Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Books

I read only 74 books in 2016, down year-to-year. Split 27% non-fiction, 73% fiction.  I either need to focus more on my reading or re-set my annual objectives as I'm clearly under the multi-year moving average.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

They Call Me Supermensch, by Shep Gordon

Mr. Gordon is an entertainment manager who got his start handling Alice Cooper, and is also known for representing famous chefs. In this auto-biography, he emphasizes his notion of treating people well, striving for win-win deals, and paying back kindness.

The book is very engaging and it was great fun to read. But I have one complaint, something that nagged at me about this book until I finally figured out exactly what it is.

Mr. Gordon, a lifelong cannabis user, talks quite nonchalantly about his pot (and other drug) use in his book. The thing is, in many parts of the US, including Hawaii where Mr. Gordon lives, its (non-medical) use is illegal.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to cannabis. I just find it very upsetting that wealthy or famous folks like Mr. Gordon can flaunt their use of cannabis when literally millions of Americans are arrested for the same thing. For example, according to the ACLU, "Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana." []

It seems as though a privileged class of elites, like Mr. Gordon, Snoop Dogg, Willy Nelson, and the like, can be quite public about their use of cannabis and flat out ignore the laws, but millions of normal folks who use cannabis risk incarceration and even felony prosecution.

This imbalance seems unfair. Whichever way the public pushes on legislation, I'd just like to see fairness and equity in the enforcement of the law. So, if you're anti -cannabis, then insist on equal prosecution of Hollywood types. And if you're pro -cannabis, then fight against the current laws that lead to so many arrests: 8.2 million according to the ACLU, between 2000 and 2010, which were 52% of all drug arrests, and of which 88% were for simple possession. []

If Mr. Gordon wrote about all the sit ins or protests or lobbying efforts he'd organized to correct this imbalance, I'd feel a whole lot more impressed by him. Reading about him smoking a joint in his hot tub to help him come to inventive new ideas wasn't all that sympathetic.

Is this a big deal? According to 2013 FBI data; in Texas alone, 70,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession. As Texas State Representative Joe Moody says [], these arrests can destroy young people's' futures. "... if you had a financial aid grants those could be off the table for you, federal student aid is definitely off the table, getting a job is going to be extremely difficult because those criminal background checks are going to show up... Renting an apartment. Anything a young person is needing to be doing to kind of get on their feet to get their life going, all those things can be derailed by a minor conviction.”

My over-reaction to this political topic affected my view of what was otherwise a very good book, which I still recommend.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Beautiful Demons Box Set, by Sarra Cannon

Let's say you find a set of three books on Kindle on sale for -- free!  You have to go for it, right? Well, this deal just wasn't worth the price. My bigger mistake was to read through them all. Just don't do it.

If you must know, the hero is Harper, a high school girl with of course uncontrollable yet extraordinary powers. She ends up at a home for girls who keep getting kicked out of foster homes, and attends a new school. Where the team name is the Demons, and she joins the cheerleading squad which comprises a number of extraordinarily powered girls. Oy vey.

Gone Bad, by JB Turner

You'll love this novel if you prefer cardboard cutout characters in trite situations and both heroes and villains doing silly and/or improbable things.

The hero is Joe, a former special forces operator who is recruited to contract to the US government to capture bad guy Hunter who just escaped from Leavenworth.

If you find yourself with an injury and must rest on a sofa either medicated or drinking heavily or both, and you can find this book for free on Kindle, and you don't have the energy to find any other book to read, then it is okay.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Deceptive Cadence, by Kathryn Guare

Let's cut to the chase: I'm not recommending this novel.

Our hero Conor is a musician, recruited by MI6 to travel to India to find his brother and bring him back to London. Backstory: the brother destroyed Conor's career by letting him take the blame for criminal activities. The writing was not clear enough that I understood what was going on very well. Or perhaps it was just disbelief. And Conor is a bit of an oaf as spies go, but Ms. Guare didn't seem to intend that as an amusing touch to the story.

