Wednesday, March 4, 2015

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER



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This winter has been the worse in the memory of most of us. Areas of the northern United States have seen as much as one-hundred inches of snow, ice and freezing rain. Harbors along the Atlantic that are normally open all winter have been frozen thick enough to require icebreakers to open a passageway. Even the southern part of the United States has been hit hard because winters are normally mild and there isn’t a lot of equipment to clear away snow or ice. Winter lingering so late in the season makes you wonder if there might be something ominous in store for us in the near future.
I had never heard of the ‘Year Without a Summer’ until I was reading a local history written during the early part of the 20th century. According to the author’s account, an abnormally cold summer occurred in 1816 when the average temperature of the earth dropped by 0.7 to 1.3 Fahrenheit. There were major food shortages across North America and Europe, and even in the southern United States, a snow or two occurred in June. There was frost and freezing temperatures each morning during July.
It is believed that this anomaly was caused by the explosion the previous year of a volcano in what is now Indonesia, spewing large amounts of dust and chemicals into the atmosphere. This is thought to be the largest volcanic eruption in the last 1700 years. This ‘aerosol veil,’ as it has been called, was in the upper atmosphere where it was not dispersed by rain as is often the case after a volcanic eruption.
In Europe there was a famine that resulted in riots. Widespread starvation occurred when the price of food and firewood rose to astronomical levels. These conditions were further aggravated by poor transportation and a lack of management on the part of the governments involved.
Can this happen again, or I guess I should ask, is it happening now. There are too many people who dismiss the idea of manmade climate change because it runs contrary to the agenda they are pushing. Part of the problem has been caused by the name ‘global warming’ that was initially used, and when scientist changed the concept to ‘climate change’ it caused guffaws from world capitols as well as from the ordinary citizen on the streets. If you are a doubter concerning climate change, go and stand outside and face into the wind. I live in the sunny south and this time last year I mowed my lawn for the first time to get rid of some rapid growing weeds, and to give the grass a chance to grow. Today, they are predicting one to three inches of snow, and the possibility of another round of abnormal weather. I don’t know if climate change is real or the figment of someone’s imagination, but there are people who do know. We ought to hold their feet to the fire until they produce the facts and figures and insist that our leaders do something about it. If you want to read more on this subject, Google it on the Internet.

Friday, February 13, 2015

One of the Four Million Reasons to like a book.

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I just finished reading an eBook. It had too many grammar and spelling mistakes, enough of them to distract the reader from the story. The plot wandered a bit, and there were too many unresolved issues at the end of the book. It might sound strange to say that I loved the book, but I did, and I have put it on my list to read again in the near future.

Some of you are probably reading the paragraph above for the second time and wondering what you missed. Whenever I read a book, especially by a new author, I don’t approach it like an English teacher grading papers. What I’m looking for is a story with engaging characters I will care about. If I become hopelessly in love with Amanda─ who has just turned eighteen and feels that her life is over because she finished high school─ the author has done something remarkable because he has engaged my emotions with his characters. To put it another way, we like to read about characters we like, just as we want to hang around with likable people. This is not to say that the characters shouldn't have faults. My closest friends have faults, but the things that engage us with a real person are subtle enough that it is not easy to define, nor is it easy to put into a book. I don’t know any perfect people, but if I did it would be intimidating enough that I wouldn't want to hang out with them. I once worked with a man who was too hard on himself. At odd moments he confessed all of his shortcomings and wanted to know what he could do about them. If he was slicing cake for the morning break, you would get the biggest piece as he self-flagellated himself over his latest failing. The next time your story doesn't seem to be working, examine your characters to see what motivates them. Are they more intelligent than they should be, too attractive, do they know how to solve every problem without any hesitation? And the most important quality of all, will your readers love them, like them, care to the point where they would give up watching their favorite ball game just to listen to them pour out their heart and ask for understanding?

