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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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01/20/2013

Book Review - Arrogant Wealth by Thomas Thompson

Category Book Review Thomas Thompson Arrogant Wealth
Arrogant Wealth

Arrogant Wealth by Thomas Thompson is a near-future reality novel that presents some interesting ideas and concepts for a novel. Set in 2031, the US is financially strong with low unemployment. A breakthrough in solar power has led to some technological marvels, primarily an underground transportation system that is like a high-speed conveyor belt system for vehicles. To fund this development, there is an extra tax on those who are extremely wealthy. A new agency, the Federal Bureau of Collections is tasked with making sure that those who are subject to the tax are paying what is owed. Joey Sans, part of the FBC, has been tasked with looking into the main solar power company to check on tax compliance. As he digs into their records, things look a little *too* clean to be real. But he also finds that there are some very powerful and influential people who may be part of the story, and he's not sure who he can and can't trust. The wrong decision might have deadly consequences for him.

Arrogant Wealth has potential to be a very good story, but it's in dire need of an editor. It's written in a style that felt awkward. Instead of a third-person perspective telling what happened, it's written in present tense. Instead of phrases like "Joey said" or "Dawn thought that", it's "Joey says" and "Dawn thinks that". There were numerous occasions where the style would lapse back to what I'd consider normal, which made some of the narrative hard to follow. Some misspellings and incorrect word usage (such as "your" and "you're") detracted from the reading experience. I think an editor could have also asked questions to draw out character development and explain why certain choices were made.

Writing a novel isn't easy, and putting a first novel out for public consumption is hard. With some solid editing, Arrogant Wealth could be a solid novel. I'd certainly enjoy reading more novels of this style.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/15/2013

Book Review - Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

Category Book Review Gordon MacKenzie Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie is one of those rare business books that teaches you how to avoid getting sucked into the ginormous hairball that is most corporations. In the hairball, you follow endless rules and regulations that may have made sense at one time, but nobody knows why they do now... they just know they're the rules. MacKenzie advocates for a creative approach to work, one that allows you to orbit the hairball. You're close enough to have the protection and benefits of the organization, but free enough to be creative and get things accomplished.

Contents:
Where Have All The Geniuses Gone; Giant Hairball; Pink Buddha; Preparing For Lift-off; A Chicken's Fate; Thou Shalt Not Have It Easy; What You Don't See Is What You Get; No Access; First There's Group, Then There's Rote; Containers Contain; Cage Dwellers; Introducing... Your Brain; About Teasing; High-Tech Peaches; Milk Cans Are Not Allowed; The Power Of Paradox; Death Masks; The Pyramid And The Plum Tree; Orville Wright; Beyond Measure; A Conference Of Angels; Dynamic Following; Pool-Hall Dog; Paint Me A Masterpiece

MacKenzie worked for Hallmark for 30 years, much of that time in a department specifically focused on creativity. At the time he joined, there were plenty of hairballs that sucked the pleasure out of the joy of creating, and he wanted nothing to do with that. Using his unique style and panache, he lobbied for smaller groups and unique office arrangements that allowed the team to be creative in their fashion. Furthermore, he redefined his position at the end with a title of Creative Paradox. No one knew what it meant, except that he was someone you could run ideas past. When he gave his blessing, they could go back and say "The Creative Paradox thought it was a great idea". Since no one knew exactly what power he had (in actually, very little), they assumed that he was important and acted on it.

Orbiting uses a unique style made up of short stories, multiple fonts (many looking handwritten), and squiggles and doodles all over the pages.  What comes out is a short, easy to read book that could apply to any large company that has developed giant hairballs that no one can detangle. MacKenzie shows how you can capture your unique inner creativity to get work done, be proud of what you've accomplished, and have fun doing it.

If you're in a work environment where you feel hemmed in on all sides by rules and regulations that have sucked all the fun and joy from your job, you should read Orbiting The Giant Hairball.  It'll improve your worklife.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Friend
Payment: Free

01/12/2013

Book Review - On Both Sides Of The Wall by Vladka Meed

Category Book Review Vladka Meed On Both Sides Of The Wall
On Both Sides of the Wall: Memoirs from the Warsaw Ghetto

I learned of On Both Sides Of The Wall via a BBC radio program where Vladka Meed's story was being told. She was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during Hitler's occupation of Poland. This book is her telling of life in the Ghetto, the hardships the Jews faced, the struggle for survival, and the eventual resistance and battle that destroyed the Ghetto. It's an incredible story of perseverance in the face of constant death, and it's a story that should never be forgotten.

