Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Visit the German Borderlands in Rennefarre

Today we visit the borderlands of East Germany in a modern translation of a wonderful piece of children's and young adult literature - Rennefarre.  This fantasy piece combines the feel of classic literature with the rich characterization and setting of fantasy ala The Hobbit.  It is my pleasure to bring this story review to you.

Book Summary:
Imagine riding on the back of a blue heron across time and space. Imagine befriending crows, being kidnapped by magpies, and being given a lift on the back of a kindly stag. Imagine experiencing life as an outcast from human society, encountering spirits and mythical creatures from the world of legends, experiencing the plague in Dresden, and being chased through Berlin by Frederick the Great.

Dott is a twelve-year old girl. She lives in the countryside east of Berlin in an unspecified time between the two world wars. When Dott sneaks out to see the bonfire at the edge of her village on the evening of the midsummer night festival, she has no idea what will happen next. In the dark of night, the magical Rennefarre flower falls into her shoe. It not only makes her invisible, but also allows her to see things no one else could see. No longer able to stay with her parents and her young brother and sister, she begins her search to find a way out of her predicament.

Her quest to return home to her family winds its way through the cities and countryside of 20th century Germany—and beyond. As she befriends the local animals, they help her on her way with gifts of food, shelter, and—through the help of a kind spirit—a magical cup which allows her to become small and ride on the backs of the birds.

Flying across the country on the backs of crows and herons, Dott finds herself seeing the country not only as it is, but also as it used to be. She lives through moments in history others can only read about—meeting historical kings and fanciful spirits along the way. But, even with all of the excitement of her travels, she always has one goal in mind: returning home to her family.

Part coming-of-age story, part fantasy, and part social-cultural portrait of Eastern Germany in the early part of the 20th century, the book covers real ground. That is, one could follow Dott's travels on a map of the area. Seamlessly blending elements of fantasy and history, the book contains a fascinating array of details of day-to-day life in rural and urban areas in eastern Germany. Dott’s adventures are interwoven with folklore and myths as well as vivid accounts of different eras and the diverse cultural and ethnic strains that have formed the basis for a rich and complex history of Germany and Eastern Europe. Written on the eve of World War II, the book offers a sobering perspective on the human potential for causing devastation. At the same time it is filled with hope. In one scene, Dott gets a glimpse of the future — an utterly destroyed cityscape; it inspires her to look to her own responsibilities and actions in life.

My Review:
This book was truly a pleasure to read.  The original German was written prior to the events surrounding World War II and the storyline reflects the damage we humans are capable of with one another as well as the effects on the world and creatures around us.  It reads like a classic piece of literature, slowly building the characters, setting, and events that lead to the heart of the storyline.  Understand this going into Rennefarre.  It is a disappointment that so many people of our world today don't have the patience to stick with a rich story long enough to allow it to touch the heart and soul. 

Dott is a young girl who disobeys her parents then finds herself enchanted on the evening of the summer solstice when the rennefarre flower finds its way into her shoe, turning her invisible to all around her and driving her from her family and village.  However, she has been granted the opportunity to understand the speech of birds and animals, see other enchanted humans and creatures, and to assist all enchanted creatures and animals alike.

Through her enchanted state, Dott is able to see the magical and mystical and even travel through time to see how Germany was inhabited, fought over and conquered, and how she can help those on whom she has come to depend. 

Gurian, the heron, comes to her aid after she saves the life of one of his young.  Cornix, the old and wise crow, is one of the first to befriend her in her lonely state.  But Pica Pica, the magpie, is waiting in the wings to wisk her away out of spite from her new-found friends.  Through all of her travels in the air and through time, Dott begins to understand her responsibilities and the responsibility all humans have to care for one another and the earth around us.

She places herself in danger to save those she comes to care for.  Dott also seeks the cure for her baby sister, who has long been ill and is in danger of dying.  Because of her ability to learn the importance of responsibility for oneself as well as others, she just might be able to find her way back to her family and her normal human way of life.  But to do so, she will lose the ability to talk to the animals and see the fire sprite and other enchanted beings.

There were times in reading the historical references where I wanted to pick up another history book and start researching again.  It really spoke to my penchant for history and might pique the interest of other young souls to explore the topic.  The settings were beautifully portrayed and the proud heron, Gurian, you felt so sorry for when he lost his family.  The story, however, never devolved into a rant against the human race - quite the contrary.  It spoke to the possibility of every single human soul toward the ability of greatness.  Makes me think of the line from Spiderman - with great power comes great responsibility.