There has been a lot of attention lately on the forthcoming sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. Think about the characters in that novel. We see all of their flaws and faults, which is what the story is all about. Even the ones like Atticus Finch who tries to present a facade of perfection to his children, have flaws, even though we might not immediately be able to point them out. Literature is supposed to be a reflection of real life. Put your characters under a microscope and study their flaws. How real are they? Will I love them just as you do? Then go and show it to your readers in the same way a teen will try to draw attention to his date at a Valentine’s party. The next time one of you want me to read your story and tell you what I think, I'm going to listen for the sigh at the end of your request. If you aren't presenting your story because you love your characters and for no other reason, I probably won’t like it either.


Have a great afternoon and happy creating.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

ARE BOOK PIRATES STEALING YOUR BOOKS?





 
There is an increasing amount of disregard for the rights of authors. I read somewhere that the average book takes from 500 to 2000 hours from concept to finish, which is a considerable amount of time invested in a project. Even some otherwise honest people seem to think books should be free and you have no right charging for yours. Try driving away from a gas station without paying for a fill-up and the wheels of justice will start to grind, but stealing your books doesn’t seem to arouse the kind of ire it should. Yesterday I checked one well-known pirate site and discovered five of my books being offered for free. I sent them a letter of detest and they promised to take action within 72 hours. This morning when I checked to see if they had complied with my request, I found that they had added four more books of mine to their site. The legal system is expensive, cumbersome, and unsympathetic to the stealing of intellectual property. I wonder if you have checked pirate sites on the Internet to see if they have stolen yours. If you haven’t had your daily temper tantrum, this might get you cranked up into high gear. Excuse me while I get back on the carpet and drum my heels some more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

WHAT DOES THE HACKING INCIDENT AT ANTHEM MEAN TO YOU?

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The recent coverage by the news media of the hacking incident at Anthem has left a lot of people confused and fearful after it was reported that the financial information of 80 million customers has been compromised. All of this was done over the Internet by some unknown person or persons. Coming at a time when North Korea made additional threats against the U.S., there were some who wondered if they were responsible. Others pointed a finger at China. Actually, you don’t need a government to hack a database like most companies have, even the big ones. Most of them have our information protected with little more than a user name and a password, much in the same manner as you do on your home computer. Programs that scan and prevent intrusions are not much more effective than the virus protection and firewall on your home computer. The easiest method of intrusion is simpler than you might imagine. Hackers can sometimes trick an employee to let them into the system by posing as a supervisor or an employee of another company that has a ‘right’ to access the information.
Over the last decade or two, companies have made an effort to collect personal information from every individual that is a customer, or might be a customer at some time in the future. Basically, the information they collect consist of your name, birth date, email address, physical address, your age, employment, credit history, salary, and sometimes your heath history. Why do they want this and who is responsible for such an intense effort to compromise your privacy. Customer and company security is the answer you will probably get if you ask, but the real answer is the fact that private information is a gold mine to those who have it. What is the source of the information? Part of it comes from you because banks, credit card companies, and health care providers demand it. The other information comes from computers who search out bits and pieces of information and put it into a file. Some of this information is passed along to companies that have some connection with the people you do business with. Surprising, despite the ‘policy’ stated in their disclaimer, banks are as guilty of passing private information along as anyone else. Some of it winds up in the hands of telemarketers.
So what can you do besides wring your hands? You can subscribe to a credit protection agency that will monitor activity on the Internet that might impact you personally. There is a fee involved that can be as low at ten dollars per month. For this amount they will monitor you bank accounts, your driver’s license, your credit cards, and report any use of your personal information that might cause a threat. If you want full monitoring that includes your credit union and your 401 plan it will cost you as much as forty dollars per month. After the protection agency reports any threat they find, it is up to you to take action. You would think that the people who caused the problem in the first place would be financially liable for any damage. That, however, is not the way it works in the market place.
The hack at Anthem, as far as I know, is the largest incident to date, but some who have suffered something similar have had to pay for the loss and then sue for the return of their funds. Some companies will tell you that they will assume any loss you incur, but you need to find out what this means. Some customers have paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and spent years getting their identity back and their credit repaired. Check each bill or report from all companies where you do business. If you find a discrepancy, report it immediately. Remember that this is not something that will blow away in a few weeks or even in years. It will be with us forever and will require vigilance on your part. Companies should have provided a system that guarded our information before they collected so much of it and passed it around so freely. A complaint to our government officials might accomplish something, but don’t hold your breath. Some of them have their hands thrust deeply into the pockets of the companies that are exploiting you.   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Political Pain in My Gut