A Hidden Fire, by Elizabeth Hunter

You might think a novel that involves an old vampire and a young librarian would be hokey or overly romantic, or just plan horrible. But in this case you'd be quite wrong. A well written, interesting book that could cross genres out of the supernatural and be just as good.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fear University, by Meg Collett

Our hero Ollie has a congenital affliction that leads her to not feel pain. This benefits her as she had a troubled, abusive childhood. When we catch up to her, she's in Alaska, training to fight a para-normal creature called an aswang.

If you can get past all baggage of the genre, this is a pretty good novel.

Illicit Magic, by Camilla Chafer

Our hero Stella has a so-so career as a professional temp worker in London, from which she's abruptly taken for her own safety as it comes out that she's a witch and a group of, you guessed it, witch hunters, have identified her as such and targeted her. All of which is a surprise to Stella. She's placed in a safe house in the US with other 20-something witch -like folks, and educated. Stuff then happens. To be continued.  Meh.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, by Larry Correia

This is a weird genre, and the title is off-putting -- at least to someone like me for whom this is far from a go-to class of novels. But wow, what fun. Imagine a well written suspense, say the stereotypical special ops thriller, and tilt the story line towards the supernatural. Well worth reading.

Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet

Our hero is Jade, who runs a video gaming / dungeons & dragons shop in a small town. It turns out that this place is home to a huge number of shape shifters. Which doesn't bother Jade, as she's a sorceress in hiding; she pretends to be a relatively normal human to avoid being found by her former lover who is quite powerful because once he finds a strong sorcerer, he eats her heart to get stronger himself. Still with me? There's more.

Bad things start happening to Jade's shape shifter friends. To save them, she exposes herself. A dangerous, heroic stranger shows up (although Ms. Bellet really short changed him in the character development department).

Find out more in volume two. Or, follow my lead, and don't.

Flash, by Tim Tigner

I'll just quote from the publisher's book cover to give a sense of this novel:
"TWO BLOOD-SPATTERED STRANGERS awake, locked in the trunk of a car—with a murdered cop and the smoking gun. Aside from raging headaches and no idea what’s happened, they appear to have nothing in common. Troy thinks it’s 2001 and he’s still a combat surgeon fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Emmy believes it’s 2002 and she’s still grifting a living from the streets of L.A.  ...  What are they doing in the Caribbean, and why is a Croatian assassin determined to kill them? The only thing they know for certain is that they’ll be spending the rest of their lives in prison if the police catch them before they learn the truth."
Well, it turns out they were drugged with "456" which wiped their memories. And both our heroes turn out to be highly capable operators in the "military special operator saves the day" genre.

Mostly fun, although a bit draggy at the end...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Forgotten Soldier, by Brad Taylor

This is the latest in a series from Mr. Taylor. The heroes are Pike and Jennifer. Most of the other characters are portrayed as competent and of good character. Pike is portrayed as an a--hole, and it annoys me no end that he's the lead in the series. Oh well. Plenty of action and intrigue.

The Eye of Shiva, by Alex Lukeman

This is yet another (number eight) in the series featuring hero Nick Carter and his team. After the last of Mr. Lukeman's novels that I read, it wasn't certain I'd try again, but this one was free on Amazon Kindle at the time, so why not.

Well, here's why not. First of all, it suffers from the "secret agency, violates all sorts of laws, answerable to the President, arrogant operators think they know best" template. Which makes me nuts.

Then, an anti-Pakistani Indian tries to launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan with help from another Indian patriot who turns out to be an even worse terrorist bad guy...

Not to worry, because between romancing his girlfriend Selena, Nick will save the day... Oh my.

Mind's Eye, by Douglas Richards

In this lightly sci-fi thriller, hero Nick wakes up in a dumpster, and doesn't remember how he got there. It turns out he has a brain implant that not only allows him to access the web from his mind, but he can also read the minds of others.

Oh, and some people want to harm him.

