Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Mini Book Reviews



THE MINE (Northwest Passage Book 1) by John A. Heldt (3.5 stars)
Having just graduated from college in 2000, Joel Smith explores an abandoned mine and emerges in 1941, a few months before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters were engaging and the plot interesting. How Joel managed his situation was plausibly developed and there was just enough happening throughout the story to keep my interest. Most of the story revolved around Joel finding the love of his life decades before he was born. I liked how the author resolved Joel’s conflict between wanting to return to his own time and not wanting to abandon his love.
My main quibbles with this book were some consistency issues and not knowing whose head I was in while reading. Most of the story is from Joel’s point of view, but there were times where I suddenly found myself in another character’s head without a scene or chapter break. This caused a few speed bumps where I had to go back and read through a few paragraphs more than once. The book could stand another edit.
Overall, I think most will find this a fun read, especially if you like time travel.
* * *
3 a.m. (Henry Bins Book 1) by Nick Pirog (4 stars)
HENRY BINS has a sleeping disorder named after him. Henry sleeps 23 hrs a day and is only awake from 3 to 4 a. m. regardless of the time zone. So in order to have any kind of life, he has to regiment his time very carefully—every second counts. Then one day, his life is turned upside down when he hears a woman scream from the apartment across from his. When he goes to investigate, he finds a dead body.
Despite the improbability of Henry Bins and his disorder, I found it very easy to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the well-crafted story. The characters were well fleshed and unique and the plot was a doozy. So kick off your shoes, leave your skepticism under a rock, and enjoy the read.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Amazon's Matchbook

About a month ago, Amazon.com contacted authors who have published Kindle editions of their print books, offering a new feature called Matchbook, giving us the opportunity to discount the digital editions from 50% of list to free. I've opted give away the Kindle editions to anyone who buys or has bought new print editions of This Time and Loyalty Binds Me.

If you scroll down past the book's description, you'll find a box towards the right of the screen:
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for FREE. Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon.
So, for those who like holding a real book when convenient, but love the option of carrying an entire library for the weight of a book, you can now get a free Kindle edition with the purchase of the print edition.

A quick note on my long absence: I've been dealing with some personal issues that have pretty much occupied me full time. I hope to get things under control by the end of November, so that I can resume my normal activities.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Key Species



Noah Crankshaw needed a stiff drink. Amend that, he needed several stiff drinks. Enough to numb his brain. Enough to kill the neurons that thought up the exquisitely targeted, most effective insecticide ever concocted.
Noah Crankshaw, entomologist and chemist was a highly paid director of a large commercial laboratory that developed household and commercial extermination products. He went beyond meeting EPA environmental standards. His yearlong certification process showed the insecticide had zero effect on species that weren’t targeted. Theoretically, babies could drink it and suffer no ill effects. It did not so much as harm the proverbial hair on the proverbial head of anything but its target. After EPA review, the product was approved. Soon it was being sold to every household and every exterminator in North America.
It was stable—it did not degrade.
The company turned all production facilities over to its manufacture; the demand was so great. It was in demand in the third world and developing countries as well. And as the product was relatively inexpensive, global sales were beyond brisk.
They barely kept up with demand for the first seven months it was on the market.
But the market dried up.
No one needed it any more. All the cockroaches were dead.
Then the creatures that fed on roaches started dying off. They were starving to death.
Noah sat at the bar and looked at his unemployment benefits. They would last six months. He belted the first drink down.
That’s just about right, we’re not that far behind.
* * *
When I first wrote this bit of flash fiction, I was thinking about extinctions and that certain threatened species were potentially key species—but which ones were key species? So, to have a bit of fun, I imagined, what many consider a most loathsome animal, as a key species.
As it happens, one insect that is probably a key species to human survival, are bees. It also happens that with the introduction of neonicotinoids, bee populations are crashing. Without bees, all crops that require pollination will likewise crash. Recently in the news there were two major bee kills, one in Wilsonville, Oregon where 50,000 bumblebees were found dead in a Target parking lot after an ornamental spraying of the insecticide Safari. Oregon is looking into banning the ornamental use of neonicotinoid pesticides. But is that enough? Shortly after, an estimated 37 million bees were killed in Elmwood, Ontario, Canada from a corn crop grown from seeds treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide.
It is quite clear to me that neonicotinoid pesticides must be banned. They have been in Europe. It’s time for us to do the same. 
PS: A new study shows that neonicotinoids are just one of many pesticides/fungicides that are responsible for bee colony collapse. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Status: the 3rd book in the Richard III in the 21st-century



As many are aware, my third book has been delayed (working title: Strange Times). Although some probably have made an educated guess as to the reason, I figured I ought to provide some detail for this delay.
I’m planning on publishing digitally first, following with a print edition after about three months. The digital edition will be fully edited, but will be subject to correction depending on feedback. I don’t yet have an estimate for publication.
Even though I was over the moon when Richard III’s remains were found beneath a municipal parking lot in Leicester, UK, my third book, still a work in progress, suffered a set back. The three factors that contribute to my revising the book follow.

