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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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04/28/2012

Book Review - You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

Category Book Review Jeff Goins You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)
It used to be that to become a writer, you had to hope that you could convince the gatekeepers to let you pass. Publishers held all the cards, and your only option was to play the game their way (or not play at all).  

Those days are gone...

Jeff Goins is a great example of someone who has figured out the new rules and freedoms that exist when it comes to being a writer.  He shares his insights as well as dishing out plenty of encouragement in his new e-book You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One).  What I found is that I'm much closer to "being a writer" than I give myself credit for.  In fact, I *am* a writer... I just need to decide where I want to take it from here.

Contents:
Foreword
Introduction
Writers Are Born, Not Made
The Truth About Writing
Building a Platform
Establishing a Brand
Channels of Connection
Getting Started
Before Your First Book
What Next?
About the Author
Share this Book

Being a writer comes down to making a choice... a choice to BE a writer... to write.  There is nothing to prevent you from putting your words out there for others to read.  Goins acknowledges that it isn't necessarily easy to commit to writing (as opposed to just thinking about writing).  But with all the online tools available (blogs, e-books, newsletters, etc.), there's no reason that your writing has to remain in your head or be limited to actual paper and ink.

Beyond the encouragement aspect of the material, Goins has solid information on how to put down a foundation on which to base your efforts.  Building a platform (get experience, demonstrate competence, generate buzz) establishes you as someone worth listening to and following.  Branding yourself is also critical in today's over-saturated media environment.  Take the time to figure out what you want to portray to others, as that will be what people will think of when they turn to you.  Finally, you need to figure out how you'll communicate and connect with your audience.  While it's easier than ever to make connections via Twitter, Facebook, and other online tools, it's also critically important to not neglect those channels once you set them up.  It's a privilege to have people listen to you.  If you don't reciprocate that listening, your audience won't stay around very long.

You Are A Writer is a book that won't take you very long to read, but it will stay with you forever if you let the message change the way you think about who and what you are.  You *are* a writer if you choose to be...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

04/22/2012

Book Review - V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Category Book Review Sue Grafton V is for Vengeance
A picture named M2

Seems like forever since Sue Grafton published an installment in her alphabet series with Kinsey Millhone.  That wait ended when I picked up V is for Vengeance from the library.  Actually, the gap between this and U is for Undertow was good, as I was getting a bit burned out on Millhone.  The stories weren't having the same appeal as earlier efforts, and reading them seemed like more of an effort to keep up instead of a pleasure.  V revives some of that pleasure once again, and this was well worth reading.

Millhone gets sucked into a case without even trying. She happens to be shopping for some clothes when she notices a shoplifting team in action.  She reports the pair, and one of the ladies is caught and arrested. A couple of days later, the same woman jumps off a bridge, committing suicide.  Millhone doesn't think much about it, but she's hired by the woman's fiancee to investigate the death.  He doesn't think it was suicide, and believes it might actually be murder.  He also doesn't want to believe that she was part of an organized shoplifting ring, and that she might have lived a double life that he didn't see.  As Millhone digs into the case, she comes up against forces that aren't appreciative of her attention, and have already proved that they'll kill to keep things quiet.

There are actually two plot lines going on here that end up converging towards the end. It took me a bit before I saw where the two were moving to, which left me feeling like I was reading two different novels for a time.  Grafton does a good job in keeping both lines going, however, and the twists and revelations are doled out in the right places to keep a sustained pace.  All in all, this was an enjoyable read that has me looking forward to whatever adventure "W" will bring.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/22/2012

Book Review - Presumed Guilty by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Review Tess Gerritsen Presumed Guilty
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Going back to catch an early novel in a writer's career is always a gamble.  What you expect from them now isn't what you'll end up reading (in all likelihood).  I saw that Tess Gerritsen had a "new" novel that showed up at the library.  I picked up Presumed Guilty expecting vintage Gerritsen, but I got a bit of a surprise.  This is actually a novel that was written back in 1993 and published as a mass market paperback at that time.  It's now being re-released in hardback.  In effect, you're getting a 20-year-old novel that's lacking the skill and techniques picked up over the last two decades.  How much you like Presumed Guilty depends on your expectations on what a Gerritsen novel should be...

The story revolves around a love affair gone sour.  Miranda Wood, working at a small newspaper located on an island off Maine, had an affair with her boss, Richard Tremain.  Tremain wasn't ready for it to end, but Wood found out that she was just one in a long line of many lovers he had over the years.  When he calls and says he's coming over to see her, she leaves the house to avoid facing him.  But when she returns, she finds him in her bed, stabbed to death.  Given Tremain's standing in the community as the owner of the paper, everyone immediately assumes Wood was the killer, and she has no verifiable alibi.  Tremain's brother, Chase, comes over to the island to help his brother's widow deal with matters. He'd prefer *not* be there, as he was a bit of an outcast, but Richard *was* family.  Chase runs into Wood, and is as convinced as everyone else that she's the killer.  But as he spends time watching and talking with her, he starts to have his doubts. And when certain facts make their way to the forefront, it becomes obvious to him that someone else is setting her up to take the fall...