This was actually a bit more fun to read than it sounds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reaper's Run, by David VanDyke

Just to start you off on the right foot, dear reader, the full title of this novel is: Reaper's Run: An Apocalyptic Action-Adventure Techno-thriller (Plague Wars Series Book 1).

In spite of that rough beginning, the plot features an strong female lead, which I generally like. Marine Sergeant Jill lost her legs in action. Surprisingly, they begin to regenerate. She learns that this is a symptom of the "Eden Plague" which seems like a pretty good plague to catch, until she finds out that political leadership has used mis-information and quick military action to capture or kill those infected with this disease.

The bulk of the book is her dealing with that, avoiding capture, and setting up the rest of Mr. VanDyke's series. It could have been great, but... Still, I'll read additional volumes if and when they show up as free Kindle downloads.

Dying for a Living, by Kory Shrum

Our hero is Jesse, who has the unusual job of death replacement agent. Yes, I know, that's odd. Apparently she saves a life and resurrects herself after a few days. That's rough enough, but the plot here concerns her actions when Jesse's the one who is murdered (and of course, is still alive...).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Day Soldiers, by Brandon Hale

Unfortunately, I read this novel a while back, and am struggling to remember it. There is a war, as vampires and werewolves unite in trying to kill all humans. And there's a hero, Lily, who is a human soldier. But as to the rest of it? I guess that's my review right there...

The Chronothon, by Nathan Van Coops

This time-travel adventure makes me smile. While it has its faults (keeping track of time travel is not easy), it is a fully enjoyable and well written novel. It turns out this is number two is Mr. Van Coops' series, and while I won't bother going back in time (for what its worth in this genre) to volume one, I look forward to picking up the next book when I have time to kill. (Are you keeping track of the times I use time here? Apologies, I can't help myself, and I know I'll regret it in the future.)

The hero is Ben, who gets conned into competing in a chronothon, which is like a scavenger race across a variety of places and circumstances, and in this case, across time as well. As such, it is dangerous and interesting.

3 Lies, by Helen Hanson

The plot was inventive and interesting, but the execution was poor.

Our hero is Clint. His girl friend goes missing before a scheduled dialysis treatment, and he tries to find her. Her family is not cooperative, and files a restraining order against him.

Meanwhile, CIA agent Doug finds shady goings on at work and investigates.

Spoiler ahead: don't read further if you plan to waste your time on this novel on your own time.

The idea was to kidnap a relative of each Supreme Court Justice to blackmail them to vote in a particular way on an upcoming case. See how interesting this plot might have been? And yet, I do not recommend Ms. Hanson's book.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Taste of Fear, by Jeremy Bates

Wealthy Salvador has an assassin after him. He and his movie star wife Scarlett go on holiday in Africa. They end up as hostages of terrorists, and the dogged assassin is right behind them.

Somewhere between meh and good.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Creation, by Greg Chase

This is the first volume in Mr. Chase's Technopia series. It is overly preachy and dull so I don't recommend it nor the other books in the series (although I've only read this one).

Hero Sam lives in a wasteland of Earth. He takes a job as a computer repairman on the edge of the solar system. His pirate employers abandon him but he's rescued after having interacted with the ship's computer core in some meaningful way. Ending up in a utopia with is wife Jess, all is well until Sam is recruited to return to Earth to help fix things.

Pirates of the Outrigger Rift, by Gary Jonas

Think of this as a prose version of an old-fashioned comic book. (By which I mean, not a modern graphic novel, rather the shallow, action heavy, somewhat humorous comics of old. Maybe like a low budget TV cartoon.)

It is in the sci-fi genre. Sai is a courier who is also a telepath (the kind that connects to the web). She encounters trouble, pilot Hank, investigator Mike, and a ruthless but fortunately incompetent pirates.

The Change, by Teyla Branton

I'm writing this some time after having read the novel. I suppose I need to add a new genre type to my list for urban fantasy, but I'll just keep it at para-normal.

So what to say about this book? I know the hero is Erin, that she's "Unbounded," in a battle between the "Emporium" and the "Renegades," and as though that isn't enough, she's hunted by a secret society who do not like Unbounded people.