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There are two kinds of crazy people in the world; Liberals and Conservatives. Their craziness arises from their tendency to find simple solutions to complex problems. The majority of us live out our lives in the vast wasteland between these two extremes. We have no leaders and can attract few followers to any cause because people respond to hysteria more readily than to a workable solution.

The founders of this country felt that a free press was necessary for the exercise of a fair and equitable republic. If a free and unbiased press ever existed, it has long since passed into oblivion. The conservative press pounds away at us daily with a new crisis. There are always several catastrophes to choose from, but if necessary, they will ramp up some trivial event to make it sound as if Armageddon is imminent. The conservative’s solution will require more controls, greater expenditures of our resources, and a closer watch upon our citizens. The liberal press will focus on oppression by the police, our institutions, or real or perceived threats that are supposed to be breathing down our collective necks. The response of the liberals will be to point a finger at repressive rules, whether they come from government, religion, or traditional morals.

The next election is approaching and most of us will not vote for anyone, but rather vote against the one we fear the most. The conservative candidate will offer more tax cuts to the wealthy and to business, telling us that it will trickle through the economy and create jobs, despite the fact that we have seen a steady cut in employment over the last thirty years. Liberals will want more social programs, taxing of the rich, and closing all of the loopholes in the tax system. For every plank in any candidate’s platform that we like, there will be dozens of others that are programmed to cut our jobs, destroy our savings, and turn the American dream into a nightmare.

So what is the solution, you might ask. The short answer is there isn’t one, or at least nothing that we can grasp that will offer a quick solution to our problems. In every important area of life, we build carefully, a brick at a time until it is done. If we are going to get out of the hole we have dug with our shortsightedness, it will require time, and I am not sure how much of that we have left. After two hundred years of history, it should be apparent to all of us that we can’t build anything worthwhile using politicians that are bought by special interest, whether they are on the right or on the left. We must learn to think for ourselves and quit parroting the half-baked ideas of Talk Show Host from either extremity of the political spectrum. In the meantime . . . God help us all.
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Monday, August 4, 2014

In The Eye Of the Beholder

Being young is wonderful -- perfect teeth, perfect hair, and a lot of other perks that go along with being young. Tight skin with a healthy glow tops flabby and out of shape in the minds of many. I was astonished when a young friend of mine told me about her normal routine after work. She was a Chinese-American who grew up in the Far East, and had a slightly different take on life than the rest of us. She, along with her brothers and sisters, gathered around their grandmother’s bed each evening and talked about their day.

“She is so beautiful,” she told me with a sense of pride. Digging in her billfold, she produced a picture and handed it to me. Her grandmother was a diminutive woman with an over-abundance of wrinkles. It wasn’t one of those things -- she is beautiful inside. My friend actually thought that her grandmother’s features were attractive. Quite a contrast between the way her family viewed the elderly, and our ‘throw away’ attitude of everyone past twenty-five when the first wrinkles appear.


In our society, we don’t need more anti-aging products. Instead, we need to adjust our attitudes and realize there are no throw away people. We have been sold on perfection and programmed to believe that anything less is a terrible plight that should be avoided at all cost. Wrinkles and stretch marks are there for a reason. They are milestones of our various struggles and victories. Beauty, in the sense of what we hold to be true in western society, is a fleeting illusion. We need to accept the reality of what nature has given to us and learn to be comfortable in our own skin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait for the next issue of Archie Andrews to appear on the newsstand. In case you aren’t familiar with Archie, he is a comic book character who first appeared in 1941, along with his two girlfriends Veronica and Betty, and his best friend Jughead. The story is centered on Archie’s school activities and his romantic adventures with Veronica and Betty. There were a couple of villains in the persons of the school librarian and the principal, who tried unsuccessfully to dampen Archie’s enthusiasm. There was a soda shop in town where the kids gathered, and the occasional after school dance. Archie’s stories were wholesome, feel-good events about the kind of people we all knew, with adventures that were somewhat like our own.