Since it's been a while since I've read one of Gerritsen's novels, I wasn't doing a lot of comparison while reading.  But this isn't anywhere close to her sweet spot of medical thrillers.  It's an early effort from a fledgling writer.  The characters aren't as fully developed as you would expect from her, but again, it seems like it's easier to be a bit harsh since you know how good her writing becomes.  I look at Presumed Guilty as a decent thriller that is good for a few hours of distraction.  So long as you don't come in with high expectations of this being Gerritsen's "latest" work, it's not bad.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/20/2012

If your blog content appears on PlanetLotus, LotusLearns.com is likely infringing on your copyright...

Category Everything Else
LotusLearns.com is a site set up by Kellie Smith as a "resource" for the Lotus community.  But, unlike PlanetLotus (which points to the sites that host the content), she is copying the entire content onto her site with only a small link back to the site it came from.  This is a blatant violation of copyright laws, in addition to being extremely inconsiderate of those in the community that create and post the content on their own site.

In communications with a member of the Lotus community, she states this is a "service" that she provides for countries that have bandwidth issues.  Somehow she believes that getting all this content from her site is less bandwidth-intensive than going directly to the original sites.  In my opinion, this doesn't hold much water.  A site like PlanetLotus allows someone to quickly see what content is available, and only click through to the content of interest.  Her method means they would be forced to load everything that she steals from other sites.  Even subscribing to RSS feeds is a better solution for these bandwidth-challenged sites than reading through everything on LotusLearns.

While sympathetic to the desire to aid other areas that do not have access to reliable communication infrastructure, that does not give her the right to ignore copyright law and repost content.

LotusLearns is a site hosted on Blogger.  If you'd like to notify Google of this infringement and ask for action, you may do so by using their Report Abuse link.

04/14/2012

Book Review - Shock Wave by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Shock Wave
A picture named M2

While I've grown a little cold on the John Sandford novels that feature Lucas Davenport, I'm finding I like the Virgil Flowers novels a lot.  Shock Wave has Flowers tracking down a serial bomber intent on stopping a large Walmart-like store from setting up shop in a small town.  Flowers is a nice mix of irreverence, vulnerability, and persistence, all wrapped together in a mind that never stops running.  

Sandford does a good job in capturing the small town atmosphere where the action takes place.  It's reasonably clear that someone in the town is doing the bombing, but there's a number of people who would make good suspects.  Many people in town will be negatively impacted by the new store, and most would be happy to see the construction stopped.  But which person would be motivated enough to kill?  On top of the bombing, there's also a question surrounding why the city council approved a zoning change after initially opposing the site.  Is the bombing also tied to the possible corruption?  These are all questions Flowers has to figure out, and it doesn't help that the bombings are accelerating at a frightening pace.

On top of the characters, Sandford does a perfect job in making sure the killer isn't known until the very end.  I was guessing the entire time, and found out it wasn't the person who I thought it was going to be.  I was also impressed with the use of "crowd-sourcing" to dig up a list of likely suspects. While I don't think it's something that would be accepted very well in reality, it did present some interesting possibilities of involving others in solving a crime.

I hope Sandford continues with the Flowers character in future books.  It would definitely put him back on my "read right away" list.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/14/2012

Book Review - Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

Category Book Review Janet Evanovich Explosive Eighteen
A picture named M2

So we're up to #18 In the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  Explosive Eighteen is the latest installment in the love triangle between Plum, Ranger, and Morelli as Plum tries to chase down bail jumpers in Trenton.  Of course, with Plum that means that something will burn down, at least one car will be disabled in some way, and confusion will reign supreme.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the plot line of the last few stories, and it reinforces my feeling that this series has run its course.  It's not that the stories are bad... It's just that they don't go anywhere.

The basic story revolves around an envelope with a photograph that a number of people think Plum has.  This includes both good and bad guys, and the bad guys have no qualms about killing Plum in the process of getting what they want.  She inadvertently ended up with it while flying back from Hawaii, but threw it away because she didn't know what it was.  Morelli is upset with her because of what happened during the Hawaii trip, and has a hard time believing that her and Ranger were "on a case".  Of course, Ranger is his cool and collected self, and Plum has a problem saying no to him whenever he gets close... and he's often very close.

I used to look forward to each of the Plum novels.  They were funny, the characters were crazy, and you never knew what was going to happen next.  Now it seems as if the characters do the same things in each story, the signature situations appear like clockwork, and nothing gets resolved when it comes to choosing between Ranger or Morelli.  Something dramatic needs to happen to send this series in a new direction, or it simply needs to wrap itself up.  I'll probably continue to read new titles in the series, but I won't be counting the days until I make it to the top of the library hold list.  There's just no compelling desire to see what will happen next, as it seems to be the same thing that happened in the last book.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

04/02/2012

My interview for Blogworld: Getting Free Review Products from Amazon with Thomas Duff

Category Everything Else
I was interviewed via email yesterday by Alison Boyer for her BlogWorld column.  The topic: Getting Free Review Products from Amazon with Thomas Duff

Thanks, Alison... that was a lot of fun!