Having said that, I remember nothing about this novel! I'm going to have to skim it again just to satisfy my curiosity; usually not remembering a book means it was horrible. But with a description that includes Unbounded, Emporium, Renegades, and all around bad guys, this should at least be memorable for its silliness, or being completely horrible, or something!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Forging Zero, by Sara King

I don't care for novels featuring dumb heroes. Or heroes who do or say dumb things and yet manage to bumble their way forward successfully. So I didn't care for this book.

It is sci-fi: Joe is 14 and drafted to the Congressional Ground Force (military) run by the aliens who invaded and conquered Earth. He is the leader of a band of children who become soldiers.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller

I read this book to evaluate it: would it make a useful holiday gift for some young person just starting their career? It isn't a clear winner, but I'm leaning towards saying it is.

The bad news is the good news here - the book is essentially a long motivational speech from a credible and interesting presenter. The net net is foreshadowed by the title: pick the most important thing and do it relentlessly. There's plenty more advice, albeit at an overview level, on how to execute.

If you're just starting out, or if you're not but find yourself frustrated by career, or work-life tradeoffs, or you're just looking for an edge, then this may be a good choice.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How Not to Die, by Michael Greger

This is a terrific book, albeit at times a bit overwhelming. Dr. Greger's gig is medical research into the potential to improve health and /or reduce disease through nutrition. His website, is a phenomenal resource with brief and amusing videos that summarize research on a variety of topics.

This book summarizes years of research and review into two sections: how to minimize your risk of a variety of diseases, and how to adjust your lifestyle to maximize health and minimize risk.

To be clear, Dr. Greger, like a few other medical leaders (I'm thinking folks like Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish), is disruptive, pushing the current medical norms to recognize the potential of nutrition on disease.

Dr. Greger quotes Dean Ornish on this: "[he] realized reimbursement is a much more powerful determinant of medical practice than research."

Fighting consensus thinking doesn't make these folks wack-jobs: think about the history of medicine. I'll give you a couple of examples just in case you're skeptical:
In the 1700s, one woman in six died of fever after childbirth. That's a lot of dead moms. In 1795, Alexander Gordon said the fevers were infectious and could be cured. Consensus thinking said he was a fool. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes said similar, with evidence. Ignored. Most disturbing, in 1849, Ignatz Semmelweiss showed that sanitation (physicians dipping their hands in a disinfectant between the autopsy room and the delivery room) eliminated puerperal fever entirely. You'd think that was heroic. The consensus said he was mad, not to mention a Jew, and fired him from his job. (He died in an insane asylum.)  It took until the start of the 20th century (Dr. Lister was presumably a better politician) for doctors to accept this information. There are plenty of other examples, like pellagra. But you get the idea. Just because something is "normative" in medicine doesn't mean it is best for the patients.
Of course, just because something is fringe doesn't make it good either: the key is evidence based analysis, where one accounts for motives (e.g., was a study funded by an industry with billions at stake?) and quality (e.g., was the study well run?). This is precisely Dr. Greger's specialty.

In part two of his book, Dr. Greger presents his "daily dozen:"  beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other vegetables, flax seeds, nuts, spices, whole grains, beverages, and exercise.

Really though, this section is a bit much. I might just not be ready to run my daily menu through a checklist.

One other complaint about Dr. Greger's work: he tends towards reduction-ism. As T. Colin Campbell points out, current research gets so engaged looking for the magic chemical (that a pharmaceutical firm can market at profit) that it forgets the holistic nature of unprocessed plant based foods. To this end, Dr. Campbell points out that researchers might notice that apples seem like healthy eating.  They notice there's vitamin A in an apple.  So they look at the health effects of vitamin A, with a goal of making a vitamin A pill that will provide the healthy effects.  Presumably without the hassle of eating the apple.  But, unfortunately, all sorts of systems get in the way of this working out the way a pill lover might like.

All in all though, this is worth reading. If nothing else, for the preface and introductory chapter.