’s basketball team.  

The author has successfully captured the feelings and motivations of a small town.   I grew up in a small town and it was way bigger than Willow Creek, the town in the book.  I taught school in a small, impoverished coal town, similar in size to Willow Creek.   Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I saw the impact that sports had on out of work steel workers and their often frustrating lives.   I suspect my own history has honed the poiguient aspects of this books impact.   

People need to have faith and hope, sometimes athletics can provide both.   The characters in this book all had their own very personal pain and showed how depending on others can free one to be strong and independent as a result.

I highly recommend the book and strongly suggest that if you have any feelings for the underdog you DO NOT want to miss reading this book. 

Body of work of Stanley Gordon West

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Quest for Good Manners by Karin Lefranc

A sassy princess and her dragon, Sparkler, demonstrate poor manners.   This book details her quest to discover why manners are important.

The illustrator of this book scored well with my grand-kids.   They liked the look of Princess Rosalind and Sparkler.   They were satisfyingly dismayed over the Princess’s behavior.  (My grandchildren are polite and well mannered most of the time; I count myself lucky to have taught their father’s so well. LOL) 

The kids enjoyed the adventure and were glad to see that the Princess and Sparkler returned from their quest enlightened with better behavior.

I recommend the book.  

Body of work of Karin Lefranc

Web Site:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Snowball's Antartic Adventures by Tim Ostermeyer

This is a large format picture book with striking landscape photos and super shots of penguins. It had good fact pages to accompany the great photos.  My grand-kids liked the photos but weren't thrilled with the story.   It is a neat book from my perspective but wasn't a big hit with the 5 and 7 year old. Snowball's Antarctic Adventures

I recommend the book.

Body of work of Charles Cumming

Web Site:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Journals of the Big Mouth Bass by Debbie Sue Bass Williamson

I gave this book to Rachel, a 10 year old, a 5th grade friend of mine who was kind enough to read and review it from the target market perspective.   The blue highlights are my additions or corrections.  

In her exact words:  This book is about nine years old Debbie Bass, who thought most of her presents were stupid or lame.   She had a hard time keeping secrets so she wrote entries in the journal.   She gets the nickname big mouth bass from her brother.  (Who tries to be really girly but just can’t do it. ) (She is referring to Debbie here.)

I liked this book because it’s a ture, funny and heart warming story.   In the story she tries (attempts) to feed her dog whatever she does not like, set the C on fire and become more girly.   But they all backfire. 

I did not have complaints. (about the book)

I think 3rd -5th graders. (would like the book.)

It is interesting that although Debbie’s journal entries are addressed to God, that point was not even commented on by Rachel.   It didn’t seem strange to her.   I was struck by the author’s reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination.    I suspect that most of us who were alive that day have an equally clear and vivid memory or where we were and how we heard.   That part struck me but again, it didn’t seem to mean as much to someone in the target age group as it is, to them, ancient history.   I found this to be a very touching book.  

I recommend the book too.  

I recommend the book.

Web Site: none found

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cross Fire by James Patterson

Kyle Craig is back.  If you have read any of the Alex Cross books, that four word sentence is enough for you to want to read this one.    Multiple plots, multiple villains and an intense climax make this a speedy read.

Alex is in love again.   This Time Bree Stone is the object of his affection.   This guy has had more deep loves than Jacque Cousteau.  A wedding is planned and surprisingly Nana is on board.   The kids are also in favor of Bree.   Sounds like a love story but then add Kyle Craig, the monomaniac ex-FBI serial killer.   That provides a heady mix and an intoxicating brew.   Typically fast paced with the characteristic 2 and three page chapters the book moves really fast. 

An ethical dilemma that plays well in today’s distrustful environment complicates an already involved plot.   High profile sleazoids are being killed.   Mortgage brokers defrauding home owners, oil speculators, people who are widely hated for their self serving behavior are being killed and the killer is seen as a dispenser of justice.   This  adds difficulty to Cross and Sampson when they investigate.   Who wants a “patriot” to be caught?

This Patterson was a bit more thought provoking than many.   Don’t get me wrong, I most often enjoy them but they seldom cause me to ponder.   The ethical issues in one case, in this book, let me to ponder my own feelings on the situation.   It was an extra added bonus on top of the light speed, cotton candy read that I usually expect from Patterson. 