04/01/2012

Book Review - Redemption Day by Steve O'Brien

Category Book Review Steve O'Brien Redemption Day
A picture named M2

I know there are fringe groups such as the Posse Comitatus throughout the country that have a far different view of what the government is and what it should be allowed to do.  But other than the occasional mention in a news story, I'll admit I know very little about their beliefs.  Steve O'Brien uses this far right order as the driving force behind his book Redemption Day.  As the action unfolds, O'Brien takes the opportunity to reference many of the documents and concepts that shape their mindset and explain what is happening.  It's scary that there are people who take to these principles so fervently...

Nick James is an analyst for one of the many contractors working for the US government.  His specialty is domestic terrorism, but he's let go when a particular contract is cancelled and the funding dries up.  And if that's not enough to mess up his day, he returns home to find his cheap DC basement apartment has been broken into.  Meanwhile, the District is on full alert as one of the Supreme Court justices has been kidnapped, and every law enforcement agency is furiously following leads to find him. Nick may have some ideas, but his willing involvement in the case hits a brick wall when a sheriff is killed outside his apartment... with Nick's gun... which *had* been stored in the apartment prior to the break-in. His only option is to elude the police and an APB issued for his apprehension, all in the middle of the massive manhunt that's going on.  His private investigation, coupled with his extensive knowledge of domestic terror organizations, puts him in close contact with a Posse Comitatus group who is ready to make a very public statement about how government should be run... regardless of who has to be sacrificed to advance their cause.  

Overall, I liked Redemption Day.  O'Brien did a good job in taking the Posse Comitatus rule of law and figuring out how to use that to create a decent story line.  Since the plot revolves around the central tenets of the group, he has to take the time within the flow of action to explain the hows and whys of what could happen next.  I'm usually not overly fond of stories where a significant amount of time has to be devoted to bring the reader up to speed on a topic, but I think my fascination with the subject made me more open to the technique in this case.  I would have also preferred to see a bit more depth to the agents in charge of the federal investigation.  The leader wasn't bad, but his partner was one-dimensional in his attitude of who to blame and what was going on. I did like the tentative love interest undercurrent between James and the third (and most critical) agent on the case.  It helped to give James reasons for how he was going about his own investigation and why the rest of the investigative team kept him at arms length.

If you've never had any exposure to domestic militia-style groups, Redemption Day is a fascinating read. Not only is it scary to see what a segment of our society feels is right, but it also shows how some of our mainstream political candidates aren't that far away from trying to create a country where anarchy would reign supreme.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publicist
Payment: Free

04/01/2012

Book Review - Oath of Office by Michael Palmer

Category Book Review Michael Palmer Oath of Office
A picture named M2

It's been awhile since I've read a novel from Michael Palmer. While I like medical thrillers (which he does very well), I tend to shy away from novels of any sort that appear to have an agenda or opinion that the author wants to promote.  All too often, the plot ends up as an after-thought, a structure to argue the author's viewpoint.  I went in with that mindset for Palmer's Oath of Office, expecting that there would be some controversial topic that would be driving the action.  While I wasn't surprised that I found one, I was pleasantly surprised (and pleased) that it didn't overwhelm the story, and had me thinking that I should investigate more deeply.

The story revolves around Dr. Lou Welcome, a physician who ends up on the firing line for another doctor's murderous rampage.  Dr. John Meacham, counselled by Dr. Welcome to overcome addiction that caused his license to be revoked, goes on a shooting spree in his office that ends up with four dead. He then turns the gun on himself and inflicts a critical wound. Welcome rushes to the hospital, and observes that the ER staff is strangely detached and non-caring about whether Meacham survives or not. On top of these two confusing incidents, a worker at a local restaurant (where Welcome is eating at the time) nearly gets his finger cut off when he reaches for a carrot being sliced by the chef.  It's as if all these people lost their senses and made decisions they could not explain (nor could anyone else).  Welcome finds these occurrences very disturbing, and starts to search for any common thread that might tie all these bizarre behaviors together.

I'll leave any further description unsaid, as it would start to border on plot spoilers.  I found that since I was expecting and looking for some controversy to drive the plot, I ended up seeing some of the plot twists before they happened. Even so, it didn't detract much from the story.  When I was finished, I realized I had some additional reading and research to do in order to satisfy questions that came up in my mind.  If a novel can get me to do that, it's pretty unusual...

I personally thought Oath of Office was a good read.  I can see where some people will disagree with his overall premise for various reasons, and it will probably have a significant effect on how much they enjoy the story.  However, I think the more prevalent effect to be to cause the reader to start questioning things that they've ignored to date.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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