For those unfamiliar with the story... During World War II, Hitler started moving the Polish Jewish population into a number of large and overcrowded ghettos throughout the country. One of the largest was the Warsaw Ghetto, which housed between 300,000 to 400,000 Jews. From there, a program was started to "relocate" the Jews to what they were told were labor camps. In reality, they were sent to the Treblinka death camp where they were gassed. Between 250,000 to 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto met their deaths there. As the truth of what was happening filtered back to the Ghetto, an active group of resisters formed. In April of 1943, they took the offensive against their Nazi captors, using what few weapons they were able to smuggle into the Ghetto. Against incredible odds, they were able to inflict numerous casualties against the Nazis during the month-long battle. The Nazis ended up leveling the Ghetto with heavy artillery to end the rebellion and eliminate the remaining population before the advancing Allied troops.

Originally published in 1948, Meed provides a eyewitness account of the daily horrors inflicted on the inhabitants of the Ghetto. Death was something that could (and did) happen at any moment, either via a bullet on the street or a notice to report for deportation to Treblinka. But even in the face of all this, she captures the spirit of people who are willing to fight back to survive. She also gives vivid accounts of the risks she took as part of the underground resistance, smuggling papers, money, and weapons in and out of the Ghetto. Her stories of living outside the Ghetto under a forged non-Jewish identity were an on-going lesson on how people can ignore atrocities occurring right in front of them, and how easy it is to label and treat a group of people as less than human.

This is one of those books that should be more widely read, both for the history of the event, and as a lesson to current and future generations.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

01/07/2013

Book Review - Ask The Dice by Ed Lynskey

Category Book Review Ed Lynskey Ask The Dice
Ask the Dice

The hunter becomes the hunted in Ask The Dice by Ed Lynskey. This was a dark "crime noir" type novel that was different than most crime stories I've read. It felt like something out of the 50's, something reminiscent of a criminal version of Mike Hammer.

Tommy Mack Zane is something that doesn't happen often... an aging hit man for the mob. A black kid raised by white parents, he was hired as a teen by a local crime boss to carry out a contract killing. It certainly beat mowing lawns, and his "temporary" job became his regular occupation. Tommy Mack would like to retire and spend his days at the beach, but Mr. Ogg has other plans for his retirement... as in being dead. Tommy Mack is set up for the killing of Mr. Ogg's niece, and his colleagues become his potential killers. Matched against endless resources, his only hope is to eliminate the source of the hit.  Easier said than done, however...

Lynskey creates some unique characters with interesting quirks. For instance, Tommy Mack has an aversion to cell phones, so he pretty much has a mental map of all the pay phones on his home turf. Mr. Ogg is a frail blind guy who has no qualms about ordering hits on anyone, even his own kin. I thought the ethnic dialogue might have been over-played a bit, but I guess if you're over 50 and stuck in the past, that may be what the character knows. As the story heads to its climax, Lynskey throws in a number of twists that cause one to rethink what just happened. Overall, Ask The Dice is an enjoyable read that definitely isn't run-of-the-mill...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/05/2013

Book Review - TerraFae by Sabrina Zbasnik

Category Book Review Sabrina Zbasnik TerraFae
TerraFae/

Generally speaking, fantasy stories don't do a lot for me. But Sabrina Zbasnik has a way with words and characters, and I loved her first book Tin Hero.  Her second book, TerraFae, is just as entertaining, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The story revolves around Cas, a killer for hire when it comes to removing troublesome monsters and ghouls.  She's sitting in an inn one day with her partner Humphrey, minding her own business. That comes to an end when an elf shows up looking for a hero. Gwydion figures that would be Cas, and next thing she knows, she wakes up on a ship headed back to his homeland, TerraFae. She learns that her quest is to enter the Forbidden Forest to retrieve the vial of Byw (whatever that is).  Cas, Gwydion, and two other unwelcome adventurers set out to face the unknown and hopefully live to tell about it.

So why did this work for me? It was the characters and dialogue.  Cas is a sharp-tongued, take-no-prisoners type of person, and her no-nonsense approach to her tasks was perfect for the role. She's stuck with Max, a fellow killer, on this quest, and she makes no bones about not liking him. But the back-and-forth between the two is humorous.  Gwydion works well as an elf who doesn't have very much confidence in his own powers, but is responsible for the success of this mission.  The dangers and characters they meet along the way keep the plot moving at a quick pace, and I was happy to keep flipping the pages to see what they'd encounter next.

If you like your fantasy mixed with plenty of snark, TerraFae is worth reading.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/05/2013

Book Review - Don't Let Me Die In A Motel 6 or One Woman's Struggle Through The Great Recession by Amy Wolf

Category Book Review Amy Wolf Don't Let Me Die In A Motel 6 or One Woman's Struggle Through The Great Recession
Don't Let Me Die In A Motel 6 or One Woman's Struggle Through The Great Recession

In today's economic environment, all it takes is one unexpected job loss to completely destroy your concept of "normal". Amy Wolf had that happen when Washington Mutual (WAMU) went belly-up, and she tells her story in the book Don't Let Me Die In A Motel 6 or One Woman's Struggle Through The Great Recession. Wolf writes with a dark and morbid sense of humor, being open with her struggles and successes (many more of the former than the latter). I have to hand it to her, though... I think all these things would have crushed me.