When my daughter was small, we spent many hours reading Archie comic books, each of us taking turns reading one page before the book was reluctantly passed to the other. She would often turn sideways on the couch trying to peek at the next page to see what was going to happen next. I confess that I sometimes did the same. The publisher recently announced that the last issue of the comic book will be published in July, and Archie will die while taking a bullet for a friend.

Even though I haven’t read a comic book in years, Archie is still there in my head and it saddens me that the publisher would allow him to be killed off in this manner. I still cringe when I remember the flood of emails I received when I killed off one of the main characters in my novel Redemption. After I had thought about what I had done for a few days, I went back and changed the ending and emailed the readers a copy of the chapter I had changed. “Thank, you, thank you!” the next batch of emails said.

If there is a lesson for writers to learn from this, it is the fact that Archie is a real person to most of us. It is hard to identify why this is so, but if we ever manage to grab hold of this reality, some of us will become famous in the same manner as Vic Bloom and Bob Montana did. Ours will join the ranks of the other unforgettable characters like Archie, Scarlett O’Hara, and James Bond. Most characters in literature are vastly different from the rest of us, with nervous tics, larger than life characteristics, or the ability to change from a wolf into a person. I think the magic in Archie is the fact that he is so much like the rest of us that we are awed by the image he presents. It is almost like looking in a mirror. Think about the characters in your own novels. Why do you like them -- why should someone else. If they fall short of your expectations, maybe it is because they aren’t enough like you or the people who will read your books. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Vanishing Breed of Men

I have always been fascinated by people who can do things, and I’m not talking about the idle rich who make a scuff-mark in the sand where they want their beach house built and crews of men build it. The ‘doing things’ that I’m referring to is when someone wants something and builds it with their own two hands. I met a man today named Robert E. Lee Voyles. Mr. Voyles is a retired pipeline worker and he decided to build a camper and see the country. Most of us would never attempt such an ambitious project because of a lack of funds or some other excuse. Mr. Voyles doesn’t have a lot of money, but he decided to undertake the project, with whatever was at hand, just because he could. The camper he built isn’t the type of camper you can find in your average dealer’s lot. It is unique and reflects his personality. I came from a generation where men made things. Boats, cabins, tools, airplanes -- you name it and someone was likely to get the itch and drag out their tools. This gentleman is part of a vanishing breed of rugged Americans. He is like one of the many millions of men who conquered the wilderness, ran railroads across the country from coast to coast, and learned to fly in heavier than air machines. If one good thing comes from our economic slowdown, it might be a resurgence of the type of people who can do the things that need to be done. I hope there are more men out there like Mr. Voyles in the next generation, rather than so many who can only work their thumbs on the keyboard of an iPad.

Mr. Voyles is leaving soon on a trip across the country. I hope to meet him again when he returns to our area and listen again to his adventures. I wish there were more like him.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Do Senior Citizens Have to Eat?

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You wouldn’t think eating would be a required activity if you examined the recent changes in Social Security payments senior citizens receive. Government leaders have always played fast and loose with the rules regarding SS. The way it was set up would have guaranteed that the programs would have ample funding for many generations to come. Raiding the funds has become another politician’s game to finance a multitude of programs that have nothing to do with the original intentions of the program. Recently, they have manipulated the statistics allowing yearly increases to fall far behind the cost of inflation. Increases are based on a confusing concept known as the ‘market basket.’ The market basket is a collection of commodities and services consumers need. It is where we spend most of our money. The market basket is comprised of seven major areas; food and beverages, housing, apparel and upkeep, transportation, medical care, and entertainment. These commodities are broken down into 69 other groupings consisting of 184 different items. The justification for keeping the increases small is the idea that seniors no longer consume these goods at the rate of the younger generation. Reality presents a different picture. Inflation has gone up over one-hundred percent in the last ten years, while social security payments have risen around 30%. Some items, like gasoline and heating fuel, have increased as much as 150%. Health insurance payments increase each year as you get older, and don’t forget about the groceries. On a recent trip to the grocery store where I shop, I was surprised to find that most meat and meat products had doubled since the previous week, with fresh fruits and vegetables showing an increase of around 25%.

I have no idea what they base the concept that seniors don’t consume as much as their children or grandchildren, except for the fact they don’t have the money to spend they once had. Evidently, someone in government has the idea that family, friends, and neighbors come skipping up the drive on a daily basis carrying food and providing services, in the same way a hospital or an assisted living facility does. Many children and grandchildren with retired family members regard them as a bank where they can subsidize college expenses, car payments, and a million other things they need, or think they need. I know a man and woman whose children and grandchildren live in the same town where they live. At the insistence of the younger generation, they eat out each Friday night, and grandpa has to pick up the check for all twelve of them. Grandma’s car is just going to waste sitting there in the garage, so it is borrowed on occasions to go on vacations. I don’t know who is responsible for our current dilemma we find ourselves in, but I strongly suspect that it must have been a bunch of kids. I think it’s time for them to grow up.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rescue One: Breaking PointRescue One: Breaking Point by Michael  Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Breaking Point by Michael Gardner
A dystopian space opera

The authors of science fiction stories often deal with problem that few of us have thought about, but are interesting to read and contemplate. In Isaac Asimov’s novels, Asimov led us down the path of entertainment while dealing with the problems of space, time, and travel. His characters encountered difficulties such as, ‘how do you control a robot that has human-like intelligence.’ These are the things upon which great science fiction stories are built.

Antonio Baros, the main character in Breaking Point, has invented an engine that can propel a spaceship faster than the speed of light, but he has no idea if it will work as designed. Like all inventors and engineers, Baros is reluctant to place his ‘baby’ in the hands of someone else to test it, and thus lose control of his project and the fame that will result from its success. As it has often been pointed out, no one remembers who came in second, the person that almost won, or the guy who made the work of the space pioneers successful.

To retain control of his project, Antonio pilots the prototype spaceship himself with disastrous results. Alone in space, with little hope of survival, he must come to terms with himself. This is an exciting story, and an imaginative beginning of what is to come in the forthcoming novel Rescue One.


View all my reviews

Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy Launch Day to my author friend Angel Sefer for “Spellbound in His Arms”!

As and avid writer/reader, I am always delighted when I discover a book that is interesting from the first paragraph to the last page. I was not disappointed when I was given the opportunity to review ‘Spellbound in His Arms’ by friend and fellow writer Angel Sefer. This is a wonderful book with all of the elements that drive a good story and make it become real in the mind of the reader. You can read my review at the end of this article.

Angel’s award-winning, Romantic Mystery & Suspense novel is now a #1 Bestseller at Barnes & Noble, and holds the #2 spot on Amazon’s Bestseller list. Her book was recently republished by Booktrope where it will be available to many other readers.




From the back of the book:

A mansion full of secrets…
From the moment investigative reporter Jackie Alexander steps foot inside the mansion dominating the Demiris estate on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu, her suspicions are on high alert. This is no ordinary assignment… the life of her beloved cousin, Aphrodite, is in grave danger, as the heirs to the incredible fortune of Greek tycoon Andreas Demiris are dying one after the other, under mysterious circumstances.

A man with secrets of his own…
The only person who can help Jackie is Michael Apostolou, former Special Forces Officer and one of the finest detectives on the Athens police force. Jackie realizes soon enough that despite her simmering desire for him, she can’t really trust him, as the seductive detective seems to be investigating those mysterious deaths for reasons of his own.


Trusting the wrong person can be deadly…
Jackie and Michael are forced to work together, but the suspicions and unanswered questions are devouring them, just like their rising passion for each other. In games like this, the stakes are high and the players are ruthless. When Jackie is kidnapped by the most dangerous player of all, time is running out as Michael is forced to choose between jeopardizing his mission and personal quest for justice, or the life of the gorgeous intruder of his heart…

About the Author




Angel Sefer was born in Athens, Greece. She has studied and worked on both sides of the Atlantic. She holds a degree in Economics and divides her time between the corporate world and her true passion: reading and writing romantic mystery and suspense novels.

She lives in Athens, Greece, with the two loves of her life — her son and her husband.

Angel is a member of several writers groups.


Links to buy:

Note from the Author:

My publisher is putting “Spellbound in His Arms” on a special 99 CENTS SALE from March 28th to April 1st to celebrate Wattpad featuring this book.

Amazon:   http://viewbook.at/SpellboundInHisArms



Awards for “Spellbound in His Arms”

“Spellbound in His Arms” is the recipient of InD’tale Magazine’s Crowned Heart Award for Excellence. It has also been nominated for the RONE Award in the “Mystery” category.
If you would like to vote for this fascinating novel, please go to:
Voting Period: March 24 - 30, 2014

When I was growing up, I could not wait for the next Helen MacInnes novel to appear on the shelves of our school library. When I discovered Spellbound by Angel Sefer I realized I had found another author who had the ability to blend romance, mystery and an interesting location into a captivating plot. 
The main character in Spellbound is an investigative reporter named Jackie Alexander, who travels from Atlanta to Greece to investigate a dangerous and puzzling mystery. Her visit to the Demiris estate on the Island of Corfu, immediately plunges her into jeopardy. Jackie needs to examine some documents locked away in the mansion, but encounters an intruder on her arrival at the isolated estate. The intruder is Michael Apostolou, a police detective, who has the same intentions as Jackie, but apparently for a different reason. Jackie and Michael are instantly attracted to each other, but there are too many unanswered questions to allow them to trust each other.

This book is fast paced, but surprisingly easy to read. I found myself racing through the pages, then scrolling back to reread and savor each twist and turn in the plot. The geographic details supply just the right amount of information to make you aware of the exotic surroundings without slowing down the flow of the story. Romance, suspense, and mystery supply the reader with an interesting combination that is hard to beat. Five stars from me for a story well done. This debut novel from Ms Sefer is one you don’t want to miss. I am looking forward to many others as this series continues.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review of Abraham's Bones on Goodreads and Amazon.

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Crafted Expansion Of Thriller Genre June 5, 2013
By michael
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase

I am glad I read his first book in a series called Abraham's Bones. The characters are very well laid on the page in a story that rarely lets up. I could not put it down. Most impressive, though, for a fellow author of thrillers is Mister Prentis' successful expansion outside the usual constraints of the genre. He finds time inside his fast-paced story to go deeply into the characters he is developing, a bright addition to thriller methodology. As well, the author spices the last 20 percent of the novel with intriguingly subtle clues to the coming parts in the series. Prentis expertly handles a book (or even a possible couple of books, making up the beginning of his story. This strength as a thriller novelist only enhances his stature as a writer. What is important is the believability of actual story events as they unfold. Prentis shines in his realism. This book is not meant to be like, for example, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann where everything is elaborately portrayed in one opus. Abraham's Bones is a brilliantly successful thriller, leading the reader to future parts in a series.
The book does not confuse the avid booklover of thrillers. It entices us into its realm with tact and respect for the reader. Prentis' women glowed in a particularly caring masculine light, equally well crafted from the petulant adolescent through the mature professional. He demonstrated a clear understanding of the ravages experienced by a strong grandmother, struggling with the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Particularly well introduced teasers, leading provocatively to coming parts in the series cemented my respect for the author. Abraham's Bones delivers on all counts as a thriller and propels me to want to read the next part. What seems to bother some of the critics only betrays their lack of understanding of or appreciation for the thriller genre.