I highly recommend it.

Body of  work of James Patterson</a>

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Interview with Sandra Brannan Author of In the Belly of Jonah: A Liv Bergen Mystery and Lots Return to Sodom

Author Interview Questions for Sandra Brannan
Sandra Brannan seems to be an author with some serious “cred” to her work.   She has spent 25 years working in a mining company and is a mother and grandmother.  She has authored In the Belly of Jonah: A Liv Bergen Mystery  and Lots Return to Sodom.   I am excited to read her books and I feel privileged that she is willing to submit to an interview.   

1.) Why did you write this book?  What initiated this particular burst of creativity?

Lot’s Return To Sodom is inspired by my experiences with annual pilgrimage of motorcyclists – a half million of them – into the sleepy little town of Sturgis, boasting an amazing 5,900 residents.  Sturgis is twenty miles north of my hometown of Rapid City, a thriving metropolis of 67,000, the second biggest city in our state.  The emotional charge that exists when we squeeze 500,000 motorcyclists into a town that tiny provides enough static for me to hide a couple of fictitious murder victims, don’t you think?

2.) Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?

Normally, I have to tumble a story around in my mind for several months first before I sit down to write it out and of course, the characters tend to lead me down rockier paths than I intended with all my polishing thoughts.  And because it’s an imperfect process for me, the unknowns tend to be the most fun to explore.  I have never experienced what people call ‘writers block’ but I suppose it’s because I work fulltime, am a mother of four, grandmother to three, and really don’t have time for any such blockage… seriously, writing is so much fun and something I can’t wait to do, my guilty pleasure, my reward after I get all of life’s chores done.  Writing is my ‘me’ time.  

3.) Is the second book in a series more or less difficult than the first?

I wrote eight books before I wrote the first in the series, In The Belly Of Jonah, because I really didn’t want to regret my first book out to the public.  I worked hard at the craft of writing a novel to make sure the voice was uniquely Liv Bergen’s, was worthy of a loyal following, and was a page-turning from the start. 
4.) Do you have a favorite character in the book besides Liv Bergen and if so why?

Being the mama bear that I am, each one of my characters is my baby, even the ones the reader may love to hate.  Of course, Special Agent Streeter Pierce is dreamy and I have to love him to pieces along with Liv, since they are so important to the storyline.  But one of my favorite characters is the brooding, intelligent Jack Linwood, also a special agent.  Quiet, but a force to  be reckoned with in future books.  

5.) What do you like the most about writing?

I love, love, LOVE the world of make believe, where everything’s possible, especially happy endings, despite some horrific beginnings to most of my stories.  There is nothing I enjoy more than to have someone tell me I made them stay up all night or that they just couldn’t get a story out of their head.  My goal with every book is to make the reader lose a night of sleep or change his or her plans. 

6.)  Where do your new story ideas come from? 

Most of my stories come from something that irritates me or keeps me from sleeping at night, like an injustice of some kind or as was the case for the first book in the series, a particular painting that really bothered me.  When it’s something I can shake or reconcile, I tend to write a story to purge myself of the irritation, turn that grain of sand into a pearl.  Seems to work for me.

7.) What advice has helped the most in your writing?

Oh, so many excellent authors have helped me a long the way with words of encouragement and advice.  First, Tony Broadbent, author of The Smoke and Into The Smoke, read an early chapter of my writing and advised me to “rip the lace off”.  And he was correct.  I was being much too polite with all my characters.  They needed a bit of grit, a bit of ‘real’.  Second, Harlan Coben once said that writing a mystery thriller required the author to come out like a bullet from the very first page and continue that fast on every subsequent page.  I try hard to write with those ideas in mind.

8.) Have you mapped out a direction and number for your series?  Will it be continued or cease after x number of books?

I am having so much fun with this series that I already wrote a new book this winter that will be number three in the series, Widow’s Might, which means I can’t really predict where Liv and Streeter are taking me.   I have no set number in mind, but I think I’ll know even before my fans do when I should retire the keyboard and let Liv Bergen initiate her final blast.  

9.) Who is your favorite author and why?