And Rennefarre displayed that wonderfully for all to read.

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Malve von Hassell's Bio:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph. D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published several books and journal articles, in particular, The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schlie├čt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012), and completed a manuscript for a historical fiction book set in the 13th century for young adults, Falconello. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades.  Visit her website at http://www.malvevonhassell.com/

Price/Format: $13.99 paperback
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
ISBN: 9781938690389
Pages: 297
Release: December 11, 2012

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Thanks To The Ladies at Pots and Pens!

Hey dear readers! 

If you'd like to check out what's been going on lately and get the scoop on a great slow cooker recipe for those cold, winter days, run on over to Pots and Pens and check out an interview I did with the ladies recently.

It sure made me laugh!


Those of you who've been patiently waiting will be happy to note that I've started writing heavily on the follow-up to The Study.  Be watching for it in a few months.

Happy reading to all and to all a good day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tripping Across Scotland in "The Tartan Shroud"

My review today is for one book, but as a disclosure I wanted to let you know that I chose to read the previous three published in this series.  That may have a coloring to my assessment of this latest offering.  Needless to say, I enjoyed reading all four.  Now, let's buckle up and strap down for a trip to Scotland in "The Tartan Shroud".

The Tartan Shroud Book Summary:
A bulldozer unearths a young girl’s body on a golf course in Scotland but for some reason, Fergus Murray, the top crime officer in Tayside seems unwilling to pursue the case. Fergus contacts Willow Stone, his American cousin and pleads for help. Willow, Pinky’s favorite ex-wife, calls in all her chips and convinces Pinky, Bear, Flo, and Ettamae to go to the small Scottish town of Pitlochry to help her cousin find the killer. Along the way the American’s come across a forester with a wonky eye—haggis—the occasional bad weather spring day—various Scottish policeman all named McSomething—mutton pie—a near new, sixty-year-old Austin Taxi—a bathroom that could double for a freezer—the nearly indecipherable Scottish accent—many glasses of whiskey and beer—ancient records—a broadsword—and a real Duke! Ride with Bear, Flo, and Henry during their final mad dash across Scotland to try to stop the murderer before he kills again inside the hallowed halls of Blair Castle.

My Review:
I gotta say that I really enjoyed reading all four of the Pinky and Bear Mysteries and was very glad that option was provided to tour reviewers.  This series has mystery, suspense, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to tickle your funny bone.

Pincus Delmont, or Pinky to his acquaintances, is the defense lawyer you'd want on your side if you were ever accused of murder - that is, IF you could afford him and IF he could keep a qualified legal secretary on staff.  With his virtually untarnished acquittal record, Pinky's ego makes up for his lack of stature.

The brawn is where the Bear comes in.  Bear Zabarte is descended from a Basque sheep-herding family, a simple man who likes nothing better than tossing back a few while watching his Boston Red Sox on television.  Well, and oogling his live-in girlfriend, Flo.  Several years back, his path crossed Pinky's when someone else's face got in the way of Bear's fist.  It took Pinky's expertise to get Bear a "get out of jail free" card.  Very quickly Bear learned aint nothing free where Pinky is involved.

As payment for this debt, Pinky required Bear to do some investigating for him to avoid getting his own manicured fingers dirty.  Pinky and Bear both soon discover a working relationship works out pretty well for both of them - and when Flo steps in to secure regular payment from Pinky's clenched fists for Bear's expertise, Bear finds himself under the full-time employ of one irritating attorney.

So when Willow Stone, DA for Carson City, Nevada and sometimes not-so-ex-wife of Pinky's, turns to him for a favor, our crew is off to Scotland to assist in the investigation of the recovered body of a long-missing girl.  And she may not be the only one.