Her story starts in 2008 as an employee of WAMU. She had a nice job, a large home, a vacation home, horses, and a ton of debt... basically, the American Dream. But when WAMU collapsed in 2008, she found herself out on the streets looking for work. Of course, everyone else in Seattle was doing the same thing, and she was having issues finding a new job. Severance runs out, homes go into foreclosure, her husband loses his job (he's got a slew of problems himself), and her adopted daughter is a physical danger to them both due to mental issues. To escape all this (she hates the weather in the Northwest), she heads back home to California to be closer to family. That's not much better, however...

Overall, it takes her four years before she gets a full-time regular job again. While in California, she has to deal with stage 2 breast cancer and insurance issues, all with varying levels of support from her sister and husband. Her daughter becomes uncontrollable, and ends up being turned back over to state custody. She basically loses everything that she considered normal in her life up to 2008.  

It's far too easy to read Don't Let Me Die and blame Wolf for much of what happened. Her physically abusive daughter manipulated her and her husband endlessly, but Wolf kept letting her come back. In the midst of her depression, she starts having one-night stands via Craigslist. She contemplates suicide, but steps back from the edge on her way to make it happen. BUT... in reality, none of us are that far away from our own trials (if we're not already there). Love and emotions cause people to do things that don't make logical sense. In hindsight, I'm sure she'd do things very differently (starting with not marrying someone she had only known in person for three days). But once decisions are made, you have to play the hand that's dealt.

Wolf bares her life with painful honesty and humor. I found myself laughing at parts that should have been uncomfortable at best, but she applies her unique brand of humor to it all. She went through four years of hell, and came out a survivor. This was worth reading on a number of levels. As humor, I loved it (even though I kept thinking "WHY DID YOU DO THAT AGAIN???").  As someone's honest life story, it reinforced how temporary and tenuous things can be.

I hope Wolf continues her writing, as I think she could do a stellar job in a novel format.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

01/03/2013

Book Review - Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

Category Book Review Richard Castle Frozen Heat
Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat, Book 4)

I still have a hard time believing that the Richard Castle novels starring Nikki Heat are as good as they are. I just finished Frozen Heat, which is number 4 in the series. I would expect that real books "written" by a writer character on a TV series who wrote said titles would be a schlocky gimmick. But in reality, whoever is ghost-writing these novels is doing an excellent job.

Frozen Heat revolves around the unsolved murder of Nikki Heat's mother ten years ago. Heat's team gets called in to work a case involving a frozen female body stuffed in a suitcase. It's just another crime until Heat notices that the suitcase is the same one that belonged to her mother and went missing after her murder. With Jameson Rook's assistance, she discovers an aspect of her mother's life that she never knew about... one that ties the two murders together. But someone is determined that Heat doesn't uncover the past and disrupt their current plans. They've killed before, and one more death would mean little.

If you're a fan of the TV show Castle, then these novels are like watching an episode. Even though the names are different, the characters are the same, and you "see" the action playing out with Beckett and Castle. The plot and twists keep things up in the air until the end, and it's hard to put down. The dialogue is perfect with Rook playing the same type of wise-cracking out-of-the-box character as Castle plays in the series. Even if I knew nothing about the TV show, I think I'd still like the book (and the series). Since I enjoy the series, Frozen Heat is total fun.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

01/01/2013

Book Review - Political Suicide by Michael Palmer

Category Book Review Michael Palmer Political Suicide
Political Suicide

Political Suicide is Michael Palmer's latest novel, and it brings back Dr. Lou Welcome as the main character.  Of the Palmer novels I've read, this is probably my favorite to date.  I like Welcome's character, the plot was interesting, and there wasn't an overt medical or health agenda that was being propped up by the story.  It was an enjoyable two day read...

Welcome is overseeing a doctor who has drinking issues.  Dr. Gary McHugh needs to get that under control or lose his license. But Welcome gets a call from McHugh that puts everything in jeopardy.  McHugh was in an accident as part of an alcoholic blackout, and he was coming from the house of congressman Elias Colston. Colston was shot and is dead, McHugh was having an affair with his wife, and he looks to be the likely suspect.  Welcome wants to support his friend, but he admits that things don't look very promising. He's also clashing with McHugh's lead attorney who seems to have major issues with doctors. Welcome's unofficial (and somewhat unwanted) investigation turns up a linkage between Colston's death, a military special forces group, and the Secretary of the Defense.  Needless to say, Welcome's death would be very convenient to keep certain things from coming to light...

I thought Palmer's characters in Political Suicide were done well. Welcome is a likeable (but flawed) individual, and the supporting cast around him fit the story nicely.  The action surrounding the military plot angle was intriguing, as I wonder if it would be possible to mold a special unit to do the kind of missions that were planned.  I didn't find that there were any convenient places to stop reading, and I easily could have read the book straight through if not for minor things like sleep.

I hope that Palmer continues to focus on Welcome as a main character.  If future installments are on par with Political Suicide, they'd be great reads.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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