  1. Richard suffered from scoliosis—a condition I hadn’t considered because I had not found any contemporary evidence to support this abnormality. I intend to make Richard look more or less as he would have with the scoliosis for this book, but have no plans to revise the first two books except to write a forward acknowledging the discrepancy. It is my understanding from people I know who also have this condition, that the effects become more noticeable as the person ages, and for many, is not visible to others when the person is wearing normal street clothes. In addition, there are exercises that help alleviate pain caused by this condition.
  2. From the condition of the remains’ molars, Richard apparently ground his teeth. There was also evidence of decay. I had given him teeth that were in much better condition than they actually were. Here too, I plan on showing that he has work done on his teeth, and maybe gets an implant or two for teeth that he had pulled in his lifetime.
  3. I had tried to “not change history,” only speculating where things were unknown, such as with the fate of the princes. While I haven’t changed past history, my story does change present history. Half of the third book takes place in 2006, starting days after the end of the second book. When I had started the 3rd book, the search for Richard’s grave was in the beginning stages at most, and I didn’t have any knowledge of Philippa Langley’s research or know that she was to instigate this incredible find. Originally, I had planned on making finding Richard’s remains a significant plot point, but have decided to change it to a fictitious artifact now that that Richard’s remains have been found. 
For details on the actual research and dig, I encourage all to go to the Richard III Society channel on YouTube and watch the Leicester Grey Friars conference (9 videos).
 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dandelion and Tomato Pizza

And now for something completely different--a recipe!

I no longer consider dandelions a weed and find the greens add a delicious tang to a salad. On my walk on a town trail that is away from the road and in my backyard that I don't treat with any chemicals,* I have been finding many more greens than I can use for salad, so began looking for ways to use them. This pizza is one result that I adapted from a tomato and spinach recipe of my own creation.
*One caution—make sure the dandelions you harvest are growing where there are no pesticide or herbicide applications and away from the roads since they will absorb the pollution from exhaust and run-off.

The recipe includes making the dough, so appears longer and more complicated than it is.


Dandelion and Tomato Pizza
Prep time: 1 hr (if making dough); cook time: 25 – 30 min.

Equipment: Pizza stone or large cookie sheet if don’t have stone
Pizza dough (you can buy the dough in most supermarkets if you don’t want to make it):
(Makes 14” round pizza)
½ cup more or less warm water
¼ cup vegetable oil or olive oil for cooking (veg. oil makes a lighter dough)
1 tsp dry active yeast + ¼ tsp sugar
1-½ cups flour
Put yeast and sugar in a bowl and add about ¼ cup of the warm water. Let proof for 5 to 10 minutes until yeast starts foaming. Put all of the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the proofed yeast. Fold in flour and add water as needed. Knead until dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl. Put on floured board and knead until dough becomes elastic.
Pour a couple of tablespoons in bowl and add dough and coat with oil. Cover with a towel and place in warm spot. Let dough rise to double in bulk.
Topping:
4 – 6 cups raw dandelions chopped
4 or 5 plum tomatoes sliced into eight-inch rounds
4 – 6 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
4 Tbs minced cilantro (or parsley if you don’t like cilantro)
4 – 5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 – 2 tbs olive oil
pinch baking soda
salt & pepper to taste
semolina flour to keep pizza from sticking
While the dough is rising, wash and roughly chop the dandelion greens. Bring water to a boil and add a pinch of baking soda to take the bitterness out of the greens. Blanch the greens for no more than two minutes and immediately immerse greens in cold water to stop cooking. Let greens drain while dough is rising.
Chop cilantro and crush garlic into a small dish and add olive oil. Shred cheese and slice tomatoes.
When dough is ready to be rolled out, preheat oven to 425°F (If you have a pizza peel, preheat stone too.) Place dough on floured board, lightly knead to get any air bubbles out and then roll out to about a 14” round shape. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of semolina on the stone, peel, or cookie sheet (I prefer semolina over all-purpose flour because it doesn’t smoke). Lightly fold dough in quarters to transfer to stone and then unfold.
With a pastry brush, spread the cilantro, garlic, and oil mix on the dough. Then spread the blanched dandelions to cover the dough, leaving about a half inch from the edge. Then arrange the tomato rounds to cover the dandelions and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, cover with the shredded mozzarella and bake for about 25 minutes until crust is crisp on bottom and lightly browned on edges.
Note: if substitute spinach for dandelions, can spread raw spinach on dough—no need to blanch.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: Wool by Hugh Howey



Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
550 pages
Broad Reach Publishing
Nook Edition April 6, 2012
From the book description:
Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.
Or you'll get what you wish for.
Review:
Brilliant!
Let me start by saying although I love science fiction, I’m not a fan of dystopian stories. So when such a novel overcomes my innate objections to this sub-genre, it has to have great characters, narrative, detail that makes it real, and a satisfying denouement. Wool hits all the points.
Howey’s character development is most impressive. I’m going to get a tad technical here, so please bear with me. Wool was written in third person limited, which means the only character whose head the reader should be able to see into is the point of view (POV) character for that scene or chapter. Here’s an example where Howey added flesh to another character through the eyes of the POV character:
Jahns glanced over and saw that her deputy's gaze had crept toward that dark crook in the hill. He covered his mouth with a fist of sharp knuckles and faked a cough.
    Most of all, it was the quality of the writing that allowed me to suspend my disbelief and ignore the some of my objections to the plausibility of the silo “world”—essentially an underground biosphere. I still wonder why Howey didn’t use geothermal energy and heating, the best source of power readily available to this underground environment that he created. One thing that made me buy into the author’s vision was his attention to detail while leaving enough for the reader to imagine and play with. I felt the reader needed this insight into how the silo could provide a livable environment that would support a viable population for hundreds of years.

    Even though most people don’t read such things as acknowledgments, I would have liked one, and was disappointed that it was missing from my edition. Perhaps there’s one in the print edition.

    This is one book that I will read more than once.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of his DNA




The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA: the book that inspired the dig [Kindle
Edition]

by John Ashdown-Hill
192 pages
The History Press, January 31, 2013


A must read for Ricardians
In August of 2012 a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester went digging in a social services parking lot with the idea of hopefully finding evidence of the Grey Friars Friary. Not only did they locate the friary, they found Richard III’s remains.
In 2003, before the dig was ever considered, John Ashdown-Hill started his investigation of finding a living descendent from the female line of Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville. The female line of descent is necessary because children inherit an exact copy of their mother’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), but only the female passes this copy to the next generation. The author describes the process of finding a living descendent of one of Richard’s sisters and of the mtDNA analysis. The mtDNA was now available for comparison to the remains’ mtDNA. As exciting as this information is (for me), this is the present day science. This book is so much more.
Ashdown-Hill paints a fresh picture of a man, who despite terrible personal tragedies—his only legitimate son had died suddenly in April of 1484 and less than a year later, his wife died after a long illness (probably tuberculosis)—looking forward to remarrying and producing an heir and to a long reign as England’s king. Although there can be no doubt that Richard genuinely grieved for his son and wife, he nevertheless was planning for the future. This refreshing image is different from what most historians and novelists have portrayed.
The reader also gets a sense of what daily life was like for Richard, what some of his duties were, and how he would execute them.
One Ricardian myth the author dispels, is the one that purports Henry Tudor antedated his reign to August 21, 1485 (the battle where Henry defeated Richard was fought August 22). Ashdown-Hill could not find any extant contemporary evidence to suggest Henry’s reign was backdated by one day. The suspicion is the myth began ca 1647 from an error translating (from Latin to English) Richard III’s Epitaph (Buck’s translation with the dating errors are presented in Appendix 6).*
I found this book to be rich in detail and informative about Richard III’s last 150 or so days and about the role of DNA in confirming the remains. Not only is “Last Days” a significant historical reference, I found it a delight to read. John Ashdown-Hill achieved what is rarely seen in such a scholarly work—a reference that can be read from beginning to end without compromising the facts. I can’t recommend this book enough.


*Note: Several on Facebook who responded to this post pointed out that the antedating is part of the Parliamentary Rolls from Henry VII’s first parliament in 1485. Per Chapter 9, footnote 10:

This interpretation is based on Crowland, pp. 194– 95. However, the relevant passage does not, in fact, say that Henry antedated his accession, and there is no evidence to support such a claim in the surviving acts of attainder against Richard III’s supporters.
[Ashdown-Hill, John (2013-01-31). The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig (Kindle Locations 3964-3966). The History Press. Kindle Edition.]
Pronay, N. & Cox, J., The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459– 1486 (London, 1986).
My search of the digital edition of Parliamentary Rolls for Henry VII’s first Parliament (November 1485), shows that Henry VII antedated his reign by a day. I emailed this information to John Ashdown-Hill and he is investigating this new (to him) evidence with the intent to amend the edition to reflect this information.