I don't really want to tell you much more except to say this has been a real hoot to read.  Sometimes you want to smack some manhood into Pinky, tell Flo to wear a sturdier bra, and tell young Ettamae not to go into the dark tunnel.  But overall I thoroughly enjoyed most everything about this series.  There are occasional grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors, but they are not so plentiful as to disturb reading too much.  The characters are lively, fun, and stay true to themselves while still growing as people.  They are not flat or one-dimensional in any way - and I soooo appreciate that, especially reading all four books straight through.  Occasionally you want to shake Bear and tell him that there's more to life than just staring at Flo's boobs - but he IS a man.  At least he's true to himself that way. :-)

So if you like a fun mystery with interesting characters, pick up a copy of The Tartan Shroud or any of the Pinky and Bear Mysteries.  Thumbs up from this reviewer!

Ken Dalton's Bio:
Ken Dalton was born in 1938 at Hollywood Hospital. He grew up with his parents, his older sister, Pat, and younger brother, Richard in Los Angeles. The year 1938 informs the quick reader that Ken’s older than a lot of people, but younger than some.

In a turn of bad luck, the dreaded Polio virus found Ken.

At the end of World War ll, Ken’s family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming for a year where he learned how to live through snow blizzards, avoid walking through the large pile of coal in the basement, and how to survive life as an Army Officer’s brat on a base called Fort Warren.

By the age of sixteen, after eleven years of operations, therapy, and braces, Ken’s luck changed dramatically when he met the girl of his dreams at a party. A few years later they married, produced three wonderful children, and settled into a happy life in Southern California.

In 1966, Ken, who worked as a technician for Pacific Bell, and his family left Southern California for the green hills of Sonoma County where they bought a home in Sebastopol surrounded with apple trees. A few years later, Ken and Arlene built a new home on three and a half acres. They raised cows, pigs, and learned how to build outstanding fences. While their children grew, they hosted two exchange students, Eva Reimers from Sweden, and Tanja Wuttke from Germany, both of whom are still loved members of the Dalton clan. Also during those years, Ken was promoted to management at Pacific Bell. He eventually ended up responsible for all the central offices, sixty-three, in an area that covered five counties.

In 1977, Ken, Arlene, Bob Wiltermood, and his wife Norma, designed, built, and operated a 2000 case winery named Pommeraie Vineyards. They produced award winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. However, after Bob died, the winery was sold. Ken and Arlene moved to a hilltop in Healdsburg.

With the winery gone, and time on their hands, Ken and Arlene started to perform with the Camp Rose Players. Twenty years and forty productions later, both are still acting and singing.

Life was good. All Ken had to do was learn some lines and bow when the audience applauded.

Then, ten years ago, Ken started to write. His first article was published in Golf Illustrated in August 1996. More golf articles followed in national and regional magazines including Golf Magazine and Fairways and Greens.

After a two-year stint on the County Grand Jury, Ken felt the need to begin his first novel.

Now, after a decade of struggle to learn the craft of writing, Ken has become the publishing world’s latest overnight sensation.

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Prices/Formats: $14.95 paperback, $4.99 ebook
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780578113258
Publisher: Different Drummer Press
Release: October 1, 2012

Amazon paperback buy link ($14.95):

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Today's Headlines - A Review of "Scam Factory"

Today we have a book on a subject straight from the headlines.  White-collar crime has been at the forefront of our world for many years.  Now we have an "inside" view in G. Gordon Dean's novel, "Scam Factory".  Let the review begin!

Book Summary:
Whoever said 'white-collar crime doesn’t pay' never lived in Washington D.C. TierGroup is a business consultancy firm located in the heart of DC. Its Division Heads have a very cold and calculating unorthodox approach to conducting business. Protecting and serving their clients is the only thing that matters. Nevertheless, loyalty can swing both ways in this journey through greed, corruption, and absolute lack of accountability.

As a former Las Vegas Casino Surveillance Director, Michael Crayter, a straight shooter, becomes an unaware, almost, employee of TierGroup in mid-2001. His transformation takes many shapes from idea man to fraud guru. He embarks on a journey to Iraq, through Hurricane Katrina and eventually takes part in one of the biggest scams in the history of the United States - the TARP funding program. His boss, Charles “The Czar” Zarin, is the ultimate manipulation mentor. Michael Crayter’s experience will last for more than eight years and will make his old Vegas job seem like child’s play.

The investment opportunities the United States has to offer during this timeframe are seemingly endless and the public joins in on the greed. The whole country is riding high on the inflated value train with careless abandonment. There are no regulations followed or laws unbroken by the Mortgage Lenders, Stock Brokers, and Bankers. The bubble is getting bigger and the clock is ticking. It's every man for himself. Divide and conquer. Borrow and spend. No one sees the tsunami coming, except for Charles Zarin. Capitalism will be turned upside down and the money spigot will run dry.

By late 2007 the bubble bursts and our country’s economy is left in ruins. The Treasury is sent in to bail out the white-collar thieves. While losing most of its clients TierGroup and Michael Crayter are left to fend for themselves. The tables are turned on the fat-cat bankers who caused the meltdown. Michael Crayter uses his hard gained experience to get even with the fake bastards. Almost everyone loyal to TierGroup gets away with highway robbery and the American taxpayer is left holding the bag. Michael Crayter begins to tell his story, in this Four Part first-person narrative, during a 2005 interview at FBI headquarters in Washington D.C.

My Review:
Initially when presented with the book summary, I looked forward to reading this book.  As a former banker at one time affected by failures and resulting bank closures, I thought "Scam Factory" offered an interesting premise I could comprehend.

Our protagonist, Michael Crayter, is tapped by the head of one of the largest and most prestigious D.C. consulting firms to give up his job in Las Vegas to move to the East Coast to be groomed to lead TierGroup one day.  There he finds a company corrupted by power and greed.

In the summary we're told Michael is a straight-shooter who is unaware of the deep-seated issues beating at the heart of the company.  However, from practically day one he is acknowledging and participating in underhanded, unethical, and eventually highly illegal activities with no sense of remorse.  This certainly didn't fit with the provided description.  I found no redeeming quality about Michael throughout the reading of the novel.

TierGroup consists of four "tiers" with one man heading each tier and ultimately the fourth man over the other three and the entire company.  When introduced to each of these tier heads, there is little to differentiate each man other than a brief appearance description.  Otherwise, they all appear to act and talk the same to Michael as they describe what it is they are responsible for within the overall scheme of the company.  They come across not as flesh and blood characters but caricatures, flat and one-dimensional. 

That leads me to the biggest issue I had with reading "Scam Factory".  From the moment Michael arrives at TierGroup, the book takes on a tone of what I call an info-dump.  Page after page involves nothing but dialogue of each tier head describing their department functions.  At times, it almost felt like the characters were practically yelling - talking "at" me instead of "to" me as a reader.  I hoped it was only going to be in these chapters as Michael makes his way around the company, but this info-dump pretty much continued throughout the remainder of the book.

Psychic distance was a huge issue for me as well.  At no time did I as a reader ever feel like I was in Michael's or any other characters' point-of-view.  Just the continual dialogue and info-dumping, taking on a more omniscient point-of-view at best.  The part that really frustrated me as a reader was when the Arabic translator was talking between Michael and the Iraqi group and the translator was saying things in Arabic to the Iraqis outside of what he was supposed to be telling them (giving away secret information about the operation, location of currency, etc.).  This wouldn't have been a problem if we were in the translator's POV but this was not the case.  It was a very disjointed and jarring section.

I'm also accustomed to reading alot of different material - and most involve various levels of cursing.  Normally this is never an issue, but I found the constant refrain of the "f" word and the characters calling each other such to be excessive.  Usage every once in awhile would have had more impact, but at times it seemed as if it were nearly every couple of words, which just grew obnoxious.

If you'd like to get some varying degrees of what happens behind the scenes when power and greed run amuck, consider picking up a copy of G. Gordon Dean's "Scam Factory".

G. Gordon Dean's Bio:
G. Gordon Dean is a Real Estate agent and Business Consultant currently living in Arizona. He has been a media buff for over two decades. As a media buff he has kept himself well aware of past and current events in business, government, and politics. He lived in Las Vegas, Nevada for over 30 years. This is his first novel.

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Price/Format: $4.99 ebook

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Live on Barnes & Noble

A quick announcement today.

Piercing the Darkness is now available for your Nook on Barnes & Noble.  Yes, it's taken a bit longer for it to go live, but I'm thankful to know it's finally there.

So for you Nook owners, if you've been waiting on B&N now's your time to pick up Piercing the Darkness at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/piercing-the-darkness-d-a-bale/1114044232?ean=2940045143141

And Running into the Darkness, the first book in the series, will remain ninety-nine cents for just a bit longer.  Remember to tell your friends and family while the getting is good.

Happy reading!