Depends on the day you ask me, because usually my favorite author is whomever I’m reading at the time.  Right now it’s C.J. Box’s newest Joe Pickett novel, Cold Wind.  My mentors for writing Mystery Thrillers over the past years have certainly been James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Mary Higgins Clark.  What got me hooked on the mystery thriller genre was my father lending me his John D. MacDonald books.  And if the truth were told, Squished Cheese Sandwich, by one of my son’s when he was in kindergarten is still an impossibly brilliant high bar for all the other authors of the world to clear… including me! 

10.) What advice would you give for the want to be writer?

I thought Stephen King’s On Writing was some of the best practical advice on writing I’ve ever read.  I also think the best advice is truly the last thing aspiring authors want to hear… keep writing, keep reading, and never give up!  Sticktoitivity is an essential ingredient in becoming an author these days, so remind yourself daily how much you love to write.  Otherwise, you’ll miss all the brilliant scenery along your journey by focusing on the odometer, continually asking ‘Are we there yet?’     

I’m always fascinated by the insights of other authors.   The common thread to almost every interview has been that if you are going to write, do it!  Write, write  some more and than write it again.    Sandra gives me hope for my own writing as I have often been characterized as persistent to a fault (or annoying to a fault, can’t remember which one.)  Sandra obviously put some time into her answers for this interview I am grateful both for her time and her insights.   Thank you so much!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Attention Kmart Shoppers, Augen Electronics Support Stinks

 How is that for a start.   I have the Augen eBook.   I reviewed it last July.
Overall it is a good product for the money but you do get what you pay for.   In this case that is a non-existent technical support department.   The reader has not worked well with DRM books from the start.  DRM is digital rights management and it is a protection scheme by the powers who dictate that kind of thing.  If you google it you will find many articles on “cracks” for DRM.  It is obvious I am not the only one that finds DRM annoying and I am an author.   The problem is that DRM causes books to behave badly.  

In my case, DRM handling by Augen means periodically dropping lines of the story.   Since I review books on Pick of the Literate and Azure Dwarf’s Horde of SciFi and Fantasy I get a lot of books protected by DRM.   Dropping lines can have an impact on the plot and the enjoyment of the story.

I went to Augen Electronics website and found that they had a fix.  Sadly the fix does not work.   In fact the fix, locked up the eBook every time I tried to use it.   The Augen site claims to have online chat for tech issues but I have yet to see the icon indicate that anyone is there.   The readme files on the “Fix” are either a result of a horrendously bad translation program or someone whose first language is definitively not English and who has obviously been indulging in some mind altering substances prior to writing the information.   In other words, the “Fix” is useless.   I have emailed Augen multiple times for help and get an automated response that someone will get back to me.   Thank goodness I didn’t hold my breath or I would be long, long dead.

So as an amendment to my original review of the product,   it is still a fair value for the money however with the Kindle now at $139.00 and a color nook and tablets dropping in price, I would suggest saving your money and purchasing a product that actually works the way it is suppose to and that perhaps has technical support that exists.

Alas Augen Electronics the bloom is off the rose and Attention Kmart shoppers, don’t touch Augen products with a 10’ blue light special.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sons and Princes by James LePore

This is a swan dive into the cesspool of organized crime, a journey of re-invention of a decent human being caught in the currents of violence, revenge and even honor.

LePore writes a captivating story nearly impossible to put down.   His characters are both memorable and frightening.   Each one of us may carry the seed of violence that can blossom into the fruit of death.   The trigger for response is as uniquely individual as a finger print.   Chris Massi finds within himself family ties he didn’t know existed.   LePore masterfully depicts a conflicted soul driven to acts of desperation for the noblest of virtues.  

There are some scenes so clearly depicted that you feel the need to whip out the hand sanitizer before you turn another page.   Equally honor and courage show up in surprising places.   A disbarred lawyer, Chris must make decisions that will impact both his life and his soul.   LePore does an amazing job at portraying the struggles of a man to master the cascade of torment heaped upon his head.  The depiction of the mob and it’s members was colorful and depressing.   One has to wonder how far you personally would go to save family, friends and self respect.   This is an outstanding book, destined to be a classic.

I highly recommend the book.

Body of work of James Lepore

Web site: